For what it’s worth, 11/06/15


It’s War on Christmas time again! And just in time for the holidays!

See those red cups up there? Where are the snowflakes? Where are the reindeer? Where are the sleds? Where’s Santa, fer chrissakes?!?!?!?!

I’m telling you, Starbucks really hates the Baby Jesus. Continue reading

I dare you to match my score

Fourth of July Quiz (Gail Collins, New York Times)

The year is now half over, people! So it’s time to see how closely you’ve been following all the political news of 2013 so far. No cheating!
I don’t know if I should be proud or embarrassed, but — honest to god — I got 11 out of 11.
Take the quiz. And post your score. I DARE you to match me.
And no cheating!

Why should childbirth bust a budget?


American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World (New York Times)

From 2004 to 2010, the prices that insurers paid for childbirth — one of the most universal medical encounters — rose 49 percent for vaginal births and 41 percent for Caesarean sections in the United States, with average out-of-pocket costs rising fourfold, according to a recent report by Truven that was commissioned by three health care groups. The average total price charged for pregnancy and newborn care was about $30,000 for a vaginal delivery and $50,000 for a C-section, with commercial insurers paying out an average of $18,329 and $27,866, the report found.

Women with insurance pay out of pocket an average of $3,400, according to a survey by Childbirth Connection, one of the groups behind the maternity costs report. Two decades ago, women typically paid nothing other than a small fee if they opted for a private hospital room or television.

This is essential reading today.

Having a baby won’t just put you in debt; it could cripple you financially.

There’s a disconnect here that goes way beyond astonishing. Political and social conservatives across the country want to ban abortion and drastically limit or extinguish sex education and the availability of birth control.

Sex ed? Nope. Condom distribution? Nope. Plan B? Nope. Abortion? Nope.

Sounds to me like a prescription for a skyrocketing maternity rate.

So why aren’t conservatives rallying to do something about the skyrocketing cost of having a baby? Who’s going to take the lead on this?

Palin? Huckabee? Bachmann? Perry? Rubio? Cruz? Paul? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Are you listening, Mr. President?

The Up-in-the-Air President (Timothy Egan, New York Times)

It was cool, as media moments go, when President Obama called from Air Force One to congratulate the plaintiffs in the California gay marriage case on Wednesday. They were in the middle of a live television interview when the voice of the president was delivered, via cellphone, from high over the Atlantic.

But it was also emblematic of the leadership style of this brainy, tightly drawn president: too often, he phones it in from 35,000 feet, far from the sweat, grime and blood of the battlefield of politics….

It’s the way he runs the executive branch, his fear of taking the fight to Republicans, that is so maddening….

[H]e’s defensive, forced to defend his presidency as still being alive and well. Obama doesn’t have to be Lyndon B. Johnson, twisting elbows to shape history. But maybe he can hire an L.B.J. Leaders find a way.

This is essential reading today, because Egan is right on every point. Is it too much to hope that Obama finds time to read it?

Worth reading, 06/28/13

The Service of Snowden (Roger Cohen, New York Times)

So what is Snowden? A self-aggrandizing geek who betrayed his country and his employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, exposed the United States to greater risk of terrorist attack, and may now — wittingly or unwittingly — have made his trove of secrets available to China and Russia, nations that are no longer enemies but are rival powers?

Or a brave young American determined to fight — at the risk of long imprisonment — against his country’s post-9/11 lurch toward invasion of citizens’ lives, ever more intrusive surveillance, undifferentiated data-hauling of the world’s digital exhaust fumes (for storage in a one-million-square-foot fortress in Utah), and the powers of a compliant secret court to issue warrants for international eavesdropping and e-mail vacuuming?

As the old Miller Lite ad used to say, I feel very strongly both ways.

This is an excellent analysis. Make sure to read this today.

Must read

Wendy and the boys (Gail Collins, New York Times)

The Texas filibuster rules are suitable for a place that regards steer wrestling and bronco busting as the official state sport. We made a big fuss when Rand Paul stayed on his feet for 13 hours in the U.S. Senate to filibuster over drones. But that was a walk in the park compared with what [State Sen. Wendy] Davis went through. Paul got help from his friends, who orated while he rested his voice. And U.S. senators can speak about anything when they filibuster. (Paul read from Alice in Wonderland.) Davis was supposed to stick to her subject.

The crowd was reasonably quiet until Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst ruled that Davis had to sit down because she had gone off topic by referencing a state law requiring that women who want abortions must show up a day earlier for an ultrasound.

A wonderful read today by Gail Collins. Of course. Don’t miss this.

And why are we here, exactly?


In the Bible Belt, Offering Atheists a Spiritual Home (New York Times)

BATON ROUGE, La. — It would have been easy to mistake what was happening in a hotel ballroom here for a religious service. All the things that might be associated with one were present Sunday: 80 people drawn by a common conviction. Exhortations to service. Singing and light swaying. An impassioned sermon.

There was just no mention of God.

Billed as Louisiana’s first atheist service and titled “Joie de Vivre: To Delight in Being Alive,” it was presided over by Jerry DeWitt, a small, charismatic man dressed all in black with slick, shiny hair.

I’m always happy to see people who are happy, but this just seems ridiculous to me.

“Atheist church” is an oxymoron. And congregating with other like-minded people to sing songs and celebrate your communal disbelief in an imaginary man in the sky is just . . .

Well . . . silly.

I’d much rather go to the ballpark.

Worth reading, 06/20/13

Tom Sietsema: Just say ‘No, grazie’ to La Tagliatella (Washington Post)

La Tagliatella in Arlington makes a strong case for hazard pay for restaurant critics. The Italian concept, an unfortunate import from Europe that plays up 400 combinations of pasta and sauce, is so distasteful on so many different levels, I was tempted to dismiss it after just one visit. I changed my mind when I considered its prime corner real estate in Clarendon and the Poland-based chain’s intention to expand elsewhere in the United States.

Someone needs to put a stop to this threat to our nation….

The slick menus with their commercial-grade food shots suggest the sort of reading you might find on the desk of a budget hotel or the seat pocket of an airplane….

The wines by the glass will remind you of the stuff you left behind in college, but the drinks here are generous and strong. Cocktails, it turns out, are one way to get through a meal at La Tagliatella, a brand unleashed on America last year with two branches in Atlanta, poor thing.

Yeah, he didn’t like the place. And the Washington Post asks on its homepage if this may be its harshest food critique ever. But Sietsma’s review pales in comparison to the standard set last November in the New York Times, Pete Wells’ unforgettable review of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar Restaurant in Times Square.

Bon appétit!


Wait, Am That Baseball Dad? (Slate)

Excessive behavior is embarrassing to your child, it’s embarrassing to yourself, and it teaches your child all the wrong lessons about sportsmanship, character and grace. But even if you’re not risking those outcomes, there is a challenge to finding the line between unconditional love and intensity. Even if you stop short of acting like the horrible parent, there’s a finer line to walk. You don’t want to smother the experience for them with too much engagement. It’s their game—just as it’s their life. Know when to butt out.

I’ve seen the worst of parents at Little League games. Smoking was not allowed on school grounds where my kids played Little League. One day, a mom lit up a cigarette from her seat on the grass berm behind the team I managed. One of the kids complained to me that she was smoking. I asked her nicely to put out her cigarette. She stood up, and loudly — so that everyone at the game could hear — told me she’d do whatever she want. Then she flipped me the bird, for added effect.

I once was umpiring a game at first base. A dad sat down in a chaise longue (yes, I spelled that correctly) with a six pack of beer and booed every call I made throughout the game.

I was umpiring behind the plate once when my second-base umpire made a bad call. But it was HIS call and I couldn’t reverse it. The fans from the team that got screwed spent the next inning booing loudly at every ball or strike I called. It got ugly. I told them if the abuse continued, I would have to stop the game, which would mean a forfeit. I was told that if I did, I wouldn’t make it to my car in the parking lot. They were serious. A kid I knew was on the team and he literally told his teammates, the umpire is OK. It’s Mr. Bromberg. I felt bad for him, because he felt bad for me.

Little League parents are the worst.


‘Ex-gay’ group says it’s shutting down; leader apologizes for ‘pain and hurt’ (

A Christian ministry that led the so-called ex-gay movement, which professes to rid people of their homosexuality, has announced that it will shut down, and its leader apologized extensively to gays for causing “pain and hurt.” . . . .

The president of Exodus, Alan Chambers, said late Wednesday on the ministry’s website that he had “conveniently omitted my ongoing same-sex attractions” but now accepts them “as parts of my life that will like always be there.”

Addressing gays, Chambers, who is married to a woman, wrote: “You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours.”

“Sorry” doesn’t quite cut it here. The damage Exodus International has done for more than a third of a century is incalculable.


Strategist Out of Closet and Into Fray, This Time for Gay Marriage (New York Times)

As the Supreme Court considers overturning California’s ban onsame-sex marriage, gay people await a ruling that could change their lives. But the case has already transformed one gay man: Ken Mehlman, the once-closeted Republican operative who orchestrated President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election on a platform that included opposition to same-sex marriage.

Now Mr. Mehlman, a private equity executive in Manhattan, is waging what could be his final campaign: to convince fellow Republicans that gay marriage is consistent with conservative values and good for their party. His about-face, sparked in part by the lawyer who filed the California lawsuit, has sent him on a personal journey to erase what one new friend in the gay rights movement calls his “incredibly destructive” Bush legacy.

To his credit, Mehlman is trying to undo much of the harm he helped inflict before he came out.


Tea party scalds Marco Rubio (Dana Milbank in the Washington Post)

The tea party returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, but this time the don’t-tread-on-me crowd trod upon one of its own.

Much of the scene was familiar: the yellow flags, the banners protesting tyranny and socialism, the demands to impeach President Obama and to repeal Obamacare. But there was a new target of the conservatives’ ire: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and his “amnesty” plan for illegal immigrants. The loathing of this onetime darling of the movement — Rubio rode the tea party wave to office in 2010 — could be seen in the homemade signs on the East Lawn of the Capitol proclaiming, “Rubio RINO” (Republican In Name Only) and “Rubio Lies, Americans Die.” Rubio antagonism became a main theme of the event, held by Republican Reps. Steve King (Iowa), Louie Gohmert (Tex.), Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and other opponents of the bipartisan Senate immigration legislation that Rubio negotiated.

Et tu, Tea?

Springsteen of the nerds

Portraits of Bill Nye at his home in Studio City, California.

“If you want to deny evolution and live in your world — in your world that’s completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe — that’s fine. But don’t make your kids do it, because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.”

So says Bill Nye, the Science Guy, quoted in this wonderful piece in the New York Times. The writer, John Schwartz, calls him “Springsteen of the nerds.” I love that almost as much as I love Nye, an American hero who is not afraid to tell truth to power.

When science contradicts your religion, try to reconcile one with the other. The science is fact. Your religion shapes who you are, but it does not allow you to deny scientific fact.

Must read 06/17/13

State photo-ID databases become troves for police. (Washington Post)

In many ways, this is much more disconcerting than the NSA data-mining “scandal.” Top of the website this morning:

The faces of more than 120 million people are in searchable photo databases that state officials assembled to prevent driver’s-license fraud but that increasingly are used by police to identify suspects, accomplices and even innocent bystanders in a wide range of criminal investigations….

The most widely used systems were honed on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq as soldiers sought to identify insurgents. The increasingly widespread deployment of the technology in the United States has helped police find murderers, bank robbers and drug dealers, many of whom leave behind images on surveillance videos or social-media sites that can be compared against official photo databases.

But law enforcement use of such facial searches is blurring the traditional boundaries between criminal and non-criminal databases, putting images of people never arrested in what amount to perpetual digital lineups. The most advanced systems allow police to run searches from laptop computers in their patrol cars and offer access to the FBI and other federal authorities.


Study finds supportive tilt to gay marriage coverage. (New York Times)

Tough call here. The piece points out:

The study lends credence to conservative charges that the nation’s news media have championed the issue of same-sex marriage at the expense of objectivity. Others have argued that news organizations are right not to overly emphasize opposition to what many see as a core civil rights issue.

And that’s what makes it a tough call. Would news coverage that tilted toward legalizing interracial marriage have been wrong? What about news coverage that tilted toward freeing slaves? We strive for fairness and balance, but does every issue require that each side get equal time?


Ohio police chief takes criminals to task online. (AP)

49,000 is about to multiply exponentially. What a fun story. Don’t be a mope:

KENT, Ohio (AP) — If you’re up to no good in this pocket of northeast Ohio, especially in a witless way, you’re risking not only jail time or a fine but a swifter repercussion with a much larger audience: You’re in for a social media scolding from police Chief David Oliver and some of his small department’s 49,000 Facebook fans.


Bloomberg plan aims to require food composting. (New York Times)

I’m sure the right will blast this as nanny-statism, and it’s seriously hard to imagine pulling this off in New York City, but . . . It really is a great idea. It will save money and it’s environmentally sound.

If composting can make it here, it can make it anywhere. It’s up to you, New York.