Monday, December 31, 2012

Christopher Titus and get-off-your-ass-idone

Yeah, this is the drug I need, get-off-your-ass-idone! Alcohol just makes me sleepy, and pot makes me hungry. Why would I need them? I can get hungry and sleepy just fine on my own!

But get-off-your-ass-idone? It sounds perfect, don't you think? Of course, there's caffeine, but it doesn't seem to work very well. I mean, I'm drinking coffee right now. And what am I doing? I'm sitting on my ass! At best, coffee just makes me write blog posts.

Admittedly, I could simply... get off my ass. But come on! That's not the American way. If there's not a drug for it, forget it.

I see on YouTube advertisements - over and over and over again - that there's a pill you can take to become smarter. Actually, I just assume that it's a pill. I've never gotten off my ass long enough to check it out. The biggest effort I can seem to make is to click on the "Skip Ad" button...

But I don't need a pill to become smarter. That's not because I'm smart enough already - although my fellow Americans do set a pretty low bar - but because being smart doesn't seem to be particularly advantageous. Oh, sure, being smart is a plus, no doubt, but it's hardly game-changing, is it?

But getting off your ass? Now that's important. Smart or not, if you never get off your ass, you're never going to amount to anything. And despite the advertisements, you really can't do anything about how smart you are. You're stuck with whatever you've got, like it or not.

However, you can change how much you know, and that takes getting off your ass (figuratively, if not literally). Forget about your IQ, and just worry about getting an education - and continuing to learn throughout your life, too.

So, yeah, I'd kill for some get-off-your-ass-idone (assuming that I didn't have to actually... get off my ass to do it, of course). I'm thinking that a triple-shot dose added to my coffee in the morning would be just what I need. So please, someone, invent it.

Not me. I'd have to get off my ass.

PS. Actually, I suspect that my sister-in-law already takes this drug. But she refuses to tell me the name of her dealer. How mean is that?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Meriwether: An American Epic

Meriwether: An American Epic is another game trying to get funding on Kickstarter (and, currently, about $12,000 short, with a week to go).

But it's a lot different from most games in that it's historically accurate. In fact, it's been receiving donations from many different sources, including the Lewis and Clark Foundation, Humanities Montana, Humanities Iowa, and the ESA Foundation (which I assume is the Entertainment Software Association Foundation?).

If you're interested in the Lewis and Clark Expedition, you really need to take a look at this game. But what I want to highlight is their latest update on "Turning Player Choice into a Story":
Games depend on players making meaningful choices and seeing the consequences of those choices radiate throughout the game. But herein lies a problem for our game. By definition, history has already happened. So how can we allow players to influence the historical aspects of the game while still being true to it?

One answer we’ve come up with lies in the “facet” dialogue system in Lewis levels. ... Each of these facets is tied to one of the common roles Lewis had to play, but each carries a philosophy with it as well. Sometimes a facet you choose will chart a course of action, but sometimes it will help to create the kind of Meriwether Lewis you want to play. In other words, you’ll customize your version of Lewis to fit the way you want to attack problems in the game.

Each time you choose a facet, two things happen. First, the consequences of that choice immediately begin to play out. If you decide not to have Private Willard executed for falling asleep at his post (a real choice the historical Lewis faced, and a real choice in the game), expect some of the Corps to appreciate your mercy, but others to begin questioning your resolve as a leader. For you lovers of speculative fiction, this is where the game wanders into the realm of Alternate History and we get to explore all those “What If?” possibilities with which the Lewis and Clark Expedition tantalizes us. Second, Lewis gets better at using the facet you selected. The more you use a given facet, the more adept you’ll become with it. This is important because some dialogue options will only be available if you have a high enough skill in the necessary facet.

There’s a fifth facet to Lewis’s personality, one that I think really helps to make our character development unique among video games: “Melancholy.” You don’t gain skill in Melancholy as you do the other facets; in fact, you’ll probably want to use this facet as little as possible. But you will have to choose it sometimes. The Melancholy facet is meant to reflect the black moods, self-critical analyses, and temper that were all a part of Lewis’s character. Think of it as a thermometer that rises every time you engage in dialogue and don’t select it. Once Melancholy reaches its “boiling point,” you have to choose it in lieu of any other (more helpful) dialogue option. The trick for players will be figuring out how to diffuse Lewis’s Melancholy before it forces them to say something they wish they hadn’t to the wrong person.

What excites me so much about the Melancholy facet is that it uses gameplay to shed light on Lewis’s personality. In most RPGs, dialogue is used primarily either for info. dumps or quest assignments. When dialogue has a genuine gameplay aspect of its own, usually what players try to do is “say the right thing” to maximize their abilities or inventory in the game--"Oh, thank you for complimenting my outfit; now you may have the Sword of Pwnage +39!"--rather than thinking about “What would this character say in this situation”? In other words, one of the most essential aspects of the tabletop roleplay experience, acting in-character, is all but absent from the CRPG genre. Our facet system will not only encourage you to to develop a character that fits with your favorite way of tackling problems in a game, but, through the Melancholy facet, confront you with Lewis’s foibles and failings as a person. Taken together, we hope to present a nuanced portrait of a great American hero who also happened to be a flawed human being.

Brilliant, isn't it? I don't know how it's going to work as a game. In fact, there are a lot of interesting ideas here, and I'm not sure how any of them are going to work. As this implies, a historical game is particularly difficult, and this is about history more than it's about alternate history.

But this is why Kickstarter is so great. These are the kinds of experiments which are well worth a trial. If they fail, well, you'll only be out the pittance of your pledge. But success could mean not just an enjoyable game but other games also taking this idea and running with it.

If you like history or you like computer games - or both - take a serious look at this project. This isn't just another first-person shooter. Even if you like first-person shooters, you don't want every game to be like that, do you? Personally, I like to see game developers use their imaginations.

God's responsibility for the Sandy Hook tragedy

Note that this is hard to watch. It's a powerful video, and so soon after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings,... well, it's not easy. You've been warned.

Congratulations, Maine!

This is from Portland, Maine, where city hall opened at midnight to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples when it was finally legal to do so, Dec. 29, 2012.

Note how normal this is. Everyone is happy, filled with love, just like every other marriage ceremony you've ever witnessed. How could you presume to judge for someone else, telling other adults who they can and can't marry? How could you imagine that it was even any of your business?

I'm not going to marry a man. I'm not going to marry anyone, in fact. But I'm always happy to see other people being happy. Some of these marriages won't last - many marriages don't - but so what?

And the craziest thing about this, the absolute craziest, is that the right-wing claims to be "defending marriage." Isn't that just the looniest thing ever? All of these people want to get married. They want to join that institution, not destroy it. If anything, this strengthens marriage. And it strengthens civilization, too.

Congratulations, Maine. I wish Nebraska was this civilized.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ray Comfort irritates me

Actually, both sides in these debates tend to irritate me, since I'm always thinking of what Ray Comfort's opponent - in this case, Jim Underdown of CFI-LA - should have said.

But this one is particularly bad. In this video, Comfort must talk nearly 90% of the time. He just preaches his familiar lines - I've heard them many times before - while Underdown occasionally tries to object. This isn't a balanced debate, or even a reasonable conversation.

Admittedly, I'm easily irritated.  :)  Also, it's always easier to think back on conversations, imagining brilliant responses we could have made, isn't it? Finally, I'm sure my responses wouldn't have been any better. Certainly, there wouldn't have been a different result.

(As an aside, note that Ray Comfort is the guy who released the most unintentionally hilarious Creationist video ever, when he described the Cavendish banana as proof of God, apparently not realizing that the banana is a domesticated fruit with a very long history of artificial selection. He removed the original video from YouTube, but you can still find excerpts. It's pretty funny.)

Anyway, I thought I'd take this brief video and imagine my own responses to Ray Comfort, as follows:

"Why do you get out of bed in the morning?"

I normally get out of bed because I have to pee. Other people usually have things they want to do or need to do. Who'd want to spend all day in bed, anyway? That might sound appealing when the alarm goes off, but it wouldn't be. As human beings, we need a certain amount of sleep, but why wouldn't we get out of bed, eventually?

Of course, what Comfort is saying is that he really, really wants to believe in his God. But wanting something doesn't make it true. That doesn't make it untrue, either, necessarily,... but it's always very easy to believe what we really want to believe. We should have evidence for all of our beliefs, but we need to look most skeptically on those things we really want to believe, because that's where we're more likely to let our emotions cloud our judgement.

"The god that Richard Dawkins doesn't believe in doesn't exist. That's your problem, your understanding of God."

Damn, we were so close there, since I completely agree with that first sentence. :)  But, obviously, the problem isn't his understanding of God. After all, atheists don't claim to know what 'God' is, since we don't have a god. We don't just disbelieve in particular gods, in specific gods. Even Ray Comfort does that. No, we let believers tell us about the god they believe exists,... and then ask them if they have any evidence for that.

Do you have a good reason for believing that your god exists? If so, what is it? If not, why should you - or anyone else - believe that he/she/it does exist?

"God stopped him [Abraham] from killing his son."

According to Christian mythology, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice (i.e. kill) his son as a test of obedience, and Abraham passed the test by demonstrating his willingness to do it. Now, yes, it might be a good thing that 'God' stopped it in the end, but it was still a horrible thing to demand of a parent and a terrible thing for a parent to agree to do.

Would you kill your child just because you thought some authority figure - a god or not - wanted you to do it? I hope not! Neither God nor Abraham come out of that story looking good.

"God doesn't send you to hell. A judge doesn't send a criminal to prison."

I've heard this before, and it's one of the stupidest things believers say. As you know, criminals don't decide for themselves what's legal and what isn't. Society does that. Judges and juries determine whether or not a law was broken and what the punishment should be (within certain guidelines established by society).

In Christian mythology, God has set up that whole system, deciding what's a crime and what the punishment should be, himself. He decides that people should burn in hell for eternity for saying "Goddamn." He decides that everyone is born deserving hell, with everyone - even children - being guilty of something.

And he's got the same punishment for everything! There's no fine for littering in Christian mythology, or even for just thinking about littering. You burn in hell for eternity for every single transgression, no matter how slight. Unless, of course, you agree to worship your judge, in which case you get off scot-free. How crazy is that?

"Jesus said that, if you look at a woman and lust for her, you commit adultery with her in your heart."

And how stupid is this, too? Yet, Ray Comfort claims that this means God's standards are "very high." And when Underdown says that his standard for being good is how you treat people, Comfort says that he shows very low standards. Incredible, isn't it?

As Christopher Hitchens used to say, Heaven is worse than North Korea. God punishes you for even thinking about things he considers a crime, he'll torture you forever for the least transgression, and you can't even die to escape. Yeah, I'd take North Korea any day!

"Do you think you're a good person? ... How many lies have you told in your whole life?"

Obviously, you can be a good person without being perfect,... especially since Ray Comfort considers even little white lies, which we do to make people feel good about themselves, make you a "liar." No, they don't. They just make you human. In fact, they might make you a good person, since you apparently don't want to hurt someone else.

He also mentions, several times, blasphemy - "saying God's name in vain."  That's a crime? Would you put up with a law like that? That would only be a crime for a celestial dictator! And even in North Korea, you could think such things about the dictator, if not actually say them out loud. Again, Heaven comes out of this looking worse than North Korea - far worse.

"Did that [the Flood] happen?"

Of course the Biblical Flood didn't actually happen - there's absolutely no evidence for it, and lots of evidence against it - but they're debating Ray Comfort's 'God,' and Comfort does believe that it happened.

I mean, Comfort is being particularly dishonest here, don't you think? The topic is "Is God Just?" Since Underdown doesn't believe in a god, that would be a meaningless question for him,... unless they were talking about Ray Comfort's beliefs. And Comfort does believe in the Noah's Ark fairy tale.

But here's the part that got me: Jim Underdown says, "You wouldn't execute a person for being a liar," and Ray Comfort replies, "Unless you were holy and perfect and just."

Say what??? How is that a just punishment for lying? Heck, it's even worse than that. In Comfort's view, if you tell a woman that her butt doesn't look too big in that dress, and you're lying, you won't just be killed, you'll be sentenced to eternal torture. That's "holy and perfect and just"? You'd have to be insane to believe that!

"If you don't repent and trust Jesus, then you'll receive justice for your sins."

Yeah, Comfort repeats this nonsense over and over again. According to him, it's "justice" to be tortured forever for telling a lie. It's "justice" to be tortured forever for daring to say "the Lord's name" in vain. (I might add here that "God" is a particularly unimaginative name, wouldn't you say?)

How crazy is that? And yet, you can commit any crime at all - rape, murder, genocide - and get off scot-free by just agreeing to worship the celestial dictator. That's justice?

Of course, none of this is evidence that Comfort's god - or any god - actually exists. But how could you worship a god like that, even if you did believe it?

"But why bother?"

Comfort is asking why we bother to set up a legal system - courts and a system of laws. But that's a question Underdown should be asking him, isn't it?

After all, if you believe in Christian mythology, this life is just a very brief prelude to eternity. And there's a celestial judge who makes sure that everyone gets what's coming to him. Of course, that judge is insane and automatically sentences everyone to eternal torture, unless you agree to kiss his butt. But still, if that's all true, why bother with a legal system here on Earth?

If you accept Jesus, it doesn't really matter when you die, does it? After all, you're just going to Heaven for eternity. In fact, it might be beneficial if you die quickly, so you won't have time to develop doubts. (Children being inherently more gullible than adults,... well, I don't want to go down that path.)

And if you don't accept Jesus, if you're one of the five billion people on this planet who aren't Christian (or the other billion or so who don't measure up to Ray Comfort's standards of Christianity), you're going to be tortured in Hell for eternity anyway, so what's the point of locking them up now? Why even bother?

This debate is supposed to be about justice, and Comfort shows us a system that's about as far from that as you can get. Thank god (figuratively) it's just imaginary, huh?

Unfortunately, as I said before, Jim Underdown just sat there and let him preach. Ray Comfort dominated the conversation, barely allowing Underdown to reply at all. As he freely jumped from one talking point to another, it would, indeed, have been hard to pin him down, but Underdown hardly seemed to try.

And this is the other problem with debates like this. No matter what the topic is supposed to be, believers tend to flit from one talking point to another. If you've got a tough question for them, they just move on.

I prefer my own method of replying, like this. :)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

UnReal World

Note that this character is looking northwest, and he doesn't have eyes in the back of his head. :)  (That's why half the screen is grayed out.)

Here's an interesting article at The Escapist about UnReal World and its Finnish developer, Sami Maaranen, who's been working on the game for 20 years:
If it took God six days to build the world, then indie developer Sami Maaranen is taking it a little slower. More than 20 years slower, to be exact. That's how long Maaranen has been working on UnReal World.

In 1992, the Finnish developer, then just 17 years old, released version 1.00 of the tough survival roguelike that's developed a cult following over the years. The game is a wilderness survival sim/ roguelike based in Finland during the late Iron Age with a deep focus on player freedom. It pits the player as a lone individual against the rugged wilderness and dangers of nature.

I mentioned this game last spring, when I stumbled across a YouTube Let's Play of it, but I haven't played it myself for three years (version 3.13, and he's just released 3.15). It's a great game, it really is, and I definitely plan to play it again, when I can find the time.

But it's also the kind of game you might expect from a lone developer working on his own vision for twenty years. I mean, you're not going to have AAA graphics, so if that really matters to you, forget it. For me, the graphics in that screenshot above are plenty good enough, as long as the gameplay is there - and it is.

The game is not exactly user-friendly, either. I highly recommend that you check out the wiki, especially the beginner guides. But it's really different, and really neat. Plus, you can play the demo for free, or pay the developer just $3 for the current version of the game. At that price, it's a steal!

UnReal World is a turn-based survival simulation set in Iron Age Finland, and the goal is simply to survive. You can start with nothing, if you wish, but even the easier starts aren't actually easy. It's hard just to get enough food to stay alive, especially right at the beginning.

If you start in the spring, you'll have longer to prepare for winter, when things get really tough. But in early spring, the rivers are still frozen, and you can easily starve to death or freeze. Hunting is particularly difficult, so it's helpful to live alongside a river, where you can fish.

Still, using a fishing rod is normally a slow battle with starvation, since it's hard to get enough food to let you do anything else but fish. Nets are critical, since you can set them and come back later (but don't wait too long, or you'll find a lot of dead and rotting fish). And when you do get a stockpile of food, you have to worry about it spoiling.

Most likely, your character will die rather quickly in your first attempt to play UnReal World. No problem. The world is randomized on every play. And if surviving wasn't a challenge, there wouldn't be any point to it. Well, I guess there's surviving and there's also building.

The really neat thing about the game is that you can build almost everything you need, including tools (although you get better tools, iron tools, through trading with villagers). The screenshot above shows a character building a shelter. There are different ways to do that, but this is a log shelter (most of the gameworld is heavily forested).

Of course, I tend to be a builder in games anyway, when I can, so I find this incredibly satisfying. It's not just that you can build things, but that it makes sense how you build things, too. But you have to watch your food and water, and you have to build a fire when you get cold. There are many, many ways to die in this game.

UnReal World is like Dwarf Fortress, in that there's no way to win the game, but many different ways to lose. You play until your character dies, or until you decide to create a new character and start all over. As I say, a new world is created each time.

And everything is always entirely up to you. One of the reasons I love this game is because there's no set story. Rather, you create your own story as you play the game. It's a lot like Dwarf Fortress in that respect, too. Every play is different, because every play is a separate story. It's only indie game developers who are doing that kind of thing, which is why I love them so.

I mentioned that video Let's Play I discovered last spring. Here's another, which was recommended on the UnReal World homepage. Note that he shows you an established character at the beginning of the first video, and then he walks you through purchasing the game and creating a new character. I didn't watch much of it, but it looks like good stuff. It should give you a good idea of the game, at least.

But if that doesn't appeal to you, here's Jef Major, one of my favorite YouTube gamers, with an eleven hour video play of UnReal World - all on one video (at Twitch TV)! No, I haven't watched that - I want to actually play games - but if you've got eleven hours to kill, I'm sure it would be very entertaining. (I did watch a little of it. Note that it starts at about the three and a half minute mark, and it might be useful to watch the first part, at least.)

UnReal World doesn't seem to be very well known, despite being around for twenty years or so. I hope that article at The Escapist changes that. This is a really fun game, and for $3, how can you go wrong?

I tend to play it the same way I do Dwarf Fortress - I play it obsessively for awhile, then I put it down for a year or so. Well, as I mentioned above, it's been three years this time - and two new versions have been released - so I really wonder what's different. I need to check it out again, I guess.

But in the meantime, if you try it, let me know how it goes. Hearing stories of the gameplay in UnReal World is almost as much fun as playing the game myself. :)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bob Kerrey, the agnostic?

Bob Kerrey receiving the Medal of Honor

Here's an interesting article at the New York Times which describes Bob Kerrey as an agnostic. I live in Nebraska, but I didn't know that. I didn't realize he felt so strongly about the separation of church and state, either:
Bob Kerrey’s political career spanned four years as the governor of Nebraska and another 12 as a United States senator from that state, during which he made a serious bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. In all that time, to the best of his memory, he never uttered what has become a routine postscript to political remarks: “God bless America.” ...

“I think you have to be very, very careful about keeping religion and politics separate,” Kerrey said.

We Americans aren’t careful at all. In a country that supposedly draws a line between church and state, we allow the former to intrude flagrantly on the latter. Religious faith shapes policy debates. It fuels claims of American exceptionalism.

And it suffuses arenas in which its place should be carefully measured. A recent example of this prompted my conversation with Kerrey. Last week, a fourth-year cadet at West Point packed his bags and left, less than six months shy of graduation, in protest of what he portrayed as a bullying, discriminatory religiousness at the military academy, which receives public funding.

Obviously, you don't have to be an atheist or agnostic to support the separation of church and state. In fact, it was the concerns of Baptists which prompted Thomas Jefferson's famous letter. Freedom of religion, with the strict separation of church and state, is one of those things which greatly benefits believer and non-believer alike.

But as I say, I didn't know that Bob Kerrey is an agnostic, and I wonder if it's one of those things I complained about previously, where Democratic politicians in Nebraska won't stand up for what's right, because otherwise they think they'll lose elections by an even bigger margin than they do now.
Kerrey labels himself agnostic, but said that an active politician could get away with that only if he or she didn’t “engage in a conversation about the danger of religion” or advertise any spiritual qualms and questions.

“If you talk openly about your doubts,” he said, “you can get in trouble.”

To me that doesn’t sound like religious freedom at all.

No. And I've got to point out that this wasn't published until after he lost the recent election, so I really wonder if an active politician could "get away with that" - at least, here in Nebraska.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think a politician needs to talk about his religious beliefs at all unless he plans to use his office to support those beliefs. I don't care if Kerrey is an agnostic or not, and I wouldn't care if he hid that (or didn't go out of his way to acknowledge it, at least). That's not relevant in a political campaign.

However, I do want my politicians to stand up for the U.S Constitution, and support for the separation of church and state is relevant. But that wasn't an issue in this campaign. Indeed, I must admit that, as right-wing as Nebraska tends to be, we don't seem to have the church/state issues of so many Bible Belt states.

So put me down as just finding this interesting, no more than that.

Note that I've barely mentioned the rest of this column, since it's the connection with Nebraska that caught my eye. But it's worth reading. Here's an excerpt:
Every year around this time, many conservatives rail against the “war on Christmas,” using a few dismantled nativities to suggest that America muffles worship.

Hardly. We have God on our dollars, God in our pledge of allegiance, God in our Congress. Last year, the House took the time to vote, 396 to 9, in favor of a resolution affirming “In God We Trust” as our national motto. How utterly needless, unless I missed some insurrectionist initiative to have that motto changed to “Buck Up, Beelzebub” or “Surrender Dorothy.”

We have God in our public schools, a few of which cling to creationism, and we have major presidential candidates — Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum — who use God in general and Christianity in particular as cornerstones of their campaigns. God’s initial absence from the Democratic Party platform last summer stirred more outrage among Americans than the slaughter in Syria will ever provoke.

God’s wishes are cited in efforts to deny abortions to raped women and civil marriages to same-sex couples. In our country God doesn’t merely have a place at the table. He or She is the host of the prayer-heavy dinner party.


Dick Armey's assault on FreedomWorks

Wow, talk about unhinged fanaticism! Check out this article at the Washington Post on Dick Armey's armed coup attempt at FreedomWorks, the Tea Party group:
The day after Labor Day, just as campaign season was entering its final frenzy, FreedomWorks, the Washington-based tea party organization, went into free fall.

Richard K. Armey, the group’s chairman and a former House majority leader, walked into the group’s Capitol Hill offices with his wife, Susan, and an aide holstering a handgun at his waist. The aim was to seize control of the group and expel Armey’s enemies: The gun-wielding assistant escorted FreedomWorks’ top two employees off the premises, while Armey suspended several others who broke down in sobs at the news.

The coup lasted all of six days. By Sept. 10, Armey was gone — with a promise of $8 million — and the five ousted employees were back. The force behind their return was Richard J. Stephenson, a reclusive Illinois millionaire who has exerted increasing control over one of Washington’s most influential conservative grass-roots organizations.

The article describes how wealthy - and usually anonymous - men are buying up these supposedly "grass roots" organizations, now that Citizens United has opened up our political system to the highest bidder.

Normally, they stay in the background, hiding their identities. Thanks to all five Republicans on our Supreme Court, they don't even have to use their own money, since corporate donations can be kept anonymous, too - a secret from the corporation's customers and even from its shareholders, who supposedly own the corporation.
The episode illustrates the growing role of wealthy donors in swaying the direction of FreedomWorks and other political groups, which increasingly rely on unlimited contributions from corporations and financiers for their financial livelihood. Such gifts are often sent through corporate shells or nonprofit groups that do not have to disclose their donors, making it impossible for the public to know who is funding them. ...

FreedomWorks has been on a remarkable run in recent election cycles, growing its annual budget from $7 million to $40 million in just a few years and helping lead the tea party movement against Obama’s agenda. The group was among several that rose up last week in opposition to a failed proposal from House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) to raise federal taxes on millionaires.

There's a lot more about that in the article, but I wanted to point out the other batshit crazy part of this, the "armed" part:
The partnership came to a crashing end when Armey marched into FreedomWorks’s office Sept. 4 with his wife, Susan, executive assistant Jean Campbell and the unidentified man with the gun at his waist — who promptly escorted Kibbe and Brandon out of the building.

“This was two weeks after there had been a shooting at the Family Research Council,” said one junior staff member who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media. “So when a man with a gun who didn’t identify himself to me or other people on staff, and a woman I’d never seen before said there was an announcement, my first gut was, ‘Is FreedomWorks in danger?’ It was bizarre.’ ”

Bizarre, yes, but this has become the Republican ideal. It's right out of the cowboy shows Dick Armey undoubtedly grew up watching. Sure, everyone is armed. Supposedly, that makes us all safer, right?

But the rich don't fight their own battles. They bring in a hired gun - literally - to bully everyone else.

In a way, this is a lot like that "reclusive" millionaire who buys up supposed grass roots groups to fight for his own tax cuts. No one ever accused Dick Armey of being reclusive, but he's apparently gung ho for settling disputes with guns - as long as someone else is taking the risk, of course.

As far as I know, he didn't actually threaten anyone. But when you've got gun-wielding muscle at your side, you don't have to. It was just his bad luck that someone else had even more money - and, of course, that we've still got a civilized nation here, a nation of laws.

But make no mistake, civilization is under attack by these right-wing loons. Their ideal is a nation of guns, where might makes right. And where what laws we have are bought and paid for by the wealthiest among us.

Well, if you're rich yourself, you can afford your own hired guns. You can live in a gated community. You can send your kids to private schools, surrounded by armed guards. You don't need Social Security or Medicare or anything else from the rest of society.

Or you think you don't, anyway. That's more fantasy than reality, even for the wealthy. I suggest they check out Somalia if they want to see their ideal world in action. It was America's civilization, built by all of us, that let them become rich and let them keep their wealth and their health and safety.

And as far as the middle class people who support these crazies, well, how dumb can you get?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

When was Jesus born?

Now this video clip is related to Christmas - at least, related to the religious holiday, if not to our secular celebrations. It was just posted today, too.

What do we know about Jesus? Not very much. Did he exist at all? Who knows?

Water fluoridation

OK, this has nothing to do with Christmas, and this video clip is a year old (although this is the first time I've seen it), but I thought this was interesting and useful.

I grew up without fluoride in the water, and the near elimination of tooth decay, when I moved to a city with fluoridation, was just incredible. After that, I'd think long and hard before moving somewhere without it.

Tooth decay used to be a big cause of premature death. In a way, this is like vaccination. As we progress, and therefore see fewer of these health problems, people start to forget how bad it was in the past. Today, we see not just an anti-vaccination movement, but an anti-fluoridation movement, too. Incredible, isn't it?

No, Virginia, there isn't a Santa Claus

I like this better than the original reply to Virginia O'Hanlon, though I guess that taught her not to believe everything she read in the newspaper, huh? After all, once you start asking questions, you're not going to believe for long.

But the thing is, most Americans want to believe in Santa Claus. When they get a little older, they can't, because Santa is supposed to do real things, specific things, in the real world. Well, I suppose they could believe that they're just no longer good enough to get Christmas presents from Santa, but who wants to believe that? :)

But they can believe in a god, if they don't ask questions, because God doesn't give you your gift until after you die. Therefore, no one is ever disappointed, and no one can ever point out that it doesn't actually happen.

You can pray for something in this life, of course, but if you don't get it, "God works in mysterious ways." Well, these are defense mechanisms for people who really, really want to believe what there's no good reason to believe.

The original editorial was popular because Americans wanted to believe in their own Santa Claus. All minds are "little minds," therefore why use them? And even if Santa Claus doesn't exist, life would be "dreary" without him (i.e. he has to exist, just because we so very much want him to exist). Besides, just because you don't see Santa Claus, that's not proof he doesn't exist, right?

Well, our minds may be "little," but they're the only minds we've got. We use our minds, as best we can, for most things, so why not for this? After all, we might be wrong if we use our minds, but we're almost guaranteed to be wrong if we don't.

And my little mind tells me that wanting something to be true isn't a good reason for thinking that it is true. In fact, it's a good reason to look skeptically - especially skeptically - at the question, because it's all too easy for us human beings to believe what we really, really want to believe, even when we have no good reason to believe it.

And finally, no one has to prove that Santa Claus doesn't exist, because the burden of proof is always on the person making a claim. Do you believe in leprechauns, just because no one has shown you proof that they don't exist? Do you believe in werewolves, unicorns, fairies, gremlins, fire-breathing dragons, or talking snakes? Have you actually seen proof that they don't exist?

I don't like to talk about "proof" anyway, since what can you really prove, beyond any possibility that you could be wrong? Maybe nothing really exists except you, and you're just hallucinating all this. No, I like to talk about evidence. And it's the person making a claim who needs to demonstrate that his claim is true.

Now, if you tell me that it's snowing outside on Christmas Day - here in Nebraska, at least - I probably won't require especially good evidence before I'll believe you. After all, there was a good chance of snow in the forecast. But if you tell me there's a man who delivers toys to every child in the world in one night - using flying reindeer, no less - I'm going to need pretty good evidence before I'll believe that.

Of course, I did believe that when I was a child. There did seem to be evidence for Santa Claus. Someone, after all, brought me presents with his name on them. And there was a lot of eyewitness testimony, there really was. As it turned out, that wasn't good evidence. Furthermore, I hadn't learned that a lot of poor evidence doesn't add up to even one speck of good evidence. That's not how it works.

Virginia O'Hanlon was starting to ask questions, and they lied to her. They lied, not because they believed in Santa Claus themselves and not because she wasn't going to discover the truth soon enough anyway, but because the truth would demonstrate that their own beliefs had no more validity than her belief in flying reindeer. That's why the editorial became so popular, I suspect.

Well, I have no problem will telling children stories about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and I have no problem with parents who tell them the truth, either. Either way is fine with me. Personally, I don't see any problem with children enjoying fantasy, and I certainly have no problem with children enjoying Christmas.

Indeed, I hope they always enjoy Christmas (or whatever holiday your family celebrates). I do. But when we grow up, we put childish beliefs behind us. We still enjoy our holidays, but we don't have to believe in magic to do that.

It's not so bad growing up, it really isn't. And while childish beliefs might be appropriate for children, they're not appropriate for adults. Faith-based thinking causes a lot of problems in our world. So, Virginia, when you get old enough to start asking questions, you should be told the truth.

And the truth is that people often lie, even to themselves - maybe even especially to themselves. The truth is that you can't always believe what you're told, that you often must overcome your own wishful-thinking to discover uncomfortable truths, and that you can never stop asking questions.

The truth is that Christmas can be good, that life can be good, even when you know that magic isn't real. Merry Christmas, Virginia!
PS. Here's where I got the picture of me in holiday garb. :)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Life's not all bad

OK, on Friday, I posted political cartoons which were kind of bleak. Or maybe I was just feeling depressed that day. But here are three which might cheer you up a little bit.

As depressing as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was - and is - it has, at least, shown us another side of teachers.

According to the right, teachers are lazy, greedy, useless public employees sucking on the public teat. I mean, it's not as though they do anything valuable, right? And they're so stuck up, with their fancy college degrees and everything, they think they actually deserve a living wage - with health insurance and retirement benefits, too!

Can you believe that? Who do they think they are, the 'job-creators'?

But for the past few days, at least, the meme has been different. Heck, now Republicans want to arm those lazy, greedy, useless public employees! (Yeah, they may have temporarily changed their rhetoric about teachers, but they're still crazy.)

So let's thank a teacher. They don't normally have to stand between their students and a maniac with an assault rifle, but most do their best for us every single day,... and tend to get nothing but abuse. So let's keep this image in mind for a little while, at least.

And here's another, that's all good:

Yes, Elizabeth Warren was not only elected to the U.S. Senate, the Democrats have actually appointed her to the Banking Committee! (That shows more balls than I expected, frankly.)

Apparently, Forbes magazine called her election "Wall Street's worst nightmare." I wonder what they think of her appointment to the Banking Committee? :)

Yes, life's good. And speaking of the election:

Washington isn't Nebraska, certainly, but we are moving forward in this country. It's been a struggle, and it will continue to be a struggle. But maybe the stranglehold the far right has held on America for the past thirty years is starting to collapse.

Well, they had to collapse our economy first, and they had to start two wars and nearly bankrupt us, but rainbows are starting to appear nearly everywhere, including the ballot box. Republicans are panicking - Fox 'News' seems to be having hysterics - and that's good news for America.

No guarantees, of course. The right won't fade into history without a fight - a vicious, no-holds-barred, bloody (figuratively - if we're lucky) fight. But they're going.

It's kind of like winter. The worst may be yet to come, but as long as the days are getting longer, we know it won't last.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The real rationale for the Second Amendment

Here's an interesting article by Robert Parry on the rationale for the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (and basically the whole point about a "well regulated militia").

He says that the right-wing has re-written history, twisting the meaning of the Second Amendment. Well, I've seen them do that many times before, so it's certainly plausible this time, isn't it? Anyway, here's an excerpt:
The Second Amendment dealt with concerns about “security” and the need for trained militias to ensure what the Constitution called “domestic Tranquility.” There was also hesitancy among many Framers about the costs and risks from a large standing army, thus making militias composed of citizens an attractive alternative.

So, the Second Amendment read: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Contrary to some current right-wing fantasies about the Framers wanting to encourage popular uprisings over grievances, the language of the amendment is clearly aimed at maintaining order within the country.

That point was driven home by the actions of the Second Congress amid another uprising which erupted in 1791 in western Pennsylvania. This anti-tax revolt, known as the Whiskey Rebellion, prompted Congress in 1792 to expand on the idea of “a well-regulated militia” by passing the Militia Acts which required all military-age white males to obtain their own muskets and equipment for service in militias.

In 1794, President Washington, who was determined to demonstrate the young government’s resolve, led a combined force of state militias against the Whiskey rebels. Their revolt soon collapsed and order was restored, demonstrating how the Second Amendment helped serve the government in maintaining “security,” as the Amendment says.

Beyond this clear historical record – that the Framers’ intent was to create security for the new Republic, not promote armed rebellions – there is also the simple logic that the Framers represented the young nation’s aristocracy. Many, like Washington, owned vast tracts of land. They recognized that a strong central government and domestic tranquility were in their economic interests.

So, it would be counterintuitive – as well as anti-historical – to believe that Madison and Washington wanted to arm the population so the discontented could resist the constitutionally elected government. In reality, the Framers wanted to arm the people – at least the white males – so uprisings, whether economic clashes like Shays’ Rebellion, anti-tax protests like the Whiskey Rebellion, attacks by Native Americans or slave revolts, could be repulsed.

However, the Right has invested heavily during the last several decades in fabricating a different national narrative, one that ignores both logic and the historical record. In this right-wing fantasy, the Framers wanted everyone to have a gun so they could violently resist their own government.

This interpretation used to be common among Constitutional scholars. At least, I used to hear it all the time. But the drumbeat from the right has drowned it out. And among politicians, even the Democrats are scared to death of the NRA (maybe especially the Democrats).

It's a lot like 'trickle-down' economics, which the right-wing has just hammered and hammered into our country. The Republican Party's 'Southern strategy' gave right-wing extremists the power to, not just drag America to the far right, but change the fundamental assumptions of our country.

I can't tell you how many gun nuts I encounter online who are adamant that assault rifles are necessary for Liberty (always capitalized) because, at any moment now, we'll need a violent uprising against our own democratically-elected government. (Of course, they lost the election - and to a black man, too - so the loons are becoming increasingly hysterical, aren't they?)

But the narrative on the right is that this was the intent of the Founding Fathers. Well, we did revolt against Great Britain, but that wasn't a democracy. The whole point was that we didn't have a say in our own government. Now we do.

And if you know anything at all about early American history, you'll know that the framers of the Constitution were worried about anarchy. After all, the Articles of Confederation had failed. We'd tried all that 'states' rights' bullshit, and it didn't work.

But the right-wing has been determined to re-write history, and they've been doing a pretty good job of it. Americans rarely even hear the other side of this, not these days. The right-wing has had everything its own way for decades now (which is why we're in such a mess these days).

Science and reason under attack

Sometimes it seems like science - and rational thinking, in general - are under attack in America, and I don't just mean in the Republican Party.

Do you wonder why you need to remain skeptical of what you hear and see in the media, why you always need to consider the source? Here are a couple of recent examples:

The Discovery Institute is a creationist think tank - using 'think' very, very loosely - which attacks evolution while pretending to be scientific. The above image (from the Ars Technica article about this) gives you the idea. It's from this video of their "senior research scientist" at the "Biologic Institute."

But as Richard B. Hoppe at the Panda's Thumb pointed out, that's not even a real laboratory behind her. It's a stock photo from a commercial website. The Discovery Institute's "senior research scientist" was just standing in front of a green screen.

These places have lots of money, because faith-based believers are still eager to attack the science of evolution. Yes, more than a hundred and fifty years after Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, when evolution has been the foundation of modern biology for more than a century, with the evidence just getting stronger and stronger with each new discovery scientists make, the true believers fight on.

But it's not a fight within science. No, they just pretend to be scientific while fighting for public opinion, for uninformed opinion, among ordinary Americans who are often embarrassingly ignorant about evolution and so easily led astray.

Yes, this might sound like science to you, but it's not. It's just designed to seem... sciency. If it were real science, they'd have real laboratories and they'd be presenting real evidence in real scientific journals. But if you don't know better, they might sound persuasive. After all, they've got a real scientist and everything...

Here's another example. It's a conversation with a TV producer who's working on a cable television show about "weird and mysterious stories - especially eyewitness stories." They're looking to hire a "respected paranormal investigator."

An excerpt:
Now we were getting to the heart of the matter; anecdote trumps evidence. I tried to be polite and diplomatic: "It seems like you don't really want the cases investigated, and certainly not solved. See, that's what I do: I investigate mysteries to solve them. If I'm going to spend time and effort on a case, maybe days or weeks or months, I'm going to do my best to understand and explain the mystery. It's kind of the opposite of what you want, so I don't really think I can help you. If you just want to get people who saw UFOs or ghosts or Bigfoot on camera telling their stories, you don't need me for that."

She seemed slightly taken aback: "But you're a respected paranormal investigator, you came recommended, and have credentials... I thought you'd be a good fit?" ...

I finally realized that what they really were looking for was an incompetent "investigator," someone who would appear on their show and pretend to use science in investigations-someone who would superficially appear smart and entertaining but who in the end would be baffled and stumped by the mysteries they faced.

I was perfectly willing to admit if I was stumped or couldn't fully explain a case, but I was not willing to pretend to be stupid or incompetent: "I see... If I can't solve a case, or if there are real unanswered questions about it, I don't mind admitting that I don't have all the answers. But I'll give it my best shot-I'm not going to pretend I don't have a clue if I have a pretty good idea of the explanation."

Producer: "Okay, I understand," she said, though I don't really think she did. "Well, do you know anyone who might be interested?"

Do you wonder that so many Americans seem hopelessly ignorant - and embarrassingly gullible - about these things? Sure, this is just 'entertainment,' but it's not a sitcom they're planning. It's not going to be labeled as fiction.

Weird and mysterious stories are apparently popular television. Rational explanations are not. People want to believe what they want to believe. And if you don't think this bleeds into news programs, too, you're rather gullible yourself. It's all about attracting viewers.

Now, skepticism doesn't mean that you disbelieve everything. You just need to have a good reason for your beliefs. And it's not about becoming an expert in everything, either, because that's impossible. One of the advantages of science is that we laymen can safely trust the scientific consensus if we just understand the scientific method (i.e. if we understand why the consensus is likely - though never guaranteed - to be true).

But we've got a lot of people doing their best to seem scientific, in order to convince you of what they want you to believe. Well, Americans tend to respect science, even when they're absolutely clueless about what science really says.

Science is under attack in America. Rational people are under attack in America. We have to be very careful what claims we believe, and from whom. And that's the case even when they claim to be 'skeptics.' The faith-based can use the language of science and skepticism, just like they can use the stock photo of a laboratory - to deceive.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Political cartoons - but nothing cheerful today

Honestly, I'm still hearing loons online claiming they need assault rifles to defend America from... ourselves! It's just insane, isn't it? But I don't know if I can continue down that thread now.

Sure, there are plenty more political cartoons about this subject, but my heart isn't in it. It's just too depressing. I said what I needed to say about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting - twice - but it's just too painful today.

So let's look for something more cheerful, like the complete environmental destruction of our only planet:

Yeah, a carbon tax would be simple, effective, and solve more than one problem at the same time, since it would add revenue to combat the federal deficit while also helping to fight global warming.

So, of course, it's completely off the table in Washington, D.C.  If Democrats are too timid to fight the NRA, there's no way in hell they'll take on the oil and gas industry.

Well, we can still laugh at the crazies, if that helps:

But I can't say that helps much, not when climate change deniers are as brainless as frogs:

Actually, I don't mean to slander frogs, since amphibians are smarter than Republicans and, contrary to the myth, wouldn't roast themselves like we're doing.

OK, so maybe I can just laugh at the Mayan apocalypse?

Ugh, no. While it's always fun to laugh at Fox 'News' - and especially their 'war on Christmas' - that brings us back to guns again, and I just can't handle more of that today. Sorry, I just... can't.

So how about Congress and the 'fiscal cliff'?

Well, that's not too inviting, though I'd say it's a pretty good indication of what we have to look forward to. The fiscal cliff doesn't bother me too much, since Congress can fix at least some of that in January, but another debt ceiling fiasco - or even the threat of one - would probably slam the economic recovery to a very painful halt.

Still, you have to laugh at Republican intransigence, don't you? They still seem to be living in their own little fantasy world:

They're so crazy, and so unwilling to compromise, they can't even come to an agreement among themselves. Forget about coming together with Democrats, since that's about two steps past where their dogma has taken them.

If you've been out of the loop, Speaker John Boehner had this master plan to have House Republicans bypass negotiations with Barack Obama entirely, but since it still involved tax increases on the wealthy - but only on those people making more than one million dollars a year - he couldn't get his fellow Republicans to back it.

Keep in mind that taxes are already going up at the end of this year. If Congress does nothing, then taxes will go up for everyone. But Republicans are so determined to defend the 1% (actually, far less than 1% of Americans make more than one million dollars a year; it's more like one-fifth of one percent), they're willing to see taxes raised across the board unless the very wealthiest of the wealthy also get their taxes cut.

So it looks like we're all going over the fiscal cliff because Boehner can't get the House to agree to anything.

That might be funny, but the results probably won't be, especially since people this crazy are likely to be crazy enough to politicize the debt ceiling, too. (And make no mistake, the debt ceiling has nothing to do with how much the government spends. It just tells the world that we're not deadbeats, that we'll honor the debt we've already incurred.)

So I think I'm giving up on finding a cheerful political cartoon today. Maybe I'll just settle for wishful thinking:

Well, we can hope, can't we?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

R.I.P., Christmas

I thought this (from McSweeney's) was pretty good proof of the War on Christmas, and the results, so far:
Each time a world-wise Fox News commentator courageously points out that our nation has devolved into a refuge for Christian-hating secularites and hyper-sensitive minorities, they are assaulted by a liberal-PC axis of hatred making fantastical claims that Christmas is still the dominant cultural event in our nation. Such nonsense can be disproven simply by comparing the two photos below, both of the same downtown area in a small Indiana village. The first picture shows the town as it appeared in 1953:

Now take a look at the same commercial strip in 2011:

No, you are not seeing things: that is a menorah planted directly in the middle of a Christmas display window in the lower-left-hand portion of this photo. An absolute outrage. A person walking down that street could not be blamed for being tossed into a spiral of confusion, in which they would not be certain exactly what time of year it was, or if they were in America at all.

With that, and with a volume of evidence that is as overwhelming as it is depressing, I surrender and, with great bitterness and sadness, bid farewell to the once grand tradition of Christmas, another casualty in the ceaseless and ruthless liberal drive to destroy everything worth having in our great nation. I hope only that a future America, not so wholly constrained by an out-of-control nanny culture, can somehow resuscitate what once was a pure and wonderful tradition.

Farewell, Christmas. You will be missed.

Such a shame, huh? And I used to enjoy Christmas, too...

An open letter to the Nebraska Democratic Party

Nebraska Democratic Party,

I won't ask how you feel about last month's election here in Nebraska. Obviously, it couldn't have gone worse for you. With the defeat of Bob Kerrey for the Senate seat currently held by Ben Nelson, Republicans now control pretty much the whole state.

The governor is Republican. Every Nebraska representative in Congress is a Republican. Both of our senators will now be Republicans. The lieutenant governor, the attorney general, the secretary of state, the state treasurer, the state auditor - Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican, Republican.

Luckily, our state legislature is officially non-partisan (though, of course, Republicans completely dominate there, too).

So, given all this, how do you feel about Ben Nelson's twelve years as Nebraska's top Democrat? How has that worked out for you, for us? He's been the standard-bearer for Nebraska Democrats for twelve years (and governor for eight years before that, of course).

During that time, he tried to out-Republican the Republicans. He did his best to show Nebraskans that he was just as Republican as anyone in the GOP. He supported the worst policies of George W. Bush, and when the Democrats took Congress, he joined Republican filibusters.

Nelson actively ran away from the Democratic Party. He campaigned against Democratic issues. Even when he could be persuaded to vote for Democratic bills, he worked to weaken them. Inevitably, it seemed, he'd criticize the best parts of those bills and praise the worst parts of them (Congress being, inevitably, all about compromise, so there's always good and bad).

I'm not asking Ben Nelson what he thinks about this. After all, it worked for him. He got re-elected twice (and once as governor). But how did that work for the Nebraska Democratic Party? How did not standing for anything work for you? Do you like the results of that?

Ben Nelson, as the standard-bearer of the Nebraska Democratic Party, refused to stand up for Democratic principles. He barely acknowledged that he was a Democrat at all, and then only with a wink and a nod. Oh, sure, there was a 'D' behind his name, but that didn't mean anything. Just look at what he said and what he did. He was actually a Republican through and through. After all, who would support those socialist Democrats, huh?

As I say, that worked for him, but how did it work for you? Even in 2008, after eight years of the unmitigated disaster that was George W. Bush (who was strongly supported by Ben Nelson, of course), even when Barack Obama took Nebraska's 2nd congressional district, Democrats in Nebraska still lost. Well, what were Democrats in Nebraska but Republican wannabes?

I'd always gritted my teeth and voted for Ben Nelson as the lesser of two evils. Well, what choice did I have? But I'd finally decided that I'd had enough. No matter what, I wasn't going to vote for him again. And as it turned out, I didn't have to worry about that. He retired.

I'd never donated money to the Nebraska Democratic Party, because I didn't want to support Ben Nelson or similar candidates. In fact, I stopped giving money to the national party, too, because they kept supporting people like him. I just donate to individual candidates now.

And I'd respected Bob Kerrey in the past, even if I didn't agree with him about too much. In fact, I actually sent him a small campaign donation. Then, every time I went to YouTube, I started hearing this: "The Democrats keep saying all we need to do is spend more money." Yes, he was taking a page from Nelson's playbook, running away from his own party.

Now, I'm used to lies in political campaigns. But only in the Nebraska Democratic Party do politicians seem to sling mud against their own side. I mean, I couldn't blame him too much if he told uncomfortable truths, but a bald-faced lie like that? Against his own side? How crazy is that?

As you know, from the beginning, Democrats have been suggesting tax increases and spending cuts, as a way to repair what the Republican Party has done to our federal budget. And as you also know, the best thing we can do for the deficit is to get out of this economic collapse they caused. But "all we need to do is spend more money"? Where did that come from? Oh, yeah, from the Republican Party playbook.

Of course, Bob Kerrey lost. So how did that work out for you? How did badmouthing your own side work out for the Nebraska Democratic Party? How has that worked for you these past twelve years? Has it worked well enough that you plan to continue the tactic?

Would you be worse off today if Democratic politicians in Nebraska had actually stood up for Democratic values? Would you be worse off if you'd supported Barack Obama? Would you be worse off if you'd fought for your side, for our side? You might have lost, but you lost, anyway.

And how does the future look for the Democratic Party in Nebraska? Has it been successful for you, pretending to be just as Republican as the Republicans? Are you happy with the current state of affairs here in our state? Are you proud of what you've accomplished?

Would you be any worse off if you'd stood up for Democratic principles? And looking ahead, what do you see in the future? Nebraskans hear the right-wing side of every issue, from Republicans and Democrats alike, so does it surprise you that they believe it? We hear Republicans and Democrats alike badmouthing the Democratic Party. So does it surprise you that Nebraskans believe that?

But I'm sure you have a plan going forward, right? No doubt you plan to find a rich man who'll like the prestige of calling himself governor or senator. He won't care about anything but his own ambition, but he'll have the money to waste on a long-shot bid. And, of course, he'll try to be as Republican as possible, because his campaign consultants will convince him that's his best shot at winning.

Well, no doubt that will be true. After all, with no one ever standing up for our side, the progressive side, what else would we expect? In Nebraska, the Democratic Party is just an alternative - not a particularly good alternative, admittedly - for people who don't think they can win the Republican nomination.

OK, I'm generalizing, and that's not fair. I know that. And it's hard to find candidates when they know they're going to lose. But my question stands. Are you happy with the results of the past twelve years? Are you happy with what having Ben Nelson as your highest elected official has meant to the Nebraska Democratic Party? Would actually standing for something have produced worse results? I can't imagine how.

And at least Nebraskans would be given a choice! Do you know how sick I am at having to choose between two Republicans, both eager to criticize the Democratic Party? If my candidate loses, fine. But give me a choice. Stand up for Democratic values. Stand up for Democratic principles. Just stand up!

Forget about the next election. Look to the future, even the distant future. If we never have anyone in Nebraska standing up for what's right, how can you ever expect change? Sure, it'll be an uphill fight. But what's the alternative? Are you happy with how your current tactics have worked? Could you actually do any worse than you're doing right now?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

This week in crazy

OK, these aren't all from this week. But the crazy is getting so widespread on the right that I just can't cover each story individually. In effect, I'm getting swamped with crazy. So I'm just going to link to a variety of things here.

Above, that's Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-TX, who really is the dumbest man in Congress. I know, I know, he has a lot of competition, but trust me, they don't get dumber than Louie Gohmert. I've blogged about him before. (As just one example, here he is in 2010 explaining about terror babies.)

Of course, Barack Obama - a black man in the White House! - has got all the loons worked up. I still think it's remarkably crazy that a Republican health care plan has got all these Republicans having hysterics, but... well, I did say "crazy," didn't I?
When the Supreme Court was asked to repeal Obamacare, they said no. But they probably didn't really mean it, right?
A Republican lawmaker in South Carolina has introduced legislation that would send state and federal officials to jail for implementing the Affordable Care Act. …the proposal, which has been has been prepared by state Rep. Bill Chumley (R) for next year’s legislative session, threatens state officials with up to two years in jail and a $1,000 fine for enforcing the law.

"I think we’re within our rights to do this," Chumley said.

Of course you are, South Carolina. Just because the South lost the Civil War doesn't mean that federal law trumps state law. Wait, now you too, Wisconsin?!
Last month, a group of Wisconsin lawmakers also said they would support nullifying the law and arresting federal officials for trying to enact it. One of them, state Rep. Chris Kapenga (R) openly paid little mind to the court’s decision.

"Just because Obama was re-elected does not mean he’s above the constitution," Kapenga said.

And I guess just because a Supreme Court dominated by right-wing Republicans declared that it was constitutional, that doesn't mean anything in wingnut alternate reality, huh? So they plan to arrest anyone following federal law! How's that for crazy?

When you're crazy, losing an election doesn't mean you can't still force your version of reality on America, nor does losing a Supreme Court decision. That's because right-wing faith-based loons just know they're right, and they're not going to stand for the majority deciding otherwise.

I might also point out that this is part of the same fight we've had with the Confederacy since the Civil War. It's not just the South these days, but that's because the Republican Party's 'Southern strategy' filled the GOP with Dixiecrats. These days, the South tends to lead the Republican Party, and Republicans everywhere follow like sheep.

So of course they're going to bring up slavery:
Hmmmm…sounds compelling and innovative. Obama is way more slaveholdery than actual slaveholders. Let’s see how this argument fleshes out, shall we? This being American Thinker, it is sure to be incredibly well-reasoned and coherent. There is no doubt that by the end of this article, we will totally understand how Obama is all slave-y and how owning actual people does NOT make you slave-y...

...We’re still not getting to the part where Obummer enslaves us all with healthcare or debt or something. Let’s keep going. (Readers, we’re doing you a solid here and skipping over the approximately one million paragraphs that wouldn’t be out of place in a sophomore philosophy class. Sample sentence: “Slavery is self-refuting, as it contradicts the foundation of property rights, namely that a human being owns himself.” Thank us later.) After the “reading Locke while high and then writing about it” portion of the article passes, we get to the super-duper well-reasoned conclusion:
Jefferson was a man who opposed slavery at its root — its incompatibility with the basis of private property, namely individual sovereignty — but who found himself unable to undo the societal wrong in his lifetime, or even to extricate his own life from its taint. His ideas and his words paved the way for many great developments, not least of which was the end of slavery in America. His principled hope was achieved, albeit belatedly.

Obama, on the contrary, is a man who embraces the core principle of slavery — the denial of individual sovereignty, i.e., self-ownership. His main difference on this score from the slave owners of the past is that, rather than pursuing the contradiction of defending private property while simultaneously defiling it, Obama merely wishes to undo property itself, thus rendering enslavement a universal principle of government.

Jefferson actually owned people, but later on some people read some Jefferson and thought that owning people might not be cool, so, ipso facto ergo, Jefferson freed all the slaves, including his own retroactively like magic. The Kenyan socialist pretender will take your monies and give them to other people via a scary thing called “taxes” so, also, too, Obama wants to own all the people in America. THAT IS AN AIRTIGHT SYLLOGISM GODDAMMIT. To sum up: war is peace, ignorance is strength (which makes those motherfuckers at American Thinker incredibly strong) and freedom is slavery. The end.

Now, I don't want you to think the crazy is all about Barack Obama, so here's some crazy about Hillary Clinton. (Then again, she works for Obama, so I'll admit that there's a link. Still, the Clintons got their share of crazy before Obama was even on the radar.)
Tomorrow the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearings on Benghazi. Coincidentally, earlier this week it was reported that Hillary Clinton suffered a concussion after fainting due to dehydration from a stomach virus, and won't be available to testify before the committee. You have one guess as to where this is going.

The Daily Caller's Jim Treacher asked for the concussion certificate:
If she has a concussion, let's see the medical report. Let's see some proof that she's not just stonewalling. If it's true, then we can all wish her a speedy recovery. But it's ridiculous to expect us to take her word for it.

And then concussion-gate became a thing, at least among people who suffer one each time they fall on their asses...

The State Department has announced that Secretary Clinton will be available to testify come January. That's a likely story from someone who orchestrated the murder of Vince Foster/faked a head injury/shot JFK.

Now that's crazy, yes, but... I'm sorry, it just doesn't reach the level of crazy that's become the norm on the right these days. Clinton-crazy just can't match Obama-crazy, I'd say. And as evidence of that, I'll leave you with this:

You might think that President Obama’s comfortable reelection last month would put an end to the Republican birther conspiracy. But if you do, you don’t know Arizona Republicans.

The latest battle for the movement that believes Barack Obama is ineligible to be President was fought Monday at the state’s Electoral College vote, where a trio of Republican electors — including state GOP chair Tom Morrissey — once again raised concerns that Obama’s birth certificate is a fake during the electoral college vote. ...

Morrissey, the leader of the Republican Party in Arizona and a former Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal for the state, tried to present his concerns over Obama’s eligibility as something other than birtherism.

“My issue isn’t whether he was born here,” he told KFYI radio in Phoenix Monday. “I have questions [about Obama’s longform birth certificate]. … You know, I have a law enforcement background. I come at this with a little different perspective. It just doesn’t ring right with me.” ...

Another of the electors who raised concerns, Gila County GOP chair Don Ascoli, told TPM on Monday he’s used to being on the losing end of the birth certificate fight. But even if he’s going down, he said, he’s going down swinging no matter what the cost to his party or his state’s reputation. ...

In continuing to push the conspiracy that Obama has hid his real birth certificate all the way to the electoral college vote for his second term — which the president won by a comfortable margin — Ascoli, and the other electors that shared in the concerns over Obama’s birth certificate were keeping alive an Arizona tradition. The state has been a hotbed of birtherism since the start of the movement and still boasts the movement’s most prominent elected official defender: Sheriff Joe Arpiao.

Note that Morrissey isn't just some random loon. He's the leader of the Republican Party in Arizona. But some people will just never, ever, ever accept that a black man can be the legitimate President of the United States. Now that's crazy, huh?