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Friday, October 24, 2014

The Devil You Know

If you want a detailed description of everything wrong with America’s government, you need look no further than Alaska’s only Congressional Representative, Don Young.

Last Tuesday, speaking in front of students at Wasilla High, five days after another student committed suicide, Representative Young told the assembled teenagers that the death of their classmate was, well, essentially their fault.

No recording was made, but witnesses agree Young told the students that while alcohol and depression can contribute to suicide, it was specifically the lack of support from them and from family that was the real cause behind their friend’s death.

Amy Spargo, the school's principal was appalled, "When I heard 'a lack of support from family' and I heard 'a lack of support from friends,' I felt the oxygen go out of the room. But I gasped as well. It just isn't true in these situations. It's just such a hurtful thing to say." 

Young is nothing if not consistently oblivious to the impact of his tone deafness. He then went on to describe the evils of big government – conveniently forgetting, as usual, that he’s been bringing home truckloads of bacon to Alaska for more than four decades.

Don Young is Big Government. 

He’s been big government for more than forty-one years.

Continuing on in his profanity laced rant, Young also explained to the students how socialism and gay people are ruining America, a message that reportedly wasn't received very well by young people still reeling from the discovery that their congressional representative blames them for the death of their fellows.

Young is also apparently oblivious to the fact that some of his audience might be gay. And the kind of gender-identity shaming Young was engaged in, that from authority figures, is a significant contributing factor in depression and suicide among young people already struggling to figure out their identity.  But, yeah, Don, way to support your community.

Not content with blaming suicide on the students of Wasilla High, Young swung by the Mat-Su Senior Center here in Palmer the next day and blamed suicide on Obama and a liberal society that “coddles” people.

"This suicide problem didn't exist until we got largesse from the government. When people had to work, and had to provide and had to keep warm by putting participation in cutting the wood and catching the fish and killing the animals, we didn't have the suicide problem. It comes from the largesse of saying you're not worth anything but you're going to get something for nothing."

As always, Young ignores actual facts. 

Since the federal and state government began suicide prevention programs, and coincidently social welfare programs as well, the national suicide rate has steadily declined from 13.2 persons per 100,000 in 1950 to an average of 10 per 100,000 since the year 2000. The suicide rate has climbed in recent years, back to an average of 12 per 100,000 with the increase being largely attributed to the unusually high suicide rate among combat veterans after a decade of war.  And I suppose this is as good of place as any to mention the part where Don Young and his political party consistently block attempts to increase funding for veterans mental health care.

Let’s pull the thread on Young’s assertion: If the suicide of a high school student can be blamed on a lack of compassion and caring by his schoolmates, what exactly does the suicide rate among veterans say about politicians such as Don Young?

And what does it say about America herself?

Give that some thought, won’t you?

While at the senior center, Young was asked about the previous day’s incident at Wasilla High – which was the lead story Wednesday in the local media.  In classic Don Young fashion, forgetting that just minutes before he was ranting on about personal responsibility, the Congressman waved away any culpability on his part and instead blamed the school.

"I'm very upset with the school system that would take the side of individuals that are being disrespectful to their fellow students.”

Well, Okay then.

Whatever they’re paying Matthew Shuckerow, Don Young’s spokesman, it’s not enough. By Thursday afternoon, Shuckerow was in full damage control mode.

"Congressman Young was very serious and forthright when discussing the issue of suicide, in part because of the high number of tragedies that affect Alaskan youth. In no way did Congressman Young mean to upset anyone with his well-intentioned message. In light of the tragic events affecting the Wasilla High School community, he should have taken a much more sensitive approach."

Heh heh. Nice one, Matt. Just one problem: Don Young doesn’t do sensitive – not unless he’s sucking up to  Exxon and British Petroleum. But I digress.

And once again, Alaskans are shocked and embarrassed by Don Young’s churlish behavior.

Listen, if you're surprised in any way whatsoever by any of the outrageous nonsense that falls from Don Young’s mouth like nuggets from the back end of a moose, you just haven't been paying attention.

This isn't the exception, this is Don Young.

Don Young can't go a day without dropping another steaming load.

The simple truth of the matter is that Don Young just doesn't care.  He doesn’t care what you think. He doesn't care what Alaskans think. 

And why should he?

For more than forty years he’s been Alaska's only Representative.  He’s a blatant racist and an outspoken misogynist, who openly waxes nostalgic for the good old days when white men didn't have to share power with anybody else. He uses racial slurs openly, in public conversation with constituents, in interviews, and does not understand or care why it’s wrong.  He’s loudly, obnoxiously homophobic.  He’s a jingoist.  He’s anti-science in a state that depends for its very existence on science and engineering. He's anti-science in the state that is most directly affected by the terrible results of ignoring science. During what was arguably the single most important vote in the House in the last forty years, Don Young went on Safari to Africa.

Don Young is an outdated Neanderthal who long ago lost touch with the modern world.

He’s 81 years old and he’s not going to change and he’s made that goddamned clear. And he doesn't have to.  He’s going to go right on being Don Young.

But you know what? The simple bald truth of the matter is this: Don Young isn't the problem.

Don Young barely even bothers to campaign for reelection. And he doesn't have to. Don Young is entitled to his office.

And why shouldn't he think exactly that?

Why shouldn’t Don Young and those like him believe they are nobility? Why shouldn't they believe they are better than us? Why shouldn’t they believe that they are entitled to their office? Why shouldn’t they do and say exactly as they please?

For more than forty years Don Young has behaved exactly the same.

If there is one thing you can count on, it’s Don Young’s arrogant self assurance.  He’s a bull in a china shop and he revels in it, and he gleefully makes others pick up the pieces - just ask Shuckerow.

For forty years he’s taken money from out of state Big Oil and Big Mining and his political party and his rich cronies and he represents their interests while utterly ignoring everybody else.

To call Don Young representative of his Alaskan constituency is laughable. I’m his constituency, and he sure as shit doesn’t represent me. Nor does he represent that new generation of voters graduating from Wasilla High, the ones he just insulted.

Don Young represents the interests of one Alaskan and one Alaskan only: Don Young.

And yet – and yet – he is reelected over and over and over.  He cannot lose. No matter what idiotic thing he says, no matter his blatant bigotry and his consistent misogyny, no matter his contempt and dismissal of half his own state, Don Young gets reelected.

And that, that right there, is the problem.

We rail against politicians like Don Young, but we almost never hold them to account when it matters.

We go to the polls, if we go to the polls, and it’s just easier to reelect the bastard we know than to deal with somebody new.

In America, our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

That is its greatest strength.

And that is its greatest weakness.

In a republic, in a representative democracy like ours, the government you get is the one you deserve.

If you want a better government, then you have to be better citizens.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ebola: And It Goes Like This

Doctor, Doctor help me please, I know you'll understand
There's a time device inside of me, I'm a self-destructin' man

There's a Red, under my bed
And there's a little green man in my head
And he said, "you're not goin' crazy, you're just a bit sad
'Cause there's a man in ya, gnawin' ya, tearin' ya into two."

-
Destroyer, The Kinks, 1981
   Give the People Want They Want

If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

We Americans sure are a fearful people, aren’t we?

We’re always terrified of something.

If there’s one thing that epitomizes the American spirit, it’s fear.

We’re always pissing our collective pants over something.  We’re always terrified of one boogeyman or another.  We live in a perpetual state of constant pants wetting, we Americans.

We’re addicted to it. Fear. We just can’t get enough of being afraid.

It’s the emotion that defines modern America, fear.  Knee knocking, spine tingled, sphincter loosening, pants wetting fear. 

That’s us.

When we don’t have something to be afraid of, we make something up. 

We’re afraid of enemies foreign and domestic and everything in between. Clinical paranoia has got nothing on us as a nation, we see enemies everywhere. We’re afraid we’ll get invaded. We’re afraid we’re being invaded right now. Hell, we’re afraid we’ve already been invaded.  We’re afraid of the Chinese and the Russians and Mexico. We’re afraid of foreigners and we’re afraid of our neighbors. We’re afraid of conservatives and we’re afraid of liberals. We’re afraid of the young and we’re afraid of the old, we’re afraid of the rich and we’re utterly terrified by the poor. We’re afraid of terrorism and we’re afraid to fly and we’re afraid of the TSA.  We’re afraid of Nazis, and communists, and European style socialism.  We’re afraid of wind turbines and fracking and solar panels and electric cars, we’re desperately afraid somebody is going to come take away our giant trucks, and we’re afraid we’re going to run out of oil. We’re afraid to go to the store unarmed and we’re afraid of people with guns, we’re afraid we don’t have enough guns and we’re afraid that we might have too many. We’re afraid of the white cops and brown gangbangers and the yellow horde.  We’re afraid of kids with saggy pants and we’re afraid of that rock & roll music and we’re afraid of the establishment.  We’re afraid the government isn’t doing enough to keep us safe and we’re afraid the government is going to do too much. We’re afraid our kids are uneducated idiots and we’re afraid of education. We’re afraid of disease and we’re afraid of vaccines. We’re afraid of religion and we’re afraid of evolution and we’re afraid of climate change and we’re afraid of industrial disease. 

We’re afraid of death and we’re afraid of taxes.

We’re afraid of our past, and we’re afraid of the present, and we’re utterly terrified of the future.

Last week it was the Islamic State.

The week before it was … something. I forget. IRS? Benghazi? FEMA death camps? Illegal immigration? The Ukraine? The National Debt, the Deficit? Gay Marriage? The Arab Spring? Chemtrails? 2012? Fluoridation? The Rapture? Bird Flu? Missing airliners? Obama? Bush? The Reds? I’m afraid I just can’t remember any more, we’ve been afraid for so long that it all just runs together.

What it comes down to is that last week we were afraid of this week and this week we’re afraid of last week.

 

And now? Today? Today we’re afraid of Ebola.

 

There’s an old military adage popularized by Herman Wouk’s classic tale of paranoia and fear, The Caine Mutiny. And it goes like this:

When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!

That should be America’s motto.

E pluribus unum? Out of many, one? Obviously we don’t believe in that, do we?

No we don’t. Out of many one? Why that just smacks of things we’re afraid of, socialism and communists and illegal immigration. In fact, that E pluribus unum stuff just plain terrifies us, doesn’t it?

So we replaced it with In God We Trust.

But that’s complete bullshit too, isn’t it?

And In God We Trust? Trust? In God? Don’t make me snort chocolate milk through my nose.

If there’s one thing we don’t trust, it’s God. God has serious anger issues. That crazy bastard once wiped out the entire world in a fit of pique, right? And that’s the guy you trust? Really? Hell, the most pious believer doesn’t really trust God, does he? If anything, that’s what believers fear most, their God. They’re terrified he’s going to do something crazy. That’s the defining criteria of religion, don’t make God angry. Lightning bolts and poison toads from the sky. Plague. Flood. Famine. Rivers of blood. That’s what they tell us, isn’t it? Oh, you’d better not make God mad, or he’ll smite us all.  For them, God is like a Mafia protection racket, better pay up and be respectful while you’re doing it, or else God will burn your house down and cast you into the pit. 

Yeah, let’s trust that guy.

And it’s pretty obvious that religious Americans really don’t trust their God to keep them safe, from Ebola or terrorists or anything else, otherwise they wouldn’t go around armed and demanding that we seal our borders.  Q.E.D, Folks, just saying.

No, if there’s any motto that describes America today, it’s Herman Wouk: Run in circles, scream and shout.

Be afraid, be very very afraid.

We should put that on the money.

We demand fear as our right, we Americans.

Over the last month, we’ve been talking about Ebola on my Facebook page a lot. Now, the thousands of people who make up my Facebook audience are, as a general rule, a reasonable and fairly sane bunch of people – this isn’t an accident, I’m careful who I let into my playground.  But a month ago when I first mentioned the disease and suggested that compared to measles and the flu and AIDS/HIV, Ebola wasn’t exactly something Americans should be panicking over, I had to unfriend a number of folks who became obnoxious and almost literally demanded that I wasn’t afraid enough to suit them.  A week ago when I said that, as an American, you’re far more likely to trip over your cat and take a fatal header down the stairs than you are of dying from Ebola, the same thing happened. And, yesterday, when I again pointed out that, especially as an American, you’re a whole lot more likely to die from random gun violence at the mall than you are of contracting Ebola, I immediately started getting letters from frightened angry people, some hoping I get the disease and die a slow painful death, presumably so that they can feel justified in their pants-wetting fear, and many again telling me that I need to be afraid of the coming plague. Many of the messages were outraged that I had the effrontery to counsel calm and reason instead of fear and panic. Because not being terrified is just plain unAmerican.

And it’s not just me, is it?

That’s one of the chief complaints about Obama. How dare the president be calm and rational? How dare he tell Americans not to panic? 

“That’s a paradox of a president in a crisis,” says Jeremy Mayer, a political scientist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. “If he seems to be taking it too seriously, he’ll encourage a panic. But if he doesn’t take it seriously enough, he’s seen as lackadaisical.”

That’s the complaint, Obama isn’t emotional enough. He approaches a crisis like a law professor, calm, rational, let’s solve the problem. But, we don’t want that,we want an angry emotional rant about fear.  We want the President to declare war! Yes! War On Ebola! That’s what we Americans want, another war! You’re either with us or against us! Stand the Navy out to sea, launch the stealth bombers, open the missile silos! To the Bunkers, America! We start bombing at dawn!

First we were afraid that Obama wasn’t going to appoint an “Ebola Czar.” Now we’re afraid that he did.

No matter what, we’re determined to be afraid. Panic, it’s our right as Americans, it doesn’t really matter what Obama says or does, Americans are determined to panic no matter what.

We’re conditioned to it. When the bell rings, we drool.

In fact, if Obama tells you there’s no reason to panic, that’s a reason to panic!

"The U.S. must immediately stop all flights from Ebola infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our 'borders.' Act fast!" screamed Donald Trump.

Nations have done this in the past, restricted travel. Quarantine. It doesn’t work. Viruses don’t care about borders.

Hiding from the disease won’t cure it.

And really? You’re listening to Donald Trump? About disease? Okay, sure, if he was maybe talking about catching a case of the Clap, but Ebola? C’mon.

"Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning," worries Georgia Congressman Phil Gingrey.

There are no, repeat no, cases of Ebola crossing the border in such a manner. None. The only “reports” of such are made up fever dreams manufactured whole cloth by those who profit from peddling fear to a terrified America. In fact, due to the nature of the disease and the process of illegal immigration itself, it would be almost impossible for someone infected with Ebola to enter the US in this way.

But then, a Southern Conservative painting brown people from Central America as dirty diseased vermin isn’t really anything new, is it?

Ebola just gives the old fearful racism a convenient cover.

"I don't know, but I think this Ebola epidemic is a form of population control. Shit is getting crazy bruh," tweeted rapper Chris Brown.

I don’t know. But I’m afraid anyway. I don’t know. But I’m sure they’re coming to get us. I don’t know. I don’t know.  But I’m scared, it’s getting crazy!

But then again, maybe Brown has a point:

 

That’s Todd Kincannon, former head of South Carolina's GOP, rabid pro-lifer, and morally superior right-wing God-warrior.

Kill ‘em all, let God sort it out.  Ain’t nothing more American than that kind of compassionate conservatism, eh?

Sorry about the napalm, Brown People, but we’ve got to look out for ourselves. You know how it is.

All the usual pundits, from Rush Limbaugh to Glenn Beck to Anne Coulter to Michael Savage have declared their firm belief that President Obama is going to deliberately infect the United States with Ebola in order to do … something something terrible death camps kill Whitey revenge something something OH NOES!  They’re not alone, Larry Klayman, conservative nutbar extraordinaire, filed a lawsuit against President Obama last week for “providing material support and aid to international terrorism and facilitating terrorism” by not implementing a travel ban on people from countries facing an Ebola outbreak.  Klayman is the non-veteran who led the “Million Veteran March” to the White House last year under the banner of the Confederate Battle Flag and demanded Obama’s surrender and trial by a self-appointed Citizen’s Grand Jury for something something terrible death camps kill Whitey revenge something something. 

If you’re terrified of being ebolanated, look around, these are the people you’re standing with.

Think about it.

You can disagree with the President, but if you believe even slightly that Obama is planning on infecting white people with Ebola in revenge for slavery so he can herd them into FEMA camps and turn America into Africa then you. Are. Fucking. Crazy.  You’re beyond booger eating stupid. You are a drooling racist moron so eaten up with fear that you’ve lost all ability to reason.  If you give people like Beck, Limbaugh, Coulter, Klayman, or the sorry excuse for what passes as news media nowadays any credence whatsoever, then you are nuts. You’re a paranoid frightened little pants wetter who can’t seem to understand that these people are literally fear-mongers in that they profit hugely from making you afraid, making America afraid. Fear. Paranoia. That’s their stock in trade. If you weren’t afraid, these people would have to get real jobs.

Here’s what it comes down to, Folks, this right here: There is always going to be some crisis. Always.

There is always going to be some crisis. That’s the nature of the world. 

There are always challenges to face.

There are always puzzles to solve.

There are always problems to overcome.  And when you solve them, there will be another, and another, and another. Forever.

That’s the nature of life.

The test of character is how you face those problems. 

The true test of character, for people, for nations, for civilization itself, is how you rise to the occasion.

Ebola isn’t the end of the world.

Ebola isn’t even an actual crisis, at least it doesn’t have to be.

Ebola is just another problem to solve.  And when we solve it, there will be another disease. And another after that.  There are a million things that may kill us, that’s just how it is.

We’ve faced far worse diseases, far worse problems, far worse threats, and we have risen to far greater challenges.

We are the United States of America. We’re Canada. We’re the United Kingdom. We’re France. We’re Germany. We’re Spain. We’re Mexico. We’re Russia.  

We’re ten thousand years of scientific advance. 

We’re the human race.

We are the species that makes other species extinct.

And it’s about time we remembered that.

You shouldn’t be afraid of Ebola, Ebola should be afraid of us.

We can beat Ebola.

And we will.

We can wipe it from the face of the earth, just like polio and small pox – diseases I’ll remind you that once killed far, far, far more people than Ebola ever has.  Those diseases are gone, or beaten into submission, we remain.

In this regard Ebola is a metaphor for larger, far more important things.

We can solve all the problems we face, disease, poverty, food, energy, all of it. And we don’t need divine intervention to do it.

We just have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

We just have to stop being afraid all of the time.

 

Silly boy ya' self-destroyer!
Paranoia, the destroyer!
Self-destroyer, wreck your health
Destroy friends, destroy yourself
The time device of self-destruction
Light the fuse and start eruption
(Yea, it goes like this, here it goes)
Paranoia, the destroyer
(Here's to paranoia)
Paranoia, the destroyer
(Hey hey, here it goes)
Paranoia, the destroyer
(And it goes like this)
Paranoia, the destroyer
(And it goes like THIS!)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Whitewash

 

Here's what I don't get: Pluto.

More specifically, I don't get the argument over what to call it.

I’ve seen people nearly come to blows over Pluto.

And I just don’t get it.

Planet, minor planet, Kuiper Belt object, whatever.

I mean, if you're not an astronomer – that is: a vitamin D deficient long-hair who spends all night staring at a computer monitor filled with mathematical gibberish instead of watching reality TV like normal people – why do you care?

No, really, why do you care?

Go outside, look up. Where’s Pluto? You have no goddamned idea, do you?

It’s not something you need to deal with on a daily basis. Hell, it's not even in the bible, is it?

And let’s be honest, shall we? The closest most Americans get to astronomy is watching Dancing With The Stars and giggling over the pronunciation of Uranus.

So, I’ll ask again: why does anybody care what the hell science calls the damned rock?

Hell, Clyde Tombaugh could have just made the whole thing up...

 

What?

 

Clyde. Clyde Tombaugh. American astronomer. The guy who “discovered” Pluto back in 1930. You know, Clyde Tombaugh. I mean, you're all over the whole Pluto thing, right? Probably have Clyde's swimsuit poster on your bedroom wall. Oh, sure, Clyde. Clyde Tombaugh. Big fan. Saw the movie with Brad Pitt as the Tomster, that’s the one with the sparkly vampire zombie Nazis, right?

Right.

Tombaugh could have made it up. Sure he could have.  And how would you know? Pluto, it’s just a spot on a photographic plate. I'm mean, who verified this? Other astronomers? Oh, and we believe them, do we? We won't take science's word for for evolution, climate change, Bigfoot, oh hell no – but Pluto? Science, totally real, Dude, totally.

A couple years back the little world, which Americans can’t see and never think about, was demoted from planet to not-planet.

And we lost our shit over it.

What? They demoted Pluto? Oh, now it’s on!

It’s a wonder astronomers weren’t dragged from the universities and burned alive.

Politicians and pundits weighed in with ponderous gravity. Congress milled about in various orbits of outrage and actually considered a bill mandating the little frozen ice ball be declared a Full Planet in law if not in fact. Ironic, I guess, that we can’t agree people are equal, but, man, we’re all about civil rights for planets, Goddamnit – I mean, think about it, what if Pluto turns out to be black? Or gay? Would you still want it to marry your sister? I mean, come on, folks, think it through, it’s not rocket science … ur, okay, maybe it is, but I think I’ve made my point here.

The web was aflame with pitched battles. People were all, "Oh I've always been a huge Pluto fan! Favorite planet ever, man, love how they named it after the Disney character, yo!"

And it's still going on.

Somebody asked me about it just the other day: say, Jim, where do you come down on this whole Pluto demotion issue? I sure hope you're not one of them "minor world" guys.

Hey now, I replied, some of my best friends are dwarf planets…

Here in the nation of the perpetually outraged and offended, Pluto’s status is just another thing to be outraged and offended about. What? What's that? They've demoted Pluto? Why those dirty SONS OF BITCHES! In my day we had nine planets! Nine! But now? Everything is going to shit. Thanks, Obama!

As if we're all somehow diminished as human beings, as Americans, if Pluto isn't a planet.

Eight? Eight planets? Just eight planets? But, but, but, what if other solar systems have MORE THAN US? WHAT THEN? WE CAN'T HAVE LESS PLANETS THAN ALPHA CENTAURI FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, WE'LL BE THE LAUGHING STOCK OF THE UNIVERSE! ALIENS WILL THINK WE’VE GOT LITTLE DICKS! WE'VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING!

Honestly, what's next? We gonna put some big chrome stacks on Jupiter and hang a giant pair of Truck Nutz on Neptune?

 

You’re wondering where I’m going with this, aren’t you?

 

Columbus Day.

That’s where I’m going. Columbus Day.

Pluto. Columbus Day. How could you not see that coming?

Honestly, it’s like you people don’t know me at all.

Today is Columbus Day in America.

It’s a bullshit minor holiday that’s mostly just an excuse for federal employees to get a paid day off.

Because, you know, that’s what we need, another reason for Congress to take a long weekend. Not like there’s a big backlog of legislation or anything, right?

I mean, what exactly are the ancient traditions associated with this holiday?

Look, I’m not unpatriotic, I know my American history, sure, I know the part about going to Wal-Mart for “Columbus Day Blow Out Deals.” I’m not a total Philistine. But I’m a little hazy on the religious aspects. Do we gather together at Grandma’s house, she’ll make her famous deep fried ham stuffed with firecrackers and syphilis, the kids will carve a Plymouth Rock from gingerbread while Uncle Phil gets plastered and manages to light his balls on fire again from shooting bottle-rockets out of his ass in the backyard, we’ll watch the big Macy’s Columbus Day parade in new york where men dressed as Conquistadors wade ashore from floats that look like Spanish galleons in search of gold and slaves under the baleful copper gaze of Lady Liberty, then we’ll all meet down at the church for the traditional Columbus Day Prayer Of Peace and Togetherness? Are there little construction paper war bonnets? Fireworks? Do we get to nail somebody to a cross? Is there a gift exchange? Tell me there’s at least going to be a giant male rabbit who shits foil covered chocolate eggs. Something.

But, of course, there’s none of that.

So far as I can tell, the primary Columbus Day tradition involves shouting variations of the phrase:  “Oh what the fuck? Why is the post office closed?

Folks, Columbus Day is the Pluto of American holidays.

Most Americans have no idea where this stupid “holiday” came from and most of the time they couldn’t care less.  Columbus, he’s the guy who discovered America, right? He was like the first American … or was that George Jefferson? I forget, anyway, off to Wal-Mart, gotta make a beer run before Dancin’ Wit Da Starz comes on.

I mean, come on.

Columbus day? Really?

In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.
A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.
Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.
Then the workers went to sleep;
And others watched the ocean deep.
Day after day they looked for land;
They dreamed of trees and rocks and sand.
October 12 their dream came true,
You never saw a happier crew!
"Indians!  Indians!"  Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.
But "India" the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.
The Arakawa natives were very nice;
They gave the sailors food and spice.
Columbus sailed on to find some gold
To bring back home, as he'd been told.
He made the trip again and again,
Trading gold to bring to Spain.
The first American?  No, not quite.
But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.

Except it turns out almost all of that is, literally, whitewashed bullshit.

Columbus was an asshole, even his friends thought so – what few friends he had.  He routinely screwed his own crew out of money that he’d promised them and gloated about it, rubbing their faces in it. When his men threatened to mutiny (which happened repeatedly because Columbus was a shitty leader), he handed out pre-pubescent native girls as compensation, after enslaving their parents. He justified genocide by reasoning that so long as he didn’t let anybody convert the natives, he wasn’t killing Christians so God had to be good with it.  They used to say you could navigate between Europe and the New World without a compass, all you had to do was follow the trail of dead Indians floating behind Columbus’ ships.  He ruled Hispaniola as a brutal tyrant, see, Columbus wasn’t exactly keen on democracy and liberty – though he was a big fan of gold. 

Christopher Columbus didn’t discover the United States. He wasn’t even close to the first European to reach the shores of the New World. And he certainly wasn’t an American, he was an Italian sailing under a Spanish flag. He never set foot on what is nowadays American soil.  He made his voyages nearly 300 years before the United States even existed.

Most Americans couldn’t tell you much of anything about Christopher Columbus beyond the silly fairytale of that child’s nursery rhyme  – let alone anything about the actual man who called himself Cristóbal Colón.

What? What’s that you say? Oh, c’mon now, Jim? What are you, some kind of America hater? Why Christopher Columbus was a genuine American hero. You’re just repeating liberal lies. Besides, who really knows what happened back then?

Yeah, except for the part where Columbus himself documented his atrocities in his own logs and diaries in full detail – and it’s not me who whitewashed history.

In fact, Columbus Day as a federal holiday is a relatively recent invention created whole cloth by people who are largely ignorant of and tone-deaf to actual American history.

But just like Pluto, bring up demoting Columbus’ place in the Pantheon of American Fairytales and watch the spittle start to fly – as if we, as Americans, will somehow be diminished if we don’t have a largely ignored holiday named after a genocidal tyrant who died two and half centuries before our country was even founded.

And you want to know what the really funny part is?

Do you?

Because I’ll tell you.  See, the people most adamant about the sanctity of Columbus Day? Yeah, those Americans? They’re the very same people, the very same people almost name for name, who want English declared the official language of the United States and who demand that the southern border be secured with a wall a hundred feet high specifically to keep out Christopher Columbus’ Spanish speaking descendants.

Now, how’s that for irony?

Listen, you know what will happen to America if Pluto is allowed to remain a minor planet?

Nothing.

Likewise, you know what will happen to our nation if we dump Columbus Day?

Nothing.

Listen to me, you want a day off in October?

Then how about a holiday that includes us all?

How about a day that celebrates our great accomplishments as a nation? How about history and events we don’t have to whitewash? 

How about a holiday where we Americans celebrate our great accomplishments, our moments of exploration and discovery?

We can talk about the first peoples to arrive here chasing wooly mammoths 25,000 years ago. We can celebrate the native cultures that once dominated this continent – the ones we name our rivers and states and sports teams after. We can talk about the Viking longships that explored our shores long before Columbus – and hell, we can even talk about The Great Navigator himself, if we want. Then let us celebrate and remember those moments in time where we Americans, all of us, came together in wonder and awe. Let us remember our voyages of discovery and exploration and hope. From the Nome Serum Run to the California Gold Rush, from Kitty Hawk to the footprints in Mare Tranquilities, Columbia and Challenger and Apollo One, to Voyager and Curiosity and beyond.

We’ll open the museums and the history books and teach our children what it is to be an American - and maybe one day we will again became a nation and a people who look outward instead of staring into our own festering bellybuttons.

Let’s call it Clyde Tombaugh Day.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Self Abuse

 

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Freedom.

Liberty.

Inalienable rights.

We Americans are big on these things, aren’t we?

We like to thump our fleshy chests and proclaim our superiority over other, lesser nations.  Oh, well, sure, yes, you might have higher standards of living, longer average lifespans, lower infant mortality rates, a higher percentage of education, higher median income, universal healthcare, a functioning government, insignificant gun violence, a drastically lower percentage of incarceration, okay, sure, you’ve got those things, fine, but America has freeeeeeeeedom! And that makes us exceptional – not that any significant fraction of us can spell exceptionalism or find the United States on a map, but trust me, we’ve got you beat.

And you know why? Freedom, that’s why.

See, freedom in America is different from freedom elsewhere.

In America, freedom means rights without responsibility. 

In America, freedom means the right to the most vile of hate speech without consequence or penalty.

In America, freedom means the right to publish provable falsehoods and gibbering panic and drooling conspiracy theories as fact for profit.

In America, freedom means the right to utterly ignore science and just substitute in whatever magic fairy dust you like regardless of the consequences to future generations.

In America, freedom means the right to violent religious extremism without restriction of any kind, tax free in fact.

In America, freedom means the right to beat the drums of war without having to go yourself, or send your children.

In America, freedom means the right to gather together under the guise of political assembly and openly plot to take away the freedoms and the liberty of those with different political beliefs, or religions, or skin colors, or sexual orientations.

In America, freedom means the right to profit hugely without taxation, to take without return, to destroy entire industries without a second thought, to pollute the environment without personal consequence, to grow wealthy beyond dreams while impoverishing millions of your fellows, to benefit enormously from the nation’s protection and prestige without having to give back in any way.

Why, here in America we are so free that we can openly engage in war against our own nation.

That’s right.

We can wallow in our sullen liberty like fat feral hogs in the mud while complaining bitterly that we don’t have enough.

In America, that’s what we call freedom.

Why, here in America, we can actually point guns at our own government and threaten to shoot down our neighbors, and we can do it free of any consequence … and others will inevitably rally to our cause in the name of liberty.

Here in America we can publicly declare war on our own nation, engage in open sedition and treason writ large, offer a reward for the capture and execution of our own democratically elected president, publicly promote the overthrow of the very Constitution which guarantees our freedoms, and loudly declare our intention for violent installation of a religious theocracy made of up of extremists who would execute and imprison any American who does not subscribe to this murderous lunacy.

We Americans put up with a lot of nonsense in the supposed name of liberty.

We put up with raging hate, blatant bigotry,  threats of violence, obvious insanity, and foamy spittle-flecked ignorant stupidity - all because we're afraid that if we restrict those things in even the slightest way, if we hold the perpetrators to account to even the smallest degree, well then we won't know where to draw the line and then we'll end up under the jackboot of tyranny.

By way of example, meet the Christian Taliban of the Facebook Group Reward For Capture of Obama.

The group, founded by one Reverend Everest Wilhelmsen, is your standard issue howling mob of frothy Birthers, stubbornly clinging to their guns and bibles and thoroughly discredited conspiracy theories. More, Wilhelmsen is openly using social media to solicit donations for the overthrow of the government of the United States. The group openly, publicly, offers a reward for the “capture” and “arrest” of President Obama.

These people, led by Everest Wilhelmsen, have declared war on the United States.

For all practical purposes, Wilhelmsen is indistinguishable from the Ayatollahs who burned down their country’s legitimate government and set about arresting and executing those that didn’t agree with their particular murderous fanaticism.

If you want to know what America under the control of Evangelical Christianity will look like, you need look no further than Iran – change the names and the God, and the bloody intolerant rest remains the same.

This week, Wilhelmsen added a caveat to his group page, asking people not to post overtly racists comments – despite the fact that the entire page is a study in unhinged xenophobia writ large and designed specifically to pander directly to racists, bigots, haters, and fanatics.

A rather large number of people, including myself, have complained to Facebook about Reward for Capture Of Obama. I specifically reported the group for hate speech. Reward For Capture of Obama is not freedom of speech, it is abuse of the 1st Amendment and it is sedition. These people are not just talking, they are actively soliciting funds for the stated purpose of overthrowing the government. This group is hate for hate’s sake and nothing more – and I would point out that I would respond in exactly the same way if Wilhelmsen was calling for the capture and arrest of George W. Bush.

Facebook responded to my complaint via the boilerplate above.

“Reports like yours are an important part of making Facebook a safe and welcoming environment.”

A what now? A safe and welcoming environment, you say? Oh, so is that what Reward For Capture of Obama is? Safe and welcoming?

“…and we found that it doesn’t violate our community standards.”

Racism. Xenophobia. Bigotry. Sedition. These things don’t violate our standards.

But a picture of a mother breastfeeding? That does, right? Facebook will take that down in a second and suspend your account. But proclaim your intention to overthrow the US government by force of arms and violent revolution and kill the president? And Facebook is good. Freedom, you know.

Facebook is so afraid of offending the religious right, and likely with good reason, that they will turn a blind eye to open sedition.

 

And that, right there, is the perfect metaphor for America.

 

We’re willing to put up with any degree of rage, hate, and insanity, up to and including allowing crazy people to buy guns and use them to shoot down our children in their own homes and theaters and schools, we will stand by and let raging madmen like Everest Wilhelmsen openly call for the destruction of our nation, just to prove we’ve got more freeeeeedom than everybody else.

 

 

In the name of freedom, we allow the racist haters of the KKK and the Neo-Nazis to march down the middle of our streets and terrorize our citizens.

In the name of liberty, we allow the insane fanatics of Westboro Baptist Church to scream their twisted hatred at the funerals of our loved ones and our fallen soldiers.

In the name of democracy we allow the ideologues and the political fanatics in Congress to deadlock our government, repeatedly bring our nation to a standstill, refuse to do their jobs, and threaten the entire world economy, all in the name of soundly debunked conspiracy theories and rabid unhinged yellow-eyed hate.

In the name of the Constitution, we allow the traitorous dishonorable scumbags of the Oath Keepers to march on the White House flying that goddamned Confederate Battle Flag, the very symbol of racism and the ensign of those who vigorously tried to destroy the United States, and we listen while they demand the president be dragged from the Oval Office and hung before a kangaroo court.

Within our own Capital Building, Doug Lamborn, a Republican from Colorado, has openly admitted to sedition.

He not only admits it, he’s proud of it.

Lamborn, in his own words proudly revealed that he and his fellow Republicans are attempting to turn the US military against their own Commander in Chief,

“A lot of us are talking to the generals behind the scenes, saying, ‘Hey, if you disagree with the policy that the White House has given you, let’s have a resignation.’”

Think about that, really think about that.

You have a sitting US Congressman – along with “a lot of us” – actively encouraging mutiny within the ranks of our military.

Lamborn and those unnamed republicans he refers to are openly encouraging nothing less than the defection of senior officers during time of war

Lamborn says he wants America’s generals to “go out in a blaze of glory.”

Lamborn specifically says he encouraged military officers to resign in protest of the orders from their civilian leadership.  To quit instead of obeying the president as they are sworn to do – as I, a commissioned officer, swore to do.  Do you, as Americans, understand what that means? Can you fully grasp the implications of Lamborn’s treason? In America, the elected civilian Executive commands the military for very, very good reasons, reasons fundamental to the very fabric of our nation

Lamborn would turn the generals of America into the political wannabe emperor Generals of Rome – and he is either too goddamned stupid to realize what he’s saying or he is a traitor to everything this country stands for.

This is not, repeat not, the actions of the loyal opposition.

There is nothing loyal about it.

Lamborn is a traitor.

Should the generals actually follow his exhortations to abdicate their sworn duty, then Lamborn is giving aid and comfort to the enemy, he is deliberately providing the enemy a strategic advantage by dividing the American military against itself solely to profit his political party.

Congressman Lamborn is a fucking traitor. A seditious scumbag. A dishonorable conniving coward whose own sworn oath is worth about as much as the Republican Contract with America.

Lamborn is a traitor.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Lamborn’s own words, his own free admission, by definition, is sedition.

Naturally, when his mutinous remarks were made public, Lamborn did what all those of his pusillanimous ilk do when cornered, he claimed his treason was taken “out of context.”

And you’ll note he didn’t resign.

And that, right there, is the very epitome of these cowards.

They’ll rage and rant for others to give up their lives in the name of some cause, but they piss their pants at the thought of having to make good themselves. Every. Single. Time.

Lamborn is a traitor.

Lamborn is a coward.

Lamborn is an utter disgrace to the very institution he is sworn to uphold.

Folks, there is no context, none, in which Congressman Lamborn’s admission is not that of a coward, a traitor, and a seditious mutineer.

In any other nation, he would be jailed at the very least and tried for his seditious actions, in many places he would be dragged out back and he’d have a bullet put through his skull without a trial.

But in America? Well, open sedition from a sitting US Congressman in time of war, sowing discord and disloyalty in the ranks for political ideology? In America that’s what we call liberty.

Meanwhile, yet another of these “patriots,” former congressman Tom Tancredo, Republican from Colorado, called again for House Republicans to impeach the President. 

Because, yeah, we just aren’t getting the part where Republicans hate Obama. 

In an OpEd last weekend in (where else?) World Net Daily, Tancredo opined that the GOP should “call the White House’s bluff and proceed with impeachment.”

Republicans, those Great Americans* who claim to revere the Constitution as holy writ handed down by God Himself, eschew the actual requirements spelled out in that same document and instead define the criteria for impeachment as “anybody not a member of our ideology – and maybe even some of those too.”

The conservative definition of democracy is increasingly indistinguishable from the kind of “democracy” practiced in the old Soviet Union and nowadays in North Korea – i.e. you can vote for whoever you like, so long as it’s us. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Tancredo warns that if Republicans are afraid to impeach Obama, then “the war is already lost and we should all stock our ammunition shelves and join a militia.”

Like Wilhelmsen, like Lamborn, like far, far too many conservatives today, Tancredo believes that democracy is when if you don’t get your way, you just get to shoot down the people you don’t like and install your own government by forcing people to vote for your party, your candidate, the people you approve of.  That’s the kind of America they think they want.

But you see, freedom doesn't come free of responsibility.

In the end, one way or the other, there is always an accounting.

It’s long past time we, as a nation, as a people, stopped tolerating this nonsense.

These lunatics need to be held accountable for their unending mindless hate, for their willful and contagious insanity, for their seditious attempts to turn this country into a xenophobic religious theocracy, and for abusing the rights our ancestors gave their very lives for.

I believe in freedom of speech as much as the next guy. I served my country for over twenty years in uniform, I fought her wars and defended her shores because I believe in that freedom along with all the others we Americans take for granted every day.

But I believe rights have limits.

I believe freedom comes with responsibility.

I believe we are a nation, a society, a civilization. We are not a howling mob.

These people are not patriots.

They are not the loyal opposition.

They are cowards and traitors and anarchists.

They are the barbarians at the gate, who would burn down civilization and shit gleefully in the ruins.

The Constitution may require the government to tolerate this cancer in our midst, but we, we rational and sane Americans, we do not have to put up with it.

And it’s long past time we start holding this madness to account.

 

And you can start doing exactly that come this November.



* The term “Great American” is used in this context in a manner identical to the term “Great Russian” in the old Soviet Union.  And yes, I mean it to be exactly as insulting as it sounds. // Jim