Obama Probably Not Into Black Flag

Obama Black Fag Racist Homophobia PhotoshopAs I was preparing my article, Religious Right: Racism Not Abortion, I did a Google image search for “Now Accepting Negroes!” I didn’t find anything I could use based upon that, so I just put the phrase across the “Bob Jones University” sign. But it did bring me to the image on the left. Well, to be accurate, I cropped the image. Now, I’m the first to admit, I’m not very observant. I didn’t notice the rainbow bars and I misread it as saying, “Black Flag.” I can be forgiven, I think: it uses the same font.

I was so excited. I’ve always thought of Obama as kind of an uninteresting guy. Sure: smart and capable and cool in that laid-back way—but not the kind of guy who would be into Black Flag. So I thought, “I’ve got to find out if this is just a photoshop job.” Because it would be totally awesome. Black Flag was one of the great bands. I’m a huge fan. Obama’s coolness factor would go through the roof as far as I was concerned.

So I clicked over to the site, which is kind of like accidentally clicking onto a scat porn site. I should have known better, the page is titled, “Most Negroes Don’t Accept Homos!” But I was too excited. And that’s when I saw that the shirt actually said “Black FAG” and not “Black FLAG.” The article is kind of serious in its way, it has what looks like a quote from a serious journal that shows that there is more homophobia in the black community, although there are reasons to question this conclusion.

But the article itself is written in a very tired style of the right wing nutjob. It starts:

The Marxist Muslim usurper in the White House now pretends that the great civil rights struggle is make gays, and the alphabet soup of people identified by initials for perversions, to be recognized as fully equal.


But it did give me a thrill for a moment. So I’m grateful to the hateful bigot for that. But this one goes out to our president who may not be fully as cool as he could be, but he is probably as cool as America could handle:

George Tiller and Late Term Abortions

George TillerIt’s been five years since Dr George Tiller was murdered. In one way, he is just another victim of senseless violence. In another, he a symbol for something very big: the abortion debate. It’s strange to think about it. I was about to write, “Tiller was murdered because he performed late term abortions.” But would any conservative be all right with me saying, “America was attacked on 9/11 because we set up military bases in Saudi Arabia”? I don’t think so. But both are the proximate causes. And I’m glad to bring up Dr Tiller, who was a hero. But not for that reason. We need to talk about late term abortions.

I admit it: I mostly talk about zygotes, because the social conservatives are so extreme that they even want to ban birth control. But late term abortions are really the crux of the matter. If you listened to Bill O’Reilly (And other than being a complete idiot, why would you?) you would think that all an eight month pregnant woman had to do was show up to his clinic, fork over five grand and he’d cut that viable baby right out of her. Of course, that wasn’t true. And I’m a big believer in the First Amendment, but O’Reilly is culpable in the murder of Dr Tiller. And I hope that O’Reilly’s Catholic religion is true so that he burns in hell for eternity. But I don’t want to get sidetracked.

Late term abortions are not done for the convenience of the mother. They are done when the fetus is not viable and when it threatens the life of the mother. That’s how you can tell that libertarians are part of the conservative movement: everything is simple to them. To the social conservatives (which is pretty much all of them including most who call themselves libertarian), the fetus has full rights as a citizen. They don’t even think about the competing interests of the life of a clearly viable mother and what is often a dead fetus.

A year and a half ago, I wrote about Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist living in Ireland. She was pregnant with a non-viable fetus. And she was dying as a result of it—it was poisoning her blood. But abortion is illegal in Ireland. She had miscarried, yet the heart of the fetus was still beating. So no doctors would remove the fetus. And she died of blood poisoning. Since then, some minor reforms have been passed in Ireland, but I have a better idea: don’t be a woman in Ireland. Or increasingly, America.

But that’s what late term abortions are about. They aren’t about girls who just keep putting off that abortion they are so looking forward to. They are medical problems. When the children are viable, they are viable for short periods of time. Wanna know how long a baby born without a brain can live? Up to two and a half years, although usually they are stillborn or live at most a day or two. I mean: they don’t have brains. But there are lots of other perfectly good reasons for late term abortions. But the monsters in the anti-choice movement don’t think about actual people; they are focused on a higher ideal—higher than the pain and suffering of actual human beings.

So that’s what George Tiller was doing. He had a medical practice that was even more heartbreaking than those of pediatric oncologists. He was literally doing God’s work, trying to minimize the damage done by bad genetic and environmental luck. And he was murder because of it. And many people were happy about it, because of their ignorant “ideals.” Because there can’t be enough Savita Halappanavars who die unnecessarily in excruciating pain in the name of what some cleric somewhere decided was what God wanted.


Yes, I am very angry. But in truth, I would never consign a soul to the fires of hell for eternity. Not Hitler. Not Stalin. Not Pol Pot. Not even Bill O’Reilly.

Real Libertarians Should Be Democrats

Libertarian PartyDavid Atkins is now doing some of the weekend blogging over at Political Animal, and he brought my attention to a new Gallup Poll, Republicans Are Getting Left Behind, and “Independents” Won’t Save Them. The scare quotes around the word “independents” are there because as we should all know at this point, independents aren’t the lauded “swing” or “moderate” voters. Almost all of them are as reliably partisan as those who call themselves Democrat or Republican. For decades, my father has called himself an independent, but he’s as reliably a Republican voter as you are going to find.

My position on the issue is that calling oneself an independent is pretentious. We are all independent. I’ve never met a Democrat who agreed with the Democrats on every single issue. And that’s just as true for the Republicans. In fact, it’s probably more true of Republicans because I think the party is more out of step with its voters than the Democrats. Also, I think that calling oneself an independent is a cop-out. I think the same thing of the little parties. For years, I was a member of the Libertarian Party. But if I felt the same way ideologically today, I would not be a Libertarian; I would be a Democrat.

Now that might shock a lot of people. But in my experience, the Democratic Party is simply a lot better on the liberty issues that I care (and cared) about. The Republican Party is fundamentally an authoritarian group that is very big on foreign wars, tough police action, limiting women’s reproductive choices, and on and on. The one libertarian area where the Republicans ought to be good is taxes. And even on that, they are terrible. As I wrote last weekend, Reagan’s Legacy: Tax Cuts for Rich, Tax Hikes for the Rest. After eight years of his presidency, federal taxes on the rich went way down, but they went up on the average worker.

But my experiences in the Libertarian Party were that most of the people were disgruntled Republicans. They were not disgruntled because Reagan had raised their taxes, however. They had various reasons. But by and large, they didn’t even know Reagan had raised their taxes. In the Libertarian Party, Reagan had a fairly reasonable reputation. And if those people ever had to choose between one of the two candidates who might actually win, my guess was that 95% of them would vote Republican.

Why? What the Republican Party seems to believe is that mostly everyone in the middle is okay. The people at the bottom have far too much freedom. And the people at the top, well they might as well be in chains for all the freedom they have. As a libertarian, I never understood that. The Republican Party is fundamentally an outgrowth of John Adams and his royalist tendencies. (I don’t want to say Federalists, because now most of the Republicans have turned against the federal government for reasons I’ve written about elsewhere.) So for people who really want everyone to be as free as possible, the Republican Party is the worst party by far.

That small 5% group of what I would call the liberal libertarians: about 99% of them were there because they wanted drugs. And if you look around the nation, it has been the Democratic Party that has made progress on cannabis legalization, against the strongest of resistance from the Republicans. But it isn’t just that. If you look at the Gallup Poll, you will see where the Republican Party comes down on all kinds of freedom issues that the government really has no interest in. Only 60% of Republicans think divorce is morally acceptable. Only 54% think consenting but unmarried adults should be be able to have sex. Only 23% think that teenagers should be able to have sex with each other. And Republicans claim that they are the ones who see reality!

The fact is that when it comes to maximizing the liberty of everyday men and women, the Democrats are much closer to what I think of as libertarianism. But I’m fine with those pretenders—the neo-confederates who are the vast majority of so called libertarians—voting for the Republicans. The fight is inside the two party system. The only thing that third parties have ever done is grow big enough to be consumed by one of the big parties. And the Libertarian Party fits in really well with the Republican Party. That’s because the libertarians are very much like the conservative Christians. The Christian can tell you all kinds of things that he believes in, but the only thing he gets really worked up about is abortion (and homosexuality to a lesser extent). The libertarian can tell you all kinds of things that he believes in, but the only thing he gets really worked up about is marginal tax rates (and foreign wars to a lesser extent—maybe).

So admit the truth! You like Rand Paul. He’s a neo-confederate. He’s not for drug legalization. He’s anti-choice. But he does want to lower the top income tax rate. He does want to abolish corporate taxes. He does want to eliminate Social Security (whether he admits it or not). There’s your nationally viable libertarian presidential candidate. And if he gets the Republican nomination, almost all of you so called libertarians will vote for him. And you know what you’ll get if he wins? Just another conservative who limits the freedom of everyone except the very rich.

I think there is much good in libertarianism in its focus on freedom. I care about freedom. But I define it widely. It isn’t simply “the freedom of the richest people to keep as much money as they possibly can.” And since I care about freedom, I’m a Democrat. Of course, there are other things I care about like justice. But that also makes me a Democrat. The Democratic Party is not anywhere close to ideal. But there’s hope. Let the Republicans run wild and you’ve got fascism in America. And that ought to tell you quite a lot about American “libertarianism.”

Religious Right: Racism Not Abortion

Bob Jones University

A funny thing happened on the way to the Religious Right. And it explains why black churches and the Catholic Church are generally not part of the Religious Right. If you look at the movement now, it is all about abortion—dating back to the Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade. And indeed, the Religious Right did rise up about that time, but that was not the issue. This is all explained in a great Politico article by historian Randall Balmer, The Real Origins of the Religious Right. The short answer is in his subtitle, “They’ll tell you it was abortion. Sorry, the historical record’s clear: it was segregation.”

He points out that the vast majority of evangelicals were indifferent to Roe v Wade. They thought it was a “Catholic issue.” And indeed, they were right. I’ve always been kind of surprised that protestants picked up on this very Catholic issue. When I was a kid, protestants thought of Catholics the way they thought of Mormons—hardly Christians at all. Balmer points out that up through 1976—three years after Roe—the Southern Baptist Convention held for, “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” Remarkable, huh?

But if not Roe, then what? Well, it was a Supreme Court case: Green v Connally. This was a case that challenged the tax-exempt status of racially segregated schools. A lot of these were good old fashioned evangelical schools and they did not like this at all. The IRS contacted Bob Jones University to find out if it was segregated, and the response was, “Hell yes!” Well, actually, it was more along the lines of: we do not admit blacks. Bob Jones argued that the Bible dictated segregation, Genesis 9:27, “May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.” (Actually, that also justifies slavery, but what are you gonna do: it’s the literal word of God!)

Jerry Falwell and other leaders were smarter and tried to make it about “religious liberty.” If that sounds familiar, it should. Conservative Christians are today using the “religious liberty” canard to stop the working poor from getting healthcare. What charmers the Religious Right are. Am I right?! Meanwhile, Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Institute, had spent decades trying to get the evangelicals on the side of conservatism. And nothing seemed to work: “pornography, prayer in schools, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, even abortion.” Nothing worked until: “Oh my God! The darkies are coming for our women folk!” Or something like that.

Now this is all about the leadership of the evangelical movement. They knew they couldn’t get the base all riled up about segregation. So they grabbed onto the abortion issue and the rest is history. But this goes right along with what I have long said about Christian opposition to abortion. The Catholics have very abstract philosophical arguments about this issue that no one is interested in. The evangelicals really have no reason for being against early term abortions at the very least. But the followers of these religions are against abortion for the reason the Merovingian pointed out in The Matrix Reloaded: because they were told to.

So what we have is a movement that is mad as hell about abortion—so mad, in fact, that they murder people. But the reason these people are mad is because their leaders didn’t like the government telling them that racial bigotry wasn’t acceptable—or at least was unacceptable enough that the government was going to force them to pay taxes. And that rather sums up the conservative movement generally: rich white men who don’t want any of there money taken away to help poor black children.


Balmer ends with a post script that I add only because of what it says about Ronald Reagan:

The Bob Jones University case merits a postscript. When the school’s appeal finally reached the Supreme Court in 1982, the Reagan administration announced that it planned to argue in defense of Bob Jones University and its racial policies. A public outcry forced the administration to reconsider; Reagan backpedaled by saying that the legislature should determine such matters, not the courts. The Supreme Court’s decision in the case, handed down on May 24, 1983, ruled against Bob Jones University in an 8-to-1 decision. Three years later Reagan elevated the sole dissenter, William Rehnquist, to chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Ronald Reagan was the worst kind of racist. And special note: there are now at least three justices on the Supreme Court who are more conservative than Rehnquist.

Darest Thou Now, Walt Whitman

Walt WhitmanOn this day in 1819, the poet Walt Whitman was born. My preference for poetry tends to be densely packed stuff that really packs a punch, like Mary Barnard’s translation of Sappho, “Pain penetrates / Me drop / by drop.” So I’ve never been all that fond of Whitman’s breezy free verse. But I like it’s content. I like his mysticism.

There are two ideas of the soul. There is what I call the Greek idea: the essence of who I am. Even that one I’m not that clear on, but it is a useful conceit, given that I think we are all just rather over-complicated machines that fool ourselves into thinking (!) we are doing something other than just processing chemical and electrical signals. The second kind of soul is what I call the Christian idea (although most religions have this): some essential thing that dwells within me. It is this second kind of soul that causes me to self-identify as an atheist.

I am, at base, a mystic. But I am humble and I do not think that the Great Paradox involves me to any greater an extent than, say, one of the cells in my thigh. This is probably why I like Emily Dickinson more than Whitman because I think she understood: I am the body electric, I do not sing it. Still, Whitman’s dualistic idea of the soul, more indicative of deism, is fascinating and rewarding. It is also a hell of a lot less morbid than Dickinson. (And me!)

Here is a beautiful one for Whitman’s 195th birthday, “Darest Thou Now, O Soul”:

Darest thou now, O Soul,
Walk out with me toward the Unknown Region,
Where neither ground is for the feet, nor any path to follow?

No map, there, nor guide,
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.

I know it not, O Soul;
Nor dost thou—all is a blank before us;
All waits, undream’d of, in that region—that inaccessible land.

Till, when the ties loosen,
All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,
Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds, bound us.

Then we burst forth—we float,
In Time and Space, O Soul—prepared for them;
Equal, equipt at last—(O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil, O Soul.

Happy birthday Walt Whitman!

Thomas Piketty Devours Chris Giles

Thomas Piketty - LionYou may remember a week ago, I wrote, Capital in the 21st Century Not Refuted. It was in regard to an article by Chris Giles at the Financial Times, Data problems with Capital in the 21st Century. My article was mostly about what the political consequences of this would be. Regardless of what Giles found or how Piketty would respond, conservatives would use the initial Giles article to dismiss income inequality. As I concluded: “I imagine watching This Week in two years. Paul Krugman will be on it and say, ‘Thomas Piketty showed that income inequality is getting worse.’ And Peggy Noonan will scoff, ‘Oh, the Financial Times proved that was rubbish years ago!’ And George Stephanopoulos will just shrug. ‘Who can say?'”

We will see if this comes to pass, because Piketty was pretty quick with his response—a 10 page paper, Technical appendix of the book Capital in the twenty-first century Appendix to chapter 10. Inequality of Capital Ownership; Addendum: Response to FT (pdf). If you are technically minded, it is quite a fun read. It starts off with Piketty gushing about how grateful he is that the Financial Times is checking his work and that this is exactly why he made all of the data in the book available on spreadsheet. It comes off very much like a lion talking to a lamb about how happy he is that he decided to join him for dinner.

Chris Giles - LambPiketty then goes on to talk about the data on wealth inequality: it is far worse than the data on income inequality. Implied: you did read the book, didn’t you? But they can agree on that, and Piketty talks about how these data will be getting better in the future in part because of his own and his colleagues’ work. At this point, the lion has not touched the lamb; it is smiling with just a hint of disapproval.

But Piketty continues to take it slow. He then goes in and discusses each of the four countries that he studied: Sweden, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom. He deals with each thusly:

I see we agree on the overall numbers. Excellent! But you note some minor errors in the years? Yes, I explained this all in the book and even more in the appendix, but I should have been more clear. You see, you can’t treat wealth estimates on a yearly basis because there aren’t enough data and the data are too variable to deal with year by year. But thank you so much for pointing out this issue that I clearly didn’t highlight enough in the book. (The lion smiles broadly.)
I see we agree on the overall numbers. Excellent! But you make much about a single data point regarding how I correct for mortality. This is all clearly explained in the spreadsheets and the papers I put online for you to use. “This looks a little bit like criticism for the sake of criticism.” (The lion squints at the lamb and looks disapprovingly.)
United States
I see we agree on the overall numbers except in the most recent period. Yes, this is sad. The data from the United States is not as good as it is for France. This was well documented in the book. I made the best estimates that I could based upon the data. You have made different estimates. But it is interesting that the most recent and reliable estimates by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman agree more with my initial uncertain estimates. Their estimates actually find a larger rise in wealth than I did. This is now the state of the art and we should use this new data, but it does make your estimates look even more pathetic than they did based simply on my own careful work. (The lion licks its lips.)
United Kingdom
Ah, here we really do see a very big difference! You see wealth inequality actually decreasing in the recent decades. I cannot say that my methodology is correct. But you have broken up the data and used what I consider the more accurate (and higher) estate tax data in the early years and then shift to survey data that are known to under report total wealth. And those data are from a single year: 2010. Why would you do that other than to simply misrepresent the data? (The lion opens wide.)

That’s basically it. In one sentence: Chris Giles manipulated the US and UK data in such a way to prove what he wanted to prove and his methodology is worse than unwarranted—it is disingenuous. Piketty scored a knockout. Or if you prefer: the lion swallowed the lamb whole.

In fact, the case against Giles and the Financial Times and their over-hyping of the errors they found make me think that this may not give conservatives the cover they so desperately desire. One can hope.

Update (30 May 2014 8:23 pm)

I can’t seem to get enough of this. I’m reading what everyone else is writing about it. I was particularly struck with what RA at The Economist had to say, “One suspects that Mr Giles will not be satisfied by the response, and the discussion is likely to continue.” If this is true, it means that Giles is simply an ideologue who is totally resistant to argument and data. The best he can reasonably do is move the argument to minor points. Because his major point was totally destroyed. As Piketty noted:

What is troubling about the FT methodological choices is that they use the estimates based upon estate tax statistics for the older decades (until the 1980s), and then they shift to the survey based estimates for the more recent period. This is problematic because we know that in every country wealth surveys tend to underestimate top wealth shares as compared to estimates based upon administrative fiscal data. Therefore such a methodological choice is bound to bias the results in the direction of declining inequality… Also note that a 44% wealth share for the top 10% (and a 12.5% wealth share for the top 1%, according to the FT) would mean that Britain is currently one the most egalitarian countries in history in terms of wealth distribution; in particular this would mean that Britain is a lot more equal that Sweden, and in fact a lot more equal than what Sweden as ever been (including in the 1980s). This does not look particularly plausible.

If Giles continues this debate, he will lose all credibility. I fully expect Giles to lose all credibility.

Megyn Kelly Pulls in Youth at Fox News

Megyn KellyThis is the quote of the week, and not surprisingly, it comes from Jonathan Chait, “Guess the Median Age of Megyn Kelly’s Audience. Her viewers are so young they can do circles around O’Reilly’s viewers in their wheelchairs.”

You’re a Frankly Curious reader, so I know you want numbers. The average age of Bill O’Reilly’s audience is a shocking 72.1 years old. Well, Megyn Kelly (perhaps because of that hip “y” in her first name) has brought that figure all the way down to 71.7 years old. That’s a decrease of 0.4 years—almost 5 months younger! At this rate, they should make it to that prime 25-54 demographic some time in the year 2525. (If man is still alive!)

I know: you don’t want anymore math. But this is really interesting so let me have another paragraph. The mode of an age distribution is what single age the most people have. Because the distribution of Fox News viewers is screwed heavily to the right (mathematically as well as ideologically), it is not normal. In a normal distribution, the average and the mode (and the median) are the same. But for the Fox News viewers, the mode (and median) is actually even higher. So the best representation of a Fox News viewer is an 80-year-old.

What’s impressive about these new numbers is that Megyn Kelly was specifically put in place of Sean Hannity because she was thought to appeal more to a younger and more feminine audience. And I’ll admit, I don’t hate Kelly the way I hate Hannity. She comes off pretty well in An Atheist in the Foxhole, and I find her pretty and intelligent. She’s also not the pure-partisan that Hannity is. But let’s face it, are young people going to tune into her given that they are just going to be fed the same stream of lies, distortions, and evasions? Anyway, they can watch Rachel Maddow, who is also pretty and intelligent and funny in a very silly, but endearing, way.

Chait ends his brief article in typical snarky fashion, “Her audience agrees with her that Jesus was white because they knew him when he was still alive.” It is in reference to Kelly’s assurance to the kids (who weren’t watching her show) that Santa Claus and Jesus were just white, “That’s just a verifiable fact.” A writer at Slate, Aisha Harris suggested we change Santa into a penguin. I loved the idea. But the point is that what Megyn Kelly is saying in that segment is exactly what Bill O’Reilly would have said. People who at least wanted to try to appeal to a younger audience would have played with the idea of the Santa Penguin. Even if you don’t like it, it’s a fun idea. And you certainly wouldn’t be proclaiming that Santa was a white man (not true) and Jesus was a white man (also not true). Here is Cenk Uygur having far too much fun at Megyn Kelly’s expense:

But at this rate of a 0.4 year decrease in the age of the average Fox News viewer for each new host, they will only need 81 more hosts in the 9:00 pm time slot to reach the middle of that demographic sweet-spot: the 39.5 year old. If they all stay in that slot for 17 years like Hannity did, that will be the year 3407. Keep trying Fox News. You’ll get there eventually.

If man is still alive…

Richard Clarke Is Right About War Crimes

Richard ClarkeDid President Bush the Younger commit war crimes? Richard Clarke thinks so. And Democracy Now! got him to admit this in the following interview. He said, “I think things that they authorized probably fall within the area of war crimes. Whether that would be productive or not, I think, is a discussion we could all have. But we have established procedures now with the International Criminal Court in The Hague, where people who take actions as serving presidents or prime ministers of countries have been indicted and have been tried. So the precedent is there to do that sort of thing. And I think we need to ask ourselves whether or not it would be useful to do that in the case of members of the Bush administration. It’s clear that things that the Bush administration did—in my mind, at least, it’s clear that some of the things they did were war crimes.”

But let’s not be naive here. Many of the things he mentions like the International Criminal Court in The Hague are things that conservatives have been against from the beginning. The reason is simple. They think that “American Exceptionalism” means that we are above the law. It is like the international version of droit du seigneur. “It is all right for us to kill people, and maybe we will even punish those responsible. But it will be us and not the world. This is because we are better than the rest of the world!” This is a repugnant philosophy that is mostly shared with the Democrats.

There is no doubt in my mind that Bush and many other people in his administration committed war crimes. But I don’t think we necessarily need a trial. What I’ve always been for is a truth and reconciliation commission. People claim they were scared after 9/11. Fine. But let’s at least admit to what was done. Instead, we’ve just swept it all under the carpet. And as far as I’m concerned, the war crimes continue. So it isn’t surprising that Obama wouldn’t want to look back on war crimes, when he was busy looking forward to his own war crimes, like the drone killings.

Regardless, no one is going to listen to Richard Clarke except for people like me who already agree with him. Even though (Or perhaps especially because!) he is a Republican from way back, he has no credibility with the modern Republican Party. “How dare he even suggest that any American ever be held accountable by people outside America!” It reminds me of that foolish commenter VINCENTON who seems to think that everything America does is by definition good.

So nothing will change. We will continue on our path of becoming more belligerent and authoritarian and unaccountable. And the reason why is clear enough. Regardless how peace-focused a candidate is, once in the presidency, all the belligerent parts of the government converge on him and tell him how the whole nation will be conquered and there will be 9/11s eight days a week if he doesn’t bomb bomb bomb and spy spy spy. And they all know that. And so you won’t be hearing Clinton, much less Obama calling for US governmental official to be held accountable to international justice.

Yes, we are doomed.

Reps Support Troops When Convenient

Support Our Troops: When It Is Convenient!

Why is there civil war in Syria? How about drought! You see, there were all these farmers. And the drought caused an exodus of them to the cities, looking for work. But there was no work so they sat around in the streets are started focusing their anger on the government. And before you can say “Bashar al-Assad,” you got yourself a war.

Look: I get it. To Republicans, war is about bad people doing bad things. But war is almost always about resources and their distribution. This is one reason I think that a guaranteed minimum income is a good idea. Even if it reduced economic progress a little, it would reduce war a whole lot. But that doesn’t much matter, the fact is that the Syrian civil war is the result of drought. Is it from climate change? We can’t say. But we can say this: there will be more droughts and this will make the possibility of war more likely going forward.

The United States military understands this. And this isn’t just something that might happen “over there.” Here in my home state of California, water rights are a big deal. There is great tension over the issue and when there is a drought (as there is now), it becomes worse. If this continues on for ten years, there will be violence. Count on it. So the military is rightly concerned about global warming.

But you know Republicans: they always yield to the troops on the ground. Whatever the military says, they follow it. They aren’t a bunch of bureaucrats who are sitting around telling the generals what to do. Or at least they aren’t as long as the generals are doing exactly what the Republicans want them to do. Then, it’s a different matter. Remember when Army Chief of Staff General Shinseki told the Bush administration it would need “something in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers” to occupy Iraq? He was right, but they didn’t listen to him because the depth of commitment Republicans have for the military is equal to the thickness of their “Support Our Troops!” bumper stickers on the backs of their SUVs.

Ryan Koronowski reported last week, House Votes to Deny Climate Science and Ties Pentagon’s Hands on Climate Change. He explained:

With a mostly party-line vote on Thursday, the House of Representatives passed an amendment sponsored by Rep David McKinley (R-WV) that seeks to prevent the Department of Defense from using funding to address the national security impacts of climate change.

“You can’t change facts by ignoring them,” said Mike Breen, Executive Director of the Truman National Security Project, and leader of the clean energy campaign, Operation Free. “This is like trying to lose 20 pounds by smashing your bathroom scale.”

The full text of McKinley’s amendment reads:

None of the funds authorized to be appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used to implement the US Global Change Research Program National Climate Assessment, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report, the United Nation’s Agenda 21 sustainable development plan, or the May 2013 Technical Update of the Social Cost of Carbon for Regulatory Impact Analysis Under Executive Order.

When I was doing my preliminary research for my master’s thesis, I read a lot about all the work that the military had done on building structures in arctic regions. My main interest was permafrost, which turns out to be rather easy. Land that freezes and thaws is a much bigger problem, and this will become a bigger problem in the future as most permafrost regions begin cyclically thawing. But the point is that from its very earliest days, militaries have had to deal with climate and the problems that it brings. So our military of course should be thinking about global warming.

The military is by its nature a conservative (in a non-political sense) group. It is conservative the way I am: careful. We are planners. And from the military’s perspective, this isn’t a question of whether global warming is happening or not, it is simply that they have to be prepared for it if it is. (BTW: it is.) They don’t set up a military campaign and say, “I don’t think they’ll attack us on our right flank, so we’ll just forget about protecting it.”

But this is just what the Republicans in the House of Representatives want the military to do. (Note: four Democrats voted for it and three Republicans voted against it.) Why don’t they come up with some other bright ideas? There is great difference of opinion about whether nuclear war will ever happen. Why don’t we just get rid of all our nuclear weapons? Great sea battles in the future are unlikely. Why not dissolve the Navy? Drones seem to be doing a good job. Let’s get rid of all our pilots!

This is the worst kind of micromanagement. And it is all about politics. It isn’t about differences of opinion about how our military ought to be used. This is just yet another statement by the Republicans that global warming is a great big hoax. They read about the Climatic Research Unit email controversy in National Review back in 2009 and they know it. The fact that it was only about tree ring data and that eight different commissions have looked into it and found no fraud means nothing. Remember: five years ago, they read about it in National Review, and once a talking point is developed that supports what you want to believe, it can never be questioned! Global warming isn’t happening because they say it isn’t happening. And they will continue to say that until their homes burst into flames.

But conservatives love the military. Just look at their bumper stickers!

What’s Up, Mel Blanc?

Mel BlancOn this day in 1908, the great voice actor Mel Blanc was born. He is best known for his voice characterizations for the Warner Bros’ cartoon shorts for characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, Yosemite Sam, Foghorn Leghorn, Marvin the Martian, Pepé Le Pew, and Speedy Gonzales—all of which he created. He did not, however, create perhaps the most iconic Warner Bros’ cartoon character: Porky Pig, whose voice was created by voice actor and real-life stutterer Joe Dougherty.

I love Blanc, but to this day I bristle when the cartoons start and it says, “Voice Characterization: MEL BLANC.” There are two issues. First, in the early days of films, actors were not given screen credit at all. It was Florence Lawrence who was finally given the first screen credit in 1910, which is pretty late. Before that, she was known as “The Biograph Girl.” It is often said that the actors didn’t want their names listed in the films, because it might hurt them working in the theater. The problem is that there wasn’t that much crossover in the early days. Lawrence, for example, never worked on the stage. And getting her name in the credits was a hard negotiation. It wasn’t the producers saying, “Oh, you want your name on the film? Fine!” The same thing went on with Blanc. Warner Bros didn’t want to put any voice actors’ names in the credits. But he was so big a part of their studio that they provided him with the credit.

The other thing is that no one else got screen credit. This greatly added to Blanc’s fame because the implication is that he was doing everyone. And sometimes, that was even true. But in general, there were other actors. I wouldn’t mind so much if the credit were more accurate: “lead voice characterizations” or “head voice actor” or something similar. But I still don’t see why they couldn’t just list all the actors. There weren’t that many in most of the shorts.

I’ve been very interested recently to notice that voice actors can be generally divided into two characters. There are those who are really great like Mel Blanc and most of the people who work on Futurama (most especially Billy West). And then there are those who really aren’t that good. I see this a lot on Bob’s Burgers. Don’t get me wrong: I love that show. But the voices are mostly done by a bunch of comedians who don’t have great control of their voices. When they do other voices, it is generally obvious. They need a larger cast. I would never have known that Bugs Bunny was voiced by the guy who did Daffy Duck.

This is a nice compilation of Blanc’s work, but I’m pretty sure that last Porky Pig is not Mel Blanc. (See what I mean?)

Happy birthday Mel Blanc!

“Jade’s Trick” in Shakespeare

Jade's TrickIn general, Shakespeare’s comedies are dreadful. But well performed, many of them can work. The best is probably A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I highly recommend the 1996 version, that few people have seen. But my favorite and most despised Shakespeare comedy is Much Ado About Nothing. The problem is that while Benedick and Beatrice are wonderful, Claudio and Hero are the most slappable couple that ever existed. What’s more, the main plot about the bastard Don John and his nefarious plan to hurt his half-brother Don Pedro via Claudio via Hero is stupid and even more unbelievable than most things in Shakespeare’s comedies.

But there is one line from the play that has long fascinated me. Toward the end of Benedick and Beatrice’s first fight, it is clear that she is winning. She wins every fight. She’s smarter and funnier, even if Benedick is a worthy adversary. He says to her, “I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer [staying power], but keep your way, a God’s name! I have done.” So Beatrice says to herself, “You always end with a jade’s trick, I know you of old.” Here are Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson doing it as it should be done:

I’ve heard that line for years and never really thought about. I knew what she was getting at: he was brushing her off because he couldn’t compete. But still, “jade’s trick”? That’s not a phrase known to me, so I went looking.

A jade is a worn-out or worthless horse, but it is also often applied to an old prostitute, which ought to tell you much about the esteem in which women were held in the late 16th century. I don’t think it is a surprise that Elizabeth I was fondly called “The Virgin Queen.” Men wanted women for sex but once they had them, they were soiled. And the more sex they had, the more worn out they were.

Now the definition of “jade’s trick” is of some debate. One definition is what you find in Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal where Moist von Lipwig polishes up a half dead horse (a jade) and sells it for big money, after which the horse dies. That is sometimes referred to as a jade’s trick. More commonly, however, the trick applies to the jade itself. In a horse race, it might get halfway down the field and then just stop running. This is obviously the sense in which it is intended in Much Ado About Nothing.

In The RSC Shakespeare, the notes indicate that a jade is, “overused or worthless horse/whore” and trick is, “knack (of stopping abruptly) sexual act.” Now that’s very interesting, because there is something wonderfully sexual about the banter between Benedick and Beatrice. What’s more Emma Thompson plays it that way—like a woman most unfulfilled; she was just getting going.

The Signet Classics version provides the most unsatisfying note, “trick of a vicious horse (ie, a sudden stop?).” This is probably because these are most commonly used in high school classes, at least here in America. Can’t let the kiddies know of any sexual subtext.

I was very impressed with Tucker Brooke’s 1917 edition of the play, which has wonderful notes generally. But this is the note on “jade’s trick”:

A jade’s trick. Some such trick of a bad horse as slipping the head out of the collar and escaping. Beatrice gibes at Benedick’s sudden breaking off of the dispute.

For the casual reader, it explains everything you need to know. But it also puts a new slant on it for me. In this case, it isn’t that Benedick is useless or hostile. He just broke the rules—and got away.

This is not the only time Shakespeare used the line. In Troilus and Cressida, Thersites is a quick-witted but caustic slave of Ajax. Ajax doesn’t appreciate this and beats him. This is entirely typical of Shakespeare. In the Iliad, Thersites has no last name, so he is considered a commoner. So Shakespeare makes him a slave and deformed! But in the play, Achilles (who is a cool guy) takes him on and appreciates his humor. Anyway, while still with Ajax, Thersites is putting down both the Trojans and the Greeks. In this way, he reminds me of the 107-year-old Roman man in Catch-22 who sides with whoever is in power, outraging the idealistic Lieutenant Nately.

Anyway, Thersites says to Ajax, “I shall sooner rail thee into wit and holiness; but I think thy horse will sooner con an oration than thou learn a prayer without book. Thou canst strike, canst thou? A red murrain o’ thy jade’s tricks!” In this case, The RSC Shakespeare comments, “worthless horse’s bad habits/whore’s acts (picks up on strike as ‘copulate’).” The word “murrain” is a general term for diseases that cattle get. My take is that he’s saying that Ajax my look like royalty, but he’s diseased and he can’t perform sexually. While Achilles is more like Benedick, Ajax is more like Claudio.

The phrase is also used in All’s Well That Ends Well. In fact, the word “jades” is used twice. First, it is used alone. Parolles, who is a coward known for his bluster says, “France is a stable; we that dwell in’t jades; Therefore, to the war!” That’s simple enough. The RSC Shakespeare only comments, “Worn-out horse.” At the end of the play, Lafew tells the clown that he has tired of him and that the clown should see that Lafew’s horses are tended to. The clown replies, “If I put any tricks upon ’em, sir, they shall be jades’ tricks; which are their own right by the law of nature.” The RSC Shakespeare comments, “Mischief caused by badly behaving horses.” Apparently the clown is only saying that if there is any problem, it won’t be because of him.

So there you have it, far more than you probably ever wanted to know about a phrase you probably didn’t even know you had heard before. But that is much of the fun of Shakespeare. You can spend days studying this stuff and all its subtleties. Just the same, if you don’t spend the time, you miss what is most interesting about Shakespeare. It becomes just theatrical broccoli: stuff you consume because you think it is good for you but which you don’t really enjoy.


You may wonder how I knew that “jade’s trick” was in three of Shakespeare’s plays. My Kindle is really very useful for that kind of stuff. And one of the things I have on it is a rather good complete works of Shakespeare. Although I’ll admit: the device isn’t that easy to use. But once you get reading a book, it is quite nice.

Sexual Maturity and Violence

Sarah Palin look-alike stripper contest - from Daily Telegraph

I haven’t responded to the Santa Barbara killing spree because, tragic as it is, what is there to say? This stuff is non-news. Projections are that next year there will be more people killed by guns in the United States than are killed by auto accidents. The perpetrator suffered from Asperger syndrome, which in part is about a lack of empathy. So we have mental illness and weapons coming together again in a poisonous cocktail that left 7 dead and 13 wounded. And the reaction of the only people who matter (the NRA): see it wasn’t just guns; the kid used knives. Cliff Schecter destroys such arguments, “Of course, to the family of a victim, one stabbing death is too many. But clearly knives can’t kill as impersonally, as many, as fast or as at far a distance. Which might be why there haven’t been presidents knifed from book depositories (or grassy knolls, whatever your preference), there aren’t drive-by knifings, and we didn’t storm Omaha Beach throwing knives.”

So really, I’m not all that interested in the subject. Some time back, Jason Jones did a great segment on The Daily Show where he went to Colorado to find out why state representatives were thrown out of office for voting for highly popular and minor gun regulations. What it showed was that the people who want to make public carry of bazookas legal all went to the polls to vote these popular representatives out. The people who supported the representatives didn’t show up to vote. That’s not just a problem with gun rights; that’s a problem with everything in this country. If everyone voted, we would have a far better, more just, and richer country. But they don’t so what are we going to do?

But Jaclyn Friedman wrote an interesting take on the situation over at Time, What’s Desperately Needed in Sex Education Today. While quite aware of all of the other issues involved in the Santa Barbara tragedy, she noted that our screwed up sex education programs exacerbated the situation and also do so in much less lethal ways. She says that when we teach kids about sex, we try to downplay the most important aspect of it: it is pleasurable. She noted, “When we don’t expect sex to be a mutually satisfying experience shared by two people, it leaves us vulnerable to some truly poisonous alternative ideas, including the stubborn myth that sex is a precious commodity that men acquire from women.”

I was especially impressed with this sentence, “What if instead young men like [the murderer] could grow up learning that sex is about communication, not consumption, and that being a man has nothing to do with your number.” It reminds me of a discussion I had with a woman a very long time ago about kinky sex. She dismissed my insights into it because I had had only a handful of lovers and she had had something like a hundred. But I pointed out that people only get really creative about sex after they’ve been having sex with the same person for a while. One night stands are almost always very straightforward affairs. She yielded the question, because she saw from her own life that that was true.

Yes, we really do have screwed up ideas about sex. I don’t know a man who doesn’t know with fair accuracy exactly how many lovers he has had. But no one knows how many times they’ve had sex. This is because men see a woman allowing them to have sex with them as a vote that they are worthy. It’s actually a silly idea. In my experience, if you want to have sex with a lot of women, you don’t need to be Don Juan; you just need to come on to a lot of different women and be okay with being turned down. In the novel Reuben, Reuben, Gowan McGland discusses how he determined that if he made a pass at pretty much every woman, one in three would lead to sex. It’s like cold calling: you make the calls and a certain percentage will accept your offer.

I don’t offhand know how many women I’ve slept with, but I can figure it out by just going through my life. There haven’t been that many. But I do remember certain sexual experiences. None of what I remember is coitus or any of the other aspects of sex. What I remember are the feelings that I had being with that woman. Most of those are very pleasant memories, but some are unpleasant memories of alienation. But it is a dance and it can make you feel close or very alone.

This isn’t to say that I was or am some kind of great lover. From my many conversations with men, I have come to the conclusion that there are two kinds. There are guys who make the sex all about themselves and guys who make it all about the woman. (I don’t know if this is an issue for homosexual couples.) When I was younger, I was certainly in the second camp. But over time, I came to see it as extremely narcissistic. I always felt like I was playing a fine violin, and as a result, I didn’t allow her to give back to me as much as the best women wanted to. There’s also a control aspect of it that is not pretty.

But I think it is better to start with the idea that a woman is a fine musical instrument that you would like to make sing than to think of her as a sexual device for your pleasure. But either approach could lead to mature sexual relationships. In the case of this murderer, he was 22. Why are they always around this age? It is the age that psychosis comes on. He wasn’t diagnosed with it, but I wonder. Regardless, as Friedman put it:

So yeah, it’s time to talk about sex, because, judging from his videos, Rodger was obsessed with “getting” it. That verb right there, the one in quotes, is key. His last words before the rampage weren’t about the desire to experience sexual intimacy with another, equally human person. His rage erupted in part because he was “refused” something he felt innately entitled to: namely, the bodies of women.

As someone who spends a lot of time with college students discussing their sexual attitudes, none of that surprises me. It’s just an extension of the constant message men receive that they’re only men if they can “get some,” and equally ubiquitous warnings to women about the dangers of “giving it up” without a real commitment, because (we’re told) our sexual purity is the most valuable thing we have.

And it isn’t. Sex itself isn’t. There’s a good article in Forbes that quotes the best data available indicating that only 13% of internet searches are for porn. Other than for brief periods of my life, I can’t imagine spending 13% of my life on sex. But that probably doesn’t speak well of me. Sex in its best forms is something that should be a major part of one’s life. But for our murderer, I don’t think sex was so much about “getting it” as “getting off.” And that strikes me as a rather easy thing to do all by yourself. No one knows your body like you do.

And that brings us back to mental illness and easy availability of weapons, especially guns. Because this murderer was focused on sex, but it could have been anything. It could have been Obama’s birth certificate. What makes one go from obsession to murder? I agree with Friedman: we need better sex education and as a culture we need to be able to talk about it like adults. But my thinking about the issue of murder sprees has not changed in the last year and a half, Guns Cheap, Mental Health Expensive.


Those thoughts of wanting sex to be about you or about her are really one step away. I think the total focus on the woman is just saying, “You let me possess you, now let me show that you were right to do so!” And of course, for the young lover, regardless his intentions, the execution is usually lacking. My point is (if it isn’t clear above) that both are sexually immature.