Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Happy Holidays (2015 edition)

Apparently, novelty candidate Donald Trump and some random Youtube pastor have decided that the annual "War on Christmas" is starting again: this time, it's because Starbucks changed their cups to plain red (which is particularly stupid, since what Starbucks removed from the cups wasn't Christian imagery; it was just random snowflakes, reindeer, and other secular decorations).

But as usual, the cries of "they can't say 'Merry Christmas' anymore!" are also going up. (I particularly like Trump's quote: "If I become president, we're all going to be saying, 'Merry Christmas' again. That I can tell you." Because he thinks that's a law he can pass? And people complain that OBAMA is a "dictator"?)

But, you know, "happy holidays" is actually a valid thing to say for the rest of the year. It isn't that there's a war on Christmas - somebody seems to have forgotten that there are other holidays.

For example, today was Veteran's Day. Speaking as a veteran, fuck you if you're ignoring it in favor of something a month and a half away. (The British call it "Armistice Day." If you happen to be Canadian, it's called "Remembrance Day" - same thing, just more polite.)

If you happen to be Hindu, this whole week is a celebration, based around Diwali (most of the festivals have different names in different parts of India, since they have a cubic buttload of languages in that country). You missed Dhanteras on Monday, but today is specifically Diwali, the "Festival of Lights," which spiritually celebrates the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. It's a big-ass party, and you're missing out on it just because you're too small-minded and provincial to move out of your comfort zone.

It also happens to be Kali Puja, where the remembrance of Kali sets you free from evil, both within yourself and from the world around you. So there's that. And then tomorrow, the fourth night of Diwali, is called Govardhan Puja, when Krishna defeated Indra by benchpressing the Govardhan hill. (Seriously - look it up.)

And then, on the fifth day of Diwali, we have Bhai Dooj, which is all about celebrating the bonds between brother and sister. (It's a little bit sexist, to be honest - the sister is supposed to cook the brother's favorite food, and it's all about the duty of a brother to protect his sister, and a sister's blessings for her brother. But, hey, if they aren't yelling at each other? That's a bonus right there.)

Then, this Sunday (November 15th) through Wednesday morning (the 18th, if that math is a little hard for you) , we have Chhath Puja, which is thanking the Sun god for his blessings (and maybe getting a little spiritual cleansing in, at the same time). It's famous for being the holiday when Hindus bathe themselves in the waters of the Ganges and epidemiologists have heart attacks.

The day after that, November 19th, is the Great American Smokeout. Not really a holiday, but since my mom smoked herself to an early grave, I support it. So there it is.

And for Pete's sake, we haven't even made it to Thanksgiving, people! How can you bitch about "taking Christ out of Christmas" when you're ignoring "Giving Thanks"? (And for my own little part in the War on Christmas, Santa needs to haul his fat jolly ass back on the other side of Thanksgiving, where he belongs!)

Advent begins on November 29th, too. You're going to bitch about ignoring Christmas, but all you do with Advent is pull pieces of chocolate out of a calendar?

For that matter, both the Christian tradition and our secular friends have a whole flood of holidays throughout the month of December, as I've covered before. Feel free to review some of them if you're curious.

Among the Buddhists, the 8th of December will be Rohatsu, or Bodhi Day. (Rohatsu literally means "8th day of the 12th month," incidentally.) It commemorates the day that the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautauma, or Shakyamuni) achieved enlightenment. Traditions vary amongst Buddhist sects, but usually include meditation, study of the texts, chanting the sutras, or simply performing kind acts toward others.

Now, Chanukah this year will run from sunset on Sunday, December 6, through Monday, December 14, 2015. This should be moderately important to Fox "News" watchers, since they like to trumpet the importance of the "Judeo-Christian tradition." Weirdly, the "Judeo" half of that seems to fall to the wayside a lot.

Which means that they'll also be ignoring the fast of the Tenth of Tevet (in Hebrew, עשרה בטבת‎, or Asarah Be'Tevet), which happens to fall on December 22 this year. It commemorates the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and among observant Jews, it's a day of fasting from dawn until dusk, with a small service at the end of the day.

Most interestingly, to me at least, December 24th (Christmas Eve to most Americans) has a special meaning this year. It also happens to be Eid Milad ul-Nabi, the Sunni celebration of the birth of the Prophet: the Sunni celebrate it on the 12th day of Rabi' al-awwal (the third month in the Islamic calendar); the Shia celebrate it on the 17th of Rabi' al-awwal. (If you're curious, some sects of Islam, particularly the Wahabbi, consider the celebration itself to be bid'ah, an unnecessary religious innovation.)

Depending on where you are in the world, the observance can be anything from a solemn ceremony to a carnival atmosphere, and can include anything from an exchange of gifts to doing charitable work.

So you see, there are plenty of holidays to come through the end of the year. And with about 3 out of every 10 customers not being Christian (and even among the remaining 70%, there being a lot more than just Christmas to be observed), obviously, it's only reasonable to say "Happy Holidays!"

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Twitter Trolls and "Hackers"

Our right-wing, anti-choice "friends" have a new tactic on Twitter. They're effectively hijacking accounts. For example:

There's a guy on Twitter calling himself "Realtin Connor" (@RealtinConnor). He's been around for about 5 years, and he's pro-choice. In the middle of September, another account appeared, calling himself "Ryan Cooley" (@RealtinConnor1). His first tweet is September 14, although he retweeted a couple of things from September 11.

I came into this story yesterday, when the new one, Ryan Cooley, followed me. Never met either one before this. But I always check people before I follow back, and I noticed that most of Cooley's tweets were "my original account has been hacked. Please report @RealtinConnor." But I've been seeing a lot of douchebags running around Twitter lately, and didn't think I should just take this new guy at his word.

After all, let's use Occam's Razor: what is easier to do? To hack somebody else's account? Or to set up a fake account?

So I scrolled through both timelines. The most obvious difference is that "Realtin Connor" reads more like a real person - he can be a little bit of a dick, but he actually interacts with people, making decent arguments and seems to believe in what he's saying.

On the other hand, "Ryan Cooley" (the one with the "1" after the username) has a fairly shallow timeline. He retweets from a limited number of sources, and makes bad arguments. His tweets seem more like someone pretending to be pro-choice, but not really believing it.

His first two "original" tweets (not retweets) aren't really the words of someone furious because his Twitter account has been stolen (or even particularly feminist).

Some of his retweets are... let's call them "inartfully phrased." The type of tweets that someone who is virulently anti-abortion would think was indicative of the pro-choice movement, but more reasonable people look at and think "Oh, honey. You could have said that better."

He made the somewhat lame excuse that he could prove he was the original, because he NEVER makes typos.
Then there's this interesting little exchange between some rabid anti-abortion types.

That link, by the way, is to an anti-abortion blog which tries to dox Realtin Connor as Ryan Cooley. This is presumably when @RealtinConnor1 started calling himself "Ryan Cooley."

(Now, a quick philosophical question - why would the anti-abortion type not report both names, if both are pro-choice? Collusion, perhaps? Just a thought...)

Shortly after that, he got his standard whine a little bit backward at least once.

The part that I find the most suspicious is that he had several interactions with "Tom LaRue," who has been targeting and harassing several pro-choice women in the last few days. (This example appears to have occurred around the time that Tommy abandoned his old account (@TomReformed) and started a new one (@TomReformed1) - presumably because he was either suspended, or felt he'd been reported a little too often.)

I actually took longer writing this than I'd planned - it just kept getting weirder the more I looked.

This is all circumstantial, but it suggests to me that:

1. Realtin Connor (@RealtinConnor) was never hacked - he has an impersonator.

2. Ryan Cooley (@RealtinConnor1) is the troll in this case.

I don't have the "forensic internet tools" to be sure in this case. But this should be fairly easy for Twitter to establish. Look at the source information from the original account (@RealtinConnor) - location, phone number, email address - prior to September 1. Compare it with the information from both accounts right now. I suspect that the original account will have matching data.

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Denali: a quick review

The "big scandal" last week was the renaming of an Alaskan mountain to its original name, which, the Right claimed, was an obvious overreach of presidential power and a blatant example of the tyrannical Obama administration desecrating American history!

The rest of the country yawned. Except in Alaska, where they poured another drink and said "About damned time."

The outrage pretty much played itself out almost as quickly as it began, but let's take a quick run-through of the actual facts of the situation.

On Friday, August 28, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell issued the order changing the name to Denali.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) expressed his deep disappointment on Sunday night about the decision. Of course, since he spends every day looking for new things to complain about regarding Obama, nobody really cared.

Another Ohio congresscritter, Rob Portman, whined on Facebook that "This decision by the Administration is yet another example of the President going around Congress." Which is technically correct - it's a job that Congress didn't need to be involved in. The Secretary of the Interior was just making an administrative correction to the record, changing the mountain to the name preferred by the people of that state.

But perhaps you should hear the whole story.

See, the Athabaskan natives who inhabited the area called it Denali, which, loosely translated, meant "that big fucking hill over there." (OK, admittedly a very loose translation.) The Russians, when they owned the area from around the mid 1700s until 1867, called it Большая Гора (Bolshaya Gora) or "Big Mountain" basically the Russian translation of Denali. The Russians left, and it was Denali again (with a brief period as Densmore's Mountain in the late 1880s and early 1890s, after the first English-speaking white man to reach the base of the mountain).

In 1896, a gold prospector named named William Dickey wrote an account in the New York Sun about his travels through Alaska, and took it upon himself to name it "after William McKinley of Ohio, who had been nominated for the presidency, and that fact was the first news we received on our way out of the wonderful wilderness."

(Side note: McKinley was a strong proponent of the gold standard, so it follows that a gold miner would be a big fan.)

William McKinley was elected president the following year. The United States formally recognized the name Mount McKinley after President Wilson signed the Mount McKinley National Park Act of February 26, 1917. Which confused the Alaskans, most of whom had been calling it "Denali" all this time.

In his entire life, McKinley never visited Alaska, and in fact, he'd been dead for almost 60 years before it became a state.
In 1975, the Alaskan legislature backed a proposal to switch the name back to Denali. But when the Board on Geographic Names requested public comment on the matter, Ohio Rep. Ralph Regula, who represents the district where McKinley grew up, swiftly came to Mount McKinley’s defense. He convinced the entire Ohio congressional delegation to oppose the recommendation, and the names committee put off the matter. He also added an amendment to the 1980 legislation expanding the national park around the mountain that would rename the park “Denali,” but keep "McKinley" for the peak, in hopes that a compromise would settle the debate.
So basically, it's just Republicans and people from Ohio whining about it. Because apparently, "state's rights" doesn't mean as much in the GOP as it once did.

Bristol Palin, taking a break while waiting to whelp yet another out-of-wedlock child, weighed in to complain "By the way, no one is buying the 'Denali is what the Alaskans have called it for years' line. I’ve never called the mountain Denali... and neither does anyone I know..."

Bristol, permit me to introduce you to someone you might be interested in. Her name is Sarah.

Right about a minute and a half in, Sarah says "Denali, The Great One, soaring under the midnight sun." It's subtle. You might have missed it, particularly if you nodded off like most of us do when your mom starts talking.

Rob Portman (R-OH) took to Facebook to whine "I now urge the Administration to work with me to find alternative ways to preserve McKinley's legacy somewhere else in the national park that once bore his name."

Well, I'm sure there's an outhouse up there somewhere that could use a name plaque. Because seriously, what the hell business is it of the people of Ohio to try and interfere with a matter internal to Alaska? Send them a statue - I'm sure they'll be happy to mount it in front of the Visitor's Center. Or name something in your own godforsaken state after him.

Once again, our friends in the GOP just started whining as soon as they saw Obama's name. This one fell apart on them pretty quickly, but I'm sure they'll be on to something new soon enough.

Maybe they can complain about the color of Obama's suit again. That one was pretty funny.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Yes, We Have No...

So, we had a couple of bananas that were about to "go off." I had an hour and some ingredients. So there it was.

There's a basic recipe I like, from the first edition Betty Crocker cookbook (1950 - it isn't exactly mint condition; the spine is held together with duct tape, and some of the pages are in bad condition). Banana bread isn't exactly rocket science, to be honest, but it's practically bulletproof. The basic recipe reads:

Mix together:
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup soft shortening
2 eggs
Stir in:
3 tbsp sour milk or buttermilk
1 cup mashed banana (mashed with fork or pastry blender)
Sift together and stir in:
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Blend in 1/2 cup chopped nuts.

Pour into well-greased loaf pan. Let stand 20 minutes before baking. Bake at 350°F for 50 to 60 minutes. Let it stand for about 10 minutes on a cooling rack before you take it out of the loaf pan.

That's it. Pretty straightforward, and pretty damned quick.

Thing is, you don't have to follow things exactly. Let's start with the fact that I had 3 bananas: probably two cups (I'm not sure - who the hell measures bananas?). Oh, well. Throw it all in there.

I wanted to use brown sugar. That has to be by volume, not weight: you gotta pack it into the measuring cup.

And we don't use a lot of shortening around my house. Normally, I replace butter with shortening (you have to use about 25% more butter), but I had cream cheese that needed to be used - closer to half a cup, maybe a little more.

Had a kind of an issue with the eggs: I started to crack it on the mixing bowl, and apparently found a weak part in the shell - most of the eggwhite ended up on the floor. So I added another egg. This loaf got an extra yolk.

Sour milk? With my son? We can't keep milk in our house long enough to go sour. I swear he just pulls a gallon out of the fridge and sticks a straw in it. And we don't drink a lot of buttermilk in these parts, thanks; I'm not gonna buy it special just to use up a couple of bananas.

Sift? Motherfucker, that's why they MAKE blenders. Just pour it in slowly so you don't get stuff all over the kitchen: first the baking powder, the soda and the salt, then the flour. Lob the nuts in on top, and stop as soon as the flour is mostly mixed in (don't go too long - you don't need the extra gluten that you get from too much mixing).

As for letting it stand before baking for 20 minutes? It sits there long enough for the oven to preheat. And that whole "Let it stand for 10 minutes" thing? Nah - that's how you get it stuck to the loaf pan. I flip it out on the cooking rack right away. (Do I have to mention that it's hot? You're an adult, right?)

And you know how it came out? Goddamned perfect, that's how it came out.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wimoweh (The Lion Doesn't Sleep Tonight)

Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, is now wanted in Africa for poaching. Do we have an extradition treaty with Zimbabwe? Because I'll be happy to set up a GoFundMe to ship him back there to face trial.

I don't oppose hunting. Culling the herd, eating the meat: at that point, if you also want to take a trophy? Well, it's a little creepy, but that's another part of the animal that won't go to waste, I guess.

But every time another detail come out about this story, it just gets worse and worse.

Palmer claims he was on a legal hunt, with all the proper permits. That's bullshit - pure, unadulterated bovine fecal matter. Palmer is so full of crap his eyes are brown.

At what point did anything about this hunt seem legitimate? They dragged a dead animal behind their jeep to lure an endangered animal out of the preserve. That didn't seem a little questionable to him? They let him shoot a 200 pound lion with an under-powered crossbow. When, as anybody who knew anything about hunting could have foreseen, the lion didn't immediately die, it took them almost two full days to track it down, as it slowly bled out, suffering and in pain. They tried to destroy the radio tracker around the lion's neck, but couldn't even do that right.

Nobody eats lion meat by choice. It's a predator, which means the meat is tough and stringy; it's a carnivore, which means the meat is rank. The only reason to hunt them is because you think you deserve to kill any damned animal on the planet.

Palmer isn't a hunter, he's a sadist. He's been charged for illegal hunting before, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that his basement was set up as a torture chamber for the squirrels he could trap around his home. He was probably the type of evil kid who giggled after jamming firecrackers up a cat's butt or stapling a duck's beak shut.

I've got to admit that I don't have any problem with the fact that, in the uproar, he's had to close his dental practice, and protesters are setting up a memorial to Cecil the Lion outside it. Palmer is an evil, overprivileged bastard, and he needs to learn what the inside of a Zimbabwean jail looks like.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Whatever happened to Trump University?

The Republican party has been trying to reach out to the Hispanic community to garner votes, and it's been a struggle for them. A struggle that Donald Trump made worse two weeks ago, saying that all illegal immigrants were drug dealers, rapists and criminals. ("And some, I assume, are good people," he grudgingly added.)

The Hispanic community was understandably outraged. And Trump, as he does, refused to back down from those statements.

Obvious anagram Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, had to call Trump to tell him to tone down the rhetoric, because it was hurting the Republican brand. That's not likely to work - whether it was negative or positive attention, he got attention for his remarks, and that's what Trump lives for.

(On a side note, who was the first person to call him "Obvious anagram Reince Priebus"? Because I'd like to shake that guy's hand.)

Donald Trump has been called "the id of the Republican party," which is accurate enough. He is the embodiment of the basic, instinctual drives of a person, the reptilian forebrain slipped into human skin. But more than that, he is also the Ego of the Republican party. By any definition. He is a self-serving, self-centered evangelical preacher of the Word of Trump. He, himself, is the center of his entire universe, and nothing is more important to him than building himself up, so that others can marvel at how important he is.

Trump feels the need to keep reminding people that he's "really, really rich." Well, of course he is: his father was a multi-millionaire real estate developer. The children of rich people tend to be rich, too.

The man who's filed for bankruptcy four times wants us to trust him with America's economy. That seems like an obviously stupid idea to anybody who thinks about it, but Trump is trusting most of America to be as stubbornly ignorant on as many subjects as he is. (And sadly, that may be a good bet.)

The man has had to close or sell off almost as many casinos as he's opened. And it's really hard to lose money with a casino. But it's easy to set up a scam, isn't it?

People, it's only been two years. Has everybody forgotten that Donald Trump got sued by the State of New York for a scam called Trump University?
The lawsuit, which seeks restitution of at least $40 million, accused Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization and others involved with the school of running it as an unlicensed educational institution from 2005 to 2011 and making false claims about its classes in what was described as “an elaborate bait-and-switch.”

In a statement, Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general, said Mr. Trump appeared in advertisements for the school making “false promises” to persuade more than 5,000 people around the country — including 600 New Yorkers — “to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn’t afford for lessons they never got.”

The advertisements claimed, for instance, that Mr. Trump had handpicked instructors to teach students “a systematic method for investing in real estate.” But according to the lawsuit, Mr. Trump had not chosen even a single instructor at the school and had not created the curriculums for any of its courses.


The inquiry into Trump University came to light in May 2011 after dozens of people had complained to the authorities in New York, Texas, Florida and Illinois about the institution, which attracted prospective students with the promise of a free 90-minute seminar about real estate investing that, according to the lawsuit, “served as a sales pitch for a three-day seminar costing $1,495.” This three-day seminar was itself “an upsell,” the lawsuit said, for increasingly costly “Trump Elite” packages that included so-called personal mentorship programs at $35,000 a course.
The details of this story kept getting more and more bizarre as press conferences were held and details were leaked.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says many of the 5,000 students who paid up to $35,000 thought they would at least meet Trump but instead all they got was their picture taken in front of a life-size picture of "The Apprentice" TV star.


The lawsuit says many of the wannabe moguls were unable to land even one real estate deal and were left far worse off than before the lessons, facing thousands of dollars in debt for the seminar program once billed as a top quality university with Trump's "hand-picked" instructors.
(More details can be found here and here.)

There is very little in Donald Trump's business dealings that aren't self-serving, shady, or both. This might make him the perfect Republican, but it would make him a very, very bad president.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Failure at the Bully Pulpit

On Wednesday, Medea Benjamin of Code Pink confronted Lindsey Graham at a press conference, and really didn't do a particularly good job.
Benjamin was supposed to be asking the Republican presidential candidate a question, but instead held onto the microphone for more than two minutes before security escorted her out of the room. While she still had the floor, Benjamin implored Graham to speak out against beheadings in Saudi Arabia and the Israel’s “repression” of the Palestinians, among other issues.
Graham had a chance to respond appropriately, and instead he chose to flounder.
“Is there a question?” an uncomfortable-looking Tapper asked as Graham chuckled to himself and rubbed his eyes.

“I’m going to put her down as undecided,” Graham joked after Benjamin’s mic had been taken away. While he said he respected her right to express her opinion, the senator said, “I couldn’t disagree with you more.”

“I think people like you make the world incredibly dangerous,” he continued. “I think people like you are radical Islam’s best hope.” He argued that the Iraq War did not create ISIS just as American intervention did not set the stage of 9/11. “You’re not going to fool me that somehow we brought this upon ourselves,” he said.
So, apparently, despite being a US Senator, Graham is either willfully ignorant or a liar. (I'm willing to say "both," but perhaps I'm too forgiving.)

OK, let's go through this quick: in the 80s, the CIA funneled money to train fighters in Afghanistan. One of those fighters was the son of a rich architect, a guy named Osama bin Laden who would go on later to create a little social club called Al Qaeda. So, already we see where American intervention over there didn't do us much good.

Then we went into Iraq and started blowing shit up. People lost their homes, their families and their hope. And like many hopeless people through history, they turned to religion.

On top of that, we left former Iraqi soldiers and former Al Qaeda operatives with no jobs, and since all of their training was in the area of "urban destruction," and they suddenly had plenty of time on their hands, they needed a hobby as well. So, Lindsey, that was how we helped create ISIS. Simple, right?

But both Lindsey and Benjamin held the national stage for a moment and neither one used it appropriately. Benjamin came to the Atlantic Council knowing that Graham would be there, and had plenty of time to prepare. She could have asked him a question that he could have been forced to respond to in some way.

For instance, "Senator Graham, you supported the invasion of Iraq. You consistently support our relations with Saudi Arabia, a repressive regime where most of the 9/11 terrorists came from. You have been consistently wrong in every way in dealings with the Middle East. Why do you think we should listen to you now, and especially why do you think we should put you in the White House?"

Instead she chose to do what CODE PINK does most of the time and just disrupt the proceedings with some incoherent rambling and unfocused anger.

Lindsey could have found a way to respond graciously, or could have begun discussing Middle Eastern policy. Instead, he make a lame joke and tried to dismiss with non sequiturs and lies.
“I think people like you are radical Islam’s best hope.”
How is that, Senator? Because she chose to exercise her right to free speech (even if she didn't do it well)?

Lindsey Graham showed that, at his best he would probably be an ineffective president; at his worst, he would most likely be that most dreaded of all natural disasters, a third Bush term. Medea Benjamin and Lindsey Graham met Wednesday night. But they were both prisoners of their own ideology.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Thank You For Your Service

It's that wonderful time of year in New Mexico, when we pack dried-out tents full of explosives, which are sold by sweating meth-heads smoking cigarettes.

Every year, this state loses thousands of acres of land to wildfires. And we celebrate independence by firing pyrotechnics into dried grass. Because that makes sense. But let's not worry about little, unimportant questions like "physics." Instead, let's consider the realities of living in the 21st Century.

For example, a few years ago, we had the C-Student President, whose advisers felt we needed a permanent base in the Middle East. So he took us to war. Around 68 hundred American soldiers died for this idiotic attempt to flex our military muscle. But, more importantly for (but oddly related to) the following issue, 970,000 soldiers were damaged (mentally or physically) in the course of fighting in those two related wars.

I figured out, some years back, my own minor insanity. I have the mildest case of PTSD ever reported - I just get cranky and irritable when shit starts blowing up. Which, if you think about it, just qualifies more as "survival instincts" than truly being PTSD.

But here's the problem: explosions have somewhat lost their thrill for a certain percentage of the American populace.

Remember, more now than for any generation of American people in decades, when shit blows up, it doesn't make you want to stand proud. It reminds you of a time when you didn't have control. When your friends and comrades were getting killed around you, and there was nothing you could do.

There was a time when the Republican party celebrated the sacrifices of the American fighting forces. Now, they'd like to forget they exist.

But maybe, just maybe, you can remember them, just for this year. Every time you blow something up, you're reminding them of a time that they'd rather forget. Every firework you set off hurts someone in ways you can't begin to imagine. Be respectful of our troops.

Some of them sacrificed more than you think.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why do you think they're using the "Confederate Battle flag," specifically?

Let's talk about the Confederate flag, shall we?

In the wake of the racist hate crime in Charleston, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley apparently felt that residents of the Palmetto State weren't ready to discuss removing the Confederate flag just yet.
You know, right now, to start having policy conversations with the people of South Carolina, I understand that's what ya'll want, my job is to heal the people of this state... There will be policy discussions and you will hear me come out and talk about it. But right now, I am not doing that to the people of my state.
Apparently, this sort of flag talk is very traumatizing in South Carolina.

Eternal debutante Lindsey Graham positively got the vapors at the thought.
If at the end of the day, it is time for the people of South Carolina to reconsider that decision, it would be fine with me, but this is part of who we are.

The flag represents to some people, a Civil War, and that was the symbol of one side. To others it is a racist symbol, and it has been used in a racist way. But the problems we have today in South Carolina and across the world are not because of a movie or because of symbols, it is because of what is in peoples' hearts.

How do you go back and reconstruct America? What do you do in terms of our history?
Well, here's the thing about history, Scarlett. You aren't required to celebrate it. Particularly when it's the history of a group of people who felt they were allowed to keep other people as livestock, because those other people happened to have a darker skin.

There are things we shouldn't be proud of. Slavery is one of them.

The "heritage" argument has been around for years, and it's always been a fairly thin argument. As Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention put it:
Some would say that the Confederate Battle Flag is simply about heritage, not about hate. Singer Brad Paisley sang that his wearing a Confederate flag on his shirt was just meant to say that he was a Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. Comedian Stephen Colbert quipped, "Little known fact: Jefferson Davis - HUGE Skynyrd fan."
Or, to put it another way,

And it's not like this is a big secret, either. It's literally known around the world.

And yes, that is a fact.

So let's consider not clinging to your slave-owning past, and put away the symbols of racism. Maybe it's time to move on.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Nothing New Under The Sun.
Or In Pop Culture.

Do you think memes are something new?

In 1928, a cartoon by Carl Rose, which was captioned by E.B. White (of Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web fame), was published in The New Yorker. Broccoli was a new thing on the American plate, having been introduced by Italian immigrants on the East Coast.
The New Yorker was only three years old at that point, and was not as successful as it would be later. (Also, in what might be entirely coincidence, "spinach" was a term in 19th Century England for "nonsense.")

For whatever reason, the phrase caught on: "I say it's spinach" came to mean "to hell with it," and eventually "spinach" came to mean something worthless. Elizabeth Hawes, for example, titled her 1938 autobiographical exposé of the fashion industry, for example, Fashion is Spinach.

Alexander Woolcott used the phrase in 1934's While Rome Burns ("I do not myself so regard it. I say it's spinach.") S.J. Perelman was an American humorist who wrote (among other things) two Marx Brothers movies (Monkey Business and Horse Feathers) and, in 1958, a TV version of Aladdin with music by Cole Porter; he wrote a story in 1944 for the Saturday Evening Post called "Dental or Mental, I Say It’s Spinach."

Speaking of Cole Porter, other musicians used the phrase, too.

As with most immigrants, Israel Isidore Baline (better known as Irving Berlin) felt he needed to be more American (and more patriotic) than anybody around him. (It's pretty common with a person "born-again" into any subculture - religious, societal, or any other coherent group.) His way of doing that was to be more in touch with popular culture than anybody else. So he wrote songs that reflected "the common man" - many of them, we would now consider racist (but that was very common in America at the time).

In 1932, Berlin was already a successful musician, when he wrote the musical Face the Music. (That wasn't redundant. Shut up!) In it, he included the song "I Say It's Spinach (And The Hell With It)."

The lyrics start at 1:14, if you're in a hurry.

Also, despite the impression you get from the video, the first Popeye cartoon was made by Fleischer Studios a year after this song was recorded, in 1933. And at the end of the song, the Popeye-like voice is by a man named Poley McClintock. He'd been using the low, croaky voice on records since 1927; some people have suggested that voice actor William (Billy) Costello based the voice of Popeye on McClintock.

So, even without the internet, a single meme could find a place in the popular culture of America before parts of the country even had running water.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day 2015

On 8 July 2003, in the middle of the night, a squad of 13 guys led by me landed on the runway of what had been called, until very recently, the Saddam International Airport in Baghdad. We were there to take over security of the area from one of the squads who'd gone in to set up the camp four months earlier.

The landing was pretty standard for a region known for rocket attacks - we flew over the end of the runway, and then spiraled down, straightening out at the last possible moment, to touch down while presenting as small a target within reach of the ground forces as possible.

At that point, I was a lukewarm liberal, not the most outspoken person politically; my wife had eased me out of some fairly conservative views, and turned me into a compassionate human being (I'm not sure I've ever forgiven her for that).

While over there, seeing the rubble we'd left of a beautiful city and learning more and more about how the Bush Administration had lied to get America to go to war, my attitude began to swing more firmly to the left.

I was lucky (if that's the right word) that none of the guys I took there came back in a box (one of them essentially came back in a straightjacket, but that's a story for another time). We didn't have a lot of direct fire - our big risk was the daily, ongoing rocket and mortar attacks.

I started learning more about what went on in the run-up to the invasion, and when I got back to the States, I volunteered for the Kerry campaign. And I wasn't the only vet in the room. That didn't work out as well as we'd hoped, and the day after Kerry gave his concession speech, I filed my retirement papers from the military.

So maybe I have a different perspective on the subject. I find myself getting a little angry as the GOP tries to rewrite what is, for many of us, current events.

We didn't invade the country that attacked America, we invaded Iraq based on lies that they weren't cooperating with US weapons inspectors. To call that action "a mistake" is an abuse of the English language. But that's the currently popular position to take on the Right.

The full story (that some people in the Bush administration felt that we needed a permanent base in the Middle East, and it was just fine to destroy a country to get that) wasn't something that would go over well with the American people. So they had to change the narrative. It wasn't a "mistake," it was a calculated effort to mislead the public.

(If you don't know about them already, you should read up on the think tank that called themselves The Project for the New American Century. Jeb Bush is trying to back slowly away from his statement that he would have invaded Iraq, just like his brother did. (And of course he would have. Most of his advisers previously worked for his brother.)

Marco Rubio won't even go that far - he thinks it wasn't a mistake because it got Saddam out of power. So apparently, all those Iraqis can just suck it.

In a recent Rolling Stone article, Matt Taibbi pointed out that, as I said above, it was actually clear to a lot of people "that the invasion was doomed, wrong, and a joke."

It was not a "mistake," it was a cold-blooded, calculated conspiracy, carried out from the highest office in the nation.

It's a hell of a "mistake" that leads to almost 4500 dead Americans, and literally countless Iraqi dead and injured.

Memorial Day. It's all about remembering.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Maine Thing is Being Fertile

In Maine, we have found something almost as rare as a 3-legged Sasquatch. It's a Republican who wants to expand the Affordable Care Act.

Maine Senate Majority Leader Rep. Garrett Mason authored a bill that would force insurance companies to pay for fertility treatments. Which sounds, for a Republican, almost sympathetic: you have a couple trying desperately to have a child, and finally reach the point where their only solution is medical treatment that would cost thousands of dollars that they just can't afford. And Maine wants to make their lives just a little bit better.

Except for one thing: it includes a morals clause. The original language of LD 943, An Act to Provide Access to Infertility Treatment, has the following provisions:
A. The covered individual must be married;
B. The covered individual's infertility may not be the result of a sexually transmitted disease
And once again, the "small government Republicans" want to ensure that they can get the government to intervene in women's personal lives. Because everybody deserves the chance to have children, unless they're a slut. Because god knows that if they had an STD, they must have proven that they're unfit parents, right?

Now, Mason has said that he's open to removing the provisions. "I'm totally willing to do something that fits Maine better, and that is why we have the committee process."

Which is probably best. It's good that he's willing to remove these ignorant nanny-state provisions. I mean, it totally shows what a completely unthinking, small-minded, judgmental, moralistic fucknozzle Garrett Mason was to include them in the first place, but still. It's nice that he's willing to put them aside.

Because in its original form, this bill would lose the first time it went before the Supreme Court, which should have been obvious to anyone with the brain power of an Eastern White Pine (the State Tree of Maine).

It's good to know that rape victims who received an STD from their attacker might have had a good chance of being declared "unfit parents" in Maine, thanks to this simpering, slack-jawed, puffy-faced used car salesman.

I'm a little curious whether, if a couple has a divorce midway through treatment for infertility, would they be on the hook for the entire bill? Or just for the portion of the infertility treatment that came after the divorce was finalized? And would there be a "statute of limitations" for divorce? How long would the new parents need to stay married before the state wouldn't arrest them?

This bill has, at least, one area where it isn't discriminatory. Maine has recognized same-sex marriage since 2012. So at least it would be easier for lesbian couples to get pregnant.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lemon Pudding Cake

OK, so do you have about an hour and a half, just a couple of ingredients and some kitchen hardware, and want dessert? Good for you. You might or might not want to keep reading.

So here's what you do. You take two lemons, and you zest them.

Now, if you don't cook much, "zest" is the yellow part of the lemon skin, without any of the acidic white part under it. There are any number of ways to do it. Here's mine.
Yes, that's a microplane grater. Bought it at the hardware store. We only use it for food. (Trust me on that part. Sawdust should never be considered a food product.)

(On that subject, of course, look up the term "cellulose," and groove on how often it turns up in prepared food. Just a thought.)

The recipe calls for one and a half teaspoons of zest. I got this.
That's probably a tablespoon and a half. Maybe two. You got a problem with that? Yeah, then screw you, too.

Now, once you've taken a lot of the yellow off the outside of the lemon, you should probably juice it. (Sure, you can wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. Where it will turn interesting colors and eventually get rushed to the outside garbage can. Or you can just juice the damned thing now, OK?)

Fortunately, we need some of that juice now, too. First, you do this.
Yeah, seems obvious, right? This dessert is so goddamned simple, you'll be able to make it, like a champ, even if you needed that last step. OK?

Now, here's what I use. If you paid more than two bucks for it, you're an idiot.
It's a juicer. It isn't hard to use. Trust me.
OK, so you're done with that? Good. Leave it. You'll get back to it later.

Step one, you preheat the oven to about 350 degrees. You're also going to need a pot of boiling water.

Now, you take a 1/4 cup flour. The recipe says "sifted." I say "fuck it." We'll see who's right.
Add a cup of sugar, and the recipe says "1/4 teaspoon salt." Here's what I do.
You're measuring? Salt is cheap. Measure some, pour it into your palm, and remember what that looks like. And then never measure it again, OK?

Dumped that in? Now, that's all the really dry stuff. Remember that "sift" thing? Stir it with a fork. Trust me. The sugar and the salt breaks that shit up pretty well. Just do it.

Now you're going to get into some fancier cooking shit, OK? You get to separate two eggs. There's plenty of Youtube videos to teach you how to do this. Basically, you crack the egg carefully, and pour it back and forth between the shell halves, over a mixing bowl to catch the egg white. Then you drop the yolk into a different bowl.
So, what you end up with is this. You got a bowl with the yolks, and a mixing bowl with the whites.
Technically, you might notice that there are 3 yolks there. What happened was, in separating the second egg, the yolk broke, and I got some in with the whites. So I had to start over. The other yolk was fine, though, so why toss it?

So the recipe calls for 2 whites and 2 yolks. Will this be an issue? Hopefully not.

The whites get whipped in the mixer; while they're doing that, whip the yolks with a fork, just enough to mix them. The egg whites need to get to stiff peaks, so turn the mixer up to high, until they look like this.
Now, the recipe called for 1.5 teaspoons of zest. I've probably got 3 to 4 times that. It all goes in,
along with 1/4 cup of that lemon juice I squoze earlier,
the egg yolks and a cup of milk.
Just stir it enough to mix, and then fold in the egg whites.
(Basically, I dumped the whites on top, then used the spatula to slice through at an angle, and pull some of the liquid to the top. Do that a couple of times, and it's mixed reasonably well.

You can pour the mix into a 7.5" casserole dish, or, like I did, ramekins (some people call them custard cups); you put whichever you use into a baking pan.
Now, if you want to take a chance at hurting yourself or making a mess, you can do this some other way. What I do is I opened the oven door, pulled the rack halfway out of the oven, put the pan on the rack, and pour the boiling water (remember that from earlier?) about halfway up the cups, until it's even with the top of the batter in the cups.
Carefully slide the rack back in and close the oven. The recipe said to let it cook for 45-50 minutes. I checked them at 35 minutes, they were browned on top, and I pulled them.

Carefully remove from the oven. Now's another tricky part: the water is still boiling, and you need to get the cups out of it. (If you used a casserole, it's easier - just lift that shit out.) I took a big spoon in one hand, and an oven mitt on the other,
and transferred them to a cooling rack. (There will be a little dripping here. Keep being careful.)
And there you have it - six cups of lemony awesomeness. You have to let them cool before eating, but it's got a cakey crust on top, creamy, lemony bit on the bottom - it's amazing.
After I made it, the Trophy Wife told me that I was supposed to start with cold water in the pan - it'll boil in the oven. (Did that change the cooking time? Probably not 10-15 minutes worth - I also live in Albuquerque, a mile above sea level.)

This recipe is pretty much impossible to mess up. Everything I screwed up as I was making it, and it was still incredible.

In case it's important to you, here's the original recipe, from the 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook.

Lemon Cake Pudding

Sift together in mixing bowl:
    1/4 cup sifted flour
    1 cup sugar
    1/4 tsp salt
Stir in:
    1 1/2 tsp grated lemon rind (1 lemon)
    1/4 cup lemon juice
    2 egg yolks, well beaten
    1 cup milk
Fold in:
    2 egg whites, stiffly beaten

Pour into 1 1/2 quart casserole (7 1/2") or 6 custard cups. set in a pan of water (1" deep). Bake. Serve warm or cold, with or without whipped cream.

Temperature: 350 degrees (mod. oven)
Time: Bake 45 to 50 minutes
Amount: 6 servings

Friday, February 20, 2015

Random Restaurant Review: Heimat House

The phrase "German culture" has not been popular for a while. A lot of people ignore thousands of years of perfectly good history, and concentrate all their attention on Germany in the 1940s.

(Actually, an argument can be made for "hundreds of thousands of years" of history, since the oldest known spears were unearthed in Schöningen, near Hannover.)

However, those of us who lived there for 15 years or so have a somewhat different view of the country. It's clean, well-run, and the food is amazing. So I was interested to see what the food was like at The Heimat House, located conveniently near my job, at 6910 Montgomery Blvd NE (basically at the corner of Montgomery and Louisiana).

I'm happy to say it was incredible.

(A quick aside: Heimat is a German word that doesn't translate directly into English. A close equivalent is "home" or "homeland," but a better description would be that it's the polar opposite of "social isolation." The Nazis tried to subvert the word for a while, but they failed.)

The exterior of the restaurant is still being renovated (not sure how much is actually being done), but the inside was done in dark woods (a line of large-screen TV's by the bar sort of ruined the ambiance, but... America, you know? Can't get through the day without enough distractions).

The Trophy Wife had a vegetarian schnitzel - a fried eggplant with standard schnitzel breading. The outside was crisp and delicious, while the inside was buttery-soft. (Not a huge fan of eggplant myself, but if I had to eat it, this would be the way to go.)

It was served with a cucumber salad (good; very traditional), and a large side of the best spätzle I've had since we left Germany. They were soft, creamy and flavorful, and practically melted in your mouth.

(As long as we're talking about the German language, spätzle translates to "little sparrows" for no particularly good reason any more - at first, they were shaped by hand or spoon, and looked vaguely like birds. It hasn't been true for probably a century or more.)

I had a roulade (a rolled pastry filled with a pork cutlet, herbs and a pickle) in an incredible cream sauce, with some basic pan-fried potatoes and a small eggplant salad (which was definitely OK, but did I mention that I wasn't a huge fan of eggplant?).

Overall, it was basic Bavarian "peasant food," but done awe-inspiringly well. Considering the origins of the menu, I should have thought that the food ($12 to $20 per entree) was slightly overpriced, but the quality of the food easily made it worth the price.

In good (if stereotypical) German style, their extensive wine list was equal in size with their beer list.

We'll be going back.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Trotsky, White Supremacists, and the Origins of "Racism"

As I am wont to do, I was skulking around the dark back alleys of the internet, and accidentally stumbled across a newly-revived myth, one that I hadn't heard in over a decade. It was such a ridiculous idea, even at the time, that it didn't make much of an impression on me.

To be honest, I couldn't tell you when, exactly, it started. I first ran across the idea shortly around the turn of the century. Somewhere around 2005 or so, I came across a concept on some white supremacist websites, where they were claiming that the word "racism" was coined by Leon Trotsky as a term to browbeat dissenters in the Communist party, and has now been adopted by the "radical left." The year that he was supposed to have done this ranges from 1927 to about 1934, depending on where you find the claim. In fact, I'll let some reprint of a reprint from the white supremacist website Stormfront explain it.
The word "racist" has for a long time been the single most effective fear-word in the leftist and neoconservative arsenal. For decades, they have successfully used it in the political arena to slander traditionalists, shut down debate, and leave opponents running for cover. In the social arena, they have caused even more damage by using it to brainwash impressionable children and young college students, and to teach people to hate their nation, their cultural traditions, and worst of all, themselves.

What surprisingly remains almost totally undiscussed, even on the hard core traditionalist Right, is the word's origin. Did it come from a liberal sociologist? A 60's Marxist college professor? Perhaps a politician in the Democratic Party? No. It turns out that the word was invented by none other than one of the principal architects of the 74-year Soviet nightmare, the founder and first leader of the infamous Red Army, Leon Trotsky.

Take a look at this document if you would, dear reader.

Славянофильство, мессианизм отсталости, строило свою философию на том, что русский народ и его церковь насквозь демократичны, а официальная Россия -- это немецкая бюрократия, насажденная Петром. Маркс заметил по этому поводу: "Ведь точно так же и тевтонские ослы сваливают деспотизм Фридриха II и т. д. на французов, как будто отсталые рабы не нуждаются всегда в цивилизованных рабах, чтобы пройти нужную выучку". Это краткое замечание исчерпывает до дна не только старую философию славянофилов, но и новейшие откровения "расистов".

This is Leon Trotsky's 1930 work, "The History of the Russian Revolution", from which shown above is a passage. The last word in that passage is "расистов", whose Latin transliteration is "racistov", i.e., "racists". This work here is the first time in history one will ever find that word.
Almost sounds intellectual, doesn't it? Like he did his homework? Maybe knew what he was talking about, right?

Yeah, it sounds that way. It's total crap, of course, but it sounds really smart.

See, this is a basic ad hominem fallacy, where you "shoot the messenger" instead of taking on the argument itself. "This is a concept created by a monster from the old Soviet Union! Nobody ever used it before him! It's evil and tainted and can never be used!"

Except for one little problem. A quick look at the etymology of the word shatters the very premise of the argument.

See, right around the turn of the century, the English-speaking world was using terms like racialism, or sometimes race hatred or race prejudice (one of my personal favorites, dating back to the 1800s, was negrophobia). Around that same time, the French were using raciste or racisme (particularly, a few decades later, to refer to the Germans and their philosophies).

For example, the terms pensée raciste (racist thought) and individualité raciste (racial individuality) appear in La Terro d’oc: revisto felibrenco e federalisto from 1906.

The Oxford English Dictionary cites Richard Henry Pratt in 1902 for the first use of the word "racist" in English.

There are probaly earlier versions in both languages, but who needs them? We've already destroyed the basic premise of the argument.

Once again, the Right (and in this case, the Extremely Far Right) is trying to create a little revisionist history to give cover to their sins.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Are We Done With "Muslim No-Go Zones" Yet?

Fox "News" recently had to apologize for their idiotic support of the the idea that "Muslim No-Go zones" were flourishing: places where white people couldn't enter because they'd be killed by the scary Allah-worshippers.

In a reasonable world, when you're shown to be totally wrong on a subject, you shouldn't be called an expert. (And when the Prime Minister of England calls you an idiot, your career should be over.) But Fox "News" would not exist in a reasonable world.

It wasn't just that isolated incident, either. The concept was repeated multiple times, with one guest even expanding on the idea, to say that we should put razor wire around these mythical "no-go zones" and turn off the water, to drive them out and register them.

In Paris, at least one popular TV show (and much of social media) roundly mocked Fox "News."

The mayor of Paris didn't take it in such good humor: she considered suing them.

The myth of "no-go zones" is nothing new. They started cropping up after the 9/11 terrorist attack in 2001; you can even find maps of supposed "no-go" zones in America. These tend to be less common, though - it's too easy debunk. A simple road trip will show you the truth, so American racists prefer to place their scary "no-go zones" in far away places where their ignorant audience will never visit, like England or France.

It's just when they accidentally get quoted on the international stage, and those pesky Limeys and Frenchies point out that you're an idiot, that this strategy backfires on them.

So then, career racists like Mark Steyn desperately try to justify their lies, despite the fact that these are all questions that were settled years ago.

All of which leads to Bobby Jindal, apparently aware that his election requires him to mobilize the brain-dead racist wing of the party, doubling down on the racist myth, even though he can't substantiate it when confronted with facts.

Of course, will the bigots and low-information voters be willing to vote for a dark-skinned son of Punjab like Bobby Jindal? That's a tricky question, and one that Jindal might want to consider before he goes too far into the weeds on this.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Happy Holidays 2014! Our sporadically-annual review

Well, Thanksgiving is over, that last piece of turkey breast is shoved to the back of the refrigerator, and it's time for Fox "News" to start flogging the War on Christmas.

(Trivia: in the 1920s, Henry Ford published a series of anti-Semitic articles, and noted that “Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone's Birth.” But it wasn't until 1959 that the John Birch society published a pamphlet to warn the nation about an "assault on Christmas." In case you were curious where all this started.)

As usual, the Most Important Sign that there's a War on Christmas is the prevalence of people uttering the phrase "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!" An Un-American Act which blatantly fails to ignore the fact that not everybody is Christian!

But, because I'm something of a troublemaker, let's consider that little fact. Why IS "Happy Holidays" more appropriate than "Merry Christmas"?

There are any number of strange commemorations and artificial "holidays" set in December and early January, like National Bouillabaisse Day (December 14) and Poinsettia Day (December 12); I'm going to do my best to ignore those, in favor of religious (and semi-religious) holidays which might possibly mean a little more to a larger number of people.

(An argument can be made that Maple Syrup Day is holy to the Canadians, but, unlike the Américains impies, they celebrate it on February 6, when the sap first starts to flow, rather than December 17. So I'm feeling pretty safe on this one.)

December 22 is Forefather's Day, commemorating the Pilgrim's landing on Plymouth Rock. You want a whiter, more all-American holiday? And how come you didn't celebrate it last year, you commie?

The day after Christmas, December 26 is Boxing Day, which is mostly (but not entirely) only still celebrated in England.

If you're catholic, there's a whole string of feast days for various saints, if that's what you're into. (After slightly over 2000 years of history, they have wa-a-a-aayyy more than 365 saints, so there's a lot of overlap on them. You wonder if the saints sharing a particular day get along - do they go out drinking together on their day?)

In fact, you know that whole "12 days of Christmas" thing? It's twelve specific feast days, running from Christmas Day through Twelfth Night (5 January). There's a whole list of specific holidays for each of the twelve days; there's also a bunch of saint's days that have been tacked on. Both these lists vary depending on which flavor of Christian church you're dealing with. (There's also some question of how to tack on Epiphany - the day the Wise Men were supposed to have arrived - which is 6 January. If you're interested, you can read up on it on your own.

The point is, even if you're stuck on the "We're a Christian nation!" thing, you don't even have to leave your own traditions for "Happy Holidays" to be more accurate than "Merry Christmas." But we're better than that, right? We can accept that almost a quarter of the American population is not Christian, and maybe they have the right to have their own traditions, too.

For example, December 4 through December 21, a roughly 2-week string, are considered Zappadan, celebrating the life and works of Frank Zappa. Popular culture also gave us Festivus (you know, for the rest of us) on December 23.

Among the 6.6 million Jewish Americans, Hanukkah runs from December 17th through the 24th. And since our Christian friends like to talk about the "Judeo-Christian tradition," it's a little silly to complain about honoring that one, isn't it?

But this is America, and like it or not, there are plenty of people of other religions, too.

If you follow Tantric Buddhism, the 16th is Dakinis' Day, when they make offerings to the Dakinis (female embodiments of enlightened energy) and Mother Tantra. Among the Tibetan Buddhists, yesterday (December 13th, 2014) was Lha Bab Duchen, celebrating the Buddha's descent from heaven after teaching the Dharma there. And coming up on the 21st is Shakyamuni Buddha Day, where they meditate on the Buddha's teachings and strive to fulfill the Precepts. And the 29th is Tara Puja, the fast of Bodhisattva Tara (she has a lot of aspects - it's a little confusing, looking in from outside).

In the Islamic calendar, you just missed Arba'een (Arabic: الأربعين‎, "forty") on the 12th - a Shia observance that occurs forty days after the Day of Ashura, commemorating the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad. However, coming up on either the 3rd or 8th of January (depending on whether you're Sunni or Shia), we have Mawlid, celebrating the birthday of the prophet Muhammad.

If you happen to be African-American, Kwanzaa runs from December 26 through January 1, and it's a commemoration of African heritage; having first been celebrated in 1966, it's now officially older than a lot of the people bitching about it.

Here's a thought: if you're going to complain about people not honoring your white, Christian traditions, perhaps you shouldn't complain when they hold celebrations in honor of theirs.)

Monday, December 01, 2014

Are Democrats racist?

Wandering around the conservative end of the internet, every so often I'll slam up against the phrase "the Democrat Party is the most racist!" Usually misspelled, and often in all-caps.

It's easy to refute, but you end up knocking down the same arguments, over and over. For example:
The Democrats are the Party of the Klan
Now, it's true that Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Democrat even before he set up the first iteration of the Ku Klux Klan (there have been three, if you're curious). And it's also true that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican when he was first elected.

(Fun fact: Lincoln left the Republican Party at the end of his first term. Republicans are rarely aware of that: for his second term, Lincoln created the National Union Party, a coalition party made up of both Republicans and Democrats.)

But here's the thing: at that point in time, the Republican Party was liberal, and the Democratic Party was conservative. (This fact particularly angers the Teabaggers, who've been brainwashed to think that liberalism is synonymous with "evil.") And from the Civil War to about 1950, the Southern Democrats (sometimes called "Dixiecrats") were among the most conservative (and usually racist) people in America.

In 1948, though, Truman, as the Democratic candidate, put forward a very mild civil rights platform, and that was too much for the Southern Democrats: 35 of them walked out of the Democratic National Convention, and they split off into their own political party, called the States Rights Democratic Party (a.k.a. "Dixiecrats," a term which has been used ever since for hyper-conservative Southern Democrats).

The Dixiecrats ran Strom Thurmond for president, and actually managed to carry four states (Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina) along with one stray electoral vote from Tennessee. (Incidentally, that, plus the 39 electoral votes drained from Truman by Progressive Party nominee Henry A. Wallace, was expected to have produced a Republican victory, which is why we have the most famous newspaper flub of all time.)

The Dixiecrats never ran another presidential candidate, and eventually the party dissolved. And following that victory, the liberal Democrats became a stronger and stronger force in the party, eventually reversing the formerly conservative platforms, and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

This same action, of course, drew the Republican Party to the right, in an effort to pick up the disillusioned Southern Democrats.

Following the 1964 Civil Rights act, LBJ famously said “I think we just lost the South,” which would prove to be remarkably prescient: in the late Sixties, Richard Nixon, with the help of his advisor Pat Buchanan, devised the "Southern Strategy," using dog-whistle racist terms (example: "states' rights" - the states would have the "right" to ignore these new civil rights laws).

In 1980, Ronald Reagan (working with Nixon's advisor Pat Buchanan) further honed the "Southern Strategy." In fact, it was another of his aides, Lee Atwater, who famously spilled the beans years later, thinking he was speaking off the record to a reporter.
You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger" — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger."
And that's where the Republican myth of the "racist Democrats" comes from: the Dixiecrats, and the changing face of the Democratic party. Back when Democrats were the conservative party, they were, in fact, racist; in swinging to the left, they also became the party of racial equality. To the point that, yes, the Ku Klux Klan may have been founded by Democrats, but these days, while not every Republican is in the KKK, almost every Klansman votes Republican.


Edit: (12/6/14) Corrected "North Carolina" to "South Carolina," with apologies to any North Carolinian in the audience.