Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cat Fight

Cat Fight at the I’m Okay, You’re Not Corral
© 2009 Ross Williams

So have you heard about this? The runner up to the Miss America title gave a politically incorrect answer to the live-action essay question and it “may have cost her the crown”?

Miss California. I could have sworn that the term “Miss”, when used in reference to a female, was formally banned in California … Maybe not. They’re full of contradictions[1] there.

And correct me if I’m wrong[2], but isn’t the purpose of the essay question not to grade the answer, but to grade how well the contestant handles herself speaking extemporaneously on a random topic in public? By all accounts, she handled herself well – perhaps too well. As it turns out, she already had a fairly well-formed opinion on the topic.

Not that I’m accusing the contest judges of being prejudicial bigots or anything unfair like that. Besides, for the judge in question, it’s been done and it’s being done once again. It should go without saying that if he did indeed dock the young lady[3] from California for giving the “wrong answer” to a politically-charged, not to mention sanctimony-laced, issue, then he is indeed the prejudicial bigot he’s been called for years, and saying so is not unfair. Indeed not saying so is dishonest.

Now, I say all this and the simpletons who know what happened are going to draw convenient conclusions based not upon any facts, but upon their own prejudicial biases … because they’re simpletons, and that’s what simpletons do: leap to idiotic conclusions because it makes them feel good to do so. I am sitting here writing this, defending the young lady from California, and so therefore I must agree with her.

Just one problem … I don’t. Not even close.

In fact, I think she’s a pinhead. Between 60 and 75% of the country agrees with her[4], though, in varying degrees of stridence and that makes me part of the “politically correct” minority on this subject. I’m just in that part of the minority who doesn’t feel the need to declare anyone disagreeing with me to be immoral – though I will assert [and support] that when one’s disagreement is based upon false or dishonestly selected facts that they are rationalizing. As far as I can tell, the nonjudgmental portion of the minority to which I belong is a fairly exclusive sub-minority. Me and maybe as many as five others. …in the whole country.

But that’s only as far as I can tell. I haven’t actually made a detailed study.

At any rate, Miss California came in second after having been asked, and subsequently answering, this question, posed by the pseudo-celebrity, pseudo-journalist “blogger” named, pseudo-cleverly, “Perez Hilton”: “Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?[5]

Her answer was along the lines that she was raised to believe that marriage was meant for a man and a woman, and so no, she did not ‘follow suit’. Though her actual answer was somewhat longer than this description of it, she said nothing which condemned the notion – and in fact said “it’s great” – just that she didn’t agree with it.

That’s pretty much exactly what she was asked: whether she agreed with it. And at the risk of repeating myself, her answer is not supposed to matter, but how she handles herself in off-the-cuff discussion does.

The wet-panty storm following this episode, though, is what truly baffles. Miss Massachusetts declared: “It's really hard to think that people still think that way.” Really? Around two-thirds of Americans think that way, cutting across all political, ethnic, racial, religious and class boundaries. You seriously need to get out more, toots.

Miss Connecticut said California should have considered the national audience. The same national audience of which two-thirds agree … not to belabor the point. Tell you what, Connecticut, you get together with Massachusetts up there since you’re neighbors and all, and go slumming in the real world. It oughta be an eye-opener. Don’t forget the cake.

Miss Vermont – and what is it about New Englanders? – averred: “I totally disagree with [her]. I have a very different perspective on gay marriage and I would have never said what she said." Well, that’s totally good, because if you disagree but said it anyway, then you would totally have been a liar. And that’s pretty much what everyone seems to be saying [after the fact] California should have done … lie.

How does lying fit in with the philosophy of the Miss America Pageant? I’m going to climb out on a limb and take a wild guess here and say: not well at all.

I may have spoken a trifle too soon; not everyone is advising Miss California to lie, actually; some are just calling her names no matter what she’d have said. Miss Massachusetts claimed: "She would've made herself look more like an idiot if she changed her mind." Well, duh.

California could only have been “more like an idiot” for lying if she was already an idiot for being honest with the “wrong answer”. Which suggests that something was up. This either means the question was a plant and the fix was already in[6], or the Thought Police are the next feature of the Department of Homeland Security. Neither option is comforting, frankly.

Massachusetts just loves to blabber: “I'm surprised that she would say it, knowing the demographic she was speaking to." Yes, indeed. The demographic of “America”, which supports man-woman marriage by roughly 2:1. Or did you mean the demographic she represents in California which, in a statewide referendum, just defeated a gay marriage bill by a sizeable margin. …which they blamed on the Mormons[7].

Pick a different line, Massachusetts. And … shut up, wilya? You aren’t good at this.

The award for mealy-mouthed ignorance goes to – interestingly – the winner: Miss North Carolina[8], who was asked the same question a few days after she won. I find ignorance such an admirable trait among the Fifteen Minute Fame crowd. Well, a typical trait, anyway. She vacillated: “…everyone should be able to enter into a civil union, where they're legally recognized as a couple and earn the same rights as a married couple. I'm not going to say whether or not I think it should be defined as marriage because that's up to our politicians and our elected officials."

Um. Sweetie? A “civil union” is getting married at the courthouse by a justice of the peace. It is still “married”; politicians haven’t a thing to say about it. The only reason the semantic quibble has come up at all is because there’s a significant number of religious dweebs, frequently from North Carolina I might add, who somehow think that if gay marriage becomes reality in their hometown, they will be forced to have those gay marriages take place in their churches[9]. Yet, how many of those churches have been compelled to marry non-members, or even members not-in-good-standing? Or, indeed, anyone they didn’t want to?

Short answer: none.

Long answer: not a god damned one of them. Not even the Catholic church, which has historical issues with divorce; they politely deny remarriage to those who never got the annulment, but they don’t have gargantuan hissy fits.

No church would be compelled to participate in any formality they didn’t want to. Learn this and learn it quick: There is no difference between ‘marriage’ and ‘civil union’. Cease the irrelevant blather.

We are a democratic republic, governed by a Constitution which puts our guiding principles and philosophies out in the open. If the majority of us want something to be a certain way – such as marriage being between a man and a woman – then that majority is entitled to get what they want.

…until it is shown – not asserted, not claimed, not histrionically demanded, but shown – that this Majority Will causes others to miss out on the same rights and privileges that the rest have. Such as the right to free association, inheritance, probate and divorce. At that point, it is the duty and obligation of our nation to say, “Oh, gosh, well, we never thought of it that way before, but you’re correct … you do have the right to be married.”

It has been shown repeatedly in the last several years that denial of marriage to those who are gay denies them rights routinely extended to others. This denial of equal rights violates Equal Protection.

Acknowledging this does not require anyone to like gay marriage, for requiring people to like something they don’t would deny those people their own rights to Liberty, Free Speech and/or Press, possibly their right to Freedom of Religion depending on the basis of their dislike, and just generally disqualifying their “freedom of conscience” which is at least as legitimate as the “right to privacy”. …which is also being trampled for those whose private opinions do not conform to, in this case, the very vocal and self-righteous minority who happen to be correct.

So you see, gay marriage aficionados, I am very, very comfortable advocating in favor of the issue that we both support, and in significantly more compelling ways than you’ve been able to muster, I might add. Yet virtually all those who support this notion are so god damned sanctimonious about it that they frankly don’t deserve the courtesy of respect. Come down off your faux-moral thrones and then we’ll talk politely. But not before.

And Miss California? you can come down off your cross, while we’re at it. You are now more relevant in losing the way you did than you could ever have hoped to be by winning. The religious talk-show circuit will be clamoring for you for years if not longer. If you play your cards right, not to mention invest wisely, you won’t have to work a day in your life. You’re going to pray for the arrogant asswipe who cornered you with that question? You should be thanking him; he’s obviously an agent of your god. That’d make him an angel, wouldn’t it?

The only – and I mean only – one to come out of this with clean hands because of a clean conscience is Miss Iowa: “I'm proud to say that our state has interpreted the Constitution to say that gays have the right to marry. Whether you agree with [her] or not, to be on national television and say exactly how you feel, it does take strength…

"People have blown it out of proportion

No kidding. Let’s leave it there.

[1] Among other things
[2] I’m not…so you can’t
[3] Wasn’t “lady” banned in California also?
[4] …depending on how the questions are phrased… This includes majorities of declared Democrats and declared Republicans, both, so Democrats have no claim to being fundamentally different from Republicans. Gee! Where have I heard that before?
[5] http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,517616,00.html
[6] And nothing in “Perez Hilton’s” past would make that possible at all … would it?
[7] Religious groups make historically uber-good scapegoats, nein?
[8] I am referring to all these young ladies by their Objectifying names, since the Miss America Pageant is itself an objectifying institution that strips away all individuality, humanity and uniqueness from the contestants. …or, at least that’s what I have been told to believe by those who wish to strip my individuality, humanity and uniqueness.
[9] They disguise it under the shinola of rendering “legitimacy” to marriages not sanctioned by their faith; “marriage” is a religious ceremony, they claim, and if gays can get “married” then their church is somehow beholden to alter its religious dogma accordingly. Yet not a single one of those denominations so opposed have any issue with rendering current “civil unions” as legitimately “married”, nor those “married” by other religious denominations. No church has had to jump through any liturgical hoops. They are in violation of the Ninth Commandment by maintaining this specific opposition. Ironic, ainnit?

Friday, April 24, 2009

It's Dog Eat Dog Out There...

Going to the Dogs
© 2009 Ross Williams

Just over four weeks ago, my Main Dog Earnest[1] took a walk with my wife down to the corner to get the mail. My wife went for the mail, that is; our dog went for the excitement. This jaunt goes right past the territory – plotted out in urine spots and not conforming to any county plat – of the neighborhood bully dog. Marble.

Marble is of indeterminate sex, but from all indications, she’s a female. Those indications are: she doesn’t get along with other female dogs and continually attempts to pick fights or otherwise domineer any female dog she runs across. …which is an alpha female dog-type thing to do. Alpha males, on the other hand, would tend to compel submission from other males.

Marble is of indeterminate sex because she’s part husky or part malamute or part some-other-thing which grows abundant hair that collects mud and burrs and becomes matted and makes identification a rather cumbersome task; we simply haven’t checked. Shaved, she’s probably a very sleek and unimposing canine. Unshaved, she’s large and – to other dogs – very intimidating. Which works in her favor, because she views herself as the queen of all she surveys.

This, of course, doesn’t sit well with our Main Dog Earnest and her two Emergency Backup Dogs[2], the brother/sister act of, respectively, Pinky and the Brain. Both of our female dogs see themselves as the alpha females of the neighborhood, not to mention of our house. Among themselves, though, Piri tolerates Addie’s bossiness for only so long and then she’ll swat her and knock her flat. But since Marble is the neighborhood’s third contender for the throne, this leads to some spectacular posturing and theatrics whenever they all meet.

And it must be all of them which meet, for in the grand scheme of things Marble is indeed the mighty neighborhood HMFWIC[3]. When Addie meets Marble alone, they simple sniff and Marble tries to stand on Addie – to assert dominance – and usually succeeds. Addie will get up when she can and run off several paces to bark for help. When the Dynamic Dumdums meet Marble by themselves – led by Piri, of course; Ferd goes where his sister goes and does what she does – they charge Marble to a discreet distance and pace menacingly … or what passes for menacing in their world; I can spot the ersatz machismo. Marble, though, wanders as she pleases until confronted by a human who does not want her in his yard.

It’s when Addie and Piri and Ferd are all together and meet Marble that we get critical mass. Addie sees her bigger Emergency Backup Dogs as just that: the muscle to grant authority to her inconvenient smallness. Piri sees an opportunity to use Addie’s instigation to kick Marble’s ass off the throne. Ferd is big and dumb and will go along with whatever, just because he’s there at the same time as whatever it happens to be.

And that’s what happened that Saturday just over four weeks ago. My wife was walking back from the mailbox with Addie trailing along and sniffing whatever needed to be sniffed. Marble sauntered over from her yard to announce her presence. Addie and Marble sniffed and were otherwise being tolerant of each other. It was then that Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dummer – on their long legs which can cover ground like gazelles – came galumphing up out of nowhere. My wife, seeing this and knowing what was likely to happen, was this close to picking up Addie before the fight started. But Addie saw her gang, snarled at Marble, Piri and Ferd lunged at Marble, Addie jumped in the middle of the fray, Marble knocked Addie down and bit her head – which is roughly mouth-sized to most dogs.

Addie got two puncture wounds on her head, one at the top of her left ear and one behind it. And, critically, another puncture wound in her throat.

My wife picked up Addie, now bleeding profusely, and ran the rest of the way back home, screaming for me. When I got there I took Addie, yelled at one of the kids to go get a dishtowel, NOW! My wife ran to get car keys and inside forty-five seconds we were backing out of the driveway, towel around the dog’s throat, heading to the vet.

We called the vet from the car announcing the impending arrival of a mauled dog, and drove pall mall into and through town to get there. My Boy Scout training kicked in, but was in high conflict the whole way. You apply pressure to stop bleeding, but applying pressure to a gushing throat also serves to strangle that same throat. Addie’s eyes were fluttering shut from time to time and she was gasping on my lap. The towel was soaked in her blood, so it seemed like I was doing nothing right – she couldn’t breathe and she was still bleeding. I was convinced that she was going to die in my lap on the way, and as we got closer I was thinking that if we’d only saved a few seconds at this point, or if I’d heard my wife yelling from around the backside of the house a little earlier, she wouldn’t have died 10 blocks from … 6 blocks from … within sight of … in the parking lot of the animal hospital.

But as it was, we pulled up at the front door, I bailed out and some gentleman also coming in at the same time opened the door for me. I handed Addie to the nurse who came running out when she saw me and I stood there for a minute shaking, covered in dog blood. My wife came in shortly after covered in just as much blood.

So how come it is that a 15 pound dog who could easily fit into a gallon bucket has enough blood in her that she can cover two people with a gallon of blood – each – and still, as it turns out, not bleed to death? The nurse came back out after a few minutes and said that I had stopped the bleeding without strangling her. She wasn’t in shock, she was now only dribbling blood, and while worn out and lethargic, Addie was trying to lick the folks cleaning her up. We came back later that afternoon to collect her, and for a week while we went to work during the day she stayed in her dog crate so she couldn’t scratch open her wounds.

That was a fairly memorable early afternoon; not a good memory, but memorable just the same. If only someone had been there with a video camera to record it. I would not have personally have found such a video to be enjoyable to watch, per se. The events were emotionally traumatizing the first time, not to mention fairly disgusting. When we got back home from the vet after dropping Addie off, we found my wife’s leather work gloves and the mail[4] on a bucket in the garage, both sitting in a pool of still-liquid blood. We delicately picked through the mail to see if there was anything we absolutely had to have, like bills or tax refunds, and we chucked the rest. Along with the gloves.

But heck, somebody would have wanted to watch that video. That’s one of the things we’re guaranteed in this country of 300 million people: there’s an audience – however small – for everything you can imagine, including the grotesque and traumatic. And why not? Capitalism, free speech, craigslist.com … I’m pretty sure at least one of them is mentioned in the Constitution by name.

So what if I think it’s disgusting? So what if it actually made me cry while I was simultaneously strangling my dog and not stopping her throat from gushing blood, and so what if I would have the very same reaction were I to see it all over again on instant replay? Some people would get off on it, and I could have made a buck or thirty. On each of them. Why shouldn’t I be able to do that?

Because videos of dog fights are against the law. Robert Stevens of Virginia was arrested for, convicted of, and served time for selling videos of dog fights[5]. He sued the government and lost, he appealed and won, the federal prosecutors then appealed the decision, and the Supreme Court has now agreed to hear it.

The issue in a nutshell: selling videos of dog fighting is against the law because dog fighting is against law, and presumably you have to participate in the one to get the other. Since the state has a compelling interest to criminalize dog fighting, it therefore has the same compelling interest to criminalize video depictions of dog fighting. …because, after all, there is no difference between video and real life. Video IS real life.

Everyone born after 1955 knows that!

The Appellate Court drew a distinction between this and the only other depiction of criminal activity to also be upheld as similarly criminal: child pornography. It was “unwilling” to carve out another exception to free speech.

And this, as one might expect, drew the hoots and hollers of every emotion-laden dimbulb the Chicago Tribune could collect on its political blog pages. What were the odds that the Chicago Tribune would be a natural collection point for soft-skulled dinks?

Among the various vacuous arguments put forward to rationalize eliminating free speech for the marginal interests among us were:

1. Watching animals being mauled is disgusting – to which: yes it is, but so are half the folks caterwauling on American Idol and three-fourths of those who try [and inevitably fail] to sing the National Anathema. Not to mention that many many many people view pornography, the “real” adult kind, to be similarly disgusting but which has been consistently upheld as a protectable Free Speech;

2. Videos of dog fights are the same as videos of the “unreal”, child-form of pornography, because the victims in either case don’t know better and need to be protected – to which: while there are many similarities between children and animals, including an inability to find appropriate spots to poop and piddle for several years, not to mention trying to cram all the food they can into their mouths all at once and chew with their mouths open, animals do not have protectable rights under our Constitution. Laws we have against animal cruelty and abuse are only made because we are fundamentally a democracy and the majority of us want those laws. But laws which protect non-rights are [supposed to be] trumped by the Constitution[6] in support of the individual over the angry majority mob wishing to force the guy to conform. One of those rights is the free speech ability to make videos of every disgusting thing you can name and sell it on eBay. Civil liberties work that way;

3. It’s “torture” or other such made-up-on-the-spot crime against nature – to which: I understand it’s ever so much fun to impose your self-righteous, emotional outrage over and on top of and superior to a legal definition in our nation of laws which never, ever indulges vigilantism,[7]. But “torture”? Torture must be statutorily defined before it can be used here, and it isn’t. Not with respect to animals, anyway. Without a legal definition, “torture” means exactly what the speaker wishes it to mean. And with that in mind, “torture” is listening to half the folks on American Idol, and self-important idiots opining about fake rights and false freedoms for dogs. Get over yourselves;

4. Animal abuse is a “gateway” crime to people abuse, and videos of it are therefore the same as the act itself – to which: yes, the first part of that is correct: animal abuse is one of the very elementary predictors of certain violently abusive crimes, just as pot smoking is a similar predictor of heroin abuse, while poverty-class pot smoking is a predictor of street and property crime, and an obsession with fetishistic pornography is a predictor of sexual … “maladjustments”, let’s say. But smoking pot is not shooting heroin; smoking pot in the inner city is not car-jacking a late model sedan; and watching Behind the Green Door is not kidnapping, rape, and forcible sodomy. We have the right to fantasize about all these antisocial behaviors and use visual aids in the process; we just don’t have the right to actually do them. A video of a gateway crime is not a gateway crime. It’s a video of one. If you can’t tell the difference, then the one with the fantasy-reality conflict is you;

5. Dog fighting is still animal cruelty, which is a crime, and depictions of crime are not “protectable free speech” – to which: ever watch Cops? The low-budget, high-revenue reality TV show? Does nothing but broadcast one crime after another, for the profit of those with the camera. Now most of the people who watch it are doing so to laugh at the peckerwoods, while some are watching home movies-once-removed. Still others are undoubtedly watching for the purpose of picking up pointers on what not to do after getting caught slapping up the old lady. Each person sees something different in everything. But the law does not see “videos of crime” the same as “crime” – with the lone exception of child pornography. The law likely sees “profiting on videos of crime” the same as it sees “profiting on books of crime”, which is to say, not something that a convicted criminal can do. You can’t commit a crime, write a book [or sell the video] and make a million dollars so you can live idly rich after getting out of jail. So convict the guy of arranging dog fights – which is a legitimate crime. Once you’ve done that, then you can properly stop him from profiting on the video sales. But not until[8];

6. “Free Speech” doesn’t count unless you are giving an opinion or issuing a point of view or something else that is generally seen as “redeemable” – to which: congratulations; you’ve just obliterated 98% of all television [including American Idol, so thank you], rap music [thanks again], all radio except AM Talk Radio [dominated by superficial conservative wags, so you might want to think again], and everything that is remotely seen as pure, saccharin, shallow “entertainment”. Needless to say, this is not now, nor has it ever been, the case under American Constitutional interpretation. Pointless drivel for the purpose of inciting base emotional impulses is just as protected as NPR’s All Things Considered[9] and the Rush Limbaugh Show[10]. Virtually all speech in this country does nothing but regurgitate a few standard, dull, tedious axioms; almost nothing is original and therefore little is justifiably “redeemable”[11]. Funny, though, that our nation isn’t quieter than it is…

7. Well, dog fighting is not something that we want to encourage as a society, so videos which glamorize it should be properly prohibited … it’s common sense – to which: almost EVERYthing is “not something we should encourage as a society”, including [but not limited to] American Idol and other self-lobotomizations, partisan politics and other pot-kettling, “wholesome” entertainment and other oxymorons, soda-pop and other recreational drugs, microwave meals and other slow poisons, and college basketball tournaments. So. Fucking. What. Want to know what a society would be like which prohibited everything it didn’t want to encourage? It would be Amish on a grand scale and from which you couldn’t go home after visiting it the weekend, with imperious governmental “oversight” on everything. Think the Patriot Act was heavy-handed? Try Iran, without the beheadings. Or maybe with beheadings, who knows.

Face it folks, it’s a losing argument no matter which tack you take. It means nothing to protect someone’s right to issue banal blandishments. Free speech is only worth a damn when it protects the antisocial jerkwad who gets off on the disgusting, the cruel, the offensive and the criminal fantasy. Decide now whether you like freedom or would choose tyranny. Because if you want to have disgusting videos shelved because you, in your self-righteous self-importance, think they are disgusting, then you’d better not complain the next time someone else thinks something you do is just as disgusting and wants to criminalize you.

Be outraged if you wish, be disgusted. Feel your stomach turn and tie itself into knots just thinking about endless loops of dogs ripping out the throats of other dogs. I’ve actually seen it, in my own front yard, on my own dog, not to mention on my jacket, shirt, pants, gloves, boots, driveway, garage and wife, and I’m all those things and more. But we are either a free nation, or we are not. It’s either-or; you gotta pick one.

[1] A paean to Dave Barry. Our “Earnest” is named Addie, short for Addison, the street on which Wrigley Field is located. Addie weighs maybe 15 pounds if she’s both soaking wet and has just glutted herself on a dinner of wild-caught moles and bunny ears – and just before she barfs them up on the carpet. And earnest she is: she’s part terrier and is therefore long on self-esteem and short on everything else, including humility; she believes she’s Dogzilla.
[2] The natural, followup paean to Dave Barry. “Pinky” is Ferd, the male, and dumb as a box of mismatched doorknobs. “The Brain” is Piri, the female, and she’s the plotter and schemer. They are part pyrenees – hence their names – and also part lab, and weigh between 50 and 70 pounds. They aren’t small.
[3] A USMC term meaning head mother fucker what’s in charge.
[4] remember the mail?
[5] http://www.swamppolitics.com/news/politics/blog/2009/04/supreme_court_dogfights_v_free.html
[6] Notable exceptions are made subordinating property rights when the property you own is a duck you wish to fatten for pate du foie gras, or a horse you wish to sell as steaks to Frogs; also due process, equal protection, and freedom from involuntary servitude if you are a divorced father; not to mention freedom from warrantless searches if you are an airline passenger; additionally, freedom from warrantless searches and from compulsorily providing evidence against yourself if you are driving and a cop thinks you have been drinking …
[7] This is heavy sarcasm, in case you had trouble spotting it.
[8] Did I mention that you can still buy The Anarchist’s Cookbook? Even after 9-11, the Patriot Act and all those paranoiac, self-righteous Republicans ran the country “like dictators” for eight years. This is a criminal How-To manual, ferdgodsake.
[9] Which routinely fails to consider anything other than what it finds in its own navel, but that’s beside the point
[10] Which can hardly be said to even have a navel of its own, which is also beside the point
[11] Notice how I neglected to mention the “piss on Jesus” “art”? Find something socially redeemable, or “opinion-stating”, about that. If you wish to claim that it rejects mainstream social values, which becomes a valid, if cliché, opinion, then what the hell do you think a video of dog fighting does?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Nothing Flat

Nothing Flat
© 2009 Ross Williams

My wife and I travel to Chicago several times a year. Most of our time there we’re in the neighborhoods. Those parts of the city cram-packed with three story brick walk-ups [condo or otherwise] among which small shops, corner bars, and restaurants are jammed.

In these parts of the city there are many, many people who ride bicycles. Bicycles are quicker point to point than walking, and you won’t lose your parking spot. And parking spots are a serious matter in Chicago. Arguments about parking spots have inspired fistfights, vandalism and a bizarre parking spot reservation ritual which, if you refused to follow the unwritten rules, resulted in further fistfights and vandalism[1].

So bikes are common. And with a growing awareness of The Environment® among the bicycling-effete[2], not to mention the growing awareness of high gas prices, bicycles are becoming more and more common every day. Frankly, this is a good thing. It makes sense for people who can avoid using cars to do so as often as possible.

But, honestly, most of the bike riders I’ve run across in Chicago are arrogant assholes. I’ve been involved in a few online discussions with people in the general public on bicycle versus automobile articles in the Chicago Tribune[3], and there are very few bicyclists I’ve talked with whom I can truthfully describe as not sitting on their own shoulders pretty much constantly[4].

Nearly all of them quote facile bumper-stickers and say such vacuous things as “Cars need to see bicycles.” Which is unequivocally true, of course, but it’s only a [small] portion of the total sharing the roadway equation. Bicyclists themselves need to follow traffic laws. And this is a significantly greater piece of the puzzle, to be blunt about it. Because no matter how often, how loudly, or how self-righteously anyone wishes to declare that automobiles do not follow traffic laws, the fact of the matter is that when car meets bike on the street, regardless of the legalities of how the two meet, bike loses – each time, without fail. And if the bicyclists would follow the traffic laws first, there’d be significantly fewer meetings.

Personally, I admire those who bike where ever they can. Also those who walk. Particularly when they are not trying to make me walk farther than I want to, or bike at all. When my wife wants me to go riding, I think “horse”. …for which our streets were originally designed, by the way; not for cars and certainly not for bicycles.

That, though, the “streets were made for bikes” argument, is one of the typical notions flung around like road apples whenever bicyclists get their pointy, helmeted heads involved in any of these discussions. And from this follows a predictable pattern of argument:

Bicyclist: The streets were made for bikes.

Rational Person: That’s incorrect. If the streets were made for bikes, they’d be significantly narrower and not have parking meters along them. The streets were made for cars; bicycles are simply allowed to use them at the same time … and are subject to the same traffic laws while doing so.

Bicyclist: But why should bicycles need to follow traffic laws when it’s clear that cars don’t?

Rational Person: Most drivers do follow traffic laws, rolling stops notwithstanding, and in any event, in any car-bike collision it’ll be the bicyclist who loses.

Bicyclist: …which is all the more reason for cars to be required to follow traffic laws even more than bicycles.

Rational Person: So what you’re saying then is that bicyclists are not, and cannot be, responsible for themselves or their own actions. It has always seemed like bicyclists were irresponsible; it’s just interesting to have one admit it…

And that’s how these discussions invariably unwind. Who follows traffic law the least and who is more immoral for doing so; and who should follow traffic law the most: cars for the sake of creating the uber-safety bicyclists demand, or bicyclists who presumably want to make it down the block without denting someone’s grille.

In attempt to add some methodology to the dogmatic madness, I announced a few years ago in one of these online discussions that on my next trip to Chicago I would pay strict attention to the bicyclists we encountered on the streets. As it happened, we went to Chicago just a few weeks later to see a weekend Cubs game. Our normal driving pattern for these events is to get off Lakeshore at Belmont where we turn right on [I forget] and go north two blocks to Roscoe [a one-way westbound]; turn left and cross Halstead through Boystown, past Clark, past Sheffield, to Kenmore [my wife’s old haunts] and find on-street parking there for the game. After the game, we’d come back on Church [one way eastbound]; to Halstead [maybe, I forget again – it’s by the Walgreens at any rate]; turn left onto Belmont and pick up Lakeshore. In all, this is maybe two miles where we can share the streets with bikes.

In these two miles on this one trip we encountered bicycles 5 times. Six bicycles total [one time was a two-fer]. It’s been two years, and I’ve lost track of the details, but this is what I recall:

Incident #1: driving west on the one-way Roscoe in Boystown, we encountered two bicyclists travelling eastbound, weaving in between parked cars to ride on both the street and the sidewalk as their self-important whims dictated. We saw them well ahead of time [light traffic] and slowed to avoid their King of the Road-ing.

Incident #2: having failed to find a parking spot on Kenmore on the first pass, we turned right on Belmont, went one block farther west, turned right on [whatever it is] in order to circle back around and find a parking spot on Kenmore near my wife’s old apartment. At one of the all-way stops in fairly heavy traffic on this circle-back was a bicycle in our traffic lane directly in front of us. He was waiting his turn to proceed through the intersection – itself a rare occurrence; it came to his turn and the cross traffic and oncoming traffic stopped. He proceeded through, straight, and once he got through the intersection, two things happened at once:

1. The oncoming car, on its turn, started to proceed through the intersection;
2. The bicyclist suddenly realized that he didn’t really want to go straight after all, and he quickly hooked a left turn and cut in front of the car which was proceeding – legally – through the all-way stop.

The driver slammed on his brakes, missing the bike by maybe a half a foot, and yelled and glowered at the bicyclist who turned, yelled a very audible profanity at the driver [as if anything was his fault] while simultaneously flipping him off.

Incident #3: Another all-way stop but with far less traffic, a bicyclist coming from the wrong direction on a one-way side street proceeded to enter and pass through the intersection without stopping. Also, without even slowing down[5]. And it actually looked like the guy didn’t even dart his eyes around to see if he was going to encounter any vehicles.

Incident #4: I forget, but it involved another exceptionally unsafe bicyclist action.

Incident #5: This was the only incident occurring after the game, and it was on a very busy Belmont travelling east toward Lakeshore where a Latino-looking gentleman was riding his one-speed bike – common in Mexico, by the way, not that I’m insinuating anything. He stopped at the stop light and even though no cars were using the intersection he waited along with the rest of us for the green light. We passed him in the next block and left Chicago’s side streets with the last memory of bicyclists being a good one. The only good one.

But 4 out of the 5 incidents we encountered in roughly two miles of Chicago’s side streets involved phenomenally foolish and suicidal actions on the part of the bicyclists – who often wish to blame automobiles and their drivers for every entanglement because cars frequently do rolling stops at stop signs. When reminded that bicyclists rarely even do that much, the bicyclists’ common response is to claim that it’s hard to start up from a dead stop – boo hoo.

…which it probably is. I’d imagine it’s even harder to start from a dead stop when you’re lying dead in a crumpled heap in front of a face-dented fender, though. And not to suggest that it is always a choice between those two things, in certain cases it is as the earlier link to the Chicago Tribune article indicates.

It’s incredibly easy to blame automobiles and drivers because when bicyclists do phenomenally stupid things in front of cars, the driver’s natural impulse is to get angry at the bicyclist for scaring the wits out of the driver. This driver’s anger indicates – to self-centered bicyclists – that drivers are outraged at having to share the streets with bicycles and actually wish them harm … as many, many, many bicyclists have claimed during their irrational renditions of discourse on the Chicago Tribune’s public comment pages.

Not meaning to intentionally inflict ill will upon the family of the dead bicyclist cited in this article, but understanding that I probably will, 16 year-old Tess, sister of the deceased bicyclist in question, does pretty much that exact thing. She claims: “…nothing will change unless drivers start to wake up and realize that they are not alone on the road, and that they are not entitled to it any more than cyclists."

Um, Tess? Dear, sweet, ignorant, lashing-out-in-anger Tess? The issue in general, and the issue specific to your dead brother is the opposite of how you characterize it: it was your brother’s own actions which caused his death. If he had been following traffic law he would not have turned his 15 pound bicycle in front of the 15-hundred pound car who ran him flat. It can reasonably be said that your brother assumed that it was he who was entitled to the roads more than automobiles are.

But at least Mom has her head on her shoulders; she says, “We refuse as a family to have his legacy be that he died on that corner. His legacy will be one of change." Good for you, Mom!

And let the change be this: bicyclists either follow the traffic laws or they get the hell off the streets. Now, because bicycling is a good idea, and the more bicycling we have the better it will be for everyone, how about bicyclists simply follow traffic laws.

That can be a change some people can live with.

[1] A person leaving an on-street parking spot they wished to use several hours later when they returned would have a lawn chair or other such object of private possession weighted down in it; it was “understood” that only the owner of said lawn chair could remove it. This, of course, is about as mature as licking every cookie on the plate to ensure that no one else will take any, and it was particularly the habit in winter when a person who spent 45 minutes digging his car out of the snow would not want to have some schlub come in and vulture the spot he’d labored over. The city has formally announced that such reservation schemes are illegal and will subject the owner of the lawn chair to, effectively, getting a parking ticket.
[2] These Cycling Chicagoans are aware of the environment in general, which is to say in theory. They have heard of places which have not been paved to within an inch of its life, but otherwise have little to no concept of what occurs outside the cozy confines of their cloistered 6-block neighborhood. Which is the reason they – like many other modern troglodytes – continue to pretentiously scold rural folks for not taking the non-existent public transportation to work, or riding bikes for 30 miles one-way.
[3] Such as this one: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chicago/chi-cycling_awarenessapr17,0,563844.story
[4] Or other such terms as indicates they have their heads up their own asses.
[5] This is not the first time I’d seen this specific form of arrogant disregard for traffic law, personal safety and the emotional well-being of the poor schlemiel who might kiss this ass-wipe with the front of his car.


The Good Ol’ Days
The Short Shelf-Life of Modern Political Nostalgia

© 2009 Ross Williams

Remember when it was prima facie proof of Republican and Bush corruption that many of the advisors collected around Bush and into his inner circle – frequently referred to as his "handlers" – were millionaires? Remember how those who disliked Bush and Republicans not for stated desires or enacted policies but because of knee-jerk "principle" caterwauled endlessly on the internet and blogs and the ironically-named lead-filled running shoe sob sisterhood of MoveOn.org because the preponderance of millionaires controlling the White House only showed that the super-rich were ganging up on the helpless poor?

Remember how people in some places actually took to the streets over it?


Well, those helpless poor have gotten their President now, and nothing has changed but the names on the 7-, usually 8-, and sometimes 9-figure personal wealth statements of the President's inner circle[1]. It’s still the super-rich in charge of the country.


Remember when it was prima facie proof of Republicans' and Bush's inhumanity to his fellow [foreign] man that US foreign policy dared to shamelessly and openly cavort with known despots who failed to always think of the human rights of their citizens? despot-run nations such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan? Remember how it was similar prima facie proof of Republicans' and Bush's foreign policy insularity that, ironically, the US deliberately failed and refused to engage such nations as Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and North Korea – all ruled by despots who also never considered the human rights of their citizens? Remember how US confrontationalism toward these other despot-ruled nations showed Bush's arrogance, ignorance, contempt for world peace and ambitions to world dominance and domineering?

Remember how both of these contradictory dogmatisms was among the cornerstones of the populist indictment of Bush as a “war criminal” who needed to be hauled in front of the World Court?


Well, those Human Rights Warriors have gotten their President now, and he's still in bed with the despots-in-charge of Saudi Arabia[2] and Pakistan – and will continue to be – and he's making kissy-face and trying to climb into bed with Cuba and Iran[3]; he's still being confrontational to North Korea[4]; and regardless of what the official US policy toward Venezuela is now, Venezuela is still acting as if the US is still the same old bully we ever were[5]. …though I imagine Chavez has lost whatever ambitions to hump the female US Secretary of State that he once had. And I don’t blame him.


Remember when it was prima facie proof of Republicans' and Bush's foreign policy ineptitude and US-centric arrogance that he could not get along in good faith with our friends and allies? how Bush and the Republicans "squandered", by 9-12, the 9-11 goodwill ladled upon the US in torrents of foreign altruism?

Remember how it only demonstrated the cowboy nature Bush supposedly exemplified?


Well, those group-hug-harmonists have gotten their President now, and he's been publicly repudiated by the same set of friends and allies[6] who don't like Obama's US-centric economic cowboyism any better than they liked Bush's militaristic hootenannying.


Change happens, but only one funeral at a time[7]. And speaking of funerals, we’re having just as many for US soldiers as we did between May ’03 and the fourth week of January ’09. Yet we seem to have collectively stopped counting body bags[8]. Remember when it was critical to count our fallen soldiers and publicly wail over each? Why, it seems like just three months ago …

Remember when every bong-laden Disraeli with a semester of PoliSci could prattle off the casualty figures in up-to-the-minute accuracy and, by punctuating their sermons with tears, convincingly describe how such historically low casualties in foreign occupations of non-pacified nations was indifferentiable from military disaster? Two combat deaths at a time in Iraq is a veritable Waterloo. Remember when we couldn’t get away from a daily recital?


Well, the choir-converting preachers have gotten their President now, and counting war dead would only serve to embarrass him – and we can’t embarrass the President, now, can we? – so the war dead silently pile up in Delaware where grieving families must resort to individual theatrics[9] to get the same fleeting relevance as was once dispensed like water.


The point of all this tit-for-tatting is not to offer up the most recent episode of gratuitous partisan infantilism. The outright Republicans are doing that well enough on their own. Just as we saw the Democrats doing themselves for the previous eight years during Bush the Younger. Which was itself preceded by eight years of Republican ditto during Clinton. Which was preceded by a sustained period of Democrats’ same during Bush the Elder and a large portion of Reagan[10]. …which was preceded by Republicans’ yadda [and Democrats’ whistling past the graveyard] during Carter. …which was preceded by Democrats’ blah-blah [and Republicans’ whistling past the graveyard] during Nixon/Ford.

I can’t do such partisan tit-for-tatting because for me to do so would either be a one-sided affair, or I would be required to go up against the world. Libertarians’ natural political enemies are totalitarians, and outright totalitarians are scarce in the United States. Instead what we have here are pseudo-totalitarians, quasi-totalitarians, totalitarians-by-degree – cryptotalitarians, as it were. Those who want to take away some of our liberties and dignities, a few at a time, for the political expedience du jour, and make us think it’s for our own good the whole way rather than for their own aggrandizement and governing convenience. …which is to say, “they” are both Democrats and Republicans.

And this means that for me, a libertarian, to go toe-to-toe and tit-for-tat in partisan harangue I’d either have to go up against the chimeric, phantasmagorically non-existent American Dictator Party, or I’d have to take on both of the myopic, cyclopean dinosaurs of Democrats and Republicans. Doing the former is somewhat masturbatory and otherwise self-delusional; doing the latter is kinda messianic, not to mention that it’d be like rasslin’ pigs in mud: it’s what pigs do, and you do yourself no favors by volunteering to play on their home field.

Instead, I will remain aloof and above it all, stand on the sidelines and issue the same scold I’ve issued for as long as I can remember: there is no difference between either of them and we are deluding ourselves when we claim there is.

Dig it, dimwits: All rulers are rich, always have been and always will be. They either started out rich, or they killed the rich people, took their jobs and stole their money thus becoming rich[11]. Either way, while they rule they are rich. And once becoming the rich ruler, they surround themselves with more rich people, forming a cabal of rich, rule-making, rule-enforcing, rule-ignoring power-mongers.

This is not the same thing as “all rich people are rulers”. This latter premise is only syllogistically valid under those economic schemes in which money is deliberately kept from the hands of masses. Despite how we may feel at this particular moment, that is not happening here … yet. It is, though, happening in Venezuela. And North Korea. For Democrats to have ceaselessly whined for eight years about how rich the Bush Administration particulars were was self-indulgent foolishness. And if the Republicans now pick up the same idiot gauntlet and fling it back [and they are] they’d be advertising themselves as no different [and they aren’t].

Dig it further, dimwits – and I’ve said this before – cavorting with despots, in a world where three-fourths of the nations are ruled by them, is mandatory if we wish to know what the hell is going on. The Human Rights records of these various places is irrelevant. Deliberately not cavorting with a specific despot is only sane if you have another country do the cavorting for you – as we have arranged with regard to Iran for thirty years, Cuba for almost fifty years, and North Korea for sixty[12].

There is nothing specifically alarming about Barama cozying up to Cuba and Iran. With Cuba it’s long overdue, in fact. But this no alarm cozy is in theory only, and follows on the maxim: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Cozying up to Iran is fine for Barama to do … as long as he understands that Iran is our declared enemy, which is to say: Iran has declared they are our enemy. See, idiot ideological posturing is not simply a Republican-American personality flaw; it predates the Republican party by a few millennia.

I’m not certain the White House fully comprehends Iran, though I’m positive that most, if not all, the career diplomats and military wonks feeding the White House do.

But for street-level Democrats to incessantly whine for the previous eight years because Saudi Arabia has lousy human rights[13] and we’re their friends – boo hoo – is to once again indulge the same self-deceptive faux-martyred foolishness. Not to mention that it’s one short step shy of that form of self-important racism once so popular under the names “White Man’s Burden” and “Manifest Destiny”. …which we implemented in our dealings regarding Serbia/Kosovo, and which many wish to implement in future dealings regarding Sudan/Darfur. Just sayin’.

If we wish to engage despots, then engage.

If we wish to engage despots by kicking their asses all over a battlefield in a pre-emptive war for regime-changeand because they’ve pissed us off – then we are just like we’ve always been, and just like everyone else has always been, besides.

If we wish to engage despots for the purpose of bettering them for any reason, including “human rights”, and by any means, including warfare, then we are self-righteous at a minimum and quite possibly racists to boot, but not particularly any different from how we or anyone else are or ever were.

If we wish to engage despots who have declared themselves enemies of our nation, then as long as we continue to see them as our enemy … engage.

If we wish to engage enemy despots but forget they are enemies, then we are lazy, careless and suicidal.

If we wish to engage enemy despots and actively deny they are enemies, then we are delusional and suicidal.

If we wish to not engage specific despots because we have a prideful prejudice against them or they don’t treat their people politely, then as long as we have a backchannel [which often consists of using another despot as our proxy], then withdraw.

If we wish to not engage specific despots for any reason and are too arrogant and self-righteous to get a backchannel, then we are lazy, careless, delusional and suicidal.

If we wish to whine about any of it because the wrong party is doing the engaging [or non-engaging as the case may be], and for reasons not supported by our personal or collective political belief systems … then we are infants.

Dig it deeper, dimwits: any nation’s policies must be geared toward what that nation considers its own benefit. Altruism does not exist in foreign policy, whether the specific policy is for diplomacy and militarism, or for trade and commerce. It is the mark of gross ignorance and naiveté to see altruism in any foreign policy; Kennedy’s Peace Corp was not meant to make third world countries more habitable because the US is kind and benevolent, it was meant to make third world countries more habitable for the sake of making third worldERS more friendly toward Uncle Sam and thus allow us to win allies in the Cold War without having to use and over-use geopolitical arm-twisting. [The results were mixed].

When a foreign nation complains about what the United States does, it is not a referendum on US partisan politics. It is a statement about the United States itself, transcending our politics. France complained about the US going into Iraq in 2003[14] not because of Bush being a bully, but because it would interrupt the cozy little French Connection built between Iraqi Oil and French Profiteering on same. Germany is now complaining about the US model for world economic recovery not because of Barama being a semi-socialist, but because Germany is being asked to contribute more than they want to.

The United States is the top gargoyle on the gothic cathedral, the alpha dog in the junk yard, the chief dung beetle in the manure pile. Other nations resist doing what we want them to do for the same reason that little sisters resist doing what big brothers want them to do. Unless it’s because they resist for the same reasons that teenagers resist doing what parents tell them to do. If you comprehend the basic dynamics of those two relationships – big brother/little sibling and parent/teenager – then you understand 95% of the interactions in international politics[15]. It’s not a secret, nor is it a mystery.

Other nations resist us because we are the United States. We resisted French and British [and Spanish and Ottoman and Mexican and Japanese and German] hegemony when they were in a position to impose it and we were in the position of resisting or having to comply. Positions are simply reversed today. They will again shift in the future; history works that way. It is no more complicated than that, and has nothing to do with our circumstantial partisan arrangements. It is because other nations are just as self-serving we are. Go figure.

Crying about us being self-serving while ignoring everyone else being self-serving is … you guessed it … delusional, self-indulgent foolishness.

Democrats’ complaints for the prior eight years were monumentally immature and advertised a near-universal lack of comprehension of anything outside the boundary of their own navels; Republicans’ complaints for the eight years prior to that, and which are again starting to congeal on the national landscape, are the same. I can’t even say they are the equal and opposite criticisms, for they are not opposite to any prior whining. The only thing that’s changed is the party being criticized and the party doing the criticizing; the criticisms themselves are identical: “the people in power aren’t us, so what they do is wrong.”

Perhaps this all qualifies as me taking on the whole partisan American political world and if so, then so be it; but – and let me directly address both Democrats and Republicans now – if the two of you can’t grow up, can you at least try to remember something beyond the party changes of our presidents? Please?

[1] http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/obama/chi-white-house-wealthapr09,0,1573304.story
[2] http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/chi-kass-10-apr10,0,4524363.column
[3] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/first100days/2009/04/08/overtures-despots-pose-test-obama-administration/
[4] http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,512138,00.html
[5] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/01/19/chavez-likens-obamas-stench-bushs/
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/30/world/europe/30merkel.html
[7] Plank’s second law
[8] Fear not; one of the many functions I perform in my real job in data-analyzing US wars is to track all the dead, burnt bodies of US soldiers as they are transported back to Dover AFB. “We” have not lost track, but apparently CNN and the NY Times has. It seems pointless to count war dead now that the object of their counting has left office, doesn’t it.
[9] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=102791680
[10] though not the whole Reagan administration. Democrats, apart from being notoriously soft-skulled, are also soft-hearted, and the Hinckley episode made them temporarily forget that they despised the guy for being “only an actor” who was, even so, a better politician than any of the professionals they threw up against him. Much like Barama today.
[11] Take, for example [please], the leaders of the world’s two most impoverished peoples: the Palestinians and the North Koreans. Li’l Kim is fabulously wealthy while his adoring peasants starve, and Yassir Arafat died a few years ago leaving his widow a billionaire while his countrymen hold bake sales to raise cash to buy Katusha rockets to lob at IDF.
[12] …to the degree North Korea was willing to cavort with anybody.
[13] it’s tough to be kind to people who are constantly trying to violently overthrow the government – ask the Shah of Iran
[14] This was at a time, remember, in which France was doing to no less than a half dozen nations of west and central Africa what the United States was preparing to do in Iraq. There is nothing particularly alarming about hypocrisy in any nation’s foreign policy – after all, they are looking out for themselves – but it becomes tiresome when the ignorant masses willfully fail to recognize it for what it is.
[15] And, conversely, other nations do what we want for those very same reasons; when smaller siblings believe push has come to shove, they are going to side with big brother; when teenagers finally mow the lawn and clean up their rooms it’s because they either want something, or they are afraid of the consequences of not doing it. Not siding with big brother only means younger sibling doesn’t believe push has yet to come to shove; not mowing the lawn only means teenagers don’t want anything and they aren’t afraid of consequences.