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Friday, August 31, 2007


A little something to start off on the right foot this morning. My friend Jan sent this to me.

* * * *
by Stuart Kestenbaum
from Prayers & Run-on Sentences
Deerbrook Editions, 2007

The only psalm I had memorized was the 23rd and now I find myself searching for the order of the phrases knowing it ends with surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever only I remember seeing a new translation from the original Hebrew and forever wasn't forever but a long time which is different from forever although even a long time today would be good enough for me even a minute entering the House would be good enough for me, even a hand on the door or dropping today's newspaper on the stoop or looking in the windows that are reflecting this morning's clouds in first light.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

"Wife-Spanking 101"

O-M-G! I'm almost speechless. My friend Janet sent this to me. Fundamentalist Christians who insist that the husband should spank the wife to keep her in line. Sounds like abuse (and certainly is, in some cases), but when you read more, it starts to appear very sexual, under the guise of devoutness. The comments after the article are as informative as the essay itself: seems from the discussion (some comments from secular practitioners of S&M) that this is just an excuse to have kinky sex and say that God commanded it.


Wife-Spanking 101: Neither Parody Nor Porn
by Ann Friedman

What if you wife won't "behave"? Uber-conservative Christian patriarchs everywhere now have a solution!


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Matt Taibbi on private contractors in Iraq

My friend Mary alerted me to this awesome but wrenching article, by my fav, Matt Taibbi of RollingStone, b/c she saw it on Dailykos, but I would have read it eventually, as my husband is a subcriber. Only read this if you're in the mood to be utterly disgusted at the waste, fraud and abuse by, no, not the government, but by those paeans of efficiency, much-lauded private industry. Below is a short excerpt.


How Bush Allowed an Army of For-Profit Contractors to Invade the U.S. Treasury

Aug 23, 2007
The Great Iraq Swindle
by Matt Taibbi

[. . . ]
Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam ­Hussein's Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush's war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity -- to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.

And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it's not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over -- not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card. And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureauc­racy.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Senator Craig tries to get laid

Yet another "family values" Republican is caught in a gay sex scandal - he was arrested in June for soliciting sex in an airport restroom and plead guilty to reduced charges. Now the story has come out (pun intended), and the story is all over the news today (he also withdrew as Idaho campaign co-chairman for Romney). He claims it was a "misunderstanding," but I doubt it, from the description of what went down (the police report is available online). Sounds like most people are more upset about the solicitation attempt then they are about his orientation or "preference." Whatever. As a cable news commentator said this morning, there's clearly a lot of pressue in the GOP to remain on the DL (which, IMO, almost inevitably leads to this sort of sordid activity coming to light).


Arrest Clouds Idaho Senator's Future

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who has voted against gay marriage and opposes extending special protections to gay and lesbian crime victims, finds his political future in doubt after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from complaints of lewd conduct in a men's room.

The conservative three-term senator, who has represented Idaho in Congress for more than a quarter-century, is up for re-election next year. He hasn't said if he will run for a fourth term in 2008 and was expected to announce his plans this fall.
[. . .]

Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, which first reported the case, said on its Web site Monday that Craig was arrested June 11 by a plainclothes officer investigating complaints of lewd conduct in a men's restroom at the airport.

Roll Call reported that Sgt. Dave Karsnia made the arrest after an encounter in which he was seated in a stall next to a stall occupied by Craig. Karsnia described Craig tapping his foot, which Karsnia said he "recognized as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct."

Roll Call quoted the Aug. 8 police report as saying that Craig had handed the arresting officer a business card that identified him as a member of the Senate. "What do you think about that?" Craig is alleged to have said, according to the report.

ADDENDUM 8/31/2007

Why are we still hearing about this guy? I already know so much more about him, and what he did in that bathroom, than I ever wanted to know. Is it the gay angle, or because the story has sex in it (implied sex, that's certainly all) or is it just because there's nothing else to talk about in the Dog Days of summer? I thought this would be a One Day Wonder, but it just goes on and on. I actually turned the news off last night for the first time in ages because I just didn't want to hear about it anymore.

ADDENDUM 9/19/2007

Despite the endless news cycles devoted to Larry Craig's bathroom shenanigans, I never heard a word about this State Rep in Florida, snagged for the same thing around the same time (no sting this time, though, just very bad luck). By the by, he has a similar "Family Values" (i.e., anti-gay) voting record as Sen Craig, and "92 percent rating from the Christian Coalition of Florida" . . .


State Rep. Bob Allen insists he's innocent, will not quit

July 13, 2007

Allen was arrested outside the men's restroom at a Titusville park after offering to perform a sex act on a plainclothes police officer, authorities said. He was later released after posting $500 bail.

Titusville Officer Danny Kavanaugh, who was staking out a nearby condo hoping to catch a burglar, said Allen approached him in the men's bathroom at Veterans Memorial Park about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. In an arrest affidavit, Kavanaugh said he had washed his hands and, finding the sink's paper-towel dispenser empty, had walked into a stall for the disabled to dry his hands. Allen first peeked over the door and then stepped inside, he said.

Allen proposed the two go across a nearby bridge because "it's quiet over there" and he would perform a sex act on the officer for $20, the affidavit said. They walked to Allen's car, where the officer identified himself and arrested Allen.

ADDENDUM 10/31/07

Yet another bible-thumping Republican (state) legislator is embroiled in a gay sex scandal, this one in Washington State. His evasions are really pathetic . . .


October 31, 2007
The Spokesman-Review
Curtis allegedly had encounter at bookstore
by Bill Morlin and Nick Eaton

Cody Castagna, a waiter and porn model, met state Rep. Richard Curtis, a Republican from the Vancouver, Wash., area, at Hollywood Erotic Boutique on East Sprague Avenue at 12:45 a.m. Friday before the two went to Curtis’ room at the Davenport Tower, according to court documents.

On Monday, Curtis told the Columbian newspaper in Vancouver that he is not gay and did not engage in sex with the man while staying in a Spokane hotel last week. [However] when the 48-year-old lawmaker was interviewed by detectives, their reports say, he said he'd engaged in a sex act in the hotel room with a man he'd met that evening at Hollywood Erotic Boutique in Spokane Valley.
[. . .]
Before hiring Seattle attorney John Wolfe and declining to answer further questions from detectives, Curtis told them "he believed he had been slipped some type of drug because he does not have a clear recollection of the activities that evening."


Monday, August 27, 2007

Wild fires continue to rage in Greece

An earlier report on NPR suggested that the fires may have been set by developers who were trying to circumvent a rule prohibiting development on forested land, though another theory suggests political extremists are responsible, trying to disrupt the upcoming elections. In any event, there's little doubt that the fires are the result of arson. And, a la Katrina, the govt response was slow - farmers on *tractors* were left to fight the fires for the first few DAYS. 63 dead so far.



Sunday, August 26, 2007

Women in Film montage

Unbelieveably gorgeous video of dozens of famous women in movies, morphing (yes, that's right) from Mary Pickford to Halle Berry. I heard it took 2 weeks to create this 2 minutes of footage. See how many you can recognize (a list of names appears in the box on the right at the site).

Set to Bach's Prelude from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major, performed by Yo-Yo Ma



Saturday, August 25, 2007

Limbaugh's political acumen

This has got to be one of the stupidest things I've heard lately, and that's saying something, since there's enough stupidity to go around these days. Limbaugh suggests that Dems want to intervene in Darfur to secure the "black vote," as if the only people in America who care about Darfur are blacks, and, even stupider, as if Darfur is the primary issue of concern to black people in America. Where does he come up with this stuff? It's so ridiculous, it almost doesn't seem worth wasting time writing this. This is from Media Matters:


Limbaugh claims Dems' interest in Darfur is securing black "voting bloc"

Summary: On his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh claimed that Democrats "want to get us out of Iraq, but they can't wait to get us into Darfur." He continued: "There are two reasons. What color is the skin of the people in Darfur? It's black. And who do the Democrats really need to keep voting for them? If they lose a significant percentage of this voting bloc, they're in trouble." A caller responded, "The black population," to which Limbaugh said, "Right."


Friday, August 24, 2007

More involved daddies, inventing baby products

This is just freakin' interesting. (Below is just an excerpt.)

August 16, 2007
NY Times
My Dad, American Inventor

TOMMY HABEEB just wanted to be one of the new breed of involved dads: the hands-on guys who preside over bath time without creating a flood; the ones who return home from work early enough to crawl after their children toward the realm of make-believe. His ambitions did not include inventing the Water Bottle Nipple Adaptor.

Inspiration struck Mr. Habeeb on a sweltering afternoon in Dallas, though, when he found himself with a cold bottle of water and no way for the baby slung across his chest to drink from it. In short order, he was in his kitchen hacksawing off the top of a baby bottle and improvising a coupling to allow the nipple to be screwed onto almost any water bottle.

Mr. Habeeb — a producer, actor and reality-show host for programs like “Cheaters” and “Stag: Last Night of Freedom” (in which engaged bachelors enjoy a final eye-popping hurrah before saying “I do”) — is not publicly known for baby expertise. But that hardly discouraged him from bringing his invention to market earlier this year through a company called BabySport. And it has not dissuaded 7-Eleven and Amazon from buying the adaptors, which are sold for $1.95 to $2.49. Nor has it deterred the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Pay no attention to the lead paint behind the curtain."

Only read this if you're in the mood to be totally disgusted. It would be funny if it weren't so tragic. Rick Perlstein covers several topics in his typically lucid fashion - the excerpt below is just a taste.

The Creative Society
Rick Perlstein
August 17, 2007

I woke up the other morning to a cascade of apologetics from a toy industry spokesperson interviewed on NPR's Morning Edition. She was explaining away the recall, this past week, of nine million Mattel Barbies and lead-painted toy cars manufactured in China. Groggily groping for the snooze button, I caught the tail end of reporter Renée Montagne's question"...really does seem there's an increase in problems with imports from China in this last year. This is, as I just said, the second recall in a month for Mattel. What's going on?"and the flack's pat response:

"Well, we do recall products on a regular basis. This year we've recalled over 400 products. Of those, 44 of those recalls have been of toys. Frankly, Renee, that is a lower number than the number of toy recalls we did last year and the year before. Nevertheless, it is something of concern to us. We look at it very, very closely. With respect to what's going on, as I'm sure your listeners realize, much of our manufacturing has moved outside of the United States and much of it is in China. So if that is where products are being made it is not unexpected that that is where the recalls would be occurring."

And this, I thought to myself, was frightfully clever stuff. The reason crap from China seems so crappy is just because there's lots of crap being made in China--nothing to do with the fact that, say, Chinese newspapers aren't allowed to report "negative news" about business, thus giving Chinese factories impunity to work whatever scams they can dream up without fear of discovery; or that Chinese factory owners who slather lead paint on toy trains are allowed to escort inquiring American reporters to jail. No: the fact that there were more recalled Chinese toys was just a function of the fact that there are more Chinese toys. Simple arithmetic. Move along. Pay no attention to the lead paint behind the curtain.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bush invokes Vietnam to justify Iraq

I was rather speechless, listening to discussions of this on various cable news programs, but now that I've absorbed it, I don't think anyone says it better than Digby:

Pol Pot R Us
by digby

And here I thought it was the liberals who were the blame American firsters.

Mr Bush compared current calls for withdrawal from Iraq with what happened at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. "Many argued that if we pulled out, there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people," Mr Bush said. "The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be." Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left."Whatever your position in that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens," Mr Bush said, mentioning reprisals against US allies in Vietnam, the displacement of Vietnamese refugees and the massacres in Cambodia under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge.

This is truly amazing. The president of the United States is actually blaming his own country for the Cambodian genocide. . .For the record, as I'm sure everyone knows, Pol Pot's rise was enabled by the US's war policies not by its withdrawal and it was the newly minted commies who ended the genocide so Bush is, as usual, talking gibberish. . .But, you know, as Bush often says, history is for dead people. (Or something like that.) These pomo neocon historians are hard at work rejiggering the narratives all the time, both current and historical. (I'm beginning to think it's a massive mind-fuck operation done with the express purpose of making us all crazy having to defend the obvious all the time. Perhaps they figure we'll just give up at some point and submit to their will out of sheer exhaustion.)

DM: She said much more, but that's a sampling.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bush administration tries to control health program

I have somewhat mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, this is a blatant attempt by the Bush administration to protect the insurance industry, quite unnecessarily it appears. On the other, it does seem like a stretch to consider children "low-income" when they live in a household that earns $80K a year. I want everyone to have health insurance, but this program is intended to help those who need it most and these income guidelines might not be honoring that intention. On the other hand, Bush is all about states' rights when it's convenient - he should keep his filthy paws off the states and let them cover whomever they wish.


August 21, 2007
NY Times
Rules May Limit Health Program Aiding Children

The Bush administration, continuing its fight to stop states from expanding the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, has adopted new standards that would make it much more difficult for New York, California and others to extend coverage to children in middle-income families.

Administration officials outlined the new standards in a letter sent to state health officials on Friday evening, in the middle of a month long Congressional recess. In interviews, they said the changes were intended to return the Children’s Health Insurance Program to its original focus on low-income children and to make sure the program did not become a substitute for private health coverage. [DM: Perish the thought!]

After learning of the new policy, some state officials said yesterday that it could cripple their efforts to cover more children and would impose standards that could not be met. “We are horrified at the new federal policy,” said Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey. “It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children.”
. . .
The poverty level for a family of four is set by the federal government at $20,650 in annual income. Many states have received federal permission to cover children with family incomes exceeding twice the poverty level — $41,300 for a family of four. In New York, which covers children up to 250 percent of the poverty level, the Legislature has passed a bill that would raise the limit to 400 percent— $82,600 for a family of four — but the change is subject to federal approval.

In the letter. . . states must demonstrate that they have “enrolled at least 95 percent of children in the state below 200 percent of the federal poverty level” who are eligible for either Medicaid or the child health program [prior to raising income levels]. Deborah S. Bachrach, a deputy commissioner in the New York State Health Department, said, “No state in the nation has a participation rate of 95 percent.” And Cindy Mann, a research professor at the Health Policy Institute of Georgetown University, said, “No state would ever achieve that level of participation under the president’s budget proposals.”
. . .
As another precaution, [the letter said], states that want to cover children above 250 percent of the poverty level must show that “the number of children in the target population insured through private employers has not decreased by more than two percentage points over the prior five-year period.” In New Jersey, which has a three-month waiting period, Ms. Kohler said, “we have no evidence of a decline in employer-sponsored coverage resulting from the Children’s Health Insurance Program.”

Monday, August 20, 2007

"It's not subprime lending, it's predatory lending"

This story, sent to me by my very informed friend Russ, confirms commentary I heard on cable news about the "credit crisis" - that's it's as much a result of predatory lending practices as it is a result of providing loans to those without good credit. That narrative - that it's a result of people with poor credit, let's the greedy and unethical mortgage companies mostly off the hook.

August 26, 2007
Inside the Countrywide Lending Spree

ON its way to becoming the nation’s largest mortgage lender, the
Countrywide Financial Corporation encouraged its sales force to court customers over the telephone with a seductive pitch that seldom varied. “I want to be sure you are getting the best loan possible,” the sales representatives would say.

But providing “the best loan possible” to customers wasn’t always the bank’s main goal, say some former employees. Instead, potential borrowers were often led to high-cost and sometimes unfavorable loans that resulted in richer commissions for Countrywide’s smooth-talking sales force, outsize fees to company affiliates providing services on the loans, and a roaring stock price that made Countrywide executives among the highest paid in America.

Countrywide’s entire operation, from its computer system to its incentive pay structure and financing arrangements, is intended to wring maximum profits out of the mortgage lending boom no matter what it costs borrowers, according to interviews with former employees and brokers who worked in different units of the company and internal documents they provided. One document, for instance, shows that until last September the computer system in the company’s subprime unit excluded borrowers’ cash reserves, which had the effect of steering them away from lower-cost loans to those that were more expensive to homeowners and more profitable to Countrywide.


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mad Men is the best thing on TV

I've tried a lot of the summer cable shows (since network primetime is a wasteland). I wanted to like them. I watched Holly Hunter in Saving Grace on TNT and I watched Glenn Close in Damages on FX and I watched Lili Taylor in State of Mind on Lifetime. But none kept my interest. Then there's Mad Men - a show about the advertising industry, and life in general, in 1960 New York city on, wait for it, AMC (their first-ever series). All I can say is "wow!" For starters, there's no one famous in the cast, which I consider a plus, not a minus - the performances are uniformly superb. And the production values are incredible - the evocation of the time period is flawless, from the clothes and cars to the ubiquitous cigarettes and scotch. The true testimony to how great this show is - I watched the first 5 episodes out of order (not on purpose, I just screwed up), and I still found every moment riveting. All these tortured people, living their lives of quiet desperation - great stuff. Watching Don Draper (and the fine actor who plays him) self-destruct before our eyes is compelling, but it's the women that really make it worthwhile. At first they're all just props - The Wife, The Secretary, The Mistress, The Token Businesswoman - but as the series progresses, their layers are revealed and they're all so textured. I just can't say enough about how great it is.

And a bonus to the series is that each episode (so far) is followed by some comments by the creator, Matthew Weiner, and/or, director, Alan Taylor, which really clarifies the intention of the episode and helps (me at least) develop a better understanding of the time period (I was born in 1962, so this is my parents' era). The accurate portrayal of the prevelant sexism, racism, classism and anti-semitism of the period is almost mind-blowing, when you realize how far we've come in a relatively short time. And the casual way they present the societal mores of the time - pregnant women smoking, children climbing around in the car without seat belts, the shock at a divorcee moving into the neighborhood - is fascinating. It really is more thought-provoking, more substantial, and more entertaining then anything I've seen on TV in a long time. The kiss of death ordinarily - a TV show actually trying to be about something, but maybe on an obscure cable channel, a show like this has a chance. I only hope they continue the show past the summer - it's such a breath of fresh air.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

"The Next Jihadists - Iraq's Lost Children"

If you want to get good and depressed, read this Newsweek cover story (it's from January, but I just read it recently) about the children in Iraq. It's like we helped turn an entire country into an Ameican urban ghetto - full of angry, hopeless (and well-armed) young men.


Jan. 22, 2007 issue
The Next Jihadists
By Christian Caryl

[. . .]
Sectarian warfare is reshaping Iraq in all sorts of malevolent ways day in and day out. But it is also forging the future by poisoning the next generation of Iraqis. Like many of its neighbors, Iraq is a young country: nearly half the population is under the age of 18. And those children have had a particularly turbulent upbringing. Kids like Ammar were born in the aftermath of one debilitating war, against neighboring Iran, then suffered two others and years of impoverishing sanctions in between. They are especially vulnerable to the demons that now grip Iraq. Hassan Ali, a sociologist at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, estimates that at least 1 million Iraqi kids have seen their lives damaged by the war—they've lost parents and homes, watched as their communities have been torn apart by sectarian furies. "These children will come to believe in the principles of force and violence," says Ali. "There's no question that society as a whole is going to feel the effects in the future"—and not only Iraqi society. From the Middle East to Europe to America, violence may well beget violence around the world for years to come.


Friday, August 17, 2007

Rove and the Republicans

I've read quite a bit of analysis of Rove's role, as he exits the White House. Unfortunately, it was none other than David Frum, conservative mouthpiece and infamous coiner of the phrase "axis of evil" (a man I truly despise) whose comments most stuck in my head and helped coalese my own thoughts about Rove: about how completely he epitomizes the current Republican strategy (which has been operating at least since Bush came on the scene and perhaps even before that), i.e. - they are very good at winning elections, but very poor at governing. They have spent mind-boggling amounts of money (China's money as it turns out, since they cut American taxes as we fight an almost endless war), and our domestic scene is in disarray - immigration, healthcare, education, global warming, government oversight of imports, even the ability of Americans to buy a home - all these areas have suffered during the Bush Administration and the consequences are abundantly clear all around us.


August 14, 2007
NY Times
Op-Ed Contributor
Building a Coalition, Forgetting to Rule

AS a political strategist, Karl Rove offered a brilliant answer to the wrong question.

The question he answered so successfully was a political one: How could Republicans win elections after Bill Clinton steered the Democrats to the center?

The question he unfortunately ignored was a policy question: What does the nation need — and how can conservatives achieve it?

DM: Indeed, how can our government, our nation, achieve it? It is the question we should be answering as we go forward - this is the question that should always be in the forefront of our minds - our legislators' minds, our citizens' minds. This question should guide every choice we make!


Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Missing Pretty Girl Syndrome"

This is so true:

If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own and depart. -Socrates (469?-399 B.C.)
* * *
Here's yet another story on the incredibly slanted media coverage on missing people. Not that we need to have this pointed out - we're all aware of the intense reporting on certain people and not others. But you'd never guess the scale of the problem from the media coverage, which chooses the occasional pretty girl to feature endlessly:

For 2006, 173,903 missing persons records were entered for adults (21 and older) into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database; 99,736 were men, and 74,167 were women.

Not to be too cynical, but I thought this summed it up nicely:

The Daily Show published the satirical "America: The Book," which contained a formula for receiving good coverage. This formula equates amount of media time with cuteness, skin color and the media savvy of the grieving parents.
* * *
Missing People Face Disparity in Media Coverage
By Michele Chan Santos
Special to MSN.com

If you are kidnapped or missing, it helps to be the right race, age, social class and gender. Otherwise, don't expect the media to cover your story.

"Sex sells, kidnapping sells, but not every kidnapping is equal," says Roy Peter Clark, vice president and senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, a training center for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Kelly Bennett, a case manager for the National Center for Missing Adults, agrees. "Unless it's a pretty girl ages 20 to 35, the media exposure is just not there," she says. The most highly profiled missing persons cases in recent years have fit into this category: Chandra Levy, Laci Peterson, Jessie Marie Davis, Natalee Holloway. All of these women were also white.
. . .
Why do the media — and their audiences — care less about missing men than women? Clark thinks it's because there's a public perception that men can take care of themselves (even though a lot of the missing men might have been victims of foul play).

If a missing person is white, female, young, attractive and has an upper-middle-class background, media coverage of her case will be far more thorough than coverage of missing men, minorities or the elderly, Clark says. "This taps in to a sort of ancient fairy-tale mentality: the kidnapped princess, the damsel in distress."


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"Is the government doing enough?"

This is the promo I heard for a news story on the latest toy recall by Mattel. I immediately thought: is MATTEL doing enough? It's NO secret to American companies that Chinese imports have issues, especially not at this late date. Should our government do more - absolutely! But what are these COMPANIES, the ones making a FORTUNE bringing in cheap products from China, doing to protect American consumers? These companies always say they're "rigorously" testing what they're importing, but the fact that Mattel is recalling 9 MILLION items makes that statement rather questionable. As this report from CNN makes clear - Mattel knows exactly what's being produced in China:

Mattel CEO: 'Rigorous standards' after massive toy recall

BETHESDA, Maryland (CNN) -- The CEO of Mattel Inc. insisted Tuesday that his company has "rigorous standards" and apologized as the company was forced to recall millions of toys for the second time in two weeks. The toys were manufactured in China.

The recall, which was announced by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, affects about 9.5 million toys in the United States, and 11 million in foreign countries.

It is the largest in recent months involving Chinese products, which have come under scrutiny worldwide for containing potentially dangerous high levels of chemicals and toxins.

"I'm disappointed, I'm upset, but I can ensure your viewers that we are doing everything we can about the situation," Eckert said. "Every production batch of toys is being tested, and we'll continue to enforce the highest quality standards in the industry."
. . .
A spokesman with China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine said Mattel "should improve its product design and supervision over product quality," the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. "Chinese original equipment manufacturers were doing the job just as importers requested, and the toys conformed with the U.S. regulations and standards at the time of the production."


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Arabic t-shirt causes a flap at JetBlue

I know this will give certain people fits (yes, I'm thinking of you, Rich), but I totally agree with this blogger. Thanks to my friend Stessa for alerting me to this issue.


Last summer, Raed Jarrar was harassed by jetBlue employees for wearing a shirt with Arabic lettering on the front. In his ACLU-led legal team’s words, here’s what happened:

JetBlue and a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official, identified as “Inspector Harris,” would not let Raed Jarrar board his flight at John F. Kennedy Airport until he agreed to cover his t-shirt, which read “We Will Not Be Silent” in English and Arabic script. Harris told Jarrar that it is impermissible to wear an Arabic shirt to an airport and equated it to a “person wearing a t-shirt at a bank stating, ‘I am a robber.’”

Lovely metaphor. Added bonus: Jarrar says that, after he relented and donned an additional shirt, jetBlue tore up his boarding pass, which had him seated near the front, and gave him a new boarding pass to sit at the very back of the plane. How nice of them — and how symbolic.

A discrimination lawsuit charges federal officials and JetBlue Airways with racial profiling for refusing to let an Iraqi man board an August 2006 flight at Kennedy International Airport because he wore a T-shirt inscribed with an Arabic phrase.

The incident is part of a discriminatory pattern at U.S. airports since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, with officials targeting people perceived to be of Arab descent — particularly those displaying their ethnic
background or religious faith, two civil liberties groups said Thursday in filing the lawsuit.

I say: go get ‘em, Raed. It’s important to push back against fearmongering hysteria that erodes our civil liberties. He’s doing us all a favor, and representing what the country really stands for, by standing up to this sort of small-minded censorship.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Exciting movie news

I was looking for something else on imdb.com and stumbled upon this great news - a book by Elinor Lipman (my latest favorite author) is coming out as a movie! Not my favorite of hers, but I'll take it! Then She Found Me, with Bette Midler as the flamboyant mother (genius casting!) and Helen Hunt both as the star and director (her debut!). Best news - Colin Firth plays her love interest. I CAN'T WAIT!


Sunday, August 12, 2007

"Sex: The Myth, the Math"

This is fun. Below is the link and an excerpt.


August 12, 2007
NY Times
The Myth, the Math, the Sex

Everyone knows men are promiscuous by nature. It’s part of the genetic strategy that evolved to help men spread their genes far and wide. The strategy is different for a woman, who has to go through so much just to have a baby and then nurture it. She is genetically programmed to want just one man who will stick with her and help raise their children.

Surveys bear this out. In study after study and in country after country, men report more, often many more, sexual partners than women.

One survey, recently reported by the federal government, concluded that men had a median of seven female sex partners. Women had a median of four male sex partners. Another study, by British researchers, stated that men had 12.7 heterosexual partners in their lifetimes and women had 6.5.

But there is just one problem, mathematicians say. It is logically impossible for heterosexual men to have more partners on average than heterosexual women. Those survey results cannot be correct.

It is about time for mathematicians to set the record straight, said David Gale, an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Sex survey researchers say they know that Dr. Gale is correct. Men and women in a population must have roughly equal numbers of partners. So, when men report many more than women, what is going on and what is to be believed?

. . . there are several possible explanations and all are probably operating. One is that men are going outside the population to find partners, to prostitutes, for example, who are not part of the survey, or are having sex when they travel to other countries. Another, of course, is that men exaggerate the number of partners they have and women underestimate.

Dr. Gale added that he is not just being querulous when he raises the question of logical impossibility. The problem, he said, is that when such data are published, with no asterisk next to them saying they can’t be true, they just “reinforce the stereotypes of promiscuous males and chaste females.”


Saturday, August 11, 2007

"Facebook or MySpace - It's a Matter of Class"

This story in Newsweek struck me b/c my own family fits this researcher's work exactly - my niece, who is training to be an aesthetician (someone who gives facials and other spa treatments) likes MySpace and my step son, who is a straight A student and is planning to go to college, prefers Facebook. Below is the link and an excerpt:

Aug. 6, 2007
The Technolgist: Facebook or MySpace? It's a Matter of Class
By Steven Levy

For young people, the burning question of our time is "Facebook or MySpace?" It's the contemporary equivalent to a previous generation's "Paul or John?" or "Betty or Veronica?"

Though there's considerable overlap between the two big social-networking services, only one usually becomes the center of a teen's online social life. Most often the choice is made depending on where your friends are. But what determines whether clusters of friends alight on MySpace or Facebook? A controversial answer comes from Danah Boyd a researcher at the Berkeley school of information: it's a matter of social class.

A few weeks ago, Boyd—who has done extensive ethnographic work on online behavior, blog-posted an essay tentatively sharing her (admittedly nonscientific) findings after months of interviews, field observations and profile analysis. Generally, she contended, "The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes and other 'good' kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college." MySpace is still home for "kids whose parents didn't go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school."
It's also, she says, the preferred digital hangout for outsiders—burnouts, punks, emos, Goths and gangstas. In addition, she says, Hispanic and immigrant teens are more likely to choose MySpace.

Boyd does concede that a lot of this may have to do with the fact that Facebook began at Harvard and spread out from the Ivies. But she believes that there's conscious self-identification involved in the choice. Facebookers are strivers; MySpacers are there in part because they're rejecting the values of preppies, jocks and tools.



Friday, August 10, 2007

"Bushmeat is supersexy"

This story is so discouraging. Habitat destruction had been the biggest threat to endangered species until recently, but now it's hunting - partly b/c industrialization provides greater access to wild animals, but also b/c eating "bushmeat" has become "supersexy." How about super repugnant. What sort of self-absorbed idiot do you have to be to eat an endangered species for the status of doing it? (Like the movie, The Freshman, with Marlon Brando and Matthew Broderick - who knew how prescient that silly comedy was?) Below is the link and an excerpt.

Aug. 6, 2007
New Threats to World's Majestic Animals
With hunting on the rise, our most majestic animals are facing a new extinction crisis.
By Sharon Begley


Back when the Amazon was aflame and the forests of Southeast Asia were being systematically clear-cut, biologists were clear about what posed the greatest threat to the world's wildlife, and it wasn't men with guns. For decades, the chief threat was habitat destruction. Whether it was from impoverished locals burning a forest to raise cattle or a multinational denuding a tree-covered Malaysian hillside, wildlife was dying because species were being driven from their homes. Yes, poachers killed tigers and other trophy animals—as they had since before Theodore Roosevelt—and subsistence hunters took monkeys for bushmeat to put on their tables, but they were not a primary danger.

That has changed. "Hunting, especially in Central and West Africa, is much more serious than we imagined," says Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International. "It's huge," with the result that hunting now constitutes the pre-eminent threat to some species. That threat has been escalating over the past decade largely because the opening of forests to logging and mining means that roads connect once impenetrable places to towns. "It's easier to get to where the wildlife is and then to have access to markets," says conservation biologist Elizabeth Bennett of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Economic forces are also at play. Thanks to globalization, meat, fur, skins and other animal parts "are sold on an increasingly massive scale across the world," she says. Smoked monkey carcasses travel from Ghana to New York and London, while gourmets in Hanoi and Guangzhou feast on turtles and pangolins (scaly anteaters) from Indonesia. There is a thriving market for bushmeat among immigrants in Paris, New York, Montreal, Chicago and other points in the African diaspora, with an estimated 13,000 pounds of bushmeat—much of it primates—arriving every month in seven European and North American cities alone. "Hunting and trade have already resulted in widespread local extinctions in Asia and West Africa," says Bennett. "The world's wild places are falling silent."
. . .
The problem now is that hunting, even of supposedly protected animals, is a global, multimillion-dollar business. Eating bushmeat "is now a status symbol," says Thomas Brooks of Conservation International. "It's not a subsistence issue. It's not a poverty issue. It's considered supersexy to eat bushmeat." Exact figures are hard to come by, but what conservation groups know about is sobering. Every year a single province in Laos exports $3.6 million worth of wildlife, including pangolins, cats, bears and primates. In Sumatra, about 51 tigers were killed each year between 1998 and 2002; there are currently an estimated 350 tigers left on the island (down from 1,000 or so in the 1980s) and fewer than 5,000 in the world.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

"Enough With the Mommy Wars"

Great, great piece in the current issue of Newsweek. Below is the link.

Aug. 13, 2007
Enough With the Mommy Wars, Already!
By Kathleen Deveny

And the winner is ... who cares? We've become narcissist mommies, obsessed with our parenting choices and defensive when confronted with others'.



Wednesday, August 08, 2007

New license plate offends many

He says it all - I can add nothing.

Remembering terrorism/Forgetting terrorism
by Rick Perlstein

This is a new license plate template available to Oklahoma drivers. As many commenters point out on ThinkProgress's post concerning this world-historic monument to bad taste, there is something surreal about the state that suffered the Murrah Federal Building bombing to join the rest of the nation in pigeonholing terrorism as something only swarthy Arabs do. A "Global War Against Irrational Hatred of Government" would make about as much sense as this. Or "Global War Against Psychotically Aggrieved White Men." Or Oklahomans could just come out and say it: "Glad Of An Opportunity To Declare My Antipathy To Swarthy People."

Check out, too, the fascist semiotics. There's just so much argument packed into these simple graphic elements. The background is desert camo. As in: the only way to prevent terror is more soldiers. As in: If you're not ready to make war the swarthy in Iraq, for as long as the Unitary Executive says, then you betray the bald eagle. You're not quite American. You hate the victims of 9/11.

As someone who breathed in the ash of the 9/11 victims, living across the river in Brooklyn in 2001, whenever I hear people imply that, I feel like punching them in the face. But that's kind of the point of this object: dividing Americans, hating liberals, staging occasions for self-righteously reading them out of the national community. That's just what conservatives do. That's who they are.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Baby Einstein is bullshit

Excuse the title of this post, but I feel a little vindicated by this research, since I thought these videos were suspect from the beginning, especially b/c of their extravagant claims. Even the name "Baby Einstein" - like watching a video would make your kid a genius! What rot. The take-home message of the research project: these videos are not educational AT ALL, and any time your baby spends watching them reduces time they could and should spend interacting with a person, which is what really develops a baby's brain (though IMO if you need 20 minutes to take a shower or eat a sandwich, feel free to plunk your baby in front of it b/c it will keep them occupied!) Below is the link to the full article and an excerpt (I like the plug for Sesame St):


Aug 7, 2007
Are Educational Videos Bad for Your Baby?
By Jeneen Interlandi

According to a new study, popular infant educational DVDs like ‘Baby Einstein’ and ‘Brainy Baby’ may actually slow language development rather than enhance it.

Educational videos designed to stimulate young minds, like “Baby Einstein” and “Brainy Baby,” may actually impede language development, according to a new study published this week in the Journal of Pediatrics. The DVDs have become one of the most popular educational tools for parents, with promises to build the vocabulary and enhance the cognitive development of babies as young as 3 months old. The baby-brain industry now represents about $20 billion a year, according to Susan Gregory Thomas, author of Buy Buy Baby (Houghton Mifflin, 2007). But the claims of these manufacturers are largely unsubstantiated. And the new study says they may do more harm than good.

Researchers at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute reported that for every hour infants 8-16 months old spent watching such programs, they understood an average of 6 to 8 fewer words than other infants who were not exposed to the videos. (Baby DVDs and videos had no positive or negative effect on the vocabularies of toddlers 17 to 24 months of age, researchers said.)
. . . .
NEWSWEEK: Why did you decide to do this study?
Fredrick Zimmerman: Parents are getting a very mixed message here—they’re hearing loud and clear from marketers of these products that they can be very educational for their children. But in fact, there’s no scientific evidence to support that at all.

NEWSWEEK: What’s the difference between the content of something like Baby Einstein and traditional educational television programs like “Sesame Street” and “Blue's Clues”?
FZ: Shows that are educational have a specific educational agenda. In other words, they have learning objectives for every segment of the show. “Sesame Street,” for example, if they decide that a particular segment should teach the child the letter J, they’ll design it from the ground up with that learning objective in mind. Then they’ll test it with real children to see if they really do in fact learn to recognize the letter J. And if it doesn’t work, they’ll trash that segment and start again. Baby videos claim to be educational but they don’t go through that process—they don’t develop learning objectives and they don’t go through rigorous testing.
. . .
NEWSWEEK: What would you like to see in terms of regulations or changes in advertising for these DVDs?
FZ: The contribution of this study is to serve as a wake-up call to the marketers of these products—to say, “Hey we don’t see any benefit here and we see some evidence of possible harm.” But I don’t want to oversell that—I don’t want to panic anyone. Still, parents should definitely know that marketers can make any claim they want. You can produce a video in your basement and tell people that anyone who watches it will definitely turn into Mozart—and no one will stop you from saying that. And those claims are effective. At the population level, about a third of parents have bought into those claims. So parents should just realize that people are making a lot of money off this.


Monday, August 06, 2007

Justice in Jena, Louisiana

This story of racist justice in Jena, Louisiana is getting more and more attention (I first learned about it a few weeks ago on NPR). Take a few seconds to sign the petition at ColorOfChange.org, asking Governor Kathleen Blanco to intervene in this case (details below):


Last fall in Jena, the day after two black high school students sat beneath the "white tree" on their campus, nooses were hung from the tree. When the superintendent dismissed the nooses as a "prank," more black students sat under the tree in protest. The District Attorney then came to the school accompanied by the town's police and demanded that the students end their protest, telling them, "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy... I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen."

A series of white-on-black incidents of violence followed, and the DA did nothing. But when a white student was beaten up in a schoolyard fight, the DA responded by charging six black students with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

The noose-hanging incident and the DA's visit to the school set the stage for everything that followed. Racial tension escalated over the next couple of months, and on November 30, the main academic building of Jena High School was burned down in an unsolved fire. Later the same weekend, a black student was beaten up by white students at a party. The next day, black students at a convenience store were threatened by a young white man with a shotgun. They wrestled the gun from him and ran away. While no charges were filed against the white man, the students were later arrested for the theft of the gun.

That Monday at school, a white student, who had been a vocal supporter of the students who hung the nooses, taunted the black student who was beaten up at the off-campus party and allegedly called several black students "nigger." After lunch, he was knocked down, punched and kicked by black students. He was taken to the hospital, but was released and was well enough to go to a social event that evening.

Six black students from Jena High: Robert Bailey (17), Theo Shaw (17), Carwin Jones (18), Bryant Purvis (17), Mychal Bell (16) and an unidentified minor, were expelled from school, arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder. The first trial ended last month, and Mychal Bell, who has been in prison since December, was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery (both felonies) by an all-white jury in a trial where his public defender called no witnesses. During his trial, Mychal's parents were ordered not to speak to the media and the court prohibited protests from taking place near the courtroom or where the judge could see them.

Mychal is scheduled to be sentenced on September 20th, and could go to jail for 22 years. Theo Shaw's trial is next. He will finally make bail this week.


Saturday, August 04, 2007

The latest battle over breast-feeding

This story was featured prominently on the CNN morning news show on Friday. The good news is that NY hospitals are encouraging breast-feeding, but the bad news is that (according to CNN) breast-feeding rates are falling again. Below is a link to the story and an excerpt (I stole this photo from the site).


Aug. 1, 2007
ABC News
More Hospitals Remove Formula From Swag Bags to Encourage Breast-Feeding
Critics Say Mothers Feel Pressured, Low-Income Women Are Short-Changed

New York City's hospitals have banned infant formula from their gift bags for new mothers, a policy that they hope will encourage nursing and healthier babies.

The new policy kicked off during World Breast Feeding Week and calls attention to the increasingly acrimonious debate over the feeding of newborns.


Friday, August 03, 2007

Bloggers convention

Tonight I listened to Tucker Carlson at his withering best, discussing the Democratic candidates' appearance at the Yearly Kos convention. It annoys me to no end the way that he marginalizes these vocal liberals as the "far left." He likes to talk about bloggers in their bathrobes, writing from their grandma's basement. Maybe there's a few of those, but the respected and well-known bloggers couldn't be further from that description. What makes them dangerous is that they actually know what's going on - unlike most Americans, they read and they pay attention, they know what the Constitution says, they know what legislation is being proposed and what it will actually accomplish, they know what legislators are actually doing, as opposed to what they say in public. Of course that's threatening to people like Carlson, who depend on using catch-phrases and rhetoric that is deliberately misleading in order to steer public opinion. An engaged population is exactly what people like him don't want - he'd be out of a job, along with most elected officials.


Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Democracy at its silliest"

A friend alerted me to this piece which appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I think she's being pretty harsh, but she has a point.


The YouTube debate: Democracy at its silliest
The candidates - and the country - deserve better.
Kathleen Parker, columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group

The recent YouTube presidential debate - the oxymoronic event of history's longest political season - has been dubbed "groundbreaking" and "historic." Let's also add "ridiculous."
. . .
Not that it isn't important to know what each candidate likes and dislikes. In another taped question culled from about 3,000 submitted, each candidate was asked to turn to his or her left and say what he or she did and didn't like about that person. Brilliant. If you're 5.
. . .
Some questions were serious, including one about health care for illegal immigrants and another about Iraq - but too many of the 39 were beyond silly.

YouTube invites silliness, which is part of its appeal, but inviting so-called "ordinary Americans" to film themselves posing questions to presidential candidates does not advance democracy, no matter how much hoopla we manufacture.

What anybody can do, anybody can do. Anyone can make a goofy video and ask a goofy question, but the man or woman intending to lead the free world should resist dignifying the charade.
. . .
Even if the candidates were irritated by this faux show of democratic connectivity, they had no choice but to participate. If you refuse to play with the YouTubies, you risk being viewed as elitist and out of touch with Tha Peepul.
. . .
Arguments favoring the debate have circled around the notion that this techie-feely approach would attract the Young 'n' Restless - that hallowed demographic of 18-to-34-year-olds so coveted by advertisers, newspaper publishers and politicians. Turnout, alas, was less than spectacular. A total of 2.6 million watched the debate - 6 percent fewer than watched a more traditional debate from New Hampshire in June. Of those, 407,000 were ages 18-34, only slightly more than the 368,000 among the June audience.
. . .
Let's give the Democratic candidates applause for gamesmanship, but concede that playing buffoon to the masses is not a requirement for the presidency. If it is necessary to submit to anything demanded by anyone, then no one worthy will run for public office.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ellen Goodman on Clinton's cleavage

Ellen Goodman weighs in on the Washington Post article that has tongues wagging. As always, she hits the nail on the head. Here's the link and an excerpt:


July 27, 2007
Political fashionbabble

In the end, the question is not whether a candidate can show a hint of breast but whether you can have breasts and be president. It's not a matter of cleavage in fashion but cleavage in the voting population. Does anyone remember what Hillary was talking about on C-Span2? Education. Need I say more?