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!
(LONG PAUSE)
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!

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.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Curious Incident of the Supreme Court

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Ah, the first Monday in October. A day of great interest to those of us in the law biz, because that’s the day the Supreme Court of the United States officially starts its term.
This year, the Supremes began by, like the dog in the Sherlock Holmes story, doing a curious thing: nothing. They decided not to review the decisions of lower courts which struck down bans on gay marriage in seven same-sex marriage cases.
Because those appeals courts also have jurisdiction over more than just the states the original cases came from, bans on same-sex marriage will almost certainly fall in those other states as well. For example, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which struck down Virginia’s gay marriage ban on constitutional equal-protection grounds, also has jurisdiction over West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
Therefore, while a challenge to North Carolina’s egregious Amendment One hasn’t yet reached the Fourth Circuit, it’s legally dead in the water, waiting only for the harpoon, and the Supreme Court isn’t going to try to resuscitate it.
On Tuesday, the mighty Ninth Circuit, which covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington, struck down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. By the time the effects of the decisions are fully felt, 35 states will likely have to recognize the right of same-sex couples to enjoy the same legal rights the rest of us take for granted.
As one might expect, the haters and bigots went nuts. Sen. Green Eggs and Ham himself, Mr. Ted Cruz of Texas, referred to the decision of the SCOTUS not to intervene as “the worst kind of judicial activism.”
Get that? Doing nothing is now “activism.” Proof once again, as if you needed any, that the words “judicial activism,” like the words “liberal” and “leftist,” have been robbed of all meaning other than “anything I don’t like.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah fell back on the tired and hackneyed complaint about “unelected judges”: “Whether to change that definition [of marriage] is a decision best left to the people of each state — not to unelected, politically unaccountable judges.”
Sadly, Sen. Lee, like most right wingers claiming to be defenders and upholders of the Constitution, seems to know very little about it. See, according to that pesky old Constitution, federal judges, including those on the Supreme Court, aren’t elected, and therefore not “politically accountable.”
That’s how the whole thing was set up from the beginning, for the very reason that the interpretation of federal law (including the Constitution) shouldn’t be subject to the vagaries of political opinion, and that you can’t “leave it to the people of each state” if what they decide to do, even via popular vote, violates the Constitution. You got a problem with that, take it up with the Founding Fathers.
It’s particularly amusing because Sen. Lee himself used to work for one of those “unelected and politically unaccountable” judges, namely Justice Samuel Alito, for whom Mr. Lee clerked. So we can assume he knows better and is just playing to the rubes — sorry, I mean the “base.”
As of this writing, the rulings and others like them have not caused the collapse of so-called “traditional” marriage. Despite the fretting of Butch Otter, Idaho’s wonderfully named governor, allowing same-sex marriage has not led “opposite-sex couples to abuse alcohol and drugs, engage in extramarital affairs, take on demanding work schedules, and participate in time-consuming hobbies.” At least not any more than they already do.
As Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt drily observed in responding to that argument, “We seriously doubt that allowing committed same-sex couples to settle down in legally recognized marriages will drive opposite-sex couples to sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.” Dang it, I was so looking forward to that.
All that said, the issue isn’t completely over. It’s entirely possible that another federal circuit — say the Fifth (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas), Sixth (Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee), or Eleventh (Alabama, Florida and Georgia) — which still have cases on marriage equality pending, may decide differently than the ones whose decisions the Supreme Court left alone.
That would create the dreaded “split between circuits,” at which point the Supremes would almost certainly decide they needed to step in and resolve the question once and for all as to whether states can deny people the fundamental right to marry and equal protection of the law just because they’re different.
Let’s hope they decide to stay on the right side of history and tell them, “No, you can’t.”

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Latte Is The New Teleprompter

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

Once again, the shrieking outrage over a photograph of President Barack Obama saluting with a cup of coffee in his hand as he steps off Marine One reveals that there is nothing too small or trivial but that the American right won’t throw a giant hissy fit over it.
It’s all very amusing — until you realize what it says about the state of right-wing thinking.
By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the photo: President Obama, on his way to the U.N., stepping off the helicopter, flanked by saluting Marines on either side. He has his coat slung over one arm and is returning the salute with, horror of horrors, a cup in his hand.
Of course, the right-wing hysteria machine, apparently made up of people who have nothing better to do than comb through every photograph of the president looking for something to be apoplectic about, leapt immediately into action.
“How disrespectful was that?” Republican strategist Karl Rove asked. Half-Term Governor Sarah Palin mocked Obama’s lack of military service in a speech to a “Christian values” convention, a speech in which she also identified the president’s home address as “1400 Pennsylvania Avenue” — actually the address of a park next to the historic Willard Hotel. (It should be noted that neither Rove nor Palin served in the military.)
The National Republican Senatorial Committee even created a website — yes, an entire website — to protest.
Thing is, the president isn’t required to salute at all, and in this situation probably shouldn’t have. According to the regulations published by the Department of the Army (and available online), a salute isn’t required when “carrying articles with both hands” and “when either the senior or the subordinate is wearing civilian clothes.”
In addition, for 192 years of our nation’s history, presidents (including war heroes like Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower) didn’t return the salute at all. The practice originally started with Ronald Reagan, who apparently ran around saluting everything in a uniform.
When a Marine aide let him know that that wasn’t standard protocol, Reagan went to the commandant of the Marine Corps, who told him, “You’re the [bad word] president. You can salute whoever you want.”
Of course, you can just imagine the howling that would have ensued if Obama hadn’t saluted at all. Or if, like the President Who Must Not Be Named, he was photographed, several times, saluting while holding his Scottish terrier in one hand. That’s different, we’re told by the Raging Right. Because — just because it is, OK?

So what next? Will Darell Issa convene hearings on “Latte-gate?” Will there be subpoenas demanding to know if the president took cream or sugar, and if so, was it an American brand? Will there be a breathless (and quickly debunked) expose on “60 Minutes”?
“Tonight on ‘60 Minutes,’ some guy you’ve never heard of who claims to have been a barista on Marine One has written a book in which he details his harrowing experiences on Sept. 23, 2014. He tells us how he would have heroically taken the cup from the president’s hand himself, but received a ‘stand down order’ for some reason we don’t know, but which we know is somehow Obama’s fault. I’m Lara Logan, and am as baffled as you are as to why I still have a job.”
More likely, “latte” will became the new “teleprompter”: a word wingnuts randomly drop into any conversation about the president in an attempt to craft a clever insult that only serves to point out how mindless and ill-informed the person delivering it actually is.
Example: “Wow, did you hear some guy jumped the fence and broke into the White House?” “Yeah, Obama was so surprised he nearly dropped his latte. Get it? Latte! HAW HAW HAW!”
It’s important, the wingnuts say, because it shows a pattern. They’re right, but not in the way they think. The real pattern is this: The right has certain narratives, certain themes they cling to. In this case, the theme is “Obama hates the military.” This is patently absurd, as anyone outside the right-wing anti-information bubble knows. But the truth doesn’t matter to these people. Any information that contradicts the narrative is rejected. Anything they come across, no matter how minor, is warped to fit the theme.
Fix the facts around the theory, instead of the other way around. Sound familiar? That’s the right-wing mindset that got us into the Iraq War. And that’s where it stops being amusing.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Whatever It Is, Blame Obama

The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion

The recent spate of stories coming out of the NFL regarding domestic violence, child abuse and other nastiness on the home front has led to a great deal of soul-searching and debate across this country.

What is the cause of all of this? Does our culture’s adoration of professional athletes lead them to believe they can get away with anything? Is it a symptom of some deeper societal problem?
To the right wing, however, the answer is clear, as it always is when the question “Who or what should we be angry at for this?” is raised. That answer is: President Barack Obama.
Fox News-harpy Andrea Tantaros, for example, leapt right to the attack after the now-infamous tape surfaced showing Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee’s lights out.
“I wanna know, where is the president on this one?” fumed Tantaros from inside the cloud of peevishness that enshrouds her at all times. “My question is, and not to bring it back to politics, but this is a White House that seems to bring up a ‘war on women’ every other week.”
Yeah, Andrea. We certainly wouldn’t want to bring it back to politics.
Meanwhile, washed-up actor Kevin Sorbo (of “Hercules” and “Andromeda” fame) tried to kick-start his new career as a right-wing wacko celeb (a la Ted Nugent, Adam Baldwin and Kirk Cameron) by going on Fox and parroting the same line.
“There’s no accountability in the White House with Benghazi, the IRS and all that kind of stuff,” he explained. “How do we expect to have accountability with something like a professional football team?”
The National Review’s Jim Geraghty went even further. He blamed not only the NFL’s failure to act promptly on the Rice scandal, but a laundry list of other bad things, on “The Obama Era of American Leadership.”
Those bad things ranged from GM’s recall of 2.6 million cars with defective ignition switches, to the chemical spill in West Virginia that poisoned the drinking water of 300,000 people, to NBC’s decision to hire Chelsea Clinton for “$600,000 a year for three years.” (I’m still scratching my head over why he’s so cheesed off about that last one.)
As I’ve pointed out before in this column, the right has even found ways to blame Barack Obama for the failed response to Hurricane Katrina (which occurred three years before Obama’s first election win); the recession that began the year before he took office; and high oil prices before the 2008 election.
Back in March of this year, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (who used to seem like a pretty smart lady) blamed Obama for “dictators like Bashar al-Assad in Syria (who came to power in 2000) and Vladimir Putin in Russia (who first became president of that country in 1999).”
It’s a time-honored technique. Make your gripes about “leadership” or “tone-setting” broad enough, and you can blame the president for just about everything:
“I’m sorry, ma’am, we know you came in for a tonsillectomy, but we, um, amputated your left leg. We blame Obama’s lack of leadership. Gee, thanks, Obama!”
“Yeah, Your Honor, I beat up an elderly African-American storekeeper and robbed his cash register. If Obama hadn’t inflamed racial tensions by commenting on the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown cases, I wouldn’t have been so angry. Gee, thanks, Obama!”
“Yeah, I showed up three hours late for work, I smell like a distillery, and there’s an unconscious stripper in the back seat of my car in the parking lot. I’ve just been really depressed lately over Obama’s lack of accountability. Oh, I’m fired? Gee, thanks, Obama!”
And so on.
Sadly, it’s not just the right-wingers who blame Obama for everything. Far too many on the left are prone to what blogger Oliver Willis has dubbed “Green Lantern Liberalism”: the idea that, like the nearly omnipotent comic book character, the president could create all the things they want — single-payer health care, banking reform, minimum wage increases — through the sheer force of his will if he just wanted it enough.
Thankfully, the president isn’t omnipotent. He can’t travel through time. He’s not responsible for domestic violence, chemical spills, the fact that Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin are brutal thugs, or the fact that the Middle East is the same tangled mess it’s been for more than 2,000 years.
He’s not responsible for Republican obstructionism or the weak-kneed Democrats who fear it. That’s just the hand he was dealt, and he’s playing it pretty well, despite the silliness of the far right and their lapdog news network.