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I Am Somebody

[ 41 ] November 7, 2013 |

Jesse Jackson on Sesame Street, 1971.

I especially like the line affirming those on welfare. Which I wish was still a relatively robust program, hey thanks Bill Clinton for making political points on the backs of the poor.

The Worst Person in the World

[ 43 ] November 7, 2013 |

Jeffery Loria.

Who may also be the worst sports owner of all time, a category that includes racist slum lord/owner of the most embarrassingly bad team in the NBA for 20 years Donald Sterling and William Clay Ford who wouldn’t fire Matt Millen for years because he was a good Christian.

Unreasonable and Unnecessary Force

[ 79 ] November 6, 2013 |

This is just terrible.

The US Border Patrol will continue using lethal force against people throwing rocks, as well as people inside vehicles—ignoring a set of recommendations from an independent review of lethal force practices at the agency.

Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher told the Associated Press in an interview that the recommendations were “too restrictive” and that “[j]ust to say that you shouldn’t shoot at rock-throwers or vehicles for us, in our environment, was very problematic and could potentially put Border Patrol agents in danger.”

Twenty people have been killed by Border Patrol since 2010, and last year sixteen members of Congress demanded an investigation into the death of Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, an undocumented immigrant who was tased and beaten by Border Patrol agents.

Often times, people on the Mexican side of the US border will toss rocks at agents in order to create a diversion and open space in a nearby border area. The use of deadly force against people throwing rocks is an unfortunately common theme in these deaths; eight of the twenty people killed by Border Patrol since 2010 were accused of throwing rocks at agents

This is exactly the kind of scenario where Obama can unilaterally order a review of tactics along the border. This is simply unacceptable behavior on the behalf of the Border Patrol to use lethal force in areas where it is completely uncalled for. Once again, Obama’s record on immigration is not very good at all, even outside of the inability of Congress to pass immigration reform legislation. This has to stop, like yesterday.

Black Lung Follow Up

[ 22 ] November 6, 2013 |

Great news. I recently linked to the Center on Public Integrity’s excellent series on how coal miners are denied black lung benefits by Johns Hopkins doctors who always rule in favor of industry. Johns Hopkins has now suspended its black lung program and is investigating what has happened. This is excellent news for coal miners who hopefully will begin to receive their rightful compensation in the future. It’s also an example of the positive impact journalists can make in society.

What Happens When You Don’t Vaccinate

[ 79 ] November 6, 2013 |

I was reading the obituary of the recently passed lefty journalist Doug Ireland. I didn’t know he was a polio sufferer. He seems rather young for it. But then there was this:

At 10, according to a newspaper report, he was admitted to a hospital with polio, given an emergency tracheotomy and placed in an iron lung, where he was confined for at least a year, friends said in interviews. Mr. Ireland told friends that his parents were Christian Scientists who had refused to have him inoculated against the disease.

Well there you go. When you don’t vaccinate, you put your child at risk, as well as other children. You are a public health hazard.

MOOC Class on the Civil War, Taught by Daniel Day-Lewis

[ 103 ] November 6, 2013 |

Well, this is the natural progression of MOOCs and college courses as profitable entertainment:

Free online courses do big numbers these days. So-called MOOCs, or massive open online courses, typically get tens of thousands of sign-ups to watch video lectures delivered by tweedy academics, some more photogenic than others. But imagine how many students would tune in—or make it through the class without dropping out—if instead of bookish professors, Hollywood stars delivered the lessons.

That’s one idea under consideration by leaders of EdX, the nonprofit provider of MOOCs started by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“From what I hear, really good actors can actually teach really well,” said Anant Agarwal, CEO of EdX, who was until recently a computer-science professor at MIT. “So just imagine, maybe we get Matt Damon to teach Thévenin’s theorem,” he added, referring to a concept that Agarwal covers in a MOOC he teaches on circuits and electronics. “I think students would enjoy that more than taking it from Agarwal.”

Casting Damon in a MOOC is just an idea, for now: In meetings, officials have proposed trying one run of a course with someone like Damon, to see how it goes. But even to consider swapping in a star actor for a professor reveals how much these free online courses are becoming major media productions—ones that may radically change the traditional role of professors.

Now of course a free course that anyone can sign up for, whatever. The quality of education isn’t going to be very good anyway, in no small part because actually evaluating students is impossible. And if the goal here is to offer history courses to a broad general public of people sitting around and wanting to learn something, who cares. It’s not going to be any worse than the non-existent educational content of the History Channel. The problem is that these MOOCs want to replace traditional university education and hiring an actor to lecture off cue-cards to 75,000 people pretty much sums up how these so-called education reformers view higher education. Not only is there a complete lack of understanding about what professors actually do, there’s really no interest in actually educating people. The interest is in centering profits in the hands of the 1%, both the capitalists who run the companies and the high administrators of universities who pad their salaries and boost their careers by supposedly cutting costs on wasteful things like teaching.

In other news, Slate is impossible to parody.

Today in the Sixth Extinction

[ 12 ] November 5, 2013 |

Good times in Hawaii:

This “odd animal sighting” could be bad news for Hawaii’s native wildlife: a five-foot long boa contrictor recently ended up as roadkill along Hawaii’s Pali Highway.

The thing that makes this odd is that it should be impossible to run over a snake in Hawaii, because there aren’t supposed to be any snakes there. As an isolated archipelago, the only way for wildlife species to get to the Hawaiian Islands is to fly or swim across the Pacific Ocean.

As a result, most of Hawaii’s native wildlife are birds, insects, and marine mammals. It has taken them hundreds of thousands of years to establish populations, evolve together, and create a balanced ecosystem. There is only one non-marine mammal native to Hawaii, the Hawaiian hoary bat. It is both endemic (found no where else on the planet) and endangered. There are no native snakes in Hawaii.

This makes native Hawaiian species in this once-isolated ecosystem extremely vulnearable to species from other parts of the world, particularly predatory species such as snakes, because they have no natural defense against them.

When such invasive exotic species are introduced by human activity–which is now happening in Hawaii at a rate thousands of times faster than it would otherwise naturally–native Hawaiian animals found nowhere else on the planet start going extinct.

Reverse Racism

[ 328 ] November 5, 2013 |

The comment thread on Edward Bland’s The Cry of Jazz was more contentious than I thought it would be, since several commenters basically called this early black nationalist a racist and even compared him (shockingly unfairly) to Leni Riefenstahl. When I read this Sara Luckey piece (published several months ago) on the myth of reverse racism, I immediately thought of that thread and the need for a lot of white people to learn more about the relationship between racism and power:

Racism exists when prejudice+power combine to form social constructs, legislation and widespread media bias that contribute to the oppression of the rights and liberties of a group of people. Racism is systemic, institutional, and far reaching. It is the prevalence of racism within social structures and institutional norms, along with implicit and explicit enforcement by members of a group, that allows racism to run rampant and unchecked. America is a country seeped in white privilege, and our social structure is built on colonization and forced slave labor that then turned into further systemic and ongoing oppression of PoC. We have a culture that presents whiteness as the norm and all else as ‘other’ or different. White is presented as the beauty ideal, the main face in the media (unless we’re talking about criminals, then PoC get unfairly misrepresented), the standard, the regular. It’s a structural problem that affects the perceptions of jurors in criminal cases, admissions to colleges, funding for public schools, welfare and food stamp programs, the redrawing of district lines that affect where we vote, who we see represented on T.V. and how, what schools people have access to, what neighborhoods people live in, an individual’s shopping experience, access to goods and services; it’s extensive and a part of the fabric that let’s whiteness remain dominant in American culture.

Not only was Edward Bland and other black nationalists not racist toward white people, they were responding directly to the racism they felt everyday, racism that white people in the United States simply cannot understand. It’s not racist for him say that white people suck at playing jazz, even if you completely disagree with the point, precisely because not only is Bland not saying that they shouldn’t be allowed to play jazz but because there is no power structure behind the statement. Black nationalism was a response to systemic racism. The Tea Partiers today who are claiming they experience racism because they hear Spanish at their favorite buffet restaurant/are forced to admit that black people can vote/whatever completely misunderstand what racism even is. Unfortunately, so do too many white liberals.

More from Luckey:

The situations in which you, fellow white person, were involved were unfortunate and inappropriate, this is true. But to claim that these experiences were ‘reverse racism’ both diminishes and minimalizes the real and actual experiences of PoC who really do encounter racism. There is no system of oppression in America that actively works to oppress and subjugate white people. Sorry to break it to you, but your individual suffering is just that, individual. The individuals acting against you do not have the institutionalized power to actively oppress you in every facet of your life, nor would their racism be upheld and supported by government, media, and legislation if they did. Because you’re white.

Reverse racism isn’t real because we live in a culture that supports and enforces whiteness as the norm and PoC as other. If you experience discrimination, prejudice, or bigotry, it’s valid to be upset about it and want to talk about it. It is not valid to claim that it is reverse racism, and certainly not valid to claim that it is racism on par with anything like the institutionalized racism that PoC will come into contact with. When a white person starts talking about reverse racism, what they’re really doing is derailing a conversation to make it about them. Their white privilege leads them to believe that what they say both matters and needs to be heard and is important and the conversation should stop to focus on their perceived ills. You know what? When somebody is talking about racism they have experienced, that conversation is not all about you, nor should you expect it to be, so stop with the derailing and just listen and learn.

When white people complain about experiencing reverse racism, what they’re really complaining about is losing out on or being denied their already existing privileges. And while it may feel bad to realize your privilege is crumbling and the things you’ve taken for granted can be taken away from you, it is unfair, untrue, and disingenuous to call that experience reverse racism.

People need to take the relationship between race and power seriously before taking about racism.

….Based on this comment thread, let me just say how hard it is being white when a few people of color might not like you because of the hundreds of years of systemic racism placed upon their people that you benefit from everyday. I guess we whites will just have to console ourselves knowing that we hold almost every position of power and authority in this nation’s political, economic, and judicial system, that prison sentences for whites are far less than for people of color, that whites have higher income and lower unemployment rates, etc., etc. But hey, that jazz guy in 1959 said that white people can’t understand the music and some people today demand you take history and power seriously before talking about racism, so let’s all call the whaaaambulance!

Pittsburgh First!

[ 60 ] November 5, 2013 |

The campaign poster of Pittsburgh City Council candidate Jim Wudarczyk:

The inspiration for this brilliance:

Really, it’s about time we saw Red Scare era political imagery become hip again. A new age of Harding, this.

Mrs. Lydia Pinkham’s Herbal Supplements

[ 157 ] November 5, 2013 |

What a surprise that the herbal supplement/alternative medicine industry is filled with hucksters, scam artists, and grifters, the likes of which American medicine hasn’t seen since the days of patent medicine before the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1906

For the study, the researchers selected popular medicinal herbs, and then randomly bought different brands of those products from stores and outlets in Canada and the United States. To avoid singling out any company, they did not disclose any product names.

Among their findings were bottles of echinacea supplements, used by millions of Americans to prevent and treat colds, that contained ground up bitter weed, Parthenium hysterophorus, an invasive plant found in India and Australia that has been linked to rashes, nausea and flatulence.

Two bottles labeled as St. John’s wort, which studies have shown may treat mild depression, contained none of the medicinal herb. Instead, the pills in one bottle were made of nothing but rice, and another bottle contained only Alexandrian senna, an Egyptian yellow shrub that is a powerful laxative. Gingko biloba supplements, promoted as memory enhancers, were mixed with fillers and black walnut, a potentially deadly hazard for people with nut allergies.

Of 44 herbal supplements tested, one-third showed outright substitution, meaning there was no trace of the plant advertised on the bottle — only another plant in its place.

Many were adulterated with ingredients not listed on the label, like rice, soybean and wheat, which are used as fillers.

In some cases, these fillers were the only plant detected in the bottle — a health concern for people with allergies or those seeking gluten-free products, said the study’s lead author, Steven G. Newmaster, a biology professor and botanical director of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph.

Unfortunately, we live in a society of extreme individualist consumerism where the everyday person thinks they can make their own medical decisions based on whatever information then glean from the internet and Jenny McCarthy appearances on The View, ignoring the advice of real doctors, refusing to give vaccinations to their children, starting public health crises, etc. That there’s a market of corporations openly taking advantage of these people is hardly shocking. What would shocking is if people realized medicine should not be a consumer choice to be taken lightly.

Of course, if we had a well-funded FDA with greater power to investigate, inspect, enforce, and punish, these products would be safe, even if they didn’t do anything for you. But returning America to the Gilded Age means undermining the FDA and opening up new markets for those selling adulterated foods and medicines. Poisoning consumers is the definition of freedom for this world view.

Dengue Fever

[ 12 ] November 5, 2013 |

So I hear Dengue Fever is coming to my town and I hope it is this:

Unfortunately, it is this:

This past summer, Aedes aegypti—the invasive African mosquito best known for carrying the potentially deadly diseases dengue and yellow fever—made its unexpected debut in California, squirming up from Madera to Clovis to Fresno and the Bay Area.

For a blood-sucking nightmare, Aedes aegypti is surprisingly attractive: Its dark skin and bright white polka-dots make it hard to miss. Unfortunately, it is also notoriously difficult to control. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Aedes aegypti can lay its eggs in less than a teaspoon of liquid and survive without water for months.

Climate change studies predict that dengue—which infects as many as 100 million people a year—will expose an additional 2 billion by 2080. In 2009, the mosquito kicked off a Florida outbreak of dengue in a state that hadn’t seen the disease in more than 70 years, and Thailand is currently undergoing its worst dengue epidemic in more than 20 years.

Suicides and Plant Closures

[ 53 ] November 4, 2013 |

Reuters has an interesting piece on how Volkswagen’s previous attempt to operate a union factory in the U.S. failed and how this relates to its attempts to institute a German-like workers’ council through the United Auto Workers. One major challenge I think this attempt faces going forward is the strong hostility toward organized labor by the American managerial class that will be dealing with the UAW on a daily basis. The Germans are going to have to mandate serious cooperation with the union if their goal of a workers council will come to fruition.

But that’s not why I linked to this. It’s to reiterate the real and often deadly cost of job loss:

While the landscape is very different from 25 years ago, the legacy of the older plant’s failure is part of the troubled history the UAW will have to overcome as it tries to represent VW workers again — this time in Tennessee, where the automaker employs 2,500 people building Passat sedans.

After the 1988 closure of VW’s plant in southwestern Pennsylvania, Ron Dinsmore kept a grisly toll of the pain: the number of suicides of former workers. He stopped counting at 19.

“I used to go to every funeral home,” said Dinsmore, 71. “I quit doing it. It got morbid.”

Minimum of 19 suicides out of a 2500 person workforce. That’s a huge number. You saw the same thing in Oregon and Washington and northern California when the timber industry laid everyone off in the 1980s. I have one story in my research of a pastor in northern California who had to counsel a couple not to commit suicide, which they were considering because they couldn’t provide for their children and had an insurance policy that could. This is the cost of unemployment and factory closure. Way too often, even in the progressive blogosphere, this is abstracted to thinking about economic policy and decisions in Washington. That’s fine of course, but it’s also easier than reckoning with the real human costs. Sad, sad stuff.

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