Archive for the current events Category

Up, up and away in his beautiful balloon

Posted in current events on October 19, 2009 by Gena Radcliffe

Eleven year-old Lindsey Baum disappeared after leaving a friend’s home in McCleary, Washington, on June 26th of this year.  Nine year-old Laurence Brannum disappeared from a beach in Santa Maria, California on April 15th.  The last time anyone saw Reachelle Smith of Minot, North Dakota, she was three years old.  That was in 2006.  Today marks seven years since one year-old Ta’Niyah Leonard was taken from her home in Bartow, Florida.  Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard about any of these cases, I hadn’t either until I saw them listed in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children database while researching this article.  It’s doubtful that they warranted much of a blip outside of the immediate areas where each child disappeared.

But I bet you’ve heard about Falcon Heene.  You had to have not watched a television, picked up a newspaper or gone on the internet anytime in the past four days to not have heard about Falcon Heene.  The six year-old Colorado boy, now forever known as “Balloon Boy,” has been a top news story ever since it was believed that he floated away from his house in a homemade weather balloon last Thursday, drifting for more than fifty miles and leading to a massive search that temporarily shut down Denver’s airport and required the use of two National Guard helicopters.  Footage of the weather balloon flying lazily several hundred feet over the ground warranted constant news coverage, even making headlines overseas.  It’s easy to see why Falcon’s disappearance was considered a newsworthy event, more so than your run of the mill “child snatched off the street on their way home from school” story: first, there were the unique circumstances behind it.  He floated away in a homemade balloon.  It was scary, but kind of whimsical too, and you know that some struggling screenplay writer holed up in a tiny efficiency apartment in Santa Monica immediately started working on a plot outline as soon as he heard the first breaking news announcement, waiting on bated breath to find out if the story would end in tragedy or in tales of adventure, perhaps involving a talking bear or a friendly tree that carried the adorable little boy safely back home.

The second reason it made headlines was, of course, that the Heenes are minor celebrities, the thoroughly 21st century products of reality television.  They appeared on Wife Swap, a program in which the matriarchs of two very different families switch places for a month, ostensibly to make changes in each other’s homes that somehow lead to everyone improving their lives.  Mostly they just seem to scream and curse at each other, though, which is apparently what draws in viewers.  The Heenes were reportedly one of the more obnoxious families featured on the program, which, of course, because of this Bizarro World we live in now in which appalling behavior is rewarded with attention and a chance at dubious “stardom,” meant that they were brought back to appear on a second episode.

Despite the non-stop coverage and viewers chewing at their nails in fear that they’d see little Falcon fall out of the balloon on live television, red flags about the authenticity of the family’s story went up almost immediately.  For one thing, closer inspection of the balloon, which looked to be constructed mostly out of aluminum foil and duct tape, rendered it fairly obvious that it wasn’t capable of carrying a small child, certainly not far into the air for over fifty miles.  Questionable details about the family emerged: for instance, dad Richard Heene, an amateur scientist and self-proclaimed “storm chaser,” had been unsuccessfully shopping around an idea for his own reality show for months, reportedly a rip-off of Mythbusters.  Even TLC, bested only by VH1 and FOX as America’s go-to network for all that is tasteless and appalling, turned him down.  When TLC, who recently began airing a program called My Monkey Baby, turns you down, you know your chances at stardom are slim at best.  A disconcerting YouTube video showed Falcon and his two older brothers, presumably filmed by their parents, performing a rap charmingly called ‘Not Pussified,’ in which there’s a line about throwing rocks at a “faggot in a tree.”  Richard Heene seemed remarkably calm and self-assured in front of news cameras for someone whose child was missing and possibly endangered.  My daughter was less than a half hour late getting home from school a couple weeks ago and I had a panic attack.  Maybe it was shock.  Or maybe he just knew something that the rest of the world didn’t know.

Of course, as you know by now, Falcon was never in any danger.  Lo and behold, he appeared out of nowhere in his home, with his family claiming he had been hiding the whole time in the attic, a place that somehow no one thought to look in when he was missing.  He had never been in the balloon in the first place, rendering the whole situation a non-story, yet it still warranted round the clock coverage, with the family giving televised interviews to three different news outlets the next day.  Falcon, who was reportedly so nervous that he vomited before appearing on two of the programs, almost immediately gave up the ghost when, after asked why he didn’t come out of hiding even when he heard people calling for him, muttered that he did it “for the show.”  Leave it to little kids to tell the truth even when you don’t want them to, that’s why you never ask any of them if they think you’re fat.  Dad Richard applied some quick damage control, explaining that Falcon was confused, and that when he meant “the show,” he meant the show he was appearing on right then.  In a turn of events more shocking that Britney Spears and Kevin Federline breaking up or Ellen Degeneres announcing that she was gay, it turned out the whole thing was a hoax, orchestrated by Richard Heene and his wife in order to generate publicity that could (and probably would, if they hadn’t gotten caught) finally get their own reality show off the ground.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the situation at this point is that it’s still a top story.  As he has yet to have formal charges filed against him, technically speaking Richard Heene is still winning here.  His plan so far has been successful.  Sure, the world at large thinks he’s a dreadful human being who has no business being a father, but look at what deciding to become a worthless douchebag has done for Jon Gosselin’s career.  Spencer Pratt of The Hills, which MTV is still weakly insisting is a reality program, makes $65,000 episode by being a miserable shitball.  Even the ladies have gotten in on it–Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth has maintained a fruitful career appearing as a combative villain in everything from The Apprentice to The Surreal Life; her success is curiously explained as being because “viewers hate her.”  Unless one of these shows is going to end with her being thrown into a room with a bunch of starving pit bulls, I’m not quite sure how that works, but perhaps that’s why I don’t work in the entertainment industry.  When it comes to success in reality television, which can be parlayed again and again into a career appearing on other reality programs, generating a considerable amount of income, being a total asshole pays off.

I was going to use this story as an excuse to go on my rant about reality television again, how I believe, with absolutely no hyperbole, that it’s a blight on society, and one of the worst things ever inflicted on pop culture as a whole.  Filing a false report claiming your child has disappeared in order to get your own television show is incomprehensible.  Octomom? Octomom is a piker, this just goes beyond the pale.  My wish that people would stop watching Jon and Kate Plus 8 has only recently come true, and not nearly soon enough.  Now I have an all-encompassing wish that people would stop watching reality television in general, simply because it’s clear that there are far too many individuals who will go to pretty much any length required in order to get that brief taste of fame that appearing on The Biggest Loser or The Bachelor allows, including using their own children as pawns for publicity.  All bets are off at this point, and I really wonder what it will take, what sort of appalling stunt someone will pull, that will finally lead to the shutdown of much of this garbage.  Perhaps someone will pry out their own teeth in order to appear on a makeover show.  That was merely speculation, for the love of God, don’t do that.

But instead of ranting about Satan’s presence behind the scenes of Big Brother and Tool Academy, I’ll wrap this up with some thoughts on how the Balloon Boy hoax, if nothing else, once again puts a spotlight on the media’s skewed handling of missing children cases.  Sadly, and perhaps inexplicably, missing children rarely make the news outside their own hometowns anymore unless there’s some sort of special angle the media can capitalize on, such as, say, they were believed to have floated off into the sky in a balloon or their family appeared in an episode of some piece of crap TV show.  While a child just disappearing without a trace one day is a fairly rare event, and the vast majority of missing children are taken by a non-custodial parent, it does happen more often than coverage on such outlets as CNN and MSNBC would have you believe.  Consider the story of Adji Desir.  Six year-old Adji, the same age as Falcon Heene, disappeared from outside his grandmother’s home in Immokalee, Florida in January of this year.  Searches and various leads have gone nowhere, and police coverage of the case has dwindled down to almost nothing, resulting in his family having to place ads on Craigslist requesting any help or information.

Adji’s disappearance warranted exactly one brief segment on an episode of Nancy Grace, odd considering Grace’s near-obsessive, day to day coverage of the disappearances of two other Florida children, Caylee Anthony and Haleigh Cummings.  He’s been missing for ten months, and requests that his story be profiled on major news outlets and even by Oprah Winfrey have gone unanswered.  Falcon Heene was missing for three hours, and it immediately became a top story with round the clock coverage.  Why isn’t “Adji Desir” a trending topic on Twitter? Why hasn’t Adji Desir’s family appeared on Larry King Live or the Today show? Why does there have to be an “angle” to make his disappearance a newsworthy event? Suggesting that it might be because Adji is a special needs child of Haitian immigrants, and thus not likely to be embraced as “America’s child” by the public at large, would simply be too cynical, wouldn’t it? I realize I’m not saying anything new and controversial–it’s obvious that media coverage of missing children, as well as missing adults, is blatantly favored towards white people, and that goes double if the family is prominent, which, sadly, the Heenes qualify as.  The least we can do is own up to the fact that we in general only give a shit about people’s kids disappearing if they remind us of our own kids, or if we feel like we “know” the family somehow.  You want a reality show? Let’s see what life is like for Adji Desir’s family.

Existing as a pre-existent condition

Posted in current events on September 22, 2009 by Gena Radcliffe

Many apologies for the radio silence the past week, I’ve been tending to both personal matters and trying to deal with the creeping chest crud.  I’m still coughing like I have a two pack a day Lucky Strike habit, but I’m probably recovered enough to go back to my regular posting schedule.

I’ve been avoiding talking about health insurance reform here, mainly because I’m not sure there’s anything new and original I can bring to the discussion.  I support the public option, and it’s likely I’d be preaching to the choir here.  Not to mention the fact that it’s become such a polarizing issue, revealing a depressing, even frightening amount of racism, classism and intolerance at its core, that I’ve been avoiding much of the media surrounding it.  It just fills me with a profound sense of despair and anger, to the point where I hope that the next person I hear say something so stupid as “Keep government out of Medicare” has good health insurance, because I will stab him or her in the fucking face.

However, I felt this story could no go unremarked upon.  The next time your conservative grandfather or Libertarian co-worker claims that the health insurance crisis would be solved if people just got off their duffs and bought some proper health insurance, tell them about the provider that canceled a 17 year-old girl’s policy after designating her case of celiac disease as a pre-existing condition.

Their saga began in the summer of 2008 when Dale Rice lost his job as a business consultant. The family had group health insurance through his employer at the time, but decided continuing that coverage through COBRA was too expensive.

The couple consulted an insurance broker, who suggested Brianna apply for coverage with American Community. On Brianna’s application, the Rices noted no prior medical problems, and Brianna was granted coverage starting Nov. 1, with a monthly premium of about $130.

After the teen’s diagnosis in February, American Community reviewed her medical files and found reports of dizziness, elevated cholesterol levels, ongoing fatigue and a persistent cough.

On May 12, the firm sent the Rices a letter saying it was rescinding coverage.

“The coverage you applied for would not have been issued for Brianna if we had known this medical history at the time of application,” the letter said.

Dale Rice said the insurance company cherry-picked from various doctors’ visits, and that none of his daughter’s health problems were ongoing. He attributed the dizziness to dehydration, the fatigue to his daughter staying up late surfing the Web, the elevated cholesterol to an inaccurate test, and said the cough is now gone.

None of the issues were serious medical problems, and none stuck out in his mind when he filled out the application, Rice said. He sent the Problem Solver a copy of Brianna’s July 2, 2008, physical, which showed no major health concerns.

“[Insurance companies] look for anything that they could say ‘you didn’t tell us about,’ ” Rice said. “They hope that people just lay down and die and don’t fight.”

Just to clarify, American Community, despite implying that the policy was canceled due to the Rices withholding information about Brianna’s medical condition, wouldn’t have covered the teenager in the first place, because she was allegedly already under a doctor’s care for a previously diagnosed illness.  This is what’s known as a “pre-existing condition,” and it’s a term that strikes fear in the hearts of anyone who deals with everything from irritable bowel syndrome to epilepsy when it comes to time to apply for new health insurance.  In the simplest terms, insurance companies don’t want to cover anything that was wrong with you before you came to them for coverage, even if it’s a condition that may only require an occasional visit to the doctor and some prescription painkillers.  Pre-existing conditions can cover anything from migraines to depression to obesity to fibromyalgia, and pretty much everything in between.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I was declined for health insurance coverage by a previous employer because I was pregnant.

It doesn’t just stop with medical issues, though–in some states it’s legal for health insurance providers to deny coverage to police officers, firefighters and construction workers, deeming their high risk professions as being too much potential for expensive payouts.  If you like that, you’re gonna love this: in eight states, plus Washington, DC, it’s legal for health insurance providers to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence.  I think that bears repeating, with some emphasis: in eight states, plus Washington, DC, health insurance providers have the right to deny coverage to someone if they have been a victim of domestic violence.  The reasoning is clear and cold as the proverbial witch’s tit: domestic violence victims go to the emergency room a lot.  Emergency room visits are expensive, and most health insurance providers bear the brunt of that cost.  Women and men who get beaten up by their partners cost insurance companies too much money.

One of the biggest myths of this debate is the notion that health insurance companies are benevolent beings whose job it is to help their customers in times of need, and how dare Obama and his band of merry socialists try to deprive us of that service?  Health insurance companies don’t exist to pay your medical bills.  They exist to not pay your medical bills, and they will use any loophole they can find to avoid paying them, even for something as minor as a misspelling on an application.  As insurance premiums increased an astonishing 131% in the past ten years, the restrictions on what policies will and will not cover become ever more limited.  It’s ludicrous to believe that health insurance companies are there to help.  They’re businesses, and businesses can’t exist if they don’t make a profit.  That profit comes from making decisions on whether or not someone will get medical care, or at least, be able to get it without getting stuck with hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars in bills afterwards.  It’s someone’s job, and that someone’s expertise more likely lies in finance rather than medicine, to decide what procedures and treatments will get covered and what won’t, and it all comes down to how much money the company stands to earn or lose.  Occasionally, these decisions lead to someone not getting treatment they desperately need, and that person dies, such as 17 year-old Nataline Sarkisyan, who died after her health insurance provider declined coverage for a liver transplant.  Their reasoning? The procedure was “experimental,” with a low success rate.  In layman’s terms, they didn’t feel it was worth the cost, since she would have likely died anyway.

I probably shouldn’t paint all health insurance providers with the same tainted brush.  I’m sure there are some who are a bit more generous with their decisions.  My point is, these people who shout and raise their fists, claiming that Obama is going to kill their grandmothers and make people stand in line for hours at a time just to get some hemorrhoid cream are kidding themselves if they believe that health insurance companies are the “good guys.”  They’re part of the same big business that has always worked against the needs of the people, where we’re all just dollar signs, and our lives and well-being are measured in degrees of profit and gains.

Good fences

Posted in current events on August 31, 2009 by Gena Radcliffe

Unless you haven’t picked up a paper or watched the news in the past couple of days, you’ve probably heard about the shocking story of Jaycee Lee Dugard, the 11 year-old California girl who disappeared in 1991, only to be found last week, kept in a backyard shed by her kidnapper, 58 year-old Phillip Garrido.  Despite being held captive for more than half of her life, sexually molested by Garrido and even being forced to bear two of his children, Dugard apparently made no attempt to flee, or even to reveal her identity; investigators are just barely scratching the surface of what promises to be a sad, twisted story of emotional manipulation, brainwashing and other unspeakable acts committed against her.  Hortense at Jezebel writes about what may be the strangest aspect of the story so far: that Garrido kept his young victim in the same house the entire time, without his neighbors aware of what was happening.

When Phillip Garrido’s neighbors learned he’d been keeping kidnap victim Jaycee Lee Dugard in his backyard for 18 years, their reactions ranged from shock to horror to the admittance that they’d always thought there was something strange about “Creepy Phil.”When I read some of these reactions, particularly a quote by neighbor Heather McQuaid-Glace, who told the New York Times that though she knew Garrido was a sex offender, “We never heard screaming; we never heard anyone crying for help,” and so she never thought there was anything to be particularly worried about. It’s a chilling quote in that one can’t totally fault McQuaid-Glace for her reaction: she claims that neighborhood children were rightfully warned to stay away from the man, but with little evidence of any crime to go on, aside from a damning criminal history and being “creepy,” it’s hard to blame McQuaid-Glace, or any of Garrido’s neighbors, for not breaking his doors down, vigilante-style, to look for evidence of any wrongdoing.

I admit to initially being just as baffled as anyone else that Garrido was able to get away with it and other generally creepy behavior for that long, and then, like Hortense, it occurred to me: how well do any of us know our neighbors anyway? Can we say unequivocally, without question, that our next door neighbors aren’t up to anything nefarious? To say no makes us nervous, as it suggests we may not entirely be in control of our surroundings, but to say yes means that we’re always aware of what our neighbors are doing at all times, and that’s creepy in and of itself.

When I was a child, I always found the TV sitcom cliche of the wacky next door neighbor bursting into the main characters’ house unannounced a bit strange.  I knew that, even played for laughs, Gladys Kravitz peering at Samantha and Darren’s house with a pair of binoculars and reporting their activities to her husband was really kind of weird.  On TV and in the movies, neighbors always seem to play two roles: either they’re close friends who are always there to lend an ear over some Taster’s Choice, or they’re rivals who get into bitter arguments because someone’s tree extends four inches over someone else’s property line.  Whatever the case, they’re impossible to ignore, and yet for much of the time I’ve lived on my own, that’s exactly what I’ve done, and I expect that I’ve been equally ignored as well, which is fine by me.  This may sound rude, perhaps even a bit antisocial, but I refuse to make apologies for it.  I’m a very private person, particularly in my everyday, offline life, and I’ve never felt a great desire to befriend everyone I meet, nor do I make a point of drawing attention to myself.  It comes with the territory of being shy.  Now that’s not to say that if a neighbor comes to my door asking me to call the police, or even to borrow the proverbial cup of sugar that I’m going to refuse them.  I may keep to myself, but I’m still a good citizen, and being that I’m a generally nice person I’ll also smile and nod at my neighbors, but that’s pretty much the extent of my interaction with them.

I have to kind of laugh a little bit when I watch crime documentaries, where some horrible thing happens in some pastoral small town in the Midwest, and the town is invariably described as “the kind of place where everyone knows everybody.”  That sounds dreadful to me.  I don’t want everyone to know my business, nor do I want to know everyone else’s.  And yet, attitudes like mine are what enable people like Phillip Garrido, or other common, everyday child molesters and wife beaters to get away with their misdeeds.  But what can you do? If you find out a neighbor is a convicted sex offender, the best you can do is tell your children to stay away from him.  You can’t follow him around, tracking his every move, that’s the law’s job, even if it’s an assignment they bungle far too often.  As satisfying as it might be, you’re not allowed to harass them or try to run them out of town on a rail, Old West style.  Even if you have a hunch that something might be going on, cops don’t respond very effectively to hunches.  Hell, cops don’t always respond very effectively to actual evidence.  In most cases you just have to let said neighbor go about his everyday business, hoping that he doesn’t molest or rape anyone, or, you know, kidnap a girl and keep her in a shed.

It’s easy for us to shake our heads and wonder how Phillip Garrido’s neighbors couldn’t have realized what was going on in his home.  We’d like to think that, had it been us, we would have noticed there was something wrong years ago and reported him.  Keep in mind that, despite having a reputation as being the neighborhood weirdo, which every neighborhood has (and if you don’t know who yours is, it might be you), Garrido lived a fairly normal everyday life, to outward appearances.  He owned his own business, he had a wife, he had children, he didn’t make trouble with his neighbors.  He even introduced Jaycee and the children he forced upon her to his customers, allowing the younger girls to attend birthday parties, where they were described as seeming not at all out of the ordinary.  He was maintaining the classic child molester/potential serial killer modus operandi of drawing as little attention to himself as possible.  It wasn’t until just a few days ago, eighteen years after the fact, that Jaycee found the courage to admit who she was and to even begin hinting at what she had been put through.  Undoubtedly Garrido’s behavior troubled his neighbors on occasion, but they had their own lives to deal with, as we all do.  What makes any of us think we would have seen something that no one else did?

Getting out while the getting’s good

Posted in current events on August 19, 2009 by Gena Radcliffe

glennbeckIn the midst of all the madness regarding health care reform and town hall meetings, there are glints of rationality showing here and there, observed in the number of sponsors pulling ads from Glenn Beck’s Fox News program faster than rats escaping from the proverbial sinking ship.  In just a matter of a couple of weeks, everyone from Geico to Proctor & Gamble to Progressive have been disassociating themselves from Beck’s program, undoubtedly no longer wanting it to look as though they endorse his increasingly psychotic, teary-eyed, racist rants about how the America he once knew and loved is being steered straight to Hell on the S.S. Obama.  Even Wal-Mart, long known as the store of choice for the salt of the Earth, working class folks Beck has appointed himself the spokesman for, has packed up its shit and left the party, always a smart move when the host is weeping and babbling about shadow conspiracies against the white man.

According to Gawker, Beck’s remaining advertisers include the Baconwave, Brez anti-snoring aids and Extenze penis enhancement pills.  Somewhere there’s a really brilliant joke to be found there, and if you can find it and send it to me I’ll both credit you and send you a box of Girl Scout cookies in return.  If you’d like to appeal to Extenze, Baconwave, et. al. to pull their spots as well, you can fill out this petition.  I did, though I’m a bit torn over what good it’s going to do.  On one hand, it’s sending a clear message to Fox that big name companies like Proctor & Gamble don’t want to be associated in any way with a raving cuckoo bird like Beck, let alone anything he says.  On the other, it’s not going to help Beck’s persecution complex, his insistence that ever since Obama was elected into office the days where white men have the ability to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of freedom (which includes being racist, hating poor people and women and toting guns everywhere, apparently) are numbered.  Also, it’s not likely to push Fox into firing Beck, or even ordering him to tone down the crazy, because, as terrifying a notion as this might be, his show is the second-highest rated cable program in his time slot.  He’s surpassed equally aggravating but less nutty bloviators Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity as the most popular host on a network that earns its fame by passing off inaccurate, scare tactic “what the liberal media isn’t telling you” horseshit as fact.  Granted, I’m willing to bet that at least half of Beck’s audience is made up of the same people who enjoy watching shows like Flavor of Love and Toddlers & Tiaras, those who love a good trainwreck and are hoping that one of these days Beck will be in the middle of a meltdown and his head will literally explode, like the guy in Scanners.  Even I would watch that on YouTube later, though I still wouldn’t give a minute of ratings to Fox for it.

Still, I’m pretty sure that the other half of Beck’s audience is made up of people like him, those who really have been convinced that he’s speaking for them, that in the dawn of Obama’s presidency, all eight months of it, suddenly they’re an ignored minority perilously close to losing their rights.  These are the people who nod in agreement during Beck’s nightly mouth-frothing, sometimes cleaning their guns with masturbatory fervor, sometimes peering suspiciously out their living room windows, wondering if they should call the cops on that strange black kid walking down the street.  They’re the people who don’t understand the irony of insisting that government should stay out of Medicare, who haven’t the faintest notion of what socialism means other than they think it means their house and car will be given to an unemployed black woman with six children from six different fathers, who aren’t sure if Hawaii really counts as a state, who misspell signs demanding that if one wants to live in America, one should learn how to speak English.  These people are angry, they’re irrational, they’re usually armed and they scare the ever-living fuck out of me.

I don’t really believe that Proctor & Gamble pulled their ads from Glenn Beck’s program because they don’t agree with his politics, I think they’re scared that one of his nutcase fans is going to take his blowhard “we need to rise up and take America back like true patriots” blather to heart and kill someone, quite possibly the President himself, certainly some innocent bystander.  I don’t blame them, because I’m afraid of that too.  The indicators are certainly there: more and more people are showing up at these town meeting debacles carrying guns, because somehow or another they began associating health care reform with the Second Amendment.  These people are driven by anger, fear and ignorance, actually convinced that part of Obama’s plan for health care reform involves a panel of mysterious angels of death who determine whether someone is worthy of living or dying.  Part of the blame needs to be directed towards Democrats, and, as much as it pains me to say it, Obama himself, who stubbornly refuse to explain clearly, concisely and in easy to read type with no big words just how the health care reform is going to work.  There seems to be some misconception that these people, after being mocked on The Daily Show enough times and brushed off as misinformed, hayseed nuisances, will simply go away and wait for everything to be spelled out to them.  As long as Glenn Beck is around to fill their heads with alarmist, tin foil hat nonsense and encouraging them to revolt, all while sitting in the safe confines of a cushy TV studio, they won’t go away.  I don’t blame Proctor & Gamble and Wal-Mart for getting the hell away from them.  We should all be so lucky.

Well, that solves everything

Posted in current events on August 3, 2009 by Gena Radcliffe

Jezebel reports on a bill before the House of Representatives that includes funding to encourage women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

The bill in question is called the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act. It provides funding for sex ed that teaches teens about both contraception and “delaying” sex, as well as increased financial support for pregnant women and new mothers, and money for “a national information campaign on adoption.” The goal is both to prevent unintended pregnancies and, in the words of Rep. Rosa DeLauro, “foster an environment that encourages pregnancies to be carried to term.”

Funding for contraception-based sex education, I can definitely get behind that.  More support for pregnant women and new mothers, particularly if they’re unmarried and on their own, absolutely.  Promoting adoption, not so much, because “Well, you could always give it up for adoption” has long been a pat solution for an unwanted pregnancy, as if it’s an easy, pain-free process for all parties involved, even if the baby is a minority or has special needs.  Other than that, except for the fact that its main purpose seems to be more to reduce abortion as opposed to genuinely helping mothers in need, it seems like a sound idea, except if it works, and a woman decides to have the baby, what about afterward?  There is an unshakable misconception that once a woman has given birth and is settled in with the basic necessities for caring for a newborn–diapers, formula or the accouterments necessary for breastfeeding, clothing, etc.–that’s all the help she needs and everything else will eventually work itself out.  Except the needs for taking care of a child increase as the child gets bigger, not to mention more expensive, and by the time he or she gets to be school age, suddenly the government isn’t so interested in his or her well-being anymore.

One of the reasons I am reluctant to engage in a real dialogue with conservative pro-life supporters is that most of them tend to be rather blatantly hypocritical, in that they insist that all pregnancies should be brought to term, regardless of whatever difficulties the mother may be facing (financial, emotional, physical, etc.), yet also support a reduction in welfare and government supported assistance for families in need.  It’s extremely important to them that these babies are born, yet once they are they don’t want their taxes to go towards making sure that they’re fed and receive proper medical care.  An infant’s needs don’t end with a package of diapers and a coupon for Enfamil, and very rarely for low-income families do the issues of daycare and affordable health care just work themselves out on their own.  Many times even just finding a decent place to live is, to put it mildly, a challenge.  However, conservatives tend to be curiously unsympathetic, claiming that if a single mother of three who can’t go to work because she can’t find affordable daycare had just kept her legs closed she wouldn’t have been in this situation in the first place.  Well, she didn’t, and you browbeat her into having children she knew she couldn’t afford to raise, so now what? Like it or not, now it is your problem, so deal with it.  Part of being an American taxpayer is having to kick in towards helping other people when they’re in trouble.  If you’re so hell-bent on unwanted pregnancies being carried to term that you support the idea of essentially lying to women by telling them that everything will be okay and it will all work out, it’s up to you to support them when it doesn’t.  Your responsibility doesn’t end when you get what you want.

This just in: Michael Jackson still dead

Posted in current events, pop culture on July 1, 2009 by Gena Radcliffe

Gawker recaps some of the sillier articles various news outlets have run in a desperate attempt to keep Michael Jackson’s recent death the top story, including a gripping expose on what kind of books he liked to read (psychology and history) and speculation on whether or not “better CPR” could have saved his life (probably, just as it could have saved anybody else who died of a heart attack).  Traffic at news and gossip websites has skyrocketed in the days following Jackson’s death, it’s not surprising that they’ll keep trying to draw back those millions of visitors with new and salacious details about it, not to mention the life that preceded it.

However, with his will just barely into probate and the specific cause of his death unknown for weeks, it seems that the biggest scoops available right now are not terribly interesting.  A recent “shocking development” was that Jackson apparently didn’t provide for ex-wife Debbie Rowe in his will.  Since I’m fairly certain it’s not standard practice for people to will money to their exes, even if they’re worth millions of dollars, I’m not sure why that’s surprising to anyone, particularly since Rowe herself admitted that, married or not, she was little more to Jackson than the vessel that carried his children and that the two had maintained little contact in recent years.  As an alternative to the “here’s more evidence of what a weirdo he was” stories, there are the “here’s more evidence of what a saint he was” stories, which seem to consist of interviews with or quotes from every celebrity who ever encountered Jackson, even once, from both the relevant to Emmanuel Lewis of Webster.  Even celebrities who are remaining mum on his passing, such as Macaulay Culkin, are worth a mention.  Then, of course, there are the endless “man on the street” interviews with people dropping off teddy bears at Jackson’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or holding up signs reading ‘R.I.P. MICHEAL #1,’ asking what his music meant to them.  Rarely do the interviews elicit anything more profound than “It meant a lot to me” or “It was part of my childhood,” but as long as heartbroken fans with a lot of free time on their hands keep camping out at the gates of Neverland Ranch, there will still be news cameras pointing at them, sometimes as proof of the huge impact Michael Jackson had on people, sometimes in derision of what a celebrity obsessed culture we live in today.

When reaching to make something not very interesting seem newsworthy doesn’t work, some news outlets are relying on outright bullshit to draw traffic to their websites.  Major organizations repeated the rumor that Jackson was going to be buried at Neverland, with a public viewing beforehand, as fact without bothering to check with the people most likely to know for certain–his family.  There have been numerous stories about the inevitable custody battle between Debbie Rowe and Jackson’s mother over his two oldest children, though there has been no evidence that Rowe is interested in such a thing.  Now a new “developing story” claims that Jordan Chandler has recanted the child molestation charges that won him a $25 million settlement, saying that he was forced into it by his father.  It’s a story that may be slightly more plausible if not for the fact that it originated on a website that’s accompanied by a popup ad featuring a topless woman saying “hi hot stuff! I like to screw for hours and I’m right here in Brooklyn let’s fuck!”  Well, it read Brooklyn for me, it’ll probably read something different for you, depending on where you live.  Websites that associate themselves with porn sites are probably not reliable sources for news, but you can bet that it won’t be long till the story makes its way to places like TMZ and Perez Hilton, before moving on to actual news organizations.  In the era of the internet, where libel laws don’t seem to apply in quite the same way they do in print, it’s not about getting your stories accurate, it’s about getting them first.

I hate to tell everyone who is tired of reading and hearing the words “Michael Jackson” this, but it ain’t over, not by a long shot.  Soon, I give it a month or so, the books will come out.  A guy who might have once sold Jackson a painting will get his five minutes of fame by association, so we can get an “insider’s look” at Jackson’s demeanor, to see if he really looked that bad in person, if he walked around with a bottle of painkillers in one hand and a stack of kiddie porn in the other, as has been the popular perception in recent years.  Any story about Jackson is going to be weird by default, because he was just a weird fucking guy–even kind, vaguely charming anecdotes from longtime friend Quincy Jones have him being so shy about practicing a song in front of him that he insisted on hiding behind a couch and making Jones turn off the lights before he’d do it.  Because Jackson was incredibly weird and lived much of his adult life shrouded in secrecy, even allegedly planting stories about his inherent weirdness in gossip magazines himself, presumably just for shits and giggles, we’ll have an endless wellspring of new information about him, probably mostly false or at least embellished, but what does it matter? All bets are off.  We’re still hearing supposedly “never before revealed” stories about Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and John Lennon, and they weren’t half the controversial figure Michael Jackson was.  With Michael Jackson, we’ve only just begun.

Please, PETA, don’t ever stop being classy

Posted in current events on June 3, 2009 by Gena Radcliffe

With the same sensitivity and good taste they’ve exhibited since Ingrid Newkirk took over, PETA has once again capitalized on a brutal murder, this time that of pro-choice activist Dr. George Tiller, as a platform for their increasingly vague animal rights “cause.”

A national animal rights group plans to erect billboards in Wichita urging people on both sides of the abortion debate to go vegetarian.One version of the billboard says, “Pro-Life? Go Vegetarian.” The other says, “Pro-Choice? Choose Vegetarian.” Both feature a photo of three baby chicks.

Lindsay Rajt, campaign manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said the billboards were prompted by the recent shooting death of abortion doctor George Tiller, who was killed Sunday at his church.

“The discussion of the value of life is front and center right now in the public conversation,” Rajt said.

“We think we would be irresponsible if we don’t talk about how we’re all guilty of extreme cruelty to animals every time we sit down to a meal that includes meat.”

To clarify, they want to put up the billboards in Wichita, where Dr. Tiller’s murder took place in front of his family.

I put “cause” in quotes up there because I am becoming increasingly dubious that PETA’s main purpose is still animal rescue and protection.  They seem to be far more devoted to coming up with obnoxious publicity stunts that either exploit women or, in this case, make offensive, uninformed comparisons between the murder of a human being and eating a cheeseburger.  In fact, considering that PETA reportedly euthanizes most of the dogs and cats it “rescues” rather than adopt them out to loving homes, it seems that animals are really rather low on their list of priorities.

I’ve written about PETA’s previous acts of shameless douchebaggery here and here, no need to reiterate why I think they’re evil and must be stopped, and yet I will.  I understand the deplorable conditions of slaughterhouses and support every measure to improve them.  I have nothing against vegetarianism; hell, I personally don’t eat a lot of red meat  and I’ve recently discovered the deliciousness of Morningstar Farms Chik’n Nuggets.  I probably could give up all meat and not miss it terribly.  Since I haven’t yet met a vegan who wasn’t insufferably self-righteous I don’t hold veganism in quite as high esteem, but still, it’s a personal choice and I respect that.  PETA isn’t even about vegetarians vs. meat eaters at this point, just soulless publicity whores vs. normal human beings.  Hijacking Dr. Tiller’s murder by making some incoherent connection to animal rights is no better than Rush Limbaugh claiming that Michael J. Fox is faking his Parkinson’s Disease side effects for sympathy.  Does anybody involved really have any idea how repulsive that is? It’s theater of the absurd, you have to wonder how much of what PETA says or does is based in sincere ignorance or ugly, blatant offensiveness.

The real question is, what do they hope to accomplish? Sure, even bad publicity, which is all PETA ever gets anymore, is still publicity, but with every new stunt like this one they continues to alienate even other vegetarians and animal rights activists, who are quick to separate themselves from the group.  I don’t imagine the donations are as plentiful as they’ve been in years past, and their tax-exempt status has been in jeopardy for some time.  Their association with Earth Liberation Front, a confirmed domestic terrorist group, probably isn’t helping.  Their core members seem to consist mostly of misguided college students still trying to figure out which edgy political fringe group best suits them and freakish nutbags like leader Ingrid Newkirk, who allegedly included a clause in her will requesting that upon death her body should be broiled on a barbecue grill and eaten.  We can only hope that they’re hanging on by a gossamer thread, and the publicity stunts are all they’ll have left.

Any time PETA pulls new shit like this, someone always claims that they’re going to eat a steak in protest.  Don’t do that.  Donate some money or a little bit of time to the ASPCA, the Humane Society, North Shore Animal League (world’s largest no-kill shelter, as opposed to our pals at PETA), or better yet, a local animal rescue center.  The less money PETA makes, the less they’ll have to spend on disgusting billboards and hiring models to pose naked on all fours in a cage, and soon, hopefully, they’ll have nothing left to offer.