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One of my favorite television shows, nowadays—and, frankly, I don’t like much—is The Future Of . . . on the Science Channel. Hosted by Baratunde Thurston, it does more or less what it says on the tin, with segmments on various bits of future technology presumably destined to improve out lives.

Last night’s episode focused on security technology, or, rather, law enforcement technology, which isn’t the same thing. Among the wondrous bits of future featured was something called “brain fingerprinting,” a process that reaches John Anderton-like into a suspect subject’s brain and plucks out memories. The inventor, Dr. Larry Farwell, was promoting the device for police and counterterrorism interrogations

Leaving aside the fact that it doesn’t seem to work, this is terrifying to those of us who support the rights of the accused. Protection against being compelled to give testimony against yourself is a bedrock of freedom found throughout Anglo-American jurisprudence. You can’t get around it with technology, hypnosis, or promising a suspect a lollipop. There is no way to protect these rights if you reach into someone’s brain and extract what’s within.


Nicholas Kristof, who is rapidly pulling ahead of Gail Collins as my favorite New York Times columnist, today talked to Wendell Potter, former spinner for Cigna, the health insurance concern, now reformed.

Potter was one of the people responsible, at Cigna and before that Humana, for the meme that the Big Bad Gubmint is going to socialize our healthcare. And that this would be bad.

Would that it would happen, though! That would mean all citizens would have access to healthcare, including the sick, minorities, and the self-employed. This would be good for everyone, wouldn’t it? If people could get care when they’re sick, even if they don’t get a wage or salary—not just unemployed, I mean contractors and entrpreneurs of all sorts, any dreamer of the American Dream—they would be able to contribute to society rather than being a drain on it, such as by taking up space in a pauper’s grave. Healthy people are the ones who put into society, and society benefits proportionally from keeping them healthy.

Right now, Kristof says, the health insurance companies’ business model involves not insuring people. Possibly one of the few businesses, in fact, in which it’s considered perfectly ethical—even, according to the column, grounds for a perfect performance review—to take customers’ money and provide nothing in exchange. Even a casino offers better odd than that. But insurers frequently “seiz[e] upon a technicality to cancel the policy of someone who has been paying premiums and finally gets cancer or some other expensive disease.” In any other field, that would be un-American. In health insurance, apparently, it’s the American way.

The socialized medicine meme, alas, is fiction, a lie created to scare people into acting against their own interests. None of the half-dozen or so plans floating around involves anything like socialism, unless your definition is “something and I don’t like it.” But socialized medicine is what would help people.

If that’s what you’re interested in.

I’m eating sliced steak en croute with organic flour and organic butter and quite possibly organic meat, I don’t recall.

This may or may not be particularly laudable. But soon it could be impossiblle.

Two months ago I wrote about HR2749, the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. This is an attempt by theFederal government to kill small and organic farms, whether or not that’s what supporters believe they want to do. What there’s no indication it’ll do is enhance food safety in any meaningful way.

Nothing I mentioned then has changed (including the unfortunate preponderance of crazy people opposing it), but it is has passed the House of Representatives, with the Senate expected to vote after the August recess. The time to act is now. If you’re American and support small, independent farms, and support organic and sustainable agriculture, contact your senators, and tell them to oppose this bill. It’s not too late.

I had a computer issue the last couple of days, so I’m making Thursday’s post today.

Meanwhile, people have been lining up on their sides of the health care reform “debate” (despite there being no valid case for leaving the current system untouched). Former NY Lieutenant Governor Betsy McCaughey so thoroughly collapsed on The Daily Show (the highlight for me was her reading sections of the bill out loud and then completely misrepresenting what they said) that it cost her her job at Cantel Medical Corp, albeit supposedly because they suddenly noticed she’d been involved in the debate since February. Lou Dobbs toured such desolate realms as the United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada and saw the dead and dying piled up six high in the streets except, you know, in reality. Roger Ebert expressed his support for the public option and was told it’s bad because it’s socialism and socialism is bad because it’s socialist. Or something like that.

What I haven’t seen is an argument against insuring sick people. I am inadequately insured. Why should I go untreated? No, tell me, I really want to know. It’s a hereditary, chronic illness, so it’s not like I went out and got myself sick in a fiendish plot to make other people pay for it. I don’t think anyone does that, actually. You’re left arguing against insuring the Wrong Sort, which does seem Republican, come to think of it, but the people shouting speakers down at town hall meeting often are what they would call the wrong sort (except for race, of course).

Again, I haven’t seen any explanation of what’s good about the current system. It leaves some people unable to access healthcare when they need it, and it puts preventative care—so they don’t need more and more expensive care later—out of reach of 47 million Americans. It needs to be changed; it needs to be improved. And lying about what that means helps no one.

Not from the people who brought you liquid bandages, it’s the liquid condom.

No, really. It’s actually a gel that turns semisolid upon contact with semen, preventing HIV from passing through. The idea is to give women a way of preventing HIV transmission that doesn’t require her partner’s participation or even knowledge. This is particularly important in places where cultural values prevent men from using condoms and women from insisting they do so.

Now, I gotta say, I am unavoidably reminded of those cookbooks that teach you how to sneak vegetables into your kids’ meals. It may solve the immediate problem, but it won’t lead to a needed long-term change in behavior. (For the record, I always ate my vegetables. Indeed, as a child I was an angel and a delight. Now, not so much.)

In children, the problem is that, if they discover your devious ways, they stop trusting anything you eat, leading to dysfunctions of eating, and meanwhile they still don’t like vegetables. If domineering and recalcitrant lovers discover your devious ways, then, it may lead to dysfunctional sex, and meanwhile they still don’t like or think they should wear condoms. The problem here is men who are in denial about their role in HIV transmission, about how their attitudes and actions contribute to the epidemic.

The solution, as with children and vegetables, isn’t deception—it’s education.

(h/t Boonsri Dickinson)

The Senate did something that annoys the ever-living fuck out of me yesterday.

But y’know, I think I’m willing to forgive them. For now.

Yes, Yankee fan Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed. It was a foregone conclusion, even to the 31 Republicans who voted her down (possibly so they could tell their constituents “it wasn’t my fault”—though I notice at least one state’s senators voted in different ways). But it’s still the Obama Administration’s second major victory, and it was achieved easily enough that I’m cautiously optimistic about the next three and a half years. (I’m only cautiously optimistic about Sotomayor, for that matter, but it was a symbolic victory if nothing else.)

One reason for my optimism is that the hearings demonstrated just how out of touch Congressional Republicans are. Sotomayor isn’t unqualified unless your idea of “qualified” includes ideology—or sex or race. Ezra Klein said at the Prospect “Democrats had set up something of a trap for Republicans, where in order to oppose her nomination they would have to face down the headlights of history.” And face them they did, blithely redefining “racism” as the belief that white people aren’t superior to everyone else.

So, congratulations to Sonia Sotmayor on her confirmation.

Yesterday, while you were powerless to stop them, Congress passed a law declaring Barack Obama to be a native-born citizen, making his takeover complete.

As previously reported, there’s some question about this. While it has been demonstrated that he was born in Hawaii, there is as of yet no definitive prof that he was not born in Kenya, where his father was. At some point. That’s why Rep. Bill Brasky Rep. Bill Posey has introduced a bill requiring future Presidential candidates (including Obama if he runs again in 2012) to prove they were born.

Though Posey did vote for H. Res. 593, which avers “the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961.” In fact, 378 members of the House of Representatives voted for the non-binding resolution, and none voted against (the rest didn’t record a vote at all, not an uncommon occurence, or is it?)

Republicans didn’t just let this happen, of course. Michele Bachmann delayed it on procedural grounds, forcing . . . er, well, forcing Republican Representatives to go on record picking a side. Unsurprisingly, they all picked the side of rational people, but they could have simply not shown up too. In fact, they didn’t, since there wasn’t a quorum.

So now that that’s taken care of, what’s Washington going to talk about now?

So, birthers. Huh.

Yes, there are still people out there wondering if Barack Obama is eligible to be president. At last count, 17 lawsuits have been filed either claiming Obama is not a natural-born citizen or demanding that he prove that he is (including a reservist who refused to be deployed because the Commander in Chief is supposedly illegitimate).

So why, you ask, doesn’t he simply provide some evidence that he was born in the U.S.—a birth certificate, perhaps—to quiet the doubters and put the matter to rest. Well, there are several problems with this. First, how many of his predecessors or opponents have been asked to show their birth certificates, let alone done so? Maybe McCain, born in the Panama Canal Zone while it was part of the U.S. Second, he did, as early as 2007. (Incidentally, I love the name of the St. Petersberg Times‘s primary-sources Web site.)

The trouble is, there’s always something else, somewhere to move the goalposts to. Now the clamor is for the “long-form” birth certificate. Then that’ll be questioned, because it’ll be a digital copy, because it’s hard to put a piece of paper on the Internet. Even then, there’ll be people saying “yeah, but that’s not his super-duper-secret birth certificate” and the eligibility Calvinball game will continue. A few holdouts will refuse to accept any docuent as genuine, and therefore probitive, if it doesn’t give his place of birth as Kenya, meaning there is literally no document that will prove to these people that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii.

Then there’s the third issue: Obama’s a bit busy right now.

(h/t Bint Alshamsa at Feministe and the boys and girls at ONTD_P)

The notion of trigger warnings rubs me the wrong way for a number of reasons I shan’t go into here, so I’m simply not going to post a link to the article in the Telegraph Vanessa at Feministing discusses here, the one saying that if women didn’t go around dressing like that, they wouldn’t get raped.


So, what you can take away from this is . . . isn’t much, as it turns out, what with the actual study saying nothing of the sort. In fact, it says next to nothing about women, focusing on rape as it relates to rapists.

When you get right down to it, in fact, it says nothing at all, because the methodolgy is more than a little shaky:

[Researcher Sophia] Shaw spoke to about 100 men, presenting them with various situations around being with a woman, and asking them when they would call it a night, in order to explore men’s attitudes towards coercing women into sex. “I’m very aware that there are limitations to my study. It’s self report data about sensitive issues, so that’s got its flaws, participants were answering when sober, and so on.”

But that doesn’t excuse the famously socially conservative paper misrepresenting the study’s conclusions.

So it really looks like they were just trying to be provocative. And, um, wrong. Science journalism sucks, but it’s not typically this bad, Which would be fine if they were just amusing themselves—chacun a son goût and all that—but this sort of thing just perpetuates the idea in society that women can do things to avoid being victimized. And therefore that women who don’t do those things are in some sense willing to be victimized, and not, say, trying to live their lives as if they’re free people.

But ultimately the problem with this isn’t that the results are bad. It would be interesting, to say the least, if we discovered actual solid proof that there is something a woman can do to guarantee she won’t be attacked, however unpopular that might be politically. The problem is that a major British newspaper willlfully misrepresented a study. That’s where the harm comes in.

Today the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 (pdf) that an Arizona school district was wrong to strip-search a then-13-year-old student suspected of having over-the-counter painkillers tucked away in her underwear.

There were several factors that undoubtedly influenced this decision, not least that the school district was in the wrong. Savana Redding was a girl, and so considered more vulnerable to nudity than a boy. She wasn’t “holding,” meaning the whole thing was a waste and thus all the more outrageous.The only drug they were even looking for was ibuprofen, which is legal for all ages, commonly used, and largely harmless (though not to me personally, as it happens).

Perhaps not surprisingly, I’m finding no real people echoing Clarence Thomas’s warning in his dissent that the decision lets teenagers know they can safely hide things in their underwear, like they didn’t know that already. Most people, it seems, recognize zero tolerance for what it is; a form of control, requiring children to be obedient for obedience’s sake and making sure they don’t step out of line. Zero tolerance means not having to consider students as people with needs and motives, only as cogs in the machine of the school.

It also means gross injustices such as what happened to Redding. While in theory these harsh penalties apply to all students, in practice they’re generally used against those who don’t “fit in” and are considered likely to be on drugs anyway, since after all they’re “bad kids.”

That‘s what the Supreme Court chipped away at with today’s decision: the notion that “bad kids” can be subject to humiliation for vague and flimsy reasons.

Previous Facts


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