Monday, June 25, 2007

Where have I gone?

I have mostly been ignoring the impulse that leads to the leaden and pedestrian (if sincere) prose you see in the movie review below, or to incendiary political rants, and taken me and my camera out in the world to take pictures of it, at the moment mostly photos of the natural world, though that may change. And I post them on Flickr, if anyone is interested in seeing lots of dragonflies and butterflies.

Regardless of the quality of the results, I seem to enjoy this hobby a lot more than writing blog entries, hence I put up a lot more pictures on Flickr--more or less daily, depending on the weather--than posts on the blog. I do try, at least occasionally, to put a little bit of explanatory (or exculpatory) writing under the photos, though, lest anything think I have slipped entirely under the spell of the visual.

So, even though the blog is still in business, please don't stay tuned here on a daily basis. But if you check back every couple of weeks, you might find something new.

Saturday, June 23, 2007


In this movie Michael Moore does just what he has done in the past, only better. He presents a very, _very_ simple point that most Americans agree with.

Actually, several very simple points. It's wrong to let people die or suffer because they are poor, or because they are uninsured. It's wrong for insurance companies to hire people whose sole job is to find excuses to deny coverage to people who _are_ insured, or at least who had believed themselves to be insured, till they got screwed out of coverage by their insurance company. It's wrong for people to lose their homes because of medical bills. It's wrong for the richest country in the world give 50 million uninsured people rotten medical care, or none, and simply throw them to the wolves when it comes to illness. It's wrong for hospitals to dump a confused and indigent patient, barefooted and wearing a hospital gown, on a Los Angeles skid row because the woman had no insurance. You see her wander around, dazed, in the street, after being put out of the taxi--all captured by a security surveillance camera. It's a pretty strong image.

And it's wrong for us to spend twice as much per capita on medical care as any country in the world, apparently to have that spending go to profits for insurance companies rather than treatment of illness--such that we are 37th in the world in the overall quality of our medical care.

Because Moore presents things very simply, and powerfully, he places those who disagree in the position of having to excuse obvious inequities, iniquities, and injustices, as well as outright medical atrocities like having to decide which finger you want to save, of two you have sliced off, based on the size of your savings account.

The more complex and convoluted the apologies for this sort of thing are, the deeper the hole the apologists dig for themselves.

He's unfair, of course. What he does is something the right wing has always done, and always been good at, but which they do in a much more dishonest way. Given that the Right thinks of their kulturkampf as a war, not a discussion, Moore presumably believes he is justified in coming back at them in the same way. It's kinda refreshing, if you believe in his message, to see a man of the left being both unfair and really effective.

But the Cuba business was probably a mistake, because it gives the Right an opening to change the subject. Alas, Moore can never resist a stunt. Fox News has already referred to the treatment Moore's sick people got in Cuba as Potemkin medical care. But the damage Moore does to himself here is confined to people who do not see the film. Those who do see it will still agree with Moore's basic points even if they suspect that the Cuban medical care shown was more than what an ordinary Cuban would get. The trouble is, a lot of people will not see the movie, and will get their review of it not from me, or someone like me, but from Fox and Rush Limbaugh.

In any case, Moore is not at all unfair, and is not pulling a stunt, when he compares Canadian, British, and French medical care with our own. At least half the movie is a demolition of the claims right wing propagandists have made for half a century about medical care in these three countries. In one nighttime sequence he goes on house calls with a French doctor. House calls. The French spend _half_ as much as we do on medical care, pay their doctors very well, have better medical outcomes, and can still afford to pay doctors to visit patients in their houses!

When was the last time a doctor came to your house?

How can a right winger argue with this? Only by changing the subject, preferably to something about Cuba. Even that is dangerous. Cuba is a third world country that has been subjected to a severe embargo for 40 some-odd years. Whether Moore's sick people got Potemkin medical care or not, ordinary Cubans do live as long as we do, and more Cuban babies survive infancy than American babies. Overall, Cuban medicine is ranked 39th in the world, slightly behind us. Remember, we are number 37, although, as some of us are fond of saying, we are the richest country on the planet.

Friday, June 22, 2007


This South Congress sidewalk photo was taken at the most recent First Thursday, which was an originally spontaneous Austin street event which is now semi-institutionalized but highly variable in turnout, sometimes very extravagant with large crowds, or sometimes sedate, like this one, hard to tell from the normal South Congress sidewalk scene except for clumps of enthusiastic capoeiristas, occasional street musicians with forlornly open guitar cases with a few dollar bills floating inside, a couple of vacant lots with tentsfull of renaissance-faireish craft vendors, and an occasional street preacher.

The women in the foreground have just each been handed a multi-page tract dense with King James Bible quotations set in 6 point type. The preacher seems to be a fresh-faced country boy hard beset by sin. He is not wearing a kevlar vest, though it might appear--sorry for the quality of the photo--that he is.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

The strange case of General Patriotboy and his lynch mob

Lately the dovecotes of liberal Blogistan have been fluttered by the Nashville Is Talking incident. I was alerted to this by Chris Clarke's blog, Creek Running North. A local blogger in Nashville (, Brittney Gilbert, well known for her stalwart liberal views, posted, under the heading Teaching Libs a Lesson, a particularly vicious piece of work from a right-wing, racially ante-bellum blogger called Smantix, which exulted in Steve Gilliard's death.

It was in fact so nasty that one would either assume that Ms Gilbert was herself an insane racist who agreed with this, or else that she was holding up to her readers a particularly dreadful piece of trash, illustrating what kind of person this Smantix character was. And in fact, regular readers of Nashville is Talking knew that the latter was the case, because Ms Gilbert was well known to detest Smantix, who is apparently notorious in Nashville for such beyond-the-pale stuff.

Her blog actually posts a lot of stuff without much comment, relying on the readers to either have common sense, or the initiative to find out context and meaning for themselves. Her paid gig as a blogger, under the auspices of a Nashville TV station, according to a video she posted in February, prior to the uproar, is in fact to function as an aggregator of other Nashville blogs, with some comment or opinion from her. Apparently she had in fact commented on Smantix and his views in the past. She neglected to do so this time.

Problem is, you have to spell stuff out for fundamentalists. Trouble is on the horizon.

Soon a liberal blogger called Patriotboy who usually posts under his other pseudonym of "General J. C. Christian, Patriot" (who is moderately well known, and who considers himself--in his own Haloscan comments, at least--an "A-list" blogger,) happens upon the Smantix screed.

Oh, my. He goes nuts. He denounces Ms Gilbert. He writes her employer, and the blog's advertisers, trying to get her fired. Not only that, his devoted what-he-said following apparently did likewise, and filled the comments to her blog with, well, poorly considered remarks.

General Patriotboy himself, who was soon informed that Ms Gilbert was a liberal and that she was well-known to dislike Smantix and everything he stands for, is now in a quandary. Shall he back down? Well, he does, in the sense that he removed the contact information for writing her employer. Evidently he regarded this as a retraction of his request that she be fired. But he redoubles his vituperation, as do his troops.

He adds an update to his original post. In it, he asks her to apologize. His request was phrased as "Apparently, Brittney is just plain fucking stupid." That kind of request for apology generally is not perceived as such.

This is probably what set off the firestorm. Now people were going to the General's blog and accusing him of being a sexist bastard. The general denied this, and I am willing to take him at his word, but unlike Ms Gilbert's clear statement that she finds Smantix's words abhorrent, the General refused to retract his remarks about "Brittney," but continued to maintain stoutly that he was not a misogynist.

You can draw your own conclusion about that.

And the troops continued to accuse Gilbert of stupidity as well as racism, in her blog's comments, as well as in the General's.

One of them asks, "Is she at the local Klan meeting or is she dropping the kids off at Nazi Youth Camp?”

Another asks, “Brittney, Brittney, Brittney: What are we going to do with you kitten?”

Another lets her know of her perils if she travels to Canada. “In Canada, Brittney and her colleagues could be considered criminals under the Criminal Code of Canada as it states that ‘anyone who incites hatred of an identifiable group or promotes hatred is guilty of a criminal offense and will be imprisoned for two to five years.’"

Another says, “Brittney, what a monster you are.”

Another: “You’re a bigot, there are millions like you, everybody knows it, case closed.”

Another: “Either Brittany is an idiot or she’s got a serious racism jones. Well, actually the two are not mutually exclusive. There are far too many people with Brittney’s skill set currently working in media and government, perhaps she should consider a different career path.”

There was a lot more like that.

Ms Gilbert quit. She said essentially that this was the last straw; she had been thinking of leaving anyway, she wasn't thick-skinned enough for this kind of abuse, and goodbye.

Well, you can imagine what happened then. I checked in at General Patriotboy's place, and the comments were far from universally favorable, though the General's faithful did step up to the plate. And more. One of them, indeed, goes so far as to write the dean and the student newspaper and the supervising professor of a UC Irvine PhD student who had disagreed with the General and his throng, accusing the student of being a white supremacist, which was self-evidently the opposite of the case. This tattling had the intent of--well, it's unclear to me. Getting the student thrown out of school? I don't know.

At last count there were 265 comments in the General's blog on the whole business, including a few of my own, which I regret. There are also a great many other blogs, including Creek Running North, and now this one, expressing some opinions on the matter.

I guess what I find appalling in this is being forced to a renewed awareness that there are a lot of people nominally on my side, that I don't want on my side. I cringe.

In fairness to the General--although it's hard to be fair to him, because he has carried it out to a degree where that's difficult for me to do--I can understand his outrage at the offending Smantix filth. I guess at that point we part company, because if I ran across something that vile, I know I would have tried to find out if it was being held up as something awful, or if the blogger agreed with the quoted material.

In Brittney Gilbert's case, that would not have been very hard.