Archive for October, 2008

I’ve always liked Donna Brazile’s plainspoken, no-bullshit manner. I’ve known she’s a smart strategist and analyst. I had no idea she could be this inspirational. These words of hers – her refusal to go to the back of the bus – moved me almost as much as Barack Obama’s speech last March on race in America.

This is the perfect antidote to the hatefulness of the McCain-Palin campaign this past week:

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Signs of Desperation

Photo by Flickr user gitboy, used under a Creative Commons license.

My Obama yard sign got stolen last night. This was the second one to disappear over the last ten days. I realize that the perps were probably drunken students. That doesn’t excuse it. What people choose to do while drunk tends to correlate pretty closely to their values while sober.

And while I don’t want to push a metaphor too hard, my pilfered yard signs also strike me as a sign of the times. This week, the presidential campaign turned nastier than I’ve ever seen, with John McCain and Sarah Palin portraying Barack Obama as an un-American terrorist lover. Even Karl Rove never went quite this far. It got ugly enough that a slew of conservatives are now saying the smears have gone too far.

Yesterday McCain finally tried to calm the mob his team has roused. He was booed by his own supporters for stating that Obama is a decent family man. I’m glad McCain showed us this flash of his own decency, but I worry it won’t be enough.

I worry that all this public hating-on will embolden someone to take a shot at Obama. Literally.

It almost doesn’t matter whether McCain and Palin are deliberately trying to incite violence, as Jeffrey Feldman suggested earlier this week. I don’t suppose that Sarah Palin intended for a supporter to cry “Kill him!” after she linked Obama with former Weatherman Bill Ayers at a rally. It’s just that hate speech, terrorist smears, and race-baiting have a way of spiraling out of control. This is how you prod a lynch mob into a frenzy. Even if a latter-day lynching isn’t McCain and Palin’s intent, violent reactions to such smears can be easily, easily anticipated by any reasonable person.

When their supporters break into open hostility and threats, McCain and Palin need to stop their stump speech and squelch them. Until yesterday, neither of them made an effort to do that. (Let’s not forget that this has a longer history: Last winter, McCain didn’t discourage his supporters from shouting sexist comments about Hillary Clinton, either.)

The German language has a great, largely untranslatable word for what’s happening here: Hetzkampagne. The verb hetzen is used when you set the dogs on someone. It refers to agitation, baiting, hunting someone down. The term “smear campaign” doesn’t quite capture Hetzkampagne, because there’s no telling what will happen once the hounds of hell are turned loose.

Both McCain and Palin let those dogs smell blood last week. If the worst happened, blood would be on their hands too.

Is it a stretch from my stolen Obama signs to death threats? Sure. They’re not the same. Thank goodness! Still, both are on a continuum of “dirty tricks to try when you’re losing.” They’re both signs of the Republicans’ desperation and disintegration. Once a candidate abandons civil discourse and fair play, his supporters seem to feel they’ve been given permission to break the rules and the law in ways large and small.

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I’m not a very apocalyptic kind of gal, but as the world economy crumbles, it’s hard not to wonder how it’s gonna end. I’m also not a huge REM fan but I’ve always liked this song, and when I heard it on the radio last night I thought it was an anthem for these times.

That’s great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes, an aeroplane – Lenny Bruce is not afraid. Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn – world serves its own needs, don’t misserve your own needs. Feed it up a knock, speed, grunt no, strength no. Ladder structure clatter with fear of height, down height. Wire in a fire, represent the seven games in a government for hire and a combat site. Left her, wasn’t coming in a hurry with the furies breathing down your neck. Team by team reporters baffled, trump, tethered crop. Look at that low plane! Fine then. Uh oh, overflow, population, common group, but it’ll do. Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves it’s own needs, listen to your heart bleed. Tell me with the rapture and the reverent in the right – right. You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

Six o’clock – TV hour. Don’t get caught in foreign tower. Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn. Lock him in uniform and book burning, blood letting. Every motive escalate. Automotive incinerate. Light a candle, light a motive. Step down, step down. Watch a heel crush, crush. Uh oh, this means no fear – cavalier. Renegade and steer clear! A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies. Offer me solutions, offer me alternatives and I decline.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

The other night I tripped a nice continental drift divide. Mountains sit in a line. Leonard Bernstein. Leonid Breshnev, Lenny Bruce and Lester Bangs. Birthday party, cheesecake, jelly bean, boom! You symbiotic, patriotic, slam, but neck, right? Right.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine…fine…

(It’s time I had some time alone)

(Lyrics found here.)

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I should have posted this over the weekend, when this was fresh and the Tiger was in a brilliant mood – not today, when he was testily ignoring anything that any adult said to him. But maybe today’s the perfect time to remind myself that I don’t just love him, I actually enjoy his company when he’s not so cranky.

Upon becoming a parent, you expect certain pleasures. You know you’ll melt when your child says he loves you, not suspecting it’ll be his favorite topic-changer whenever he’s about to get in trouble. You look forward to that first “Mama,” even if it comes weeks or months after he cooks up a name for Grey Kitty (aka “Mau”). You realize you’ll get teary at the first day of kindergarten and school plays and really any milestone, no matter how trivial.

What you could never anticipate is this. The Tiger recorded his first song this weekend, written and performed by his silly self, at the callow age of five. I think it could be a big hit among the three-year-old set.

Here are the lyrics:

I love chickety poop
chickety poop chickety poop
I love chickety poop
all day long.

If you figure out what “chickety poop” is, let me know.

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Sarah Palin’s positions on the issues are fair game for criticism: they’re mean-spirited, environmentally dangerous, recklessly aggressive abroad, anti-woman, and objectionable in every other way. I also think it’s fair to question actions that show major lapses in judgment: her foolhardy behavior after her water broke, her copying the First Dude on all her official emails, her unblinking acceptance of the VP nomination.

But picking on her accent? I’ll admit that’s not entirely fair. I’m going to do it anyway, because she’s trampling on my territory. Bear in mind, this isn’t a political argument. It’s just me defending my turf as a North Dakotan.

So I took this quiz and it told me I have …

North Central

What people call the “Minnesota accent.” Sounds almost Canadian. You may have even been asked if you were from Canada before.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz

This is not exactly a news flash. I’ve been getting cheerfully teased about this for nearly three decades, ever since I left North Dakota. I discovered everyone in California said “cow” differently than I did (as if they knew more about cows!). I still sometimes get recognized by flight attendants on Northwest Airlines as a fellow Minnesotan/Dakotan. On the upside, those south-central North Dakotan vowels (think: Lawrence Welk) came in pretty handy when I started learning German.

Lately, people have been asking me how come Sarah Palin and I sound a bit alike. No, I don’t think I ever used the phrase “Joe Six-Pack” until last week. I will never say nukular. I don’t wink very often, either.

Here’s my beef: Sarah Palin seems to have swiped my extra-long, North Dakotan O. Listen:

Last weekend, Steven Pinker explained in the New York Times just how the heist happened:

[Palin's] dialect is certainly for real. Listeners who hear the Minnewegian sounds of the characters from “Fargo” when they listen to Ms. Palin are on to something: the Matanuska-Susitna Valley in Alaska, where she grew up, was settled by farmers from Minnesota during the Depression.

But the story turns out to be slighly more complicated. As The Biblio Files point out on Open Salon, Palin doesn’t exactly have a Minnesotan accent. (They mean North Dakotan, of course. But thanks to them anyway for linking to the quiz I took.) Once her ancestors moved to the Mat-Su Valley, their accent started to morph, as language is wont to do. That’s why Palin says “fill” when she means “feel” – and I don’t.

Now, I have been known to use phrases like “doggone” and “darn it” and “yah, youbetcha.” And I resent Sarah Palin horning in on them! I’m not saying you ought to vote against McCain-Palin just so I can reclaim that territory. But if she doesn’t disappear after November 4, there’s a word for what my verbal style will be:

Kittywampus. (And yep, that’s a good North Dakotanism, too. Yah, youbetcha.)

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This is my house. I am very happy to hear that John McCain is planning to get the federal government into the mortgage business. Since I’m not entirely sure what will happen with my employment next year, I think it would make good economic sense for the government to buy up my mortgage, too, and refinance it at an affordable zero percent interest.

Geez louise! Did anyone besides me wonder what it would cost for the feds to buy up all the iffy mortgages? And did anyone else weigh that against the cost of simply allowing judges to locally renegotiate or rewrite the terms of predatory loans?

McCain is obviously getting desperate. This isn’t policy; it’s populist pandering. And it’s almost as erratic and bizarre as his reference to Obama as “that one.”

(Video clip via Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish)

What did you all think of the debate?

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Ampelmännchen photographed in Berlin by Flickr user lsphotos, used under a Creative Commons license.

I’ve got a big backlog of things I’d like to say about about politics, but I’m coming down with yet another cold and the global economy is crumbling. So I’m reduced to my reptilian brain, and all it wants to write about is sex. Via Biscuit and figleaf, I’ve been mulling over a deceptively simple thought experiment at Manic Monday:

Which would you prefer and why? To have every stoplight turn green upon your arrival for the rest of your life or to have one week of the best sex any person ever had?

Now, for me the initial answer is screamingly obvious: I live in a small town. I spend most of my time on my bike, not in the car. Anyway, I tend to interpret traffic lights rather liberally while on my bike. Maybe if I still lived in California I’d go for the green lights and reclaim years of my life.

But I live in Ohio, so I’ll take the sex.

The questions figleaf and Biscuit raise in their responses are actually more interesting than the original. Biscuit worries that every sexual experience would pale after such a peak. That’s a reasonable concern.

When I think back to other sorts of pinnacles, though, I can’t say that’s been at all true for me. Take dancing, for instance. Back in college, I once very briefly dated a guy who’d danced on American Bandstand. I didn’t know that until we were at a party and he picked me up and twirled me around 360 degrees. Without warning. Vertically. It lasted two seconds at most. By many orders of magnitude, it was the most intense experience I’ve ever had dancing.

Did that take the luster off of subsequent dances for me? Nah. It happened once. It was perfect. It inhabits its own space in my imagination and memory. It didn’t impinge on late nights in Berlin clubs, or endless sunny California afternoons at Grateful Dead shows, or the ballroom lessons I took (clumsily but happily) with my husband back when we were planning our wedding.

Or take music. I typically hit a few sour notes (or a lot). Somestimes the phrasing doesn’t come out as I imagined. And yet, I have memories of performances that – while still imperfect – far outshone my actual abilities. Fiddler on the Roof, opening night, me on French horn, and I just nailed all the high notes in the wedding dance. A high school friend who was such a phenomenal marimba player, he made my humble piano accompaniment sound brilliant. A ridiculously simple piano duet with me and my eight-year-old Baerchen ridiculously well attuned to each other. A vocal trio with my mom and sister in church that was virtually one voice singing three parts.

Sex is different than that? Well, yeah. I haven’t often played music naked. (Though maybe I should try it?) I’ve never had sex in church. But if these other memories still make me want to dance or toot my horn, why would a memory of near-perfect sex be any less inspiring?

Which brings us ’round to the set of issues figleaf raised for me: What the heck do we mean by “mind-blowing sex,” anyway? After saying he’d pick the green lights (figleaf???!!!) he wrote:

Regular sex is already pretty nice, and in my experience “mind blowing” sex, while also nice, is sort of overrated. I mean who in his or her right mind says “oh darn it, that last orgasm sucked because it wasn’t the best ever” and/or “my partner’s last orgasm sucked because it wasn’t her/his best ever?”

For one thing, it’s precisely because “regular” sex is lovely that I don’t think I’d lose anything by experiencing “the best sex ever.” I totally agree with him that we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. But that doesn’t mean I’d turn down a one-time experience of “perfection,” or some reasonable fascimile thereof.

For another, my idea of “mind blowing” would be pretty multidimensional. I wouldn’t sneeze at an orgasm that went longer and took me deeper than ever before, but (as figleaf might well say himself, if he weren’t still zipping through those green lights) there’s way more to marvelous sex than just shuddering orgasms. There’s imagination. There’s anticipation. There’s the give-and-take, following and leading, of dancing horizontally with a partner. There’s the duet of shifting tempos and crescendoes, whether in sweet harmony or giddy dissonance. There’s the lure of trying something new, for the first time, and gently pushing each other’s boundaries. There’s playfulness and a readiness to laugh when something doesn’t work quite perfectly after all.

And then there’s the shivery thrill of imagining a week spent having sex. A whole week! Speaking as a fuddy-duddy old mother of two, even the prospect of a week devoted to mediocre sex leaves me giddy. (But really: if I had a whole week, it would not be mediocre.)

On a more philosophical level, if I’m given a choice between efficiency or a new and intense experience, I’ll never view it as a choice at all. My bias is always to assume that experience is how we grow. So that week might just be deeply pleasurable. It might be transformative. Either way, “mind blowing” is a pretty clichéd term – but even if that single week of perfect sex were never repeated (and the original question didn’t say it would be your last great sex, ever) I can’t imagine regretting it. The aftershocks would echo, whether with my partner or alone. Because of that, I’d never be precisely the same.

And I’d have a plethora of ways to occupy my imagination while I sat idling at all those red lights.

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Yah, you betcha – for president. To heck with the lousy vice presidency. And how ’bout a spot for Queen Latifah in her cabinet?

Favorite line: “… the end of days.” (Which is exactly where we’ll be if McCain-Palin prevail.)

And that “maverick” drinking game she brings up at the end? I had the exact same idea just before the debate but rejected it. I still need my liver for a few more years.

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This is the most awesome flowchart since James Brundage’s graphic depiction of sex and the penitentials (no, not that kind of graphic).

Thanks to adennak at the Daily Kos for parsing the impenetrable, clarifying the unintelligible, and charting the directionless:

(Click on the chart if you need to embiggen it.)

Sadly, even with addenak’s marvelous cheat sheet, I still don’t know WTF this means:

“Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.” (Via Steve Crandell at the HuffPost, who questions whether the finger attached to this logic and syntax belongs anywhere near the button.) (Oh, and she’s back to saying “nukular” again – channeling Dubya, I suppose.)

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Breaking the Banks

My kids don’t have piggybanks. The Bear has a kittybank, which he painted himself. The Tiger has a duckiebank that was a gift upon his birth.

Enjoy their cuteness now, because with the $700 billion bailout package that cleared the House today, they’ve just been smashed to smithereens.

Photo by Sungold.

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Remember the sexual harassment scandal that forced Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann to resign last spring? It’s baa-acck!

Mediation appears ready to blow up in the sexual harassment cases involving two employees of former Attorney General Marc Dann, in part because the state’s hired attorneys are arguing that the women “got what they asked for.”

Sources told The Dispatch that the state offered Cindy Stankoski and Vanessa Stout financial settlements of approximately $10,000 to $15,000, along with a public statement calling the women “heroes” for coming forward with the harassment accusations that eventually led to Dann’s resignation under fire on May 14. They sought $400,000 apiece, plus attorney fees.

However, in a Sept. 19 letter to Attorney General Nancy H. Rogers, Rex Elliott, attorney for Stankoski and Stout, called the state’s mediation tactics “shameful.”

“It is now clear, moreover, that the state never had any real desire to engage in a discussion over resolution but rather would prefer to attack Cindy and Vanessa and portray them as women ‘who got what they asked for.'”

(Source: Columbus Dispatch)

Man, I do hope these two women will now take the case to court. I hope they get a nice fat settlement. The state’s approach is a continuation of the intimidation tactics that made it impossible to redress the problem while the women still worked in Dann’s office. Except now the bad guys are invoking the kind of logic that undergirds rape myths.

Next thing you know, we’ll hear that the women invited the harassment because their skirts were too short. Or because they went out for drinks with their supervisors. Or because their bosses are men and well, y’know, men are such beasts they just can’t help themselves.

Hyperbole, you say? Remember, one of the principals in this didn’t just proposition one of the wronged women. After drinking too much, she woke up next to her half-naked superior, Anthony Gutierrez. He wore only his underwear. The top button of her pants was undone. As I argued last spring, it makes no sense to treat this as a civil matter when the facts seem to indicate a possible sexual assault.

So yeah. “Rape myths” would seem to just about cover it.

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From I Can Has Cheezburger?

Say I give a final exam that asks about date rape and a student provides an answer about falling in love; I ask about eating disorders and the student tells me how cool Cosmo is; I ask about the problems mothers face in American society and the student tells me “it’s the hardest job in the world” and we just need to cut taxes …

… what sort of grade do you think that exam would earn?

A simple “F” would be a mercy compared to the negative number it actually deserved.

Now, Gwen Ifill was constrained by the rigid format of the debates from pinning Palin down when she refused to answer the question – a good 80 to 90 percent of the time, I’d guess. We voters operate under no such limitations. We don’t have to give a free pass to a candidate who spews “responses” from a random talking points generator, not deigning to provide any real answers.

And we sure don’t have to reward that candidate with historically expansive vice presidential powers. Look how great that worked out with Cheney. He snarls. She winks. Either way, it’s a tic, not real engagement with us citizens.

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How wrong I was.

A recent study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that female cancer patients get significantly less adequate relief of their pain than do men in a similar position. Via Reuters (and Medscape, free registration):

The researchers examined pain severity and the adequacy of pain management in 131 cancer patients newly referred to a multidisciplinary cancer pain clinic.

Men and women did not differ significantly in terms of worst pain scores, least pain scores, or pain interference. However, average pain in the last week and “pain right now” were significantly higher in females (p<0.05).

The mean total daily dose of analgesics was significantly greater for males (130 mg morphine equivalent value) than for females (66 mg). Females were significantly less likely than males to receive prescriptions for high potency opioids (32.9% vs 51.0%).

Women were significantly more likely than men to report inadequate pain control, as indicated by scores on the Pain Management Index.

Contrary to my usual practice, I haven’t tracked down the original study. So I can’t speak to its strength and weaknesses. It definitely dovetails with an existing body of work that shows race and class affect patients’ access to adequate pain relief.

In any event, the gender-linked differences in dosages and the percentages of patients getting the strong stuff are striking. When you consider that women 1) seek medical assistance more often than men, and 2) have the reputation of being less stoic than men (never mind what we endure in giving birth!) you’d expect women would be more likely to request and receive the most potent pain relievers. Why is the opposite true?

If you can think of a reason more plausible than sexism, let me know.

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A friend of mine published this marvelous letter to the editor in yesterday’s Athens News, the local free, independent paper. You have to imagine it read out loud in a rich Scottish brogue:

To the Editor:

I would like to share with you a letter I mailed to Treasury Secretary Henry, aka Hank, Paulson. I am sure that I will receive a reply in due course, reflecting the honest generosity of the man when it comes to doling out taxpayer dollars to the fiscally distressed.

“Dear Secretary Paulson: Or can I just call you Hank? You seem like a decent sort of chap. I see from the news that you are seeking to help your cronies after they made some bad bets. I am hoping you can help me out, too.

On Friday night, I had a straight to the five in a five-card poker game. I stoked the pot as best I could, but incredibly my opponent had a straight to the Queen (God bless her and all her heirs). I took a significant hit with this malinvestment. I assure you I was not at all at fault; it was just the way the cards were dealt.

I see that some of your old cronies have gotten into the same position with some unfortunate bets, and you’ve been funneling them some of Dr. Bernanke’s freshly inflated dollars. Luckily, I did not have time to leverage my bet prior to it going down, as I’d then have been in the hole for much more – like what happened with your chums. My tin of coins is, however, much lighter than it was, and for the next game I am facing a liquidity crunch. I was wondering if it could be arranged for my toxic investment to be sold as an illiquid asset to the taxpayer?

Your obedient servant, etc.”

I am awaiting the check in the mail once our gutless Congress again caves.

David Young

Yes. We’re waiting. And waiting. And waiting.

As for David’s poker losses: I can confirm they’re not just a literary device. We talked about his Black Friday Night at the after-school pickup. Luckily for us taxpayers who’ll bail him out, David’s losses are still in the two-digit range.

The disheartening thing is that it’s Hank and his cronies who are holding all the cards.

Photo by Flickr user Fabio, used under a Creative Commons license.

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