Prophesy Prophecy

Islam ProfitI’ve had this photo on my wall since September. There are hundreds of other pictures with other Libyans holding up the exact same message. These people probably do not speak English, but they know what they want to say. I assume they are all copying the same text because of the repetition of the same grammar error: “Islam and profit.”

Seeing an English error like this is very sweet. It is only an ogre who can’t identify. English is a really annoying language! And homophones are the worst. “Profit” and “Prophet” have exactly the same pronunciation. If you only speak English (and don’t write it), there is absolutely no way you would know that these are anything but the same word. You might even speculate: was it once considered profitable to be a prophet?

There is another prophet-oriented problem in the English language that I dare say most Americans are unaware of. “Prophecy” is a noun meaning a prediction of what will happen in the future. It is pronounced the way you think it is: praw-fe-see. But there is another word: “prophesy.” It is a verb and it means to make a prophecy. But it is pronounced differently: praw-fe-sigh.

Why is the language this way? Who knows. I think as good a guess as any is that the English were dicks in more than one way. It was not enough to create a global empire, they had to push one of the most dysfunctional languages ever invented. Just to show you how totally ridiculous it is, the plural of “prophecy” is “prophecies” or “prophesies.” That’s right! Even if you get this distinction right, writers can still confuse you with the plural.

So now you know. I wish I had some good advice, as I normally do. (I enjoy simplifying the language when possible.) I’m afraid we will all have to learn the different spellings and pronunciations. But we can say one thing for sure: anyone who writes “prophesies” is either an ignorant fool or a total dick.

Barely Progressive

Gover Norquist Taxpayer Protection Pledge

This is a copy of Gover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge. I had never looked at it until today when it was mentioned on Up with Chris Hayes. Check out the text: this is all about income taxes.

The reason this is interesting is that poor people don’t pay much in the way of income taxes. Poor people pay lots of payroll taxes and lots of state and local taxes. What’s the difference? Well, federal income taxes are about the only taxes in our country that are progressive. State and local taxes are generally pretty flat and payroll taxes are extremely regressive. In total, the American tax system is barely progressive. Here is the data of how much each quintile pays in total taxes from the Center for Tax Justice. One thing you won’t see on this graph is that as you go up in the top quintile, your taxes go down. So the people in the top 1% pay less in taxes than the people in the top 10%. And it goes on like that, as we saw with Mitt Romney’s taxes during the campaign.

Total Taxes Paid by Income Quintile

What this all means is that the whole conservative movement’s obsession about federal income taxes just comes down to their hatred of the working classes. The federal level is the only place where we can make the tax system equitable, because it is too easy for the rich to move from state to state. Thus conservative attempts to enact a federal income flat tax is just an attempt to make the entire tax system regressive. And that brings us to Grover Norquist.

His tax pledge says nothing about state and local taxes. It says nothing about the terribly unfair payroll tax. In fact, during the Fiscal Cliff negotiations, he was fine with letting the payroll tax holiday end. He claimed that that was because it was intended to be a temporary tax cut. But so too were the Bush tax cuts. What’s more: look at the pledge. I think it says it all. The one place in the tax code that is progressive, Norquist wants to make less so. Look at it this way: if the federal income tax were abolished, the American tax system would be ridiculously regressive instead of just barely progressive.

I fear that most people don’t even know this. They think that the rich pay a great deal more taxes than the poor. They don’t. We need to start talking about it. We need to do something about this.

Wildebeest Road Crossing in Sweden

WildebeestThere’s a joke going around Sweden, “Why did the wildebeest cross the road? Because it tastes like chicken!” That joke kills me! But that is probably because I made it up. (I think I’m just high-larious.) You see, there is important wildebeest news coming out of Sweden. The management of the Parken Zoo in Eskiltuna (near Stockholm) is accused of barbecuing two wildebeests for a staff party. What does wildebeest taste like? The same as any animal that crosses the road.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s kind of the plot of Andrew Bergman’s The Freshman. The plot revolved around “the gourmet club,” where people paid to eat endangered species. “The komodo dragon should go for $350,000 a plate served off the bone with a cream basil sauce—Schlegel’s trademark.” Of course, in the film, it turns out to be a big scam. And it may be the same thing with the wildebeest as the Parken Zoo.

There is no doubt that the two wildebeests were killed. According to management, they were too aggressive, but the zoo did not have enough space to keep them separately. (Too bad we can’t do similarly with aggressive assholes in society.) The question is whether they slaughtered and cooked the animals. According to the article, “The zoo’s chief executive Torbjorn Bergvall denied the meat was used for the barbecue and said somebody was trying to create bad publicity for Parken.”

It wouldn’t be hard. The zoo has been embroiled in a fair amount of controversy. Last year, it was accused of taking money collected for saving endangered species and using it on salaries. That seems easy enough to believe; small zoos have lots of economic problems. (I base this on research from the great and under appreciated Fierce Creatures and We Bought a Zoo, which I haven’t seen.) But there seems to be a certain hatred of endangered species at Parken. They’ve also been accused of killing two endangered cougars, to make way for more flashy animals (like this toad). It was not reported whether they ate them, but eyewitnesses claim to have seen them crossing the road, if you know what I mean.

Actually, I don’t see the problem with eating the wildebeests. They weren’t pets, after all. Plus, these two were the wildebeest equivalent of Biff Tannen. Who better to eat? And a culture that feeds fellow mammals to reptilian “pets” has no room to complain. Plus, all of us will eventually be eaten by one or more other creatures. Or as they say in Sweden, we will all eventually cross the road.

Spreading the Quixotic Word

QuixoticIf you read this blog even causally, you know what a fan I am of Don Quixote. It is a delightful book that everyone should read. In a way, my writing about the book is an effort to share my joy about Cervantes’ crowning achievement. But there are other ways to do that.

Here’s one. I could go door to door every Saturday and talk to people. “Hi! I was wondering if you’ve read Don Quixote?” The middle aged woman stares at me blankly. “No? I’d like to read you a passage from Part 1, Chapter 7, The Second Sally. ‘At that instant Don Quixote began shouting…'”

I suspect if I did that people would either think that I was crazy or that I was involved in some kind of prank. They would just want to get rid of me. But it would be different if somehow they managed to see that I really do love that book and I really do want to share my love of it. In that case, they would think that I was just this rude guy who thinks that he has a right to bother other people who are otherwise enjoying their weekend.

But wait, there’s more! Suppose that I wasn’t just spreading the good word about what a great read Don Quixote is. Suppose I was selling a subscription service. Suppose I wanted to get them to come to Don Quixote appreciation meetings where they would be expected to pay dues! In that case, I think these front door confrontations might turn violent.

This is how I feel about the Jehovah’s Witnesses who come to my front door almost every Saturday: they are incredibly self-serving and rude. It is every bit as repugnant as the kids who come through the neighborhood selling magazines. Perhaps worse, because the kids at least admit to what they are doing.

What’s more, because I truly am interested in spiritual matters I find it annoying that I can’t discuss these issues with them. If you’ve ever talked to them, you know how it goes. Start talking to them about cosmology or theodicy and what you get back is some Bible verse. Truly, if you argue with them about how all of their beliefs depend upon the core belief that the Bible is actually the word of God, they have an answer. They will turn to John whatever and show you that the book says right there that it is the word of God. So any discussion with them is nothing more than the most aggravating tautology you will ever deal with.

I really don’t know what to do about these people. I don’t like to be rude to people, even when they are being rude to me. Perhaps the next time they come, I can bring a copy of Don Quixote to the door. And for only $12.95, it too can be theirs.

Republicans Fight to Kill Medicare

IPABDo you remember the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB)? It is what Sarah Palin famously called “death panels.” It is necessary for not only making more affordable Medicare and Medicaid, but all healthcare in the United States. Of course, conservatives hate it. They wouldn’t have hated it, had McCain been crowned president and the ACA been a Republican law. But it wasn’t and so the reason they claim to hate it is that it limits care. In fact, it does not. What’s more, these people who are oh so concerned that we won’t spend millions of dollars keeping brainless babies alive are not at all concerned about the 50 million Americans without health insurance.

The IPAB has come up recently because the House said it is going to stop the current law that states that the IPAB should be fast tracked. (Strangely, the vote was supposed to take place on Thursday, but I haven’t been able to find any information indicating that the vote took place.) What this means is that the Republicans are trying to kill healthcare cost containment. They claim that this is in the name of of providing “Freedom!” But of course, it is the opposite.

Ed Kilgore at the Political Animal blog write, House GOPers Fighting for Your Medicare. He notes what really should be the top story on all cable news shows: “Republicans are only interested in health care cost containment measures or ‘entitlement reform’ if it comes at the expense of beneficiaries.” This very nicely gets the the bottom of this issue.

Conservatives want to kill Medicare and Medicaid. Any proposal they make means to do that. When Romney promised to put $700 billion back into Medicare, he didn’t only do it to try to make Obama look bad. He also did it because it made the program less solvent. It is all part the “starve the beast” strategy of the Republicans. I really don’t think that you can understate just how evil the Republican Party is at its core. They are good at dressing up their ideology in pretty words like “liberty” and “strength.” But if they turned American into their ideal, it would be a dystopia that no Americans would recognize.