Tuesday, December 29, 2009

U.S. Patriot Act: 'Tea Baggers' are Domestic Terrorists!

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy
Tea Baggers and on-air personalities who have threatened President Barack Obama with death are 'Domestic Terrorists' as defined by the U.S. Patriot Act. Threats against Obama are up 400% over those against Bush and according to many sources, the Secret Service is not able to keep up.

A recent exchange on YouTube convinces me that it is time to to deal with lawless tea baggers while making a point about the rule of law. Those threatening the life of the President have, in fact, sought to '(i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion'. That means that threatening the life of the President is an act of terrorism.
Section 802 (Pub. L. No. 107-52) which expands the definition to cover "domestic". terrorism " ...if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion ..."

-- U. S. Patriot Act
The Southern Poverty Law Center says that the U.S. has seen a 35 percent rise in hate groups in recent years, and few doubt that the discontent stirred up over the election of an African-American president is fueling the rise in threats. But, could the influx of modern technology also be to blame?
As the cost of computer technology has fallen (and accessibility to high-speed Internet service has spread), more and more people are spending more and more time online. Accordingly, these people are doing what people often do on the Internet: sending emails, communicating in chat rooms and on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, watching YouTube videos, etc. According to results of a recent study by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, these activities seem to be enhancing the scope of extremist groups' reach:

-- Report: Secret Service strained to protect Obama
America is as divided now as was England between Protestants and Catholics during the reign of Elizabeth I and, later, James I. James had promised a crackdown after Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament, an act of terrorism. Overt threats to Obama are, in fact, acts of terrorism as defined in the U.S. Patriot Act.
True to form, just like I called it, even before the New Year could began in earnest three more Black men were lynched in America. Somehow, just saying I told you so doesn’t really do it for me. On New Year’s Eve, Johannes Mehserle a White police officer shot Oscar Grant Jr. a 22 year old Black man in his back, killing him instantly as he lay prone and unarmed on a train platform in Oakland California. The incident was caught on tape. It became just the latest public lynching of a Black man in the United States, and it sparked several days of angry rebellion.1

On that very same day, in Bellaire Texas a police officer shot the 23 year old son of Bobby Tolan, a once famous professional baseball player. Robbie Tolan ended up with a bullet lodged in his liver, only because as he stood in the driveway of his own home, a White police officer simply assumed that the car he actually owned was a stolen vehicle.2 Then, hours later on New Year’s Day, nine police officers in New Orleans discharged their weapons 48 times and put 12 bullets into the back of yet another young unarmed African American man; 22-year-old Adolph Grimes was shot dead in a hail of gunfire just a few feet away from his grandmother’s home. A total of 14 bullets pierced violently through his body. ...

All that it requires is the will and the means to take someone’s life. Now, with the election of the first Black man to the highest office in the land, it appears as if some White people across the country have simply lost their minds.

-- Death Threats Against Obama - Racist Atrocities Soar As America Regurgitates Its Soul
Everyone threatening the life of President Barack Obama is a terrorist as defined clearly and unambiguously in the U.S. Patriot Act!

A Summary of 'Terrorist' Threats Against President Obama

Anyone making threats against Obama, be they Beck, Billo or Limbaugh should be prosecuted under the provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act!

Friday, December 25, 2009

The "War on Christmas" 2009

The first shot fired in the War on Christmas in 2009 was heard in California in early November. It seems that in San Francisco, a woman with the unfortunate name of Merry Hyatt, a 61-year-old substitute teacher, felt that children were being deprived of their childhood (or some crap) if they couldn't sing Christmas carols in public schools. Even the relatively balanced story showed her to be too mentally deficient to teach anyone not in a coma, since it closed out with her explaining her own mental blind spots:
But she added that in her experience as a substitute teacher in schools in largely Latino, largely Christian neighborhoods in Southern California, she had not often encountered people who do not celebrate Christmas.

"I don’t think I’ve ever had a Jewish child in one of my classes," she said. "If so they never said anything."
If you don't believe in Jews, does that make you an atheist?

The rightards, of course, don't get it. They, living in their dream of victimization, like to make factually incorrect claims:
The month of December has arrived and with it comes the annual attacks on Christmas by the atheist movement and their legal/political arm, the ACLU. For some reason, the Nativity, songs of joy and the celebration of the Christ Child’s birth bring out the rage and open hatred of many people across the United States.
While the truth is, it's only when government money is being spent pimping out Mary and her kid that the activists feel a need to make noise; private celebrations of whatever faith you practice aren't an issue.

And then you've got people who make so many justifications for their belief that there is a "War on Christmas" that they manage to make the term even more meaningless.

So, a quick disclaimer: I'm sure if you search long and hard enough, you'll find somebody who gets cranky and shouty about any religious display. Don't worry, True Believer, that's a significant minority. Less of a percentage than the number of Christians who are so fervently pro-life that they think it's OK to kill people.

Of course, it's possible that available merchandise like this won't make them any happier. (I think it's pretty cool, though.)

But just like in years past, you can find websites dedicated to telling you which retailers are "Christmas-Friendly" and which are "Christmas-Offensive."

Of course, you can always use that same website to tell you which retailers you should go to, because they don't kiss the butt of the theocrats and religious loons. So maybe they do serve some kind of purpose.

The soldiers in the War on Christmas apparently feel that they can put words in their Savior's mouth. There'a a billboard in Ohio reading:
I miss hearing you say "Merry Christmas." - Jesus
Ignoring the fact that... well, shouldn't Jesus be able to speak for Himself? I mean, really now, "Son of God" should probably mean something, shouldn't it?

Now, sometimes the whole "Battleground: Christmas" thing morphs into something so twisted that it gives you a headache roughly the size of the township of Waterbury, Connecticut.

See, what's happening in Waterbury is that the principal of Walsh Elementary School decided to downplay the use of Christmas symbols. It got more publicity when a member of the school board tried to promote a policy allowing each teacher the freedom to decide for themselves whether to hang icons to Santa Claus in their classroom.

The right wing, of course, completely lost their shit over this, with comments like:
"so for a few many must suffer.... you ar in a senses teaching religion....by not allowing these CHRISTMAS celebrations you are teaching the children that there is something wrong with them , so in effect you are teaching the Atheist beliefs..... whats next you going to remove the American flag because that offends someone "

"Another example of why this country is destined to fail"

"What the hell is this country coming to???
We have Christmas, like it or not! And if you are of the faith that does not celebrate it, too bad for you."
Of course, as it turns out, the problem was not the atheists trying to drive God out of the classroom, but the faithful Christians getting upset.

See, that particular school district has a very large community of Pentecostal and Jehovah's Witness families, and they objected to secular decorations causing damage to the Jesus-lobes in their children's brains.

So that particular battle in the "War on Christmas" involved Christians demanding that less-faithful Christians stop interfering with their worship of Christ (or, at least, their particular flavor of Christ). Am I getting this right?

And then you have Taunton, Massachusetts. According to initial reports, a young boy was sent home from school for drawing a crucifix when a teacher asked the students to sketch something that reminded them of Christmas.

This, of course, caused the testicles of much of the right wing to suck up inside their body cavities, causing them to make annoyingly high pitched shrieks of anger. Michell Malkin's testicles, for example, sent her voice to E over high C, as she compared this to murder and alleged child molesters.

Of course, the problem was that the newspaper got the story completely wrong. In reality, the kid drew a crucified stick figure entirely on his own, and then labeled it with his own name. The teacher, reasonably enough, saw this as something to be concerned about. But the rightards were too wrapped up in finding the next Great Liberal Atheist Conspiracy to pay attention to little things like "facts."

Of course, if they even listened to their own wide-eyed rantings once in a while, they might have picked up on the fact that it's unlikely that the teacher would have asked her students to draw any kind of Christmas picture. ("War on Christmas," remember?)

A better clue, though, was unavailable in initial reports. The father came right out and made the following statement.
“It hurts me that they did this to my kid,’’ Chester Johnson, the boy’s father, said in an interview with the Globe. “They can’t mess with our religion. They owe us a small lump sum for this."
I'm thinking that statement explains exactly what this is about. Doesn't take Sherlock Holmes, does it?

But generally, I think that even Jesus would agree with the following statements:
1. If you want to worship Christ, go ahead.

2. If you want a whole manger scene erected, showing the Wise Men coming to Bethlehem to worship the Baby Jesus in the manger, set one up. In your own front lawn. With your own money.

3. If you want the state to pay for it, what the hell is the matter with you?
Is that clear enough?

Update (12/29): And it looks like I missed one: Rep. Henry Brown (R-SC) has introduced congressional resolution 951, to condemn people who say "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas."

Of course, Rep. Brown's head is so far up his ass that he's licking his own taint.
Indeed, Brown has even attempted to use his resolution as a jab against President Obama. Declaring that the Obamas’ holiday card doesn’t mention Christmas, Brown said, "I believe that sending a Christmas card without referencing a holiday and its purpose limits the Christmas celebration in favor of a more 'politically correct' holiday." Brown’s fight to preserve Christmas and shun "happy holidays" has earned him the title of "patriot" from noted culture warrior Bill O’Reilly.

However, Brown’s 2008 December newsletter wished a "happy holiday" to his constituents for the "holiday season." Although the newsletter had a link to the White House Christmas tree website, it made no other mention of Christ or Christmas. (Click here for a screenshot) And as Slate’s Chris Beam has observed, Brown didn’t introduce his resolution last year, even though President Bush’s 2008 holiday card didn’t mention Christmas either.
So obviously, Henry is doing his best to uphold the fine tradition of inbreeding in South Carolina.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A reflection on the season

As we fight our way toward the end of this holiday season, it’s time to remember what they used to teach us in civics class: America is the Great Melting Pot. And let’s consider this last couple of weeks at the end of December 2009, leading into January 2010.

Yes, you know about Christmas, but are you aware that it’s supposed to go for 12 days? Remember the carol, with all the lords leaping and stuff? Yeah, it runs through January 7th (also known, conveniently, as Twelfth Night). And every one of those days is actually a holiday in its own right: don’t forget the Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28, for example.

(For the record, Christmas was banned by the Puritans in early America, and our Founding Fathers disapproved of it because they thought it was a British custom. It wasn’t made an official holiday in America until President Ulysses S. Grant signed it into law in 1870. Just so you know.)

Some of you (at least 1.5% of you, by most estimates) are aware that Hanukkah started December 12 this year, and ran for 8 days. (If this is the first you’re hearing of it, you missed out.)

The first day of winter 2009, or the Winter Solstice (see also Yule) was December 21. (Yes, Yule. As in "Troll the ancient Yuletide carol" – work with me here, people!).

Festivus (for the rest of us) is set on December 23. Enough on that.

While many of you think of December 24 as Christmas Eve, among Tibetan Buddhists in 2009, this is a day to meditate on Red Tara, one aspect of the Holy Mother.

Large portions of the world celebrate Boxing Day on 26 December (also called St Stephen’s Day, except where the Feast of St Stephen is celebrated on the 27th, or sometimes January 9th). Our Zoroastrian friends mark that day as Zarathosht Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathushtra) this year, and Tantric Buddhists (primarily initiates) celebrate Dakas’ Day by making offerings to Father Tantra.

Kwanzaa also starts on December 26 and runs through January 1, which also happens to be New Years Day if you’re a big fan of the Gregorian calendar. On the other hand, Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) was back in September this year, Islamic New Year (al-Hijra/Muharram) was December 18, and Chinese New Year will be February 14 next year.

December 27 marks Ashura for the Islamic peoples, and December 31 brings Hogmanay to our Scottish brethren (it’s mostly like New Years, but runs two days – sometimes three, since January 2 is a Scottish Bank Holiday).

And this is barely scratching the surface; I’ve probably left out more than I mentioned.

So, as we enter the first of our two four-day weekends (for those of us fortunate enough to get that), remember to greet each other in the way that seems most appropriate.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Harry Reid and the Sad Facts of American Compromises

An essay by the Rude Pundit
For two minutes, the Rude Pundit listened to Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas talk about the "back room deals" and "pay-offs" that got the straggling members of the Democratic caucus to go along with the compromise of the compromise of the compromise of the already-compromised-from-the-start health care reform bill. And then within another minute, he found this on Cornyn's Senate website, which says that Cornyn "Helped create a Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit for Seniors: Senator Cornyn was a strong supporter of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act, which, for the first time, provided Medicare beneficiaries with a prescription drug benefit and expanded health plan options."

And then it took less than another minute to find out some of what it cost to get that 2003 bill passed, with the vote of Cornyn, the proud conservative with a voice that sounds like he's been kicked in the taint by a nervous mule he was standing behind.

To pass the Medicare Prescription Drug bill, there was the $25 billion "rural package," which profited hospitals in southern and western states, with "rural" meaning cities like Corpus Christi, Texas, with a quarter million people. Hell, Chuck Grassley got $151 million for hospitals in Iowa. That's $151 million just for the hospitals, not for, say, a natural disaster fucking up the state's infrastructure. So compare that with the uproar over the $300 million that Democrat Mary Landrieu secured for Katrina-buggered Louisiana in exchange for her vote on 2009's health care reform.

The Bush administration also got $900 million put into the bill essentially so that the White House could reward the districts of loyal Republicans with hospital funds. You wanna talk about bribes? Here's some motherfucking bribes: "Among them were two hospitals in the Texas district of Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a member of the conference committee on the Medicare bill. Ten hospitals in Connecticut, home of US Representative Nancy Johnson, another Republican member of the conference committee, also benefited. Pennsylvania, represented by Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican who had crusaded for health care money, had 13 institutions in the victory column."

By the way, Democrats got their states paid, too. Max Baucus of Montana and Kent Conrad of South Dakota got funds for their states' hospitals, as did Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Harry Reid of Nevada. What did Republicans get for these (to put it politely) fund allocations? All of those Democrats voted for cloture on the conference report. All but Reid voted for the bill.

Let's not forget America's great wilderness welfare state. As an aide to Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski said, "They were counting votes, and the Alaska delegation was pretty set on it." Which meant that Alaska got $53 million over two years for that state's doctors. Goddamn, they must miss Ted Stevens.

While giving money to rural hospitals generally ought to be a good thing, you can be sure that what the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act did, beyond rewarding pharmaceutical companies for being total dickheads, was enrich corporate, for-profit hospital chains. Bitches gots to get paid. And John Cornyn had no problem with it then.

So, now, with the current Senate Health Care Reform bill, where, for instance, Michelle Malkin is screeching about bribes in that brain-damaged ferret way she has, Harry Reid is absolutely right when he says, dismissively, "There are a hundred senators here, and I don’t know if there is a senator who doesn’t have something in this bill that is important to them, and if they don’t have something in it important to them, then that doesn’t speak well of them." Or, in other words, "Suck my balls."

Sure, sure, this is a ludicrous system, where one nutzoid's "bribe" is another Congress member's bread and butter, where every compromise comes down to dollars (or abortion, but that's for another discussion), where compromise in DC simply seems like the art of sacrificing on the left until almost nothing we hold dear remains. Yet it behooves us to remember that we are a nation founded on the most heartbreaking compromise in our history. The Constitution almost didn't come into being, and therefore the United States itself, until abolition of slavery was compromised away, until the horror was actually put into the document.

Why bring this up? For one of those hyperbolic comparisons that blogs are mocked for (even if the breathless rhetoric coming from the GOP and Michael Steele puts bloggery to shame)? No. It's that every compromise, even the most vicious, must leave the lingering question, which will not be answered here: is it better than the alternative, which is failure?

Monday, December 21, 2009

7 Reasons for Atheists to Celebrate the Holidays

By Greta Christina, AlterNet
I have to argue with #2, though. I've been done with Chrismas songs for about a month now...
It's often assumed that the atheist position on what is politely termed "the holiday season" is one of disregard at best, contempt and annoyance at worst. After all, the reasons for most of the standard winter holidays are supposedly religious -- the birth of the Savior, eight days of miraculous light, yada yada yada. Why would atheists want anything to do with that?

But atheists' reactions to the holidays are wildly varied. Yes, some atheists despise them: the enforced jollity, the shameless twisting of genuine human emotion to sell useless consumer crap, the tyrannical forcing of mawkish piety down everyone's throats. (Some believers loathe the holidays for the exact same reasons.)

But some of us love the holidays. We love the parties, the decorations, the smell of evergreen trees in people's houses, the excuse to eat ourselves sick, the reminder that we do in fact love our families and friends. We're cognizant of the shameless twisting and mawkish piety and whatnot -- but we can deal with it. It's worth it for an excuse to drink eggnog with our loved ones and bellow out "Angels We Have Heard On High" in half-assed four-part harmony. (In fact, when it comes to the holidays, atheists are damned if we do, damned if we don't. If we scorn the holidays, we're called Scroogy killjoys. If we embrace them, we're called hypocrites. Oh, well. Whaddya gonna do.)

So today, I want to talk about some of the reasons some atheists love the holidays, in hopes that believers might better understand who we are and where we're coming from ... and in hopes that a few Scroogy killjoys, atheist and otherwise, might be tempted to join the party. (If not -- no big. I recognize and validate your entirely reasonable annoyance at the holidays. And besides, Scroogy killjoys are an important holiday tradition.)

Speaking of which:

Reason #7: Holiday traditions are comforting. The human need for tradition and ritual seems to be deeply ingrained. It's comforting to do things at the same time every day or every year: things we did as children, things our parents and grandparents did. It gives us a sense of continuity, of being part of a pattern that's larger than ourselves, of passing along ideas and customs that we hope will live on after we die. For those of us who don't believe in an afterlife, that last bit can be extra important. And when those customs and rituals are about joy and celebration and people we love and so on, that makes it extra nifty.

#6: The holidays connect us with our ancestors...and with the earth and the seasons. In modern civilized culture, we tend to treat the changing seasons largely as a fashion challenge and an excuse to complain. (Even in San Francisco, where the temperature rarely gets above 80 or below 40, we still gripe about the weather.)

But the changing seasons were a critically important part of our ancestors' lives; a matter of life and death, watched and marked with great and careful attention. The winter solstice holidays rose up as a way to mark those changes...and to celebrate the all-important imminent return of the sun, warmth and longer days. Celebrating the holidays reminds us of what life was like for the people who came before us -- the people who are responsible for us being here.

#5: Presents. 'Nuff said.

#4: The War on the War on Christmas. Watching Bill O'Reilly and the Christian Right work themselves into an annual lather over the fact that (a) not everyone in America celebrates Christmas; and (b) some well-mannered businesses choose to recognize this fact by using ecumenical or secular holiday greetings...is some of the best free entertainment we could ask for.

Sure, it's theocratic. Sure, it's bigoted. Sure, it has its roots in anti-Semitism and white supremacy. But it's also freaking hilarious. Watching these hypocrites twist themselves into knots explaining why America is a Christian nation and it's the grossest insult to acknowledge the existence of other religions by saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas"... and why this stance somehow isn't shameless religious bigotry? It's the best contortionist act in town. And like the circus, it comes around every year.

#3: The holidays connect us with the universe. Axial tilt is the reason for the season! For many atheists, one of the greatest joys of atheism is that it opens up an awe-inspiring world of science. It's not that believers don't care about science: many of them do. But the passionate love of science is a defining feature of the atheist movement, and many of us will take any opportunity to gush about the topic ad nauseam, usually in embarrassing, Carl Sagan-esque, "billions and billions of stars" purple prose.

And the holidays are another excuse to go gaga over the wonders of science. They're another way to celebrate the fact that we're living on a tilty rock whizzing through frigid space around a white-hot ball of incandescent plasma. Neat!

#2: The music. You heard me right. I actually like holiday music.

Not the gloppy shopping-mall Muzak that gets forced into our bleeding eardrums every year, despite our cries of pain and pathetic pleas for mercy. I hate that stuff as much as anyone. But some holiday music is seriously pretty. The soaring eerieness of "The Angel Gabriel"; the strangely haunting cheeriness -- or cheery hauntingness? -- of "Chanukah, Oh Chanukah"; the lilting saunter of "Walking in a Winter Wonderland"; the majestic transcendence of "Angels We Have Heard On High" (especially when sung in half-assed, eggnog-addled four-part harmony). Some of this stuff is freaking gorgeous. The really old stuff, especially. If you like the tunes but can't stomach the lyrics... well, there's a wide world of holiday song parodies at your disposal. (My personal faves: the H.P. Lovecraft ones, and the Christmas-themed parody of "Bohemian Rhapsody.")

And as I discovered when I was digging up lyrics for a Christmas party songbook, a lot of holiday music is entertainingly grotesque and surreal. You don't have to dip into the Lovecraft Solstice Songbook to find holiday songs about blood, suffering, torment and death. I mean, "Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume/ Breathes a life of gathering gloom/Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/ Sealed in a stone cold tomb"? What's not to like?

And the number one reason for atheists to celebrate the holidays:

#1: For the same damn reason everyone else does. Because it's dark and cold, and it's going to be dark and cold for a while...so it's a perfect time to decorate and light lights and celebrate the fact that we're alive. Because we're all going to be cooped up inside together for a while...so it's a perfect time to have parties and give presents and eat big festive dinners and otherwise remind ourselves of why we love each other. Because this time of year can truly suck...so it's a perfect time to remember that the cold and dark won't be here forever, and that the warmth and light are coming back.

Any day now.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Lieberman and Obama: An Egotist and a Moderate

The Senate has placed Joe Lieberman in charge, and scuttled any kind of actual healthcare reform that they might have passed.

The beginning of the end came last month, when Harry Reid handed Lieberman the reins, by openly saying “I’m not using reconciliation.” Once Reid did that, Little Joe knew that everything hinged on his vote, and he could do whatever he wanted.

And what he wanted was to be the most important person around. Well, the Democrats gave him that, so he should be happy now.

Lieberman has always been driven by his ego. We saw that in 2006, when he lost the Democratic primary, and decided to run as an independent, because he couldn’t stand the thought that Connecticut might run without him. In fact, here’s what somebody relatively smart said about him back then.
Let’s be clear on what we have here. Joe Lieberman, a man who once said, while talking about the 2004 elections, "Senator Kerry got a lot of votes, 56 million votes, more than any Democratic candidate for president in history, but there's no prizes for second place in American politics."

Suddenly, because he doesn’t like how things turned out, that idea is out the window. Where he once wanted people to accept the results of an election, now he wants to ignore it completely. He wants to be handed the prize for coming in second...

It's simple human nature on Lieberman's part. He likes to claim that he's one of the "common people," but he's more of a child of privilege. He was born in Stamford, Connecticut, which isn't exactly Compton or South Philly. And he went to Yale, not the local community college.

Every time anybody mentions Ned Lamont, they like to add the adjective "millionaire" in front of his name, in the same place that the word "Senator" gets place in front of Lieberman. But that ignores the fact that Joe Lieberman, in his 2003 financial disclosure form, showed that he had a net worth of somewhere between $482,000 to $1.8 million. The man isn't exactly worrying about whether he can make the rent this month.

That's how I see it. Joe Lieberman thinks that he deserves to be a Senator. It's his right. He feels that he was elected three times, so he's entitled to the job now. He earned it. This attitude, of course, ignores the fact that he wasn't elected this time, but Joe isn't paying attention to that little fact now. He's like a sulky two-year-old - if reality doesn't fit with what he wants, that reality must be wrong.
And once he knew that there was nothing to stop him from being a roadblock, he could reverse himself on everything he’s ever said. After all, it was just three months ago that Lieberman said that he supported an expansion of Medicare and Medicaid to people as young as "post-50... maybe more like post-55."

In fact, in 2000, Lieberman was openly running on a campaign that included expanding Medicare to include more Americans.

But that's OK. We understand that Lieberman is a self-absorbed, lying sack of rotting pig carcasses. That's not the question. The question is, why isn't Obama pushing harder for real healthcare reform?

That one's easy. Barack Obama is a politician, and understands that he needs to get something into law. Whether he works to improve it later will be the question.

Obama isn't just a politician, though. He's a damned sight better, as both a leader and as a human being, than the previous administration, but there's something that he is not and never has been: a leftist.

He is, in fact, a fairly centrist politician.

That statement may very well come as a surprise to some people. If brought to the attention of Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, there is a distinct possibility that it would cause either or both of them to have an abrupt coronary occlusion.

But it's true. He's, at best, a moderate. Which is a shame: after the disaster of the Bush/Cheney years, America had it's best chance of electing an actual liberal. But that chance was shelved.

This is not to say that Obama is some massive failure as president. He was handed a basketful of challenges when he was elected, and he's working his way through them. The economy is improving, unemployment is falling, we're scaling back in Iraq and Afghanistan (although we aren't doing it as quickly as I'd like).

But it would be nice if Obama could figure out that bipartisanship is a myth, and Joe Lieberman is a self-centered GOP tool.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Cool Flat Earth

By Author Bob (Robert Charest), over on Whammer's Blog
“We live in an age where truth is no longer held in high regard.” Hank Hanegraaff, during his segment on WTBN Christian Radio, Monday, December 14, 2009.

Nowhere is that more evident than on WTBN.

The way God guides my mind to answer my prayers for wisdom and understanding of scripture amazes me continually. Last night before bed I was pondering how to address WTBN’s latest crusade AGAINST truth—this time global warming, and WTBN’s public stance that it is not a real phenomenon, and that scientists are lying. Emboldened by the recent release of emails hacked from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, the voices of WTBN are screaming that this proves global warming is a hoax fabricated by fudged science. I fell asleep with WTBN playing softly in the background and when I awoke this morning that statement from Mr. Hanegraaff were the very first words I heard. I couldn’t have phrased it more succinctly.

And thus does WTBN bear witness against itself.

Here are some excerpts of Cal Thomas’ commentaries that were aired on WTBN December 3rd and December 8th. “The global warming fiction is unraveling…the president of the Czech Republic says global warming is a politician’s myth…in Denmark, where the climate conference is being held this week, a local newspaper reports the country is ‘rife with CO2 fraud and the entire global warming myth is a comprehensive tax scam’…look at the people pushing global warming; they are mostly control freaks who want more power and money for themselves and less freedom for you…this is the left’s religion. While denying God, the left is committed to saving the planet. Why? If there is no God, we might just as well eat, drink, pollute and be merry for tomorrow we die. For what are we trying to save the planet?”

Those notions are muddled, weird and frankly, nonsense. If I love Christ, how does it reason that I deny God? Nor am I a control freak interested in power and money and depriving others’ freedoms. But I do believe in saving the planet. Exactly how am I wrong in respecting God’s creation? Dominion over the earth is a not license to destroy.

The Associated Press analyzed the 1073 hacked emails totaling approximately one million words, and said that ‘they show that scientists harbored private doubts, however slight and fleeting, even as they told the world they were certain about climate change. However, the exchanges don’t undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. The scientists were keenly aware of how their work would be viewed and used, and, just like politicians, went to great pains to shape their message. Sometimes, they sounded more like schoolyard taunts than scientific tenets.’

Maybe a little parable will wipe the paste from your eyes and melt the wax in your ears. There was a landowner who lived in a mansion and had a couple of smaller homes he let out to tenants. One of the tenants trimmed the gardens, touched up the paint and maintained beautiful grounds. The other chopped the flowers, watered the weeds, sledgehammered the walls and burned the place down. When the landowner goes on vacation, which tenant will be trusted to house sit the mansion?

For many centuries the church held to the false belief that the earth was flat and the center of the universe. This adherence to an untruth was as it is written in Matthew 15:9 ‘In vain do they worship me, teaching for commandments the doctrines of men.’ The famous Polish astronomer Copernicus advanced the theory that the earth revolved around the sun, but did not publish his work until late in life, in part because he feared the church would brand him a heretic, and after destroying his reputation would sentence him to imprisonment or death.

So goes it today, with global warming scientific fact and WTBN as they represent the belligerent, self-righteous right wing deniers of that truth. There is a massive, expanding hole in the ozone layer. FACT. Once snow-capped mountains are barren. FACT. The polar ice caps are melting. FACT. Arctic and Antarctic wildlife is dying as their natural habitats and feeding grounds are vanishing beneath their feet. FACT. Average temperatures and water levels around the world are rising rapidly. FACT. WTBN’s stand on the issue? WRONG. On this matter WTBN clings to FALSEHOODS and LIES.

Let us take a little stroll down scripture lane and drink in some truth. The teachers and preachers on WTBN are in consistent agreement that these are the latter days as described by biblical prophecy, notably but not limited to the wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places foretold by Christ in The Olivet Discourse, which is the twenty fourth chapter of Matthew.

Now let us move along to a description of the end of the world. “But the day of the LORD will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burnt up.” 2 Peter 3:10.

And finally, on into the Revelation of our Lord and Savior, where the seven angels are pouring out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth in these latter days. “And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues; and repented not to give him glory.” Revelation 16: 9-10.

Back in the sixteenth century it turned out that Copernicus, in the far corner, representing science, was right, and the church, in the near corner, representing the false doctrine of hardheaded men, was wrong. So who are we to believe today: WTBN, or scientific truth as it corroborates the VERY WORD OF GOD?

I will say WTBN is right about one thing: we live in an age where truth is no longer held in high regard.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Friends don't let friends post drunk

OK, so I think that my mind is now blown. Here's where I am at the moment.

I started moderating comments a few weeks ago, because Uncle Slam (or Pat Riot, or whatever incarnation you might choose) started to get racist and ignorant; I threw it up for a vote, and the couple of commenters who weighed in said to vote him off the island.

OK, fine. I'm there. Since then, he's been weighing in several times a week, and I've taken to just deleting him without looking. No problem, that's the way blogspot does it.

But, just last night, I get a comment from the ever-entertaining Eric Graff (eMan), where he says:
You say I should try it… venting as you just did Bill, so here goes.

You may be wondering why I took aim at Diogenes recently. He said things about my mother and about me after I had told people on my blog that my mother was near death. The things he said were vile and filled with hate. He commented repeatedly and I was pushed to anger, and I said some things I now regret. Diogenes never regrets anything. He has taken back none of his terrible remarks. I just read how you even wonder why he spends time on my blog. He does so to spread his detestation and ire at me.

I had a little fun with your words in one of my posts but it was in jest and if you have no humor in your life then you obviously would be prone to taking it personally and incorrectly. I’m not easily offended. Diogenes is an exception. He attacked my mother and me personally and repeatedly when I was vulnerable and deeply hurt by his words.

If Diogenes continues this, I cannot be responsible for what happens: He will have brought my anger and rage on himself. Each instance I have posted is in RESPONSE to him, not vice versa. The strange thing is he posts anonymously and not under the Diogenes name, but I know it’s him because my live feed tells me his IP address each time he is there and the time corresponds with his comments.

I realize you have no control over him, but he is making you look bad by association. Your ways and thoughts are 180 degrees out of phase with mine. That’s just the way it is. But you don’t do what he does either. Not even close. And to be associated with one like him is at the least damaging and at most, alarming to anyone who knows you.

If he continues I will find him. My pursuit will be relentless and painful. I am in no way making fun or kidding you: If he continues it will happen. And when found I will exact the pain on him X 10. You are asked here to do what you can to get him to stop. I do this because what he is doing and the things he has said have cause another great pain and anguish. If you are decent, you will do this. If not, then I shall do what I need to do with prejudice.

Post this if you wish, I don’t care. You are human, as am I. What this person is doing, is not.
Um... wow...

OK. Let me get this straight... I'm being asked to be the adult in the room?

What the fuck?!?!?!

OK, here. Let's see...

Diogenes, please don't fuck with Eric any more. It's like being in the Special Olympics. Maybe you win, but still...

Crap, I can't do this. This is just stupid.

Dio, go ahead. Fuck with him all you want. Assuming he's got some live feed tracker on you, he'll get about a ten-mile by ten-mile area where you might be, assuming that your internet server is placing you properly, as opposed to reading you wherever the fuck it wants, like most of them do. (And if you're on one of the major all-inclusive servers, like AOL or Compuserve, you'll be listed as being in the nearest hub, which could be hundreds of miles away.)

And Eric, grow the fuck up. There's no reason to even open his comments, much less get your panties all knotted up about it. "Uncle Slam" still throws comments my way, and they just go into the trash unread.

Speaking of Slammy, at least a couple of weeks ago - last time I went by your site - he was a regular poster for you. I've got somebody who hurt your tender feelings posting here, you've got a racist homophobe posting on yours. You're judged by the company you keep, Eric.

Oh, plus, your words are all out in the open, big fella. Threats, especially against somebody you have no way to find, are stupid. Even if you could find him, anything you did is now tagged "malice aforethought." Christ, but you aren't a bright man, are you?

("My pursuit will be relentless and painful"? Really? You're going to go barefoot over broken glass or something?)

So, what would Jesus do?

Update (12/16/09): I'm sorry. I wasn't clear enough.

Eric, I have no control or influence on Diogenes. He posts responses here, and I've never had a problem with him. I'm done with you and your weirdly failing mental state, though. I would suggest that you get some counseling to deal with this odd concatentation of neuroses and phobias that afflict you, but you probably can't afford that particularly intensive level of psychological help. And since you're opposed to health care (after all, Lazarus and the lepers did all right without government intervention, right?), I guess you're just duty-bound to end up chained in the basement gibbering and crying in a pool of your own waste.

Shoo, now. Go away. I'm going to go back to ignoring you.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My annual rant

You know, the guiding principles of several Eastern schools of thought, such as Zen Buddhism or the writings of the Taoist philosophers, lead people to strive for balance. Of course, in order to achieve this balance, sometimes you have to lock away those black thoughts that man is prone to. Having done that, you have a choice: you can either let this poison out every so often, or you can allow the darkness to pool inside your gut and eat you up from the inside.

Personally, I prefer to let it out every so often.

Now, you understand that everything that follows is my own opinion. Bolstered, perhaps, by easily-checked facts, but entirely my own opinion, and thus not subject to any silly charges of "libel" or "slander."

But Dick Cheney, for the last year or so, has been vocal about his opposition to everything Barack Obama does and stands for. Just this last week, he went on the Fox "News" channel with the eternally-vacuous Sean ("Greatest, Best Talking Point the GOP Gave Man") Hannity, to reiterate pretty much the same things he's been saying since he was evicted from his cushy job of destroying the country.

Over the course of the hour-long tongue-bath Hannity gave to the flaccid, wrinkled tool and sagging nutsack of the former Vice President, Cheney vomited up his usual litany of opinions: that Obama consistently apologizes for America (a country which has never done anything wrong), is weak and indecisive, shouldn't offer fair trials to criminals, and "doesn't fully understand or share that view of American exceptionalism."

Now, is it just me, or would it be fair to say that, when your legacy (such as it is) will be that you played Vice to the single worst President in United States history (and I firmly believe that you could even factor the Emperor Norton into this equation), perhaps your opinion really doesn't matter as much as Sean Hannity thinks it does?

Should we be taking foreign policy advice from the man who played first chair (if not puppetmaster) to an administration who consistently fucked up every foreign policy decision they encountered? His philosophies are the smallpox blanket of the political landscape.

Cheney doesn't even have Rush Limbaugh's excuse of raging addiction to prescription drugs. Although, to be fair, at this point Dick Cheney's metabolism has probably been subtly altered to a state where it demands both Lipitor and stool softeners on an hourly basis, but there are very few people who would include that condition in their definition of "addiction." It's not like he takes them for pleasure (except, perhaps, the simple joy of an unencumbered crap); there has been no pleasure in the Cheney household since the Harding administration.

Dick Cheney is the dung beetle who walks like a man. He is such an openly counterfeit shell of humanity that growing up in the same household put his daughter Mary off of men entirely.

This is the man who was still taking several million dollars every year from Halliburton, while steering billions of no-bid contracts their way; but even given that fact, there are still people who believe that he can even write the word "honor" without his hand bursting into flame.

He is an open, pustulant sore on the face of humanity, oozing a slimetrail of misery in his wake, and there can be no benefit to him walking freely and unshackled among the good peoples of this great nation.

Dick Cheney is a coward who took five deferments to avoid going to Vietnam (a lovely vacation spot where my father had the opportunity to spend not one, but two tours).

Who believes that the best military advice comes from a man who mismanaged the two wars he had a chance to help lead, and ran screaming like a little girl from the one he had a chance to participate in?

There is a political faction in this country who believes that America would be best served if Dick Cheney were to run for President in 2012; there is even a portion of them (including his daughter) who have suggested Sarah Palin as his running mate.

That would be a nightmare scenario that even Stephen King would balk at writing: Dick Cheney destroying America, and then dying so that Sarah Palin could skullfuck the twitching remains of the country with her Alaskan strap-on.

You do remember Sarah Palin, right? (I'd like to say that I don't, but the media won't let me forget about her.) A woman so hypocritical that she called Barack Obama a socialist, even as she was signing the checks sending the profits of Exxon-Mobil to the citizens of Alaska.

Sarah Palin is a raging narcissist so self-deluded that she accused Obama of being inexperienced, while her résumé consisted of:
- Beauty contestant who could barely manage the title of "Miss Congeniality,"
- sportscaster,
- mayor of a town roughly the size of a Super Walmart,
- a partial term as governor of Alaska (a job she wasn't competent enough to complete, incidentally).

Perhaps I'll discuss Sarah Palin some other time. For the moment, fuck her, fuck her useless husband who can't hold down a job, and fuck the political props she calls "her family."

I'm not even positive that Cheney is qualified to be President now. He is, after all, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Halliburton. So when that company moved their headquarters to the now-struggling Dubai (fleeing the Justice Department and Securities Exchange Commission), wouldn't that have changed Cheney to a citizen of the United Arab Emirates?

Dick Cheney is the rectal polyp who would be king. There is no joy in his heart - there is, in fact, some question about whether the shriveled black lump in his chest qualifies as a "heart"; it definitely doesn't perform any primary cardiac functions well.

I would say that Dick Cheney could suck my balls, if I wasn't positive that the sight of this bloated slug kneeling in front of me laving my testicles with his tongue would cause me to wake up screaming every night for the rest of my life.

Dick Cheney is a shambling undead corpse, screaming for the blood of our servicemen to be shed at the altar of his false, evil gods of war and despair.

When Dick Cheney dies, there will be more light in the world. And it is entirely possible that when the combination of massive doses of pharmaceuticals and a daily regimen of cardiac stimulation finally fails him and his heart stops for the last time, the faint singing of angels will be heard throughout the land.

And having said all of that, I feel better already. I'm happy, relaxed, and at peace with the world around me. You should try it sometime.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Here we come a'wassailing

Well, Thanksgiving is over. And as the Christmas season starts to spark into full, capitalist-driven life, let's consider some of the older traditions that accompany it.

Wassail, for example.

Now, the average American, for a number of good reasons, has no idea what "wassail" might be. The closest they might come to it is the old carol from which this post takes its name, Here We Come A'Wassailing.

Now, traditionally, "wassailing" was based in the Anglo-Saxon habit where a group of peasants went to the lord's manor and sang badly until they were given something, usually food or drink, just to make them shut up. We can see this reflected in the lyrics to We Wish You a Merry Christmas, where they end up begging for "figgy pudding." (Somehow, I doubt that a box of Fig Newtons would cover it for them, but what do I know?)

Etymologically, "wassail" apparently traces back to the Anglo-Saxon phrase wæs þu hæl ("be thou hale," or "be in good health"). This was shortened at some point to Wæs hal! ("Be healthy!"), and thus to "wassail." And wassail was the liquid equivalent of the figgy pudding, a drink that the master could keep on hand for the servants to ladle out to whoever came around singing.

If you look around, you'll find an abundance of recipes claiming to be wassail. Some of them are fruit punches, some are based on tea, but none of them are likely to be accurate - many are based on various formulations of mulled cider.

Now, Alton Brown (our cooking lord and savior, blessed be his name) did a little research, and came up with a recipe for wassail that may be entirely accurate.
Alton Brown's Wassail Recipe

6 small Fuji apples, cored
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
72 ounces ale
750 ml Madeira
10 whole cloves
10 whole allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick, 2-inches long
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 large eggs, separated


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put the apples into an 8 by 8-inch glass baking dish. Spoon the brown sugar into the center of each apple, dividing the sugar evenly among them. Pour the water into the bottom of the dish and bake until tender, about 45 minutes.

Pour the ale and Madeira into a large slow cooker. Put the cloves, allspice, and cinnamon into a small muslin bag or cheesecloth, tied with kitchen twine, and add to the slow cooker along with the ginger and nutmeg. Set the slow cooker to medium heat and bring the mixture to at least 120 degrees F. Do not boil.

Add the egg whites to a medium bowl and using a hand mixer, beat until stiff peaks form. Put the egg yolks into a separate bowl and beat until lightened in color and frothy, approximately 2 minutes. Add the egg whites to the yolks and using the hand mixer, beat, just until combined. Slowly add 4 to 6 ounces of the alcohol mixture from the slow cooker to the egg mixture, beating with the hand mixer on low speed. Return this mixture to the slow cooker and whisk to combine.

Add the apples and the liquid from the baking dish to the wassail and stir to combine. Ladle into cups and serve.
The only really unusual ingredient there is Madeira, which is basically a fortified wine - historically, the vintner would just stop the fermentation of a batch of wine by adding enough distilled alcohol (usually brandy) to kill off the yeast before it ate up all the sugar. Madeira, Marsala, port, sherry, vermouth - they're all considered "fortified wines." They tend to be more alcoholic than most wines, but less than most liquors.

We made a batch of Alton Brown's wassail tonight, just in support of that whole Christmas tradition, and while I have to admit that it isn't the most disgusting thing I've ever put in my mouth... oh, lord, it isn't good.

You know how some things are greater than the sum of the parts? Yeah, this isn't one of them. If anything, this takes some of the less appealing parts of the ingredients and amplifies them: the slight bitterness of the ale doesn't really match well with the sugar in the baked apple and the sweet bite of the Madeira wine. (And, incidentally, if you don't temper the eggs well before adding them in, you end up with some slightly boiled scrambled eggs on top, which isn't what a normal person might consider good eats...)

If you don't believe me and want to make it for yourself, let me help you out a little: here's the cut-down version of the recipe. Try it and see for yourself.
1 small Fuji apple, cored
2 2/3 teaspoons brown sugar
Enough water to give you about 1 cm on the top of your smallest baking dish
A 12 ounce bottle of ale
1/2 cup Madeira
2 whole cloves
2 whole allspice berries
Half of a cinnamon stick
Dash ground ginger
Dash ground nutmeg
1 large egg, separated
Treat them as above. But don't say I didn't warn you.

We've used a crockpot recipe for years, involving apple cider, cranberry juice, brown sugar, a cloved orange, some spices and time to heat. (Personally, I think it works best with a shot of rum added - that's just me.)

I think we'll stick with that one.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Colbert Conservatism

by David Sirota (Creator's Syndicate)
Pop quiz -- name the political leader who said the following:

"We must be willing to pull the plug before sinking more dollars into weapons that do not provide what our warriors need."

Now name the leader who said this:

"(W)e cannot track $2.3 trillion in (Pentagon spending) ... We maintain 20 to 25 percent more base infrastructure than we need to support our forces, at an annual waste to taxpayers of some $3 billion to $4 billion ... There are those who will oppose every effort to save taxpayers' money ... Well, fine, if there's to be a struggle, so be it."

I'm willing to bet many self-described "conservatives" guessed Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich. I would make that wager based on the enraged response to my recent column about government data showing that our waste-ridden, $600-billion-a-year defense budget will cost about seven times more than the health care legislation currently before Congress.

In e-mails, letters and Web site comments, right-wingers didn't vent anger at Pentagon profligacy, but at the criticism of Pentagon profligacy -- as if brazenly throwing away billions on outdated weapons systems and obsolete military programs is now a "conservative" value. Notably, the vitriol didn't include contrary numbers disproving the figures I referenced (none exists) -- the responses just used Fox News-ish slogans like the cost of freedom to deride all criticism of Pentagon spending as unpatriotic ultraliberalism.

Of course, if that's true, then Stephen Colbert's refrain that "reality has a well-known liberal bias" is now less a laugh line than a devastatingly accurate commentary on the deranged terms of America's political discourse. I say that because here are some objective, nonpartisan, non-ideological facts:

-- The 2010 Pentagon budget means "every man, woman and child in the United States will spend more than $2,700 on (defense) programs and agencies next year," reports the Cato Institute. "By way of comparison, the average Japanese spends less than $330; the average German about $520; China's per capita spending is less than $100."

-- "(The Pentagon budget) dwarfs the combined defense budgets of U.S. allies and potential U.S. enemies alike," reports Hearst Newspapers.

-- "President (Obama) is on track to spend more on defense, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office since World War II," reports National Journal's Government Executive magazine.

-- In 2000, the Pentagon admitted it has lost -- yes, lost -- $2.3 trillion. In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a subsequent Department of Defense study said it was only $1 trillion. To put such numbers in perspective, contemplate what those sums could finance. $1 trillion, for instance, could pay the total cost of universal health care for the long haul. $2.3 trillion would cover universal health care plus the bank bailout plus the stimulus package.

Obviously -- obviously! -- these points are no cause for alarm and certainly no cause for defense spending reductions, right? All they must prove is that the archconservative Cato Institute, William Randolph Hearst's newspaper chain, National Journal employees and Pentagon officials are secretly America-hating liberals. And -- obviously! -- so are two of the most aggressive neoconservative hawks ever to hold government office, Sen. John McCain and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. After all, they're the ones who issued those scathing statements about wasteful defense spending in the pop quiz above. That means they're actually terrorist-appeasing lefties, right?

Really, how could anyone other than traitorous communists see the data and then consider backing the mildest Pentagon spending cuts? I mean, come on -- in a country whose paranoid conservative movement now makes a dead-serious ideology out of Stephen Colbert wisecracks, how dare any red-blooded American even think of pondering basic budgetary facts?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Demonization of "the Other"

It's a sad day when I godwin up a post, so I'll let Nicole Belle do it, in a piece exerpted from Crooks and Liars.
David Neiwert has written about this institutionalized fear of the other, and if I may be so lazy as to co-opt his (and Orcinus blogging partner Sara Robinson's) breakdown of the construct to make some group the feared "Other". Read and see how familiar this sounds:
1. Untrustworthy, unethical with money, prone to cheat in business dealings;

2. Clannish and unwilling to assimilate into the larger culture;

3. No respect at all for the rule of law. The only way to control them is through brute force;

4. Dim-witted, lazy, fit only for physical labor -- but you have to threaten them to get off their butts, because they won't work otherwise;

5. Constitutionally weaker than members of the dominant culture;

6. Complete lack of moral self-control;

7. Bent on world domination. These plans always involve secret conspiracies and special skills known only to the clan;

8. Despite their minority status, they are thought to have far more power than their numbers, and an inordinate influence over the running of the country;

9. Heirs to an inhumanly bloody history that cannot be forgiven, and which they have never moved past (they're "bloodthirsty savages" with no redeeming qualities); and which never created anything meaningful in the way of art, music, science, or architecture (writing them out of history);

10. Congenitally to understand the subtleties of the "superior" race they live among, and thus forever brutish and inferior;

11. Inadequate personal and domestic hygiene (they smell, and their houses and businesses aren't clean). Carriers of strange diseases that threaten the dominant culture;

12. "Breeding like flies" and attendant fears that they're going to out-breed the dominant culture (this one will be tossed around regardless of actual comparative birth rates);

13. The men are out-of-control sex fiends who will sexually terrorize the dominant culture's women if not firmly restrained;

14. The women are appropriate targets for sexual abuse by men of the dominant culture. They probably even enjoy the chance to finally experience a "real man."
Take a look at any one of the right wing sites and you'll see variations on these themes over and over. I'm happy that Charles Johnson has started to speak out over the blind hatred and eliminationist rhetoric, although he too is not above wading in those waters when it comes to Muslims.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Abject Failure of the Obama Administration. Or not.

You know, as I wander around this series of tubes, occasionally heckling some poor deluded right-winger (and by "heckling," I mean "pointing out facts to someone with a limited grasp on reality"), I find myself frequently called by some variation on the term "Obamabot."

The reason for this is fairly simple (as are many of the people who use terms like that) - the Far Right tends to view the entire world in black and white terms. Every Muslim is an extremist and a terrorist. All atheists are violently opposed to all religion, everywhere. All gays are sexual deviants, and will cheerfully perform any other sexual deviance, whether it's beastiality, pedophilia, prostitution or incest.

It's the foundation of their entire world-view: America - love it or leave it. (Unless a Democrat is in charge, of course.) You're either with us, or with the terrorists.

The Bush/Cheney White House exploited this simplistic outlook to push their neocon agenda as far as they could. Fox "News" is still eating from the rotting carcass of that mentally (and often morally) bankrupt philosophy.

Black and white. No shades of grey. And so, following this simplistic and twisted "logic," if I don't immediately condemn everything that Barack Obama does or says, I must therefore support every action taken by the president. I must worship at his feet and call him the Messiah. And I must have a shrine in my living room with a bronze statue of Obama gazing off into the socialist future that the Right likes to imagine he sees.

No middle ground. Black and white.

But let's be real: there is fuck-all in this world that isn't actually some shade of grey. In the end, there are very few saints and only marginally more sociopaths: most people are simply self-centered, venal creatures with lusts they barely control and damned few positive traits. The trick is that some of us hide these traits in ourselves better than some others can manage.

So, do I believe that Barack Obama is the Chosen One, who brings the dead to life and craps gold bars? To be honest, not so much. I do, however, compare him to the previous tenant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and find him to be superior in pretty much every measurement.

Do I agree with everything Obama has done, though? Hell, no.

While I believe that Dick Cheney is dithering about that craniorectal surgery he's been putting off, I don't see Obama's measured approach to a complex situation in Afghanistan to be a problem. I would prefer if American troops were pulled out of what has historically proven to be an amazingly truculent piece of real estate, especially since my son (the Marine) has just deployed to that ugly, nasty, and excessively frigid country.

On the other hand, I can't figure out why we still have troops in Iraq. Every measurable mission that's been given our military in Iraq has been fulfilled. We didn't go into that hellhole for any particularly good reason, and I don't believe we need to stay.

And moving in from the bigger, strategic picture, I don't like all of the tactical decisions that have been made. For example, we have a program using unmanned predator drones targeting potential terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I support the fact that it keeps our troops out of harm's way. But if we had "actual" people (as opposed to "virtual" people) doing that job, they would be referred to as "hit squads." And Obama has approved this program. I do not like the fact that the White House has endorsed a program of assassination by proxy.

Since the GOP has shown that their definition of "bipartisan" is "we get our way on everything," I think that Obama is wasting his time trying to appease the Right. Just ram your agenda through Congress and move on. For example, America needs a real, robust public option, and I'm disappointed that Obama isn't pushing harder for it.

I have problems with some of his choices for advisors and cabinet positions. I think one of the best examples would have to be Islam Siddiqui, a former pesticide lobbyist, as chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative. The potential bias implicit in that choice makes my balls itch.

There's plenty of other things I disagree with. But that's the difference. I see the president as a talented man in a difficult situation, and I understand the bigger picture: nobody does everything exactly right. I have no problem with that.

Do I think Obama is the Messiah? No. But then again, I also believe that anyone who wants to see the president fail must love their politics more than they love their country. Because if the president fails, so does the United States.

Those on the right see America's first black president, and a Democratic president at that, and actively search for any tiny mistake (or anything that they can twist and suggest might be a mistake), because they can't stand the thought of him succeeding. This became most obvious when, six months into Obama's presidency, the Right was already calling this administration a failure.

They have an instantaneous, knee-jerk response to anything that Barack Obama does: they oppose it, and it doesn't matter whether this hypothetical "something" is what would be best for the country. They're stuck in a feedback loop: if they see anything done or said by Barack Obama, they immediately search for the worst possible interpretation, despite all evidence supplied by reality.

It's a simple, mindless reaction process, performed almost automatically. They receive input labeled "Obama" and they respond to it. They will then continue in that direction, even if they end up running into a wall. And if the path that their minimalist programming lays out for them runs them off a cliff? Then they'll heedlessly march over the edge and keep right on marching until physics abruptly brings to an end what logic couldn't change.

Obviously, what we need is a better definition of "Obamabot."

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"Climategate" - Is the Sky Really Falling?

So, several thousand emails were hacked from the University of East Anglia, dumped on some other server elsewhere in the world, and are now being trumpeted as "proof" that climate change is a hoax. And thousands of global warming conspiracy theorists are now pouring over all these illegally-obtained emails trying to find anything they can spin into evidence of a global conspiracy.

Does that summarize the situation pretty well?

Personally, I think that the best take on the situation comes from Aaron Wiener on the Washington Independent:
Is 'Climategate' Really the Game-Changer Skeptics Say It Is?

On Friday, the news broke that hackers had obtained and released thousands of email exchanges between climate scientists at England’s University of East Anglia. Climate change skeptics pounced on the leak, dubbing it "Climategate" and proclaiming that the questionable communications between the scientists proved that global warming was based on cooked data.

"Climategate: the final nail in the coffin of 'Anthropogenic Global Warming'?" asked one headline. Another piece called the scandal "one of the greatest in modern science." Today, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) called for an investigation.

So what exactly in these emails is causing such celebration among the deniers? The Daily Telegraph compiled "the most contentious quotes," and while they’re certainly embarrassing for their authors, they don’t come close to undermining the very basis of climate science. Here are three of the six they list:

From: Michael Mann. To: Phil Jones and Gabi Hegerl (University of Edinburgh). Date: Aug 10, 2004
“Phil and I are likely to have to respond to more crap criticisms from the [global warming-denying] idiots in the near future.”

From: Phil Jones. To: Many. March 11, 2003
“I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome [global warming-denying] editor.”

From Phil Jones To: Michael Mann (Pennsylvania State University). July 8, 2004
“I can’t see either of these [global warming-denying] papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

These emails demonstrate a deep disdain for global warming skepticism that does not befit scientists in objective pursuit of the truth. But disdain is a far cry from intentional falsification, which is what they’re being accused of. These scientists could — and maybe should — suffer consequences for presenting their findings, and those of their colleagues, in a way that jibes with their broader agenda. But to say that this leak threatens to undermine next month’s climate negotiations in Copenhagen strikes me as more than a bit excessive.
As Gavin A. Schmidt, a climatologist at NASA put it, "Science doesn’t work because we’re all nice. Newton may have been an ass, but the theory of gravity still works."

Or, from Nate Silver on FiveThirtyEight:
Still: I don't know how you get from some scientist having sexed up a graph in East Anglia ten years ago to The Final Nail In The Coffin of Anthropogenic Global Warming. Anyone who comes to that connection has more screws loose than the Space Shuttle Challenger. And yet that's literally what some of these bloggers are saying!

Incidentally, 2009 is shaping up to be the 5th warmist year on record, according to the conspiracists at NASA.
More to the point, from Brad Johnson on Think Progress:
Evidently due to this e-mail conspiracy, Arctic sea ice is at historically low levels, Australia is on fire, the northern United Kingdom is underwater, and the world's glaciers are disappearing. Oh yeah, and it’s the hottest decade in history.
Oh, and Inhofe's calling for an investigation. Into a UN committee. Because he thinks we have jurisdiction there? And, just so I'm clear, this is the same James Inhofe whose biggest campaign contributor is the oil and gas lobby?

Yeah, I thought so.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Scatologically Speaking (a brief essay)

Here's a fun thing to do.

Go into your grandmother's bathroom sometime while she's snoring on the sofa, in a mild coma brought on by alternating doses of Celebrex, Lotensin, Paxil, Prilosec and cheap bourbon. If you look under the sink in there, odds are good that you'll find a product called Epsom Salts.

Now, the most commonly-discussed use of Epsom Salts, or magnesium sulfate (named for Epsom, England, if anybody really cares) is to soak tired or aching muscles. Of course, the "alternative medicine" folks will further try to sell you on its benefits to clean out your liver, stop your epileptic fits, regrow lost limbs and cure acne. But we'll ignore all that, and suggest that you take two tablespoons in a glass of lukewarm water, stir well, and drink all at once.

Now the trick here is the phrase "all at once." The stuff tastes roughly like watered-down bile, and it has a sharp chemical edge to the flavor that will make you strongly consider weeping about halfway through the glass-full. And if you stop drinking, you probably aren't going to be able to make yourself start again. So chug it down.

Now that you've finished, it would probably be the wrong time to tell you that you needed to stock up on Gatorade and baby wipes; if you haven't done it already, you're screwed. Because you have just very literally kicked your own ass. About twenty minutes, maybe half an hour from now, you're going to experience a gurgling in your lower intestine, the first sign of what we sometimes euphemistically call "gastric distress." Don't try to ignore it and finish up whatever you're doing. You need to rush to the toilet right now. Because if you don't, you will crap yourself.

If you're cooking, don't leave anything on the heat. If you're stupid enough to be operating heavy machinery, leave it idling and let somebody else power it down - you don't have that kind of time.

It's too late now if you haven't installed seatbelts on your toilet, but you might want to consider that in the future. Remember those little plastic rockets you used to fill with water and pump up until it would shoot up into the sky trailing a stream of pressurized water behind it? And you'd stand there at the age of seven, giggling like Rush Limbaugh with a fresh supply of Oxycontin and Dominican male prostitutes.

Yeah, your ass is that rocket. And it's going to keep firing off every hour or so for the rest of the day.

It's not like the bowel-clearing ability of this product is a closely-guarded secret - in fact, most brands of Epsom Salts have the word "laxative" somewhere on the package. But the rectum-reaming effectiveness of this product is astounding to the average American, raised for generations on "gentle laxatives" and "soothing, overnight relief." There's nothing "soothing" about Epsom Salts - at some point during the next twelve-to-sixteen hours, as your sphincter begins to be digested by the steady stream of stomach-acid and e. Coli racing through it, you'll curse me for not having mentioned the baby wipes earlier.

In the larger sense, I find this to be a metaphor for both Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Going Rogue

You know, I was going to drop $9 on a copy of this drek and give you a review, but over at Gin and Tacos, they beat me to it. So:
(To answer your question in advance, I owe early access to the text to blind luck, persistence, and a helpful friend in the industry who demands anonymity. Cross-posted at the Putz.)
Following American politics for the last two decades (and teaching about it for the last six years), I often feel like our political spectacles have taken on the air of an elaborate Dadaist performance piece, with each "Tea Party," Fox News segment, and Republican Savior more egregiously blurring the lines between reality, farce, and surrealism. We watch each Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal speech fully expecting Ashton Kutcher to appear and let us in on the joke, informing America that it has in fact been punk'd and laughing uproariously at our gullibility. Our collective capacity for credulity has been strained to breaking.

Now we are faced with the daunting task of wrapping our minds around the Palin memoir Going Rogue, appearing atop a bestseller list near you. Millions of copies will be sold of a book written by someone who can't write, intended for an audience that doesn't read, about the thoughts of a person who doesn't think. God is dead.

If you are in a hurry, here is the succinct version of this review: Going Rogue is shit. It is groundbreaking in its banality and disregard for facts. If you are sentient, it will pain you to read it. Imagine watching your parents 69 one another while John Madden sits behind you and bellows out color commentary and you will have some idea of how excruciating and profoundly scarring it is to plow through each page of this wholly fictional monument to self-aggrandized mediocrity. Going Rogue is to the art of writing what the Holocaust is to the concept of a just God - the piece of disconfirming evidence so overwhelming that we are left questioning whether it can exist at all.

Going Rogue is not without merit. It certainly delivers what its intended audience wants. Readers who already like Palin will love it, much as America's pedophiles will find the latest Jonas Brothers DVD to their liking. The authors' talent for communicating the ex-Governor's unique rhetorical style in print is remarkable - the Sesame Street cadence of her delivery and the intermittent Tourette's-like winks leap off the page. The book, recession priced at just $9, is also an ideal gift for the Aunt or Uncle who assaults your email inbox with a dozen weekly communique's on the President's Kenyan birth and the constitutionality of income taxes.

Unfortunately that is an exhaustive list of its strengths.

The book is less a biography than an elaborate press release. Its 432 pages (with sixteen pages of pictures and no index) barely feign interest in describing Palin's life in detail. It moves as quickly as possible to its real raison d'etre - a methodical re-imagining of her entire political career replete with more excuses than a Cleveland Browns post-game press conference. Palin has never done anything wrong. The public have merely been led to believe that she is a dangerously stupid, erratic narcissist. Going Rogue is all about setting that record straight, offering a wildly implausible excuse for every crash and bang in her train wreck of a political career.

The theme that permeates the book - and with all the subtlety of an Oliver Stone film - is Palin's overwhelming magnanimity. The book itself was written solely for our benefit, to set straight all of our misconceptions. Her Hindenburg interview with Katie Couric was done only because Palin pitied the struggling journalist (no mention of how her personal generosity forced her to answer simple questions like a lobotomized rube who had never ventured beyond Wasilla). Her hillbilly-wins-the-Lotto shopping sprees and misuse of Alaska taxpayers' funds to take her daughters on vacations in $3000 per night hotels either never happened (er, she usually eschewed lavish accommodations for simple ones) or were forced upon her by others; McCain aides practically held a gun to her head and made her buy a new wardrobe. She resigned the governorship halfway through her only term for the benefit of the people of Alaska (admittedly, she may be onto something there). Her enormous legal bills stem from frivolous ethics complaints by her enemies, and she has borne these costs for you, out of the kindness of her heart. Buying her book and electing her to the presidency is the least you can do in return, ingrate.

A serious question arises from her narrative. Is she a sociopath with a messiah complex - i.e. she actually believes the version of events she relates here - or is she simply a shameless liar? Does she honestly fail to realize that the McCain team was bending over backwards to protect her from her own stupidity when she rails on about how they abused, demeaned, and stifled her? Does she honestly believe it when she describes herself as someone who wouldn't stand for a conflict of interest from a public servant, or does she consciously sit down at the keyboard and say, "I think I'm gonna make some shit up here!" with the intention of burnishing her image?

It is not coincidental that everyone - and we can use that term without hyperbole - involved with the McCain campaign and not named "Sarah Palin" has already lambasted this book as, variously, "pure fabrication," "other worldly," "blatantly and absolutely inaccurate," "total fiction," and "a serious mixing of truth and imagination." These charges would be predictable from liberal opponents, but they come from fellow Republicans. That is the shocking and crass aspect of this book. It is petty, vindictive, and reads like Palin was checking names off of her Nixonian enemies list one by one as she wrote, and the targets of her limitless bile are almost exclusively other Republicans. Barely a word is uttered of President Obama or his campaign aside from some factually errant potshots at his policies - including the "bailout" legislation signed by George W. Bush, underscoring Palin's slavish attention to detail. Nary an insult is leveled at Obama, Biden, or other Democrats on a personal level, something that cannot be said for Steve Schmidt and the rest of the McCain team. Schmidt may have seemed to the rest of us like a salty, dumpy campaign pro desperately trying to maintain order in a campaign that, thanks to Palin, skirted the line between chaos and comedy – half Ringling Brothers circus, half Triangle Shirtwaist fire. But Palin once again sets straight the record, depicting Schmidt throughout as a profane, hysterical misogynist hell-bent on destroying her and, she bizarrely claims, forcing her to abandon the Atkins Diet.

Going Rogue is many things, but it is not a good biography. It is a fantastic work of fiction and therefore not totally undeserving of commercial success. Every autobiography - be it from a political aspirant or the latest WWE superstar - massages the truth to some degree. Abraham Lincoln once called "tact" the art of describing others as they see themselves. This book proves that there is not enough tact in the world for a person with even the most tenuous grip on reality to describe Sarah Palin as she sees herself. If this is her attempt at positive spin, it is cynical and petty. If, on the other hand, she believes a single word of this, she is psychologically unfit to run for dog catcher, let alone President of the United States.

In short, the book provides ample proof that Sarah Palin's version of her own life is like the Turkish government's version of the Armenian Genocide - and approximately as trustworthy. Going Rogue is an irritatingly vernacular, fantastical, and cloying autobiography of a malignant narcissist, every bit as thunderingly stupid throughout as the person behind it. In what world is it either necessary or desirable to spend $9 and four hours to figure that much out about Sarah Palin?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

GOP ≠ Balls

Why are Republicans such pussies?

I mean, they talk a good fight – they like to pretend that they’re brave, stalwart defenders of all things good and noble (or in many cases, all things small and petty), but it’s classic bully behavior. The minute anything even slightly out of the ordinary happens, their bladders immediately go into Pants-Wetting Overdrive.

Around the country, the militia movement is gaining strength, fueled by white guys scared to death of losing racial primacy, and conspiracy theorists frightened to the point of heart attack that Obama is going to take away their guns.

Across the right side of the political spectrum, idiots are ramping up artificial outrage over Obama bowing to the Japanese emperor, frightened that America will lose whatever standing we have left in the world if we’re polite to the leaders of other countries.

Early this month, you had one lone, well-armed lunatic in Fort Hood, and what happened? The GOP stood there in a slowly-spreading yellow puddle shrieking about how this is the end of the world! Jihad! The terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad Muslims are coming!

Even their religion is based on fear: yeah, Jesus may love you, but you mess around and God's gonna fuck you up.

When the Twin Towers fell, the Republican-controlled Congress began eagerly shredding the Constitution, on the theory that if we lost all our rights, the terrorists wouldn’t be so scary.

And now that those same terrorists are about to be hauled into court, the GOP is soiling themselves at the thought that a terrorist might actually get a fair trial.

And then we get Rudy ("a noun, a verb and 9/11") Giuliani on Fox News, apparently believing that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would tear through his chains, escape, and destroy New York with his bare hands, telling us that we needed to ignore what he said three years ago, after he testified in the trial of terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui:
"At the same time, I was in awe of our system," the former mayor continued. "It does demonstrate that we can give people a fair trial, that we are exactly what we say we are. We are a nation of law... I think he's going to be a symbol of American justice."
Apparently, that "awe of our system" has changed to "openly sobbing in fear."

His explanation was basically "9/11 changed everything." Which is the same excuse he uses for everything from "I left the milk on the counter overnight" to "My pick for police commissioner is now an admitted criminal."

Have I mentioned that Rudy Giuliani's judgement is questionable? Of course, when your entire career, along with your job skills, are built around the phrase "I was in charge when things started blowing up," sometimes you have to use a bigger shovel to move all the bullshit.

Why does the GOP push for harsher punishments for criminals if they don't believe that the system works? And how many prisoners actually escape from a supermax prison? (Here's a hint - the word "never" is involved in the answer.)

Let's be clear on this. Either you support the American justice system, or you oppose it. America is, in fact, built on a system of laws, and now we're getting back to them. We punish criminals. Live with it.

And stop being such a pussy.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sgt Pfeffer taught the band to play

It's been twenty years, apparently, since the Berlin Wall, fell. I have to admit, I missed that particular holiday. I mean, admittedly, it was the most obvious sign that the largest communist empire in history was collapsing, but in the larger sense, the failure to enforce the integration of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance in 1969 and 1971 was probably the item that led to the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union, but really, since that's far too deep a consideration of history for the average Republican, we should probably just ignore any deeper truths and go back to the fall of the Berlin Wall (of course, to be entirely truthful, the Soviet Union was never communist, but don't try to explain that to a Republican - their brains will explode).

So, um... woo-hoo.

(Did I mention how big a fan I am of the run-on sentence?)

Anyway, it was November 9, 1989. Roughly two years and five months earlier, Reagan had made his famous "Mister Gorbachev! Tear down this wall!" speech. Which, in the end, had absolutely nothing to do with the fall of the Soviet Union, as any reasonable person could figure out. (But, again, don't try to tell a Republican that.)

Shortly after David Hasselhoff celebrated the fall of the Wall, I came back to the Fatherland. I was stationed in Spangdahlem, Germany from 1990 through 1997.

When we arrived in-country, the bloom was seriously fading from the rose. People had reunited with family they'd (for the most part) never met, David Hasselhoff was still putting out bad albums (although mostly without wearing his multicolored electric coat), and life, as it tends to do, was continuing on, regardless of the life or death of a political ideal.

The biggest job faced by the German people was most obviously demonstrated by driving west-to-east (with a slight northern tilt) across the country. Beautiful countryside, charming villages, grass, trees, well-maintained roads... fading gradually to yellowish-green grass, dying trees (if any at all), open-pit mines (mostly for soft coal), roads in disrepair, towns of blocky concrete buildings.

People were leaving the former East Germany for anything resembling a job, anywhere else in the country. The most obvious symbol of the ex-Communist country's industry, aside from the staggering pollution they left in their wake, was a blocky little car called the Trabant. Powered by a two-cylinder chainsaw engine, the former East Germans would drive them as far as they could, and then sell the vehicle for whatever they could get (frequently, the damned little toy cars would break down by the side of the road... sorry, by the side of the autobahn, and the owner would abandon them where they fell and continue on).

American troops in Frankfurt and Munich, looking for a cheap car (or "beater") would frequently buy two Trabants: since they could be had for as low as $50, you'd buy the second one for spare parts. (Occasionally, you ended up only able to assemble one functioning model from the two cars anyway, so it worked out pretty well for the new owner...)

One of the main disadvantages of the Trabant would have to be the way you'd refuel it — open the hood, add gas and 2-stroke oil to the 6-gallon engine, and swish it around to mix it.

A lot of people got in the habit of keeping a gas can of pre-mixed fuel in their trunk, because if you drove a Trabant, the chance of bursting into flame was only one of many things you had to worry about.

There weren't actually a lot of those in Spangdahlem, though, since we were just about as far from the former East Germany as you could get. Few of them survived to make it that far.

I'm vaguely curious how much of the shredded DDR they've managed to recover. Not curious enough to actually look it up. But those are my memories of the time.