Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Boogeyman is Gonna Get You!

I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction. They won't get in their way.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2001

Louie Gohmert is scared.

He’s afraid for America.

The evangelical (of course) republican (of course) lawmaker from Texas (of course) is afraid his God will smite America (of course).

Because that’s what Louie’s God does, smite things.

Smite! Smite! Smite!

“There is judgment that will come for nations that attempt to divide the nation of Israel and this White House seems determined to do.”

That was Gohmert talking to Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on Washington Watch last week.  Gohmert warned Perkins that President Obama’s “disdain” for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu may cause God to “punish America.”

God may punish America.

God may punish America because Obama won’t meet with Netanyahu.

God. May punish all of America. All three hundred and fifty million of us. Sure, that’s fair. Well, maybe not fair fair, but Bible fair and par for the course when it comes to God. Pharaoh won’t let the Israelites go? Indiscriminately kill every first born child in Egypt! See, that’s how it works. We’re not talking smart missiles here, you have to expect some collateral damage when God carpet bombs people who piss him off.

And on that note. God. May punish all of America. All three hundred and fifty million of us because Obama didn’t meet with God’s Prime Minister of the Chosen People. And we all have it coming, don’t we? We do, don’t we? Because we elected Obama. Twice. Some of us voted for him and the rest didn’t vote against him enough so in Gohmert God logic we’re all responsible for the Netanyahu snub. 

So we’ve got nobody to blame but ourselves when Louie Gohmert’s God murders our kids in their sleep.

I guess if we wanted to placate the Christian God we should have elected a guy who unconditionally supports a Jewish nation … say like Mitt The Mormon.


Oh, I’m being ridiculous, am I?

Listen, I’m not the one going around telling people the angry bogyman in the sky is going to punish America over a matter of foreign policy.  If you’ve got a problem with Louie’s God, take it up with Him – and while you’re at it, ask Him why He decided to punish America for legalization of gay marriage in California by dropping a hurricane on New Jersey.

And don’t tell me that’s not exactly the God Louie Gohmert describes.

"You know what really gets me, as a Christian, is to see the ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs, and then some senseless crazy act of terror like this takes place. ... We've threatened high school graduation participations, if they use God's name, they're going to be jailed ... I mean that kind of stuff. Where was God? What have we done with God? We don't want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present."

That was Louie Gohmert in July of 2012, describing how God slaughtered twelve people in Aurora, Colorado, and maimed seventy more because He was angry at not getting invited to high school graduations across the nation. When Louie Gohmert says his god will “punish” the rest of us for not doing what Louie thinks we should, when Michelle Bachmann says hurricanes are caused by gay marriage, when Ben Carson and George H.W. Bush and every evangelical TV preacher claims American exceptionalism in the name of their God, that’s exactly what they are saying.

Am I mocking a religion? Am I mocking somebody else’s belief? Yes I am. Because when people like Louie Gohmert speak of a “personal relationship with their God,” what they’re describing is an abusive relationship with a crazy person.

The “relationship” they describe is exactly, exactly, like living with an unpredictable control freak prone to fits of rage and violence, the kind where you hide the bruises and make excuses and hope that someday the son of a bitch will stop knocking you around if you can just find a way to please him.

That’s the religion Louie Gohmert believes in.

I’m not saying this is what all Christians believe, but a significant fraction do in varying degrees – particularly evangelical fanatics like Louie Gohmert.

And he’s not the only one.

World Net Daily – the only media source that makes Fox News seem, well, fair and balanced – is convinced “’OBAMA ARMY' DEPLOYS TO TEL AVIV TO TOPPLE NETANYAHU!”

Oh no! Not the Obama Army! They’ve deployed to Tel Aviv! The Obama Army!

Hell, I’d think Republicans would support Obama sending his Army to Israel, after all conservatives love to randomly invade the Middle East – and we declared the last war over, what? Two years ago? We’re overdue.

Leaving aside the question of why it’s okay with these people when Israel pumps millions into US SuperPACs in order to anonymously influence our elections via Citizens United, or why it’s okay for Israel’s prime minister to do an end run around our democratically elected leader and address congress directly in a blatant attempt to manipulate our foreign policy, let’s take a look at a few of the comments under the WND article:



God will not allow Israel to fall.

America will fall. Because democracy.

Everybody got that? There’ll be a test later. For extra credit, you may write a short essay on why God is okay with democracy and free will when it comes to elections in Israel but not in America – but you will be required to reference the relevant Bible passage and cite the verse where God only loves democracy if you elect conservatives.




On no! Not the Illuminati powered Anti-Christ! Anything but that!

Jesus Galloping Christ on a Vegetarian Velociraptor. Shadow government from Hell. Anti-Jesus. GOP RINOs. Domestic enemies within. Bible prophecy. If these people were talking about anything, anything, other than their ridiculous religion, we’d drop them with tranquilizer darts and commit them to involuntary electric shock therapy before they started eating their own feces. 

Lincoln would weep at what these droolers have done to the party he founded.



The Iranians have opened a front on Israel’s northern border?

Northern border? Did Lebanon and Iran swap places?

What is that? Creation Science geography?


Suicide by God.

That’s my personal favorite. Suicide by God.

Better do what God wants … or he’ll KILL ya with fire!

That’s right, suicide by God.

It’s just me, right?

I’m the only one picturing God in a dirty wifebeater, beer belly, cigarette, “Get in the Kitchen, Louie! And make me a sammich!”

Better kowtow to some foreign potentate or Louie Gohmert’s abusive deity will slap America around some more! Give us another cigarette burn to teach us a lesson, another black eye and a fat lip.

But it’s okay. Louie’s God loves us.

He does.

He just gets a little … angry once in a while. He doesn’t mean it. He can’t help himself. It’s our fault, for making him mad.

Boy, that’s what we should be basing national foreign policy on, right?


I have a question.


GIVEN Jews are the Christian God’s chosen people AND Israel is made of Jews THEREFORE Israel is favored by God, so  it FOLLOWS disrespecting Netanyahu is the same as disrespecting GOD.

We good so far?

Okay, so, when Christians such as Louie Gohmert loudly declare America is favored by the same exact God, doesn’t the same exact logic apply?

Is not disrespecting our president also the same as disrespecting God?

Doesn’t that make Louie a little bald troll-faced sinner destined for an eternity of brimstone and pitchforks? Right next to Netanyahu?


If not, why not? Is it more like the Pope?

You know, so long as the guy in the ruby slippers and the funny hat hates all the same people we do, he’s speaking for God. 

But when the new Pope starts sounding like Jesus, well, hell, that’s the devil talkin’ right there.

Okay, maybe that’s more than one question and, again, I know it sounds like I’m mocking somebody’s religion.

Because I am.

I’m mocking it so hard.

I’m mocking the hell out of it. Because it’s stupid. It’s ignorant. It’s a bunch of primitive apemen huddling in their cave, hiding from the storm, watching the tribe’s shaman with wide terrified eyes as he rolls the bones and tells ghost stories about the Angry Thunder God In The Sky and the lightning outside. 

Here’s the thing: If the President does or does not choose to meet with a foreign leader to discuss mutual interests, it should be for good reasons. Real ones. Ones that can be articulated to the nation who elected that president and backed up with policy and precedent.  This is how our founders intended America to work, they designed a government based on reason and intellect. Nowhere in our founding documents, nowhere in the Constitution, nowhere in law or precedent does it say our foreign policy should be based on Displeased Sky God Makes Angry Boom Boom!

These people keep attempting to insert their idiotic beliefs into my government and every single time they open their mouth it makes me just that much more determined to stop them.

When I wonder about this country’s future, it’s not some imaginary lightning throwing boogeyman in the sky I worry about.

It’s congressmen like Louie Gohmert.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fool’s Gold


That's what they call it when you find traces of gold in a stream.

In the old days here in Alaska, the sourdoughs would pan the streams and rivers looking for that golden telltale, that glittering hint of treasure in the bottom of the pan. Color itself isn't worth much, just a thin thread of brightness among the mud and sand - but see, that color was a clue to greater things, a treasure map.

They'd follow the color upstream, through the twisting rivers and washes, to the source. The mother lode.

Color, that's what we're seeing now, we miners of political gold.

We're still far downstream from the mother lode of 2016, but already the mud in our pans is bordered in bright yellow.

And then there are the nuggets.

Things must change for our government. Look at it! It isn’t too big to fail. It’s too big to succeed! It's too big to succeed, so we can afford no retreads or nothing will change with the same people and same policies that got us into the status quo, another Latin word, status quo, and it stands for, “Man, the middle-class everyday Americans are really gettin’ taken for a ride!” That's status quo, and GOP leaders, by the way, y'know the man can only ride ya when your back is bent, so strengthen it, then the man can't ride ya, America won't be taken for a ride, because so much is at stake and we can't afford politicians playing games like nothing more is at stake than, oh, maybe just the next standing of theirs in the next election.

Jesus Jumping Christ!  I was a Navy codebreaker, an intelligence officer, I've had professional training and decades of experience, and I can't parse that gibberish.


Yes, I know. It's been killing you. Hasn't it?


For the last week, my inbox has been choked with queries, wondering why I haven't said anything.

I haven't said anything because last week when Sarah Palin declared her "interest" in running for president in 2016, it was just political color.  And you don’t get excited about color.

I was waiting for Iowa, that’s where you find the first real nuggets.

Speaking at the Iowa "Freedom" Summit, the Sourdough Shill didn't disappoint, did she? It's too big to succeed or fail with the retreads for changing Latino men riding other men because we won't be taken for a ride! America!  She contemptuously dismissed the President as “a little boy” and then sneeringly declared liberals and democrats are racists and sexists. It’s the same tune she’s been singing since John McCain took her to the prom and got his ass beat by the star basketball player.

I've read that paragraph two dozen times now, it's pure buttery yellow Palin. It's ... beautiful.

I have no idea what it means, but it’s wonderful.

I'm a skilled writer, I'm even more skilled at mockery, and there is nothing I could have penned that would have come close to that golden horde of ... well, hell, you can't call it word salad, it's more like finely ground mulch. Compost.

Edit:  No in retrospect, mulch and compost are the wrong words.  "Word salad" is pitifully inadequate. It’s more like Word Coleslaw.  Wordslaw!

Palin’s speech was so bizarre, so utterly incomprehensible, that the Democratic National Committee issued only a two word response via their communications director: “Thank you.”

See, apparently, Palin’s teleprompter froze.

And she had to speak off the cuff, and that gibberish above is what came out.

Her teleprompter froze. Teleprompter.

And it’s like the jokes just write themselves. Lame jokes. Old tired jokes that have been told a hundred time before, but nevertheless…

Sarah Palin is the Zsa Zsa Gabor of American politics.

She’s a diva. She got where she is on, well, to use her own words, her rack. It sure wasn’t her brains. She had a few bit parts and she’s got her fans. She plies the talk show circuit as the queen of glitter – along with the same old cast of characters – and nobody can understand a goddamned thing she says. She’s good for a few laughs on Late Night, but nowadays she’s mostly famous for being famous and ain’t nobody offering her a part in their movie.

She’s grifter, a political con artist. This is her MO. She sort of maybe hints she might be maybe interested in possibly maybe running. The chumps flood her PAC with their cigarette money. Then she tours the country in her Patriotic Juggernaut of Patriotic Flag Humping Freedom, signing books and giving speeches composed entirely of disjointed Tea Party sound bites and utterly devoid of any originality whatsoever.

And then?


She doesn’t have the chops to go all the way, or even part of the way.

At best she’s color, a little excitement in the pan as we plod upstream to the real treasure.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Fears Of Small Men

Capt. Jerome, USMC: It seems quite obvious, I would think, sir. We must seize the government and make our own negotiations!
Gummere: Seize the government?
Capt. Jerome: At bayonet point!
Gummere:  Well, I certainly would like to see that old son-of-a-bitch at bayonet point, huh? But it's ridiculous! It's outrageous! It's lunatic!
Adm. Chadwick: Yes, isn't it though? I think Teddy should love it.
Gummere: But, what about the French? The Germans? The British? Why we're in the shadow of Gibraltar!
Gummere: You realize, of course, that if we fail in even the slightest way, we'll all be killed?
Adm. Chadwick: Yes, and the whole world will probably go to war.
Capt. Jerome: Gentlemen, if we fail and are killed, I certainly hope the world does go to war!

The men raise their glasses in salute.

Adm. Chadwick: The world at war!
Gummere: A world war. Now that would be something to go out on...
     - The Wind And The Lion, 1975


Spot the problem.

This morning Senator Ted Cruz (R-Jesusland) posted this to his Twitter account:



Do you see it?

I mean, can you spot the problem other than our nation is being run by idiots.

Cruz says we must preempt any efforts of those [Americans] who fight with terrorists to reenter the United States and launch terrorist attacks.

I don’t often agreed with Sweaty Teddy, but sure, okay. I might have said we should do our best to capture these people and bring them to justice, rather than just keep them out of our own country and let somebody else deal with them, but okay, sure. 

But then we get to this part:

"We must protect our homeland by declaring that Americans that go fight with radical Islamic terrorists have renounced their citizenship."


I see.

Take away their citizenship.

Make them, what? Stateless? Force them to become citizens of some other nation, is that it?

Sounds good right? ‘Merica! and all that patriotic flag waving dreck.  Sure. Shithead American goes to Terrorist Summer Camp, joins ISIS or ISIL or whatever the current bogeyman is, then tries to come back to America and attack us where we live.

I think we can all agree that’s not a good thing.

So, Senator Cruz suggests we start revoking American citizenship. Why we’ll make them no longer Americans! The dirty Muslim bastards, that'll fix ‘em! That’ll fix ‘em good!


Not to be a wet blanket or anything but before we start revoking citizenship, I have a couple of questions.


First, how big of a problem is this, really?

Sure, there have been a handful of cases where Americans have gone over to the other side, nobody says there haven’t, but how big of a problem is this?

Last year, two American converts to radical Islam, Troy Kastigar and Douglas McArthur McCain, declared Jihad and went to fight with the Islamic State. Both were killed. Now, I suppose you could take away their citizenship, you could take up the court’s time and pay the clerks and banish their ghosts to Jahannam.  But, really, they’re dead. As such, they’re unlikely to return to the US and engage in terrorism. The vast majority of Americans have never heard of these two assholes.

So why then does the party of fiscal conservatism want to spend money on an empty gesture?

Anwar al-Awlaki was an America Muslim who became a militant Islamist. He joined al-Qaeda and was killed along with his son, also a US citizen, by an Obama authorized drone strike in the Yemeni desert. A rather large number of Americans, both liberal and conservative, lost their goddamned minds over it. I wrote about that incident, in exhaustive detail, here, in one of the most popular essays I’ve ever penned.  Again, the guy is dead. He’s not coming back. We jammed a couple of Hellfire missiles up his colon, is sending a final Fuck You really that important at this point?

Most Americans have long forgotten John Walker Lindt – or Abu Sulayman al-Irlandi as he now calls himself. Lindt is currently rotting in the Federal Correctional Institution in Terre Haute, Indiana. He pled guilty to joining the Taliban and fighting against American forces in Afghanistan.  Now, he’s in a SuperMax prison, in solitary confinement, for the next 20 years without the possibility of parole. His lawyers petitioned the government to have his sentence reduced and that was denied by President Bush on his last day in office.  He hates the United States and prays for its destruction every day. So, what? You’re going to take away his citizenship? I’m sure he’ll be all broken up over that. But here’s my real question: And then what? When Lindt gets out of prison ten years from now, and he’s not a US Citizen, what are we going to do with him? He can’t stay here. He can’t go anywhere else because he’s not a citizen of any country. So, once again, the party of fiscal conservatism will have to spend money to negotiate his transfer to … where? Are we going to dump him into Gitmo and just keep him “detained” forever at our expense and in defiance of our law? Or are we going to ship him  off to another country. And are we going to keep an eye on him after he’s released, because that would be a whole lot easier (and cheaper) here in the US than in Pakistan or Qatar or the UAE.

There are others. A few each year. But it’s hardly an overwhelming tide.

American airports aren’t full of eager Muslim converts headed out to join the Islamic State.

So, you’ve got to ask yourself, how come the poster child for smaller government and fewer laws and less regulations and reduced spending is proposing another law? One that would apply in only a few cases per year.

One that will cost us unnecessary money.

And one that does nothing.

Worse than nothing actually.

Say today the CIA becomes aware of another John Walker Lindt, another Troy Kastigar, or another Douglas McArthur McCain. 

Some white-bread American boy who got a case of the disgruntled Muhammad and went to North Africa or Pakistan and got himself all radicalized.

If you take away his citizenship, then should he attempt to return to the US he'll be forced to use a false identity.

Which bypasses all the intelligence flags attached to his real identity.

So, you’re going to have to hope that the CIA and the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are able to equate the real identity of some heretofore unknown bit player to a brand new false identity created by professionals, and you’re going to have to hope they do in time to flag him at customs. But don’t worry, as history shows, the US Intelligence community is really good at this, right? Probably nothing to worry about. Naw.

But it does sort of make you wonder about the whole point of that no-fly list and all the security apparatus we've had to live with for the last goddamned decade.

Now, certainly, there's nothing to prevent this theoretical homegrown terrorist from using a false identity even if you don't take away his citizenship, but by revoking his citizenship you've closed the door on the easy option, the low hanging fruit, and made it just that much harder for Immigration/Homeland Security to pick this guy out of the crowd.

The better bet is to pretend you aren't watching him and let him believe he's safe.  That's basic intelligence work.  If you’re a cop on stakeout, you don’t sit in front of the suspect’s house in a black&white with the flashers on and the siren going.

And while we’re on the subject: if you make this guy not-American, what are you going to do if he doesn’t come home?

Ah, didn’t think about that, did you?

Al-Awlaki, Lindt, Kastigar, McCain, these guys, none of them tried to come home. Now, I’m not saying they might not have attempted to return in the future, but they all were caught or killed fighting overseas.

Three of them, Lindt, Kastigar, and McCain, were killed or captured in active warzones.

But al-Awlaki wasn’t.

It's one thing to drone-zap an American citizen engaged in  terrorist activities in the middle of a Yemeni desert - sure, the legalities are open to some debate, but you can take those secret clauses in the various patriot acts and the fact that the foreign government asked us to clean up our own mess and roll them right up into a get out of jail free card.  You will note that despite all the various protestations regarding the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki by the US government on foreign soil, there's been no legal action by us or by foreign nations or by the international court.

Because it was legal.

Because al-Awlaki was an American.

And he was our responsibility.

But it's an act of war to kill a non-US citizen on foreign soil outside a combat zone.

If the target isn’t an American, and he's not in a combat zone, and he's not actively engaged in terrorism right at that very moment, and America drops a Hellfire on his head on foreign soil, then we're breaking all kinds of international treaties.

Remember the international and domestic outcry about this very thing when we went after Osama bin Laden inside the borders of one of our allies? And that was Osama bin Laden. And it was sort of kind of in the warzone - sort of, if you squint your eyes. And it has caused us all kinds of grief since, particularly in Pakistan.

But so? So what? Right? We're America. We can damned well kill whoever we want, wherever we want, whenever we want, right? Damn the legalities! Damn the treaties! Damn the legations!

You're probably going to need to rethink using the term "rogue state" though.

But what if we don’t catch up to him?

What if somebody else does?

Say this guy, this former-American, this terrorist, is captured by foreign forces. Alive.

How you going to extradite him? He's not an American anymore.

If he didn't commit a crime on US soil or against US assets, what's your legal standing in international law to bring him back here to face justice?

Or are we Americans just going to shrug and say, hey, not our problem, he’s not an American anymore, you deal with it. 

Is that the kind of people we’ve become? The kind of asshole whose dog craps in somebody else’s yard and we pretend it’s not our responsibility?

But all this is just window dressing.


Have you figured out the real problem with Senator Cruz’s statement?


Well then I’ll tell you: The problem is that a Harvard educated lawyer who is now charged with making the laws of our country and who bleats endlessly about the Holy Constitution, doesn’t seem to know very much about the goddamned law.

While it is possible for a naturalized U.S. citizen to have his or her citizenship revoked through a process called "denaturalization," a natural-born U.S. citizen may not have their citizenship revoked against their will. 

May not.

The government does not have that authority.

A natural born US citizen may renounce their citizenship, but the government cannot, repeat can not, force someone to renounce their citizenship or do it for them in their absence.

More than that, suggesting that the US Federal Government should be able to revoke citizenship from an American is the ultimate hypocrisy for an outspoken advocate of individual rights, liberty, freedom, and small government.

Cruz  seems to be suggesting that the government should have the power to revoke citizenship.

Think about that. Think about it real hard.

Who decides? The Court? The Military? Homeland Security? The Senate? The President? Is this a power you really want the government to have? The ability to make you a non-citizen? Really?

So, do we vote on it?  Because, hey, no mob mentality or room for error there, oh no. Especially when it comes to terrorism, right? Just go ask Richard Jewel.

And where exactly does this end?

First we revoke the citizenship of radical Muslim terrorists, right? Sure that’s okay, we hate those sons of bitches and who doesn’t?

Then maybe less-radical Muslims. Cruz said “preempt” did he not? We’ve got to get ahead of terrorism. Deport ‘em before they become radical radical. Because really, radical, less-radical, they’re all terrorists aren’t they? Isn’t that what people like Ted Cruz have been telling us? Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim. Right? Right?

Then maybe other religions we don’t like. We’ll get rid of the Sikhs next, can’t tell them from Muslims anyway. And the cults, sure.  Oh, and the Jews! Heck, there’s even a precedent for making Jews non-citizens, isn’t there? Hmmm, give me a minute, I’ll remember the details, something about America for Americans and all that, dontcha know.  And the Jews can hardly complain, after all if you check in with the modern Jewish state, you can find a precedent for making Muslims non-citizens too, so there’s that. Fair’s fair, I guess. And hey, at least Jews have a homeland they can fuck off to.

Who’s next? Political ideologies? Sure, it’s not like Ted Cruz and his political party haven’t been accusing the rest of us of being shitty Americans – but no, now I’m just being silly, no way rational people like Ted Cruz would abuse this power to banish liberals and progressives and conservatives who don’t toe the party line. Nooooo, that would never happen.

Gays? No gay people, no gay marriage. How about the poor? We’ll use the Hawaii model and just export them somewhere else. Problem solved! No more welfare, no more food stamps. It’ll be a Koch Brothers paradise!

And the sick, don’t forget the sick, we can banish them too and why not?

Oooh, wait, I know! How about people who are only half American?

Yeah! You know, say like they were born in Canada?


Too far?





But, look out there. Look out into the world. Look into the past. Genocide. Atrocity. Totalitarianism. Disenfranchisement. Terrorism. All the horrors of our past.

People always ask, how could it happen?

How could it happen? Well you see, it begins just like this.

Very small.

And with the best of intentions.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

State Of Disunion

Presented to this Congress are great opportunities. With them come great responsibilities. The power confided to us increases the weight of our obligations to the people, and we must be profoundly sensible of them as we contemplate the new and grave problems which confront us. Aiming only at the public good, we cannot err.
William McKinley, State of the Union, 1899 


We should do away with the State of the Union address.

Just get rid of it altogether.

No speeches. No rebuttals. No letters. Nothing.

It would take a Constitutional Amendment, sure, but I think we'd be healthier for it.

As I said yesterday on social media this address is the vermiform appendix of our republic. It’s a vestigial leftover organ from a more primitive democracy, back when congress really did represent the people.

Nowadays, the State of the Union address does little and serves mostly as a source of swollen inflammation ready to burst apart into full blown infection at any moment.

The original intention of the address was for the president to inform congress of the actual no kidding state of the union, the problems and the challenges, what was going well and what wasn't, and to in essence suggest the legislative agenda for the coming year. Here are the issues, get me some bills to address them, and I'll sign ‘em into law and we can get on with the business of running our country.

Back then, congress wasn't a full time job. Politician wasn't a career. There were no think-tanks and SuperPACs and no ‘round the clock news cycle.  The men who made up congress were part time lawmakers. Most of the year they were farmers and industrialists and printers and brewers and lawyers and doctors spread across a vast new country in a time when the fastest form of communication was hand written letters carried in a sack on the back of a mule. And so they needed a periodic update from the nation’s full time leader.

Today? Congress is not only a full time job, it’s practically royalty.

Some senators and representatives have been there for more than forty years, they’ll likely die in office, and they spend far more time in Washington than they do among the people they're supposed to represent. They might as well be dukes and earls and barons. They are surrounded by a sea of minions, fops, toadies, and hangers-on, there are lawyers and lobbyists, clerks and secretaries, a multitude of assistants and a plethora of interns. They're plugged into a vast, vast political machine and an array of entrenched “expertise” coupled to think-tanks and political action committees and various institutes for “strategic studies.” They're immersed in the global information grid so deeply that they might as well be wired directly into the servers with fiber-optic cable.

Like I said last night, if congress doesn't already know the state of the country, an hour of listening to the president sure isn't going to bring them up to speed.

The first State of the Union address was given by George Washington, it was a grand total of 833 words and consisted mostly of ideas for building post roads and Navy ships.  Thomas Jefferson didn't bother with a speech, he sent a brief letter to Congress, which was read by a clerk to the assembly – and that started a tradition which lasted for more than a century until Woodrow Wilson came along. Since Wilson, every president has given an annual speech, which in recent decades has predictably devolved into simple political theater. They all put on their best designer duds, the president gets up there and tells America that everything is great but it could be better while the Speaker of the House sits behind him rolling his eyes and making faces like a four-year old in a starched collar stuck in the middle of Sunday sermon, congress claps politely, everybody shakes hands, then they all go outside to talk to the press and get their pictures taken. The next day the press devotes a hundred thousand words to the detailed analysis of the First Lady’s dress.

Then it’s back to doing whatever it was they were doing until next year.

The State of the Union is basically the Golden Globes Award Show of American politics.

Well, that is, until Barack Obama came along, that’s when the State of the Union address became the Republican Grand High Holy Day of Booger Eating Insanity. 

Nothing the president said last night was in any way unexpected or out of the ordinary for any president or any State of the Union speech.  Economy blah blah Education blah blah Infrastructure blah blah Taxes yadda yadda thanks for coming everybody and don't forget, T-shirts are for sale in the lobby!

What is new, however, is that this congress has decided its mission is to scream in hysterical outrage and shout conspiracy theories in response to everything the president says.

Obama could say, "Hey, you know what? Screw it, you're right. On second thought, I've decided to get rid of Obamacare" and republicans would squint their eyes in suspicious patriotic outrage, furiously wave their little flags, and demand a national single payer healthcare program free to illegal immigrants with one bonus abortion and a deluxe box of Day-Glo pleasure-ribbed cherry-flavored condoms for each preschooler.

They had their rebuttal all set to go – though “rebuttal” is probably the wrong word since it had nothing whatsoever to do with the president’s actual speech and didn’t actually rebut anything he said – same as last year, and the year before, and the year before that.  And just like last year they picked the most hardcore nutcase they could find to read it and the most amusing part of this morning's media summaries are those attempting to making some kind of sense from Joni Ernst’s corn-fueled Bachmannesque performance.

Obama said “economy, education, infrastructure, taxes” … and republicans heard “big government anti-Jesus is a comin' fer our little white babies and our guns with his Atomic Negro Ray of Smooth Chocolate Mojo OMFG! Ook! Ook! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, EVERYBODY!”

Today they’re all pissing blood and declaring in various degrees of pumped up patriotic rage their refusal to compromise or cooperate in any way whatsoever.


And that right there – that, right there – is indeed the state of our Union.


For better or for worse, our government is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

It is a reflection of us, we the people of the United States of America.

And the state of our union is thus: we have become a nation of screeching chimps, capering about, teeth bared in fury, throwing handfuls of our own shit at each other.

And I didn’t need either the president or congress to tell me that.

See you next year. Same place. Same time.

President Washington began this tradition in 1790 after reminding the Nation that the destiny of self-government and the ‘preservation of the sacred fire of liberty’ is ‘finally staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.’ For our friends in the press, who place a high premium on accuracy, let me say: I did not actually hear George Washington say that.
- Ronald Reagan, State of the Union, 1982

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How The Heroes Die

Please don't thank me for my "service." I was in the military, not the "Service." Service is doing something good. Service is what the person does who fixes your car.  When the word "service" is applied to the military, it helps to justify violence as a method for conflict resolution. Like "defending our freedom," or "bringing democracy," the word "service" is used to lower the barriers of aggression. The military solution to conflict is death and destruction. That's not "service." Call it what it is - the military. If you have to hurt someone to solve a problem, you are the Problem.
- Arnold Stieber, US Army Veteran, 1970


I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

I didn’t go to war to be thanked for it.

And I certainly didn’t go to war so that I could be called a hero.

Last week, a reader on Facebook asked how I felt about exactly that, being thanked for my military service.

Specifically, I was asked if I agreed with Arnie Stieber, the Vietnam veteran quoted above.

I do.

And I don’t.

Stieber’s experience was not mine.

His time was not my time. His war was not my war. His military was not my military.

The United States and the US military have changed greatly since Vietnam – due in no small part to the efforts and activism of veterans like Arnold Stieber.  While I don’t entirely agree with his position I don’t disagree with it either. I understand completely where he is coming from and I can sympathize with his point of view and I can unreservedly grant that he earned it.

He's entitled to his position, but his position is not mine.

Not exactly.

I don't feel disrespected or diminished if my own service goes unacknowledged.

I don’t feel proud and heroic if it is.

I mostly don’t care if others acknowledge my veteran status or not.

Unlike Stieber and many of his fellows, I wasn’t compelled to serve. I had a choice, Stieber didn’t. War was my profession for more than two decades, I served as both enlisted and as an officer, I joined the military and stayed of my own volition – and that makes all the difference.

As I said in reply to the question, I don't advertise my military service but I don’t try to hide it either. 

I served in peace and in war, I wish for the former and despise the latter. 

Like Stieber, I have little use for those who glorify and promote war as a way to solve the world’s problems.

Unlike Stieber I pragmatically acknowledge that sometimes war is necessary. 

I don't march in parades and I don't go to protests. I don’t wave the flag and I rarely attend reunions. I’m proud of my service, I treasure my experience, I miss the men and women I served with. I was damned good at what I did and there are days I wish I was still out there doing it – and there are days I’m damned glad I’m not. 

No sane man prays for war.

No moral man hopes for death and destruction, not even for his enemies.

Nowadays I’m certain that my haircut and bearing broadcast my status to those paying attention - along with the fact that I often wear the ratty fading sweatshirts from my former commands and so it’s no secret that I’m a veteran. But I emphatically do not feel entitled to thanks from Americans for my military service – or whatever you call it, I’m not inclined to argue the semantics of it.  I went of my own free will and for my own reasons, America owes me nothing for it. I’d like to think America will make good on what I was promised, but I don’t expect it – and more on that in just a minute.

I do not demand respect as my right nor gratitude for my service.

But if thanks are given, I will gladly accept them in the spirit offered and return the compliment. If a business offers me a military discount, I will gratefully accept it. If they don't, that's perfectly fine too. Choice, freedom to choose, the right to decide to offer thanks or not, well, that's what we were doing out there, defending that. At least that’s what I was doing, others can speak for themselves.

And if you believe in liberty, if you're willing to give your life for it, then you must acknowledge people will use that freedom however they please. Some will use it to thank you for your service.

Personally I think you're a bit of a shitheel as a human being if your response to a simple thank you is a political screed and a lecture on semantics, then again that's your right. As I said, I don’t speak for other veterans.

But me? As I said, I take thanks in the spirit offered and return the compliment, one citizen to another, and it bothers me not at all.


But I draw the line at hero.


In the same conversation, a commenter proclaimed all veterans “heroes.”

She gushed on and on with glassy-eyed effluvious enthusiasm about “sacrifice” and “patriotism” and a dozen other clich├ęd platitudes and ended her comment by saying that her eyes well up with tears whenever she sees a military member out in public wearing a uniform. 

I asked her not to call me a hero, but I should have just walked away – and after she condescended to tell me what a “real” veteran is, I did because like Arnie Stieber, there are things I just cannot abide.

And hero worship is one of them.

We, most of us veterans, we’re not heroes.

I certainly am not.  Oh, sure, I’ve got a box of decorations upstairs in the back of my closet, we all do. Maybe I have a few more decorations than most, a few less than others. Maybe someday long after I’m gone my son will find that box and wonder at those bits of fading cloth and tarnished metal.  Maybe he’ll read the commendations and be proud of his old man, just as I once did.  But goddamn it, I’d far rather have him boggle in horror at the idea of war, I’d far rather have war be so long forgotten that those decorations are nothing but curiosities of a primitive and violent history, one that his generation has long moved beyond.

I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

We are not Spartans.

We are not Romans.

We are not Nazis.

We are not some military society who worships war and glorifies battle as some great heroic ideal and spawns generations of warriors. In America, mothers don’t tell their sons and husbands to come home with their shields or carried upon them.  Or a least they damned well shouldn’t.

We are a free people, we are Americans. For us there should be nothing glorious about war. 

We should honor the soldier, certainly, but we should honor the peacemakers to a far greater degree.

As I’ve said here and elsewhere more times than I can count: war is a dirty horrible business and make no mistake about it. War should be the last resort, when all else has failed and the very safety of liberty is endangered. 

War is hell. War is violent and terrible and immoral. Certainly there may be acts of heroism and valor in war, but there are also endless acts of craven cowardice and ignorant stupidity and wanton violence and vicious cruelty – just as in any other human endeavor.  War should always be a last resort, embarked upon only under the most dire of necessity and not some goddamned glorious spectacle.

We go to war because we have to, and for no other reason.

While it’s certainly true that, as Orwell and Churchill both said, the nation sleeps snug in its bed only because rough men stand ready to do violence on its behalf, to paint us all as generic “heroes” leaches the word of meaning and power and diminishes those acts that truly are heroic and worthy of great respect.

But it’s much, much worse than that.

To paint all veterans as heroes, superior above other citizens, worthy of worship and compulsory respect, gives lie to the equality of democracy and makes such status enviable.

That, right there, is why Stolen Valor is such a thriving business.

That, right there, is why our society is a brim with military fakers and ersatz war heroes.  They show up at every parade and hang out in front of the VA, they polish their stolen medals to a golden glow and tell stolen war stories replete with glorious battles that exist only in their minds, all with false aw shucks humility and grim steely-eyed false heroism.

And they lap it up, your wide eyed unquestioning admiration, because it feeds their empty souls.

These people are parasites, thriving on our mandatory respect and wide-eyed unconditional hero worship. They exist because of your admiration, without it they would wither and die. But the damage they do is limited and they are typically found out and shamed when their duplicity crosses that of a real veteran.

Far, far worse than the posers, this national hero worship compels the dull-witted and the small and mean to join up for all the wrong reasons.

There is little worse in the ranks, and nothing worse – absolutely nothing – in the officer corps, than those who want to be heroes.

We’ve all encountered them, those of us who served.  The commanders and the lieutenants and the majors who practice their Medal of Honor acceptance speech in front of the shaving mirror each morning, the one that begins, “Thank you Mr. President, I’m sorry all my men were killed, but I’m grateful to accept this award on their behalf…”  We’ve all served under the senior NCO who dreamed of a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart and the tales of glory he would tell to the doe-eyed girls back home who would then coo over his manly scars and jump ready and eager into bed with a hero.

Those are the kind of people who get other soldiers killed.

They’re not there to defend the country, the oath means nothing to them, they crave only glory and the admiration of a grateful nation.

Worst of all, writ large, this idea makes war itself desirable, for only in such a crucible can heroism be forged.

And then war becomes the norm instead of the exception.

But it’s all a lie, for you see heroes are not people.

Heroes are symbols, objects to be worshiped and admired and fawned over.

And then forgotten when new ones come along.

Heroes don’t make mistakes. Heroes don’t die from friendly fire. Heroes don’t bomb a wedding or a school. Heroes don’t get PTSD. Heroes don’t come home broken. Heroes don’t wake up screaming covered in sweat, night after night. Heroes don’t need help. Heroes don’t end up on the street. Heroes don’t wonder where their next meal is coming from, or how they’ll pay the mortgage. Heroes don’t end up addicted to booze and drugs trying to cope with the pain. Heroes don’t mind that you look at them with uneasy fear, wondering if, when, they’re going to snap – heroes don’t snap.

And, after the war, heroes don’t need education or retraining or help buying a house or easy access to VA medical care. In fact, heroes, well, they don’t need any of those things you promised back when you were terrified and desperate for rough men to do violence on your behalf.

Heroes just need a parade and the easy thanks of a yellow magnet stuck on the back of your car.

Calling us heroes taints your thinking, it biases your viewpoint no differently than painting all veterans as “baby killers” did a generation ago.

Mostly we veterans are just people who came when called and did our best under terrible circumstances.

If you truly wish to honor those who put their own precious selves between home and war’s desolation, then you wouldn’t call them heroes.

Instead you’d make them obsolete.

I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

If you want to honor veterans, try living up to the promises you made when you called us to war. That would be a start. Make good on the medical care. Make good on the education. Make good on the support for our families. Pay up and pay up promptly. Hold your elected leaders to account and make them do it or throw the cowardly sons of bitches out of office when they won’t. That would be better than all the empty thanks and the parades and the yellow ribbons.

If you truly wish to honor all the men and women who have served this nation, who have given their lives, who stood ready to do violence in your name, then you would do your utmost to keep our children, indeed all the generations who follow, from having to make the same bitter sacrifice.

Wars are caused by unbridled hate, by intolerant fanaticism, by selfish idealism, by religious extremism, by hunger and poverty and inequality, by bigotry and greed and fear.

If you wish to honor the warrior, truly honor the warrior, then you would do those things which make war less likely.

You would elect leaders who don’t see military action as the first option, or even the second, or the third.

You would elect leaders of reason and judgment, those who are loudly and forcefully reluctant to waste the lives of their fellows and the treasury of their nation.

You would elect leaders who set the example of citizenship, who are willing to listen to each other, to compromise and work together for the good of us all, who don’t go around spewing hate and fear and glassy-eyed fanatical jingoism and simple-minded patriotism.

Yes, you build a strong and well equipped military, of course you do, for defense. You don’t go around finding excuses to use it all the goddamned time. You don’t throw more lives away for political posturing, for imagined slights, for profit, for pride.

More importantly you give equal or greater effort and resources towards those things that make war unnecessary. 

You feed the hungry, you clothe the poor, you heal the sick, you employ the able, you educate the next generation, you pay your taxes, you stop looking at your neighbors as the enemy, you give back, you invest in the future, you dream of the stars, and you remember we’re all in this together. 

If you want to honor veterans, then don’t call them heroes. That’s the easy way out.

If you want to honor veterans, then live up to the ideals they fought to defend.

I didn’t go to war so that my son could follow.

I went with the hope he would never have to.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Soldier, General, President

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Ass Backward Into The Unknown

The internet was supposed to liberate knowledge, but in fact it buried it, first under a vast sewer of ignorance, laziness, bigotry, superstition and filth and then beneath the cloak of political surveillance. Now...cyberspace exists exclusively to promote commerce, gossip and pornography. And of course to hunt down sedition. Only paper is safe. Books are the key. A book cannot be accessed from afar, you have to hold it, you have to read it.
Ben Elton, Blind Faith

I'm not a Luddite completely I believe in refrigerators to cool my martinis, and washing machines because I hate to see women smacking their laundry against a rock. When I hear about hardware, I think of pots and pans, and when I hear about software, I think of sheets and towels.
Studs Terkel

As many of you know, in addition to writing I’m also an artist and woodworker.

I have a very large studio woodshop and when I’m not in front of this keyboard, you can usually find me covered in sawdust with the little ShopKat draped around my neck and purring in my ear.

A few months back I quit consulting work for the government and began writing and woodworking full time.

So far I’m enjoying the heck out of it.

If I had a motto it would be this: Never buy shitty tools, either do without, or save your money until you can afford decent equipment.

I believe in buying only quality tools, a trait I acquired at the knee of my dad who was himself an accomplished woodworker among many other things. And my shop was already well equipped. If you name a woodworking tool, likely I own it – probably several versions of it in fact.  And so I was well situated to embark on this new career.  But if you’re going to make woodworking an actual paying job, then you have to be able to produce quality products in volume.  With that in mind, I bought a very high end CNC (computer numerical controller) milling machine to do much of my prepwork.  That machine was expensive, very much so, but it has paid for itself many times over in the months since it arrived. It’s like having a diligent assistant who willingly tackles any job no matter how tedious and works without break or complaint.

Based on my experience with the CNC machine, at the beginning of this week I purchased an automated laser cutting/engraving machine.

It's being shipped from the manufacturer in Nevada and I'm impatiently waiting for it to arrive.

The laser is a 5th generation machine with advanced 4 axis capability and will extend my existing abilities and complement the CNC machine.

In comparison: Where the CNC machine can mill large 3D objects to an accuracy of 1/2500th of an inch and can do things other machines can't, the laser is limited to a bit over a 1/4 inch cutting depth but it can cut/engrave with surgical precision to an order of magnitude beyond the CNC machine (think a laser printer running at 1000DPI vice the usual 300DPI of a standard machine). This will vastly extend my shop's capability and my options as an artist and woodworker.

As an example, the laser will allow me to engrave the hand-turned pens I make, both with my own signature trademark and logo, and with customer personalization. It will also allow me to make very small and highly detailed parts for various projects and to create artwork (such as inscribed  rims and patterns on the bowls I turn at the lathe). My artwork will still be handmade, but now they’ll be enhanced by tooling I could not achieve otherwise.

That’s great, Jim, I hear you say in that puzzled tone you use when you have no idea where I’m going, sure. Lasers and robot, who doesn’t like that? But we come here for political commentary, so what gives?

Good question.

See, I’m technophile, I love shiny things. I’ve got a couple of dusty degrees in technology and computer science and I spent most of my military career immersed in technology that would no doubt boggle your mind.  So when it comes to art and woodworking, well, I have no problem crossing the streams. My woodshop likely has more computers in it than your house, and in my house … well, yeah, never mind.

And so I was discussing this purchase, the laser, with somebody I know, another woodworker.

He was appalled.

My friend said that these types machines (semi-automatic computerized systems) "dehumanize" the art.

He also advanced the common idea that machines take away human jobs.


Ah, the light dawns for you, does it? See? I wouldn’t let you down, gentle reader, I know why you’re here.


Machines dehumanize art.

I don't agree.

In fact, I strongly disagree. 

First, these machines are tools, nothing more. No different from a pen or a paintbrush.

They don't make art. I make art.

The machines just do what I tell them to do, no more, no less. They extend and enhance my abilities as an artist in exactly the same fashion a word processor complements a writer – something else I have a bit of experience with.

Scribbling down your novel on parchment with a quill and inkpot might make you feel like a "real" writer, but you'd be hard pressed to convince me that you're producing any greater "art" than you would with a laptop and a copy of Microsoft Word.  In fact, I think it's just the opposite, without those modern tools, word processors and spell checkers and the infinite knowledge base of the Internet, I suspect you'd miss out on some pretty amazing writing. And it isn't just writing, go check out the Deviantart website sometime, there's a lot of crap there but there's one hell of a lot of utterly fantastic artwork too, stuff that would not exist without modern tools.

Ditto many modern movies, say whatever you like about James Cameron's Avatar as a story, it was an incredible piece of art like nothing that had ever been made before and it wouldn't have happened without computerized tools. Same with Cameron's Titanic. Does that dehumanize Casablanca? Don't make me snort chocolate milk through my nose. It doesn’t even dehumanize Avatar or Titanic, both of which were nothing if not about humanity.

These machines are tools. Nothing more.

Certainly they can be used to dehumanize art.

But then again, so can a quill and inkpot - if somebody chains you to a desk and makes you write 16 hours a day with nib and blotter. 

Certainly these types of machines can be used to churn out mass-produced crap, and obviously they do exactly that.  But automation also reduces costs to such a degree that a struggling artist can afford to buy the basic mass produced tools (such as an inexpensive laptop and particleboard Ikea desk) in order to make "real" art one painful word at a time – and hopefully be successful enough at it that they can afford better tools in the future as a result.

In my shop, these machines allow me to create things I could never do by hand. Even when I had full use of my left hand and my eyes weren't middle-aged, I doubt that I could create precise patterns at 1000DPI resolution with hand tools.  Do I really need to create things at that resolution? That’s for me to decide, as the artist.

These machines also allow me to make more things at greater speed with repeatable results, i.e. they allow me to produce quality products at affordable prices.  Just as a word processor allows me to churn out thousands of words a day - because I can assure you that if I had to hold a quill pen in my damaged left hand in order to write, you'd be seeing 10 words per day, tops, and that sentence would most likely be unreadable and consist entirely of profanity because it hurts me to use a pen.

Second, I call shenanigans on the idea that these machines take away human jobs. 

They take away some jobs ... and make many others.

Do you know what a farrier is? Or a cooper? Or a miller? Or any of the various flavors of woodwright? These were once common occupations, so common in fact that people like yours truly here nowadays have surnames directly derived from our ancestors’ profession.

Now certainly you can make the argument that automation cost workers their jobs. This is true. When robots took over the assembly lines in Detroit, many human autoworkers became obsolete. But the part you're missing is this: The invention of the automobile itself removed a need for buggy whip makers, but it created thousands of new occupations.  And automated manufacturing meant the cars got better - vastly better (anybody remember 12 month or 12,000 mile warranties? When I was growing up, cars didn't routinely last 100,000 miles. Nowadays most high end brake pads last that long. My jeep has nearly 400,000 miles on the odometer and has never even had a ring job or a head gasket replaced. Ever). Better cars, better machines, meant more people could afford them and afford to drive them for greater distances and at higher degrees of reliability. Which gave people more options.

The company that built my CNC machine was a small startup, a few engineers who got together and took advantage of the new technology to create an entirely new thing. They now employ hundreds people directly and indirectly and their machines allow people like me to start our own small businesses. Same thing with the company that made my laser, hell, they began as a Kickstarter - something that would have been utterly impossible without dozens of threads of technology created by hundreds of people merging in new ways. 

With the coming maturity of 3D printing technology, this new Maker civilization will become the Tinkers of science fiction.

Are there dangers?

Of course.  All technology has both benefit and bane.

But my son will graduate from college in a few years with a business and engineering degree - paid for in no small part by the money I make writing on a word processor and doing woodwork with the help of advanced technology. He wants to make his own extreme sports equipment, he wants to start a company to do that. With the equipment in my shop he can realize that dream – at 22 years old. Could he have done it before the advent of affordable automation? Sure, people made hockey sticks and snowboards long before computerized systems were available. And people still do make art with a quill and inkpot. The world is a big place, there is room for infinite variation. But this technology gives our children options previous generations didn’t have.

These tools expand our ability, not detract from it. 

How we use them to shape our human future is up to us.

No, you can't just replace people with machines without regard for the consequences, but you can't stand still either.

The world changes, adapt or die.

How we face this change, in fear or with wonder, is in large part the basis for the political division that exists in America today.


... Luddites were those frenzied traditionalists of the early 19th century who toured England wrecking new weaving machines on the theory that if they were destroyed old jobs and old ways of life could be preserved. At certain times in his life each man is tempted to become a Luddite, for there is always something he would like to go back to. But to be against all change in the abstract is folly.
- James Albert Michener