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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Trayvon Martin: License to Kill

 

A FoxNews article today begins with this provocative title:

Taking Liberties: Arrested for reading the Bible?

The title and the article give the intentional impression that Christian Fundamentalist Mark Mackey was arrested for simply reading the Christian bible.

As if he was dragged from his home and thrown into prison for reading a religious book.

As you might guess, there’s a bit more to it than that, for example Mackey wasn’t quietly reading the bible to himself at home, he was engaged in the obnoxious asshatery of “witnessing” to folks waiting in line outside of a California State DMV office. He was asked by both security and police to cease and desist, he refused and continued to annoy the hell out of people who had the choice of either listening to his unsolicited proselytizing or giving up their position in line (I suppose they also had the choice of punching him in the mouth repeatedly, which would have been my first impulse, but I digress). 

Despite Fox’s deliberately misleading and alarmist headline, Mackey was not arrested for “reading the bible,” he was arrested for being an irritating asshole.

The editors at FoxNews know this, of course, that’s why they used the yellow journalism technique of casting the title of the article as a question.  Arrested for being a Christian? Are they arresting Christians now?  You can’t even read the bible? Well, what do you think, poor persecuted Christians? Wink, wink. One has to wonder how the folks at Fox would have written this story if it had been a brown skinned man in a turban shouting Suras from the Quran.

However, be that as it may, a rather large number of the faithful regard this arrest as just one more example of the ongoing bigotry against Christians in America, on par with being burned at the stake or thrown to the lions in the Coliseum. Commenters on Fox Nation lament this supposed “war on Christians” and rage against the abuse and bigotry that poor persecuted followers of Jesus have to endure every day as a repressed and harassed minority in America. You can read the story in much more detail for yourself, it’s been widely repeated on numerous Christian conservative websites and a video of the incident is, of course, on YouTube. With a little GoogleFu, You should have no trouble finding numerous examples.

Now, here’s what I find interesting, if you read the various articles on those same sites, articles about this incident and the recent killing of a young black man in Sanford, Florida, and if you read the articles and comments under various faith blogs and the mainstream media reports of the aforementioned shooting you’ll notice a few things:

1. There is no racism in America anymore, because a black man is president, Q.E.D. However, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of American presidents have been openly Christian, including the current one, there is an ongoing American bias against Christians.

2. A white man cannot harbor racist prejudice against people of color if his mother is Hispanic.  However, a president whose mother was white and father was black clearly hates white people.

3. A man who pursues another man lawfully minding his own business on a public street and then provokes a confrontation resulting in death, is not guilty of either murder nor manslaughter, but is, in fact, a patriot defending the constitutional freedoms of all Americans. However, an American citizen lawfully minding his own business on a public street who is confronted by an armed man has no right to either stand his ground, defend himself, or meet force with like force.  He is, by the simple nature of his appearance, a thug who deserves what he gets.

4. Conservatives, gun owners, police, neighborhood watchers, and Christians should not be judged by a few extremists in their ranks.  However, all black teenage males wearing hoodies may, in point of fact, be labeled thugs and criminals until proven otherwise.

I suppose this form of doublethink isn’t particularly surprising, coming as it does from a group of people who seem to think that a country steeped in Christian tradition up to and including national icons, official mottos, symbols, phrases, traditions, oaths, federal holidays and composed of an overwhelming majority of Christians who have unashamedly declared this a Christian nation at the exclusion of other beliefs, and whose government, military, and law enforcement agencies are in fact composed almost entirely of Christians, is engaged in a war on Christians.

Heh.

 

A number of you wrote to ask my opinion of the Trayvon Martin shooting, or to ask why I had not already posted something – do I not care?

Of course I care.

But one thing we should all know by now is that the nature of 24-hour news media and social networking will inevitably lead to an evolving story in high profile situations like this one. Passion, rage, outrage, and hysteria are high on both sides and plenty of folks have their stock kneejerk responses all ready to go. The gun nuts and the anti-gun nuts are out in force, so are the racists and anti-racists, so are the law enforcement defenders and the cop-haters, so are the liberals and the conservatives, and so are the usual talking heads, agitators, deniers, haters, sympathizers, conspiracy theorists, flacks, hacks, loons, goons, and poltroons - on both sides. 

What does that have to do with the first few paragraphs of this article? Well, for one thing the cognitive dissonance of those particular observations is indicative of a far, far larger issue – one that led almost inevitably to Trayvon Martin’s death.

A young man not much older than my own son is dead. 

He’s dead because another young man shot him down. 

He’s dead, and there’s no good reason why he should be.

He’s dead, and his family is devastated.

This incident and the circus surrounding it should serve as a clarion call to all Americans, every single goddamned one of us, because the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman is a stark and abject example of everything that is wrong with this country.

This incident is a harbinger of what will one day bring down the United States of America if we stay on the path we are on.

Is Zimmerman a racist?

Is Zimmerman a racist, did he target Marin because Martin was black? Would this incident have ended differently if Martin had been white, or Hispanic, or Asian, or Native American?

I don’t know.

I don’t know. I wasn’t there. I don’t know George Zimmerman. And so, I don’t know if Zimmerman is a racist. 

But here’s what I see, America immediately and predictably divided itself into camps over this incident, kneejerk opinions based not on evidence but on race, on stereotypes, on preconceived ideas of what really happened - and there’s no better indicator that racism is alive and well in America than that, right there. 

Should people of color automatically assume that Zimmerman is a racist?

In different world, no, of course not.

But in America, this America, this one right here, the one we actually live in, the real question is this: Is there any reason whatsoever why people, of any color, should not automatically assume that Zimmerman is indeed a racist?

black people are the most disgusting race on earth , the parents making hoodies . what are they gonna do when the truth comes out and the punks guilty? they better take the money and go hide . they are very sick people . selling their sons soul, and probably for crack.[sic]

Yo, idiots. Its OBVIOUS, that the kid thought Zimmerman was unarmed. Typical black youth behavior of CONFRONTATION, led to Zimmerman pulling out his gun. [sic]

It certainly adds to the problems poised by this case, that the response of millions of black males to the fact that they are stereotyped as criminals, is that they dress and act like criminals!! Of course, no one deserves to be shot for dressing or acting like a criminal, but on the other hand, no one should be suprised that those who dress and act like criminals, get treated like criminals. If a group of people is being stereotyped as criminals, the last thing in the world they should do, is ACT LIKE CRIMINALS!. Meaning, in this case, wear "gangsta" attire, go about in public with their faces concealed like criminals who are trying to hide their identity, behave in an insolent and hostile way. If you behave exactly in accordance with people's stereotypes about you, you are simply giving them reason to believe the stereotypes are true. Stop confirming the stereotypes and things will go better. [sic]

Trayvon Martin was no longer the cute little 12 year old from all of the photos the Media has been showing... He was a 6'3" football player who apparently had a taste for doing burglaries. I would bet that is what he was doing in that gated community parking lot, looking for something to steal. He attacked Zimmerman from a concealed position and severely injured him. This justifies self defense. Case Closed! [sic]

If some 17 year gorilla in a hoodie stalks me to my car, jumps me, breaks my nose and then punds my head on the cement sidewalk... I'm going to shoot the rotten S.O.B. So would anyone else who wants to stay alive. You want to know who's at fault here? The parents of the dead boy. It's their fault for raising him to be a thug. [sic]

Those comments, and thousands more like them come from those aforementioned Christian and conservative news websites.  Go look for yourself, you’ll have no trouble finding a whole bunch more just exactly like them, or worse. Note that I’m not saying racist garbage like that quoted above is the exclusive purview of either Christians or conservatives, there’s plenty of this horseshit to go around, across all strata of America, in all directions.  I simply used the examples from the sites I did, because they are easy to find and readily available.

Was the Trayvon Martin shooting racism?

Is the fact that the shooter has not been arrested racism? 

Well? Is it racism? Look around. Be honest. Give me one, just one, good reason why people of color, or any person for that matter, should assume that it isn’t.

Was the shooter racist? I have no idea.

Is Trayvon Martin dead because of racism? 

Yes. Absolutely.

A black youth. Hooded sweatshirt. Saggy pants. Gold tooth. He comes into your store, your bank, approaches your car, gets in an elevator with you. What do you think? Black, white, brown, yellow, red, what do you think? Be honest, what do you think?  Thug. You think he’s a thug, don’t you? A gansta from the hood. You can’t help it. He looks like a thug. He wants you to think he’s a thug. Is that his fault? For dressing like a thug?  Yes. Just like it’s your own fault when people assume you’re an ignorant gun-toting sister-humping Klan-lovin’ redneck because you drive a big truck with a Confederate flag plastered across the back window. Is it your fault when people assume you’re a terrorist if you’re sitting on an airplane wearing a headscarf and speaking to your seatmate in Arabic? No, but they do, don’t they? My son is about the same age as Trayvon Martin. My son is white. My son listens to music that makes my teeth ache. My son wears hoodies.  But you wouldn’t automatically assume he was a thug if you met him on the street, would you?  Welcome to racism. It comes in all forms and it’s all around us, isn’t it?

A black youth in a hooded sweatshirt, is it his fault you think he’s a thug? Perhaps. But it’s your fault too. It’s all our faults. 

And yes, some black men in hoodies are real thugs and you have every reason to be afraid of them.

But here’s the thing, many folks, black and white, glorify that thug life. It’s in the music, it’s on popular TV shows, it’s in the movies, it’s in advertising, and on the web and at the mall.

Why the hell shouldn’t our children, black, white, brown, yellow, red, want to look like that?

Terrible, right?

Terrible, this glorification by popular media and culture of criminals, of thugs and gangsters. Almost as terrible as when previous generations glorified outlaw biker gangs and made popular movies about them and adopted their style of dress and transportation, or idolized the mobsters of the Roaring Twenties and dressed up in fedoras and double-breasted Zootsuits, or turned the bandit gangs and gunslingers who once terrorized the Old West into popular heroes of song and silver screen. Then there is our ongoing love affair with pirates, who in reality were, and are, some pretty terrible sons of bitches.  Oh, yes, how terrible that the youth of today should glorify outlaws and violence and gangsters, because Americans don’t have a long, long history of doing exactly that.

This culture of thuggery didn’t happen in a vacuum you know, no more so than it did in the biker bars of Southern California or on the streets of Chicago during the 1920’s or streets of Laredo during the 1880’s. What changed it back then was law enforcement, education, government, and citizens who cared enough to do something about it.  If you’re tired of being afraid of a thug in a hoodie, then the root causes that gave rise to that image have to be addressed.  The solution isn’t a law that lets you shoot down people in the fucking street, the solution is education, healthcare, development, access, opportunity, rule of law, and citizens who give a good goddamn about each other.

The solution is inclusion instead of exclusion. 

The solution is long and difficult and it requires sustained effort and organization and resources.

If it could be solved by killing people, well we wouldn’t be having this problem, would we?

Here’s the thing, so pay attention: You can not leave the root causes of this situation behind, sooner or later they will catch up to you – even if you move into a gated community.

Liberal, Conservative, Black, White, Left, Right, do you really, really, want to live in a community where the law allows a man to shoot another down in the street with impunity? Really? Do you really want to live in an armed camp? Hemmed in by armed patrols? Do you really want your kids to have to answer to armed civilian militia? Really? 

If you do, if you think armed patrols and gunning people down in the street is the answer, then you’re insane.

And where do you go when that isn’t enough? A castle? A fortress? Where?

And after that, what?

I’ll tell you what comes after that, because I’ve been in countries where it all finally hit the wall.

What comes next?

Genocide

Trayvon Martin was just a kid in a hooded sweatshirt who went to the store to buy a drink and a bag of candy. He wasn’t a saint, he got in his share of trouble. But he wasn’t a thug either. He was just an average kid, a football player, a guy with a girlfriend, an American just exactly like my own son, no more, no less. 

Trayvon Martin was just a kid who should have been able walk down any street in America without fearing for his life – no matter how he looked or what he was wearing.

Trayvon Martin died because he committed the fatal sin of being a black youth in America.

His death and all those things that led directly to it are a blot upon all our souls.

Like the folks at the beginning of this article, there are far too many Americans who falsely proclaim themselves the targets of bigotry and prejudice and unjust persecution, who would gleefully pretend to martyrdom, and turn a blind eye to real injustice. 

If they want to know what real bigotry is, they should put on blackface and a hoodie and walk the streets of America.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Stay Classy, Catwoman

And then there were two.

Ok, technically three, but really just two. And really, just one.

Newt Gingrich is “scaling back” his campaign for president.

Scaling back. Heh heh. Scaling back, is that what the kids are calling it nowadays?

Like he actually has a chance at the nomination, right?

Newt Gingrich will never be President and the only one who doesn’t seem to know this is Newt Gingrich.

His bid for the GOP nomination, let alone the White House, was DOA right from the beginning.

Sure, there were a few flickers of life, he appeared to rally a few times, a twitch here, a spasm there, but Gingrich never really had a chance. His campaign has been brain dead for a while now and the only thing keeping it breathing at the moment is the SuperPAC oxygen tube jammed down his windpipe.  His next of kin, the ones he hasn’t alienated over the years, are gathered around his bedside like Cleveland Indians fans dumb enough to buy season tickets and stuck now staring down at the field, sheepishly sitting in a half empty stadium and cheering weakly more out of a sense of duty than for any actual hope of winning. About half of them gave up the deathwatch a month ago. The Rest? He’s a fighter they say, he’ll pull through. God will grant us a miracle, you watch and see.  Any minute now. Any minute now…

But even diehard Indians fans don’t really believe their team will go all the way, not even with God in their dugout.

The doctors just shake their head and nod knowingly to each other, they’ve seen this all too often.   They smile sadly and make noncommittal noises – and inside they resent the resources this corpse is taking away from other more viable patients.  It’s time for some battlefield triage they think, time to salvage what organs they can, pull the plug, and call the meat wagon – or the glue factory.

Unfortunately for everybody, the argument over pulling the plug is verging on the ridiculous.

And so, there he is, Gingrich, a bloated meatbag gone cold and clammy, heart still beating sluggishly, but he’s brain dead and his organs are failing one by one and there’s nothing left but a bad smell.  The only question now is what time the coroner will stamp on the death certificate.

Newt, true to course, continues to display his usual sullenness:

“None of you guys would call a football team or a basketball team and say, 'Why don't you drop out?' You'd say, 'There's a season. Let's play the season…”

Note that when Bachmann, Huntsman, Perry, and Cain all dropped out of the race, Newt didn’t encourage them to play out the season.  He smirked his smug jock-douchebag smirk and waved bye bye at the losers.  Adios, suckers. But now? Now Team Newt has played thirty-two games.  He won on his home court and he managed a small victory during one away game. That’s it.

He’s 2 and 30 (of course, that’s two better than Ron Paul, but still).

Newt’s right, you don’t have to tell a sports team to drop out – they get eliminated in the playoffs.

At this point what we have with Gingrich is less an assisted suicide-sports mashup analogy and more like that time Sean Young got piss drunk, put on a homemade Catwoman outfit, and assaulted Tim Burton and Michael Keaton on the set of Batman Returns

That’s right, Newt Gingrich has become the crazy Catwoman wannabe of presidential campaign politics (and when I say Catwoman, I mean it in both the drunkenly obnoxious Sean Young and the horrifyingly bad Halle Berry sense.  And, of course, in the Batman Returns sense too. Catwoman, no matter how you slice it, always ends up costing somebody a lot of money and turns out to be a stinker, just like Newt).

Conservatives may not care much for either Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, but they’ve made it abundantly clear that they like Gingrich even less. A lot less, actually.

Just like Catwoman, Newt’s death spiral is more than a little cringe-inducing.

And so here we are, Gingrich is out of money and running in the red, he’s fired his campaign manager and half his staff, his schedule has been cut to the bone, but he’s adamant that he’ll stay in the race.  He can’t win the nomination, hell, he can’t even win second place, but he’s staying in.  He’s out, but he’s not out out – instead he’s apparently going to concentrate on winning Twitter and Facebook because hey, social media, that’s where the real battle is. Sure.  And seriously here, what the hell is it with these people? Bachmann, Cain, Perry, they didn’t “quit,” they just “suspended” or “reassessed” their respective campaigns, only Huntsman had the good grace and self-confidence to say, “I did the best I could, but I’m done now.”  Are these people really so insecure that they can’t admit when they’ve lost? Really? (that’s a rhetorical question, don’t bother to answer).

Gingrich can’t win. I know it. You know it. Democrats know it.  Independents know it.  Republicans know it.  Stone age tribesmen who speak the click-click language and live deep in the jungles of Mindanao Island eschewing all contact with the outside world know it.  Gingrich knows it. It looked like he might have had shot back a couple of months ago, before people remembered who they were dealing with, oh yeah, that’s right, Newt Gingrich, blech.  But now? Newt has about as much chance of being president as Sean Young has of a speaking role in The Dark Knight Rises.

So, what the hell is he doing?

Well, he made his intentions pretty clear in a radio interview this morning,

“Romney has to earn this, it’s not going to be given to him.”

One thing about Newt, he’s consistent.  He’s always been a selfish hypocritical son of a bitch.  He tries to have a president impeached for adultery, while he himself is committing adultery. He talks about morals and ethics, while engaged in unethical behavior.  He says something obnoxious, and blames the press for repeating it.  He complains that other politicians haven’t been “vetted” but is outraged when his own words and behavior are placed under a microscope.  He’s a career politician and the consummate Washington Insider who  denounces “Washington insiders” and “politics as usual” – the very politics as usual that he himself is largely responsible for creating. He talks endlessly about personal responsibility, for everybody else, but he never takes responsibility for his own actions – with Newt it’s always somebody else’s fault when he screws the pooch, or screws somebody else’s wife.  Hell the last time he stepped out, he blamed America, not just one or two of us, America.

Newt resents the fact that try as he might, the vast majority of the country remains steadfastly unconvinced that he is half as awesome as he thinks he is.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road, Newt talks about uniting the nation and pulling together as Americans, but he can’t even put aside his monstrously bloated ego long enough to unite his own party – how’s he going to do it on a national scale?  Answer, he’s not. And he has no intention of doing so.  When Newt talks about unity, he’s just talking about the people that he likes, the rest of us can go to hell, or move to Canada, whatever.  He’ll do what he has always done, throw everybody who’s not on Team Newt over the fantail and into the ocean. He’s a selfish, self-centered, self-involved son of a bitch who’s only in it for himself.  And most people can sense that, even if they don’t know exactly why they don’t like him.

He has lost and he knows it. 

He’s going to have to back Romney, he knows that too and it just galls him. 

Newt is going to back Romney because Romney is going to be the GOP candidate.

But, Newt being Newt just can’t admit it.  He’s got this idea that he’s somehow going to make Romney “earn” the nomination.  As if Romney isn’t at least as an experienced politician as Gingrich is – without the three wife and ethics violations baggage – as if Romney hasn’t put in just as much time in the political trenches. Newt knows exactly what the outcome is going to be here, and he knows he’s going to back whoever the GOP nominates even if it’s Cannibal Hitler’s Head in a Pickle Jar. But he is still going to make everybody else pay just out of selfish spite.

And that right there, more than anything else, tells you what kind of President he would be – exactly the same as the kind of Speaker he was, just exactly as the kind of man he is every single day. 

Newt hasn’t changed, not one bit, he’s still same old hypocrite.

He keeps talking about how the current occupant of the White House ignores the so-called will of the people, but he himself fully intends to force a contested GOP convention and somehow snatch the nomination for himself out of the resulting chaos against the clearly stated will of Republican voters. 

He wants Romney to earn the nomination, but he wants the GOP to just hand it to him. 

Don’t be surprised if he shows up in Tampa wearing a Catwoman costume.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ten Things That Would Have Made ‘John Carter’ A Blockbuster

Well, it’s official. 

The Disney movie, John Carter, is a bomb.

Maybe the biggest bomb in Hollywood history. The pundits are cheerfully proclaiming it a bigger flop than the infamous Waterworld (which is a bit ironic, given that Waterworld was not, in fact, an actual flop).  At the moment the movie is $200 million in the hole and unlikely to ever make back a significant fraction of that colossal loss from theater sales – though I suspect that like the aforementioned Waterworld it may eventually recoup quite a bit with the video and overseas releases and maybe even turn a profit.

And that, my fuzzy electronic friends, is a damned shame because John Carter is a terrific movie. 

It’s a shame because John Carter is the kind of movie Disney should be making more of.

It’s the kind of movie old Walt himself would have loved.

Carter is a blast, it’s got everything: action, adventure, handsome heroes, evil bad guys, beautiful girls who are neither helpless nor stupid and who don’t spend the entire movie shrieking hysterically, fantastical creatures, a rollicking story, fast pacing, death ray battles and  sword fights. It doesn’t lecture, it doesn’t proselytize, and it never takes itself too seriously. There’s no bad language, there’s no blood, there’s plenty of skin but no nudity, there’s the tiniest bid of smooching but there’s more sexuality in a GAP commercial.  It’s a decent family movie, in the old fashioned escapism sense, a Saturday afternoon popcorn flick that you can take either your date or your kids to with equal ease – and that’s a damned rare thing nowadays.

Carter is exactly the kind of movie I go to the theater for.  Hell, if it wasn’t for movies like this one, I wouldn’t go to the theater – I ‘d stay home and wait for it to come out on cable.

The movie is based on a series of stories publish in 1912 by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who is probably more famous among the mundanes for his better known creation, Tarzan.  Carter is visually stunning, like a Frank Frazetta illustration come to life (no coincidence, since Frazetta was involved in the movie at one time).  It’s utterly beautiful to watch, gorgeous even, especially on an IMAX screen in 3D – movies like this are why IMAX and 3D exist in the first place and why I cheerfully pay extra to see them.  The director, Andrew Stanton, did a wonderful job bringing Burroughs’s Barsoom to life, it was exactly as I imagined it when reading The Princess of Mars all those years ago.  I could have sat and watched it over and over again just for the visuals –  and somewhere inside me a teenage boy was wishing for glossy full color movie posters, like the kind they used to publish in Starlog Magazine when I was a kid, to hang on my bedroom wall and dream of a Mars that never was but should have been – if only the universe had a bit of poetry and a twist of whimsy in its construction.

It’s easy to see why the movie cost so much to make, because so much of it is CGI.  Now, it can certainly be argued that too much CGI can detract or even ruin a movie. CGI can become jarringly annoying and cartoonishly distracting the way it was in the widely hated Star Wars prequels. But done well, CGI can create new worlds and fantastical creatures and movies that are simply impossible to make any other way.  The CGI of John Carter is incredibly well done, seamless and nearly perfect. 

The story itself is simple, reluctant hero meets girl, loses girl (sort of), fights battles, defeats the baddies, saves the world, and ends up with the girl (maybe).  The acting is decent and the actors themselves are likable and interesting – even the ones made from computer pixels instead of flesh.

More than anything, John Carter is fun.

I suppose that it was inevitable that the critics would hate it.

And it certainly didn’t help that Disney obviously really didn’t understand what they had. Promotion was lackluster at best. And in what has to be about the biggest faceplam moment of entire affair, Disney had Stanton change the title from John Carter of Mars to just John Carter in some kind of misguided attempt to appeal to a wider audience than just science fiction geeks.  Wider audience? What wider audience? Geeks totally rule the movie theater. Look around, nerds run the world.  The highest grossing, longest playing, most successful movies in the last four decades, from Star Wars to Avatar, have been science fiction movies.  What? OK, there was one movie about a boat and an iceberg, you got me there, but that is one damned movie. One. Science Fiction and Fantasy movies are what people go to see and have since King Kong in the 1930’s. You have to wonder if anybody at Disney has ever even been to Comicon.  Pull in the nerds and everybody else will follow. 

And really, how could they miss?

After all, the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs has captivated earthmen for more than a hundred years.

See, in 1877 Earth and Mars were about as close as their respective orbits ever allow.

As luck would have it, some of the very first large scale telescopes were just seeing first light then.  Those instruments were small and primitive by today’s standards, but they would forever change the way we looked at the heavens, and in particular Mars.

During this time, called the Great Opposition, an Italian astronomer named Giovanni Virginio Schiaparelli made some of the first detailed observations of the red planet.  Now modern astronomers rarely, if ever, look directly through their scopes.  In fact most modern telescopes don’t even have anything resembling an eyepiece.  Nowadays astronomers observe their targets through a variety of instruments and detectors far, far more sensitive than the primitive human eye. Before the advent of computers, charge coupled devices, and the internet, the telescopes fed their light to wetfilm photographic plates.  But before that, way back in the dawn age of modern astronomy, astronomers spent their nights high up in their observatories, bleary bloodshot eyes squinting into a tiny viewfinder on the bottom of some huge optical instrument pointed up at the night’s sky – observing the stars and planets with the original Mark I, Mod 0 scientific instrument, the human eyeball.  Back in 1877, Schiaparelli wasn’t looking at those crisply clear high resolution digitally-enhanced false-color scans you see nowadays in Scientific American and National Geographic or on the NASA space telescope webpage.  He was observing Mars though a small telescope at the hundred year old Brera Observatory, built in Milan, Italy in 1764 by Jesuits, and sketching his observations with paper and pencil.  Night after night during the Great Opposition he stared at the blurry red image in his eyepiece and attempted to map the surface features of Earth’s nearest neighbor.  His scope was small and primitive, and his observations were often obscured by clouds and haze and earth’s turbulent atmosphere. And yet Schiaparelli persisted and he eventually published some of the very first maps of Mars.  Those drawing were crude by today’s standards and not particularly accurate. Schiaparelli had only Earth to compare his observations with, so he labeled the dark areas on Mars “seas” and the lighter areas “continents” and the darker lines that he perceived here and there he called “canali.” 

In Italian, canali means groove or channel – a naturally occurring geologic feature. But when translated into English, canali became canal with the obvious implication that those faint lines on Mars were made by alien intelligence.

Needless to say, the idea of intelligent Martians caused a bit of a sensation here on Earth.

Another astronomer, this time an American named Percival Lowell, was so taken by the idea that in the 1890’s he built an observatory on a mountain outside of Flagstaff, Arizona specifically to study Mars.  Over time, Lowell began to believe that he was observing the last days of a dying world.  He dreamed of a vast red desert crisscrossed by a great network of canals built by a once mighty civilization in order to carry Mars’ last drops of water from the polar icecaps to the desiccated equator.  Lowell spent the next fifteen years peering at the red planet through his eyepiece and sketching elaborate maps of those supposed canals and oases. 

There was just one problem, try as they might, other astronomers couldn’t see what Lowell saw. 

They saw the seasonal variations as Mars moved along its orbit from summer to winter and back to summer, they saw the dark ‘seas’ and light ‘continents’, and they saw a few random lines here and there – but they never saw the elaborate network of waterways that Lowell had mapped (in 2003, a theory was put forward that what Lowell was actually seeing were the blood vessels in the back of his eye, reflected off the lens of his eye piece). Most of his colleagues thought Lowell was nuts but the public didn’t care, they loved the idea of Martians. Lowell’s speculations of a fading civilization struggling heroically against their slowly dying world had a tragic and poetic ring, and the idea of Mars and its supposed canals became deeply entrenched in the public mind and would persist right up until first probe from Earth flew past in 1965. 

The Mars of Perceval Lowell influenced millions of people over decades of time and fired the imaginations of generations.

A lot of ordinary people believed in Lowell’s Martians.  On Halloween night in 1938, Orson Welles and a Mercury Theater radio broadcast convinced a bunch of Americans that they were being invaded by those very same Martians, the incident remains famous almost a century later – how many other radio plays can say the same thing? Science fiction from the first half of the 20th Century, from Burroughs to Del Rey to Bradbury to Heinlein, gave Lowell’s Mars life and flesh and this is the world of John Carter. Not 2012, 1912. The movie is tale from the dawn of modern speculative fiction, from a time when technology had literally just taken flight and men were beginning to believe that they could do anything – even voyage to other worlds. The earth itself hadn’t even been fully mapped yet and writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs took inspiration not only from new scientific discoveries, but from the real life adventures of real men who voyaged to Antarctica and explored deepest Africa and pushed into the heart of the Amazon.  Those were the things that inspired Burroughs to write John Carter and Tarzan.

One review I read (and I can’t find the link now to save my inky black soul) said that the movie’s main gimmick, i.e. Carter’s Superman-like strength while on Mars, ruined the movie.  It was fairly obvious that the reviewer didn’t understand the story and didn’t care to.  John Carter is told in a format unfamiliar to most people nowadays, but one that was common in 1912, i.e. the story is framed and told through the eyes and imagination of the protagonist’s hero-worshiping nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs himself (which is not only implicit in the format, but clearly spelled out at the end of the movie in a conversation between the characters of John Carter and Ned Burroughs). In other words, it’s a tall tale. One that might have grown a bit in the telling, particularly the storyteller’s self-described feats of strength and daring-do and his way with the ladies. This format was once common in fiction, from H.G. Well’s The Time Machine to Barry Sadler’s Casca: The Immortal Warrior.  It’s a mechanism designed to let stodgy and serious minded Victorians suspend their disbelief long enough to enjoy the damned story – something modern movie critics seem largely incapable of doing.

The movie was called variously “hammy” and “out-dated” and “campy.”  Apparently not one of these reviewers were fans of Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon or Conan the Barbarian – or have actually ever read Edgar Rice Burroughs for that matter.

My favorite negative review was Andrew O’Herir at Salon, who said, “if you’re willing to suspend not just disbelief but also all considerations of logic and intelligence and narrative coherence, it’s also a rip-roaring, fun adventure, fatefully balanced between high camp and boyish seriousness at almost every second...” No shit, Sherlock, you just described Star Wars and all four Indiana Jones Movies.  Is John Carter for everybody?  No, of course not.   Is it deep? Does it make a profound statement? Will it change your life forever?  No. 

Is it entertaining? Is it fun? Hell yes.

Seriously, you’re sitting in a theater wearing a pair of 3D glasses with a box of Jujubes in your hand watching a movie based on a pulp scifi novel written in 1912 about a guy in a loincloth sword fighting four-armed green-skinned Martians in order to save a half-naked red-skinned princess who’s also the chief scientist of the Ninth-Ray, and you’re all pissy that there isn’t some fancy dialog about the nihilistic pessimism of fate and circumstance described in narrative ellipses and playful points of view that explores the similarities and differences between Gods and Men, East and West, sin and virtue, good and evil?

Seriously?

I think you might have wandered into the wrong theater by accident.

But you know what? Fine.

Perhaps Andrew Stanton and Disney could have done things differently.  Here are ten changes to John Carter that would have netted high praise from moviegoers and critics alike and guaranteed at least two sequels and a short-lived TV series on Fox:

1) I’m going to be honest here, even if it gets me in trouble with the long suffering Mrs. Stonekettle, the stunning Lynn Collins in that Princess of Mars outfit was worth the entire price of admission, plus ridiculously overpriced refreshments.  I think she’s awesome and a terrific actress and I wish her nothing but a long and happy career.  But let’s face it, other than playing Wolverine’s double-crossing girlfriend in that last X-Men flop, nobody knows who she is.  Swap her out for Kim Kardashian.   Sure, Kardashian can’t act and a widescreen 3D IMAX shot of her backside would probably cause theaters to spontaneously implode all across America, but paint her red and put her in a Princess Leia bikini and have her jiggle around Helium Shore and you wouldn’t be able to sell tickets fast enough.  Paris Hilton as the voice of Sola.  Ice-T as the Eight-legged Martian Disney Dog.  And, in a casting move sure to spark the free publicity of controversy and thereby fill theater seats with asses, former Confederate cavalry officer John Carter would be played by Wil Smith.

2)  The most expensive and difficult scene in the movie was when Carter fights the white apes in the Thark arena.  Move the scene to Hogwarts and replace the arena with a Quidditch match.  Throw in a couple of wizards and a high school tween with round glasses played by an actor in his thirties.

3) Two words: Emo Vampires.

4)  Disney renamed the movie from John Carter of Mars to just plain old John Carter.  Big mistake.  They should have called it The Hungry John Carter Games, then secretly started a rumor that the movie was an allegory for the final battle between liberalism and conservativism in the red communist wasteland of post 911-America. Carter’s magical transportation to Mars and back to Earth and then back to Mars is an obvious parallel to the Christian Resurrection.  Then Disney should deny it all (honestly, these people really need to hire me to work the phones. What? No no no. It’s just a wholesome kid’s movie.  Besides, it’s really about atheism, wait, I meant evolution…  Seriously, I’d have the theaters packed for weeks. Packed with angry people, but hey their money is as green as any Thark).

(5) and (6) Tits.

7)  Make the movie more “edgy” and “realistic.”  E.g. John Carter and Dejah Thoris are renamed Fredo and Samantha. They have to take a magic ring to Olympus Mons and fight orcs. Along the way they meet wizards, trolls, talking trees, Magneto, and a giant spider who is also a Transformer.  Also, Samantha is a gay guy who has a major crush on Fredo.  Also, they’re midgets. 

8) Mowr Matrix-style Bullet Time! Mowr!

9) The final climatic scene on earth should involve Edgar Rice Burroughs (played by Tom Cruise) and the Therns in a battle on top of the Burj Al Arab using machinegun rocket pistols, kung-fu, bungie cords, and steam punk motorcycles. In fact, the whole movie should just be this scene, repeated over and over from various angles.  With huge explosions.  In Bullet Time.

And finally

10) Hire the Coen Brothers to turn the movie into a ultra-violent gore-fest with John Carter as a psychotic soulless hitman who slaughters the Tharks with an air powered captive-bolt gun and a portable leaf-chipper while roaming a post apocalyptic wasteland with his son who is also a one-eyed lawman for hire named The Dude.   Tack on an incomprehensible non-ending and then claim the movie is based on an unpublished Cormac McCarthy manuscript called People Suck and Then They Kill You And it Sucks Even More And There Are Cannibals about the unending crapfest of human despair.   Not only would the critics likely soil themselves in orgasmic joy, A History of Violent John Carter and the Cannibals would win the Oscar for Most Awesome Disney Family Film Ever Made.

 

Or you could just ignore the critics and go see the movie.

 


 

If you’ve seen the movie, you get mucho bonus points if you immediately recognized where Stanton got the design for John Carter’s mausoleum without having to look it up.  I’ve stood in front of the original, I loved that little hat tip.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Letters from the Porn Wars

 

War.

Is it just me, or do we seem to be having a lot of wars lately?

I mean just in the general sense.

It seems you can’t turn around nowadays without running into another charge of the right brigade.

Now we Americans, we love war. We do, don’t we? Right from the birth of the nation, Americans have loved war the way Brazilians love soccer.  We love war the way Canadians love beer and the English love misery and Australians love sheep. We love war the way the Japanese love a little girl in a sailor suit.  Sure, war, that’s our thing and we’ll die with our boots on, you bet. 

To paraphrase the late great George Carlin, we’re not much good anything else these days, but war, that we can do. From twelve O’clock high to the darkest hour, it’s our great escape.

We have a major one every twenty years or so.  And a couple of minor ones in between.

Heat of battle, cold war, police actions, bush wars and brushfire wars, from Algiers to Zulu and a dirty dozen in between, we love ‘em all. If it’s war and peace, we're not stopping midway we’re going for the glory.

And when we’re not at war elsewhere, well, we declare war at home just to stay in practice.

War on drugs, war on terror, war on poverty, war on guns, war on religion, war on science, war on Christmas, war on business, war on obesity, war on illegal immigration, war on saggy pants, war on crime, war on music, war on Wall Street, war on socialism, war on freedom, war on education, war on the homeless, war on this and war on that.

Hell, we once fought a war to end war, and we won!  

We just love war, we Americans. That’s why so many Americans drive Hummers and carry guns, we’re always looking for some war.  We don’t always need thirty seconds over Tokyo, but a quick skirmish in the Wal-Mart parking lot or a running fire fight on the I-5 would do nicely, anything to stay in practice for the next big one.

We’re open to suggestions, you just tell us what you want blown up and we’ll have the B-52s commence carpet bombing at dawn.

At the moment, seems we’re in the midst of a war on women with new fronts opening every day.   Frankly, I can’t get excited about this conflict.  Sooner or later, I’m probably going to get court martialed.  See, I’m far too inclined to fraternize with the enemy.  Listen, you guys stay here and guard the tree-fort, I’ll go over to the enemy lines and see if I can negotiate a cease fire. Soldier, hand me that bottle of wine.  If I’m not back by dawn, send room service and remember the fighting 69th!

War on women, how’s that going to play out?

I don’t want to sound like a defeatist, but, men, we’ve lost already.  Here’s why, women have all the vaginas. 

They didn’t tell you that when you signed up, did they?

It’s like nuclear weapons, they’ve got ‘em and we don’t and sooner or later they’re going to use ‘em.

It doesn’t matter how big your bunker buster is when the other side can totally go all Sargent York on your ass.

Oh sure, the war effort is pouring money and research into artificial vaginas, perhaps ones that could even fit into a pocket, and we’ve got fabulous kill squads of Log Cabin Republicans, but like a gaily painted V-2 rocket it’s too little, too late. 

A couple weeks back I read that the Left had declared war on babies.

Now see, I could get behind a war on babies.  I think we could totally win that.

Think about it, babies suck. I hate babies, they’re such selfish little bastards. They drool. They smell funny.  Babies never offer to pick up the tab.  They don’t drink, but do they ever volunteer to be the designated driver? No. I hate that. They’re everywhere too, they’ve totally infiltrated our society.  Illegal aliens? Gimme a break. You know how much babies cost us each year?  Talk about a drag on the economy.  So, yeah, war on babies, I’m hip. They’re either eating or sleeping or crapping, when are they going to train for war?  It’s hard to fight with a load in your nappy. They don’t cooperate worth a damn either. They’ll probably start crying at the sight of first blood. They’re easily startled by loud noises, one good artillery barrage will have them howling for their mommies. Babies are weak.  Old and lamed up as I am, I’m pretty sure I could take a dozen of them at the same time in close quarters combat, more if the rules of engagement let me steal their snotty little noses.  Babies have lousy hand-eye coordination, I bet they can’t shoot for shit.  Sign me up for this one, I hate babies. USA! USA!

And you know, it’s about time we got an easy one, we’ll totally put those babies in the hurt locker.

And then, this week, Rick Santorum declared war on porn.

Well, alright! Put on your green berets and follow me, men! We can lick these filthy immoral …

Wait. What?

War on what’s that you say? Porn?

Hey, now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not unpatriotic. I like a good war same as the next American, but when I first heard General Santorum’s declaration of war on the Kingdom of Porn I had some serious misgivings. I thought, you know, this might be a bridge too far, this could be an apocalypse right now.  Waging war on porn could be our Dunkirk, our Waterloo, our downfall (I know, I know, now I’m just being a pain in das boot, but hey, we were all soldiers once, weren’t we? And young?).

War on babies, that’s one thing. War on women, little more difficult but winnable unless they unleash the big red one, go all crimson tide. But war on porn? 

Does anybody really want that?

Porn is a lot like China, sure we say we don’t like them but they’re our biggest trading partner, aren’t they?

I just don’t want this to turn into another war on drugs. Remember that fiasco?  We thought it was just going to be a walk in the sun, but it sucked up the best years of our lives.  What if the war on porn turns out the same way?  People will be making illicit porn in their basements and bathtubs and the next thing you know stores will be keeping cameras and the KY behind the pharmacy counter with the pseudoephedrine. They’ll be smuggling it in from South America, you know they will, or maybe Thailand. When I was a kid, the potheads used to debate the merits of different kinds of Mary-Jane, from Baja Gold to Maui Wowie, will our kids end up arguing over the different flavors of illegal porn? Vatican Twink to Mormon MILF?

When Navy and Coast Guard ships are sent to the Eastern Pacific to hunt drug smugglers, the sailors call it a “crack pac” – the war on porn is going to give that term a whole new meaning.

You know some people need porn, right.  Hey, I’m not saying that they’re addicted, they just use it to unwind after a long hard day.  What about those people? Sure the priests and politicians will be able to get it, same as always, but what about the common man?  Will they have to seek out some back alley porn dealer?  Or will states make an exemption strictly for medicinal purposes?

Think of the cable companies! And hell, the internet will probably be out of business in a week.  I mean, seriously, without porn what the hell is the net good for? Email?

But then I thought a bit more about it and I said to myself, why Santorum, you inglorious basterd, you!

As long as it’s for America, I mean.

"America is suffering a pandemic of harm from pornography.  It contributes to misogyny and violence against women. It is a contributing factor to prostitution and sex trafficking."

A pandemic!

I had no idea it was a pandemic

I thought we declared war on pandemics a while back? No? Well Hell’s Angels, we’d better get to it then.  A pandemic. 

For America!

The war on porn will be long and hard and we’ll likely face stiff opposition, but we won’t take it laying down, will we?

Yes, yes! For America

Remember how World World II kick-started the economy and ended the Great Depression? With the war on porn there’ll be jobs for everybody, hurrah!  Jobs and liberty, and tanks.  We'll secure our borders, end hunger, cure poverty, defeat homelessness!  The war on porn will end forever predatory lending and runaway healthcare costs!  Watch the gas prices fall as we advance on the smut masters who hold our economy in check, those filth mongers will finally get what’s coming to them.  No more porn subsides to the Midwest I say!  As the bastions of porn fall, so will taxes.  No more will we allow porn to spend our children’s future, with the final defeat of the porno dictators balance will be restored to the national budget and the trillions we spend on wanker material now can be diverted to more useful pursuits, like war.  Nothing will keep rogue nations in check like the war on porn, yessir, once they see what we do to porn they’ll be bending over to please us.  No porn, no gay marriage!  It’ll be traditional family values just like at President Santorum’s church, ok, that’s a bad example but I blame that entirely on porn. 

Uncle Samortorum needs you to help spank porn’s ass.

For America, for mom and warm apple pie!

So, don your chastity belts and put on your full metal jackets and remember loose lips may sink ships but the ships go down smiling.

Now, let’s get out there and beat porn.

For America.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why I Talk to Loons

 

Over time, I have developed a particular habit here on Stonekettle Station.

In certain posts I tend to use comments from other websites and media to illustrate certain points of view.

Under the previous post, commenter Wez asked:

Just curious Jim, why respond to the insane posts by the fringe so often? I realize it helps to spotlight those A-holes who actually do think that way, but aren't you catering to the idiot element a little too much? The story of the lunatic in your office who made that comment was relevant, but were the multiple quotes of the ravings of those who can't even spell or construct a sentence a worthy use of your time?

That’s actually a couple of questions.

I’ll answer them in reverse order.

Why use quotes from Yahoo, Fox, RedState, WSJ, HuffPo, and so on? 

Because these comments often duplicate the tons of hate mail I get or the obnoxious comments that I won’t allow to post here on Stonekettle Station.  In some cases those comments are an exact match because commenters on Yahoo troll the web making the same type comments wherever their particular psychosis happens to lead them, sometimes they end up here. Take obnoxious Yahoo News regular “Tex Taylor” for example, who also showed up under my America Explained post, and then made himself a general nuisance around here for several months under a variety of pseudonyms. You can find some of his comments under this Yahoo article. Comments he makes on Yahoo and elsewhere are nearly identical to the ones he made here.  Now, if I only used quotes from my email and/or unpublished comments or if I quote a guy who made a verbal comment outside my door – as I do upon occasion – you just have to take my word that those people exist. And not only that they exist, but that they are exactly as lead-paint swilling ‘roid-rage crazy stupid as I make them out to be.  Since only I can see what’s in my moderation and email queues, you have to take my word for the veracity of any published examples I use from those sources. Some of you are perfectly willing to do that, and I appreciate your doe-eyed childlike trust.  However, inevitably what happens when my posts get shared (or just plain stolen) and published elsewhere, particularly on blogs with less restrictive commenting rules or on discussion forums, is that commenters immediately accuse me of making things up because, so they say, there simply isn’t anybody on their side (whichever side that happens to be) who is that stupid, hateful, ignorant, and/or illiterate. Then typically, they accuse me of being part of some grand media elite conspiracy to overthrow democracy, destroy freedom, kill Jesus, stir-fry babies, implement Sharia Law, and gayify Chuck Norris.  So, I commonly use comments from popular news sites to illustrate whatever point I’m trying to make, comments that are easily accessed by anybody with an internet connection.  If I want to you see the exact comment I’m quoting, I’ll include a link to that website and page.  If I want to you look it up for yourself so that you can see for yourself that the comments I’m quoting are a common trend and an easily determined one at that, such as in the previous post, then I’ll simply point you in the right direction and let you do the searching.  I leave clues in the text, as I did in the previous article, i.e. you “don’t have to look very far or very hard” under Yahoo News to find the comments I quoted – and thousands more exactly like them or worse, much worse.  I didn’t even have to give you a specific article yesterday, you can pick any post on the subject at hand and find thousands of comments similar to the ones I quoted.  I typically use Yahoo as a source for this kind of thing because a) it is unrestricted and unfiltered, b) it is a primarily a news aggregator and its articles come from a variety of sources, left and right, c) it is commented on equally by Liberals, Conservatives, sane and insane, male and female, Americans and non-American (though, granted, it does tend to the, um ,  less well educated portion of the spectrum), and d) because Yahoo articles typically have thousands of comments providing a very, very large sample range.

Are these raving loons worthy of my time? 

Yes. For a variety of reasons, the most important of which I’ll address further below. In the meantime rest assured that whatever effort I devote to these loons will in no way impact my Jonathan Goldsmith-like ability to discover heretofore unknown civilizations, memorize the timeless sagas of ancient Viking skelds in the original Icelandic, cure cancer through the power of Facebook coordinated group meditation, engineer free unlimited energy from the zero-point quantum foam, perfect the timeless art of erotic balloon animal sculpture, or work towards world peace through the magic of classic 60’s rock and roll.  Also, I read really, really fast.  I read a lot.  I read everything, from the back of milk cartons to a dozen science journals per week to any news source that will hold still long enough and from as many facets of the political spectrum as I can manage.  With acquisition of my internet enabled tablet, I read even more and from an even wider range of sources. I use a variety of data search and management tools. Information gathering, processing, and interpretation was my job for all of my adult life, I was highly trained in it and I helped to design some of the techniques used in modern military intelligence systems. I’m a generalist by training and inclination.  I’m an information junkie.  And I’m fascinated by crazy people, for a number of reasons.  From a “worthy” standpoint, I’d be reading the comments from these raving loons even if I wasn’t using them as cannon fodder.  If you’re in the information business, then all information is worthy.  

Why go digging for comments beyond the one guy outside your office?

Because you can’t plot a curve from a single point – well, ok, you can, but it’s generally considered a bad idea.  Under the previous article, a commenter suggested that I shouldn’t paint all members of a political ideology with the same brush. Point taken.  One loud mouthed guy in the hallway is one asshole engaged in ignorant jingoism.  One corpulent impotent pundit who calls a college student a whore is one asshole engaged in ignorant misogyny.  One governor who thinks he can make it rain through prayer is one asshole engaged in ignorant malarkey.  But, when tens of thousands of rain dancing fuzzy-wuzzies join the governor in his religiousity, when mindless millions join the pompous windbag in his slut shaming, and when millions more call a murderer a hero, well, then you’ve got more than enough data to plot a complex surface in three dimensions.  I use comments to illustrate points of view.  I use multiple comments to show that the illustrated point of view is not an isolated position. 

Yeah, but why do this at all?

Aside from the fact that these silly buggers should be ridiculed publically, you mean? Because, I was trained as a intelligence officer. Because I was trained as a military leader.  Nothing drives you to disaster quicker than assumption.  You must know the battlespace, the failures of intelligence and assumption should be glaringly obvious to every single American in these post-911, post-Iraq days. You must know the adversary, how he thinks, how he sees the world, what matters to him.  There is no substitute for boots on the ground, i.e. direct observation. Comments like those I used in yesterday’s post convey layers of information beyond the obvious opinion expressed by the commenter. Taken as a whole they show trends, memes, the spread of viral concepts though the public mind. In the previous post I used the noxious example “the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.”  You’ll find that sentiment or similar expressed thousands, millions, of times across the internet.  Go look for yourself.  But, while you’re looking through the Yahoo and FoxNews and RedState forums, also look to see how many times that position is challenged – and not just challenged by people from the opposite side of the political spectrum, but from the same side.  Look at that statement in context. What do you see beyond just the obvious?  It’s bad enough that one person publically calls for genocide, but what does it tell you when tens of thousands do so routinely?  And they’re comfortable doing it. In a public forum.  And it is those who don’t agree with genocide who are embarrassed to object, or too intimidated, or just don’t care enough. What does it tell you when sixty percent of conservative voters in Mississippi publically believe, and aren’t embarrassed to say so out loud, that their president is lying about his religious beliefs and birthplace?  What does it tell you when a significant fraction of Americans on the other side of the political spectrum still believe that George Bush actually bombed the World Trade Center? And they’re not embarrassed to do so in normal conversation? What does it tell you when  a significant fraction of Americans, a fraction numbering  in the millions, actually believes that they personally really heard Sandra Fluke demand that they pay for her sex life?

Why do this at all?

Why indeed.

Because far too many of us allow this kind of nonsense to go unchallenged.   Far too many allow the Rush Limbaughs and the Glenn Becks and the Oprahs and the Yahoo commenters to go unchallenged. We allow the Louis Farrakhans and the Reverend Wrights and the Billy Grahams and the Bill Donohues to go on without rebuttal.

We do this because while we may not agree with it, well, we sort of think these silly bastards have the right to say it anyway. 

And we shouldn’t.  Not, we shouldn’t allow them to speak, we shouldn’t allow their silly bullshit to go unchallenged.

Oh sure, freedom, right? Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of belief. 

Yes, of course.

We have a saying in the military, rank has its privileges.  This is a true statement.  What gets senior folks into trouble though is the unspoken portion of that statement.  The part that is implied.

Rank has its privileges, true, but it also has its responsibilities.  Forget that at your peril.

As an American, you have certain rights. But if you want to keep those rights, and freedom and liberty and a workable civilization, then rights must come with responsibilities. 

Folks, allowing this kind of nonsense to go unchallenged has very real consequences.

For example: today, Arizona legislators have advanced a bill that would allow an employer to fire a woman who doesn’t want to have a baby.

Yes, you read that correctly. 

Arizona House Bill 2625, passed by the state House two weeks ago and endorsed by the state Senate Judiciary Committee last Monday and advanced to the full Senate today would require that any woman who wants the cost of her birth control pills covered by insurance (any insurance, not just that provided by religious organizations, and not to mention insurance that she herself must pay for) must submit a claim to her employer providing evidence that it’s not for contraception.  Now, if that wasn’t bad enough, the law would allow an employer to fire a woman for taking birth control pills to prevent pregnancy.  This in order to, and stick with me here, protect the religious freedom of the employer. The woman’s religious freedom shall be protected only so long as it agrees with the religious doctrine of the crazy religious loons in the Arizona state government. This bill is different from other similar legislation at both the state and federal levels in two ways, 1) it specifically differentiates between birth control used for contraception and that used for medical reasons, and 2) it requires a woman to disclose that reason to her employer – not doctor, not insurer, her employer.  I want you to take a minute here and think about that, think about a woman being required to discuss in detail her reproductive medical decisions with her boss – including her intentions to have, or not have children.  Remember, her boss can then use that conversation to fire her.   No. Stop reading for a minute and think about that in detail, think about all the vindictive small-minded pointy-haired religious freaks you’ve ever worked for.  Think about a woman having to discuss her period with a boss like, oh, let’s just say Rush Limbaugh, or her sex life with Bill Clinton, or the results of her last OBG/YN exam with Newt Gingrich. Think about it.

No, really think about it. 

Now, flip the coin and think about being that boss. Of having to screen the women under your authority, even if you don’t want to, because otherwise you could be fired for not enforcing company policy with regards to her reproductive system.  Bad enough if you’re a man, but what if you’re a woman?  If you’re the boss, and a woman, wouldn’t you always be under suspicion for any medical procedure you approved for other women? Would your company ever really trust you to make unbiased decisions when it comes to enforcing their reproductive health policies?

But, of course, nothing like that would happen where you work, right?  No chance of, say, your company being bought out by a Christian investor?  How about an Arab

This entire thing is contrived.  It’s the result of mass hysteria, of mass insanity. Laws like this weren’t even on the radar screen six months ago.  And now?  Now Arizona House Bill 2625 is likely to pass and be signed into law by governor Jan Brewer.

It’s the result of a political party gone mad with rage and fear and bizarre hatred. 

It’s the result of religion gone insane with lust for power and control.

It’s the result of pundits and politicians and professional fear mongers who serve only themselves.

It’s the result of illiterates, and the righteously ignorant, and the vitriolic haters who call for genocide and the enslavement of women and are let off the hook unchallenged.

 

That, right there, is why I write what I write. 

And why I do it the way I do.

And why I will continue to do so.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Afghanistan: The Punch Line

What do you call sixteen dead Afghanis?

This morning an article entitled “Multiple combat tours linked to mental strain, disease” written by somebody named Liz Goodwin appeared on The Lookout.

The article begins with this paragraph:

“The Army sergeant accused of murdering 16 Afghan men, women and children on Sunday was reportedly on his fourth combat tour and suffered a traumatic brain injury when his vehicle rolled over in 2010. He served three deployments in Iraq and was currently on his fourth tour of duty, this time in Afghanistan.”

Then Goodwin says:

“There is no way of knowing if the sergeant’s brain injury, multiple deployments, and brutal crime are related. But…”

But.

But.

But, why don’t we just go right ahead and assume that they are anyway?

Goodwin continues with this non-sequitur:

“But, the incident highlights the enormous strain the country's beleaguered all-volunteer military force is under.”

Right.

How exactly does the incident in Afghanistan highlight that again?

What?

Ah, hell, you know, never mind.

Personally, at this point, I’m having a hard time totaling up the number of logical fallacies Goodwin manages in less than two paragraphs, starting with how a crumbling US military manages to remain both “all-volunteer” and “beleaguered” and ending up with how the, as yet, unknown motivations of a man who is alleged to have committed an act that has barely begun to be investigated serves to highlight the supposed strain on anything other than himself.

Last I checked, the US military continues to meet its recruiting and retention goals without significant effort – certainly nothing like the recruiting effort required in previous conflicts, and certainly without resorting to conscription (typically the first sign of actual beleaguerment). The vast majority of troops, including myself, have so far managed multiple deployments without resorting to mass murder – or murder singular for that matter. For the last ten years, the United States’ military has managed to achieve every single objective set before it, no matter how difficult, and continues to do so. Morale is certainly battered, but it remains high – otherwise we wouldn’t be meeting those recruiting and retention goals and we’d being seeing desertions, fragging, and a mass exodus of military-aged men to the northern countries. 

Certainly there are problems, but incidents like this one and others such as the horrible tragedy at Fort Hood last year remain few and far between, notable for their rarity and not for their regularity – unlike in a certain previous conflict.

Having started with a heap of logical fallacies, Goodwin doesn’t bother to mention the murder of Afghan civilians or the alleged shooter again.  Instead she doubles down on this week’s common thread, i.e. after multiple combat tours and ten years of war, us military folks are going murderously nuts.

Goodwin quotes a few vague statistics about how multiple deployments make soldiers more susceptible to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Really? Multiple tours in the meat grinder make you more likely to end up with PTSD? Who’d a thunk it?). But she doesn’t bother to break that statement down into deployment types, mission types, unit types, locations, casualty and injury counts, ranks, ages, education, personal experiences, or any of the dozen or so things that have a direct and measurable impact on the incidents of PTSD.  Instead she dredges up a somebody named Alejandro Villatoro, an army reservist and a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, who offers an anecdotal opinion that soldiers who volunteer for multiple deployments do so for financial reasons.  Villatoro also opines that the military routinely brushes incidents of PTSD under the rug in order to “keep a clean record.” 

The obvious conclusion to be drawn here is that we military folks are too damned stupid and downtrodden to get real jobs in the real world so we must volunteer to kill people in a foreign land so that we can feed our families. As result, we go all John Rambo. Because that hoary old Vietnam-era stereotype hasn’t been jolly well entrenched into the public mind enough, right? 

Folks, let me clear something up for you once and for all – some of us may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer, but believe me when I say that even the butt-dumbest knuckle-dragging grunt could find many other ways to feed his kids without signing up for the Army.  Flipping burgers pays better, so does scrubbing toilets. Hell so does welfare – and people rarely shoot at you, and you’re generally home at night.  Sure, maybe a certain percentage of folks join the ranks for a paycheck, once.  But the alleged shooter in this incident is supposedly 38 years old. He’s a sergeant. He’s been in for more than a decade.  He’s done four deployments. If you’re re-upping and volunteering for multiple combat tours over ten years it’s because you like what you do, it’s because you believe in what you do, it’s because that’s who you are. It sure isn’t because you don’t have a choice. 

I can see some ignorant twit of a reporter not getting this, but a veteran should damned well know better.

Now, that said, certainly the military could do a much better job of diagnosing and supporting those with PTSD.

And don’t get me wrong here, it is most certainly a fact that the military has routinely under-diagnosed PTSD and other combat stress related mental health problems, including traumatic brain injuries. 

But.

But, it’s also important to understand that they’ve done a reasonably decent job given the entire situation.

In most cases, the failure of the military to care for and repair those with mental illnesses is not due to malice aforethought on the part of the Brass.

Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen, Guardsmen, i.e. people, these are the military.  And to be coldly blunt about it, people are the most expensive and difficult part of the military, the hardest to replace, the hardest to train, to field, to equip, to motivate, to fix, to keep healthy.  People are the most expensive investment the military makes, believe me when I say that we want to keep them working in top form.

However, oh hell yes we could most certainly do a far better job of it. 

But it costs money.

A lot of money. 

And the military doesn’t get to decide what it spends money on.  Spending money on shiny brand new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters is sexy and keeps a lot of people employed – and those people vote for the folks who allocate the money.  Fixing broken soldiers isn’t sexy and doesn’t employ very many people or get you very many votes, one way or the other – especially when you can pass the blame for free on to “the military” or “the president” or “the government” or who the hell ever.  Both sides of the political spectrum are equally guilty of passing the buck on this. We can all lament the fact that the military and the VA haven’t done more for broken soldiers, that’s easy. But the real blame lies with those who pay for those fixes, or won’t pay for them rather, and those people are a ways up the hill from the Pentagon.

And it is important to remember that TBI is a relatively new issue for the military, especially in this volume.  

Just as the helicopter radically changed the survival rate for combat wounded troops on the battlefields of Vietnam by getting the injured into the operating room far faster and in far greater numbers than ever before, modern body armor and medical techniques have drastically increased the number of soldiers who survive what would have been fatal injuries just ten years ago – including TBI.  We’re just now learning how to deal with that.  Could we do better? Better as a military? Better as a government? Better as a nation? Better as a people?  Of course, and you’ll certainly get no argument from me there. But you have to look at it in perspective.

However, and here’s the thing so pay attention, none of that has anything whatsoever to do with the incident in question.

That’s right, none of it.

Goodwin, like far, far, far too many today has managed to make a connection without a single shred of evidence, with little or no information, without experience, and without having a damned clue as to what the hell she’s talking about.  Like other pundits, she’s managed to string together a bunch of non-sequiturs and logical fallacies in order to reach some unsupported nonsense position, i.e. the US military is full of broken people on the verge of their own homicidal rampage.

The simple truth of the matter is that we don’t actually know anything.

We don’t know what motivated this man to commit murder – if in fact that’s what actually happened.  Note that I am not attempting to claim, as others have, that this guy is a patsy for some greater conspiracy.  It’s quite likely that he did exactly what has been alleged, i.e. he walked out the gate of his base in the middle of the night and murdered sixteen people, most of them woman and children, all of them non-combatants, in cold blood. I am simply saying that at this point not one of us actually knows what happened. And we may never know.  The soldier may have been in the grip of uncontrolled rage brought on by the loss of comrades or war or impulse, he could have suffered a psychotic break and been operating under the influence of drugs, Zombie Jesus, or space aliens, or maybe he was just a an asshole, a sociopath.  I don’t know, my military experience gives me no special insight into his motivation.

What do I think should happen to this man? 

Again, I don’t know.  I guess it depends on why he did what he did. Ultimately, that will be up to his chain of command.  There are those in the popular press already speculating about the death sentence and pleas of insanity.   Those people are just as silly as the article quoted above, you don’t know enough to call for any outcome yet. 

What matters at this point is not what motivated this soldier or what his ultimate fate will be.

What matters are the consequences.

Not to the shooter personally, but to the rest of us, to our nation, and most especially to all the US and allied soldiers who must continue their mission in a country far more hostile and deadly today than it was last week.  Many of those soldiers will die as a result of the actions of this one man.  It has already begun. 

Once again, the murderous actions of a single man may very well change the course of history, change the course of nations, change the course of the world

Afghanistan has been at war with itself for longer than most of us have been alive. The consequences of this are global, as the events of September 11th, 2001 so brutally demonstrated.  Now, right now, today, for the first time in decades, centuries, there is a chance to change that. 

But, it requires the establishment of a functioning government in Afghanistan.

It requires the imposition of more than just order, it requires civilization.

It requires an orderly withdrawal of foreign forces. 

And it requires a sustained and dedicated effort by the rest of the world.

All of which is now imperiled.

This situation is so precarious, so fragile, so tenuous, that it can be jeopardized by the incomprehensible actions of one man. Likely that man is insane in one fashion or another, for one reason or another. But it’s not his insanity we should be concerned about at the moment. This man is no longer able to influence events.  What we should be concerned about right now is the raging madness that walks among us and purports to be reasonable:

The only good muslim is a dead muslim [sic]

How many times have you heard this or something similar in the last two days? Look in the comment forums under Yahoo, FoxNews, RedState, or other similar forum.

“What do you call sixteen dead Afghan kids?”

That’s what somebody I work with asked today in the hallway outside my office.

You know the punch line, don’t you?

Sure you do, it’s a good old racist joke dusted off and updated for today.

What do you call sixteen dead Afghanis?

A good start.

Yuk yuk. Funny.

I happen to know the guy who coined this little bit of hatred is a rabid right to lifer, a staunch conservative dead set against abortion and birth control, and a passionate defender of the unborn who wears evangelical Christianity like a thorny crown upon his fevered brow. As I passed him in the hall,  I asked what he thought Jesus would say about the murder of sixteen innocents. 

Fuck ‘em, an eye for an eye, he replied. 

Yes, of course. Christianity, the religion of peace and love.  How foolish of me.

I found the following comments under Yahoo and FoxNews forums, I didn’t have to look very hard or very far:

Obama put gen Petraous in charge over there and he attends communist bilderberg group meetings,makes you wonder how American military personel feels abotu that! But then we have to remember who Obama is and what he represents about tearing this nation down also!!! [sic]

Bilderbergs.  Birthers. Truthers.  Oh my.

What was that line from The Matrix? Boy oh boy, I sure wish I’d taken the blue pill.

Instead, we get to find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Turn the #@$!hole into a glass astray.  We wont b safe until all muzzies our dead! READ THE BIBLE!! [sic]

We should nuke the place clean!!!!!! [sic]

We should nuke it (get the little kids out first) and then clean it up and help the ones that we know are not crap start over... [sic]

Sure. Why don’t we just nuke ‘em? Right?  Sixteen dead isn’t enough, let’s murder millions – well, minus the kids, I guess.  I’m not quite sure how that selective nuking thing works, maybe we round up all the children first and put them somewhere for safekeeping and Jesusification while we burn their parents to glowing ash. Then what?  We put the orphaned kids back to start over in the middle of a radioactive wasteland I guess. 

Boy, that ought to earn us their undying gratitude and a special place in the history books.

The magic of raw naked force, kill ‘em all and let God sort it out.  Hitler Jesus would be so proud, I’m sure.

The Taliban is the ones who did the shooting of . And Burned Body's ???? [sic]

How do you know it was not terrorist dressed in US uniform. we need facts before making jugdement [sic]

The Taliban did it.  Yes, of course they did. Probably under command of the CIA with Predator drones and black helicopters piloted by Bigfoot.

What the hell do we call this batch of conspiracy nuts? Shooters?

Very sad...but I hate how our media is so anxious to make our boys look bad. [sic ]

What the hell is wrong with you media!! how many times will tell this story??? And raise more hate!!!! how many times did you run the story on our americans that were shot in the back of the head!! Excuted by those we trained!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! [sic]

Right. Obviously this isn’t news.  It’s the media trying to make the military look bad.  It wasn’t the guy who killed sixteen civilians in cold blood. No not that guy. He’s a red-blooded true-blue flag-waving Jesus-loving patriot.  It was the damned liberal media elite. Damn them for making the military look bad. The media is going to railroad this poor soldier – just like they railroaded poor old Lieutenant Bill Calley, right?

just my opinion, but maybe these 16, were families of the people who shot those American soldiers in the head, in protest.. thats what ill write it off as.. [sic ]

They killed our solders! Which part of that don’t you understand! [sic]

Give him a metal! [sic]

Well, then I guess that makes murder OK. 

Because that’s what we want in our military. That’s the military of American Exceptionalism. Sure.  Mavericks, right? Rogue warriors. Coup counters. Death squads. Rambos.  Maybe we should reward troops for each kill. Five bucks a scalp sounds fair.  Two dollars per ear, maybe. Ten bucks for a scrotum.  Maybe we should ride into villages like the old days and smash their babies’ heads against a tree. They killed our boys, so we’ll kill their kids. That’s right, we’ll kill ‘em all.Damned right, Horah! It’s war, man! Women, kids, old men, dogs, goats, kill ‘em. Kill ‘em all. Burn it to the ground. You know what we need? Camps. Sure camps and gas chambers.  Exterminate the bastards.  Give this guy a medal and a full belt of ammo and send him back out.  Hearts and minds? Fuck ‘em, let’s splatter their hearts and brains all over the walls, because, yeah, we’re the good guys, the favored of God. USA! USA!

What do you call sixteen dead Afghanis?

The papers and the forums are full to bursting with ignorant bile. 

One American committed murder and many of us rightly call that crazy.

But tens of thousands think he did the right thing.

Tens of thousands of supposedly civilized Americans think the senseless slaughter of sixteen men, women, and children was a good start.

Their comments fill the halls of America and litter the airwaves and the internet and they don’t even have the common decency to be ashamed.  The murderous clamor of the ignorant and foolish and the brutally stupid fouls our national discourse and stains our national soul. 

I’ll say in complete honesty that I truly hope that their God does indeed exist and that one day these fuckers will stand before His righteous wrath and be judged.

Ten years of war have taken a toll on those of us who fight, we are battered and sore used and hardfought, and yet – and yet – in large part we remain unbowed and unbroken.

But ten years of war have driven a significant fraction of our countrymen mad.

One man committed an act of barbarity, but these sons of bitches are the true savages.

 

What do you call sixteen dead Afghanis?

I’ll tell you.

You call it murder.

You call it an atrocity.

You call it a national disgrace.

And you hang your head in shame.

 

Then you stop making excuses for it.

Then you take responsibility for it.

And then you do whatever it takes to make it right.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Certain Point Of View

Warning: The following article contains excessive sarcasm, it should only be consumed with large amounts of strong whiskey.


The latest words of wisdom from Word Salad Sally:

Well, what we can gleam from this is an understanding of why we are all on the road that we are on and it's based on what went into his thinking being surrounded by radicals he is bringing us back Sean to days that you can harken back to days before the Civil War when unfortunately too many Americans mistakenly believed that not all men were created equal. And it was the Civil War that began the codification of the truth here in America yes we are equal and we all have equal opportunities not based on the color of your skin. You have equal opportunities to work hard and to succeed and to embrace the opportunities god given opportunities to develop resources and work extremely hard and as I say to succeed. Now it has taken all these years for many Americans to understand that that gravity that mistake took place before the Civil War and why the Civil War had to really start changing America. What Barack Obama seems to want to do is go back to before those days when we were in different classes based on income based on color of skin.

I know, I know.

You want to say it, don’t you?

You want to use that word, don’t you?

Sure, you do, you’re liberals. I see you reaching for the c-word.

Don’t do it.

No, just don’t do it.  I’ve already spent the last week playing Whack-a-Mole with the Limbaugh defenders, I don’t need you calling Sarah Palin names on here on Stonekettle Station.  I think we can all agree that she’s been oppressed enough. 

Besides, she’s right you know.

Sure.

I think we’ve already established that Sarah Palin is an expert on both Barack Obama and American history. And now it turns out that she’s as much an expert on the Antebellum South as she is on the American Revolution.

When Sarah Palin talks about American history, well, Sir, it really makes you think. Doesn’t it?

What Barack Obama seems to want to do is go back to before those days when we were in different classes based on income based on color of skin.

Sure, that’s exactly what Obama wants to do.  It’s so obvious when Professor Palin points it out, isn’t it?

And seriously, what black person wouldn’t?

What black person wouldn’t want to go back to the days of pre-Civil War America?

No wonder all black people support Barak Obama and his vision of Socialist Amerika.  They’re all in it together, you know.  Black people are all socialists at heart anyway. Sure they are. 

Of course they want to go back. Of course they do. The Antebellum South was a paradise for black people.

No really.

Think about it.

Think about it the way somebody much smarter than you obviously has.

What?  Oh, now you want to call me the c-word, do you? 

Your problem is that you’re looking at the past through the liberal colored (heh heh, see what I did there? I slipped in the word colored) glasses of the elitist media. You’ve been fed a pack of socialist lies by the communist feminazis of the public school system!

But, you’re not looking at this correctly.

No, really, this is about you, this isn’t about Sarah Palin. 

Remember in the second Star Wars movie where the radical domestic terrorist, Luke Skywalker, was wandering through that South Carolina swamp talking to the ghost of Old Bill Ayers? Sure and Old Bill says, “See, everything I told you was true … from a certain point of view.”  And Luke is all “WTF, Obi? A certain point of view?”  And everybody in the audience is like “Yeah, WTF? That wizard is just a crazy old man!” 

But then it turns out that Luke was just another robe wearing hippy Marxist who wanted to destroy the country in order to impose some kind of socialist totalitarianism?

It’s exactly like that.

Sarah Palin is the Obi Wan Kenobi of American politics.  Everybody thinks she’s crazy (oops, looks like I used the c-word after all. Oh well), but it’s because you’re not looking at history from the right angle.

Let’s review the facts unvarnished by the liberal lies, shall we?

Back before the Civil War:

Black people were taken care by White People from cradle to grave.  It’s true!

White People had to spend money taking care of black people. Sure. White People had to pay for black people’s food. White People paid for black people’s clothes. White People had to give black people free housing.  You talk about forced redistribution of wealth! That’s totally a fact and you can’t argue with facts.

But wait there’s more. 

White People had to pay for black people’s transportation and immigration. I know, I know, outrageous! White People had to actually pay for black people to come to America from Africa by cruise ships. No, really, what do you call it when black people didn’t even have to work for their passage, they just laid around below decks talking and hanging out with other black people – and White People had do do all the crewing and sailing and work? White People literally had to pay for the black invasion of America!

Back in those days before the Civil War, White People even had to pay for black people’s healthcare!  Black people were so socialist that they totally depended on the oppressed White People class to take care of their every healthcare need. Seriously, look it up – there weren’t any black people even working in healthcare in those days, not one single black doctor.  Black people didn’t even go to school! White People had to be the doctors and the scientists and the engineers! White People had to build America and black people just came along for the ride!

In fact, black people were so lazy, so socialist, that they even made White People decide which career fields black children would pursue.  It’s true, they just expected White People to take care of their little black children, actually pawning them off on other White People households and shit.  White People had to provide all the jobs for black people. Affirmative action was run amok back in those days, a White Person couldn’t even get a job in agriculture or textile manufacturing because black people totally dominated the workforce. 

White People had to serve in the military and defend the country which kept black people safe. 

White People had to run the government and all the businesses and keep capitalism going and black people just benefitted without having to do anything.

Black people didn’t even pay taxes. 

Look, you want to know how extreme the black socialism was before the Civil War set things straight?

You want to know how far the liberal black agenda had gone? 

Dig this: Black people didn’t even own any property. Hello, sounds like just like the communist Soviet Union, doesn’t it?

Back then, before the Civil War, black people had made White People totally their bitches.

…and it was the Civil War that began the codification of the truth here in America yes we are equal and we all have equal opportunities not based on the color of your skin.

Thankfully, the Civil War finally ended the black enslavement of White People.

Oh yes, only now, at the end, do you understand.

And you thought Sarah Palin was crazy, didn’t you?

Do you finally see it now?

 

Back in the days before the Civil War, America was a socialist paradise for Negroes!

No wonder Obama wants to go back to that time.