Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Talkin' with Dad

I always respected my Dad as an educated man, but at some point, he turned into one of those cranky Republicans completely blinded by an abject hatred of the Kenyan-in-Chief. I don't know when that was (most likely, around 2008), but there it is.

He likes to forward random emails and the like, and often includes me in his mailing list, just because it tickles his sense of humor. And I tend to respond in good grace.

So the other day, when I saw an email from him entitled "usma1959-forum: Fw: Saul David Alinsky," I knew we were in for a bumpy ride. And I was right.

As far as I could tell, he just sent this to me and a bunch of his West Point buddies (that's in the title: US Military Academy forum, and his graduating class of 1959), and he started it with "Scary, isn't it?"

After that, it was standard boilerplate propaganda, only unique in that it was in green Comic Sans with red "titles" for each bullet point. But the weird part is, aside from the random formatting, it was familiar. Somebody had taken an old Obama/Alinsky email, added a line to the beginning about Hillary Clinton writing her senior thesis on Alinsky, and we were off to the races.

Now, like I said, I love my Dad, even when he's being an idiot. So I didn't hit "reply all." I replied just to him, and wrote:
You know, you could look these things up for yourself, instead of falling for any old chunk of BS that rolls down the line.

(If you really need to read it now, feel free to follow the link. But I go over the high points later, and didn't think I should repeat it more than once. Your choice.)

I figured that my reply to his email would be the end of it. And in a reasonable world, it would be. But no. (I had to get my stubborn streak somewhere, right?)
Agreed. Except that while the Alinsky connections are not only suspect, they are downright false. the eight points are a rewrite of the "Communist Rules" (See the Snopes article that you quoted. And regardless of the accuracy of the thing, we are headed down a slippery slope because all of the eight points in the original e-mail are being pushed by the Obongo administration, and I fear for the country if we keep on.

Love you – Dad
Yes, that's right. "Obongo." As he's gotten older, he's become less and less reticent about his racism. (In his defense, he's never sent me a picture of Obama photoshopped to look like a witchdoctor - I can't guarantee that he didn't send one to other people, of course.)

I'd tried to be nice. I really had. But if he was going to push it...
Yup, Gonna have to look closer at 'em, aren't we?

First, yes, those "8 points" are a rewrite of the "Communist rules for revolution." Which are also mythical. You didn't go deep enough: those "8 points" date back to either the end of WWII or the McCarthy era, and are idiot counterfeits - propaganda from your father's era, which somebody dug up, dusted off, and recycled (apparently successfully, based on your reaction).


But, hey, let's go farther, shall we? Let's look at this dreadful list that has you so fearful for the future of America.

1) Healthcare– Control healthcare and you control the people
Well, there's an obvious flaw right there. Obama doesn't "control healthcare." The insurance companies are still at work making a profit. It's a capitalist solution to a healthcare crisis - there is no "socialized medicine." There's just suddenly some regulation on an industry that's been stealing from the American people for far too long. And they hate that.

(In your defense, there is one example of "socialized medicine" in America. It's called the Veteran's Administration - I'm sure you're familiar with them.)

2) Poverty – Increase the Poverty level as high as possible, poor people are easier to control and will not fight back if you are providing everything for them to live.
I'm sure you've heard the phrase "income inequality" - yeah, that's the thing that Obama is trying to fight, not increase. And incidentally, despite what Fox "News" want you to believe, the median household income in the United States has been increasing since midway through Obama's first term - you know, following the slide he inherited from the previous administration.


3) Debt – Increase the debt to an unsustainable level. That way you are able to increase taxes, and this will produce more poverty.
Again, you really should avoid listening to Fox "News." U.S. GDP is up. Unemployment is down to 6.7 percent in February, and despite the current sag, the stock market has has been setting new records each quarter. Oh, and those terrible tax increases? Have you noticed that they didn't happen?

4) Gun Control– Remove the ability to defend themselves from the Government. That way you are able to create a police state
Oy. OK, name a gun law that Obama has pushed through. Just one. The NRA is reduced to chanting "you know he's going to do it!" over and over. And the suckers fall for it. Gun sales are up, Dad. Sorry.

5) Welfare – Take control of every aspect of their lives (Food, Housing, and Income)
Again, oy. This is the ignorant nonsense that social conservatives and rich entitled douchebags have been peddling since time immemorial. You don't believe me? In 1912, Hilaire Belloc argued that, while capitalism was harsh, any attempts to amend its defects through could only lead to the rise of what he calls the "Servile State". According to Belloc, this servile state resembles ancient slavery, in its reliance on the government solving problems instead of the force of society taking care of issues on their own.

Sound familiar? Despite that, and despite the fact that 20 years later, the Federal government started up this dreaded "welfare state," the American people still managed to win WWII. In fact, your generation, and mine, both grew from this evil abuse of taxpayer's money, which prevents people from dying of starvation in the middle of what your boy Hannity calls "the single greatest nation that God ever gave man on this earth."

6) Education – Take control of what people read and listen to – take control of what children learn in school.
So, now you're talking about "No Child Left Behind"? Wrong president there, Pops.

Please tell me where Obama has taken control of Fox "News." And then explain why this doesn't invalidate your argument.

7) Religion – Remove the belief in the God from the Government and schools
Tell me one single thing that Obama has done to "remove God from government and schools," that wouldn't be done under any president, because it's the way the Constitution reads. (Treaty of Tripoli, 1797 - "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.")

Incidentally, if you're looking for examples of how wonderful life is under a religious government, look no farther than the Taliban.

8) Class Warfare – Divide the people into the wealthy and the poor. This will cause more discontent and it will be easier to take (Tax) the wealthy with the support of the poor.
It wasn't Obama that gave all the money to the upper 1%. Again, that was Bush (look up "real estate bubble" - remember? That whole "Wall Street collapse" thing?). And the whole "class warfare" meme is getting pushed, once again, not by the White House, but by Fox News. Obama is trying to rebuild the middle class, not tear down society. It's the rich, self-important pricks with the multi-million dollar homes and and an elevator for their cars who are trying to turn it into a war.

You have really got to find a new source for your news, Dad. When you allow Rupert Murdoch to brainwash you, it doesn't lead to a good place.

Love you,
In case you're curious, those parts up above in boldface? Yeah, I just cut-and-pasted from the original. So, yes, green Comic Sans, with the first word in red. I just took pity on your eyes and didn't recreate it here.

The saddest part, though? Dad will take it in reasonably good grace. His wife, though, already doesn't like me. And this isn't going to do anything to improve that relationship.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fred Phelps: a premature obituary

So, apparently Fred Phelps is in a hospice and on the verge of death.

The founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is clinging to life, despite the combined wishes of the majority of the American population.

Apparently, although the Westboro members refuse to talk about it, Fred was voted out of the church by the other members, according to people like his estranged son, Nate Phelps (who regained his sanity 37 years ago and left the church).

Now, it's possible that the other members of Westboro Baptist Church realized that Fred was the worst person in America, and decided that they didn't want him around any more. It's just as likely, though, that much like the Tea Party and the Republicans, they've decided that Freddy was holding them back from reaching the true depths of hatred available to them.

Here's the thing, though. Our boy Freddy isn't dying because of some unexpected illness or because his body finally got tired of his shit. It appears that he is dying from an extended tantrum.
After Phelps was voted out of Westboro Baptist Church this past summer, he was moved out of the church and into a house, where he was watched to ensure he wouldn’t harm himself, a son estranged from the church said Sunday. Phelps eventually stopped eating and drinking, and on Sunday, he was near death.
And at age of 84, you can't do that to your body, as Fred has apparently just discovered.

So, having warped the minds of at least three generations of followers, Fred has just learned that you can't keep your body running for over eight decades on a diet of hate, and then try to replace it with sadness.

When he finally stops wasting our oxygen, he will not be missed.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The limits of my language means the limits of my world. (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

So, considering all the important things going on in the world, let's prioritize and consider one of the subjects most vital to each and every one of us: Katy Perry.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, it took me two tries to spell her name right. My first try was Katie, but the Google machine showed me the error of my ways. She really doesn't impact my life that much.)

Now, to be honest, there's nothing wrong with Katy Perry. She's an attractive woman (even though she chooses to hide it under some industrial-grade makeup), and somewhere under all that Autotune, there might be a nice voice. (Might be. I suspect it needs some work.) But here's the thing.

I recognize that she doesn't write her own music. But she really needs to consider her lyrics a little harder. Let's look at two of her recent hits.

Now, I'll admit that Ms Perry gives good video, and this is no exception. But I really want to watch it with the sound off, because the song annoys the crap out of me.

There are no less than five writing credits, which is rarely a good thing. Particularly, in this case, because this song is nothing but a solid block of clichés (this is an unfortunate side effect of writing by committee). This, for example, is just the first verse:
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess.
So I sat quietly, agreed politely,
I guess that I forgot I had a choice;
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything
Now, I suppose that it's possible to bite your tongue while holding your breath, but why would you do both at once? Kind of self-defeating. But almost every line contains some over-used phrase or clichéd euphemism. The worst, of course, is the chorus, which uses, as its central theme, ANOTHER SONG ENTIRELY!
I got the eye of the tiger, the fighter, dancing through the fire.
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar;
Louder, louder than a lion,
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar.
The damned thing is just a massive pileup of overused platitudes. And her more recent hit has an even bigger problem. The title, and the central theme of the song, is built around a cliché that she didn't even use right. This one has six writing credits (surprise! Katy is one of them!), and for some reason, none of them ever bothered to look up what "a dark horse" refers to?

Here, let me help you out: a "dark horse candidate" is somebody who comes out of nowhere and gets a lot of votes. It's not somebody who's supposed to be scary or dangerous. So who told you it should be used that way?

I like your videos, Ms Perry. You put a lot of work into them, and it shows. But here's a new word for you: "lyricist."

Really, you should look it up. It's a concept you need to consider.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Driving and psychology - a brief reflection

On my way to work this morning, I ended up behind some oversized, lifted pickup with a huge pair of gold-colored truck nuts, who was tooling along doing 20 in a 40 zone. Now, I needed to get to work; I have no idea what he was doing. So, once oncoming traffic was clear, I passed him.

(Now, admittedly, there might have been some question about whether it was a legal passing zone. I can't answer those questions with any assurance at this time, and I don't think that this is necessarily the right forum to speculate. So, in the words of Wolf Blitzer, "We'll have to leave it there.")

In the normal course of events, that would have been the end of the story. But apparently, "holding up traffic" had, in fact, been this douchenozzle's entire purpose this morning. Because he became completely unhinged. He slammed down the gas as soon as he noticed me passing him, but, physics being what they are, it was too late and I pulled in front of him. But he crawled right up on my rear bumper for a block, and then, at the next red light, he pulled into the left-turn lane, revved his engine, and when the light changed, he leaped forward, swerved in front of me in the middle of the intersection, and kept going straight.

But from then on, he was afraid that I'd pass him again, so every time he slowed down, all I had to do was hug the middle line and he'd speed up to 40 mph again, which is all that I was after.

So I guess he thought he'd "won" that one, since he was in front again, even though I got what I wanted.

Nothing special to the story here. Just a thought that you should keep in mind: sometimes, if you focus too hard on everything being "win/lose," you can miss the fact that somebody else is manipulating you.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


The 31st of January dawned cold but clear in Moscow in 1990. It had been two years since the Communist Party had given their permission to open the first McDonalds in the former Soviet Union. Located in Moscow's Pushkin Square, the largest McDonalds restaurant had 28 cash registers and seating capacity for around 700 people.

That capacity was quickly exceeded, as people stood in line for up to six hours for their first taste of Western fast food. The Moscow restaurant broke a record for first-day sales for any McDonalds in the world - they served 30,000 people that day alone.

They remain popular in Russia almost 25 years later: McDonalds controls 70% of the Russian fast-food market, and the flagship store in Pushkin Square still serves 20,000 people per day. Ironically, it wasn't the American headquarters of the McDonalds Corporation which had pushed the new branch of the franchise. It was the head of McDonalds Canada, George Cohen, who had opened the twelve-year-long negotiations with the Soviet Union.

But within 8 months of the first McDonalds restaurant opening, the Berlin Wall fell. And within two years, the Soviet Union was dissolved.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that Ronald Reagan toppled the USSR, you can tell them that, no, it was Ronald McDonald that killed the bear.