Sunday, November 23, 2014

It's That Time of Year Again: The PWoC Returns

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Yes, it’s November, folks, and we all know what that means. It means it’s time for Christmas decorations to start appearing on the shelves and in the streets. It’s time for Christmas commercials to begin showing up on TV. And it’s time for loud (and ultimately useless) grousing about how awful it is that all this is happening when it’s not even Thanksgiving yet.

All of this is followed, as the night follows the day, by the annual Phony War on Christmas (PWOC), that yearly ritual in which the most privileged class of people (white, straight Christians) in the most privileged country on Earth get to whine about how they’re being oppressed because someone wished them “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

As always, the first cries of woe came from our old friends at the Resentment Channel, aka Fox “News.” Bill O’Reilly, whose platoons of researchers apparently comb the Interwebs looking for stories to spin up into new occasions for right-wing butthurt, announced, in his words, “the first salvo in the war on Christmas.”

In one school district in Maryland, O’Reilly said indignantly, “there will be no mention of Christmas or any other religious holiday on the school calendars going forward. That’s because a Muslim did something!”

Now, you may be thinking, “Doggone those Muslims! Now they’ve gotten Christmas banned! Is there no end to their perfidy?” Not so fast. What “a Muslim” (actually several local Muslim leaders) did in Montgomery County, Maryland, was ask for a day off for one of their own religious holidays, known as Eid al-Adha or “feast of the sacrifice.” They were certainly not asking that there be no Christmas.
I imagine they didn’t expect the school board’s reaction, which was to totally punt on the issue and remove all religious designations from the school holidays, both Christian and Jewish. It was a decision which satisfied no one.

Note well that the Christian and Jewish holidays themselves are still there: Everyone still gets the same time off for Christmas and Easter, as well as the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It’s just that Christmas vacation happens over what’s now called “winter break.” Easter vacation is where it’s always been, during “spring break.” As for the Jewish holidays, they’re
designated as days of “no school for students and teachers,” according to a report in the Washington Post. So the kids still have the same holidays they had before, to celebrate in any way they and their families see fit. 

You’d think that would placate Mr. O’Reilly and his colleagues. You’d think that, that is, if you’d been living in a cave without TV for the last 20 years and were unfamiliar with Mr. O’Reilly’s shtick. This board decision, he groused, was “wiping out” all our traditions. “They’re wiping out — you know Christmas and Easter and Passover, these have a Judeo-Christian tradition in our country,” he said. “So they just wiped out all our traditions for these people.”

Actually, “they’ve” done no such thing. While calling the break at the end of the year “Christmas break” is something we may have gotten used to over the years, I seriously doubt that anyone regards how it’s designated on the written school calendar crumpled up in the bottom of Junior’s backpack as one of their fondly embraced traditions.

In any case, I strongly suspect that students and parents will still refer to the holidays as “Christmas break” and “Easter break,” and no one will try to stop them. All will still be allowed to participate in their real traditional observances of the season, such as trampling their fellow celebrants on Black Friday so as to snag the last of the “door buster” 50-inch TVs for $199 at Best Buy.

I’ve noticed that there doesn’t seem to be a lot of outcry from Jewish people over the Montgomery County School Board decision, even though their holidays got the same treatment as the Christian ones. Perhaps this is because Jewish folks, having actually been the recent targets of horrific and genocidal persecution, are less inclined to get their knickers in a twist over what some school board calls a holiday.

It’s a lesson some people could stand to learn. If the thing that makes you indignant is a faraway school board calling the end-of-the-year vacation the “winter” rather than the “Christmas” break, or the thing you feel the burning need to protest is someone using “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” then I submit that you’ve actually got life pretty good and should just be thankful for that, it being the season for thanksgiving and all.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

'Net Neutrality' is The Right Thing, Even if Obama's For It

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

There’s been a lot of talk since the election on where the first big showdown is going to occur between President Obama and Congress over the use of “executive actions.” Surprisingly, it may turn out that the first battleground won’t be immigration or the environment, but the issue of net neutrality.
So, what is net neutrality? Put simply, it’s the principle that all data going across the Internet should be treated equally. Imagine the Internet in the term once commonly used to describe it: as an “information superhighway.”
You’d want everyone on a highway to have equal access to it, right? But imagine if some people got special access to higher speed lanes and on ramps if they paid more. Imagine if, say, J.B. Hunt Transportation could pay to use faster lanes and quicker access ramps than Bob’s Friendly Trucking.
Pretty soon, poor Bob’s going to be out of business, and J.B. Hunt has one less competitor. That’s not good for capitalism. Further, J.B. Hunt’s going to pass that premium down to its users, who’ll have fewer and fewer options to go elsewhere. That’s not good for consumers.
To apply this to the Internet, say you and a few of your entrepreneurial friends have an idea for a new search engine, one that runs faster and provides better sorting of search results than Google or Yahoo. But when you try to get it up and running, you find out that you can’t complete because Google has flexed its financial muscle and paid Comcast and Time Warner off so that they’ll always have better access and run faster than you.
After the customary months of internal debate and re-debate on the subject, President Obama stepped forth and stated: “I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.”
What that means in plain English is that he wants the FCC to treat Internet service providers (ISPs) as utilities or “common carriers,” meaning that they’d have more power to make them treat all their customers equally.
Some right-wing Washington types immediately leaped forward to defend the only real principle the wingnuts have left, to wit: “If’n Obama’s fer it, we’s agin it.” Orange John Boehner, alleged speaker of the House, claimed the president’s proposal would “destroy innovation and entrepreneurship” (as we’ve seen, precisely the opposite is true).
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz put down his copy of “Green Eggs and Ham” long enough to take to Twitter and Facebook to call the proposed rule change “Obamacare for the Internet.”
Cruz indicated his utter failure to understand the Affordable Care Act, net neutrality, and the English language by going on to claim that the proposed redefinition “puts the government in charge of determining Internet pricing, terms of service, and what types of products and services can be delivered, leading to fewer choices, fewer opportunities, and higher prices for consumers.”
This, despite the clear language about “forbearing from rate regulation.” On second thought, perhaps this is like Obamacare, if by that you mean “something right-wingers justify opposition to by lying through their teeth about it.”
It should surprise no one that Sen. Cruz is the recipient of over $47,000 in campaign contributions from the biggest Internet service providers, such as Comcast, TWC, et. al. What may have surprised the senator, however, is the number of self-described conservatives who joined their more liberal brothers in geekdom to tell him he’s totally full of it on this subject.
“As a Republican who also works in IT,” one wrote, “you have no clue what you are talking about.” Another wrote, “As a tech and fiscal conservative in Texas who generally votes Republican, I am incredibly disappointed by your completely inaccurate statement.”
That shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, however, because this is by no means a strictly liberal issue. According to a recent story on, a survey by the Internet Freedom Business Alliance (IFBA), a group led by former GOP Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi, found that “83 percent of self-identified conservatives thought that Congress should take action to ensure that cable companies do not ‘monopolize the Internet’ or ‘reduce the inherent equality of the Internet’ by charging some content companies for speedier access.”
Net neutrality is good for the Internet, and since so much of our business these days gets done there, it’s good for the country. This is an issue with support all along the political spectrum, even if it’s opposed by Comcast, TWC, and other corporate behemoths, and by their bought and paid-for shills in Congress.
Let’s not let knee-jerk opposition to all things Obama, as well as congressional harlotry, be the end of an open and level playing field for all online.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Running Away From Obama: How'd That Work Out For Ya?

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

So what happened this past Tuesday? What was the cause of this so-called “Republican Wave”?
You can blame the gerrymandering, which marginalizes Democratic votes and concentrates Republican ones. That certainly didn’t hurt Renee “I need MY paycheck!” Ellmers in her race against Clay Aiken.
But that doesn’t explain Kay Hagan losing to Thom Tillis, nor does it explain Republican victories in other U.S. Senate and state governor’s races.
You can blame the pernicious influence of money in politics. But the fact is, both sides spent huge amounts of money, and in North Carolina, Hagan actually outspent Tillis.
So what was it? You might come to the conclusion that people just don’t like Democratic policies. But then you’d have to explain away what happened when certain measures were actually put on the ballots in various states:
— Voters in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota passed bills to raise the minimum wage, even while electing politicians who opposed such an increase. Not only did these measures pass, but they passed by wide margins. (A similar bill passed in Illinois, but it’s only considered “advisory” and doesn’t have the force of law.)
— Washington state passed a referendum that mandates universal background checks for gun purchases. The bill passed with 60 percent of the popular vote, despite millions of dollars poured into the state by the NRA and other gun rights groups to fight it.
— Voters in Colorado and North Dakota rejected so-called “personhood” laws, which define human life as beginning at fertilization of the egg. It’s clearly a back-door attempt to restrict reproductive freedom, and voters in those states soundly defeated both measures.
— Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. A solid majority of Floridians (57 percent) voted to legalize it for medical use, but that measure fell short of the 60 percent it would have needed to become law.
It seems that voters, when asked to choose, favor liberal policies on the minimum wage, gun control, reproductive choice, and even legal weed. Yet they don’t seem to like Democratic candidates. And I know why.
It’s because they act like such wimps.
One of the recurring themes of campaign coverage was how Democratic candidates were “running away” from President Obama. He’s “wildly unpopular,” the press assured us, despite the steadily decreasing jobless rate, a declining deficit, millions of Americans getting health insurance as a result of the much-reviled Affordable Care Act, and 63 months of economic expansion.
And boy, did they ever run away. Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes refused to even say whether or not she’d voted for the president. Clay Aiken told reporters he didn’t want the president to appear with him. Incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan spent all her time touting herself as the “most moderate” senator.
Republicans, on the other hand, constantly repeated, “Hagan voted with Obama 96 percent of the time."  They painted Hagan as “the deciding vote for Obamacare.” (Funny how every incumbent Democrat in every state was “the deciding vote for Obamacare.”) In the last days of the election, they even put it on the signs: HAGAN=OBAMACARE.
And not once did I hear her stand up and say, “Yeah, I voted for Obamacare, and here’s why: No pre-existing condition exclusions, no lifetime caps on coverage, more people are getting insured, and you can keep your kids covered until they’re 26.” You know, all the things people tell pollsters they like — so long as you don’t call it Obamacare.
Here’s the thing about trying to run away from the president from your party: You’re also running away from the policies that you voted for. That doesn’t work. The Republicans aren’t going to let you do it, and trying to do it makes you look weak, craven, and wholly dependent on polls to determine your loyalty.
Not only does it not work, but as we’ve seen above, it’s so unnecessary. Remember, the president you’re so shy about being seen with got elected twice by large margins. People actually want a lot of the same things the Democrats claim to want. You want to motivate your base voters, the ones you really need in the midterms, then stand up and say, “Yeah, I voted for that, and I’d do it again. I did it because it’ll help the people of my country and my state, and here’s why I say that …”
You want better turnout, Democrats. You need to move the polls, not chase them. You need to stop listening to overpaid Beltway consultants who tell you people won’t like you if you come out strong for the things that help people. You know, the ones Democrats are supposed to believe in.
A few noisy people may not like liberal policies, but everyone hates a two-faced coward.

The comments in The Pilot since this column went live show that the Right's not even trying to hide the racism any more:
From commenter "PearlHarbor":  A couple of articles I read called the election white man's revenge.
Articles where? The KKK Journal? 

And of course, our old friend "Francis" spoke from beneath his concealing hood of anonymity: As much as it pains me to say this Obama may have been just what we needed, something had to wake White America up, we have been far to lenient and passive when it comes to allowing others dictate their demands, from illegal immigrants marching in our streets to the moral Monday crowd driven by the NAACP trying to use their numbers, it's always been about them, never us, time to think about what we want for a change.
Yes, Francis, let's never forget that it's the white man who is the truly oppressed minority in this country. Wake up, white men!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Chris Christie: EBOLA FIGHTER!

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome once again to the Thrilling Radio Hour. Tonight, we bring you another slam-bang episode of our most popular show — “Chris Christie, Ebola Fighter”! Brought to you by Panicwear, the last word in stylish hazmat suits for the whole family! Dad, Mom, even the kiddies, will look and feel their best in these full-body suits designed for Panicwear by Ralph Lauren. Remember, if it’s not Panicwear, you’re gonna die horribly! AAAAAAHHHHHH! Now, on to our story…
As our show opens, Gov. Christie is waiting on the tarmac at Newark Airport, along with his faithful aide and sidekick Wazoo.
WAZOO: De plane, Boss! De plane!
CHRISTIE: I see it, Wazoo. Get ready. We’re about to face our most dangerous enemy.
WAZOO: Another ethics investigation, boss?
CHRISTIE: No, Wazoo, even worse. There’s a nurse on that plane. And she’s been in Africa!
WAZOO: A nurse? Africa? Oy gevalt, boss!
CHRISTIE: Wait, when did you start speaking Yiddish?
WAZOO: Hey, is it my fault the scriptwriters could never settle on my exact ethnicity?
CHRISTIE: Never mind, Wazoo. Here she comes.
ANNOUNCER: As the nurse exits the plane, Gov. Christie steps forward, hand raised bravely.
CHRISTIE: Stop right there!
NURSE: What? Hey, aren’t you …
CHRISTIE: That’s right, filthy disease carrier. It is I! Chris Christie, Ebola Fighter! (MUSIC FANFARE) And I quarantine you in the name of the law!
NURSE: But … I don’t have Ebola! I don’t even have a fever!
CHRISTIE: That’s exactly what you’d say if you did have Ebola! Wazoo, to the quarantine tent with her!
WAZOO: You got it, boss!
NURSE: No! Wait! Aaaah!
ANNOUNCER: As Gov. Christie turns away from his vanquished foe, an interfering busybody steps up.
BUSYBODY: Excuse me sir, are you a doctor?
CHRISTIE: I don’t need to be a doctor! I am Chris Christie, Ebola Fighter! (MUSIC FANFARE)
BUSYBODY: I thought not. If you were, you’d know that there’s no danger of Ebola infection from someone not showing symptoms. And only then if you have contact with bodily fluids from an infected person.
CHRISTIE: Hold on there, pal! Are you a doctor?
BUSYBODY: As a matter of fact, I am. An infectious disease specialist, actually.
CHRISTIE: And did you just get off a plane from Africa?
BUSYBODY: No, Amsterdam.
CHRISTIE: Close enough. You didn’t think Chris Christie, Ebola Fighter (MUSIC FANFARE) would know that there are flights from Africa to Amsterdam? Your cunning plan to infect the populace has failed! Take him away!
WAZOO: Yes, boss.
BUSYBODY: Wait! No! Aaaah!
CHRISTIE: Hmmph. Silly liberals and their “degrees.” And their “geography.” Don’t they know I have leadership to display?
WAZOO: Hey, boss, we got a problem …
CHRISTIE: Wait! All those little men. In uniform. What are they doing here?!
WAZOO: Ummm … that’s a Boy Scout troop from Ottumwa, Iowa. They’re getting ready to fly back home after visiting New York.
CHRISTIE: New York?! There’s Ebola there! Quarantine them immediately!
WAZOO: But there’s no more room in the tent, boss! That’s the problem I was trying to tell you about!
CHRISTIE: What!? Well, then, wrap those Boy Scouts head-to-foot in Saran Wrap!
WAZOO: They’ll suffocate, boss! And the people already in the quarantine tent have cellphones! They’ve gotten hold of the media!
CHRISTIE: Not to worry, Wazoo! The media love me. I help them preserve the fiction that my whole party hasn’t gone off the deep end.
WAZOO: I’m not sure this is helping, boss. But they’re also contacting civil rights lawyers. Something about you not having the authority to lock people up just on your word. Especially when there’s zero evidence that they’re actually sick.
CHRISTIE: But I’m Chris Christie, Ebola Fighter!
CHRISTIE: Hey! Where’s my music fanfare?
WAZOO: The trumpet player got quarantined, boss. Turns out he has a great-aunt in Mozambique. There’s no Ebola there, but, you know, you can’t be too careful.
CHRISTIE: (Sighs heavily) Oh, all right. Let everyone go. But be sure we do a press release telling everyone I’m still right about everything.
WAZOO: Yes, boss.
ANNOUNCER: Tune in next week for another episode of Thrilling Radio Hour! Next week’s installment: Chris Christie, Ebola Fighter, meets ISIS! And remember: if you’re not in constant fear, you’re not a real American! Good night, and God help us all!

THE GOBSHITES RESPOND: Weekly commentator "Francis", who often has his response up within fifteen minutes of the column being posted on the Pilot's website, responds in the fashion we've come to expect from the Party of Love:
Some deserve a long agonizing death, not quick, but slow and painful, then they too will understand just how those who have contacted this virus felt before dying, sorta of takes the humor out of the subject don't ya think.[sic]

But don't forget folks, it's the liberals who are filled with hate. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Costumes Ripped From the Headlines

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

So, got your Halloween costume yet? I remember a time when asking an adult that question would have gotten you, at best, a quizzical look. Back when I was a kid, Halloween was strictly for the youngsters, roaming the neighborhood in packs with a harried (and normally dressed) adult in tow. Or maybe that’s just how I remember it.
The costumes of my early youth tended to be mass-produced polyester and cheap plastic representations of popular cartoon characters or superheroes, picked up at Rose’s or some other department store, although from time to time a creative (or broke) mom would attempt to handcraft one, using things like bathroom rugs for lion fur, toilet paper for mummy wrappings, and tin foil taped clumsily over cardboard for shields, armor and metal robot “skin.” The results tended to be, shall we say, mixed.
Soon, however, adults started getting into the fun and dressing up for their own Halloween parties. Homemade costumes became more elaborate and professional-looking. Irony, sarcasm and satire became common design elements, along with more elaborate pop culture or news references.
(One of my all-time favorites was a group Pac-Man costume, with four people dressed in different-colored sheets chasing a fifth in a cardboard full-body Pac-Man outfit … until on a pre-arranged signal, they all began flashing lights beneath the sheets and running as “Pac-Man” chased them.)
Then commercial costume companies began to see the seasonal bucks to be made in the adult market. Now, you don’t have to go far on the Internet or elsewhere to see a full panoply of costumes for adults. I have to tell you, folks, some of them truly boggle the mind.
Which makes this the perfect time for another round of one of my favorite games, “Truth or Parody?” In this special Halloween edition, I’ll describe a costume and you decide whether it’s real or just something I made up.
I’ve written before about the disturbing plethora of “sexy” costumes, like “Sexy Policewoman,” “Sexy Witch,” and even “Sexy SpongeBob,” which I’d really rather not think about too much, if you don’t mind. But are the following outfits real, or are they the creations of my demented mind?
1. “Sexy Minion,” which turns any female into a version of the adorable little yellow dudes from the “Despicable Me” movies, with goggles, blue coveralls and blue suspenders.
2. “Sexy Darth Vader”: You won’t need the Force for all eyes to be on you!
3. “Sexy ISIS fighter”: Complete with plastic machine gun and beheading knife.
Then there are costumes based on recent news. Such as:
4. The “Ebola Worker” costume: Dresses the wearer up as a health care provider trying desperately not to get infected with a horrible hemorrhagic fever.
5. The “Malaysian Airlines Flight 370” Costume: This one’s pretty inexpensive, since it just requires you to not show up for the party while all your friends engage in hare-brained speculation about what happened to you.
Give up? Here are the answers:
— “Sexy Minion”: Not only is this one real, there are multiple versions of it. Ladies, like “Sexy SpongeBob,” if your significant other wants to get frisky with you while you’re dressed in this one, some serious reconsideration of the relationship may be in order.
— “Sexy Darth Vader”: Also real. This one, from Party City, features, and I quote, a “black corset with boning detail and a lace-up back,” a black hooded cape, and “flirty sequin boyshorts.” I wish I could unsee that description, but since I can’t, I figured I’d share it.
— “Sexy Isis Fighter”: Not yet, at least not commercially, but the people who make the next entry are threatening a “toddler ISIS fighter costume.”
— “Ebola Worker”: Yep, it’s real. The online company “Brands On Sale” promises that its “Ebola Containment Suit Costume,” which provides the wearer with a face shield, breathing mask, goggles, coverall and gloves, will be the “most ‘viral’ costume of the year.” I suppose we should be grateful that there’s no “Sexy Ebola Fighter” costume.
—Yes, this one’s a joke.
Too soon? Bad taste? Hey, don’t blame me, blame reality. And/or Halloween. Me, I think I’ll just haul out my trusty bandanna and eye patch and go as a pirate again. Arrrh!
Author's note: It appears I spoke too soon about the Sexy Ebola costume...

Saturday, October 18, 2014

When In Danger Or In Doubt, Run In Circles, Scream and Shout

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

OK, everybody, just calm the heck down. Ebola is not going to kill you.
You’re more likely to get struck by lightning than you are to die of Ebola. You’re more likely to die of food poisoning (as 3,000 people a year do) than you are of Ebola. You’re even more likely to get killed by a guy shooting up your workplace, school, or local McDonald’s than you are by Ebola.
Now, don’t you feel better?
It’s true that there have now been a whopping three reported cases of Ebola in the U.S. The first was Thomas Duncan, who apparently contracted the disease while visiting his relatives in Liberia. He then apparently lied about his exposure to the disease to Liberian authorities before returning here. (Liberia threatened to prosecute him for that, but the poor fellow died before they could.)
The other two victims are health care workers who treated Duncan, all of whom caught Ebola in the only way you can: by contact with the bodily fluids of a person showing symptoms.
This last part is key: You’re only infectious if you’re showing symptoms. This is why that second nurse, who got on an airplane to go to Cleveland to plan her wedding after treating Duncan, most likely hasn’t infected anyone.
Just to be on the safe side, the people on the plane with her are getting checked, but unless she was both (1) symptomatic; and (2) drooling, bleeding, spitting, sweating on, or otherwise enfluidizing her fellow passengers, they should be in the clear. (Yes, I made that word “enfluidizing” up. Maybe it’ll catch on.)
The biggest fear people have about Ebola seems to be the possibility that it will suddenly mutate and go airborne, meaning you wouldn’t have to come into contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids to get it. If that happened, you could get it just by being in the same room with an infected person.
But, as Granddaddy used to say, “If a frog had wings, he wouldn’t bump his butt when he jumps.” Which is to say, Ebola’s not airborne, and the chances of it getting that way are — well, the aforementioned frog has about as good a chance of developing wings.
Don’t just take my word for it, or even Grandaddy’s. Dr. Vincent Racaniello, a professor of microbiology and immunology in the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, a man who’s been doing research on viruses since 1975, writes in his blog: “We can ask: Has any human virus ever changed its mode of transmission? The answer is no. We have been studying viruses for over 100 years, and we’ve never seen a human virus change the way it is transmitted.”
HIV, he notes, can still only be transmitted via sex, dirty needles, or childbirth. Same for Hepatitis C. Both have infected millions, and they haven’t changed the way they do it. Ever.
Sure, you can say, “Just because we’ve never seen a virus change how it spreads before doesn’t mean it won’t this time.” But you could just as easily say, “Just because we’ve never seen a virus mutate so as to cause people to turn into flesh-eating zombies doesn’t mean one never will.”
This isn’t a scary thriller novel. It’s not a disaster movie. We don’t live in Africa. There’s no need to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape. This can be contained, and it will be.
The kind of hysteria we’ve seen, with CNN trotting out thriller author Robin Cook as not only an expert but as “the man who wrote the book on Ebola,” when what he wrote was an admittedly entertaining but fanciful novel, is irresponsible.
The man’s pre-author job was as an ophthalmologist, for crying out loud. For him to say, “This kind of an illness is probably the scariest thing we can deal with,” is not only not helpful, it’s downright dangerous. Hysteria, for example, is a lot scarier, because it makes people do terrible things.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” is as true a statement now as it was when FDR said it. Maybe even more so.