Snap that thin thread

29 03 2013

I used to be so good.

Not my character or morals, no: I used to be so good about staying on top of things.

“Things”, y’know, basic life-things. Bills, paperwork, returning calls—all of those miscellaneous and mostly mindless tasks which are a price of living in society.

Then, at some point, I wasn’t.

Don’t know exactly when it happened—I recall even well into my depressive cups I managed to deal with insurance and student loans and whatnot—but at some point I just gave up. It’s not that I suddenly stopped taking care of these tasks, but that I lost the sense that it made sense to stay ahead of them.

No, wait, that’s not right: I never lost the sense that it made sense. No, what I lost was. . . the will? the habit? of proper task management. It’s as if once that rubber band snapped, I no longer knew how to keep my shit together, and was reduced to denial, dread, and oh-shit last-minute scatter-shot toss-offs.

I get it done, but in the worst way possible.

This is no way to be an adult human being. It’d be one thing if the whirlwind approach didn’t bother me, but those small to-dos just grow and grow and grow in the middle of my chest* until they crack my ribs and leave me panting for air. I am so anxious about dealing with the things when they’re small that I can’t deal with them until they’re big, at which point my sleep is punctured and concentration swiss-cheesed.

You’d think that knowing how badly I react to stretching a task out I’d hop to it immediately, but it’s almost as if the anticipation of the late-anxiety rebounds backwards into a show-stopping early anxiety—which, because it’s early, I’m able to suppress, albeit with ever-decreasing success. By the end, the stress of the task is magnified by the looming deadline, and I’m left, well, sleep-deprived and wild-eyed.

No, it’s not everything: the more routine the task, the more habitual my response, but even there, I’m not as automatic as I used to be. I know what I have to do, but that knowledge is only sketchily linked to the doing.

And that, frankly, sucks. I know that there are things from the past which are gone, gone, gone daddy gone, but it would nice if I could get this particular mojo back.

~~~

*Yes, I finally did that thing. Not at the actual last-minute, but damned close.





Cheese, glorious cheese!

28 03 2013

Now this is my kind of crime story:

Illinois Man Arrested in NJ With Stolen Wisconsin Cheese

Police said the man was driving a refrigerated truck carrying 42,000 pounds of Muenster cheese

.
The headline says it all.
.
h/t Shakesville




You put the load right on me

27 03 2013

I don’t believe in rights.

No, no, that’s not, mm, right. I don’t believe in natural rights, inalienable rights, rights granted by the Creator. . . you know Imma ’bout to tag-team this off to Bentham, don’t you?

Natural rights is simple nonsense: natural and imprescriptible rights, rhetorical nonsense — nonsense upon stilts.

Rights are, instead, rhetorical artifacts, crafted out of history and philosophy and given heft in political culture. They haven’t always existed; they may not always exist. But, for now, we act as if they do, and grant them such privileged status in our theories of liberty (another rhetorical artifact) that a claim of right serves to silence alternate claims of expedience and desire.

(Or, y’know, start a fight  if one’s rights claim is countered with another. Then Mill is invoked: The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people, i.e., my right to swing my arms ends at your nose. And when that doesn’t work, well, that’s another post.)

Where was I? Ah, yes: the durability and privileged status granted to rights.

Which brings me to Prop 8 and DOMA and Constitutional rights and democracy.

I’m not a Constitutional scholar, nor even a dedicated Court-watcher (more of a Court-peeper, actually), so I have nothing to say regarding the juridical strength and weaknesses of the petitioners arguments before the Court. I do find issues of Constitutional interpretation interesting, mainly because I find issues of interpretation interesting (and will blow a gasket at Scalia’s claims regarding originalism), but, today, I don’t have anything to say on what the justices may or ought to say about the Constituion vis-a-vis same-sex marriage.

This doesn’t mean I have nothing to say, of course. (D’oh!) Let’s talk politics! Yay! More specifically, let’s talk about the politics of rights-claims versus majoritarianism, and which is the better way to cement a political victory.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg has famously argued that Roe v. Wade was decided too broadly, that more and more states were moving to relax their abortion laws, and that by creating a federal right to abortion, the Court simultaneously energized the anti-abortion opposition and imperiled reproductive rights.

It is a plausible interpretation of events. I am not at all sure, however, that it is the correct one.

Which, roughly, brings us to the question: When ought claims be treated as preferences and run through majoritarian processes, and when ought they be treated as rights and granted (near) absolute status, safe from majority preferences?

I don’t know that there’s any good answer to this. On the one hand, I prize liberty, for which rights are a if not the crucial component, but I also prize representative democracy, in which majorities may legitimately impose their preferences on minorities. Turn everything into a right, and the collective may do nothing; disregard rights, and majorities become tyrannies.

It is demonstrably the case that majorities (or the fervent sub-majority among them) can get irritated when they are prevented from imposing their views on others, and, sometimes, may so strongly react against such prevention that the backlash may be worse than and last longer than would have the original situation.

So what’s a minority to do?

The Ginsberg approach argues in favor of the slog: get in and chip away, chip away, chip away, until the mountain pressing down upon you crumbles away. Once it’s gone, it’s damned well gone.

There’s a lot to recommend to this approach, and, on the whole, I favor it.

But that doesn’t mean one can’t or shouldn’t occasionally stick some dynamite into that mountain, yell FIRE IN THE HOLE! and blow that sucker to smithereens. Sometimes justice—oh, yeah, justice!—demands the weight removed in all due haste.

Sometimes justice says to hell with the backlash.

Justice, too, sits alongside and occasionally jostles rights and liberties in a democratic society. Minorities must have justice, but so, too, must majorities; is there any way to determine ahead of time who must carry the weight?

No, there isn’t. You go with what you’ve got, and if you lose in one arena, you try for the win in the other. If you think you’re right, if you believe your claim is a matter of liberty and justice for all, then you fight in every way possible.

That’s politics.

And a right to marry? I honestly don’t know if there is a right to marry, for anyone. But it seems that if that right is granted to some, then—liberty and justice for all—it should be granted to all.

~~~

h/t for that fantastic Michael Bérubé link—go ahead, click on it!—to Scott Lemieux, LGM





Big wheel keep on turnin’

25 03 2013

Funny how that works: You start writing, and then. . . you just keep writing.

The upside of inertia.





Looking for a moment that’ll never happen

22 03 2013

I have to stop before I start screaming.

This is my last post on support for/dissent from the Iraq war—not because there’s nothing left to say, but because I could bang on and on about this, digging out every last awful pro-war piece  by allegedly thoughtful conservatives and liberals (to say nothing about the bilge which burbled out of the pits of (neo-)conservatism).

And then I could howl some more about the backhand given toward those who were right and the shrug toward those who were wrong.

No, I have to let it go because otherwise I will never let it go.

Two last things. One, presidents matter. Two, protests don’t matter.

On the first point: It was a bit of a toss-off point I made the other night, that if the president decides to go to war, then nothing will stop him, but upon reflection, I think that I nailed it.

Are there any cases in which a president wanted publicly to wage war and was prevented from doing so by the Congress or the citizenry?

It’s possible that there were instances in which a president privately mulled war with his advisers but pulled up before going public, and it is possible that in those instances it was the prospect of public push-back which [were among the variables which] stalled him. But has a president ever decided publicly to commit troops to battle and not gotten his way?

I can’t think of any.

Which leads to the second point: Once the decision has been made to go public with the case for war, it’s too late for protests.

This doesn’t make protest any less necessary, but (we) dissenters have to be aware that we are protesting to save our own minds, to make ourselves visible to one another and to reassure one another that, in fact, we haven’t lost our minds.

As regards the path to war, however, we are as ants to a tank.

If we want to matter, then, the best we may be able to do is to mitigate the worst effects of the war, to aid veterans, to send money to civic and humanitarian organizations working in-country. To make public one’s own dissent, if only to remind one’s fellow citizens that it is possible to dissent.

Maybe it will matter, next time, behind the closed doors, as the president and his (or her) advisers ponder breaking into another country. Maybe.

Is there anything more than maybe? Probably not.

What, then, is to be done? If we want to stop war and protests won’t stop war, what is to be done?

This brings me back to the first point: Don’t elect presidents who want war, who hire advisers who want war, who  can’t be bothered to think about the agonies of war.

It’s not much; it’s all we’ve got.

~~~

h/t & general fuck-yeahs to Conor Friedersdorf; Scott Lemieux at LGM, Matt Yglesias, Charlie  Pierce, James Fallows (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here), and everyone else who’s sunk her teeth into the backsides of the warmongers and won’t let go. [Removed link to MY because it was a mistake to have included him: he might now be truly sorry, but he was among the mongers.]





Rage against the machine

20 03 2013

*Update* Check out Conor Friedersdorf’s review of anti-anti-war commentary.

I don’t even remember why I was against the war.

It’s easy, now, after the lies and mess and blood and money and vengeance and torture and horror and exodus, to say What a monstrous disaster.

Did I see all of this coming? I don’t know. I was skeptical, fearful of the what-ifs, but did I foresee the monster we would become, the disaster we would inflict on ourselves and the people of Iraq?

I doubt it. I doubt it.

I don’t feel vindicated for having been right. I didn’t have to argue myself into skepticism, didn’t have to fight my way past the shiny objects dangled in front of the American people in order to arrive at the summit of wisdom.

There was no summit, and I claim no wisdom. Is it really that hard to be skeptical of unnecessary war?

This is why I rage and despair in equal measure at those pundits who say “I was wrong, but I could have been right, so. . . .” They couldn’t be bothered to perform the most basic act of citizenship: to think, to think beyond one’s desires and sorrows and glee—and you betcher ass there was glee at the prospect of war—about what we were, truly about to do. Could they not be bothered to wonder at their own anticipation?

I am ungenerous in my interpretation of the commentators who supported the war, ungenerous in my reception to their ex post facto “soul-searching”; I read their apologies as justifications.

This is unfair (at least to John Cole), but I don’t care. They lost nothing by being wrong, suffered no consequences for whooping it up as the Congress and the Bush administration led us into destruction. They are sorry only that the destruction was inglorious, rather than shockingly awesome.

Again, this is unfair, I know, I know.

And it puts too much on the sideliners, not enough on the Congress and the Bush administration. I vent my rage at the pundits because I despair of influencing the politicians.

Once a president decides to go to war, that’s it, we’re going to war.

Pundits make the pitch easier; protesters are, if not ignored, a useful foil. But, truly, nothing any of us says, matters. We don’t matter, except, perhaps, to ourselves.

If a president wants war, war is what we get.





Ten years after

19 03 2013

You know what this is about, right?

~~~

March 19, 2003-March 19, 2013.

Financial cost: $812,067, 323,000—and counting.

Cost to to US soldiers: 4487 killed, 32,223 seriously wounded, 30 percent of all who served developed serious mental problems shortly after returning home

Costs to Iraqi civilians: estimates of numbers killed range from over 100,000 to over 600,000

(And much more here)

Removal of murderous dictator: done

Democracy established: ???

Number of nuclear weapons found: 0

Evidence of links to Al Qaeda found: none

Former Vice President Dick Cheney thinks it was all worth it.

~~~

I marched against the first Gulf War in 1990, unsure whether it was necessary, worried about the fight I was sure the Iraqi army would give to the US. We’d win, I remember musing to my friends T & S, but it could be bad.

It was bad, but not in the way I thought it would be.

So endeth my venture into confident predictions about complex events.

~~~

I was in Montreal when the planes were hijacked, crashed. I got into an argument either that afternoon or the next morning with a colleague’s girlfriend over the innocence of the US, over ‘who started it’, how it would end.

At least, I think that’s what we argued about; I could be wrong. I do remember the director of my program murmuring that it was perhaps too soon to be voicing such opinions.

I don’t remember if I responded that it would be too late it if I waited, or if I just thought that.

~~~

The US wouldn’t attack Iraq, would it? Really? Isn’t it obvious this whole thing is ginned up? What the hell is in the water down there? Has everyone gone mad?

~~~

January is not the best month in Montreal in which to march around outdoors for hours, and then stand and listen to speeches for awhile longer.

But hundreds of thousands of us did, more than once. If you looked through the side streets from Ste. Catherine you could see the people streaming past in the other direction up boulevard René-Lévesque.

Some of us carried signs, some of us carried children, some, candles. We shouted and sang and chanted in French and English and Spanish and Arabic and Hebrew and we could all hear one another, but none of it mattered.

We froze our asses off for peace and none of it mattered.

~~~

Why didn’t more people listen to the skeptics, the peace-mongerers, the critics?

They didn’t like our puppets. We said mean things about Bush. We were leftists. We were anti-American. We were against all wars. We were nobodies. We were rude. And smelly. And played drums.

I mean, if the people against war play drums, that’s certainly a good reason to support war, isn’t it?

~~~

Those who were right about the war were dismissed for having been right.

Who was against the war? cry those who were for the war. How could we have known? We were too emotional, too caught up in war fever.

Why did no one speak?

What else did you expect?

So we were wrong, but we were right for having been wrong.

And those who were right? Well, they could have been wrong.

~~~

Lessons?

There are no lessons—no, wait, too many lessons, none of which will be learned.

The wrong have “moved on”. Those who admit they were wrong are cleansed by the admission; those who don’t, blame those who were right.

Lessons? There are no lessons.

There’s only next time.





And you give him these keys, I don’t need them no more

18 03 2013

Michelle Shocked has lost it.

I saw her at the Guthrie, back in the day, a solo performance supporting Short, Sharp, Shocked. My memory of her is hazy, but she sounded good. She always had that strong, pure voice.

Well, at a show in San Francisco this past Sunday, she decided to substitute a politico-religious rant for a second set. Given Shocked’s lefty following, this wouldn’t have led to any reaction stronger than rolled eyes had she not said that same-sex marriage is a sign of the End Times and she worried that ministers would be forced at gunpoint to marry queer folk.

Then she told the audience to tweet that she said “God hates faggots.” At which point the audience began to leave.

A Seattle venue has canceled an upcoming gig, and, according to a commenter at The Stranger‘s coverage of the story, other clubs are shutting her out.

I don’t know what to think of this. I do remember reading an interview with her a loooong time ago (my first year of grad school), in which she talked about sabotaging her own studio session if she thought her record company were taking advantage of her, and of her triumph in taking less money from the company than they offered. Which I thought was odd.

(Maybe I misread her words, maybe I’m misremembering them, but while I liked her music her intensity made me wary. In any case, she seemed distressed at the prospect of fame.)

Anyway, a number of commenters at both the Yahoo and The Stranger stories seem more saddened by what they speculate is a mental breakdown than pissed off. I guess that could be seen as a compassionate response, but I’m not entirely comfortable attributing religious fervor or a political conversion to mental illness: it is possible to change one’s mind without losing it.

Still, whatever the cause of her change, I feel badly for her. I don’t know if she sabotaged herself on purpose, as a way to escape being “Michelle Shocked”, or if she didn’t know what she was doing, or if she sincerely thought a concert was the best place for a sermon, but the damage is  done.

~~~

h/t Kelly O, Line Out





Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before

18 03 2013

Oh that Rand Paul, champion of liberty! Look how he’s standing up for freedom now:

“The Life at Conception Act legislatively declares what most Americans believe and what science has long known – that human life begins at the moment of conception, and therefore is entitled to legal protection from that point forward,” Paul said in a statement. “ The right to life is guaranteed to all Americans in the Declaration of Independence and ensuring this is upheld is the Constitutional duty of all Members of Congress.”

Ahh, conceptional personhood: An idea utterly lacking in biological sense.

Charlie Pierce has the right idea regarding the Paul family: His Five Minute Rule  states that, for five minutes, both the son and the father, Crazy Uncle Liberty (!), make perfect sense on many issues. At the 5:00:01 mark, however, the trolley inevitably departs the tracks.

As Pierce notes, with this we are at the 5:00: 07 mark: The trolley has jumped the tracks, tipped over on its side, and is skidding down the boulevard.

I believe I have covered this before, but let’s go over this again, shall we?

There is no such thing as the “moment of conception”.

As Moore and Persaud note in the 6th edition of The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology:

Fertilization is a complex series of “coordinated molecular events (see Acosta, 1994 for details) that begins with the contact between the sperm and a oocyte and ends with the intermingling of maternal and paternal chromosomes at metaphase of the first mitotic division of the zygote, a unicellular embryo. Defects at any stage in the sequence of these events might cause the zygote to die (Asch et al, 1995). . . . The fertilization process takes about 24 hours. [p. 34, emph added]

“Process”, Senator Paul, not “moment”. Shall we break it down even further?

  • Passage of sperm through corona radiata surrounding the the zona pellucida of an oocyte.
  • Penetration of the zona pellucida surrounding the oocyte
  • Fusion of plasma membranes of the oocyte and sperm
  • Completion of the second meiotic division of oocyte and formation of female pronucleus
  • Formation of male pronucleus
  • Membranes of pronuclei break down, the chromosomes condense and become arranged for a mitotic cell division—the first cleavage division [pp. 34-36]

There are many more details involved in those stages, but the highlights ought to be enough.

At this point, the zygote is still in the ampulla [middle portion] of the fallopian tube, ambling its way toward the uterus. Beginning around 30 hours post-fertilization, it undergoes a series of mitotic or cleavage divisions, in which the internal cells (blastomeres) divide and become successively smaller. “After the nine-cell stage, the blastomeres change their shape and tightly align themselves against each other to form a compact ball of cells. . . . When there are 12 to 14 blastomeres, the developing human is called a morula (L. morus, mulberry).”  The morula forms about 3 days post-fert, and enters the uterus 3-4 days post-fert. [p. 41]

Okay, 4 days in and the mulberry is still wandering around, unattached, developing away. A fluid filled space called the blastocyst cavity or blastocoel forms, which separates the blastomeres into two parts:

  • a thin outer cell layer called the trophoblast, which gives rise to the embryonic part of the placenta
  • a group of centrally located blastomeres known as the inner cell mass, which gives rise to the embryo [p. 41]

At this point the berry becomes a blastocyst. (FYI: If you are an embryonic stem cell researcher, this is when you’d harvest the inner cell mass in order to cultivate stem cell lines. The blastocyst would, of course, be destroyed in the process.)

The blastocyst continues to float around in “uterine secretions” for a couple of days as “the zona pellucida gradually degenerates and disappears”. [p. 41] With the dissolution of the zona pellucida, the blastocyst is free to bulk up on those tasty secretions, until around day 6 post-fert, when it attaches itself to the endometrial epithelium.

All hell breaks loose now, as the trohoblast differentiates itself and its outer layer, the syncytiotrophoblast, insinuates itself into the endometrial epithelium and into the connective tissue, or stroma. “The highly invasive syncytiotrophoblast expands quickly adjacent to the inner cell mass, the area known as the embryonic pole. The syncytiotrophoblast produces enzymes that erode the maternal tissues, enabling the blastocyst to burrow into the endometrium.” [p. 42]

Although it takes another week for the embryo to implant itself fully into the endometrium and stroma—which further details I will spare you—this is the stage at which one could say a pregnancy begins.

Got it? One day for the process of fertilization, 6 days for sufficient development to begin a pregnancy, for a grand total of 7 days or one week.

Oh, and one more thing: Of all the zygote-morula-blastocysts formed, 25 percent wash out before implantation, and another 35-55 percent miscarry before birth. Only 20-40 percent of those berries results in a baby.

Anyway, if I wanted to be kind to the momentary conceptional folks, I could say that “conception” is achieved after 24 hours; if I wanted to be strict, I could say 7 days, and if I wanted to be a real bitch, I could argue that not until 14 days has the embryo done anything worth considering a “conception”. Even granting a kindness, it’s clear that the moment is, at its shortest, a day.

Why does this matter? After all, for many people who are pro-life, the issue is less the biology than the morality; that the conceptus takes awhile to get itself together does not obviate the fact that the process begins—that human life begins—when the sperm drills itself into the egg. The biology matters only because it is a trigger for something more, not in and of itself.

This, of course, is how you get bullshit proposals like personhood bills and amendments: by treating biology as a chit in the culture war rather than a reality on its own terms.

Human development is an amazing, complicated, and fraught process, one which does not comport itself easily to our moral preconceptions (sorry) about it. By all means, make a moral argument, but don’t pretend that biology tucks up neatly into it.

Senator Paul is free to believe all he wants “that human life begins at the moment of conception, and therefore is entitled to legal protection from that point forward”, but I am also free to point out it is a belief untethered to biological reality.

That trolley done run into nonsense.





Stop right there!

17 03 2013

Never happens.

As a fan of adventure/thriller/nuke films (which provenance ought to make clear are always of the B variety), I am willing to leap over any number of realities in order to join the fun, but I do have to retain some belief that there is ground at the takeoff point.

War Games: kid hacks into government computer (believable) and inadvertently starts countdown to nuclear war (leap). Red October: Soviet sub captain seeks to defect (believable) along with innovative tech (ehhh. . .) and American analyst figures this out in time to help him (leap). Peacemaker: corrupt Russian soldiers hijack a ten-pack of nukes to sell (believable) and only the Americans figure this out (ehhh. . .) in time (leap). The Sum of All Fears: Israel loads a nuke onto a plane during the ’73 war, which, after having been shot down, is left to be found 29 years later (skid to a stop at the edge).

The Israelis don’t recover a lost nuke? No. No no no no no no no.

The opening scene already doesn’t make sense—Israel is invaded and overrun, so sends aloft a solo-piloted fighter jet with a nuke, which is shot down when the pilot is distracted by a photo of his family and thus sees a missile too late—not least because no mention is made of the purpose or destination of such a flight. More to the point, that the Israelis would lose track of a nuclear missile and apparently just shrug their shoulders at the loss requires not a leap of faith but a stumble into stupidity.

Of course, once the viewer folds her arms and raises her eyebrows, the rest of the events can only be viewed with snorts.

It’s too bad, really, because loose nukes are a fine premise on which to build a movie; then again, The Sum of All Fears relies yet again on Nazis (Alan Bates, underused; et. al.) as the bad guys, aided by an amoral and cosmopolitan arms dealer (Colm Feore, also underused). This movie was released in 2002: do we still need Nazis as the Big Bads? And are all arms dealers sophisticated foreigners with a chilling accent?

They also stole a line from The Peacemaker (I’m not afraid of the man who wants ten nuclear missiles, colonel. I’m terrified of the man who only wants one):

President: Let’s see, who else has 270,00 nukes for us to worry about?

CIA Director Cabot:  It’s the guy with one I’m worried about.

I did enjoy James Cromwell as the president and Liev Schreiber as an apparently worn-out assassin-spy, and Ciarán Hinds has such a magnificent face how could I not want to watch him? Ben Affleck once again demonstrated his limited skills as an actor, although the role hardly demands anything of interest from him. And Morgan Freeman as Cabot, hell, it’s Morgan Freeman; I originally mistook him as the president.

A waste all around.

The filmmaker would have been better to take the lead from the ridiculous premise and jettisoning any relationship to realipolitik whatsoever. Ditch the Tom Clancy-solemnity and substitute a gleeful malice instead—now that might have been fun to watch.