Shouting Into Darkness

The Birther Phenomenon

Posted in Kooky Observations, Political by Chris W. on April 29, 2011

I try not to get too political on people these days, because I’m of the mindset that my opinions on politics, religion and other lofty topics are interesting only to me. Doesn’t help that I also clash with the usual “left vs. right” dichotomy, but really, I think that people who come here want to be entertained. I do that to the best of my abilities, but every now and then, I have a few thoughts on a subject beyond video games and defunct comic books that I think needs to be recorded. This is one of those times.

A few days ago, President Barack Obama released a PDF file of his birth certificate to the media, along with a much-needed plea that the nation simply drop the subject and get on with more important matters. This was in response to a nagging question that never went answered (primarily because most of the world thought it was a dumb question to begin with) regarding the President’s status as a US citizen. Believe it or not, there is a segment of the American population that thinks the entire country has been bamboozled, that the current president was ineligible to be a candidate due to the fact that he was not born in the US. I know a lot of wacked-out conspiracy nutjobs in my personal life, and even they thought that these people needed to get in touch with reality.

The “Birther” movement, as it became known as, reached critical mass when real-estate mogul and reality show personality Donald Trump publicly stated his distrust of the President’s citizenship. You’d never think Donald Trump to be the one to lend credibility to an argument, but there it was. If one of the richest and well-known men in America joins your movement, you’ve just gotten called up to the Major Leagues.

So, the President – begrudgingly, might I add – showed his birth certificate and tried to put the matter to bed. Trump suffered a backlash of mocking in the media and online. (Honestly, if I have to see one more person post “Trump demands to know what country Latifah is the Queen of” and slap their knee, I may have to quit the Internet.) But of course, it still festers on. Some people still aren’t buying Obama’s birth certificate, and it just makes your head hurt. Why, after all this time, is this still a fucking issue?

To most people, it’s not, and that’s the good news. The majority of the country considers Obama just like they would any other president: a man with policies you either agree or disagree with. Even Obama’s staunchest political rivals have to distance themselves from the “Birthers”. Hey, maybe we’ve finally found some common ground to work from! Perhaps the healing can begin…

But to the people who still buy into this conspiracy theory, there are several explanations why. Most of the people I follow on Twitter (read: entertainers and other creative people) try to tie the Birther movement to deep-seated ignorance, gullibility, or even racism. I’m sure there are some who’s distrust in this President’s eligibility is based around one or more of those three things, but for the rest of the Birther movement, I think it goes beyond simple, quantifiable motives.

To me, the Birther movement is no different from the “NASA Faked the Moon Landing” or the “9/11 Truther” conspiracies. They are all conspiracy theories, born out of paranoia and reinforced by how “juicy” the story is. Think of the Obama story as it is now: Man born in Hawaii to poor parents rises up through the ranks of politics, gaining the trust of his fellow man before being bestowed the office of President. Not a bad story, but it’s even better if re-written to read: Man backed by either personal motivation or possibly foreign political influence infiltrates the office of President to pull a giant hoax on the Nation and the World. One of those stories is a feel-good; the other is a summer blockbuster.

I also place some of the blame for this whole Birther phenomenon at the feet of the Watergate scandal. I wasn’t around during Watergate, but I recently got through reading “All the President’s Men,” which is a fascinating account of how the President of the United States could be aware of wrongdoing in his name and try to use campaign funds to cover it all up. Prior to Watergate, it would be inconceivable that someone who possessed the moral core to become President would also be capable of something so underhanded. After Watergate, all bets were off. It was shown that the President could not only be a crook, but he could lie to the entire nation about it and stand a very good chance of getting away with it just because “He’s the President.” The Clinton scandal reinforced this for my generation. The President of the United States could – and did – screw around on his wife while in office and commit perjury to try and cover it up.

If you follow that line of thinking, it’s easy to see how someone with ambitions of being President could be not always forthcoming with the truth.

But what the Watergate and Lewinsky scandals had that the Birther movement doesn’t have is solid evidence to back up the claim. If the Nixon tapes never came to light, Watergate may have ended with H.R. Haldemann and never touched Nixon himself. Without Clinton’s DNA that he lovingly deposited all over the place, his extramarital affair would’ve been a private matter between him and his wife. The Birther Movement have their birth certificate. Unless there’s real evidence to discredit this document, the case is closed in the minds of the greater public. But, as with any conspiracy, you can bet that there will be a steady supply of people ready to buy into it.

So why, in light of near damning evidence to the contrary, do people still believe this hokum? Because they’re delusional, that’s why. The textbook definition of a “delusion” is a belief held in the absence of or in spite of evidence to the contrary. To the delusional person, and this fits for almost all conspiracy theorists, the pre-conceived idea is more important than the truth. Perhaps a big chunk of the individual’s identity rides upon that notion (as is the case with the ultra-religious), perhaps the individual wants to feel a part of the collective, or perhaps he or she just wants to think “alternatively.” There is no penalty for thinking outside the box in this world, but there is a penalty for thinking outside the plane of reality the box exists on.

In conclusion, the Birthers that stick with it after being shown Obama’s birth certificate will probably never let up until Obama is no longer in office and the point becomes moot. But if there are some out there that still are interested in the truth and evidence, the smoking gun (to pull another term from Watergate) is the President’s birth certificate, and you now have it. If you have any better information, we’d all like to hear it, but if not, let’s please drop this silly conspiracy and get down to the real issues at hand. And just so this doesn’t sound like a left-wing attack of the right-wing, I will point out that I’m not a Democrat by any stretch of the imagination, but I won’t do my credibility any good by joining up with the lunatic fringe. There is enough to criticize the President about other than the circumstances of his birth.

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Smoke Screen

Posted in Political, Ranting and Raving by Chris W. on March 8, 2011

I’m about to shock everyone out there. The first politician to publicly introduce a bill that will outlaw smoking in his or her respective state will get my respect and admiration. You know why? Because someone will finally have the gumption to admit it.

It’s time that we all stop pussyfooting around and admit that what certain people really want to see is tobacco smoking to be banned everywhere. This hypothetical person would want the government to step in and declare the product and its consumption illegal in whatever state cooks up this claptrap* because the whole “persuading that smoking might not be the best thing for your health” idea has crashed and burned. Seriously, if you buy a pack of cigarettes today in the city of New York, it comes with a big black-and-white sticker on it that says, in no uncertain terms, SMOKING KILLS. And yet I still see people buying them in my local pharmacy, and walk past discarded packs or stamped-out butts. Smoking not only kills, but it causes you to litter, too! Maybe the government should get on that as well?

I’m not a smoker. At all. I grew up in a house where my mom smoked regularly and my dad on occasion. I’ve deduced that my brother smokes as well, judging by the sound of him hacking up his lungs from three houses away. I never have smoked any substance in my life and I probably never will. I have no love loss for smokers as a general population. To me, they’re just regular people with a hobby that I don’t partake in, no different than people who really enjoy hip hop. Both are equally sentient, and at times equally annoying, but the choice to smoke or to listen to music at an absurd level is one made by an individual with the capacity to make that choice.

I know some people are going to throw the argument of “loud music is just an annoyance while second-hand smoke could potentially be deadly” at me, and I wouldn’t be well equipped to argue to the contrary. I’ve seen some evidence that second-hand smoke is not as dangerous as it’s trumped up to be, but the general scientific consensus is that second-hand smoke could be as dangerous as smoking yourself. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s to respect the opinions of scientists and doctors, not politicians and lobby groups. I haven’t reviewed the evidence of whether or not second-hand smoke is as bad for you as first-hand smoke because I don’t think I possess the brainpower to understand the research, and will probably continue to not understand it until it gets distilled to an episode on “Mythbusters”. But that’s not what my point to argue. What I’m trying to do is argue the quasi-legal status tobacco consumption is currently stuck with, a status that finds itself shrinking every passing year.

When I took Social Psychology at NYU (purely for gen ed credit, mind you), one of the things I learned is that people are more likely to accept a sweeping change if it’s done in gradual, easy to digest bits. Car salesmen and con artists use the same trick. Get you to agree to one easy and agreeable condition and the door is open to then introduce further terms on a gradual incline until what you ultimately agree to bares little resemblance to what you started to agree to, Dawkins’ Mount Improbable in the social arena. While I can’t speak for everyone lobbying against tobacco, I think it’s pretty clear what the end game for most of those groups are: a smoke-free city/state/nation. When I look at my own mayor, Michael Bloomberg, writing praise of the Brazilian government after they practically ban tobacco outright, I know that’s what’s on his mind.

But there’s the problem. He wants to outlaw tobacco, but approaching the issue head-on has a very high risk of failure. First of all are the civil libertarians like me, who will make such a stink over the loss of another personal freedom (to chose to smoke or not) that cigarette smoke will seem like gentle spritz of a Glade Plug-in. But libertarian nutjobs like myself and the ACLU – while loud and annoying – can be overlooked. What can’t be overlooked is that the tobacco industry in America is huge. Tobacco is a gigantic cash crop for the US, rakes in billions of dollars, and has a lobby as powerful as Skynet’s army of Terminators. And what about the smokers themselves? It’s often forgotten that they have rights, too.

What is clear is that the status-quo cannot be sustained for much longer. Politicians are trying to have it both ways. Tobacco-use is being outlawed in more and more places, so the anti-smoking people are happy, and at the same time being taxed to hell, so the local governments get to wet their beaks with every singe purchase. The tobacco companies don’t really care that much, because the cost of all the taxes and regulations gets pushed to their customers. And let’s face it, in all these situations, it is the smokers that are getting screwed. It is their choice to partake in this habit, so I don’t feel bad with them having to pay the admission fee, but the government is simultaneously wagging their finger at the entire smoking population while at the same time benefiting from the taxes that tobacco brings in.

If you’re anti-smoking, the solution is easy. “Just quit,” they say.

Really, they’re right. Quitting smoking will instantly make you healthier, and you won’t risk the health of the people around you. The problem is that we currently classify tobacco as a legal substance while demonizing its use. There are no campaigns or advertisements on the subway that say “smoke responsibly” because we’ve outlawed tobacco adverts. If this is the path we’re on, why not commit and just go all the way? Let’s make the discussion of whether or not tobacco should be all the way legal, or all the way illegal. At least then, both sides of the argument will be – for once – honest with everyone.

*I’ll bet you it’s California. It’s gotta be California. California always comes up with these kooky laws that spread around the country like wildfire. Ten’ll get you twenty it’s California.

Hate Politics: Fear and Ignorance in McCain/Palin

Posted in Political by Chris W. on October 14, 2008

Everyone knows that late at night is the best time for critical thinking. Or at least a certain type of critical thinking, the kind you might want to be afraid of. Night-time is the time of vampires, drug-dealers, and Dave Attel, so I’m jeopardizing my credibility by stating that I write some of my most serious work at night. But hey, it works for me.

Once again, I found myself watching late-night repeats of CNN shows because they were slightly more entertaining than the stupid infomercials on Comedy Central. Watching an episode of the animatronic Anderson Cooper (I mean no disrespect to the man. He’s a fine broadcaster and he has a quality show, but HD is not his friend.) I got the inspiration to write about an idea I’ve had for a few weeks now and never really put into practice. This has the potential to get rough, so some may want to get out their Bic lighters and start flaming my e-mail. This time, I might actually deserve it.

As we get closer and closer to Election Day, the people on the fringe of both the Crips and the Bloods* are starting to get more heated. Obama is the clear frontrunner while McCain is playing the kind of catch-up I’d expect from a contestant on Supermarket Sweep, grabbing whatever he or she can off the shelves in the hopes of upping their score. In this situation, some people who support McCain – some specific people, mind you – are starting to come out of the woodwork. Or maybe they’ve always been there and are just now showing symptoms, like a malignant tumor.
But it goes beyond just the Republican side. The topic of unabashed hate in this election is no secret to anyone with any access to any media. But there are two types of hate at play here, hate fueled by hate, and hate fueled by ignorance. We’ll go into both of them, and you may be surprised who winds up on which side.

The reason I got down to write this column was because a journalist for Anderson Cooper 360 interviewed a man at a Sarah Palin carrying a sign reading “S.A.R.A.H.: Smart Americans “R” Against Hussein Obama!” (Sidebar, Your Honor: I believe now that if you’ve got a serious political or social statement and you can condense the whole thing to fit onto a homemade sign, you’re probably doing something wrong. The only exception I can think of was when a Vietnam Protest screamed “One, Two, Three, Four! We Don’t Want Your Fucking War!” That was powerful. This… borders more on stupid.) The man’s point was since Barack Obama’s middle name is Hussein, he must be Middle-Eastern, and therefore must be a threat. Others in the past have commented on Obama being a Muslim, and one preacher shown on AC360, show dated 10/13/08, reduced Obama’s election to a test of the Christian faith. This is clearly hate from ignorance. Obama is an American (he has to be or else he can’t be elected) and a Christian. And a smoker, too, if anybody wants to know. These facts are well documented and McCain supporters are either ignorant of these facts or simply do not care. McCain supporters depicted in this fashion are trying to paint their opponent in the most negative light possible, both to bolster their own position and to sway the 7-8% of the population not yet decided. In 2004, Karl Rove was able to make the election less about Iraq and more about gay people, an issue most people are still uncomfortable with. In 2008, some grass-roots McCain/Palin supporters are trying to make the election less about the economy and more about a middle name and Islam.
(Sidebar again. It doesn’t bother me that Obama’s middle name is Hussein. I know enough about him to feel that what he is named is not an issue. I’d feel less comfortable supporting the Pigfucker/Babyrapist ticket in 2016, but for right now, I’m inclined to agree with Juliet when she asked “What’s in a name?”)

One commentator on CNN asked why the comments by these McCain/Palin supporters are not disavowed by the campaign itself, because they clearly hurt the position rather than help it. I do agree with the man in one sense. When I saw this footage – coupled with Hank Williams, Jr. singing about the liberal media – I was turned off by the McCain/Palin ticket even more than I already was. This was a crowd I did NOT want to hang out with. They made me uncomfortable, like whenever I’m in a social function and pot is being passed around. That’s just my opinion, but to the campaign itself, they’re trying to get undecided voters and hate and fear from ignorance is a great way to get people on your side. In the old X-Men cartoon, Storm tells Jubilee, “People fear what they do not understand.” If you’re an undecided voter, chances are you’ve not done a whole lot of research and are susceptible to this type of ignorance. It’s like a communicable disease that gets passed around between the uninformed, the fearful, and the hateful.

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Think I’ll Buy Me a Football Team

Posted in Political by Chris W. on September 17, 2008

It’s four in the morning right now, and my head’s a reelin’. It’s impossible to turn anywhere without hearing of another financial giant going teets up (or in the case of AIG, near teets up) and how our money is in severe risk of getting fed up and just leaving us. Since I’m trying to get more involved in the news in an effort to become at least a little bit more intellectual, I have CNN on right now with the skeletal remains of Larry King talking the economy and politics with a bunch of women. Nobody got naked or pulled hair, so it’s at least different from the cable I’m used to watching at four in the morning. But the bad thing is that this is hardly the time for deep thought, and a lot of the issues brought up just numbed my brain to the point where I started to sound like one of those guys in suspenders on Monty Python’s Flying Circus. So, I thought we could all work it out together.

I want to frame the discussion based around what I already know, so if someone reads this and has more and better info, I can be enlightened. I’m not above learning something new, after all.

For the past few months or so, I’ve watched news reports of various financial institutions – banks, loan offices, insurance agencies – collapse under the weight of… something. The dollar has about as much strength as my old RC Racer, a toy older than most members of my family. It seems now that the economy on a whole has been pushed to the edge and is now waiting for the final weak belch that will send it tumbling.

I don’t want to sound like a fear monger. I only am reporting what the news tells me, so of course, I’m scared shitless. Maybe things aren’t as bad as they’re made out to be, and in all likelihood, they aren’t. However, how good or bad times are right now is not the focus of this column. What I’d like to talk about is the issue of the government getting involved in giving the economy the Kiss of Life.

On Larry King’s show, I heard for the first time that the Federal Reserve had loaned AIG 85 billion dollars so that the insurance agency that has the second worst commercials for any insurance agency (that top honor still belongs to Geico) can remain in business. It was essentially a buyout, meaning that the US Government now owns 80 percent of the company, but the Federal Reserve claimed that this move was in the economy’s best interest, to keep the company, which is worldwide, from going under.

Now, a few things struck me. First of all, let’s get the numbers straight. 85 Billion. Billion. That’s Carl Sagan Billion. With a B. I don’t need to tell you that’s a lot of money. But the number is inconsequential against the ramifications of the action. This is direct government involvement in the economy, something that I abhor. I was all set to crap all over this news, until I started listening to the debate on Larry’s show. Suze Orman, who was on before the standard left wing vs. right wing shit, said something that shocked me to my core. She claimed that AIG was a worldwide company and if they were to go out of business, the shockwave would be felt globally, at least in an economic sense. People’s life insurance wouldn’t be at risk, but – to put it in perspective – it would be as if Wal-Mart suddenly went out of business tomorrow. That’s a shocking loss and, if anything, it starts people panicking. When I heard her mention just how serious it would’ve been had AIG gone under, and how Wall Street experienced a slight rebound at the news that it would be saved, I had to think twice about my standard position on the matter.

On one hand, it’s good to see that the company will be saved and Wall Street saw a rebound on the news that it could be saved. However, it also scares the hell out of me that we now have an insurance company that is essentially nationalized. It is, once again, direct government involvement in the economy, something I feel is not a good idea for the long run. This also sets a scary precedent for government involvement in business. It’s not like we are going to start relying on the government to bail us out overnight, but it does subvert the basic tenement of capitalism: live by the sword, die by the sword.

The interesting part in this whole story is the political angle, and the two major presidential candidates (I haven’t heard anything from Bob Barr yet, but I’m hoping to see something soon. His response interests me.) are jumping all over it. Both agree that there’s a problem, unless you take into account McCain’s statement that the “fundamentals” of the economy are “strong.” They have different takes, at least from what I can gather from the soundbytes selected by the news. Obama, of course, wants more regulation of the economy and more taxation of the wealthy. McCain tries to call himself a “De-Regulator” while the best solution he offered was a committee to study the problem.

Before I move on to the final blow from Thor’s hammer on this subject, I’d like to shed some light as to why I’m not voting for either candidate here. Obama obviously has momentum on his side, and his approach is what you’d expect. He touts more regulation, a major changeup of the system because something obviously doesn’t work. It’s very easy to get swayed by this rhetoric; I found myself agreeing with some of what he says. But I also feel that he, and many Democrats, can as reactionary as Republicans can be at times and the reasonings for liberal economic policies are often very simplistic. “Health Care is too expensive, so let’s nationalize it so everyone can afford it.” “Corporate CEOs are greedy, so let’s start regulating industries to make sure no-one’s getting screwed.” “Gas is getting too expensive, so let’s force companies to invest in technologies that people may not have interest in or there may be no market for.*” etc. Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, McCain is playing his handling of this situation close to the vest. I know he wants to cut taxes for everybody, which I certainly support because I’m somebody. But beyond that, I haven’t heard anything really concrete. He wanted to set up a commission to investigate why the economy is in the doghouse. I like that notion, since it showcases a need to evaluate a situation and act when the evidence reveals itself. However, the way he played it seemed like he was passing the buck while offering generic promises. If he had stated that he wanted to evaluate exactly what was going on and figure out exactly why we are in an economic hardship, and then act accordingly, I would’ve stood behind it. But the vibe I got from that piece was non-committal.

And people wonder why I vote Libertarian…

Finally, and this sort of ties in with the political question, the one thing that no one is saying, at least to what I can find, is exactly why our dollar isn’t strong, our businesses are failing, and our position as an economic superpower has as much credibility as a Milli Vanilli CD? That is the real question I would like to see answered. You can’t fix the problem until you’ve identified the root cause. There are a hundred reasons why my car won’t start in the morning, but to immediately assume that the battery is dead and go out shopping for a new one before I test the old one is foolhardy.

I believe in laissez faire capitalism; it’s what I find makes the most sense. However, I do hold the notion that I could be 100% wrong, and if the evidence arrises that government intervention in economics is actually the best model for our national economy, then I would admit that I was wrong and support it.

How many times have you heard a Democrat or a Republican say that?

*I think one of the greatest indicators of the free market at work is the spike in Prius and Yaris sales after gas got so expensive. The Prius is one of the ugliest cars I’ve ever seen, and unless you take California’s mandate that car companies produce a certain amount of alternative energy vehicles, and the fact that people want them more now as opposed to when they first came out is an indicator of some basic codes of capitalism: make a product that someone wants and people will buy it.

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This Just In…

Posted in Political by Chris W. on September 11, 2008

Somedays you just wonder why you get out of bed in the morning. Similarly, there are some days I wonder why I go on the Internet at all, because it’s going to show me something I’m going to get upset about.

I haven’t been following Sarah Palin and her politics much, as I already decided I don’t want her in the White House, just like I don’t want John McCain or Barack Obama in the White House either. I have some more thoughts on why she was chosen, and I’ll bring them up in a little bit. But first, the nitty-gritty.

Sarah Palin was interviewed by ABC News for segments that will air this weekend. Sort of a real-life rendition of the “Get to Know Me!” segments Jon Lovitz used to do on Saturday Night Live. I watch them because I think it ups my cred as a serious political commentator and not just a jerkoff with a website. And when the subject of God came up, I knew I was in for a ride. It’s kind of like watching a baseball game and knowing a batter will strike out and leave the bases loaded.

The problem for me came up when the subject of God and the Iraq War started getting bounced back and forth between Palin and Charles Gibson like ping-pong ball. Of course, Palin is the poster-woman for the Modern Conservative, so she has some kind of religious conviction*, not just of her actions, but of life itself. A video clip was shown of her telling people to “pray for the soldiers” and Charlie Gibson, the knife-fighter that he is, asked her if she felt that the War in Iraq was guided by God. Mrs. Palin tried to spin her way out of the question and the video clip, and I found myself agreeing with her when she said it is impossible to know God’s will. I believe that, but for different reasons than her. Where I lost her was when she said that the quote came from Abraham Lincoln and the gist of what she said was that we shouldn’t pray that God is on our side; we should pray that we are on God’s side.

It took a lot of super-glue to put my head back together after it exploded.

I’m not going to argue faith with anyone. When you’re talking about whether God exists or not, faith is the equivalent of a Blackjack. You either have faith or you don’t, and there is no way you can penetrate that shield and deliver a critical blow. That is why religious debates on television rarely come away with a clear victor. You cannot argue objectively with faith because faith is belief in spite of or in the absence of objective evidence. However, you can always criticize having faith, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I don’t care what god you pray to, when you’re in something as serious as a war, the LAST thing you should be doing is wondering about matters of the supernatural. If God cannot materialize in the White House and give the president better military advice than Donald Rumsfeld, then the matter is inconsequential. Instead of worrying about the Interstellar Angels dancing on the head of a pin, someone in that high of a position of power needs to be concerned with the facts: how many troops are dying every day, the strength of the enemy, and whether it is a better decision to quit and save face or ride the embarrassing and costly wave to the bitter end.

To be fair, Sarah Palin didn’t make the worse error of wondering whether God was on her side, an error that has been made by other people in positions of power, not to name names. She is talking about the moral dilemma of war itself. She just chooses to view her morality in a religious frame, and I have to appreciate that as her decision. I can imagine someone in that position of power lying awake at night wondering if he or she did “the right thing.” That is a human response. And going into a situation like the War in Iraq, when nobody had all the facts as the cry for war started, right and wrong were ambiguous concepts, seemingly existing and not existing in the same space like Schrodinger’s Cat.

But I still don’t believe the time is right for introspection. We’re not even out of this train-wreck yet and we’re spending a lot of energy looking back. I certainly appreciate all the new evidence which has come forward about motives and facts, but we have to deal with the problems of the here and now. Mrs. Palin would spend time wondering the “rightness” of all the actions up to that point – a useful exercise in its place – but I’d rather see someone in her (would-be) position dealing with the realities and the facts of right now.

The other thing that tickles me about her is how a lot of liberals have come out against her nomination as Vice President as a political move. To them, I issue the following “Duh!” Of course nominating Sarah Palin is a political move! Nominating any candidate for any office is a political move because you’re in politics! Our political system is kind of a game because it is a genuine talent search crossed with a popularity contest. Nominating Obama is partly a political move as well because of the integrity of his personal character. It gave him a political edge, except in certain backwater areas of the country which shall go nameless. If we were voting on sheer experience and political ideals, I believe Hilary would be the one on TV now. She’s got more experience under her belt, and she’s – let’s face it – the Arch-Democrat, the sort of person that should be the front picture on the Democratic Party’s Wikipedia page. But, unfortunately for her, Obama had more personal charisma and his So-Simple-Your-Dog-Can-Understand-It Message of Change reflects what a lot of people in the country are clamoring for: a fresh start with some new blood. In fact, Obama’s personal character makes up most of what people (at least on my level) know about him. I’d love to quiz my friends who support him on his politics, and see if I can find anything that surprises me.

I read the greatest analysis of Sarah Palin’s nomination in the blog of cartoonist and writer Scott Adams. You can find his original article at the Dilbert Blog, but I pulled my favorite quote here:

“Since selecting Palin, the discussion in the media and in kitchens across America has shifted from “Can you be too old to be President?” to “Can you be too young and inexperienced?” McCain has cleverly put his critics in the position of arguing that experience is a good thing. And McCain has more of it than Obama. If you believe that people only vote for presidents, not vice presidents, this was a clever move.”

This is politics, people. Time to wave your foam fingers and cheer for the home team. Are you ready for some football?

*I’m not going to say Christian conviction, because I haven’t yet seen her reference Christ anywhere.

Rock the Vote!!! (or not)

Posted in Political by Chris W. on September 3, 2008

I’d like to address something that has been gnawing at me for a while now. We’re coming up on election time in a few months, and already some ads are starting to come out. Not for Obama or McCain; those are to be expected. I’m talking about the neutral ads sponsored by the government aimed at getting young people out to vote. I don’t know why, but every time I see one of these ads, I flash back to middle school Social Studies classes. My impression is that these are the sort of ads 7th Graders come up with for extra credit, and they’re being solicited by our government.

Remember those god-awful anti-drug PSAs that came out in the late 80s/early 90s? Those commercials that would pop up after school during Tiny Toon Adventures telling you “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?”

Just one. Did my tax-money finance that piece of shit?

It just tickles me to think about it. We are (or were, depending on who you talk to) an economic superpower. We supply 80 percent of the world’s entertainment, and we have one button that could, in theory, cast Life As We Know It back to the era of The Flintstones. And this is the best we could come up with? Even “Whazzzup?!” was kind of clever for the first 5 minutes. The end result is that it’s not the government’s job to police behavior. It’s not written down in the Constitution, and even if it were, they clearly suck at it. Anybody needing a history refresher on that fact can flip in their textbooks back to the chapter on Nancy Reagan and “Just Say No.” Even her own husband dibbed and dabbed in the Devil’s Dandruff.

A few days ago, my iTunes automatically downloaded the latest offering from Rooster Teeth’s Red vs. Blue series. Anyone who’s watched it knows that it’s some of the funniest entertainment out there on the Internet. Every now and then, the canon story takes a week off and a PSA will come out instead. This time, the PSA was for real. Rooster Teeth, joining with Microsoft and whomever is in charge of making sure we all get out there and do our democratic duty, put out two PSAs espousing the importance of one vote and how important it is to vote. I’ll focus on the second one, because it’s the one I had a problem with.

The premise of this PSA was a pre-match lobby in Halo 3, where all the players are gathering around, shooting the shit. Simmons, one of the players, is in charge of picking the type of game for this round and choses one of the most complicated game variants this side of Bridge. Everyone’s solidly against this choice, and moves to veto. However, one player is absent and returns too late to veto. The tagline is something to the effect of, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.”

I’ve heard this line of logic when I was in High School. It was bullshit then, and it’s even more bullshit now. Penn Jillette, in a live show, mentions that, “…there’s one thing a totalitarian government cannot tolerate, it’s ambiguity. They don’t very much care about what you believe as long as you all believe it together.” Right now, our government would have us believe that they’d rather you go out and vote just for the fuck of it than not vote for any of the reasons that you could conceivably think up. In that logic, it doesn’t matter who you vote for or for what reasons; the only thing that matters is that you’re doing it with everyone else. Sounds a lot like the scenario Mr. Jillette put forward, doesn’t it? In that line of logic, we are beholden to whatever the political parties of this country deem as a worthy leader, and if for some reason you don’t think any of the candidates are fit to run a car wash, let alone the Greatest Nation on Earth, then it’s just your tough luck. You have to pick someone…

Mr. Jillette has another catchphrase I’d like to pull out right now. (In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, almost all my wisdom comes from a carny magician in Vegas who may very well be the smartest man in the country). He has said on more than one occasion, “The only way you can waste your vote is to vote.” At first, I thought it was cynicism, but in fact, it’s the very opposite of cynicism. At the end of an election, only three things matter: who voted for Candidate A, who voted for Candidate B, and all the other people who didn’t vote for whatever reason. Motive is the last thing they talk about, if they talk about it at all, when discussing the outcomes of an election. If I were to vote for Obama simply because I liked a tie he wore during a debate, that doesn’t come up. Similarly, if you were to vote for Obama simply because you disliked him less than John McCain, nobody cares! All that mattered was that your vote went for Obama. That’s how history would view your decision. Motive has no bearing on it.

However, every election we hear about the percentage of the population that didn’t vote. That percentage may be spoken of in a disappointed tone, but they are getting airtime saying that 53 or however many percent of the eligible population didn’t vote. Those numbers are little snippets that people latch on to. Voting simply because you feel you have to is intellectual adultery, and not the good kind of adultery, where there’s a chance your spouse or partner may join in the sexy fun when you’re found out.

So if, come November, you find that you’re not impressed with Barack Obama or John McCain or Bob Barr or Ralph Nader or anyone else that may be on the ticket, here’s a thought: don’t vote for them. The lesser of two evils is still evil, and the enemy of my enemy is not my friend.

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Why I Support Bob Barr…

Posted in Political by Chris W. on August 9, 2008

You may have noticed that there’s a new banner across the site now, for this guy you’ve probably never heard of named Bob Barr. Now, it’s no secret to those who are regular readers where I stand politically. In fact, if you’re reading this on Facebook, then it’s right up there in my goddamn header! But, after today, when I spent a lot of the day dealing with a lot of political stuff and getting seriously into politics and journalism*, I decided to post a quick blurb on the candidate that I’m supporting this election (if he can get on the ballot in my state, that is) and why I’m not hopping on board with either the Crips or the Bloods in this case.

My first introduction to Libertarian candidate Bob Barr came from Penn & Teller: Bullshit! Mr. Barr was an interviewee on the episode entitled “Big Brother” and commented on the Patriot Act, an act that he freely admits that he agreed to but didn’t read. He expressed regret for his decision on the show, and while that still creeps me out a little bit, I like that he admitted that he was wrong without being pressured by the press, unlike some other politicians I can think of.

Later on, after the Ron Paul campaign fizzled away like a soda bottle left open, I remember Bob Barr coming on the Mike O’Meara Show to announce that he was the Libertarian Candidate. The hosts poked fun at him for having a snowball’s chance in hell at winning – which he does – but I found myself agreeing with what he had to say, and after visiting his website a few times recently, and donating money to his campaign, I decided to leap on board the ship and help to swab the deck.

Before I get into the proverbial “why” of this entry, I have to take a breather and talk about something that happened to me last month. One day, when I was coming home on the Ferry and writing up the Super Mario Galaxy review, I was approached by a guy who asked me about my computer. This was an older gentleman, who reminded me of my grandfather and spoke a little off-kilter, wearing clothes that did not flatter himself. In short, he looked like a bunch of guys you try to avoid in a public space, but he asked me about my favorite subjects – me and my crap – so I engaged him in conversation. Turns out he was an okay guy, for starters. We started talking tech, but when the doors opened on the Ferry, the conversation suddenly changed to heavy shit. I was talking to a guy who had spent time in the Israeli military (if he is to be believed, and that’s not the sort of thing I want to call someone out on) and he was talking about war injuries and atrocities he’s seen. Now, by this point, I’m wondering if I can swim the rest of the way home, but I’m stuck so I continue.

The conversation gets interesting again when he brings up politics. Since I live in New York City, a city known for being very liberal, I’m not surprised when he starts up on a “Republicans are evil” tirade, laced with a hint of conspiracy. I give this guy as much as I can without totally calling him out on it, until the subject turns to Barack Obama. By this point, I want to make a fist, so I tell this gentleman that I couldn’t vote in the primaries because I’m not a Democrat. This gets us started on partisan politics and “lesser of two evils.” I firmly believe that you shouldn’t vote for the lesser of two evils. If you go to the polls and find that the two major candidates are “Baby Eater” and “Convicted Murderer”, shouldn’t the proper choice be “Neither”? At this point, this man looks into my eyes and says that he thinks I’m an idealist. It isn’t much, but I’m taken aback because I’ve never heard anybody call me that. As such, I lose my momentum and he drives the conversation the rest of the way home, ending that he thinks I should consider joining the Democratic Party just to stick it to those evil Republicans. (not a direct quote)

I’ve been replaying that scenario in my head ever since it happened. The big reason is because I wonder if I really am an idealist if I place so much value on being progressive and requiring evidence. But if there is one thing that I’m idealistic about, it’s politics. I’m a newbie to the political game, so I tend to approach it with some naivety in that I think that most of them really are looking out for our best interests or doing what they feel to be right. I’m not so cynical to believe that everyone in Washington is a scumbag. But, I do also believe that a two-party-only system is evil and stacks the deck against newcomers and people with smaller voices. In my world, you can get by on being small and independent as long as you stay frugal. But in politics, you have to be big in order to make it, and the only two big parties are the Democrats and the Republicans. In a way, they have a stranglehold on the whole system.

Now, I see a lot of Obama shirts when I walk around. If I didn’t, I’d have to double check to make sure I’m still in America. I like that there is a political candidate out there now that people like on his own merit, not because he’s running against someone who’s worse. He stands for change and new blood in politics, and if I wanted to be on the winning team, I’d join the Obama camp, but I disagree with 80 percent of his political views. Do I think he’d be better for the country than McCain? A thousand times over. But, I cannot look myself in the eye and say that I support Barack Obama because he doesn’t represent my political views. If I were to vote for the lesser of two evils, which I have in the past, I’d certainly go for Obama and not think twice, but that practice is a cynical and dangerous way to handle the country’s future. You vote for the people you believe in, and politically, I don’t stand behind Barack Obama. Despite his popularity and momentum in this race, I want to support a candidate I’d be happy working for, and I found that in Bob Barr.

Barr represents real change, a third party long-shot candidate getting serious consideration. Libertarians are on the fringe of American Politics, operating outside the strict “one or the other” system we’ve got now. Even Ron Paul, who got a lot of ground support from young people on the Internet, was squashed because he couldn’t get the support of the new breed of big-government Republicans who have taken over the party. All the support that Barr is getting, while it doesn’t rival the big two yet, shows that there are people who are fed up with having to choose whether you’d rather be hung or shot. For me, the differences between Obama and McCain are in the details, but the both are after the same thing: larger government and more money to spend in different ways.

So today, I decided to show my support for Bob Barr in the truest form: I donated money to his campaign. Not a whole lot, but it was all I could spare at the moment and I’m glad I did it. It isn’t enough for me to jabber here on the Internet or put up a banner on my blog. It gave me a sense of pride to know that I’m contributing to the political process, helping get a fringe voice heard and let people know that there is a world of options out there. Come election time, if Barr is on the ticket in New York, I’ll be out there to vote for him, and win, lose, or draw, I can go to bed that night secure in the knowledge that my one vote really counted.

To all the people who voted Kerry in the last election, can you say the same thing?

Web Link of the Year

Posted in Political by Chris W. on January 30, 2008

I’m writing this one after coming out of a neat little post on Reason Magazine’s Hit and Run blog. Since I’m running on a Mac (Whoo Hoo!), I get blog updates sent right to my e-mail, and I spend some time every night cleaning out the ones I’m not interested in reading. The one that caught my eye was “Penn Jillette Hate Crime”. Naturally, I clicked on it because I’m a huge Penn fan and was curious as to the subject of the posting. What I found is enough information to keep me occupied for hours.

It turns out that due to the Freedom of Information Act (a law with a good heart, but needs to get out and exercise more), a website has been set up to collect documents de-classified and are now a part of public record. This website, www.governmentattic.org, has recently posted several complaints filed by citizens just like you or me, except with massive amounts of free time and seemingly digesting Crazy in pill form, to the FCC for offensive and indecent material. The subject of the Reason blog was that many people (okay, more like a few dozen) came out against a Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode that aired during their third season. The title of the episode was “Holier Than Thou” and criticized the saintly appearance of Mother Teresa, Mahatma Ghandi, and the Dali Lama. Apparently, people (Catholic people, mind you) were grossly offended that such a person could be treated such a way, and asked for all sorts of amends to heal the wounds. Oddly enough, people only ran to the defense of Mother Teresa, but that’s another story.

The complainers claimed that the show was attacking Catholicism, some even likening it to Nazi propaganda against Jews. One offended person even pointed to Penn’s use of the phrase “fucking cunts” to a group of nuns. First of all, having seen the episode, the material therein criticizes people from three different religions and only criticizes the actions those people take. For example, Mother Teresa took money from very shady people and used it to set up a home for the suffering and dying. Note that it’s just a “home” for these afflicted people, not a place where they could get medical help. She even said that people have to suffer in order to experience Christ, and said that AIDS-riddled countries should not turn to contraceptive devices to protect them. Ghandi, while preaching non-violence, harbored racial discriminations against African people (common for the time) and had some “sexual weaknesses”, as acknowledged by his own grandson. The Dali Lama was an ousted dictator trying to get his land back. All these criticisms show that the people we regard as saintly were, very much, human. Religion doesn’t come up for the most part.

Next, if you’re reading this, I can only assume that the phrase “fucking cunts” (never thought I’d use that word twice in one post) got your attention, especially being thrown at nuns. Here’s why that argument gets blown out of the water: the person watching and complaining was caught up in the sensationalism of the phrase and who it was directed at. To be fair, Penn uttered the phrase behind a mouth-gag after a group of nuns tied him and Teller up with ropes and ran away. First of all, everyone in that shot is acting. The nuns aren’t real nuns, but actresses dressed up to look like nuns. Who knows if they’re even Christian?! Penn & Teller aren’t really getting tied up, but are being tied up for the camera and released after the director yells “Cut!” So this is obviously just a show, but if you’d like to take it at face value, I’ll go even further. I don’t care who you are, if you were violated like that, it would provoke a mean response. Drawing from my own experience, I said some words I’m not particularly proud of using after being mugged while walking home last year. I’m not going to repeat them, but rent the movie Blazing Saddles and you’ll get my drift. I don’t think I’d ever use that word in my regular day-to-day life, but being put in an extreme situation made me call upon what I thought to be the most barbed and vicious thing I could think of in order to get back at my attackers. In fact, I’ll go one step beyond that: if my own sainted mother were to tie me up in and anger and censorship, like was demonstrated on the Penn & Teller show, I would use words I’d never even think about using to her face in any other situation. That is traditional human response, part of the survival techniques built into our brains over millions of years of evolution. But either way, it doesn’t matter because the situation was fake, those words scripted, and said in a matter not to degrade or humiliate, but to lash out at an attacker.

Also, in response to the “Nazi Propaganda” comments, I have a few choice words to say. I know this sounds worse than it is, but nobody chose to be black, white, yellow, or red. Those are the circumstances of our birth and they are nothing more than random. In the case of Jewish people, there is a culture associated with being Jewish, a culture that differs from the religious beliefs of Judaism. Catholicism is not a culture, but a set of ideas one chooses to believe in, and a set of ideas can always be challenged. Nazis believed that Jews as a people were inferior. Penn & Teller (and myself) think that Catholicism is misguided and incorrect. You cannot bash Catholics for the simple fact of being Catholic, but you can and should question and criticize what they believe in.

Anyway, this is the meat of what I’m getting at. I’ll post my favorite pdf files at the end of this blog. Download them and read them, please. It shows you just how stupid people can be at times, and it confirms many notions about the kind of person who would write a letter like the kind contained in these files: self-centered, controlling, ignorant of other concepts but their own, and grammar-challenged. I’d like you to read these for yourself and get your own take on their content (it also helps if you’re a fan of the show, so you can provide context), but I’ll add my favorite passages with a rebuttal just for kicks. Keep tuning in to see the pile of stupidity expand…

Finally, I’d like to end with a letter of my own. (ahem…)

Dear People With Too Much Time On Your Hands

We, as a nation, appreciate your sense of righteousness and vigilantism that compels you to your word processors in order to voice your dissatisfaction with a certain TV program. That type of bravado and moxy must’ve been felt by the Founding Fathers as they took a stand against taxation-without-representation all those years ago. But in all seriousness, shut your collective traps.
There is no law that says we as a people have the right to not be offended. Being offended is part of the human condition, a side-effect of our consciousness and the direct result of being able to believe and value different things. While there are things in this country that we’ve collectively agreed upon as being immoral (killing, stealing, racism, sexism), there are many other things that our individual morality will guide us on. And your morality may differ from my morality in certain ways. Just because something offends your sense of decency doesn’t automatically make it evil.

Remember that you are talking about television programs: people who, for the most part, don’t exist doing things that do not have a direct impact on your daily lives. A television doesn’t have arms to strangle you, or to pick up a gun and shoot you. It cannot change the channel on its own whim, or make a contestant pick the $1,000,000 case on Deal or No Deal. Much the same way a car needs a driver to go anywhere, the television doesn’t operate without a viewer to watch it.

Therefore, if you come across a type of program that you don’t like, turn it off. If you can’t condone it being on television, don’t watch that channel anymore, even if it shows your favorite program. Don’t patronize the advertisers if you want to take it that far. Or, use the technology installed in many television sets and DVRs to automatically block out any show that has violence, language, or sex if that’s the bubble you want to live in. You, the consumer, have more power than you realize. There are measures in place that would keep even over-the-air channels blocked if you didn’t want to see programming on a particular station. You also have the almighty “Off” button as well. I would like to point out that even though we did watch the murder of a live person on television (Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby on live TV), society hasn’t crumbled yet, but I digress.

We don’t all share the same worldview. People are going to disagree with you as they are going to disagree with me. However, the difference between me and you is that while you demand your worldview be appeased, I try to change minds through the power of argument and evidence, the difference between a grand piano and a kazoo. So, if you’re offended, be offended and deal with it.* Take your own personal steps to rid the corruption from your life, but don’t rain on someone else’s parade because you have a hangup against language, sex, or violence. You may not like it, but believe it or not, somebody else might want to see it.

Sincerely Yours,
Chris Wood

*Or get a website of your own and complain as loudly as I do on a regular basis.

I would also like to put out that most of the shows complained about do not fall on prime time, and are on TV well past when children go to bed. Some exceptions include The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Desperate Housewives. Some have even gone so far as to complain about Oprah, which I always regard as a good thing.
If you’d like to see what all the hubbub is about, go to http://www.reason.com/blog/show/124707.html

Here’s the list of extracted quotes, coupled with Location and Page number to prove that I’m not taking quotes out of context, or changing any of the spelling or grammar:

The Simpsons, Page 26: “The Simpsons cartoon features two women in swimsuits. While there were no nudity, this scene certainly was inapropriate [sic] because women should be dressed conservatively and obey the wishes of their husbands.” (One person’s opinion, not cogent to the argument about decency.)

The Simpsons, Page 28: “Personally I feel it is more important for children to learn that when you shoot someone they DO DIE….rather than trying to protect everybody for gay-marriage which isn’t going to kill anybody.” (Good point, but I believe a parent is more than enough to handle this situation, by explaining that the characters aren’t real, and that people do die when they get shot for real. By the same token, you could argue that Wile E. Coyote cartoons cannot show the coyote staying aloft when he runs off the cliff because that’s physically impossible.)

The Simpsons, Page 32: “I watched the last few minites [sic] of the Simpsons on Feb. 20, 2005. It showed Homer marring two Lesbians on prime time. This has gone far enough! The show desensitises [sic} the consept [sic] of homosexuality that the Bible says is an abomination. Children are watching this, and ifone [sic, again] is on the verge ofbeing [sic] gay, it is saying it is OK. You better moniter [oh, for the love of sic…] what is being broadcast better than this. They could not have gotten away with this 10 years ago.” [Sir or Madam, I hope to your God (mine doesn’t exist) that you either don’t have any children or, if you do, that they are fiercely heterosexual. If they are not, growing up in your household will surely do more damage to their self-esteem than a SImpsons episode will. Also, please check that against the actual document. That has a lot of spelling errors, and I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not altering the spelling of these quotes to make the speakers sound dumber.]

I will also point out that some people in that collection do the really cool thing of complaining to the FCC that the episode mentioned above needed to have a “Parental Advisory” label on it because of the issue of same-sex marriage.

Ron Paul: The Evolution Denier

Posted in Political, Religion by Chris W. on December 28, 2007

This blog is a classic example of standing up for what you believe in, on both parts. Any regular reader of this post, or of this website in general, is aware of the fact that I am both an atheist and a libertarian. That means I’m practically on the fringe of political discourse in this country. Generally speaking, nobody wants to hear what the godless heathen has to say, but I do my part and vote because by involving myself in politics, I exercise my right to make myself heard regardless of my position. I’ve voted in the two major elections that have happened since I turned 18: the 2004 Presidential Election, and the 2006 Midterm Election. My only regret in those actions is voting for Kerry in 2004, simply because I was afraid of 4 more years of Bush (and fat lotta good that did me…) But since then, I’ve voted for what I believed in: less government, more freedom.

This brings me to the subject of Ron Paul. I’ve been watching a lot of the presidential candidates and felt that Paul is the mainstream candidate that I felt like throwing my support behind for right now.* He is a Republican, although his political views are very “old-school” Republican: no big government, no world-policing, and working to uphold Constitutional liberties. Sounds OK to me. However, there are some things that rub me the wrong way. First, I learned that he was against spending money on stem-cell research. At first, I didn’t like that position, but I’ve since started questioning my position and haven’t come up with an answer yet. Second, I heard some rumors floating around that he voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade, which I certainly didn’t agree with him on. Maybe it should be a states-rights issue, but until that gets sorted out, I’d like the government to keep that freedom afloat. Finally, he’s big on God. I’m not sure how much of a bible-thumper he is, but it’s enough to make him question the “theory” of evolution, as stated in this video.

I ask the question to myself: is it possible to separate the politics from the man? Can you support someone’s ideas but disagree with him or her personally? And to a greater extent, can you elect someone whose morals you disagree with, yet are otherwise politically congruent? I quote comedian Bobcat Golthwait (perhaps the only time he’s been mentioned in a political discussion) when he said “Voting for President is like shopping at an adult novelty store; you’re trying to find the dildo that will hurt the least.” For an atheist libertarian (and to a minor extent, everyone else) this is certainly true. Unless you yourself run for president, you’re probably going to disagree with something that the President says or does. So, let’s break this down logically: I can’t reject him simply because he’s religious, because there are no atheist candidates. The tipping point would therefore be if his religious views interfered with his “pro-freedom” politics. From what I’ve read, he prefers to keep hands off and lets the local governments decide if their schools should allow prayer or display religious symbols. He’s even proposed a bill that would allow students to privately pray in school if they so chose to, yet would not force students who chose not to pray to participate. His reading of the “separation of church and state” part of the Constitution is that the Constitution only prohibits the establishing of a national church, and that America was founded on religious principles. This sort of idea scares me, and his politics point towards a decrease in secularization, yet leaving the decision out of the government’s hands. However, as hard as I looked, I couldn’t find any literature on how he feels about public schools teaching Creationism, which to me is a major issue.

It’s a very sticky situation, especially when you consider that you can debate someone’s politics and challenge their ideas on the role of government or constitutionality all you want, but it’s very difficult to debate morals or feelings. These things are not rooted in cognitive thought, but are instead snap judgements made through internal prejudices and psychological shortcuts built up through the years. It’s very difficult to change someone’s morals through debate, and any time you start debating morality or philosophy, it’s only a matter of time until the entire discussion stalls. Therefore, it’s certainly easier to support or get along with someone whom you agree with on a basic (i.e. non-cognitive) level, but disagree with on matters of politics, music, art, or whatever. It’s no walk in the park, but it’s certainly easier than people who agree on the same thing but for different reasons.

The question is always whether you’re electing a politician or a person. For the most part, the threshold of acceptable character traits varies from person to person. In the case of my support for Ron Paul, I have to say that his skepticism of evolution worries me that he’s the type of person who can’t separate his faith from his intelligence. I’m very troubled by his reading of the Constitution, but that could possibly be corrected in debate. I’m also afraid that putting so much power into the hands of local governments might result in little theocracies popping up, but that’s paranoid little me talking, and that idea can also be challenged with evidence. The thing that stops me from totally jumping off the bandwagon is that he’s volunteering less power for the President and more power for the people to guide their lives. Personally, I do see Ron Paul as both a politician and a person, the lawmaker and the private citizen. What he does or believes in the privacy of his home is of no concern to me, as long as it doesn’t affect his public judgement. I’m even okay with Bush being born-again; it’s when he starts talking to God instead of the people who fucking elected him that I have a problem. So while Ron Paul may deny evolution, I can see past it for the time being. I think he’s the gravest form of wrong you can be, but it doesn’t impact my view of him as a politician.

As always, I encourage discussion, so leave a comment and tear me a new asshole if you so chose.

P.S. For the argument against Paul’s reading of the Constitution, check this argument out, taken from the About.com page about atheism:
The exact words of the 1st Amendment are “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” That’s it. Not a lot of words, but very important ones. People will argue that since the phrase “Separation of Church and State” never appears in the Constitution, it’s just a myth that we made up. But the proof is in the pudding. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” While this means that the Government can’t make an official national religion, it also means that no one religion will be “respected” or have its tenants, morals, or ideals put on a pedestal above all the other ones. For example, if public school children were required to spend one minute to pray to Jesus instead of recite the pledge of allegiance, that would be a direct violation of the 1st Amendment, because Jesus cannot be privileged more than Moses, Abraham, Mohammed, or any of the other Judeo-Christian symbols. The second part comes in “prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It would seem that as long as everyone prayed to some deity, no matter who it was, everyone could be legally religious without violating the 1st Amendment. However, it’s the word “free” in there that fucks with that idea. To freely exercise a religion, you have to chose who to pray to, when, where, how, and why. And, of course, the government can’t make you pray at all because that would involve stepping into the “free exercise” part of the sentence. Therefore, the government cannot legally tell you any of those three things without violating the 1st Amendment. With all this in mind, the 1st Amendment guarantees a secular, yet religiously free America, where you can chose where you want to practice and how, or to abstain totally. The government can’t make you respect or partake in any establishment of religion, nor can it tell you how to be religious.

* For the democratic side, I like candidate Mike Gravel. He’s also very libertarian-leaning, which is always a plus in my book. The only things are questionable about him are his views on teaching Creationism/school prayer, and his support of socialized medicine. Also, a classmate of mine was involved in a short movie about his absence at the Democratic Debate which can be viewed here. Very interesting stuff.

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Abstinence: the New Kink on the Block

Posted in Political, Ranting and Raving by Chris W. on November 29, 2007

There are people who can’t get laid. Not for all the tea in China; not for all the lobster in Maine. Not even if the life of his or her sainted mother is on the line. It just so happens you are listening to one of those people right now. Now, I’m not using this space to rant about how much I’m not getting or to make my blue balls any lighter, I’m just saying that I’m an involuntary virgin. It’s not my choice to be celibate, and as you can imagine, it sucks. With that in mind, you will probably be shocked to realize that there are people keeping it in their pants by choice! These people are part of a new movement called “abstinence,” and it’s being taught to kids across the country as the way to deal with their sexual urges. It is the only program endorsed by the President (check it out), and many sex-ed programs you find in your local schools funded by the government teach abstinence only.

You may be wondering why I jumped on this topic all of a sudden. Well, I was flipping through the television early a few mornings ago and landed on the Today Show. There, they did a segment where abstinence advocates came on and discussed why abstinence is a good thing. Merideth Vierra tried to throw some things back at these guests (read: losers), but honestly, the Today Show is not the best avenue for debate and discussion; little pissant internet sites are. So grab your torches and your pitchforks, cause we’re going on a riot!

Abstinence, in the context of sex ed, teaches its students to not participate in sexual activity until some arbitrary cutoff point, the most common of which is marriage. The classes, and the guests on the Today Show, claimed that they were empowering young people, and telling them that they have a choice (and then they inadvertently take that choice away by telling you what to do). Advocates of abstinence claim that it is the only, 100% effective way to stop pregnancy and disease, and that the teenagers who learn it lead happier, more fulfilling lives by making pledges to not have sex until whenever.

At least, that’s what they say. Hear that noise? It’s the train coming to plow over this stalled car of a concept in the middle of the railroad tracks.

For starters, I don’t have a problem with the abstinence, as long as it is your choice and your terms. If you want to save your virginity for the person whom you think is your soulmate, I wish you the best of luck in the world because you are taking control over your body and your life. The issue comes when “only” is introduced into the equation. Abstinence Only means that you’re being taught an instantaneous, intellectual reaction whenever anything sexual comes up. You are taught to shut those urges down, and move on to something else. It reminds me a whole lot of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. How’s that workin’ out for ya?

Knee-jerk reactions are not the way to teach children about their changing bodies. When you speak about sex education, the key word there is education! Teenagers need to learn the facts about what’s going on, what could happen to them, and the wide variety of options available to deal with these newfound urges. Abstinence Only programs ignore the subject of safe sex and condom use, masturbation, or non-penetrative, safe ways to engage in sexual activity with a willing partner. Instead, they tell you to just say no, and while I applaud people who have tremendous willpower, in this case, you’re fighting Mother fucking Nature. When you hit a certain age, the hormones and pheromones in your body kick in, and your body starts to want to procreate. While that doesn’t mean you have to spread for everybody, you still need to know what is happening, why, and how one can safely relieve that pressure without winding up diseased or with another little human being who’ll do the same thing to you. Abstinence equals ignorance, in more ways than one.*

They are right about one thing: abstinence is the only, 100% way to avoid getting pregnant or getting a disease. However, that’s like avoiding getting mugged by never leaving your house. What a lot of kids are not being taught is that a properly used latex barrier prevents pregnancy and STDs 99.9% of the time. In other words, all the time. You have about as much of a chance of an ATM spitting out 100 extra dollars at you as you do of getting a condom that doesn’t work. Of course, abstinence programs focus on the 0.1% chance you do have of getting a defective jimmy, but even then, it doesn’t guarantee pregnancy, but your chances of having something negative come out of it (no pun intended) increase to ……. This is the sort of education that our children aren’t getting in abstinence programs.

The only silver lining to take from this is that abstinence programs, by and large, are failing.

It may be difficult to grasp for people raised in old-fashioned families, but sex is a natural part of growing up. You learn more about yourself and what you like when you engage in sexual activity. Sex can also be a method of expression, just like writing, music, or any other form of art you can think of. In the interest of full disclosure, I do see myself as a parent in the years to come, and hopefully with a daughter. While my parental instinct would want to shield my child from whatever negative influences there are out there and keep her young and innocent forever, I am a realistic person, and I know that teenagers want to have sex. It’s hardwired into our biology! Unlike the urge to do drugs or listen to bad music, sexual feelings are perfectly natural and almost unavoidable. As a parent, the wisdom I’d want to pass on is “know thyself.” Know that you have a choice, and you are the one who makes it. I’d want my child to have all the facts about sex, pregnancy, and disease so when the time comes, he or she is best informed to make the best decision, not scared out of his or her wits by a Boogeyman that I imposed on his or her psyche.

I’m not trying to tell everyone how to raise their kids, but I am trying to make a plea for education to return to the classrooms. Leave the fear-mongering to the White House and the churches, and teach our children the reality of their situation.

*Some abstinence programs have gone so far as to say that you can get AIDS from kissing and that oral sex can lead to pregnancy. And my parents told me that if I told a lie, I’d turn to stone, too.

If you’re interested, take a look at the following sites and see what you think:

http://www.heritage.org/Research/Abstinence/BG1533.cfm#pgfId=1009659
This is a site that champions abstinence and conservative values. If you look hard enough, you’ll find that I disagree with almost everything they say. But in the interest of fairness, here’s their argument, with some science to back it up.

http://www3.niaid.nih.gov/research/topics/STI/pdf/condomreport.pdf
This PDF file is a published report in 2001 about condom use and its effectiveness. It’s long and jargon-laced, but I was able to pull out a quote, with page numbers to make sure I’m staying within context:

“FDA researchers have also developed an assay for condom leakage using high
concentrations of a laboratory virus (78). The laboratory virus penetration assay
is not used routinely as a quality control test, but its sensitivity and relevance are
arguably greater than the conventional water leakage test. Using this virus
assay, FDA scientists tested many different types of male condoms and showed
that condoms are highly effective barriers to virus passage with a very small
chance of leakage (76, 77). Intact condoms (i.e., pass the water leak test) are
essentially impermeable to particles the size of STD pathogens (including the
smallest sexually transmitted virus, hepatitis B). Moreover, these studies show
that fluid flow, not virus size, is the most important determinant of viral passage
through a hole. Even holes many times larger than the virus impeded fluid flow
such that few of the test particles passed through (78). “ Page 7

The interesting thing is that the conservative site above used this as evidence for their case…

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/04/13/AR2007041301003.htm
-Here’s a page from the Washington Post published in April of 2007, giving conflicting findings. My only complaint of this article is that it doesn’t give the study that it cites.

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