Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Middle-aged guys in letter jackets . . .

You know how there are always guys who run around in their old letter jackets because they went to the state tournament in baskeball once and it's the most memorable thing they ever did - or will ever do, for that matter? Boy these guys are sad sacks. Keep the image in mind and consider:
Bush Hails Blogosphere

Until now, I don't think President Bush has commented publicly on the 60 Minutes/National Guard story. But the Drudge Report has excerpts from Bill Sammon's new book, Strategery, in which both Bush and Karl Rove talk about the document scandal: . . .

So begins another bit of wankery at Powerline. The boys love to live in the thrilling days of yesteryear. Ok, let's have a show of hands: who thinks that Powerline's big break is still remotely interesting? Let's see, there's Peter, Wendy, and Tink. That's three. Anybody else? Spot didn't think so.

Spotty would much rather hear you fellas own up to recent comments by Francis Fukuyama, William Kristol, and William F. Buckley about the failure of the Iraq war. So far, nothing from you.

If a neo-con falls in the forest, and it doesn't get reported in the echo chamber; it still happened.

You mean it's not over?

Francis Fukuyama wrote a book The End of History and the Last Man in which he argued that historical development of the world was over, and guess what? We won! Liberal Western democracy would be the dominent philosophy of government for, like, forever! Neo-cons, of course, loved the book and used it as their testament for an interventionist foreign policy and the invasion of Iraq.

Now Fukuyama says well sorry, I may not have gotten that exactly right. In fact, a lot of people misunderstood me, and they have made a terrible mess.
The way the cold war ended shaped the thinking of supporters of the Iraq war, including younger neoconservatives like William Kristol and Robert Kagan, in two ways. First, it seems to have created an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow at the core and would crumble with a small push from outside. The model for this was Romania under the Ceausescus: once the wicked witch was dead, the munchkins would rise up and start singing joyously about their liberation. As Kristol and Kagan put it in their 2000 book "Present Dangers": "To many the idea of America using its power to promote changes of regime in nations ruled by dictators rings of utopianism. But in fact, it is eminently realistic. There is something perverse in declaring the impossibility of promoting democratic change abroad in light of the record of the past three decades."

This overoptimism about postwar transitions to democracy helps explain the Bush administration's incomprehensible failure to plan adequately for the insurgency that subsequently emerged in Iraq. The war's supporters seemed to think that democracy was a kind of default condition to which societies reverted once the heavy lifting of coercive regime change occurred, rather than a long-term process of institution-building and reform. While they now assert that they knew all along that the democratic transformation of Iraq would be long and hard, they were clearly taken by surprise. According to George Packer's recent book on Iraq, "The Assassins' Gate," the Pentagon planned a drawdown of American forces to some 25,000 troops by the end of the summer following the invasion.

. . .

"The End of History," in other words, presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.

These quotations are from a New York Times Sunday Magazine article by Fukuyama a week ago.

Spotty says when the rats start donning life jackets you know the ship is going down.

Tags: laments the

Let the revisionism begin!

Commandante Kristol Unholsters His Cap Pistol by James Wolcott.

Second team Spotty is awarded . . .

Three letters in the Star Tribune today, February 28th. Together, they earn the second team Spotty awarded in 2006.
Enabling hate

So Gov. Tim Pawlenty attended a funeral and "was appalled by the behavior and message and insensitivity of the protesters" (Star Tribune, Feb. 24), yet he sees no connection between his support for the constitutional amendment to ban marriage or civil unions for gay couples and the division and hatred it promotes -- such as the antigay picketers at the soldier's funeral last week in Anoka.

Maybe if we called it a fee rather than a marriage or a union, he'd support it.


Sharing a message

Outside a military funeral, they chant "God hates America." We easily recognize the hate in the actions of this antigay group from a Kansas church. Jesus weeps.

Those wanting the gay-marriage-ban amendment are more subtle in their approach. Though our law already prohibits gay marriage, they tear apart churches over this amendment issue, all the while claiming not to hate gays. Jesus weeps.


This is nothing new

I applaud the state governments that are taking steps to outlaw or limit distasteful funeral protests.

However, I would like to point out that the Westboro Baptist Church has been protesting funerals for more than a decade and has visited Minnesota before. Families that have lost a gay son or daughter have had to deal with this group's demeaning tactics while they said goodbye to their loved ones.

Unfortunately, it took the picketing of military funerals before any legislative action was considered. Everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, should be afforded the right to pay their final respects to the people they love in peace.


Ryan makes an especially interesting point. The Westboro Baptist protesters have been around for a while. They were going to picket the Eden Prairie high school graduation at Northrup last year but got mixed up and went to the St. Paul campus; the chickens laid no eggs for a week thereafter.

Eden Prairie High's sin? It has a gay and lesbian student organization.


Monday, February 27, 2006

An open letter . . .

. . . to Peter, Wendy, and Tink. When are you guys going to discuss William F. Buckley's comments on NRO saying (what a lot of people have said for a long time) that the war in Iraq is lost? You've been talking about everything but this, like a bunch of school boys whistling past the graveyard.

He was called to the bar . . .

The always hysterical and sometimes entertaining Tink starts a post today:

Yesterday Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman published his third column on the two Midwest Heroes ads that give voice to the sentiments of Iraq war veterans and Gold Star Families who support the war. Coleman criticizes the advertisements as "propaganda" and heaps abuse on them, although he has yet to demonstrate anything more than his disagreement with their message. Let's name the rhetorical device "nicking," in tribute to the closely related devices of "borking" and "milbanking." "Nicking" combines the two, consisting of someone with no particular knowledge of a subject opining about it based on abusive attacks rather than relevant facts.

Tink goes on to whine at considerable length about Coleman's (and other's) criticism of the commercials.

Boys and girls, Spotty wants to tell you about the “Texas cockroach defense.” It is a tactic in litigation that says
If you don’t have a defense, just crawl all over the plaintiff or the prosecutor. And that is what Tink and the rest of the crew in Never Never Land are trying to do. Tink even writes to Kate Parry, the Readers Rep. at the Strib, with his ankle biting.

In his columns, Coleman makes three broad points. In the first commercial, Coleman writes, misleading claims are made. Both WCCO and KSTP agree with that. In the second, Coleman points out that not all members of Gold Star families support the war. Also demonstrably true. In the third, Coleman basically quotes from correspondence he has received from vets expressing doubts or opposition to the enterprise.

Tink’s shuck and jive does not touch these basic points, because it can’t. The best Tink can do is give us an impression of a pettifogging lawyer singing a patter song in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

Spot is actually disappointed in Tink. Spotty thought that Tink would have picked up on the William Buckley talking points about why the US failed in Iraq by now.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Is Sticks a Cubs fan?

Spot has figured out that Captain Fishsticks reprints his columns from the Pioneer Press in his blog. That’s so sad, a real cry for attention. Sticks had a recent column/blogpost on, what else, school vouchers. He writes about the fact that Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, and state Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan intend to reintroduce their education bill to, inter alia, establish a scheme of private school vouchers.

Sticks is so excited he can’t keep his hands off himself.

From the column:
Last week, as point person for the Republican "Students First" initiative, Buesgens stood flanked and supported by more than a dozen Republican legislators, including House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon. He addressed not just Capitol reporters, but a room jam-packed with private school students, interested parents, movers and shakers from conservative coalitions, and a whole lot of people of color. [ed: how many Sticks?]

Remember, these are among the bright lights who brought you the “health impact fee.” Sticks blithely asserts that private school vouchers – including those used for religious schools – do not violate the establishment or free exercise clauses of the federal constitution. We can just lay that aside because, boys and girls, a voucher program can’t even get out of town in Minnesota. Spot has written about Article XIII, Secs. 1 and 2 of the Minnesota Constitution many times; vouchers are not constitutional in this state. There are so many links that Spot will not bother to provide them; just run a search on “school vouchers” in the search box above, or try it at Retire Geoff Michel.

On top of that, this year’s session is a short one, and not a “funding” session. Legislators from both parties will have little patience for the religious fundies or the social Darwinist hunter gatherers like Sticks.

Sorry to disappoint you Sticks, but you’ll have better luck rooting for the Cubs.

A team Spotty . . .

Lotsa good letters today (Friday) in the Strib. A team Spotty is awarded for these three letters, the first one is the “letter of the day.”
In the middle of World War II, his country locked in a real war with a real "evil empire," British Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote in a telegram:

"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgement of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government."

George W. Bush was not yet born when Churchill wrote those words, but for once he seems to have taken a lesson from history. From the wrong side. His "war on terrorism," which will probably see victory about the same time as we win the wars on drugs and crime, promises to construct the foundation of a new totalitarian government.


Here’s a letter picking up on something missed in Spot’s commenting on Katie’s last column.
Thanks to Star Tribune's Katherine Kersten for a rare moment of honesty about the way Republicans think. In response to DFL criticisms of the TV ads run by Minnesota Families United, Kersten says in her Feb. 23 column: "The DFL isn't bothering to present its version of the facts in an ad of its own."

There are facts: like scientific facts and the facts on the ground in Iraq -- where we are on the verge of civil war. And then there is the Republican "version" of the facts. In total honesty Kersten can ask: Why can't DFLers just make up their own version of the facts, too?


And finally, one that addresses the fruits of five-years of fear-mongering.
Is the xenophobic response to the ports plan racist? Clearly. But what can our government expect? Politicians on both sides have spent five years creating this racism in order to scare the American people into voting not with their brains, but with their fear. Specific language has been systematically used by our president, his adviser and some in the opposition party to erode the lines of delineation between a few really bad apples and all Arabs.

We see results of this effort in letters decrying media bias in favor of Muslims, or blurring "opposition" and "treason." Local Muslims tell us that this effect has, in fact, come home to roost. As television ads remind us, it's easy to use language that may not be completely honest in a persuasive way to accomplish your goals. Just don't blame anyone else when it comes back to bite you.



Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dictatorship of the Dead

Katie has had some time off, but she is back today, all vinegary and refreshed. It’s Katie’s first weigh in on the Progress for American Voter Fund commercials, the ones with the Iraq vets and the relatives of dead soldiers exhorting us to “complete the mission” in Iraq. Spot has commented before here.

Katie’s bleating today is about the DFL’s reaction to the commercials. In particular, DFL party chair Brian Melendez comes in for criticism. Here’s what the DFL website reports about his comments:


ST. PAUL (2/16/06) – Today, DFL Chair Brian Melendez called on all Minnesota TV stations to follow the lead of KSTP TV and pull the ‘Midwest Heroes’ ad off the air. He was joined at a press conference at the State Capitol by Congressional candidate and veteran Tim Walz.

The ad states that the media only reports negative stories, a comment that is patently untrue. As reported on WCCO’s ‘Reality Check,’ 4 out of 10 news stories are positive and the majority of Sunday political news show commentators are conservative.

The ad then states that the enemy in Iraq are the same terrorists responsible for 9/11, and images of Saddam Hussein are shown along with the Twin Towers. This tactic is misleading at best, as the 9/11 Commission Report states that there is no connection between Iraq and the 9/11 terrorist attack.

“Minnesota has the chance to take a stand against this kind of misleading propaganda,” said DFL Chair Brian Melendez. “Right now, our state is a testing ground for this particular ad, and we can be sure that many more will follow this election season. Minnesota TV stations should pull this ad and send the message that we will not tolerate this kind of swiftboating anymore.”

“WCCO has called this ad ‘misleading’ and only ‘partly true,’ said Chair Melendez.“ Well, partly false advertising insults Minnesotans intelligence. We won’t stand for propaganda that can’t be backed up with fact.”

Spot also read the email that Melendez apparently sent to DFL activists; it is reprinted by Tink; you can read it here. Spot doesn’t see the term un-American used by Melendez in either place as Katie and Tink claim he did, but Spotty did not see the press conference. Whether Melendez said it or not, Spotty will: the commercials are un-American. That’s not the ground that Spot would have chosen to fight on, but if Katie and Powerline want to rumble there, fine.

Katie and Tink feel all, like, wounded over the criticism of local boy Lt. Col. Bob Stephenson who appeared in one of the commercials. In Katie’s column, she wants us to believe that the commercials are the effort of a “grass roots” organization called the Minnesota Families United. But the people who produced and are running the very expensive commercials, and the full color mailings that have gone with them, are from (ready?) Washington, D.C. There is a website called www.MidwestHeroes.com (that Spot cannot get to load at present). But as Spot has observed before, however, the people behind the Progress for America Voter Fund are guys like Ken “Cakewalk” Adelman.

These are the same folks that brought you the commercial during the last campaign of President Bush hugging the child who lost her mother in the WTC bombings. As USA Today said, it was a pure emotional play. And these two commercials are, too. The purpose of the commercials is to short circuit the viewer’s ability to think rationally about the war, how we got in it, and how we’re going to get out.

Spotty says the commercials are un-American because they try to sand bag opponents of the warwith emotional arguments that try to cut off debate. As the old bromide says, Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

Actually, on second thought, maybe Katie and Powerline are right. Maybe astro-turfing and misleading appeals to emotion are now part of the American political landscape, at least for some people.

The events of just yesterday and today should tell us that Iraq is not getting better; it is perched on the verge of brutal, sectarian civil war, a war that will leave the country a far more effective breeding ground for terrorists than before. And it’s about time we ‘fessed up to having a role in igniting it.

And our service personnel who have been killed? Tragic, grim, heart breaking. But they are not martyrs. The dead and those who mourn them cannot control the living. That would be a dictatorship of the dead.


Take another look . . .

There is a sentence at minvolved's Morning Read today that says Spotty agrees with Bush. Jeebus, not so loud, CP! Spot is not angling for memebership in MOB. There were a few DLers, well probably more than a few of them, who disagreed last night with Spot's view of the Dubai Ports World kerfluffle.

It is true that Bush's handling of the approval of the takeover - including his threat to veto any efforts to quash the deal - was inept and ham-handed, but that is hardly a distinguishing factor in the pantheon of Bush decision making. It is also true that a lot of Bush's "base" is enraged, which Spot supposes is a good thing.

The latest things that Spot has been hearing on the breezes is the ports operation approval was just tit-for-tat with the UAE because of of the extensive use of port and other facilities there by the US military. So let's see, the UAE is permitting the US to be a coaling station in its supply line to our troops in the field in Iraq and Afghanistan. And in exchange for that, we'll permit the UAE to do some business in the US. Works for Spot.

The second-to-last thing that Spot wants is troops in Iraq. The very last thing he wants is poorly supplied troops in Iraq.

Update: Spotty says go read this article in the Notion by the Nation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Kum ba yah . . .

Ok, boys and girls; this is a tough one for Spot to write. People all over the political spectrum are going crazy over the fact that a company out of Dubai is set to take over the operation of six major ports in the United States.

The reason this is tough for Spot to write is not because of the proposed management takeover, but rather because he agrees with George W. Bush on this one. Spotty is not sure that has ever happened before, and it is a frightening prospect to face.

It is a mark of how xenophobic and fear-ridden we have become – for which Spotty does blame George W. Bush – that the announcement that Dubai Ports World would, upon acquisition of a British firm, operate these ports has created such a knee-jerk firestorm of opposition.

Even Al Franken got into the act today. When the administration said that Dubai Ports World was being held to a different standard than the current operator, Franken said Yes, but that’s because it’s a Middle Eastern country! Yuk, yuk.

The United States has long had a regime of regulating and limiting foreign investment in industries sensitive to national security, including maritime interests. This transaction was examined and approved by the Treasury Department, just as the one putting the British company in as an operator would have been.

What people are complaining about, and what Franken meant, is that Dubai, part of the UAE, is in an Arab country, or even worse, a Muslim one. Frankly, this is just bigoted. There are perhaps reasons to second guess the administration on its call, but not simply because Dubai is a Middle Eastern country.

Boys and girls, we don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of having better relations with Middle Eastern countries in this generation or the next if decisions are made on the basis of the public’s xenophobic hysteria. Come on liberals, where is your nuance?

By the way, it will still be the Keystone Kops at the Department of Homeland Security (actually that’s not fair; there are a lot of really good people working border enforcement, customs, immigration, and Coast Guard) in charge of security. The real problem is the administration’s inept efforts to beef up port security in the first place.

And don’t worry, the ports will not be overrun by a bunch of Ay-rabs. US immigration law will limit labor immigration for ports work to Dubai Ports World managerial people and perhaps some specialists in port operations.

Settle down; take a pill; get some rest.


Spotty heard a couple of more points on the radio: Jonathan Alter says that UAE ports were used to transship nuclear material. Nothing has ever been smuggled in or out of a US port? How about a little condemnation of the source of ther material, our buddy Pakistan? And there were a couple of hijackers on 9/11 from the UAE. How about the two US citizens and the permanent resident who were arrested this week on terrorism charges? Bullshit generalization are just that: bullshit.


Monday, February 20, 2006

The Green Fields of France

A poem/song by Australian Eric Bogle, written in the 70s:

Well, how do you do Private William McBride?
Do you mind if I sit here down by your graveside?
And rest for awhile neath the warm summer sun
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done

And I see by your gravestone, you're only nineteen
When you joined the great fallen in nineteen sixteen
Well I hope you died quickly, I hope you died clean
Or poor Willy Mcbride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they beat the drums slowly?
Did they play the pipes lowly?
Did they bugles carry you over as they lowered you down?
And did the band play 'The Last Post' in chorus?
Did the pipes play 'The Flowers Of The Forest'?

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind?
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And though you died back in nineteen-sixteen
In that faithful heart are you always nineteen?

Or are you a stranger without a name?
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane
In an old photograph, torn and tattered, and stained.
And faded to yellow in a brown leather frame.

Did they beat the drums slowly?
Did they play the pipes lowly?
Did they bugles carry you over as they lowered you down?
And did the band play 'The Last Post' in chorus?
Did the pipes play 'The Flowers Of The Forest'?

Well the sun's shining down on these green fields of France
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance
The trenches have vanished long under the plow
There's no gas, no barb wire, there's no guns firing now

But here in this graveyard that's still no-man's land
The countless white crosses stand mute in the sand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man
The whole generation was butchered and damned

Did they beat the drums slowly?
Did they play the pipes lowly?
Did they bugles carry you over as they lowered you down?
And did the band play 'The Last Post' in chorus?
Did the pipes play 'The Flowers Of The Forest'?

And I can't help but wonder young Willy McBride
Do those that lie here know why that they died?
And did they really believe you when you told them the cause
Did they really believe that this war would end wars?

Well the suffering, and the sorrow, the glory of pain
The killing and dying they were all done in vain
For young Willy McBride it's all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again...

Did they beat the drums slowly?
Did they play the pipes lowly?
Did they bugles carry you over as they lowered you down?
And did the band play 'The Last Post' in chorus?
Did the pipes play 'The Flowers Of The Forest'?

It made Spotty think of his post earlier today about the recent pro-war commercials running on Twin Cities television.

Thanks to Desi at Mia Culpa for the reminder.

Update: Be sure to check out the e.e. cummings poem in the comments.

Peter, Wendy, and Tink

In Never Never Land, where Peter, Wendy, and Tinkerbelle live, the United States is winning the war in Iraq. How do they know? Why, it’s plain from listening to the television commercials by the Progress for America Voter Fund. There are two of these commercials you know, the first one involving some returning vets who tell us that the US is “making progress” in Iraq, and the second featuring parents of some of the soldiers killed in Iraq.

Just a couple of days ago, Spot got a full-color flyer in the mail from the same group, making the same claims: a mass murderer is in prison (true enough, but remember he was our thug up to the time Iraq invaded Kuwait), thousands of al-Qaeda terrorists have been captured or killed (well, the US has captured and killed a lot of people, but it is pretty clear that some of them, perhaps most of them, weren’t al-Qaeda), Iraqi hospitals and schools have opened (Halliburton painted a few school buildings, big whoop; it’s a good thing those hospitals are open to treat the wounded from all the sectarian violence!), an new constitution is in place (virtually guaranteeing further sectarian violence and the ultimate disintegration of Iraq), and eleven million people have voted (ditto).

The human capacity for self-delusion is breathtaking. And you won’t find a better exemplar than Tink. Tink writes hysterically about Nick Coleman’s two “hysterical” columns about the commercials. Hysterical laughter. Sorry. Tink doesn’t really rebut any of the assertions made by Coleman; Tink just mostly makes ad hominem on Coleman. Coleman points out that in the second commercial, one of the Gold Star mothers pleading that we send more meat into the grinder (Spotty’s words, not Coleman’s) is a step-mom, and that the biological mom is opposed to the war. The best that Tink can do is spit and sputter and tell us, well, there were real moms in there, too!

Coleman said plainly that he didn’t intend to denigrate or minimize the suffering of any family member, step or otherwise, that has had someone killed in action.

Focusing on the second commercial for a moment – the one with the grieving families – Spot is going to be a direct as he ever has been. No one wants the tragic or untimely death of a loved one to seem random, senseless, or unnecessary. That’s why some people talk about it being God’s unknowable plan (and for whom God must be a mean sumbitch), why foundations are formed and scholarships established to memorialize the lost loved one.

That is exactly what the people in this commercial are trying to accomplish; one of the mothers says so explicitly. But heaping more bloody corpses and maimed lives on the pile will bring no honor to the deaths already mourned. It is just more death and maiming. It is very difficult to accept that your child was killed by mendacity and ineptness. But there it is.

And what of the Progress for America Voter Fund? Well as Coleman points out, its first chairman was Ken Adelman. Adelman, Adelman. Where has Spot heard that name before? Of course! It’s Ken “Cakewalk” Adelman, that same Republican operative who told the Congress that the war in Iraq would be, well, a cakewalk. With leadership like that, the PAVF has got be purveyors of solid information. Right?


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

thumpa thumpa thumpa thumpa thumpa . . .

Here's Uschi Disi, the German biathlete, and her American admirer Mark Yost. In his last post, Spot discussed Yost's "guest column" at Captain Fishstick's place describing the biathlon. Yost also says this:
Not only do the biathletes ski as fast as their cross-country counterparts, but they have to be in good enough shape to slow down their heart rate, steady their hand, and shoot a target 25 meters away with a .22 caliber rifle (in other words, this is not a sport for Mitch Berg or David Strom).
Damn, now that's funny.

Social Darwinist hunter gatherers.

Boys and girls, you have undoubtedly heard Spotty refer to conservatives or libertarians as social Darwinist hunter gatherers. But Spot didn’t realize that it is literally true. Here’s Mark Yost, Captain Fishsticks’s confederate at the Pioneer Press, in a guest column over at Stick’s place:
What will I blog on? Biathlon, of course. It’s the only sport that really matters during the Winter Olympics. And because it involves guns, the MSM can’t be counted on to give it the coverage it deserves.
Yost goes on to wax orgasmic about the biathlon competition at the Winter Olympics. Yeah, scuttling through the woods and periodically stopping to shoot at stuff is the absolute zenith of the Olympic ideal! No need, really, for any other events. It’s just too bad that the competitors don’t shoot at each other, giving new meaning to the term “elimination round!” The US Olympic Committee could hire the veep as a coach.

Spot is soliciting nomination for liberal Olympic events. Spotty offers short track relay speed skating.


Monday, February 13, 2006

Once upon a time . . .

Okay boys and girls, has a sitting Vice President of the United States ever shot another person before? If so, who and when?

Update: The answer is all over the newspapers this morning: Aaron Burr. But CP does pose a good follow-on question in the comments. Readers?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Vice-president Elmer Fudd . . .

. . . shoots a hunting companion. That 's a shameless rip-off of a James Wolcott headline. You can read the Wolcott post here.

Third Spotty in two days!

For a comment on the blog Altercation, Dr. Ken Bridges earns a Spotty:
Name: Dr. Ken Bridges
Hometown: El Dorado, AR

As a historian, I cannot help but be amused by the absolute shock of many commentators that some speakers took a political tone at Coretta Scott King's funeral. The Funeral Oration of Pericles during the Peloponnesian War is considered some of the finest oratory of the ancient age. Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was delivered at the dedication of a cemetery. Politics at funerals is nothing new. No, funerals in our society are not meant to make people feel comfortable. They are supposed to make you remember the life of the deceased and understand what that life meant to you. If Martin Luther King, Jr., were alive today, what would these conservative commentators be saying about him? Would they be quoting his great speeches or lauding his nonviolence? No, they would be questioning his sincerity and his effectiveness. They would be denouncing him as a radical and a hypocrite, just like they do with Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, and the NAACP. The King Family endured criticism for years, but always turned the other cheek and pressed on with their work. But all of this criticism from conservatives, as usual, overlooks the real issues -- what was Coretta Scott King's life dedicated to? It was a life dedicated to civil rights and equal justice for everyone, poor and rich, black and white. Martin Luther King wrote in "Letter from Birmingham Jail" that his goal was to create tension, the kind of inner mental and spiritual tension that would lead to growth. We need that kind of spiritual and intellectual growth today. It is time that we took the example of the Kings and rise above the dark shadows of fear and into the light of truth and moral courage. We could use the inspiration of King instad of the desperation of Bush.

Speaking of cartoon figures . . .

Michele Bachmann (one “l,” two “n”s) opines in an interview in a column in today’s Star Tribune Opinion Exchange section that she is a uniter for pushing an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution banning gay marriage and civil unions. See, she says, Orthodox Muslim and Jewish communities, the Hmong community, the Catholic church, Somalis (see Muslims above) .Latinos (see Catholic Church above) and mainline Protestants came to a rally to support the man – woman only idea.

Sure, there is the odd individual, Catholic nun or Lutheran pastor (are you listening Dean Johnson?) who is against the amendment idea, but hey, they are clearly out-of-the-mainstream wackos! Not at all like “the faithful who make up the congregations.” It is a regrettable fact that organized religion has often stood in the way of civil rights in the name of doctrinal orthodoxy. You can debate how “religious” that really is, but Spotty’s answer is not very.

Senator Bachmann makes a couple of really disingenuous points. She says that permitting gay civil unions would encourage discrimination lawsuits by polygamists and pedophiles. Shades of man-on-dog Rick Santorum! That argument is beneath contempt. It is pure demagoguery to equate same-sex attraction with pedophilia. It is no more accurate than saying – perhaps less so – that the Catholic priesthood should be abolished because it encourages pedophilia.

The senator also says civil unions are the same as marriage, that you might as well “put an equal sign between them,” and that the public has a right to vote on the definitions of them. She then trots out the old saw about “activist judges” acting as a “super-legislature.” According to Bachmann, she is just protecting the “freedom of the people.” Ooh, somebody had her irony warning buzzer turned off!

One of the reasons we have enshrined the precept of equal protection in the United States is that it is a core belief of ours that unpopular minorities are entitled to their little place in the sun, too. And no crusading preacher or politician should be able to make it otherwise, although Lord knows they have tried.

The tide is already turning in favor of gay rights. It may be a generational thing. It would be too bad if it took that long. But one thing is certain. Michele Bachmann’s place in history is secure. It is in the rogue’s gallery of misogynists, racists, and bigots of all kinds, and the demagogue politicians who incite them.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

On the other hand . . .

In a post entitled Worldwide Cartoon Frenzy, Johnny Rocketseed says this:
. . . For whatever reasons, Muslim leaders around the world have seized on the mostly-innocuous cartoons to advance the view that, in such matters at least, non-Muslims are bound to the standards imposed by Islamic theology.

One very fundamental point that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle is that Mohammed was an important historical figure. We're not talking here about creating images of a supernatural God; we're talking about a human being who was important largely as a military leader. If Muslims don't want to create drawings, statues, etc., of Mohammed, fine. But to say that no one else can do so is like trying to prohibit depictions of, say, George Washington. Ridiculous, in other words.
Shocking, Johnny, just shocking! Imagine: religious adherents thinking that their tenets should be imposed on others! Oh wait, Christian fundamentalists do that too: ban abortions, bay gay marriage, pray in school, breach the wall between church and state.

What fatuous sanctimonious scrubbery.

Obviously, Muslims do not view Mohammed as simply a "military leader." The West has been dissing Mohammed for centuries, and Muslims are a little touchy about it. Can you blame them? How would Christians and Jews react to the depiction of Abraham as a low life (he did father a child with a household servant - think Strom Thurmond - and was prepared to kill his own son)? Ok, bad example; Abraham is revered by Muslims, Jews and Christians. Or how about when a monument of the Ten Commandments is removed from a southern courthouse? That got some people riled up, too.

Johnny, like many conservatives, has little inclination or ability to emphathize with anyone; it comes from believing that you are always right.

A rare to-fer . . .

Today's Star Tribune yields a rare double - Spotty. The second 0ne is awarded to Spot's blogger buddy, Eva Young (Dump Michele Bachmann and Lloydletta's Nooz and Comments) for this letter:
Tacky Tinklenberg

Sixth District House candidate Elwyn Tinklenberg's theatrics during Patty Wetterling's press conference announcing she would be a candidate for that seat as well were tacky to the extreme and the marks of a desperate campaign (Star Tribune, Feb. 4).

Going to an opposing candidate's press conference and demanding to use the microphone is tacky. A confident candidate would have welcomed Wetterling into the race and said he was looking forward to debating the issues.

A Spotty is awarded to . . .

Chris Rowley, an American living in Denmark, earns a Spotty for this "letter of the day" in the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
As a expat living in Copenhagen, Denmark, over the last four years, I have been shocked by the overt racism in Danish society. The Mohammed cartoons are simply one example.

A large percentage of Danes do not even understand that prejudice toward Muslims is offensive or wrong. It is simply part of life here. But the ill-advised publishing of the Mohammed cartoons has placed racism, diversity and freedom of speech on top of the national dialogue.

We must remember that Europe is only now beginning to experience diversity like we have experienced in the United States. For example, in Denmark, Muslims from Turkey, attracted by jobs, flooded the country in the 1970s. Until the '70s, Denmark had been completely homogeneous, white and virtually 100 percent Christian for hundreds of years. The Danes never thought the workers would stay when the work dried up. They did. This created a major problem for Danish society. What was once thought of as a temporary problem, became permanent. Denmark's once-homogeneous society began struggling to find a balance between its Christian roots and the Islamic faith and culture of its new immigrants.

Much like our own country, Denmark is learning to understand diversity. Although by contrast, it has just begun its education. Much like our own history, their education could, and will likely, be painful. My hope is that Danish society takes this incident to heart and learns to be more open-minded, more tolerant and more welcoming to diversity within its borders.
Well said Chris.


Thursday, February 09, 2006

Just like an enema . . .

Jeebus, Katie really uncorked one today. It must have felt really, really good. In a column entitled West must mull cost of standing up for freedom, Katie tries to find a connection among 1) a right wing newspaper in Denmark that baited Muslims everywhere with a series of inflammatory cartoons, 2) 9/11, and 3) the dismissal of School Marm Superior Cheri Pierson-Yecke.

The thread, Katie tells us, is cultural relativism! Whodda guessed?

According to Katie, the West had better own up to its superiority in “important ways,” or apparently, the Muslims will come and kill us all. Western superiority? That sound suspiciously like Kipling’s
The White Man’s Burden, the opening stanza of which reads:
Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
Of course, a lot of the current troubles in the Middle East can be traced to the helpfulness of the West – especially Britain – after the First World War. And Katie thinks we’ll improve things now with more cultural imperialism. Throw more gasoline on that fire! It might go out!

As Juan Cole puts it in a recent Salon article:
Muslim touchiness about Western insults to the prophet Mohammed must be understood in historical context. Most Muslim societies have spent the past two centuries either under European rule or heavy European influence, and most colonial masters and their helpmeets among the missionaries were not shy about letting local people know exactly how barbaric they thought the Muslim faith was. The colonized still smart from the notorious signs outside European clubs in the colonial era, such as the one in Calcutta that said, "Dogs and Indians not allowed."
As Katie says, the Danish newspaper that published the cartoons did so as a “test.” In other words, it was trying to see if it could provoke a reaction. Well, it did. People all over the political spectrum are now trying to tell us what the reaction means, and that certainly includes Katie. Isn’t it funny how the right wing seems most concerned about the reaction in Iran and Syria, where the US is already spoiling for a fight?

If we were to total up as of today, the West has killed a helluva lot more Muslims than the reverse, “the horror of 9/11” notwithstanding. We’re told that everything changed on 9/11, whereas in fact nothing did. We seem not a single step closer to solving the problem, and we have probably in fact retreated from a solution; Katie just wants to make it worse. Spot cannot figure out for the life of him why. Is it projection of her basest instincts on to others, as Sigmund Spot might say? Or maybe just ignorant cultural chauvinism?

In any case, it is way too damn dangerous to visit on an entire generation of school kids. Which brings us back to Cheri Pierson-Yecke.

Pierson-Yecke isn’t merely "too patriotic" to have survived in her job as Katie suggests; she is nationalistic and probably even nativist. She is also a creationist and anti-science, not a good thing in the state’s top educator. Our gain is Florida’s loss.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out Charles Quimby's comment to this post. Charles does a much better job than Spot of explaining the role of Pierson-Yecke and the Profiles of Learning in Kersten's remarks.

Tags: and want to start a

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Out damn Spot, indeed.

Out damn Spot is the title of a Fishsticks post responding to Spot’s own post Airy pomposity. Boy, that’s really good, Sticks! Spotty can imagine Captain Fishsticks sleeping walking in a fevered dream – unable to shake his guilty feelings because of his wretched incitement – just like Lady Macbeth.

To prove his point that “government produces no wealth,” Sticks falls back on a series of fourth grade arithmetic proofs that ignore the fact that little wealth creation or accumulation activity could occur absent the rule of law. To take one example, imagine an economy without intellectual property protections. Intellectual property is intangible property, and it is property at all only because the government says it is. Modern publishing would not exist if laws did not exist to protect works of authorship, works that include the Captain’s libertarian retchings.

Sticks says we should only buy government services that people would buy in a market. Well, different people would buy a different mix of services, and we sort that out in what is called the political process. Sticks’ problem is that he cannot account for every dime he pays in taxes in a return payoff for him.

But virtually everything that government does is of more benefit to people with wealth than those without it. Sticks’ oracle, the 19th century Frédéric Bastiat, doesn’t really help much in explaining the operation of a modern political economy, although Sticks’ efforts to rescue Bastiat from obscurity are touching.

Sticks also quarrels with Spot’s observation about Guns, Germs and Steel, the book by Jared Diamond. Sticks says it was wealth creation that created a need for civilization, not the other way around. Ah, which came first: the bean or the counter? It really doesn’t matter much. There would have been no incentive to grow the beans if some civilized method of protecting and counting them had not grown up right alongside those beans.

Libertarians just have an out-sized view of their own importance in achieving whatever success they have had. Take away the civilization that taxes pay for; pit Sticks against a guy who’s been living on the streets of Detroit for ten years, and watch what happens.

Well, that enough for now. Spotty has to go out and create some wealth.


Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Airy pomposity . . .

The great philosopher king Captain Fishsticks had a post a few days ago about a couple of letter writers to the Pioneer Press who had the temerity to question a column that he had written in the Pee Pee. Specifically, the letters took exception to this statement:
The flaws in liberal economic theory are many. Liberal economics ignores the most fundamental of observations — government produces no wealth. Government can redistribute no wealth until someone else creates it. Wealth is a dynamic resource renewed by private investment in the private sector that produces it.
Part of Sticks’ response to the letters is reproduced here:
The second writer commits much the same confusion but adds the insidious germ that individual accomplishment “owes” something to society. Unconsciously, perhaps, playing the class envy card, the writer says that those who become wealthy had the help of both government and the people that work for them. True, but they paid taxes (ideally in proportion to the service they received), and they paid the people that worked for them (ideally in proportion to their contribution to wealth creation).

What this letter writer seems to imply is that the “wealthy” then owe something more. That notion supports my contention that government can produce nothing until it takes wealth, through taxation, from someone else. The “something more” is discretionary wealth produced outside of government.

That is not to argue that government should not tax, but it is to argue that government should tax only for criteria-based public goods (services that people would pay for even if government did not provide them) and not for “something more” that simply redistributes wealth.
Sticks writes with such airy pomposity that Spot is surprised that Sticks has not just floated off by now! So liebschen (sorry, wrong channel), boys and girls, is Sticks right? Well, everyone knows that tax payments just go into a big hole in the ground and are never seen again, right? The name of the hole is Halliburton!

Well, not really. But Halliburton, Bechtel, Lockheed Martin, and all the other contractor-hogs at the public trough make the best examples of redistribution of wealth. Not the single mothers and their children or the elderly or the disabled. Richard P., the veep, the flatliner - did he create all his wealth, or did he just get it redistributed his way?

Of course government spending is just like private sector spending. Procurements, salaries and wages, agricultural subsidies (sigh), entitlements, and every other thing the government spends money on goes right back into the economy. Well, except all the interest on the public debt that W. & Co. has done so much to increase and that is paid to the Chinese and other foreign lenders!

Let’s assume for a moment that the federal or state government started to really look hard for ways to make money, taking advantage of its natural monopoly in a number of markets: utilities, transportation, or law enforcement? People like Sticks would scream bloody murder about encroachment on the holy prerogatives of the “private sector.” The public sector doesn’t create wealth in Sticks definition primarily because Stickians don’t want it to. Fine.

But only ego-maniacal social Darwinist hunter gatherers like Sticks posit the notion that government is not critical in the formation of wealth. The United States is like a giant venture capitalist, providing institutions for learning and for creating business organizations, capital formation and limiting the liability of investors, protecting those investments and savings against fraud and institutional failure, promoting innovation through the protection of intellectual property, enforcing property rights that permit the accumulation of wealth; well, the list goes on and on.

Civilization is the thing that permits the formation and accumulation of wealth. And taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Boy, that’s catchy; Spot wonders if somebody said that before? Well yes, actually it was Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Jared Diamond, the author of Guns, Germs and Steel, would undoubtedly agree with the sentiment.

Spot commends this and this to his readers. People like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates – both senior and junior – disagree with the Stickians. Sticks or Buffett? Buffett or Sticks? Spotty reports; you decide.


Saturday, February 04, 2006

Fact, and not fiction.

In recent days, Spotty has had a couple of posts about evaluating information from a source, especially news sources in Fact and fiction and Fact and fiction, part 2. In these posts, Spot has identified a couple of examples of shoddy or dishonest journalism.

For something completely different, Spot would like to recommend the excellent site Media Transparency as an example of solid, well-researched and well-documented journalism. One of the writers for Media Transparency is local boy Rob Levine, proprieter of the news aggregator Cursor.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Fact and fiction, part two.

Remember, boys and girls, when Spot started to tell you about the four testimonial qualities used to determine the value and trustworthiness of information from a source? In the first installment of Fact and fiction Spot told you there were four testimonial qualities: perception, recollection, communication, and prevarication, or lack of it. Spotty went on to describe the quality of perception, or foundation, in some detail. If you need to, this would be a good time to go back and review. Ready to go on? Good.

Today, Spot wants to talk about quality number four, prevarication, or lack of it. Actually, it is more simply called bias, but bias doesn’t end with an “n.” While the first three qualities are directed to the accuracy of the information from the source, bias deals with the truthfulness of the speaker.

What can make a person biased, Spotty? Well, grasshopper, several things. Personal animus, that’s always a good one, ideology or doctrine, think Katie here, and financial interest is a big one. If a person is biased, the information you get from that person is suspect and sometimes misleading or outright untruthful. That’s why it is important to know someone’s bias before accepting what he says.

Can you give us an example, Spotty? Why yes, grasshopper, Spotty can do that. He has an excellent example from just yesterday! In Thursday’s Star Tribune, Katherine “Little Medusa” Kersten – Spot usually just calls her Katie – expelled another rant against the public school system in Minneapolis. This is, of course, by itself not very remarkable. Katie does this with some regularity, going around the district and marking the schools with her scent.

The occasion for Katie’s celebration yesterday was the departure of Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles. According to Katie, the “chaos” at the top was calling black students to “flee” the public schools in Minneapolis, although the statistics she quoted were a lot older than last week. Katie likes to kick people when they’re down; it’s easier for an older person to do that. There is less chance of losing one’s balance!

Here’s the bias example, boys and girls. Several times in her gas cloud, Katie quotes one Louis King, who Katie tells us is a former Minneapolis School Board member. She tells us this because she thinks it adds to King’s credibility and foundation (see part one of this lecture series) to what King says. And King says a lot.
Today, I can't recommend in good conscience that an African-American family send their children to the Minneapolis public schools, says King. The facts are irrefutable: These schools are not preparing our children to compete in the world.

The best way to get attention is not to protest, but to shop somewhere else.

I'm a strong believer in public education, King said. But this district's leaders have to make big changes or go out of business. If they don't, we'll see them in a museum, like the dinosaurs.
Shop elsewhere? Where Mr. King? How about Summit Academy OIC where you are the “CEO.” Spot guesses that “principal” wasn’t a sufficiently lofty title for you. Are you still doing the golf fund raiser for the school Mr. King? How much in state funds will Summit Academy OIC get this year, Mr. King? Last year it was over $103,000, wasn’t it? And that will grow if your enrollment grows, right?

Summit Academy? Isn’t that a Bill Cooper brand? Why yes, Spot believes it is! (Spotty is chasing that down now; he’ll put up a link when he’s got it.)

Can you spot Mr. King’s bias, boys and girls? It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

Now, why would Katie tell us about King’s former board position but not the stuff about Summit Academy OIC? Well, because the former boosts King’s credibility and the latter detracts – a lot – from it.

Spotty, is it responsible for a journalist to quote an obviously biased source without disclosing that bias to his or her readers, in fact after building up the credibility of the source? No, grasshopper. It is not responsible. It is reprehensible hackery, or worse.

Why would Little Medusa, I mean Katie, do this Spotty? Grasshopper, Katie is infected with her own bias, don’t you see? Her goal is not to inform and enlighten her readers; her goal is quite the opposite.

Thank you boys and girls. Good questions today.

Tags: makes love