Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Cutting Edge of Research

A survey of 3,069 students on the campuses of Cornell University and Princeton University, has arrived at a conclusion that some might find shocking: Fully 17 percent of these Ivy League college students have cut, burned, carved or otherwise harmed themselves. Less than 7 percent have ever sought medical help for their self-inflicted injuries.

The study by researchers at Cornell and Princeton is billed as the largest study on self-injurious behavior (SIB) in the United States to date. "Self-injurious behavior is defined as inflicting harm to one's body without the obvious intent of committing suicide," Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behaviors in the Family Life Development Center (FLDC) at Cornell and lead author of the study, said in a news release. SIB also may include such behaviors as ripping or pulling skin or hair, biting, bruising and breaking bones, she said.

They are also coming together on the Internet. "Internet message boards provide a powerful vehicle for bringing self-injurious adolescents together, and to a great extent, they provide a safe forum and a source of valuable support for teens who might otherwise feel marginalized and who may be struggling with shame," said Whitlock. However, while the majority of the postings are supportive in nature, some reinforce self-injury behaviors and could create a "social contagion" effect, the researchers warned.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Death of Civil Discourse

It's difficult, here in a swing state, to watch TV without seeing at least one political commercial. And both sides are busy going negative - there's no mistaking that. But on the Democrat side, that's only reasonable. If the Republicans have proved anything in the last decade or so, it's that "going negative" works.

When I talk about this to anyone, they say that the attack ads make them want to vote for the other side, just out of spite. But people who work in a hospital (like I do) aren't the demographic being targeted by the negative ads. It's the average, uneducated, non-reading public they're trying to sway.

I know this because, unlike most of America, I volunteer for our Democratic Congressional candidate (there's a story there, but I don't feel like going over it right now). And one of the most soul-crushing things you can do when you're volunteering is phone-banking. You're cold-calling people you've never met, trying to pass along your candidate's viewpoint, and they usually don't want to hear it. Most people have already made up their minds - you're just trying to randomly hit one of the ones who haven't.

But some of the winners you get to talk to are proud of their stupidity and ignorance. You have dedicated Republicans, who will vote along party lines and refuse to listen to anything you have to say. You have one-issue voters, who will ignore every other factor, as long as their candidate is willing to (for example) make the abortion punishable by the death penalty. And you have a lot of hang-ups.

But some of the worst calls you get to suffer through are the enthusiastically blind. I've talked about Heather Wilson's ads that try to paint Patricia Madrid as being easily bribed. And I had the opportunity to talk to a woman who'd bought the whole story - "I couldn't vote for her. Not after she took all that money from the casino owners."

Once the idiots make up their minds, it isn't easy to crowbar any facts into there.

And it's only going to get worse, too. David Brooks points out that many of the vulnerable Republicans during this upcoming midterm election are moderates. And once we eliminate the moderates, the GOP will have nobody left but the loonies. The people who have abandoned every principle of conservatism and given themselves over to the Far Right. The lunatic fringe of the Republican Party will have become the middle of the GOP road.

Darth Cheney lives.

President Bush and his advisors certainly have no reason to make peace between the two sides of the political coin. They've advanced as far as they have by widening partisan rifts, and declaring anyone who disagrees with them a traitor.

Keith Olberman, the Edward R. Murrow of the current news choices, said it best a few weeks ago.
While the leadership in Congress has self-destructed over the revelations of an unmatched, and unrelieved, march through a cesspool ...

While the leadership inside the White House has self-destructed over the revelations of a book with a glowing red cover ...

The president of the United States - unbowed, undeterred and unconnected to reality - has continued his extraordinary trek through our country rooting out the enemies of freedom: the Democrats.

Yesterday at a fundraiser for an Arizona congressman, Mr. Bush claimed, quote, “177 of the opposition party said, 'You know, we don't think we ought to be listening to the conversations of terrorists.' "

The hell they did.

One hundred seventy-seven Democrats opposed the president's seizure of another part of the Constitution. Not even the White House press office could actually name a single Democrat who had ever said the government shouldn’t be listening to the conversations of terrorists.

President Bush hears what he wants.

Tuesday, at another fundraiser in California, he had said, "Democrats take a law enforcement approach to terrorism. That means America will wait until we're attacked again before we respond."

Mr. Bush fabricated that, too. And evidently he has begun to fancy himself as a mind reader.

"If you listen closely to some of the leaders of the Democratic Party," the president said at another fundraiser Monday in Nevada, "it sounds like they think the best way to protect the American people is - wait until we're attacked again."

The president doesn't just hear what he wants. He hears things that only he can hear.

It defies belief that this president and his administration could continue to find new unexplored political gutters into which they could wallow. Yet they do.

It is startling enough that such things could be said out loud by any president of this nation. Rhetorically, it is about an inch short of Mr. Bush accusing Democratic leaders, Democrats, the majority of Americans who disagree with his policies of treason.

But it is the context that truly makes the head spin. Just 25 days ago, on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, this same man spoke to this nation and insisted, "We must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us."

Mr. Bush, this is a test you have already failed.

If your commitment to 'put aside differences and work together' is replaced in the span of just three weeks by claiming your political opponents prefer to wait to see this country attacked again, and by spewing fabrications about what they've said, then the questions your critics need to be asking are no longer about your policies. They are, instead, solemn and even terrible questions, about your fitness to fulfill the responsibilities of your office.

No Democrat, sir, has ever said anything approaching the suggestion that the best means of self-defense is to "wait until we're attacked again."

No critic, no commentator, no reluctant Republican in the Senate has ever said anything that any responsible person could even have exaggerated into the slander you spoke in Nevada on Monday night, nor the slander you spoke in California on Tuesday, nor the slander you spoke in Arizona on Wednesday ... nor whatever is next.
You have dishonored your party, sir; you have dishonored your supporters; you have dishonored yourself.

But tonight the stark question we must face is — why?

Why has the ferocity of your venom against the Democrats now exceeded the ferocity of your venom against the terrorists?

Why have you chosen to go down in history as the president who made things up?
I can't see that how the political scene is likely to be anything but ugly for the next few years.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Situational Morals

Let's talk about morality. And priorities, really. To be precise, let's once again talk about Congresswoman Heather Wilson (R-NM).

Heather seems to have a problem with human sexual intercourse. During her first year in office, she voted to have Bill Clinton impeached for having consensual sexual relations with a 22-year-old woman.

Six years later, she became something of an embarrassment to any reasonable adult in New Mexico, by practically bursting into tears over the momentary, grainy exposure of a female breast during a Superbowl halftime show.
"You knew what you were doing," said Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., her voice cracking. "You knew that shock and indecency creates a buzz that moves market share and lines your pockets."
But then, faced with a Republican Congressman like Mark Foley (R-FL) who had an inappropriate fondness for teenaged boys, what's her reaction? She plans to donate the money she got from him to charity.

It would be crude and unkind of anyone to point out that Heather Wilson only seems to object to heterosexual adult relations, wouldn't it? So let's not get into that.

Instead, let's consider a point made by Ms. Wilson's opponent, Patricia Madrid: Heather, you see, was on the House Page Board from 2001 to 2004. Would it be unfair to say that she was one of the people in charge of protecting the pages from predatory congressmen? That was, after all, the reason the Board was set up.
The House Page Board was created after a scandal in 1983 in which two members of Congress were censured after admitting having sexual relations with pages.
Of course, when Ms. Madrid pointed this out, Heather's spokesman, Enrique Carlos Knell, indignantly blustered that "Patsy Madrid's charges go well over the top and don't have any credibility, and she should be ashamed of herself even suggesting such a malicious thing."

(They like to call her "Patsy" - it's a diminutive. They're classy that way.)

But nobody seems to want to ask one question of Mr. Knell. Heather was on a five-person board that was specifically created to prevent congressmen from having sex with a small group of teenaged boys. And she had no idea that there was a congressman out there who wanted to have sex with those same teenaged boys.

So what, exactly, was she doing during her four years on that board? How is it unfair to point out that she wasn't doing her job?

Let's compare that with ads saying that Patricia Madrid, as Attorney General, was responsible for a pervert named Matthew Ward getting "back on our streets"? I mean, correct me if I'm wrong here, but I believe it's the judge who gets to decide a man's sentence, isn't it? At least, when I'm watching Boston Legal or LA Law, I don't remember the prosecutor getting to do that, anyway.

Hell, let's compare the two cases. Matthew Ward, thinking that he's talking to a 14-year-old girl, tries to get together and have sex with her. Mark Foley, who actually is talking to sixteen-year-old boys, tries to get together and have sex with them. One gets probation and is now a registered sex offender. The other... is in rehab.

Oh, yeah. By the way, in Foley's case (at least according to conservative talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage), the whole thing is obviously a case of entrapment by those teenaged sexually predators against a fine, upstanding Republican congressman.

Go figure.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Talkin' To The Man

Our United States Senate just voted to allow torture of prisoners. That noise you hear is coming from the East Coast. It's the remains of our Founding Fathers, spinning in their graves.

Around two hundred and thirty years ago, thirteen colonies split off from England because a group of brave men felt that their rights were not being properly represented in the government that controlled them. And they felt strongly enough about these "rights" that they put them to paper and made them the basis for a new form of government; they enshrined these words to the extent that they could, telling the world that, in this new country at least, the common man could not be unfairly treated by the government.

Now, though, because our elected representatives are too cowardly to tell a nascent dictator that torture is wrong, our government now has the right to swoop down on any person at any time and take him into custody, and that person doesn't have the right to a trial to determine whether he (or she) is guilty. No evidence needs to be presented. A person can now be arrested on no evidence, held for as long as the government deems neccessary, and no court in the land will argue that this person should be free.

The name for this particular right, by the way, is habeas corpus, and it's defined like this:
habeas corpus (hā'bē'us kôr'pus) [Lat.,=you should have the body], writ directed by a judge to some person who is detaining another, commanding him to bring the body of the person in his custody at a specified time to a specified place for a specified purpose. The writ's sole function is to release an individual from unlawful imprisonment; through this use it has come to be regarded as the great writ of liberty. The writ tests only whether a prisoner has been accorded due process, not whether he is guilty...

The term is mentioned as early as the 14th cent. in England, and was formalized in the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679. The privilege of the use of this writ as a safeguard against illegal imprisonment was highly regarded by the British colonists in America, and wrongful refusals to issue the writ were one of the grievances before the American Revolution. As a result, the Constitution of the United States provides that "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it" (Article 1, Section 9).
Here in New Mexico, our Senators split evenly on the issue of habeas corpus. Republican Pete Domenici voted to continue shredding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and Democrat Jeff Bingaman voted on the side of Goodness and Light.

To Senator Bingaman, who I contacted fairly easily at, I wrote a short message of support.
For your vote against the destruction of habeus corpus, you have shown that you understand what our forefathers were trying to create in this fledgling country some 225 years ago.

You have just earned my vote, unlike your counterpart, Senator Domenici. Keep it up.

Thank you.
I spent a little more time on our other senator.

First, he doesn't support the idea of open communication. He requires that you go to his website and fill in a "contact form." (The closest he could come to demanding papers, I guess - the electronic equivalent of "Ihre papieren, bitte!")

When I finished, a little message came up on the screen. "Thank you for using our form!" I liked the exclamation point. God knows that forms should be exciting.

Incidentally, considering Domenici's apparent attitudes, if you don't hear from me for a while, it might be best to pretend you don't know me. Here's the message I sent to Pete Domenici on his exhilarating little form.
Senator Domenici,

You are a disappointment to me, sir. I did not always agree with your politics, but at some point, I felt that you might at least hold our forefathers in higher regard. Somewhere, in my twenty years in the military, I like to think that I absorbed at least a small amount of American history, and some knowledge of what it means to be an American.

You have just voted against habeas corpus. One of the central rights supported by that group of honorable men who gathered together in 1781 to create a country. You trampled it into the dirt with a simple wave of your hand and a single syllable.

Humorously enough, the front page of talks about "Celebrating the Constitution." You need to consider having your webmaster locked away for "unreasonable sarcasm."

Consider the facts. An "enemy combatant" is now defined as any non-citizen whom the president says is an enemy combatant, and he can be arrested and held for as long as authorities wish without any right of appeal to a court of law to examine the matter.

Now, suppose an American tourist in Cairo or Casablanca or Bangkok is arrested for some feebly-defined "crime against the state." At what point is that foreign government going to release our tourist? And what will they be able to do to him, legally, while they're holding him?

Or let's bring it a little closer to home. Suppose my cousin, a Special Forces corporal, is wounded during a reconnaissance near the border to Syria, and taken captive by soldiers from that country. What will happen to him?

What happened to the theory that we should treat prisoners the way we would wish to be treated?

The theory, as the president explains it, is that the terrorists wish to destroy our way of life because they "hate our freedom." So why are you giving the terrorists what they want?

If there is such a thing as a single philosophy that makes us American, it is that we are better than our enemy. Are you proud of destroying that ideal, Senator? Do you sleep better at night, having done exactly what Osama bin Laden wanted?

Is that the action of a hero? Is the act of capitulation considered brave in these dark days? You were a lawyer once. What is the definition of "precedent" again?

So keep it in mind. "Good Americans" aren't in danger, are they? Just the Jews, the gypsies and the homosexuals. And anyone declared by our Leader as being an "enemy of the state."

You have just lost any chance of my voting for you ever again, sir. I only vote for people who can show that they understand the American ideal. People who oppose tyranny.

I only vote for real Americans.
It didn't do a damned bit of good. Although, within 24 hours, he sent me a form letter thanking me for contacting him. That made me feel all warm and cozy.

November can't come too soon. Let's vote these bastards out.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Heather and the Smear Merchants

Looking through the news can yield up all kinds of interesting trivia. Try this one, for example:
Republicans are planning to spend the vast majority of their sizable financial war chest in the final 60 days of the campaign attacking Democratic House and Senate candidates over personal issues and local controversies, GOP officials said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), which this year assigned six operatives to comb through tax, court and other records looking for damaging information on Democratic candidates, plans to spend more than 90 percent of its $50 million-plus advertising budget on what officials described as negative ads.
Gee, I wonder why they'd do that? I mean, couldn't Republicans run on the overwhelming victories in Iraq and the flowering of democracy all over the Middle East?

...OK, maybe not...

But we've improved conditions in Afghanistan and kicked out the Taliban, right? Well, technically, we've only improved things for the opium farmers and given them a bumper crop of heroin. And the Taliban is still pretty strong over there, too. So maybe we shouldn't bring that up, either.

But they could run on how they've made government smaller and more efficient, and saved American tax dollars! Well, technically, our Republican-controlled Congress took a record-breaking surplus and turned it into a record-breaking deficit. And those pesky Democrats keep bringing up little things like the Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere" (a Republican-led, federally funded, $223 million dollar bridge that would link fifty people on the Alaskan island of Ketchikan to the mainland).

So what does this leave them? Well, pretty much just personal attacks on their opponents. When you don't have a record to run on, you demonize the other side.

Which brings us to the Patricia Madrid/Heather Wilson fight.

Heather likes to call herself "independent" - it’s right there at the top of her website: "Independent. Honest. Effective." She likes that word so much that it’s on her bio page six times. But her voting record doesn’t support that idea - she votes pretty much a straight Republican ticket. (Which kind of makes you wonder about the "honest" part of that soundbite, doesn't it? Especially if you remember her claim that the Democrats love her so much that they keep asking her to join their party.)

But since Heather isn’t willing to talk about her record (like her long-standing support of the Iraq war), she’s fired off a series of attack ads. One of them claims that Patricia Madrid received donations from a casino owner, and the legal problems of that casino magically disappeared. Which sounds pretty bad, until you consider what actually happened.

It's a pretty simple story, really. You see, the problem was that, every so often, a tribe wants to build a casino outside of their reservation, and declare it reservation land "in trust." Madrid pointed out that the sovreignity of the Native American tribes on their reservations was the loophole that allowed them to build casinos. But our friends in the Republican Party don't want you to know unimportant things like facts in this case - they prefer the libelous impression that they want to give you.

Heather also tries to smear Ms. Madrid for "interfering with the investigation" into former State Treasurer Robert Vigil on 24 separate charges of corruption. Strangely enough, Heather can never quite explain how Patricia "interfered" - perhaps the problem was that Patricia, as a trained lawyer, could see how the evidence was a little flimsy? In fact, it was so flimsy that a jury this weekend acquitted Vigil of twenty-three out of the twenty-four charges. (I wonder if we're going to see that fascinating fact in any of Heather's future ads?)

But hey, it seems only fair to reverse that little mirror, doesn't it? I wonder who gives money to Heather?

Well, if you check out the groups that donate to her, you find that she’s one of the top recipients of money from oil and gas companies, and she’s gotten a surprisingly large amount of cash from the electronics and defense industries - in fact, the corporation that threw the largest amount of money to her was Lockheed Martin.

Hmm... Isn't it amazing? Heather has consistently voted in favor of allowing our troops to be shot at in Iraq, and the companies that are making the most profit out of this little Middle East dust-up are giving Heather money.

I’d hesitate to use words like "kickback," but it's a fascinating coincidence, don't you think? Definitely a fine example of that old political maxim "one hand washes the other."

Didn’t Pontius Pilate wash his hands, too?

Even better, let's look at who Heather’s best friends are. She’s taken thousands of dollars from Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, the recently-outed pedophile Mark Foley, Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney.

Isn't that cute? Heather Wilson is in the pockets of the top convicted criminals in the Republican Party (OK, they haven’t convicted Foley yet - but they need to). Doesn't that feel make you feel all warm inside?

Of course, Heather wants to look clean, so she returned donations from Bob Ney and Duke Cunningham. She also claimed to have returned all of the money she got from Delay, even though she only gave back around a fifth of it - ten thousand out of the almost forty-seven thousand dollars ($46,959) she took from him (that’s the easily-documented amount – some sources place the figure closer to sixty-five thousand).

There’s a phrase my late, lamented momma taught me - "you’re judged by the company you keep."

And looking at it that way, Heather, you’re a dirty, dirty girl.