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Isms and schisms

Barbara Kingsolver in Pigs in Heaven tells a Mayan story about hell and heaven that summarizes what bothers me about the talk of racism and sexism running through this political season.

A group of people sits around a large bowl of soup, but they can’t eat it. The only spoons they can use are magical ones with immensely long handles that can’t be touched anywhere except at the very end. The people try every possible contortion to empty the soup into their mouths, but the handles are just too long. All they accomplish is to spill soup everywhere and slowly starve to death, tantalized by the aroma.

There is also another group of people with the same bowl and the same spoons. But these people are well fed and happy. They’re not even trying to feed themselves. They use the long-handled spoons to feed each other.

Barack doesn’t need to address racism, first and foremost. He’s not a racist, and he’s not the one who needs to change to cure the condition. In this election, whites (of any sex) are the ones who need to understand racism. Hillary shouldn’t be the one addressing sexism. She’s not a sexist, and she’s not the one causing the problem. Men (of any color) are the ones who should be worrying about sexism.

Instead, we’re fighting for ourselves instead of each other. The sad thing is we don’t have any alternative. Once one person starts, everyone else can either settle for being a second priority, or make the mess worse by also fighting for themselves. Once it starts, there are no good choices. That’s got to be the essence of hell.

Technorati Tags: Obama, Clinton, election, racism, sexism, politics, current events

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A moral story for the weekend

I am not big on chores. You could say I’m microscopic on them. So when I see something like this

sow's thistle growing in the gutter at my house

my attitude is pretty much to find something else to look at. I mean, actually cleaning out the gutters just because there’s whole plants growing in them …. I wouldn’t want to do anything overhasty. But life goes on, even in Southern California where it never rains, and sooner or later something happens.

So one day when I’m sitting in the garden, looking at other things besides the gutter, I hear a whirring noise above my head.

Anna's hummingbird collecting thistle down from the plant growing in the gutter

It’s nesting season for the hummingbirds, and suddenly as far as I’m concerned sow’s thistles can grow wherever they want.

Which brings me to the moral of this story. Don’t do your chores. Avoiding them works much better.

I’m off to Anza Borrego for the weekend to gawp at wildflowers.

Technorati Tags: hummingbirds, nesting

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A stopped clock tells the time

I’ve decided Joel Stein said something interesting. No, wait, hear me out. The LA Times’ so-called standup comedian in print may have so little depth that you wouldn’t get your feet wet if you walked through his soul in flipflops, but as a card-carrying jerk he can give us a chance to understand the mindset.

At first I just laughed. It didn’t seem blogworthy. But it continues to make me chuckle quietly to myself, so I thought I’d share it with you.

On March 14th, Mr. J. commented on the Spitzer fiasco. He did this by calling a high-end LA escort to find out what goes on. The very first thing he points out in the article is that he, Mr. J., doesn’t need to buy it.

The roughly $1,000 an hour that Spitzer paid for … was not … to guarantee secrecy. … And the exorbitant rate wasn’t a premium for weird or talented sex. … What Spitzer was really buying, she said, was [that] Emperors’ Club VIP … makes you feel very emperor-y.

“It’s like a five-star hotel,” she said. “If you call someone from the Yellow Pages, it’s very businesslike. It’s not a ‘girlfriend experience.’ ”

Men, she explained, don’t just want sex. They want a girlfriend experience. Or at least the part of the girlfriend experience in which she pretends to be fascinated while you talk about yourself. So more like a first-date experience.

The thing that’s funny is if they were talking about women they’d say, “Women want love.” Can’t say that about men, though. Not allowed. It has to be about sex. And, obviously, if you can’t even admit what you want, there’s no way to get it.

That’s the other thing that struck me as funny: That Joel Stein should be the one providing proof of what Portly Dyke) and I) and others have been saying forever: men are damaged by sexism at least as much as women.

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I have a hard time even writing about the news from Tibet. To many people in the US it’s some faraway place which is the pet project of a few effete actors. It is way more than that. It is unique in the world, but not because it’s beautiful. Most of the planet is beautiful. It’s culturally extraordinary, but that’s not unique either. Tibet has become a test for the world because of who the rest of the world is.

I’ll begin at the beginning. My own interest in Tibet began years ago. I majored in ethnobotany as an undergrad. (Yes, I know. Weird. It was known as a “Special Concentration.”) My senior thesis was on the Tibetan pharmacopoeia, and I chose that country because it’s medicines and practitioners had a legendary reputation in Asia. That’s saying something, considering that the competition is China and Indian Ayurveda. And yet, unlike its huge neighbors, very little was known about which plants were actually used. I set off to identify as many as I could. Read more »

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Keep your eyes open

I’m glad Mustang Bobby reads Bloody Woolly Kristol so I don’t have to. But I can just feel a progressive meme building, and that bothers me.

It goes like this. “Some wingnut thinks A. Therefore A is not true.”

The logic nerd hat envelops me like the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts. Just because a wingnut — Rove for instance — says something does not make it true. The opposite also holds. Just because some wingnut — Kristol for instance — says something does not make it false.

Progressives have been falling into the second fallacy a lot. Wingers make a big deal out of the Middle Eastern mistreatment of women, so it must not be a real problem. (The truthful take would be to agree regarding mistreatment, but to point out that their racist hypocrisy bulges out because that’s the only sexism they ever worry about.) Progressives ridiculed worries about the SPP. As far as I can tell by following Chet Scoville’s links, the SPP had to be okay because the anti-immigrant hysterics didn’t like it. (Again, the truthful take would be to point out the real problems with both the SPP and the anti-immigrant hysteria.) Now it could be Obama’s turn. There must not be anything wrong with him because Kristol says there is.

Yes, Kristol is a whiny little wannabe. But the evidence about Obama is not good. He makes beautiful stirring speeches, and motivating people is an important function of leadership. But what he’s done is work with the coal industry for liquefied coal fuel subsidies, help the insurance industry gut Illinois’ universal health care attempt, used one vote out of dozens to pretend there is a big difference between him and Clinton on Iraq, and so on through a near-endless list. (Actually, maybe there is a big difference between him and Clinton on wars of aggression. I’ve never heard her making off-the-cuff remarks about bombing Pakistan.)

So, sadly, there’s an element of truth to Kristol’s nonsense. Obama is making a lot more out of himself than he should. That’s like saying he’s a politician. The only real thing Kristol punctures is the desire to believe that seems to motivate many Obama fans. No, Obama is not a big change. Yes, he’s a right-of-center Illinois pol. So what? If you feel he’s a better choice than the other pols, then you vote for him. But he is a pol. We’re supposed to be the reality-based community, so let’s face that.

Crossposted to Shakesville, where commentary is accumulating….

Technorati Tags: Obama, Kristol, election, 2008

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Recent poll: Clinton wins

SurveyUSA poll of Mar 6: Clinton wins against McCain, 276 electoral college votes to 262. (Map below modified from NYTimes report on 2004 election results. Clinton: blues. McCain: reds.) Survey-USA has the best track record this election season of predicting primary results.

One thing that struck me about this is that Obama did well in a number of states which are unlikely to vote Democratic in the general election. Clinton did well in states that have the electoral college votes to win the election. She also has some chance of putting Texas in the Dem column, although I’d consider that a long shot.

But by far the biggest thing that struck me about it is that Clinton and Obama are both more or less even with McCain. It’s mindboggling that so many still want to vote for the anti-people party, but that’s not my point right now. Nor is currently significant whether they’re ten electoral college votes ahead or behind. What’s important is that Obama is in that position after kid gloves treatment in the media. It’s been so over the top, it even made it to Saturday Night Live. Clinton is still beating McCain after a hate-fest.

The BS about how “Hillary can’t win” could have come straight from Rove’s playbook. Attack people on their strengths, and destroy your biggest opponent first. (Notice that they started with Edwards.)

(Click here for larger image. Opens in new window)
states color-coded by the Mar 6 2008 Survey-USA poll predictions for the general election, and the Clinton-Obama results of the Dem primaries superimposed

teal: over 10% difference in favor of Clinton, Dem primaries in these states won by Clinton

turquoise: up to 10% difference in favor of Clinton
turquoise: primary won by Clinton (except PA)
bluish: primary won by Obama
PA primary not held yet, polls C:55% O: 36%, in Dem column in survey
WV primary not held yet, in Dem column in survey.

dark red: over 10% difference in favor of McCain
dark purple: Dem primaries won by Obama
only AZ in this category won by Clinton

lighter red: up to 10% difference in favor of McCain
purplish: Dem primaries won by Obama
grayish red with turquoise square: Dem primaries won by Clinton
grayish red (MT, NE, SD, IN, NC, KY, OR): primaries not held yet

ochre: states perfectly tied in the poll. Dem primaries in these states won by Clinton.

Crossposted to Shakesville, where there was much commentary….

Technorati Tags: Hillary, Clinton, election, 2008

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Dolphin Rescue (Not what you think…)

This is one of those feel-good stories that just lights up my day. (It’s night here, but you know what I mean.)

NZ dolphin rescues beached whales.

… The pygmy sperm whales had repeatedly beached, and both they and the humans were tired and set to give up, he said.

But then the dolphin appeared, communicated with the whales, and led them to safety.

The bottlenose dolphin, called Moko by local residents, is well known for playing with swimmers off Mahia beach on the east coast of the North Island. …

swimming dolphin with one of those dolphin smiles

Technorati Tags: dolphins, whales, interspecies, communication

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Violating the Law

The Second Law, that is. This should not be possible unless you add energy to the system. For instance, if there were a giant fan in Los Angeles, blowing their so-called air out to sea.

view of the coastal ocean with a dirty plume of LA air that should be blowing inland

But there is no giant fan.

I saw this while hiking northwest of LA, and it’s not the first time I’ve seen it. This is what the plume of LA pollution normally does. It’s not a matter of ground and upper level winds either. The pollution is near ground level and so was I, going from sea level to about a thousand feet up a coastal mountain.

How does dirty air move out into the ocean against the wind? How? This is really bothering me. If anyone knows how this happens, tell me!

Update: a commenter on this post at Shakesville suggests what I think may be the answer:

OK, maybe…
The polluted air is denser and lies along the ground. Ground drag doesn’t allow it to move as readily as the cleaner, eastbound air above, which thus moves across the top of the smog bank and, being cooler, sinks, displacing the polluted air, which moves west because it is blocked by the coastal mountain range to the east.
cory | 03.11.08

Technorati Tags: pollution, inversion, convection, Los Angeles

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Gulf War Syndrome and chemicals connected (duh)

I can’t say I’m surprised. I’m mainly wondering why it took 17 years….

From the BBC:

There is evidence linking chronic health problems suffered by Gulf War veterans to exposure to pesticides and nerve agents, US research has found. …

These were an anti-nerve gas agent given to troops, pesticides used to control sand-flies, and the nerve-gas sarin that troops may have been exposed to during the demolition of a weapons depot.

“Convergent evidence now strongly links a class of chemicals – acetyl cholinesterase inhibitors – to illness in Gulf War veterans,” Dr [Beatrice] Golomb [the committee’s chief scientist] told Reuters. [Published in my favorite journal: PNAS, but no link yet.]

The real kicker is, of course, “unlike the most recent conflict in Iraq, the ground conflict during the 1991 Gulf War lasted only a few days, she added.” And in those few days, one third, one third, of the soldiers acquired lifelong conditions.

George’s Folly has lasted how long now?

Technorati Tags: gulf war syndrome, chemicals, acetylcholinesterase

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