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September 28, 2010

Elmo Kicks Some Serious Butt

Via BOQ, apparently the Blog Princess spoke too soon:

"The man who was wearing the Elmo costume was already in the store when the suspect entered the store and was physically aggressive towards customers and staff," Winter Park police said in a statement. "The suspect in this case suffered broken fingers and was taken to the hospital where he would receive treatment for his injuries and undergo a mental evaluation. The man dressed as Elmo was the victim in this incident and was not injured."

Who knew Elmo was such a stud muffin?

Posted by Cassandra at 02:45 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

This Week's Inflammatory Debate Question

Are parents who object to seeing Katy Perry in a low cut top on Sesame Street "prudes"?

gal_sesame-street_katy-perry_2.jpg

Wow. Really? Seems a bit harsh.

I'm not sure how we got from "consenting adults should be allowed to do X in the privacy of their own homes" to "parents who object to having their preschoolers exposed to X on a show designed for the 5-and-under crowd are censorious prudes", but I suspect it has something to do with the elimination of boundaries.

When my sons were that age, my husband and I were still trying to teach them the finely nuanced distinction between showing strangers your kneecaps in public and showing them your rear end. I freely admit that in a world where cartoon pink pigs performing stripteases on stripper poles are considered appropriate educational fare for the toddler set, the notion that there might be some value to voluntary restraint seems unbearably quaint.

Gotta indoctrinate kids early before the irrational fanaticism has a chance to set in, I always say. On the other hand, when even the NY Daily News thinks you're overdoing it, maybe there's a bit of jiggle room in there somewhere?

Posted by Cassandra at 12:34 PM | Comments (78) | TrackBack

PSA

Ewwwwwwwww....

Suddenly, the bedbug has competition for pest of the year.

Farmers in Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states are battling a pest whose appetite has left dry boreholes in everything from apples and grapes to tomatoes and soybeans. Stink bugs have made their mark on 20 percent of the apple crop at Mr. Masser’s Scenic View Orchards here. Other farmers report far worse damage.

“They’re taking money out of your pocket, just like a thief,” said Mr. Masser, flicking stink bugs off his shirt and baseball cap as he overlooked his 325 acres, a few miles south of the Pennsylvania border. “We need to stop them.”

No one seems to know how. Government and university researchers say they need more time to study the bug, which has been in the United States since about 1998. Native to Asia, it was first found in Allentown, Pa., and has no natural enemies here.

Some people noticed an increase in the stink bug population last year, but all agreed that this year’s swarm was out of control. Researchers say the bugs reproduced at a faster rate this year, but they are unsure why.

“These are the hot spots right now, but they’re spreading everywhere,” Mr. Masser said. “They even found them out in Oregon.”

Populations of the brown marmorated stink bug — different from the green stink bugs that are kept in check by natural predators here — have been found in 15 states, and specimens in 14 other states, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:35 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

September 27, 2010

Weird

I wonder: does this phenomenon explain (even partially) the much touted rise in female political candidates?

A new study explores a phenomenon called the "glass cliff," in which female leadership becomes more desirable during times of uncertainty. Previous research has found that when women attain leadership positions, they are more likely to be asked to take over organizations in crisis.

Researchers gave test groups information about fictitious companies, some of which were in crises. They found that women were more likely to be selected than men if the company was struggling. The reason seemed to be that stereotypically female characteristics were suddenly valued when everything went to pot: interpersonal qualities such as being "intuitive" or "aware of the feelings of others."

I wonder whether this has anything to do with women being more risk averse than men? Maybe during times of uncertainty, people prefer a leader who isn't going to rock the boat or try anything radical but when things are going well, they are more likely to put risk takers in charge?

What do you think?

Posted by Cassandra at 03:00 PM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Feminization? Or Bad Parenting and Low Expectations?

Whilst doing some reading for an article I'm writing, I ran across the following stunner in an article lamenting the supposed feminization of schools:

... it is boys’ aggressive and rationalist nature—redefined by educators as a behavioral disorder—that’s getting so many of them in trouble in the feminized schools. Their problem: they don’t want to be girls.

Take my tenth-grade student Brandon. I noted that he was on the no-pass list again, after three consecutive days in detention for being disruptive. “Who gave it to you this time?” I asked, passing him on my way out.

“Waverly,” he muttered into the long folding table.

“What for?”

“Just asking a question,” he replied.

“No,” I corrected him. “You said”—and here I mimicked his voice—“ ‘Why do we have to do this crap anyway?’ Right?”

Brandon recalls one of those sweet, ruby-cheeked boys you often see depicted on English porcelain.

He’s smart, precocious, and—according to his special-education profile—has been “behaviorally challenged” since fifth grade. The special-ed classification is the bane of the modern boy. To teachers, it’s a yellow flag that snaps out at you the moment you open a student’s folder. More than any other factor, it has determined Brandon’s and legions of other boys’ troubled tenures as students.

Brandon’s current problem began because Ms. Waverly, his social studies teacher, failed to answer one critical question: What was the point of the lesson she was teaching? One of the first observations I made as a teacher was that boys invariably ask this question, while girls seldom do. When a teacher assigns a paper or a project, girls will obediently flip their notebooks open and jot down the due date. Teachers love them. God loves them. Girls are calm and pleasant. They succeed through cooperation.

Boys will pin you to the wall like a moth. They want a rational explanation for everything. If unconvinced by your reasons—or if you don’t bother to offer any—they slouch contemptuously in their chairs, beat their pencils, or watch the squirrels outside the window. Two days before the paper is due, girls are handing in the finished product in neat vinyl folders with colorful clip-art title pages. It isn’t until the boys notice this that the alarm sounds. “Hey, you never told us ’bout a paper! What paper?! I want to see my f**king counselor!”

Wow. Where to start with this?

When did understanding one's place within a social hierarchy (hint: it is teachers and not students who run a classroom), learning to follow directions and comply with rules, not disrupting a group endeavor with constant demands for attention, meeting deadlines and not blaming others for one's own mistakes become "feminized"?

These are all skills that used to be taught in the first grade. That a 10th grader should be unable to demonstrate elementary skills that are essential for completing school, getting a job, joining the military (that feminized culture!) is not the fault of the schools.

It's not the schools that have failed this boy. It's his parents.

Self discipline and self control are not exclusively female traits. Responsibility and accountability are not exclusively female traits. A solid work ethic is not an exclusively female trait. Respect for legitimate authority is not an exclusively female trait. These characteristics used to define the traditional male.

At some point in his life, this young man is going to have to learn to take direction. When he goes out into the world and gets a job, his employers are going to ask him to do things he may well consider pointless. No employer is going to welcome an employee who can't meet deadlines, who sulks unless everyone in the office stops and pays attention to him, who is openly contemptuous and defiant, who doesn't listen to (or follow) directions, who blames everyone around him for his own lack of self discipline and self control.

I raised two sons and I can honestly say that I never considered it to be the job of any school - public or private - to teach my children how to behave. I never considered it to be the job of any school to make my child want to do his work. That was my job as the parent. And had either of my sons ever spoken to a teacher the way this boy did, he would have found himself in a world of hurt. The teacher would not have had to intervene because I would have taken care of the problem.

Teachers do not owe children explanations about why they have to complete assignments. The choice is simple: do what you're told or fail. If you choose to fail (and I had this discussion with my kids many a time) you have made a decision that will have repercussions when it comes time to get a job. And it will have repercussions here at home because if you're not mature enough or responsible enough to complete the very easy tasks asked of you at school, then clearly you're not responsible or mature enough to drive a car or go out on Saturday night with your friends.

The entire time I was reading this story I couldn't help thinking of Marine boot camp. No DI on the face of the earth would accept that kind of smart mouth from a recruit. No DI is going to stop and explain the purpose of an order before requiring that it be carried out. And quite frankly, no parent should either. One of the most rewarding things I saw in three years at Parris Island was the transformation Marine training works on young men. Parents routinely remark on it at graduation. Boys who were once sullen, disrespectful and inconsiderate suddenly carry themselves straight and tall. They treat those around them with respect because they expect the same of others, but more importantly, they do so because they are expected to. Men who genuinely respect themselves don't consider ordinary politeness to be "feminized", nor do they feel the need to challenge everyone around them to prove they're not girls. Such behavior is not feminine. It's adult.

This is one of those lessons that should be taught by parents by the time a child starts kindergarten. The real shocker here is that I would have said that the idea that a child has to understand and/or agree with everything he or she is told to do is a perfect example of the "feminization" this author pretends to lament.

Men, in general, used to understand hierarchies, authority, and the need for rules because if they failed to understand, these lessons were quickly driven home.... by other men. These days, though, I see an awful lot of men using the cover of traditional masculinity to undermine the very qualities that have always made good men worthy of honor and respect: self discipline. Integrity. Responsibility. Accountability.

The real irony here is that, if anything, schools expect far less of boys and girls than they used to both academically and behaviorally. And boys in particular are not benefiting from these reduced expectations.

The author gets one thing right - boys are more prone to question or challenge authority. Boys are bigger risk takers - often to the point of foolhardiness when they're young and inexperienced. Most boys are less empathetic, more demanding, and more combative than girls. And these qualities can and do make boys into strong and successful men - but only when they are taught to channel them in constructive rather than destructive ways. Coupled with self discipline, these qualities become strength, assertiveness, initiative, resourcefulness. Children are not born with adult experience, adult self control, or adult discernment; these qualities take time and effort to develop.

Years ago, complaints about how girls weren't succeeding at school or in the workplace because both environments were too "masculine" were greeted by men with the derision such arguments deserve. The problem wasn't too much testosterone but expectations that were too low. This is one of the good things to come from feminism. When I was a girl, I was constantly told that I didn't have to take difficult science or math courses because I wouldn't need them. I was told many a time that girls are not as good at math and science as boys.

And there's no doubt that such statements have an effect on children. When girls are told, day in and day out, that they belong to a class of people who aren't good at something or who don't need to learn it, they won't tend to exert themselves in that direction. I'll never forget going back to my old high school to pick up transcripts for my husband and myself. The headmaster sat down to look over our records and couldn't understand why a student with such high SATs and IQ scores hadn't been encouraged to take more advanced math and science classes?

It's a good question. When I eventually returned to college as an adult, I ended up taking those classes and did so well in them that I was inevitably asked to tutor other students. The problem was neither lack of ability nor lack of inclination. It was low expectations coupled with entirely normal childish immaturity on my part.

There's a lesson here: if we want our children to achieve more we need to expect more from them, not less. Telling boys that responsibility, respect for others, and self discipline are "girlish" does nothing to prepare them for a world that will require all of these abilities. High expectations are particularly important in raising boys because boys thrive on overcoming challenges. Boys need high standards. They need to learn self discipline and self restraint. But then that's something any of these men could have told the author. If only he were inclined to listen:


"I truly believe that you'll never truly lead anybody, until you learn to serve. And you'll never truly serve anybody, until you learn there's something more important than yourself."

- Medal of Honor recipient Gary Beikirch, US Army, Vietnam.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:46 AM | Comments (45) | TrackBack

More Fun With Charts

After yesterday's game, I needed a good laugh. (CWCID: DL Sly)

Posted by Cassandra at 08:16 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

September 26, 2010

Zuccini...

...is there anything it can't do?

Posted by Cassandra at 01:58 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

"It's a Conspiracy, I Tell Ya..."

Don't ya just hate it when this sort of thing happens?

Two Polish neo-Nazis who were childhood sweethearts and later became skinheads have discovered what for them is a shocking family secret: They're actually Jewish.

Pawel and Ola, identified only by their first names, are the subject of a CNN documentary about Poles rediscovering their Jewish roots generations after their ancestors hid their religious identities to escape persecution during World War II.

A few years ago, Ola found out from Warsaw's Jewish Historical Institute that both she and her husband are technically Jews. "It was unbelievable -- it turned out that we had Jewish roots. It was a shock," she said.

At the time, she and Pawel were active in Warsaw's neo-Nazi movement. "I was a nationalist 100 percent. Back then when we were skinheads it was all about white power... that Jews were the biggest plague and the worst evil of this world," Pawel said.

Then they met the enemy... and it was them.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:30 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

September 24, 2010

"Babs Knows Best" on Defense: C17 Edition

"The way you should approach the military budget is to decide what is our biggest threat and what we need to meet that threat," Boxer said. "I've decided that my guide will be the admirals and generals who ask for the funding. "

- Senator Barbara Boxer

When it comes to defense spending, Barbara Boxer is all over the map.

For decades the California senator proudly reminded voters of her vocal opposition to military intervention and "wasteful and unnecessary defense spending". But changing times demand changing methods. With her job security threatened by opponent Carly Fiorina, Boxer is singing a decidedly different tune:

During the first two weeks of the August congressional recess, Boxer visited a veterans hospital in Palo Alto to tout a new mental health unit, held a public event with Japanese American World War II veterans, spoke at the delivery ceremony of the 201st C-17 cargo plane and attended a groundbreaking at a child-care center at Vandenberg Air Force Base where she announced her participation in a new Senate caucus focusing on military families.

...That emphasis stands in contrast with some of her past races.

Boxer began her political career as an anti-war activist and endeared herself to core Democratic voters with her advocacy against the first Gulf War and her vote against the invasion of Iraq, which she has described as her "proudest moment." In her 1992 campaign, a year when she advocated chopping defense spending in half, her television ads highlighted how she had exposed pricey purchases by the Pentagon in the mid-1980s that included $7,622 coffee pots.

In the 1990s Boxer campaigned on her record of eliminating "wasteful" defense spending from the budget. Military might, she maintained, was not the key to a strong national defense. Changing times demanded drastic cuts to the defense budget and the redirection of American tax dollars to domestic programs:

"If we cannot take care of our children, it doesn't matter how many tanks or missiles we have; we won't be a strong nation," Boxer said in an interview.

This is hardly a surprising position for a progressive from California, but it begs the question: why does a Senator who vehemently opposed the use of military power for decades want to force taxpayers to buy an enormously expensive cargo plane the military neither wants nor needs?

Defense review after defense review has concluded that continuing production and purchases of the C17 are not justified. In 2005, the Mobility Capability Study deemed 180 of the $250 million dollar cargo planes sufficient to meet the military's needs with an acceptable amount of risk. That goal was reached years ago, but Congress - mindful of the value of federal tax dollars to defense contractors in their home states - had other ideas.

Currently the Air Force has 205 C17s and funding is already approved to build even more planes the Air Force hasn't asked for and doesn't want.

FY2010’s ten C-17’s help explain why. The Pentagon did not want these aircraft or their $2.5 billion cost. In fact, Congress forced them back into the Pentagon’s budget over Secretary Gates’ objection, and is poised for a repeat this year.

So much for Boxer's promise to be guided by the needs of the military and the budget requests of military leaders! If we accept Boxer's argument that military force is the wrong way to keep America safe, why should taxpayers spend billions of dollars on an unwanted and unneeded defense program? Ironically, this program seems like a perfect example of the kind of wasteful and unnecessary defense spending Ms. Boxer has always opposed.

There is little doubt that government spending is out of control, nor that the Department of Defense will have to absorb its share of budget cuts while fighting two wars. We are asking our armed forces to do more with less money and equipment. Now more than ever, every dollar counts and unlike the cancellation of other programs the military has actually requested, putting an end to C17 acquisitions would result in significant savings:

Delaying production of the LCC and canceling the CG(X) would probably not “equal a big cost savings,” said Laicie Olson, a defense analyst at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, since it is unclear how much replacing those systems with different ones would cost. But ending the C-17, manufactured by Boeing, would be a “huge cost saving,” she said, representing an estimated $2.5 billion — that is, if the administration can persuade Congress to stop authorizing the purchase of a plane that provides about 30,000 jobs in more than 40 states.

Perhaps some of these savings could be put to use to build something the Air Force actually wants - desperately needed replacements for its aging fleet of tankers:

The Air Force has been trying for more than a decade to start buying aircraft to replace its fleet of KC-135 tankers, which the service has been flying for over 50 years.

The real question here is: who is best able to assess the needs of the armed forces - a Democratic Senator from California, or the military professionals whose job it is to defend this country? Barbara Boxer thinks she knows the answer to that question. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with listening to the generals.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:18 AM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

September 23, 2010

The New Health Care Math

If you like the New Math ....

... you're going to love The New Health Care Math:

On Thursday, the six-month anniversary of the signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a number of its most central consumer protections take effect, just in time for the midterm elections.

Starting now, insurance companies will no longer be permitted to exclude children because of pre-existing health conditions, which the White House said could enable 72,000 uninsured to gain coverage. Insurers also will be prohibited from imposing lifetime limits on benefits.

The law will now forbid insurers to drop sick and costly customers after discovering technical mistakes on applications. It requires that they offer coverage to children under 26 on their parents’ policies.

It establishes a menu of preventive procedures, like colonoscopies, mammograms and immunizations, that must be covered without co-payments. And it allows consumers who join a new plan to keep their own doctors and to appeal insurance company reimbursement decisions to a third party.

Thanks to the Afforable Care Act, insurance companies will now be able to:

* offer more services
* to more people
* who have more expensive health conditions
* for longer periods
* and no upper limit on payouts...

... all for less money!

House Republicans continued to question Mr. Obama’s assertions, which he repeated Wednesday, that the law will lower premiums, pointing to double-digit increases recently announced by many insurers....

The administration has estimated that premiums should rise no more than 2 percent because of the new consumer protections, and warned this month that it would have “zero tolerance” for efforts to blame the law for larger increases.

If you're anything like I am, you're probably thinking that it doesn't matter what kind of math you use: no insurer can pay out increased benefits indefinitely without raising premiums to reflect the added cost and added risk.

Don't worry: as with the new math, technical accuracy is less important than promoting understanding of just how much better off we are under this new system.


Posted by Cassandra at 01:33 PM | Comments (40) | TrackBack

Those Darned Women Voters Again

Grim notices something I wondered about, too:

Here at home, well-known right wing echo chamber The New York Times says that the real reason the Tea Party is doing well is women. Well, we knew that, right? Part of the power of the movement is that it represents a breakthrough in involving women with an interest in protecting the integrity of their families, and the traditions of liberty for their children.

Except the Times has a different point: actually, they say, the problem is that women aren't paying attention, are confused, and either depressed about politics or just unenthusiastic about it. If only women would outperform men at the polls, the Times says, the Democrats would do great!

That kind of underlines the problem, though, doesn't it? Why should it be true that the only portion of women to be generally enthusiastic and engaged this year is on the right, especially among those leading the Tea Party? Isn't this supposed to be the year that the Great Health Care Takeover represents such a relief to women (whom, we hear, disproportionately favor these kinds of socialist programs)? Shouldn't they be lining up to express their enthusiasm for more of the same?

The opposite is happening, and that's the real marker.

Of course he says it far better than I would have... probably because he's a man, and men are logical like that.

*running for the barricades*

Posted by Cassandra at 08:59 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

Good Reads

Sorry for the lack of bloggitudinal fare of late. Your hostess journeyed far from the Land of Bedwetting Socialists, but now she is back and completely overwhelmed with work.

Fortunately, there's lots of good reading around the Blatherosphere. Darleen Click teases out the history of the Gadsden flag:

Up until 2009 the only time most of us encountered the Gadsden Flag was as a picture in our grade-school American History books. With the advent of the grass-roots tea parties in April of that year, the Gadsden Flag has made a spectacular public comeback, and launched a few controversies as the unofficial flag of the leaderless Tea Party movement.

But where did we get this powerful symbol?

If you're following the Senate horse races, John Hawkins provides one stop shopping for all your November election needs.

Over at Spousebuzz, Andi dissects the yin and yang of military life:

After reading the arguments for and against this game, I pushed the superficial discussion aside and examined why it was, exactly, that actual soldiers can be unbothered by something like this, but family members can be deeply affected by it.

Military families struggle, thrive, fight, fail and succeed as a unit, but the spouse and the service member often employ very different coping mechanisms and have opposite reactions to events which affect the military community. Namely, war. When my husband is preparing to deploy, he is very matter-of-fact regarding the tasks at hand. Things like updating living wills, wills, SGLI paperwork, POAs and the zillion other forms that must be completed before deploying are mere tasks. Check the box and move on. Paperwork. But the things contained in that haunting yellow envelope are more than papers to me. They're a prescient reminder of what could go wrong. Where he sees a piece of paper, necessary and important though it is, I see a possible death warrant. There have been times in the past when I've been all "wee-wee'd" up over some anti-military sentiment and my husband didn't give it a second thought.

I've seen this happen in reverse, too - things that don't bother me for a millisecond sometimes grate on The Unit's last nerve. All a matter of perspective.

Greyhawk looks at Afghanistan then... and now.


"Dynamite in the hands of a child is not more dangerous than a strong policy weakly carried out."

That's a quote from Winston Churchill - a man more quotable than most. You may have an image in mind of Britain's prime minister during the Second World War, a man whose long life in the political arena well-prepared him for his role. And yes, the quote is from that Winston Churchill - but then again, it isn't... that was 23-year-old Winston Churchill, opining specifically on his nation's policy on Afghanistan in 1897, but doing so with a truth on broad terms.

Maybe that's an obvious truth to twenty-somethings of any generation; then again maybe it's something some people go through life without fully grasping.



Kanani Fong on Afghanistan:

In Kunar today, girls are going to school, and women are selling handcrafts. Medical treatment is given to locals by military doctors, and they're training Afghan doctors and nurses. The ISAF has worked in Helmand to secure the local population. Bazaars are busy, schools have reopened. Contractors (unfairly painted as corrupt by the press and politicians) have delivered on sanitation, road, Wi-Fi and other projects at a fraction of the cost of USAID. Nonprofit organizations such as the La Jolla Rotary Club and MIT's Fab Lab fund schools and computer labs in Jalalabad. To media cynics, these efforts might seem small. To an Afghan, however, these efforts are huge, whether it's sending a daughter to school or simply having a child treated for burns from a cooking mishap.

Still, the Taliban has a hold on many areas; their beheadings, torture of females and forcing children to fight is documented. The murder of ten medical health workers in Badakshan by jihadi tourists in August is a reminder of the danger. Now, there's a growing political crescendo in the United States for an orderly pullout from Afghanistan. The reality is there is nothing orderly about ceding a battle to the enemy.

Finally, this is awesome:

Posted by Cassandra at 06:59 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

September 20, 2010

I haven't posted this in a very long time. I've always thought of it as sort of a prayer set to music.

Up above me,
Wayward angels,
A blur of wings and grace.
One for courage,
One for safety,
One for "just in case".

I thought a light went out, but now the candle shines.
I thought my tears wouldn't stop,
but then I dried my eyes.
And after all of this,
the truth that holds me here,
Is that this emptiness is something not to fear.
Yeah, I'll keep wondering
how we know where we belong,
After all the journeys made,
and the journeys yet to come.
When I feel like giving up instead of going on,
Somewhere in between?

Yeah, I'm just wondering how we know where we belong?
Is it in the arc of the moon, leaving shadows on the lawn?
In the path of fireflies
and a single bird at dawn,
Singing in between
here and gone.

If you are the praying sort, you might put in a good word for these folks:

Ricky and his family
DL Sly
Mike Warner, USN Ret. and the family of Private Heath Warner
John R.
Joe

I won't be around for a few days but we'll catch up sooner or later.

Posted by Cassandra at 03:45 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Unbelievable

Government accountability in action:

The father was already grieving and reeling from yet another confrontation with Arlington personnel the day before. He demanded and Arlington agreed the vault inside the grave would not be opened until he arrived the morning of the 15th. The father apprehensive about the day’s events was anxious if they would find his son inside. He fumed from yet another breach of trust. The father rejects the dog tags offered to him as verification by Arlington. The dog tags may have been sufficient had the integrity of the coffin not been breached. However, since it had been prior to the family’s arrival; the father then requested visual verification. The staff at Arlington appeared unprepared for what was to come next, thus tipping the father’s hand.

His adrenalin already maxed and because of Arlington’s ineptness, the father instinctively jumps onto the truck in his dress clothes despite the rancid odor. The father begins digging through the water soaked; stench filled rotting dismembered remains of his son, in search of the severed arm with a tattoo on it. Meanwhile the Funeral Director is standing to the side, gagging. The father looks at the Funeral Director and tells him, “Get over here and do your job!”

Arlington’s assistance during this time consisted of providing him with latex gloves.

I read about this last week and was literally stunned that DNA analysis was not offered to these families. Of course I don't expect to see much about this in the press.

Not pretty enough for a Pulitzer.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:44 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Quantifying the Hypocrisy of Lefty Academicians

More fun with numbers:

Prof. Fred Gottheil told Front Page Magazine that he compiled a list of 675 email addresses from 900 signatures on a 2009 petition authored by Dr. David Lloyd, professor of English at the University of Southern California, urging the U.S. to abandon its ally, Israel. Prof. Gottheil discovered that six of the signers, who hailed from more than 150 college campuses, were members of his own faculty.

“Would these same 900 sign onto a statement expressing concern about human rights violations in the Muslim Middle East, such as honor killing, wife beating, female genital mutilation, and violence against gays and lesbians?” he wondered. “I felt it was worth a try.”

The results? “Almost non existent,” he told Front Page editor Jamie Glazov. Only 27 of the 675 “self-described social-justice seeking academics” agreed to sign Gottheil’s Statement of Concern – less than 5 percent of the total who had publicly called for the censure of Israel for human rights violations.

As we just saw with The Nation's selective angst over the "unfairness" of wartime sacrifices, it appears that some human rights violations are more equal than others too.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:46 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

War and "Proofiness"

Food for thought served up by one of the worst practitioners of the fine art of torturing numbers until they confess to things that simply aren't true:

Falsifying numbers is the crudest form of proofiness. Seife lays out a rogues’ gallery of more subtle deceptions. “Potemkin numbers” are phony statistics based on erroneous or nonexistent calculations. Justice Antonin Scalia’s assertion that only 0.027 percent of convicted felons are wrongly imprisoned was a Potemkin number derived from a prosecutor’s back-of-the-envelope estimate; more careful studies suggest the rate might be between 3 and 5 percent.

“Disestimation” involves ascribing too much meaning to a measurement, relative to the uncertainties and errors inherent in it. In the most provocative and detailed part of the book, Seife analyzes the recounting process in the astonishingly close 2008 Minnesota Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken. The winner, he claims, should have been decided by a coin flip; anything else is disestimation, considering that the observed errors in counting the votes were always much larger than the number of votes (roughly 200 to 300) separating the two candidates.

“Comparing apples and oranges” is another perennial favorite. The conservative Blue Dog Democrats indulged in it when they accused the Bush administration of borrowing more money from foreign governments in four years than had all the previous administrations in our nation’s history, combined. True enough, but only if one conveniently forgets to correct for inflation.

As someone who works with numbers and how they inform management decisions, I see all of these errors on a daily basis. Interestingly, the NY Times review doesn't mention the distortion I see most frequently in the political realm: the selective use of statistics to imply that a process is unfair or unjust. In an essay provocatively titled "Unequal Sacrifice", The Nation wrings its hands over the cruel injustice of war:

For those with the patience to wade through its jargon-laced and data-laden pages, the book reveals disturbing—although by no means surprising—truths about exactly who pays the price for this country's ever-growing propensity for war. Yet the single-mindedness with which Douglas Kriner and Francis Shen pursue their subject ultimately limits the value of the enterprise. The analytical rigor that unearths small but important insights impedes recognition of vastly larger ones. A preoccupation with nuance begets myopia. Hewing to the standards of their discipline, Kriner and Shen seem oblivious to the larger implications of their findings.

What are those larger implications? Just ask Michael Moore:

...by cross-referencing official casualty records with Census data, they reach a conclusion that affirms Moore's verdict: "when America goes to war, it is the poorer and less educated in society who are more likely to die in combat." Furthermore, this gap is by no means a recent development. Kriner and Shen survey the pattern of US military fatalities in four conflicts, beginning with World War II and proceeding to Korea, Vietnam and Iraq. (Regarding the distribution of casualties in earlier US history—during the Civil War, for example—the authors are silent.) Only in the case of the war against Germany and Japan did "the nation's long-held norm of equal sacrifice in war" prevail. Given the reliance on conscription to raise the very large forces required for that conflict along with the military's refusal to induct anyone who didn't meet strict, if arbitrary, health and literacy standards, "the poorest and most undereducated counties actually suffered lower than average casualty rates."

military_income.gif The meme that blacks and the urban poor suffer a disproportionate number of wartime casualties is one of the most pervasive of media distortions. Never mind that it has been thoroughly debunked time after time. The Heritage Foundation crunched the numbers on two Gulf II military cohorts. The income distribution was particularly enlightening. Here are their findings:

... on average, 1999 recruits were more highly educated than the equiv­alent general population, more rural and less urban in origin, and of similar income status. We did not find evidence of minority racial exploitation (by race or by race-weighted ZIP code areas). We did find evidence of a Southern military tradition in that some states, notably in the South and West, provide a much higher proportion of enlisted troops by population.

The household income of recruits generally matches the income distribution of the American population. There are slightly higher proportions of recruits from the middle class and slightly lower proportions from low-income brackets. However, the proportion of high-income recruits rose to a disproportionately high level after the war on ter­rorism began, as did the proportion of highly edu­cated enlistees. All of the demographic evidence that we analyzed contradicts the pro-draft case.

Another source that didn't look at income or education yields some interesting insights about the supposed "unfairness" of combat:

Who_serves.jpg

Data: Census.gov, About.com

The graph above answers two questions:

1. In the military's target age bracket, who is most likely to serve in an all volunteer force?

Answer: Blacks and white men are both overrepresented in the armed forces.

In the age group eligible for military service:

17% of the military is black (blacks comprise 12.2 percent of the same age group in the general population)

84% of the military is male (men comprise 50.9 percent of the same age group in the general population)

2. In the military's target age bracket, who is most likely to sacrifice (i.e., become a combat casualty)?

Only two groups - whites and men - had disproportionately high casualty rates. (whites suffered 75.2% of combat casualties while men's sacrifices were a stunning 97.6%).

Oddly, though, The Nation doesn't think it's at all "unfair" for blacks to die in combat at rates that are roughly half their numbers in the armed forces, nor that women shoulder a disproportionately low share of wartime sacrifices. Nor is it concerned that men in general comprise a stunning 97.6 of combat deaths.

It would seem that some inequalities are more important than others. And if you can just avoid presenting all the numbers, it becomes that much easier to obscure some "larger truths" in service of a dishonest and petty narrative.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:09 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Brits Contemplating Deep Defense Cuts

Something that caught my eye this past week:

ONLY America among Western countries has been more willing than Britain to put its armed forces in harm’s way. After America, Britain is by some distance the second largest contributor in both troops and treasure to the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Yet the previous Labour government was reluctant to increase the defence budget in line with its grandiose ambitions—and now the coalition government is set to cut it. Defence spending can indeed be trimmed—but less quickly and deeply than that of many other departments.

One of the first actions of the current government was to set up a full-scale strategic defence and security review, the first since 1998 (see article). This will inform the overall review of public spending that George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, will present on October 20th. Given the need for huge savings to reduce the fiscal deficit, some wonder whether Britain can afford to carry on “punching above its weight” militarily; given the controversial nature of recent military adventures (especially in Iraq), some ask whether it should even try. Shouldn’t Britain reconcile itself to its post-imperial status as a middling nation, with suitably diminished military aspirations?

According to unnamed sources at Newsweek, 3 proposals have gone forward to the National Security Council:

...the choices (as labeled by the review team) can be summed up as follows:

In “Committed Britain,” the focus is Afghanistan and future wars like it, so forces would be capable of counterinsurgency operations, but little else.

In “Vigilant Britain,” the focus would be on homeland defense, with an emphasis on naval power, but land forces incapable of anything beyond “an occasional foray,” says one source.

“Adaptable Britain” is the most expansive of the three, but it, too, envisions deep cuts. The Army could end up with four deployable units of about 4,000 each, while the Air Force would lose 60 percent of its fast jets. Still, the country would retain at least a bare-bones, multiservice defense force—and, if carefully managed, a basis for rebuilding the military when the budget crunch has eased. Whitehall optimists think it’s likely that Cameron will go for this option.

Even the AP sounds vaguely alarmed by the haste with which the review is being conducted:

Arbuthnot said the last similar study took 13 months to reach conclusions, but the current review looked likely to be finished within four months.

And they put some dollars and cents behind the budget speculation:

Experts believe that about 30,000 of Britain's 175,000 armed forces personnel are likely to be cut under the review, and that one of two new aircraft carriers, being built at a cost of 5 billion pounds ($8 billion), could be mothballed.

Brit_defensevshealth.gif Given the unsustainable debt most Western nations have taken on, it's hard to argue against across the board budget cuts. But as this chart suggests, if the UK wants to significantly reduce runaway deficit spending, military spending may be the wrong culprit.

And then there's the question of who will fill the vacuum if the Western democracies unilaterally disarm themselves?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:11 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 17, 2010

We Are Shocked....

...shocked, we tell you.

No one could have predicted this.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:07 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Best. Line. Evah.

We have had government declare war on poverty and a war on drugs, but this is the first time our government has declared war on free enterprise.

Given the resounding success of the first two wars, I'd say that's the best news I've heard in ages.

And yes, I understand that it ain't happenin'. That doesn't stop me from enjoying a well turned phrase or twelve.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:47 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Constitution Day

Today is Constitution Day.

Therefore, it well behooveth the assembled villainry to spend the day engaged in solemn contemplation of the origins and meaning of this most social of compacts:

...if there were no Constitution, there would be no United States and, for that matter, no federal government.

The several states at the time of the drafting of the Constitution were each as separate and sovereign as France, Poland, or Germany today. Recognizing that by virtue of their small size and common borders, there were efficiencies to be realized in such areas as Postal Service, post roads, common defense, border control, international relations, and commerce between and among the states, they entered into a partnership -- a business arrangement, if you will -- to provide those services necessary to the common protection and promotion of the betterment (the general welfare) of the states as a group and individually. The partnership agreement is better known by its title: The United States Constitution.

...the states not only delegated only certain powers to the federal government, but they also specifically -- in amendments nine and ten, which were adopted at the time of the ratification -- reserved to the states any and all powers not given to the federal government.

So what is the federal government? Simply a partnership of the several states to perform functions which would be too costly for the aggregate of individual states to provide for themselves. The logistical problems of providing, for example, for the national defense, utilizing the fifty states as a joint command, would render such an undertaking practically impossible. The result would be no defense of the common fifty states.

Naturlich, no study of our governing documents would be complete without a corresponding examination of both the nature of the polity for which it was devised and the goods being traded:

The gap between political realities and their public face is so great that the term “paradox” tends to crop up from sentence to sentence. Our rulers are theoretically “our” representatives, but they are busy turning us into the instruments of the projects they keep dreaming up. The business of governments, one might think, is to supply the framework of law within which we may pursue happiness on our own account. Instead, we are constantly being summoned to reform ourselves. Debt, intemperance, and incompetence in rearing our children are no doubt regrettable, but they are vices, and left alone, they will soon lead to the pain that corrects. Life is a better teacher of virtue than politicians, and most sensible governments in the past left moral faults to the churches. But democratic citizenship in the twenty-first century means receiving a stream of improving “messages” from politicians. Some may forgive these intrusions because they are so well intentioned. Who would defend prejudice, debt, or excessive drinking? The point, however, is that our rulers have no business telling us how to live. They are tiresome enough in their exercise of authority—they are intolerable when they mount the pulpit. Nor should we be in any doubt that nationalizing the moral life is the first step towards totalitarianism.

We might perhaps be more tolerant of rulers turning preachers if they were moral giants. But what citizen looks at the government today thinking how wise and virtuous it is? Public respect for politicians has long been declining, even as the population at large has been seduced into demanding political solutions to social problems. To demand help from officials we rather despise argues for a notable lack of logic in the demos. The statesmen of eras past have been replaced by a set of barely competent social workers eager to take over the risks of our everyday life. The electorates of earlier times would have responded to politicians seeking to bribe us with such promises with derision. Today, the demos votes for them.

Our rulers, then, increasingly deliberate on our behalf, and decide for us what is the right thing to do. The philosopher Socrates argued that the most important activity of a human being was reflecting on how one ought to live. Most people are not philosophers, but they cannot avoid encountering moral issues. The evident problem with democracy today is that the state is pre-empting—or “crowding out,” as the economists say—our moral judgments. Nor does the state limit itself to mere principle. It instructs us on highly specific activities, ranging from health provision to sexual practices. Yet decisions about how we live are what we mean by “freedom,” and freedom is incompatible with a moralizing state. That is why I am provoked to ask the question: can the moral life survive democracy?

It is a question that has been asked before:

... "freedom and bread enough for all are," in the opinion of the Grand Inquisitor, "inconceivable together." As long, therefore, as men are free not to choose what is best for society, a stable, perfect social order with bread enough for all is impossible.

Over the last few years we've talked quite a bit about what is wrong with today's system and what we might do to remedy its defects. We examined the pillars of government one by one. We have entertained various proposals to amend the Constitution. I found another interesting one during my travails travels this morning:

Resolution for Congress to Convene a Convention to Propose Amendments Constituting a Bill of Federalism

And then there's this, sent me by spd the other day. It is both simpler and (perhaps) more difficult to execute but it has real possibilities:

In its next session beginning in January, the legislature of Virginia will consider proposing a constitutional "Repeal Amendment." The Repeal Amendment would give two-thirds of the states the power to repeal any federal law or regulation. Its text is simple:

"Any provision of law or regulation of the United States may be repealed by the several states, and such repeal shall be effective when the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states approve resolutions for this purpose that particularly describe the same provision or provisions of law or regulation to be repealed."

In thinking it over, though, the same thought kept occurring to me: we are looking for a way to fix the system but what if the problem isn't the system at all, but human nature?

Such plans seem quite reasonable, but I'm not sure they don't require an electorate capable of far more self discipline than we have demonstrated in 200+ years of self governance. What if, to paraphrase the Bard, the fault lies not in our system but in ourselves?

If that is true, then won't the very same human failings that led us to this pass frustrate any attempt to turn back the clock?

I am beginning to think that the only effective check on human nature is the galactic equivalent of a 2x4 upside the head: the proverbial clue bat of negative consequences. In any system that leaves us free to contract away responsibility for our own decisions, history shows that we will do that every time. The answer seems obvious: take away the ability to force our fellow citizens to protect us from the results of our own decisions.

I wonder whether even conservatives (who love to speak of freedom as though it were an unalloyed good) would accept such a system, though? Unless, of course, someone were to hit them upside the heads with the world's biggest clue bat first.

And then I suspect the lesson would not long outlast the memory of how much it hurt last time.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:56 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

The Thinking Man's Guide to Drinking the Hatorade

Here.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:35 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

How To Give A Locker Room Press Conference

Clinton Portis breaks it down:

A Redskins media relations official informed reporters that Portis, who, in a prepared statement, apologized for inappropriate comments he made about female reporters earlier this week, was ready for his scheduled weekly media availability.

When reporters approached Portis at his dressing stall, however, he initially did not speak. When a reporter asked Portis about his ill-advised comments during the radio interview, he held up a spiral notebook with "No Comment" written on one of the pages while Haynesworth, standing to Portis's left, tore a piece of tape and applied it to Portis's lips.

When a reporter asked about Sunday's game against the Houston Texans, Portis turned the page and held up the notebook again: "Thanks For Coming." Haynesworth applied another piece of black tape.

As reporters continued in vain to engage Portis, up went the notebook twice more with: "God Bless You" and "Have A Good Day." Haynesworth did his part with more tape, and then the players left the locker room together.

I do not know about you all, but I am just happy to see professional women speaking out against boorish men and their frat boy antics:

CWCID: Bookworm.


Posted by Cassandra at 10:43 AM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Doing the Tax Cut Math

For many moons the Reality Based Community have repeated a fundamentally dishonest set of talking points with respect to the Bush tax cuts:

[REPORTER] "You face a major decision next year on tax rates, since the rates do expire at the end of 2010," the reporter said. "Isn't it inevitable that many taxpayers will face a significant tax increase in 2011?"

[PELOSI] "Let me just say that the tax cuts at the high end that you were referencing have been the biggest contributor to the budget deficit," Pelosi said. "Don't take my word for it, that's the word of the Congressional Budget Office when the Republicans had control of the Congress."

There's just one problem with Ms. Pelosi's statement. As Politifact discovered when it tried to verify her claim, it's not true:

When we started this item, we thought it would be relatively straightforward. How wrong we were.

We should start off with the easy stuff: First, there is no CBO report that says tax cuts for the wealthiest are the biggest contributor to the deficit.

Oops. And her math turned out to be wrong, too:

The Tax Policy Center calculated what share of the federal tax changes each income bracket gained from the Bush tax cuts. The top 5 percent of earners (those making about $225,000 or more) received 30.5 percent of the tax benefits in 2008, according to their analysis. But conversely, the bottom 95 percent of tax payers got 70 percent.

Oops. And to think it only took the AP 20 months to notice:

Here's some pressure for lawmakers: If they don't reach agreement on extending soon-to-expire Bush-era tax cuts, nearly all their constituents back home will get big tax increases.

A typical family of four with a household income of $50,000 a year would have to pay $2,900 more in taxes in 2011, according to a new analysis by Deloitte Tax LLP, a tax consulting firm. The same family making $100,000 a year would see its taxes rise by $4,500.

Democrats have been arguing for much of the past decade that tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 under former President George W. Bush provided a windfall for the wealthy. That's true, but they also reduced taxes for the working poor, the middle class, and just about everyone in between.

When progressives lose the AP you know they're really in trouble. But lest you begin to feel sorry for them, fear not: help is on the way.

This is sort of impressive: Paul Krugman simultaneously castigates Republicans for the fiscal irresponsibility of wanting to extend tax cuts for the rich that cost about $700 billion--and for irresponsibly threatening the extension of tax cuts for the middle class which cost three times as much. Yet you could read the entire column and not realize that it's the middle class tax cuts which are the really expensive, budget-busting bit.

Hard to blame Krugman for trying though. Especially when the Associated Press is so good at burying the lede:

Making all the tax cuts permanent would add about $3.9 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, according to congressional estimates. Obama's plan would cost a little more than $3 trillion over the same period.

Let's see if I have this straight (and please correct me if I don't):

Extending all the Bush tax cuts would cost about 3.9 trillion.

Extending only the middle class tax cuts and RAISING taxes on the rich (as opposed to extending their supposedly budget wrecking tax cuts) would cost 3 trillion dollars.

[whipping out handy-dandy pocket calculator]

3.9 billion minus 3 trillion is what? .9 trillion worth of deficit reduction netted by RAISING taxes on the rich as opposed to extending the Bush tax cuts for that income bracket?

[whipping out handy-dandy pocket calculator again]

So that would mean that the vast majority (about 77%) of cost of extending the Bush tax cuts is attributable to existing tax cuts to the middle class. I think that just might fall under the general rubric of Things the Media Might Want to have Mentioned Earlier.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:11 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

I Hate Firefox

That is all.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:06 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

September 16, 2010

'Bam!!!

Coming to a theater near you:

File along with the growing number of things I would have to make up if these folks weren't so obliging.

Posted by Cassandra at 03:17 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

When in Rome

Retriever weighs in on the Sainz silliness:

As a young American teen in Europe, I knew that we American girls were viewed as sluts and whores by some European men because of our less formal and more revealing dress and more relaxed social manners even if we were actually fairly sedate in our romantic and sexual behavior. Puritanical more like. That was then, not now...My parents severely lectured us to accommodate local mores and customs about decency and not showing too much flesh, etc, covering up in church, etc. as a result.

We signal things with our clothes and accessories, and parents have anxiously worried what their daughters are signaling from time immemorial (and been accused of jealousy or fuddy-duddiness for their "No daughter of mine is going out looking like THAT!") One reason fathers are so important to the upbringing of daughters is that they both offer wholesome male admiration, and protect them from unwanted male advances.

Like it or not, even in modern USA, women from certain cultures whose looks or talents or the man they marry bring them to prominence often get into trouble nowadays because their fashion choices or etiquette are not "professional" enough. Not because of racism, but because of the disruptive effects of exhibitionism and sexy attire in professional workplaces. Think of that most famous Main Squeeze: MO. Who can't seem to get it right. Who insists in wearing flamboyant "look at me" clothes in a job that is essentially a supporting, nurturing, role.

Like Retriever, I've lived in a lot of different places. Growing up, I moved pretty much every year.

One thing you can't help noticing when you move around is that there is no inalienable right to unconditional acceptance. You will be judged, not by your own standards, but according to local customs, mores, manners, and traditions. And that's how it should be, really. You're asking to be accepted into a community that existed long before you arrived. So while you have the right to choose your own values, you don't have the right to demand that others approve of your choices (or substitute your values for their own). Believe it or not, it's not all about you.

This is hardly a phenomenon limited to women, by the way.

No matter where we lived during my sons' growing up years, I insisted that they wear a shirt with a collar to school and keep their hair neat and reasonably short. Once they got home, they were free to "express their individuality" by dressing pretty much as they pleased.

I'll never forget a conversation I had with my oldest boy when he was 17. Like many young men, he became enamored of the gansta wannabe look: baggy pants that revealed far more than I wished to see of his teenaged tuckus, woolen caps pulled down over his hair, etc. No matter how I tried to explain that he looked like a thug-in-training, he wanted to dress like his friends. And as long as he wasn't in school or with me, I let him (though not without parental comment). "There is no free lunch in America" is a lesson best learned at home.

One night he returned home from an evening out with friends in a state of teen outrage. Apparently a cop had pulled them over and treated them like perps. They weren't arrested or anything. He just didn't understand why the officer regarded them with suspicion. What really bothered him, I suspect, is that he wasn't used to being treated that way - a phenomenon due in no small part to the fact that he didn't look like the kind of young man who causes problems.

I gently pointed out to him that if you dress like a badass and adopt a sullen attitude, people assume that image reflects the "real you". If you don't want them to assume you're up to no good, don't go out of your way to dress like a perp. And if you do intentionally adopt that image, don't whine when people take you at face value.

This was something of a breakthrough moment in our then-troubled relationship. I think it was one of the first times when he actually understood why his mother was such a pain in the ass sometimes.

Heh :)

PS:guess what my son does for a living now? Perhaps one day I'll ask him if he takes clothing into consideration?

Posted by Cassandra at 12:58 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

*snort*

Pitch perfect response to Olbermann's nonsense. Plus, there's pie involved. We can't help but think Mr. On would approve.

Via Attila

Posted by Cassandra at 11:52 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Cars of the Future

They look kind of neat:

The competition began in the spring with 136 vehicles, entered by 111 teams from around the world.

In the end, the Edison2 team claimed the top spot in the mainstream category for cars that seat four people, can carry 10 cubic feet of luggage, have a 200-mile driving range, can accelerate to 60 mph in less than 15 seconds and have a heater, air conditioner and stereo system. The goal is for the mainstream cars to meet most functional requirements for typical drivers while delivering at least 100 miles per gallon.

The other half of the $10 million X Prize purse was given out for two categories of alternative-class, two-seat vehicles. Li-ion's Wave II car won $2.5 million in the side-by-side category, comprising vehicles that seat their two occupants side by side. X-Tracer's E-Tracer motorcycle-style vehicle won the same amount in the tandem category.

Both of the alternative-class vehicles were all-electric. Edison2's Very Light Car, in contrast, employed a conventional (though thoroughly modified) turbocharged Yamaha 250cc internal combustion engine burning E85 fuel — that is, 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

100915_edison2s.grid-6x2.jpg

Driving into DC last night I heard an amusing debate on the radio over how to solve the DC metropolitan area's horrific traffic problems.

I don't commute to work daily because we live about an hour (sans traffic) from my office. My husband's commute to the Pentagon was awful - he had to leave by 4:30-5 am in order to beat the wave of DC bound commuters from West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

At any rate, if you ever wonder why the federal government can't seem to solve our budget problems, the traffic debate was eerily apt. The debate was between those who want to create a network of toll roads to force those who live far away and commute in bear more of the cost of building and maintaining the roads.

Though we fall into that category and would be impacted by such a system, I can't help thinking that makes sense. A lot of western states and parts of the South have created toll bypasses and they really do siphon off a lot of traffic from overcrowded main arteries. In California we gladly paid five bucks not to sit in traffic.

The other "plan" was to relocate workers closer to their jobs and to public transportation.

Sounds dreamy, doesn't it? Of course the proponents of this "plan" had no idea how this was to be accomplished (much less how they would force people to use public transportation) but that didn't stop them for a moment.

Technology makes some things far easier but also removes a good bit of the natural cost from various choices.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:54 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Skepticism and the Scientific Method

Apropos of the post on skepticism (in which the avowed skeptic practiced skepticism towards others but was apparently untroubled by even the shadow of a doubt as to the self evident self evidentness of his own beliefs), this article explores the limits of science:

Good sense is the most fairly distributed commodity in the world, Descartes once quipped, because nobody thinks he needs any more of it than he already has. A neat illustration of the fact that gullibility seems to be a disease of other people was provided by Martin Gardner, a great American debunker of pseudoscience, who died this year. In the second edition of his “Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science” (1957), Gardner reported that most of the irate letters he received in response to the first edition criticised only one of its 26 chapters and found the rest to be fine. Needless to say, readers disagreed about which chapter was the faulty one. Homeopaths objected to the treatment meted out to themselves, but thought that the exposé of chiropractors was spot on, and vice versa.

No group of believers has more reason to be sure of its own good sense than today’s professional scientists. There is, or should be, no mystery about why it is always more rational to believe in science than in anything else, because this is true merely by definition. What makes a method of enquiry count as scientific is not that it employs microscopes, rats, computers or people in stained white coats, but that it seeks to test itself at every turn. If a method is as rigorous and cautious as it can be, it counts as good science; if it isn’t, it doesn’t. Yet this fact sets a puzzle. If science is careful scepticism writ large, shouldn’t a scientific cast of mind require one to be sceptical of science itself?

There is no full-blown logical paradox here. If a claim is ambitious, people should indeed tread warily around it, even if it comes from scientists; it does not follow that they should be sceptical of the scientific method itself. But there is an awkward public-relations challenge for any champion of hard-nosed science. When scientists confront the deniers of evolution, or the devotees of homeopathic medicine, or people who believe that childhood vaccinations cause autism—all of whom are as demonstrably mistaken as anyone can be—they understandably fight shy of revealing just how riddled with error and misleading information the everyday business of science actually is. When you paint yourself as a defender of the truth, it helps to keep quiet about how often you are wrong.

Again (and for those who wondered what the point of my earlier post was, I was attempting to suggest that simply knowing what we ought to do doesn't mean we'll follow our own advice... especially when it conflicts with some deeply held belief or our own desire to think well of ourselves) I think the author is on the right track but he seems to be missing a critical piece of the puzzle: human nature.

As in, scientists are human beings first and scientists second.

The scientific method is designed to account for and correct the human tendency to bias but there's a huge flaw in the notion that scientists are any better than the rest of us at monitoring and correcting each other's mistakes: human nature.


Most laymen probably assume that the 350-year-old institution of “peer review”, which acts as a gatekeeper to publication in scientific journals, involves some attempt to check the articles that see the light of day. In fact they are rarely checked for accuracy, and, as a study for the Fraser Institute, a Canadian think-tank, reported last year, “the data and computational methods are so seldom disclosed that post-publication verification is equally rare.” Journals will usually consider only articles that present positive and striking results, and scientists need constantly to publish in order to keep their careers alive. So it is that, like the late comedian Danny Kaye, professional scientists sometimes get their exercise by jumping to conclusions. Historians of science call this bias the “file-drawer problem”: if a set of experiments produces a result contrary to what the team needs to find, it ends up filed away, and the world never finds out about it.

In a recent book, “Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us—And How to Know When Not to Trust Them”, David Freedman, an American business and science journalist, does a sobering job of reviewing dozens of studies of ignorance, bias, error and outright fraud in recent academic science. He notes that discredited research is regularly cited in support of other research, even after it has been discredited. Trials of the safety and efficacy of drugs, which are often paid for by pharmaceutical companies, seem to be especially liable to errors of various sorts. That helps to explain why medicines that can do unexpected harm—such as Thalidomide, the sedative which was withdrawn in 1961 after causing deformities in babies, and Vioxx, a painkiller that had been used by 84m people before it was pulled in 2004—make it to the market.

This non-scientist would have a lot more confidence in the accuracy of science if she saw more scientists actually following the rules they claim place their work beyond dispute.

A little humility would go a long way, too.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:36 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack

September 15, 2010

Dear God, Make It Stop

Recipe for a mind numbingly idiotic controversy:

1. Take one female sportscaster, obviously unclear on the concept of what constitutes appropriate professional attire.

2. Add generous dash of mixed messages.

2. Toss with a handful of NFL coaches and players, unclear on the concept of appropriate behavior for grownups in a public setting.

3. Shake things up by Tweeting your embarrassment at finding yourself in a room full of half naked football players:

First tweet about Jets She says, “Me muero de incomodidad! Estoy en los lockers de los jets esperando por Mark Sanchez y mientras tratando de no mirar a ningun lado!!

Trans: ”I’m so uncomfortable. I’m in the lockeroom waiting for Mark Sanchez trying not to make eye contact.”

Second Jets tweet, “Solo porq es la unica forma de entrevistarlo previo al partido de el lunes!! Pero demasiada hormona masculina en el entorno!!”

Trans: ”Here because its the only way to interview him(Sanchez) before the game Monday. There is lots of male hormone in this environment.”

Third Jets tweet, “Lo siento pero ni de broma sacaria una foto de esto!! Si ni volteo!! Solo veo el locker de Mark y me quisiera taparme los oidos!!”

Trans: ”I’m sorry, not even joking would I take a picture of this. I don’t even dare to turn around. All I see is Mark’s locker but still want to cover my eyes.”

4. Act surprised when the Jets issue a formal apology. Blame media for "causing" controversy.

5. Demonstrate your professionalism by showing up on FoxNews in a shirt unbuttoned below your fake breasts and (at least from what this breast-having individual can see) no bra.

6. Combine with one news anchor desperately searching for somewhere safe to rest his eyeballs:

sainz.jpg

7. Stomp all over one Redskins player who foolishly says what we're all thinking:

Addressing the NFL's investigation of the New York Jets' treatment of TV Azteca reporter Ines Sainz, Portis said that both sides have wandering eyes when the sexes are mixed in such a setting.

"I think you put women reporters in the locker room in position to see guys walking around naked, and you sit in the locker room with 53 guys, and all of the sudden you see a nice woman in the locker room. I think men are going to tend to turn and look and want to say something to that woman," Portis said in his weekly appearance on 106.7 The Fan.

8. Smother in insincere and coerced apologies.

9. Serve with hundreds of uber outragey, hand wringing editorials about sexism, misogyny and double standards. Don't forget to undermine them by posting slide shows with compelling titles like "Half Nekkid Female Sportcasters We Love to Leer At: When Will We Learn to Respect Them for Their Brainz?".

UPDATE: The dumbassery spins out of control:

The country can breathe a sigh of relief now that the New York Jets will be going through a sexual harassment “educational session” sometime this week or early next week.

Why are we punishing the entire team for the actions of a few? Do grown men really need to go to school to learn how to behave in public? But wait - it's gets even better:

Sainz did not bring the initial complaint. The Association for Women in Sports Media raised the issue to the NFL Saturday evening, after receiving notification of the incident.

“AWSM remains steadfast in its long-standing commitment to ensure all women in sports media are treated respectfully, equally and professionally while working in the locker room. We will remain on top of this situation,” the group said in a statement – which begs for a “that’s what she said” retort.

While the team is under investigation at the behest of a third party interest group, Sainz remains unsure as to whether or not she was harassed, preferring to let the NFL make the final judgment. [Ed. note: if you're not sure you were harassed, you weren't.] “I am not the one who say the charge or tried to involve all the team in this situation,” Sainz told Meredith Vieira on NBC’s “Today Show.”

Jaclyn Friedman, executive director of WAM! (Women, Action & the Media) told TheDC that although Sainz did not feel like she was harassed, sexual harassment is not emotional. “It is the sexualizing of an employee in the workplace. So the difference between sexual and sexualizing is that somebody is being treated as though their value is solely reduced to their sexuality,” she said. “It is not about how you feel.”

Friedman denies Sainz has any culpability, no matter her skin-tight outfit, saying the only way to avoid harassment is to not be around harassers. [Ed. note: nope... not. going. there.]

As a woman, this is the kind of thing that really frosts my cornflakes. No one "sexualized" this pathetic oxygen thief - she sexualized herself.

Here's a thought for the Association for Women in Sports Media: if you want to be treated like professionals, try insisting on professional conduct and attire from your members (heh... she said... oh, never mind). Better still, try not issuing unilateral dictats that place all the responsibility for ensuring a professional atmosphere on men while completely absolving women no matter how poorly they comport themselves.

Try doing that. Then you'll have a legitimate complaint if you're treated disrespectfully.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:47 AM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

September 14, 2010

Time Waster

Who said it? Bush or Obama?

The Princess got 80%. She would have done better (90%), but she thought the first quote was a trick question.

Posted by Cassandra at 04:16 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Mascots Gone Wild....

And yet this administration does nothing.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:26 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Banned for Life??? Really?

I've commented before on our thin skinned president's inability to ignore criticism, but this is just too funny for words:

A BRIT teen who sent an email to the White House calling President Obama a "p***k" has been banned from America FOR LIFE.

The furious FBI asked local cops to tell college student Luke Angel, 17, his drunken insult was "unacceptable". Luke yesterday admitted he fired off a single email criticising the US Government after seeing a TV programme about 9/11.

He said: "I don't remember exactly what I wrote as I was drunk. But I think I called Barack Obama a p***k. It was silly - the sort of thing you do when you're a teenager and have had a few."

Luke, of Silsoe, Beds, said it was "a bit extreme" for the FBI to act.

He added: "The police came and took my picture and told me I was banned from America forever. I don't really care but my parents aren't very happy."

More and more, this president is turning out to be everything George Bush was accused of being... and was not.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:09 AM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

Et tu, Casper?

in_lieu_of_flower_obit.jpgYou know the Dems have problems when they can't even rely on their most loyal demographic to show up at the polls this November:

The dead voters may be forced back into their graves. The biggest scandal emerging from the infamous New Black Panther voter- intimidation case didn't even involve the Black Panthers. Instead, it came when whistleblowing attorney J. Christian Adams told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that top Justice Department official Julie Fernandes had openly refused to enforce laws that require states to remove ineligible names - dead people, felons, people who have moved - from voter rolls.

"We have no interest in enforcing this provision of the law," Ms. Fernandes reportedly told a roomful of employees of the department's Voting Section in November. "It has nothing to do with increasing turnout, and we are just not going to do it."

Now comes Mr. Adams to show this wasn't idle talk. As early as today, 16 states will start receiving official "notice letters" from him warning of coming private-action lawsuits to compel them to enforce these particular provisions of the law. This appears to mean that the Justice Department is refusing to make states comply with federal voter-verification laws - which is why the task will fall to Mr. Adams, helping represent private citizens whose legal votes otherwise would be diluted in value by fraudulent votes.

Yesterday Michelle Malkin reported that the Inspector General's office will be investigating the Justice Department's handling of Voting Rights cases:

Just obtained this letter from Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine to members of Congress informing them that he will open up a review of the Obama administration’s selective enforcement of civil rights laws by the Voting Section office of DOJ.

Fine is a veteran IG whose meticulous work I cited in-depth in Invasion. You know how the Obama bully boys have treated IGs. Prayers for Fine would be most appropriate.

If this TPM Muckraker post is any indication, the IG may want to begin their search at the top:

Before the new administration took office, the Obama-Biden transition team conducted its own overview of the Civil Rights Division, including the Voting Section. An excerpt from their report, obtained by TPM:

The politicization of legal analyses and case decisions at the expense of sound law enforcement was particularly egregious in the Voting Section, and the politicized personnel decisions described above had a particularly deleterious impact here. It is evident that the Section, at times at the behest of DOJ's highest ranking officials, prioritized a voter fraud prevention and prosecution agenda designed to suppress minority voter turnout; and decisions on some Section 5 submissions were crafted to serve partisan ends. Notably, the Section focused on the HAVA provisions that allow for purging voter rolls, rather than the provisions that promote voter registration. Although the Section did bring a significant number of language assistance cases, it largely abandoned voting rights cases on behalf of African Americans until very recently. In addition to remedying these enforcement gaps, as explained below, the Section must hire and train attorneys and analysts now to prepare for the avalanche of Section 5 redistricting submissions that will follow the 2010 census.

Let me see if I have this straight: there is no such thing as voter fraud, but prosecuting voter fraud "is designed to suppress minority voter turnout"? Riiiiiiight....

CWCID for the graphic: Jonah Goldberg

Posted by Cassandra at 08:40 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Convergence

... between religion and science?

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

And to think it only took science a few thousand years to catch up:

It was the animals all along.

An anthropologist named Pat Shipman believes she’s found the answer: Animals make us human. She means this not in a metaphorical way — that animals teach us about loyalty or nurturing or the fragility of life or anything like that — but that the unique ability to observe and control the behavior of other animals is what allowed one particular set of Pleistocene era primates to evolve into modern man....

[T]his also placed early humans in an odd spot on the food chain: large predators who were nonetheless wary of the truly big predators. This gave them a strong incentive to study and master the behavioral patterns of everything above and below them on the food chain.

Heh :)

Posted by Cassandra at 08:38 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 13, 2010

Karma is a Bitch

Sometimes, the comedy just writes itself:

Here's a thing that I didn't know at the time. When Hillary won New Hampshire, she became the first woman in American history to win a primary. I mean, I sort of knew that, of course, what she was doing was historic. But this was a massive thing, a change in 220 years of presidential history. I didn't know, and it was my job to know.

And I went back and looked at the New York Times article that sort of summed up the events the next day: Hillary Clinton and McCain win New Hampshire. The article goes into great detail about her crying and all that. But it doesn't mention that this was the first time in American history that a woman had won a presidential primary.

There were lots of smaller things, too. When I tell people about the NPR producer who compared Hillary to Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction," people would say "What?! Somebody said that?!"

Oh please.... next I suppose you'll try to convince me that the Times has agenda. And I think we all know that's just silly.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:54 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Why Conservatives are "Racist"

Gerard Alexander argues that revisionist history makes liberals more receptive to seeing modern conservatives as racists. After all, we're just continuing as we began:

There is power in the accusation of racism against conservatives, one that liberals understand well. In an April 2008 post on Journolist, a private online community for liberal journalists, academics and activists, one writer proposed a way to distract conservatives from the campaign controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's pastor. "If the right forces us all to either defend Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they've put upon us," Spencer Ackerman wrote. "Instead, take one of them -- Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares -- and call them racists."

No doubt, such accusations stick to conservatives more than to liberals. It was then-Sen. Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat, after all, who described presidential candidate Obama as "the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." If a conservative politician had offered such an opinion, his or her career might have ended; Biden was rewarded with a spot on Obama's ticket. Liberal missteps on race and ethnicity are explained away, forgiven and often forgotten; conservative ones are cast as part of a sinister, decades-long story of intolerance and political calculation, in which conservative ideology and strategy are conflated with bigotry.

As Alexander goes on to point out, the presumption of bad faith doesn't help either:

Welfare reform is deliberately anti-black (or anti-minority or anti-poor) only if conservatives secretly believe that welfare actually does help its beneficiaries and are being deceitful when they argue that long-term dependency devastates inner-city communities. Tax cuts are part of a racist agenda only if conservatives do not believe that lower taxes will enhance economic growth and social mobility for all. Conservative opposition to raising the minimum wage is anti-poor only if free-marketeers are feigning concern that increases will price less-skilled people out of the workforce (as when Milton Friedman called the minimum wage "one of the most . . . anti-black laws on the statute books") and secretly agree with liberals that increases will benefit the working poor over the long term.

By such reasoning, conservatives should oppose all government programs that they believe help minority groups. But at least one expansive policy area defies this expectation: education. Most conservatives, even as they turned against busing and welfare, continued to support large public education budgets. Many conservatives may support issuing school vouchers and shutting down the federal Education Department, but those positions concern which level of government should control schools -- not whether government should pay for education for all. Overwhelming majorities of Republicans joined Democrats in 2007 to reauthorize Head Start, the early-education program in which well over half the students are from minority groups. And substantial majorities of whites (conservatives as well as liberals) have voiced support for what sociologist William Julius Wilson calls "opportunity-enhancing affirmative action," policies that would unofficially but inevitably direct disproportionate benefits to minorities.

All these programs aim to give beneficiaries not guaranteed incomes but better chances to succeed by boosting their skills. (It was George W. Bush, after all, who insisted that academic achievement by minority students had to factor into measures of school performance.)

While I agree that both these factors come into play, I think Alexander has missed the fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives: the degree to which liberals and conservatives value equality and our respective definitions of fairness.

Conservative ideology accepts inequality as a natural consequence of both freedom and biology. Men and women are both with differing talents and temperments. This innate biological inequality can be compensated for (or even overcome entirely) by our actions.

We are free to make decisions about how hard we want to work, how much education we will pursue, and what kind of work we wish to do. Undoubtedly these decisions will be harder for less intelligent, less industrious, or less talented people but this natural inequality a fact of life. Conservatives do not view innate inequality as a problem that government should try to solve.

Liberals, on the other hand, believe that inequality is - in and of itself - unjust and they want government to take active steps to minimize its effects. Government can't do much about innate inequality (looks, for instance, or intelligence). But it can address inequality on the outcome side by mandating artificially "fair" outcomes. One tool liberals have used to great effect is a legal doctrine called adverse or disparate impact.

Under this theory, a person who believes he has been treated unfairly does not have to prove the defendant has actively discriminated against him. All he has to prove is that he is a member of a protected class and that some practice impacts that class disproportionately. The practice may be entirely race or gender neutral, but if it results in a lower "success" rate for members of protected class then it is essentially treated as though it were discriminatory.

Conservatives have always championed race and gender blind policies, but to liberals (whose concept of fairness lies not in guaranteeing a fair process but in guaranteeing equality of results) even the most even handed process is racist or sexist if it does not guarantee equal outcomes.

If you begin with the premise that people are born with unequal abilities and ought to have the freedom to make decisions (which may, in turn, either hinder or help them in life) unequal outcomes are a virtual certainty. But if you view unequal outcomes as prima facie evidence that the system is "unfair" (and further, that this unfairness is not the natural result of biology and individual decisions, but proof of discrimination) then race and gender blind policies will look racist to you.

After all, they disparately and adversely impact certain identifiable groups. I happen to be a member of one of those groups: women. As a woman, I know that females as a class of people exhibit demonstrable biological and behavioral differences from men. Whether those differences are great enough to explain disproportionate representation or success in certain fields is (sadly) a question that is very hard to "prove" definitively - especially if you begin with the premise that a race isn't fair unless the composition of runners reflects the composition of society and that everyone ought to cross the finish line at the same time.

What I do know is that differing outcomes alone are not enough to prove the race wasn't run fairly. That, in a nutshell, is why I'm a conservative.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:45 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

You Have Just Entered The Twilight Zone

For those of you who aren't finding the beginning of the work week surreal enough, I give you Thomas Friedman:

Ever since the onset of the Great Recession of 2008, it has been clear that the nature of being a leader — political or corporate — was changing in America. During most of the post-World War II era, being a leader meant, on balance, giving things away to people. Today, and for the next decade at least, being a leader in America will mean, on balance, taking things away from people.


h/t: Elise

Posted by Cassandra at 08:11 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 11, 2010

Two Americas

I spent Wednesday afternoon at Nationals Park watching my home town team play baseball.

It was one of those impossibly idyllic days you only get in September. Here in DC we look forward to them all year; look forward to a break from the heat and humidity, to warm days punctuated by cool breezes that lift our hair along with our spirits; to golden moments perfectly suspended between endless summer and the gloom of approaching winter. My firm was having a Team Building event and so - though I have little in common with the sales staff besides working for the same company - I gamely joined them in the pursuit of something that seems to hover just out of our reach these days: unity of identity and purpose.

The home team lost, but somehow even that didn't matter. It was a beautiful September day and we were full to the brim with hot dogs and beer and happiness; united for a moment by the glorious feeling of playing hooky from the responsibilities that awaited us back at the office.

Perfection, ephemeral as an Indian summer afternoon.

On the way back reality, held at bay by those ballpark gates and the tantalizing possibility of extra innings, began its relentless assault on our senses. Route 66 might as well have been a parking lot. Jokes gradually gave way to silence as we pulled out our cellphones, checked messages and email and mentally braced ourselves for the shock of re-entry.

That's when it happened. Someone said, "I can't believe it will be nine years this week since 9/11". And one by one we began to remember where we were, what we were doing, how it felt. It was this generation's "Where were you when they shot JFK?" moment and for a brief shining moment the shared memory pulled us back from the brink and made us one again.

But like everything that seems impossibly perfect, that moment wasn't meant to last.

Remind any group of Americans about 9/11 and for a moment we'll put aside our differences, put aside our disparate values and priorities. For a moment - but only for a moment - everything else is burned away by the searing memory of the mutual shock and loss and disbelief that gripped us: Republicans, small L libertarians and Democrats alike. For an instant all of that will be forgotten as we remember what's important: that somehow, despite the thousand threats to our security and peace of mind; despite madmen who strap bombs to their chests, zealots with box cutters, and idiots who burn Korans, we are alive.

This week, on the ninth anniversary of that awful day John Edwards' Two Americas stand side by side, an eerie memorial to those vanished Twin Towers. They have long since crumbled into dust, their twisted girders repurposed and reforged into an enduring symbol of American strength and resolve.

Or at least that is how one of the two Americas sees it. That America sees the last flickers of the defiant spirit, the resourcefulness and ingenuity that built this country. It is reassured and reaffirmed by the visible reminder that we still produce leaders who make hard decisions and accept the consequences. This America attributes our current security to our willingness to defend ourselves; to men and women who have given up that most precious of commodities - time with loved ones, or even their very lives - to ensure that no more brilliant autumn mornings will be rocked by unexpected bolts from the blue.

The other America sees hate, paranoia, a foolish overreaction to a minor threat. That America wants to move on already. It is weary of war and its discontents and suspicious of American exceptionalism. It only wants to be left in peace, citing the absence of a follow on attack as proof that (had we only possessed the surety that comes with 20/20 hindsight) we could have reacted differently but achieved essentially the same results. Bin Laden would not have tried again. He would have slunk back to the far reaches of Pakistan to lick his non-existent wounds, or been captured. Somehow they know this. Saddam would not, as he did during the 1990s, once again send an invading army over the border to attack his neighbors. He would not use chemical weapons on his own people. He would give up his nuclear aspirations and cease funding acts of terrorism. He would bow to the will of the global community and meekly allow arms inspectors full access. The leopard would change his spots.

Which of these two Americas is right? Who are we, really? The truth is that we cannot know what future would have followed the path not taken. Nine years after 9/11 we would like clarity. We would like closure. But we will not have either of these things. Certainty is a dream - as much a dream as the illusion of invulnerability that united us until 8:46 a.m. Eastern time nine years ago.

We cannot rewrite the past; cannot shape a happier ending for the story that began nearly a decade ago. What we can do, is remember:

In St. Augustine, Dan Hill was laying tile in his upstairs bathroom when his wife called, "Dan, get down here! An airplane just flew into the World Trade Center. It's a terrible accident." Hill hurried downstairs, and then the phone rang. It was Rescorla, calling from his cell phone.

"Are you watching TV?" he asked. "What do you think?"

"Hard to tell. It could have been an accident, but I can't see a commercial airliner getting that far off."

"I'm evacuating right now," Rescorla said.

Hill could hear Rescorla issuing orders through the bullhorn. He was calm and collected, never raising his voice. Then Hill heard him break into song:

Men of Cornwall stop your dreaming;
Can't you see their spearpoints gleaming?
See their warriors' pennants streaming
To this battlefield.
Men of Cornwall stand ye steady;
It cannot be ever said ye
for the battle were not ready;
Stand and never yield!

Rescorla came back on the phone. "Pack a bag and get up here," he said. "You can be my consultant again." He added that the Port Authority was telling him not to evacuate and to order people to stay at their desks.

"What'd you say?" Hill asked.

"I said, 'Piss off, you son of a bitch,' " Rescorla replied. "Everything above where that plane hit is going to collapse, and it's going to take the whole building with it. I'm getting my people the fuck out of here." Then he said, "I got to go. Get your shit in one basket and get ready to come up."

Hill turned back to the TV and, within minutes, saw the second plane execute a sharp left turn and plunge into the south tower. Susan saw it, too, and frantically phoned her husband's office. No one answered.

About fifteen minutes later, the phone rang. It was Rick. She burst into tears and couldn't talk.

"Stop crying," he told her. "I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I've never been happier. You made my life."

If we are to remember on this day then we should remember all of it, without flinching and without prettying up the messy parts.

Nine years into this war on Islamic extremism we hear a lot about lives destroyed by war. We hear of shattered limbs and broken minds; of suicides, despair, and shadowy figures living under bridges because they can't ever, truly, return from war. The America they left no longer exists for them.

And the hell of it is that all of this is true. Every painful, stinking bit. But it is not the whole truth. The whole truth is that the horrors of war rend and tear at our spirits but they also stiffen our spines and harden our resolve. War gives us back broken children, husbands, wives but also survivors who emerge stronger than ever from the crucible of war. Heroes like Rick Rescorla - a man who, for over a decade, kept watch over the workers at the World Trade Center against an enemy no one else took seriously.

And without men like Rick - without men hardened by horrors most of us cannot imagine even in our worst nightmares - a lot more than 3000 people would have died. Up to 2600 more, by some counts.

Sitting there in that van on Route 66, it wasn't the morning of September 11th that I remembered.

It was a moment that occurred at dusk several weeks later. I've forgotten the exact date now. I was alone - living at my mother in law's empty house in Arlington as I waited for our retirement home to be completed in western Maryland. My husband, a Marine Lieutenant Colonel at the time, was on duty at the Pentagon; one of a skeleton staff still manning its silent halls filled with the acrid scent of smoke. I smelled it on him every dawn when he slipped into bed beside me, moments before my alarm went off.

I got home from work late (as usual) and hurried around the unfamiliar house searching for candles, matches, a sweater to protect me from the autumn chill. And precisely at sunset I gathered these things and went out onto the flagstone patio. Although I could not see them, nearly every door on the silent suburban street was filled with mothers, fathers, children crowding into cramped doorframes. I couldn't see them, but I felt their presence.

And as the sun slipped slowly out of sight on the horizon, tiny flames lit up the autumn dusk like fireflies. For a moment - one, golden moment - the two Americas were united in grief and loss and anger. And the world grieved with us.

It didn't last, but then such moments aren't meant to last. With the dawn the two Americas parted again, standing side by side like those Twin Towers. We desperately want there to be only one, but that is not the America we know. America was born in revolution and dissent and baptized by years of bitter war and violent enmity. America is the product of a clash of ideas - rich, landed gentry who distrusted the passions of the common people and firebrands who envisioned a people whose ardent love of liberty would no more countenance the tyranny of home grown despots than they would the rule of a foreign power.

America embodies the tension between liberty and responsibility and the truth is that we need both if we are to remain a free and prosperous people. In a way, those Twin Towers were a more apt symbol than we knew.

They are gone. Only we remain. We, the people of the United States of America with all our differences, arguments and competing visions. It is the from clash between these visions, and not from some illusive dream of unity, that we will form that more perfect union our forebears envisioned.

The land of the free, made possible by the brave.

twin_towers.bmp

Greta and friends: Nine Years Later.

Miss Ladybug: I Remember

Cdr. Salamander: As It Started

Grim posts a poem written on 9/11.

A different kind of remembrance.

The folks at Blackfive have several tributes, all wonderful. Just keep scrolling.

"We will not tire. We will not falter. And we will not fail".

A Friendship Born in Fire.

Retriever fights anger with Scripture.

RightNetwork has a whole slew of essays. One stop shopping.

Over at Mudville, time lapse history.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:17 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

September 10, 2010

More Things I've Been Meaning to Link To

September has been a busy month so far. The blog princess has a big project at work that will be tying up a lot of her time and attention so blogging may be even more lame than usual around here.

My Inbox is overflowing with highly linkable material, however.

No Sheeples has a video up promoting Project 2996. I'm late in getting this up here but there's still time to participate! Any readers without blogs (or smaller blogs who want to experience the awesome power - *not* - of a Cassandralaunch) who decide to write a tribute, please let me know. If you don't have a blog I'll post your entry here. If you do have a blog, send me your links and I'll post them on 9/11.

Speaking of 9/11, DellBabe remembers.

Jane Novak: Enemy of the State.

Help Wanted:

In 1967, on a military flight returning an air force sergeant's 3 year old child after stomach surgery, a three time wounded Viet Nam vet spoke with the child and gave him his purple heart medal in hopes that the youngster's spirits would remain strong.

They did.

That youngster, now 46 years old, is trying to find and thank that wounded soldier. And give him his medal back...

Great story.

Real Warriors Profile:

Following his second deployment to Iraq, in which he lost troops and a clear sense of mission, Army Maj. Hall became increasingly angry, began pushing away his family, and contemplated suicide until his commanding officer helped him get needed help for PTSD.

Today, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day. Real Warriors, like Maj. Jeff Hall, who have had the strength to reach out for treatment and are proving through example that reaching out makes a difference.

And now, something completely different...

Posted by Cassandra at 08:30 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

RightNetwork

Attention on deck! All bitter gun-clinging extremist snake handling fundamentalist whack job haters: report here for duty.

Your reading assignments for today:

Gin, makes me sin.

The iPad as Marital Aid

Even the Blog Princess has a humble offering.
Go. Now.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:27 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

September 09, 2010

Shocking News

There are positive aspects to life's challenges:

Like most children hit by a disaster or tragedy, 8-year-old Laurel Shepard was upset for months after her brother and grandparents were killed in a plane crash, says her mother Julie Shepard. Haunted by nightmares, she rarely left her mother's side.

Three years later, Laurel is still anxious, but Ms. Shepard is also seeing some new qualities: more empathy for other kids, deeper relationships with family and a new creative energy that led her to produce a documentary on her brother. "I was shocked" by the growth in Laurel, now 11, says Ms. Shepard, Beaverton, Ore.

As the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks draws near, research on children traumatized by disaster is revealing that some children have a surprising capacity not only to bounce back, but to grow stronger than before. Once thought possible only in adults, this "post-traumatic growth" is marked by increases in self esteem and compassion, a greater appreciation for relationships and a deeper sense of meaning or spirituality.

Children may say, for example, that they learned as a result of a disaster "how nice and helpful people can be," based on a scale developed by Ryan Kilmer, an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and others to measure post-traumatic growth. They may feel better able to handle big problems. Or they may appreciate each day more, feel closer to other people or believe they understand better "how God works."

Surprisingly, those who at first may seem the most upset, ruminating on their fears or sadness and what the disaster means to them tend to be the ones who later exhibit post-traumatic growth. The rumination and distress catalyze the growth process, Dr. Kilmer says.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:36 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

They Work for Peanuts....

Giant, mine clearing rats, that is:

ratatouille.jpg

The cost to train a rat is 6,000 euros ($7,700), roughly a third of what it costs to train a dog. Where dogs need expansive kennel facilities and regular veterinary care because of African climates, APOPO's kennel facilities at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania, can house up to 300 rats. The rats see a single vet once a week and are much easier to transport than dogs, Weetjens said.

Training begins with socialization when the rats are 4 weeks old because "it's really important they learn man are friends," Weetjens said.

A system of Pavlovian conditioning follows. Trainers teach the rodents to associate a clicking noise with something tasty: a banana or peanuts. The same treats are used to teach them how to signal when they find a mine and how to detect the scent of TNT in tea balls.

The final phase before they're shipped to Mozambique for accreditation includes several trial runs in APOPO's training minefields, some of which contain tea balls, others live mines.

Nailing down the regimen was tricky. At one point in APOPO's early days, the rats performed perfectly in trials, making Weetjens suspicious. It turned out the rats were outsmarting the humans.

"They knew which samples had been touched by the trainers," he said. "We have to remain extremely vigilant not to bring in additional cues that help the animal find out what the rewarding samples are."


Posted by Cassandra at 08:10 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

September 07, 2010

Virtue and the Limited Franchise

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except negroes" When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty -- to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].

- Abraham Lincoln, letter to Joshua Speed

I started this post over a week ago but got sidetracked. My series of posts examining the notion of limiting the franchise provoked far more responses than I anticipated. Unfortunately I've been too busy to give these responses the time and thought they deserve.

I was pleased to see that while I was in Seattle, Grim continued the discussion. Being female (and therefore assured of my ineffable rightness), I was even more gratified at his conclusion:

.... this exploration -- as interesting and profitable as it's been to look back at the source of the franchise, to note that the arguments for expanding it were based on virtue, and otherwise to examine how we got to where we are -- hasn't really brought forth useful results. Elise said that her chief objection was that she couldn't think of a way to limit the franchise that would ensure that all and only the right people got to vote. So far, I haven't been able to think of one either.

All I came up with as good examples of qualities that would demonstrate virtue were honorable military service, and faithful parenthood. That's inadequate: I can think of lots of people I know who don't fall in either category, but who are certainly not folks who should be disqualified from voting. And I can't think of any quality or union of qualities that would be a good proxy for virtue: neither education, nor income level (Hamilton notwithstanding, I don't think either wealth or payment of taxes is a good model), nor much of anything else that comes to mind is really useful in this regard.

I doubt that limiting the franchise is the answer. The lesson of the Norman expansion of the franchise is that it's worked better than the systems that did not expand it. I don't think there are good moral reasons to believe that the franchise should be universal and unearned, but I also can't think of a good model for earning it that allows all and only (or mostly) the right people to have access.

If I had to explain to someone who has never blogged why it is that I've been doing this all these years, I'd point to discussions like this. Over the years, the conversations I've enjoyed most have been with writers and commenters who thought I was wrong about something.

Sometimes I learn from people who agree with me. Usually this happens when their reasons for doing so are ones I'd never considered. There have even been times when a comment meant to agree with me made me doubt some aspect of my argument. But the conversations I really relish are the ones that force me to re-examine my assumptions about the world.

Speaking of assumptions, I've been very remiss in not getting a clarification out there where everyone will see it.

Back in August I linked to a very short (3 sentences!) post by Kevin D. Williamson. We had quite a discussion as to what he meant to say, but later in the comments of a subsequent post, Mr. Williamson was kind enought to clarify his point for us:

My argument has little or nothing to do with the specific value of extending the franchise to women or declining to do so. (I have not much thought about that question.) I am still less concerned about proposals that would result in the election of more Republicans to public office (because I am not sure that would produce the results that I desire).

My argument is that voting is in general a crude way to address complex problems and that we grossly overestimate the value of voting. Treacly tributes to the 19th Amendment require an antidote, and I offered one.

Given a choice, I would undo the extension of the franchise to people under 21 (in fact, I'd raise the voting age to 25) and rescind direct election of senators. I do not have any strong feelings about women's voting per se.

I don't feel too bad about misunderstanding his point because the post was quite brief, but also because being misunderstood is an occupational hazard on the Internet. But I also think it's important to correct the record since we now have more (and better) information.

And please accept my apologies for not getting this up here sooner!

Posted by Cassandra at 05:05 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Those Inconvenient Generals And Their Dangerous Opinions!

Here's a question for you:

...is it not highly problematic when a senior military officer warns American citizens against exercising their undoubted First Amendment rights? This situation is different from the Koran-down-the-toilet story. We criticized news outlets at the time for endangering American troops, but that was mostly because the story was false. Presumably we can all agree that newspapers and magazines should not circulate false reports that endanger our troops. But what about accurate stories of Americans exercising their constitutional right to criticize Islam by burning Korans?

... the First Amendment only prohibits the establishment of a religion by government. Which is where we came in--there is a fundamental difference between my telling Terry Jones, senior minister at the Dove World Outreach Center, that a mass Koran-burning is a bad idea, and General Petraeus saying the same thing. Especially when Petraeus, probably the most respected person in the federal government, warns that the likely effect is to endanger our troops. In many contexts, taking actions that endanger the troops would be regarded as giving aid and comfort to the enemy, a concept that Petraeus came uncomfortably close to endorsing.

I'm not sure what is worrying John here, nor do I see how asking a private citizen to voluntarily consider how his words may endanger others constitutes "giving aid and comfort to the enemy". If the Taliban are looking for excuses to stir up trouble then doesn't depriving them of such excuses frustrate rather than aid them?

Public servants shouldn't use the powers we grant them to prohibit or punish lawful speech, but that's not what happened here. This is no "who will rid me of that troublesome priest" moment. Nowhere in Petraeus' remarks does he suggest the military (or any other public official, for that matter) stop Jones from burning those Korans. Nowhere does he suggest that Jones doesn't have the right to sanctimoniously wrap himself in the Constitution whilst making a colossal ass of himself.

What he does do is ask Jones to consider the effect his actions are likely to have on others. It's hard to think of anyone in a better position to assess that effect than the man we've placed in charge of not one but two wars against Islamic extremists. I suspect that's what really bothers Petraeus' detractors - they know he is right, but they don't like being reminded that the true cost of all that defiant "speech" of theirs will be borne by someone else.

Kind of takes all the fun out of being a brave, truth-to-powering First Amendment warrior, doesn't it?

I'll tell you what I find troubling: the suggestion that a military officer (whose responsibilities include winning a war on an impossible timetable and looking out for the welfare of over 63,000 young men and women) has no business commenting on events that substantially impact his mission. Nor am I unduly concerned with the supposed chilling effects of being publicly reminded that in the real world, actions have consequences. Not to put too fine a point on it, but "Duh".

There's nothing overtly political about observing that violent morons are easily provoked to acts of violent moronicism. This well known tendency puts the "violent" and "extreme" in violent extremism. Indeed, the right has often objected to the suggestion that such reminders are unacceptable and intolerant (as opposed to intuitively obvious). I can't help but get the feeling that neither the left nor the right has any problem with military officers expressing professional opinions... so long as those opinions support their respective world views. A few cases in point:

1. Was it problematic when the Joint Chiefs signed a letter objecting to a political cartoon they perceived as disrespectful and demeaning to wounded soldiers?

My recollection is that most the lefty blogs found the incident "scary" and "troubling". Most righty bloggers applauded the move.

2. Was it problematic when General Conway said that setting a deadline for US withdrawal from Afghanistan gives sustenance to the Taliban?

Who objected the most?

3. How about when he stated that he wasn't sure straight Marines should be forced to bunk with gay Marines?

How many folks on the right found that statement problematic? How many on the left objected to it? How often have we seen either side object to uniformed utterances that bolster their world view?

Well alrighty then.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:43 AM | Comments (130) | TrackBack

Thought for the Day

Let me ask you a question here today. How many of you here today used to believe something? Used to, past tense. Whether it was flying saucers, psychic powers, religion, anything like that.

...Now, let me ask you a second question. The second question is, "How many of you no longer believe in those things - you became a skeptic - because somebody got in your face, screaming, and called you an idiot, brain damaged, and a retard?

CWCID: Discover Magazine and the always interesting Arts and Letters Daily.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:18 AM | Comments (42) | TrackBack

September 06, 2010

Priceless

Too funny:

All I ask, as a woman, is for consistency. When we turn to the bonobos to be our guides, let's not be quite so selective about the take-home message. Let us try to examine every species more thoroughly.

For example: true, women have "pendulous breasts," but hey, men have pendulous ears, and what could those possibly be for? Any serious evolutionary scholar can plainly see that the human male is designed to be listening to women at all times. That's why their ears are larger.

Ryan claims that, since the male organ is "the longest [and] thickest," we cannot deny the evidence that "prehistoric promiscuity" is part of our primate inheritance. Yet this fascinating investigation is cut short. If we continue traveling further upwards, we discover that a man's arms are also generally longer and thicker than a woman's.

From a strictly scientific standpoint, here we see a strong indication that a man is evolutionarily adapted to give out more back rubs than he gets. Sure, today an individual man can refuse a request for a massage, but when the next wave of natural selection works its magic, he may find that his massage-phobic genes are out of the running.

Once at the Toronto Zoo, my family witnessed a male orangutan picking nits off his baby's hair, while the female lolled about peacefully, grooming herself under a tree. Can there be any clearer precedent, from an evolutionary perspective, for men to scrape the dinner plates while women get manicures?

Another time on YouTube, I saw a female gorilla munching on stinging nettles, even though they seemed to bother her. It was a humbling, yet powerful directive for me to go shopping even though I couldn't really afford a new outfit.

Ladies, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. It is time to stop arguing with evolutionary theorists when they use bonobo behavior to justify their own low standards.

Why should men have a monopoly on the totally arbitrary selection of chimp behavior that renders their own predilections normative under the guise of scientific observation? I am picking up my pad of paper, I am ready to take notes and I am headed for the zoo.

Do the gorillas speak to you, too? If they don't, simply write to let me know what behavior of yours you'd like to rationalize, and I am confident that working together as a scientific team, we can find a gorilla somewhere out there doing that very thing with a vengeance.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:38 AM | Comments (23) | TrackBack

Men...

...they are always thinking:

For three years, Zable has been on a mission to concoct Fried Beer. He remembers staring at a bar menu in a restaurant. Calamari. Nachos. Fried cheese.

Bor-ing.

"Someone needs to figure out a way to fry beer," he thought.

Zable started experimenting. But the beer-and-dough concoction kept exploding once it hit the fryer. He kept getting burned.

So he consulted with a food scientist – still, no luck.

Then, earlier this year, he finally found the recipe for success. Now Zable keeps the process shrouded in secrecy and has applied for a Fried Beer patent and trademark.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:16 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

September 04, 2010

Best Ad Campaign...

...since the much lamented Brawny Man ads of yore:

More here.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:40 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Baile!

If you don't watch this in full screen mode, you'll regret it:

Posted by Cassandra at 09:22 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 03, 2010

Too Funny

OK, I wasn't going to post this but Grim's comments on the Tomorrow post keep reminding me of it:

After many late nights, I'd flown cross country as the junior member of a restructuring team. Our client was a bank on the verge of collapse and our job was to save it. In the meeting, my boss glowered. The bank's leaders argued among themselves rather than responding to our analysis. When it was my turn to speak, I tried to ease the tension by putting context around our numbers and using a warm tone. The bank's CEO ignored what I was saying to instead squabble with a board member next to me - for 10 minutes. Yielding to the will of the client, I sat back and attempted a patient smile.

"You lost control of the meeting," my boss said gruffly on the way to the airport. "You should have looked the CEO in the eye and said, 'You're wrong! You're missing the point.' Worse, you were wordy and you smiled at him, like it was OK that he interrupted you." I didn't recall my boss saying anything so bold and wasn't sure how effective I, the team minion, would have been with a stare-down. But my boss made me think: Why all the words and why had I smiled?

Researching Getting to 50/50, I learned that women speak an average of 21,000 words a day while men use a mere 7,000. (My husband says I'm above average and should shield him from my verbal tsunami; but studies say female verbal supremacy is really a form of deference - that we feel obliged to explain ourselves more than men do). Data also shows we women more often tilt our heads and smile encouragingly because we've been socialized to think this is the polite thing to do. And we wait patiently for our turn to speak. And don't retaliate when interrupted.

So when women say they don't feel heard, should we tell them to act more like men? Or should men drop the dominance bit - and learn to like listening? Both would help. Men and women need to get on the same page about what's "normal," so we work together more constructively.

It's not generational, either. Talking with a panel of current business school students, a female lecturer said "You know, I make a big effort to call on women in my class. But it seems like the guys still dominate the conversation. Why is that?" The female students had an interesting take: It's not that the women are too quiet, it's that the men are too noisy. "Guys in our class feel free to express an opinion when they haven't read the case. They have no shame. Women think that's irresponsible and don't speak unless they have something valuable to say."

When a graduate school professor was asked why there weren't more female speakers in his classes, he had a simple answer: "Well, men bang down my door to come present their ideas. Women seem to be waiting to be asked."

Make sure to check out the comments - they're hysterical. While reading them I kept thinking, "Good Lord. Did you people read the same article I did?"

Most of what the author had to say matches what I've seen of the very different communication styles of men and women. None of this is terribly surprising to anyone who has ever been married or who works in a mixed sex workplace. Getting along with other people usually entails some rudimentary awareness of how they think and how they are likely to interpret your words and actions. This is just as true of people from other cultures as it is of the opposite sex (or people whose political beliefs or values differ from your own).

I work mainly with men, and I think I get along with them fairly well but there is no doubt that they react very differently from women when problems arise. Part of my job - a big part - is being able to adapt.

Few of us have the luxury of dealing only with people who are exactly like us. I'm always a bit mystified when I see men railing on about how unfair it is that they can't just "be themselves", or women complaining about how overbearing men sometimes seem to feminine sensibilities. There's an element of truth to both complaints but the underlying assumption is that there's a "right" way and a "wrong" way. What's wrong with meeting people half way?

Act too overbearing or assertive and people will avoid and resist you. Act too meek and submissive and they won't take you seriously. Different situations often require different tactics but the best leaders learn from their surroundings instead of forcing everyone they deal with to be like them.

It's hard to motivate others if you're unwilling or incapable of understanding what's important to them. But what do I know? I'm just a woman :p

Posted by Cassandra at 01:37 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Speechless

In this week's edition of "Dang... y'all are weird sometimes":

Love Plus+ re-creates the experience of an adolescent romance. The goal isn't just to get the girl but to maintain a relationship with her.

After choosing one of three female characters—goodie-goodie Manaka, sassy Rinko or big-sister type Nene—to be a steady girlfriend, the player taps a stylus on the DS touch-screen in order to walk hand-in-hand to school, exchange flirtatious text messages and even meet in the school courtyard for a little afternoon kiss. Using the device's built-in microphone, the player can carry on sweet, albeit mundane, conversations.

If the real-life Romeo earns enough "boyfriend power" points—by completing game tasks like homework or exercise to become smarter and more buff—the reward is a virtual trip to Atami.

In the game, the couple tours the local landmarks. The girlfriend changes into a yukata, a casual summer kimono, to go see the fireworks, and then they stay overnight at the Hotel Ohnoya. It is known for its cavernous, white-columned baths in the style of Ancient Rome.

In his first visit to the real-life Atami, Love Plus+ gamer Shunsuke Kato planned to walk around the city and see the sights familiar to him from playing the game. One small hitch: his girlfriend, Manaka, was giving him the silent treatment.

Women.... we are so complicated. Hard to know what we're thinking sometimes.

Update: BillT must die.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:28 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

September 02, 2010

If Tomorrow Never Came

What would you most regret? The number one answer given by men was:

I wish I didn't work so hard. This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

The other responses were interesting as well: I wish I possessed the courage to express my feelings. I wish I'd realized some of my dreams. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

As much as I admire traditional masculinity, I am often saddened at the terrible price men pay to become men. The last 8 years of war have only strengthened this feeling on my part. There are times when the demands of being a man seem almost inhuman.

Raising two boys left me convinced that men aren't naturally any less emotional than women are. Men and boys have a great capacity for love. I'm not saying they aren't different from women. But in men, feelings seem to compete with more traditionally masculine qualities - competitiveness, aggression, pride, the desire to take risks and overcome challenges. The man who cannot control (and sometimes completely suppress) his feelings is at a significant disadvantage when competing against other men. Tenderness is a liability rather than an asset. A chink in the armor, or a weapon to be used against him.

For women, it's different. Our feelings are not a sign of weakness, but rather the source of feminine strength and insight. The woman who allows herself to feel pays no social penalty for doing so: we expect women to be gentle, to be loving, to forgive and forget. In a woman's traditional sphere (home, hearth, friendships) she is not viewed as less feminine for showing her emotions. Our vulnerability is, in a sense, a tool. We use it to build bridges, dissolve hostility and indifference, forge connections between people.

A while back I asked Retriever to write about her childhood heroes or heroines. She recently made the time, and I was oddly touched by her recounting for in many ways it well describes my own childhood dreams:

Cassandra and I both love to speculate about the differences between men and women, and how those differences make life interesting. A while ago, she asked me to write about my childhood memories and role models. We wondered what Evil Heartless and Steely Conservative Female Bloggers are made of... Kidding aside, here are some recollections of my daydreams and favorite pastimes as a small child. What I admired and aspired to. I think you will agree that modern children seldom hear much about these characters, and perhaps it is their loss...

I’ve picked a specific time period in my childhood so as not to try your patience too much. The ages of 4 1/2 to 8 1/2. We moved then to a farm in Pennsylvania. A rather dour landscape of rolling hills and thick thickets, and we lived a few miles away from the artist Andy Wyeth. My father, a former Navy officer, took a job with a multinational company and was in their head office. I had two younger siblings, with whom my mother was much taken up, and I was more or less shooed out the door and told to come back at suppertime. It was pure heaven for a kid.

We had Shetland ponies (evil tempered, but I loved them and helped look after them), and a pond with snapping turtles I kept trying to catch until one took a chunk out of the plastic bucket. We had a kennel full of beagles. The beagles would escape by digging out and go chase rabbits in the cornfield of the farmer across the way and he would shoot at them. I would be dispatched to catch the beagles before they got shot. Eventually my parents buried cinderblocks to prevent the escapees tunnelling out from Stalag Luft Beagle.

I played every day with the boy half a mile up the road, Billy. We would play war games endlessly. Build forts, booby traps, snares for rabbits (that never worked), shoot BB guns, dare each other to jump off 12 foot walls in our “Airborne” training, skulk up and pretend that we were snipers sneaking up on our families, sweet little kid behavior. For my seventh (?) birthday, I took my class to Valley Forge so we could do a really grand war game. Yes, I was rather a tomboy. I could run like the wind, and I was afraid of nothing, and I detested other girls. I had no friends except Billy. We didn’t talk much, it was like a guy friendship. If you had asked me what I wanted to be back then what I wanted to be, I would have said a soldier, and that I planned to disguise myself as a man.

The rest of my spare time, I escaped into books from an early age. By the time I was 5, my mother was ill increasingly. In and out of hospital. I was left to my own devices most of the time. I did well in school, tho I had few friends. I was top of my class and at one point was encircled by a crowd of bullies who called me Teacher’s Pet. And started to punch me. Billy came running down the field and the two of us punched and kicked them and they never bothered me again. Nowadays I would have been sent to a shrink or to disciplinary action. I was alone at home. So I read.

Greek and Roman myths, tales of King Arthur, codes of chivalry, stories of the Crusades, romantic legends, Robin Hood, Rudyard Kipling, C. S.Lewis, Jack London, Mark Twain, National Geographic, and my father’s collection from childhood of the G.A. Hentie series (a British boys‘ adventure series where the kid is usually poor and runs away and joins the service or goes to sea and has all kinds of adventures, becomes a hero, etc.).

I loved stories about my Greek goddess namesake, Diana, but I don’t remember many female heroines I especially wanted to emulate. I thought Boadicea and Joan of Arc were cool, but they ended up dead. Ruth in the Bible was gutsy but manipulative. I thought the women in the New Testament were insipid. The ones in the Old Testament were victims, vicious or sleazy.

I liked church because I sang in the choir in splendid robes. But I found modern Christianity tame, and wished I had been a Crusading Knight, my greatest heroes.

I don't remember admiring any sports or entertainment figures (we were not allowed TV). US soldiers and sailors and airmen were my only real life heroes. Oh, and missionary doctors. I found women's lives uninspiring and limited. In real life, I was rather neglected by my own mother and was afraid of her (she was manic and unreliable). The only women I looked up to were my schoolteachers and Sunday School teachers who were kind to me, and calm and reliable, but I didn’t want a boring life like theirs.

Mostly I wanted to have the kind of life that the brave boys I read about did. Boys who escaped their awful families or cruel fates and ran away to sea or joined the Army, went through terrible trials and dangers, learned a lot, rescued people, saved the day, and came home in a blaze of glory.

My point is, as a little girl, I daydreamed of being a hero, and being tested, struggling to do the right thing, being brave, helping others, fighting my own fear and ignorance, rising above my own self interest. No different from any little boy.

It is perhaps hardly surprising that the other little girls back then had little use for me. I didn’t care about Barbies or hair or nails or clothes or who liked who....

In the early 1960s, nothing seemed duller to me than the life of a wife and mother...and I most certainly didn’t want to end up like my mom.

I used to daydream of running away and proving myself in a man’s world.

My father was my main real life hero. He was in the Reserves for years, and I thought that nobody, but nobody, was as handsome as he was in his uniform. I wanted to grow up and be like him. We had a complicated relationship. He was deathly proud of me, and I looked like him, was a good dancer like him, was temperamentally similar to him (thank God), and academically gifted in the same ways as him. I ended up going to the same college as him, living in the same dorm, and being an editor of the newspaper as he had done. He used to sigh sadly “What a waste that you were born a girl! The things you could have done if you were a boy!”

That’s all I will say for now. Except to say that I have been married 23 years, have 3 kids, and the happiest time in my life was when I was an at home nursing mommy. Life at home was more fulfilling than I ever dreamed... Go figure! God surprises us.

Of all the dreams I had when I was a little girl, I dreamed most often that I could fly. Of course every child has those dreams. There is nothing special about them. What astonishes me to this day, though, is how easy it is (even from the distance of four decades) to conjure up the way I felt when I soared over treetops, mountains and buildings.

I hardly ever have that dream now. Most often, I dream that I am trapped. I cannot do what I want to do; cannot get where I want to go and I feel so angry and frustrated.

I worry about men a lot. Perhaps that's because I never had a daughter. My entire little family are male and I have spent my entire life caring for them, loving them, trying to support and understand them. Being online is sometimes very confusing to me. I see so many men who seem to loathe women with a passion that makes me feel hopeless about the state of the modern world.

Despite our differences, my own life has taught me how very alike we are, men and women. Like Retriever, I never dreamed of being a princess who was rescued by a white knight in shining armor. I was always the hero in my own dreams - I dreamed of accomplishing great feats of courage and valor; of defending the weak and protecting those I loved. And like Retriever it seemed to me that mostly the women in those childhood stories were passive bystanders. They rarely did anything interesting or daring. I never daydreamed of being a wife or mother.

And yet, when they laid my firstborn son in my arms I knew that a great un-dreamed for thing had happened to me. And I laid aside - gladly - every hope, every plan, every aspiration I'd ever had to be someone in my own right. Someone to admire. The kind of person I admired.

It's not as though my dreams died that day. Every spring when the world began to spring to life, those dreams ran like wildfire through my blood and I wanted to run far, far away from the cares of motherhood and wifely duty. I wanted to be that person I dreamed of being when I was just a girl.

I seldom if ever hear men say they regret not having more time to spend with those they love. I seldom if ever say how much I regret my lost dreams. And yet at the end of our lives, those wishes seem to come back to us like frisbees thrown into the wind.

Would it change anything if we could experience that moment of perspective that dying brings while there was still time to change course?

I wonder. Perhaps we'd understand each other better, though.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:48 PM | Comments (56) | TrackBack

September 01, 2010

Queer Eye for the Oval Office Guy

Knowing as she does that the only thing the Oink Cadre enjoy more than a good, rousing sex-and-relationships post is a good, rousing post about upholstery fabric and the virtues of contrasting welting, the Blog Princess has decided to pander to the prurient tastes of the assembled villainry by pouring over old photos of various Presidential Oval Office re-dos.

The current denizen of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave recently brought Change to the Oval Office in the form of monocromatic beige-and-cream. Apparently Mr. Excitement is not a big risk taker. But if you find yourself bored by all the creamy wonderfulness, you can always occupy your time by reading the Presidential rug:

If President Obama's visitors ever grow bored, they can always read the mottos woven into the border of the Oval Office's new rug.

There are five of them "of meaning to the president" on the outskirts of the traditional presidential seal, according to a White House spokesman, and definitely not from Disney. No "whistle while you work," in other words.

This is fare for troubled times, and the White House is, uh, very transparent about it all. The carpet-bound philosophies are:

• "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

• "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." (Martin Luther King Jr.)

• "Government of the people, by the people, for the people." (Abraham Lincoln)

• "No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings." (John F. Kennedy)

"The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally upon the welfare of all of us." (Theodore Roosevelt)

Love that last one...

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The Blog Princess approves of the wallpaper - it's fresh and crisp. But she is not sure whose idea it was to have all four upholstered pieces covered in the same boring shade of light brown? Some punchier throw pillows and a color on the two Martha Washington chairs at the far end (perhaps that nice Williamsburg blue from the sofa pillow? Or navy?) would liven things up a bit.

And the coffee table has got to go. Every time she looks at it, she gets the munchies. "Duuuuuuuuuuude...."

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Teh Shrub's decor is likewise restrained - no irrational exuberance here. It's hard to see in the photo but the drapes pick up the pale gold stripes on the Martha Washington chairs and both coordinate with the blue and gold border on the rug, pulling the room together nicely. Her only criticism is the cream pillows on the cream sofa. Booooooooor-ing! She would have found a snazzy blue-and-gold braid or silk cord to sew around them and thrown one or two small accent pillows on the sofa.

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Looking at the Clinton Oval Office, it's easy to see why the Chimperor-in-chief opted for the relatively sedate azure and gold scheme. The eye popping colors are enough to make a guy choke on his pretzel and that dark blue rug is just... wrong. The candy striped sofas, while undeniably perky (not to mention reminiscent of interns), are a tad much when combined with a bright blue rug and bright gold curtains. Hard on the eyes. Reminds me of a scene from LA Story where Harris Telemacher's tacky girlfriend describes her infallible method for putting outfits together: "Look away from the mirror and then look back suddenly. The first thing that catches your eye - earrings, necklace, scarf - take it off".

Sometimes, less is more.

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Bush I opts for a restrained blue and ivory scheme. Safe. Classy. *Yawn*

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Reagan kept the divine red curtains from his predecessor but (photo below) lost the rug. I like the red throw pillows and the red border around the Presidential Seal on the rug. I could have wished for a touch of color on those chairs in front of the fireplace, though.

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More coming up!

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Jimmy Carter didn't redecorate, but he did shuffle the sofas and chairs around a bit. Note that wing chairs have replaced the Martha Washington occasional chairs (they were moved to the front of the office).

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Gerald Ford's redo. The color seems off in this photo - the gold was more of an apricot in other photos I've seen. Will withhold further commentary to allow BillT to weigh in.

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What the hell???

Oh. It's Nixon. Blue rugs should be permanently banned from the Oval Office and anyone who suggests having one made should be taken out and summarily shot.

That is all.

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Johnson: the pale-blue-and-ivory scheme is back and more snooze inducing than ever. Not sure what's going on with the vaguely Roman Empire-looking decor.

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Interesting curtains. I like the trim but a room with high ceilings really needs more fabric.

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Just when you thought that nothing could be more heinous than the Curse of the Blue Rug, along comes JFK with.... red. This is a crime against the textile industry.

Also, rollup shades on the windows? Really? Same curtains but this time with red trim. To match that enticing shade of red underfoot.

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Aieeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!! My eyes!

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Truman goes for the tried-and-true pale blue and ivory, but adds some interest with black and gold Hitchcock chairs. A small slice of Americana.

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More pale blue (Eisenhower), accented with crimson this time. And is that... color on the walls? It sure looks like it. I would have left the crown molding white.

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Note that pretty much all the furniture has been moved up around the President's desk.

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FDR's office in 1936. Reminiscent of The Red Room. But things are about to get a whole lot more sinister....

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"Ve haff vays off makink you submit to our Imperial will!"

Well, that's about it for today's Queer Eye for the Presidential Guy. If you really want a good laugh though, check out these designer suggestions for the Obama redo.

My fave? This groovy take on 21st century hope and change:

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Louise Hellman: 1. Pull-out Iraq map. 2. Kenyan hardwood abacus to regulate the economy. 3. Carbon-zero stove fed on old Bush climate change policies. 4. Cold war buffet. 5. Bulletproof steel desk. 6. Basketball apparatus. 7. Psychiatrist's couch for healthcare dreams analysis. 8. Car seats donated by greatful automobile industry. 9. CND rug to promote nuclear disarmament. 10. Afghan prayer mat for visiting prime ministers

I think the bullet proof desk sets just the right tone. I don't know about you but I am really feeling the love.

Many thanks to the White House Museum for providing several of the photos used in this post. Also, this site.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:10 AM | Comments (63) | TrackBack