Monday, October 31, 2011

Stupid Teenagers!

Leave it to one group of people to ruin it for everyone else.  No, I'm not talking about the poor who keep insisting on eating, requiring my tax money to go to buy them milk.  I'm talking about teenagers.  Teenagers who stole my bowl of candy from my porch while I selfishly decided to eat dinner undisturbed.

Seriously.  The entire bowl.  And the bowl itself.

I'm giving out granola bars and crackers next year.  Thanks for ruining it for everyone.

Happy Reformation Day!

Today marks the 494th anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg.  This also marks the 493rd anniversary of the first time a kid was told that they couldn't go trick or treating because they had to go to Reformation Day services at church tonight.  Okay, probably not, but I'm still a little bitter that this happened to me.

While everyone else at school could trick or treat from the moment the bus dropped them off until they couldn't walk anymore, I had an hour and a half (3:30 until 5:00), then had to bathe, eat, dress, and be in a pew at 7pm.  I'm pretty sure I could hear my non-Lutheran friends ringing the doorbell of the house next to the church while slogging through verse 9 of A Mighty Fortress.  When I hit high school, we stopped hosting Reformation Day services, along with a number of midweek services, because they just got harder and harder for people to attend.  It was about the time that the Saturday evening church service was added, mainly because more and more members were working Sunday.  Truthfully, I liked Saturday afternoons because I didn't have to wake up early on Sunday anymore, but as work schedules varied more and more from the traditional 9-5, Monday through Friday, workweek, the church had to adapt.  So long Wednesday Advent services - we're all working late hours in December.  Somewhere, some kid gets to trick or treat because the congregation doesn't have enough willing and able members to go to church at 7pm on a Monday.  They're probably working instead.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Back to the Big 11?

After watching Indiana lose in decisive fashion to Northwestern, I wonder if the athletics department has considered dropping the football program.  Or, see if there's a mercy rule for the rest of the season - just give up, and assign victories to the opposition, and start again next year.  It might not be the worst idea.

You may really want to consider dropping the football program if you were the Athletics director of Indiana. The facilities could be repurposed for soccer - which is one of the best programs in the country - and you would free up a lot of cash from not having 85 athletic scholars who are not producing on the field or in the classroom (really... Seniors majoring in General Studies?  This is really impossible at most schools).  Truthfully, the pain would not come from the loss of ticket sales, but rather the loss of selling parking spots for tailgaters when it comes to Indiana.  However, if there's no football team, there's no away games, so there is nothing preventing the department from just opening up the lots every Saturday from Labor Day to Thanksgiving for public drinking and still collecting money for every car that shows up.  And, bonus: no embarrassing loss to Ball State.

Friday, October 28, 2011

50 DTSBYD: #39 Biggie and Tupac

Part of my 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die Challenge

I'm not going to spend too much time on this film.  Mainly because it's horrible.  The documentary appears to be about a documentarian chasing down rumors, being rude to people on the street until a crime victim's mother decides to help him because she wants her son's murder solved and doesn't want a stranger bothering her friends.  Screen time is a British guy holding a mic and listening to unfounded conspiracy theories that don't seem to go anywhere.  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

We take Maple Products very seriously.

When McDonald's introduced its Fruit & Maple Oatmeal last winter, Vermont was not happy.  In order for something to be labeled as "Maple", it must include natural maple syrup.  Now it appears that Faux-Maple outrage is growing.  Vermont and Maine have teamed up to crack down on fake maple syrup by introducing the (what else) MAPLE Act in the Senate.

I'm okay with this, mainly because maple syrup is yummy, and I was forced to eat some type of chemically flavored corn syrup when I was a child.  If you want to incorporate more maple syrup into your diet, how about this for dinner:

1 Butternut Squash
1 Tbsp of butter
2 Tbsp of Maple Syrup

Preheat oven to 350.  Slice butternut squash in half the long way from the blossom end to the stem.  Remove seeds.  Melt butter, and stir in maple syrup.  Brush exposed surface of squash with liquid happiness, pouring excess into the seed well.  Place on baking sheet for 35-40 minutes, or until squishy.  Mash.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy: The Student-Loan Debt Problem

PBS' Need to Know has a short run-down on Student Loan Debt and the Occupy Wall Street movement.  While I have no doubt that starting out life with this kind of burden is possibly unbearable while starting out on a career, who's fault is that?  Well, mine.  I pointed out last week that tuition costs are out of control because of a lack of state funding for higher education, and I'm not paying state taxes at a level that they could provide a valuable public good.  We're all screwed.  We've hit a wall where we can't pay teachers at a level where they can pay back their student loans at Directional State Schools (i.e. Western Illinois, UW-LaCrosse, Central Michigan, etc) and then wonder why we can't find quality teachers.

Yet.... I don't have sympathy for someone who took out loans to attend 8 years of private schools and complains that they can't find a job.  Why is that?  Is it because I feel that the person with the public school loans considered the cost when they made the initial decision, and those with private school degrees did not?  I'm not sure.  I'm also not sure how to reconcile this and move on.  Because, it can't be good for anyone in society to owe over $100,000 in debt, but there needs to be a moral hazard to prevent someone else for doing it.  What I can't figure out is where the line is.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Zombie Preparedness and the Government Response

I'm sure somewhere, someone has wondered about the official government stance on zombie preparedness.  When the Undead rise and maraud the countryside in search of brains, there is no time to think - just act.

Fortunately, the CDC has you covered.  Unlike the Walking Dead, the Atlanta-based institution is prepared for the zombie apocalypse, and so can you.  Just download their graphic novella on The Zombie Pandemic, prepare your kit, and then sit tight knowing that you can survive in your bunker as long as you are not a teenage cheerleader or a token black man.

So, yeah, the CDC just spent some money on a zombie graphic novel.  But when the Swine Flu hit the US, did you visit the CDC website on Public Health Preparedness and Response?  Did you know that site existed?  You do now.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sometimes Name Brands are Cheaper

One of the times I really throw myself into consumer culture is when it comes to shopping.  I love a good deal.  That's not totally true - what I don't like is spending more than I have to for a good.  When it comes to day-to-day purchases, I really just want to buy a quality product that I'm not allergic to, for the cheapest possible price.

This is when someone will tell me that buying generics are better than buying name brands as a way to accomplish this goal.  Not true, I counter.  While it is true that many generic items are actually produced by the name brand corporations for sale, they tend to lack in two major categories: coupons and rebates.

Sure, I could buy the grocery store or big box store brand for personal care products.  However, right now Procter & Gamble has a $10 rebate when you buy $50 worth of their products.  Shopping sales, I'm able to buy a new Venus razor and a packet of refills, body wash, deodorant, bar soap, conditioner, and make-up for $50.06 (yeah, I worked that one).  Now, combine those sale prices with the copious P&G coupons, and I'm down to $38.72.  Take off the $10 rebate, and we're at $28.72.  Add store gift cards with purchase, and it's $23.72.  And, where I'm kicking myself is that I could have gotten that down to $13.72 if I had made one of the purchases a week later to take advantage of a different gift card with purchase deal.  Shoot!

Oh... and I used a canvas bag each time, so that was really $23.67.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Morning Papers: The End of the Iraq War

Sunday Morning Papers: The End of the Iraq War

Today's papers and talk shows are filled with two things: First, the liberation of Libya, and second, the end of the Iraq War.  While conservative media sources are discussing the end of the Iraq War in terms of domestic political calculations, I tend to believe that the end of the Iraq War is completely related to the Arab Spring, of which the Libyan Civil War was a major event.

American foreign policy has always been paternalistic in nature, and if we can't trust your government to do what is in America's best interest, then we shall smack you down - take that, Grenada!  Even going back to the Monroe Doctrine, we decided that European Colonies near our shores was not good because it brought European warships nearby, so we decided to back everyone and anyone who would declare independence. It's kind of our thing to do this.  So, with the Iraqi occupation, there was always a sense that Iraq may be unduly influenced by Iran, that they'd become some type of Afghan-style theocracy, or just basically descending into a world where foreign dictators influenced internal affairs instead of us.  

However, after the Arab Spring, this gives the US hope that maybe the Middle East can self-govern.  We don't have to prop up bad governments because we're afraid of worse theocratic dictatorships.  The people can take care of themselves.  We can step back, show a little support for popular movements, and garner more good will than we could by subsidizing oil production in that state.  I don't think it is any coincidence that we announced that we will be leaving Iraq in the same week that Libya declared liberation.  We're heroes.  They're good.  Maybe some funds to hold elections and a promise to buy their oil and repair their economy is all that's needed to create a pro-US democracy.  It does not have to be an invasion and occupation.  If you are looking for the difference between the Obama and Bush administration when it comes to foreign policy, there it is.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The SEC Sucks. This is why.

It's been a while since I've had a good rant about college football, so here we go.

The SEC sucks.  I don't know if this has totally sunk in, but if the schools comprising the Southeastern Conference were swept from existence, the higher education system in the United States would be just fine and dandy.  This post may be coming from a place of jealousy when it comes to football, but the fact that the SEC exists highlights everything that is wrong with college football in the United States.

College sports is supposed to be amateur sports.  1 in 50 NCAA football players will eventually play in the NFL, so the overwhelming majority of football players better have a backup plan.  That's what the free college education is supposed to be for.  Unfortunately, if you are a football player at Mississippi State, that free education is at the 158th best college in the nation.  You may need a back up to your back up.  However, unlike students at Pac 10 or Big 10 schools, you will attend classes for those of your level - where 2,262,005 students chose to pursue education at National Universities ranked higher than yours.  I'm not saying that all Big Ten football teams are stacked with Rhodes Scholars (Indiana's Senior General Studies majors are a little disconcerting), but we'll assume that everyone has to take Intro to Psych, and I'm sure it's tougher at Minnesota than it is at Ole Miss.  I may be beating up on the Mississippi public schools, but when you look at the average rank of teams in the SEC on the US News survey, even including Vanderbilt, it is 99.16.  The worst school in the Big Ten is Nebraska at 101 - or pretty close to the average of the SEC.  The Big Ten average is 56.25.  It's pretty safe to say that some SEC athletes would flunk out of the Big Ten if they had to take English and Math with the other kids.

That's okay, you say, because the purpose of college is to prepare students for careers.  Even if I did believe that the vocational aspect of a college education justified the existence of the entire University of Kentucky, you would expect that the SEC just funnels all of their students-athletes into professional football careers at a rate that far surpasses the Big Ten.  That's not true.  Looking at the NFL rosters, each SEC school has sent an average of 24 players into the league, compared to 20.75 for the Big Ten.  That's not a huge difference, or at least large enough to justify the excuse that this is a job training program.

What really is telling is the Forbes report that the SEC averages $50million in football revenues per school per season, the most in the country, and $10 million more than the Big Ten average.  Who cares about the athletes when you are bringing that kind of cash.  So, you get these movements to lavish players with gifts to come to Auburn instead of the quality education and training to get to the next level.  You have the money, so why not?  But, with making the SEC into a semi-pro league, you are also encouraging the asinine idea that after playing 12 games, you could actually pick 2 teams to compete for a national championship.  From a statistical perspective, 12 data points are not enough to rank over 100 teams.  A league championship?  Yeah.  A trip to a nice bowl game?  You betcha!  But, a national championship?  Why is this necessary, unless these are professional athletes competing for corporate interests.

Let's get back to thinking of football players as STUDENT-Athletes, have the goal be to win the conference championship and the Sugar Bowl, and stop the madness of justifying payouts to parents and exchanging gear for tattoos.

Friday, October 21, 2011

50 DTSBYD: #37 Inside Job

Part of my 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die Challenge. 

Ever wonder why the current economic climate sucks?  Watch "Inside Job".  It is a thorough, exhaustive, and meticulous look at run-up to the financial meltdown of 2008.  Or, watch the Frontline episode "Inside the Meltdown," which covers the same material in less time, but without Matt Damon.  

This doesn't make it a bad documentary.  If anything, this is a compliment to PBS, who turned their episode around faster.  With the longer deadline, the long-form documentary can excel in the ability to spend additional time researching and providing additional context.  The filmmakers were able to line up and amazing assortment of interviews from the first responders to the crisis, and to step back and analyze the situation from a global perspective.  

Anyone who wants to discuss financial deregulation as a campaign talking point needs to watch this film if they want to be taken seriously.  I'd like every Republican candidate to watch and understand this film, but I'm sure they'll keep pushing the deregulation agenda that got us into this mess.  Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain - I'm talking to you.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The One Trillion Dollar Question

During the 2010-2011 school year, students took out over $100 Billion dollars in education loans to pay for college.  That's Billion... with a B, and over twice what was taken out in 2000.  The total amount outstanding: Over 1 Trillion Dollars.

It's troubling: The proliferation of profiteering colleges, young people delaying marriage / children / homeownernship, pushing up wages to cover monthly loan payments (or, not?), and generally sinking people in a financial hole before they start.

Looking for someone to blame for the situation?  How about the Baby Boom?  The parasitic behavior of that generation has been eroding society since they all got full-time jobs and mortgages.  Flower power, my ass.

In 1964, when the first boomers attended college, including my mom, tuition at the University of Illinois was $165 per semester.  It took 200 hours of minimum wage work to come up with tuition for the year - or 5 weeks.  When I attended in the Fall of 1997, tuition/room/board was $5,265 for the semester - or 1,000 hours of minimum wage work.  That's 25 weeks - half a year - for half a year of school.  Now, in 2011, when the baby boom is retiring, tuition alone is $11,104 per year, with an extra $12K for room and board.  That's $33,000+ per year, or 4,551 hours of minimum wage work - over 2 years full time.

What happened?  Well, once the baby boomers were out of school - school heavily subsidized by state governments - they no longer wanted to pay the taxes to support access to public education.  The result is shrinking support of higher education, and a shifting of the burden to the individual student.  Remember, the Baby Boomers were in their late 30s and early 40s for the Greed is Good heyday of the 1980s.  If the 99% is looking for someone to demonize besides Wall Street, how about the guys who benefited from strong social investments, then dismantled these institutions after they were done with them.  No wonder the Greatest Generation clashed with their children so much - what a bunch of selfish A-Holes!

Now, the One Trillion Dollar Question:  With such an unsustainable model, when does this collapse, and what will this mean for society?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Negative Externalities of My Sophomore Year of College

The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta recently calculated the cost of binge drinking in the United States.  The societal costs of excessive drinking in the United States comes to $226 billion per year, or $1.90 per drink.  You know what this means, 20-year-old social science major at Big Ten University, don't you?  That's right - we have a market failure.  (Note:  I did not say Southern Illinois)

The costs not borne by the market transaction involve the cost of lost productivity, property damage, alcohol-related disease, and increased policing.  Or, as they call it on State Street in Madison, the Saturday before Halloween.  So, what should we do?  Are alcoholic drinks to be taxed at a rate to raise revenue to cover the cost of these externalities, or do I figure that as an adult, my taxes and insurance premiums cover the costs of the behaviors I myself exhibited during Unofficial St. Patrick's Day in 1999?

Sorry, liver - I messed you up, but at least I calmed down later and just have a beer or two from time to time.  Moreover, I'm lucky that my bad decisions as a college undergrad did not negatively impact others... just my GPA the semester I turned 21.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Beautiful Weather for Camping

I share this photo for no other purpose than to make someone jealous:

The middle of October has some of the best weather.  Clear skies, sunny days, golden leaves.  Nights are freezing, but the days are gorgeous.  If I'm not in the stands of a college football stadium on an October Saturday, I'd rather be in a tent in the woods.

However... if that tent was near a bathhouse with a hot shower... that would be ideal.

Monday, October 17, 2011

My Coffee Is Destroying the World. Whoops. My Bad.

As I drink my fourth cup of coffee this morning, I'm reading some rather disturbing news:  I'm totally destroying the environment.  Whoops.

It's not like I thought coffee was an environmentally friendly product.  Even buying the organic, free-trade stuff, there's a lot of energy involved to get that cup of coffee to me.  It's not like coffee can be grown in Iowa - oohh... a potential use for Iowa if it could - but instead, it requires shipping, then roasting, then packaging, then shipping again.  Then, I have to use a nifty appliance to make it potable because research scientists have not found a faster way for the caffeine to enter my bloodstream.

Still... at work, we have the 2 gallon pot of nasty black stuff that requires creamer before I'd consider drinking it, and the free Keurig machine with its gourmet selections of exotic and fair trade coffee.  Newman's Own, organic coffees from Sumatra, life is excellent.  Hook me up.

What I never seem to notice before drinking my coffee (which is, pretty much, everything), is that those little single-serve coffee filter systems add up, and none of them get recycled.  CBS News is reporting that Clean Water Action is getting after Keurig for making a pretty environmentally awful product.  *Sigh*  They are right - you take a traditional coffee brewing process where an unbleached filter and coffee grounds can go directly into the compost pile, and you replace it with a plastic system made from too many components to be separated.  I guess I'll be buying a reusable filter and my own coffee now.  Thanks a lot, environmental lobbying organization.  How dare you make me want to do the right thing!  :-(

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Fall Camping

I'm in the woods this weekend.  Should be lovely: tent set up next to a lake with the leaves turning beautiful shades of orange and red.  No rain - highs in the 70s.  The only drawback is that there are 6 different hunting seasons going on, so I have to wear obnoxious colors if I venture out of the campsite.

Why can't they schedule more hunting seasons on top of each other so I can enjoy the woods without fear or being shot or impaled by an arrow?

Friday, October 14, 2011

50 DTSBYD: #43 When the Levees Broke A Requiem in 4 Acts

Part of my 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die Challenge.

"When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts" was a surprising film joint from Spike Lee.  It was surprising, given that both the subject and filmmaker are controversial.  Instead, or because of this, the film is exhaustive.  There must be over a hundred subjects interviewed.  Every single aspect of the hurricane is explored, first from an on-the-ground perspective, then an opposing on-the-ground perspective, then an outside perspective, and finally someone putting this in the larger perspective.  Every major player from the local government, state government, and Army Corps of Engineers is in the film.  You hear the stories of the anger directed towards the Corps, then you walk the levees with the man in charge of the rebuild, and then you hear someone mention that everyone knew that the levees would not hold.  There is anger directed at the governor for not doing something - interview with the governor about the slow response - footage of the governor in front of Congress.  I can't think of a single stone that was left unturned, then turned back, samples taken for composition testing, and then carbon dated and compared with the stones around it.

While the movie is heavy, detailed, and exhaustive, the interviewees are what makes the film.  I remember that in the days before the hurricane hit that officials were telling residents to bring axes into the attic with them.  It's another thing entirely to see the clip rerun with Ray Nagen telling you what it was like to deliver that bit of advice.  You "hear" stories about uninsured losses, and then Detective Bunk (I'm sure he has a name - but that name is meaningless to me after five seasons of The Wire) tells you how the insurance companies settled the losses for his father's house.  And, you cry.

In truth, the film is long.  I checked out the first 2 Acts from the library... right before Hurricane Irene was forecast to hit.  By the time I realized there was another DVD to check out, reserved it, and waited for someone to return it, it was 3 weeks later.  I can't imagine watching the whole movie in one sitting.  It is a powerful film.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Could I Be In a Cult?

One of my favorite things is to watch dramas set in Tudor England, and hear my sect of Christianity referred to as "The Lutheran Heresy".  It's cute and archaic, until you learn that some sects of Christianity still refer to Lutheranism as a cult or heresy, and it's the 21st century.  It's downright uncomfortable if the way you learn about this is because you are dating a man whose mother is a member of that sect who thinks you are a damned Jezebel for your blasphemous ideas that babies can be baptized and women are allowed to sit with men in church.

When Robert Jeffress mentioned that Mitt Romney was in a cult, it really didn't bother me, mainly because I have a feeling that Robert Jeffress would refer to anything other than MegaChurch Southern Baptist as a cult.  What I find dangerous is that anyone would take this man seriously and not vote for someone because his religion is inferior to that of Rev. Jeffress.  So, no, I personally do not think that Mormonism is a form of Christianity - it's close and shares a lot of the same history and ideas, but there's enough of a difference in the basic tenets of the religion that I could not see them as being the same.  It's like Islam and Christianity - lock step until the Crucifixion, and then they diverge substantially.

So what?

That doesn't mean anything.  Everyone is entitled to believe what they would like when it comes to religion.  Just being an adherent of one sect or another does not make you a good person or not.  What makes you a good person is in your words, actions, and how you treat others.  Bad people can still go to church and call themselves Christians - just look at Rev. Jeffress.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why Should I Care What Hank Williams Jr Has To Say?

As my Bears prepare to take on the Lions tonight on Monday Night Football, they will be doing so without the introduction song, "Are You Ready For Some Football?"  I'm okay with this.  What I'm not okay with is that the Lions are favored.  This is just plain wrong.  Hank Williams Junior being yanked from the airwaves for saying that Obama was like Hitler?  That sounds about right to me. Especially since he also compared John Boehner to Netanyahu in the same analogy, and then said that Obama and Biden were the Three Stooges, which means he may be unable to count.

Let's put it this way, without the theme song to MNF, I'm not sure if Hank has done anything noteworthy in the past 20 years.  His last gold record was in 1995.  His last #1 Single was "Born to Boogie" in 1987.  I'd call him washed-up, but anyone who is no longer relevant musically managing to find a steady paycheck and being called a musician that long after producing anything worth listening to is kind of a feat.  But why even have him on a politics show?  THIS is what makes no sense!  It almost makes as much sense as having him sing a new theme song for Monday Night Football each week for 20 years.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Morning Papers: Occupy Your Town

It's been about three weeks since the Occupy Wall Street protests began, and truth be told, I'm still not exactly sure what they are all about.  Increased taxes on the top 1% of wage earners?  Dismantling of the entire capitalist system?  Stimulating the poster-board and Sharpie industries with increased demand?  Somewhere in between?

This weekend, the papers are filled with coverage of smaller Occupy Your City protests.  About 900 protesters marched in an Occupy Chicago event of two smaller rallies that somehow hooked up when they realized that there were multiple groups of angry liberals downtown.  Might I suggest that organization is key to a successful rally, and in order to parallel the New York protests, you have my blessing to call it Occupy LaSalle Street.  The Indianapolis Star reports that 1,000 protesters showed up for Occupy Indianapolis, another reason that the Occupy Chicago people should feel ashamed, drawing fewer people than Indianapolis. Between 500 to 1000 protesters appeared for Occupy Minneapolis, which was strange as the mayor was encouraging the protest.  More protests are in store for Detroit, Milwaukee, and Madison, whose protests at the state capitol in January appears to have been the first in what is looking like a trend of liberal protests throughout the country.

Why now?  And why does this remind me of the Tea Party Protests?  Both seem to have been focusing unspoken anger into popular movements without a clear plan or list of demands.  Where the Tea Party blames government, the Occupy movement blames corporations.  Neither one seems to appreciate pragmatic and practical solutions, but the Occupy movement is too new.  The Tea Party seems to be why the Republican Party has a carnival of weirdos running (plus Jon Huntsman), none of whom stand a reasonable chance to win in the general election (except Jon Huntsman).

Why the delay on the liberal front?  If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that a number of the protesters in Occupy Wall Street were Obama supporters.  He had the support of the liberal progressive wing of the party.  It wasn't until after he assumed office that he shed the progressive agenda for something that looked akin to a Republican platform from the middle of the Reagan administration.  It's my opinion that the angry liberals took longer to come out and protest because there remained some hope that Obama would still be the person they elected.  As this looked less and less likely, and Tea Party elected officials began dismantling progressive programs in states like Wisconsin, liberals just had enough, and are done with waiting for the Administration to come around.

I am one of the disillusioned.  When I first heard about Barack Obama, it was during an Anti-Iraq War rally in downtown Chicago.  He was a speaker.  It was during a similar time in which the progressive wing of the party believed that their voices and wishes were not being heard.  So... he really should have seen this coming.  It's probably too late for the Occupy movement to back a candidate for the Democratic Primary, but it does not bode well for the President to go into election season with a fractured and disenchanted base.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Clarence Thomas Confirmation Hearing, 20 Years Later

"You are ruining the country.  If you do this to me, you can do this to anyone."
- Clarence Thomas, October 1991

Next week marks the 20th Anniversary of the Confirmation Hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas.  While working for the Department of Education and the (no, seriously) Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Mr. Thomas did things to Ms. Hill that frat boys would do to each other: putting public hairs on Coke cans, talking about bestiality, graphically describing porn, and bragging about the women they've been banging.  Does frat house behavior belong in the workplace?  I'd say no, but that's the standard for 2011.  In 1991, the public figured that boys will be boys, and women in a man's world should expect this type of behavior.

Sitting in judgment of the accuracy of the testimony of Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas was the 102nd Congress.  Notice anything?  In a case of he-said, she-said, the jury was composed of 98 men, and 2 women. Neither Nancy Landon Kassebaum nor Barbara Mikulski served on the Judiciary Committee, so neither participated in the investigation.  Watching the Senators conducting the hearing in 1991, it feels like a foregone conclusion that Thomas would be confirmed.  52 Senators (including Nancy Landon Kassebaum) thought there was no reason that a justice with allegations of sexual misconduct against him should not serve on the Supreme Court.  The pervasive mood of the hearing was that men control the workplace, women are merely visitors, and if they do not like their treatment (at, yes, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), then they should quit, even though it means derailing their careers and taking a pay cut.  Suck it, ladies, but it's grown up time, and if you don't like discussions of the films of Long Dong Silver in this government workplace, then you need to find another job.

Being a woman who grew up in the aftermath of the Thomas Hearings, I'm somewhat heartened that this kind of circus would not happen again - because there is no way that the Senate would allow an all male Judiciary Committee to investigate.  The bar would be lowered for Anita Hill.  She wouldn't be expected to produce a video tape of Thomas talking about his member, like it appears in 1991.  It would be more likely that co-workers would be willing to come forward and say that Thomas could be an ass from time to time without fear of reprisal.  The economic impact of leaving one's job in the second most expensive city in the country would have been discussed as a reason that someone would have to endure a monthly (or however sporadic) moment of shit, instead of Orrin Hatch yelling that no one would put themselves through this, dammit, Anita, what's wrong with you, you who belong in a mental institution?  

Today, these types of allegations today results with an immediate suspension, followed by an investigation, during which the douche canoe resigns in order to become a commentator on Fox News.  Think about how fast Anthony Weiner left office after the penis pictures emerged, and you have to have some hope that a fundamental shift has occurred in society over the past 20 years.  And for that, I would like to thank everyone involved for ruining the country.

Friday, October 7, 2011

50 DTSBYD: #49 Madonna: Truth or Dare

Part of my 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die Challenge.

"Madonna: Truth or Dare" is one of those movies that I remember being controversial when it came out, but really had never bothered to look at once I was old enough to check out R-rated movies.  So... does it hold up?

In part, yes.  The concert scene for "Like a Virgin" is kind of graphic and titillating, even by today's standards.  I may even go so far as to say it's smutty.  But here is Madonna, the exact way she wants the world to see her - in a position of power and carefully crafting the message of herself.  She is in control constantly.  You almost sigh with relief when she dumps Warren Beatty - he's free!  he's free!  You feel like everything that is shown on camera is the result of the workings of a meticulous strategic mind.  Perhaps because the sexiness is not as shocking as it had been 20 years ago, the power dynamic really shines through.  She is also heartbreakingly lonely, but I don't know if she'd see that.  It's something that she chooses, but she may not be fully conscious of it.  Family and friends are constantly around, wanting little more than to spend 5 minutes with her, consent to being a Godmother, or celebrate a birthday.  She pushes them away.  The loneliness is her own making, and culminates in a scene of her alone in her hotel room with the voices of her family, friends, and staff layered on top.

There is one illuminating scene.  She's sitting in her hotel room, talking to her dad about her upcoming trip to Detroit.  Yeah, Dad, it's kind of racy.  No, Dad, I'm not naked.  How's Marty doing?  Is he out of rehab?  Did you want some tickets to the show?  -  Just the kind of conversation you'd expect between a Midwestern Girl and her father... if the Midwestern Girl made a living by a combination of sexuality and sacrilege.   

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Sarah Palin Needs A Job

Sarah Palin has announced that she is not going to run for the Presidency in 2012.  Good.

As the former governor of Alaska, she resigned her post saying that it was time for her to help America the way she helped Alaska.  In the two years she was in charge.  Then, after much prayer and consideration, her mission was to bring small government and lower taxes to the masses.  She said a lot of other things, but only William Shatner can do justice to her words.

Now, she is not running, so she can get the right people elected and effect real change.  You know how you can really make a difference politically?  Running for president.  Or, being a governor.  If she was so short-sighted not to see that the latter was important, she has no business monkeying around with the former.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Funeral Rites of the Midwestern German

I'm pretty sure that Garrison Keillor probably covered this at some point, but a week ago, I had to run home quickly to attend my Great-Aunt's funeral.  As I went through the rituals, I found such comfort, that I really started to reflect on religious rituals in a meditative way that probably would have made her entire generation of old-school Lutherans wonder if the Blue Hymnal was turning the young people into Buddhists.

So something unexpected happens, and someone dies.  We're frazzled, unnerved, our entire world has shifted, and it's disorienting.  Then, we gather at the church, drink old black coffee, sing "I Know That My Redeemer Lives" in 4-part harmony as the casket is wheeled out of the church, then sit around drinking more black coffee and eating a quick lunch of luncheon meats, potato salad, things suspended in jello, and chocolate baked goods.  This world is oddly familiar.  Comforting.  Life can keep going now.  And while we pledge to our families that we'll get together for something other than a funeral, in the back of our minds we kind of feel that we're going to meet again at a funeral.  The last time we had seen our aunt was at a funeral, after all, talking over the plans for her new home while having a marvelous lunch of fried chicken and pasta salad.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday Morning Papers: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Sunday Morning Papers: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Yesterday, October 1, was the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, sponsored by someone to do something,  With 1 in 8 American women being diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, it's not like we're not aware of it, or why we need to be super aware of it in October.  I'm aware of breast cancer in Mid-March, the anniversary of my Aunt's death while recovering from her double mastectomy.  Most Americans have these personal remembrances.  I usually register for the Komen Race for the Cure run at that time, and try to raise a little money for my local Komen affiliate to pay for mammograms for uninsured women.  

What I become aware of in October, is the number of breast cancer organizations, and the number of corporations who produce pink goods with a portion of the proceeds going to breast cancer research.  Who are they, and what are they doing?  I'm currently watching the Bears take on the Carolina Panthers, and all of the players are wearing pink to... um.... bring awareness, but something else?  Demonstrate that the NFL loves the ladies?  Okay - they are trying to get a message out from the American Cancer Society that annual screenings can save lives, but unless you go to the NFL website, it's a little fuzzy as to what they are doing.  While you are there, why don't you buy a $30 pink long-sleeve Bears shirt?  Somehow Reebok and the NFL are teaming up to support the ACS, but the actual percentage of that $30 purchase going to the ACS is not disclosed on the site.  

It's hard to figure out what is appropriate and what is not when it comes to exploiting the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Companies want to be seen as caring about national causes, and yeah - some pink products aren't a bad idea if they directly raise money for charities that fully disclose where the money goes.  This is one of the reasons that I like to support the Komen Fund.  In addition to pink running wear and water bottles, they also offer training and educational materials, and the site fully discloses where your money goes and the programs that are supported.  Or... you could buy a pink martini glass from these guys, where an undisclosed portion of the proceeds will go to the Komen fund.

So this month, before you plan on buying a specially marked can of Progresso soup, please take a moment and ask what's really going on here.  Will General Mills be making a flat donation whether you buy it or not?  Who are they donating the money to?  What does that charity actually do to fight breast cancer?  Take a moment to ask questions.  Research the charities, at least looking them up on Charity Navigator, and then really think about whether buying a pink coffee maker or making a direct donation to the National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund would be a better use of your money.