A new era for One Smoot

Behold! A first: eeka posts while completely trashed. (Molly and I are playing the State of the Union Address Drinking Game.)

Why does he keep saying "isolationism?" That should warrant a drink.

Why do they keep showing Hillary? Ditto.

Dude, gotta love how they cut to a shot of a couple of Black senators/representatives/consulates/ambassadors/whatevers when he was talking about Coretta Scott King. Hello tokenism! That should really be included in the drinking game. So should mentions of 9/11.

And what's up with "uh-rack?" He says "Iran" more or less correctly.

Dude. He's actually learned to speak fairly decently over the past 6 years. So how the hell has he neglected to stop saying "nuke-yew-lur?" I mean, seriously.

Whoa, "it will save the American taxpayer 14 billion dollars"? Hey, I'd love to save 14 billion dollars on my taxes.

Blah blah blah dependence on foreign oil blah blah blah Alaska blah blah blah.

Wait, why's he proposing a new initiative on competitiveness? There's already a Council on Competitiveness, whatever the hell "competitiveness" means. Why not competitivity? Competitiveatism?

Hey! He just perfunctorily mentioned "people wanting to redefine marriage" without saying what he means. Bastard. I'd love to redefine marriage to include anyone of sound mind who wants to marry, you know, since the constitution doesn't say otherwise or anything.

People are booing Alito! AAAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHA! Kickass.

"Treated and defeated." Is Bush rapping? He's gettin' down wid his badass.

Oh look. He talked about how he's going to work with African-American groups to defeat HIV, and then they cut to a shot of a Black person in the audience. Uh huh. That should totally be worth a drink.

Woohoo. It's over. Now it's time to channelsurf and see which network is the least obnoxious with the commentary.

What I'll be doing tonight

There are several versions of the 2006 State of The Union Address Drinking Game, but this one seemed to be the best. Plus, it's on a website devoted entirely to said drinking game, so that makes it the best by default.

The renaming of the Hancock Building

A friend of mine, who'd rather not traumatize his kid by blogging this himself, told me this story:

OK, so, my friend's child, who is seven, is a little obsessed with the Hancock Building. The other night, they were having dinner in some posh restaurant, when she started talking about how great the building is. Her little monologue went something like this:

"Wow, the Hancock Building is really really big. They should call it the Bigcock Building!"

My friend assures me she doesn't know what this means, and explained how he and his wife furiously tried, at this point, to change the subject without her realizing she'd said anything that was, uh, interesting in any way.

They weren't terribly successful. She continued, in typical seven-year-old singsong manner, playing with the name she had just invented:

"Bigcock! Bigcock! Biggiecock! Biggiecock!"

I can never look at that building with a straight face again.


OK, who is going around writing "teeth" all over town? More importantly, why?

Also, it was too dim to get a shot of it with my crappy camera, but this person also changed "HEATH" to "TEETH" on a green line map at Haymarket.

If you're going to enact discriminatory taxes, you need to at least explain how to pay them

OK, so we all know that same-sex couples have to declare health insurance benefits from their spouse's policy as income, since the federal government doesn't recognize any form of domestic partnership.

But how exactly is this done? I couldn't find it anywhere on the IRS website. The only thing I can find is: "Employer-provided coverage under an accident or health plan for individuals other than the employee, the employee’s spouse or dependents is included in the employee’s gross income (section 106) The term “dependent” is defined in section 152(a) of the Code. A domestic partner would not qualify unless the dependency tests are met."

What this doesn't explain is how the coverage translates to income. For instance, my company doesn't offer a two-person healthcare plan; there is only "individual" and "family." So, we have a "family" plan with two people enrolled. This plan costs more than twice as much as an individual plan and would allow us to cover infinite dependents. It can't be right to have to declare half of the yearly premium as income, given that it's a family plan.

I'm not even sure if we're supposed to base it on the premium; it just says "coverage." Are we supposed to declare the actual value of healthcare services utilized during the year as income? Or the value of healthcare services potentially available to us as a result of being "covered?" Do I need to go ask the assessor's office for the values of all of the hospitals in the region or what?

I'm probably going to hell for making fun of philanthropic pursuits, but...

From the Boston freecycle list. This is the weirdest post yet from a frequent poster who apparently gets yarn from freecycle, makes it into stuff, then refreecycles it.


Yeah, I bet you are a small bag.

(Um, scarf hat?)


MassNews's "JUDGE MARSHALL RESIGN" banner just flew past my office window (with an airplane towing it).

Honestly, there's something really wrong with people spending millions of dollars to hire airplanes to protest something that doesn't affect them.

Also, speaking of people who are confused as to what does and does not affect them, the Massachusetts Citizens for Marriage group is billing themselves as "a secular umbrella for religious and non-religious groups favoring the continuation of traditional marriage."

Uh, I wasn't aware that there was any sort of legislation pending that would end traditional marriage. What do they need this group for, exactly?

Google is truly taking over the world

I just googled some U2 lyrics, and what should pop up but a google music page for U2. Google...music? Is there anything google doesn't have?

Evil thought for the day

The Behavenet DSM clinical capsules (pages that list the DSM criteria for each disorder) should have an "e-mail this page" link at the bottom. You know, like, to anonymously send the criteria for a disorder to someone. I can think of plenty of candidates.

As if a whole lot of OTHER popular music is shockingly original...

"Petals" by Mariah Carey sounds disturbingly like "Kiss from a Rose" by Seal.

And no, I wasn't intentionally listening to Mariah Carey. It's Pandora's fault. I am really liking the song, but Seal's song is much better.

Update on Shannon Fitzpatrick

I received a very nice e-mail yesterday from Shannon Fitzpatrick, the female student who competed in the Mr. Saugus High School competition last week. She was googling her name and found One Smoot. She pointed me to a follow-up story and updated me on how the competition went. Well, she didn't win, though she says "I didn't really expect to." More importantly though, she described how "people who I didn't even know were coming up to me in the hallways and telling me how proud they were of me" and stated that large numbers of people who would not have ordinarily have come to such an event came to the event to cheer her on. What an inspirational young lady.

Sovereign Bank also annoys me

Two weeks ago, Molly and I went into Sovereign Bank so that we could change my account to a joint account and close hers to make our lives easier. We were helped by a nice, animated gentleman who laughed at our jokes about terrorists and bird flu. He set up the account and everything and told Molly to expect her ATM/check card in seven business days.

Yesterday, as it had been more than seven business days, I called their 800 number and was put on hold five times for a total call duration of 22 minutes, to learn that she had never been added to the account. I tried calling the branch multiple times to figure out why this was, and each time, I was told that only the person who had initially helped me could help me, and he was at lunch. Twice in one day, in fact. Wouldn't the second one have then been dinner? Or perhaps the first one would have been breakfast?

Today, I got smart and went into the branch. I told the person (not the same one) what was going on. He pulled up the account and found that the signature card had not been processed and the ATM card had not been ordered. So, he got on the phone with the people who deal with ordering cards, who said they could FedEx the card and we could have it the next day. OK, that's acceptable. Wait, then he tells me that she wouldn't receive the PIN in the mail for seven business days, so the FedEx'd card would be useless. Couldn't they FedEx the PIN too? No, they don't expedite PINs, only cards. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

So, he said we can expect the card in another seven business days. I explained to him that three-plus weeks to be able to use your bank account is pretty ridiculous, and he agreed, and said he'd refund us five dollars. Gee, thanks.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center continues to irritate me

I just picked up my phone and immediately got an automated message saying, "This is the business office at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. It is important that you call us back..."

Uh, what? I picked up the phone. Is it so hard for there to be a person there?

For what it's worth, they called me last week with the same message, only I got it on my voicemail the other time, so it made a little more sense. When I called back that time, they said that they were inquiring as to whether I planned to pay my balance with them. My response was that I'd pay for it when I received a bill for it.

The person of course had no record as to whether they'd ever billed me for it.

So I did receive a bill a few days later, and I called them to let them know I wouldn't be paying it, since I still have a credit with them for more than the amount of this newest bill. The person told me that this would result in my bill going to collection, since every visit is considered to be a separate account and the credit from overpayment on another visit has no effect on what I currently owe.

Of course, the credit I have resulted from a previous time when they told me the same thing and insisted I pay them money I didn't actually owe them...

I've given up on trying to understand the Beth Israel business office, but if any of my readers have any questions for them, such as, say whether their refrigerator is running, the number is 866-306-7647.

One more reason to love Alanis

In a live version of "Ironic," which I just heard on Pandora, she sings the lyrics as, "It's meeting the man of my dreams, and then meeting his beautiful...HUSBAND!"

Pondering ableist language and how to avoid it

Today I'm writing a treatment plan that includes a goal, devised by our treatment team, along the lines of "[individual] will notify a provider if she experiences symptoms of psychiatric decompensation."

I've never been a fan of the word "decompensation," because, if we think about the word, it has some ableist undertones to it. The word basically implies that someone, when receiving appropriate supports, is "compensated" (not experiencing acute mental illness). In other words, the person's default presentation is to be experiencing acute mental illness, and the person is only functional because he or she is "compensating" for illness. Personally, I like to think of it from the opposite point of view. I like to think that a person's true self is the self that functions well, and then the person is at times hindered by various degrees of distress and dysfunction. To view a person as being "compensated" when he or she is doing well is to view that person as having a core of mental illness, rather than as a whole person who at times experiences mental illness.

I suppose what's particularly intriguing is that the word "baseline" is also commonly used in the mental health field. (This is actually also a word I hate, because it's applied so inconsistently that I find it pretty meaningless; I hear it used to refer to a person's typical presentation, a person's highest observed level of functioning, or used as a synonym for "stable.") What's intriguing though is that if we use it how it seems to be used most commonly -- to refer to someone functioning generally well without experiencing any acute mental illness -- then it actually contradicts the concept of being compensated or decompensated.

If someone is going to work and eating and sleeping and has friends and is generally doing well, that person could be said to be "at baseline." Meaning that the person is functioning as his or her normal old self. If this is the "normal old self," then it's contradictory to say that the person is "compensated," which implies that the "normal old self" is when the person is experiencing acute illness. We can't accurately use "baseline" and "decompensated" in the same field, because they really have opposite implications.

Personally, I prefer that we don't use either of them. I like to cut the jargon and stick to using descriptive and humane terms. "He was having a period of difficulty during which he experienced severe depression and reported staying in his house for up to a week at a time." That tells me what's actually happening with a human being. "He was decompensated" doesn't tell me anything, except that someone is being viewed as an illness rather than a person.

A public service announcement to all the good people of Boston

You know those labels that are sewn onto the sleeves of coats, using a few loose stitches? Like, on suit jackets and overcoats? The ones that say the brand name or "100% wool" or something along these lines? These are not meant to be left on the garment once you purchase it.

Now, I know that the idea of stitches being temporary might be an overwhelming concept for you McExecutives who would never in a million years attempt to make or mend something, and who view everything as disposable rather than modifiable. But I promise you, loose stitching has been used in this manner for years and continues to be used on a lot of traditional garments. You don't go around wearing the size tags that are affixed by little plastic leashes, do you?

Another concern I have is why every single one of you tag-wearers got off at State Street, but this issue is much less pressing, given that it doesn't severely embarrass you, unlike riding around on the subway looking like you shoplifted your coat. I suppose though that if this trend continues, at least I will know in which neighborhood to start posting flyers and/or instruction manuals.

Why is the MBTA ripping off visitors to our city?

A 7-day MBTA visitor pass is $35.00.
The Boston Visitor Pass is valid for unlimited travel on the subway, local bus and inner harbor ferry.

The MBTA weekly combo pass is $16.50.
The Weekly Combo Pass costs $16.50. It is valid from Sunday to Saturday.
Valid on the subway, trolley, local bus, and commuter rail zones 1A and 1B.
Valid at all stations except Quincy Adams and Braintree.
For bus fares higher than $2.20, customer pays difference in cash.

OK, so the visitor pass includes the ferry, which the combo pass doesn't. And the visitor pass can be used for any seven consecutive days, which the weekly combo pass can't. But still, two weekly combo passes is only $33. The fare for the inner harbor ferry is $1.50. Unless you're a visitor who plans on taking a whole lot of ferry trips, the weekly combo pass is considerably cheaper.

Female student enters "Mr. Saugus High School" pageant

So, if all went according to plans, Shannon Fitzpatrick became the first girl to compete in the mock male beauty pageant at Saugus High School last night. I can't find a follow-up saying how it went though. Anyone who finds anything, please update me!

Oh, this is priceless

I wrote to the mayor's office this morning about a building on my street with loose bricks falling off of the building onto the sidewalk, the street, and most recently, my car.

I received the following reply:

Thank you for contacting the Mayor's Office. As always, we thank you for your concern. This is what has been done in response to the issue you've raised:

24-Hour ID # 213908
Entered By: Davidt
Re: Web complaint:


The substance of this message, including any attachments, may beconfidential, legally privileged and/or exempt from disclosure pursuant to Massachusetts law. It is intended solely for the addressee. If you received this in error, please contact the sender and delete the material from any computer.

Was it a typo that "follow-up" got left blank, or is this their oh-so-direct way of telling me that they are doing nothing about it?

RCN has a friend in Jesus?

OK, we don't need to get into why I just did a google search for "boston technology jesus" (without the quotes), but the first hit that comes up is RCN. As in the cable company.

EDIT: The RCN page now doesn't come up at all when I do the search. Hmm.

Which version of the constitution did YOU read?

Jeff Jacoby speculates as to why the population in Massachusetts is shrinking:

Maybe fewer and fewer people want to call Massachusetts home not because of its oppressive winters but because of its oppressive and demoralizing political culture. ... A supreme court that turns same-sex marriage into a constitutional right?

OK, it would be one thing to hypothesize that people might be leaving Massachusetts because they don't like living somewhere that's attempting to give civil rights to all people. I'm sure there are, in fact, people who'd rather live somewhere where same-sex couples are denied basic human rights. But this isn't what he's saying. He's not just stating that some people are against equality. He's implying that same-sex marriage somehow isn't a constitutional right. Has this guy studied the constitution at all? Of course it's a right. There's absolutely nothing in the constitution indicating that civil rights are only available to select groups of people. He really should stick to senseless ranting and not try to incorporate facts into his arguments.

On another note, Jacoby doesn't seem to get out of Massachusetts much. These are tiny states. Elsewhere in the country, people wanting to raise a family often move 30 or 40 miles away from the city and become commuters in order to fight rising housing costs and find small public schools and large yards. In Boston, you move 30 or 40 miles either north or south and you're in a different state. Rhode Island and New Hampshire each contain suburbs of Boston where a good number of people commute into the city. It's no different than other places in the country where cities are losing population and outlying areas are gaining population; it just happens to be across state lines here.

This is a paraskevidekatriaphobia-free zone

Happy Friday the 13th, from someone who was born on one.

The School of Practical Philosophy

For some reason, the ads all over the T for The School of Practical Philosophy are really raising my skepticism flag. For people who haven't seen the ads, they're offering a free 10-week course exploring how people can discover their purpose in life and find happiness. I've looked at the website, and the school is chartered by the Regents of the University of the State of New York, which would suggest that it pretty much has to be a legitimate organization without an "agenda" per se.

I don't know though; there's just something about the school offering a free course and the ads purporting to help people find happiness that feels kind of cult-like to me. Especially given that the site states that "The School of Practical Philosophy is staffed and cared for by its own students on a purely voluntary basis, without remuneration. Its tutors are all students of the school who have studied their subject for many years." A philosophy school using only philosophers from its own school seems to go against everything I learned in philosophy courses. It would seem to me that a philosophy school, by nature, would need to be composed of teachers from diverse backgrounds and schools of thought.

I don't, of course, mean "cult-like" in the sense that I think the organization is recruiting hostages and cutting them off from their families, but there's just something that rubs me the wrong way about groups advertising that they can bring people happiness. Sure, there are plenty of mainstream activities (religion, education, hobbies) that people pursue primarily to find answers and happiness, but I guess something about ads blatently advertising happiness just creeps me out.

It isn't "progressive" to use a loved one as a political pawn

"Politicians in Washington D.C. and Florida abused their public trust by forcing the government in the middle of my family tragedy," says Michael Schiavo, who has formed TerriPAC in an attempt to use Terri's memory as a way of advancing progressive causes. While civil liberties are something I'm in favor of, I'm really not liking how he's completely ignoring the real political issue central to her story: her civil liberties.

Terri Schiavo was killed because she had a cognitive disability. Aside from commentary from members of the disability community, I've heard very little mention of the real issue, which is that it's absolutely inhumane to starve someone to death. "Do not resuscitate" orders are an entirely separate legal and moral issue from what happened to Terri. She was not being kept alive artificially, was not medically unstable, and was not terminally ill. She was using a feeding tube due to an inability to swallow, as many individuals with and without cognitive disabilities do. Some friends of mine have a walking, talking, perfectly healthy toddler who uses a feeding tube because of difficulties swallowing and digesting. Would they be legally allowed to decide to stop feeding their child? Of course not. What's the difference between this child and Terri? Apprently it is legal to starve someone to death only if that person has a cognitive disability.

For whatever reason, many progressives have taken on the very non-progressive view that people with disabilities are not to be valued and have reframed this as a civil liberties issue. The government was not involved in the Schiavo family's tragedy until Michael Schiavo decided to starve someone to death. The current government, despite all of its limitations in terms of health care and social services, does not tend to seek out individuals with disabilities and go around harassing their families.

Mark Polit points out that "Progressives have a proud history of defending those who cannot defend themselves, seeking to give voice to the needs of the voiceless, and fighting for life over death. It is the right wing that promotes a culture of death, waging a war of aggression, torturing and murdering prisoners of war, supporting the death penalty, and seeking to roll back funding for health care for seniors and the poor. The powerful have long dehumanized other classes races or groups. And starving to death Terri Schiavo embodies the prejudice and misperceptions of disability that are prevalent in our society, just as similar dehumanizing attitudes have led to the aweful oppression of other minorities."

Laura Hershey writes that "many of my usual allies, people who support civil rights for other minority groups, have trouble embracing the rights of people with severe disabilities. Even dedicated progressives, perhaps overwhelmed by their fear of disability, seem to lose sight of the core value of human equality. To my knowledge no progressive or feminist group has tried to understand or address the injustices involved in this case of spousal and medical violence against a disabled woman."

Creating safety, whether physically or mentally

Following the shootings in Allston, most of the talk I've been seeing around the blogging community has been along the lines of either "Ohmygod I walk down that street every day" or some variation on "OK, I'm moving out of this neighborhood/city/state/dimension immediately."

I can understand that it's unnerving to have people shot on one's street. Once, in 1999 or so, I pulled onto I-5 Northbound in Seattle to go to visit my parents. As soon as I pulled onto the freeway, I saw that it was a complete parking lot at 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I turned on the radio to find out what was causing the backup and I heard that there was a "fugitive" running around on the freeway. This struck me mainly as annoying. The next report stated that the person had shot some people, been chased down the freeway by police, thrown the gun out of the car, and run onto the freeway. After another hour or so of sitting there, the report was that the person had shot some people in my parents' neighborhood of a couple thousand. I started to get a bit curious at this point. After about another hour, at which point everyone had turned of their engines and was wandering around the freeway, the report stated that a middle-aged man and woman had been killed in their home on my parents' short street. OK, so I started to care quite a bit more about the news report just then.

After finding out that they were safe, my family and I, our neighbors, and the media all created safety in our minds by emphasizing that this was a family who had recently moved into the neighborhood, didn't know anyone, was killed by another family member, and had always been a family with a lot of problems. We made it clear that no one knew them and they were nothing like any of us. Even though a horrendous shooting had taken place in my parents' neighborhood, we made sure that it wasn't like it was a kind of neighborhood where people got shot or anything.

Still, even though I definitely understand the need to convince ourselves that we are safe and that these things won't happen to us, wouldn't it actually be more productive for us to think in such a way that we do identify with these victims and realize that these things could very easily happen to any of us? During the recent confusion as to whether a shooting near Mass Ave had taken place in Roxbury or the South End and also the discussion of the quadruple murder in Dorchester, there has seemed to be this dichotomy in which people either dismiss the crimes as having taken place in circles that are nothing like theirs, or pointing out the significance of the crimes by emphasizing that the neighborhoods are similar to many of our own in terms of race and class of residents and cultural attractions present.

Should this really be necessary though? It doesn't make an affluent White person any safer to discuss how a particular crime occurred among unemployed people of color who have drug problems. It might make the person feel safer ("these things don't happen to people like me") but doesn't actually stop anyone from shooting said person. Nor does moving out of the neighborhood or avoiding neighborhoods with higher murder rates. People are very very infrequently murdered by random strangers on the street without an altercation, and years of avoiding certain neighborhoods only leads to missing out on what those neighborhoods have to offer; it doesn't prevent being shot by an acquaintance while sitting in the new home far from where all that horrible crime takes place.

Someone might be able to find a neighborhood with a lower crime rate than Boston's, but there is no place where crime is absolutely unable to happen. If someone gets murdered in a place with one murder per hundred years or 75 murders per year, the person is still dead. I doubt it's any consolation to the families of the people who were just killed that Allston is a quiet neighborhood without a lot of crime.

OK, so, most of us probably aren't rushing to pack up and move out of the city, but I also haven't heard a lot of talk of people in Allston responding to this incident by realizing that we need to fight for more police, more mental health treatment, better education, better jobs, and all those things that help communities reduce crime. I'd imagine that most Allston (and other Boston) residents are doing what my family and I did in 1999 or so and are reminding themselves that this family was not of their demographic. (Allston tends to be mainly made up of graduate students and young childless professionals, but is also home to a lot of lower-income recent immigrants, which it sounds as if this family was.) Is someone going to have to be shot in every community (by which I refer to demographics in addition to geography) for people to identify with these families and start really caring?