Democracy’s Depressing Results

There are days (and not just election days) when democracy can get depressing.

Not the process, so much, although a lot of how we do that in this country is broken, too (and there are obviously plenty of people with direct oversight of the process who have an active interest in breaking it further).

It’s the results that get you down sometimes. Some of these people we send to Congress, have you seen them? I mean — this is Congress we’re talking about. National office. The very highest levels of government.

And we elect people like Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA):

dana_rohrabacher“Just so you know, global warming is a total fraud and it is being designed by—what you’ve got is you’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level want state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then, at the state level, they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government, they want to create global government to control all of our lives. That’s what the game plan is. It’s step by step by step, more and bigger control over our lives by higher levels of government. And global warming is that strategy in spades.… Our freedom to make our choices on transportation and everything else? No, that’s gotta be done by a government official who, by the way, probably comes from Nigeria because he’s a UN government official, not a US government official.”

He’s on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, because of course he is. For that matter, so is Paul Broun (R-GA), who you hopefully all remember as the “lies from the pit of hell” guy:

Paul_Broun_Congressional_Portrait“God’s word is true. I’ve come to understand that. All that stuff I was taught about evolution, embryology, Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. It’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior. There’s a lot of scientific data that I found out as a scientist that actually show that this is really a young Earth. I believe that the Earth is about 9,000 years old. I believe that it was created in six days as we know them. That’s what the Bible says. And what I’ve come to learn is that it’s the manufacturer’s handbook, is what I call it. It teaches us how to run our lives individually. How to run our families, how to run our churches. But it teaches us how to run all our public policy and everything in society. And that’s the reason, as your congressman, I hold the Holy Bible as being the major directions to me of how I vote in Washington, D.C., and I’ll continue to do that.”

(To be fair, Broun is on his way out in November — but it’s because he gave up running for re-election to run for the Senate instead, not because voters in his district got tired of him.)

And yeah, it’s kinda funny to pull those quotes and make a caricature of the whole right wing, but seriously, these people are Members of Congress. Which is terrifying on a practical level (their insanity actually plays a role in making the laws you and I have to live by), but also on a patriotic level: what does it really say about our country that, in some parts of it, these guys can get a majority vote?

I mean, think about that. Somewhere in the US, a fairly significant population is more than half on board with the lies from the pit of hell guy. And the global-government-UN-official-from-Nigeria guy. And an assorted host of lesser nutballs, dingbats, and loonies, all of whom are now at least partially in control of your life.

Where do we find those voters? How have we fucked up, as a country, that there is a single county anywhere within our borders that can cough up a majority for the “lies from the pit of Hell” guy who thinks the Bible is all he needs to know about voting in America? You shouldn’t be able to get a majority of parishioners at a church basement social to agree that that’s a good way to run the country, much less a voting majority in a Congressional district.

But you can. And these guys do. And then they help run the country.

And that’s why, some days, democracy feels pretty damn depressing.

American Christians, Not Actually the Only Christians

Hecklers sometimes happen at political speeches. There will always be moments when one or two malcontents stand up and shout until security hauls them off, no matter what you’re speaking on or who you’re speaking to.

Getting booed off the stage by a substantial portion of the crowd, however, requires some serious misjudging of your audience, and all-pro chess star Ted Cruz managed it Wednesday night, telling a gathering of Middle Eastern Christians that “Christians have no greater ally than Israel.”

He also assured the audience that sometimes it’s okay to call pretty much everyone in the Middle East that isn’t the state of Israel “evil,” including groups that draw support from some Arab Christians:

“ISIS, al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas, state sponsors like Syria and Iran, are all engaged in a vicious genocidal campaign to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East. Sometimes we are told not to loop these groups together, that we have to understand their so called nuances and differences. But we shouldn’t try to parse different manifestations of evil that are on a murderous rampage through the region.”

Turns out that not everyone in the audience thought that was very nice of Sen. Cruz!

Saint_Abo_of_TiflisWhich brings us to the important issue underlying this moment: American evangelicals do not have a monopoly on Christian thought.

Most Christians in the world do not have a strong theological opinion re: the political state of Israel at all, much less the raging hard-on for it that our native fundamentalists love to fondle. And in the Middle East specifically, many Syrian, Lebanese, and other Christian minorities that have been in the region since the first centuries of Christianity see the official Israeli state as an existential threat and even an oppressor.

But you wouldn’t know that from most of the coverage of Cruz’s little oops moment, and I’m not just talking about the internet comments here. Most authors covering the crowd’s angry reaction don’t mention the difference between Cruz’s Christianity (evangelical, millennialist, and drawn from a school of thought that originated in England and the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) and the audience’s Christianity (pre-evangelical, and for that matter pre-Roman Catholic, and developed for most of its history as a minority faith under Islamic rule).

These are not groups that are going to see eye to eye. And on the balance, when you’re talking about how to help Christians in the Middle East who are threatened by the Islamic State (ostensibly the subject of the little get-together), I tend to think that we can assume a greater authority and more informed perspective from, you know, Christians in the Middle East, who do not usually see the Israeli state as being particularly invested in their well-being.

Good luck telling that to Ted Cruz, though. I’m sure he was thrilled by the opportunity to show his strong support of real Christians: the white, English-speaking ones, not those ones who’ve been studying Christ’s teachings in Christ’s homeland since the time of Christ.

Techbro Harasser Gets Called Out; Offers World’s Flimsiest Lie in Defense

At least when someone starts lying about what they did, it’s a sign that they know they’ve screwed up, right?

That’s the small comfort we can take from the behavior of Pavel Curda, a tech advisor and “angel” investor (scarequotes wholly justified) who got publicly outed on Gawker for harassing multiple women at industry conferences.

At 1:20 PM on Tuesday, Gawker posted a screenshot of a (thoroughly unsolicited and decidedly unwelcome) e-mail from Curda’s account to a female tech entrepreneur he’d met at a conference reading “Hey G. I will not leave Berlin until having sex with you. Deal?” By 4:30 the same day, he had this up on Twitter:


Oh, those rascally hackers. Not only did they hack his account, they cleverly planned to get laid vicariously by telling pretty ladies that Pavel Curda wanted to stick his weener in them! No doubt they also hacked the hotel cameras in hopes of making a sex tape, because everyone loves Pavel Curda’s sexy body, obvs.

So good job, hats off, etc. to this latest specimen of techbro douchebaggery, for providing us with yet another reminder that yes, workplace sexism is still a thing, and also still a thing that you pretty much have to be a spineless failure of a human being to participate in.

You, sir, are the worst, at lying as well as life.

EDIT: Oh god it gets worse. Wednesday morning, tech blog The Next Web (to which Curda has been a frequent contributor) published a creepy, harassing, non-apology from Curda:


Suffice it to say, this is more of the same shit, and The Next Web ain’t doing themselves any favor by volunteering their platform for it.

When a Political Party Finds Enrolling Voters “Disgusting”

ballot-boxIt’s hard to imagine how anyone can oppose the enrollment and engagement of more voters while still claiming to be a political or philosophical adherent of democracy.

And yet, in the midst of civil unrest in Ferguson, MO, the executive director of the state’s Republican party finds it “disgusting” that local residents have set up voter registration booths near the center of the protests:

“In an interview with Breitbart News, Missouri RNC executive director Matt Wills expressed outrage about the reports [of voter registration booths].

“If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” Wills said, “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.”

Let’s be clear here. The top GOP official in the state is offended by the idea that members of a community with abysmally low voter registration and turnout might, in the face of civil unrest and street violence, urge their peers to get registered and channel their frustrations at the ballot box rather than taking to the streets.

This comes, of course, in the greater context of a nation-wide push by the GOP to increase barriers on voting, largely in the name of combatting “voter fraud” that almost never occurs and that wouldn’t be prevented by the measures proposed anyway. But it’s an especially stark example of a party that has, collectively, decided that democracy works better when only the right people vote.

Any sane politician would be lining up to help staff the registration booths right now. The alternative is already on display in the streets of Ferguson. People will vote, one way or another, and it’s in everyone’s best interests to make the process of voting with ballots rather than bricks as streamlined and accessible as possible.

Shame on Matt Wills, and on the state organization he heads.

The Ice Bucket Challenge: Not a Challenge, and Not Impressive, But Whatever Works I Guess

Doing_the_ALS_Ice_Bucket_Challenge_(14927191426)There’s a lot to be said about internet slacktivism in general (none of it good), but I have to give the ice bucket challenge credit for coming up with a way to make it even more obnoxious, narcissistic, and privileged — while simultaneously milking some actual positive effect from the phenomenon!

If you’re not familiar, the ice bucket challenge is basically a chain letter fundraiser with a YouTube tie-in: Someone “challenges” you to either dump a bucket of water over your head or donate $100 to the ALS Association, and if you take the challenge, you film the ice-dump and then pass the challenge along to someone else, who gets the same choices. (In some versions people who take the ice bath also donate $10, but that part often gets omitted, or at least not mentioned in the videos.)

And here’s the thing — it’s working. The ALS Association announced on August 16 that it had raised over $10 million in “ice bucket donations” this month alone, much of it from over 220,000 first-time ALS Association donors.

That’s a lot of money for a good cause. We can mostly be glad about that, although I’ll always have reservations about charitable giving being seen as a socially acceptable alternative to properly funding research and health services.

But “the Ice Bucket Challenge,” people, really?

Don’t let’s kid ourselves about anyone actually minding the idea of an ice bath so much that they’d pay $100 to get out of it. We’re not talking about immersion here; we’re talking about five to ten seconds of cold stuff sluicing over you and then you’re done. You can only make a “challenge” out of that if you already live an incredibly comfortable life (and have both water and the power to freeze it to waste).

The appeal of the meme is clear and ugly. It’s a way to be the center of attention and get kudos for Doing A Good Thing (and, as an added bonus, by doing the ice water challenge you don’t have to actually spend that pesky $100). All the awareness-raising! None of the personal inconvenience! And everyone watches your video!

I am comfortable balancing in my head the simultaneous realities where it is a good thing that the ALS Association is getting more donations, and yet it is a bad thing that the Ice Bucket Challenge exists and is popular. I suggest you do the same.

Because come on, now. Ice Bucket Challenge. Jesus.


Silence of the Vans – Moving Days

“Moving Day” is usually, you know, a day, but when you’re doing it in one small car that only one person involved in the move can drive, it turns into more of a multi-day affair. (Or even a multi-week affair, at the rate this one is going.)

That’s where I’ve been. That’s where I will be, until things get just a touch more settled.

For those that are curious: Chicago, near Clark and Devon, with a girlfriend and no other roomies, and no I do not have a new job. I haven’t had a real job for years, are you kidding me? I can freelance from anywhere. This one’s just for the girl.

Oh, and also: four cats, so strong allergy warnings for all potential users of our (yes we have one!) guest room. And a hedgehog, but she seems mostly hypoallergenic, as far as we can tell. Just spiky.

Regular content to resume Monday the 18th, barring disaster.

Reaganbook: Social Media for All Your Echo Chamber Needs

Do you love social media, but hate society because sometimes it has opinions you don’t like?

Never fear! ReaganBook is here, if you can get the site to load. (Currently the demand for parody accounts seems to be a little more than their servers can handle.)

ReaganBook is “Facebook for conservatives,” according to the owners, although it’s Facebook circa 2012 judging by the site design, which seems to be begging for a lawsuit or five:


In theory this will be a Facebook free of its “liberal bias.”

Given that Facebook users control their own friends lists and update feeds, I’m not sure I see the need for this product — if you’re reading a lot of political content that makes you angry on Facebook, it’s because you selected that content, and you could just unfriend a few people to get the same echo chamber effect ReaganBook seeks to create — but I realize that facts also have a liberal bias, and will presumably be just as unwelcome on ReaganBook as, um, most of the current users.

Did I mention that parody accounts make up most of the site right now? Yeah, parody accounts make up most of the site right now. And the site owners, who initially announced that user content wouldn’t be censored, started deleting both content and accounts within 24 hours of the public launch. (Which, duh. What were they thinking?)

It’ll be a fun race to see whether Facebook sues them into the ground first, or whether the owners ragequit and crawl back to their blogs to cry about the “liberal media attack dogs” that hijacked their site with all that unwelcome free-speeching before the corporate titans get there!

But seriously, what kind of social misfit do you have to be to need a safer, more ideologically comfortable space than one where you control the content you see? If you can’t find a single user or group on Facebook that doesn’t offend you, trust me when I say that Facebook isn’t the problem.

UPDATE: As of Wednesday afternoon, the site appears completely overwhelmed, and has thrown in the towel at least for now. And yes, they did find a way to whine about all those mean free-speechers free speeching things they didn’t like:



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