Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The perfect illustration...

This is the perfect illustration of how screwed up our country has been for the past several years.

Because of the hatred of Bill Clinton, a bunch of people decided that Wayne Dumond, a serial rapist, couldn't have been that bad a guy. After all, the guy had raped a distant cousin of Bill Clinton's, and thus, obviously, Clinton hadn't let him go. So Mike Huckabee did. He didn't do it directly; he just pushed the parole board to grant him parole. And now he wants to pretend he had nothing to do with it... but that's not the main point here.

The main point is this: the right wing in this country has gone so far into the politics of destruction that their attacks on Bill Clinton made it seem reasonable to release a serial rapist. They were so sure that everything Clinton did was wrong that they didn't bother to check the facts.

Let me emphasize this, just so it's clear: ordinarily, a Republican is the last person you'd expect to push for any form of clemency for a violent criminal. They were so blinded by their attacks on Clinton that they went against their very nature in trying to get Dumond released.

This isn't just "hardball politics". Hardball politics would have had the rightwing wanting Dumond rotting in jail so they could keep railing against the injustice perpetrated by Clinton. And ordinary politics would have wanted Dumond in jail until he'd served his sentence. This was blindness, caused by wild ideological ravings.

It's what's got them insisting that Iraq was a good idea; it's what's got them thinking Guantanemo is a good idea; it's what's got them thinking that wholesale violations of FISA are a good idea. If it helps the Democrats, it's bad... so they have to go on the attack.

And we know how far they can go. Yes, Huckabee is just one man... but I doubt he's the kind of guy who's sympathetic to rapists normally. He got caught up in the tide.

Just like so many have... so many people still claim that the Democrats don't want to fight terrorism, because they think there's a better way to fight, than a war in Iraq that has weakened our military and left us unprepared for a war against a real threat. So many still claim the Democrats want to treat terrorists with kid gloves because they want to make absolutely sure that folks we're holding *really are* terrorists, and that we use effective interrogations techniques, that get good, solid intelligence, instead of torture which, aside from being an abomination, gets bad information. And some folks will still insist that the Democrats don't want the government to spy on terrorists, just because they insist that Bush follow the law.

It's a blindness, and a sickness, and it has to stop.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Peggy Noonan and reality

Peggy Noonan has a theory. She thinks that people believed Scott Beauchamp because they get their facts about warfare from movies. She thinks that to read them "...was to doubt them".

I assume that this is because Peggy Noonan was a soldier, and has fought in a war zone. How else would she know?

This might come as a surprise to some, but soldiers are not trained to be nice, empathic people who display nothing but the most charming mannerisms. They are trained to kill other people, without hesitation, and with minimal remorse. They are trained to perform acts that, in any other circumstances, would be horribly evil, and they face situations that would make most of us recoil in horror.

Do I assume that any given soldier is an asshole? Of course not. But I know that being mixed up in awful situations sometimes brings out ugliness in some people. If you have to stand ready to kill, or die, for days on end, you'll maybe end up showing a side of yourself that isn't too prettty.

So, can I believe that soldiers might run over dogs in a Bradley? Yes. Not all of them, but some of them, absolutely. Can I believe that one soldier might think it's hilariously funny to put a piece of skull on top of his head? Yes... not all soldiers, not most soldiers, but the story didn't claim "all" or "most"; it claimed one.

And can I believe that soldiers might be mindlessly cruel to an injured woman? Oh yes.

Look: the situation Beauchamp described was in a mess tent. One guy spoke loudly about being upset at the presence of a terribly scarred woman, and Beauchamp started making crude jokes about her, until she ran from the scene.

No one likes to talk about this, but it's true: a lot of folks will recoil from a person who's seriously and visibly injured. It takes some getting used to; if you've seen enough injured people, you can blow it off, but if you haven't, it's natural to be a bit (or more than a bit!) freaked out... and these soldiers were under a great deal of stress already. (Some folks have argued about this, because they were only preparing to deploy; they hadn't deployed yet. Well, preparing to potentially get your ass shot off is stressful, even if no one's taken a shot at your ass as yet. It's more stressful after you've deployed; that doesn't me pre-deployment is nonstressful.)

And soldiers learn to joke about the gruesome realities that they face every day. Is it really so surprising that this gruesome humor could erupt at a bad time?

Yes, if it happened, it was awful. Well, welcome to the real world. Soldiers aren't always the nicest of people. Being nice and genteel isn't in the job description; being willing to kill strangers is.

What upsets me about people like Noonan is that they want to deny the realities of warfare, and of having a standing military. If all of Beauchamp's stories were false, or even slightly embellished, it doesn't change the reality. Soldiers are put in awful situations, and forced to do awful things, and some of that awfulness will leak out at bad times. Maybe they'll find it funny to run over a dog; hey, it's just a dog. After they've learned to laugh or go insane, a dead body, or part of one, might seem like the punchline to a particularly ugly joke. And yeah, maybe they'll occasionally lose their empathy for an injured person.

It's part of the cost... you have to take ordinary folks, and put them in awful situations, fully aware that it's going to change some of them for the worse. You have to accept that some - certainly not all, but some - of these soldiers are going to show some of the ugliest parts of human nature, because they're forced to do some of the ugliest things that a human can be asked to do. But folks like Noonan would rather deny this... and then claim that folks who understand it don't understand reality.

I guess once you delude yourself into thinking that there will be no ugliness in war, you can delude yourself about anything.

Christianity today

So, here's a question for you.

Pretend that you're God... you're wise and powerful, and you want your followers to do what's right to each other, and to other folks as well. And let's suppose you've sent someone down to give them a message, and then, just to cap off the message giving, have that guy arrested, tortured, and put to death. Come up with a nice, catchy name for him, like Jesus or something.

What would his message be? What would he tell people to do? People have debated this for a long time, and they've settled on two possibilities for what he said to do.

First, many suggest that folks should stop believing whatever they believe now, and start believing that Jesus died for their sins, and that they should accept that sacrifice. This is a nice, easy message, it's kind of catchy, and most importantly, it means convincing people that you're right. Doesn't you like to convince people that you're right, so they come over to your side?

It's an interesting idea. Perhaps once a believer has taken one step, and chosen to accept the sacrifice for an eternity of bliss (and to avoid an eternity of suffering), the believer will do other good things as well. Of course, there's no mandate to do so... believe, and your sins are forgiven.

On the other hand, what if the command was to love others in an active fashion? To help the hungry, the poor, the sick and imprisoned? What if the command was to go out and take care of people, and to do it humbly, never making a show of your faith or piety?

That'd be a lot harder, wouldn't it? It can feel awfully good to talk about how great your are - oops, I mean, how great your beliefs are, and it's rewarding to get other people to join your exclusive club. On the other hand, helping other people, loving other people, well... that sounds like work! And sometimes, if you love other people, you help them out even if they're not in the least bit grateful for your help. If they're complaining that they hate Christians for being so self-righteous and preachy all the time, but they need help, real love says that you'd have to help them anyway. And you couldn't even trumpet your accomplishments around town, because you're supposed to be humble!

I mean, think about that! You'd have to do real, meaningful work, you'd have to make actual sacrifices!

You'd have to really believe that this was important. You'd have to work to transform your heart into a loving heart, your spirit into a caring spirit, you'd have to have patience and faith to carry out such work.

Isn't it a lot easier to just preach the word, and complain about the state of the world?

Lots of folks would like to think so. They want to distill Christianity down to "believe and be saved" because that's easy to work with. If nonbelievers are facing eternal damnation, what could be more important than giving them the message of salvation? Feeding them? Sheltering them? Helping to make their lives, and the world around them, better? What do any of those things matter, next to eternal damnation?

So, let's go back to the beginning. Pretend you're God. You're wise. You want folks to do what's right. What would you tell them to do? To believe, and preach belief? Or to love, and work to make the world better?

Would you ask them to reward themselves by preaching how great they are, and convicing others to be like them, or ask them to do the hard work of loving, and caring, and changing the world for the better in real, physical ways?

It's a really tough question, but the interesting thing is, if you look at the gospels, the telling of the story of the man Christians consider the Messiah, only the latter is strongly supported. "Love one another," he says, "as I have loved you". And let's keep in mind that he was willing to die out of love, so "as I have loved you" is not a weak modifier!

The loudest, most public face of Christianity has been corrupted to the core; they aren't even preaching the message of their Messiah in any meaningful way any more. They're trying to run on the name, and on meaningless professions of beliefs, and a bunch of symbols. But don't believe me... don't assume they're doing things wrong just because I say so. Pretend you're God, wise and powerful and good, and look at what they're doing, and look over the choices.

Which would you ask them to do?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gerson and the lessons not to learn

So... a former speech writer for President Bush has a new book coming out. Unsurprisingly, in an excerpt for Newsweek, we disover that - gasp! - a speech writer for Bush can lie quite glibly and shamelessly.

"Please don't be afraid of staring new wars!" he says; "the lesson to be learned from Iraq is not that it's stone stupid to mix it up in a foreign country over a bunch of lies spread by people like me!"

But rather than risk acting like him, let's actually discuss what he says, and point out how stupidly dishonest he is based upon that.

… There is also danger in learning the wrong lessons from Iraq—or in overlearning the lessons of caution. Some claim the American project in Iraq was doomed from the beginning, because Iraqis and Arabs more broadly are culturally incapable of sustaining democracy.


Has anyone ever actually made this argument? I mean, you hear people insist that "some claim this, and they're wrong", but who has actually claimed this? I've never heard the argument made.

I have heard an argument made that freedom does not come from being conquered... you don't become free because someone forces you to be free. That is self-evident, of course, but it's something the Bushies seem to ignore.

This is an interesting rhetorical game that Gerson's playing. He's trying to claim that the fight is between "those who think democracy is possible," and "those who don't", but the battle is actually between "those who want to kill untold numbers of innocent people at a staggering cost," and "those who disagree with the mass killing, or feel that freedom can't be imposed by conquest, or otherwise think that another method of change is more likely to be successful, or productive."

(Oh, Gerson? In anticipation of your response, yes, Saddam Hussein was a bad man who engaged in mass killing on his own. And the US invasion made things worse, in the short term, and in the mid-term. Your wishful thinking that there might be a better day dawning any time now isn't credible; it's your style of wishful thinking that got us into Iraq in the first place.)

The issue at the root of things is a simple one that people like Gerson like to bury. Freedom comes from within. If you want to build a stable, liberal democracy, you have to have two things within the people. First, they have to be willing to take on risk, because there will always be someone who is willing to threaten them. If they are afraid of any threat, they certainly won't stand up to the neighborhood strongman. Second, it requires that each person placing the well being of the entire nation on a par with their own. They must be willing to sacrifice something they can have in return for making their nation better. For example, they should be willing to pay a fair share of the tax burden for the good of the nation... oh, wait, heh, sorry. That's the problem with the Republican Party, not the problems with Iraq.

But look at it from the Iraqi perspective. You have three distinct groups of people, all of whom want what's best for themselves. It takes an idiot to assume that they'll all come together for "the common good", especially when one of them - the Shiites - are a majority all by themselves. The Sunni and the Kurds both have to trust the Shiites; the Shiites have to be willing to sacrifice some of the power they could have for the good of the Sunnis (the folks who Saddam favored), and the Kurds.

And how did Gerson and the rest of the Bushies think they could make the Shiites feel so expansive and generous? By bombing the hell out of their country, and sending in armed strangers to take control. It doesn't take an expert in foreign relations to notice that this isn't a recipe for happiness and goodwill.

Gerson tells another wonderful lie, one that is stupendous in its breadth and imagination.

But in Iraq there was no alternative to elections. After the invasion and liberation—undertaken, it bears repeating, primarily for reasons of national security—the president was not about to install a potential Shia dictator in place of the old Sunni dictator. That kind of cynical power game would likely have facilitated a massive Shia retribution and perhaps even genocide against the Sunnis.


The Bush plan was to appoint a ruler for Iraq. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani said "nope, ain't gonna happen." Bush backed down, and called for national caucuses to appoint a government. Sistani said "nope, ain't gonna happen." Bush backed down again, and this time, he did what Sistani wanted, and had direct elections.

There was no alternative to elections, I'll grant you that, but it has nothing to do with Bush's desires. I found it absurdly cynical and dishonest that Bush and the Bushies celebrated the elections, when the elections were Sistani's victory over Bush... but Bush always did have a penchant for trying to steal the limelight, claiming "accomplished-ments".

Gerson also pulls out this old, tired chestnut:
Another false lesson is found in the assertion that the Iraq War has actually been creating the terrorist threat we seek to fight—stirring up a hornet's nest of understandable grievances in the Arab world. In fact, radical Islamist networks have never lacked for historical provocations.


Yes, that's correct, Gerson, Osama bin Ladin did not crash the planes into the World Trade Center towers or the Pentagon because we invaded Iraq. People do not take revenge for things that haven't happened yet. Duh.

But in invading Iraq, we pissed off a whole bunch of new folks in that region, from those in Iraq who've suffered because of our actions, to those in other nations who see the harm we've caused. Those who might have told us where Osama was hiding might now decide that they don't want to put themselves at risk of retribution; those who disliked us a bit might be willing to turn a blind eye to an incipient attack; and those who hated us, but not enough to kill people, might just have changed their minds when they've seen pictures of devastation in Iraq, or had friends or relatives killed by our actions. Are you really too stupid to understand that, Gerson? Or are you foolish enough to think the American people are too stupid to see through the bullshit?

And finally, he pulls out this doozy:
If America were really to retreat in humiliation from Iraq, Islamist radicals would trumpet their victory from North Africa to the islands of the Philippines … increase their recruitment of the angry and misguided … and expand the size and boldness of their attacks.


Read the article. Read it carefully. Where, precisely, does he acknowledge that this means it was indescribably stupid for Bush and the Bushies to trap our forces there? When does he accept responsibility for having created a situation from which he feels we can't retreat? Where does he admit that they screwed up majorly in forcing us to continue to watch our military folks suffer, and die, in Iraq, with no certainty that any good will ever come from it?

Instead he argues for continued fighting, and at the same time is cheerleading the start of the next war, whenever it may be. He's claiming that he wants to make sure the right lessons are learned.

But along the way, he demonstrates that he hasn't learned anything. So why trust him?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

FISA and idiotic opinions

Here's the substance of the anti-FISA debate. I think the last two sentences sum it up:

For precisely the same reason, he was also right to refuse to be bound by unconstitutional acts of Congress like FISA that usurp presidential power. Any senator who elects to vote against him because of this issue has a duty to explain to the American people by what theory an unconstitutional statute has suddenly taken on a superior position to the Constitution itself.


Prior to the enactment of FISA, Presidents claimed they were spying for "national security purposes"... and then spied on whoever the hell they wanted to spy on. This isn't right and isn't fair, and it's not Constitutional. We, the people, have the right "to be secure in (our) persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures". The government, and all government officials, do not have the right to eavesdrop on us without a good, solid reason.

But the President must have the right to gather intelligence information, so Congress gave directions on how the President would gather that intelligence information in order to prevent abuse. Note: this does not infringe on the President's powers at all. If the President doesn't have cause to spy on American citizens, he's not allowed to. All FISA does is give the framework for how the President will demonstrate that he is not abusing his power.

I'm sure there are some who pull in the sophistry that the FISA court could refuse to allow the President to spy due to a mistake in the application of the law (i.e., giving the court authority over the President's sole power to conduct spying), but this is clearly fallacious reasoning. The courts interpret the law and renders findings of fact. If the court determines a warrant is unjustified, it's not... the authorities had better re-apply for the warrant, making their case more clearly.

So, FISA does not infringe on the Presidents power... it merely expresses how they are to be carried out, and dictates the penalties for abuses of power. FISA is not unconstitutional. Further if it was, there is an easy remedy for that: the courts. The President could use information obtained sans warrant, and claim the President is not bound by FISA because it is unconstitutional, and let the courts strike it down.

Clearly, the Bush administration knows how that will turn out... there's a darn good reason they're trying so hard to get the new bill passed.

The facts of the matter are simple. The Bush administration has confessed to breaking the law, both in letter, and in spirit. The President is saying that he and his cronies are above the law. This would be disgraceful coming from a two-bit hoodlum; it's infinitely worse coming from the people whose job it is to uphold the law.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The anti-war left's unkindness

I don't want to call this "hypocrisy", but it's knocking on the door. Michael Cohen is saying that there's an "inability and unwillingness to even consider the arguments of their opponents" among anti-war folks, and proceeds to be unwilling and unable to consider the arguments of his opponents.

Look, I understand that people have been speaking stupidly and evilly about war, as if it was a policy decision akin to which part of the infrastructure is most in need of repairs and upgrades. I understand that a lot of people don't have a gut-level understanding that war is about killing people, and that you can't kill people without stronger justification that vague fears about what might be, someday.

Supporting the deaths of innocent people without justification is vile; a person who supports such a thing should be reviled. Michael Cohen would rather we be gentle, that we not push the issue, that we ignore tens of thousands - probably hundreds of thousands - of innocent deaths.

Mr. Cohen, if you should stumble upon these words, think about that. Think about hundreds of thousands of people dead, and thus, millions of people mourning, and angry. Think about living your life in a war zone. Think about seeing huge number of people flee, and the sick feeling that, with each person who leaves, a little hope is lost, and with one less person to intimidate, the local bosses are that much more effective on the remainder.

Think hard about the things that we have done to these people... people whose only crime was to be born in a nation ruled by a brutal dictator.

Now remember that the war was sold based upon lies. Remember that there are nations ruled by equally nasty, or worse, men than Saddam, and we don't try to intervene because common sense tells us that intervention is likely to cause exactly this kind of mess.

Now remember what cost there has been to those who pushed for this war. Remember what price has been paid. Are they considered murderers? No. Are they considered reckless people whose foolishness caused the deaths of probably hundreds of thousands of people? No. Are they considered idiots who shouldn't be in charge of distributing paper towels in the public restrooms of your local fast food joint? No.

They've made horrible mistakes, mistakes that were easily foreseeable, mistakes that have killed countless people, and brought suffering to millions. But heaven help us, we should not be upset with them, we should not speak unkindly of them... we certainly should not hold them responsible for their mistakes.

And how many of them have admitted to the enormity of those mistakes? I don't mean "how many have said 'oopsie, I was wrong,' because that's not enough when your mistakes kill innocent people. I mean, who has come forward and accepted responsibility for their part in the deaths of innocent people?

Try to consider this argument, if you've got the moral courage to do so. Then maybe you can tell me if a rant about schoolchildren spitting on a photograph is unjustified.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Joking...

I don't watch a lot of TV, so when something memorable happens, and I'm present for it, it can make a big impression. One of my favorite scenes was Carroll O'Connor doing Bill Gillespie on "In The Heat Of The Night", having heard one of his deputies say something nasty about a young Vietnamese boy. "What was that?" he demands, and he gets back the response that it was "nothing".

"No it wasn't nothing. It was downright mean, and that's worse than nothing," is his response, as best as I can remember it, and it was a golden moment. He wouldn't let it be brushed aside as "nothing" or "I shouldn't have said that", and I reckon he'd have erupted volcanically if his deputy had said something like "it was a joke".

Kind of a sad world when that golden moment comes from a fictional character who has no effect in the grander scheme of things, isn't it?

Rush Limbaugh started this game; say whatever nasty bullshit[1] you want, but claim it's a "joke" or it's "entertainment".

I've often wanted to say something about that kind of thing... to point out that no, it's not "just a joke", it's not just "nothing". Today, Tristero did a good job of writing what I wish I had thought of writing.. It's worth a read; Tristero points out the nastiness and dishonesty with a live example.

[1] apologies for the language, but when you just make something up, without regards for the truth, you're BSing. When it's something nasty being made up, using a euphemism like "BS" is putting a pretty face on an ugly situation... to say that someone like Limbaugh or Coulter is "BSing" is to euphemize to the point of dishonesty.

Friday, October 19, 2007

More on SCHIP

A lot of conservatives have been whining and moaning that the government shouldn't be helping people like the Frost family purchase insurance. The Frosts should do whatever it takes to get insurance for their own kids. "Get a job that has insurance as a benefit, or keep scrimping until you find enough money in the budget to buy insurance!"

Is there a problem with this logic? Well, it depends. You see, the same argument can be made about schools, and education in general. We don't require parents (or college students) to be totally impoverished before helping with the costs of higher education, and education is free through high school. An educated populace, one that gets some help acquiring an education so they don't have to make hard choices like "should I mortgage my house to get schooling for my kids?", is a benefit to all of society. Why isn't a healthy populace considered a similar benefit?

Well, because there aren't powerful business interests demanding that we avoid "socialized education" at all costs.

The great hypocrisy of Republicans who oppose SCHIP (please note: not all Republicans oppose it!) is seen by looking at what the Republicans have been pushing for, educationwise: Vouchers.

When the Frosts get some help paying for insurance, without being dirt poor, they're lambasted for not making huge sacrifices to obtain or pay for insurance. But when it comes to education, the Republicans would very much like for the government to just give out money, without any means testing, to help people pay for private schooling. Why the disconnect?

Well, some of the people who complain about helping folks pay for health insurance would like to shut down the public schools, and don't support vouchers. This is foolish, short-sighted, and mean-spirited, but it's consistent.

The voucher-friendly, however, don't have this as an escape. They either haven't thought their position through (entirely possible; you don't have to do mucht thinking when you parrot talking points all day) or are afraid of what a Democrat win might mean for them. Their fear is that if the Democrats make real, substantial progress on health care, in the face of strong Republican opposition, they'll take it on the chin next election when their bosses - we, the people - realize how hard they've fought against common sense assistance.

Dinesh D'Souza isn't very bright...

Dinesh D'Souza isn't very bright.

He's also not as intellectually rigorous (or honest - I'd rather hope he's unthinking than dishonest) than I, making claims about a general group (atheists) because of his personal feelings about particular members of the group.

(Yes, I know... it's piss-poor[1] reasoning to use personal feelings when making factual statements about others. I did say he wasn't very bright, didn't I?)

His claim is as follows:
But for all their credentials and learning, the atheists have been duped by a fallacy. This may be called the Fallacy of the Enlightenment, and it was first pointed out by that great Enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant.

The Fallacy of the Enlightenment is the glib assumption that human beings can continually find out more and more until eventually there is nothing more to discover.


Actually, I have yet to meet an atheist who made any statement that could even twisted into such a claim. The claim most atheists make is "I see no reason to believe that a being or being that can be called a god or gods exist". Some make a stronger claim ("no such beings exist"), but atheism is marked by the absence of belief, not the belief of absence.

D'Souza continues in his way, making additional unfounded assumptions, claiming that this idea that he thinks atheists hold has been disproven by Immanual Kant (who, as I'm sure many of you know, was a real pissant, who was very rarely stable[2]).

Kant pointed out something important: we can't observe the universe; we can only observe *our perception* of the universe. To put what I guess is probably a more modern spin on his idea, when I look out the front door, I think I see a tree, but what I actually see are neurons firing in my brain, caused by light rays being reflected by the tree. My brain's model of a tree is not the tree itself.

Kant then says (assuming D'Souza is right, which I don't assume, but will accept for the sake of the argument) that there's a reality external to our perceptions, one that creates the things we perceive. That's a reasonable assumption, and the only one most folks could make. I mean, isn't it awfully weird to think that the keyboard I'm typing on is all an invention of our shared belief that there are such things as keyboards? It's weird, but it's an alternative explanation. It seems ridiculous, it seems all-but-infinitely improbably, but it is an alternative explanation.

But let's assume D'Souza's presentation of Kant's argument: that there is a world outside us that we perceive. Where does that take us?

Well, it shows that we won't ever know everything about the universe, because we can't step outside of our perceptions of it and compare our perceptions to the "real" universe. And... what?

Well, from there, D'Souza says that Kant proves that atheists are wrong. Wrong about what? Well, wrong about the assumption that D'Souza made about them. See, D'Souza has decided - without any basis - that atheists believe they can know everything about the universe. Kant suggests that they will never know everything about the universe. Voila! Atheists aren't very bright, because they have to all be like D'Souza imagines them, because, well, just because.

When people attacking atheism use reasoning like this, it's not really surprising when atheists hold a low opinion of theism. D'Souza has engaged in a straw man argument: he's set up a strawman atheist, and then knocked it down. One does not have to believe that we'll eventually know everything about the universe to not have any reason to believe in a god or gods.

It's certainly true that we perceive the world only according to what we are able to perceive. It's certainly true that this might (or might not) be the "true" way the world is. We can be pretty sure it's not perfect (since our brains aren't perfect), but all that suggests is that things might be different than we think... maybe even more different than we can even imagine. It says nothing about atheists.

But claiming that it does say something about Dinesh D'Souza.



[1] A reference to the movie Armageddon.

"Look, you said we did a bad job on it..."

"No, I said you did a piss-poor job on it."

[2] A reference to the Philosopher's Drinking Song by Monty Python. Heidegger, on the other hand, was a boozy beggar who could think you under the table...

Boehner's a liar.

"Congressman Stark's statement dishonors not only the commander in chief, but the thousands of courageous men and women of America's armed forces who believe in their mission and are putting their lives on the line for our freedom and security," said House Minority Leader John Boehner , R-Ohio. He called for Stark to retract his statement and apologize.


Oh, please. Congressman's stark statement was that Republicans weren't funding the war or SCHIP, but were still spending the money to get soldiers killed for President Bush's amusement.

That in no way dishonors a member of our military that believes in the mission. (And, by the way, the mission is not protecting our freedom, and is making our security worse.) Boehner is lying. He wants to attack Stark for saying something extremely nasty about the President, but that's not enough. He can't just say "Stark said something horrible and nasty about the President" because, geez, if you said that people might point out the obvious: President Bush deserves harsh criticism.

So Boehner and other rightwingers will insist that it's an insult to the troops. Why? Because they want to keep spreading hatred. They want to pretend the Democrats don't support the troops.

Why? Well, here's a good guess: they've put the troops in a hellhole for four years, they've sent them on a mission that is extremely unlikely to accomplish anything worth the cost, and they want to keep attention away from their own miserable treatment of the troops. Because, you know, in the Republican mind, it's much, much worse to insult the President than to send troops to Iraq without sufficient training and supplies.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

FISA and amnesty...

Glenn Greenwald lays it all out for you.

As it turns out, if the telecoms acted in good faith, believing that what they were doing was legal, they already have immunity.

Bush is pushing to give them immunity again. Why?

Oh, come on, now. I know Bush supporters are shameless in spreading BS, but isn't it a bit hard, even for them, to suggest that they need another layer of immunity on top of that? It's it pretty damn obvious by now that there were knowing violations of the law, done in secret?

Bush is demonstrating that he knows that what he did was illegal, and he's scared to death that the telecom lawsuits will prove that he's a criminal, that he violated the law, rather than do the responsible thing and have it changed. Further, there's suggestions that he was breaking the law (or attempting to do so) in February of 2001, 7 months before 9/11. If the telecoms give up information in discovery, it might turn out that his lawbreaking was because he wanted the extra power, not to protect us from terrorists.

Which brings us to another question. At this point, if you're a Bush supporter who think he acted properly, shouldn't you want to see him vindicated? Shouldn't you want enough of the truth to come out to prove that he acted nobly?

Otherwise, there will be constant questions about when he acted, and why... if you were confident that the truth would protect him, why wouldn't you want the truth to come out? The most obvious reason to fight to keep it hidden would be if folks were afraid that the truth would be that his actions really were indefensible.

FISA hatemongering

Have you ever seen the movie Arachnophobia? There's a scene in it where there's this big spider lover, always ready to point out that insects would take over the world without spiders killing so many of them. And, as you might expect, he ends up in a scary encounter with the big-bad spider. As scary as it might be, and as horrible as he might feel, I bet he feels a certain admiration that spiders can be much bigger and nastier than even he had imagined.

I feel that way about Republican arguments about the President's illegal wiretapping, and the telecom company's illegal assistance. All they have to say is "Bush is trying to protect us from terrorists; we'd prove it, but it would reveal state secrets, so you have to trust us."

We have to trust George W. Bush and the Republican Party. Because, you know, they wouldn't slime Joseph Wilson and his wife for telling the simple truth about how Iraq wasn't going to get uranium from Niger. They wouldn't call Lewis Libby a patriot and shield him from jail time if he was out trying to get reporters to burn Ms. Wilson, so she could never continue her covert operations investigating WMDs in Iran. They wouldn't get us stuck in a war that's looking to cost over a trillion dollars, and looks likely to lead to an uncontrolled civil war in Iraq. No, they wouldn't do that. You can trust them! They're competent, because they're surrounded by competent people, like Michael Brown (such an expert in disaster relief) and Larry Craig (skilled enough in the legal system to understand what a plea of "guilty" means!)

Those last two were cheap shots, weren't they? Oh well, I'm human, and sometimes it's hard to resist.

Look, this is a really easy, really clear situation. The telecoms are under a legal obligation not to disclose information to the government without appropriate due process. This is to prevent the government - no matter how well meaning! - from doing exactly what the government seems to have done. And FISA requires oversight of spying on American persons (citizens and some other folks) to prevent the government - no matter how well meaning! - from doing exactly what the government seems to have done.

President Bush and the Republicans swear that they're "compromising" with the Democrats; they want the Democrats to say "all those laws you broke? Well, we don't care. We don't know what you did, or why you did it, or what legal theories you used to violate those laws. We don't know the extent of the damage. For all we know, you spied on your political opponents, just like Nixon did. But hey, sure, let's not worry about that."

The Democrats in the House were crafting a nice bit of a bill, one suggesting amnesty could be provided if they knew what the amnesty was for. What was done, when, how, and under what circumstances? It's an idea I can get behind. I mean, let's look at another government that had something much, much worse to deal with: South Africa.

They needed to heal, but they also needed the truth. So, they had a rule: you couldn't be prosecuted if you came forward with the truth. Tell the truth; open the wounds, and let the pus drain out. Then there can be healing.

South Africa faced bigger challenges, but the principle remains the same. People have violated the law, and done so in secret, confident that they'd never be caught. Before we can go forward, before we can fix things, we need to know what has happened. We can't just slap a bandage over the abscess and declare it healed.

The House Democrats had to pull the bill. Why? Because the Republicans were trying to attach snarky, and childish, amendments to it, amendments that would quite likely cause confusion in the courts.

You ready for a piece of pure partisan idiocy? Well, here it is:
Today, we will be offering an amendment to the legislation to clarify that nothing in the bill "shall be construed to prohibit the intelligence community from conducting surveillance needed to prevent Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda, or any other foreign terrorist organization…from attacking the United States or any United States person."


That's a quote from Eric Cantor's (R-Va) website.

I hope I don't need to say this, but, geez... is there anyone out there who thinks that kind of crap belongs in legislation? A line that lets someone break the law and say "but I was conducting surveillance needed to prevent foreign terrorist organizations from attacking the United States!" hoping for a "Get Out Of Jail, Free" card?

So the Democrats pulled the bill, and Cantor is saying this in response:
House Democrats have pulled the FISA bill. They are so desperately against allowing our intelligence agencies to fight OBL and AQ, that they pulled the entire bill to prevent a vote.


Moveon.org got blasted from all (rightwing) quarters when asking if General Petreaus would become "General Betray Us" when he gave his speech to Congress hoping to drum up support for continuing the Iraq war. (I can't call it a "report" because he didn't deliver a report; he delivered a speech.) It suggested that he was cooking the books to make Iraq look more salvageable than it is. It was a nasty thing to suggest, but I've heard worse. For example, I've heard worse from Mr. Cantor.

He has suggested the Democrats, while battling flagrant, secretive lawbreaking by the Bush administration, are opposed to protecting our nation. Not merely "unwilling to do what it takes" - Republicans tell that canard often enough that it's lost much of its zing. No, he said that they are opposed to fighting back. They're not merely "not willing" but actively opposed.

Judge for yourself. Who is trying to rip this country apart? An organization that uses a nasty pun to attack a key figure who is pushing the continuance of the Iraq war, or a party that supports this kind of hatemongering?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Discussion question:

Ann Coulter. Jumped the shark?

I'm guessing yes.

Religious tolerance

I saw a reference to this bit of religious discussion:

It’s always so frustrating to hear or read about Democrats who have tried or who are trying hard to win over the votes of Christian voters, simply because most of the time, these Democrats don’t have a clue what they’re talking about - because the only time they see fit to talk up the benefits of going to church is when they want your vote. Obama is wading into very unfamiliar territory here, as Christianity by its very nature is not supposed to be a “tolerant” faith. To Christians, you either accept the Lord into your heart as your savior, and ask for forgiveness of your sins, and pledge to live a Christian life, or you don’t.


That's an interesting view of tolerance. Me, when I think of tolerance, I think of "well, you know, we have different beliefs; you think I'm wrong about some stuff, I think you're wrong about some stuff. But we can live with that, right? We don't have to be the same in order to get along in our day to day lives."

Tolerance isn't always comfortable, but up until folks are hurting others, live and let live is a decent motto to have. And I go one step beyond that... if someone is unjustly hurt over a difference, be it a physical assault or a cross-burning or rocks thrown at their windows, a tolerant person will always be able to say "I don't agree with that person, but anyone who knows me knows I didn't want that to happen. I made sure that no one thought I would approve of such a thing."

SisterToldja seems to think "tolerance" means that a church should refuse to have its own beliefs, rather than respecting the belief of other people in other churches. Of course, Paul had words about that. He pointed out that you can't change the world and try to make it less sinful, and he said that you had a right to confront a person you felt was a sinner, and even go so far as to remove that person from your church... but that was the end of it.

Christianity is supposed to be a tolerant religion. It should police its own, and let God worry about those who are not part of their own church. I, for example, am a Wiccan; they have no right, and no call, to tell me if they think my lifestyle is sinful. I'm not in their church; I'm not under their authority, and I am not their responsibility.

And yet I am a citizen of this nation, and deserving of all of the rights and responsibilities a citizen should perform.

A true Christian, who tried to love others as Jesus commanded, would have no problems with that, and certainly have no problems with tolerance.

So, for example, SisterToldja could be tolerant of Obama, accepting that even if he has different political beliefs, he could be a good Christian. Instead, there's just a blanket condemnation; liberals can't possibly be Christians because, well, they can't. Because, you know... liberal. Interested in seeing people feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and help the sick and imprisoned. And opposed to public displays of piety! Hell, liberals say if you want to pray you should go into your room and lock the door, so your prayers are only between you and God! What kind of a damn fool would go in for any of that claptrap?

Oh, yeah. Heh. Jesus. Well, but besides him? He was a Jew, after all... what kind of Christian would go for that?

Differences

Want to know the difference between liberal folks, and the folks attacking the Frosts?

Michelle Malkin approvingly links to this by Bruce Kesler.


What could we do with an extra $10,000 a year, if we didn’t have to pay insurance premiums, and instead SCHIP and taxpayers picked up the tab? Fix-up the 24-year old house; Buy a new or recent car; Hire baby sitters and get some additional sanity from entertainment; Eat better than at Jack or the Clown; Put steaks on the table; Have a cellphone, at least for emergencies, and faster downloads; and so on.

We make choices, in favor of frugality and self-responsibility, and can thus afford to continue to pay insurance premiums.

Sure, it’s not easy being a parent, or living in a high-cost area. Sure, it would be nice to live easier. But, is that fair to other struggling taxpayers?

SCHIP should include reasonable asset tests. In all but three states, it doesn’t have any.

(Please note, also, that he's thinking of a hypothetical case where he's two years older and collecting social security)

What does Bruce think about when thinking about CHIPs? Stuff he could buy, and do, for himself.

Because, you know, that's what being financially responsible is all about. If you get assistance getting your kids health care coverage, you now spend it on yourself.

This isn't a smear campaign, right? This isn't an attack on the faceless enemy, right? No, because that's what every responsible person thinks of first when they get coverage for their kid's health care coverage... "what can I do for me", right?

Wrong.

Responsible parents use the money to help their family. Sure, they help themselves as well, so they don't have to follow tips like "if you can't get fresh or frozen vegetables, give your kids canned vegetables, and if there's not enough for you to eat, drink the water from the cans; it'll have some nutrients". (Yes, that's a true piece of advice, I know the woman who gave - and followed - that advice.) With help, they can be sure the whole family eats, and healthy parents raise better children.


What's the difference between folks like Malkin and Serger, and folks like me? They'll attack the faceless enemy, and push the possibilities of fraud and abuse. Don't help folks with health insurance because they might abuse the system.

And I'll say "of course some folks will abuse the system; it sucks, but the alternative is some people drinking the water from a friggin' can of green beans, and lying to her kids about how they already ate, so what's left is all for them. And I'll take the risk of a few people who don't need the help taking it, to avoid the risk of those who really need it having to go without.

Yeah, sometimes that means a family knocking on the door (or even over the theshold) of middle class getting some help, and not having to be afraid of their car breaking down or having to mortgage all their assets and pray that things get better. It means that maybe those people never have to run out of food and face the hard choices of "how much food for the kids, how much can I get by on?" It means that those people are still in the running to make good for themselves, in return for help on one of the biggest, and fastest rising, expenses a responsible family has to deal with.

And it means reducing the burden on the already overburdened health care system, ultimately reducing costs for everyone, by having the government help vulnerable people.

Michelle Malkin is crazy...

... or at least that's one theory.


Michelle Malkin is claiming Hilary Clinton "threatened S-CHIP critics".



How? Here's how:
Some conservative bloggers suggested the family of Graeme Frost had granite counters in its Baltimore home and could afford health insurance. The family said its counters are made of concrete.

"I don't mind them picking on me; they've done it for years," Clinton said to laughter from the audience at Symphony Hall in Boston. "You know, I think I've proven I can take care of myself against all of them.

"But President Bush and the Republicans should lay off Graeme Frost and all the other children who are getting health care because we have decided to do the right thing in America," Clinton said.


OMG! Hilary Clinton said that they should lay off Graeme Frost! Why, that's a threat in any jurisdiction... um... no, wait.

Actually, calling that a threat doesn't even make sense.

Then again, neither does it make sense to say that folks there's a campaign to "silence" the right. But she did that too. Hmm.

All the while claiming to be a good journalist because she asks loaded questions in public, and promotes speculation, rather than actually doing a journalist's job and trying to find real answers.

Oh, Michelle? If you called the Frosts, and asked them calm, polite, questions in good faith that didn't dig into areas that are none of your business, then you'd be a journalist. Folks quite rightly find it creepy when you snoop around in secret, and spread speculation without even bothering to try to figure out the facts.

Here's an example:


Here’s the Baltimore Sun’s nutroots-approved follow-up piece
on the Frost family, using a single, rotten comment by a stupid RedState commenter to tar all conservative bloggers as hatemongers. Interestingly, the Sun asked the Frost parents to verify their claimed income and the couple declined. Also, the Sun reported that all four of the children attend private schools, not just two. The paper is silent on when the family started receiving claimed tuition breaks and how much the family spent on private-school tuition each year prior to the accident–i.e., at a time when they chose not to buy private health insurance.


There's nothing "interesting" about folks refusing to give rightwingers more ammunition to attack them with. They've already been vilified; why risk inviting more by letting folks give information about their finances?

So, calling it interesting, and claiming the newspaper was "silent" on an issue that probably never came up is nasty speculation... it's suggesting that there's dirt to be found when you don't have evidence.

What's more important than this is, it's irrelevant. Vilifying the Frosts won't change one essential fact of the matter. They are eligible under state rules; they asked if they could be offered help, they were offered help, and they took it. If you don't like the eligibility, whine to the state, but quit insinuating that there's something wrong with the Frosts.

That's why folks are using ugly words like "stalker" when you're snooping in the background. And it's the other nastiness that the Frosts are facing that are causing people to use words like "harassment". Because what you're doing is going on the attack, not trying to find the truth.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

An answer to a question about faith

Christopher Hitches asks this question (near the end of the article):

I should like, for the continued vigor of this discussion, to repeat the challenge that I have several times offered the faithful in print and on the air. Can they name a moral statement or action, uttered or performed by a religious person, that could not have been uttered or performed by an unbeliever? I am still waiting, after several months, for a response to this. It carries an incidental corollary: I have also asked large and divergent audiences if they can think of a wicked action or statement that derived directly from religious faith, and you know what? There is no tongue-tied silence at THAT point. Everybody can instantly think of an example.


Actually, I'd argue strongly that few, if any, wicked actions are derived directly from religious faith. I think they are done by people, who justify their actions based upon religious faith.

The truth is that religion can be a tool to gain power, and power evokes corruption.

The Inquisition, for example, couldn't have happened without religion... but religion did not cause the Inquisition, it merely set the stage, it merely created the ability. It took human evil to carry it out.

Okay, but if we threw away religion, wouldn't that mean that a future Inquisition could not happen? Sure, there wouldn't be prosecutions for heresy against the dominant religion, because there wouldn't be any religions to gain dominance. But who is to say that something equally nasty wouldn't happen? Religion might not make people into saints, but the lack of religion doesn't make them any nicer, either!

It's true: some evil people have found (and are currently finding, and will find in the future) ways to use religion for evil deeds. But if we took the "religion" tool away, there are still many tools to use. While it's nice to think that the conflicts and greed and indifference fostered by religious battles would just go away, it takes a much more generous view of human nature than I'm willing to grant.

The Frost family, and the facts

So, the Democrats had a child give their radio address a while back. Graeme Frost, a child who explained that he has benefited from the S-CHIP bill that Bush vetoed.

Now, there are rightwingers who are attacking the bill because of its "spokesman" who the Democrats are "hiding behind". Why?

Well, his parents own a house valued at some 400-500 thousand dollars. Of course, they bought it for $55 thousand, sixteen years back when the neighborhood was a good sight more dangerous than it is today.

And his dad owns a company... but he and his wife earn $45-50 thousand annually, which isn't much spread among six kids when two have special needs.

And Graeme and one of his sisters (who has brain damage from the car accident that made the Maryland CHIP program a huge benefit for the Frosts) both attend private schools with tuitions that would cost $40,000 if the Frosts were paying the full tuition, but they're paying about $500 a year, due to scholarships and the state's assistance.

And, and, and... and the various state CHIPs program are supposed to be for the *poor*.

No. Medicaid is supposed to be for the poor. The CHIPs programs are supposed to be for people like the Frosts, so they don't have to choose between borrowing against their house and buying health insurance. If the Republicans are going to attack a family like the Frosts as being undeserving of help, they might as well attack the entire set of CHIPs, and hey, go for Medicaid while you're at it. The Frosts have two special needs kids; a news story on their situation says that they couldn't get it lower than 1200 a month, close to a third of their pay. But now they can, thanks to help from the state. Mr. Frost gets to keep running his business, and benefiting the local economy; the six kids get to grow up healthier than otherwise. Once they're grown up, they get to have their shot at life... and maybe end up paying more into the system than they ever 'took out' via the Maryland CHIP program. They have a better chance to do that, now that the Frosts don't have to sell their home, or their business, just to protect against the risks of being uninsured.

But even if not, at least the state stepped in and protected a family that was facing challenges that we hope our own families never have to face.

ETA: I believe I misunderstood the number of children the Frosts have in their family; I believe they have four, and thus, are a "family of six". $45-50k isn't a lot spread among four children, either, not when you're looking at blowing $14,400 a year on health insurance

ETA: According to this news story, the house is actually valued at $260,000, significantly less than the rightwingers were claiming. The company the father owned no longer exists, but the father does own a commercial property from which he derives some rental income. Note that this is included in the net income, which is what the Maryland CHIP eligibility is based on.

Michelle Malkin was one of the big attackers on this issue, and said that folks should expect reporters to ask questions, and this is why the rightwingers were making their attacks; the 'real' reporters weren't asking the right questions. Malkin is wrong. The job of reporters is to get answers. If you just "ask questions" hoping to attack someone, you're an attacker. It's only if you dig for, and do your best to find, the answers that you're doing a reporters job.

ETA: Another article about the family Both properties are already mortgaged.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Secret crimes are not prosecutable...

The Supreme Court has turned down an appeal in Khaled El-Masri's case. For those of you who don't want to click the link, he's claiming he was abducted, kept imprisoned, and tortured.

I saw one news announcer call it a "victory for the Bush administration". I suppose it is; it says that even if the Bush administration broke a bunch of laws, they don't have to admit to wrongdoing, or even face a civil trial's finding of fact.

It's a tragic day for our nation.

At the same time, I start to wonder... I wonder if the case could be refiled, and El-Masri could change the claim to simple kidnapping. Forget where he was taken; forget what was done to him. He was kidnapped and held against his will for four months. No questions can be raised about where he was held, or under what conditions. I'd very much like the Bush administration to argue that whether or not they abducted him or held him at all is a state secret.

But then I get a bit nervous. What if they did argue that? And worse, what if they won?

Suddenly, unless caught in the act, kidnapping and arbitrary imprisonment would be de facto powers of the President.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Lies

"Repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth," they say, but they're wrong. Repeat a lie often enough, and you might get people to buy into a lie, but it will still be a lie.

Fred Barnes is telling a lie..

If you read his quote from the above page, he claims:
Remember, when [Barack Obama] famously came out against the war, it was back in a time when the entire world believed that Saddam Hussein in Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, that he would probably be willing to use them himself at some time or pass them along to terrorists who would use them.


The US intelligence assessment, prior to the war, was that Saddam had probably re-armed, but that he was unlikely to use his weapons, or allow them to be used, because of fear of US reprisals. The assessment continued that he was only likely to use them if he felt he had nothing left to lose, i.e., if the US invaded.

It was accepted that, if Saddam had a chance to build up his military, he might make another land grab in the Middle East. That was his passion, expanding his borders. And that meant that we'd have to keep him bottled up to make sure he didn't get any ideas.

As for giving weapons to terrorists, there were a lot of people speaking fearfully that he might do so. There was no real basis for this speculation; the fear was simply that he could, unless, of course, he was disarmed, which meant, of course, invaded.

So, no, the "entire world" didn't believe that Saddam had WMDs. A lot of people believed that he didn't have the opportunity to rebuild his destroyed infrastructure, and few people believed he might use them or give them to terrorists.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Hidden racism

Racism always has two faces, one exposed, and one hidden. As you can probably figure, while the exposed face is obviously dangerous, it's the hidden one that can trip you up more often.

These days, there's a very dangerous bit of racism going around involving the war on terror. It's one that has two parts. The first part is a question that a lot of people asked right after the attacks; the other one has become a right-wing belief.

"Why do they hate us?" folks asked, and a common response was that they hate us for our freedom.

When I first heard that, I winced. It was like, "okay, that's a feel good reason to give, one that might conceivably help bring the country together, but god damn, what a horrible oversimplification it is!"

And the second part, the talking point, is that "we're fighting an enemy unlike any other; they are willing to kill themselves, just to take a chance of killing some of us!"

Now, there's a hidden subtlety to these, and it's all wrapped up in the idea of "they". Why do "they" hate us? "They" are willing to commit suicide to kill us.

Who is "they"? How many "they" are there?

This is the place where hidden racism pops up. People think of Middle-Easterners as strange and different, and there are some huge differences. They have different culture, different customs, and while their majority religion shares some common roots with the majority religions in the United States, the similarities make the differences that much more jarring.

And the "they" stops being "that tiny percentage of people who become terrorists" to "Middle-Easterners". Oh, not all of them... just an unknown, but large, percentage.

Because, you know, they're different. And they live far away. And we know that there are some, so there could be others, and thus... well, if you know anything about racism, I'm sure you can fill in the rest.

But people, everywhere, want to live, love, build families, and work in peace. Give them something nice to build for themselves, and the overwhelming majority of them will quietly build that something nice for themselves. They won't develop the kind of hatred and the kind of intensity that it takes to be willing to die to attack America. Hell, if they don't see America as some evil country that tortures, disappears people, and invades countries based upon false claims, they'll take some serious risks to break up a threat against America, because that's what most people do, whatever their race, religion, or location.

Sure, there were a lot of people who we had reason to be afraid of; prior to the war in Iraq, estimates were that there were 20,000 people who were active parts of, or willing to work with, al Qaeda. Let's multiply that fivefold, to 100,000. Or, hell, let's just say "hundreds of thousands" of them are our enemies. The Middle East has hundreds of *millions* of people. Meaning that, as an order of magnitude, our enemies are around one tenth of one percent of the people in the Middle East.

Sure, we have dangerous enemies... but they are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the peaceful, loving, decent human beings who surround them. There are probably more than a thousand good folks for every bad guy out there.

But it becomes easy to ignore that, to let the invisible face of racism make us more afraid (and more angry or hateful) than we should be towards people who overwhelmingly want to live in peace with us.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Recent bits about Coulter and Limbaugh

So, I saw an excerpt from Ann Coulter's latest, where she says "As for my own — as yet — uncensored language, you have to either be retarded or work for the Soviet thought police not to understand that much of what I say is a joke (admittedly, never as funny as the reaction)."

Actually, I think the big issue is not that Coulter thinks that much of what she says should be treated as a joke... it's that she thinks that anything she says should be taken seriously. Face it, once you admit that you're willing to say anything for a laugh (or to stir up controversy), and thereby make money, I don't see how you can also ask to be taken seriously about anything.

So, sure, when she said "we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity," sure, it was a joke. But when someone finds something like that worth laughing about, how can you take anything else they say seriously?

Recently, she suggested that women shouldn't have the right to vote, because then folks like her wouldn't have to worry about another Democratic President. Let's see, we might have avoided the 9/11 attacks, the war in Iraq, and had competent government leadership during the Katrina aftermath, we might have avoided losing the trust and respect of our allies over torture and black sites, and we might still have a balanced budget... but instead we had George W. Bush at the helm. And she thinks women voters are stupid because they might have given us Gore or Kerry? I won't suggest that men shouldn't vote, but I hope Coulter doesn't, and by god do I hope she doesn't reproduce.

In the meantime, Rush Limbaugh complained that it's "the phony" soldiers who suggest that putting their lives at risk fighting a pointless war in Iraq that has no end in sight. The "real soldiers," his caller pointed out, are "proud to serve". People have complained that Rush doesn't support the troops; others have insisted that he does.

I have to say, I'm a bit in awe of the Republicans, who enable the Limbaughs and Coulters of the world. Only they could have the audacity to claim that it's "supporting" the troops to send them halfway around the world, to work long, grueling hours doing dangerous tasks, knowing full well that at any point in time, something could happen and they could end up dead, all so that, after four years of this, we'd have them stuck in a country on the brink of civil war, and be extending their deployments. However, the suggestion that the "real" troops are "proud to serve" and the phony troops are opposed is misleading to say the least.

Just about all of the soldiers are proud to serve. The job is too hard, and the rewards too few, for folks to be able to handle it if they aren't proud to serve. But being proud to serve doesn't mean you can't look at the situation we're in now, and admit that it was a huge waste, or that you can't notice that it's cost a hell of a lot more than it could possibly be worth.

If I wasn't exhausted by the many years of this crap, I'd say that "what upsets me most is that there are people who think Limbaugh and Coulter are thoughtful analysts". These days, it's hard for me to get upset at anything those clowns do, but it is, I admit, frustrating.

They're attacking their fellow Americans; they're not merely debating, or playing hardball politics, they are attacking Americans. They are cashing in by taking America's biggest strength, its unity, and trying to destroy it. And there was a time when that would lead to a short trip to the unemployment line. Now, there's big bucks in it, and a major political party supporting it.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Just joking.

Every now and again, I like to go on a comic rant about a person or situation, in which I speak in a high faluting tone, using five dollar words where a nickel is overspending, and making it sound like the loudest and most emphatic condemnation I can... and then end with something like "oh, yeah, and you're ugly, and your mother dresses you funny."

A meaningless cheap shot to show that it's all a rant that doesn't really mean anything... something that demonstrates that the tone I've used is clearly not justified. I don't mean that what I said was entirely unjustified; there might be some valid criticism mixed in. But it does mean that you shouldn't take what I say entirely seriously.

That sometimes works even when it's not intentional. If a person shows outrage over something really stupid, you should probably ask yourself if you should take their other ideas with a huge grain of salt - perhaps one as large as a boulder.

So, if you see people trying to make a big deal about Hilary Clinton's laugh - I kid you not, there are people doing so! - or over John Edwards spending big bucks to look good - any professional who depends on image does this, but if he Democratic, the Republicans will rip on him! - or over the Folsom Street Fair having a poster patterned after Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" painting - again, I kid you not, this is an "assault on Christianity" they say! - then maybe you should consider whether or not these people can be taken seriously about anything.

See, I'll make a joke about a long, loud rant. I'll signal to people, just to make sure they don't take the rant too seriously, so they know there's a joke involved. You know it's a joke, and it's clear that I know it's a joke.

What about those who are trying to make it a rant that should be a joke (like Hillary's laugh, Edwards' hair, or the Folsom Street Fair poster)? Are they lying, pretending to be outraged when they aren't, hoping to stir up hatred and/or divisiveness? Or are they actually hateful or divisive? In either case, whether they are, or are trying to appear, ready to rip the United States apart over stupid crap, folks should start to recgnize that they can't be trusted.

See, this is the scariest thing that's happened over the past too-damn-many years. There was a time when, in the end, what mattered most was that we were Americans. Oh, we had our angry spats over things, some important, some less than important, but in the end, unless we were dealing with a real enemy, not a mere political opponent, we might as well have ended up with "oh, yeah, and you're ugly and your mother dresses you funny."

A way of saying "yeah, we're ripping you up, we have to win this fight... but we both know that it's about winning the point, not trashing the person who loses it... we're talking nasty, but we know it's part of the game."

And it's changed. During the buildup to the Iraq war, at least one columnist asked if we shouldn't be videotaping anti-war protestors to prosecute them for treason. Liberal folks are called friends of terrorists, by people speaking with straight faces. It's not a matter of saying "we disagree, and for the moment, we'll go into nasty-speak to win the point, but everyone knows that it's part of the game." It's become a matter of trying to attack the opposition, to weaken it, not to win a point, but to gain greater power, by trashing their opposition... by spreading hatred, suspicion, and divisiveness.

They still make their nasty jokes... but they're no longer laughing, they're taking themselves seriously. And that's when it stops being funny.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bill O'Reilly and racism

So... Bill O'Reilly goes into a restaurant owned and patronized by black folks. And he couldn't get over this fact: they might as well have been in one owned and patronized by white folks! Isn't that amazing?

Now, O'Reilly is being called racist by folks. And why? He says that he was just pointing out how some people don't know that black folks are just like white folks, except, you know... different skin color.

Oh, yeah, and job discrimination, higher poverty rate, greater risk of arrest for "driving while black", but he didn't mention the unpleasant bits. No, he meant there was no one saying something like "get me another iced tea, M.F-er," like you might expect... if you were an idiot and racist as all hell.

Is Bill O'Reilly racist? Well, to answer that question, you need to understand what racism is. It's the idea that one race is superior (or inferior) to others. It's a belief that race makes a meaningful difference, and the worst part about it is that it's often subtle and unconscious.

In 2000, a police officer shot a black actor to death. Was this "racist"?

I'm going to anger some people right now and say "we don't know, and never will". A police officer saw a black man with a (fake) gun at a Halloween party. He shot him nine times. Why?

If it had been a white man, would he have thought "ohmygod he's going to shoot someone!" or would he have felt he had time to try to contain the situation? Or, heck, would he have thought "goddamn it, I don't care if it's a costume party, people shouldn't wave fake guns around!"

We don't know. We'll never know. We can't watch a "what might have been" and see if the cop would have treated a white man differently. It's a question we can't answer, but it's one we have to ask.

I hope some of you stopped on the incongruity there... if we can't answer it, why do we have to ask?

Because it's the only way we can learn. It's the only way we can develop. Look, it's easy to learn that racism is wrong, that you shouldn't go around using words like "nigger". It's easy to learn that you shouldn't take a job away from a competent black person and give it to a less competent white person. It's not so easy to learn when an unconscious prejudice has bubbled to the surface and caused us to do something racist. So we have to ask the question, we have to make ourselves a little uncomfortable, and we have to be willing to accept the discomfort of not knowing. It's not a lot of fun, but face it, there are some toxic ideas about folks out there, and it's easy to pick some of them up without even realizing it... and if we care about treating folks right, we have to combat those ideas in ourselves.

Now, here's the interesting thing. Bill O'Reilly is rejecting charges of racism, saying that he was actually trying to combat those ideas in others. He said he knows a lot of people have bad ideas about black people and he wanted to dispel them. Okay, fine... but he said thathe couldn't get over the fact that the restaurant was just like any other restaurant.

He didn't say "You know, it suddenly struck me. A lot of people probably wouldn't believe that this restaurant was just like any other one." He didn't say "I bet some people would be surprised to find that it was just like any other restaurant." He said that he couldn't get over it.

And that matters.

Maybe he mis-spoke; hey, it's a possibility. But even if he did, he was still saying that "black folks can act just like white folks!" which, frankly, anyone should know. It's very similar to the guy who called Barack Obama "articulate", like it is a surprise to see a well educated man talk like a well educated man, if he's also black. It's damning with faint praise, and it probably is due to a good bit of unconscious racism.

Should he be continually lambasted for this? No. But I wish like hell he was man enough to dig into his own words, and look at his own views, as deeply as he's willing to dig in against those he disagrees with. Then, maybe he could complain "Okay, yes, that was a stupid thing to say, but at least I'm trying, okay?"

And then we might see some real, and interesting, discussions about race in this country.

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