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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way To The Debate…

As a voter, I’m not a big fan of political debates.

Especially primary debates.

I’ve never really been sure what purpose they’re supposed to serve.

I mean, it’s a primary, right? So, by definition the incumbent party typically has already chosen their candidate – and let’s be honest here, unless the president actually sprouts sharp little horns from his temples and then eats an actual fat squirming little white Christian baby on  live TV in the White House Press Room while proclaiming himself the literal Prince of Darkness (insert Satanic Mawahahahahaha! here), and maybe even then depending on who the opposition candidate is, he’s going to be that party’s nominee. 

So, the only primary debates are among the opposition party, i.e. people who already basically agree on everything important.  

Take the CNN/Tea Party Republican Party Debate last week.

Most of you, conservative or liberal, didn’t even bother to watch because you already knew what they were going to say.

Abortion? Hate it!

Gays? Shame! Shame!

Illegal Immigrants? No bueno!

Taxes? Not on my watch!

Obama? Nazi!

Deficit? Bad!

Debt? Double Plus ungood!

Stimulus? Why, I never!

Jobs? Mawr!

Jesus? Awesome!

Guns? Ook! Ook!

And there you have it folks, thanks for coming and drive safely.

Really, was anybody actually expecting a surprise?

Did you expect Bachmann to come out in support of a woman’s right to manage her own uterus? (Hell, she doesn’t believe she owns her own body). Did you expect Perry to say he’s suddenly all about Social Security? Or Romney to endorse Obamacare? (Or Romneycare for that matter).  Did you expect Paul not to make the outrageous claim that he can balance the federal budget in a year without raising taxes? Or Newt not to brag about his glory days (you know, right before he resigned in disgrace).  Or Cain not to make some bizarre off the wall non sequitur? Did you expect Huntsman not to come off sane and reasonable – and therefore inconsequential?

The point of a same party primary debate isn’t to stake out your position, everybody knows your position.  The purpose of the primary debate is to declare yourself the bestest and most devoutly true member of your ideology, while at the same time calling everybody else on the stage heretics and faithless assholes.

I mean, sure, it would have been awesome if, say, Newt suddenly ripped off his shirt, grabbed the mic, and started singing It’s Raining Men! while hip thrusting across the stage with Ron Paul riding on his shoulders waving a little top hat in a spontaneous parody of Master-Blaster from the Queer Follies’ musical remake of Beyond Thunderdome (you’re welcome). Hell I would have settled for Romney and Perry engaging in actual fisticuffs, instead just calling each other poopyheads, shin kicking, and the mussing up of each other’s $500 haircut.  I would have been amused if Bachman had, in an attempt to be more White and Right than Pat Boone, outed herself as a complete batshit bananas fringe lunatic conspiracy nut.

Yeah, that would have been awesome.  But of course, nothing like that happened…

 

What?

 

Okay, you got me.

Heh heh.  

I was just checking to see if you were paying attention. Yes, as a voter I see no point to “debates” among people who are basically just different shades of the same dull battleship gray. However, as a humorist and political blogger, man, you know, dayumn!  It’s the mother lode! Thanks. Sincerely. No really, thank you. More! More!

See near as I can figure, the entire purpose of a primary debate is to provide a fresh source of ridicule, sarcasm, jeering, and mockery. 

By now, unless you are either one of those primitive tribesmen who speak the click-click language and live deep in the rainforest eschewing all technology developed after the late Paleolithic or you are in fact a person-shaped turnip masquerading as Paris Hilton, you are aware that Michele Bachmann has declared herself the Motely Fool.

I waited a week. 

I wanted to be fair.  Everybody else was pointing and laughing, but I figured she’d veer towards the middle of the Conservative hardtack and adopt the party line.

Instead, she went on Leno.

“I wasn’t speaking as a doctor, I wasn’t speaking as a scientist. I was just relating what this woman said. She came up and … I wasn’t soliciting that information, she gave it to me. But the bigger issue in all this was the abuse of executive privilege and also just the connection of crony capitalism if you have a political donor that is giving to you and an action is taken by a government official that could potentially benefit that donor, that’s really the issue right now. That’s what people are worried about.”

I had to watch that twice, and then read the transcript to make sure I’d heard right.

Bachmann was, of course, trying to explain the accusation she had leveled at Rick Perry during the debate. Specifically this:

“To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just wrong. Little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don’t get a mulligan. They don’t get a do over, their parents don’t get a do-over.”

She was attacking Perry for signing an Executive Order requiring that middle school girls in Texas be vaccinated against the Human Papillomavirus, i.e. the virus that has been positively linked to cervical cancer, genital warts, and a host of other adverse conditions in women (and men).  It is typically transmitted through sex, and not just the sparkly Jesus-approved kind either.  A lot of people carry HPV, maybe as many as a quarter of the population – including those who only engage in the Jesus-approved missionary style sex (yes, yes, I don’t mean you, of course, you’re an animal). Not all of those people are going to get cancer or even have any adverse effects – but a significant fraction will (oh, by the way, it isn’t just women who are affected. Men can suffer from it too. HPV can make Mr. Wiggly drop right off from penile cancer. You might want to think about that. After you stop clenching your legs together. Just FYI). 

I’ve got to be honest, frankly, I don’t see mandating the HPV vaccine for both girls and boys as anything particularly egregious – no more so than mandating any other childhood vaccine (Yes, yes, I know, torches and pitchforks are by the door, help yourselves). The drug is as safe as any other, more so actually.  Most adverse reactions are mild.  The odds are significantly higher that you’ll get cancer from the nearly inevitable HPV infection than that you’ll have a severe and lasting reaction to the vaccine. Parents can opt out if they so choose. 

I just don’t see much in the way of controversy when it comes to vaccination, at least in principle.

Obviously though, as governor, Perry went about it the wrong way, at least according to the Texas Supreme Court who struck down Perry’s Executive Order.  And, of course, as Bachmann alluded, Perry might have signed that order at the behest of a drug company.

So, when Bachmann brought it up during the debate, I figured that was her angle – executive overreach.  Payoff. I figured she’d nail Perry for exercising executive fiat … and then compare him to Obama (Obama as Nazi dictator being sort of a gimme in that forum). 

Instead, she went for the sound bite.

She went for the tweet: Girls don’t get a Mulligan.  She couldn’t wait to use that line. She had it all ready.  She expected it to flood social media, she expected it to go viral. Girls don’t get a Mulligan.  Some hip young staffer with a goatee came up with that zinger, I’ll bet you even money.  The problem is, the sound bite doesn’t work unless you come off as some kind of anti-vaxxer loon.  It wasn’t, as a governor you can’t take back an executive order, politicians don’t get a Mulligan.  It was, girls who have a reaction to this “potentially dangerous drug” don’t get a Mulligan. 

Dangerous drug. Dangerous drug.

And that only works if you believe, and you assume everybody else believes, that the HPV vaccine makes a significant number of young girls retarded (or even one, but I digress. Again).

Huh?

I’d fire the guy with the goatee. Soon.

Vaccination via executive mandate? Bad. Sure. I don’t get all riled up over it, but yeah, I can certainly see this given the Republican song and dance about executive overreach. Keep your government needles out of our daughters (of course, it’s perfectly ok for the government to decide whether or not that same daughter will bear a baby, but that’s not hypocrisy. Oh no. Totally different. Move along, nothing to see here).

Governor in the thrall of Big Pharma. Bad. Sure. I think we can all agree on that. (It won’t change anything, but I think we can all agree that would be a legitimate debate point).

Hell, I half expected her to pull out the standard conservative canard: vaccinating 12-year old girls against HPV will turn them into filthy whores, just like their mothers (Question: if the HPV vaccine makes girls into dirty sex monkeys, how come penicillin doesn’t? Or Tetracycline? But, again, I digress).

HPV vaccine makes your kids retarded. Wait. What?

So I waited a week figuring she’d back away from that last statement.  I thought, you know, she’s crazy but she’s not crazy crazy.

Instead she doubled down.

And then last night on Leno, she said:

I wasn’t speaking as a doctor, I wasn’t speaking as a scientist…

I damned near fell off the couch. Wait, what? Say that again.

I wasn’t speaking as a doctor, I wasn’t speaking as a scientist?

I’m not an expert.

Oh really?

 

You know where I’m going next, don’t you?

 

When exactly does Michele Bachmann speak as a doctor?

When does she speak as a scientist? 

When she’s speaking about History? Creationism? Climate change?

How about when it comes to “curing” gay people?  Is she a doctor then? A scientist?

No really, I’d like to know.  When exactly is Michele Bachmann qualified to speak as a scientist or as a doctor?

 

I wasn’t speaking as a doctor, I wasn’t speaking as a scientist.

Of course she wasn’t.

When the hell has that ever stopped her?

She told Leno that she was “convicted” in her views.

“Convicted. I’m convicted,” she said.

“Convicted?” Leno replied. “No, you don’t get convicted until after you’re in office. That’s later. You have to get elected first.”

Convicted.  It’s like the jokes just write themselves.  Even Leno was able to get a laugh, and that’s saying something.

Convicted? Committed is more like it, as in “ought to be.”

But hell, maybe she’s on to something.

Sure.  Ask yourself this, when did the anti-vaxxers become such a force that presidential candidates need court their vote? Because that’s exactly what Bachmann was doing, pandering to the nuts.  Crazy? Maybe. Maybe crazy like a fox too.  Think about it, what other candidate is courting the crazy vote?

See?

There are a lot of crazy people out there.  Why, it could be an untapped gold mine!  UFO Abductees? Moon Landing deniers? 911 Truthers? Grassy Knollers? Hell there’s a woman in Ohio who doesn’t believe in gay people. Just flat out denies their existence. That could be the tie breaker right there.  Bachmann would be nuts to let that vote go by.

Remember what I said about Obama sprouting horns and eating babies?  Who’s courting the anti-Christ vote? Huh?

It’s not the vaccine that makes you brain damaged.

Bachmann 2012!

Don’t just embrace the crazy, sidle up next to it and lick its ear.

 

 

 


ATTENTION: If you’re one of those Vaccines Are Teh Eeeeevil people and you’re about to make the standard outraged kneejerk ZOMG! AUTISM! or ZOMG! GOVERNMENT IMPLANT TRACKING DEVICE ZORK ZORK! comment, stop. Take your fingers off the keyboard. Walk away.  Don’t comment. Just leave. Go back to the mothership. Quietly.  I’m not kidding, I will delete your comment. Go away. Yes, I mean you.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Brother’s Keeper

What do you tell a guy who is sick, goes into a coma and doesn't have health insurance? Who pays for his coverage? Are you saying society should just let him die?

That’s the question put to Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) by Wolf Blitzer in the closing moments of Monday night’s Tea Party Express/CNN GOP Debate.

Before Paul could answer, several members of the Tea Party laden audience enthusiastically shouted out “Yeah!”

Yeah, let him die! Yeah!

Nobody in the crowd objected.

And then, right there, you got to see exactly who and what Ron Paul really is.

Right then, in that single moment, Ron Paul revealed not only his true character, but the moral failure that defines the modern American libertarian.

In a word, the answer was an unabashed: Yes!

Let him die.

Let him die, he deserves it.

Paul’s response was, “We never turned anybody away from the hospital. We have given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves, assume responsibility for ourselves, that's the reason the cost is so high."

We never turn anybody away. That’s why the costs are so high.  Logically therefore, if we turn people away, if we let them die, it’s money in our pockets.

Moral failure I said, moral failure it is.

The rest of Paul’s response and the comments he has repeatedly expressed elsewhere make it very clear that in his opinion we should have turned people away, we should have let them die – or rather Government should let them die.

Paul’s viewpoint embraces the libertarian ideal of personal responsibility.

And sure, personal responsibility sounds good, I mean we should all be responsible for our own actions. Right?  Including that guy who didn’t buy himself medical insurance.

The problem is that the idea of personal responsibility when used in this context is nothing but white noise, it’s a chimera. 

Like “common sense,” when used in the context of government, personal responsibility is indefinable and unquantifiable in any but the most vague sense.  For personal responsibility to be a valid standard it would have to be measurable – and either we would all have to be created equal and identical or we have to have a valid and useful way to quantify each individual and determine the proper baseline of responsible action. In other words you first have to define what responsible action is, and then you have to determine if responsible action is an absolute or if it is something measured relative to each individual.  What might be considered responsible action for me is likely quite different from what it would be for you, or for someone with autism, or a corporate titan.

Again, the idea is only useful in only the broadest of terms and the libertarian version on display Monday night completely ignores situational context.

Take the example of the man in the coma, he doesn’t have insurance.  Blitzer didn’t say that he chose to forgo coverage, but that was the assumption by the libertarian crowd.  So let us say it was true,  According to Blitzer’s scenario, the man chose not to buy insurance.  Irresponsible?  Maybe. But maybe he just can’t afford to both feed his kids and buy insurance despite working two full time jobs, because those were the only kind of jobs he could get in this economy. So maybe he chose to buy food for his children and pay his electric bill instead. Does that make him irresponsible?  Maybe, just maybe, he was living near one of those rivers that overflowed last month, and he lost everything in the flood and guess what? He had homeowners insurance but the claims adjuster decreed his loss to be not covered because, and dig this, he didn’t have actual flood insurance, or earthquake insurance, or Little Green Men From Mars insurance – and now he’s lost his home and business and health coverage and lives on the street.  Irresponsible? Or was he just fucked over by God and State Farm?  Don’t think that’s happening right now? You’re fooling yourself.  It happened to members of my own family after hurricane Ivan – they had hurricane insurance, but when the storm surge roared more than a mile inland and destroyed their house, the insurance company said, sorry, that’s flood damage and not hurricane damage even thought the flood was caused directly and provably by the hurricane. Too bad for you. Maybe they could have sued, if they were Ron Paul, but poor people don’t get that option – and so they would have lost everything and been homeless, but for FEMA.  They did everything they were supposed to, but the insurance company moved the goal posts and denied 50,000 people their claims. Were those people irresponsible?

To libertarians it just doesn’t matter, can’t pay, it’s not my problem.

Paul and his Tea Party supporters use the term personal responsibility in the simplest and most childish manner, responsibility is always black and white.  The man does not have insurance. He cannot pay. No one will pay for him. Therefore, turn him out, let him die. He is not my responsibility – this, in the very essence, is the bankrupt selfish philosophy of libertarianism.

The real Ron Paul is a cold calculating selfish little son of bitch.

The real Ron Paul is the kind of doctor who thinks that it’s OK to let a man die – if he can’t pay.

And if as a doctor he doesn’t actually believe that, then as a politician and the man who would be President of the United States he’s perfectly willing to go along with the lynch mob in order to curry favor from those who do – and in the final count, it makes no damned difference whatsoever, the result is the same.

Paul had a moment, a moment, to push back the mob, to demonstrate authentic leadership and actual moral courage – and did not.

He did not, because his words and actions clearly demonstrate what kind of man he really is. And that man is sorely lacking in moral courage.

Note that none of the other candidates on the stage raised an objection either.

The libertarians, including Ron Paul, who make up the stony bitter heart of the Tea Party beat the drum of personal responsibility and wave the bloody red flag of individual liberty, but at their core they are cowards.  It takes courage to place duty, honor, and the welfare of society above yourself. It takes courage, moral courage, to place the welfare of others before your own selfish desires.  It takes courage to do the right thing even when it may cost you personally, even when nobody is watching.  All the charity and pro bono work in the world doesn’t change that, courage is what you do when it matters.

There is no honor, no morality, no courage in letting a man die because he can’t pay – even if he came to such straights by his own device or his own choice.

Now it is true that Ron Paul did not, in point of fact, actually say “let him die” – and a vocal number of Tea Party types have their genuine Ayn Rand underpants all in a bunch today pointing that out.  They’re right … and they are still wrong.  Paul may not have said “let him die,” but he mostly certainly implied it – that’s exactly where this nonsense of institutionalized personal responsibility comes from. However, note that Paul himself fails to take personal responsibility for the implications of his own words. Instead of saying exactly what he really meant, i.e. let him die, Paul tries to weasel out of responsibility by saying that while the government should let the uninsured die, charity and church should step up and save the man.

And just like the libertarian ideal of personal responsibility, this nonsense of church and charity doesn’t hold water when put to the actual test.

Prior to social safety nets, millions died because church and charity wasn’t enough.  It is never enough.

Ask yourself something, how exactly does this work? Specifically. Do you really expect those who embrace a stunted me-first philosophy of selfishness, and who vocally enjoin others to do the same, will actually look out for each other? Really? On the same scale as the federal government does now? You really expect those selfish people to do that from the goodness of their hearts? Hell, those were the same bastards shouting “let him die” on Monday night! Do you really think that churches and communities made up of those same self centered sons of bitches will suddenly embrace charity?  Are you goofy?

Communities made up of selfish people are selfish communities. They’re often easy to spot, the gates give them away.

Churches made up of selfish hateful bigots are selfish hateful bigoted churches. That’s not an opinion, that’s a goddamned fact.

Ron Paul’s libertarian wet dream fails at the most fundamental level.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep right on saying it, the purpose of government is to protect the weak from the ruthless, otherwise what damned good is it?

Paul, and those libertarians like him,  are social Darwinists. They strongly believe that those who find themselves at the mercy of the mob, deserve their misfortune. These are the same folks who think their own station will never change, that misfortune will never find them, that their God will always favor them and theirs, and that they themselves will never be the uninsured man in the coma. 

These are the same people who think that a family who can barely afford to put food on the table, or shoes on their kids’ feet, or pay the electric bill, actually have a choice when it comes to purchasing several hundred dollars worth of health and dental insurance each month. 

These are the same people who seem to think that minimum wage jobs and part time employers actually provide affordable health benefits.

These are the same hysterical idiots who accused Obama of creating “death panels,” but would now let a man die because because they do not deem him worthy.

And these are the same hypocrites who would let a man die because he could not pay, and yet would mandate that a poor woman, who also cannot pay, bear an unwanted baby to term – and then complain about having to pay for its healthcare (yes, a poor woman, a rich woman can always find a safe abortion, whether it’s legal or not).

These are the same frightened assholes who embrace torture, so long as it’s done in Jesus name (and to others).

These are the folks who, like Michele Bachmann, seek and take government money in the form of subsides even though they don’t need it, but decry such government programs when others they deem unfit receive similar largess.

These are the same people who would hold a man accountable – to the death – for failing to foresee the consequences of being uninsured, but would not hold a corporation, even though it be legally defined as a “person,” to the same standard – because that would be bad for business.

These are the self-professed Christians who every single Sunday hear their prophet’s very explicit and unequivocal command to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and heal the sick, and would self-righteously let a man die because he could not pay – and these are the same folks who would cheer wildly at Rick Perry’s execution tally.

These are the very same folks, specifically including most of those standing on that stage Monday night, who would piously proclaim this a solely Christian nation and who have stated their desire to see the United States under Biblical law, and yet – and yet – seem never to have heard of the  passage for which this post is named. Why is that, do you suppose?

Understand something, whether or not, the man in question, the one without insurance, is a lazy worthless bastard who has come to dire straits through his own shortsighted foolishness has no bearing whatsoever on either your responsibility or your morality.

Certainly, he might be a rotten piece of human jetsam, useless, worthless, a blot on society and parasite on mankind, in a coma because he was shot while robbing a liquor store – maybe he made a choice to be who and what he is and he is responsible for the consequences, or maybe he is just the victim of circumstance.

All of that changes not one iota the morality of letting him die because he cannot pay.

His immorality and irresponsible behavior has no bearing whatsoever on mine. And my moral compass says we don’t let a man die if we can prevent it.

Oh most certainly saving his worthless scumbag ass is hard. It’s downright galling.  You goddamned right it is. You’ll get no argument from me on that score.  Nevertheless. 

If doing the right thing was easy, everybody would be doing it.

If responsibility was easy, we wouldn’t need government.

If morality was easy, well then God wouldn’t have to threaten Christians with hellfire and damnation now would He?

Don’t agree?

Two days ago, in Salt Lake City, a motorcyclist collided with a car.  The wreck was horrific. The biker ended up trapped beneath the burning wreckage where he would mostly certainly have died an agonizing death.

A group of onlookers risked their own lives and lifted the burning car with their own hands and pulled the gravely injured man to safety.

Why?

No really, why?

Motorcycles are dangerous.  More, the motorcyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet.  By definition, he put himself in that position – yes he did, if he’d been driving a large safe SUV, he would never have ended up under that burning car.  Maybe he couldn’t afford a safer vehicle because he’s unemployed or a lazy bastard. Maybe he just loved the thrill of riding a motorcycle. Maybe he should have taken public transportation, or walked, or stayed home. Whatever, it was his choice to ride that bike, and to do it without a helmet, to deliberately endanger his own life.  Hell, maybe he was an asshole, maybe he beats his dog, and steals his neighbor’s newspaper, and parks in handicapped spots. Maybe he was a broke worthless bum.

Should those people have let that man die?

No?

Well why not?

Same thing.

The morality of your action is not determined by the worthiness of others. 

Likewise, your personal responsibility has absolutely nothing to do with anybody but you

Yes, say the libertarians, exactly! Taking personal responsibility is my choice, my right.  If I help somebody it should be because I choose to do so, not because the government makes me. 

These people are arguing semantics.  They preach personal responsibility, but look the other way when it comes to public responsibility.  They want to enjoy the benefit of society without having to be accountable for it. The nation they so benefit from includes the poor and the lazy and the infirm and the uninsured, and they would avert their eyes from that and pretend that it is not their moral responsibility.

In the end, either you are the kind of person who would let a man die because he cannot pay, or you are not.

In the end, either you are the kind of person who would let the poor die because by your standards they are not worthy of society, you would let the hungry starve because by your measure they deserve it, you would let the ragged ones go unclothed because they have not earned their place in your world, in the end you are that guy, or you are not.

In the end, you either choose to participate in society and thereby help your fellow man, whether or not he is worthy, or you do not.

In the end, either you are the kind of citizen who takes public responsibility for civilization, i.e. you are your brother’s keeper –  or you damned well are not.

It’s really just that simple.

 

 


Update: Comments for this post are now closed, they’re going to stay that way.

I turned commenting off last night, because with the sudden influx of trolls, illiterates, and frothingly rabid Paulistas, I was not willing to let the forum go unmoderated after I went to bed.  This turned out to be a wise choice.

I’ll say this, if you want to incur the mindless wrath of a whole lot of very very angry fanatics, you can either shank Jesus right in the kidney or say something unflattering about “Dr Paul.”

Here’s a sample from this morning’s hate mail (all quotes are verbatim):

- Lazy, fat, certainly mindless

- HOW DARE YOU!

- You. Are. A. Fucking. Asshole!!!!!

- I demand to know who your agenda is.

- RON PAUL 2012! (repeat about 100X)

- What NOT MY COMMENT POSTED?! DID YOU DLETE MY COMMENT! YOU EVERY HERE OF THE 1ST AMENDMENT ASSHOLE

and my favorite so far:

- WHOS PAYING YOU???!!!! WHOS PAYING YOU??!!!

That was just from the first couple of emails. I deleted the rest without reading them. And as amusing as that is, I’ve got other shit to do today and don’t feel like devoting my weekend to weeding out the nonsense.  

However, don’t despair, comments will be turned back on - after Ron Paul has been dead for at least a decade. 

Really though, fine bunch of people you got there, Ron. Really, really, stellar group. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Variety Show

I flipped on the TV last night and thought, “Oh Boy! It’s Shark Week!”

I had a splitting headache, but man, nothing perks me up like a good feeding frenzy.

I wrung the neck of a Killian’s tall boy, chased a handful of Excedrin with a swig from the bottle, and settled into the recliner. 

The pain in my head made it hard to focus, but it looked like there was already blood in the water. Awesome.

Wait.

What the hell was that? A squid? A sea cucumber? Some kind of weird aquatic mating dance?

I squinted at the screen.  Either they’d over-chummed the water or something was seriously awry.

Was that some kind of barnacle covered sea mammal?

I pressed the cold frosty bottle over one throbbing eye and tried to focus on the screen with the other.  What in the wide world of sports was Wolf Blitzer doing on Animal Planet? Sure, the hack hasn’t really been a journalist since his salad days in Bagdad during Gulf War, The Prequel, but this seemed a little ridiculous – what’s next? Fruit of the Loom commercials in the banana suit? Had I stumbled into an episode of SpongeBob by accident? And why did the sharks look so tan and unnaturally smooth and have really, really good hairdos? (Well, except for that little grey wrinkly one on the end)

That’s when I realized somebody had left the TV tuned to CSPAN.

Ah, that explained it.  They weren’t sharks – they were Republicans.

It was the sharp toothy smiles that had fooled me.

It was the CNN/Tea Party “debate” and oh there was blood in the water indeed.

Wolf tossed another big bucket of fish heads into the pool and that’s when my head really began to pound.

Frankly, I don’t think it worked as a debate, and in fact from the evidence I’m pretty sure none of the participants even knew what the word “debate” actually meant (That’s ok, with the single exception of Jon Huntsman, none of them seem to know what the word “theory” means either, but then Huntsman isn’t really a Republican is he?).  Any high school egghead knows what a debate is. Hell there are whole organizations dedicated to the art of debate. There are college debating teams.  There are professional debating societies. There are debates over the various styles of debate.  There are debating rules. They teach classes in it. Debate is a long refined art form.

I’m not sure what the hell it was that I watched last night, but it wasn’t a debate

It would probably make a pretty good classic TV comedy variety hour though.

No really, go back and watch it again. Watch it again with the sound turned off, only this time substitute Carol Burnett’s voice for Michele Bachmann’s shrill banshee-like screech.

See?

Even in the best of times, Bachmann’s strident squall makes my gums bleed, last night I’m pretty sure that if I had listened to the caterwauling drone of her pandering mirror universe agitprop for more than a few seconds my aching eyes would have exploded from their swollen sockets and crawled around my head to jam themselves into my bleeding ears like fleshy corks. 

But dub in Carol Burnett’s voice and Bachmann is hysterical.

And she’s already got the crazed rolling-eyes look down pat. 

Think of Ron Paul as Dorf On The Economy.  His garrulous old man routine is beautifully Conwayesque. The way he shuffles around wheezing asthmatically and mumbling aaeehhhhhheeeeez end the fed end the fed aaaaaeeehhhhsss no taxes no taxes! just kills me. Paul does a damned good Artie Johnson impression too – though his act needs a monocle and ersatz German accent to really sell it.  He’s funny as hell by himself, but he really shines as part of a duo, not so much Butch Cassidy’s Newman and Redford, but more like Conway and Knotts in The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.

And speaking of Don Knotts, I bet a whole lot more folks would tune into these things if they got him to be the moderator instead of Wolf Blitzer. 

Yes, I know Mr. Knotts is deceased. Do you have an actual point?

Tell me Rick Perry isn’t the spitting image of Harvey Korman’s tight ass Heady Lamarr (oops that’s Headley, Headley Lamarr!) from Blazing Saddles.   Lamarr had this cornball western accent and created a glut of shitty jobs on the backs of minorities.  He tried to swipe a bunch of land from his constituents to build a highway. He was huge on the death penalty, hell, he even hung a horse. No no no. Not hung like a horse, hung a horse. From a gallows.  See, the horse was an accomplice in a bank robbery, being the getaway driver so to speak. What? Oh like you haven’t sentenced somebody to death based on flimsy evidence, could happen to anybody. Especially in Texas. Hell, Rick Perry has killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille!  See?  It’s the same character!

Trust me on this, once you realize that Perry is doing a tribute to Korman’s Snidely Whiplash, the debates are a whole lot more interesting.

Mitt Romney?  Dick Van Dyke from the Mary Poppins era, the lovable goof with the heart of gold. I kept expecting him to whip out his umbrella and poke Perry right in the eye, playfully of course, then break into a gangly vaudeville rendition of A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down when asked to explain RomneyCare.  Boy, talk about connecting to your audience, Mary Poppins being the  feel good story of the implosion of Fidelity Fiduciary Bank, the bank that actually supplied the money for the shipment of tea dumped into Boston Harbor by the very first members of the Tea Party. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

I thought Jon Huntsman did a credible Lyle Waggoner.  Who? Lyle. Lyle Waggoner. Good lord, Man, Waggoner was a Carol Burnett Show regular for seven seasons. Lyle. Lyle Waggoner. Tall fella. Handsome. Kinda quiet. You know. Lyle.

And of course, Newt nailed Vicki Lawrence. 

Er.

I mean he reminded me of Vicki Lawrence – though obviously the other way works too. 

Seriously though, Vicki Lawrence as Momma from Momma’s Family? Go on, tell me you don’t see it. 

Really?

Try picturing Newt in a shawl. See? Ah ha! Told ya!

I figure Herman Cain and Rick Santorum for walk-on guest parts, say Flip Wilson and Soupy Sales – accomplished comedians and funny as hell for a couple of sketches but nobody was offering them a permanent gig on the show. Seriously, every time Herman Cain gets all wild eyed and starts talking about Dominos I expect him to end with “The Devil made me do it, Sugar!” (Right. I’m the only one in the room old enough to get that. Sure).  And Santorum looks like a guy who’s going to spend the next twenty years on The Hollywood Squares.

Now, with a cast like that, you know you’re going to have a good show full of belly laughs.

The song and dance routines were pretty good, especially Perry’s playful “Stimulus Man Don’t Make No Jobs” tap number and Bachmann’s satirical rendition of “Obama Done Stole $500 Billion From My Poor Ole Mama(‘s Social Secur-it-eeee), whoo oh, do wop do wop.”

The Ponzi Scheme Schemers skit was hilarious. Especially the part where Romney started humping Perry’s leg and Perry was dancing around trying to shake Romney off and Bachmann came running up and bit Perry on the ass.  Comic genius.

The jokes were old, but they told them well.

Perry: We need to have a conversation about Social Security

Romney: We are having a conversation.

Perry: When?

Romney: Now!

Perry: When?

Romney: Right now!

Perry: Right now? It’s Ten Two!

Romney: Ten to what?

Perry: Tend to your own damned business!

Huntsman: Business? Why I created more jobs than you’ve ever seen!

Santorum: No no, it’s me that’s a job creatin’ machine!

Perry: Vaccine?

Bachmann: To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection ...

Newt: That’s what vexes us! There ain’t no innocent 12 year old girls in Texas…

Paul: What’s that? Taxes? At my age, taxes is the only thing they can raise!

Huntsman: Look at me everybody, I’m Kurt Cobain!

Cain: Kurt Cobain? Oh if you only had a brain … Shit. Isn’t this the Wizard of Oz sketch? Wait, this is that dream where I went to school in my underwear again, right? Hello? Wake up Herman! Wake up!

 

Remember, folks, when it comes to surviving a presidential election season debate, it’s all in the delivery.

I'm so glad we had this time together
Just to have a laugh or sing a song
Seems we just get started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say, 'So long.

Good night, Everybody.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go see what’s on Animal Planet.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

911 Ten Years On

It’s been ten years now.

A decade today.

And frankly, I think that’s about enough.

There comes a point where you have to stop reliving horror over and over.

There comes a point where you have to say enough, this and no more.

I think a decade is enough time.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the events of September 11th, 2001 were traumatic on a national scale.  911 was a shock like no other in American history, hell, maybe even in world history.  The modern Information Age saw to that, bringing it right into our living rooms without any delay to soften the impact, live and in horrifying color. 

All of us remember where we were and what we were doing on that terrible morning, I know I certainly do

I’m not in any way saying that we should forget, but there comes a point where you have to allow history to become history.

There comes a point where you have to move on.

Today marks a decade now, since 911.  In that time, we went to war and seven thousand more Americans, some of our very best, died.  Tens of thousands more were maimed and scarred and damaged forever.  Hundreds of thousands of innocents died.  Entire countries were laid waste and we became a callous people who could look upon those devastated lands and say, well, you know they had it coming, all of those bastards had it coming including their goddamned children. We became a nation that tortures people and disappears people and detains people, including our citizens, indefinitely without trial or recourse in abject repudiation of the very spirit of our nation’s own founding – and we are unashamed of that and unrepentant.  We have become a nation where, as an American, you must put aside your freedom a dozen times a day. You must show your papers. You must submit to naked body scanners and you must allow unsmiling uniformed men with the force of secret laws behind them to grope the most intimate areas of your children and yourselves. Such has become the price of freedom in America. We have become a nation  where you – as an American – can be detained for a glance or a gesture or a careless word or for checking out the wrong book from the library or for worshipping the wrong God.  We have become a nation where the only acceptable response to uniformed authority is immediate and polite submission, talk back, question, stand pat on the rights of previous generations and you’ll be branded an enemy. We have become a nation that claims to revere liberty and justice, but believes those things can only be had when secret agencies monitor our every email and our every communication without warrant or probable cause. 

The day after 911, September 12th, 2001, Congress stood upon the steps of the Capitol with the smoke of the burning Pentagon still hanging in the air above their heads and solemnly pledged to the American people that they would put aside their partisanship and their personal agendas and work together for the sake of our nation.  And in the decade since we have become a nation divided instead, a nation of partisan rancor writ large – and those who stubbornly proclaim their patriotism loudest are the very ones who would lead us into civil war and secession.  They would destroy what terrorists could not.

In the decade since 911, we have found those responsible, rooted them out, and ground them into dust.  It took ten years, but Osama bin Laden is dead at the hands of Americans.  So is his successor. So are hundreds of his lieutenants.  So are thousands of his foot soldiers.   So are many, many others, including Americans.

But it has not brought us closure.

It has not brought us peace.

It has not healed us as a nation.

911 was horrifying. It was personal to us all, every single American. It left us scarred, as a nation, traumatized.

And we keep using that horror as an excuse to lash out in a massive case of collective post traumatic stress disorder.

The wounds of that event run deep and are still raw a decade later – but those wounds will not heal so long as we keep picking at the scab over and over and over.

Today, we will relive the horror yet again – a fevered nightmare that simply won’t go away because we will not allow it to go away.  

Again, don’t get me wrong, we should always remember the events of September 11th, 2001, just as we remember Pearl Harbor or the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the hundred other events that shocked and traumatized our nation. But if we are to heal, if we are to move on, we have to stop reliving that horror over and over. 

Certainly we should build the memorials and lay the wreaths.

We should always remember the names of the fallen and hold them sacred.

But we need to stop covering ourselves in the blood of that day.

Today, right now as I write this, hundreds of media channels will play the recordings of those trapped in the towers.  They’ll play those recordings over and over and over again. Recordings of the tortured calls to emergency services and the final calls to loved one.  And we’ll listen, yet again, to the intimate agony of those dying people.  They will play on endless loop the videos of those who jumped seventy stories to their death, lingering lovingly on their faces, speculating about their last moments, reveling in the horror. They interview those who witnessed the death and destruction and horror and they’ll beg, “Tell us what you were thinking. Tell us what you were feeling at that very moment.” We don’t need to know what they were feeling, what they were thinking, because we felt the same exact thing. We’re still feeling it. But we’ll listen anyway. And we’ll watch the towers fall. We’ll see the Pentagon crumple and explode.  We’ll hear the tapes of the air traffic controllers, of the horrified confusion in the towers, and the phone calls of those Americans who fought back above the corn fields of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  

I hear those tortured voices, I see those dying faces, and I don’t feel hate. I don’t feel a need for revenge. Instead I feel revulsion.  There is something obscene about listening to 911 calls, any 911 call.  While those records may have value to history, it is nothing but a voyeuristic grotesquery to broadcast those intimate communications to a public jaded by reality TV and violent slasher flicks. 

It serves no purpose whatsoever but to keep open festering wounds that should be long scabbed over.

Today, pundits and politicians will use this anniversary to drive us further apart, to reopen the wounds, for their own selfish agendas, to further inflame partisan fervor and to brand their neighbors as enemies and un-American. 

And we will let them do it, because in the decade since 911 we’ve become a nation of cutters who hack at our own flesh with mean abandon.

 

Since 911, an entire generation has been born and grown to self-awareness.

Those young Americans have never known their nation at peace. 

They have never known a nation that is not divided.

They have never had a single day where they weren’t told to hate their neighbors and to report them if they don’t seem patriotic enough.

They have never lived a single day in a nation that wasn’t bent to the terrible business of revenge.

They have never known a nation that didn’t roil in fear and cringe in terror every single day.

They have never flown on an airplane without having been treated like a criminal.

They have never checked out a book from the library without having been subject to secret scrutiny.

They never sent an unmonitored email or made an unmonitored phone call.

They have never lived in a house that isn’t subject to unwarranted search.

They have never had the right to redress or legal challenge when their name is placed on secret lists – and in point of fact, they don’t even have the right to know if their name is on that list at all.

They have never lived in a nation where they have the right to confront their accuser and demand proof of more than just suspicion.

They have never lived without the threat, however unlikely, of being disappeared.

They have never lived in a nation that didn’t regard the torture of human beings as an acceptable option.

This new generation has lived under the shadow of those falling towers every single minute of every single day since the moment they were born.

 

The terrorists didn’t do that.

We did it to them.

 

It’s been ten years today.

It’s time to move on.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Good Old Labor Days

You ever stop to wonder what you life would be like if it was 1911 instead of 2011?

Imagine.

Imagine what it was like to be your great grand parents.

In 1911, the United States was in the middle of the Second Industrial Revolution.  It was a time of wonder and ever advancing technology. It started in the 1860’s and would last right up until the beginning of World War I. It began with steel, the Bessemer process to be specific, a cheap and easy way to mass produce strong and reasonably lightweight metals.  Strong lightweight steel was the skeleton of the modern age, the core of everything from the new cars to steamships and oil rigs to utensils and lunchboxes, to the machines that manufactured the future, to the finest handgun ever made – Colt’s model 1911, named for its year of first issue and still in production a century later.  In 1911 a tall skinny fellow by the name of Eugene Ely landed a Curtiss #2 Pusher on the deck of USS Pennsylvania and took off again – and thus was born naval aviation, a profound moment that would change the very way wars were fought and thus change almost everything else too. Many of the pilots who, a few years later, would fly over the battlefields of WWI carried Colt’s Model 1911.  In 1911, for the first time, you could buy a Cadillac with an electric starter – and despite the fact that there were still plenty of horses out there on the roads, the car had become so ubiquitous – due in part to Henry Ford lowering the price of a Model-T to $690 that year – that Michigan created the first modern roads when the state started painting white lines down the middle of the more heavily traveled avenues. Electricity itself was no longer a novelty.  Though many factories were still powered by steam, electricity was becoming increasingly common.  The first modern public elevator began operation in London, England, and soon became common everywhere – leading directly to the modern city skyline.  And above that skyline in 1911, Goodyear flew their first blimp.

In 1911, America was booming. Her factories were churning out new products at a record pace. The western frontier had all but disappeared – oh, there were still a few bandits and cattle rustlers out there, but the wild wooly west was long gone.  The gold rushes, the boom towns and gun fights were long over.  Hell, by 1911 Wyatt Earp was living in Los Angeles working as a “trouble-shooter” for the city police department.  He’d fought his last armed battle a year before and would soon move to Hollywood as a consultant for the new movie industry. 

It was certainly a marvelous time.

If you could afford it.

If you lived through it.

See, those churning factories were horrible places.  In 1911, most were still powered by a massive central steam engine which drove an enormous flywheel, which in turn powered shafts and belts and pulleys, which finally powered the machines.  And though, as noted above, electricity was becoming increasingly common, most of those factories were still poorly lit simply by the light coming in through skylights and banks of single pane glazed windows.  Often boiling hellholes in the summer and freezing dungeons in the winter – both air conditioning and central heating were still decades away – the buildings were filled with smoke and poisonous fumes from the various manufacturing processes, lead vapor, heavy metals, acids, chlorine, bleaches, all were common.  Normal working hours were from dawn to dusk, typically anywhere from twelve to fourteen hours a day, sixty and seventy hours per week for wages that would barely pay the rent and put food on a factory worker’s table.

Child labor was common, especially in the textile industry, though in some states there were supposed to be laws regulating it.  The kids toiled right alongside their parents.  The children typically worked the same hours as adults, but for a quarter, or less, of the pay.  Pictures of the time show children working barefoot among the machines, ragged sleeves flapping near the flying belts and spinning pulleys.  Whole families hired out to the factories, the men doing the heavy labor, the women and children doing the more delicate tasks. Towns sprang up around the mills, often controlled by the factory owners. Company towns, where workers very often became little more than indentured servants.  Life in a company town was often better than the alternative on the streets of places like Hell’s Kitchen or out in the fields of the South. Company towns gave workers a higher standard of living than they would otherwise be able to afford. But the running joke was that while your soul might belong to God, your ass belonged to the company.  Mill towns and mining towns and factory towns and logging towns were common across America, places where the company owned everything from your house to your job to the church you prayed in to the store you bought your food from. And prices were whatever made the company the most profit and in many places there were laws that prevented you from renting or buying outside the company town.  The company might pay you a decent wage for the time, but they got a lot of it back too.  Get crosswise of the company and you lost it all.  Get injured on the job and could no longer work, and you lost it all. Get sick, and you could lose it all.  Get killed, and your family was out on the street.  There was no workman’s comp. No insurance. No retirement but what you managed to save – and since you probably owed a significant debt to the company store, your savings were unlikely to go very far.

Of course, you could always take a pass on factory work and return to the land.  In 1911, millions of Americans were farmers.  Farming, especially in 1911, was hard back breaking work (it still is, just in a different way) – so hard that seventy hours a week in a smoke filled factory with a high probability of getting maimed or killed looked pretty good in comparison.  Most of those farmers, especially in the South, didn’t own their fields. They were sharecroppers, living in conditions little better than slavery or the serfdom of the Dark Ages.  Of the small farmers who did own their own land or rather owed the bank for their own land, more than half lived in abject poverty.  In the coming decade, the decade of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, most would lose everything.

Most of America was powered by coal in those days and if there was anything that would make life in a factory town or in the sweltering fields look good – it was working in a West Virginia coal mining town.  It was a race to see what would kill you first, explosion, cave-in, or the black lung.  And just like in the fields and factories, children worked alongside their parents – if they had parents, orphanages were also common. And orphan labor was even cheaper than the average child, both in life and in pay. Renting out orphan labor was a good gig, if you could get it.

You could always become a merchant seaman, though life at sea was damned rough. You could move west and become a logger, though you’d probably live longer in the mines of West Virginia. You could still be a cowboy, or a cop, or carpenter none which paid worth a good Goddamn and had the added benefit of a short lifespan.

Since people got sick and injured a lot, and most couldn’t afford even rudimentary medical care, many turned to patent medicines.  The pharmaceutical industry was only loosely regulated, but by 1911 there were some few laws in a handful of states regulating the more outrageous claims for the various elixirs. The big medicine shows were gone, but in 1911 there were still plenty of drug store shelves stocked with hundreds of varieties of patent medicines. Some were mostly benign – like Coca-Cola – and some were downright toxic – like Radithor, made from water and radium.  As late as 1917, The Rattlesnake King, Clark Stanley, was still making Stanley’s Snake Oil, a worthless mixture of mineral oil, turpentine, and red pepper, and fleecing sick people out of their money and making them yet sicker (hell, as late as the 1960’s TV’s commercials touted the benefits of smoking for sore throats. And, as late as 1970 there were still X-ray foot measuring devices in use in a handful of shoe stores across America).

In 1911, only a few states mandated that your kids attend school, and then only though elementary.  In the South segregation and Jim Crow Laws were in full force and civil rights were decades away. Lynching was common.  On the other hand, women could actually vote in exactly five states, well, six if you included California which grudgingly acknowledged in November that females might be citizens too despite their unfortunate plumbing. 

In 1911, maybe three out of ten Americans could ever expect to own a home, most would pay a landlord their whole lives. Few had any rights in those relationships either, you paid the owner and you lived with what you got or you got thrown out. Period.

In 1911, a lot of Americans were hungry. More than fifty percent of seniors lived in poverty, but then the average lifespan was only about fifty-five, maybe sixty if you hadn’t been breathing coal dust or lead vapor all you life.  Few of those seniors had pensions, most lived on the charity of their families – if they were lucky enough to have families.  Sanatoriums were a common place for the aged and infirm to spend their brief final years. 

In 1911, if you had ten kids, you might expect six of them to survive to adulthood.  If you were lucky. Polio, tuberculosis, measles, mumps, pneumonia, whooping cough, hard labor in the mines and factories and fields, lack of social safety nets, lack of proper nutrition, lead paint, food poisoning, poverty, orphaned by parents killed by the same, would probably claim at least four of those kids. Likely more.

 

People from that generation always wax nostalgic for The Good Old Days – and then they immediately proceed to tell you why life was so much harder and more miserable back then.

 

The simple truth of the matter is nowadays, even in this time of economic downturn, we Americans live a pretty damned good life.  And we live that good life because since 1911 we’ve put systems and laws and regulations in place to improve life for all of us.  Programs like Social Security and Medicare have a direct and measurable affect on how long we live, and how well. Regulations governing working conditions and workplace safety have a direct and measurable affect on the probability that we’ll survive to retirement.  Laws that prevent the rich from owning a whole town, or abusing workers, or turning them into indentured servants, or hiring children at pauper’s wages to maintain the machines in their bare feet, have directly benefitted all but the most greedy few. 

The American dream isn’t dead, far from it. 

I’ve been to countries where dreams have died, America is far, far, far removed those hellish places. 

It is a measure of just how far we’ve come, and just how big an impact that those laws, regulations, and social safety programs have had that those who directly benefit from those very same laws, regulations, and programs can complain with full bellies just how terrible they have it.

Things like Social Security, Medicare, Workman’s Compensation Insurance, The Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance, child labor laws, federal minimum wage, occupational health and safety standards, the Environmental Protection Agency, The Centers for Disease Control, The departments of Education and Health, Labor Unions and workers’ rights, and yes, even Welfare, all of these things were created for a reason. For a good reason. For a compelling reason. 

These things were created because when you leave it up to the church and charity to fed the hungry and clothe the poor and heal the sick, a hell of a lot of people go hungry and cold and ill.  It is really just that brutally simple. 

These things were created because when you leave it up to charity and family to take care of old people, a hell of a lot of old people end up stacked like cordwood in institutions. The moldering remnants of such places are all around us.

These things were created because when you leave it up to people to save for their retirement or a rainy day or for accident and infirmity, a hell of a lot of them don’t, or can’t, or won’t.

These things were put in place because when you leave it solely up to the market to weed out poor products and fake medicine and unsafe machines, they don’t, or can’t, or won’t

These things were put in place because when you leave it up to industrialists and share holders to treat their workers with dignity and respect and to pay them a living wage for their hard work, you get indentured servitude.

These things were put in place because when you leave it up to devoutly righteous people who go to church every Sunday to decide what is right and proper and moral, you end up with lynchings and segregation and Jim Crow. And that is a Goddamned fact.

These things were put in place because when you leave it up to the factory owners to decide wages and safety and working hours, you get this:

 

When you leave it solely up to bankers and the factory owners and the industrialists, well Sir, then what happens is they end up owning it all and you get the scraps.

And right up until very recently that’s exactly how it was.

Fundamentally, government exists to protect the weak from the ruthless, otherwise what damned good is it?

 

Lately there are a lot of folks who think they want to live in 1911, rather than in 2011.

Chief among those people is this ruthless idiot:

Ever since the dawn of the so-called Progressive movement over a century ago, liberals have used every tool at their disposal — including notably the Supreme Court — to wage a gradual war on the Constitution and the American way of life…

(Click on the quote to find out which presidential candidate said it, and what else they think about the last century’s progress)

 

The question you need to ask yourself, on this of all days, is what century do you want to live in?

 

Happy Labor Day folks.