Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Good Ole Days

I haven't mused here in quite a while, so let's muse a bit, shall we?

I was listening to a local NPR show today which was focusing on the so-called "hook-up" culture now (supposedly) pervading college campuses. The guest was making the case that relationships are (like, totally) out amongst young adults these days, with no "courtship" (the show's word) going on, but rather college kids are just having lots of one-night stands and such.

My first thought, of course, was-- Why wasn't it like that when I was in college?

My second was-- Hey, wait, it was like that when I was in college, just not for me.

My point here is not to wax poetic about all the poon-tang I missed out on because I was a shy, withdrawn, nerd in college, though I could if you really want. But no, I'm getting at something else.

It occurs to me that kids have always spent much of their youth "hooking-up" and that I'm unclear what, exactly, has changed, or why anyone would even think it had. It's common, across the span of human history for each generation to think that successive generations are crazed, immoral beasts about to bring down the collapse of civilization, sort of like how my parents' generation thought '80s heavy metal music was an indication of inevitable moral decline.

Every generation thinks they are living in the "end times" and that "things are always getting worse" and dreams of some mythical "golden age" either of their youth or of some idealized past. You know:

Old person: "It wasn't like this in my day. We didn't listen to the rap music and wear short skirts. We had discipline and dignity and every day a rainbow appeared overhead..."

But, at the exact same time, as each generation gets to child-rearing age and starts having kids, they also think they know everything, have seen everything, and that nothing their kids experience or feel could possibly be unique. You know:

Child: "You just don't understand!"
Parent: "Oh, I understand! I was young once just like you! There's nothing about your life that is unique or that I haven't already been through!"

We've all heard these kinds of things before, from our parents, or perhaps from friends who have become parents, or even you've said them to your kids yourself. But what I find interesting is that, quite often, I think adults hold these two views simultaneously without even realizing it. The same parent who poo-poos the idea that his or her child could possibly have thoughts or feelings he or she hasn't already had turns around and goes off about how he or she can't understand kids today and why they all think they need a cell phone. Those "kids today" are either just carbon copies of their elders, or completely alien, depending on what mood the parent happens to be in.

Well, here's what I think: Things change, but not that much, and certainly not as much between generations as the generations think. I have a really hard time believing that college kids are "hooking-up" and eschewing relationships more now than they were in my day, or in the sixties, or really whenever.

If humans didn't like casual sexual encounters, there wouldn't be so many prohibitions on sexual activity in ancient religious texts like the Bible. Some guy on the NPR show was talking about how casual sex was the result of the weakening of marriage, as if marriage is the natural state and sleeping around is the new innovation. Of course, the truth is that marriage, a societally-sanctioned and enforced contract between two people to be faithful and monogamous, is almost certainly a response to rampant promiscuity, not the preexisting condition it decays into.

If there is any difference between today's "hook-up" college culture and the culture when I went to college, it is simply that there's now a new term -- "hook-up" -- coined for it, which makes it easier to talk about. It's easier to say, "I hooked up with him" than to say, "I fucked him," just like it's easier to say "collateral damage" rather than "murdering innocent civilians." There's probably very little difference in how much sex kids are having. They're just talking about it more.

I don't think this generation is more immoral, lazier, or made of weaker fiber than mine. Their experiences, on the whole, are very similar. Sure, not exactly the same, but is the difference between arguing with your parents about how you want a cell phone that different from arguing with them about how you need your own phone line or arguing with them that you want to hike over to the next farm to see your best friend? Not really.

But I do wonder how it comes about, the psychology of believing both that kids are alien and yet that you know more about them than they do themselves. Of believing that their experiences are trite and no different than your own, but that they still are utterly different than you were.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Why Do Obama and the Mainstream Media Hate America?

The latest Obama-related flag flap (pun intended.... heh) is that Obama apparently failed to place his hand over his heart during a rendition of the National Anthem, because he hates America. Worse still, is that despite there being no more important news in the world, the mainstream media failed to drop its coverage of the clusterfuck in Iraq, the looming war with Iran, and the failure of the so-called War on Terror to cover 'Anthemgate!' Good lord!

This summer, I was a participant in a 4th of July parade, in full Jedi costume, and at the post-parade picnic they played the National Anthem. I wasn't really sure what to do... after all, in character, my allegiance is to the Republic, not to the US... :^)

Worrying about that is about as stupid as worrying about whether Obama did or did not put his freakin' hand over his heart. Jeesh. It's a dumb PR move, certainly, but doesn't really speak to the man's patriotism one way or the other, and if you can't see that, then I have some land on Tatooine to sell you...

Friday, October 19, 2007

In All Fairness...

Just to be clear, I think the earmarks Republicans try to insert into bills are usually much more evil and egregious than the Democrats, though neither side should indulge in this odious practice. For instance, Republican Senator and fan of prostitutes David Vitter tried to earmark a hundred grand for a group to push creationism in the schools. No, really.

He withdrew it while still arguing that it was constitutional (hint: it wasn't... that's why the Founders made it the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights), but it's really reprehensible that he put it in there in the first place. Trying to use tax money to lie to schoolchildren and indoctrinate them into your own religion is in a whole other class than trying to use tax money to tell the truth (as much as can be done, given the amount of drugs done at the concert) about a historical event called Woodstock. One violates the constitution. One doesn't. (Hint: The one that is illegal has less to do with Jimi Hendrix than one that is legal).

Why? Why? Why?

Why in the hell would you even make the kind of remarks that Justice Department voting rights chief John Tanner did recently? He said that voter ID laws, which are thought to disproportionately affect elderly voters who are more likely to lack proper ID, don't affect minorities as much, since they usually don't live to be elderly.

Even if that were true, what in the hell would possess you to say it? How is that possibly going to be a good idea and work out well? Even if it is true, the best interpretation of it is going to be basically be, "Minorities die young because the system screws them, so, why do they care if we screw old people? They aren't going to be old people anyway." Can you imagine that logic in regular life? "It doesn't matter that they're paving over the park you used to like to play in, because they'd already decided not to let people like you into the park anyway." Wow. That would really make me feel better, let me tell you.

So, John Tanner of the Justice Department, for saying something that even an autistic 3rd-grader who is obsessed with Home & Garden TV would know was going to get him in trouble, I award you the 3rd Ed Renner prize!



The Mote In Your Own Eye...

Okay, Democrats in Congress, knock it the fuck off. You said you were going to do something about all those damned pork-barrel spending earmarks most of the electorate hate so much. Almost no one, except for maybe hard-core Democrat supporters, believed you. Yet, still, after so much bullshit with Bush, a lot of left-wingers went out on a limb and gave you the benefit of the doubt and defended you when everyone, from centrists to far-right batshit wackos, said you were full of it.

So, stop being fucking full of it! I know that it is traditional Washington politics to crap all over the other party's earmarks when they control Congress, promise to do something about them if you get into control, and then promptly line up at the feed trough when you do get into power. It pisses me off enough that you congressional Democrats are following that script so perfectly, but do you really have it to make it so goddamned easy for the right to paint you as tax-and-spenders? Yeah, I know the Republicans do it too, that they are tax-and-spenders as much as you are, but Democrats are the ones trying to live down that reputation, not Republicans, and you just give the Republicans ammunition when you pull crap like this.

I mean, come on. How, exactly, did you think you were going to defend Federal funding for a freakin' Woodstock museum? Did you really think there was any way that wasn't going to look like the big frickin' piece of bacon it obviously is?

I don't want to hear another goddamned word out of you Democrats about how the Republicans spend our money until you clean up your own goddamned house. Until you do that, you are just handing the Republicans a gift that will keep on giving for years and years... You may as well be hanging a sign around your own necks that says "tax-and-spenders."


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fact Checking Spreads Myths?

Paul clued me in on an article where factcheck.org defends itself from the Washington Post's claim that debunking political myths actually helps spread them. The theory is that, for instance, when the Bush regime was working hard to mention Iraq and 9/11 together as often as possible to create a false impression that those two were connected, those like factcheck.org who were pointing out there was no connection between the two ended up mentioning Iraq and 9/11 together just like the regime, reinforcing the idea that Iraq and 9/11 actually were connected.

You see, according to cognitive neuroscience, people often remember things they have heard mentioned together, but forget whether they are positively or negatively correlated. That is to say, in the sentence, "Iraq was in no way responsible for 9/11," many people remember that Iraq and 9/11 were mentioned together but forget that the sentence said Iraq and 9/11 weren't actually connected. Or, rather, they remember, "Iraq was in no way responsible for 9/11."

But I agree with factcheck.org that the danger of further creating an impression that Iraq was involved in 9/11 when debunking the myth that Iraq was involved in 9/11 is not as great as the danger in not making sure that the truth gets out there. For one thing, while most people hear at least some news and are likely to hear the Bush regime mentioning Iraq and 9/11 together all the time, few probably of those people read and have a chance to have their impressions reinforced by factcheck.org. But, on the other hand, some people, like me, who go to the lengths to try not to be influenced by rhetorical tricks like these, and who want and need to know the truth, need a place to go to find it.

That is to say, if in order to keep the general public from further believing in a falsehood we make it impossible for those of us interested in learning the actual truth from learning that truth, we're making a huge mistake, in my opinion. We can't necessarily stop a myth from being started, spread, and reinforced through repetition, but we can put out the truth so that those who want to know it can. There's little evidence that fewer people will fall for repetition if no one like factcheck.org is out there clearing up falsehoods, but I know for sure some people will be unable to learn the truth if they aren't.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I Am Going To Build a TARDIS in My Backyard

I downloaded plans for how to build the various Police Boxes that the Doctor's TARDIS has taken the form of over the years and am going to build one in my backyard, now that I have bought a house and have a backyard. I figure I can use it as a garden shed as well as to travel in time and space.

Don't know quite when I will get started, but I'll update my progress on this blog whenever I do.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

If It Looks Like a Crime, It's a Crime...

Via Dispatches from the Culture Wars, check this out: In Illinois, citations are being issued to bars that host free poker tournaments, because, according to a spokesman for the state liquor commission, "The appearance is that gambling is occurring, even if it's not."

That's right. In Illinois, all that's required for you to get cited and fined is the appearance of a crime, not an actual crime, all that "innocent until proven guilty" be damned. Because it might take more work for investigators to determine which games are being played for money and which aren't, no one can play.

In so many ways, including how drunk driving laws are written and enforced, the whole basis of the American legal system is being turned upside down. By default, anything that isn't specifically proscribed by appropriate laws passed by a legislature of duly elected representatives of the people is allowed. That is to say, there has to be a law against an activity for the government to have the right to regulate and/or prohibit it. There's no provision for disallowing activities that authorities think appears to be similar to a proscribed activity. If the government can disallow any activity that appears to be similar to an illegal activity, there's essentially no limit to what they can (and do) prohibit, and anything can (and will) be declared illegal even though no law makes it so.

The burden is on the government to show that you've done something illegal, not on the individual to prove they haven't. Presumption of guilt is anathema to the US legal system, and yet it is becoming more and more common, as this instance indicates. Sanctioning a legal activity on logic like Illinois', that "Usually when you're playing poker, you're gambling," is a bunch of crap. It doesn't matter what is usually the case if it isn't the case in a particular instance. Just because other people play poker to gamble doesn't mean you shouldn't be allowed to play it for free. The government shouldn't be able to sanction a legal activity because other people are engaging in the activity in an illegal way. That's holding one person responsible for the actions of others, and that isn't how the US system is supposed to work.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Is the SCHIP Controversy As Good For The Dems As It Seems?

So, on this whole children's insurance thing that the Democrats are fighting (some*) Republicans over. The standard wisdom amongst commentators seems to be that this is a political boon for the Democrats, to be able to portray the Republicans as being against children's health care. And I can see how that might play well, but I also see how it might not.

After all, despite a Republican President and Congress inheriting a balanced budget and then creating the biggest deficit in US history, the Republicans still run campaigns as if they are fiscally responsible and the Democrats are "tax and spenders." But that's been bullshit for years now. In truth, both parties are now 'borrow and spenders,' and the main difference is in what they will spend all that money on, not how much they will spend.

Now, the Democrats have been, in fairness, a little more fiscally responsible in the years since Bush Sr., with Clinton leading the charge to balance the budget and fighting against tax cuts at times when spending is increasing. But not much.

And now, the Democrats have the opportunity, given the massive spending of the current regime and former Republican congress, to expose what a farce the Republican claims of being for "small government" and "fiscal responsibility" are. But I think, maybe, just maybe, they are squandering that opportunity by harping on this SCHIP thing.

After all, by making an issue out of how the Republicans don't want to spend more money, even though it is on children's health insurance, the Democrats may be reinforcing in the minds of the people that the real battle here is the age old one: Dems want to spend money and Repubs don't. And, while it is doubtful that the image of Republicans as being against children's health will play after the conclusion of this particular battle, the feeling that the Democrats are still for taxing and spending may.

I'm just saying that it might not be wise to squander the long-term political gain -- exposing Republicans for being as prolific in spending money as the Democrats -- for the short-term gain of painting Republicans as anti-child.

I'm not as sure about this as I am a lot of the things I post here. It's a thought, but I'm not sure if it's a good one or not. We'll see, I suppose. Comments welcome.

* To be fair, lots of Republicans voted for the SCHIP bill and it has a great deal of bi-partisan support, though a solid contigent of Republicans still oppose it.

Inherently Immoral?

From what I understand, one of Christopher Hitchens' saws is that religion is inherently immoral. I'm not exactly sure what his arguments are (I haven't yet had a chance to read his book "God Is Not Great"), but I don't think I can go along with him on this.

It seems to me that religion is neither inherently moral or immoral. It's just irrational. Irrational beliefs, as I have said many times on this blog, inevitably lead to irrational behavior, and often immoral behavior too. But in and of itself, absent the human ability to turn any idea, thought, or tool into a weapon or a reason to destroy, I'm not sure religion is any more inherently immoral than a hammer, which can be used as both a tool to build and a weapon to destroy.

Now, as my friend Paul points out, all humans are, at times and to a greater or lesser degree, irrational. One of my favorite quotes is that "humans are thinking machines, just not very good ones." And humans act and think irrationally for lots of reasons aside from religion. But the reason I particularly target religious belief and the religious for irrationality is that religion, in general, makes a virtue of irrationality, and is therefore inherently dangerous, but not necessarily inherently immoral.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What Republicans Mean By "Accountability" and "Rule of Law"

I'm sure you're all aware already that the Bush regime is pretty intent on making sure that employees of good Republican-supporting mercenary companies like Blackwater USA* aren't limited in their indiscriminate use of deadly force against Iraqi civilians by anything as quaint as, oh, the law.

And you've probably already heard about the Blackwater USA employee, Andrew Moonen, who, while drunk, allegedly shot and killed an Iraqi on Christmas Eve of 2006. You may have heard how he was fired by Blackwater USA, but, being subject to neither US nor Iraqi law, was not prosecuted either here or there.

What you may not have heard -- I hadn't -- is that "two months after Moonen was whisked out of Baghdad, he got a job with Combat Support Associates, a Defense Department contractor that provides logistics support to U.S. troops at bases in Kuwait," and that "an Army criminal investigator... reported seeing Moonen in Baghdad" on February 13, 2007, less than three months after he shot someone there.

That's right. If you're a mercenary working for an American company in Iraq, you can get drunk, shoot and kill someone, and still end up working for the US government in basically the same job in just a few months, with basically no consequences.

And I love how Moonen's lawyer defends him in the above-cited article: "It seems that everyone has convicted my client when he hasn't even been charged with anything." That line of logic makes sense when someone is suspected of a crime here in the US, but since Moonen, as a US mercenary, was not subject to any laws at the time of the alleged shooting, it really proves nothing to say he hasn't been charged with a crime, since he can't possibly be charged no matter what he did.

And this, also from Moonen's attorney, is priceless: "Being drunk, yeah, maybe that's the basis for being fired. But I don't think it's necessarily inappropriate for another defense contractor to hire somebody because they happen to be drunk once in their life with some serious consequences."

Let me get this straight. Getting drunk, shooting, and killing someone shouldn't disqualify you from future employment as a gun-toting mercenary? If that's true, what the hell would disqualify you? I can't think of anything that is a better indicator that someone shouldn't be allowed to have a job requiring him or her to carry firearms than that they once got drunk, shot, and killed someone. Can you?

What world do these people live in? How does this comport with the supposed Republican reverence for "accountability" and "the rule of law?"

Wait, I know: The believe in "the rule of law" kind of like the Roman Senate did. It applies to everyone else, just not to them.


*Do you think they could have chosen a name that sounds like the evil corporation in a dystopian science fiction movie than they did?

Raw Sewage As Metaphor

I have a cousin who has worked for the US government in Iraq. He was riding in one of the ubiquitous enormous black US government SUVs in a tunnel, and apparently a sewer main had broken and spilled raw sewage all over the road.

The SUV tore through the tunnel, naturally splashing raw sewage everywhere in its wake. Some poor Iraqi was driving along with his windows open, likely because his car didn't have A/C and it was like 115 degrees, and the SUV swamped him, splashing gallons of raw sewage into his car.

My cousin said that there was no reason he could think of that the SUV needed to tear through the tunnel and swamp that Iraqi car like that. The SUV, did, of course, have A/C, and they had it set to recirculate the interior air, so though some stench from the sewage did get into the SUV, it wasn't so bad that it was necessary to drive so fast.

And, if you know anything about cars and/or raw sewage, you know that smell isn't coming out of that Iraqi's car. His car, for all intents and purposes, was ruined, as likely were his clothes.

This was back before the insurgency started, mind you, back when they still thought they might find WMDs, back in the "Mission Accomplished" days. My cousin couldn't believe how callous American officials and contractors were in regards to the Iraqis, and he could see right away that doing things like splashing Iraqis with raw sewage was not likely to help us "win the hearts and minds" of the Iraqis.

And, I'm sure it occurred to that Iraqi, as he sat in his sewage-filled car, that he never had to drive through raw sewage under Sadaam. From his point of view, rightly or wrongly, the Americans came, messed up the infrastructure such that raw sewage was spilling into tunnels, and then they splashed it all over him.

I can't think of a more fitting metaphor for what the US invasion of Iraq has ultimately accomplished.

Except that now, instead of just splashing raw sewage on the Iraqis, Blackwater mercenaries are shooting them. That's apparently what the Bush regime means when they say that the US is making "progress" in Iraq.