21 July 2007


As if I needed another reason to be terrified of College Republicans, this has been making the rounds:

I know people like this. They seem to be too afraid of an original thought that they just parrot the party line. This video reminds me of something I noticed around 1998-99, while I was finishing college. After spending 4 years (shut it, I was on the 5 year plan!) in classes where formal and informal debate was encouraged, I was shocked to see that professors started to shut down discussion because of a few belligerent students.

Folks, these are the Republicans of today. They do not engage in debate, but rather shout down anyone with a different idea with ignorant catch phrases, not thinking about what they're really saying.

One look at those bumper stickers at the beginning is all you need to know.

Friday Cat Blogging Vintage Edition

I know, it's Saturday, get off my ass! Today's pic is of Miles a few years ago, back when we lived in Tampa. It's still one of my favorite pictures of him.

Barboursville Cabernet Blanc

A little late with the wine blogging, but I've been without a computer until yesterday. This week's wine is Barboursville's Cabernet Blanc. Rather sweet, but yummy. I don't think this is a regular offering from Barboursville, but I live in Virginia, and we have the best wines! The price was good, about $15. If you ever come to central Virginia, I strongly recommend visiting Barboursville Winery, as they have some of the most sophisticated and interesting wines in the region.

13 July 2007

Friday Cat Blogging

Miles loves his scratching post so much that he often cuddles with it.

Stubby sunning his belly in my parents' backyard.

10 July 2007

Planned Obsolescence

I haven't written much lately because my home computer has been acting up. It finally died this weekend, prompting me to take it to a repairperson. They person informed me that my 4 year old laptop could not be repaired because there are no longer any parts available for that model. A 4 year old computer. As a side note, I was telling someone just 2 weeks ago how great it was that my computer was still running very well at its "advanced" age. Irony is a bitch.

After scrambling my money around and purchasing a groovy new MacBook Pro, I was talking to my mother about my computer dyying. "Isn't that a new computer?" she asked. "Not really, it's 4 years old." "That sounds new to me." "You don't know a lot about computers, then." And on and on. But I got what she was really saying.

Things don't last anymore. TVs, computers, cellphones, coffee makers, major appliances, anything plastic, bras, shoes. Buying a quality item means that it will last for ten years instead of five, if you're lucky. This is planned obsolescence in action. Basically, manufacturers create goods that will last (or be supported) for a limited amount of time, after which the consumer is compelled to buy a new one. You never see TV repair shops around because the manufacturers don't want you to get your 15 year old set repaired. They want you to replace it with a newer model, which is supposedly better than your old one. The problem is that the newer model, which more technologically advanced, has more opportunities to malfunction, and warranties are only 1 year usually.

Not only is this frustrating for consumers like myself, who must have a home computer in order to fulfill my professional and academic responsibilities, but it is also bad for the environment. Think of all of the TVs, cellphones and dishwashers hanging out in landfills everywhere. Think of the toxicity running off into the water supply of the local town, which is usually an impoverished one without the political capital to fight against it.

I also think that, since Americans are raised to become good* consumers, we are conditioned to always want the newest and the best, even if our current product works fine. I have friends who buy new cellphones when a new one comes out, even though the one they have works just fine and still has a lot of the cool technological features. They just want to have the latest cellphone. Even I, in my purchase of my new laptop, was enamored with all the bells and whistles of the model I finally purchased. Although, it would have been nice if my old laptop could have held out for a couple more years.

Advertising plays the biggest part in this. I've often thought that advertisers are some of the smartest people in the world, if only because they know how to manipulate huge numbers of minds at once with just 30 second spots on TV. And they have done it, especially with new technology.

* Meaning, the more money spent the better, not necessarily responsible consumption.

06 July 2007

A good idea, in theory

Maybe not in practice.

In my opinion, a case of wine would be better, not some crappy Bud Light. Ah, well, it's still funny as hell.

05 July 2007

"Freedom isn't free"

I've seen this plastered upon car bumpers before, and I've seen it on conservative t-shirts, and I've heard conservatives bleat it out when they realize they don't have a chance in an argument. Most notably, when the Patriot Act (the first one) was being hammered out and bandied about the political discourse, lots of righties were using this phrase to justify the dismantling of civil liberties in order to be free. I always thought that was a bit of a circular argument, but I also realized that you just can't reason with some of these folks.

But, after my previous post, I'd like to present this phrase in a different way. No, freedom isn't free. In order to be free, you have to accept that some people are going to take advantage of the system. For example, soldiers coming home from Iraq missing limbs or with serious mental injuries will be (ideally, but not always) qualified for disability benefits. This is because someone thought it would be a good idea to not be an asshole and to help out the people who protect our country and might just boost morale and lessen some of the burden a soldier had to face. It's just doing the right thing. But at some point, someone is going to take advantage of that system. Maybe several someones will take advantage of that system. Conservatives would like to claim, as they do when arguing against national healthcare, that because someone will be able to take advantage of the system that the system should not exist.

I don't know about you, but I'd rather have the system in place and have my taxes go toward helping a lot of truly needy people, in addition to a handful of leeches, than dismantle the whole system so that everybody suffers.

So, yeah, freedom really ISN'T free. But not in the way you think.

On healthcare and bootstraps

After Micheal Moore's SiCKO came out, the blogosphere has erupted with all sorts of reviews, mostly positive. Check out Pam, Amanda, and Jill. Of course, the always predictable trolls are out in full force in fear of a national healthcare system. And they're trotting out the same predictable argument, once you distill it down to it's pure form: that healthcare if a privilege and we're a nation of individuals who can pull up by our bootstraps.


I actually used to believe the latter portion of that statement, that you could become anything if you just worked really hard and didn't get into trouble. Maybe in the not so distant past that was true, to an extent. You know, back when a high school education could still land you a job that payed a living wage with which you could afford a house and mortgage, a car, and support a few kids, maybe even send them to college. In modern times, this is simply not the case, and it's highly possible that it never was the case. "Bootstraps" are part of the American mythology. Successful people like to remind everyone that they got to where they are by working hard. I've no doubt they worked hard, but at who's expense? A white, middle class male born in this country automatically has more opportunity than a white, middle class female born at the same time, or a black middle class male. They've got a head start, yet nobody wants to acknowledge that because it destroys our precious national mythology.

To put this more simply, a child (male or female) born in a white middle class family has a built-in safety net that ensures they will do well in life. This is, in fact, my case, even as a woman, so I will explain how I have benefited from being born into a white middle class family. Because my family is well off, I had the opportunity to go to a good public school in a good neighborhood. I lived in a nice house, where I didn't have to worry about pests or unhealthy conditions or rampant crime that would detract from my education and development. I could concentrate on my homework after school, and even participate in ballet, because my parents were financially secure and didn't need me to put in any time at a job to help the family out. When it was time for college, and there was never any doubt that I would go to college, the money was there. I was able to spend my college years focused on my education (whether I did that or not is an entirely different post) rather than working three jobs to scrape tuition money together. Whenever I got sick, my parents' health insurance helped tremendously. Whenever I had car trouble, my parents could help me out. Even after college and into my professional life, I'm confident in the safety net of my family. Going through my divorce, I had the help of my family to avoid becoming homeless and broke. I think we can all imagine the course my life would have taken had I not been born into a white middle class family. I could have pulled on my bootstraps with all my might, but I still wouldn't be where I am today.

Most recently, I had my family's help with my bout of breast disease. I was unemployed at the time and in the middle of a bitter divorce. My then husband was in the process of withdrawing my health insurance, so when things starting to get diagnosed, I freaked out. My father, because he has the financial power to do so, employed me in his law firm to work from home so that I could avoid a gap in healthcare coverage. No, I didn't do a lot of work because I was dealing with a serious disease, but I made sure to make it up to him. And I was covered for the duration of the illness.

If I had not had that opportunity from my father, I would be paying off medical bills for the rest of my life. Or, worse yet, no doctor would have touched me because I wasn't covered, and that little lump would have developed into cancer. Even if I were to pay for my medical expenses out of pocket, I would never be covered for breast disease by any insurance company in the future. It's already scary that I'll never be able to have individual (non-employer) insurance if I decide to freelance, because who would cover a woman who was diagnosed with breast disease, a precursor to cancer, at 29, without charging outrageous premiums?

I can't wait to see SiCKO. I'm a Michale Moore fan, I'll admit it. He's hyperbolic at times, but that's what it takes in this country. Subtlety doesn't quite get through thick skulls. And the next time I hear some libertarian wanker whine about having to pay a few extra dollars a month so that the entire fucking country can have good healthcare*, I'm telling my story. I've worked hard my whole life, and I STILL got sick! It's not fair!

* Healthcare is a basic human right, and we need to start framing our arguments in this way rather than in an economic way. If the technology exists, everyone deserves quality and timely healthcare, just like everyone deserves food and water and freedom from torture. Oh, wait . . .

04 July 2007

I'm not patriotic

I've never felt the rush of patriotism on the Fourth of July like others profess to feel. To me, it's a day off from work, a good time to cook out with family and friends, maybe go to the beach, and watch some fireworks. If anything, it's more of a celebration of summer.

This year, I'm feeling decidedly unpatriotic. There have been too many atrocities committed throughout the world in the name of freedom that it makes me nauseous. I love my country, but like an unruly child, I expect more of her. Shame.

As I enjoy my day off from work and some yummy summer food and fireworks, I leave you with this quote by Garth Ennis:
I like this country, Jesse. I like baseball and whiskey and Mom's apple pie-- not my mom's apple pie, but you know what I mean-- and the Stars and Stripes, and John Wayne, and fireworks on the Fourth of July.

And I like the myth of the place. The myth of America: that simple, honest men, born of her great plains and woods and skies have made a nation of her, and will prove worthy of her when the time is right.

Under harsh light it is false. But a good myth to live up to, all the same.
Yeah. I get it.

03 July 2007

Review: The Assault on Reason by Al Gore

What did I do during my summer vacation? Well, lots of stuff, but one thing I did was read Al Gore’s new book, The Assault on Reason. I’m such a dork, in fact, that I pre-ordered it from Amazon. It was a very interesting read, although, like An Inconvenient Truth, it was nothing I hadn’t heard before. Gore does a huge service to Americans who are not as interested in the nitty gritty of policy as I am, and sums it up in simple and accessible terms. Not to say that average Americans need to have these things dumbed down, but that most people are too busy to familiarize themselves with the nuts and bolts of the constitution, policy, history and science.

The main thesis of Assault is that our democracy is in a steep decline because as a society, we have lost our ability to engage in a public discussion about the direction our country is taking. The main culprit is television, according to Gore, which I completely agree with. Television is a very passive medium from which to gain information about the world. It is also the main source of news information for Americans, with its ubiquity and ease of use. There are no special skills necessary for watching television; in fact, children are taught from birth how to “use” the television for person enrichment and entertainment. Gore states that, because watching television is a passive activity and one which the watcher cannot easily debate with (with an audience, at least) that our democracy is suffering. People are no longer engaging in political debate, and the days of town hall meetings and letters to the editor are considered quaint by those shaping policy. Gore considers the high point of democracy to be the rise of cheap printing; namely newspapers, leaflets and pamphlets. As printed material became more widely available and cheap, more average citizens began to read and participate in the political discourse. Newspaper sales are lagging now, which means that when a person writes an editorial or a letter to the editor of the newspaper, fewer and fewer people are responding to it. And, much like television, newspapers are owned by huge conglomerates that are hard to infiltrate with a dissenting opinion.

As I stated before, I agree with this, but I also think that Gore could have gone a bit deeper. His main thesis that atrocious things are happening in Washington because people don’t debate anymore is a strong one, but I don’t think that the media are the only culprit. In fact, it may be just a symptom. Why else could our society be so disengaged from the policymaking that often affects daily life? One thing that I’ve noticed in the past decade or so is the American ideal of “rugged individualism” run amok. In the early days of the republic, and during Western expansion, individualism was a proud feature of our culture. The idea that Americans are so tough and can pull themselves up by the bootstraps is a romantic visualization of the past, promoted by history books and movies. To some extent, this is true, but nobody ever considers how unbelievably hard life used to be, and how many people didn’t make it. So, we carry that individualism into our modern day lives. The nuclear family is the epitome of family life in this culture. We all live in our cookie cutter houses with a white picket fence, spouse (opposite sex, of course), 2.5 kids, a dog and a cat. (I realize that this isn’t the case for most of America, but I’m dealing with the generalization that Americans like to put forth.) We are so pressured to leave our families behind in order to create families of our own, and then we are shamed into ever asking friends, family, society for help when trouble comes. We drive to work in our cars alone, work in an office or cubicle alone, and use the self-checkout line at the supermarket. Instead of going to the bank teller, we withdraw cash at the ATM. Instead of talking to a colleague or friend, we send email, text, or instant messages. In sum, we are very detached from our fellow human beings. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with the actions I just outlined; I often take advantage of ATMs and self-checkout lines myself. What I am saying is that we, as a society, are forgetting how to speak to each other about important matters.

The result of this is that the large media outlets (television, radio, and newspapers) usually only focus on extreme opinions because they are sexier. We hear a lot about anti-choice groups and their shenanigans, but we rarely hear from folks who are more mainstream. We hear a lot about the anti-capitalist “freegans” but rarely hear from people trying to live a realistic but sustainable life. We are left with the impression that our neighbors hold extreme opinions because of the bumper stickers on their car.

An interesting phenomenon has been in the works with blogging, though. People are finding ways to become active again by connecting with others around the country and creating real movements. Disregarding my lack of enthusiasm for the nuclear family (anyone who knows me knows that I hate living so far away from my family and that I’m making progress to get back to them) I think that virtual relationships are our salvation for this political crisis. Gore mentions this only in passing in Assault, but I think as relationships evolve, we should pay more attention.

UPDATE: Amanda has chosen Assault for the next Pandagon Book Club selection. You can also buy the book there.