Monday, February 28, 2011

Gunboat diplomacy again?

It may seem like old news at a time when this morning's Punch and Judy show is already old by lunchtime, but I've been taking a small vacation from blogging and improving my health by not immediately looking at the news every morning. I'm back, but old news is what I have for breakfast today.

I heard Mr. Huckabee lambaste President Obama last week on MSNBC for not parking the Navy off the coast of Libya so as to intimidate Colonel Qaddafi. Do we need any more evidence for the presidential unsuitability of the avuncular mediocrity who doesn't "believe" in science but thinks it's always better to look tough even when it defeats your purpose?

The mad Colonel has made capital out of standing between Libya and the imperialism of America and what better help could we give him in putting out his message that it's either his leadership or chaos?

I have either to think that Obama bashing is sufficient end in itself for Mike to forget about any possible benefit from a move toward liberal democracy in the Middle East, or that waving the flag is all one needs to do to rally the mob, but in either case the pronouncements of Mike Huckabee are all about the candidacy of Mike Huckabee and everything he says or does is designed to further that end rather than to offer any viable solutions to real problems. Just the kind of Bozo America loves to elect, isn't he?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Motes and beams

There was a wicked messenger
From Eli he did come
With a mind that multiplied
The smallest matter.

-Bob Dylan-


To distort the importance of a matter, to exaggerate little things, perhaps to draw attention away from big things, to belabor the significance of a problem long past: making a mountain out of a molehill. If you need to elevate this common human tendency to the level of psychology, call it magnification. Call it hyperbole. Call it catastrophization. Otherwise call it politics. It's how governments handle problems both real and invented. High purpose, Liberal or Conservative; it usually ends in hyperbole and fraudulent accounting.

Dismayed at how may people are dying in automobiles? One might expect a focus on the areas where most of them occur, but once the problem is taken up by zealots, hyperbolized and dressed up as catastrophic, we have unbearable pressure to apply oppressive speed limits to the safest areas while doing essentially nothing about those areas where the bulk of fatalities occur. As crime declines, we make every next one a bigger problem, focus on the most spectacular and base our estimations of the whole on a freak occurrence. It's human nature and it's also a human weakness to be exploited.

But there are more sinister applications. Take the constant carping about how trade unions are harming our economy, now that their membership and power are at low tide. One might infer that eliminating them entirely is a better description of the hidden intent.

Take the heavy emphasis on medical liability claims as a way to reduce the accelerating cost of health care. They account for a tiny fraction of the whole and seem to be the whole and sole solution offered by one particular political party. Never mind the mountain, look here instead. A cynic might suggest a motive having to do with benefiting from high medical costs.

Spending cuts. We need spending cuts and you're crazy if you don't think we need spending cuts so lets propose spending cuts and lets keep cackling and gobbling and chanting about cutting the little things so that no one notices where the money is going and why the income can't keep up with it. Never mind that mountain LOOK AT THAT MOLEHILL!

So what are we told we have to cut? In general we're told about programs that aren't as much financially significant as doctrinally anathematic. NPR has to go, particularly now that it's credibility exceeds that of Fox. It may cost the average American pennys a year, but never mind, it has to go. The EPA of course since it retards the wanton rape and pillage of corporate vikings. Gingrich wants it dead. Planned Parenthood: it's offensive to religious tyrants -- it has to go.

Hyperbole and fraudulent accounting, Let's cut the debt by .001% and make things that are cheap seem prohibitively expensive and those trillions and trillions we didn't make from cutting taxes and those trillions we blew on unnecessary wars obsolete weapons and fraudulent procurement? Don't look at that, look at school lunches!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Numbers don't lie

But people sure as hell do and they often use numbers when they do it.

I was a regular fan of the Doonesbury comic strip during the Bush years because I wasn't any kind of fan of George Bush and because the strip didn't hesitate to mock the kind of presidential buffoonery I perceived; but I've never been an uncritical fan. When Gary Trudeau based a Sunday strip about financial industry corruption on "money lenders in the Temple" I let him know that I've yet to find a Bible story that mentioned such a thing, money changing and money lending being quite different things. We call Trudeau a liberal for some reason, but citing medieval anti-Semitic calumnies to make some partisan point isn't liberal or conservative, it's dishonest.

More recently Doonesbury gave us another cynical bit about how the deaths of 3000 people some 9 years ago prompted the largest increase in federal government size and authority, yet the 237,000 shooting deaths over the same period caused us to "weaken" our gun laws, I was too annoyed to bother e-mailing him. Why? Because it's numerically appealing but factually false. It's another example of putting the same picture in a different frame and claiming it's a different landscape. That's not a liberal or conservative thing, it's an honesty thing and no political party is free from such things whether or not one side is more heavily reliant on it. Let me explain.

We didn't weaken our gun laws actually. We let a ban that banned nothing and had no effect whatsoever on the number of "banned" items legally sold or on shooting deaths, expire on schedule. We finally allowed people to defend their homes against armed invaders without fear of being called a murderer. To call that "weakening" is to call any change weakening, just as the NRA seems to call any change "strengthening." The point careful avoided and upon which Trudeau none the less attempts to rest his case, is that gun related crime has not increased during this period.

But again, look at the picture itself. The attack on New York and Washington wasn't a chronic situation; it was a sudden and very large increase in terrorism. Shooting deaths in the US are, on the other hand, a very chronic condition, but none the less, they are not increasing and over a period of decades have been decreasing. If it were the other way around, Trudeau might have had a valid point, but as changes in the law did not actually produce an increase, he does not make a valid point and he's simply reacting without reflection or any care for accuracy. That might be called lying and covering it up with cynicism, if one were to be direct about it.

Grinding our same old axe on every opportunity that comes along: that's just the sort of thing I so often accuse conservatives of doing, but a lie is a lie, no matter who tells it, isn't it?

Yes, we Liberals have our pet shibboleths too. We have our intransigent attitudes and our faith based delusions and we suffer for it because our opposite numbers are well aware of every windmill we point our lances at and what hypocrites we are and how foolish we have been.

Take the fuss about the bloodbath that would surely occur if we got rid of the National Speed Limit. Did we apologize when it not only didn't happen, but the death rate went down? No we did not and we're not likely to be any more humble when we have to face the fact that the "shoot the Avon Lady" law did not prompt the shooting of any Avon ladies, but did however stop quite a number of lethal home invasions. When our predictions and dire warnings prove false, as they so often do, we owe it to ourselves to admit it. We owe it to ourselves to question ourselves and our most dearly held ideas.

Hypocrisy. It's defending ideas that don't work. It's pretending they do work or would work if everyone believed, whether it's trickle-down economics or bans on foreign made firearms made to look military or comical speed limits or bombing people into freedom or insisting tax cuts raise government revenue. It's everywhere and we don't get to be cynical about the other guy without passing the same test we apply to him.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's time for some New Rules

New Rule:

If everyone wants to insist that we make no more comparisons between raging right wing hate shouters and Hitler, they're going to have to get their candidates to stop doing those Hitler impersonations.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

You're a good man, Hosni Mubarak

"I also think there comes a time for everybody when it's time to hang it up and move on,"

Said Former Vice President Dick Cheney. It would seem that he didn't feel the end of his term in office was such a time for him, smoothly transitioning from denouncing all critics in an official and perhaps illegal fashion to doing as much as a private citizen. He's only moved out, not moved on.

He was of course referring to the apparent end game of Hosni Mubarak, a "Good man" says he.
"he's been a good friend and ally to the United States, and we need to remember that,"
That's a statement hard to remark upon so I won't. I'll only add the good Mr. Mubarak to the list of rogues our government has supported for similar reasons through the years, choosing "stability" over every other consideration. Like many administrations from Reagan, whose anniversary he was celebrating, to that of Cheney and Bush, we've provided weapons to tyrants while the people suffered from want. We've overthrown democratic choices and prevented elections and installed monsters and looked the other way at nauseating atrocities simply to serve our appetites.

Yes, Mubarak did what we paid him to do and you'll note that those are American tanks patrolling the streets, American jets overhead. He maintained an uncomfortable peace with Israel and helped us punish oil-rich Iraq. He did resist the pressure from fundamentalist Theocrats and he helped us to apply torture methods even our own flimsy consciences wouldn't allow -- and we paid him to do it and didn't place many strings on our largess. He was a good man.

Cheney as an unhealthy old man, younger but much sicker than Mubarak and I'm sure we can look ahead to other, not too distant days and the gathering of other people telling us Dick Cheney was a "good man" just like the other good and bloody handed friends and allies. Let the circle be unbroken.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

"Those who wait on the Lord will soar on wings like eagles, and they will run and not be weary, and they will walk and not faint."

I don't have to look for evidence that the United States of America isn't united, unless you consider enraged confusion to be a uniting factor. A Pew polling report last year showed that only 34 percent of Americans think Obama is a Christian. I have no idea how many Americans like me, don't give a damn if he's a Zoroastrian as long as he keeps his scriptures under his pillow and not under mine. His religion or lack thereof is no more significant to me than his favorite basketball team and indeed the private beliefs of most of our better presidents have rarely been a factor in their official lives.

Of course those who wish to destabilize and polarize what's left of the informed electorate for reasons of partisan gain are happy to make an issue of it and for them it's indeed a game with few rules and only one strategy: attack, attack, attack. Prominent amongst that breed of snakes is of course, Fox News, who can depend on a base of religious chauvinists and racist bigots who know less about the certainties they profess than their enthusiasm might indicate.

Take the recently manufactured "scandal" about the inaccuracy of Obama's reading of Isaiah 40:31 at the National Prayer Breakfast this week. Fox Followers can't really be expected to know much about the archaeological history of Isaiah, the variations between extant scrolls or that chapters 40 - 66 seem to have been written about two centuries after Isaiah himself, but apparently they have so little regard for the knowledge of America's scholarship that they also don't expect us to remember that there are other and better translations than the King James version, some of which have incorporated what has been found at Qumran and most of all: that the original certainly isn't in English. President Obama was simply quoting the very popular New International Version. Some scandal.

One can hope that these fragments scraped from the bottom of the GOP slime barrel, indicate that the barrel is empty. Sad to say, it's very easy to make a fool of one's self in America, but it's still difficult to get Americans to notice it amidst the sound and fury.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Bringing out the Beast

There's nothing like God to bring our the animal in humans.

From my point of view, the people pretending there's a war on belief, a war on Christmas, a war on religion are using the traditional pose of being a victim to obscure and justify their eternal war on secularism, on Humanism and what they see not as its appeal to reason and compassion, but an attack on the ability to control people. The majority of our wars are sold as the need to assert the superiority of our God over that of another. So looking at today's newspaper, once again we have evidence of man's tribal nature and his ability to preserve his innate brutality and subdue his higher instincts and abilities in defense of something false.

As with the cartoon elephant recoiling at the cartoon mouse, in a nation of believers, one has to see such pettiness as a phobic insecurity and it's quite unavoidable to see the zero tolerance policy toward doubt for what it is: bigotry -- using God to justify arrogance.

There's an obvious terror behind the garbled, arrogant, condescending and strikingly hostile response to a Humanist statement in the local newspaper this morning. It seems that the idea that any kind of morality can be attributed to someone who does not believe in God is so abhorrent that the haste to denounce it requires truth to be left behind, along with reason, logical consistency and any sense of decency or honesty. There seems to be little requirement for the defenders of the Faith to take along any baggage such as history or theology unless it be false. So much easier to simply make up things on arriving at the burning grounds. Lie, slander and defame, God will know his own.

Typically, in such reactionary defenses, God is assumed to be the Christian God and yet no writer or reader of those hundred comments posted so far can be said to have the same God or the same concept of his will. So never mind the thousand years of bloodshed over what God wants or allows; will or won't or can or can't do; for the purposes of attack, there's only one God ( if sometimes three headed) with one, clearly defined will.

Typically, while such things as the Soviet penal system and Pol Pot's killing fields and the French reign of terror are blamed on the sin of daring to have values not dictated by clergy -- ecclesiastical support for slavery, persecution of Jews, Muslims, heretics, Humanists, agnostics, atheists and scientists seem hard to integrate with the pronouncements that obeying "God's laws" are always congruent with obeying "man's laws." That's so demonstrably nonsensical that it indeed does have to use a heavy anchor of belief to keep the slightest breeze of reason from blowing it away. The only laws that are in fact possible to disobey are written by man, else the universe would not be here and the only laws attributable to the divine are attributable whether the divine name is YHWH or Zeus; Newton or Nature.

"Our Founding fathers recognized that we're all sinners and so gave us checks and balances in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution,"

argues one local idiot, obviously ignorant of anything those men wrote in or outside of those documents. I guess the memory of opposition to a government appointed by and owing its authority to the Church of England's God has faded, not to speak of their militant humanism and vicious denunciations of what their fatuous heirs are now espousing. It would take one more determined and less weary than I to mention the fact that there is no punishment for "sin" in our Constitution, that being defined as something offensive to a God recognized by our government which by law recognizes no god in preference to another. Crimes are defined by the will of the people alone and change with that will. Hence we no longer burn witches and enslave millions.

I go go on for days, listing every false assumption and fallacious extrapolation. I could address the loudly shouted notion that if moral judgment stems only from God, one first has to determine which God we're talking about and then separate his or her or its inscrutable ways from all the various statements made on its behalf by prophetic ventriloquists. I could remind Genesis believers that mankind did, in that legend, acquire a moral conscience along with the baggage of having to accept responsibility, but I won't. I could explain without end or result how values of compassion and love, the values made such a mockery of by a religion claiming to be based on them can, are and always have been derived without need for Gods and their contradictory and confusing commands.

I'd be more likely to get results lecturing lemurs.