Is It Racist?

Is It Racist?

The Young Turks has introduced a new segment in their show, “Is It Racist?” And I think their premiere segment is great because it brings up a really important issue. Minnesota State Representative Pat Garofalo tweeted out the following:

And the question is, of course, “Is it racist?” This one isn’t even close: it’s racist. As Cenk says in the following video, “It’s a dog whistle I can hear.” Indeed it is!

Pat GarofaloGarofalo has defended his tweet by saying that he was not talking about blacks (that make three-quarters of the NBA), but rather the athletes who feel they are above the law, blah, blah, blah. That’s to be expected. That’s the point of a dog whistle: you can always say, “I didn’t mean that! You are the racist for thinking I did!” It’s just perfect for the hateful. It’s what allows Ann Coulter to say things designed to offend and then pretend to be offended when others don’t find her humorous.

What really bothered me was what Democratic Representative Dan Schoen said, “It was the wrong thing to tweet. Do I think Pat is a racist? No I don’t think that.” This is one of the problems with our modern thinking on racism. Schoen thinks that Garofalo isn’t a racist because he’s well spoken, wears a suit, and doesn’t use the N-word. But Garofalo not only is a racist—he’s the face of modern racism. His tweet is how its done by sophisticated racists.

See what the Turks have to say about it. It’s good and I look forward to more segments.

Mainstream Press Support Power Elite

Leopoldo LopezPeter Hart of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) wrote a great article, The Good Kind of Protesters—and the Bad Kind. It looked at the coverage of protest movements in Ukraine and Venezuela. And then compared it to coverage of Palestinian protest movements. Now you know that I am sympathetic to the current Venezuelan government. While they certainly could have done a better job, they’ve been infinitely better than the pro-corporate right wing movement that the United States government prefers.

But the point isn’t who is right or who is wrong. It is that the United States media might as well be controlled by the government. If the government is an ally of a country, then any protest movement against it is painted by our media as invalid. On the other hand, if our government considers a country an enemy, then any protest movement against it is portrayed as great, regardless of it nature. So in Palestine, peaceful protesters who get killed by Israeli forces just don’t matter. But in Venezuela, violent protesters are portrayed as though they were Thomas Paine himself.

Consider Leopoldo Lopez, the man who now seems to be the leader of the violent opposition. Based on his name being mentioned 77 times in diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks, he seems like a despot in waiting. What’s more, these recent protests seem more like an internal struggle in the opposition than they do anything that has to do with the current government. This seems to have been Lopez’s way to leap to the top of the movement. Yet look at how Karla Zabludovsky of Newsweek portrayed him in the article, Leopoldo Lopez Gives Venezuela the Image of a Revolutionary Who Has It All:

With twinkling chocolate-colored eyes and high cheekbones, Lopez seems to have it all: an attractive and supportive wife, two children who get along with each other and impossibly adorable Labrador puppies. He is charismatic, athletic and good-looking.

Personally, I think that if Ms Zabludovsky has a crush on Lopez, she should keep it to herself. But the truth is that this kind of reporting is standard. Palestinian Nonviolent ProtestThe US government is against the current democratically elected government in Venezuela, so all the good “independent” journalists in the United States are hot on the trail for any story that will push that narrative.

As for the reporting in Palestine, that’s more an issue of just not caring. There are important nonviolent protest movements going on in the occupied territory. But the only time they get any coverage in the mainstream press is when some clueless reporter hears of one and writes what has become a genre article, “Why don’t we see this more of this?” As Patrick O’Connor notes in the Electronic Intifada article, The invisibility of Palestinian Nonviolent Resistance in The New York Times:

The fact that thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of Israelis are together employing nonviolent tactics similar to those of the US civil rights movement and the South African anti-Apartheid movement would come as surprising and welcome news to most Americans. Americans are largely unaware of the struggling but vibrant grassroots nonviolent movement in Palestine, because the US corporate media prefers a simple, flawed story of Palestinian terrorist attacks and Israeli retaliation.

This is much bigger than these countries. Our media constantly push the narrative of the power elite. It has allowed our entire political system to move far to the right even while the people, if anything, have moved left. A critical media never would have allowed that. But since they’ve behaved as though everything is just fine—that whatever the millionaires and billionaires say speaks for the rest of us—the people do not realize just how out of kilter our government has become.

Urbain Le Verrier and Neptune

Urbain Le VerrierOn this day, there are so many people I could have chosen to write about. There is the least interesting of the Three Stooges. There are two men who have been highly effective at making the United States a far worse country. And there are lots of good film directors, writers, and composers. But in the end, the choice was easy.

On this day in 1811, the great mathematician Urbain Le Verrier was born. He’s my kind of guy because he made great discoveries in astronomy without ever having to leave him room. What’s more, unlike other great mathematicians, I completely understand his work because it is mostly just celestial mechanics. He is best known for having predicted that the planet Neptune existed based upon discrepancies in the orbit of Uranus. (Note: another great mathematician, John Couch Adams, did the same work at roughly the same time.)

Le Verrier was also the first person to note problems with the Newtonian calculation of the orbit of Mercury. It was thought that this might be due to another planet as was the case with Uranus. But the real reason for the discrepancies had to wait almost 50 years after Le Verrier’s death when Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity. But Le Verrier’s calculations were the basis of one of the first tests of the theory.

Here is Richard Feynman talking about both of Le Verrier’s discoveries:

Happy birthday Urbain Le Verrier!

Poultrygeist Is Perfect in Its Way

PoultrygeistThis morning, Andrea told me that she started to watch a movie but only made it three minutes before she turned it off—it was so bad. That peaked my interest. Andrea has reasonably good taste in films, but she’s also quick to judge and often bases her dislike on minor things. A single aspect of a film can ruin it for her. So I asked what the film was. It was Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. I told her that it sounded fantastic to me and she replied, “I know! That’s why I put it on!” Then she gave me a summary of the start of the film: young couple having sex in a graveyard; zombie hands coming out of the ground; one hand sticks a finger in the man’s anus; it is broken off. That was about all Andrea could take.

On Netflix, the film has a rating of 2.9 stars with a “best guess” of 2.9 stars for me. For Andrea, it gave the film a “best guess” of 1.0 stars. So Andrea’s rating made sense. But what are we to make of my rating being exactly the same as the average? In general, I figure I will like a film if the “best guess” for me is higher than the base, regardless of the rating. After watching the film, I can see why the rating was the same. I suspect that other film viewers who are like me are split on the film: some hated it and some loved it. Because I loved Poultrygeist and I also hated it. But that’s to be expected. It is from Troma Entertainment, the company that brought us such similarly great and repellent titles as The Toxic Avenger and Blood Junkie.

On the bad side, the film is disgusting. There is a whole lot of John Waters in this movie. A perfect example of this is where the morbidly obese Jared has gastrointestinal problems and so we see close-ups of his defecation numerous times. By the end of the scene, the entire bathroom is covered with feces. The film is filled with similar scenes although every other time it is vomit or, much more commonly, blood. It is also filled with a 13-year-old boy’s idea of what sex is all about and a similar idea of what is sexually funny like one character who has a mop handle shoved up his anus (I guess) and out the front of his body so he walks around for most of the film with a five foot long phallus in front of him.

Now that list isn’t that long, but it makes up 70% of the movie. Most of the second half of the film consists of showing various ways that blood and gore can be distributed on a film set. I’m not a big fan of this kind of art, but I was impressed with the creativity of the efforts. Think of all the ways that one could die gruesomely in a fast food restaurant and there is a good chance it is in this movie. And the special effects were quite impressive—undoubtedly taking up most of the $450,000 budget.

On the good side, the film is a blistering social satire. Let me lay out the basic plot: a fast food restaurant (American Chicken Bunker) has been built on a sacred Indian burial ground. The restaurant is owned by General Lee Roy. Get it? The “bunker” owned by the general?! It’s delicious. At one point, the General is forced to eat his own chicken which has been infected with the Indian chicken green bubbling sludge (or whatever). Afterwards, he says, “It’s fine! In fact, it’s delicious! I’m lovin’ it!” The last line, of course, is the McDonald’s slogan. The film is filled with such moments. Of course, after this scene, like pretty much every scene, the General ends up defecating an egg that turns into a chicken and… Actually, I forget what exactly happened to the General except that he died bloody.

The “bunker” was managed by Denny, sort of a black nationalist parody, but without any of the politics. His big scene is a parody of the Indianapolis speech from Jaws:

I saw a bad chicken once. When I was delivering chickens up in Indianapolis. A Japanese import slammed into us on I-90, Arbie. We was coming back from delivering some prime chicken. Grade “A” bird. Well, we boys was the bomb now. Eleven hundred feathers went out onto the road. Our tires went flat in 12 minutes. Didn’t see the first chicken for about half-hour. Roster: one-footer. You know, they say you call always tell the size of a cock by staring it down from its beak, all the way to its tail feathers. Nobody knew we was out on I-90 that night. No distress signal had been sent. Didn’t have cell phones back then, and well, I couldn’t afford a pager. When they got the signal, the chickens went cruising. And that was when me and Larry, that was the guy who was riding with me, we formed ourselves in a tight circle, and prayed the chickens didn’t see us. Sometime a chicken would go away. Some times it doesn’t. That’s the thing about a chicken, Arbie. It’s got dead eyes. Black, like a sex doll. Then there comes that terrible high pitched cluck…

And then a chicken bites Denny’s head off. The film’s like that: it has brilliant bits throughout it. And then there is a gore fest, because ultimately that’s what the film is all about. And actually, the gory scenes are the funniest things in the film. They go so far past the point of any real idea of gore to pure silliness, although I will admit, most people would not find this aspect of the film funny.

Oh! Did I mention it is a musical? Or at least the first half of the film is a musical. The second half of the film pretty much isn’t. At the very end, they throw in a song. But apparently, they didn’t want to interrupt the gorefest for a song. And that was probably a good call. The songs are actually rather sweet, if puerile in content like the rest of the film.

I always want to judge films on their own terms. And I don’t see how this film could be any better for what the filmmakers were trying to do. For me personally: I would rather watch something else. But the good in it made wading through the rest worth it. The filmmakers add a great deal of creativity and wit to a tired genre.

Woman Just Knows Obamacare Is Bad

Julie BoonstraMany years ago, I read about the events that led up to a terrible airline crash. The pilots had set their plane on automatic pilot so that they could work on a problem they were having with their landing lights—an important but non-critical issue. But something had gone wrong with the automatic pilot system and the plane slowly descended. When the plane was about 100 feet off the ground, the pilots noticed the problem. But they were stunned. They just couldn’t believe that they were actually so low to the ground. And so they did nothing for several seconds and the plane crashed killing hundreds.

I had that same feeling this morning reading about Julie Boonstra in The Detroit News, Dexter Cancer Patient Who Called Health Care “Unaffordable” Will Save More Than $1K. It is about a Michigan “information” ad from Americans for Prosperity that features Ms Boonstra complaining that Obamacare canceled her old policy and now she can’t afford health insurance. Following my rules in Obamacare Helps the Poor and Sick, you should already know that this story is nonsense. There will be losers in Obamacare, but they won’t be middle-aged cancer patients.

And sure enough, The Detroit News finds that the combined total of her new policy and the maximum amount of out-of-pocket expenses will be $1,248 less than just the premiums on here old policy. So she’s likely to save way more than the one thousand mentioned in the headline; that amount is a bare minimum. When the ad came out, most observers were skeptical and now we know for sure. Case closed.

But that’s not the interesting thing about this story. After Boonstra was told what the truth was, she said that it couldn’t be true, “I personally do not believe that.” And I’m sure that’s true: she really doesn’t believe it. After all, she’s doubtless been told over and over by Fox News and hate radio (Who else would get involved with Americans for Prosperity?) that Obamacare is terrible. Remember: all the Obamacare scare stories that got debunked were never debunked in conservative media. They were reported, and when they didn’t pan out, the stories were just dropped.

So Boonstra is just like those pilots: she is so committed to a particular belief that she can’t see reality. Of course, the pilots were in that state for a couple of seconds. Boonstra and the folks at Americans for Prosperity are now trying to massage the story. Now it isn’t that the new plan is unaffordable. It is that the out of pocket expenses may come all at once. A spokesman for the group said, “Before her plan was canceled by Obamacare, Julie knew what her monthly costs would be. Now those costs are unpredictable and the potential for spikes in any given month make them unaffordable…”

But that’s not the case at all! Boonstra’s premiums were constant—and twice what she used to pay. She still had out-of-pocket expenses that she admits to in the article. Based upon what her new insurer says, those drugs are included in her new plan. In fact, the new insurer seems to be working really hard to calm the situation down. I’m sure they get a lot of Julie Boonstras: people who are determined to be upset about their new plans regardless of the facts.

There is another correlation between Boonstra and those pilots. Their mistaken certainties aren’t just hurting themselves. An airplane full of people died because of the pilots’ mistake. And a whole country is getting a worse political system because Boonstra and so many more like her are determined to see Obamacare as a terrible thing—even as it is actually making their lives better.

H/T: Jonathan Chait