Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Archive for August, 2009

I’ll Miss You Mel Martinez

August 31, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

It appears Charlie Crist has chosen George LeMieux to replace the now retired Mel Martinez and I feel like a little senate career retrospective is in order.

Martinez won his senate seat (just barely).  First, he beat out his republican rival Bill McCollum in a nasty campaign that included calling him “the new darling of the homosexual extremists” for supporting hate crimes legislation.  Then he eeked out a victory over his democratic opponent, Betty Castor, by accusing her of coddling a USF professor accused of supporting a terrorist organization.  (No jury ever convicted Sami Al-Arian, but he eventually plead to a lesser charge to get out of prison.)

Mel’s very first piece of legislation in the senate was The Incapacitated Person’s Legal Protection Act of 2005.  That was the legislation introduced to prevent Terri Schiavo’s husband from being able to put his brain dead wife out of her misery.  An aid from Mel’s office wrote a talking points memo for republicans that said it was “a great political issue.”  The memo was a scandal for Mel and the aid resigned.

Soon afterwards, Martinez was plagued with fundraising scandals.  The scandals resulted in $100,000 in fines for excess campaign contributions.  I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him though.  He still has several hundred thousand in his campaign fund (for the upcoming campaign that he is not running in) and he seems to be having no trouble finding ways to spend it.

Most distressing, I worry about the essential legislation Mel has sponsored and which hasn’t yet been passed.  He’s sponsored 10 bills since he’s been in the senate and cosponsored 94 more, yet only two of the cosponsored bills have gone anywhere.

Who is going to shepherd through S. 261, the bill making sure business travelers can bring their “wives” with them on business trips and write the expenses off on their taxes?  And which fiscal conservative is going to make sure that  S. 1530 gets passed?

To prohibit an agency or department of the United States from establishing or implementing an internal policy that discourages or prohibits the selection of a resort or vacation destination as the location for a conference or event, and for other purposes.

And, my god, who is going to make sure S. 1401 is passed. It may very well be the most important bill in the senate right now

To provide for the award of a gold medal on behalf of Congress to Arnold Palmer in recognition of his service to the Nation in promoting excellence and good sportsmanship in golf.

Oh Mel, Arnie Palmer and I will miss you terribly.

My Liberal Identity

August 28, 2009 By: Mel Category: Misc

How to Win a Fight With a Conservative is the ultimate survival guide for political arguments

My Liberal Identity:

You are a New Left Hipster, also known as a liberal, a Netroots activist, or a Daily Show fanatic. You believe that if we really want to defend American values, conservatives must be exposed, mocked, and assailed for every fanatical, puritanical, warmongering, Constitution-shredding ideal for which they stand.

Take the quiz at

The questions for this are hilarious. I’m not really a fan of MoveOn, but I am a big fan of the Daily Show.  And I am a HUGE fan of mocking people.

Thanks to Daisy Dead Air for turning me on to this.

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Inglourious Basterds as Self Examination

August 27, 2009 By: Mel Category: Art

(Note: I’m going to relate much of the storyline in this post.  While I don’t think that really spoils the movie, if you haven’t seen it yet you might want to wait to read this.)

Quentin Tarantino makes films about film.  He examines, exaggerates, and worships our most iconic film genres.  And in doing so, he examines us.  There is no genre more central to the American mythology than the war movie, particularly the World War II movie.  All the cliches are present.

There is a small band of elite fighters led by a sexy leading man.  There are victims to be saved.  There are beautiful women in danger.  There are good guys and there are bad guys and we all know who is who and who we are supposed to cheer for.

It is a Tarantino movie and so it is, of course, violent and funny.  There are beautifully shot scenes and there is intense dialogue.  But what makes the movie truly interesting are the ways in which Tarantino challenges the genre and the American mythology that goes with it.

Jews are Made Fully (In)human

The movie begins with a beautifully shot scene in the French countryside.  A dairy farmer (brilliantly played by Denis Menochet) and his gorgeous daughters are visited by the Nazis.  As the scene rolls on we discover that the dairy farmer is hiding Jews from his village.  These are the Jews we are expecting, victims hiding in a cellar.

Every war movie needs an elite group of soldiers to follow and this movie is no different.  Except in this movie the elite group is made up of Jews.  The actors who play these soldiers look more like rabbinical school students than warriors who are going to scalp Nazis.  Tarantino’s Jews are heroes, but they are sick, murderous, psychopaths and terrorists as well.

During the holocaust, it was the Nazis who marked Jews so that they could more easily pick them out for destruction.  But I don’t recall seeing a single yellow star in this movie.  In Tarantino’s world, it is the heroes who mark people.

Women Are Smart and Men are Destroyed by Their  Sexism

Like all war movies, most of the central characters are men. Unlike most war movies, the two central women characters are the ones who engineer the ultimate destruction of the bad guys. Shosanna Dreyfus (Mélanie Laurent) and Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger) both design separate and eventually interconnecting plots to destroy a movie theater filled with Nazis.

Most interestingly, it is men’s continual underestimation of women that causes their own destruction.  The main Nazi villain, Colonol Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) lets Shosanna get away once.  He doesn’t do it out of compassion.  (He has none).  She just isn’t important enough to go after.

Colonol Landa prides himself on being able to read people, break people, and hunt down Jews.  Yet, when he questions Shosanna, he reads nothing.  He does not see that she is a Jew.  He does not see that she is terrified and full of rage.  He just orders the adorable blonde girl some strudel and milk.  And that same blonde girl will engineer the destruction of his people.

When things go wrong for Bridget, there is a stand-off.  The stand-off is between a Nazi soldier and our hero, Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt).  The Nazi must decide whether or not to trust Raine (who wants to rescue the injured Bridget).  It never enters the Nazi’s mind that the danger could come from the woman.  He does not live to regret it.

And then there is the scene where Tarantino turns the story of Cinderella on its head.  The man who is coming to find you with that shoe is not a prince, but a psycho.  Sexism destroys the men, but the men still destroy the women.

The Bad Guys are More Human than the Good Guys

We see Nazis playing drinking games and celebrating the birth of a young soldier’s first child.  Fredrick Zoller (Daniel Brühl) is a Nazi hero who single-handedly killed hundreds of the enemy and who stars in a movie about his exploits. Yet he is humble and charming. And he is conflicted about having killed so many people.

Our hero, on the other hand, is not conflicted at all.  Raine has completely dehumanized the enemy.  His only mission is to kill Nazis.  He sees the world in black and white, good vs. Nazi.  He doesn’t care for rules.  He experiences no remorse.  He has no desire for diplomacy.  We  never see him being kind.  We hear nothing of his family.  There is nothing to humanize him.  Tarantino relies solely on the likability of Brad Pitt and our willingness to see the world in the same good vs. Nazi terms he does.

The Audience is Put Under the Microscope

Tarantino rubs our willingness to overlook people’s humanity in our faces.  A theater full of Nazis watch their hero as he kills person after person.  The audience cheers and laughs at the carnage.  We are disgusted by them.  And while they sit in the theater cheering, we do the same.

We cheer our heroes as they execute a terrorist plot to kill a theater full of people, not just soldiers but wives and girlfriends and anyone else.  Not only are we, the audience, laughing at merciless violence, we are rooting for men with bombs strapped to their bodies.  We are rooting for suicide bombers.

And when Shosanna shows a moment of empathy, when she recognizes the anguish of her enemy, it is a fatal mistake.  We accept, even expect, that the people who show the least amount of humanity survive, while those who show a moment of it perish.

It Asks Important Questions

It would be a mistake to read too much into the movie.  We won’t ever know what the maker’s intent was.  Still, the movie left me asking questions:

  • Why do we accept simplistic answers?
  • Why is it so easy to dehumanize people?
  • Why do we accept the idea that recognizing others humanity is dangerous?
  • Is it better to become a monster and live or keep your humanity and die?
  • Why do the most peace loving of us cheer violence?
  • Are any group of people more or less capable of violence?
  • Does “terrorism” depend on which side you’re on?
  • If we had been in Germany, would we have cheered on the soldier?  (Well, I would have been in a concentration camp, but those of you who aren’t Jewish, Gay, Black, Gypsy, disabled….  Do I know anyone who isn’t Jewish, Gay, Black, Gypsy, disabled…?)
  • How much of our support for the Israeli government depends on the myth that Jews aren’t capable of grotesque violence?

If Sentator Gregg Doesn’t See It, It Doesn’t Exist

August 26, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

Remember Senator Judd Gregg?  He’s the republican from New Hampshire that President Obama nominated for Secretary of Commerce and who later withdrew his name from consideration, saying:

I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me.

Fast forward a few months.  The Whitehouse claims that the stimulus is working.  Reports are that the worst of the crisis may be over.  Although many economists believe the stimulus stopped the hemorrhaging,  public opinion is still largely negative.

Supporters of the stimulus think that, if people see the projects supported by the stimulus money, those opinions may change.  So many of the projects have signs announcing that the project is funded by the stimulus.

Naturally, a bunch of anti-stimulus conservatives like Michelle Malkin got their panties in a bunch over using stimulus funding for signs.  Cause giving jobs to construction workers is bad enough, but hiring those bastards who make signs…outrageous!

Malkin referred to the signs as “tax-subsidized re-election billboards.”  Translation – conservatives are worried that stimulus supporters are right and, once people start seeing this money at work, their support for the stimulus will increase.  And that brings us back to Senator Gregg who introduced the following bill:

S. 1318
To prohibit the use of stimulus funds for signage indicating that a project is being carried out using those funds

If the people don’t know that those projects were paid for by the stimulus, maybe they won’t think Senator Gregg was such a dumbass for turning down the Secretary of Commerce position?

Update to Crapo Poker Bet Bills

August 25, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

It seems that democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado may have been at the (possibly imaginary) poker game where Senator Crapo’s poor poker playing skills resulted in a polar bear trophy bill.  Udall and Crapo (along with Senators Bennet, Bond, Chambliss, Tester, and Vitter) have introduced another bill.

S. 1058
To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to reduce the tax on beer to its pre-1991 level, and for other purposes.

Cause those poker games can get expensive. You tell them BYOB, but people still show up empty handed or with one lousy six pack of Coors. Senators are so cheap.

Carnival of the Godless

August 24, 2009 By: Mel Category: Misc, Religion

Hello all.  There is a new Carnival of the Godless up over at Radical Atheist.

I particularly enjoyed reading Slaughter a Cow Every 28 Days: How the Bible Ruined Western Society over at Greg Laden’s blog.  My favorite quote:

We don’t admit the possibility that the main difference between a criminal and a non criminal is not what they did but what you as an observer, friend, relative, cop, employer, or whatever happen to know about the person.

Also, the Atheist Blogger links to a hilarious video of flying rabbis.  It is not to be missed.

Technorati Test

August 22, 2009 By: Mel Category: Misc


Really Senator Crapo?

August 21, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

Mike Crapo is a senator from Idaho.  You may remember him as being one of the Republicans who voted against Sonia Sotomayor because she was going to be an “activist judge” and take away peoples guns and make all the fairies disappear from the world.

So I was perusing the senate bills the other day and came across this terribly important piece of legislation submitted by said Crapo:

S. 1395
To amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to allow importation of polar bear trophies taken in sport hunts in Canada before the date on which the polar bear was determined to be a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

That’s right.  There are millions of people without health insurance.  There are millions of children in poverty.  We have an economic crisis and two wars.  But Senator Mike Crapo is using his time (and taxpayer money) to ensure that old, dead, stuffed polar bear “trophies” can be imported.

You get the feeling this was a poker game gone bad:

Crapo:  This basement poker room rocks Bill.

Bill:  Nice eh.  Would have been even nicer if customs would have let me bring in that polar bear trophy.  I had that corner saved for him.

Crapo:  Would have looked great next to the 47 moose heads on that wall.

Bill:  Heh.  You’re a senator.  Can’t you do something about those damn hippies?

Crapo:  I’m a senator I can’t just do favors for friends.

Bill: Tell you what.  I win the next hand, you take care of my polar bear problem.

Crapo:  Ok.  But if I win, you drive your tractor in a dress.

Bill:  Deal.

If this bill makes it out of committee…

Are We Capable of Democracy?

August 18, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

All these town hall meetings have got me thinking about whether or not people are capable of democracy.

Plato certainly didn’t think so.  He thought we should be ruled by a group of philosopher kings.  Our founding fathers didn’t think so either.  They thought only white, male landholders were capable of making those kinds of decisions.  Marx and Guevara, who ostensibly believed in us workers being capable of running our own lives, thought we needed a “vanguard” to shepherd us poor schleps into a higher plain of being first.

It’s easy to look at the screaming maniacs from the town hall meetings and conclude that some people are beyond reason.  And there is no doubt that majorities of people have supported reprehensible things.  But I still maintain that we should trust democracy.

If not democracy, what?  If only certain people can make decisions, who?  Who gets to decide who is capable and who isn’t? Shall we have tests like Plato wanted?  They have tests to get into Yale.  Both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush passed those tests.  Pretty much everyone can find something to dislike there.

Shall we have property ownership be the criteria as the founding fathers suggested?  They thought property owners were responsible businessmen who knew how to manage money.  They apparently had no issue with how some of those responsible businessmen obtained their property or what they did with it.  (Can you say massacres and slavery?)  And we all know how that “vanguard” turned out for the communists.

No.  The only hope we have is for everyone to have a say.

The problem is not that we are incapable of democracy.  The problem is that we have no practice actually participating in one.

Some of us get up off our butts to vote every few years.  Many don’t even do that.  The rest of the time we disappear into our homes.  We barely pay attention to what our supposed representatives do.  We allow talking heads on the cable channels to do our debating for us (if you can call that debating, and if we even watch the news at all).

Imagine if we had town halls all the time.  Imagine if those people in the town halls were people you saw all the time.  How many would feel comfortable screaming like nutters if they knew they would have to see everyone again?  And wouldn’t the rest of the group come up with a way to deal with the nutters if they kept coming back every week?

It is the process of participating in a democracy that teaches you the skills to make a democracy work.  It is being involved in governance that informs people.  That rage, frustration, and powerlessness we feel when the government doesn’t seem to be representing us is alleviated only by actually participating in the decisions that affect our lives.

We are capable of democracy, but we need to stop abdicating our responsibilities to representatives and talking heads.

Obama vs. Obama on Gay Marriage

August 13, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics, Religion

President Obama does not support gay marriage.  And the only justification for this prejudice that he has ever given, to my knowledge, is his faith.

The Advocate reports that, during Obama’s meeting with the Pope, he claimed to be “’wrestling’ with his Christian faith and ‘concern for gays and lesbians.'”  In the chapter on faith of his book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama writes about an interview where he spoke about his “religious traditions in explaining” his position on gay marriage.

Ironically, earlier in the very same chapter, Obama himself spells out why religious tradition is an unacceptable justification for a political position.

What our deliberative, pluralistic democracy does demand is that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals must be subject to argument and amenable to reason. If I am opposed to abortion for religious reasons and seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God’s will and expect that argument to carry the day. If I want others to listen to me, then I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

He refers to his principle as “ground rules for collaboration.”  I think they are spot on.  I just wish President Obama would abide by them.