Monthly Archives: December 2007

It doesn’t matter

I’m so sick of seeing early polls, like this from Zogby:

UTICA, New York – Illinois Sen. Barack Obama would defeat all five of the top Republicans in prospective general election contests, performing better than either of his two top rivals, a new Zogby telephone poll shows.

His margins of advantage range from a 4 percent edge over Arizona Sen. John McCain and a 5 percent edge over Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee to an 18 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, the survey shows. Against New York’s Rudy Giuliani he leads by 9%, and against Fred Thompson of Tennessee he holds a 16 point edge.

  Romney Huckabee Giuliani McCain Thompson
Obama Obama leads 53%-35% Obama leads 47%-42% Obama leads 48%-39% Obama leads 47%-43% Obama leads 52%-36%

Remember the 2000 election? Bush was ahead of Gore from practically 1998 until the eve of the election, and still….

Oh, hell, nevermind.

Censorship vs. turning your television off: an early chapter

I got to thinking during my last post, actually, that it always surprises me how the debate about garbage in the media is framed. It usually looks something like this: one side (in Amerika, we call this side the “conservative” side) complains that there is way too much unregulated garbage on TV that is accessible to impressionable young minds. The other side says, well, the First Amendment kind of bars government censorship. Sorry. These two points get repeated over and over again in idiotic three-minute cable segments, as if there isn’t any other solution, or even any other side to the issue. It reminded me of this exchange between Frank Zappa and John Lofton on CNN’s crappy show Crossfire:

First, the thornier side, is about sex. The viewing public loves sex. So, naturally, the racier the sexualization of television, the more viewers you’ll get. Whether in Utah or Los Angeles, people watch complete garbage.

The pro-censorship guys

Then, of course, there’s a powerful section of the population, maybe waning in power now, that wishes to impose what might be described as a neo-Christian (or neo-Judeo-Christian*) morality on the public. John Lofton is an early example. In the 1980s, he was playing the quintessential American 1980s conservative: angry, dumb, beedy-eyed, wearing large-rimmed glasses, and ready to sink his teeth into anyone who dares to disagree with him (which, to him, is probably tantamount to disagreeing with the Bible). Today, he runs a blog after having left the Republican Party because they’re too unbiblical.

It’s said neo-Christians (“Christian right”) have theological motivations at times, though I somehow doubt theology was ever the overarching motivation. If they resemble an earlier Christian movement, it’s the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages—people believed in them, and they believed in Jesus, but not too many people really knew what they were talking about. In the jolly Middle Ages, there wasn’t much in the way of enforcement of rules, but there was a lot of talk about rules. Hell was reserved for pretty serious heresy (or Jews). Like the 1970s-1980s, capitalism and borrowing was the new vogue. The bourgeois become popular in government because they were able to manage finances. The church was a big receiver of income (in the climax of the neo-Christian movement, in the early 2000s, there was a lot of talk of federally-financed, likely unconstitutional “faith-based initiatives”). While this was going, the church backed off from its restrictions on usury, as secular governments found themselves needing to borrow to finance wars and later explorations. It was only in the early modern era that religion surged in violence again (maybe that’s next in the 21st century?).

In any event, neo-Christians weren’t necessarily fundamentalist Christians, and some still aren’t. Most are Republicans, but occasionally there’s a Democrat (Joseph Lieberman) or Libertarian thrown into the mix. Most subscribe to some form of evangelical, highly eschatological Christianity, but some are Catholics or even Jews (Leiberman again, or Bill Kristol). Heck, some are Mormons—witness the recent idiotic speech by Mitt Romney, who preaches religious toleration to a point.

If anything, neo-Christians may not even agree about very much. They agree that abortion should be banned, they agree that federal power can be used to enforce morality (to varying extents), and they agree that at least parts of the First Amendment really shouldn’t have any teeth or no heed should be paid to it at all. In all other ways, they have wide-ranging beliefs, though it often seems otherwise because they’re willing to sacrifice almost everything else over their core issues, allowing other interest groups to fill in the vacuum (this is where people like Kristol and other Republican Party sects like big business come in).

The neo-Christian guys first cropped up definitively in the 1970s, though elements of their theology and even influence certainly can be traced back decades, if not centuries. They were around before Roe v. Wade (1973), though Roe certainly boosted them. Pat Robertson had The 700 Club in the 1960s and The Late Great Planet Earth (by ex-riverboat captain Hal Lindsey) was written before Roe (1970). Less polemical, but also at least on the fringes of that movement, was Billy Graham.

By the 1980s, after hot issues like the Vietnam War and Watergate had cooled down, these neo-Christian guys took Washington and the airwaves by storm. They never had full control of the House and Senate until 1994, but they set the legislative tone from 1980 until 1992, and then from 1994 until 2007. They only managed full control of both the Congress and the White House for most of the period between 2001 and 2006. There was a short lull from late 2001 until early 2003 when Vermont Republican Senator Jim Jeffords left the party and handed control of the Senate over to the Democrats (he decided not to seek reelection).

Regardless, from the 1980s on, neo-Christians set the social agenda, and deferred to other sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory sections of the Republican Party to set the economic agenda. Their power to persuade was unprecedented because they learned to master the airwaves as a tool for spreading memes. Constant, non-stop repetition of their ideas made their ideas popular, even when those ideas were obviously stupid. Ronald Reagan’s moronic economic policies, which we’re still paying for in 2007, sounded great: cut taxes, cut spending, cut regulations, get the government out of our lives, spend a lot on the military (I know, but they don’t quite contradict). Either way, he really only managed to cut taxes and some regulations. Meanwhile, Ronnie had no problems using the federal government to thrust social policy on people: he presided over raised drinking age to 21. Meanwhile, the neo-Christians managed to poison to the ‘L’ word and keep the focus of dialog solely on their beliefs until at least 2005, arguably with a break around 1992 when the mess made in the 1980s and early 1990s was really to much.

Keep in mind, however, this movement was a lot more earnest early on than it was by the 1990s, or even in the 2000s when it was partially eclipsed by neoconservatism.

* I’m just going to stick to neo-Christian as the term, because it’s short.

Is “getting speared” a euphemism for something?

From The New York Times (“TV’s Perfect Girl Is Pregnant; Real Families Talk“):

High school girls here wondered aloud on Thursday why no one was talking about contraception. Parents across the country, on the other hand, commiserated over the Internet about how, thanks to Ms. Spears, they were facing a conversation with their 8-, 9-, and 10-year-olds about sex.

How terrible! It’s absolutely awful for children to understand how to avoid pregnancy before they’re faced with it!

Seriously, maybe Jamie Lynn’s mom, who recently canceled a book on parenting, ought to have had the talk at that age.

And yeah, why isn’t contraception being discussed? Good job, New York Times, you get a cookie.

Of course, none of this means an end to the usual doom and gloom as neo-Puritanical parents and right-wing politicians lament that children are getting pregnant at younger ages (quick: how old was your average girl when she had her first child in 1600s New England?). Why, it’s almost like it’s the television’s fault that these poor little children hear all this disgusting filth about penises going into vaginas, squirting, and coming back out and smoking a cigarette:

“Nowadays, nothing’s safe, not even cartoons,” Diana Madruga, who has an 11-year-old daughter, said as she wrapped up her shift as the manager of a Dunkin’ Donuts here in the Boston suburbs.

Here’s a hint for you, Mme Madruga: turn off the goddamn television! And don’t have your kids read the Bible, whatever you do. There’s filth in there too.

Of course, I’m jumping the gun a little. Only some of this is part of that age-old (that is, going back to circa 1980) shouting match between frightened, goonish right-wingers and the few people simultaneously both courageous and influential enough to stand up for free speech. There is also a hint of an actual social problem here, expressed so eloquently by a 17-year-old:

High school girls who had already had their hearts broken by the all-too-public life of Ms. Spears’s older sister, Britney, known as a hard-partying mother of two, worried that their younger sisters would be devastated by the news — or, worse, that their sisters might think it was “cool” to be 16 and pregnant.

What? Maybe some of the problem here is teenage girls don’t have good role models anymore. Wonder Girl never got pregnant (correct me if I’m wrong).

“She’s the idealistic little girl,” Alicia Akusis, 17, said of the television character Zoey between classes at Concord-Carlisle High School here. “She does perfect in school. Boys like her because she’s pretty, but she doesn’t deal with boys. She’s really smart, she’s really cool, she’s an empowering girl character.”

She’s the “idealistic little girl” who “does perfect in school”? Maybe Concord-Carlisle should work on its grammar curriculum, but I digress.

Anyway, empowering female figures have sex drives too. From the sounds of it, nobody can fairly accuse Jamie Lynn Spears of a moral failing. She was 16 and practically living with her older boyfriend. Uh, yeah, they’re going to have sex, and probably not safely. Mama Spears should have looked up from the typewriter that she was using to write a book on parenting occasionally to spend time constructive time with her daughter. And, oh yeah, maybe not let her live with her boyfriend. Seriously, Mama Spears was so shocked that all she could do was muse that her daughter had never missed curfew, as if sex couldn’t be had before curfew.

Maybe some good could come from this. Nickelodeon could do a docudrama show about teenage pregnancy and postpartum life. Some of the dialog could be awesome, showing what it’s really like when you have an infant. Like, not being able to hang out with your friends, or get boozed up, or whatever 16-year-olds do nowadays. Actually, Nick kind of did have that idea:

Dan Martinsen, a spokesman for Nickelodeon, said Thursday that “Zoey 101” was one of its most popular shows among viewers 9 to 14.

“Nothing about the content, characters or the storytelling on our air has changed at all,” Mr. Martinsen said. He said that Nickelodeon was discussing a special on the issue with Linda Ellerbee, the television journalist who is the host of “Nick News.” “Whenever an issue becomes so prevalent that it’s inescapable,” Mr. Martinsen said, “her show is where we turn to help kids navigate and interpret and understand it.”

And, of course, this Times spiel ends on a note of attempted irony:

Greg Moseley, 18, said he was sick of hearing the name Jamie Lynn Spears. “Why do we care about Britney Spears’s little sister?” Mr. Moseley said. “Why does it make a difference? What does it mean? Nothing.”

“All this stuff is impossible to get away from,” he continued, “unless you go to Alaska and live in the woods.”

Or, turn of your television and skip the headlines about it on the Internet and in the paper. Mostly worked for me, except I guess I sort of just ranted about it.

Sex ed. delays intercourse?

Study: Sex Education Works to Delay Intercourse.” The only thing that makes me doubt it is that Fox reported it.

Also:

[Jamie Lynn] Spears, who turned 16 on April 4 and says she is 12 weeks into her pregnancy, told the magazine she plans to raise her child in Louisiana, “so it can have a normal family life.”

…of eating possum and shagging sheep?

Now you know they had her best interests at heart

This is extremely f’d up (“Heat on Halliburton over ‘gang rape’,” AP, published in The Sydney Morning Herald 2007-12-20):

Jamie Leigh Jones, now 23, said that she was gang raped inside the Baghdad Green Zone in July 2005 while she was working for the Halliburton subsidiary KBR Inc, which has support contracts with the US military.

Jones’ KBR contract however included a clause which prevents her from suing her employer, Poe said, which will likely force her into arbitration, which he described as “a privatised justice system with no public record, no discovery and no meaningful appeal”.

There are many laws that the Department of Justice (DOJ) “can enforce with respect to contractors who commit crimes abroad, but it chooses not to”, Democrat Robert Scott said.

The DOJ “seems to be taking action with respect to enforcement of criminal laws in Iraq only when it is forced to do something by embarrassing media coverage,” he added.

More on what a slimeball Mitt Romney really is

From Frank Rich’s column in The New York Times (“Latter-Day Republicans vs. the Church of Oprah,” 2007-12-16):

Mr. Romney didn’t fight his church’s institutionalized apartheid, whatever his private misgivings, because that’s his character. Though he is trying to sell himself as a leader, he is actually a follower and a panderer, as confirmed by his flip-flops on nearly every issue.

It’s nice that columnists have to do the job of the newsmedia nowadays. This, really, is just one more way that Mitt Romney is a bigot who wouldn’t stand a chance on the ticket of a major party in a civilized country.

(By “institutionalized apartheid,” Rich is referring to the fact that the Church of Jesus F. Christ of Latter-Day Saints institutionalized racism until the late ’70s. Just one more bit of immutable wisdom that, in retrospect, didn’t seem like such a good idea.)

Minutemaniacs: Failing to Stop Immigration!

More immigration madness from Arizona!

Of course, if anybody wants to stop illegal immigration, it’d be easy: just raise the minimum wage exorbitantly for illegal immigrants. That would punish the employers who hire them sufficiently so they won’t be hired. Then, when such workers get hired under the table anyway, enforce it when employees come to the authorities and demand their pay. Illegal immigrants would be doing the policing for the government. The jobs would dry up, and the problem would be negligible.

Of course, concern about illegal immigration isn’t rooted in common sense or concern for American workers, no matter what anyone claims. The root cause is racism, jingoism, xenophobia, ignorance, and stupidity.

Huckabee strikes at more Mitt Romney idiocy

From “Romney Hits Huckabee for Criticizing Bush” (by Michael D. Shear, 2007-12-15) on The Washington Post‘s The Trail blog:

Sensing an opening in his desperate effort to retake the lead in Iowa, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on Saturday pounced on comments by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in which he characterized President Bush’s foreign policy as an “arrogant bunker mentality.”

Campaigning in Iowa, Romney accused Huckabee of sounding more like a Democrat than a Republican.

“It sounds like something Barack Obama or John Edwards would say — not what you hear from someone running for president as a Republican,” he told reporters. Huckabee made the comments in the latest issue of the journal Foreign Affairs.

First of all, Bush does have an “arrogant bunker mentality” to his foreign policy. The fact that Bush still has supporters is just astounding. Who are these people, and who ties their shoes in the morning? The fact that a seemingly intelligent man like Mitt Romney would still support Bush shows how morally bankrupt he is. He’s not presidential material.

However, the odder part is that Huckabee is somewhat right—Republicans and Democrats are often sounding very much alike. But then, let’s not forget that some Democrats thought it was a good idea to “authorize” the smirking chimp to attack Iraq, believing he wouldn’t do it without good reason.

What Democrats, with their spinelessness, don’t understand is that it’s not good to behave like a Republican. Democrats may never really have stood for anything, but pretending to be Republican to win votes while abandoning the people who would never vote Republican is a terrible way to win elections.

I’m not letting the Republican Party off the hook. It is quite possibly the largest, most powerful politically organized scum party on the planet today—sure, it’s possible to point to fascist parties in Europe, but they’re marginal and the result of Europe’s more democratically representative elections. Republicans actually have the power and influence to do terrible things all over the world. It’s the mission and cause of the Republican Party to be destructive—it’s their very nature, not something to be emulated.

Some may say I’m overreacting, but the mentality of the current crop of GOP leaders shows that they don’t belong in power. Indeed, most probably belong in prison. Making people disappear to “undisclosed locations,” unprovoked invasions, torture, and denying habeus corpus (apparently even to American citizens, in some cases) are marks of fascism.

Spitzer gets one right: higher education

A few articles about the future of SUNY and CUNY. The New York Sun is the most critical article, I think. I was surprised Upstate papers didn’t provide more coverage.

From The New York Sun (“Spitzer May Hire 2,500 More Professors“):*

Governor Spitzer’s Commission on Higher Education is poised to recommend to the governor on Monday that the State and City Universities of New York hire between 2,000 and 2,500 additional full-time faculty by 2013.

As the state faces a $4.3 billion budget gap, the commission, appointed by Mr. Spitzer in May, is also expected to recommend spending billions of dollars to fix crumbling infrastructure at state schools and creating an “innovation fund” to subsidize scientific research it says would boost economic development and New York’s status as a research capital.

During an economic downturn, New York is one of the only states in the country seeking to expand its public university system, education experts said.

“These blithe demands for ever more government funds and tuition hikes must be challenged in light of the prediction that student enrollment in the near future will decrease, faculty members are now getting paid more to teach fewer hours, and there are currently twice as many campus administrators as there were in the 1970s,” a former SUNY trustee, Candace de Russy, said in an e-mail. Online education could also undercut the demands for new full-time faculty members, Ms. de Russy said.

The state currently contributes about $1.2 billion to CUNY’s budget, and $3.36 billion to SUNY. The commission is slated to release its final recommendations in June, but university officials are putting more stock in the preliminary report, which can affect the state budget.

So How Do We Get to Berkeley? Spend Big on SUNY, Panel Says” (The New York Times, 2007-12-16):

“For this area to be viable,” he said in an interview in his art-filled office, “the best thing they can do, the only thing they can do, is develop great research universities.”

As the largest and most comprehensive university of the State University of New York’s 64 campuses, Buffalo is a good yardstick for measuring just how far New York has traveled — yet how short it has fallen from Nelson A. Rockefeller’s vision of creating a premier public university system.

With specialties in biomedical sciences and earthquake engineering, it is one of only two SUNY campuses, along with Stony Brook, that belong to the Association of American Universities, an elite group of 62 research universities. But even its national reputation, buzz and research dollars put it nowhere near the ranks of the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

“We certainly don’t have a Berkeley,” said Lloyd Constantine, Mr. Spitzer’s senior adviser, who worked with the commission and visited all the SUNY campuses. “California has more than one. In a state like ours, we could certainly have a couple. Their importance is that they are great schools, and they also lift the entire system.”

California and some other states have invested heavily in public research universities for decades and are not stopping for New York to catch up. Still other states, like Georgia and Arizona, have been pouring money into their public systems to try to rise in the rankings.

SUNY has grown substantially since the system was cobbled together from teachers’ colleges, agricultural schools, and swamps and farmland. Today it has more than 400,000 students at its research campuses, comprehensive colleges and community colleges.

Still, only 55 percent of college students in New York are in public institutions, compared with 79 percent nationally. Higher education draws less than 7 percent of the state budget in New York, compared with a national average of 11 percent.

“Typically, the SUNY board of trustees doesn’t understand what a research university is,” said Stephen B. Sample, who was the president of Buffalo for nine years before taking the same post at the University of Southern California in 1991. “One of the challenges I had as president of Buffalo was to help the board of trustees understand how different these institutions were, that Buffalo was not just bigger, but that it was a different animal, a different kind of institution.”

“President Simpson has done a great deal about making his plan visible,” Mr. Niejadlik said. “Things are happening.” Dr. Simpson, recruited from the University of California Santa Cruz four years ago, has an ambitious expansion plan, with the goal of creating a world-class research center that would help rebuild the region’s economy. The plan calls for new construction, and for growing to 35,000 students by 2020.

His ideas have won critical backing from business. “Until very recently, if you listed the most important priorities for business, the advancement of SUNY would not have been on the list,” said Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, which represents 2,500 employers. Now, he said, there is a recognition that the university “can be part of an economic transformation of this region.”

(The article also expounds that the university system could be seen as a catalyst for revitalizing western New York.)

Report to Urge Sweeping Change for SUNY System” (The New York Times, 2007-12-15):

Warning that New York has “slipped in stature” and that its once-powerful position in national research has “faded,” a commission set up by Gov. Eliot Spitzer is recommending that the state free its public colleges and universities to raise tuition without the Legislature’s approval and to charge different prices from campus to campus.

“New York State’s public higher education institutions face a chronic problem — they have too little revenue and too little investment,” said the report.

The 30-member commission is calling for the state to create its own low-cost student loan program, to clear up a $5 billion backlog in maintenance and construction at its public universities and to hire 2,000 new full-time professors — including 250 academic stars who could bring in research dollars and prestige.

* The Sun article also provides some other interesting stats: “The number of full-time faculty at CUNY is about 6,100, down from 11,300 in 1975, when the university had 250,784 enrolled students, as compared to 225,962 in 2006.” Concerning SUNY: “SUNY currently employs 30,916 full-time professors, which account for about 48% of their faculty, and teach about 75% of credit hours, according to the university’s Web site.”