Monday, April 30, 2007
Sunday, April 29, 2007
Stinkhorn Rodeo, last post: 8-30-06
The World According to Elvira, last post: 11-01-06
Preston Thinks, last post: 5-20-06
Aunt Sassy, gone to MySpace: 3-26-07
Hot Rocks, last post: 2-10-07
Dear Leaders Daily Thought, last post: 12-07-06
The Skeptical Observer, script-jacked to gay porn, deleted shortly after.
These blogs also arent showing any activity, but it's too soon to say goodbye. I think. Still, they may disappear soon, also.
Sympathetic Stupid, last post: 02-13-07
Library Bitch, last posted in February
Harpowoman Honks, last post: 02-07-07
The Sapient Sutler, last post: 02-27-07
Spastic, last post: 02-11-07
February must have been a bitch of a month. These are/were all good blogs, so it'll be sad to see any of them go, especially Dave and G, who were my first mutual links. But that's life, aint it?
Saturday, April 28, 2007
No. 38: "If we dont fight the terrorists in Iraq, then we'll have to fight them here."
Seriously? Okay, for now let's put aside the amoral issue of wanting to fight your gunbattles in the back yard of a third, uninvolved person, and concentrate on the idea that the terrorists cannot come to America while we're tying up our manpower on the other side of the planet.
But wait, number 38 is related to this one:
No. 21: "it is possible to win the War On Terror."
For now we'll also put aside the idea that we can somehow conduct some sort of a "war" on terror (an Orwellian concept if I've ever heard one, and also no. 6 in the Big Book), and I'll just say that I think WWII has warped the American way of thinking about war. Wars are almost never that neatly ended. Hell, even WWII wasnt neatly ended, since it spawned the Cold War, which spawned the Korean War (still going on) and the Viet Nam War (repercussions of which are still being felt in this very war in Iraq), and the mess that was Afghanistan in the 1980's, which led to a base of operations for bin Laden which led to 9-11.
But terrorists are not soldiers. They are criminals, murderers and thugs, who have turned to violence to get their way (or vengeance for not getting their way, or both). Bush has made many mistakes since 9-11, but I suspect that one of the biggies will turn out to be the legitimization of al-Queda by treating them with the seriousness one would give to a rogue nation. They are serious, but they are police serious, not military serious. Or, rather, they werent military serious, until the Bush Administration gave them sovereignty.
But hey, just for funsies, let's imagine the scene as Republicans seem to think it will go if we pull out of Iraq:
Look Hassan! The Great Satan is running home! No longer will he spend billions of dollars on trying to force us to be like him! No longer will his country be torn in two as it debates whether they should be here or not! No longer will their overstretched military sacrifice soldiers for Big Oil! We have WON, Hassan, WE HAVE WON!!!Ooooo. Maybe I should be worried.
Quickly, tell the others! Now that they have fled, we will follow them through the magic Baghdad gate, which as every terrorist knows is the only way to reach America now that the Department of Homeland Security has secured the Great Satan's borders.
Oh, and Hassan, tell Achmed to let everyone know, it's time to start killing each other! Now that the Americans have left, we can finally do just as we please! Allah Akbar!
Where's the cookie jar, Hassan? I'm hungry! Hey, that's my kool-aid!
Nah, I'm sure they'll have a wizard collapse the gate after the last soldier gets through. Then we'll be safe.
(Just in case you're curious, Ronald Reagan's godhood is No. 12)
Friday, April 27, 2007
When modern presidents use the veto in so blatantly a political manner, they do more than simply engage in partisanship: they also seriously undermine the Constitution itself. A president who vetoes every piece of legislation that he dislikes on policy grounds forces Congress to accede to his wishes, unless it is able to muster a two-thirds majority in both houses to override the vetoes. Such use of the veto indeed constitutes blackmail. It thwarts not only the will of the people, as manifested in the most recent congressional elections, but also the design of the framers of the Constitution, who intended that the legislative power be vested primarily in the people’s representatives in the Congress. Profligate use of the veto, in effect, transforms the simple majority vote required by Article I to a two-thirds majority requirement--in effect, working a change in the constitutional procedures for enacting legislation. (1996)Funnily enough, though, now that Congress has passed a budget calling for an end to our military presence in Iraq (ironically, supported by two-thirds of Americans, if not two-thirds of the Legislature), here's what ol' Dave has to say now:
However one sees the policy, one thing is clear, under U.S. constitutional law: although Congress has the authority to cut off funding for U.S. military intervention in Iraq (the “power over the purse strings” is among the legislature’s legitimate powers, even with regard to foreign affairs), Congress does not have the authority to micro-manage the conduct of war, acting in effect as 535 commanders-in-chief. There’s only one commander-in-chief, assigned that power under Article II of the Constitution – the President – and President Bush would quite properly veto any law passed by Congress that interferes with his legitimate constitutional authority. (2007)Hey, wait, what happened to all that "will of the people stuff? Oh, that's right, it only applies when the people are right, otherwise "wiser" heads, like Big Daddy Dubya, prevail. My what a difference a decade makes.
My ass, it does.
Listen, if anyone has a link to when Clinton and his budget veto brought the government to a halt and handed the Republican congress their ass, I'd appreciate it.
Just how long can this stupidity go on, before our collective head explodes?
props to Spoonfighter.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
According to George Lakoff, there are far more Conservative Think Tanks than there are Liberal ones (I didnt confirm this). Whether this is a money issue, or an organization issue, he didnt say, and frankly, it's irrelevant to my thought. Which is this:
Why dont bloggers start forming Think Tanks?
After all, what is really necessary for a Think Tank. Money? Suits? Donuts? Unused corporate boardrooms and a spare secretary or two? A cynical desire to destroy freedom-loving American workers for personal profit and power?
All you need are some people, some ideas, and a willingness to discuss those ideas, add new ones, or throw away untenable ones. And then, a press release or two. That's it.
It might be helpful if one of the think tank members was a Name, someone who might make those press releases more exciting to media outlets. It's not necessary though.
Imagine this: A group of bloggers set up a blog site, calling it, oh, I dont know, "Bloggers For A Progressive America". Members post an idea, then other members comment on it (or even non-members). Eventually someone takes the original post and, with its comments, reworks it up into a position paper-like thing, and re-posts it. More commentary, more reworking, more reposting. Eventually, consensus is reached, a final draft for release is worked up, and the Media is informed (bloggers as well as traditional media). Maybe copies are sent to the Democratic Party, or other Liberal think tanks. Go ahead, blogwhore your think tank, dont be shy.
At first, no one will notice, even with a Name blogger (unless maybe it's a really big name), but if you persist (and your ideas and/or presentation dont suck), recognition and discussion and, dare we say, Implementation of your Ideas may actually occur. Most bloggers started out as lonely voices in the crowd and some (in theory, the best) have risen to the top. Why should blogger-based think tanks be any better? David Brin theorizes a coming "Age of Amateurs" in which amateur groups take over the function of many of the things currently controlled by Professionals now (possibly due to budget cuts?). Why not Think Tanks also? And even if nothing ever happens as far as widespread recognition of your ideas, so what. Will that make any thoughts or insights your think tank may come up with less valuable?
Start enough amateur think tanks, and something good and useful ought to come out of it, if only to get people more involved in issues and politics, and acting on that involvement, moving beyond mere talking. Talking is important, and everyone can do it, but eventually some of those talkers need to move up to something more.
Here's nice quote from coturnix, which, while it wasnt addressing my Idea, dovetails with it nicely:
While old Big Blogs are themselves centers of the Universe from which all opinion radiates, small blogs have a different strategy. Large blogrolls, lots of blogwhoring, commenting on each others blogs, linking to each others posts - those are all strategies to gain one's visibility, with a consequence of new knots forming. These new knots are much larger than knots of Big blogs. Several dozens of blogs in each knot keep linking to each other all the time, and the knots get bigger and bigger, connecting to each other, forming a really extensive web which only tangentially includes the Big Old Ones.This kind of structure, this "blogging neighborhood", if you will, could be used for forming a think tank. Imagine hundreds, thousands of these groups. Talk about your Power to the People!
Anyway, that's my idea. I cant do it alone (to be honest, I'm not really of the temperament to do it at all), but I can come up with it and hope that it makes it's way out there by osmosis. Probably it already exists, in some form I've not yet heard of. Or maybe I've seen it and just never recognised it (blogstorms, perhaps). The important thing is to come up with a way to combat the Conservative think tanks, to fight their fire with a fire extinguisher (better metaphor, really, considering the destructive nature of what seems to be coming from Conservatives these days).
So, I've thrown my thoughts out into the void, and now I'll watch and wait, hoping for an echo.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Dave Barry did this great piece in his book "Dave Barry's Money Secrets" about how the Press is worried that young people dont read newspapers, and so keep making changes that tend to alienate their current readers in order draw in those younger viewers. It never works, of course, because, as Barry points out, young people dont read newspapers.
Talk about television news strikes me as being a lot like that. Apparently, people just dont watch TV news as much as they used to, despite the almost unbelievable surfeit of it available. So how do broadcasters respond? They try different tricks to try and lure those lost watchers back. Did they ever stop and think that maybe these lost viewers have left because of the tricks, and no bells or whistles will ever bring them back because what they really want is straight news.
I listen to NPR, at least when they're not spending half their airtime raising funds, and I cant think of anyplace else, at least not in television, where you can get that kind of coverage. Considering how much actually goes on across the planet, why is it that all they seem to be able to report on is white house press feeds, corporate press releases, and celebrity lifestyles, interspersed with endless, yet uninformative, "breaking" stories.
So here's my suggestion: People really do want to see news on their news shows. Maybe not all of the people, all of the time, but at any given time, there is somebody who wants news. Not to be entertained, not to wait "breathlessly" while something might (but doesnt) happen, but real, honest-to-god, informative news. So to some news organisation out there, why dont you try giving us information in our news, and only information. You might find that even though you wont draw the big numbers at first, you will become the source of real news that people trust, and more importantly, refer to when citing news stories, which will lead to more viewers, who will appreciate the information. Hire reporters, give them research money, replace filler and puff pieces (even NPR's puff pieces are informative), but most important, give us news. Because you can do all sorts of promotions, play all sorts of games, and talk about celebrities all you want, but it wont increase your news ratings, because it's not news, and people want to see the news on their news shows.
Try it, just try it. You'll get a ton of respect, and you might, eventually, make a lot of money.
Think of it as your Corvette. Corvettes dont make GM any money, but they're a great cachet for respect (or were until GM blew their respect elsewhere). Make news programming your corvette. Eventually, somebody's going to fill that niche, and when they do, they'll get all the respect, which they'll parlay into money, and you'll be scrambling to catch up.
Sunday, April 22, 2007
from I Think In Maps
Friday, April 20, 2007
Nonetheless, here's what he said:
But we're not in Iraq. We're not in a war zone. It's okay for this to be awful, in and of itself, without saying, in essence, "Well, if you think that's bad, look over here." 'Cause, you know, if you're stabbed in the leg, it ain't gonna make you feel that much better and it sure ain't gonna stop your bleeding to see the man who was run over by a truck.Now, I'm not going to say that he's wrong, at least not completely. I seriously questioned posting my own piece which did just that. To an extent, we do cheapen the deaths in Virginia by saying, "oh, that happens everyday in Iraq". His assessment of our national desensitizing is spot on; for every mourning stranger, there are probably twenty who merely shrugged and went on their way.
But, in a way, isnt trying to divorce our tragedy at VT from the daily tragedy in Iraq a form of desensitization?
Connecting the shooting at VT with the carnage in Iraq should be an attempt to re-sensitize people, to awaken their empathy and make them say, "oh... that happens every day in Iraq".
The hard part, after that, is to try and make them understand what America's part is in that day. Every day.
Analogy time! And regular readers will know that I love an analogy.
Think of it this way. I like to compare countries to eight-year old boys*, since the maturity level when dealing with others seems to be about the same. Rude Pundit compares Lefties pointing out the killings in Iraq to be like trying to make someone feel better by pointing out how other people have got it worse. And if that was all it was, he'd be right; "Eat your vegetable, there are people starving in Africa" has never made any kid like brussell sprouts any better. But this isnt quite like that, it's more along the following line:
There are these two kids, right? They dont like each other, but they've joined together to kick the crap out of this third kid (not necessarily at the same time), partly 'cause they're kind of mean, and partly 'cause the kid has a pretty good lunch money supply. The bigger of the two kids, while taking a break from torturing the third, has accidentally cut himself on his pocket knife, which he carries despite school rules prohibiting this. Now, to be honest, this bigger kid mostly relies on his fists, while the more weasely second kid does a lot more cutting, but the first kid has used his knife occassionally, and does even more threatening with it.
Question? How much sympathy have you really got for the first kid? And is he thoughtful enough to connect his cut with those inflicted on the third kid repeatedly?
* In the one-person-for-a-country analogy, even an event like 9-11 was just a nasty sucker punch to the nose. Iraq, on the other hand, has been getting punched every single day for over 4 years.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
If you came here today looking for a diatribe about the shootings in Virginia, I'm going to have to disappoint you. There was no conspiracy, there was no plot, there wasnt even gross incompetence on the part of the university administration. The only place for blame to be lain is on the dead head of that whacked-out son-of-a-bitch who did the shooting.Then I ran out of time and had to put the post in draft form until later. Now it's later, but I've read something that's given the whole thing a twist.
Could anyone have done anything to have prevented it? Maybe, but only through dumb luck. The poor schmuck was broken. Considering the wondrous complexity of the human body and mind, the real surprise is perhaps that this does not happen more often (or maybe it does - look at the Middle East, including our own shameful part in it). And to anyone who says that someone should have "reached out" to him, what part of "loner" dont you understand? And there's no way to prevent it from happening again, short of putting everyone into barrels for their entire lives (Matrix, anyone?). Banning guns isnt the answer either; imagine the horror of this type of rampage, but with a sword, a primitive weapon designed for hacking flesh...
This kind of thing happens every day in Iraq.
Oh, not some sad, crazed student venting his pent-up frustrations on innocent bystanders, but a more common form of madness. War, and the killing of others, generally just as innocent as those students and teachers in Virginia, who dont agree with your point of view.
Originally, I had planned to finish up with something advocating universal health care and the need to include mental health care with it. Then I was going to add that we need to put more emphasis on health care itself, to make it more than handing out the latest fashion in mood-altering drugs and warping research to figure out how to sell us more shit we neither want nor need. But what's the point?
Bad as the killings in Virginia were, they fall far short the carnage in Iraq.
Maybe you're saying to yourself that I've crossed a line by bringing the war into a tragedy like this. But, in effect, the United States has walked onto the University of Iraq, and started shooting. But here there are no cops to come to the rescue, because Policeman to the World was the roll we had taken upon ourselves. And as the shooting continued, others decided they wanted to get in on the "fun".
And so innocent people are dying, because of someone else's anger and madness.
That's on our heads. All the mental health care in the world wont change that, much as we might wish it away. The deaths in Iraq dont lessen the deaths in Virginia, rather the deaths in Virginia ought to bring home the tragedy of the deaths in Iraq. Deaths in which we, you, I, your neighbors, your family, all Americans, have a collective guilt in. And while you think about that poor sick bastard who shot up that campus, think about the thread of commonality between him, and your Nation.
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Bringing "God" into the arguement merely runs the risk of dissolving a polity into factions that differ with each other on the most profound issues imaginable, and must insist on the inequality of various truths and therefore of various people who hold such truths.
Andrew Sullivan, The Conservative Soul
Monday, April 16, 2007
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I've thought about it a lot, actually. I think that I can sum it up in one simple sentence:
Might does not make right.
Doesnt this seem like an obvious truth? Otherwise, if it is not true, then why shouldnt the playground bully push the other kids around? Why shouldnt the man with the gun take your money outside the ATM? Why shouldnt people own slaves to do their bidding? Why shouldnt strong nations build empires? Why shouldnt corporations exploit third-world populations?
Dont tell me it's more complicated than that, because it's not, it's simple.
Might does not make right.
There is Right, there is Wrong, and even though it's often tricky to tell which is which sometimes, we can say that whatever makes something right, it is not how strong it is. The days of trial by combat have been left behind with the Dark Ages, or should have been. The same goes for the Divine Right of Kings. Even the American doctrine of Manifest Destiny is no longer refered to (at least not openly).
The idea the Might Does Not Make Right is a basic tenet of the U.S. Constitution. All through that document are provisions that curb power, sometimes by pitting them against each other, sometimes by simply saying that the underdogs can have their say and sometimes by just saying "no".
On the other hand, we have Christianity.
What is the basic truth of the Christian Church? That in order to be saved from an eternity of pain and torture at the hands of Satan and his minions, you must give yourself to God by way of Jesus. There is a code of conduct, but that isnt nearly as important as pledging your soul to God. Even if you've lived a life of sin, all you have to do is repent at the end, and give yourself up to Jesus, and hey! presto! you're saved from the fiery pit.
Unfortunately, if you're one of the poor schmucks who's never even heard of Jesus, well, that's too bad for you, you're no different from those who have heard, but chose to not pay attention. It's the pit for you.
Do you know why? Because God says so.
Why does that matter?
Because if you dont obey, He will put you in Hell, where you will endure an eternity of torture, torment and burning flesh.
Why? Because God says so, and He's bigger than you.
Oh yeah, and because it's part of a plan. Can you know that plan? Of course not, puny human. Only God can know the plan. Why, because he's bigger and smarter than you. Now shut up and do as you're told. And tomorrow, make sure your mom puts a pudding in your lunch, or you're gonna get it.
See, I refuse to believe that ordinary humans can have a more highly developed moral sense than God, and yet that is exactly what appears to be true with the Fundamentalist God; because He is a complete asshole. We are expected to follow absolutely rules that simple observation will tell you are completely unnatural. And yet, dogmatic christians will tell you that the impulses of our bodies are to be ignored in order to satisfy God, even though He created these bodies and their impulses.
Does this make sense? Are we to believe that the creator of this incredible, complex, infinitely astonishing universe, is a sadistic fiend who hardwired us to be one way, then tells us to behave in the opposite way?
Oh, they'll say, that's the Devil's Work, these impulses.
So now I'm to believe that God's handiwork can be undone by a former minion with a grudge? And if Satan does so as part of some plan of God's, then we're back to the sadistic asshole point again. It doesnt matter whether God does it to us Himself, or allows it to be done to us as part of some plan; the results, and the wrongness of the action, are the same.
Can you hear the Fundies howling? Oh! Another Non-believer dissing Our Lord! Yeah, yeah, now tell me how you know that I'm going to burn in Hell.
And I'll tell you that you're full of shit. You dont know anything. You believe a great deal, and you use that as a guide to live your life and raise your children. It provides a moral grounding and a set of rules for (generally) peaceful co-existance with your neighbors. It provides you with a basis for relating to God, to understanding your place in the world. That's all good... for you.
Care to tell me why I should follow your rules?
Because if I dont, I'll burn eternally in Hell? Why? Third Base!
Listen, suppose I follow all the rules that any "good" christian does, except that I dont believe in God. I dont say so to anyone, but that's how I feel. Will I go to Hell? I mean, I treated everybody the same way a True Believer did, but because I cannot accept the existance of God without some sort of proof...?
So why Hell?
Because an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-everything Being requires unswerving worship from each and every puny, helpless, ignorant human during their short, confused life or he will throw them into a pit of torment FOREVER.
Like I said, an asshole.
Now, I'm not a terribly enlightened being, but I dont feel that I need devotion from, say, my children. I want them to love me, I want them to do more or less what I tell them to do (at least until they're grown up), and I want a bit of respect. But I dont have an exact manner in which I want this done.
Yes, sometimes I say, "because I told you so", but this is my failing, that I cannot make them understand just exactly why I want them to do something, though I know that it's good for them. I feel bad about this inability of mine, but then again, I'm not omniscient.
God is, right? So that's no excuse. If he wants something from me, let him tell me. I'm quite sure that he can make it crystal clear.
Here's what I think: God, whatever It is, has better things to do than micro-manage a bunch of beings in an obscure corner of the universe whose brief lives can be no more than a tiny flash in the corner of the infinite Pan of the Universe. Yes, It may be aware of us, may love us, may wish us well in this incredible place It's created.
But I refuse to believe that it is so petty as to mark a difficult path in the beach sand and expect us to follow that line despite the tides, broken glass, occasional crabs snapping at our toes and the fact that the tide came in 10 minutes before we arrived and washed the marks away.
The need for unthinking devotion sounds less god-like, and more insecure-of-themselves-humans-like. God is not some management type who needs constant sucking up just so he wont fire us and give the plum office to that bitch who's always bringing him homemade cookies.
You know, an asshole.
And if I die, and find myself standing in front of a golden throne, with angels all around, and trumpets and intolerable light and all that stuff, well, I'll feel...
Angry, because I'll know then, that God really is an asshole. And I'll give him a piece of my mind then, boy howdy. After all, if I'm gonna burn in hell anyway because God's an arbitrary dickhead, well, I'm gonna make it count.
But he could've saved everybody a lot of trouble. Especially since, being omniscient, he'll know what I'm gonna say to him.
Seriously, the idea that we could know anything about God strikes me as a lot like saying that a cell from the lining of a vein in your leg can understand what it is to be human.
Oh, but the cell says, I got this thing here, this DNA chain. Look, see, it tells me everything about the Human. It was written in the beginning, and will last until the end of time. All I have to do is follow the code, and I can someday be Human too.
Now go ahead, tell me about Cancer, and how that proves your point.
Idiot! It's just an analogy.
But let's take it a bit farther. Maybe we are merely cells in some unimaginable body. We cannot know that though, and if you try to tell me that you do, I'm gonna have to say you're wrong.
If you need to believe that you're not wrong in order to survive, that's okay by me. After all, it's not my problem if you need a Big Daddy God to smack you around to keep you in line. But (to take this analogy further), supposing that you took it upon yourself to tell your brother what to do, and to hand out punishment in the place of your Big Daddy? I dont know how it works in your family, but in my family, that tends to result in the "punisher" getting back at least what they dished out.
In some form or other.
Bear that in mind, next time you try and tell me what God wants. Maybe I will be going to Hell. Maybe you will.
Choose wisely. Choose carefully. And try to remember that whatever God may be, he's a damn sight stronger, smarter, fairer, and better than you are.
I'll finish with one of my favorite descriptions of God:
...God moves in mysterious not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an inefffable game of his own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any other players (i.e., everybody), to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a dealer who wont tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.
from "Good Omens" by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Saturday, April 14, 2007
Some blogs you might wish to peruse:
Democratic Newsroom (Newsguy, formerly of the Skeptical Observer)
skeptikos: a philosophical journal
Pop Culture Whore
The Liberal Doomsayer
Black Cat Bone
Imaginariums (in spanish)
The Osterly Times
A french spanking blog, i shit you not
* Ziggy Was Here
Sexculturas (beware the pop-ups)
HyperGeometrical Universe - The Theory of Everything (science? or bunk?)
Not The Country Club
A Slip of a Girl - Lingerie Blog
My 2-Second Shelf Life
Citadino Kane (I cant read it, but it has cool pics)
Hotel Room Nudes
* Morbidly Amusing Videos
Johnnie Scoutten Fine Art
* Holes and Halos
Cats alors (French cat lover)
brewski's (AKA hotrocks) new site
* (indicates a dead blog)
A few specific posts of note:
Seriously, dude, too much 3000.
"The Assasin of Democracy"
lego ice cube trays
post about a deserted amusement park
how to draw leafy borders:
Parade Magazine article about whether the U.S. is still no. 1
geo-thermal HVAC system
Conservatives and Progressives, Switch!
Is America's Right Wing Becoming Fascist?
"my cubicle" video
Article containing Wm. F. Buckley's thoughts on the drug war
FUTURO HOUSE! A spaceship-like house
GOP "most wanted" playing cards
Article about women and thinness
Lab-Pixies, interesting stuff to embed
Friday, April 13, 2007
April 4, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor/NY Times
The Rich Are More Oblivious Than You and Me
By RICHARD CONNIFF
Old Lyme, Conn.
THE other day at a Los Angeles race track, a comedian named Eddie Griffin took a meeting with a concrete barrier and left a borrowed bright-red $1.5 million Ferrari Enzo looking like bad origami. Just to be clear, this was a different bright-red $1.5 million Ferrari Enzo from the one a Swedish businessman crumpled up and threw away last year on the Pacific Coast Highway. I mention this only because it’s easy to get confused by the vast and highly repetitious category "Rich and Famous People Acting Like Total Idiots". Mr. Griffin walked away uninjured, and everybody offered wise counsel about how this wasn’t really such a bad day after all.
So what exactly constitutes a bad day in this rarefied little world? Did the casino owner Steve Wynn cross the mark when he put his elbow through a Picasso he was about to sell for $139 million? Did Mel ("I Own Malibu") Gibson sense bad-day emanations when he started on a bigoted tirade while seated drunk in the back of a sheriff’s car? And if dumb stuff like this comes so easy to these people, how is it that they’re the ones with all the money?
Modern science has the answer, with a little help from the poet Hilaire Belloc.
Let’s begin with what I call the "Cookie Monster Experiment", devised to test the hypothesis that power makes people stupid and insensitive - or, as the scientists at the University of California at Berkeley put it, "disinhibited".
Researchers led by the psychologist Dacher Keltner took groups of three ordinary volunteers and randomly put one of them in charge. Each trio had a half-hour to work through a boring social survey. Then a researcher came in and left a plateful of precisely five cookies. Care to guess which volunteer typically grabbed an extra cookie? The volunteer who had randomly been assigned the power role was also more likely to eat it with his mouth open, spew crumbs on partners and get cookie detritus on his face and on the table.
It reminded the researchers of powerful people they had known in real life. One of them, for instance, had attended meetings with a magazine mogul who ate raw onions and slugged vodka from the bottle, but failed to share these amuse-bouches with his guests. Another had been through an oral exam for his doctorate at which one faculty member not only picked his ear wax, but held it up to dandle lovingly in the light.
As stupid behaviors go, none of this is in a class with slamming somebody else’s Ferrari into a concrete wall. But science advances by tiny steps.
The researchers went on to theorize that getting power causes people to focus so keenly on the potential rewards, like money, sex, public acclaim or an extra chocolate-chip cookie - not necessarily in that order, or frankly, any order at all, but preferably all at once - that they become oblivious to the people around them.
Indeed, the people around them may abet this process, since they are often subordinates intent on keeping the boss happy. So for the boss, it starts to look like a world in which the traffic lights are always green (and damn the pedestrians). Professor Keltner and his fellow researchers describe it as an instance of "approach/inhibition theory" in action: As power increases, it fires up the behavioral approach system and shuts down behavioral inhibition.
And thus the Fast Forward Personality is born and put on the path to the concrete barrier.
The corollary is that as the rich and powerful increasingly focus on potential rewards, powerless types notice the likely costs and become more inhibited. I happen to know the feeling because I once had my own Los Angeles Ferrari experience. It was a bright-red F355 Spider (and with a mere $150,000 sticker price, not exactly top shelf), which I rented for a television documentary about rich people. It came with a $10,000 deductible, and the first time I drove it into a Bel-Air estate, the low-slung front end hit the apron of the driveway with a horrible grating sound that caused my soul to shrink. I proceeded up the driveway at five miles an hour, and everyone in sight turned away thinking, "Rental".
The bottom line: Without power, people tend to play it safe. Given power, even you and I would soon end up living large and acting like idiots. So pity the rich - and protect yourself. This is where Hilaire Belloc comes in.
He once wrote a poem about a Lord Finchley, who "tried to mend the Electric Light/Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!" Belloc wasn’t tiresomely suggesting that the gentry all deserve a first-hand acquaintance with the third rail, as it were, but merely that they would be smart to depend on hired help. In social psychology terms, disinhibited Fast Forward types need ordinary cautious mortals to remind them that the traffic lights do in fact occasionally turn yellow or even, sometimes, red.
So, Eddie Griffin: next time you borrow a pal’s car, borrow his driver, too. The world will be a safer place for the rest of us.
Richard Conniff is the author of "The Natural History of the Rich".
I dont know about you, but for me, this has George Bush and Company written all over it.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
I dont know whether to cry, to cuss, or to howl at the moooooon!
Kurt Vonnegut is dead.
I've never had a lot of people that I would've called my heroes, but Kurt Vonnegut was one of them (and about the only one who wasnt fictional). And he is one of the few celebrities whom I both would've loved to meet and been totally stunned and drooling if I had. There are plenty of people that could make me feel like a particularly dumb 8-year old, but Kurt Vonnegut was one of the few that I would have cared if he had.
I dont think anyone's influenced my writing style as much as Vonnegut did. If you're familiar with him, you'll probably be able to see that. He was the first person to show me how to write in a natural voice without making it seem like you had to be a chemically-adjusted madman.
If you dont hear from me for the next few days, it's because I've dug out all my old copies Vonnegut's stuff, and am honoring him in the very best way I can.
I'm reading him.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
For Bush so supported the troops, that he increased their chances of dying by 25%...Remember in M*A*S*H, when everytime a character was almost due to go home, they'd up the requirements to do so? Except that this isnt a TV show. So instead of three more months to drink hooch, feel up nurses, do some doctoring, and engage in hilarity, our soldiers will have three more months far from their families to get shot at, blown up, do some killing, and engage in the horrors of war.
For a political party that prides itself on touting the market place, Republicans seem to be having a hard time understanding the falling enlistment numbers as a marketplace judgement. Listen, guys, it's simple: Less than 1% of the population is in the military, and yet we've still had to lower standards just to maintain our current size.
300 million people in this country, about 90 million of whom still think that this war was a great idea (or so they say) and yet they cant even get less than 3% of that bunch to sign up and fight for an idea that they seem to willing to bankrupt our nation (in multiple ways) to achieve. What does that suggest to you?
To me it says the Bush Company has a product that it just cant move off the shelf. That, if in fact, Republicans did want to run the government like a business, they'd be heading fast for Chapter 11.
As a shareholder in the United States of America, I dont like the job being done by our current CEO. Either he needs to straighten out his act, or he needs to go.
Or maybe we could return the government to people who dont think that it should be run like a business. Who understand that the government is For The People, not for the Profit.
I wont even talk about the number of desertions.
Seriously, a Christian Fundamentalist could sit and talk to me all day long, and I wouldnt change my mind, so why should I expect him to do any different. No, at best, we're helping to sway someone who's straddling the line; at worst we're engaging in empty self-deception flattering ourselves that we're making some sort of difference when in fact we're merely preaching to the choir.
Actually, I dont think the worst case scenario is true; this is not all a waste of time. I do think that the primary good of this last weekend's project was mostly that it fired up the troops. We were all a bunch of Knute Rocknes, exorting each other to stand tall, be strong and go out there and beat The Army of "God".
But I'm not going to try and fool myself that I changed any minds in the Evangelista Camp. Sadly, there are only two things that can change their minds, and that's...
1) a constant hammering of opposite opinions (against which Fundamentalists have a large and effective support organization, not to mention an equally constant hammering back at us), which, seriously, is only effective against the very weakest of their minds, and...
2) the inevitable betrayal of their "inviolable" principles by one leader or another (this usually requires repeated betrayals, because there are plenty of rationalizations for "giving in to sin", none of which are applied to those outside of the Jesus Club).
Wait. You know, I think I'd like to rescind that first point, except for the part about the "weak-minded" members. Never underestimate the power of fashion in any social movement.
In the end, I think the best reason to have held (and to hold again in the future) the Blog Against Theocracy is to stand up and make sure that the Religious Right knows that it cant just walk over us "unbelievers" (i.e., those of us who dont believe exactly what they do).
So stand up.
If nothing else, it'll make it easier to get away if you have to run.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
"Didnt you know outing a CIA agent was a crime?"
Martin was a lot funnier. Bush doesnt make me laugh at all.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Though I was as disgusted as the next Christian by the pleasure our cultural betters take in stunts like this, on reflection it struck me that this kind of thing might be appropriate for the Easter season. The world hated Jesus and mocked him unto his death on the cross. It should not surprise us that 2,000 years later, it still does.You know how teenagers think that their problems are the end of the world? How that zit is some sort of attention magnet that everyone is staring at? That their opinions are sooooo important to the world that that anyone who disagrees with them is committing some sort of capital offense (unless it's someone they love, then disagreement is a crushing hammer-blow)?
That's what this dumb-ass statement makes me think of.
You see, to Rod and all you other Christians out there who think that your religion is under some form of attack, nobody is mocking Christ.
They are mocking YOU.
They're mocking your childish obsession with being right about everything. They are mocking your adolescent inability to see anything in any terms other than black or white. They are mocking your teenager-like blind flocking to (religious) fashion gurus. They are, overall, mocking your immature inability to see the world as anything but spinning in a tight orbit around your wants, desires and opinions.
If you'll actually pay attention, it is rare that your so-called attackers bad-mouth Jesus. No, even atheists and Muslims will admit that Jesus was a pretty swell guy. It's you that they dont like. You and your annoying habit of calling everything that you dont agree with to be a sin.
You've got this annoying habit of calling those who dont tow your line "sinners", then saying that you're not being judgemental, or, if you are, you're following "His Word". Well, I've got a bulletin for you, His Word it may (or may not) be, but your saying it is so does not make it so.
God has never told me that he wrote the Bible, he has, in fact, never told me anything. Therefore, I must make a judgement about whether to believe you. I can make that judgement, you see, because it affects my life, but not yours (and if my belief, or lack thereof, does affect your life, well, you might want to lighten up or seek therapy, 'cause you got some issues).
It's very sweet of you to be concerned about my soul. Now back off.
You say God came and spoke to you? Wow, cool. Have him come see me. See, I dont buy stocks from a strange stockbroker without checking, and that's just my money. You are trying to get to my soul. In God I may trust, but you're not Him. You come on too strong, like a pushy salesman, trying to get us to sign on the dotted line before we can think too carefully about what it is we're buying. Maybe your product is just fine, but I aint buying it from you. And if you try and force me to buy it, I'm going to cry "thief!".
To get back to Mr. Dreher; people dont hate Jesus. They hate self-righteous people telling them that they're wrong. Especially when "wrong" means "sinner". Especially when "sin" means "evil".
Do I have a point? I probably ought to wrap this up, so I'll get to it. I have no interest in living in an American Theocracy. I will not. I'll either fight or, if the situation looks really bad, bail (unlike, say, Palestinians, I'm not married to piece of land, especially if it's filled up with assholes).
I prefer to live in a place run by grown ups, who think and reason and make decisions based on empirical evidence, rather than wishful thinking or outright superstition. And what's up with unthinking adherence to the word of your leaders? Seriously, with the exception of God Himself, I cant think of anyone whose word or opinion I would consider either infallible or absolute, and even God's gotta talk to me in person, not a via a message sent through a 2000 year old game of Telephone. Just because someone says it's so, does not make it so.
I want adults running my country, but I dont need Big Daddies.
Nor do I need any pushy salesmen telling me what I need. You say you got a great product? Show me. Dont try to sell it to me, show me how great your stuff is, and let me come to you, begging to know where I can get some of it. And if I dont, well, tough titties for me.
But dont tell me how to behave and what to think. Your right to swing your Bible ends at the tip of my nose. Personally, I believe there is some form of Higher Being, but I'm not arrogant enough to think I know what It is like or wants of me, and I have a hard time believing that It is so small as to fit into that tiny, intolerant little box you've created for It. And I suspect that if you try to shove It in there, It's not going to be very happy with you.
But that's just my opinion. You may judge whether or not you choose to believe it. And I insist that you extend me the same courtesy.
Friday, April 06, 2007
This is the flip side of the coin, isnt it? Yes, we did a bad thing invading the country. In fact, we've done hardly anything right since then. But, we broke it, and, as the saying goes, "you broke it, you buy it".
Should we get out of Iraq? Well, yes. But not because we dont belong there, (we dont), but because we havent got what it takes to clean up our mess. I'm not saying we couldnt do it; I'm saying we wont, because it'll hurt too much. So, like some cheap playa' who's knocked up one of his playthings, we're denying responsibility and taking off. If forced to, we might pony up a few bucks over the years towards raising this monster we've sired, but no way are we going to take the responsibility we owe this situation, because that'd really cramp our style.
What?! Give up our party lifestyle? Hey, why should I pay just 'cause she's got great assets? Besides, she seduced me.
We should have kept our rifle in our fatigues.
We never should have gone to Iraq in the first place. But we did. Now, like the dead-beat dads that Right-Wingers love to criticize so much, we're going to abandon our love (hate) child to the vagaries of chance.
So, here's what I think we ought to do:
1. Institute a draft. Double the number of soldiers in Iraq, and quadruple (at least) the number in Afghanistan (remember Afghanistan, the country where al Queda actually was). Part of the problem our troops have always had is that there has never been enough of them.
2. Raise taxes. 414 billion spent so far; somebody's got to pay for it, and it ought to be the people who initiated the war, and that's US.
3. Ration gasoline. What's gotten us into this mess? Our obscene thirst for fuel. There's a woman at my daughter's school who drives one block to pick up her child. That's beyond stupid, it's suicidal.
Nasty, huh. But, hey, War is Hell, or it ought to be. But I'm not done.
4. Investigate all information and "evidence" used to get us into this quagmire.
5. Investigate oil companies and oil prices. The biggest winners in this whole mess has been oil producers (except for the Iraqis, that is). And it's time for the "executive privilege" farce to end. Bush and his people are Public Servants, and the public deserves to know what he's done. In Detail.
6. No more secrets. Yes, some things need to be classified, but claims of "security" made by an administration which outs a 20-year CIA veteran are more than a little disingenuous.
7. In cases where laws have been broken, law-breakers need to be punished. Any and all. And lets start with those in positions of trust, not the foot-soldiers.
Will any of this happen? Hell, no. This is a country that adamantly refuses to do anything that doesnt earn money (generally for someone politically connected). Even our government is more worried about money than it is about service. No, we'll pull out eventually, pretty much cementing our world-wide reputation as a nation that comes in swinging, busts shit up, then slinks out without paying the bill.
Except that we will pay the bill. This will cost us. Somehow.
Oh, one last thing: Just in case you think I've lost my mind, I dont think we should be in Iraq. But we are, and we are morally obligated to clean up our mess. But I know we will not. And for me, that makes it all the more imperative that we hold those who led us into this mess accountable.
But even as we do, we should remember that we had a choice to follow or not, and then, after following, we had a chance to change our mind and our leadership. We failed at both. A change in leadership three and a half years after starting this war absolves us of nothing. Should this war ultimately lay the U.S. low, making our future nation a sad husk of its former self (think Italy compared to the glory of Rome, but without all the fine Art), then it will be nothing more than we deserve. We have, collectively, failed to live up to our nation's ideals.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
A comment from Billy Bob in the last post set off a chain of thought, which led to this post.
Cost of the Iraq War so far:
$414,000,000,000 (yes, that's billions)
Average cost of an education at an American public university in 2006-7:
+/- $24,000 (yes, that's thousands)
Number of Americans we could have given a FREE college education (full ride) at an average 4-year institution of higher learning using that money:
1,725,500 students (yes, nearly 2 million people)
Incidentally, had we started a college grant program, rather than a war, the first of those students would graduate in May.
Now, what do you think, could one of those people have had the solution to Peace in the Middle East? Okay, probably not. How about solutions to our independence on foreign oil? Maybe. What if we made all those students study science or medicine or teaching? Would that have been more productive than a land war in Asia-minor?*
"Experts" will tell you that regardless of skyrocketing tuition rates, a college education is still a good investment. If this is so (and I dont doubt that it is if you are in the right field), then why stop thinking in terms of income (which is all those making this argument ever cite). Education is not only good for the one receiving the education, but also for the society in which that individual lives. Prosperous societies do not create educated citizens, rather, educated citizens create prosperous societies. So why has the rate of tuition at state-run universities all over the nation been rising since the Reagan era? Could it be that Republicans would rather horde their wealth than invest it in their communities? That they have no faith in the return of that investment? Or maybe they're just short-sighted, greedy, selfish bastards with no sense of community spirit or national pride?
Here's a question for you: If you're like most people, you'll sped as much money as you can to buy the best stuff you can afford, right? Car, TV, computer, house, clothes, whatever. So why is it so hard for this nation to spend the money to have the best country we can possibly have? Education, health care, infrastructure, whatever.
Think about it. Have we gotten a good deal on this Country we've bought into? Or did we spend a little too much on those useless "features", like that unnecessary War and undercoating, and not enough on some safety or "smart" systems?
* Trick question: buying every man, woman and child in America a case of rubber chickens would've been more productive than our near-classic blunder, which has so far cost us about $1400 per person.
Tuesday, April 03, 2007
On the same day that Britney was shaving her head, a guy I know who works in the office of Senator Bernie Sanders sent me an email. He was trying very hard to get news organizations interested in some research his office had done about George Bush's proposed 2008 budget, which was unveiled two weeks ago and received relatively little press, mainly because of the controversy over the Iraq war resolution.
Not only does it make many of Bush's tax cuts permanent, but it envisions a complete repeal of the Estate Tax, which mainly affects only those who are in the top two-tenths of the top one percent of the richest people in this country.
The proposed savings from the cuts over the next decade are about $442 billion, or just slightly less than the amount of the annual defense budget (minus Iraq war expenses). But what's interesting about these cuts are how Bush plans to pay for them.
Sanders's office came up with some interesting numbers here. If the Estate Tax were to be repealed completely, the estimated savings to just one family -- the Walton family, the heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune -- would be about $32.7 billion dollars over the next ten years.
The proposed reductions to Medicaid over the same time frame? $28 billion.
Or how about this: if the Estate Tax goes, the heirs to the Mars candy corporation -- some of the world's evilest scumbags, incidentally, routinely ripped by human rights organizations for trafficking in child labor to work cocoa farms in places like Cote D'Ivoire -- if the estate tax goes, those assholes will receive about $11.7 billion in tax breaks. That's more than three times the amount Bush wants to cut from the VA budget ($3.4 billion) over the same time period.
Some other notable estimate estate tax breaks, versus corresponding cuts:
Cox family (Cox cable TV) receives $9.7 billion tax break while education would get $1.5 billion in cuts.
Nordstrom family (Nordstrom dept. stores) receives $826.5 million tax break while Community Service Block Grants would be eliminated, a $630 million cut.
Ernest Gallo family (shitty wines) receives a $468.4 million cut while LIHEAP (heating oil to poor) would get a $420 million cut.
And so on and so on. Sanders additionally pointed out that the family of former Exxon/Mobil CEO Lee Raymond, who received a $400 million retirement package, would receive about $164 million in tax breaks.
Does this make it clear who the Bush Administration cares about?
I know we worship money in America, but do the People really need to make this kind of blood sacrifice on the altar of the rich? Anybody who tries to tell you that there isnt a full-out assault by the rich on ordinary Americans is simply naive, stupid, asleep or some rich person's lapdog.
Read the full article here.
Monday, April 02, 2007
Would you like to know why the insurgency in Iraq will never end untill we are gone? Watch the video. Dont believe Jim Hightower? Well, why would you? He's just a damn Liberal! Read this then, or this. You can find other articles in the MSM, but you'll notice the dearth of details contained in them, or the way they gloss over where most of the profits will go (to the Oil Companies, not the Iraqis).
Next time you see George Bush talking about Iraq, say this to yourself; "Blood for Oil". Then think about whose blood it has been, and who's paying for that oil, and who's not paying for it, but rather profitting from it.
(props to Dusty for the Hightower video)
Sunday, April 01, 2007
(ed. note: this was, of course, an April Fool's post, complete with pink background, a sidebar photo of Pepto-Bismol, the sub-title "read my post, then buy my spnsor's product, and the title "Daveawayfromnausea". If you missed it, sorry, but it wasnt funny enough to leave up for more than 24 hours, if even that.)