Saturday, March 25, 2017

ENCORE POST: Vox Populi: What It Is and How to Avoid It

Yesterday, after years of bitching about it, Republicans once more whiffed their chance to repeal Obamacare and replace it with... well, crap. The replacement plan was a twisted mess of a complete fuck up that virtually no one liked all. Recent polls show a growing acceptance and positive view of Obamacare while over 80% of Americans that some tried to dub TrumpCare but it was more like TrumpDon'tCare and that was before Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan began gutting the new plan even more to appease the hardline conservatives in the Freedom Caucus... to know avail. 

For the past several days, Trump, Ryan & Congress spent an inordinate amount of time defying the will of the people.

Which is not a new thing. Here's an encore post from April 18, 2013.
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Vox populi is Latin for "Voice of the People".

Like most things I know, I learned it in a comic book. (An issue of Batman, if I remember correctly).

Vox populi is an important element of a representational democratic government. We elect our leaders to represent our best interests while conducting the business of governing. Determining what our best interests are cannot be done in isolation; leaders need to listen to the voice of the people to inform their decisions and act accordingly.

This does not mean that an elected official must do exactly what the people say. The people, for example, may demand lower taxes AND also demand more police officers.  These are both legitimate expectations: no one wants to pay too much in taxes AND we want our cities and communities to be safe.

However, a political leader, looking at the budget, realizes what connects these two very understandable requests is not the word AND; it's the word OR. He or she cuts taxes and there's less money for more police officers or some officers may need to be let go. On the other hand, for more police officers to be hired, taxes cannot be cut or may even have to be raised. So vox populi declares less taxes AND more safety. The elected leader knows the reality is less taxes OR more safety.

What to do? What to do?


  • Being a leader in government is not easy. There are important points to consider.
  • Being a leader means working to maintain or increase the success and viability of a community, city, state or nation.
  • Being a leader means making the tough choices to do what is best for that area of responsibility.
  • Being a leader means taking your case to the people so they will know what the choices were and why a particular course of action was taken.


So in a democracy, the people elect leaders, the leaders take care of the business of government to the best benefit possible for those who elected him or her and if there is a reason why something demanded by the voice of the people cannot be done, there should be a clear and reasonable accounting of why and what can be done next.

All perfectly fair. All perfectly civilized. All perfectly democratic.

On Wednesday, April 17th, 2013, I saw the most willful disregard for vox populi by an elected body as I have ever seen.  The US Senate failed to pass a gun control measure that would have expanded background checks for gun buyers.  

What were we hearing from the voice of the people before that vote? Polls showed 93% of Americans supported an expansion of background checks for those who buy guns. That number is too large to just be "peace loving left leaning gun haters". No, this number involved a broad spectrum of support from a variety of groups including gun owners. 

I believe with all my heart that the average American is a good, honest, law abiding citizen and if they want to buy a gun, well, they have nothing to hide. And if it means having to wait a few days for someone to confirm that someone is, in fact, a good, honest law abiding citizen, that's a small price to pay to help put up one more barrier that may keep some homicidal nut case from getting his gun and doing something bad, I don't know, just to pick an outlandish example off the top of my head, maybe shoot a bunch of kids and teachers at a elementary school.

There are so many things we have to do to prove ourselves trustworthy to be hired for a job, to be approved for a loan, to keep an automobile on the road. But we're talking about a gun, literally a metal device capable of propelling a smaller piece of metal at an incredible speed with the express purpose of doing either serious damage or causing death. Should not the procurement of such a thing be subject to scrutiny? Isn't in the best interests of the people to strengthen whatever safeguards we can devise to protect an average American from being shot to death while, I don't know, let me draw another crazy example out of thin air, watching a movie in a theater?

93% of Americans think maybe it would be a good idea to ask a few more questions, probe a bit deeper to make sure the person buying that gun is not setting out to shed innocent blood in the next Aurora. Or Newtown. We need to protect innocents, proclaims vox populi; we need to protect children. Do something.

The US Senate made a different choice: do nothing. 

What happened? The US Senate chose to reject something that the voice of the people was making most clear was wanted..no, needed! How? Why?

Well, it's easy to blame the NRA and by all means, let's blame them because they damn well deserve it. The NRA has a LOT of cash to burn and baby, did they let it burn. Money talks louder than vox populi and money feeds the kitty, not the voice of the people. And the NRA never met a gun regulation that it wasn't ready to proclaim was an affront to decency and freedom and the American way. 

It helps to realize that the NRA is supposed to represent gun owners but the real clients, the ones with the money to give to the NRA, are the gun manufacturers. It is their goal to make sure there are no impediments to any market for the wares they make and sell. There should be no obstacles for a man to buy a rifle and take his son hunting. There should be no restrictions on an housewife to purchase a hand gun to defend herself against an intruder. And if somebody misuses guns and takes the life of innocents, that's just the price we pay to live in a free society. The answer is to arm more people so we can protect ourselves from the evil people with guns. How convenient that it is also a perfect solution to boost the manufacturing and the selling of guns. 

But another culprit in Wednesday's shameful debacle is the political process that has been shaped over the last decade or more. Yes, 93% of Americans supported an expansion of background checks for gun purchases. But each Senator who cast their "no" vote against the measure was unconcerned with that number. Their eyes were on their next primary in their home state. Not the statewide election but the primary. Because it's in the primary where the true danger lies for a politician seeking re-election, from within their own party. 

Particularly for the Republicans where groups like the Tea Party movement have demanded ever more strict adherence to the most extreme of right wing conservative thought. The most damaging litmus test for conservative purity is, "Did you ever vote for anything Barack Obama wanted?" If Obama said the sky was blue and you agreed, yes, the sky is blue, you are immediately in the crosshairs of so-called "conservative purists" who are looking to unseat you in the next primary. These candidates are strongly backed by very strong willed stupid people who have been determined that Obama is coming to get their guns. Gun sales shot up dramatically after Obama was first elected in 2008. If a hard right candidate throws enough anti-Obama red meat to the crowd, he can trump a more pragmatic candidate. The trick then is to tone down the crazy enough to win a general election and you're in, another Tea Party favorite whose sole marching order is to not give anything to Obama. Obama wants gun control. See, told ya he was after our guns. So there's one more elected "leader" putting up a road block.

The truth is the Obama administration has done distressingly little to further any agenda for gun control, even in the aftermath of the Aurora movie theater shootings last summer. It took the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook Elementary to get the Obama White House seriously engaged in a effort to curb gun violence.  

The voice of the people in the aftermath of that most terrible Friday in December was deafening and choked with the tears of sorrow and rage: No more! How many more times to do we need to see on the news that another maniac has decided to drown his madness in the blood of the innocent? The blood of children? No more! Do something, vox populi demanded, do something real and lasting and effective and do it NOW!

The wheels of the Washington political machinery grind slowly but they turned they did and it looked like the voice of the people had been heard and something would, at last, be done.

A week after the Newtown tragedy, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA gave a statement to the press that was ludicrous in the degree it was tone deaf to the shock and grieving of the nation. The answer to gun violence, LaPierre said, was more guns. It could have been almost laughable, LaPierre  still clinging to his misguided and outdated arguments. No, vox populi would carry the day, not Wayne LaPierre or the NRA, not the Tea Party and the Obama-Haters. This was not an issue about Obama, it was not an issue of right wing versus left. It was about protecting innocents, protecting children.

Somewhere on April 17th, I'm sure Wayne LaPierre was working the troops, congragulating them on a job well done. 

And mothers and fathers could only weep once more for their lost sons and daughters. 

Make no mistake: the history of American politics, from cities to states to the nation's capital, is littered with deals made in the name of something other than the voice of the people. Back room deals have bought a lot of votes over the years. But these deals were in the back room and sometimes served to grease the wheels of the work actually done in the name of the people. Things got done. 

Yesterday, politics trumped the voice of the people and there was no pretense of a back room. Texas Senator Ted Cruz said he objected to the background check measure on the grounds it could lead to a national gun registry. The bi-partisan creators of the measure had explicitly included language in the measure to prohibit the creation of such a registry and included penalties if anyone tried to do that. But Ted Cruz wouldn't back down, insisting this background check proposal would lead to the Federal government watching over ALL gun owners. Ted Cruz is looking to his next primary; they'll eat this stuff up then. It will drive the party faithful into a frenzy to send Cruz back to Washington.

And to hell with vox populi. 
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OK, thanks for popping by. My daughter's write up on Beauty & the Beast will post at a later time.

Until next time, remember to be good to one another. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Hillbilly Hideaway


I know that over the past 4 years of this blog, I’ve projected an image of an erudite, sophisticated intellectual type person.


So you may be a bit shocked to hear of my visit to a place called… the Hillbilly Hideaway.


My wife Andrea, daughter Randie and myself left our Fortress of Ineptitude to hitch a ride on the church van with our choir director, her husband (the driver), her baby (did not do any driving) and several of our choir brethren. 


There’s a saying about getting to out of the way places: “you can’t get there from here.” And that did seem to apply to getting to the Hillbilly Hideaway, buried in the hilly woods north of our home. Twisting, turning narrow roads led us higher into the hills, deeper in the forest. I thought, if we get there and we’re greeted by hayseeds in coveralls who look at me and say, “You shur are purdy”, I’m going back in the van and locking the doors. 


You know you’ve arrived at the Hillbilly Hideaway thanks to a helpful sign painted on the body of a rusted out pick up truck. We had arrived!




The restaurant itself is a converted log cabin farmhouse with a warm, rustic interior. You can eat whatever you want as along as what you want is what they’re serving. 








Saturday night, Hillbilly Hideaway dinner menu includes fried chicken, country ham and spare ribs along with green beans, corn, pinto beans, boiled potatoes (“fresh taters” as it says on the menu), fried apples and more. For bread, you have a choice of corn bread and hoecake.


Question: What is hoecake?

Answer: It’s delicious.




Bowls of all these items keep coming around so you can select and serve yourself whatever items in what serving size you choose.  It’s a dinnertime free for all like sitting down to eat with the Darling clan from the Andy Griffith Show. 


Down the slope behind the restaurant is a converted barn turned into a music venue. On the stage was a collection of performers who sang and played a variety of folk, country and gospel tunes. These guys and gals were quite talented, talented enough to put on a pretty good show. 


Apparently, these performers spanned generations, local talent bring their guitars to this corner of the North Carolina woods on Saturday nights to sing songs and brighten the hearts of those who found their way down the winding woods to this Hillbilly Hideaway. 

Yeah, it all sounds a bit corny. But a good time was had by all. 

And nobody told me i was "purdy".  

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Going to the Hillbilly Hideaway wasn't our only excursion away from the Fortress of Ineptitude last weekend. We also went to see Beauty and the Beast. Tomorrow, we'll have a post about but I'm not writing it but we'll have a special guest blogger.   

Until next time remember to be good to one another.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Slow Down, Stop or Explode?!


Earlier on this blog, I touched on actor Tim Allen’s complaint about being a conservative in Hollywood. I imagine in a community where the mantra is “Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show”, being affiliated with a political movement that is by nature more likely to say, “Hey, kids! Don’t put on a show”, a conservative may find himself surrounded by a different political persuasion.

 

I also touched the differences between conservative & liberal by comparing these ideologies to the functions of a car.  It’s not fair to say republicans never want to start something and democrats never want to stop things. But on average, the basic function of a conservative is to say “no” or at least “hold on a minute”. But what happens when these two political ideologies are not working in tandem?

 

Consider the current mess that is The American Health Care Act (AHCA) which was created to have something in place once the Affordable care Act (ACA or Obamacare) is repealed. The Democrats are going to vote against this so the Republicans are trying to get this through on their own numbers. As the republicans have a majority in the House and the Senate, this should be easy, right?

 

Because there are different levels of conservative. Some want to slow down the car a little, others want to slow down a lot and others want the car completely stopped.

 

And there are those who think there should be no car. Welcome to the Freedom Caucus, an extreme hard conservative faction of the US House of Representatives. These guys want Obamacare repealed. But the limited, virtually ineffective AHCA is not enough for them. AHCA may be way smaller than the ACA but to the Freedom Caucus, AHCA is just another form of Obamacare. Their view? The US government shouldn’t be in the health care business. The Freedom caucus don’t want to slow down the car or bring it to a stop. They would be happy to explode the car.

 

On the other end of the spectrum are more moderate Republicans who have constituents who would be negatively impacted by the loss of the ACA. Any efforts to appease this group just makes the Freedom Caucus mad. Any efforts to satisfy the Freedom Caucus just worries the moderates even more.   

 

Normally, the extreme edges of a political party doesn’t have this kind of power. But zero effort has gone into bring the Democrats on board who collectively do not want to repeal Obamacare at all. There is literally nothing in the AHCA that would compel most Democrats to vote for it to replace the ACA.

 

At last report, the hard right wing of the Republican Party seems to holding firm in its opposition to the AHCA. Tonight’s scheduled vote on this topic doesn’t look good for Donald trump and Paul Ryan who have staked their political futures on getting this thing passed. If the AHCA doesn’t pass tonight, the Republican Party with a man in the White House and control over both Houses of Congress will have failed again to repeal Obamacare.


*3/23/2017: 03:40 PM EST Republicans have cancelled the vote on the AHCA." 

Even it passes the House, the Senate is even less inclined to agree to it. And the whole mess starts again. 

This is your US government in action.
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OK, we will move away from politics with upcoming posts about an encounter with hillbilly culture and a special post on the new Beauty and the Beast movie.

Until next time, please be good to one another.

A Conservative In Hollywood


Actor Tim Allen likened being a conservative in Hollywood to 1930s Nazi Germany, a comparison for which Mr. Allen received a sharp and well deserved rebuke. Of course, that response I’m sure only underscores his perspective of persecution. 


What, pray tell, is a conservative?  What does it mean to be a conservative?


Think about the functions of an automobile.  There’s a gear shift to put the car in drive to move it forward, there’s a gas pedal to set the speed one moves forward and there’s a big windshield for you see all the potential of where you’re going. 


There’s a gear shift to put the car in park to stay in place or reverse to move backward, there’s a brake pedal to  reduce speed and there’s a review mirror to help you keep an eye out for any threats that might be sneaking up on you.   


Now which of these functions is good or bad? They all have their place and purpose. Working in tandem, you can drive the car. This makes the car work.


The gas pedal is liberal; the brake is conservative. 


Now… pick one!


A car with only a gas pedal. There’s no control, speeds can reach unsafe levels, the car crash and no longer function, the driver could be injured or killed. It’s not a car, it’s death trap shaped like a car. 


But a car with only a brake? To be blunt, what is the point of the car? It has no function, no purpose. It’s not a car, it’s just a piece of metal shaped like a car. 


OK, gas or brake? Pick one!


Well, you can’t. You understand that’s stupid, right?


Yet…


In Washington DC, Congress and the President have picked a car with only a brake. It’s all about stopping everything: food programs for children and the elderly, environmental protections, health care.  What can be destroyed? What can be rolled back? How many things can be stopped? How much more can they say “no’ to?


It’s all about the brake and only the brake. So what’s the point of a car?


There is value in having someone say “Hold on a minute! Have we thought about this? How are we going to pay for it? What do we hope to accomplish? Where exactly is it that we want to go and what are we specifically going to do when we get there?” There is value in a conservative viewpoint.


In a community like Hollywood, chasing ephemeral dreams made of light, I imagine it is tough for a conservative like Tim Allen in that town. But if Mr. Allen wants to wear the banner of conservative, he needs to be prepared to answer for those politicians in Washington, DC acting in the name of being “conservative”. Because times are getting dark in the US capitol: Who is going to be denied help? How many? Not enough? How many more? 


If Tim Allen equates being a conservative in Hollywood to 1930s Nazi Germany, he should be bear in  mind that unlike the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and more in 1930s Nazi Germany, Tim Allen still gets to walk the streets freely and still be an asshole in public.


If Tim Allen is a conservative, can he defend what’s happening in Washington in the name of “conservative values”? I don’t think he can. Better to be the victim of “liberal Hollywood” than to defend the indefensible.


More about this next time.  


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bernie Wrightson

This past weekend, Bernie Wrightson died at the age of 68 from brain cancer.  Wrightson was an artist of extraordinary talent and power who reshaped the landscape of comic book art from the 1970s and beyond. 


I think I'll let some random samples of Wrightson's work speak for itself.
















Most of Wrightson's work was for horror comics. He was a frequent contributor  of cover art for DC's line  of horror titles.


His most famous work was his collaboration with writer Len Wein on Swamp Thing. It was in the pages of that series that Alec Holland's muck encrusted mockery of a man shambled into Gotham City and Bernie gave us a most decidedly thoroughly modern Caped Crusader that challenged the ground-breaking work of Batman artist Neal Adams and inspired Bat-artists for decades to come. 


One of Bernie's more personal projects was his adaption of Frankenstein, a sample which can be seen below. 





Yes, the amount of sheer detail in that illustration is mind-blowing enough. But there is an evocative mood that transcends the technical proficiency on display.


It is with sorrow to acknowledge that Bernie Wrightson is no longer with us. It is with awe and admiration that his amazing artistry will live on. 

Thanks for reading.  A new post is coming tomorrow. Until then, remember to be good to one another.   

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hurting The One You "Love"

Before we get started, I'm So Glad My Suffering Amuses You looks... different. Blogger.com popped up with a message: "Hey! We have new themes to play with!" So I did. 

And this is what I've wound up with. 

Not sure I like it but... hey, I can't figure out how to get my old theme back.  

Lesson: Old people should not fuck with the thematic settings on their blogs.  
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In yesterday’s post, I discussed how when Donald Trump says crazy shit like “Obama wiretapped Trump Tower”, he’s not talking to you because, well, sorry, he’s just not that into you.


No, he’s talking to those core supporters for whom a statement like “Obama wiretapped Trump Tower” makes perfect sense. But how much, really, is Trump “into” this group? Consider two signature actions coming from trhe Trump white House and the Republican Congress. 


  1. Trump’s proposed budget with lots of hacking and slashing of various government programs and guess who is most likely to be hurt by these cuts? Red state rural voters. Yes, the very demographic that put Trump in office.
  2. Efforts to repeal and replace the ACA (or Obamacare) with the AHCA sputters along. Nobody likes this bill. Far left liberals, hard right conservatives and a lot of moderates in between. But if the AHCA is rammed through Congress, killing Obamacare, who is most likely to be hurt by this change? Red state rural voters. Yes, the very demographic that put Trump in office.


So red state rural voters, let me put this in terms you may understand: Trump sweet talked you into sleeping with him on November 8th, got you pregnant but won’t pay child support.

But even now, will this matter to Trump supporters? They justified a lot of Trump's self contradictions during the campaign on the grounds of "whatever it takes to win". But Trump won. He's there in the White House. What to do about his petulant behavior and self contradictions when the end result is a negative for Trump's supporters?


Is Donald pushing his luck with his core supporters? Does he actually realize that even the hardcore loyalty of his supporters has it limits? Trump's still pushing for Obamacare repeal and replace but his support for AHCA has been uncharacteristically muted and tepid.

Or perhaps its just Donald has no understanding of the tiger he has by the tail. He admitted that 'who knew how hard figuring out health care could be".

Everyone, Donald. Only everyone.

Donald Trump only wanted to get laid ("win the White House") and he was saying whatever it took to get laid, even if he promised to love you to the end of time.

Now he's sitting there all grumpy in the White House, praying for the end of time*.

*from Paradise By the Dashboard Light by Meat Loaf

That's all I have today. Another post is coming up tomorrow.

Until next time, remember to be good to one another. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

He's Just Not That In To You


So Donald Trump still holds firm that Trump Tower was wiretapped last year by order of then-President Obama. This despite zero evidence from anybody.  If hearing this, you think Donald has finally gone off the deep end, relax: he’s not talking to you.  He’s not talking to me either. He’s not talking to the nation as a whole when he makes these outrageous claims. No, his audience is the same as it has been since he became a candidate for President: that core group that has supported him since day one. No, they don’t represent America but it’s the only audience that Trump cares about, the one that still loves him, supports, thinks he’s a doing a good job.


The audience that hears Obama wiretapped Trump and thinks, "Oh yeah. That sounds like something that Muslim loving, American hating bastard would do."  Trump doesn't have to supply any evidence because for this audience, no evidence is needed. It's a statement that fits neatly and perfectly with their worldview.

The lack of evidence that Obama ordered any such thing also dovetails nicely with that same perspective: the forces at work against Trump are covering their tracks. 

But if you're not steeped in a mind-set of anti-government paranoia fed by a frenzied diet of alarmists reports on Fox News and alt-right web-sites, Donald Trump's not talking to you.

Hate to break it to you but he's just not that in to you.  

You might think that Trump's latest go at a travel ban is an affront to religious freedom and the US Constitution. It's a Muslim ban and that's wrong.


But Trump is just not that in to you. He's into the core demographic that hears "Muslim ban" and does not think it's affront to religious freedom and the US Constitution. No, they're thinking "It's about damn time".

And everybody else that thinks a "Muslim ban" is an affront to religious freedom and the US Constitution, pundits in the media, judges overruling the ban? That's all good too, reinforcing the narrative there are forces at work against Trump who's just trying to save the country from terrorism. 

"If yer not fer 'im, yer agin' 'im". The Trump narrative from candidacy to Presidency is he alone can save you, he is alone against the forces out to destroy you AND he's alone against those who would stop him from saving you.

And if you don't accept that narrative, he's not talking to you. Donald Trump is just not that in to you.

But for the people he's talking to, how into them is he really?

More on that tomorrow.

Until next time, remember to be good to one another.

ENCORE POST: Vox Populi: What It Is and How to Avoid It

Yesterday, after years of bitching about it, Republicans once more whiffed their chance to repeal Obamacare and replace it with... well, cra...