Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Democracy Rocks!

Democracy rocks! Let's get it back! Blurbs here:
Blurb 1
Blurb 2

The essentials:
• Sunday Sep. 11 • 6-10 PM
• High Noon Saloon, 701 E. Washington Avenue, Madison
• $10 cover charge at the door

This is a fund-raiser for Wisconsin United To Amend (WIUTA), a grass-roots citizens’ movement dedicated to amending the US Constitution to declare that
(1) only actual human beings have human rights,
(2) free spending does not count as free speech, and
(3) our society needs reasonable regulation of campaign financing.

The event will feature live music from 3 rock bands, a silent auction, a raffle, very little speechmaking, and emceeing by Mike Crute of the radio show "The Devil's Advocates". And, of course, all the food and drink you care to purchase.

Remember the date: 9/11. (Something familiar about that.) And tell your friends. You don't have to be a genius to be appalled by the Supreme Court's disastrous decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Simply having a functioning brain should suffice.

(PS: In the interests of full disclosure, I’m co-chair of South Central Wisconsin United To Amend, so I’m not exactly unbiased about this.)

= = = = = =
War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.
—Big Brother (1984)

Corporations are people.
Money is speech.
Citizens United

Monday, August 08, 2016

The "Kid Killer Loophole"

2016 Aug. 8

Dear Sen. Risser and Rep. Subeck:

Perhaps you recall the sad 2008 case of 11-year-old Kara Neumann of Weston, Wisconsin. She suffered from diabetes, a disease eminently treatable with insulin, but her hyper-religious parents chose to use prayer instead of medicine to “treat” it, as a result of which she suffered, lost her voice beause a month’s worth of vomiting had scalded her vocal cords, withered away from malnutrition because she couldn’t eat, slipped into a coma, and died before their eyes. Incredibly, her mother continued to believe for days afterward that little Kara would return to life if her parents just prayed even harder.

In theory, the Neumanns should’ve been able to get away with this horrific and egregious case of child neglect, because of the “Kid Killer Loophole” in Wisconsin law. S. 48.981(3)(c)4 provides that "A determination that abuse or neglect has occurred may not be based solely on the fact that the child's parent, guardian, or legal custodian in good faith selects and relies on prayer or other religious means for treatment of disease or for remedial care of the child.” And s. 948.03, dealing with “Physical abuse of a child”, contains this exception under sub. (6): "A person is not guilty of an offense under this section solely because he or she provides a child with treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone for healing in accordance with the religious method of healing permitted under s. 48.981 (3) (c) 4. or 448.03 (6) in lieu of medical or surgical treatment.”

Fortunately, a sensible Wisconsin jury had the good sense to ignore the specific wording of the law to find Dale and Leilani Neumann guilty of basically killing their own child. Sadly, the penalty imposed was for them to serve staggered prison terms, so that only one of them was behind bars at a time, while the other was free to “care for” their remaining children.

But this stupid, cruel, torture-enabling, death-promoting “kid killer loophole” is still on the books, giving free license to any religious fanatics who are only slightly less appalling than the Neumanns, or only slightly better at covering up their criminal neglect.

Similar laws are on the books in other states, but some of them are finally coming to their senses. The most recent of them is Idaho.

When will Wisconsin join the ranks of civilized jurisdictions and repeal this astonishing pandering to religious fanaticism? Aren’t we supposed to have separation of church and state in this country? Why are parents allowed to kill their kids in the name of religion? Didn’t we do away with this gross irrationality and its concomitant miscarriage of justice after the atrocities of the Salem witch trials?

If we are all God’s children, then God should be arrested for child abuse.
— Harold Kahm

Monday, February 15, 2016

Election Day Feb. 16 in Wisconsin

It was the first election of the post-apartheid era in South Africa, and the TV news crew was out in the boonies looking for good human-interest stories. The government hadn’t been able to set up sufficient polling locations or staff them fully, so there was a long line stretching out of one rural poll into the dusty prairie beyond. The crew set out, walking toward the end of the line, looking for likely interviewees.

They spotted one old gent, dressed colorfully but leaning heavily on his cane, and asked him where he was from. It turned out that he lived about 20 klicks away and had left the previous night, walking and resting as he went, to get here. He was nowhere near the front of the line, and they said it looked like things were moving slowly.

“That’s all right”, he said. “I can wait.”

“How long have you been waiting already?”, they asked.

“About 60 years.”

I always vote.

Read to children. Vote. And never buy anything from a man who's selling fear.
— Mary Doria Russell, American science-fiction writer

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Nones" Now Largest "Religious" Group among Democrats

I’ve got mixed emotions about the findings of the Pew Research Center that the “nones” (people with no particular religious affiliation, including but not limited to atheists and agnostics) are now the largest single group within the Democratic party when subdivided by religious preference.

On the one hand, it’s good (and kind of poetic justice) to have a counterweight to the Radical Religious Right, which came close to taking over the Republican Party and still has an outsize influence there. On the other, this bids fair to further divide America along religious lines and exacerbate the political divisions that have resulted in the extreme polarization of our legislative bodies, which can’t be good for the country.

= = = = = =
Can we all get along?

— Rodney King, victim of beating by Los Angeles police, 1991 March 2

Friday, December 25, 2015

TRUE Scale Model of the Solar System

For decades, I’ve wanted to build a true scale model of the Solar System on the median strip of I-94 between Eau Claire and Tomah. It would be big enuf for passing motorists to actually see the planets to scale and then travel the proportional distance between them. These guys had the same idea, for the same reasons, but lacked the budget (and the federal authorization) to pull it off at interstate-highway distances, so they did it in the desert. Nonetheless, it’s probably the very first time anyone on Earth has actually created such a model truly to scale.

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.
— Carl Sagan (1934-1996), American astronomer and science writer

Addendum (Dec. 25): Mark Hobson informs me that just such a scale model has existed practically in my own back yard since 2009.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

George W. Bush’s Greatest Accomplishment

[originally published on 2008 July 14, but look how little has changed since then.]

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal Coalition was one of history’s most amazing juggling acts.

FDR was able to convince poor, young, black, single mothers that they had something in common with affluent, middle-aged, white, married Ivy League professors. And vice versa. Farmers who produced crops linked arms with factory workers who had to buy groceries. Good ol’ boy Southerners voted the same way as slick NYC personal-injury attorneys. Veterans looking for a good college education made common cause with pacifists. Civil libertarians joined forces with alphabet-agency government regulators.

It was really pretty amazing that this ragtag collection of constituencies was able to overcome its innate centrifugal force for even a single election, let alone holding together long enuf to govern the country — and pretty well, too — for half a century.

But it was already on the wane thru a combination of fatigue, complacency, and corruption by the time Ronald Reagan came along in 1980 and started the Republicans down the road to a different coalition — one that would rule from the right — which Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” would cement in place a decade later.

This one too had its odd bedfellows. See if you can find a common theme among these:

(1) Traditionalists. Their parents or grandparents voted for Ike or Reagan (apparently nobody ever voted for Nixon), so they grew up Republican and that's the way they always vote. No thot involved; it's just who they are and what they do. (Think Tommy Thompson.)

(2) Small-Business Conservatives. The classic Adam Smith laissez-faire entrepreneurs, not much different from Thomas Jefferson's sturdy yeoman farmers, who as rugged individualists just want to be left alone to run their own businesses without a lot of burdensome interference. For them, government is the oppressor, with all its regulations. (Think Duncan Hunter.)

(3) Big-Business Conservatives. People who have figured out how to game the system with their armies of lawyers, lobbyists, and tax accountants. For them, government is the sugar daddy, with its no-bid, cost-plus, sole-source contracts, an endless source of corporate welfare. (Think Mitt Romney.)

(4) Social Conservatives. Decent people, usually religiously motivated, who sincerely believe that abortion is murder, homosexuality is a sinful perversity, America's biggest enemy is moral decay, and the 1950s were a glorious era when everything was right with the world. (Think Mike Huckabee.)

(5) American Triumphalists. In an earlier era, these were the people who flocked to the banner of “manifest destiny”. They think that the US of A is the greatest nation on Earth, and it's our bounden duty to export our culture to the poor, benighted inhabitants of the rest of the planet, who will gladly welcome it as soon as we patiently explain what they've been missing. (Think John McCain.)

(6) Neo-Monarchists. You may have heard the parental theory of politics, where people who need nurturing want a mommy (the Democrats), while those who need protection seek a daddy (the Republicans). These are the people who totally buy into the daddy side of things. They want a strong, decisive leader and are basically suspicious of too much messy democracy. In an earlier era, they would have been rooting for MacArthur to become America's Mussolini. (Think Rudy Giuliani.)

(7) Holy Warriors. These come in 2 subflavors: (7A) 2nd-Coming Christians, who want iron-clad control of Israel so the end-time prophecies will be fulfilled in time for Jesus to fight the big battle at Armageddon; and (7B) 1st-Coming Jews, who want iron-clad control of the Promised Land so the Messiah can finally get here to save his Chosen People. Each of these factions thinks the other is nuts, if not heretical, but they have a common end goal, so they work together for now. (Think Sam Brownback with a side of Joe Lieberman.)

(8) The Disapprovers. Also coming in 2 subflavors: (8A) Men, who (while slamming down boilermakers at the corner bar) rail at permissive laws than mandate only 20 years in the jug for those dope-smoking long-haired hippie freaks; and (8B) Women, who despair of hip-hugger jeans, ear piercings, and “what’s become of today’s youth”. However, neither subflavor disapproves of massive overgeneralizations based on sex, race, or national origin. (Think Tom Tancredo.)

(9) The Brahmins. Old money. It’s not as if they’re single-interest voters, but nobody else cares more about the inheritance tax (which they call the “death tax” and see as a threat to the legacy of their noble descendants). (Think Jim Gilmore.)

(10) Libertarians. They figure we can get by with as little government as possible, and that almost all human interactions can be handled by contracts entered into and enforced by enlightened individuals with their eyes wide open. For them, government is just a giant mistake, a trip down the wrong fork in the historical road. (Think Ron Paul.)

If there’s a common thread there, I sure can’t find it. Quite the contrary. There’s an inherent tension between big vs. small businesses, Christians vs. Libertarians, and so on.

But every Republican nominee or wannabe since Gerry Ford and Jack Kemp has had to show solidarity with each of these disparate factions, promising to look out for their interests. And they’ve had to appeal to all of them. As we saw in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, the country is so evenly split that they needed every vote they could earn (and many that they didn’t earn but were handed to them gift-wrapped by Katherine Harris and Ken Blackwell). They couldn’t afford to let even one of these subgroups slip away.

As you can tell from my ability to attach the name of a Republican presidential aspirant to each of the above paragraphs, by 2008 each group figured that its own turn had come up — time to reap the rewards for the loyal support they’d shown in the past. Each managed to put forth or belch up an old white guy to carry its banner. Each such aspirant was clearly a product and exemplar of his particular group. And, probably for that very reason, each was held suspect by all of the others.

After all the shouting finally died down, and the Rs had ended up with the oldest, whitest guy of them all, they’d managed to at least disappoint if not infuriate all the other groups.

And this brings us back to George W. Bush’s greatest accomplishment. Not once but twice he not only convinced every one of those groups that he’d advance their particular agendas, he totally sold himself as being one of them! 

It was, of course, a total con job, a masterpiece of snake-oil salesmanship, the repeated success of ingratiating but unexamined claims like “Yo hablo Español” from a guy who could barely manage English. It was the triumph of Karl Rove’s version of manufactured reality.

But, in the pragmatic world of politics, it met the only test that ever matters: it worked!

And, hard as it may be to believe for those of us who think that history will judge Bush the Lesser as one of America’s all-time worst presidents, within just a few years GOP stalwarts will be looking back on him fondly as having delivered — at least for them — on his claim of being a uniter, not a divider.

Friday, June 26, 2015

More on Flags

Eisenhower on Gay Marriage: "What's good for GM is good for the country."