Thursday, April 30, 2009

Validating Lunatics

In my previous post on Liberals I Don't Like, I said I was too lazy to find examples of what I was talking about. Well, it didn't take long to find some. I had complained of liberals who "insist that we shouldn't highlight Republican absurdities because it just gives them more attention; and thus, more power."

And in a Carpetbagger post on Obama mocking Fox News and their teabag revolution, commenter ScottW writes:
Mr President, quit wasting your breath with these clowns, you are only giving them validation when they should be ignored for the lunatics they are.
And after I pointed out how wrong this was, ScottW writes back saying:

See the thing is, there is a whole world I would know little about, like the Fox News world, but since half the stories I read here involve them, it's really hard to ignore.
For example, the post before this one. Who the hell is Byron York, but today I should care because it's a post on a site I read regularly. How many people linked to his post, that to me is validation from someone who should have went unnoticed.
When the president does it, it's way worse. I think you are confusing validation of nobodies, with ignoring world leaders, not the same.

But this is just wrong. First off, Fox News aren't "nobodies." They're the most watched cable news network, and anyone who doesn't already know about the "tea parties" doesn't watch Obama press conferences.. Byron York is a published author with his own Wikipedia page, was a Whitehouse Correspondent, has written for numerous magazines, appeared on numerous TV shows, and a Yahoo search of his name turns up over one million results. Call me crazy, but I don't think he's a "nobody." Is he Doctor Biobrain famous? No, but he's about as famous as you can get with the first name Byron.

And so when we mock someone like York for writing racist absurdities, we're not "validating" him by making him more important than he is. We're showing how toxic these otherwise mainstream people are. When Obama mocks Fox News for supporting teabaggers, he's undermining their legitimacy. And by highlighting their absurdities, we make them accountable for what they say.

Seriously, could anyone reading Washington Monthly somehow imagine York is more legitimate for having suggested that the opinion of black people isn't valid? Surely not. He's a laughingstock and we all get it. And I, for one, was glad to have read Carpetbagger's piece on it and immediately told my wife about it. That's what it's all about.

Mockery as Validation?

And the confusion that people like ScottW have is that you CAN validate these people, if done incorrectly. Specifically, if we take absurd arguments and treat them seriously. For example, if instead of labeling York's racism as racism, Carpetbagger had attempted to refute the argument by showing that the opinion of black people is also important; that would have validated York's egregious statement. But simple mockery and outright labeling York as a toxic figure who spouts racist nonsense only undermines him.

And as I replied back to ScottW, the idea of this is absurd. Mockery is NOT validation, lest we believe that school bullies are "validating" the nerds they mock. And sure, there can be some amount of validation involved. It can be argued that Obama validated "Joe the Plumber" by answering his question on the campaign trail, but it's hard to suggest that Obama had much of a choice. Moreover, Mr. the Plumber is a disgrace to Republicans, made worse by their ignorance of how bad he makes them look. I'm of the opinion that the more folks can see of Republican crazies, the better.

And I don't know about you, whenever I say something stupid, I'd prefer to be ignored. And conservative jerkoffs like Limbaugh and York are like cockroaches who prefer to work in the dark. They already have their audience, so it really helps for us to bring attention to what they're telling these people. Exposing loons as being the laughingstocks they are can only be a good thing.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Arlon the Democrat

One of the big things I don't understand about the debate on Senator Specter's switch to the Democratic Party is how his detractors imagine they're making any sense.  They insist that he's a political panderer who adopts stances for his own personal gain, yet insist that he's still a Republican at heart who will continue to vote against us.  Yet these are mutually exclusive ideas.

I'm firmly in the "He's a panderer" category.  He knows which way the wind blows, which is why he often sounds like he's going to help our side.  But he also knew that doing so would hurt him in the Republican primary, so he couldn't help us much.  But now, he doesn't have a Republican primary.  So now the political winds are pushing only to the left, which is what he'll do.  Not that he'll be the most liberal member of Congress.  But he'll have little incentive to side with Republicans.

Of course, to make this work properly, he still needs to worry about a Democratic primary.  And so if they somehow promised him full support no matter what he does, that'd be a huge mistake.  Because then he'd have every reason to side with Republicans.  But I can't imagine they'd have been that stupid and would have made it clear that they expect him to vote like a Democrat if he wants Democratic support.  And in any case, bloggers like Kos and Atrios have enough power to cause him some amount of grief in a Dem primary; and so it'd behoove him to not take the Dem primary for granted.  At least not for his first one.

And so overall, I think we're going to see a different Arlon Specter.  I think Arlon is looking out for Arlon and that means he's going to be siding with us.  Not that he'll take the lead on much or give as much support as we'd like, but I predict that he'll be a much better Democrat now that he's a Democrat.

Update: For all those interested, I'd like to point your attention to Donald Douglas, a conservative blogger who wrote 171 words to laugh at me for misspelling Arlen Specter's name in this post; as well as an additional 88 words in a comment he left here.  He suggests that the name "Arlon" might be Klingon, even though it's a real name.  In fact, I know someone named Arlon, whose name I type and read regularly, which was probably the source of my confusion.

But if anyone's looking for answers on why the conservative blogosphere is failing to keep up with the liberal side, bloggers like Douglas are a good place to look.  They really don't give a damn about conservativism or liberalism, they just hate liberals.

Liberals I Don't Like

I'm too lazy to search for specific examples, but two types of liberal commenters I don't like:

The ones who insist that we shouldn't highlight Republican absurdities because it just gives them more attention; and thus, more power.

The ones who insist that we need to watch every word we use, in case we're actually using loaded language that Republicans give us as part of their rhetorical games.

And in both cases, I'm reminded of Republican opposition to diplomacy: We're so weak that every phrase we utter might topple our house of cards and allow our enemies to win, and the only solution is to pretend they have no power while taking a hardline stance on everything they say or do.  And in my opinion, that's the sort of attitude that weakens us more than anything else.

And I'm not sure which piece of advice is worse.  Sure, it's entirely stupid to allow jerks like Limbaugh to spout-out nonsense without being called on it, but it's simply moronic to attack Republicans for playing word games while chastising liberals for using words like "detainee" and referring to Social Security as "entitlement programs."  We're to still assume that Americans are utter morons who will accept anything as long as you use the right phrase to say it; despite all the successes we've had in the past two elections, which showcase how intelligent Americans really are.

And the reality is that jerks like Limbaugh do much better when they can make offensive statements under the radar.  And conservatives keep losing no matter what words they use to describe things, and if we focus all our strength on semantic pissing matches, we quickly lose sight of what the real debate is.  So the advice that these libs keep insisting that we follow is actually counter-productive.  But of course, just the fact that they focus so much of their time making these inane comments doesn't help much either.

The Southern Conservative Strategy

Here's the intro to an AP article on Senator Specter's party switch:

With Sen. Arlen Specter's switch to the Democrats, the Republican Party is increasingly at risk of being viewed as a mostly Southern and solidly conservative party, an identity that might take years to overcome.
At risk of being viewed as mostly Southern and conservative?? Uhh, this has been their entire marketing pitch for over a decade now. They took the success of the "Southern Strategy" and made it the cornerstone of their party. This is like saying that Coca-Cola is at risk of being identified as a soft drink company. Sure, they also sell water, but it's the sweet stuff that pays the bills.

Not that you had to be a Southerner to be Republican, but you had to acknowledge that Southern culture is better than everyone else's. In fact, a large part of their audience are city slickers who like to imagine they're rural folks by driving pick-up trucks, listening to country pop music, and wearing hats all the time. It made their hallow existence instantly authentic and homey. And you certainly had to be conservative.

And the article puts this in the context of the southern shift that occurred during the 80's and 90's, as conservative Democrats became conservative Republicans, but it fails to understand why that happened. These weren't random events in which the "tide has reversed," but are actually part of the same shift. What happened is that conservatives are intolerant, uncompromising a-holes who were looking for a monolithic group identity. They left the Dems because they didn't like sharing their party with tolerant people. And over time, the tolerant Republicans noticed what was happening, so they ran in the other direction. And that's exactly what the conservatives wanted.

And as usual, the media is the last to know about this. They thought all the fevered rhetoric was theater and didn't understand who real conservatives were. They knew that the "Southern Strategy" involved telling Southern rubes what they wanted to hear to woo them into voting for people they wouldn't otherwise have voted for. But they didn't realize that the rubes had taken over the party. The Beltway crowd thought they were getting Hee-Haw, but ended up with Deliverance.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Obliviousness is NOT a Strategy

Carpetbagger's got a post about CNN's Rick Sanchez questioning Senator DeMint (R-Loonball) about the shrinking Republican Party, with Sanchez literally laughing at DeMint for suggesting that Republicans are the "Tent of Freedom." And it's sad that Republican rhetoric has become so far removed from reality that even brainless talkingheads on CNN are laughing at them.

And this mainly comes down to their immediate rejection of Obama as President, a move that I predicted would be a losing strategy. Because there just is no reasonable way to spin away Obama's popularity or their own unpopularity. It's simply impossible. But one decent way of dealing with this would be to say that America is in crisis and people are flocking to the president, not because they agree with him, but because they want to give him a chance. And this, btw, is the exact strategy I said the Republicans themselves should have taken.

And there is precedent in this, as I definitely believe that Bush's post-9/11 popularity was based upon the same idea: People were supporting the office, not the man. But Republicans wrongly interpreted it as a personal mandate and royally screwed it up. Similarly, if people were only supporting Obama because of his office, then it would be reason to suggest that he's overstepping with his specific policies; just as Bush did. Moreover, the political landscape could be spun as a short-term situation which is likely to change the more Obama goes in the wrong direction.

But no, they can't do any of this now. They picked an extremist anti-Obama position and now they're having to lie in it. And so they have to continue to make claims that are so absurdly counter-factual that even they can't possibly believe them. And that just drives them further into absurdity and irrelvance. And as I said in the last post, this just feeds the base a sense of popular righteousness that only makes it that much harder for them to ever put the breaks on.

As I've said before, Republicans have put themselves in the exact position they tried to paint us into when they controlled the Whitehouse and Congress. I am baffled as to why they imagine this is a good strategy.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Republican War Lords

Carpetbagger has a post on how Republican moderates are trying to push the party in a new direction, away from hardline culture war positions; while the base refuses to budge.  And frankly, this couldn't make me happier.  Ok, well, I suppose I'd be happier if all these fools completely gave-up on their bigotry and puritanical panty-sniffing; but short of that, I'm glad to see these fools continue to push the party further into obscurity.

But the base isn't to blame for this.  The blame lies with political cowardice on the part of the party leaders.  They just don't have anyone willing to stand up to these people.  Because the short-term choice is easy: Either pander to the base and score easy points, or stick their necks out and get their heads blasted off.  And there just aren't enough Republicans willing to join forces and give the proper pushback that these people need, and whenever the rare Republican tries, they're forced to recant and join the cowards.

And that's a lousy long-term strategy.  But they just don't have enough leaders willing to put themselves in front of the mob and make them listen to reason.  As long as the base is being fed what they want to hear, that's all they're going to hear.

Control Freaks

And in this case, "reason" doesn't necessarily mean making them accept gay marriage or anything.  It just means for them to lower their expectations.  They've been trounced in two straight national elections, a key presidential election, and they're doing badly at the state level too.  Common sense says that they can't be expected to achieve much in the short-term, so they need to lower their expectations and try to reach out to a broader base.  

But the base just doesn't want to do that.  The more they lose elections, the crazier they're getting.  And the truth is that the culture war never had much to do with moral stances or "murdered babies" and porn.  It had to do with them drawing their line in the sand in order to bring some level of "sanity" to their lives, which seem to be spiraling out of control.  They demand that everyone follow their moral code because that's a lot easier than them trying to make sense of their own lives. 

And the problem is that the modern world is just too complex for the simplistic moral tools they were given to work with and nothing makes sense to them anymore.  And rather than accept reality and try to have a sensible stance on teenage sex (an issue I, as a father of teens, find extremely hard to deal with), they're told to go further down the rabbithole of abstinence-only and praying to a god that just doesn't seem willing to help them deal with it.  Yet, not only are those solutions useless, they will blow up in your face if it's all your using.  And that's exactly what these people keep facing, to their constant dismay.

Downward Spiral

And so the more they lose elections, the more out of control they feel and the more control they require.  And that just pushes them even further in the wrong direction.  And the further out they feel, the more desperate their actions become; which leads to crazy stuff like aimless "tea parties," increased gun purchases, and talk of rebellion.  And for as much as they all have their particular laundry lists of grievances, it all comes down to a general sense that life is too crazy for them to deal with.  They really expected a "silent majority" of like-minded Americans to rise up on Election Day and the realization that they're a tiny powerless minority is really starting to freak them out.

But there is an answer to this.  Republican leaders can push back and at least insist that the base de-escalates its rhetoric and allows some moderation back into the party.  But there just isn't anyone powerful enough in the party to do it, because the base already pushed out all the moderates who weren't already milking the base for their own personal gain.  And so the people who are willing to push back have no support, while the people who have the support see all this as a huge win for them.  

Someone like Limbaugh would rather be King of the Kooks than just another Republican foot soldier.  He has more power this way.  And because the party allowed this to continue for so long, the only way of gaining support is to give the crazies what they want.  As soon as a potential party leader like Palin or Jindal appears on the national horizon, they're forced to adopt crazytalk or be pushed back into the obscurity they came from; which means a true leader will never be allowed to succeed.  And this just isn't going to change for many, many years.  

Were the Republican Party its own country, they'd be considered a failed state.  The individual war lords might still be working in tandem when it suits their interests, but behind the curtain, they're just a loose-knit alliance of small fiefdoms.  And the moment one "leader" attempts to establish true party unity is the moment he's attacked by all the other war lords.  I see no solution to this as long as the current war lords remain in charge and the system is heavily rigged in their favor.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tortured Arguments

Editor's Note: I'm busy as fuck. I liked this post, but lack the time to finish it. So the first part's new but unpolished, the second part is a copy-and-paste from a comment I made at Carpetbagger's, and I never wrote the third part that I had intended it to have. But I figured you guys were clamoring for something and this is better than nothing.

Oh, and something I left out of this post: I definitely believe that torture is unjustifiable because it doesn't work and is counter-productive. But if it worked and wasn't counter-productive, I'd support it completely. Any argument that suggests otherwise is utterly stupid.

For whatever reason, many liberals have established a moral code in which the absolute worst thing you can do is to torture people. And they insist that under NO situation is torture justifiable, including in the face of mass murder. Apparently, to even contemplate using torture to stop mass murder is monstrous and impossible.

Here are three separate quotes on what I'm talking about:
"Two things-- First, torture doesn't work (and didn't work). Second, whether
or not torture works (or worked) is irrelevant."

"I'm sorry, but the ends don't justify the means. We're better than that.
Torture is wrong--whether it's effective or not (and it's not)."

"Doing evil to prevent evil is folly and evil."

And that’s simply absurd. Yes, torture is immoral. But no, it’s not the worst immorality. And like it or not, there are many situations in which immorality can be justified if it helps avoid a worse immorality. For example, killing people is immoral, but it is considered moral if it is done in self-defense. Imprisoning people is immoral, but it's considered moral if the person is a criminal and it's done with approval from our judicial system. Similarly, if torturing someone would help avoid mass murder, it would not only be justifiable, but it would be the moral deed.

Yet they insist that torture isn’t justifiable even under hypothetical situations. To do so is to suggest that “the ends justify the means,” which we are led to believe is the absolutely last thing we can ever do. As if means ever justify themselves. Sorry, but choosing actions which are justified by their ends is what we do all the time. And the argument against allowing ends to justify the means is when they DON’T justify the means. And when the ends justify the means, we choose that end.

For example, you’re on the internet right now, despite all the damage it does to the environment. But you believe that it’s ok to damage the environment because having the internet outweighs the damage you cause. Similarly, you probably justify driving an automobile because the benefits outweigh drawbacks. This is just everyday morality and is what rational beings do on a daily basis.

I mean, if the ends justify the means, then the ends are justifiable; by definition. Seriously, a vast majority of folks have no idea what that phrase means.

Torture as the Norm

To put my argument a different way. I can think of countless hypothetical situations in which each and every one of you would definitely agree that you'd torture someone for a greater good.

For example, if you were in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre style situation and your family was trapped in a house of crazy people who were torturing and murdering your family. And after they had mercilessly tortured you for days, you somehow got free and had a choice of either torturing one of the bad guys to find out where your family was, or just running away. Each of you would torture the bad guy and save your family. No doubt about it. You would justify your immoral action by knowing that it prevented a greater immorality. And if you saw such a thing in a movie, you'd NEVER think the torturer was immoral for acting as they did. In fact, you'd hate the person if they ran away and left their family to die. That would be more immoral than torture.

But of course, that's a stupid situation. It's not going to happen. It's total fantasy. And not only are you not going to create a moral code based upon the hypothetical need to torture killers in ridiculous situations, but you'd be repulsed if the government created such a system.

And so while torture most definitely can be justified in hypothetical situations, it can't be justified in real life situations; and should most definitely NOT be given the approval of our government. And sure, maybe you'll some day find yourself in that ridiculous situation. And if it happens, our legal system would need to approve of your actions and if it didn't, then you'd go to jail; even if you did the right thing. And it's the same thing now.

Sure, maybe a real life Jack Bauer might somehow find himself in the impossible situation that would justify torture; but we most definitely can't build this into our legal code. Torture can be justifiable, but it should never be the norm.


There are things far worse than death.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Nihilist Post of the Day

For those interested in these kind of things (which is all of you), I present to you another nihilist post I wrote for the American Nihilist, the best source for all your nihilist needs.

It's called Historical Rewrite of the Day, which is about how nihilist leader George Soros used his greatest creation, Media Matters, to literally revise history regarding Nixon's visit to China. Awesome stuff. I can feel our textbooks changing already.

Lookout, history. Here we come!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Republican Irrelevance

Carpetbagger has a slew of posts today which can be summed up as: Why Does the Media Take Republicans Seriously?

Here's a post on how Politico's Jonathan Martin fails to understand why dumb Republican attacks don't work (Hint: They're dumb). Here's a post about why Atlantic's Marc Ambinder ignores dumb Republican attacks (Again, they're dumb). Here's a post on how WaPo's Chris Cillizza reinforces Drudge's chockhold on dumb reporters like Chris Cillizza (Because they're dumb). Here's a post on how conservative blogger Reihan Salam got suckered by Sarah Palin (Because he's an idiot). And finally, I'll add in posts about GOP deadweights Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and how we're all better off with them as the face of the party.

And these are really just the same damn post written from different angles. And the point is clear: The Republican Party is dead. Does that mean that it will never be resurrected? Of course not. It just won't be a party that looks like anything we currently recognize and the longer they delay the transformation, the longer it'll be before the name can be resurrected.

And while the transformation won't be as big as the shift from Lincoln's party to Reagan's, that's the sort of scale to compare it with. They'll all be Republicans in Name Only by the time the name is usable again.

Jokers, Tokers, and Space Cowboys

And I again want to pat myself on the back for calling it. I predicted that the Republicans were morons for continuing the same lame attacks that failed to sink Obama last year, and that they'd be better off taking a breather and truly going into a "wilderness" phase. But no, they keep on with the same idiotic attacks that never worked and find themselves having to up the ante to stay in the game. Attacks on "socialism" didn't work, but maybe "economic fascism" might do it. (It won't.)

And a big part of the problem is that this breed of Republican were always jokers. Their attacks on Clinton were utterly laughable. And their media admirers are just as admiring as before. And no, these attacks didn't have traction with voters during the 90's any more than they do now. For as much as Republican arguments have been popular, it was purely coincidental. Republicans didn't shift voter sentiment. It just so happened that the Republicans were pushing arguments that would have been just as popular without them.

Because Clinton was popular in the 90's; not Republicans. And for as much as they dominated during the Bush Admin, they really achieved almost nothing on the legislative front. They got their war and a bunch of crazy judges, but they got almost nothing else. They weren't able to gut the government through legislative means. All they got were short-term disruptions of government service through inefficiency and corruption.

But all it took to undo their damage was a real president. The simple truth is that Republicans were never very effective at anything but winning elections, and they can't even do that anymore.

It's the Internet, Stupid

And the main difference is that the internet has made Republican attacks not only more ineffective, but actually counter-effective. Now that supply & demand has given us huge flocks of very effective liberal voices, it actually helps us to let Republicans talk. They shoot themselves in the foot with almost every utterance, and then guys like Carpetbagger skewer them for it. And it works. And no matter how badly Obama might fail, this ain't going to change. The Republican noise machine is dead and you help keep them that way every day.

And the other big change is Obama. We're just a few months into his first term, yet I'm quite convinced that I was correct in saying that Clinton caused a lot of his own headaches by spending too much on the day-to-day battles with Republicans. He always let them set the game and was intent at beating them at whatever they wanted to play. Obama doesn't do that. And that's the final nail in the coffin.

I've been saying for years that the Republican noise machine is only effective at distracting Democratic politicians, and now we've finally got a politician who knows that better than I did. You've got to pick your battles and if you spend all your time countering idiotic claims, then it makes you an idiot. These bozos don't really give a damn what they're saying and neither did a large majority of America. Finally, we've got a president who acts the same way.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The New Middle Class

It's basic human nature that, no matter how much money you make, it'll never seem like quite enough. You can always find something more to spend on. Even poor dirt farmers in Africa pine for that little bit of extra dirt needed to tide them over for the year. And it's the rare person who can easily set aside money for a rainy day, and we generally need to trick ourselves into saving, using 401k plans and automatic transfers to savings accounts.

And yet, just because you don't make enough money for the lifestyle you've become accustomed to, doesn't mean that you're just as bad-off financially as everyone else that doesn't make enough money. And so it really upsets me to read stories like this: Wealth-Less Effect: Earning Well, Feeling Otherwise

Ellen Parnell and her husband, Donald Parnell Jr., seem like the kind of well-off couple President Barack Obama has in mind when he suggests raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year. A surgeon at Fort Sanders Sevier Medical Center in Sevierville, Tenn., he drives an Infiniti. They vacation at a beach resort every year.
"I'm not complaining, but the reality is Obama may call me wealthy, but I thought we were just good old middle class," says Ms. Parnell. "Our needs are being met, but we don't have a load of cash to cover wants."
Some of the expenses are self-inflicted -- like private-school costs and conspicuous consumption. Others, though, are unavoidable, like child-care costs, larger health-care deductibles and education expenses, especially college.

But of course, the problem isn't that they don't make enough money. The problem is that they spend it all. And the only reason they're "wealth-less" is because they choose to spend all their money. And sure, all of us share certain necessary expenses. But that's obviously not the problem for these people. A family making $40k is not running $220k in debt every year due to these expenses. The additional spending is all them.

Living Like Rock Stars

And what these "middle class" people don't seem to understand is that most other middle-class folks don't take real vacations, send their kids to private schools, drive Infinitis, or indulge in the vague "conspicuous consumption" that the Parnells do. And of course, many of them also don't have proper healthcare and when they send their kids to college, they have to get loans to pay for it. These are all lifestyle choices that can only be made by folks in the upper-class.

And that's the thing, there's "struggling" and then there's struggling. And while people like the Parnells are struggling to live a good lifestyle, other people are struggling to keep their homes and feed their families. And for as much as societal changes have made it more difficult for folks like the Parnells to retain wealth, those same changes have made things even more difficult for those less fortunate than them.

These people might have to pay a "moderate" weekly rate to relatives for their beach vacation home, but the real middle-class is having trouble with their primary home. Oh, and did I mention that they make payments on land they bought? Yeah, they own land, in addition to their house; and they classify the payments to this as non-discretionary. Forgive me for being less than sympathetic to these upper-class middle-classists.

Reality Check

And one thing this article left out: The couple says they make about $260,000 annually. And that means that their tax bill under Obama's plan will only go up about $400 or so.

Yeah, I'm sure that will just crush them; particularly seeing as how the article says that after paying their bills, charitable contributions, 401k contribution, college fund for their kids, and the loan for the land they bought, they only have $1200 left over each month; which is still more than someone working full-time at minimum wage earns. In fact, combining the $1300 they tithe to their church and their $1200 in extra income leaves them with an amount that is over 88% of the median after-tax income in Tennessee. Poor, poor Parnells. How will they ever survive?

And that's the thing: For as much as the article emphasized how Obama's policy wrongly puts these people in the category of the "wealthy," it never actually states what that policy is. And yet again, a journalist seems to not understand that the tax increase is only on the amount over $250k; not the full amount. And, in fact, the article wrongly suggests that the Parnells are "facing the same tax rates as those making millions." But they're not. Their income will hit the 36% rate, not the top 39% rate. And even then, their marginal rate will be far, far lower. This article is not only laughably out of touch, but it's factually wrong.

But again, we're only talking about them paying $400 or so more a year. And so now, thanks to that jerk Obama who thinks these people are wealthy, they'll only have $1167 left over each month. Ms. Parnell is quoted at the end saying "I'm not after sympathy. We are blessed. What I want is a reality check on what rich means." And I agree completely that a reality check is in order, but don't think we're the ones who need it.

Irony Alert: Only in an article like this would the Wall Street Journal suggest that health insurance and college education are necessities. But when it comes to liberals wanting to guarantee these sort of luxuries for everyone, they become anti-capitalist demands of socialist fools. It's as if only the rich are entitled to these extra perks, while the rest of us schlubs should be lucky to get anything. Some folks are simply more equal than others.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

More American Nihilism

For those yearning for more Biobrain, here are some nihilist posts you definitely won't want to miss:

On the debate between waterboarding and nuclear annihilation
Media Hero of the Day: Joe Scarborough

On Obama's policy of opening Cuba's borders to us
Cuban Training Day

When Popes Collide

I'm not sure why, but for whatever reason, the Catholic Church decided to replace their nice guy pope with an angry-looking crank. It's like they decided that since Pope John Paul II helped expand their base, they'd replace him with a guy who could consolidate that base into a more loyal following.

And this isn't necessarily a bad marketing strategy. But unfortunately, this isn't how it should be done. It's like if Nintendo followed up the huge success of the Wii with a Get Off My Lawn machine. Pope John Paul II expanded the base and was a positive ambassador of the church, impressing even many of the church's critics. Pope Ratzinger will make their base contract while giving a negative image of the church.

And the thing is, there really isn't too much difference between what JPII said and what Ratzinger says. The main difference is the emphasis of how they say it. And it's not just that Ratzinger is untactful. It's that he's purposefully trying to be controversially reactionary. He wants to make the Catholic Church look out of touch and inflexible. That's the whole point: He wants to show that God's not a moral relativist, which is inherently an inflexible position to take. And then, when he gets called on it, the Vatican acts all surprised and shocked that anyone is attacking their positions.

Not that they're going for controversy, but they're trying to draw the line in the sand. And that's a huge mistake, as the sand has shifted quite a lot since these original positions were adopted. And rather than reinforcing the church's longstanding moral code, these hardline positions will only marginalize them.

Abstinence or Die!

And the latest mistake is with Ratzinger's remarks on condoms. Now, it's not like Pope John Paul was Mr. Condom or anything. I don't remember him passing out rubbers from the Popemobile or showing up at Cancun as the surprise judge at Trojan's wet t-shirt contest during Spring Break. I'm quite sure Ratzinger isn't entering new territory with any of this. But it's the emphasis on the ineffectiveness of condoms that draws all the attention.

I mean, I'm all for monogamy and would be quite happy if everyone in Africa abstained from having sex until they found their life partner. But...that's just not a realistic strategy. It's great and I'm sure it happens,'ve got to have a back-up plan. And emphasizing the sketchiness of condoms is a recipe for murder. And what, are we to imagine that no one in Africa has thought of this one before? Like they're all "What? I just need to wait until marriage and make sure that my bride-to-be does the same? Oh, excellent. Thanks."

No, the problem isn't that people aren't aware of the advantages of abstinence. It's just that, well, sometimes people don't think through their actions. And having a condom handy for safe sex is a much more realistic option than having them remember the pope's wise words on abstinence. Then again, I suppose just thinking of Ratzinger might spoil the mood for anyone who was in the mood. Seriously, would it kill them to get a sexy pope for once?

Acts of Kindness

The article even quotes a pro-Vatican guy who defends the church by pointing out that they help AIDS patients, saying:
Sending a package of prophylactics signifies a lot less in terms of self-giving
in comparison to someone who has left their country and dedicates their lives to
caring for people sick with AIDS.

And while that's great and everything, I definitely think it's better to prevent someone from getting AIDS than to help them after they already get it. It's not about the commitment to help someone. It's about actually helping them. I find it somewhat troublesome that this guy places so much emphasis on the person doing the good deed, rather than on the person receiving the deed. It's like God gave us misery so we can prove our worth, or something.

But beyond that, this guy's wrong for attacking Ratzinger's critics on this one. Because again, the problem is with Ratzinger's emphasis. Had Ratzinger given a speech praising the work his church does to help AIDS patients in Africa, that'd be fine. Nobody is attacking him for that. The problem is that Ratzinger, along with the rest of his church, is trying to get folks to stop using condoms. He's got his moral code and if Africans can't follow it, oh well. He's got missionaries who can earn their wings by helping them before they die.

Owning Your Policies

And hey, if that's his attitude, great. He doesn't want folks using condoms, and that's fine. But if he expects the rest of us to sit back and smile while he tries to convince Africans to essentially commit suicide, that's just not going to happen. He's going to use his pulpit to convince people that using condoms is a death sentence, and we're going to use our pulpit to convince people that the pope is bonkers for saying this. He denounces us, we denounce him. That's how this works. If he wants people to reject his church for being reactionary, then he's doing an excellent job.

And if he doesn't want to take heat for saying these things, then perhaps he shouldn't say them. His policy is the equivalent of telling folks that they shouldn't jump out of planes, because parachutes sometimes fail. And it's true. Parachutes fail. But people are going to jump out of planes all the same, and if they are, they should still wear parachutes; even if they sometimes fail. And again, if that's his position, that's fine. He just needs to understand that we're going to push back against it.

And if he wants to be liked, he should emphasize the good things his church does, rather than saying bad things. But then again, I think this is what he wants. He wants to be the grumpy old pope that people accept on his terms and if that's the case, well, he needs to get used to the idea that we might reject that. We're not against the church and we're not against abstinence or monogamy. We're just against people who insist upon undermining the alternatives. Condoms may fail, but not nearly as badly as abstinence-only policies do.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

D-Bags with Teabags: Austin Edition

Ok folks, I had a little surprise for you as I was planning to do some original reporting by actually going to the Teabag event here in Austin, taking pictures and maybe even interviewing a few Teabaggers.  Unfortunately, me being a CPA and this being tax day, I got too busy and couldn't make it out for the event, as I had a post office across town to get to.  

But...I happened to catch the Teabag parade on their way to Townlake, so I whipped out my camera and was able to take three pictures while driving by.  As you can guess, I really wasn't able to see where I was pointing the camera, as I was kind of driving at the time, but I think these three pictures capture my experience fairly well.  This was the front of the parade, close to the end of their route and no, it didn't look like the crowd got any thicker than this.  But I could be wrong.  Again, I was driving at the time.

Anyway, here's how I got teabagged in Austin, Texas.  These were taken around 5:30 on Cesar Chavez St, close to downtown (and yes, I'm sure there's some irony that this d-bag parade was associated with a famous labor leader.)  I believe you can click on the pics for a bigger version.

Needless to say, my favorite guy is Mr. End the Red (or perhaps that's End the Fed, I'm not sure).  Between the masking tape message on his best black suit, cottonswab-like Supercuts hairdo, and steely-gaze looking into the depths of my soul, this guy scores big time.  Were this my parade, I would have put that guy front and center.  When he makes a fashion statement, he really makes a fashion statement.  I'd like to believe this guy goes to work like that everyday.  Someone needs to get him some black loafers, though.

And hey, is that an actual Confederate soldier next to the stoned-looking guy with the Texas flag and double-chins?  Man, these people take their government protests seriously.  And what's with the guy in the red shirt with the sign around his neck?  Seriously, are we expected to stop him and read the damn thing?  It's a parade, numbnuts.  We're not going to read your thesis on the immorality of taxes.  My suggestion: No Blood for Taxes.

And would it do any good to mention to Mr. Taxation Without Representation that, being a Republican in Texas, he actually has more government representation than a large majority of folks in the city he's in?  Probably not.  I doubt that phrase means what they think it means.  I wonder how much representation the folks who got delayed on their way home during rush hour had.  I really don't remember anyone asking my permission for these jackasses to block-off our streets.  Luckily, I was heading in the opposite direction, as I had that post office to get to.

Not much to say about this one, except that I really like the image of the car with the anti-W sticker passing in front of them.  I'm sure there's some level of symbolism here or something.  And seriously, I would never dream of treading on the woman in the purple striped shirt (assuming that's a woman).  I might tread on the dork with the Don't Tread flag, however.  He just looks like he's begging for an ass-kicking.

And this was my final shot, with the Talk Radio van blocking my view.  Yeah, it's kind of pointless, but hey, if you only have three shots, you go with three shots.  Again, I'm sure there's some kind of symbolism here.

And that's it: My first teabagging.  Not as exciting as I had been led to believe, but perhaps they'll get better with experience.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Post-Bible Morality

On my previous post of the Catholic Church's insistence that birth control undermines marriage and love, a commenter suggested that Jesus' supposed ban on contraception, abortion, and homosexuality was a "lie" created by the Roman church. But this really gets us into deeper territory: It really doesn't matter what Jesus said. All that matters is why he said what he said.

Because morality can't be based upon the whims of our Creator. To suggest that God, Jesus, or the bible dictate our morality to us is an absurdity. "Because I said so" isn't a rational basis for an ethical system, no matter how important you are. If anything, the bible points us in the direction of the "true" morality, but all the same, there must be an independent basis for this morality, which must be discoverable outside of the bible.

But of course, that's what everyone does anyway. For as much as people insist that they're obeying the tenets of their religion, the reality is that the bible is quite short in the explanation department. After all, the bible wasn't meant to be an ethical code; not in the sense we think of it, anyway. It contains historical books. It contains books of origins. And as we all know, it contains books of laws. But it's not really a book of morality. Using it to determine an ethical system would be like aliens reading the Internal Revenue Code to determine our ethical system. It just wasn't meant to serve that purpose. Leviticus was a legal document, not a philosophy.

What Jesus Did

And ever since it was put in written form and considered "final," it has only become less and less relevant to its readers. But again, it wasn't meant to be the all-knowing philosophical text many adherents use it as, and it certainly isn't the legal document it once was. And for as much as people can gain great meaning from it, it's nothing more than the meaning they put in it. After all, how could one recognize the truths in the bible as being "truths" unless you had a basis outside of the text?

And it's that outside basis which is the real guide here. If anything, the bible can be confirmation of your moral beliefs, but it cannot be the basis. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that Christianity is nothing more than a baseless circular argument. It's right because it's right; and that's simply not a rational argument. If there is a god and he/she/it is good, then there must be some better basis than Creator=good. I mean, what if it turned out we were really created by an alien race? Would we be compelled to obey their every whim merely out of gratitude? Certainly not.

Yet, even if you read the "good" parts of the bible; ie, the stuff Jesus actually said, it really isn't much better than this. He told parables about how we get into Heaven and why we should have faith in God. But that's not morality. I mean, telling your son that you'll give him five bucks to clean up his room isn't a lesson in morality. It's a business proposition, and could indicate that he's not very moral. Similarly, I find the whole issue of the Heavenly reward to be a bit distasteful as far as moral reasoning goes. I mean, how can pure selfishness possibly be the basis for moral behavior? (Don't answer, Ayn Rand.)

And sure, Jesus told us to treat others well, but no one can seriously argue he was the first person to have figured that one out. For as much as many Christians act as if Jesus discovered kindness, even Western philosophy extends many centuries before Jesus' birth. Plato would scoff at anyone who imagined that Jesus was imparting some unheard of knowledge with his Do Unto Others material. That was the starting point of his discussions; not the end. By comparison, Jesus' moral lessons were kid's stuff.

Moral Free-for-All

And once you remove the parts of the New Testament which establish Jesus' credentials, tell Jesus' story, and explain the Heavenly reward and how to get it; you're really not left with much. And that's not to mention all the other parts of the bible, many of which sure seem to contradict other parts in the bible.

And sure, we can use our judgment to determine how this all might fit together, but that judgment is external to the bible. It came from us and there really isn't too much agreement about the details of any of it. And hey, if that's what we're doing anyway, why bother with the bible? If you're interested in the Heavenly reward stuff and want to learn more on how to obtain it, use the bible. But if you're trying to uncover the underlying basis for why you think your god wants you to do something, you've got to go elsewhere to find it.

And once you acknowledge that, then you're in the same boat as the rest of us. We're all struggling to figure out the best way to live our lives. The only difference is that some people imagine they've already been given the answers and don't need to go beyond what they were taught. And rather than struggling to live a moral life, they're rationalizing how to make their preferred actions seem moral. They insert their hatreds, bigotries, and biases into the bible in order to justify their immorality. And dammit, it's four in the morning and I'm too tired to figure out some wizened wrap-up to all this; so this is the best you get.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Invaders from the Womb

In an article in Columbia (a magazine for Catholic men), Catholic theologian Stephen Patton makes the case that contraception is bad in Why Contraception Matters: The Surprising Consequences of a Sterilized Church.

And his main point is that "God designed sex" to make babies and bond people in love, and argues that sex is better if you do it with someone you love and if it might result in a baby. But of course, if Patton's claim made any sense, it wouldn't be "surprising." If unprotected married sex was truly better, everyone would already know about it. So Patton's argument is undermined by its very existence and the only surprise here is why he's bothering at all.

As Patton says:
Many assume that by freeing their intercourse from the fear of pregnancy, they will enhance their emotional bond. But like drinking salt water to quench one's thirst, engaging in sterilized sex will not quench the human thirst for love. Not only is this deep need not met, it is worsened. Our culture has left us bloated with sex and dehydrated for love - and therefore more inclined toward divorce.
Yes, we're bloated with sex. And of course, that's just fucking stupid. Honestly. How could such a big thing have gone unnoticed for so long? I mean, if the pill, condoms, or sterilization made sex significantly worse, it's unlikely they would ever have gotten out of the medical testing stage. And adultery would be almost non-existent. Patton has made an empirical claim that is laughable on its face, and which has been thoroughly rejected by billions of people.

Curiously, Patton's God designed us so that the seemingly innocuous act of drinking salt water Patton cites is more dangerous for us than the supposedly "love and life" threatening act of using birth control with your spouse. I can think of no good explanation for this; not if we're assuming a rational God who designed things as Patton says He did, anyway. And Patton's citation of John Paul II's opinion on the "love-giving meaning" of sex is less than authoritative, coming from a man who apparently has zero experience on the subject. I'd just as soon learn about art from a blind man.

Everyone Get Pregnant!

And here's one explanation for the dangerousness of birth control (emphasis in the original):
When contraception fails - as it often does - and a pregnancy results, a couple will tend to think that the baby is there not because of their actions, but there in spite of their actions. The baby is not so much their child that they conceived, but rather an invader that they tried to repel, yet failed.
An invader? What planet is this dude from? He goes on to suggest that this is the reason these people are more likely to have an abortion. And while I agree that such people are more likely to have an abortion, it'd be my guess that they'd do this for the same reason they used birth control: They didn't want to have a kid. Duh. And what's pathetic is that Patton never once discusses the reasons why people might not want to have kids. Apparently, anyone who believes that it would be a mistake to have a kid is just wrong. They're weakening their marriage, endangering humanity, and having sucky sex.

And needless to say, Patton never discusses the issue of married couples who can't have children. But of course, these cultural warriors rarely do. These discussions are always reality-free zones in which marriages are always God-sanctioned events which eventually lead to ten or more kids. Anything else would be an affront to humanity. I have absolutely zero faith that anyone truly believes such nonsense, yet it's the only argument they've got, so they make the best of a dumb situation.

Thesaurus Time

Patton ends his piece by claiming that Roget's International Thesaurus "groups the word contraception into the word category, 'Unproductiveness'" and then points out that the words associated with "unproductive" are negative, while the words associated with "productive" are positive. He then concludes with:
Which category presents the true image of what we, the mystical Body of Christ, are supposed to look like? Which can offer the world a vibrant, uncompromised, and compelling witness to the true meaning of sexuality, the sacred permanence of marriage and the value of all human life?
Yes, when all else fails, go for semantics. God might not have actually designed us the way that Patton pretends we were designed (or else his argument would have been entirely unnecessary), so he resorts to word games. Apparently, the folks with the most kids are the best, while those of us with fewer than five kids totally suck eggs; because we're just not as productive.

Oddly, I can't find an online thesaurus that even contains the word "contraception," including the online version of the one Patton supposedly used. In fact, I'm holding a Roget's Thesaurus right now, and can go from "contrabandist" to "contract" without finding the word "contraception." That's not to say he invented the connection, but it really isn't the sort of word I'd expect to find in a thesaurus. Yet this is Patton's closing argument. Pathetic.

Oh, and should it be mentioned that Catholic priests, nuns, and monks aren't supposed to get married, have sex, or make babies; yet they're considered to be closer to God than any of us married folks? Or should I mention that 1 Corinthians specifically states that it's better to not be married or have sex? And should it be mentioned that Patton's argument implicitly states that childless folks are immoral? Yeah, I think it should be mentioned. For as much as they pretend this is about having kids, it's quite obvious their argument is only limited to forbidding "bad" sex; as defined by these particular moralists.

It's obvious that the Catholic Church doesn't really believe that procreation is a moral obligation, and anti-contraception freaks like Patton are just embarrassing themselves by suggesting otherwise. They can pretend they're trying to prevent the end of humanity, but it's obvious they're just silly panty-sniffers desperately rationalizing an irrational policy. They're going to need to do better than Patton if they expect to have any success in this.
Update: Here's a study that found that 90% of married couples said their satisfaction with their marriage dropped after the birth of the first child, more so than with couples without kids. And that certainly undermines the argument that the purpose of marriage is to have children.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The HUH? Quote of the Day

Today's HUH? quote:
It's widely agreed that wisdom includes six traits: empathy, compassion, altruism, self-understanding, emotional stability and pro-social attitudes, such as a tolerance for others' values, according to background information in a news release about the study.
Yeah, it's widely agreed, according to background info in the news release. Oh, and it should be noted that the Wikipedia article on the subject only lists one of these as an attribute of wisdom: Self-understanding. Oddly, that's really the only one I agree with. And look, if you have to do lots of research to determine something, then there probably isn't wide agreement on it.

But the study itself was pretty dumb too. Essentially, they "discovered" the pathway of wisdom by arbitrarily picking "the six attributes most commonly associated with wisdom" and then studying "the brain circuitry associated with those attributes." In other words, it's a steaming pile of crap that means very little.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Getting Back to Work

Holy shit I get a lot of email when I stop checking it for a few weeks. Ok, well my extended Spring Break is coming to an end and regular daily posting will resume shortly. And no, if you just now see a response to a comment you left two weeks ago, it doesn't mean that it took me this long to think of a response. I was just being lazy.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Stains on History

Ryan Powers at Think Progress has a post about how Republicans are pointlessly blocking qualified Obama appointees for grandstanding purposes. They can't actually block the nominees, but by god, they'll make a name for themselves pretending to do so. And this is just stupid. These people have been on the wrong side of the track since Obama won and they just keep getting wronger. They're still playing checkers on Obama's chessboard and can't understand why they keep losing.

Obama has the wind to his back and is just getting stronger. It might not seem that way, with the constant challenges the news cycle's highlight. But even in short-term history, ie, mid-term election length, these people will be seen as stains on Obama's steamroller. They're not even speedbumps and their actions hurt themselves more than Obama. All they're doing is making themselves more unpopular, and as much as there's a rallying effect among the base, it only serves to pull them further from the mainstream.

This is what happens when authoritarian lackeys improvise. They need a leader. And seeing as how the closest they're getting is a fight between Limbaugh's "Hoping for Failure" and Glenn Beck's "Drifting into Fascism," it doesn't bode well for them.