Monday, April 28, 2014

Week of 04/28/2014

Theo-Conservative Thuggery Has No Decency
Remember that time when a bunch of scientists stormed a church and began taking apart the weekly service?  How they picked apart the King James Bible, throwing disclaimers everywhere about how Adam and Eve came about, how the sun couldn’t be created after the Earth, how Jonah didn’t get swallowed by a whale, how the “body and blood of Christ” weren’t really such, and how the book was really cobbled together by a committee of men cherry-picking which stories to accept instead of it being “divinely created”.  Remember that?
Well, of course not.  Because that never happened.  Scientists don’t feel an overwhelming compulsion to go to every church and tear down religious beliefs and negate what people believe in, even if that belief is delusional or counter-productive or even destructive.
So why is it that the overly-religious feel entitled to do just that with everything around them?
Case in point: An amateur Egyptologist by the name of Olivia McConnell had a rather curious question when it came to her home state of South Carolina.  She wondered why there wasn’t a “state fossil”.  There is, after all, a state flag, a state seal, a state flower, a state tree, two state songs, a state dance, a state fish, a state reptile, a state beverage, even a state snack.  But no “state fossil”, and this from the state that officially found the first fossil back in 1725!
So young Miss McConnell sent a letter to her state legislators and Governor Nikki Haley.  They liked the idea and thought that they should have a state fossil.  In fact they believed this would be a no-brainer.
Enter the theocratic-conservatives.
The theo-cons apparently did not like seeing a piece of legislation that was contrary to their religious beliefs.  So they demanded that the legislation include whole passages from the Book of Genesis, and if they didn’t get their way, then this otherwise simple state designation would die in committee.
It should be noted that the person behind this otherwise nice idea of a state fossil, Olivia McConnell, is all of eight years old.  And she’s not an atheist either.  But she does feel – like many of you do – that there’s no reason at all why bible references should be inserted into an otherwise innocuous state designation.
And when that came out, that the theo-cons were actually bulling a little girl to impose their own self-important measure of theocracy, some of them decided to “compromise”.  They watered down their wording… but only a little bit. 
But apparently even that isn’t enough to satisfy all of their egos.  As of this column’s date, the legislation is still stalled in committee, and it doesn’t look like these state-elected self-serving mullahs will allow it to progress.  After all, the theo-conservative script decrees that there never were dinosaurs… because that would contradict the literal word of the Bible!
Meanwhile, another theo-con in Louisiana has reluctantly pulled his effort to decree the King James Bible as that state’s official book.  Apparently he “didn’t realize” that making that kind of declaration actually would be a state-endorsement of Christianity, which is in direct violation of the First Amendment.  Or at least that’s what he claims.
And if you believe that, then I have a bridge to sell you!
Right about now I’d be asking what the hell is going on with these theo-cons, but let’s get brutally honest here… this is really nothing new.  This is the same theocratic agenda that they’ve been trying in earnest to impose on us for generations now.
But now some of them seem to not even care about pretense.  Making the King James Bible the official state book?  That’s about as blanket of a state endorsement of religion as you can get without an out-and-out ceremony.  And out-and-out inserting passages from the Book of Genesis to negate a secular message?  That’s some serious passive-aggressive backhanding, especially when it’s done to the efforts of an eight-year old little girl!
Those so-called “Christian” legislators in South Carolina should be ashamed of themselves for what they are doing! 
They “should” be… but I’m guessing that they won’t. 
Because we are talking about amoral, sociopathic, sadistic, self-serving, self-righteous career politicians that don’t apologize or retreat over what they do.  They don’t stand down when wrong; they double-down.  They re-assert their self-righteousness and demand that the rest of the world surrender to it and place it on a pedestal, immune from challenge, question, or doubt.
And then you hear from the apologists… their fellow conservatives that automatically defend and validate the tactics as a way to counter some fictional “assault” on “our way of life”.  But these are the same arguments that have been used since the days of unchecked evangelism of the 19th Century.  The “threat” that they vaguely cite to justify their actions never changes.  It never goes away.  It is never diminished one iota no matter what they do.  If anything, they will claim that the “threat” is getting closer and closer and getting worse and worse, more perilous by the day.  “Just look at the news”, they always say, “and you’ll see it.”
But what “it” really is, they will never admit to in public.  Because “it” is their sense of self-importance.  “It” is their obsessive fixation on dominance.  “It” is their assurance of power and control over the masses.  “It” is their perverted sense of security that their actions and judgments are sanctified – “by God,” of course – so they will be followed without question.
And to that end, it means keeping the masses afraid of some perpetual and mythical “looming threat”.  It means keeping the Great Unwashed willfully ignorant instead of informed.  It means demonizing science and condemning independent thought.  It means keeping people controlled instead of educated.  It means sneaking in signs of their religious dominance to appease their own egos.  It even means thumbing their noses at the well-meaning efforts of little girls.
Because of all of the state designations that one could come up with, the only “designation” that they ever really care about… is their own.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Week of 04/21/2014

America the Oligarchy
A recent study by researchers in Princeton and Northwestern Universities have come to the conclusion that many of us have suspected for a while now.
That America, the supposed “beacon of democracy and freedom”, is not what it pretends to be.
It is not a “democracy inside a republic” as the conservatives and neo-conservatives continually claim it to be as they beat their chests with self-important fervor.
Instead of being what we have so proudly defended for over two hundred years as that “more perfect union” as described in the U.S. Constitution, America has become… an oligarchy.
In order to come to this conclusion, the researchers looked at U.S. policy going back from 1981 to 2002, from Presidents Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush.  (And, yes, that includes the eight philandering years of Bill Clinton.)  This isn’t the stuff that the politicians claim is going on, but the actual policies as they are implemented on behalf of the United States.  They then compared those policies to the expressed preferences of the average American citizen, with those of the wealthy and influent citizen, and with those of corporations and special interest groups (a.k.a. the lobbyists of K-Street and C-Street).  They discovered that U.S. policy almost exclusively follows the wishes and preferences of both the influent citizen and those of the special interest groups, and rarely those of the average citizen.
"The central point that emerges…” the researchers say, “is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence."
Bear in mind this research ends prior to the corporate collapses of 2002 and 2003, the Iraq War, Sarbanes-Oxley, the re-writing of the banking and bankruptcy rules in 2003 and 2004, the housing bubble, the Great Recession, the extensions of the wrongly-named PATRIOT Act, not to mention the recent Supreme Court decisions which gave special interest groups and wealthy individuals carte blanche to spend any amount of money to influence politics.  Only one year of Bush Junior’s Imperium was covered in the study, and certainly none of Barack Obama’s White House Fail.
One can only wonder what their conclusions would be if they added these events into their research.
But with the information at their disposal, the researchers, in their peer-reviewed study, concluded that America is no longer behaving like it is a government responsive of the masses, which is what a true representative democracy inside a republic is like.  Instead, the researchers have concluded that America is more aptly defined as an oligarchy.
Personally, this commentator is surprised that they would use the term oligarchy instead of plutocracy, since that really fits what we’ve become.  And, really, if the events of the more recent twelve years were taken into account, I’m sure that the researchers would have to amend their conclusion to call America a plutocracy instead of an oligarchy.
But the real question is… when will the rest of the great unwashed recognize this?
We’ve seen this happening, especially with the Great Recession!  Our government bailed out the banks.  They bailed out Big Auto.  They gave all sorts of benefits and breaks to Big Corporate.  But when Americans looked for help, they were given a pittance and then left to twist in the wind.
Look at the Occupy movement.  They demanded accountability.  What did they get?  They got pepper-sprayed and mass-arrests.  They had police storm their camps like a gang of third world thugs.  Meanwhile, millions of Americans continued to lose their homes in foreclosures, all to support a financial scheme that bought and sold mortgages like they were stock options.
And when actual wrongdoing was revealed, nobody was arrested!  Instead, the big financial institutions have been able to literally buy their way out of accountability by putting up a pittance of a fine.  Sure, words like “millions” and “billions” are thrown about, but when you’re talking about a scheme that brought in hundreds of billions of dollars, giving up a few million or billion in a “fine” is essentially pocket change. 
Occupy protesters get arrested and they go to jail.  The people they try to protect and defend are put out on the street.  But “Too Big To Fail”?  They get to throw some pocket change and make some promises to “do better” and they are allowed to get away with their criminal activities without even losing sleep.  Hell, the executives even get raises!  The powerful get the gold, the average Americans get the shaft.
Does that sound like a government “by the people, of the people, and for the people”?
Here’s a good issue to ponder: the extensive spying into our lives by our own government.
We all say that it’s wrong.  Our government shouldn’t be doing that.  Our government shouldn’t be spying on us like it has been.  GOP, Democrat, libertarian, Green, liberal, conservative, neo-conservative… doesn’t matter the political party or the political leaning, we all say that this is wrong.  Promises are made to change the system.  Politicians beat their chests like alpha male chimps and say that this will end.
Okay, so what’s really being done about it?
Not a damn thing.
Why?  Because changing it would affect those in power.
Go down the list of political reforms that people continually demand.  Term limits, balanced budgets, less regulations, tax reform, repealing laws… how many of them have actually been implemented?
We all say we want tax reform, and just about every time come “Tax Day”, we entertain the idea that we should be revising the tax system so that it would be “fairer”, less of a hassle for people.  Every politician will tell you the tax system is needlessly complex and complicated.  They may even have a personal favorite way to reform the tax system, from a flat tax to the “FairTax”. 
And yet, year after year, nothing gets done to truly fix the system that we all know is broken.  Despite the overwhelming demand to fix it, despite the almost universal agreement that something must be done, our tax system continues to be complex and complicated.
Why?  Because it benefits those in power.  It benefits the accountants and the financial institutions and the politicians themselves.  Because it allows the career politicians to dole out tax breaks and deductions and exemptions to curry favor.
As the researchers best said it: “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the US political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”
I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret: the Soviet Union was never really a “communist state”, despite the rhetoric that went on from its foundation to its ultimate collapse.  What the Soviet Union really had was an oligarchical state masquerading as communism.  And while it could not keep up with the Cold War, what really triggered its demise was the realization from the masses that they had been living in a lie.  That there was an elite group – “the party” – that had all of the privilege while the masses were struggling in continual poverty.
And now here is the United States essentially doing the same thing, being an oligarchical state masquerading as a “democracy inside a republic”.  A state that gives favor almost exclusively to special interest groups and wealthy individuals.  A state that allows corporate criminals to get away with their crimes while they punish those that call for accountability.  Of career politicians that are fixated only on their own re-elections, even from day one of their jobs.  Of a judicial system that sustains the status quo by any and all means necessary, even if doing so ultimately destroys this nation.
And… do you know what the biggest punchline of them all is?  Ultimately we have allowed this to happen!
Let’s get brutally honest here… we really have nobody but ourselves to blame when it comes to this gradual degradation into an oligarchy.
How many times have you surrendered to the two-party script?  How many times have you rejected third-party options on the prepared line of “they’d never win”?  How many of you have continually recited the mantra that you “have” to vote for the supposed “lesser of two evils”?
You supposedly “want change”, and yet you refuse to vote for it.  You expect the system to somehow fix itself.  And you threaten to “punish” the system by voting for the other half of the two-party problem if you don’t get that change.  Yeah, that will “fix” things!
Look at the great fraud that is the so-called “Tea Party”.  They claim to want change, but apparently only if that “change” comes in the form of extreme conservative GOP.  Despite their threats to “break away” from the GOP, they continue to recycle the script year after year that tells people to not rock the boat.  They’ve become nothing more than just another special interest group.  They’ve become part of the very problem with the country.
Yes, this report shows that the game is rigged.  The system works against the normal American.  We’re seemingly screwed.  But ultimately that one is on us.  We’ve been listening to the script instead of what we believe is right.  We don’t speak up when the system works to screw us over, and we condemn those that try to speak up.
When asked what America’s Founding Fathers had created, Benjamin Franklin reportedly replied “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Clearly we could not.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Week of 04/14/2014

Memo To GOP Contenders:
Don’t Provoke The Willfully Ignorant

– by David Matthews 2

I have a really simple message to the GOP wannabes in Georgia.

You know that Internet saying of “Don’t feed the trolls”?

Well the same applies to Georgia’s willfully ignorant.

You know who I’m talking about, right?  All of those people that hate thinkers and hate thinking.  The ones that didn’t make it past high school… if that.  The ones that hold a special kind of disgust for higher education and for those that were able to attend it and actually get the sheepskin.  The ones that scrambled to support Chick-fil-A and “Duck Dynasty” when they cried “persecution” like a child not getting that extra ice cream scoop.  The ones that should be wearing the “I’m With Stupid” tee-shirts with the arrow pointing up.

You know… the ones that really like Sarah Palin and think she’s the greatest woman to have ever existed and “goddamn those who think otherwise!”

Yeah, you know those folks.  Just pop into your nearest Wal-Mart if you need a refresher.

Well, the GOP here in Georgia really need to be careful about aggravating them.

I know that’s hard sometimes, because they’re really easily offended.  They have really thin skins.  Sometimes all you have to do is show them a globe, or say the word “evolution”, or bring up the historical fact that they lost the Civil War.  (They’re really sensitive about that last part.)

Or sometimes it’s reminding them that you have something that they don’t.

David Perdue made that mistake recently.  He’s the cousin of former Governor Sonny Perdue, and he thinks that his business experience (along with his family’s political connections, wink-wink) will make him the ideal person to replace outgoing Senator Saxby Chambliss. 

Perdue likes to brag about his resume.  He likes to mention that he turned a few companies around and made them profitable.  He likes to tout the fact that he’s a supposed “outsider” going up against a field of career politicians that have done nothing to fix what is wrong with the country.

But then Perdue screwed up.  Apparently he made the comment that one of those other contenders really isn’t qualified to be senator because she doesn’t have a college degree.

Bad move, Mister Perdue.

You do know that there is no educational requirement to be a United States Senator, right Mister Perdue?  Go ahead and pull out your little pocket edition of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution and go over Article I and all of the Amendments pertaining to the qualification of U.S. Senators and you’ll find there’s no mention at all of education.  You can have the IQ of a twig and still be qualified as long as you’re over thirty and a resident of the state you represent.  (Don’t tell me you don’t have one of those little “Pocket Constitution” things, Mister Perdue.  All good little GOP members wave them around nowadays like bibles.)

Then there’s the candidate that he tried to “disqualify” in his comments.  Karen Handel may be a career politician, but she’s also a favorite of the anti-abortion crowd, not to mention the willfully ignorant.  And apparently she’s also a friend of Alaska’s former governor and failed VP nominee Sarah Palin, who has been endorsing her since Handel tried to run for governor in 2010.  Oh, and she knows how to play the “poor victim” card too.

Put those things together, Mister Perdue, and what do you get?  You get a rapid-fire retort from Governor Palin that is so jam-packed with anti-intellectual buzzwords and catchphrases that I’m honestly surprised that nobody in the background shouted “Word Yahzee” when it was over. 

Not only was the take-down so anti-intellectual that it became pro-retarded, Mister Perdue, but it also made you look like an effete elite intellectual snob when it was done.

I think the word that you’re looking for here, Mister Perdue, is “Ouch!”

Now let’s get brutally honest here… if you are a GOP contender, then you really should not be pointing out the ignorance of the willfully ignorant, especially here in Georgia, for several reasons.

First, because the willfully ignorant do that all by themselves.  In fact they’re really very good at it.  Look at all of the people that think that pre-historic man used to ride atop dinosaurs simply because they saw it on a cartoon called “The Flintstones”, or still believe that the sun revolves around the Earth.  Like I said earlier, it sometimes just takes showing them a globe.

Second, as Mister Perdue found out the hard way, when you use your education to go after those without one, it opens you up the counter-attack that you are an effete elite intellectual snob; automatically lumping you in with the most liberal of liberals like Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  You know how cons and neo-cons despise the Clintons and Obama?  It’s not just their policies; it’s also their pedigree.

Third, and the most critical of reasons, is because the anti-intellectuals are also essentially the GOP’s base.  These are the people you need to suck up to, Mister Perdue.  They’re the ones that will show up at the polling place come primary time, especially when they feel “obligated”.  And it doesn’t take much for them to feel “obligated”.  Just look at what they did concerning Chick-fil-A and “Duck Dynasty”.

Making matters worse, Mister Perdue then actually called Ms. Handel up to apologize for his comment.

I know common sense says that this is the right thing to do, but in the world of GOP politics this is actually the wrong thing.  Cons and neo-cons, which dominate the GOP, consider an apology to be a sign of weakness. 

Cons and neo-cons do not apologize.  Ever.  Even when they are wrong.  Even when they know that they are wrong, their egos will not allow themselves to recognize it.  They will instead double-down on their original assertion, no matter how asinine it may be.

There is a way that Perdue could have salvaged that thread if he didn’t apologize.  He could have pointed out that Ms. Handel attended two colleges but never finished them, like a “certain senator” in Illinois that started but never finished his first term before running for President.  Or, for that matter, a “certain governor” in Alaska who quit in the middle of her first term after her failed VP run.  He could question Handel’s commitment to “follow through” on something.  He could have even questioned Governor Palin’s hokey anti-intellectualist attitude as being part of the problem with the GOP of late and as to why they’ve been losing political ground.  All of that was thrown out the window with his display of what is essentially political cowardice.

I understand that Mister Perdue wants to be different than the other GOP contenders.  He wants to stand out as someone that could actually get things done.  That’s commendable.  Unfortunately for him, the people that would really appreciate that are usually not the ones that show up at the ballot box for the GOP primary.  The ones that usually vote in the primaries are more like the people that listen to Sarah Palin and Karen Handel than they do the voices of reason.

And that is one case of ignorance that could seriously affect Georgia’s voice in Washington.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Week of 04/07/2014

The Demise Of XP
– by David Matthews 2

This week marks the end of an era…

It is the end of a mainstay for computer users both young and old.

This is the week when Microsoft pulls the plug on its Windows XP operating system.  And, sadly, I don’t think there will be a reprieve this time around.

XP was released in 2001, just a month after 9/11.  Of course some people complained about it.  Because, you know, it’s a Microsoft product, and haters will hate.  But it persevered.  It served as the connection between the old Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems that was previously promised but just didn’t happen.  It was the one operating system that could be used for both business and personal users. 

It wasn’t perfect, but back then Microsoft didn’t give up on it like they did with Windows Millennium Edition.  They churned out bug fixes and service packs.  They came out with a special Media Center Edition to take advantage of the growing online media services.

And then the “new shiny” came out; the next operating system… and the first thing that Microsoft wanted to do once that happened was to kill XP.  And they almost did it, until XP users got a reprieve.

Microsoft claimed that they kept XP around because of the “threat” of Linux-based netbooks.  However, this commentator dares to suspect that the reason had more to do with the problems with that “new shiny” called Windows Vista and the backlash surrounding that demand that users upgrade ASAP in the middle of the Global recession than with any perceived “threat” of competition.

Here’s a little word of advice to Microsoft execs: when you have businesses cutting budgets and staff to the bone and people are struggling just to keep their homes, they’re not going to be in the mood to suddenly upgrade to the “new shiny” just because you have it on your schedule.

But now the folks in Redmond are going to go through with it for real.  No more reprieves.  No more stays of execution.

XP will die this coming Tuesday, April 8th.

And I am here not to bury XP, but to praise it.

Let’s get brutally honest here… whether you like Microsoft or not, you cannot deny that XP has served as a pretty reliable operating system for PC users for twelve years.  Not perfect.  Not great.  But certainly reliable.  Right now over ninety-five percent of the world’s ATM machines are running on Windows XP.  2 Big 2 Fail may be greedy, manipulative, and corrupt, but they wouldn’t risk the money they fleece on an operating system they couldn’t count on.  That should tell you something about its reliability.

Sure, there was always room for improvement.  There are some things that Microsoft did that they shouldn’t have, like integrating their own browser into the operating system.  The start-up and shut-down times were a hassle, but once things were up and running, they were pretty good.

I’ll let you in on a dirty little secret when it comes to operating systems, and this goes back to the days of Windows 95.  I had installed many an operating system in my time, and I know that, for the most part, the operating system does exactly what it is supposed to do.  When it’s just the operating system running, there are no problems.  The problem comes when you have all of those extra programs added to it.  When you have your favorite third-party game and your favorite third-party application, and let’s not forget all of those other “added features” that get installed by whatever company assembled that machine.  Everybody wants to give you something, don’t they?  They just don’t tell you how much it will cost for that “value-added convenience”.

And really, if you think about it, the operating system is sort of like a transmission of a car.  It’s important in that it gets you to where you need to be going, but you don’t really pay too much attention to it unless there’s a problem with it.  If you can get on your computer and have it do what you want it to do, be it play a game or check your email, then it is doing its job.

This is XP’s legacy.  It gave us the means to do what we want the computer to do.  And it did so for over twelve years with very few complaints.

Which is why there is a part of me that still wants to ask CEO Steve Ballmer “What did Windows XP ever do to you, other than to put billions into Microsoft coffers and millions into yours?”

No, I don’t want to give up my XP Media Center Edition computer.  I don’t want to spend the time and energy into transferring programs and files over and getting a new computer configured.  There’s too much going on for me to add that to my already-full “to do” list.

And it’s not just a new computer or a new operating system.  There’s also the matter of getting all of the other programs as well.  I need to get a new batch of Office programs, because I can’t just re-install the old Office program, thanks for nothing DRM.  I need to get new financial software.  I need to upgrade my USB hubs.  I need to get a new gigabit router.  Some of my “extra toys” will need new 64-bit drivers.  I need to go through my favorite sites again and find some way to get passwords transferred.  All of which will take time, and that’s on top of me putting in new security software – which I had to do at this time anyway – and get taxes done.  Oh, and still work my butt off eight hours a day every day.

But I suppose I don’t have a choice, do I?  No.  And neither do millions of other computer users that have gone on quite well with the systems they’ve had. 

I know someone who is still using the computer they got in 2002, and I know he didn’t really want to upgrade.  He’s firmly in the camp of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  But, needless to say, he ended up having to spend some coin over the weekend and getting a new PC just like the rest of us.

Thankfully the “end of XP” is not the physical end of the operating system itself.  Computers around the world still using XP will not spontaneously explode or suddenly not work after April 8th.  But patches won’t be automatically sent to your computer.  Microsoft is still under contract to support some computers, and they will do just that.  And if they have some patches, they’ll make them available, but you’ll have to find them yourself if you’re not one of those still under contract.

What this means is that you need to upgrade.  You need to pay some coin to your local electronics store so you can get the newer computer with the newer toys so you can stay up-to-date instead of having to do the extra work that those of us “geeks” used to do on a regular basis.

There is a silver lining to the demise of XP in that the appeal of the system has helped Microsoft execs change their mind on the “smartphone” look of their current Windows 8 system.  There’s an update ahead that will give us the old “look” and feel of the old desktop under XP, Vista, or Windows 7.  I think that will help with the transition, but it’s a pity it won’t be happening until after XP itself is “deceased”.

This article that you’re reading right now was cobbled together and uploaded to the Internet on a system still running on Windows XP. It may likely be one of the last articles written and published under XP.  With the new system and the “new toys”, I should be able to post future articles online directly.  I’m sure it will be more convenient for me, but that doesn’t always make it a good thing.  Sometimes it’s better to be reliable than just convenient.