Archive for July, 2009

Shut The F*** Up And Talk To Me

Posted in media failure, politics, rant with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2009 by vagabondsaint

A few months ago, I read an aticle in the Huffington Post about “he said – she said” journalism.  I intended to blog about it, but got distracted with moving and various other crises.  I can’t find the article – I tried as much as my tired brain would allow – but I’ll do my best to sum it up for you.

“He said, she said” journalism is, in a nutshell, presenting both sides (usually liberal and conservative) or a particular issue without repudiation or mentioning the facts of the situation.  It is far more prevalent in modern journalism than it used to be, and there is, according to the article, a number of reasons for it:  a desire by corporate news organizations not to offend anyone by pointing out their fallacies or appearing to support one viewpoint ver another, even if the facts are in support of one position and completely invalidate the other. News divisions of a company not wanting to hinder or conflict with other departments of the same parent company.  Wanting to appear fair and give equal time to opposing viewpoints leaves little room for truth.  Restrictive news budgets don’t have the funds for investigative journalism.  Modern mainstream media journalists have no balls.  (Okay, I made that last one up.)

Think I’m wrong?  Pay close attention to the news that you read online (who reads papers anymore?) or what you hear on TV.  I promise you, you will hear more “this person says that, but this person says this” than you will any actual facts.  Though the writer of the article took some comfort in their observation that the trend appears to be waning, as near as I could tell it was still going strong, with little sign of abating.

With the recent passing of Walter Cronkite, this article came to my mind again, and still I didn’t blog about it.

What finally got my Irish up (no mean feat, considering my Caucasian ancestry is actually German) was an article in today’s New York Times.

As I said, I am still paying attention to the health care debate, still reading about it as much as my brain will allow, even though I have avoiding blogging about it.  This article on the health care debate, henceforth referred to as Exhibit A, is a fair example of what’s wrong with journalism and journalists today.

The article is about poll numbers reflecting growing unease about health care reform among Americans, due to the claims of opposed legislators and millions spent on negative advertising about reform from both the private insurance industries and the Republican National Committee.  It also includes quotes from President Obama about what the reform he seeks will and and will not do, as he travels the country trying to refute the claims of the opposition.  The article does great in presenting the facts of the poll, but what’s missing?

There are claims about the reform bills made by Obama and by people who answered some follow-up questions to the poll, an Iowa woman in particular. What’s missing here is whether or not these claims, from either side, bear any truth to them.  The quotes and concerns from those who answered the follow-up questions make it obvious to anyone who’s been following the bill that their concerns are coming from opposition advertising and Republican (and Blue Dog Democrat) talking points about the bills.

Anyone who’s put in a little research on the health care reform bill knows that the grand majority of the claims made by those in opposition to the bill are false.    Two examples:

Claim: “The advertisements present the overhaul as a risky experiment, or a government takeover of health care that would prevent people from choosing their own doctors.”

Truth: Well, that’s technically true.  The advertisements do make that claim.  But the genuine fact is that the health care reform bill would in no way dictate what doctors patients can or cannot see, much unlike, say, private insurance companies.  But did the NYT make mention of that fact in its article?  Nope.  It just repeated the propaganda with no clarification, refutation, or even a mild comparison to the objective truth.

Claim: “We will pay more taxes.”

Truth:  Health care reform will actually save us more money in the long run, because hospitals won’t have to adjust their fees for covering the uninsured and those unable to pay, thereby lowering the amount they charge us as individuals and what they charge the insurance companies.  Unless you make more than $250,000 a year, which the overwhelming majority of Americans do not, you will not have to pay any new taxes.  Those that do make that much money will face a 1% increase in their taxes.  No frilly new uniforms for the Guatemalan maid this year.

And one example of truth slipping into the article by mistake:

Claim: “If we do nothing, I can almost guarantee you your premiums will double over the next 10 years, because that’s what they did over the last 10 years,” Mr. Obama said. “It will eat into the possibility of you getting a raise on your job because your employer is going to be looking and saying, ‘I can’t afford to give you a raise because my health care costs just went up 10, 20, 30 percent.’ ”

Truth:  Yeah, that’s actually true.  If I recall correctly, insurance premiums double in the past ten years, while wages went up about 20%.  But, it’s the truth presented in a quote by Obama, without support from the NYT”s resarch department.  Basically, it’s fact being presented as propaganda.

There’s more, but it’s 4:30 in the morning and I’m tired.

Just remember, this is not the Podunk, Alabama Trailer Park Post presenting propaganda on both sides without clarification or facts, this is the New York fucking Times!  The Old Grey Lady!  “All the news that’s fit to print,” and this bullshit spin regurgitation is the fucking best that they can do?  Are you fucking serious?  Did they fire the fact checking department?  If it wasn’t for Maureen Dowd and Paul Krugman, plus the occasional Bono editorial, I swear I’d cancel my (online) subscription.  When did the Grey Lady lose the ovarian fortitude required to call people on their bullshit?  And how can she get it back?

I wish Spider Jerusalem was real.  Until that happens, or until Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite are brought back from the dead (which would be the first thing I’d do as a mad scientist), Jon Stewart will have to do.

I do like journalism, and have often considered working in the field.  But I couldn’t do the “he said – she said” stuff.  I’m too honest to repeat someone else’s bullshit without fact-checking it first and calling them on it if they’re wrong.  This journalistic style, as Jon Stewart would put it, is “hurting America.” (Google his now-famous appearance on CNN’s Crossfire.  It’s journalistic gold.)

So this is my message to the mainstream media:  Shut the fuck up with the bullshit spin and propaganda, and really talk to me, give me some facts, let me make an informed decision based on the truth instead of two different angles of spin.

But hey, don’t take my word for it.  Pay attention to your news, whatever your source(s) may be; see how much of what you get is repeated spin and how much is actual fact.

(And thanks to my friend Christine for unwittingly contributing the title.)

VS – 7.30.09

The Good, The Bad, And The F***ing Bizarre #1: Human Kindness And Animal Cruelty

Posted in brilliance, the complete opposite of brilliance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 27, 2009 by vagabondsaint

First, the bad.

So, you’re given a puppy as a gift from a lover, who, in the course of time, becomes an ex-lover.  But you know the puppy is blameless in this and keep it and take good care of it, right?  Alternatively, perhaps you feel that the puppy is a painful reminder of the relationship, and decide to give it away to someone who will take good care of it.  Both are perfectly reasonable courses of action (and good reasons not to give pets as a romantic gift).

“Reasonable” is apparently not in Krystal Lewis’ vocabulary.

According to the Muskogee County (Oklahoma) sheriff’s department last month, Krystal had a friend, one Austin Mullins, kill the Jack Russell terrier given to her by an ex-girlfriend, by shooting it 10 times with a .22 pistol.  Aside from the friend’s poor markmanship (or sadism, but I didn’t want to think about that), I think he showed extremely poor judgment in agreeing to kill the puppy.  While the court-appointed psychologist is there for Lewis’ competency hearing, they should probably take a crack at Mullins too.

So.  Puppy’s dead, painful relationship reminder removed, problem solved, right?

Oh no.  No, no, no.  Just killing the puppy because she didn’t get along with her ex-girlfriend wasn’t good enough for Lewis.

Get ready.  Take a seat, and try not to eat anything before you read the next part.

Ready?  Do not proceed until you are.

All set?  Here we go.

After it had been shot 10 times, Lewis skinned the puppy and placed the hide on a board to cure, with the intent of making a belt out of it.  She was going to make a belt out of a slaughtered puppy.  Let’s skip the competency hearing and just go to the “my client is batshit insane” defense strategy.  Not that I’m certain that defense will succeed, but, given the details of the case, I could see it working well.

There are, occasionally, stories I read that even I cannot believe, and I’ve seen (and been) a lot of of strangeness in my life.  This would be one of them.  This would also be an occasion upon which I cannot think up a punishment vile enough for a criminal, which is also quite rare.

(By the way, this is only the second-most horrific story I’ve read in the past month.  The first is so gruesome I don’t even want to talk about it.  You can read it here.)

Now, the no-doubt-extremely-welcome good.

Raising thousands of dollars to feed the homeless is awesome.  Doing it through can collecting and small donations in two months is amazing.  Doing both while being a five-year-old is incredible.

Phoebe, a five-year-old girl from San Francisco, did it. After seeing a homeless person on the street, a sight which most of us adults have learned to either tune out completely or disregard after tossing some change their way, Phoebe decided really do something.  She started by writing 150 letters to friends and family members, requesting they give her soda cans to turn in for money, which would be given to the San Francisco Food Bank.  After 50 initial repsonses, word got out and donations of cans and cash started coming in to her daycare.  When possible, Phoebe took the time to respond to every single donation, no matter how small, showing she has excellent manners in addition to a huge heart.

Last month, Phoebe handed the results of her efforts over to the executive director of the SFFB in a handmade, hand-coloured (and hand-stickered) pencil box.  The total amount? $3736.30, which will feed 18,000 homeless people, according to the director.  (I’d love to know where they do their shopping.)

Little Phoebe is truly an inspiration, proof that kindness and compassion need not be limited by age and that, while one cannot perhaps not solve a large issue alone, every little bit helps, and great things can come from small origins.  If this story doesn’t touch you, you have no heart at all and should probably change your last name to Scrooge.  That, or your name is Snidely Whiplash and you should probably untie the screaming woman and get her off of the railroad tracks now.

By the way, what have you done to help others today?

Now that you’ve cried tears of pity for a puppy and joy for big-hearted little girl, it’s time to sit back, relax, and say, “WTF?”

On Friday, July 24, police in Dearborn, Michigan, entered a home from which a very strong odor had been emanating.  Neighbours had made complaints about the odor before, but this was the first time officials had managed to get into the home.  What they found had them reaching for the respirators.

The poor police officers found trash stacked “from floor to ceiling in places, and feces and urine” everywhere in the house.  That’s a pretty sharp contrast from the “neatly cut lawn and manicured bushes” outside of the home, providing yet another reason not to trust people who value appearance over substance.

They also found dogs – lots of them.  112, to be exact, all chihauhuas or chihuahua mixes, which took three days to be rescued from the house.  112 dirty, feces-covered, flea-infested, long-nailed dogs.  Interestingly enough, the dogs were in relatively good health, according to a spokesperson for the Dearborn Animal Shelter.

Well, those dogs were.

The 150 dead dogs found in the freezer were, obviously, not doing as well.

The resident of the home, who has not been named, was taken to a hospital for observation and could face America’s first death penalty for animal cruelty, given the extraordinary number of charges he’ll be looking at if he’s found mentally competant to stand trial.   He apparently does suffer some mental impairment from a childhood illness, and lived in the house alone after his parents moved to Florida.  Puts kids throwing a party while their parents are on vacation into perspective, doesn’t it?  “Well, sure, little Jimmy’s party caused $15,000 in property damage, but what the hell, at least he didn’t keep 150 dead dogs in the freezer.  We only found three, so we got lucky there.”

Out of curiosity, how loud, and how unimaginably annoying, would the sound of over 100 yapping chihuahuas be?  If he wasn’t batshit insane when he got the dogs, he almost certainly must have been after a month or so of that.

But, you know, what the hell.  At least he didn’t make belts out of them.

******************

And that does it for this installment of “The Good, The Bad, and The F***ing Bizarre.”  Please join me for another installment as soon as I read more stuff that blows my mind, assuming I survive the massive bender required to wipe the bad and bizarre from this installment out of my head.

VS – 7.27.09

Sick Leave

Posted in legal system, politics, rant with tags , , on July 26, 2009 by vagabondsaint

You may be wondering why I’ve been so quiet here lately, and, when I have spoken, I have largely avoided political discussions, venturing instead onto the topics of rape, forensics, and other societal issues.

Honestly, politics makes me sick right now.

The health care debate is a large part of that.  Obviously America’s for-profit health care system is broken.  “Reform” is too light a term for what needs to be done; it needs to be shattered and built all over again from the ground up.  But that isn’t likely to happen.

Despite the obviousness of the need for reform, politicians on both sides of the aisle are still tying to stop the legislation from passing.  Don’t get me wrong; some do have legitimate concerns to be addressed, such as those who want to make sure the disparity in Medicare payments between rural doctors and urban doctors is fixed.  I’ve no problem with that.  What irks me, what makes me ill, is those who see defeating these much-needed reforms as a way to politically “break” President Obama (looking you, Eric Cantor) and help themselves get back into power.  Never mind that they had 8 years of being in power, came into office in a prosperous nation, drove it into the ground and started digging – these people are so arrogant and self-consumed that they genuinely believe the best thing for this country is for them to be back in power, despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary.  Never mind that polls still show overwhelming public support for what the President has proposed; it’s more important to tear down the President, and by association his party,  than it is to serve the will of the people that put you in office.  Of course, our elected officials have excellent health care plans, paid for by us, so they’re not really feeling any sort of sting from the broken system.  Maybe we should stop paying for theirs?

Then again, the people that put them in office are the types who are easily swayed by predominant mythologies, can be counted on to vote from their fears, and tend to follow whoever makes them feel good about themselves as opposed to whoever will actually work to improve their situations.  They can be trusted to vote their prejudices and ignorances against their interests, every single time.

Then there’s the health care industry, fighting to kill the legislation so that they can continue their bogodish business as usual.  Do they care how many Americans go bankrupt every year from medical expenses?  What about the number of people who lose health care insurance every day (14,000, last I heard) in this country?  What about the people they shaft every year by denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, throing in hidden fees and clauses, refusing to cover the most effective treatments, or denying claims?  They don’t care about any of that; the people, to them, are just walking money machines.  Take money from them, but don’t give any back.  With the money they’ve spent on fighting health care reform, they could have covered healthcare for thousands of people.  But they’d rather take your money and use it to fight against your best interests.

Anyway.

I’m still paying attention to the debate, of course.  Politics can be a little bit addictive.  But I don’t want to talk about it and I don’t want to blog about it;  it makes me sick and I don’t have health insurance to cover the bills.

Ugh.

VS – 7.26.09

P.S.  For a good explanation of the health care reform packae and what it means to you, click here.

The Sound Of Speeding Justice

Posted in brilliance, legal system with tags , , , , on July 19, 2009 by vagabondsaint

Some good news from the world of forensics, for once.

I’ve commented before in this blog about the backlog of untested rape kits in this country.  One of the reasons for the backlog is the length of time it takes to process the kits.  It can take upwards of twelve hours to separate sperm DNA from female DNA when processing a kit, and requires several attention-intensive centrifuge cycles, in addition to having numerous opportunities for contamination of evidence.

Teams of researchers (thank goodness somebody is paying attention to the problem) in Sweden and the US have developed a method that uses sound waves to isolate sperm cells in a sample, and does so in 14 minutes, which is much, much, much faster than current methods.

This is very good news, for rape victims in particular and civilized society in general.

Even better, the researchers are still attempting to make the technique even simpler to use, via “one-time chip” method – and I’m not going to explain that; quit being lazy and just read the link above – and, should they succeed in doing this and keeping the costs of the procedure down, getting away with rape won’t be so easy anymore.

Maybe life is finally catching up to CSI?  We can only hope. . .

VS – 7.19.09

An Uncomfortable Subject (Addendum): Thanks and A Moment Of Brilliance

Posted in brilliance, legal system with tags , , , , , , , on July 16, 2009 by vagabondsaint

I just wanted to thank Marcella Chester, who blogs at Abyss2Hope, for giving my blog post “An Uncomfortable Subject” a mention in her most recent edition of her “Carnival Against Sexual Violence.”   The Carnival is updated twice monthly and lists blogs on the subject of rape and sexual crime.  I would recommend a tour of Ms. Chester’s sites; rape needs to be talked about more openly in our society and I am glad to see her and others making that effort to do so.

While I’m back on the subject of assaults (sexual and others), I’d like to point out a Moment Of Brilliance I found while reading over Abyss2Hope.

This Moment came from Amnesty International, which put up an expensive new ad in Germany to help raise awareness of domestic violence.  The ad states, in large letters, “IT HAPPENS WHEN NO ONE IS LOOKING,” and features a picture of a happy, smiling couple. . .until one looks away from it.  When one is not looking at the sign directly, the picture is instead of the man in the previous couple beating the woman.  A camera placed within the display detects when someone is looking at the sign and changes the picture accordingly.  Awesome!  I’m not so enraptured with the technology as Amanda Hess, who wrote the article, is, but that’s because I’m a gamer and I know Sony’s EyeToy camera for the PS2, which also reads human motion, came out about five years ago, so it’s really nothing new to me.  The innovative use of feature-reading and motion-sensing cameras is pretty damn cool, though, and I’m thrilled to see it used to spread such an important message.

Utterly brilliant way to get the message across; I tip my bandana to whoever came up with that one.  I wish something similar could be done here, but given the likelihood of the camera being stolen, it seems unlikely.  Maybe someone will come up with a way to achieve the same effect through lenticular art, which is cheaper.

Domestic abuse, date rape, molestation. . .these things happens when no one is looking or, even worse, when no one wants to see.  We have to keep looking, we have to bring these things out into the open, we have to talk about this, because the monsters thrive in the darkness of reason and the silence of shame.

In other news, Oregon is finally fixing its rape law so that rape of a willingly intoxicated person will be legally considered first-degree rape instead of second-degree sex abuse.  Good job, Oregon!  Now learn how to drive (if you live in Seattle, you’ll understand that one) and quit smoking so much weed (Oregon’s weed clouds can be seen from Seattle and often obscure Mount Rainier) and you’ll be on the way to becoming a great state!

One last update:  I have not yet heard back from the local rape center that I applied to as a volunteer.  I’ll let you know when I do.

VS – 7.16.09

Travel Advisory: Tennessee

Posted in politics, the complete opposite of brilliance with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2009 by vagabondsaint

WARNING!!!!!

The Federal Travel Advisory Board has issued the following Travel Warning for all prospective business and recreational travelers:

DO NOT GO DRINKING IN TENNESSEE!

It might seem like a good idea to go out for a drink after going to a performance at the Grand Ole Opry (or, more understandably, instead of going to a performance at the Grand Ole Opry) or perhaps the poverty-ridden desperation of Memphis might drive one into a bar, but the Federal Travel Advisory Board must give its strongest recommendation against doing such, worded thusly:  For fuck’s sake, don’t do it!

Yesterday, a new law was enacted in Tennessee that allows patrons of bars and other places that serve alcohol to carry concealed firearms into such establishments.  As Nashville bar owner Steve Smith stated in an interview with The Colbert Report (linked above), “. . .Alcohol and firearms and rednecks really don’t mix that well, inside of bars.”  While Smith’s comment demonstrates an uncommon mastery of understatement and an extreme willingness to state the blindingly should-be obvious, it is the opinion of the Federal Travel Advisory Board that rednecks, alcohol, and firearms do mix quite well on YouTube.

The new law does state that anyone who does carry a concealed weapon into a bar must not be served alcohol.  However, unless bartenders and waitstaff are prepared to start frisking people at random (they’re not), the word of the patron is all they have to go on when determining whether or not said patron is carrying a firearm and should or should not be served alcohol.  In saying that he trusts in the people to be honest and forthcoming about such things, Tennesse state Senator Doug Jackson is either more naive than a newborn or simply trying to drum up business for the funeral home industry.  Good luck in your new venture, Mr. Steve Smith!  Doug Jackson’s gonna help!

It is the firm belief of that Federal Travel Advisory Board that going out drinking in Tennesse is a dangerous activity for Americans, and should be avoided at all costs, most easily by simply not going to Tennessee at all.

If you choose to attend the state anyway, and simply not go to bars, remember this:  people that go to bars to drink with concealed weapons also have to get home from said bar, and it is unlikely that you will be able to completely avoid the path of these people since, in Tennessee, drinking is a full-time occupation.

If you choose to disregard this warning, which will make the Federal Travel Advisory Board very sad, ask yourself this:  do you really want to trust your life to the combination of alcohol, firearms, and these people?

Federal Travel Advisory Board

END WARNING

VS – 7.16.09

An Uncomfortable Subject

Posted in legal system with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 12, 2009 by vagabondsaint

Sophia Carroll, a HuffPo blogger, posted a blog today about a near-disaster that happened to her just over a week ago: she strongly suspects that was drugged at a party, with the intent of sexual assault.  Luckily for Ms. Carroll, she left the party before the drug took effect.

Unluckily for Ms. Carroll, and thousands upon thousands of other women out there, she was informed at the hospital the next day (after an emergency room trip for extreme nausea and vomiting) that there are no tests available for the so-called “date rape” drugs.   Through her own research, she found that such tests are available to the general public, and they’re not terribly expensive, although due to the labrynthine and deplorable nature of medical insurance and healthcare industry, they may not be considered financially viable. . .which is only the start of the tragedy called “rape treatment” in this country.

Two months ago, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an op-ed piece about how rape is treated in this country, noting the indifference rape cases receive from the justice system at large, citing as evidence the huge backlog of untested rape kits in this country (12,669 in LA County alone).  The indifference in the justice system and in the medical profession are only indicators of a much larger problem in our society, though.

Why are we so uncomfortable with rape?  It happens, more often than we’d like to admit, and given my own knowledge of how many cases go unreported, I would say it happens way more often than we would ever want to even try imagining.

Why is our society so indifferent to rape?  Why, in so many rape cases, are the victims blamed?  I asked those questions together because, to me, the answers are related.  As Kristof pointed out in his article, the sentiment that the victim must have someone deserved it or provoked it may not be stated as frequently as it used to be, but the lacksadaisical action in testing rape kits and prosecuting rapes (only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) would seem to be the actions that speak louder than the (lack of) words.  One of the commenters on Ms. Carroll’s post, “been2there,” gave a great explanation as to why the victim tends to be blamed:

The blame the victim thing is a side effect of trying not to become a victim. If one admits that the victim is in no way to blame, one must also admit that such victimization could strike home. Rather than face the fear of being raped, people blame the victim.

I hope it really is that simple, because fear alone is far easier to overcome than willful ignorance and entrenched stupidity.  (For men, I think the reasoning would be that such could happen to the women they care about if they admit the victim was entirely innocent and the rape unprovoked, or maybe even themselves; according to RAINN’s statistics, 1 in 33 men will be the victim of rape as well.)

So what can you do?  You can follow in my footsteps and sign up to volunteer for a RAINN-partner rape help center near you, or you can make a monetary donation.  You can talk honestly with your children, your friends, your relatives, anybody about rape.  You can get involved, you can fight back against the monsters.  They thrive in silence and and profit from their victim’s shame; take these things away from them and drag them into the light.

Change in society starts with change in individuals, and changing our attitudes towards rape needs to happen.

VS 7.12.09