Saturday, January 31, 2009

power of the corpse

Read a news article today. I am hesitant to link to the original page, for reasons that you'll understand if you've read this entry of mine. It has a picture of a dead man.

Here is the printer-friendly page.

DETROIT -- This city has not always been a gentle place, but a series of events over the past few, frigid days causes one to wonder how cold the collective heart has grown.

It starts with a phone call made by a man who said his friend found a dead body in the elevator shaft of an abandoned building on the city's west side.

"He's encased in ice, except his legs, which are sticking out like Popsicle sticks," the caller phoned to tell this reporter.

"Why didn't your friend call the police?"

"He was trespassing and didn't want to get in trouble," the caller replied. As it happens, the caller's friend is an urban explorer who gets thrills rummaging through and photographing the ruins of Detroit. It turns out that this explorer last week was playing hockey with a group of other explorers on the frozen waters that had collected in the basement of the building. None of the men called the police, the explorer said. They, in fact, continued their hockey game.

Before calling the police, this reporter went to check on the tip, skeptical of a hoax. Sure enough, in the well of the cargo elevator, two feet jutted out above the ice. Closer inspection revealed that the rest of the body was encased in 2-3 feet of ice, the body prostrate, suspended into the ice like a porpoising walrus.

The hem of a beige jacket could be made out, as could the cuffs of blue jeans. The socks were relatively clean and white. The left shoe was worn at the heel but carried fresh laces. Adding to the macabre and incongruous scene was a pillow that gently propped up the left foot of the corpse. It looked almost peaceful.

What happened to this person, one wonders? Murder in Motown is a definite possibility. Perhaps it was death by alcoholic stupor. Perhaps the person was crawling around in the elevator shaft trying to retrieve some metal that he could sell at a scrap yard. In any event, there the person was. Stone-cold dead.
I think that the reporter, Charlie LeDuff by name, covered this in as sensitive and tasteful a manner as could be hoped. He used it as an opportunity to discuss Detroit's homeless, and the ability of the city to continue functioning unphased no matter what happens to them. If you're homeless, damned near anything can happen to you--anything--and even people who supposedly share your situation will be too busy with their own struggles to worry much about you. LeDuff did an excellent job with that, and I think that including a picture of those feet above a plane of ice that you know hides the rest of a man is part of hammering in that we only care because we don't see, or can pretend we don't see.

But I still have issues with the use of images of the dead. If you don't know what I'm talking about, please check out the entry I linked before. Read it here; this'll make more sense if you do. I think that there I explained it as well as I am likely to do.

Here is my question. Do you feel that, considering a debt that comes with viewing images of the dead, that LeDuff has paid his debt? Or has he just used this homeless man's corpse and his suffering to make a political point of his own? Is he taking up the unnamed corpse's cause, or pursuing his own and using the power created by the stranger's death to fuel his own cause?

And here's the really disturbing question for me. Completely aside from considerations of LeDuff's debt and the repayment thereof, what about me? I've seen this image, and I've been touched by the emotional energy of a man's death. I owe him something, but as I discussed in that previous entry... you cannot always know just what it is you owe the dead. By helping people in Indiana get foodstamps and Medicaid, am I helping to repay a man whose death was caused by disregard? Or is that not what's required at all?

Now that the emotional/spiritual energy created by this man's suffering and this man's death is part of the emotional/spiritual energy of my life, what do I owe him for grokking his death in that way? By observing and considering his death in such a way that it has become part of me and my life (something which cannot be avoided now that the photo of his corpse has been reflected in my eyes), I have taken something from him and made it part of myself.

How can I repay it? I don't know what he wants. You can basically never know what the dead want.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Who's Running the Republican Party?

It's exactly who you think.

Blog Rundown!

Stuff I've been reading.

United States "lapsing Into Paganism." I, for one, welcome our new Pagan pervert overlords.

Public opinion on US war prisoner policies: it's not what you think. Should we keep Guantanamo open? Is torture okay? Are we doing it? Should we investigate our leaders for war crimes if we decide that we're doing it?

Russia drops their missile plans because Americans aren't being idiots anymore.

US President adopted into Crow tribe. An older article, but one I just found. Very cool!

Dear White People. An essay that had me pondering for a good few hours.

Being "colour blind" is NOT a solution. Another very good one.

Pres. Obama's Executive Orders

I know that there are people on my F-list who are interested in American politics (whether they live here or not), but don't necessarily know where to look for things like this. So! Here's a rundown of what President Obama has started (at least the most thorough one I've seen, since a lot of places are still too arguing over the Chief Justice garbling the oath, and whether family planning resources help low-income families).

Executive Order Watch

Executive orders from the office of the new President are trickling in at a faster pace now. Here's the rundown so far:

  • Guantanamo Bay must be closed down within a year. Nothing is clear yet about what exactly the government plans to do with the detainees, whose trials have been suspended. Along with Guantanamo, the CIA has been ordered to shut down their overseas network of covert prisons where they've kept suspects in secret custody for months or years. Another order Obama signed created a task force to figure out what to do next.
  • The U.S. Army Field Manual is now the official standard for interrogation for all U.S. personnel; it prohibits waterboarding as well as threats, coercion, and physical abuse. A pretty tight restriction on anything approaching torture, but a source of the Washington Post suggests that there may be revisions to that manual in store, which would re-expand what is allowed.
  • Along with requesting that military judges suspend the trials of the Guantanamo detainees, another order suspended the trial of Ali al-Marri, who is accused of being an al-Qaeda agent and is being held indefinitely as an "enemy combatant." His status and fate remains uncertain as well.
  • All White House officials who makes more than $100k is getting a pay freeze.
  • Executive branch employees are prohibited from taking any gifts from lobbyists. (It's hard but not impossible, sadly, to believe that this wasn't a rule before. I haven't been able to find out if it was or not.)
  • Hiring, firing, and other employment practices in the executive branch must now be made based on qualifications, competence, and experience, as opposed to political connections. (This is thought by some to be a repudiation of how former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez fired a bunch of prosecutors who weren't faithfully doing everything Republicans told them to.)
  • New executive branch appointees may not take part in any matter related to any employer or client that they've worked with during the last two years, or work on any issue area or in any department of government that they lobbied during the last two years. This is intended to stop "revolving door" cronyism, of course, and may affect a lot of Obama's staff. UPDATE: In fact, it looks like the administration may already have to seek a waiver from this rule for William Lynn, nominated to be Deputy Secretary of Defense, because Lynn was a vice-president and Raytheon and now would be involved in budgeting and acquisitions. DOH way to make a rule and break it, in the military-industrial complex no less.
  • Similarly, executive branch employees who leave government service are now prohibited from lobbying the executive branch for two years after they leave or the rest of the Obama administration, whichever is longer.
  • Other officials besides the President *cough*CHENEY*cough* can no longer claim executive privilege to keep executive-branch documents sealed. Bush gave that power to former Presidents and Vice-Presidents as well… oops, can't seal your old records any more! Now, if even the President wants to exercise that power, the act must still be reviewed for constitutionality by the Attorney General and the White House counsel.
  • Obama has ordered new guidelines to be developed for government communication and the Freedom of Information Act to implement principles of openness, transparency, and participatory government.

Sounds good to me so far, although I expect the "up in the air" status of Guantanamo detainees is unlikely to make anyone happy, especially the right wing. Still, for now it means no more hidden prison networks, no more waterboarding, and slightly fewer possibilities for secrecy and cronyism. (...)

UPDATE: According to California NOW the Department of Health & Human Services has confirmed that they have yet to develop guidelines for implementing the "conscience rule" that would allow health care providers to refuse service if they didn't like it. Because Obama's team issued an order halting any implementation of last-minute Bush directives until they can be reviewed, it looks like that rule will not be going forward. I can't imagine the Obama administration would review it and let it continue.

Sources: here and here and here.

Interesting American Culture Article

The War Over Patriotism. Another rather old one, but still! I found this very thought-provoking. It talks about patriotism as defined and valued by Conservatives as opposed to Liberals (at least in general, broad strokes, since obviously the groups aren't homogeneous). Despite the fact that this came up during the summer election season, the analysis is still quite relevant.

Conservatives know America isn't perfect, of course. But they grade on a curve. Partly that's because they generally take a dimmer view of human nature than do their counterparts on the left. When evaluating America, they're more likely to remember that for most of human history, tyranny has been the norm. By that standard, America looks pretty good. Conservatives worry that if Americans don't appreciate--and celebrate--their nation's past accomplishments, they'll assume the country can be easily and dramatically improved. And they'll end up making things worse. But if conservatives believe that America is, comparatively, a great country, they also believe that comparing America with other countries is beside the point. It's like your family: it doesn't matter whether it's objectively better than someone else's. You love it because it is yours. (...)

If conservatives tend to see patriotism as an inheritance from a glorious past, liberals often see it as the promise of a future that redeems the past. Consider Obama's original answer about the flag pin: "I won't wear that pin on my chest," he said last fall. "Instead, I'm going to try to tell the American people what I believe will make this country great, and hopefully that will be a testimony to my patriotism." Will make this country great? It wasn't great in the past? It's not great as it is?

The liberal answer is, Not great enough. For liberals, America is less a common culture than a set of ideals about democracy, equality and the rule of law. American history is a chronicle of the distance between those ideals and reality. And American patriotism is the struggle to narrow the gap. Thus, patriotism isn't about honoring and replicating the past; it's about surpassing it. (...)

Conservatives tend to be particularly moved by stories of Americans showing extraordinary devotion to our patriotic symbols. McCain tells an especially powerful one about a fellow prisoner in North Vietnam named Mike Christian, who stitched a U.S. flag on the inside of his shirt and was brutally beaten by his captors in response but immediately began stitching it again, even with his ribs broken and eyes swollen nearly shut. Of course, any sane liberal would find that story stirring as well. But liberals more often lionize people who display patriotism by calling America on the carpet for violating its highest ideals. For liberals more than for conservatives, there is something quintessentially patriotic about Frederick Douglass's famous 1852 oration, "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?," in which the great African-American abolitionist refused to celebrate the anniversary of America's founding, telling a Rochester, N.Y., crowd that "above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them." (...)

So is wearing the flag pin good or bad? It is both; it all depends on where and why. If you're going to a Young Americans for Freedom meeting, where people think patriotism means "my country right or wrong," leave it at home and tell them about Frederick Douglass, who wouldn't celebrate the Fourth of July while his fellow Americans were in bondage. And if you're going to a meeting of the cultural-studies department at Left-Wing U., where patriotism often means "my country wrong and wronger," slap it on, and tell them about Mike Christian, who lay half-dead in a North Vietnamese jail, stitching an American flag.

And if anyone gives you a hard time, tell him he doesn't know what true patriotism is.
Questions? Comments?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

State Politics Recap

It has occurred to me that not everyone reading who is from Indiana is following our state politics. I'm obviously not going to share any insider information (or at least, I wouldn't if I had any), but if you're following various blogs and whatnot, you'll get something like this:

Indiana has a billion and a half dollars it's been sitting on for a while. Meanwhile, our unemployment is a full point above the national average. Democrats are saying, "Hey, let's use that money we were saving for a time when we'd need it. Because that's now."

are saying, "We may need it more later. Let's continue sitting on it so that we'll still be in the black on paper."

Democrats are saying, "Wait, what, why. We need it now."

Republicans reply, "But we may need it more later, and we'll have spent it all!"

Democrats: "You're damn right we'll need it later. If we don't spend it now."

Republicans: "Uh..... PROPERTY TAX CAPS."

Democrats: "Wait, what?"


Democrats: "Uh... Right. Budget?"

Republicans: "TAX CAPS."

Democrats: "Oh, for Chrissakes."

Mitch Daniels chimes in: "At least we're not Michigan! Or Illinois! GOD THEY SUCK."

Democrats: "So, about that job creation."


Ethics People: "Uh... you can't ask for money to influence bills."

Rep Walorski: D:<



Legislators: "OOOKAAAAY!" =D

Democrats: "Now that we've got that pie thing settled. Jobs are good."

Republicans: "PROPERTY TAX CAPS."

Me: *chucks a shoe at House Minority Leader Bosma on her screen*

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Exception

I have blogged before over here on what I think of the so-called "rape exceptions" in anti-choice legislation. To grab an excerpt:

"Well, they should have thought about that before they started having sex," you might say. It's a common enough argument. If women don't want to get pregnant, they shouldn't engage in risky behavior like sex. Most people will agree that a woman who is raped or molested at a young age is not "to blame" for her sexual activity, and as a result an abortion is okay in these cases.

But here's what this really says. A woman who doesn't choose to have sex deserves the choice of whether to keep an unwanted child. A woman who does choose to have sex does not deserve the choice of whether to keep an unwanted child. What makes this misogynist is that it takes a moral imperative ("good women don't sleep around") and uses it as a framework to give "bad" women fewer rights than "good" ones.
I was reading something that made another point about this exception, and it's here. The author mentions those anti-choicers who're willing to admit that rape is terribly sad but "why should the baby have to pay for someone else's wrong?" She rightly questions just whose wrong we're looking at here, suggesting that the figure blamed is seldom the father who didn't wear a condom, but the woman who "wrongly" took an interest in sexual activity.

And here's an excellent question, one that is asked but seldom by people who seriously offer an answer. What about the woman? Whose choices should she suffer for, and to what degree?
I know, it’s a radical thought, but really: what of them? Why should they have to pay for someone else’s wrong? What about their lives? Don’t they matter a damn bit? Or again, are we just assuming that they are partially at fault for the wrong committed?

Of course, anti-choicers will argue that we’re looking at disproportionate interests/rights. The “baby” has a life; the woman just has “convenience” and her lazy, selfish desire to not have a physical reminder of her traumatizing experience every second of every day for 9 months, not to mention a child created by that rapist at the end of 9 months.

In fact, regaining control after a rape experience really can be about a woman’s life. Thankfully, I don’t know the trauma of having been impregnated as the result of rape. But I do know the trauma of rape itself. And I know, or can read in tons of readily accessible literature, about how rape takes away a sense of control over one’s body. It can, in fact, heavily make one question who that body belongs to.

And anti-choicers want that answer to be the government. In spite of the fact that the right to an abortion after rape really can be about a woman’s life — since a woman may be easily made suicidal over a forced pregnancy as the result of rape, or simply traumatized forever because of it — anti-choicers think that a fetus’ rights overrule it. When forced to choose between the life of a fetus, and the life of a woman (and often thereby her fetus due to simple biology), anti-choicers choose the fetus time and time again.

Once again. The unborn always take precedent for an anti-choicer over the already-born. Whose suffering has worth to you? Whose life has worth to you?

This is why the anti-choice position is not pro-child. It is anti-woman. That's why we don't call them pro-life, because it sure as hell isn't my life they're fighting for, nor is it yours. They'd sacrifice you in an instant if it meant that those dirty fornicating whores get what they deserve, subhumans who should have kept their damn legs closed, or not had that third drink, or not worn that skirt, or screamed a little louder, fought a little harder.

It's not about protection; it's about punishing women who step out of line--a line drawn by misogynist factions of our culture more concerned with keeping women in their proscribed "traditional" gender role than with keeping women safe.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The least of these.

I always did like this passage. It's pretty unambiguous, which is not usual for this book.

"For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me."

Then they also will answer, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?"

Then he will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me." - Matthew 25:42-45

I suppose this is one of the big differences between Jesus and Jeezus, the American folk hero. For some others, see here.

Funny how people are so often willing to "vote their consciences" when it's about denying women access to reproductive control, but they're not willing to do the same when it comes to poverty. Even if they say they believe it's virtuous to help the poor, they vote against such efforts at every turn because they don't want charity to be mandated.

Guess what, guys! If we vote for it, no one's shoving it on us. It is not a measure of your faith and virtue to vote against social services in the hopes that private charities will do the job instead. It's a measure of your unwillingness to do what works to accomplish a goal you claim is important to you.

But if that's cool by you, fine. You're the one who'll be answering for all those times you denied Jesus disability pay, or all those times that you voted to deny food stamps to his family, or all those times you scoffed at the needs of Jesus' children for affordable single-payer health care.

You may not have to answer for the unborn babies that you forced their mothers to bear, but you'd better start figuring out how you're going to talk your way around what happens to those children after they're born, at how little you did to ensure that resources were available for their wellbeing and education. Because "the least of me" doesn't just mean the unborn. There are people around now who need you, and what exactly do you think Jesus would do about it?


Friday, January 16, 2009

Next time I'm having trouble staying awake...

Remind me that, while reading about law-enforcement racism will help me wake up, it will only do so because it pisses me the fuck off. (And lest anybody post here with a comment that this is an isolated incident, I refer you to this article about police brutality so that I don't have to yell at you.)

Gah. Why do I do these things.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

State of the State

State of the State was given tonight.

INDIANAPOLIS - Gov. Mitch Daniels cautioned lawmakers about Indiana's fiscal challenges during his State of the State speech Tuesday night, saying that drafting a new two-year budget this session will be full of hard decisions and unwelcome choices.

But Daniels, sworn in to a second term on Monday, said spending restraints and other actions taken during his first term have left Indiana in better shape than many states and in a strong position not only to weather economic hard times, but make progress.

"Thanks in large part to the people here assembled, we can speak tonight of challenge, but not crisis; issues but not emergencies," Daniels said in prepared remarks.
Thank goodness! Here I was worried that rising unemployment was an indication that we were more than a little "challenged." Thank the powers that be we have Mitch Daniels to reassure us that no matter how bad things get, they're not getting bad for people whose fates weigh in, whose success is connected to mine, and his, and yours.

Seriously, this is the thinking you get from a guy who sees state government primarily as a competition with other states. Indiana can have plenty of jobless, plenty of people with no insurance, plenty of people with no food or stable living arrangements. But that's okay. Their crises are not our measure of our emergencies, and their success has nothing to do with Indiana's certain victory.

It makes perfect sense! They're not important anymore, because Indiana is going to win and if these people aren't gonna get with the game and keep Indiana competitive... well, then I suppose they'll just get "cut from the team," won't they?

And then we won't ever have to think about them again. *contented sigh* Doesn't that feel better?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"States' Rights"

Federalism keeps coming up from people who want a weaker federal government with stronger state governments. They are self-identified "federalists," because to them "federalism" is a code phrase for "states' rights" that (theoretically) carries less baggage from long service to segregationism.

This annoys me, and I feel a need to vent about it. I mean, it's one thing for the meaning of a word to change over time--which is inevitable and not worth fretting over--but it is quite another to totally reverse the definition of the word in the hopes of co-opting its credibility without actually having to like it.

Dear Conservatives,

About the whole "federalism" thing. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

See, according to my East Coast elitist American history classes (with their nasty tax-funded public education curriculum), the USA used to have a Federalist political party, and I'm pretty sure that what you so-called "New Federalists" want is much closer to the Federalist Party's opposition: the Democratic Republicans. Democratic Republicans were the ones who worried that "big government" was going to be a threat to the rights of the people. Federalists wanted a stronger--wait for it--federal government.

I know, I know. Complicated stuff.

But please, guys. If you're going to kneel down to fellate our forefathers in the absence of any original plans, please do it right. This so-called "New Federalism" is the brainchild of Conservatives who must have either flunked history, or hoped everyone in their constituency had.

Stop proving them right. Go read The Federalist Papers, and then decide whether you want to say, "I am a Federalist."

Hugs and kisses,

Your friendly neighborhood social scientist.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mm! War Crimes! :3

The best comment on this particular little gem was best offered over at WashingtonMonthly.

TARGETING CIVILIANS.... When I first saw Glenn Greenwald's piece yesterday on Michael Goldfarb's latest missive, I thought there had to be some kind of mistake. Glenn made it sound like Goldfarb, the Weekly Standard writer and former John McCain aide, had endorsed deliberate military attacks against innocent civilians.

But it wasn't a mistake; that's exactly what Goldfarb argued. Under a headline that read, "Ruthless," Goldfarb commented on an Israeli airstrike that killed a Hamas leader, his wives, and his 12 children.

The fight against Islamic radicals always seems to come around to whether or not they can, in fact, be deterred, because it's not clear that they are rational, at least not like us. But to wipe out a man's entire family, it's hard to imagine that doesn't give his colleagues at least a moment's pause. Perhaps it will make the leadership of Hamas rethink the wisdom of sparking an open confrontation with Israel under the current conditions.

Noting how odd it is to see "the ethics of Osama bin Laden being explicitly adopted by the organs of mainstream conservatism," Matt Yglesias explained, "To be clear, [Goldfarb's] not saying that it's sometimes okay to kill a bad guy's innocent children as part of a military operation directed against the guy. He's saying it's better to kill his children than it would be to avoid killing them."

Cute, dude. I'm sure someone will find some way to blame this little PR nightmare on the "liberal media." Never mind that a "liberal media" would leap on this scratching and tearing, instead of leaving it to bloggers to notice and boggle at the ridiculous shit a guy can get away with saying and still retain credibility.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Europeans Have Arrived!

Lots and lots of people are coming to my blog through this entry about Svedka vodka's mascot.

What gives? Are students in Germany and Switzerland and Greece all being assigned class reports on Svedka's marketing? Is there some news story about it that's got people searching for info about Svedka Girl? Should I be worried that the EU is going to demand I be extradited for trial over... something?

What's up with that? You can totally leave comments. In fact, that'd be awesome. Why Svedka Girl, and why me?