Friday, December 28, 2007

In a nutshell

Via Jezebel, Diablo Cody expressed very nicely how a woman is damned if she does, and damned if she doesn't.
"...This is a real paradox for me: My entire life I've been told I wasn't pretty enough. My entire life I was told by people that I was ugly, that I was too tall, that I was flat-chested, that I was this, that I was that. When I was a stripper I was never quite pretty enough. I was never one of the beautiful girls. I was never one of the top earners. Suddenly I achieve something in my life that is purely intellectual and purely creative, and I'm being told that it's because I'm pretty. To me that is the weirdest, most ironic thing ever. Like all of a sudden I'm attractive when it suits people's purposes. But in the past when I needed to be attractive I was ugly. So let's pick. Which is it?" -- Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody [Minneapolis City Pages]
Don't we all know: it's neither. It's that a woman can't be successful on her own merits, so she's got to be cheating somehow.

Cross-posted at Cogitamus.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Gone Fishin'

I've not been an attentive blogger lately, and I don't plan on being so until January 9.

In the meantime, happy new year!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

In play!

I live in Idaho, so if I gave up hope on Idaho Democrats, I'd be all dressed up during election season with nowhere to go.  I'm biased.  I don't think I can chalk the same bias up to the DCCC, though.  From the Ridenbaugh Press:

The national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which at the
moment is well-enough funded to go after Republicans incumbents more
than it has to play defense (it has $30.6 million to $2.3 million for
its Republican counterpart), today released its list of 40 Republican-held target seats. Two of them are Northwestern: Washington’s 8th, held by Dave Reichert, and Idaho’s 1st, held by Bill Sali.

As I've mentioned before, ID-01's looking at a three-way Democratic primary this year.  My opinions on that contest later. 

Microloans, Macro-interest

Paydaylenders_3

Image from Predatory Lending Association




I thought Business Week's article "The Ugly Side of Microlending" had a familiar ring to it:

The transactions are so minuscule they hardly seem worth the bother.
The average loan amounts to $257. But for Banco Azteca, a swiftly
growing bank affiliated with Latin America's largest household
retailer, the small sums represent a torrent of revenue that has caught
even its founders by surprise. For three decades, micro-lending was
seen as a tool of nonprofit economic development. Now poor people are
turning into one of the world's least likely sources of untapped
profit, primarily because they will pay interest rates most Americans
would consider outrageous, if not usurious.

The interest rates quoted in the article - 50%-120% - are quite outrageous to this American, but they're definitely not unheard of. What I'm speaking about, of course, is the ubiquitous payday loan, which can charge interest rates of 500% per year. (Check out the satirical Predatory Lending Association for more alarming statistics, not to mention disturbingly spot-on parody.)


These shady business practices are nothing new, but they sure sound a lot nicer when spoken of alongside Nobe Peace Prize-winning programs that extend small loans to businesspeople in the developing world who don't have the collateral for traditional bank loans. It's an association that most may not make with the payday loan model, though they are essentially the same thing. So it's not surprising to learn that Mexican non-profit microlending institutions have transitioned into the for-profit world, and quite comfortably.

Banco Compartamos portrays itself as the gentler lender to Mexico's poor. Compartamos means "let's share," reflecting the philosophy of its founder, José Ignacio Avalos Hernández. The scion of a cosmetics business family, Avalos, 48, is a devout Catholic who in 1990 converted a nonprofit donating food and clothing to the deprived into one that made loans guaranteed by borrowers' neighbors.

...

In 2000, Compartamos sought greater scale by becoming a for-profit, which led to the founding of the bank in 2006. Today it has a portfolio of $316 million lent to 765,000 clients, dwarfing nonprofit micro-finance organizations in Latin America. Fueled by annual interest rates that can exceed 100%, it is one of Mexico's most financially successful banks, providing investors with an average annual return on equity of 53% over the past seven years.

And so a shady business trades on its former saintly image, and the working poor are again saddled with higher costs for the same financial services that middle-class and upper-class consumers use.

For more information on these and other predatory lending practices, see the Center for Responsible Lending. If you haven't finished your holiday giving, consider donating to (or donating in the name of a gift-recipient) Kiva, a non-profit organization that collects small donations ($25, $50, $75) through the internet and directs them to microlending institutions throughout the devloping world.

Cross-posted on Cogitamus.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Poisoned coattails

Ezra Klein's LA Times op-ed about the extent to which Hillary Clinton actually polarizes voters was interesting in itself, but especially interesting in the context of Idaho Democrats' anti-Clinton pro-Obama push as of late. Many Idaho Democrats (amongst other Westerners) are concerned about the down-ticket effect that Clinton might have on other candidates in the state. It's no surprise that Clinton isn't a popular figure in Idaho, but Klein argues that Clinton's high negatives aren't any worse than the stats that both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush rode into office - twice each. Klein:

Before his successful 2004 reelection campaign, George W. Bush was
viewed favorably by 52% of the populace and unfavorably by 47%. That
means he was even more unpopular than Hillary Clinton is today -- yet
he won. Worse yet, at the end of his 1992 election campaign, Bill
Clinton was rated unfavorably by 49% of voters (thanks, in part, to
Gennifer Flowers and allegations of draft dodging), and during his 1996
reelection campaign, 44% of voters said they had an unfavorable
impression of him. Yet not only did he win both elections, he's one of
the most popular political figures in the country.

This is all well and good when we're speaking about a national race for one office, but voters in Idaho have long understood their irrelevance to the Presidential race anyway.

No one is expecting Idaho's electoral votes to go toward anyone but the Republican nominee for President, but there is cautious optimism for other Democratic candidates in Idaho this year. The state party's gotten quite ambitious with its ground game, we look forward to a vigorous three-way primary for the 1st CD nomination, and there are rumblings about Larry LaRocco's campaign gaining ground in competition for Larry Craig's* presumptively open Senate seat.

Looking at election results from the past several elections, I don't notice much of a down-ticket effect, either in presidential election years or election years where there is no presidential race. The clearest trend, until 2006's election, is Idaho's increasingly locked-in status as a Republican state. Bill Clinton - if not the most liberal, definitely the largest-looming boogeyman in a Republican's dreams between he, Kerry and Gore - got a larger plurality (33.6% vs. Dole's 52.2%) of Idaho's votes than either Kerry (30.3% vs. Bush's 68.4%) or Gore (27.6% vs. Bush's 67.2%) did in their elections. Down-ticket races basically followed suit, with Democrats as shut out in 2004 as they were in 2000.

2006 was the year I actually started volunteering in and following Idaho politics very closely, so it's hard for me to very accurately gage things like momentum. But comparing congressional and gubernatorial numbers between 2006 and 2002, I'm confident that I can't chalk entirely up to my imagination a change in momentum. Democrats showed improvement in their vote numbers in both CDs, as well as the governor's race.

I'm positive that Hillary-phobia is endemic in Idaho, but I'm not so sure that a race so predictable in Idaho as the one for US President is going to have much effect on Idaho's other elections. I'm also a little lonesome in this opinion, so I'm not willing to make any bets. Looking at past election numbers, though, I'd rather see Idaho Democrats attempt to capitalize on dissatisfied Republican voters and a stable, strong state party than try to dodge a Hillary bullet.

*It is apparently hard to make it in Idaho politics if you are not named Larry.

Cross-posted at Cogitamus.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

100,147 and counting

Sometime today, I reached 100,000 viewers to F-words.

Pretty cool, huh?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Some thanks

Jay Stevens of Left in the West brings some tragic and infurating news:

Last Wednesday, two Missoula men - one, a senior at Hellgate High - stomped to death [a] homeless Navy veteran, Forrest Clayton Salcido, near the California Street footbridge. The attack was unprovoked and random.

When this was reported on the Missoula, MT blog 4&20 Blackbirds, the director of Missoula's Poverello Center, a place that provides "food, shelter, help and hope" to the homeless population of Missoula, left a very moving comment that I thought deserved to be propagated.

A (fairly long) excerpt from the whole post at 4&20 Blackbirds:

At the Poverello Center, Western Montana’s largest emergency homeless shelter and soup kitchen, we serve hundreds and hundreds of homeless vets each year. There are many vets sleeping in our overcrowded bunks each and every night, 365 nights a year. They are men and women from all branches of services and representing many different wars. Elderly and middle aged men are most common. Many folks suffer from mental illness and physical disabilities. Some have only recently lost their jobs or their families. Some have been injured on the job, and they don’t have medical coverage. Their car has broken down. Some are much more down and out. They all have amazing life stories. Their problems are often complex.

At the Pov we are seeing an alarming trend in the number of younger homeless veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, turning to the Poverello Center’s VA sponsored Homeless Vets Program for necessary services, mainstream resources, treatment and job assistance.

I am writing because this trend does not bode well for our future.

According to the Veterans Affairs Department, 1500 homeless veterans are from the current wars.

...

As Executive Director of the Pov, I am asked to educate Missoulians about poverty and homelessness often. I am honored to do it. The faces of homelessness are diverse. I speak before civics groups, classrooms; you name it. But I have observed that many people seem to want to hear about homeless kids, homeless women, and other marginalized demographics. We serve the many diverse faces of homelessness at our downtown facility. There is no doubt that they each need unique and expanded resources. But when I start talking about the number of homeless vets in Missoula, I feel a visceral lack of interest or understanding of their complex barriers to housing and employment (For example, the reaction some in our community recently had to what was viewed as a sudden increase in the number of our chronically homeless citizens panhandling downtown; letters to the editor referencing “the unwashed”.) It frustrates me.

These honorable men and women come home from horrific conditions, often without a job, often with strained family relationships, not to mention unspeakable injuries of the body and the mind. Some of these guys will tell you that they were not prepared at all to go back to a “civilian” life. Their money runs out. They stay in cheap motels. And they go to the Pov.

Any American should be ashamed when reminded of this information. I would like to note that the statistics given are somewhat misleading, as Idaho blogger Bubblehead notes:

The report says that the suicide rate for veterans in 2005 was 18.7 per 100,000, and claims the rate for Americans as a whole is 8.9. That's over twice the frequency! They don't mention, however, that men actually succeed in suicide at a rate about 4 times that of women, so the actual rate for men as a whole is closer to 18 -- not really much of a statistical difference if we assume the vast majority of veterans are men. (In the same way, the over-representation of veterans among the homeless is lessened if we compare homelessness numbers by gender, since men are over three times more likely to be homeless.)

I can't say that I agree that with Bubblehead that the skewed numbers make veterans "look bad." While they exaggerate, they aren't a complete fabrication. Anyway, I don't think homelessness or susceptibility to severe symptoms of mental illness reflect poorly on an individual. In fact, I would say these numbers make the non-veteran population (that includes me) look bad, for uprooting if not taking the lives of fellow American citizens, and shrugging when we walk by them sick, hungry, and lying on the street. That is, when we're not murdering them outright.

Donations can be made to the Poverello center here.

Cross-posted at Cogitamus.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A call to self-service

As a lifelong atheist who's somehow managed to get through her life without murdering, raping and torturing, I of course was miffed by Mitt Romney's speech about his faith. Instead of using the opportunity to denounce bigotry and invoke the nobility of a Constitution that treats all Americans equally, he encouraged the faulty reasoning that bigotry thrives on, and directed it at an easy target.

Religion describes what a person believes, not what they are. This isn't a surprising thing to hear an atheist assert, but you would think that a member of a religion that puts such a strong emphasis on evangelism would be likely to agree. This occurred to me after the visit I received from two LDS missionaries yesterday. It was a polite interaction, only mildly awkward given the subject matter, and not very memorable. But it brought Romney to mind, and his attempt to use my unpopular view of the Universe to wedge himself into the White House. If he won't acknowledge any kind of value in including nonbelievers in American life, he can't have had a great time on the mission he spent in France in the 60's. Why would he waste his time trying to convert people who have already proven their worthlessness?

When you believe in the inherent dignity of every human being, secularism is a pretty simple concept. It bestows rights on every individual and leaves them to decide how best to exercise them. Ideally there are no exceptions, there is no test. If you believe your rights are not bestowed by the State but by God himself, it gets more complicated. A person's rights are defined by God, enforced by people who can only have so much knowledge about a person's religiosity, and can't really be considered "rights" to begin with when they're dependent on how you exercise them.

Romney said that "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom," but this doesn't make a bit of sense when you use any kind of normal definition of freedom. Disallowing people to not choose a faith doesn't sound very free to me. And what's more, it doesn't respect the concept of freely choosing a religion, something that Christian evangelism relies on.

Either Romney's years of service as a missionary were an empty exercise that confirmed his belief that nonbelievers are the "them" to his "us," or he's willing to invalidate a major tenet of his faith for a chance to be come President. Whichever it is, his support of bigotry has strengthened the underpinnings of anti-Mormon bigotry, and I'd be disappointed to see someone who was operating under either notion in the White House.

Cross-posted at Cogitamus

Food notes

It's been a while since I've written anything about food, but I've had lots of ideas since. Here are just a few ideas and dishes that I've been eating and thinking about.


I am addicted to sharp cheddar and granny smith grilled cheese sandwiches. Sometimes I add thin-sliced ham or stone ground mustard (and I think bacon would work even better than the ham), but sliced apple, whole wheat bread and extra-sharp Tillamook cheddar are really enough to make me happy.

***

At Thanksgiving, I passed my responsibility of making a sweet potato dish on to my husband and instead concentrated on an appetizer. Above is some blue cheese shortbread that I brushed with a little egg wash before baking so that I could get crushed hazelnuts to stick to half of them (I think I may be mildly allergic to hazelnuts). A lot of people were thrown by their look and thought they would be sweet and not savory. The recipe I used suggested serving them with a chutney and cream cheese roulade, which I thought sounded like a total flavor-trainwreck, but the cookies/crackers turned out with a deep but sort of generically-cheesy flavor. I'd also made some Jezebel sauce to serve with crackers and cream cheese (I used Cooking Light's recipe from a few years back, which is made mostly of rehydrated dried apricots and pineapple jelly, with dijon mustard, jalapeno jelly and horseradish added), and it turned out to be delicious with the shortbread.

If you're curious, Andy ended up whipping the sweet potatoes with sriracha, scallions and butter, and they were excellent.

***

If you haven't noticed, my del.icio.us sidebar is mostly filled with links to recipes and Chowhound threads that interest me.

***

I've been on quite a muffin-baking streak lately, which started with whole wheat chocolate chip pumpkin muffins. It was my first experience using whole wheat pastry flour, which I now totally adore. It gives muffins a great texture, though I've noticed goods baked with it going stale faster than goods with good ol' AP. It still has a nice light color, which is nice for things like blueberry muffins, and if I have to eat a few more muffins a little more quickly, I can't complain too much. I've also been using my grandma's banana bread recipe, which makes great not-too-heavy and not-too-sweet muffins. I'm not a fan of muffins that were they frosted would be indistinguishable from cupcakes.

***

That's it for me - what interesting stuff have you been making?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

My first missionaries

After living in this apartment for over five years, I finally received my first visit from a pair of LDS missionaries. I was surprised to see that they were both women - one pregnant, in fact - but didn't have a chance to talk, because I was feeling bad about my place being so messy. It was a kind of amusing interaction, wherein I did confess that I was a feminist atheist, and they gave me a pamphlet about the proper roles of women and men in family (even before I used the f-word). I was tempted to pick their brains, especially in case they felt like talking about Mitt Romney, but the state of my apartment prevented it.

Winning friends and influencing people

Hear ye, hear ye: I've been invited to join Ezra Klein's orphaned guest bloggers (Klein's blog has been absorbed by The American Prospect as of Monday) at a new blog called Cogitamus. And I've accepted! Things are just getting settled at Cogitamus, but I will be posting there regularly from now on.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Alien race beauty products

When I see something called "eye concealer" advertised, my first thought is that it's designed for some kind of alien race who might want to cover their eyespots, so as not to intimidate or frighten their acquaintances. Imagine turning around to find embedded in your date's back two giant glowering eyes - it's not a recipe for romance.

Feministing's inevitable progression toward world domination

I think that Feministing's plans to become a Daily Kos-style community blog are right on. Feministing more than any other feminist blog tends to work as a central aggregator for all things feminist, but there's only so much that a handful of people can do. Letting users help direct content might go a ways toward resolving conflicts about inclusiveness and would be a great way for new bloggers to get a running start at attracting readers.

Katrina Lauderdale, RIP

I've been thinking a lot about this story lately, about a two parents who watched their three-month-old child born with a cleft palate starve to death when they were unable to feed her, afraid to seek medical attention without health insurance.

Their daughter, Katrina Lauderdale, was born in Burns, Ore., on Oct. 24, 2006, with a cleft palate, a facial deformity requiring special feeding procedures. While in Oregon, she was seen weekly by doctors who instructed the couple how to feed their baby and provided them with special bottle and nipple systems, according to a police affidavit.

But after they moved to Spokane last November when Charles Lauderdale took a new job, the doctor visits stopped. Charles Lauderdale lost his job and his wife went to work, leaving the baby in her husband’s care when she was working.

Two Oregon doctors concerned about the baby’s failure to gain weight had advised the parents they needed to keep Katrina under continuing medical supervision in Spokane, but the couple later told police investigators they had no health insurance, the court affidavit says. No Spokane doctors saw Katrina.
It makes me so sad, and so angry. From the description, it sounds like the couple did act gravely and criminally irresponsible, even in their bad situation. But I still feel for them. I'd like to think that there are public assistance programs they could have turned to, or that if I were in the same situation, I'd have brought the child to the emergency room, hospital debt be damned. I can also imagine some of the fears of the parents'; that if they brought the child to the hospital, she would have been taken away by state services, and if not now, when they hospital bills came due and they lost their home. Or maybe they hoped to wait it out, until the father found a new job or the mother finished her probationary period at work and began to receive health benefits.

But even if these two were simply stupid and cruel, their child was the last person who deserved to pay the price for it. If the parents didn't have to think about what a doctor's visit would do to their financial security, things would surely have turned out differently. Universal healthcare is fallible like any other system, but at least it doesn't punish families like Katrina's for seeking help. If a child's parents are already stupid and cruel, financial roadblocks between her and the medical care she needs aren't going to help.

And we see this so clearly in Katrina's case, where she thrived with public assistance, and starved to death without it. There are a patchwork of nurse home visitation programs in Washington, programs that have been shown to work, but Katrina was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Even (especially?) the clever and kind among us realize that the Lauderdales had only bad and worse to choose from. Add some ignorance, a great amount of fear, and probably some wishful thinking, and it becomes clearer how these things happen. These are the stakes, and consciously doing nothing to change things has a real an impact on peoples' lives as any changes do. We can punish this couple as hard as we want, but as long as the same system puts the same pressures on all of us, we'll see the scenario play out over and over.

Nice

Feel like the Democratic front-runners aren't giving you enough substantial talk about foreign policy and immigration? Talk of the Nation is hosting the Democratic presidential front-runners in a debate on those subjects. Check it out.