Warning: May Induce Seizures

Have you ever seen a movie that defies explanation for its own existence? Something so utterly without artistic merit as to make you wonder how the people involved were unable to see the unalloyed crapola they had produced? Often times these are big-budget productions so bloated the studios probably had sunk so much money in that there was no turning back. And then, there's this:

I don't care what your religious leanings are. There is no belief system in the world that could make a person think this looks good. (I am particularly fond of "Drowning Girl in Sweatshirt.")

Words fail

Up until a few minutes ago, I had never heard of Michael Barone. (I feel a little sheepish admitting that, since apparently he's been rather a must-read for political junkies for years. Whoopsie.) However, I've been directed to one of his more recent blog posts by a couple of different sources, and I appear to have caught him on a downslope.

Republicans Are Normal, Democrats Are Not


This is similar but not identical to a point I've often made: that the Republican Party is the party of people who are considered, by themselves and by others, as normal Americans—Northern white Protestants in the 19th century, married white Christians more recently—while the Democratic Party is the party of the out groups who are in some sense seen, by themselves and by others, as not normal—white Southerners and Catholic immigrants in the 19th century, blacks and white seculars more recently.
It's probably a bad idea of write while in the grip of seething rage, so I'm going to type this very slowly. (A certain Cheney-esque imperative keeps springing to mind, but I am refraining from actually typing out the words.) It must be disorienting for conservatives to see how resoundingly they were defeated in the past election, and thus I can understand the desire to cling to whatever comforting narrative will make it all seem better. But this man, published under the banner of US News & World Report, has just said that blacks, immigrants, Southerners and secular white folk are not normal. (Now that Southerners are voting Republican, perhaps they've turned normal. Barone doesn't say.)

How Barone wraps his head around the fact that the "normal" people in this country are now in the minority I don't know. I'm still dumbstruck by the unmitigated gall required to say that people like you are normal, and that people who aren't are not. And then passing that off as political thought.


And on and on it goes

Via Andrew, I see that the debate between Damon Linker and Rod Dreher about homosexuality goes on. Since I agree with the former, and have little to add to his response, I will simply urge you to read what he wrote. But there are a couple of points that Dreher makes in the first of his responses that I feel deserve some attention.

First, there is this:
Sex, especially homosexuality, is a big deal because how one comes down on those related questions has a lot to do with how you view the authority of Scripture and Tradition. There's a reason why the churches today are breaking apart over homosexuality, and it has to do with the plain fact that there can be no compromise on this issue, as it goes to the heart of how believers understand ourselves, our relationship to God, and to the nature of truth. This stuff matters. It matters a lot. If you are a gay person, you know how much it matters to you. Why should anybody be surprised that it matters to traditional Christians, and for reasons that go far beyond any supposed anti-gay animus? Trads believe we do not have the right to ignore the clear and continuing teaching of Scripture and the Church because it strikes our contemporaries in this post-Christian society as correct.
I have written about this before, but I will try to avoid repeating myself. The reason that this particular issue matters to those of us who are gay is obvious on its face. Why it matters so much to other people is less so. An issue that is utterly central to the quality of our lives and loves has no bearing on the lives of other people unless they choose to make it so. Why and how does this issue affect how Christians understand their own relationships with God? Or, even more confusingly, themselves?

Dreher fails to demonstrate why there can be no compromise on homosexuality, when there has been demonstrable compromise on numerous other issues that (I would argue) were far more central to the life of early Christians. If someone would like to point me toward a church whose members have all sold their homes and given the proceeds to the poor, perhaps I will revise this opinion. The vast majority of Christians, I wager, may consider the lilies of the field, but also have savings accounts and insurance policies. Christians balance their reason and the scriptures all the time, and to imply otherwise is empty posturing. Why they dig in their heels on this issue is not fully explained, nor is it made clear why this issue supposedly has such centrality to their understanding.

Also, there is this throw-away line:
[A]side from mainline Protestant churches and liberal Catholics who dissent from their own Church's authoritative teaching, no Christian church argues for the licitness of homosexual relations. Prior to the mid-20th century, as far as I know, no church of any size anywhere did.
Oh, aside from those? Aside from Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Methodists, no Christian churches, huh? Oh, and pay no attention to those liberal Catholics! No Christians! Am I wrong in thinking this is another way of saying "Everyone agrees with me, except the ones that don't"? And heaven only knows how many Catholics would feel and speak differently if the Vatican didn't steamroll over any dissent.

Further, what does it matter that no churches of any size were interested in arguing for the licitness of homosexual relations prior to the mid-20th century? Neither, presumably, were any arguing about global warming until very recently. Or women's suffrage before the early 20th century. Homosexuals have very recently in human history decided to stop living lives of quiet repression, and thus the issue has primacy now that it did not have before. The Church's historical silence on an issue that was not pressed has no bearing on the present argument.

And, finally, backing up a bit in his post, there is this:
If homosexuality is legitimized -- as distinct from being tolerated, which I generally support -- then it represents the culmination of the sexual revolution, the goal of which was to make individual desire the sole legitimate arbiter in defining sexual truth. It is to lock in, and, on a legal front, to codify, a purely contractual, nihilistic view of human sexuality.
These sentences make me nauseated. What condescension is expressed by that word "tolerated." How very nice of Dreher to support our being tolerated. Shall I now scuttle off and be grateful for that, and stop with my incessant whining about wanting rights, and legal recognition of the validity of my relationship and those like it? And what, pray, is nihilistic about my desire to lock in and codify my love for and promise of fidelity to my husband? Dreher appears wholly incapable of seeing my love for the Better Half for what it is, and thus must reduce it and other gay and lesbian relationships to mere expressions of desire. Suffice it to say, I am not particularly impressed by the depth and value of being tolerated by the likes of him.

Arguing for gay rights with him and his ilk is a losing proposition. He simply doesn't support it from some well within himself, and has found convenient justification for those biases in the Scriptures. Fine. But I refuse to concede that his spirituality is more valid because he backs it with a few Bible verses, and I support mine through my own experience, reason, and apprehension of God's presence in my life and love.


Color me incredulous

I find many things in life deeply frustrating. Driving in Boston, for example. Filling out the various forms sent to me by insurance companies. The lack of decent Mexican food in northern New England.

Wanna know what else I find deeply, deeply frustrating? That this man is the Senate Majority Leader.

Via HuffPo, he has given us the following gem of political thought:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday that John Roberts misled the Senate during his confirmation hearings by pretending to be a moderate — and that the United States is now “stuck” with him as chief justice. “Roberts didn’t tell us the truth. At least Alito told us who he was,” Reid said, referring to Samuel Alito, the second Supreme Court justice nominated by President George W. Bush. “But we’re stuck with those two young men, and we’ll try to change by having some moderates in the federal courts system as time goes on — I think that will happen.”

Oh, I'm sorry. I was just banging my head against a wall. Sometimes it helps.

Riddle me this, readers. Harry Reid is the Senate Majority Leader, yes? Becoming Majority Leader involves a political process, which comes as the culmination of a great many preceding political processes? Yes? Right? He wasn't born Majority Leader, was he? He didn't spring, fully-formed, from Chuck Schumer's head, correct?

So how is it that I, a complete schmo who has been elected to precisely zero public offices, could have told you that Justice Roberts was probably going to be exactly the kind of conservative Chief Justice we have observed him to be, but our esteemed Majority Leader seems compelled to make ridiculous pronouncements that it's all one big surprise to him? Did he fail to recall the words "compassionate conservatism," with all their meaningless glory? Did he think that somehow W., despite all evidence to the contrary, was somehow angling to put stealth moderates on the bench? Had he been spending all of his time between public appearances on MARS?!?!??

Look, Harry. I know you were pretty much hosed over Roberts and Alito. There was all that hoo-ha about the "nuclear option," and you were stuck. I know. But just because Roberts is handsome and well-spoken doesn't mean he was fooling anyone. Or, at least, he shouldn't have. If, honest and for-truly, you were fooled, then it makes you look like a tool to admit it.

Dept. of Redundancy Department

I love the Huffington Post. It's like a deranged hybrid of People and The Nation, and offers everything from inane celebrity gossip to left-wing political ranting... to inane celebrity left-wing political ranting. Truly, a treasure for our times.

I came across this charming little tidbit this afternoon. Apparently, PETA has snagged Khloe Kardashian for its newest anti-fur ad. (For those of you blessedly ignorant of the Kardashians, they're a bevy of fame whores so blatant and talentless as to make Paris Hilton seem like a hard-working character actress who's really paid her dues.) I guess PETA is willing to promote its cause with everything they've got, even a third-string member of a no-talent family famous for grasping every shred of attention they get in a strangle-hold. I don't get it, but then, I'm not in PR.

However, I found this hilarious:
As we've noted, PETA has its own trademark ways of getting attention, and perhaps the most noticeable is their various semi-nude or nude protests.

One of their campaigns that gets the most attention is the "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign, because it enlists attractive celebrities to pose for billboard photos. When they're in your town, they're just about impossible to miss.

While this may technically true for Ms. K, I think it's not the whole truth. Substitute the word "clothes" for "fur," and you're there.

Also, I was on the Tee-Vee!

Well, it wasn't quite the in-depth coverage I was hoping for, but it's a start. From the Bangor Daily News:
At Thursday’s press conference, Dr. Daniel Summers, an Augusta pediatrician who spoke on behalf of the Maine Chapter of the American Pediatric Association, which has 200 members, said he sees all kinds of families in his practice.

“No two are exactly alike,” he said. “The adults in the family are united by a common desire to do the best they can for their children.”

I also had a whopping 30 seconds of screen time on WGME's evening coverage, right before they cut to the odious Michael Heath. Speaking of the opposition, I found this quote intriguing:
Laura McCown of Portland disagrees with her colleagues. She has worked as a social worker and therapist in public and private schools and at a community counseling center, according to Maine Marriage Initiative, a group backed by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, which opposes Damon’s bill.

In a press release issued by MMI last week, McCown said same-sex parents aren’t able to give children the proper influence in gender role training.

“Kids emulate what they see,” she said. “They need to learn from both men and women how to behave in society. If you have two women raising boys, for example, it’s going to be extremely difficult for those boys to develop gender identity, unless the women have a very secure and trust-worthy male who can fulfill that role of example.” [emphasis mine]

McCown is taking a break from her career as a social worker to raise her three children, according to the press release.

Uh........... huh. Well, Ms. McCown, I know this is probably going to come as a huge, earth-shattering revelation, so please sit down. Are you seated? Good.

Many gay and lesbian couples have relatives and friends of the opposite gender who fulfill the exact role you suggest. I know! It's crazy!! So, um... maybe gay and lesbian parents actually think about having role models for their children to address those very same concerns you express. It's like they didn't even need you to tell them! Maybe they have creepy, weird powers of prognostication, or something. Perhaps if you actually knew a few of them, you might have realized this already, and wouldn't have made asinine and easily-dismissed statements for the public record.

Oh, also? What about boys that are raised by single mothers? I've noticed a few in my practice. Are they also similarly confused about how to behave in society? So far as I can tell, none have shown up at school wearing foundation undergarments or lip gloss, but maybe I'm not paying enough attention. Has there been a wave of gender-confused little boys, or are you simply mindlessly insulting the parenting skills of a large segment of the American population?

It's probably for the best that you're taking a break.


Marriage equality in New England, redux

It seems that today is Gay Marriage in New England Day. Hurrah! Via Andrew:
The New Hampshire House narrowly passed a bill today that would allow gay couples to marry.

The final vote on HB 436 was 186-179, and came after nearly three hours of debate.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

The margin was closer than in Vermont. One thing the two thing states have in common is spineless governors.
Gov. John Lynch does not support same-sex marriage. His press secretary Colin Manning said, “The civil unions bill he signed into law prevents discrimination and provides the same legal protections to all New Hampshire families to the extent that is possible under federal law."
It should be noted that Gov. Lynch is a Democrat, proving that (on this issue, at least) both parties have some craven leaders in high office.

Perhaps the best response I have ever read

Apparently the GOP released a "budget" today, to counter the one submitted by the President. One small problem -- it doesn't actually contain any numbers. In response, DNC National Press Secretary Hari Sevugan offered the following:
"I'm all for changing the way we do business in Washington, but proposing a 'budget' that doesn't use numbers may be too much for me. After 27 days, the best House Republicans could come up with is a 19-page pamphlet that does not include a single real budget proposal or estimate. There are more numbers in my last sentence than there are in the entire House GOP 'budget.'" [emphasis mine]
Oooooh. Snap!

My statement

My name is Daniel Summers, and I am a pediatrician here in Augusta. I am here today on behalf of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to express our strong support for LD 1020: An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom. My life and my profession are about taking care of children, helping them to be safe, and healthy, and to grow-up to achieve their full potential. Because I want what is best for children, I speak in support of legislation that would grant gay and lesbian couples the right to full marriage equality in Maine.

As a pediatrician, I come into contact with families every day. Many families have a mother and a father, but many others do not. Some children are raised by one parent, or by grandparents, or other relatives. Many families are a blend of step-mothers and step-fathers, step-brothers and step-sisters. And I work with many families where children are raised by two mothers or two fathers. No two families are exactly alike, but all are united by a common desire, which is to do the best and provide the best for their children.

The AAP supports this legislation because we believe that all children deserve to live in stable families, and that recognizing the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry would provide legal protection for families that are not, at this point, recognized as such by the state. We believe that the love, support and devotion of gay and lesbian parents is no different from the love, support and devotion of other couples, and that children can and do thrive in both kinds of families. We recognize the right of gays and lesbians to marry because we recognize them as equally capable to make decisions for themselves, their children, and their shared lives together. And we believe that gay and lesbian adolescents should have the same opportunities for full acceptance into civil society that their heterosexual peers have, and should have access to the same means of achieving their goals and pursuing their dreams.

It is also important for us as pediatricians to express our support for marriage equality because not everyone gets the close-up view of gay and lesbian parents and their children that we do. Not only do my colleagues in the Academy and I have first-hand experience taking care of thousands of children in our practices, but we have studied the scientific literature in the field about what makes for good child outcomes. It comes as no surprise that what makes a good parent is good parenting, and comes from building a strong and healthy relationship between the adult and child. That is something that everyone is capable of, no matter what their sexual orientation.

Thank you for your kind attention. My colleagues and I urge you to support this important piece of legislation.

Daniel Summers, MD

As a special treat, I got to listen in to Maine's own Michael Heath as he offered his unique, trenchant take on things, and to give a brief rebuttal. (I might [might!] be on WGME 13 tonight. Not sure.) He was taking pictures of us with his phone before we got started, so if anyone sees my picture anywhere, please let me know. As those of you who know me are aware, I have always wanted to be famous.

Marriage equality in New England

At 11 AM in our statehouse, I'll be speaking on behalf of the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics in support of LD1020, which would grant equal marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples in Maine. (I am thrilled that the chapter has endorsed this bill, and that I have the privilege of speaking for it.) I will post the statement after I get back this afternoon.

I've also been distributing postcards to friends and co-workers, to be sent to their legislators, urging them to support the measure. I don't know where it stands right now with regard to votes, but I know it will be very close. It has been heartening to find people around me that support marriage equality, when I would have guessed otherwise.

On that note, I'm interested to see what happens in Vermont. It's a bluer state than Maine, so the margin by which their gay marriage bill passed their Senate is unlikely to be duplicated. On the other hand, I feel pretty confident that Gov. Baldacci won't be saying anything moronic like this:

Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont said Wednesday that he would veto a same-sex marriage bill if it reached his desk, setting a new hurdle for a measure that had been moving swiftly through the legislature.

But Mr. Douglas, a Republican, also said that "legislative leaders would not have advanced this bill if they did not have the votes to override a veto."

The issue of marriage equality, the governor said, "diverts attention from our most pressing issues," which is why he announced his intention to veto the bill.

Because the government of Vermont can only handle one issue at a time, it seems.

As Steve Benen mentions, the governor of Vermont can't very well veto a piece of legislation on the grounds that he just doesn't like gay people. Or that he needs to toe the party line. So he has to advance a line of claptrap that a veto threat is the best way to avoid distractions like gay rights. Apparently, he thinks the people of his state are supportive of gay marriage, but stupid.

[A little housekeeping note -- I'm not really in the mood for snark regarding this particular issue. Thoughtful dissent is welcome, but taking the contrarian path out of habit is not. If you have a differing opinion, get your own blog. With that in mind, I will blithely delete comments I don't like. That is all.]

Update: Apparently I was not clear enough before. The discussion of legalized polygamy is closed.


Damon Linker is wicked smart

When I grow up, I want to be Damon Linker. I consistently admire the intelligence and clarity of his writing, and sheepishly aspire to be half as thoughtful and incisive.

Anyhow, his recent blog post over at The New Republic is worth reading in its entirety. It's about social conservatives' obsession with homosexuality. I have a few thoughts of my own. Here he quotes Rod Dreher:
As he puts it in a recent post,

Gay-rights supporters typically believe people like me hold to our opposition to gay marriage and so forth because of some animosity towards gays. I know that it's true for a lot of conservatives, but in my case -- and in the case of most people I know who share my views -- it's not an emotional matter. We have gay friends, are comfortable around gay people, and simply don't share that visceral reaction that used to be commonplace in American life, and (regrettably) still is in many quarters.

I don't know Rod Dreher, so I can't really speak to his qualities as an individual. I am sure that his gay friends find much to recommend about him. Splendid. But I have very little patience and even less time for people who congratulate themselves for having gay friends, while simultaneously believing that said friends should be content with being second-class citizens. As though we should all applaud and be grateful that we're not getting burned at the stake, and go about our lives keeping in our place.

Linker sees Dreher's views about homosexuality as reflective of the Church's authority in general. The scriptures, Dreher states, are unambiguous on the subject of homosexuality, and thus believing Christians either accept the truth of the Church's condemnation thereof, or reject the authority of the Church to dictate sexual mores.

This is such a trite and facile argument as to be almost embarrassing. The Bible, turns out, says a whole lot of things. In addition to the clarity that the Bible supposedly contains about homosexuality, one can also find (in both Testaments!) justification for all kinds of fun stuff. Slavery, for example, is a breeze (Leviticus 25:44, Titus 2:9). Women, apparently, are useful commodities who should keep their mouths shut and do what they're told (Genesis 29:18-19, I Corinthians 14: 33b-36, Colossians 3:18). While I can find people who will actually defend that latter proposition (though I wouldn't really want to spend much time having a conversation with them), I (certainly hope I) would have a hard time finding anyone in contemporary society that would support the former.

Either we inhabit modernity, or we do not. Either we accept that historical Biblical teaching must be framed within the understandings of our current society, and allow for changes within that understanding, or we do not. Either we admit that reason cannot always be squared with Scripture, and can sometimes even take precedence over a literal belief in Biblical inerrancy, or we do not. Orthodox Christians, even fundamentalists, behave like the former but proclaim the latter. Regardless, let us not pretend that holding up the Bible as the perfect record of God's will, to be translated into law and policy, would result in anything other than a regression.

A small nod toward conciliation

In the midst of an article about the GOP's hope that perhaps Dick Cheney would go back to his undisclosed location and stay there, I came across the following quote.
Bush, who has announced he has already started to work on his memoirs, has not taken shots at Obama.
The 43rd president said last week that Obama “deserves my silence,” adding “it is essential that he be helped in office.”
I am no great fan of President Bush's, and I was glad (to say the least) to see the end of his administration. However, because it is important to give credit where it is due, particularly when so many others on the Right are calling for President Obama's outright failure, I thought I would take a moment and say that W.'s statement was refreshingly gracious and statesmanlike.

It is nice, as Lincoln would say, when we occasionally see the better angels of each other's nature.


Dept. of My God, I'm too enraged to attempt wit

You know how Sarah Palin, champion of the differently-abled, had decided that she was going to turn down a whole mess of federal cash, much of it for special needs children? Apparently, she's decided to climb up on her trusty steed and ride off into battle again. Via Washington Monthly:
Sarah Palin on Friday joined the chorus of outrage directed at President Obama after he made a joke comparing his modest bowling scores to the Special Olympics.

Palin, who has an infant son with Down syndrome, said in a statement from her Alaska governor's office that she was "shocked" to hear Obama make the joke on NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

“This was a degrading remark about our world’s most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world," Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate, said.


"By the way, these athletes can outperform many of us and we should be proud of them," Palin said. "I hope President Obama’s comments do not reflect how he truly feels about the special-needs community.”
Pardon me a moment. The dry heaves are making typing difficult. *urk*

OK. Here's the deal. Obama's crack was singularly unfortunate, and he has apologized profusely for it. But which is worse? Making an offhand remark about the Special Olympics, or grandstanding politically by refusing funds that would help the actual people who would likely be participating in the Special Olympics?

Dept. of Eye-catching Headlines

Perusing the Times homepage just now, I came across the following headline:
Motherlode: Condoms for a 14-Year-Old?
The article in question is a response to this post by Ayelet Waldman, in which she ponders the implications of her daughter's nascent sexuality.
I remember standing years ago in the schoolyard, watching the Halloween parade.


As I watched the column of middle school sexy witches and cereal boxes troop by, I turned to the woman standing next to me and asked, "Which is yours?"

With a sigh she pointed to the sexy flight attendant. "At least she's not dressed like her older sister," she said, nodding in the direction of an eighth-grader wearing hot pants, fishnet stockings and Vegas showgirl makeup and tottering along in 5-inch heels.

Uh... huh. I simply do not understand this. The woman in question appears to be bemused by her daughter's costume. So why did she let her wear it?!??!?!? I am not, as of yet, a parent, so perhaps there are nuances and exigencies unknown to me. (Scratch that. Of course there are nuances and exigencies unknown to me.) But am I crazy in thinking that a mother has a responsibility to keep her daughter from dressing like a two-bit hussy, even for Halloween? Did she forget that there would be eighth-grade boys at her school? Am I some kind of reactionary lunatic to think that a mother still has the power to prevent this, even if this means her daughter will, like, totally hate her for a night or two?

This all leads to Waldman making condoms available for her 14-year old, prompting this question from the Times:
What is the best way to reverse the teenage pregnancy trend? Does it include giving condoms to a 14-year-old? Would you give them to your young teenager?
I won't be giving them to my teenager, because I plan to have her take the veil at 12.

However, in the off chance that she escapes the convent and actually associates with members of the opposite sex, I hope to be as pragmatic as possible. With no effort, I can remember three kids in my fundamentalist Christian youth group that got pregnant/fathered a child out of wedlock, so I don't put much stock in the "keep your knees tightly locked together" form of contraceptive counseling. Obviously, I hope any child of mine would kick any prospective swains in the yarbles if they tried to besmirch her virture, at least until she's old enough to vote. But, more than that, I hope to have the kind of relationship with any daughter that would allow us to talk about the uncomfortable facts of adolescence without my sticking my fingers in my ears and humming. I advise my patients and their parents to do the same.

For Halloween, however, she will dress either as St. Teresa of Avila, or the Berlin Wall.

Almost makes me wish McCain had won. Well... not really

The Republican's Working Man hero Joe the Plumber could barely contain himself last night before a crowd of adoring, media-bashing conservatives.

"God, all this love and everything in the room - I'm horny," declared Joe, whose real name is Samuel Wurzelbacher.

I think I speak for all right-thinking Americans when I say "Baaaaaaaaaaaah, hahahahahahaha! Ha! Hahahahahaha!"

This was the man, ladies and gentleman, who was a welcome guest on the McCain campaign bus. Who supposedly spoke for the concerns of "real Americans" when confronted with the rampant socialism of the Obama agenda. Who apparently is still getting invited to attend things like the Media Research Center's "DisHonor" awards, where he got to rub elbows with the likes of Ed Meese (!). (Where can I get a ticket for next year's shindig?)

On balance, I'm still pretty happy that Obama won. But I grieve the material that would, no doubt, have been provided by our friend Joe, the tumescent faux plumber, had McCain won, and people actually given Wurzelbacher a modicum of credit for it.


Tragic hindsight

Epidural hematomata are tricky, because obviously a provider doesn't want to fly into hysterics every time a person hits their head. In addition to the trickiness inherent in the diagnosis, it's generally ill-advised to offer commentary on a case when the details aren't fully available for review. That being said, I have an answer for the following question (via the Times):
The actress Natasha Richardson, who died on Wednesday from a brain hemorrhage after a fall on a beginner’s ski slope in Quebec, was not admitted to a hospital until nearly four hours after her accident, according to ambulance dispatch records obtained by the New York Times on Friday.


Those discrepancies seemed to introduce new questions about whether Ms. Richardson, who suffered an epidural hematoma — an accumulation of blood between the brain and the skull — after her fall, could have been saved had she been treated faster.
It serves no purpose to add to a family's grief by looking back on what could have been done differently. I do not know what Ms. Richardson was advised, how strongly, and by whom. But, coincidentally, I just read about treatment of epidural hematomata while doing some continuing medical education. Swift neurosurgical intervention can dramatically affect a person's chances of survival. I suspect quite strongly that, had she made it to Montreal in time, she would have survived.

The Sum Total of My Thoughts re: AIG

If you want genuine insight into the financial sector, its depredations and excesses, and what to do about it, I apologize for having had little to say. I understand very little about it, and my feelings tend to be informed by the kind of righteous indignation that almost always accompanies rank ignorance.

So, here are my thoughts about AIG. I think there's something horribly unseemly about people in the same business that tanked the world economy making huge bonuses. It just feels gross, which is as nuanced an opinion as I can muster. I assume the truth is more complicated than that, which is a large part of why I have little to say.

On the other hand, no matter how high the "ick" factor surrounding the bonuses themselves, I find the idea of punitive taxation deeply troubling. I don't like the government using taxes as anything other than a means to raise revenue, and this feels like the legislative equivalent of torches and pitchforks.

There. If anyone has anything more pithy and informative to share, go nuts.

Worrisome, to say the least

I hadn't heard anything at all about this:
Dr. Melvin D. Levine, the North Carolina pediatrician who faces a lawsuit accusing him of molesting young boys during physical examinations, has signed a consent order agreeing that he will never again practice medicine in North Carolina or anywhere else.

In the consent order, which was approved by the state medical board today, the board said that it had been prepared to present testimony that the genital examinations Dr. Levine conducted on five unnamed patients were conducted outside the presence of a parent or chaperone, were not medically indicated and were either not documented in the medical record, or not documented according to prevailing standards.


There have been complaints against Dr. Levine dating back more than two decades.

In 1985, a few months after he left Boston, court records show that a letter of complaint was sent to the president of Children’s Hospital. That complaint turned into a civil lawsuit filed in 1988 in Federal District Court in Massachusetts.

There was also a formal complaint to the Massachusetts medical board in 1993. And a longtime medical colleague, Dr. William Coleman, said Dr. Levine told him in 2002 that another former patient was claiming sexual abuse.

None of the cases were proved in court.

The lawsuit was dismissed in 1991 for lack of evidence. The Massachusetts medical board did not find enough evidence to act on the 1993 complaint. The patient who made the complaint to Dr. Levine in 2002 is now a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by Carmen Durso, a Boston lawyer.

Mr. Durso has said that more than 50 other former patients or their parents have been in contact with him with complaints about Dr. Levine.
It is, of course, important not to convict a man of sexually predatory behavior in the court of public opinion, and to presume his innocence, just like anyone else's. It is the nightmare of every doctor to be falsely accused of inappropriate behavior of this sort, and so most of us tend to be hyper-vigilant. It is plausible, if highly suspicious, for various isolated incidents to be unrelated to actual misconduct, and the statement from a plaintiff's attorney should be viewed with some skepticism. But Dr. Levine worked with vulnerable patients, and it seems safe to say that he erred (at the very least) in how he did so. Failing a miscarriage of justice, appropriate documentation would have satisfied a medical board, and would not have led to a suspension of his license to practice.

The prospect of a pediatrician taking sexual liberties deserves oppobrium, not commentary. Indeed, what can be said? For my part, all I can do is shake my head, and continue to take the steps necessary to keep my own practice above the hint of suspicion.

Small housekeeping detail

So, look. It's not like this is the blogosphere's most visited destination, so I should probably be grateful that people are reading and commenting at all. But, if I may present a small request to my even smaller readership, I would like it if perhaps the comments section could be free of puerile references to bodily functions and genitalia. Thank you.

Hoo, boy

In the McCain campaign post-mortem, I almost began to feel sorry for Sarah Palin. In retrospect, the whole campaign was pretty much doomed from the start, and when the long knives came out I think she was scapegoated a bit. (The whole kerfuffle about her wardrobe, for example, was a bit much.) This isn't to say that the thought of her within spitting distance of the White House wasn't terrifying beyond verbal description, but I didn't really want to see her totally destroyed in the media, either.

Thankfully, she has gone to the trouble to remind me of why I opposed her so much in the first place. From the Anchorage Daily News (via Washington Monthly):
Gov. Sarah Palin is refusing to accept more than 30 percent of the federal economic stimulus money being offered to Alaska, including dollars for schools, energy assistance and social services.

The news Thursday drew anger from those who accused Palin of putting her national political aspirations ahead of the state's interests, and admiration from others who say she has courage to turn down money that would expand government. The state Legislature will have an opportunity to override her decision.


The biggest single chunk of money that Palin is turning down is about $170 million for education, including money that would go for programs to help economically disadvantaged and special needs students. Anchorage School Superintendent Carol Comeau said she is "shocked and very disappointed" that Palin would reject the schools money. She said it could be used for job preservation, teacher training, and helping kids who need it.
It looks like Palin is pulling a Sanford. Why do I suspect that she's hoping the Legislature overrides her decision so she, like the South Carolina governor, can reap the political benefits with her base without having to pay the price of doing without the actual money? Kind of a cake having/eating situation. Now, this would just be the typical political posturing (no great surprise, and not exclusive to Republicans) were it not for one niggling detail. Look at where those cuts would hit hardest, then remind yourself of one of Gov. Palin's purported signature issues.
Sarah Palin today picked an issue close to her heart for her first major policy speech -- special needs children.

Palin, whose 6-month-old son Trig has Down syndrome, told a crowd in Pittsburgh that the federal government should do more to help those children and their families, and give parents more choices.

"The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who are most vulnerable," said Palin, who has said that, if elected, she would be an emissary for those families in the White House.

The truest measure of any society, huh? The federal government should do more to help? Really? Why, I guess that would make you a raging hypocrite then, wouldn't it, Gov. Palin?


Because I have nothing to say about AIG

You have to be seriously mad at someone to attack him with a cat. However, for us dedicated Project Runway watchers, it should come as no surprise that the cat-wielding assailant was Kenley.
According to the New York Police Department, Collins, 26, remembered by Runway fans for her brash manner and 1940s style, was charged with two counts of assault, criminal possession of a weapon and harassment after potentially striking a male in the head and face with a computer.

According to earlier reports from TMZ.com, the reality star allegedly attacked her sleeping ex-fiancé with her pet cat, water, several apples and the laptop. The Web site also reports that Collins is currently being held in jail.
I will try to come up with something pithy to say about something a bit less inane as soon as I can. But, in the meantime, I leave you to ponder the mental image of being awoken from sleep by a cat flying at your face.


Whole new meaning for "back to nature"

There are many phenomena I do not understand. I don't get why people pay Scarlett Johansson to "act." I do not understand the appeal of shows about stupid, vapid people enjoying the privileges of wealth they did not earn. I don't understand how Glenn Beck has a job.

More than any of these things, however, I am deeply confounded... nay, flabbergasted and befuddled by the appeal of nude hiking.

I'll take "Impasse" for 200, please, Alex.

Let me say, right off the bat, that I think it's a wonderful, laudable goal to want to reconcile with one's opponents. That we should all strive to find common ground, to understand each other's perspectives, and to work toward a future in which we All Get Along. (Seriously, ironic capital letters notwithstanding.)

However, there comes a time when all it becomes obvious that all the talk in the world is going to make not one whit of difference. I think President Obama is rapidly approaching that point with the Religious Right. Via Washington Monthly:
Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council will meet with Joshua DuBois, the man who leads the administration's office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Wendy Wright, the president of CWA reached out to the Obama administration and they responded by inviting CWA and some of these other conservative Evangelical groups to The White House. The meeting plans to focus on the need to reduce abortions in the country and on responsible fatherhood programs. Also present at the meeting will be Tom McClusky, Senior Vice-President of the Family Research Council as well as representatives from the Christian Medical Association and Care Net, a pro-life Evangelical pregnancy crisis group.
At the risk of sounding repetitious, these people are not your friends, Mr. President! No amount of dialogue is going to change their positions on the issues that matter to them, and that grant them whatever waning relevance they have.

Talk is cheap, so I don't care who Obama invites to the White House. Hell, I don't even mind forgettable symbolic gestures. But if you start giving ground on policy issues in the vain hope that the other side will give a little too (which they will probably agree to around about when the sun explodes), then you're going to piss off the people who really support you.


Dept. of Mealy Mouths

I came across this article via (surprise, surprise) Andrew Sullivan, and while I am delighted that Doug Kmiec is in favor of my idea, one thing jumped out at me.
"While new terminology for all may at first seem awkward — mostly in greeting-card shops — [it] dovetails with the court's important responsibility to reaffirm the unfettered freedom of all faiths to extend the nomenclature of marriage as their traditions allow," wrote Douglas W. Kmiec and Shelley Ross Saxer. Kmiec voted for Prop 8 because of his belief in the teachings of the Catholic Church and his notion of religious liberty but has since said he thinks the courts should not allow one group of Californians to marry while denying the privilege to others. [emphasis mine]
Oh, now you think so? Now you suddenly think your religious beliefs shouldn't negate my civil liberties? Now you figure out that same-sex civil marriage should offend no intelligent notion of religious liberty? Now? Bummer about that vote of yours then, dude. Because now, thanks to votes like yours, we now have to ponder having the courts fix the problem. (A solution, for the record, I oppose.)

Meh. Let me know when you come up with something timely.

I don't know about blame, but this probably didn't help

The Better Half and I get into what I suppose one could call "watching jags." For whatever reason, we will start watching some show or another, and will then watch pretty much only that show until we get bored and switch to something else. Right now, we're watching the entire run of "Angel" because someone loaned us the boxed set. (As far as brainless entertainments go, one could do worse.) For a while (and for reasons totally beyond all reason), we watched a lot of "Flip This House." (Apparently not to be confused with "Flip That House.")

"Flip This House" features various teams in various cities buying cheap, frequently distressed properties, gutting them and renovating them, and then selling them at substantial profits. (Generally in the tens of thousands, give or take.) I caught the tail end of one episode wherein the people doing the flipping got screwed by a "silent investor," but most of the time the episodes close with a focus on how much money was made. This, despite many episodes featuring flip teams composed of grasping meat-heads. If these cretins can do it, one thinks, making money this way can't be that hard. (Seriously, Armando is a one-man argument for Marxism.)

I lay all this before you by way of introducing Megan McArdle's take on who is to blame, from a televisual perspective, for Our Current Mess.
I've seen a number of people making some variant of the claim that Jon Stewart is the only one brave enough to stand up to the financial journalists who helped get us into this mess.

This is purest poppycock. Jim Cramer had no influence over the twin manias that afflicted America in the last ten years: the madness of homebuyers for ever more expensive houses, and the madness of bankers for buying bonds based on those homes. Jim Cramer did not persuade the Asian savers to pour moronic amounts of capital into oversaturated American markets. He did not talk up MBS or CDOs to any level that could be vaguely said to have meaningfully increased the amount of leverage in the system. If you want a television host, or network, to blame all of our troubles on, you'd do better to cast your ire on Home and Garden Television, and Flip This House. They're the ones who told Americans, over and over and over and over, that it was possible to get rich by installing granite countertops.
I don't really have a nickel in the "Stewart/Cramer" dime. I haven't watched the video, and I don't really care. But I remain very surprised that nobody (so far as I can tell) has really talked much about all of those shows that focus on the financial rewards of home improvement. There are a lot of them (primarily clustered on a few networks), though some are better than others. But it's amazing to me that they're still airing "Flip This House" while the real estate market is tanking, and despite (if one can believe Wikipedia) some ethical hiccups.

I am... confused

So, I saw this:
Ron Paul vs Stephen Baldwin On Prohibition
over at the Daily Dish, and I figured there had to be more than one Stephen Baldwin. Perhaps a conservative from an obscure think-tank? A former justice department official? A writer for one of the lesser known opinion pages?

Ha, ha. No. It is, in fact, that Stephen Baldwin. The poor man's Billy Baldwin, who is in turn the poor man's Alec Baldwin. Star of worthy ensemble crime movie The Usual Suspects and the unfortunate Pauly Shore vehicle (an admittedly redundant descriptor, I concede) Bio-Dome. A faded B-list (at best) character actor.

I can't actually listen to the audio on this video, so I don't have a basis for judging Baldwin's performance contra United States Congressman and erstwhile presidential candidate Ron Paul. (Neither Sully nor the YouTube comments indicate a particularly strong showing.) That's all rather beside the point, though. CNN couldn't find anyone else to debate for the anti-legalization position? Against a member of Congress? They couldn't rustle up anyone better than Baldwin the Much Lesser?

At what point do they just say "to hell with it" and show footage of puppies for an hour?


Let me clear up that spot for you

So, per the Times, Obama is "on the spot" over same-sex partner benefits for federal employees. Apparently some pesky judges in California have ruled that federal employees in their state are entitled to them.
In separate, strongly worded orders, two judges of the federal appeals court in California said that employees of their court were entitled to health benefits for their same-sex partners under the program that insures millions of federal workers.


Judge Reinhardt confronted the question differently, and concluded that the Defense of Marriage Act, as applied to Mr. Levenson’s request, was unconstitutional because it violated the Fifth Amendment guarantee of “due process of law.”“A bare desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot provide a rational basis for governmental discrimination,” Judge Reinhardt wrote.
Ah, the Defense of Marriage Act. Bill Clinton's big, shiny valentine to the gay community. Because of it, the federal government has said that its gay and lesbian employees are not entitled to the same basic benefits as straight employees.

As the article mentions, Obama has pledged to further the cause of gay rights. The man he chose to run the Office of Personnel Management is gay, so we can be hopeful about this. The rub?
If [Obama] supports the judges and challenges the marriage act, he risks alienating Republicans with whom he is seeking to work on economic, health care and numerous other matters.
Which Republicans? These Republicans? You're worried that you will otherwise alienate the religious conservatives, who have otherwise been so very helpful lately?

Mr. President, these people are not your friends. The man to whom they kowtow has publicly called for your failure. They do not like you, and do not want you to succeed. Kissing their collective backsides by keeping a group of people who do overwhelmingly support you in the second class is patently ridiculous.

Fix. This.


Lactation sanity

My friend and occasional fellow poster Elizabeth brought this article from The Atlantic to my attention today, and I have a lot to say about it. It's a level-headed and refreshingly skeptical look at the hype, over-selling and judgmental posturing that attaches to contemporary breast-feeding. I want to photocopy it and wallpaper my office with it.

It's worth reading in its entirety, at least if you're interested in the subject (or, frankly, in getting a good idea about how medical findings get distorted in the general media). Some choice excerpts:
[T]he medical literature looks nothing like the popular literature. It shows that breast-feeding is probably, maybe, a little better; but it is far from the stampede of evidence that Sears describes. More like tiny, unsure baby steps: two forward, two back, with much meandering and bumping into walls. A couple of studies will show fewer allergies, and then the next one will turn up no difference. Same with mother-infant bonding, IQ, leukemia, cholesterol, diabetes. Even where consensus is mounting, the meta studies—reviews of existing studies—consistently complain about biases, missing evidence, and other major flaws in study design. “The studies do not demonstrate a universal phenomenon, in which one method is superior to another in all instances,” concluded one of the first, and still one of the broadest, meta studies, in a 1984 issue of Pediatrics, “and they do not support making a mother feel that she is doing psychological harm to her child if she is unable or unwilling to breastfeed.” [emphasis mine]
One of the greatest mercies (and I do not use that word lightly or flippantly) I have been able to confer is telling new mothers that they are not failures if they cannot breast feed. I have had these experiences with the mothers of patients, with family members and with friends. They have happened with new mothers and mothers who have nursed successfully in the past. For whatever reason, and despite a sincere desire to do the very best for their baby, they have been unable to breastfeed. And they feel like failures. Not merely frustrated or disappointed, but like failures. And many have been reduced to tears when I (for all intents and purposes) offer absolution and tell them that they are not failures, that their babies will thrive and bond just fine, and that their guilt and stress and anxiety are not warranted. A culture that makes new mothers, already stressed and tired in the best of times, feel like failures if they can't breastfeed is unhelpful and unhealthy.

What does all the evidence add up to? We have clear indications that breast-feeding helps prevent an extra incident of gastrointestinal illness in some kids—an unpleasant few days of diarrhea or vomiting, but rarely life-threatening in developed countries. We have murky correlations with a whole bunch of long-term conditions. The evidence on IQs is intriguing but not all that compelling, and at best suggests a small advantage, perhaps five points; an individual kid’s IQ score can vary that much from test to test or day to day. If a child is disadvantaged in other ways, this bump might make a difference. But for the kids in my playground set, the ones whose mothers obsess about breast-feeding, it gets lost in a wash of Baby Einstein videos, piano lessons, and the rest.
I am going to generalize a bit, so forgive the excluded nuances and exceptions to what I say. By and large, the new mothers that choose to bottle-feed at the outset are less educated, less financially stable, and have less access to all of the various benefits that accrue to being well-educated and affluent. Elizabeth has expressed curiosity about a comparison between women who choose to bottle-feed at the outset to those who would nurse but can't, and I think a study of this would be illuminating (if one could ever be designed). I suspect that the small IQ benefits attributed to breast-feeding would diminish even further, and are more accurately attributable to aspects of the mothers and parenting choices than nursing per se.

Further, it's important to remember that a difference that is "statistically significant" in a clinical study may mean next to nothing in the real world. A difference of a few IQ points between the two groups that cannot be explained by random chance is considered "statistically significant," but has no real bearing on whether or not little Taylor will get into Princeton.
In the early ’90s, a group of researchers got together to revise the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement on breast-feeding. They were of the generation that had fought the formula wars, and had lived through the days when maternity wards automatically gave women hormone shots to stop the flow of breast milk. The academy had long encouraged mothers to make “every effort” to nurse their newborns, but the researchers felt the medical evidence justified a stronger statement. Released in 1997, the new policy recommended exclusive breast-feeding for six months, followed by six more months of partial breast-feeding, supplemented with other foods. The National Organization for Women complained that this would tax working mothers, but to no avail. “The fact that the major pediatric group in the country was taking a definitive stance made all the difference,” recalls Lawrence Gartner, a pediatrician and neonatologist at the University of Chicago, and the head of the committee that made the change. “After that, every major organization turned the corner, and the popular media changed radically.”
There is much about contemporary medical practice that sticks in my craw, but little makes me angrier or more tendentious than the so-called "Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative," intended to promote and support breast-feeding. It consists primarily of purging member hospitals of all mention of formula (or bottles, period) and treating a decision not to nurse as roughly on par with giving your infant a pack of unfiltered Camels. Even its name implies that formula-feeding is, by definition, baby-unfriendly. I find the whole thing self-congratulatory, doctrinaire, and unyielding. One of the most insufferable martinets I have ever encountered was a lactation consultant that confronted me for having the audacity to tell a nursing mother that she could start solids before six months, contra the AAP recommendation about nursing exclusively for six months. Apparently, giving her the option had "confused" her. (I have been told by many, many frustrated mothers that the intervention of a lactation consultant has often been a mixed blessing.)

Look. I am totally in favor of breast-feeding. It clearly has many benefits for the babies and mothers that can do it without undue stress and anxiety. But it is only one benefit among many, and one that is serially overstated. The judgement that women feel when, for whatever reason, they don't nurse is ridiculous. I was thrilled to read this article, and I hope it sparks a renewed degree of both skepticism and relief among mothers.

At least he probably doesn't have to update his resume much

A little while ago, frequent commenter and resident gadfly (every blog needs one!) John speculated that I had inverted the power structure between Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and RNC Chairman Michael Steele. I think the ladies from Maine are probably blithely indifferent to Mr. Steele, and have better things to do than worry about his ham-handed threats. John respectfully disagreed.
I think the power hierarchy is backwards from what you describe. Were I Mr. Steele, Mmes. Snowe, Collins, and Mr. Specter would be informed that, while the GOP values the Big Tent approach and has no litmus tests, it might become necessary to find candidates in the next election who respect fiscal sensibilities of the electorate. The GOP is rebuilding, replacing the country club Rs whose prolifigate spending in part lead to the Current Difficulties.
I don't really think Mr. Steele will soon be in the position to inform Mmes. Snowe and Collins and Mr. Specter much of anything. He's not making a particularly good showing of himself of late. And now, this:

In an interview with Lisa DePaulo of GQ, Mr. Steele was asked about his views on abortion and homosexuality, and in both cases gave answers that could give heartburn to conservatives.

On abortion, Mr. Steele said that Roe v. Wade was “wrongly decided” and that states should decide the issue. But he also said that the issue was one of “individual choice” and that women had the right to choose abortion. (The R.N.C.’s platform states the party’s opposition to abortion rights.)

Asked whether homosexuality is a choice, Mr. Steele responded no. “I think that there’s a whole lot that goes into the makeup of an individual that, uh, you just can’t simply say, oh, like, ‘Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being gay,’” Mr. Steele said. “It’s like saying, ‘Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being black.’”
I'm actually kind of ambivalent about this. While I rather enjoy seeing the GOP in turmoil, and am happy to see the new chairman lousing things up in an almost balletic fashion, I actually think what he said above is pretty damn sane for a Republican. If the GOP were to move in the direction those comments indicate, I would find it slightly more palatable. (Only just slightly, but still...) So the predictable mau-mauing he's now enjoying is a bit depressing, frankly.

One way or another, though, John, I'm a-thinkin' my dime is still on Snowe and Collins.

I agree with his sentiments, but he's still guilty

Look, I can certainly sympathize with Muntader al-Zaidi, thrower of shoes. Via the Times:
“In that moment, I saw nothing but Bush, and I felt the blood of the innocents flowing under his feet while he was smiling that smile,” he said at the hearing.
Dude. I know. His smile really was insufferable. I can only imagine how it would feel to an Iraqi citizen.

But you can't assault the President of the United States. Whatever you can say about W., the man can duck. If his reflexes had been off (say, if he had missed his nap that day) and he had been struck in the face by a flying piece of forcibly-thrown footwear, he could have sustained a significant facial or ocular injury. In throwing the shoes, al-Zaidi crossed from protest to assault.

No matter how much I agree with his feelings about Bush, his manner of expression was criminal. Hailing him as a hero is misguided. Nobody would be lauding his right to freely express himself had he been tossing his shoes at Obama. (Well, OK, I'm sure some people would be. But nobody sane.)


Dan's personal hell

Being stuck in the same room as these two.

Update: I just reread the article. Seriously, this is more than I can take:
At their best, said Andrew Ferguson, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, Ms. Coulter and Mr. Maher aspired to be “publicists” as the term was once applied to public intellectuals like H. L. Mencken and William F. Buckley Jr., meaning “a mediator between the world of ideas and the world of popular culture, who translates ideas into a more digestible form.”
What's that whirring sound? It's almost as if two deceased intellectuals were spinning in their graves.

Coulter and Maher translate ideas into more digestible form? To my mind, they seem to take ideas and present them to the public in the form of things that have already been through the digestive process, if you catch my drift.

Update #2: Holy mother of mercy. I believe that I may have found something worse than being stuck in the same room as Coulter and Maher. (The Universe, it seems, has decided to toy with me today.) For lo, can there be anything worse than this?

Tragically absent-minded

Hilzoy has a couple of posts commenting on an article in the Washington Post about parents that accidentally forget their kids and leave them locked in cars, often leading to tragic results. The article itself is heart-breaking, so keep that in mind if you choose to read it. Both of her posts are worth reading.

Some thoughts... From the article itself:
Diamond is a professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida and a consultant to the veterans hospital in Tampa.


The human brain, he says, is a magnificent but jury-rigged device in which newer and more sophisticated structures sit atop a junk heap of prototype brains still used by lower species. At the top of the device are the smartest and most nimble parts: the prefrontal cortex, which thinks and analyzes, and the hippocampus, which makes and holds on to our immediate memories. At the bottom is the basal ganglia, nearly identical to the brains of lizards, controlling voluntary but barely conscious actions.

Diamond says that in situations involving familiar, routine motor skills, the human animal presses the basal ganglia into service as a sort of auxiliary autopilot. When our prefrontal cortex and hippocampus are planning our day on the way to work, the ignorant but efficient basal ganglia is operating the car; that's why you'll sometimes find yourself having driven from point A to point B without a clear recollection of the route you took, the turns you made or the scenery you saw.

Ordinarily, says Diamond, this delegation of duty "works beautifully, like a symphony. But sometimes, it turns into the '1812 Overture.' The cannons take over and overwhelm."


"The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant," he said. "The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it's supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist. What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted -- such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back -- it can entirely disappear."
Having let the dog out, then gotten distracted by some mundane task or another, only to discover the dog waiting patiently by the door some time later, I can see how easily this can happen. It seems so utterly inconceivable that this could happen to good parents, but it may be an easier mistake to make than most of us would like to admit.

Hilzoy makes an unrelated, but powerful observation in her second post. Speaking of the incredibly harsh and ugly things said about the parents who must live with the awful weight of their irrevocable mistake:
The article goes on to quote a psychologist who says, basically, that these people are defending themselves against the thought that they might be similarly vulnerable, which sounds right. But I still ask myself: who are these people who, having read about a complete stranger whose character is unknown to them, feel compelled to write comments like these?

After all, it's not as though there was some reason why they had to pronounce on Mr. Harrison's character. No: they were just reading the paper, and for some reason they felt that they just had to write these things. And they didn't just stick to the facts; they leapt to conclusions about who he was and why he did what he did. If I felt like emulating them, I might think: these are the sorts of people who lie awake at night nursing grievances, running over and over various slights in their mind, thinking of all the things they could have said to really put X in his or her place.

Anyone who has ever gotten into an argument online will recognize this kind of behavior. There is something insidious about the anonymity and rapidity of the Internet that can bring out the very worst in people. Using a screen name and some free time, people can say things to other people that they would never in a million years have either the effrontery or courage to say to someone's face. I try (to varying degrees of success) to keep my commentary civil, even when heated, but the phenomenon Hilzoy describes is wide-spread and easy to play into.


"I'm an amendment to be, yes an amendment to be"

It seems that Pres. Obama really does understand the separation of powers. How nice. It must have something to do with his having bothered to study the Constitution. From the Times:
Calling into question the legitimacy of all the signing statements that former President George W. Bush used to challenge new laws, President Obama on Monday ordered executive officials to consult with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. before relying on any of them to bypass a statute.


Mr. Bush frequently used signing statements to declare that provisions in the bills he was signing were unconstitutional constraints on executive power, claiming that the laws did not need to be enforced or obeyed as written. The laws he challenged included a torture ban and requirements that Congress be given detailed reports about how the Justice Department was using the counter-terrorism powers in the USA Patriot Act.
In other words, he frequently ignored laws passed by the legislature. While other presidents have finessed their enforcement of the law using signing statements, Bush was particularly fond of doing so. Per Washington Monthly:
While previous presidents had used signing statements sparingly, mainly to address constitutional and/or implementation questions, Bush ended up issuing nearly 1,200 legal challenges through signing statements -- more than every other president in American history combined, times two.
Got that? Bush used signing statements to essentially ignore the legislative branch (controlled for 75% of his two terms by his own party) more than twice as often as every other American president combined. His disdain for the basic foundations of American democracy was unparalleled. Words fail to express just how happy I am that he is gone.

PS> I know that this really has very little to do with amending the Constitution, but Bush's signing statements always brought to mind the numerous hands crossing out inconvenient bits in this classic from "The Simpsons."

About time

From the AP, via TPM:
President Barack Obama said Monday he is allowing federal taxpayer dollars to fund significantly broader research on embryonic stem cells because "medical miracles do not happen simply by accident," and promised his administration would make up for the ground lost under his predecessor.
Good. Finally.

Obviously, I am not from the camp that believes that a clump of undifferentiated stem cells are a person. Having not yet formed into nerve cells (by definition), they lack the basic components for thought and feeling. I've never seen the equivalence between the destruction of a clump of cells and the murder of a human being. But even supposing that there was a moral imperative to prevent stem cell research because of a sincere belief that the embryos destroyed are human lives, the ban did nothing to "save" them.
Bush limited the use of taxpayer money to only the 21 stem cell lines that had been produced before his decision. He argued he was defending human life because days-old embryos — although typically from fertility clinics and already destined for destruction — are destroyed to create the stem cell lines. [emphasis mine]
That's right. The embryos in question were already on their way to being destroyed. Stem cell research would have allowed some good to be made of them, as otherwise they would simply be discarded. Bush saved no "lives," but did manage to impede medical science.

I don't believe that stem cell research will cure all our ills, but it is certainly a promising avenue of investigation. I am pleased that Obama has fulfilled this particular campaign promise, and has removed a useless barrier to medical advancement.

On Lewis and his worldview

Andrew Sullivan has a lengthy e-mail from one of his legion of readers regarding C.S. Lewis. The writer (who, like Sullivan, admires Lewis) praises his writing on joy, and his subtle ability to understand and describe human psychology. He takes issue, however, with his staunch conservatism, his affection for the old and established and his suspicion of the new and the political. The whole thing is worth reading, but there was one bit that particularly stuck out to me.
His motives can't be proved. Fair enough. What's palpably ridiculous are his warmed-over medieval arguments for the objective truth of Christian doctrine. One was that Christ had to be "either a God or a devil" - or self-delusive megalomaniac, as we'd now say. While sniping at the imperfections of scientific Biblical scholarship, Lewis shut his eyes to the painstaking work of two centuries that convincingly discerned different voices, sources, periods, influences on Biblical text. There's also no recognition in his work that people from different eras might perceive and express truth differently -- i.e., that someone in an earlier era who claimed to deliver God's words directly might be neither a fraud nor God's stenographer.
I'm leading a discussion group at church about "The Screwtape Letters," which has prompted me to reread it. There is much to admire in Lewis's theology, and his astute observations about human behavior and relationships. As is always the case when I read Lewis (one of my two favorite authors), I find myself with new insights into my own faith and interactions with others. However, I also bump into difficulties.

Lewis patently has no time, at all, for the concept of the "historical Christ." In fact, he views this formulation of the Christian narrative as actively harmful to the lives of the faithful. I, in my turn, disagree with him. At least for me, there is nothing weakened or diminished in Christ's message or ministry by understanding what he said in the context of when and where he was saying it. Perhaps some pursue the study of Christ as historical figure for the purpose of debunking his divinity or undermining his spiritual credibility, but writing off the entire study of Christ's historicity as an attack on faith is strangely anti-intellectual for a writer who so clearly honors the role of reason in the formation of faith.

I find myself tempted to write at greater length about Lewis's cultural conservatism, and perhaps will at some other time. Suffice it to say that it is an interesting experience to read one of the seminal works of a writer whose work has had a formative influence on one's thinking and believing, and bump into areas where one can't help but think the writer is wrong. I would ponder what this might mean about me as a reader, but nobody needs to read pointless navel-gazing.


Yes! This! Do this!!

I came across this editorial in the LA Times about the current legal challenge to California's odious Prop 8 via the politics channel at The Atlantic.
What if California got out of the marriage business altogether? What if the state merely licensed or just recognized private, contractual civil unions with all the benefits of marriage, and couples went to the religious or private institution of their choice to sanctify their vows? Would that resolve the legal differences between Proposition 8 and the state Supreme Court's 2008 ruling that gay and lesbian couples were entitled to the same marital rights as heterosexuals?
I have been in favor of this argument for as long as I've had a cogent opinion on the subject. If it were up to me, there would be no such thing as civil marriage, full stop. As it stands, marriage is a weird hybrid of the secular and the sacred. You can get married by a justice of the peace in five minutes, or you can get married in an elaborate ceremony by the religious leader of your choice. The legal result is the same, even if the connotations of the various ways to get there are very different. (I know that the Better Half does not enjoy being an agent of the state when he performs a wedding.)

I am truly heartened to see that this has also occurred to a member of California's Supreme Court.
These were the questions Justice Ming W. Chin posited during oral arguments on the proposition Thursday before the high court.
For my part, I agree with Andrew about using the court to overturn Prop 8. I think it is a poisonous piece of institutionalized bigotry, but if opponents were going to try to defeat it through the electoral process then they can't mount an ex post facto argument that the process itself was invalid. It would be heartless to divorce the 18,000 legally married gay and lesbian couples that enjoyed the brief window of marriage equality, and I hope the court upholds those marriages. But the question itself needs to go before the people again, with hopes for a better result.

However, I would much prefer to see the whole idea of civil marriage scrapped. Everyone gets a civil union, gay or straight. That should be all that the state recognizes, and should confer all the rights that historically accrued to marriage. If you want to get married by your priest, minister, rabbi, imam or swami, then it's between you and your religious community and God. The state has no interest or standing in those matters. But the rights of two adults in a committed relationship together should be the same, regardless of the gender of the adults in question, and should be divorced from the religious connotations of marriage once and for all.

You think you've got it bad?

I read this article in Slate about doctors going to work sick with wry appreciation.
Coming to work ill is part of the culture of medicine. A favorite saying on surgical wards is "We're rounding with you, or we're rounding on you"—if you're missing work, you better be so sick that you're admitted to the hospital. Sick doctors have been known to do rounds while dragging IV poles and receiving fluids for GI illness. Gross, but it happens. This culture of work-first/self-second may not be such a terrible thing: Patients want dedicated doctors who study hard and won't sleep unless their patients are tucked in. But this hard-nosed culture can cause problems, especially when overtired doctors make mistakes because a cold has stuffed up that same hard nose.
As someone who has gotten IV fluids while on call as a resident (and I have a vague recollection of it as a medical student, too, but I can't be sure), I can testify to the truth of the above description. Even in my current job, the one time I called in sick (with a fever, for the record) I was subjected to wisecracks from my colleagues the next day about their having expected to see me as an inpatient. Some of this is because of a ridiculous culture of institutionalized hazing known as "residency," and the mindset it instills.
In some hospitals, working while under the weather is basically policy. Some hospitals have been reported to fire workers who take too many sick days. Residents on a well-known hospital's internal medicine service are allotted two sick days per year. Any more than that, and they work an extra week.
This is, of course, terrible policy. You can file it with all of the other terrible policies that dictate how residencies are run. (For the record, whatever its flaws, my own residency wasn't this draconian.)

However, there is the very real consideration of not wanting to stick one's colleagues with extra work. If I call in sick, some of my patients can get rescheduled (though it certainly doesn't make them happy), but a great many of them cannot be. Their needs are urgent. Also, unlike in many other professions where the work is specific to the worker and can't be transferred, simply piling up while the person recovers, there's no reason my partners in the practice can't see the various earaches, sore throats and coughs that I am unable to see. They literally have to work harder if I'm not there, and knowing this makes me feel guilty as I squint to see if my temperature has gone down.

Is this a great way of looking at illness? No. Thankfully (said while frantically pounding on wood), I seem to have developed enough immunity to what the local pediatric germ pool has to throw at me that illness is very rare. But the pressure to suck it up and come to work anyway is pervasive, and I think it'll probably be present in the medical community for at least another generation.


Dept. of Unrealistic Expectations

E. J. Dionne is a smart guy. In general, I enjoy his political analysis over at The New Republic. So I'm going to do him a solid and assume that he didn't come up with the following sub-header for this piece:
All's Fair by
Has Obama ruined his chances of ending the culture war? [emphasis mine]
Golly. I don't know. And if he fails to end the culture war, how will that impact his ability to eradicate worldwide poverty, stop plate tectonics, and whiten the teeth of every American?

The piece in question looks at the nomination of Kathleen Sebelius, and the response from conservative Catholics, who object to her pro-choice record. It seems there's something for everyone to gripe about.
Sebelius, like Obama, has advocated abortion reduction, but she vetoed a series of bills favored by anti-abortion groups, including restrictions on late-term abortions and parental consent laws. Last May, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City called on Sebelius to stop taking communion because of what he described as "her long-standing support for legalized abortion."
I cannot imagine how I would react if my religious leaders were to instruct me to stop taking communion because of my political beliefs, but I imagine it would be less than reverent. But Sebelius is also (at least according to Dionne) getting flak from the Left, as well.
The rapid mobilization behind Sebelius marked the emergence of an organized movement of religious progressives as a forceful counterweight to religious conservatives, and the case made on her behalf brought home the centrality of abortion reduction to the overall argument.

This has made some traditional feminist groups nervous, as did Obama's decision to give his Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships a mandate to make decreasing the number of abortions a part of its mission.

For a while, I was active with a group called Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, a fairly doctrinaire abortion-rights group. (A vote to restrict abortions in any way would give you a "mixed" rating on choice, a stance I found extreme. Moving to Maine and my own "mixed" leanings on the issue have led to an atrophy in my relationship with the group.) But even PRCH sold certain legislation (eg. access to emergency contraception, the issue on which I worked most closely with them) to anti-abortion pols as intended to reduce the number of abortions over-all. I don't know who these "traditional feminist groups" are, but if they are made nervous by Obama's rhetoric, or policy intended to reduce the actual number of abortions (while still maintaining the right to choose), then they are just as recalcitrant and fundamentalist as Archbishop Naumann.

All of this is a bit beside the point, however. Dionne is confusing two goals in his piece. Obama clearly has made overtures to people who stand across the divide from him on many social issues. (See also: Warren, Rick.) He is trying to enlarge his base of support. If this somehow lessens the cultural divides in this country, more's the better. But nobody expects him to "end" the culture war. Some gulfs are unbridgeable (at least by human agency), and implying that Obama somehow intended to bring me and (say) the Mormon Church together into one, big, happy family is to set him up for an inevitable failure.