Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Year Of Living Cautiously

Back when the Democratic primary was in full flame, I supported Dennis Kucinich. Kooch (as he is affectionatly known in some areas of the webway) is considered a kook-end radical leftie in the States, someone one step away from Mao but I'm English and, odd personal habits aside, he'd be a perfectly respectable LibDem here. But the American electorate are stupid (as is the electorate in every country) and, unlike most countries, the American media is entirely corporate owned and led and tilts so far right that they can make people believe the centreist Obama is further left than Stalin. So Kooch was out pretty much before the race started. Then I supported John Edwards because he was the only one saying anything much about poverty. But Edwards was removed (and, as it turned out, fatally compromised anyway).

So that left Hillary and Obama. And for a long time, I thought either would do. By their own admission, their policies were virtually identical. Hillary's healthcare plan was better but she seemed to have a rather hawkish foreign policy. Hillary has very high negatives but Obama had almost zero experiance. Obama had Rev Wright (Ayers was never an issue) but Hillary had made some really fucking moronic comments about violent video games. So, not much to choose between them. In the end, it came down to that wonderful speech Obama made about race to end the Rev. Wright fiasco. No, not because it was some transformative political experiance. I'm not that naive. No, that changed my mind because it was the first time in about twenty years that I can remember a politician (apart from Kooch) addressing the public as if they were adults who could understand nuance, subtlety and context. And that swung me for Obama. Not by much, not a die-hard supporter by any means but he would do. Decent guy, no real skeletons in the closet (no, Fox's 24/7 attempts to turn Ayers and Wright into skeletons don't count, Fox would have personally murdered Obama by now if they could), policies about as liberal as is possible in the US and certainly as possible as the ultraright American media (that is, all of it bar about four hours a day on MSNBC) would allow, kids are cute as a button. Yeah, he'll do. So I supported Obama but not with any great enthuasiasm. I'm a die-hard liberal and there are only about a dozen liberals in the entire US government and Obama isn't and never was one of them. But of the unappetising options, I went for that one. I was pleased when he brought Hillary into the Cabinet since I thought that would be the best of both worlds although I thought she would have fit better at HHS than State (remember, I think her healthcare plan was better) but still, good move.

So why am I now wondering if we've been hoodwinked here?

Well, there's a lot of reasons but let's start with gay rights. Now, personally, I think gay marriage (or an identical-in-everything-but-name arrangement like we have here) is a moral must. I think it is utterly immoral to deny gay people the chance to marry (or have the previously mentioned all-but-identical legal option). But Obama doesn't agree and we knew that going in and, with the exception of Kooch, nor did anyone else so we shouldn't have expected agreement on that one. What Obama did say he would support though, was civil partnership, the repeal of DOMA and the repeal of the asinine Don't-Ask, Don't-Tell. Current score is that DADT is still on the books, Obama hasn't ordered it to stop being enforced pending a full repeal (which could be done by executive order fairly quickly) and he hasn't mentioned repealing DOMA in months. His administration has actually defended DOMA (their obligation, as I understand it) and done so in the most repulsive terms (certainly not their obligation). Oh yeah, and he invited Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration but I'm willing to let that slide as just a tin-eared mistake.

But perhaps you say Obama has been too busy trying to stop the economy imploding to devote time to gay rights issues? That's a reasonable arguement. So what has been done about the economy? The stimulus package passed was far too small and too much of it was tax cuts (in terms of stimulus, tax cuts are exactly the least effective method). Tim Geithner was installed at the Treasury and the right instantly tried to drum up the story that he was a tax cheat. Actually, all they proved is that the tax code is impossible for humans to understand. That's not my problem with Timmy. My problem with him is that he's a Wall Street bootlick, he's inculated in that Wall St culture where, as Michael Douglas said (and incidently, summed up Ayn Rand's entire "philosophy" in three words) "greed is good". Maybe the bailout was necessary, that's certainly a reasonable argument (albeit, one I disagree with) but were the collosal bonuses really necessary? Was there any reason not to pass legislation limiting those bonuses to, say, a figure one human could concievably spend in a lifetime? Don't misunderstand me, there's a lot of blame to go around for the financial implosion. Reagan's decimation of the middle class and stripping the Republicans of their few principles started it; Clinton did little to repair the damage and DimBulb made it even worse and numerous CongressCritters on both sides bear some blame as well but Timmy is currently in the hot seat so he has to carry the can.

How about healthcare reform? Well, how about some? The leadership of the Obama admin on healthcare has been lacking to put it very mildly. Now, I live under a single-payer system here (the NHS). All my care, both physical and mental, is covered by taxes. That's the real left-wing option, that's what real "socialised medicine" would look like but that option was taken off the table even before the election. So, instead, the public option (which was the compromise position in the first place) has been painted as to the left of Stalin. The bill currently winding it's way through Congress includes a public option that very few people could get but that would save money (the right, as usual, are just plain lying when they say it would cost money), eliminates the pre-existing conditions barbarity and incorporates a few efficiency measures. It's better than nothing but not by much. I'm leaving the atrocious Stupak-Pitts amendment aside because, as disgusting as it is, the Obama admin had no input whatsoever on that. Why hasn't Obama been out front twisting arms (both literally and figuratively) to get this bloody thing passed? The bill which, as of writing, just passed the Senate, has no public option, no Medicare buy-in and, most importantly, no competition or incentive to lower prices. What is included is a mandate, an obligation to carry some form of insurance. Hooo boy, this is a mistake. Now, apparently, there will be subsidies for the poorest to purchase insurance (which I'd be willing to bet will be far too little) but, with no public option or Medicare buy-in, the premium you will be forced to buy will cost whatever the insurance company feels like charging.

On foreign policy, Obama can claim some successes. While Republicans keep harping on about "a worldwide apology tour" (they seem to take it as a badge of pride if the rest of the world hates them), the foreign policy team (and Sec. Clinton has been a shining example here) has been mostly successful. Iran has refused to abandon their nuclear ambitions but they would have been immovable regardless. More importantly, the majority of the western world now holds a favourable view of the USA again. That's important and not for any conservative-baiting touchy-feely reason but because it makes the rest of the western world more likely to back the US's plays.

Another minor victory was the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. The Act amends the Civil Rights Act (1964) in a minor, but very important, way. Previously, those discriminated against in pay had a 180-day "window" in which to file suit. In many cases, that would mean that the window expired before the victim was aware of the disparity in pay. The Ledbetter Act alters that so that the 180-day period "resets" with each discriminatory paycheque received. That's a relatively minor change which will make life that bit better for numerous people across the country. Congress can also be rightly proud of the Credit CARD Act, a catalogue of minor changes to credit card regulations which will, taken together, make life for users of credit cards a little easier. Predictably, the credit industry loathed it but that was to be expected. One surprise in the bill was Tom Coburn's attaching an amendment which allowed firearms to be carried in natural parks. This serves to illustrate hos ridiculous the system of unlimited amendments can get. I personally don't have any problem with the rule change but what the hell did it have to do with credit card regulation?

One last thing must be touched upon with regard to Obama's first year: The refusal to bring prosecutions, or even investigate, the war crimes committed by the Bush administration. The logic of refusing to pursue this is obvious, it would monopolise political debate in the US and allow Republicans to claim that the Obama admin was criminalising policies they disagree with (although they're already doing that). Morally, however, there is no excuse. Failing to prosecute such obvious and admitted crimes for political reasons is the height of moral cowardice.

Finally, no discussion of Obama's first year (even one as rushed and circumspect as this) would be complete without a quick examination of the right's breakdown. That the Birther's racist claims are still being voiced was perhaps to be expected; the redefining of "socialism" to mean "anything remotely on the political left" was predictable in light of how rightward the political spectrum in the US tilts but what could not have been predicted was the healthcare mobs, the "Tea parties" (whose only uniting principle seems to be hatred of Obama), the climate of intimidation and violence. All of which is rationalised by the right, excused. While a few marginal figures on the left compared Bush to Hitler, those few marginals are now used by the right to excuse the constant comparison between Obama and Hitler (ignoring that Nazism, and fascism generally, are extreme-right ideaologies). In my spare time, I study criminal psychology. Part of that is learning the difference between psychopaths and psychotics. Dick Cheney was and is a psychopath: Lacking conscience or remorse, uncaring of anyone but himself and his loved ones (psychopaths can feel love although not in the way that we do). Michelle Bachman is a psychotic, she is suffering a clear and discernable break from reality. Not in terms of things that reasonable people can disagree with like the existence or nature of God or the proper role of military force but believing in things which are provably, factually untrue. When observing the "tea party" crowd, one has to ask if it's possible for a whole segment of society to suffer from a psychotic break. Because the things this crowd believe, from "death panels" (which Palin is now attempting to claim meant a reference to rationed care) to "pulling the plug on grandma" to "taxed enough already" to the ubiquitous claim that Olbermann and Maddow are the same as Glenn Beck are immense. They can't be reconciled with reality. Moreover, they take the same form of self-preservation as many psychotics: The accusation that those pointing out the illness are themselves agents of the conspiracy against them. How does one reason with such people?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Healthcare Bill: One Part Awesome To Four Parts Suck

There are things to celebrate in this healthcare bill. Not many but there's a couple. The major one's are a ban on pre-existing conditions and recission. The pre-existing conditions thing has been an immoral, lunatic clause for years. Quite apart from anything else, it made people with lifelong conditions (diabetes, for example) either impossible or prohibitively expensive to cover. So that's a good thing. Likewise, the ban on recission is a plus. If you don't know, "recission" is a very nasty trick that insurance companies use all the time where they cut off your insurance as soon as you need it. You pay your premiums for years and, as soon as you get something expensive (cancer, say), they cut off your care. That's not insurance, that's a lottery. So that's gone too and that's a gain. Last I heard, there was also a cap on profits at 10%. That's good and 10% is reasonable but I don't have much faith it'll make any difference. I'll get to why in a second.

Now, let's get to the suck.

First off, the Medicare buy-in is dead. So is the public option. The former can be laid on Joe Lieberman, the latter on conservative Dems and Republicans generally. We'll get to them later. What isn't in the bill is even more important. There is nothing in this bill which will control costs. No additional competition for insurance companies (and I've never been convinced that would do much good anyway) and no cap on premiums. This is why I'm doubtful that a cap on profits will make any difference. If your premium was, say, $500 and insurance companies are only allowed to take 10% as profit, what's to stop them doubling your premium to a cool thousand and skimming a tenth of that? Is your care going to be twice as good? You're kidding, right? The insurance industry is not set up to pay claims. Much like the British benefits system, it's set up to deny any claim it can.

And then, there's the mandates. Now, when there was a public option, the mandate could be justified because there would have been a non-profit national option to join. But without the public option, a mandate just funnels epic amounts of cash to the insurance companies who caused this mess in the first place. Granted, there will be some subsidies but, knowing how governments do business, those subsidies won't be anything like enough.

Why is funneling people to the private insurance companies a bad thing? Doesn't the free market work? Well, it works fine for hamburgers or running shoes but it doesn't and can't work for certain things. Four or five services; water, gas, electricity and healthcare; comprise what are called "captive markets". What that means is this: When the price of a Big Mac gets too high, you just skip lunch, that's fine but with captive markets, you don't have the option of walking away from the market because without those few sectors, you cannot live in any kind of meaningful way.We all need these things and we need them all the time. Because we cannot walk away from the market, the companies which control the market can game the system, pursuing a race to the lowest common denominator at the highest price. We saw this here in England when Thatcher (and Major and Blair to a lesser extent) privatised everything in sight. The result was always the same. In every single case, prices exploded, service collapsed and standards were taken out back and shot. Now, some especially stupid conservatives will try to tell you that if this is true, why shouldn't that argument extend to food, running shoes, etc? They are either stupid or insane. That argument fails because A) it's stupid and B) food and running shoes are things which can be easily produced by individuals or small groups whereas the essential services cannot. So, there is nothing in this bill which will control prices and, indeed, every incentive for insurance companies to continue their skyrocketing prices.

Now let's play the blame game. And there's a lot to go around in this edition. On this day which bloody well should live in infamy, it would be very easy to speak of crucifying Joe Lieberman (who's being figurative?) but nailing a Jewish guy to a cross this close to Christmas would confuse the right no end. And really, Joe is just being Joe. He's a self-serving, lying little weasel and we've all known that for years, ever since he felt so entitled to his Senate seat that he started his own party rather than respect the wishes of the Democratic caucus. He's never forgiven liberals for that and, right now, he's in the "if they're for it, I'm against it" area of blind spite. But we knew this, it's a little like saying motherfuckers do indeed fuck their mothers.

We could say much the same for the Blue-Dog Democrats. I wish the media would cease calling this lot "moderates". They're not moderates. First off, the American political scene is tilted so far to the right that Obama (who constantly gets called "socialist" by stupid people) is centre-right in reality so being to the right of Obama puts you NOWHERE NEAR the centre. That's like saying halfway between Obama and Rush Limbaugh makes you a moderate. No, it still makes you bugfuck insane. And they're not moderates even by American standards, they're corporatists, brought-and-paid-for corporate shills. If the Congressional Republicans are 100% the voice of the Mega-Corporations (and they are), the Blue-Dogs are the Corps contingent in the Democratic party although, really, both parties are cults of wealth-worship. American has become a mixture of Ayn Rand's celebration of naked greed and Bill Gibson's dystopian vision of a nation run by and for the convienience of corporations. And no, conservatives, corporations are not your fucking friend.

Harry Reid has to take some blame as well. Taking reconciliation off teh table was a fucking stupid move. While reconciliation was available, Republicans and conservative Democrats had some incentive to be reasonable and compromise because if they didn't, they might just find the bill rammed through against their wishes. Without reconciliation, the conservative coalition pays absolutely no political price for naked obstructionism. They can afford to just say "NO" to everything because, without their cooperation, without "compromising" with them (and the Republican idea of compromise is "we don't budge an inch and you come to us"), nothing gets done. Conservatives like to say that if Democrats could keep their own party in order, they could pass anything and there's an element of truth to that. But it ignores that, firstly, Democrats only have 58 Senators. The two independents who caucus with the Dems are Sanders, who votes Democratic much of the time and Lieberman, who takes a perverse glee in fucking up Democratic plans. Secondly, it ignores that, outside of Congress, the media leads the people around by the nose much of teh time and the media is, for the most part, conservative (anyone who talls you there's a liberal bias in media is either lying to you or is too stupid to realise they've been lied to). Third, what the fuck have the party whips been playing at?

Finally, Obama has to take a fair amount of blame. While Obama talked a good game about healthcare reform during the primaries and campaign, he has conspicuously failed to lead while the process has been ongoing. I think his rationale was that, if he got personally involved, the bill would become about him and thus, a way to attack him. That's either charmingly or dangerously naive on Obama's part. The bill was always going to be identified with him and the Republicans were always going to lockstep vote to filibuster and/or kill absolutely anything that he wanted to see passed. Even leaving aside the numerous, mostly reliable reports that the Whitehouse (and Rahm Emmanuel especially) have repeatedly been trying to "compromise" away real reform, one has to accuse Obama of a failure to lead during this process. Instead of coming out and laying out a case for X, Y or Z reform, Obama has been passively willing to accept anything passed by Congress. Bill Clinton managed to lead his party in getting some reforms passed (not always to the good). Cheney organised the Republican party like a cult of personality and got virtually everything he wanted. Obama has been weak and failed to either lead or push his party. In general, I've been disappointed in Obama's first year. But that's a story for another time (and conservatives, that's doesn't mean I think McCain wouldn't have been worse. I don't want to be on your team, pick another kid).

So that's it. The healthcare bill is a couple of good things wrapped in a pile of suck. Is there enough good there to justify the piles of suck? I don't think so. Howard Dean (an actual doctor, so he has some credibility on this issue) doesn't think so. But it looks like it's going to pass anyway. And that's it. Healthcare won't be revisited again during Obama's presidency and probably not for another ten to fifteen years.

Oh, and did I mention that it's not going to save anything like as much money as the public option or single payer would have?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

On Faith

My friend Buffy ( ) recently emailed my a rather amusing assumption about Satanists. What's worrying is not this particular display of non-joined-up thinking but that people still seem to have these ideas so let's go through some of the myths about Satanists.

(UPDATE: Two corrections: The first is that, while I have heard followers of the Temple of Set refered to as "Setites" (although never by members of the Temple), the correct term is actually "Setians". Secondly, I have been informed that members of the Temple do not consider themselves Satanists. To save me rewriting this whole article and because people (including me) often think that they do, I'm leaving the article as is but let's remember that in future. Apologies and thanks to Magister Robert Adams for those corrections)

Satanists worship the Devil - Both true and false. This depends on which denomination of Satanists you're talking about. The LaVeyans (followers of Anton LaVey) don't believe in a devil and don't worship anything (except, possibly, the self). The Temple of Set (aka Setites or Setians) don't worship but do seek to emulate Set (Satan) as a model of philosophical enlightenment. Luciferians (the denomination I follow) [i]do[/i] worship Lucifer (Satan) whom we see as the kinder, fairer deity. The remaining catch-all category (which has a dozen names, mostly derogatory but which I call "Dabblers") of teen posers, shock rock musicians and the mentally unstable have a wide variety of beliefs.

Satanists sacrifice animals - Categorically false, at least with regard to the three main denominations. While animal sacrifices do happen on occasion, they are invariably linked to teen posers with no real understanding of the belief system or stoned rock muscians (Ozzy Osbourne will never live that down). In my adult lifetime, I have owned one rat and four cats. The rat died of old age. One of the cats died of conplications from FIV, which she already had when we took her in. Another died of a massive heart attack caused by a heart deformity. The other two, Sandy & Suki, are still with us and spend most of their time snoozing by the fire, eating, playing and being pampered.

Satanists sacrifice/molest babies - Again, completely untrue. Amid the Satanic Panics of the 1980s, this was often alleged but not one of the charges was ever confirmed. Even in the famous McMartin primary school case, there was not one shred of physical evidence and the stories of the children were frequently self-contradictory. It has also been alleged that Satanists keep women as "breeders" and sacrifice their offspring. Problem here, even leaving ethics aside, is that repeated pregnancies without long gaps between will cause severe internal damage to a woman's plumbing. Also, psychologically, people just don't work that way. While it is possible to brainwash someone into allowing their own child to be killed, it can't be done consistently and repeatedly. It requires close supervision and constant reinforcement, both of which would be noticed by anyone observing the woman. The saying "death to the world" which Luciferians sometimes use is not a directive to mass murder but a shorthand way of expressing a continuing process of turning away from the physical and selfish world and toward a world of spirit and service.

Satanists sacrifice something - The only things sacrificed are pinches of herbs and suchlike. They're symbolic. Lord Lucifer, to secure free will and moral self-determination for humans, sacrificed his good name, rank, place in heaven and human trust. We sacrifice a few pinches of dried herbs to remind us of that sacrifice.

Satanists hold orgies - They're recreational and entirely optional, not a required part of the faith.

Satanists have no morals - Again, completely untrue. Actually, we have a moral code which is often more exacting than those of conventional faiths because ours is not derived from a book or a preacher but arrived at through deep thought and experiance. What we do not have are sins, at least not in the conventional sense. LaVeyans don't have sins at all but they do have quite strong codes of conduct. Setites have a whole philosophy on this that I confess to not fully understanding. Luciferians have only one sin (treating another as a thing, a tool for your own gratification or glory). That is not unforgiveable but it is a big strike against you. Likewise, we don't have Holy Books in the normal sense. Conventionally, a Holy Book is treated as the final answer and discussion is limited to how to interpret it. Among Satanists, the Satanic Bible (for example) is regarded as simply the respected opinion of one man added to the discussion.

Satanists don't believe in Hell - Depends on the denomination. LaVeyans don't, Setites have their own thoughts. Luciferians believe that, although hell is ruled by Lord Lucifer, there is a corner set aside for the truly irredemable. In that corner, those who are judged to be beyond redemption will experiance the lives of everyone they have ever affected. For example, if you're Jerry Falwell, you will experiance the life of a gay man, a gay woman, a pagan, a woman in desperate need of an abortion; and you will experiance those lives over and over and over again until finally, at the end of time, you will understand fully the consequences of your actions and what they have meant. Then, perhaps, maybe, you will be able to realise why your actions were wrong.

Satanists take drugs - No more so than the congregants of any other faith. The Dabblers often do but they're teenagers who don't understand the belief system but adopt the signs and sayings because they "look cool", not because they understand what they mean.This is akin to judging Christianity by the rock stars who wear fashion crosses.

Satanists hate Christians/Muslims/Jews - Not really. We often hate their god (although some are resolved to simply ignore him) but the individual believers, we generally view as misled and misinformed, not necessarily bad (and perhaps the kinder ones would say the same of us). Nor do we "hate you for your Christ", an absurd little bit of self-serving pablum that serves to avoid responsibility for one's own actions. If we hate you, it is because of something you have done or something we have done (we are no more immune to having assholes in our ranks than any other faith). Opinions about Jesus are divided. Some believe he never existed. Personally, I think a man called Jesus lived in the area around Galilee in the early part of the first century. He was a good man with a good message of peace, love and tolerance who was eventually killed for it (as such people tend to be), was buried and remains buried still. But I do not believe he was divine. And I think the insistence that he must have been divine does a tremendous disservice to the potential for good within the human spirit.

Satanists have a vast clandestine conspiracy - Have you ever actually met a Satanist? We tend to be individualistic, argumentative people. Getting us to agree on anything is like herding cats. We can't even agree on what to call ourselves, let alone on acting in concert and in secret for years.Also, consider the sheer numbers required to pull this off. Conspiracies sometimes happen in the real world but the ones that remain secret for very long are the ones with very few people in on the secret. JFK could have been assassinated by a team of perhaps half-a-dozen and so, it's just about possible that could have been done and kept quiet. A vast conspiracy of hundreds of individuals could not be kept secret for very long.

Satanists practice magick - This one's true, after a fashion. Without wishing to write a whole dialectic on the nature of magick, it can be thought of as a way of harnessing the inate power of the human spirit to tilt probabilities very slightly toward one's objective. It is unreliable, draining and often doesn't work. When it does work, the most it can do is affect things very slightly. It cannot violate the laws of nature. We can't hurl fireballs down main street, glamour nubile young things into bed and no amount of magick can bring back the dead. If you ask for anything very much, it's going to fail. The very most you can do is very gently place your thumb on the scales of fate and if the probability is very much against what you want happening, forget it. No-one has that much power. In general, trying to do anything real by magick is going to be a pointless excercise in futility but, if you're desperate enough, sometimes it's worth a try. Even here, the ethic of reciprocity (aka the Golden Rule) holds sway. No-one but the psychopaths go around trying to level death curses on others just for the hell of it (pun intended). Oh, and the additional "K" is purely to distinguish it from the conjurer's craft of illusion, there's no spiritual or historical reason for it.

Satanists don't believe in god/spirit X - Entirely down to the individual. Some believe in no deities but Satan and Jehovah, others believe in whole hosts of them. Personally, I believe that other deities may or may not exist but this one is sacred to me.

Satanists don't help others - This is untrue. We have as many individuals of charitable intent in our ranks as any other faith. The Devil's Apocrypha (a novel which acts as a good primer to Luciferian thought) contains the line "if the lot of man is to improve, the seer must be the doer". What that means is that, if faced with injustice or suffering, it is not enough to pray about it or moan about how awful it is; get up off your knees and do something about it. So we have many charitable persons in our fold. What we do not do is talk about it. There are four reasons for that. The first is that, knowing charity came from a Satanist might disincline them from taking it. The second is that charity should not be given for plaudits. It should be something you do for it's own sake, not so that others will tell you how wonderful you are. Thirdly, knowing that charity came from a particular person (and this applies only to individuals, not to charitable bodies or governments) would create a sense of obligation to that person. The receipiant is likely to see it as a favour that must be repaid and that goes against the spirit of charity. However, if the recipient simply receives a stroke of good luck or good will, they can go on with their lives, self-sufficient and owing nothing. Finally, disclosing such charity could lead into a compteition of who is most charitable. It's not a contest.

Satanists proselytise the young - Satanists don't proselytise anyone. It is (not "commandment", that's the wrong word) strongly suggested that we not proselytise to anyone, ever. We can talk about our faith, answer questions or correct misperceptions (such as I'm doing here) but we cannot suggest someone else try it out. The whole point of Lucifer's rebellion was free will and moral self-determination. To foist our faith upon another would violate their right to make their own moral choices. That's not to say we can't intervene to prevent harm. For example, no-one is going to quibble with the Satanist who tackles an axe-weilding psycho but we cannot press our faith upon others. Each of us has their own spiritual path to walk and we learn as much, if not more, by the journey as we do by the destination. If your journey leads you to us, great. If not, that's fine too. It is your journey and no-one can walk it for you.

Satanists have wild sex - Jealous?

How do you know Satan will win? - We don't. Winning or losing the great celestial war is not the point. First off, one must realise that this is not a battle in the sense that we think of one. We're not talking here of squads of cavalry charging across plains. It's closer to trying to win the hearts and minds of a populace stuck in the middle. But whether we win or lose doesn't really matter. I like to explain by analogy: There was a time during World War II, before the Americans joined in, when Britain stood virtually alone in Europe against the Nazis. Defeat seemed certain. Should the British have surrendered? Of course not. We should have, and did, fight with every breath in our bodies for as long as we could hold out because it was morally right to do so. We hold God to be the worst dictator, the greatest monster that ever existed. Worse than Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot ever dreamed of being. Should we bend knee to a being like that? No, he is not worthy of worship, worthy of nothing except to be fought and so, we fight. Because tyrants must be fought, because it is morally right to do so. We willingly choose to damn ourselves because we cannot and will not give even nominal approval to a monster. Eternity is a very long time to live with yourself and even if we have no hope of winning, we will always know that we did what was right.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Healthcare... Yet Again

Cheeses, are we still going with this crap? Seriously? OK, let's debunk the myths one more time:

"government takeover" - No, fail, wrong. The bill currently being debated does not comprise a "government takeover" of anything. Now, I don't think a government takeover would be all that bad. I live under government healthcare here in Britain and, occasional headline-grabbing scandal aside, it's pretty damn good. But this bill doesn't amount to anything like that. All it amounts to is government creating another insurance option, just like Medicare. Medicare currently has a funding problem but that could be easily solved by, for example, the enrollment of lots more people. No-one is claiming that Medicare is perfect but it is a hell of a lot better than no option at all. And no-one would be forced to take out the government option. Under the current Bill, you would be forced to take out insurance of some kind (and I agree, that part is extremely dodgy) but the legislation does not specify what form of insurance you must take out.

"socialism / communism / fascism" - We'll do these together since they amount to the same thing. First off, fascism is an ultra-right political ideaology which has no common ground and is entirely incompatible with the other two. Anyone telling you that fascism is a left-wing ideaology is just plain lying to you. Now, the accusation of socialism is based on a very American misunderstanding of what the word means. The US is using the term to mean any sort of collective risk or responsibility. That is not what the word means. The word means that the government has sole ownership of the means of production and distribution. Would there still be competing private interests? Yes? Then it's not socialism. The US also misuses the word "communism". The idea that a communist would want to grow government is directly opposed to the basic tenets of communism. The only reason anyone in the US believes this crap is because of the Cold War and Stalin's insistence on calling his regime "communism". Stalin's regime was Soviet Communism which is a hell of a lot closer to beurocratic despotism than to Marx's vision (this should not be taken as approval for Marx's unworkable utopianism). Actual, real Communism, also known as Marxism, is much closer to collectivist anarchism than anything the Soviets came up with.

Also, what's so terrible about socialism? The US tends to treat socialism like it's some kind of virus; like if you allow even the slightest hint of socialism, the entire country becomes 1958 Moscow. It doesn't work like that. Socialism is a system of economics, you decide how much to have.

"government is inherently inefficient/corrupt" - This is complete bollocks. It only persists because the right, through it's ownership of the media, has spent thirty years telling the public that government can't do anything right, highlighting the ocasional abuse that will occur in any system as an example of the whole and the public, being deeply stupid, believes them. The US government is more inefficient than most, largely due to your system of unlimited amendments being tacked on to every bill. However, every other nation in the civilised world manages to do this without it turning into a black hole of resources. Your media, advancing the cause of the right as always, has flat-out lied to you about how bad those systems are. For the most part, they're pretty good. Yes, the ocasional scandal or outrage occurs. Does anyone honestly believe that those things do not happen in the private insurance system? And finally, if the public option would be so bad, why would anyone choose to take it? No, they're not being forced to, see my first point.

"everyone has access to healthcare" - This is both true and false. The true part is that hospitals are under a legal obligation to treat anyone who needs treatment. However, where it becomes false is that, firstly, a horrifying number of doctors disregard their Hipocratic Oath when it comes to non-insured people (there is a reason that "oathbreaker" is the worst insult in many ancient cultures). Secondly, "treatment" doesn't necessarily mean the best treatment. It's easy to find tales of people who really should have been admitted to hospital but weren't because they lacked insurance. This is by no means rare. Thirdly, according to statistical studies, an uninsured person is 40% more likely to die of any particular illness than an identical person with insurance. Because if you do not have insurance, a frightening number of doctors will do only the bare minimum to treat you (please note, I am not suggesting that such doctors are the majority; merely a worrying minority). Finally, emergency room care is the single more expensive way of delivering care. It's a lot cheaper to deliver care in the normal fashion.

"illegal immigrants will be able to use the program" - Point 1 is that this is flatly untrue. Standing law forbids illegal immigrants from taking part in any federal healthcare program and the only part of the bill which could be read to cover illegal immigrants also includes language to specifically prevent that. Point 2 and entirely seperate, so what if it did? If an illegal immigrant pays their own money into the system and gets care because of it, why is that any harm to you? No, they wouldn't get any kind of money to cover them, that's specifically prevented by language in the bill.

"death panels" - Die in a fire.

"private insurance won't be able to compete" - Again, several points to make here. Firstly, how is that your problem? How does it harm you if private insurance can't compete with the public option? Secondly, despite having a single-payer system here with full coverage from cradle to grave, we still have private insurance companies and they still make a profit. Thirdly, this one is predicated on the presumption that the public option insurance would be so cheap and so good that private insurance wouldn't be able to compete. Well, A) that's completely incompatible with the idea that government can't do anything right and B) again, how is that your problem? Now, at this point, some people might start going on about a sixth of the economy going bust. Except it won't. And it won't because the doctors, nurses, x-ray techs, etc don't work directly for the insurance companies, they work for the hospital or for themselves. They're still there, they're just claiming their fees from a different insurer than before.

"Rush / Beck / O'Reilly says..." - Anything these three say can be presumed to be a lie sight unseen.

"the bill is 1092 pages long" - So what? Really, what difference does that make? Is there some inherent connection between the length of a bill and it's quality? Of course not. Besides which, have you ever actually read a bill? They're written in very technical legalese, larded with clauses, subclauses, sections and sub-sections and loaded with "theretofore"s, "but to"s and once-in-a-lifetime exceptions. Lawyers spend four years (US) or six years (UK) studying to learn how to understand this crap. This is not layman's language, this is a very specialised, archaic dialect spoken only by lawyers and legislators. And this is why the demand to post the bill online is also pointless. The general public doesn't have the training or tools to understand the bill even if they managed to make it through the whole thing. It's not to do with intelligence (although I feel that much of the general public is dumb as a post), it's to do with a very specialised language. Law and medicine are probably the only professions where the layman feels he can blunder in and do better than the experts. People don't go up to engineers and say "you've put that bridge up wrong", they don't go around telling architects how they should design houses. Only in law and medicine does the general public feel that they know better than the experts on no more basis than their own arrogance. If you have enough knowledge to ask sensible questions, do so. Otherwise, shut the fuck up and leave it to people who actually know what they're doing.

Look, the current bill is not perfect. In fact, it's far from perfect. But it is better than what you currently have. Because it might take a fraction of a penny away from profits, the Republicans and their corporate puppetmasters are going all out to halt this but for Lord's sake, don't let them kill this. This is probably the only chance you're going to get for the next fifteen to twenty years to do something about your abomination of a healthcare system.

By the way, your blogger has given in to the Dark Side and joined Twitter. You can follow me as EbonBear if you feel like it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Republicans Promise "Holy War"

In today's LA Times (1), Orrin Hatch (R-Cigna) promises "holy war" to halt the healthcare bill. A couple of days ago, Rush told his listeners they were in a "war without bullets". Beck told his listeners that they were the teenage girl and the government was Roman Polanski. One presumes he didn't mean that the government was going to make visionary, innovative films. No, he meant the government is going to rape you.

Holy war. "War without bullets". "Whites of their eyes". That repugnant Dachau poster. "I'm a proud right-wing terrorist". The rampant racism of the Birther clowns. Am I crazy or is anyone else noticing a pattern here?

The right loves to equivocate. They love to claim that the left were just as bad to Bush, the Democrats were just as hyperbolic and obstructionist. Both claims are untrue, of course, but they're par for the course on the right. What is new is the increasing level of militancy in the rhetoric; subtle (and sometimes overt) allusions to violence. The left, who were routinely accused of being unpatriotic for criticising Bush (who the right pretend to have always been against now) didn't go anything like this far. Perhaps a few posters in the underdepths of the webway posted violent fantasies but in the left as a whole, it didn't happen. And yet, after less than a year out of power, the right are coming within a hairsbreadth of actually inciting assassination.

Look, let's be honest. Obama is a black guy and there are enough unreconstructed racists in the USA that there was always a chance that one of them would take a shot at him. The Secret Service says that threats to the president have quadrupled since Obama took office. The right would have us believe that's just because normal Americans are angry at the president for, well, something (they seem unable to decide what their complaint is) and you can guarantee that, if some nut takes a shot at Obama, they'll do the same dance of deniability: A brief, insincere denunciation of the violence and then straight back to hatred and near-enough justification of that same violence. The same way they did with Scott Roder. The same way they did with the Town Hall lunatics. Since this president took office, they have stopped at nothing to paint him as illegitimate, dangerous, even alien. They've done everything but outright say that, since the president is such a monster, you might as well take a shot at him.

Oh, I know I'm not supposed to say that. You're not supposed to talk about the distinct possibility that some maniac will absorb the violent rhetoric tacitly encouraged by the right and act upon it. But the rhetoric is there and it is violent (Sean Hannity's site a while back had a survey asking it's readers what kind of revolution they'd prefer). And there is a distinct possibility that someone will act upon it. The Secret Service are dedicated to their jobs but they're only human and it only takes a moment for a maniac to get lucky. And if he does, the right will soothe themselves with the thought that the left would have been just as bad to Bush.
I'm not sure what can be done about this. The yappers like Beck and Limbaugh have already made a big noise about their First Amendment rights and you can be certain that if anyone even asks them quietly to dial it back, they'll ramp it up even further. And the 20% crowd will follow them right over that cliff. Just... notice how extreme, how violent the rhetoric has become and realise that these people cannot be negotiated or compromised with. As far as they are concerned, the proper order of the universe is to have Republicans, white Republicans (not all of the criticism is racial but the racial factor is certainly adding heat to it) in charge of everything. Anything else is abomination and must be brought to an end by any means necessary. And I mean any means, the word is an absolute here. If the worst happens, the yappers will make a pretence of their sorrow... and then they'll be straight back to attacking with exactly the same tactics, exactly the same vitriol and the 20%, their followers will quietly toast the shooter with beer. The right these days loves to talk about having a fifth column of communists in the Whitehouse. That's crap, naturally, but it occurs that you may have a literal fifth column of would-be domestic terrorists and a much larger faction that would apologise and cover for them.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What The Hell, Maine?

I was going to use today's column to have some fun poking Rush Limbaugh over the sycophantic "interview" he preached on Fox news. But then, I heard that same-sex marriage has been overturned in Maine. Maine of all places. There are three areas that any bookie would have expected same-sex marriage to be uncontroversial: Southern California, Washington DC and New England. Well, Prop H8 took away same-sex marriage in Cali and left the couples that got married in that brief period it was legal (including my friend Buffy of The Gaytheist Agenda and her partner) in a kind of limbo. DC passed Ref 71 which, as I read the law, gives same-sex couples everything except the word "marriage". I can live with that, that's the same arrangement we have here in Britain. And then came the other result.

Et tu, Maine?

Let me get this straight: New England is one of the more reliably liberal areas of the country, the rest of New England has legalised same-sex marriage or something equivelent and 58% voted to decriminalise pot. Were all the potheads freakin' stoned and thought their "yes" meant they were affirming gay rights? Because the numbers I'm seeing (58% for decriminalising pot, 52% for screwing over gay people) means that at least some of the stoners must have voted for this abomination. Did we all take a big dose of hypocracy today, kiddies? Were you guys so high that you couldn't distinguish lies from facts? Could you not have waiting until after voting to take a half-dozen bong hits?

And don't think I'm exclusively picking on the stoners either. Everyone who voted for this absurdity needs to get clocked with a clue-by-four. I mean, you look at any open forum on gay marriage and lo, doth the bullshit wax forth. We've heard everything from teaching your kids sodomy (horseshit) to some weird guy on HuffPo who seemed to be under the impression that gay people could have offspring genetically engineered to actually be the biological children of two men or two women (which won't be a problem for at least twenty years and genetic engineering on that level was banned under Clinton anyway) to teaching your kids that gay people exist. I hate to tell that last group but they're going to find out sometime. It's weird how obsessed these people are with the sex act. They act like kids knowing gay people exist means having to explain the technicalities of gay sex to them. What's wrong with "some boys love other boys"?

And let's not even get started on the moral atrocity of putting human rights to the whims of the popular vote in the first place. Have we not got the message yet that the PoliSci fiction of the informed voter carefully weighing the issues is bullshit? The average voter is not very intelligent, actively distrustful of intelligence, distrustful of change, petty and cruel. No, I'm not a big believer in democracy, I've met too many humans. If you put the option of doing the right thing to the plebians, the plebians will usually vote against it. I back democracy not because it's a good option but because it's the least bad option. If it had been left to the popular vote, slavery would have continued much longer and interracial marriage might still be illegal. And 52% of Maine voters just voted to make it illegal for gay people to have the same chance at happiness (or permanency, depending on your experiance of marriage) as straight people. Stop letting the people decide human rights, the people are frickin' morons! They believe bullshit! The ridiculously monikered NOM puts out bullshit that churches will be forced to marry gay couples and over half the public laps it up! OM NOM NOM! Gay marriage threatens the sanctity of marriage? How the fuck does that work? Do you even understand what "sanctity" means or the fact that, for most of human history, marriage was the transfer of property? And don't give me that bullshit about your religious beliefs. My religious beliefs aren't being passed into law and mine don't involve violating the fucking Constitution. Yes, the state has a vested interest in promoting families, no arguement there. But did it ever occur to your brain-trists that A) gay people form familes too and B) no families are going to break up because the gay couple down the block are suddenly the married gay couple down the block.

I often wonder if gay people aren't being far too civil about this. The movement is trying to win their rights with lawsuits and public opinion. And don't misunderstand me, that's very laudable, very civilised and noble. But the public are morons and your SCOTUS is dominated by conservatives, at least two of whom don't give a shit about the law. There is something in the human psyche that seems resistant to treating something as a right unless it's forcibly torn from teh fist of the opressor. So I often wonder if the gay rights movement wouldn't have gotten further if there'd been a bit more forceful expression involved. The most conservative estimate of the gay population is about three million and an accurate estimate is probably three or four times that so let's have a Million Queer March on the Whitehouse. Let's put a few pink triangles on poles and set fire to them, just to make the comparison obvious to the terminally dense. Ellen is apparently going to be a judge on American Idol but let's get RuPaul on Monday Night Football, let's have Chris Kanyon doing play by play on Monday Night RAW. They think marriage is a step too far, let's go a mile too far, let's shove gay people down their throats until they're so sick of the subject that everyone grows the fuck up. Forget the lawsuit, let's have some fucking riots.

Cheeses fucking christ on toast; Maine, for fuck's sake!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why Obama Is Right About Fox News

It's been a real interesting week, watching you guys from across the pond. President Obama points out something that everyone in their right mind already knew, that Fox is a Republican propoganda mill and people would be wise to keep that in mind, and suddenly the freakin' world's coming to an end.

First came the lie that this was in some way a violation of freedom of the press. Satan save me from sanctimonious conservatives moaning about freedom of the press. Have the Obama admin pulled Fox's license like Hugo Chavez (and what a disappointment he's turning out to be)? No. Have they shut down FNC? No. Have they even shut off access and kicked Fox's guy out of the Whitehouse press pool? No, they haven't. The closest they got was trying to refuse to give an interview to Fox. Wow, truly a draconian act. Here's a newsflash for the idiots: Freedom of the press does not equal automatic access. If I start up a podcast, does the president automatically have to come on when I invite him? Of course not. He's the president, he's a busy guy. He has every right to refuse to give interviews to any media outlet he likes (and, incidently, they have every right to report that)

Then there was the lie that this was an "unprecedented" move. Horseshit. DimBulb's admin used to call out NBC and MSNBC all the time, they all but accused the New York Times of treason! Conservatives like to use that to try and claim that MSNBC and Fox are equivelent. Bzzz, sorry, you're still fucking wrong. First off, MSNBC isn't half as liberal as you like to think. Yes, Olbermann and Maddow are liberals and Ed Schultz tends to lean to the left. Chris Matthews doesn't have an intellectual stance consistent enough to be called a leaning but he seems to have a crush on Obama right now so let's throw Tweety in there too. MSNBC also has Joe Scarbrough, a guy who has been seriously mentioned as a Republican candidate for president in 2012 (and the GOP could do a lot worse) every morning for THREE FREAKIN' HOURS! OK, Joe's not a batshit conservative like most of the GOP right now but he's a pretty conservative guy. Does Fox put an avowed, outspoken liberal (say, Mike Malloy) on for three hours every morning? Of course they fucking don't. Watch MSNBC for a day and chances are, you'll see Pat Buchannon at least a couple of times. Now, Pat's a weird guy, he's very right-wing and he also happens to be rampantly racist (contrary to some opinion on the left, the two don't automatically go together). But you see him on MSNBC and he's usually treated respectfully. Hosts might disagree with him (I have yet to understand why Pat and Rachel Maddow are good friends when they agree on precisely nothing) but he's treated in a respectful fashion. Pat's so reactionary, he could be nicknamed Paleolithic but he gets treated nicely by this supposedly liberal network.

Recently, Fox has tried to draw a dividing line between their "opinion" shows and their "news" shows. That's bullshit too, there is no division. Fox's "news" section is just as biased as their prime-time line-up. This has been proven so many times that you have to be either indescribably stupid, insane or stubbornly resistant to reality to ignore it. Every story, on any show is slanted in a conservative direction. Look up the "Moody memo", go and do some fucking research, they admitted this in fucking court! On MSNBC or CNN, their news shows are straight-up news. If they have a slant, it's slightly to the right (most US news has a rightward slant) but they genuinely try to report on things objectively. On Fox, everything is actively slanted to favour the Republicans and attack Obama. And spare me the outrage about Fox breaking the ACORN or Van Jones stories. I don't carry a flag for either of them but both of those were complete non-stories that Fox went hysterical over until the Whitehouse gave in (I wish they'd stop doing that). From Hannity (who makes no pretence at neutrality) to Bill O'Lielly (who's relationship with the truth has only ever been accidental) to Glenn Beck (I want to stop picking on Glenn because he's so obviously ill), these guys are vastly further to the right than Olbermann, Maddow or Schultz are to the left. Hannity is about two steps from being an outright fascist; Beck is so far gone that he appears to be channeling the ghost of Joe McCarthy and trying to cope by mainlining LSD. Olbermann's a liberal, sure, but he's not sobbing on tv and calling people every name he can get away with (barring George Carlin's famous seven words). There is no equivelency between the two prime-time line-ups. MSNBC's is centre-left, FOX's is frothing right-fringe. And their straight news shows are just as bad, they're just slightly more subtle. Media Matters (yes, I know Bill-O says they're an extreme-left outfit but he says that about anyone who disagrees with him) has loads of stuff on this, showing how Republican talking points get endlessly repeated by Fox in both their opinion AND news shows.

Fox's apologists (and Bill-O, who's viciousness hides some deep insecurities) like to point to their ratings as proof of their accuracy. I'm sorry, what? First off, how does the fact that people like your product prove it's accurate? There is no connection between the two. Secondly, yes, Fox has very impressive numbers. So did Jerry Springer. Ratings have nothing to do with quality. Springer did bonanza numbers, Oprah still does. Is anyone really claiming that Ford make better cars than, say, Rolls-Royce? Or that Dell make better computers than Alienware? Of course not. Sales (and ratings are, in the end, sales) have nothing, zip, zero to do with quality. All Fox's numbers prove is that there is a market for news (and sometimes outright lies) with a heavily conservative bias. And Fox isn't just reporting the news with a rightward slant. They're actively making news with a rightward slant. The Teabagging parties were pushed endlessly on Fox, complete with links on their website of where to go. Beck's 9/12 march of the morons was created, promoted and owned by Fox. The Van Jones non-story was "broken", pushed and promoted by Fox, created by Fox. Obama isn't calling out Fox because they "ask the tough questions". He is calling out Fox because they have been attacking him 24/7 over bullshit charges since before he was even in office. Fox have made barely any pretence that their mission is now to destroy Obama by any means necessary. And I do mean "any", the word is an absolute in this instance. Beck is already about one step away from outright treason. He might not have fulfilled all the technical legal requirements to be charged with treason under the letter of the law but under the [i]spirit[/i] of the law, he's guilty as hell. But there I go again, picking on the ill. Incidently, anyone remember Fox's Half-Hour News Hour, their conservative answer to The Daily Show? Does CNN have comedy shows on it? That show was Fox's admission that they have a conservative slant. As comedy shows go, I thought it was hit-and-miss. Had some very funny sketches (Lorenzo Lamas defending the Bush line on 9/11 was a hoot) and an awful lot of dross. Shame they didn't get longer to work out the teething problems. But the important point is that Fox felt an obligation to "balance" the liberal slant of The Daily Show by putting on a conservative comedy show. Fox is a conservative propoganda outlet, case closed.

And that's fine. Advocacy journalism has a long and honourable history. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle led to the creation of the FDA (not his intention but we'll take results here). The British Daily Star was founded as a crusading socialist newspaper, specialising in exposing abuses of power (sadly, it's now fallen to tabloid status). There is nothing wrong with advocacy journalism. But don't lie about it. Be out and proud. Say up front that you are a conservative news outlet and you cater to a conservative audience and we wouldn't have this problem. You say openly that you come at things from a particular direction and there's no problem with that, we take that into consideration when we decide whether to watch your shows. That way, you're the conservative network, MSNBC boots Joe Scarbrough across to you guys and rebrands itself as the liberal network and CNN returns to calling it right down the middle. Everyone's happy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Now, Let's Do Communism

Having set the record straight on Naziism, it seems an obvious next step is to do Communism and to talk about communism, one must talk about socialism as the latter grew out of the former.

The basic premise of socialism is that the capitalist system concentrates wealth and power within a small ownership class which exploits the worker. That much is undeniable to anyone with functioning eyes but socialism then posits further that, by common or communal ownership of the means of production and distribution, the abuses of the capitalist system can be eliminated or, at least, minimised. The idea is that if the community (usually via the state) owns and operates a service and has no internal competitors (that part's important), then the state, as representative of the people, can allocate wages and rewards fairly. Over time, as these roles become ingrained, the need for the state to administer them gradually withers away and the state itself becomes redundant (as in, both unnecessary and out of work). One may agree or disagree with it but that's the theory.

It's worth pointing out that, on a small scale, socialism can work well. The traditional farmer's collective or British share fishermen (where each take a percentage of the collective catch) are examples of socialism working well on a small scale. They work well because there is an emotional tie between each member of the collective. One may feel that the nameless person collecting Social Security is a lazy scrounger but it's a bit different when it's Bob who you've known your whole life and know is laid up right now with a broken leg. Likewise, Bob himself probably would feel some guilt about ripping off his friends and/or family if he didn't attempt to make up his end of the collective bargain.

No-one really knows who first came up with socialist theory but the term was coined by Henri de Saint-Simon who, along with Friendrich Engels, laid the foundations of modern socialist theory (earlier forms, such as the aforementioned farmer's collective, go back to the Medieval Period). Various governments have experimented with socialism on a limited scale, generally with regard to the essential services too important to be left to the whims of the free market (something I extrapolate on in other essays). Sometimes, they have worked (Social Security in the USA, prior to it's demolition by George W. Bush; the NHS in Britain), other times they have not (the EU's Common Fisheries Policy is still a sore spot for many). Now, few of those are truly socialist as most have internal competitors which force the state-run option into a battle with private industry. For example, while the NHS covers the health needs of all Britons from birth to death, other companies offer health insurance in Britain and some operate entirely private hospitals. The result may be seen as an improvement on pure socialism. Pure socialism, due to it's lack of competitors, has a noted tendancy toward waste and abuse while the whims of an unopposed free market will always operate to maximise profits at the expense of the consumer (see the current health insurance situation in the USA, which resembles a lottery system for health). By having both socialised and private industries compete against one another, one forces the socialised industries to eliminate waste to remain competative but also forces the private firms to minimise the worst abuses to maintain their customer base.

Socialism is an economic theory. It has little to say about politics as the founders of modern socialist thought considered politics merely an extension of economic issues (and one can see their point). When you extend socialism beyond economics, you end up with Communism.

Communism is, in the simplest possible definition, an attempt to create a classless (meaning, lacking social classes rather than just crude), stateless, egalitarian society through the common ownership of not just the means of production and distribution, but all property and, unlike socialism, accepts that revolution may be necessary to bring this about. Whereas, in a socialist system, the worker would get paid for his endevours and then spend his wages on, say, a new pair of shoes; the worker in a Communist system would simply go and request a pair of shoes from the warehouse filled with shoes made by other workers. Again, the state required to administer this would gradually wither away as people adjusted to their roles and, eventually, the state would become entirely unnecessary and disappear. Far from wishing to expand government, communism regards government as simply a short-term necessary evil on the road to an anarchist collective utopia. If you're thinking that avowed Communist states have never worked out that way, you'd be entirely right. For that reason, this form of theoretical Communism is known as "pure Communism" or, more often, simply as Marxism.

Karl Marx was the man who, in conjunction with Friendrich Engels, essentially invented Communism. Contrary to popular belief, Marx wasn't some cackling psychopath but a man with a rather kindly, if also naive, view of human nature. Marx believed that the primary motivator in human history had been the struggle between social classes or, as we would define them, between the Haves and the Have-Nots (Like many men of his time, Marx defined social class purely in terms of wealth). By instituting a system whereby everyone held everything in common, that cause of conflict would be eliminated and peace would reign. Or, at least, that was the theory. Marx himself would have been appalled at what his ideas led to.

No nation in history has ever achieved Marx's form of "pure" Communism. Many observers (including myself) think that vision, although noble, is utterly unworkable for several reasons. Primarily, Marxism makes no accounting for human greed or laziness. The assumption is that the worker will want only that which they require and that everyone will do their fair share and yet, all of us know someone who lives only by the goodwill of others (and I'm not talking about those who have no choice such as the severely disabled). It doesn't account for the human capacity for stupidity and bad judgement that leads a man to squander his life savings on some addictive drug. While in many ways noble, Marxism was not very wise.

Those nations which have attempted to reach Marxist Communism have given birth to several variations. The form which most of us are most familiar with is the form which arose in the Soviet Union during the 1920s: Leninism or Bolshevism. Leninism may have been a genuine attempt to use violent revolution to achieve Marxist ends. It is primarily remembered for Lenin's belief that socialism was merely a middle form which would inevitibly lead to Communism. In this, he was entirely wrong but we'll get to that later. It's difficult for us to say how effective Leninism might have been because that period of Soviet history led directly, in 1928, to Joseph Stalin and the ideaology named after him. Stalinism had very little in common with Marxist thought. Rather, it embodied the worst excesses of both Communism and capitalism: An opressed working class kept deliberately ignorant; cults of personality and an intrusive police state. In every practical sense, Stalinism was an enlightened (for a given value of "enlightened" anyway) dictatorship. Far from the egalitarian vision of Marx, Stalinism led to an ever deepening chasm between rich and poor; the only difference was that the rich were also now the elite of the only political party allowed to exist. Some commentators have described Stalinism as a form of left-wing fascism but that's a perversion of the word. While both were highly authoritarian, fascism and communism are specific and quite different sets of reasons for being so.

There were and are many different minor variations of Communist theory; from Trotskyism to Maoism and Luxemburgism (named after Rosa Luxemburg and nothing to do with the country) to even forms of Christian Communism (contrary to popular belief, athieism, while the official position, was never a very major part of Marxist thought), but to spend much time dealing with them would be folly. Communism has been proven by history to be unworkable and to lead to undesireable and unpleasent results when it is employed on any kind of mass scale. The vision of Marx and Engels can be marked down as a classic case of "did not think this through enough".

I mentioned earlier that Lenin was quite wrong in his assertion that socialism was merely an intermediate step between capitalism and communism. I say this because history has proven it to be the case. In my own Britain, the Labour Party was explicitely socialist for most of it's existence. Clause Four of the Labour Party manifesto called for collective ownership of the means of production and distribution, a section that was only removed with Tony Blair's leadership of the party in 1994 (Blairites described it as the "new" Labour Party for exactly this reason). During it's time as a socialist party, Labour ruled Britain several times. Some administrations were good (Clement Attlee), others were bad and one (that of James Calaghan) was a disaster, but none turned Britain into the UKSR or even attempted to do so. The NHS ticks along year after year, decade after decade but it's staff have never mentioned a Bolshevik uprising. In the USA, Social Security operates as a partially socialised system. As does the Veteran's Association but neither have ever led to tanks in the streets and an all powerful police state (and, as mentioned above, that would be a perversion of Communism anyway). In fact, given the Constitution of the USA, it's citizens general attitude of "live free or fuck off" and the prevelence of firearms, it's difficult to see why the average American citizen is so terrified of socialism. Americans tend to treat socialism as something akin to a zombie-causing virus; a nightmare which, once admitted even slightly, will inevitibly transport the entire nation to 1955 Moscow. History, and the attitudes of most Americans say that not only will that not happen but that, absent a sea change in public values and morality, it cannot happen. And yet, we have, at time of writing, a whole cottage industry in the USA dedicated to describing the current president as a Communist. This is not just a perversion of the term but such wilfull and deliberate stupidity that one is tempted to suggest steralisation to avoid further pollution of the gene pool. Taking equity in a miniscule part of the economic structure cannot be described as socialism in any rational way, especially when there are still competing private companies. Rather, this assertion seems to be based entirely on the very short memory of many Americans and the fact that the administration preceding (that of George W. Bush) was inarguably the most right-wing in US history. Over the eight years of Bush's reign of error, the centre of political discourse seems to have been reset to somewhere around Attila the Hun. When the standard for political discourse is set by Dick Cheney, a man so cartoonishly evil that parody becomes impossible, even the moderate Obama looks like a raving radical of the left.

Finally, a brief word about the author's own preferences. I am not a socialist. I consider socialism to lead to waste and abuse. Nor am I anti-capitalist. I am anti-corporatist. I believe that corporations are, as Bierce said, "an ingeneous device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility". I shan't speak further on that here, see my other essays for elaboration. Which I am, in relation to this essay, is a believer in a socialised option in certain essential services (again, defined further elsewhere) whereby, the competition between private and socialised options benefits the consumer and keeps the abuses of both to a minimum.

ADDENDUM: In contrast to the delusional theories which Foxwood replied to my last entry with, Communism hasn't been "fashionable" in the USA since the mid-sixties and wasn't all that popular then. The hippies and flower children of the Sixties weren't Communists (unless, like Foxwood, you consider Joe McCarthy to be a role model), they were just pissed off with a political system which alternatively marginalised them or tried to send them to Vietnam to be killed. Contrary to the McCarthyite ramblings of Foxwood and his overlord, Glenn Beck, the president isn't a Communist, a socialist or even especially liberal; there aren't hordes of "godless commies" in the Obama administration or the schools, colleges or universities; the overwhelming majority of teachers and students at any level of education in the USA hold fairly conventional political beliefs and your country is about as far from Communism as it's possible to be and still be a functional democracy. Newsflash guys: McCarthy is dead, he was an evil monster when he was alive and he was and you remain, just plain wrong about absolutely everything.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Nazis - Let's Get This Straight

OK, I'm now officially wanting to execute conservatives who keep rewriting the historical record with regard the the Nazi party, usually in hopes of proclaiming them far-left. This is both wrong and a lie. Normally, I'd allow the option of being misinformed but our history has been so heavily influenced by the Nazis (via WW2) and the history is so freely available that someone would have to go out of their way to avoid know the basic facts. Ergo, anyone who tells you this is lying, either explicitely or by omission.

First off, let's deal with the political ideaology of the Nazi party, since this might explain how an extreme-right party came to have the word "Socialist" in it's name (which is the one and only reason to even entertain the idea that the party was on the left). Essentially, the party was founded as the German Worker's Party in 1918 as a unification of the various German nationalist groups that grew up in the chaotic end of World War I. The original leader, Anton Drexler, formed a party platform which included social support to middle-class Germans of Aryan origin (which was the ONLY socialist part of the agenda), nationalism (which included, at that time, anti-semitic views), fierce opposition to both lasseiz-faire capitalism and communism and the glorification of the common "volk" (German for "folk" but carrying connotations of noble farmers and rural manual labour. The way Michelle Bachman uses "real Americans" has similar connotations). While explicitly opposed to communism, the DAP (German Worker's Party) also considered international capitalism as a tool of "international Jewry". From the very beginning, the DAP was opposed to any political ideaology which was non-nationalist and especially those on the left and fought bitterly with the DSP (Social Democrat Party) and KPD (German Communist Party).

Initially, the DAP was tiny. Perhaps to attract new members, the group changed it's name to the "National Socialist German Worker's Party" in 1920. Adolf Hitler was the 55th member. Through a combination of fiery oratory and ruthlessness, Hitler quickly became the dominant figure in the party and became chairman in 1921 whereupon virtually the entire socialist aspect of the party's ideaology was dropped. Thereafter, the party would be governed by the furherprinzip ("leader principle"). In short, what Hitler said was what happened. And Hitler was uninterested in the social welfare aspect of the platform (although it was left in the party manifesto to attract working-class members). Hitler's interests were German nationalism and Antisemitism. When the National Fascist Party rose to power in Italy under Mussolini, Hitler promptly stole a lot of their schtick, such as the brown shirts (the Italian's wore black) and the straight-arm Roman salute. The party continued to grow until they launched the disastrous "Beer Hall Putsch" (an attempted coup) in 1923, after which Hitler was imprisoned and the party was banned.

Hitler was released around Christmas of 1924 and the following year, he refounded the NSDAP. This time around, the party made a great pretence of disavowing force (although, like the British BNP, this was a transparent charade) and admitting women. It was around this time that the SA (stormtroopers") and SS (originally Hitler's personal bodyguard) were formed. Eventually, due to a coup in 1932 and the splintering of the opposition, the NSDAP essentially held power in the Rechstag (although not a majority, the intricacies of Reichstag politics meant that if the Nazis acted in conjunction with other nationalist parties, they could excercise power). In 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg and the rest is history.

Hopefully, that's somewhat clear now. Fascism is slightly difficult to define but some of the traits which are always included are that it always starts as a working-class, populist phonomena preaching a return to a glorious (and often mythical) past. It usually makes heavy use of whatever the dominant religion is and it is always violently nationalist. Naziism is right-fringe, is that clear?

Right, now for the religious element. This one has two main offenders: Christians who claim that the Nazis were athiests and athiests who claim they were Christians. The truth, as always, is rather more complex. There were four main strands of religious thought within the NSDAP. The first thought of themselves as "good Christians". To do this, they reimagined Jesus as an Aryan, threw out the entire Old Testament as a "Jewish book" and had some very creative interpretations of the New testament but nevertheless, they thought of themselves as good Christians. That faction was probably the majority of the parties rank-and-file, it's functionaries and pavement-pounders, it was certainly the majority of the German army under Nazi control. The second faction, which was probably the majority of the party elite, felt no real religious faith themselves but were more than happy to manipulate the faith of the masses to their advantage. It was probably this faction which was responsible for things like trying to "Nazify" Christmas by putting swastikas atop the tree and on ornaments (yes, that really happened; no, it didn't have much success outside the party). A third faction wished to destroy Christianity and replace it with a kind of pot-pouri paganism, stealing elements of Germanic and Nordic mythologies and relics and collecting and performing rituals with no real understanding of the underlying belief structure of those rituals. Finally, there was a faction of athiests who thought religion was a refuge for the weak. This lot were somewhat influenced by the philosophies of Nietzsche although those philosophies were twisted to adhere to Nazi ideaology (sadly, Nazi propoganda on this front has led to the majority of the public misunderstanding what Neitzsche was actually saying).

Now, Hitler himself made a great many remarks. Some (especially those in "Main Kampf" which was intended for public consumption) were supportive of the Nazi interpretation of Christianity. Others seemed to support paganism, attack Christianity or attack religion in general. Hitler never consistently supported any of the religious factions, instead manipulating and supporting whichever one fitted his purposes best at the time. The upshot is that we now have little idea what, if anything, Hitler actually believed. For every quotation one can find showing a disdain for Christianity, one can also be found supporting it. In the end, we have no idea.

So neither the Christians nor athiests are right to blame the other for Naziism. Both also fail to consider that, as in any fascist structure, understanding of Christianity or athiesm was always filtered through the lens of party ideaology.

EDIT: To reply to Foxwood's dimwitted comment. Obama is neither a Communist or a socialist. The only way to call him either is to completely ignore the actual meanings of the bloody words. Obama isn't even especially liberal, let alone a communist. And it isn't "in" to be a communist or even a socialist (Michael Moore no more represents the left than Ann Coulter represents the right). Fox News and Rush are lying to you. Obama is a very slightly left-of-centre moderate.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How Did It Come To This?

America was a healthy baby,
born in blood and pain but then,
aren't all babies?
Healthy but like all young life,
she was fragile,
and her parents worried.

As she grew, America struggled,
with redskins and blackskins,
and with herself.
And as she grew, she dreamed,
she imagined goals for herself,
and her parents worried.

Soon, she left her home to learn,
she met the one who shared her heart,
her name was Liberty.
And for a time,
the two were happily inseperable,
But still, her parents worried.

Her parents went to their grave,
the way all flesh must go,
and America mourned.
Her safety shattered, her innocence gone,
a feeling we all share eventually,
and her parents still worried about her.

For years, they grew and prospered together,
America and Liberty,
taking the world by storm.
They went to the stars and then to the moon,
they made all equals,
and her parents worried.

So how did it come to this?

America's children lie dying,
murdered by the suits they paid for their care,
she lies cold each night.
America has done things,
she never thought she could,
and her parents worry.

She has tortured bones and torn flesh,
squeezed the lifeblood from the earth she walks,
sold everything she believes in.
She doesn't know herself anymore,
doesn't recognise the life she leads,
and her parents worry.

And Liberty's a whore,
raped in an alley and left to die,
expiring in the smell of piss and beer.
America hasn't room left in her heart to care,
too frightened of what she can do to do anything,
and her parents worry.

When she feeds the poor, they call her a saint,
when she asks why her children are hungry,
they call her a commie.
And the man in the window,
sobs and weeps at phantoms,
and her parents fear.

They tell her she's mad or bad or worse,
for wishing her children,
a better life than she had.
America is old now and she cannot remember,
a time when she dared to hope for something else,
and her parents shed tears.

Cold and alone and jumping at shadows,
America slumps defeated, not by others,
but by herself.
By her arrogance and her carelessness and her denial,
that she had failed those dreams of long ago,
and she asks out loud,
to no-one in particular,
"How did it come to this?"

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ever Get The Feeling, You Just Can't Win?

It's been an interesting week in politics. First off, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Prize For Peace. While it's fair to say that the award came as a surprise to pretty much everyone except possibly Bo Obama, the right's attack on, well, everyone, went totally beyond the pale. One suggested renaming it the "Yasir Arafat Prize", many suggested Obama should turn it down (it's unclear if that was even possible); a great many made the claim that since the Nobel Committee had awarded the prize to Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, that the prize was now meaningless. The presumptions here need to be dealt with in order.

Firstly, let's deal with the "questionable" awards of the past. Yasir Arafat won the award in conjunction with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres for their attempts to find a solution to the Israel-Palestine mess. So if one is going to decry Arafat's award, one also has to decry the award going to Rabin and Peres. I could at least respect such a "pox on both their houses" approach as intellectually consistent. Jimmy Carter won the award for decades spent promoting peace and alleviating poverty. Both these concepts seem to be anathema to the right these days but those of us in the sane world tend to think they're good things. Many of the right-wing attacks on Carter pointed out that he was an ineffectual one-term president. To which, the only reasonable response is"So what?". It's an example of the kind of blinkered US-centrism that has made the American right so despised in the rest of the world, that we should be expected to disregard Carter's other achievments because he failed in the presidency. Outside the United States, Jimmy Carter enjoys near-global love and respect and has for years. The Nobel Prize, while much deserved, was only the icing on the cake. So Carter eminently deserved the award. And yet, it was interpreted as an award for being Not Bush. Then came the slams at Al Gore. Now, again, I'm aware that the US right prefers to deny the fact of global warming but in the sane world, we accept that it is happening, that humans are largely to blame and that we desperately need to do something about it. Al Gore has spent decades trying to get the world to wake the fuck up about global warming. While he never claimed to invent the internet, he did champion the legislative tools which expanded DARPAnet into the modern internet (along with the technical achievments of Tim Berners-Lee and the guys at MIT), something which has transformed life more than anything since the invention of the automobile. So again, we have someone who throughly deserved the award and again, we have someone whose award was interpreted as being Not Bush. Then there was the argument that the Nobel Committee are biased because they've awarded the prize to more liberals than conservatives. Really, this says far more about the mindset of conservatives: That they deserve equal prizes just for showing up.

Was the Peace Prize ironic, given two ongoing wars? Absolutely and that irony was lost on no-one. Was the Nobel Prize premature? Certainly. However, the intention seems to be that, by giving Obama the award at this point, he will be forced to act in a way which makes him worthy of it. Also, the hypocracy of Republicans who cheered when the US lost it's opportunity to host the Olympics and booed when the president of the USA won the Nobel Prize has been lost on no-one except them.

Then we had the ongoing healthcare clusterfuck. There is a scene in the film adaption of "Interview With The Vampire" where a helpless and naked victim is surrounded on a Paris stage by a dozen or more hungry vampires. They pause for a moment, letting us register her terror and vulnerability. Then they fall on her, a dozen vampiric rats strugging for a spare inch of flesh. That's the image that comes to mind when I think of healthcare in the USA. The free market only works when you're free to walk away from it. When walking away from the market means great risk to your life and/or health, the market isn't free. That's basic Keynesian economics. And so, when it came to reforming healthcare, we got... what? I'm still not entirely sure wher this disgusting process of sausage-making is going. For reasons best known to Obama, the single-payer option (true universal coverage, which works pretty well here in the UK) which was the genuinely left-wing option was taken off the table before negotiation even started which has allowed the right (and their Big Insurance paymasters) to paint the limited incremental Public Options as something to the left of Stalin. And I'm not just talking about the Teabag crown here (the latest is that Glenn Beck claims the Million Moron March totalled 8.2 million people and was led by Moses. Then he cried). Mainstream Conressional Republicans are arguing that a Public Option would amont to government takeover of healthcare. Oh, and Big Insurance has already effectively promised that rates will continue to skyrocket regardless. Only in the USA are the people so terrified of their government that they won't let it do anything.

Then there was Orly Taitz. The US's most high-profile racist and queen of the (racist) Birther Movement was fined twenty grand, essentially for contempt of court and wildly unethical practice in violation of all legal standards. Orly effectively told the judge to shove it and accused him of being part of a conspiracy to surpress her. I'm starting to think this woman is clinically ill, the accusation that any detractor is part of a conspiracy against them. Orly actually presents a problem to us. The problem is that, the more we point out that the Birther Movement is entirely founded on the racist assumption that a black man can't possibly be a "natural-born citizen", the more it allows the right, always eager to nail itself to the cross, to claim that we are painting any criticism as racist. It's absurd, naturally. We know that not all criticism is race-based and most of us are getting pretty adept at spotting the code words these days ("welfare", "community" and these days "ACORN").

Then there was Obama's pondering whether to put more troops into Afghanistan. Um, why are we fighting the war in Afghanistan again? Yes, I know it was a response to teh horror of 9/11, I'm actually not going to criticise Bush for that as I think any nation capable of responding militarily would have done so but what is the objective supposed to be here? Are we trying to get Al Queda or the Taliban or both? Are we going to try turning Afghanistan into a western-style democracy? Since we are fighting a war in a country which has ever been the graveyard of empires, what is the final END > IF here?

Finally, there was President Obama's address to his gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans supporters. I'm not sure what to say about this one. It was a largely form speech, the kind where you only have to change a few particulars to fit the occasion. Given the cavalcade of catastrophes dumped on Obama's lap by the previous administration, I suspect most are willing to give him a little time to get to gay issues (specifically, rather than genpop issues which also affect gay people, such as healthcare) but, at the same time, they would also like to see some movement on those issues, no matter how slow it has to be to accomodate the president's busy schedule. Personally, I want the asinine Don't-Ask, Don't-Tell policy repealed or nearly so by the New Year. That's my personal benchmark. While I know Obama is not a supporter of equal marriage rights and so a push for those rights shouldn't be expected from him, I also want DOMA repealed or overturned by the end of his first term. I suspect Obama would like to leave the choice of whether to push for DOMA's overturn until after the midterms but DC's move to legalise same-sex marriage may force his hand. The problem Obama has here is that there really is no upside for him. I can sit here and say that I believe legalising same-sex marriage to be a legal and moral imperative (yes, I think it is immoral to deny same-sex couples the rights of marriage, conservatives don't have an exclusive claim on morality) but I'm not trying to be re-elected and wouldn't stand a chance if I ever stood. For Obama, if he comes out strongly against overturning DOMA, he pisses off the LGBT activists and allies who worked so tirelessly to help elect him. They won't jump to the Republicans but they might well stay home in 2012. On the other hand, if he comes out too strongly in favour of repealing DOMA, he alienates the moderates (forget the Religious Reich, they already want him dead). In addition to that, Obama's DOJ has argued in favour of DOMA (their obligation, as I understand it) and done so in the most reprehensible terms (certainly not their obligation). How Obama intends to square this circle is anyone's guess.

And we haven't even had time to get to Oklahoma attempting to brand a scarlet A on the foreheads of those seeking abortions; the increasingly chance of war with Iran; Mike Moore's latest film; Alan Grayson's gobsmacking counter-attack on right-wing smears or Tom Delay leaving Dancing With The Stars. What a wild week!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Randomness Break

So, I've been watching a lot of Sex And The City lately (yes, fuck you, I'm a guy who watches Sex And the City, it works best if you think of it as a satire). I can't decide if the show is pro- or anti-feminist. On the one hand, all the women in the show support themselves through successful careers (amazingly, since the plot often requires them to be dumb as posts) and they're sexually liberated (mostly). On the other, all of them are obsessed with finding the perfect man and getting married (Charlotte anoyingly so), the obsession with designer labels is just pitiful and some parts of the show are just stunningly anti-male (seriously, imagine half of those jokes being made about women and the uproar that would follow). Oh, and they all drink far more than is healthy although I'm willing to let that slide on the grounds we mainly see the characters in social situations. The mixed messages on feminism was something I got used to watching Buffy but with Buffy, the premise of the show constantly reminds you that these are not normal people. If you spend your teenage years beating the shit out of vampires, werewolves and the occasional robot, your worldview isn't going to be remotely normal.

What's interesting about the show, apart from the aforementioned indecisiveness, is the attitude of the characters toward non-vanilla sex or sexual orientations. While the gay character we see most often, Stanford, is slightly camp, he also manages to avoid the twin traps of gay characters in TV (being either celibate or wildly promiscuous). Although the premise of the show requires him to be as unlucky in love as the other characters, Stanford manages to be a warm and sympathetic character. Less sympathetically treated are the bisexual characters we meet in one episode. Although protrayed as pleasent people, the fact that they are far younger than Carrie (our POV character) and Carrie's reaction to them, means that their bisexuality (or possibly their tangled personal relationships) comes across as just one of those crazy things that the kids do these days.

It's amusing that TV can't seem to decide how to deal with bisexuals. Statistically, there are far more of us than there are exclusively gay people but while gay people have gradually become accepted and respected characters in TV (and about time too, don't misunderstand) but when we appear on TV, we always end up portrayed as either gay people who occasionally have sex with the opposite sex, straight people who occasionally "experiment", greedy or just flat-out insane. The idea that there are people who tick both boxes on the form marked "fucks girls" or "fucks guys" seems to make otherwise gifted writers lose all grasp of ambiguity (Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon, gifted writers both, take a bow). Naturally, there are a few exceptions. The entire main cast of Torchwood are portrayed as bisexual to one degree or another. The omnisexual (men, women and sometimes non-human species) Captain Jack is mostly portrayed as just slightly different although most of his on-screen lovers are male (possibly to accomodate John Barrowman's real-life orientation). His on-off relationship with his seneschal, Ianto, is portrayed as positive, loving and supportive which is part of what made Ianto's meaningless death toward the end of Children Of Earth bloody annoying.

Here's the FYI on what you need to know about us bisexuals: There's nothing to know. My faith teaches that love is the intermingling of souls. Some people find that with the opposite sex, some people find that with the same sex and it's all good because the love, that most important and rarest of elements, remains the same. Oh, every couple has their quirks but the love shared by two men or two women is exactly the same quality of love as that shared by a husband and wife. Bisexual people are exactly the same. We find love where we find it. This world is so hostile, so stacked against love in a million ways, that it seems absurd to place additional barriers in the way. Humans are animals, yes, but we are also something more and it is our capacity to love and to be loved that makes us something more than just a superevolved ape.

But, to return to the original rambling over a TV show, it seems another human quality is our capacity for sexual invention. In the course of the three seasons of the show I've watched recently, we have heard about: Anal sex, watersports, oral sex, chemically assissted sex (both clinical and recreational), any amount of costume play, threesomes (every possible variant), etc, etc. The main characters, all highly experianced sexually, always react to these with a mixture of bewilderment and disgust. These are women who have laid so much pipe you'd think they'd sprung a leak (and I mean that as a compliment) and they react with horror at the idea of anal sex? Do TV writers believe that real people only fuck in the missionary position? Fact is, for as long as humans have been fucking, they've been inventing different ways to fuck. Apart from the chemicals, all of this has been around for as long as we have records. Charlotte (yes, most of the sexually naive plots involve Charlotte, she's the naive character) eventually blows off the anal sex proposition with the hysterical rant that "I don't want to be the up-the-butt girl because no-one ever marries the up-the-butt girl and if they do, I'll be Mrs up-the-butt". Quite apart from being both stunningly naive and insanely stupid, the absurdity here is screaming at us. The characters obsession with rules regarding sex is self-defeating. It's sex, not a space shuttle launch. Of all the dumb shit humans do, sex is one of the few that really does come instinctively. It's sex, the only rules are the ones you make up for yourself.

Actually, strike that, there are rules. Here are the rules:
1) Consenting adult humans only. Sex is a grown-up game for grown-up players. Don't invite the under-age, the mentally under-age or your pets.
2) Fellas, either grow a beard or shave. Stubble only worked for Don Johnson.
3) Ladies, ditto. Most of us don't much care if you shave all over or go au naturel but stubble burn is just as annoying for us as it is for you.
4) Never tell the truth about your partner's genitals unless the truth is complimentry or something that can be easily fixed (i.e. requesting a wash is fine, requesting piercing isn't).
5) Ladies, if a fella goes off too early, don't make a fuss. Even if you're trying to be sympathetic, it comes off as pitying.
6) Fellas, if you go off too early, the correct response is not to roll over and go to sleep. The correct response is to use fingers and tongues to keep your partner on the boil until you're ready to go again.
7) Ladies, do not be ashamed to say what you want. Contrary to popular belief, asking a guy to fuck you rigid will usually be met with a sigh of relief. Having to always make the first move is nerve-wracking, especially in this day and age of sexual harassment lawsuits. I have no idea how gay women handle this one, anyone want to enlighten me?
8) Pulling out the toys is fine but give your partner warning first. Saying "you mind if my little plastic friend joins in?" is fine and it's a lot less stunning than having Black Beauty suddenly appear between the sheets.
9) Don't shag someone else's significant other if you can avoid it. Look, stuff happens and the heart does as the heart does. Sometimes, life gets complicated and love even more so. I know that as well as anyone but be aware that when you crash land into someone's love life, the stakes get very high, very quickly. Poly couples, make your own rules here.
10) If you're into casual hook-ups, that's fine. No judgements here. I happen to be a big fan of sexual pleasure and if it's just two people giving each other pleasure for the night (or day or lunchtime), that's fine. But for casual hook-ups, two additional rules apply: A) Rubbers are mandatory. No excuses, ifs, ands or buts. Unless you met your playmate at an HIV+ support meeting, slip on a rubber before you slip into your lover (ladies who love ladies, you get to skip that one); B) don't say "I love you" unless you mean it. If it slips out in the heat of passion, just try not to do it again. Everyone is in love when they're cumming and if they say it, don't hold them to it. But, in general, be up front about your intentions. If all you're looking for is a memorable night, say so.
11) Unless your partner is able to give a firm clear "Yes", don't go there. "FOR GOD'S SAKE, FUCK ME!" counts as well. If in doubt, "Are you sure?" is a good way to check. Granted, we've all fucked when we were beer buzzed or slightly high but if your partner isn't able to affirm their assent in a clear voice, settle for making out. That way, worst you'll have in the morning is a little embarassment.
12) No-one gives a shit about your porn stash. Really. This is the Internet Age, any of us can find any porn we want any time we like. Tits, cocks, pussys and asses are not a rare commodity anymore.