Monday, February 28, 2005

Not that anyone's asked...

... but my new favorite comicstrip is Candorville. Here's Sunday's.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Work 'til you drop

The whole social security issue is highlighting a lot of issues that haven't been well addressed. Kevin Drum mentions raising the retirement age as a solution to potential SSA shortfalls and has this reasonable reaction:

...people live longer than they did 60 years ago and are both physically and mentally active longer than they were 60 years ago. So why not work longer and retire later?

Answer: because we don't want to. Sure, we could continue inexorably raising the retirement age, ensuring that no matter how much richer we get and no matter how many medical advances we make, we're still working til we drop. We could do that, but we don't want to. Most of us like the idea that we'll have more years of "active retirement" (i.e., "free of chronic functional impairment") than we did 60 years ago.

This brings up something I've wondered about for some time. To wit, what makes a civilization 'advanced'?

If we're talking about standard of living, most anthropologists agree that pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer societies had it better than the average low-skilled worker today. The 'work-week' (the time it took to acquire the necessities of life) was around twenty hours a week, and everyone pretty much took part in whatever bounty was available, as well as shared in the misfortunes of scarcity. This left plenty of time for cave art, developing language and making babies.

When the latter proved too successful, population pressures forced the adoption of agriculture, and it's been pretty much downhill from there. Longer work-weeks, a growing disparity between 'workers' and 'management', and more brutish conditions for the lower skilled increased and accelerated up to the extremes of the industrial revolution.

Yet technology seemed to be our way out the depths of economies based on degrading labor supporting an unworthy leisured class, and so it proved for the past two centuries. Even the least skilled workers could now expect a minimum of two days of leisure a week, and the standard of living of the lowest in society partiallly justified the incredible wealth acquired by the few.

We seemed, for a brief period, to be on our way to an enviable standard of living, wherein you could acquire life's necessities by working fewer than forty hours a week, and the difference between the Haves and the Have-nots were simply how much they paid for their toys.

Thus, my definition of an Advanced Society: one in which no one is required to work more than twenty hours a week to acquire all they need to live. If you had asked me in 1978, I would have predicted that the standard workweek would have been below 36 hours by 2000, and most people would prefer the job that only took 32 hours.

Something happened in the Reagan eighties that warped our sense of what 'advanced' and 'wealthy' means. Whereas most people would agree that working eighty hours a week in a coalmine is no way to have to live, these same people may feel justified in spending eighty hours a week in their law office. If you asked them what they were working for, they might say 'to make partner' or 'to get rich so they can retire from work and enjoy themselves'. But in fact, they are getting some ego-boo out of being 'overworked', obnoxiously calling clients from their cellphones in line at the Starbucks; worse are the people who claim they're doing it 'for their children'. What, so your kids can be idle rich social parasites and have all the fun you never had? Are you mad?

Somewhere along the line, we got sold a bill of goods. We mock the Europeans for their month-long vacations and generally more relaxed attitudes towards 'making it', and reward corporations like WalMart who undermine local manufacturing by purchasing almost exclusively from Chinese prisoner-labor.

What happened to us? Surely 'work until you die' isn't a philosophy we mean to support?

Join the army, see the world...

... and move all its people around like pieces on a chessboard to suit yourself. Read this from Newsfare.

I'm with Ralph on this:

Am I the only one who isn’t happy to learn that the Army will have 3,000 specialists at “internment and resettlement”? What the hell? Three thousand? That’s just an awful lot more interning and resettling than I’m comfortable with.

Unfortunately, too many people are cool with it. Unless it's their tribe being forced onto the Trail of Tears...

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Just when I was wondering what's the point of it all

... the blogging thing, I mean, like where are all the readers, etc, Kevin Drum links to me. For what it's worth, Kevin, I don't think you're a sexist pig. Just another typically clueless male, heh.

I think I'll go paint a picture of a huge pair of Ta-tas. (Ta-ta's?)- [See post "Ha ha ha!" below.]

So yeah, I've been busy...

For my two-three regular readers who wonder where I've been, yeah, I've been kind of busy. I found a place that will actually pay me for brief articles (peanuts per article, but it's marginally better than nothing.) So far in my writing career, I've written:

  • How a Block and Tackle Works
  • What is tao te ching?
  • Common Muscle Pain Relief Medications
  • How to make you own incense
  • How to shrink wrap a gift basket
  • The Benefits and Risks of Yoga During Pregnancy
  • Stress management techniques in the workplace
  • Beauty Tips: How to Make Your Own Herbal Eye Mask
  • Beauty Tips: Natural Sleep Aids
  • Ebay Tips: Advice for Buyers
  • Ebay Tips: Advice for Sellers
  • Simple home remedies for itch relief
  • Crochet Tips: What Are Granny Squares?
  • Alternative Health Herbs: Herbal Medicine to Help Lower High Blood Pressure
  • Home Renovations: How to Repair Damaged Stucco
  • Health: How to Create an Ergonomically Correct Work Space
  • Parenting: When are cell phones appropriate?

I'm also creating the's metaphysics website, which is eating up some time.

But yeah, I'm still around. Would blog more if I thought there was anybody out there...

Ha Ha Ha!!

In case you've missed it, the blogosphere periodically has these moronic little 'where are all the women bloggers?' debates. Here's Lauren's answer.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Peak Oil

Has it already passed? One analyst describes the cliff we're about to fall off of (or may have already fallen off):

The scenario I foresee is that market-based panic will, within a few days, drive prices up skyward. And as supplies can no longer slake daily world demand of over 80 million barrels a day, the market will become paralyzed at prices too high for the wheels of commerce and even daily living in "advanced" societies. There may be an event that appears to trigger this final energy crash, but the overall cause will be the huge consumption on a finite planet.

The trucks will no longer pull into Wal-Mart. Or Safeway or other food stores. The freighters bringing packaged techno-toys and whatnot from China will have no fuel. There will be fuel in many places, but hoarding and uncertainty will trigger outages, violence and chaos. For only a short time will the police and military be able to maintain order, if at all. The damage that several days' oil shortage and outage will do will soon wreak permanent damage that starts with companies and consumers not paying their bills and not going to work.

After an almost instant depression seizes the modern industrialized world, and nation-states break down, the frantic attempts of people to feed themselves, stay warm and obtain fresh water (pumped presently via petroleum to a great extent), there will be no rescue. Die-off begins. The least petroleum-dependent communities will survive best. These "backward" nations will be emulated by the scrounging survivors of the U.S. and the rest of the "developed" world, as far as local food production will be tried - in a paved-over, toxic landscape by people who have lost touch with the land.

But we don't have to worry about that because it's almost time for the apocalypse anyway, right?

Froomkin Live

Dan Froomkin from the WashPost took live questions today. He's pretty funny. Sample:

Albuquerque, N.M.: The abuse of background-only briefings by White House staff constitutes yet another way for this administration to manipulate the media.

I suggest a simple solution: give each of the handful of regular background-briefers his own anonymous designation. Karl Rove, the chief abuser of this technique by all accounts, could be always called "highly placed White House source," while Andrew Card could always be "unnamed West Wing figure." If all of the White House press used this system (a big "if", yeah) we would at least know who's floating the trial balloons and cranking on the rumor mill. Whadya say, Dan?

Dan Froomkin: Having waited a long time for the press corps to overtly revolt against this vile tradition, allow me to suggest another possibilty: What if White House reporters just started anonymously outing the anonymous briefers to bloggers? Just an idea.

Psst. Dan. Over here!

A Pillar of Salt

Making friends wherever they go:

In a contemporary echo of the Lady Godiva legend, anyone living on the route of the presidential motorcade is being discouraged from taking a peek at the 60- to 80-strong column of vehicles conveying the US president. In police leaflets, residents have been asked to keep their windows shut and stay clear of balconies “to avoid misunderstandings”.
"To avoid being shot like a dog, stay within your house. For maximum safety, cower under your bed as the mighty go by."

Monday, February 14, 2005

Family Values, GOP-Style

From today's WashPost:

Maya Keyes loves her father and mother. She put off college and moved from the family home in Darnestown to Chicago to be with her dad on a grand adventure. Even though she disagrees with him on "almost everything" political, she worked hard for his quixotic and losing campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Now Maya Keyes -- liberal, lesbian and a little lost -- finds herself out on her own. She says her parents -- conservative commentator and perennial candidate Alan Keyes and his wife, Jocelyn -- threw her out of their house, refused to pay her college tuition and stopped speaking to her.

Nice. But there is this:

On Thursday, the Point Foundation, a San Francisco-based charity that provides scholarships to students "who have been marginalized because of their sexual orientation," decided to pay Maya's expenses so she can begin her studies at Brown. "Many of the students we support have been disowned by their families because they've been honest about who they are," said the foundation's executive director, Vance Lancaster. "Maya's situation is especially poignant because of her father's position, but it's a situation that happens every day to hundreds of kids across the country." This year, Point has received more than 1,200 applications for about 40 scholarships.

Valentine's Day readings

On the Op-Ed page of today's NYT, some interesting articles on SVD...

First one on the origins of the day. Choice snippet:

In the Christian hierarchy of respectable womanhood, the virgin ranked highest, the widow next and the wife last. The church upheld the authority of men over their wives, but husbands took their lumps too. One medieval church pamphlet tried to encourage young women to take vows of celibacy by warning them that marriage would drag them down "into the thralldom of a man, and into the sorrows of the world," locking them to a husband who "chideth and jaweth thee and mauleth thee as his bought thrall and patrimonial slave."

Then a very depressing one about how kids kill married romance dead.

In many marriages, erotic love has been supplanted by what The New Yorker once called "the eros of parenthood." Up to 20 percent of couples now report having sex no more than 10 times a year, qualifying them for what the experts call "sexless marriages." Many mothers freely admit to preferring their children's touch to their husband's, without regret or shame.

Where did our love go? Look no further than the adorable little girl on the cover of this month's Parents, clutching a huge, red-sequined heart in her chubby little hands. According to a recent report by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, children are a "growing impediment" to a happy marriage.

Eeeek. Go read, they're interesting.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Weirder and Weirder...

... the 'Jeff Gannon' story, that is.

Now we find out the pseudonymous uncredentialled shill pimping for the White House has registered domains for a collection of websites that appear to be pimping military studs to gay guys... MediaCitizen has the compendium of stories coming out on 'Gannon'.

The DailyKos is all over the 'Gannon' connection to the Valerie Plame outing; see link for a fascinating and detailed chronology of when and where 'Jeff Gannon' appears.

Now Congresswoman Slaughter asks Bush some pointed questions:

According to several credible reports, "Mr. Gannon" has been repeatedly credentialed as a member of the White House press corps by your office and has been regularly called upon in White House press briefings by your Press Secretary Scott McClellan, despite the fact evidence shows that "Mr. Gannon" is a Republican political operative, uses a false name, has phony or questionable journalistic credentials, is known for plagiarizing much of the "news" he reports, and according to several web reports, may have ties to the promotion of the prostitution of military personnel.


I was already concerned about what appears to be an organized campaign to mask partisan propaganda as legitimate news by your Administration. That we have now learned this same type of deception is occurring inside the White House briefing room itself is even more disturbing.

That is why I am asking you to please explain to the Congress and to the American people how and why the individual known as "Mr. Gannon" was repeatedly cleared by your staff to join the legitimate White House press corps?

You think she'll get an answer?

Memo to 'Jeff': if you want to register domains that your conservative friends might find, well, not in keeping with their (*kaff, choke*) Values, may I suggest you use a service like, where for a nominal fee, they will register your domain privately, so that blogging busy-bodies visiting WhoIs will only be able to discover that the domain was registered by GoDaddy, and all your contact information will be protected. [I was not reimbursed in any way for this gratuitous plug for GoDaddy. Damn it.]

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Welcome to Loudoun County, Gateway to the 19th Century

Ah, LoCo VA, my home... Here's what's happening, according to today's WashPost:

The Loudoun County students who staged a play over the weekend about a high school football star's homosexuality heard some gasps, along with expressions of support, during their play's two-day, modestly attended run at Ashburn's Stone Bridge High School.

Now, thanks to a high-decibel dust-up over freedom of expression and values, student writer-director Sabrina Audrey Jess's one-act play, "Offsides," has a dramatically expanded audience.

Del. Richard H. Black (R-Loudoun) e-mailed his supporters claiming that, in the play, "two male students engaged in a homosexual kiss onstage" and that public schools were "being used to promote a homosexual lifestyle." His son-in-law, Loudoun County Supervisor Mick Staton Jr. (R-Sugarland Run), followed up with a missive of his own, warning of the play's disturbing "indoctrination." On Sunday, activists blanketed Loudoun churches with fliers decrying the production.

Here's how the local delegates talk to the widely-read WashPost (same link as above):

"Within our public schools, there is a tendency to encourage homosexual activity, to portray it in a cute or favorable light," Black said in an interview yesterday. "This is a considerable health hazard right now. If we encourage just one child to experiment and contract the HIV virus, then we have done an enormous disservice to our children."
For contrast, here's the hissy fit Black threw to the little local paper, LeesburgToday:
“When you have two young fellows kissing one another, that’s a pretty bizarre kind of conduct in a school play,” said Black. “We’ve got these boys trying to be a little naughty on stage. It’s sort of their way of sticking a lighted cigarette butt in people’s eyes and I don’t think that’s what our taxpayers are looking for when they fund our schools.”
... and bizarrely:
“The taxpayers pay for our schools and the taxpayers do not want homoerotic sex acts to take place on the stages of our school plays. [emphasis mine]”

Unfortunately, Del. Black isn't alone in his nuttery; he is joined by fellow hysteric School Board member Robert Ohneiser, who says:

But when you’re dealing with minors the introduction of sexually-explicit materials [by adults] is in the criminal section. All the sudden we’re in a whole different realm here. It raises the question of motivation. If it’s motivated by a staff person. If we find out that the drama director is part of the National Organization for the Increased Awareness of Gay Rights, I’m going to ask for criminal charges.
An implied kiss is now "sexually-explicit materials"? Are these guys sick, or what?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

It's called 'a shill'

From the Bostom Globe, via Newsfare:

The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his website.

Jeff Gannon calls himself the White House correspondent for, a website that says it is "committed to delivering accurate, unbiased news coverage to our readers." It is operated by a Texas-based Republican Party delegate and political activist who also runs, a website that touts itself as "bringing the conservative message to America."


Now, the question of how Gannon gets into White House press conferences is coming under intense scrutiny from critics who contend that Gannon is not a journalist but rather a White House tool to soften media coverage of Bush. The issue was raised by a media watchdog group and picked up by Internet bloggers, who linked Gannon's presence in White House briefings to recent controversies over whether the administration manipulates the flow of information to the public.

It's called a 'shill', boys and girls, and all the great con artists use them. A friendly plant in the audience; the 'client' who claims that really is great-uncle Ruben's voice issuing from the bogus medium, the 'cripple' healed by the faith healer, the cohort who actually wins the rigged shell game. Nice to know that Karl Rove studies the classics.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Welfare Reform, taken to the extreme

From Germany:

A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing "sexual services'' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year.

Prostitution was legalised in Germany just over two years ago and brothel owners – who must pay tax and employee health insurance – were granted access to official databases of jobseekers.


Under Germany's welfare reforms, any woman under 55 who has been out of work for more than a year can be forced to take an available job – including in the sex industry – or lose her unemployment benefit. Last month German unemployment rose for the 11th consecutive month to 4.5 million, taking the number out of work to its highest since reunification in 1990.

The government had considered making brothels an exception on moral grounds, but decided that it would be too difficult to distinguish them from bars. As a result, job centres must treat employers looking for a prostitute in the same way as those looking for a dental nurse.

I know how to change this situation in a heartbeat - just have someone open up a male brothel and advertise a few openings. When it becomes clear that the men would be expected to service -all- clients (regardless of gender), I think you'd see the legislature stepping in (in an emergency session, no doubt). Demeaning and humiliating women is one thing, but the Master Gender must be protected.

Gitmo-izing comes to the US

When Jessica Serafin enrolled in a charter high school, her mother signed a form allowing administrators to paddle her as punishment.

But by the time a summer school principal paddled her last June, Serafin was already 18 and legally an adult.

Now she's suing the School of Excellence in Education, San Antonio's largest charter school, alleging it was wrong for the principal to paddle an adult student without her consent. She says the beating she received for leaving campus to get breakfast was so severe she had to go to the emergency room.


"This case is not about a crusade against corporal punishment," said Dan Hargove, her attorney. "It's not a crusade against charter schools. ... This case is about three adults holding down an adult female and beating her with a wooden paddle so bad that she ended up in the hospital."

Story here

Legal adult or not, when is it ever appropriate for three adults to hold someone down so someone can beat them with a stick? Outside the armed forces, I mean...

Oh. I see. Texas. Never mind.

More scary news

Half of all U.S. bankruptcies are caused by soaring medical bills and most people sent into debt by illness are middle-class workers with health insurance, researchers said Wednesday.

The study, published in the journal Health Affairs, estimated that medical bankruptcies affect about 2 million Americans every year, if both debtors and their dependents, including about 700,000 children, are counted.

"Our study is frightening. Unless you're Bill Gates you're just one serious illness away from bankruptcy," said Dr. David Himmelstein, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who led the study. "Most of the medically bankrupt were average Americans who happened to get sick. Health insurance offered little protection."


Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a Harvard associate professor and physician who advocates for universal health coverage, said the study supported demands for health reform.

"Covering the uninsured isn't enough. We must also upgrade and guarantee continuous coverage for those who have insurance," Woolhandler said in a statement.

She said many employers and politicians were pressing for what she called "stripped-down plans so riddled with co-payments, deductibles and exclusions that serious illness leads straight to bankruptcy."

Story here.

So. If having health insurance doesn't protect you from bankruptcy in the event of serious illness, what's the point of insurance at all? If it doesn't, you know, 'insure'.

When are people going to admit that single-payer is the only reasonable approach to health care in a 'first-world' country?