I’m Back!

Well, I’ve just returned from an exhilarating and eye-opening month of backpacking through Europe, and now I’m prepared with renewed vigor to confront the supposedly real world in which Donald Trump is considered a serious contender for president. In my absence, certain “militia” types in Oregon have demonstrated once again that guns are a very poor substitute for brains. Which is quite appropriate, since I left in the midst of a discussion about guns, which I will now resume. Stay tuned.

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A Brief Hiatus

Just a note that I will be out of the country from Jan. 12 to Feb. 11. During this time, my Internet access may be limited. This means not only that there will be probably no new posts, but also that there may be a delay in moderating comments. Please be patient. Thanks.

Why Bush Vs. Gore Still Matters

2000_election_supreme_court_ap_img

It’s now been 15 years since a fiercely partisan Supreme Court handed the keys to the kingdom to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (not necessarily in that order). A hotly contested battle at the time, the clash between the Bush camp and the Gore camp has faded into a paragraph in the annals of history; most people seem to assume that the matter was settled long ago and everyone has moved on. Anyone who suggests otherwise is likely to be dismissed as a mere librul being a sore loser. Just recently, I saw yet another indignant editorial denouncing the insidious “liberal lie” that Bush stole the election.

But as we detailed in a four-part series on its tenth anniversary, there are many reasons why this travesty never should be forgotten. It amounted to a bloodless coup, brought about by a multi-pronged apparatus of nepotism and election tampering. And it probably would not have happened without the complicity of a grotesquely lopsided media.

The media ignored and even actively refused to examine a massive, irregular, highly suspicious pre-election drive by Florida’s governor (who just happened to be Bush’s younger brother) and secretary of state (who just happened to be co-chair of the Bush campaign in that state) to unlawfully purge the voter rolls of tens of thousands of likely Democratic voters under a false pretext. Disenfranchising thousands of perfectly qualified Democratic voters? That doesn’t count as election theft, does it?

During the campaign, the media took up the drumbeat of the Karl Rove character assassination against Al Gore, thoroughly branding him as a pathological  liar — without producing even one actual lie he’d told — and trying to manufacture whoppers out of the most trivial things he did say. Meanwhile, the media ignored bona fide lies that Bush told about important policy matters and his actions in office while he was governor of Texas. It also ignored his long track record of consistent failure and his gross ignorance about the federal government he was positioning himself to lead. His almost daily verbal gaffes were shrugged off, scrubbed, or spun as part of a folksy charm he supposedly inherited by being a Texan (though he was actually from Maine).

The media ignored or glossed over the fact that 80 percent of the ballots nationwide were counted by electronic voting machines supplied by 3 companies — all of which were owned by persons with strong ties to the Republican Party; and that Republicans did extremely well in places where these machines were used. In fact of the many highly suspicious glitches and irregularities that these beasts coughed up, virtually all benefited GOP candidates. Screwy voting machines owned by Republicans that disproportionately generate errors helping Republicans win? Why should anyone care about that?

On election night, it was the standard bearer of American media, Fox “News” that proclaimed Bush the winner, with the other networks sheepishly following suit, thereby immediately and permanently casting Gore in the role of challenger. That premature election night call was made by a Fox talking head who just happened to be Bush’s cousin.

During the legal battle, the media ignored the fact that the Supreme Court (which happened to include two justices appointed by Bush’s father, one of whose wife was involved in promoting a Bush presidency) did an abrupt about-face from its usual states’ rights stances in halting the Florida recount, generating a legal argument so egregious that the justices inserted a decree that no future court should follow it in any other case. And that the Court imposed arbitrary deadlines and restrictions, and offered unjustified reasons for stopping the recount. And that one of those reasons was that Bush would probably win his suit — a preliminary ruling the justices delivered without even reading the brief! And that the court openly admitted its main interest was in preserving Bush’s claim to victory — as opposed to determining the actual winner. Blatantly interested Supreme Court justices ruling in favor of their boy? Nothing suspicious about that, is there?

But perhaps the biggest slap in the face of all to the American public came a year after the election. The Supreme Court fiat did not satisfy the curiosity about who would have won had the recount proceeded. To quote myself from an earlier article:

So, with the supposed objective of setting the matter straight, a consortium of eight news organizations sponsored a painstaking review of the ballots that were rejected. (At least all they had available. Thousands of them, mostly from heavily Democratic precincts, were mysteriously MIA.) Conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center and closely monitored by representatives of both political camps, the review tallied the likely outcomes under several different counting standards.

And what was the result? Somewhat mixed, with Bush winning under some counting scenarios and Gore under others. But Gore won under more scenarios than Bush — including any and all that involved a statewide recount. This,  bear in mind, was even after all the shenanigans the pachyderms pulled off.

Strangely enough, this fact was dutifully noted by The Drudge Report — a very unusual degree of honesty for Drudge or any other  right-wing source. In an article titled “Gore Beat Bush in Florida, Says New Recount” Drudge led off with what it must have found a very disturbing conclusion:

A vote-by-vote review of untallied ballots in the 2000 Florida presidential election commissioned by the nation’s main media outlets shows Al Gore edged ahead of George W. Bush “under all the scenarios for counting all undervotes and overvotes statewide,” the Drudge Report has learned. [Newspapers] will splash in Monday editions an election review which will ignite total controversy during a time of war…

But of course no such splash was splashed, and no such firestorm erupted. National unity was preserved in time of a contrived war, praise the lord and pass the ammunition. Because the rest of the media did not follow Drudge’s surprise lead. Instead, most major media outlets buried the results of their own investigation under the unequivocal narrative that the right man ended up in the White House. Their headlines screamed “Bush Would Have Won a Recount”, while the truth, if it was reported at all, was mentioned in passing somewhere on the back page.

The New York Times (an ultra-librul rag, don’t you know) ran a piece under the unwieldy heading

EXAMINING THE VOTE: THE OVERVIEW; Study of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote

Except that farther down the page, the Times fleetingly mentions bits and pieces of the evidence that actually, the justices sort of did. And the editors also managed to let this slip through the filters:

Another complicating factor in the effort to untangle the result is the overseas absentee ballots that arrived after Election Day. A New York Times investigation earlier this year showed that 680 of the late-arriving ballots did not meet Florida’s standards yet were still counted. The vast majority of those flawed ballots were accepted in counties that favored Mr. Bush, after an aggressive effort by Bush strategists to pressure officials to accept them.

A statistical analysis conducted for The Times determined that if all counties had followed state law in reviewing the absentee ballots, Mr. Gore would have picked up as many as 290 additional votes, enough to tip the election in Mr. Gore’s favor in some of the situations studied in the statewide ballot review.

Counting illegal Republican ballots because the Bushites demanded it? What’s complicating about that? (See the late great Gore Vidal’s eloquent dissection of the Times article in The Nation.)

Anything approximating journalistic integrity and impartiality would require reaching and publicizing the conclusion that the results of the Florida review made Bush’s “victory” questionable to say the least. But that’s not what the mainstream media said then. And that’s not what it’s saying now. And that’s why it’s so important to preserve and present the facts.

There is a scene In Tony Kushner’s play Angels In America, in which one character asks what history will say about something, and another replies that history will lie as usual. Yes, history does lie — sometimes through many generations of schoolchildren who are force-fed inaccurate information, creating a warped sensibility that is often very difficult to rectify, and shapes the kind of world those children live in when they become adults. Let’s try to make certain that history doesn’t take as long to speak the truth about George W. Bush as it did about Christopher Columbus.

 

5 Years On: Hitler and Guns Still Reign Supreme

Hitler with gun

It’s now been five years since I began this blog, with the purpose of ferreting out, exposing and correcting myths, misinformation and disinformation in a variety of fields. In many ways, it’s been a productive five years. I’m pleased with the work I’ve done, and of all that I myself have learned in the process. And I’m pleased to see that I have a steadily growing following, and that I have received some wonderful feedback from readers. Equally telling, I’ve received my share of nay-saying and nasty attacks from those whose ideological feathers I’ve ruffled. The readership is not as large as I’d like, but considering that I’ve done next to nothing to promote it (I’m a very busy man, and not very tech savvy), it’s rather impressive.

These investigations have turned out to involve, much more frequently than I ever imagined, debunking the talking points of right-wing extremists. Which inevitably has prompted the accusation that I’m just here to promote a “liberal agenda”. Which is, alas, far from being the looniest thing right-wing extremists have said.

Which brings me to a fact that really bothers me. Out of 162 posts that I have written to date, the most popular by far is the one titled The Myth Of Hitler’s Gun Ban. And when I say by far, I mean really, really by far. More precisely, it receives more than twice as many views as all the others combined.  That’s right: more than twice as many as all the others combined. In one day alone, right after being linked in a commentary by pundit Randi Rhodes, it was viewed more than 23,000 times. It also has elicited about a third of the total comments.

I mentioned all of this to my wife and she said, “Well, maybe reading that post will make people want to read your other posts as well.” But the evidence indicates that this is not the case.  The blog is averaging barely more than one page view per visit. Most people come here to read just one thing. And most of the time, it’s the same one thing.

And it is far from being the best of my articles. Oh, there’s really nothing wrong with it, except that it’s rather cursory. Which is why I wrote two sequels that explore the topic in greater depth. But guess what? Those two posts are no more popular than any of the others. It’s bad enough that people consider this subject of such vital importance — I actually wrote the first post to show that it’s a bullshit question, and really not very important except as a historical footnote. What’s even worse is that so many readers don’t want to know the ifs, ands or buts. They just want a simple answer: did he or didn’t he?

They believe this question is vital because they have been duped into believing it’s vital by a relatively small cadre of gun culture propagandists who keep hammering away at one of their favorite little formulas: (a) Hitler banned guns and (b) therefore, any attempt to regulate guns is superlatively evil. Not only are both premises patently false, they are by no means interdependent, as the propagandists insistently suggest.

The irony is that, far from shunning firearms, Nazis embraced them with a white-hot passion. And it’s hard to imagine that anyone who knows anything about history at all doesn’t realize this. Thus, it’s hard not to suspect that the gun fanatics who conjure up the specter of Der Fuhrer are doing so not out of revulsion, but out of some level of admiration. Not for the man himself, or his policies or evil deeds. But for the way he and his followers fashioned such a powerful and influential movement — aided and abetted by guns.

In any case, there are numerous subjects I’ve written about that deserve far more attention, especially from American readers. There is, for example, the Christian Right’s Nazi-flavored campaign to marginalize gays. (No, “Nazi-flavored” is not an exaggeration.) There’s the way a shamelessly partisan media cartel colluded with Republicans in the hijacking of the 2000 presidential election. Or, if we must talk about guns, there is the way the gun lobby manipulates statistics to make it appear that guns make us safer; and in particular, there’s the frequent naive reliance on bogus “statistics” that grossly inflate the frequency of defensive gun use, giving gun owners a dangerous false sense of security and coincidentally swelling the coffers of gun merchants. Instead, many readers just zero in on a bit of minor marginalia in the history of Twentieth-Century Europe.

But there is a bright spot. I omitted something from the stats I referred to (and one reason I did so is to illustrate how incomplete information can be misleading). The counts do not include visits to the home page, which presumably reflect readers checking out the latest post without actually clicking on it. That count is on average nearly as high as that of the Hitler-gun post; in fact, for the past couple of weeks, it’s actually been considerably higher almost every day. If this continues, it certainly offers some encouragement.

Still, I’m glad that this blog is geared toward those who have a sincere interest in learning the truth. If it had been designed for the edification of the general public, one would have to conclude that it’s been a dismal failure.

A Reminder About Comments

Once again , it has become necessary to remind readers about the reluctantly adopted comments policy for this site. This is spelled out clearly on the Comments Policy page, but because it has been so blatantly ignored lately, I’ve felt it necessary to reiterate a couple of key points, and to adopt a stricter enforcement.

Basically, your comments probably won’t get published if they are rude, antagonistic or childish. Such remarks rarely offer anything of value, and are not worth my time or most readers’.  Likewise with comments that are just plain ignorant and/ or nutty. Don’t bother protesting that the Holocaust is a hoax, or global warming is fraudulent, or homosexuality can be cured, or Fox isn’t really right-wing.

There are plenty of places online where you can post such things. This isn’t one of them.

A Brief Break

This is just to let everyone know that I will be out of the country Jan. 18-22, and my Internet access may be limited. So there may be a delay in approving/ responding to comments.

Suicide and Depression Vs. Modern Medievalism

robin williams

If there’s anything more saddening than hearing about the death of Robin Williams, it might be hearing some of the commentary about his demise that came from certain clueless and classless ideological fanatics.  Civilized and civil behavior requires a certain amount of respect toward the newly deceased, at least for a few minutes. But no sooner had rigor mortis set in than certain individuals began vying furiously for the honor of having produced the most insensitive and idiotic response to the news

The ever-dependable Rush Limbaugh concluded that Williams killed himself out of the “guilt” attendant upon “political leftism”; and when there was an outcry over his utterances, he blamed the whole thing on — what else — the librulmedia. Shepard Smith at the ever-dependable Fox “News” suggested that Williams killed himself because he was a “coward”.  (Smith, unlike the others mentioned here, at least had the decency to apologize later.) . Chris Fields, an official with the Minnesota GOP, thought the mourning of Williams’ fans was, somehow or other, a golden opportunity for him to urge them to vote for the candidate of his choice — and he continued politicizing repeatedly even after  a fellow Republican admonished him to “Shut. The Fuck. Up.” because he was “making an ass of all of us”.

Not only political hucksters, but religious hucksters, weighed in and cashed in. The ever-dependable Westboro Baptist Church Tweeted hateful comments about Williams and threatened to picket his funeral.  Popular Christian blogger Matt Walsh declared (as one of his “absolute truths and alpaca grooming tips” — I’m not sure which he was intending) that “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice”, and went on to say some other insulting things about depressives (more about that in a moment).  The Family Research Council — DING! DING! DING! (sorry, that alarm always goes off whenever the word family appears in the name of an ideological organization) saw the opportunity to hawk a supposed cure for homosexuality.  WorldNetDaily, not content to refer to depression and substance addiction as figurative “demons”, posited that Williams literally was in league with “demonic powers” that eventually destroyed him — and oh by the way, they just happen to have little video that tells you all about other celebrities who’ve done the same, available at the special low price of only $15.95.

There’s nothing new about this type of exhibitionist opportunism. That’s just the kind of thing these people do, and they’re never going to let a perfectly good tragedy go to waste. Ever. But it underscores just how little the American public understands depression and suicide — which are inextricably bound together. Smith and Walsh are symptomatic of a mindset that holds that depression and suicide are voluntary; and that Williams should have been able to just step back and look at his life in perspective, and make the correct choice. But at its worst, depression is something that totally takes control of you. Williams in his final hours  probably was no more capable of being rational than a Fox anchor or a holier-than-thou religious blogger.

We have pious religiosity to thank for much of the current attitudes about suicide and mental health issues.  But these attitudes are more of medieval than biblical origin. The Bible contains no specific injunction against suicide; moreover at least two of its most vaunted heroes — Saul and Samson — did themselves in. The notion that suicide is a “sin” for which one will “go to hell” originated with writers during the Middle Ages — most notably Dante. And as for the mentally/ emotionally imbalanced, they were often presumed in the good ole days when religion ruled the world to have been possessed by or in league with evil spirits, and subjected to whippings or worse.

Christian fundamentalism has not evolved much, if any, beyond the medieval phase. (Fanatics no longer burn “heretics” at the stake, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t if they could still get away with it.) It’s still a jarringly contradictory combination of fatalism and free will doctrine, stitched together by the conviction that prayer can alter anything, including the will of God — unless He invokes His power of veto. No wonder Christians are so often confused about what is or is not within their control. No wonder people like Matt Walsh can be so condescending toward people like Robin Williams.

Religionists passing judgment on suicides are likely to point to a set of stone-engraved rules for living that they inaccurately call The Ten Commandments and mistakenly believe are to be found in the Bible. (See previous postThe Myth(s) of the Ten Commandments). One of them admonishes flatly, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”; and the traditional inference is that this applies even when the killer and the killee are one and the same. Your life, folks believe, is not your own, and it’s inexcusable for you to deprive God of the fiendish delight of tormenting you indefinitely.

You know as well as I, however, that there are asterisks on the stone alongside the words. The same God who commanded his people that they shalt not killeth also instructed them to slaughter their enemies by the thousands and stone to a pulp anyone who ran afoul of this or that tribal taboo. Likewise, even today many people who consider themselves Good Christians have no problem with capital punishment or aggressive warfare that annihilates innocent men, women and children all over the place.

And yet…

Suicide still remains strictly taboo, under any circumstances.  Walsh declares it to be a “bad decision. Always a bad decision.”   In part because it entails a “willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.”  Notice that word willingness. While Walsh insists that he doesn’t consider depression to be a sign of weakness, he also says:

I know that in my worst times, at my lowest points, it’s not that I don’t see the joy in creation, it’s just that I think myself too awful and sinful a man to share in it.

No matter how you slice it, it’s still that time-honored smug WASP pastime of blaming the victim. (Indeed, many smug WASP neocons refuse to acknowledge that there is any such thing as a victim at all.) I recall reading about a woman who had been molested by a relative as a teen, and when she confided to her minister about it, he replied, “Let’s pray for your forgiveness.” That’s the kind of lunacy that results from a worldview that maintains that on the one hand God and His agents have total authority over you, and yet on the other, that you are totally responsible for whatever circumstances you find yourself in. The kind of worldview incorporating the notion that, just by committing the offense of being born, you’re graded a sinner by default.

To be sure, there are indeed some suicides that (apparently) are willful acts. These include those situations when an individual has a painful terminal illness; and it is their conclusion that their protracted living under those conditions will cause unnecessary pain, grief and expense to both them and their loved ones. Which doesn’t seem to be such a problem for the anti-suicide moralizers.

But the vast majority of suicides are the result of depression, which is a topic very close to home for me. I had a severe struggle with it myself. It runs in my family. I even had a cousin who committed suicide at age 17. None of which qualifies me to determine what is in someone else’s head unless they tell me. And to the best of my knowledge, Robin Williams wasn’t talking to anyone as he tied the knot around his neck. Walsh claims to be able to speak authoritatively about depression because he’s suffered from it himself. It’s hard to imagine, however, that he’s endured any but the mildest emotional turmoil if he can be so presumptuous and judgmental. And even if we assume that he’s really been through the mill himself, that does not put him in anyone else’s shoes. Depression is not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon; nor, for that matter, is suicide. 

Yet he professes to know beyond a doubt that Williams died of “choice”  His ideology demands it, so it must be true. He joins the ranks of such experts on the topic as Tom Cruise (a religious fanatic of a different stripe) who know more about depression than do the professionals. He doesn’t go so far as to say, as Cruise did, that “there is no such thing as a chemical imbalance in the body”, but he does insist that it has a “spiritual” element, whatever the hell that means. Well sure, depression has a spiritual component if you choose to look at it that way. So do mud wrestling and nuclear warfare. And how exactly does that change anything? People still slit their wrists, get dirty, and fry.

For Walsh, the prescription for depression is simple: “joy”. It’s the only thing that really defeats depression, he says. Just inject more joy into your life, and you’ll never succumb. Well, yeah — and the key to immortality is simply to refrain from dying. But telling a severely depressed person to experience joy is like telling a blind man to go out and gather some yellow flowers.

The law has long recognized the validity of an “insanity plea”, based on the premise that people sometimes commit atrocious acts that they are not responsible for because they are not in control of their faculties. Most people accept this as reality, as long as you’re talking about one person killing somebody else. Yet when it comes to suicide, we’re still in the Dark Ages. 

Suicide and depression have always been with us, but that doesn’t mean we have to view them as they’ve traditionally been viewed. It’s the Twenty-First Century, folks; and we have unprecedented tools at our disposal to save people from this horrible affliction called depression, and to prevent many suicides. But our feet our still mired in modern medievalism.

Don’t believe it? Cool. Let me tell you about an informative little video that details how many entertainers have sold their souls to the devil. I can sell you as many copies as you like for the amazingly low price of only $49.95 each.

 

(UPDATE: Matt Walsh has done a followup to his original piece, in which he backtracks a bit, and tries to clarify some false inferences some readers have made, and tries to distance himself from the medieval mentality. But he still insists that he knows beyond all doubt that suicide is always a choice.)