"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Disgusting People (Updated)

And the star of the show today is Mitt Romney. Forget his little "relief" rally -- which was a Romney Victory Rally with canned goods, that the Red Cross doesn't even want and now has to spend time and resources dealing with -- although their statement on this whole issue is choice:
"The American Red Cross appreciates the support from the Romney campaign and is working with the campaign to process this donation of supplies," the statement read. "We are grateful that both the Obama and Romney campaigns have also encouraged the public to send financial donations to the Red Cross. We encourage individuals who want to help to consider making a financial donation or making an appointment to give blood."

Which I translate as "Thank you, Governor, and for those who really want to help. . . ."

The real disgusting part is that he wants to privatize disaster relief. Here's a post from Maha on that little item, with a video, which I'm not going to embed. I can't really excerpt her post -- read the whole thing. She lays out the reason for government -- and that's the federal government -- coordinating disaster relief. Short answer: Because nothing but the federal government has the resources and expertise.

And of course, it would take a sociopath like Mitt Romney to think that it's legitimate to make a profit off of something like Sandy.

Privatize this, asshole:

Via Joe.My.God. That's the entrance to the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in NYC.


Remember Michael "Heckuva Job" Brown, Bush's FEMA director? Same syndrome:

A day after criticizing President Obama’s handling of Hurricane Sandy in a Denver Westword interview, former FEMA Director Michael Brown clarified his comments Tuesday on a radio show he co-hosts with David Sirota. Pressed on his criticisms, Brown explained that he had no substantive objection to the Obama administration’s emergency management, but felt he missed out on a political opportunity.

Brown suggested that Obama could have taken more political advantage from the hurricane to squeeze “more mileage out of” the tragedy[.]

All politics, all the time. (And why is anyone asking that incompetent for his opinion anyway?)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


The combined effects of this travesty of an election campaign -- and the even worse travesty of the press coverage -- and the disaster on the East Coast. They come together in this post by Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice, pulling together Romney's attitude toward government -- which is basically give it back to the states, and if they can't handle it, privatize it.

The sheer boneheadedness of that attitude should leave me speechless, but it's just making me tired. I've seen too much of it. Here's the nut, quoting Romney:

ROMNEY: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.

Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut—we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot…

KING: Including disaster relief, though?

ROMNEY: We cannot—we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.
[Emphasis added.]

Y'know, if the federal government, which is the largest orgranization we have, can't handle it, why does anyone think the states -- which don't have enough money to do what they need to do anyway -- are the best answer? And privatize things like disaster relief? Is anyone really that stupid? (I mean, anyone outside the Heritage Foundation.)

And what the hell am I supposed to think of anyone who thinks spending money to help those hit by natural disasters is "immoral"?

OK -- Romney and Ryan, based on their public statements and what they've managed to come up with for policy proposals (oh, and don't worry about details -- just electing Romney will fix all our problems right away because of the confidence fairy), lack most of those characteristics that most of us recognize as human. I mean, compassion? Empathy? Common sense?

Don't waste your time looking for them. They're not there.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What To Look For

in a Romney administration:

The Times Endorses Obama

Here it is: the endorsement you've all been waiting for. It's lengthy, detailed, and pretty scathing about the "Etch-A-Sketch" candidate. A few choice bits:

President Obama has shown a firm commitment to using government to help foster growth. He has formed sensible budget policies that are not dedicated to protecting the powerful, and has worked to save the social safety net to protect the powerless. Mr. Obama has impressive achievements despite the implacable wall of refusal erected by Congressional Republicans so intent on stopping him that they risked pushing the nation into depression, held its credit rating hostage, and hobbled economic recovery.

On Civil Rights:

The extraordinary fact of Mr. Obama’s 2008 election did not usher in a new post-racial era. In fact, the steady undercurrent of racism in national politics is truly disturbing. Mr. Obama, however, has reversed Bush administration policies that chipped away at minorities’ voting rights and has fought laws, like the ones in Arizona, that seek to turn undocumented immigrants into a class of criminals.

The military’s odious “don’t ask, don’t tell” rule was finally legislated out of existence, under the Obama administration’s leadership. There are still big hurdles to equality to be brought down, including the Defense of Marriage Act, the outrageous federal law that undermines the rights of gay men and lesbians, even in states that recognize those rights.

It's sort of nice to see the editors of the Times come out swinging. Read the whole thing.

And here's a good essay on why Benjamin Phillips is a Democrat:
In my family, we watched the news every night. Not a single weekday went by where Peter Jennings didn’t explain the daily global happenings to us while we ate dinner. My mother insisted that we be informed, and I payed very close attention to everything. As I watched strings of impossibly grown up tie wearers discuss the events of the day, I began to develop the characters. Republicans were always trying to stop things, or to take things away from people, or say no to something. Democrats seemed to be trying to move us along, ineptly most of the time, but in earnest. They were trying to protect people, and fight for more rights rather than less, to watch out for the little guy, and no guys were littler than my family.

Read the whole thing.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

I Think He's Got It (Update; Update II)

In case you have somehow missed this pro-Obama video by Lena Dunham, here it is:

I thought it was cute and fairly funny.

Well, as might be expected, the right is absolutely aghast at the depravity of it all. Everyone's quoting Erick Erickson, who sees it, I guess, as a sign of the End Times -- via Little Green Footballs:

Ben Shapiro also weighed in, calling the ad "demeaning to women," as if he knows what's demeaning to women. (In light of Shapiro's remarks, it's worth nothing this post at Think Progress. Aside from the "both sides do it" meme, I think they're off-base in a couple of areas, but I can't quite pin it down -- my instincts are outstripping my cognitive functions this morning. I may come back to it.)

The list goes on, and it's pretty funny, all things considered. (Think, for a moment, about the conservative attitude toward women -- "legitimate rape," forced ultrasound scans, the reaction to Sandra Fluke's testimony on the contraception mandate, and on and on.) (Update: On the attitude of conservatives toward women, David Pakman has compiled this:

Is there really more that needs to be said, other than that to the conservative (white male) mind, women are not people.)

We already know that conservatives don't understand metaphor or figurative language in general, but their reactions to this video just throw that lack into high relief.

The observation closest to my own comes from a post by thereisnospoon at Hullabaloo, and it's pretty simple:
For people with a healthy view of sexuality, it's an interesting and charming metaphor designed to turn out the youth vote. Nothing too remarkable.

But then, wingers aren't exactly healthy in the sexuality department.

I think that sums it up.

Update II: Just ran across this post on a letter from Melissa Harris Perry to Richard Mourdock, who's running for the Senate in Indiana and who is another one of those old white guys who don't get it.

Also, too, just a note on my constantly evolving take on contemporary political conservatism and it's relationship to conservative Christianity and the corporatist wing of the Republican party: they don't recognize the concept of humanity as something other than a somewhat limited species designation. "Humanity" as a complex of attitudes, emotional reactions, moral choices, and values is apparently completely outside their ability to grasp.

If You're College Bound in Florida

Be ready for sticker shock. Via Tristero at Hullabaloo, comes this report on HuffPo:
Highly distinguished universities, such as the University of Florida and Florida State University, could charge more than others. Tuition would be lower for students pursuing degrees most needed for Florida's job market, including ones in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as the STEM fields.

The committee is recommending no tuition increases for them in the next three years.

But to pay for that, students in fields such as psychology, political science, anthropology, and performing arts could pay more because they have fewer job prospects in the state.

"The purpose would not be to exterminate programs or keep students from pursuing them. There will always be a need for them," said Dale Brill, who chairs the task force. "But you better really want to do it, because you may have to pay more."

So Florida is recommending that students who go into the liberal arts and fine arts, who, after all, can't really expect six- or seven-figure incomes after graduation, subsidize the education of doctors, engineers, and other professionals, who can. This is the Christian fundamentalist/corporatist idea of higher education: trade schools to train people to make a lot of money at jobs that are going to be shipped off to China and Brazil anyway.

Mind you, these are the very people who have been trying to get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts since it was created.

And it's worth noting that psychology and anthropology (among the rest of the social sciences, I presume) are included in the disfavored category. (Because that's exactly what it is -- the areas in demand have now received official preference.)

Tristero's summation hits it pretty accurately, I think:

This is the logic of Puritans. It's all of a piece with the attraction the MSM and many "serious" economists have for austerity programs to the bizarre movement that would force a woman to give birth to her rapist's child,

It is a worldview that privileges a dreary bleakness over joy.

It's even worse than that. I'm convinced that the strain of anti-intellectualism in our country has deep roots in a truly Puritan world-view: the arts give us pleasure, and so they're sinful and to be avoided at all costs. And what's even worse, they teach people to think for themselves.

Can't have that, now, can we?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Life of a Galaxy

Courtesy of NASA's supercomputers. Each second of the video is 98,540,145 years. Approximately.

Via Buzzfeed.

Update: If it looks like the galaxy in the center of the video is "eating" other star clusters and small galaxies, that's because it is. Check out this article at Science Daily:
"The Milky Way is constantly gobbling up small galaxies and star clusters," said Ana Bonaca, a Yale graduate student and lead author of a study forthcoming in Astrophysical Journal Letters. "The more powerful gravity of our Milky Way pulls these objects apart and their stars then become part of the Milky Way itself."

So now you know.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"Gay Gestapo"

In case you missed Carol Costello's run-in with Bryan Fischer of the hate group American Family Association, here's the story, and a little follow-up.

It's still something of a surprise to see a news anchor or talk show host challenge assholes like Fischer, much less call them liars to their faces. Costello gets an award for this -- I think we'll start the Carol Costello Award, for those who call out bullies like Brian Fischer. And Fischer gets the Tony Perkins Award, for shameless lying.

Picture du Jour

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Kazaky, Again

Rmember Kazaky? I've posted on them before, but thanks to the new, improved Blogger, I can't do a search of the site to pull up a link.

At any rate, here's the newest:

Here's their official YouTube channel. Check it out -- great stuff.

What Digby Said

With her usual perspicacity, on the Benghazi flap. Quoting Josh Marshall:
One reason the Benghazi controversy has always seemed so bogus to me is that I’ve never bought the core premise, which is that the administration had any clear political reason or advantage to gain by claiming the attack was tied to the video as opposed to a pre-planned assault. (Here’s our look at how Benghazi evolved into a GOP talking point.) In addition to a great number of hacks peddling this idea, some people I respect a great deal seem to credit the idea. But again, it doesn’t add up to me.

She goes on to elaborate:

I was watching the McLaughlin Report last night while making dinner and Pat Buchanan responded to Eleanor Clift's similar question by saying they all lied to protect Obama's reputation as a terrorist killer. That's the best explanation I've heard for why the right is pimping this so-called scandal, but it's mighty thin in my opinion. Most of the country doesn't even know where Benghazi is and don't consider a "terrorist attack" there to be particularly relevant to their lives. To think they would vote for Romney on this basis strikes me as a reach.

I had some thoughts on this bit, though. For starters, a third of American college students can't find their home towns on a map. (That's an old figure -- it may have gone up since I ran across it a couple of years ago.) Second, and most important, I think she has a mis-read on the issue of terrorists attacks and their relevance in most people's minds.

"Terrorist attack," or anything "terrorist," has moved into that category of buzz words that go straight to the lizard brain -- much like "save the children!" and anything Nazi. If you call something a "terrorist attack," I seriously think that most people in this country have gotten to the point where they go straight into survivalist mode without bothering to think about it. They don't have to know where Benghazi is -- they don't know for sure where they are in relation to anyplace else in the world anyway.

And the right, much to our collective detriment, have got a lock on that aspect of human psychology -- they've been using those kinds of tactics very successfully since Willie Horton, or even before -- Anita Bryant comes to mind.

So I suspect that most people, at least those in the right wing target audience, do consider "terrorist attacks" to be relevant to their lives -- they're being threatened, even more so since Americans were killed. After all, we've had eleven years of repeated warnings of "terrorists," to the extent that we put up with things like the abomination that is the TSA, trial by president, abrogation of habeas corpus, and the whole panoply of our government's reaction to perceived threats, even though the perception outweighs the reality by orders of magnitude.

After all, any country that can consider a four-year-old in leg braces a threat is certainly going to have the desired response (from the Fox News point of view) to an attack on Americans someplace most of them have never heard of.

Read both posts, Digby's and Josh Marshall's -- they're worth the time.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Friday, October 19, 2012

About Those Innovative "Job Creators"

One thing that strikes me about the energy industry (which is a misnomer, but be patient) is its -- well, let's call it "fossilized thinking" about energy sources. They're locked into coal and oil, big time.

This story teased it up to the front of my brain this morning:

The wind energy industry faces a lame duck fight in the House of Representatives over extending the expiring production tax credit. The tax credit has broad bipartisan support, and considering that 81 percent of U.S. wind projects are installed in Republican districts, GOP lawmakers have a good reason to support it.

But with Koch Industries and fossil fuel groups mobilizing to defeat the credit, its future after 2012 is uncertain. The American Energy Alliance, which has Koch ties, told Politico Pro this week that it aims to make the credit a toxic issue for House Republicans: (Article requires subscription access):
“Our goal is to make the PTC so toxic that it makes it impossible for John Boehner to sit at a table with Harry Reid and say, ‘Yeah, I can bend on this one,’” said Benjamin Cole, spokesman for the American Energy Alliance.

Think about that for a minute: they call themselves "energy" companies, and yet are fighting tooth and nail against sustainable energy sources when they should be the ones at the front of the line for developing things like wind and solar power. I'm reminded of a story from a couple of years ago about a solar battery developed by Sony under a DoD contract. It was successful -- they developed a battery that could be installed in an automobile and recharged by solar panels mounted on the vehicle's exterior. When the project ended, the whole thing was sold to Chevron, which leveled the factory Sony had built to make the things, and buried the specs way deep somewhere. Why didn't they continue development and start licensing the things? They would have made a mint. (Tell me there's no possibility of a military contract there.)

They're not "energy" companies -- they're oil and coal companies. Their thought patterns haven't yet made it out of the Cretaceous.

And we're supposed to admire these people for their innovative, entrepreneurial spirit? Sheesh!

The Safety Net (Updated)

Specifically, Social Security, and what to expect from the lame-duck session. This post from Gaius Publius at AmericaBlog lays out some possibilities:

▪ It’s a safe bet Obama wants this [reductions to benefits]. He’s been angling for something like Simpson-Bowles for years. In fact, Simpson-Bowles is his commission. (For more on why I say this with such certainty, click here.)

▪ Unless the Dems take the House, there are only two places this can be stopped — at the White House and in the Senate. The White House is likely — but not certainly — a lost cause (see above). In addition, Sen. Whitehouse said last month that if Obama doesn’t take a strong stand, many Dem senators won’t either. I take that as a request from Mr. Whitehouse, in public, for Obama to do what he fears Obama won’t do. More confirmation of the first point.

▪ In the Senate, Bernie Sanders has marshalled 29 Democrats who will “oppose including Social Security cuts … in any deficit reduction package.” He, they and 96 activist organizations are organizing a resistance to this lame duck catastrophe.

My senior senator, Dick Durbin, is not among the signers of Sanders' letter. I wrote him, and got this response:

Thank you for contacting me regarding recent proposals to cut the Social Security trust fund. I appreciate hearing from you.

Social Security benefits provide more than 47 million Americans with financial stability during their retirement years. Millions of baby boomers will enter retirement over the next decade. We need to maintain our commitment to retirees by protecting the financial stability and integrity of the Social Security trust fund. I am troubled by recent proposals that would undermine the commitment Congress made.

The Social Security system is currently generating a surplus in tax revenues. However, its board of trustees projects that the trust fund will be depleted by 2041. This is a challenge, but not a crisis.

The last time we had a serious national debate about the solvency of Social Security was in the early 1980s, when Social Security truly faced an imminent crisis. Social Security would have run out of funds in July 1983. President Regan and then-Speaker Tip O’Neill, members of opposing political parties, came together and Congress passed bipartisan legislation in March 1983 that secured more than 50 years of solvency. That should be the model for how we proceed today.

I will continue to support and defend the important programs that have helped generations of Americans working through hard times. Although there are many difficult budgetary choices that lie ahead, we must ensure that we pursue a path of shared sacrifice, rather than one that unduly burdens hardworking families who are struggling.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please feel free to keep in touch.

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Let me parse this a little:

"protecting the financial stability and integrity of the Social Security trust fund" -- there's nothing here that gives any guarantees, and it can just as easily translate as "cut benefits" as anything else. Update: It occurs to me that protecting the trust fund is not the issue -- that's a no-brainer, with a couple of very easy fixes -- the trust fund is under no pressure right now. What's at issue here, and what Durbin dodges, is the real threat of reduced benefits as a result of "deficit reduction," when Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit.

"we must ensure that we pursue a path of shared sacrifice" -- outside the Beltway, this translates as "we're going to stick it to you again."

And note how enamored he is of "bipartisan solutions." That might have worked in the 1980s, when someone in Washington was still interested in governing for the benefit of the country as a whole, rather than the 1%.

I''m taking Durbin as a surrogate for the White House on this, because he is one. I'm not reassured.

Here's some background from Richard RJ Eskow at Crooks and Liars, specifically on the "chained CPI":

So why would so many Democrats, from Barack Obama to Dick Durbin, push a Social Security benefit reduction that would lower that cost of living adjustment even more? The " chained-CPI" is a terrible idea, a back-door cut to Social Security that would be both economically tragic for seniors and politically disastrous for anyone who supported it.

Social Security Works calculated that under the chained-CPI "the average earner at age 45 who begins receiving disability benefits would get a $333 benefit cut at age 55, and a nearly $700 cut by age 65. By age 75 ... that person faces a loss of over $1,000, an 8.1 percent cut." The President said of this change, "Most folks would hardly notice."

(You can get a sense of how much you'd lose under this proposal here, and then decide whether you'd notice.)

Some of these Dems have also suggested raising the retirement age even further than it's scheduled to be raised. That's a benefit cut, too.

Write your Senator, especially if he's not among the signers of Sanders' letter.

About Those Adoption Services

We now learn that, in Boston at least, Catholic Charities closed their adoption services on direct orders from the Vatican, over the protest of its Board. From the Bangor Daily News:

“This is just frankly not true at all,” said [Peter] Meade [former board chairman] during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. The call was organized by a group called Mainers United for Marriage, which favors legalizing same-sex marriage in Maine. “I’ve heard [campaigns using the Boston Catholic Charities example] and frankly presumed because it was incorrect that people would straighten it out. That is certainly not what happened. I know in campaigns that people sometimes stretch credulity, but this is going way beyond that. Opponents of the freedom to marry in Maine have tried to rewrite history to create fear and uncertainty among voters.”

Catholic Charities of Boston formerly held a state-issued contract funded by taxpayer dollars to provide adoption services, and placed 13 children with same-sex couples between 1989 and 2006. The work was done in accordance with a Massachusetts anti-discrimination law that requires taxpayer-funded services to be provided equitably and without regard to sexual orientation, among other things.

Meade said that the Vatican demanded in 2006 that Catholic Charities end its adoption service, despite a unanimous vote by the charity’s local board to continue adoptions.

“Frankly, the only criteria for us was what was in the best interest of the child and we thought the Vatican was changing that,” said Meade. “People are suggesting in the campaign that it had something to do with the [same-sex marriage law] that allowed for marriage equality. That’s not correct.”

So basically, the Church had no objection to placing children with same-sex couples over the course of seventeen years, but when marriage equality entered the picture, suddenly it's the end of the world. It would be interesting to know how much taxpayer funding the CC of Boston gave up on this move.

I'm not going to comment on the fact that the anti-marriage groups continue to lie about this, except to note that, if you read this blog, you know that's an assumption, and a well-founded one. Most of what the professional gay-bashers come up with is nowhere near being factual.

John Aravosis has an interesting take on the whole funding question:

It’s interesting that Catholic Charities is trying to claim that it’s still the Catholic Church, so civil rights laws shouldn’t apply to it. Really? The American taxpayer is funding the Catholic Church’s proselytizing to the tune of $2.8 billion a year? Really? I’m a bit confused about that one. I didn’t think our government funded any faith. If the Catholic Church is getting nearly $3bn a year to practice its faith, then I hope reform Judaism and the nice Protestants are each getting $3bn as well. Are they? I doubt it. So how is it that the Catholic church is now claiming that its charity work is somehow its faith, when we’d never fund such proselytizing in the first place?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fiddling Around

I'm not sure I love this, although it's easier to read. I may jigger it a little. What do you think?

I may also bolt from Blogger completely, unless they can tell me how to get my navbar back. It vanished about the time I got shifted over, kicking and screaming, to the new interface (which, by the way, sucks).

Maybe I'll finally set up my own real website.

Sociopaths Redux

Remember this post? That's the one where I noted "small business" owners telling their employees how they should vote if they know what's good for them. Well, Think Progress has an update:

Over the past few weeks we've seen a lot of employers telling their employees they need to vote for Mitt Romney if they expect to keep their jobs. The most recent stories come via Koch Industries, ASG Software, and Westgate Resorts.

It turns out they may have been listeners on this conversation, which took place on June 7, 2012. The NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) held a conference call with Mitt Romney and members. At the end of the call, Mitt concluded his remarks with this:

I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope — I hope you pass those along to your employees. Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.

(Via C&L)

Too Funny

German daredevil jumps into frozen swimming pool -- he's going to "break the ice."

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Sociopath Edition (Updated)

It looks like it's time for another round of Disgusting People:

Let's start with a couple of CEOs of "small businesses" who are obviously Republicans of the worst sort -- you know, the kind who think they own their employees:

Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegel came under fire this week for sending an email to his employees demanding that they vote for Mitt Romney and threatening to downsize the company if they don't. But Siegel's email isn't an outlier. It fits a pattern of imperious CEOs attempting to marshal the support of their employees in pursuit of their own political interests.

Up w/ Chris Hayes has exclusively obtained an email sent by the CEO of a Florida-based software firm, ASG Software Solutions, to his over 1,000 employees asking them to vote for Romney for president and suggesting that their jobs may be at stake if Romney doesn't win. The subject line of the email, sent by ASG President and CEO Arthur Allen on Sept. 30, asks: "Will the US Presidential election directly impact your future jobs at ASG? Please read below."

Allen then suggests that the company may have to downsize, or be bought by a larger company, if President Obama is re-elected, and suggests that massive cuts and layoffs would ensue if that occurs.

I really can't think of anything to say about that -- it's pretty much self-explanatory.

Darrel Issa (R-Somewhere South of Reality) could be a regular on this kind of feature. He probably wastes more money with his "hearings" and "Congressional inquiries" than any bridge to nowhere ever proposed. Now it's Libya:
House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) says that President Barack Obama's response to the attacks in Libya that killed a U.S. ambassador is like former President George W. Bush's widely-mocked 2003 "mission accomplished" speech which suggested that the U.S had won war in Iraq even though violence was only escalating in the country at the time.

Issa, who held hearings last week over the attacks, on Sunday told CBS host Bob Schieffer that he had determined that the Obama administration had downplayed the attacks in Benghazi because it wanted the appearance that the country had been stabilized.

But Schieffer noted that Republicans had pressured the State Department to cut security by voting to slash about $500 million from the embassy security budget over the past two years.

"Quite frankly, we believe that they didn't want the appearance of needing the security," the California Republican insisted. "The fact is, they are making a decision to not put security in because they don't want the presence of security."

Issa, as usual, is full of it -- it was Republicans who cut the allocation for embassy security, not the State Department. What a weasel.

And the crowning glory, the sociopath supreme, none other than Mitt Romney, who can't let a good tragedy go to waste:

The father of Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya who was killed in the attack in Benghazi last month, said his son’s death shouldn’t be politicized in the presidential campaign.

Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, has criticized President Barack Obama for not providing adequate security in Libya, saying the administration has left the country exposed to a deadly terrorist attack.

You'll recall that Romney issued a statement slamming the administration over the attck in Benghazi before the dust had settled, and then caught hell for it from just about everybody.

John Aravosis has a good summary of this one at AmericaBlog.

And I've just started going through the news this morning. You really have to wonder what the country is coming to.

Update: I just ran across this little tidbit. I think an appropriate alternate titled for this post would be "Brazen."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reviews in Brief: Some Thoughts on Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings

I broke down and bought the DVDs for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, mostly because I got them really cheap. After watching a couple of times, I have some thoughts. This is not really a "review" as such, just some things I noticed. (I should note that this is based on the DVD of the theatrical release. I'm not sure I could survive the extended version.)

First, a caveat: Adaptations from one medium to another are, as they say, fraught with consequences. One of the most successful adaptations I've seen was Brokeback Mountain, and that was developed from a short story. One might guess, then, that adapting a trilogy of novels that run well over a thousand pages would pose some risks. I've tried to stay away from comparisons, because the film is not the book, but there are a number of problem areas that caught my attention that are, I think, internal to the film.

Character and motivations: What I call the "basis" for the action. A few things jumped out at me: Merry and Pippin wind up on the quest by happenstance, and there's really no foundation for their participation aside from that. We get no real sense of a bond between them and Frodo that would support their involvement on any other than the most rudimentary level. Likewise, the relationship between Eowyn and Faramir is left to assumption -- we get one glimpse of them standing next to each other at the coronation, but as I recall, there's not even a glance to seal the assumption. Aragorn as a character is well done, within a somewhat limited scope, but there's a dimension missing: what he is in the movie is an adventurer on his way to becoming a king and not a king on the way to reclaiming his throne, despite repeated references to his heritage. There's a difference. Leaving the reforging of Anduril until late in the story was a mistake, I think, as was glossing over Aragorn's confrontation with Sauron via the palantir. Again, it leaves important parts of the story with no basis -- too often, I found myself wonder "Why is this happening?"

I don't know what Cate Blanchett had been smoking -- she looked and acted like she was stoned -- but it should probably be illegal. Galadriel has none of the humanity one sees in the other elves, and again, it undercuts the impact of what she says and does.

On the whole, the characters for the most part lack depth, and given the caliber of the cast, I have to fault the script.

The one other important respect in which I think the film trilogy falls short is that Jackson couldn't seem to settle on a consistent tone. Even without reference to the books, what we're seeing is high heroic fantasy, in which we're assured the good guys win (Jackson even sets it up so that the Shire is completely untouched by Sauron's machinations), but the context is Hollywood realism in a fairly run-of-the-mill adventure story. It's an uneasy mix, and Jackson didn't seem to be able to find a comfortable middle ground.

The Fellowship of the Ring is certainly the best of the three -- the tightest and most coherent -- while the other two gradually come unglued.

I'll probably watch the whole thing again, at some point, in spite of Jackson's tendency to milk scenes that need to be tight and truncate scenes that need more development -- there are too many of those to enumerate, but take the final scene in the Grey Havens as the type specimen -- because there is credible work done by the cast, and the scenery is gorgeous. (And there's another disjunction with the action: there's more fantasy in the landscape than in the story.)

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A World Made of Diamonds

Nope, not an idea for a new James Bond flick -- it's an actual world, and not all that far away.

Move over, Hope Diamond. The most famous gems on Earth have new competition in the form of a planet made largely of diamond, astronomers say.

The alien planet, a so-called "super-Earth," is called 55 Cancri e and was discovered in 2004 around a nearby star in our Milky Way galaxy. After estimating the planet's mass and radius, and studying its host star's composition, scientists now say the rocky world is composed mainly of carbon (in the form of diamond and graphite), as well as iron, silicon carbide, and potentially silicates.

At least a third of the planet's mass is likely pure diamond.

Looks familiar, somehow.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Some Happy Things

to set you up for the weekend:

First, I'm sure you've heard about Ryan Andreson, the Scout who met all the requirements for an Eagle Scout badge, which was denied because he's gay. He was invited go appear on Ellen deGeneres' show:

His mom's a total winner.

(Via Towleroad) Click through and sign the petition.

Check out the members of Congress who joined the NOH8 campaign in honor of National Coming Out Day. My own rep is there:

Nordstrom has come out in support of Washington's Referendum 74.

And this is just for fun: two of my favorite TV people, together:

And this is the joke of the day, courtesy of "Mr. Watchdog," Rep. Darryl Issa: possible hearings of the House Oversight Committee on the "fudged" job numbers.

I may add to this as I run across more goodies, but that should get you started.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Regnerus Update

Scott Rose, who's been bird-dogging the scandalously political "study" by Mark Regnerus and the Witherspoon Institute (because I believe in giving credit where credit it due), has published an interview with Dr. Andrew Perrin, a very highly respected cultural and political sociologist, about the "study." A snippet:
“I think the study is so thoroughly flawed, in particular with respect to its categorization of ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian,’ that no conclusions can be drawn with sufficient confidence to report, publicize, or use them.”

This will, of course, not stop NOM, the FRC, or anyone else from reporting, publicizing, or using them. The study has even been cited in one of the DOMA appeals. (You can tell the professional gay-bashers are getting desperate.)

Read the whole article at the link -- it's one of Rose's best on this subject.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Today's Must Watch

Rachel Maddow Interviews David Boies and Ted Olson. It's long, so make yourself comfortable.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

(Via AmericaBlog.)

"Sam's Mother"

Who happens to be Sally Field, and this year's recipient of the Human Rights Campaign's Equality Award:

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Helping a Child Come Out

Can you imagine an article like this being published ten years ago, or even five?

The most important thing, Ms. Kahn said, is that parents need to find ways to let their children know that their love is unconditional, and that their home is a safe place where anything can be discussed. Adolescence can be a secretive time, but “it’s the role of the parents to try to create the open path,” she said. “The adults have to do a little work here.”

In other words, Ms. Kahn said, the job of the grown-ups is to help guide their children through adolescence. The terrain may be unfamiliar, but the role is not. It’s called parenting.

I find it impossible to understand those who subscribe to the importance of family and then turn around and reject their children who are gay. (Thanks to people like Tony Perkins.) Maybe they need to learn what parenting is -- it's not creating little clones of yourself. It's preparing your children to lead an independent life.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

No Comment Necessary

Fortunately, this guy is only a state legislator -- from Arkansas, of course.

This one's more of a problem: he's on the House Science Committee. Now you know what Republicans think qualifies you to oversee our scientific initiatives.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Today's Must Read (A Twofer)

This post from Digby. I can't really excerpt it -- just let me note that she manages to summarize everything that's wrong with religious conservatives.

Update: Digby has more on Sally Quinn.

47%? What 47%?

Mitt Romney is backing off the 47% remark. In fact, he's in full damage-control mode:

Unfortunately, according to his running mate, Paul Ryan, the actual figure is 60%. (Apparently, Ryan didn't get the e-mail.) That's how many of us get back more from the government than we pay in, according to Ryan. We're all takers.

From Mother Jones:
"Right now about 60 percent of the American people get more benefits in dollar value from the federal government than they pay back in taxes," he said on the June 2010 edition of Washington Watch. "So we're going to a majority of takers versus makers."

Listen carefully, and you'll discover that most of us are not really Americans.

And I do wonder who fed him the numbers, since it's obvious from his comments on his budget proposal that he can't do math.

"Makers" and "takers"? I mean, really. This bullpucky is straight out of Ayn Rand, and to be honest with you, I find it very revealing about Ryan's level of maturity: most of us outgrew Rand by the time we'd left college. Think about it. The prototypical Randian hero is a kind of warped vision of a superhero out of a comic book: gifted with phenomenal powers (greed, insensitivity, greed, lack of empathy and compassion, greed, ruthlessness, greed, self-absorption -- and did I mention greed?), he stands head and shoulders above all others. A perfect image for the teenage male who is finally out on his own (more or less), and whose interpersonal skills are still pretty rudimentary.

And do note the emptiness in his eyes.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Following up

on my post from a couple of days ago, specifically the "religious freedom" decision I noted here.

And what should pop up today but this report from the Center for American Progress, on the state of "religious freedom" vis-a-vis marriage equality laws.

The key issue is here:
But opponents of marriage equality would like to think otherwise. They disingenuously argue that marriage equality will unduly require clergy to officiate weddings between same-sex couples even if doing so violates their religious beliefs. Opponents similarly claim that marriage equality laws violate the religious freedom of shopkeepers, restaurant owners, and private citizens by compelling them to provide goods and services to same-sex couples, even if they already must do so under existing nondiscrimination public accommodations laws.

Forget the requiring clergy to officiate at same-sex weddings garbage, because that's all it is. Not gonna happen, not in this country. (At least, not until the right and the "centrists" have managed to completely gut the Bill of Rights.)

This "religious freedom" of shopkeepers, et al., to discriminate on the basis of the personal prejudices clutched in their sweaty hands (because when it comes right down to it, that's all this particular form of "religious belief" is) is, once again, completely bogus. They have no such right, and never did. It's a given that there is no such thing as unlimited freedom -- there are always constraints, otherwise you don't have a society, you have a bunch of wild animals. (And even there, freedom is limited by your ability to feed yourself and find shelter -- that's the "freedom as zero sum game" so beloved on the right. Makes you wonder what universe they live in.) The basic rule in nondiscrimination laws is that if you're going to offer goods or services to the general public, you damned well offer them to the general public. Discrimination on any other basis than ability to pay has no place in an egalitarian society. (Ron Paul's little fantasy about the "marketplace" taking care of segregation is so jaw-droppingly stupid that it beggars belief -- for anyone but Ron Paul, I guess.)

What this particular interpretation of "religious freedom" represents is an all-out assault on religious freedom, no less.
Even with the ample religious exemptions built into marriage equality laws, some conservatives still claim that they do not go far enough. These opponents of equality want to go as far as to exempt individual citizens from providing goods and services to same-sex couples when doing so would allegedly be inconsistent with their faith. They believe, for example, that shopkeepers and restaurant owners should be able to deny goods and services to same-sex couples, all in the name of “religious freedom.” They similarly believe that public-sector employees, such as city clerks, should be able to deny government services to same-sex couples if they are religiously opposed to marriage equality.

In truth, exempting private citizens from existing laws that prohibit discrimination against gay individuals is not about safeguarding religious freedoms. Instead, it is simply about giving people a license to discriminate.

While this attitude seems to be endemic in the so-called "Christian" right, the most egregious example that comes to my mind is the Roman Catholic hierarchy, who have turned into quite a choice group of bullies. One sterling case in point is the controversy over adoption services for same-sex couples in Illinois. The Catholic Charities claimed that being forced to do so violated their "religious freedom" after the passage of Illinois' civil unions law. I suspect a bit of deception here -- Illinois had non-discrimination laws in place that precluded discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation that caused nary a ripple among the Catholic hierarchy. (Well, they didn't like that law, and lobbied against it, but there's only so far you can carry a bad idea.) However, they had been really active in lobbying against the civil unions bill, and their reaction to being "forced" to place children with same-sex parents (mind you, under the same criteria used to evaluate potential opposite-sex parents) was to threaten to close their adoption services. The state called them on it, and they lost. The party line, of course, is that they were "forced" to close down. The reality is that the state said you cannot use taxpayer money to discriminate against taxpayers, so Catholic Charities chose to terminate adoption services. (Frankly, at this point the idea that it's in the best interests of children to be left in the care of a Catholic organization is somewhat farfetched.)

One can make the case that Catholic Charities qualifies as a "religious organization" under the law (although if I remember correctly, Catholic Charities was created as a separate organization in order to be able to accept government money without violating the establishment clause. Funny thing about that.) But taking this to the realm of "personal religious beliefs" enters a whole new world of ugly. It is, as the report states, nothing more than a license to discriminate.

So actually, the conflict is not about "religious freedom," but it's about "religious supremacy" -- and it's the supremacy of particular sectarian doctrines. And that's all it is.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

They Came in All Sizes

Dinosaurs, that it. Here's a somewhat belated announcement of another new species, this one about the size of a cat.

Not every dinosaur grew up to be a mighty predator like Tyrannosaurus rex or a hulking vegan like Apatosaurus. A few stayed small, and some of the smallest dinosaurs that ever lived — tiny enough to nip at your heels — were among the first to spread across the planet more than 200 million years ago.

Fossils of these miniature, fanged plant-eaters known as heterodontosaurs, or “different toothed reptiles,” have turned up as far apart as England and China. Now, in a discovery that has been at least 50 years in the making, a new and especially bizarre species of these dwarf herbivores has been identified in a slab of red rock that was collected in the early 1960s by scientists working in South Africa.

Actually, I think it's kind of cute.

Skin, scales and quills were added to a cast of the skull of Heterodontosaurus, the best-known heterodontosaurid from South Africa.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

John Corvino on Marriage, Plus

John Corvino has done an excellent series of videos addressing the arguments against marriage equality, which you can find here. They are concise, clear, and rational, and go a long way toward illustrating just how empty those arguments are.

Here's the one on marriage as a threat to religious freedom:

My one objection to this one is that I think he should have stressed the fact that clergy who perform weddings do so as agents of the state -- their authority is secular, not religious.

And here's the Plus: one of the clearest and most sensible opinions on the limits of "religious freedom" I've seen from anyone. Via Think Progress:

The burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [an employer's health] plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs’ religion. . . . [Federal religious freedom law] is a shield, not a sword. It protects individuals from substantial burdens on religious exercise that occur when the government coerces action one’s religion forbids, or forbids action one’s religion requires; it is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others. [It] does not protect against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own. . . .

[T]he health care plan will offend plaintiffs’ religious beliefs only if an [] employee (or covered family member) makes an independent decision to use the plan to cover counseling related to or the purchase of contraceptives. Already, [plaintiffs] pay salaries to their employees—money the employees may use to purchase contraceptives or to contribute to a religious organization. By comparison, the contribution to a health care plan has no more than a de minimus impact on the plaintiff’s religious beliefs than paying salaries and other benefits to employees.

Here's the full decision.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

I Almost Forgot

It's Banned Books Week.

What are your favorites?

Monday, October 01, 2012

The Swamp

I'm finally ready to dive into the swamp muck that came out of various and sundry Catholic bishops last week. It's pretty stinky.

Let's start off with my own home-town atrocity, Cardinal Francis George. He's been relatively quiet lately, compared to someone like Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, but he couldn't resist using a celebratory mass honoring couples who have been married fifty years to slam gay couples:

Without mentioning gay marriage specifically, George also spoke briefly about the Catholic Church’s opposition to legalizing same-sex marriage, saying the institution of marriage is something that “comes to us from God,” not from the church or from the government. . . .

George said, “There must surely be ways in our civil society, where we can honor friendships, where we can respect other people, without destroying the nature of marriage. It is very important, for your whole lives, give witness to what marriage truly means. And while civil laws might change – if they do – then society will be the worse for it.”

OK, first point: I require some evidence that "marriage comes to us from God," and I'm afraid that quoting from the Bible won't do it. What the evidence says is that marriage is and always has been a human institution, created by societies as a means of recognizing families, or, to put it in more basic terms, the establishment of new households. Coming from a church that didn't even recognize marriage as a sacrament until the thirteenth century, claiming ownership of the institution is a bit much.

Second, the utter contempt in which George holds gay people and our relationships is evident in his reference to "friendships."

If I thought the man understood the nature of marriage at all, I might be inclined to listen, but he obviously doesn't have a clue, any more than the Church seems to have a clue as to the true nature of morality. Remember, this is the man who said that Chicago's Gay Pride parade could "morph into" a KKK gathering. Classy, that one.

And I'm sure the 400 couples celebrating their fifty years of marriage were more than delighted to have their celebration hijacked for some not-so-subtle politicking.

(Via HuffPo.)

And how about the Bishop of Springfield, Thomas John Paprocki, as long as we're talking about politicking?

Again, I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.

This is just to blatantly cynical that even I'm aghast. Of course he's telling people how to vote, but I'm sure he's got a fleet of lawyers who told him exactly how to phrase it so he can keep his 501(c)(3).

(Footnote: I notice the Catholic hierarchy is really big on "intrinsic" this and that -- as in, abortion is intrinsically evil, gay people are intrinsically disordered, and on down the line. As someone whose religion stresses that one is individually responsible for making moral choices, and who knows that those moral choices are made in a fluid milieu, this "intrinsic" bullshit is just that. Althoughj I might note that raping children is intrinsically sick.)

Mistermix at Balloon Juice has an on-point summation of Bishop Paprocki's little homily.

Moving farther afield, the Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, came out with a "pastoral letter" that turns out to be little more than sixteen pages of gay bashing. This is just a sample:

If our society enshrines in law a “civil” right to “marry” someone of one’s own sex, then any persons or groups that believe otherwise will be seriously disadvantaged in law and in fact. Already we hear public officials and news organizations refer to those of us who hold the conjugal view of marriage as “bigots.” States such as Illinois and Massachusetts have made it impossible for Catholic Charities to provide adoption services. Hotel managers, photographers, owners of reception halls, etc. who hold to the view of marriage as a conjugal partnership have had legal or civil actions taken against them. How long would the state permit churches, schools or parents to teach their children that homosexual activity is contrary to the natural law if homosexual marriage were a civil right? Already in Canada and other democratic nations “hate speech” laws have been used to harass or even arrest clerics who preach the Biblical message about marriage.

It's just one distortion and fabrication after another. Let's just take a quick run-through: 1) recognizing the right to marriage for same-sex couple disadvantages no one. People call you a bigot for expressing your desire to continue discriminating? That's called "the free marketplace of ideas," and your ideas aren't selling so well. Catholic Charities in Illinois and Massachusetts chose to close their adoption services rather than comply with long-standing anti-discrimination laws. Same holds true of hotel managers, photograpers, et al.: they are providing services to the public and fall under anti-discrimination laws as well. As for teaching children that homosexual behavior is contrary to natural law, it's not. At least, not any real natural laws, as opposed to the fantasy "natural law" promulgated by the Church. And the hate speech laws of foreign countries have no relevance here -- we don't have them, and we have fairly robust protections for free speech in this country.

Bottom line: total bullshit.

There was another story that I ran across, but my link was to the post at AmeericaBlog Gay, which is undergoing server transfer, and I can't retrieve the story. Fear not, though -- it's just as disgusting as those above.