Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Loudest Name In Left-Wing Diatriabes (TM)

There, now it's official. I am The Loudest Name in Left-Wing Diatribes(TM), and no one can use that phrase to describe themselves without paying me a royalty fee. To be determined later. Like The Most Trusted Name In News (CNN) or Fair & Balanced (FOX), my tagline is just as valid.

Even if I'm lying.

Cable news is stupid. All of it. I don't care who we're talking about, but very, very few cable shows actually bother to analyze much of anything in depth. Even if they talk about it all day. I remember Walter Cronkite spending an entire hour laying out Watergate (of course, waiting until the Post had finally gotten all of its shots in) in excruciating detail. The kind of thing that would get turned off by a homeowner who was more interested in playing their new Wii than watching political news.

I know, I'm supposed to be better than that, but I'm just NOT.

The only cable network that's worth watching this stuff on is CSPAN, and somehow they manage to find the most boring events taking place in Washington. I need more angry questions from the folks on the (choose your favorite) Subcomittee.

And even though it was a fairly historic event, the big Health Care Debate between Republicans, Democrats and the President, managed to be so friggin' polite that there was just barely enough fire to keep me interested. One sound bite after another, and fortunately, a President who could at least counter some of the most egregiously wrong-headed claims with actual facts.

But how about a full and complete explanation of something? How about a long lecture, based entirely on fact, about any given topic? You've got time. Hell, you've got a twenty-four hour news cycle. Waste some of it on something other than Britney's bald head, or screaming Tea Partiers who not only can't spell, but who also can't explain exactly what it is they're upset about.

Who Pays For Climate Change Denial?

Well, besides us, especially the folks who used to live on Lohachara island in the Sundarbans. It's gone, and they all had to move off. All 11,000 of them.  Interestingly, this territory was in dispute between India and Bangladesh; I wonder who will claim it now?

And, of course, the lovely owners of Koch Industries. These two brothers have contributed more to the cause of denying global climate change is happening even than Exxon Mobil. The link is to a report about them by Greenpeace, and it's pretty impressive.

Two Brief Rants

Let's Have A Party

The Tea Party is generally at war with itself, but the members may not know it yet. Some of them are calling themselves strict Constitutionalists or Libertarians, and they simply want the two-party system to either go away or make way for more parties. I think they see the whole system as corrupted and unworkable, at least the way things are run now. They're not far wrong. However...

A large part of the "leadership" of the Tea Party is actually hard-core Conservative, self-proclaimed Christians (I'm not saying they're really Christians, that's just what they call themselves), who are hard-line immigrant haters, homophobes, and several of whom used to be part of the government they now claim to despise. Folks like Dick Armey, whose own marketing/lobbying firm is one of the groups that instigated the original Tea Party protests, caught a wave of anger in the populace and has ridden it to prominence. Or Michelle Bachmann, who talked about the Census being part of a conspiracy to round certain people into camps, until she found out that if people don't fill out the Census, her district might disappear, and she might be out of a job. Then - miraculously - the Census is just fine.

This is known as astroturf organizing - spend millions of corporate dollars and shape an easy-to-swallow message that will ultimately benefit the existing power structures. All while telling the folks they speak for "the little guy".

They talk about wanting to go back to "Constitutional" principles, but they claim that that would include prayer in public school, and even literacy tests for voting. Neither of those items were in the Constitution, but these folks claim to "know" the Founders' thinking.

Anyone who thinks they can mind-read the dead, yeah, that's who I'm going to follow...

Rove In Cuffs

One thing about Code Pink - they disapprove of the wars we're in, not the troops that are fighting them. The one thing that I keep coming back to: the difference between Iraq/Afghanistan and Vietnam is that back then the protesters went (mostly) after the troops coming home, as if being drafted was somehow their fault. We who are opposed to these wars are going after the architects, not the troops. If some of those troops commit crimes, then fine, punish them for their crimes, but I would also allow for mitigating circumstances, as well as incredibly unclear orders from the nut jobs at the top that started this whole mess.

I don't see the Tea Partiers getting angry with Bush for putting this country $4 trillion more in debt than when he started, nor leaving it with a $1.3 trillion deficit, nor for the millions of jobs lost. But yeah, let's take on Obama for trying (where no Republican has ever even bothered) to give more people access to health care.

Monday, March 22, 2010

It's Time to Beat the Reaper!!!*

*with apologies to the Firesign Theatre.

A little story that lets us all know that, given a chance to say "no" to killing someone, eighty percent of us will probably follow orders and kill someone anyway because someone in authority tells us to.

Ain't humanity grand?

A French TV show (leave it to the French) copied Stanley Milgram's experiments at Yale from the 60s in the guise of a reality TV show, wherein the participants were ordered to push a button, shocking the contestant in the booth when he or she got a question wrong. While the button-pusher couldn't see the contestant, they could certainly hear them. The shocks escalated in strength to a maximum of 460 volts. The poor contestant would scream louder and louder, until finally they stopped responding to the shocks, indicating they were either comatose or dead.

If this seems unbelievable, it's because it was faked, and no one actually died.

The button pushers didn't know that, however. As far as they knew, they were probably killing someone, but because they're on TV, and someone wearing a really nice suit says, go ahead, punish the person in the booth, they do it. Sixty-four out of eighty contestants kept going past the point of no return, including a holocaust survivor.

The reasoning behind all of this is that we are conditioned from birth to obey authority figures, no matter how wrong they may be. Some countries do it better than others. America may think that we're all wild-west, free-thinking, anti-authoritarian types who'd never fall for such a thing, but in reality, in the 60s at least, Milgram's experiments showed us to be at least as complacent as the French are now. Given the chance, most of us are capable of killing another human being, so long as we don't see it happening. We might not be able to shoot someone, but we can certainly ignore the pain of others, as long as we don't have to see it directly.

This is possibly why it's so easy for us as a nation to dimiss the suffering of people in Haiti or New Orleans, as long as the TV news doesn't show us the awfulness. We'll certainly contribute to a fund to help, and heck, we'll even have a bake sale, or something. But as long as no one shows us the consequences of inaction, we'll remain inactive. Plus, we all have our own little hells we live in that we've carefully built, year after year, brick by brick, that only give us a few hours a week to come down from the job, and the last thing we want to do is look at someone else who has it worse off than we do (unless it's a James Cameron movie).

So do a little something...

Stop Digging

So the Repugs and Tea Partiers and former Klansmen and Palinites and other forms of Conservative so-called life have lost the big battle (so far). Health Reform (CAPS indicate that it's the title, not the substance) is going to pass by the weekend. And they HATE that. They want it stopped. NOW. And no Goddamned n***er, f***ot, Nazi Socialist Kenyan is gonna do this to us. Them. Whoever.

Ms. Pelosi pointed out that much of what's in this bill was what the Repugs had proposed to counter Hillary's "socialist" ideas back in '93-'94. Pelosi didn't use the word Socialist, of course. Might have frightened the horses. This, of course, is why I'm not so fond of what little I have read about this particular bill. But still. It's something.

We're probably going to get whatever is in this bill (haven't read it, only intend to read the bits that Repugs object to, since they usually misinterpret the language) by Saturday. And the Repugs, in their desire to make everyone bow down to the twin gods of free enterprise and social Darwinism, have basically shot themselves in the feet, repeatedly, and with progressively larger and larger guns.

Right now, I think they're up to about a 60mm mortar. (That's about 2-1/2")

With every placard calling Obama a Kenyan, a socialist, communist, Nazi, etc., with the Hitler moustache, or the Joker makeup or whatever else they could come up with, and with every gun brought to a rally that had nothing to do with guns (along with the public death threats), the Tea Partiers essentially rewrote the political dialog in this country to be composed almost entirely of fear, rancor and spite. No one, least of all a black, Harvard-educated Constitutional lawyer is gonna be able to persuade them of anything factual. But mostly black. For facts, they turn to Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin, or Michelle Bachmann.

And all of that is too bad, because it might take a generation before they can calm down. During which, thanks to the level of anger generated by idiot talk show hosts, uninformed ex-Mayors of small Alaskan towns, and certifiably crazy Congresscritters, no one will be able to have a reasoned argument. It's become a nation of shouters against folks who know stuff. The shouters are going to buy more guns, fantasize about the coming jackboot through the door, and blame everyone in power for their ills, which might include being laid off from a factory job that had its workforce transferred to Kenya "because the labor's cheaper there" by the guy who funds the Repugs they love to support.

In some ways, this has been a blessing for Dems, since the Repugs are now fractured into the mildly reasonable and the completely nuts. And the completely nuts faction is bigger (or at least they get the most press).

Perhaps they will calm down sooner. I can only hope. There should always be a loyal opposition to whomever is in power. Tamping down the excesses of one party has always been the job of the opposing party, no matter who is running things. It's better to have two parties than one, that's for certain. By allowing themselves to be split into smaller and smaller factions, the Repugs may have sealed their own doom, and brought about that which they fear most: Democrats running the show for decades.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Isn't It Moronic?

Caution - Snark Ahead...

I feel happy, I feel {thunk}

Two stories are resonating with me, and the first one happened this morning on NPR. Lawrence Reynolds, an inmate on Ohio's Death Row, tried to kill himself less then a day before his scheduled execution, didn't succeed, and they had to wait until he was healthy (or at least conscious) before they could kill him.


They already postponed his execution once, as the previous drug cocktail was shown to leave the person a little too conscious that they were dying while they were dying. How you can tell this I have no idea - they hook up an EEG and watch as your brain waves go from active to really pissed off to just off?

So there's your dose of irony for the day. It's so nice that we're spreading freedom and the American Way around the globe, and this is but one example of American democracy, one we share with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Communist China.

As Texas Goes, So Goes The Nation - Right Off A F**KING Cliff

Texas is the largest market for school textbooks, so once the Texas State Board of Education decides what schoolbooks Texas schoolchildren should have, it pretty much sets in stone what schoolbook publishers can print, because doing different books for different states is expensive. And guess what - the Texas State Board of Education is stocked with a bunch of stupid f**ks that want to rewrite history in their own thought process.

Thomas Jefferson is apparently a little too liberal to be allowed in. He was the one advocating for no state-sponsored religion. As philosophers that one could say were the formative influences of the great American experiment, they are now going to put in St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and William Blackstone. I'm sure you've heard of the first two, but you may not know what they really think, and I'd only heard of Blackstone - I've no idea what he thinks at all. So let's look 'em up, shall we?

St. Thomas Aquinas
Basically, believed that heretics should be seperated from both the church (excommunication) and from their mortal bodies (execution). This would probably include most modern people. On the other hand, he argued against price-gouging, which would make him a lousy capitalist. A Catholic saint.

John Calvin
I read of Calvinistic tendencies in Sarah Vowell's wonderful book, The Wordy Shipmates, an epic essay on the thoughts, actions, and indiosyncracies of the Puritans who got here first-ish. One story she recounts is a woman so frazzled by her inability to discern whether or not she was a sinner, she killed all her children to be certain. Calvin was a great believer in maximizing self-control (he didn't think much of sex, apparently). And though he spoke well of Jews who happened to appear in the Bible, he didn't like any he'd met personally. At all. An anti-Catholic.

William Blackstone
A famous judge and jurist, who's influence ranges from Abraham Lincoln to Perry Mason, and is thought to be responsible for the phrase "Pursuit of Happiness". Jefferson didn't like him. To me that's almost enough to disqualify him. Another anti-Catholic.

Lots of other nonsense, such as emphasis on the Republican resurgence in politics during the 80s and 90s, but all mentions of the bad old days of the 60s would be relegated to being, well, the bad old days of the sixties. Any good public law that was passed at that time would be brought up only to show why it was a bad idea (Medicare, Affirmative Action, Title IX, etc.). How wonderful Joe McCarthy was. The deletion of words like "imperialism" and "capitalism" and the addition of "expansionism" and "free enterprise". Like, we "expanded right over all those Native Americans." I guess...

Remember Stephen Colbert's extraordinary speech at the Washington Correspondents' Dinner? Where he pointed out that reality has a well-known Liberal bias?

Interesting. The folks who are quite well known for their hatred of Communism are doing exactly what the Communists have been known for: rewriting history to favor your own political perspective. And you thought the Supreme Soviet was dead.

It's just moved to the Texas Board of Education.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Larger Pictures Ahead

I've been reading (horrors!) a lot in the press about the financial meltdown we're currently in the middle of (if you think it's over - gee, you're dumb), and a couple of different writers have gotten me with ideas that I think were in my brain, but hadn't found the right voice.

Still looking for it, but bear with me.

Joe Bageant, in his latest post playing on The Smirking Chimp (wonderful clearinghouse for all kinds of left-wing wackiness), talks about a particular fellow who runs a garage and has views on, well, pretty much everything. And if you want your car fixed, listen to him first.

But what Mr. Bageant is saying overall is what got me: we're not the economy. We may have been part of the economy at some point in our history (back when most people were farmers and the folks that supported farming), but now we're consumers. Very few of us are part of a manufacturing trade. Most of us are part of selling things to other people, or making decisions about how to sell things to other people, or tech-supporting people for the things we sold them, or serving food, or making the food. And I think I've been pushing this mantra for a while already, but he said it better. All we do now is service an economy that is in the hands of a very few people, and they're all just gambling. And they can afford for us to lose our homes.

The other article, by Cameron Salisbury, makes a different, yet somehow oddly similar point: we the people have no control of anything anymore. Not our own lives, not our jobs, and certainly not our politicians. Certainly, we can vote. The choices we are given are sold as totally different from one another, two vastly different viewpoints about the way things are, and the way they ought to be. And yet, we elect someone wholly new to an office that is mired in horrible sameness, and what do we get? A lot of the same. Not all, fortunately, but more same than different, and I remember voting for 100% opposite of what we had. At least, that's what I was told I was voting for.

One concept from the Salisbury post I thought could really work well is to decentralize government by moving all US government pols back to their home states, and make them use Go To Meeting (dot com) to have meetings and votes and perhaps we let them all hang out together whenever they're grilling someone in committees. Lobbyists would have a hell of a time trying to track them down (though, knowing the lobbying industy, I suspect we'd see a lot of job-combining - butler/health insurance lobbyist or chauffeur/defense industry shill - you get the idea).

But if your congresscritter is never home, why the hell not? If my congresscritter votes badly on something, I reserve the right to egg their house, TP their trees, and shaving cream their Caddy.

Then, of course, there's that whole social media thing. If lobbying companies had to use FaceBook to do their lobbying, it would all be out in the open, and if not, why not? What is Dick Durbin talking to that Northrop Grumman lobbyist about in their private chat room, anyway? Should we be worried about an Eric Massa problem, or a "let's bomb Iran" problem?

(and no, I don't know if Richard talks to NG a lot, I'm just throwing names in a blender here)

But wouldn't that make a certain amount of sense? Everything needs to be committed to (virtual) paper, and it can be available to anyone with an internet connection. Video conferencing would all be archived for anyone to retrieve at any time. How much would it cost to give every living human in the United States with the right to vote an internet connection and a Netbook or an iPad? We could also (heaven forfend) vote via these wonderful tools, so long as someone can make us secure against, say, Chinese Trojan Horses.

It's about time we gave ourselves a say in government and the economy. And the only way to do it is to vote every single one of them out, and replace them with people we can count on to change things...


never mind...

Friday, March 12, 2010



So. Health care reform. Or, more properly, health insurance reform.

It might pass. Ms. Pelosi is even threatening us with a Public Option (which Durbin says he'll whip if it's in - I think that's a good thing). With a Public Option, we might see changes in the health insurance industry. And it won't be let in later, either, if they don't do it now.

So, for now, what we have to look forward to is a new revitalized health insurance industry, with everyone on the rolls, paying whether they can afford to or not, into a system that may or may not be regulated. That may or may not be de-monopolized.



We don't know. Up or down vote maybe next week. At which time, I will cease to hold my breath (as I have been doing since the Clintons promised this back in 1993).

Air America is Dead (long live Air America)

I know, old news. However, I've decided to talk about their radio show hosts, past & present, because I feel like it, and because I have nothing useful to say about the topic above. I am only going to comment about hosts I've heard more than once. Bill Press - sorry, buddy, I've only listened to you once or twice, and that's because you're on late, and when I'm driving late, I usually have the iPod cranked up.

In order of time slots:

Stephanie Miller
Pros: Cute, funny, pretty well-informed about the topics of the day (though she fell for the "John Roberts Retiring" hoo-ha). With her two co-hosts Chris Lavoie and Jim Ward (voice actor extraordinaire), and with, nowadays, constant special guests, including Carlos Alazraqui, and Hal Sparks, as well as regular input from several folks working at Media Matters. Generally balanced and intelligent, though perhaps a little too happy clappy (as she puts it)
Cons: No longer doing Stand-Up News (or at least, not when I'm listening). Not enough fart jokes. Too many jokes about hot dogs and hallways (you figure it out).

Thom Hartman
Pros: Currently the smartest one of the bunch. Prior to Rachel Maddow defecting to the TV Machine, Thom and Rachel were running neck-and-neck for the smartest people on radio (sorry Rush). Thom brings on people who are guaranteed to get argumentative on his show, and he lets them speak their peace. No matter how dumb they might actually be.
Cons: Occasionally a little too lecture-y and dry. I like facts as much as the next guy, more, maybe, but sometimes, Thom, one needs a little zip with the brain dump.

Ed Schultz
Pros: Now also on the TV machine is a fellow from the American heartland. Ed lets people talk to him, he listens, and sometimes they agree, and sometimes they don't. I don't think you can ask for much more than that.
Cons: Occasionally a little too shouty for my tastes. If I want shouting, I can always head over to Randi Rhodes (more on her later).

Norman Goldman
Pros: Smart legal person who has occasionally talked up the legal issues when it comes to actions by both the previous adminisatraion, and the current one.
Cons: Very shouty. Gets all up in folks' grilles about their viewpoints on things. If a right-wing fool comes on, he calls them a right-wing fool, and all other kinds of bad names. Being insulting is not necessarily a debating point. Don't like it when Rush calls someone a pinhead, nor do I like it when you do (even if they deserve it).

who replaced

Ron Reagan
Pros: Again, a very smart individual with excellent credentials and a long history of commentary. A pretty respectful host to folks who called in.
Cons: Any and all stories got played on this segment. Please, can we stick to simple political info, and not stories about the balloon boy or other tabloid fodder?

who replaced

Rachel Maddow
Pros: Funny, smarter than heck, is the ghey, Rhodes scholar, former AIDS-in-prison protester from back in the 80s (totally imagine her listening to a variety of Grrlpower punk bands - which may be sterotyping, but I don't care). Knows political science like the back of her hand. Oh, and Kent Jones, for his innate ability to find joy in the sublimely silly stuff people do. Oh, and cocktail recipes!
Cons: no longer on the radio, and I don't get MSNBC. Occasional clips via the interwebs ain't enough.

Randi Rhodes
Pros: former Air Force lady, so she knows her stuff about the military. "BS News" is a great segment. Pretty darn smart.
Cons: too quick to shout callers down when they come up with a slightly different slant than she does on the topic she's discussing. Way too quick. And lots of yelling. Plus, "Bounce Yer Boobies" every stinkin' Friday? Just not that funny anymore.

Those are the ones I mostly listen to. When they're being annoying, I flip over to NPR. Oh, and AM radio has what, 10 minutes of programming per fifteen minutes of ads?


NYLefty has pointed out to me that several of these personalities were never actually part of the whole Air America thing, specifically Stephanie Miller, Ed Schultz, Norman Goldman, and Bill Press. If it offends them that I've included them in the AA roster, I apologize.

I should also point out, that, unless I've specified otherwise, all of these people are still on the radio, at least in my market. (AM radio voice) "Seattle's AM 1090!"

Stephanie 6-9 am
Thom 9-noon
Ed noon-3
Norman 3-6
Randi 6-9

After that, I leave it to others to fill in the blanks, as I neither know nor care.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

...Paved With Good Intentions

I own a Toyota Smugmobile. Also known as a Prius. Wikipedia defines the word "prius" as "the neuter nominative singular form of the adjective whose corresponding masculine and feminine nominative singular forms are prior". Prior meaning first, or before everything else. So I am first, but have no testicles.

In some ways it is kind of a girl car. Or, if you prefer, a nerd car. One could only hope for the HAL9000 red eyeball in the center of the dash for it to be wholly nerdly. Many many computers run this vehicle. And some of them don't always work correctly. Hence, the recall.

I am reminded of the nameless narrator (one hesitates to call him a "hero") of Chuck Palahniuk's novel Fight Club, a recall coordinator for a "major" car company, who explains the company's recall policy in this way: "A is the number of cars in the field, B is the frequency of failure, and C is the likely cost of each litigation brought against the company by survivors. A x B x C = X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one." I hope I haven't mangled the text too much, but that's the gist of it.

And this appears to have been the philosophy of Toyota.

For those of you living on the moon for the last six months, Toyota has had to recall a whole bunch of cars for electrical faults, causing the accelerator system of the vehicle to turn on and keep going, no matter what the driver does. This would be termed a "glitch" in the world of computer programming, but in the world of automobiles, it translates to the phrase "fatal car crash." Originally, Toyota tried to blame stuck acceleration systems on the floor mats being "too tall."

Too tall? You're kidding, right. If it's too tall for ten seconds, why isn't it too tall all the rest of the time. This was not a physical problem, and any idiot with a measuring tape could have told you that.

What drivers are experiencing is somewhat worse. The car goes over a particularly weird bump (like railroad tracks), the stabilization system takes over, and the person (being a person) puts on the brakes. This causes the accelerator to engage. In other cases, it's simply been the accelerator that's decided to engage, and no amount of braking will slow the car down.

Imagine someone driving the car, slamming on the brakes to no avail: "Stop! STOP! STOP!!!"

"I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that."

Toyota used to be much more proactive about this sort of thing, not relying on others to point out their mistakes. Japanese car companies in general are known for meticulous attention to detail, and for quality standards that far exceed what's required by law. I read an article about the opening of the first Honda plant in the United States, written by a line worker. In it, he described spending all day every day for the first two weeks, building bikes for the first six hours, then taking them apart for the last two hours, all in aid of figuring out the best way to run the line. This was considered the standard Japanese model for building cars and motorcycles. From what I've read about American car manufacturers, this is all done through computer modeling and giving the line workers a few days furlough, while management figures it out. Much more cost-effective, I'm sure, but I'll bet the Honda model works better.

Anyway, I keep bringing my car in for regular maintenance, and I ask about the recall. They keep telling me that Toyota will get in touch with me if my car is one of the cars affected. Great. I'll find out my cars is a potential deathtrap when they finally decide it's my turn to get it fixed.

And even then, is the fix working?

Computer systems are as imperfect as the human beings who program them. Cars have become more complicated than the moon landers. As we gradually accept computing systems in more and more spaces in our lives, I think it would be wise to emulate the Amish. Talk about it endlessly, examine it and re-examine it before tentatively sticking one's toe in the water, and take years and years to incorporate such systems into one's life. As opposed to the "isn't that cool?" mentality, adding functionality upon functionality without perhaps, sufficient concern about whether each new function doesn't cause something else to fail under the right circumstances.

Which is all a shame, because damn, I like my car.