Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Your Mom Did; She Had It Coming

If our current health care system is unsustainable, then reform is a necessity. The question should be not whether we should reform health care but how best to do it. Given that other countries do a better job at less than half the cost, there really isn't any sound reason to oppose reform – just lack of awareness among the general public - and politics, ideology and spite from reform opponents. Objecting to a specific plan is certainly fine if there are good reasons for doing so. Some reformers want single payer (which would save money), or oppose insurance mandates without a public option and other measures to prevent additional burdens on the poor and middle class. The Republican leadership promised a plan months ago, and then they've never delivered it. This is hardly shocking, and the media's failure to press the GOP on this isn't, either. Blue Dog Max Baucus' bill apparently has a few decent provisions, but is mostly a big giveaway to insurance companies. The deficit arguments also make little sense. Good reform will save money in the first year, and even more in the long run. Few members of Congress wailing about the deficit this time are supporting cost-cutting measures in the proposed legislation, and most never opposed other expenditures such as Pentagon waste, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or Bush's 1.8 trillion tax cuts (that went primarily to the richest Americans). Most of the honest critics of reform are on the left. The conservative position has been satirized in several ways, but it really boils down to: "Pray that you don't get sick. If you can't afford care (or have it denied), then you deserve to die."

Your Mom Probably Did

This exchange has been making the rounds, for good reason:

Senator Kyl: I don't need maternity care and so requiring that to be in my insurance policy is something that I don't need and will make the insurance more expensive.

Senator Stabenow: ...I think your mom probably did.

The lack of basic empathy, and the refusal to acknowledge how insurance companies screw customers over, are amazing. Kyl is a characteristic conservative lawmaker in both aspects.

Igor Volsky explains Kyl's (failed) amendment at ThinkProgress (head over for the links):

Kyl’s amendment would prohibit the government from defining which benefits should be included in a standard benefit package and would permit health insurance companies to design policies that exclude higher-cost beneficiaries. Currently, “it is difficult and costly for women to find health insurance that covers maternity care” in the individual health insurance market. According to a survey conducted by the National Women’s Law Center, the vast majority of individual market health insurance policies “do not cover maternity care at all. A limited number of insurers sell separate maternity coverage for an additional fee known as a ‘rider,’ but this supplemental coverage is often expensive and limited in scope.”

A well defined minimum benefits package would compel health insurers to provide basic services to all Americans. The Kyl amendment, which ultimately failed, would have allowed the industry to continue profiting from discriminatory practices. As former health insurance executive Wendell Potter explained in an interview with ThinkProgress, insurers would like to move us all into “these limited benefit plans that are very skimpy and don’t cover you, don’t cover what you need. That way, when you do get sick, they’re not on the hook to pay you anything. They would love to have you enrolled in these.”

My favorite comments come from the Obsidian Wings thread:

John Kyl's mother didn't need maternity care, either.
He sprang fully formed from Ayn Rand's forehead.
- John Thullen

If you customize your insurance coverage perfectly, it is indistinguishable from paying for everything yourself (except for paying the insurance company its rake off).
- Free Lunch

As Maha comments:

Once again, do Republicans not get risk pooling? If the only people who add maternity benefits to their insurance are young couples planning families, their insurance is going to go through the roof. It’s only by spreading the cost out across a big pool that it can possibly be affordable.

Kyl's position reminds me of former GOP Congressman Tom Davis telling a caller good luck," Tom Coburn's squirming, contradictory bullshit, Eric Cantor's lame lies and incoherence, Olympia Snowe's lack of independence, and Michael Steele inept, incoherent lying. (Ask a bullshitter a few sharp questions, and their position crumbles.)
Oh, and then there's key Democratic Blue Dog Kent Conrad, who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.

It's not a coincidence that the folks opposing health care reform, and deriding systems that are effective in other countries, can't keep their stories straight when they know the facts at all. The obliviousness is galling, but the callousness is disgusting. Still, all that pales compared to the next, putrescent example...

She Had It Coming

Tintin at Sadly, No understates the case with the title "Another Portrait Of An Asshole As A Young Man." Here's the full item that drew that:

When Artists Starve [Stephen Spruiell]

A few points regarding this story:

• The median starting salary for Miami University (Ohio) graduates is $47,100.

• A healthy 22-year-old female in Oxford, Ohio can purchase serviceable health insurance ($30 co-pay for office visits) for $55 a month, according to ehealthinsurance.com.

This young woman's death is indeed tragic, but it is not an indictment of the U.S. health-care system, cheap left-wing moralizing to the contrary notwithstanding. Many capable young people forgo stable careers in order to try their hands at starving-artistry. The rest of us are under no obligation to subsidize that choice.

Honestly, this may be the most appalling "opinion" on health care I've yet heard. I think it's even worse than views of the crazy doctors the Wall Street Journal editorial page keeps on dredging up - including the one who thought he was being awfully clever for asking folks 'why people should not be left to die in the street (other than that they have a right to health care).' Spruiell's just as smug, but even nastier, because we're not dealing with hypothetical people, but a real young woman who just died, probably needlessly.

Spruiell, who used to work for current anti health care reform group FreedomWorks, apparently couldn't be bothered to read the story he linked:

Friends say the Miami University graduate who died this week after reportedly suffering from swine flu delayed getting medical treatment because she did not have health insurance.

News of Kimberly Young’s death Wednesday, Sept. 23, came as a shock to those who knew the vibrant 22-year-old who was working at least two jobs in Oxford after graduating with a double major in December 2008.

Young became ill about two weeks ago, but didn’t seek care initially because she didn’t have health insurance and was worried about the cost, according to Brent Mowery, her friend and former roommate...

Young, who studied French, Spanish and earned two degrees at Miami — international studies and fine arts photography, was an active member of the Students for Peace and Justice and the Association of Latin American Students.

The Wayne, Ohio, native was still in Oxford after graduating in 2008 because she wasn’t able to find the right job. Hey said this past summer, Young was debating pursuing a graduate degree or working for a nonprofit organization.

“She had an incredible commitment to social justice,” Hey said. “She was a person with a huge heart and a very free spirit as well. She really cared about people here and around the world.”

Read the rest; it sounds like quite a loss. Memorandum has some other blog reactions, some thoughtful, some repulsive. Perhaps if Young had been a conservative activist, right-wingers would have reacted differently – but they'd probably invent some reason she was an exception in that case. I know the same conservatives who attacked Graeme Frost don't get this, but the reason liberals people with souls are focusing on this story is because it is tragic, and Kimberly Young's fate was probably preventable. Compassion and empathy are not foreign concepts or viewed as evil by those who aren't authoritarian conservatives. Why the hell would anyone want a fellow citizen, let alone a vibrant, young college graduate, to die unnecessarily?

Young's case is hardly unique – a recent study estimates that 45,000 Americans die every year due to lack of insurance. That's not counting the many Americans who are under-insured but think they're covered, and will be denied necessary care when they need it. One has to be pretty cloistered not to know any stories like this.

Tintin summarizes Spruiell's attitude as "People who don’t have jobs deserve to die," but Kimberly Young in fact held two jobs. It'd be more accurate to describe Spruiell's attitude as "People who don't have jobs and pursuits I approve of deserve to die." I'd shorten it to simply, "She had it coming."

Spruiell's argument on the merits fails pathetically. Tintin examines the truth behind his health insurance claims. Unsurprisingly, that $55 plan offers crappy coverage – and even that assumes the insurance company would cover every applicant, which is obviously false. Especially in today's economy, there are plenty of graduate students, let alone college students, who can't find a job at all. (Unemployment among those 16 to 24 is at a historic 52.2%.) More power to those who can find one with a starting salary of $47,100 or better (note that's a median, not an average), or another gig that offers good health care. (Hey, not everyone can land a gig at a wingnut welfare, loss-leader outlet like National Review.) Since Young eventually went to the hospital, the public picked up the tab for her care anyway, and preventative and early care are both cheaper and more effective. Kimberly Young clearly was quite active and studious, and had diverse interests, one of which was art. Contrary to Spruiell's sneering, art is valuable, artists are valuable, and they deserve health care along with every other American. Even Scrooge (who cited the poor houses) wasn't as smug nor as callous.

Now, even if Spruiell wasn't a self-righteous asshole and full of shit, how many people buy his conclusions? "This young woman’s death is indeed tragic, but it is not an indictment of the U.S. health-care system." "The rest of us are under no obligation to subsidize that choice." Really? We already did "subsidize" it with her hospital care. More to the point, would anything indict the health care system in Spruiell's eyes? Young's death wasn't some rare occurrence. Health care horror stories aren't hard to find in America. If some 45,000 people die every year due to lack of insurance, one in six Americans aren't insured, we spend over twice as much as other industrialized countries for worse care, and reform would be an enormous economic boon and make people happier to boot – what's the argument against reform? Why couldn't Kimberly Young and many more like her live instead of die?

Spruiell is a hack whose argument falls apart with only cursory scrutiny. The same goes for Kyl, Steele and the rest. But honestly, Spruiell's little turd of a post is one of the most loathsome things I can remember reading. Yes, his case fails on the merits, but the key factor is simply that he is a raging asshole. He's probably aware of this, and proud of it – spite is the driving force behind movement conservatism. As Tintin describes it, this is the "I Got Mine, Fuck You" attitude. In Spruiell's circle at National Review, being an asshole, especially toward the poor, the struggling, the liberal, the artistic, isn't just acceptable – it's encouraged. (Revisit Dinesh D'Souza in Johann Hari's classic piece on the National Review cruise.) Spruiell's paid to be an asshole. He's not even an effective liar or dissembler. There is absolutely nothing useful he can contribute to any discussion, on health care, or probably any other subject. Wonks take care of skepticism and criticism just fine without bad faith hacks muddying the waters. It also takes no independent thought or insight to be an asshole like Spruiell, although the far right and glibertarian crowd really do have the conceit that they're bold thinkers, most of all when they're expressing juvenile entitlement and ire.

Obviously, pointing out Spruiell's colossal wankerdom in profane terms won't fly on TV. But it would be a grave mistake to treat him and his ilk as honest, rational or decent. They're not interested in solving problems. In some cases – such as Spruiell's – they won't even admit there's a problem. While public grace has its uses, it's folly to believe these people can be worked with at all. They simply don't give a damn whether anyone (other than their own crowd) lives or dies. The most effective debates or political tactics will expose this and make these scumbags state their actual positions. Some, like Spruiell, are arrogant enough to do so proudly. He'd make a splendid PR man for the Republican party on health care.

I've said it before, but I take no pleasure in the mean, greedy and pathetic state of movement conservatism in America. It really hurts the country, and we'd better off with two parties working to solve problems and offering honest and thoughtful solutions. Kyl is smoother than Spruiell, but his position is pretty callous, too. There are few national conservatives who are honest and aren't obstructionists. And they have no viable solutions to offer. Perhaps if Spruiell and his crowd faced the same fate as those they dismiss and deride, they might change their minds. That's about the only thing that ever does change the mind of a devoted hack or authoritarian conservative – and sometimes, even that won't do the trick.

Oh, and on the artistic front – while it's appropriate to tell Spruiell to Go Cheney Himself (and the Sadly, No thread has plenty of other creative suggestions) - the Bard said it more artfully in King Lear, 2.2:

Fellow, I know thee.

What dost thou know me for?

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a
base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,
hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,
glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;
one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a
bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but
the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pander,
and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I
will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest
the least syllable of thy addition.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Banned Books Week 2009

Blue Gal reminds me it's Banned Book Week. I'm obviously scattered, since I normally try to do something special for it each year. If nothing else, browse through the "Banned Books" category, since I did a fair amount of blogging on it last year. And if you happen to post on Banned Books Week, especially about a book you've read for the occasion, leave me a comment or send me an e-mail.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mew - "Beach" and "Comforting Sounds"

The Wiki entry on Danish band Mew has more about them. "Beach" is from their new album. The video is a fan-made piece using clips from the French film Rumba, which I haven't seen, but it seems to work really well. (Driouxcipher passes on the official video for "Repeaterbeater" from the same album). "Comforting Sounds" was released in 2003, although the performance appears to be in the past few years. It has a good build.

Eclectic Jukebox

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

More Proof That Torture Doesn't Work

Torture is immoral, illegal, and does not "work" reliably at all if one wants accurate intelligence - in fact, humane and legal methods are significantly more effective. Sure, torture is great for inflicting pain, producing false confessions and terrorizing populations, but the truth-to-lies-because-oh-my-god-make -the-pain-stop ratio is pretty shitty. I would hope this was common knowledge by now. Scott Horton passes on some important additional evidence:

Torture Doesn’t Work, Neurobiologist Says

Advocates often portray torture, like waterboarding, as black magic that quickly enables the interrogator to break through his subject’s defenses and force him to divulge the location of the bomb that will destroy Los Angeles. But what does the scientific literature say? A 2006 Intelligence Science Board flatly noted that there was no data supporting the claim that torture produces reliable results. The 372-page report would be summed up by this passage: “The scientific community has never established that coercive interrogation methods are an effective means of obtaining reliable intelligence information. In essence, there seems to be an unsubstantiated assumption that ‘compliance’ carries the same connotation as ‘meaningful cooperation.’ ” In other words, waterboard someone or smack his head against the wall, and sure enough, he’ll open up and talk. But does that mean you’ll get reliable info that you couldn’t have gotten using more conventional techniques? Absolutely not. Dick Cheney insisted that two CIA analytical reports (that he apparently pressed to have prepared) concluded that his torture techniques rendered positive results. But these reports were declassified and published, and lo, they don’t say what he claimed they do.

Now another important contribution to the scientific literature has appeared. Irish neurobiologist Shane O’Mara of Trinity College Dublin, writing in Trends in Cognitive Sciences, takes a special look at the Bush Administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques:

the use of such techniques appears motivated by a folk psychology that is demonstrably incorrect. Solid scientific evidence on how repeated and extreme stress and pain affect memory and executive functions (such as planning or forming intentions) suggests these techniques are unlikely to do anything other than the opposite of that intended by coercive or ‘enhanced’ interrogation.

Horton also links and quotes a good piece by Sharon Begley in Newsweek explaining O'Mara's findings. Head on over and read the whole thing, but basically, the pain and terror of torture interferes with cognitive function. This really shouldn't be surprising, that fear, drowning or lack of sleep would do this. But these studies are important given recent crimes (and arguments excusing them), and the findings on torture and false memory are especially troubling.

Here's Horton's closer:

There is another factor that casts doubt on the reliability of statements made by a torture subject. O’Mara puts it simply: “while I’m talking, I’m not being water-boarded.” It’s a sort of Pavlovian conditioning—if I talk, the torture will stop. Such circumstances virtually guarantee that a subject will talk. They just don’t make it more likely that he will tell the truth. In fact, just the opposite. “To briefly summarize a vast, complex literature: prolonged and extreme stress inhibits the biological processes believed to support memory in the brain,” writes the Irish scholar. “Coercive interrogations involving extreme stress are unlikely, given our current cognitive neurobiological knowledge, to facilitate the release of veridical information from long-term memory.” Let’s translate that: torture tends to make the information provided less reliable.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Save the Needy Insurance Companies

On that misspelling thing? The teabaggers are in real trouble. (You probably will want to zoom in on the collage.)

(Hat tip to DDay and Chicher.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Talk Like a Pirate Day 2009

September 19th is Talk Like a Pirate Day! You can read more here.

As in a past year, I'm going to take a scurvy dog with delusions of grandeur:

And translate him:

Does sacred honor e'en exist in Washington anymore? On accoun' o' I ratted ou' a self-avowed Communist in th' administration in Van Jones, th' same organizations, th' same politicians, th' same progressive media that be ignorin' or standin' fer ACORN now, be havin' called me Joseph McCarthy. They be havin' such wee regard fer yer intelligence that they dasn't think ye`re goin' t' figure ou' that Joseph McCarthy be a powerful senator! Surrounded by th' trappings o' power o' th' United States government. Wi' th' power o' subpoena an' th' power o' Congress! Th' guy who stood against that be alone. While sea dogs an' land lubbers else wet the'r britches an' cowered in fear!

Ye`d think th' members o' th' media might reckon his name. 't be Edward R. Murrow. An' while I be nowhere near an Edward R. Murrow, nereclaimed t' be, let me use th' words o', finally, somebody that stood up t' th' power, an' these senators, an' spake, Senator, be havin' ye nay shame? Be havin' ye nay shame?

An we retort, i' th' style of the Dread Pirate Roberts' salty first mate:

We knew Edward R. Murrow. Edward R. Murrow be a matey o' ours. Ye, horkwad, be nay Edward R. Murrow. Be havin' ye nay decency, or shame, ye scalliwag, scurvy dog, peg boy an' bilge rat?

Arr, this scalliwag spoutin' his lyin' mouth and sportin' his yellow pants should be forced ta walk the plank.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Peter, Paul and Mary - "500 Miles"

I saw Peter, Paul and Mary perform a few times, and my mom and one of my brothers saw Peter and Paul perform just last month. Mary was not doing well.

As late as the early 90s, they would still join in demonstrations and get arrested, too.

Years back, I remember listening to their version of this song over and over to figure out their harmonies. It's a very pretty rendition, even haunting, expressing great yearning. They popularized some very good and important songs over the years.

Their website has statements and photos. RIP, Mary Travers.

Eclectic Jukebox

Monday, September 14, 2009

9/11, Service and the New McCarthyism

Another 9/11 has come and gone. I've done remembrances and reflections in years past. There was nothing good about 9/11 itself, but there was much that was admirable in the reaction to it from average citizens. This year, responding to a citizen campaign, President Obama designated 9/11 a National Day of Service and Remembrance, which seemed like a simple, good and relatively innocuous idea.

You can guess where we're going. Back in August, some right-wingers started their outrage machine over this. Sadly, No's Tintin quoted a typical (and unintentionally revealing) piece from the conservative American Spectator by Matthew Vadum titled "Obama's Plan to Desecrate 9/11":

The Obama White House is behind a cynical, coldly calculated political effort to erase the meaning of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks from the American psyche and convert Sept. 11 into a day of leftist celebration and statist idolatry. The president signed into law a measure in April that designated Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service, but it’s not likely many lawmakers thought this meant that day was going to be turned into a celebration of ethanol, carbon emission controls, and radical community organizing.

Yes, no irony whatsoever there on the "cynical" accusation or "desecrate." As Tintin noted:

Of course, Matthew twists the facts here by giving the wrong name for the holiday. It’s not the “National Day of Service,” but the "National Day of Service and Remembrance." But if Matthew mentioned the “and Remembrance” part, that would more or less shoot to shit his claim that under the new law, September 11 would be completely dedicated to to planting trees in the shape of a crescent facing Mecca and scouting libraries to remove copies of the 9-11 report and replacing them with copies of The Joy of Gay Sex.

Continuing from the same Vadum piece:

The plan is to turn a “day of fear” that helps Republicans into a day of activism called the National Day of Service that helps the left. In other words, nihilistic liberals are planning to drain 9/11 of all meaning.

As Tintin noted, this seems to be an accidental slip of honesty. And as the New York Times wrote, it's hard to imagine why anyone who object to a day of service. (Well, anyone sane.)

As I've written before, everyone is entitled to his or her own personal feelings about 9/11. But when those are brought into the public realm with a political aim, well, that's different.

I was rather put off by what I caught of ABC's Republican-heavy special, A Nation Remembers: The Story of the Pentagon Memorial this past Sunday. It's a nice memorial, and I blogged on it last year. But when Gary Sinise, the pro-war narrator of the special, spoke of unity and how it faded, it was hard not to think he was suggesting that going to war with Iraq was the right thing to do and what a shame it is that anyone dissented. Dick Cheney was interviewed, with no mention that he shamelessly and ruthlessly lied us into war. No one mentioned his insistence on heading up counterterrorism efforts and then refusing to meet prior to 9/11. Obviously no one said he should be on trial for war crimes for ordering and supporting torture. ABC really couldn't find other speakers? I don't expect Cheney to be called out in a mainstream memorial piece. But it would have been better to leave Cheney out of the special altogether than to perpetuate the same fantasies of the past eight years. It was a bit like having a Hurricane Katrina special that featured Michael Brown gushing about how wonderful the Bush administration's response was.

To return to Vadum, it's really impossible for one to get more "cynical" with 9/11 than to use it to start an unnecessary war of choice against a country, Iraq, that did not attack us; to constantly link that country rhetorically to 9/11 and insist there was a connection; to torture prisoners to say there was such a connection; to browbeat anyone with the basic common sense, understanding of war or bullshit detector to object to the push for war; and so on.

As Robert Parry (via MBR) writes:

On this eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it’s worth reflecting on how even a mildly competent U.S. President might have prevented the terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and drove the United States into a spasm of revenge that has wasted untold blood and treasure.

Or as driftglass writes, about the long trail of ridiculous and vicious attacks on that centrist president, Bill Clinton:

The public record meant that every frivolous Republican witch hunt and every syllable of hate and demagoguery gleefully poured out through public megaphones and megachurch pulpits to malign and demonize the Left could potentially represent a thick bar on the cage of any future Republican president's imperial ambitions.

Because, after all, should the tables ever turn -- should there ever be a Republican President whose election really was suspect, or who really did lie to the American public and flagrantly abuse his office, and did it in ways that cost the nation trillions of dollars and thousands of lives -- after spending eight years establishing a public record in such clear and unambiguous language what the Hell could the Right possibly say?

After conspiring to bring about two of the most destructive events in modern American history -- the impeachment of a US President over trivia, and the probable theft of the subsequent Presidential election -- to what God could Republicans possibly pray that their eight years of insanity, venom and violence "might be wholly blotted out?”

On 09/11/01, their dark miracle came winging its way out of a clear, blue sky.

I would recommend reading both pieces in full.

(My most related previous pieces are probably "8-6-01: A Day That Should Live in Infamy" and "Day of Shame.")

In moments of crisis, many people revert to what is most familiar. For people in positions of power, crises tend to amplify their basic character. Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and John Kennedy responded well. Bill Clinton and Al Gore likely would have responded well to 9/11, or even more likely wouldn't have let it happen. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington and the gang responded badly – with fear, bullying, dishonesty, radicalism, fanaticism, and grotesque, unconscionable exploitation. We saw the same thing from authoritarian conservatives with Watergate, Ford's pardon of Nixon and Iran-Contra – and saw the same pattern of abuse and corruption repeated in a staggering number of Bush administration crimes. These people have shown time and time again they will never stop voluntarily. Hell, they're proud of what they did.

9/11 was a tragedy, but also a deadly indicator of the gross incompetence of the Bush administration. But the American people largely forgave them – surely they must feel bad, and will be moved to act responsibly. Before all the details of their incompetence were known, this made a certain sense, and isn't necessarily cause for shame. The abdication of critical thought, and bowing to McCarthyism, is another matter altogether. When the Bush administration made the case for war with Iraq, throwing all manner of shit against the wall to see what would stick – many Americans felt, surely they wouldn't lie about a matter so important as war. When they bullied anyone who questioned them, too many Americans accepted it or even joined in. When it came out that the Bush administration spied on Americans and tortured people – some Americans – and far too many journalists - still made excuses for them. What should have been their ultimate indictment became their all-purpose get-out-of-jail free card (driftglass visualizes this well). When it comes to cleaning up the many messes of the Bush administration – most of all torture - our press corps shows little interest, not only because of their laziness and vapidity, but because of their deep complicity.

Most of the press corps are unlikely ever to own up this. The right-wingers want to keep stoking fear. But liberals, moderates, sane conservatives, all those in the reality-based community, can choose to remember 9/11 – and how it has been exploited politically – more honestly. We can also chose to confront the scoundrels, the ignoramuses, the crazies and flat-out assholes.

This year for 9/11, the "9/12" conservative wingnut crowd reacted sadly and predictably. They made up shit and blamed the media, expressed rage incoherently, voiced their support for spite and vicious fantasies, and engaged in another round of McCarthyism. Glenn Beck and his assorted authoritarian scumbags aren't just using McCarthyist tactics – they're adopting his actual specific rhetoric about dread "communists" now. Their lack of originality doesn't make them any less dangerous.

As DougJ notes, most of the Beck-driven crazies and assorted loons, are old and white. However, while there are many frightening 9/12 teabagger photos to choose from, I thought the most striking were these two from Andrew Sullivan:

No irony. Nosirree.

I've never known a time when America hasn't had its share of McCarythists around, even if their specific name varies. The Crucible and Orwell have always been relevant. There have always been authoritarian conservatives, comprised of some mix of mean, ignorant, lying bullies, rabid crazies and scoundrels - either with power or hungry to seize it. They can always be counted on to try to enforce conformity based on fear and easy condemnation, and seem most at home at a country club, on a corporate board, on a Freeper board, at a neocon think tank or in an angry mob. They are extremely dangerous in power, and it's madness to pretend otherwise given the devastation they always leave behind. Ann Coulter and other right-wingers have been trying to revise history and reform McCarthy for decades. Perhaps Pat Buchanan's efforts to reform Hitler are to make the new McCarthy movement led by Beck and the gang look tame by comparison.

Everyone can keep their personal feelings and memories of 9/11 to themselves or discuss with those they choose. But as far as the public 9/11 goes, perhaps it's best going forward to honor it as a day of service, remembrance - and fighting McCarthyism.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Larry Gelbart (1928-2009)

(LA Times photo)

The brilliant comedy writer Larry Gelbart has died at the age of 81. He's probably best known for his work on the first four years of the TV show MASH, for co-writing Tootsie, and for co-writing the book for the musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Among many other credits, he was part of Sid Caesar's legendary group of writers. He wrote a memoir, Laughing Matters, published in 1997. I admire his work a great deal, and just marvel at his sheer output, inventiveness, wit and human touch.

The Los Angeles Times has a good obituary, imdb lists his extensive credits, and skippy and Ken Levine have nice remembrances of him. In addition to being tremendously talented and prodigious, he was apparently a very kind guy.

My favorite bit from the LA Times obit is an excerpt from his memoir talking about his preparation for MASH:

[It] was going to have to be a whole lot more than funny. Funny was easy. How not to trivialize human suffering by trying to be comic about it, that was the challenge.

Gelbart made funny look easy, and also that blending of comedy, tragedy and humanity. It's difficult to pull off. He's been tremendously influential, and I have no doubt that new generations of comedy writers will continue to study his work. Condolences to his family and friends, and thanks to Larry Gelbart for a wonderful legacy.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Your Weekly Snark (and Insight)

We'll kick things off with Blue Gal:

By the way, you know it's a bad day for Boehner when a GOP lawmaker bragging in front of a hot mic about sex spanking a lobbyist is NOT the worst thing to happen to the party all day.

Truth and politeness are often at odds, and when it comes to important matters, I think the truth should normally win. So I largely agree with Thers in his post, "I Think You're an Asshole, And I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Act Like an Asshole, But You're Still an Asshole, Asshole."

James Wolcott links a key Tristero post about ineffective Democratic politics, while Wolcott himself notes:

Part of the crazy cognitive dissonance of this summer is the rabid conviction the tea baggers and conservative bloggers possess that Obama is a suave-talking, solid-core radical socialist who practices Chicago-thug hardball, when in fact if Team Obama was the steamroller they claim, they never would have acquired the momentum they've mustered this summer--a true Lenin would have squashed them out of the gate and hardly would have allowed this much slippage this fast. They want Obama to be ruthless and authoritarian because they want to think of themselves as a heroic resistance. They evoke Hitler not because they fear another Hitler, their very obsession with Nazi imagery betrays their attraction; no, they're longing for a Leader, a Hitler of their own. Even a Hitler in high heels, if you can picture such a lady, and I think we all can.

This brings us nicely to a TBogg's defense of Sarah Palin, which is an inspiring model of bipartisanship:

Now I'll be the first to admit that Sarah Palin is a dim-witted opportunistic grifter who would climb over the still-warm bodies of her own children to grasp the golden ring of fame and fortune, a Lonesome Rhodes of the Icepack peddling bullshit homilies to the uneducated bitter clingers with attention spans slightly shorter than the time it takes to recite the pledge of allegiance, a quitter, a liar, a fraud, an emotionally stunted woman-child who thinks she can dazzle the big city folk with her small town beauty queen runner-up status... but I don't think that she's ever called Trig, even in jest, "the retarded baby".

So there.

She can thank me later.

A note on her Facebook page would be nice...

The TBogg post "What Would Dick Cheney Do?" (on ineffective Democratic politics) is also definitely worth a read.

For this one on ineffective media coverage, I've quoted the entire post - and it's not snark as much as a short absurdist tragicomedy - but it's a brief piece and you should be reading Balloon Juice anyway:

Chock-a-block with traitorous radicals
by DougJ

This, from the Politico, is a classic:

Nor are Democrats strangers to having their crazy uncles take center stage. During the run-up to the Iraq war, for example, Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and David Bonior (D-Mich.) famously flew to Baghdad, where McDermott asserted that he believed the president would “mislead the American public” to justify the war. The trip made it a cakewalk for critics to describe the Democratic Party as chock-a-block with traitorous radicals.

Never mind that president Bush did “mislead the American public” to justify the war. Even if one accepts the benign interpretation that Bush misled the public inadvertently, at the end of the day, he said there were WMD and there weren’t. That’s where we’re at: having the prescience to see what is coming marks you as a traitorous radical.

Here's another complete post, but it's even shorter, head over for the links, and you should be reading Roy Edroso anyway. Here's why Roy is the master:

A STAR IS BORN. Joe Wilson yells at the President. Thousands of posts ensue, in which we learn that he took No-Doz, likes the Rebel Flag, and reacted protectively toward Senator Strom Thurmond when his illegitimate daughter came forward. His views on health care are suddenly of interest, and he has worked the outrage against him into a fundraising pitch. He is now the darling of the right and a national figure who will be considered in upcoming discussions of candidates for high office.

Ah gits weary/An' sick o' tryin'/Ah'm tired o' living'/An' skeered o' dyin'...

Caligula had to appoint that horse. Here they are nominated by acclamation.

Damn. Well, at least when the fast-approaching apocalypse comes, our side has the comedians to keep us laughing.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Remote Area Medical

DDay and others have mentioned this, and a few blogs have posted this over the past year or so. But if you haven't seen this 60 Minutes piece on Remote Area Medical, originally from March 2008, check it out. Seeing The English Surgeon made me think of it again.

Watch CBS Videos Online

"We are the wealthiest nation in the world, and we don't take care of our own."

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The English Surgeon

Last week on KCRW radio show The Treatment, Elvis Mitchell spoke with Geoffrey Smith about his documentary, The English Surgeon. It was a fascinating discussion, the film has gotten great reviews, and it happens to be appearing on P.O.V. tonight on PBS in some areas. Be warned it's not for the squeamish, though, since the documentary involves brain surgery. (I'll be watching it tonight.)

You can find your local listings for P.O.V. here.

Here's the film's official site. It's possible to buy the DVD there and make donations for a new clinic in the Ukraine.

Here's the official trailer:

Here's the slightly different trailer for P.O.V:

Update: The documentary is really good, sometimes touching, and often heart-wrenching. It's an absorbing portrait, but also an implicit plea for decent health care around the world. Check the film out if you can if and when it re-airs.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Happy Labor Day

Sarah Guthrie and Arlo Guthrie - "Union Maid"

This fan video was made back in 2006, hence the shots of John Edwards. The song was written by Woody Guthrie. The labor movement has given average people many things over the years, including weekends, eight-hour days and benefits. In America, the labor movement could really use a resurgence. But thanks to all those for fought to benefit the greater populace.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Franken and the Crowd

Al Franken has engaged people with differing view like this, and done his homework, for a long time now. Those are key reasons why I like the guy and think he may do very well in the Senate.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Where does the time go?

I've had my hands full, and blogging has been even lighter than usual lately. I'm hoping to be posting more regularly again after September 12th. I have several posts on torture in the works (no surprise). In the meantime, consider perusing the many excellent blogs on my blogroll...