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.

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.)

“Tarp Gate”: A Sign of the Times

tarp gate

Just when you thought you’d heard EVERYTHING that ANYONE, ANYWHERE could POSSIBLY blame on Barack Obama, along comes… the bungled suspension of a major league baseball game because of rain. No, seriously. Well, it did happen in Chicago, so surely the prez must have been involved somehow or other, eh what?

On the night of Aug. 19, the Chicago Cubs were hosting the San Francisco Giants when a downpour interrupted the action in the middle of the fifth inning, and a grounds crew clumsily covered Wrigley Field with a tarp. Then everyone waited until after 1:00 a.m., when the game was finally called off because the field was too wet. Since the Cubs were leading 2-0 at that point, they were awarded the victory.

But the Giants protested (They wanted to play until 3:00 in the morning?) because they maintained the crew did not adequately protect the field. Officials ruled in their favor, and the game was resumed a couple of days later. The Giants still lost, them bums, but they claimed the consolation prize of the first successful protest of a major league game in 28 years. End of story, right?

Well no, this is where it really gets interesting. And weird. It turns out that the reason the grounds crew was so inept at covering the field was that they were drastically shorthanded. And the reason for that was that some of them were sent home early. And the reason for that was that the bosses didn’t want the lowly laborers working too many hours. And the reason for that reportedly was that they didn’t want to shell out a few more bucks as required by “Obamacare”.

Now there was no real damage because of any of this, except maybe the sore butts of the fans sitting in the bleachers so long — the Cubs even got to keep their mark in the win column. But for some people (notably those at the ever-entertaining National Review), it was another catastrophic failure of the Affordable Care Act — oops, that should be “Obamacare”, of course. Another failure right up there with… well, you know, death panels and stuff.

It’s a sign of the times for a couple of reasons. First, the craze involving blaming any and all problems on President Obama, somehow, anyhow. Second, the trend toward corporate directors being Scrooges and squeezing the underpaid workers at the bottom of the food chain — and then blaming their Scrooginess on President Obama. But there’s yet a third reason.

It turns out that the big cheeses for the Cubs were rather misinformed about the ACA. (What? Someone misinformed about “Obamacare”? Say it ain’t so, Rush.) The dreaded provision of the law requiring them to treat their workers like human beings isn’t even in effect this year. They could have had the full complement of tarp spreaders on hand without having to pay a penny in penalties. As Dean Baker at the Center for Economic and Policy Research bluntly observes, “This is yet another example of the skills gap that is preventing managers from operating their businesses effectively.” In other words, maybe this is why the Cubs suck so much.

It’s another sign of the times. Few if any of the attacks leveled at “Obamacare” are totally accurate, and most have no basis in reality whatsoever. You’d think that if people were going to criticize a law, or anything else, they’d at least want to avoid making fools of themselves by learning a little bit about it first. Just a tad, a smidgen, a modicum, a crumb.  But for the Cult of Obama  Hatred, this would only spoil the fun.

So far, Republicans in Congress have not cited Tarp Gate as grounds for impeachment. But it’s surely just a matter of time.

 

Obama Haters + Benghazi + Iraq = More Spinning Than a Dervish on a Carnival Ride

dick-cheney

A couple of brief but worthwhile articles by Steve Benen at MSNBC highlight the dizzying heights of lunacy to which the cult of Obama hatred has ascended. One is about the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the suspected terrorist mastermind behind the attack in Benghazi in 2012. Remember Benghazi? It’s one of the many “scandals” that the Obama Haters hoped would spell the end of the guy in “their” White House.  Terrorists attacked an American consulate in the Libyan city and killed 4 Americans, so somehow President Obama must have been to blame for something or other, right?

But now that the Obama administration has bagged the suspected mastermind of the assault, they’re all ready to give the president credit for at least trying to compensate for his (as yet unidentified) misdeeds, right?  Well, about the best they can come up with (Courtesy of fairandbalanced Fox)  is that the capture of Khattala is “good news, I guess”.  The rest of the radical wingers have kept piling onto their already massive heap of hatred, hyperventilation and hilarity, ever striving to come up with fresh and inventive ways to embarrass and humiliate themselves.

Benen’s piece lists a “top ten” of right-wing talking points on this development, including the claim that the whole thing is a publicity stunt to promote Hillary Clinton’s book tour. And an especially amusing twist is that, after frequently alleging that anything and everything the president does is a “distraction from Benghazi”, they’re now saying that his focus on Benghazi is a distraction from the (other) phony IRS “scandal”. You have to wonder at this point if there’s a limit to how far they’re willing to go, or if they’ll continue to “reach the bottom of the barrel,  (then) drill deeper.”

That phrase comes from another piece Benen wrote about Obama’s critics (and I use the term as an overwhelming understatement) on Iraq — quite often including many individuals who not only have  been themselves tragically and catastrophically wrong about Iraq in the past but, in at least one case, was among those responsible for creating the Iraqi nightmare that Obama is now trying to clean up. That would be one Richard Bruce Cheney, who for some reason is still not behind bars, and was, according to the Supreme Court at least, vice president for 8 years.

It’s a sort of unwritten rule of civility among members of former administrations that they don’t badmouth current administrations. For one thing, it generally just makes the former appear petty and puerile.  But Dick Cheney, as always, is the epitome of class, as witness his suggestion on the Senate floor that a colleague “fuck yourself”. Accordingly, he has made disparaging comments about the current president not just once but numerous times. That’s particularly galling from someone whose own ascension to his office was, to put it charitably, highly questionable.

And now he and his daughter Liz (who, one gathers, is another foreign policy expert of equal caliber) have co-written a diatribe in the Wall Street Journal about the Iraq quagmire which opines that

Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.

But ironically enough, it’s not a confession about the administration he served. It’s another sleazy attack on the current administration.  In Benen’s words:

Yes, the failed former vice president, a man whose catastrophic failures and misjudgments are the stuff of legend, has decided the president cleaning up Cheney’s messes has been wrong about everything – according to the man who was wrong about everything.

Just how much credibility has Mr. Cheney earned on Iraq? About as much as George W. Bush on the English language. Or Sarah Palin on American history. Or Bill Clinton on marital fidelity. Or Alex Jones on mental health. Not just because of his incompetence, which lord knows is considerable, but also because of his dishonesty, which he’s served up in equal doses. He and other members of his administration repeatedly lied and pushed fraudulent evidence to make a case for the invasion of Iraq.

My favorite instance of Cheney chutzpah was when he appeared on Meet The Press in 2002 and solemnly declared:

There’s a story in the New York Times this morning — this is — I don’t — and I want to attribute the Times,” said Cheney. “I don’t want to talk about, obviously, specific intelligence sources, but it’s now public that, in fact, he has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge.

Was he possibly referring to the “ultra-liberal” New York Times, the kingpin of the librulmedia cartel that controls what we see and hear, and is never to be trusted?  Well, it turns out a little skepticism would have been in order, because the article by Judith Miller turned out to have been based on phony intel — supplied by the administration itself. That’s right: the Cheney administration first supplied fraudulent information to a journalist, then cited that journalist’s obedient parroting of that phony information as justification for its plans to invade Iraq. Classier and classier. Somehow, this guy reminds me of the anecdote about the kid who killed his parents and then implored the court for leniency on the grounds that he was an orphan.

This man’s colossal blunders and duplicity have cost thousands (possibly hundreds of thousands) of lives, and trillions of dollars — but coincidentally have made a tidy profit for Halliburton. And he expects people to lend him an ear as he savages the current president. Don’t look now, but the media are doing just that.

At the conclusion of his essay about the Cheneys, Steve Benen asks,  “Is the nation comfortable with a degree of political madness this severe?” The answer, alas, appears to be yes.