A SNAIL ON A RAZOR'S EDGE

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 28th, 2007 by Ed

I had a brief moment of hesitation about posting this as a No Politics Friday ™ entry, because it walks a very fine line between funny and sad. Or, more importantly, between funny and social commentary. We try to avoid the latter on Fridays at all costs around here.

If you haven't heard this 911 recording (and yes, Snopes tells us it's real) I think you need to listen to it right now. Let's not focus on the fact that it's a sickening example of what kind of people we breed in this country; instead, just marvel at the superficial comedic value of gems like:

Woman: Well…..you're supposed to be here to protect me.

Dispatcher: What are we protecting you from? A wrong cheeseburger?

Just remember, out of the 1000 people you see on an average day, a good portion of them are this stupid.

(PS: After I received this blast from the past on Wednesday, I was fondly reminiscing about years gone by and recalling how hard I used to rock the shit out of this during the karaoke era)

THE IVORY TOWER

Posted in Rants on September 27th, 2007 by Ed

After two weeks of spastic protesting and near-aneurysms from the right, Iranian president Ahmadinejad finally spoke at Columbia University earlier this week. Just as right-wing talk radio listeners and idiots everywhere (pardon my redundancy) predicted, the leftist ivory tower of cloistered academic socialism coddled the controversial Arab leader.

Among Columbia University President Lee Bollinger's fawning, obsequious remarks were:

For the illiterate and ignorant, (Holocaust denial) is dangerous propaganda. When you come to a place like this, this makes you, quite simply, ridiculous. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.

According to reports by the Council on Foreign Relations, it's well documented that Iran is a state sponsor of terror that funds such violent group as the Lebanese Hezbollah, which Iran helped organize in the 1980s, the Palestinian Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Can you tell them and us why Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq by arming Shi'a militia targeting and killing U.S. troops?

A year ago, I am reliably told, your preposterous and belligerent statements in this country (as in your meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations) so embarrassed sensible Iranian citizens that this led to your party's defeat in the December mayoral elections. May this do that and more.

I doubt that you will have the intellectual courage to answer these questions…I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for.

It's sad, unfortunate, and pathetic that Professor Bollinger had to go so completely over the top and spiteful with his remarks to fend off the landslide of criticism from the talk radio crowd. I assume they're happy with the extent to which the event turned into a burning-in-effigy of Ahmadinejad. But imagine Bush going to another country and being greeted with an event like this. O'Reilly would be screaming for cruise missiles before the speech even conclused. Ahmadinejad wanted to turn this into a circus, and he succeeded. It was a sad day for academia, this country, and the reality-based community as a whole.

I'm really just starting to pity the kind of people who eagerly await being told what to think by Hannity and Limbaugh like the pack of slobbering dogs that they are. When a person – scratch that, an adult – in a country that claims to educate its population well can't tell the difference between supporting a person's right to speak and endorsing his or her ideas, I don't think there's much left to say. I start to feel like mocking such people is the same as mocking retarded people, which I have been taught repeatedly is wrong.

Ah, fuck it. Retards are hilarious, and I have no sympathy for people who are led around by blatant appeals to their prejudices and ignorance. Pick up a goddamn book. Maybe even read it. Repeat until radio call-in shows no longer seem appealing.

BUT WHO WILL BE HIS STOCKDALE?

Posted in Rants on September 26th, 2007 by Ed

I've been trying to think of an organized way to start discussing the impending presidential election but the closer we get, the more opaque it seems. As I've already mentioned a couple of times, I can't imagine who would be the GOP favorite at the moment. Add to that the historically anomalous presence of three strong, well-financed Democrats and the whole thing looks like a toss-up. But I know one thing for sure, and it is that Michael Bloomberg is the 900-pound gorilla in 2008.

Back in 1992, H. Ross Perot took advantage of a very similar situation – a struggling GOP, a toss-up Democratic field, and a deeply unhappy electorate. And Mr. Perot was leading that race until he started the nonsense about quitting/re-entering the race. Even with that bit of flakiness the man got 19% of the popular vote. Given the ways in which the deck is stacked against everyone but the two major parties, I consider that to be one of the most amazing feats in our electoral history. He got 19% of the vote even though he had no organization, no ballot access, and no name recognition. Not to mention that he is absolutely pickin'-corn-out-of-his-crap crazy. But 1 of 5 voters liked him anyway. He sampled from a pool of populist Democratic voters (the rural kind who tend to be socially conservative) and disaffected Republicans. And he very nearly turned the election into a circus.

Michael Bloomberg has made noise about running. There is no doubt that he has considered it and is considering it, even though he now denies it. After he recently changed his voting registration from Republican to Independent, it's clear that he understands his where his potential appeal lies.

He has a lot going for him. He's well-known. He has approximately ten shitloads of money. He sincerely portrays the kind of fiscal conservative, social liberal appeal that made Giuliani attractive a few years ago. While he'd face the same organizational and ballot access obstacles that have slain so many independent candidates in the past, a man worth $5 billion can get around them pretty quickly. Ask Perot.

While this is far from a prediction, consider this hypothetical scenario. Keep in mind that the primaries are ridiculously front-loaded this year and the nominations will be decided for all intents and purposes by early February. Hillary Clinton uses her name recognition and resources to batter the rest of the Democratic field into submission. The GOP cage match produces either the candidate who best motivates the hardcore base (say, Huckabee) or a Kerry-esque default victor who excites no one and dissatisfies many (Romney, Giuliani).

The only thing as impressive as Hillary Clinton's legions of worshippers are the legions of people who loathe her. So let's say there are some swing voters who are leaning towards the Democratic side in 2008 but detest the idea of voting for HRC. Let's also say that there are a ton of Republican voters who are tired of the war and, for some reason, don't think that abortion and gay marriage are the most important (if not only) issues on Earth. Bloomberg calls a press conference on Feb. 15th and formally declares. He picks someone representative of the voters he's targeting as a running mate – Chuck Hagel?

A casual analysis would suggest that a moderate Republican like Bloomberg would cost the GOP more votes than the Democrats, and the odds of Bloomberg actually winning are small if history is any judge. What delicious irony it will be if we elect another Clinton with something on the order of 41% of the popular vote.

I think I just heard Rush's head explode.

RHETORICAL KEVLAR

Posted in Rants on September 25th, 2007 by Ed

As I age, I lose my enthusiasm for having certain arguments. For example, as a pro-choice person the idea of seriously debating abortion with a pro-lifer sounds about as appealing as running my balls down a cheese grater. It redefines "futile." The issue breeds completely intractible and irreconcilable differences of opinion, none of which depend on logic in the slightest. Debating it only serves to go around in circles and piss people off. I hate taking part in something so pointless.

But there is a dilemma. I also hate avoiding such debates, because people of mediocre intelligence walk away from such refusals with the impression that they have achieved victory for their beliefs. So the ideal outcome for the situation, from my perspective, is something that can end the argument quickly and let the other person know that he or she is very, very wrong. It's somewhere between the Holy Grail and bulletproof vest of rhetoric. For instance, feminist bloggers have come up with a pretty terrific way to shut anti-choicers the hell up in a hurry: ask them how much prison time women who get abortions should do once it is illegalized. As you can see, it's amazingly effective.

Such a question offers no safe exit for the Dobson crowd. On one hand, they can stay consistent (if abortion = murder, then they should get somewhere between 25 years and the electric chair) with the understanding that support for their position will immediately plummet to zero. Once we start talking about the reality of criminalized abortion – thousands upon thousands of women going to jail – women suddenly become less enthusiastic about the sanctity of fetal life. On the other hand, they can claim that women shouldn't do any time or that it "depends" on XYZ, which obliterates the "abortion = murder" premise and chops the legs clean off of their argument. If it's murder then how can we rationalize not charging them with murder? Either way, it makes them sound like stammering idiots.

Nice.

To that end, I heartily applaud David Shuster for showing us a similar tactic to stop Congressional Iraq War dead-enders in their tracks. Here's an exchange with Tennessee Rep (and certified moron) Martha Blackburn. As I have cut out some chatter to save space, you can see a full, unedited video here.

Shuster: "Let's talk about the public trust. You represent, of course, a district in western Tennessee. What was the name of the last solider from your district who was killed in Iraq?"

Blackburn: "The name of the last soldier killed in Iraq uh – from my district I – I do not know his name -"

Shuster: "Ok, his name was Jeremy Bohannon, he was killed August the 9th, 2007. How come you didn't know the name?"

Blackburn: "I – I, you know, I – I do not know why I did not know the name…" [Snip]

Shuster: "But you weren't appreciative enough to know the name of this young man, he was 18 years old who was killed, and yet you can say chapter and verse about what's going on with the New York Times and Move On.org." [Snip]

Shuster: "But don't you understand, the problems that a lot of people would have, that you're so focused on an ad — when was the last time a New York Times ad ever killed somebody? I mean, here we have a war that took the life of an 18 year old kid, Jeremy Bohannon from your district, and you didn't even know his name."

Nope, there aren't going to be many McCains and Liebermans in Congress who can answer that one. It's quick and it makes them look like bumbling fools (see video). And that, my friends, is an excellent weapon to have.

NOTHING MAKES ME HORNIER THAN….

Posted in Rants on September 24th, 2007 by Ed

I have a generally low opinion of the intelligence of my fellow countrymen, but I also have a sense of humor about it. Nothing, for example, cracks me up quite as much as far, far right-wing rhetoric plagiarized verbatim from the Third Reich. To wit: Have more babies, because the brown people are fuckin' faster than "we" are. The Nazis called it Lebensborn; today in America we call it Focus on the Family.

Among the mental giants who most often flog this argument is John Gibson, who recently got in a little bit of hot water (emphasis on "little," and the water was more tepid than hot) for telling his viewers that if they don't start doing it with their frigid, unstable spouses more frequently, the dirty Mexicans are going to outnumber white people soon. Note that Gibson implicitly understands that all of his viewers are white, and therefore he can address them directly with commands rather than framing his comments in hypotheticals. You also hear this song being sung by people like Pat Buchanan and Mark Steyn, whose America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It proved that it is possible to write a book without ever having read one.

Aside from the moral and logical issues with this argument, let's focus on a more practical flaw. I have put a good amount of serious thought into this, and for the life of me I cannot think of anything that makes me want to have sex less than John Gibson's face. I could be completely horny and ready to conceive a beautiful, pure caucasian baby. I could be in the process of actually having sex. But one look at his pompadour would have me dangling like a windsock in no time. Here. You try it:

gibson1.jpg

Now try to tell me with a straight face that you are in the mood for sex. I may not have a high opinion of the Moral Majority crowd, but I find it hard to believe that they can't understand why John Gibson ordering people to have sex is unlikely to result in more sex. Then again, these are a lot of the same people who idolize Ann Coulter as a sex goddess (I usually don't picture deities looking like bulimic horses, but I digress). So carry on, Christian fearmongering soldiers. Your theory that Pat Buchanan's red, sweaty face is going to make people want to procreate probably just needs a little more time – maybe six more months.

(h/t World-o-Crap)

EPICALLY BAD MOVIES 2 – MAC AND ME

Posted in No Politics Friday on September 21st, 2007 by Ed

Normally I would not include a children's film on this list – after all, movies intended for little kids are more often than not going to be considered stupid, poorly-acted, and boring by adults. But Mac & Me is special. Sweet baby jesus, is it special.

First (and believe me, this is the least of its sins) the movie is a flat-out plagiarized version of E.T., the blockbuster released just a few years before Mac & Me. The original title of the former was in fact E.T. & Me. Like E.T., Mac & Me is the story of an alien and a young boy ("Mac" is an acronym for "Mysterious alien creature"). Although I have never seen E.T., I am fairly certain that it does not deserve to have been mentioned in the same sentence as this film. My apologies.

Second, Leonard Maltin described this film as "more like a commercial than a movie" for a very good reason. Mac lives solely on Coke and Skittles, each proudly displayed about 100 times in the film. And "Mac" is of course a reference to the McDonald's menu – unsurprising, once you realize that Ronald McDonald is one of the movie's main characters. Not to mention the way the film manages to place its characters in a McDonald's approximately every 5 minutes. This film is a monument to subtlety.

The legendary moment from this film has thankfully been edited and preserved on the interweb. I will let the Wikipedian introduce the clip:

One scene in the film is a large, impromptu dance-off with the main character, MAC the alien (dressed in a teddy bear costume), a football team, Ronald McDonald, and various other people inside and outside of a McDonald's restaurant.

You need to see this. Really. If you're at work, the sound is pretty irrelevant.

If you're wondering how in the world a dance-off between a bunch of black kids, some gay Boston College football players, and an alien in a horrifying teddy bear costume could advance the plot, rest assured that it doesn't. In this film, scenes succeed by merely failing to inhibit the plot rather than actively advancing it. This is a relatively easy task given that there is no plot of which to speak.

Mac & Me is one of those special films that transcend a normal movie-going experience. It's so bizarre, so completely untethered from reality, and so grotesque that it can only be A) the worst film of all time or B) a masterpiece of surrealism. The film's decision to focus on children and Ronald McDonald a lot makes it legitimately disturbing…like Gacy in the clown costume. For 90 minutes.

Fittingly, the movie ends with a freeze-frame and the words "We'll be back!" Thankfully the pitiful box office returns prevented the producers from carrying through on that threat. Apes with Super-8 cameras could make a better film.

FCC DUMBASS QUOTAS

Posted in Rants on September 20th, 2007 by Ed

Is there some sort of fairness doctrine on the books covering sheer idiocy? Having already fulfilled its shrill, leathery, right-wing douchebag quota with Elizabeth Hasselbeck,** I'm struggling to see what other reason The View might have to bring Sherri Sheppherd into the fold.

Now, I am not so naive as to expect intellectual excellence from The View. No reasonable individual would tune in expecting to see four philosophes debating Kierkergaard. Nonetheless I believe that there exists, or should exist, some line below which the level shouldn't fall. And on a show featuring the daily wisdom of a mental infant like Hasselbeck, it was hard to imagine how the bar could actually be lowered.

Until yesterday.

After Ms. Sheppherd expressed her belief in creationism, fellow new host Whoopi Goldberg pressed her. Then things got stupid. In a hurry.

  • WHOOPI GOLDBERG: Is the world flat?
  • SHERRI SHEPHERD: Is the world flat? (laughter)
  • GOLDBERG: Yes.
  • SHEPHERD: …I Don't know.

  • GOLDBERG: What do you think?
  • SHEPHERD: I… I never thought about it, Whoopi. Is the world flat? I never thought about it.
  • BARBARA WALTERS: You've never thought about whether the world was round or flat?
  • SHEPHERD: I tell you what I've thought about. How I'm going to feed my child–
  • WALTERS: Well you can do both.
  • SHEPERD: …how I'm going to take care of my family. The world, is the world flat has never entered into, like that has not been an important thing to me.
  • ELIZABETH HASSELBECK: You'll teach your son, Jeffery, right?
  • SHEPHERD: If my son, Jeffery, asks me 'is the world flat,' I guess I would go…
  • JOY BEHAR: You know, didn't some person already work this question out? I mean, why are we doing this again? (laughter, applause)

  • Let's overlook, for a moment, the most obviously stupid aspect of her comments – i.e., who really knows whether the world is round? Focus instead on how she responds to Walters' question "You've never thought about…round or flat?"

    Why, no! I'm a girl, and girls think about what to cook for dinner!

    I was not aware that being a mother and/or a stay-home parent was an excuse for being ignorant of basic science. No, strike that. That's not even science. That's just reality. I'm not sure what aspect of this sad, sad debacle is more degrading:

  • 1. That this person who can't answer a question about the shape of the world has a daily national platform to speak to a couple million viewers.

  • 2. That "thinking about stuff is hard, so I just think about laundry and food preparation" was her response.

  • 3. That Ms. Behar swoops in to end the exchange by reinforcing the previous point, i.e. "Our viewers don't want to hear this – they care about laundry and food preparation."

    Thanks, View, for dropping your pants, squatting over our national discourse, and pinching off this brown, sludgy loaf.

  • ED VS. LOGICAL FALLACIES, PART 4: GUILT BY ASSOCIATION

    Posted in Ed vs. Logical Fallacies on September 19th, 2007 by Ed

    Guilt by Association is the "dirty bomb" of rhetorical techniques. Much as imitation nuclear weapons are built only by nations unable to figure out or afford the real ones, guilt by association is the reflexive refuge of people who aren't smart enough to think of a better, more subtle logical fallacy to use. It's cheap, easy, and plays directly into prejudices and stereotypes that pose as legitimate heuristics in the minds of the inattentive public.

    Senator Joseph McCarthy, 1951:

    "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?"

    Right-wing shill Howard Kurtz, 2007:

    "But you bash the Bush administration so often that you have become a hero to some on the left. I mean, just in this book, in the first few pages, you talk about Bush and company harming America. You call the president deluded and you speak favorably of impeachment. Do you consider yourself a left-winger?"

    The times and names change, but the rhetorical tactic is identical – admit that you are a member of some group or category that will allow us to discredit you and question all of your motives. If the media reports something that contradicts what you believe, cite "liberal bias" as evidence that it must be a lie. Most people, of course, don't even know who are the reporters behind the hundreds of daily newspaper/TV items credited to "Associated Press" or "Gannett News Service." But if he or she is a reporter, then obviously he or she is a liberal. All reporters are not merely liberals, they are lying, deceptive liberals out to distort the truth.

    Given what a transparently lame argument it is, Guilt by Association is rarely used except by people who are unable to defend their position any other way. Or by really lousy writers. Like James Taranto:

    The most telling moment in last night's [State of the Union] speech came after the president noted that "key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year." In response, notes the New York Times, "some critics in Congress applauded enthusiastically." If Osama bin Laden watched the speech, one imagines him applauding too.

    If Osama bin Laden likes something and you also like it, you are his comrade and supporter. Just like how Hitler liked gardening and I like gardening, which confirms that I am a rabid Nazi. The ACLU thinks terrorists should be tried with due process, so the ACLU are terrorists. Your professor does not think Reagan was the greatest president of all time, so he is an ivory-tower liberal trying to brainwash you. What excellent, logical reasoning.

    I just feel bad for people who use this argument. It usually indicates desperation or, more often, a stunningly superficial capacity for understanding any substantive issue. Sure, we could talk about why the Patriot Act is controversial…but John Doe realizes that if he just labels everyone a Patriot or a Traitor he can get to Trick My Truck that much faster.

    TAXONOMY

    Posted in Rants on September 18th, 2007 by Ed

    One cannot watch much televised news these days without being floored by the sheer homogeneity of the kind of dead-enders (a.k.a. 28-percenters) who still loudly proclaim the tremendous successes in Iraq. These people look like a blob of fat, white Play-Doh forced through the same mold a few hundred times. Honestly, it's just one middle-aged or old white guy after another. Sure, there's token diversity (albeit scant) among the punditry – they can trot out "Uncle" Dinesh D'Souza every once in a while if they can knock the AEI's cock out of his mouth for a few seconds – but among the "Sunday talk show" type guests….Jesus. How many times do I have to see Lindsey Graham, Jim DeMint, and John Comryn on Meet the Press? For that matter, can anyone tell those bags of fluid apart? Would their wives notice if we switched them?

    Then I read Thomas "Six More Months!" Friedman's latest rant from the New York Times, and I started thinking there is more diversity here than meets the eye. They may all look the same, but there are really two kinds of right-wing chickenhawk.

    The first, and far more numerous, kind are the complete pussies. These are guys like Jonah Goldberg, DeMint, Hugh "Man Tits" Hewitt, Dick Cheney, or Michael O'Hanlon. If you drafted and forced them into a combat situation, they could be identified by behavior such as:

  • Pant-wetting
  • Numerous draft deferments
  • Faking injuries to avoid service
  • Shooting themselves in the foot to get out of duty
  • Joining something like the Coast Guard Reserve and then spending the rest of their lives bragging about their "wartime service"

  • This describes about 95% of the chickenhawks we see on the news. They're easy to spot because of their over-the-top bluster and ridiculous masculine grandstanding. They talk a huge game. Huge. They're not just for the war, they're for more wars than anyone else. Iran? Syria? Take your pick, Glenn Reynolds will pound his fist on a desk and proclaim that he's for it. They're locked in a mutual, unspoken struggle with their own kind and constantly feel the need to overcompensate for their tiny dicks by being not just a warmonger but the biggest warmonger.

    The second kind of chickenhawk – and this is where Thomas Friedman comes in – are the lunatics. These are the guys who don't quite have the balls to enlist in the military, but if you put them into a war zone they'd be slitting civilians' throats and wearing necklaces made out of ears. These are the kind of guys who bring you things like the My Lai massacre. A guy like Friedman has nowhere near the bluster of his fellow cheerleaders. Just look at his friendly, warm, grandfatherly visage. And his "the sun'll come up tomorrow" outlook on Iraq just proves what an optimist he is at heart.

    Yes, those are the warning signs. Put 22 year-old Tommy Friedman in Vietnam or Iraq and he'd be smearing his face with warpaint, talking to his rifle, and spending about 12 hours a day sharpening his knife. Am I being too hard on the Friedman Unit? Re-read that latest op-ed on Iraq. If it's a failure, it's because the Iraqis failed. Whose fault is it? Why, the victims' fault, of course! Refusing to accept responsibility for one's actions and blaming them on the victims are the classic sign of sociopathic behavior. Thomas Friedman and his kind bravely tried to jam democracy down a (colonially-defined non-country) country's throat at gunpoint and, if it didn't work, well then only the Iraqis can be to blame.

    BY DEFINITION, SOMEONE MUST WIN

    Posted in Rants on September 16th, 2007 by Ed

    OK, so at the end of a truly awful weekend, I just wrote today's entry and had it disappear into the ether at the hands of a malfunctioning mouse that double-clicks every time I click. To say I nearly propelled it through the wallboard would be an understatement.

    The crux of the post was that I have wrapped my brain around the field of presidential nominees a million times and I still can't think of any logical argument regarding who will win the Republican nomination. I'm really just at a loss for words. I had previously developed a logically consistent argument that Fred Thompson would be the front-runner when he declared, but his campaign appears DOA. The neck-breaking yawn with which his announcement was greeted must have been stunning even to his biggest naysayers.

    So please, use the comments to make an argument; who in the hell is going to win that thing? I'm out of defensible theories and I'm completely open to suggestion. Don't just tell me who – explain why any of these people could reasonably be considered a favorite over any of the others.

    I'll stop making you do all the work on this blog soon, I promise.