30 October 2008

Election Rap

There is NOTHING more irritating than a reformed smoker

Poking around Huffington Post, I found this little gem written by Frank Schaeffer. Schaeffer is the son of an (apparently) famous evangelical minister who woke up, dropped out, and lived to tell the tale. Director and author now, he had a few words about the GOP I found interesting given my most recent political post. That is to say that he ponders the post-McCain Republican Party.

Schaeffer doesn't go in for all that flowery talk.

The Republican Party has lost the hearts and minds of reasonable Americans of all faiths and ideologies. Independent voters, young people, black people, Hispanics... the list goes on, and now includes even most white men (like me), most white women, in fact most everybody has left the Republicans. Who stayed? The sorts of people who believe that the Earth is 6000 years old, that dinosaurs roamed the Earth with men, that Senator Obama is "a Arab," that President Bush was correct in thinking that it was "God's will" that we go to war with Iraq, that torture of prisoners is OK, that Senator Obama is a Muslim, that the problem with the American economy is what little remains of government regulation of our banking and financial institutions, that freedom equals being allowed to go to gun shows where an eight-year-old is allowed to fire an Uzi submachine gun and shoot himself in the head...

I can't decide if I just like this article because the writing is so powerful or because his thoughts mirror my own. But when I encountered that last sentence, I actually read it twice just so I could enjoy it again. Well, I enjoyed everything but the kid shooting himself in the head. But you know what I mean.

But the Party is in tatters and a period of reflection and rebuilding is in order. Schaeffer has some suggestions.
The choice for the Republicans, in the face of their impending overwhelming defeat, is clear: is the Republican Party going to become the permanent refuge for stupid people or will it change and stop catering to the village idiots?

In becoming a party of rubes, the party of eternal war (and therefore eternal debt!), the party that despises the big cities, hates the universities, says that one part of America is more patriotic than other parts, in fact hates (and fears) anyone not like them or worse yet, is suspicious of anyone smarter or more educated than they are, the Republicans have doomed themselves to be the party of stupid, fearful and close-minded bigots.

I enjoyed the hell out of this article, but I don't know whether I should be honored or afraid for having an insider from the religious fundamentalist movement agree with me.


Some more interesting tidbits from Schaeffer. He talks about his father's treasonous statements from the pulpit that make Jeremiah Wright look not so bad after all. And I don't know how I missed this, but he wrote an open letter to McCain and Palin about inciting their rally participants to violence.

29 October 2008

At least I'm not a Mini Van

30 miles per gallon

Created by The Car Connection

The Future of the Two Party System: Food for Thought

A number of conservative pundits have claimed that Sarah Palin is the future of the Republican party. That will leave the GOP with a solid constituency centered around core conservative issues like abortion, head-in-the-sand approach to energy policy, prayer in public schools, and anti-gay marriage. They might also retain some hard-core gun enthusiasts. My belief is that in doing so, they are going to chase away the majority of the fiscal conservatives, the more educated of their base, and the slightly right of center moderates and progressives. In effect, owning Sarah Palin's brand of politics will make the GOP a fringe party.

My question is, if the GOP is willing to not just embrace but to own the far right (in effect make the far right its "center"), will the Democratic Party benefit? Will the Dems shift more toward the right? Will moderates and "near right" conservatives shift to the Democratic Party? I think that depends on how flexible the Democrats are willing to be. Are they willing to go more conservative on issues like gun control, limits to abortions, and more cowboy conservative with respect to the military? I think they are willing to be flexible enough to cause a major and lasting shift.

This also seems to open up the field for the emergence of a third party (I'm thinking Greens) to pick up the far left liberals that a more moderate Democratic Party is willing to sacrifice.

Any thoughts?

28 October 2008

Exercising my civic muscles

I voted today. Early. I went to the Jackson County courthouse. Had to wait in line if you can believe that. I purposely chose the courthouse because I knew they didn't have electronic voting machines. I am still a bit suspicious. I feel better now because I had a paper ballot. Paper ballots leave....a paper trail. In case of any recount, there will be no question about for whom I intended to vote.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Damn. =)

Ok, I was reading Samhita's post on the role of race in this election over at Feministing and I think I have a last few things to say about this before I await the big count.

First. I did not vote FOR Obama because he is black. Just because: A) I find black men attractive, B) have spoken out on the importance of electing a black American president, and C) have been droning on and on here like a schoolgirl with a crush on the captain of the football team does not mean I voted for him because he is black.

I will tell you exactly what it is that led me, on February 11, 2007, to join the movement to elect Barack Obama. I didn't know about Barack in the Illinois State Senate. I wasn't in his district so he eluded my radar. By 1996, I lived in the western suburbs and never returned to live in the City. My first exposure to Obama came, like almost everyone else, when he gave the keynote speech at the Democratic Convention in 2004. Wow is all I can tell you.

I remember the first time I ever saw Bill Clinton. I was watching C-Span. A freak occurrence back in those days, and they were doing a live feed from the national governors association meeting (I think). Bill was on a panel discussing education reform in Arkansas. I was captivated. I didn't think anything about it for a long time until he announced his candidacy for president and I knew I was voting for him immediately. I knew, from that first little snippet I heard that this man had the right stuff. That night at the 2004 Democratic Convention, I felt that same electricity about Obama. I was all in.

He ran for US Senate against Jack Ryan, a longtime Chicago name in politics. However, a sex scandal which saw Ryan's apparent *cough* sexual fetishes *cough* to come to light as the result of a bitter divorce battle, led him to withdraw from the race. The Republicans brought forward none other than Alan Keyes to challenge Obama, which is to say that there was no challenge mounted at all. Illinois may be an odd place and racial influences have a heavy hand in Chicago politics, but in the city that revered Harold Washington, Alan Keyes was a laughable puppet. It made me feel good to be able to vote for Obama. I was proud of our junior senator if not a little perplexed by all the attention he was receiving. Before he was even sworn into the Senate, reporters were asking about his presidential ambitions.

In any event, as the 2008 election season approached, there seemed to be renewed talk of his candidacy. I couldn't imagine that he would throw his hat in. When he did, I knew that his greatest competition was going to be Hillary. I have read Hillary's autobiography. I was not impressed. In fact, I was incredibly underwhelmed. Let's just say, she's no Madelein Albright. Despite having roots in Illinois, she never really impressed me. I know. I know. I'm a hard one. I'm trying like hell to think of a woman that HAS impressed me. Albright does. Ok. I promise to write a post on women who impress me. Back to the task at hand. February 11, 2007. He announced. That was it for me. I was in. All in.

But I never answered my own question. Why was I all in? Why did I have every confidence in this candidate who, admittedly, lacked the experience that the rest of the field possessed?

1. Intelligence. I have no doubt of Obama's intellectual prowess. I am someone who wants someone infinitely smarter than me in the Oval Office. Bush didn't make the grade. Cheney? Smart but in an evil genius sort of way. McCain doesn't make the grade. Hillary does. But of all these people, Obama is heads and shoulders above the competition.

2. World Vision. By this, I mean, he has a firm grasp on how others receive and perceive the United States. I think too many politicians are blinded by their own "patriotism" and love of country to ever put themselves in the other guy's shoes. And this is one area in which I think race plays a role. In the same way that black people understand that whites fail to grasp their own privilege, Obama's background and yes, his heritage, give him perspective that the rest of the field lacked. They flat out lack it. They can't buy it. They can't see past the tip of their noses.

3. Diplomacy. Diplomacy first. Diplomacy last. Diplomacy always. I am sick to freakin' death of this cowboy mentality that we ride in with our guns blazing and spread democracy by making the other guy stare down the barrel of a gun. See point 2.

4. Economic policy. In fact, virtually any Democratic candidate's economic policy is preferable to me to trickle-down economics.

5. Communication. Read any of Obama's books. Both will impress you with the clarity of his thinking, the soundness of his reasoning, and the sincerity of his emotions. I came away from reading Dreams of My Father with the sense that this is a brilliant man who struggled through a difficult childhood and was smart enough to see that a new world awaited. He is smart, rational and emotionally healthy. He thinks and communicates in ways that most of us wish we could on our best days. He's the real deal.

6. An inspiring leader. Hillary fell flat here. Flat. Prostrate. I'm talking steam roller. Who in recent memory has been a more inspiring speaker than Obama? He inspires not only Americans. He is inspiring the world.

So while I believe that this election offers an unparalleled opportunity for America to grow as a nation--to begin to seriously address our racist past--and to look forward to a post-racial future, I'm not naive enough to think we are there already, despite the campaign that Obama has run. I have discussed many times before why I think it is more appropriate for America to elect a black president at this time than a woman president. I have spoken about why I think that McCain is not the man for this time, while Obama is. I have spoken about my party, my prejudices, and my aspirations.

I want Obama to win. I voted today. Please, please, please. Vote.

Together, we can. Oh yes we can.

Confessions of an Epicure

Ok, I admit it. I'm a foodie. A snob. A genuine nose-in-the-air, you-aren't-really-going-to-eat-that? oh-for-god's-sake-drink-the-right-wine-with-that-if-you-insist-on-eating-it-in-the-first-place gastronome. Sue me. I like good food prepared well. In the absence of a real culinary environment (aka C-dale), I am willing to undertake the job myself, and I'm a scientist, so naturally my epicuriosity elevated me from simple gourmand to gourmet. I find a perverse pleasure in cooking fine food. In knowing that I make can make it better than those ridiculous "chefs" who have traded in their Henckle ideals for the Ginsu version of economic depravity. I'll take all comers. The Midwest is a gastronomic desert.

I guess this is one thing I can thank the ex for. He was a chef. Not a very good one, mind you, but he did earn the title. I read, in much greater detail than he ever did, every one of his chef books. Ok, I didn't read ALL of the one on butchering meat, but I did read enough to understand the cuts of meat. In any event, tasting his food and giving feedback forced me to THINK about what I was eating. To separate flavors in my mouth. To consider what I was shoving down my gullet. I have to say, I got pretty good at it. Enough so that his chef friends sought out my opinion before upcoming tests, anyway.

Oh, snobbery comes at a price. I know the frustration of searching endlessly for freshly baked french bread (and not that crap they try to pass for real bread at the local grocery stores) and forever coming up short. I know the horror of finding 2.5 lbs of Arborio rice at the International Grocery priced over $5. I have gone into the store and stood incredulous after asking where I might find the saffron and had the stocker innocently ask, "is that a spice?" I have actually shopped for spices, staples, and sauces online. And not just for holiday gifts. I have actually sought out heirloom sources of plant stocks to grow my own spices, vegetables, and if I had any experience in livestock care, I'd probably have a go of raising chickens. No trip to Barnes and Nobel is complete without a thorough perusal of their current crop of cookbooks. But not so recently, the realities of a grad student's stipend have given me epicurial cramps and forced me to take a stroll down the middle of the grocery store instead of just shopping the perimeter.

I know. Say it isn't so.

You can't believe what they have in there. It's like a stroll through my childhood souvenirs. I swear, I couldn't believe they still made Coco Wheats and Chef Boyardee Beefaroni. I was aware of the blue box macaroni because they have the most irritating and ubiquitous commercials that I can't escape despite turning on my television only about three times a month. Of course, it was merely an experiment along the lines of a "blast from the past" that made me buy both. Not poverty. And certainly not a lowering of my culinary standards.

So today's report is on the favorite foods from my childhood. My days before food snobbery grasped me in its clutches like a lover, brushed its sweet wine-soaked lips against mine, and refused to release me.

Coco Wheats. An interesting product. Basically it's wheat meal with cocoa flavoring. The objective? Make mush. Simple recipe: water + product. Cook to boiling and allow to thicken. It's messy. The boiling/thickening process causes lava-like blisters to pop and expel a droplet of water outside the pan (always), which immediately fuses with the stove top requiring the use of specialized cleansers to remove. Cleaning the pan after said cookery isn't much of a joy either. Ok, back to the food. Color? Absolutely disgusting grey-brown. Mouth feel? Granular. Temperature: hot lava. The top of my mouth may not recover. I'm reminded of my carefree days of frozen pizza. Some things I don't miss about giving up dairy. The flavor of Coco Wheats is not really cocoa, but certainly has more flavor than its honkey sister clade: cream of wheat, which as I recall tasted like the box. I'm fuzzy on what I paid for this product, but if I paid more than say $1, I was robbed. Sad fact: I will not throw it away because that would be wasteful, and I will probably eat it sporadically until it has reached its expiration date some 15 years into the future.

Chef Boyardee Beefaroni. Beefaroni. Imagine the guy who came up with that name. It's beef. It's macaroni. Beefaroni! This is probably the same guy who came up with Bennifer. Or Billary. Or McSame. God how we love smooshing together words that make us sound "clever" right up until the point that they become passe. I bought 10 cans. They were $1 each. God, I love a bargain. Can #1: opened with my manual can opener (I am an environmentalist, for pete's sake!). Waft the can beneath my nose. HOLY CRAP! Just opening the can is a mistake. The smell hits you like rounding the corner in the micro department when they've been autoclaving bacteria plates. This isn't pasta. This is the last c-ration in the pack for those poor bastards in Afghanistan to subsist on until they get to the next checkpoint. This is what they feed the prisoners in Guantanamo. But I soldiered on. Put it in a bowl and popped it in the microwave. Three minutes later, and voila! Instant lunch. Color: red and yellow with disgusting dark dots that I can only presume are the "beef". Note to self: check can to see if beef is an actual ingredient in this product. Flavor: sauce is bland. Suspect red is result of food coloring and not real tomatoes. Macaroni is overcooked. And not just a little bit. A lot. "Beef" are hard little granular nuggets. Might also be rocks. Was afraid to rinse them off and take a look. This is torture. I'm writing those bastards working the kitchen at Guantanamo. Threw the rest of the bowl in the garbage. Wondered who the hell I was going to pawn off those 9 other cans to. Wondered what I would think of the person who accepted that gift. Note to self: just place them in the school common room and don't ask any questions.

Banquet friend chicken dinner: Microwaved fried chicken. God, I can't even pretend that this is a serious review. The chicken got hard in the microwave. The chicken was 90% breading, 8% bone, and a nibble or two of real chicken meat with 5% fluid added to increase flavor. Vegetable side dish: yellow niblet corn. Soaked in water. How can you ruin plain corn? I don't know, but they managed it. I think there was another side dish, but I couldn't identify if. It might have been a starch or it might have been desert. I'm going with desert with a 20% margin of error.

Don't get me wrong. I still enjoy the occasional 8-layer bean dip at pot luck functions. I have actually brought traditional holiday meatballs to such events. I look forward to my annual fair-food corn dog at either the State Fair or the Apple Festival. Of course, 50% of the enjoyment of that is the compulsory gratuitous-picture-of-me-eating-a-corn-dog photo. But I put my foot down at cotton candy. For god's sake, people, have some pride.

27 October 2008

For J

For D-fav J. My favorite exasperated, thesis-writing, Feministing, Pharyngula-hero-writing soon to be Dr.

Hang in there.

26 October 2008


Me, Mandy and Nat

Denver shows 'em how its done!

Barack spoke to over 100,000 residents of Denver, Colorado this morning about putting our country on the right track again. From Obama.com

My moment in history lasted exactly one week. It's a title I don't mind giving up.

St. Louis rocks. But Denver, baby....


Shopping for a Cause

Now that it appears I've got this election wrapped up =), I guess I'm going to have to make good on my promise to change the world. So I'm giving some thought to what I'd like to do. I figure it is best to stick with what I know best. Science and math. Or maybe politics. Or science and politics.

So. I could devote myself to the education of high school or undergrad students for the rest of my life. Or maybe the thing is to pursue a career in state government and work to solve this erosion of math and science scores. Or I could work to change voter registration and state-wide vote oversight.

Geez. There is so much that needs to be done.

For those of you out there who understand my strengths and weaknesses, any suggestions?

25 October 2008

Drosophila research is smack?

In a McCain/Palin administration you can look forward to four more years of science and scientists being politicized, vilified, and crucified for political points. Sarah Palin makes a community college education look bad.

Leiberman: Just another science doubter?

Leiberman says he doesn't believe the polls that say that McCain is going to lose.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), one of GOP presidential nominee John McCain’s top supporters, said Friday that the Arizona senator’s poll numbers are “so extreme that I don’t believe them.”
While I can understand the sinking feeling that Leiberman has in his gut (something I've felt it in every national election--save two--since 1980), is his disbelief grounded in rational thought or wishful thinking?

Polling is a pretty scientific process in the political arena these days. But the difference in models can make a big difference in results. But when you look at the national polls only a week and a half before the election and see that Obama is up in every single one (from +3 to +14), it is hard to deny that things are looking up for the Democrats.

As any scientist can attest, the analysis is only as good as the model. Or the sample. Or the way the questions are posed in the poll itself. I'm the first to admit that election polls lack the rigor of more conservative statistical analyses. But in many ways, they mirror the same problems that all scientists face in analyzing our data. The accuracy of the analysis is dependent upon a number of important factors:
  • That our sample is representative of our population
  • The individual data points represent reality (i.e., respondents don't lie)
  • That our assumptions (which vary by model) reflect reality
We can't know these things with certainty, which is why we allow for uncertainty in our models. That level is generally 5% in biostats anyway. My problem with polls is that they don't give their level of uncertainty. I have no idea whether there is any significant difference in the poll that results in a +3 for Obama or a +14 for Obama. It all depends on my margin of error.

We know for a fact that telephone polls that depend on landlines are not reflective of the population. Young people are vastly underrepresented among landline users. Time of day of a poll can also favor one age group over another. Disqualifying respondents based on past voting behavior also leaves out newly registered voters and voters energized by the novelty (?) of this presidential election. Interestingly enough, each of these widely reported problems with polls seems (by a common sense approach) to me to under represent Obama's likely voters (i.e., Obama may lead by even GREATER numbers). For this and many other reaons, I tend to think of polls as just slightly more reliable than my horoscope. Polls should be taken with a grain of salt.

But, in the grand scheme of things that is the last week of this election cycle, I'll take my grain of salt and weigh it against Leiberman's wishful thinking any day.

In a week, all those pollsters can figure out what was right and what was wrong in their models and improve a bit for the next time. While they do that, and no matter who is elected, I will certainly be celebrating the lame duck status of dear old 43.

23 October 2008

While we were bitching about politics....

The Department of Defense has identified 4,180 American service members who have died since the start of the Iraq war and 611 who have died as part of the Afghan war and related operations. More here.

Holy Crap! Pants on Fire!

Cable television, talk radio and even shows like “Access Hollywood” seemed gripped with sartorial fever after campaign finance reports confirmed that the Republican National Committee spent $75,062 at Neiman Marcus and $49,425 at Saks Fifth Avenue in September for Ms. Palin and her family. New York Times article here.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin insisted in an interview with the Tribune on Thursday that she did not accept $150,000 worth of designer clothes from the Republican Party and "that is not who we are." Chicago Tribune article here.

That's right Sarah Baby. It wasn't $150K, it was $124487. But in the world of campaign finance reports versus Governor Sarah Palin, I'm pretty sure I've picked a winner in this death-match. I just hope it doesn't burn too badly when those designer pant suits catch on fire.

Smug one up for Daktari

D is feeling very smug at the moment? Why, you ask?

Because of this. The Economist is a day late and a dollar short. I beat them to the punch with my post on Obamacans. I agree with this opinion piece. This isn't a matter of rats jumping ship when it is apparent it is sinking.

Those prominent Obamacans remind me of something someone said about me once. "You will lead in the absence of real leadership." Colin Powell, Susan Eisenhower, Chris Buckley, George Will, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Dennis Hopper, and Christopher Hitchens (although I don't consider Hitchens a "real" Republican) headline the "celebrity Obamacans". After 8 years of Bush/Cheney co-captains victory-at-any-cost approach, the starting lineup and second string acknowledge defeat, but realize the only way to show good sportsmanship is to walk over to the opposing team and shake their hands and hope that they bring their fans with them.

I'm beginning to realize that there really is a leadership gap in this country. When we can't and don't look to our elected leaders for leadership, it is time to take matters into our own hands. J and I have been discussing ways to make a difference, but oddly enough, I think I might actually be ready to do something. And not some small thing. You know, before I didn't have a lot of faith my ability to make a difference. That's one thing that graduate school has taught me. I can. The world is different than it was. Of course, so am I, but something else is going on here.

It's time for change and I'm not willing to wait on someone else to effect that change for me. I'm ready. Come along. I have big things in store.

The Legacy of Nixon?

I was re-reading my earlier post (thank you OCD), and found this:
Even within the Republican Party (can you say Chris Buckley, Colin Powell, Susan Eisenhower) there is a growing list of Obamacans. The reason is precisely because of the racist element within the GOP that represents the last sad gasps of the old South.
And it occurred to me that the Southern Strategy that worked so well in the 60s may be responsible for the failure of the Republican party some 50 years later. Seems plausible.

However, just as I'm saying that, I find this. It reinforces my gut feeling, expressed in other posts, that, given a choice between supporting their racial prejudices or their economic prosperity, people will vote their pocketbooks.

However, by labeling the Southern Strategy a "myth", I think this article misses the larger truth, which is that the GOP gave racist white Americans a safe haven and a continued legitimacy and that has had lasting and negative impact on our national growth.

22 October 2008

Why I have given up Pharyngula and turned over a new leaf

No offense toward PZ Myers. Seriously. But I've given up on Pharyngula. I've deleted my subscription, removed it from my reader and also from my preferred blog list. If PZ even gives a shit that I'm breaking up with him, all I can say is "it's not you, it's me". You see, this isn't really PZ's fault.

I don't really have a lot of time to read generalized science blogs, but I consider countering the vehement anti-evolution movement in this country interesting and PZ often had posts relating to that topic. However, there are a LOT of other topics of interest to PZ about which I really don't care. Atheism for one. He does a LOT of posts on atheism. Which is why reader is so fantastic because I can just scan through the titles and cherry pick the ones that sound interesting. Very seldom do I even link to his page, I just read the entry in my reader unless I want to comment.

So I signed up for some info on the efforts of the anti-evolution movement and tried to ignore the rest. But it seemed that PZ's posts became more and more focused on atheism. I found myself choosing to read fewer of his posts every day. It just isn't my bag.

But yesterday, a post caught my eye. "Creationists gaming Kentucky". PZ had some strong opinions, mostly based in fantasy rather than reality as far as I could tell, but made some rather strong disparaging remarks about Kentuckians to the effect that Kentuckians (at least those at a state university in northern Kentucky) were incapable of having a rational discussion about the debate between evolution and intelligent design.

I read it. Ok, I let it get under my skin. I politely (I thought) asked that Kentuckians have enough trouble with public perception without PZ adding to the negative portrayals. I know. I know. You're right. But when did any of you know me to back off when I ought to? My original comment is #97. Dang, I wish I knew how to link to comments. Anyway, back to the story.

I got a couple of questioning responses. And this is where OC kicks in. I couldn't NOT answer them. Ok, the second comment (#105) may have been overboard. [/understatement] I got slammed. Interestingly enough, I got slammed hardest by a fellow Kentuckian, whose previous post was laying on the stereotypes thicker than any of them, but who subscribed to the idea that "I can slam me and mine, and don't you try to stop me" theory. By now I had realized what a bad idea this all was and attempted to back out saving some face, but NOoooOoooOoooo, that wasn't going to be allowed.

I'm a big girl. I can take it.

But back to the KY woman. To say that I find her kind of thinking preposterous is an understatement. And trust me, I realize that it isn't her thinking, it's how a lot of people think. But how well do you think it would go over if an African American poster started making comments about some black, KFC-eating-watermelon-seed-spitting-cadillac-driving-welfare queen sending her 5-year-old to the store to pick up mama's cigarettes? Do I make my point? IMO, there is a chasm between self-deprecation and self-loathing. I can only surmise that Kentuckians, who are so used to having their intelligence questioned, their family tree scrutinized for a lack of bifurcations, and their homes checked for appropriate plumbing, have been so beaten down by it that the only way to deal is by getting that "squeal like a pig" comment in before anyone else has a chance to.

I wonder sometimes if this isn't why I identify so closely with racial minorities. I am used to being treated as less than. Interestingly enough, I recall one instance when I worked at the Field and one of my co-workers, an African American woman, "tested" me by seeing if I would drink after her. Like this was a litmus test as to whether or not I had a hood in my closet. Although I'm pretty staunchly anti-germ, I realized it was a test and decided it was easier to pass it than to explain why I didn't appreciate the test in the first place.

But I digress. I don't buy into that Kentucky-stereotypes are cute. And I can't get away from it. It's the accent. I open my mouth and there it is. I don't want to be treated like a a charicture. I wanted to be treated like the intelligent human being that I am. But for that assertion in my post, I was called "Miss Prissy", a "concern troll", and a host of other names. And once the flame war begins, you can't bow out gracefully. It is not allowed.

I felt I had a legitimate point to make, albeit I may not have selected the right tactic. The response was immediate and overwhelming. It didn't start out this way, but it very quickly escalated into my getting cursed at, labeled a troll, and shouted down by the masses. Which got me to doing something I very seldom do. I began to read the comments on Pharyngula. And what happened to me is only the tip of the iceberg. This is gang warfare.

Take for instance one of Pharyngula's posts from today. A Christian woman talking about why she is for McCain. I have absolutely no problem with what PZ wrote as an introduction to this video. I disagree with the statements contained in the video. But just take a look at the comments that follow. Someone actually tried to imply that there is a scientific basis for a correlation between obesity, ugliness, and Christianity.

God help the Christian who shows up and asks to have their religious views respected. They would be sliced and diced like a infomercial for Ginsu knives. Regular commenters eviscerate any viewpoints that contradict their own. They are hypercritical. They engage in ad hominem attacks. It is embarrassingly petty. It is, in a word, distasteful.

And so, PZ, if you happen to stop by and read this. It really isn't you. It's your audience. That is a community with which I don't want to interact. I was interested in reading about science topics in a science forum that attracts mostly science types, and I found a heaping helping dose of intolerance and bigotry. It makes me a bit glad that my friends are my primary audience. I promise I won't take you for granted.

But the thing that worries me is I can't remember whether in my own blog, or on comments I have left on other blogs....have I been that intolerant? Have I made personal attacks on people's looks, weight, manner of speech, places of residence, or hairstyle? Have I treated alternative opinions with a complete lack of respect? I seriously hope not. I apologize to anyone who feels that I have. Please, stop me when I do. Make me listen to you. I mean this has stopped me in my tracks. Without going overboard, I think I need to check my own output and make some adjustments. I don't want to be like them.

20 October 2008

What if?

There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere lately about race in this political campaign. The recent buzz differs significantly from the detached, academic approach to race that J and I have been bandying about in recent posts. This is the real deal. Public, outward expressions of hate and fear of the black man.

I knew they were out there. I am convinced that their numbers aren't large. It is my experience that we have, generation by generation, family by family, community by community, made significant strides toward eradicating the notion of black inferiority and the unquestioned rightness of white privilege. Oh, we haven't finished the job. In fact, J has opened my eyes to the lasting effects of institutionalized racism...effects of which I had been ignorant. And if I can be ignorant of such effects, certainly the vast majority of people we are trying to educate/bring on board must also be ignorant.

So a hard-core racist element remains, albeit in fewer numbers and with less venom than in the '50s and '60s. And to be honest, I think they weren't willing to self-identify themselves (after all, it isn't really in their best interests to tell the world they are racist) until it became apparent that McCain was losing this race. Somehow, the mixture of hate, fear and panic over the prospect of the loss of absolute white power has those closet racists thinking that if they point out to you and me that we are actually thinking of turning over leadership of this country to a n***r that white folks will slap themselves in the head and come to their senses. Oh, how wrong they are. Even within the Republican Party (can you say Chris Buckley, Colin Powell, Susan Eisenhower) there is a growing list of Obamacans. The reason is precisely because of the racist element within the GOP that represents the last sad gasps of the old South. Funny thing is, it seems to be strongest in odd places like Ohio and Pennsylvania. I mean, when I think of Ohio, I think Oberlin College. I think Underground Railroad. I don't think remnant racist component. And for crying out loud, Pennsylvania?

I have a dream that the next person who stands up at a McCain rally and makes a racist remark about Barack Obama is met with McCain's now infamous mantra: "I will make them famous and you will know their names." Let's turn the spotlight on the racists and expose them for what they are. Oh wait. That's the job of You Tube.

I often wonder what my attitudes would be like if I hadn't made a conscious decision, not that long ago, that the only way to understand something foreign to you is to make it familiar. Oh, I don't mean to imply that I have ever been a racist, but I do think that it was easy for me to be all about the equality when I didn't have any friends of color. Let's just say I was talking the talk and not walking the walk. So, I did the only thing I could do. I made a conscious decision to meet and befriend people different than me.

I know that setting an objective to go out and meet black people sounds weird. But I'll tell you why I took this radical approach. I grew up surrounded by white people. And as I grew older, my world only got paler. I looked at my life one day and realized that the only people I knew were those I work with. That meant that the only diversity that I knew was what the university provided me. And let's face it, I'm not that close to that many of my colleagues. They are significantly younger than me and while they have been great about including me, there is a sense of my "otherness". As for real friends, there's Bek. White woman, also older than most of our colleagues. That's about it. I spend a lot of time alone. (Insert appropriate pitying comment here.)

And C-dale isn't exactly a bastion of black people. Well, there are plenty of black people, they are all just 18-22 year old college students. Not my demographic. So I used the tools at my disposal: the internet. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Michael, Clint, Jim, Guv, John, David, Juan, Mark, Alvin, and Charlie. Ok, so I wasn't very successful at meeting diverse women. Sue me. ;) But these gentlemen have all helped me to understand not just their culture, but mine and ours. Every one of them has been very honest and open and despite everything, I consider them all friends. Ok, maybe not Michael. Long story. They might not have known what an education they were providing. I wonder what I have provided them. Thoughts for another post, perhaps.

I remember back when I was a kid and thought that I would be rejected for reaching out. I remember that sense of unyielding distance I had when talking to someone of color. I remember being aware of the "otherness". It didn't help that all my teacher training emphasized a need to be on the lookout for personal bias. I remember feeling overly self-conscious when dealing with students of color about guarding against subtle or overt discrimination. Was I spending enough time with all my students regardless of any differences? Was I speaking to students differently? I mean, really, you can't believe how these thoughts were interferring with my ability to just teach.

I can honestly say that, no matter what you think of my methods, my efforts have been one of the most positive things I have done in my life and my career. That sense of otherness is gone. I don't feel that need to be self-conscious in my teaching. I know that I am treating everyone the same. And perhaps most importantly, I've gained valuable friendships. I've learned that I will be accepted for just what I bring. I have learned that growth is out there for the taking.

Who you gonna to take economic advice from? A liberal, elitist Nobel Prize Winner or Joe the plumber?

Paul Krugman, recent winner of a Nobel Prize in economics, wrote an opinion piece today in which he called the Republican party pro-pleurocrat.



No wonder we aren't making any progress with the average Joe. The average Joe can't spell pleurocrat, let along know the definition. Still, despite his use of elitist language, Krugman makes a number of good points. He rightly equates the exodus of lower and middle-class white guys to the Republican party as cattle following a grain truck to the slaughterhouse.

The Republican party built their base by capitalizing on racial and cultural intolerance as well as differences of opinion in the uses of our military. Apparently there is one thing that white guys aren't afraid of and that is being a martyr for their country. No wonder they are pro-one-hundred-years-war in Iraq. Dying is something they are good at. I always assumed that people voted with their pocketbooks. People voted jobs. I found it impossible to believe that people would vote in a manner that hurt themselves, benefited others (especially the "haves"), and would continue to do so generation after generation. But Joe the Plumber is case in point. He claims his differences with Obama were over tax policy. But is it any surprise that he called Obama "Sammy Davis, Jr."? I don't think Joe the Plumber is the same thing as the average Joe. Joe the Plumber is a closet racist. The average Joe is not.

To the Joe the Plumber types, tax policy is a code word for racism. In fact, I am of the general opinon that there are very few low- to middle-class Republicans who are in it for a die-hard belief in the Republican economic policies. Just about anything short of abortion rights seems to smack of racism to me these days. No one is dumb enough to vote against their own self-interests and self-preservation, unless blind hatred is behind it. We have to admit that there is a minority in this country that are white supremacists. They used to be out and loud. now they are closeted and sly. But they are still there. I don't worry about them so much. They no longer hold sway over anyone. Let their asses dry up in Klan country. I'm looking toward the future. They can be part of it, or they can get left behind.

To the average Joe's out there, listen up. Despite everything, McCain has not identified any meaningful way that he will change the course of the economy, but merely continue Bush's "disastrous policies". If Joe the Plumber sets aside his hatred and elects Obama, (thereby becoming an average Joe), he will get a tax break. If Joe the plumber is a racist and votes McCain into office, his individual lot in life might not change, it will probably get worse, but he'll get the satisfaction of knowing that most of the wealth in this country will remain in the hands of the white folks. Bravo, Joe P. Bravo.

Krugman also makes the point about how politicians and journalists, too, are out of touch with the average Joe. The average national income is roughly $44K. John McCain is under the impression that rich people make $5 million dollars a year. Well of course people who make $5 mil a year are rich. Charlie Gibson is under the impression that middle class incomes are $200,000. Is it any wonder that McCain is under the impression that his tax policies will benefit the average Joe? Is it any wonder that Charlie Gibson is under the impression that he is an average Joe? Let's look at the facts:

According to this chart, $150K is rich. Most of us make a third of that, and on average and we spend far beyond our means. But before you point a damning finger at the average Joe, realize that Joe has been spending on the good faith he has rising home equity. And spending on this faith was the only choice he had if he wanted to send his kids to college, and make a better life for himself and his family. Joe had to have faith in the economic indicators that were available to him. And all those indicators said that his home equity was rising and it was safe. He wasn't feeling the pinch. Banks were still willing to loan to him.

But economic indicators do not take into account Republican policies that undermine the entire economic system. Deregulation and smaller government oversight are the drumbeat of the Republican party.

If Joe elects McCain, he'll get the paycheck he deserves. Sometimes poverty is a hard lesson. Trust me. I know.

19 October 2008

Preaching to the Choir, Colin

Today, Gen. Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama's candidacy. This is big.

Big. Big. Big.

While I am happy for the endorsement, I think it is big for the reasons that he lays out why Barack Obama and not John McCain. MOST importantly, he articulates what I have said before: it is not a crime to be Muslim.

Damn, it makes me feel proud to be on the same team as Powell.

18 October 2008

100,000 Strong for Obama: A Photo Journal

I was a part of history today. I attended Barack Obama's campaign rally in St. Louis under the Gateway Arch. The sky was clear, the weather was temperate and the crowd was exciting and in amazingly good spirits.

100,000 joined me to hear our next president speak. In case you've never been in a crowd of 100,000, all you can say is WOW. I found the event very well organized, which actually amazed me because I had heard that the venue was picked only a few days ahead. Crowd control was fantastic. The police at the security station were were organized, efficient, and pleasant. In fact, I can't say anything negative at all about how the city, city representatives, the Obama campaign, organizers, attendees, and even vendors conducted themselves. Kudos to all! St. Louis rocks!

I can also say I was somewhat surprised that the event was so diverse. I expected high African-American and white turnout, but I was actually surprised at the level of turnout of Asian Americans and Latino/as. It wasn't uncommon to see three generations of families present. It was all peace and love and support for Barack Obama.

We had a group of 8. I didn't realize it, but I was the driving force behind our little contingency. I sign up to get updates from Barack Obama's official site. No one else who came with knew about the event until I started talking about it. In any event, we had a fantastic time.

And Barack Obama did not disappoint. He was charming, relaxed (well, as relaxed as a guy can be speaking in front of 100,000 people), forceful at times, and inspiring. His speech, as I remember it focused primarily on his tax package, stories about pie (the economy), health care, and getting out the vote. I left inspired. I'm committed to volunteering in Missouri the weekend before the election. You can thank Barack for giving me the motivation to get up off my ass and make a difference this time. But, this is an election of firsts for me. I have never become involved in any way in a presidential election before, other than voting of course. Before Barack Obama, I have never sent money to a political candidate. Before Barack Obama, I have cared enough to go hear a candidate speak. Before Barack Obama, I wouldn't have dreamed of sticking out my neck or pulling on my coat and working for a candidate. I hope after November 4, I'll be able to say that I was a part of this grand thing that happened during my lifetime. I was a part of the change in America.

It was history and I was there!

Go America! GoBAMA!!!!!

For those who are interested, more pics are available here. Click on the gallery name to enter.

To head back to Feministing click here. And thanks for dropping by. Come back again soon!

Update: I find it interesting that the big news out of this rally was the number of people it drew. All the photos from this event focus on the crowds. It was impressive. In one day, Missouri rallies drew 175000 people. This is momentum for change.

Expanding your word power

h/t to ReEader's Digest. When I was a kid, my grandfather got Reader's Digest. I read every word in every issue for years and years. I devoured all the I Am Joe's Spleen medical articles, Laughter is the Best Medicine, every quote at the top of the pages and every pun at the bottom. My favorite section, though, was the word trivia section. I think it was called Expanding Your Word Power. To this day, I find a sense of pleasure in learning new words. The thing I find most interesting is that every once in a while, someone will use a word in such a way that I realize I'm not sure I know its exact meaning. So I do what any person procrastinating over writing research grants does. I stop and look it up. Here are a few that I recently had reason to crack open dictionary.com over.

supercilious (expressing disdain--this isn't anything close to what I thought it meant)
scintillate (I thought it meant to tease. It means to sparkle.)
egalitarian (which I wonder why it isn't equalitarian)
vet, as in vetting a candidate
fungible (if it didn't have to do with basidiomycetes, I was clueless)

17 October 2008

The Value of Criticism

Wow. Found this in the WSJ of all places. Guess the Republicans or Conservatives (I'm not sure which Peggy Noonan represents) have conceded the election. It seems I was right. Let's savor this moment.

Ok, moving on. Sarah Palin is not ready for the job, and is so unready for the job that she derailed a strong presidential candidate. But are we being too hard on the woman? Was Noonan over the line? Are the Republicans right to vilify anyone who breaks party lines and criticizes the candidates from within? I don't think so. And despite the fact that I think Noonan is right in every point she makes, it was McCain who derailed his candidacy by tapping her. But what of Palin? She may well be the luckiest person in this whole scenario. Confused? Of course you are.

I am a woman who believes that women have the ability, the drive, and the chutzpah to lead and can and should move into leadership positions in this country. To the sisters. Represent. I used to think I was destined for greatness. Now, I realize that I rattled too many skeletons in my youth to actually be the next Joan of Arc. But trust me, I'd give my left ovary for a policy position at the national level. All I can hope for now is that somehow, I am able to use the talents I have to mentor, embolden, and develop those in whom I see such potential. I don't for a minute believe that we move any woman-advancing agenda forward by throwing our support behind the incompetent, the unprepared, or those who lack an appropriate temperament.

But everywhere I look, I see a sea of women who lack the skills to move into power positions. Case in point. There is one character trait that I earned, thankfully, early in my career that I think all great leaders (male or female) should have. I developed a thick skin. And trust me, you earn a thick skin. I believe there is only one real way to earn it. That is to receive constant, humbling, and piercing criticism. Whether from a parent who constantly criticized your worth, or from a jealous supervisor, or from the anti-intellectual on the street who thinks lawyers/scientists/politicians/doctors are all eggheads involved in a vast government conspiracy to give them HIV/autism/socialized medicine/interrupt Monday Night Football to address the nation in defiance of all that is holy. Power to the people, man. Look, I don't care where you earn your stripes, but your life is going to be a whole lot easier and a whole lot richer once you get there. And you don't just survive it, you must learn from it.

As a writer, I found that even people who can't even write a simple declarative sentence thought they were qualified to critique my work. That sort of criticism was easy to discount. But, I worked for a man named George Rabb, who was the most brilliant son-of-a-bitch I may ever have had the pleasure of knowing. Despite being a world-class herpetologist and quite possibly a genius (and who was ENTIRELY qualified to critique my work), he was really bad with names or so I thought because he always seemed to be under the impression that my first name was Goddammit. You either survived the outbursts, the yelling, the stinging critiques and lived to tell the tale, or you put your tail between your legs and got out. I chose to stay, and in the words of Robert Frost, "that has made all the difference".

When a brilliant person tells you your work sucks, what then? You'd do best to listen. You'd do best to go back and consider why they said that. You'll benefit from figuring out what is right and what isn't in their feedback. You get better. You grow. But does it have to hurt so much? The answer is yes, it does. Why? Because gentle criticism is too easy to discount. Gentle criticism is far too easy to ignore. When someone stands up and tells you that your work is so woefully inadequate that they will not subject the world to your inadequacy any longer, you can bet your ass that you are going to listen. And I'd bet good money that you are going to change your behavior.

For those who have (admittedly, as I did) consistently performed above average in their worlds and considered themselves immune to failure, painfully honest and pointed criticism is a rude awakening to the fact that "above average" is a much broader category than you may have thought. I'm often reminded of an incoming masters student who always seem to assume that he was the smartest one in the room. Oh, the day that he corrected his advisor in front of a class left me chuckling all day. He seemed to be a bit confused about his own intelligence, talents, and abilities. In graduate school, everyone is smart. Trust me. During his tenure, he got a big can of smack.

But I think that developing a thick skin is particularly important for women. No two ways about it. We are coddled in life. We are protected from strife, strong words, and difficulties. This is why I think that you see the differences in the reactions of men and women to the negative attacks in political debates. Women don't like confrontation. Women don't want to see it, hear it, and by god they sure don't want to be on the receiving end of it. I know women who crumble at the first sign of intense criticism. I'll give it to Palin. She hasn't crumbled. She does, however, seem to not used the criticism as a learning tool. She accepts all the blows but never seems to get that she lacks the background, talent, intelligence, dedication to service, and simple curiosity that a person of power must set as their life's driving force. And the criticism hasn't managed to make her take a hard look at herself and want to go back and rectify her inadequacies, but rather to make her more confident in her abilities. Instead of becoming introspective, she just stops listening. And I think I know why. It's because she's not trying to impress those who are smarter, quicker, more learned, better informed than her. It is because she only has to impress those who fall in the below average group. Palin does have talent in politics, but made the fatal mistake of aiming too low. She was given a gift and squandered it.

Failure to develop a thick skin, failure to learn from criticism--this is a failure that can hold back people in nearly every avenue of their lives. I'm not going to lie. I've shed more than one tear over criticism. I have harbored ill feelings. I have cursed the George Rabbs of the world under my breath and not so under my breath. But somehow, I managed to look fear in the face and grow and improve. My advice to women who really want to change the world is to get out there and dare to take everything they're dishing out. And when they smack you down, listen, learn, improve, and come right back for more. IMO, it's the only way to get ahead.

The Midnight Special and My Musical Introduction

I was watching television tonight and an infomercial came on for the Midnight Special DVD package. It got me thinking who I went to see in concert. Liv and I had a great time talking about this on our Wild West Adventure.

I'm going to try to remember, but by no means should this be perceived to be all inclusive.

Aerosmith, Heart, AC/DC, John Denver, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Grand Funk Railroad, John Prine, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Itzhak Perlman, Jimmy Buffet, Jethro Tull, Jackson Browne, Willie Nelson, Leon Redbone, The Kinks, Marshall Tucker Band, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, Dwight Yokum, Ricky Skaggs.

Liv and I are going to see John Prine in a week or so. I realized this will be the third time I have seen him. The first time was in roughly 1984 in a club in Lexington, Kentucky. I took an album with me for him to sign. I didn't have the nerve to ask him to sign it after the show was over. I went alone. Back then, no one I hung with had ever heard of him. I think I paid $5 for the ticket. I had a table for two to myself. I enjoyed the hell out of it. I'm sure I'll enjoy the hell of it next weekend, too.

15 October 2008

I've Flatlined on the Presidential Race

I watched the final debate tonight. I was bored out of my mind. I've heard it all before. And McCain wanted many, many more town hall debates? OMG, I'd be comatose by now.

I reiterate my belief that most everyone's mind is made up. PZ Myers commented that he was done with the independents. He thought they just wanted to be on TV. I'm ready for this race to be done. I'm done. I'm ready to vote. I'm thinking about going and voting on Friday. Although there is something nice about voting on THE day.

One comment on the debate, though. I was pleased that they finally began to talk about some social issues and the Supreme Court, but I was not only disappointed but actually afraid when McCain used air quotes to talk about the "health of the mother". I get the feeling that he has very, very limited ideas about what constitutes the health of a mother. Scary. Very scary.

Oh, and Obama is going to be in St Louis on Saturday. He's going to be speaking under the Arch. I am so going. No camping for me this weekend. I'll be heaving my breathless support for MyBama. I am so glad he's coming and I'm getting this chance. I'm excited as hell. Is that possible? Tired of the race. Tired of the pundits. Tired of the negative campaign ads. Tired of the drama that is mostly made up. But excited to see my next President.

I wish you could see me. I'm grinning from ear to ear.

Intuitive Computer Design

If any of you folks at Dell or HP or Compac or whoever else is leading in the PC laptop race these days wants some input on computer design, step right up and dig in. Of course, I know that no computer designers read my blog, but maybe if you tell two friends and they tell two friends and they tell two friends.....

Well, at least I'm putting it out there. Maybe one of them will stumble across it.

  1. Either the power cord needs to go on the back of the computer or it needs to be put on the side opposite the handedness of the user. My power cord plugs in on the right-hand side of my computer. This means that it interferes with my ability to use a mouse with my laptop.
  2. Dudes. You need a fan that works. This is ridiculous. The temperature on this "laptop" computer on my lap falls roughly between molten lava and boiling oil. Is there some reason that the fan can't actually cool faster than the fan action heats up the computer. And why is air input for the fan on the bottom of the computer? The fan is trying to draw air from beneath the computer? Ummm, the computer is nearly always sitting on a flat surface with no airflow beneath it. This ain't brain surgery, folks.
  3. The touchpad. Don't even get me started on the touchpad. First, why is it located exactly where I rest my right thumb when not in use? I can't tell you the number of times I've been unable to type a sentence because my hands brush against the touchpad, moving the cursor God knows where on the page. As for actually using it.....OK, here's a quick and easy overview of how I use the touchpad. I use it to move the cursor or arrow to the top of the page or to scroll up and down through a page. And finally, I use point and click to place the cursor where I want it. Point 1. The iPod mouse "wheel is a much more effective and intuitive means of scrolling than the touchpad. I would prefer a keystroke that auto moved my cursor to the bottom of the page (as in Word). In fact, I could use a series of keystrokes to achieve a lot in the way of page navigation if I was only given the opportunity. Anyone who uses Launchy gets the hang of that sort of thing pretty quick. But please, do something about that damn touchpad.
  4. USB ports. Need more than two. At least 4. I shouldn't have to unplug my wireless mouse in order to download my pictures. Also need to be placed on the back. Or on the side of the monitor.

14 October 2008

I miss my dad

You never know when it's going to strike. You are hanging out, minding your own business when all of a sudden an urgent need to ask dad something comes up. Tonight was one of those nights.

You see, I liked my dad. Although we hate to admit it, my dad was my favorite parent. He was easy-going, intelligent, dependable. He had a sense of humor. A dry wit. He was a practical joker. He used to travel for his job and loved to tell us of how he would get on a plane and make up some fantastic story he'd tell to his seat mates. He was a world famous obstetrician on his way to give a talk at an international conference. He was a poker player in Vegas. Somehow, when he told his stories, you were as regaled as I'm sure his traveling companion was.

My dad was wicked good with kids. I never met a kid who didn't like him. I remember once that he got on the roof with a water hose (he must have been cleaning out the gutters) and before you know it, most of the kids in the neighborhood were in a water war with my dad. Just a tip for you. It takes a lot of kids with garbage can lids to take down a man with a 10' advantage and a water hose.

My father used to take me to high school football games when I was only in grade school. I was a bit of a sports nuts as a child. It was "our" time. My dad didn't even seem to mind when I gave a play-by-play replay of every single play he just saw. I'd yank on his shirt and say "Did you see that? That guy just ran up the middle and four guys tried to take him down and he fell on one knee but kept going." My dad had the patience of Job.

Tonight we got to talking about organic chemistry. My father was a chemist.

I've always been curious. I mean EVERYONE hates organic. How did he get beyond that hate?

I miss my dad. There is so much I had left to talk to him about.

Football and chemistry. And probably politics.

My father passed away on April 5, 1989. He was 53 years old.

This is My Country, Land that I Love

I just didn't know it. There have been a lot of articles in the past several days on race in America as the McCain-Palin ticket has turned into a hate-mongering, violence-supporting attack machine. Now we've come to understand Palin meant by her prescient comment that she is a "pit bull with lipstick". She's leading the charge to lynch a presidential candidate.

Think I"m over-exaggerating? Check out this advertisement (above) published on a conservative blog (since pulled, but now be commented on more liberal blogs). h/t Feministing Or this protest sign seen outside a Toledo rally for Obama. h/t FiveThirtyEight.

You know you've gone too far when your supporters--both of them (*cough*Rove and Feingold* cough)--begin to tut-tut you on your campaign tactics.

But I was unaware until I had read many articles on these events that it was bloggers and not the mainstream media (hereafter MSM) that brought the mob-mentality/hate-speech going on at M-P rallies to the public's attention. Why isn't it newsworthy when attendees at a political rally are whipped into a froth and threaten to kill the opponent and injure cameramen? Was the MSM going to bring it up AFTER someone had been maimed or killed?

There are two points I want to make about this. The first is that everyone gets that McCain's disgust over the hate-speech toward Obama is feigned. That is why it continues unabated at his rallies. There are times in life when failure to speak up, speak out, and put your f'in foot down is to give your de facto seal of approval. That's where McCain is now. When the media said that McCain would do anything to win, I didn't realize they actually meant anything. I don't get his tactics. I don't believe there are enough bigots in this country to elect him president. IMO, his campaign made two fatal flaws. First and foremost was his selection of Palin as VP. I know hard-core, lifelong Republicans who are sitting out this election because of her. The second was this "anything goes" approach because he's down in the polls. You could almost hear the moderates scatter as he clicked the shotgun back together and vowed to "take the gloves off". His campaign is done. Kaput. He might as well concede today. His only achievement now is to divide our country in a way that will reverse 35 years of gains made in civil rights, racial equality, and human dignity. For this he should be rightly vilified. I honestly hope that he has the next 20 years to consider the impacts of his behavior, because his behavior is having significant impacts on the nation.

The second point I want to make is about the MSM not reporting on this initially. If it weren't for the ubiquitous nature of bloggers, we might never have heard about the race-baiting going on in a national presidential campaign. You have no idea how that blows my mind when I actually think about it. But, if you consider that the MSM travels with the candidates on planes, trains and buses financed by the campaign, doesn't it stand to reason that a reporter wouldn't want to risk his or her seat on the campaign trail (and access to the candidate) by pointing out something so damaging to the candidate? Our independent media is not living up to their mandate. And they most certainly are not independent.

Finally, I want to say that the hate-speech does more than simply attack Obama. Claiming that Obama is a terrorist because his family background includes Muslims or because it includes Africans or because he's a member of the black community or from Chicago or whatever finger-pointing seeds of doubt McCain attempts to sow--none of this is without broader impacts. Every finger he jabs toward Obama points a damning finger at every single Muslim/black/African-American/Chicagoan/etc in this country. If Muslim=terrorist, then where does the damning end? McCain's tactics threaten to take us back to that sad and scary moment following the 9/11 attacks when roving bands of teenagers attacked anyone who was remotely brown. Remember when Hindus were getting beaten in the streets for wearing turbans? Remember when mosques were being spray-painted with hate messages? Do we really want to go back there? Khaled Hosseini wrote an excellent editorial in the WaPo Sunday pointing out the danger in McCain's behavior. Even GWB, who is a complete idiot, spoke out against violence against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent. McCain is screaming "fire" in a crowded movie theater. He must know that his words have impact. Apparently, he doesn't mind being a complete and utter dick.

Oh, and one last thing. I've heard plenty of people "defend" Barack Obama against these accusations of his being a Muslim. They say in an entirely exasperated voice, "but he's a Christian!" IMO, it doesn't matter. Being a Muslim is not some sort of indictment. Muslim is not a dirty word. Extremism might be. And that includes all you intolerant Ohio Christians against baby-murdering Muslims". Own the intolerance, jerk.

Six months ago, I actually said these words out loud: "I want Obama to win, sure, but I could live with any of the three remaining candidates" (Obama, Clinton, and McCain). That man just made me eat my words. I apologize world. I don't support the bigot. He owns those people he's encouraging. He owns that advert. He owns the hate. Own it, asshole.

Jib Jab has done it again

Another excellent campaign cartoon. My favorite part is the My Little Pony.

P.S. Found the Chacos. They were behind the la-z-boy chair, behind a lap desk. Whew! Thought Jake the Wonder Dog had eaten them!

13 October 2008

Apparently, I have no ethics

After waking up to this article this morning and alerting my colleagues, I realized that I am in violation of the ethics policy for employees of the state of Illinois simply because I have not one, but two Obama stickers on my car.

I am not too awfully worried because I gave the chair of our department an Obama sticker, which he stuck on his car. If I'm going down, lots of faculty members are going with me.

However, as I mentioned to my colleagues, I have always taken off my Obama button while teaching or exposed to students in any official capacity as a courtesy. I don't think it is appropriate to bring my specific political beliefs into the classroom unless it is directly relevant to the curriculum.

But I am rather irritated that the State of Illinois thinks they can dictate my behavior outside my workday. I have always said I couldn't work for the federal government for just these reasons. Well ok, there are other reasons as well. Foremost, I don't think I could do so little. But the whole, not being able to speak out against the president should I so desire is something of a big deal to me. If universities become the same sorts of oppressive employers, I'm out. I would have exploded if I couldn't have bitched about GWB over the past 8 years.

I will not be silenced. I'm already gearing up for bitching about President Obama. I wouldn't miss the fun for anything. I've been a fan of the First Amendment from way back.

Human Rights are Cool

Pondering Life's Big Questions

I've been thinking lately.....

  1. Where are my chacos? They disappeared about 2 weeks ago and I still haven't found them.
  2. Why does Nevada keep pooping on the wheelchair ramps? I practically have to drag her outside whereupon she just stares at me until I let her back in. Then 5 minutes later, she jumps up and runs to the door and I let her out and she has to go so badly that she poops on the wheelchair ramp. One day last week, she pooped on her way to the door. Damn dog.
  3. Ph.D.? What was I thinking??!!!
  4. What's for dinner?
  5. Where are my damn chacos?

Trying on some new threads

Tell me what you think about the new layout and design. Something always bugged me about that old one, so I decided to take the bull by the horns and design my own. Well, based on someone else's template, but I did a LOT of modifying of the html.

Anyway, I'm interested in your thoughts. Is it hard to read. Do any of the colors get you all buggy? Let me know.

And Liv might recognize this photo in the banner. It was one of the few pictures I was able to snap at Morro Beach in California on our Wild West Adventure this summer.

12 October 2008


Fundraising, Dowell Style

Life in Dowell isn't all amber waves of grain...or should I say combines and corn fields. Sometimes, it's a wicked-fun bunch of people who know how to put on a good time. Case in point. Last night I attended my third annual Dowell Volunteer Fire Department Fundraising Dinner and Auction. Well, I actually skipped the dinner, but attended the auction. I've missed two auctions because the MoBot Systematics Symposium is ALWAYS held on the same weekend, and I generally ended up opting for a dinner on the Hill instead of rushing home for the auction. But research funds being so tight this year, and the symposium topic being on South Africa, I decided to opt for the closer-to-home mind expanding event.

I live two doors from the volunteer fire department. That is a blessing and a curse. If'n my house ever catches on fire, I figure they'll get here pretty darn fast. On the other hand, every time there is a fire, I first hear the air siren alerting the volunteers to come a-runnin', which is quite an abrupt alarm clock if they get a call in the middle of the night. Second then is the truck or ambulance sirens as they streak out of the firehouse. Then again, it isn't any worse or better than the train blasting their whistle as they streak through our intersection in the middle of the night. You get so you don't hear it after a while. When I was a kid, the firehouse in our small town was a small red brick building, hardly any wider than it takes to park 2 fire trucks, with an upper floor of one room where 6 firemen or so had to live, eat, and do their business in tight quarters. My town had about 27,000 people. The Dowell Fire House is an aluminum building that can hold 6 full-size emergency vehicles. The town is 450 strong.

And once a year, they polish up the trucks, pull them out front, set up tables and chairs, and put on a kick-ass barbeque dinner and auction. All the items are donated by local businesses. They have a 50/50 raffle. Whatever proceeds are collected, the winner splits 50/50 with the fire department. The first year I attended the auction, I won the 50/50. It was quite an exciting night! They also raffle a shotgun. I heard the fire chief say that they had raised well over $1200 in the raffle for that gun. Never underestimate the small-town folks to dream big--especially in the vicinity of deer season. Damn, Palin would be proud.

I would guess they had about 120 auction items. Almost every auction package included a baseball cap. I don't know what it is about those caps. There was a joke when you won a package that included a hat, the folks around you pat you on the back and say "welcome to the hat club!"

Small town humor.

I paced myself. I bought a 1/4 sheet cake for $4. I bought 2 pizzas from the local gas station/pizza joint for $10. And then this sad little floral display came up and no one would bid on it. So I bid $2. And then someone bid $3. The auctioneer returns his gaze to me. Begins trash talking. I'm shaking my head no and thinking to myself, thank god someone else outbid me. But now he's like a dog on a bone. Come on, now. You can't win that thing if you won't bid. You know she's gonna bid $5. So I acquiesce. $4. Damn if she didn't give up.


$4 for THIS:And did I mention that it was in a beat up old colander? Good God. How am I gonna re-gift this? Any takers? Please? Well, then, just be that way. But if it shows up on your doorstep one day with a big bow on it, remember it was for a good cause.

Here's the rest of my haul. Grand total: $44.

There were some interesting items up for sale.Everything from a purse to a stereo system. Note there were several bushels of apples for sale.
These are the ladies who cooked dinner for everyone. Well, the guys grilled the meat in the bbq pit in the park, but these ladies did the real work.
I wish I had some software to put an arrow in my pictures. I'd point out the couple that bought about 10 bottles of booze. Guess they are going to have a good year.
Every year someone asks me where I live, if I'm from the area, and I meet one or two new people. Even those who take no interest in me always make small talk. I kinda like Dowell. It grows on you.

The Market Metldown, Explained

Maybe those jokers across the pond aren't as stodgy as we tend to think, even if they do get demerits for playing the stereotypical race card.

11 October 2008

It ain't a "gotcha" moment just because they've nailed your ass to the wall

If you replace the sweaty, smoke-stained terror of Nathan Thurm with the cutsie, dimple-laded scoff of Sarah Palin, the parallels are uncanny.

It was all a big joke then, but 60 Minutes used to actually make people sweat. Those were the days before the corporations took over the media outlets and got the de facto upper hand on the media. Why in God's name Katie Couric didn't say what everyone was thinking is beyond me. WTF is that woman talking about?

It's Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack

Ok, just so you know. The OC behavior is back. I'm now spending 4 hours a day reading, re-reading and reading yet again the same articles, blog posts (mine and others), and emails over and over. Twelve weeks of therapy alerted me to the fact that this is a response to stress. Where is the stress coming from? Nothing seems any different to me. Somehow I get a perverse sense of calm from repeating the same action, reading the same words, whatever the hell you call this, over and over again. I hate this.

Yesterday I agreed to meet Bek and Katie for dinner. They were seated in the restaurant and I was still at my house reading my blog. WTF? I lied about already being on the road. I encouraged them to drink some wine.

I'm hella crazy again. I wish that just telling myself to stop worked. I wish that the understanding that nothing is accomplished by doing this was enough to make me stop. It's stupid. It's counter-productive. It's ......aaaaaaaaaaaargh.

10 October 2008

That's What Friends Are For

J and I have been having a very interesting series of conversations on race, politics, and economics lately. And maybe this is a bit off topic, but our discussions have caused me to focus on my own social awareness lately. I am interested in how I got to my present point of view. I mean, let's face it. I was raised in the same environment that produced those rednecks screaming "terrorist" and "kill him" about Obama, and "sit down, boy" to a black cameraman at McCain rallies. I know the people behind these epithets. While I tend to see my personal development as a continuum, I occasionally think that it is a continuum punctuated by forehead-smacking Gestalt moments where everything comes together and there is a fundamental paradigm shift. In any event, I have a tendency to personalize when I think about most issues and sometimes get lost in the forest for looking at the trees (i.e., my thoughts on race, economics, and politics arise primarily from my own experiences, hence the rather personal nature of a lot of my posts).

If my very public self-exploration has made anyone uncomfortable, I sincerely apologize. I examine my own thoughts in public because I think that there is nothing that fosters honesty more than the light of day. And just maybe, others can benefit from my voyage of self discovery. What I was trying to get at (and perhaps none too well) in my earlier post above love is that it is okay to talk about tough issues honestly and openly. We don't have to be embarrassed about being human. It isn't a breach of trust to disagree with those we love. It doesn't diminish me as a person or my capabilities for the future if I acknowledge that I was wrong in the past. Or to have someone point out to me when I am wrong in the present. So when I talk about my grandmother and her way of thinking, it doesn't mean I love her less. We may disagree on issues of race, but she taught me more about unconditional love than anyone else ever will.

Racial inequality is a very personal issue to me. Who knows why? Maybe I just identified with the outsiders. I don't recall ever having a conversation with anyone about these issues growing up. But to act like I accepted the status quo in my environment is fundamentally incorrect. I mean, at a very early age, I noticed that there was segregation--starting with the lunchroom at school. I agonized over ways to break that gridlock. It was easier to sit in my chair with my white friends than to get up and cross the room and ask if I could sit down at that table. I think I was more afraid that they wouldn't want me there. That they would just stare at me and I'd have to slink back to my seat in defeat. Fear of rejection is a crippling thing to a teenager. The fact that I didn't know what to do and so did nothing still fills me with a sense of regret. Stupid, I know, to beat myself up about things that happened 25 years ago. But at some point I made a distinct break with the social morality of my upbringing. I believe what prompted that break was what one friend termed "my overdeveloped sense of justice". Somehow that internal dialogue that others are able to suppress when they see discrimination kept screaming at me and all it said was "Why are you accepting this? You know this isn't okay." I decided to silence that voice and I started down a different road. And for me, that moment was both personal and liberating. It happened when I was sitting in my living room in Chicago listening to my brother make a racist comment. I remember that moment as if I'm in that room now. Not in my house. Oh hell no. Never again. Get out. That may well have been my first adult action. It wasn't as hard as I thought.

I remember a second such moment. It wasn't that long ago. Bek and I were sitting at a stop light in C-dale when she announced that it was okay that I found black men attractive. I didn't even realize that I had made that apparent. After all, I was still not admitting those feelings in public. So I can thank Bek for my second Gestalt moment. It validated feelings I had long hidden, like the incredible crush I had on a black kid at my school, but couldn't admit to anyone. Like the fact that I had married someone I wasn't particularly attracted to because he was acceptable in superficial ways to those around me.

Now, since "my people" as I'm so fond of saying (I'm only 2 generations removed from folks who never dreamed of a high school education) were the target audience for a Southern Strategy, I think that perhaps the best thing I can offer is some insight into what that has meant in my life and the lives of those around me. Maybe this insight isn't needed. Maybe it's been done to death. If that is the case, then this really is a personal journey, and that's okay, too.

"Meeting" J has really been helpful to me (thanks Liv!) because he has been instrumental in raising my line of sight above the treeline and pushed me to explore the broader impacts of these issues, which brings a whole 'nother level of analysis to my effort. I believe I'm always going to bring these issues into the personal realm, because that seems to be my shtick. I wonder though, if another head-smacking moment isn't in the making. I seem to be in a period of rapid growth. I'll keep you updated. Unless of course, you all just want me to STFU. =) Happy Friday.

09 October 2008

My Gram is Going to Vote

I've discussed my upbringing in eastern Kentucky before. The river town where I grew up lies at a point where Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia meet. What I didn't realize is how important the area is in the elections. I've read that Ohio falls red or blue based on the votes cast in a small number of southeastern and southwestern counties in Ohio. Suddenly, I see the news filled with announcements of candidates traveling to towns with names very familiar to me: Portsmouth, South Point, Ironton. Anyone who lives in a tri-state area understands that the lines between states blur. Points of entry are numerous. Bridges at Huntington, Ashland, Cattletsburg, Russell, and Portsmouth allow easy access across the river and its tributaries. I've been to the movies in Portsmouth; my brother' wedding reception was held in South Point; I've gotten a parking ticket in Ironton. I went to college in Huntington, where my grandparents all lived. In fact, when I was a kid, trips across the river were a regular occurrence because southern Ohio was wet and eastern Kentucky was dry. My father took us over on beer runs regularly. When I got a little older, I made trips across to West Virginia because the legal age was 18 versus 21 in Kentucky and Ohio.

It is amusing to me when this area is referred to as Appalachia. It is the foothills of the Appalachians. It is not the Appalachians proper. It's hill country and I'd be surprised if a single hill in the area gets much above 900 ft. But it is isolated. It may be the 21st century, but some folks are clinging to their 19th century resentment. I've talked about my issues with "my people" before. So I read with interest this article. Read it. I'll wait.

How bad does a ticket or economic prospects have to be to force racists to vote for the smart guy that one? Apparently pretty bad. But the good news is that in the toss up that is racism vs. your own pocketbook, it appears that the pocketbook wins. Which brings me to the point of this post. My grandmother announced to me the other day that she was thinking about voting. She was thinking about voting for Obama. Now, I love my grandmother with all that I am, but this is the same woman who once told me that is was okay to talk to black folks over the back fence, but you wouldn't...you know...actually invite them into your house. She announced to me as a sign of the changing times that "young kids today just all pile in a car together". She has led an exceedingly segregated life. She goes to an all-white Baptist church. I'm trying to think where my grandmother might actually have had to interact with anyone who wasn't white. Maybe at the grocery store. Maybe at hospital when she volunteered. But by and large, she is isolated from any ideas or cultural influences that are different from her own. My grandmother is 90 years old.

And what is driving her to vote for someone she wouldn't invite into her house? Sarah Palin. Now this isn't a matter of sexism trumping racism. If anything, I have done more to move my grandmother's ideas about what is proper for a woman to do. My grandmother calls ME when she needs help around her house. I painted, papered, and rewired her kitchen. She calls ME when she can't get her answering machine, VCR, or television remote to work. I'm her go-to handy-person.

My grandmother, who had announced months ago that she was sitting out this election (she didn't like McCain but had no intention of voting for Obama), is driven to vote for an African American by what she thinks is the incredible incompetence of McCain's vice presidential selection.

My grandmother represents that sort of ingrained racism that I just took for granted growing up. It isn't in your face or even seething below the surface. If it makes any sense, it isn't purposefully mean. It just is. Its the kind of racism that makes all the black kids sit at the same table in the lunchroom at high school. It's the kind of racism that results in all-white parties. You know, the kind where you'd invite your black friend but then he/she would be the only black person there and then they'd be uncomfortable. In reality, you aren't sure who'd be uncomfortable. It's the kind of racism that, when the unwritten mores are broken, isn't likely to get any comments unless someone drinks too much beer and gets mouthy and the last thing you want to have happen is for someone to actually say something. It isn't a racism you can point your finger at...something more you get a feeling about. In some ways, that kind of racism is worse than the sign on the water fountain. It's insidious, it's accepted without being acknowledged. It just is.

The fact of the matter is, I'm glad my grandmother is being faced with this choice. I'm glad America is. If there hadn't been this grand intersection of economic and political issues right before this election, my grandmother might never have had an opportunity to challenge her own thinking about race. She's 90 years old. Her opportunities to change deeply seated beliefs are running out. I am filled with great optimism to know that even at 90, paradigm shifts are possible.