Monday, September 28, 2009

Something could be finer...

One of my three regular readers recently asked what evidence I have that South Carolina is a particularly inbred state. And it's a fair question.

First, to be entirely honest, there's no real way to tell. The government really doesn't track that kind of thing, and even if they did, their data would probably be inaccurate, as this particular problem is widely under-reported, according to most experts (and we won't even touch on the problem of false memory syndrome and how it might skew the results).

The argument can still be made, of course. There are a number of fascinating medical anomalies in South Carolina, any or all of which could be genetic, and thus reinforced by inbreeding: South Carolina leads the country in stroke deaths, and has the third highest rate of infant mortality in the United States; epilepsy, which affects between 0.4% and 1% of the rest of the country (lifetime prevalence rate), affects 2.2% of South Carolinians.

Interestingly, they also have one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the country, but that probably isn't related. (Not directly related, anyway...)

Having said that, though, we are still left with one question: what the hell is wrong with South Carolina?

South Carolina has a long history of racism - they were so in love with their plantations and ability to chain up fellow human beings that they were the first state to secede from the Union; and Edmund Ruffin was the South Carolinian (technically, a transplated Virginian) who claimed to have fired the first shot at Fort Sumter, kicking that whole mess off. (Also, upon hearing that General Lee had surrendered at Appomattox, Ruffin penned a letter stating his hatred for "the perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race," and shot himself in the head, which many say gave him the dubious honor of firing both the first shot and the last shot of the Civil War.)

South Carolinian John C. Calhoun (7th Vice President of the United States) even gave a speech on the Senate floor where he explained that slavery was a "positive good" - he also spearheaded a gag rule that automatically tabled any discussion of slavery in the Senate.

"But, oh, Nameless One," you're probably saying, "that's the past. What about the present?" But is it truly the past? I'm not so sure, because when Mike Huckabee, while talking about the Confederate "stars and bars", can say to a group of South Carolinians, "You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag," the audience just cheers, and nobody feels constrained to say, "Uh, Mike, that isn't our flag any more."

Regardless of that, though, South Carolina is well known for having more than their share of citizens who are frequently described as "colorful" - Sheriff Leon Lott, who purchased an armored personnel carrier for his police force, and famously broke down a door based on a picture of gold-medalist Michael Phelps holding a bong; Mayor Sallie Peake, who banned the police from chasing suspects on foot in Wellford, SC; noted hunter Nathan Dickson; Joshua Glidewell, a Fred Phelps wannabe who's suing the city of Greenville for not allowing him to harass passersby.

They're the only state in the nation who elects their National Guard adjutant; one candidate for that office, Republican Dean Allen, recently raffled off an AK-47 at a fundraiser. (You'd think that one of his opponents would point out that Mr Allen not only couldn't even be counted on to buy American, but felt it was appropriate to raffle off a weapon from the former Soviet Union.)

South Carolina also has a long-standing militia movement - people deluded enough to believe that a hundred hillbillies with hunting rifles can overthrow the entire US government.

You should probably also remember Caitlin Upton, the Miss Teen USA contestant from South Carolina, who gave this fascinatingly incoherent response when asked why 20% of Americans can't locate the US on a world map:
I personally believe that U.S. Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, people out there in our nation don't have maps and, uh, I believe that our, uh, education like such as, uh, South Africa and, uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as, and, I believe that they should, our education over here in the U.S. should help the U.S., uh, or, uh, should help South Africa and should help the Iraq and the Asian countries, so we will be able to build up our future, for our (children).
And she was an honor student in high school. (Admittedly, a South Carolina high school, so the bar is pretty low.)

And their politicians are notoriously unstable. As far back as 1856, Representative Preston Brooks used his walking stick to beat another congressman, Charles Sumner, so badly that Sumner couldn't return to his congressional duties for three years. (Brooks actually had a long history of violent behavior - he never finished law school because he was expelled for threatening the police with a gun. However, his violent impulses apparently only extended to attacking without provocation - after being denounced for his actions by a third Congressman, Anson Burlingame, he challenged Burlingame to a duel, but chickened out when Burlingame accepted.)

Strom Thurmond was an evil old racist from South Carolina, who kept his Senate seat for 49 years following 2 years as governor. One of his many notable remarks was that "there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches." And he still holds the record for the longest filibuster in Senate history; he talked for 24 hours and 18 minutes opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1957. (Of course, this didn't prevent him from having a daughter out of wedlock with his black maid. Go figure.)

More recently, we had South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson, who felt that shouting "You lie!" at the President of the United States was an appropriate way to uphold the dignity of his office. (Wilson was also a strong supporter of Strom Thurmond, and an advocate for the aforementioned Confederate flag, in spite of, or perhaps because of, the fact that it's a symbol of slavery and repression.)

And lest we forget, Governor Mark Sanford, recently in the news for his habit of taking publically-funded junkets to chase Argentinian tail to meet his soul mate.

All of which brings us back to our original question: What the hell is wrong with South Carolina?

I can't answer that question, but until I'm given evidence to the contrary, I will continue to believe it's inbreeding.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Catholic Church, Private Insurance and Abortion

Reprinted from Pruning Shears
On Monday I sent the following email to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Colorado:
The recent letter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] opposing a House health care plan on the grounds that its prohibition of abortion funding was a "legal fiction" raised a question to me. I first learned of you because of your statement that voting for John Kerry in 2004 was cooperating in evil due to his position on abortion, so I know how seriously you take the issue. My question is, has the American church, the Conference or any other official Catholic body or agency taken a position on Catholics’ purchasing insurance from companies that provide abortion services? All of the major ones - Aetna, Blue Cross, Cigna, United Healthcare and so on - provide abortion services in their policies. Doesn’t anyone who pays premiums to these insurers help to fund abortion, and wouldn’t that also amount to cooperating in evil?

It seems the Catholic Church has focused all of its energy and activism on government’s role but left the private sector off scot-free. I am not aware of any visibility on this from the church, and that appears to be a glaring omission. Has it been addressed, and if so has it been addressed as forcefully? On the face of it, it seems to me that anything contributing to abortions, public or private, would be equally objectionable.

Thanks in advance for any time and attention you are able to provide.
Archbishop Chaput declined to provide an on the record response. He is obviously not obligated to, but the opposition to the House bill raises what I believe is a legitimate question: Why has the church not targeted private insurers for the last thirty years? They are indispensable players in providing abortion services, yet as far as I know they have not been highlighted the way pro-choice politicians have. The Democratic nominee for president is singled out for his position. Why not the CEO of Aetna?

How is it that the USCCB can object to increased health care coverage that will "subsidize the operating budget and provider networks that expand access to abortions" while having never said a word about the provider networks themselves? Why oppose raising the quality of life of millions of people through insurance reform if the objection is to the health care infrastructure? Or conversely, if you object to adding new people to the system then why not also work to get current enrollees out of it? Don’t employers who provide health care plans subsidize provider networks? Why aren’t they being targeted for doing so? Why is the system as it exists now and has existed for decades so studiously ignored if putting new people into it is so problematic?

The disparity between the easy treatment of private insurers and the objection to a public one could create a philosophical tipping point. Since Roe v. Wade the church has been visible and energetic in its opposition to abortion while giving comparatively short shrift to other life issues such as capital punishment and war. The fact that such emphasis lined up nicely with conservative ideology is presumably coincidence. The church’s recommended political course for addressing abortion is to support pro-life candidates on the theory that they will appoint pro-life judges who will eventually overturn Roe. That too benefits the GOP, coincidentally I am sure. In a few years this strategy will conclude its second full generation as an exercise in futility. Meaning, in practice it boils down to perpetual straight ticket voting for the party in pursuit of a goal forever just out of reach. As year after fruitless year passes, claims of nonpartisanship begin to strain credulity.

Any religion worth its salt will periodically cause great discomfort at points across the political spectrum, and opposing Democratic health care reform because it expands coverage may be a coincidence too far. It makes the leadership’s position look more political than moral - abortions paid for by the private sector are acceptable, abortions paid for by the public sector are not. The long running alignment between the church’s antiabortion activism and the right wing has been plausible as just circumstance, but we may now be entering an area where the American Catholic Church risks looking like nothing so much as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican party.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Norse (by Norsewest)

It seems that some Norwegian metal guitarist named Varg Vikernes has been making stuff up ridiculous stories. Like this creation myth.
Our world was created in co-operation between these three proto-forces. Between Múspellheimr (the stars) and Niflheimr (the frozen matter in space) there was Gínungagap (the void). The universe was resting. It was inactive. It was in a state of complete balance.

The universe woke after this rest of Freyr. Óðinn's force threw the mass out in all directions again. The stars began to melt the frozen matter in space when they met each other, out there in Gínungagap; in the void.

In Múspellheimr, there was the divine bosom, the explosion which gives new life to the universe. In Niflheimr, there was the resting divine thought, frozen. The ice melted and it became active again.

In Ragnarök, the opposite forces cancel each other out until only one force is left standing. Since the gravitational pull is constant, while the explosion only works over a limited time, gravity will always win. It will always, after a period of time, force the mass of universe together again.
Everyone knows that Ginnungagap was the boundary between Niflheim (the land of frost) and Muspelheim (the land of fire), where the great icecow Audhumla, who belonged to the giant Ymir, licked Buri out of the ice. And Buri was the father of Borr, who mated with Bestla (a frost giant), to beget the Æsir: Odin, Vili and Ve.

Then the Aesir killed Ymir (whose blood poured forth and destroyed all but two of the jotunn), and used his flesh to make the earth, his bones to make the mountains, and his teeth and bone fragments became stones; and they used his skull to become the arch of the sky.

(See? They recycled.)

Is Varg just insane? The Allfather will destroy him for this heresy! And I can go on at length about how Odin is a metaphor for death, not some stupid proto-force of expansion/explosion.

(That whole question of Varg's sanity is actually a valid concern. I mean, he did do 16 years for murder and arson. On the other hand, he's descended from the Vikings, so burning down churches and slaughtering innocents might just be a genetic imperative for him.)

The whole skycow story makes as much sense as "God was bored, and took a week to make the earth, but we don't know how or what he built it out of," if you think about it.

I wonder if the story of Ymir's blood is where we get these profane bastardizations like "the Great Flood"?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Walking the dark, ugly streets

So, for the last week or so, I've been having some nice chats with people.

You see, ever since Joe Wilson (R-Bethlem Royal Hospital)
yes, he just made a Victorian England reference (the benefit of a classical education)
ever since Joe Wilson (R-Batshit Insane - happy now?) decided that interrupting the President of the United States to impugn his honor was the perfect thing for a Southern Gentleman to do, Joe has become the toast of the wingnut blogs.

Now, when I say "Southern Gentleman," I use the term in it's most historical sense, as Joe Wilson is famously remembered for having said how sad it made him to have slave-ownership compared to Nazi Germany. (I mean, please! One group raped, killed and imprisoned Jews! (And gypsies and homosexuals, of course.) The other raped, killed and imprisoned blacks! Don't you see the difference?)

Of course, it's fascinating that our boy Joe is being feted by the right for his strong stand against ensuring that illegal immigrants die in the streets (which is a perfectly reasonable, responsible attitude as the threat of a Swine Flu H1N1 outbreak looms closer). After all, his voting history in this area isn't quite as stellar as they would like to believe.
However, in 2003, Wilson voted to provide federal funds for illegal immigrants’ healthcare. The vote came on the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003, which contained Sec. 1011 authorizing $250,000 annually between 2003 and 2008 for government reimbursements to hospitals who provide treatment for uninsured illegal immigrants. The program has been extended through 2009 and there is currently a bipartisan bill in Congress to make it permanent.
But let's be big about this. Let's ignore the somewhat inherent hypocrisy in his bona fides, and move on. Let's consider the simple matter of "honesty."

The basic argument, as far as anyone can tell, that so enraged the potentially-not-inbred Senator from the chromosomally-challenged state of South Carolina is the President's statement that illegal aliens would not be covered by health insurance. That, after all, is the point where common sense, common decency and simple etiquette all simultaneously failed for our pro-slavery Senator, and he suffered from his momentary spasm of Tourette's.

Well, sadly, it's true. Illegal aliens would, in fact, be covered under any of the healthcare reform plans currently under consideration (well, except for the one that Senator Inhofe proposed where old people are ground up into crackers - but even Newt Gingrich doesn't like to talk about that one...). Just like they are currently.

Because that's one of those little things that our wingnuts don't want to accept: illegal immigrants are already covered when they go into an emergency room. They have to be – it’s a basic fact: emergency rooms cannot turn away anyone. This has already been decided by the courts - it's the law. (

It's a simple fact: the healthcare reform bill doesn’t guarantee care to illegal aliens. But it’s not going to deny anyone emergency care. That’s the way it is now, that’s the way it’s going to be in the future, whether we have healthcare reform or not.

Now, I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the only real strategy that the GOP has for combatting healthcare reform these days is to openly lie about it, from "dealth panels," to "rationing care," and now "them illegals is gonna git a band-aid instead of your child!"

So, armed with nothing more than a few freely-verifiable facts and a little common sense, I have, as I've said, gone foraging for reality on the Dark Side.

As usual, there were people who had no answers and chose to look the other way.

A site calling itself "The Republican Resistance" seemed to feel that forwarding ignorant emails wasn't enough, and some should become blog posts; they also have no answers. That seems like a fairly weak resistance movement to me.

Suprisingly, it was on a site calling itself where I encountered a small dash of common sense; a poster called "Rush LimpPaw" agreed that I was correct almost immediately.

I found a blogger calling himself "Philosophy Guy," whose arguments boiled down to "you're wrong because you disagree with me." And since that's my jurisdiction, he needs to just clear the hell out. And apparently, I only got to knock down his arguments twice - after that, he ignores you. An attempt at putting an intellectual spin on wrong-minded right-wing tropes, and then cutting off the argument in mid-sentence - I'm glad he identified himself as Kiel Moreland, or I might have thought I was debating Donald Rumsfeld.

Over on True Health Is True Wealth!! (with two exclamation points, thank you very much), she sniffed dismissively that she'd read the entire bill (HR 3200, in case you're confused here); oddly, she wasn't willing to explain where she'd found the passage giving healthcare to illegal immigrants. Go figure.

I'm not sure why Bill Baar calls his blog Pfarrer Streccius ("Pfarrer" being German for "minister," and wasn't "Streccius" a character on Saved By The Bell?), but his arguments also boil down to "I know better than you." (Again, a lot of people marching on my turf, by God!)

(Actually, I think that character was named Screech... hmmm...)

Easily my longest discussion was with a wild-eyed libertarian named Joel Turtel, who calls his blog "My Kids Deserve Better" (no exclamation points, this time). It's one butt-ugly page, with random font selection and superfluous underlining, but he was apparently just copying a fund-raising letter from AmericPAC, on his (get ready for it) Conservatives are Cool news feed. (Really? Are they "hip," too?)

Joel doesn't support public schools, apparently because they failed him so badly: he doesn't understand political philosophies, history, grammar, spelling - and I'm sure I'm only scratching the surface of his ignorance. I was in full-on snark mode by the time we were done.

You know, I might have more patience for these teabagging idiots if they'd just look around and realize that they were being played for fools. They rant, they rave, they scream about "socialism" and taxes, but they openly ignore the hypocrisy rampant in their own movement. You know, little things, like Dick Armey (who runs FreedomWorks, one of the top two teabagger organizers), who opposes all government-run healthcare, except his own, of course: he's fighting to keep from being taken off his Congressional healthcare plan, despite the fact that he hasn't been in Congress in almost seven years.

That's the type of high-quality leadership running this movement.


Update: And, just to show that he truly believes in free speech, the Turtle has deleted all my responses, but left his answers intact, which makes it look like he's holding a conversation with the voices in his head.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Like a Virgin

(An essay by Driftglass)
“...they turned to prayer, beseeching
that the sin which had been committed
might be wholly blotted out.”

-- 2 Maccabees. 12:42
Once upon a time, there was a President named Bill Clinton, who was, by most historical standards, a typical Centrist Republican, although by a fluke of geography and circumstances he ran for public office with a "(D)" after his name.

Under his Administration, many Conservative ideas which had long gathered dust on the shelf -- ideas such as welfare reform, a balanced budget, debt reduction, a strict “Pay as You Go” fiscal regime, a boom in technology jobs, budget surpluses, NAFTA, GATT, official bans on gay marriage, etc. -- were finally realized.

And for all of his good work on behalf of their ideology, Conservatives spent eight, long years treating Bill Clinton -- a Southern, White, Christian man -- as if he were a case of flesh eating nuclear syphilis.

Because he did not run for office with an "(R)" after his name.

And because he did not run for office with an "(R)" after his name, according to the leading voices in the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement, Bill Clinton was, in no particular order, Hitler, a Socialist, a rapist, a warmonger, a serial murderer, and a drug dealer, whose Presidency was somehow vaguely illegitimate.

And counterpointing the 24/7 slime campaign, there were those endless, endless hearings. Whitewater. Travel office. Christmas Card lists. Lincoln bedroom. Etc ad nauseum.

Or don’t you remember?

He was “Not my President!” (Ollie North: War criminal, terrorist arms dealer, GOP Senate Candidate [1994] and FoxNews Contributor.)

He was warned “not to set foot in my state.” (Jesse Helms: Professional Bigot, Confederate Senator, 1820-2003)

His picture was used for target practice by G. Gordon Liddy, the Watergate felon, would-be assassin, radio personality and Republican hero.

From "The American Prospect":'s worth remembering just how virulent the opposition to Clinton's presidency was. Republicans began plotting to impeach Clinton long before anyone had ever heard the name "Lewinsky," and many on the right simply refused to accept that he legitimately occupied the office he held. Then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, when talking to Democrats, used to refer to Clinton as "your president."
It was a warped, hysterical campaign funded by wealthy Right Wing thugs like Richard Mellon Scaife

and propagated by wealthy Right Wing thugs like Rupert Murdoch who made sure the lies were jack-hammered into the headlines day after day, year after year.

And judging by its objectives, it was also a very successful campaign: it legitimized and metastasized Hate Radio; killed the credibility of the "objective" media once and for all; made the overt mass-slander of political opposition by the Right acceptable; moved radicals, militia nuts, bigots, Creationists and Limbaugh zombies to the center of the Republican Party; accelerated the exodus of reasonable moderates the hell out of the Republican Party; destroyed the possibility of public discourse; and kicked the door open to the use of Congressional hearings as instruments of political vendetta.

But as successful as it was, it was also an incredibly high-risk strategy, because of a thing called the "public record".

The public record meant that each and every time a Republican stood up to, say, slam the Democrat Commander-in-Chief during a time of war:
“You can support the troops but not the president”
-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)

“President…is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation’s armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy.”
-Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA)

“American foreign policy is now one huge big mystery. Simply put, the administration is trying to lead the world with a feel-good foreign policy.”
-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)

“If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy.”
-Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of George W. Bush

“I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning…I didn’t think we had done enough in the diplomatic area.”
-Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)

“Well, I just think it’s a bad idea. What’s going to happen is they’re going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years”
-Joe Scarborough (R-FL)

“I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today”
-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)

“Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?”
-Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

“Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.”
-Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

“This is President Clinton’s war, and when he falls flat on his face, that’s his problem.”
-Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN)

“Bombing a sovereign nation for ill-defined reasons with vague objectives undermines the American stature in the world. The international respect and trust for America has diminished every time we casually let the bombs fly.”
-Representative Tom Delay (R-TX)
they left a documentary trail wide and bright enough to be visible from space.

Or from the next election cycle.

The public record meant that every frivolous Republican witch hunt and every syllable of hate and demagoguery gleefully poured out through public megaphones and megachurch pulpits to malign and demonize the Left could potentially represent a thick bar on the cage of any future Republican president's imperial ambitions.

Because, after all, should the tables ever turn -- should there ever be a Republican President whose election really was suspect, or who really did lie to the American public and flagrantly abuse his office, and did it in ways that cost the nation trillions of dollars and thousands of lives -- after spending eight years establishing a public record in such clear and unambiguous language what the Hell could the Right possibly say?

After conspiring to bring about two of the most destructive events in modern American history -- the impeachment of a US President over trivia, and the probable theft of the subsequent Presidential election -- to what God could Republicans possibly pray that their eight years of insanity, venom and violence "might be wholly blotted out?”

On 09/11/01, their dark miracle came winging its way out of a clear, blue sky.

Eight years ago, this is what we all saw.

All of us, all together across all political, cultural and religious spectra watched the worst thing many of us had ever seen.


But in what now seems like less time than it took to wipe away our tears, the same depraved thugs who sponsored eight years of "Clinton Murdered Vince Foster!" hysteria began hijacking of our pain and patriotism to serve their partisan interests right before our eyes.

The minute the Bush Administration began trying to stretch the war they got into an excuse for the war they wanted, 9/11 stopped being merely a national tragedy and started being the Bush Administration's bottomless political ATM machine.

The minute the Party of Personal Responsibility began using the mantra "9/11 changed everything" as the political equivalent of the Blood of Christ -- as a means to absolve themselves of their personal responsibility for eight years of malice and derangement -- for them September 11, 2001 stopped being a moment of shared, national anguish and started being a suit of cultural body-armor which magically deflected any criticism of their lies and their and hypocrisy.

An impervious sniper's nest from which they could cynically escalate their war on the Left.

Or don't you remember the day the Right robbed the graves of all those who perished on 9/11 to turn this

into their all-purpose "Get Out of the 90s Free" card?

And the thing is, it worked.

By selling 9/11 for a mess of wingnut pottage, the Right bought itself an anti-Liberal free-fire zone and two Presidential terms-worth of blank checks. Two terms of an alternately supportive and supine media. Two terms of catastrophe, corruption and treason protected from scrutiny by an ablative shield made out of solid "Why do you hate America?", and a promise that they could go on bareback fucking diseased monsters in the alley all night long, every night, forever and wake up each morning miraculously clean, virginal and still beloved in the eyes of God.

But they forgot that tempus just keeps fugiting along. And as time passed, the Right got so accustomed to butt-scooting their depravity all over the public square and never being called on it they simply stopped noticing that they were amassing a whole new post-9/11 public record so despicable and overflowing with Conservative atrocities that it positively dwarfed their antics during the Clinton Years.

And that brutal, meth-addict level of dependence on never being brought to book for anything they say or do left the Right completely unprepared for the one thing their leaders promised would never happen again.


And losing has driven them a special kind of crazy; that screaming-incoherently-and-lashing-out-in-every-direction kind of cold-turkey junkie withdrawal crazy.

In the few, short months since they lost, they have emptied out their entire store of raving invective and delusion.

Losing has left them insisting that that the legally elected President of the United States somehow isn't really the President. That he is a secret enemy. A Communist. A Hitler. A Muslim sleeper cell. A Chicago gangster.

Has left them swearing that "their country" has been stolen and that somewhere hidden in secret code in a 1,000 health care bill is a plan to murder senior citizens.

To understand how deep and relentless their addiction goes, you need only consider the recent example of Mrs. Katy Abram, who leaped into microcelebrity and the wingnut pantheon a month ago with her Clown Hall rant of “I don’t want my county to become Russia!” speech.

Mrs. Katy Abram wants the world to believe that, like a wingnut Sleeping Beauty, she somehow slept through 9/11.

Slept through two wars and the two trillion dollar bill they racked up.

Slept through tax cuts for the wealthy that added another few trillion to our debt.

Slept through Katrina.

Slept through Terri Schiavo.

Slept through the screams of the Constitution as Bush Administration fed it an inch at a time through the wood chipper (the same Constitution she is now so deeply concerned about that she has somehow become, virtually overnight, an “original intent” quote-spewing expert) only to be awakened in a sudden, patriotic fury by the sound of a Black Democrat taking the oath of office.

I’m sure in Mrs. Abram’s mind – and in the tiny little minds of tens of millions of Americans just like her – she sees absolutely no contradiction between explaining that she never paid any attention to a single fucking thing prior to January of 2009....and saying that she started paying attention in 1991 "when we first went to the Gulf War" and that she has debated politics with friends at the opposite end of the political spectrum “a million times over”.

It is, in fact, a sign of the depth and effectiveness of their brainwashing that people like Mrs. Abram see no conflict between saying in one breath “I have never been interested in politics” and "I always seem to have faith in the government“ in the next.

Because during the Bush years, people like Mrs. Abram never saw their love of their Dear Leader and their fealty to his Administration as something "political". They saw it normal. As the Universe being at its proper, wingnut default setting: White, male, fundamentalist Christian, Conservative, flight-suit clad and killing scary brown people. And as long as that remained true, all was right with the world and people like Mrs. Abram were absolved by their "Don't Worry, Go Shopping" leaders of any responsibility for paying attention to anything their government was actually doing.

And once the Dear Leader's reign ended, as far as people like Mrs. Abram were concerned, the natural order of mindless obedience in exchange for a smug and blissful ignorance collapsed. "Their country" was suddenly broke and fucked up for reasons that they dared not think about too much. "Their country" was suddenly awash in dirty fucking hippies, who for some reason were no longer satisfied with being cultural punching bags. "Their country"suddenly had politicians and activists who said mean things about the Dear Leader and the Republican Party...and got away with it!

And worst of all, "their country" suddenly had a Scary Black Man living in their Dear Leader's pretty White House, probably having dirty, Muslim sex in the Dear Leader's sacred, Christian bed and putting his filthy, Kenyan hands all over "their county's" pure, white Constitution.

So, for example, when you hear the same people who fanatically supported President George W. Bush when he famously told Iraq war critics to fuck off --
"Well, we had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 election."
-- now insisting, less that a year after the 2008 elections, that President Barack Obama needs to:
"...scrap the current grandiose plans and to start over."
or when you see the mobs on the Right being whipped by talk of secession or revolution or spilling the "blood of tyrants" into a nearly-pornographic frenzy, understand that what you are witnessing are the echoes of political decisions made in the wake of September 11, 2001.

Political decisions that trained the Right to believe, on a visceral level, that a sufficiently bloody and horrifying disruption to the life of the country can -- if properly exploited -- wash away their eight otherwise-unforgivable years of sin and restore "their country" to its proper, wingnut default setting.

That if the right sacrifices are made to the right Gods in just the right way, then they can be virgins again

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Public Policy

Robert Reich (the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor, former Harvard University Professor and current Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley) explains it for you.

2010 California Marriage Protection Act

My friends, there's a spectacular movement going on in California right now, which will definitely protect the institution of marriage far better than Proposition 8 ever will.

It's the 2010 California Marriage Protection Act, and it has one simple goal. To prevent any married couple from getting divorced. Ever.

The whole thing takes just over 75 words (including the title):
2010 California Marriage Protection Amendment.

SECTION 1. Title. This act shall be known as the “2010 California Marriage Protection Amendment.”

SECTION 2. Section 7.6 is added to Article I of the California Constitution, to read:

No party to any marriage shall be restored to the state of an unmarried person during the lifetime of the other party unless the marriage is void or voidable, as set forth in Part 2 of Division 6 of the Family Code.
Simple, right?

He gave the following web interview to one of the better 'zines out there,
Rob Cockerham: John Marcotte. You've filed a petition with the Secretary of State, in an effort to get a voter's initative on the California 2010 ballot.

John Marcotte: Yes. Filed the paperwork on September 1. It's the "2010 California Marriage Protection Act." I am trying to ban divorce in the state of California.

RC: Ok. So your act, if it became law, would make marriage undissolvable.

John: Exactly. The only exception would be if the marriage was "voidable" -- if you married an 8-year-old, you don't get to keep her. She goes back on the shelf. You can't marry the mentally incapacitated, etc... 99.99% of all marriages would be set in stone. It's a return to traditional values.

RC: Wow, that is amazing. Could it really happen? What steps remain to make this initiative into a valid, enforced law?

John: I am trying to extend the good work done with Proposition 8 last year. It could really happen. The United States has not always had divorce as an institution the way we do now. As a ballot initiative it bypasses the legislature and the governor. It's the will of the people made law...

RC: Who is providing the bulk of funding for this initiative?

John: It began as a self-funded initiative, but we've been collecting donations and already recouped a fair percentage of the filing fees. We hope to collect more donations and maybe start selling t-shirts, etc. to raise more funds.

RC: Are you going to hit the streets collecting signatures for the initiative?

John: We're going to set up a table in front of Wal*Mart and ask people to sign a petition to protect traditional marriage. We're going to interview them about why they thing traditional marriage is important, and then we'll tell them that we are trying to ban divorce. People who supported Prop 8 weren't trying to take rights away from gays, they just wanted to protect traditional marriage. That's why I'm confident that they will support this initiative, even though this time it will be their rights that are diminished. To not support it would be hypocritical. We're also going to collect signatures in front of "Faces," the largest gay nightclub in Sacramento.

RC: Can gay and unmarried people sign the petition to make this California Law?

John: Anyone can sign the petition as long as they are a registered voter in California. Sinners signatures work just as well as saints. That brings up and interesting point. We are a Christian nation. Jesus said, "What God has put together, let no man separate." Divorce is a sin. Fun fact: Jesus never once mentioned homosexuality. Probably some sort of clerical oversight that will be rectified in the end of days...

RC: This initiative does seem like it would "Protect Marriage", but if two people decide to not be married anymore, shouldn't they be in charge of their own lives?

John: Sometimes other people need to sacrifice in order to protect my ideas about traditional marriage. It's just a fact of life. It's not about their soul-sucking sham of a marriage, it's about what we value as a society. We live in a divorce-promiscuous society. It's on the television, it's in movies, the newspapers. It's even in our kids' textbooks. I'm Catholic. In my religion, divorce is a sin -- completely impermissible.

RC: Sounds like you'd like to shield kids from learning too much about divorce.

John: I don't want the government teaching my child (what) is "cool" or "legally permissible." That's a conversation that should happen in the family. It's the parents' role to teach the kids about reality -- not the state's.

RC: well, this is a bold step. Do you think you face a strong opposition?

John: The opposition will always be there. The secular progressives, gays and MSNBC hosts -- but we beat them once with Prop 8 and we'll beat them again. If people are thinking about getting a divorce, just remember "Hell is eternal, just like your marriage was supposed to be." Jesus still loves you if you get divorced, just not as much as before.

RC: What about people who are currently married? Will this law apply to them, or only new marriages?

John: I wish that I could force people that hate each other with the intensity of a thousand white suns back into a loveless marriage, but my attorneys tell me that getting that law passed would be unlikely in the current political climate. I'll try to get a "win" by banning divorce and save that for 2012 -- when Sarah Palin will be president and/or the end of the world will occur.

RC: Its good to have a plan.

John: One step at a time. We can return this country back to its proud, traditional Judeo-Christian roots.
They even sell T-shirts to that effect, reading: You said "Til death do us part." You're not dead yet.

Admittedly, there may need to be a "fornication" clause added in. After all, it's right there in Matthew 19:9, where Jesus said "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery." But that would be difficult to regulate. And really, isn't it better to be too harsh at the beginning?

Now, Mr Marcotte is not the perfect man. He has been known to read comic books, and occasionally uses foul language. But which of us is perfect? This man is doing God's Work. And what more can we ask of him?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Random Musings - 9/09

At a meeting this morning, while talking about the Swine flu H1N1 (some of the lab guys call it "hiney"), one of our doctors asked our Infection Control lady whether antivirals were shown to do anything for the patients.

Of course antivirals do something. They increase the numbers of drug-resistant cases next time around.

Silly damned question.

On the home front, though, we seem to have ended up with a new turtle. Went out into the back yard, and there he was, sitting on top of our pool cover. Nobody seems to know where he came from, nobody's come looking for him, no signs posted around the neighborhood saying "lost amphibian," no nothing. He might not even be from close by - the "sternum" of his bottom shell is worn.

I have no urge to go door-to-door holding a turtle; flyers seemed like an easy solution, but none of the phone calls I've gotten have been from people who can describe the one easiest identifying mark on this little beast. Of course, we can't be talking about a particularly spectacular pet owner. I mean, no explanation will end well when it starts with "My turtle ran away from me."

My son had gone out to water the garden, and come back in to get my wife so she could see if any of the tomatoes needed to be picked. This means that he passed the turtle twice without noticing this cantaloupe-sized green thing on our bright blue pool cover; my wife saw him as soon as she stepped out the door.

That boy would not survive in the wild, if he just walks past ferocious wild animals like that. Vicious beast could've taken his leg off. (You know, given enough time...)

I asked if he thought he could finish doing the dishes without finding any more stray animals. He just smiled.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A Real American... Something

My son made me go see the live-action G.I. Joe movie last weekend. Now, the following article may contain a spoiler or two. But the damned movie's been out for a month - I'm thinking I'm safe from the wrath of the disgruntled fanbase. Everybody who really, really, really wanted to see the movie probably already has. But if you haven't, be warned.

(And if you've been waiting to see this movie and you aren't seven, how sad are you, anyway?)

Can't say it was a great movie: it was mostly a celebration of fight scenes and crap blowing up. But in the end, that's all GI Joe has ever been, so why strain yourself, right? Well, a couple of random thoughts on the movie:
1. Christopher Eccleston (the 9th Doctor) could have phoned in his part - unless he's given significant scenery to chew, he tends to come off bland and restrained. (In fact, since they gave him the full-face metal mask of Destro at the end, he could now literally phone his part in for the inevitable sequel.)

2, Thank the 36 aspects of Shiva that the producers realized in time that they needed to change Cobra Commander's costume, or they would have risked throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into a movie where the head bad guy looks like a Klansman with a leather fetish.

3. I did appreciate the exchange between a drugged out Marlon Wayans saying "Hey, look, he's got realistic hair!" and reaching out to muss it, only to have his wrist grabbed and spit out "...and a Kung-Fu Grip!" But I'm a big fan of the cheesy joke.

4. Brendan Frasier and Arnold Vosloo both make appearances in here, apparently because they've placed the GI Joe base of operations in Egypt. (Or maybe because Stephen Sommers liked working with them. It's hard to tell.)
It's a movie full of pretty people - there's eye candy for you no matter what your gender choice. Although there were limited ethnic choices - there's white men, black men, oriental men... and white women. At least the two leading white women they chose, Rachel Nichols and Sienna Miller, are eyeball-meltingly hot, if that's what you're into. So at least I had something to stare at for the extended periods where my brain was decomposing under the weight of the product placement.

Because, really, that's what the movie is all about. The cartoon (and probably, to a lesser extent, the comic book) was all about selling toys, but this movie has taken that open commercialism, and raised it to a whole new level of avarice.

There are, of course, all the usual, expected tie-ins: the action figures (of course, always the action figures), the movie posters, the soundtrack, the t-shirts, the coffee mugs, the video game (apparently not a winner), and, of course, the comic book.

But what stunned me was the amount of product placement this movie piled into its 118 minutes. From the billboards in the background to the products in the foreground, I'm not sure that the company paid for a single prop outside of guns and costumes. When Rex breaks into the underground bunker and finds the computer screens, the program in question is specifically and prominently shown to be a Norton product (leading to one of the most tenuous movie tie-ins ever).

I think what stunned me the most was the Double Bubble advertisements pretending to be part of the movie. Right before the Norton incident, Duke offers Rex a piece of Double Bubble (which he identifies by name), and explains how it always calms him down before he goes into battle; and later, their computer guy insists on taking the last piece of the (specifically-named) Double Bubble, and, in fact, is shown happily blowing a bubble with it.

Now, this movie is based on the 3.75" action figure/cartoon synergy of the Eighties. When I was a kid, though, I owned G.I. Joes. Not the action figures that my sons played with years later, but the original, 12" toys.

In 1963, Stan Weston had merchandising rights to a TV show called The Lieutenant. (This happened to be the first series created and produced by Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame. Majel Barrett probably met then-married Roddenberry on the set of The Lieutenant; a few years later, his marriage failing, he hired Majel for the first pilot of Star Trek, and the rest is... well, it's a long-running job for Majel, anyway...)

Weston went to the toy company Habro, makers of Mr Potato Head; playing on the success of the Barbie line of fashion dolls, which had been launched by Mattel four years earlier, he convinced them to produce a line of military-themed dolls.

(On a side note, the Hassenfeld Brothers toy company was founded in the Twenties by brothers Henry and Halal Hassenfeld; they didn't technically shorten their name to Hasbro until 1968, but most of the histories you read tell you that the first G.I. Joe's were made by "Hasbro" - go figure.)

(On another, only-vaguely-related side note, when Weston approached the nascent Hasbro-to-be, it had only been three years since they had marketed Mr Potato Head with a hard plastic body: prior to that, it was just plastic parts on push pins, and you stuck them in actual potatoes.)

Now, the original GI Joe had a prominent facial scar, which they did, in fact, give in the movie to Duke (Channing Tatum - no relation to Tatum O'Neal, if you're curious, although he was in a movie in 2006 with Steven Randazzo, who was in Basquiat ten years ealier with Tatum O'Neal - thank you, Kevin Bacon). The official story on the scar is that it was a trademarkable addition to the face; my personal theory is that it was added because the toy company realized that Joe looked a lot like a square-jawed Ken without it, and that just wouldn't do. Joe underwent only minor cosmetic changes for years, and with limited exceptions, they all had the scar.

Two years after their American release, Palitoy became the licensed distributor of GI Joe in the UK and Australia, using the same designs as their American counterpart. The British version was named Action Man, and the head of product development for Palitoy, William A.G. (Bill) Pugh, is credited with the creation of the "lifelike" flocked hair, Kung-Fu Grip, and the wierdly-moving "Eagle Eyes" changes to the design. So it might have been polite if some mention of Action Man had made it into the movies.

The retooled "GI Joe" apparently now stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity (it probably took them hours to come up with that one); it originally meant "Government Issue" (the attitude being that, if you're in the military, the government owned you as much as it owned everything it issued to you). Originally planning to call the prototypes by original names like "Rocky the Marine", "Skip the Sailor", and "Ace the Pilot," they instead decided to go with the more generic "GI Joe" based on a 1945 film, The Story of G.I. Joe.

(That movie, loosely based on the experiences of war correspondent Ernie Pyle, starred Robert Mitchum and Burgess Meredith, a couple of minor actors, and an actual group of war correspondents, and a bunch of American GI's about to be transferred from the European theater to the Pacific. Ernie Pyle also acted as technical advisor for the film, which stole several punchlines from Bill Mauldin's cartoons. Just after filming was finished, the GI's were transferred to Okinawa, where many of them were killed, along with Ernie Pyle himself, having never seen their movie.)

And now you know. And knowing is half the battle.