Archive for January, 2009

Equal Pay for Equal Work? A Step Taken. Update

January 29, 2009

President Obama will sign the Lilly Ledbetter Act today.  Gail Collins’ column in today’s New York Times is about Ms. Ledbetter’s long fight, some other women who went before her, and “the frequently underpaid lawyers who championed them.”  It is a good day for human rights in America today.  Of course, because I am one of those underpaid lawyers, I may be less than objective.

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Updating the Update

President Obama has now signed the legislation.  Here is the story. And here it is from the New York Times.

Equal Pay for Equal Work? A Step Taken.

January 28, 2009
Why is this man smiling?

Why is this man smiling?

Almost two years ago the Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4 – speaking through Justice Alito, that a woman cheated for years by Goodyear could not sue Goodyear because it had cheated her for twenty years  and successfully hid its cheating until she discovered they were cheating her and sued them.  Because the illegal practice had begun twenty years prior the Court held that she had waited too long to sue, even though she didn’t know she was being cheated.

Really.  I don’t make this stuff up.  That is what the Supreme Court of the United States decided. Here is the opinion.

We’ve complained about the case before.

Goodyear discriminated for at least two decades against women employees; paying them less than male employees for the same work.  Every time Lilly Ledbetter received a pay check, it was less than her male cohorts and had been less for twenty years. The Supreme Court threw her case out of court, declaiming, in its awful wisdom, that because the discriminatory practice was two decades old, Ms. Ledbetter had waited too long, even though she sued almost as soon as she found out about the practice.  In other words, Goodyear got a free pass because it successfully hid its illegal acts for a long, long time.

It was a nutty decision and Congress immediately set about overturning, it but ran into 40 Republican senators and one Republican president.  They worried that the bill might trouble employers.  Senator Milkuski demolished that faux argument, “If you don’t want to be sued, don’t discriminate.”

Lilly Ledbetter

Lilly Ledbetter

Sometime this week, President Obama will sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (S.181) and, for one of the few times in American history, the Legislative and Executive branches will overturn a Supreme Court decision, returning a measure of sanity to the anti-discrimination laws.  Here is east coast to west coast news coverage of the first significant piece of legislation President Obama will sign.

The good gals won one.

The Inauguration of President Barack Obama

January 24, 2009

Today I turn this blog over to Dick Cavett.  I’m sure this is copyrighted so don’t you dare copy it without giving credit to the best intellectual comedian of our age.  And pray for me if Mr. Cavett or the New York Times comes after me for copyright infringement.

Never mind.  I don’t have enough capital to help the New York Times and Mr. Cavett seems far too nice a man to sue me.  Besides, I am about to make a fair comment on the piece: John Roberts is not the “Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States;” he is the Chief Justice of the United States.  No matter how badly the Chief Justice screwed the oath, one must not screw the Chief Justice.

_____________________

Dick Cavett

Dick Cavett

I’m Not Weeping; It’s an Allergy

These foolish drops do something drown my manly spirit.
– Shakespeare, “The Merchant of Venice”

I had neither planned nor expected to cry.

If it’s true, as some maintain, that men who cry are pantywaists, then I stand condemned.

Not being one of those whose tear-production is either quick or voluminous, I was amazed at how many times, watching the all-day spectacle, I lost it.

And it wasn’t just at the easy times like, say, during a sudden close-up of a tear-streaked elderly black face in the crowd, but also at moments that were just plain “for the country.”

“Historic” and “historic moment” and “historic day” were repeated mercilessly, but remained true. Only a zombie could fail to feel the truth of it.

*****

It seems, doesn’t it, that there are two kinds of tears?

There’s the kind produced by the death of your dog (which just happened to me once again, and about which I always offend someone by asserting that the reason the death of a pet is worse than the death of a human is that you have mixed feelings about all people), or by the loss of a loved one. And there’s the almost opposite kind — but still tears — produced by watching Astaire and Rogers, the young DiMaggio and the young Ali, a sudden Picasso, Ol’ Blue Eyes’s voice, the 23rd Psalm, or any performance by Meryl Streep. Or Obama’s grin for his daughters.

Music bypasses the brain and goes straight to the heart. I wish my life had more of it. Once, years ago, I was taken along to Tanglewood for a concert by the great Zino Francescatti, a name scandalously unknown to me the day before.

Somehow we were in the front row. I was not on TV yet or I would have been even more embarrassed when, repeatedly and to my total amazement, the virtuoso violinist caused me to, as suddenly as a hiccup, give forth with an audible, gurgling sob. Beauty tears, I guess you could call them. Tears of joy.

Aretha can make me cry. So could Ella, and Etta, and Ruth and Billie, and Carmen and Lena, and, and . . . the list goes on and on of female black singers who have unlimited access to my emotional innards.

And yet somehow I was never moved — a limb confronts me and I am about to venture out upon it with a dangerous confession– by the sanctified Marian Anderson.

Her affectations and regal bearing I found embarrassing. It takes a heart of stone not to be moved by just about anybody’s rendering of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” but her choosing to make “hand” sound too much like “hahnd,” and her queenly personal use of the royal “we” and “our” in both speech and writing sort of put me off. (Sorry to those for whom this admission will place me beyond redemption.)

The refreshingly robust delivery of “Amazing Grace” by Wintley Phipps last Tuesday got to me big-time. And I always worry for that great song, fearing it might grow stale through overuse. It gets trotted out to give instant depth of feeling to mediocre dramas that can’t otherwise spur emotion. One year, it was the theme music of three feature films.

I find most “sacred music” pretty dismal. I don’t have a strict policy of “nothing sacred.” Once past the overly familiar “Mine eyes have seen the glory” stanza of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” at least a dozen lines in the sublime later verses — even just reading them — can make me gurgle and (since I don’t own one) ask for a hankie.

At least a dozen lines and passages in it simply cannot be read impassively, from “I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel” to whole stanzas like:

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

One moment in that stirring hymn never fails me. Though not much of a believer, I have only to think and hum the first line of one of the less familiar stanzas to induce instant throat stricture:

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free
While God is marching on.

Why was Julia Ward Howe not forced to turn out at least 20 more hit singles?

*****

I felt bad when George Bush was booed.

But only briefly. My sympathy for that man has a half-life of about four seconds.

There was a surprising number of outpourings of sympathy for his having to sit there and, as it was too-often described, “take it on the chin.” Was there ever a chin more deserving of taking it?

“You have to feel sorry for him,” someone cooed. “No. You do not!” I shouted at the screen. I know he “tried” and he “did what he thought was right.” But so does the incompetent surgeon.

What does that excuse?

His brief discomfort “sitting there” can’t have been less endurable than the discomfort of the young soldier describing on the news how he watched helplessly as his gut-shot buddy bled to death on the sands the smirking Texan sent him to.

*****

And a hearty sayonara to that other fellow.

Do freshman philosophy classes nowadays debate updated versions of the age-old questions? Like, how could a merciful God allow AIDS, childhood cancers, tsunamis and Dick Cheney?

*****

As with all good entertainments, there was unintended comic relief.

Not since Robert Goulet forgot the words to the national anthem has there been a moment to rival the chief justice’s blowing his lines, turning The Oath of Office into an Abbott & Costello “Who’s-on first?” routine.

The giggling schoolboy side of me thought it laughable as hell. What would the funny man do next? Drop the Lincoln bible on his foot?

Yet the increasingly curmudgeonly side of me frowned and found it inexcusable. It isn’t as if some tipsy, third-rate actor did it. It was the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States!

And he was playing to perhaps the largest audience in world history.

Nerves? Stage fright?

How nervous could a man in his position possibly be? As one of the dozen remaining people in the country with job security — and for life — oughtn’t he be at least relatively calm?

*****

All in all it was, to put it feebly, a day to remember.

And, remarkably, I heard, the mobs of millions produced not a single arrest. All kinds of history was made that day.

What this — as Tennessee W.’s Blanche DuBois says, “young, young, young man” can do for the country and the world is yet to be revealed.

But for starters isn’t it nice having someone in the Oval Office with smarts? And class?

And syntax?

Dr. Strangelove Meets Testosterone

January 22, 2009
Dr. Strangelove

Dr. Strangelove

Here is another in our occasional series entitled “Viagra Blues.”  It is an occasional series because we don’t want you mistakenly believing that all we think about here at the Golden State is sex.  In fact, we think about lots of stuff.  Just yesterday, for instance, we were thinking about “Dr. Strangelove.”  You remember that movie, in which Peter Sellers played three different characters including the mad and former Nazi scientist, Dr. Strangelove, George C. Scott played a crazy general, and which featured Slim Pickens riding an atomic bomb to earth.  Rick Hertzberg of the New Yorker reminded us of it in this blog entry.  He, in turn, was reminded of it by the sight of Vice-president Cheney in a wheelchair on Inauguration Day.  Be sure to watch the Youtube clip from the movie in the entry.

Now, on to Viagra Blues.
hrt-patch

Today’s entry in the Viagra Blues series was prompted by a study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine reporting that a 300 microgram patch of of testosterone resulted in “. . . improvement in sexual function in studies of 814 postmenopausal women not taking estrogen.”

That news prompted the satiric newspaper The Onion to post an entry in its “American Voices” segment where it pretends to ask ordinary citizens their opinion of some news item of interest.  The photos are of the same three people but each time they are assigned different names and occupations before the bogus quotations.  Here is The Onion’s entry regarding the testosterone patches.

The Onion, Monday, January 5, 2009

Testosterone Patch Revives Female Sex Drive

A study published in The New England Journal Of Medicine says that postmenopausal women experience an increase in libido with a testosterone patch. What do you think?

Mike Vinton,
Line Cook
“I’m skeptical. Does this really work better than half a glass of white zinfandel and a Robert Redford movie?”

Margaret Lee,
Systems Analyst
“Testosterone will make me into a woman again? I thought this sweater with embroidered cats would.”

Bobby Hirt,
Cabinet Maker
“Why all this attention on women’s sex drives? When will they come up with a pill that allows me to achieve and sustain an erection?”

Going Home

January 20, 2009

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Eight years on the road and we’re gonna make it home tonight.

Summing Up the Bush Presidency

January 19, 2009

In today’s mail we received another mistaken delivery of a letter intended for George Bush.  Since he is leaving office tomorrow morning, we thought the fastest way to get the letter to him is to post it on the blog because we’re sure he reads it every day.

_________________________

THE FLYING DERRICKS RANCH
Headquarters

To George W. Bush
President of these United States
January 19, 2007

Well George,

It’s hard to believe its time for you come on home.  Seems like just a hundert years or so since you toddled off to D.C. and took charge of the country.  And what a time its been, huh boy?  You sure were busy, I’ll give you that.  Lets see.  When you started, the Nation had a surplus and you’re leaving us more than $1,000,000,000,000 in the hole.  (Did I get that right?  It’s too many gol-derned zeroes, I can tell you that.  Anyway I mean for it to equal one TRILLION dollars in debt.)  You started two wars and its not your fault you never got around to finishing either one.  Then the economy went south faster than an old coon dog with cougar smell in his nose.  And you kept the Constitution on its toes too, always yapping at its heels and every once in a while getting in a good bite.  Water boarded it a couple of times too, I’ll bet. But at least them terrorists only hit us once on your watch.  And I know you’ll get that Osama bin Laden fellow if he don’t die of old age first.

It all reminds me of the time your folks brought you kids down to the ranch for a vacation.  By the time they took you home you had shot a pig by mistake, dumped it in the only good well I got, poisoned my prize stallion with antifreeze and broke the wife’s prize Chihuly sculpture.  We never did find all the silver after that trip either.  Now that the wife has departed and you’re grown up and won’t be runnin fir office no more and I don’t want the silver back no ways, maybe you could fess up?  How many pieces did you take and what did you do with them?   Just curious, that’s all.

Yessir.  The place looked like a tornado had hit after you left.  Or a hurricane.  Sorta like the country looks now when you get to thinkin on it.

I know folks been giving you a bad time about Katrina but they don’t have those top security clearances so they don’t know about all those hurricanes that you stopped all by your ownself.

Well anyway, when I see you on the TV, you look pretty tired and I know Laura would like to have a chance to finally kick up her heels a bit, so you’all welcome to come on down to the ranch for a spell.  We’ll sit around of an evening, watch the sun go down and spin some yarns.  Maybe even tell a lie or two.  You can rest up while they get that little cottage up in Dallas ready for you and I’ll take Laura up to the North Forty and see if I can’t find her a nice swimmin hole where she can cool off and then read a good book.

Just don’t bring that gol-darned Cheney.  Hail, the last time he was here he shot up the place something awful.  I didn’t see a living bird for six months, except Turkey Vultures.  I tell you, Cheney kept them busy for quite a spell.

That new guy taking over?  The one with the funny name.  What’s he like?  We gonna be OK with him?  I worry about a man who never slept on the ground under the stars with coyotes howling in the distance.

I’ll get a letter off to him right away.  Invite him down and take him camping.  You make sure to tell him to read my letters.  It’s a powerful bother to write ’em and I don’t want no clerk filing them away afore he’s seen them.  That’s for ordinary citizens and I sure ain’t ordinary.

Amd don’t you worry none about your place in history.  I still hold that James Buchanan was our worst president. He only got one term, so just imagine how bad he’d a been if he’d had as much time to screw up as you’ve had.

Best

Hondo Blane
Owner, Chief Cook and Bottle-Washer
The Flying Derricks Ranch

Climate Change in the National Parks

January 16, 2009

earth

Sitting on my desk is a brochure published by NASA and the National Park Service of the Department of the Interior of the official government of the United States of America.  Entitled, “Climate Change in the National Parks” it begins with this quote — in large italicized print — from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global sea level.

Open the brochure and you read, “Scientists tell us there is little doubt that human activities are having a major impact on the atmosphere and ecosystems of our planet.”

Carbon dioxide levels, this publication of the United States government tells us, are higher now than any time in the past 650,000 years.  And rising.

Carbon Dioxide Levels

Carbon Dioxide Levels

Higher temperatures in spring and summer bring earlier and faster runoffs and more frequent and more intense wild fires.  The pikas of Yosemite National Park are in danger of extinction because they have to keep moving higher to get to the cool microclimate they need to live.  Soon they’ll be at the top with no where else to go.  At Bandelier National Monument the temperatures coupled with a drought brought infestations of bark beetles which are slaughtering the trees.  In Yellowstone National Park pine beetles are killing whitebark pines whose seeds are a critical food source for the grizzly bears and birds.  At Joshua Tree National Monument the cool winters and freezing temperatures the trees need to flower and set their seeds are getting too warm for their survival and the Joshua trees that give the place its name are dying so fast there soon may be no more in the park.  The glaciers in Glacier National Park will be completely gone in 20 years.  Photographs of Muir Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park taken in 1941 and 2004 prove that the planet is melting.  Rising sea levels threaten the freshwater wetlands that are the Everglades National Park.

Muir Glacier Melting

Muir Glacier Melting

According to our own government climate change is real and humanity is, “. . . having a major impact on the atmosphere and ecosystems of our planet.”

Obviously, the brochure was published without the knowledge of Vice-president Cheney.

I leave you with a last quote from the brochure,

What is the use of a house, if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

Henry David Thoreau

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The brochure can be downloaded here.

NASA maintains two web sites about climate change here and here.

This Land is Your Land

January 12, 2009
Whose pot is that over there?  Pothole Point, Utah

Whose pot is that over there? Pothole Point, Utah

Here is how it works.  The men working for the oil and gas companies sit around their offices and conference rooms pouring over maps of your land. They’ve been carefully mapping your land for a long time now, with the help of your hired hand and your money.  After studying the maps of your land and wandering around on it, without your permission, they decide how much of its mineral and drilling rights they want to own.

Then they go to your hired man, the BLM, and tell him which parcels of your land they want to drill on. Like a loyal lap dog, the BLM obsequiously obliges and holds an auction so the oil company can buy your drilling rights. Usually, you don’t even know about the auction, which is a real auction with an auctioneer and a room full of men —  it’s always men —  with little paddles they raise when they want to bid.  And they do want to bid, because the prices for your rights are laughably low.  By any rational economic measure, the prices are so low they are fraudulent.  The hired help is really just giving away your drilling rights.
skytruth_roan_17april2007_ecoflight_200dpi
Oh yes, one other detail.  If you have the temerity to go to the auction and bid for your own rights, the BLM and the oil men will call the cops to escort you from the auction, accuse you of a crime, and try to get you indicted.  At best, you are confronted with huge legal expenses and, at worst, a federal judge who used to lawyer for the oil companies and who was appointed by the former oil man in the White House, will throw you in a federal prison.

Really.  The hired help is giving away the mineral and drilling rights to your land and, demanding that you go to jail if you try to stop them. Today’s Washington Post has the full story.

Reminds us of Woody Guthrie:

This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From California to the New York Island
From the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters
This land belongs to you and me.

In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.

This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From California to the New York Island
From the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters
This land belongs to you and me.

_____________________
The college student who bid on these drilling rights apparently upset a lot of people.  The New York Times covered the story the next day.

Here is a web site collecting small donations so the college student has the money to pay for the rights he bought.  Already the site has collected enough for the first payment due.

For more detail, see this post at the Fat Finch.

Here is the BLM site containing some of the maps you’ve paid for to help out the struggling oil companies.

UPDATE – JANUARY 20, 2009

A federal judge last week, temporarily stopped the entire sale.  The BLM, which would have deposited the checks from the sale yesterday and made the sale final and binding, was restrained from depositing the checks until it redoes its Environmental Impact Statement.  Given the change in presidential administrations today, there is some chance the sale will never happen.  What that will mean for the young college student threatened with prosecution remains to be seen.

Religion and the U.S. Forest Service

January 9, 2009
San Francisco Peaks - Photo by David Muench

San Francisco Peaks - Photo by David Muench

As loyal readers. . . . Wait.  That’s the only kind of readers this blog has. . . . As all our readers remember, we discussed the awful decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowing the Snowbowl Ski operation north of Flagstaff, Arizona to spray treated sewage water on the San Francisco Peaks. (Part I, Part II)

That was the case in which the court held, at the request of the U.S. Forest Service, that religious freedom from government action does not include the “subjective” experience of religion.  As we noted in those blog entries, “subjective experience” of religion is just a longer way of saying, “faith” which is the entire object of the religious experience.

Navajo Sandpainting

Navajo Sandpainting

The southwestern Indian tribes to whom the mountains are sacred filed a petition for certiorari in the Supreme Court this week.  You can read it here. A petition for certiorari is simply a request of the Supreme Court that it hear the case.  The Court declines about 95% of the cases it is asked to hear.  (Appeals are automatic only to the level of the 12 circuit courts around the country.  The Supreme Court takes only the cases it wants to hear and it doesn’t want to hear very many.)

I suspect it will choose to hear this one ,although we won’t know for awhile.  Next, both the Forest Service and the ski slope operators have an opportunity to file responses telling the Court why it should decline to hear the case.

The possibility exists that the incoming administration will adopt a more enlightened position.  But the owners of the ski operation will are entitled to state their position no matter what the Forest Service might decide.

God and Athletic Contests

January 7, 2009
God has been active in the affairs of mortals this week, at least according to the testimony of the mortals.  For instance, according to the mortal Roland Burris of Illinois, God instructed presumably mortal Governor He-of-the-Big-Hair Blagovjech to appoint Burris to the United States Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama who won the presidency despite the fervent prayers for John McCain of many fundamentalist Christians. Burris, not a modest man, has already built his crypt which is engraved with his many achievements.  Someone is probably at work today adding the senate to that graven resume.

And even though God seems disinterested in the Gaza Strip, he took the time to involve himself in innumerable athletic events.  For instance, according to the mortal coach of the Liberty University basketball team, “God’s intervention” allowed him to land a prize recruit for the team.

nsapnl12l_extr1

God Deciding for the Baltimore Colts - 1958

According to Frank Gifford in his new book, THE GLORY GAME: How the 1958 NFL Championship Changed Football Forever, when he was a player it was a common practice for NFL football teams to have a team prayer before each game.  Gifford once asked his team’s chaplain how God determined who would win a particular game when both sides earnestly prayed to Him before the games.  The chaplain responded, “Frank, I’ve noticed that God seems to favor the team with the best personnel.”

It would be more difficult for the atheists and the agnostics to maintain their positions if God took less interest in athletic contests.