Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The War On The War On Drugs

Pretty remarkable quote here from Nixon's ace henchman, John Fking Ehrlichman:
"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar Left, and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
Take all the time you need to digest it. I'm still choking on it.

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Grift That Keeps On Giving

Pushing theories of grain storage in The Great Pyramids notwithstanding, there's never been an obvious reason why Ben Carson is running for president, other than self-promotion and self-serving fundraising. His wacky statements on all manner of subjects have made me question his intelligence, but he's clearly smart enough to know a good grift when he sees one, and to count on the lack of intelligence of enough people to keep the money rolling in.

Huckabee is doing the same thing, of course, but, far as I know, he's not raising anywhere near Carson-level of cash. It's a whole new ballgame: candidacy as cash cow. Based on sheep.

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Thursday, December 24, 2015


In these times of war, terrorism, climate change, impending plutocracy, and a Republican party gone mad, it's nice to know people retain perspective. This letter to the editor appeared in the local paper today, reprinted, other than the name of the writer, in its entirety:

Hi, we live out in the Monroe area. I would love to see a bowling alley out here in Monroe!
Just would be so wonderful!
Thank you for listening.
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The World According To Rove

I suppose I should be wishing everyone a Merry Christmas, but Karl Rove just left a turd blossom in the wassail bowl. (Or maybe we should see it as a gift to those able to retain humor in the face of idiocy.) Whatever. Rove has an editorial in the WSJ. It's behind a paywall, so I'm gonna take this article's word for it. Anyhow, here's the final line:

Because of his lack of vision, the mop-up operation his [Obama’s] successor will face is unlike any in living memory.
That leaves the world with no more gobs to be smacked. Really. But it's the perfect representation of today's R party, and of how they view their voters: nothing that's wrong with the world can't be blamed on Barack Obama, and George Bush never happened. Especially not two unpaid-for wars, at least one of which was disaster beyond measure; nor the tanking of the economy unseen since the G.D.

Second only to intelligence, memory in their voters is an enemy to be vanquished. And they've done a pretty good job of it. Reaganomics? Hell, yeah, it works. Voter fraud? Oh, yeah. Rampant. Public assistance? Clearly, nothing but cheaters. Invading countries and replacing governments by force? Works like a charm. Billionaires and oil companies running the country? Hey, look: there's a black guy in that white house.

But, why not: Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas Truce

My latest newspaper column, as published and slightly rearranged and annoted by the editor:

Today, on the cusp of Christmas, I can't find it in my bleeding heart to produce a typical rant, despite the need. After all, as I understood it in the mondegreen fields of my early youth, all I need to do to be jolly is to tis the season. So, tis I will.
Fa la la: when someone wishes me Happy Holidays, whether a store employee or otherwise, I take no offense. Same with Merry Christmas. I served in a war; I know something about what war looks like, and, folks, there ain't no war on Christmas. It's business as business: they get to decide their greetings, you get to decide yours. Let's all be happy about that.
Speaking of happy, for the last year and a half my wife and I have been enjoying a new kid on a block in Portland, our grandson, who, blessed with two fabulous parents and a passel of doting grandfolk, aunts and uncles, happens to be (no offense, but I remain committed to the truth) the cutest little guy there ever was. Since he became bipedal, he's a nonstop doer of very important stuff, all over the house. And, as I'd been hoping, he's becoming pals with the family dog, a predictably loveable chocolate Lab. Nothing makes me happier than our more or less monthly trips down I-5 to watch that family happen. A nephew is there, too, and they make for a tight group of good people. Not a hater or excluder among them. Happy, they are, to live their lives and let others live theirs. Notwithstanding the frightening popularity of Trump/Cruz style proto-totalitarian mongering of fear, hate, resentment and war, it gives me a little hope. And I'm happy to have been grandfathered into the era of video chatting, when we're not there.
Unhappily, that big storm blew the top half of our venerable cedar tree onto our house, punching several branches through the roof and into the living space, turning a glass door into shards as it blasted into the room, along with the frame within which it formerly stood. Launched it, really: it flew several feet before ending up where it did, me sitting one room away. Happily, our insurance company found a crew to remove the tree in a hurry, allowing me to board up the hole where the door used to be. Unlike Sarah Palin, I appreciate people with expertise in their jobs. (I don't include my hole-covering skills in that observation, although the guy at the lumber place who cut the plywood to my erroneous specifications was pretty cool, busy as he was the day after.)
We found it possible to live without power, TV, phone and Internet for three days. (Well, not entirely: I hit Starbucks a few times for coffee and Wi-Fi.) Going to bed when it gets dark has an upside, turns out. And it appears that with some science-based trimming the tree might survive. Pretty it might not be for a decade or two, but alive; which is a good thing because I think its roots encourage our bluff to stay where it belongs.
Our neighbors were concerned enough to check on us when it all went down. Having good neighbors makes for good feelings. One of them, an Everett cop, has enough goodness in him single-handedly to counter at least a dozen of the stories we've heard of bad police behavior around the country. It's a job I wouldn't want; I'm grateful there are those that do.
Now that we've had time to observe, let's recognize that same-sex weddings don't threaten our own marriages; let's recall our immigrant roots, and the ways people of all faiths, and of none, have made this country great, even teachers and scientists. And, living through the dark days of Northwest winters, let's rejoice in the knowledge that solar panels haven't sucked all the energy out of the sun! (The Independent:
So, Merry Christmas and well-seasoned greetings to all. May we manage, through our faiths or in spite of some versions of them, or simply by the empathy-derived golden rule, to let go of hate and fear of “the other,” if only until the new year.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Freedom To Show One's Idiocy

The nice thing about freedom of speech is that it allows us to know who the idiots are.
Seriously. You can disagree with President Obama on anything and everything. I do, on some things. But actually to believe that? It's beyond depressing. How easily do such people assimilate the bilious hate that's fed them every day! And, sure, call me a race-card-player: there's no way any of them would believe that kind of shit about a white guy. These are the people voting for Trump and, when Trump fades, for the even scarier and more holy Cruz.

And, if it need be said, those who are actually destroying the fabric of democracy are legislators in this guy's state and so many others, enacting voter ID laws to "combat" a non-existent issue of in-person voter fraud. And it's the S. Court, when it gutted the Voting Rights Act, and when it allowed unfettered purchasing of elections by billionaires. And, of course, it's the non-stop right-wing lies and distractions, convincing voters to look the other way, to blame Obama for nothing he's done to threaten democracy, and to be blind to those who have.

Again, and again: on what basis is there reason for hope for our political future?

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Monday, December 21, 2015

This Is What Happens...

This, I'd say is, at least in part, due to the concerted efforts of today's Republican leaders to demonize teachers, teachers' unions, and public education. Chris Christie and Scott Walker, among others, have touted their successes in breaking those unions. Virtually all of the R candidates have suggested teachers are overpaid.
A Washington survey shows that principals across the state are in “crisis mode” because of a shortage of substitute and full-time teachers. 
Yakima Herald reports that the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction found that 58 percent of elementary-school principals, 50 percent of middle-school principals and 45 percent of high-school principals say they’re in crisis trying to find substitutes. 
Some school administrators end up having to cover for classes for hours or even full days. In the state survey, 74 percent of principals reported personally doing so. Many school districts have bumped up substitute pay or hired emergency substitutes who aren’t fully qualified as a last resort.
I see this as yet another example of the long-term effects of short-sighted policies aimed, by teabagging Republicans, at the lowest common denominations of voters: whipping up resentment, finding scapegoats, dodging responsibility by suggesting that all our problems are due to spending tax money on unimportant things, like education or health care or food stamps, instead of on tax cuts for rich people and rich corporations, and on tanks.

What's more disturbing is the ease with which they're able to convince voters that they're right. But who cares, right? We got ours.

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Good And The Bad

As usual, and no doubt in part because it's easier to have substantive "debate" with three people than with ten, all of whom are playing to the lowest listener, the Democratic debate allowed for actual discussions of issues and policies. Bickering and over-talking were at a minimum if, sadly, not entirely absent.

They all pretty much agree with each other; the most salient point is that, were any of the R candidates to win the White House instead of any of them, it'd be a disaster for our country and for the world. I won't list the ways because, to people who read this, they're obvious. (Climate change was mentioned by the candidates as a pressing issue, but, weirdly, there were no questions directed to them about it.)

One thing stood out for me: when Martha Raddatz asked about the attack in San Bernardino and questioned what they'd do to prevent such things in the future, none of them said the obvious: There's no way. If this was truly a "lone-wolf" incident, and if, as it's now becoming known, they really left no indications on social media, etc, then how would it have been possible to prevent it? It's a big country. Guns are everywhere, and we'll never know, because Rs won't let it happen, if stricter rules would have prevented them from getting them from their neighbor.

I wish they'd said it. But we all know the reaction from the magical-thinking, chest-thumping mongerers of war and deportation of Muslims on the right would have said. And, no doubt, more than the 30% of Rs who agree we should bomb Aladdin's home town would have bought right in.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dicks, Dicks, And More Dicks

I watched as much of the R debate last night as I could stand, when it didn't conflict with Jeopardy, and with my desire to remain sane. All the waving dicks must have made for quite a breeze in that understated conservative cloth coat venue. Foreign policy: punch the Russians in the nose, kill civilans to send a message, and, for gods' sake, build up the 6th Fleet to take out those Toyotas.

The harder the dick, the faster it waved, the louder the cheers. (Carly doesn't have a dick, so I'll assume she waved an aborted fetus while I was listening to Alex Trebek over-pronounce ze Francais.) Rand Paul, on stage only by way of fuzzy math, was actually the nearly sane one, pointing out that foreign policy doesn't usually boil down to a single simple sentence. He got a few cheers, but the needle only went all the way to the right for the "kill 'em all before they kill us all" and "screw the rest of the world" stuff.

A high point was when Chris "former prosecuter so I know dicks" Christie was asked how to keep Americans from succumbing to 24/7 fear, and he responded by trying to scare the shit out of everyone. A typical point was when Ted "second coming and not just 'cause I'm waving my dick" Cruz mentioned how many illegals Bill Clinton and George Bush had deported, and stopped there.

If what they all said about Barack and Hillary were true, you'd think we'd all be wearing clothes with holes in them, sitting on sidewalks selling pencils; that factories have ground to a halt, that our military consists of a couple of probably gay women with muskets, and that streets are crawling with illegals; that our planes are mostly biplanes and ships have sails, and that they're all dwarfed in number and power by the least of other nations. And, of course, that there's an ISIS flag flying over that white house with all the black people in it.

One can only hope that in the only somewhat improbable event that any of those people were to become president, there'd be someone within shouting distance of them encourage a second thought, or maybe, in their case, even a first one, before engaging in their shoot first, consider complexities later ideas of engagement in the world. Because if not, we're profoundly, deeply, irretrieveably screwed.

And, in all seriousness: shame on those people in the audience and anyone else shallow enough to like it, who cheer them on. Worse, shame on America for becoming a place where such people represent half of us.

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Monday, December 14, 2015

Kerry On

John Kerry, contra my hopes and predictions, turned out to be a lousy presidential candidate. But his stint as SecState has been pretty damn impressive, and he should be considered one of the best. This article is a nice reminder:
... If he got off to an inauspicious start, however, his recent performances have been nothing short of spectacular. The thaw with Cuba and the nuclear deal with Iran involved heavy lifting and cut against the grain of decades of international and domestic suspicion and hostility. And what a difference there is between the outcome of the climate talks in Paris and the 2009 debacle in Copenhagen! ...
Maybe he brought the same sort of truth and passion and clarity to his recent efforts that he brought to his testimony before Congress during the Vietnam War era. In any case, as we watch in disbelief and horror as every single candidate for the presidential nomination of that other party demonstrates the opposite of truth, clarity, and dedication to the common good, we can only weep at the contrast; and wonder what might have been had Mr. Kerry been able to overcome the despicable attacks on him that destroyed his candidacy.

We'd not have had second-term Bush. What else might we not have had, and have had?

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Trump Is The Inevitable Result

My latest newspaper column:
I know memory is fallible. One of JFK’s last and most quoted speeches was at my college, and his visit made a huge impression on me; on its semicentennial the college posted an online remembrance, proving my recollections differed significantly from the way it had been. But here’s where I differ from Donald Trump and his supporters: when I found out I’d been wrong, I accepted it. 
If Trump’s lies are usually deliberate (a Civil War battle happened on his golf course!) maybe his 9/11 visions are merely paramnesia. We saw throngs of people cheering the attacks in the Middle East, not in New Jersey. Rather than admitting he might have been confused, despite evidence that he couldn’t have seen what he claims, Mr. Trump digs in, and his followers love it. To them it’s about maintaining the narrative; no dissonance is allowed to challenge what they choose to believe. Belief is key. Repeated enough, preferred enough, it’s good enough. If truth is immutable, definitions aren’t. 
Having chosen lying as her lodestar, when shown that the video she describes of an aborted baby being “harvested” was a stillborn fetus bearing no connection to Planned Parenthood or abortion, Carly Fiorina characterized pointing it out as “typical liberal tactics.” Well, yes. Liberals, against the Foxolimtrumpic tide, pertinaciously prefer truth. But what explains the ease with which she deceives, and her certainty that her side won’t call her on it? 
Decades ago the formerly credible Republican Party was overtaken by shrewd cynics who realized their best shot at enacting regressive policies was by demonizing dedicated journalists, cowing them into submissive both-siderism; while simultaneously offloading b.s. in such quantities that it would swamp reality. Well-informed voters were a threat, they reckoned: and up sprang a “news” network and radio talkers dedicated to disinformation, repeating fabrications so often they began to sound true. Donald Trump is the inevitable result. Resentment and superficiality win tenderized minds as easily as lies do. Our president loves terrorists more than he loves us. Climate change is a hoax. The more dishonest and perfidious pablum they’re spooned, the more validated his supporters feel, the more irreversibly entrenched becomes the dishonesty, and the more receptive they are to demagoguery. 
This is painstakingly crafted blindness, its target audience, as intended, ultimately neither interested in nor having the tools to recognize what constitutes manipulation. After the Planned Parenthood shooting, right wing websites first claimed the attacker was a bank robber; then a liberal; finally, when his identity was undeniable, the favored fallback falsehood: fraudulent videos and hateful rhetoric are never a factor. If Trump is nominated, much less elected, let’s hope those who’ve chosen sham over substance live to recognize their role in America’s devolution into exceptional dysfunction, as it relinquishes its importance to the world. More so if it’s Cruz. 
Not everyone appreciates my tinyurls*. So, still believing that verity matters, I offer some unlinked facts, obediently denied by today’s “conservative” voters. If you don’t believe me, you can look ‘em up:  
The climate is changing, oceans are rising and acidifying, man-made emissions are central, and it’s a critical threat. Planned Parenthood doesn’t sell body parts, but does provide a wide range of health care to millions, of which abortion makes up only 3%. Torture doesn’t work. The Constitution says religious law can’t supersede US law, whether Biblical or Sharia. Republicans just denied health care to 9/11 responders and voted against preventing gun sales to people on no-fly lists. FEMA has no reeducation camps. “Thousands and thousands” of American Muslims weren’t seen cheering on 9/11 but many received murderous threats. 70% of women who have abortions identify as Christian. Racism persists. Demonizing all Muslims helps ISIS. Tax cuts don’t reduce deficits. Most people receiving assistance aren’t cheaters. Raising the minimum wage doesn’t kill business. Increasing wealth inequality threatens capitalism. Homosexuality isn’t a choice. Christianity isn’t under attack, but voting rights are. Unemployment is half of what it was when Bush was finished with us, and the budget deficit is one-third. Invading Iraq made everything worse. Fox is the least truthful network. Mass murders are easier with assault rifles, and “thoughts and prayers” won’t end them. 
There are lots more. Does it matter?  
*(In the print versions I've been writing out numerous links to relevant sources. On the paper's website, and on this blog, they've been hotlinked. Readers of the print version have complained that the written links are distracting.)
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Friday, December 4, 2015

Thought For The Day

That terrorist wife in San Bernardino pledging fealty to ISIS is like average American workers voting for today's Republican Party. Incomprehensible.

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Evolution Of Another Source Of False Right-Wing Outrage

This is how it works: in the face of yet another mass murder, some people, myself included, are getting a little tired of the "thoughts and prayers" predictably issued by politicians who otherwise have done and will do nothing to address the scourge of gun violence in the US. Never missing an opportunity to feel aggrieved, our highly-sensitive and prayerful right wing, as megaphoned via Fox "news" et al, have taken great offense, seeing this as an attack on prayer. Even giving it a name: "prayer shaming." Gotta love those guys.
... The charge of “prayer shaming” is that people mocking the by-now rote tweets about prayers are saying “don’t pray.” Or that they don't understand what prayer does. Or that they’re just plain evil, as Fox News’s Elizabeth Hasselbeck suggested when she said “I say this, if you want to line up with terrorists and try to take God away, you’re not on the right side. That’s all I’d have to say to those politicians who want to tell you to stop praying. Just don’t.”...
Really? That's the conclusion you reach when people point out it'll take more than thoughts and prayers? No one has said to stop praying; what we're saying is it's not enough. Seems pretty damn obvious to me.

But this is the modus operandi of today's "conservatives" for all things reasonable said by "liberals": distort, dissemble, take offense, mock, deny and, in the end, use the ginned-up outrage as a weapon on the gullible to maintain their spoon-fed ignorance. Ignorance. Too harsh? I mean, the root is "ignore," right? Isn't that the preferred approach, whether it's gun violence, climate change, the fact that generic hatred of all Muslims is exactly what ISIS wants, that abortion is still legal, that any "balanced" budget that cuts taxes on the wealthy and increases military spending is either mathematically impossible or heartlessly draconian. All of it. Everything. It's shameful.

And it's deliberate. We can only pray that it'll end.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The 'Fraidest Generation

My latest newspaper column:
One difference between ISIS and those American preachers who claim the Bible requires murdering homosexuals: none of our presidential candidates have attended an ISIS convention. The pastors represent Christianity the same way ISIS represents Islam; that is, for zealots who interpret their holy book literally, to whom progress is anathema and otherness intolerable, they absolutely do. At the fringes of humanity there have always been people whose projection of their own secrets and fears leads to attacking others. ISIS takes it to sickening, but not unprecedented extremes. 
The mindset that leads Ben Carson to call evolution a lie planted in Charles Darwin’s head by the devil, or to Ted Cruz saying that we must never have a president who doesn’t begin each day on his Christian knees, or has Michele Bachmann suggesting rounding up Jews and converting them to Christianity because end-times are nigh, is merely a less fully devolved form of the self-righteous certainty that leads ISIS to do what they did in Paris. If preachers haven’t murdered here, they’ve fomented it in Africa. And danced, ugly, on the graves in Paris. “Conservatives” demand that Muslims speak out against “their” terrorists. When their would-be leaders genuflect before homicide-justifying Christian homophobes, they’re silent. 
Now, just as we refused entry to Jews during WWII, so Republican candidates and Congress dwellers, along with, sadly, some Democrats, demand we stop admitting Syrian refugees. Are Japanese-American style internment camps unthinkable? Not to everyone. Forced wearing of special I.D? Jawohl! Between childish insults of his competitors because that’s what makes America great, Donald Trump claims that if Parisians had been weaponized, the attacks wouldn’t have happened. Right. A fanatic wearing a suicide vest would see an armed concert hall and say, “Geez, a guy could get killed in there.” Far from turning off his followers, Trump’s bombast has increased support among brave American exceptionalists, abandoning our values with astonishing ease. They call Obama “weak.” What is it when they cave on our most basic principles? Claiming patriotism, they deny the power of America’s ideals. We’ve become the ‘fraidest generation. 
Terrorism won’t stop anytime soon, nor will terrified reactions to it, including discarding the standards that have actually made our country great, Mr. Trump. Turning our backs on all Muslims is exactly what ISIS wants from us. Against those governors, Republican patriots all, afraid of welcoming women and children, they’ve already won. These are people fleeing horrific fanaticism, people who fear ISIS more than we do. Screening is already rigorous, and not just, per Jeb and Ted, ironically, for Christians. Here’s a braver response, from the husband of a woman murdered in Paris. It puts us and our politicians to shame. So does this. And these ill-informed, fully Foxolimtrumpified Texan bullies disgrace us all.   
For its depth and detail, this comprehensive article about what ISIS wants is worth your time. Because their goal is to maintain a caliphate, holding territory is critical to their movement, which means that taking back their land is, indeed, of strategic importance. But done by whose troops? Not ours, the article suggests; our presence in Iraq spurred the creation of ISIS, after all. Plus, in the same way certain evangelicals who can’t wait for the end of this life see conversion of Jews as the path to the Apocalypse, so ISIS sees their death, along with ours, in war, on a battlefield convenient to their land. Which raises the central question: would American troops in Syria really prevent people from exploding their suicide vests here? Maybe the answer lies in recalling the results of our invasion of Iraq in the first place. 
Without doubt, the battle with radical Islam requires military action, and although the foot soldiers in Syria should be from that region, American power is indispensible. But in the end, it’s a battle of ideas. When we divest ourselves of our beliefs that might properly be called exceptional – religious freedom, diversity, education, generosity, our Constitution – we lose not just ourselves, but the very war we’re fighting. Letters to the editor, of late, display fear and claims that our president, choosing smarter ways to fight terrorism, is a traitor. We’ll never learn.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Rest Of The Story...

I've been wondering what happened to those conjoined twins whose brains Ben Carson separated, the doing of which propelled him to "gifted hands" fame. And now I know.
... But according to news media accounts two years after the surgery, one boy was discharged from the hospital with signs of severe neurological damage and remained in a vegetative state; the other was developmentally delayed.  
The twins’ mother, Theresia Vosseler, described in a subsequent interview with a German magazine being racked with guilt for seeking the separation surgery that left her sons so impaired she had to send them to live in an institution. 
In 1993, Vosseler told Freizeit Revue that she flew to Baltimore with “a healthy, happily babbling baby bundle and came back to Ravensburg with two lifeless, soundless, mentally and physically most severely damaged human bundles.” 
“I will never get over this,” said a bitter Vosseler. “Why did I have them separated? I will always feel guilty. . . I don’t believe in a good God anymore.” ...
Yes, the emphasis at the end is mine. Pretty profound: this "miracle" on which Carson has based his claims of his own glorification by God, by which he sees God as working through him, ended in disaster for the babies and faithlessness for their mother.

The article details several other procedures and outcomes and repeated assurances by Carson that God guides his hands. The same God that created the problems in the first place guides Carson's hands. And leads, in virtually all cases, to what most people would consider disastrous outcomes; and, in some cases, ethically questionable decisions to have proceeded at all.

What a guy, that God. Double whammy: conjoins the twins, sends Carson to make them worse. One must conclude that God was more interested in working the grift along with Carson, than in the lives of the kids he created. Maybe gets a cut of the royalties. How else to explain it?

Well, far be it from me to make this about God. The point, I think, is that it's yet another example of Ben Carson's self-delusion, of his certainty that he's God's chosen one, the belief in which justifies whatever he says, no matter how outrageous, no matter how devoid of understanding. And, in his professional career, despite the damaged children he left in his wake. It takes a special kind of mind to think that way.

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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tip 'O The Hat

If we have to be involved -- and, based on recent history, I'm not sure that we do or that it'll work out in our favor -- this is the way to do it, rather than with US troops doing the fighting.
SINJAR, Iraq (AP) — Kurdish Iraqi fighters, backed by the U.S.-led air campaign, launched an assault Thursday aiming to retake the strategic town of Sinjar, which the Islamic State group overran last year in an onslaught that caused the flight of tens of thousands of Yazidis and first prompted the U.S. to launch airstrikes against the militants...
Those people, and many more in the region, are the ones who have the most at stake; without their will and their troops, there's nothing we can do to change the course of history there. Well, that's not entirely true: as we've seen, we're quite capable of making things much, much worse, and of picking the wrong horses to ride. Ronald Reagan taught us that with the progenitors of al Qaeda, George Bush followed suit with his tragic stupidity in Iraq.

And now President Obama seems to be succumbing to the same concept; so far, at least, and as far as we know, it's only a handful of special forces. And maybe they can manage to help the Kurds, et al, without getting killed themselves. But sending in "just a few" is like telling her you'll only put in the tip... Someone's damn close to getting fked.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Whiners, In Three Flavors

Here's my latest newspaper column. It begins with a local issue, but it's a universal theme:

Here are some random thoughts. First: It’s not an infringement on your religious freedom if, as a tax-funded employee of a tax-funded school you can’t pray on the fifty-yard line of a tax-funded football field after a tax-funded football game. It would be, however, if the government were to tell you (or a Seahawk!) you couldn’t pray on your own time pretty much anywhere else. Why is that so hard? 
Initially I thought that football coach in Bremerton, humbly spiking himself in midfield because football is all about God, sounded like a decent if misguided guy. (He couldn’t wait till he got home? He needs other spectators besides God?) Now, as he’s made national headlines and all the Constitution-hating zealots in the country including members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus (!) are lining up behind him, and he’s promising to take this “all the way to the end,” I’m not so sure. He’s another Kim the Clerk: heroic martyrdom thrust upon him, reluctantly ready to ride it all the way to Fox “news.” 
Naturally, Satanists demanded equal time, and were predictably shouted down. Instead of parading outside the stadium, I wish they’d gone straight onto the field to do their ceremonial thing, because I’d like to know what would have happened. And what if it’d been Muslims? Do those who yelled at them sense the teeniest bit of hypocrisy? Of course not. To them this is a purely Christian nation. 
If you believe in religious freedom for all, and if you want public property to be a showplace for pious exhibitionism, you must do it impartially: be welcoming of prayers and displays by all flavors of faith, or of none. Enforcing that concept isn’t persecution; it’s what freedom from governmental preference demands, which is a problem for the fifty-seven-percent of today’s Republicans who want our country to become a Christian theocracy. Ted Cruz seems unhappy that non-believers are even allowed to vote. Be president? Unthinkable. When theocracy happens, who’ll decide which beliefs will remain acceptable? Pat Robertson? 
Since the argument won’t end until the Rapture, or the playoffs, let’s move on: How revelatory is it that all Republican candidates in the recent “debate” decided (correctly) that their voters would rather hear them attack the moderators than answer questions? I’m among those who found several of the questions the CNBC moderators asked to be embarrassing and inappropriately framed, opening themselves to justified criticism; but there were also many substantive (or, as the aggrieved call them, “gotcha”) questions. The candidates punted, lied, or simply dismissed facts that refuted their claims. 
Perpetual prevaricator Ben Carson characterizes questioning of his fabrications as “political correctness,” or smears by fearful secular progressives. Even his “business manager” admitted Carson lied about his connection to a bogus Bible-based supplement company. (Ironically, hawking phony cures is the best argument for Republican candidacy in his résumé.) Even Megyn Kelley mocked the candidates’ post-debate demands. Cruz got the biggest applause of the night when he bleated about unFoxorific questions, while dishonestly claiming only softballs were tossed to Democratic candidates. Previously puffing predictions of potently pounding Putin, they whined, wailed, and wilted before weightless words. Here, presumably, is how they’ll handle threats from actual enemies.  
Demonizing inquisitive media is indispensible to their game plan, because, as with all inconvenient truths, avoidance is easier. Good reporters, like expertise, are soft targets for hard cases. And it works: deep journalism is becoming scarce as ice in Greenland. 
Finally, though Ben Carson confuses its meaning, I do agree political correctness has gone amok, another trend that won’t change anytime soon. Along with uncritical acceptance of “alternative” medicine, it’s among several proclivities that I find discouraging at the edges of today’s liberalism, especially as it applies to the tender sensibilities of college students. Trigger warnings. Demanding uncontroversial speakers. And now, at U Dub, guidelines for inoffensive Halloween costumes. I believe in avoiding ethnic and racial slurs, and I try not to offend people (today’s mendacious Republican icons and their credulous supporters excepted, as public service). But if frangible college kids can’t handle discomforting ideas, they’ll never learn to distinguish fake “news” from reality. Then what?  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Most Successful Promotion In History

No, it's not a joke. Plus, now Donald Trump has jumped in with both neurons; upped the ante, even.

Yup. Not only did the evil plot work, it went back in time to do it.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Morality And Religion: Mutually Exclusive?

I've written here and elsewhere many times, many ways, that the trope that there's no morality without religion is bogus. That, in fact, doing "good" out of fear of eternal punishment and/or expectation of reward is inherently immoral. That doing "right" out of empathy, for no other reason than understanding that right is right, is true morality. So it's nice that there's a study (thanks for the heads-up Dougie) backing it up. Not that it's in any way unexpected:
Morality is often associated with religion, but new research reveals that children from religious households are actually less generous than kids from a secular background. 
This conclusion comes from a study of over 1000 children from around the world, published in the journal Current Biology. The project was led by Professor Jean Decety, a neuroscientist from the University of Chicago, who didn’t originally aim to compare moral behavior. “I was more interested in whether I would find differences in empathy or sharing depending on the culture,” he says. “It turned out to be a really interesting finding.” 
While previous research has examined generosity in adults, Decety’s work shows that upbringing shapes morality early in life. This includes altruism – actions that benefit a recipient at a cost to the donor. Children learn religious values and beliefs from their family and community, through rituals like going to church. If religion promotes morality, kids from religious households should have stronger altruistic tendencies...
It's an interesting study. As with all such experiments with human behavior, I'm sure criticisms can be made; and it's hard to say the extent to which giving away stickers (read the linked study) translates. Same with meting out punishment. Still, it's noteworthy that in the same situation with the same parameters, kids (lots of them) raised with religion and those without behaved in significantly different ways.

The linked article, which links to the study as well as several other worthwhile sources, also points out another obvious thing I've said many times in many arguments with religionists: there are strong evolutionary benefits to having empathy. You don't need to make up sky people to see it.

Not that it'll change minds.

[Image source]

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

David Brooks, Jeb(!), and Colon Health

My dad, or someone, used to tell this joke:

Three old guys are talking about the woes of ageing. One says how hard it is to pee; he stands there for a long time, dribbles, really annoying. Another says he's always constipated, takes forever to move his bowels. The third says, well, for me it's all like clockwork. Every morning around 7 am I have a nice full piss. 7:30 I have a big bowel movement. And around 8, I wake up.

David Brooks put me in mind of this when he gave some advice to Jeb(!) on talking TV Sunday:
If I were him I'd lead with his strengths. And just say, "I'm boring. I'm boring. Is our problem in Washington we don't have enough boringness? No. We've got too much craziness. And so I'm going to be a sedative. I'm going to be a laxative, I guess. You know, I'm going to calm you down.

It's not the dumbest thing Brooks has ever said (who can count them?), but it's right up there: drug us to sleep, then cause us to shit ourselves. Well, in his defense, it's a unique strategy, and it can't make Jeb(!)s campaign any worse.

[Image source]

Monday, November 2, 2015


Too good to make you click a link. But it's from here.

Important Distinction, If Useless

Ignorance vs anti-knowledge. They aren't the same, and the latter has become the central motivation of today's Republican party. This opinion piece says it well.
... Fifty years ago, if a person did not know who the prime minister of Great Britain was, what the conflict in Vietnam was about, or the barest rudiments of how a nuclear reaction worked, he would shrug his shoulders and move on. And if he didn’t bother to know those things, he was in all likelihood politically apathetic and confined his passionate arguing to topics like sports or the attributes of the opposite sex... 
... At present, however, a person can be blissfully ignorant of how to locate Kenya on a map, but know to a metaphysical certitude that Barack Obama was born there, because he learned it from Fox News. Likewise, he can be unable to differentiate a species from a phylum but be confident from viewing the 700 Club that evolution is “politically correct” hooey and that the earth is 6,000 years old. 
And he may never have read the Constitution and have no clue about the Commerce Clause, but believe with an angry righteousness that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. 
This brings us inevitably to celebrity presidential candidate Ben Carson. The man is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades...
The author goes on:
The current wave, which now threatens to swamp our political culture, began in a similar fashion with the rise to prominence in the 1970s of fundamentalists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. But to a far greater degree than previous outbreaks, fundamentalism has merged its personnel, its policies, its tactics and its fate with a major American political party, the Republicans... 
... Buttressing this merger is a vast support structure of media, foundations, pressure groups and even a thriving cottage industry of fake historians and phony scientists. From Fox News to the Discovery Institute (which exists solely to “disprove” evolution), and from the Heritage Foundation (which propagandizes that tax cuts increase revenue despite massive empirical evidence to the contrary) to bogus “historians” like David Barton (who confected a fraudulent biography of a piously devout Thomas Jefferson that had to be withdrawn by the publisher), the anti-knowledge crowd has created an immense ecosystem of political disinformation...
This is, of course, exactly what I've been saying, surely less well-articulated, for years. It defies understanding and, except for the fact that it's undeniably true, belief. A democratic republic can't long endure when one of its two political parties has turned entirely to promoting such anti-knowledge, such a concerted effort to denigrate expertise. It's a transparent admission that they can't win by appealing to an educated public; and it explains their commitment to degrading public education, among other things.

Sadly, no more than I, the author has no suggestions of what might lead to change; nor, like me, evinces any sense of hope that it ever will.

[Image source]

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