Saturday, May 14, 2011

The flooding of southern Louisiana (by Skylanda)

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the slow-motion tragedy unfolding in southern Louisiana – the one that is poised to flood out some 25,000 people in the low-lying bayou country – now might be the time to delve into the archives and re-read John McPhee’s near-definitive account of the history of the levee-ing of the Mississippi River through its southern passages. It is an astounding story, from one of America’s great teller-of-tales, first told in 1987 on the pages of the New Yorker, later in his compilation, The Control of Nature:

The Mississippi River, with its sand and silt, has created most of Louisiana, and it could not have done so by remaining in one channel. If it had, southern Louisiana would be a long narrow peninsula reaching into the Gulf of Mexico. Southern Louisiana exists in its present form because the Mississippi River has jumped here and there within an arc about two hundred miles wide, like a pianist playing with one hand—frequently and radically changing course, surging over the left or the right bank to go off in utterly new directions. Always it is the river’s purpose to get to the Gulf by the shortest and steepest gradient. As the mouth advances southward and the river lengthens, the gradient declines, the current slows, and sediment builds up the bed. Eventually, it builds up so much that the river spills to one side. Major shifts of that nature have tended to occur roughly once a millennium.

The essay is not named for the river that we know; it’s named for the river that might-have-been, the Atchafalaya. This is the stream whose course would have stolen the Mississippi’s waters back around 1950 when it was locked off from the main waters in an attempt to prevent a wholesale diversion around the southern cities, and to keep a waterway running through New Orleans - and thus to keep alive an economy and a way of life that depends on maritime traffic. If you have an hour, read the essay; it is illuminating in a way that no news report captures.

The law of unintended consequences might just as easily be called the law of obvious consequences no one wants to acknowledge; hydrology does not, and has never, favored the channeling of moving water into narrowly constricted flow regimes. The levee-ing of the Mississippi’s course in the north and the strait-jacketing of the river into its narrow course through the bayou region was always a recipe for a flood of Biblical stature. These efforts allowed people to live in areas (and root in a culture so unique that one might almost call it indigenous) where no human would rightly put down more than the prow of a boat throughout most of history; it spawned a self-perpetuating bureaucracy for whom ever-greater investment leads in close circuit to ever-greater need for infrastructural support – and ever-greater blame when the inevitable fails.

John McPhee and many in his cast of characters foresaw this day twenty four years ago, much as alarms were raised in advance of Hurricane Katrina that fifty years of re-engineering the bayou region (including the infamous Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, which allowed a salt-water intrusion to diminish the protective cypress swamps and channeled flow into the city) would bring disaster into New Orleans if ever a hurricane made a direct hit. What these two moments have in common is not only geography, but a common root: these are not natural disasters, these are man-made disasters. These are not alone attributable to the weather and rains of fate; these are predictable, engineered, preventable disasters.

It is hard to argue with the Corps of Engineers today, when the waterways will be opened that may run the flood so far out as to drown the entirety of Morgan City; the choice is between a million people and structures in the greater area around New Orleans – which has certainly taken its share of hits in the last few years – and relative handful in the lowlands, and that’s a grim but not difficult choice to make. The more difficult choices will come in the next months to years: will we as a nation go on insisting that elements like fire, water, and earth should obey the edicts of poorly-planned engineering, or will we decide on safer and saner means of planning around these forces that are as inevitable as death and taxes, and as integral as the air we breathe to the fabric of life.

In the meanwhile, twenty five thousand evacuees could use your thoughts and contributions, today.

Friday, May 13, 2011

On Indian Election Results

According to the Guardian, women did well in the latest Indian elections:
Indian politicians Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa have won control of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu respectively.


Ramachandra Guha, a political historian and analyst, said the results were unprecedented. "You don't want to go too far as huge problems of gender inequality, foeticide, oppression and discrimination against women remain in India but it is still exceptional to have so many very powerful women at one time," Guha said.
That is good news, within the proper framework. At the same time, I noticed an anti-corruption theme in the elections. Women tend to do better under those conditions, perhaps because they are viewed as untainted outsiders.

And this comment is pretty interesting because of that last sentence:
Banerjee, whose austere lifestyle is in stark contrast with that of some of India's senior politicians, said on Friday that gender was not an issue. "It is not me, it is the people of Bengal. That I am a woman is not the issue. Without my sisters I cannot do my job but not without my brothers too," she told the NDTV television channel.
Some people suspect female politicians of favoring women. But few suspect the average male politician of favoring men. Hence the need to insert that bit about "brothers" in the comments.

Today's Hilarious Story

Has to do with Mike Huckabee:
Do your children know enough about Ronald Reagan? If they attend a liberal public school, probably not! Thankfully, a charming theocrat talk show host and 2012 Republican presidential nomination front-runner is here to educate them, with cartoons. Mike Huckabee presents "Learn Our History," an edutaining look at the American story from World War II to Ronald Reagan. In fact, it consists solely of World War II and Ronald Reagan. (There is more coming, though! Up next is 9/11.)
Don't miss the videos at that link!

Social Security And Medicare Are Just Like Winning a Lottery!

An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal (where else?) about the impossible burden and unfairness of Social Security and Medicare starts like this:
Readers may recall the 1950s TV show, "The Millionaire," which portrayed stories of individuals who were given a "no strings attached" gift of money by an anonymous benefactor. Each week in one of the show's opening scenes, a man representing the wealthy benefactor, John Beresford Tipton Jr., knocked on an unsuspecting recipient's door and announced: "My name is Michael Anthony and I have a cashier's check for you for one million dollars."
That TV program is scheduled to return next year as a reality show, and the new recipients will be the typical husband and wife who reach age 66 and qualify for Social Security. Starting next year, this typical couple, receiving the average benefit, will begin collecting a combination of cash and health-care entitlement benefits that will total $1 million over their remaining expected lifetime.
Such clever tricks the author, John Cogan, used there! The idea that this gift comes unexpectedly, as if won in a lottery! No, it is not something the recipients have contributed to, in the sense of having paid into the funding system of both Social Security and Medicare.

And notice the show Cogan uses here. It is over fifty years old! A million dollars meant something quite different in the 1950s than it does today! But Cogan manages to emotionally tie this all into a pretty package wrapped in "undeserved" and "giant wealth."

Then there is the possibility that he may compare a check of one million dollars to benefits which might (assuming that his calculations are at all correct which is a huge assumption, and one I make only to discuss the rest of Cogan's tricks) add up to that amount over a period of years. Did Cogan discount the future benefits to that age of sixty-six to make them commensurate with that lump-sum gift check of the 1950s?

I'm not sure if he is giving us the present value of the benefit flow or not. But I suspect the latter, and that would be bad.

Think about it. Suppose that one lottery offers you a million dollars, given over a period of ten years at 100,000 dollars per year, and that another lottery offers you a million dollars, paid out today. The two winnings are NOT the same size, because you could always invest the latter check and earn more than a million over the next ten years.

Enough econo-babble. Cogan then ties all this to the poor children who must pay for the winnings of the elderly, and the attached cartoon reinforces that point. The piece ends with this:
So today's seniors need to consider how they want the script for "The Millionaire" sequel to be written: There's a knock at the door. We now know that on the other side there's a check for a million dollars. When the door opens, do we really want to see our children, under the commanding gaze of Uncle Sam, presenting us with that check?
That is hilariously funny, because in the absence of Social Security and Medicare who would it be who would have to support those elderly parents in many, many cases?

Their children.
Added later:
For much more on Cogan's piece, go here.

Blogger Done Robbed My Posts

You may already know that Blogger was bloggered yesterday, and so all the posts published after a certain date and time have disappeared. In the case of this blog it means all yesterday's posts. My apologies.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Hilarious! Rand Paul on Health Care and Slavery

I have to keep reminding me that actual human beings voted this man in:
A hearing of the Senate HELP Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging looked at emergency room use and took an odd turn Wednesday when Sen. Rand Paul compared the “right to health care” to slavery.
“With regard to the idea whether or not you have a right to health care you have to realize what that implies. I am a physician. You have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. You are going to enslave not only me but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants, the nurses. … You are basically saying you believe in slavery,” said Paul (R-Ky.), who is an ophthalmologist.
Let me think this through. So if we have a right to vote, all those people working the election booths are slaves, right? We keep them in pens in-between elections.
And naturally all health care workers in the UK are slaves, too?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Oddest Lunch of the Year

Popcorn and a mug of hot chocolate! But chocolate is one of the main food groups and popcorn is a vegetable, so I am covered.

Life is interfering with my blogging today. We shall resume our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow or late tonight. In the meantime you could debate your comfort foods or the weirdest meal you ever had.

Mine may just have been the salad a friend once served me. It consisted of one half of a raw onion (not chopped or anything else weak!) and the greens (chopped!) from a bunch of carrots. The carrot roots were not present at the meal.

Here is the baby parrot after a shower. She/he enjoys showers very much, flying in and sitting on the shoulder of a human taking one.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ladies, Be Prepared To Cry. For Today's Fun Research Popularization Is Out.

Today's fun research popularization. It's breezy, it's flippant, and it's on gender differences in compassion:
Nearly everyone agrees that women, on the whole, are more compassionate than men. In a 2008 Pew research poll, 80 percent of Americans expressed that view.
Is this a sexist stereotype? Apparently not. Newly published brain-imaging research suggests that, in this case, conventional wisdom is correct.
It finds women’s brains process compassion differently than men’s, apparently due to the distinctive way our respective neural systems evolved.
Mmm. Strong stuff! We start with a stereotype. Then we argue that science has proved it correct. Then we argue that the reason is in the evolution of our neural systems! And note that a study which actually does not find a difference in reported compassion but in brain activity by gender is used to defend a stereotype that such a difference exists.

I love this stuff. What comes next? We are told that the study had TWELVE men and TWELVE women look at 100 pictures, fifty of which depicted scenes that were expected to provoke compassion. The brains of those 24 participants were scanned with fMRI technology.

The findings? Sure, men and women were equally likely to REPORT the same number of compassionate experiences, but see what happens when we peek inside their brainz:

However, what was happening in the participants’ brain told a different story. As the compassion-evoking photos were viewed, activity was observed in two areas of the brain — the thalamus and the putamen, part of the basal ganglia — in women but not in men.

“Also, women showed a greater activation in the cerebellum, a structure governing fine movement control that is also involved in judgment, selective attention and affective experiences,” they report. “The cerebellum may play a role in the decision to execute helping actions.”
From all this the researchers concluded, as clearly is completely appropriate, that:
“Our results suggest that compassion mechanisms evolved differentially in women, probably in connection with social skills including maternal preverbal communication and emotional responses to helpless offspring,” a research team led by Roberto Mercadillo of the National Autonomous University of Mexico’s Institute of Neurobiology writes in the journal Brain and Cognition.
I should look up the actual results, sigh, because statements like "activity was observed in two areas of the brain — the thalamus and the putamen, part of the basal ganglia — in women but not in men" may mean lots of different things in terms of numbers in those two study samples. Did all women have the same reaction, for instance? Any outliers among the twelve men or the twelve women? Outliers have a very big effect in small studies.

Then there is the fact that brain activity may change based on the way brains are used. And the difficulty in interpreting some of these types of scans. And the obvious fact that observing such differences, even if the study was done perfectly, tells us nothing about the evolution of compassion mechanisms.

But none of this matter anywhere near as much as something I wrote about a few months ago:
In 1995 a wife-husband research team published the first study appearing to show that men and women process language differently in their brains. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz used functional MRI to study the brains of nineteen women and nineteen men during three different language tasks.

One of the tasks, identifying rhymes, showed gender differences in the relative activation levels of the brain. Lise Eliot in Pink Brain. Blue Brain. writes (pp. 185-6): exhibited strong activation of the lower portion of the left frontal lobe, while women tended to activate the same frontal area but on both sides of the brain. Of the nineteen women, eleven exhibited this bilateral pattern and eight activated just the left hemisphere (like men). So the results of this study seemed to indicate that in processing language, or at least during this particular rhyming task, women were more likely to use both hemispheres while men used exclusively the left hemisphere. As one of the first reports to find a sex difference by using functional MRI, this study got a lot of press. An article in the New York Times Science section promptly declared: "Men and Women Use Brain Differently, Study Discovers," and the findings continue to be highlighted even in recent popular works.


later studies failed to replicate Shaywitzes' original finding. Eliot again (pp. 186-7):

Like any good research, the Shaywitzes' study inspired many attempts at replication. By 2008, twenty-six comparable brain-imaging studies were available for Iris Sommer and her colleagues at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands to synthesize using meta-analysis.

Their overall conclusion: there's no sex difference in language processing. While some studies reported results similar to the Shaywitzes', others did not. Some even found that women processed language more strongly on the left side. When you put all the findings together, it's a wash; there is no significant difference in the way men's and women's right and left hemispheres are activated by language.

All this has to do with the idea that brain lateralization might differ between men and women in language use. This doesn't seem to be the case. But no worries! We still get a lot of popularizations based on exactly that idea, even though it has now been removed from the relevant university-level textbooks.

The short message: Wait to see if a small study indeed is replicated by others before popularizing a message that women are more compassionate than men based on evolutionary reasons.

But here is the weirdest thing about this particular popularization: Its use:
So ladies: When the men in your life seem insensitive to suffering, try not to respond with scorn. The problem, it seems, is one of brain circuitry. It shouldn’t be hard to take pity on them; after all, you have an enormous capacity for compassion.
See how we have completely forgotten that the men and women in the study reported the same number of compassionate episodes?! It's the brain scans which determine the extent of our compassion now.

Now that was fun.

Corporatism 101

Don't you love articles which clearly explain the diseases in our new feudal system of corporations on top, everyone else the serfs? This is one such lovely example:
If you like Rioja's hazelnut tortamisu, thank pastry chef Eric Dale. And if you happen to pop your head into the bakery room and admire the tile job on the floor, you can thank him for that, too. Ever since his boss, chef Jen Jasinski, discovered that Mr. Dale is handy, she's had him doing double duty as the maintenance man. He has spent hours repainting the oven, fixing the plumbing and installing a garbage disposal. And that's just the start. He used to manage the dessert operation at one of Ms. Jasinski's restaurants; now he's up to three. All told, Mr. Dale says, his hours have expanded to more than 60 a week.
Wow, you might go. Then you might wonder if Mr. Dale gets paid more for all these extra multi-tasking duties. The article does not tell us that but it does point out that most of these new "superjob holders" (yeah!) don't get paid extra:
In a recent survey by Spherion Staffing, 53% of workers surveyed said they've taken on new roles, most of them without extra pay (just 7% got a raise or a bonus). Now that sales are picking up, there's even more work to do, but companies are reluctant to hire, say human-resources experts. Some are anxious about what the economic future holds, while others are seeing their profits increase now that their work forces are leaner.
Bwahahah! Corporations want to be more flexible which means that their workers have less flexibility, longer days of work and more multi-tasking! Corporations grow fatter in profits which means that their workforce gets leaner.

What's fascinating about all this is how Marxist the flavor is if you let your tongue feel it. But we are not supposed to do that, and this is where the invisible elephant stomps into the room:

All these problems with having to work so much harder for the same pay as before? They are up to the workers to solve:
Of course, the ultimate responsibility for workload management falls to the employee. Experts say that in many cases, employers have no idea how many tasks they've loaded on one person, so workers have to "manage up."
Which is hilarious in a job market where the firms can pick and choose. You start "managing up" and you will be out on your ass.

This example reminds me of the zillions of articles I have read about how women, all on their own, can balance work and family, while everybody else stands by without lifting a finger. Those individual-centered pieces are extremely common, and they may have a point or two in that we surely can affect our own lives a little. But when workers face vast corporations and a buyers' labor market they can forget all about having a job if they start "managing up."

Monday, May 09, 2011

Be Invisible, Please!

A Hasidic newspaper erased Hillary Clinton from that famous picture of president Obama and his advisers in the situation room during the bin Laden raid.

The reason? This: editorial policy stipulating that they "will not intentionally include any images of women in the paper because it could be considered sexually suggestive."
But the images of men are not considered sexually suggestive.

All this is familiar fare in the fundamentalist circles of many religions. Sexual allure is something only women have and the way to control that allure is by controlling women's visibility. Hence the strict dress codes for women, the sex segregation and the seclusion of women. Hence, also, the shaming of women who refuse to go along with those rules.

What would look odd about these arrangements to someone from another planet is this: It is the men who are the protected group in this kind of fundamentalism. They are seen as total slaves of their sexual desires, too frail and unreliable to be allowed to look at pictures of female politicians. But the conclusion from all this is not to seclude the men but to seclude the women.

Chaz Bono on biology (by Suzie)

Yesterday's NYT quotes Chaz Bono, formerly Chastity, on biology and gender.
“There’s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment. For transgender people, they’re mismatched. That’s all it is. It’s not complicated, it’s not a neurosis. It’s a mix-up. It’s a birth defect, like a cleft palate.
"I never really understood women before, to be honest, but I had a tolerance for women that I don’t have now. No, really. There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating. I’ve stopped talking as much. I’ve noticed that Jen [his longtime partner] can talk endlessly. I just kind of zone out. ... I just don’t care!
"I’ve learned that the differences between men and women are so biological. I think if people realized that, it would be easier. I would be a great relationship counselor. I know the difference that hormones really make.”
The weirdest guy thing he does now?
“I got way more gadget-oriented, I have to say. I don’t know why. Definitely since transitioning I’ve wanted to be up on the latest, coolest toy.”
I've yet to see scientific proof that testosterone makes people more interested in electronics. The idea that women talk more than men is a myth. For more on gossip, please read my post here. I've also written (4/18/2008) on the danger of thinking that men and women behave differently from each other (and in stereotypical ways) because of brain differences. This thinking has been used to justify discrimination against women for eons.

If a conservative said, even with humor, that he could barely tolerate women and all their chattiness; if he said men and women have different brains, and suggested that testosterone makes a person like gadgets, wouldn't a "lifelong liberal" like writer Cintra Wilson challenge him? So, why doesn't she question Bono on his retro view of gender? Perhaps she doesn't because she's too busy confronting "a whole swag-bag full of transphobias that I didn’t know I’d had."

Wilson repeatedly asks if Cher influenced Bono's gender identity. He says no. (She doesn't ask if Sonny Bono, who became a Republican politician, influenced Chaz's ideas on gender.) Our culture, our parents, other aspects of socialization have no bearing on our identity as male or female. For Chaz Bono, it's all biology.

In interviews, Wilson brings up "how uncomfortable we are as a society with people who don’t fit into the usual gender roles. ... To finally usher a complete color wheel of sexuality into the mainstream, perhaps it takes a child of Cher."

It's as if Wilson never heard what Bono said. He isn't confronting gender roles or sexuality. He describes himself as "very traditionally male." He's a man who loves a woman. He finds that people, especially men, treat him much better now. “I’m constantly shocked by how friendly and cool straight men are to each other." (Hey, Chaz, welcome to the patriarchy.)

It's telling that this article was published in the Fashion & Style section.
Keep your comments civil or I will delete them. Do not hog the discussion.
Whoops, I forgot to mention that Bono is publicizing his book, "Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man,"
which will be released tomorrow. Also tomorrow, the documentary “Becoming Chaz” will premiere on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Guest post: Nostalgia and the small-town GP (by Skylanda)

In the era of rapid change in the medical field, not more than a few days go by before another major news outlet produces a heartfelt ode to the dying breed of the small-town family GP. Hard-working, ever-suffering, delivering babies from their mothers and the elderly from the bonds of the earth, this backbone of America is as vaunted as a Norman Rockwell painting and – sometimes – only slightly less fictional.

Take the New York Times last month on this imminent extinction:

Dr. Sroka’s fate is emblematic of a transformation in American medicine. He once provided for nearly all of his patients’ medical needs — stitching up the injured, directing care for the hospitalized and keeping vigil for the dying. But doctors like him are increasingly being replaced by teams of rotating doctors and nurses who do not know their patients nearly as well. A centuries-old intimacy between doctor and patient is being lost…

Aside from the bizarrely reverential allusion to the mythical centuries of family-doc intimacy (given that this is historically a rather recent arrangement, and neatly overlooking a rich amalgam of barber-surgeons, midwives, and other messy players in the not-so-remote history of medicine), the article and discussion hash over the usual suspects – and the usual ups and downs – in the transition from the one-man solo practitioner to group and hospital practices with specialist care, hospitalist coverage for inpatient services, and less personalized services. Over-capitalization, too much technology, falling reimbursement, the push to require basic technologies like electronic medical records, and the like all make requisite appearances. But missing in this idyllic picture of times a’passing is two key concepts that no one mentions in these greener-pasture revues.

One is that the America’s doctors are changing, but so is America. We are no longer a nation of small-town doctors who care for their neighbors from cradle to grave, but that may be disproportionately a product of the fact that we are no longer a nation of stationary agrarian townships. I may not have the same GP that birthed me, but that is largely because I have called four states and two continents home since I turned eighteen years old. Even a move across a major urban metropolis may be geographically far enough to justify changing to more convenient medical provider. Increasing mobility is even more pronounced in the class of folks that graduate medical school; doctors have the same pressures of spouses’ job transfers, sick parents back home, better offers elsewhere, and all the other quirks of life that make their patients pick up and move every few years.

Even more pronounced – but less overtly discussed – is the reliance of the traditional GP on strait-jacket gender roles that read like a primer out of frontier America. Many small-town GPs of yesteryear (including the one profiled above) relied on the assumed labor of wives who played secretary, billing specialist, nurse, medical assistant, phlebotomist, lab tech, and office manager. Clearly this arrangement could benefit a couple mutually, pulling in a lifestyle that neither individual could arrange alone, but it fails in the face of any independent career notions from the female half of the couple, and fundamentally relies on the good will of the male half to provide for the financial good – a notoriously insecure place for women to find themselves. On top of that, in an era of decreasing revenues, a stark note in the NYT article is the pink-collaring of the jobs that do not remain in the family: the subject of that story hired half a dozen part-timers with no health benefits themselves to cover the work load that the wife could not cover.

But the gendering of old-time GPs is not limited to their own families. These old-timey GPs of such esteemed nostalgia are almost invariably male, and they are usually the only provider for miles around. They talk fondly of stitching up little Bobby after hours with his Little League mishap, and of being at the bedside of old Miss Jackson as she succumbed to her third heart attack, but these are politically neutral conditions. The most vulnerable populations do not always do well with a solo male – often older – GP who knows everyone in town: teens seeking birth control, pregnant girls and women seeking difficult options, gay kids needing honest information about risks, victims of molestation by the local power brokers. That is not to say that any given small-town GP is incapable of entirely appropriate behavior toward all of the above (indeed, I have known many who are) – but the intimidation factor alone may pose an untenable barrier for the most vulnerable population as much as the familiarity factor may help.

An assumption runs through both articles and comments that everyone would of course want such a small town GP, but I disagree: when I have something personal on my mind, I don’t want familiarity – I want anonymity, and I want choice (factors which – besides low cost – help explain why Planned Parenthood is such a wildly popular option among teenagers, even those who have established providers elsewhere). A larger portion of Americans are now the product of an extraordinarily cosmopolitan culture, and there is equal legitimacy between those who long for the intimate markers of small-town life and those who prefer the anonymity that an urbane lifestyle can provide. A universal desire for the small-town GP is a dangerous presumption at best, leading to models of care that harken back to times that many of us would prefer not to return to.

As with most nostalgia for perfection in times that never existed as we want to believe they did, the glossing over of these imperfections turns a notably rightward bent. Women didn’t need their own careers, because managing their husband’s office should be satisfying (and secure) enough. Girls don’t need to worry about feeling intimidated about asking a white-haired gentleman for birth control pills because, gosh, they shouldn’t be having sex. These questions do not arise in the hang-wringing over the loss of the small-town GP because if they were acknowledged, that would give into the admission that this idyllic world of small-town America was not perfect, if indeed it ever existed.

There is no fundamental evil in the small-town GP model; indeed, in the name of diversity, it deserves its place among small group practices, community health clinics, and behemoth hospital corporations in the pantheon of choice. It just does not deserve to be held up as the only model that serves, or serves universally best.

Cross-posted from my recently re-located and re-launched blog, now found at America, Love It or Heal It.

We Are Becomming a Nation of Nasty Boy Assholes [Anthony McCarthy]

Hemant Mehta, the owner of the dishonestly named "The Friendly Atheist" blog, has taken it upon himself to publicize the second "Draw Muhammad Day". I wrote a post last year in which I critisized Dan Savage for his part in the first one, it looks like the self-appointed rationalists among us are bent on continuing it for kicks and rallying the aging adolescents who comprise their customer base. The first commenting at Hemant's asserts that Muhammad, as historical a figure as exists, is "a NON-EXISTENT ENTITY". Then the Bright boy goes on to call Muslims "retarded". With few exceptions, that's the level of what passes as discussion on those kinds of blogs.

I'm not going to go through the arguments against taking useless, provocative actions that are known to be useful in rallying violent reactions within Muslim countries. The readers of this blog don't need to have ground level arguments for rational conduct repeated every time. Leave it as said that there's way too much rallying of irresponsible people around the world, it's far too easy for people to gain some perverse kind of status for themselves by doing that.

Thinking about Hemant's post, found through its promotion by another blogger who apparently believes himself to be a figure of mature rationalism, I'm struck by how the internet has enhanced the profile of nasty boy assholism in the general culture. Risking sparking deadly violence among Muslims over the cancellation of an episode of South Park, a really bad, really stupid cartoon dedicated to the basest of 12-year-old boy meanness and stupidity, I really don't know what else to call it but assholism in civil libertarian costume. That it's the self-appointed defenders of rationalism, science and Western civilization who are the ones continuing it is an ironic non sequitur that should really be remarked upon by someone.

Identifying this kind of stuff with boys is entirely justified, though there are some girls involved with it. NOTE: I will not honor anyone who behaves that way with a term denoting adulthood. This kind of thing is just the kind of behavior and thinking that has been an increasing presence in our culture in the post-WWII period, a period of macho assertion unlike even that of the late 1800s which was minimally restrained by the dominant Victorian culture, at least in "mixed company". "Playboy" wasn't called "Playman," cowboy are "boy"s as are the characters in South Park. The celebration of irresponsible, juvenile behavior by males is richly manifested throughout popular culture and a lot of junk that passes as something higher than that, these days. It's easy, it requires no thinking, it is likely to get you a far larger audience than the more demanding effort to act and think like a responsible adult, so it is potentially a popularity and financial boon. In light of that, it's not surprising that many of the most popular blogs pander to the kind of audience that you can get that way.

As the anti-Clinton side of the 2008 election shows, nasty boy assholes are a danger to adult level politics. I was hoping that there would be a reaction to suppress it and tried to encourage that reaction. But the assholes are winning. Sexism is as ubiquitous as it was in 2008, if it is given a focal point for the boys to rally round, they will at the drop of a hat. Racism has certainly gained that kind of focus in Barack Obama since he won the election and the 2010 congress and legislatures are working to destroy all of the progress of the past two centuries. This is a serious problem, one of the most serious problems we have. Nasty boy culture approves of meanness, violence, hatred, bigotry and pointless, nihilistic vandalism. Draw Muhammad Day began with the cover of First Amendment protection. Coming fast on the deadly reaction to the Quran burning by Terry Jones HEAVILY CONDEMNED BY MANY OF THE SAME PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT DMD, promoting other stupid publicity stunts are all the more manifestations of assholism.

Also Note: The identification of civil liberties with this kind of thing really makes you wonder if the civil liberties establishment needs to be put in more responsible hands. Right now they're really acting like a bunch of jerks. I've never known anything good to come from the moral poses of jerks.