Friday, January 30, 2015

Poll confirms that Americans are idiots

Here's the Raw Story. Jebus, it's embarrassing as hell! My fellow Americans are complete idiots about science, apparently.

Here's the poll itself. Note that it actually minimizes the disconnect between the scientific consensus and ignorant laymen, since it polls generic "scientists," instead of scientists within their own field of expertise (which is where a consensus is properly determined).

The real reason young Muslims join the global jihad?

Here's an interesting essay, an opinion piece by American University professor Pedram Partovi, at TPM:
Commentators on the right have long argued that Islam is incompatible with the values of the Christian West. In fact, some have loudly claimed that Muslims living among them are demanding the majority’s assimilation to their way of life. Those on the left counter that experiences of racism and discrimination encourage extremist beliefs among Muslim youths. However, neither argument has explained why the “unassimilated” have turned almost exclusively to these radically new interpretations of Islam, or why conversion to jihadist ideology has only been a relatively recent phenomenon.

First off, concerns about Muslim assimilation are not well-founded. Large-scale surveys conducted over the past decade have revealed that the vast majority of Muslim immigrants in Europe and the United States identify quite positively with their “host” society. Indices of cultural assimilation are even higher for second-generation immigrants. Moreover, researchers claim generally declining levels of religiosity among Muslims in the West (the same can be said about Christians). Even the biographies of jihadists often work against lack-of-assimilation arguments: many live fairly normal lives before their “born-again” moments.

Members of the global jihad are often portrayed as desperate losers and loners. But these movements don’t necessarily attract antisocial individuals who are alienated from family and peer groups. To the contrary, people often learn about and join jihadist movements with friends and relatives. Indeed, one of the more surprising aspects of jihadist movements has been their skilled use of social media.

The predominantly young men who are drawn into the global jihad are not exactly retreating from the impenetrable world around them, but rather are looking to engage with it. Jihadist movements have expended substantial resources on proselytizing, to the extent that some experts have claimed al-Qaida to be the fastest growing strain of Islam in Europe. Jihadists are not seeking refuge in their parents’ or grandparents’ religion and culture (of which they often know very little) but in a new Islam that is very much of this world and is making use of (some would say perverting) the ideas and technologies supporting it. ...

The “assimilation” debate, then, is not just about making Muslims more French or American. In fact, some government officials and terrorism experts have recognized cultural integration without ideological assimilation as a potential problem, with their warnings of “sleeper cells.” When the left and right talks about assimilation, they also mean the acquiescence of the “assimilated” to current hierarchies of power in the world. If we set aside the religious pretensions of the global jihad and take seriously its claims to eliminate global inequalities and the oppression of ordinary Muslims (especially in the Middle Eastern “heartland”), then the movement’s popularity starts to make sense. One begins to see parallels emerge with past youth movements claiming to defend fundamental human values against powerful countervailing forces in the world, like the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War.

Interesting point of view, isn't it? The young are often drawn to radical ideologies. Communism was a popular option before it failed so dramatically that even officially-Communist countries gave up on it. Now, I see a lot of young people embracing libertarianism. The attraction is clearly the same, even though the two ideologies are vehemently in opposition. Is this just a matter of popular fads?

The essay mentions "born-again" Muslim extremists. Well, that's another example. When I was young, this "born-again" evangelical Christian movement was not at all common, either. Even at the University of Nebraska, when I attended, the 'God-squad' could pretty nearly be counted on the fingers of one hand.

It's not that we didn't object to the status quo in America, but that we rebelled in different directions. And yes, part of the attraction of such groups - whatever the group might be - is the interaction with fellow true-believers. I see a lot that makes sense in this post.

Later, he says, "The irony is that the West’s victory in the Cold War helped to create the conditions for the rise of political Islam as a leading voice for change by dismantling everywhere the socialist oppositional model that had mobilized previous generations."

Is radical Islam just a different "oppositional model"? Unfortunately, it's a violent oppositional model. There's nothing wrong with opposition, as long as force isn't used. Unfortunately, America has been using force, too - including the torture of prisoners of war! We did not create the religious violence of radical Islam, but we haven't helped.

Furthermore, we've been propping up corrupt governments around the world. Mostly, I suspect, we do that as a "lesser of two evils" kind of thinking, which isn't always invalid. But when we prop up the status quo without also working tirelessly for reform, what can we expect but a backlash? And in most of those countries, peaceful opposition isn't an option (one of the reasons why they need reform).

In America, certainly, there's plenty of reason to oppose the status quo. I do, myself, in many ways. I still strongly support the rule of law, though. Of course, I'm no longer young. But there were violent groups when I was young, and I didn't support them. Neither did most young people,... but some did, and more were at least sympathetic.

Still, we have a two-party system in America, and both tend to support the status quo. The Republican Party might be downright evil, but the Democratic Party frustrates me to no end. I still support the two-party system (for reasons I won't go into here), and I still vote, reluctantly, for the lesser of two evils on occasion (far too often, in fact).

But young people seem to be less likely to do that. It's not that they turn to violence, not at all.  Only a very small minority do that. But the urge to find a different way, the urge to find something radical to believe in, is quite strong. And if reform can't be pushed within a system, it will be pushed outside it, though not as successfully and not always peacefully.

We need reform - in America and worldwide. The status quo will always push back, so it will never be easy. But unless rational members of the status quo understand and accept the need for reform, the backlash, when it comes, won't be pretty.

And unfortunately, there will always be ideologues - like Ted Cruz, for example - willing to hijack reform movements to further their own political ambition. (On the other side, I might suggest Elizabeth Warren as working for reform from within.) That's in America. In developing countries, those ideologues are more likely to be violent extremists. And they will oppose an America which props up corruption.

Make no mistake, I'm not defending terrorism. I'm not blaming America for all the ills in the world. (We've made mistakes, certainly. Who hasn't?) And I do not oppose military action, in principle (just dumb military action). Violence often has to be met with violence.

But all too often, America props up the status quo because powerful, wealthy people are making money from the status quo. That's not a good reason. Supporting the lesser of two evils is fine, as long as that lesser evil is being reformed - or, at least, where there's a decent chance of reform.

We won't all agree on what's "reform" and what isn't, but there has to be a way within the system where reform has a fair chance. (And right now, I'm not sure than an America where billionaires can legally buy politicians and where incumbents with cash are nearly guaranteed reelection, is that kind of system.)

Stephen Fry on God

This is an excerpt from The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne, on RTE (Ireland). Great answers, don't you think?

PZ Myers adds:
Another factor, to me, is that if their afterlife were true, they expect us to stand before a deity as a supplicant, with a vast power differential, and then essentially grovel. There is no human dignity and no hope in their vision of death — your choice is to submit or suffer. If this god could see into our minds what we were truly thinking, then there is also no point to pretending, and it would know it: this would be a monstrous alien passing judgment on a humanity it regards as corrupt, debased, and wicked, and the only propitiation it could get from us is our terror.

Fortunately, there is no evidence and no reason to think we will continue to exist beyond the death of our bodies, or that there is such a cosmic tyrant, so I’m relieved that I don’t have to worry about a Christian afterlife.

Like Myers and Fry both, I see absolutely no reason to think that any god exists, let alone the God of the Bible. There's just zero evidence of that.

If he did exist, I'd have some big questions for him, that's for sure. But right now, even if I thought he existed, I'd see no more reason to worship such a god than to worship a sadistic murderer who stuck a gun in my face.

Hmm,... unlike your 'God,' a sadistic human wouldn't be able to read your mind. But he'd still know you were just pretending. Likely, that would just make it all the better for him. For your 'God,' too? Maybe groveling out of fear, pretending to worship, is exactly what he wants?

PS. Stephen Fry mentions the ancient Greek gods. I was wild about Greek mythology when I was a kid. And I knew, of course, that it wasn't "mythology" to the ancient Greeks - it was their religion. They believed what they believed for the same reason that the Christians I knew - everyone I knew - believed in their religion: because that's what they'd been taught since infancy.

I think that's one reason why I didn't believe, myself. Clearly, because your parents taught you something - because your whole society believed it - that was no good reason to believe it was true. I was just a kid, so it wouldn't have taken much to get me to believe. I know a lot more now, and I'd need a lot better evidence. But the Christians I knew, like the Christians I know now, didn't have any evidence to back up what they believed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The 2015 Fox News correspondent auditions

Bizarre, isn't it? Distilled, pureed, concentrated stupid at the Iowa Loon Summit. (And "the rare brown-haired Alaska podium-seeker"? Jon Stewart can really turn a phrase, can't he?)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The State of the Union 2015

FYI, here's the full text of President Obama's State of the Union address last night, except for a few ad libs (here). I don't want to go through it point by point, but I did want to make an observation:

When Barack Obama took office six years ago, our economy was in free-fall. The Bush Administration had caused the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression, turned budget surpluses under Bill Clinton to record-breaking deficits, and mired our country in two unnecessary and enormously expensive wars (one based entirely on a lie, and neither one very smart).

Before Obama even took office, Republicans leaders met and agreed to stonewall everything. They agreed to oppose everything our first black president might want, no matter what it turned out to be, and they followed through with that, with every single Republican politician goosestepping in unison.

Heck, even when the Democrats agreed to adopt the Republican health care plan, Republicans followed their orders and immediately turned against it. Their own plan!

This was entirely about politics. This was about their own political ambition. This was their cynical and very destructive plan to win back the presidency in 2012. They cared not at all for our country, and certainly not for its citizens. They cared not at all about the economic collapse their own policies had caused. This was entirely about making Americans so miserable that they'd elect a Republican again, despite past results, in despair.

Meanwhile, they argued against everything Obama proposed. They fought him on everything. They dragged their feet and even deliberately sabotaged the economic recovery. Their goal was to bring America down, so that Republican fortunes could rise. (Isn't that treason? It sure sounds like it to me.)

How did that turn out? Well, here's how President Obama put it last night: "At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits. Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years."

He's absolutely right. Everything the right-wing claimed turned out to be wrong, if not a deliberate lie. Well, no surprise, huh? After all, everything Republicans said during the Bush years also turned out to be wrong - completely, disastrously wrong.

As I've said before, I even invested my own money under the assumption that right-wingers would continue to be wrong about everything - and that was the best investment decision I've ever made.

I've been disappointed with Obama, sure. It's not that he's more conservative than I'd prefer (though he is). After all, I don't expect any politician to agree with me about everything. It's just that, for years, he's bent over backward trying to appease his political enemies - people who would not and will not help repair our country no matter what he does. And, of course, Democratic politicians in general are too timid even to stand up for their own accomplishments.

But after eight years of complete and utter disaster under the Republicans, where everything they told us turned out to be a lie, and then six steady years of improvement under the Democrats - despite nonstop foot-dragging, opposition, and outright sabotage from the GOP - how could anyone choose the former over the latter? Sure, Barack Obama is black, but isn't it about time to get over that?

I just don't get my own country anymore. Like the rest of the world, I'm wondering if we've gone completely insane. Well, we're not there yet, but the Republicans are. And... somehow, many people seem to be OK with that.


PS. To be 'fair and balanced,' maybe I should mention the Republican response?
In a disparity that crystalizes the Republican Party's struggle with immigration reform, its official English-language response to President Obama's State of the Union address did not mention the issue -- but its Spanish-language response did.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) didn't mention immigration once during her official Republican response, which was aired nationally Tuesday night. A pledge that the GOP would "work to correct executive overreach" was as close as she came.

But Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who delivered the Spanish-language GOP response, did bring it up. Democratic opposition research firm American Bridge pointed out the discrepancy in an email to reporters.

"We should also work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system," Curbelo said, as translated by American Bridge.

Remember, Curbelo was originally supposed to just translate Ernst's remarks into Spanish. When that got them some negative press, they backpedaled slightly, but it was still supposed to be her speech. And she didn't mention immigration reform at all.

Funny, huh? Here's Mother Jones:
On Tuesday morning, Mother Jones reported on an incongruity in the Republican plan to respond to President Obama's State of the Union speech Tuesday night. The headliner for the GOP is Joni Ernst, the new Iowa senator and rising conservative star. The party also scheduled Rep. Carlos Curbelo—another new member joining Congress this month and a Cuban American [of course!] hailing from Miami—to deliver a Spanish language translation of Ernst's response.

The problem? Republicans were not letting the Latino guy say anything of his own. And there's this: Ernst has a long record of opposing Spanish in government communications. She endorsed making English the country's official language during her 2014 campaign, and as a county auditor in 2007 she sued to prevent voter forms from being offered in any other language besides English.

Immediately following the publication of the article, Republicans tried to change course. ..

In recent days, National Review, USA Today, Slate, MSNBC, the Miami Herald, and Tampa Bay Times all reported that Curbelo's remarks would be a translation of Ernst's rebuttal. And Curbelo's office confirmed on Tuesday that the congressman would be reading a translation of Sen. Ernst's remarks.

The House Republican Conference notes that Curbelo will replace references to growing up on a small town Iowa farm with anecdotes from his own life. But, according to Curbelo's office, when it comes to policy and politics, he will be speaking Ernst's words—just in a language she doesn't want to be used by the government.

Apparently, Republicans think that they can say something different to Hispanic-Americans than they say in English, without anyone figuring that out.

Fox News: Two Americans in Paris

This is how Americans are seen in Europe these days - well, one of the ways. It's France's Le Petit Journal making fun of the 'no-go zones' of Fox News.

Is it really surprising that the rest of the world wonders about America's sanity?

Monday, January 19, 2015

"New Dawn" by Chris Hechtl

(cover image from

As I noted awhile back, I'm not even attempting to keep up with this blog, except as I encounter interesting content that's very easy to post (mostly video clips). In particular, I haven't been posting any book reviews lately - and I've been reading some very good books, too. Oh, well.

However, I just have to talk about New Dawn by Chris Hechtl. It's a self-published science fiction novel available for download at, the first in his Wandering Engineer series.

I stumbled across it at - at this point, I'm not sure how - and read the beginning free, on-line. It was such a train wreck that I just had to buy it (only $2.99) to see how bad it could really be. And I ended up reading the whole thing in one day. Heck, I might even buy the sequel, although this might be the worst book I've ever read. (I'll explain that in a minute.)

At the start of the book, a fleet admiral in the Federation navy - an engineer par excellence - has been in stasis for more than 700 years, when a ship finally discovers his escape pod and takes him aboard (shades of The Lost Fleet, although this is quite a different book).

The Federation has been obliterated, but so has their enemy, apparently. Both sides started out destroying inhabited planets and ended with causing stars to go nova, wiping out entire star systems (including Sol system, but many others as well). Now, 700 years later, there are people still alive on some planets and on a space station or two, but in most cases (on the planets, at least) they've lost their advanced technology.

The ship which picks him up was originally a Federation fleet repair and supply ship (ideal for an engineer, of course) which struck a mine during the war, then was holed by enemy action, abandoned by the crew (who destroyed the computer, per Federation rules), drifted as a derelict for 700 years while being struck by asteroids, and then was reclaimed as salvage by the woman who's now captain. She and the rest of the women on board use it as a trading vessel, flying between isolated star systems. (Somehow, after all that, it's still a working starship.)

Yes, I said women, because the crew are all women (except for the male doctor they kidnapped from one of the planets) - all young women, except for the elderly captain - all young women wearing sleazy outfits they got from a whorehouse (literally; their clothing was salvaged from a whorehouse) - most of them just... incredibly ignorant. None of them even know what a computer virus is, for example, and some can't even read.

Yet, somehow, these astoundingly ignorant young women are flying this salvaged bucket of holes from star system to star system as traders. The whole thing is a complete wreck, inside and out, and when the engineer is picked up (that's what they call him much of the time, just "the engineer"), they've taken fresh damage from a pirate - damage to their hyperdrive system, so they can't escape. (The first thing he does is fix that. No problem, right?)

Most of these women act like teenagers from a bad 1950's sitcom. Yeah, they wear porn outfits, but they giggle and blush at everything. I'm not kidding. They blush when talking about taking farm animals to another colony for genetic reasons - and it doesn't get any more specific than that, either. Just the phrase "limited gene pool" - in regards to livestock - makes them blush. Heck, they blush when they flush a toilet, too - not when they've been using it, but just to test that it's working again after repair! It's like a parody of a bad 1950's sitcom.

Even the man is like that, often enough. For example, when explaining how a straightjacket is worn, he hesitates before mentioning that one strap goes between a woman's... legs. (I was surprised he didn't say "limbs" instead of "legs," like a proper Victorian.) But the women are the worst. They giggle and blush whenever he's around - except for the few who want to kill him. It's just the dumbest thing.

I might point out, as a reviewer at did, that these people seem to use the equivalent of Windows XP in their advanced starships in the distant future. And with a screwdriver and a wrench, a good engineer can fix anything. (OK, admittedly, he's got replicators, once he fixes them.) But it's the ship full of young women in sleazy outfits, sighing over the wonderful man who knows everything (would you believe that he's also a black belt in martial arts? yeah, you expected that, huh?), that's really bizarre.

I had to buy this book just to find out if he was going to make himself king, with his own ready-made harem. But in fact, the book is much too prudish for that. There's no explicit, or even implicit, sex, except for some implied lesbian relationships. In fact, the heroic man seems to be made of stone, with all these giggling girls flirting with him. He's a young man, too - very young for an admiral, certainly. But he barely even notices their revealing mini-skirts, skimpy halter tops, and French maid outfits. For the most part, the sexual tension - such as it is - is entirely a matter of giggles and blushes (of which there are far too many).

But there's more. I would swear that no one actually read this book before putting it up for sale at No one. Certainly no editor. But it wouldn't have required a professional editor to improve things, because I'm convinced that no English speaker could read this book without becoming exasperated at the abundant spelling errors in it.

For example, there's a morale officer on the ship, and frequent talk about the morale of the crew. But almost always, it's spelled "moral." (After awhile, that was like fingers on a blackboard for me.) "Quite" is invariably spelled "quiet." He uses "to" for "too" - and vice versa! He uses "their," "there," or "they're" just... randomly, it seems.

Those are just a few examples, because those kinds of errors are on every page of the book. Heck, I noticed more than one per sentence, sometimes. It's like the author dictated this to a speech-to-text converter but then never bothered to actually read it afterwards. And clearly, no one else did, either. Now, I don't mind occasional errors, especially in a self-published book. We all make mistakes, after all. But this could well be a parody of self-published books. It's pretty much all error.

The paragraph divisions seem to be made randomly, too - at least, during conversations. Frankly, it's a very good thing that the hero is pretty much the only man on the ship, because it would be even harder to know which person was talking without knowing who "he" had to mean. Honestly, it's just ridiculous. I've never seen a book so desperately in need of editing.

There are other problems, too, but they're hardly worth mentioning, given all this. I mean, yeah, the women are mostly indistinguishable - except for the elderly captain and the woman who wants to kill him, at least. All of the other young girls whom he trains to become skilled engineers just kind of blend together. You don't really need to keep their names straight (luckily for me), because it doesn't matter in the slightest.

But do you know what the biggest tragedy of this book is? It's a good story. The idea behind it caught my interest right away (of course, I always did like classic SF with an engineering outlook), and the story is actually entertaining. I wouldn't have read the whole thing, otherwise. Indeed, as I say, I'm tempted to buy the sequel, just to see what happens next.

That's why I said that this is the worst book I've ever read, because I did read it. If it hadn't been entertaining, I would have stopped long before finishing it. I've certainly done that with other books.

But this is also a story where I was either cringing or groaning or rolling my eyes at... well, everything. You can't read even one page without being completely exasperated at how juvenile it is or how poorly it's constructed. There's a very entertaining book in here - somewhere - but you pretty well have to imagine it yourself, because the author certainly hasn't given us that book.

I said that this was a train wreck, and that's exactly what if feels like. Reading it, I felt rather ghoulish, like I was an eager spectator at a train wreck, both fascinated and repelled at the same time. This is the most... astonishing book I've read in years, maybe ever. But it's not astonishing in a good way, unless you consider it to be astonishing that there's an entertaining story hidden in this mess, disguised almost beyond recognition.

As you can probably tell, I'm still astonished by the thing. This author seems to be a natural storyteller, but his book-writing skills are severely lacking. I hope he never reads this review - I'm not that cruel - but if he does, I want to encourage him to keep writing. Seriously. He's got talent. He just doesn't have an editor. And he desperately, desperately needs one.

Note: My other book reviews, such as they are, can be found here.

Violence - the Christian way

Face it, the pope is still pissed that Catholics no longer have the power to burn heretics alive. Pope Francis might be the kinder, gentler face of religious authoritarianism, but that's not saying much.

This is certainly an appropriate response to the pope's comments on the Charlie Hebdo attacks, but it's probably not safe for work. If you're looking for a video to show your Sunday School class, you might want to choose Bill Maher or Jaclyn Glenn, instead.

Still, to my mind, Mr. Deity gets this exactly right.

Been there

Friday, January 16, 2015

No-go zones on Fox's no-fact zone

2014 - the warmest year on record

This won't stop the deniers, of course. The faith-based will stick with their dogma, no matter what. And it's the rare Republican who'll admit to reality, even when they know better.

Oh, I don't feel at all sorry for them. They created this anti-science bullshit, after all. They nurtured it, at least. They've used it, just like they've used racism. Remember, in 2012, it was hard to get Republican candidates for president to even admit that evolution exists, let alone global warming.

I feel sorry for the rest of us though. I feel sorry for the world, and I feel sorry for my country, which is increasingly being viewed as batshit crazy by the rest of the planet.


And here are a couple of cartoons which didn't fit in my previous post, but were too good to pass up. :)

Charlie Hebdo

This is just an assortment of cartoons drawn after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Five stupid things for January 12

2014 was lousy, but 2015 doesn't look like it will be any better, does it? Oh, well, it's always darkest before the dawn.

Or before it gets pitch black, I guess.

A ray of sunshine in the gloom

It's been a gloomy start to the new year, but we shouldn't overlook stories like this:
In the days after the bloody end of twin French hostage crises Friday, stories of life-saving courage are beginning to filter out. One of the most striking is the story of Lassana Bathily, a young immigrant from Mali who literally provided police with the key to ending the hostage crisis at the supermarket.

Bathily was in the store's underground stockroom when gunman Amedy Coulibaly burst in upstairs, according to accounts given to French media and to a friend of Bathily's who spoke to The Associated Press. Bathily turned off the stockroom's freezer and hid a group of frightened shoppers inside before sneaking out through a fire escape to speak to police. Initially confused for the attacker, he was forced to the ground and handcuffed.

Once police realized their mistake, he provided them with the key they needed to open the supermarket's metal blinds and mount their assault.

"The guy was so courageous," said Mohammed Amine, a 33-year-old friend and former coworker of Bathily's who spoke to him about the assault on Saturday. ...

Police found four hostages dead inside the supermarket, apparently shot by Coulibaly when he entered the store.

Among them was Yohan Cohen, a 22-year-old who Amine said was "someone amazing, friendly, who likes (and) who respects people."

"I'm Muslim and he's Jewish," said Amine, an immigrant from Morocco. "But there's such respect between us. We're like brothers.

"They took my best friend."

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Ricky Gervais: Darwin was wrong

This is just an excerpt, but it's hilarious. I don't know where it's from or when, but I really wish I could find the whole thing.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Sen. Elizabeth Warren on the Keystone pipeline

Why can't we Nebraskans have a senator like this?

The Keystone pipeline will be going right through our state. Any pipeline spills will affect us. But our politicians - nearly all Republicans, of course - think that the profits of a foreign oil company are more important than their own constituents.

Well, maybe that's true. Our right-wing politicians still get elected - by wide margins, in fact - plus they get paid off by the fossil fuel industry, too.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Damn Commandments

This is the best video I've seen yet from Aron Ra. Wouldn't you agree?

Je suis Charlie Hebdo: Nazi cows

How do you run a comedy show and turn to humor from this? (And yet, Charlie Hebdo - the target of yesterday's terrorist attack - is a humorous publication. So how could you ignore it, either?)

Jon Stewart and Aasif Mandvi are well up to the challenge, though:

But 2015 isn't starting out very well, is it? And I thought 2014 was bad...

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Kirby Delauter

Oh, god, I really needed something like this to cheer me up! (Is it just me, or has the news been especially depressing lately?)
Kirby Delauter is not having a good week.

A council member of Frederick County, Maryland, he got into an online spat with local reporter Bethany Rodgers, attacking her for "for an unauthorized use of my name" in a "hit piece."

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Delauter warned the reporter to never again "use my name or reference me in an unauthorized form."

After Rodgers responded that reporters do not have to seek permission to write about public figures, the councilman simply wrote, "[u]se my name again and you'll be paying for an Attorney [sic]." ...

On Tuesday afternoon, Rodgers' paper, the Fredericks News-Post, mercilessly mocked the councilman in an editorial entitled, "Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter." The newspaper said it was publishing the Sunday editorial early, "in order to garner some feedback."

"[H]ow should we now refer to Kirby Delauter if we can't use his name (Kirby Delauter)?" the paper asked. "Could we get away with an entire editorial of nothing but 'Kirby Delauter' repeated over and over again -- Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter?"

After running through several ideas of how to reference Delauter without using his name (blank spaces, "He Who Shall Not be Named") the paper took a break from its mockery to offer a serious point.

"Kirby Delauter's ignorance of what journalism is and does is no joke, and illustrates one disturbing aspect too prevalent in conservatives’ beliefs: That the media are all-liberal stooges hell bent on pursuing some fictional leftwing agenda," the editorial said.

Thanks, Kirby Delauter, for cheering me up like this! Don't worry, Kirby Delauter. I'd never think of using your name (Kirby Delauter) without your expressed, written permission.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Why American democracy is broken

Shocking, isn't it? But we let this happen. Progressives can still win, when we bother to vote. All too often, though, progressives - especially young progressives - can't be bothered.

Republicans wouldn't have been able to gerrymander election districts if we hadn't voted them into office in the first place. The Supreme Court wouldn't have been able to make asinine decisions, as they did in Citizens United and Hobby Lobby, among others, if we hadn't elected Republican presidents to appoint the crazies.

And even the advantage rural states have in the Senate can be overcome. Heck, it was overcome, in 2008 and 2012. The Senate is only in Republican hands because we couldn't be bothered to vote in 2014 - not, at least, as reliably as the elderly supporters of the GOP.

Yes, American democracy is broken. Republicans rule as a minority party. But we let it happen. We let them do it. Even after the complete and utter disaster that was George W. Bush, we still let it happen. Even after Republicans dragged their feet and deliberately sabotaged the economic recovery, we still let it happen.

How much worse does it have to get before Democrats will actually bother to vote? Democrats lost in a landslide in November, yet increases in the minimum wage passed easily even in red states. We are not a minority. But, apparently, we just don't care...

One similarity between America and North Korea

I don't mean to imply that America and North Korea are identical, certainly not. (Does North Korea torture prisoners of war?) But this essay makes a good point.

He's talking about North Korea's response to The Interview. Whether or not North Korea hacked Sony, they were still outraged by the film, even arguing their case at the UN!

But is America all that different?
Remember March 2003? That’s when Natalie Maines, lead singer of the popular country music group The Dixie Chicks, told a British audience, “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” Compared to The Interview’s extended, ribald parody of North Korea’s leader, one that culminates in a slow-motion shot of his exploding head, Maines’ critique of America’s president was brief and mild. Moreover, Maines hails from a nation that prides itself on nothing more than its freedoms, and indeed consistently deploys those freedoms to contrast itself with dictatorial or repressive nations around the world. It was Bush himself who argued that “they hate us for our freedoms,” an argument that has been rehashed in response to The Interview controversy.

Yet the response to Maines’s comments from millions of her fellow Americans was as outraged, as extreme and as violent as anything out of North Korea. North Korea may indeed have been responsible for what amounted to a boycott of Sony’s film, although the decision to pull the film was the company’s own. On the other hand, numerous country music radio stations and millions of country listeners boycotted The Dixie Chicks themselves, refusing to play their music, destroying piles of their albums, labeling them “Saddam’s Angels,” the “Dixie Sluts,” and so on.

Similarly, North Korean hackers may well have made vague threats of violence against movie theaters that chose to show The Interview. But Maines and the Dixie Chicks received much more overt and widespread death threats, to the point where the singer and group were forced to withdraw from the public eye for some time out of fear for their own safety and that of their families. Such attacks were egged on, if not orchestrated, by the nation’s most prominent conservative voices, as exemplified by Rush Limbaugh’s multi-day tirade against the group. And they were undoubtedly tied to rhetoric emanating from the highest levels of American government, such as Bush’s “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” remark.

Remembering the response to Maines in this moment would serve as a glass houses moment for Americans,...

Moreover, the Maines response illustrates how quickly we can abandon our ideals of freedom if they contrast with such passionately held perspectives. Bush’s public statement on the attacks on and threats against Maines and the Dixie Chicks was that “Consequences are the price we all have to pay for our freedoms.” Yet it’d be more accurate to say that Maines’ millions of critics were happy to see her freedoms abridged when they conflicted with their beliefs about their leader and nation. In such moments, the gap between America and North Korea seems all too slight.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The cost of war

This is only the financial cost of our wars, of course. It doesn't include our costs in blood, honor, and reputation. And it's only the cost so far. We'll be paying for years and years to come, certainly for our young people who've been maimed in combat.

Remember when the Iraq War was supposed to "pay for itself"? (Hey, we couldn't pass up a free war, now, could we?)

Remember when the Bush Administration fired Lawrence Lindsey for suggesting that the cost could be as high as $100-200 billion dollars? The cost has been far, far, far higher than that, and we still don't know how high it will go.

Again, this is only the dollar cost, but that has been enormous. But were our wars at least successful?

We invaded Afghanistan in order to get Osama bin Laden, supposedly. Only that didn't work. We invaded an entire country in order to get one man, and we didn't even do that. By the end of the Bush Administration, the president was saying he wasn't even interested in Osama bin Laden.

Well, what else could he say? It was pretty embarrassing to get America into a war - the longest war in American history - for nothing, wasn't it?

It took Barack Obama to show us how we should have gone after Osama bin Laden in the first place - without a war, without an enormous cost in money and lives. Of course, it wasn't as much fun as a war, right? Certainly not for defense contractors.

And, of course, we based our invasion of Iraq entirely on a lie. Saddam Hussein had never attacked us and was no threat to us whatsoever. He was the enemy of Al-Qaeda, and he did not have weapons of mass destruction. (And no, he wasn't trying to acquire nukes, either.)

Everything the Bush Administration told us about Iraq turned out to be a lie. We invaded an innocent country. (And then, to put the frosting on the cake, we tortured prisoners of war. Just think of what those chicken-hawk Republicans did to my country!)

America's infrastructure is crumbling. Our schools need help. Our students are suffering, and college graduates end up deep in debt. Meanwhile, we've wasted a fortune waging two unnecessary and unwise wars,... for nothing.

No, not for nothing. The rich made out like bandits. The military-industrial complex has been ecstatic. America lost money - and blood, and honor - but defense contractors have been very, very happy with the politicians they've bought.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Best of 2014

Well, it's a new year. I just hope it's better than the last one. I've watched a lot of 2014 retrospectives, but this is the only one which didn't make me depressed. Yes, it's Mrs. Betty Bowers, America's Best Christian.

Do you know God?

Assuming that God exists (yeah, an unjustified assumption, but let's run with it), one of the things we do know about him is that he's the world's worst communicator.

Think about it. There's not even a majority, let alone a consensus, of believers worldwide who agree on which god exists. Christians, for example, make up only 30% of the world's population. That's pretty pathetic for an omniscient, omnipotent super-deity, isn't it?

But it's worse than that, because Christians can't even agree among themselves about,... well, anything, really. There are thousands of different Christian sects with all sorts of different beliefs, even when they're basing those beliefs on the same holy book!

And that's after the Catholic Church spent a thousand years burning heresy and killing heretics. (Before that, Christians couldn't even agree on how many gods there were.)

Any god who gave a crap about human beings would do better than that, so why hasn't your omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Creator of the Universe? Heck, human beings do better than that. Scientists regularly come to a worldwide consensus about what's true and what isn't, and religion has been around a lot longer than science has.

So how come your God is so inept at communicating his wishes? Is it simply that he likes to torture people in Hell forever and ever? (Yeah, I know. Not all Christians even believe in Hell.) Or just that he doesn't actually exist outside of your imagination?

The Bible, verse by verse: cuckolds and convicts

Fun, isn't it? I definitely need to get back to my Bible series sometime (although this guy clearly knows a lot more about it than I do).