Oregon Lottery, where the motto is “Sit Tight and Spend it All!”

Times are tough. Everyone is getting more creative about money. But it’s hard to beat the clever strategy hatched by the State of Oregon, which is launching online gambling.

Yup, that’s right.

The Oregon Lottery will soon offer cash prizes and other goodies through its website. Because everyone knows that the best thing to do in a terrible economy is get more people to gamble away the few bucks they have left.

Rumor has it that they’re also partnering with various liquor distributors to create at-home delivery of spirits, so online gamers do not need to leave the house for refreshments.

Oh, wait, I made that up. The state would never do something that irresponsible.



The war in utero.

Who knew? It turns out that Washington state law forbids the paying of surrogate mothers. I learned this today by reading a piece in The Seattle Times about efforts to change that law.

Funny, isn’t it, how so many people spend energy keeping tabs on womb traffic, but fall down on the job when it comes to reproductive choices and health?

–From the minute abortion became legal, the fight was on to turn back the clock.

–When a vaccine became available for the sexually transmitted HPV virus that can cause cancer, some factions argued that it would encourage promiscuity. (I guess the day Viagra hit the market those sex police were off attending a workshop on clinic-bombing techniques.)

–Big HMOs and many private docs alike do not routinely offer women screening for sexually transmitted diseases. The subject may not come up at all in an annual physical, and not even in a medical visit intended to address some other gynecological issue.

The bill proposed in Washington is not a bad one. There are many reasons to worry about hiring women to bear children, especially the potential for exploitation. NOW and other women’s rights groups say this law will protect surrogates, which of course is a good thing.

But underneath the legal debate, I believe, lurks our society’s ambivalence about giving women full and private control of their reproductive abilities.



Banks vs. robbers-with-guns. And the difference is what?

Big banks: When did they officially trade customer service for big, fat lies?

This remarkable New York Times story by Gretchen Morgenson focuses on the absurd, seven-year battle by one beleaguered mortgage holder, but here’s the important part:

“The whole episode makes you wonder, yet again, how many of the millions of foreclosures in recent years might have been based on questionable accounting or improper practices by loan servicers.”

The bigger the bank, the bolder the perjury.

Huck Finn would be in juvy lock-up today.

It’s that time again. Another round of the predictable outcry in a school district over Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

(A good opinion piece about it by New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani, here.)

The argument is always the same: Twain’s use (a zillion times) of the word “nigger” is insulting and racist, and not appropriate for discussion by students in this enlightened time. His novels should be banned–or worse–rewritten to remove the offensive words.

This fight always leaves me very cranky.

First, because I have always secretly disliked the novels of Mark Twain, which is like hating puppies. I’ve made a vow to try them again this year, just in case my literary tastes have matured. So, stay tuned on that.

Second: Why is it that the opponents to Twain’s writing are almost always such obvious misfits? Unpopular professors seeking to make a name for themselves; wacky PTA presidents, pastors of some church way, way off the mainline.

I’ve always wondered why Twain gets picketed and Louisa May Alcott doesn’t. God knows there is more truth in his view than hers…what family is as happy as the March clan? As for bad influences: Clearly Jo was a lesbian who marries that old guy just to get out of the house. And what about Beth’s mysterious death? Oh, and P.S., maybe Daddy March ought to get a real job, hmmmm?

For months now I’ve been working on a project that has me immersed in reading about our sinful history of slavery; of lynching, the civil rights movement and, more recently, Vietnam. Erasing this hateful word from literature doesn’t erase that history. It just makes it a bit easier to pretend it didn’t happen.

Here’s what I know for sure: We can’t learn and change without reading and seeing the stuff of the past. And if we don’t teach kids the nuance and import of context, they are royally screwed. Left without one of the most important tools for making decisions and forming personal ethics.

Here’s an idea: You educators, parents and others who fear that the language of Twain will embarrass or disrespect or corrupt our youth — why don’t you go to work on a study guide that runs through the various points of view on the matter. Tell us how and why it became unacceptable to call a grown African American man, “boy.” Explain why it took so long for the big newspapers to use Mr. or Mrs. or Miss when referring to black people–just as they did when writing about white folks. Trace the timing and thought behind the migration from “colored” to “negro” to “Negro” to “black” to “Black” to “Afro-American” to “African American” to a person of color.

Sanitizing language is silly. It’s a teaching moment, so get on with it.

In 100 years someone will be agitating to ban your study guide. I promise.

Truvada: the underachieving drug.

Let’s pretend there’s a drug that helps minimize effects of lung cancer in people close to death. Call it Inqui. (“Inn-kwee.” Derived from the Latin word for “unfair.”)

Inqui has been around for a few years. Researchers and docs familiar with the drug know it also works well as a preventative for lung cancer if taken daily.

Yet, that knowledge has not resulted in widespread use of Inqui as a prophylactic. Here are a few of the reasons:

–Testing drugs on well people is tricky.

–Anti-American protesters don’t want it tested on poor people in other countries.

–The drug company making it would rather not give it to un-sick people, because live people tend to sue when things go wrong, whereas dead people do not.

And, perhaps most significantly, because politically active healthy nonsmokers are violently opposed to giving the drug to people who smoked. Those people knew the risks and did not seek help to quit using nicotine or breathing second-hand smoke, so screw them.

This would be outrageous. Right?

Yet this is pretty much the case with Truvada, a drug prescribed to people infected with HIV, as described in “An AIDS Advance, Hiding in the Open,” by Donald G. McNeil Jr. in The New York Times.

As he put it:

“The delay [in selling Truvada for prevention] turns out to be a combination of scientific caution and the fiery politics of AIDS. While a medical advance can be made by a momentary flash of inspiration or luck — as legendarily happened with penicillin — proving that it works can take forever. And that is particularly true with AIDS, a disease surrounded by visceral fears, longstanding prejudices and the potential for huge profits.”

Good thing lung cancer affects straight people, otherwise “Inqui” as preventative wouldn’t have seen the light of day either.

Portland: Low-tech and high priced.

If you want an excellent blueprint for wasting resources, look at this report from Portland’s city auditor. You don’t need to read very far to get the idea.

The city that prides itself on its green approach to life is hugely wasteful when it comes to that paper stuff called “money.”

392 Business System Software Implementation Audit FULL(2)

If a private business operated this way, its creditors would be holding a fire sale right now.

“Cooks Source” is a den of thieves.

People who steal images or words from others on the web will go to a special Hell…where there is nothing to read but outdated airline magazines with pages missing.

And the reading light is too low.

Oh, and no snacks. Or bathroom.

And the only other human is the person who was meanest to you in grade school.

You, word thieves, are scum.

(Click here for “Copyright Infringement and Me,” a blog post about plagiarism by “Cooks Source Magazine” and one editor’s ridiculous response that inspired the above sentiments. The rant against Cooks Source is going viral and the unleashed fury is wonderful to behold.)

End of life prose.

This is a remarkably good article about dying. Don’t get all squeamish now, just buck up and read it.

It’s hard to believe that with all the talk about advance directives, patient rights, hospice and other related topics, there is anything new to say. Yet, as this New Yorker article by Atul Gawande shows, this is a subject with nuances inside of nuances. It is a rare view inside a doctor’s brain, as honest as anything you’ve read.

Stuyvesant would have liked Fox News.

Historian Jonathan Sarna wrote this in the The Jewish Daily Forward recently, referencing Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Amsterdam (now known as the Big Apple), who lived 1647-1664.

An excerpt:

In distancing himself from Peter Stuyvesant and the many others who have defined American religious liberty in narrowly restrictive terms, [Bloomburg]  reminds us that if today’s target is the mosque, yesterday’s was most assuredly the synagogue.

(Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. He’s the author of the excellent book, Judaism: A History. The book should be on every American history buff’s bookshelf.)

It makes a patriot proud.

There’s a guy in Florida, leader of a church in Gainesville, who has come up with a novel way to recognize the tragedies of 9/11: He’s going to burn a big pile of copies of the Qur’an, the sacred writings of Islam.

Now, of course no one with the common sense God gave a walnut would take this person seriously. He is no more representative of Christians than the Energizer bunny, and considerably less intelligent. And he sure as hell is no “pastor,” never mind what it says under “occupation” on the permit for the pistol strapped to his hip.

The book-cooker in Florida seems like a random kook until you consider that forty-six percent of Republicans polled claim to think President Barak Obama is a secret Muslim. (See Tim Egan’s good essay on that idiocy.)

The whole world is watching, and we’re demonstrating that in a true democracy, you can say or do just about any asinine thing you want without fear of punishment. We’re also proving that we’re every bit as good at producing haters, fear-mongers, liars and fools as the next nation.

Uh oh, the rich are bailing on mortgages too.

Proof that this foreclosure tsunami is real:

“The housing bust that began among the working class in remote subdivisions and quickly progressed to the suburban middle class is striking the upper class in privileged enclaves…” writes David Streitfeld in The New York Times. (The other quotes are from the same piece.)

A hint that that Congress may figure this out soon:

“Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.”

Indication that this is beyond the reach of Congressional fixing:

“In a recent column on Freddie Mac’s Web site, the company’s executive vice president, Don Bisenius, acknowledged that walking away “might well be a good decision for certain borrowers” but argues that those who do it are trashing their communities.”

First thing to worry about as soon as you find a new place to live and unpack your sleeping bag:

A whole lot of people are going to grow up with the belief that “trashing their communities” is okay.

Additional gloomy whining:

I live in a city with a citizens committee for just about everything. Maybe we need to suspend those for a time and form the All-City Housing Cooperative that works on ways to hold back this wave. (That way we’d be sure to have an actual neighborhood in which to debate the merits of roses versus rhodies on the intersection traffic circles.)

And as long as we’re moving closer to real panic, let’s start substituting the words “and condominiums” every time we read aloud a sentence describing an increase in the number of houses foreclosed.

That shiny new high-rise downtown is going to have a whole new feel when the penthouse owners decamp.

All the news that fits. And solves.

I’ve only read some of the stories and ads in three sections in Sunday’s New York Times (Book Review, Business and Week in Review) and here’s what I’ve already learned:

Most new fiction is deeply flawed. A five-line letter from Ronald Reagan to his old actress friend Kitty Carlisle Hart is worth $6,100. Whales and dolphins are as smart as we are, and probably nicer. Congo is still the rape capital on earth. Congress still has absolutely no balls when it comes to regulating Wall Street. Our cellphones are built with materials that are obtained at human cost. Author Danielle Steele and legal pot growers in Colorado work harder than the rest of us. Camile Paglia says “female Viagra” pharmaceuticals will not cure the sexual malaise blanketing America.

It seems so clear:

Send sexually disappointed whiners to witness real problems in Congo.  Sell collections of witless Presidential missives as e-books in order to fund the increased cost of cruelty-free cellphone manufacturing. Deploy the hyper-prolific Ms. Steele to the pot-growing operations for one week. Swear in Ms. Paglia, stand her up in front of Congress, and let her spell it out for them: No balls, no glory.

If that last thing doesn’t work, vote for a whale or a dolphin next time.

Death on our own terms: Don’t be squeamish, read this.

This is the best-written newspaper or magazine piece I’ve read in a very long time.

The headline is “What Broke My Father’s Heart,” and writer Katy Butler rewinds her family story to describe what happens when technology–in this case a pacemaker–keeps someone alive beyond the capacity of the mind (and parts of the body) to live anything resembling a normal life.

Anyone who has had to make decisions about serious surgical options and other interventions knows, as Butler describes, how easy it is to just nod, gulp and do the first thing the doctor suggests. Anyone who has come up against the task of putting a loved one’s Health Care Directive or end-of-life preferences into play has brushed up against the experiences behind this New York Times Sunday Magazine piece.

It sounds simple enough on the sunny side of serious illness., then wham. The doctor, and maybe all your family and friends, say go for the chemo. The transplant. The pacemaker. The goal is almost always more time; more technology. Doctors aren’t gods (and most don’t want to be), but it takes a lot of gumption to face one down and demand to hear about other choices…or maybe even to be left alone. And it takes information, determination and an advocate (sometimes more than one) to push back against the health care establishment  (hospital, insurance, Medicare) and just say no to the protocol.

Oregonians, the beneficiaries of right-to-die law, tend to think a care directive is a solution, as do a lot of other people. Don’t want to be kept alive by extraordinary measures? Well, fine. Oops, what about the EMTs who must do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? What about the medical team that shocks your heart back into action? Then there’s hydration, food-in-a-tube, ventilators. Oy. And here most of us get antsy when a waiter gives us five salad-dressing choices.

When that ludicrous scare campaign threatening “death squads” was being waged against health care reform, I wondered how many of the yammerers  were currently caring for someone who, like Butler’s father, had gone from a vibrant, intelligent and happy individual to a confused, sick and pain-plagued prisoner. His wife became a prisoner too, something he would have clearly done anything in his power to prevent, had he been offered that choice.

This couple had the stuff that’s supposed to help: a strong relationship with a good, sensitive primary care doc and plenty of dough. This is bad, bad news for all who get medical care only from the Emergency Room and who pay it off for years or slap it on the already overloaded Visa card.

I think there’s an excellent chance that Butler’s article might help change things for the better.  We boomers are living longer. It’s up to us how to define what that means, and that requires a lot of thought and clear instructions to each other ahead of time.

Staying one step ahead of the moneychangers.

Last week Congress quit listening to the bleating of big banks long enough to vote for limiting the fees businesses pay whenever you use your debit card.

That’s good (and overdue) news. Debit-card charges are just one form of double-dipping that hurts consumers and the businesses who accept them.

Think about it, here’s how it used to work:

1. Get paycheck.

2. Walk or drive to bank, deposit check with the help of a teller who makes a modest but livable wage.

3. Write paper checks to buy stuff and pay bills. Pay small fee for the account, or no fee if the balance is sufficiently large.

4. Merchants who accept those checks then go to their banks and make deposits, again with a real, live teller who gets paid an hourly wage.

Now, it works like this:

1. Get a paycheck.

2. Deposit it through an ATM or by direct-deposit. (Goodbye tellers ; bank saves money. )

3. Pay bills online. (Notice that there are larger lags when your money has gone from you through the bank to a creditor, Can you say “float period?” Bank makes money.)

4. Buy stuff with credit or debit cards. (You pay a fee; merchant pays a fee and bank makes money. Let’s not even try to untangle the ways the timing of a bank’s processing of deposits can cost you a small fortune in overdraft fees.)

And, a crucial final step:

5. Fall for marketing campaigns that claim online bill-pay and ATMs are huge timesavers.

What’s a consumer to do?

One thought: Consider paying cash for one or two purchases a week that you normally do by debit card. Multiply that by a zillion and we’ll have sent a message to the moneychangers. They’ll circle back and find another trick, but for a week or two we’ll have ‘em running scared.

This is your ivy-covered brain on drugs.

Reed College in Portland has long enjoyed its reputation as a haven for the brainy, gifted and creative student. In recent years it’s also become a standout for the idiotic public state-of-denial exuded by its president and top brass who allowed a monster drug problem to take root on campus.

A couple of heroin overdoses didn’t rattle the top dogs as much as the feds stepping in with warnings that undercover cops will be milling about during a campus festival that historically has been a haven for drug sales and use. Now, at last, it looks like the college’s leadership might just have to grow some cojones.

From The New York Times:

“…Law enforcement officials raised an unusual theory of liability. Under a federal law intended to close crack houses, anyone who knowingly operates premises where drugs are used may be subject to serious criminal and civil penalties. Education lawyers, however, said they were unaware of that law’s ever being contemplated, let alone used, in the context of higher education.”

You can bet the “education lawyers” associated with Reed are now sweating the possibility of being the first case in which this “knowingly operates” clause is applied within academia.

The students, of course, will find an amusing, telegenic way to thumb their collective nose at the police presence on campus during the fair. They, at least, act in character, questioning authority. Maybe the leadership of their college will buck up and act in character too. Finally.

Arizona: Toughen up that immigrant law.

I was away last week, traveling the highways of the Southwest and the byways of the Northeast. Now I’ve come home to ponder the brilliance of the new immigrant law in Arizona.

It’s ingenious, really. It requires local cops to grab anyone who looks suspicious and demand proof of citizenship. Simple, but brilliant. The last time a state took this kind of well-thought out initiative was back in the day when public restrooms in the South were marked WHITE and COLORED.

All this whining about violating the Constitution is silly. That Constitution applies to REAL citizens, not people who sneak across the border determined to live debauched lives of mowing lawns, cleaning toilets, picking fruit or babysitting white kids. Surely any citizens detained by mistake will understand that it is all for their own safety and well-being.

And the claim that local police are not equipped to administer such a law is simply not true. Who better to pick out sneaky illegals than the armed guy or gal who already protects the streets terrorized by these roving, Spanish-speaking law breakers?

Instead of hissing our disapproval, we should be grateful that Arizona’s lawmakers are willing to live with the occasional delay when they call 911 after a rape, burglary or armed robbery. (We’ll be right with you ma’am, we just need to finish the paperwork on this Garcia fellow.)

The only reasonable criticism of this new law is that it doesn’t go far enough. Why not require all non-citizens to attach a badge of sorts on their clothes? Something easy to spot, like a star, maybe. In a bright color like yellow or pink. It’s not high-tech or expensive. Anyone, even someone who doesn’t speak English, can understand this requirement.

And here’s the beauty part: We already know it works.

Sursum corda…and your voices too.

I’m not always wowed by what Maureen Dowd writes in her column for The New York Times. But when she nails it, she nails it.

She’s been a fiery commentator about the Roman Catholic Church and its sinful cover-ups of clergy who prey on children and adult parishioners. The more pundits, pulpits and parents who join that chorus, the better. This fight takes more than rhetoric, it takes heart and courage of the faithful.

Dowd’s latest piece on the Church mess is very good, and an unusually humble approach for she-of-the-sturdy-eg0. She turned the column over to her brother Kevin, a creche-collecting conservative Catholic. One snippet:

“The church is dying from a thousand cuts. Its cover-up has cost a fortune and been a betrayal worthy of Judas. The money spent came from social programs, Catholic schools and the poor. This should be a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance.”

The Vatican and the top-tier of the Church in this country are furious at Maureen Dowd. They dismiss what she says in ways direct and subtle. It won’t be so easy to ignore her brother.

Read the whole column here.

Holsters and health care.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has answered a question that’s been nagging at me: What’s really behind the strong opposition to the health care plan?

I know that some people worry that changes in insurance regulations will erode the coverage they already have. I’m convinced that out-and-out racism plays a role and that some opponents are more interested in seeing President Obama fail than taking care of their neighbors.

But these things don’t explain the fiery anger, the bold willingness to stand up in front of the entire world and say NO to better care for more Americans, including millions of children, hardworking adults and folks with chronic conditions that can be labeled “preexisting.”

Barbour’s now much-quoted remark about guns turned the light bulb on over my head:

“I do not believe the United States government has a right, it has the authority or power to force us to purchase health insurance any more than, in the name of homeland security, they can force every American to have to buy a gun,” the governor said.”

Setting aside for the moment that this statement is historically inaccurate (look up the Second Militia Act of 1792 in which folks were indeed required to go forth and get guns), Barbour’s sound byte speaks volumes. On some level these opponents simply do not believe that decent health care is something every person needs, therefore they see no reason to create laws that ensure its delivery. They see health care as an option, a luxury; something that people elect to have, like the premium cable package.

Here’s what I’d like to see: A running ticker like the ones in Times Square that report stock prices. Only this one would chart each visit to a doctor or medical facility by an elected official who votes on health care measures, state or federal.