Saturday, September 02, 2006

Christmas in September

Some people will believe anything.

And the sad part is, believing anything often makes them do silly things.

For instance: Word is going around that the American Civil Liberties Union “hates Christmas” and is trying to “get rid” of the holiday. This came as a surprise to me, since I’m a card-carrying member of the ACLU and I try to stay up on all the things we allegedly hate, but there it was in black and white, at the bottom of one of those multi-forwarded emails that I normally trash without opening. But the subject line was “Christmas Card List,” so I thought maybe someone was collecting names of people who might need some cheering up during the holiday season.

Which is still almost four months away, but you know, it’s never too early to do something nice.

But no, this email had entirely different motives. Someone thought it would be hilarious if all the email recipients were to send the ACLU a Christmas card. Here’s the relevant text from the email:

Want to have some fun this CHRISTMAS ? Send the ACLU a CHRISTMAS CARD! Be sure to add them to your list! As they are working so very hard to get rid of the CHRISTMAS part of this holiday, we should all send them a nice, CHRISTIAN, card to brighten up their nasty, dark, sad, little world. Make sure it says "Merry Christmas" on it.

Now, again, as an ACLU member, I wasn’t aware I lived a nasty, dark, sad little world—or at least I wasn’t aware that the dark sad parts of it were a direct result of belonging to the ACLU. But you don’t even need much more than grade-school reading skills to see that the motivation behind this letter is not to brighten up anyone’s world. No, the motivation is revealed in the next to last paragraph:

Two tons of Christmas cards will freeze their operations because they won't know if any are regular mail containing contributions. So spend 39 cents and tell the ACLU to leave Christmas alone.

Ah, so that’s their fiendish plan! I almost hate to break it to the Christmas Card Guerillas that most of us use the pre-addressed envelopes when we’re making our contributions, though I suppose it’s possible that some first-timer might send a thousand dollars cash in a red envelope with sparkly silver ink. Seems like a long shot, though.

Anyway, let’s cut to the chase. Anything you’ve heard about the ACLU “hating Christmas” is an example of the Straw Man Fallacy, which occurs when someone deliberately misrepresents someone else’s position in order to argue against that fictional position. In this case, someone (probably someone of the Rush Limbaugh ilk) has created the “Christmas-hating ACLU” straw man in order to get people riled up (and, continuing the metaphor, to burn down the straw man).

Let’s look at it rationally. Christmas is a tradition celebrated all across the country. For some people, it’s strictly a religious observance. For others, it’s a secular celebration. For most, it’s a combination of the two. The ACLU neither has the power, nor would want the power, to prevent anyone from celebrating Christmas.

Celebrating Christmas, you might say, is one of the civil liberties the ACLU would be interested in protecting. If the government tried to tell you you couldn’t celebrate Christmas, for instance, the ACLU would defend you.

I’m going to quote Fran Quigley, executive director of the ACLU of Indiana, who has an excellent essay about this very subject on the national website. Says Mr Quigley:

For example, the Alliance Defense Fund celebrates the season with an "It's OK to say Merry Christmas" campaign, implying that the ACLU has challenged such holiday greetings…The website WorldNetDaily touts a book claiming "a thorough and virulent anti-Christmas campaign is being waged today by liberal activists and ACLU fanatics." The site's magazine has suggested there will be ACLU efforts to remove "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency, fire military chaplains, and expunge all references to God in America's founding documents. Of course, there is no "Merry Christmas" lawsuit, nor is there any ACLU litigation about U.S. currency, military chaplains, etc. But the facts are not important to these groups, because their real message is this: By protecting the freedom of Muslims, Jews, and other non-Christians through preventing government entanglement with religion, the ACLU is somehow infringing on the rights of those with majority religious beliefs.

Here’s my favorite part of Mr Quigley’s essay, mainly because there’s another straw man out there that would have you believe the ACLU is somehow an anti-Christian organization:

As part of our justice mission, we work hard to protect the rights of free religious expression for all people, including Christians. For example, we recently defended the First Amendment rights of a Baptist minister to preach his message on public streets in southern Indiana. The ACLU intervened on behalf of a Christian valedictorian in a Michigan high school, which agreed to stop censoring religious yearbook entries, and supported the rights of Iowa students to distribute Christian literature at their school.

So—if you’ve received the “Christmas Card List” and have been tempted to do your part to freeze ACLU operations, please consider this instead. No one is trying to do away with Christmas. No one has the power to do away with Christmas. And yes, the ACLU defends some causes that are highly unpopular, but keep in mind that their guide is the United States Constitution, and that someday you might be the one who needs your liberties defended.

And, I don’t know—instead of spending 39 cents on postage for an ACLU Christmas card, maybe you could give it to a Salvation Army bellringer. Maybe you could hand it to a homeless person who asks you for change. Maybe you could send it to your favorite charity.

Any of those ideas would actually make a more positive impact on the world.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Brought To You By The Letter F

There are too many assclowns in positions of authority in this country, and believe it or not this time I’m not even talking about the rat bastards in the Bush administration. This time I’m talking about two separate incidents involving the people in charge of personalized license plates, one here in Iowa, the other in Ohio.

Here in Iowa, the Department of Transportation is in the process of revoking a license plate it originally awarded in 2001 because one man found it offensive.

Even if you didn’t hear the rest of the story, you’d think that was absurd, right? A guy requests the vanity plates, IDOT awards them, the guy drives around for five years (presumably not just up and down his driveway), and then suddenly, magically, his vanity message becomes offensive enough to warrant revocation.

Not because hundreds of people deluged IDOT with complaints, mind you. Because one person took offense.

John Miller of Boone owns the car in question. He drives a 1966 Corvair, which was featured rather prominently in Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at Any Speed. Miller’s license plate reads “F NADER.”

You can look at that a couple of ways. You can look at it as a playful swat at Nader: “Hey, Ralph, I’m still driving your ‘unsafe’ Corvair 40 years later.” You could also look at it as a not-so-playful message to the candidate who siphoned off enough votes from Al Gore in 2000 to throw the election into chaos. I don’t know John Miller’s politics, but since his hobby is restoring old Corvairs I suspect it’s the first reason.

Either way, Joel Paulson of Ames caught a glimpse of Miller’s car one day, and promptly complained to IDOT that the license plate was in poor taste. When this story first came out, Paulson reportedly said he shouldn’t have to explain to a child what F NADER means.

In the first place, if the kid’s old enough, he already knows what F NADER means. If he’s younger, there’s nothing about the license plate that would make him curious enough to ask. And if he asked anyway and Joel Paulson didn’t want to explain that F is sometimes used as an abbreviation for a word “you’re not old enough to hear,” then the proper answer—listen up, Joel—would have been “Why, I’ll bet that means Fred Nader. Or maybe Frank. How many F-names can you think of, sport?”

But no, that would have been too easy. You don’t get your name in the paper that way.

Paulson had this little gem of a quote in the Des Moines Register this week: “I wonder how he’d like it if someone drove around Boone with a license plate that said ‘F JOHN MILLER?”

Good question. Of course, it would mean that somebody at IDOT approved a license plate that’s five or six letters over the limit—which is feasible considering that so much of the department’s resources are devoted to making the world safe from the letter F.

John Miller plans to appeal the revocation, as he should, and will be represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. Randall Wilson of the ACLU told the Register “The license plate isn’t obscene or vulgar by any modern standard.” Bingo. A Joel Paulson would have to take the extra step in his imagination to make it obscene, which he obviously did. And when you have government agencies trying to protect us from our own imaginations, you’ve got government agencies with entirely too much power.

The Ohio case is similar. A 74-year-old woman named Pat Niple has had her personalized license plate for ten years (no, it doesn’t say NIPLE—jeez, don’t jump to conclusions), and now the state is saying it’s obscene.

Her plate reads NWTF, because she and her late husband owned Northwood Tree Farm.

But because a generation of IMers and text messagers use it to mean something else, Ohio says Ms Niple’s plates have to go.


I’ve never seen “NWTF” in an online conversation. I assume the N stands for “Now,” although I can’t be sure. In any event, once again, the reader has to take the extra step. If he already knows what it means, he can chuckle or be offended or whatever he wants—but he can’t blame someone else for his own interpretation.

I’m not sure civil servants should be put in a position of trying to determine what’s obscene, what’s acceptable, what won’t offend the self-righteous prigs of the world. But if they’re going to uphold people like Joel Paulson as the standard of sensitivity, maybe we should just go back to random numbers and letters.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fighting Them In London

Apparently another terrorist plot has been foiled by British authorities. Today Scotland Yard diligently rooted out 21 suspects who were planning to use liquid explosives to bring down a number of planes flying from Great Britain to the US.

Good for them.

I'm not sure how our occupation of Iraq helped uncover this plot and save hundreds of lives, but I'm sure the rat bastards in the Bush administration will be able to explain it for us.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Hey Joe, Where You Goin' With That Petition In Your Hand?

The people have spoken, and Joe Lieberman isn’t listening.

I’ve stayed away from this subject just because it’s been covered in depth all over the internet, and also because this is the blog that’s updated so infrequently it’s hardly like a blog at all. I’ve been tempted. I was tempted every time some Bush apologist opened his mouth and claimed that by not supporting Lieberman, the Democratic Party was trying to stifle dissent.

Let me get this straight. We have a Republican-controlled Congress that isn’t likely to propose ending the occupation of Iraq anytime soon. We have a grass roots movement to end the occupation, a movement made up primarily of the more progressive elements of the Democrats. We have Joe Lieberman distancing himself from the grass roots and cozying up to the party in power. He’s not dissenting—he’s assimilating! He’s supporting the people who the real dissenters are dissenting against!

That isn’t dissent. But of course, right-leaning writers know perfectly well that it isn’t.

Naturally, the right loves Joe Lieberman. He’s on their side for reasons I can’t fathom, especially when I think about what happened in 2000.

Let’s say you’re running for dog catcher (and by the way, where would comedy be without the time-honored dog catcher elections?). You’re running because you believe you can be a better dog catcher than your opponent. You’re running because you believe the people deserve the best dog catcher available.

So even if you’re personal friends with the opposing dog catcher candidate, you clearly think the people would not be well served if he wins. There’s an ideological divide between you.

But the other guy wins. And then the news comes out that he won by shady means. Under those circumstances, could you even imagine embracing your opponent and what he stands for?

I’m going to change metaphors before I end up with dogs fighting in Baghdad, but the point is, after the 2000 election, why didn’t Joe Lieberman swear eternal opposition to the Bush machine? Why didn’t he say “I opposed you before, but after the slippery way you landed in office, I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure your stay is a short one”?

Instead he bought into the whole 9/11 panic attack, failed to call Bush out on his lies, and decided he’d look tough if he kept hammering on national security during his Senate campaign. I can only attribute this to Short Man Syndrome, but maybe that’s just me.

Lieberman lost the Connecticut primary because the people want real dissent. They want someone who will stand up to the liars and rat bastards that comprise the Bush administration. The fact that he’s planning to run as an independent makes it clear that he’s a Bush lapdog.

I wouldn’t vote for him if he were running for dog catcher. Unless, of course, I were a Republican.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Hey, Look, It's $550,000

Does anyone else wonder what will become of the $550,000 fine that CBS paid for Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction”?

Seriously—where does that money go? Do they write a check to the FCC? And if so, what does the FCC do with it?

Does it go toward the national debt? Does it get placed into a fund that will be used to educate the public about the dangers of exposing one’s breasts on national television? Does it go toward the FCC operating budget or does it go to their year-end holiday party?

I sent an email to the FCC asking this very question, without the snarkiness. I simply said “I’m curious—where does that money go?”

I haven’t heard back yet, but I’m sure they’re busy up there, fielding complaints from people who can’t tear themselves away from the shows that offend them most. But I want to know where the money goes because I want to know who benefits from this fine.

More specifically, who has the right to benefit from this fine?

Let’s face it: In a live broadcast, anything can happen. CBS had no idea what Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson had cooked up for the grand finale of their lame-ass halftime extravaganza. CBS didn’t replay the wardrobe malfunction over and over, didn’t call undue attention to it, didn’t pat themselves on the back for finding a way to show a tit on TV. I don’t see how the broadcasters of a live event can possibly be held liable for the actions of people over whom they have no control.

And that’s why I wonder where the money goes. The FCC is saying “You owe us $550,000 for not preventing something you didn’t anticipate and couldn’t have prevented.” On the streets this is known as a shakedown. It’s theft. And even though CBS is a gigantic media conglomerate with deep pockets, I hate to see them or anyone else get hosed by a government agency flying the flag of “decency.”

Oh Wait, There's More

+ I have no idea why I was watching that particular Super Bowl halftime show. The remote must have been just out of reach or something, because history shows that if you try counting the number of entertaining Super Bowl halftime shows, you’ll be lucky to find IV of them. But yeah, I saw it happen, and though I’ll admit that the incident was indecent in the strictest sense of the word, that’s not the word that came to mind. I thought creepy described it better.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Apparently Sleeping With Connie Chung Is The Equivalent Of Having A Clear Conscience

Before I start this essay, let me take a moment to reflect, to look back at my life and see if I’ve ever profited from exploiting stupid people.

Thinking. Thinking. Trying to remember big sums of money rolling in at the expense of people who don’t know any better.

Nope. Looks like I’m good. I’ll continue with a clear conscience.

And with a clear conscience, I want to ask people like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich and the rest of their ilk how they sleep at night. How do you go home at the end of the day and pretend you’ve made some contribution to society?

I wouldn’t have any idea what goes on on daytime television if I didn’t occasionally go pick up my 15-year-old daughter on a weekday afternoon. Her taste in art, entertainment, and leisure time is still in its formative stage, so many times when I’m over there one of these horrific shows is blaring across three rooms. (Yeah, she could use a job, but that’s another story.)

What amazes me is that these shows always seem to be about someone denying that he’s the father of someone else’s baby. The wronged teenage mother yells at the baby’s father, he yells back, the audience yells at both of them, someone gets called a ho, four out of every five words are bleeped out, the young man’s girlfriend runs on from backstage and tries to attack the baby’s mother, and Messrs. Springer and Povich act surprised that this is happening despite the fact that from what I can tell it’s the only thing that ever happens on their stupid-ass shows.

I’m curious.

I’m curious about the audition/selection process. I’m curious about how they find people stupid enough to believe that going on television to tell the same story that’s being told on every other channel is somehow going to make their lives better. What are they promising these people? Do they get paid? If they aren’t getting paid as much as Maury Povich, then they’re being used. Thrown to the wolves. Exploited for someone else’s gain.

I’m curious about how the guests on these shows act when they get back home. Do their friends treat them like TV stars? Or do their friends say “Yeah, I always knew you weren’t very bright and that you sleep around with other morons—but now the whole country knows it. Congratulations”?

Maybe they just want their fifteen minutes of fame and don’t expect their lives to be altered one way or the other when it’s over. Maybe they’re just happy with a free trip to wherever these shows are taped.

Maybe—and here’s where the word exploitation gets its capital E—maybe Povich and Springer and their producers encourage their guests to be as vulgar as possible. Maybe they encourage the surprise guest girlfriend to come on stage ready to throw a punch. “And there’s an extra $50 in it if you can rip the other girl’s top off at some point.”

I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, nor do I know why these shows exist. But I do know that putting economically disadvantaged, poorly educated people on display for profit is about as low as it gets.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One Vote Away From Insanity

The fact that 66 United States senators voted to add a flag protection amendment to the Constitution ought to scare the hell out of anyone who still holds the slightest shred of hope that our elected officials are actually concerned about upholding their oath of office.

That would be the oath to support the Constitution. The oath has no codicil, no loophole along the lines of “unless I need to appease the superstitious yahoos who might vote against me in the next election.”

And yet 66 Senators--66 out of 100!--voted to start dismantling the document they’ve sworn to protect. Are they intellectually incapable of doing so, or are they just terrified of the yahoos?

Now, in today’s dishonest, cutthroat, and superficial campaign climate, it’s entirely possible that they’re terrified of some future political opponent twisting their “Nay” votes into a campaign issue. But there’s also a good counter-argument to that sort of sensationalism, if you can pull it off. Let’s say Senator Bob Fudknuckler of Iowa finds himself opposed in the next election by Candidate Steve Jingo, whose entire campaign is built on questioning the incumbent’s patriotism. Candidate Jingo might run a TV spot that says “My opponent Bob Fudknuckler voted against protecting Old Glory from the flag-burners. Why does he hate the flag? Does he want to see America burn, too?”

Fudknuckler’s response, then, would be something like this: “I voted to repeal the tax cuts for the wealthy in order to help fight our growing deficit and make taxation fair for all Americans. I voted to raise the minimum wage so working families can have a fighting chance to get out of poverty and live the American dream. I voted for measures that would prevent corporations from sending jobs overseas and screwing the working man while lining their own pockets with the increased profits. I would ask my opponent which is more important to the future of this country: its people, or a symbol?”

Yeah, I’m an idealist. And I get a kick out of the name Fudknuckler.

But moving on. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah sponsored the flag amendment, and actually had the nerve to say the Senate had nothing more important to be concerned about. This is one of the most mind-bogglingly stupid things I’ve ever heard come out of someone’s mouth. You’re an elected official, Orrin, and you’ve been elected to make the country a better place than it was when you took office. If you consider protecting the flag more important than the economic well-being of your constituents, if you consider it more important than finding a way out of the quagmire in Iraq, if you consider it more important than protecting freedom itself, then in my opinion you aren’t qualified to do your job. I don’t believe you have the smarts.

Speaking of not having the smarts, the ever-quotable Bill Frist said the flag “is the single symbol that protects our liberty and freedom.” Really. I enjoy a good bit of anthropomorphizing now and then, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a flag enlist in the army. I’d like to know how a mere symbol protects anything at all.

One vote away, folks. I can’t imagine being so terrified every election year that you throw common sense to the wayside and spend a single minute on time-wasters like these.

Oh Wait, There’s More

+ By the way, it’s a little disingenuous for them to constantly refer to “the” flag, as if there were just the one in existence instead of the millions flying all over the place--most of them mass-produced in China, as I understand it.

+ Hillary Clinton, who just a few months ago sponsored legislation to criminalize flag-burning, voted against the amendment. I don’t know what to make of that, but I’ll give her probationary kudos.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Fighting Them In Miami

Kudos to the FBI agents and local police officials who uncovered the terrorist cell in Miami and thwarted a plan to bomb the Sears Tower and other locations.

And our occupation of Iraq helped this how, exactly?

The report on said an undercover operative was used to infiltrate the gang, leading to the arrest of seven people described in the story as "al Qaeda wannabes." Hey, wait a minute--an undercover operative? That's a great idea! Since your standard terrorist yahoos operate as a sneaky, shadowy organization, let's approach them in a sneaky, shadowy manner. Not only would that be more cost-effective than using thousands of troops to occupy some godforsaken hellhole in the Middle East, it might actually help prevent future acts of terrorism from occurring.

Which any president who wasn't mentally defective would already understand.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Beware the Marauding Judges!

My clock-radio is set to come on at 5:30 every morning, right at the beginning of the NPR news. For the last two mornings I’ve been treated to the stupid Texas twang of acting president Bush, delivering a speech in support of a federal marriage amendment. The good thing is that it gets me out of bed fast, because as I’ve mentioned before, any time that guy speaks I know it’s either going to be a lie or something intended to stir up the flag-worshipers.

But today he said something so absolutely moronic that I knew it was time to fire up the Runes again. Today he said this:

“When activist judges insist on imposing their arbitrary will on the people, the only alternative left to the people is an amendment to the Constitution, the only law a court cannot overturn.”

Oh, where to begin.

How does one become president of the United States without the simplest understanding of how the judicial system works? In Bush’s fanciful world, bands of marauding judges are roaming the land imposing their arbitrary will on the people. It’s like he has no idea what judges do or where they come from, which might in fact be true but in no way diminishes the reality that judges don’t make laws, they interpret them.

And their guide to interpreting laws is, say it with me, the U.S. Constitution.

Bush knows just enough about the Constitution to be dangerous, which can also be said for how much he knows about economics and foreign policy. He’s correct that an amendment to the Constitution can’t be overturned by a court, but he’s overstating the case when he says “the only alternative left to the people” is a Constitutional amendment.

The only alternative to whom? Who are these people so desperately turning from place to place, looking for a solution to the problem of gay marriage?

Why, they’re bigots, that’s who. People who aren’t affected by gay marriage in the least, except to the extent that it doesn’t fit into their narrow view of the world. They’re people who can’t see the difference between marriage as a legal partnership and marriage as a union of blessed souls. Sadly, though, they’re people who don’t pay a damn bit of attention to what a mess this president has been making until he gets them all fired up with some non-existent bogeyman.

In an election year, of course. And people call me a cynic.