Sunday, February 07, 2016

A Sincere Question For Marco Rubio

I've joked for years now that the national GOP leadership must've been infiltrated by deep-cover Democratic operatives whose mission is to ensure that no matter how bad a Democratic candidate is, the Republican opponent will be even worse. Sometime during the 2012 presidential election, that Democratic mole earned his salary and then some, by convincing the GOP “You know what America's real problem is? Pregnant rape victims are not legally forced to bear their rapists' offspring! We should totally use the power of the state to change that.”

But that was four years ago. Today, in 2016, I can't say for certain whether Marco Rubio is a sincere Republican or one of the aforementioned deep-cover Dem operatives, but Rubio still says that, if elected president, he will try to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest. 

“Abortion to me is not a political issue. It's a human rights issue,” Rubio said.

(For what it's worth, I actually agree with him there. Only difference is, I believe “human rights” apply to human women even if they're pregnant, whereas Rubio clearly does not.)

So Rubio says that forcing a woman to give birth against her will is a just, righteous and moral use of government power, and even if I could have a personal conversation with him I wouldn't waste my time trying to convince him otherwise. But there is one question I'd genuinely like to ask Rubio and other forced-birth advocates: if you want to use state power to force pregnant rape victims to bear their attackers' offspring, would you at least be willing to let tax dollars cover said rape victims' full hospital and birthing costs plus lost wages? Or is that too much like “socialism” for your tastes?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Great Gay Anglican Freakout

The American Episcopal Church has been suspended from the worldwide Anglican Communion over gay marriage -- Episcopalians allow it while Anglicans oppose it. It's rather sad that "opposition to gay rights" is essentially becoming a religious obligation among certain people, but I find Anglican opposition particularly ironic because, as the recently departed Florence King noted (in her book He: An Irreverent Look at the American Male), the Anglican Church only got its start because "Anne Boleyn was a good lay."

In other words: a church that wouldn't exist if not for a king's adultery now opposes certain types of monogamous marriage.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Donald Trump: Blacklighting the Human Soul

You know how, during slow news weeks, local-news TV shows will air a segment wherein they take a blacklight to a hotel room, and when they turn on the light you're appalled to see how that supposedly "clean" room is actually spattered with nasty bodily-fluid stains?

Donald Trump's campaign does something similar, exposing and highlighting the nasty bigoted jizz-marks staining the souls of what initially looked like decent and honest people.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

San Bernardino And The No-Fly List

If I were wont to believe conspiracy theories, I'd swear that the National Rifle Association. in an attempt to boost its membership rolls, paid President Obama to respond to today's dreadful mass murder in San Bernardino by insinuating to CBS News that the grossly unconstitutional No Fly List should become even more gross:
"For those who are concerned about terrorism, some may be aware of the fact that we have a no-fly list where people can't get on planes," Mr. Obama said, "but those same people who we don't allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm, and there's nothing we can do to stop them. That's a law that needs to be changed."

Indeed, though Obama and I disagree on exactly which law that is; I'd say scrap the No Fly List, which security expert Bruce Schneier famously described as “a list of suspected terrorists so dangerous that we can't ever let them fly, yet so innocent that we can't arrest them - even under the draconian provisions of the Patriot Act.” 

You don't even have to be dangerous to make it on the No Fly List, which includes the names of journalists who merely criticized the TSA or "put TSA in an unfavorable light." I wouldn't be surprised to find my own name on the list in retaliation for all the various anti-TSA articles I published in the Guardian, though I can't say for certain since I haven't attempted to fly since the TSA started fondling people's genitals in airports.

In 2011, an honorably discharged Marine Corps veteran (and then-current dog trainer) named Abe Mashal got on the list after exchanging emails with an imam on "how to raise children in an interfaith household" -- Mashal was Muslim, and his wife a Christian.

And of course the No Fly List also covers people who merely share names or initials with other people on it. The late Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy got on the No Fly List in summer 2004 -- more specifically, a "T. Kennedy" did, which was all it took to ground the senator and any of the other tens of thousands of T. Kennedys in America.

I personally have a non-terrorist (and thoroughly whitebread) friend who almost got stranded in Canada a few years ago, unable to fly because, as he described to me later, "sixty thousand people in the US have or use my name, and hey, some David Smith somewhere was a bad guy, so better ground all of them until we can sort it out." 

That's all it takes to get on a U.S. government bad-guy list nowadays. And after 14 people were murdered in San Bernardino today, President Obama responded by saying how freaking terrible it is that the government can't use the No Fly List to violate even more of the rights of the people on it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Today's GOP Makes Even George Bush Look Good

I never thought I'd miss the second President Bush, but I do. For all the many horrific and unconstitutional things he did while president, he deserves sincere credit for this much: in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, he gave a speech in which he specifically said that America was not at war with "Islam" or "Muslims," only with a small handful of terrorist extremists.

Yes, he was a dishonest idiot for offering the false dichotomy "You're either with us or you're with the terrorists," but he never spewed any bigoted blather about how ALL refugees are suspect, or why even preschool-aged orphans deserve to be distrusted, or why we ought to shut down every mosque in America ....

Friday, November 13, 2015

Terrorism in Paris

Terrorists using bombs and guns have killed at least 153 people in hip Parisian neighborhoods Friday night. I hope this does not result in another round of Islamophobia.

Remember: the reason terrorists do the evils they do is that they don't see innocent individuals, only cells in a guilty collective. Responding to terrorism with the same evil blindness is no better.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Technology vs. the economy: only one improved

As an American member of “Generation X,” I've spent pretty much my whole life hearing the glum prediction “Yours is the first generation of Americans who can expect to be worse off than your parents were.” And as bad as my generation had or has it, the generation after mine – the so-called “Millennials” – have it even worse.

Or do they? For as long as I've heard “Americans today are worse off than their predecessors,” there's been the equal reaction “Nonsense! Today's Americans are richer than ever before – trouble is, they just don't appreciate just how good they have it!”

The two sides of the argument usually play out like this: “My generation is poorer than my parents. In their day a single wage-earner with only a high school diploma could earn enough to support a family, buy a house and take a nice vacation every year! But for my generation, high school isn't remotely enough; you need a college degree, and the cost of that degree has risen faster than inflation every year for more than two decades now, so we graduate deep in debt. Meanwhile, housing and medical insurance costs are also much higher than ever before, to the point where two-income families are the norm because an average family can't get by on a single income, and even two-income households often struggle.”

Which inspires the standard counter-argument: “Nonsense. Young Americans today are richer than ever before! Your rented apartment might be smaller than the house we owned at your age, but that  apartment contains a computer with an Internet connection! I never could've had that at your age. And you have smartphones with unlimited long-distance calling, so you can afford to chat with friends and family on the opposite side of the continent, anytime you want. Back in my day, we had to pay long-distance charges by the minute if we wanted to talk to anybody more than a few miles away. And your other appliances are better and cheaper than what we had, too: your refrigerators are more energy-efficient, your television sets are bigger and nicer than anything we had, your personal music and video collection is simultaneously larger than anything I could have afforded at your age, yet small enough to fit on a single device in your pocket.”

Last year I wrote an article for ConsumerAffairs describing how I was “the richest person in history (plus or minus a few billion),” and asking “We're all rich by world historical standards, so why aren't our lives easier?” The article started off like this:
An old proverb says that “The rich man has his ice in the summer, and the poor man gets his in the winter.”
Of course, that proverb predates the Industrial Revolution, discovery of electricity and invention of refrigeration, not to mention the other technological and economic reasons why, in early 21st-century America, things like refrigerator/freezers aren't “rich-person luxury items” but actual legal requirements — if you're a landlord renting out residential properties, local tenant and zoning codes almost certainly require that you equip those apartments with a working refrigerator and the electrical infrastructure to power it, among other things.

I first came across the “rich man's ice” saying as a little girl, during whichever summer I read Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. Like most young kids, even those whose parents provide all necessities, I was absolutely rock-bottom “poor” in terms of “How much money do I, personally, have to spend?” (Usual answer: None, unless I'd recently received some as a gift.)
But that summer, reading library books about American pioneer life in the 1870s and '80s, was the first time I ever felt rich. Ice in the summer? Anytime I wanted; I didn't even need to ask permission first. In one scene, Wilder described how excited she and her sisters were the day Pa came home with a very special (and expensive) present for the whole family: little panes of window glass, so natural light could enter the house and the family could see outside even when the weather was too cold or rainy to leave the window open. That was a red-letter day in the Ingalls household, even better than when Pa put smooth wooden boards down over the house's original packed-dirt floor.
Indeed, when I'm feeling down I'll often cheer myself up by reading books about days gone by and comparing my own lot to that of people in previous centuries:
By contemporary American-kid standards my financial status had always been average-to-poorish, but I'd have been the richest character by far in any of my “life in olden times” storybooks. And the further back in time I go, the richer I become. In fact, if you exclude “everyone who lives or has lived these past hundred years or so,” I'm richer than any person who has ever existed.
Consider these random facts: in late Elizabethan England (a peaceful and prosperous period by the standards of the day), a single loaf of bread cost twopence (2d), when the average unskilled laborer's income was only 3 to 4d per day, and 12d per day was the high end of a skilled laborer's pay scale.

Queen Elizabeth I had an enormous income — 60,000 pounds per year (at 240d to the pound) — but for all her wealth she had no access to basic dental care, which is why foreign ambassadors at the time noted that several of the English Queen's teeth were missing, and the remainders rotted to pure black.

As for Elizabeth's subject William Shakespeare, historians think he wrote his plays (at least his early ones) while sitting in a pub — not because writers prefer noisy, distracting environments, not even so he could eat or drink while writing, but because the pubs were illuminated, and lighting was too expensive for ordinary people, let alone struggling writers, to afford much at home.

There's some dispute over exactly when and where “glazed ceramics” and “glassware” were first invented, but everyone agrees they were extremely popular innovations mainly for eating and drinking purposes: when you eat and drink out of unglazed pottery, some of its sediments will blend in with your food.

Everyone who lived in ancient Egypt, even the rich and powerful Pharaohs, had horrible tooth problems because the food-processing methods of the time resulted in bits of sand or stone mixed in with your bread, grinding the teeth down so badly that those of most Egyptian mummies were “worn down to the pulp.”

So, yeah — technology, cheap manufacturing, agricultural innovations and countless other advances since Ye Olden Days mean even a poor American today has what would have been literally impossible luxuries for most of history.

That slummy one-room off-campus apartment where I lived while attending Cheap State U … still bigger than the claim shanties where Laura Ingalls lived with her family of six, and equipped with everything from non-dirt floors and glass windows to indoor plumbing and all the light I wanted.

Paying for my own food was a rude shock after a lifetime of parents providing it — but even the most overpriced loaf of handmade artisan bread wouldn't cost me two-thirds of a day's pay. I bought cheaper bread, still much better than what Pharaoh had because it didn't wear down my tooth enamel. 
I'm not trying to impress you by bragging about my vast wealth, here — glass windows, stone-free bread, a bathroom — because in modern terms they're not really considered “wealth” anymore; you can have all this stuff and still be poor. Your house's being infinity times nicer than any pioneer shack is irrelevant when you can't afford the payments to keep it.
Of course, the material differences between Millennial or Gen X Americans today compared to their parents or grandparents at the same age aren't remotely as stark. Bread and glass windows remain in reach for practically everybody nowadays; the lifestyle debates usually run like this:

“I'm worse off than my parents and grandparents at my age. For starters, they had a house whereas I live in an apartment.”

“No, you're better off than your parents, because your apartment is equipped lots of wonderful things your parents and grandparents never had at your age, including a computer with Internet connection, a telephone with free unlimited long-distance calling, and a microwave oven, too. And you also got far more higher education than those before you, too.”

“Yes, but I need that college degree to get the same jobs Grandpa could get with a high school diploma. And as a result of that degree, I'm up to my neck in an enormous bankruptcy-proof student loan debt.”

At the Washington Post this weekend, Jim Tankersley published an opinion piece saying “Baby boomers are what's wrong with America's economy: they chewed up resources, ran up the debt and escaped responsibility.”

After quoting and criticizing politicians such as Marco Rubio for offering to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits for future generations while keeping benefits intact for current beneficiaries, Tankersley said:
That’s smart politics: The biggest generational voting bloc by far in the upcoming election will be baby boomers, a group that is just starting to draw its first Medicare and Social Security benefits — and does not want anyone messing with those benefits, thank you very much.
It’s also bad economics.

Boomers soaked up a lot of economic opportunity without bothering to preserve much for the generations to come. They burned a lot of cheap fossil fuels, filled the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases, and will probably never pay the costs of averting catastrophic climate change or helping their grandchildren adapt to a warmer world. They took control of Washington at the turn of the millennium, and they used it to rack up a lot of federal debt, even before the Great Recession hit.
If anyone deserves to pay more to shore up the federal safety net, either through higher taxes or lower benefits, it’s boomers — the generation that was born into some of the strongest job growth in the history of America, gobbled up the best parts, and left its children and grandchildren with some bones to pick through and a big bill to pay.

Politicians shouldn’t be talking about holding that generation harmless. They should be asking how future workers can claw back some of the spoils that the “Me Generation” hoarded for itself....
Naturally, this inspired an outpouring of outraged emails, which Tankersley shared two days later. The first one, presumably written by a Baby Boomer who grew up in a family of six children, indignantly listed all the wonderful technologies which today's young people are the first in history to enjoy:
"I will be the first to admit the selfishness and self-centered attitudes of my generation.  But we passed those traits on to the X'ers and the Millenials in spades...your generation and what followed took greed and the desire for material things off the charts. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, in a middle class environment, we had 1 family car for 8 people.  One tv, one family stereo, one vacation a year.  No computers, cell phones, suv's, microwaves, big screen tvs, video games, dvd  players, netflix, and the list goes on and on.  I could still live without the latter list, but I wonder if your generation could...when economies go bad, you can't cope as well because you refuse any sacrifice of consumer products.  Then comes your bitching and blame games."
Of course, in today's economy a computer with Internet connection isn't really a “luxury,” any more than a car is a luxury in American suburbs laid out to make walking impossible. As for other items on the list: my DVD player cost me $60 several years ago. Today's I've seen players on sale for as little as $19. My current apartment came equipped with a microwave oven; the apartments where I lived before did not, but buying a countertop microwave only cost me $50, and it lasted more than 10 years until I discarded it upon moving here. Microwave-oven owners in bad financial straits could not have avoided them if only they'd known better than to buy an electricity-saving microwave oven at an amortized cost of under five dollars per year.

And so on. It's practically a tautology: technological improvements mean each generation enjoys  technological benefits previous generations didn't have. Today's kids grow up with smartphones, the Internet, free realtime worldwide communication, and music and video formats that make it unbelievably cheap to amass a personal music and movie collection larger than anything previous generations could dream of having. Before them, Generation X was the first to grow up with color television, cable TV, microwave ovens, video games, VCRs, plus the first primitive home computers and home gaming systems. The Boomers were the first kids to grow up with black-and-white television, portable transistor radios, cheap pre-recorded music (on vinyl records), and cheap and abundant canned and frozen food, among other things. And the Boomers' parents were the first to grow up with radio, moving pictures, telephones ….

There's no denying that all of these things are wonderful. But how relevant are they to discussions about the economy? Even during the Great Depression, Americans enjoyed technologies which earlier generations would've envied: “Stop complaining about your low-paying jobs and high cost of living, young people! Here you are with radio, glass windows, moving pictures with sound, and other luxuries your great-grandcestors never could've afforded! Then when economies go bad, you can't cope as well because you refuse to sacrifice any of your consumer products. Then comes your bitching and your blame games.”

Translation: if you hadn't blown that fifty dollars on a microwave oven, you could've invested it responsibly and retired on the proceeds by now, you greedy slacker.
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