Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Scott Brown: The Prettiest Candidate Yet?

There he is, in his truck, in his barn coat, wowing New Hampshire voters with his good looks, reading from the GOP Hymns and Verses. 

Has this man ever had an original idea?

There was a band (probably more than one) in the 60's which was entirely the creation of a record company which put together all the elements common to successful bands. Mr. Brown is that sort of man--read the gospel as given to him by Mr. Koch, and Rush Limbaugh and all their fellow travelers.

A group of citizens has responded with this youtube posting:


If the link doesn't work, try youtube search, "Scott Brown: The prettiest candidate yet."

Worth a try.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Aroma of Political Ideology: Under arm scent and Political Preference

 Who knew?  Were it not for National Public Radio, Mad Dog  certainly would not have been aware of a Brown University study which involved collection of underarm scents (Mad Dog will spare you the details) from 146 subjects who were divided into liberal and conservative political persuasion groups. 

Exposing subjects to the scents from other subjects, the researchers asked each subject to select aromas which appealed to them and those which repelled them.

While the results were not completely sharply divided, there was a statistically significant divide,  in which politically liberal subjects found the underarm scents from other liberals attractive and pleasing while they found axillary odors from conservatives repellent.

The study, "Assortative Mating on Ideology Could Operate Through Olfactory Cues," might explain why in 21st century America when people speak of a "Mixed marriage" they are not talking about the marriage of a Catholic and Jew or a Black and a White, but of a Republican and a Democrat--James Carville and Mary Matalin.

Of course, we all know of wonderful marriages between conservatives and liberals, and those are especially evident in the purple state of New Hampshire, but once again, science has leaped in to provide the news we all wanted to hear and will rush to believe: It's just chemistry.

Actually, Mad Dog recently had an experience which may, or may not lend credence to the study.  While taping a puppet show, which required him to raise both hands with puppets above his head, he found he could not turn the pages of his script, and he needed a page turner, as a pianist, whose hands are busy, needs  page turner.  That task fell to an unfortunate colleague who had to reach under his arm, while keeping her head down so as not be be visible to the camera, so she was forced to dip her head under Mad Dog's fetid arm to turn pages.

Both actors in this drama were liberals, and while the page turner was not relishing her predicament, she at least was able to survive two and a half hours of underarm exposure. Had Mad Dog been a conservative Republican, could she have survived without having to be carted out on a stretcher?

It is doubtful we will ever have the follow up study, with the page turner subjected to arm pit exposure while turning the pages under a conservative, but if we can write a grant, perhaps we can get funding.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

White Power In America

When Mad Dog was an adolescent, they were integrating the University of Alabama and the schools in Arkansas.  George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, stood in the school house door and declaimed, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!"

Mad Dog worked at  his local swimming pool, in Bethesda, Maryland, an affluent white suburb of Washington, D.C., where there were very few Blacks, not because of official discrimination but because Blacks could not afford to live in Bethesda.  A Black child, a guest of a member, swam in the pool and a few hours later the manager got a call from a man who wanted to know when the manager was going to drain the pool, how long it would take to drain and refill it and when the pool would be opened again. 

The manager said, "Come on down right, now: The water's fine!"

Philosophically, we didn't like racists much in Bethesda, but then again we weren't exactly integrated in a practical sense. 

The manager of a Florida motel, seeing Blacks in his swimming pool, poured a bucket of acid into the water. Just to show how much he cared.

The locals came out to protest the admission of Colored to Alabama public schools, and they did the same in Mississippi, Georgia  and Arkansas.

Of course, in Bethesda, we asked: Why would anyone want to go to any "school"
in any of those states?  Can you imagine what they were teaching those Yahoo's down there in the South? Can you imagine having to go to class with those brain dead bigots? If you added up the IQ's of the entire population of Mississippi would the total exceed 100?

Things, we are told, have changed.  But what about those protesters outside the school buses along the border states of Arizona, Texas and California?

What do you do with a population which approximates the hate index of the Poles who cheered as the boxcars rolled past on  the train tracks headed toward Auschwitz?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Nicholas Kristoff: How not to be a Liberal

Nicholas Kristoff has a piece in today's New York Times which is enough to give liberalism a bad name. 

He wants to tell us how we should eliminate poverty in this country and he starts off by trying to impress us with his deep understanding of the complexity of the problem:  "Within four weeks of conception, human embryo has formed a neural tube, which then begins to produce brain cells."

Okay, we got it. You have read some heavy books and you have learned: "It all begins early."

And he winds up with "If you want to help, here are a few organizations whose work on early childhood has impressed us."

And here they are:
1. Nurse-Family Partnership: is a proven home visitation program that gives a risk kids a shot at reaching the starting line.
2. Reach Out and Read: supports pediatricians who hand out books to low-income children during doctor visits, with instructions about bedtime reading.  Careful studies show that the parents red to the children more often and the chilrdren end up with larger vocabularies--all for just $20 per child per year.

There are more, but it goes downhill from there.

As if sending a nurse by once a month, or even once a week, or even once an hour could really make a difference to the children of Baltimore whose parents are sending them out to the corner to sling drugs, who view their children as their meal tickets, who game every government program to cash in vouchers so they can buy more heroin and cocaine.

Mr. Kristoff should be strapped into a chair and forced to watch The Wire continuously, all five seasons until he has assimilated the lessons there.  

Can you imagine any of the mothers, so carefully depicted there,  being influenced in any positive way by the visit from some nurse, even if she were not white?  

Can you imagine Michael's mother, who uses every monthly payment for Aid to Dependent Children to buy heroin, reading to her children at bedtime, even if she did ever bring them to a pediatrician and even if, at that visit, she were handed a book with instructions on how to read to her children. If she could read herself. If she did not try to sell the book for money to buy drugs?
The problem with so many solutions proposed from so many quarters is the people who develop these solutions have no clue about what life is like for the people they are trying to improve.

What Mr. Kristoff  needs is not a new program to recommend but an anthropological ethnograph which might actually clue him in to the hard shell of the problem.

The best such anthropological study, by a country mile, is The Wire

When you see children living in abandoned buildings, hijacking electricity from neighboring buildings, living without parents because they are better off without the adults who might be related to them, when you see the variety of parental depredation to which these children are exposed, you will know no book hand out in a pediatrician's office will make a difference. 

When you see the boy whose mother buys him a set of back-to-school clothes which is not intended to be worn at school but which will make him look right for his work slinging drugs on the corners, you know a visiting nurse will not help that situation. 

When you see the boy whose foster mother does try to guide him but is defeated by the world she sends that boy into--a world where the most powerful socializing organizations in the neighborhood are not the schools, nor the government, nor the church, nor the local YMCA, but the drug gangs, then you understand that Save The Children, which provides home visitation, screening and literacy programs for the bargain rate of $28 a month, will  not make one wit of difference.

When you have widespread dissolution of families, cultural values which direct young boys and girls into selling, using and extolling drugs, then all the best intentions only pave the way to hell.

As a medical student in the 1970's, I worked in a project in Bedford Stuyvesant, which was then a desperately poor Black neighborhood, where a gleaming new clinic, built with War on Poverty money, stood unused in its magnificence. Our project was to figure out why the locals were not keeping their appointments for medical care there. 

It didn't take long:  The first few days we visited the addresses where the prospective patients were supposed to be living, we found open doors, or no doors, on the once magnificent stone townhouses, which were now occupied by people, not families, with children in dirty diapers padding around the prostate bodies of adults in heroin stupors and nary a clock nor a calendar to be seen. These people could not keep appointments because they had no concept of day of the week or time of day. 

You can talk about neural tubes until you are blue, but you are never going to change poverty in the inner cities until you really know what that poverty is and does. 

Good intentions are not enough.  Been there (in the 1970's). Done that.

Watch The Wire, Mr. Kristol and trade your bubbly do goodism for a little nihilism. 

Do not think you can change people unless you are willing to control way more of daily life than you can now imagine, and that goes not just for Baltimore, Washington, DC and Detroit. That goes for Baghdad, Syria and Libya.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Immigrants Flooding Across Borders: Sweden vs the USA

 In an article in today's New York Times about the role immigration is playing in Swedish elections, it was pointed out that 15% of people living in Sweden were born outside the country. The figure for the USA is 13%. 

For Sweden, immigration places special burdens because the ways have come recently and in explosions--Albanians after the Kosovo war and now Iraquis and Syrians. And in Sweden, with its cradle to grave healthcare, provisions for maternal and paternal leave after childbirth and other governmental social programs, the cost of these newcomers is born by the government to an extent not seen in the US.
 One political party has said it is time to stop the flow of beggars into the country. 
But the candidate of what is described the "Right/Center" party has said the nation should be open hearted and he avers immigrants are actually good for the country, in the long run. Presumably, he is referring to the demographics:  Immigrant famiilies tend to be young and the Swedish population, like the American population, is aging; there have to be young workers to support the retirees, down the road. Assuming the newcomers become productive workers, eventually, rather than just one more group which needs to be taken care of by those who continue to work. 

 One Swedish voter interviewed said simply, the immigrants simply cost too much. There was no ethnic slur there, simply an arithmetic computation.

And the cost is not shared equally among all Swedes. National government money flows to local towns and municipalities in a way which does not send more money to towns where immigrants are heavily concentrated, and as it turns out, many of the wealthier areas have only small populations of immigrants.  One can imagine, new immigrants do not wind up in Scarsdale, Chevy Chase or Winnetka, but tend to flow toward the parts of Sweden where the ragged people go, to quote Paul Simon.
For centuries, plagues, famine, wars in one country have triggered Exodus from the afflicted area to happier parts of the globe. Those already well ensconced in the happy areas are like the comfortable folks on the life boat and they begin to fear that pulling more people on board will threaten their own welfare.

The most common response by those who fear the less fortunate is that they deserve their fate, are threats and morally culpable for their own misfortune. We certainly saw that in Arizona, Texas and California. Rick Perry and other Republicans spoke of the pestilence, rape and danger which were arriving with those Spanish speaking people flooding across the border. They had a tough time demonizing the children who have been the latest wave, but they did suggest some of the children were randy, rapacious adolescents who did not deserve sympathy, and even the children were diseased, and the Republicans did everything but invoke Ebola virus as what those children were bringing across the border.

In the 21st century, images can be rapidly invoked and for all the repellent images of outsiders, "undesirables" there are also others, which might suggest it might not be so bad to have a few new faces in our country. 

The Roma, pictured above, are among the most difficult group for Westerners to sympathize with--but then, there are some images which might suggest, well, maybe we could accept some of them.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Republicans Discover Birth Control

Sometimes, what you see is not what you think you see. 
Take this photo for example: This gorilla looks pretty happy, despite the fact he is strung up by his arms--is that not a goofy grin on his face?  
But no, that is a dead gorilla and the white hunter leaning on his gun has not actually tickled the gorilla but shot him dead. 
The natives are just part of the safari.  

And so it is with the new Republican strategy to embrace over the counter birth control pills, without prescription "24 hours a day," as the ads for Republican candidates now say.

Actually, the FDA considered legalizing OTC (over the counter) birth control pills some years ago, but Republicans were scandalized.

Of course George Carlin famously lampooned the requirement for a woman to first go to what in his time was a male doctor to get a note to take to a male pharmacist to be granted permission to control her own fertility. He evoked the image of the male pharmacist, sitting alone in his store at night, looking over all the prescriptions for birth control pills--"Oh, I know what you're doing..." But those were different times, sort of.

By the 21st century, birth control pills had a safety record which justified making them over the counter, from a medical point of view.

Making BCP's prescription controlled has been, it must be admitted, an exercise in paternalism on the part of the government. 

But, with the bizarre chimera of our commercialized medical system, neither public health concerns nor individual freedoms are exempt from financial considerations:  If birth control pills are prescriptions, then insurance policies will pay for them (or not) but if they are not, then no insurance company will pay for them--over the counter drugs are almost never covered by insurance. 

So we are back to the Rush Limbaugh narrative: If a woman asks for an insurance company or the government to pay for her BCP's she is asking someone else to pay for allowing her to have sex, which to Mr. Limbaugh's very odd mind, makes her little better than a "slut" because she is asking for someone to pay for her having sex. 

Or, as Scott Brown has read the Republican Hymn Book, for insurance or the government to pay for BCP's makes a woman dependent on government. Women should pay out of their own pockets for BCP's, or risk giving up their independence and self reliance. 

But, there is hope in all this. Democrats have been saying that to oppose birth control or to impede access to birth control only makes unwanted pregnancy and abortion more likely. So if you are really concerned about doing away with abortion, go for birth control to do away with unwanted pregnancy.

Republicans, for their own cynical political motives have finally discovered they can embrace birth control.

Will wonders never cease?

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Solitary Canada Goose, Lost in Hampton

This morning, at Plaice Cove, the Phantom and his dog saw something unusual. The beach is never the same day to day--one morning sea weed will be a foot deep; the next morning the sea weed is gone and rocks cover half the sand; the next morning the beach is smooth as a newly laid asphalt road; some mornings there are clusters of sea gulls, some mornings there are none. 

But this morning there was a solitary Canada goose. (I have been told "Canadian goose" is not proper. It's "Canada goose." Go figure.)  These birds are more common than pigeons in many places, not just New Hampshire, as far south as Maryland. 

But they are always in groups. This goose was alone. No other Canada geese. She was honking and she flew up and around, circling the beach, then came back down and walked disconsolately at the water's edge. 

She struck the Phantom as being distraught, alone, lost. 

Tug, the yellow Labrador, offered no opinion, but he did not chase her, as if out of sympathy for her loss.

The other regulars showed up: the thirty something blond with her yellow dog looked at the goose and said, "Where are her friends?"  Bernadette, the German lady who walks Bella shook her head. "This is not right."  The sixty something woman who walks her chocolate lab, with a gray muzzle, said, "Bad day for the goose." 

A few years ago, a scattering of dead gulls littered the beach and they were followed by a wash up of dead seal pups, followed by a wave of dead adult seals. We all knew something was out of whack. It turned out to be bird flu which killed the seals. Toward the tail end of that epidemic, a deal tuna, all 800 pounds of him, washed up. Nobody could remember ever seeing a dead tuna wash up before.

Rachael Carson once noticed the disappearance of birds and connected this to the use of DDT insecticide. That connection has since been questioned but she did succeed in alerting us to the idea that human activity might damage the rest of the natural world. 

In this case, no human agency is apparently involved.

Hopefully, this goose does not auger poorly for others. 
Even geese must get lost occasionally.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Scott Brown: Secure Our Borders

Scott Brown is currently pillorying Jeanne Shaheen for voting against "Securing Our Borders."  His ads say, "Jeanne Shaheen voted against secure borders."

Which strikes me as something like the guy from the dugout who shouts across the field to his pitcher, who is having a little problem with control: "Just throw strikes!"

As every pitcher I ever knew has said, "Oh, thanks for that!  Like I'm not trying to throw strikes."

Of course, Scott Brown is simply reading from the Republican Hymns and Verses, book. The man has never had an original thought in his life. He is the beneficiary of low expectations. If he can simply sing the hymn, he gets full credit for having a functioning brain. 

Oh, yes, "just secure the borders." If those damn Democrats (rhymes with "rats") would only secure the borders, why, then we'd not have this problem with all these illegal immigrants.  But those Democrats don't want to secure those borders, because they want all those illegal immigrants coming across the borders, because they will vote for Democrats.  All you ever hear from Democrats is sympathy for these illegal nine year olds who are fleeing gang rape,  impressment into gangs and armies, and being swept up into the drug wars and poverty running rampant in Central America.

Fuzzy minded, bleeding heart liberals have been practically inviting illegal immigrants to cross the border.

Never mind, the rich capitalists who are building shopping malls and housing developments, who own restaurants, who own farms are employing these illegal immigrants, once they do get across the border, but let's not blame them, because, well they vote Republican, so they are okay.

And even if we could build a great wall of Texas, they are building tunnels on the Mexican side,  and they will tunnel right under it, and  there is the little matter of travel by sea and air to contend with. If there is green pasture land north of the border, people will figure out how to get there. 

What Mad Dog wants to know is, who are the voters who imbibe this bilge water?

If there is a market for snake oil, you can hardly blame the purveyors of snake oil for trying to make a killing, can you?

Monday, September 1, 2014

On Being Wrong: Isis, Medicare, Government Spending, Securing Our Borders

 Paul Krugman has been on something of a tear about all the economists who predicted the collapse of the United States government and the world economy because the tax and spend Democrats were passing programs which exploded the deficit and the national debt (two different things) and seemed unable to understand that running the government is exactly like sitting at your kitchen table and balancing your check book--if you spend more than you make you wind up in big trouble.

But, as Krugman repeatedly points out, this is not true in the case of the federal government and sometimes, like in the midst of a deep, scary recession, the best thing to do is for the government to spend money and save the economy, which, when it comes back, will settle accounts. We didn't worry too much about running up the national debt during the Civil War or World War II and George W. and the Republicans didn't mind deficit spending during the Gulf War in Iraq, but now they are howling about government programs which will drive us into debt  from which our grandchildren will be digging the country out.

Except, it hasn't turned out that way: Medicare, for example, is not dragging the economy down, and in fact spending on the medical sector is diminishing and Medicare is quite happy and solvent as is Social Security, despite Paul Ryan and Scott Brown and Mitch McConnell and all the Republicans saying it ain't so.

And then there's the Republican hymn book:  Two favorites from this are second psalm ("Yea, we have to secure our border") and the most recent, the thirteen psalm: "We have to crush ISIS and Obama already missed his chance."

But here's the question:  Yeah, like how?

With respect to the border:  Got any ideas how?  Great Wall of China?  Maginot Line?  Berlin Wall?  Ever see a border that was actually "secure?"   The sanctimony of a Scott Brown, who is reading the hymn, is mind boggling. Oh, we have to cut off the flow of these illegals!  Well, duh...But how? No answers from Scott on that one. 

And as for ISIS: So here we went in and destroyed a lot of Sadam Hussein's army, police force and political party and we thought, as soon as we did all that, we'd control the politics and the people left in the dust of that onslaught, but guess what? Didn't work that way in Iraq, or for that matter in Vietnam or in any other land where we just rolled in with a big military shock and awe, and expected to be greeted as liberators with flowers and candy.  So now, ISIS is Mr. Obama's fault. Nothing that Mr. Bush or his party did before is relevant because, well,  that is so yesterday.

And rather than stop and ask, "Hmmm...how much can we accomplish by destroying an Army, if we do not destroy the movement, the hate, the idea which formed that force in the first place?  And, have we ever been successful stomping out fundamentalist types in Islam, or the  Aryan Nation or  the Ku Klux Klan?
Well, I guess we could always throw them all into cells at Gitmo and throw away the key. Gitmo, now that's a real recruitment tool.  What you do, see, is to say we reserve the idea of due process, justice, habius corpus, trial by jury, right to a speedy trial for our people, when they are within the borders of the United States, but if you got someone outside the borders of the United States, well we don't believe in any of that stuff. When we have American CIA or soldiers or operatives working outside our borders, well anything goes. We can torture or kill or do whatever we want. 

Now, I'm not objecting to shooting Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. That was a good idea.  And killing an Al Qaeda leader using a drone, would be okay with me, if we could trust he really is a bad guy, i.e. is plotting to kill Americans.  But there are slippery slopes here.  You don't need to serve a warrant before you shoot a man with his finger on the trigger of a nuclear dirty bomb he has smuggled into New York City. But Gitmo?  

Oh well, all's fair in love and war. 
If only this were a real war.