Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Congratulations, It's a Thing!

I am not a traditional person. I am interested in ideas that break down existing social models. I am a firm believer that some things that we take for granted are simply arbitrary and should not be followed just because "that's what you do".

But this is fucking stupid. Not because it's different, but because it's stupid.

Here's the short version for those who don't feel like clicking: A young couple in Sweden have not revealed the gender of their baby...who is nearly 3 years old.

Their concern seems to be that gender roles are social constructs and that letting people know what little "Pop" is would make people treat Pop in the way proscribed for tots of whichever gender Pop is, therefore destroying Pop's impressionable little mind.

Okay, I understand this to a certain degree, but it's really not that big of a deal. You can treat the child in a gender-neutral fashion if you like, but there's only so much you can control other people.

And they seem to undermine their own argument by not just dressing Pop in gender-neutral clothing but by allowing Pop to wear dresses some days and pants others. What do they expect those other people to think of their little girl in the dress? How do they think they'll act?

It seems that this whole process just makes a much bigger deal out of the kid's gender than it really should be, which would have the exact opposite effect of the one intended by the kid's parents.

People treat black people and white people differently too. But you can't just wish this away and blur the lines, hoping that people won't notice. Look how well that worked out for Michael Jackson. They just ended up talking about it more.

Apparently, they'll reveal Pop's gender when Pop is ready to do so. I'm sure we all can't wait for Pop's coming-out party when s/he is no longer ashamed of his/her own genitalia, whatever it happens to be. I didn't care before. Now I do. Congratulations, dummies.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Where Did You Hide the Drugs, Honey? Never Mind

Well, it's nice to know that the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't think it's appropriate to strip search 13-year-old girls based on hearsay. Hooray for us.

But, wait. The decision was 8-1, which means somebody thought it was okay. Guess who? Yep. Long Dong Silver himself.

Get a load of this sound legal reasoning.

"Redding would not have been the first person to conceal pills in her undergarments," [Thomas] wrote, "Nor will she be the last after today's decision, which announced the safest places to secrete contraband in school."


Okay, first off, this is not a legal argument. It's a practical one. And Mr. Strict Constructionist is not supposed to concern himself with such things. You can be a criminal and still have your rights violated. And telling people their rights is not the same thing as inviting them to break the law.

Second, does he really think that the vast majority of miscreants has never thought of hiding things in their underwear before? Or that everything's going in there now that everybody knows no one's going to look? Is every guarantee of privacy to be considered just an opportunity for abuse? If so, we have a lot of work to do, because once everyone realizes that no one is going to look in their freezer without probable cause, they're going to be hiding lots of decapitated human heads in there. And the kids will all be walking funny because their inviolable underpants are going to be so weighed down with drugs, weapons and illegal immigrants.

This is an utterly fascistic statement on Thomas's part. I hope he comes to realize that some day.

Lastly, he actually accuses her of being guilty in his choice of words. He doesn't say "nor would she be the last". He says "nor will she be the last", implying that she actually did hide the (non-existent) pills in there. They just didn't look hard enough, apparently. It took me a few reads to even notice it, which makes me think that using the correct word in the first part was meant to deflect people from noticing the second part. I wouldn't put it past him.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dumb Letters: I'm Not Rude, You're Boring

This letter (the second one on the page) bugs the heck out of me on two very different levels. It's in response to a bit about just how rude it is to be diddling with your name-brand smart-phone device during a business meeting. Read letter first, read me gripe later.

If listeners are pulling out their BlackBerries at a meeting, speakers should take it as a signal that they need to improve their communication skills. It is the speaker's responsibility to be concise, show his or her commitment to the topic and reach out to make a connection with each listener in the room.

Making an impact in a meeting doesn't just happen; the speaker needs to work at it.

Too many executives get caught up in what they're saying that they don't think about the impression they're sending out by how they're saying it. No wonder listeners are tuning out and turning on their BlackBerries.

Okay, first off, rude is rude. I shouldn't have to, but let me say that again with italics and bold and - what the hell - all caps: RUDE IS RUDE. I don't care if the speaker is as boring as the TP(X)611. If you have a meeting scheduled from 12-1, then you can pick up your messages at 1:01. End of story. If you even have one of those things in the meeting, you may as well just say "fuck you" to the speaker and be done with it. Obviously, your time is much more important than anyone else's and you shouldn't deign to be in this meeting with these low-lifes who bothered to show up and meet you in person rather than ping you on your little toy from their secure undisclosed location, which is probably the Starbucks on Broadway and 51st. Get over yourself.

Second gripe: this is another self-serving letter, a close relative to yesterday's dumb letter. But in a way, more pernicious. Guess what the letter-writer does for a living? Here's what it says under her name.

The writer is a speech coach.

Ha! You know, I probably could have told you that without even reading that tidbit. Of course, she can't make any money off of people just having common courtesy. So it's obviously the speaker's fault. And hey, she can help! For free, I'm sure. This is essentially an advertisement for herself, published gratis by our pals at the NYT. Congrats, fellas. Either you're complicit or you've been had.

And what great logic. Next time I'm at the movies and I'm bored I'm just going to whip out my banjo and start hollerin' some folk tunes. Nobody else will mind. After all, it's the filmmaker's responsibility to keep me engaged. If they can't, well, it's no wonder the banjo comes out and "Come Home Bill Bailey" takes over. What else am I supposed to do? It can only lead to better movies.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

You-Must-Really-Think-We're Dumb Letters: The Cost of Health Care

Some people say that numbers don't lie. Others say "There are lies, damn lies and statistics."

I say that numbers don't lie, people do. Which places me squarely in the middle of those two sayings. That's just like me.

Here's a lovely letter about health care costs from a chap at the Pacific Research Institute, as published in today's New York Times. (By the way, the PRI's website touts the organization as "promoting individual freedom and personal responsibility". Guess where they're coming from.)

A recent study that I conducted for the Pacific Research Institute contradicts the majority opinion registered in your recent poll, namely that “government could do a better job of holding down health-care costs than the private sector.” Across nearly four decades, the opposite has been true.

The institute’s study compares the cost increases of all health care nationwide apart from the two flagship government-run programs, Medicare and Medicaid, with Medicare’s cost increases. Since 1970, Medicare’s costs — even without the prescription drug benefit — have risen 34 percent more per patient.

The government has done a far worse job at holding down health care costs.

Hmm, notice anything missing there? I do. Monsieur notes that Medicare/Medicaid costs have risen at a higher rate per patient compared with what I'm assuming is a national average. (He doesn't say exactly what the comparison number is.) But it doesn't say what the actual cost is for each.

Is this important? Let's say I get my broccoli at Sam's Government Produce for $1.50. You get your broccoli at Max's Corporate Fruit and Veggie Stand for oh, $90.00. Forty years later, the price at Sam's has gone up to $10.50. Wow, a 600% increase! That's way more than the mere 50% increase at Max's, where you're now paying just $135.00 for your broccoli. So Max clearly knows how to keep his costs down, right? Right?

But wait, there's more. This "study" goes back to 1970, which means that about half of the data come from a period before managed care became the standard in the 1990s. Hardly a fair comparison. Coincidence? Uh-huh. I'd like to see the numbers from, say, 1995 on.

Sit down. We're not done here. This also doesn't take into account the quality of the care. Insurance companies hold down costs, as the first letter-writer in the NYT link notes, by denying care to existing patients and by charging giant deductibles that dissuade people from seeking treatment in the first place. Oh yeah, and by not even covering people who might actually need the coverage (i.e. sick people). So, a large and costly segment of the population is not included in the study for the writer's "good guys". Here's a surprise: sick people cost more to treat than healthy people. Who'da thunk?

This attempt at "research" is a joke. It's a level below a damn lie.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bork Doesn't Seem to Know Beans

Jesus effing crapdoodle, Robert Bork is out of his mind.

Here's a little Q&A with him from this week's new-and-improved(?) Newsweak.

The highlights? You're going to love this one. It's a gem.

Q: As it's currently composed, this is sometimes called a conservative court.
A: I don't see it at all. It's a very left-leaning, liberal court.

HUH? Rub your eyes, pinch yourself and read it again.

And here's another bit that didn't make the print edition but is in the online Extended Dance Mix of Stupid.

[T]he court has moved so far to the left that any correction back to the proper central position would look like conservative activism to some people.

Holy shit. I don't know what to say about that. Except holy shit.

We are more fortunate than ever that this nutjob isn't on the Supreme Court. Things are bad enough already without someone who thinks that the most reliably reactionary court in U.S. history has somehow strayed way to the left. Yowza.

Newsweek rightly called this tidbit "The View from 1987", because this dude is living in the past.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sarah, Plain and Simple-Minded

Sarah Palin can't even accept an apology properly. Is it possible for this idiot to comment on anything (anything?) without saying something that's either a) self-serving, b) factually wrong, c) immaterial, d) conservative red meat or e) some combination of the above?

So Letterman makes a stupid joke. Not in the best of taste but no worse than some things that were said on late-night TV during last year's campaign. But she got plenty of publicity last year. Now she needs to work harder to get her face out there more on her own. So she takes a joke about her and her stupid family (yes, I said stupid and I mean it) and tries to make it about "all young women" and "rape". It couldn't possibly be just about her and the poor choices she and her family have made.

The guy apologizes. But this is too easy a way to end the news cycle. She needs to keep it going. So she hammers some more. He apologizes again, which I think was totally unnecessary and played right into her media-grubbing little hands. The apology is so humble, obsequious even, that it would be virtually impossible for her to do anything but accept it graciously. (Which may have been Letterman's secret plan all along, come to think of it.) And does she?


Here's the first part:
"Of course it's accepted on behalf of young women, like my daughters, who hope men who 'joke' about public displays of sexual exploitation of girls will soon evolve."

Okay, that's not really what it was about, but that's fine. As good as we could have expected from her. Then she goes on:
"Letterman certainly has the right to 'joke' about whatever he wants to, and thankfully we have the right to express our reaction. And this is all thanks to our U.S. military women and men putting their lives on the line for us to secure America's right to free speech -- in this case, may that right be used to promote equality and respect."

What the...? Can you not just accept an apology without bringing the troops into this? What the hell do they have to do with anything? Are they in Iraq and Afghanistan right now because our U.S.-installed puppet governments there are somehow threatening to come over here and shut down our media and our legal system, silencing all who may exercise their 1st Amendment rights? How exactly are they doing that? Was somebody there posing a threat to our constitution? Argh!

And that last bit about promoting "equality and respect". Is that like when she promoted equality by calling people in small towns "the real America", essentially saying that we city and East Coast types were somehow inferior? Or when she promoted respect by saying that Barack Obama was "palling around with terrorists"?

Go away, you stupid, ignorant Barbie doll.

Friday, June 12, 2009

It's the Only Thing That's Free in the Sports World

The Los Angeles Lakers had no business winning last night's Game 4 of the NBA Finals. No business. People say this kind of thing all the time. "Shoulda done this... Shoulda made that... Shouldn'ta let 'em do the other thing..." But really. No business. The game was over.

Here's the situation. You need this game to tie the series at two games each. Your team has a three-point lead and possession of the ball with fifteen seconds left in the game. You pass inside to your big man who gets fouled in the act of shooting with 11.1 seconds left. Game over? Game over.

Now, all the big man has to do is make one of two free throws to make it a two-possession game and end it. Said big man is a 50% free throw shooter. Which is terrible. But really, just make one and we're done here.

Big man misses both. Okay, still we have a three-point lead. The only way the other guys can tie and send the game to OT it is to make a three-pointer. How do you stop that? Well, good defense is one way. Another way is to foul the other guys before they get into a shooting situation. Duh. Worst case scenario: they make two free throws and you get the ball back and then they have to foul you blah blah blah and then the clock runs out.

So what happens? They inbound the ball. You get back on defense. Your guy guarding the man with the ball doesn't foul him but sets up to defend two feet behind the three-point line! Guess what happens.

There is simply no excuse for losing this game. None. The Magic should be ashamed of themselves. Even with their atrocious free-throw shooting (they missed fifteen overall and seven in the fourth quarter alone) they still had the game locked up and they played stupid. Stupid stupid stupid.

I can't even watch the rest of this series.

Which, it looks like, will now have just one more game.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Great Moments in Advertising: Whiten Your Teeth with Photoshop

Check out this lame excuse for an ad. Apparently, these people have yellow teeth.

Okay, either these people are also afflicted with serious jaundice (in which case, their teeth are the least of their worries) or these images were tinted yellow. I'm guessing the latter.

Learn how to use Photoshop, people. You could have focused on just the teeth, if you'd just read a little teensy bit of the instructions. They're under "Help".

Oh, and I'm pretty sure the second photo is supposed to be white. (The teeth, that is.) It doesn't look all that different from the first one.

"That's the Way I Was Raised"

Could we please retire this phrase? And it's variant "that's the way I was brought up"?

All this really means is "I don't have to take responsibility for my opinions or actions. It's all my parents' doing. Therefore, you cannot challenge me on it. I couldn't be bothered to examine whether this opinion/action/personal hygiene method was proper, ethical or legal on my own."

Some of us were "raised" by good people. Some of us were raised by assholes. Some of us were raised by good people who just weren't all that smart. Or maybe were a bit behind the times.

Please feel free to give your parents whatever credit they have coming. But no matter who you were raised by or how, please take responsibility for your own views and modus vivendi. If you can't do that, you shouldn't be taken seriously.

Thank you.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Dumb Letters: I'm Not Paying for That Either

From today's NYTimes, a response to an editorial concerning a potential tax on soda and other sugar-based empty-calorie drinks.

What happened to personal responsibility? What happened to parental responsibility? When did taxation become the best solution to any problem? Is the federal government the only entity in our country that can raise children now?

This is just another idea on how to raise money for state-sponsored health care with a fig leaf of a reason to do so. Let’s try removing soda machines from our schools, providing healthier school lunches and ensuring that our gym classes are financed. There are plenty of commonsense things that can be done to achieve healthier progeny, alas not many that simultaneously finance health care.

Hmm. Looks like this isn't a person who really cares much about this issue. It's just a knee-jerk anti-tax response.

Let's begin with the opening statement. We've got four rhetorical questions. Questions 1, 2 and 4 are the standard libertarian mantra that we're all responsible for our own lives and government should just butt the heck out, cultural forces be damned. But these are a bit of a smoke screen for Question 3, which is basically "stop taxing me". For anything. Ever.

How do we know this is the real issue? Let's go to paragraph 2, wherein the writer gives us some other "ideas" on how to reduce obesity in children. (I should point out that, contrary to the suggestion by the writer that these are original ideas, almost all of them are suggested in the editorial about which this letter was written.) So, if government doesn't have solutions to our problems, why are you suggesting them? Who's going to kick the soda machine vendors out? And how do we make up the lost revenue when they do? And how, pray tell, do we propose to finance those gym classes? Surely not taxes. Taxes are bad, in case you haven't heard.

The writer probably has a 12-Coke-a-day habit and isn't interested in having to shell out a few more bucks to feed his habit. The fig leaf is on this writer, who is so against "socialized" health care that any tax on anything that may be used to provide it in any form must be seen as bad.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Man Killed by His Own Reputation, Sez NBC News

This is not a post about the abortion debate. It's a post about language and how its subtleties can distort truth.

Dr. George Tiller was murdered yesterday. He was a provider of abortions and was somewhat controversial for providing late-term (but legal) abortions. Although it is suspected that he may have performed some later-than-legal abortions.

This is how NBC Nightly News reported on the murder.

Did you catch it? It was right at the beginning. "His notoriety cost him his life." Not a bullet. Not some crazed person who didn't agree with what Dr. Tiller did. Dr. Tiller himself caused his death. This is an irresponsible use of language.

I guess if I go murder Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld they'll have a news report saying that they were magically killed by their own notoriety. I'd have nothing to do with it.
No matter what you think of this man and his actions, he did not kill himself and he did not bring his death upon himself. He was murdered.