Links For Brains: 11/19/2008

  • If you’re still bewildered about how the economy got so mucked up, browse through this handy visual guide to the finiancial crisis. (Flow charts are almost as cool as Venn diagrams.)

  • A new report from the U.S. government says that Gulf War Syndrome is a real medical condition. (Still no cure for “uninsured veterans syndrome.”)

  • New blog digs up the most obscenely stupid postings on a UK government website where anyone can create a petition to the Prime Minister. (This would never work in the U.S. Even the bare text of the stupid ones would overwhelm the average webhosting in minutes.)

  • PZ Myers loves the transportation options in Philadelphia. (He’s a biologist, maybe he can explain why the 34th Street El station smells like an open sewer.)

  • My brain is broken. (No link here, I’m just sayin’.)

Sunday Soapbox: Look Out, Christmas

We’re coming for you. The constitutionally protected expression, by a minority of Americans, of our belief that people can be moral without the influence of a deity, is going to stomp all over your holiday. Forget the strength of your faith, your millions of practicing Christians, the ubiquitous decorations that go up in October, and the many billions of dollars spent annually on your totally sacred celebration. Some ads on bus shelters, and people who want their season’s greetings to be a little more inclusive, are going to take Christmas out into an alley, beat it until it cries for its mommy and leave it to die in a puddle of holly jolly blood and urine.

You know what I’m sick of? The war on Hanukkah. The Jews have been lighting candles on the 25th day of Kislev since some time in the Second Century BCE. Hanukkah is at least 500 years older than Christmas, which wasn’t scheduled for December until some time around 350 CE. 

Hanukkah also celebrates an event that (theoretically, at least) took place in the month in which it’s celebrated. Christmas is an overblown propaganda holiday, dated in order to help people forget about the old Roman gods, and ease their transition to worshipping the new Roman god. It was only stuck in December to replace the ancient Roman festivals celebrating the solstice.

Despite its seniority and authenticity, every year Hanukkah is trampled by the Christmas juggernaut. Radio stations start playing the same two-dozen Christmas songs 24 hours a day in October. Stores are decorated like a pine forest threw up a candy cane factory on the day after Halloween. If you’re lucky, one dusty corner or neglected aisle will have blue and white paper on the shelves, underneath sad, lopsided dreidels and slightly bent menorahs. (Interesting side note. The WordPress spellcheck doesn’t even recognize the word “dreidel.”)

Yet, because its monopoly on early winter celebration isn’t absolute, somehow Christmas is under assault. There’s a secret cabal of liberals, who apparently hate Christianity (and solvent retail stores) so much that they’re trying to get it banned. And convincing retailers to use “Happy Holidays” on their signage is the first step toward legal drugs and abortion on demand.

The war on Christmas is a fiction, created by conservative demagogues to sell books and create ratings. Nobody is trying to have Christmas banned. (Frankly, if we could legalize marijuana and protect reproductive rights, I’d put up with Christmas decorations all year round.)

Also, nobody is trying to stop you fom saying “Merry Christmas” to anyone and everyone. Say it to your friends, say it to your neighbors. Write in 20,000 volts worth of icicle lights on the side of your barn. Scrawl it in green magic marker on your bare bottom, and run naked through the mall until your bits are red and chafed. Nobody will care. You will not be shot, or imprisoned without trial, or even sent to bed without supper. You are not at war. The worst you’ll get is a “Happy Holidays” in return. (Except for that last one, which might get you arrested, or your picture posted on Fark.)

The next time you’re tempted to decry the “war” on your massive, culture-eating holiday, try to remember that there are people in the world who are actually at war. Any soldier on any battlefield would trade incoming ordinance for a non-specific holiday greeting in a heartbeat.

Waldorf’s Week in Review

Crap, I’ve been in rehearsals all week, so I haven’t been following as much as I should. I will admit to some election fatigue. I think Pfizer makes a pill for that.

  • (∞+1) Still can’t believe Obama is the President-Elect. It is a very good thing, mainly because of item two…
  • (∞/(∞-2.34981)) The last seven years and 8 or so months have been the turds of life. George W. Bush is still our President until January.
  • (- -) Do you really think oil is going down because of a) a conspiracy, b) demand is lower, or c) I can’t think of a third reason. Don’t think so. Methinks speculators are still selling off oil stocks to make up for the losses they’ve taken in mortgage backed securities.
  • (- - -) To us, the citizens and taxpayers of the United States. We suck. Or rather, we get our funds sucked from us without the promise of reciprocity.
  • (+ +) It’s still so nice to see the shuttle launch, and nice to see it going on an ambitious mission. The urine into drinking water trick, though, leaves me with some doubts, unless they are like those cool suits in Dune.
  • (- - - X ∞) A BIG WTF to the friendly citizens of the US for this - more threats to Obama than any other president-elect.
  • (- - -) To News Organizations. Transition to Power? Come on! What, are you all upset that you didn’t get to use your nifty Election ‘08 graphics for a longer period of time? I know, 10:30 was early to decide an election, and early for a candidate to cut-and-run concede, but I’m sure there is other news out there… somewhere.
  • (- - -) To those who claim actors should shut up about politics. I agree, but only if you shut up about Ronald Reagan.
  • (+) To schadenfreude. I am not a fur-activist, nor do I like or dislike Lindsay Lohan, but the flour thrown on her while wearing an expensive fur DID make me giggle.

A Word (Or 250) About Prop 8

I have a solution.

To Proposition 8, that is.

Oh, you haven’t heard of Prop 8? It’s a state ballot measure in California seeking to amend the state constitution to restrict the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. There has been a lot of flack directed towards the Mormon church because they pumped millions of dollars into support of the initiative. Also, voters in the state of California approved the measure.  However, it has only heated up the issue, and focused a national magnifying glass under a spotlight on the Prop, its detractors and contributors, and the state of California.

I have a solution so we can stop all of this bickering.

Abolish all marriage. Either it is a matter of the state or a matter of the church, but can’t be both. If it is a matter of the state, then equality must be attained and maintained. If it is a matter of the church, then the church decides what is right or wrong but has no bearing upon status or benefits allowed by the state. There cannot be a co-mingling. The church cannot dictate to the state.

So there you go. Two options. Either the state decides that all couples are equal or the state decides none have rights of partnership.

Before I hear from nutcases, like my sister or my aunt, that gay marriage will lead to all sorts of abominations, let me say that marriage can only be between consenting adults in the eyes of the state.

Other Election News

Last week’s avalanche of election news swept a lot of things off the trail and buried them in a remote part of the news wilderness. One of the stories that died of hypothermia at the bottom of a gully was actually election related. Voters in Pennsylvania’s 29th district re-elected state Senator James J. Rhoades to another term. Sadly, Senator Rhoades will be unable to serve, since he died 17 days before the election from injuries he received in a car accident.

The Pocono Record explains how the incumbent Republican beat his Democratic challenger, despite being dead at the time:

Rhoades died too close to election day to replace the incumbent senator’s name on the ballot and his staff continued to campaign for his election after his death. (emphasis added)

This suggests that there were two reasons that Senator Rhoades was victorious. One of those reasons is understandable, if not entirely satisfying. Yes, finding a new candidate in under three weeks would have been difficult. But would it have been prohibitively difficult to note on the ballot that electing a dead man would trigger a special election, rather than just leaving him their as a space-filler?

The second clause in that sentence is just disturbing, mostly because it’s so unsurprising. It sounds crazy and morbid; Rhoades’ staff was so devoted to their beloved leader that they wanted to have his corpse embalmed and propped up in a chair in Harrisburg, while a psychic contacted his spirit and asked him how he’d like to vote on fluff resolutions.

The truth, one suspects, is that they didn’t want the seat to go to a *gasp!* Democrat. They weren’t campaigning for a zombie senator, they were working to keep the other guy from winning, so they’d have a couple of months to find a suitable replacement candidate before the special election in January. Instead of saying that, they kept up their “memorial campaign,” and got a corpse elected rather than see challenger Peter Symons take over the seat.

Another interesting outcome is that the third-place candidate for the seat, independent Dennis Baylor, hasn’t officially conceded, despite receiving about 2,000 votes to Rhoades’ 71,000 and Symons’ 41,000. He points out the practical problems of conceding to a dead man, as well as the unclear procedure for trying to get on the ballot as an independent candidate in the special election. If it works the same way as it did for the general election, Baylor will have to gather a certain number of signatures on a petition to secure a place on the ballot. Instead of having six months to gather the required names, he’ll have less than three.

So, congratulations to Pennsylvania’s 29th District. That is one state senate seat that is guaranteed not to generate any patronage jobs and wasteful spending, at least until January.

I Never Have A Camera When I Need One

My wife and I were in traffic this morning behind a (technically) white shipping truck. Someone had scrawled several pro-Phillies slogans in the road dust on its back door. Among the standard “honk if you love the Phillies” type phrases was this rallying cry:

Go Phils. Do it for Steve Irwin. Beat the Rays.

Philadelphia. We are the classiest city ever. And, astronauts help me, I laughed out loud.

Sunday Soapbox: Reclaiming Vocabulary

This week’s guest Sunday Soapbox is by regular Suburban Panic! contributor Waldorf Van Buren.

The election is over, the jargon fading away, and the campaigns nothing more than expensive political ephemera. The media and their unholy cohorts have trampled and raped parts of the English language, overusing words and expressions until they had become a collection of disconnected, meaningless syllables. A new President has been elected in the form of Barack Obama, and now it is time to reclaim some valuable verbiage and wrest it from the mouths of the ever-loquacious commentators disguised as journalists.

I want “change” to mean change, and not be overburdened with images of pundits, pollsters, and politicians pushing their way into a crammed metroliner, all gobbling and talking over one another, trying to make the same point, only with a louder voice. I want to be able to quip that there is “no change in this house,” thanks to crying babies at 3:30 am, without people assuming where my political affiliations lie. I want the bad puns (that even I admit using) about four quarters for a dollar being “the change we need.” I want “change” to have its non-political meaning back. Yes, change must change back. It must revert.  No longer must it be the domain of ravenous politicos and their rabid followers. It should simply mean to make something (whether form, function, nature, or direction) different from what it is.

I’d like to reclaim, and then set fire to, the combination of name and occupation, such as “Joe the Plumber,” “Deb the Teacher,” “John the Baptist,” “Rahm the Emmanuel,” or “Gozer the Destroyer.” At this point it’s impossible to mention the name Joe or the occupation plumber without recalling how it was horribly misused as code for “Real America.”  I suppose it’s not the allusion to “Real America” that I take issue with, but the passionless deadpan automaton way in which it was used, whether by an otherwise charismatic man, a batshit crazy man, a batshit crazy senile fossilized “maverick” man, or a batshit crazy woman whose sexuality became moot once she opened her mouth.

The independent streak in me rails against the very notion that we are defined by our occupations. No, we are defined by our actions and our actions do not equate with our jobs. How many times would I have been known as Waldorf the Burger-flipper? (For the record, once — but I did more than flip burgers, I was more like a fully functional soda jerk, which would make me “Waldorf the Jerk,” and while I still dislike “[name] the [occupation],” this one fits.) Let’s stop trying to customize subsections of America with cute, folksy phrases that are at worst demeaning, and at best condescending. There are other phrases that steer clear of compartmentalization and cliche, so use them instead. Keep occupation out of identity.

“Mandate” is a term that comes back every two to four years, and the meaning is now… lessened. It does not mean what we think it means anymore, so I propose we change the definition to something more apropos. “Mandate” will simply mean a contract between a manwhore and whomever is buying the service. Therefore, it can still be used when dealing with politics. We, the people, give a mandate to politicians. We buy their services with our votes and taxes — and they screw us.

The business owners on “Main Street” were probably very happy that a politician — and by extension, the media — focused some attention on them. After all, any publicity is good publicity, until the phrase was hammered into the heads of anyone within listening distance of a radio, television, or internet browser capable of multimedia output. It then became fraught with meaning, connotations that ranged from positive, down-home, work ethic “sticktuitiveness” to down-home, mom-and-pop, small business ineptitude. I am actually surprised that the Rat Entertainment Company didn’t decide to sue for use of Main Street, U.S.A. 

Let’s stop using the phrase as a substitute for Small Business. Main Street in my home town was filled with prostitutes, meth dealers, and other entrepreneurs. Surely the candidates and President-Elect were not talking about them, were they? “Main Street” is simply a main street, and is now obsolete in many major cities and larger towns. So let’s reclaim the phrase by not using it unless we’re giving directions on how to get from here to there.

“Friends” is not a word to be taken lightly. Take the “r” away and you have “fiends.” Use it too much, let’s say in a speech, with the modifier “my”, and you have a recipe for insincerity soup. Mr. McCain ladled that frothy broth to the masses at the soup kitchen of the idiotic, and lost the election. Are they still your friends? Can we now go back to the other meaning of “friends,” as in “people you know who won’t fuck you without at least first asking permission?”See also: “friends with benefits.”

Although I am not a fan of Top Gun or Tom Cruise, I appreciate “maverick” as his nom de guerre much better than the flaccid attempt by McCain to usurp the word. While it once referred to a rule-breaker, an independent individual taking a stand against the status quo (or an unbranded cow), it has now, thanks to hard-core campaigning and the relentless media echo, become something connoting a grumpy old candy-store owner saying one thing and doing quite the opposite. It has come to mean shrouding oneself in the insular coat of “conservatism” while not actually acting upon those beliefs. It has now come to mean angry, defiant, sarcastic, whipping up a misguided public furor against those who are different. It could be said that this new definition would have been at home in 1930s Germany, and that would be a travesty of word usage.  This word, above all, must be reclaimed, even if we just put it up on a shelf and let it gather dust for awhile, not taking it down until the actions are suited to the word, and the word to the actions.