Friday, October 31, 2008

What's wrong with Palin?

Sarah Palin is the only one of the four people at the top of the ballot who has not released any part of her medical records. The subject has come up a few times during the campaign. Because of McCain's age and obvious declining health, there is a very good chance that she might have to take over during his first term if they are elected. This makes her records more relevant than most vice presidential candidates'. At first she flatly refused to release the records or to talk about her health. However, last week, in her interview with Brian Williams, she appeared to reverse herself and offer to fill that gap:
If that will allow some curiosity seekers perhaps to have one more thing that they either check the box off that they can find something to criticize or to rest them assured over. I'm healthy, happy, I've had five kids, that's going to be in the medical records, never seriously ill or hurt, you'll see that in the medical records if they're released.

Notice the "if" at the end of her run-on sentence. It wasn't exactly a promise, but her staff behaved as if she did mean it as one. Last Sunday, a Palin spokeswoman told ABC News that they planned to release her medical history early this week. Everyday, ABC called the campaign and was ignored. Off the record, some aides said it was just taking some time to round up the records. That sounds to me like they are the frontier card and taking cover behind peoples' misconceptions of Alaska as a primitive and distant place. As someone who lived there for twenty years, I can assure you that the healthcare facilities and communication in southcentral Alaska are as modern as anywhere in the Lower 48, and better than many. This is not a case of needing to send dogsleds out to find rustic country doctors. If she told her doctors to release the records, there is no reason them not to have been available in two or three days. But, since today is the Friday before the election, it looks like she has managed to run out the clock. She bluffed and won.

If she's so goll-darned healthy, why has she been acting like she has something to hide? Steve Benen suspects she's just being secretive for its own sake; she's really just another Cheney at heart and refuses to give out information as a matter of kneejerk orneryness. I wonder if maybe she does have something to hide. To quote a punditing giant: "Is it irresponsible to speculate? It would be irresponsible not to." I think it's unlikely that she has a life-threatening illness like McCains's cancer or Biden's brain aneurysm. She has lived a very active and vigorous life and hasn't slowed down over the years. Two possibilities leap to my mind (admittedly a dark and cluttered place, unfit for visiting by women, children, and those of weak stomach. But, today is Halloween, so what the heck).

On possibility is something related to her fertility and the birth of her children. Many have suggested that she took some unnecessary risks when she was pregnant with her youngest child, Trig. Proof of that would certainly be embarrassing. So too would be a confirmation that she was already pregnant with Track when she got married to Todd. Both of these have already been widely discussed, so confirmation would be a rather minor embarrassment. More damning with her constituency would be a record of something like an abortion, though I've never heard even rumors of such a thing.

The more likely possibility, in my view, is mental health, specifically depression. The only evidence that this might be the case, is the tanning bed Palin bought soon after moving into the governor's mansion. A tanning bed can be nothing more than a vanity tool, but in Alaska many people use them to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression brought on by the long dark winter nights in northern latitudes. SAD is epidemic in Alaska. A long time has passed since Thomas Eagleton had to drop out of the vice presidential race because it was revealed he had sought treatment for depression and public attitudes about mental health have since changed for the better, but there is still enough stigma attached to mental health that it's a career killer in politics. A 2002 poll showed about half of voters would be less likely to vote for a candidate who admitted to experiencing mood disorders. The percentage is probably higher among Palin's constituency, religious conservatives who are more likely to judge mood disorders as signs of weak character rather as legitimate illnesses. If true, most of her constituency would probably rally around her and make her an exception to their usual harsh judgment, just as they did with Rush Limbaugh's drug addiction. But, a revelation of mental health problems would also provide those who are less enthusiastic about her with a good excuse to reject her.

Lastly, she might be hiding something trivial, but embarrassing, like cosmetic surgery. The best hope for the McCain/Palin ticket is a narrow win and they can't afford even a small erosion of support. This gives them plenty of reasons to hide her medical history if it is anything but perfect.

In the unlikely event that they win, this issue should stay on the table. But even if they lose, Palin has said she plans to remain a figure in national politics, so we shouldn't let her off the hook. Most liberals and Democrats can be forgiven if they forget about Palin over the next few months, but, in this environment, it's never too soon to prepare for the next cycle. I hope the Alaskan bloggers stay on this, along with all her other scandals and legal problems, and make sure we won't have Sarah to kick around any more after this election.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Is deregulation immoral?

In the comments to my War on Christmas post, a correspondent called, charmingly, Youaredumb wrote that a world without religion is a world without morals. Leaving aside for the moment that I didn't say anything about eliminating religion from the world, lets look at the implications of that belief, a belief that shows up with dreary frequency in any discussion of atheism or religious vs. secular values. When you think about it, what they really mean when they say that religion is required for morality is that God, and fear of his divine retribution, is required for morality. They are saying that the only thing that will get people to do the right thing is knowledge that their every action is being watched by a higher authority who promises severe punishment for any transgression; without that we will all run amok. It's a profoundly bleak view of human nature and an ugly insight into their opinion of their own ability to control their worst impulses.

This belief in the absolute necessity for a supervisory authority and threat of punishment runs deep in conservative religious philosophies all over the world. For crime, they favor lots of police and have deep faith in the deterrent effect of draconian punishments like the death penalty, chopping off body parts, and three-strike laws. They want the state to protect them from temptations by banning or severely restricting access to vices like gambling, drugs, pornography, and the "wrong" type of books. They believe that families need to be organized as a strict hierarchy with the father/husband at the top. In child-rearing they favor corporal punishment, a strict father figure, and believe children need to have their wills broken as a first step to becoming good citizens. In international relations, they prefer military might over diplomacy. They believe that other people's freedoms--as in gay marriage--are a threat to the proper order of their own lives.

But American Christian conservatives allow one glaring exception to this world view. In economics, they believe that corporations, banks, and other businesses should all be allowed to do whatever they want with no supervision or regulation at all. How they can think that it's impossible for individual humans to behave decently with out a heavenly big brother watching their every move and imposing a strict code, while at the same time believing that groups of people wielding vast financial power will always do what's best for us all if we would only remove all supervision and regulation, is beyond me, but they manage to square that particular circle.

One of the challenges of the next few years, will turning back some of the ill-considered and ideologically-driven deregulation from the last thirty years. Maybe pounding on this contradiction in conservative thought will provide an arguing wedge to break some of their resistance. If not, it should at least be a good argument to keep in reserve for tormenting your conservative friends and kin. And that's always worthwhile.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I'm glad she made that clear

In her interview with NBC's Brian Williams, Sarah Palin explained who the elite are, the people that she and her lynch mob friends are always so incensed at.
WILLIAMS: Who is a member of the elite?

PALIN: Oh, I guess just people who think that they're better'n anyone else, and John McCain an' I are so committed to servin' every American, hard-workin', middle-class Americans who are so desirin' of this economy gettin' put back on the right track, an' winnin' these wars, an' America's starting to reach her potential, an' that is opportunity and hope provided everyone equally. So anyone who thinks that they are--I guess--better'n anyone else, that's-- that's my definition of elitism.

The elite is anyone who thinks they are better than anyone else--like those who think other parts of the country are less authentically American than theirs is, or who believe that people who don't go to their church are less moral than they are, or who disparage certain occupations, such as community organizers, as not really doing work. I'm glad you cleared that up for us, governor.

More Wildmon ranting

Donald Wildmon, who I mentioned in the last post whining about this year's Global War on Christmas (GWOC), may not be as well known as Pat Robertson or James Dobson, but he can do fundamentalist crazy talk with the very best. Ed Brayton received an e-mail from him warning about the stakes in this election.
If the liberals win the upcoming election, America as we have known it will no longer exist. This country that we love, founded on Judeo-Christian values, will cease to exist and will be replaced by a secular state hostile to Christianity. This "city set on a hill" which our forefathers founded, will go dark. The damage will be deep and long lasting. It cannot be turned around in the next election, or the one after that, or by any election in the future. The damage will be permanent.

And he says that like it would be a bad thing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's that time of year

While most of us have our attention firmly riveted on the election and whatever feelings of excitement, dread, guarded hope, or please-make-it-be-over exhaustion that that might bring up, we may have temporarily forgotten the other national ritual that happens at this time of the year. I'm talking about the annual tantrum that conservative Christians throw over how horribly persecuted they are by an imaginary war on Christmas. The war as they see it has three prongs, local governments acknowledging the constitutional separation of church and state by refusing to pay for an official nativity scene, schools having "holiday" programs without overtly religious music (that constitution thingy again), and stores trying to be inclusive by using greetings like "happy holidays" or "season's greetings." In recent years, the last of those three has been the one that has most provoked their easily offended senses, leading them to proclaim widely ignored boycotts of any store that uses the offensive phrases.

The holiday whine is a tradition that dates back to, at least, 1921 when Henry Ford wrote that there was a conspiracy of Jewish department store owners trying to destroy Christmas by--you guessed it--saying "happy holidays." Forty years later, the John Birch Society was imagining a war on Christmas run by the Communists through the UN. These days, the sinister force trying to make the baby Jesus cry is godless liberals like you and me.

Rob Boston has spotted the first major whine of the season. The Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, an organization that specializes in unsuccessful boycotts against any business that even thinks about giving a fair shake to their gay employees, is selling buttons and bumper stickers that say "It's OK To Say Merry Christmas."

The War on Christmas is big business for groups like Wildmon's. Keeping the faithful paranoid about persecution is a cash cow that keeps on giving. If Christians weren't paranoid that someone somewhere was undermining their faith and marriage, they might stop giving to people like Wildmon, Bill Donohue, and James Dobson. Then they'd have to lay off their big staffs and get a real job. We can't have them roaming the streets getting into trouble so we'd better do our best to oppress them. Besides, they are the only thing preventing total victory of our radical atheist, gay, and gay atheist agendas. So, everybody raise your right forefinger, turn toward Mt. Crumpet, and repeat after me, in your best Karloffian tones: "I must stop Christmas from coming!"

And Happy Holidays.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Baby animal killers for McCain/Palin

I suppose tomorrow the McCain campaign will be explaining why this is the fault of Obama and his elitist disdain for the values of "real" Americans.
A dead bear was found dumped this morning on the Western Carolina University campus, draped with a pair of Obama campaign signs, university police said.

Maintenance workers reported about 7:45 a.m. finding a 75-pound bear cub dumped at the roundabout near the Catamount statute at the entrance to campus, said Tom Johnson, chief of university police.

“It looked like it had been shot in the head as best we can tell. A couple of Obama campaign signs had been stapled together and stuck over its head,” Johnson said.


"This is certainly unacceptable," Johnson said. "Someone was wanting to draw attention to the election. If we find out who they are, we’ll make sure they’ll get some attention themselves."

It's not completely clear what message they thought this would carry. Is there a racial subtext? I don't know. Does it imply some kind of solidarity with hunter woman Sarah Palin. Again, I don't know. Whatever the message is, we can be sure it's violent, sick, and unacceptable.

I'd like to know where they got the bear. The article mentions that it is bear season in that part of North Carolina, but in many states it's illegal to kill juvenile animals. Even if it is legal there, most hunters I know would consider it cowardly and unsportsmanlike. I just find it contemptible.

When they catch the guys who did this, I hope they turn them over to a room full of eight-year-olds armed with sharp sicks to administer a suitable justice.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Nude Sarah Palin

SZ over at World o' Crap has a post up with the above title but no nude photos of Sarah Palin. It's a cheap--and, frankly, sad--attempt to boost her Google profile and raise funds for her home for wayward kittens. What's next? Will she and her blogging minions stoop to planting references to Sarah Palin porn videos on her blog? Cheap Sarah Palin porn DVDs? Naked Sarah Palin calendar shots? Or exclusive photos of Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber's secret love nest? Fortunately, you'll never see archy use such transparent tricks. Neither will I use references to nude photos of Ann Coulter to boost my traffic. I'm just that kind of guy.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My old home

Last night Keith Olbermann had Wayne Barrett, the senior editor for The Village Voice, on to discuss the latest Sarah Palin scandal. Barrett has been looking into the big new home that Palin's husband Todd says he and a few "buddies" built on Lake Lucille near Wasilla. Barrett has uncovered evidence that the "buddies" who helped Todd may have included the same contractors who got the contract for the expensive sports arena she committed the town to building and which left Wasilla $25 million in debt when she moved on to greener pastures.

This is the kind of mutual back-scratching corruption that destroys political careers everywhere and, in this case, includes many names familiar to those following the Ted Stevens corruption trial. But one name made me sit up and shout at the teevee.
And it turns out that, at least I was able to clearly establish one contractor, the big, building supply contractor who supplied the building materials for the complex is the same guy-Spenard is the name.

"Arrrgh! Not 'some guy' Spenard." I shouted.

Clever Wife and the little cat, Marlowe, stared at me and scooted away on the couch.

The "guy" Spenard died in 1934 and had nothing to do with new homes for Stevens and the Palins. The Spenard involved in the Palin story is not a guy, it's a company, Spenard Builders Supply. But it was not the mere incorrect historical identification that bothered me, Spenard strikes at the core of my Alaskan identity.

First some history. Joe Spenard arrived in Alaska in 1916, a year after the Alaska Railroad created a supply depot called Anchorage on the Cook Inlet. Spenard was that type of combination frontier entrepreneur and civic booster that is an important and familiar character in the founding stories of most western towns. He had one of the first trucks and first cars in the town. He put the latter to work as the first taxi in Anchorage. In order to have some place to drive people, he built a road to a small lake five miles south of town and built a dance hall and bathing beach there. The lake, which till then had been called Jeter Lake after a homesteader with a farm on one side of the lake was forever after known as Spenard's Lake, or Lake Spenard. It is currently part of the busiest float plane airport in the world. His road became Spenard Road. Despite attempts by generations of city planers to level and straighten it out, it stands out as the most crooked road in the town, sprawling diagonally across the otherwise neat rectilinear grid of Anchorage. The neighborhood around his road naturally became known simply as Spenard. Joe's lodge thrived for a few years, then burned down. He hung on in Anchorage taking care of his other businesses, but left at the beginning of the Depression and died at the home of one of his kids in Sacramento in 1934.

Spenard the community lived on. When Anchorage incorporated in 1920, Spenard was far outside its limits, separated by the small, muddy canyon of Chester Creek and a couple miles of scraggly forest. Spenard developed a separate identity which was recognized by the federal government in 1937 when they assigned the community its own postmaster and post office. Like many across-the-line communities, Spenard developed a thriving trade in whatever pleasures the authorities in the city were trying to suppress. At any given time, Spenard might not have had more bars and strip joints that its main competitor, Fourth Avenue, or more massage parlors than Mountain View, but its unique combination of treats gave it a reputation as a one stop shopping place for fun. The fun wasn't limited to conventional vices. Spenard had bookstores, its own shopping district, Cap Lathrop built a movie theater there, and it was home to one of the all-time, great hobby shops--Spenard Hobby, among whose cluttered shelves any kid could find the ingredients for the school project of his dreams.

My family moved to Spenard in 1969, a time that I refer to, in the age-old tradition of bookending local history epochs by disasters, as after the earthquake and before the pipeline. Local politics at the time perennially revolved around the question of annexation. The Anchorage urban area, by then, had spread across Chester Creek and beyond Spenard, but the city limits only extended to the edge of Spenard. Most Spenardians wanted no part of the Anchorage government, preferring to either remain under the borough (as counties are called in Alaska) or to incorporate as a real city. Each election produced a three-way tie stalemate. The issue came to a head after a fatal hotel fire on the city limits that might have been controlled except for the turf fighting between the city and borough fire departments. The solution was essentially to abolish the city in 1975 and reincorporate the entire borough as a single municipality. Sadly, they chose to call it Anchorage instead of Greater Spenard. For most of the twenty years I lived in Alaska, I lived in or around Spenard. I was a died-in-the-wool Spenard patriot. I insisted in using Spenard in my mailing address instead of Anchorage.*

During my last five years there, I lived a block away from Spenard Builders Supply. SBS has nothing to do with Joe Spenard except for the fact that it's located in his town. It was established seventeen years after he died on a convenient railroad siding a few blocks off Spenard Road. When I was a kid, it had just the one location and supported my high school drama club with gifts of lumber and paint for our sets. Since then, it's become a construction giant. They have thirty-some locations around Alaska, a truss factory, and supply most of the home building industry in the state. It's sad that they got caught up in politics, but not surprising. Since the economy of Alaska is a boom and bust economy based on resource extraction and construction, their business is implicitly political and every development decision in the state potentially affects them.

So now Palin has not only made he state of Alaska a national laughing stock, she's brought shame on the good name of Spenard, my sleazy, old neighborhood. That's it; the woman has to go. Fortunately, there are intrepid Alaskans working on that. A group called Alaskans for Truth is looking into the technical requirements to start a recall (that is, if the legislature doesn't impeach her first). I hate to get my hopes up, but it's beginning to look like there is just enough justice in the universe to make sure Palin's career is toast.

* It's a little known secret that it doesn't matter what you write as your town and state on a letter; as long as the zip code and street address are correct, the mail will find its destination. When I was living in Spokane, WA, I received a package addressed to me in Tacoma, Oregon. But it had the right zip code and street address.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Heads a poppin'

That happy sound you hear is the explosion of conservative heads as they check out the news and discover that Paul Krugman just won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, better known as the Nobel Prize for Economics. If any of them were in doubt that the Nobel prizes were a liberal, old Europe, anti-American conspiracy, this should lay those doubts to rest. I expect them to be calling for airstrikes on Stockholm any minute now.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Hey, I just found out that Michael Bérubé revived his old blog and is back to daily posting. You all remember Mike. He was that guy who wrote long and thought provoking essays every day that were so literate and funny and pitch perfect that most of the rest of us felt completely out our league, like crud on a cracker, and thought why am I wasting my time doing this. Yeah him. Let's all go tell him how glad we are he's back.

Volcanoes are complex

New research by a team of US and UK scientists into the Soufrière Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Montserrat shows that they are far more complex than previously thought. While the pattern of eruptions on the surface would lead an observer to believe that magma was produced in fits and starts beneath a volcano, the study found that magma production and eruptions were separate parts of a complex system involving two chambers and some kind of control valve between the deeper magma-producing part and the shallower part that feed the eruption. Geologists previously believed the shallower part of the system controlled the timing of eruptions. The Montserrat study indicates that the shallower chamber is a fairly passive element in the system and that it is the channel between the upper and lower chambers acting like an on/off valve that really controls the eruptions.

Naturally, these results will need to be compared to other volcanoes to see if they are universal or peculiar to that one volcano. At the very least, the study tells us that volcanoes are complicated systems and that dependable long-term predictions of their behavior is still a ways off. In the meanwhile, this points he way to future research. I hear the Discovery institute is working on figuring out how the angels who control the valve decide when bad homosexual behavior downwind from the volcano needs punishing.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

It can't happen here

Paul Campos at Lawyers, Guns and Money (but no serial commas) has a silly fantasy about what might happen if Obama really is the Muslim Manchurian candidate that the Corner gang seem to think he is. The scenario he portrays is so beyond the bounds of plausible that it should be read only to reassure ourselves that we are safe from such things.

Take a squid to lunch

Today is the 2nd Annual (Unofficial) International Cephalopod Appreciation and Awareness Day. It's always celebrated on the eighth day of Octo month (get it?). I'm not sure if it's better to celebrate by having a big plate of calamari or to refrain from calamari for the day. Cephalopodcast votes for the former.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Looking forward

Has anyone heard any authoritative rumors about who's likely to get Obama's seat if we really pull this out and he goes to the White House?

I can see Afghanistan from my porch

Everyone say something stupid now and then, but some people abuse the privilege.
Three days after a mostly gaffe-free debate performance, the Alaska governor fumbled during a speech in which she praised U.S. soldiers for “fighting terrorism and protecting us and our democratic values”.

“They are also building schools for the Afghan children so that there is hope and opportunity in our neighboring country of Afghanistan,” she told several hundred supporters at a fundraising event in San Francisco.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Explain this to me

For two weeks, the financial world has been telling us they need a bailout. Without it life as we know it will cease. When the bailout was delayed last week, the Dow Jones suffered its largest single day drop (measured in points) in its entire history. Today, on anticipation of the bailout passing, the market was up three hundred points. Then the House passed the bill and rushed it over to the president for his signature. And the stock market dropped five hundred points! I don't get it.

Sometimes they need to be mocked

Sarah Palin appeared on Hugh Hewett's radio show Tuesday, where she told us liberals, hey, enough with yer mockin' of Joe Sixpack American's religion also sittin' around the table with gotcha journalism and hockey moms--bless 'em--an' their simple beliefs an' such in this great country of ours an' also you need to walk a mile in their doggone shoes, okay? As a multicultural, PBS watching liberal, I'm all about respecting other people's beliefs, no matter how wrong-headed or just plain stupid they are. Like this:
A Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia has called on women to wear a full veil, or niqab, that reveals only one eye.

Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan said showing both eyes encouraged women to use eye make-up to look seductive.

Being challenged in the impulse control area as they are, the men of Saudi Arabia should not have to face the temptations of women who go out in public with both eyes uncovered. Surely, one eye is all they need to stagger around. One of these days, the people of Arabia will get tired of these reactionary boobs making a laughing stock of their nation and religion and join us in laughing at them as we laugh at our own mullahs. Until then, that earthquake you just felt was Mohammad turning over in his tomb.


Cokie Roberts and some conservative blogs have siezed upon Joe Biden's use of the word "Bosniak" last night to describe the Muslim population of Bosnia as an example of a gaffe on his part. It is not. When the wars in Yugoslavia broke out, the American news agencies looked through 19th century travel literature to find possible names for all these people that they had never heard of. They tried out Bosniak, Bosniac, Bosniard, and every possible construction this side of Bosnistani before settling on Bosnian for their official stylebooks. Meanwhile, the State Department and CIA settled on Bosniak for their official publications. Since Biden, as a ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, probably gets more of his information about the region from government publication than from the commercial news media, it makes sense that he would use Bosniak. The point goes to Biden and Cokie has to stay after school and write "I am as dumb as a wingnut blogger" 500 times.

Just wondering

Am I the only one who finds the conservative cult of personality that has emerged around General Petrais a little creepy and more than a little un-American? They did the same thing with Bush during his first term. Now that he's damaged goods, they've transferred their affections to the general. Listening to Palin last night and others over the last few months, it sounds like they are talking him up in preparation for a coup--General Petrais, savior of the republic.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

First impressions of the veep debate

Well, by golly, I also think that if I hear any more self-conscious folksiness and cuteness and also run-on sentences and pointless digressions about how, also in this great land of ours, the United States of America, where we have freedoms that also they hate along with sudden changes of tense and our children, who play hockey and also go to school where soccer moms--bless 'em--are concerned about their dining room tables that a maverick is reachin' across aisles and walking over in a bipartisan manner with none of this finger pointin' at a nucyuler armed Iran and also my unwaverin' support for Israel, which Obama's wantin' also to vote against ninety-four times while Joe Sixpack back in Wasilla is tired gettin' of this darn blame game, I might also hafta puke. Also.