Sexism? Check.

Holy cats. You know how the lunatic Right has decided that the best way to address the Sotomayor nomination is to flip the Latino population the rhetorical bird? It appears that G. Gordon Liddy has decided to raise the stakes a bit by... seriously, I am at a loss to come up with a way to describe the following:
...G. Gordon Liddy ... took to the radio yesterday with this sentiment, "Let's hope that the key conferences aren't when [Sotomayor]'s menstruating or something, or just before she's going to menstruate. That would really be bad. Lord knows what we would get then."

He also said she--a American born New Yorker whose parents came from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico--"is a member of La Raza, which means in illegal alien, 'the race.'"

Nice touch with the "illegal alien" there, Gord. Because all illegal aliens speak Spanish, and all Spanish are illegal aliens. Neato.

But do my eyes deceive me? Is the Lid really dragging out that whole "women are soooooo irrational during that time" trope? Because the word "hoary" springs to mind. Also "jaw-dropping," "appalling" and "unbelievable."

Good thing Sarah Palin didn't get the Veep spot, huh? Because if McCain had croaked, God only knows who she'd have nuked during visits from Aunt Flo. Am I right, G. Gordon?

*crushes beer can on forehead*

Credit where it's due

Somehow I doubt that Bleakonomy counts many GOP higher-ups among its readers. (A boy can dream, though, can't he?) Still, I'd like to think they're taking my recent advice about wrestling the microphone away from the likes of Tom Tancredo and associated crazies when it comes to the Sotomayor nomination.

I tend to think of Michael Steele as rather hapless. (Perhaps you've noticed?) But I've got to give him credit for sounding sensible (via HuffPo):
RNC chair Michael Steele, guest-hosting on Bill Bennett’s radio show early this morning, repeatedly distanced himself from Republicans and conservatives who have been harshly attacking Sonia Sotomayor, saying the assault risked damaging the party.


“I’m excited that a Hispanic woman is in this position,” Steele said. He added that instead of “slammin’ and rammin’” on Sotomayor, Republicans should “acknowledge” the “historic aspect” of the pick and make a “cogent, articulate argument” against her for purely substantive reasons.

Steele warned that because of the attacks, “we get painted as a party that’s against the first Hispanic woman” picked for the Supreme Court.

Good for you, Michael Steele. Hopefully they won't make you eat your words this time.

On a related note, I did not see this coming (via The Plank):
A top Senate Republican is taking aim at recent statements from conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich suggesting Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is a "racist."

"I think it's terrible," Sen. John Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told NPR's "All Things Considered" Thursday. "This is not the kind of tone any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advise and consent.”

Well swat my hind with a melon rind! Good for you, John Cornyn! I can't say I'm anything like a fan of yours, but I'll keep this in mind the next time you say something ridiculously partisan, as a reminder that you're capable of being sane.

I will either boycott, or be forced to attend

I do not watch much television, despite Elizabeth's exhortations to enjoy the offerings of our current televisual golden age. What I do watch could charitably be described as Low Entertainment, often of the animated variety and featuring talking household pets. (I do not admit this with pride.) I have thus far resisted the siren call of any of the variously located Real Housewives, however, and am politely averting my eyes from the whole John & Kate brouhaha. [Editorial comment -- bleah.]

Some of television's better offerings have been the creations of Joss Whedon. I've been meaning to update my review of his newest show Dollhouse, since it started slow and uncompelling and got much, much better by the end, at which point I was addicted. His most famous show was, of course, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (For my money, though, I preferred the tragically-cancelled Firefly.)

While Buffy was hardly I, Claudius, it was much smarter and better than you'd expect a series about a vampire-slaying adolescent to be. (It was based on an earlier, much lousier film of the same name.) The writing and directing were very good, thanks largely to Mr. Whedon himself. It was thus with extreme skepticism that I read this:

The Worst Movie Idea of the Year?
Yes, I know that's an awfully high
bar, especially of late. But the news that producer Fran Rubel Kuzui is
considering a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" movie that would probably not involve
Joss Whedon in any capacity, nor any of the cast of the television show, nor
even the subsidiary characters from the show (Willow, Xander, Angel, etc.) may
put it into contention for the honor.

This sounds awful. Why on earth they would think that a movie would succeed with none of the elements that made the show a success is beyond me. And, while I know why they are considering this (as my father would say, it's green and rectangular and folds in the middle), I would respectfully submit that this is a terrible, terrible idea.


Writing off the Latino vote

Holy COW, Republicans! One of your higher-ups is going to have to get out in front of Tom Tancredo lickety-split, because you people are doomed for the long haul if you allow [excrement] like this to go down unchallenged:
Former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), who spent his career in Congress calling for a moratorium on immigration, appeared on CNN to lambaste Sotomayor for belonging to a group whose name would translate as "The Race," made the false claim that La Raza has the motto "For the race everything, outside the race nothing," and bashed it as being "a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses."
As Eric Kleefeld noted over at TPM, "Um, those hoods and nooses do make a really important difference!"

I am not particularly familiar with La Raza, but a brief stroll around their web page fails to evoke images of flaming torches or systematic racial violence. Rather, they seem to support the cause of equal rights for Latinos. A subject regarding which, quite frankly, Tom Tancredo is perhaps not the best counter-point person.

Not being Latino myself, I cannot speak with much authority. But I can't imagine it's particularly good for the Republican brand within the Latino community for major figures in the party to be linking a Latino civil rights organization with the KKK. On the other hand, maybe they just don't have the money to fight for Florida's electoral votes anymore, and have decided to throw in the towel rather dramatically.

Update: For a more in-depth look at the Right Wing's big middle finger to the Latino vote, I refer you to this Salon article.

Expel him

I have had quite enough of this:
As a damaging audiotape of Senator Roland W. Burris began playing on seemingly every television and radio station here, he toured his home state Wednesday and portrayed that secretly recorded phone conversation, with the brother of the man who appointed him to the Senate, as proof that he had not tried to trade favors for the post.


In speaking with Robert Blagojevich, who served as his brother’s top fund-raiser, Mr. Burris seemed to contemplate ways to raise money for the governor without creating a public perception that he was trying to buy the Senate seat. Perhaps he could write a check, he said at one point. At another, he said, “I might be able to do this in the name of” his law partner, who, he added, “is not looking for an appointment.”“I’m just trying to figure out what the best way to do where it won’t create any conflict for either one of us,” he said, ultimately pledging that he would “personally do something” and “it’ll be done before the 15th of December.”
Basta! This has been an ongoing issue since shortly after the man took office. He is a liar, an embarrassment and a disgrace. He should be expelled.

On the value of diversity

With the Sonia Sotomayor nomination, the value of ethnic and sexual diversity is again at issue. While I think the case for such diversity is often overstated (although Sotomayor, contra many on the right, is not one of the overstaters), recent Supreme Court cases such as the Lilly Ledbetter case and the case involving the strip search of a thirteen-year-old girl have seemed to me reasonably clear cut cases where sexual diversity would have been valuable.

We should not, however, undermine the case for such diversity with bad arguments. I was reading the New York Times Magazine and came across a print ad that said, "To think Indian is to cure diabetes with sacred foods and hoops. Think Indian. Help tribal college students preserve their way of thinking." If one were to cure diabetes with sacred foods and hoops, one's patient would almost certainly die, or at least get quite ill. To believe that hoops can cure diabetes is a false one. Such a belief may be worth preserving for historical value, but it should not be seen to be as accurate as the belief that, say, insulin can treat diabetes.

The claim that diversity is valuable is one thing. The claim that any belief held by any culture is equally valuable is just plain silly, and claiming such undermines defenders of diversity.

Men are animals!

There are many, many things wrong with this pseudo-intellectual "argument" against gay marriage. I do not want to dwell on the utter lack of persuasiveness of this article, since others have already gone there. (Although, as a philosopher, I would like to point out the silliness of the author's claim that his four properties of marriage -- including the protection of female sexuality and the mark of the end of childhood -- are "marriage's 'a priori' because marriage is a part of the kinship system, and kinship depends on the protection, organization, and often the exploitation of female sexuality vis-à-vis males." If they were part of "marriage's a priori" we would be able to deduce them from the very concept of marriage. Clearly, we cannot, since we can imagine a case of marriage without such properties, as when two elderly widowed people marry. Also, if these were a priori deducible properties of marriage, he would not need to look to empirical evidence to make the case, yet he makes his case using historical examples.)

My main beef is a point he makes that I see not only among right-wing religious types, but also in supporters of evolutionary psychology of all political stripes. He claims (as do many others) that males, by nature, are not monogamous. It is culture which imposes an unnatural monogamy on the unwilling male of the species.

I am not at all opposed to evolutionary psychology or the idea that there is much about the way people are that is innate. Indeed, I'm sympathetic to this, and think EP can provide valuable insights. What I am opposed to is using EP to make silly blanket statements about human nature that do not fit the evidence. I am (full disclosure) not a male. As Freud didn't know what women want (and boy, I could tell him a thing or two), I don't really know what men want. I only have their words for it. I am also married, and have something of an interest in believing that my husband is not miserably trapped, chafing at the bit.

It certainly seems to me from what men do (as opposed to what men say) that they really really like sex a whole lot. Really really. It seems that men, even ones in committed relationships, frequently fantasize about sex with a large variety of women. It seems they frequently do very very stupid things in order to get sex, or even simply to be near someone attractive. It seems that quite often they violate their vows of monogamy. When divorce is permitted in a culture, it is relatively frequent. When polygamy is permitted, it is frequent. Where adultery is permitted, it is frequent. All this would seem to lend credence to the contention that men are naturally unmonogamous.

But there also seems to be evidence that males desire to marry, and not just because of cultural constrictions. 1) marriage of one form or another has been around in almost every culture, even though the vast majority of cultures are male-dominated. Why have males chosen to bond themselves to females again and again? They may bond to more than one woman, and they may cheat, but they still choose to bind themselves in this way, taking responsibility for another person. Why? 2) Male jealousy of the women with whom they bond seems just as primal and cross-cultural as a sex-drive. Why be jealous if you don't even want a bond? 3) In our culture, there is no real downside to remaining unmarried. One can usually still hold a job, have friends, get sex, have children, have familial acceptance if one is unmarried. If marriage is an unnatural state undesired by all men, and there is little social upside to marriage (besides the marriage itself) why would the vast majority get married (especially in a culture such as ours, which is less tolerant of males cheating than some other cultures have been)? It's unclear how many men in our culture cheat on their partners. I've heard anywhere from 22% to 60%. Let's say it's even higher, at 75%. That still means that there are a much greater number of men who marry and remain loyal to their wives than who choose a life of sexual freedom.

What it seems to me is that men have a primal, indeed a natural desire both to create a relationship bond, and to sleep with many, many people. I don't see why we should assume that the urge to marry is cultural (and therefore "unnatural") to men, given the points above. Male jealousy, we seem to be agreed, is to prevent men from spending resources on another man's child. But if your only concern is spreading your seed to as many people as possible, you don't seem all that vested in the care of your own children. If you are jealous of your mate, it means that paternal care matters, and then that the innate desire to marry makes sense - because you should insure the care of your children. Plenty of animals without our cultural constraints pair bond.

The two such urges men have, i.e., to bond and to mate widely, seem to be in conflict. Maybe we are imperfectly adapted, or perhaps men's schizophrenic views on relationships have proven to advance fitness, if not human happiness. But to simply state flat out that monogamy is unnatural, cultural hemming in of men's real desires, seems hasty.


Brief Prop 8 reaction

I'm with Andrew.  While I am saddened by the reality that there is one state fewer where same-sex marriage is legal, the court was right to uphold the results of the election.  As a movement, we cannot fight an election battle, then try to move the goal posts when the result is not to our liking.  For gay marriage to have any legitimacy, it must be made law by legitimate means.

However, I am also happy for the 18,000 gay and lesbian couples whose marriages have been allowed to stand.  Dare I say that the ruling was empathetic?

Sotomayor: Sex, Justice and the Full Court Press

Countdown 70 minutes before President Obama names his nominee to the Supreme Court, the power vested to the President at the start of Article II, Section 2:
He shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur....
Rumor mill is saying his nominee is going to be 54-year old Sonya Sotomayor, federal judge on the 2nd Circuit. Given that half of U.S. citizens are women, that many of the major cases on the horizon revolve around issues sex & gender (including abortion, employment equality, rape, and marriage) and that Ruth Bader Ginsberg is sick and tired of being the only woman on the supreme court, the easy money's always been that Obama will nominate another woman to our highest court.

We'll dig into that later, but here are some fun things to look forward to:

  • Sexist language about "empathy" Sexism is nothing new to this process -- look at some of the charming pubic-hair comments that came to light during Justice Thomas' nomination to the Supreme Court. In this case, first point in the competition of privileged men sounding stupid goes to President Obama, who set up Sotomayor (or whoever the nominee is) by talking about "empathy," setting a tone of discussion that will likely prove to run along the lines of "golly gee, women are much more in touch with their feelings." Still love the man to death, but for someone that brought Larry Summers into the inner sanctum, his tone on empathy is a disappointment but not a big surprise. I get what he's saying; some of the worst recent decisions come from a court that is so far removed from the reality of human life that they're Vulcan-like. But the tone is not what's needed for the upcoming fight. Because there's going to be a fight...
  • Full Court Press The Republican Party has nothing to lose -- and unlike the Democrats, they understand guerrilla warfare (infamously so). To preview what's going to come up next in the Senate, check out the great New Yorker article by Malcom Gladwell on "How David Beats Goliath." Insurgencies do well when they act like insurgents and lose when they act like well-run armies (witness what happened the last few years to the Tamil Tigers as they started acting like an army; if peace doesn't follow victory, expect a return to suicide bombings -- which they invented -- in the coming months). Weak basketball teams start winning when they give up the polite version of b-ball and switch to offensive, in-your-face offence. The GOP might be raising more money still than the Dems, but having lost much of their popular support, their sense of fair play and their moderate wing, they've got nothing to lose. Filibusters, slander, and general obstreperous antics are sure to follow. A perfect summer movie horror show bloodbath, coming soon to the blogosphere!

A happy blast of the unexpected

I wasn't sure if they were going to run it, but the lovely chaps at Ordinary Gentlemen have posted another of my pieces.

Light posting

I'm taking an extra couple of days off, to re-acquaint myself with the three-dimensional world.  I'll be back to posting on Thursday.

Hope everyone had a great holiday weekend!


Observations on Wolverine

1)  The film contains the following line of dialogue:
"I'm very good at what I do.  And what I do isn't pretty."  It is not the worst line of dialogue in the movie.

2)  At one point, the leading man kneels over the body of a dead companion, bends back his head, and yells at the sky.  Sadly, he does not yell "Mendozaaaaaa!!!"  

3)  At one point, the leading man literally carries a woman into the sunset.

4)  [mild spoiler, assuming a movie this lousy can actually be "spoiled"]  A small but important plot point hinges on the extreme slowing of a character's heart to a deathlike larghissimo.  One would think, in a movie that plays as fast and loose with science as this one, they would have simply made up a drug to accomplish this.  Sadly, no.  Apparently content to induce incredulous giggles in every doctor, nurse and pharmacist that happens to sit though this film, the flat-line inducing medication the writers chose was hydrochlorothiazide.    Hydrochlorothiazide is a diuretic.

5)  Pointing out the myriad plot holes would be like shooting fish in a barrel.  A great many fish, in a very small barrel, using a very big gun.

6)  At the end of the movie, I forced the Better Half to sit through the entire closing credits, as there was a very short scene at the very end of the last "X-men" movie.  My suspicions were vindicated.  For what it's worth.

7)  If your boyfriend is prone to nightmares, and shoots bony prongs out of his hands when agitated, separate beds are probably a smart investment.


Why gay marriage matters, part umpteen

On the list of political "no-win" situations, falling in love with an illegal immigrant from Mexico is probably relatively high. Especially if you're both men.

"Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point."

From the Houston Chronicle, via Politico:
Only two weeks after being elected to serve his fourth term, Mayor J.W. Lown of San Angelo submitted his resignation letter Tuesday from an undisclosed location in Mexico.

No, being mayor of San Angelo is not exactly the same as being the King of the United Kingdom and Emperor of India, but the reason for Lown’s abdication is the same as Edward’s.


What made it stunning wasn’t the status of Lown’s office, which pays $600 a year, but the status of his lover.

Lown fell for an illegal Mexican immigrant.

A man.

Mayor Lown was, per the Chronicle, a very popular mayor. Popular enough to stay in office? Hard to say. (Color me skeptical.) It's kind of a moot point, as he has decided to be with his new love in Mexico.
Lown did not give the name of his lover, but said he planned to stay in Mexico to try to obtain a visa so that his partner can return with him if “the people of San Angelo will welcome me back.”

It could be a long wait. According to former Houston city councilman Gordon Quan, an immigration lawyer, Lown’s partner faces two problems in seeking a visa that would permit residency in the U.S.

One involves restrictions caused by his having been in the United States illegally. If he had a student visa and overstayed it more than six months but less than a year, he is not eligible for a visa for three years. If it was more than a year, he must wait 10 years, even for a tourist visa.

The other problem, said Quan, is that he would require a blood relative or a spouse to sponsor him.

And it wouldn’t matter if Lown went to Iowa and married his partner by proxy. The federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages for immigration purposes.

Not to quibble, but the federal government doesn't recognize same-sex marriages, full stop.

I wish Mayor Lown and his unidentified beloved the very best, and I salute him for his integrity in declining to live some kind of double life. I hope one day our government will stop treating him and his (and me and my) relationship as second class. In the meantime, maybe he'll have better luck in Mexico.

Because I will never get to say this in real life

"Because I'm the doctor. That's why."

Thank you for indulging me.

Hell if I should know

A Daily Dish reader describes a quandary.

How do we decongest our overcrowded and dangerous emergency departments?

I am a pediatric emergency room physician. The vast majority (statistics say about 75%) of our patients do not need to be in the emergency room. Ask anyone who does the job--we routinely see children for colds, for diaper rashes, even for pimples. I once treated a 6 year old girl for gum stuck in her hair, and last week I treated a teenager with a sore throat who had an appointment in 30 minutes with her doctor but couldn't wait that long.


The problem is easily identified, but the solution is not. If we stop accepting everyone, chances increase that someone with a real emergency will be turned away by a secretary, a nurse, or by EMS personnel. As it stands, chances are increased that someone with a real emergency will be forced to wait too long to be seen as their condition worsens or that mistakes will be made because of the increasingly chaotic environment. Despite President Bush's statement 2 years ago that “people have access to health care in America, after all, you just go to an emergency room,” the system is completely overwhelmed.
The problem is due, in part to this: "The law (known as EMTALA) states that we must see everyone who presents to the department, regardless of the frivolousness of the complaint." The doc goes on the describe the merits of the law, but laments some of the consequences.

As a primary care physician, I have seen the tendency for patients to over-access the ED many, many times. I saw it in Manhattan, and I see it in Maine. I often see patients on follow-up from ED visits who went in for reasons that were clearly non-emergent, and I will talk with parents at night who are unwilling to wait until the next morning for an appointment. The ED is always open, and what's the down-side if you're not paying for the visit anyway?

As I have mentioned before, the tendency to over-access care is not limited to ED visits. I have patients whose parents bring them in for things that clearly do not need medical attention, or who aren't improving from their colds rapidly enough to suit them. ED visits are particularly costly, in part because (and this may be an unfair generalization, but it has been my experience) of a tendency by ED physicians to over-treat and over-test. Having to cough up some kind of payment tends to disincline people to access care they don't need, and I am moving more and more toward supporting a single-payer system that requires some kind of affordable co-pay (the cost of a pack of cigarettes seems reasonable). As draconian as that may seem, our current system is unsustainable.


Cornering the market on crazy

The Plank had not one but two delightful quotes today from our friends at The Corner. I don't read the National Review, because for all the amusement it might provide, I would also be at serious risk of having my head explode. (My friend and occasional fellow commenter Elizabeth has made this mistake occasionally, and has warned me that the effects on her blood pressure have been dire.) Thus, I am grateful to the good people at The New Republic for doing it for me. (Kudos for the award, guys!)

First, there was this:
It would be interesting to see the results of a more finely calibrated poll, one that compares how well-respected, competent, and effective the subject is perceived to be relative to similarly situated individuals. As a friend succinctly puts it, "When that big asteroid finally heads toward Earth, who's the person you'd most want to be in charge?" I suspect Cheney would score at or near the top.
Oh, goody. I love games like this. What if the Earth were invaded by aliens? (I vote Obama, what with his being a Vulcan and all.) What about aliens in pantsuits? (Clinton, natch.) But I disgress...

Seriously, I'm not sure who Peter Kirsanow is, or what goes on in his mind, but I'm pretty sure the uniform response of any person in charge if an asteroid heads toward Earth would be "blow that [one with carnal knowledge of mothers] up," regardless of political party. As amusing as he might find it to imagine Obama demanding that the asteroid be properly Mirandized, Mr. Kirsanow's ridiculous question is embarrassing, even for The Corner.

Luckily for Peter Kirsanow, Mitt Romney has done him a solid, and said something even stupider about Dick Cheney.
Vice President Cheney has been the target of every media, from mainstream to comic. But he spoke today as before without regard to the politics but with abiding respect for the truth. Barack Obama is still hanging on to the campaign trail. He said that the last thing he thinks about when he goes to sleep at night is keeping America safe. That's a big difference with Vice President Cheney—when it came to protecting Americans, he never went to sleep.
No sleep, huh? Maybe if he'd had a little shut-eye, he wouldn't have had all those heart attacks. (I treasure the mental image of Dick Cheney demanding that his eyes be prised open in defiance of the terrorists, a la A Clockwork Orange.) Yet, even sleep-deprived, he'd still blast the hell out of any meddlesome asteroids.

So, again, a tip of the hat to The Plank. In addition to its nice little recap of the Obama v. Cheney security speeches today, it's given me enough fodder to keep chuckling all night.

*cue muffled giggling*

Via TPM:
Adult film actress Stormy Daniels has officially announced that she has formed an exploratory committee for the 2010 Senate race, in which she is widely expected to run in the Republican primary against Sen. David Vitter -- the Christian right conservative whose career became mired in the D.C. Madam prostitution scandal of 2007.


If she does run, Daniels' campaign would be widely viewed as an effort to remind the state's conservative voters about Vitter's own indiscretions.
Oh, Stormy. Stormy, Stormy, Stormy. The state's conservative voters know about Vitter's own indiscretions. They just don't care. I don't care all that much, though his rank hypocrisy rankles me a little. I am more concerned with his being a mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging moron that his personal peccadilloes.

Then there is this from her press release:
I do not take this step lightly. While I have been humbled by the overwhelmingly positive response my potential candidacy has generated thus far, my decision to run for United States Senate will only be made after I have had the opportunity to discuss this prospect with as many people across the state as possible.
I suppose that peals of laughter are a happy sound, and could thus be mistaken for an "overwhelmingly positive response."

Honestly, the only think that clouds my mirth upon reading this is a creeping dread that this is being masterminded and bankrolled by some Democrat.

Failing marks for "uses time wisely"

Oy, vey.

Via Politico:
The Republican National Committee approved a resolution Wednesday calling on Democrats to “stop pushing our country toward socialism.”

The approved resolution was a watered-down version of a previous measure that referred to Democrats as the “Democrat Socialist Party.”
What did they call it, the "Neener, Neener, Neener" Resolution? Boys and girls, if your party is tanking pretty much across the board, maybe now is not the very best time for meaningless and juvenile rhetorical gestures.

And this is just rich:
“The Republican Party strongly believes that a government which spends without restraint, incurs record amounts of debt, owns banks and makes cars is not the right kind of ‘change’ America needs. Republicans are united in opposition to the destructive policies of the President and Congressional Democrats."
Let's just step back and look at that for a moment. The Democrats were not the party that went on a simultaneous orgy of tax cutting and deficit spending over the past several years, so the GOP can go back to buffing its glass house, as far as I'm concerned. Further, "owns banks and makes cars" is a particularly slanted take on "rescues large financial institutions and major parts of the manufacturing sector from failure."
Randy Pullen, the chairman on the Arizona Republican Party, told POLITICO that Steele’s position was supported by a number of committee members.

“That was the right thing to do,” Pullen said. “It does reflect the sentiment of the committee that Democrats are marching toward socialism.”
Look, Randy. (May I call you Randy?) The financial and auto industries were taking on a lot of water, and the government has been handing them large, costly buckets for the past several months. I'm not sure what your brilliant plan for rescuing the economy was, but I don't know if it counts as "marching toward socialism" if one is trying to keep the banking and auto industries solvent. When Obama has your farm seized, let me know, and I'll reconsider my position.

What HuffPo is good for

I like to make cracks about the Huffington Post, in large part because it's one-stop shopping for idiotic opinions offered with grave seriousness by famous people. However, I feel that it's only fair to point out that it's good for something.

It's good for keeping me informed about popular culture trends I can't be bothered to track otherwise.

Exhibit A is American Idol. I watched for the first season with some regularity, and then the bloom plopped unceremoniously off the rose and I haven't cared since. Apparently, it's still quite the television phenomenon, proving that celebrity insanity is a bankable commodity. And I guess they crowned this season's "winner" last night.

Let's get to it, shall we?
Kris Allen's smooth vocals and boy-next-door image propelled him to "American Idol" victory Wednesday, turning the theatrical powerhouse Adam Lambert into the most unlikely of also-rans.

"I'm sorry, I don't even know what to feel right now. This is crazy," said a stunned Allen, 23, of Conway, Ark.

As host Ryan Seacrest said in announcing the result of the viewer vote, "The underdog, the dark horse, comes back and wins the nation over."

I think I speak for much of "the nation" when I politely inquire, "who"? On the other hand, I am grateful to the Huffington Post for this article, as it would have been terribly embarrassing to have been won over without knowing it.

I also was particularly tickled by this:
Chris Daughtry and Jennifer Hudson, who finished fourth and seventh in their respective seasons, have gone on to huge success. As for "Idol" winners, they range from blockbuster artists like Carrie Underwood to the mostly under-the-radar Taylor Hicks.
I like that "under-the-radar." It's so much nicer than "thudding failure." From what I understand, and was able to observe from snippets of his performances while channel-surfing, a major flaw in Mr. Hicks's pursuit of a singing career is that he is lousy singer. (While lack of talent in one's chosen field is no guarantee of failure, neither is it a particularly helpful attribute.)
Earlier this week, Allen said he hoped the outcome wouldn't be decided by "having the Christian vote."

"I hope it has to do with your talent and the performance that you give and the package that you have. It's not about religion and all that kind of stuff," he said.

I'm tickled by how easily that quote could have been mistaken for a secret confession by Mitt Romney.

Finally, I am so very, very grateful to the HuffPo for filling me in on who won without my having to witness this:
Rod Stewart sang "Maggie May" after the male finalists opened for him with "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy."
No, Rod, I don't. And watching you singing it, with or without the male AI finalists, would probably make my eyes bleed.

For those of you oblivious to the ongoing juggernaut that is American Idol, you can now consider yourselves informed. Feel free to sink back into benign indifference.


Lars von Trier hates you

Breaking the Waves is one of those films that I don't inflict on many people, despite the fact that I happen to love it. Poor Emily Watson, in a wonderful performance, is put through such a painful and humiliating set of ordeals that, despite its redemptive ending (and you've got to wait for the very end to experience the redemption), it's incredibly difficult to watch.

I had no such love for Dancer in the Dark, von Trier's next cinematic offering. Bjork's tribulations are piled on to such an improbable degree that it strains credulity past the breaking point, and veers into the cartoonish. In addition, though we are clearly meant to view her as an innocent victim, her abject refusal to defend herself eventually makes her complicit in her own demise (and the pointless orphaning of her child). I also began to wonder if maybe von Trier liked being mean to women a wee bit too much.

With Dogville, it became apparent that Breaking the Waves was a one-off, and that I was destined to detest its director with ever-growing passion. In a kind of backhanded tribute to a film directed by a man who hates America without ever having bothered to visit, I decided to hate the film without bothering to see it. I don't think I missed much, since seeing Nicole Kidman put through the von Trier treatment didn't hold much appeal to me.

Today I learned (thanks to Chris Orr at The Plank) that von Trier is at it again, with a piece of cinematic excreta called Antichrist. It is, apparently, causing quite a stir at Cannes. For those of you curious to know why, you can search around in the embedded links above until you find out. For my part, my mother reads this blog, and I have no desire to inadvertantly put her off her dinner for the next week. (You're welcome.) The only thing I will add is that it sounds like The Joy of Sex, adapted for the big screen by Hannibal Lecter.

Taking it in his stride, von Trier had this to say about the reaction to his little film:
Booed at his own press conference and asked why he chose to make this film, von Trier waxed philosophical: “I never have a choice. It’s the hand of God. And I am the best film director in the world. I’m not sure if God is the best God in the world.”
I couldn't help but recall the thoughts of Michael Haneke, director of the similarly vile, hypocritical cinematic emetic Funny Games:
Are you prepared for the reaction to the movie here in America?
I hope that the slap in the face that I’m trying to give works here as well.
(I would like to thank the reviewer for the Houston Chronicle for the basic decency displayed in her review, thus sparing me the remote possibility of actually seeing it.)

So, Mr. von Trier and Mr. Haneke, consider this my big, fat middle finger, extended enthusiastically in your direction. If you both think that ugliness is the same as truth, and that provocation is the same thing as art, then heaven help you both. (We seem to have slid a long way from Keats.) For all its flaws, America is a better and more beautiful place than you understand, and its people are better on balance than I'd wager either of you are. That you are so smugly assured of your right to assault your audiences for their own good only serves to keep me out of them from here on out.

Oh, bra-VO Senate Democrats!

From Politico:
In a setback for President Barack Obama, Senate Democrats said Tuesday they will strip out $80 million in new funding in a wartime spending bill to begin the process of closing the Guantanamo detention facility.

The action comes as Senate Republicans have warned that they will offer an amendment to the same $91.3 billion measure barring the administration from relocating any of the detainees to American soil.


Gonna go out on a limb

I was reading Chris Dierkes's piece about Obama's Notre Dame commencement speech over at Ordinary Gentlemen. He is, unsurprisingly, no more a fan of the Huffington Post than I am:
In the controversy around abortion, it is not hard for Obama to look fair-minded. Obama is helped in this by useful idiots from his left flank who write not particularly bright commentaries on his speech re: abortion like this one on the front page of the HuffingtonPost.
The link leads you to a not particularly bright commentary at the Huffington Post.

I try to avoid writing about the snake pit that is the abortion controversy in the United States. I am too ambivalent about my own pro-choice stance to question the sincere beliefs of others, and am loath to court undue controversy. But I am unable to contain my scorn at reading this:
A few minutes before President Obama's commencement speech at Notre Dame, the CNN anchor was intoning that he supports stem cell research and he supports abortion rights, and that he would not shrink from his positions on either. In fact, she said, he was going to use an email he had gotten on the subject of abortion as part of his remarks.

Good, I thought. It will be from the parent of the mentally retarded high school student who was gang raped, the doctor of an 11 year old incest victim, or possibly a woman with four kids already whose husband has just lost his job and medical benefits along with it.

Boy, was I wrong.

Friends, it would be much, much easier if everyone who sought an abortion were in straits as dire as those described above. I would love to tell you that, during my years working in New York, I was faced with young women consistently conflicted about their pregnancies, and who were aware of how profound a decision they were making when they opted for abortion. I wish it were not the case that many such young women truly did use abortion as a method of contraception, and that some (dare I say many?) of those young women did so blithely and with no apparent hesitation.

I would love to say those things. Those things are not true.

Abortion is a tremendously complex issue, and one about which I believe people of intelligence and integrity can honestly disagree. Indeed, I believe that both sides have compelling arguments in their favor. But if we're going to have this debate, then let us move away from the examples of women in extremis, and acknowledge that abortion occupies a much more muddy moral space. I will not make the cavalier young women I encountered stand-ins for women who seek abortion in general, but neither will I accept that they are outliers.

A BB across the bow of the USS Vincennes

I do not like Oprah.

I do not like her orgies of consumption. I do not like the whole brouhaha with James Frey, which appears to be never-ending. And I hated The Corrections.

More than all of that, however, I am appalled that a woman who has the fame and influence that Oprah enjoys would use it so terribly irresponsibly. In particular, I am appalled that she would give the ludicrous Jenny McCarthy a blog of her own under the "Oprah.com" banner (as well as, God help us, a show it seems).

I will leave it to my colleagues at Respectful Insolence and PalMD to go through her blog in more detail than I can stomach right now. If you read Bleakonomy with any regularity (may the Lord preserve you), you probably already know what I think of her and her boyfriend. (I think they are dangerous lunatics, in short.)

However, it is one thing for Ms. McCarthy to have her anti-scientific beliefs, and to expound upon them to her heart's content. It is, as they say, a free country. It is another thing entirely to provide a woman who apparently thinks her child's poop should be free of bacteria (hope you eat lots of Vitamin K-rich foods, kid) with a venue that will doubtless be read by a great many people, and which will be assumed to bear Oprah's stamp of approve as a result. People, for whatever reason, pay attention to Oprah, buy what she says, read what she reads, and (probably) voted how she told them to. The last thing this country needs is for her to be giving a ninny like Ms. McCarthy a wider audience.

Update: In trolling around the Web after writing this, I came across this post by the mother of a child with autism. Money quote (hat tip Liz Ditz):
We live in a culture where some people make critical health decisions for their children based on the opinions of self-proclaimed celebrity graduates from "The University of Google." I'm asking you to help right the balance, to ensure that science-based viewpoints counter earnest but misinformed sensationalism in the autism -- and parenting -- communities' information flows.

I know that some people will never vaccinate their kids, no matter the argument or evidence. Herd immunity will compensate and keep the rest of our kids healthy *if* enough other children get vaccinated. That is why it is so important to reach and talk to parents who are still formulating their immunization opinions, to educate ourselves with facts rather than furor, to have the confidence to spread the word about what we know and believe, to tear down the wall of harm that Jenny and co. have erected, and to shout it loud:

There is no proven link between autism and vaccinations! I believe it is my social responsibility to vaccinate my children!

Sita Sings the Blues; the review

The Better Half and I hosted one of our best friends this past weekend. We took a trip up to Waterville to have dinner at the sublime Freedom Cafe, and as luck would have it we had just received a recent mailing from Railroad Square Cinema about their current offerings. (A short digression -- the existence of those two establishments was a major reason I was able to survive the move from Manhattan to mid-Maine. May they stay in business forever.) I had heard nothing about Sita Sings the Blues, but was intrigued enough to suggest it to our friend, and the three of us decided to give it a shot.

It was fantastic, and utterly unlike anything I have ever seen at the theater before. A cunning, hilarious and poignant retelling of the Hindu epic the Ramayana, which tells of the marriage of Rama and Sita, Sita Sings the Blues also deals with the break-up of the film-maker (who did the vast majority of the work on the production herself) and her husband. In between expository segments (narrated by three droll shadow puppets) and dramatic re-enactments, Sita's travails are expressed through the songs of Annette Hanshaw (a 20s blues singer). The animation varies between sections, from crude line-drawings to brilliantly-colored celestial panorama, each of which contributes to the narrative in a unique and fascinating way.

The animator, Nina Paley, has made the entire work available for download, but if you can find a local screening, go see it. It is one of the most inventive things I have ever seen, and deserves to be enjoyed in the theater.


Have a nice time wandering in the wilderness!

Oh, poor James Dobson. Poor, poor James Dobson. It sounds like even Miss California USA can't cheer him up these days.

From U. S. News:

I want to tell you up front that we're not going to ask you to do anything, to make a phone call or to write a letter or anything.

There is nothing you can do at this time about what is taking place because there is simply no limit to what the left can do at this time. Anything they want, they get and so we can't stop them.

We tried with [Health and Human Services Secretary] Kathleen Sebelius and sent thousands of phone calls and emails to the Senate and they didn't pay any attention to it because they don't have to. And so what you can do is pray, pray for this great nation... As I see it, there is no other answer. There's no other answer, short term.


I've been on the air for 32 years and I've never seen a time quite like this. It just illustrates what happens when we don't have what the Founding Fathers referred to as checks and balances, where the excesses of one party or one branch of government limit the reach of power hungry and self-serving people and keeps them form doing things that are harmful to the country. That's the way the system was designed. We have 2 major political parties in this country, not one. And bipartisanship is a media creation that's designed to promote one point of view instead of the debate that should occur. And that's why media doesn't talk about bipartisanship when conservatives are in power...
You can cry me a river, Dr. Dobson. I don't recall you mewling like a stranded kitten about checks and balances when your ilk had a strangle-hold on power for six years, so you can just sit back and ponder that your side lost. Because you're right that the country apparently is no longer interested in your particular brand of reactionary theocratic political demagoguery, and good riddance to it. You chose to tie your wagon to the political fortunes of a swaggering incompetent, so them's the breaks.

But what if the cater waiters mutiny?

Oh, goodie. It looks like New England really is going to be the epicenter for marriage equality in the United States. From the Times:
Gov. John Lynch of New Hampshire said Thursday that he would sign the state’s same-sex marriage bill if it was amended to further shield opponents from having to take part in ceremonies celebrating such unions.

Legislative leaders said they would allow the changes, all but ensuring that New Hampshire will become the sixth state where marriage between gay men or lesbians is legal.
I am happy about this for a variety of reasons. First of all, simply for the merits of having marriage equality in another state. But more selfishly, the more states that legalize same-sex marriage, the more fronts the anti-equality crowd will have to fight, thus diluting the power of their money and their organizing efforts. It's a lot harder to fight newly-minted gay marriage laws in four states than it was to fight in California alone, even if the latter is an extremely expensive media market. So, the more states make it legal, the less likely it is to be overturned in any one state (like Maine, my happy home).

The language Gov. Lynch wants added would make religious exemptions from performing same-sex marriages more explicit. To quote my friend Mary (yes, I'm name-dropping... sue me):
Mary Bonauto, civil rights project director for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, a legal group in Boston, said Mr. Lynch’s proposed changes to the New Hampshire law were “not a big deal.”

“Current law essentially provides these protections,” Ms. Bonauto said. “If making it more explicit gives people some peace of mind, so be it.”
But what I particularly like is this, from the opposition:
“However the governor wishes to couch his decision on this,” Mr. Smith said, “the fact remains that by signing this bill, he will have broke his trust with New Hampshire voters after repeatedly stating that he opposes gay marriage. This amendment does nothing to protect the religious liberties of independent business owners, such as photographers and caterers, who in good conscience cannot perform their services for same-sex marriage ceremonies.”
I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- if you own a business, and are too determined to stick to your bigotry to accept my money, then I'm more than happy to give it to someone else. I don't really see the state of New Hampshire needing to force florists (a faction known to be hostile to gay men) to provide services for same-sex weddings. Sometimes the free market really does work all on its own.

The hegemony of daycare

I have only been a pediatrician in practice for a few years, so I am unable to comment with authority on the social trends that append to raising children. But there is a phenomenon I have noticed that I find utterly and completely baffling, and I wonder how long it has existed.

When did daycares get so bloody powerful? And paranoid, for that matter?

I cannot even begin to describe the cavalcade of frustrated and bemused parents that have been forced to schlep their patently healthy children in for evaluation because they have been directed to by their daycare providers. The parents know there is nothing wrong with their child, but are not allowed to return them to daycare until they get a note from a doctor stating that they are free of illness.

HIPAA prevents me from giving the details that would hammer my point home. Suffice it to say that there is no scrape too small or sniffle too insignificant to warrant a mandated visit. If one kid in the daycare has been diagnosed with something, any kid with a whisper of a hint of a related symptom needs to be seen pronto, which means mom or dad has to leave work, and then wait around my office until I can say that their little one is fine. Which they already knew.

Has it been ever thus? Is this new? Is this just a Maine thing? Because man, as much as I like being gainfully employed, it sure is a silly way of racking up healthcare costs.


Dept. of Overstatement

I happened upon a nifty little article at Slate about the limitations of medical studies, and how it is hard to extrapolate long-term benefits of various interventions from the short-term measures used in those studies. It's worth reading in its entirety, and the author makes it more accessible by likening the studies to (don't laugh) reality shows.
Paul Bataldan, who co-founded the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, once observed that "every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets." Reality TV participants desperate for fame or love sing (and lip-sync) shortened, preselected songs or go on over-the-top dates in fabulous locations, followed by a team of camera operators. The ostensible goal—the one declared to the audience—is to identify the most talented recording artist or most compatible couple. But as Bataldan might observe, the shows are instead designed to win over television viewers, which is an altogether different (and possibly incompatible) goal.

The parallels to a major clinical drug trial are uncanny. In the federal Multimodal Treatment Study, hundreds of kids with ADHD, whose families were desperate enough to enroll them in a randomized study, entered a well-funded and highly supervised National Institute for Mental Health program complete with specialized therapy, regular evaluation by developmental experts, and careful drug prescription—a setup that's about as realistic as a date on The Bachelor. Within that very unusual, closely monitored environment, as reported in 1999, stimulant medications caused modest improvement after about a year. In response, use of these products surged nationwide, and Ritalin and its peers became household brands. But in March, the researchers described what happened after the lights went out. In their subsequent years in the real world, the drug-treated kids ultimately ended up no better off than the others.

Epidemiologists call this the problem of "surrogate endpoints," and it's no surprise to fans of reality television. Garnering the greatest number of text-messaging votes after a brief performance doesn't always mean you'll be a successful pop star; winning the final rose after an on-air courtship doesn't mean you'll have a happy marriage; and getting higher scores on a simple rating scale of attention-deficit symptoms doesn't mean you'll later succeed in school. In medicine, this problem happens all the time.

Few drug-trial studies have the time or money to study the actual health outcomes that people care about, such as whether the middle-aged man avoids a heart attack after a few decades, the hyperactive first-grader holds down a good job someday, or the menopausal woman remains free from a hip fracture when she's elderly. Waiting for these events would stifle any meaningful innovation, so doctors pick surrogate endpoints, which they hope serve as short-term checkpoints. Thus drugs trials for the preceding examples may just decide to measure the middle-aged man's cholesterol level, the youngster's symptom checklist for hyperactivity, and the woman's bone density with a DEXA scan.

This is really quite a clever way of framing the discussion. What isn't clever, however, is the misleading things the article says about ADHD medication.

It starts with the link's headline at Slate's main page, which was what initially caught my eye. It read something along the lines of "Surprising New Evidence that Ritalin Doesn't Work." [Oh, poo. Since I started writing this post, Slate has reconfigured its links, and the initial link heading is gone. Perhaps you would be willing to take my word for it?] Suffice it to say, this is drastically overstating what the study found.

Then there was this, from the article itself:
Though it may seem a stretch, the lessons of reality TV can help us understand why, for example, many parents recently were told—with the suddenness of Jason Mesnick's dumping his fiancee Melissa Rycroft on the last Bachelor finale—that a large federal study contradicted its initial findings and concluded that drug treatment for attention deficit disorder had no benefit in children who were followed for six to eight years. These results put into question the widespread use of stimulants like Ritalin and Concerta, which were prescribed roughly 40 million times last year, and led to an acrimonious public debate among the study's co-authors. [emphasis mine]
What were the actual results?
Using reports from parents and teachers as well as self-reports from the children, now high school-aged, the researchers found that the youth’s functioning remained improved overall compared to their functioning at the beginning of the study, suggesting that available treatments can still be effective. However, they also found the following:
  • The eight-year follow-up revealed no differences in symptoms or functioning among the youths assigned to the different treatment groups as children. This result suggests that the type or intensity of a one-year treatment for ADHD in childhood does not predict future functioning.
  • Youths with ADHD still had significantly more academic and social problems compared with peers who did not have ADHD. They also had more conduct problems including run-ins with police, as well as more depression, and psychiatric hospitalizations.
  • Some differences emerged among the youths with ADHD. For example, youths who had responded well to treatment and maintained their gains for two more years after the end of the trial tended to be functioning the best at eight years.
  • A majority (61.5 percent) of the children who were medicated at the end of the 14-month trial had stopped taking medication by the eight-year follow-up, suggesting that medication treatment may lose appeal with families over time. The reasons for this decline are under investigation, but they nevertheless signal the need for alternative treatments.
  • Children who were no longer taking medication at the eight-year follow-up were generally functioning as well as children who were still medicated, raising questions about whether medication treatment beyond two years continues to be beneficial or needed by all.
Friends, the very measured findings above are not the same as "had no benefit." It appears that the benefits may wane, that the medication will not correct the entirety of the problems experienced by children with ADHD (a complicated and multi-factorial diagnosis) and that compliance drops off over time. Also, children who initially respond better to treatment do better in the long run. No surprises to any of that.

I am no great fan of ADHD medication in this country, which I think is too readily prescribed for too many children with too many problems related to too many factors. I am not particularly keen to argue for their widespread use. But the article oversells itself by hyping an eye-catching finding that doesn't necessarily exist to the degree they imply.

Which is a shame. The article, which is otherwise excellent, didn't really need to be quite so sloppy, even if doing so meant more people were likely to read it.

I find this... unsettling

I popped over to The Spine to see if Marty Peretz had anything to say about the subject of my last post. (Not yet, it turns out, but I can't imagine he'll have nothing to say.) I don't tend to see eye to eye with Marty on much, but I find myself agreeing with him about this:
The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.

“This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl,” said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff’s deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. “It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts.”

The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out “active shooters,” like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

“Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”

It seems rather a long way from Lord Baden-Powell's "Scouting for Boys," no? On the one hand, I'm all for teaching young people interested in law enforcement more about their chosen field in a setting supervised by professionals. On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure about the value of training a pack of hormonal vigilantes.
Cathy Noriego, also 16, said she was attracted by the guns. The group uses compressed-air guns — known as airsoft guns, which fire tiny plastic pellets — in the training exercises, and sometimes they shoot real guns on a closed range.

“I like shooting them,” Cathy said. “I like the sound they make. It gets me excited.”

Then there's this:
The law enforcement programs are highly decentralized, and each post is run in a way that reflects the culture of its sponsoring agency and region. Most have weekly meetings in which the children work on their law-enforcement techniques in preparing for competitions. Weekends are often spent on service projects.
"Highly decentralized" seems like another way of saying "poorly supervised," and I'm not 100% sure I trust the "culture of [the] sponsoring agency and region." Some cultures are probably better off without adolescents trained in combat and fire-arm skills.

I would probably have raised an eyebrow and moved on, if not for this:
In a competition in Arizona that he did not oversee, Deputy Lowenthal said, one role-player wore traditional Arab dress. “If we’re looking at 9/11 and what a Middle Eastern terrorist would be like,” he said, “then maybe your role-player would look like that. I don’t know, would you call that politically incorrect?”
No, actually, I would call that stupid and xenophobic, and precisely the wrong kind of thing to be teaching a pack of armed children.

What with my being gay and all, I was unlikely to have much to do with the Boy Scouts of America. (I tend not to try to crash parties to which I am conspicuously not invited. See also: the GOP, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, etc.) But this? This just freaks me out.

Wow. Just... wow.

Yikes. Via Politico:
The Republicans’ only announced candidate running against Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) doesn’t look at all ready for prime time.

Arkansas state senator Kim Hendren is drawing fire for referring to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer as “that Jew” during a speech with Pulaski County Republican party activists.

And after he drew criticism over the comment, his explanation to a popular Arkansas Republican blog sounded even more macaca.

“At the meeting I was attempting to explain that unlike Sen. Schumer, I believe in traditional values, like we used to see on The Andy Griffith Show,” Hendren told the Tolbert Report.

“I made the mistake of referring to Sen. Schumer as ‘that Jew’ and I should not have put it that way as this took away from what I was trying to say."
Got that, children of Israel? Apparently, referring to your ethnicity/religion is shorthand for referring to your disbelief in traditional values in general.

I would write something else, but my irony circuits were totally fried by this. While I recover, someone please inform Marty Peretz.

Update: Hold the phone!! Hendren's veered even further into "hilariously awful apology" territory. From the AP (via TPM):
"I ought not to have referred to it at all," Hendren told the AP. "When I referred to him as Jewish, it wasn't because I don't like Jewish people."

Hendren said he made the reference as he talked about comments the senior senator made criticizing some elements of the Republican Party.

"I shouldn't have gotten into this Jewish business because it distracts from the issue," Hendren said.

No. No, in fact, Sen. Hendren, you probably shouldn't have gotten into "this Jewish business." Whoops-a-daisy!

All hail J.J. Abrams

I have never watched a full episode of either "Alias" or "Lost," so I went into the new "Star Trek" movie unfamiliar with J. J. Abrams' (the shiny new director) oeuvre. Conversely, I was a middling fan of the first run of original cast movies (some of which were easier to be a fan of than others) and of the "Next Generation" series (at least until they killed off my favorite character a couple of seasons in). I didn't watch any of the later television series with any dedication, hardly ever watched the original series in re-run, and couldn't give a detailed history of the plot points or backstory from the bits of the "Star Trek" franchise that I did watch. All in all, neither a member of the core fan base nor a detractor, but a fan of good science fiction in general.

With all of that said, I have got to hand it to Mr. Abrams. The new film, which I took in last night with the Better Half, is fantastic. He has taken a wheezing, clunking franchise that was looking like it needed to be taken behind the barn and shot, and given it a much-needed jolt. The acting is solid (particularly the new Spock), and the story kicks along nicely. I could have done without the requisite "bad boy" intro to Kirk, but once the more eye-rolling bits of his character arc are done with, the movie has few missteps. (It doesn't hurt matters that the new Kirk is, um... easy on the eyes.)

It is best not to think too hard about the plot, which verges on the silly at bits. (For certain stuffed shirt reviewers, I would remind them that this is a science fiction franchise, and thus a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required. Try to have fun, for pity's sake.) And someone needs to explain why women in Starfleet are still wearing skirts that threaten to make their nether regions part of explored space. But the movie introduces new incarnations of familiar characters with a light hand, and a respectful nod to the road we've all been down for decades. (One particularly menacing plot point actually reminded me of the first "Star Wars.")

In short, the movie did exactly what it needed to do. Well done, Mr. Abrams. I await the inevitable sequels.

One final note, giving credit where it is due. I am not what you'd call a fan of Winona Ryder, whose physical loveliness and critical acclaim have always exceeded her talent, in my estimation. However, in her teeny, tiny (and somewhat oddly-cast) role as Spock's mother, she does a creditable job.


On outing

The other day, a friend told me about the soon-to-be released documentary "Outrage" about closeted gay politicians, many of them conservative and ostensibly supportive of the anti-gay agenda. In its review of the film, NPR mentioned that it included such high-profile Republicans as Charlie Crist (Florida governor and newly-minted candidate for US Senate) and the infamous Senator Larry Craig. Because both of these politicians are married and neither is openly gay, NPR deemed it inappropriate to run the review as-is, and edited it to remove the references, thus igniting a storm of debate and controversy.

I am personally deeply uncomfortable with the practice of "outing" politicians and other public figures in the pursuit of an agenda. Yes, I find the hypocrisy of closeted politicians selling out their fellow homosexuals nauseating. I find politicians being hypocritical nauseating in general. But "outing" politicians is just a gay-specific form of the politics of personal destruction, and it is vindictive, immature and unlikely to sway disinterested parties to one's side.

Further, if the gay-rights agenda is to succeed, it should succeed on its merits. Anti-gay discrimination is wrong, and has negative consequences. But we didn't have thousands of supporters at the LD1020 hearing a few weeks ago because we exposed the anti-gay side as being full of homos. We did it because we as a movement have been coming out of the closet ourselves, and have been doing the work of showing our friends, family and coworkers that we deserve the same rights and respect as anyone else.

In response to Dan Savage (who doesn't know me from a hole in the ground), I know some of the people who are outed are vile and ugly people. I dig it. But that doesn't mean that we should debase ourselves by behaving in an ugly manner ourselves. I share Ta-Nehisi's skepticism.

A consummate disgrace

I first became aware of Knights Out when my mother told me about them. For those of you unfamiliar with them, they are an organization of West Point alumni that are openly gay, lesbian or transgender. They are opposed to the antiquated and appalling Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, by which gay and lesbian soldiers are prohibited from serving their country in the military. Lt. Daniel Choi, an Iraq vet and Arabic linguist who took the courageous step of coming out of the closet on national television, is a founding member.

Sadly but unsurprisingly, Lt. Choi has been discharged from the Army in response to doing so. He wrote, in an open letter to the President posted yesterday:
At West Point, I recited the Cadet Prayer every Sunday. It taught us to “choose the harder right over the easier wrong” and to “never be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.” The Cadet Honor Code demanded truthfulness and honesty. It imposed a zero-tolerance policy against deception, or hiding behind comfort.


I have personally served for a decade under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: an immoral law and policy that forces American soldiers to deceive and lie about their sexual orientation. Worse, it forces others to tolerate deception and lying. These values are completely opposed to anything I learned at West Point. Deception and lies poison a unit and cripple a fighting force.

As an infantry officer, an Iraq combat veteran and a West Point graduate with a degree in Arabic, I refuse to lie to my commanders. I refuse to lie to my peers. I refuse to lie to my subordinates. I demand honesty and courage from my soldiers. They should demand the same from me.


The Department of the Army sent a letter discharging me on April 23rd. I will not lie to you; the letter is a slap in the face. It is a slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated that an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.

My subordinates know I’m gay. They don’t care. They are professional.

Further, they are respectable infantrymen who work as a team. Many told me that they respect me even more because I trusted them enough to let them know the truth. Trust is the foundation of unit cohesion.

After I publicly announced that I am gay, I reported for training and led rifle marksmanship. I ordered hundreds of soldiers to fire live rounds and qualify on their weapons. I qualified on my own weapon. I showered after training and slept in an open bay with 40 other infantrymen. I cannot understand the claim that I “negatively affected good order and discipline in the New York Army National Guard.” I refuse to accept this statement as true.

Repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell was one of Obama's campaign promises, and it is a promise he could easily keep. I share Andrew's disgust that he has decided not to attend to this promptly, and am increasingly unimpressed by his attention (or lack thereof) to the promises he made to my community during his campaign.

Time to update your resume, Mr. Steele

Michael Steele, embattled chairman of the Republican National Committee, appears to be something of a slow learner. He clearly has not grasped that his tendency to speak without thinking may be endangering his job security.

Indeed, a few days ago Chris Cillizza of WaPo's The Fix ranked various GOP heavies by order of influence. While it's just one political analyst's opinion, it seemed about right to me. (The person ranked #2 gives me serious agita.) Poor Chairman Steele was a mere #8.
8. Michael Steele: It's day 99 of Steele's tenure as the chairman of the Republican National Committee -- and he is still dealing with the fallout from his disastrous first few weeks in the office. Steele, smartly, has limited his media appearances recently but we would expect him to re-emerge soon because, despite all of his missteps, he is still potentially one of the Republican party's best spokesmen. (Previous ranking: N/A)
Who was #1?
1. Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor claims the top spot for the third straight Line. Why? He is still the Republican that is the closest the party has to the complete package. Romney can -- and does -- speak from a position of authority on economic issues and has begun to broaden his criticism of Obama to include the sphere of foreign policy as well. On the political front, Romney is unmatched -- he has kept an active presence via his Free and Strong America PAC and continues to travel the country in support of candidates. (Previous ranking: 1)
It appears that Mr. Steele is not a reader of The Fix. From CNN (via The Plank):
In an unusual move for the person tasked with being his party's top cheerleader, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele is shining a light on the political vulnerabilities of one of the GOP's top figures and a likely frontrunner for the 2012 Republican nomination — former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.


"Remember, it was the base that rejected Mitt because of his switch on pro-life, from pro-choice to pro-life," Steele told the caller. "It was the base that rejected Mitt because it had issues with Mormonism. It was the base that rejected Mitt because they thought he was back and forth and waffling on those very economic issues you're talking about."
Team Romney was not pleased.
"Sometimes when you shoot from the hip, you miss the target," said Romney spokesman Eric Ferhnstrom. "This is one of those times."

A Romney aide noted that the former Massachusetts governor won the Conservative Political Action Conference's annual straw poll the past three years, won 11 presidential primaries and caucuses, and earned 4.2 million votes by the time he left the race in February of last year.

The truth is that Mr. Steele's comments weren't actually wrong. That doesn't, however, mean they were smart.

If you have to ask, you can't afford it

A couple of months ago, I appeared at the capitol in support of a bill to create a "patient bill of rights" for people in Maine. (Its primary sponsor is my representative, who also happens to live down the street from me. One of the nice things about living in a small state like Maine is that you can get to know the people who make your laws.) Much of the bill pertains to insurance carriers, and to increasing transparency in what different plans will cover and what they won't. An addition provision in the bill, if I recall correctly, would mandate that patients be informed of the cost of procedures and tests before they are provided so as to allow them to make better decisions about what they can afford. (Rep. Treat's statement when she introduced the bill did not make mention of this provision, but I recall it from the press materials that were distributed at the time.)

While I was standing on the big staircase in the Hall of Flags listening to people holding forth on their experiences of being hornswoggled by the insurance industry, I mused about how ignorant I am about the costs of healthcare. Every so often I will get a call from a parent saying that some medication is not covered by their health insurance, and I am staggered by how much the price is. (In those situations, we try to find a less expensive option.) And, when it comes to the price of blood tests or x-rays, I am wholly ignorant.

All of this came back to mind when I read this article (via Washington Monthly)
about the uninsured leaving emergency rooms because they fear the costs of tests and other interventions, often deferring recommended care at significant risk.
In hindsight, maybe Jesse Ashlock shouldn’t have walked out of the New York emergency room last summer, only a couple hours after being knocked unconscious in a Brooklyn bicycle crash.

Medical crews told him he needed a blood test, chest X-rays and probably a CT scan to check for head injuries. And he certainly should have had treatment for major road rash, including raw scrapes on his face, neck and hands.

But the 31-year-old editor for a design magazine was between jobs, briefly without health insurance and afraid of being stuck with a sky-high hospital bill. The doctor on duty dismissed Ashlock’s questions about cost, telling him she was “a physician, not an accountant,” he said.

I don't know that I would have used that particular turn of phrase. (Bad bedside manner, random ER doc! No biscuit!) But the truth is, I would have been in no better a position to discuss the costs of the recommended tests than she was. Perhaps I am egregiously ignorant by comparison to other doctors, but I really don't think so. We're not taught this kind of thing in medical school (at least I wasn't), and we don't see the price when we order a lab test or x-ray. I have an innate antipathy toward ordering unnecessary tests on principle, but this has as much to do with not wasting time gleaning useless information as it does with cost.

I was also reminded of a study published recently that was authored by a good friend of mine, in which she found that the uninsured are not responsible for the shared costs of emergency care. From a Newsweek interview she gave:
NEWSWEEK: You looked at some common assumptions about why emergency rooms are so crowded. A lot of them turned out to be untrue. What were these myths, and how did people come to believe in them?

Manya Newton: First, there was a belief that the uninsured are all coming to the emergency department for non-urgent care. That's a tricky one to talk about, because there's no good definition of what "non-urgent care" is—if you have a big cut on your face, or if your baby has a fever and it's one in the morning, that is coded as "non-urgent" by doctors even though it's urgent to you. But when people talk about crowded ERs and the uninsured coming in for "non-urgent care," they're thinking about things like the sniffles, or the back pain these people have had for 11 years. And if you actually look at the uninsured, they're not coming in for sniffles or back pain, because they're the only group that bears the full cost of an ER visit. Yes, a $50 co-pay is painful, but a $5,000 bill is really painful.

So they actually come to the ER less often than people with insurance do?
Yes. They're underrepresented in ERs compared to the overall population—17 percent of people in our country are uninsured, but they account for somewhere between ten and 15 percent of visits to the ER. When they do come in, they tend to put it off until the last possible moment, until they're really sick. So it's not the uninsured who are causing crowding. It's everybody.

This is also consistent with my experience regarding who tends to over-utilize office visits. People who are self-pay (or who have high deductable plans) tend to avoid coming in if they can help it, whereas people who pay nothing for the visits are apt to come in "just in case" for minor complaints. Even though I am a proponent of universal health care, I must concede that this last phenomenon is something that will need to be dealt with. While we obviously don't want people to defer needed care, neither do we want people to be completely divorced from the cost of their care, to the point that they opt for visits or treatments they could easily have skipped.