Good God!

30 10 2006

Whether pro/anti-war, pro/anti-abortion, etc., don’t vote for Paul R. Nelson for Wisconsin Congress!!!! This was nationally featured: .

Update (2/25/07): I have since heard this referred to as the worst negative advertising in campaign history. I think it made the Daily Show.

Bush vs. Conservatives

30 10 2006

The backwoods folk are beginning to doubt Bush

The American humourist Will Rogers once described his political position thus: “I belong to no organised party. I am a Democrat.” It captured the undisciplined, chaotic, often hilarious internecine battles that have plagued the party. The astonishing aspect of the current intense election campaign in the United States is that this time the roles are reversed. On the eve of an election it is the usually disciplined, on-message, obedient Republican party that is at war with itself.The polls don’t help. They suggest an imminent drubbing, and the newspapers and blogosphere have been full of what are termed “pre-mortems” or “precriminations”. When a ship looks like it’s sinking, it gets harder to enforce discipline. But the Republicans are coming to terms with the fact that their very success in expanding their party over the past two decades, compounded by the pressure of what appears an all but lost Iraq war, has led to fractures they can no longer paper over.


I’ve been travelling across America these past two weeks to battleground states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as Illinois, Wisconsin and California. The anger at Congress is palpable. But what’s most striking is where it’s coming from: not so much from Democrats as from restless conservatives and Republicans.

A group of conservative intellectuals recently wrote in a liberal magazine last month that the Republicans deserved to lose. The intellectual titan of American conservatism, William F Buckley, has called the Iraq war a failure, and attributed it to the lack of a coherent conservative governing philosophy in the Bush White House.

On the ground, the rhetoric is even more intense. Republican Senator Mike DeWine, battling to win the key state of Ohio, said that Donald Rumsfeld “would not be my secretary of defence if I was the president of the United States. He has, you know, made huge mistakes. And I think history will judge him very harshly”.

In another critical race in Tennessee, the Republican candidate Bob Corker has disowned the Bush strategy of “stay the course” in Iraq. Voters guffaw when he repeats it.

Incumbent Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison has said she would never have voted for the Iraq war if she knew then what she knows now. That’s in Texas, where she isn’t even in danger. Elsewhere, in less rock-solid states, Republicans are begging the president not to come and campaign for them.

Most critically, it is the rural heartland that is beginning to question Bush and the war. First, they trusted him as a man of God. Then they blamed the media for distorting reality in Iraq. Then their patriotism kicked in as the president urged them to “stay the course”. But now this segment of the population, people who have disproportionately sent their sons and daughters to fight in the bloodsoaked streets of Ramadi and Falluja and Baghdad, show signs of revolt. If Bush loses these voters — or if they are too demoralised to vote at all — the omens are truly dark for the Republicans.

The party’s strategy, after all, has long been not to persuade moderate, suburban America, but to register, organise and mobilise millions of rural evangelical voters who had not voted in large numbers since the 1920s.

Issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage brought these voters to the polls and made the difference. Without them in Ohio in 2004, John Kerry would now be president. The Republicans also gerrymandered their constituencies to ensure these voters were spread around enough to provide narrow margins of victories across the country. The victories were always close ones, nonetheless.

Until recently the rural evangelicals have stuck with the president, in part to honour the fallen, and out of admirable patriotism and trust. It is hard to believe that your son or daughter died or is permanently crippled for a bungled cause. But if the facade cracks, if these rural voters begin to believe they have been misled, then the rock-solid patriotic support could become something else. It would not, in my judgment, fade into indifference. It could turn into rage.

That hasn’t happened yet. But you can feel it beginning. When you add to it the libertarian Republicans, alienated by the religious right, the worries for Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney mount. Then there are the fiscal conservatives appalled by the massive spending and borrowing, and the social conservatives who suspect the Republican leadership of covering up pederasty in its own ranks in the Mark Foley affair, and the neoconservatives who believe that their war was never given enough troops or resources to succeed. Put it all together and you have a party that is beginning to resemble a circular firing squad nine days before critical mid-terms.

In this atmosphere, the only recourse some candidates have had is mud, mud, glorious mud. In Tennessee the Republican national committee ran a campaign ad insinuating that the black Democrat was funded by porn producers and was calling a white prostitute for a rendezvous. An Ohio congressional candidate tried to portray his Democratic opponent as being in league with the National Man-Boy Love Association. The radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh entered the debate over embryonic stem-cell research by mocking the actor Michael J Fox’s medication- induced physical tremors. Fox is suffering from Parkinson’s and appeared in a political ad in defence of stem-cell research. I’m no prude when it comes to dirty politics, but the airwaves this year make mud-wrestling look like a nice game of badminton.

There is, of course, a great justice in this. In many ways the Bush administration and Republican Congress have abandoned principled conservatism and deserve to be punished by conservatives more than liberals. When they took over in 2000, the long-term fiscal liability of the federal government was $20 trillion. It now stands at $43 trillion. They have increased government spending at a faster rate than any Democratic Congress since the 1930s. They have generated deficits after four years of strong growth.

This kind of spending has made sleaze and de facto bribery inevitable. The number of lobbyists in Washington has doubled in five years. As for pork barrel spending, a simple comparison tells the tale. In 1985, Ronald Reagan vetoed a motorway-construction bill because lawmakers had stuffed into it 150 pet projects for their constituencies. Reagan thought that was unconservative. Last year George W Bush eagerly signed a similar bill with 6,000 such projects. In plain English, they are bribing the voters with the public purse.

On the critical matter of individual liberty, they have suspended habeas corpus for “enemy combatants” for the indefinite future, and authorised the torture of military detainees. Last week Cheney told a conservative talk-show host that the question of whether to use the Khmer Rouge tactic of “waterboarding” military detainees to make them feel they’re drowning was a “no-brainer”. It wasn’t that he had weighed the terrible price of torture and decided reluctantly he had to do it to save American lives: it was not even worth a second’s thought. Whatever else this is, it isn’t conservatism. It is big government cynicism and incompetence.

It is premature to predict a huge change in the Congress on November 7. Republican discipline could still hold on by a squeak. But a big Democratic victory could happen. And if it does, it will be Republican and conservative voters who deliver it.


Protected: Dating a new girlfriend

23 10 2006

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18 10 2006

Read this and think of how neglectful this woman was:

Mom guilty of neglecting teen’s botched piercing

POSTED: 6:18 p.m. EDT, October 17, 2006

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BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) — A mother whose teenage daughter nearly died from an infection caused by a navel piercing was convicted Tuesday of endangering the girl’s life by failing to seek medical attention until she was gravely ill.

Deborah Robinson, 39, could get up to five years in prison.

The girl developed an infection after piercing her own navel and inserting a ring.

Prosecutors said Robinson watched for several weeks as her 13-year-old daughter dropped from 115 pounds to 75 pounds, became incontinent and grew so weak that she could not get off the couch. (Full story)

When paramedics arrived at the family’s apartment in 2005, the girl was emaciated and was wearing an adult diaper.

A jury convicted Robinson of wantonly and recklessly permitting substantial bodily injury to a child. She is scheduled for sentencing October 26.

The girl suffered extensive organ damage from an infection that ravaged her body. For nearly a week, doctors were unsure whether she would survive. But after a series of operations and weeks of rehabilitation, she made a full recovery.

“This story is a story of poverty, of ignorance, of a single mother with two children trying to do the best that she could do with very little resources,” Robinson’s lawyer, Janet Macnab, told the jury.

The girl, now 14, testified in her mother’s defense. She said her mother urged her to eat, gave her orange juice and adjusted the temperature in the apartment to make her comfortable. She also contradicted prosecutors in saying she was in no pain.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Hogwart’s = Magical MENSA meeting

8 10 2006

recycled: Previously published Slate articles made new.

Harry PotterPampered jock, patsy, fraud.

Slate’s “Assessment” columns dissect the conventional wisdom about real people (L. Ron Hubbard), fictional characters (Scooby-Doo), companies (Whole Foods), body parts (the prostate), and even weather patterns (El Nino). This week, Slate is resurrecting a handful of classic Assessments, all collected in a new book, Backstabbers, Crazed Geniuses, and Animals We Hate. The following piece was originally published in Slate on Nov. 8, 2002.

Warning: This article contains a few spoilers about the Harry Potter books and movies.

Illustration by Charlie Powell Like most heroes, Harry Potter possesses the requisite Boy Scout virtues: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. But so do lots of boys and girls, and they don’t get books and movies named after them. Why isn’t the movie that comes out next week titled Ron Weasley and the Chamber of Secrets? Why isn’t its sequel dubbed Hermione Granger and the Prisoner of Azkaban? Why Harry? What makes him so special?

Simple: He’s a glory hog who unfairly receives credit for the accomplishments of others and who skates through school by taking advantage of his inherited wealth and his establishment connections. Harry Potter is no braver than his best friend, Ron Weasley, just richer and better-connected. Harry’s other good friend, Hermione Granger, is smarter and a better student. The one thing Harry excels at is the sport of Quidditch, and his pampered-jock status allows him to slide in his studies, as long as he brings the school glory on the playing field. But as Charles Barkley long ago noted, being a good athlete doesn’t make you a role model.

Harry Potter is a fraud, and the cult that has risen around him is based on a lie. Potter’s claim to fame, his central accomplishment in life, is surviving a curse placed on him as an infant by the evil wizard Voldemort. As a result, the wizarding world celebrates the young Harry as “The Boy Who Lived.” It’s a curiously passive accomplishment, akin to “The Boy Who Showed Up,” or “The Boy Who Never Took a Sick Day.” And sure enough, just as none of us do anything special by slogging through yet another day, the infant Harry didn’t do anything special by living. It was his mother who saved him, sacrificing her life for his.

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Did your mom love you? Good, maybe you deserve to be a hero, too. The love of Harry’s mother saves his life not once but twice in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Not only that, but her love for Harry sends Voldemort into hiding for 13 years, saving countless other lives in the process. The book and the movie should be named after Lily Potter. But thanks to the revisionist histories of J.K. Rowling, Lily’s son is remembered as the world’s savior.

What Harry has achieved on his own, without his mother, stems mostly from luck and, more often, inheritance. He’s a trust-fund kid whose success at his school, Hogwarts, is largely attributable to the gifts his friends and relatives lavish upon him. (Coming soon: Frank Bruni’s book, Ambling Into Hogwarts: The Unlikely Odyssey of Harry Potter.) A few examples: an enchanted map (made in part by his father), an invisibility cloak (his father’s), and a state-of-the art magical broom (a gift from his godfather) that is the equivalent of a Lexus in a high-school parking lot.

Harry’s other achievements can generally be chalked up to the fact that he regularly plays the role of someone’s patsy. Almost all Harry’s deeds in the first book take place under the watchful eye of Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore, who saves Harry from certain death at the end of the book. In Chamber of Secrets, the evil Voldemort successfully manipulates the unsuspecting Harry, who must once again be rescued. In Goblet of Fire, everything Harry accomplishes—including winning the Triwizard Tournament—takes place because he is the unwitting pawn of one of Voldemort’s minions.

Even Harry’s greatest moment—his climactic face-off with Voldemort in Goblet of Fire—isn’t much to crow about. Pure happenstance is the only reason Voldemort is unable to kill Harry: Both their magic wands were made with feathers from the same bird. And even with his lucky wand, Harry still needs his mom’s ghost to bail him out by telling him what to do. Once again, Lily Potter proves to be twice the man her son is.

Harry’s one undisputed talent is his skill with a broom, which makes him one of the most successful Quidditch players in Hogwarts history. As Rowling puts it the first time Harry takes off on a broom, “in a rush of fierce joy he realized he’d found something he could do without being taught.” Harry’s talent is so natural as to be virtually involuntary. Admiring Harry for his flying skill is like admiring a cheetah for running fast. It’s beautiful, but it’s not an accomplishment.

In fact, Harry rarely puts hard work or effort into anything. He is a “natural.” Time and again, Harry is celebrated for his instinctual gifts. When he learns that he is a Parselmouth, or someone who can speak the language of snakes, Rowling writes, “He wasn’t even aware of deciding to do it.” (In fact, when Harry tries to speak this language, he can’t do it. He can only do it instinctively.) When Harry stabs a basilisk in Chamber of Secrets, Rowling writes that he did it “without thinking, without considering, as though he had meant to do it all along.” In Goblet of Fire, during Harry’s battle with Voldemort, Rowling writes that “Harry didn’t understand why he was doing it, didn’t know what it might achieve. …”

Being a wizard is something innate, something you are born to, not something you can achieve. As a result, Harry lives an effortless life. Although Dumbledore insists, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities,” the school that Dumbledore runs values native gifts above all else. That’s why Harry is such a hero in wizard culture—he has the most talent, even if he hasn’t done much with it. Hogwarts is nothing more than a magical Mensa meeting.