An election case in point


Well, it wasn’t a blue wave, but it wasn’t a total flop, either. This mid-term election of 2018 restored a tiny bit of balance to the political terrain of the country, with Democrats taking back the U.S. House and some Governorships (I’m particularly pleased by Kansas rejecting the vote-suppressing Breitbart jerk-weed), but Republicans keeping the Senate, other Governorships, and of course lots and lots of members of the court.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about a very, very minor but critical wave that I think has turned during this election: The progressive wave.

(Yeah, yeah; I know it sounds hopelessly vainglorious. Sorry about that.)

Lots of folks—I hope—will be talking about the large (but still IMO insufficient; we have to keep fighting until it’s more than 218!) numbers of women going to the House this year; more than 100. And that’s awesome. But the one I want to focus on is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just elected as the representative for New York State’s 14th Congressional district.


Why make a hoorah about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez? Well, she’s the youngest woman ever elected to congress, for one. She’s Hispanic, for another. But for me the biggest issue is she’s an unrepentant, in-your-face, vocal progressive. She even has the juevos to call herself an American Socialist, in the mold of Bernie Sanders.

Aside: An “American Socialist” is not someone who advocates total statewide socialism, but rather a mixed system more in the European model. Think Sweden. I will continue to call her a progressive because that’s what I call myself, and because her positions are so close to mine. But if you prefer to think of her and me as “American Socialists”, go ahead. But do not think of either one of us as “socialists” in the mold of Stalin, because that is a canard designed solely to denigrate.

That’s significant all by itself, of course. Because as you might imagine, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez took no end of abuse for her positions from the right-wing media, right-wing politicians, and plenty of sneering, inside-the-beltway and NorthEastern media outlets as well.

The “common wisdom” with this latter group, which has ruled the Democratic Party since the Clinton years, is that you simply can’t win by being too liberal. “New Democrats,” “Neo-liberals,” the folks that used to make up the old “Democratic Leadership Council”…it is an article of faith with them that the progressive base is a bunch of unruly, long-haired, wild-eyed hippies who don’t understand how politics really works, who propose totally nutty ideas, and who don’t have the slightest chance of winning. Only the “adults”—i.e. themselves—understand the “game” of politics, know how to play it, and know how to win.

Of course, the positions of the dirty hippies—higher minimum wage, better healthcare coverage, legal marijuana; that tax cuts for the rich increase the deficit and the debt and don’t help anyone but the rich; that global warming is a catastrophic problem; that tearing down regulation on the financial industry will lead to serious trouble (remember 2008?); etc—have been shown to be right over and over again.

But that hasn’t mattered. “Mainstream” Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer and Chuck Shumer and their ilk (and yes Barack Obama and very much Hillary Clinton) have spent decades making fun of the progressive base. Have colluded with the mainstream press at “hippie bashing,” a favorite Washington D.C. sport. Being right apparently doesn’t matter when you’re on the left (a topic I’ve touched on previously).

Which brings us back to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. She espouses a lot of classic progressive positions from which the “moderate” Democratic Party leadership recoils, and touts them proudly: Tuition-free college; transitioning to renewable energy; single-payer healthcare. Positions that many Americans support, and are only “radical” to Republicans, Democratic politicians, and the mainstream press. (Also on the list: Gun control, and raising the minimum wage.) But Common Wisdom demands you not mention such heretical notions during your campaign, and glory above, Ocasio-Cortez championed them. She highlighted them.

And by doing so, in the face of a total lack of support by the party, she booted out a 10 term incumbent and entrenched party apparatchik who had the support of all the Democratic elected officials in the state, just about. She was outspent by 18-1. The Democratic establishment did all but publicly sneer at her. And not only did she win, she crushed her opponent by 15 points. A 10 term incumbent.

Ocasio-Cortez didn’t have a Wikipedia page until after her primary victory. She was basically ignored by the press. No money? You’re a full-throated progressive? Must be a loser!

Well, now that loser is going to DC.

And this is why I’m talking about Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. She is the acid test for the proposition that people don’t want “real” progressives, they want moderates. That people don’t want anyone young, don’t want women, don’t want people of color. That Democrats should only offer up bland, middle-of-the-road white guys who are essentially Rockefeller Republicans because no one will ever vote for a real progressive.

Guess what, Democratic “leadership”? We will. And we did. And now some of them are going to Washington to hopefully kick some of your entrenched waffled butts into gear. Because we have had more than enough of being condescended to, being sneered at, and being told we were “too leftist”. We’re winning, we’re going to keep winning, and you better get used to it.


Media Framing

When folks talk about how important it is to keep an eye on how media “frames” the news, I can understand people’s eyes glazing over. But let me present a good example here, and maybe it’ll be both clearer, and unsoporific. Consider this article from Wired about high tech contributions:
What’s the headline lead you to believe? If you’re me, it’s that tech folks spend the majority of their contributions on Democrats, right? “Overwhelmingly” would imply a *huge* proportion. But look at the chart below.
Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 1.26.56 PM
What’s the actual breakdown? Tech folks spend 1% of their contributions on Republican candidates/causes, 9% on company PACs (which is a whole different post), and 23% on Democrats. So yes, 23% is “overwhelmingly” greater than 1%, sure. But the thing that genuinely surprised me was we spend 67% on non-partisan groups.
67% is a huge amount, nearly 3 times what is spent on Democrats and far more than all other categories combined. And *that* is the real piece of news here. A much more accurate, less deceptive headline would be “Tech Workers Overwhelmingly Support Non-Partisan Causes.” That’s the actual news here.
Is it a surprise that tech people vote for Democrats? No, of course not. So why trumpet it? Why to throw fuel on the partisanship fire and sell more magazines, obviously. Highlighting the findings differently wouldn’t cause that frisson of anger in Republican readers that drives clicks.
And the thing is, IMO the chart shows you how tech workers think better than, “They’re all Democrats!”, which is what the headline implies. We’re not all Democrats. We may be massively progressive—I believe we are—but not to the point where we think our money is best spent by a party that is only nominally progressive and is entirely too close to Wall St., too hawkish, too wimpy to fight for the causes we believe are important.
What would be far more interesting, WIRED, would be if you broke down that other 67% and showed just which non-partisan groups tech workers contributed to. Because that would show what we care about, and that might even show the hidebound Democratic Party what they might actually want to spend their time and efforts on if they want to attract tech workers.
This is IMO deceptive news framing in action, and it happens all the time. (And I know for a fact that reporters are frequently driven crazy by headline writers, who are a different group entirely.)
Do better, media. The friggin’ country is at stake.

Why Pro-choice/Pro-life will never see eye-to-eye

Image courtesy of Mashable

For a long time, I totally didn’t understand the anti-abortion folks.  Yes, they believe a fetus is a person, but the underlying assumption that women can’t be trusted to make this decision, or that women cavilierly just walk into a clinic and use abortion as birth control, just sickened me, honestly.  How could a rational person actually believe that?

And then I realized that it’s because they believe a fetus is a person. I know you know that, but let me break it down a bit.

I think pro-choice people make a big mistake in how they frame the issue.  “It’s about women’s health!” they say.  “The health of the mother!  Do you want to force a woman to bear the child of a rape, or incest, or that might kill her?”  All those arguments make perfect sense to me, but they’re falling on deaf ears.   Because from the moment it is created, the fetus is a person.  Don’t you see?  It a human being, with rights and privileges.  And an abortion is, literally, murder.

So arguing that they shouldn’t force their beliefs on you strikes these folks as absurd; this is murder.   Surely murder is one of the few areas where the rights of the state to enforce laws over-rides everything else?  This is not (as Rachel Maddow puts it) “Wanting the government to regulate every woman’s uterus;” this is merely a logical extension of the government acting against a heinous crime, i.e. murder.

In this context, Roe v. Wade is immaterial; this is murder.  Murder shouldn’t be allowed, period.  Saying that if you support capital punishment but are against abortion is immaterial to these folks; capital punishment is the rightous punishment of the state for committed crimes.  Abortion is murder, and shouldn’t be allowed.  And any danger to the mother, or forcing her to carry the child of rape, or incest?  It’s completely beside the point; killing that fetus is murder, so if a woman has to suffer to save that life, so be it.  If the woman’s life is at risk to carry that pregnancy to term, that’s a risk they should be willing to take to save a life.  That microscopic multi-celled creature is a personto these people, and aborting it is murder, and murder is evil.  Period, end of discussion.  Do you see?

And when you toss in that a good percentage of these folks believe that any sex not focused on procreation, any sex that is engaged in for pleasure only, is genuinely evil, well, it’s an easy call for them.  (And clearly if non-procreative sex is evil, any woman who engages in it is clearly a whore, and deserves what she gets.  I don’t think all anti-abortion folks think that, but I bet plenty of them do.)

Now as we saw in Mississippi in 2012, these folks are not even a majority of the population in one of the reddest states in the country.  But they’re a loud minority, and one which is never going to change their point of view, and which is (as we seen with the heinous murders of abortion doctors) very dangerous.  I don’t know how to fix the problem, but I do know two things:  we’ll never see eye-to-eye with them, and arguing about “women’s health” as a way to change their minds is simply going to fall on deaf ears.  We need to start thinking outside the box.

Yeah, it’s a bummer of a post; it’s a bummer time for our country these days.  I’ll try to be more cheerful with the next one.

The “Opioid Epidemic”, a contrarian view


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I suffer from chronic pain.

It’s important for you to know this so you have context for my current leery attitude towards the vehement, almost-religious hysteria about our current “opioid epidemic”.  In 2000, I blew out a disk in my neck, which bulged into my spinal cord, causing some pretty excruciating pain.  This was only allieved by removing the offending disk, taking a chunk out of my hip (which hurt every bit as much as it sounds like it would), filing it down, putting it in place of the disk, and clamping it all together with a titanium plate so it can “fuse”.

Like most surgical procedures, this had some unintended consequences, like lack of mobility in my neck, and a moratorium on any “violent” activities that might hurt the neck.  (Which basically amounts to anything more “violent” than “walking”.  Even swimming is out.  No biking. Or racquetball. Or skiing.  Or soccer.  Or running.  Or disk golf.  Or regular golf.  Or bowling.  Or…well, you get the picture.). But the worst of which is I have pain at the base of my skull on the right-hand side all the time

To a non-chronic-pain sufferer, it’s almost impossible to get this point across.  I hurt all the time.  There are no times when I don’t hurt.  Some days I’m lucky and it doesn’t hurt much, but it never doesn’t hurt.  If I try to turn my head all the way around, it not only hurts, I get faint.  This is my cross to bear, and it sucks.  I don’t like to talk about it because for one, who wants to hear someone whine about their pain, but for another I mostly control it with meds.  Including opioids.  I take two: Tramadol (which is partially an opioid) and time-release morphine (which is the full, extra-strength, no-kidding king o’ opioids).  I’m not happy about this, and I’m especially displeased by some of the side-effects, but I’d much rather deal with a bit of constipation than constant, mind-numbing pain.

It’s important you understand just how severe this pain can be before I get on to the supposed “epidemic”, so please forgive the following bluntness.

Take a butter-knife, a dull one, and press it to the soft part of your head just under the base of your skull.  Gently.  Maybe with, oh, 5 pounds of force.  Annoying, but not debilitating.  Certainly you’ll notice it almost all the time, but it won’t keep you from doing daily activities.  (Unless you turn your head past 75 degrees or so, at which press down harder on the knife, and twist.)

That’s the case on my meds.  With the opioids.

Remove the meds.  What’s the pain like?  Remove the knife and replace it with a drill press, which punches in through your skin and all the way down into your spinal column with 50, 60, 100 pounds of force.  Over and over and over again.  If lucky, it’s synchronized to your heartbeat, so you can at least anticipate the pain.  If you’re unlucky, it ebbs and flows and thrusts to its own internal, unpredictable rhythm, causing the pain to intensify or decrease with no warning.  The pain is so intense it creates “referred pain” in other parts of your body; in my case the shoulder.  It also often triggers my migraines.  I “only” suffer from “common” migraines, the least painful.  Combine these migraines with the neck pain, and it’s . . . 

Let me put it this way:  The last time my pain peaked (I call them “pain flare-ups”), I was in the shower at 3am, in the dark, crouched on the floor with the water pounding down, weeping and wondering if I shouldn’t just kill myself to end the suffering.  If you know me, I’m a basically positive person.  It’s hard to get me down, and harder to keep me down.  

That’s pain: Weeping and suicidal in the shower on the floor in the dark, because you can’t stand it.  Cursing an unfeeling God for bringing this upon you.  I honestly don’t know how people who suffer worse than me—and there are many!—don’t become atheists.  Or simply kill thesmelves.

Which brings us to “the opioid epidemic”.  There’s been a number of articles in various papers and magazines talking about the “scary increase” in opioid addiction and overdose numbers. (Look at this one, or this one, or this one; and that’s just for starters.)  More people dying or ODing from prescription opiates, and what to do about it.  And the alarmist language is impossible to miss, with the proposed solutions almost always being more draconian restrictions.  (Honestly it reminds me of the Reagan era “war on drugs”.)

Let me say a few things about this.  

First, I don’t know how many of these “overdoses” are from people just like me who decide they’ve dealt with it long-fucking-enough and the time has come to give the karmaic wheel a turn.  In other words, how many of these alleged “overdoses” are actually suicides? Has any effort been made to find out?  Because if it’s a significant percentage (as I suspect), it’s not an “opioid epidemic” so much as a “chronic pain and suicide” epidemic.  And creating more restrictive and draconian laws to restrain opioid prescriptions won’t help.

I also wonder how many of these supposed overdoses, or the people who go to multiple doctors to get extra doses of opioids, are simply suffering severe pain

Now don’t get me wrong: I know there are people who use the medical industry and the holes therein to get drugs to sell to other people for profit.  No question.  Not arguing.  Not do I argue that people don’t get addicted.  

But what percentage of the “getting more than they should” are actually criminals, and which are simply desperately in-pain people looking for help?  What people are actually not addicted to opioids, but addicted to not being in pain all the damn time?

The reason I think these distinctions are absolutely critical is because in the current (and coming escalating) war against “opioid abuse”, people like me are going to be collateral damage.  A quick story to illustrate what I mean.

When my doctor prescribed morphine for me—which I objected to, but he insisted was the next step—I had to sign a multi-page waver agreeing I would never take any more than he prescribed, that I understood he would drop me like a hot rock if he discovered I was getting meds anywhere else, that I had to submit to random urine tests, and that he could have my first-born for all I know.  It was unbelievable, and I don’t think my continued use of the word “draconian” is over-blown.

Then I had the aforementioned flare-up and suicidal contemplations, during which I took the other meds (Tramadol, Exedrin) I was “allowed” to at my discretion, but out of desperation took one—ONE—extra morphine tablet.  When I told my doctor at the next visit, I was punished.  And there’s really no other word for it.  I was lectured.  I was told I needed to call in first.  (At 3am from the floor of the dark shower?)  I was told I would need to come in every two weeks rather than every four for the next six weeks, at any visit of which I was going to have to have urine samples.  I was threatened with dismissal as a patient if I ever did it again.


Even at the time, my doctor admitted I was a “model patient,” that I had always done as they asked, gotten blood work when they asked, always been straight with them.  And now a “model patient” was being punished for, in his agony and desperation, taking a single extra tablet.

I think about this every time I read a call-to-arms for making our laws even more draconian than they already are.  And I think about the fact that these more draconian laws will inevitably hurt the people most who are following the rules.  If I, a model patient, have to go in every four weeks for a “med check” visit, am subjected to random urine tests, and treated like a criminal when I take a single extra morphine tablet, how much worse are they going to make it for me and the other, non-model patients?

So please, do me a favor when reading about this “opioid epidemic”:  Bear in mind people may be overdosing not because they’re drug addicts, but because they’re in such massive pain they’ve become utterly desperate.  And remember what one “model patient” has to go through and think how much harder it will be.  

And have sympathy for us chronic pain sufferers.  Because sometimes, I’m telling you: Opioids are all we’ve got.

The Dangerous Self-Delusions of Some Hillary Supporters


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Like these here folks

As we’re in the home stretch (fucking finally) of the 2016 election cycle, and Hillary Clinton is now the official nominee, there are some trends that I’ve been seeing for a long while that, in the big picture, are kinda scary, and I wanted to talk about.

First the obvious:  In the abstract, it is absolutely amazing we finally have a woman at the top of a Presidential ticket.  Women are woefully, absurdly under-represented in the public sector (outside of folks working as administrative assistants, I would imagine), and it is far past time we had a woman at the top of the ballot.  And I think the excitement among many women generated by her candidacy is pretty damn understandable.

Still in abstract mode:  It’s good we have a qualified candidate on our ticket.  No matter what you think of her, Clinton has been involved in politics for a long, long time, had an intimate look at how a Presidential administration works, and has accumulated some good legislative and diplomatic experience since Bill left office.  No matter what the right-wing nut jobs (RWNJ) say, this lady is qualified.

Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, Hillary Clinton is a terribly-flawed candidate, something that caused me to vote for someone else in 2008, and made me lament this election season, “Does it have to be this woman?”  Even more unfortunately, expressing that kind of thought has been, if not exactly dangerous, a good path to get inundated with charges of sexism and misogyny.  Pointing out her very real non-progressive policy problems doesn’t seem to help; if you were for Bernie against Hillary, you must be a sexist, patriarchical pig (in some quarters).

But now I’m seeing some genuine delusional thinking among Hillary supporters, and it’s kind of scaring me.  It’s scaring me for Hillary, because she might actually lose to Trump and, despite my dislike of her as a candidate, she is so much better than him it’s scarcely worth talking about why.  But I’m also worried that by allowing themselves (and this includes the folks inside the campaign) to continue on with these delusions, they’re going to endanger a very real chance of taking over the Senate or House.

There are two main delusions working here:

She is being unfairly treated by the press, but once people “really” get to know her (or “once she gets her message out”) they’ll see she’s great.

And the response to this is a simple negative: No.  No they won’t.  Hillary has been in the national public eye for more than a quarter-century, and a plethora of polls show that people have made up their mind about her.  Another huge set of polls show her negatives are higher than her positives; ignoring Trump, she is the most widely disliked candidate to ever run for President since polling started.

Lots of people hate Hillary, everyone has made up their minds, and that’s not going to change for many people, if any.

And the dangerous delusion is that this will change.  That people will actually give a shit about her “official policies”, or listen to her speeches, or be convinced by the endless articles about how unfairly treated she is by the press.  Or by going to her rallies.  Or by anything.  People’s minds are made up, and the best thing her folks can do is work hard to get people to the polls.  Not just to save us from Trump, but for the down-ballot folks who can benefit from a higher turnout.  Higher turnout, Dems win.  It’s that simple.  And this leads us to the second, even scarier delusion:

There’s no ‘enthusiasm gap’.

Again, a simple response is available: Yeah, there is.  It’s very real, and there’s been a ton of polls and articles that support this.

This delusion was displayed in stark terms today with dueling columns in the New York Times, where Paul Krugman pooh-poohed the idea there’s an enthusiasm gap (with a pointer to an article by Michelle Goldberg from April, aeons ago in political time), and another article talking about how Millenial black women are indeed very unenthusiastic about Hillary’s candidacy.

I’m a very leftist Progressive, one who has advocated for GLBT equal rights for decades, who believes we need single-payer healthcare, who thinks the government needs to stop financing monogamy, etc. etc.  Hillary is a New Democrat Apparatchik who is a war hawk (Henry Kissinger, FFS!), has close ties to Wall St., and has followed her husband’s trailblazing path by not just ignoring her base, but (with encouragement from the Beltway press) actively and publicly scorning them and their policies.  That she has now paid us lip service by including some of our policies in the party platform is nothing but window dressing, given no one really pays attention to the party platform after an election.  (Note none of this has anything to do with her gender.)

One might argue I’m an outlier.  But in addition to the Bernie folks, you’ve got plenty of Progressives who distrust Hillary because of her defense policies, her Wall St. ties, and other issues where previously (as a Senator or Secretary of State or even early in the campaign) she said and did one thing, and then (mostly after leftward pressure from Bernie) she changed her tune, or seemed to.

There are also more than a few people with Clinton Fatigue.  Almost all these folks  are well aware she is treated unfairly by the press, that her reputation for lying/sneakiness/whatever is something the RWNJ press has been hammering into the public consciousness for decades.  And they don’t care.  They’re sick of hearing about Benghazi, emails, Vince Foster, lame jokes about Monica, and on and on and on.  And the only way they’re going to be relieved of that fatigue is by the Clintons stepping away from public life.  So you can imagine that looking forward to another 4-8 years of Clinton nonsense feels these folks (and yes, I’m one of them) not with excitement, but a fatal combination of dread and ennui.  These are the people who saw her lose in 2008 and breathed a sigh of relief.  One that was premature, as it turned out.

This is a group that includes people like my mom, whose feminist cred dates to the early 70s and indoctrinating her son with Ms. Magazine and Our Bodies, Our Selves.  My good bi friend who actually worked with Hillary in the mid-90s.  My wildly progressive friend in Portland.  My ex-gf, who applied to be a Bernie delegate at the convention.  And on and on.  This is anecdotal, of course it is, but it’s backed up by plenty of polling data.

But Paul Krugman and other Hillary boosters seem to want to deny this is an issue.  They have a double-barreled strategy:  1) There is no enthusiasm problem, and 2) Even if there were, what are those whiny progressives going to do about it anyway?  Vote Trump!  Ha ha ha ha ha!

It’s a problem.  And not just for Hillary, but for the down-ballot folks so important to getting any of the progressive agenda into the conversation.

Personally I don’t understand Hillary’s whole candidacy.  We found out from the whole DNC/Debbie Wasserman-Schulz debacle that what most progressives suspected was true: “The Establishment” had put their thumbs on the scale in favor of Hillary.  But why?  Aside from her high negatives, she has a terrible relationship with the press, is a desperately boring (or annoying, depending on who you ask) speaker, scorns her base, and has negative numbers that strongly suggest winning would be a very difficult, uphill battle.  Why did everyone decide she needed what amounted to a coronation rather than a primary season?  Why did so many other, very qualified women (Elizabeth Warren leaps to mind) decide to stay out of the race?  Hell, why did so many men decide to stay out?  WtF kind of party decides even before the primary season that there’s basically only going to be one candidate?  What the hell?

And The Democratic Establishment wonders why so many of the “rank and file”, so many of the progressives, so many of the millennials, so many African-Americans, so many college-educated men, weren’t all immediately sold on the Hillary narrative.  Why people keep saying their out of touch.  Well, duh!

So I hope to God the Hillary boosters’ delusions are either popped (though I see no evidence that’s going to happen any time soon), or it ends up not making a difference because Trump is so awful he drives people away and into voting for Hillary and the other Democrats.

I hope.

Some Thoughts on Avengers III


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Or as Marvel insisted on calling it: Captain America: Civil War
(Photo courtesy of Huffington Post)

Just watched “Captain America: Civil War” and had a few thoughts. And let that be your warning; it’s going to get geeky. Might want to take a pass.

It was an oddly paced movie that in a way reminded me of the second Matrix movie, with long episodes of talking bracketing big or intimate action sequences.

imageMerovingian: “Blah blah blah blah blah…”
(Photo courtesy of Matria Wikia; Monica Bellucci included because why not?)

Luckily, I found the talking portions to be, honestly, fascinating.

Why so? Because these folks have been blowing up cities and parts of cities for a bunch of movies now, and in comic books forever, and there have rarely been consequences. This shows that some problems aren’t easily solved, don’t have black-and-white points of view, are not (in short) “comic book” simple. Honestly, the dialogue among the Avenger characters was so much more nuanced than that of our Presidential candidates—and yes I’m being dead serious here—that it was a little vertigo inducing. Fictional comic book movie characters are actually debating in a rational and realistic way their in-universe problems?

Now it should be said it wouldn’t have been nearly as good without Robert Downey Jr., who honestly is quite remarkable. Somehow that guy has managed to channel his harsh life experiences into his acting. It’s amazing to watch. Chris Evans isn’t a bad young actor, and it’s interesting to see how he’s grown as the films have progressed, but Downey is in many ways the film’s gravitational center, a person obviously wrestling with the paradox of his situation as a hero who may be inviting villians to simply up their game. As a man who deliverately went around “the establishment” now acknowledging government may have a genuine role in life. You may not find it fascinating, but I did.

It certainly helped that he’s surrounded by some high-caliber actors, such as Don Cheadle and Paul Bettany. Not to mention old pros like Martin Freeman, Paul Rudd, William Hurt, and Marisa Tomei. John Slattery! William Hurt! Alfre Woodard, for heaven’s sake!

Photo courtesy of Romano’s Reviews)

On a more granular level (as we say in tech), I loved they made Spiderman an actual teen. He looks it and acts it, and it was a whale of a lot of fun. Maybe a Spiderman movie will be a relief from all this grim ‘n grittiness.

On the down side, I could hardly follow the action in the “big” fight sequence among the Avengers, because I couldn’t remember who the heck was fighting who, and was perpetually confused.

And as much as I love Paul Rudd, and boy do I, I still can’t stand Ant Man. Maybe he’ll be less . . . out of place if they ditch the shrinking and leave him with his giant thing. But in the meantime, ugh.

Sorry, Paul (Rudd at the Ant Man Premier)

But to get serious again, to me the moral center of the movie was Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow. I’ve made no secret I’m a total Johansson fanboy; I think she’s an absolutely amazing actress, in addition to being multi-talentied, almost ridiculously beautiful, and having one of the sexiest voices since Kathleen Turner did Roger Rabbit. (Would have been a fun nod to Body Heat to have Turner be some computer voice or something that talked to William Hurt. But I digress.). I admit this. But put it aside.

Black Widow is, by far, the most morally-ambiguous character in the film, perhaps in the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU). She was training from a young age as a professional killer, and is one of the very best in the world. That was her job as a spy for the Soviet Union. And then she switched sides to the Americans…and did the same thing for them. Now she’s an Avenger, empowered to act with this group of incredibly powerful people totally beyond the law.

And yet it’s Black Widow/Natasha/Nat who seems to grasp what no one else is able to: That some things can be more important than taking a side. That sometimes, groups can break up, but other times, you need to do whatever you can to keep the group together because it’s just the right thing to do. Even if it pisses off some people. Because to Natasha, having been on all sides, or perhaps no side, it’s the *people* who ultimately matter, the people to whom she has decided to give her loyalty to, after a lifetime of giving it to governments and agencies and higher authorities. It’s Nat who realizes that agencies, authorities, governments, they’re all made up of people, too. And if you can’t be loyal to your friends––and to Nat, her friends are incredibly precious to her––who can you be loyal to at all?

The advertising hook for Civil War is for you to choose a team, and half-joking, half-not I said I didn’t choose Team Iron Man or Team Captain America, but Team Black Widow. Because over more than half a dozen movies, it’s *her* that *I* have learned to trust, and to her I’ve given my cinimeatic loyalty to. And so you can only imagine how surprised I was when I watched the film and found that . . . I had made the right choice. Because neither Cap nor Iron Man were right, and neither was wrong; in the end only Natasha was able to grasp the underlying truth and, while seeming to betray *both* sides, turned out to be truer to not only herself, but the ideals of her teammates.

Which, being me, infuriates me in two ways. First, after telling Stark to watch his back, she *disappears from the film* for the entire final act. Just up and vanishes! WTF, Russo Brothers?

And second it only reinforced what many, many fans have been clamoring about for a while now: This character, played by this (immensely bankable, extremely popular) actress absolutely deserves a film of her own.

How many times do I have to say it? (Photo courtesy of Medium)

Laziness and Bigotry

No, RWNJs; it’s actual manners

I’be often wondered why people are so resistant to changing the language with which they address people, groups of people, ideas, and so on.  Why does it cause such anger (mostly on the right) to ask people to please not call Native Americans “Indians”?  Why is there so much rage against addressing folks by their preferred pronoun?  Heck, I read a right-wing lament prior to the 2006 Olympics that using “Turino” rather than “Turin” was some kind of PC insanity.  I didn’t understand it.  It’s okay when someone corrects your pronunciation of their name; why is this other stuff such a big deal?

Bigotry, sure.  A lot of people are simply bigots, and would probably still be calling African Americans “nigger” and Jews “kike” and Irish “Micks” and so forth if they could get away with it.  Sad but true, those people are still with us.

There’s also the piece in there exemplified by all those Tea Party demands to “take our country back!”  Back from who?  Back to what?  WTF are they talking about?  Well, probably back to the day when naming a baseball team “Redskins” was so acceptable that no one gave it a second thought.  When the population of the US was so heavily tilted towards white Christians that they felt they could act and speak with impunity (and usually could, too).  When it was widely accepted that GLBTs were aberrant, sick people engaged in behavior that was patentently amoral and accepted as such (at least openly).  When you could pinch a woman’s ass at work, call her “honey” or “sweetheart” or “babe” or “girl” without so much as a raised eyebrow.

But ya know, I think some of that, and some of the backlash itself, comes from laziness, pure and simple.  People don’t want to learn new terms, new ways of addressing people, new rules of politeness because they’re lazy.  (I’m not excepting myself from this, by the way; I’m hella lazy, too.  I just suck it up and deal, because it’s the right thing to do.)  Learning new terms, integrating them into your daily language, remembering them…it’s all a big pain in the ass and people don’t want to do it.  So instead of sucking it up and dealing, they scream and rant and rave and look like (to be blunt) bigoted douche-nozzles.  It’s not about “we don’t want to give in to the PC police!” so much as “We don’t want to learn new things, waah waah waah!”  (And yes, imagine that in the tones of your least-favorite local 3-year-old, because that’s the emotional level of the demand in my opinion.)

I don’t have a good solution for this—just as “the poor will always be with us”, the lazy will be, too.  And in all of us, for that matter.  If I thought it would help I would suggest you to stare these “the heck with being PC!” folks in the eye and tell them, “You’re only saying that because you’re lazy and don’t want to work!  Would you call someone ‘PC’ if they asked you to please stop mis-pronouncing their name?”  But I don’t think it would, honestly.

But maybe it will help you, when you hear or read about these whiners complaining about the “demands of the PC police”, to think of them whining like a bunch of spoiled 3-year-olds.  It helps me a little bit, anyway.


A Virtual Secession


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They will defend your right to discriminate to their dying breath!

Recently there have been a raft of “religious freedom” bills throughout the South (and elsewhere, unfortunately). Most of these seem directly targeted against the Surpreme Court’s recent recognition of marriage equality, although now (e.g. in North Carolina) they seem to be targeting trans citizens.  In my opinion, these bills have fuck-all to do with religious freedom and are simply a method in which bigotry can be re-enshrined in places where the courts have outlawed it.  (To try to tell whether they’re really about “religious freedom”, look at a law and ask, “If this applied to blacks/Jews/Catholics/Asians/whatever, would it be discrimination?” and that should do it.)

I find this cynical and reprehensible, wildly hypocritical (“It’s all about religious freedom!”; no it ain’t, it’s all about being able to be prejudiced without being called on it), and quite frankly unChristian.  How is it in line with the Golden Rule to want to discriminate against your neighbors?  Obviously, it isn’t.  But that’s not what I want to talk about.

Unsurprisingly, most of these bigoted laws have come out of the South, primarily states that were part of the former Confederacy.  There have been laws in Mississippi, Tennessee, and North Carolina to force trans citizens to use the bathroom of their birth sex rather than their gender.  And usually people shake their heads at this stuff, say, “Yeah, that’s the South,” and move on.  But something surprising is happening this time:

A bunch of businesses, organizations, and artists are saying they’re done.

In case you haven’t seen, the draconian North Carolina law has caused businesses like PayPal and Deutsche Bank and performers such as Bruce Springsteen and Cirque d’ Soliel to pull out of performing there.  The NBA is also threatening to pull next year’s All Star game from there as well.  As you may imagine, hard-right folks are calling the companies and performers everything from “bullies” to “child molester supporters”, and trying to pretend their happy Springsteen et. alia aren’t coming to their state.  (Which wee all know is BS, but never mind.)

And it made me wonder.

It seems like we’ve been relighting the Civil war over various areas of bigotry and discrimination multiple times over the last 150 years.  (I’m hardly the first to point this out.)  There was the Civil Rights/anti-Jim Crow fights of the 60s; the battle over women’s rights and the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70s; the “Southern Strategy” of Richard Nixon; and the recent battle over marriage equality.  A (depressingly) huge number of folks in the South seem to want to keep their region firmly in the 19th Century, and get angry and resentful any time they’re forced to confront their bigotry and prejudice.  And now they’re actually being punished for it.

So I wondered if this isn’t sort of like a slow-moving, virtual secession.  I mean, I don’t anticipate the South actually breaking off from the rest of the country legally, but what if the region were slowly but steadily to suffer the same fate staring North Carolina in the face?  (A fate that caused the right-wingers to back down in Arizona and Indiana, by the way.)  What if these states stood by their “principles”, and were cut off by banks, job-rich high tech firms, entertainers, sports leagues, and the like?  What if the Titans were removed from the NFL, and the Predators from Nashville, the Hornets from Charlotte?  No more visits from Taylor Swift or big rock acts or what RedState insists are “has beens”?  What if the Federal government started denying Title IX funds because these states were breaking anti-discrimination laws?  What if the amount of tax dollars that flow into these states?  (“Red” states receive far more tax money than they contribute to the Federal government, while “blue” states pay in far more than they get back.)

Maybe “the South” wouldn’t be legally cut off from the rest of the U.S., but they kinda would be, wouldn’t they?

No, I don’t think it would actually happen.  And if it did, I doubt the right-wingers would be particularly happy to finally get what they want (and they would blame the Left for their poverty, lack of jobs, increased infant mortality and teen pregnancy rates, etc.).  But it seemed an interesting thing to think about.  And I have to think it was fear of something like this—or at least a portion of it—that caused Jan Brewer of Arizona and Mike Pence of Indiana to step back from the brink.

I used to wonder how far to the right the right would have to go before the left finally got off their lazy butts and pushed back hard.  Now we know.  And it’s kind of satisfying, don’t you think?

Republicans Can’t Do Math


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So why do we keep voting them into office?

Recently I got into a . . . discussion . . . on Twitter.  (You can’t really have discussions on Twitter.  For one, you’re limited to 140 characters.  And for another, most people don’t want to discuss, they just want to bludgeon you.  Sometime, if I’m okay with being sued, I might relay some of my conversations with Cathy Brennan, an extremely unpleasant radical feminist who is one of the most abrasive, obnoxious, litigious, angry people I’ve ever seen online.  And I’ve been online a really long time.  I mean, since Reagan was President.  To say this woman is “transphobic” is to understate things so massively I can’t even express it.  See, what happened was…Wait, where was I?  Oh, right; Republicans and math.)

Anyway, this person––who was not a bad or unreasonable guy––insisted to me that “both sides” had problems with math, citing the amount that the debt has doubled under Obama, just like it did under Bush. I didn’t bother telling him it was a genuinely idiotic comparison, as Bush had been handed an economy running at a surplus and quickly destroyed it with two obscene tax cuts, two unbudgeted wars, a huge new (also unbudgeted) federal drug program, and some phenomenal mis-management, while Obama was handed an economy in free-fall with a skyrocketing deficit, which he turned around and now has the deficit coming down.  But when you’re “debating” with someone who reiterates that absurd right-wing canard about the government giving away “free stuff”, you’re not speaking to a person well-acquainted with actual facts.

But it reminded me of a very basic fact: Republicans just can’t seem to do math.  And I mean simple math, like addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.  You know:  K-6 math.

Let’s take immigration.  The Tea Party, the Trumpsters, and of course the Republican Party as a whole want to get rid of every last illegal immigrant in the country.  All of them.  And what I wonder is:  Can’t the G.O.P. do simple math?

(“Obviously not,” I hear you cry.  Yes, you’re right:  they think cutting taxes will increase government revenue; they think giving ACORN a few million dollars will bankrupt us, but fighting trillion dollar wars won’t; etc.  Bear with me anyway.)

If figures are right, there are approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

That’s a lot of people.  I mean, a lot a lot.  It’s basically the entirety of the L.A. metro area.  I mean, it’s a lot.

So let’s assume that you can snap your fingers and gather all those people up with no effort at all.  None.  SNAP!  11 million people appear, ready to be deported.  Now what?

A Republican politician when confronted w/ this question

Where are you going to put them?  Empty all of L.A. and house them there?  Put them in a corner of Texas or New Mexico where they can wait to be processed?  Better be a damn big corner.  And what would you do with them?  Hand them shovels and seeds and tell them, “Good luck!  You’re number 2,459,345–we should get to you by August of 2019; better start tilling and sowing!” and hope it doesn’t turn into an environmental disaster?

But let’s say you figure it out.  You won’t; but let’s say you do.  (“We’ll make them stay right where we find them while we process them, then when we’re ready we’ll do the finger-snapping thing!  Yeah!  That’s the ticket!”)   So now you have 11 million people handy.  How are you going to get them home?  Bus?  Let’s do a little math:

A typical school bus–you know, the yellow kind without air conditioning or seat belts–seats between 75-90 folks.  Let’s go with 100, just to be conservative.  If you want to transport 11 million people to Mexico, you’re talking about 110,000 school bus trips.   How much diesel fuel is that going to take?  How many bus drivers?  How many hours of travel?

Or put them on a train.  The CalTrain double-decker “baby bullet” trains seat about 150 folks per car.  For 11 million people, that works out to around 74,000 cars.  I’ve seen multi-locomotive trains hauling 75-100 cars on ocassion–not often–so that would work out to 740 100-car train, full-loaded.

(And we haven’t even considered issues such as luggage, children, sanitation for longer trips, the processing speed of the U.S. and Mexican governments, and other related issues.)

Bear in mind that the government couldn’t even get ice to New Orleans after a single hurricane while you contemplate the above–and remember too that New Orleans had only about a third of a million folks in it.  So your problem is to move the entire population of 33 New Orleans’ from wherever they are to Mexico.  I’m not too sanguine about the possibility, personally, even if they’re all right there in Brownsville or Laredo.

This is just the simple math of logistics, too.  I’m not an expert in this stuff—I’m sure it’s way more complicated.  And if the simple math shows it to be this bad, what’s the more complicated situation going to look like?  (Answer:  Ugly as hell.)

Not to mention what would happen when all the Orlandos, Carloses, Jesuses, and all the other folks who work the jobs nobody else wants to do (Picking strawberries?  Cleaning out office buildings?  Laying sewer pipe?) up an leave, all 11 million of them.  Imagine all of New York City—not just the adults, but the whole friggin’ city—plus the whole of Newark, Nassau county, and most of Connecticut just pulling up stakes and leaving.  I mean, seriously:  think about it.  Don’t you think it wouldn’t have some kind of massive effect for everyone else?  What happens to the Northeast power grid?  The trains?  The airports?  Imagine New York City being blacked out, but forever, instead of for a few hours as sometimes happens, usually to chaotic effect.  It’s mind-boggling.

So it’s clear:  Republicans can’t do math.  Remind me again why they are ever put in charge?

How to Talk to Politicians


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Politicians basically do this when asked questions
Copyright the Bil Keane estate, all rights reserved, I’m sure

As a guy who grew up watching Ron Ziegler dance around Nixon’s lies, and has observed (usually with horror) how people like Scott McClellan, Dana Perino, and their ilk dissemble and outright lie to the press, it occurred to me that there is a one way to demand answers from politicians:

Treat them like children.

I have two kids.  Kids are past-masters at lying, deception, and attempts to change the subject.  The only way that I personally have found to consistently get information is to not allow myself to be distracted.  Like this:

“Who left this crap in the living room?”
“I haven’t been in the living room today.”
“That’s not what I asked.  Did you leave this crap in the living room?”
“That’s not my stuff; it’s [other kid’s] stuff.”
“That’s not what I asked, either.  Did you leave this crap in the living room?”
“Why do you want to know?”
“It doesn’t matter.  Did you leave this crap in the living room?”

And so on.  It’s a pain in the ass, yes, but eventually you find the culprit (granting that you are more stubborn than your kids which, in my case, is a good bet).

This is exactly how spokespeople, politicians, and their ilk should be treated.  They don’t want to answer the questions they are asked in a straight-forward way?  Fine; treat them like a 9 year-old.  Keep asking the same question.  Demand an answer to your first question.  And if the spokesperson or politician won’t answer?  Well, after 7 or 8 iterations of this, it will be obvious to all involved that they are dodging and lying, and their credibility will go down regardless.  Either they answer or they look like idiots; either one is fine by me.

Consider the issue of torture.  Just once, I wish a reporter had the balls to press and press and press Cheney:

“Mr. Vice-President, do we torture?”
“We have instructed our interregators to remain within the law at all times.”
“That’s not what I asked, sir.  I asked you, do we torture?”
“As I said, we remain within the law.”
“Sir, water-boarding is considered torture by all civilized people.  Do we torture?”
“I believe I have already answered that question.”
“No, sir, you haven’t; do we torture?”
“I cannot talk about sources and methods.”
“That wasn’t my question, sir.  Do we torture?”

And so on.  If these bozos want to act like 9 year-olds attempting to cover up the fact that they have been lighting fires in the back yard, then they should be treated the same way.  Heck, I would even put them “in their room” (and cut off all external access) until they admit what they’ve done.  It’ll be even funnier than those times politicians (and other jerk-wads, like Martin “let’s gouge people for AIDS medicine” Shkreli) keep repeating the same answer over and over, no matter the question.

I dunno; I guess I’m just feeling vindictive.  I’m pretty tired of the Cavalcade of Clowns we’re stuck with on the Republican side, any one of which would be a disaster if President, and any one of which may actually end up President.  As much as that horrifies and frightens me, it’s true.  As true as the fact that the Republicans—despite having a “brand” so eroded that no voters will actually admit they are Republican—are in control of the House and Senate.  (Go ahead; ask a random right-wing bloviator on Twitter or Tumblr or wherever if they’re a Republican.  It’s always “No.”  They’re “Libertarian”, or “Independent”, or whatever, even if they’ve never voted for anyone other than a Republican in their lives.) Which is plenty scary, too.

I’m not too thrilled with triangulation artist & “realist” Hillary Clinton, either, except that I know she’ll be better than anything the Republicans finally throw out there.

But for now, I’d settle for Meghan Kelly pinning down Trump or Rubio or Cruz and refusing to let up until she has an actual answer.  Say, on wars.

“Senator, given the disastrous results of the Iraq War, why is it your foreign policy seems to only advocate more war?”
“Well, I don’t know as I’d agree with the premise.”
“Almost all Americans agree it was a disaster, so why do you advocate more war?”
“Meghan, the question is whether or not America is strong and a leader.”
“Actually sir, the question is why do you advocate more war?”
and so on.

I’m not holding my breath, though.