Thursday, October 6, 2011

No-Nothings Demonstrate Benefits of Willful Ignorance

All Children.  One Love.Image by Keoni Cabral via Flickr
Back in the 1840s and 50s a group of like-minded Americans formed a political party named the No-Nothings. Membership was restricted to Protestant males over the age of 21. Originating in 1842 and calling themselves the American Republican Party (funny how that word 'republican' sticks like glue to bigotry). Members weren't allowed to talk about the party's activities, so when anyone was asked about it, they were supposed to answer, "I know nothing."

They were a nativist political movement, which meant
Image via Wikipedia that, very much like the present GOP, they feared being overwhelmed by immigrants. At the time the immigrants were from Ireland and Germany, and to make matters worse they were Catholic! Of course, we all know today that those Irish and German immigrants--who only had to live in the United States for 5 years before they co
uld apply for full citizenship--became fervent Americans. Their descendants are probably the same people who are full of hatred and fear of the latest wave of immigrants to come to this country.

As you know I am talking of Hispanic people, but most especially Mexicans. With a little computer savvy today's No-Nothings could easily edit the signs that faced our Irish ancestors: No Irish Need Apply. Because Mexicans often tend to have browner skin color, the No-Nothings feel they can pick them out of a crowd and make life as difficult as possible for these people, who came here to search for a dream like all of our ancestors did.

What is remarkable is how many No-Nothings have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. This means that a significant portion of No-Nothings make up the Do-Nothing Congress. So we have people who don't seem to care that our fellow Americans are hurting badly, can't get work, are losing their homes, and may lose their health care.

I would venture to guess that almost all the No-Nothings are Christians, but with Pilates' soul. A more crass, hypocritical group would be hard to find. Who among you would be willing to hold up aid to Americans made homeless by hurricane and flood? Who would have the nerve to suggest that poor people simply give up health insurance as a cost-saving measure for the country? Who still thinks the Civil War hasn't ended? The No-Nothings of the Do-Nothing Congress!

These same No-Nothing/Do-Nothing representatives of the people are content to pay for two expensive wars on a U.S. credit card, but disdain to extend unemployment benefits to people thrown out of work by the economic tsunami created by Wall Street and its never-ending greed to more money. Not only are they unwilling to help their countrymen, but they sneer at them for being in their situation.

It is time to stand up to the No-Nothings and point out what they are: people not fit to bear the name American. It's time to throw them out of the Congress, the state houses, and the local councils. This country needs a resurgence of Americanhood, where we expect to help each other and get a fair shake from every governmental agency we encounter.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Cell phones, saccharin, and cancer

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31:  A man speaks on his mo...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
The New York Times reports today that a World Health Organization panel has found cell phones are "possibly carcinogenic." The panel did no independent study itself, but reviewed a number of existing studies.

The headline in the Times read "Panel Adds to Debate Over the Cancer Risk of Cellphone Radiation," and although it is buried on page 12, still sounds fairly scary. But, as usual with scientific studies and conclusions drawn from reviewing such studies, the scariness dissipates quite a bit.

The main reason for the WHO panel classifying cell phones as possibly carcinogenic was some data that showed a higher risk among heavy cell phone users of developing a rare type of brain tumor called a glioma. A 13 country study published last year, called Interphone, found no overall increased risk of developing cancer from using cell phones but it also reported that there was a 40% higher risk of developing gliomas among the heaviest cell phone users. It is also true that gliomas tend to be relatively rare and seem to be connected to chromosome instability, so one should not look at the percentage and think that there is a 40% chance one is going to develop glioma from using the cell phone too much.

These scientific reports always remind me of the days when saccharin, or Sweet 'N Low, was the bogeyman. Thirty-four years ago this past March the Food and Drug Administration banned it based on scientific studies. Talk about over reaction. The amount of saccharin given to the lab animals has been compared to a normal adult drinking 800 diet sodas a day for a lifetime. (See post on by Elizabeth M. Whelan on March 9, 2007) Today, saccharin and Sweet 'N Low are widely available and turned out not to be as evil as we were told them were.

So let's not get too heated up about the WHO panel's finding. Many scientific studies, when presented in the media, seem like the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, truly frightening, but in the end turn out to be like that "man behind the curtain" that we're not supposed to pay any attention to.
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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Raggedy Ann Meets Raggedy Andy in NY

The august New York Times has a home page photo of Sarah Palin visiting Donald Trump in New York City today. Is this supposed to be meaningful? Are these two titans of the political realm people we should be listening to? Do my fellow Americans feel joy or nausea when viewing this set piece?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 31:  Former U.S. Vice presi...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
Neither Trump nor Palin has ever impressed me as a deep thinker. I have not heard Sarah or the Donald propose a plan for how to extricate ourselves from two (or three, depending on how you're counting) wars, or get us out of the economic horse latitudes, or, most importantly, improve our morale and the way we deal with each other. Rather, they are exploiters and purveyors of fear, offering their leadership skills to a frightened group of Americans who seem to be unable to accept change and growth. Trump and Palin try to elbow each other out of the way of the 'mob' of their supporters. And when was the last time you heard of any mob running across town to do something good?

The rhetoric employed by these two stuffed dolls is simply appalling. They worry about the existence of a birth certificate of a sitting president instead of helping to deal with the very real problems facing most of us. And the media, like the Grey Lady herself, continue to give them front page space. They are not entertaining or amusing; they are an embarrassment to our nation.

Imagine, if you will, a President Palin and Vice President Trump.  What might be their agenda? Bomb the hell out of (fill in the blank)? Invade Iran? Would this be a government to be proud of? I mean, we jettisoned old King George III, who was batty, and our founding fathers were aware that in a dynastic monarchy you're going to get bad apples. They believed there was a better way.

But they also expected us, the electorate, to be more thoughtful. Roughly half of us feel roughly the opposite of roughly the other half. What are we doing to reach out to each other and find some common ground. Governing a nation is not a game where one team can change conditions for all of us when they have the ball. No one's winning elections with 95% of the vote. Candidates who win elections have to think and act not only for their voters, but for the people who voted for the other side. These two lightweights can't do that. And the media do us no service by continuing to highlight their comings, going, and tweets. Enough already!
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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Knock, Knock! Who's There?

Official portrait of Supreme Court Justice Rut...Image via Wikipedia
Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States in Kentucky v. King held that police officers could enter a home without a search warrant due to "exigent circumstances" even if they themselves create those selfsame exigent circumstances. In this case, they passed by a door in an apartment complex and smelled marijuana smoke, knocked and announced they were the police, and heard sounds of people moving about inside. To their minds this was obviously to destroy 'evidence', so they kicked in the door.

All the justices but Ruth Bader Ginsburg (above) voted to overturn the decision of the Kentucky Supreme Court and hold for the police. Their reasoning has the same relationship to reality that fish does to ice cream--NONE! Justice Samuel Alito, declaring the police did not create the exigency, stated that they simply knocked on the door, something that "any private citizen might do." He then states that, "[w]hether the person who knocks and requests the opportunity to speak is a police officer or a private citizen, the occupant has no obligation to open the door or to speak." Aaarghhhh!!!

Official 2007 portrait of U.S. Supreme Court A...Image via Wikipedia
Have these people ever had any interaction with the police? Do they really believe that a private citizen would have the cojones to tell an officer, "No, I really don't want to talk with you right now." This view of the world has become a severe problem for the Supremes. They do not see the world the way ordinary human beings do. Have they ever been stopped for speeding? (And, gotten a ticket?) Has anyone close to them ever experienced an arrest? There's just such an air of royalty in their tone and thinking that I would not be surprised to read a line in a future opinion expressing the thought that the people should eat cake if they have no bread. There is a real lack of the humanity of earlier justices. It bodes poorly for the future of law in this wonderful land.
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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Seattle Police Officer Apologizes for Being Bigoted

Late this past week Seattle police searching for suspects in an armed robbery took two Hispanics into their custody. They threatened one Mexican man, already on the ground and in their custody, saying "You got me? I'm going to beat the (expletive) Mexican (expletive) out of you homey. You feel me?"  The second expletive was "piss" and I can only assume the first was "fucking". They punched him and, as one radio announcer so gingerly put it, one cop contacted the Mexican's head with his boot. Read: he kicked the guy in the head while he was in custody on the ground.

According to later articles, the police officer with the bigoted mouth was abjectly sorry for his behavior. It's hard to even conceive of forgiving him on that ground. When he had the power he unleashed a torrent of abuse on what turned out to be the wrong guy. And he felt no compunction on using physical force on someone already under control and not giving any fight.

As someone who has worked in the area of police oversight for over 14 years, the saddest thing is that such behavior is not surprising. Policing tends to attract more than its fair share of bullies and thugs. The work provides opportunities for unleashing such behavior unacceptable in normal society. Had the suspect been the actual armed robber,  the officer would have gotten away with little to no reactions from the police administration or public.

But this man who took the brunt of this officer's thug-ness was innocent. The cop obviously held if not a deep seated hatred of Hispanics, at least a huge degree of disdain.  It was discriminatory behavior in its most raw form.

The question now is, is an apology a sufficient get-out-of-jail card for being such a bigot? I say no. It's simply not good enough. But neither is the normal punishment meted out by the police department. It's not good enough to punish him by making him lose vacation time (a long-standing method of upbraiding police who go wrong.) It's not enough to change his detail or station house. What's needed is to make him work with the people he apparently despises. Put him in an Hispanic neighborhood and make him walk the beat. Or make him responsible for wayward Mexican juveniles. This cop has to learn about the culture he so obviously thinks is worthless. Let  the people he works with determine when he's ready to rejoin the regular force.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

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