Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Let Them Secede, But Let Us Leave First

So, since any group of idiots can create a petition, I made my own. Basically, I think it would be great to get rid of a bunch of wingnuts and led them drown in their own Objectivism. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people in states where petitions for secession have been filed (including yours truly) who love their country and would like to remain American citizens. My petition attempts to allow the best of both worlds. You can sign it here: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/take-steps-insure-orderly-peaceful-secession-states-and-repatriation-american-citizens/VY8X2Lpc

Unfortunately, the whitehouse.gov site has a word limit, so I had to slightly edit my original petition, which appears in full below: 

This petition requests that the federal government take steps to insure the orderly, peaceful secession of any state that ratifies, through legislative process or referendum, the decision to withdraw from the Union. These states are entitled to the right of self-determination and besides nearly all of them are states that receive more federal money than they pay in taxes, so allowing them to succeed would reduce federal expenditures by cutting non-productive “dead weight” out of our nation.

Because simple secession would result in involuntary expatriation of the 30-45% of citizens who voted for President Obama in states where secession petitions have been filed, not to mention the Romney and third party voters who believe that calls for secession are an extreme reaction to losing an election, this petition also requests that the federal government enact legislation to assist in the relocation of those in soon-to-be former U.S. states who wish to remain United States Citizens. The steps below outline a very rough plan for allowing for orderly secession and repatriation.

  1. Congress shall set a deadline by which all fifty states must decide, by methods of their own choosing, whether to remain members of the Union.
  2. Once it is determined which states will be seceding, citizens of secessionist states who wish to relocate to non-secessionist states may file a petition declaring their desire to remain American citizens. Likewise, any citizen in a non-secessionist state who wishes to become a citizen of one of the newly formed states should declare their intent to give up their American citizenship.
  3. The federal government will institute programs to assist refugees from secessionist states in finding jobs (perhaps by matching job skills to jobs that will be vacated by those who plan to relocate to a former U.S. state.) and relocating to U.S. states. This program should include government assistance for low-income families and individuals who would otherwise by unable to remain U.S. citizens. Similar programs will not be necessary for those revoking their U.S. citizenship, as they don’t want any help from the government.
  4. Once everyone has been relocated to a state of their choosing, the federal government may begin disentangling itself financially and politically from the former U.S. states.
  5. As soon as all formal ties are dissolved, the U.S. should erect secure borders to prevent foreigners from stealing our jobs and government benefits. 

Since this is our country's chance for a "reboot," we should enact corporate reform concurrent with the above actions. This should include breaking up "to big to fail" banks, ending commodities speculation and off-shoring of profits, and enacting an Workers Bill of Rights that mandates health care, vacation time, and all the other perks that people in Europe consider essential. The legislation should also set a cap on the ratio of CEO pay to employee pay for any company that wishes to receive government subsidies of any kind. Corporations who do not wish to play by these rules will be allowed to relocate to newly-independent former states and their infrastructure will be converted for use by employee-owned startups. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween Costumes Ripped From The Headlines

Not sure of the status of the issue of Bazooka Magazine that this article was originally meant for, so I'm going to go ahead and post it before Halloween's completely over with just in case it gets cut for no longer being relevant.. And yes, I realize it would have made even more sense to post it before all the weekend Halloween parties, but sometimes I'm don't brain good.

As an adventure game industry professional (aka someone who makes up stories about magical hobos), I go to a lot of conventions throughout the year. Since most of them have at least some costuming events, by the time Halloween rolls around, I’ve already seen the year’s new geek and pop culture-related costumes--Katniss Everdeens, assorted Avengers, assorted slutty Avengers, Girls With Dragon Tattoos, and all the rest. What I don’t get a sneak peek of are the more political/topical costumes, because most geeks know more about The United Federation of Planets than our own system of government. Therefore, the Halloween costumes that I find most entertaining are the ones that come from the world of politics and current events. Since I have no doubt that our readers put my personal amusement high on their list of priorities when coming up with a costume, I’ve put together a few costume suggestions.

The KONY 2012 Guy
For a few weeks, Kony himself was in the running as a 2012 Halloween costume, but all the slacktivists who were just so fucking concerned about the plight of child soldiers in Africa predictably forgot all about it after a week or so. Some found out that the people behind the video supported warlords and regimes every bit as bad as Kony and decided to just pretend that they’d never shared the video. Others forgot about the poor little guys as soon as it stopped being a “thing” on the internet. Not long after the Kony video dropped off the radar, one of the fine upstanding Christian missionaries behind the video got totally fucked up and ran naked through the streets of San Diego furiously masturbating. That shit got its own South Park song, which makes it fully costume-worthy.
Pros: It’s a really simple costume. You just have to get all hopped up on goofballs, get nekkid, and wander around beating your dick like it owes you money.
Cons: You’re going to get arrested.

Occupy Protester
Just when the T.E.A. Party’s tri-cornered hats and badly spelled signs had run their course, along came the Occupy movement. Since it didn’t have corporate sponsorship and advocated real systemic change, the image of the Occupy protester didn’t fare as well as that of his astroturfed, low-information, gun toting counterpart. By the time the pundits and politicians from our two not-at-all-exactly-the-same political parties were done, the Occupy protester had become a filthy, violent, almost feral anarchist and/or socialist vagrant who was simultaneously an over-educated, bourgeois hippie with an iPhone and a trust fund. Because we Americans don’t know the meaning of the words “cognitive dissonance.”
Pros: This is another easy costume. All you really need is a snarky “I am the 99%” sign and a complete lack of understanding of what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. Congo drums, Communist Manifesto, and poop are totally optional.
Cons: This costume is only good for house parties, because just about every single person who will be handling your food and drinks if you go out is a member of the 99%, so the chances are good that at least one of them will be pissed off by your costume. If you don’t understand why this is a bad thing, you should probably watch Waiting.

Vladimir Fucking Putin
If somebody submitted a Bond script with Vladimir Putin as the villain, the studio would send it back with a note that the bad guy is too unbelievably over-the-top. I mean, the guy flies supersonic jets as a hobby, hunts whales with a crossbow, and probably punches bears just because he can. Most recently, he dressed up in a bird costume and flew a hang-glider to get a bunch of endangered cranes to migrate, because even guys who punch bears have a heart.
Pros: This is one of those costumes that most people won’t get (even if you go the crane route), but those who do will really appreciate.
Cons: Vladimir Putin might find out about it, kill you, and drink your blood from your own skull.

Romney Administration-Era Big Bird
The Big Bird meme came out of the first debate between Romney and Obama, and is in many ways a perfect snapshot of everything that’s wrong with the American political system. Those on the right were willing to blindly accept that cutting PBS funding, which is .000014% of the federal budget, was a meaningful example of fiscal responsibility. Those on the left were more outraged by the idea of losing a giant puppet than by indefinite detention, erosion of Constitutional rights, and the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens. While a lot of political cartoons and memes have gone with the “Big Bird as Thanksgiving turkey” concept, that probably won’t be easy to make work as a costume. Instead, you’ll probably want to go with “Big Bird as a homeless person,” complete with ratty old coat, fingerless gloves, and bottle of Thunderbird.
Pros: Everybody likes Big Bird, even Mitt Romney.
Cons: To be honest, the whole Big Bird thing has kind of run its course. The sheer number of memes about it made it get old pretty fast.

A Drone
As I hinted in the previous entry, one of the (many) Obama deal-breakers for me that Democratic party loyalists are willing to blissfully ignore is the fact that Obama has been very liberal in his use of drones, especially in foreign countries we’re not actually at war with. Worse still, he’s used drones to carry out the summary assassination of American citizens without the slightest hint of due process, which I’m pretty sure used to be frowned up by most Americans. If you also feel this is kind of a big deal, a drone costume will double nicely as a soapbox.
Pros: If you get drunk and kill somebody while driving home, you can retroactively declare them terrorists so that nobody will label you a criminal.
Cons: This is going to be a bulky costume, and most people only have a vague idea of what drones look like.

A Binder Full of Women
One of Mitt Romney’s biggest obstacles with the Republican base is the fact that he’s a Mormon. A lot of Christians, especially evangelicals, believe that the Church of Latter Day Saints is at best a misguided interpretation of the Christian religion, and some believe it’s part of a vast Satanic conspiracy. Voters whose social compasses point a little more to the left have problems with the church because of its history of polygamy and underage marriage. As a result, Romney has been quiet about the details of his religious beliefs. Here’s a little hint, Mitt: If you want to downplay your involvement in a religious sect vilified for treating women as property, it’s probably not a good idea to use a phrase that suggests you collect them like goddamn Pokemons.
Pros: The phrase “binder full of women” is inherently funny, even without Romney’s political baggage being attached to it.
Cons: This is one of those high-concept costumes that you’re going to have to make yourself. It will be hard to come up with something that gets the point across without being a huge pain in the ass to actually wear.

If you don’t like these costume ideas, you can always fall back on something in the “slutty Black Widow” genre, assuming you can pull it off. I’ve seen them before, but I won’t complain about seeing it again.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Kentuckians: Your Vote Is Already Symbolic

This November, a lot of people will vote for a candidate they don't really support. Some will do it because they buy into one party's lesser of two evils narrative in which a win for the opposing party means apocalyptic changes to the American way of life--40 days of darkness, dogs and cats living together, you know the drill. Others will vote either Democrat or Republican because they see a vote for a third party candidate as a meaningless symbolic gesture since third party candidates have no chance of ever winning an election in the current political climate.

The big problem with the mindset that a symbolic vote is a wasted vote is that in most states, your vote is already symbolic barring a major swing in voting patterns. If you don't believe me, check out the electoral vote map tool at http://www.270towin.com. Since I live in Kentucky, I'll use it as an example.

To begin my little experiment, I'm going to award states to a party if that party has won the state in the last five elections, which gives us a map where the Democratic party is ahead 242 votes to the GOP's 102. Things are not looking good for Romney, so let's try to help him out by awarding any state that has been red in three of the last five elections to the Republicans UNLESS that state went to Obama in 2008. Kentucky stays undecided even though it meets the criteria because I'm trying to set up a situation in which my vote matters. After doing that, Obama is still at 242, but Romney is in slightly better shape with 181 electoral votes. If Obama wins Florida, Romney can't win, so let's go ahead and turn it red.

Now we've got 10 states left in play: Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Nevada, New Hapshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, and Virginia. None of these states is big enough to give Obama the win on its own, so since Romney's still behind 41 electoral votes, let's see if we can even up the score. Most of the remaining states are fairly evenly split or tend to vote Democrat, but there are 3 states that went to Obama in 2008 where a GOP victory is the norm (at least back to 1972--the earliest election shown on the site): Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia. We'll let them plead temporary insanity for 2008 and give them to Romney as well, bringing him up to 240 votes.

Now that things are reasonably close, let's turn any state that the Democrats have won in 4 out of the last 5 elections blue. That brings Obama up to 257 electoral votes.That means if he wins Ohio, he wins the election, and my vote in Kentucky doesn't matter. Other than Kentucky (8 electoral votes) and Ohio (18 electoral votes), there are two other states remaining on the map: Colorado (9 votes) and Nevada (6 votes). With only 240 votes, Romney can't win without Ohio, so let's give him a fighting chance and assume all the voter suppression tricks they're playing there work out in the GOP's favor.

That puts us in a dead heat with Obama at 257 votes and Romney at 258. For either candidate to win, he'll need to win 2 out of 3 states. If Colorado and Nevada go to the same party (as they have in the past 3 elections), my vote once again doesn't matter. If they split, Kentucky's electoral votes will decide the race, so if the race in Kentucky is extremely close (unlikely, since Kentucky has gone to the GOP in 7 of the past 10 elections), my individual vote for one of the two major party candidates might determine who wins the presidency.

Long story short: Unless you live in Florida or Ohio, your vote is probably symbolic anyway, so why not cast your symbolic vote for someone you can actually believe in. It's not going to allow them to win, but if enough people do it, it will send a clear message that you're tired of choosing between the same two bad options every 4 years. If enough people send that message, it might actually be heard.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Why Obama Is Wrong About Gay Marriage

From the July 2012 issue of Bazooka Magazine

Recently, Democratic tribalists everywhere went on the hopium addict’s equivalent of a three-day coke binge over the fact that President Obama made a statement in support of gay marriage. They applauded Obama’s brave position and treated the statement as a huge victory for equal rights. One small problem: There was absolutely no bravery in Obama’s statement. It was wishy-washy, pussified political hedging at its best.

Don’t get me wrong; A sitting president openly admitting that he supports marriage equality, especially in an election year, is a good thing. At the very least, it indicates that most Americans are comfortable enough with the idea that it’s no longer political Kryptonite. Unfortunately, Obama’s support of gay marriage is expressed purely in terms of his personal beliefs. When it comes to the government’s role in handling marriage equality, he says that he believes each state should decide.  

Aside from the jaw-dropping irony of a bi-racial president advocating a states’ rights argument, Obama’s position has implications that are actually harmful the cause of gay rights. By saying that the legality of gay marriage should be decided by the states, Obama is essentially saying that sexual orientation is not protected under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. While it is true that the Supreme Court has so far refused to extend “Suspect Class” status--which entitles cases involving members of the class a higher level of judicial scrutiny--to homosexuals, laws that restrict rights based on sexual orientation are still unconstitutional unless it can be shown that said laws represent a legitimate government interest.

“Legitimate government interest” is a legal term that no doubt has a very specific technical meaning derived from countless court decisions. However, since I’m not a lawyer and you’re probably not either, let’s assume that in layman’s terms it basically means that the law has to in some way prevent harm to society at large. So let’s consider whether gay marriage has the potential to affect those outside of the marriage in a negative way. There are a few major arguments about the harmful effects of gay marriage:

Gay marriage violates the First Amendment rights of Christians.
The argument relies on the idea that the legal institution of marriage and the religious institution of marriage are one and the same, and that marriage equality would somehow obligate churches to recognize gay marriage as legitimate in the eyes of the church. Since Christian churches are currently under no obligation to grant religious legitimacy to secular, Jewish, Pagan, or other non-Christian marriages, this seems unlikely. If a church is engaged in a non-religious activity for which it receives public funding (such as running an adoption agency or hospital), it may be required to recognize the legal rights of a married couple (gay or straight) married outside of the church, but that’s a requirement of the funding. If church-run institutions want discriminate under the guise of religion, they have to do it without taxpayer dollars. The other main argument--that the very existence of gay marriage in some way infringes on religious freedom--is a case of, as Jon Stewart put it, confusing “persecution” with “not getting your way.”

Gay marriage violates the sanctity of marriage.
This is basically the religious argument with a shroud of obfuscation around the religious stuff, kind of like dressing up Creationism as science and calling it “Intelligent Design.” The idea here is that there’s something culturally sacred (in a non-religious way), about marriage. Since something like half of all marriages end in divorce and people raffle their marital status off to midgets on reality TV, this argument doesn’t hold much water.

Even if marriage in this country did mean something, the idea that letting gays marry would somehow harm straight marriages just doesn’t make sense. It’s like saying  that allowing gay people to play tennis will somehow ruin tennis for straight people. The only way legalizing gay marriage is going to hurt a straight marriage is if one of the spouses is gay to begin with, in which case the marriage is probably destined to be short, unhappy, or both no matter what.

If we allow same-sex marriage, people will start marrying animals and inanimate objects.
This slippery slope argument ignores the fact that as far as the government is concerned marriage is a legal contract between two people. As soon as you acknowledge that animals and inanimate objects can’t enter into legal arrangements, this argument falls apart.  

Gay marriage will harm children.
When rational arguments are weak, people tend to fall back on emotional appeals, and one of the most effective is “THINK OF THE CHILDREN!” This one is usually broken down into several sub-arguments:
  • Same-sex marriage will lead to an increase in pedophilia: This one combines the turtle-fucking slippery slope argument aboves with the tendency of certain bigots to equate homosexuality with pedophilia (despite the lack of any statistical or scientific evidence to support such claims). It’s every bit as ridiculous as claiming that straight marriage legitimizes statutory rape.  
  • Gay marriage will lead to gay adoption, which will harm the adopted children: Even if we accept that legalizing gay marriage will make it easier for gay couples to adopt, there is no evidence that growing up in a same-sex household harms a child in any way. So this argument is bullshit. Because science.
  • I don’t want to explain buttsex to my kids: OK, I’ll admit that this argument usually isn’t phrased quite so bluntly, but when you strip it down, this is what you’re left with. The obvious flaw here, of course, is that explaining gay marriage to a child doesn’t require any more detail about fucking than explaining straight marriage does. In most case, something along the lines of “those two people are married because they love each other” does the trick just fine no matter what configuration of genitals is involved. I suspect that most people who use this argument are more worried that at some point they’ll have to admit that some people have sex for fun rather than procreation, which some religions look down upon. But that’s a religious issue and the government has absolutely no obligation to shield your child from ideas that might not conform to your chosen mythology.  

As I’ve already said, I’m no lawyer, but none of the above arguments against gay marriage seem to me to suggest a legitimate government interest in preventing gay people from entering into a legal contract. Therefore, gay marriage should be protected by the Constitution. Even if we pretend that Obama’s comments on gay marriage were sincere (which is kind of a stretch, given the context), his decision to invoke the states’ rights argument implies that homosexuals are second-class citizens who are not entitled to the same legal rights as the rest of us. Or, to paraphrase Winston Wolfe, maybe the gay community should “not start sucking Obama’s dick quite yet.”

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Top Ten Important Lessons Of The Avengers Movie

  1. Mark Ruffalo should work more. Those of you who’ve seen him in things like  The Brothers Bloom and The Kids Are Alright probably already knew this.
  2. Aunt Robin is kind of a badass. Especially for a Canadian teen pop star.
  3. Science doesn’t have to bore the shit out of the movie-going public. Pay attention, Ang Lee.
  4. Even when Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t say “mother fucker,” you feel like he said “mother fucker.”
  5. Every comic fan knows that when two or more Marvel Super-heroes first meet, it’s customary for them to fight. Including this scene in a Marvel movie lends authenticity.
  6. It’s better to have Harry Dean Stanton and not need him than to need Harry Dean Stanton and not have him.
  7. Joss Whedon sometimes does terrible things to beloved characters. Geeks really should have accepted this by now.
  8. Captain America can be written as a guy from the 40s without coming across as hokey. Pay attention, nearly every Marvel comic writer.
  9. If you want the villain to call the female lead a whiny cunt, have him do it in the Queen’s English and you can get away with it.  
  10. There is nothing funnier than the Hulk swinging a god around like a rubber chicken.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Heritage or Hate?

This article originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of Bazooka Magazine.  

Although I rarely watch the news on WPSD, I do get a lot of entertainment from their Facebook page. There’s a certain Carlinesque, nihilistic joy in having a front-row seat to the kind of willful ignorance that’s directly responsible for human civilization’s steady downward spiral towards Idiocracy. This ignorance is rarely more proudly displayed than during the Confederate flag “discussions” that the Channel 6 web monkeys incite every Tater Day and periodically throughout the year.

It’s really not surprising that there are strong feelings about the Confederate flag in Kentucky, and especially in our part of the state. After all, all the “brother against brother” cliches about the Civil War apply doubly to Kentucky. Our state was the birthplace of both Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Kentuckians fought on both sides, several bloody battles and a lot of raids and skirmishes took place here, and we were one of only two states (along with Missouri) represented in the Confederate Congress despite officially remaining part of the Union. Since Confederate sympathies were especially strong in the western part of the state--Kentucky’s Confederate shadow government’s capital was officially Bowling Green, though in reality representatives spent most of the war in exile in Tennessee--we have good reason to be conflicted about our Confederate heritage, both as a region and as individuals.  

In the interest of historical accuracy, I should probably mention that what most people refer to as the “Confederate flag” was never actually the flag of the Confederacy, though its design did appear as an element on the second and third C.S.A. flags. The first Confederate national flag--and the flag the name “Stars and Bars” actually referred to during the Civil War era--closely resembled early American flags, but with three broad stripes instead of thirteen and between seven and thirteen stars (depending on the number of states in the Confederacy). In fact, the C.S.A. flag was so similar to that of the Union that it was often mistaken for the Stars and Stripes in the confusion of battle, leading Confederate soldiers to fire on their own troops. In order to cut down on the amount of friendly fire, the Confederate Army decided to adopt a battle flag that was distinct enough to prevent confusion. They ended up choosing a flag based on the “secessionist flag” of South Carolina, and that’s the flag--the one southerners like airbrush Hank Jr. onto and paint on the top of Dodge Chargers--that most people today think of as the “Confederate flag.” Because the Confederacy was never rich in resources or strong on logistics, the flag was never universally adopted by the Confederate army, but its use by prominent units like Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia made it a powerful symbol of the Civil War South.

A lot of people on both sides of the issue believe that some people consider the flag to be a symbol of racism because it represented the Confederacy and the Civil War was about slavery, but that’s a gross oversimplification. At that point in our nation’s history, the balance of power between the federal government and the states was still a point of heated contention. In the pre-Civil War era the states were still to some extent considered sovereign entities, with the federal government playing a role more akin to the European Union today. As a result, many people thought of themselves as citizens of a particular state rather than citizens of the United States. Many southerners who were not slave owners and were opposed to secession--notably Robert E. Lee--sided with the Confederacy because they felt loyalty to their home state trumped loyalty to the Union.

It’s also important to remember that when it comes to war, there’s usually a disconnect between the real motivations of those in power and the reasons that those who are actually doing the fighting believe they’re getting shot at. While many of the loudest proponents of succession certainly benefitted economically from slavery, most southerners didn’t own slaves and many were economically marginalized because of plantation agriculture. They wouldn’t support a war solely to protect the institution of slavery any more than Americans a few years ago would have supported a war to improve Halliburton’s bottom line and allow Dubya to get revenge on the guy who tried to kill his daddy. Think of “states’ rights” as the 1860s version of “weapons of mass destruction.” As the war--mostly fought in the South--went on, many southerners who neither supported slavery nor bought the states’ rights argument joined the Confederate army for no other reason than to protect their homes and communities.

On the other hand, the claim that the Civil War was entirely about state sovereignty and had nothing to do with racism is just as much of an oversimplification. Proponents of the “heritage” side of the argument who accept that the institution of slavery was at the root of succession often point out that the debate that led to the Civil War was about the expansion of slavery to new states, not abolition, that the southern states wanted to expand slavery for economic and political reasons that had nothing to do with racism, and that black Southerners fought in the Confederate army. These arguments, however, ignore the simple fact that slavery in America was was based around the premise that people of certain races were somehow “less human” than the rest of us. Therefore, proponents of slavery were also implicit proponents of racism, and even those who joined the Confederate cause to defend the rights of the states were placing political concerns above the basic human rights of slaves.

In light of history, the question of whether the South’s decision to succeed from the Union was rooted in racism is “yes and no.” I realize that in today’s political climate many people will find this kind of nuance off-putting--after all, isn’t everything supposed to boil down to two diametrically opposed alternatives that conveniently align with the beliefs of the political parties who run the Two Man Con?--but it’s the only conclusion that makes sense. Even if it were possible to conclude that the Civil War was or was not about racism, so far we’ve only covered the first few years of the Confederate flag’s history, so we’ve about a century and a half to go. The meanings of symbols, like the meanings of words, change over time. When a symbol becomes strongly associated with a particular movement or idea, the old meanings are often ruined. For example, the earliest use of the swastika was in Bronze Age India, where it was a symbol of good fortune. About four thousand years later (give or take a few centuries), the swastika was adopted by a symbol of the Nazi party. The association was so strong that today most people (especially in the West) who see a swastika conclude that the person displaying it is Nazi scum. And they’re usually right.  

For the next 100 years or so after the civil war, America as a whole was largely ambivalent about the Confederate flag. Some saw it as a reminder of one of the worst times in our nation’s history, others felt it honored southerners who had followed in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers by taking up arms to defend themselves against what they saw as government oppression. Because more than a few ex-Confederates became involved in white supremacist groups after the war, the flag did take on some racist associations, but for the most part these associations weren’t especially strong. It was when the Civil Rights Movement started building up steam that the Confederate flag was widely adopted as a symbol by southern opponents of the movement, especially white supremacist groups like the KKK. Some tried to claim that opposition to Civil Rights, like the Civil War, were about state’s rights, but such arguments were paper thin and it’s during this era that the phrase gained its reputation as a racist dog whistle. More importantly, unlike the southerners during the Civil War, the people now flying the flag weren’t fighting an opposing army, they were committed acts of terrorism against their fellow citizens because of the color of their skin. All the levels of abstraction that existed during the Civil War era were stripped away and to many the flag became a symbol of open and violent racism.

So, heritage or hate? Once again, there’s not a simple “yes” or “no” answer. In certain contexts, the flag can still be a genuine expression of southern heritage. However, because of the flag’s co-option by racist agitators, the choice to display it publicly reveals a certain level of disregard for those who have been victimized by people flying it, just like wearing a swastika reveals a lack of respect for Holocaust survivors no matter how much you insist you’re wearing it for its luck-bringing properties. Of course, that conclusion is based on historical context, and most people who rally around the Confederate flag have at best a vague grasp of its history. The truth is that for most people who identify strongly with the Confederate flag, it’s about tribalism. They  wear it, fly it from the backs of their trucks, and have it tattooed on their bodies to convey a sense of identity and membership in a particular group. In this way, they’re a lot like the people who brand themselves with sports team mascots or corporate logos. The main difference is that people waving Kentucky Wildcat and Harley-Davidson flags have never burned a cross on somebody’s lawn or engaged in open warfare against their own government.

Personally, outside of a few very specific contexts I feel that public display of the Confederate flag is offensive, but I also support the First Amendment rights of those whose opinions differ from mine. However, freedom of expression does not mean freedom from consequences, so people who choose to display the Confederate flag need to accept that a lot of people will interpret it as a sign of ignorance and racism. Likewise, the First Amendment doesn’t guarantee you the right to display the Confederate flag (or any other symbol) in all situations. Private businesses can ask you to leave; school officials have considerable power to enforce rules against potentially disruptive behavior, including the display of symbols that some may find offensive; and tuber-based civic festivals have every right to ban Confederate flags from parades, even if those festivals are run by a government entity. While freedom of speech is a Constitutional right, freedom to be in a parade is not. Those who claim First Amendment violations where there are none prove they meet at least half of the “ignorant racist” stereotype associated with self-proclaimed “rebels.” Whether or not they fulfill the “racist” part of  the stereotype can usually be determined by asking their opinions on things like welfare, rap music, and the validity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Food Stamp Conversions

As a result of some comments Newt Gingrich made regarding food stamps, it's come to light that more white people than black people receive food stamps. About 42% of food stamp recipients are white, compared to only 28% who are African American. This of course presents a small problem with the "welfare Cadillac" meme, but "the 53%" needn't worry. With just a few minor changes, they can use the same tired old arguments to talk about how lazy whit people are taking their tax money. The following conversion list should prove helpful:
  • Cadillac = Pick-up Truck
  • Rims = Mud Tires
  • Cell Phone = Hunting Rifle
  • Big Screen TV = Bass Boat
  • Gold Teeth = Confederate Flag Tattoos
  • Tommy Hilfiger = Official NASCAR
  • Junk Food = Replace references to specific types with "pork rinds" and "Moon Pies"
  • Soda = Specify "RC Cola"
  • Crack = Meth
  • Oprah = Hee Haw

Monday, February 6, 2012

Other Laws Oklahoma Should Pass

In November of 2010, the Oklahoma legislature approved an amendment that would make it illegal for courts to consider Sharia law when deciding cases. More recently, legislation has been introduced to make it illegal to sell food products made out of aborted fetuses. I, for one, am glad to hear that Oklahoma is boldly taking the initiative to ensure that there are laws in place to prevent things that have absolutely no chance of ever happening. However, there are still so many imaginary threats that Oklahoma lawmakers have yet to address that I fear they may be overwhelmed when it comes to deciding what the next battle should be. That’s why I’ve put together the following list of what, in my opinion, are the most pressing completely made up dangers facing Oklahoma and society as a whole. I hope that Oklahoma legislators will make it a priority to address as many of these issues as possible in the immediate future.
  1. Werewolves and vampires are two completely different mythological species, and should not be allowed to intermarry.
  2. People with no formal training in the Dark Arts should not be permitted to perform rituals or read from ancient blasphemous tomes, as this inevitably leads to an outbreak of uncontrolled demonic activity. A regulatory system providing for formal licensing and accreditation in the Black Arts is highly recommended.
  3. Anyone who captures a leprechaun is entitled to a pot of gold. Any leprechaun who gives a person “fairy gold” that turns into something with no value after a period of time should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
  4. Mental institutions, especially those subject to frequent escapes, should stop providing hooks to patients who have lost their hands. It only leads to tragedy.
  5. “Loose Cannon” police detectives should be forced to turn in their gun and badge as soon as they are assigned to a case. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this improves officer efficiency and success rate by over 1000%.
  6. Popular high school students will no longer be allowed to make wagers regarding the captain of the football team’s ability to turn the quiet, introverted girl with glasses into prom queen.
  7. Aliens may not perform anal probes without express written consent of the person to be probed. If the probee is under the age of 18, consent must be provided by a parent or legal guardian.
  8. Jenkem should be treated as a Schedule II controlled substance.
  9. Referring to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named by name should be classified an act of treason against the wizarding world.
  10. Debates about the Romantic poets at NASCAR events should be strictly prohibited.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Doubleplus Ungoodthink

From the December issue of Bazooka Magazine:
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better.”--George Orwell, Politics and the English Language
As Orwell, Carlin, and other people who aren’t even named George have observed, controlling language is the first step to controlling thought. That’s because, in addition to their linguistic meanings, most words also include a lot of cultural baggage that gives them an emotional meaning. Phrases that use loaded language influence how people react to and think about the idea being expressed, often without them even realizing it.

In some cases, the hidden meaning of this kind of constructed language is so blatant that nobody falls for it. The abortion debate provides a good example: those who support abortion rights frame them in terms of the rights of the mother and call themselves “pro-choice,” while those who oppose abortion frame the issue in terms of the rights of the unborn fetus and refer to themselves as “pro-life.” Despite the false dichotomy established by each of these terms, the obvious self-labeling makes the terms appropriate for use by those who wish to maintain some level of neutrality. In fact, the use of any other name for either group (whether it’s something as mild as “anti-choice” or as evocative as “baby killer”) is usually a good indication that the person applying the label has chosen a side in the debate.

Unfortunately, the best kind of loaded language is subtle enough that repetition and laziness allow it attain everyday usage. When this happens, those who disagree with the idea that the loaded phrase is expressing find themselves at a disadvantage. The very act of using such language lends credibility to the emotional argument made by those who invented the euphemism. Below are a few examples of expressions that “people who should know better” have allowed to enter common usage and, by doing so, corrupt our thoughts about the ideas that they express.

Big Government
“Big Government” is code for “the nanny state” and is used to describe the intrusive, paternalistic government that Liberals supposedly want to bring into existence. The phrase is usually used to describe the end goal of anyone who wants the government to take action that the presumably anti-Big Government speaker disagrees with. Why anyone, regardless of political persuasion, would want such a shambling bureaucracy is never addressed, nor is that fact that the power and reach of government has historically increased more under Republican administrations than Democratic ones. Remember, after all, that the GOP are strong proponents of both the security state and the idea that government should have a say about who you choose to fuck. In reality, a lot of the complexity of government, especially when it comes to regulations and corporate law, is at the behest of corporate lobbyists, who know it’s easier to lawyer your way around a complicated law than a simple one.

The Death Tax
The phrase “death tax” was invented by Frank Luntz, a conservative consultant and pollster who has all the linguistic savvy of George Carlin or Lenny Bruce, but uses his powers for evil. The death tax used to be called the “estate tax,” which gave the (correct) impression that the tax only applied to large inheritances. In 2001, the estate tax, which was then 55%, was only paid by those who inherited over $675,000. By calling it a “death tax” and implying that it applied to everyone who took a dirt nap, the Bush administration was able to scare the shit out of people who probably wouldn’t leave much behind (and certainly not enough to qualify for the tax) in the first place. As a result the tax was eliminated on estates worth less than $3.5 million, and the tax rate itself dropped to 35%. Barack Obama, apparently in an attempt to prove that he loves the rich even more than Dubya, later raised the exemption to $5 million.

This term is most often applied to Medicare, food stamps, and other programs that form the social safety net, though a few pundits use it to describe things as fundamental as education and clean drinking water. Linguistically, this usage makes perfect sense. After all, an entitlement is something you deserve, either because you’ve earned it or because it’s a fundamental human right. In this case, the pundits have taken a previously neutral word and corrupted its meaning by highlighting its association with phrases like “entitlement issues” or “sense of entitlement.” Ironically enough, prior to being co-opted by the right to describe welfare and Medicare recipients, these phrases were most commonly used by service industry workers to describe the kind of well-off douchebag who feels he’s entitled to special treatment because of his money, power, or connections.

During the 2004 presidential election, the Bush campaign pointed out that Kerry was for the war in Iraq before he was against it. In the case of Obamacare, the same sentiment applies to many of the Republicans who voted against Obama’s health care reforms. During the Clinton administration, a conservative think tank called The Heritage Foundation proposed a plan almost identical to the inefficient, corporate-friendly Affordable Care Act as an alternative to Hillary Clinton’s suggestions for meaningful health care reform. Back then, many of the same Congress members who would later vote against the ACA were solidly behind the almost-identical Heritage plan. The name “Obamacare,” in addition to implying that the act is some sort of egomaniacal self-indulgence on the part of the President, invites people to attribute their own negative feelings about Obama (most often relating to his “otherness”) to the plan itself.

There are, of course, many more examples of doublespeak winding their way through our political conversations. Legitimized tax evasion is called “offshoring,” which makes it sounds like the money’s having a nice, well-deserved vacation; the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision made it acceptable to refer to bribes as “Free Speech”; and our policy of keeping for-profit prisons in business by locking up drug addicts who should be receiving medical attention gets the almost heroic-sounding “Drug War” label. Euphemisms like these, when used consistently over time, can make it easy to forget what the words are really describing. To keep this from happening, pay attention to new phrases introduced to express old ideas and new connotations connected to tried-and-true labels. When you notice this happening, ask yourself what message the new phrasing is trying to convey. Nine times out of ten, you’ll find some form of intellectual dishonesty behind the change in vocabulary.