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.

Stopped Clocks and All That

When you’ve lost Ron Paul, you know you’re on the wrong side of history:

Is the controversy over building a mosque near ground zero a grand distraction or a grand opportunity? Or is it, once again, grandiose demagoguery?

It has been said, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned.” Are we not overly preoccupied with this controversy, now being used in various ways by grandstanding politicians? It looks to me like the politicians are “fiddling while the economy burns.”

The debate should have provided the conservative defenders of property rights with a perfect example of how the right to own property also protects the 1st Amendment rights of assembly and religion by supporting the building of the mosque.

Instead, we hear lip service given to the property rights position while demanding that the need to be “sensitive” requires an all-out assault on the building of a mosque, several blocks from “ground zero.”

The property rights angle is standard Libertarian “property is more important than people” nonsense but it at least points him in the general direction of freedom, iberty and all that stuff. So, Progress! Sort of.

Anything that helps end this long slog through the racist hate mongering underbelly of America is a good thing, so credit where credit is due. Still, two points of quibble:

The Cordoba House is a Mosque in the same way that your local YMCA is a Cathedral. As in, not at all. Unless you think every Mosque comes with a pool and a squash court. In which case, sign me up!

Quibble point 2: the scare quotes around “Ground Zero.” As someone somewhere pointed out, Ground Zero is where you set off a nuke. Comparing the WTC tragedy to, say, Nagasaki is disengenuous to say the least. So there’s something else Paul managed to hit upon, in his klunky and self-interrested way. Looks like assholes are a lot like stopped clocks: right twice a day. If he keeps this up, he may eventually become a decent person. Though he’s still a Republican, so that’s unlikely.

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!

The Golden Age

This is everything that is wrong with the global economy, all in one tidy little package. And yes, it comes from the UAE, which along with Dubai, is emblematic of late stage capitalism in all it’s horrific beauty. It’s the perfect mix of traditional values and unregulated commerce that US Conservatives are always going on about but don’t have the balls to act out. There’s a gross pageantry in that part of the world that still finds medieval displays of ostentatious wealth to be just fine and dandy. In Europe, they made sumptuary laws against this sort of thing for a reason. So, if there’s some grandiose manifestation of opulent greed run amok, it will shimmer into existance in that crass little pocket of decadence, like a heat mirage filtered through Donald Trump’s libido. I’m not one to go in for supernatural explanations when human agency is good enough at explaining things but fucking hell, a gold-dispensing vending machine? There is clearly an evil force at work here. Probably a Djinn. Maybe a wizard. An evil, evil wizard.

There’s really only one thing you can pay for with gold. Or rather, one class of thing and none of it wholesome. You can’t drop by the corner market in Abu Dubai and pick up a gallon of milk, paid for with a gold dabloon. An ingot will not buy you a candy bar, or even a meal at a posh restaurant. The staff just doesn’t have the wherewithal to handle that sort of transaction. Where do you stack the bars where the busboys won’t trip over them? Counting out a till full of gold dust at the end of the night brings a fresh hell to the dreams of anyone whose ever worked retail. You just can’t spend gold anywhere, is what I’m getting at. That’s why we have paper money and electronic accounting. Lugging around a purse full of pieces of eight instills one to levels of pomposity we tend to find a bit gouche. A fist full of gold inspires one to dress the part. Before long, you’re wearing poet sleeves unironically, carrying around snuff and whipping out silk hankies. That’s why this shit goes down over in the UAE. They’ve already got the fancy wardrobe for that sort of thing. You see a man in caftan and mirror shades, accompanied by an entourage of thugs in thousand dollar shoes and you expect that man to have on his person a velvet lined bag full of precious metals. Well, not on his person. He has someone who handles the carrying of such things for him. Probably a eunuch.

But why? Why convert a chunk of your walking around cash into a piece of gold?* Just to have something fancy to fondle when you get bored of belittling the peasants?

The sort of man who would want gold from a dispenser at any hour of the day is the sort of man who wouldn’t think twice about buying a person. ” Buying as person what? A fancy watch? A painting?” No. That sentence didn’t end prematurely. You deal in gold when you want to purchase a human life, but don’t want to mess around with the sticky legal contrails paper currency and digital transactions leave behind.

Gold is the perfect currency for human trafficking. Child prostitutes. Slave labor. What have you. And if you’re not into the buying and selling of other people, there’s always good old fashioned money laundering. Gold is untraceable. It’s also a commodity with a proven, intrinsic value and while the price fluctuates, it’s never not going to be in demand. Which of course makes sense why they’d install the first gold vending machine in the UAE. Not exactly a nice neighborhood, even if everyone’s driving Lamborghinis and dressed like CEOs.

And of course, there’s the other end of that queasy supply and demand transaction. That repugnant slave trader you met in some abandoned parking garage at 2am may have some even less savory business ventures he’d like to fund with that gold of yours. There’s always someone else looking to trade you something interesting for your pile of gold bars. And it ain’t a roast beef sandwich with all the trimmings, that’s for certain.

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* Fun fact: Since pissing off so many legit businesses with his cretinous rants, Glenn Beck’s show is heavily sponsored by companies who offer to buy your gold jewelry, for which they will pay you the going market rate. This is part of a growing trend n the Tea Bagger subculture, which has decided to embrace, among many other bad ideas, investing in gold as away to survive the coming socialist/Marxist economic collapse. This has created a small but growing investment bubble in gold. And as we all know, investment bubbles are just keen!

Good Times

My, how the recruitment standards for the Plumbers have fallen. Almost 40 years on and you fuckers still can’t figure out how to tap a  phone* right but at least G. Gordon Liddy never dressed up like a fake pimp to pull a Halloween trick and then demand it be taken as serious journalism.

And this is how you dingbats are planning to build an empire? Hiring Young Republicans to shit themselves in a fit of public embarrassment as part of some ill-conceived plot to undermine the Democrats? The Democrats? All you have to do is ask politely and they’ll undermine themselves. Instead, you find some eager young fascist willing to pull some old-school Nickelodeon prank and expect that to send a message of fear and loathing into the hearts of your enemies. Instead, we’re all pointing and laughing.

This is why America is doomed: Nero set the city of Rome on fire and then blamed it on the Christians, and that was just for a laugh one Saturday night. Meanwhile our would-be emperors are cribbing their grand master plans from Saturday Night Live skits. We’ll just skip the Glorious Imperium stage, thanks, go straight to the part where the descendants of madmen squat in the ruins of a once-upon-a-time beacon of hope and enlightenment.

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* Now they’re claiming they weren’t trying to tap senator Landrieu’s phone, just disconnect it. Because sabotage is so much better than unlawful surveillance.

As If a Thousand Voices Cried Out, Saying “WTF?”

The big news today was that Disney is buying Marvel. On the one hand this is good for Marvel, as they’ll be able to take advantage of Disney’s distribution and marketing apparatus, which are pretty much universal (quick, sing me the Mickey Mouse Club theme song! I bet you can, even though the show hasn’t been on the air in decades). On the other hand, it’s further degredation of our culture by putting more of it in fewer hands. Not that Marvel is the greatest. I mean, they were still a corporation and out to make money above everything else. But now, they’re part of a really big corporation that now owns a vast majority of our cultural iconography. Disney now has, not just their own stable of characters, but also owns Pixar’s back catalog, the Muppets and now the Marvel Universe.* Basically, everything Time Warner doesn’t own (which is pretty much DC comics and Hanna Barbara). The vast majority of American pop culture is now owned by two corporations.

I’m not so much worried about the dilution of Marvel into a kid-friendly commodity. Jokes about a Disneyfied young Wolverine movie are somewhat exaggerated, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see Spider Man swinging around the fairy tale castle next time I visit Disney Land. Which strikes me as silly and sad in a way I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s not like Marvel isn’t chock full of crap I couldn’t care less about. I’m not even as enamored of their classic lineup of super heroes as I once was and part of me would like to see some editorial shaping of the Marvel Universe into something coherent and less bonkers. Maybe Disney’s Imaginears can manage that. But should they? There’s something intangible that is being lost here and I don’t know what it is.

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* They also lay claim to Studio Ghibli’s films, at least the US distribution rights, which means they put their little castle logo in fornt of every Miyazaki film, further linking their brand with even independent artists in the minds of less-discerning children everywhere.

“Sure, But What Have the Romans Done for Us Lately?”

As is his want, Bruce Sterling talks sense, this time, about Swine Flu:

*You’re not ACTUALLY gonna die unless your lips are turning blue, you have bad chest pains, you can’t swallow water, you can’t stand up, you’re having seizures and you don’t know where you are or what your name is. As this document suggests, you’re gonna want to watch out for those symptoms.

*If you already suffer those medical conditions for any other reason and you ALSO get swine flu, then yes, you are in mortal peril, because that extra kick from Little Sister can do you in.

*One other big-government tip here. If you live in one of our planet’s new health-service-free zones, the “Non-Integrating Gap,” the “Failed States,” the “Hollow States,” the impenetrable favelas, barrios, feral cities, the Al Qaeda mountain valleys and the yo-ho-ho nouveau-riche guy Somalian Pirate Zones, and so forth…. And it this new flu turns out to be one of those variants that breaks the test-tube and stomps around the landscape at will… well, you and your nearest-and-dearest are especially in for it.

Take note of this last one, anti-government Libertarians. Uncle Sam starts looking real friendly when he’s handing out Tamiflu by the bucket load. Mot to mention: competent and useful, all the things a government should be and can be, if properly funded. Keep this in mind the next time you start railing against the infernal machinations of Big Government Socialism, because the Invisible Hand doesn’t have the resources to keep people alive the way our vast and ponderous bureaucracy does.

[insert rant about Universal Healthcare and the failure of the Republican party here]

link via Charlie Stross.

Whistling In The Dark

This story about Dubai was linked on Boing bBoing the other day but if you haven’t yet read it, go do so:

The wide, smiling face of Sheikh Mohammed – the absolute ruler of Dubai – beams down on his creation. His image is displayed on every other building, sandwiched between the more familiar corporate rictuses of Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders. This man has sold Dubai to the world as the city of One Thousand and One Arabian Lights, a Shangri-La in the Middle East insulated from the dust-storms blasting across the region. He dominates the Manhattan-manqué skyline, beaming out from row after row of glass pyramids and hotels smelted into the shape of piles of golden coins. And there he stands on the tallest building in the world – a skinny spike, jabbing farther into the sky than any other human construction in history.

But something has flickered in Sheikh Mohammed’s smile. The ubiquitous cranes have paused on the skyline, as if stuck in time. There are countless buildings half-finished, seemingly abandoned. In the swankiest new constructions – like the vast Atlantis hotel, a giant pink castle built in 1,000 days for $1.5bn on its own artificial island – where rainwater is leaking from the ceilings and the tiles are falling off the roof. This Neverland was built on the Never-Never – and now the cracks are beginning to show. Suddenly it looks less like Manhattan in the sun than Iceland in the desert.

Once the manic burst of building has stopped and the whirlwind has slowed, the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out. This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery. Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neo-liberal globalised world that may be crashing – at last – into history.

The author, Johann Hari, goes on to describe a living hell of capitalism run amok, describing it as a microcosm of all the recent problems that we in the US are experiencing, distilled and amplified. The frightening part, is that there are Americans who want to replicate Dubai here in the US: a tax-free haven where the rich live like royalty and everyone else is a slave and they are all trapped in a simulacrum of freedom, forced to pretend that the benefits (zero taxes, the ability to treat other humans as slaves, gaudy excess and concentrated corporate wealth) outweighs the downside (slavery, corruption, greed, ecological disregard and soul shattering depravity).

I thought we were supposed to have left the dark ages a long time ago but apparently, they never left us.

Say My Name

I was quoted in this WaPo article (bottom of the first page) about Facebook and their weird policy involving people with eccentric names.

how this came about: the article’s author saw my comment on a Boing Boing post a few months back, about a young woman with the family name Yoda who was denied a Facebook account. Facebook, in their pursuit of furthering genuine human interaction in an online setting, has an automated name filtering system that is designed to prevent people from signing up using pseudonyms. But as detailed in the article, this system can be punked in a number of ways. Never underestimate the creativity of people who want to lie. The problem is, being an automated system, it can’t compensate for the stranger-than-fiction names that mothers, fathers and the fine folks at Ellis Island have graced upon a surprising number of us.

I was eventually able to get onto Facebook (obviously, since the author contacted me via Facebook for the article). Interestingly, I was contacted this morning by a rep from ABC News who are thinking of doing a story on the subject as well.

So, everyone wants to talk to me about my wacky name, it seems. Now if I could just get someone interested in talkign about my book, I’d be a happy man.

A 500 Lb. Gorilla, Wearing a Tutu and Marilyn Monroe Wig

OK, Palestine and Israel, we need to have a talk. I know you guys hate each others guts. It’s understandable, I’m not fond of you two, either. But you’ve managed to drag the US into your petty squabble over a worthless piece of dirt. It’s not even dirt with anything of real value on it, just some place both of you think, maybe, along time ago, some magical dude got bonked on the head by an invisible man and started gibbering like a crack fiend. And because neither of your ancestors were savvy enough to realize each of these “Holy Men” belonged in a mental hospital, you started fighting each other over whose fairy tale was better. And the rest of us care… for some reason.[1]

Now I know, Israel is our “special” friend, even though we get nothing out of the deal except hummus and olive oil. I mean sure, it’s pretty good olive oil but we gave you the Bomb for it. And since then, all you do is come bitching to us every time the Palestinians get uppity over you trying to steal their land and marginalize their role in regional politics. Can’t imagine why they’re pissed off about that.

And the Palestinians are a bunch of nogoodnicks, sure. They elected a terrorist organization as their main party! Hamas is soooo evil, their party slogan is “Death to Israel!” Which is mean. But let’s keep things in perspective. Their state is about the size of Detroit (and not really a state), plus their army is made up exclusively of pissed off clerics and men who think they can’t get laid until after they die. Yes, I know, suicide bombers and rockets, oh my. But the thing is — and this is key, so pay attention — no matter how much shit Hamas talks, they can’t actually bring about the death of Israel. So you Israelis are really overreacting to them overreacting to you steeling their fucking land because it says you have a right to in a book of poetry you wrote.

Can you see why the world is in no big hurry to pick a side in this semi-annual pig fucking contest of yours? Except for the US, for some screwed up reason.[2] Every 18 months or so, the two of you start blowing each other up for pointless reasons.

Our foreign policy is so lopsided, with the pure and righteous Israelis on the good side and those evil dirty Hamas motherfuckers on the bad, that no one who could do anything to solve this mess will. Because to do so, they’d have to admit that Israel is wrong, too.

And that’s the gorilla in the room wearing the tutu and Marilyn Monroe wig that no one wants to talk about: while Hamas’ slogan is “Death to Israel!” Israel’s slogan is “Death to Palistine!” And you can’t solve a conflict that neither side wants to end.

Eventually, even the US is going to get tired of it and stop paying attention.[3] And you know what happens when the US stops paying attention to something? It just goes away. Poof! Like it never existed. Oh sure, you two will be there blowing each other up one inch of sand at a time, but no one will care. And then one day, someone on one side or the other will set of a nuke in Gaza and there will be nothing left for you two to fight over but glass and poison. Which probably won’t stop you even then.

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1. The US cares about Israel due to either: A) the belief that the ghost of some magical carpenter wants these people to stay alive just long enough for him to show up and kill them all himself. Or B) because… well, mostly because we don’t want to seem antisemitic towards Israel. Except that reason A is just antisemitism extrapolated into a mythological dimension and sugar coated with the toxic goo of our foreign policy apparatus. So, yeah. Go Israel?

2. See footnote 1.

3. Now that Joe the not-Really-a-Plumber-but-I-play-one-in-a-political-campaign is headed over there as a war correspondent for some shit hole conservative wank site, I think that time is near at hand. Seriously, if that’s the level of aid and good will the US can muster, we’re just about done with this whole thing. So, enjoy your time in the Middle East there, Joe! Don’t forget your flack jacket. Or do. We really don’t care about you either.