Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupy the Constitution! (updated)

First off, I'd like to take a moment of silence for the Occupy Wall Street movement. They've gone disco.

Meanwhile, though, let’s consider a fascinating legal issue that has come up with the Occupy movement.

See, the problem with the 99% bringing the problem of economic disparity to light, is that, by the nature of the election process, in order to be a politician, you are all but required to be a member of the 1%.

This is the reason that it’s so difficult to get a tax increase for the rich through Congress: they are the rich!

This also means that many of them are predisposed to oppose discussion of income disparity or the economic realities of life in America today. Nobody likes talking about their own sins, when it’s easier to point at other people and scream “Heretic!” So, for example, Mayor Bloomberg of New York (net worth: $18.1 billion) isn’t particularly interested in stopping police brutality against protestors. (If anything, he’s enabling it.)

In Texas, they’ve decided that there is only a limited amount of free speech available in Austin at any one time.

Now, consider that for a minute. If one protest group starts yelling, and leaves after 2 hours and 55 minutes, and another group, unrelated to them and with no knowledge of the previous group, spontaneously showed up in the same neighborhood, they would not be allowed to speak without breaking the law.

It seems to me that this case would be a slam-dunk for any civil rights lawyer. Just take a video camera and show someone showing up after the time limit has expired and not being allowed to speak. Admittedly, the Texas Supreme Court would uphold the police actions, because that’s how Texas works; but it would continue up through the US Supreme Court, and nobody claiming to be a Constitutional scholar could let this pass.

(In a fascinating twist, the Trophy Wife, usually far more optimistic than I've ever been, is feeling more cynical than I do on the subject, and thinks that the Roberts Supreme Court – combined average net worth $47,272,584 – might not be interested in supporting free speech in this case.)

Funny how this issue never came up for the Tea Party protests...

(Update, 12/3/11)
And in a story broken yesterday by my second least-favorite news source, the Huffington Post (and wildly underreported by other news sources as I write this), the UN has noticed many of the same things:
The United Nations envoy for freedom of expression is drafting an official communication to the U.S. government demanding to know why federal officials are not protecting the rights of Occupy demonstrators whose protests are being disbanded -- sometimes violently -- by local authorities.

Frank La Rue, who serves as the U.N. "special rapporteur" for the protection of free expression, told HuffPost in an interview that the crackdowns against Occupy protesters appear to be violating their human and constitutional rights.

"I believe in city ordinances and I believe in maintaining urban order," he said Thursday. "But on the other hand I also believe that the state -- in this case the federal state -- has an obligation to protect and promote human rights."
In moments of crisis, governments often default to a forceful response instead of a dialogue, he said -- but that's a mistake.

"Citizens have the right to dissent with the authorities, and there's no need to use public force to silence that dissension," he said.
Personally, I didn't know that "Frank" was a popular Guatemalan name, but considering Guatemala during the 80s and 90s (and for that matter, the previous decades, when they helped develop the term "banana republic"), they know something about the suppression of human rights.

Of course, who approves of the way the American police are dealing with protesters? Mostly tyrants with their own economic protesters, like Mubarak.

Proud of yourself yet, Washington?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Making friends on Facebook

Hmmm... I don't know if this is a good sign. I mucked with one idiot, and it's like Lays potato chips.

Somebody break it to me gently. Am I in danger of becoming a Facebook troll?

(Click to embiggen.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Idiots of England

George Bernard Shaw is famously quoted as saying "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." (Similar quotes were made by Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell and Dylan Thomas, but probably not Winston Churchill.)

Fortunately for international relations, though, the two countries do share a common bond: stupidity.

Yes, there is abject idiocy in the country of Shaw, Russell, Wilde, Thomas, Churchill, and even William Shakespeare (who wrote his own plays, no matter what they tell in the movies) and Francis Bacon (who did not write Shakepeare's plays, regardless).

I suppose it should have been obvious: after all, Rupert Murdoch is from Australia, and David Duke was born in Oklahoma. And both countries were settled by the British, so we have to get it from somewhere, right?

(Understand that, in Australia's case, I'm using a loose definition of "settled" which includes "being sent in chains." You know, the same way that Africans "settled" America...)

The latest bit of idiocy that I've come across was, in fact, on Facebook. As I've mentioned elsewhere, my purpose for Facebook isn't so much as social network, as it is refrigerator magnet - I stick random pictures and videos up there, just because it gives me some place to store them that costs me nothing.

(I understand that there are people who use specialized sites like Pinterest for these purposes, but not me. I'm a maverick like that.)

Which means that if it isn't at the top of my home page, it isn't likely that I'll see most people's posts. So this has probably been around for a while, and I just haven't seen it. But now I have.

(Don't squint - transcription below.)

(Technically, I didn't need to block out her picture, because it wasn't a picture of her. But it was a copyrighted Disney image, so it's probably safest.)

What that said was (block pasted, to preserve the fascinating capitalization, spelling and punctuation):
racist to sing ba ba black sheep so now its ba ba rainbow sheep, racist to wear a poppy so even the england football team didnt wear them, racist to say christmas so now its happy holidays yet its not racist to celebrate eid, not racist to burn the st georges cross and not racist to take over our country. this is ENGLAND, dont like it? manchester airport, terminal 2... toodle fucking pip! Putt this as your status if you believe in true english rights
I, of course, had to reply - I can be an ass sometimes. But since it isn't my country, I had to actually research some of the issues.

A lot of it is just basic rhetoric: "true english rights," "take over our country," the Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas crap (that's not "racist," it's just being polite to the 31% non-Christian Brits).

I thought the "yet its not racist to celebrate eid" was cute. Not only is it fundamentally wrong (it isn't racist to celebrate Xmas, either major Eid festival, or Chanukah - it's just rude to jam your religion in other people's face), but it also has overtones of "Scary Brown People!" So it's stupid twice.

Quick note: for those of you who don't know, "Eid" is the Arabic word for "festival," and is most commonly used in the West to refer to Eid ul-Fitr ("Festival of Breaking the Fast"), held at the end of Ramadan, or Eid al-Adha ("Festival of the Sacrifice," or Greater Eid), celebrating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God (essentially the same story from the Old Testament, in Genesis 22).

But really, there are three major points.

1. racist to sing ba ba black sheep so now its ba ba rainbow sheep

This is an urban legend that crops up every so often, which is traditionally overblown by the right-wing press (even today). It's also inevitably shown to be complete bollocks (the publication of which is, after all, a Murdoch tradition).

2. racist to wear a poppy so even the england football team didnt wear them

On November 11, (Remembrance Day, once called Armistice Day), it's traditional in Britain to memorialize the fallen of WWI by wearing a poppy (it dates back to the John McCrae poem "In Flanders Fields - "In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row"); a lot of veteran's groups use it as a fund-raising theme.

This year, the British teams were going to wear embroidered poppies on their uniforms for a Remembrance Day match against Spain, and the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) intervened. As they have approval over uniform design, they felt it "would open the door to similar initiatives from all over the world, jeopardizing the neutrality of football."

It had nothing to do with racism. Quite the opposite - it was all about keeping everybody as one big happy international family.

Of course, the really funny thing is that the whole "england football team didnt wear them" complaint didn't happen. FIFA agreed to allow black armbands, with poppies.

3. not racist to burn the st georges cross

Well, no, it isn't. Just rude and an overreaction.

You can find a lot of stories about Muslims burning the St George's cross (many of them badly sourced, oddly enough) in response to British actions they object to. And some of the stories might even be true. Doesn't make it racist.

See, the St George's cross (which, some of you might be aware, isn't the flag of England) is viewed in the Muslim world as a symbol of the Crusades. And, gee, who can fault them for that? That period seems much closer to the people of the modern Middle East than it used to, thanks to the actions of George II (or as many of us called him, Dubya).

So, it's good to know that it isn't just America which stands in danger of spiraling down the drain of ignorance and hatred. The Brits have these issues, too. I guess I'm relieved.

Or maybe not.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This week's santorum stain

Apparently, Rick Santorum has lost all sense of irony. (Some of us already knew that, but Frothy likes to go and prove it again every so often.)

Remember, Google fans - always use that first link there, whenever you talk about the former senator. It's only the right thing to do...

Right Wing Watch notes that Frothy made the following distinction between sharia law and the way he would run the country.
Now, unlike Islam where the higher law and civil law are the same, in our case, we have civil laws but our civil laws have to comport with the higher law.

Our civil laws have to ... and that's why, with the issue of abortion, as long as abortion is "legal" - at least according to the Supreme Court, "legal" in this country - we will never have rest because that law does not comport with God's law which says that all life has value, all life is created by [God,] I knew you in the womb.

And as long as there is a discordance between the two, there will be agitation.
Aside from him making the same tired anti-choice arguments yet again, let's contemplate what he just said about sacred and secular laws.

(And yes, I'm going to ignore the fact that he just called Islam a "higher law." I'm too classy a guy to go for the cheap joke like that, bitches...)

com·port /kəmˈpôrt/ v
1. Conduct oneself; behave.
2. Accord with; agree with.

See, in Islamic countries, the church and the state are the same. But in Frothyland, the state just has to do what the church wants..., wait. That can't be it... Frothyland, the state just has to agree with the church in every... no, wait a minute...

Ok, OK, I got it.

In Islamic countries, the church and the state are the same. In Frothy's fevered imaginings, the state merely has to look like the church! See? It's simple!

All that lube, and Frothy still can't pull his head out of his ass.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Expecting something?

I have some big news. Apparently, I'm pregnant. I don't know how this happened, but I can't deny it any longer.

OK, when I say "I don't know how this happened," I don't mean that I don't know how babies are made. I just don't understand how it could have happened to me. But one thing I do know. I'm going to keep my baby.

Little bastard is going to make me rich.

I'm a little confused. I've always taken precautions. I mean, I used a condom every single time I had sex, back before I got the vasectomy. And it's been about twenty years, and there hasn't even been a scare since then. But suddenly, I seem to be pregnant.

I have to admit. It came out of nowhere.

About three months ago, I got my first copy of American Baby magazine. I didn't ask for it. I didn't sign up for it, or even join a website that might have started it up for me. It just showed up in the mail. And I picked it up, noticed it was my name on the label, and said "huh. Weird."

And I dropped it off in the waiting room of the hospital, figuring "What the hell. We get mothers through here." It was odd, but I didn't really think anything of it. Figured it was a promotional copy, and I'd ended up on somebody's mailing list.

Thirty days later, my second copy arrived. Addressed to me. It didn't say "Free copy" or "if you'd like to keep receiving this fine magazine..." or anything else.

It was just... mine.

And last month, a few days after my third copy of American Baby arrived, I received a free case of baby formula.

It couldn't fit in the mailbox. The postal carrier had to bring it to the door.

It was addressed to me. Specifically. My name. My address. I have to say, I was a little confused.

I just thought I was putting on weight because I haven't had time to work out lately. I haven't even had morning sickness yet. It's been a really easy pregnancy.

And today, when I came home from work, I opened the mailbox, and Vistaprint, in Lexington, MA, has given me twenty free birth announcements. With, of course, the option to buy more at only a slight extra charge.

But free shipping and handling! You can't beat that!

I can't deny the evidence. I must be pregnant.

How am I going to tell my wife?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Republican War on Thanksgiving

In 1621, after the difficult, unrelenting labor of starting a colony, the Pilgrims, using planting techniques taught to them by the native Wampanoag tribe, celebrated their first successful harvest with a feast, which they shared with their native American neighbors (who we later almost wiped out, there being only about 400 survivors sixty years later, following King Philip's War).

This is the most important, most truly American holiday (the Canadians have a similar observance, but they're just our little northern clones anyway, right?). It's a day of forgiveness, a day when families travel from across the country to get together, eat our traditional meal, celebrate our mutual heritage, and nestle securely in the bosom of warmth and family.

Except, perhaps, for this year.

Because of the Republican insistence on "Free Market" capitalism and a winner-take-all mentality, now, with record unemployment around the country, the cost of the Thanksgiving meal is rising faster than inflation.

With the current annual inflation rate of 3.5%, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner has risen 13%, and the cost of getting together with family and friends has increased even more than that.
The average airfare for travel to the top 10 most popular destinations in the U.S. for Nov. 23 to Nov. 27 has jumped 11% over last year, according to an analysis by Orbitz, one of the nation’s busiest travel websites. That means the average round-trip ticket for Thanksgiving rose to $373 from about $340.

Flights to New York for the holiday will rise the most, jumping 20% over last year, with an average round-trip price of $342, according to Orbitz. Round-trip flights to Los Angeles will increase 12% to $429, according to the travel website...

You won’t escape the higher prices by driving: Gas prices reached the highest levels ever in the week prior to Thanksgiving, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area was $3.82 a gallon last week, 66 cents higher than the same time last year.
With one in three Americans living at or below the poverty line, the GOP is trying to ensure that they cannot celebrate their own heritage. The Republican Party is trying to ensure that an Ayn Rand dystopia, with the richest living in luxury off the sweat of the working poor, is the model for American society.

The Republicans are trying to destroy Thanksgiving! And they're doing it in subtle ways, as well! The Christmas decorations, celebrating their dreams of commerce and overindulgence, come out earlier every year; the Christmas carols are already playing in all the stores; and the conservative-controlled media beats the drum, insisting that shopkeepers must say "Merry Christmas" instead of the more open, accepting "Happy Holidays," as if Thanksgiving didn't matter in the slightest!

This Republican War on Thanksgiving must be stopped! We must stride into the stores and demand that the carols be cancelled! "Turn off that crap! It's not even Thanksgiving!"

Websites are springing up devoted to bringing back our national holiday from the brink of extinction. We must support them; we must also support retailers like Nordstrom, who insist on celebrating each holiday in turn, and not skipping over the ones that can't be exploited by the greedy, and venal, and unamerican!

We must ask where the Thanksgiving displays are, and why they are overshadowed by some obese Germanic troll in a red suit! We must write letters to store owners, corporations, and our Congressfolk, demanding the return of our national holiday!

Radical conservatives must be stopped from destoying our heritage!

Please note: this is intended for satirical purposes only, and if you're stupid enough to take it seriously, you probably fall for that "War on Christmas" crap too, don't you?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pérák, the two Jiří's and the Nazis

No politics today. It isn't always about politics.

I was randomly hopping around the internet this morning, just following links as I ate breakfast, and happened across a blog (Monkey Muck - I'm not even clear what led me to it, but somebody out there linked to him), where he'd dug up a little piece of animation history.

It was May, 1945. The Germans, who hadn't run a particularly peaceful occupation of Czechoslovakia to begin with, had gotten their noses bloody in the Prague Uprising, which ended in a stalemate, and both sides declared a ceasefire that lasted all of a day before the Soviet troops rolled through the country two days after "Victory in Europe Day," expelling the last of the Nazi troops.

(Yes, that's a simplified look at a long, bloody struggle. There was also no way that the people of Czechoslovakia could know about the ensuing weirdness of the next almost-half-a-century. That's just the least you need to know for perspective.)

Very few people in the West have heard of Jiří Brdečka, but he was a writer and illustrator (you might have heard of Limonádový Joe ("Lemonade Joe"), a series of short stories (occasionally gathered into book form and later adapted as a play), which was made into a movie in 1964, a parody of old-time westerns which reputedly numbered Henry Fonda among its fans and was considered something of a cult classic among Czechs for many years.

(Proponents of the run-on sentence regard me as a master of the craft.)

I'm not sure when they first met, but after the war ended, Brdečka got together with Jiří Trnka (an illustrator and puppeteer), and they would later set up Studio Bratři v triku, the leading producer of Czech animation for decades. The studio logo shows three boys, possibly a reference to the two Jiří's and Eduard Hofman, a writer/director they worked with.

(Bratři v triku is commonly translated as "Brothers in T-shirts," possibly because of the logo. But technically, it's "Brothers in Tricks," and "tricks" (or "trick films") was also a term used to refer to animation at the time. God, I love trivia.)

Of the two Jiří's, I think Jiří Trnka is the more interesting. Considered the founding father of Czech animation, he had worked as a illustrator for Melantrich, a Czech-language publishing house in Prague (named after yet a third Jiří, a Czech Renaissance printer named Jiří Melantrich of Aventino).

As a child, Trnka had carved and sculpted puppets out of wood, to stage shows for his friends. Later, around the same time that he was hired by Melantrich, he started a puppet theater, which closed down with the start of WWII. And later in life, when he found himself uncomfortable with traditional animation, Trnka changed his focus to the medium which gained him some measure of world-wide fame, animated puppetry, mostly stop-motion.

He's been called the "Walt Disney Of The East, although where Disney made films for children and families, Trnka aimed his work at an adult audience.

But this work is before all that. The war had ended, the country was trying to rebuild, and the two Jiří's had gotten together to fill a niche that few other people were considering: animation.

Without a studio, without much backing, they produced a handful of short films together as an experiment, and one of them was Pérák a SS (alternately translated as "Perak and the SS," "The Springman and the SS," and occasionally "The Chimney Sweep").

Pérák the Spring Man was an folktale in WWII Prague, a man who could... well, he could jump. Over trains, walls and small buildings. Much like Victorian England's Spring-Heel Jack (only without the varying descriptions making him into a monster, with burning red eyes, fangs, wings, or whatever). Pérák was just a man. Who jumped.

Czech media would later often retcon him into a superhero, but he started out as just an urban legend of a bouncy guy, who sprang out of alleys and startled people. (It was a simpler time.)

The cartoon was easily on a par with other animated shorts of the period (it was 15 years after Steamboat Willie, and it didn't have a lush feel of Max Fleischer's later work, but aside from the black and white nature of Pérák, compare it even to the current output on Cartoon Network, or any of the 700 Disney channels). And it managed to combine the resentment of a conquered people to their oppressors, with the light-hearted, somewhat fantastical world of the animated Everyman.

(Yes, I can do "pedantic" when I want to. I just don't feel like it too often.)

All in all, it's a cute piece of history that definitely deserves a wider audience.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's Saturday. November 12.

Well, Veteran's Day is over. We go back to ignoring them again, right?
Veterans account for a troubling 20 percent of our nation’s suicides, according to national figures. This means that every day in the United States, an average of 18 veterans take their own lives – or about one every 80 minutes.

About 27 percent of Oregon’s suicides are veterans.

From 2005 to 2010, active service members took their own lives at a rate of approximately one every 36 hours...

Post Traumatic Stress may occur in those who experience or witness intense violence, serious accidents, or life-threatening events. It can make people feel angry, hopeless, fearful, horrified, and overwhelmed. Post Traumatic Stress is treatable.

Many veterans and active military balk at seeking help through traditional channels due to fear of negative career impact, the stigma of perceived weakness among their peers and frustration with red tape. Left untreated, the challenges can intensify as they feel more isolated.