The War on Planet Earth

If, like me, you’re wondering what’s up with Republicans these days. We’re used to them being sour, belligerent, classist and even a wee bit racist. It’s well documented that the GOP just doesn’t care much for people of color, women, gays, or the poor or people with different or even no religious affiliation. In the past they’ve at least pretended that this was not the case. They gave lip service to American standards of morality and the social contract. But we hedonistic socialists have just kept pushing them, taking more freedoms and liberties that just aren’t ours. Now, the Republicans are fighting back. And they’ve taken off the kid gloves, people!

They’ve started by attempting to demonize Muslims, homosexuals and women and have moved on to actively trying to starve the poor and deny medical care to children and the elderly. In Texas, always a laboratory for Republican ideas, state Republicans are trying to rewrite history books, excising anything that smells like liberal progress, up to and including mentions of the labor movement, the fact that Texas once belonged to Mexico (because brown people live there) and downplaying the role of Thomas Jefferson in creating the nation, because you know, fuck that guy, right? What did he ever do for this country? damn pinko didn’t really even believe in God! But that’s just stage one in the fight for the future of this country and this world.

No longer content with fighting those pernicious “scientific” theories of evolution, gravity and electromagnetism, the GOP has declared all out war on the Earth itself. Not just the people of the Earth (they’ve hated us for freakin’ ever) but the biosphere. It’s gotten so bad that most people don’t even realize how far down the road to totalitarian socialism the planet has led us. Mammals and reptiles are allowed to just walk around with no clothes on like some Hippie love in, without a concern for common Christian decency or good manners. I mean, you’re sitting there right now, breathing air — for free — and no one is saying a thing. Hell, on some parts of the planet, food literally grows on trees!

Well at least we have the Republican party to try and stem this horrible tide of free air and sunshine and dangerously unclothed animals. Rest assured, the GOP will not stop until they have rid the planet of breathable air, visible light, socialist vegetation and if at all possible, life as we know it. And it’s about time, because I don’t know if our precious free market economy can take much more of this unfettered access to the things that make life possible.

What’s Wrong With the World Today, Part Eleventy Billion

People keep asking how we got here. How we, the noble citizens of a once proud nation, came to find ourselves in a situation where demonstrators in Wisconson have to protest in order to keep collective bargaining for unions. How we can find billions of dollars for two land wars in Asia, but can’t find a few million to provide universal healthcare.

I’ll tell you how: because we’d rather build a statue of Robocop.

What started out as a joke on Twitter, turned into a Kickstarter campaign that, in less than a week, has raised over $60,000 to build a statue of a fictional character in one of the country’s most beleaguered cities. I could think of a few dozen things to spend 60K on in Detroit and statues aren’t on that list. But getting web-enabled irony overdosing hipsters to shell out $5 a piece for a statue of a gun toting robot is cool. We can do that. Feeding people is hard work. Employing them in jobs that are meaningful and allow them to live with dignity, even harder.

That’s 21st Century America for you. We’ll blow thousands on a statue, billions on a war but nothing to actually help people in need. We’ll redefine rape, try and and provide fetuses with human rights while stripping them from their mothers, but donate to your local library? Fuck that. Some kid might read Huck Finn and see the N word. A young woman might read something other than the Bible and get ideas in her head that she is more than just a walking womb to be fought over by men. Jesus may have liked the poor but extending unemployment benefits? That’s taking things a little too far don’t you think? I mean, symbolic gestures are alright, since they take almost no time or thought to complete and make you feel righteous. But helping someone in need? That’s communism, buddy. We don’t do that sort of thing in the US.

Not anymore.

They Don’t Hate Us For Our Freedoms after All

Over at the Awl, we find this enlightening piece on Egypt and Egyptians attitudes towards the US. Far from being the fever dream of our own would-be theocrats on the right, the situation is a lot more complicated and positive. Turns out the majority of the Muslim world doesn’t actually hate us for our freedoms, they’re just suspicious of the bullshit we peddle:

The other argument for popular sovereignty in the Muslim world is far more straightforward: It’s what the vast majority of Muslims actually want. The 2005-2007 Gallup World Survey of more than 30 Muslim majority countries found that, far from hating Western freedoms, most respondents coveted them—especially the freedom of speech and worship. It’s true that they also overwhelmingly endorsed the idea of Sharia law—but that is not a prescription for jihadist theocracy, as witless American commentators and state legislatures are prone to conclude. Sharia, rather, is a cultural tradition seeking to imbue broad ideals of personal conduct under the rule of law—and far from a monolithic regime of hand-amputating, honor-killing and adulterer-stoning one encounters in dispatches from the American right. Here, yet again, the Iranian theocracy has been made the poster regime for a wide panoply of Muslim believers it does not, in fact, actually represent. You’d think a conservative movement so besotted with lip service to the idea of democracy in the Islamic world would pay closer attention to such pesky details.

That’s because the Egyptians and most everyone else, rightly suspects that our leaders are feeding them a line when we start nattering on about democracy and liberty and all that happy Tom Paine bullshit. The US sells 1.2 Billion dollars worth of military hardware to Egypt. They’re our biggest client in the Middle East, (after Israel, naturally) and those Abrams tanks and RPGs aren’t exactly in the hands of the nicest guys in the government. So when our leaders stand up and say, “Fuck yeah, Egyptian democracy! We’re with you!” and then hand Mubarak another boatload of anti-demonstration hardware, people tend to notice. Especially the people who are getting the boot to head. They can look up and see “Made in America” stamped on the heal on their throat. You may be able to sell that as promoting Liberty to the FoxNews mouth breathers but the rest of the world knows a turd sandwhich when they see one. And they ain’t buying what we’re selling.

I am far from an expert on Egypt and have no idea how this whole thing will play out. But if there’s a chance that the Egyptian People can take their country back form a dictator, I’m all for it. Even if it means a strongly Islamic-identified government that isn’t necessarily pro-US rises to take it’s place. Sometimes the price of freedom means loosing a client for our big shiny weapons.But I think the Military Industrial complex will get over it, somehow.

The Millennial Myth

You may have heard of the Millennials (and count yourself lucky if you haven’t). They’re the tech savvy kids born since the late 1980s, who grew up with the Internet and mobile phones and are plugged in, turned on and engaged in the use of web-based technology in ways that are both dazzling and frightening. Or so we’re told. Because the Millennials, like Gen X and the baby Boomers before them, are a demographic construct, a social fiction made up to sell a narrative and more importantly, to sell product.

These kids aren’t engaging in a digital environment that speaks to a spectacular, intuitive grasp of technology. They’re thumbing cell phone keyboards because it’s easier than actually using a phone. And that’s the problem with ubiquitous technology: it becomes easy to use on the surface for the most shallow of purposes. We can bounce packets of data off satellites in geosynchronous orbit but mostly, that data we’re sending is teenage gossip and cute cat pictures. The kids these days, they aren’t engaged in the savvy use of technology. They’re banging digital rocks together because they don’t know how to do anything else. Jaded grownups just assume they already know everything and so don’t bother to teach them anything.

Other than a very small minority of plugged in super nerds, none of the kids in the Millennial generation knows anything about computers. I’ve been around them now, in an academic environment, for 8 years. I’ve met 20 year-olds who’ve never opened a word document. Every Fall semester, I encounter a new crop of recent high school grads whose only experience with the Internet is posting updates on their friends MySpace pages. If you’re lucky, they have a Yahoo account and may have sent an e-mail or two, but usually just to their parents.

But the Millennial Myth is a popular delusion that persists and for the longest time I couldn’t figure out why. Until today. While listening to a candidate for a new Instructional technologist position at the University, I heard yet another Boomer tell a room full of Gen Xers and other Boomers that these Millennials needed to be handled differently because the were savvy customers. In what other area do we assume teenagers know more than parents and teachers? And who benefits from this assumption? Cut out the bullshit lingo and what you have left is the truth: they’re customers.

The Millennial Myth is a consumer model. “We don’t need to teach kids how to properly use technology,” the Micky Marketeers tell us, “Because that way, we can sell them products they don’t know they don’t need.” The handful of young (and old) savvy tech users will search out their own technology needs and find their way to the Open Source fringe sector or other specialty areas. They’re not the Millennial demographic. They’re the 1 in a million inoculated against these slogans. Marketeers don’t give a shit about them and so neither do educators who have adopted the MBA approach to education, where students are just a special class of customers. What the Marketeers and Business Model Academics are after are the non-savvy tech users. Because they’ll buy whatever shiny thing the Marketeers and BMAs want to sell them this fiscal semester. Maybe it’s a new style of mobile phone, or maybe it’s a useless degree in business management, physical therapy or library science. Whatever keeps the profit margins in the black.

The Word That Shall Not Be Named

when it comes to the matter of censoring the word “nigger” form Huck Finn, I’m with the Rude Pundit:

You can’t take the word “nigger”? Then, sorry, you don’t get to enjoy the rest of Twain’s satire of human degradation and idiocy (and you should probably avoid Pudd’nhead Wilson, too). You don’t get to watch Pulp Fiction. You don’t get to watch unedited episodes of The Jeffersons and Sanford and Son. You don’t get to hear Archie Bunker explain about how he got his ass kicked when he was a kid by a black boy because he used the word: “That’s what all them people was called in them days. I mean everybody we knew called them people ‘niggers.’ That’s all my old man ever called them, there.” No, we’re just not that mature anymore. (Yeah, yeah, you can say we’ve gotten more “sensitive” or some such shit. All that’s happened is that we’ve made the word more powerful by its false invisibility.)

You’re not protecting your children from bad ideas by refusing to say the word. Your kids know this, because they learned it form Harry Potter. In the HP books, the wizards all refused to say Voldemort’s name, because names have power. But by treating the name like it didn’t exist, they created negative space in which it’s power to corrupt grew. Being sensative to racial matters by refusing to talk about racism doesn’t make it go away. That is the genius of Mark Twain’s fiction. He forces the reader to confront the prejudices of themselves and their families and friends. Huck Finn makes us confront the fact that our grandfathers and great grandfathers were nice people and racist as hell. Because they were people, flawed and blinded by the circumstances of the society they grew up in, and they had to learn the hard way how to change. Censoring all the “niggers” in Huck Finn robs young readers of the power iof that story. It becomes another exercise in rote memorization and avoidance rather than confronting the themes that are right there below the surface.

Just a Theory

I woke up this morning thinking about the Bible. People ask why I don’t sleep well. The bags under my eyes? it’s because my brain is trying to kill me so it can slip off and find a new host, one that will feed it beer more often, expanding waistline be damned.

Anyway. The Bible. More specifically, it’s publishing/marketing department, i.e. organized religion, hereafter referred to simply as The Church, because I like to pretend it’s the 15th century sometimes and there aren’t 8000 churches, most of them occupying dilapidated storefronts, as if spiritual enlightenment were something you could find as easily as orange juice.

Every other year or so, the media retreads a story about some godly scientist who has just discovered the Religion Gene or the God Chromosome for the umpteenth time, and so now we have proof that humans have an innate need for religion and therefore, God exists, so take that, all you smug atheist bastards. My thought, as I staggered out of bed and wandered naked towards the toilet was that, as per anything having to do with religion or the numinous, unquantifiable experiences we humans have as a byproduct of our giant buzzing brains, is that this argument has it backwards.

It’s not religion that people like, it’s the Bible, specifically the emotionally gratifying (if completely effed-up) story it tells. The Bible tells the so-called greatest story EVAR!!1!1!eleven!111! A debatable point we can arguer at length later. Of course, the only reason the Bible is considered the Greatest Story EVAR told is because for about 1000 years, the Church, that publishing house in charge of marketing this First Among Bestsellers, went to great lengths to ensure it had no competition. Imagine Stephen King’s publisher setting fire to Dan Brown using copies of The Davinci Code as fire starters. The warm flames, the screams of panic and desperation as that fat-headed cretin is eaten alive by a ravenous flame beast fed on his own drivel…

The Church cornered the market on storytelling for  a large chunk of written history, and quite a bit before that, since most stories that survived antiquity were framed up with the same basic structure of fall and redemption. because hay, it’s a tidy little arc and makes sense, right? At least, emotional sense.

Humans don’t have a religion gene, we have a narrative gene. It evolved a million years ago, when we were still living in the savanna, and needed to make sense of the world around us. Back then, the world could kill you. You needed to stay one step ahead of the other animals and over time, we started to notice patterns, the shape of shadows in the tall grass, the faces of predators, the way they hunted and moved and left for seasons but always came back. That flocks of birds could swerve on a turn, like one mind guided them. Today we are still hunters and gathers, trying to find meaning and arrange it into a story, because a story is easy way to remember the important stuff, arrange facts and dreams and wishes. Story creates a structure so that we can make a laughable attempt at understanding the vast and complex world around us. Stories allow us to imagine the happy endings that reality always, always withholds.

That’s a pretty solid thesis, right? Too bad it’s bollocks. I made it up, as a way to try and understand why the gibbering half-apes I share the planet with think that a three thousand year old book of shepherd poetry is all the excuse they need to hate gay people and treat women like shit. That an anthology of fairy tales whitewashed by editors with an agenda can be used as the first last and only reason why a gang of perverts can rain fire down on foreigners and rape children to satisfy their darkest desires.

Because the alternative is that there is no reason. That the world is vast, unsympathetic and full of animals who will kill you soon as look at you, and some of them wear neckties and comb their hair. I need some way to understand this tragic sitcom we call life and since there’s no other option, I have to come up with my own explanation. That’s my story anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

Number 1: Stop Eating Patato Chips

Over at io9, Annalee Newitz has a grand little editorial taking the piss out of the Singularity:

It’s not that we couldn’t anticipate these problems, and even generate some Plan B ideas for dealing with them. But it’s hard to plan for problems when our eyes are on Heaven – that place where finally, all our problems are solved and we live happily ever after. It’s a fantasy as old as recorded history, and unlike history, it never changes. Yet we still keep mistaking it for a perfect vision of the future. Each time a Singularity-level technology comes along, we pack our bags for paradise instead of thinking sensibly about how we can prevent the worst side-effects of this new technology from biting us in our angelic asses.

The really insidious problem with belief in the Singularity/heaven is that it makes you complacent. You stop worrying about the problems of today, because they’ll all just magically disappear any minute… now! …Now! …Now?

Instead of using your brain and trying to think up ways to solve the problems we face as a society and a species, thousands, if not millions of people sit on their asses waiting for Jesus or his AI equivalent to show up and fix things the easy way.

Well it ain’t gonna happen. Now, how do we fix global warming? get off oil? cure AIDS? We can do these things, so long as we accept that they’re going to involve a lot of hard work and innovative thinking.

Only 6 Years to Go

Matt Taibbi chews up the Tea Party and spits it out:

Beneath the surface, the Tea Party is little more than a weird and disorderly mob, a federation of distinct and often competing strains of conservatism that have been unable to coalesce around a leader of their own choosing. Its rallies include not only hardcore libertarians left over from the original Ron Paul “Tea Parties,” but gun-rights advocates, fundamentalist Christians, pseudomilitia types like the Oath Keepers (a group of law- enforcement and military professionals who have vowed to disobey “unconstitutional” orders) and mainstream Republicans who have simply lost faith in their party. It’s a mistake to cast the Tea Party as anything like a unified, cohesive movement — which makes them easy prey for the very people they should be aiming their pitchforks at. A loose definition of the Tea Party might be millions of pissed-off white people sent chasing after Mexicans on Medicaid by the handful of banks and investment firms who advertise on Fox and CNBC.

The individuals in the Tea Party may come from very different walks of life, but most of them have a few things in common. After nearly a year of talking with Tea Party members from Nevada to New Jersey, I can count on one hand the key elements I expect to hear in nearly every interview. One: Every single one of them was that exceptional Republican who did protest the spending in the Bush years, and not one of them is the hypocrite who only took to the streets when a black Democratic president launched an emergency stimulus program. (“Not me — I was protesting!” is a common exclamation.) Two: Each and every one of them is the only person in America who has ever read the Constitution or watched Schoolhouse Rock. (Here they have guidance from Armey, who explains that the problem with “people who do not cherish America the way we do” is that “they did not read the Federalist Papers.”) Three: They are all furious at the implication that race is a factor in their political views — despite the fact that they blame the financial crisis on poor black homeowners, spend months on end engrossed by reports about how the New Black Panthers want to kill “cracker babies,” support politicians who think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an overreach of government power, tried to enact South African-style immigration laws in Arizona and obsess over Charlie Rangel, ACORN and Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Four: In fact, some of their best friends are black! (Reporters in Kentucky invented a game called “White Male Liberty Patriot Bingo,” checking off a box every time a Tea Partier mentions a black friend.) And five: Everyone who disagrees with them is a radical leftist who hates America.

The Tea Partiers are unique in that they’re the first protesters in history who want the government to do less for them. Taibbi’s article is great reading, not just for the well-earned invective but to really get a crystalline view of what the Tea Partiers stand for: absolutely nothing. It’s not just narcissism and bigotry that fuels them, but nihilism. If they got what they wanted, millions of people would starve or worse, including themselves, but they just don’t care. They’re willing to suffer on behalf of the rich elite of the GOP, who are more than happy to use their impotent rage at having to look at a black man in the White House, to further the same old oligarchical agenda of corporate welfare and unregulated greed.

Like the color-coded Alert messages after the 2004 election, I fully expect the Tea Partiers to evaporate like dew once they’re no longer useful. I just hope we don’t have to wait until January 2017 for that happen.

Either Or

Fred over at Slacktivist plays a round of everyone’s favorite game, Evil or Stupid? with the latest hollering out of the GOP noise machine:

Today’s contestants are the 52 percent of Republicans who claim to believe that President Obama secretly wants to impose Sharia law.

I find it hard to believe that anyone is stupid enough to really believe such a thing. The Newsweek poll was conducted via telephone, so respondents would have had to recognize the sound of a ringing phone, be able to locate it, pick it up and converse with the pollster on the other end of the line. All of that would be beyond the capability of someone stupid enough to really believe that Obama is secretly trying to impose Sharia law. If you’re smart enough to be able to work a telephone, you’re too smart to believe that nonsense.

The stupidity required here is just too vast, too disabling, for it to be a plausible or a possible explanation.

And that only leaves one choice: More than half of Republicans are evil. They’re lying. And lying out of malice.

His reasoning is sound but there’s always a third way. In this case, Grey’s Law: “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.” I’m not saying all of the GOPers who claim to think Obama is a stealth sharia-law enforcing socialist. But there’s a thin wedge in that pie chart where malice and incompetence mix into a tart little slice of incompetence/malice that is indistinguishable from genuine stupidity. I think that’s what we’re dealing with here.

This position seems to be the exclusive domain of a certain slice of 1st world demographics. The sort of people who can afford to be disconnected from reality because they have enough money to insulate themselves from the consequences of their mendacity. That they mange to infect a certain percentage of the low information, high anxiety population who are not so well insulated financially with this meme is a testament to just how insidious some ideas can be. Or Just how stupid many of my fellow Americans can be. Your pick.

California May Not Sink Into the Sea After All!

As Rogers put it, if you want to live in the 21 C, stand over here:

A federal judge in San Francisco decided today that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry, striking down Proposition 8, the voter approved ballot measure that banned same-sex unions.

U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker said Proposition 8, passed by voters in November 2008, violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians to marry the partners of their choice. His ruling is expected to be appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and then up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This is going to be a popcorn muncher, to be sure. If SCOTUS punt and let the circuit court ruling stand, they get called activist judges by their right wing handlers from now until doomsday. Same if they hear the case and let the ruling stand. If they overturn it, they’ll have a hell of a time writing that decision in English that hasn’t been sent through the GTMO ringer.

Good on ya, California! Now: get rid of Schwarzenegger and start paying your librarians again. Chop chop!