Saturday, August 29, 2009

We're Communicating II

OK, so I spend a lot of time cruising the Dark Side, inserting a little Truth into the Stupid End of the Intertubes. I admit that. They're frequently either ignorant, mistaken, or completely batshit, head-buried-deeply-in-their-anus insane, and I insist on throwing water on their fire, kicking sand in their faces, and injecting reality directly into their veins.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that this is most often a complete waste of time. I find that the Fargone Right tends to be unwilling to listen to any messages that don't come from the vibrations in their fillings, and they tend to have more interest in their agenda than in actuality.

But, for some unknown reason, I keep doing it. It's led to some fascinating discussions, both in the various shadowy corners where I find myself, and occasionally in the Comments section here, when one of them follows me home like some kind of weirdly masochistic, three-legged street mongrel hoping to bite me on the ankle while my back is turned or something.

Now, to be entirely honest, I don't mind batting around the odd idiot. It keeps me off the streets, at least. (Admittedly, I end up feeling like a bully at times, since some of these winners aren't overly burdened by an abundance of common sense. But if I have to be the one to take one for the team, I guess I'll shoulder that burden and bravely move on...)

Of course, then my irony gland kicks in, and I describe the drooling masses of teabaggers and deathers in terms like above, and get called names like "arrogant," or find myself with commenters like the anonymous guy who felt that repeating the phrase "YOU DON’T LISTEN OR ADMIT ANY WRONG. YOU’RE NEVER WRONG" eighteen times was a viable argument.

(It's weird. I have a mental image of that guy actually typing out each line, not cutting and pasting it. I don't know why, but it would fit the rest of his spittle-flecked rant.)

And really, when I write stuff like... well, like everything that's precedes these words... now that I slow down and think about it... when I write stuff like that, I might very well deserve the label "arrogant." But you know, when they make it so easy to feel superior, I'm not sure why I should hold back. It's like some kind of intellectual Darwinianism.

The weird thing is, there's so damned many of these gibbering Neanderthals wandering the landscape these days, you have to wonder whether Cro-magnon could have survived if he was simply overwhelmed and beaten to death by broken tree branches, despite his superior flint spearhead.

Is this our fate (to openly switch metaphors in midstream), some sort of dystopian, zombie-infested landscape, where the Glenn Becks of the future infect our populace with some odd cephalophagian virus, leaving them to shamble over the horizon with blank eyes, muttering "ssssooooooocccciiallismmmmm"?


(Wow, where did that rant come from? Boy, I'm glad I'm not introspective. I'd have to wonder about myself after that...)

Anyway, today we speak of a different kind of "communication." Perhaps one that's even more important that grabbing the mental midgets and using them like bowling balls.

(Stop it! Stop it! You're done with that!)

First, I just finished emailing our "friends" in the White House. (OK, admittedly that isn't the primary contact address for the White House. But that happens to be where I was, and I figured "what the fuck, right?" And sometimes, you've just got to say... aaahh, forget it...)
I'm curious. When are you guys going to get serious about getting universal health care? The insurance companies and the healthcare industry is spending millions to defeat it, the GOP is positioning themselves as roadblocks in the hope that a major loss will discredit Pres. Obama and make him a lame duck less than a year into his first term, and you're trying to be bipartisan?

The Blue Dogs are busy trying to appease constituents who would never vote for them anyway; the GOP is going to block whatever goes through, once they're done with all the stalling tactics they can dream up in committee, and they're going to filibuster when it hits the floor. You know this in advance - the Republicans have been trying to destroy Medicare since it was passed, they aren't going to support this.

Back before the Ignorant Unwashed got brainwashed by the "death panels" and similar garbage, 70% of them wanted a public option (and most of the rest didn't know what one was).

We've entered a post-bipartisan era. You can't keep using a failing tactic over and over, because the result is always going to be the same.

It 's time to bring together a coalition of Democrats, serve a few beers, slap some backs, promise funding for their district, and put together a functional healthcare system using the British or Canadian systems that the right wing is so scared of, fund it using the rolled-back Bush tax cuts, and move on. The GOP will scream and cry and stamp their little feet - let them.

At that point, they're going to try to sabotage it any way they can - cutting funding, passing ignorant bills under the guise of "preventing abortions" or "assisting the small insurance businessman" or whatever, so it might be best if somebody specifically keeps an eye on the program during the initial set-up and beyond. It won't even need to be another "Tzar" position - just a special assistant to Ms Sebelius.

I don’t see any chance of anything else working. The GOP has already stated that they will oppose any program that comes out. So it’s time to use your majority and just push it through.

Please. America needs this.
OK, so maybe the message was a little sappy. Well, practice makes perfect, right? So I sent out the following message two days ago.
Senator Bingaman,

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, you were selected, along with five other Senators, to craft the Healthcare legislation. Unfortunately, you don’t seem to be having much luck doing that little task. This concerns me.

This is probably the most important piece of legislation currently before Congress. We lose 18,000 Americans every year who can’t get healthcare – that’s as if 9/11 happened once every two months. We need the public option.

And the Republicans, simply because they can’t stand the thought of President Obama "succeeding," have chosen this issue (admittedly, along with every other issue before Congress, but particularly this one) to make their stand. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has already referred to healthcare as the President’s "Waterloo," and a significant number of GOP Congressmembers agree with him.

In your "Gang of Six" alone, Senator Grassley has referred to the House effort as "the Pelosi bill," saying that Pelosi and Obama are "intellectually dishonest" for saying that old people won’t be ground up and made into crackers; he also said that even if he agrees on a bill, he won't vote for it unless the rest of the GOP does the same (as if that’s going to happen).

Mike Enzi has stated that he has no plans to compromise on the bill, he’s just there to see what he can "get them to leave out."

Olympia Snowe, who, like most other Senators, has taken significant amounts of money from the healthcare industry, at least seems reasonable on the issue.

Kent Conrad’s reliance on "co-ops" (an unproved concept which has failed almost every time that it’s been tried) might be a useful diversion, but it's no solution.

And Max Baucus is a Blue Dog who hasn’t been willing to take a stand, preferring to pander to conservative constituents who aren't going to vote for him anyway.

The only good news coming from your committee was last week, when you admitted that budget reconciliation was a viable method of passing health care reform. As the Republicans have shown no interest in negotiating in good faith, it’s time to move on. Craft a bill that a majority of Democrats will support, ensure the public option is included, and push it through. Too much time has been wasted trying to compromise with Republicans who have no intention of agreeing to anything.

As Letterman put it, "Congress has been agonizing over health care for months now. Squabbling, fighting, the town hall meetings going crazy. Meanwhile, while they're arguing about health care, we're stuck in two wars that were rubber-stamped in about 10 minutes. What? How does that make any sense when you think about it?"

This is why I voted for you, Senator Bingaman. Somebody has to lead on that committee, and it might as well be you. Push the public option through. It’s what America needs, despite any lies the Republicans and the insurance companies try to peddle. If Senator Kennedy isn’t going to be around any more to protect the average American, somebody needs to take over at least part of the job.

Make us proud of you, Senator.
Still treading dangerously close to proposing optimism as an alternative, but I think I'm happy with it.

Now, it's your turn. Contact the White House. Contact your Senator or Representative. They get enough block-capital letters scrawled in crayon. Let them hear from the sane side of the populace for once, while we're still a majority. Even if a less-vocal majority.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's more zombies out there to kill.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Random Musings

As I mentioned in the comments section, I've recently gotten on Facebook. (Hey, when your son is stationed in Hawaii, you do whatever you can to make things easier for him to communicate. Not that Luke has ever been the most communicative of people - he'll talk to you if you're in front of him, but will he pick up a phone and call his parents? Oi, it's a shandeh!)

(Yeah, I know. My yiddish accent is a shandeh un a charpeh. But what can you do?)

And thumbing around the internet this weekend, I came across a “Boycott Whole Foods” group in Facebook. (For anybody who may not be aware, the owner of Whole Foods, John Mackey, a millionaire who makes enough money that he won’t be thrown into bankruptcy the first time he gets sick, wrote an editorial saying that universal health care was a bad idea.)

So anyway, like I said, I found the "Boycott Whole Foods" group in Facebook. And on the first page, I noted that among its almost 28,000 members was a friend of mine named Melissa. So, on a whim, I joined. Apparently, I’m now boycotting Whole Foods.

Now, here’s the thing. This won’t be a particularly arduous boycott for me, because I never shop there (I just don’t see the sense in paying twice as much, or more, for an apple just because somebody slapped an “organic” label on it – and since “organic” really doesn’t mean much, I’m just as happy paying less at a standard grocery store). However, since Melissa, as far as I know, shops almost exclusively at Whole Foods, maybe the excessive amount of inconvenience that she’s dealing with, makes up for my lackadaisical boycott.

(For the record, I also boycott veal. Since I never bought it anyway, this is another boycott that isn’t exactly causing me excessive pain. So in the end, when I do the right thing in a completely passive manner like this, does it increase my chances of going to heaven? Do I get a couple of points in the “nice” column on Santa’s list or anything?)

My wife, being on a low-protein diet, has extremely fine hair. This did not, however, prevent me from removing a hair clump the size of a vole from our bathtub drain yesterday. (It was too small to be an ordinary mouse, so “vole” seemed appropriate. But it’s a descriptor that nobody uses, at least here in the USA, so I’m happy to throw it in there.)

It shames me to admit it, but I’m not the biggest opera fan in the world. However, after years of forced association, I find that I can stomach it to a limited extent (and I’m actually a big fan of Amici Forever, despite the fact that they’re in contention for the stupidest band name ever). And, if you happen to be in the Albuquerque area on a Friday night, and you happen to be an opera fan (and statistically, these two occurrences aren’t likely to converge to any great extent), quite probably the best place to go is a coffee bar called the Roasted Bean CafĂ©, down by Old Town, where the three best singers in Albuquerque (and whoever else shows up) spend the evening singing operatic arias, art songs, and the occasional Broadway number (over the strenuous objections of Erskine, the baritone). It is, in fact, called “Opera and Broadway Open Mike Night,” and it starts at 8:00 p.m.

This has been an entirely unpaid advertisement, neither requested nor approved by the singers, the venue, or the owner of the Roasted Bean. I apologize if anyone is offended. (I also feel compelled to apologize for including that link to the Roasted Bean; they have great coffee, but a butt-ugly website.)

We have a company which provides health screens to go along with our health insurance; it’s a different company than the one I bitched about last year. So I just registered with them, and I noticed the following statements in the middle of this long, three-page “Participant Notice and Consent.” Let’s see if you can spot the part that took me aback, just a little.
This program is being offered to help you become a healthier and happier you. Participation in this program is voluntary and is not considered part of your work-related duties and responsibilities. A health screening will be done at the beginning of the program to assess your current health status...

In consideration of your participation in the Bravo Wellness and Know Your Number programs, you hereby accept all risk to your health and any injury or death that may result from such participation and you hereby release your employer, Bravo Wellness, BioSignia, Hooper Holmes, Heritage Labs, and their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, successors and assigns from any and all liability to you, your personal representatives, estate, heirs, next of kin and assigns, from any and all claims and causes of actions for all illness or injury to your person resulting from your participation in the Bravo Wellness and Know Your Number programs, including, without limitation, your death, any medical problems or any health issues, whether caused by the negligence of your employer, Bravo Wellness, BioSignia, Hooper Holmes, Heritage Labs, or any of their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, successors and assigns.
What the hell kind of “wellness program” are they running here?

That looks a hell of a lot more like the "death panels" that Sarah Palin is whining about than anything that’s come out of the White House.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Healthcare - the debate continues

I've noticed a huge oversight here. You see, my wife has this weird fixation on having something she calls "a life" I don't really understand it, but it makes her happy, so I go along with it. As a consequence, though, I tend to take notes and comment on other people's blogs in the evening, and blog on the weekend.

As a result, sometimes I'll have pages of notes by the time the weekend comes around, and, reading back, I see that I've left out some points in favor of others, and some of them are relatively important. Thus, this entry. It may be a little more fragmented than most, but since I have some new fans, I think I should just throw it out there and let them at it.

There's a lot of weird claims out there:

The government can't even run a post office/the DMV/(insert random program here)! How can they run healthcare?
I don't hear a lot of seniors shouting that they want to give up their Medicare; in fact, recently, when Rep Anthony Weiner put forward a bill to end Medicare, not one single congresscritter voted for it. And that's government-run healthcare. Really. It is. (Those same congresscritters are also refusing to give up their own government-run healthcare plan - why is that?)

Universal healthcare will stifle innovation!
You know, funny thing there. A lot of the innovation going on in America doesn't happen at bottom-line-focused, pay-to-play corporations, but at universities around the country. Like the latest innovations in joint surgery out of UW Medical Center.

In fact, if you look through the Annals of Surgical Innovation and Research, you'll find that most advances occur in two places: American universities, and foreign countries where they have universal health care (or very often, both, working together).

The country can't afford to give everybody healthcare! We'll go bankrupt!
Well, that's been answered often enough by other people, let's let one of them handle it.
The truth: We need health care reform now in order to prevent bankruptcy—to control spiraling costs that affect individuals, families, small businesses, and the American economy. Right now, we spend more than $2 trillion dollars a year on health care. The average family premium is projected to rise to over $22,000 in the next decade—and each year, nearly a million people face bankruptcy because of medical expenses. Reform, with an affordable, high-quality public option that can spur competition, is necessary to bring down skyrocketing costs. Also, President Obama's reform plans would be fully paid for over 10 years and not add a penny to the deficit.
But let's add to that.

The Bush tax cuts for the rich didn't seem to help the economy much, now, did they? On the other hand, they helped the richest people quite a bit. To be exact, they helped the top 0.1% of the richest people in America, without doing a damned thing for the rest of us. (In fact, there are even coalitions of rich people, like "Wealth for the Common Good" and "Responsible Wealth" offering to pay their fair share.)

So, would rolling back the Bush tax cuts pay for part of the healthcare reform they're touting? Well, Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize=winning columnist already explained that last month.
OK, so the CBO score for the 3-committee House health care plan is in: $1 trillion over the next decade for 97 percent coverage of legal residents.

That’s a bargain: the catastrophe of being ill without insurance, the fear of losing insurance, all ended — for much less than the Bush administration’s useless $1.35 trillion first tax cut, quickly followed by another $350 billion.
Or let's look at what other people have put together on the subject:
What are the costs of not achieving universal health care?
In a landmark six-part series on the uninsured, the Institute of Medicine compiled an extensive report on the "hidden" costs of uninsurance.
• Fewer years of participation in the workforce: The annual cost of diminished health and shorter life spans of Americans without insurance is $65-$130 billion. People who do not live as long do not work and contribute to the economy as long.

• Developmental losses for children: children who are uninsured are more likely to suffer delays in development because of poor health, thus affecting their future earning capacity.

• Cost to public programs: Medicare, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and the criminal justice system have higher costs than they would if there were universal coverage. For Medicare, the reason is that people who are uninsured have poorer health, and this poorer health translates into higher expenses once they become enrolled in Medicare. A similar effect exists for SSDI and the criminal justice system, although to a smaller degree because most people do not end up using these programs whereas the vast majority ultimately enroll in Medicare at age 65.
The Institute of Medicine also studied the cost of high rates of uninsurance to communities.
• Lower health care delivery capacity: Communities with high levels of uninsurance tend to have a lower health care delivery capacity, as providers burdened by the costs of uncompensated care reduce staff, relocate, or close.

• Impaired access to emergency departments: Access to ER’s is impaired for both uninsured and insured individuals in communities with high rates of uninsurance. The reason is twofold: emergency departments burdened by uncompensated care costs close down or reduce capacity, and uninsured individuals who have nowhere else to turn to for primary care overcrowd ER’s.

• Weakened local economy: A high rate of uninsurance and the corresponding burden of uncompensated care costs weakens a community’s health infrastructure (e.g. closing or downsizing of local hospitals). Since health care is an important part of a community’s economic base, communities suffer economically.

• Adverse effects on public health: Communities with high rates of uninsurance have less effective control of communicable disease (e.g. less vaccinations, less surveillance of TB) and an overall greater disease burden in general. Furthermore, public health agencies may have budgetary problems if the local government has to siphon dollars away to pay for safety net services for the uninsured.
In addition to the costs delineated by the Institute of Medicine, there are several other areas of economic inefficiency because of the lack of universal health care in America:
• Unnecessary use of the ER: the ER is an expensive place to receive care. An average visit to an emergency room costs $383, whereas the average physician’s office visit costs $60. It is estimated that 10.7% of ER visits in 2000 were for non-emergencies, costing the system billions of dollars.

• Lack of preventive care and adequate care of chronic diseases: Because the uninsured do not get the preventive and chronic disease care they need, they are more likely to develop complications and advanced stage disease, both of which are expensive to treat. The magnitude of this cost is difficult to estimate, but it is significant.

• "Job lock": Job lock refers to the idea that people stay with their jobs when they would rather work elsewhere because their current job offers health insurance. For example, many individuals opt to stay with their job instead of starting their own business because they are unsure of whether they can get health insurance on the individual market, which has higher premiums and often denies people with pre-existing conditions. Although the number of people who would be self-employed if there were universal health care is controversial, one study from 2001 put the number at 3.8 million Americans. This loss of entrepreneurship is a real economic cost in a society that is relying on start-ups to offset the loss of jobs that are moving offshore.
The above are the costs of not achieving universal health care in America by any solution. There is a specific subset of costs that would remain if the solution chosen to achieve universal health care builds on the current system of employer-based insurance (e.g. if the solution is not a comprehensive reform that moves to a centralized insurance scheme, like single payer or social insurance).
• Strain on businesses: The employer-based insurance system in America constitutes a tremendous drain on businesses, as skyrocketing health insurance premiums dig further into profit margins and undermine the ability of businesses to invest in expansion. Health insurance premiums in 2005 grew approximately 2-3 times the rate of overall inflation (3.5%) and wage increases (2.7%).

• Loss of global competitiveness: Health insurance costs are built into the prices of American products. Because businesses in other industrialized countries are not responsible for shouldering most of the costs of employee health insurance, American companies are at a competitive disadvantage globally. General Motors reports that every car it makes is $1,500 more expensive because of health care costs, far more than what Japanese and German automakers have to pay
Now, there's nothing new going on with these arguments. They've been made so many times before that it starts to get old after a while. I mean, let's be real. Everybody from the most blatant capitalist job site to the Green Party can connect these dots.

So where is the opposition to Universal Health Care coming from? Well, obviously, it comes from the healthcare industry, who don't want to lose the multi-billion dollar profits that they're making. I mean, really, this shouldn't be surprising. Corporate Healthcare still haven't been willing to answer the US Senate's question regarding how much of the premiums that their customers pay go to profits for their company, instead of healthcare.

A quick explanation of our new trolls

I'm starting to notice a pattern in my dealings with the rabidly right-wing blogs. On the rare occasions when they do want to discuss an issue, if you make too many arguments that they can't respond to, you get banned from their blog. And then, all too often, they continue to post responses on yours.

Is it just me, or does that behavior have the rich, nutty stink of hypocrisy?

I saw it very briefly from Robert Pavich, who didn't appreciate the fact that his hatred of homosexuals was not supported by the Bible.

More recently (and to a significantly greater extent), I saw it from Eric Graff (eMan) (no relation to the Eighties superhero).

I'm not clear as to my relationship with the boys over at K.O.O.K.s Manifesto - I just gave up on Andy because he likes to change the rules in the middle of the game, and it just wasn't worth my time. The K.O.O.K. recently commented here, and I don't know that I've been banned there (although Andy declared me a "non-commenter" or something like that), but that's how that stands.

(KOOK, if you're still around, welcome to the party. If you're the last one out, turn off the lights and lock the door, OK?)

Well, now, it seems that the kids over at Robinson Talking Points got tired of being unable to respond with anything resembling logic, and they're moderating their posts.

Down at the bottom of that last link - after getting a dismissive "Consider yourself moderated. Go have fun on your own blog" from Bud-D, he actually did post the response I fired off. Which is way more than I expect from people like him (so, y'know, kudos on that...)

And it's not like they don't have plenty of material for humor: Obama will make all of America socialist if we get universal health care (y'know, they never have answered why they believe that...), all liberals are Nazi's because the Nazi's supported environmentalism early on (that's from that last link I gave you, in fact), Ronald Reagan is a god (uh... yeah, you guys do know that he raised taxes twice after his first two years, because his "supply-side" tax cuts had produced massive annual deficits; in fact, by the time he left office, Reagan equaled the entire debt burden produced by the previous 200 years of American history, and started the deregulation cycle that led to Enron and this current mess).

However, I see no reason to try debating somebody when I have no guarantee that my responses will ever see the light of day. I don't bet on loaded dice, and I don't play when I know the game is rigged against me. When they don't like my response (the "silliness" that Bud-D decries) or don't have an answer, it just won't appear. I've seen that way too often, and it's a waste of my time to bother.

See, that's another pattern I find in right-wing blogs. They claim to be avid supporters of the Constitution, but more often than not, they either disallow comments or moderate them so heavily that nobody is heard who might possibly have a different viewpoint (or a firmer command of the facts). So that whole First Amendment thingy is completely ignored.

Of course, despite their big words, the average Right Winger isn't a big fan of any of the Amendments outside of the Second. The Fourth (unreasonable search and seizure, warrants) goes largely ignored with regards to either the Telecom issue or the prisoners in Guantanamo; in fact, the Fifth through Eighth fall by the wayside whenever "them Mooslim terrorists" get mentioned (particularly the Eighth, where they mention "cruel and unusual punishment"). And let's not even mention the Sixteenth (where they established income tax).

But their viewpoint on commenting is really just an aspect of their more authoritarian viewpoint of the world. They don't want to hear dissenting views. Remember "America: love it or leave it"? Or more recently, questioning your patriotism if you point out where the government is doing anything wrong? (Well, OK, that one only applied before Obama got elected...)

It's their nature: you don't have an answer? Go ad hominem right away. (You'll see multiple examples of that in both of my dealings with these Robinson kids.)

It's sad, but it's reality. (Oh, by the way, guys, two things. First, that motto? Docere et Vagire You do know that the closest translation is "to teach and to cry like a baby", right?)

(And the second thing: ToeJamm? Do yourself a favor and take a better picture. Seriously, dude. It looks like your buttplug is shorting out.)

Anyway. Tomorrow, more about health care.

Update (8/17): Ooh, made a new friend! OK, in the near(ish) future, more about health care.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

This Week's Lunatic Claim

The latest idiocy from the unhinged Right can actually be traced back to a single source: the somewhat ridiculous John Cornyn (R-What Else?). If there's an earlier source, feel free to correct me, but Cornyn seems to be winning the award as the Partisan Tool of the Week ®.

See, what happened is, the White House, rather than sitting meekly and allowing the GOP to continue to spread ridiculous rumors about the healthcare plan, decided to combat them. And in order to get as many of these rumors as quickly as possible, they released a request to the American people:
There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to
Simple, right? Kind of like the "Fight the Smears" website they set up during the campaign.

Well, you would think that John Cornyn would be relieved that, under Obama's proposed health plan, hydrocephally related to inbreeding would no longer be considered a "pre-existing condition." But sadly, he decided to start immediately lying about the intentions of the President.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) sent a letter to President Obama on Wednesday to express his concern about "a new White House program to monitor American citizens' speech opposing your health care policies"...

Cornyn wrote that he could think of no other incident of a president asking American citizens to report on their fellow citizens' political speech. He said that "citizen engagement must not be chilled by fear of government monitoring the exercise of free speech rights."

Furthermore, Cornyn wrote, the collection of e-mails could amount to the White House amassing various forms of personally identifiable information.

"By requesting that citizens send 'fishy' emails to the White House, it is inevitable that the names, email addresses, IP addresses, and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House," he wrote. "You should not be surprised that these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program."
Now, let me see if I've got this straight. In 2005, when Cornyn was told about Bush's domestic wiretapping program and he said it didn't matter, that was nothing to worry about. But when Obama fights back against liars and smear merchants, and Cornyn makes up crap about "he's gathering ISP's!", that's cause for alarm?

So real spying is OK, as long as it's done by a Republican? But imaginary spying is something to worry about, if it's imagined that it will be done by a Democrat?

How many "forward this to twelve friends" spams do you fall for?

"Ah," but our GOP friends try to claim, "there's a big difference between intercepting international communications to catch terrorists, and trying to compile an enemies list!" (Trust me, they claim this. I've talked to a lot of them this week.)

There are actually two parts to my reply here. First, Bush's wiretapping program was huge and unprecedented, and it was, in fact, the type of massive government conspiracy that the GOP is trying to promote here. Unlike the imaginary one that Cornyn are trying to claim. And no, Bush's program wasn't just intercepting overseas communications:
President Bush and his aides have confirmed that the NSA, beginning in late 2001, monitored electronic communications between the United States and overseas without warrants in cases in which one of the parties was believed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda. But administration officials have recently acknowledged that the NSA program was broader, and intelligence sources inside and outside the government have described a vast effort to collect and analyze telephone and e-mail communications that were later scrutinized by the government for desired information.
See? That's the kind of thing that people should have been upset about, if they'd been paying attention two years ago.

Now, just for giggles, let's try to consider this whole scenario logically. You are the President of the United States. You have the full weight of the United States government to call upon: the NSA, CIA, FBI, all of it. And the best way you can think of to compile an "enemies list" is to ask people to send anti-healthcare-reform emails to the White House? Not only are you going to openly place yourself right in the middle of a clandestine intelligence-gathering operation, but you're asking people to send you 600,000 copies of the same seven emails from FreedomWorks (Dick Armey's group) and "Americans for Prosperity" (which as been industry-funded from the beginning, and is currently chaired by billionaire David Koch). Both groups, incidentally, also orchestrated the "tea parties" earlier this year; if you don't know that you're being manipulated by the healthcare industry, maybe you should do your rearch.

(Oh, and let's not forget "Conservatives for Patients Rights," the ironically-named group organized by Richard Scott to fight against universal health care. Funny thing about that. The group claiming that government-run healthcare will ruin America is being run by the former frontman for HCA, which was fined $1.7 billion dollars for defrauding Medicare - which makes them an enduring symbol of everything that's wrong with American healthcare.)

I mean, right off the top of my head, I can come up with dozens of different ways to compile the dreaded "enemies list" (which, incidentally, is something Obama isn't doing - that's just a fevered fantasy from the stunted imagination of John Cornyn). For example, you have the voting records - why don't you just pull out all the Republicans?

Too many? Cross-check them with the tax records, and pull out all the rich Republicans.

Still too much of a random search for you? Fine. Conservatives for Patients Rights, Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks are all registered with the US government. That means you have access to their payroll information. And you have the NSA: hack into their computers, and get copies of their mailing lists. Hell, while you're at it, take over a few conservative websites like Free Republic and National Review, and get their membership and mailing lists, too.

Or you could just "mine" a bunch of conservative websites and backtrace the commenters.

Any of these ideas would be considerably more efficient than going through the same lying emails to try and tease out personal information one person at a time.

It's time for reality, folks. Or to take your medication and shuffle back to your padded cell. Your choice.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Antichrist is Among Us! (And His Name is Possibly Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz)

OK, so in the course of researching the Deathers (yes, I do research, even when there's only one real point to the whole thing), I came across the next meme the unhinged Right is trying to push. Obama is the Antichrist!

(cue scary music)

Yes, they're still at it. And it looks like this.

(This is the updated version, by the way, which even tries to incorporate the second of the three "minor problems" below. But fails.)

But since I get into stupid, geeky language arguments like this, I started looking into it. Only to discover that somebody already went there. So, from Mark Chu-Carroll:
In general, I find arguments like this to be extremely silly. This is, basically, like playing with gematria - only instead of doing real gematria (which can be quite silly enough), it's like our friend "Gotcha" - mixing systems and screwing things up until you get the results you want.

Lots of the particularly crazy strain of Christians really, desperately want to believe that Barack Obama is the antichrist. They want an explanation for how this black man with a muslim name could possible have actually been elected - they don't believe it could possibly have happened honestly. And their doctrine requires the antichrist to come soon. Combine those two, and you've got what, for them, is a sort of perfect storm.

Which gives us things like this. For more mockery, see beneath the fold.

According to the video, if you take a phrase from the new testament that supposedly talks about the antichrist, and then you translate it to english, you'll get the phrase "lightning from above". If you then take the word lightning, and translate it to a third language, hebrew, you get "xarak". If you then take the word "above", and translate it, you get "bamah" or "bimah" (depending on conjugation). If you put those words together, hebrew requires a prefix on the "bamah" part, which our oh-so-brilliant video author claims would be "O-". So, according to this fundie nutcase, if you translate a line from the new testament into hebrew (using English as an intermediate), you'll get "Barak O-Bamah".

There are a few oh-so-minor problems with this.

1. The phrase in greek is actually "lightning from heaven". "Lightning from above" is a clear, blatant mistranslation. But hey, what's a minor mistranslation if it produces the results you want?

2. The correct conjugation in hebrew would use the prefix "U-" not "O-", and either prefix would cause the initial consonant to be shifted to the "V" form. So the phrase in hebrew wouldn't be "Barak Obamah" but "Barak Uvamah"

3. The name "Barack" in the case of the president of the US, is not the same as the Hebrew name "Barak". Our presidents name is arabic - the corresponding hebrew name isn't Barak, but "Baruch". The two words are quite different in Hebrew - Baruch means "Blessed"; "Barak" means lightning. They're different words, pronounced differently. (Barak ends with a hard-K sound; Baruch ends with an aspirate-H. The K and the CH are written with different characters - BRK versus BRC.)

So... If you mis-translate greek to english, and then translate the english to hebrew making a conjugation error, you get something which sounds (to an english speaker) kind-of like the name of the current president of the US. Therefore, he's the antichrist.

I'll just point out (in an attempt to work in something vaguely on-topic) that mathematically, this really isn't surprising at all. It's basically exactly the same as my usual critique of gematria-type stuff. There are a finite number of phonemes in human languages. Almost any combination of phonemes that you can imagine is a word in some language. If you're willing to search a bit, and be flexible in your translations, you can find almost any kind of pattern or correspondence that you want.

Looking at this, it looks unlikely. The number of phonemes is fixed, but it's big enough that the number of combinations is pretty staggering. For instance, english has somewhere around 40 distinct phonemes. It's a whole lot. Even if you're willing to cheat, what are the odds that even a mistranslation of a passage would produce a result like this?

And for that, we go back to the bible codes. You're not working forwards, looking for what's there. You've got a result that you want, and you're working backwards from it. You've got a name, like "Barak Obama", and you want to make an argument that he's the antichrist. So you try to find some way that you could translate something close to those phonemes into something from the texts that purport to speak about the antichrist. It would be surprising if you couldn't. There's no shortage of passages in the bible, and for many of the fundies, they see a huge number of them as being, in some way, about the antichrist.

Let me show you an example. I'm going to "prove" that I am the antichrist.

Let's start with my first name, "Mark". The name "Mark" has several possible histories to it. One connects it to the god Mars; another one to the babylonian god "Marduk". Some christian sects associate Marduk with the devil, because among other things, he was the god of magic.

Now, let's look at with my pre-marriage last name. One way of transliterating it into hebrew gives us the word for "melody".

"Chu" has no direct translation to hebrew, because hebrew has no "Ch" sound. But the closest thing I can come up with is a hebrew prefix which translates as "the".

So my name could be (stretching, but stretching no more than this Barak Obama" thing) translated as "The melody of the devil".

So, the things that I'm saying to you are the melody of the devil. Sure sounds like I'm the antichrist, doesn't it?
Damn it. Now I have to find something else to blog on.

Monday, August 03, 2009

So, How Was Your Weekend?

So, last night my wife decided to cut her finger off. You know how some people get an idea into their heads and you can’t convince them otherwise? (Women - what are you going to do?)

Technically, she wasn’t really trying to cut off her finger: she was trying to chop up some vegetables. And it wasn’t the whole finger, just a little skin (and the barest edge of the nail) from the tip. Nice clean slice – she’s always been good at things like that.

It’s probably best that she was cutting snow peas at the time. Onions might have stung a little. (They were supposed to be vegetarian wontons. I guess she figured they'd be better with put a little meat in them.)

She was using a brand new knife: it was, in fact, one of those chef’s knives that Albertson’s gives away for free if you give them a whole wad of stamps. So, if they need a testimonial, I’m available – those suckers are sharp. Good steel.

Not a huge, horrible wound or anything, but we couldn’t convince the bleeding to stop. So it was off to the Emergency Room. With Annette, of course, complaining that I was speeding. ("See the red spray on the windshield, officer? I was kind of hoping we could get that stopped sometime soon...") I'm not sure I entirely understand the logic there: "OK, I may just bleed to death on the way, but make sure you obey the speed limit." What the hell? Wouldn't that be kind of embarrassing if there's an afterlife?
"So, how'd you die?"
"I cut my finger and bled to death, because I wouldn't let my husband... oh, never mind..."
The ER wasn’t jam-packed or anything, so we were in and out relatively quickly, and I took Annette home and tucked her in for some nice technicolor Vicodin dreams. And now she has this huge honking bandage on her index finger covered in bright pink tape. Sadly, it doesn't bend well, so when she tries to flip me off (usually for making remarks like those above), it turns into one of those British reverse-V things. (If it had been on her thumb, it would have made hitchhiking a breeze.)

So, do I trust my wife with sharp objects from now on? Well, to be honest, I’m not sure I did before, so overall, nothing has really changed.

Anyway, that was my weekend.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sinking Deeper Into Madness

You know, I said a few weeks ago that the GOP has been tying up sacrifices on the Altar of Insanity, and Michele Bachmann is their drooling, gibbering High Priestess. And things are only getting worse.

And a week or so ago, I spent some time poking the Birthers with sticks. A hobby which has its own pleasures, but, like the old stereotype of Chinese food, leaves you hungry again an hour later, because they're such easy targets, riddled with easy-to-debunk delusions. But now we have a new level of wild-eyed lunacy running naked through the ranks of the unhinged right-wing, giggling madly and making the GOP look even less relevant than it already does.

In the larger sense, the Republican Party, before they were taken over by theocrats, closet fascisti and the clinically insane, had some good ideas. They were the yang to the Democratic yin, balancing the good and wholesome with the cold and clinical; and really, we need both as a society. But as Bill Maher said recently, "We don't have a Left and a Right party in this country anymore. We have a center-Right party and a crazy party. And over the last thirty-odd years, Democrats have moved to the Right, and the Right has moved into a mental hospital."

Now, in support of the "lunatic fringe" argument, we find, for example, that right-wing activists opposing health care or clean energy reform are being told to to be disruptive ("Artificially Inflate Your Numbers... Be Disruptive Early And Often... Try To 'Rattle Him,' Not Have An Intelligent Debate"), because they already know that if they start debating, they've lost, whether on logical or emotional grounds.

But there's also an entirely new movement rearing its beady-eyed head. They're called "Deathers," and they have a simple claim:

The United States government is planning to kill off old people!

Now, this is a claim that isn't just ignorant, it's completely batshit insane. There are no words that can really express the depths of the idiocy that it would take to believe this nonsense. Except that there are some people out there who do. I've talked with them, both on line and face-to-face. I've reached the conclusion that there are really only two types of people who could believe this drivel: the mind-numbingly gullible, and the cold-bloodedly partisan.

And this sad fallacy of a meme is being driven even by members of the government. For example, Virginia Foxx (R-NC):

Now, at first, I thought that it might just be possible that she was as thoroughly gullible as she sounded. After all, the woman isn't young, and her impending mortality probably weighs on her mind late at night, as she lies there sleepless, imagining the unwashed hordes of homeless creeping up around her. But since her august record in the Senate involves calling the Matthew Shepard case a "hoax" (see, it was OK to beat up on him - he was gay!) and voting to let the victims of the Katrina hurricane die in the streets (they're just coloreds!), I think we can safely put her in the "partisan" category.

(I suppose it's possible that she could be both amazingly partisan and ignorant enough to believe this - after all, she is kind of old...)

The "fact" that they base this bizarre and ignorant claim on is the fact that, buried deep in the healthcare plan, there's a clause that would allow seniors to receive "end-of-life counseling." This is a reasonable, useful thing for someone like, say, Virginia Foxx, who's facing the encroaching loss of her faculties and needs a little help once in a while; this is something that Medicare isn't currently willing to pay for. In the words of the bill,
such consultation shall include the following: An explanation by the practitioner of advance care planning, including key questions and considerations, important steps, and suggested people to talk to; an explanation by the practitioner of advance directives, including living wills and durable powers of attorney, and their uses; an explanation by the practitioner of the role and responsibilities of a health care proxy.
You can read the actual bill here, or an explanation of these specific sections here.

But that simple clause is being taken out of context... no, I'm sorry, "taken out of context" doesn't reflect the actual intentions of the people involved. The deathers are openly lying about that clause, because it causes them physical pain to know that a black man is president (and, by extension, obviously better than they are).

They claim that the counseling would be mandatory... actually, let's just let World Net Daily explain it:
as people age or get sicker, it includes mandatory "consultations" offering suggestions on how to end life sooner... Those 65 and older will be required to undergo mandatory 'end of life' counseling to determine if they are worthy to continue to not only live, but take much needed resources from those who are younger and more worthy to receive them. Counselors will be trained to discuss how to end life sooner, how to decline nutrition and hydration, how to go into hospice, etc.
Of course, if you believe anything put out by World Net Daily, forced sterilization might be a useful option for you, because you're already too stupid to be allowed to breed. Just going to the site briefly, I feel like I've lost two points of IQ.

(Oh, yeah. By the way, are you morons aware that assisted suicide is illegal in 48 states? So you think that doctors are going to be pushing that on patients why, exactly?)

Let's consider one simple question: Does it make sense for the government to be killing off taxpayers?

"Ah," but the deathers answer, "these aren't taxpayers at all! These are people who are taking more money out of the system than they're putting in!"

Absolutely. Except for the cancer victims and the like, who also qualify for the counseling. Because you probably aren't aware of this, but a lot of cancer victims survive, and work, and pay taxes. Amazing, isn't it?

But let's look at this from a different standpoint. The US, far and away, spends more per person on healthcare than any other country in the world. But the US ranks 27th in life expectancy. The next nearest, Switzerland, pays only 70% what we do, and rank 4th; Cuba has the same life expectancy as the United States, and essentially pays nothing, comparatively. The longest life expectancy can be found in Japan, where they pay less than half what America pays.

It seems obvious that things could be done more efficiently. But it takes a special kind of inbred idiot to believe that killing off the elderly is the best plan that the government could come up with. (Admittedly, if G.W. Bush had fallen victim to that insidious pretzel attack, it would have been quite in keeping for the Cheney administration.)

I mean, come on! A few years ago, this kind of garbage would be something you'd expect to hear from some guy on a street corner, smelling like pee and holding up a hand-lettered cardboard sign. Now you find it on Fox News. (Which, technically, isn't much different from the previous scenario - they just have computer graphics instead of cardboard signs.)

You have to ask sometimes: do they really believe this garbage they spew? I'd like to think that they can't, but I don't have any evidence to support this theory. What do they think is Phase II of this nefarious plan? Soylent Green? (Well, at least then we wouldn't have to worry about the co-pay, right?)

I mean, I can see some benefits to what they're claiming is going on. After all, you get somebody who's just been told "Well, guess what, Mr Bernstein? It seems that you're going to live for quite a while. Now, you won't ever get that arm to work again, and there will probably be just a little bit of excruciating pain when you try to do something radical like, say, stand up or something. Oh, and you're going to need a machine to poop. And you do have a choice here - you can either have this bag of urine strapped to your leg, or you can occasionally lose control of your bladder and wet yourself. Either way, incidentally, you're going to spend a lot of time smelling like pee. And did I mention the excruciating pain? Actually, that won't be restricted to standing up. But the good news is, you're alive, right?"

Did anybody else ever see Who's Life Is It Anyway? I'm just curious.

But that isn't what's happening here. And there are some feeble intellects who might actually believe it, but I hold this hope, deep in my heart, that the majority of the people trying to claim this ignorant nonsense are simply evil, black-hearted villains who don't care who they frighten, as long as their political objectives are met.

Because otherwise, in the words of Glenn Beck, "I fear for my country."