Thursday, February 28, 2013

Red Dwarf. Reminding us where even a benign path can lead.

You may have seen the pictures of Dennis Rodman sitting court side at a basketball games beside the current dictator for life of North Korea.

And the image of Rodman sitting by North Korea's latest Dear Leader sparked an entertainment memory of mine. All these years later, having seen him once young and strange and talented, he's sitting in odd company. So a spark of remembrance was lit.

Namely, an episode of Red Dwarf, "Out of Time". In it, beyond the rest of the plot, the crew of Red Dwarf cross paths with themselves, from far in their futures. And they are shocked at what they see.

Future Rimmer: Haven't you anything better than this hogwash? We're used to the best! 
Future Kryten: Kryten, we're epicures now. We travel through history enjoying the very best time has to offer. 
Future Rimmer: Dolphin sweetmeats, roast suckling elephants, baby seal hearts stuffed with dove pate. Food fit for emperors! 
Future Lister: We socialize with all of the greatest figures in history, the Hapsburgs, the Borgias. 
Future Kryten: Why, only last week, Louis the 16th threw a banquet especially in our honor. 
Future Rimmer: The man is a complete delight, urbane, witty, charming. 
Kryten: He was an idiotic despot who lived in the most obscene luxury while the working classes starved in abject poverty. 
Future Rimmer: Well, we certainly didn't see any of that while we were there! 
Future Kryten: And his wife's an absolute cutie. 
Future Cat: I think they're our favorite hosts. If you don't count the Hitlers. 
Kryten: The who?! 
Future Rimmer: Providing you avoid talking politics, they're an absolute hoot. 
Kryten: You're good friends with the Hitlers?! 
Future Kryten: It's just a social thing. We don't talk about his work. We just have a few laughs, play canasta, and enjoy the odd game of mixed doubles with the Goerings. 
Kryten: I don't believe what I'm hearing! 
Future Rimmer: Look, you have to understand we travel back and forth throughout the whole of history, and naturally we want to sample the best of everything. It's just a bit unfortunate that the finest things tend to be in the possession of people who are judged to be a bit dodgy. 
Kryten: Herman Goering is a bit dodgy! What has become of you all? You've all abandoned your morals, been seduced by power and wealth. All you're interested in now is indulging your carnal desires. 
Future Rimmer: And could we tell you some stories about that! 
Kryten: I don't recognize any of you! You're just amoral self-serving scum, freeloading your way through history!

And with that, the Red Dwarf team are moved to kick their future selves off the ship. Seeing how they change, they hope to escape the fate of becoming who they're destined to become. And then they blew up...You have to go and watch the episode.

I don't want to completely judge Rodman based on next to no information. He's there with the Harlem Globetrotters, and they are doing some goodwill work. I am all for that. It's just I wonder how much entertaining the little dictator and his select audience will do.

Anyway, being reminded of this episode, I wanted to tie it to our political environment, and something that does happen too often. How people cross paths with government and often become corrupted by access and the goodies that come.

(Of course, this scifi tale is a little too perfect. No example for the current world can match it. They go on to literally befriend and pal around with Hitler! No hyperbole, it is what they do. The story makes a nice extreme case.)

Plenty seem to get lost in the glamour, the money, the soirees, the proximity to power, the cocktail parties, being treated as important. Often we see journalists enter the Beltway scene and get invited to events and parties. They are good ways to connect with interviewees, makes contacts, and learn details for stories. So I can't fault the engagement.

But it's the balancing act that follows that troubles. A piece too hard on the Senate Majority Whip might get you uninvited to an event. Or a report on some trouble with an oil lobbyist will a source to clam up. Or critical stories on the White House leads to people from it refusing to do your show. And you're asked to lighten blows, or pass up stories, so as to not rock the boat of your access.

 Beyond that you may just become friends that you frequently interact with. We've seen this with reporters embedded with troops, travelling with generals, or just following a presidential campaign. You spend days and months together and you...well, let's be honest, it's a variation on Stockholm Syndrome. Suddenly a scandal doesn't need to be broken. The violent way troops handle an incursion into a city following losses is something you have no right to question. When the general violates the uniform code it's just not for you to challenge.

It's all so easy. Just go along to get along. And, if you are "good enough", you may get that front page column at the New York Times. You may be the go to talking head for the afternoon cable hosts. You may become the host of Meet the Press. And then you can look back at who you once were, back at the start, and scoff just like the Future Crew of Red Dwarf do.

And like Future Kryten, you can say to yourself, "Good grief! I can't believe I used to be such a stuck up pompous prig." And you can get back to memorizing your soft ball questions for John McCain.

Red Dwarf
And, just in case someone is going to be pedantic. I know that in the episode of Red Dwarf I reference here, they weren't aboard Red Dwarf (the massive mining ship the show is named over), but aboard Starbug (the amazingly well stocked shuttle from Red Dwarf. I just wanted to keep the narrative as simple as possible (particularly since I have a habit of over complicating things).

And, I know, "Jack? Why Red Dwarf?" Hey! It works. Just be happy I didn't feel the need to explain or connect thematically what happened to Winnie the Pooh on Red Dwarf.

Now let's all walk away.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The changing face of racial prejudice and bigotry in America? *UPDATED*

From the Caroline County Court of Virginia:
"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

These were the words of the trial judge that Richard Perry Loving and Mildred Jeter Loving faced. They were found guilty of miscegenation, the mixing of the races. In particular, marrying in Washington D.C., then returning to live in Virginia. They were sentenced to 1 year in jail. To avoid jail they were allowed to leave the state. The case led to a Supreme Court ruling 10 years later ending anti-miscegenation laws in the country.

That was 1959.

In 2013, Texas Assistant Attorney General Sam L. Ponder said:
“ You've got African Americans, you've got Hispanics, you've got a bag full of money. Does that tell you — a light bulb doesn't go off in your head and say, ‘This is a drug deal?’ ”
This is how he wants to present his case. Blacks. Hispanics. Money. That only happens with drugs. Because that's how those people get money.

It's been more than half a century, and we still seem to have shifted only so far. You can look at the statistics for arrests, convictions, and sentencing by race, and the difference are quite stark. Stop and frisk. Papers please. And on and on. We still have many issues yet to seriously address in society and law.

Justice Scalia
And you can look at voting. Some communities get access to machines and facilities, and some just have to do with fewer broken voting machines and lines that stretch on for hours on end. Or faulty information released on the when's and where's of voting. Or new rules meant to discourage or bar minority voting.

And still, Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia was out and about today denouncing the Voting Rights Act as just a "perpetuation of racial entitlement." I wonder what Right Wing pundit he picked that up from? Racial entitlement? Voting? That's charming, isn't it? But he's one of the conservative movement that is eager to pave over protection of rights for minorities. Rights which certain states have for decades shown a certain eagerness to go after (Forgive me. Conservatives in those states have been eager to do this.)

The Voting Rights Act is up before the Supreme Court this year. Will see what's left of it, if Scalia can get his way.


Meant to also add a link to a piece considering the impact of the end of the Voting Rights Act.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

FOX News. Always eager for something new to bully.

FOX News manages to not surprise us with it's ways of being offensive and dismissive of those they think can be safely picked on. It's mostly a matter of being asses to generate a feel good atmosphere for the close-minded viewers at home.

On this occasion it was a chance to attack and mock Wiccans and Pagans. And the problem isn't with something these people were doing. No, it is a matter of them have holidays in the religion being acknowledge at one university.

It seems banal enough. But FOX's best and brightest saw an easy and quick way to throw out some red meat to it's paranoid Christian, ignorant Witches Are Real, and the Schools Are Indoctrinating Our Kids audiences. Trouble is, this isn't the 1980's. So literal witch hunts are just not in vogue today. (Don't get me wrong, various Wiccans and Pagans are facing discrimination and intolerance in some small towns and small-minded communities.)

Oh, and yes, Tucker "Look, Ma, no bow tie!" Carlson is along to amplify the jackassery.

The University of Missouri, in it's guide to religions, acknowledges Wicca and Paganism, among many other religions. FOX gets a bit petulant and snarky at the idea of them getting seen as in anyway equivalent to Christianity. If you acknowledge pagans, you must hate Christ! You are out to destroy America!

How dare anyone recognize their holidays! Witches! With their...witch things... Lucky that we have Tucker to explain what Wiccans are (About witchcraft and D&D playing and divorced old women and Halloween.), such a smart man. How dare these pagans get any respect! Right? In particular, they get pissy at the number of religious days and celebrations they have. They seem upset that they get any consideration, like having their holiday dates written down and shared. So let's look at that what is shared.

Pagan/Wiccan holidays noted by the U of Missouri:

  • Mabon / Autumnal Equinox
  • Samhain 
  • Yule / Midwinter / Winter Solstice
  • Imbolc / Candlemas
  • Ostara / Spring Equinox
  • Beltane 
  • Litha / Midsomer / Summer Solstice
  • Lammas / Lughnasadh 

That's 8 holidays. I would like to note that in the listings they mention the general practices for the holiday, and also any recommended accommodations for students that are of a given faith at the time of the holiday. These holidays ask for no special accommodations  they are just special days. So they don't get you out of class or tests or anything else. They only matter if you give them significance. But that is too much for FOX

FOX acts like it's weird or a big deal. You could note, Judaism has 11 holidays, and some accommodations asked for. Christianity has 7 holidays (with the Easter Orthodox having 4 holidays in variance) and accommodations requested. And there are other religions acknowledged  from the Baha'i to Shinto Buddhism. But as dense and bigoted as FOX can be, it isn't going to point a mock the Jewish faith, it messes with their agenda of using Israel to push war.

For FOX and Tucker Carlson, Wiccans seem like an easy target of mockery, humiliation, and bullying. A group you can just call witches, then say anything you want with no one harm to you. And, of course, with the core demographic for FOX News, calling pagans and Wiccans witches is a plus. (They also like it when you demonize all Muslims to. shhhh!)

AND if all this wasn't enough. Tucker Carlson takes a swing at Halloween. Tucker? You can say a lot of crap. But. Never. Touch. Halloween. I have no religion interests, but I love Halloween. And a weenie like you has no place mocking it. You gibbering hyena of psuedo journalism. Candy, kids, costumes, spooky movies and sights. It a day for fun, character playing, and laughing at the macabre.

And, Tucker, being the good Christian you play at being, you have heard of All's Hallow Eve, right? Sorry the actual celebration isn't banal enough for you. I'm guessing you also have a bug up your butt about Fat Tuesday to then?

Tucker actually says in the video, "Call me a bigot." And I am happy to. Tucker is a stuffed suit with a tiny dull prep school bully squirming around in it. You just up and call these people and their religion fake and sad, not based on any facts or insight, just based on your ignorant contempt. It's the same insight he brings to politics. And it's why he's an easy fit with the rest of FOX News. At least in the video, the woman in the middle by the end looks a little uncomfortable when they get to the point where Carlson is just out and out venting and mocking women. But that's what Tucker is about. Eager and excited contempt of people not like him. He's always giddy to get a shot at that, he thinks it makes him look big. (Really, it's a lot like Joe Scarborough.)

He's since apologized. But in it he shares that he thinks their holidays are weird. Nice guy. So classy.

Too bad Wicca doesn't have a holiday where they celebrate a figure resurrecting from the dead by eating ham and looking for hidden eggs placed by a magic rabbit. You know, non-weird religious festivities.

I am not religious at all. I have qualms with all the different faiths. But I don't see a need to criticize or fight unless their is a problem or danger worth talking about (or I think of something damn funny). But I definitely have no taste for bullies at anytime. We all know what bullies really are, and if you don't, just look at Fox & Friends and Tucker Carlson. See how pathetic they really are. These are the type of people we have to stand up to.

Sadly, we live in a world with FOX News. A station always up for a witch hunt, literally. (Yes. I had to go there.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Loving the South

I am getting a but late to this, as so many things. But I wanted to suggest a good blog on politics, culture, news, and more.

Big Blue Dot Y'all

It  is being written by kchapmangibbons (at @kcgibbons on twitter). It's a nice blog for thoughts and information, given from a liberal Nashvillians point of view.

Among her shared insight is on the why's of being a blue dot. This term reflects how many of us, while living in largely red (conservative...I don't know why I'm over explaining.) states do represent blue (...You know what that means.) dots, oases, in sometimes extreme conservative deserts (Hey, I'm completing the metaphor.).

While some liberals do like to be oblivious to it, every state is more than red or blue. There are the Austins and Nashvilles. Also some people and places are changing and growing. Beyond them, their are just the individuals and families that represent. And they represent, because they are home, and they want to embrace what's good and change what isn't good.

So, take time to enjoy here insight and views of the good from a place you may never visit. Or maybe it is close to the life you live, and you'll enjoy the sharing.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

What liberals have done.

It comes from a fictional character running for office, but it is nice to remind ourselves and others just what it means to be liberal, and remember just what liberals have done in the history of the United States.

(Sometime I'll have to write out what I thought worked and failed in the last season of West Wing, but it was interesting to watch that very fantasy based election.)

Still, it is an interesting point made. Lincoln, the Republican president, was a liberal.

There is importance in that. Liberal. Conservative. They aren't supposed to be defined by a party allegiance. They are conceptual. Philosophies.

The Republican brand once was to change things. They were a sprightly new party full of ideals and vigor. They opposed slavery, plantations dominating land ownership. It is interesting how time and power can change and shape any group. And the once Northern and Western party becomes the party of the South.

Still, at the same time it is possible for a Republican to have liberal values. People like Theodore Roosevelt proved it could be found in the party, and then accidentally end up in the presidency. Even Nixon had a willingness to take steps to act positively on the environment.

The trouble now is that people like Roosevelt and Nixon (people that would agree with his positive acts) never get into office. One needs to charm the NRA, then to Rush Limbaugh, then financial interests, then Religious Right. Once you've pleased all of them, their isn't much left for the rest of the country, or for the committee conferences. Every senator and representative is placed in a bind. Step too far out of line and their will be a challenger with money and ads.

I would love to see a return of the liberal Republican, open to change, open to working to help Americans put under duress by society or business. But I just don't see the current system welcoming or accepting them back. So, I wish those left would see that and migrate to something new, where they would be allowed to actually make a difference and have a voice.

Republicans like to talk of being the party of Lincoln. It's funny. They are a party that has no place in it for his liberal thinking. And the power base it relies on now would be quite happy if he was blotted from the history books.

But don't worry. We liberals love our history, and we love being sure everyone gets a good education.

2014 is 10 months away (I do have more interesting maths to share.).

In case you are not readying or hearing about the recent analysis of Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight, he doesn't see an easy or obvious victorious run come 2014. 2014? You know, the next election...? You know, how we the United States has elections every 2 YEARS...? ...
...Okay, breathe. Yes, we do in fact vote every 2 years. I know, we just started a new Congressional session AND inaugurated the president. But, next year, 620 days from now, we are doing this again...Well, some of us are. We don't all really get involved, leaving older and more conservative people.

Which takes us back to Nate Silver. Looking at the data available and history, he is seeing real dangers coming in 2014. It is possible that the Senate could go to the Republicans. Not a sure thing. But they are in a real positions, if they pull themselves together this year, to put up an effort that could shift 6 or more seats in their favor. (Read Silver for the number crunching.)

Among the issues that most intensely threaten Democratic control in the Senate is that it's a midterm election. And on these occasions, we don't all get out, we don't all pay attention, and we don't all...bother caring.

2010 is a good example of what can happen, with shifts in power and momentum in Washington D.C. leading to Tea Party headaches and an imperiled health care reform. There are many factors that played into the election. Insane conservative anger and paranoia. Frustration with positions that the president and Democrats in Congress were taking. But, the results were that liberals were underrepresented at the polls. And we've seen the results with the likes of Senator Scott Brown, Governor Scott Walker, Governor Rick Snyder and Representative Allen West.

Now some of these people were ousted last year. But some are still around, and enacting harmful policies on the public. And the repercussions of 2010 still are hitting and hurting us. 2014 can't be allowed to go the same way.

So, yeah. 620 days to the next election. It's a long time, and too soon.

But you are needed. Your vote. Your interest. Your engagement in the process. We can't let conservatives drag government to a halt by taking both branches of Congress. We can't pretend the results of midterms don't hold weight. We can't let the Right Wing set the narrative for 2014 and 2016. We can't sit things out until the next presidential election.

It's not the most fun you'll ever have, but welcome to representative democracy.

Consider this your early alarm call. I know you'll be hitting the snooze and getting back to political slumber. But don't ignore it for too long, you don't want to be late. We are counting on you.

...You didn't find the Nate Silver math interesting enough to justify the title? ...Fine!

Hey kids! It's One Direction!

And here's Tom Lehrer for old fogies like me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Huck and Jim are still on the river. 128 years on.

Image credit: E. W. Kimble, 1884,
Public Domain via
Wikimedia Commons.
I saw that yesterday was the 128th anniversary for the release of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. And seeing as Mississippi has just ratified the abolition of slavery, it seems to be somewhat current tale. (Guess the state was too busy not properly educating and not acknowledging various people's rights to get to that...Apologizes to everyone in Mississippi that's been actually wronged and/or been troubled by your states failings.)

Huckleberry Finn is the story of a young boy, chafing at society, along the Mississippi River in Missouri. As the story progresses he flees his home and father, along with Jim, a fleeing slave, trying to escape getting sold away from his family. The story takes them on a trip down the Mississippi  via raft, learning about the world around them, people, and themselves.

For me, one of the best moments in that book, and just a very evocative moment, comes late in the book.

Sigh. Okay, I am going to be giving some SPOILERS here. Spoilers for a 128 year old book, that's been turned into a number of movies... Still!


Late in the story Huck and Jim are betrayed by folk they've met and befriended along the river. Jim is locked away as a runaway slave. Huck goes to the place he's held and is taken as a visiting relative, who will later be revealed to be Tom Sawyer (Tooooooom!!!).

Seen as an escaped slave, Jim will quickly get sold on down the river, deeper into the South, and further from his family. Huck could reveal Jim as being owned, by sending a letter to the slave owner. But for fleeing, there's little chance he won't get sold on anyway. And Huck would become a pariah for helping him. These choices trouble Huck. How is this right? Jim doesn't deserve this treatment. And he's afraid of further abuse at home for himself. But, he's also afraid of hell, for not turning in a slave. So he writes the letter down to the slave owner, and tries to get his head straight on what he should do as a good hell fearing civilized person. He decides he can't stand by, not for a friend, someone he's already gone through so much with. So, we get this section:
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking- thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time; in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him agin in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around, and see that paper. 
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 
"All right, then, I'll go to hell"- and tore it up. 
It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head; and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn't. And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog. 

Huck has been brought up in a society that has said slavery is good, slavery is right, slavery is the will of God. To help a slave to be free is a crime, and the path to hell and damnation. That scares Huck, as it does anyone brought up on the idea of hell. The act he's taken in this story, to befriend someone that's enslaved and help them escape, marks him as uncivilized. But Huck struggles to see things that way. He knows Jim. He sees a human being, a friend. But with hell looming, Huck tries to think of the right and proper way out of their situation. The trouble is just what the right and proper ways look to be. Huck can't accept living by society's rules, the right way of doing things, not if it means not caring when a person is treated like property and made to suffer. It's a moving moment. Seeing him, in his struggle between what's expected of him and what he thinks is right, see that society is wrong. It means he'll suffer for it, but he has to do what he feels is right. Even if it means burning for eternity in a lake of fire, the thing all of society say await him.

...Then Tom Sawyer steps in. As always, dicks around leaving Jim to suffer for his fantasies and amusement. And Huck doesn't help things, falling under Sawyer's sway. (And the book for many falters here. With Jim and Huck stuck playing fools for Tom Sawyer's ring master.) And, then, we get some surprise revelations at the end to save Huck and Jim from fates they feared.

But back to the quoted piece. At that moment he was choosing Hell over Heaven. Choosing the incivility of freeing someone from slavery over the proper response of not caring. It's a line that speaks so loudly of what society was during the days of open slavery. Over even certain attitudes that remained following the abolition of slavery. It's a type of pressure ever present. It pushes people to be uncivil for the sake of being civilized.


It is a book I do enjoy a great deal. And, for me, it is the story of the better character, in comparing Huck to Tom Sawyer. But Tom seems to get the most love (Damn bad boys.). So, if you've never read it, consider taking some time this year to get to know Huckleberry Finn.

The book has been popular, and controversial. While more recently the language used has gotten it banned, as has it's look at slavery. Many in it's own day disliked and banned it to, some seeing it as a trashy book and others not caring for a main character who would scratch themselves. But you'll have to decide for yourself, just as Huck does, between redeemability and irredeemability, when you read.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Marco Rubio and the Same Old Party

Oh, Marco. You give and you give. And it was funny. As I said on FaceBook, Rubio wants to just call it, God trying to make him humble. But, presumably, a god could also be trying to get across the message that you should just not be talking.

And that seems apt with what Rubio had to say that night. It was ridiculous, though most of it was missed thanks to Water-gate.

Even Jon Stewart noted, that the real story was the ridiculous series of claims that Rubio threw out.

It almost isn't really worth talking about. It really is just Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney, with a better polling name. It's the same rhetoric and complaints and ideas. They aren't getting fresher. And the hypocrisy of Ryan and him, how their lives have been shaped by government aid will do nothing to advance them or their party to more victories. Rubio's presentation was bad that night. But he also reminded us that his parties ideas are just not ready for prime time. Sadly, his party seems oblivious of this.

Or rather, they think they just need the right snake oil salesman.

SOTU: What's the agenda? *UPDATED*

We are closing out the week of the State of the Union, so before I get into any critical issues with current government policy (Oh, let's hope I get writing.), let's look at the good work being, at least considered. As such, what is the president considering for the next year and on?

There were many good ideas, good moments, hit in the speech. Obviously continuing talk of doing something on gun violence is great, and his rhetorical flourishes in reaching out to the national audience were touching. I hope for the best. Then I remember the hundreds of hostile eyes on him in that room, eager to not piss off the NRA. ...Let's see what happens. This is unlike immigration, where I am guessing their is enough push right now, and fear in the GOP of Hispanics, to make something real happen.

But I was more interested in the "new" ideas.

Universal Pre-K. Or, preschool for all. This would be great. A heads up for all kids, to socialize, learn some early skills, and help parents entering or trying to hold jobs in the workforce. The struggle to find ways to get their kids into preschool is a struggle for many working moms. But the problem is making it real.

This involves some troubling areas for the GOP. Kids, they don't like kids. Education, they really don't like education. And the government making an investment in communities across the nation, ...I think you see where I'm going here. This will be a fight. We already know Newt Gingrich already leads the concept of getting kids into overalls and giving them comically small brooms. You can feel free to imagine what the wingery parts of the party are thinking. As I heard someone say, this will likely not happen in Obama's time in office. Maybe the foundations for it can be set in the next 4 years. Or, maybe, we will be surprised by movement on it.

Minimum Wage Hike. This is needed. The minimum wage continues to lag behind indicator, and leaves anyone working for this wage rate below the poverty line. That is just not acceptable. And the idea of tying it to a measure so we don't need to wait for Congress to move, that seems sound. Also seems pie in the sky. I just don't see the GOP not blocking this, as always. The president needs to move things with voters so the GOP has no where to go. As it is, the GOP has it's tested pablum about how horrible it is to pay people living wages, and the media eats it up (despite it all being crap). But we may yet see a Minimum Wage bump at least. I just can't predict what madness the House will pull.

Getting to Actually Vote. I was glad to see continuing as an issue. And the president humanizing the experience with the older woman, stuck in an interminable line is smart. I hope we will see real action on it. The president has formed a committee, that is good. He's put a Republicans who's worked for Romney and McCain, and helped in the swiftboating of John Kerry, that's...confusing and troubling. But as long as we see some real plans to improve voting, I'd be happy. Though it seems the simplest way to go is to enforce uniform rules on FEDERAL elections, which would push states and counties to try and streamline their own elections, and put pressure to be sure regions of the country don't leave poorer communities with inadequate facilities to vote. If a finding of the committee is that we need to deal with voter fraud I will be peeved. But, it is early days...Voting occurs next year. Get to work!

The Progressive Narrative. This, to me, is the real power of the speech. Policy can have a chance of passing the next Congress or not. But what is the narrative of who we are as Americans? Reagan helped usher in a contempt for government action, a sense we were all on our own. It was the era of the yuppies, in bad suits, getting rich on the backs of the middle class, leading to growing disparity and struggle.

Obama talks of something else, connecting with Americans. He offers up a return to building a middle class that is the heart of this country. To us all standing together. The Progressive Narrative:

"And now they are at the heart of the story President Obama has been telling the American people in his SOTU, in his second inaugural address, on the campaign trail last year. From last night: "It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth -- a rising, thriving middle class." And "A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs -- that must be the North Star that guides our efforts." And "no one who works full time should have to live in poverty..." And "Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger America. 
It is this kind of prosperity -- broad, shared, and built on a thriving middle class -- that has always been the source of our progress at home." You are speaking our language, Mr. President.It wasn't because the president's speech writers saw the website and thought it sounded good. It was because they are reading the same polling we are, because they are seeing the same focus groups. It is because this is where the American people have come around to after flirting with the Tea Party "no government is ever good" rhetoric. America's middle class knows it is getting crushed, and it knows that wealthy and powerful special interests have been making out like bandits on the backs of the rest of us. People are rallying around the story we are telling because it is common sense. The progressive center of gravity we built with this narrative pulled the president and the public in our direction because the story is true, and because it has powerful resonance in people's lives." 

President Obama made a potent use of this annual event. But it is only the beginning. The new term of Congress has started, as has the presidents term. The work lies ahead. Everyone has to be sure that the Progressive Narrative isn't lost under conventional wisdom, beltway realities, and our own sad short term memories. We have to push back on what conservatives will try to do and try to not let happen. And we will need to likely need to push the president on some actions.

Oh, but now, what did the GOP have to say in response, cutting the president's ideas to shreds?!



Forgot to mention another important area that the president mentioned.

Infrastructure investment. This is something we've needed for years now. Bridges, levies, dams, national piping, electrical grids, roads, all have needed a serious investment. And more should have come in the stimulus we got four years ago. We need to do this. It means, work, jobs, and needed boost to the economy. And it means we won't go more years and have a severe crisis arise when grids die, pipeline rupture, areas getting isolated by dilapidated travel conditions, or another tragic flood.

I hope this investment can happen. We do need this work done.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

No Ash Wednesday *UPDATED*


Do I have to talk about Ash Wednesday as well?






Good. It's silly.


Well, I was going to get serious now on Ash Wednesday, consider the ashen cross on the foreheads. Because they are interesting to consider as overt presentations of faith.

And Bob Novak (Late King of the Douche Bags  was a man who loved nothing more than hang his moral and religious superiority over anyone and everyone. He loved to go on TV to display the ash as a debate weapon. He could make it feel a distasteful display.

But as I was looking for a picture of him, I was looking at various people, including Vice President Biden, who are photographed with ash on the forehead. And when you think of this as a temporary one day affectation, that most people don't bother keeping on their faces way. Why should I be bothering with it? It is harmless. Why bother with him? He was never not harmful.

Screw him.

Instead, like many others are doing today, let's hail to the king.

Shop smart. Shop S-Mart.

On Valentine's Day

Shoot. Well, I'm guessing I will do anything to not sit down and get my brain working.

So let's talk about another holiday hitting us. VALENTINE'S DAY.

Knows Valentines is coming,
or saw that Marco Rubio is stealing his "Take a drink" meme franchise. (Topical!)

from Chicago Tribune
So, Valentine's. As we all know the saccharine day exists to celebrate the events of February 14th, 1929. When a collection of mobsters were "hugged to death" by some rival mobsters after they'd received their lovely gift of a new puppy...

Wait, I probably shouldn't be getting my history from the Citizen Radio Definitive Source on History, Vol. 6. Sorry.

Oh, yeah. It's another one of those kinda sorta religious things.

Valentine's Day, or St. Valentine's Day, as you could guess, is in honor of someone named Valentine. A saint even. Now I'd get more specific with this, but...It isn't really clear who Valentine is.

I know, if you do know much of the holiday's history, you've heard some story. How he'd been a really great guy. He married soldiers that were, under law, meant to stay single. He was preaching the faith. Yadda yadda. But out of the early history of the Christian faith, there were many Valentines (like how there are so many Johns, Jesus, and Beyonces now). A number of figures from early history could be the original. They have differing tales that may be of the same person, or different ones, or just be stories. (Luckily this never happens again in all of religion.)

Do I need to caption this?
But a story did form. All the familiar beats, along with a nice grisly end. Saints need their dire exits. He's taken to the Roman emperor, offered friendship and freedom if he'll convert, and refuses. Then, before execution, he heals the jailers blind daughter (Aw!). Every saint needs that occasional moment of magic power to do all sorts of wonders...Just never really escape prison or execution (But, hey, no one made them join the faith big on martyrdom.). And then the final act, beaten horribly, and, since still alive, beheaded.

Isn't that a great basis for a mandatory date night? Isn't symbolic? (Don't answer that married folk! It's trap!) Well, it worked nicely for early Christians.

And at some point, well the end of the 5th century, a pope created the Feast of St. Valentine. Now, if you've read my recent posts, you may also remember it's now Lent. So, I am a little confused how in the 6th century a Feast of St. Valentine worked during a time of fasting. I'm sure it involves miracles, or something quantum.

Still we had that for awhile. It's not much. And, eventually, the church decided Valentine was a vague enough figure to pull back in the observance of his special day. No idea why the Church would have an issue with a big date night.

But, as usual, the Church didn't really get what they had on their hands. (To be fair, all the off shoot churches didn't get it either.) You see, Valentine, with a little poetic spin could be quite useful. It was not until people like Geoffrey Chaucer (Canterbury Tales, etc.) got to work on the saint and the feast day that it really started to take shape as the day we know now.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci
by Sir Frank Dicksee
This point in the Middle Ages was a big launching point for chivalry, courtly romance, and, if you read storybooks, the fad of women wearing large pointy hats with veils trailing off. There was a surge of romantic tales and poetry.

Chaucer wrote one of the earliest Valentine poems:
The Parliament of Fowls is perhaps the first St. Valentine's Day poem ever written. Brewer suggests that it was begun in May of 1382 and finished for Valentine's day in 1383. ... 
A gardyn saw I, ful of blosmy bowes 
Upon a ryver, in a grene mede, 
There as swetnesse everemore inow is, 
With floures whyte, blewe, yelwe, and rede,
And colde welle-stremes, nothyng dede, 
That swymmen ful of smale fishes lighte, 
With fynnes rede and skales sylver bryghte 

It was a shift in how the day was perceived. Valentine had been reallocated to matters of love. The romantics needed a day, and he was conveniently available. Just as he had been to early Church leader.

So, traditions began. Flowers were exchanged. Then sweets (And, I hate to pause again, but...Lent?). And, of course...the greeting card came in to the picture.

So, yes, today greeting card companies, candy makers, and jewelry pushers do have a vested interests in pushing Valentine's Day, hard. But we should all take comfort. They follow in a long line of people doing this, going back to the early Church that sainted this fellow named Valentine...

...You know, I can't help feeling this fact should offer up some critique of romance...

...DAMN! I'm just not a jaded enough a person to see what it would be.


NOW you know why he drinks.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pancake Tuesday

I know I've done my bit on Fat Tuesday in my last post, but there is one interesting derivation of celebration that I came across a few years back.

PANCAKE TUESDAY (alternatively known as Shrove Tuesday)

The origins of the name (shrove) comes from old English term, shrive, which means to confess all sins and to be absolved of them. That makes some sense historically for the start of a celebration like Lent. Before the fasting begins, set down what you are at fault for and need to right. So...Yeah...Not as much fun to think about or get into as Carnival or Mardi Gras.

But what about the pancakes, you're thinking about and salivating over.

Well, as I noted in the previous post, Mardi Gras is the french for Fat Tuesday, meaning eating up fatty foods before fasting. Pancakes tie into this. To make pancakes you need milk, eggs, sugar, and butter. All perishables that were banned in many places during the Lent of olden days. So people would use these items to produce a supply of batter and make pancakes. Lots of pancakes. Again, not really the same as parades, drinking, dancing, music, etc. But it can be a far tamer takeit has persisted. Still to this day some make an effort to have pancake meals, keeping the tradition alive.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Let's Carnival the Mardi Gras out of this Lent. *UPDATE*

A bit of a delay in writing, so let's start back in with something light.

How about some more discussion of upcoming holidays?! That's fun. ...Though I have just missed that big festival wash up in the Ganges. Shoot. Biggest festival going to...Though it's about scrubbing up.

So...What else do we have coming up. ...Oh! Lent. Great.

You expecting me to put up pictures of
flagellation or people nailed up on crosses? Hmm?
You'll have to go elsewhere to fulfill that fetish.
Well, in India they go wash off the sins. Christians are "giving something up for a bit." Kind of the same. And, a lot of people do it...By which I mean a lot of people say they've given something up for Lent...Christianity needs more pilgrimages. Of course, for Lent, some people like to take long walks...with crosses on their backs. I could also bring up the faithful that engage in self-flagellation, like on Good Friday. Or the people that actually get themselves NAILED TO A CROSS. How about the guy that somehow nailed himself up? ...I believe the big idea is that Jesus died for your sins, right? That's kind of key to why Lent, Easter, etc are so important, right? ...So, why are you all trying to kill yourselves?

Actually, let's consider Lent, but even more fun, the party before it...

You deserve a miracle today.
And if you eat one of these,
you'll need it.
But first, the Lent thing. Now, if you aren't Christian, or don't pay attention while the boring people up front at church jibber jabber (That's fine. It's why the quiet mode on your phone exists.), Lent is a 40 day period of fasting, by which people mean they give something up (chocolate, beer, cigars, brussel sprouts, etc.). The reason being, that Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and did without. It's like what the mystics in some areas of Asia do. And not at all does someone slips the mystic the occasional Big Mac when no one is looking. And I'm not saying Jesus was slipped a Big Mac. They hadn't been invented yet.

So, 40 days in the desert for Jesus and 40 days without something you choose to do without. True, in olden days things were more severe, and enforced. They worked to keep people from eating animals or animal products. Though it varied from place to place, and pricks in power to pricks in power. (And, of course, St. Patricks occurs during Lent, which led to some modified rules. But maybe we can discuss that in March.)

And don't worry, their are nutters who still take it way too serious and try to outdo each other. But I'm not sure if that makes them more pious or not. And, of course, this being religious numerics, 40 days will vary in length depending on your given denomination. And that's Lent. Yeah, it's boring.

Fun time! Let's talk about what you do before Lent. And by you, I don't just mean the overly pious and eager to sacrifice for 40 days crowd. Oh no. We ALL enjoy a bit of pre-Lenten religion. This means FAT TUESDAY/Shroves Tuesday. Yeah, okay, their is a certain love of giving days of the week quirky adjectives. Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Sunday. It's sad, such a busy schedule so there's no room for Manic Monday or Ruby Tuesday.

But Fat Tuesday is really what people care about.

It's the day before the start of Lent (Ash Wednesday), so, like with many deprivation rituals throughout human history, before going without, you gorge and gorge and party hard. Before Ash Wednesday starts, you got to taste and partake, and overdo it, with the various foods that would no longer be available for 40 days. In most cases, it was fatty foods, hence the name it's been given.

Of course people don't go without as much now. And many of us like the idea of Fat Tuesday for it's core, an excuse to have a party. But that's how most cultural/religious celebrations go, they start serious, then if they are worth repeating they get shone down to their best aspects, the fun (Fat Tuesday is a reason to celebrate, Christmas is a reason to celebrate, Halloween is a reason to celebrate, etc.).

And as Fat Tuesday has persisted, and the whole give it all up for Lent waned, the party didn't shrink. But, come on, who would race to cram in as much of whatever they're giving up this year on Fat Tuesday? Screw that! We all want to drink and party? So, now, it's more a reason to party and puke. And it has become an artistic exercise. It's taken on bigger and grander traditions that are something worth partaking.

Rio De Janeiro
Bourbon Street, New Orleans
For centuries it's done in Europe, in some particularly famous spots along the Mediterranean. But where it is more famously done today is in the New World. In Rio De Janeiro, Brazil it's known as Carnival, speaking to the days of celebration leading to the finale on Tuesday. In New Orleans, Louisiana it's Mardi Gras (the French for Fat Tuesday). While it is called this in New Orleans, it is a long raucous celebration there as well. And as you can see in the images it's far more now then food and drink. It is a spectacle. It's a chance to congregate (with friends, family, and people you've just met), to sing, to dance, to step out of the normal of your life. From Samba to bead collection to the particular floats abound to the new sights, tastes, and sounds, these can quite an experience (Though I haven't been myself.). Of course Rio and New Orleans are not the be all and end all of the Carnival experience. From the rural parishes of Louisiana to Moscow, plenty celebrate in their own ways. So, please, feel free to share the experience in the areas you live in.

I also feel I'd be remiss to not note that there have been some unsavory aspects that have arose in these celebration. It's much of what you find at every festival. And if you go looking for images and videos of these events, you will see the less seemly side quickly. In the mix of crowds, noise, drinking, and excess, if you do go, always be smart and aware.

But, even if you won't be leaving your apartment or snow bound farm this week. Take some time to celebrate, find what brings you joy.

We all deserve any excuse to do so.


Valentines Day! That's a holiday I could have covered. ...Gee. No idea why that one slipped my mind.