Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Dreaded Abortion Post

For the past few months, I've been watching the relatively new legislators on the other side of the aisle discuss abortion in various ways.  There is the guy who wanted to criminalize miscarriages, the various snide remarks by McCain during the 2008 Presidential debate about the health of the mother, and the latest was the remarks by an Indiana lawmaker who said that women lie about being raped to get free abortions.  All this in the shadow of the Congressional GOP trying to defund Planned Parenthood.

And as you have come to realize by now, all of these news stories get the wheels of my brain turning, until I need to write.  Up until this day, I've tried to avoid abortion because it is a touchy subject.  But here's the thing: I have some suspicions about the anti-abortion crowd, and I want to see if there's any truth to them. So, let's dive in, shall we.

To be clear, let me state my position upfront - I am pro-choice.  Now, that does not mean I am pro-abortion, but rather, I firmly believe in the doctrine of "no uterus, no vote."  I was lucky enough to be born male, which in addition to being able to pee standing up (a huge, huge plus when it comes to using public restrooms and restrooms at sea), means I will never know what its like to be pregnant or have a child.  While, legally speaking, I am responsible for the children that I father, I'm not the one who has to undergo dramatic changes to my body to give birth.  So, why do I get a say?

Oh, and I also think the constitutional reasoning - the right to privacy - is a misnomer.  Its not the government shouldn't know stuff about you, its that the government doesn't get to fuck with your shit.  In other words, we all have the right of personal sovereignty.  But that's a topic for another post (which I may have already written).

Anyway, like all pro-choicers, I think there are two types of people who oppose abortion: the pro-lifers, who oppose abortion because they believe that a fetus and/or embryo is a human being, and that killing said fetus and/or embryo is morally wrong; and the anti-choicers, who oppose abortion because they believe that women should not have any control over their reproductive cycles.  Exhibit A in the anti-choicer column is Rick Santorum who stated that abortion and birth control have caused the social security crisis (because people aren't having as many babies as before).  Now, a lot of pro-choicers suspect that most "pro-lifers" are really anti-choicers.

This is important is because compromise could be found between the pro-choice and pro-life movements.  Lowering the number of unwanted pregnancies through education and better distribution of birth control would certainly produce a result that would please both the pro-choicers and the pro-lifers.  And certainly a lot of pro-choice politicians move to that direction. 

But that said, the existence of the anti-choice group - who believe that an unwanted pregnancy is punishment for risky sexual behavior - complicates things.  There does seem to be a more natural alliance between the pro-lifers and the anti-choicers because the slogan "no abortion ever" works for both groups.  Thus, pro-lifers are willing to go along on bills requiring a woman to prove her miscarriage was a miscarriage, or requires a rape victim to prove she fought back, or removing health and safety protections or the "abstinence-only" sex education, even if those bills are completely opposed by pro-choicers.

And of course, the more of these sort of bills are proposed, the less likely there will be compromise.  Fundamentally, there can be no compromise between the pro-choice and anti-choice positions because they are diametrically opposed. 

Additionally, I am left wondering if the abortion debate is hurt by the lack of women who openly discuss abortions they have had in the past.  One of the greatest political strategies by a minority group was Harvey Milk's coming out plan (and yes, I am aware that he probably didn't come up with that plan first).  As Milk reasoned, the more people who know someone in the LGBT community, the less homophobic they become.  And low and behold, he was absolutely right in that.  In some ways, abortion, by being hidden, wraps itself in stigma.  But then again, I'm probably being an idiot.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Senior Thesis Revisted

As many of you know, I wrote a thesis during my senior year of college.  That effort to graduate from William & Mary with honors failed miserably.  I cannot emphasize how awful this thesis was.  In part, I had bitten off way more than I could chew - senioritis, living off-campus for the first time, working part-time, and having a thesis topic too big for an honors thesis.  At the center of the thesis was a simple question: what happens to regimes as information technology progresses? 

Now, I wrote this bad boy in 1998 - that's before cellphones were owned by everyone, before texting, facebook, myspace, skype, etc.  And as technology progresses, I like to revisit my thesis and see how it all progresses.

I have to say, for such a phenomenally crappy piece of work, my theories were pretty darn close to the truth.  As countries develop economically, businesses in those countries require information technology to keep up with the countries from around the globe.  This information technology has to be decentralized to work effectively, and that allows new social networks to spring up.  And as those new social networks spring up, regimes must learn how to deal with them.  Authoritarian regimes, which need to control all social networks to survive, will become unstable.

With that said, here's what I got wrong - I completely missed the boat on mobile internet technology and consumer demand.  For the past 10-15 years, the IT world has been driven not by business needs but by a need to provide consumers with the next big thing.  Texting, for instance, has some business applications (similar to sending a telegram), but has much broader applications in the consumer market (let's face it, text messaging has been a godsend to nervous teenage boys everywhere).

So, countries are not forced so much by globalization to introduce information technology so much as their own citizenry push for it.  And let's face it, what's the fun of owning an iPad if there's no WiFi?  Even the leaders of the regime want to play with new toys. 

This leads us back to the original problem - social networks.  As technology spreads, so does the ability of people to create social networks.  For a good number of websites, that's the whole point.  These social networks, in turn, exist outside governmental control and when those networks turn on the government, there are periods of instability (good instability = the dictator is overthrown; bad instability = dictator ruthlessly slaughters the opposition). 

But what about China?  China is, after all, an authoritarian regime that has undergone tremendous economic growth, and has spent billions in upgrading its infrastructure.  Why is it more or less stable?  The answer, I think, relates to China's size.  As such a large market operator, China is able to dictate to companies like Facebook and Google terms that make unauthorized social networking difficult.  Look up "Tienanmen Square" on a search engine in China, and you are told about how its a lovely place to visit.  There will be no mention of the slaughter of pro-democracy protesters.  Egypt and Libya couldn't dream of such controls. 

So, to sum up - I once wrote an awful, awful thesis with a pretty good premise.  As time goes on, the predictions still hold up. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Random Thoughts Blogging. . .

Once again, we're in for an installment of my random thoughts blogging, wherein I discuss issues briefly, rather than write a full post on each one.

The Bachelor: Once again, I was roped into watching "The Bachelor" - and not just the two hour finale, but the extra hour "after the rose." Ugh.  As usual, I found actual finale rather dull - as I said before, Brad Womack is not an especially interesting person on television - but I will say that my prediction as to who Brad would pick was spot-on (here's a hint - Brad's family liked Chantal, but his Mom literally CRIED TEARS OF JOY at the thought of Brad settling down with Emily, it was OVAH), and I predicted Ashley as the next Bachelorette (the makeover in the last episode was a dead giveaway).  The accuracy of these predictions came much to the chagrin of my girlfriend, and I did manage to get a great deal of dishes done.

What was more interesting was the "after the rose" deal after the ritual humiliation of Chantal when Emily and Brad were being interviewed.  And here's what's interesting to me - Emily was P-I-S-S-E-D at Brad and they broke up just about every Monday evening/Tuesday morning because Emily was watching her "man" romance other women.  And that lead me to an interesting train of thought - what if, utter failure of the Bachelor to produce married couples (3 relationships out of 15 seasons) comes as a result of "Bachelor" couples watching the show?  Even more interesting, does the fact that more Bachelorette couples stay together after the show ends indicate a difference between the sexes with regard to jealousy?  Certainly, the format of the Bachelorette, where men compete for a woman's affection, fits more within traditional social norms.  Can we get Malcolm Gladwell to look into this?

Devastation in Japan: When I first saw the news, my reaction was, as with everyone, "Holy Fucking Shit!" From my experience as a Californian, an 8.9 earthquake is ENORMOUS.  The Easter earthquake that did a lot of damage to the Imperial Valley, and was the first earthquake that actually scared me, was a 6.9-7.0 quake.  Given that the Richter scale is exponential, an 8.9 quake is around TWENTY TIMES stronger than the Easter quake.  Yikes.  But, if there was ever a country who could withstand such a quake, I thought that Japan would be that country.  And from what I can tell, it wasn't the quake so much as the tsunami that caused the damage.  Anyway, my heart goes out to them, and I sincerely hope I don't get any radiation sickness from the reactor meltdowns.

Buyer's Remorse in the Midwest: The newly elected governors of Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan are all engaging in various degrees of union-busting, and find themselves with lower and lower approval ratings.  And ultimately, that's the rub that we face in America.  On one hand, we have the Democrats who generally have beliefs that are popular - like gun control, abortion choice, social safety nets, regulation to keep products safe, etc. - but are either incapable of expressing those beliefs, or incapable of enacting legislation to bolster those beliefs, and on the other hand, we have Republicans, who favor policies that are not popular - union busting, dismantling the social safety net, etc. - but are very capable at governing.  The whole thing is maddening, and until one party (*cough*Democrats*cough*) figures out how to govern, we're going to be stuck in this quagmire.

Libya, Bahrain and the Middle East: Like a lot of people, I am both heartened and dismayed by the democracy movements in the Arab World.  In countries like Egypt, this movement may well bring real progress.  But in Libya, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, I am genuinely concerned that the governments will put down these movements in a horrifically violent way.  Given that our military is already stretched (thanks, Dubya), another military intervention, or two, is unlikely. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The NFL Has Issues. . .

As a football fan, I have been watching stories about the NFL's potential lockout with particular interest.  While I may be wrong about this, I have noticed a fair number of articles about the NFL owners and greed. For instance, the most recent columns of Rick Reilly and Bill Simmons - the only columnists regularly found on's opening page - harshly criticize NFL owners for their greed.  Peter King, who is typically a cheerleader for the NFL has been slightly critical of the owners lately.

Now, sure in every labor strife there are winners and losers, but the last few labor stoppages in sports have consistently been blamed on the players.  The MLB in 1994, the NBA in 1997 or 1998, both ended with the players getting more or less crushed by the owners.  That might be the case here, but I don't think so.  No, instead, I think the owners will take the brunt of criticism if there is a labor stoppage.

Here's why - for the past twenty years or so, NFL fans have become more and more savvy when it comes to player contracts and the life of NFL players.  We all know that a $100 million contract isn't worth $100 million in the NFL (unlike in baseball or basketball), that most players' careers last 3-4 years, and football players suffer horrific injuries.  Indeed, we have all be so educated by the NFL through the video games it sponsors.  More than a few of us have read articles on the lasting effects of concussions in football and are legitimately scared.  And we have all seen the devastating effects of greed by large corporations upon our communities.

All of this conspires against the owners.  Worst of all, any labor stoppage will be the result of a lockout - the owners, not the players, want this stoppage.  The status quo, which the players advocate, already sucks for the players, but the owners want to make it worse by reducing the salaries paid to players and increasing the number of games in a season.  In other words, the owners want more work for less money.  Did I mention that NFL players have significantly shorter lifespans than everyone else, and that they suffer traumatic brain injuries on a regular basis?  Dave Duerson, who played safety for the Bears, was so damaged by years of trauma, that he committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest, as opposed to the head, so that his brain could be studied.  Oh, and its not as if the trauma is limited to the brain - watching football is now practically a lesson in physiology.

No, I think a labor stoppage will not go well for the owners, even if they get every concession possible from the players.  From a public relations perspective, this is a nightmare.  And given that the NFL completely and utterly depends on public relations - the public builds its stadiums, watches its games, buys its merchandise - any nightmare could affect the NFL's bottom line.  The worst case scenario for football is the long slow death of boxing (another sport I love. . .sigh). 

So, what should be done? First, I think the 18 game schedule idea is dumb and needs to be scrapped completely.  The amount of money going to the players should either remain the same or increase, but with an adjustment - there should be a rookie payscale, with every high draft pick getting a 2 or 3 year contract.  Anti-concussion helmets should be mandatory.  And more money should go to player pensions.

Monday, March 7, 2011

About this Blog. . .

I have recently discovered a feature on blogspot that allows me to look at the statistics of my readers.  I can only account for not having noticed this feature for the past year and a half by virtue of the feature being cleverly hidden by Google.  After all, "stats" could clearly mean lots of things. . .

Anyway, with my award winning blog post on tomato sauce (see below), I have noticed that I have crossed double digits in readership.  Woohoo!  Now, either my writing has filled you all with insight, or I've picked up a few cyberstalkers.  Either way, welcome to my blog!

(totally not self awarded)

So, give that so many of you are new to this blog, I felt it only necessary to let you in on a few secrets:

1) I am terribly, terribly liberal.  I don't mean that I'm center-left, or a "New Democrat," but rather, I am extremely liberal.  So much so, that if you ever wanted to know my opinion on something, you should think of what a pinko-communist-socialist would think, and you wouldn't be that far off. . .

Okay, that's not entirely true.  I think guns are perfectly fine to own and operate by responsible adults.  Of course, most people are morons, but if you can prove to me that you are, in fact, a morally responsible adult, then I'm okay with you owning enough weapons to supply a small to medium size army.  Because guns are cool.

I also hate hippies (more based on their personal hygiene and musical choices), don't smoke pot (but completely favor legalization), believe that corporations are AMORAL not IMMORAL (there's a difference) and think that local governments are way too intrusive with their regulations (the Federal government on the other hand. . .)

2) I use swear words, often.  Ever had a friend who said something so obscene that you a) cringed; and, b) laughed a bit.  I am, on occasion, that friend.  In my defense, I take it on good authority - Father Rankin, S.J., my 11th grade Christian Ethics teacher - that the use of words like fuck, shit, motherfucker, cocksucker, assmunch, goat-raping shittard, and other sundry words is totally sin-free.  That's right people, if any of you Catholics were to walk into a confessional and tell the priest that you, in a fit of anger from stubbing your toe, shouted, "Pissfuckingsonofamotherfuckingshitknocker," the priest would, most likely, tell you that you were wasting his fucking time. 

Now, don't get me wrong here.  I don't use swear words in general conversation, or use them to hurt people.  Rather, there are times when the use of obscene words is necessary (or funny), and rather than limit myself, I go for it with gusto.

3) I am often wrong.  If you look through my backlog, there are numerous examples of posts that I simply cannot defend to this day.  They are embarrassing.  And no I'm not going to tell you which ones I feel bad about, and yes, this is a cheap attempt to drive up my readership numbers so that I might finally get some ad revenue for this blog (Daddy wants a new pair of shoes).  To be honest, I typically write posts when I have a brief to get out at work and I need to get the creative writing juices flowing. So, there is going to be a lot of crap on this website.

Anyway, I do get things wrong, and that's why comments are not only enabled, but welcome.  I will, however, remove comments that I find threatening, harassing, etc.  And before anyone complains about the First Amendment, let me remind you that the 1st Amendment only applies to governmental actors, and this is not a government site. (And from the opinions expressed herein, it probably will never be.)

With all that in mind, feel free to read my blog (as if I could stop you), and enjoy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How to Make Tomato Sauce

As y'all know, I am of Italian descent and a fairly good cook (much to my gf's delight).  Last night, I was asked if I would ever use jarred or canned tomato sauce - actually it was Prego, but the thought is the same - and I answered, "never."  The reason is fairly simple - basic tomato sauce is ridiculously easy to make, and its cheaper and better than the jarred stuff.

Now, before I give you the details, let me be clear that this is basic tomato sauce - a quick cooked sauce.  This is not "sauce" - the long cooked tomato sauce we all know and love.  That kind of sauce you can't get out of a jar, and takes forever to make.  This recipe (and its really more a technique than a recipe) is for the sauce making while cooking your pasta.  So here goes.

Step 1: Put a gallon of salted water in a pot, and turn the heat to high.  Cover.

Step 2 (optional): If you want to make a tomato sauce with zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, now would be the time to saute them until golden brown and remove.  If not, go to step three.

Step 3: In a flat bottomed wok or a saucier (and I'm guessing we all have the flat bottomed woks), put 2-3 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, 2-3 cloves of garlic (sliced, smashed or whole, your call), a pinch of red pepper flakes, a pinch of dried oregano and a pinch of salt in the pan.  Turn the heat on medium.

OPTIONS - if you undertake step three, you are making a basic tomato sauce.  For an amatricana sauce, replace the garlic with a 1/2 of a small onion diced, and 2 strips of bacon, diced.  For puttanesca, throw in some anchovy paste, capers and Gaeta or kalamata olives in addition to the garlic. 

Step 4: As soon as the garlic begins to color (we want VERY little color on the garlic), add in 1/2 a can, or 14 oz. of crushed tomatoes.  If you want to get all fancy, buy the whole San Marzano tomatoes, crush them by hand in a bowl, and then add them.  Really your call.  Also, add about a 1/2 cup of white wine (helps wake up the tomato flavors). 

Step 5 (optional): If you want to add a bit more vegetation, here's your chance.  I typically add about a handful of chopped frozen spinach. 

Step 6: Turn down the heat so that the sauce is simmering.

Step 7: When the water starts to boil, add your pasta (I'd go with around 3/4 of a pound). Stir the pasta to make sure it doesn't stick.

Step 8: Taste your sauce.  If its kinda bland, add some salt.  If its too acidic, add either a bit of sugar or (BETTER) a teaspoon of honey.

Step 9: When the pasta is finished cooking, remove from the pot, and drain.  Put the drained pasta into the wok with the sauce.  Turn up the heat to high.

Step 10: Stir the pasta and the sauce so that the pasta is coated with the sauce.  Turn off the heat. Add your finishing touches - I like romano cheese, a bit of black pepper and some olive oil.  If you have basil, now is the time to add it.

And really, that's it.  Ten steps, two of which are optional.  From this basic recipe, I can make basic tomato sauce, puttanesca sauce, amatricana sauce, pasta alla Norma, pasta alla Caruso, and probably a couple of other sauces.