Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Democrats fail at setting the agenda again

I read this great editorial in the New York Times by David Brooks about the Big Government War waging right now in which he said one of the biggest failings of the Democratic Party is that they're more concerned with winning arguments than deciding what they arguments will be. Or maybe more that the Democrats don't understand what the public perception will be of their agenda. For instance, the debate about health care was not really about health care itself but more about big government v. small government. We all have seen how well that worked out for them.

So my question is this: If the Democrats had sought to reform the food system, which I believe would have helped treat one of the real causes of the health care crisis, would we still be having the Big Government debate? Food reform probably would have required a reworking of the Farm Bill, which amounts to billions of dollars in spending by the Federal Government. In that case, Democrats would actually be taking on misguided government spending rather than increasing it. I'm guessing we would have heard from Palinites that elitist Democrats were declaring war on farmers, but would the Democratic party be in the free fall it is in now if they had picked a different agenda?

Bonus question: Would the backlash have been better or worse if Obama had tried to reduce government spending by scaling back the military and the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Looks like "organic" might be the next dirty word

Is "organic" now a politically charged term? Will it be as repellent to left-leaning politicians as the word "liberal"?

This Washington Post story on the White House garden has me convinced. Michelle Obama and White House aides have said they use only natural fertilizers and pesticides in the garden but that the garden was not organic. Hmmm.... I thought that was what organic meant.

The story goes on to say that the White House would not disclose what made the garden not organic. That makes me think it is organic, but they just don't want to call it that because it would associate themselves with people who care about what they eat, liberals, intellectuals, and other undesirables the radical right Palinites have labeled as "elitist" and "snobbish."

I understand that the term might mean very little to we consumers who are looking for the best, freshest products, but why would you not want to say your garden is organic if it is organic? And if it isn't organic and you use some commerical fertilizer or something, why wouldn't you just come out and say what it is?

Friday, April 23, 2010

New hipster slur

The results of the Gawker poll are in and "fauxhemian" is your new hipster slur.

That my favorite, "ironoclast," didn't even make the final vote is all the proof I need to know that the majority of the voters were, in fact, hipsters themselves.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Having children

So I was recently around one of Rachel's co-workers who was talking about how she was debating whether to sign her daughter up for a soccer league. Her daughter was already involved in ballet and swimming and some other activity, so she was concerned that it might be too much.*

As you can imagine, this conversation wasn't really my cup of tea. Of course my input wasn't requested but anyone who knows me knows that won't stop me from butting into a conversation I know nothing about. The only thing I could think of was to ask whether kids just ride around their bikes after school any more.

"Oh no," she almost whispered. "You just can't do that anymore."

"Of course," I said, not picking up on the non-joke, "just think of what could happen."

Completely, dead-seriously she said, "I mean, these days you have to worry about getting abducted."

I quickly changed the topic, or allowed the topic to change, I don't remember which, because I knew I was about five seconds away from either having or inducing a nuclear meltdown**.

First of all, I grew up in the Golden Age of Serial Killers. Gasey, Dahmer, and Bundy all had their heydays in the late 1980s and early 1990s. All of those boxy white vans made for abducting people came out around the same time . It seemed like every single day there was a news story about a child murder.

Yet my friends and I were out every afternoon totally unsupervised. I had to tell my mom where I was, but that consisted of telling her I was going to play soccer or football or just out riding my bike and playing in the creek. There was no adults around and nobody seemed to care.

We were told over and over to not talk to or accept rides from strangers. Somehow it worked. Not one of my friends, or friends of friends or friend of friends of friends was ever abducted. Now I'm sure a few of them were molested, but that was probably by a family member or priest or otherwise trusted adult.

The point is that children get abducted or molested regardless of whether we want them to or how much we shelter them. Even children who are kept in their homes can be stolen directly from the home. Remember Polly Klaas?

Did Polly Klaas get abducted because she wasn't sheltered enough or because she rode her bike after school? No. Polly Klaas was murdered because bad shit happens and you can't do much about it more than you can prevent a car accident.

You can teach your children to avoid strangers and be smart, just as you can teach them to look both ways before they cross the street. But if we're teaching them to be so scared of the world that they can't leave their own backyards, then we shouldn't be surprised when they turn out to be helpless, corpulent, and otherwise as useful as tits on a bull.

What a depressing worldview to have when you won't even let your children go outside. I wouldn't even bring a child into this world if I thought letting him outside would just lead to child murder. Now if there's an active serial killer operating in your town, it might be a good idea to keep little Timmy locked up until they find the guy or the abductions slow down. But to just assume there's one in every neighborhood is pretty twisted.

To paraphrase the great Gus McCrae, Life is short. Shorter for some than others. But it's not how you die that's important. It's how you live.

*Great conversation by the way. Meanwhile, I was talking to her gay co-worker about going to concerts and eating good food. If that's not an argument for waiting to have kids or to have none at all, I don't know what is.

**Just remembered this isn't entirely true. I pointed out this recent incest/murder case and suggested that maybe if kids were out riding their bicycles more, they would at least be safe from getting molested by their fathers.

Friday, April 16, 2010

In Germany, it's a crime to be an asshole.

To me, making it a crime to deny the Holocaust is giving way too much credence to idiocy. Why make a martyr of a scumbag like British Bishop Richard Williamson? As the famous First Amendment absolutist saying goes, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." In America, some of our strongest First Amendment protections have come at the expense of defending the Ku Klux Klan and Larry Flynt.

The real question is why the Catholic Church hasn't told this guy to shut his trap or defrocked his ass. With all their PR troubles, I'm surprised they're letting a creep run around making about the most inflammatory statements you can make.

In other news, free speech is also under attack in Bishop Williamson's home country. Yes, those rascally Brits are at it again. This time they're threatening to use censorship and surveillance in the form of the Digital Economy Act.

In case you didn't know, this Parliamentary act will regulate copyright law and give economic protections to those who need it most: huge corporations, of course. And if you believe their press releases, the mega media conglomerates are living hand-to-mouth these days because of piracy. So if we don't do something to help them--namely, set up a police state to monitor the Internet--our whole society will crumble. In fact, they're suffering so badly, they poured millions of dollars into lobbying for Britain's Digital Patriot Act.

According to this article, we can look forward to future extreme and Draconian measures here in the good ol' U. S. of A.

In the US, the MPAA and RIAA (American equivalents of the MPA and the BPI) just submitted comments to the American Intellectual Property Czar, Victoria Espinel, laying out their proposal for IP enforcement. They want us all to install spyware on our computers that deletes material that it identifies as infringing. They want our networks censored by national firewalls (U2's Bono also called for this in a New York Times editorial, averring that if the Chinese could control dissident information with censorware, our own governments could deploy similar technology to keep infringement at bay). They want border-searches of laptops, personal media players and thumb-drives.

They want poor countries bullied into diverting GDP from humanitarian causes to enforcing copyright. And they want their domestic copyright enforcement handled, free of charge, by the Department of Homeland Security.

Elements of this agenda are also on display (or rather, in hiding) in the secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a treaty being drafted between a member's club of rich nations. They've turned their back on the United Nations to negotiate in private, without having to contend with journalists or public interest groups. By their own admission, they intend to impose this treaty on poor countries as a condition of ongoing trade, and in the US, the Obama administration has announced its intention to pass ACTA without Congressional debate.

Look forward to lots of hot rhetoric comparing media consumers to people who steal cocaine (see the comments of the article if you don't believe me). Because, you know, only a criminal would think the Fourth Amendment is a good idea.

We'll see what happens, but if that IP Czar tries to tell us that unless we have something to hide, we all have to install spyware for copyright protection, then I'm going to feel kinda bad for calling all those Tea Partiers paranoid lunatics.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Tell me why non-endangered whales shouldn't be harvested.

I saw an online Greenpeace petition that wanted me to tell Obama to oppose any relaxation on a ban of commercial whaling and it got me thinking.

I don't know much about the international ban on whaling but I've always heard it was because whales were hunted to the point of extinction. Overfishing of whales was one of those short-sighted practices of centuries past before the idea of environmental stewardship had really taken hold. Without getting into the history of whaling, which has been happening for millennia, and the specific numbers of whale populations, if you assume for a minute that whale populations have rebounded enough to safely allow some limited harvesting, would you have a problem with it?

I think a lot of people would say "No whaling under any circumstances." If that's your stance, I want to know why. Aside from being a mammal, what makes a whale different from a sardine or a tuna?

If you're vegetarian or vegan and don't think we should be eating animals at all, that's fine. I disagree, but that's fine. I'm not really concerned with you, though. I want to know what would make a omnivore be opposed to whaling.

I would imagine you could make the sentience argument for cetaceans, but that's getting dangerously close to speciesism. I just don't think we know enough about animals to assume that a whale or dolphin has sentience but that a pig or chicken or cow or oyster does not.

I have to admit that there's something troubling about eating and killing animals that I have paid just to try to get a glimpse of and that might be more intelligent than we are, but my brain tells me I shouldn't let my emotions get in the way of an ethical decision. Do we really want our dietary decisions made for us based on someone deciding that an animal is sufficiently intelligent.

I also probably wouldn't make whale or dolphin a regular part of my diet based on mercury consumption alone, but I'm having trouble finding any reason that limited whaling should be banned if the population numbers have truly rebounded. Tell me why I'm wrong.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

You don't eat meat but you do eat fish?!

With rising mercury levels, species like blue fin tuna disappearing, and the horrendous impact of farmed fish, how can anyone look at me with a straight face and tell me they don't eat meat but then concede that they do eat fish?