Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Economic Butterfly Effect

"The Market" is a complicated system.  The system's rules are often regarded as natural, even if they're arbitrary.  People have occasionally proven themselves bad at engineering complicated systems.  (Think Jurassic Park.)  People have lately proven themselves bad at pulling magical free money out of the market.  We've seen a lot of unintended and bad consequences from economic policies and financial innovation.

I don't see why it's obviously stupid to try and cut down on the population of dengue-carrying mosquitoes, but not obviously stupid to use the system of farm subsidies we do.  In either situation, there will be unintended consequences, but Paul Wolfowitz wasn't just suffering aphasia when he made up the term, "unknown unknowns."

I don't think either of these things is obviously stupid.  You see a lot of caution with regard to economic experimentation in the implementation of the PPACA.  On the one hand, it seems like the long phase-in of health care is a very bad electoral strategy.  On the other, if something horrible happens with a provision or two, we're not so far into it that we can't think of something else to try.

Oddly, I seem to be on the same page as Sen. James DeMint (R-SC) (Via Ezra Klein) with this issue of letting the system do what it does (when we can afford it).  As a statement against weird subsidies, I think that post is over-the-top but basically correct.  I just took out all of the unnecessary Obama-bashing, and added an analogy instead of a ridiculous shout-out to the artificial Christmas tree industry.  

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Language Evolves

One thing I love about the Internet is that it’s democratized writing, and no longer is it just people with the inclination and talent who wrestle with semantics and spelling.  Before chat and texting how often did you hear anyone complain about bad spelling or misused semicolons?  Adding more participants to the world of writing in English has improved it.  Some conventions we’ve been using are just stupid.

Some common misconceptions have almost completely gone away (like, "kerfluffle.") but others are being accommodated.  One can "rifle" through a pile of papers, but that's a really weird word for the activity.  A lot of people say "riffle."  And I've noticed people writing it that way.  While I have never used it, I think riffle is better - it's got a nice onomatopoeia thing going on, whereas the noun meaning of “rifle” is sort of distracting.

Another word I've seen this happen with is "ogle."  A lot of people say it like it rhymes with "goggle."  I think  "oggle" also makes more sense, intuitively.  As such, I have more than once seen the word "oggle" used.  

Another change that doesn’t seem to have completely broken through is with periods and other sentence-ending punctuation’s placement with regard to quotation marks.  When you’re quoting someone, it makes more sense to keep the original punctuation of the quote inside the marks.  If you’re asking whether someone made a particular statement, you should be able to add your question mark after the quote with its punctuation included.  Did Marci say, “This is not what I wanted!”?  

So these were some changes I think needed to be made.  I’m not on board with all of the ones I've seen.  One I simply cannot support is single-spacing between sentences.  It’s strange how much you internalize rules in writing before you can articulate them; I am occasionally very confused by someone using the wrong “their” or “your.”  

I’ve also noticed a huge amount of unnecessary comma use, which breaks some aesthetic rules of mine, and seems to break a logical rule that I haven’t pinned down yet.  For example, if someone says, “Whatever happens, happens,” I don’t think there should be a comma between the repeated words.  A comma should almost separate a question from an answer within a sentence.  There needs to be a kind of tension that the comma supports.  The aesthetic thing is that a comma interrupts the flow of the sentence, making it seem rambly.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pee See

I've been thinking about the ability for words to harm lately, and which ones sting and why.  I'm hurt if someone calls me fat or a bitch or a slut.  There's something at work here with terms that you can't force away from yourself.  Slurs that mean, "what you are, which is is obviously a bad thing," stick.  I consider "bitch" and "slut" to be slurs that basically mean, "woman."  Ditto fat, to a certain extent.  (It's kind of hard to explain, and probably very idiosyncratic.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

I'm Fascinated

I'm a square.  I like rules.  Oddly, it's taken getting older for me to see how deeply this trait is embedded in me, and how badly I need to work around it.  I thought you were supposed to get more conservative as you age.

Anyone reading my blog may be getting sick of the Occupy talk.  But I'm hooked on the puzzle.  I can't quite figure it out (and I'm putting in the effort), but I can't shake the feeling that there's some "there" there.  I think that's a good sign.  If I need to rebuild a lot of my ideas about how the world works, I'm not going to put it off until I'm completely fossilized.

I find this pretty exciting, but it's a personal exploration that could easily get very boring to people who are not me.  I write this blog because I like to think out loud, and I assume people read it because they like seeing someone do that.  I promise to stop the soul-searching, and limit it to the actual revelations.

A thought

I came across a "hur hur, I go totally NUTS when I have my period" graphic on Facebook today, and those things really bug me.  I made a comment about how all people, female or not, are cranky and awful from time to time, but the menstrual cycle's effect on mood is at least predictable.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Disconnect

There was something implied in the occupation of Zuccotti Park.  Picketing, protesting, marching - you do that until your demands are met.  I've been reading about consensus-building, and while it's fascinating and a promising model for organizing, I'm having a hard time getting on board.  If the process is the purpose, then I don't see how anyone will get more than participation ribbons within the next five years.  The most cynical thought I have had about consensus-building is that it's the terrifying result of Special Snowflake-ism.  Occupy is anti-hierarchical, which is not the way we tend to see things handled.  Anti-hierarchy seems in this instance to be anti-power, and therefore anti-empowerment.  I held out a little hope after reading this interview with Marina Sitrin on historical use of consensus-building, only to have it totally dashed by Ted Rall later on.

There are precedents of consensus-building working out beautifully.  But I don't think that will happen at Zuccotti Park.  It's the very last thing I want to say "I told you so" about.  I'd love to be proven wrong.  I've spent hours this week trying to convince myself that I am.

OWS has indeed empowered people to make their pain known.  I'll say unequivocally that is an accomplishment.  If I may be flip, America has been in need of a pity party.  (Tongue in cheek!  You can have a pity party about an actual problem.)  But it doesn't appear that this is all OWS has set out to do; there are still people camping out on Wall Street.

I read an article by Ted Rall today about how consensus-building is basically useless at making things happen, but super-fun and important anyway I guess.  I read this in the latest Boise Weekly, which is running a series on empowering people with intellectual and cognitive disabilities to vote.  Hilariously, Rall's article (wherein he made a snide remark about having to listen to the mentally-handicapped during the occupation) was on the opposite page of the first installment of the series.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Domestic Battery Legal in Topeka, KS

People were circulating a news story warning that the city of Topeka, KS was considering stopping prosecution of misdemeanor domestic violence, but I didn't believe it would ever happen.  I guess I'm naive.  The story as to why this happened is that there was budgetary fighting between the city and the county over who would prosecute these crimes after a budget cut hit their department.  The county declined to take on the task, as did the city.  From Politico:

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor said the 10 percent budget cut forced his hand at a time when his office is bogged down by other cases. In response, he decided in early September that his office would drop its prosecution of misdemeanors - which include domestic violence and battery without a weapon - in Topeka.

If you'd like to donate to a local DV program, the Topeka YWCA can be found here.  I just did; their job is going to be awfully hard without the legal backup.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Atomized Inaction

I went to my first Occupy Boise meeting on Sunday, and left after almost two hours of hemming and hawing.  There was emphasis on  inclusivity far beyond what is possible.  This just doesn't meet the definition of a collective.  What I saw was neither collective, nor action.  The narrowing and unity that Occupy needs to arrive at will be painful, and a lot of goals will be abandoned to create a front that many can ally themselves behind.  As it stands, Occupy appears to be lot of people with legitimate grievances who would like to harness the energy for their own purposes.  I went because I was curious, and vaguely supportive.    

I can't argue with the fact that marginalized people's priorities tend to be pared off first, and I'll admit I don't know what to do about that.  I'll give Occupy the fact that they recognize this problem, but I can't say that they have moved past it.

Unfortunately, I think I'm equally stuck.

I can see how marginalized people see this as an opportunity to get a foothold on the mainstream consciousness, or maybe make some collateral progress.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


I've been thinking more about Occupy Wall Street, and am feeling generally supportive, but not in any specific way.  In fact, I plan on making it to my first Occupy Boise rally tomorrow (I've missed two all ready).  When you compare OWS and the Tea Party, you can see the TP folks are more organized since they're just Republicans, who pretty much have their shit together when it comes to organizing.  A lot of people say that OWS has really bad timing in waiting so long after the crisis/bailouts/whathaveyou, but the fact that it's an election year, and some campaign* may have a chance to capitalize on the enthusiasm and save OWS from just falling apart.

*Elzabeth Warren?  Please?  (I do feel some irrational personal loyalty to Obama, but I'd vote for her in a primary over him.  Or maybe not.  It's very possible that she could do more good in the Senate than as President.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What do you want, and when do you want it?

It's too bad I'm not the only one who is befuddled about Occupy Wall Street.  I'm pretty darn politically aware, and don't need a lot of hand-holding in approaching social issues, but I'm noticing that I lose interest when it comes to insubstantial ideas.  Yes, I want it to be possible to get by in this country.  I'm very interested in how exactly that can be made to happen, but stuff that is literally impossible is lucky if it gets a shrug from me.  Also, anything with a "Step 2. ?? Step 3. Profit!"

Step 1.  Occupy Wall Street.  Right on.
Step 2. This is what I am missing
Step 3. Thank God it's over.

I don't think that there are too many people unaware of our huge recession.  So it's starting to look like:

Step 1: Underestimate the intelligence of everyone
Step 2: Hey, wtf
Step 3: everyone is mad

What we need awareness of is what we need to do.  The problem is pretty damned obvious.  Though, I do look forward to Reimagine Work, the upcoming conference that seeks a roadmap to an economy that people can live with.  As far as I know, the basic premise is to uncouple income from work.  Now that's interesting.  It's a bit radical for my blood, but something's gotta give.  

Monday, September 26, 2011

It Happened to Me

Farhad Manjoo has a column discussing the white-collar job functions that may soon be automated.  I worked in a molecular biology lab from 2004-2008 and during that time, saw a lot of my duties partially automated.

Extracting DNA and RNA from samples that I had to process is something best done by a robot.  It will treat each sample exactly the same, which is almost impossible for a human to do.  These robots had some pretty clever mechanisms (sometimes mashing up different methods, like PCR and ELISA), and took some work that had the potential to be dangerous out of human hands.

In the short run, these automation systems have the potential to drive costs up, since you're using some patented materials. Still, as it is, using kits with pre-mixed chemical solutions takes advantage of the economy of scale for quality assurance, where you can farm that work out to the manufacturer of the kit.  It often works out to be more cost-efficient and reliable than paying an undergrad to do that work in your lab.

Any of this automation requires a person's judgment call during part of the process, especially with things like medicine.  The auto-radiologist may be able to detect subtler patterns than the human one, but I'd still want my MRI results double-checked.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Undue Burden

Florida passed a law prohibiting a pediatrician from asking a parent if they own a gun.  It was later struck down on the basis of it violating a doctor's right to free speech.  Supporters of the law said it was a violation of second and fourth amendment rights.  You know what actually does violate fourth amendment rights?  Restricting abortion.  Conservatives will stretch the meaning of the Constitution to embiggen the second amendment, but it's still fine to force women to give up personal information if they want to have an abortion.  I almost wish there were actually a wealthy abortion industry which could afford to lobby like the NRA does.  We'd be freer.

This is an interesting case of lawmakers saying that people are able to decide when collateral damage is okay (e.g. gun accidents), but women surely can't be trusted to make a similar decision for their own interests or safety.  This is assuming equality between already-born people and those on their way to becoming people.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Excuses, excuses

Andrew Sullivan has been facilitating a discussion on the reasons people don't want women to serve in military combat, and almost all of them have been about their sexuality.  Depleted uranium poses a risk of teratogenic effects on a woman's subsequent children* (but apparently this doesn't count for men who make babies after a day of learning how to use the weapons), men will not get over their desire to do the ladies, etc.  Now it's getting to the issue of rape.

Read the post - I keep starting to write something and finding that what I wanted to say has already been said there.  And anything else I've come up with have just been half-assed theories about male psychology.

*This is a problem when it comes to American women, but civilians in Iraq just have to deal.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Looking at the right things

I was really impressed by this study that showed that laws requiring guided driving practice to get a license have reduced car crash fatalities amongst the people who actually participated, but the number of people who waited to apply for a license until they aged out of the requirement (usually at 18) almost cancel out the number of lives saved by introducing the program.  Interestingly, in New Jersey, where the requirement applies to all people under 21, there's a consistent reduction in traffic deaths.

I like this study because it has a broad perspective on what we can say actually "works."  It's hard to get excited about the effects of the program in its current form if basically the same number of people are dying before they get to drinking age.  Dying when you're 19 in't much worse than dying when you're 16. (I have to imagine; I've never died.)

So, the upshot is that guided practice improves the safety of drivers.  I would not have expected such clear-cut results, but then I don't know any teenaged car accident victims.  Thinking about this made me wonder how much it affects fatality rates that young drivers tend to inherit older and less-safe cars.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Sacrifice for Beauty

I like pretty shoes, but being mostly a pedestrian leaves me with few viable options in that regard. I went to a wedding this weekend, and wore a new pair of promising-looking heels. I try to go with old-lady brands, and these were Rockports, so you'd think I'd be doing pretty good. You'd be wrong. I walked about a total of two miles in the shoes, and my heels are torn up like you wouldn't believe. Here's a picture of the carnage that I discovered when I got to my destination. Double that, and you'll be able to imagine what it looked like after I got home.

I've never figured out what to do about this.  It's too bad the world has decided you can't wear socks with a skirt any more.  Until this heals, I'll be wearing sandals every day.  I noticed that Band-Aid makes a foot lubricant to put on your feet so the shoes won't rub.  I wonder if that just means your shoes fall off all the time.  People talk about uncomfortable shoes, but don't really mention that they are out for your blood.  How in the world are people supposed to stand this?  

Monday, September 12, 2011


I saw Contagion over the weekend, and there were a lot of things that were 100% right about the movie, and a few that were questionable.

Who doesn't like a movie that glamorizes their stinky and nerdy profession?  I really appreciated how the cinematography saw the world through the eyes of an epidemiologist or microbiologist.  That menacing doorknob is just covered in deadly germs!  Why won't you people stop touching your faces all the time*?  It was jarring in the places where the movie slipped out of assuming that you know most of what's going on to explain some basic stuff to the audience (I'll admit that I didn't know what fomites meant).  And as someone who's done public health work outside of the CDC, I was a little insulted when the state health departments were portrayed as full of idiots.  Still, I appreciate that it was a detour that allowed the movie to talk to the audience like it's not watching the movie as part of a college course.

Speaking of the movie's respect for its audience, there was a strong undercurrent in the writing of someone who thinks people who haven't studied his specialty are dangerously stupid.  Still, the bad guy profiting off of a bogus homeopathic remedy (but I repeat myself) had educated himself just enough to lie well by the time he was able to influence the public.  In the beginning, he was just lucky to have guessed that the first few deaths were the beginning of a major outbreak, and still pretty paranoid.  His conspiratorial thinking wasn't entirely wrong, even if it was corrupt.

I also had a hard time believing that none of the health professionals read blogs about their area of work.  If you're charged with keeping the public healthy, it's a good idea to know how they're thinking.  And of course, there are those written by professionals for each other.  There was an absolute divide between the crazies who don't have degrees and certification but do read blogs and the trained professionals who only talk to each other.  For an attempt to humanize health professionals, there was quite a lot of paternalistic ivory-tower moralizing.

*As a feminist who rarely gets excited about makeup, I recently decided that the "don't touch your face so you don't ruin your makeup" thing is probably a force against the spread of disease.  On the one hand, it seems like you're sacrificing your freedom to rub sleepy eyes to the patriarchy, but on the other hand, don't touch your face so much.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

These tampons will accommodate your fattie vag

Playtex has an ad campaign for a new design of tampon that uses a few silhouettes to illustrate the differing body types that may want to look in to their new tampon, including "empowered," "bubbly," and "chill."  The current iteration of the ad has the fattest of the ladies labeled as empowered, but I swear to god I saw an earlier one where she was labeled as "laid-back."  Of course that caused me to do a wtf and look for their website to catch a screenshot, but I couldn't find it.  Looking at the ad now, the labeling makes more sense, since the fat lady's posture is a lot more active than anyone else's.  Plus, it doesn't imply that your lazy, fat vagina needs a super-special tampon.

I have to add that the horizontal expansion model has been the principle behind o.b. tampons since forever.  I can't help but be an o.b. cheerleader, even if I kind of have given up menstruation*.  They make a superior product whose design all the other companies are finally catching up to.  And may I say, their startling redesign was an improvement on the previous product.  

*Yes, I do in fact think I am too cool for it.  

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Some one-liners, since Reublican debates don't make me feel very serious

I just had a minor brainstorm: Republicans only favor fewer government restrictions on some people.  You're thinking, "Duh."  Somehow, this is a new way of thinking about it for me.  A single, disabled, low-income transwoman in America sure has some liberties at stake under a President Perry.  

Also, if property is theft, how do you have theft without the concept of property?  I assume that the point of the "property is theft" idea is to abolish/question the idea of private property.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Not again

I got my first notification of the immature innuendo being used to raise breast cancer "awareness" on Facebook today.  I had to respond with a link to Barbara Ehrenrich's essay about the saccharine and insulting world of breast cancer advocacy.   This year, it's also a "try to make boys think you're talking about something sexy" thing that makes absolutely no sense.  You post your shoe size and the amount of time it takes you to do your hair.  By the way, it's 6.5, 15-20 minutes.  And my bra is cream-colored.  

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Idaho can't seem to write laws regarding abortion

I've only read about this from national wire reports (and blogs who picked it up), but apparently a Pocatello woman is challenging Idaho's new ban on abortion past 20 weeks, as well as a law that's been on the books for decades.  You'd think a state with a budget shortfall would learn its lesson after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars defending laws they're told are unconstitutional upon writing.

I'll give them the fact that it's hard to ban things which are found to be constitutionally-protected.  Lots of other states have been successful in regulating abortion out of accessibility, but Planned Parenthood of the Inland Northwest appears to have a crack team of attorneys that outmaneuvers that.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nurturing gender differences

Supposedly men are naturally better at spatial reasoning than women are.  However, someone recently conducted a study comparing the spatial reasoning skills of men and women raised in patrilineal vs. matrilineal societies, and found that women in the patrilineal society were less-good at solving a shape puzzle than men were.  The women raised and educated in a matrilineal society solved the puzzle at the same speed that men from their society did.

I have a few concerns about the experiment.   For example, the patrilineal* society compared against the matrilineal* society is described as simply educating their men for more years than they do their women.  I wonder how the results would shake out if the patriarchy's women benefitted from the same education as their men did.

There's a pretty good example of a patrilineal society where women are educated in roughly the same way men are: American/Western schools educate men and women in the same classrooms, and for the same number of years.  In some ways, American education benefits women more than men, yet we still see a differential between men and women in the spatial-reasoning skill.  What was that?  Did somebody say stereotype threat?

Taking all of this together, I think the conclusion is that living/being educated in a patrilineal society negatively affects the spatial reasoning skills of women.  Unfortunately, there are no matriarchies where we could test the effect of patriarchy itself, which I'd find a lot more interesting than the effect of lineage patterns.  The article linked above from The Scientist simply substitutes -lineal for -archal, which I think is rather dishonest (and not something I'd expect from the publication, which I like quite a lot).

*These terms refer to whether family relationships are defined through mothers or fathers.  If children are named with their father's names, it's a patrilineal society.  It may seem like a non-sequitur of a variable to test across, but whichever pattern of lineage a society follows can predict some things about power and family structure.  

Brave New Food

It seems obvious to me that in-vitro meat is a more-ethical way to build a burger.  Lots of people are working on making a commercially-viable system for in-vitro meat.  I have a really really hard time believing that the huge amount of resources needed to maintain tissue culture could ever compare favorably with cows cycling the energy from grass into meat that other animals can eat.  As it turns out, in-vitro muscle tissue needs to be "exercised" to avoid atrophy.  This presents a huge problem for those wishing to culture the tissue.  Instead of letting a cow's native metabolism exercise the muscle, we have to provide that energy.

I'm also perplexed by common attitudes toward cultured meat or protein products.  In fact, I would suggest you try Quorn, a mycoprotein chicken substitute, before it loses its commercial viability.  A few years ago, on  short-lived sitcom Better off Ted, the company that all the characters work for developed an in-vitro steak, which turned out not to be delicious and beefy, but to taste of "despair."  It was implied that such an artificial process for creating a steak would have to be depressing.  I would agree that it's "soulless," but here that's only a good thing.  There aren't any potential animal souls harmed in the making of this dinner.

But if the energy demands of the process can be surmounted, I'd really love to see something like this at my supermarket.  Also, I'm sure investigating the ins and outs of growing actual tissues in vitro will advance the technology for creating replacement organs or tissues for humans who need them.

And because I was apparently the only person who really dug Better off Ted, I'm going include a few of the awesome advertisements for the fictional corporation Veridian Dynamics.  

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Our moral failure

You sometimes have to wonder what currently-accepted practice will be looked back on with horror by future generations.  I've read a lot of people who think it will be the way that we treat animals, but I think the more likely and obvious one is how we treat our prisoners.  We give their labor to giant corporations, keep them in unsafe conditions, and aren't selective enough about who ends up in the system.

  No one wants to extradite criminals to our courts because of our capital punishment habits.  Getting our criminals back after they flee is a lot harder than it needs to be, and I don't think our error-prone death penalty is worth that trouble.

It's almost impossible to envision the moral innovations of the future, and "how we treat our prisoners" may soon sound like, "how we treat our slaves."  To modern ears,  the "treatment" is trumped by the horror of "our slaves."  I'd like to believe that someone can come up with something more useful and less expensive, traumatic, or inhumane than prisons.  Imprisoning people for their crimes is hardly an ideal way of reacting to socially-maladaptive behavior.  But who knows, maybe there's no ideal way to deal with it.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Scared of the Palouse

In the past decade or so, the Palouse has been host to some really terrifying violence against women.  Deadly domestic violence, and last weekend, a young woman was apparently murdered by a man who'd been stalking her. and we're just now finding out about WSU's lax response to sexual assault within its student body.

I don't really know what conclusion to draw from this information, but the pattern is striking and terrifying.  

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Poverty is hard work

....and you'll need training if you're going to do it right.  There are a lot of shame-faced Boiseans pleading for money at street corners lately, and I have to wonder how many of these people know what services are available to help them.  From some tentative investigation, it seems like not a lot of people know where to go when they can't feed their family.  This is absurd.  Social services can be the difference between homelessness and permanent housing.  Assistance doesn't always work out, but it's an option people should know about.

I think there should be classes in high school about navigating social services.  Intervention tends to work better before you're out on the street, panicking about where you'll sleep tonight.  And!  Services usually need to hire someone to do outreach so that the people who need them know they exist.  That's not really the most productive use of their budgets.

Sunday, July 03, 2011


I've been unhappy about how little I've blogged in the past few years, and am going to try out something new - I post links and some thoughts on Facebook often, and they're not nothing.  I'm thinking I'll export that stuff to here.  Expect a lot of links, and much shorter entries.  Hopefully, this will inspire more frequent long pieces, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for them.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Jobs, debt, and resentment

More than one left-leaner I know has been complaining that Democrats are walking into a trap when it comes to talking about deficit reduction, and that it really should be jobs that they go on about instead.  I think there's an intersection of the two issues that is being ignored: all these un- and under-employed people are struggling with their own finances, and giving up a lot to balance their own budgets.  It's not fun to do.  

When everyone's sore about cutting their own spending, it's easy to (falsely) compare the Federal budget to a household one, and act like it really is that simple.  Mr. and Mrs. Public have been cutting back so they can make their student loan payments, and if anyone should be cutting back, it's that wasteful Federal Government.  They're throwing away billions every year on the governmental equivalent to daily Starbucks stops!  Even I know better than that!  

I was disappointed to see that Obama himself is going for the "household budget" frame.  We may well go broke underestimating the American public.

Monday, May 02, 2011

My American feelings

I'm  glad Osama bin Laden is dead.  I'm not thrilled, not at all.  I have been of the opinion for years that he's just a symbol, and not of much strategic importance.  Still, symbolism reverberates a lot in geopolitics.  My very very very cynical reaction is that the bright side is that no one's going to torture him in my name.

I'd have been disappointed if he hadn't been captured or killed, to be sure.  It's something the US military put a high priority on, and they ought to be able to do the things they set out to.

Anyway, on to the speculation.  (It would be irresponsible not to)

In Obama's speech last night, I heard hints that the absurd security theater we've been enduring could be stepped up.  I'm very concerned that Pakistan will be shown to have been harboring him on purpose.  If that's the case, I don't expect to see Af-Pak wind down any time soon.  Actually, even if Pakistan is clean, I don't expect it to.  A lot of people are concerned about Al Qaeda retaliating, but I think they used up their best idea in 2001.  They will continue to be dangerous for at least a decade I'm sure, and do something awful but small in scale pretty soon.  

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dear Unilever and Procter& Gamble,

I'm a woman, age 25-32, and you make many products I'd like to use, except they contain irritating fragrances.  What is up with that?  Who would notice if their Pantene smelled of nothing in particular?

And, Dear Readers,

I've been in Boise for a little over a month now, and things are going pretty nicely.  The move was a little disastrous, as our car DIED in an area without phone service.  We knew the car was getting long in the tooth and would need to be replaced soon.  With the help of my fantastic in-laws, we were able to get a used Nissan Versa that we've named Vice.  Luckily, I was driving a U-Haul, and we were able to get to the new place before the landlord left for the day.

More interestingly, I've been able to start some volunteering stuff at the Idaho Food Bank and the Idaho Discovery Center (a children's science museum).  I've always fantasized about being Bill Nye the Science Guy when I grow up (despite the fact that my name rhymes with nothing), and I'm now one step closer!

Being in Boise, I will probably be able to be more politicky than I have lately, so blogging will be more frequent.  

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Away We Go

I am leaving my hometown.  I love Moscow, but I'm not comfortable with the idea of living here forever.  I graduated high school 10 years ago, so it's definitely about time for me to get the heck out.  My husband just finished law school and got a job, so we're going to head to Boise next week.  I'm still in a career/life limbo, so what exactly I'll do is not really clear to me.   I think I'm going to concentrate on studying for the PCAT, and then apply to pharmacy school ASAP.  I've gone through a few "what will I be when I grow up" fads while I've been side-tracked, and trying to get in there seems like the best solution.  However, I've begun to take writing seriously again, so I'm going to stick with it as much as I can.  

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Hypocrisy is one thing

Amanda's post about wingnut urban legends made me think about how gleeful everyone seemed to be to find out that when Ayn Rand came down with lung cancer, she applied for medical benefits from the government.  That makes her a hypocrite, and her political positions far stupider, but I still think it's her right.  I draw the line at humiliating physical harm as a fair consequence for being a crappy person.  This may be melodramatic, but it reminds me too much of how rape is a way to make a woman or other victim sorry that she tried to assert herself.

Amanda discusses her approach to questioning  anecdotes about some poor person somewhere not trying to improve their lot in the hardest way possible (apparently a sin to a conservative), e.g. a mother on welfare doing the math and realizing that she can devote her time to raising her kids and come out financially and emotionally better than she would if she worked a minimum-wage job.  I feel that it's better to loudly dismiss such things as boring and irrelevant.  The same is true of the anecdotes that back my arguments up.

It doesn't change the principle that people deserve some dignity and free will.  Systems should be gamed, if they result in an increase of dignity and freedom of choice.  Ayn Rand has as much right as anyone else to panic in the face of mortal harm, and take whatever steps are necessary to get on with her life.  A homeless guy has a cell phone?  Besides the fact that consumer electronics aren't all that expensive anymore, WHO CARES?

If I may add another example of being disappointed when people get too caught up in how other people live their lives:

I once was in a discussion about reparations for slavery in the US.  The Chris Rock joke about everyone spending their cash on rims and clothes came up, and I naively suggested something like a scholarship program, which caught on really quickly.  I tried to point out that this money was stolen from people who would otherwise have been able to choose how to spend it, and we don't really think twice about our right to occasionally blow a significant part of our paychecks on a round of drinks for everyone at the bar , but everyone was wearing their social engineer hat already, and too stoked about putting today's black youths on the hard road to success to listen.  

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A drain on society

The thing that doesn't get mentioned when people whine about the cost of supporting people on disability and paying for Medicaid is that these measures give us more productive people to contribute to our society and economy.   All anyone calculates is the cost of the programs.  But there are dividends to the investment!

Actively sick people don't work as well or as much as they could.  People with stabilized conditions (say, someone who can afford their antidepressants) are going to be a lot more useful in the workplace, and pay taxes in to the system.  The same perverse system plays out with social security disability.  

You can't get social security for disability unless you're completely unable to do any work.  This forces some people to choose between working below their true capacity and not working at all.

If a pianist gets rheumatoid arthritis, she can probably still work some retail, so she's not eligible for any support, even as she gives up the prestige and pay of her old career.  Maybe she could be a successful music teacher, but if she loses her status in her profession (along with class status - dressing like the kind of person you'd pay well to teach your kid piano is tough to do on social security), it's going to be hard for her to get a foothold in a business suited to her talents, so she may well end up organizing the sweaters at Old Navy 15 hours a week.

Private-sector disability insurance sometimes works in terms of long- and short-term tiers of disability.  If you're disabled for only a little while, you have some support to get back into work.  If you are just relying on social security, you have to wait until you're completely disabled to get any income support (and then a couple of years to get through the process of applying).  Under-funded Medicaid is hard to rely on to bring you back to your previous capacity, especially if you are out of work while you're under the weather.  Living without income is not conducive to recovery.

This system is a lot more sustainable, since it keeps more people in the workplace and paying premiums for those who won't ever get back (e.g. the pianist who has a massive stroke and can't process language anymore).

An added bonus to the tiered system is that it works for parental leave as well.  You don't have to just cut ties with the working world if you need a year of maternity leave.  American men and women have shown that they're not willing to let work swallow up their entire lives, and the American workforce is fractured into a million dysfunctional pieces when having children means exiting the workforce, or even mommy-tracking your otherwise brilliant career.

But we can't have fakers suckling at the government's teat until they're ready to work again.  It's fraud!  And theft!  Who do these people think they are?  

Monday, February 07, 2011

Warm and fuzzy patriotism

Jacob Weisberg is right that it's pretty understandable to mess up the Star Spangled Banner, even at the Super Bowl.  I really thought Christina Aguilera was more talented than that, but I guess I was fooled.  This all reminded me of one of the neatest moments of patriotic pride I ever had.

In Summer 2000, just after I graduated high school, I was fortunate enough to be sent to Finland in a Lions Club social exchange.  While I was there, I participated in a camp that gathered all of the exchangees in the country that summer, which created a really neat international group of people.  At one point, on a hiking trip, there was a sudden, huge rain storm, and we all had to hide out in a little room with no power, but a fire for light.  How romantic.  This meant we had to actually entertain ourselves, and everyone decided we'd sing our national anthems for each other.  Of course, I was terrified to sing ours, but I went ahead and did it, and despite my complete inability to sing, it was very well-received.

Everyone said it was very beautiful, and hearing that made me realize for the first time that it sure is.  It has clumsy lyrics and is technically challenging, but to me that embodies a lot of the best qualities of the USA;  we're ambitious, and going to do things our own way.  

In my little school, I was lucky enough to have some pretty good free, public musical training (I was not really concerned with voice, I played flute.).  Mr. Murdock did everything the hard way.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Carry a sign, pat yourself on the back

Ta-Nehisi Coates featured a bit of Matt Yglesias' observations on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's editorial warning about Islam being a form of fascism, and rightly pointed out that it went a little far.  I noted this paragraph in particular:

But surely she must see, I counter, that the majority of British Muslims are moderates? Sitting in her publisher's office in an elegant grey-flannel trouser suit and pearl earrings, she fixes me with her lucid brown eyes. "If the majority are moderates, why did the Muslim community never take to the streets to abhor the 7/7 bombers? Why is it that the only time we see Muslims protesting en masse is when Islam is allegedly insulted, like with the Danish cartoons, or the Pope's comments?" 

TNC goes on to say that this isn't a very good test, and I agree with him, but I think it's a challenge white North Idahoans should take up.  We're embarrassed and horrified of our white supremacists, but that's not necessarily clear to everyone.  If we're so anti-racist, why aren't we making a big stink about the racists?  There's a significant stink in the area's press, but that hasn't made much of a difference on the ground.

There is, still, the problem that "taki[ng] the streets to abhor" isn't really a thing, especially when what's abhorred is pretty much officially abhorred.  Racist views aren't illegal, though.  The discussion at TNC's applied this thinking to Take Back the Night-type rallies, which don't make a lot of sense if they just exist to say, "Stupid rapists, please stop raping me," since rape is already illegal.  However, I'd argue that Take Back the Night is more about calling attention to the pervasiveness of violence against women (It's pretty bad if just going outside when it's dark is scary.) than scaring or shaming rapists themselves.  The problem that someone pointed out is that the Take Back the Night name implies that the main issue is strange men attacking random women when they're going about their own business.

Applying Take Back the Night logic to GTFO White Supremacists demonstrations requires the recognition that, like with violence against women relying on widespread misogyny, there's something in our particular local culture that allows these outposts of bigotry to remain, when most of the country has avoided it.  I feel pretty confident saying that there's little virulent racism in the area*, but subtler problems are really really widespread.  I had to give up on a local blog's comment section when someone joking-but-not-jokingly proposed banning the word "racist" instead of "fuck" in the discussions.  White people often need a lot of hand-holding when it comes to talking about race, but that's completely ridiculous.

I was awfully disappointed when my clumsy attempt to start a discussion about what more needs to be done was completely and defensively ignored.  Admittedly, it was a little of-topic where I attempted.  An elevator pitch of, "You're racist, do something about it," isn't a big winner.  I started talking about things I've learned in my own struggles with ignorance about race issues, and my personal racism.  No one liked that, especially since I'm a bitchy, arrogant confrontational writer even when being diplomatic.    I tried some hand-holding in passing on lessons I've learned the hard way.*  There's no real legislative solution to the problem, so work needs to be done on a more subtle, social level.    A GTFO campaign is more like it, but easily co-opted and pretty toothless.  Idaho has been "too great for hate" for probably two decades, but the slogan has done little beyond making people feel less racist-by-association.   Apparently some of our best friends are black, but no one wants to look much deeper than that if they're at risk of being called racist in the process.

Racism isn't exactly our fault, but it's a legacy we're obligated to fix, even when it means being embarrassed and feeling guilty.

*The average amount of virulent racism is much higher here than in the rest of the country, but it doesn't take a lot to bring up an average in such a small population.  The corollary should be that it doesn't take much to bring it down either.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Can't argue with results or: We're doing something wrong

I've been awfully disturbed about violent and overt racism flaring up in my region lately, but have only gone beyond "horror and embarrassment" to "So what now?"   If this is the place where someone's planting their MLK Day bomb, we're doing something wrong.  It's tempting to just say, "Hey, they gotta be somewhere," and rhetorically if not physically distance yourself from our crop of white supremacists, but while the normal public (I'm guilty too) has been throwing up their hands, the white supremacists have been regrouping.  Everyone else seems to be able to avoid this, and we should take a lesson.  My slacktivism hasn't helped me intuit what exactly it is, but I've seen little in the way of ideas for aggressively facing the problem.  In fact, there's the expected pants-wetting occurring when the appropriate word "racist" is applied to the social climate.  I think the individualistic bent of the area is keeping people thinking too small.  Okay, okay, I get it: you're not racist.  That's nice for you.  But it's obviously not enough.  

Friday, January 28, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reducing suicide or reducing murder. Six of one...

There's been a lot of weird, ablist stuff in the media about how more access to mental health care may have helped prevent Gabrielle Giffords' shooting.  It's ablist because it concentrates on how to empower the already in-control "us" versus the mentally-ill and disempowered "them." Vaughan Bell addressed the assumptions about mental-illness-influenced-violence in Slate pretty well, but some are reacting extremely poorly, calling for it to be easier to involuntarily commit individuals, and not worry too much about individual rights.

A lot of this is couched in terms of how the availability of mental health care could reduce murder rates (It probably wouldn't by any significant measure).  I think we could safely predict that a reduction in death by suicide would occur with widespread access to mental health care.  And honestly, I think that's just as good. Interpersonal violence is terrifying, but so is mental illness.  It's not something you can avoid by keeping your nose clean and keeping to your gated communities, so I think it's really strange that people are drawing clear lines between the nutters and the regular people.  The wealthy white people who control the media narrative have a lot more to personally gain by destigmatizing and treating mental illness than they do by writing it off as a problem for the little people.  But then again, one of their own was suddenly horribly affected by a crazy plebe, so that's where the fear is currently focused.  

The other disability-related issue that I think will be interesting is how the brain-injured Giffords will be received by the general public and her colleagues once she recovers.  I predict that she won't be able to serve out the rest of her term, since there will be a lot of recovery to do.  But that doesn't mean she's out of the game forever.  Some are already preparing to write her off, but from my layperson's knowledge of brain injury (and optimistic medical predictions in the media), I doubt that's necessary.  She will have some effects to deal with, but who knows how severe they will be.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Take two martinis and call me in the morning

Talking about the social costs and benefits of drug use at Ta-Nehisi Coates' place got me thinking about self-medication and how weird it is that substances that don't come from a pharmacy are basically considered bad habits by mental health professionals.  If you use alcohol to self-medicate for social anxiety, why shouldn't a therapist advise you in how to do this safely?  They'll do it with Xanax, which has its own dangers and potential for addiction.  

Now, the obvious answer is corruption (kickbacks from pharma?), as well as American Puritainism, but I think the idea is really promising, since swallowing a glass of wine before diving into the conversation at the office party doesn't really come across as something a crazy person would do.  Taking a pill kind of does.  Embracing traditional treatments like these could really reduce the impression of the overmedicalization of normal human behavior in psychiatry, and obviate some of the stigma of mental illness.

The same idea could apply to the use of (somehow decriminalized) marijuana.