Monday, October 31, 2005

Mixing politics and business

"Liberals are so stupid!"

There's a restaurant right down the block from my house. It's kinda cozy, very small -10 tables max, bar can seat about four. The food is mostly Italian and ranges from decent to really good. It's a little pricey, but heck, me and the Soundsurfrella (or "Lil" for short) like to splurge and eat well. And it's walking distance away! We can toss on a windbreaker and head up the street for a fine meal on a moment's notice AND we can drink as much wine as we want 'cause we don't have to drive home! What could be better?

But we don't go there anymore.

The owners of this restaurant, I am sorry to tell you, are right wing ass holes. Please do not interpret this in such a way as to think that I might consider anyone who leans to the political right as an ass hole - I don't. And even though the owners are indeed die-hard neocons, that in itself is not a reason for me to boycott a restaurant - especially a most convenient and pleasurable restaurant such as this. However, the owners of this particular restaurant are right wing ass holes who bring their politics into the restaurant.

One night, it was pretty late, and Lil and I had just finished a fine meal at said establishment. We decided to sidle up to the bar for an after dinner drink. Because we can. The owner, Art, is behind the bar, pouring drinks and sorting through the night's receipts, and he's chatting us up. His wife Carol joins him and we're engaging in some pleasant, brandy-fueled small talk about the restaurant, which they've recently acquired. It's all good. That is, until Art comes out with something like..."You'd have to be a LIBERAL to be that stupid! Yuk, yuk, yuk."

I do the Spock eyebrow, thinking to myself - "Did he really say that?" It was my wife's, small, involuntary mouse-like noise followed by a hint of atomized Bailey's Irish Cream coming from her direction that tipped me off that she heard it too.

My cousin Francis has a saying that I think really captures the surreal feeling of not being able to make heads or tales of what is happening in real time. He says:
"What the fuck? Over." As if he were talking on a CB radio.
That was my internal reaction to Art. "What the fuck? Over."
I mean, does Art think that the odds of a liberal coming to eat in his restaurant are so small that he can chance making a statement like that? (I live in a BLUE state for crying out loud) Or... Does he not care or is he too stupid to care about whether or not he offends or insults a patron? Or... Do Lil and I look so much like conservatives that he doesn't bother to ask before he disparages liberals? Or... Is he trying to clear the place of anyone but neocons? Or...
Later, in trying to make sense of this, I thought about the days when racism was de rigeur in the USA. (I realize those days are not necessarily over.) But there was a time in the recent past when it would not be unusual for a white man to say anything to anyone about black people, in any sort of tone, in earshot of (or even directly to) a black man. This was regardless of whether the black man was a restaurant patron, a neighbor or a stranger waiting for the same train. Their personal dignity was simply not of any concern to the white man, and the black man knew his place.
It occurred to me that this is the same attitude that right wing ass holes have about liberals. The term "liberal" is interchangeable with "nigger" in this respect, and that is exactly how they use it. It doesn't matter if they insult us, we're just liberals, for chrissakes. And we should expect it! It's standard operating procedure. Yassah, boss, that is a pretty funny joke you done made about us.

So Lil and I, we kept our mouths shut like good little liberal niggers and said goodnight. A week later, we're in the local pizza parlor having lunch and who do we see, but Carol and Art. We recognize each other and we chat. Once again, it's pleasant and innocuous - they've just come back from visiting their daughter in college, blah, blah, until sure enough, Art makes a derogatory comment about LIBERALS, followed by the obligatory donkey guffaw. I'm beginning to think he's not capable of carrying on a conversation without doing this. He's got right wing ass hole hoof and mouth disease. Again, we nod gamely and let it pass, but Lil and I have pretty much had it with this guy.

Outside of Art and Carol's restaurant, there's a little sandwich sign that the couple post the day's specials on. We pass it every day on the way to work. Once in a while, they put up a cute little comment like - "Please come in - Daughter's wedding coming up and we need money!" But lately, they've begun to pepper the sign with right wing ass hole comments. A few weeks ago it read: "Tonite's special: Joe Biden Filet - trout with no backbone". Last Saturday it was: "Halloween Weekend - Ghouls, Goblins, Liberals and Witches Welcome!" You can just hear the implied guffaw.

We were probably good for a dinner a month over there. That's about $1200 per annum in lost revenue for Carol and Art, minus revenue from any friends we might have turned on to the place, etc. I sometimes wonder what Art would think if he knew he had turned us off to his place. I also wonder if I should put on a "FUCK BUSH" T-shirt and sit at the bar nursing a single beer until it goes flat, greeting anyone who comes in with a big smile and the words "You're doin' a helluva job, Brownie!"

One thing I know for sure is that we Liberals should not cowtow to the right wing ass hole sense of social caste structure. We all need to do a Rosa Parks on that bullshit if and when we're subjected to it. I'm mad at myself for not doing it before, but the next time we run into Carol and Art (and it won't be in their restaurant), and are treated to one of their remarks, I'm gonna let them know right then and there that their right wing hooey is stinkin' up the joint.
Off topic:

For anyone wrestling with the proponents of Intelligent Design Theory, the hilariously definitive argument against can be found in this blog. Case closed.

I have a fetish...

It's a form of masochism, I think.

I argue with theists in theological forums.This is a sick and twisted thing for an atheist to do, because it's about as productive and well-advised as throwing fruit at police cars. In fact, it's as unproductive as arguing about music - a practice I often admonish my musically passionate friends for when they engage in it. But every once in a while, I get payback. This comes in various forms. For example, I may be just about to lose interest in a long drawn-out debate about the problem of evil, when I'm tossed a gem like this one:

I'm not here on earth to party and have a good time. I'm here to learn my lesson. Imagine your painless world for a minute. What will a murderer learn if he cannot murder? If he cannot see his victim's life drain from it and TRULY KNOW the consequences of his actions?

Seeing the words "What will a murderer learn if he cannot murder?" eminating from the keyboard of a perfectly serious, otherwise functioning human being is an experience I could not conjure out of my own imagination. This person has clearly lost control of his television set and entered the realm of the Outer Limits. I marvel at this.

Another form of payback is the occasional introduction to the transcendent character. As an illustration, I give you one Mr. JP Holding, proprietor of Mr. Holding is a self-professed, self-styled Christian Apologist. I put this title in capital letters to signify that Holding does this full time. It is his profession to defend Christianity from the scrutiny of skeptics. Actually, his degree is in library science, but I believe he is presently unemployed. So he writes "scholarly" works defending Christianity from evil skeptics like myself, and solicits donations to support his activities.

Now, over the years there have been many Christian apologists of note, many of them scholars, academics, university staff, etc., and most of them are not notable or, as I say, transcendent in the way that JPH is. Holding is transcendent for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he's the Don Rickles of Christian apologetics. It's a thing to behold. Once he realizes someone is not buying into his apologetics, he unleashes a string of insults back at them with every post. For example, if one points out the pitiful lack of verifyable biographical data contained in the Gospels, JP responds with this:

"So, where's your expertise on GR bioi then, schelppy? Leave it behind the door when you rushed out for your box of Munchkins from Dunkin' Donuts?"

He really does talk like this. It's the Bible As Rocket Science philosophy - a canard that the Roman Catholic Church used for years as its basis for authority (although Holding is not RC).

Holding even draws comics of his critics where he ridicules them further. Some Christians are not amused. They ask JPH.. "Is that the way a Christian is supposed to act?" Well, apparently it is, because JP will happily provide a scholarly treatise on why insulting your opponents is actually biblical. None of this "wimpy Jesus" stuff for him.

The third form of payback is the rare and elusive argument-I've-never-heard-before. Just recently, a fundy came at me with this one:

Atheism is a bankrupt worldview because it does not argue in favor of anything.


According to this mental acrobat, atheism has nothing to contribute - all atheists ever do is turn the conversation around and argue against God. One day he challenges me to defend atheism without arguing AGAINST the existence of God. Can't do it, ha? Ha?? I explain that atheism is, in fact, a lack of belief in God and I respectfully ask how one could possibly defend a lack of belief in x without actually arguing against the existence of x.

He has no plausible response to this. So he launches an attack on my character, and the character of all atheists. Apparently, we're all a bunch of hypocrites. For many Christians, prejudice is perfectly acceptable as long as it is aimed at atheists.

As an old friend used to say, we atheists just have to be damn pleased. It wasn't very long ago that they could boil us in oil if they wanted to.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Hannity's Lame-Ass Damage Control

So I’m totally bored while driving home last night and I switch on Hannity for a few laughs. The topic is the impending indictments in the Valerie Plame case and the spin is this: Patrick Fitzgerald, the investigator in the case, is a QUESTIONABLE CHARACTER.

Immediately, we should realize that this is a tip-off that the neocons are so unable to defend the investigatee’s that they can only resort to attacking the investigator.

Hannity is in rare form on this. He’s got no solid material to work with, so his delivery comes across about as weak as a sweater woven out of cotton candy. But the lame-ass right-wing tactics are in full bloom. First, he delivers a convoluted, incomprehensible litany of past exploits that he only indirectly attributes to Fitzgerald, and tries to make them sound shady. These involve alleged pressuring of suspects to testify against other suspects in return for plea deals, “creative interpretation” of law to force indictments and other various and sundry acts, none of which, by the way, I could identify as being illegal, unethical or non-typical for the profession.

Then he says – “I don’t know what to make of this, really. I’m just mentioning it, because I think the people should know.”

Human beings with IQ’s above 10 should really be offended by manipulative weasel statements like that. I call them “Fox Trots”, because they are used day in and day out on right wing talk radio/TV. Another one is the insidious – “Some people say….” followed by a totally unsupported allegation against the enemy of the day. “Some people say that Hillary Clinton is actually a lesbian abortionist with ties to Al Qaeda. Is that something the voters should be concerned about John?” “Well, I’ve never seen hard evidence that she’s a terrorist, per se,” John replies, in a fair and balanced way. Note that these two ass holes think they’re not engaging in slander because THEY didn’t actually say anything bad about Hillary Clinton. Heck, John DEFENDED her. Note that nobody ever raises the question of WHO actually might have said something like that or what it’s based on. But for the bobble-headed minions who eat this crap for dessert every day, that stuff about Hillary is as true as the Earth is young.

So basically, Hannity insinuates that Fitzgerald is really quite an evil fellow and then Fox Trot’s out of it with the weasel words “I don’t know what to make of this really.” Yes you do, you cheese-ball. You want US to think he’s a Bad Guy, which, by virtue of some vacuous, Left Behind Series logic, makes Karl Rove and Scooter Pie Libby good guys.

Hannity wonders out loud why the “mainstream media” is not reporting on this. Well, Sean, because a) Fitzgerald is not under investigation, somebody else is, b) it’s not really information, c) they don’t have neoconservative cognitive dissonance and finally, d) maybe, like you, they wouldn’t know what to make of it!

Through all this, Hannity is careful not to mention that Fitzgerald is a REPUBLICAN. I’m sure half his listeners are convinced at this point that he’s a raving liberal, or maybe even a North Korean spy.

The next part of the dance is where Hannity takes a pre-screened, pre-approved phone call from a sycophant. “Sean, this is Terry from Dipstick Bog, Louisiana. You are a Great American. Thank God for you. Without you, how would Americans know the TRUTH?” Sean coos back – “Well, I couldn’t do it without the support of Great Americans like you Terry.” This mutual foot-licking goes on for a while, and I drift off to ponder the idea that people who think and act like Sean Hannity are Great Americans, so what kind of Americans does that make the rest of us?

Finally, we cut to a station break where we are informed that the Sean Hannity show is America’s most reliable source of “news and Information”.


Thursday, October 27, 2005

God Help Me

There are contractors in my house doing a complete renovation of the bathroom in our master bedroom.

Now, I am not naive. I steeled myself for the obvious inconveniences this would cause. My wife and I set up temporary shop in the outer hallway bathroom and made sure that everyone's morning shower time was scheduled to avoid conflict. We took our clothing out of the closets that were being re-modeled to expand the existing bathroom, hung them on temporary clothes horses and protected them with plastic. We explained to our somewhat paranoid teenage daughter that the construction would be noisy and there would be all manner of characters blasting in and out of the house all day tracking dirt and carrying menacing looking tools. We were fully prepared.

But this is like saying - "I am now fully prepared for my barium enema." No matter what you do, it's gonna suck. So the first thing that happens is, the contractors come in and shut off the main water feed, open up all the pipes, then leave at the end of the day without closing up the pipes and turning the water back on. No showers, no toilets, nothing. Our daughter won't even pee because she's grossed out at the prospect of not being able to flush.

Next, the design begins to change midstream. "How about if we put the tub over here, instead of over here? We think it will be better for you." (Translation: It's less plumbing work for us.)

"Yeah, but if we move the tub over there, then the toilet has to go over here, and that's where the towel rack was going to be", I say.

"No problem, we'll put the towel rack where the sconce was going to go."

You see where this is going. If I go to my office, I'm needed back at the house to clear up a problem or make a decision. If I stay home, they don't need me for anything, so I sit in my freezing cold house (the heat is off because they've got the radiator pipes all chopped up) listening to the sweet sounds of hammers and power tools and hoping I can hold off on going to the bathroom for a while. My precious vacation time is being swallowed up by the Seat-Of-Our-Pants Construction Company.

Then there's the money thing. After we agree on a price, the price begins to undergo fluid adjustment. And unlike the water that hopefully will flow through my plumbing again someday, the price fluctuations defy gravity, preferring in all cases to move upwards.

"Sir, since you got through-wall faucets, we'll need to buy special plumbing fittings for those." Cha ching. $300 bucks.

Did I want 4 inch hi-hats in the ceiling or 5 inch? I wanted 4-inch. Good choice, I'm told. Cha ching.

"Sir, you and your wife are both tall. You should consider a higher toilet. It's so much more $comfortable$." My wife, unfortunately, is present when this is proposed. She nods, enthusiastically. I wonder to myself - did she have a problem with the throne she's been sitting on all these years?

So how long will we be subjected to this? I'm told a week, but I have no faith. It's now Thursday and the area still looks more like downtown Bhagdad than a bathroom.

And, God help me, there is no Green Zone here.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Yes, we're happy

In light of the ongoing unraveling of the Republican Party machine that has been taking place with rapid acceleration over the past few months, I’d like to address a familiar talking point that we hear all too often from the right. Having little or nothing to say in their own defense for the debacles we see all around us, they are now pointing to liberals and saying – “Look, they’re happy that things are going badly for the USA! Liberals WANT the economy to tank. They WANT the insurgents to make a mess of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They WANT the USA to fail. Why? Because they hate our country!”

This of course is typical neocon logic, which is to say, incoherent

I’ll freely admit that I pull out my guitar and strum the chords to “Here Comes The Sun” when things go badly for the Republicans, but not for the reasons they think. It’s not because we hate our country, morons, it’s because we love it. You see, if we really wanted to have trillion dollar deficits, deadly, unprovoked conflicts, exacerbated terrorism, and under-funded, paralyzed, inept internal government agencies with under-qualified leadership, we would have voted for Bush in the first place.

I mean, it’s not like we didn’t predict this shit storm before it happened. It’s not like the neocons haven’t lived up to our expectations and then some.

Which brings us to the reason we’re happy. We’re happy because we may soon be able to begin the long and arduous process of undoing all the damage this administration has done over the past 5 years. Maybe, just maybe, a good number of the zombie bobbleheads who voted Republican in the last election will actually furrow their brows and say WTF? when they hear things like “The insurgents are in their last throes”, or “I don’t think anyone anticipated the breaching of the levies” coming from the mouths of their leaders. Maybe even a few EVANGELICAL senior citizens will sit up and take notice when they have to order their heart pills from Zimbabwe because their Medicaid coverage has been yanked. Maybe they’ll read one of Harriet Mier’s love letters to Dubya and say “Holy shit – she’s nuts!” instead of confirming her to one of the most powerful offices in the land because she believes in the coming rapture.

In a nutshell, we’re happy because there may be some hope for our children, after all.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I guess it's time...

At the risk of becoming cannon fodder for the inevitable ideological cleansing due to occur in the United States of Christiania over the coming decades, I believe it is time for me to join the blogger bandwagon.

It won't take long before my posts betray me as the irreverent liberal atheist wingnut that I am, so I might as well get that out in the open from the get-go. In my opinion, the richest country on earth should be ashamed and embarrassed that its children lack health insurance. I'm not into bestiality, but I would rather be married to Lassie than Ann Coulter. I think that if George W. Bush suddenly died and they had to perform an autopsy on him, his brain would look a lot like Terry Schiavo's did. I have reason to believe that the ACLU is not a Stalinesque organization attempting to overthrow the US government and set up a communist state run by homosexuals.

Like my good friend and fellow liberal, The Viscount Lacarte, I am keenly interested in music and am a bit of a musician myself. So I'll be sharing my opinionated diatribes on music as well, but I won't be getting into arguments about it. There's a saying about people who argue about music. Maybe those who know it can post it in the comments. My first challenge.

Another topic of considerable interest to me is consciousness and self-awareness. I can debate endlessly about the Turing test and it's ramifications, real or perceived, so anyone who wants to get that discussion going, bring it on. I'm sort of like a retriever dog on these issues - if you throw the ball, I'll chase it every time.

Some more meaningless factoids that may add to ( or subtract from) your perception of me, FWIW -

I refer to God in the same sense that Einstein did. I'm very happily married and there's nothing that bums me out more than a loser who laughs and elbows you while berating their spouse. I think "MC 900-Foot Jesus" is the coolest band name ever. I'm a techno-geek and I've got all kinds of audio recording gear. I once published a book on home recording studio design and people actually bought it. I have children who are and always will be the center of my universe. I become closer to God every time I go out on my sailboat. I have too many hobbies. There's nothing better than good sex, but Japanese food and some French wines that cost more than my monthly car payment are acceptable substitutes in a pinch. I think the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is more profound than the Bible, and contains better advice.

I have questions. If I deliberately pour Draino into a test tube containing a human embryo, should I be tried for murder? Can God kill my immortal soul if He feels like it? Why don't faith healers ever heal amputees? Is blowing himself up the best way for a young Islamist to get laid? Why do people who make $18,000 a year vote for tax cuts for the rich? Why would someone vote for a dead guy instead of John Ashcroft? No wait, I know the answer to that one.

Welcome to my blog.