Shape up, poor people

This column by Joe Queenan from the LA Times provides great, pragmatic advice for the poor. If you know any poor people, pass it on:

In a world bristling with such sexy topics as the latest exploits of predatory hedge funds and lupine private equity firms, why would anyone want to write about the poor, who never do anything that is even vaguely exotic? In a world filled with flashy megalomaniacs including Paris Hilton, Mark Cuban, Tom Cruise and Madonna, why would anyone want to read about glamourless screw-ups living in public housing at Cabrini-Green?

…For society to function properly, there must be a top, a middle and a bottom. Otherwise, economic mobility ceases, stasis sets in and a society starts to die. The problem in the United States today is that fewer and fewer young people are emotionally equipped to handle the enormous responsibility of being poor, and those who do choose to remain poor are not holding up their end of the bargain by leading desperate lives suffused with quiet dignity, thus serving as shining beacons for the rest of us.

In 2007, the United States finds itself at a moral and demographic crossroads. It cannot expect the upper class to provide strong moral leadership because the upper class is filled with people who work for Halliburton. It cannot expect the middle class to assume that burden because the middle class has always suffered from a certain moral flabbiness as a result of commuting long distances to jobs they hate. Realistically, only the poor are in a position to provide inspiration to the rest of us because they have the most time on their hands.

Still, for the poor to return to those halcyon days when Tom Joad was idolized by millions, the poor are going to need to undergo a classwide makeover. For the underclass to get back to the point at which society actually honors them, appreciates them and seeks out their advice on salt-of-the-earth issues, the poor are going to have to shape up.


The Birds, the Bees, and Bill Maher

According to Arianna’s boy Bill Maher, we’re killing the bees. He’s not sure how, exactly, but he’s sure that we humans are responsible. The fact behind Maher’s latest tantrum is this: there’s an epidemic of something called Colony Collapse Disorder that’s causing bee colonies to die off in 24 states across the continental United States and in two Canadian provinces as well as parts of Continental Europe. This isn’t the first time something like this has happened; the disease used to be called “Disappearing Disease”, and it’s been recorded since the 1890’s.

Maher claims it’s probably caused by narcissistic young Americans talking on cell phones, if not from some other human cause:

But I think we’re the ones suffering from Colony Collapse Disorder. Because although nobody really knows for sure what’s killing the bees, it’s not al-Qaeda, and it’s not God doing some of his Old Testament shtick, and it’s not Winnie the Pooh. It’s us. It could be from pesticides, or genetically modified food, or global warming, or the high-fructose corn syrup we started to feed them. Recently it was discovered that bees won’t fly near cell phones — the electromagnetic signals they emit might screw up the bees navigation system, knocking them out of the sky. So thanks guy in line at Starbucks, you just killed us. It’s nature’s way of saying, “Can you hear me now?”

This is apparently the result of his manging a news report on honey bee aversion to cell phone signals that made the rounds of the sensationalist press:

It seems like the plot of a particularly far-fetched horror film. But some scientists suggest that our love of the mobile phone could cause massive food shortages, as the world’s harvests fail.

They are putting forward the theory that radiation given off by mobile phones and other hi-tech gadgets is a possible answer to one of the more bizarre mysteries ever to happen in the natural world – the abrupt disappearance of the bees that pollinate crops. Late last week, some bee-keepers claimed that the phenomenon – which started in the US, then spread to continental Europe – was beginning to hit Britain as well.

The most likely cause of CCD is the fungus Nosema ceranae:

Researchers have been struggling for months to explain the disorder, and the new findings provide the first solid evidence pointing to a potential cause.

But the results are “highly preliminary” and are from only a few hives from Le Grand in Merced County, UCSF biochemist Joe DeRisi said. “We don’t want to give anybody the impression that this thing has been solved.”

Other researchers said Wednesday that they too had found the fungus, a single-celled parasite called Nosema ceranae, in affected hives from around the country — as well as in some hives where bees had survived. Those researchers have also found two other fungi and half a dozen viruses in the dead bees.

So Bill Maher and his brood over at the Huffington Post are exactly 180 degrees from the truth. It’s a natural disorder with a technical cure, the fungacide Fumagillin, which originated in nature and is now made by drug companies. Fumagillin was once used to treat malaria and is effective in protecting white blood cells from HIV. (No, this doesn’t mean that the bees have AIDS and are being punished by the Baby Jesus for their immoral lifestyle.)

Bill Maher is one of those whacked-out animal rights vegetarians who’s always the first to blame his fellow humans for all the world’s problems. Perhaps he’d like us – and himself – a little more if he could wrap his pea-sized brain around the concept that we’re animals too and probably just as entitled to our lives as baby seals are to theirs. I’m not holding my breath.

Parental Alienation Syndrome

This is not the best way to deal with a child who’s been turned against her father by a vindictive mother.

But it’s understandable. Kim Basinger made this message public, and for that she should lose custody of young Ireland Eliesse Baldwin. She won’t, of course, because courts love their mamas, even the crazy ones. She’s done this sort of thing before and got away with it:

Channeling her inner Pete Doherty (and apparently in need of a lawyer as good as his), actress Kim Basinger may face 60 days in jail and a $12,000 fine when she makes an appearance in court tomorrow on 12 contempt of court charges.

Basinger is accused of breaching a custody agreement she shares with ex-husband Alec Baldwin, who claims she failed to notify him when she was out of town and also failed to inform him when their daughter, Ireland, suffered an injury that required medical attention.

Baldwin’s response is here. He’s too mealy-mouthed.

Parental Alienation is no joke.

Words that hurt

There’s been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth lately about words. Kathy Sierra claimed to be too scared to leave her home in the woods because of threatening words left by anonymous cowards in her blog’s comment section, and the result was general uproar, trips to CNN, and speech codes. Don Imus described a women’s basketball team in unflattering language, and the nation’s race pimps demanded – and got – and end to his employment.

Perhaps that reaction was justified. Maybe it’s reasonable to fear violence at the hands of people who are too cowardly to use their real names in blog comments. It doesn’t seem that way to me, but perhaps I’m just insensitive. And perhaps there’s a magnetic force that freezes radios to the Don Imus show such that they can’t be tuned to any other station when he says stupid things. Or perhaps the radio listening public is too weak, too stupid, and too infantile to tune him out. Legitimate civil rights advocates such as Connie Rice (cousin of Condi, not a typo) who defended Imus are full of it and words of that sort can’t be tolerated and I’m just too insensitive again.

But there’s something about that reaction that doesn’t add up to me. Sometime after the Sierra hubbub broke out and the firing of sad old Imus, the Attorney General of North Carolina held a press conference where he said he was dropping all criminal charges against the three Duke athletes accused of rape by Crystal Gail Mangum. He offered a new law to prevent such miscarriages of justice in the future, and he blasted the DA who brought the case and suppressed evidence, Mike Nifong. He made the extraordinary assertion that the Duke Three are innocent, not just “not guilty.” They were framed, slandered, and abused for no good reason. And it all started with bad words: lies.

And none of the people who sympathized with Kathy Sierra or accused Don Imus of “violating the black community” had a word to say about it.

What the hell is up with that?

The words of Mike Nifong and Crystal Gale Mangum had real consequences. The Duke Three were suspended from school and smeared in newspapers and TV and radio shows all over the country. Their reputations have been permanently altered, and I don’t expect they’re ever going to be as optimistic about justice and fairness in America as they were before those words were spoken again.

The words spoken against Kathy Sierra and the Rutgers basketball girls, on the other hand, were hollow bullshit and everybody knew that and reacted accordingly from the beginning. They weren’t harmed in any meaningful way, certainly not on the same level as the Duke lacrosse boys.

Jesse Jackson falsely accused the Duke boys:

The Duke scandal should lead colleges across the country to hold searching discussions about racial and sexual stereotypes, exposing the myths that entrap so many. But it shouldn’t take the brutalizing of a mother of two to raise these issues. Justice must be pursued at Duke. But Duke should not be treated as an isolated extreme – but as a goad to probing discussion and concerted action to lift students above the hatreds, the fears and the fantasies that still plague our society.

And also gloated over his pound of Imus flesh:

CBS refused to lower its standards anymore to house Don Imus. It is a victory for public decency. No one should use the public airwaves to transmit racial or sexual degradation.

Now I see it: instead of using the airwaves for racial or sexual degradation, we should return them to their rightful mission: slandering innocent white boys. Now it’s all clear.

Perhaps the severity of the reaction to Imus’ admittedly idiotic comment was driven by the needs of Jackson, Sharpton, and the feminist left to avoid any discussion of the conclusion to the Duke case, which doesn’t exactly make them look like heroes.

So why is the media letting them get away with it?

The answer to that has to include the obvious fact that the media was by and large complicit in the symbolic lynching of the Duke Three. The discussion went straight from allegations of rape to national soul-searching about the brutality of sexism and racism without every stopping to consider whether the boys were actually guilty. As it generally goes in rape cases, the defendants were guilty until proved otherwise. Rarely are defendants acquitted of rape because it’s treated in such a special way by the justice system, but this case was so egregious it didn’t even have to go to trial, just to a semi-honest prosecutor.

So the mere fact of the charges being dropped should be enough to make news. Maybe not as great as the feeding frenzy that accompanied the false allegations, but something. (UPDATE: See Terry Moran of ABC News spin his irresponsible journalism.)

And what will the consequences be to the accuser, Crystal Gale Mangum? Nifong faces disbarment, which would be appropriate, but I don’t see any hint that Mangum will be charged for making a false report, libel, defamation, or anything else. She’s going to keep on taking her clothes off for money, turning a few tricks on the side, and running her con games as if nothing had ever happened.

And that’s not right. If words have consequences, if they’re so scary they keep consultants away from conferences, radio hosts off the air, and cause attorneys to lose their licenses, they should have consequences for rape liars as well.

This is America, and fair is fair.

John Edwards plays to the crowd

According to John Edwards, net neutrality is simply free speech. But actually, folks, as much as he may want to believe that, it’s not so. Right Side of Tech explains:

I mean come on we are talking about if communication companies can prioritize network traffic and if they can have a tiered pricing models. We are not talking about the blocking of blogs, and other free speech. Certainly there is some blocking going on of streaming media but this should be worked out by market forces. The issue here is we don’t have true market forces at play. Instead we have Telcos that are protected by layers of regulation. Yet the everyone feels that addional regulation will fix the issue. Regulation is not the solution to this issue. Instead regulation will only to serve to stifle innovation, lower availability and increase costs.

People have a right to speak their minds without interference by the government. If we’re to extend that right to machines, we need to protect them from needless government regulation, and you don’t accomplish that with needless government regulation. Show us a problem that can’t be resolved with existing law, and I’ll be the first to write a model bill to fix it.

Until then, no politician advocating Internet regulation gets my vote.

Sanjaya Rips America Apart

Here’s an example of the damage Sanjaya Malakar is doing to America:

Way out West, the bizarre Sanjaya Malakar/”American Idol” drama is tearing at the fabric of a once-strong bond between friends and former teammates.

After Dan Haren was traded to the A’s in December 2004, he found a mentor and soulmate of sorts in then-Oakland ace Barry Zito. Now Zito is with the Giants, and the two aren’t just on opposite sides of San Francisco Bay. They’re on opposite sides of the Howard Stern-led movement to “vote for the worst” — i.e., the musical car wreck that is Sanjaya.

“I voted for him 50 times,” Haren said during the final week of Spring Training.

Told of his buddy’s vow to help make a mockery of the “Idol” process, Zito fired off a classic, indignant text message that read, “Unreal. These people want to prove that it is a joke, but it only is when people like them are dishonest in voting. So they’re proving that dishonesty skews it. Congratulations.”

Responded Haren: “I just want to see [Sanjaya] get a record contract.”

The once-great Zito is in the twilight of his career over there on the wrong side of the bay, and it’s sad to see his mind going soft like this. Get that boy some fish oil.

Meanwhile, back in golden Oakland, rookie Travis Buck has just hit a triple to lead off the fifth inning in a game where the A’s trail the White Sox 1-0. A’s fans are excited, knowing that a man on third with nobody out has a 93% chance of scoring. But Mark Ellis and Jason Kendall ground out weakly to the pitcher and Shannon Stewart files out to right and the A’s come away with nothing. Buck is probably thinking: “send me back to Triple A ball, these m!@#er f$%&ing geezers stink so bad I don’t want to get any on me.”

Game-ending Domer
But it’s a big, fat, setup. Fast forward to the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied thanks to a three clutch singles by the A’s and Buck coming to the plate. This guy is a rookie and the league leader in strikeouts, but Crazy Ozzie don’t care ’bout the numbers, he gives him an intentional walk, loading the bases. And up comes Mark “weakly hit ground ball to the pitcher” Ellis, who proceeds to bounce one off the left field fence, then off Scott Podsednik’s head, and then onto the outfield grass. The A’s win.

That’s good for baseball.

The Chicago papers show the White Sox GM to be a bit of a prophet:

“…if we play well, we’re in the ballgames, and if we give ourselves a chance to come out of these first few weeks .500 … we get some guys starting off well and their confidence grows, we’re going to be really special.

And I’m seeing some of that, especially with the bullpen. I mean, we can still go out there and blow up against Oakland because you’re not going to have success every day.”


Darwin’s Letters

Previously unpublished letters by Darwin and friends are about to be published:

The correspondence with Darwin’s friend and theological sparring partner Asa Gray, an American botanist and God-fearing Christian, spans decades, beginning in 1854, five years before the publication of Origin, and continuing until Darwin’s death in 1882.

Despite Gray’s committed Christianity, he went on to become Darwin’s greatest champion in the US, where ideas about so-called intelligent design have re-ignited the debate about creationism…

The relationship between Darwin and Gray was good natured, if combative. In one letter, Darwin tells Gray: “An innocent and good man stands under a tree and is killed by a flash of lightning. Do you believe that God designedly killed this man? Many or most persons do believe this. I can’t and don’t.”

Gray responds: “You reject the idea of design, while all the while bringing out the neatest illustrations of it!” Darwin, rather self-conscious of his large nose, writes: “Will you honestly tell me that the shape of my nose was ordained and guided by an intelligent cause?”

Unlike the modern “debate” between scientists and creationists, 19th century discussions of evolution were generally quite calm and respectful. It was all so much easier then, to be sure.

Home Opener

The A’s have their home opener tonight against some team from Chicago, so our long dark night of the soul is over. America’s team has played two valiant series on the road already, against a much improved Seattle Mariners team and the Anaheim chapter of the Axis of Steinbrenner. The Team split with the Halos and went 1-2 against the sailors. So we’re learned a lot already:

* The core pitching staff of Harden, Haren, and Blanton is outstanding, as good as any Big Three in baseball right now.

* The loss of Zito isn’t going to hurt the As. His ERA is now above 8 for the Giants, and he’s 0-2 after getting banged around in both of his starts on the wrong side of the Bay.

* The loss of Frank Thomas isn’t going to hurt the As. Piazza leads the league in hits, and he can hit anybody, anytime. And he runs like a turbo-charged beer truck, not a regular beer truck.

* Shannon Stewart, most likely, is an upgrade from Jay Payton.

* Chad Gaudin has the stuff to be a big-league starter, and pitching on a regular basis improves his control, the only weakness in his game in the past. When he’s got a full four-pitch repertoire, watch out AL.

* Alan Embree is more than a LOOGY, he’s a great 1-2 inning setup man.

* Base running is hard. Your coaches and your runners and your hitters all need to be on the same page, and when it goes wrong you look like a bunch of morons.

* Infield defense has taken a dive post-Wash and won’t fully recover.

* Bobby Crosby isn’t 100% and Geren needs to treat him accordingly. If you got runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs and Crosby coming up, pinch hit Mr. Clutch Scutaro for him, at least during April. Re-evaluate in May.

* Nick Swisher can hit with RISP.

* Jason Kendall can throw out stealing Angels and then rub their face in it by stealing bases himself. That’s because he’s the ultimate gamer.

* Travis Buck is going to be in the Big Leagues for many years, but probably not for all of this one.

* Lackey and K-Fraud are the King and Queen of Bush League behavior.

* The Angels in general are not all they’re cracked-up to be. They have one good hitter and only one, their defense is ragged, their running game is chaos, and their bullpen is weak.

* Felix Hernandez of the Sailors is the real deal, a dominating pitcher with Cy Young in his future.

Frankie Rodriguez’ Cheating Ways

For those defending Angel closer Francisco Rodriguez in the case against him for doctoring the baseball, here’s the relevant baseball rule:

Rule 8.02(a) Comment: If at any time the ball hits the rosin bag it is in play. In the case of rain or wet field, the umpire may instruct the pitcher to carry the rosin bag in his hip pocket. A pitcher may use the rosin bag for the purpose of applying rosin to his bare hand or hands. Neither the pitcher nor any other player shall dust the ball with the rosin bag; neither shall the pitcher nor any other player be permitted to apply rosin from the bag to his glove or dust any part of his uniform with the rosin bag.

Rodriguez admits to loading his cap with rosin, so the case is closed. He should get a ten-day suspension and close scrutiny when he returns, if for no other reason than for his ignorance of the rules:

I talked to Francisco Rodriguez about this white substance on the underside of his bill and he grabbed the hat from his locker, flipped it over and said “This?” On the black underside of his cap was a sizable white smudge. “It’s rosin,” Rodriguez said.

It’s interesting to note that since Rosingate became public, Rodriguez has been tagged pretty good: Piazza homered off him Thursday to win the game, and he’s given up a total of four hits in two innings of work, two of them for extra bases. Against the A’s, his ERA now stands at 4.50, and his BAA at .400 and his SAA at .800.

K-Rod with a doctored ball: dominating closer; K-Rod without a doctored ball: mediocre. Not to take anything away from the A’s, mind you, who are still the greatest team in baseball (when healthy.)

UPDATE: Major League Baseball joins the conspiracy, “clearing” the pitcher now known as K-Fraud of ball doctoring:

Major League Baseball informed the Angels on Friday that closer Francisco Rodriguez will not face disciplinary action for supposedly doctoring baseballs, an allegation that was first made on an Internet blog written by the author of the book, “The Cheaters Guide to Baseball.”

Uh huh, right. So the big-market teams such as the overpaid Angels continue to get preferential treatment from MLB, extending to an extra-special strike zone.

Our democracy is in danger.

Any old cause will do

Check The Guardian today for Andrew Orlowski’s take on net neutrality as an Internet conspiracy theory:

In a much celebrated remark, a senior Bush administration aide told journalist Ron Suskind: “When we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality, we’ll act again, creating other new realities.” But with the democratisation of publishing, creating new realities is now a game that everyone can play. Conspiracy theorists have used the web to great effect, with a mini-industry insisting the 9/11 attacks were a US plot. Describing the popularity of such fantasy realities, Alexander Cockburn lamented that “outrage burns in many an American breast, but there’s scant outlet for it in the political arena”…

The UK’s most prominent internet engineer, Professor Jon Crowcroft of Cambridge University, thinks that activists had imagined a bogus demon. “Net Neutrality is a misdirection, a red herring,” he says.

Save The Internet took full advantage of rational fears, argues veteran internet engineer Richard Bennett, but in doing so, it created “an Intelligent Design for the Left”.

The gap between fear and reality is even more stark when the technical issues are examined. The Neutrality amendments rejected by Congress last year would have made many of today’s private contracts illegal, and outlawed the techniques such as “traffic shaping” that ISPs use to curb bandwidth hogs, says Bennett…

Even worse was the long-term chilling effect. Neutrality would have made designing a better internet much harder, says the man commonly described as the father of the internet.

Dr Robert Kahn says that Neutrality legislation poses a fundamental threat to internet research because it misunderstands what the internet really is; it’s a network of networks, and experimentation on private networks must be encouraged.”The internet has never been neutral,” explains Crowcroft. “Without traffic shaping, we won’t get the convergence that allows the innovation on TV and online games that we’ve seen in data and telephony.”

Last month the Neutrality bandwagon reached Westminster – where it was dismissed in short order. Summing up the consensus at the end of an eForum debate at Millbank, the former Trade Minister Alun Michael described Neutrality as “an answer to problems we don’t have, using a philosophy we don’t share.” And with an echo of Professors Van Alstyne and Brynjolfsson, Michael said the phenomenon reminded him of the Tower of Babel.

When the ink is dry on this issue, historians will see it more as a testament to the power of the Internet to win support for dubious causes than anything else. To think that neutralitarians have actually built a movement to pressure Congress to enact laws against unprecedented, speculative, hypothetical ills is actually mind-boggling.

Don’t they have enough real problems?