The Condom Pope.

condompopeArtist Niki Johnson has created a portrait of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI (a.k.a. Joseph Ratzinger) fashioned entirely from 17,000 colored condoms. She says the work aims to “critique Benedict’s views while raising awareness about public health.”

Benedict’s views.

*snort*

In March 2009, Pope Ratzi ‘splained to the world that the AIDS crisis in Africa could not be mitigated with condoms, and that indeed condom use would only aggravate the epidemic and make the spread of HIV worse. Here in reality of course, condom use is actually “highly effective” in reducing the spread of HIV. Just FYI, in sub-Saharan Africa, 25.8 million people are currently living with HIV. Last year an estimated 790,000 adults and children died of AIDS and 1.4 million people became newly infected.

The Archbishop Archvillain of Milwaukee, where Johnson’s condom pope portrait is currently on display, well he no likee:

An artist who claims his or her work is some great social commentary and a museum that accepts it, insults a religious leader of a church, whose charitable outreach through its missionaries and ministers has eased the pain of those who suffer throughout the world, must understand the rejection of this local action by the believers who themselves have been insulted.

Apparently in the unique Catholic dialect of the English language, “charitable outreach” means lying to people about the efficacy of condoms and thereby inflicting early death upon millions of people, as well as the kind of unfathomable agony that makes Jeezus’s notoriously bad weekend seem like a holiday at a luxury spa resort by comparison. Also, “easing the pain of those who suffer throughout the world” explicitly excludes the pain and suffering of sub-Saharan Africans. Good to know.

And yes, clearly the Real Victims™ here are Pope Ratfucker and his fellow believers: they have been insulted, people. That’s, like, WAY worse than millions of people dying of AIDS.

A favorite quote from Madalyn Murray O’Hair comes to mind:

I’ll tell you what you did with atheists for about 1500 years. You outlawed them from the universities or any teaching careers, besmirched their reputations, banned or burned their books or their writings of any kind, drove them into exile, humiliated them, seized their properties, arrested them for blasphemy. You dehumanized them with beatings and exquisite torture, gouged out their eyes, slit their tongues, stretched, crushed, or broke their limbs, tore off their breasts if they were women, crushed their scrotums if they were men, imprisoned them, stabbed them, disemboweled them, hanged them, burnt them alive.

And you have nerve enough to complain to me that I laugh at you?

Personally, I think we should all do a lot more insulting of Catholic religious leaders. It’s obvious to me that if they really don’t enjoy being insulted, and their tender fee-fees are just so, so hurt, then they can stop behaving like horrible lying genocidal fucking shitweasels. Easy-peasy.

Until then, though…

palacefuckyou…they can simply go fuck themselves. With or without condoms.

Have a nice day.

palacehappyface

#youareDylannRoof

[CONTENT NOTE: racism, ableism (mental health-flavored), transmisogyny.]

ericksonBecause it just wasn’t terrible enough for Fox News to frame a mass murder of nine black people at their church by an unequivocally racist white man as an “attack on faith,” here comes Fox pundit Erick Erickson to straighten everybody out about the Real Problem™. You see, liberal society is plagued by “a mental illness” characterized by “overwhelming narcissism and delusion” — yes, a conservative actually said that with a straight face — and therefore “cannot recognize what crazy or evil looks like.” Exhibit A for this little theory? Caitlyn Jenner. That’s right: accepting trans people is proof positive that liberals are ignoring “real evil” and allowing mental health problems to run rampant.

After dismissing out of hand the obvious and proven solution of gun control to virtually eliminate mass murders, Erickson said:

“A society that looks at a 65 year old male Olympian and, with a straight face, declares him a her and ‘a new normal’ cannot have a conversation about mental health or evil because that society no longer distinguishes normal from crazy and evil from good.”

Now because conservatives are constitutionally incapable of meaningful self-reflection, their dehumanizing rhetoric and vile policies can never be the problem. This is why they resort to all sorts of fact-free rationalizations, victim-blaming, denialism and projection, rather than ever admit to being factually and morally wrong and changing their views accordingly. If conservative policy isn’t working, well, that just means we clearly need more of it. Q.E.D. Let’s arm the clergy!

I can damn well recognize what evil looks like. It looks like Dylann Roof. It also looks like Erick Erickson. Because he will never, ever take a hard look in the mirror and own his repulsive, deadly and toxic shit, I have taken the liberty of illustrating what the rest of us see when we look at him.

erickericksonErick Erickson.
If the bowl cut fits… #youareDylannRoof.

[h/t the fierce and fabulous feminace for inspiring this graphic, by calling Roof “RacistFuck McBowlCut.”]

More proof the NSA surveillance debate is a total sham.

AP did some good investigative reporting and published this story yesterday:

FBI behind mysterious surveillance aircraft over US cities

By JACK GILLUM, EILEEN SULLIVAN and ERIC TUCKER
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is operating a small air force with scores of low-flying planes across the country carrying video and, at times, cellphone surveillance technology – all hidden behind fictitious companies that are fronts for the government, The Associated Press has learned.

The planes’ surveillance equipment is generally used without a judge’s approval, and the FBI said the flights are used for specific, ongoing investigations. In a recent 30-day period, the agency flew above more than 30 cities in 11 states across the country, an AP review found.

“The FBI’s aviation program is not secret,” spokesman Christopher Allen said in a statement.

And technically this is true: as the AP piece notes, “A 1990 report by the then-General Accounting Office noted that, in July 1988, the FBI had moved its “headquarters-operated” aircraft into a company that wasn’t publicly linked to the bureau.” But then the spokesweasel says this:

“Specific aircraft and their capabilities are protected for operational security purposes.”

Also:

The surveillance flights comply with agency rules, an FBI spokesman said. Those rules, which are heavily redacted in publicly available documents, limit the types of equipment the agency can use, as well as the justifications and duration of the surveillance.

Got that? The existence of the FBI’s aviation surveillance program is not secret. However, everything about the FBI’s aviation surveillance program is secret. But not to worry: they are complying with their own secret rules that they made in secret.

Then the spokesweasel says:

Allen added that the FBI’s planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance.”

O rly?

The FBI does not generally obtain warrants to record video from its planes of people moving outside in the open, but it also said that under a new policy it has recently begun obtaining court orders to use cell-site simulators.

A cell-site simulator, in case you were wondering, mimics a commercial cell tower, thereby tricking cell phones in the region into providing identifying information, even if the phone is not in public or actively using a cellular network (i.e. on a call or texting). This technology can effortlessly sweep up thousands of identities. So while the official FBI spokesweasel says its planes “are not equipped, designed or used for bulk collection activities or mass surveillance,” it turns out that other official spokesweasels interviewed by the AP say that use of cell-site simulators is “rare.” So which is it, nonexistent or rare? And rare compared to what? Capturing HD video of the public without warrants? Get your shit together, official spokesweasels!

President Barack Obama has said he welcomes a debate on government surveillance, and has called for more transparency about spying in the wake of disclosures about classified programs.

Hahaha. Sure.

The Obama administration had until recently been directing local authorities through secret agreements not to reveal their own use of the devices, even encouraging prosecutors to drop cases rather than disclose the technology’s use in open court.

TRANSPARENCY!!!11!!!

A Justice Department memo last month also expressly barred its component law enforcement agencies from using unmanned drones “solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment” and said they are to be used only in connection with authorized investigations and activities. A department spokeswoman said the policy applied only to unmanned aircraft systems rather than piloted airplanes.

According to my Ladylogic™, that means piloted aircraft can indeed be used solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment.

“Aircraft surveillance has become an indispensable intelligence collection and investigative technique which serves as a force multiplier to the ground teams,” the FBI said in 2009 when it asked Congress for $5.1 million for the program.

“Force multiplier” is a military term. Hell, I’m actually surprised they used the words “ground teams” instead of “boots on the ground.” Of course all of this technology comes out of our disastrous War on Terror generally, and drone use specifically. In other words, America’s Owners (Military-Industrial Weasel Division) have seen to it that domestic law enforcement is a lucrative and booming market for their war toys, which necessarily means that the US public is the intended target. Need I remind anyone that virtually all of this is paid for by taxpayers? Or that we are all terrorists now in the eyes of the state?

Among many other salient facts apparently lost in the NSA reform “debate”—like the fact that none of these domestic surveillance programs work for their alleged purposes—is that NSA is only one of many local, state and federal agencies, including the FBI, funneling surveillance intel to fusion centers. Loyal Readers™ should not be surprised to learn that a two year Senate investigation into fusion centers “could identify no reporting which uncovered a terrorist threat, nor could it identify a contribution such fusion center reporting made to disrupt an active terrorist plot.” But that doesn’t mean they haven’t been very busy treating enormous swaths of the citizenry as threats to national security: anti-war and peace activists, Muslim lobbyists, abortion rights activists, environmental groups, third-party voters and motorcycle clubs. The Maryland State Police put anti-death penalty and anti-war activists in a federal terrorism database; a foreigner with an expired visa who had been caught shoplifting shoes at a Neiman Marcus was added to the list of “known or appropriately suspected” terrorists. The right isn’t spared*, either: fusion centers have tracked Tea Party groups, a Second Amendment rally, Ron Paul supporters and pro-lifers.

Tl:dr: The idea that even the most radical, ACLU-endorsed reform of NSA’s activities will in any way hinder the surveillance state is laughably absurd.

As is often the case, David Bowie, Brian Eno and Trent Reznor perfectly sum up my view:

__________

*This should go without saying, but in case it does not: as much as I hate conservatives—and I do, I really, really hate conservatives—I do not want them subject to blanket surveillance either. There are constitutional law enforcement methods of investigation that cannot possibly be less effective (or any more expensive) for preventing terrorism than mass surveillance, with none of the downsides. Unless, just maybe, that is not actually what these programs are designed to do…? Oh, I forgot to mention: another source of the intel sent to fusion centers is “the private sector.” I’ll let you ruminate on what exactly that might entail, but I’m pretty sure they rhyme with Oldman Hacks, A.B. Organ Face, Crank Love Numerica and ShittyStank.

Ask Iris: How can that happen?

I’ve been conversing in the comments on my seminal post on Conservative Personality Disorder with reader jim davis, who asks: “Why don’t progressives use facts and statistics to make their case?” He then provides irrefutable evidence—in the form of facts and statistics—that the (conservative) economic policies enacted over the past decades have utterly failed the American public and systematically devastated the middle and lower classes.

I responded that the utility—or futility—of deploying facts as a method of political persuasion depends on one’s target audience, and that unfortunately, for many of our fellow citizens facts are not only irrelevant, but exposure to facts can actually backfire. <—That article summarizes the research demonstrating that conservatives are especially prone to this effect, whereas liberals are more likely to change their minds when presented with new evidence and sound reasoning (i.e. reality-based).

jim davis responded:

How can that happen? Iris, I just read exposure to facts can actually backfire. I don’t buy it because all we have to do is change a very small percentage of peoples minds to tip the scales.
MLK, and a small group of activist did it in the 60’s and we can do it now, and we better begin before it’s too late.

I started answering in the comments, but instead I thought I would share my response here.

__________

How can that happen?

The short answer is that humans are not particularly rational creatures—although some are, or at least potentially can be, more rational than others. Unconscious biases and our physical and social environments motivate our actions and reasoning to a far greater extent than we generally like to admit. But for now, we don’t need to know how the backfire effect happens to observe that it clearly does. (See also reactance.)

Behold just some people you would like to persuade with facts and statistics:

Almost half of Americans believe that a god created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years, and, except in the relatively rare case of extremist homeschoolers, it isn’t because they’ve never heard the facts about the age of the earth and evolutionary biology. We recently learned that the Governor of Texas ordered the state guard to monitor military training exercises based on widespread fears that President Obama is planning to invade Texas and declare martial law. Influential American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke—a ranking member in perhaps the most patriarchal institution on Earth—blames the Catholic Church’s pedophile priest scandals on…feminists. Abstinence-only sex education is an unrivaled policy failure, and yet its proponents only double-down in the face of indisputable facts:

Officials with the Crane Independent School District are meeting to discuss their sex education program after nearly two dozen cases of Chlamydia were reported among the high school student body.

The school district’s superintendent, Jim T. Rumage, stands by his chlamydia-friendly strategy of telling kids to wait until marriage. “If kids are not having any sexual activity, they can’t get this disease,” he told the Express-News in a phone interview.

I recently wrote about conservatives in the Colorado legislature ending funding for a program that saves the state many multiples of its cost by providing long-term contraception to low-income women. Under that initiative teen birth rates plummeted, and abortions fell 42 percent among women aged 15 to 19. The legislators’ “reasoning,” if we can call it that, for ending the program is the (false) belief that IUDs cause abortions. In other words, in order to curb the horrifying scourge of fictional abortions, actual abortions are now going to rise—to the tune of about 42%. And I can guarantee you that these same legislators will insist without even blinking that they are fiscally conservative and fiercely anti-abortion. And they believe it.

So. For whatever reason(s)*, our society continues to generate a critical mass of highly illogical, willfully ignorant, stunningly selfish, aggressively petty, historically naive, self-righteous, shallow-thinking and empathy-deficient (when not actively violent) apes—i.e., conservatives. And I would argue that precisely to the extent one is conservative, one is an arealist at best, and anti-reality at worst. (Yes, I just coined that word “arealist.” Like amoral, or atheist. You’re welcome, people!)

And let us not forget for one single second that the power center of the Democratic Party—which includes Barack Obama—is economically conservative (“neoliberal”). That makes them arealist, too. (See?! It’s come in handy already!)

I just read exposure to facts can actually backfire. I don’t buy it because all we have to do is change a very small percentage of peoples minds to tip the scales.

I don’t understand your disbelief in the fact-backfire effect. As I noted in my first reply, whether facts can be persuasive depends on (among other things) one’s target audience. For conservatives, that approach is particularly counterproductive. The effect is real, and that article I linked does a decent job of reporting the solid research that backs this up.

Your contention that “all we have to do is change a very small percentage of peoples minds to tip the scales” is also a bit confusing to me, as I am not entirely sure what claim you are making. By “tip the scales,” do you mean “get people who are uninformed, misinformed, unmotivated non-voters to consistently turn out to vote for liberal candidates and support liberal policies”? Because that is a very different order than “get a small percentage of conservatives to vote for liberal candidates and support liberal policies.” The former is exceedingly difficult; the latter, nigh impossible.

There is a key axiom that underlies all conservative ideology, namely: conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed. In other words, when conservative policies fail (and fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail, fail…), well, this only proves that we obviously need more of it. It’s a cognitive cousin to narcissism: since they can never, ever be wrong about anything, it therefore follows that anything that contradicts their beliefs simply cannot be true. QED. This is why they cannot help but spin bizarre rationalizations, believe wacky conspiracy theories, and accept all manner of conveniently confirming bullshit as “fact.”

Relevant to the facts and statistics you presented in your comments, virtually all conservatives, all libertarians and an unconscionable number of Democrats have bought into the Just World Fallacy of the Free Market™ as a moral arbiter, i.e. that based on the inherent moral character and work ethic of the individual, the poor and the rich “deserve” their respective lots in life. Now obviously if this myth were even remotely true, Mexican day laborers would all be millionaires and the idle rich would be living on the streets. I mean, it doesn’t even hold up to the slightest empirical scrutiny. Nevertheless, the belief makes those who hold it readily susceptible to messages that we should further punish the poor until they get their goddamn bootstrappin’ shit together, and enact more tax cuts for all those wonderful wealthy job creators. The fact that the American Dream is now an empty promise for nearly everyone is either outright denied, or—contrary to all available evidence—blamed on liberals.

Likewise, if the middle and lower classes have had their income and wealth decimated for decades—and as you document, they certainly have—conservative economic policies simply cannot be responsible. Thus people are eagerly gullible dupes for messages that claim the source of our economic woes are our (inadequate) social safety net programs like Medicaid or food stamps that benefit Those Other Undeserving People at the expense of me and my own, and oppressively high taxes on rapacious corporations and wealthy individuals—and not, say, our absurd “defense” budget, or deregulating the banksters. It is simply a fact that over the past three decades 100 percent of income growth has gone to the wealthiest ten percent of Americans, and that this is the direct result of conservative economic policies. (And no, neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama are liberals on economic policy: they are neoliberal True Believers™). But good luck convincing the American people of that: conservative economic dogma so dominates our political discourse to such an extent that even people who are not particularly conservative by nature adopt conservative economic beliefs unquestioningly.

You will never, ever reason conservatives out of their wrong ideas. It is not just what people believe, but how they think that makes the task so daunting. That too, my friend, is just a fact. When it comes to the forces driving the economic status quo, Americans are among the most propagandized populations in the world, and the overwhelming majority cannot or will not interrogate the myths they have been force-fed since childhood. They have absolutely no fucking idea what their government is up to, or who it serves. And I am not convinced that even if they did, a sufficient number would be any more rational, compassionate, or motivated to do anything effective about it. There is something going on here that makes us uniquely irrational among Western nations.

Last, I would be remiss if I did not address this:

MLK, and a small group of activists did it in the 60’s and we can do it now, and we better begin before it’s too late.

Again, I’m not exactly sure what you are trying to say here, but facts and statistics did not drive the civil rights movement any more than reasoned argument got women the right to vote. As the brutal state violence visited upon peaceful protestors (including whites) was splashed across the nation’s TV screens, black activist leaders seized the moment and maneuvered politically to force the federal government to intervene. The FBI wanted Dr. King dead, and I am 100% certain that if a leader with the potential to upend the status quo arose today, the same would be true. More to the point, for all practical purposes blacks are still segregated in housing and education, legally lynched and discriminated against in ways large and small. Whatever gains the civil rights movement made, the backlash was swift, severe and continues to this day. Do you think Dr. King, if he were alive today, would declare victory for civil rights?

__________
*I have my pet theories on the causes of Conservative Personality Disorder. Religiosity is a likely vector: faith is antithetical to critical thinking and a reality-based worldview; it is no accident that the least religious countries are the most socially advanced. A permanent war footing is another: War on Drugs, War on Terror, War on Whatever Bogeyman is Coming Next, war, war, and more war. Presently, we are bombing at least seven Muslim countries; meanwhile we are bombarded with images of Islamic terrorism (not our terrorism, silly) that serve up easy justifications for our counterproductive state violence abroad and worse-than-useless mass surveillance domestically. Militarization invariably degrades the humanity and empathy of any citizenry, and that trend is only increasing in the US. Economic insecurity also spawns conservatism, and as your examples demonstrate there is certainly plenty of that to go around. And perhaps the greatest impediment to meaningful change is that this state of affairs suits some very, very powerful interests very, very well.

__________

I hope this edition of Ask Iris has been helpful. And I would like to thank jim davis very much for his comments and question.

Conservative “values” meet conservative “logic” in Colorado.

babynotababyA helpful visual aid for conservatives.
Left: Baby.
Right: cute little 5-day old human blastocyst*
*
Important note: not shown actual size.

The Colorado Family Planning Initiative is a program designed to lower the state’s rate of unwanted pregnancies, and thereby lower the associated costs to the public coffers. The concept is simple: young, lower-income women, i.e. those at highest risk of unwanted pregnancies, would be provided with long-acting, reversible birth control—intrauterine devices (IUDs) and hormonal implants—at little to no cost. Originally funded by an anonymous grant, the expectation was that if the program succeeded, continued funding would be taken over by the state. Makes perfect sense, right?

And lo, it was wildly successful:

Between 2010 and 2012, the state estimates, 4,300 to 9,700 births to women on the state’s Medicaid program that would have otherwise occurred did not—saving Medicaid between $49 million and $111 million. The state’s abortion rate has also cratered, falling 42 percent among women ages 15 to 19 and 18 percent among women ages 20 to 24 between 2009 and 2012.

Colorado’s teen birth rate plummeted 11 spots in national rankings, and the state received an award this week from the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association for outstanding public health access. OMFG you guys, it just makes so much (dollars and) sense.

The program would cost $5 million a year, and save many, many multiples of that in Medicaid costs and additional benefits the state would otherwise pay out. And that’s to say nothing of the benefits to young Coloradans, such as keeping them in school, in the workforce, and out of poverty. Back in February, a bipartisan pair of legislators in Colorado’s Democrat-controlled House introduced a bill to fund the program. The Republican-controlled state Senate took up the measure this week.

I am sure you can see where this is going.

On Wednesday, an all-male Senate committee voted to nix funding to the program, along a party-line vote of 3-to-2.

“But Iris!” I can hear you saying, “What the everloving fuckety fuck? That just makes absolutely no fucking sense whatsoever!” (I like to imagine that my readers are both exceptionally logical, and also like to swear a lot.) Oh, but there are “reasons,” you see:

At issue are some abortion foes’ beliefs that IUDs can cause abortions—the same

belief that led to [Hobby Lobby’s] lawsuit against the Obama administration’s requirement that employers provide insurance that covers contraception or pay a fine. Most scientists say IUDs primarily work by preventing fertilization. But some IUDs can occasionally prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus…But many conservatives who believe human life begins at conception consider preventing implantation akin to abortion.

As we know, there are many things conservatives fervently believe that are just plainly, demonstrably false. This is reason number 1,427,201 why we have made it our mission to marginalize them in society and politics, and put an end their devastating policies once and for all. Behold:

“By the time you get to that implantation point, we are not talking about a fertilized egg, we’re talking about a new individual that’s growing,” says state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, who serves as the Republican assistant majority leader and chairs the Senate’s health and science committee. He has vowed to fight the measure. “In Hobby Lobby, this was really the point there. They had no objection to contraceptive materials being funded through their insurance. But they had significant objections when it was an abortifacient.”

No, Senator Lundberg, they had significant objections when they falsely believed it was an abortifacient. It’s not. And even if it were, so what? See, no one is in the business of forcing abortions or indeed any form of birth control on conservatives who enjoy pretending that a five-day-old blastocyst is the same entity as a cute little baybee (except when that’s just too inconvenient, obviously). Conservatives, however, are very much in the business of ensuring that those who do not wish to be pregnant become so, and remain so. Because FREEDOM!!!11!!

Unsurprisingly, this Lundberg Luddite is confused about more than just IUDs and blastocysts.

“[T]here is a question of should we be providing long-term contraceptives to young unmarried girls. Are we saying, ‘Go ahead and have sex—just don’t get pregnant’?”

Unless a young unmarried person wants to get pregnant, THEN YES THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE ARE SAYING. Because out here in a wondrous place called “reality,” young people are having sex, and for the most part they do not want to get pregnant. That is exactly what the fucking Colorado Family Planning Initiative was implemented to address in the first place—and did. Jeezus.

He says the debate presents an opportunity to educate Coloradans, “because there is so much misunderstanding of what an IUD is”…

Apparently.

…and warned that “far too often young women die from the pill” too.

No, that is yet another plainly, demonstrably false belief. See e.g.: Hannaford et al, Mortality among contraceptive pill users: cohort evidence from Royal College of General Practitioners’ Oral Contraception Study, BMJ 2010;340:c927 (March 2010):

Oral contraception was not associated with an increased long term risk of death in this large UK cohort; indeed, a net benefit was apparent.
[emphasis added.]

And here is another fact—which yes, I realize is a thing conservatives tend to find utterly repellant:

The United States is the only advanced economy in the world with a rising maternal mortality rate.

That’s right: it’s giving birth that kills, especially where conservatives reign.

So to sum up conservative “logic”: we have ended this program because we refuse to allow fictional abortions, and now we can watch actual abortion rates go back up. Also: unwanted pregnancy rates, birth rates and death rates among lower-income women, and consequently exploding costs to the public. (Now why do I suspect they have in mind a really nifty fix for that problem, too?)

We simply cannot abide the Lundbergs of the world pretending to care about reality, or reason, or babies, or (gawdferbid!) women. Conservatives have long ago proven beyond any doubt that they are constitutionally incapable of doing so. Therefore, until we find the cure, it is imperative that we do everything we can to ensure they are never allowed anywhere near political power.

__________

Image credits:
Human newborn: Ernest F (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

5-day-old human blastocyst: Copyright Zhang et al. (Pu Zhang, Marco Zucchelli, Sara Bruce, Fredwell Hambiliki, Anneli Stavreus-Evers, Lev Levkov, Heli Skottman, Erja Kerkelä, Juha Kere, Outi Hovatta, Transcriptome profiling of human pre-implantation development. PLoS ONE: 2009, 4(11);e7844 PMID: 19924284 | PMC2773928 | PLoS One) Published online 2009 November 16. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007844.

Nepal.

nepalflagWith mounting horror, the Palace has been monitoring the situation in Nepal in the wake of a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The death toll is at least 2,100 and expected to climb, as most areas outside of Katmandu have been impossible to reach. The iconic Dharahara tower came crashing down and the ancient temples in Durbar Square are in ruins; more than a hundred people died at that site alone. And the damage isn’t done: a 6.7 magnitude aftershock happened today at noon local time.

FBBIf you have the means and the inclination, please show the world what an evil atheist asshole you are by kicking a few bucks to Foundation Beyond Belief’s Humanist Disaster Recovery Drive for Nepal. If you are unfamiliar with the organization, note that Foundation Beyond Belief does not retain any portion of donations you make to its beneficiaries—all of which are strictly secular.

Palace flags are at half-mast, and our hearts go out to the people of Nepal. A few dollars from the Palace coffers are headed their way too. Please do what you can to help.

Boner flowers FTW.

naked-man-orchid-orchis-italica-1Alrighty then.

Orchis italica, commonly known as the naked man orchid or the Italian orchid, is a species of orchid native to the Mediterranean. They are widely popular for their petals looking like naked men. O. italica grows up to 50 centimetres (20 in) in height, with bright pink, densely clustered flowers.

20 inches?!!! Jeezus. Won’t someone think of the Mediterranean children?

orchis-italica2 orchis-italica3 orchis-italica4 orchis-italica5Hahaha. Awesome.

[h/t Kim]

Who’s happy now?

As Loyal Readers™ well know, the Palace houses the world’s most renowned research program dedicated to the study of Conservative Personality Disorder. Something that has really puzzled us over the years is that research purporting to examine the relationship between political orientation and happiness has consistently revealed conservatives as being happier than liberals. This finding not only runs counter to a lifetime of personal experience that shows unequivocally that “happy conservative” is an oxymoron, it’s also counterintuitive on its face. I mean, do abortion clinic protestors strike you as happy? How about right-wing Christian clergy? Gun fetishists? Pundits like Limbaugh, Hannity and Coulter? White supremacists? Birthers? War Hawks? I’m not just talking about raging spittle-flecked tirades, either. It is self evident to me that a truly happy person would have exactly zero interest in policing, bullying and dominating other people by any means available. And yet conservatives do all of this, and they do it in the service of getting other people to conform to their (fictional) orderly little black-&-white world—and judging and punishing them harshly when they don’t. Either way, it vindicates and validates their (also fictional) moral superiority. They are nothing if not narcissists: everything is about them, all the time, including a gay couple’s marriage five states away, and what goes into or comes out of my vagina. Have you ever met a happy narcissist? No, you most certainly have not.

But you know what? If the science says it’s so, I just have to chalk it up to another head scratcher and move on with finding the cure. (For conservatism—not for happiness. Obviously.)

Now comes an article by Rachel Feltman in The Washington Post:

O rly?

When asked if they’re happy, political conservatives are more likely to say yes than liberals. But a new study suggests that liberals might be the happier bunch — and conservatives might just want to look good.

Researchers believe that conservatives may have a reputation for being happy because it’s in their nature to talk themselves up.

You don’t say.

It turns out that all of the academic research on the so-called “happiness gap” was based entirely on self reports. Self reports! This is the sign of sheer incompetence: as any serious student of conservatism can tell you, conservatives are infamous for self-reporting lies. (See e.g. church attendance, or Bill O’Reilly’s entire career.) But this new research took a different approach:

Led by Sean Wojcik, a doctoral student in psychology and social behavior at the University of California at Irvine, the experiment analyzed photos and language analysis from the LinkedIn and Twitter profiles of those identified as either liberal or conservative.

“Common sense would dictate that if you want to know how happy someone is, you can ask them,” said Peter Ditto, UCI professor of psychology & social behavior and co-author of the paper. “But what do you do if someone says they’re happy, but doesn’t act that way?”

My point exactly.

Indeed, Ditto and Wojcik found more genuine smiles (as measured by standard facial analysis) and more positive language in the Web trail of liberals, even though other members of that group self-reported as less happy in the very same study.

The reason, they say, is that political conservatives have a tendency to self-aggrandize. When they compared happiness self-reports with tests that measured a tendency to enhance one’s better qualities, they found that the happiness gap could be explained by a self-enhancement gap. In other words, liberals were being more honest about their personal pitfalls.

Huh. Well what do you know.

palacehappyface

Ask Iris: WWID?

Loyal Subject™ SJ sent a righteous rant to me and Palace blogger Don Ardell along with following graphic:

homeopathyexplainedThe missive’s subject was “Shame on everyone associated with this.” He wrote:

It is beneath the dignity of human beings living in the 21st Century (or the 20th, or maybe even the 19th, for that matter) to believe in such utter and total nonsense. Yet millions do.

And it is shameful to be associated with the manufacture, marketing, selling and purchasing homeopathic products. (Homeopathy is far from the only quackery, but it is possibly the most ridiculous.)

We are not children anymore, although prodigious numbers of us think and act like low-information ten-year-olds.

In a rational world, CVS would never consider selling totally worthless products. And anyone doing so would be prosecuted, convicted and punished for fraud. By now we should be waaay above this [kind] of shit.

Don and I were in full agreement with SJ’s assessment here, but Don was troubled by something else, too:

Full disclosure: I recently bought CVS. I could say I did it because the company, like Ringling Brothers with elephants, quit the cigarette trade because it was the decent thing to do, as well as good business. But, as Tricky D would say, that would be wrong. I did it to make money on a rising stock. And rise it has.

Now this. I face a crisis of conscience. WWID? (Yes, I mean you, Iris.)

Don’s question inspired me to finally coalesce into words some thoughts I had been kicking around for a while spew forth hundreds of words in reply to my poor correspondents. What’s that old saying? “Never ask a question you don’t want answered.” Oh, and “opinions are like assholes: everyone has one.” Here is mine. My opinion, not my asshole. In case that wasn’t clear.

A. WWID? Well, that really is entirely between you and your conscience, Don. My thoughts are these.

For better and for worse, we presently exist in an uber-capitalist hegemon. Participation in this system is mandatory, at least if we wish to have a decent quality of life* (and of course we do). An intelligent, informed and empathic person such as yourself (and SJ) cannot possibly avoid crises of conscience, grounded as our system is in the unjust exploitation of people and natural resources, short-term thinking, rigid class hierarchies and unearned privilege. From all of this necessarily emerges a brutal manifestation of Social Darwinism. Therefore we must make our compromises with conscience, and that starts with acknowledging that we are all hypocrites in ways large and small.

That said, we can certainly make choices that mitigate our hypocrisy. For instance, a major portion of your life’s work is promoting reason and evidence-based thinking in the context of wellness; if we ever rid civilization of the pestilence that is homeopathic “medicine,” undoubtedly that will be the cure (hahaha. so-to-speak). Another example: as you know I am a fierce advocate for a US single-payer health care system, and an unrelenting critic of Obamacare. This terrible health care law was written in large part by Big Pharma to suit itself at grave cost to my fellow citizens. Yet the fact is that I am alive and healthy today because of cutting-edge pharmaceutical research (biologic insulin analogs, to be specific), which—in this system— would probably not be available to me without the incentive of obscene profits for development and manufacturing. Am I a hypocrite? Absolutely. But I still rail on about single-payer, because it is a far superior system by nearly any metric. I also want generous government funding of medical research, the results of which would belong to the public or to nonprofit public partnerships with the private sector. With a “defense” budget greater than that of the next 8 countries combined, we certainly have the resources to spare, and the savings from the efficiency of single-payer alone would finance even more of it.

Similarly, My Amazing Lover™ and I can (and do) drive a hybrid vehicle; we have also made a conscious choice to have none of our retirement savings invested in dirty energy. That doesn’t mean we can avoid filling up the car with gasoline, though, and thus contributing to climate change (to say nothing of the intractable violence and unrest in the Middle East and the profits of defense contractors who benefit immensely from the human misery that ensues).

WE. ARE. HYPOCRITES.

I guess the way I see it is that we have three choices:

  1. Ignorance. We can ignore the facts and their implications, or if we do become aware of them we can ignore our hypocrisy. This seems to come easier for some than for others…
  2. Rationalization. And yes, to some extent that is precisely what I am doing here. But I have more in mind things like “but jobs!” as a rationalization for fracking, say. Or “terrorism!” to rationalize all manner of evils like NSA surveillance and our bloated Military-Industrial Complex. Of course these break down under even the most minimal scrutiny; unfortunately they are not likely to receive even that by mainstream “journalists.”
  3. Subversion. Participate in the system to the extent we can and must, even as we actively seek to undermine it. Audre Lorde said that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, and in many respects I think she is right. But I also believe that capitalism itself contains the seeds of its own destruction (and of democracy, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). What form that destruction will take is anyone’s guess at this point. But in the meantime, we can loudly advocate for leftist policies, especially with respect to health care, prison, and other arenas where government clearly should be the only institution responsible. Whatever happens, keeping these ideas in the public consciousness is absolutely crucial, if they are to stand a chance of ever being implemented.

Shorter Iris: CVS is hardly the worst purveyor of crimes against humanity; I think you might feel very differently about investing directly in the company that makes the homeopathic product. But again, you are the one who has to draw that line for yourself, and live with it. There can be no lasting shame in playing this game, when it’s the only game in town.

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* “Decent quality of life” has both objective and subjective meaning; it is objective with respect to needs like shelter, food, potable water, basic necessities such as electricity and tools, access to quality health care and education, positive bonds with other humans, safety and security—and, in this day and age, a reliable internet connection. The subjective part is more or less determined by each individual, but it’s important to note that by no means does it exclude altruistic endeavors, i.e. investing one’s time and money in the pursuit of helping others, and leaving this world at least a little better than one found it.

medicare4allOne more thing:nonprofitdefense

 

Recent reading.

library4

Device found on White House grounds identified as drone; no threat posed. Leonnig, C.D. et al., The Washington Post (Jan. 2015). [I trust the irony of drones plaguing the White House will not be lost on Loyal Readers™… –Ed.]

Catholic nun complaining of ‘stomach cramps’ gives birth. Perez. C., The New York Post (Jan. 2015). [It’s a miracle! –Ed.]

Florida police use images of black men for target practice. theGrio (Jan. 2015). [TRIGGER WARNING: extremely disturbing violently racist images.] [These cops all need to be fired right fucking now. –Ed.]

America’s new golden age of black ops: Inside our secret global war abroad
The U.S. has already launched missions in 105 countries in 2015 — approximately 80 percent of 2014’s total. Turse, N., Salon via TomDispatch (Jan. 2015).

Holly Fisher, “pro-family” darling, exposed as an adulterer. Eberhard, J.T., patheos (Jan. 2015). [I AM SO SHOCKED. –Ed.]

Barrett Brown Sentenced to Five Years, Vows to Keep Investigating Government Wrongdoing. Garcia, M., The Intercept (Jan. 2015).

Bottomless Mimosas and Calling Out Bigots: How Brunch Just Got Real in NYC. Dwyer, L., takepart (Jan. 2015). [#crashmybrunchplz –Ed.]

Kid Author Of ‘The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven’ Says He Made It Up. Tracy Walsh, T., Talking Points Memo (Jan. 2015). [Noooo! That cannot be! –Ed.]

American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke blames paedophile priests on ‘radical feminists’. Eleftheriou-Smith, L.-A., The Independent (Jan. 2015). [HAHAHA! -Ed.]

Leatherman Tread Wearable Multi-Tool. uncrate.com (Jan. 2015).

leatherman-tread[WANT. –Ed.]

Why we need to address population growth’s effects on global warming. The Times Editorial Board, The Los Angeles TImes (Jan. 2015).

Science Says Teams Work Better When They’re Mostly Women. Van Winkle, D., (Jan. 2015).

When public schools get more money, students do better. Ehrenfreund, M., The Washington Post (Jan. 2015). [WHAT?! Next thing you’ll be telling me people who get more healthcare access are healthier. –Ed.]

‘I Just Had an Abortion’: A Black woman on making the best choice for herself, despite the stigmas and shaming attempts. Fierce, T., Ebony (Jan. 2015). (“On the one hand, a Black woman who goes through with an unwanted pregnancy and ends up having to use social services is shamed for being irresponsible and “leeching” off the system. On the other, a Black woman who makes the decision to terminate a pregnancy when they know having a child isn’t the best idea can be shamed for endangering the future of her race….my abortion ended up being one more reminder that Black women are so often damned if we do, damned if we don’t.”) [Well worth a read for the condemnation of Obamacare alone. –Ed.]

No, Mr. Bond: I Expect You to Frack! Watson, R., Skepchick (Jan. 2015). (“oil companies have graduated from being immoral agents of environmental disasters and global warming to being actual Bond villains.”) [Hahaha. –Ed.]

In Just the Last Four Years, States Have Enacted 231 Abortion Restrictions. Guttmacher Institute (Jan. 2015).

No Pardon – Young Woman To Serve 30 Years For Miscarriage. Salzillo, L., Daily Kos (Jan. 2015). [This is your world on conservatives. –Ed.]

100 serial rapists identified after rape kits from Detroit Crime Lab are finally processed. Craig, K., WZYZ.com (Jan. 2015). (“thousands of rape kits in Detroit and across the country that have been left sitting in storage without being processed, allowing rapists to remain free to attack again. And they often do.”) [#priorities. –Ed.]

One Tweet Shows the Hypocrisy of America’s Reaction to White People Rioting at Ohio State. Cheney-Rice, Z., Mic.com (Jan. 2015).

Record 346 inmates die, dozens of guards fired in Florida prisons. King, S., Daily Kos (Jan. 2015).

The plight of the bitter nerd: Why so many awkward, shy guys end up hating feminism. Chu, A., Salon.com (Jan. 2015).

Many more people are dying from gun suicides than gun-related homicides. Millman, J., The Washington Post (Jan. 2015).

Manly Christian Bros ‘Apologize’ for Letting Their Women Get Abortions. Merlan. A., Jezebel (Jan. 2015). [LOL 4EVAH. See also this awesome reply from Funny or Die. –Ed.]

Republicans Are Killing Women: US Maternal Death Rate Climbs; Female Deaths Rise In GOP Counties. Morris, R., Addicting Info (Jan. 2015). [Congratulations, conservatives! You’re totally winning your war on women! –Ed.]

21 struggles faced by a dad raising a daughter in a sexist world. Tapley, N., Us vs. Th3m (Jan. 2015). [LOL. We should all be so lucky to have this d00d as our dad. –Ed.]

Crude oil spills in Yellowstone River after pipeline leak. Reuters via Raw Story (Jan. 2015).

The right’s grossest race lie: Delusional conservatives and the truth about MLK Post-Ferguson and Staten Island, the right’s again claiming MLK would be on their side. Let’s put the lie to rest. Rosenberg, P., Salon.com (Dec. 2014).

Can We Have A Smarter Conversation About Free Speech? ohtarzie (Nov. 2014). [Yes plz. –Ed.]

Vaccine deniers stick together. And now they’re ruining things for everyone. Millman, J., The Washington Post (Jan. 2015). (“No one has put it more succinctly than James Cherry, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles, who told the New York Times, ‘There are some pretty dumb people out there.'”) [FYI they’re liberals. –Ed.]

__________

Quotes:

It is not my intent here to make a pitch for hate crimes laws. I don’t like laws generally and I’m very much all over the map myself where free speech is concerned. What I want more than anything is a smarter conversation about it, where the participants actually seem to know things, like that historically hate speech has occupied a privileged place relative to radical speech. Like that free speech absolutism is working out particularly well for corporations. Like that many states have had hate crimes statutes since the 1980s and the sky hasn’t fallen. –ohtarzie

Mass gun killings, which capture widespread media attention for a few days, account for just a small portion of gun-related deaths. The four worst events in the past 15 years resulted in a combined 84 homicides, according to the report —about the same number of people who have been killed by guns in the United States every day between 2003 and 2012. –Jason Millman