30 May 2011

Picayune Idiots, Delicate Birthers and How to Drop the Ball as You Whine

I wonder – is acting a touch victimized good for business? And does it make extreme or improbable political views suddenly more mainstream and believable? After all, if you weren’t making a point, “they” wouldn’t be picking on you, would they?

I received today an urgent e-mail from the World Net Daily, a net publication edited by right-wing writer Joseph Farrah. The subject line of the email is “WND to take on The Hearst Corporation,” the obvious implication being that this is a terribly brave David/Goliath battle with God personally endorsing David/WND.

(I cannot help but note I have written elsewhere that the story of David and Goliath teaches lessons which should be taken, at the very least, with caution.)

The reason that WND is “taking on” Hearst Corporation is that Esquire magazine published a satirical column by Mark Warren concerning Jerome Corsi’s new book, Birther Bullshit. (Okay, okay, the actual title is Where's the Birth Certificate: The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible To Be President.) Warren purports to quote Farrah as having found out that the book was written before President Obama released the “long-form” birth certificate and that WND had ceased selling the book and was offering refunds. Warren “quotes” a source at WND saying,

"I mean, we'll do anything to hurt Obama, and erase his memory, but we don't want to look like fucking idiots, you know? Look, at the end of the day, bullshit is bullshit."

The satire was too subtle for some people and a couple of hours after the article was first published, Warren published a clarification online saying,

“for those who didn't figure it out yet, and the many on Twitter for whom it took a while: We committed satire this morning to point out the problems with selling and marketing a book that has had its core premise and reason to exist gutted by the news cycle, several weeks in advance of publication.”

I have to wonder where my own opinion that Corsi is a (literate) whack job comes into my thoughts about the satire. Nowhere, I think. I do so love satire. But make no mistake: I do think that Jerome Corsi is a (literate) whack job. He (among others) has such genuine hatred for Barack Obama that they will believe, repeat, exaggerate or concoct the most idiotic bullshit to end his presidency. (Guys, ever heard of an election?)

(This is also not to say that I’m a great fan of the current administration, Democrat though I may be. Okay, Bull-Moose/Democrat. The concept, for example, of overcoming crushing debt by spending $1 trillion of borrowed money escapes me. On my office wall, I have a $100 trillion bill. Oh, it’s Zimbabwean money, but I think Congress and the president are using American bucks.)

Satire is one of the most enjoyable humor forms, perhaps because you must work just a little to “get it.” The very best satire is that which leads people to think “Oh, no, surely that can’t be right ... can it?” Mind you, some people are little slower than others to get it. The father of modern satire, Jonathan Swift, wrote A Modest Proposal (A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick) in 1729, where he proposed that the way to solve Irish poverty and hunger was to serve up Irish children as the main course at lunch. There were (and are even today) some folks dumb enough to take that seriously. But the oooh-he-hurt-me crowd are indulging in their own political correctness when they complain about satire. “You must,” they reason, “dumb down your writing to my level or you’ll hurt my widdle feewwings.”

So, if WND goes ahead and files suit against The Hearst Corporation, the lawsuit will slog its way lackadaisically through a federal court somewhere, courtesy of your tax dollars, and some judge will, with a mixture of boredom and pique, dismiss the case after the litigants have worn themselves out with posturing and rhetoric.

There are 4 responses available to one hit with satire:

1 – Ignore it. Do you really care that the excessively dumb will sometimes believe sheer bilgewater?

2 – Laugh along with it. Demonstrate that you have a brain and a sense of humor. If you do.

3 – Write your own satire. Be sure it’s better and subtler than what “they” wrote. If you can.

4 – Complain to Daddy. “Daddy, they hurt me. Daddy, fix.”

We are in the midst of a war that civilians are largely ignoring; our energy needs, energy production and mid-term energy prospects are chaotic; we have national debt of trillions to foreign nations; and yet allegedly responsible and self-proclaiming patriotic people are screwing around with this picayune bullshit.

Eye on the ball, people, eye on the ball.

Pippa passes.


14 May 2011

Governor’s Election Redux; Every Voter got 10 Votes!

The latest in the stunning (or mindnumbing?) series of elections is the books.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin cruised to the Democratic nomination, and first time candidate businessman Bill Maloney upset former Secretary of State Betty Ireland for the Republicans. This sets up a hammer and tongs, knives in the night general election for October 4th.

The Democrats:

Gov. Tomblin, ran a smart campaign. By far, he was the most organized and had the most effective staff. Of course, he started out with some minor “incumbent points.” It’s easier to run a good campaign when you’re out in front. It was good campaign anyway. He stayed on message and did not react in effectively when his opponents got squirrelly.

Gov. ERT’s challenge for the October general election will be to ward off a vicious Republican attack which will be both direct (his known advocacy for dog racing, gambling and so forth) and by innuendo (he’s an old-time political leader from Logan County). The Republican candidate demonstrated his willingness to go to both hammer and knife in his own primary.

Another challenge which Gov. ERT has is to unify the Democratic Party behind him, to the extent the Democratic Party ever gets genuinely unified. The also-rans cooperated on an “Anybody but Earl Ray” campaign theme the last couple of weeks of the election and although their blades were not all that sharp, nor wielded very intelligently, they still created a good bit of dissension.

At the Democrat Club in Fairmont tonight, I had a couple of interesting conversations about whether Gov. ERT will extend some sort of “amnesty” to the people who attacked him and not administer the considerable paybacks that a sitting governor can in exchange for their getting on board.

Okay, so that sounds crass. This is politics, not teatime at the Little Church in the Valley.

House Speaker Rick Thompson ran a decent campaign. As I’ve written before, I thought the guitar strumming and singing on the log cabin steps was hokey hogwash, but that wasn’t aimed at me and I think it was probably pretty effective. He garnered the endorsements of the AFL-CIO and Mineworkers unions. ERT beat him about 5:3, and so for I don’t know how effective the unions were in turning out their people. I do think that these endorsements damaged the unions, the AFL – CIO more than the Mineworkers. I’m wondering if this showing will encourage Rick Thompson to run again in the primary in May 2012.

Secretary of State Natalie Tennant ran a decent third, which is about where I expected her. She has won a statewide election but I don’t think her governor’s campaign ever really connected or ever develop a coherent theme. Perhaps the confusion and dithering from her about the special election after Senator Byrd died had something to do with that.

I’m surprised how poorly State Treasurer. John Purdue placed. Here let me note that campaigning skill and governing skill don’t have a real close relationship. Big John is my friend. He has done a good job as treasurer and has a strong record in government. He started campaigning too late, but developed a message and spun up a good campaign. He developed the “Big John” brand, and a moderately memorable country-type “Big John” song, and was hitting the opponents effectively on economic issues. And then, about a month ago, his campaign flamed out, wandered away from the brand, wandered from the message and finally went ineffectively negative against ERT. It was really a pitiful failure of campaign staff. More in a minute.

As I predicted some weeks back, State Senate acting president Jeff Kessler never got off the ground.

Characterizing one feature of the last 10 days the Democratic campaign is an exercise in restraint. A loosely formed group, “Mountaineers to Restore the American Dream” mounted a city to city caravan-campaign on the theme “Earl Ray is a SOB.” Okay, the real theme was something like “Anybody But Earl Ray,” but my title for it more accurately describes their message. How to describe this campaign? Ill-advised? Yeah, that works. Ineffective? I expect so. Nitwit! Yes, that’s the word I’m looking for, nitwit!

The group had a nifty theme song, “Goodbye Earl” which, as some of you may know, is the same title as a song from about 10 years ago by the Dixie Chicks. Well, they used the same tune, same sorts of voices and damn near the same lyrics. They claim this was “fair use” under the copyright law because it was a parody. I disagree because it was a quasi-commercial use. In any event, ERT did not rise to the bait on the copyright issue. Their song gratuitously linked the acting governor in a political conspiracy with Sen. Manchin, currently the most popular political figure in the state. No doubt, the MRAD people believed that this was true and ideologically pure, but it was so stunningly nitwit-ish that it blows right through pathos directly to bathos. Of the people who might have been receptive to a purely negative approach, how many were Manchin supporters who turned it off as soon as they heard the attack on their guy? Moreover, you can turn out a good crowd to curse Osama bin Laden. Going negative against anybody else is much more effectively done quietly. The ball to keep the eye on is what people will do in the voting booth. So a negative campaign is directed at the hearer’s votes and what they will tell their intimates and friends BEFORE the election. Not many people are willing to turn out on the street and shout about what a son of a bitch this or that candidate may be. Because a negative campaign, to be effective, is not an audience participation model, it needs to be long and steady.

The Republicans:

My prediction that Betty Ireland would not have any trouble in the primary was the most inaccurate election prediction I have made in 39 years of doing that. Part of the reason is I’m so out of touch with TV and radio media these days, but if I’m going to be predicting, I need to get the hell back in touch with them.

Businessman Bill Maloney rode the illogical yet persuasive “Fight Obama” horse and swore ideological conservative purity. Betty Ireland ran a straightforward and positive campaign with enough bones thrown to the party hard-core that I thought she would keep them in line.

Republicans are a minority party in West Virginia. Candidate Maloney will not have a problem holding nearly all votes of the Republicans who turn out in October. Here’s a secret: It has long been conventional wisdom that the Democrats rely on old-time, loyal straight ticket voters. But the Republicans are much more reliable straight ticket voters than Democrats in West Virginia. The Republicans do not often make the one straight-ticket-vote mark but rather go through race by race and mark each Republican, which has the same effect. Betty Ireland has previously attracted the support of some “soft” Democrats. It will be interesting to see if candidate Maloney modifies his message in any way to try to hit the same people. Even if he does, he has the proverbial tough row to hoe. However, he showed a willingness to go to the knife against Betty Ireland, and he and his staff will be cleaning and sharpening all the knives by Sunday morning.

Okay, how do I figure every voter got 10 votes? The population of West Virginia is 1,860,000. There are 1,180,000 registered voters in West Virginia. 15.4 percent of them, 182,000, actually voted. Registered voters to real voters: 6:1. Citizens to real voters: 10:1. Another way to look at it is that 4.2 % percent of the registered voters nominated the Democratic candidate (2.6 % of the population) and 2.3 % of the registered voters nominated Republican candidate (1.4 % of the population).

Isn’t getting something like 10 votes a reason to vote on October 4th?


10 May 2011

Holy Moses, Preserve Me from the National Day of Prayer.

Over the past months, there have been a few posters spread around the Marion County Courthouse advertising the celebration of the “National Day of Prayer” for 5 May 2011. Let me say at the outset that I consider this a good idea. We do not do this life thing on our own, and it is only wise to invoke the blessing of Deity regarding all of our serious endeavors.

And so, I trotted downtown early to check this out. It took place on the front balcony of the courthouse where politicians and dignitaries (including at least two of the Senators Kennedy) have spoken over the last 50 years or so. The sponsors had a printed program which promised a lengthy session, and so I parked across the street as I was not up for the prolonged standing this was going to require.

From the title, you might imagine (correctly) that I have some modestly critical things to say about this prayer celebration. But let me begin on a positive note or three. The idea of going to the Lord in prayer is thoroughly sound. Do you disagree? Fine, the First Amendment is quite sound, too. No problem. And there were some heartfelt and thought-provoking prayers offered up. Friend and brother from the Fellowship Barry gave a clear and simple request for blessing upon our public servants, those who live the “greater love hath no man…” life. The Sheriff made an equally stirring prayer to God for the safety of our law enforcement officers. (Parenthetically, the conventional wisdom is that the sheriff is politically vulnerable in the next election. I don’t really buy that. A West Virginia Sheriff has both law enforcement duties and is the chief tax collector of the County, but the voters don’t care about the tax collection thing. They look for the law officer image, and Sheriff Carpenter is fit, squared away, and fits that image precisely.) And I was glad to see Pastor Ken Wright, although I confess I started with the expectation that he would be a kind, loving servant of Christ, for he was the pastor at Fairmont General Hospital the afternoon my mother died and I will always remember his a kindness and calm demeanor. Pastor Wright called upon those present to treat all people of whatever station in life equally and even reminded himself that it times he failed in that. That, friends, is a man of God. He also offered a prayer of salvation which rather reminds me of some of the work of noted atheist entertainer Penn Gillette. And, of course, and my friend Pastor James Saunders focused on young people, whose growth and development are his passion.

Okay, that’s the good stuff.

I have to tell you, there was also some pretty weird stuff going on. When I first tuned in, someone was in the middle of a prayer asking that God remove various justices from the United States Supreme Court and West Virginia Supreme Court. That does seem to be rather a specific request and just a bit cheeky thing to be concluding that God must do. That pastor was followed by a representative of our acting governor, and that representative gave one of the dead bang tackiest presentations one could imagine. He mentioned the name of our acting governor (who is a candidate in the primary election this Saturday, 14 May) at least 10 times. He called upon God to fill our acting governor with strength as he goes about his great responsibilities. He asked God to fill our acting governor [name inserted] with grace and to bless him that his love of his people will be sincere, and that he will be never lacking in zeal. God gave me a minor blessing when a couple of coal trucks coming up the street to give me a break from this silly, syrupy slop. But after they passed, the speaker noted that with leadership comes opportunity and exhorted all present to pray for the acting governor, and his family, and specifically to “protect him from the evil one.” Come on, guys, he’s in politics, so that’s a pretty extreme request even to make of the Lord. And finally, on behalf of [name inserted], God was earnestly thanked for [name inserted]. Frankly, I cannot blame the acting governor for this, because I cannot imagine any successful politician sanctioning that performance, let alone planning it in advance.

Other pastors had rather interesting presentation styles. One asked “how dare they…” do various things she deemed offensive to God. Some of those offensive things are commonly done by humanists, atheists, Muslims, liberal Christians, and moderate Christians, just to name a few. Also, I have heard that God knows the following the sparrow, but this particular pastor exhorted him at such volume that I’m thinking a few sparrows got lost in the shuffle. Another pastor directed God to take notice of certain moral issues “so dear to your heart.” Again, I hesitate to give God marching orders. This pastor touched on a husband’s responsibility of leadership (works for me, I guess, but I guess to be safe I better ask) and the wife’s role in making a home a mighty place. He lumped together various impurities of the lustful variety including fornication, child molestation, cohabitation and pornography, but did not try to rank them. At least, I don’t think so. Maybe he meant that they all are of equal rank, but ‘round the West Virginia penitentiary, you may be guaranteed that fornicators and child molesters have rather different experiences. That’s fine with me, by the way.

We were treated to more screaming and haranguing of the specific militant variety (that the people of God should be wearing battle gear, possibly meant metaphorically) and I kept reminding myself I needed to be listening to this without judgment or at least to withhold judgment. That particular pastor declared that America will fulfill God’s plan.

Say what?

There was the usual “culture of death” abortion prayer which is, of course, pretty much a hot button thing among many churches.

There was a specific prayer for the upcoming election by a lady who exhorted God to elect “a man with a fathering heart.” There are two women running, one of whom has a decent shot, and I doubt if this pastor was excluding them intentionally. She did exhort everyone to vote for righteousness’ sake and to vote God’s will, and specifically ask God to eliminate gambling and strip clubs. (As is the case with lots of sin, diseconomics and disapprobation are more likely to lead to their discontinuation.) Oh, she mentioned that we were praying to the Christian God but modified it to include the Judeo Christian God. Oopsie, so much for you “spiritual but not religious” people out there. We were reminded later about our duty to protect the (political) state of Israel from all the enemies around them who “want to wipe them off the face of the earth.” (Nobody mentioned that Israel has South African nuclear warheads and so far as we know, the Arabs don’t.) God was directed to restore to the Jews what had been stolen from them and under the circumstances it would have been inconsistent to point out that the Palestinians disagree with that perspective. So, for that matter, to the Delaware and Shawnee formerly roamed these hills. Oh, don’t the Israelis still hold the Golan Heights? How long were they Syrian?

I remember a discussion with beloved Pastor Josh when I was a bit confused over some theological things. He taught me at that time that one very powerful prayer is to ask the Lord “Please teach me how to pray.” There was my problem with this whole National Day of Prayer celebration in Marion County. It was so much anti-. It was anti-discussion, anti-reasoning, anti-arguing, anti-persuasion, anti-listening, anti-loving and anti-lots of doctrines sound in red in your red letter editions to the Bible. So many of the pastors were not praying for things much as commanding this and that in God’s name and giving God his to-do list.

I am way too dumb to spout theology. “Lord, please teach me to pray,” is usually about the best I can do.

And yes, I certainly do recognize that a good bit of what I say here is squarely contrary to my opinions recently expressed about the late and unlamented Osama.

Lord, please teach me to pray.


02 May 2011

Night, Night, Osama, It’s Been Good to Know Ya

The passing of the late and thoroughly unlamented Osama bin Laden presents some really interesting philosophical and moral issues, particularly for someone who purports to think rationally. As I put some thoughts together, I’m thinking that if a discussion of Dead Osama does not defy rational discussion, it certainly gives it a workout. I’ll try anyway.

My first impression is that I do regret that only one American got to shoot the son of a bitch, and it wasn’t me. As I’ve talked to a number of folks today, that seems to be a fairly common opinion.

So what does that mean? Is that mere macho bullshit? Silly posturing? After all, I think I would remember if I’ve ever shot anybody, and I can’t bring any such occasion to mind. So perhaps it’s all a lot of hot air. Perhaps.

But it still sincere. God bless those who live simple lives and happy lives and uncomplicated lives, spared from the stench of pure evil. Even if you are fortunate enough to lead such a life (and I do sincerely mean that it’s fortunate), it’s still a fact that there is genuine evil in the world. It is not an unacceptable leap of logic for me then to conclude that there are some people, some few people, who simply need to be removed from this corporeal existence. (There’s a post on capital punishment in the making – looking ahead, I generally oppose it on thoroughly practical grounds.)

And so, my opinion about the preferred fate of a few evildoers and particularly about Dead Osama is inconsistent with my concept of justice, at least as it involves more garden-variety violence. Moreover, my opinions are not simply inconsistent, but dead bang contrary to the very clear teachings of my Christian faith. This seems to be a substantial inconsistency, and not merely Emerson’s “foolish inconsistency.”

So far as I’m concerned, Osama was an evil asshole when he was alive. Dead Osama is now a dead evil asshole.

It is difficult to set aside, or even acknowledge, intense emotional indexes attached to causes or people, particularly those involving negative emotions and more particularly those involving out and out hatred. Hatred, we are taught, is a terrible thing. Isn’t it? Moreover, where opinions are so fixed, when we attempt to have any rational give-and-take discussion, how quickly does it descend to “Screw you, Jack, you’re wrong, I’m right!”? I have just read The Eichmann Trial by Deborah Lipstadt. [A book review post follows before long]. The trial of Adolf Eichmann was nearly 50 years ago. This is the first extensive study of the trial in several years. And yet, this author becomes mired in emotional philosophy when discussing purely legal if highly controversial aspects of the case – the kidnapping/rendition of Eichmann from Argentina to Israel; the jurisdiction of the court of a country which did not exist when the criminal acts were committed; and significant issues with the conduct of trial such as who was on trial, the individual Eichmann or Eichmann as a representative of the system which prosecuted the Holocaust. Add to the intensity of the pain that these were events based fundamentally on religion, and you have a recipe for a real short and real nasty discussion.

The terrorist attacks of 2001 and the activities of Dead Osama and Company invoke religion. Is that fair? Well, isn’t Islam a nasty and evil religion? We can find within the Koran various suras (translated into English, of course) which support violence to infidels (that’s us) –and to which we have reacted with highly symbolic (if somewhat idiotic) symbolism such as burning Korans and so forth. On the other hand, isn’t Islam a religion of peace, roughly on a par with Christianity, Hinduism, and so forth? When Muslims speak of Mohammed or even Jesus, one of the correct responses is “Peace be unto Him.” That sounds pretty tame to me.

Besides, all things being equal, if the forces engaged against terrorists were to begin calling themselves the “Military Order of Christ” and using the fairly distinctive “Crusader Cross,” would they not be self identifying as Christian crusaders? (I know that’s unconstitutional as to American forces. This is a thought exercise. Work with me here.) In such a case, no organized Christian denomination would have to support this “crusade” for it to be perceived as what those darn Christians are doing. Just so, Osama & buds identified themselves as Muslim fighters fighting a Muslim war. Be it fair or unfair, their actions splash all Muslims. Not unsurprisingly, it’s always the biggest mouths which get the attention.

One lesson we might learn from this is that the United States and other powers arrayed against terrorism need to focus on terrorist acts, not the terrorist’s faith, and on our actions as promoting national interests and not a religious agenda.

Another question is the validity and usefulness of revenge generally. What we Christians call the Old Testament talks about “eye for an eye” justice. Some say that if everyone supports an eye for an eye, sooner or later, the world will be blind. Maybe that’s a logical extension, or maybe that’s a reductio ad absurdum, but to some extent it’s true.

Globally or individually, when (if ever) is revenge an appropriate motive for action? And if revenge is not appropriate as a motive, is it appropriate to do the same thing you would have had you been seeking revenge and justice justify it on practical grounds, or is that cheating?

In his own videotapes, Dead Osama states that he planned the 2001 New York/Washington terrorist attacks. He also said he was surprised at the degree of their success (success being defined by his goals at the time.) (Please, I do not want to hear from any “thermite conspiracy theorists” – if you’re one of those, go back and take a physics class.) And so, under “natural law,” and under human law generally accepted since before the mind of man runneth not to the contrary, Dead Osama committed thousands of murders – intentional, unjustified, unexcused killings of fellow human beings. Throughout most of human history, the just penalty for that has been seen as the death penalty. Is that a just penalty in this case? A necessary penalty? A dangerous penalty? In the practical world of physical conflict or even politics, if you cannot convert your enemy to a friend or ally, you need to crush them to the extent that they are never a danger to you again. That lesson has been (sort of) learned in several wars, and that is entirely a practical lesson. But to fulfill that practical need, those prosecuting the war seem to find that the very human desire for revenge is powerful fuel to promote those results. This human desire for revenge impels people to extreme sacrifice and monumental effort. Might this white heat be used cynically by those who want a result but who were not driven by that same heat? Pull the other one, what else is new? But the place of vengeance for those who really feel it and believe in it remains a bothersome question. As to Dead Osama, his life was ended violently and yet quickly. We can find various web offerings in questionable taste suggesting innovative and very lengthy methods by which his life might have been ended, and I am sure I could find a good bit of support for any of those methods. Was a bullet good enough vengeance? Was just dying good enough? It’s not like that was some unique result for him, that’s really the human condition. On the other hand, do those with the revenge motive in their hearts gain or find peace or fulfillment or anything positive from the death of now-Dead Osama?

The truth is, we do. It defies reason and responsible teaching, but we do anyway. I claim to be a fairly rational guy, and yet I cannot see a way that this feeling could be mellowed out of me in this particular case.

More problematic is the instance where vengeance is visited disproportionately to the original harm. When this is done, the aggrieved party still feels that he or she is wholly justified. And yet where the harm for which vengeance is taken – say, an insult – is not really dangerous, we have the clash of a (hopefully) rational society with a party who is in their own mind genuinely aggrieved. Of course, in most of those instances, the revenge acts are sanctioned by the criminal law. (In the sense that sanctions are imposed for doing the acts.)

I just remembered – one of the cable channels was showing the Charles Bronson movies, Death Wish I through V last week. The theme of those is the aggrieved and righteous vigilante. Perhaps those are stuck in the back of my mind as I’m ruminating tonight.

Certainly, military and counterterrorist planners are considering the reprisals which are planned by Dead Osama’s compatriots in revenge for last night’s raid. Certainly, we have a whole lot of pissed off terrorists out there. I have also heard suggestions that terrorist networks held out threats to protect Osama, but I don’t find that terribly persuasive given the willingness of terrorists to proceed with darn near anything. Certainly, there will be reprisals attempted, and we have to accept that some of them might be successful. The United States counterterrorist forces have done an astounding job protecting the homeland. It would be nice to think that perfection is achievable, but it’s pretty dumb to count on that.

My own tentative conclusion is that Dead Osama at the bottom of the ocean is a good thing, and I’m glad that justice made a house call.

We should remember to keep our brains engage. We should remember to avoid such anger, such bloodlust that the Eagle’s talons rip randomly rather than strike with cold precision.

It is a hard world. I have no idea how to fix that.

You’ve got to prime the pump.
You must have faith and believe.
You have to give of yourself
Before you’re worthy to receive.