Saturday, May 24, 2008

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Remember when the Communist Party - CCCP strode the earth like a colossus? When its machinations through the COMINTERN both inspired and terrified literally hundreds of millions of people? It's a little sad to see them now exhorting the masses to... boycott a movie:
Members of Russia's Communist Party are calling for a nationwide boycott of the new Indiana Jones movie, saying it aims to undermine communist ideology and distort history.


Communist Party members in St. Petersburg said on a web site this week that the Soviet Union in 1957 "did not send terrorists to the States," but launched a satellite, "which evoked the admiration of the whole world."

Moscow Communist lawmaker Andrei Andreyev said Saturday "it is very disturbing if talented directors want to provoke a new Cold War."

And don't get Comrade Andreyev started on James Bond, unless you're willing to tolerate a massive uptick in gadget-fueled international spy capers.

I Hate Versus for not being on basic cable

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Have you ever tried to follow hockey using gamecenter? It sucks....

late game rally anyone?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

2008 General Election TV Guide synopsis

Can the ruthlessly efficient GOP slime machine tear down Obama enough to compensate for the fact that McCain at times doesn't seem to be the most astute politician?

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kobe, Consent, and Credibility

It's funny that Dave should invoke Kobe Bryant today, as I was dealing with some of the very issues that his case raises this morning at work. I help facilitate a program that trains students to be informed and supportive peer allies for survivors of sexual assault and relationship violence. Today we were training our university's Orientation Leaders, the fine folks who have signed on to spend their summer shepherding the incoming first-years through the two-day testing and indoctrination re-education welcoming ritual required of all new students. Generally speaking I enjoy leading these workshops, but today's session was a little odd.

The students were exactly what you would expect from a group hand-picked by administrators to represent the institution: outgoing, engaged, talkative, opinionated, and thoroughly, scrupulously "normal." Typically the training attendees are a self-selected group of students who already have an interest in feminist/gender issues generally and interpersonal violence in particular. For this bunch, however, the training was mandatory, which meant we were starting from a very different place. This was readily apparent in both their reactions to the information we presented and the (many, many) questions they asked.

These kids learned a lot of what they "know" about sexual assault from Kobe and, more immediately (especially given our proximity), from the Duke lacrosse case. To say that they had deeply internalized and unexamined rape myths would be a huge understatement. Don't get me wrong: It was obvious that many of them took seriously the idea of being an ally and they wanted to learn how to be supportive. But it was equally clear that they were torn as to which was the bigger, more relevant, or scarier issue: the prevalence of sexual violence in our society (and on our campus) or the "epidemic" of false reporting.

That women routinely lie about being assaulted was an undercurrent that ran through all parts of our discussion. We talked about the legal definition of sexual assault, and it was apparent that several young men saw the law as a "trap" -- a maze of technicalities that could be exploited by vindictive women to "get them." We talked about reporting options and resources for survivors, and their reactions seemed to indicate a belief the legal and student judicial systems were titled in the favor of survivors. There was a palpable fear of men (the real "victims") being hauled into court or slapped with a no-contact order or kicked out of school. We talk about some scary stuff for sure; I guess my fears just lie elsewhere in this whole discussion. It's not like I don't know these attitudes exist, but this was still an eye-opening experience.

Media coverage of high-profile rape cases also has deeply ingrained the idea that a victim's credibility is always at issue. Our job in these trainings is to help participants be supportive, nonjudgemental listeners who can help steer their peers toward the appropriate campus resources. But the questions and scenarios that this group raised returned again and again to the issue of determining if the person who was hypothetically disclosing to them was telling the truth. Where's the proof, they wanted to know? How are we supposed to verify these stories? And how do administrators or authority figures determine the veracity of the stories they hear? How can they be sure that someone is not lying about being raped just to move to another dorm room on campus? How can they be sure that a stalking victim seeking a no-contact order against a fellow student is not just "out to get them?"

[What I find totally vexing about the whole idea of "proof" is that this concern only goes one way. They demand a certain standard of evidence, yet completely disregard empirical data that doesn't square with their worldview. We give them FBI statistics about the very low level of false reporting in rape cases. Their response: "I don't care what the statistics say; we all know that people (read: women) make stories up all the time." Where is the evidence to support this? On our campus last year there was one reported case of sexual assault. ONE. Various campus agencies took 31 additional "blind reports" where a student disclosed an assault but did not wish to go on record or file charges. This is on a campus of more than 20,000 students. Where is this epidemic of lying and scheming? If women on this campus are "crying rape," they certainly aren't doing so with authorities. Where is the evidence? Where is the proof?]

One last thing that came up today, and which revisiting the Kobe case only underscored for me, is how much confusion there seems to be around the issue of consent. This is baffling to me. Is it really such a radical notion that sex should be consensual and that consent should be clear and explicit? In his settlement statement Kobe admits that he "now knows" that sex with his accuser was not consensual. Help me out here, someone: Is it really that hard to tell whether or not you have consent? And if it's not clear, is it really that big a deal to clarify somehow?

I had a really sweet and earnest kid today who was clearly struggling with this. He got completely flustered and said to me, "It sounds like you're saying that unless you stop and ask permission for everything you do with someone in bed, it's rape," as if he were imagining that the law (or humorless, sex-hating feminists like myself) required both parties to sign a permission slip for every sex act. Do these people not communicate with their partners at all? Can they really not tell the difference? Or does this just get back to their fear that consent actually doesn't matter at all in a culture where women are just going to lie about it later?

And don't even get me started on the issue of alcohol and consent. When we alert them to the fact that state law stipulates that someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs can't legally give consent, they go ballistic. Which I guess is understandable, given that the hookup culture which predominates today's college social scene makes unplanned, often random, drunken encounters the norm. They really are not at all prepared to face, much less to assume responsibility for, how risky their behaviors actually are. What I find amazing is that the fear focuses not on the chance that alcohol introduces/heightens the risk that something might happen to someone against their will, but rather that alcohol might be used as "an excuse" to "get someone in trouble." (Again, not to minimize the potential damage that a false rape report might do to a young person and their reputation...but where is the data that backs up this fear? How many hundreds of drunken hookups happen every single weekend on our campus alone? And how many times has this resulted in a guy's life being "ruined" by morning-after regret? How many men on campus have been disciplined or expelled -- or even investigated or tried? Who is holding them accountable or making them "prove" their innocence? Where are the numbers to back this up?)

At any rate, today confirmed for me that Kobe is, indeed, a role model to young people. And they have thoroughly internalized the "lessons" that he has taught them about sex, rape, consent, and who is a "victim." Thanks, Kobe!

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2008 NBA MVP!

I haven't been able to get into the NBA playoffs. Other people have been, though. Apparently, I'm one of the few choosing to watch hockey instead (go Red Wings!). I seriously think it's all the scoring. Whether or not the ball goes into the hoop seems to be completely random in the sense that defense doesn't seem to have anything to do with it. It's up the shooter. Anyway, I find it hard to get all worked up about. I'll turn in my Good American credentials at the door.

It might also be this, which I've blogged about before. A few weeks back, the NBA was all in a tizzy because Maverick Josh Howard admitted that he smoked a little maryjane in the off season. This is a baaaad thing. Yet, a couple of weeks after that, the NBA gave its Most Valuable Player award to the rapist Kobe Bryant.

If I am not mistaken, the NBA would like me to believe that Josh Howard is a black sheep, what with all his drug taking and law breaking. Howard's father left his family when he was born. He was born bowlegged and had to have his legs broken below the kneecap twice (in order to straighten them) before he turned two years old. Bad man.

Kobe Bryant's father was a basketball player. He grew up wealthy and traveled the world. Oh yes, and he raped that woman. Kobe Bryant is the poster child of the NBA.

Small Businessmen of the World Unite!

While I agree with Wobblie that any defeat for Mannix is a victory for, well, everyone but Mannix, my jubilation is tempered by the fact that the guy who won the Republican nomination is one of these guys running as a "small businessman." There are few things in American politics I hate more than the small businessman trope. You know, where the (usually) Republican candidate pledges to take the values of Main Street to Washington. Frugality, hard work, Kiwanis Club membership.

I cannot understand why people buy into this argument. Can they not see that the skills needed to run a small business might be completely different than the skills it takes to run a multi-trillion dollar international organization? Isn't this obvious? I don't know exactly what Mike Erickson, the man who got the Republican nomination, does for a living, but it looks like he found an inefficiency in a market and figured out a way to make profit for himself by exploiting that inefficiency. That he's very successful at it only means that either it was a rather large inefficiency or that he's really exploiting the hell out of it. Either way, not sure how this skill translates on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Besides, is Washington not already crawling with the small businessman? Are the fine folks of the Oregon 5th (the Fightin' Fifth!) thinking that maybe what Washington needs is one more small businessman and that will finally end the control of the people who don't understand hard work, penny-pinching, and the value of networking through artificial social interactions disguised as charity events?

I will say this about Mike Erickson, though. If the rumor that he drove his ex-girlfriend to Portland and paid for her abortion is true, then I have to give him that. Too many men would have ditched the woman completely or thought that a $800 check absolves them of responsibility.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I don't know about you, but even a continental landmass away, knowing that Kevin Mannix got beat makes me smile.

America the Beautiful

I don't know why I chose this topic as my first post. Maybe something about Wob's manifesto...

Good Americans need to stand up and demand accountability from public officials. Specifically, by calling for investigating, charging, and prosecuting all those who participated in, concocted bogus legal justifications for, and ordered the torture of any human being. I just read over at the Center for Constitutional Rights about how the latest "20th" Hijacker was tortured.

"The torture techniques approved by Donald Rumsfeld for use on Mr. al Qahtani include:
• Beatings
• Severe sleep deprivation combined with 20-hour interrogations for months at a time
• Threats of rendition to other countries that torture
• Explicit threats made against his family, including female members of his family
• Strip searches, body searches and forced nudity, at times in the presence of female personnel
• Sexual humiliation
• Humiliation by forcing him to bark like a dog, dance with a mask on his face, and pick up piles of trash with his hands cuffed while he was called “a pig”
• Denial of the right to practice his religion, including prohibiting him from praying for prolonged times and during Ramadan
• Threats to desecrate the Koran in front of him
• Attacks by dogs
• Forcible administration of frequent IVs by medical personnel during interrogation
• Being placed in acute stress positions for hours at a time
• Being placed in tight restraints repeatedly for many months or days and nights
• Exposure to low temperatures for extended periods of time
• Exposure to loud music for prolonged times
• At least 160 days of severe isolation"(source: here and here)
The US continues to hold prisoners in Guantanamo, abu Graib, Bagram, and other undisclosed sites, and allegations of torture abound. This treatment is not limited to the GWOT, but also extends to the treatment of "illegal" immigrants in concentration camps in Texas and other states. The NYT recently ran a series of pieces on the treatment of foreign nationals by ICE agents, the lack of medical treatment, and even the use of "anti-anxiety" drugs. We treat our own prison population (we beat even China) with very little regard, allowing routine rape, and other brutality to occur. Meanwhile, back at the ranch so to speak, the torture president is plotting his next battle with Iran.

What does this all mean?
In addition to prosecuting those involved, we must demand that our government adhere to the restrictions placed on it by the constitution and the various treaties that we have ratified regarding human rights and humane treatment.
Not a controversial topic you say? Who doesn't want these things?
Unfortunately, there is little evidence that Americans are strongly opposed to these tactics, and there is much evidence to support the opposite argument (see: LOU DOBBS)

The patriotism of anyone who defends the rights of (insert latest demon) is immediately attacked. IMO to be a good American is to defend the constitution and adhere to its limits on government, while fighting to expand democratic participation.

I look forward to joining this blog.

p.s. Best Wishes to Ted for a positive outcome.

p.p.s. Good Luck to both candidates in today's primaries.

Vote and a Haircut

I voted today. Hooray!

Living on the left, my votes are not too hard to guess, especially since I have been sporting an Obama for President shirt since 2006.

The real race in Oregon is for the Democratic nomination for the US Senate between Steve Novick and Jeff Merkley. I'll go ahead and issue the standard caveat that both men are fine candidates and I am sure both will give Smith a run for his money in November, but there is no doubt that I hope to jeebus that Novick can pull out the victory. Novick is a dedicated Dem activist with a fiery streak and a willingness to talk out of turn every now and again. Merkley is the choice of the DSCC and has been seen as the "safe" choice, with a proven legislative record and all that.

Early on, Novick was the only Dem willing to run for the nomination. As a series of high-profile Dem politicians declined to run, there was an increasingly frantic search for a "name" candidate who would run. In the meantime, I saw Novick speak at our union convention and I was hooked (ha ha!). He not only said all the right things, he didn't say the wrong things. He didn't call for an expanded manufacturing base. He didn't call for tax cuts for the "middle class." And, most importantly, he didn't call for Democrats to put aside "distractions" and focus on issues important to "working families."
For those of you not in the modern labor movement, "issues important to working families" is code for focusing only on "pocketbook" issues and leaving behind such distractions as civil rights for gays, African Americans, or women, gun control, the War (unless it is discussed specifically as a drain on the budget), and all other social issues.
That Novick didn't say any of these things was a huge plus for me and, of course, meant he was unelectable and the scramble to find a real candidate was on. In the end, the Speaker of the Oregon House, Jeff Merkley, was willing to be the sensible alternative and I think it was expected that he would crush Novick, especially after picking up the endorsements of the sitting Governor and Big Labor. We on the left were sort of resigned to backing the lefty candidate in the primary and then switching over to the less dynamic candidate in the general. That Merkley would do everything in his power to distance himself from the left in order to attract the all important Portland-suburb-moderate-woman vote was as disheartening as it was inevitable.

But Novick used his head start exceptionally well. Rather than trying to mitigate all of his positions that put him at the margins of mainstream politics, he seemed to embrace them. Nothing exemplified this as well as his use of his hook. Novick was born without a left hand and uses a hook. He embraced this fact early by making his main campaign slogan, "A Fighter with a Strong Left Hook." He garnered national attention with his (first?) campaign ad.

His "Beer with Steve" campaign, wherein he toured the state and held fund raisers at bars, was also brilliant in that it seemed to challenge the idea that he was some crazy-eyed liberal fire-breather who would be a disaster for the party. Instead, he put himself forward as the kind of guy who might sit in a bar and say all the things you agree with. A regular Joe. (Contrast this with Hillary "Shot-and-a-beer" Clinton.) Voters seemed to respond, as money rolled into the Novick campaign and little was heard from Merkley. Although, to be fair, he was working behind the scenes to rack up those endorsements. Early polls put Novick far ahead and we began to ask ourselves if it was possible that Novick could win this thing.

Merkley has run the classic front-runners race, despite lagging in the polls. He's got his endorsements. He has tried to make Novick out to be a far-left looney. He has attacked Novick for "attacking" his fellow Democrats (wrap your head around that one). He argues that Smith is really afraid of him, not Novick. He puts out ads like this:

While the Merkley camp is touting his comeback in the polls and his momentum, they cannot escape the fact that polls have the race a dead heat, with a significant number of undecided voters.

This is the race I'll be watching election returns for. To paraphrase Pattyjoe, I want to believe that the Democratic party can nominate someone like Novick. If we can pull this off, there's no telling who we could elect or what we could do. For christsake, it might even mean that we could stop settling for the lesser of two evils and actually be excited about who we vote for and what we can do.

And now I am off to get my hairs cut.

Monday, May 19, 2008

I'm sure you're all wondering why I've gathered you here today

I suppose that it's inevitable that these questions would come up: why us? Why now? All of us have individually cultivated little plots of the blogosphere to varying degrees of satisfaction. Why slough off the comforts of our own little blogs for the wild and wooly world of group blogging?

First and foremost, we're doing it because we're Good Americans, and Good Americans know how important it is to be productive. And trying to keep up a blog solo every week is a lot of work. But keeping up a blog among four or five people? Easy street, and we're able to split the time savings of our efficiency up so that each of us can catch up on Hogan's Heroes re-runs (and if I might further digress, why hasn't this little bit of television history received the Hollywood blockbuster treatment yet, eh?). So we're Good socialists secularists feminists leftists Americans! Yeah! Fuck yeah!

On top of that, we're all friends who have been reading each others' blogs for years, and so we finally got the good sense and realized it would be fun to start a group blog - plus, we could read all of our writings in one place, rather than having to refresh four different pages, thus circling us back around to point #1 and further establishing our credibility as Good Americans.

So what's in it for you, dear reader? A couple decades of fancy book learning; small insights on big events; scatological humor; rants, rants, rants!; sober analysis; a therapeutic laugh; 5 parts idealism, 3 parts pragmatism, 2 parts cynicism; culture vultures; mountains out of molehills; and copious Simpsons and Star Wars references.

At the very least, you can tell all of us to go fuck ourselves in one place (ref. point #1). And if that's not what's Good about America, I don't know what is.

Group photo

waiting for things to happen

very soon...

and in pleasant company.

Almost There