Wonderful Terriers in Film

UggieIt’s been almost two weeks since Uggie was put to death. He was the dog actor who charmed the hell out of the world in the film, The Artist. He was suffering from prostate cancer. He was 13 years old. I’m told that is 91 in doggy years, but I wonder. The average life expectancy for a dog is 13 years. And according to The Jack Russell Terrier Canine Companion Or Demon Dog the life expectancy range for Uggie’s breed is 13 to 16 years. So Uggie did okay, but he was hardly like a 91 year old human.

Terriers (not just Jack Russells) are probably my favorite kind of dog. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that I used to have a friend who had such a dog. And I took care of him often. And I loved him. I don’t think there has ever been a dog that I’ve been so fond of. He seemed very much like me: excitable and smart — for a dog. In addition to this, terriers don’t especially look like a breed; they look like muts. And that is especially true of the ones like Uggie who have the much better rough coat.

But ultimately, I like terriers because they’ve been used in so many movies I like. And I thought that I would share a few of them with you. The first, and greatest terrier was Skippy. He was a Wire Fox Terrier, born in 1931. He played in some of the best films of the 1930s: The Thin Man, The Awful Truth, and Bringing Up Baby. Here he is as George in that last film:

Then there is Milo in The Mask. He was played by a dog named Max. But I haven’t found much information about him. That seems pretty strange, given that the film is basically a buddy picture with Max getting the good part and Jim Carrey playing the straight man. This has a translation on it, but it doesn’t matter:

And to finish it out, how could we forget Flealick, the handicapped terrier in Babe: Pig in the City. He exhibits all the qualities we expect in a terrier (except working back legs). “Feeling good! Feeling peppy!” (Point of order: I don’t think the dog in the dream sequence is not a good double for the animatronic Flealick.)

Rest in peace Uggie!

GOP Can Get Down to Business Without Gilmore

Jim GilmoreCNN is hosting a Republican presidential debate, and everybody’s invited! Everybody but Jim Gilmore, who is supposedly the former governor of Virginia. Hadas Gold reports the debate will include “the entire GOP field, minus Jim Gilmore.” According to CNN, it’s nothing personal, just that Gilmore is polling at 0.0 percent.

The 16 candidates will probably use the debate to make fun of Gilmore behind his back.

—Jonathan Chait
CNN to Host Non-Gilmore Presidential Debate

Federal Courts Done With Obamacare Challenges?!

John RobertsFor many years, I’ve been arguing that the New Democrats’ idea of pushing the Democratic Party to the right is the actual cause of the Republican Party going completely insane. It’s very simple. The Democratic Party’s push right makes the Republican “tent” smaller. They have no choice but to bunch up in a smaller and smaller group on the far edge of conservative ideology. But this has very broad applicability. Since the mainstream news is all about defining acceptable discourse as whatever is between the Democrats and the Republicans, reality itself is distorted.

We’ve been seeing this with the recent Planned Parenthood hatchet job, where there is no scandal, but still the press has treated it as though it were news. And we’ve seen this regarding Benghazi, the IRS non-scandal, and “Fast and Furious.” But most of all, we’ve seen it in the courts with Obamacare. First there was National Federation of Independent Business v Sebelius. That was a case that most legal experts thought was a joke. It was just something that allowed hate radio hosts to use ridiculous slippery slope arguments, “Could the government force you to eat broccoli?” And then, the broccoli question was asked by Scalia at oral arguments. Unbelievable.

And then more recently, we had King v Burwell, again a joke of a case — but one where the minority found that their previous positions on laws having to be read in their totality didn’t matter. If there was a single phrase that allowed them to destroy a law they didn’t like, they would do it. This is not ultimately about the courts, however. This is about a political system that has gone off the rails, because it depends upon a two party system with each side being reasonable. We now have a system with a conservative party and a proto-fascist party. It’s no wonder that things are so screwed up.

Ian MillhiserWe have a little good news, however. Ian Millhiser wrote, Conservative Federal Judges Wave the White Flag on Obamacare. This doesn’t come as a shock. When the King decision came down, a lot of people commented that Chief Justice Roberts was sending a message that he wanted all these stupid lawsuits to stop. As it was, there were hundreds of them. It was like shooting randomly at a target — some arrows would hit the target by chance. And as we saw, the two anti-Obamacare cases that got traction really were ridiculous.

The newest case in this is Sissel v Department of Health and Human Services. It is a technical challenge to Obamacare, which claimed that the law was invalid because it violated the Origination Clause that says that bills to raise revenue must originate in the House of Representatives. But that doesn’t stop the Senate from taking any House bill and totally rewriting it, which is what it did in this case — just as it has done many other times like in 1986, when it did this to push through a Reagan tax cut. The entire DC Circuit Court said no to this challenge. And that included very conservative justices, including one who said yes to King (actually, it was Halbig at that time — same case).

It seems that John Roberts’ message has been received by the conservatives in the federal court system: no more! The conservatives have had their chances to manipulate the judicial system to destroy Obamacare in a way they haven’t been able to do legislatively. They’ve failed. It is time to get on with other things. And I still think that in another ten (maybe even five) years, even the vast majority of Republicans will see it as untouchable. I expect to start seeing conservative articles with titles like “Actually: Obamacare Is a Conservative Law” and “Is Obamacare Really the Free Market Healthcare Choice?” And then the Republican Party can get on to the serious business of rewriting history about how they were always for Obamacare. Maybe they will start calling it Boehnercare.

If You Care About Results Don’t Vote Libertarian

Rand PaulPaul Bibeau wrote a great short article, Liberals, Not Libertarians, Are The Ones Helping Us Avoid Getting Incinerated. It’s an issue that I’ve thought a lot about over the years. His focus was on Rand Paul. He noted, “He talks a good game, but when the Iran deal comes up for a vote, he’ll oppose it like any other Republican.” That’s right. Rand Paul is always in favor of libertarian policy in the abstract. He’s all against the idea of Guantanamo Bay, but against any actual policy that would close it. He’s against government surveillance, but when there is actual law to fight it, he’s against it. And he’s against foreign wars in the abstract, but is just as belligerent as the rest of the Republican field.

Bibeau makes a glancing blow to the common libertarian complaint that Paul isn’t a “true” libertarian, calling him “Libertarianesque.” But when exactly have we seen a “true” libertarian anywhere outside a Libertarian Party meetup? The “true” modifier is just a way for a very insular group to claim that its philosophy is only ever failed, it never fails. If libertarianism was anything like its proponents claim, then there would be an equal mixture of libertarians in the Republican and Democratic parties. But there aren’t.

My own experience in the Libertarian Party was that the vast majority of people were just disenchanted Republicans. In fact, there were almost no libertarians who came from the left. The ones who did were all there because they wanted drugs legalized. I was one of them. And it was telling seeing people in the party deal with the issue. They were clearly in favor of certain ideas: taxes are slavery; property rights are inviolable; the poor are losers; unions are terrible. And if the subject came up, they would grit their teeth, sigh, and admit, “Yes, our philosophy also says you should be able to have drugs.”

My issues were not just drugs. I cared deeply about civil rights and a humble foreign policy. But whenever any libertarian got traction, it was not because of issues like that. On the left, much was made of Rand Paul’s reluctance to say that he would support the Voting Rights Act. But the truth of the matter is that this position probably made Paul more popular, not less. Libertarianism owes most of its support in this country to neo-Confederacy. Many libertarians may not mean to imply oppression of minorities when they talk about “states’ rights,” but it is still a racist dog whistle.

My real break with libertarianism came when I saw that there was actual movement on drug laws: they were getting less harsh and cannabis was on its way to becoming legal. This certainly wasn’t due the Republicans. And the arguments being made were practical, so the changes weren’t even coming out of the intellectual framework of libertarianism. It was good old-fashioned liberalism that was improving the world. The high minded rhetoric of the Libertarian Party was fine, but it wasn’t moving society in a positive direction.

It was worse than that. By the time of my change, I had already noticed a problem with libertarianism: “Vote for libertarian rhetoric; get conservative policy.” This is something that immigrants especially fall for. They hear the Republicans talk about “freedom” and “small government.” So they vote for them. But somehow, they rarely manage to ever get past the rhetoric to seeing what the Republicans actually do. I don’t doubt that Rand Paul would be better on foreign policy than, say, Jeb Bush. But would he be better than Hillary Clinton? Almost certainly not.

I’m the first to admit that the Democratic Party is imperfect. But if a would-be libertarian is actually interested in better drug laws and less war, she should turn away from the Libertarian and Republican parties and accept that the Democratic Party is the best game in town.

Morning Music: Bright Side of Life

Life of BrianEric Idle is probably the most American of the Pythons — and I am definitely including Terry Gilliam. Idle is really clever, but very often without substance. He is definitely part of the “silly” faction of Monty Python. But as is often the case, his silliness is linked to great profundity. A good example of that is “Galaxy Song,” which manages to be both scientific and ontological. I would have used the song today if I hadn’t used it for a previous Morning Music.

For the sense of spirituality that I’m going for this week, the better choice is “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from Life of Brian. The lines that most affect me are, “If life seems jolly rotten; there’s something you’ve forgotten…” This touches on a question I ask myself a lot, “If existence were just pain, would it still be worth existing?” At one time, I would have said emphatically: no! But now I’m not so sure. If you want to think of it in a highly metaphorical sense, “God’s love” is existence itself. And if you want to go further, his even greater love is that existence ends.

I don’t think the song is a call for optimism. It is rather fatalistic, “Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it…” I’m pretty sure that all of us are in terrible pain all the time. If you are depressed, you feel every little pain in your body. If you aren’t depressed, all that pain is still there — it just doesn’t bother you. It is a question of perspective — not that I’m saying we have a choice, because ultimately it is all just chemical reactions. For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Anniversary Post: Syncom 3

Syncom 2On this day in 1964, Syncom 3 was put into orbit around the world. It was the first geostationary communications satellite. That means it was a satellite that stays in the place relative to the surface of the Earth. Or to put it a bit more technically, it orbits the Earth at the same speed that the Earth rotates. It’s really great for communication because it is always in the same place and can service the same part of the Earth.

In 1961, NASA started the Syncom — “synchronous communication satellite” — program. Syncom 1 was launched in 1963 to be in geosynchronous orbit. This kind of orbit moves around but ends up at the same exact location one day later. NASA got it in orbit, but not in geosynchronous orbit. So they moved on to Syncom 2. It achieved geosynchronous orbit on 26 July 1963. But it wasn’t until Syncom 3 that geostationary orbit was achieved.

Interestingly, even though none of these satellites have been used for over 45 years, they are still circling the earth. In the case of Syncom 3, it is orbiting at almost 7,000 mph.