Republican’s Primary Constituency

Nothing Can Be DoneBernie Sanders offered up the following amendment to the new Senate budget: “This amendment would establish a deficit reduction reserve fund that would seek to ensure that large profitable corporations cannot use loopholes to entirely avoid income tax, and direct savings recovered from closing such loopholes to deficit reduction.”

This is to stop companies that make billions each year from managing to pay nothing in taxes. You know: companies like Exxon. But luckily for companies like Exxon, they have a whole political party looking out for their interests. Not a single Republican on the Budget Committee voted for this amendment. You know what they say: every Exxon penny is sacred; every Exxon penny is great; if an Exxon penny is taxed; God gets quite irate!

I keep being asked (Even by conservatives!) why the Republicans are doing this. “Surely they aren’t trying to assure that Exxon pays less in taxes than any worker anywhere in the country!” I don’t have a good answer. In general, I think it is as simple as this: the Republicans are just protecting their most important constituency. They protect their second most important constituency (religious fundamentalists) by appointing 12th century judges to the bench. This is one reason that Republicans in Congress are at sixes and sevens whenever there is a Democrat in the White House: half of their constituency goes un-served and thus they must be hyper-protective of their primary constituency.

Anyway, if you have any questions about Republican desire to compromise, you have it in this vote. Even small amounts of money taken from Exxon to go directly to deficit reduction is unacceptable.

Boehner Has Good Reasons for Snubbing Obama

John BoehnerThis is a follow-up to my article, Death Throes of the GOP. In that article, I discussed how Republicans have gone out of their way to snub President Obama and what that said about them being a revolutionary group. Well, we had another example of Republicans snubbing the president for no good reason.

Obama offered John Boehner the opportunity to go to Rome with Biden to be part of the official US delegation to the installation of Pope Francis. Boehner is a Catholic. But he had to turn down the president. He had good reasons, though. He has to be around to deal with the budget.

Oh yes! What would Congress do without his leadership? After all, he has to be around to not negotiate with the president. He has to be around to not compromise on new revenue. He has to be around to not prevent a government shutdown. Yes: all of Washington would be completely lost if John Boehner left for a couple of days.

Please someone: make this all stop!

Happy Birthday Albert Einstein

Albert EinsteinQuincy Jones is 80 today. Wolfgang Petersen, the director of Das Boot and other quite watchable films since, is 72. And Billy Crystal is 65, so he won’t be making anymore pictures. (I kid Billy Crystal!)

Horton Foote, who did such a great job with the screenplay to To Kill a Mockingbird, would have turned 97 today, but he died back in 2009 right before his 93rd birthday. And I just learned that Casey Jones was a real guy born this day back in 1863. Of course, he died young or else the Grateful Dead never would have done a song about him.

All these fine people fade to the back of my mind because 134 years ago, Albert Einstein was born. I’m the first to note Einstein’s ideas were in the air. If he hadn’t been born, other people would have come up with them. But that does show his brilliance: it would almost certainly have been “people” and not “person.” He is mostly known for five pieces of research, but in fact he did a lot more than that. Although really, it is general relativity that is most important. It completely changed our conception of space. I struggle with it to this day.

Last night, I was talking to a young college student about Einstein. He mentioned that special relativity didn’t make much sense. I told him about my trials as a young man trying to understand it. In the end, I came to this: it doesn’t make sense. It is about phenomena that are totally outside our experiences. You just have to accept it and then everything falls into place. But it won’t ever be like Newtonian gravity: you drop an apple and it falls.

Happy birthday you magnificent bastard, I read your books!

Collecting Pee for Fun and Profit

Kirk CousinsToday, The Post Game reported, Bizarre Location For NFLer’s Drug Test. It tells the story of Washington Redskins backup quarterback Kirk Cousins being drug tested during a visit to his grandmother. The article expresses some surprise at such behavior from the league, but is still supportive of it.

I’m not. I couldn’t give half a “fuck you” about the NFL. But I do care about worker rights. This kind of thing is pure bullshit. The NFL has much bigger problems than its players using steroids.

In general, I don’t understand the big deal about steroid use. As a society, we have decided that our sports are going to require people who are very tall, heavy, and fast. What’s more, we’ve elevated these freakish pituitary cases to the status of hero. Is it any wonder that many of those with normal bodies would try to compensate with drugs?

Our concern should be for the high school and college kids that get caught up in this madness: both the hero worship and the steroid use. I don’t care what the professionals do. But even for those that do think it is important to keep steroids out of professional sports: do you really think that an employer has the right to invade an employee’s privacy when they are at home, much less when they are visiting a grandparent?

Bqhatevwr! But mark my words: future generations will look back at the late 20th century American obsession with watching people urinate and think there was something fundamentally wrong with our society. But test on! Soon testing urine for drugs may be our only profitable industry.

California Condors Love Puppets

California CondorsPuppets make everything better—even in science! At the San Diego Zoo’s program to repopulate the California Condor, they are using a puppet to rear the young ones. Why? Because everyone loves puppets! Actually, no. They don’t want the little condors imprinting humans as mothers. This will allow the condors to grow up and go out into the world and do what they were meant to: eat rotting flesh.

That’s something I didn’t know. Growing up in California and hearing about the near extinction of the condor, I always thought they were some beautiful big bird like a crane. Alas, no. They are a kind of vulture. And I know: every animal has its purpose. We are all one in the ecosystem. And I’m very fond of the vulture’s approach to survival. There’s always someone dying. And as The Onion recently asked, Wait, Why Can’t We Eat Other People Again? I mean, other than the fact that it’s kind of gamy.

But one way we certainly are all alike is in our fondness for puppets. Just watch this young condor. Mama!

Image is a low-resolution detail of a photo by Bob Grieser.

Does Dislike of Curly Fries Make Me an Idiot?

Curly FriesAccording to The Young Turks (see the video below), a group of scientists looked at a large group of users’ Facebook behavior to determine what it said about them. This wasn’t just obvious stuff like who their friends were. They specifically looked at their “likes.” For example, suppose someone posted, “I just had a great burger at Jack Rabbit Slim’s.” If another person liked that comment, the scientists would assume that the person liked hamburgers. Or something.

The amazing thing is that they were able to say a whole lot about people based upon their likes: race, sex, sexual orientation. Also surprising: they were significantly better at determining race than sex. But another thing they calculated was whether the person had a high IQ. Being the intellectual snob that I am, I was very interested in this.

The three “likes” associated with high IQ were: thunderstorms, science, and… Curly fries? I can see science: it does tend to appeal to smart people. And I can kind of see thunderstorms for two reasons. First, I like storms of all kinds so it must be something smart people like. Second, thunderstorms are associated with bad omens and such—at least if you’re a fool. But curly fries bothers me.

To begin with, I don’t like curly fries. While my intellectual abilities have taken a beating these last couple of decades, I’m sure I’m in the upper half of Facebook users in terms of intelligence. Proof: I am not a Facebook user. QED. Another issue is that curly fries are not a good invention. They are more likely to be unevenly cooked. Consecutive rings are usually stuck together. Extra grease collects in the space between rings. But these are minor issues. Curly fries are very often seasoned! Who needs seasoning when you have potatoes cooked in oil?!

Anyway, if hating curly fries is dumb, I don’t wanna be smart.

Obama IS the Compromise

Paul Ryan - Eddie MunsterThis morning, Jonathan Chait wrote that, Why Obama and Paul Ryan Will Never, Ever Agree. Basically, he claims that with the budget, the two sides are trying to solve different problems. I think it is all rather too complicated. He claims that Obama wants to do three things with the budget: (1) prevent retirement spending from crowding out other government spending; (2) delay cuts as much as possible until the economy is doing better; and (3) reduce the debt by reducing income inequality. This is not what Ryan wants out of the budget.

According to Chait, Ryan wants: (1) reduce all government spending; (2) make the budget cuts now because the deficit is suddenly a big urgent problem; and (3) increase income inequality to get money away from the takers and back to makers. I don’t particularly accept that this is the main dynamic. But even if it is, there is a middle ground.

I often wonder about my thinking regarding people like Paul Ryan. Can they really be as cynical as I think? Well: yes. In general, you can’t go wrong thinking that people are primarily motivated by making their own lives as comfortable as possible. The main thing with liberals (and even moderates like Obama) is that they retain some notion of social responsibility. They want to do well for themselves, their friends, and their “tribe” (for pretty much all people in power: their fellow rich people). But they don’t want to do it at the direct expense of the weaker members of society. For one thing: the guilt would be a real buzz kill.

For people like Paul Ryan, hurting the weak is part of the thrill. Despite what he claims, Christianity seems to have had no effect on Ryan’s thinking, but Ayn Rand certainly has. And the one thing that Rand hammers on more than anything else it is that altruism does not exist. (This is patently false, but what else is new?) What’s more, she teaches that altruism is wrong. (It is strange that she teaches that altruism is wrong when she claims it doesn’t even exist.) So Paul Ryan thinks forcing the weak to pull themselves up is the right thing to do.

But Chait is still wrong about the impasse and we can see this by looking at Obama’s position. Ryan wants to enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor. Obama wants to shore up the budget at the expense of both the poor (a lot) and the wealthy (a little). The opposite of Ryan would be someone who wants to enrich the poor at the expense of the wealthy. So on this continuum, Obama is already way more than half way from the liberal position to the Ryan position.

So it is true that Obama and Ryan will never agree. But it isn’t because there is no center point. Obama has moved more and more toward Ryan. The only reason there is no compromise point is that Ryan and his conservative allies won’t compromise. And why should they? Through their intransigence, they push the debate further and further to the right.

As I wrote before, there are some thing that should not be open to compromise. Unfortunately, it seems it is only ever the conservatives who believe that:

It works like this. The Nazi Party wants to kill all Jews; the Social Democrats want to kill none. They argue. The Nazi Party wants to kill all Jews; the Social Democrats want to kill 10%. They argue. The Nazi Party wants to kill all Jews; the Social Democrats want to kill 25%. The media are exasperated, “Why can’t the Nazis and Social Democrats agree to compromise?!”

This is effectively what Chait is saying by not acknowledging that Obama is the compromise.