"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Another Hiatus

Unless I find something I really need to comment on.

See you next week. Until then:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Turning Al Qaeda Into a Punchline

Via Andrew Sullivan, this post from Plunderbund on the Detroit panty-bomber:

Under George W. Bush, or John McCain, the media narrative would already be settling on whether or not to invade Yemen. Now, the narrative is about soft power – how to reach these wealthy sons of bankers to stop them, how to tighten up our security at airports, how to support reform minded Muslims, how to give alternatives to potential Al Qaeda recruits who are not poor villagers but wealthy intellectuals with an axe to grind.

In other words, Republicans would be doing the terrorists work for them, by spreading more terror. Barack Obama is doing America’s work, by addressing the problem calmly, quietly, confidently. That leadership will translate into confidence in the American public the same way the panicked leadership of the Bush administration translated into fear. . . .

Make no mistake – in the Muslim world to which Al Qaeda attempts to speak, this episode is a total humiliation, seen as such, and will hurt Al Qaeda. I can’t think of a more effective way to scupper Al Qaeda recruitment than to turn one of their attacks into a worldwide joke. Yes it will enrage them. Yes, they will try harder to hit us again.

And yet, of course, the right is frothing at the mouth over the fact that the bomber is being given pain relievers, medical attention, a lawyer, and a trial. You know, those sorts of things that Americans do as a matter of course. (Well, most of us, because most of us are decent people.)

Most of these rightwingers are as laughable as the panty-bomber. The problem is, the rightwingers are ours.

And what you're not going to hear about from the right is the way that the Republicans are hampering efforts to improve the TSA:

As it turns out, DeMint was really trying to deflect attention away from the fact that he voted against TSA funding earlier this year and has put a hold on Obama's nominee to head the department - hampering the agency's ability to put leadership in place.

You have to wonder.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reviews in Brief: Mieko Koide's After School in the Teacher's Lounge (anime)

After School in the Teacher's Lounge is one of those YouTube finds that I happened across by chance and was captivated by. I dont know if I can honestly call what follows a "review," but I'm going to try to give you an idea of what it's like.

It's a short piece, two episodes, all taken up with the somewhat surreal courtship between two middle-school teachers, Kawase Mitsuro, who teaches art, and his older colleague Kazawa Toshiaki. The story opens with Kawase staring out the window after classes at Kazawa, who is swimming in the school's outdoor pool. Kawase's students, who all seem to be girls, are ribbing him about his fascination, which he vehemently denies. But in flashback, we learn that on his twenty-third birthday, Kazawa asked him out to dinner and proposed that they have a relationship. Kawase, not taking him seriously, said "Sure. Why not?"

The tension in this story all comes from Kawase's refusal to believe that Kazawa is serious and Kazawa's determination to prove that he is, even in the face of the principal's matchmaking efforts with Kazawa on behalf of a friend's daughter and a bit of jealousy from Kawase's brother. Characters are vivid -- Kawase is somewhat shy, quiet, fairly innocent, and quite passive. He finds it difficult to trust Kazawa. Kazawa comes off as quite self-confident, breezy, casual, and direct about his feelings, even though Kawase can't take him seriously.

The graphics are highly stylized, which I think is one thing that appeals to me. It's worth noting that the feel of the drawing in the second episode is much different than the first, a little softer, a little more finished, although I found the drawing in the first half perfectly acceptable and even appealing. The artists have used a fairly exaggerated bishounen type for the men, tall, very thin (but also muscular, as we see from Kazawa in his very brief swimsuit), with extraordinarily broad shoulders.

The music makes a great contribution to the feel, I think. It's also fairly unusual, at least in terms of the anime I've seen, in which titles are likely to be pop-song-inspired and the incidental music generally occurs only as needed. In After School, one is given an almost constant soft-jazz piano accompaniment which blends right into the title music and is quite beautiful in itself. It adds, I think, to the dreamlike quality of the piece and, in its sparse angularity, adds a sense of open space, even in intimate interior scenes, which, with the spare and sometimes elliptical dialogue and fragmentary scenes, reinforces the feeling of a dream.

I think it's the dreamlike quality that appeals to me the most. It's a work that could very easily seem choppy, confusing, and unfinished, but -- and perhaps it's the music acting as a constant here -- instead I read it as episodic, inferential, elliptical, and fairly powerful. There's a dream sequence at the beginning of episode two that encapsulates my feelings about this anime: rendered in green, black and white, it portrays a conversation between Kawase and Kazawa that is repeated in real life later in the episode. It plays a key part in both incarnations in bringing Kawase to the realization that Kazawa is, indeed, serious about him and sets up the final resolution, and it's stunning -- abstract, spare, intense, and very beautiful.

I have to give this one high marks -- it's unique and, to me at least, very appealing. The one drawback so far is that, as is too often the case with YouTube, you take what you can get -- in this case, the middle section of episode two is only available subtitled in Spanish, which is not a language in which I have a great deal of facility.

Not licensed in the U.S., unfortunately, and old enough (1994) that it's not likely to be. It's available online via AnimeGLore.com and, I believe, Aarinfantasy.com, and there is a manga series, also not licensed in English, but also available, at least in part, online.


Director: Kazuyoshi Hirose
Music: Norihiro Tsuru
Original creator: Mieko Koide
Producer: Masaru Fukuda


Hikaru Midorikawa as Kawase Mitsurou
Kiyoyuki Yanada as Kazama Toshiaki
Jun'ichi Kanemaru as Natsuhiko
Toshiyuki Morikawa as Kawase Hitoshi
Niina Kumagaya as Shizuka

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Here's a very good post from David Link at Independent Gay Forum. I usually stop by there to see who I can disagree with (and am usually rewarded), but this time I have to agree wholeheartedly:

It all begins and ends with the closet. But for this anachronistic social convention that is as useful today as a hitching post, Thomas would not have needed to try and convince first himself, and then someone of the opposite sex that he was straight. It is not enough, in this scheme, that we deceive ourselves; heterosexuals, too, have to be equally and everlastingly drawn into the fraud, some of them at the most intimate level.

This is really what the Maggie Gallaghers, the Joseph Nicolosis, the James Dobsons are encouraging: that we be fundamentally dishonest about who we are, and use that dishonesty to live our lives the way they think we should. They don't really seem to care very much about the damage they are doing, not only to us (and given their attitude toward gays, which, fine words notwithstanding, is unremitting and contemptuous hostility, I can't see that they could be expected to care about hurting us), but to those who, whether knowingly or not, get sucked into the charade.

(Oh, and in case I haven't said so in so many words, forget about "preserving marriage." NOM, the Catholic Church, the LDS Church, and their fellow travelers have offered nothing that actually preserves marriage, nothing of any help to married couples. Their program is entirely negative, entirely directed toward exclusion.)

I am truly looking forward to the day when we can consign the "pro-marriage" forces to a sardonic footnote and be as honest as humanly possible about who we are.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

If You're Going to Practice Magic

learn to do it right.

When I read this story, my jaw dropped:

CALLER: Yeah doctor. Our small tea bag group here in Waycross, we got our vigil together and took Dr. Coburn’s instructions and prayed real hard that Sen. Byrd would either die or couldn’t show up at the vote the other night.

How hard did you pray because I see one of our members was missing this morning. Did it backfire on us? One of our members died? How hard did you pray senator? Did you pray hard enough

HOST: Senator Barasso, he was referring to Senator Inhofe, who was not part of the round of voting this morning.

BARASSO: The votes today, they needed 60 votes in favor of the bill. Senator Inhofe is opposed to the bill, and whether he was there or not didn’t make any difference. There was no way that Jim Inhofe was going to vote for the bill, the senator from Oklahoma. So that’s why he wasn’t there this morning.

HOST: Do you know where he was, senator, why he wasn’t able to make the vote this morning?

This was after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-The Scary Place) called upon Christians to pray that a senator would miss the vote on health-care reform.

Speaking against the health care bill on the Senate floor just moments ago, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) expressed his hope that a Senator of the majority caucus would not be able to make the vote:
What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can’t make the vote tonight. That’s what they ought to pray.

OK -- how sick is that? First, it's pretty sick to pray that some senator is going to miss a vote, by whatever means, but then to pray that somebody dies? And then get all weepy because you think you missed your target and one of your guys bought it?

I had a huge argument with my sister once about prayer versus spellwork -- she's a fairly fervent Christian, or was at the time, but not a whackjob like the person in that story. At any rate, she insisted that prayer and spellwork were in no way the same thing or even similar. I don't see all that much difference -- you're using words to focus energy in an attempt to influence events. Seems pretty straightforward to me. (And if you've got a whole group praying together for the same thing, how is that different than a coven doing a working?)

Full disclosure: I don't do a whole lot of magic. That's not the point of being a Witch, as far as I'm concerned. I have, however, done enough spellwork to know that it just doesn't work that way. And Witches at least know enough to know that whatever you send comes back at you, whether you believe in the Three-Fold Rule or not: even coming back at the same strength is bad enough, so don't go sending out bad shit, much less death wishes.

(Sidebar: Interestingly enough, it's exactly that sort of thing that leads to the first crisis in the first volume of Ze -- one of Konoe's spells comes back at him and tears his arm off. Seems the Japanese have the same understanding of magic workings that Western Witches do.)

And the moral of this story is, once again, the Christianist right has no morals. As if we had any doubt. And apparently, some of them are pretty stupid.

Update: From TPM, some concern that the phone call may have been a hoax.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In the Land of the Clueless

Peggy Noonan stands head and shoulders above the rest. In what is rumored to be her last OpEd for WSJ, that bastion of fairness and equality, Noonan proves once again that she just doesn't get it.

But we are concerned about other things, too, and there are often signs in various polls that those things may dwarf economic concerns. Americans are worried about the core and character of the American nation, and about our culture.

It is one thing to grouse that dreadful people who don't care about us control our economy, but another, and in a way more personal, thing to say that people who don't care about us control our culture.

She offers no support for this -- is this a majority who are concerned about "people who don't care about us" controlling our culture? Or is this an extension of polls reflecting concern about torture, unaccountability, greed in high places, a Congress that seems to be a wholly-owned subsidiary of (insert favorite corporate complex here), and a president who doesn't seem to believe in anything that actually requires action.

No, actually, it's all about Adam Lambert.

For years now, without anyone declaring it or even noticing it, we've had a compromise on television. Do you want, or will you allow into your home, dramas and comedies that, however good or bad, are graphically violent, highly sexualized, or reflective of cultural messages that you believe may be destructive? Fine, get cable. Pay for it. Buy your premium package, it's your money, spend it as you like.

But the big broadcast networks are for everyone. They are free, they are available on every television set in the nation, and we watch them with our children. The whole family's watching. Higher, stricter standards must maintain.

This was behind the resentment at the Adam Lambert incident on ABC in November. The compromise was breached. It was a broadcast network, it was prime time, it was the American Music Awards featuring singers your 11-year-old wants to see, and your 8-year-old. And Mr. Lambert came on and—again, in front of your children, in the living room, in the middle of your peaceful evening—uncorked an act in which he, in the words of various news reports the next day, performed "faux oral sex" featuring "S&M play," "bondage gear," "same-sex makeouts" and "walking a man and woman around the stage on a leash."

People were offended, and they complained.

I think what upset people was not that such actions occurred, but that they occurred publicly and without shame. It's one thing to participate in these sorts of things in private (even as a voyeur), is the thinking, but to be open and honest about it is unforgivable. And to be quite honest, most people could care less. She cites 1500 calls to ABC about the show. My first question is, out of how many viewers? Answer that, and if the percentage is significant, I might listen to you.

And then the Great Conflation:

All these things—plus Wall Street and Washington and the general sense that most of our great institutions have forgotten their essential mission—add up and produce a fear that the biggest deterioration in America isn't economic but something else, something more characterological.All these things—plus Wall Street and Washington and the general sense that most of our great institutions have forgotten their essential mission—add up and produce a fear that the biggest deterioration in America isn't economic but something else, something more characterological.

A few things apparently haven't occurred to Noonan. These people are participants in this culture. They watch these programs, they buy the newspapers and magazines that trumpet the latest indiscretions of celebrities -- indiscretions that are only indiscreet because "journalists" are busily digging up dirt to publish for the voracious appetites of the moralists in Middle America. Nothing is being forced on anyone, but it's a good excuse to avoid taking responsibility for watching what you watch and reading what you read. This stuff is happening, being broadcast, being written up in newspapers and magazines, because there's a market for it.

The purpose served by the bread and circuses is simply to draw attention away from Wall Street, away from Washington, away from the bullshit that is passing for governance in this country these days. And it's because of these distractions that the bullshit has become so firmly entrenched. (And let me point out that Peggy Noonan is part and parcel of this endeavor, making her as big a hypocrite as anyone else in the media. The alternative explanation, of course, is that she really is an idiot.)

Let's give Ms. Noonan some other numbers to work with: the parts of the county with the highest divorce rates, the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, the highest consumption of pornography, are the areas that are most "offended" by Adam Lambert.

Maybe Peggy Noonan should open her eyes, find the last shreds of her integriy, and write a piece about that.

TARP For Insurance Companies

Also known as the Senate Health Care Bill.

McJoan at DailyKos has a summary of some of the provisions in the bill. It's the good, the bad, and the ugly all over again, and by my take, the bad and the ugly far outweigh the good.

McJoan makes one good point:

Bottom line, Americans are still going to be forced to buy insurance that for too many people will be unaffordable. As long as that's the case, and until there's a true alternative public option that provides people real choice, the insurance companies shouldn't get that one thing in the legislation they want: the mandate.

I defy any sitting senator to explain with a straight face why I should be forced to participate in a non-competitive market for health coverage at prices set by the industry and policies regulated by the industry.

By the way, it's not just the insurance companies who have Obama hornswoggled. Drug manufacturers have set him up for extra duty as a ping-pong ball. David Sirota has a good run-down:

The good news is that the furor seems to have exacted a commitment out of the White House for future action:
Speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," David Axelrod, Obama's top political aide, said the White House still favors drug re-importation and wants to move forward on it.

"Let me be clear. The president supports re-importation. As he said, safe re-importation of drugs into this country. There's no reason why the Americans should pay a premium for pharmaceuticals that people in other countries pay less for," Axelrod said. "We will move forward on it."

Substantively, this is still dishonest - as I noted in past reporting on this, if the administration really wanted to do importation, as Axelrod claims, it has the statutory authority right now to allow it via a certification by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. We're all somehow supposed to ignore that reality - as if we're all idiots. We're all also supposed to ignore Obama's campaign commitment - Axelrod offers up no explanation as to why Senator Obama co-sponsored the Dorgan amendment he worked to kill nor any explanation as to why candidate Obama's campaign promise to support it was broken.

I don't believe it. More nice words from an administration that can't seem to come up with anything else.

My first impulse is to say "Kill the Senate bill." The House bill isn't nearly as bad, but Ben Nelson (D-National Right to Life Committee) is threatening to kill any compromise that doesn't include an outright ban on abortion -- or as well as. Maha takes a a look at the realities:

Think of this bill as a foot in the door. Once provisions begin to go into effect, once people realize their lives are less in jeopardy, there are no death panels, and Soviet tanks don’t appear in the streets, most Americans will support it, and more reforms will be possible. Yes, I agree with Digby that a large portion of Americans are so lost in their mythic fantasy land they wouldn’t recognize reality if it showed up with fireworks and a brass band. But I think that while most Americans can be confused and bamboozled about new or foreign things, once they have direct experience with something they are not so easily fooled. They saw through George Bush’s Social Security privatization scheme, for example.

I'm not nearly so confident that we'll be able to improve on whatever mess the Congress and Obama come up with. There is as much likelihood that health-care reform will get worse rather than better as they tinker. Obama can't be counted on to fight for anything, and the Republicans and those Senators who are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the insurance industry (Max Baucus, Olympia Snowe, Joe Lieberman -- for some reason those names leap out at me) will do their best to weaken anything that does anyone besides their main constituents -- that is, those insurance companies (and drug manfacturers -- don't forget the drug manufacturers) that are paying for their campaigns -- any good.

You reach a point where you just have to junk it and start over. I'm almost there with health-care reform. I'm way past that with the Congress.


Jane Hamsher comes up with ten reasons to kill the bill:

Top 10 Reasons to Kill Senate Health Care Bill

1. Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations — whether you want to or not.
2. If you refuse to buy the insurance, you’ll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS.
3. Many will be forced to buy poor-quality insurance they can’t afford to use, with $11,900 in annual out-of-pocket expenses over and above their annual premiums.
4. Massive restriction on a woman’s right to choose, designed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.
5. Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays.
6. Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won’t see any benefits — like an end to discrimination against those with preexisting conditions — until 2014 when the program begins.
7. Allows insurance companies to charge people who are older 300% more than others.
8. Grants monopolies to drug companies that will keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market.
9. No re-importation of prescription drugs, which would save consumers $100 billion over 10 years.
10. The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of four will rise an average of $1,000 a year — meaning in 10 years, your family’s insurance premium will be $10,000 more annually than it is right now.

. . .

The Senate bill isn’t a “starter home,” it’s a sink hole. It needs to die so something else can take its place. It doesn’t matter whether people are on the right or the left — once they understand the con job that’s about to be foist upon them, they agree. That’s why Harry Reid and President Obama are trying to jam it through as fast as they can, before people get wise.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Reviews in Brief: Linkin Park's Meteora

A young friend of mine just the other day said that Linkin Park managed to bring hip-hop and metal back to hard rock I think I'd add punk and maybe even goth metal to that group. Meteora is the most consistently good album of theirs I've run across so far.

I can't say that I like the entire collection, nor that I think the entire collection is consistently good. And I'll readily admit it took me a while to get figure out what they were doing. The song that first drew me to them was "Breaking the Habit," which as usual I found as the sound track to a yaoi AMV on YouTube. I went looking for the CD.

The first cut on this group that serves as a good example of what they are doing is "Somewhere I Belong." It's a fairly simple combination of metal, rap, and hard rock that starts to develop that kind of synergy between the elements that makes a good song. It gives a bare hint of what Chester Bennington's vocals can do, and the wall of sound behind him pushes the lyrics -- which are honest and poignant -- right at you. "Easier to Run" has my vote as one of the two best songs on the disc, and to be honest, it wasn't an easy call. In fact, that one leads into a long sequence of very strong songs that occupies the last half of the disc. "Faint," "Figure.09," "Breaking the Habit," "Nobody's Listening," and "Numb" are all, now that I've gotten used to the idiom, very good.

I think one reason I find Linkin Park appealing is, believe it or not, the lyrics. I'm not one to be a stickler for lyrics that make sense in rock music, but these do, consistently and with a solid punch: they're songs about being young and angry (and man, I remember those days very well). Take "Easier to Run":

It's easier to run
replacing this pain with something numb
it's so much easier to go
than face all this pain here all alone.

I remember feeling like that, way too often. And in this song, all the elements come together: the spoken portions suddenly include two voices, but one of them is singing in monotone when the melody come in. And Bennington shows just how flexible a singer he is in this one -- the raw screaming gives way to a lyrical line delivered with a great deal of expressiveness.

This is not "cool" music -- it's not distanced, it's not ironic -- at least not self-consciously so -- it's flat out teenage angst on a very deep level, with no apologies and no posing. I think it's the combination of honesty and artistry on this album that draws me. And it seems to be a characteristic of the band overall.

It's really easier to let you see/hear it. Here's the official music video from "Breaking the Habit," which I've just found and which is terrific:

And since "Breaking the Habit" is not typical of Linkin Park, here's an AMV of "Easier to Run." The anime is Kingdom Hearts.

A note: Meteora is an enhanced CD that comes with a note that some computers may not be able to read the enhanced portions. My computer can't read any of it, which is a pity. If I manage to overcome that, I'll update this review.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Oh, Lord -- Spare Me

Ran across this piece of snark disguised as a report while looking for something else. It's pretty sad.

Nickelback is the top group of the decade, according to Billboard magazine. . . .

Readers of the U.K.'s Word Magazine recently voted Nickelback the worst band in the world, with Kroeger and company locking down an impressive 20 per cent of the vote. Looks like not everyone is a fan of greasy, bleached hair and enlightening, philosophical song titles such as Something in Your Mouth and S.E.X.

Sample lyrics: "Maybe in the parking lot / Better bring your friend along / Better rock together / Than just one at a time / S is for the simplety / E is for the ecstasy / X is just to mark the spot / 'Cause that's the one you really want."

Someone's agenda is hanging out.

I did leave a comment, to the effect that this little gem of an "article" wasn't even tabloid-worthy. It's not -- it's a hit piece disguised as journalism. Looks like the American media aren't the only ones who can't to their jobs.

(Full disclosure: if you read this blog, you already know that I think Nickelback is a very good band. Maybe not the "best" -- that's too much a matter of personal taste -- but up there.)

My thoughts on some of Nickelback's music:

All the Right Reasons

Dark Horse

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holier than Who?

A wonderful post by Tristero at Hullabaloo. It starts off about eating habits and vegetarianism, but goes interesting places:

Long version: The notion that all human behavior has a moral valence is part and parcel of Puritanism. Cotton Mather:
I was once emptying the Cistern of Nature, and making Water at the Wall. At the same Time, there came a Dog, who did so too, before me. Thought I; “What mean and vile Things are the Children of Men, in this mortal State! How much do our natural Necessities abase us and place us in some regard, on the Level with the very Dogs!”…Accordingly, I resolved, that it should be my ordinary Practice, whenever I step to answer the one or other Necessity of Nature, to make it an Opportunity of shaping in my Mind some noble, divine Thought.

Granted, this is funny as hell. But it's also very creepy in its holier-than-thou piousness and blatant self-loathing. This stuff has created an enormous amount of mischief. There is nothing particularly "mean and vile" about urinating. Nor is there anything particularly ennobling about vegetarianism. OTOH, there is a lot that is very, very wrong with condemning humans for having a body; likewise there is a lot that is very, very wrong with assuming moral superiority because you will or won't eat something.

Funny, yes -- what kind of noble thoughts are you going to have while taking a dump? "Creepy" doesn't begin to do it justice. It's the Christianist world view in a nutshell: condemning others for being human. And I'm not talking about indulging in human frailties, but just for being normal. It's something that's infected American thought since the beginning (and I really do mean "infected").

Quite aside from food preferences, the idea that it's acceptable to condemn others for not behaving the way you think they should is reprehensible in itself, particularly this nation. It's immoral to eat animals? On what basis? My ancestors and yours have been eating animals for millions of years. It's immoral to have sex with someone of the same sex? Says who? It's at the point where it's weird to find a species that doesn't engage in that behavior. It's wrong to kill others? Under what circumstances? Do you believe in defending yourself?

I think I'm probably one of the most truly moral people around, the more so because I don't have a convenient list of hand-me-down tribal taboos to pick and choose from. I have one rule: Harm none. It's amazing the kind of perspective that brings to just about any action. Well, pissing on a wall, not so much. As far as I can see, that's value neutral. For that matter, Cotton Mather notwithstanding, so is having a body. (Just to nip one sophomoric objection in the bud, yes, all life is sacred -- we all carry a spark of the divine. That includes me. The rest flows from that.)

Leaving the vegan syndrome alone -- if you don't want to eat flesh, don't. Just please refrain from preaching at me about how morally superior you are -- I'm willing to posit one idea: condemning others for not adhering to one's personal morality is immoral.

Health Care "Reform" -- It's Dead, So Bury It

Howard Dean:

I don't have anything to add -- kill it, start over. And maybe he's right -- maybe we should wait for a new Congress so we can dispense with the weak sisters who can't seem to resist insurance industry money.


Taylor Marsh echoes my take on this whole debacle:

The Senate proving it’s a failed institution if the Democratic majority can only support legislation that does nothing close to what it’s original intent was meant to be. With senators unwilling to stand up on principle rather than the holy writ of getting any win, no matter what it means. But the anger directed towards Joe Lieberman is off by a branch. Where this failure lands is on Pres. Obama’s doorstep; an executive who can’t bring himself to lead.

Marsh was never a strong Obama supporter, but she's pretty much an establishment Democrat. This is devastating.

Health care reform is going to wind up being the biggest black-eye for a president since -- well, health care reform under Clinton, come to think of it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Health Care Reform: It's Dead, Baby

It looks like all we're going to be left with is mandatory policies at ever-increasing prices for crappy coverage that will be cancelled if you get sick. Sounds suspiciously like the Republican plan.

Here's a pointed commentary by Ezra Klein, who's been dogging this closely. It gives a good idea of the degree to which kabuki rules the Senate:

The next was to cut a deal with Olympia Snowe. But Snowe had made it clear that part of any compromise with her was a deceleration in the bill's momentum. "The more they try to drive this process in an unrealistic timeframe, the more reluctant I become about whether or not this can be doable in this timeframe that we're talking about," Snowe told reporters. "There's always January."

That left Joe Lieberman. And Lieberman's price for signing onto the bill was the destruction of the public option and, unexpectedly, the Medicare buy-in provision. There would be no triggers, no opt-outs, no compromises. Lieberman swung the axe and cut his deal cleanly, killing not only the public option, but anything that looked even remotely like it. Some on the Hill remain worried that Lieberman will discover new points of contention in the coming days, as they believe he had signaled that he wouldn't filibuster the Medicare buy-in. They worry whether his word is good. But assuming it is, he can provide the 60th vote Reid needs to move the bill by the end of next week, and keep health-care reform on some sort of schedule.

And so, in order to cut a deal with Lieberman, they cut the "reform" out of "health-care reform." This is basically TARP for the insurance industry, as nearly as I can make out, except they've cut out the middle-man: instead of using our tax money to line the pockets of insurance executives, they -- meaning the president and the Senate Democrats -- are forcing us to do it directly from our own pockets. I guess all the tax money has to go to the bankers.

Joe Sudbay at AmericaBlog has a take on this from Darcy Burner of ProgressiveCongress.org:

The first rule of medicine is, "Do no harm." The post-Joe Lieberman version of the Senate healthcare bill fails that basic criterion. Unless Democratic leadership steps up to fix this misguided proposal, our only recourse will be to kill it.

The fundamental failing of the newest Senate proposal is that it requires individuals to purchase health insurance, but does nothing to rein in what insurance companies charge. There is nothing to stop spiraling health costs from eating up an ever-increasing percentage of our national productivity.

The House bill has two major cost-control mechanisms: the public option and the 85% medical-loss ratio requirement. The Senate bill is on track to have neither, and nothing new to replace them. The Senate bill is a recipe for national disaster. If it's that bill or nothing, I prefer nothing.

Sudbays' comment:

The House can still use its power to fix the bill. But, that would require the use of power, something liberals aren't so good at.

Sounds like something I would say.

McJoan at DailyKos does a riff off Ezra Klein:

By now, you're probably used to hearing about the $900 billion health-care bill. But what about the 150,000-life health-care bill?

Oddly, that label hasn't made its way into the conversation. But it is, if anything, a conservative estimate. The Institute of Medicine developed a detailed methodology for projecting the lives lost due to lack of insurance. The original paper estimated that 18,000 lives were lost in 2000, and the Urban Institute updated that analysis with data for 2006, yielding an estimate of 22,000 lives. As for 150,000, well, that's almost certainly too low. That's just the 2006 number across 10 years, which is the time frame we generally use for health care, with a third of the lives saved lopped off, as we're not going to cover all of the uninsured. But since the population of the uninsured grows every year, and so does the death toll, it would surely be higher. So call it the 150,000-plus-life health-care plan.

At this point, the assistance to the people who need it most is the critical moral and policy decision. Would it be a band-aid? Yes, but even a band-aid can staunch bleeding, and right now that's what we desperately need. The insurance reforms matter a great deal, too, and can be passed through regular process. It will be a lot harder for Senators to stand up and vote to allow insurance companies to continue to deny coverage to the American people.

"Insurance" has become another way for rich people to get richer, and nothing more. That's what the Senate Democrats have decided not to disturb, thanks to Joe Lieberman -- and others -- anyone who does any reading on this will detect the fine hand of Rahm Emanuel acting for Barack Obama:

Politico reported Monday morning that the White House had pressed Reid to cut the deal after Lieberman (I-Conn) insisted the Senate drop a provision, which Lieberman himself has long favored, to allow those 55-64 to buy in to Medicare. Lieberman is threatening to join a Republican filibuster of the bill if the provision isn't dropped.

The White House denied the report. "The report is inaccurate. The White House is not pushing Senator Reid in any direction. We are working hand in hand with the Senate Leadership to work through the various issues and pass health reform as soon as possible," White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer wrote in an e-mail to the Plum Line.

The report, however, according to the two sources, was entirely accurate. "We're long past time for these kinds of games," one source said. White House spokesman Reid Cherlin stuck to the denial: "Our statement is true," he said.

How said is it that when the White House makes a denial in something like this, you automatically figure they're lying. It couldn't be because of past history now, could it?

Anyway, the whole thing is making me sick. Can the Democrats honestly think they're going to go to the country with a "health coverage reform" plan that amounts to nothing more than a giveaway to the insurance industry and win in 2010? John Aravosis points out what's missing.

It's not about the votes, people. It's about leadership. The current occupant of the White House doesn't like to fight, and the leadership in Congress has never been as good at their jobs, at marshaling their own party, as the Republicans were when they were in the majority. The President is supposed to rally the country, effectively putting pressure on opposition members of Congress to sit down and shut up. And the congressional leadership is supposed to rally its members to hold the line, and get the 51 votes necessary for passing legislation in a climate where the minority is too afraid to use the filibuster. When you have a President who is constitutionally, or intellectually, unable to stand for anything, and a congressional leadership that, rather than disciplining its own members and forging ahead with its own agenda, cedes legislative authority to a president who refuses to lead, you have a recipe for exactly what happened last night. Weakness, chaos, and failure.

I weep for the future.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reviews in Brief: Shiuko Kano's Maybe I'm Your Steppin' Stone: Loveliness

Shiuko Kano's Maybe I'm Your Steppin' Stone is a pendant to I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone, centering on Kousei Mogi, Ippachi's friend, and apparently taking place before the events in the the latter story.

Kousei Mogi is an independent contractor, a scaffold maker who stops by the convenience store were Kenji Hirosue works every day to pick up dinner, usually in the company of his small son, Subaru. Kenji tends to space out when Kousei comes in -- Kousei is a big, hunky, laid-back, very sexy guy who happens to be divorced, and Kenji is smitten. Kenji's neice is in the same preschool as Subaru, and Kousei persuades Kenji to bring her to the school athletic tournament, where he enrolls himself and Kenji in the three-legged race. Things are going well until Kenji trips head-first into a piece of playground equipment. He awakes at Kousei's place, practidally in Kousei's arms, and can't restrain himself any longer: he tackles the bigger man, who proves to be willing.

Sandwiched between the two parts of the Kousei-Kenji story is that of Yasushi Mejiro and Shunji Nakano, who work for Kousei. They don't get along, until one night Yasu discovers Shunji's feelings for Kousei and tries a little blackmail -- but the payoff isn't in cash.

There's a side story, about Hotta and Kosaka: Kosaka is being forced into some hanky-panky by a teacher, which Hotta discovers. He decides to turn that knowledge to his own advantage, but then realizes that his interest in Kosaka is more than just sex.

There's a little thread of guilt running through all these stories, ranging from Kousei's realization of his emotional clumsiness with Kenji through Yasu's chagrin at realizing how he's been treating someone who cares for him, to Hotta's own epiphany -- on the same order as Yasu's, but in much greater degree. The characterizations are very full -- all these men are fully realized, both in dialogue and drawing. These are edgy guys, all of them, and Shunji in particular has a hair-raising history.

Lest I give the impression that it's all high drama, rest easy -- these stories all have their moments of humor, especially the Kousei-Kenji segments, all character-driven.

The drawing is up to the high standard of the previous volume in this series, and sex scenes, as might be imagined, are pretty explicit. And a heads up: the cover art on this one is a little too prettied up and doesn't really do justice to the interior graphics, which seems to be a tendency with Kano's color work -- it seems to lose that edge that makes the black-and-white art so appealing.

Another from 801, and Kano says there's a third volume in the works.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

In a Nutshell

Eli Friday at FDL quotes Matt Taibbi in a nice summary of the flaws of the Obama administration:

The point is that an economic team made up exclusively of callous millionaire-assholes has absolutely zero interest in reforming the gamed system that made them rich in the first place.


There’s no other way to say it: Barack Obama, a once-in-a-generation political talent whose graceful conquest of America’s racial dragons en route to the White House inspired the entire world, has for some reason allowed his presidency to be hijacked by sniveling, low-rent shitheads.

My sentiments, exactly.

Uganda, and a comment on the War Against Kevin Jennings

A quickie, noting some significant developments in the "Kill Gays" bill before the Ugandan parliament.

First, from Jim Burroway, this note about an op ed in the Ugandan official news, written by a close adviser to the president. It seems pretty strong to me:

And that is where same-sex lovers’ haters will do their nut! The recent month I was away a parliamentarian introduced a Bill of hugely draconian measure, including heavy penalties on those who wouldn’t report same-sex lovers they knew about! In the US there was a man whose name, McCarthy, is now a synonym (as mccarthyism) for cruel witch-hunting. For him Communism was the hot issue, although he would doubtless have looked at same-sex love as a product of that political system.

In the Inquisition period, evil prelates tortured people who deviated from current beliefs, including by saying the world was not flat but round! Now we all laugh about these odd characters. Lower down the scale, people were tortured for being left-handed (indeed called sinister for it) or being very short, or being blind: in short for not being normal. I believe, and I am raising the bar, that we must laugh at this MP and others like him: laugh and stay sane. What crime have same-sex lovers committed, per se, by being who they are? Would those who believe God made mankind exclude them, and on what grounds?

Remember that this is the government owned news outlet.

My second note is about Rick Warren, Obama's favorite Christianist. He's changed direction on the "Kill Gays" bill -- I guess he sort of had to, given his close ties to one of the bill's chief architects, Martin Ssempa. Warren originally tried to stay out of it:

However, it is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations." On Meet the Press this morning, he reiterated this neutral stance in a different context: "As a pastor, my job is to encourage, to support. I never take sides."

However, it seems the PR disaster-in-the-making was too much. Here's his statement as of this week:

He's gotten a lot of praise from the gay blogs for this one, but Ed Brayton is calling bullshit:

Without even acknowledging that he's flipped positions completely, one can only assume that the real reason for doing so is because he's taking a lot of heat for it and is in damage control mode. Anyone who has followed Warren for any length of time recognizes this as a pattern, where he backs vile policies and then pretends that he never did - even when he did so on video for the world to see.

He explicitly compared gay marriage to incest and beastiality, then lied and said he didn't. He explicitly endorsed Prop 8 in California and told his followers to vote for that referendum, then lied and said he didn't. In both cases, we have him on video saying exactly what he later denied saying. And he has never owned up to the lies.

This is Rick Warren's MO. We should all be used to it by now. So pardon me if I don't join others in praising his disingenuous johnny-come-lately statement. If he actually meant it, he would have said it the first time he was asked about it.

Rick Warren is, I think, one of the most facile snake-oil salesmen on the right. The only thing that keeps him out of the same league as, say, Lou Sheldon, Peter LaBarbera, Fred Phelps, and that whole wing is that he's not crazy. He's just a very shrewd manipulator who, for a change, is not a conspiracy thinker. Yes, of course he's a liar -- he sort of has to be, now doesn't he? But he's come out an made a video condemning the Ugandan bill in no uncertain terms. (And, as a sidebar, how is it that his good friend, president Obama, has remained mum? Any guesses on the depth of his commitment to equality for gays and lesbians?)

And speaking of Liars for Jesus, check out this post at Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters. I'm not going to excerpt it here, because it's something you need to read in its entirety. It's pretty gruesome. I will say, however, that I'd like to get this Allie Duzett in a corner and ask her some hard questions, starting with "How, as a Christian, do you justify spreading lies and inciting hatred against a total stranger?" I'd love to hear her answer.

Down the River

That's us and health care reform. It looks as though one thing the Democrats have learned from the Bush administration is to be blatant about screwing America. The reports are too depressing to comment on, so this is going to be more of a link dump than anything.

First, it seems the Obama team wants to save the insurance industry's profits at all costs -- with us bearing the cost. This report from John Aravosis summarizes information from several posts. Via McJoan at DailyKOS, quoting an AP story:

WASHINGTON — A loophole in the Senate health care bill would let insurers place annual dollar limits on medical care for people struggling with costly illnesses such as cancer, prompting a rebuke from patient advocates.

The legislation that originally passed the Senate health committee last summer would have banned such limits, but a tweak to that provision weakened it in the bill now moving toward a Senate vote.

As currently written, the Senate Democratic health care bill would permit insurance companies to place annual limits on the dollar value of medical care, as long as those limits are not "unreasonable." The bill does not define what level of limits would be allowable, delegating that task to administration officials.

Adding to the puzzle, the new language was quietly tucked away in a clause in the bill still captioned "No lifetime or annual limits."

So the section of the law that forbids coverage limits actually allows them.

Jane Hamsher rips into Harry Reid on this one -- it's at his door:

People are asking who put this in the bill. The only person who could put this in the bill is Harry Reid. As Majority Leader, Reid alone is responsible for combining the bills that came from the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate HELP Committee into the bill that went to the floor of the Senate. But neither of those bills had a lifetime limit on benefits. That was manufactured solely by Reid–in violation of the promise made repeatedly by President Obama.

Not that Obama's going to feel bound by that any more than Reid does. Digby has a comment on that:

President Obama has not really done much of anything to advance this health care bill except to tell everyone they ned to get along. But two specific goals that he personally promised were that nobody should lose what they have and that nobody should ever have to go broke just because they got sick. He should at least care about those two principles enough to insist that this is fixed before he signs the bill. It's really not too much to ask.

One thing that Obama doesn't seem to have learned in Chicago politics is that you have to deliver. That's what keeps our mayors in office -- they produce. He hasn't quite managed that part of it.

Ezra Klein has a short piece that everyone is starting from, for good reason:

This, however, obscures the choice that's being made. The tradeoff here is slightly higher premiums for everyone versus total financial ruin for the people who absolutely need help the most. Politically, choosing "everyone" rather than "people with cancer" makes sense, because the first group has more votes than the second. But on a policy level, it's nuts. Health-care insurance literally exists to protect us from the worst-case scenarios. This provision says that the Senate bill will protect everyone but the truly worst-case scenarios. If you assume that people support the basic concept of health-care insurance, then they don't, or shouldn't, support this. Emphasis added.

That's one thing that seems to have gotten lost in the debate, probably because the insurance industry doesn't really worry about it any more -- insurers are all about maximizing profits, just like banks and auto makers. (Auto makers have a problem with it because they actually have to produce something, unlike banks and insurers.)

McJoan lays out very clearly the rationale -- and the necessity -- for a public option:

This provision is a deal-breaker, and now that it's been exposed will undoubtedly be removed in the manager's amendment. But it's a great example of the larger problem in our system. This is just one of the reasons why those of us who have been arguing so hard for so long for a public option continue to do so. Because the power of the providers in this system is so strong, because it's had its thumb on the scale in this process from the get-go. Because there has to be a counter to the private system if reforms are actually going to work. The only counter that has ever proven to really work in this country is competition, and the only entity big enough to provide adequate competition is the government.

This got more complex than I had expected, so I'm going to leave this part of the health care commentary here. There may be more on other aspects.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's Not Just Ignorance

Very interesting post at Mahablog that starts off with climate change deniers and goes some very interesting places:

For many, faithfulness to the doctrine of climate change denial is an integral part of their ideological tribal loyalty, and tribal loyalty in turn is part of self-definition. A threat to the doctrines of the tribe is experienced as a threat to oneself. Admitting to the truth would bring on a massive existential crisis. So the more evidence for climate change, the more angrily, and frantically, they will denounce it. . . .

At the Guardian, Sue Blackmore writes about the often-noted correlation between high levels of religiosity and societal dysfunction — the “strong positive correlations between nations’ religious belief and levels of murder, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse and other indicators of dysfunction.”

The 1st world nations with the highest levels of belief in God, and the greatest religious observance are also the ones with all the signs of societal dysfunction. These correlations are truly stunning. They are not “barely significant” or marginal in any way. Many, such as those between popular religiosity and teenage abortions and STDs have correlation coefficients over 0.9 and the overall correlation with the SSS is 0.7 with the US included and 0.5 without. These are powerful relationships. But why?

These results don’t necessarily show causality. Does religiosity cause dysfunction, or do people cling to religiosity as a way to cope with dysfunction? We see here in the U.S. that the “Bible belt” states long have had the highest rates of divorce, teen pregnancy, etc. Where is cause and where is effect?

Good question, but I think the part about ideology and identity comes very close to pinning it down: religious belief and ideology are not necessarily entirely separate phenomena, and as Maha goes on to point out, religious belief in this country often translates into religiosity:

I am using the word “religiosity” rather than “religion” because I think much of what passes for religion in America is really superstition (I make a distinction between religion and superstition at the other blog). The overwhelmingly Christian hyper-religious of America on the whole are remarkably ignorant of basic Christian doctrine. Few can recite the Ten Commandments if put on the spot, and I suspect most wouldn’t recognize the Sermon on the Mount if they bumped into it outside of church. Instead, much of the country is infested with a social pathology in which religious totems — the cross, the Bible, tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments — get mixed together with extremist political beliefs and magical thinking to create a toxic and impenetrable ignorance.

She is not the first to note the appalling ignorance of so many Christians about the basics of Christ's teachings, or for that matter the whole of the strictures in Leviticus. For my own part, I can't confess to any great surprise that when people don't know the basics of their own religion, they are so easily swayed into perverting its message.

The heartbreaking thing is that most of these people don't want to do better. They have their validation from their gurus and the reinforcement of their identity as teabaggers or whatever, and that's sufficient. I will confess that I don't understand the attitude -- it's incomprehensible to me that anyone would not want to learn something new or sample different points of view. If you don't give yourself that experience, how can you expect to judge what is right for you, much less for your society? And how can you hope to avoid becoming a dupe for some snake-oil salesman?

At any rate, read that post, and do follow her links -- it's worth it.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Senators in the Back Room Again

You see a headline like this and you wonder how they've screwed us this time:

Reid Says Deal Resolves the Impasse on the Public Option

From NYT:

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, said Tuesday night that he and a group of 10 Democratic senators had reached “a broad agreement” to resolve a dispute over a proposed government-run health insurance plan, which has posed the biggest obstacle to passage of sweeping health care legislation.

It's a decent article -- has actual information about what's in the package, rather than the usual play-by-play on the kabuki.

Digby comments here:

I believe that had Obama and Reid really been committed to the public option they probably could have found a way to finesse Lieberman long before now. There is no doubt that the only reason Lieberman did this was to fuck the liberals. Hard. It's obviously become his life's purpose.

We'll know details soon. Right now it sounds like everyone is still confused, so there's no need to get too excited or angry or anything else. Rockefeller's attitude bodes well. And I saw Bernie Sanders on Maddow and he seemed quite jolly, although he reiterated his pledge to not vote for any bill that didn't have a public option. So, we'll see.

Part of this one got lost -- I'll have to come back later and reconstruct it.

OK -- I'm back.

From Brian Beutler at TPM:

If this trade-off carries the day, the opt out public option is gone.

In its place will be many of the alternatives we've been hearing about, including a Medicare expansion and a triggered, federally-based public option, the aide said.

As has been widely reported, one of the trade-offs will be to extend a version of the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan to consumers in the exchanges. Insurance companies will have the option of creating nationally-based non-profit insurance plans that would offered on the exchanges in every state. However, according to the aide, if insurance companies don't step up to the plate to offer such plans, that will trigger a national public option.

Beyond that, the group agreed--contingent upon CBO analysis--to a Medicare buy in.

That buy-in option would initially be made available to some uninsured people aged 55-64 in 2011, three years before the exchanges open. For the period between 2011 and 2014, when the exchanges do open, the Medicare option will not be subsidized--people will have to pay in without federal premium assistance--and so will likely be quite expensive, the aide noted. However, after the exchanges launch, the Medicare option would be offered in the exchanges, where people could pay into it with their subsidies.

So it sounds like they've picked the worst of all the options available, pretty much. I mean, a trigger? Olympia Snowe must be getting moist over that one. And can someone explain to me why these bozos think it's OK to require everyone to purchase health insurance immediately, but any subsidies for those who aren't rich -- which is most of us -- wait for a few years?

The devil's in the details. Some pertinent questions from Ezra Klein:

The details will be important here. What are the conditions for the non-profit plans? How many plans do there need to be? What does the regulation look like? When does the Medicare buy-in start? But assuming those pieces don't come in much worse than expected, the combination of national non-profits and a Medicare buy-in seems like a pretty good deal. Better by far than what Democrats looked likely to get a week ago. And more likely, by far, to seed health-care reform with scalable experiments.

What bothers me is that remark about them "not coming in much worse than expected." Doesn't build a lot of confidence in the final result.

Who knows? Maybe Jay Rockefeller's smile is justified. Maybe.

New Jersey

Vote this week, maybe today, on same-sex marriage. Pam's House Blend is doing heavy coverage, including this letter from Peter Shumlin, president pro-tem of Vermont's senate and candidate for governor:

The opportunity to make a difference in the central civil rights movement of this generation-to join the heroes that came before us in shaping the march to a more inclusive and just nation- only comes a once in a political lifetime. Don't let this moment pass you by. And don't be swayed by the fear-mongers. I can tell you from firsthand experience: They're wrong.

It's a good letter -- read it.

The Boss also supports the bill.

Timothy Kincaid covered the committee hearing.

Footnote: As for New York, something tells me the next elections there are not going to be pretty -- for certain Democrats.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Obama on the Public Option


OK, he supposedly was speaking in broad terms, and noting the historical significance of health care reform. The last president we had who was so concerned with the historical significance of his failures -- oops, I mean policies -- was. . . well, that would be Dubyah, wouldn't it?

But at least Joe Lieberman's happy.

Thugs in Clerical Collars

From Andrew Sullivan, this statement from the spokesman for the dioceses of Derry, Fr. Michael Canny, in Ireland:

“There is no good in saying other than the truth. The church at this state has no credibility, no standing and no moral authority. The issue is now one of trust, and that is why it will take the rest of my lifetime as a priest to build up that trust again, because the trust and confidence in the church has been broken on a fundamental level."

Sullivan goes on to note:

And yet this perpetrator of a mass conspiracy to abuse and rape children, is now threatening in my own diocese to drop its charitable projects because DC is about to legalize marriage equality.

For the dioceses of Washington D.C. to hold the poor and homeless hostage in an effort to force a civil government to adopt its doctrine into law only points up the complete moral vacuum this institution has come to occupy.

It's not only going to take time, it's going to take a complete change in direction for the Church to recover what it has thrown away.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Reviews in Brief: Shiuko Kano's I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone: Shameless

I know, I know -- I skipped last week. It was a bad week, OK? But here we are again -- it's Sunday.

Another one I'm surprised I haven't commented on here. Shiuko Kano's I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone, along with its pendant story, Maybe I'm Your Steppin' Stone, is another reason to boot Kano to the upper reaches of my list of favorite mangaka.

Kazuya Sakai, called "Ippachi" from the alternate pronunciation of the kanji characters for his name, is a construction worker, a middle-school graduate, 23, and small and really hunky. While working on an addition to a private residence, he falls for the family's daughter, Natsuko Ezumi. When he asks her brother, Masashi, if she has a boyfriend, he is met with scorn -- Nacchan only goes for well-educated men. Ippachi decides to take the high-school diploma exam, and Masashi offers to tutor him -- for a price. Masashi's not interested in money, but Ippachi does have other resources.

This is another story driven by strong characterizations. Ippachi is not very bright but determined -- call it "stubborn." He's so clueless that he doesn't even consider what he's doing with Masashi to be sex, until Masashi decides to go all the way. Ippachi then freaks out, until he realizes that there's a little more involved -- for him, at least. Masashi is manipulative and, when it comes right down to it, not very nice -- he suffers from always having been compared to his sweet-natured, open-hearted sister and coming off second best. When he finds himself emotionally entangled with Ippachi, he's forced to make some changes in his world view.

The drawing is fully up to the task of sharing the narrative load. Kano's style deploys strong-featured, expressive faces and freewheeling layouts to move the story along. While character designs aren't as finished as those in Yakuza in Love, they are very appealing and fit the characters perfectly. Sex scenes are fairly graphic, both in image and dialogue -- very little is left to the imagination.

Yup -- another winner. I'll probably write up Maybe I'm Your Steppin' Stone soon, and Kano says there's a third volume in the works. This one's from 801.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

This Is SO Good

Al Franken -- Why isn't he from Illinois?

There's background on this from Steven Koff of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Whenever Democrats talk about their proposed federally backed insurance plan, or public option, in the ongoing health-care debate, critics pipe up. If you think this public option is so great, they say, why don't you demand that all members of Congress go on it, too?

Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown says that's a fine idea. And this morning, he forced his way onto a Republican amendment saying as much, becoming a co-sponsor of a Republican protest measure that would require Congress to go on the public option if it passes.

Fact is, Republicans pushing the amendment are using it as a form of rotten eggs to hurl at their opponents. But Brown, a key sponsor of the public option legislation, likes those eggs.

Here's Brown's comments:

Sherrod Brown and the Public Option Amendment

Thursday, December 03, 2009

What Record?

Dan Savage on Obama's record on gay issues:

I don't really have much to add.

Via AmericaBlog Gay.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Chanel Can Set You Free!

Just a quickie. This caught my fancy, from Andrew Sullivan:

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Stopgap: Sunrise, NC

This is one of my favorite images. And there's not even a naked man in it.

This Week

is likely to be a light blogging week. I'm really busy with some writing stuff and also at the office every day, where the computer connections are, if anything, even worse than here. (Figure that one out.)

And there's also the fact that the news is depressingly the same, and I periodically get tired of commenting on the fact that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and most people can't figure it out.

I will be back, though. I promise.

Rick Warren, Bigot and Coward

It's telling that so many anti-gay bigots in this country don't have the courage to admit their bigotry -- and in fact, try to masquerade as something benevolent. Andrew Sullivan rips into Rick Warren over the Ugandan atrocity-in-the-making.

It's also notable that Warren's good friend, our "fierce advocate" in the White House hasn't said much, either.

Box Turtle Bulletin has been following the story in Uganda closely. Here's their complete coverage.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Genes and Epigenes

In sexual orientation. Interesting video from National Geographic that summarizes some of the findings on the role of genes in sexual orientation:

A follow-up from one of Andrew Sullivan's readers:

The National Geographic clip on twins was fascinating, not least for the language it used. At eight weeks, the clip says, the brain of a fetus with a Y chromosome is bathed in testosterone. "Not enough, " it hypothesizes, and the brain isn't sexualized to be attracted to women. The clip doesn't say if a fetus without the Y would receives 'too much' testosterone or 'not enough' estrogen at eight weeks to develop a same-sex attraction.

Later, the clip speaks of switches in the brain causing disease, and it flashes back to the gay twins as it emphasizes the word 'disease,' visually implying the gay twin is diseased, the straight twin isn't, because of the way the switches in their genes were activated. In both instances, the underlying tone is a tone of "being gay is wrong, a genetic disease." This tone, it feels to me, forgoes any question of potential gain for same-sex attraction, re-enforcing negative social bias.

I also thought it amazing that the research suggests attraction to men is the norm, attraction to women must be activated with a testosterone bath. I would have assumed the opposite, that attraction to men must be activated. (I am a heterosexual woman.)

This lays bare one of the pitfalls of popularizing science: the "not enough" testosterone comment would perhaps have been better phrased as "below a certain amount." The reader's objection to the assumption of normalcy in heterosexuality is legitimate, I think, although I think the "disease" comment is stretching a little -- I didn't get that impression at all when I watched the video, and I was looking for it. Sullivan comments:

Describing natural phenomena that are not of the norm, without describing them as somehow defective or diseased, is difficult given our cultural inheritance. I don't think all of it can be called bigotry as such; most of it is simply driven by majoritarian default assumptions. Freud saw homosexuality as not normal. But he didn't draw any "disease" assumption from that and saw heterosexuality as equally worthy of explanation.

What I see over and over again in these discussions regarding "normal" is another example of sliding definitions. In psychology, "normal" describes a range of behaviors, not a specific behavior out of a group. Therefore, it is perfectly legitimate to say that same-sex orientation is as normal as opposite-sex orientation; it is not legitimate to describe it as "abnormal" in any way.

One mistake that Freud's followers made -- not Freud himself, as Sullivan notes -- is that they consigned same-sex orientation to the realm of pathology, at great cost to their patients. There was no real support for it, and in fact, every reason to be wary of it -- they were dealing with populations that were, by definition, in emotional difficulty. It wasn't until the work of Evelyn Hooker in the 1950s that anyone thought to consider the vast majority of gays, who are happy, well-adjusted people.

As it stands, this summary confirms what I've been saying for a while: if you're looking for a "gay gene," give up. There's probably isn't one, because the genetic basis of human behavior is much more complex than that.

Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin also ran this video with a short commentary. The comments are worth checking out, if you can scroll past the flame wars.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Outside the Law (Updated)

Saw this report on a follow-up investigation to the Irish child abuse scandal involving the Catholic hierarchy and priesthood. This struck me:

It found that the Church placed its own reputation above the protection of children in its care.

It also said that state authorities facilitated the cover-up by allowing the Church to operate outside the law.

That's what "religious organizations" are demanding in the U.S. -- that they be allowed to operate outside the law in regard to statutes concerning discrimination.

Do you really want to trust them?

This is the second report, concentrating on Dublin. Note this:

Thursday's report comes six months after the publication of the Ryan report in May, which took submissions from 2,000 people who said they had suffered physical and sexual abuse while in the care of Catholic-run institutions.

The Ryan report, also known as the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, found church leaders knew that sexual abuse was "endemic" in boys' institutions.

This is the Church that says that gay couples are not fit to raise children.


Via Andrew Sullivan, this choice bit by Patsy McGarry in the Irish Times:

One of the most fascinating discoveries in the Dublin Archdiocese report was that of the concept of “mental reservation” which allows clerics mislead people without believing they are lying. According to the Commission of Investigation report, “mental reservation is a concept developed and much discussed over the centuries, which permits a church man knowingly to convey a misleading impression to another person without being guilty of lying”.

Read her article -- it's a real eye-opener about one of the ways the Church hierarchy protect themselves without -- in their own minds -- actually sinning.

And don't forget that this is coming after a decade or more of revelations about similar scandals in the U.S., Australia, and other countries in which the Church occupies a privileged position.

These are the people who have the nerve to call me and those like me "intrinsically disordered" and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars funding campaigns to take away our basic rights. Frankly, they should all be jailed, not only the pedophiles themselves, but their enablers, up to and including the current pope.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wingnut Science

A couple of prime examples, courtesy of Ed Brayton. The first concerns that work of the devil, evolution -- or, as the wingnuts call it, "evolutionism":

He explained that Darwin accepted homology and morphology, believing common origins would be evident from similar body traits.

"The idea is that a man has a head, arms and legs and an ape has a head, arms and legs, so that shows similar ancestry and, therefore, a common lineage," Phillips said. "That was one of the fundamental bases of Darwinian thinking that came from the Galapagos."

However, he said even evolutionists don't believe that anymore because DNA has proven it's utterly false.

"We have eyeballs with retinas and rods and corneas, but so do giant squid - just like humans," he said. "Nobody thinks we came from the same common lineage. Creationists argue that it's because we have a common Designer, not a common evolutionary ancestry."

As Brayton observes, scientists don't believe in homology any more? That's a surprise, especially to scientists. And the evidence from biochemistry and genetics -- that is, DNA -- is overwhelmingly supportive of common ancestry.

My first thought on reading this one was that no one can be that ignorant. I'm still not convinced (although the example of head, arms and legs went a long way toward persuading me), but rather than assume mendacity, we'll be compassionate and assume stupidity -- after all, that's something they can't help, and deserving of our pity.

The second is the lie-fest around global warming, or, in the circumlocution du jour, "climate change." Brayton cites, among others, Nate Silver:

But let's be clear: Jones is talking to his colleagues about making a prettier picture out of his data, and not about manipulating the data itself. Again, I'm not trying to excuse what he did -- we make a lot of charts here and 538 and make every effort to ensure that they fairly and accurately reflect the underlying data (in addition to being aesthetically appealing.) I wish everybody would abide by that standard.

Still: I don't know how you get from some scientist having sexed up a graph in East Anglia ten years ago to The Final Nail In The Coffin of Anthropogenic Global Warming. Anyone who comes to that connection has more screws loose than the Space Shuttle Challenger. And yet that's literally what some of these bloggers are saying!

It seems, however, that Andrew Sullivan has located the modus operandi:

The key to these bloggers' mentality is simply to find some tiny thing and focus all attention on that in order to persuade people that the bigger reality is untrue or irrelevant. This is not an argument; it's a technique. It's a technique to persuade people not to examine all the evidence, since the source of the evidence - secular humanist scientists - are evil suspects and against God and in favor of making your gas bill higher.

You can't actually persuade people that way, of course. But you can fortify their resistance to examining all the evidence.

I would argue one point with Sullivan: you can persuade people that way, particularly those who want to be persuaded. Or maybe I should say, not "persuade" so much as "confirm." The creationists have been doing it for years -- that's the root of all the so-called "controversies" in evolution: niggling details that haven't yet been resolved to everyone's satisfaction that the creationists blow up into a disparity that "disproves" Darwin's theory. As if.

So this is what happens when you practice faith-based science -- your grip on reality gets weaker by the minute.

Update: If you want to see how that sort of thinking carries over into real life, read this post at Mahablog. Quoting Steven Benen on the "stolen" 2008 presidential election:

One in four Americans — and a majority of self-identified Republicans — believes this was made possible due to the secret, carefully-executed, coordinated national efforts of a community group that can’t recognize fake pimps?

'Nuff said?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

De Facto Hiatus

I've been under the weather and it's catching up with me, so don't expect much for the next couple of days. (Now that I've said that, of course, I'll probably snap right back and start posting like a lunatic -- but don't count on it.)

However, since you're such a good audience, here's a little something:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Reviews in Brief: Hyouta Fujiyama's Sunflower

Somehow I've managed to avoid reviewing Hyouta Fujiyama's Sunflower here, even though for a long time I've thought it was her best to date (although at this point I find myself going back to Freefall Romance again and again). At any rate, this is a two-volume schoolboy romance from the same group, the Kinsei Cycle, and very well done.

Ryuhei Ohno is an impossibly cute middle-schooler who has a crush on his sometime substitute tutor, Kaname Aikawa. As might be expected, cute, shy (and huge!) Kaname-san has his own feelings toward someone else, the almost-as huge Furuya. Needless to say, this romance does not go Ryuhei's way. We next see him as a first-year high school student at the notorious Kinsei High, the academically excellent all-boys school where 90% of the student body is rumored to be gay or bi, where he meets classmate Kunihisa Imaizumi, who happens to sit in front of him in home room. Imaizumi is somewhat aghast when he learns of the school's reputation from Ryuhei -- he's from an outside school -- and doesn't want anything to do with it. The two boys are stand-outs -- Ryuhei placed first in the entrance exams, Imaizumi first in the exams for transfer students -- and are targeted by Noze, vice-president of the student council, to become his assistants. Ryuhei at first refuses, but is talked into it by Imaizumi. The problem is, Ryuhei diesn't really like Noze, and the friendly relationship between him and Imaizumi finally leads to an explosion, which is when Ryuhei realizes he's fallen for Imaizumi. In due course he confesses and is rebuffed by Imaizumi.

Fujiyama has allowed the developing relationship between Ryuhei and Imaizumi to unfold slowly and subtly, and it's a delight to watch. She uses the same device that she uses in Freefall Romance, in that Imaizumi rejects Ryuhei, but not very forcefully or convincingly. Ruyhei, being all eyes-on-the-prize determination, won't really take no for an answer, and ultimately forces Imaizumi to examine his own feelings of "friendship" to understand what he really feels.

The drawing is superb -- Fujiyama's style taken up a notch. She's done wonderful things with layouts, close-ups, and image fragments. You just stop sometimes because a particular image is so beautiful. Tones, shading, details are all beautifully handled.

There are two side-stories, the first at the end of volume one about Aikawa and Furuya, two lovable guys with a lot of charm. Aikawa is terribly insecure in his new relationship,and Furuya, once he figures out the problem, is all comfort and reassurance.

The other, at the end of volume two, is about Fumiaki Kozue, president of the student council, and Leiji Sumiyoshi, the president's assistant and Kozue's self-appointed bodyguard. The two are "sex buddies," as Kosue tells Imaizumi early on, but there's more to it than that. This ia a marvelous story, complex and multi-layered, and digs pretty deep into both young men's characters.

I'm not sure at this point if I'd still call this Fujiyama's best, but it's up there. From Juné.

Skeletons in the Closet

Via a good friend, this choice piece from Stephen Colbert:

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