Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bill O'Reilly claims that Christianity isn't a religion!

Hilarious, isn't it, that Bill O'Reilly claims Christianity isn't a religion?

Is he really this stupid? Or is that just the latest idiocy from the right-wing anti-reality bubble, to claim that our government can promote Christianity because it's a 'philosophy,' not a religion?

I think these people are losing it. I think the election has knocked the few remaining marbles from their head.

Well, forget Bill O'Reilly and the other Fox 'News' fools. If you really want to get in the Christmas spirit, here's a poem by Digital Cuttlefish:
‘Twas the night before Christmas; the Christians all hunkered
In basements of buildings they’d armored and bunkered.
They huddled in silence; they huddled in fear,
With thoughts that the atheists soon would draw near

The War Against Christmas had started on Fox—
Just a couple of fools on the idiot-box
Who were looking for noise to give ratings a boost—
But lately, those chickens have come home to roost:

Believers are frightened; they’re panicked; they’re scared,
And not one among them will go unprepared;
They’ve heard that the atheists roam, Christmas night,
So Christians stay hidden, and safe out of sight.

It’s serious business, the whole Christmas season,
When people of faith fend off people of reason—
At least, that’s the story you hear on TV,
So the basement’s the place meant for children to be

There’ll be no “Silent Night”, or “Away in the Manger”
The godless might hear it! Consider the danger!
And then, they’d attack — Why, they’ve done it for years,
With that vile “Season’s Greetings!” invading the ears!

“Happy Holidays!” may seem inclusive and nice,
But it just isn’t Christmas, unless it’s got Christ;
Those words are no less than a form of assault!
So it’s war (and it’s clearly the atheists’ fault!)

(Plus, it’s unpatriotic, and now it’s high time
We made non-Christian greetings a federal crime!
The clear, true intent of our great founding fathers—
Which someone should check, although nobody bothers)

The elders remember an earlier time,
When a bottle of Coke only cost you a dime,
Each Christmas the snowfall was brilliant and white
And there wasn’t an atheist heathen in sight!

Folks visited neighbors; they caroled with friends;
They hand-crafted gifts out of old odds and ends;
They knew that the joys of the season would last…
But now, such delights are a thing of the past.

There are rifles to oil; there is ammo to check;
There’s a radio, straining to tune in Glen Beck;
No time to sing carols, or even say prayers,
With the danger that some may be caught unawares!

A war—manufactured, but war nonetheless—
Could kill hundreds, or thousands, it’s anyone’s guess;
They’re under attack, and that is the reason
They’re locked and they’re loaded, the whole Christmas season!


The atheists, meanwhile, are feasting and singing;
Our stockings are hung and our sleigh-bells are ringing—
Though Jesus had nothing to do with a sleigh,
We’re all unbelievers, and so it’s ok!

With holly, and eggnog, and mistletoe kisses,
We’ll watch “It’s a wonderful life” (just like this is)
With family and friends—with the people who love us—
With no one beneath us, nor no one above us

We’ll celebrate all the things Christmas is for,
Like giving, and loving, not hatred or war
And we’ll say to the world (cos we’ve got every right):
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Boycotting reality

Indecision Forever asks if it's possible to die of an overdose of schadenfreude. I hope not, because I'm really enjoying this stuff:
Obamacare does not cover the artery-splitting joy produced at the sight of people who think Romney still has a shot at this thing

A state senator from north-central Idaho is touting a scheme that’s been circulating on tea party blogs, calling for states that supported Mitt Romney to refuse to participate in the Electoral College in a move backers believe would change the election result.

Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, sent an article out on Twitter headed, "A 'last chance' to have Mitt Romney as President in January (it's still not too late)."

Nuxoll isn't alone…

The "idea" — originated in a Judson Phillips WorldNetDaily post — is to deny Obama an Electoral College quorum by asking that at least one third of electors not participate in the voting. The only problem with this scheme: There's no such thing as an Electoral College quorum. The College never actually meets as one — the electors gather in state capitals and forward their ballots to the House of Representatives for counting.

It may be surprising that people who claim to worship the Constitution would make such an elementary mistake, until you realize the first rule of adoring the Constitution is that you must never, ever read it.

Yes, this came from WingNutDaily. Big surprise, huh? And of course the crazies are going to be passing it around in email, on Twitter, and at right-wing blogs. Well, they tend to live in a little bubble, where reality is kept at a distance.

And in this bubble, Barack Obama didn't really win. No, actually, Mitt Romney won in a landslide. It's just that massive voter fraud - and probably a worldwide conspiracy of scientists and the lamestream media - has stolen the election.

But there's still time! Mitt Romney can still be president - inside the bubble, at least.

But there's more. Did you know that the Romney campaign actually did great? Yes, just ask the guy who ran it:
Breaking news from the Washington Post: A Romney advisor thinks Mitt Romney did, like, so awesome in this election, and we should all feel really good about the future of the Republican Party. ...
I appreciate that Mitt Romney was never a favorite of D.C.’s Green Room crowd or, frankly, of many politicians. That’s why, a year ago, so few of those people thought he would win the nomination… Nobody liked Romney except voters.

Ah, yes. The voters loved Romney, so long as you only count the ones with appropriately sized 401(k)s.
He bested the competition in debates, and though he was behind almost every candidate in the primary at one time or the other, he won the nomination and came very close to winning the presidency.

Have we so quickly forgotten primary season? Romney won because he was less stupid than Perry and Bachmann and more superstitious than Huntsman. Romney became the nominee the same way Ramen noodles become dinner: There’s nothing else around, and you have to pick something. And the Hot Pockets believe in evolution. ...
Losing is just losing. It’s not a mandate to throw out every idea that the candidate championed, and I would hope it’s not seen as an excuse to show disrespect for a good man who fought hard for values we admire.

We shouldn’t throw out every idea Romney championed? Romney threw out every idea Romney championed. He went from banning assault weapons to saying he would veto all gun control legislation ever. He went from wanting gays to be able to serve openly in the military to being all like, “We are warring, gays are gross.” He went from resolutely pro-choice to wanting to burn Roe v. Wade at the stake and hang Harry Blackmun in effigy. Do we have to keep going? The only thing Romney championed was Romney.

The quotes are from Romney campaign "chief strategist" Stuart Stevens in the Washington Post. But I loved the phrasing from Rich Abdill: "Romney became the nominee the same way Ramen noodles become dinner: There’s nothing else around, and you have to pick something. And the Hot Pockets believe in evolution."

And "nobody liked Romney except voters"? Even Republicans didn't like Mitt Romney! They went through a long, drawn-out primary season trying to find someone, anyone, else. But look at their other choices: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich,...

Now, I understand that the Republican base lives in its own little bubble, but I guess I always thought that Republican leaders knew better (but were just cynical enough to use their followers' ignorance, bigotry, and gullibility).

But I'm beginning to wonder, now. The reaction to this election has been absolutely crazy from top to bottom in the GOP. It's not just the Republican base that's boycotting reality, but their leaders, too.

Well, there's nothing easier than believing what you want to believe, even for rational people. And when you're entirely faith-based, well, you're not going to let reality affect your opinions at all.

As I say, I'm enjoying the crazy this time. But I had to put up with eight years of George W. Bush, so I think I deserve a little schadenfreude, don't you think?

PS. There are a lot more of these signs here.

Women, it's all your fault,... apparently

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Sisters Are Doing It to Themselves
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I realize that it's unusual to blame women for anything. (Right, Catholic Church?) Certainly, women never blame themselves for anything, do they? (I hope your sarcasm detector is working.)

But clearly, it's the women waging war on us poor, defenseless men who've caused the disasters in today's world - the women controlling our multinational corporations, the women who run our banks, the women who dominate our political system (and our religions). I see that now.

And how do you think we men feel about it? How could we weak, timid, unassertive men possibly compete with such amazons? Wah! It's just not fair!

Sadly enough, I see a lot of that kind of thinking online. There really is a subculture of misogynists who think that way. Call me naive, but that shocked me. Hadn't this battle been won decades ago? Are we still trying to keep women submissive and obedient to their lord and master, per God's (or Yahweh's or Allah's) plan?

Of course, this was at Fox 'News.' Gee, you have to wonder why the Republican Party is losing women, don't you? Since the start of the sexual revolution, we men haven't changed much? Um, maybe that's the problem.

But what kind of pathetic loser would a man have to be to object to a strong, confident, smart woman? Do you really think that Saudi Arabia is a good role-model for America?

As a man, these pathetic 'men's rights' idiots just embarrass me. So I can only imagine what women must think of Suzanne Venker!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Author slams Fox News on Fox News

It just doesn't get any better than that, does it?

Well, OK, it probably does. But I love it when Fox 'News' gets even a tiny bit of the criticism it deserves. And when it happens on Fox itself? Well, that's just the gravy on the pancakes.

Did Social Security and Medicare collapse the economy?

Here's a very pertinent column at Yahoo Finance:
The talk in Washington these days might lead people to think that the main cause of the economic downturn is the Social Security and Medicare benefits being paid to retirees. After all, we have people from both parties giving us assurances that cuts to these programs are an essential part of any budget deal. This is the sort of topsy-turvy thinking that passes as conventional wisdom in Washington.

In case it's necessary to remind people, our economy plunged due to the collapse of a Wall Street fueled housing bubble. The loss of demand from the collapse of the housing bubble both led to a jump in the unemployment rate from which we have still not fully recovered and also the large deficits of the last five years. ...

The reason that we suddenly got large deficits was the economic downturn which caused tax revenue to plummet and increased spending on programs like unemployment insurance. We also had temporary measures that included tax cuts like the payroll tax holiday and various spending programs that further raised the deficit.

However these stimulus measures were temporary and were quite explicitly designed to boost the economy. Had it not been for the downturn, they would not have occurred. There is very little by way of permanent changes from the pre-recession tax and spending policy that would raise the budget deficits from the low levels that had been projected in 2008. This means that the story of current deficits is the story of the collapsed housing bubble.

So why all this talk about "entitlements"? (Note that the word alone makes me angry, since you might think our seniors are expecting something for nothing, instead of having fulfilled their part of the bargain by paying FICA taxes their entire working life.)

Social Security and Medicare did not collapse the economy. Yes, they're big expenses in the federal budget, but so were the two wars we waged for no reason (and without raising taxes to actually pay for).

So were Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, which were specifically set to expire after ten years because of the disastrous effect they would have - and did have - on our budget deficit. That was why they were made temporary (although they should never have been passed anyway).

We're not in a bind because of Social Security and Medicare, certainly not in the short- to medium-term. Long-term, we have to get a handle on medical expenses in general - this is not just a problem with Medicare - but Social Security is in good shape, requiring only a very modest fix (like eliminating the cap on contributions, at most).

But what do we hear from Washington?
In a sane world we might be looking to square the deck with the folks who brought us the bubble. One obvious way would be a modest financial speculation tax like the one that the UK has had in effect on stock transfers for centuries. A modest tax on trades of stock, options, credit default swaps and other derivative instruments could raise enormous amounts of money while barely affecting normal investors.

The Joint Tax Committee estimated that a 0.03 percent speculation tax proposed by Senator Tom Harkin and Representative Peter Defazio would raise almost $40 billion a year. This bill would imply a tax of just $3 on $10,000 of trades. Since computerization has caused trading costs to plummet, this tax would just raise transaction costs back to where they were 10-15 years ago.

The big hit would be on the high speed traders and other fast turnover types who are flipping stock and other assets by the hour or even by the second. This trading is a drain on the economy and cutting it back would free up resources for productive activity.

(Please note that financial experts are becoming increasingly worried about this high-speed computerized trading, which flips stocks far too quickly for human beings to react. This would be a very good way to discourage this practice, which is becoming more and more dangerous to our financial system by the day.

(And $3 per $10,000 trade hardly seems excessive under normal circumstances, does it? Do you think you'll go bankrupt the next time you buy $10,000 worth of stock and have to pay an extra $3?)
But It Won't Happen

But in Washington policy circles, taxing Wall Street is off the agenda, cutting Social Security and Medicare is on the agenda. And, best of all, many of the people at the center of the housing crash are playing leading roles in this drive to cut retirees benefits.

Last week, many people might have seen Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, talking about the need to cut Social Security benefits and raise the retirement age. The last time that Mr. Blankfein was very visible in policy debates he was desperately seeking a bailout for Goldman Sachs which was facing a bank run that pushed the company to the edge of bankruptcy.

It was granted special protection from the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. This protection, coupled with tens of billions of dollars in loans at below market interest rates allowed Goldman Sachs to regain its health. Now its CEO wants to cut our Social Security.

An even more amazing apparition in this story is former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan. More than anyone in the whole country, Greenspan deserves blame for the economic downturn. As the bubble was growing to ever more dangerous levels, Greenspan was cheering it on, insisting that there was no bubble, and that even if there was a housing bubble its collapse would pose no special problem for the economy.

In a sane world, Greenspan would be hiding away somewhere enjoying his high six-figure pension. But this isn't a sane world, this is Washington. Therefore we could find Greenspan telling us that another recession would be a price worth paying, if it led to cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

I wish we could expect the Democrats to defend us from this, but - either because of timidity, the need to milk Wall Street for campaign contributions themselves, or just the overpowering need to get Republicans to like them - they've adopted this rhetoric themselves, to a large extent.

I don't know if Democrats will cave (like they have every other time), but,... let's just say that I'm not confident they won't. And I would bet cold, hard cash that this 'speculation tax' is dead in the water, without the slightest chance of it becoming law.

Admittedly, Republicans still control the House of Representatives - and still control the Senate, effectively, due to the insane rules on filibustering currently in effect. (And if the Democrats don't change the rules this time, I'm going to be just about ready to give up on them!)

Edit: Just after I posted that, I saw this video clip with Cenk Uygur ranting about pretty much the same thing:

One other thing to note is that, thanks to Citizens United, these CEOs don't even have to use their own money to buy politicians. Instead, they can use the corporation's money - yours, if you own any stocks or mutual funds (say in your retirement plan?) - and they can keep it a secret from you, from all the other shareholders, and from the corporation's customers, too.

That's what Republicans on the Supreme Court have given us. For all the Democratic Party's faults - and they're legion - note that every Democrat on the Supreme Court opposed Citizens United.

Can demon sex make you gay?

From AlterNet:
The reigning scientific consensus on sexual orientation is that it's an inherited, biological trait, but that's just because scientists don't know how to party. A far sexier explanation has been offered up by Christian magazine Charisma, which conducted its own investigation into the origins of homosexuality to reveal the real culprit: sex with demons.

As it turns out, it's not just homosexuality you have to fear, but erotic dreams of all kinds. Yes, this Christian magazine is trying to make you fear your dreams! Can you imagine the poor kids who are brought up to believe this kind of superstition?

From their article, sensationally titled "Can You Be Raped by the Devil?" (short answer: no, you can't, because the Devil is just make-believe):
Can demons engage in sexual activity with humans?

As bizarre as it sounds, those who minister to people in occult bondage say it's more common than you think. ...

The former stripper [Contessa Adams] has a ministry through which she exposes one of Satan's darkest secrets—sexual demons.

These spiritual rapists, as Adams describes them in her book, Consequences, often prey on people by performing sexual acts through nightmares and erotic dreams. ...

The two most identifiable sexual demons are the incubus, which is a male sexual demon that traditionally assaults women, and the succubus, which is a female sexual demon that assaults men. Sometimes they also lure people into homosexual behavior.

Adams notes that one evangelist, whose name she would not divulge, was so troubled by the sexual pleasure the succubus gave her that she even contemplated suicide.

Adams says the succubus spirit that used to attack her confused her so much that she contemplated becoming a lesbian. ...

Eddie Smith, the president of U.S. Prayer Track and a respected leader in deliverance ministry, believes that experiences like Adams' are common. He and his wife, Alice, have ministered to "at least hundreds" of people suffering from demonic sexual attacks.

Sure, this is funny, but I can't help but think of the people raised to believe this kind of bullshit.

Kids who usually struggle to come to terms with their homosexuality must have it far, far worse in an environment which not only identifies it as wrong, but actually claims the Devil is responsible.

And for all kids, to teach them to fear their dreams - especially their erotic dreams - well, that's just child-abuse.

Dreams are nothing. Dreams are just your idle brain struggling to make sense out of nerve synapse firing when your rational mind is turned off. Even at the edge of sleep, you're not particularly rational.

And especially at puberty - though not just then - you've got hormones flooding through your system. Your body is undergoing significant changes. Erotic dreams are natural, and like all dreams, they don't have to make sense.

Ignore your dreams. Laugh at them. Heck, enjoy them, when they're enjoyable. But don't fear them.

And if you love your kids, don't teach them crap like this!

(PS. I must admit that I wonder if this "former stripper" - with a name like 'Contessa Adams,' of course she became a stripper! - believes any of this herself, or if she's just found a clever way to milk the ignorant and the gullible.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

The GOP feeding frenzy

I'm still loving this! And both of these guys are absolutely right:

Steve Oh: "If not Romney, then who?" Exactly! Look at the candidates the Republican base really wanted: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum,... each one crazier than the next.

Jimmy Dore: "The reason they lost is every reason except the real reason, which is their policies suck and people rejected them. They want to make it about everything else." Yup. But you can bet that Republicans will convince themselves that someone else was at fault, not themselves, never themselves.

Well, I'm sure loving the right-wing feeding frenzy, anyway.

As God is my witness...

Here's another one that's too late for Thanksgiving. Oh, well, too bad, but I thought it was hilarious.

If you don't get the joke, I guess you've just lived a sad, sheltered life, haven't you? But this might help:

That was a classic episode of a really funny television show, wasn't it?

Sunday, November 25, 2012


If you live in England, I'm sure you know about QI ('Quite Interesting'), but as an American, I was happy to discover these video clips on YouTube.

This one was apparently the pilot, from when the show started in 2003. The set has certainly changed since then, but the format is the same. And the shows tend to be absolutely hilarious!

Anyway, if you want to check it out (I'll warn you that it can be a real time-waster), here's a playlist covering every season, apparently. Here's another.

Note that the shows are identified by letters, with the first season being 'A' and the current season 'J.' The 'XL' shows are 'extended length' - about 45 minutes, rather than a half hour for the others.

I've just been sampling them - there's a lot of television there - but my gut hurts from laughing so hard. They really are quite interesting... and quite funny.

The sin of Onan

Entertaining and educational, isn't it?

Personally, I think the celibate old men in the Catholic Church would be better off with a healthy sex life, rather than obsessing over what everyone else might be doing or not doing.

Lee Atwater and the GOP 'Southern strategy'

This is just a brief excerpt from the 42-minute interview, which is available here (along with the following quotes):
It has become, for liberals and leftists enraged by the way Republicans never suffer the consequences for turning electoral politics into a cesspool, a kind of smoking gun. The late, legendarily brutal campaign consultant Lee Atwater explains how Republicans can win the vote of racists without sounding racist themselves:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

... The back-story goes like this. In 1981, Atwater, after a decade as South Carolina's most effective Republican operative, was working in Ronald Reagan's White House when he was interviewed by Alexander Lamis, a political scientist at Case Western Reserve University. Lamis published the interview without using Atwater's name in his 1984 book The Two-Party South. Fifteen years later—and eight years after Atwater passed away from cancer—Lamis republished the interview in another book using Atwater’s name. For seven years no one paid much attention. Then the New York Times' Bob Herbert, a bit of an Atwater obsessive, quoted it in an October 6, 2005 column—then five more times over the next four years.

Those words soon became legend... Curious about the remarks' context, Carter, who learned Lamis had died in 2012, asked his widow if she would consider releasing the audio of the interview, especially in light of the use of race-baiting dog-whistles (lies about Obama ending work requirements for welfare; "jokes" about his supposed Kenyan provenance) in the Romney presidential campaign. RenĂ©e Lamis, an Obama donor, agreed that very same night. For one thing she was “upset,” Carter told me, that “for some time, conservatives believed [her] husband made up the Atwater interview.” For another, she was eager to illustrate that her husband's use of the Atwater quote was scholarly, not political. ...

In 2005, the political scientists Nicholas Valentino and David Sears demonstrated that a Southern man holding conservative positions on issues other than race is no more likely than a conservative Northerner to vote for a Democrat. But when the relevant identifier is anti-black answers to survey questions—like whether one agrees “If blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites”—white Southerners were twice as likely than white Northerners to refuse to vote Democratic. As another political scientist, Thomas Schaller, wrote in his 2006 book Whistling Past Dixie (which naturally quotes the infamous Atwater lines), “Despite the best efforts of Republican spinmeisters...the partisan impact of racial attitudes in the South is stronger today than in the past.”

Which one particular Republican spinmeister, when he wasn't preening before political scientists, knew fully well—which was why, seven years after that interview, in his stated goal to “rip the bark off the little bastard [Michael Dukakis]” on behalf of his candidate George H.W. Bush, Atwater ran the infamous ad blaming Dukakis for an escaped Massachusetts convict, Willie Horton, “repeatedly raping” an apparently white girl. Indeed, Atwater pledged to make "Willie Horton his running mate." The commercial was sponsored by a dummy outfit called the National Security Political Action Committee—which it is true, was a whole lot more abstract than saying "nigger, nigger, nigger."

This is the Republican Party's 'Southern strategy,' which I've mentioned many times before. But I'll keep mentioning it, because we Americans don't seem to understand our own political history. And it's important, very important.

The Democratic Party was created in the 1830s from the earlier Democratic-Republican Party, but our country's dispute over slavery caused anti-slavery members to leave the party in 1854, joining with former Whigs to create the brand-new Republican Party.

For more than a century after that, the South was solidly Democratic. African-Americans tended to vote Republican, when they were allowed to vote at all. Back then, New England was the Republican base.

But there were cracks in the Democratic Party as early as the 1930's - and an open revolt in 1948, when President Harry Truman integrated the U.S. military. (He'd established, by executive order, the President's Committee on Civil Rights and then, following that committee's recommendations, integrated both the federal work force and the armed services, also by executive order.)

Southern whites were furious! In 1948, Strom Thurmond (later, Republican Strom Thurmond) ran for president in the breakaway Dixiecrat Party. This is from the Dixiecrat platform:
We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race; the constitutional right to choose one's associates; to accept private employment without governmental interference, and to earn one's living in any lawful way. We oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes, the control of private employment by Federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil rights program. We favor home-rule, local self-government and a minimum interference with individual rights.

We oppose and condemn the action of the Democratic Convention in sponsoring a civil rights program calling for the elimination of segregation, social equality by Federal fiat, regulations of private employment practices, voting, and local law enforcement.

The Dixiecrats ended up taking Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina - and one electoral vote from Tennessee. (Apparently, Truman wasn't even on the ballot in Alabama!)

Now, remember, the South was solidly Democratic back then. Heck, Truman himself was from Missouri. The Dixiecrat revolt was why the presidential election was so close (leading to that famous photo, below), because those 39 Electoral College votes would otherwise have gone to the Democrats.

The Dixiecrat Party folded soon after the election, but Southern whites remained furious at the northerners in their party. Then, in 1964, another Democratic president, Lyndon B. Johnson, signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law. (Note that Johnson was from the South - Texas - himself.)

This law basically outlawed state-sponsored racial segregation - and discrimination against women, too. As an aside, you might find this of interest:
Historians speculate that [Virginia Democrat Howard W.] Smith was trying to embarrass northern Democrats who opposed civil rights for women because the clause was opposed by labor unions. Representative Carl Elliott of Alabama later claimed, "Smith didn't give a damn about women's rights...he was trying to knock off votes either then or down the line because there was always a hard core of men who didn't favor women's rights,"[22] and the Congressional Record records that Smith was greeted by laughter when he introduced the amendment.[23]

That may or may not have been Smith's motivation, but can you imagine laughing at the very idea of civil rights for women?

Anyway, Southern whites were, predictably, enraged by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Republicans saw their opportunity to take the South. (Both sides knew what would happen, but to their credit, northern Democrats - and President Johnson - did the right thing, anyway.) Thus, in their notorious 'Southern strategy,' Republican leaders deliberately planned to appeal to white racists.

And it was hugely successful. Sure, they lost the African-American vote, but black people were a minority everywhere. As time went on, they started losing moderate whites, too - Republicans who were uncomfortable with such racism or simply uncomfortable with becoming, in effect, Dixiecrats. But taking the entire South from the Democrats more than made up for those minor losses.

Today, there is no part of America as solidly Republican as the South. Just think of what a huge political shift that was. The South had been solidly Democratic for more than a hundred years - since before the Civil War, in fact. And now, it's been flipped completely in reverse. White southerners have become Republicans, while African-Americans have overwhelmingly abandoned the 'party of Lincoln' for the Democrats (the party of slavery, those many years ago).

But keep in mind that cultures don't change so dramatically. Sure, the South is not what it was like decades ago, not at all, but racism hasn't completely vanished, either. Heck, last year, a poll showed that almost half of Mississippi Republicans still thought that interracial marriage should be illegal.

Yeah, it's more than six decades after the Dixiecrat Party folded - and 45 years after Loving v. Virginia - but this kind of thinking still exists. But now, they're Republicans, not Democrats. In fact, now they're the Republican base. And that has hugely changed the Republican Party. This is no longer the party of Lincoln!

Atwater's interview indicated how their Southern strategy worked. "Nigger, nigger, nigger" could work in 1954, but it was counterproductive even by 1968. Oh, it would attract some people, but it would turn off a lot more. So they had to start using code words. Everyone knew what they meant, but it wasn't racist if you used polite language, right?

(As another aside, I remember accusing my parents of racism when I was a kid. They would indignantly deny it,... and then they would turn around and say something racist. "I'm not racist, but..." They just couldn't see how racist they were. They'd simply bought into the stereotypes they'd heard all their life - here in Nebraska, they'd never really known anyone of another race - and it's not racist if it's true, is it?)

Republican leaders knew what they were doing - and what they're still doing - but they can deny it when they don't go too far. (And that's a moving target, because we are progressing as a nation.) Still, it's not working nearly as well for them as it used to.

But make no mistake, this was hugely successful for the Republican Party! By taking the South, they've been able to dominate nationally for decades, steering America to the far right, despite such disasters as Richard M. Nixon and George W. Bush. True, they didn't bring back segregation - they didn't even try - but that wasn't their intent, anyway.

After all, they didn't really want to change their party. What they wanted was political power. And what they wanted it for was mostly to give tax cuts to the rich. Their motivation wasn't race-based, that was only the means. They just wanted to use those racists in order to make right-wing economic changes. And it worked.

At the time of this interview, in 1981, Atwater was working for Ronald Reagan. Remember those 'Reagan Democrats'?
In 1985, Stanley Greenberg, then a political scientist, immersed himself in Macomb County, a blue-collar Detroit suburb where whites had abandoned the Democratic Party in droves. He found that the Reagan Democrats there understood politics almost entirely in racial terms, translating any Democratic appeal to economic justice as taking their money to subsidize the black underclass. And it didn’t end with the Reagan era. Piles of recent studies have found that voters often conflate “social” and “economic” issues. What social scientists delicately call “ethnocentrism” and “racial resentment” and “ingroup solidarity” are defining attributes of conservative voting behavior, and help organize a familiar if not necessarily rational coalition of ideological interests. Doctrines like neoconservative foreign policy, supply-side economics, and climate skepticism may bear little connection to each other at the level of abstract thought. But boiled down to political sound bites and served up to the voters, they blend into an indistinguishable stew of racial, religious, cultural, and nationalistic identity.

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Atwater knew this. Atwater used race - coded language, nothing so vulgar as "nigger, nigger, nigger" (not because of any ethical concerns, but simply because being too blatant would "backfire") - to push Republican politicians and Republican policies. And Republicans continue to do this.

But there are two things to keep in mind. The first is that you can't fill your political party with racists without having some effect on the party itself. Republican leaders thought to use those people - maybe just throwing them a bone on occasion - but as the party filled up with racists, and as blacks and non-racist whites left the party, this new GOP base was no longer satisfied with just an occasional bone.

More and more, they've been throwing their weight around. Well, they're now the GOP base. Republican leaders thought to use them, but now no Republican dares to cross them. Do you wonder why the Republican Party keeps nominating such crazy people - Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, etc.?

Do you wonder why Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Donald Trump, and Herman Cain all led in polls at one time or another during the 2012 Republican presidential primary - and why Mitt Romney had to deny everything sane he's ever done in his life? Do you wonder how we got George W. Bush in the White House?

I'd say that the tail has begun to wag the dog, but this is the GOP dog these days. And it's all a result of their 'Southern strategy.' This is where deliberately appealing to white racists has gotten them. This is where deliberately encouraging racial fear and resentment has gotten them.

But it's worked. Oh, it's been very, very successful for them. Only,... maybe not this year.

After the complete disaster of George W. Bush, it's not at all surprising that a Democrat took the White House in 2008. A black Democrat,... well, that's more surprising. But still, look what happened after Richard M. Nixon, when the president, the vice-president, and the attorney general were all forced to resign and half of his senior administration officials went to jail.

Democrats won big after that,... but it didn't last. The Republicans' Southern strategy was just too powerful. Taking the entire South from the Democrats was just a fantastic political win, and they've used that power to turn America to the right (certainly in economic terms, and they've been trying to force us into right-wing social policies, too).

If the Democrats had lost this year, we'd be right back in that same pattern again. Sure, a disastrous Republican would give them an opening, but it wouldn't last. But now, well, maybe that Southern strategy has run its course. In fact, maybe it's become a disadvantage to the GOP.

I don't know about you, but I'd be very pleased to learn that deliberately wooing white racists has ended up being a disadvantage to the Republican Party. No, I'm not ready to say that, not yet. After all, they've had a lot of successes from using that strategy. They've pushed America down a right-wing path (and, not the least of it, they've packed the Supreme Court with far-right-wing justices).

They got Citizens United out of it. They got Fox 'News' out of it. They got record income-inequality out of it, and perpetual war, and Super PACs, and... well, they've had a lot of successes which aren't going to go away easily or quickly.

So, I guess we'll see, huh? This is what's fascinating about politics. We're creating history in real-time. What we do today matters.

PS. My thanks to Jeff for the original link.

When evidence contradicts faith...

Paul Krugman always writes a great column in the New York Times:
Earlier this week, GQ magazine published an interview with Senator Marco Rubio, whom many consider a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in which Mr. Rubio was asked how old the earth is. After declaring “I’m not a scientist, man,” the senator went into desperate evasive action, ending with the declaration that “it’s one of the great mysteries.”

It’s funny stuff, and conservatives would like us to forget about it as soon as possible. Hey, they say, he was just pandering to likely voters in the 2016 Republican primaries — a claim that for some reason is supposed to comfort us. ...

By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education.

First, it's even worse than that. What Rubio said was, "Whether the Earth was created in 7 days, or 7 actual eras, I'm not sure we'll ever be able to answer that. It's one of the great mysteries."

Um, say what? Scientists do know how old the Earth is. Geologists can answer that, right now. It's only a 'mystery' if you reject science.

And note that Marco Rubio is on the Senate science committee (specifically, the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation)! Of course, he's a Republican.

And yes, whether he's ignorant enough to believe what he says or just cynical enough to pander to - and encourage - the scientific ignorance which is widespread in the GOP base,... how exactly is one possibility supposed to be better than the other, especially when he acts on the idiotic things he says?

It's not just about the age of the Earth, either:
What was Mr. Rubio’s complaint about science teaching? That it might undermine children’s faith in what their parents told them to believe. And right there you have the modern G.O.P.’s attitude, not just toward biology, but toward everything: If evidence seems to contradict faith, suppress the evidence.

The most obvious example other than evolution is man-made climate change. As the evidence for a warming planet becomes ever stronger — and ever scarier — the G.O.P. has buried deeper into denial, into assertions that the whole thing is a hoax concocted by a vast conspiracy of scientists. And this denial has been accompanied by frantic efforts to silence and punish anyone reporting the inconvenient facts.

But the same phenomenon is visible in many other fields. The most recent demonstration came in the matter of election polls. Coming into the recent election, state-level polling clearly pointed to an Obama victory — yet more or less the whole Republican Party refused to acknowledge this reality. Instead, pundits and politicians alike fiercely denied the numbers and personally attacked anyone pointing out the obvious; the demonizing of The Times’s Nate Silver, in particular, was remarkable to behold. ...

Coming back to the age of the earth: Does it matter? No, says Mr. Rubio, pronouncing it “a dispute amongst theologians” — what about the geologists? — that has “has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States.” But he couldn’t be more wrong.

We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role. How are we going to search effectively for natural resources if schools trying to teach modern geology must give equal time to claims that the world is only 6.000 years old? How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?

And then there’s the matter of using evidence to shape economic policy. You may have read about the recent study from the Congressional Research Service finding no empirical support for the dogma that cutting taxes on the wealthy leads to higher economic growth. How did Republicans respond? By suppressing the report. On economics, as in hard science, modern conservatives don’t want to hear anything challenging their preconceptions — and they don’t want anyone else to hear about it, either.

So don’t shrug off Mr. Rubio’s awkward moment. His inability to deal with geological evidence was symptomatic of a much broader problem — one that may, in the end, set America on a path of inexorable decline.

None of this is exaggerated. I wish it was. Remember the Texas Republican Party platform which opposed teaching critical-thinking skills in school? Their reasoning was that children should come out of school believing exactly what they believed when entering it!

This is the philosophy of a people who want to believe what they want to believe, regardless of the facts. And they want everyone else to be equally ignorant, too.

But it doesn't just affect them. It affects all of us. They elect politicians who think the same way, and that's been disastrous for America in recent decades.

As just one example, Republicans still control the House of Representatives, and three climate change deniers are all vying for the chairmanship. (It would have been four, but Todd 'legitimate rape' Akins will not be coming back next year.)

And we're at a time when this is the scientific consensus:

As Krugman points out, it's not just science, since they reject - and attempt to suppress - the evidence about economics, too (among other things). Well, they're faith-based, so they still believe in the same policies which failed so dramatically during the George W. Bush administration.

Trickle-down economics is still Republican Party dogma, because faith isn't evidence-based. Faith is just believing. (And it's absolutely no coincidence that fundamentalist religion is such a huge part of the GOP.)

Only cowards refuse to face reality. Only cowards retreat into fantasy like this. I'm not talking about religion, though there's definitely a connection. But we used to keep our faith-based thinking restricted to Sundays. The other six days of the week, we'd live in the real world.

Americans never used to be such cowards, and if we continue like this, the rest of the world will pass us by. Well, no, actually. We're all in this together, whether we like it or not. This kind of ignorance will affect the rest of the world, just as it was our economic policies which collapsed the global economy during the Bush years.

But our influence will wane. And, more importantly, we'll make it harder - far harder - for rational people everywhere to survive and thrive. Don't dismiss this as just 'politics as usual.' This is critically important.

Of course, it is politics. That is, after all, how we make collective decisions. And Republicans are responding to their recent defeat by trying to keep their real opinions a secret. Sure, they still believe the same thing about 'legitimate rape.' They're just determined to stop talking about it, at least until they get back into power again.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Pat Robertson, Eric Hovind, and the God who knows everything

Pat Robertson admits that he blew it (or God did).

Remember back in January, when Robertson said that 'God' had told him who would win the presidential election this year? Back then, he was too coy to announce who that was.

But to give him credit, he now admits that he was wrong, despite all his practice. "I sho' did miss it. And I thought I'd heard from God, I thought I had heard clearly from God. What happened? What intervenes? Why? You ask God, how'd I miss it?"

Unfortunately, he doesn't go far enough to wonder if he's ever heard from God. He just can't take it far enough to wonder if it's always been his imagination. But that's the problem when you have no method to distinguish delusion and wishful-thinking from reality.

There's no good evidence that any god exists, let alone a particular god. But Robertson just believes what he was brought up to believe, just as he raised his own children to believe. It's faith-based thinking which spans the generations, as it depends entirely on what you want to believe.

Here's another example:

This is Eric Hovind arguing with an 11-year-old. Funny, huh?

After all, the kid has a good question. How can you tell it's really 'God' talking to you, instead of just "one part of your brain actually talking to itself"?

But Hovind just doesn't get it. "If you don't know everything, then you can't know anything to be absolutely truth [sic]."

The kid has a good comeback: "If I don't know everything in the world, then I don't know that you exist?"

I thought Hovind was trying to make the point that we can't know anything for certain, that no matter what, we could always be mistaken. (My answer to that would be... sure, but so what? If we can't know anything for absolute certain, we can still use the best methods of determining the truth and be reasonably confident in the results.)

But no, he's apparently saying that, since we don't know everything, we can't know anything, even to a reasonable degree of confidence (which is flat-out wrong).

In fact, the only way to know anything for certain, according to Hovind, is to have revelation from someone who does know everything, "and that somebody that does know everything is God."

But the kid is too smart for that. "So that means if I don't know everything, that means that I don't know if God exists."

And he's absolutely right. If Hovind is correct, and we can't know anything, then he can't possibly know that 'God' exists, he can't possibly know that God knows everything, and he can't possibly know that God is revealing anything to him.

Either Hovind doesn't get it, or he doesn't want to admit it. "If I knew everything there was to know, if I had all knowledge and you didn't, and there was a rule that said 'I am never, ever, ever allowed to tell a lie,' ... could you now know that to be true, even though you, Chad, don't know everything?"

Hovind is very good at baffling with bullshit, and the kid does seem a bit confused by that (reasonably enough), but he still seems to see the essential point. If you really can't know anything, then you simply can't know that someone "has all knowledge" and you can't know that he won't lie to you - and you can't know anything else about this hypothetical situation, either, not even if that 'somebody' really exists.

Both of these videos demonstrate the essential problem with religion. Without evidence - real evidence - you simply can't distinguish delusion and wishful-thinking from reality. Even with evidence, you could be wrong. But without it, you don't even have a halfway reasonable expectation of being right.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Jessica Ahlquist at Skepticon 5

This is Jessica Ahlquist at Skepticon 5 in Springfield, MO, a couple of weeks ago. The video is poor - it was captured by a member of the audience - but the audio is fine. (I'll replace this video clip later, if a better copy is posted.)  Edit: I did replace the video clip. This one is much better.

I've blogged about Jessica before, so you might check that if you're not already familiar with her story. (In fact, my brother gave me one of those "Evil Little Thing" t-shirts.)

But listening to her talk, I can't help but remark at how sane she seems. I mean, she's smart, she's articulate, she's wonderfully nice,... but above all, her head really seems to be on straight, don't you think?

Apparently, she wants to continue as an activist, and it's really hard to imagine that she won't be a huge success at it.

Here's another video clip she posted herself, last January, just answering questions from people. America will be in good shape, if we've got many young people like that.

Rebecca Watson at Skepticon 5: How girls evolved to shop

Rebecca Watson is a great speaker, perceptive and very funny. But she takes a lot of crap from misogynists online. You should see some of the comments she gets.

And yes, some of them are apparently from atheists (men, naturally - usually those loony "men's rights" activists). Well, being an atheist doesn't make you rational. (It's the other way around. Being rational tends to make you an atheist - if you can struggle past your upbringing, at least.)

If you check out the other videos from Skepticon 5, they hardly have any negative ratings at all. But more than a third of the ratings on this talk are negative, and the comments seem to be more negative even than that.

Now, you can dislike a video for many reasons. I have no problem with that. Still, what's really to dislike about this one? And this is absolutely typical of any video clip featuring Rebecca Watson. Her detractors really seem to search them out.

And with some of those,... well, the comments are really bad. Her atheism is OK, apparently, but her feminism seems to enrage some men (boys?).

Weird, isn't it? But if you expect the world to be black and white, you'll be very disappointed. Atheists can be just as irrational as anyone else. (But note that not all misogynists are atheists, and those atheists who're also misogynists are a small minority.)

Anyway, that said, I'm not posting this to support Rebecca Watson. I'm posting it because it's an excellent talk - perceptive, eloquent, and quite funny. But maybe you can understand why the haters hate. She's very good at ridiculing the ridiculous.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Richard Dawkins vs Howard Conder on morality

I wonder how many Christians even realize what a disgusting philosophy their religion is all about. I suspect that most just don't think about it.

But supposedly, Adam sinned, so all of his ancestors are considered guilty, too, automatically. This is blaming people for something they had absolutely no part of - indeed, couldn't have affected one way or another, since they hadn't even been born yet.

Because of this "original sin," human beings needed a scapegoat, literally (or nearly so), because God wouldn't forgive them without it - even though they hadn't done anything wrong, and even though he's omnipotent, so he could have forgiven them if he wanted to.

But as guilt magically descended on them, because of something a distant ancestor did, they would likewise magically transfer the guilt to something else, then kill it. Yes, this is all about magic, because that's how people thought in those days. And scapegoats were a common practice then.

Unfortunately, an ordinary, run-of-the-mill scapegoat wouldn't work, because Adam's guilt from eating that apple was too great. To forgive that would require a much bigger death. Even killing another human being wouldn't be enough magic. It required the death of a god to get enough magical power to convince 'God' to forgive human beings for something someone else did.

Weird, huh? But this is the whole point of Christianity. I'm not making this up, I'm really not. But I do wonder how many Christians actually understand this (just as I wonder how many Catholics understand that their communion wafer is literally supposed to turn into the actual flesh of Jesus, and that the wine is actually supposed to turn into his blood - not metaphorically, but really).

As Richard Dawkins noted, any omnipotent god could have just forgiven people (assuming that there was something to forgive, which there wasn't, since none of us are Adam and Eve). It was entirely his own choice to torture his son to death.

And note this comment from Howard Conder: "The ransom price had to be a perfect life." Yes, according to Christian doctrine, that's the whole point of Jesus dying on the cross. But it was God who was requiring the ransom, and it was entirely up to him. No one was holding a gun to his head.

Of course, this is magical-thinking, which was very, very common two thousand years ago. And it was also common to blame people for the actions of their parents, or even for the actions of their distant ancestors. Scapegoats - literal scapegoats - were also common.

But we don't do any of that these days. These days, we find that stuff primitive, immoral, and abhorrent. But it's the whole basis of Christianity, it really is.

And it always strikes me as funny when liberal believers - indeed, the vast majority of Christians these days - don't believe that Adam and Eve really existed. I mean, it's just a metaphor, right?

Well, that's wise of them,... but don't they realize that it also means there was absolutely no reason for Jesus Christ to die on the cross? Without "original sin," there was no need for Jesus to be killed as a scapegoat. Quite literally, he could not "die for our sins" if Adam and Even didn't actually exist to create that "original sin."

I mean, yes, it's absolutely crazy to believe, in the 21st Century, that they did exist, that all that Genesis stuff is literally true. But if you don't believe it, you have no basis for your Christian faith. If you don't believe it, Christ dying on the cross - God "sending his only son to die for us" - has no meaning at all.

Honestly, there's just nothing about this that makes any sense. I'm just astonished that people can still believe this stuff. Given all this, I'm astonished that they can still think their god is good. I'm astonished that the whole idea behind it - magical-thinking, scapegoating, guilt inherited from your parents, all of it - can get any adherence in the 21st Century.

But I suspect that Christians just don't think about it - and don't want to think about it. They want to believe pleasant things, so it doesn't pay to look at any of this too closely.

Heading over the physical cliff

This one is also from Indecision Forever, and it's pretty funny - especially the guy handing out financial advice who seems to be confused about this "cliff" we're heading towards:
While the majority of people pretending to worry about the "physical cliff" are having a laugh, a small but vocal minority of Americans seem to be convinced that Congress is literally going to push us over the side of a mountain…

When looking for investment advice, finding a financial adviser who doesn't know the word "fiscal" is always my first order of business…

Maybe he thinks throwing grandma off the cliff is how Obamacare's Independent Payment Advisory Board is going to work.

Sorry Jon, pretty sure the physical cliff is mostly attributable to Thanksgiving, not Obama.

Funny, huh? But let me point out that I'm (mostly) laughing with these people, not at them. The fact is, Twitter seems to be designed for people to make fools of themselves. If you're a fool already, Twitter certainly doesn't help (witness Donald Trump), but you don't have to be a fool to make a fool of yourself on Twitter.

I'm sure these people knew, if they stopped to think about it, that it's a "fiscal" cliff, not a "physical" cliff. Certainly, a financial adviser would know that. But Twitter is designed for speed, not reflection.

And it's just human nature to type the wrong word sometimes. We all do it. Your brain is always ahead of your fingers, but muscle memory lets us continue to type without really thinking about it. By the time their fingers got to "fiscal," their brain had moved on.

As I say, we all do it. That's why you proofread. (And even then, we all do it, sometimes.) But Twitter is designed for speed, not exposition. Twitter is designed for expressing anger or outrage or any fleeting thought off the top of your head, not rational discourse. Twitter really does seem designed specifically for people to make fools of themselves.

So yes, I think this is really funny, but not necessarily a reflection on those fine people. Clearly, I wouldn't agree with the latter two about politics, but I sympathize with this kind of mistake. We all do it. It's just very easy to do. These kinds of things just happen when you right to quickly. :)

Mitt Romney's own 47 percent

From Indecision Forever:
Everybody made so fun fun of Mitt Romney for claiming that there was one presidential candidate who would receive 47 percent of the vote no matter what a bad politician he was, simply because his voters just wanted a bunch of free stuff.

Well, it turns out he was right
When all the votes are counted, could Mitt Romney really end up achieving perfect poetic justice by finishing with 47 percent of the national vote? Yup. Dave Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report says new votes in from Maryland put Romney at 47.56 percent. He predicts with certainty that with all of New York and California counted, Romney will end up below 47.5 percent of the vote.

Rounded, of course, that would put the final tally at 51-47.

Funny, isn't it? That's a quote from Greg Sargent, who continues with this:
At risk of piling on, a 47 percent finish would represent a perfect conclusion to the Romney political saga. If Romney ran a campaign of unprecedented dishonesty and lack of transparency, virtually all of it was geared towards misleading people about the true nature of his — and his party’s — actual beliefs and governing agenda. This was the case on multiple fronts, from Romney’s dissembling about the size of the tax cut he’d give to the rich, to his evasions about the overhaul he and Paul Ryan planned for the safety net, to the obscuring of the massive upward redistribution of wealth represented by the Ryan agenda — the GOP’s central governing blueprint for nation’s fiscal and economic future.

It was fitting that Romney himself unmasked his own apparent beliefs and the broader ideological implications of the larger GOP agenda and the ideas driving it — in private remarks to those who would likely benefit from his policies most. As Jonathan Chait put it at the time:
This is not a random gaffe, a joke gone bad, or even a terrible brain freeze. It is Romney exposed for espousing a worldview that is at the heart of his party’s mania. The idea he summed up at that fund-raiser was a combination of right-wing fever dreams ...the Ayn Randism, the fact-free class warfare, the frantic rage at a changing America. The Republican Party is going down because its candidate was seen advocating exactly the beliefs that make the party so dangerous and repellant.

Romney’s widely criticized post-election remarks — in which he claimed Obama won by giving core Dem constituencies “gifts” — were essentially a reprise of the 47 percent remarks. Romney reiterated in overly blunt terms what many Republicans and conservatives have been saying for years — and got disemboweled by his own party after detailing these views out loud [my emphasis], a fitting coda to his candidacy.

Please note that Republicans haven't abandoned that agenda, either. They didn't abandon it after it failed so badly in the George W. Bush years, and they're certainly not going to abandon it now. They're faith-based, not evidence-based.

However, they are looking for ways to repackage their party, to re-brand it, wrapping the turd in tinfoil and glitter, with a nice bow on top. If they can, they'll back off on the culture war stuff. But I'm not sure they can.

Make no mistake, the GOP leadership cares only about tax cuts for the rich (and other ways to funnel money to the top). But they have to keep the GOP base happy, and that base was conceived by their 'Southern strategy' of deliberately appealing to white racists, then weaned on Fox 'News' fear-mongering.

That worked just fine to get Republican leaders what they wanted during the Bush years - to disastrous effect on America and Americans - but that crazy base has started to throw its weight around. They're willing enough to go along with the Republican economic agenda - after all, they're faith-based, too - but will they be willing to abandon those culture war issues that wooed them into the party in the first place?

I hope not, but in our two-party system, they don't have anywhere else to go. And Republicans tend to be cynical enough to go along with anything, as long as they know it's just pretend. After all, Romney and Ryan spent the entire campaign lying about such things. In the GOP, that's just considered good politics.

They're currently looking to reposition themselves, but they haven't abandoned any of their wacky beliefs. They're just trying to find more effective ways of lying. Will we be gullible enough to buy it? Again, I hope not.

But keep in mind that the media desperately want a horse race. It's not to their financial advantage that one party crush the other, since elections are a gold mine for them. They'll bend over backward to give Republicans every benefit of the doubt. And certainly Fox 'News' will push whatever Republican strategy that looks as if it might work.

Well, that's the way it is in politics. That's the way it is in history. Heck, that's the way it is in life. Sure, our own lives will end, but life will go on. There is no end to this fight, although the battles will change. Win or lose, there's always the next battle.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Malala Yousafzai

Heroes like Malala need to be recognized, so here's my small part in that.

"Ghost Ship" by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

(cover image from

I read a lot of series fiction, and in my book reviews, I'm always telling you not to start with the most recent book. And that's going to be the case here, too.

But when it comes to something like Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series, her books are complete in themselves. It's just that they share characters, and the characters grow. Events in later books are more poignant - and sometimes funnier - when you know the characters and the history behind them.

Well, that's also the case with the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, but their books are seldom complete in themselves. The whole series is about Clan Korval of Liad, and the main storyline - which began in Agent of Change (1988) - is basically one long story (admittedly, sometimes focusing on different characters).

So you really can't jump into the middle of this series. Indeed, I was a bit lost myself when I started Ghost Ship (2011). In fact, I had to set it down and go back to reread the last part of Saltation first, just to remind myself of what was going on.

(Note that some of these books will work as a standalone read. Balance of Trade (2004) isn't about Clan Korval, but it's set in the same universe, hundreds of years previously. It might be my favorite of all their books, and it's complete in itself.

(One of the first books, Conflict of Honors (1988) would also work as a standalone read, although the characters continue in the rest of the series. Either of those books would work fine as a sample. But if you want to read the series, you need to start with Agent of Change and continue from there. I recommend publication order, myself.)

Anyway, Ghost Ship is the sequel to Saltation (2010) following a new character, Theo Waitley, whose story began in Fledgling (2009). But it's also the sequel to I Dare (2004), continuing the story of Clan Korval's expulsion from Liad and their move to Surebleak.

It is very, very much a middle book, and it's chock-full of characters - mostly those we've seen before, with a couple of new ones. The scene shifts rather rapidly from one to another - and it works! Oh, a new reader would be hopelessly confused by it. As I say, even I had to reread a bit of the previous book. But still, this one was a very pleasant... experience.

I was going to say "surprise," but I've long known that Lee and Miller could write like this. But I had a number of problems with Saltation, all of which were fixed quite well in Ghost Ship. The story is moving forward again, so we don't know where it's going to end (this book doesn't really have an ending). It's not nearly as predictable, and it has lots of great characters.

And unlike I Dare, which did much the same thing, this book doesn't seem rushed. OK, there was one very peculiar development near the end of the book. (This really isn't a spoiler, I don't think, but if you don't want to know anything about the developments in the book, you might stop reading now.)

Clear back in Carpe Diem (1989), Val Con and Miri found themselves on a restricted world, where they met some great people and, of course, had some exciting adventures. Well, the Department of the Interior decides that it's going to move onto Vandar in force. When Val Con learns about this, he decides to do something about it.

The next thing we know, Val Con is back home. Everything is now fine on Vandar. How? Well, who knows? This is so weird, and it's such a book-sized hole in the story, that I suspect the authors plan to write a separate book about his adventures there. But I really don't know. (If that were the case, I wish they'd included a footnote in this one!)

But that's a minor issue, really. I certainly would like to see another book about Vandar (and I would really hope that Nelirikk Explorer would have a big part to play in that, because we hardly see him at all in this book), but I don't know about that, one way or another. However, I can say that I'm very happy with Ghost Ship.

Finally, note that the clan has moved to Surebleak, bringing a lot of new people with them. Well, as we saw in I Dare, Surebleak has its own customs, and now they're bringing Liadens, who have a very particular set of customs themselves, to the planet.

One of the real strengths of this series is how they depict the variety - and the conflict - of cultures. In Saltation, I worried that the authors might have nothing more that was new to say. And I don't think they do have anything new to say about Liaden culture. But Clan Korval is no longer on Liad, and the mix of customs on their new planet might end up very, very interesting.

Well, I'm just hugely impressed with Ghost Ship. It's not a standalone book. It doesn't have a real beginning or a real end. But it's an exceptional part of the Liaden storyline. And it brings a lot of threads together (even one from Balance of Trade), so there's just an abundance of possibilities here.

I'm a lot more optimistic about the future of the series than I was at the end of Saltation. Can they keep that up? I guess we'll see.