Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Grover Norquist's taxpayer protection pledge

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Grover Norquist's Taxpayer Protection Pledge
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Um, don't ever ask a kid how old they think you are. No matter what they answer, you're probably not going to feel good about it.

Still, those kids were pretty smart, don't you think? Smarter than Grover Norquist, at any rate.

Good news is bad news at Fox News

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
I Can't Believe It Got Better!
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"Let's see if I can get this straight... The numbers are real, but they're not good. In fact, they're bad. Actually, they're fake. And even if they were real, and good, it wouldn't matter, because it's about how bad you feel, and... that's where we come in. - Fox News, rooting for America to fail since November, 2008."

Heh, heh, Jon Stewart got it exactly right, didn't he?

Luckily, the Republican National Committee saw how disorganized Fox was and stepped in with their talking points. Fox News, spouting Republican propaganda since 1996.

The miracle of 1947

No, this wasn't the Miracle on 34th Street, the 1947 movie. And "miracle" isn't my word, but SF author David Brin's. But I thought this was quite interesting.

1947 is, believe it or not, before my time. But I've argued often enough about how today's Republican Party is not the party of Lincoln, and how today's Democratic Party is not the party of southern white slaveholders, or even of their "Dixiecrat" descendants.

Still, I hadn't been aware that American liberals had accomplished a prior realignment, years before the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the GOP's subsequent "Southern strategy."
On January 4, 1947, in a meeting at Washington's Willard Hotel, 130 men and women gathered to meet a challenge posed by Joseph and Stewart Alsop, columnists for The New Republic, who warned that liberals "consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: the Soviet challenge to the West." Unless that changed, they argued, "In the spasm of terror which will seize this country ... it is the right -- the very extreme right -- which is most likely to gain victory."

Attendees, who included philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr, journalist Arthur Schlesinger Jr., economist John Kenneth Galbraith, labor leader Walter Reuther, and Eleanor Roosevelt, announced the formation of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), declaring that, "the interests of the United States are the interests of free men everywhere," and therefore America should support "democratic and freedom-loving peoples the world over." Moreover, to do that would require recognition that communism was an aggressive danger to liberty, and that the Soviet Union was the era's dangerously expansive, despotic empire, one that must be contained.
"At the time, the ADA's was still a minority view among American liberals. Two of the most influential journals of liberal opinion, The New Republic and The Nation, both rejected militant anti-communism. Former Vice President Henry Wallace, a hero to many liberals, saw communists as allies in the fight for domestic and international progress."
That paragraph was penned by arch-conservative author Peter Beinart, in "An Argument for a New Liberalism," an essay redolent with irony, because his intent was to demand that today's liberals and democrats cut themselves off from a fringe of pathetic campus socialists. In itself, that argument was easy to shrug off -- today's few dogmatic leftists are only relevant in that they serve as convenient betes noirs for Fox News. But what I found stunning, back in 2004 when Beinart wrote his piece, and even more so today, is how the lesson of 1947 is far more relevant to today's Republican Party than to contemporary Democrats ...

Beinart rightly points out how nervous the American left felt in those days, about Truman's evolving doctrine. Many Democrats still clung to romantic images of the USSR, leftover from our anti-fascist alliance, or even earlier. Yet, things were rapidly changing. The wholesale murder of scores of East European trade unionists stoked fury among hard-boiled members of the AFL-CIO. Moreover, having learned from refugees the truth about Stalin's purges, many liberals were finally able to cut through the propaganda of socialist mouthpieces like The Worker and Forward -- the pre-McCarthy versions of Hannity and Limbaugh, in their day. ...

Of course, what Beinart fails to mention is that Truman faced even more resistance from Taft, Vandenberg and other top members of the Republican establishment. Some wanted a return to pre-war isolationism. Others insisted on direct and immediate military confrontation with the Soviet behemoth, a thuggish, macho set-to, sure to trigger cataclysm. No, if support for assertive but calm patriotism were to come from anywhere, it wouldn't be the right...

This shift of liberalism also affected the domestic agenda, turning our national argument away from some abstract and divisive ideological or class struggle, toward focusing on specific, incremental reforms. Step by pragmatic step, this approach propelled a transformation of our evolving consensus about ourselves and our very character, in realms of civil rights, womens' rights, environmentalism and dozens of other areas. It was never easy and the sultry allure of indignant dogma never went away. But now, there can no longer be any doubt -- in the recent election of Barack Obama, we see proof that incremental-but-determined, pragmatic progressivism ultimately accomplished far more than doctrinal manifestos. And it all began at the Willard Hotel, in January 1947.

I have no problem with early liberal sympathies for the Soviet Union. That was understandable, and, although those sympathies turned out to be misguided, there's no shame in being wrong. We all make mistakes. What's shameful is not changing your mind when the evidence shows that you've been mistaken.

And liberals did, by and large, change their mind. Some didn't, but the vast majority did. That's admirable, very admirable.

Note, too, that none of this means that I admire the anti-communist hysteria of the McCarthy Era. The right-wing went much too far, and to the extent that Democrats - indeed, the whole country - went along with it, that was also a mistake. Let's learn from it.

But the fact is, we don't progress without mistakes. We don't live our lives without mistakes - none of us do. We try to keep the mistakes small, and we try to learn from them. That's the best we can do.

Of course, this wasn't the last time Democrats decided to bite the bullet and do the right thing. In the first half of the 20th Century, the South was solidly Democratic, as it had been since the Civil War. African Americans tended to vote Republican, to the extent that they were allowed to vote at all. The Northeast was the Republican stronghold in our country.

But then, a Democratic Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed racial segregation. Pushed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a southern Democrat himself, after the assassination of President Kennedy, the law was bitterly opposed by those right-wing southern "Dixiecrats."

Democrats knew they risked losing the South, but they did the right thing, anyway. Republicans were gleeful. This was their chance! They started deliberately wooing white racists with their "Southern strategy." And it was wildly successful. Now, the South is solidly Republican. All those old racist "Dixiecrats" are now diehard Republicans.

If you look back at the last century, it's just astonishing how much the political landscape has changed. Oh, the Democrats are still the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, and the Republicans are still the party of wealthy bankers. But although some things have stayed the same, others are vastly different.

As I noted, the South flipped completely from solidly Democratic to solidly Republican. African Americans, seeing the GOP deliberately wooing white racists, overwhelmingly switched to the Democratic Party. The Northeast, which had been the Republican stronghold since the Republican Party began, did the same - all except for the moneyed interests.

Both parties reinvented themselves during the 20th Century, the Democrats twice. Both times, the Democrats did what was right. The Republicans did what was politically expedient. Admittedly, they were wildly successful. With their "Southern strategy," they've dominated nationally pretty much ever since.

Without the backlash from Watergate, which let Democrats take control of Congress and the presidency for a short while, at least, the  Republican Party would have been even more dominant in the last half of the 20th Century. But even the complete and utter disaster of George W. Bush hasn't knocked them out.

Still, politics doesn't stand still. America has progressed. There's a reason why Republicans are increasingly hysterical these days. The party which deliberately wooed white racists is pissing its collective pants, now that we've elected our first black president.

Brin suggests that it's now time for the Republican Party to bite the bullet:
No one ever said it would be easy to fight for a chastened and rational conservatism -- one that is no longer misled by crooks and crazies. Life wasn't easy, either, for the Democrats of 1947. But they kept faith with the moderate spirit of our American wing of the Enlightenment. And liberalism has -- for all its ups and downs -- stayed relevant to this day.

I'll be frank, I wish the equivalent wing of the Republican Party well. I hope they'll find the strength and sense of duty to meet this challenge. We need a party that stands up -- in positive ways -- for nongovernmental problem-solving. If enough sincere, moderate conservatives were to stand up, their movement might yet earn an important place, once again, in American politics. And -- as if embracing a prodigal son -- many of us would welcome grownup conservatism back to our nation's dinner table conversation about the future.

David Brin wrote that in 2008. More than three years later, the Republicans have done just the reverse. They're become crazier than ever and are becoming more and more hysterical. I'll get to that in another day or two...

Edit: My follow-up to this post, looking at Republican prospects in the 21st Century, is here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Atheist Experience: Doubting Thomas

This is an excerpt from the Atheist Experience TV show, episode #530, with hosts Matt Dillahunty and Russell Glasser.

It's an older clip, but a good one.

JFK's speech nauseates Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum just gets crazier and crazier, doesn't he?

The follow-up clip, showing how college changes people, is pretty funny, too. (Note that the Comedy Central site seems to be having problems today, so that's a link to the video clip on Hulu.)

But for Rick Santorum, this is a holy war. Santorum sees Satan everywhere among his opponents. Even Mainstream Protestantism is "gone from the world of Christianity."

Of course, Santorum is a Catholic true-believer. If Rick Santorum had his way, we'd still be in the Dark Ages, selling indulgences and burning witches.

Karen Santorum, Rick's wife, explains that it's all "God's will":
She said the campaign has been challenging, and said some would "have to be crazy to want" to be president. But she said she and her husband escape that because for them "it's completely a spiritual thing. This is God's will."

"The 'want' is a mission to make the culture a better culture, more pleasing to God," Mrs. Santorum said. "For us it's all about making the world a better place."

This isn't just a political contest, where you're competing with your fellow Americans, people who simply disagree with you. No, this is a battle against Satan. How do you compromise with Satan?

This is about making American culture "more pleasing to God" - the Catholic God, of course, especially since Protestants have been seduced by Satan himself. Only the Pope can save us!

Think about that. This is the Taliban. This is al-Qaeda. This is exactly that kind of thinking.

In 1940, science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein wrote a novella, "If This Goes On—". (Later, in 1953, it was published in Revolt in 2100. You might be more likely to have read it there.)

In that story, a backwoods bible-thumper was elected President of the United States and makes himself dictator. He cancels future elections, turning our democracy into an authoritarian theocracy. And when does that take place? In 2012.

Yup, Heinlein's story, written more than 70 years ago, picked this year for America's destruction. It was 2012 when we elected ourselves a religious fanatic, instead of someone who'd respect our secular democracy and the strict separation of church and state, and he destroyed our nation.

Spooky, huh? Forget those Mayans. What do they know? By the looks of things in the Republican primary, we're far more likely to destroy ourselves this way.

What Hertz taught us about nothingness

I'm embedding this YouTube video here, but if you really want the full effect, skip that and try the Flash animation here. It was created by 14-year-old twins, Cary and Michael Huang, which I'd say is nothing short of astonishing.

The video shows you the basic idea, but with the Flash animation, you can control things yourself. It's really neat.

Anyway, I got the link from a fascinating article in, of all places, the Christian Science Monitor. (Yeah, I know that's a respected publication, but I still find it odd to read about real science there.)

Last week was the 155th birthday of Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, and this article is about Hertz's contribution to the "science of nothingness." I think it's a great example of how science advances.
"Horror vacui," goes the phrase, usually attributed to Aristotle's fourth book of Physics. Nature abhors a vacuum. True or not, it's certainly the case that those studying nature have long struggled with the concept of empty space. Aristotle thought that, because space empty of all matter offers no resistance, objects moving within it would move infinitely fast. Thus the objects surrounding any void would instantly fill it before it could form. Emptiness, he concluded, was therefore impossible. Every part of the universe must be filled with something, even if we can't detect it.

Aristotle's arguments persuaded scholars for a good 1,500 years or so. Medieval Christians were enjoined from entertaining the possibility of a vacuum, until the Catholic Church's Condemnations of 1277 broke Aristotle's monopoly on the natural sciences by admitting that, at the very least, a vacuum would not be beyond the powers of an omnipotent God.

Funny, isn't it? As long as the church's position held that a vacuum was impossible, scientists would be risking their lives to question it. Of course, this was more Aristotle than Jesus, but you could not question church teachings.

Note that Galileo was threatened with torture and death for claiming that the Earth revolved around the Sun. Even after recanting his claims, he spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

The Inquisition refused to even look at his evidence. Why should they? They knew he was wrong. If the evidence contradicted the Bible, it was wrong. If it went against church teachings, it was wrong. They had faith, so what did they need with evidence?

So I think it's ironic that the argument that "God" could do anything was required before scientists could seriously question Aristotle.

Aristotle himself was a great thinker, but he was a philosopher, not a scientist. Of course, there weren't any scientists back then. The scientific method hadn't been invented. But the problem with philosophy is that reasoning, even by brilliant thinkers like Aristotle, is not enough. You have to ground your beliefs with evidence.

No matter how smart you are, no matter how reasonable something seems to be, it has to be backed up with good evidence. Only evidence-based thinking can bring smart people to a consensus, and only evidence-based thinking can create a firm foundation for future advances.

But it took us a long time to learn that. Well, the scientific method might be the greatest invention ever made.
But even though contemplating empty spaces became theologically permissible, the idea of nothingness still proved troubling to early modern thinkers,... who... embraced a philosophy known as plenism, which left no space for emptiness.

The plenists arguments were persuasive. Sure, they argued, you might be able to remove all the air from a glass tube, but how is it that, say, two magnets inside the tube will still attract one another, if there really is nothing at all between them? How is it that electric fields can pass through the tube?

In the 19th century, after scientists firmly established that light travels in waves, scientists wondered how waves of light from the stars could ever reach the earth after traversing millions of miles of allegedly empty space. A wave, after all, needs something to ripple through, right?

Again, that seems reasonable, doesn't it? These weren't stupid people, far from it. They were trying to discover something unknown, something brand new.

But these people were scientists. They tested their ideas. They tested each other's ideas. (None of us wants to be wrong, and that can make us less than enthusiastic in disproving our own hypotheses. But we never have a problem with proving someone else wrong, do we? That's one reason science advances.)
Hertz initially complicated the picture even further, but his work also foretold a way out. While attempting to demonstrate the theories of Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell he conclusively demonstrated the existence of electromagnetic waves, and then caught a glimpse of how these waves act in very un-wavelike ways. ...

The Monitor's Chris Gaylord describes Hertz's famous experiment

I can't post the entire article here, so I'm not going to describe the experiment itself. You can read the article for that, or click on that link for a slightly different explanation of it.

The point is that, instead of just deciding what seemed reasonable to him, Hertz created an experiment which would provide evidence, one way or the other. That evidence would not just help convince himself, but other scientists, too. After all, they could duplicate his experiment. And they could build on it.

Again, that's how science progresses.
Later on, Hertz measured the speed of electromagnetic radiation, confirming Maxwell's calculations that it was the same as that of light.

To Maxwell, this was more than a coincidence. "We can scarcely avoid the conclusion," wrote Maxwell, "that light consists in the transverse undulations of the same medium which is the cause of electric and magnetic phenomena."

But what medium, exactly, is doing the undulating?

To answer this, scientists borrowed an idea from the ancient Greeks. Empty space, they reasoned, must be completely filled with a transparent, non-dispersive substance. This substance had to be fluid enough so that the Earth could travel through it without slowing, but rigid enough to vibrate at high enough frequencies to carry light waves. Maxwell dubbed this mysterious stuff the "luminiferous aether."

Again, this seemed perfectly reasonable. It just wasn't true. How did scientists discover that it wasn't true? Through experimentation:
But just after Hertz was using the luminiferous aether to link together the seemingly disparate phenomena of light, electricity, and magnetism, others were busy undermining it. Working in the 1880s at what is now Case Western Reserve University the American scientists Albert Michelson and Edward Morley reasoned that, if the Earth was moving through an aethereal substance, we should be able to detect an "aether wind," which would cause light waves to travel at slightly different speeds, depending on the time, season and the direction of the light waves. But, after a set of careful measurements, the pair found that the speed of light was unaffected by these factors.

But if there was no aether, then how did electromagnetic waves propagate?

A satisfactory answer wasn't put forth until 1905, the year that Albert Einstein upended classical physics with a series of groundbreaking papers.

Experiments in the 1880s showed that the aether idea was wrong, but it was twenty years before Einstein came up with an alternative. Well, we know we don't know everything. And knowing that one idea is wrong is still an important step forward.

Einstein's ideas really were groundbreaking - and mind-blowing. But they, too, had to be tested. In fact, they're still being tested. So far, they've been confirmed by numerous experiments. But as we get deeper and deeper into the fundamental nature of things, there's always more and more we don't know.
By imagining light not as a wave, but as a particle carrying discrete packets of energy, which he called "quanta," Einstein found that he could predict how certain frequencies of light would electrify certain metals. Einstein's explanation of the photoelectric effect won him the Nobel Prize in physic in 1921, and helped usher in the era of quantum physics.

So now we understand light, and all electromagnetic radiation, as having a dual role of both wave and particle. Electromagnetic radiation, including light, travels as a wave, but arrives as a particle, and there's no need to invoke any mysterious aethers.

Or is there? Einstein himself continued to use the word, particularly when attempting to describe how gravity acted on distant objects. And the quantum mechanical conception of vacuums are anything but empty: they contain ephemeral particles that pop in and out of existence, and even fleeting electromagnetic waves. Once you get to a very small scale, the universe starts too look a little more like Aristotle and the other plenists imagined it.

Funny, huh? Don't misunderstand. There's more and more we don't know, but there's more and more we do know, too. We use that photoelectric effect in modern technology. The fact that we don't know everything doesn't mean that we don't know anything. We are advancing all the time.

And this is cutting-edge stuff, now. Einstein was a hundred years ago. We're building on what he gave us - or, more specifically, on his theories as confirmed by experiment.

Anyway, this is where that Scale of the Universe animation comes in. (Trust me, it's really, really neat.)
Zoom in, past the penny, past the matchstick, past the paramecium and the DNA molecule. Keep zooming. Go past the gamma ray and the proton and the neutron. Go past the quarks and the neutrinos. Eventually, you'll get to a whole lot of nothing.

In fact, most of what we take to be solid matter actually consists of empty space. If you imagine an atom the size of a cathedral, its nucleus would be roughly the size of a fly. Thanks to electromagnetism, in this case the tendency for electrons to repel each other, everything doesn't collapse in on itself. You may think that you are sitting in a chair right now, but you are actually hovering above it at a distance of one angstrom, about 250 millionths of an inch. Neither your electric field nor that of the chair wants to get any closer.

Anyway, keep zooming in. Eventually, you'll get to the Planck Length, which is what physicists say is the smallest unit of measurement in the universe. At anything smaller than this distance, it would be impossible to tell the difference between two locations.

At this scale, physics is really weird. "Virtual" particles are flashing in and out of existence at extremely high energies, warping space and time into a quantum "foam," or so one theory goes. One-dimensional strings, according to another theory, vibrate in eleven dimensions, forging and maintaining the very fabric of our reality.

Now zoom all the way out. [If you're a gamer, be sure to look for the Mindcraft World to the left of Neptune.] All the way, past the planets, galaxies, and nebulae, until you get to our entire, expanding, universe. What is the universe expanding into? Nothing at all, according to the best current cosmological models. What was there before the universe? Was that nothing too?

The ancient Greeks were fond of another phrase about nothingness: It comes to us via the Latin expression "Ex nihilo nihil fit," or "nothing comes from nothing." They believed that the gods fashioned the universe out of a primeval matter, which they called "chaos."

Today, as cosmologists try to explain how our universe sprang from nothing, it's worth remembering that, in science, nothing is not what it seems.

Coincidentally, I was watching the Atheist Experience yesterday, last Sunday's show, and a very arrogant theist called in. This guy was convinced that he was the best debater in the world, just absolutely certain that he'd stomp any atheist who dared to challenge  him.

And when asked to give just a taste of his expertise, this guy said he had an argument which would convincingly prove to everyone the existence of God. First, something can't come from nothing, right?

Heh, heh. That must be something they teach somewhere, because I hear this argument all the time. You're supposed to agree with that, which will lead you inevitably to "God." The fact is, that's not true, even if something can't come from nothing.

But there's no need to go that far, as Matt Dillahunty and Tracie Harris pointed out. No, we don't know that "something can't come from nothing." That doesn't mean that we can conclusively demonstrate the opposite, but only that we don't know.

Well, that caller really had trouble understanding his logical fallacy. It was actually pretty funny (and I'll post a video clip of it, if someone creates one - or maybe if I figure out how to do that, myself).

The thing is, there are a lot of things we don't know. But our ignorance doesn't imply anything, except perhaps that these aren't easy questions. Maybe something can't come from nothing, I don't know. But you're going to have to demonstrate that if you expect me to accept it as true.

Heck, I don't even know what "nothing" is. We don't normally encounter "nothing" in our daily lives. We might think of air as "nothing," but we'd certainly learn better if it were missing. Even vacuum might not be "nothing."

Well, I think this stuff is fascinating. Most of it, I'll never know. None of us will. But I know far more than Aristotle did, not because I'm smarter than he was, but because smart people have spent their lives, generation after generation, adding to our knowledge. Long after I'm dead, ordinary people will know a lot more than I do now. That's how this works.

Anyway, I thought this article was a good demonstration of that.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Two years and counting

I started this blog two years ago today. It's been fun. It's still fun. My biggest problem is that I can't stop blogging.

And I still find far more to blog about than I can actually get to. As I noted in my one year anniversary post, I originally worried that I'd run out of topics. The reality has been just the reverse.

At the start, I kept a list of backup topics, things I could use if I ever found myself running short. Heh, heh. That seems so laughable now! I never used a single one of those. In fact, I regularly have to clean out my "temp links" folder of ideas I want to blog about, plan to blog about, but never get done.

I don't have as much to say as in last year's post, though it's interesting to see what's changed and what has stayed the same. The biggest change - and a very welcome one - is that I've got a few more readers now. That whole first year, my return readership - people who'd been here before - didn't increase much at all.

Of course, the more posts I make, the more Google hits I get, but very, very few of those people ever return, if they actually read the post they find here at all. (I have to wonder at some of the Google search terms that direct people here. Often, they don't seem to make any sense.)

Well, at any rate, I still blog for myself. That's why I started, and that's why I continue. But it's good to get readers. And it's even better to get comments. In both respects, this second year has been a definite improvement.

I still wonder about variety. I'd like to have a bigger variety of posts here, although that's actually a negative for attracting readers. I do have a lot of different interests, though it might not seem like that. But in any case, I don't worry about it. I write what I want, when I want.

As in my first year, it's been mostly politics. I think I'm posting more about religion now, too, though that's probably because religion is politics, at least in America these days. Even science has become political, with the entire Republican Party coming down firmly against it.

I no longer post political cartoons every day. I don't even read them every day. Just no time. And I rarely post a "Quote of the Day" at all, not these days. Well, although that started out as a quote - and not actually a blog post - it turned into a post where I simply didn't add my own comments. That was really the only difference between those and any other post. And since I pretty much always have comments,... :)

I haven't been reading lately, so I haven't posted any book reviews for awhile. I will, eventually, but I don't know when that will be. The thing is, this blog is fun, and I don't want to change that. I don't want to turn it into work, a chore that must be done. That's the reason I haven't been reading, too. I love to read, but I just haven't felt like it lately.

If you particularly like some things here, or dislike them, I'd like to hear it. I really would. But honestly, I'm not sure that it will make too much difference in what I post. I know that some of you dislike my game posts - Gregg, this means you - but I enjoy writing them, so you'll just have to skip those. Just be thankful that I don't start describing my dreams. :)

But I'm not completely immune to the desire to have readers, either. I've really enjoyed having more readers this year, compared to my first. And I enjoy replying to intelligent comments. (Actually, I enjoyed replying to "Your [sic] an idiot," too, but I would have preferred a more detailed description of my shortcomings.)

So if you especially like some particular kinds of posts here, I'm likely to post more of them. I'm only human, after all.

If you want shorter posts, I feel your pain. I'm long-winded. I'm verbose. I know I am. It's a personal failing. But,... what can I say? I don't care enough about it to change. I write these posts for me. And I like to examine things in depth.

Spring will be here soon, and I'll have to cut way back on blog posts then. I'll have to try, at any rate. This is just lots of fun. And it's addictive. It's really hard to stop.

If you're still reading this, thanks for being here. You've made my second year even more fun than the first!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

War with the Dutch?

So, now we've got the Dutch mad at us. Hey, isn't war with Iran enough for Rick Santorum?

OK, it's funny, but it's absolutely insane, too. Honestly, I think that Republicans are so used to just making up their own facts that it simply comes automatically to them now. Santorum might be the worst at this, but they all do it, from Fox News on down.

But what's it say about America when a serious presidential candidate - Santorum, after all, has been leading in many Republican polls - spouts such crazy stuff about an ally?

Of course, this is the same Santorum who calls American colleges "indoctrination mills" that turn 62% of college kids into liberal atheists. (I wish!) He dislikes public education, promoting home schooling as the only way to keep your child believing the lies you've taught him.

Facts, for Rick Santorum, are just whatever you want to believe. I'd hate to have a guy like that on the City Council, yet about a third of Republicans want to make him President of the United States? How crazy is that?

Dwarf Fortress: Summitspear 251

(click image to embiggen)

This is the start of my new settlement in Dwarf Fortress, since I had to start over last week. If you're looking for a tutorial, you might check this out. The wiki is a big help, too (maybe even essential).

I'll be posting annual reports - from my dwarves' point of view - until... I stop. Yeah, no guarantees. I love the game, but I tend to get bored and move on. That's the case with all games, in fact (if you're wondering what happened to my last Minecraft game).

In the spring of 251, seven bold dwarves from the Fence of Dreaming set out to create a brand new outpost for dwarvenkind. Calling ourselves the Rhyming Towers, we confidently followed our leader, Urdim Lovedmetal, as she led us to our new home... a hot, humid jungle.

Standing there in the rain, panting from the heat, swatting flies and mosquitoes, we were all a bit dismayed. This didn't look much like a home for dwarves. Our flock of sheep hardly looked as badly out of their element as we did.

But Urdim insisted, and we had confidence in her leadership. The river to our north poured over a cliff, and the rocks below showed signs of silver and iron. And it did look defensible, if we just burrowed into the cliff-face.

But that's when Urdim surprised us again. We would dig, of course - that's what dwarves do - but we'd dig down from the top, in the middle of the jungle. And we'd create not just an underground dwarven lair, but also a sizable structure above ground, something to demonstrate to the other peoples of Ospazslzgo - humans, elves, and goblins - that we were here.

She called our new  home Kobellokum, "Summitspear." And swinging her miner's pick, she took the first bite out of the admittedly swampy, mucky jungle floor. Well, it was a start.

While Urdim dug into the earth, the rest of us unloaded our wagon, pastured the livestock, and started surveying the site. Our first priority was to dig a moat around our encampment. There were alligators nearby, and who knew what else might show up? Defense was our first concern.

But it was a miserable experience. Even in early spring, it was hot. And it rained pretty much all the time. We had to sleep on the ground - in the mud - and eat standing at the wagon. Well, we didn't expect a grand dwarven hall right from the beginning. But I must admit that we hadn't expected to be settling down in a steaming, stinking jungle, either.

By mid-summer, we'd made a good start. We'd dug the moat and put a couple of bridges over it. We couldn't raise them, not yet, but at least it let us concentrate our defenses. And we were very pleased when ten new dwarves joined us. Our first immigrants!

Truth be told, they weren't a very prepossessing bunch. Half of them were just children. And their parents were hardly more than children themselves. Poorly skilled and poorly groomed, they clearly wouldn't be missed by their former home. But at least they were willing to work.

And their leader, an older dwarf who'd led these youngsters to us, turned out to have some considerable skill at metal-crafting. That should be very useful, eventually, although it might be some time before we can take advantage of it.

In the fall, another young couple showed up, with their three children. What's with all these youngsters having kids at such a young age? Again, they were poorly skilled, but willing to work. And with 22 dwarves now - a full seven of them children - we really needed the labor.

I thought the year was going well enough - slowly, perhaps, but uneventfully - but Urdim became increasingly moody. Late in the fall, she fell into a strange mood, shutting herself up in our mason's temporary shop and refusing to speak to any of us.

As chance would have it, that was right when dwarven traders arrived, with an outpost liaison from the Fence of Dreaming. But Urdim, still in the grip of that strange mood, refused to speak with him, and the diplomat left in a huff. I hope that doesn't cause us problems later.

The caravan, at least, was willing to trade, with or without our leader. Truth be told, we didn't have much to trade them. They brought a lot of goods that we could have used, but we really hadn't had time to do much crafting, ourselves. But they seemed happy enough when they left, so I suppose it was a start.

Winter turned out to be not much different from the rest of the year - hot, humid, and buggy. But Urdim emerged from the mason's workshop with the most astonishing armor stand, made of rock salt and encircled with bands of rock salt cabochons and silver.

She called it Buzat Sanreb, the Twigs of Owning (whatever that means), and it looks as valuable as hell. Oddly enough, she's a miner, not a mason. And she's never given any indication of knowing much about masonry - still doesn't, in fact. But she's back to her normal self again. Whatever that strange mood was, it's over now.

So here we are. It's spring again. We've been here one full year. So far, everyone is healthy and happy, though our water buffalo somehow starved to death, standing in the middle of a lush jungle. The dogs had puppies, the ewes had lambs, and we've got quite a bunch of chicks and turkey poults running around.

We're doing quite well for food and drink, and we've all got decent bedrooms now - if nothing too fancy (but it sure beats sleeping in the mud!). Our dining hall is still pretty rough, too, but we've come a long way.

However, at the end of winter, we were plagued with goblin thieves. We caught four of them in traps. (I'm not sure what we're going to actually do with them.) If there were more than that, we never saw them. I don't think they were successful in stealing from us - certainly, our children are all still safe - but this is only the beginning.

Now that they know we're here, we can expect further attacks. And to be honest, our defenses are still quite limited. Our traps were set up to defend against the occasional alligator or other wild beast. Against goblins,... well, we were lucky this time. But we can't count on that. And if any archers show up, our moat really won't be much protection.

We need to build walls, but there just aren't enough of us, not yet. We need more immigrants - and adults, not children. Skilled adults, hopefully. Certainly, another mason would be really, really useful.

But we'll take what we can get. And if we don't get anybody, we'll still manage. Because we're the Rhyming Towers, and we'll do whatever it takes to make Summitspear a fortress of legend.


Note: Part 2 is here.

How Kodak succumbed to the digital age

From Der Spiegel (English online edition), here's the fascinating story of Kodak, one of the most recognizable companies of the 20th Century:
If you were to turn back the hands of time to almost any point over the last 132 years, you would come across Kodak without having to look for long -- and often without even realizing it. The red-and-yellow logo and yellow film boxes were as much a part of everyday life in the West as Coca-Cola. Indeed, film made in Rochester was the universal storage medium for pictures from weddings, holidays and vacations long before the dawning of 12-megapixel digital cameras and wafer-thin smartphones.

All around the world, people immortalized themselves on Kodacolor, the first "true color negative film," introduced in 1942. Later, they put Ektachrome slides in gray plastic frames and flimsy carousels. Eventually, they would use Kodachrome, the film its creators claimed could see "better than the human eye" and which, according to the Paul Simon song of the same name, "makes you think all the world's a sunny day."

Kodak was at the heart of all the world's images. Company founder George Eastman was hailed as the Steve Jobs of his era, and Kodak was its Google. In 1900, Eastman gave the world's consumers the "Brownie," the first relatively portable photographic camera for the everyman. The Brownie would change our view of the world forever and spawned an amazingly novel -- and profitable -- business idea: While selling its cameras cheaply and in bulk, Kodak made a killing by developing the film that went in them.

This ingenious model paid off handsomely for exactly a century and, in 1999, the company enjoyed record profits of $2.5 billion. For one, last time, the company could look back with satisfaction on a century of having decisively shaped the world of images.

If you're young, you might have a hard time understanding how dominant Kodak was. As the article suggests, think Google, maybe. Kodak was everywhere. Even those famous pictures from the Moon Landing were taken on a Kodak camera on Kodak film.

Ironically, Kodak developed the world's first digital camera, in 1975. And that's where this really gets interesting, because Kodak knew that it was doomed - that its business model was doomed, at least - as early as 1979.
Back in 1979, he [Larry Matteson] summarized the prospects for digital photography in a series of rapidly rising exponential graphs. The graphs showed that -- inevitably, if not immediately -- all the products Kodak had been successful at selling -- film, photos and cameras -- would switch from analog to digital by 2010 at the latest. The world as Kodak knew it was destined to vanish, and its business would shrink to practically nothing. Almost overnight, Kodak found itself heading down what seemed like a one-way street to oblivion.

From an objective point of view, there were two particular things that the company did extremely well: First, Kodak was a world leader in organic chemistry. And, second, thanks to its unparalleled experience in making films, it had become expert in coating surfaces of all kinds with extreme precision and at lightning speed. "But you can already see where that was heading," Matteson says. "Both were qualities that were no longer needed in the production of digital images."

After focusing on chemicals and film for several decades, it would have probably been impossible -- if not insane in business terms -- for Kodak to try to reinvent itself as an electronics company. What's more, its film business was still booming in the late 1970s and promised to bring in outstanding profits for many years to come.

In addition, it was easy to figure out that the meager margins of the digital market could never hope to match those of analog film or to keep a company like Kodak above water. Thus, as many as 30 years ago, Kodak seemed to have one of two choices: to commit suicide right away or to put it off until later.

That was in 1979. Kodak filed for bankruptcy this January, more than 30 years later. They pretty well knew that it was coming.

Now, other companies have reinvented themselves. Heck, Berkshire Hathaway used to be a textile manufacturing company. Apple is another great example, though they didn't have to make such a wrenching change.

But how do you make a dramatic change in a wildly successful, hugely profitable company. The writing was on the wall, but the end was some years off. And besides, what would you do? Kodak had a great deal of expertise in what it did, and no expertise at all in anything else.
Every new board came up with a different strategy. Kodak invested in the hope of expanding its chemicals division into the pharmaceuticals business. It also spent a lot of money trying to dominate the market in digital printing -- a plan that was pursued, abandoned and then revived once again.

Bad luck also played a part in the company's eventual demise. Kodak tried extremely hard to survive the competition between analog and digital technology. It scaled back its film production in as controlled a manner as possible, while ratcheting up its digital capacities. As a result, Kodak was the leading manufacturer of digital cameras on the American market as recently as 2005. [my emphasis]

Unfortunately, the next technological leap was just around the corner, and the first smartphones were already replacing digital cameras. Indeed, people soon stopped using normal cameras to take photographs, preferring instead to snap pictures on their phones. This, in turn, triggered a race to the bottom in terms of camera prices and, by 2007, Kodak had slipped to fourth place on the American camera market. Three years later, it was seventh. One by one, Canon, Sony, Nikon and all the other camera manufactures overtook Kodak. Their products were just as good or better, and they looked nicer, more colorful and fresher.

In Tokyo, managers at the rival company Fujifilm came upon the idea of converting their chemical business into a cosmetics one. But Kodak executives couldn't come up with a radical solution that could save their company. Other similarly outside-the-box suggestions -- like using their outstanding coating technology to print wallpaper or to manufacture sandpaper or Post-it notes -- were only given brief consideration before being dismissed as undignified. Rochester was gripped by an understandable but still fatal attitude: They had given the world pictures from the surface of the moon, they reasoned, so someone else could give it wallpaper.


I think this is a fascinating story, myself. Imagine that you run one of the most famous companies in the world, and one that's extremely profitable. But your own invention is going to make all that worthless in 30 years or so. What do you do?

The people who ran Kodak weren't stupid. They might have had too much pride for their own good, but even that is hard to say. Wallpaper wasn't going to make them those kinds of profits. And there were wallpaper companies already.

In fact, any other business model would put them in direct competition with established businesses. And those businesses had expertise which Kodak would necessarily lack. Of course, they could always buy another business and get the expertise that way.

But they actually made a bold move into digital cameras and apparently did quite well, at first. Let's face it, those Asian "tigers" - Japan (the first), Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, China, etc. - have pretty well stomped American manufacturers, and especially in electronics. Is there anything electronic still manufactured in America? That would have been tough enough even by itself, but then came smartphones.

As I say, I think it's a fascinating story. And if you're a businessman or an investor, it's probably an important one. But I don't know what the lesson is. The bigger they are, the harder they fall?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

YouTube banning 'religiously offensive' videos

Note that I posted one of those videos, "The BEST emotional PORN," here. Despite the title, it was hardly offensive - except, I suppose, to the people who are determined to get offended at everything.

No, it wasn't offensive, but it was good at making its point. Don't believe me? You can download the video here and see for yourself.

Yes, it was hard-hitting. Yes, most believers would not like  the comparisons. But it wasn't pornographic. It wasn't anything that couldn't be shown to children, even.

But some believers don't want you to see it. Why? Well, probably because it's too effective. Probably because they don't have an answer to it. But that's the thing about free speech - it doesn't have to be popular speech. In fact, popular speech doesn't need protecting.

Don't take my word for it. If you didn't see the video when I posted it two weeks ago, watch it now.

Edit: According to this video, after widespread objections, YouTube backed off. Those "offensive" videos are back again. Remaining alert and defending free speech does work.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Why Republicans are having hysterics

(click image to embiggen)

From TPM, here are two charts which show why Republicans are becoming increasingly hysterical lately.

Republicans collapsed our economy during the George W. Bush administration. And it wasn't just a run-of-the-mill recession, either, but the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

When Barack Obama took office, the collapse looked to have no bottom. It was a very, very scary time. His bold moves, including the auto "bailout" and that stimulus package, stopped the collapse in its tracks, and we've been slowly clawing our way back ever since.

But it's far easier to destroy than to build. It takes time to put the biggest economy in the world back on track, especially when we took most of the rest of the world down with us. And, of course, Republicans have been dragging their feet every step of the way.

But we're getting there, and that terrifies the GOP. After all, the incumbent president normally takes the blame for poor economic conditions, even when he inherited them from his predecessor. But these graphs are a powerful argument in his defense.

Here's just the initial unemployment claims. That might be easier to see by itself:

This is powerful stuff. Republicans are reduced to claiming that yes, the economy is improving, but that it would improve faster if we put them back in power again (the same party which collapsed the economy in the first place).

As you might imagine, even Fox "News" is having a hard time making that claim stick. So Republicans are becoming increasingly hysterical, even turning to those old standbys, gay marriage, birth control, and other "culture war" issues.

My biggest fear is that Republicans in Congress will deliberately sabotage the recovery, as they did during that debt ceiling debacle last summer. That didn't stop the recovery, but by damaging America's credit rating (we lost the top rating for the first time in our history!), it delayed the recovery.

And they really need to delay the recovery for another nine months, until the election in November. That's going to be hard to do - impossible, most likely, without putting us back into recession again. Will they do that? Well, the House of Representatives is full of Tea Party types.

And the right-wing is getting increasingly hysterical. So I'm not sure I'd put anything past them.

Posthumous Mormon baptism

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Bill Maher did this, too, a week ago. But it's worth a repeat. And Stephen Colbert has his own unique style.

In America, you're free to believe any crazy thing you want. But others are free to laugh at it, if they wish. That's freedom of religion. That's freedom of speech.

The freedom to ridicule is a necessary part of those freedoms. That's America.

Rick Santorum's problem

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Note that this is the follow-up to Jon Stewart's first segment of the night, which was all about the Republican debate in Arizona. (Sometimes, embedding two clips from the Comedy Channel in the same post causes problems, so I'll just give you the link.)

Both clips were great, but I went with this one, because it explains why Rick Santorum won't ever be president. Santorum's rhetoric goes over great with the Republican base, but he says what other Republicans want to keep hidden.

After all, they know that it sounds batshit crazy to most Americans. So if they want to get elected - and they do want to get elected, oh, so very, very much - then they have to pretend.

Mitt Romney is particularly good at that, but his problem is that the Republican base doesn't know what he's pretending. They want candidates who are true believers, but just pretend to be moderate in order to get elected. Romney is all pretend. If he believes anything at all, except in his own political ambition, there's really no way to tell.

Was he lying when he was trying to be the liberal Republican governor of Massachusetts? Or is he lying now, when he's trying to out-loon the loons? The answer, of course, is yes. It's pretty clear that Romney believes only in Romney, and that he's willing to pretend to be pretty much anything you want him to be.

But Santorum is just the reverse. Ron Paul, too, actually. They don't just believe the crazy things they say, they actually say them. That's why they're not going to get the nomination. Well, Paul won't get the nomination because some of what he believes is anathema to the Republican base.

And among Republicans, if you're not 100% - if you're just 98%, say - then you're a dirty traitor. If you disagree about anything, then you're a "socialist," probably under Satan's direct control. Paul's biggest problem isn't the crazy stuff that he believes, but that he keeps saying it.

Rick Santorum has a similar, though not identical, problem. Santorum is a Republican true believer. He leaps at those culture war issues just like the rest of the Republican base. They love that. But the GOP leadership is aghast that he actually says those things.

That's not how you become a successful politician, certainly not in the GOP. To be successful in the Republican Party, you have to convince the base that you're just as loony as they are, without coming right out and saying offensive things.

Calling Barack Obama "the food stamp president" is a perfect example. It's a dog whistle which racists can hear very clearly, but still has plausible deniability among Americans - white Americans, at least - in general.

You can be racist, but if someone calls you on that, you can claim they're just being overly sensitive. Well, "those people" are like that, aren't they? ;)

Remember, in 2000, George W. Bush was the darling of the religious right. He was their candidate. But he got elected by claiming to be a "compassionate conservative." He didn't campaign on tax cuts for the rich. He didn't campaign on starting wars just for the fun of it.

Bush was a true believer on the right, but he got elected by downplaying that. No, to uninformed voters (i.e. most of them), he was going to be a "compassionate conservative," a Republican with heart.

The problem for Republicans these days is that they don't have anyone who can convincingly play that part. Santorum is too blatant for it. Newt Gingrich has far too much baggage to make it work. And Romney has played diverse parts for so long that everyone knows he's lying, no matter what he says.

In a way, it's kind of funny. But the Republican Party has taken the low road for so long that it deserves to have this kind of problem. Actually, it deserves a lot more than this, a lot more than it's going to get, unfortunately.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Welcoming our new overlords

From Indecision Forever:
Did somebody order the most immaculately perfect example of how the Citizens United ruling will be used to up-end democracy in this country? Because the Atlantic Wire just provided it.

Apparently, 25 percent of all the money flooding into the presidential race this season is coming from a mere five percent.

Oh, wait, did I say five percent? I meant five people
An analysis of January's campaign-disclosure filings reveals that 25 percent of all the money raised for the presidential race that month came from just five donors. That select group gave $19 million to various super PACs, often in support of more than one Republican candidate. Those numbers come from both The Washington Post and USA Today, though neither gives a complete list of those five top donors of 2012.

However, a look at the biggest overall donors reveals who have been the biggest supporters of this whole campaign and the outsized level of support they've provided — and some indication of how they hope the race will play out. The limit on individual contributions that can go directly to a candidate is $2,500, but when giving to a super PAC the sky is the limit. And a handful of wealthy individuals have already crossed the $1 million threshold in giving.

Now, some of you may be saying that this represents an abject perversion of "democracy." And that may be true. For now.

But I'm sure these five rich dudes will buy up all the dictionaries and fix that soon enough.

Think about that. Out of the millions of dollars spent in the Republican primary in January, one-quarter of it came from just five people!

What do you think those five people are buying with their millions? More tax cuts for the rich, of course. That goes without saying. Every Republican candidate is promising that. But what else do you think they expect to get by spending this kind of money?

And how do you think your $30 donation will stack up to that? What kind of influence do you think you'll have, with your puny donation and your single vote?

And yes, the Democrats will be using SuperPACs, too. But every single Democrat on the Supreme Court opposed that Citizens United decision which declared that corporations were people and money was speech.

That disastrous decision, which overturned longstanding precedent, was decided entirely by those Supreme Court justices who were appointed by Republican presidents. This is what we've done to ourselves by electing Republicans.

Now that money is speech, some people have a lot more "speech" than the rest of us. And like Mitt Romney, they got that "speech" at least in part because they pay a lower tax rate than you do. (Of course, Mitt Romney inherited wealth. And his young sons already have a $100 million trust fund. Well, I'm sure you started off your life with $100 million, too, didn't you?)

And now that corporations are "people," wealthy CEOs don't even have to spend their own money to buy politicians. Now they can spend yours, if you own stocks or mutual funds in your IRA or 401-k (assuming that you're lucky enough to have a pension plan). You might own part of these corporations, technically, but they control them.

And as I say, we did this to ourselves by electing Republicans. Hmm,... it's no wonder they're emphasizing those loony "culture war" issues. Who would vote for them, otherwise? Would ordinary Americans vote against their own interests like this if they weren't made to fear other people?

Satan will getcha

From the Drudge Report:
"Satan has his sights on the United States of America!" Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum has declared.

"Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition."

The former senator from Pennsylvania warned in 2008 how politics and government are falling to Satan.

"This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country - the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age?"

"He attacks all of us and he attacks all of our institutions."

Santorum made the provocative comments to students at Ave Maria University in Florida.

The White House contender described how Satan is even taking hold of some religions.

"We look at the shape of mainline Protestantism in this country and it is in shambles, it is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it."

Note that those quotes are from 2008. Still, it's not as though Santorum has become any saner in the past few years.

Check out these crazy Santorum quotes. He's against contraception because it's a "license to do things in a sexual realm." Gay marriage is just like the 9/11 attacks. And prenatal testing is all about eugenics.

But this does explain those sweater vests, I guess. He's just trying to avoid those sins of "pride, vanity, and sensuality."

President Evil,.. and now the sequel, too!

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Be afraid! Be very afraid! The 2012 election is all that stands between America and Satan's grip, just as the 2008 election was going to give us the disastrous horror of... working to recover from a recession?

But no, this has been Barack Obama's plan all along, to lure us into complacency by being a rational, middle-of-the-road president, almost embarrassingly eager to compromise with his Republican opponents. Don't fall for his trap!

It's just a massive conspiracy. That's why you never hear about Obama being a Muslim Kenyan Communist Nazi - except on Fox News and talk radio, 24 hours a day. It's a trap. Obama is just pretending to be non-satanic. When he's re-elected, that's when the pitchforks come out.

Whew! Scared enough yet? OK, now take your meds and have a good nap. Don't let the scary black man give you nightmares. And remember to vote Republican,... or Satan will get you!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Equal time for men's health

Fair is fair, right? :)

True friends

Note that the sequel is from 2007, so the artwork is a little different.

I'm just glad they're back together again. We wouldn't want any religious wars now, would we?

The Atheist Experience: totalitarian atheists

This is an excerpt from the Atheist Experience TV show, episode #747, with hosts Matt Dillahunty and Beth Presswood.

The caller here demonstrates - if we ever doubted it - that not all atheists are wise. Honestly, how crazy is this? Beth is right to call people like that "totalitarian atheists." If they had their way, they'd be just as damaging to our country as any religious nut.

The fact is, the end does not justify the means. If we've learned anything from history, we've learned that, haven't we? In general, in fact, the means tends to be far more important than the desired end, not least because we never know for sure if the result will actually be that particular end.

At the very least, atheists should realize that they'd be the first people targeted if America really did abandon freedom of religion and freedom of speech. But that's not the main reason I'm against it. And I am against it. Like Matt and Beth, I'd fight to defend your right to teach your children what you believe, whether I agree with it or not.

This episode was just from a couple of weeks ago. I watched the whole thing then, and I'd been hoping that someone would post this excerpt on YouTube, since I really did want to embed it here. (I suppose I need to learn how to do that myself.) I'm an atheist, but I think it's important to remember that individual atheists can be just as batshit crazy as anyone else.

And we need to be the first people to say that. Matt and Beth handled this exactly right, as far as I'm concerned. Those two, at least, have their head on straight.

The punanny state

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Is this really the kind of nation we want? Or would you rather keep the government out of your most personal, private matters?

Oddly enough, the self-described "small government" people want the government to be your gynecologist - with everyone else looking over his shoulder. Well, women can't be trusted to manage their own bodies, can they?

And, of course, they want the government to decide who you can and can't marry. Why? Well, because they think that sex is icky, and that gay sex is especially icky - so icky that they obsess about it every waking minute. Odd that, huh?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mr. Deity and the occupation

Tom Toles

Saturday, when preparing this post, I found a lot of great cartoons from Tom Toles, but none of them really fit that particular theme. So I thought I'd give him his own show now.

I'm still trying to fit this into a narrative theme - in this case, Republican troubles in 2012 - so some cartoons didn't make the cut for that reason (this one, for example). Well, Toles is one of my favorite political cartoonists. This is why.

That first cartoon was from three-weeks ago, and as fast as the political landscape is moving, Mitt Romney's idea about the "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants - making life in America such a living hell that they'll be clamoring to escape (and us, too, I suspect) - seems almost ancient history by now.

Still, that seems to be exactly the same tactic Republicans have been using on Barack Obama, don't you think?

Throwing up roadblocks, especially when we're trying to escape from the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, is a great way to make people unhappy with the incumbent. But, unfortunately for the Republican Party, they also have to offer an alternative candidate (if not actually a rational alternative policy).

Well, Republicans have just the guy in Mitt Romney. Too bad only Romney himself seems to think so.

Romney has the big money backing him. And since he's been running for president non-stop for years, he's got the organization. He's also willing to do anything, say anything, be anything voters want him to be.

The increasingly lunatic Republican base wants lunacy, so Romney is willing - nay, eager - to give it to them. Whatever they want, no matter how crazy, Mitt Romney will embrace it with at least the appearance of glee. Why won't you love him?

Hmm,... oddly enough, desperation seems to be working the same way for Romney as it always did for my sex life. :)

And so we've had this never-ending quest for... anybody but Romney. Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich - all were embraced for their 15 minutes of infatuation before the beer goggles wore off.

And now it's Rick Santorum's turn. Santorum? Santorum? Yeah, but remember, that was exactly the response from any rational person to all those other Republican candidates, too. How could the Republican Party be scraping the bottom of the barrel this badly?

Well, that's because nothing but the bottom of the barrel is acceptable to the GOP base. And they're still not happy. I've been hearing more and more talk about a brokered convention, where Republican leaders forget about this whole democracy thing and just pick someone brand new.

You betcha! Heh, heh. Yes, Sarah Palin has been one of the people pushing this idea. Does she really want the nomination? I rather doubt that she actually wants to be president. After all, she quit half-way through her first term as governor of Alaska - too much work for not nearly enough money.

But like Donald Trump, she can't stand to be out of the limelight. And just being noticed again will be worth a lot of money to her. Like Trump, being a celebrity means money, and money is all they care about.

I'm not sure a brokered convention is even possible. It might be the GOP's best chance in November, if they pick a candidate no one really knows - and then can keep him away from the media, so that most people are still ignorant by election day.

But think of what that means. The Republican Party has become so crazy that their election chances depend on no one knowing who they are or what they want to do! If they weren't entirely faith-based, maybe Republicans would start to wonder about that.

At any rate, there's still one more option, right?

Yup, Republicans are reduced to praying for nine more months of winter.

Despite their foot-dragging, despite their roadblocks, the economy is getting better. The sun is coming out. Green shoots are starting to show. People are starting to find work again. We're starting to see signs of spring.

And Republicans just hate it. The economy collapsed on their watch, and despite their best efforts, Barack Obama has been turning things around. They're having a harder and harder time denying that, and unless they call pull off something truly spectacular to tank the American economy again, it's going to be a big problem for them.

Let's hope that Republicans are faith-based enough to just pray for disaster, rather than actively creating one themselves. I don't think they can actually turn back the spring, but they can do plenty of damage to America trying.