Saturday, December 27, 2014

Snap Out Of It, Jordan Klepper!

Snap Out Of It is a segment on the Sacred Cow Wursthaus podcast where I tell people who should be on the freethinking side, but somehow aren't, to snap out of it and get their act together.

Some background info:  Jordan Klepper did a skit three weeks ago on the Daily Show in which he chided Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation for scolding a restaurant called Mary's Gourmet Diner.  Mary's, it turns out, had previously been offering a 15% discount for publicly praying before eating the meal, and FFRF quite rightly cried foul over it, sending them a threatening letter.  It seems the restaurant might not have been quite so discriminatory, as the discount also was offered for other things.  Still, Mary's quickly capitulated, and FFRF recommended that all its members patronize Mary's Diner afterwards.  Still, the story went viral.  Jordan Klepper took this and, after a two-hour interview in which he ground Dan Barker down, edited out all but the silliest bits from the interview and made Dan Barker look incredibly foolish.  He strongly felt that sending a harsh letter to a small diner threatening suit over atheists' "civil rights" was an egregious overreach.  Well, that's fine, but Jordan was in a glass house throwing stones.

Now, I subsequently called this a "wake up call" on the Sacred Cow Wursthaus podcast, mostly because the Daily Show is hardly Fox news!  And it's true that we as atheists need to change our tactics and abandon the bullheaded Madalyn Murray O'Hare approach to litigation.  Still, if FFRF overreached, Jordan Klepper did so even worse, both with Dan Barker and especially so on the skit he did the following week.  Hence the tirade below, which I will be reading live on the podcast today.  Here you go:

"This week I'm telling YOU to snap out of it, Jordan Klepper!  Yes, I somewhat took your side on last week’s podcast when I called your fake news segment about Mary’s Gourmet Diner a wake-up call, but your subsequent installments on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart have convinced me that you are not the moralist you make yourself out to be.  Like the skit you did the following week where you defended the civil rights of people dressed up as Santa Claus to get drunk and party during Santa Con in New York.  Yes, we get it: In the wake of so many news stories featuring cops killing blacks and not getting indicted, lesser civil rights struggles seem funny by comparison, and you’re cashing in on that.  But how can you call Dan Barker, a man who makes Fred Rodgers look mean by comparison, a “dick,” and a “petty asshole,” and then in your next segment, act like a drunken Santa Claus who stumbles into a daycare center and starts cursing and swearing at a bunch of kids!?  Jordan, you may insult a man whose organization overreached “petty,” but saying “Fuck you!” repeatedly to a room full of little kids is a new definition of low.  Even if it was done off-camera (which I very much doubt), it made you look a thousand times worse than Saddam Hussein, much less Dan Barker – a man who, by the way, is defending YOUR rights as an admitted fellow atheist, and to whom you owe a great deal of respect, even if his organization does overreach on occasion, which it does only rarely!  

"So, Mr. Fake News, we at the Sacred Cow Wursthaus take great pride in twisting up our locker-room towels and giving YOU a well-earned crack across your hyper-sensitive ass!  Jordan Klepper, SNAP OUT OF IT!"



No Santa Claus

Here's a re-post of a previous poem which I wrote, based off of the original C.C. Moore classic.  Although I originally wrote it to chide parents for lying to their kids about Santa, I have since softened my stance somewhat.  After all, kids need to know their parents aren't infallible.  It's a normal part of growing up. The Sacred Cow Wursthaus podcast will have a reading of this set to music, so don't forget to listen in. Enjoy!

An Account of No Visit by St. Nicholas
A poem by Eric Hildeman
(Borrowed from the work of Clement Clark Moore)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
But that was to change before the night ended,
For none was asleep, every eyelid distended;
Our stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas might just soon be there;
But we three kids weren't quite so nestled in our beds,
For visions of espionage danced in our heads;
Tonight we would learn, for once and for all,
Whether Santa was real, or if there was none at all;
And see for ourselves if reindeer could fly,
In defiance of gravity across the night sky.
Brother and sister in their sleepers, and I in my cap,
Had convinced mom and pop we were taking our nap;
When out in the den there arose such a clatter,
We sprang up from our beds to see what was the matter.
Away to the stairwell we flew in a flash,
Sliding down the floorboards, and avoiding a crash.
Peering over the railing at the lit tree aglow,
Gave the lustre of mid-day to the objects below;
And what to our wondering sight should appear,
But a very distinct absence of eight tiny reindeer.
Our parents were wrapping presents so lively and quick,
That we knew in a moment there was no St. Nick.
More rapid than bullets the revelations they came:
All costumes and lies, and a legendary name.
And if all these lessons had come now to naught,
What other things were false that we'd been taught?
Those things which we'd thought so sure and so brazen,
Could they be lies too? Could God? Could Satan?
We spoke not a word, but stared straight at this work,
When mom and pop suddenly turned ‘round with a jerk;
My baby little sister, that jolly little elf,
Had laughed when she saw this, in spite of herself.
The glint in pop’s eye and the tilt of his head,
Soon let us kids know we had plenty to dread!
Pop clenched up his fist out in front of his nose,
And giving a nod, to the stairwell he rose.
He sprang up the stairs, to my team I gave a whistle,
And away we all flew like the down of a thistle.
Back down the hallway the courses we flew,
At our heels, the bogus St. Nicholas, too.
More rapid than eagles his courses they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called us by name;
"You doggone kids! You'd just better run!
You've spoiled our secret! You've ruined our fun!”
And hearing these words while running down the hall,
We dashed away, dashed away, dashed away all!
When back in the bedroom I spun back around,
Bro' and Sis' landed back into bed with a bound.
Our pursuer had stopped, leaving us dumbfounded,
’Till we all slowly realized we were certainly grounded.
Though no permanent scars did we receive that Christmas night,
We emerged more confused about what was wrong and what was right.
In the years that followed, in teenage vice,
We listened more to peers than to parents' advice.
And one more lesson that night we were taught:
It’s all right to lie, if you just don't get caught;
Or if certain situations will justify,
The certain variety or use of the lie.
'Tis a difficult problem, and a peculiar plight,

But still....

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!



Thursday, December 18, 2014

Charlie Sykes Misses The Mark

Two weeks ago, SWiFT, the Southeast Wisconsin Freethinkers, of whom I am a member, worked in collaboration with American Atheists to put up a provocative billboard for the holidays.  For those who missed it, here's what the billboard looked like:

Charlie Sykes, the premier talking head on the 3-time Marconi Award winning local radio station WTMJ, which monopolizes all sporting events, as well as news, traffic and snow-closings, had this to say about the billboard after he ranked it #3 on his weekly "Deep Tunnel" awards:

"Hey, we get that atheists don't believe in God and don't celebrate Christmas, but you know, Christians don't put up billboards mocking their darkened, soulless beliefs.  So my advice to atheists is..." [And here he plays his sound clip of a man screaming, 'Shut up! Shut up! Shut! Up!'  Followed by the sound of a toilet flushing.]

Well, in the words of an old commercial for Starkist Tuna, "Sorry, Charlie!"  First off, atheists DO celebrate Christmas.  Only a small percentage of us choose not to, and they are usually chided by their fellow unbelievers for being sticks-in-the-mud.  But more importantly, it is simply, empirically FALSE that Christians don't put up billboards mocking atheists "beliefs." (He meant so say, 'lack of beliefs,' I'm sure.) So, to help set Charlie straight, here is just a small sample of the many anti-atheist billboards out there, not including the ones currently visible from I-894 and I-94 in Waukesha:

There was one more which I mentioned on the Sacred Cow Wursthaus podcast, which featured Jeffrey Dahmer, but that billboard illegally used the copyrighted trademarks of the American Humanist Association and Planned Parenthood, and so the image has been removed from the Internet.

So to you, Charlie, I give my own award: The Whoopie-Cushion Award!




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ferguson, Misery. Er, Missouri.

I'm shocked at the civil unrest which has broken out in Ferguson, Missouri. That is, I'm shocked that other people are shocked. After everything which has happened leading up to this tragic event, people actually have the nerve to look surprised! Honestly, what did you all expect?

You suburban comfort-dwellers, with your insured vehicles and your cable television, are partly to blame. You first created those slums when you fled to the suburbs when blacks dared to move into your neighborhoods, telling them with actions rather than words that you assumed they would make bad neighbors. Since then, you have been perfectly content to scold those who live in slums and are unable to get out, to chide those in the inner city for daring to ask for enough government aid to just barely have a shot at getting a better life, maybe, someday, and then to assume ghetto blacks are automatically thieves. You have prevented them from getting contraceptive care, then in the same breath accused them of being "welfare moms." You have denied them education and then called them stupid. You have smoked their weed, and then let them be thrown in jail for selling it to you. You have consistently voted for legislators who were committed to corporate welfare rather than real welfare on the misguided notion that socialism for big business was better than just plain socialism. You have pissed on them, your fellow Americans, and then held your nose at their odor. How dare you act surprised when the caged animal finally bites the hand that feeds it mere scraps! Wake up!

You law-enforcement officers, who bravely put on the uniform to protect your citizens, are also partly to blame. You all began as young idealists committed to ending crime and cleaning up the streets, perhaps even to potentially take a bullet to protect the innocent. You were committed to serve and protect. But then you saw the reality of the situation. You saw that the only two ways for young inner city black kids to escape poverty involved either a basketball career or dealing drugs, and that meant that you, the police officer, became the primary thing standing between them and a better life. You were their biggest enemy, and their number one oppressor. You resented that. You wanted to change things so that you were seen as the hero, not the enemy. But eventually, you were worn down, convinced by your captains and your elder officers that there was no real solution, and gave up. You decided at some point to side with the fatalism which has infected every urban police force in this country. And in so doing, you saw a certain wisdom in doing everything you could just to get home safely to your family after every shift. And so, instead of putting your life on the line when it came time to do what was right, you often chose to shoot first instead. You saw the greater good as protecting your fellow officers instead of protecting the people on your patrol - people who, deep down inside, you came to secretly regard as a lost cause. No, people don't understand how you put your lives on the line every day, hoping against hope that somehow, someway, things will get better without you. They never will. But that's no excuse to have allowed the mean streets to have made you jaded, and cause even the least racist among you to be racist in deed if not in word or thought. When your primary mission was to make yourselves be the friends and guardians of the inner city, you instead made it an ancillary concern - secondary or even tertiary to the higher priority of simply arresting and incarcerating those who broke the law because they were too poor to do anything else. "Let the jails fix them," you thought, as if simply shutting them away was somehow a solution. Yes, perhaps Officer Darren Wilson really did have no choice when he opened fire. And no, Michael Brown does not make the ideal martyr. But he was the victim who just happened to be the last straw in a very large bale of hay which finally broke the camel's back. How dare you foster the hatred among those you say you protect, and then try to justify shooting a kid who attacks you with the very hatred you instilled within him? If you can't give a day in court, at least give an apology! Wake up!

And finally, to my inner-city fellow humans, by brother Americans, the ones who are the same race as me but who just happen to have darker skin due to a difference in ancestry, you also are partly to blame. You have internalized the negative racist stereotypes with which you have been wrongly stained, and worn them like a macabre badge of honor. You have built statues to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., named streets after him, lionized him as a hero, and then proceeded to do the exact opposite of everything he stood for. You have shunned education when he would have embraced it. You have abandoned your self-worth when he would have told you to champion it. You have resorted to violence when he told you flat-out to turn the other cheek as Jesus and Gandhi recommended. When racists refused to see you as individuals, saying that you were all the same, you gladly accommodated them by being identity-less, acquiring new names the way some people acquire new shoes. After being wrongly being called stupid for so long, many of you decried education as a "white thing," and dropped out of high school. You have then pretended it was your cultural heritage to speak and write improperly. You have embraced being called criminals by acting and dressing like organized gang members, as if this would somehow make you appear more lawful to the cops you hate, and would rather avoid. You have even stood in solidarity with convicts by pulling down your pants below your hips - just as prison inmates do when their sodomy is spoken for - as a way of saying "I'm a jailbird, too!" You have become your own self-fulfilling prophecy. It's as if, after being pelted with pig-shit for years and years, you have collectively decided to wear your pig-shit coat as the latest fashion trend. But you're not fooling anybody but yourselves. You cannot beat poverty by wallowing in it, nor can you rise above by clipping your own wings. No, you cannot change your skin color, but you can control how you dress, how you talk, and how you live. How dare you complain about racism when you have colluded so well with your racist oppressors by confirming everything negative they've assumed about you! Wake up!

So now that I've called out the errant behaviors, what can we do about the present situation? It's a complex problem with a whole matrix of causes, and it will require a multi-layered solution with at least as many facets. But there is at least one thing we can do which will have an immediate impact: More black cops! Right now, the main problem of the inner city is a lack of good paying jobs for young people who desperately need them, and the main problem of the police force is the perception that they are racist oppressors who are not representative of the people they allegedly serve. We can solve two problems at once by putting young black men (and women) on the fast track to getting trained as police officers and patrolling their own neighborhoods. Oh, yes, these cops will be called Oreos, Uncle Toms, and sell-outs, but the one thing they won't be called is racists. That element will be cut out of the equation. For good.

I say let's give it a try: Let's ignore petty crimes in past behaviors when screening applicants. Let's even ignore jail time for non-violent offenses. If young black men are going to carry a gun in the inner city anyway (and they likely will), then let's do all we can to give them a badge to go along with that gun. After all, a white hillbilly cop patrolling a black inner city neighborhood makes about as much sense as a male gynecologist or a skinny sumo wrestler. And if we want people to feel that cops are connected to their neighborhood, let's recruit cops who are from that neighborhood. Certainly that makes more sense than some ridiculous rule requiring police officers to take up residency inside the borders of a city so ridiculously border-jumbled as Milwaukee. (Or Ferguson.)

Let's Axel Foley the police force! And then see what some suburban-level incomes can do to quell civil unrest!



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Let's Forgive Matt Taylor.

Have you heard the amazing news lately? The ESA, Europe's answer to NASA, has just landed a robotic probe on a comet! It's a first in history, a first in science, and should be at least as big a news story as the first Viking landing on Mars.

Into the scene stepped Dr. Matt Taylor, the project scientist for the Rosetta mission, who talked to us about the huge impact this amazing feat will have about our understanding of comets and their role in the history of the universe. He wanted us to understand the amazing story about how the Rosetta satellite took ten long years to reach this comet before deploying the Philae lander. It was the culmination of decades of hard work, and was to be Dr. Taylor's crowning achievement.

And all anybody wants to talk about is his damned shirt.

Okay, I'll grant you that the shirt was in poor taste. It was covered with artwork of scantily clad women in sultry poses which ranked one tick short of soft-core pornography. During the interview, the point he was trying to make with his odd shirt became clear, as he framed the scientific achievement as a sexy one, calling comet 67P, "sexy, but not easy." Eccentric? Yes, but still a fair point. It really WAS a sexy scientific achievement!

And all anybody wants to talk about is that damned shirt!

Dr. Taylor later gave a tearful apology. More to the point, he had just been asked a question by a reporter regarding the mission itself, asking him to please detail the scientific potential to the project. Instead, he apologized for his offensive wardrobe, and could barely continue afterward.

He's broken. After nearly two decades of work so intellectually difficult that most engineers can't even relate, the defining pinnacle which was to mark his career has now been marred forever. I don't blame him for breaking down. Meanwhile, some outstanding science is being done... and all anybody wants to talk about is that goddamned shirt!

Okay, look, I'm not insensitive to why the shirt was so offensive. I understand why it was in poor taste. Women have this strange obsession with telling us men that they don't want women objectified while at the same time wanting to be objectified themselves - meaning that what a woman really wants is herself objectified and not some idealized bikini model (which is a subject for another blog post, but I digress). But let's face it, if Matt Taylor is like most scientists, he's the socially off-center type who grew up being awkward around people and bears little sense or common sense when it comes to things like fashion. He probably doesn't have a single conservative thing in his wardrobe. Scientists are supposed to be slightly off, that's why they're so brilliant.

Can't we give the guy a break, already?

When he apologized, he was wearing a dark zip-up hoodie, probably meant to hide whatever least-loud-colored thing he had available, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if that hoodie had been borrowed from a colleague. For the rest of this man's life, he will be living in missed-opportunity hell, marred as "that guy who blew it." I think that amounts to feminists having gotten their revenge upon him, and piling on and on on top of that! It's so completely over. This poor man's already paid more than his due, and will go on paying forever.

Why is it that one male scientist wearing one risque shirt during one media event the thing that gets the most outrage? Why is it that Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus are hypocritically spared this kind of vitriol?

And if feminists really wanted to criticize, they should probably have blamed, not Matt, but his wife, Luanne, who somehow managed to let her husband walk out the door dressed like that!

Enough already. I say it's time to forgive him.

Now let's get back to the sexy science part!



Sunday, November 16, 2014

Being Poor Is Expensive!

I've just finished an amazing book by a woman named Linda Tirado called, Hand to Mouth: Living in bootstrap America. What an incredible read! It illustrates, through Linda's awful personal experiences, just what the real cost of living poor is. And here's a hint: it ain't cheap. This is the important message she has to give us, and it's given me some firepower to write this blog entry. After all, it wasn't all that long ago when I was in Linda's situation, struggling to study for a final exam while surviving on nothing more than a giant bag of pretzels. The sad truth is, it's cheap to be rich, and it's ridiculously expensive to be poor!

Here's one example Linda writes to us about: She once lost an entire pickup truck because of one parking violation. She admits that she committed the parking violation which got her towed, but let's face it, we've all been in situations where we've had no choice on that count, haven't we? But Linda was not so lucky in what happened afterward. Having lost her vehicle, she was told that she could redeem it from the impound by paying $100. She didn't have $100, but told the city workers that she could get it to them by the end of the following week when her next paycheck came in. So she walked the many blocks it took her to get to work every day, sloughing through cold and wet weather, just to finally get the meager funds she could get to get her truck back. But when she came in after her next paycheck, she was told that she now owed over $1000! The city had been charging her a $100 per day storage fee! Now she owed nearly everything she made in an entire month! She couldn't afford that, and was blunt in that she could never afford it! After all, they were charging her more than her daily earnings each day, including the weekends when she didn't work! Well, they told her, if she couldn't afford to reclaim the vehicle, they would eventually have to sell the vehicle off to cover the charges. Thus, Linda lost her entire truck - the one thing she had going for her - all for parking it wrong just once. The injustice of it all!

This is just one of the many mishaps and pitfalls that come naturally from being poor in America. For all the bitching the GOP does about the minimum wage holding the economy back, minimum wage is nearly impossible to live on. There just isn't any margin for error! If you scrimp, save, buy only the barest of necessities and live off nothing but ramen noodles for weeks, you might be able to save $30 or $40, but you can bet something will come along that upsets the apple cart along the way. Something will go wrong with the rust-bucket car, some illness will come along, the last pair of work pants will rip, your shoe's laces will break... something will happen! It always does. And when it does, there goes any ability to save anything at all.

Small wonder that poor people make what appear, at first, to be bad choices. When the time comes along when they finally do get just a little bit of money, they spend it on things that naive suburbanites might judge to be bad. Booze, cigarettes, drugs, lottery tickets, etc. It might seem as if such behavior brings more misfortune upon those who engage in it, and therefore they deserve what they get. But what the affluent don't understand is that the influences work both ways. The behaviors are the reaction to the crappy situation, not necessarily the cause. After all, if your life sucks anyway, and it will go on sucking whether you get drunk or not, whether you buy cigarettes or not, whether you get high or not, why not blow your wad now? At least you get one small glimmer of happiness before you sink back to the bottom again! And as for lottery tickets, it's true that the odds are astronomical that one can win their way out of poverty. But better nearly impossible odds than absolutely impossible ones - which are the odds of not playing at all. It makes sense, really. And cigarettes are cheap therapy. The rich can afford to get prescriptions for antidepressants. The poor choose a pack of Camels, not because it's wise, but because it's the only thing that they can self-medicate with.

Linda Tirado gives us some great definitions. Poor is when getting $1.00 is a miracle. Broke is when $5.00 is a miracle. Working class is being broke but living in a place which might not be run-down. Middle class means being able to live in a nice place, and by nice Linda means nothing fancy, but the furniture is owned rather than leased. Rich is anything above that, and when you're poor, that's certainly how it seems.

For the American poor, life is spent almost entirely on logistics: Up at 6:00 a.m. to get to job #1 on time, work that job doing something mindless like stacking boxes or pricing items in the aisle, then off work at 2:00 to go to second job at 3:00, work that job until 9 or 10, then in bed to do it all again. All the while being stressed out about whether the heat, rent, or electric bills will be able to be paid. If anything goes wrong, anything at all, the whole apple cart gets overturned. Even one night of insomnia will mean that both jobs come into jeopardy. It's not unusual to see one personal or family crisis cost someone both minimum-wage jobs they'd been working at once.

And let's consider how difficult it is to even work two minimum-wage jobs. Jobs which pay that low tend to punish those employees who work at other jobs brutally. Bosses want you to stay late if work is busy, and leave early if its slow. They don't give a damn if staying late puts the other job at risk - the other job that the employee just happens to be depending on just to survive. They care about their bottom line, even though they are fine, financially. Yes, I know that the line between a profitable and an unprofitable business is a precarious one, but you can't blame an employee for being distracted if they're worried about being evicted just because they got sent  home early.

Rent is exorbitant. What many people in the working poor are forced to do about it is move constantly. Landlords, desperate for tenants to pay their ridiculously high rent rates, will sometimes offer the first month or two of rent free if the new tenant pays the third month in advance. The working poor do this, then when they inevitably fall behind, they leave, taking the money they would have used to gain back one month back of the overdue rent at their old apartment in exchange for putting down a payment on the new one. And round and round the cycle continuously goes. It never dawns on landlords that their tenants might stick around if they charged less, or were more understanding about the occasional financial setback.

Banks don't understand. If you don't have enough money, and remember, the system is rigged to make sure you don't, then the bank will charge you for not having enough. Yes, I know the arguments about needing to provide a disincentive for overdrawing funds, but when such overdraws are unavoidable, is the punishment deserved? Let's say that some online subscription you forgot about nearly a year ago helps itself to its renewal fee from your account. Suddenly, the last $40 you had this week is gone, and you are now overdrawn three cents. But the size of that overdraw doesn't matter. Because you thought you had enough for lunch that day.  So you bought a $3.00 latte in the morning and then a $4.00 sandwich that afternoon. You aren't anywhere near an overdraft by your mental math. But you have actually now been charged $35.00 for your original three-cent overdraft, plus another $35.00 for the overdraft on the latte, and another $35.00 for the overdraft on the sandwich. You are now $112.00 in the hole without even realizing it! There went one-third of your paycheck before you even got paid! In a fair world, you would only be -$7.03 and would get a chance to pay that back right away, maybe by emptying out your penny-jar. But the banks don't give a shit about fair. We might as well call this what it is: a poor tax! But it's not even a tax, because tax money gets taken and applied to projects which improve infrastructure, pay soldiers or provide social security retirement. But poor people at the banks who get "feed upon" don't even have that consolation. The money they got charged just went to help the banker buy another Lincoln.

There is one golden thread that one can use to climb out of poverty, and that's education. But tuition rates have increased at more than double the rate of inflation for many decades. Thus the one thing that can legitimize a worker enough to get his/her ticket punched, a degree, is lost as a realistic goal. Politicians are always yammering on about providing money for education. Why do none of them ever talk about the immense need of bringing tuition costs down?

Speaking of which, how merciful is it of us to make it impossible to pay the tuition off? Laws have now changed so that not even bankruptcy can absolve someone of their tuition bills. It's either pay, pay, pay, or watch your credit rating be destroyed.

Ah, yes. Credit rating. Three institutions, elected by no one, accountable to no one, sit in judgment over every future purchase you may ever make. Want a mortgage? A car loan? Then you must get the approval of these self-appointed gods first. But tuition debt makes this impossible. And what's worse, many jobs have the audacity to hire only people of good credit rating. They tell us that it is a judge of character. But come on! So many people have bad credit due to no fault of their own! What kind of a judge of character is that? No, it's a judge of character of the employer, not the potential employee. The employer who demands such a test is an asshole! I can somewhat understand if the job involves the handling of large amounts of money, but why require a credit check for a laundromat worker, seamstress, or janitor?

There's only one realistic way to get out of tuition debt if you are a member of the working poor. You can fucking die! The debt will never get passed on to your family. (Although it wouldn't surprise me in the least if someone tried to pass a law that would get that changed, too!)

This is how M.B.A.'s and Ph.D.'s end up as bums on the street. Think those hobos have it bad in winter? Hey, at least they got off of the fucking hamster wheel!

We often hear talk of raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour. Yes, many of the make-work jobs will be lost this way, and businesses will downsize where they can, but for the employees who stay, this will help. Even then, $10 per hour at a 40 hour week is $400, before taxes.  After taxes, that's more like $330. (And, by the way, why is anyone making less than $25,000 per year paying anything in taxes?) Can you survive on $330 per week? I can't. Neither can you.  Unless maybe if you didn't have kids, or rent, or tuition. But, of course, we all have those. And this is what we are only proposing we increase the minimum wage to. What are people living on now? $7.25.  That's $290 per week.  Maybe $245 after taxes.  Ridiculous! We all have unexpected expenses, we all have medical risks.  One doctors' visit could ruin any of us.

Speaking of minimum wage, I understand it's a good idea. But one form of minimum wage gets overlooked, and that's the minimum wage for waiters and waitresses.  The minimum in Wisconsin is currently $7.25. When I was a kid in high school (25 years ago, already!) minimum wage was $3.25. Minimum wage for tipped employees was $2.10. Minimum wage is  now $7.25. And the minimum wage for tipped employees? It's $2.33!  Essentially remaining unchanged for 25 years! What the fuck! We're talking about raising the minimum up to $10, and we're letting the poor waitress at the mom and pop greasy spoon slave away for that little? If every one of her customers tipped very, very VERY well, she might earn the same amount as the dishwasher! But how realistic is that? It's not fair, especially to the one waitress who has to stay late on those slow nights, knowing full well she can't make ends meet, and can't escape her drudgery to work a job where minimum wage is nearly triple her current earnings! How about raising the minimum for tipped employees too this time?

A massive one-third of Americans live on minimum wage or just a little bit above. The people working at McDonald's aren't just teenagers anymore. The average age of a fast-food worker is 29! And of those people who aren't working at minimum wage, many are working for $7.30, or $7.50. They receive their annual raises in nickels! For such people, their income is essentially minimum wage as well. And after all this, employees have to do things like stand on their feet all day, not take restroom breaks, and still smile at the customers. Seriously, would you smile after all that?

This isn't the American Dream. In fact, the American Dream has become just that - a dream.

Here in America, we are all comparatively rich in the sense that we have certain basic things most people don't. For example, nearly every household has clean water, a flushing toilet, a television and a radio. That's fantastically rich by any worldwide standards. But when you live in a wealthy country, these basic amenities are illusory of one's quality of life. After all, what's the use of having clean water if that's all you have to live on for an entire week?

I'm much older these days. I turn 44 this next Friday. I've experienced a lot of setbacks. I haven't been able to accomplish most of what I set out to do. Still, the lot I have in live has been slowly improving. In spite of Governor Walker opposing my educational aspirations at every turn, I have been fortunate enough to land in a manufacturing job with a tremendous upside. It pays me more than I made as a junior accountant, and gives me overtime pay on top of that. It also gives me $5,000 per year for schooling, which is a benefit I've begun to take full advantage of. But even with all this, I still struggle. I have to work all the time, with only a brief respite at a karaoke bar on the weekends, and often not even that. I know I've been very lucky. I've been in good health, and although I am now supporting my father, I've at least had a parents' home to go back to. But what if I lived in a region of the country where manufacturing wasn't available? (That's most of the country, by the way.) What if I didn't have the means to a vehicle? What if I'd been a parent? I can't even begin to imagine the riptides I would have to overcome if I'd been born black, or had come from poorer parents.  Would I even have what little hope I now do? If I had relatives who cared less, or died younger, would I be living on the street right now? For that matter, could something still go awry that will take away what little I have?

I'm not sure. I only know that, as fortunate as I've been, the situations of most people are much, much worse. I feel as though I'm climbing a ladder, but the foundations of that ladder on fire beneath me, and that's because the whole building is burning. The permanence of my improving station in life depends upon those economic fires getting put out, I know it, and that means that I feel an obligation to make sure others do well also.

But good luck with that when travesties like our recent election take place.



Monday, November 10, 2014

Assessing the Republican Victory

Two years ago, I bragged about Obama's win. I called it the last high-water mark for Republicans.

I was wrong. There was one more high point to achieve.

In my defense, I did say that the only thing the Republicans would win from now on is a mid-term election or two. That's exactly what this was. Still, it was a solid loss for Democrats, no doubt about it.

But before the neo-cons get too braggadocious, before the liberals wallow away their sorrow by drinking loads of Irish coffee and binging on gluten-free pop-tarts, let's all take a deep breath and really assess what's been won by Republicans and lost by Democrats, because neither is all that substantial in the long run. And by the long run, I mean two years from now.

Here's what the Republicans have won: Control of the Senate. This means controlling which bills come up for a vote in the other congressional house. That means that the gridlock we had in Congress now extends to the Senate as well. Why? Because they still don't have the Presidency. As long as that remains the case, the veto pen will be the only thing that will rule. There will be no end to the gridlock. It's now been made even griddier-lockier.

Some victory.

What else have they won? Well, a bunch of governors races, none of which really make much difference with Democrat-controlled representatives. They've gained more seats in the House, which also changes nothing. In the final analysis, this is not the "tidal wave" that pundits pretend it to be.

They've certainly won the center stage, though. Which sets things up splendidly for infighting and internal squabbles. No clear Republican front-runner is apparent in the prospective 2016 presidential race, and that means that there's going to be as much grandstanding as there will be backstabbing. Had Democrats retained control of the Senate, Republicans could have put on a fresh-face by 2016 and made an appeal to the center. But that option is now gone. Republicans will not be able to say that Democrats have been running the show for eight years and that it's time for a change. No, they will have been running the entire congress for two years, and will have demonstrated the comedy of errors we all know they are prone to when they get this many of their own number together in one place.

Here's a prediction: Under the Democrats, the Senate very nearly exercised a nuclear option to change Senate rules to prevent the absurd number of filibusters from taking place. They came to the brink of this option, and then, when their opponents were solidly under-foot, they let them go! That decision will now come back to haunt Democrats as they will, undoubtedly, be the ones filibustering everything. And you can bet your ass that Republicans will not hesitate to curtail the filibustering they so frequently resorted to! I say, that's just as well. The rule should have been changed in the first place. And lack of filibustering will simply make the Republicans look worse.

This was not a victory. This was the opposition running up the score in 4th quarter "garbage time." Which is an apt analogy, seeing as how the Dems played a prevent-defense during the entire campaign.

Which brings me to my next point: If Democrats lost for any one reason, it was because they abandoned their biggest asset: Our Trophy President, Barack Obama. I mean, unemployment is low, the stock market is high, 200,000 or more jobs have been added every month over the last six years, and Obamacare is working. And Obama has done all this in spite of relentless and hateful opposition! This was not a president to run away from! But every Democratic candidate did, to the point of not even speaking Obama's name on the campaign trail, or refusing to acknowledge that they even voted for him in the last election!

Yes, Barack's approval rating was only 42%. But you know what? The reason that number was so low was largely due to the Democratic strategy of running away from Obama in the first place! When voters see candidates refusing to have anything to do with Our Trophy President, they simply assume that he's been that abysmal a failure. 'I mean, his own people are abandoning him, so he must be a screw-up, right?' Wrong! The poor numbers were a reflection of the mistaken Democratic strategy, which then became a self-fulfilling prophecy! After all, treat a man like a skunk, and people will assume he smells bad, even if he smells like a rose. What madness! No, we still have the greatest president I can remember having in my lifetime. And I would like to be the first to call for the head of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and every other Democratic Party "strategist" who ran this campaign. Fire them all!

The smart thing to do was to shift tactics when they saw that Obamacare was working. They could have rallied around Our Trophy President, driven up his approval rating dramatically, and cruised to the finish line. If they didn't achieve outright victory, at least they could have avoided total defeat! But when Obamacare's initial rollout resulted in numerous website difficulties and initial sign-ups for the program appeared low, the strategy was drawn up to avoid the President and Obamacare. And damn it all if they didn't stick to that game plan even when the playing field dramatically shifted, and it was obvious that it was harming their campaigns! They lost because they hitched their wagons to a falling star.

And yet, even though it would have been a good move not to abandon Obama and campaign on economic issues stemming from his resounding success in that field, let's face it: it's difficult for Democrats to make the economy a central point of their campaigns, because doing so means championing the things we know will work, such as combating income inequality and making sure that those at the top pay their fair share. But that's almost impossible to discuss in a post-Citizens' United political world. Nearly all the money comes from big corporations now, and any candidate who speaks up about getting more money away from those who need it least and into the hands of those who need it most will find themselves losing out on getting any money themselves. The need for funds gags the message. This is yet one more reason why this absurd ruling must be overturned as quickly as possible!

Still, there is hope. America IS changing! The majority of states now recognize same-sex marriage. Progressives are now smoking the marijuana they have managed to legalize in two more states and the District of Columbia. One of those two states is, surprisingly, hyper-conservative Alaska! And one more thing: The average age of the typical Republican is 69, meaning that the decrepit and rusty ball and chain will soon fall off of the nation's ankle.

So the old farts had one more blast left in their colons. So what? We still have the White House, and they're still a Clown College. The stage is now set for a Republican collapse the likes of which hasn't been seen in quite a while. I'm not sure if it means that Democrats gain back a super-majority in the Senate, but it will certainly be enough to turn things around.

I predict so, anyway.



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Early Voting. And Dump The Ads!

I voted yesterday. What's your excuse?

It took two minutes. No exaggeration. If you count drive-time, it took five minutes. I did it while being nervous that it would make me late for class. I ended up getting to class ten minutes early for once.

Not registered to vote? You can register right there. Then it will take you three minutes.

In fact, early voting is such a breeze that I'm rather disappointed that I can only do so here in the suburb of Greenfield. Just for contrast, I want to purposely change my address to Milwaukee just so that I can experience what early voting is like when I have to fight downtown traffic to get to city hall and vote there. (Not that I'm advocating stuffing the ballot, or anything.)

So, if this wonderful new mechanism for getting out the vote works so beautifully, why are we still forced to hit the 'mute' button every time the local news breaks for commercials to keep us from being assaulted by whopper-lie-telling political advertisements?

Isn't that money better spent on buses and car pools?

Hey, here's an idea! Vote taxi! It could be free and available to all! All candidates have to contribute to it, then voters without transportation can book a time, get to the polls and vote!

I'm going to have to blog about that again!

Anyway, my ultimate point is simply this: The demographic in Wisconsin has not changed in the four years we've managed to survive Scott Walker. 45% of the state is infatuated with him. Another 45% can't stand the bastard. And it's no secret that I'm in the latter camp. Here on this blog I've insulted Walker with any number of creative nicknames. I've called him Little Boy Blue (because he's a former employee of IBM). I've called him the drop-out kid because he IS a college drop out. (Left Marquette, never even thought of completing his degree since. Dumbass.) I've called him slash-and-burn Walker, based on his track record of slashing and burning as County Executive of Milwaukee and his first (unbelievably disastrous) month in office as governor. I suppose the 10% of people in the middle would like to see Walker gone, but aren't too sure what to make of Mary Burke, either. 51% of Wisconsinites wanted Walker gone during the recall election of two years ago, but voted for him because they hated the politics behind the recall itself. I can only think that the disgruntled middle will swing the other way this time.

Current polls show that Walker and Burke are tied. But poll projections are based on two things: registered voters and likely voters. In both polls, it's still close, with Walker having a slim edge. Both registered voter numbers and likely voter numbers can swing dramatically democratic with a large voter turnout, because let's face it, Wisconsin is blue-purple. When people actually bother show up, Obama wins, Obamacare is approved of, and Planned Parenthood is fully funded. When people don't show up, the loud minority shoves right-wing crap down the throats of an unwilling constituency.

And we'll have deserved it, because we stayed home.

Back to my original point, not staying home and voting early is easy.

So don't stay home! Go vote, Wisconsin!

Quick, before they figure out a way to gerrymander the governorship as well.



Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Have you voted yet? Early voting is on, you know. If you haven't, do so. And here's a little added incentive in the form of my informing you what little tidbits are on this year's ballot which you might not have known about. Did you know there are some interesting referendums on the ballot this year? None of the referendums are binding, but at least the government will get some real feedback from its electorate for once. I will detail them for you, and give a little bit of my own input at the same time. But before I do, let me point out that I found these via my local municipality's website. The City of Greenfield, where I live, details everything which is on its ballot in .pdf format, allowing me to read up on who's who on the ballot itself. I can then research any names I don't know about and vote accordingly. It's a fast and easy way to stay informed. One quick internet search and your done. You don't even need to bother putting the news on your radio dial. (Although I recommend everyone stays informed.) And now, on to the good stuff:

First, the State of Wisconsin would like to know if you wish to create a transportation fund.  "Shall section (blah, blah) of article (blah, blah, blah) of the constitution be created to require that revenues generated by use of the state transportation system be deposited into a transportation fund administered by a department of transportation for the exclusive purpose of funding Wisconsin's transportation systems and to prohibit any transfers or lapses from this fund?"

Interesting. (Yawn!) Personally, I think that the odds of public transportation fees actually generating a profit are about as likely as aliens landing on top of the state capital.  But in the unlikely event that I'm wrong, I don't think those excess funds should be barred from being used to pay other debts. Money should be flexible, or it's not really useful. But that's just me.

Now things get more interesting. You get to vote on whether corporations are people! "Shall the United States Constitution be amended to establish the following? 1. Only human beings, not corporations, are entitled to constitutional rights, and 2. Money is not speech, and therefore, regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech."

Well, DUH! Obviously, this is in retaliation for our generation's Dredd Scott case in the Supreme Court. What a shame this one isn't binding.

Here's another interesting one: "Shall the next State Legislature accept all available federal funds for BadgerCare to ensure that thousands of Wisconsin citizens have access to affordable health coverage?"

Translation: Will you Republicans stop fucking with Obamacare and let us have the damn money already? Hey, since it seems to finally be working, you might as well not kick the sick while they're down in order to play politics. That one should go without saying.

Next question: "Should the State of Wisconsin increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour?"

Yes, some make-work jobs will be lost by this move. But those who are forced to depend on minimum wage jobs will get their chance to improve their lives, and possibly even be able to invest in better education to better their lot in life. This will ultimately mean more real-wage jobs for everyone, long-term.  Don't worry, 2% inflation will restore even this wage hike to a non-living wage in about five years. Do nothing, and minimum wage goes from near-slavery to outright slavery.

And finally: "Should Wisconsin Statutes be amended to allow Milwaukee County to transition its management and administrative functions from an elected County Executive to a professional County Administrator?"

Fucking what? I'll admit, I had no idea what this question was meant to be about, either. But I did a little bit of digging, and here's what this referendum item seems to pertain to. Apparently, Chris Abele proposed a new law which would limit the governing powers of the County Board and turn some of those powers over to hired professionals instead. The board is bristling over this move, and is basically asking us to side with them in saying, 'Well, Abele, how would YOU like it?'

Personally, I'm voting 'no' on this one. Too many cooks spoiling the broth is disgusting enough at the national level. But when I see it at the local level, it makes me want to puke. We should have  no more than five county board members (like Los Angeles does!), and yet we are burdened with a whopping seventeen of them. Just shut up and collect your over-bloated paychecks already!

So that's it! Five referendum questions. Your government wants to hear from you for a change.




Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Taking On ISIS.

Well, here we go again.

Yes, once again we're involved in a conflict with what's left of Persia. And, once again, we have shitty reasons for going in. The terrorists who comprise the Islamic so-called State (notice that I don't say, 'so-called Islamic State') are continually trying to provoke us into overreacting, and we are, of course, trying to avoid being appeasers by giving them exactly what they want. How very logical. These terrorists want an all-out fight with the West, and we are more than willing to oblige them.

It's almost as if they've forgotten we have nukes. Even worse, it appears as though we've forgotten we have them.

No, don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating we drop a nuke or two on thousands of innocent women and children just to kill millions of evil, religious assholes. But I must admit, it is tempting.

In spite of our nuclear advantage, ISIS is somehow seen as a threat to us. But why? Do they have ICBM's? No. Do they have long-range aircraft? No. Do they have any operatives working in the US or its neighbors? So far, we know of none. So how are they a threat when they're stranded on the other side of the fucking planet?

I guess they're seen as a threat because that makes for good television. It's worth dropping a nuke on them just to eliminate that nonsense. Or we could just nuke Newscorp's corporate offices. Again, I'm not serious, just tempted.

What I want to discuss, however, is not the ethical "dilemma" of whether or not to render the territory of Islamic State a radioactive wasteland. Rather, I want to discuss Our Trophy President, and what on earth he could be thinking about as he goes ahead and does precisely what Dick Cheney would do in his place.

You see, this proves (yet again) a point I've been making for years, which is that Barack Obama is a Republican in all but name. Of course Bush II would have done exactly this. So would McCain. Mitt Romney would undoubtedly be trying to garner federal funds to send Mormon missionaries off to do their two-year stint in ISIS-held territory only to have their young heads chopped off. (A thought which, in spite of my better judgement, I find rather funny.) Over and over again, Obama does exactly what Reagan would have done, and the reaction by the dittohead caucus is to brand all these conservative actions as rabid socialism. Barack should simply change his party affiliation so that Republicans can fall all over themselves converting to the Democratic party and declare that institution the new safe-haven for True Conservatism. (Another thought which, in spite of my better judgement, I find rather funny.)

The truth is deeper than this, however. True, Our Trophy President pledged that we would not get involved in this sort of warfare again. He campaigned over and over again about leaving the region for good. And yet, here we are, marching right back in to try to glue back together an area of the world which has been repeatedly broken.

It ought to be enough to make us regret breaking it in the first place.

So what is making this self-professed peacenik go back on his vows? What could turn this purported dove into such a hawk? I think I know why.

You see, Our Trophy President is a man of conscience. He really is. He honestly tries to do the right thing every day, which puts him far and away above most politicians. But this means that he must look at the situation regarding ISIS in a somewhat moralistic light. As president, he could act militarily and prevent ISIS from committing mass genocide. On the other hand, he could stick to his pledge, keep his promises, and sit by as millions of innocents are slaughtered. The former saves lives. The latter saves his political cohesiveness.

For a man of conscience, the answer is clear: He has chosen to save lives rather than preserve his stature in political history - even during a midterm election season.

Honestly, I'm so proud of the man that I'm moved to tears. It's amazing! What a magnanimous creature our president is! I was quite right to label him as Our Trophy President. He is precisely that, and more!

And I disagree emphatically with what he's doing.

Yes, I understand it. But I still disagree with it. ISIS (or ISIL, or whatever this doomed-to-be-short-lived state calls itself) is a direct consequence of our bungling the process of helping to set up a new Iraqi government. The Sunnis were shut out of the political process, and now they have come back with religiously extremist allies bearing guns and spouting Koranic scripture. Honestly, what did we expect would happen? But as much as this is true, it doesn't change the fact that Islam has a terrifying problem within its own ranks. Right-thinking and tolerant Muslims who believe in true religious freedom are in the minority, and the vast majority (ISIS-minded people, all of them) are bent upon forcing others to the Law of Allah. No, they cannot force men to their religion, as the Koran forbids that. But then again, they are not forcing people to accept their religion. All they are doing is forcing people into accepting the Laws of Allah. (See the subtle difference, there?) This is not dissimilar to the situation facing Christianity during the Dark Ages, an era which gave rise to endless religious oppression, the Spanish Inquisition, and (thanks largely to religious condemnations against cats) the Bubonic Plague and the Black Death. But the Inquisition did one beneficial thing - it paved the way for an intellectual backlash, one which we still refer to as The Enlightenment. It gave rise to Secularism, and with it, freedom of religion and democracy.

So, am I arguing that ISIS is necessary for there to be a true Arab-world Renaissance? You bet your ass I am! For liberal Islam to emerge, it is absolutely necessary for fundamentalist Islam to burn itself out. Without a Torquemada to condemn, an Enlightenment movement does not take place. Without a Hitler, no memorials go up saying, "never again." Yes, the road is hard, but it is necessary. We need the Evil Empire to rise to prominence if the Just and Righteous are to defeat it. And furthermore, we need the Evil Empire to be fully and completely Islamic, just as we need the people who defeat it to be.

You see, the Inquisition was not a perversion of Christianity. It was the perfect expression of it! It is logically better for someone to be tortured a little bit in this life so that they may avoid eternal torture in the hereafter. Christians themselves tore this down. But ever since this notion was defeated, Christianity has struggled to regain both its lost status and its moral certainty. Democracy had its chance to flourish only because liberal Christians held the fundamentalists in check. Islam, too, must undergo this transformation from fervent belief to milquetoast moderation. But for that to take place, the Perfect Evil version of itself must be allowed to fester. The boils must come to the surface before they can be lanced.

I know full well what I am arguing. I am arguing for the deaths of mothers and their babes in arms, of fathers who are just trying desperately to protect them, of children who are too young to understand any of it. And I know that their deaths will come by the thousands. In the eyes of our president, this is too high a price to pay, and he feels compelled to do something about it. I don't blame him. But while he sees the thousands who will be massacred today, I see the tens of hundreds of thousands who will be massacred later on if we don't stay the hell out of it. The better (but harder!) course of action is to not get involved, and it is easiest to achieve with a lame-duck president sticking to his original principles. Too bad he isn't, noble though his motives might be.

Put simply, my argument is that evil must feed upon evil until it consumes itself, like a snake eating its own tail. But it will never have time to feast if we keep dropping bombs on it with airstrikes.

And wouldn't the terrorists just love it if we get goaded into spending ourselves to death militarily just like the Soviet Union once did?



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How Dems Can Win In 2014 (And Every Mid-Term Election Thereafter!)

When it comes to midterms, liberals just don't seem to give a damn.

No, really. The book on democrats is, they just don't get out and vote if there isn't a president to vote for on the ballot. It's easy for democrats to get out the vote when the White House is at stake. But congressmen? Senators? They don't care. Why?

Part of it is because democrats only vote when they're pissed, and they're seldom pissed when there's a democrat in the White House. They also seldom get pissed in general. Unless something affects them directly, such as a huge spike in oil prices or a sudden downturn in the economy (often the same thing), they're reasonably content. Republicans also tend to vote when they're pissed, but they happen to be pissed all the time. Being a conservative often entails being old and cranky. Part of the problem is also religion. The irreligious liberal base tends to not get prodded into voting by any sort of edict from certain pulpits in violation of church/state separation. But this isn't the whole story. The primary reason, it seems, is simple logistics.

The bulk of what comprises the base in the Democratic party is well known: Poor people, minorities, young adults, and women. For all except the last one, getting out and voting means going well out of one's way, as barriers exist in transportation and scheduling. If you're poor, you are likely working all the time just to make any sort of headway. Good luck voting during the lunch break you don't really have, right? If your're young, a similar situation exists, as barriers are present in the form of school and jobs. Poor people and minorities are often dependent upon public transportation, making the process of getting to the polls that much more difficult. Groups exist to help provide transportation to and from the balloting areas, but during midterms, these resources just aren't there in the numbers they need to be.

Well, there's now a way around all that, and it just might save the Democratic party's ass this November (and the rest of us, by extension). It's such a new phenomenon that it slipped under the radar two years ago, and it may well do so again. For example, statistician Nate Silver is predicting a Republican Party victory in both the House and the Senate, and he's seldom wrong  in his predictions. Yet one X-factor might have been overlooked, even by him. One thing might tip the scales to favor the Democrats - for good.

What is this wonderful thing, you ask?

I already revealed it back in 2012! It's called early voting! Instead of waiting until the first Tuesday of November, you show up in advance at your local City Hall, fill out your ballot ahead of time, and you're done! It's fast, it's easy, and it's convenient!

Best of all, you have two whole weeks to get it done before election day. Problems getting a bus there and back? Not as much of a problem. Are you dirt poor and only get off Thursdays? You get two Thursdays to vote before everybody else! Get it done! Get it done! Vote early!

Yes, there are still some issues involved with this. Especially in Milwaukee, City Hall can be a little difficult to get to. Voter ID laws have been upheld in Wisconsin, adding yet another barrier (although I've already speculated that this tactic might backfire). But hey! You can get your ID right near City Hall! There's a Milwaukee DMV on 819 N. 6th St., only two blocks away! Go get your ID, then go vote! It's easy! And you have two whole weeks to do it! Vote early! Vote early! VOTE EARLY!

Yes, liberals are often famous at procrastinating. But the usual services in place to get voters to the polls on election day can be in place for two whole weeks prior to election day as well. How about a car-pooling network for inner city voters without their own transportation to help out? How about getting black community and church leaders to organize their buses and vans for two whole weeks instead of one Tuesday? How about well-off liberal college academics and professors getting off their lazy asses and putting their vehicles to good use for once?

Remember, the best way to steal a vote is to convince someone in the opposition not to bother.

Will it work? I believe it can! It can drive up votes for Democrats by double-digit percentage points! Even if Republicans tried to mirror the tactic, they would not gain nearly as much, since they've maximized their voter turn-out already. And it's so new that it might have flown underneath even Nate Silver's radar. Imagine the shock on conservatives' faces when all the voters they were counting on to not show up suddenly have their voices roaringly heard when the absentee ballots get counted, and the victory needle suddenly swings from the Republican side to the Democratic side! What a lovely sight that would be!

So vote early! Vote early! VOTE EARLY!

And, did I mention, vote early?



Thursday, June 19, 2014

Time For Iraq To Stand!

In an earlier blog post, I asked the question of whether Egypt is ready for democracy. I concluded that it was, and that democracy had a better chance of standing when its citizens had to fight for it themselves. I was right. Egypt won its elections, and then won them again when a technicality handed power over to a minority-interest religious thug. They won - twice.

Well, now it's Iraq's turn.

I combed through all my past posts, knowing that in the past I predicted that this day would come.  I predicted that terrorist cells would attack Iraq, and that the young nation would have to learn how to stand on its own. Alas, that blog post was likely during a time in which I was blogging to Facebook directly rather than using this outlet. So the post has been lost. But I did predict this. Iraq must now stand on its own two feet. We can help with relief, or possibly even with drone strikes, but we can't do much otherwise.

You see, people simply tend not to appreciate what they have unless they've paid for it themselves. This is why low-rent housing slums are dumps - the people living there don't care about them after paying sub-market prices. They bought it dirt cheap, so they treat it like dirt. A child who is given a toy as a gift tends to neglect that toy much more than a child who bought the same toy after earning the money doing chores or mowing people's lawns.  It's just human nature - you appreciate something according to the amount of effort you put in to acquire it. The same holds true of a nation. If its freedom was paid with someone else's blood, it tends not to be appreciated either.

Not that I'm suggesting that Iraqis didn't pay a blood price. On the contrary! They suffered collateral damage for years as fighting took place in their own streets. But their own sons and daughters didn't fight for freedom. Ours did. And that means that they might not fully appreciate what they have.

Until it's threatened, that is. Until such time as they must pay the price with the blood of their own sons.

Now that day has come. Iraq will stand, or it will fall. But if it falls, its people will remember what it was like to be free, and will fight for it back. Either way, Iraq's freedom is not in question. It will be free! But which path will it take? The easy path, or the hard one?

I'm not certain. If Iraq falls, what rises again may be a Shi'ite East Iraq, a Sunni West Iraq, and an independent Kurdistan. Or perhaps the current Iraqi government may beat the odds and survive. Either way, Iraqis will decide their own fate.

And that's the way it should be.

Enough with calling this a failure of Obama's administration. This was Bush's failure. You can't stem the tide of the inevitable forever. Sooner or later, this had to happen.

To be frank, I'm surprised it took this long for the Islamists to attack.



Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bowe Bergdahl and... Slender Man?

In the strange thought-association orchestra which constantly plays inside my brain, a pair of chords often gets struck which seems, at first, to be rather dissonant, but upon further hearing, resolves itself into the onset of what becomes a lovely symphony of juxtaposition.

Translation: I've once again tied together two unrelated news items brilliantly.

True, the primary reason I do this is because I'm limited in my blogging time, and so wish to discuss more than one news event simultaneously. That doesn't mean what you're about to read isn't both true and fun.  I promise you, it's both.

Here at the Sacred Cow Wursthaus, the drum is often beat again and again that belief continually leads to bad events.  This itself is not a belief, it's a proven fact, and it has recently been proven so yet again in the sad city of Waukesha, Wisconsin, where traditional faith in Jesus Christ is lionized, and politicians repeatedly win on platforms of promoting old world superstitions. Well, my friends, faith kills, and it has struck once again. This time with two little girls who believed that the "Slender Man" would come and take them away to another world if they offered up the life of another little girl. Well, the Slender Man did not come. But these two are headed for another world - one of steel and concrete, where other female inmates await during mealtimes with sharpened spoons. At least the girl didn't die.

It's not enough to emphasize how belief nearly killed an innocent girl. It's not even enough to emphasize that this poor girl did not, herself, necessarily believe this crap - one doesn't have to be a participant within a particular faith to be a victim of it. No, it's necessary to also point out the urgency needed in the promotion of skepticism in this day and age.

My own generation, raised in the poor special effects of the 1970's and transported to musical Eden with MTV in the 1980's (oh where, oh where has the music gone?), struggled mightily with coming to grips with reality against such a fantastical riptide.  Every minute of every day, we were blasted with man-made magical realism, and not just on television and the commercials which made our favorite shows financially solvent. No, we were immersed every day with lies that encouraged us toward credulity, from zodiacal horoscopes to the Sunday School sessions which told us so many ghastly lies. This was the era which saw the rise to prominence of phony spoon-bender Uri Geller, of fake psychic Sylvia Browne, and the National Enquirer at the grocery store checkout aisle. None other than Leonard Nimoy led us In Search Of... well, bullshit, to be perfectly honest. I remember my own mother epitomized this trend by getting me a pet rock for Christmas in 1976. I really didn't know what to make of it. My dad, I seem to now recall, looked decidedly smug at my skeptical reaction. In retrospect, it was quite a father-son moment.

But today's children have so much more to overcome than we did. We believed in UFO's when all the evidence ever consisted of was a few grainy photographs of what looked to be hubcaps or aluminum-foil-covered frisbees thrown into the air.  Imagine what kids must feel when they see the amazing videos showing aliens flying over Haiti, put together by a special effects artist for free? (And that having been done seven years ago!) We believed in dragons and dinosaurs when all we had for special effects was Sid and Marty Krofft's production of The Land of The Lost.  But what must today's children think when they see something as amazing as the dragons on the HBO series Game of Thrones? Hell, I remember being scared shitless by the witch on The Wizard of Oz at age six, and not fully realizing that the movie, Jesus of Nazareth, was not filmed on location by time-traveling cameramen. Can today's kids truly cope with a world where any sort of magic can be made real by any nerd on a computer?

I'm not sure. But I know this: This is not the age where skepticism can afford to slack off. People need real resources to find the truth.  Tendency towards believing the irrational runs deep in our species. We need to root it out before it does even greater damage.

Which oddly enough leads me to Bowe Bergdahl. The U.S. Government has secured his release in exchange for five P.O.W.'s held at Guantanomo Bay, Cuba. Republicans are up in arms that we traded away five for one, and are even more outraged that we let terrorists go free. Yes, these people we released from Gitmo could become active in terrorism again, and probably will. But why did we do it? And what does it have to do with belief and two girls turning murderous in Waukesha?

The answer has to do with belief systems again, this time in politics - where such systems are much more pernicious than the ones found in religion. You may recall that, shortly after Obama's first election, the first thing he tried to do was close Guantanomo Bay as a prison for suspected terrorists. But it didn't quite work. Howls of outrage were heard all over the nation at the thought of housing terrorists in prisons which were inside the borders of the United States. Never mind that this is exactly the same thing we did with other terrorists who were even worse, such as Charles Manson, Timothy McVeigh, and the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Never mind that due process of law, even for suspected terrorists, is one of the fundamental traits which makes America the Land of the Free (as opposed to the Land of the Enslaved). And never mind that any terrorist would find the prospect of being in a prison filled with Christian inmates, surrounded on all sides by the Bible-thumping Midwest heartland and subject to all the prejudices such a region has to offer, much more terrifying that Gitmo ever was. No, apparently it was determined that we mustn't soil our, well, soil with such people. It was imperative to the Republican Party that the terrorists not be brought into America.

This was a belief, pure and simple, without logical basis or merit. It had no evidence or empiricism to support its claims, nor did it even bother with such trivialities.  This belief won. The detainees at Guantanomo were left there to rot.

And now the result of that belief has come back to haunt us.

You see, because this belief prevented Gitmo from being emptied, it created a problem. To close the base, everyone had to be transported out of it. But where? America was the only option, and it got ruled out by petty politics! No other nation has stepped forward as willing to house these people, guilty until proven innocent. And they have to go somewhere, don't they?

The unfortunate solution is, if we can't house them in American jails, we simply have no other choice but to get rid of them some other way. Perhaps a bullet to the head, except that would violate international law. We could let them die naturally, which would be even worse. Or, we could simply release them, which would be anathema.

This time, Our Trophy President has opted for the latter.  He has let five detainees go.

An outrage? Very likely. Soft on terrorism? Certainly. But if we have to let them go, and thanks to Republican shenanagins, we do, then we could at least get something back for them. Which we did. We got a shell-shocked and badly abused P.O.W. out of the clutches of the Taliban.

It looks like a bad trade, and it is. But better to get something rather than nothing, and Republicans left us with no option but to get nothing. We could have housed the terrorists here, making legally almost impossible to trade them away for one P.O.W.  But once again, belief was the problem, not the solution.

So what now? Can we prevent these released terrorists from acting out again? Probably not. It's silly to hope that they've grown too old in our unconstitutional prison to go back to their old tricks. But then again, perhaps we broke them. Maybe twelve years of waterboarding has convinced them that they're better off spending the rest of their lives smoking cigarettes and watching television. We can hope so.

And if not, maybe we can convince two little girls that they'll get to meet the Slender Man if they go find them and stab them to death.



Thursday, April 17, 2014

Vandalized FFRF Sign @ WI Capital

Finally, the rare concurrence of free time with an interesting current event has led to another blog post from yours truly.

Recently an "Easter" sign inside the Wisconsin state capital building was vandalized. The sign was put there by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The reason it was vandalized is rather obvious, as the message is quite deliberately offensive.  It reads: "Nobody died for our 'sins,' Jesus Christ is a myth." Here's a photo of the mutilated sign.

Now, there are a few interesting points I need to make regarding this interesting news tidbit. Yes, the sign is deliberately offensive, but then again, that's precisely the point. If Christians don't want signs in the state capital that attack their views in this way, then they shouldn't put up signs which attack others' creeds there, either. It's the Golden Rule writ large. Do unto other religions as you would have those religions (or, in this case, lack of religion) do unto you. Or, conversely, if Christians insist on using state property for evangelism (and they stubbornly do), then signs as offensive as this one ought to be allowed. Fair's fair. Don't like it? Then reconsider your position.

Okay, I get the point. But I simply don't like the idea of any state capital building, much less my own, being peppered with signs proclaiming various dogmas at various times of the year. There's freedom of speech, yes, but there's also pragmatism. The bottom line of religious freedom is that government plays no favorites. If everyone's viewpoint gets to be heard in the form of a sign inside a government institution, that sounds fair on paper, but in practice it means that the capital building gets cluttered with signs from every major denomination as well as every dog-and-pony creed out there, which is pretty much what the Wisconsin state capital building currently looks like. Lawmakers and concerned citizens alike should be able to roam the halls of legislation without having to hurdle and endless array of religious signs like some Olympic athlete. So, instead of everyone's religion getting to put up their sign. it makes more sense for no one to put up their sign. This is not favoritism of the lack of religion, as the Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists and other similar institutions don't get to put up their signs either.  It's high time Wisconsin adopted that policy.

That said, I don't like this sign.  I'm an atheist myself, and I find it embarrassing.  Seriously, I'm not sure what Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor are thinking these days, but I wouldn't have approved of a sign like this on the bumper sticker of a volunteer's automobile, much less in the middle of the Wisconsin state capital building. Seriously, saying that Jesus Christ is a myth is just a little bit overboard. Yes, I happen to think that nobody died for my sins, but I do think there's barely enough anecdotal evidence to think that there was a historical man named Jesus living in first century Judea.  No, I don't think he fed five thousand with a few loaves and fish, turned water into wine or walked on water, but Jesus is a transliterated version of the name Joshua - which was a very popular name. Many people in that time and place must have had that name.  It's reasonable to assume that one of those people was famous.

So why the fuck is FFRF putting up a sign that's offensive to me as an atheist?

I know from experience that the path to atheism can only be taken with slow steps. It never, NEVER happens that someone leaves a religion right away after a sudden realization of truth. It took me a long time to come to grips with the reality that Jehovah/Allah/Yahweh was in the same category as Zeus/Odin. So had I come upon a sign such as the one in the above photograph when I was, say, 25, I myself would have considered vandalizing it! At the time, I had left fundamentalism and the ministry for good, but was still hopeful that I could find a more rational path for Christianity, one more friendly to science and evolution. But finding this sign would probably have militarized me, and I would have re-entrenched myself in the Christian camp, finding new bogus rationalizations for me to believe the traditional dogma. So you see, the FFRF sign accomplishes the exact opposite of what it's trying to achieve!  Nothing makes people dig in quite like a direct attack.

In other words, if you want people to come out of their foxholes, stop bombing! You'll find that the same people who stuff fingers in their ears at a shout will strain to hear a whisper. You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.  You'll... oh, pick your own metaphor.

Dan & Laurie, I love you both, but get a clue.

Finally, I must address the idiot who actually did vandalize the sign. Yes, I fully understand your viewpoint. I was there myself, once. I was a Christian, and I would have wanted to react much the same way. But how is the willingness to commit vandalism supposed to convince others to take your opinion seriously? Because from my perspective, destroying other people's property makes your opinion look pretty fucked up! It's people like you who have been peeling off my Obama bumper stickers and ripping off my Darwin fish from off the back of my car. And it's people like you who throw acid in the faces of women who don't wear their burqas in Saudi Arabia. Oh, yes indeed, sir! You are no different from a mullah with a sword who cuts off the head of a man who leaves Islam for Christianity! It's exactly the same intolerance, and I damn you for it in this life, even as you pretend to damn me in my eventual death.

So let's everybody just silence the cannons and take a deep breath, shall we? Bible burning is as wrong as Bible thumping.

Thank you.



Monday, January 13, 2014

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman? WTF?!

Well, hello, 2014.  You're here, I'm about to start school again, and the movie rumors are confirmed for the Batman vs. Superman movie.  The actress portraying Wonder Woman will be... Gal Gadot?

Okay, she was cute in the Fast & Furious movies (they tell me, I don't know, I've never seen them), but she's a twig with toothpicks for thighs.  Not Wonder-Woman material at all.

You screwed over Joss Whedon's script for this?

Okay, I know that any movie titled, 'X vs. Y' is guaranteed to be crap, but still...

So I open up my 2014 set of rants with unabashed fury against the Hollywood standard of "beauty," one which apparently doesn't include women being shaped like real women - least of all female super-heroes. Scarlet Johansson had (and still has) an ass truly worthy of Marvel Comics, and was well cast for Iron Man 2 and 3.  But do we get any meat on Wonder Woman's bones?  Apparently not.  Once again, it's nothing but scraps for us guys. Maybe it's because so many people in Hollywood are gay, but the standard seems to be that the ideal woman needs a butt shaped like that of an adolescent boy and not like a grown woman.

Fuck that. No, wait, I mean, who the hell would want to fuck that?

Redaction, added 1/14/14:
[Okay, the above is a little bit harsh. It makes it sound as though I think no skinny woman could be attractive, or that twiggy means unfuckable. No, that's not my point. Gal Gadot is clearly a hottie, and most guys would rate her a 9 or a 10. Besides, beauty comes in all shapes, all sizes, as a friend of mine pointed out.  No, all I'm trying to say is that picking a skinny actress to portray Wonder Woman is a silly as picking a skinny actor to portray Superman. Why not pick Pee Wee Herman to play Conan, while you're at it?]

TANJITW; there ain't no justice in the world. We know who Wonder Woman is! Jennifer Lawrence! She's not just Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games - she's got Wonder Woman written all over her!

Have we forgotten Marilyn?  Have we forgotten Jane Mansfield?

Why, Hollywood?  Why, oh why?

Just as a finishing thought: Are you one of those who hate the Kardashians? Or J. Lo?  The reason they're as popular as they are has to do with the fact that a generous ass with a small waist is not just a black man thing - it's an every man thing. It's what we want, and if we can't get it from Hollywood, we have no choice but to seek it in alternative sources, such as reality TV or other ghetto-shit crap, where we love the women from the waist down but can't stand them from the neck up. Give us some real women with both a real ass and a real brain, and we'll be all over it, leaving the Kardashians as nothing but a discarded footnote in entertainment history.

I vote for brains and booty both!