Friday, 13 May 2011

Blogger Outage

Sorry all, but Blogger - the system I use to write this blog - has been experiencing some major problems, which meant that I have been unable to post any content to the blog for the past 36 hours or so. Also, they appear to have removed the most recent content posted by all their users, although they say that they are going to work to restore content ASAP. In my case, this means that they have taken down my blog about the prettiness of my commute, with pictures, and the associated comments.

As the British like to say, "I am not best pleased."

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Personal Priviledge

Today, on a whim, while I was looking out the window of my morning commuter train, I snapped a picture of Hackney Downs - an urban oasis of greenery in the middle of East London. The place is kind of a miracle, and I had this moment of gratitude that my daily commute just so... beautiful.

So then, I thought - "Heck. Why not try to document the total coolness of my daily commute as it goes along?" So here's Liverpool Street station, where my train arrived...

From there, I exited the station and crossed the street to a bus stop - this picture shows the building my bus stop is in front of. Yes, it's been converted into a supermarket. Gorgeous AND convenient!

I grabbed this shot from the bus as we whizzed through the City (City with a capital C is the term for London's financial district, for you non-locals. Kind of like lower Manhattan.)

This is the Monument to the Great Fire of London - it's 1666 feet high, and that's a clue to the date of said fire, if you're paying attention.

In an effort to pack more walking into my day, and to enjoy the sunshine, I got off a stop early so that I could walk across London Bridge, from which this shot was taken.

Then I walked along the river for a little bit before cutting through Hay's Galleria and passing the world's MOST bizarre and amazing sculpture - the fish shaped boat here is just like something out of Terry Gilliam, and the oars actually row through the water. It's wonderfully odd.

And finally, I stopped at this coffee shop for my utterly-essential morning latte. 

So yes, consider this a true confession - I am a foreign dwelling, urban living, train taking, latte sipping LIBERAL.

It's a pretty darn great thing to be, actually.

(Click on any of these pictures to see them larger.)

Yes, Americans pay too much for healthcare.

And here's the source. 

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Oh Dear. Republican wrongness still threatening economic calamity...

So a few days ago, in my round up of the many vital things about which Republicans are wrong, I wrote, referring to their then-apparent decision to avoid threatening the US with debt default:
The one Republican achievement this week is their (apparent) willingness to reluctantly agree that they will NOT cause a financial calamity for no apparent reason.
May I take this opportunity to strike this unfounded praise?

Turns out the giant game of chicken Republicans were playing with their economy is back on:

In a speech before a Wall Street crowd on Monday, John Boehner laid out the three legs of the GOP's opening bid on the debt ceiling. They are:

1) "Without significant spending cuts and reforms to reduce our debt, there will be no debt limit increase. And the cuts should be greater than the accompanying increase in debt authority the president is given. We should be talking about cuts of trillions, not just billions."

2) "They should be actual cuts and program reforms, not broad deficit or debt targets that punt the tough questions to the future."

3) "With the exception of tax hikes -- which will destroy jobs -- everything is on the table. That includes honest conversations about how best to preserve Medicare."
With the exception of tax hikes. Which will destroy jobs. Everything is on the table.

Forgive me a moment, as my head is currently on fire.

OK. Have dowsed head in bucket of water.

I feel that this line of argument cries out for an analogy and I'm struggling to find one sufficiently vapid.

How about:

1) For curing a fatal disease: "With the exception of taking medication, which will kill unicorns, all options are on the table."
2) For making a baby: "With the exception of heterosexual sex, which will threaten kittens, all options are on the table."
3) For losing weight: "With the exception of eating less food, which will help terorists, all options are on the table."
4) For doing a web search: "With the exception of Google, which bitch-slaps infants, all options are on the table."

I'm not sure any of these fully convey the stupicity of the Boehnerism, though. Further suggestions welcome. Other than that, I just want to say what he said:
As a substantive matter, Boehner has no idea what he’s talking about. His entire schpiel is gibberish. Even a rudimentary understanding of recent events should make clear, even to someone with Boehner’s limited abilities, that his model doesn’t make sense. Reagan raised taxes and the economy grew. Clinton raised taxes and the economy grew. Bush slashed taxes and produced the worst job-creation record of any president in generations.

How does the Speaker even think this is possible?

Monday, 9 May 2011

Cheer for Your Rapist: The case for empathy on the courts

In one of the most horrific stories of the justice system that I have ever encountered, a Texas teeneage who was kicked of the cheerleading team after refusing to chant the name of her rapist was ordered to pay $45,000 in legal fees to the school as punishment for the "frivolity" of her suit to have this decision overturned.

This week, the Supreme Court announced that they would not hear the case, so the judgement will stand.

Let's all pause a moment to say: WTF?!

Here are the fuller details:
According to court documents, H.S. was 16 when she was raped at a house party by one of her school’s star athletes, Rakheem Bolton. Bolton was arrested, but by pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault, he received a reduced sentence of probation and community service. Bolton was allowed to return to school and resume his place on the basketball team. Four months later, H.S. was cheering with her squad at a game when Bolton lined up to take a free throw. The squad wanted to do a cheer that included his name, but H.S. refused, choosing instead to stand silently with her arms folded.

“I didn’t want to have to say his name and I didn’t want to cheer for him,” she later told reporters. “I just didn’t want to encourage anything he was doing.”

Several school officials of the “sports obsessed” small town took issue with H.S.’s silence, and ordered her to cheer for Bolton. When H.S. refused again, she was expelled from the cheerleading squad. Her family decided to sue school officials and the district. Their lawyer argued that H.S.’s right to exercise free expression had been violated and that students shouldn’t be punished for not complying with “insensitive and unreasonable directions.”
Now there a bunch of things that I want to say about this - including why on earth the school district chose to pursue this throught he courts rather than just letting her back on the team. My preferred solution would have been that the rapist himself be expelled or at least forced to transfer schools or at VERY least kicked off the basketball team. Because, um, hello, he RAPED A CHEERLEADER. Maybe he doesn't so much deserved to get cheered for by... anyone at all?

But I'd actually like to take a step back and use this incident to revisit the conversation about the role of empahty in the Court system. If you remember way back in August of 2009, when the Senate was preparing to vote on the nomination of now-Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, there was something of a mini-kerfuffle in which the right stirred up a storm of protest over President Obama's declared preference for a Justice who would have empathy and life experience to round out the Court. Commentators chose to huff and puff about  this as if it were somehow a bizarre notion that judges are influenced by their experience. In point of fact, I anyone who pauses for a moment to reflect should realise that there is always a role for discreition in the application of the law - and even more so in the application of justice.

And this case is a classic example of what this means. Any application of the law has to take into account what is reasonable, proportional and fair. The freedom of speech that this student is asking for is so incredibly small - remember, she doesn't want the right to refuse to cheer for the team, or to boo her assailant as he struts up to the free throw line, just to stand silently and not chant his name while he shoots.

And her reasons for wanting that are so manifestly fair and reasonable, so big in relation to the smallness of her personal response - just to not cheer for a few seconds - that the application of the law in this way seems to most of us gratuitiously cruel.
But is the Appeals court wrong, on a hard reading of the law. Well, probably not in fact. If you extrapolate from this case - imagine a student landing the lead in the school play but refusing to speak any of her lines because she's offended by the play. Well, the school would have the right to replace her. It is true that sometimes when a student speaks in a school setting, as when an employee speaks in a work setting she is representing the school not herself.

But the law shouldn't be applied like a blunt instrument. Judges should have some ability to understand that there are many sides to every case that comes before them, and unless they can put themselves in the shoes of both parties to a dispute their judgements, however technically accurate will always be wrong in any meaningful sense. There will always be a disappointed party in any dispute, and often the disappointed party will have good reasoning on their side and will have been hard done by themselves. Only through leavening our justice with some sensitivity do we stand any hope of being fair to everyone concerned. My personal belief is that in free speech cases, we should err on the side of upholding the rights of the individual to speak wherever reasonable as preferred over the right of an institution (such as a school) to... ummm... force students to publicly celebrate violent sexual criminals. (Sorry, still having trouble getting my head around this one... Failure of empathy on my part for the rapist duly noted - I'll work on that. Well, not much, really. But I'm not a judge to it's OK.)

In this case, I think the Court's decision to uphold the school's decision was wrong on it's face - though arguable under the law. But calling her suite frivolous and demanding her family pay $45,000 in legal costs is a spectacular failure of judgement.

When I first started writing this post, I didn't know the gender breakdown of the 5th circuit court, which made this ruling. Having looked it up now, the 3 judges in question were Emilio Garza, Edith Clement and Priscilla Owen. Two women and one man. The first two were shortlisted by George W. Bush for Supreme Court seats.

Appalling from start to finish.

And finally, can I just say that I would never allow a daughter of mine to attend that Texas High School. Shouldn't other parents express some outrage here?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

A Blog can be a lonely place...

Apologies for the metablogging (now I'm blogging about blogging about blogging... This could go on forever) but I wanted to take a moment to ask for your help with this blog.

You see, despite what some of my critics believe, I actually have a lot of other stuff going on in my life besides this blog. And making the time to do it is a bit of a labour of love that sometimes means I ignore my poor and patient husband, or get less than my requisite amount of sleep. I enjoy it. But, compared with my other online interactions on Twitter and Facebook it requires a lot more of my time and intellectual energy in exchange for less actual interaction with other humans. I watch my stats really closely, so I know that I do have some readers. But for the most part I don't know who you are or what you think about the stuff I put out there. Quite frankly, if you do like the stuff on the blog and if you would like more of it, I could do with a bit of positive reinforcement to help me keep it coming.

Here's what you can do to help:
  1. Comment. Please let me know what you think - I always keep my eye on comments and make an effort to reply. I really like it when you guys actually talk to each other or challenge me on something I said or ask a question.
  2. Tweet. If you're on Twitter, please use the green Retweet button at the top of each post to share stuff you like with your friends.
  3. Follow me on Twitter. I'm @karinjr - and I almost always tweet a link to the latest post shortly after posting, so if you follow me you can stay on top of what's new.
  4. Like the post on Facebook. There's a button to do this at the bottom of each post. Remember, if you read the blog on my Facebook feed and like the post there, it doesn't count in the overall "Like" rate for the post as recorded on the blog. So please click Like on the blog itself.
  5. If you read the blog on Facebook... It would also be great if you could click through to the main blog every once and a while just so your interest is recorded in my blog stats.
  6. Write a guest post. I never meant for the blog to be so entirely my own voice, and I'd love to hear from anyone who has something relevant to say. Contact me on Twitter if you are interested, or let me know in comments and we can speak offline. Be aware, the blog is for Obama supporters and written from an expat perspective, so content relevant to that is most welcome. And I can't promise to publish anything you write, for a number of reasons. But would love to hear from you.
  7. Send me leads! Read or heard something interesting lately? Send me links and suggestions.