Archives for: September 2009
My nephew loved his grandfather, my dad, and thought of him as a fount of wisdom. One small example has stayed with me through the years. The youngster was having trouble sleeping. Random noises in the still night would alert his active mind and sleep would slip out of reach.
So my father introduced him to white noise, generated from a box designed for the purpose. It was static sounding, and it drowned out competing noises. In science, white noise is defined by a number of special attributes having to do with flat power spectral density, and other factors that go beyond my poor comprehension. I don't know if white noise was actually generated in the scientific sense, but whatever it was did the trick. Noises from the outside world were drowned out, and the young man was able to sleep.
After church yesterday, I drove my elderly friend to the retirement center, came home, kissed my loved one, and took a nap. As the jarring noise of the tea party protest blaring from the television woke me, I thought of the father I still miss and the help he gave to my nephew.
The signs carried by the protesters often expressed a vague outrage. Don't tread on me, join the Patriots, that sort of thing. Obama was targeted, of course. Stalin, Hitler, Obama comparisons were improbable but rife. Other protest placards were specific but ill-informed. They decried free health coverage for illegal immigrants, their carriers apparently unaware that proposals specifically exclude them. They attacked imaginary death panels, taxpayer funded abortion, and other myths.
Vague dissatisfaction and turn-on-its-head misinformation do not provoke this directed anger. Unless these folks are drunk or stone cold stupid, some other impulse is at play. Part of the answer is found in some uglier displays. Amid the confederate flags, were the real deal. The President is urged to go back to Africa and "Take your arrogant wife". "Where My White, privilege males at?", demands another. Obama is a Muslim Alien, and The zoo has an african lion and the White House has a lyin' African. A caricature of Obama in a green cap is captioned Robbin' for the hood.
Modern technology has expanded a wonderful gift that was once available for conservatives only on radio. They can now shield themselves from the cruel reality of electoral defeat through the internet site of their choice. Cable has a television channel devoted to denigrating Obama. The President is illegitimate. He is a hybrid of opposites, a socialist and a fascist. He is the other. America was duped. Above all, we have to take our country back. "We" being good Americans of the Bradley Schlozman tradition.
Rush, Hannity, and Beck offer a soothing static. Conservatives sleep on, surrounded by a cocoon of protection from the disturbing sounds of reality.
Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.
- - Bertrand Russell, 1943
In the 1977 movie Star Wars, Obi-Wan and his runaways are stopped.
Stormtrooper: Let me see your identification.
Obi-Wan: [with a small hand wave] You don't need to see his identification.
Stormtrooper: We don't need to see his identification.
Obi-Wan: These aren't the droids you're looking for.
Stormtrooper: These aren't the droids we're looking for.
Some simple souls believe President Obama possesses Jedi mental powers. Their numbers are small. The most bizarre find voice with extremist websites. Here is part of a letter selected to appear on conservative site World Net Daily about "the mind-control diatribe called a presidential speech."
It is my opinion what Rep. Joe Wilson did and said was necessary. It was necessary for God to disrupt the demonic subliminal communication that manifests from Obama and his entourage and shake the 111th United States Congress from their complacency (and probable altered states of consciousness).
To me, it gave new meaning to: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.'" And I do believe that in the moment "You lie!" came forth from Wilson's mouth, judgment was declared upon the chosen man, the pawn who constitutionally should not be the president of the United States.
Such odd people are not confined to conspiracy outlets. Man-bites-dog is news. Mainstream media present them as speaking for Christianity. Christ's message is reduced to bitter hatred and superstitious gullibility. Worship attendance has declined as folks turn away from intolerance.
The downward trend may be reversing. One study discovered an increasing rejection of such messages by young believers. Young evangelicals were about equally divided between the two major presidential candidates last year. Now we just need to get the word out.
Obi-Wan: Move along.
Stormtrooper: Move along... move along.
I have made two big decisions tonight. We are killing the health care bill and we we are killing the mouse in the office.
— - Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), via Twitter, September 9, 2009
Nuggets of internet gold:
Favorite conservative Wigderson Library & Pub who occasionally graces us with a comment or two offers a tautology against abortion. It is wrong because human life begins at conception. So he's right because he's right. He offers summer fiction as evidence.
Jack Jodell, friend of the working blogger, at THE SATURDAY AFTERNOON POST has unkind words for baby boomers. Charges include "irresponsibility, gluttony, insensitivity, greed, murder, self-indulgence, and short-sightedness."
- The World of Doorman-Priest has a cool message. God's Kingdom does not come passively, yet cannot be earned.
When I was on my way to the podium a gentleman stopped me and said I was as good a politician as I was an actor. What a cheap shot!
- - Arnold Schwarzenegger, at GOP Convention, August 31, 2004
It was decades ago. An elderly relative, one I love dearly, bemoaned a lost check from the Social Security administration. What would she do now?
Her husband was easier to take in small doses. He sat sullenly as she came close to tears. I reassured her. If the check was lost, it would quickly be reissued. If it had been stolen and cashed, the government would replace it. But, in addition, authorities would be very interested in finding and prosecuting the thief. It would not be difficult to trace the culprit. And penalties would probably involve jail time. Her hard-to-take husband jumped to his feet, the captive of sudden rage. How dare I threaten him with jail ! ! !
The public reaction to President Obama is overwhelmingly positive, or so it appears. Partly this can be attributed to the eloquence that is the enduring characteristic of this leader. In part it was recognition of the need for some solution to a growing problem. One factor is the image that Republicans presented to the nation. They began by doing what out parties usually do. They sat on their hands through obvious applause lines. But they became surly as the President chastised those who would tell what he quite plainly termed lies in place of debate. He did not name names. He did not even specify that those who were less than honest were from the opposing party.
Like the dishonest husband, their increasingly bellicose reaction identified them. The President spoke of scare tactics and lies. There were scattered boos. President Obama spoke of "a blizzard of charges and counter charges." There was audible grumbling. Obama mentioned those who believe "it's better politics to kill this plan than improve it." Catcalls followed. One Republican made it a point to examine his blackberry in a show of boredom.
Then the logical extreme, the reductio ad absurdum, finally shocked even Republicans into a momentary silence. As Obama accurately pointed out that illegal immigrants would not be covered, a single shrill voice screamed out over the rest. "YOU LIE." This was too much even for the rabid shouters that the Congressional GOP has become. The President gazed sternly, the heckling came to an embarrassed silence, and he calmly continued.
The shouter who humiliated his colleagues with that final excess was Joe Wilson of South Carolina. It was a breakthrough moment. Republicans seemed overcome by the sudden realization that every crudity had been captured by television. The vague and indistinguishable town hall dissatisfaction suddenly acquired a recognizable political identity. The television audience saw a calm and commanding leader confront an unruly mob of political opponents and stare that mob into submission. Republican leaders ordered Wilson to apologize. He privately obeyed, but it's not so easy to put toothpaste back in the tube.
Democrats rally. Republicans are despondent. And Joe Wilson is a gift of an ever generous God, from whom all blessings flow, to President Obama.
We all make mistakes.
- - President Barack Obama, September 10, 2009
George Will is right. Wellll... he's partly right. To complain about "obscene" profits in the insurance field, says Will, is to be factually wrong. He cites Standard & Poor's index to show their margin is actually low. His analysis is flawed on a number of counts. Their profits compared with income flow is small, simply because that flow is huge. Comparing profits with current stock prices reflects an anticipation of steeper future profits. But he is right in this sense. Profit is the point of business. In most areas, it works pretty well. Greed is an inadequate description of the profit urge. It is a constant, unrelenting pressure. And it usually works to our benefit.
A grocery store owner works harder to provide good quality at a reasonable price because he is pressured for profit. Everyone wants your business, and they work hard to get it. If a grocer starts to gouge his customers, they will take their business elsewhere. He doesn't want that to happen, so he keeps his prices low to keep the business coming. Same with shoes, tires, soft drinks, and living room carpets.
There are inefficiencies in the marketplace. Investors know them by another name: opportunity. Investors make money by exploiting the inefficiencies left by others, and, coincidentally, correcting those inefficiencies. Are computers selling for prices not justified by the market? Quick, build and sell at a more reasonable price before everyone else notices!
Insurance works differently. That is not because insurance managers are evil, while everyone else is virtuous. It is simply because insurance corporations make money the same way as other businesses, but with different effect.
Insurance is paid up front. Folks pay a fixed few hundred a month to eliminate the small but real chance they will be financially wiped out by a medical catastrophe. When illness or injury hits, corporations experience no profit in keeping the customer they once had fought for. Even a minor change in health makes a customer worth getting rid of, not keeping.
Insurance companies, pressured to increase profits, have the same incentives that impel any business. They can boost income or slash outflow. Slashing is done by denying claims, cutting off customers who might get sick, and denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions. Corporations throw away up to 20% of their customers, customers who thought they had a firm contract. It gets even worse. The majority of medical bankruptcies are folks who thought they had insurance.
If that makes you mad, if you think it's unfair, don't waste your anger on insurance executives. They are doing what they are supposed to do. Get mad at a perverse system that offers irresistible pressure to hurt those who need help and exploit those who are still healthy.
Leave alone the executives and the cute little exotic green reptiles that advertise for them. They do what we pay them to do. But scream for reform.
And without competition, the price of insurance goes up and quality goes down. And it makes it easier for insurance companies to treat their customers badly -- by cherry-picking the healthiest individuals and trying to drop the sickest, by overcharging small businesses who have no leverage, and by jacking up rates.
Insurance executives don't do this because they're bad people; they do it because it's profitable.
- - President Barack Obama to Congress, September 9, 2009
We watched as President Obama was sworn in and we saw the monstrous crowd at the nation's capital brave the weather to see their hero receive his trophy after a long and tedious struggle. We saw the happiness in his family's faces, the jubilation of our Hollywood heroes and read the zealous columns of the sympathetic press. What we didn't see was the back rooms across the country where the party of the fallen candidate was planning its strategy long before the inauguration had taken place.
The agenda was simple: discredit the new president in every conceivable area and gather support in every possible way with the end result of winning back the trophy which they had let fall through their hands. It was going to be tough. He had captured the hearts of the American people, the European communities and many who have hated the red, white and blue for decades.
The effort began as a spark in the forest. It was inflamed by the righteous talk show hosts and within a year began to grow like a California forest fire. The country had not seen such an underground movement since Watergate. A new ingredient had been added, the politics of fear and hate.
Some erroneous ideas put forth were: The president pandered to Muslims. He was not even a citizen. This Robin Hood was going to redistribute our wealth. We had defeated the Marxists and Socialists and here they were back, again. The elderly would be euthanized. There would be wholesale abortions. Indigents from South of the border would now send for their relatives to receive health care at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer. And now the biggest blow of all - he was going to talk to our youth! This had never been done before. He even had the audacity to encourage them to stay in school and make a better life for themselves. Indeed, this idea was coming from far beyond the left field bleachers. It needed to be halted before our children’s minds were totally warped.
We have endured the genius of Tricky Dick, the momentum of a stumbling G. Ford, the indiscretions of Slick Willy, the incompetence of George W. Bush, and the historic gun episode of Dick Chaney. What more could our country ask of us? Now the very fiber of our nation, our youth, would be told to stay in school. Our structure was crumbling!
We've watched the systematic approach of our friends from the Right as they planned their tea parties, sent their thugs to town hall meetings and terrorized the over seventy crowd. We've listened as the new Voice of America, Rush, Hannity, Ingram, O’Reilly say: “Now he’s gone and done it," and it's "a bridge too far." We've got him dead in his tracks - a deer in the headlights. It's up to every true American to make him pay the price. Next week no children should be allowed to attend school. Stay in your homes and disconnect the televisions and radios. This radical must be stopped! The new ideas are frightening and must halt, especially if they want to help all people – not just the powerful and wealthy. What are we thinking?
A happy father lifts a laughing little girl on his shoulder. It is the image of joyful fatherhood, healthy upbringing. Looking at the photograph of the young convicted murderer and one of the victims, his own infant daughter, the question almost asks itself. How could he?
The initial sympathy for the young father dissolved as the evidence grew. Experts delved into the scene and came to a sad conclusion. The man had set the fire that had killed his three children. He presented a convincing image for a while. Firefighters said he had to be restrained in his attempts at some suicidal effort at rescuing the kids. He was described as hysterical.
But you can't hide from science. A state fire expert found three separate starting points for the fire. Tests on material found near the front door showed lighter fluid. The fire was not only "intentionally set by human hands", in the words of the expert, the father had deliberately poured accelerant to keep any of the kids from the only escape route.
When news came of a confession, it pretty much closed the case. Waiting for trial, the man had boasted to a fellow prisoner about his true motive. He was protecting his wife, hiding evidence that she had been abusing her stepchildren, his kids.
The fire happened in Texas in 1991. The murderer, Cameron Todd Willingham, was executed in 2004. Good riddance!
In the last five years, the case has slowly unraveled. The confession turns out to be more than a little suspect. "... it’s very possible I misunderstood what he said," recalls the fellow prisoner. "Being locked up in that little cell makes you kind of crazy. My memory is in bits and pieces. I was on a lot of medication at the time. Everyone knew that."
A forensic fire specialist testifies that the local "expert" was no expert at all, relying on folklore and personal belief, rather than evidence. Lighter fluid is known to have been stored near the entrance of the house in a container that was found melted. Electrical outlets were never examined for flaws. The specialist says there is no evidence at all of arson. Never was.
The accused murderer had been offered the deal of a lifetime. If he would plead guilty, his life would be spared. He refused. He was innocent and would not admit to murdering the children he would have died to save.
In countless debates about the death penalty, proponents have been unimpressed by freed convicts nearly executed, their innocence proven later. The fact that they went free proved that the system had worked. Certainly no innocent ever went all the way to execution. It rings hollow in retrospect.
Looking at the photograph of the happy father and his laughing little girl, both now dead, the question almost asks itself. How could we?
As long as there's the possibility -- no matter how remote -- that an innocent person could be killed, nobody should be for the death penalty.
- - Kirk Bloodsworth, twice convicted of rape and murder
2 years on death row
Innocence proven by DNA evidence in 1993
It was a formal debate held during the momentous year of 1974. William F. Buckley led one panel. Senator Lowell Weicker led the opposing side.
Buckley quoted Lowell Weicker's by then famous speech as a member of the committee investigating Watergate crimes of the Nixon Administration. Weicker had denounced the prevailing attitude of the administration. "God knows. Republicans don't view their fellow Americans as enemies to be harassed," he said, but as "human beings to be loved and won." Buckley quoted the words with derision and contrasted them with a conversation Weicker had had in his office with Nixon aide Chuck Colson: "You can just get your ass out of my office because you make me sick."
Weicker, in response, briefly recounted the context of that encounter. The conversation had turned to the Nixon enemies list, and Colson had suggested that it would be to Weicker's personal benefit to support his party's President. The audience broke the rules and burst into spontaneous applause. It was a rare tin-ear event for Buckley.
Three public meetings last month reminded me of that rare Buckley lapse.
Barney Frank was confronted by a young woman who demanded to know why he would support proposals by President Obama which were "policies of Nazi Germany". Frank eventually referred to his own Jewish background, "When you ask me that question, I’m going to revert to my ethnic heritage and ask you a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time?"
Michael Steele, GOP chairman, conducted a meeting of his own at Howard University in Washington, DC. He was interrupted by a young woman whose mother had died when she could not pay for cancer treatment. It was a heart wrenching story. And Steele showed the depths of his compassion. Of her story, he said, "It makes for great TV. You'll probably make it tonight. Enjoy it." Then he had police eject her.
Many of us gave GOP Representative Lynn Jenkins the benefit of the doubt after she (accidentally, she says) urged a cheering crowd of conservatives to find a "Great White Hope" to defeat President Obama in three years. At a more recent public meeting, she was questioned by an uninsured waitress whose 2 year old son has not seen a doctor almost since birth. "why can't I get an affordable option? Why are you against that?" Jenkins laughed at the woman. She wants privately based programs that will give folks like the waitress an opportunity "to go be a grown-up and go buy the insurance." The woman and her son, thankfully, were not evicted.
Fox News commentators simply could not understand how Barney Frank could have been so rude to an constituent guilty only of an innocent comparison to Hitler. They had no reaction that I have been able to find about Michael Steele or Lynn Jenkins.