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?

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*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.

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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.

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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.]

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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

Ask Iris: Are you watching the State of the Union tonight?

Q. Are you watching the State of the Union tonight?

A. Of course not. HELLO?!

Loyal Readers™ will be well aware of my admonitions to parse with extreme skepticism any words emanating from the mouth of a politician, and to instead form your judgements based solely on their actions. (Actually this is really good advice for dealing with anyone and everyone; it will spare you many, many headaches and heartaches.) This is particularly important to note when someone’s words and actions are in conflict: their actions speak the truth about their values and priorities. If by now you do not know by his actions that Barack Obama is a True Believer in conservative economics, a Wall Street-serving corporatist, a radical and lawless executive, and an unrepentant, murderous warmonger very much like his predecessor, then you simply have not been paying attention.

Relatedly, there has recently been some media hubbub about our president “rediscovering a progressive agenda” (after six years in office, during which Democrats held one or both houses of congress). Why, gosh darnit, it’s about time we tax those billionaires! As I told a correspondent, this week I’ve witnessed people I thought were at least minimally politically astute sincerely wondering why the administration is suddenly proposing a bunch of lefty policies only after there is zero chance of passing any of them. The question contains its answer in itself.

So turn off the TV and have a nice evening. Lard knows I certainly will.

red&whitewinecheersCheers!

New Yorkers: 1, Motherfrackers: 0.

New Yorkers: 1, Motherfrackers: 0.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration announced on Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks, ending years of uncertainty over the disputed method of natural gas extraction.

You’re welcome, New York! I don’t like to toot my own horn or anything, but it’s pretty clear the good governor really took to heart the letter I wrote him in July. I kid, I kid. He doesn’t give a flying fuck what I think. Hell, I didn’t even vote for the guy. And therein lies a lesson.

As New Yorkers may remember, Andrew Cuomo, the incumbent Democratic governor, faced a Democratic primary challenger on September 9: Zephyr Teachout. While it was universally acknowledged that she had no chance of actually winning, she put up fight with the backing of environmentalists (and other lefties who see Cuomo for the corrupt, conservative opportunist he is). While Cuomo continued to drag his feet and waffle on deciding the fracking issue, Teachout flat-out stated that she would ban it.

She had me at hello.

And oh, how I heard that I’d be wasting my vote, and/or to not even bother voting in the New York primary because after all, Cuomo was a shoo-in. And that was just from people who had heard of Teachout. More often the conversation started and ended with who?

Nevertheless, this upstart with a pittance of a budget went up against a Democratic icon with a massive war chest and the backing of a well-oiled party machine—and she came away with 33% of the primary vote. Not enough for a win, of course. But Cuomo is a scion of Democratic politics who harbors national ambitions, and, well, that certainly does not bode well for him. While he may not give a shit about me, or about New York’s ground water, he sure as hell gives a shit about that.

Environmentalists are fawning all over Cuomo:

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said Mr. Cuomo “set himself apart as a national political leader who stands up for people” over the energy industry.

But tonight I’ll be toasting Zephyr Teachout, and those of us who showed up on September 9 to vote for her. Especially in primaries, it doesn’t take a “win” to win.

By the way, if you want to actually waste your vote, just keep right on voting for the “lesser of two evils.” They’re counting on you.

Racism is whites’ problem to solve.

If you’ve been following links about policing here or elsewhere, you will know that American society is by far the most incarcerated in the world, that black and brown people are enormously overpoliced compared to whites and given harsher sentences than whites for the same crimes, and that young black men in particular are killed by police at rates 21 times greater than their white counterparts. Many liberal-minded whites I know seem incapable of grasping the enormity of the injustice of all of that—which may be understandable given that their interactions with police have been generally much different, but is not excusable on those grounds. Of course many less-than-liberal-minded whites are openly defensive and hostile in response to anyone calling this what it is—systemic racism—in favor of all manner of victim-blaming and othering and authoritarianism and bootstrapping narratives that have about as much relation to reality as…well, as all things conservative generally do. This is why as protestors took to the streets yesterday in NYC (and across the nation) in response to police violence and the failure to hold accountable the cops who killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner, I was heartened to see people of every race among them, especially whites. I say this not to suggest these whites deserve a cookie just for being decent fucking human beings. They don’t. I say it because—and this really cannot be said enough—racism is whites’ problem to solve.

RACISM IS WHITES’ PROBLEM TO SOLVE.

See, there I said it again. And it is true in exactly the same way that street harassment is mens’s problem to solve. (The similarities to misogyny don’t end there, but that’s another post entirely.) It’s a tall order, to be sure, and will take a hell of a lot more than white people demonstrating and marching. The solution to black victims of police violence and mass incarceration does not just lie within the relationships between cops and communities of color—although it certainly lies there, too. It lies with whites interrogating themselves about their participation in social, cultural and political systems that sustain racism, and committing to fucking doing something about it. Janee Woods wrote recently:

We’re 400 years into this racist system and it’s going to take a long, long, long time to dismantle these atrocities. The antiracism movement is a struggle for generations, not simply the hot button issue of the moment. Transformation of a broken system doesn’t happen quickly or easily.

People of color, black people especially, cannot and should not shoulder the burden for dismantling the racist, white supremacist system that devalues and criminalizes black life without the all in support, blood, sweat and tears of white people.

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Here is a one-minute video I shot from Greenwich St. last night around 8:00pm as protestors marched West on 11th Street. (Yes people, believe it or not, I was actually roused from my bar stool, not by all the NYPD sirens of course, but by the protestor chants I heard over them a block away.)

Some stills:

IMG_1175IMG_1187IMG_1194IMG_1178IMG_1196__________

 USA Today has a fantastic collection of photos from nationwide protests yesterday; here are a few from NYC.

brooklynbridgeBrooklyn Bridge.
(Photo: Jason DeCrow, AP)

grandcentralGrand Central.
(Photo: Justin Lane, European PressPhoto Agency)

wecantbreatheFoley Square.
(Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)

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Back at the bar, a young woman came in, sat next to me and ordered a drink. We got to talking, as bar people do. She had just turned twenty-one a few days ago, and in a few weeks will be headed for a semester in Paris to study curation. We talked about art and artists (she loves Frida Kahlo) and Europe (she’s never been) and her excitement about the adventures that lie ahead (highly contagious). Eventually she mentioned that she had just been marching with the protestors, and that she was struggling with some guilt over pursuing her dreams overseas while her community was suffering so much here, and yet she felt a duty to take advantage of these opportunities for them. She has an autistic brother, 17, who she fears will make an easy target for police violence, not just because of his race but because his disability makes interpersonal communication so difficult for him. She is not wrong about that. I listened for a while, and did not interrupt, until she shared that she was really torn between being a committed activist and “curling up in a ball in bed.” Wait, I said. Those things are not mutually exclusive. And I urged her to curl up in a ball in bed exactly as often as she needed to, to mourn, to rest, to reset. There is no shame in tending to your own garden. We hugged, I wished her well and parted.

IMG_1213Photo shared with permission; name withheld.

We may well lose her to Paris, and that would be our great loss. Who could blame her? Any future she may have stateside is up to us—all of us.

Earlier in the evening I had posted to Facebook a photo of police helicopters swarming the skies above Manhattan. Later on, I would have a fitful night’s sleep, awakened over and over by the sounds of sirens blazing and helicopters roaring. This is nothing, I reminded myself, compared to the nightmare that will never end for the families and friends of those unjustly killed by police with impunity.

I hope you will get involved, and stay involved. I may well be curling up in a ball in bed today.

The helicopters are already back in the skies.

blacklivesmatter[A version of this article is cross-posted at Secular Woman.]