loathsome creatures

Seriously, this shit surprised me. I mean, I know there are some a lot of Republicans in Congress who are ideological dicks more interested in making political points than in participating in the actual process of governing the fucking nation. But THIS? This is some outrageous shit, is what this is.

I’m talking about Senate Bill 1982. The Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014. It’s not what you’d call a sexy title, but this bill — had it passed — would have provided US$21 billion of extra coin over the next decade to expand military health benefits (including mental health treatment). It would have increased veteran education benefits. It would have expanded job training programs.

Saxby Chambliss, mewling canker-brained minnow-hearted fuckwit Republican from Georgia voted No

Senator Saxby Chambliss, mewling canker-brained minnow-hearted fuckwit Republican from Georgia voted No

The bill — had it passed — would have done a lot of small things that would make military service somewhat less onerous. If, say, a National Guard member was a licensed electrician and his license expired while he was deployed in Afghanistan, this bill would protect that license and extend the time in which it could be renewed. It would protect troops whose apartment leases expired while they were on deployment. It would forestall home foreclosures until troops could return from deployment and give them some time to get their financial matters straightened out. Little shit like that matters to ordinary folks.

But the bill didn’t pass. It didn’t pass because Senate Republicans blocked it. Seriously. Why did they block it? Bullshit reasons, that’s why. Some objected to the inclusion of ‘reproductive treatment and services’ based on some incomprehensible Jeebus-sparked twaddle. But here’s the thing — if some poor bastard gets his cojones shredded by an IED on a road in Helmand Province, but still wants to have a family, Jeebus ain’t going to plant no baby in his wife’s womb. Medical science will do that.

Senator Bob Corker, pampered leech-nurtured addle-pate Republican from Tennessee voted No

Senator Bob Corker, pampered leech-nurtured addle-pate Republican from Tennessee voted No

Some Republicans were concerned about the cost. Of course, they weren’t terribly concerned about the cost of going to war. And, of course, they’re all supportive of the new Lockheed-Martin F-35 Strike fighter — which, so far, is US$163 billion over budget and seven years behind schedule. But $21 billion stretched out over ten years for veterans? Too fucking expensive.

Even worse (and lawdy, you wouldn’t think there could be anything worse than denying a guy who left his balls in a combat zone the right to have a family), the Republicans tried adding some totally unrelated, politically motivated bullshit amendments to the bill. Like sanctions against Iran and some nonsense dealing with that Most Giant of Political Turds, Benghazi.

Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, fawning pasty-hearted dissembling pig's bladder Republican from Alabama, voted No

Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, fawning pasty-hearted dissembling pig’s bladder Republican from Alabama voted No — and Benghazi!

Even so, 56 Senators voted in favor of the bill. Only 41 voted against it. That’s right, a minority — all Republicans — were able to kill a bill that would help veterans. And this was as bipartisan a bill as is possible in this insane tea-party environment. More than two dozen of the provisions in the bill were Republican ideas.

But they still killed it. Not because it was a bad bill. They killed it for political reasons. For ideological reasons.

Senator Chuck Grassley, spongy po-faced corn-fed fustilarian Republican from Iowa voted No

Senator Chuck Grassley, spongy po-faced corn-fed fustilarian Republican from Iowa voted No

I’m sure, if you asked, all forty-one of those senators would claim to support the troops. I’m sure they all think of themselves as patriots. I’m pretty confident (though I haven’t bothered to check) all of them were (and probably still are) supportive of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For them to vote against this bill is contemptible. It’s despicable and disgraceful. These people should be ashamed to be photographed in front of the flag. They should be forced to visit VA hospitals and explain their votes to the men and women there. They should be held up for ridicule and scorn by everybody who truly supports the troops. And since these people undoubtedly consider themselves to be Christians, they should suffer the most appalling of Biblical curses.

These are loathsome creatures.

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comfort / discomfort

In the central public park of Glendale, California there’s a bronze statue of a young Asian woman seated in a chair. A bird is perched on her shoulder. Next to her is an empty chair.

It’s an attractive statue. Simple, but pleasing to the eye. At first glance, it’s a charming but rather innocuous work of public art. On the surface there’s nothing the least bit controversial about it. A closer look reveals the young woman’s hands are clenched into fists, which seems strangely at odds with her tranquil expression. But really, who takes a closer look at public art?

Comfort Woman Peace Monument

Comfort Woman Peace Monument

This isn’t just a work of public art, though. It’s a memorial. It’s a physical reminder of a historical event. It’s a work of art intended to preserve the memory of that event. It’s not a celebration of the event; it’s an indictment. The statue is called the ‘Comfort Woman’ Peace Monument.

And isn’t that a lovely phrase? Comfort Woman. It sounds so pleasant. It’s a translation of the Japanese term, ianfu, which is a euphemism for shōfuShōfu means ‘prostitute.’ But the memorial in the park in Glendale isn’t about prostitutes; it’s about a system of sexual slavery organized by the Imperial Army of Japan during World War Two.

Historically, wherever you find armies you find prostitution. The Imperial Army made it part of the bureaucracy. Even before WWII they organized ‘comfort stations’ in which Japanese soldiers could buy the services of Japanese prostitutes who’d been recruited from the lower classes. When Japan’s army expanded and they invaded China in 1937, the government began to send the daughters of those who opposed the war to serve in the ‘comfort stations.’ They also began to recruit local Chinese women, offering them food and clothing — which, given the Imperial Army’s practice of confiscating food supplies, was an effective form of coercion.

Young women 'recruited' to work in 'comfort stations'.

Young women ‘recruited’ to work in ‘comfort stations’.

Even so, the Imperial Army’s attempts at recruitment weren’t enough. So they began kidnapping local women. Eventually more that 2000 ‘comfort stations’ were organized throughout the war zone. Nobody knows how many women were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery; estimates range from 20,000 to more that 400,000. Let’s split the difference — say 200,000. That’s around the population of Tacoma, Washington or Shreveport, Louisiana. Most of the women were from Korea, China, and the Philippines.

It’s been suggested (though there’s no actual data to rely on) that around three-quarters of the women forced into working the ‘comfort stations’ died there. We do know that most of the survivors were left infertile due to venereal disease or forced abortions. According to one Japanese soldier who testified at a war crimes tribunal:

“The women cried out, but it didn’t matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor’s soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance.”

After the war, nobody paid much attention to the ‘comfort women.’ That’s not really accurate. Nobody paid any attention to the ‘comfort women.’ Not until 1983, when Seiji Yoshida published a book called My War Crimes, in which he claimed to have helped kidnap some 2000 Korean women from rural areas to serve as ‘comfort women.’ Curiously, it appears Yoshida didn’t actually participate in raids to kidnap women; he’d lied about it. Nevertheless, his book was enough to rouse the righteous anger of women who’d survived the system. They began to come forward, to identify themselves and talk openly about their experiences.

Only a few at first. Then more and more until it became an international movement.

comfort women protest2

The fact that the issue of the ‘comfort women’ was ignored for so long, coupled with the mass destruction of documents by the Japanese government in the last days of war, makes it impossible to know with any certainty the exact dimensions of the sexual slavery that took place. Until 1993, the Japanese government refused to acknowledge their army had even engaged in the systematic sexual slavery of women during the war. Even after that admission a great many Japanese — including many who hold high government office — refuse to accept or admit coercion was involved in the ‘comfort women’ system.

comfort women protest3

Eventually, the Japanese government offered an official apology to the women who’d been forced to serve in ‘comfort stations.’ However, just a week ago, Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stated Japan may reconsider that apology.

So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that after the Comfort Women Peace Memorial was unveiled in Glendale, there was a lawsuit to have it removed. The suit was brought by two Japanese-American citizens supported by a corporation that says it’s devoted to providing “accurate and fact-based educational resources to the public…concerning the history of World War II and related events, with an emphasis on Japan’s role.”

Why do they want the statue removed? The corporation (GAHT-US) claims the memorial presents “an unfairly biased portrayal of the Japanese government’s purported involvement with comfort women during the Second World War.” As a result, members of GAHT-US who live in or near Glendale

“…suffer feelings of exclusion, discomfort, and anger by the continued presence of the Public Monument, and the controversial and disputed stance on the debate surrounding comfort women that it perpetuates.”

Plaintiff Koichi Mera “disagrees with and is offended by the position espoused by” the city of Glendale. He’d like to visit that park and avail himself of its beauty, but

“…as a result of his alienation due to the Public Monument, he avoids doing so. In addition, the presence of the Public Monument diminishes Mera’s enjoyment of the Central Park and its Adult Recreation Center.”

Plaintiff Michiko Shiota Gingery, who was born in Japan, now lives in Glendale and is a founding member of the city’s Sister City Committee. She believes the statue “presents an unfairly one-sided portrayal” of the ‘comfort women’ issue. She feels the statue’s presence in Glendale’s public park is “a significant obstacle in maintaining friendly relations among Glendale’s sister-cities.” (Although Gingery mentions the sister city of Higashiosaka, Japan in her suit, she neglects to mention the sister cities of Goseong and Gimpo, both of which are in South Korea.)

Gingery also asserts she’d

“like to use Glendale’s Central Park and the Adult Recreation Center located within Central Park. But she now avoids doing so because she is offended by the Public Monument’s pointed expression of disapproval of Japan and the Japanese people. In addition, the presence of the Public Monument diminishes Gingery’s enjoyment of the Central Park.”

And so, they feel the monument must be removed.

Kim Bok-Dong, 87 years old

Kim Bok-Dong, 87 years old

When the monument was unveiled back in July, 87-year-old Kim Bok-Dong was present. Bok-Dong was fifteen years old when the Japanese Army forced her to become a ‘comfort woman.’ For the next eight years her life was unregulated hell.

“Every Sunday, soldiers came to the brothel from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., and on Saturday from noon until 5 p.m., plus weekdays. It was very hard to handle. I couldn’t stand at the end of the weekend. Since I had to deal with too many soldiers, I was physically broken.”

I don’t doubt that Mr. Mera and Ms. Gingery and all the members of GAHT-US are made uncomfortable by the statue in Glendale’s park. I’m sure they’re telling the truth when they say their enjoyment of the park has been diminished. I’m convinced they’re sincere when they say the statue causes them to ‘suffer feelings of exclusion, discomfort, and anger.’

I felt much the same when I visited the Japanese Internment exhibit at the Smithsonian many years ago. I suspect I’d feel something similar if I visited Hiroshima. Sometimes governments do horrible horrible things, especially in times of war. We’re supposed to be made uncomfortable by those things. We’re supposed to be ashamed and angry by those things. Our enjoyment ought to be diminished, even if we weren’t personally involved or responsible.

comfort woman memorial3

That empty chair next to the young woman? According to the plaque that accompanies the memorial, it symbolizes the “survivors who are dying of old age without having yet witnessed justice.” I think you could argue the chair is empty because it’s waiting for the next atrocity to fill it.

If there was justice in the world, there’d be copies of that statue — one for every woman lured or forced into sexual slavery — in cities all over the globe. And one for every black person lynched in the U.S. And one for every person who died in the attacks of 9/11. And one for every Iraqi civilian killed as collateral damage during an unprovoked invasion. And one for every Aborigine slaughtered in Australia. And one for every Jew and communist and Rom and gay person killed by the Nazis. And and and and. Every public square in every city in every nation in the world should have at least — at the very least — one similar statue reminding us that our governments are capable of allowing such crimes against humanity.

That’s never going to happen, of course. So for now we’ll have to settle for one modest bronze in a public park in Glendale, California. It’s a start.

no, seriously, jeebus, c’mon, are you kidding me

First, some confessional crap. My momma was born and raised in South Carolina. That means I spent a chunk of my youth there. We’re talking Deep South. Somewhere in a box there are photographs of me as a kid wearing a Confederate foraging cap. When I was a boy I actually owned a Confederate battle flag — the Stars and Bars. I grew up hearing about the War of Northern Aggression. And here’s a sad truth: I found the faded romance of the Lost Cause attractive.

Of course, I didn’t have a fucking clue what that Cause was, or what it meant. I just like the idea of heroic country boys standing up and fighting against a much bigger and better equipped army. I felt the same way about the Revolutionary War, about which I was equally clueless.

So I understand these guys, the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I understand they’d like to dissociate the Stars and Bars from its racist history. I get it — they want to distance themselves from dumb-ass, low-class, racist redneck white trash. I understand that they want to see the Confederate battle flag through a gauzy starlight filter that makes the Civil War look like a glamour shot from a cheap magazine.

But let me just say this to the Sons of Confederate Veterans: c’mon guys — wake the fuck up — this is NOT a good idea.

georgia license tag

Seriously, the Sons of Confederate Veterans have convinced the Georgia Department of Revenue to allow them to put the Stars and Bars on their license tags. I am NOT making this up. There’ll be an extra fee to get this custom license tag (call it a tax on stupid people), but ten dollars of that money will go to the SCV in order to “promote Southern Heritage through educational activities and preservation efforts around the state.” Whatever the hell that means.

You guys, it doesn’t matter how you want folks to see the Stars and Bars. It only matters that for 98% of the world it’s a hateful symbol of racism and oppression. It only matters that it makes ALL Southern folk look like fuckwits. A symbol means what the majority of people think it means. You remember how the Swastika used to be a Hindu symbol of good luck and prosperity? 

No, of course you don’t. Because the Nazis completely shit all over the swastika and now for most of the world the symbol means “I’m a white guy who hates Jews.” That’s what has happened to the Confederate battle flag. Doesn’t matter what it might have meant to your great-great-great granddaddy; now it means “I’m a white guy who hates black folks.” Now it means “Black folks, please throw rocks and shatter the windows of my car.”

Seriously, this is stupid at the cellular level. You can put this licence tag on your brand new Lexus or your Volvo station wagon, but this is what people will see when you drive down the street:

confederate flag truck

I don’t know…maybe it’s actually a good idea to let these cretinous flag-wankers identify themselves to the public at large. ‘Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.’ as the god-botherers would say. ‘Every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.’

This licence tag, I suspect it will bringeth forth rocks through the windows. Can I get a hallelujah?

macho bullshit and a handy gun

Somebody asked me why I haven’t written anything about the so-called ‘Loud Music Murder’ trial. I said “Because it’s a sad and terribly stupid situation, but there’s nothing new or unusual about it.”

The thing is, this wasn’t about loud music at all. The trial was about a privileged white racist asshole, Michael Dunn. It was about four proud but resentful black teen-aged boys. It was about testosterone and a handy firearm. You remove either of those last two variables from the equation, and none of this would have happened. Remove the gun, or remove the macho bullshit, and everybody goes home alive.

Gas station/convenience store where the murder took place.

Gas station/convenience store where the murder took place

What folks keep overlooking is the fundamental fact that this tragically stupid incident took place at a convenience store. The entire point of a convenience store is you get in, get what you want, and you leave. You’re there, what…five minutes? Maybe ten? How could things spiral so badly out of control in just a few minutes? Macho bullshit and a handy firearm.

Here’s what happened. Michael Dunn pulled into the convenience story lot and parked next to an SUV. He asked the teens in the SUV to turn down their music. It didn’t matter to him that they were there first, that he pulled up and parked next to them. It didn’t matter that he was only going to be there a short time. He was a middle-aged software engineer and they were black kids playing what he described as ‘thug’ music. He felt they should heed his perfectly reasonable desire for quiet. They should have some consideration for others. The world doesn’t revolve around them. He deserved a little bit of respect.

Michael Dunn

Michael Dunn

And hey, at first they complied with his request. They turned the music off. But one of the kids asked the obvious question: who the hell did this guy think he was? Nobody asked that jerk to park next to them. Why in the hell should they have to turn off — or even turn down — their music to please him? Fuck him. Fuck him and his disrespect. Turn the music back on. Turn it up louder.

It became a dick-measuring contest. The teenage boys in the SUV weren’t going to back down, because they were teens and boys and they can play their music as loud as they damned well please. Dunn wasn’t going to back down because he was a man with a good job and a handy firearm, and those kids owed him some goddamned respect.

Dunn's 9mm Taurus handgun

Dunn’s 9mm Taurus handgun

Remove the macho bullshit from the equation, everybody goes home alive.

Dunn told the police he heard a kid in the back seat threaten him. He told the police he saw the kid pick up something that might have been a shotgun (no shotgun was found in the vehicle). So he pulled the Taurus 9mm out of his glove box and opened fire. Ten rounds in total. The first three or four rounds went through the rear door panel and hit 17-year-old Jordan Davis in the liver, lung, and aorta. Killed him almost instantly. The driver of the SUV slammed it into reverse. Dunn stepped out of his car and fired the remaining rounds. To keep their heads down, he told the police. To prevent any return fire.

Dowels showing the entry direction of the gunshots.

Dowels showing the entry direction of the gunshots.

Remove the gun from the equation, everybody goes home. Instead, Michael Dunn is going to prison. Jordan Davis is in the ground. How profoundly stupid and sad is that?

Would Dunn have been so confrontational with those kids if he hadn’t had the pistol in the glove box? Maybe, but probably not. Would the situation have escalated so rapidly if it wasn’t for the macho bullshit? Probably not.

Would this incident have happened at all if women and girls were involved? Would there be a funeral for a 17-year-old kid if there hadn’t been a gun handy? Almost certainly not.

This wasn’t the ‘Loud Music’ trial at all. It was the ‘Macho Bullshit’ trial. It was the ‘I’ve Got a Handy Gun’ trial. Macho bullshit and a handy gun — remove those variables from every equation and the murder rate would drop radically. More folks would go home alive.

miracles & ballistics

It was a miracle, according to Justin Carper of Shelby, NC. A miracle that his 17 month old daughter was able to feed herself a few hours after she’d been shot.

“It went through the top of her shoulder. She was feeding herself using that shoulder, using that arm. The bullet went straight through. You wouldn’t even know. Doctor after doctor have told us that there’s nowhere else the bullet could have gone that would have ended up with this story. My mind is pretty much blown.”

A miracle. Carper writes a Christian parenting blog, so I guess he’s familiar with the notion of miracles. But me, I’m thinking miracles wouldn’t be necessary if Carper had had enough common sense to put his 9mm pistol someplace where his three year old son couldn’t get to it and accidentally shoot his baby sister. And you know what blows my mind? At this point, no charges have been filed against Carper. Praise Jeebus.

Thirteen year old Eddie Zee could have used a miracle that same day, when he and his buddies were playing with a shotgun in Puyallup, WA. But no, instead Eddie was killed. Too bad, Eddie — no miracles for you. At this point in time, no charges have been filed against the parents who left the shotgun in an accessible place.

(photo by Andrijana Pajović)

(photo by Andrijana Pajović)

A few days earlier in Park Ridge, IL, the 14 year old son of Joseph Streff accidentally shot himself with the handgun his dad had given him for Christmas. Since the kid got the weapon in celebration of the birth of Jeebus, I guess we can consider it a miracle that he only shot himself in the leg. He’ll recover.

I guess you could also count it a miracle that the unnamed ‘juvenile’ in Little Rock, AR wasn’t killed when he was shot in the face with the handgun he and his buddies were playing with. Jeebus must have been watching over him — just not very well. Maybe he was distracted. By what?

By Isom Brumfield, who took his 7 year old son with him to an auto parts store in Milwaukee. When it came time to pay for his parts, Brumfield first had to remove his handgun from his pocket. He laid it on the counter, but the clerk (who apparently wasn’t willing to trust in miracles) asked him to put it away. As he was doing that, Brumfield dropped the weapon, which discharged. The round hit his son in the leg. Brumfield has been charged with a misdemeanor — ‘negligent handling of a dangerous weapon.’ How’s that for a miracle?

(photo by Andrijana Pajović)

(photo by Andrijana Pajović)

That apparently didn’t use up Milwaukee’s miracle quota. A couple days later a group of kids (aged 11 to 17 years) were playing with a shotgun in somebody’s basement. The shotgun was loaded with bird shot; when it accidentally discharged, five of the kids were wounded (and, I suspect, most of them were deafened). None of the wounds were life threatening. It’s like an advertisement for bird shot — Less Likely to Kill Your Kids!

That same day in Columbus, OH, a ten year old boy was shot by his eleven year old brother. The victim, happily, lived. According to the boy’s aunt, he ‘found the gun in an alley.’ It’ll be a miracle if anybody believes that story.

In Como, MS, two brothers, 11 and 14, went deer hunting. By themselves. As they were climbing up into a deer stand on the family property, the older brother accidentally shot the younger in the neck and shoulder. Miraculously, the victim is expected to survive. So are the deer.

But miracles were in short supply in Nashville, TN, where seventeen year old Kaemon Robinson and three friends were messing about with a handgun. It accidentally discharged, hitting fifteen year old Kevin Barbee in the face. No miracles here. Barbee was killed, Robinson is facing a murder charge.

(photo by Andrijana Pajović)

(photo by Andrijana Pajović)

A few hours later, in St. Mary’s, WV, an unnamed 15 year old girl was shot in the head while watching television. A neighbor, Robbie Knight, had decided to clean his .40 caliber handgun like a responsible gun owner. Unfortunately, Knight neglected to unload his weapon. It discharged — the round went through the wall of Knight’s home, traveled the distance to the victim’s home, went through that wall and hit the girl in the head. The miracle? At last report, the girl is still alive, although in critical condition.

And in Wichita, KS, a 70 year old man was playing ‘quick draw’ with two boys, aged ten and fourteen. Predictably, the old guy accidentally fired a round, grazing the ten year old in the face. The man was arrested and charged with two counts of aggravated child endangerment. After he was released by police, the old man returned to his home and killed himself with a gunshot to the head.

All this happened in the last week or so. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics around 3500 children and adolescents are killed each year in gun-related incidents. Many of those deaths are preventable. It doesn’t take a miracle; it just takes common sense. Trigger locks, gun safes, prosecution of adults who make it possible for kids to shoot themselves or others.

There are a couple lessons to be learned here. Miracles are totally unreliable. And there’s no mercy in ballistics.

Editorial note: All the photographs are by the amazing young photographer, Andrijana Pajovic

why are there still monkeys

I didn’t bother to watch the ‘debate’ between Bill Nye and Ken Ham. It would be like watching a ‘debate’ over which is the better school — Harvard or Hogwarts. One is real, the other is imaginary. I don’t care if there are people who actually believe in Hogwarts so long as they don’t claim there’s a rational and scientific basis for that belief.

In the same way, I don’t care if some folks believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old, or that there’s no such thing as evolution. But if they put forth an argument that science supports that idea, then I’m left with no alternative but to assume those people are just stupid.

Case in point: Matt Stopera of Buzzfeed asked some of the creationists at the Nye/Ham bunfight to write a message to, or ask a question of, evolutionists. Here are some of them:

creationist2

Yes. Yes, it’s completely illogical. Why are you even attempting to bring logic into this? You’re talking about a supernatural being you believe created…well, every single thing in the entire universe and universes beyond, and you’re relying on human logic? You’re talking about an omniscient and omnipresent entity whose mind ‘surpasses all understanding’ and yet you’re talking about logic?

But yes, even considering that, it’s still completely illogical.

creationist3

Uh…the rotation of the Earth on its axis? See, this is where science comes in handy. The Earth was formed from the slow collapse of an asymmetrical cloud of dust and gasses and other crap leftover from the Big Bang. Since the cloud wasn’t symmetrical, the collapse wasn’t symmetrical either, and that imparted angular momentum to the process, which set the newly formed planet spinning. Since all this took place in space (where nobody can hear you scream and there’s no source of friction other than the nearby moon) the planet continues to spin. Unless you choose to believe that the Sky Magician creates a continuous light show to amuse his humans.

Also? Learn the difference between ‘their’ and ‘there’ and ‘they’re.’

creationist1

If one existed, you’re damned right I’d be scared. I mean, this is the Divine Creator who said “I have wiped out many nations, devastating their fortress walls and towers. Their streets are now deserted; their cities lie in silent ruin. There are no survivors—none at all. I thought, ‘Surely they will have reverence for me now! Surely they will listen to my warnings. Then I won’t need to strike again, destroying their homes.’ But no, they get up early to continue their evil deeds.”

If there was any truth in Zephaniah 3:6-10, then I’d be scared out of my fucking wits. And that’s just one of dozens of genocidal urges your Divine Creator gave into. That dude is totally scary.

creationist5

Dude. Okay…the theory of evolution is a theory. The phenomenon of evolution is a fact. It seems nobody taught you what a theory is. Basically, a theory is just an attempt to coherently explain a phenomenon. Here’s an example. In the ancient Greek region of Magnesia ad Sipylum some folks discovered stones that would attract iron. Their theory was that the stones emanated tiny particles that swept away the air between the stone and the iron, and the consequent suction drew iron forward.

We no longer believe magnetism works that way. Why? Because people tested that notion and found it to be wrong. That’s how science works. You observe a phenomenon, you come up with an explanation, then you try to prove that explanation is wrong. If you succeed in proving it wrong, then you adjust the explanation — the theory. Science does NOT attempt to prove a theory is correct.

Our theories about magnetism are more sophisticated now, but we still don’t completely understand it. And yet nobody thinks magnetism is ‘just a theory.’ Magnetism is a fact. It’s what keeps your kid’s artwork stuck to the refrigerator. And evolution is a fact as well.

Seriously, the only thing more stupid than the previous question is the next one.

creationist7

How did you ever get out of school? Seriously, how can you be so smugly stupid? If somebody taught you that evolutionists believe humans ‘came from monkeys’ then you were lied to. If you believed it without question, then you’ve been played for a sap.

This is really sad. This guy probably wasn’t born stupid. He was trained to be stupid. Somebody told him “Evolutionists believe humans came from monkeys” and he probably thought to himself, correctly, That’s a totally stupid thing to believe. But did he ask himself Do they really believe something that stupid? Apparently not. He didn’t bother to learn what evolution actually means — and nobody encouraged him to. In fact, they probably actively discouraged him from learning about evolution. And he just believed what he was told.

Here’s another place where science comes in handy. Science never believes what it’s told. Science always challenges. Science always demands evidence, and is never completely satisfied with it. That’s why theories — theories of gravitation, of magnetism, of evolution — continue to change over time.

The problem isn’t that some folks believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old or that they believe a Divine Creator cobbled humankind out of “the dust of the ground.” People believe all sorts of ludicrous and stupid stuff, and for the most part no real harm comes of it. The problem is that science is under attack. Not just the results of scientific research, but science itself — science as a system of understanding the physical world. Does it really matter that this guy thinks evolution means humans evolved from monkeys? No.

What matters is that he’s the product of a system that keeps people stupid. Stupid people are easier to control.

from sea to shining wtf

So this morning I get an email from somebody I don’t know (his…or possibly her…email address was a model of anonymity — a seemingly random jumble of letters and numerals brilliantly designed to be completely forgettable, and maybe intended to put you directly to sleep) asking me this question:

Can you believe the wingers were so mad over that commercial?

I’d only started my first cup of coffee, so it took me a couple of seconds to decipher that. Wingers, I knew, referred to conservatives (nobody calls left-wing folks ‘wingers,’ though I’ve no idea why that is; left-wing folks are called ‘liberals’ or ‘commie socialist pussies’). The commercial, I assumed, was probably a Super Bowl commercial. But which commercial?

Bob Dylan shilling for General Motors? Maybe. The puppy-Clydesdale beer commercial? Possibly — we’re talking mixed-species horse-puppy relationships, and no way was that puppy old enough to be legal. Laurence Fishburn singing Puccini? Probably not — I mean, that opera begins with an execution, and conservatives are usually pro-death penalty.

I decided to seek guidance from that wellspring of Conservative Thinking: FreeRepublic.com. And hey, bingo — found it. It was this commercial:

What’s offensive about a multi-national corporation that sells its product worldwide making a commercial in which folks from different cultures sing America the Beautiful in a variety of languages? Here you go:

I was genuinely offended by the multilingual “America the Beautiful” Coke commercial. I mean REALLY pissed off! Big vote for WORST commercial.

The muzzie part of that ad was even worse than the foreign languages. The Coca Cola suits need to get the message loud and clear that mooselimbs are the enemy and that diversity is perversity. Real Americans should boycott all of their products including the Minute Maid brand.

Sing the song in English – even (especially??) if their speech is accented heavily with their native language.

Just watched the Coke ad. Think I’ll drink Pepsi tomorrow.

[S]o many seem offended by the multi-language Coke commercial. Was this the same Coke comemrcial that showed the gay couple skating? I’d be infinitely more offended by that than what language they were speaking.

[The gay couple skating] was the worst part of a commercial that went out of its way to be offensive on many levels.

I was REALLY pissed off at it. I never drink soda, but that makes me want to start boycotting Coke.

I remember the “like to buy the world a coke” singing commercial. Everyone sang in english. Language unifies. This commercial divides.

And in a classic case of Conservative Martyr Whining, we have this:

Coke airs an offensive ad. Conservatives are the only ones smart enough to recognize the offense and the liberal blogosphere immediately demonstrate their own “tolerance” by calling conservatives intolerant, stupid, racist, bigots for taking offense.

It’s apparently offensive to sing a song praising the beauty of this nation in any language other than English, especially if it’s sung by people who aren’t white, may not be Christian, and possibly aren’t heterosexual. If the folks who were offended by the commercial knew the history of America the Beautiful they’d be even more outraged.

It all began in Scotland in the middle of the 17th century. A minister named David Dickson, who was in and out of trouble for ‘nonconformist’ Protestant thought, wrote a long poem called O Mother Dear, Jerusalem. Seriously long — thirty-one painful verses describing the city of Jerusalem. For example:

Thy houses are of ivory,
Thy windows crystal clear,
Thy streets are laid with beaten gold —
There angels do appear.
Thy walls are made of precious stone,
Thy bulwarks diamond square,
Thy gates are made of Orient pearl —
O God, if I were there.

Despite thirty more verses of that, the poem remained popular among über-devout Protestants for a couple hundred years. Which is how Samuel Augustus Ward comes into the story.

Samuel Augustus Ward
Samuel Augustus Ward

Ward owned a little music store in Newark, New Jersey, but he was better known as the organist for the Grace Episcopal Church. He also dabbled in musical composition. One summer day in 1882, as he was coming back from a day spent at Coney Island, a tune got stuck in his head. Ward borrowed a friend’s shirt cuffs (which, back in that era, were detachable) and scribbled down the notes to the tune. He called it Materna, and later realized the tune fit the words of Dickson’s appalling poem.

It was a lovely little tune. Almost nobody cared. Ward died in 1903, unaware his tune would become wildly popular a few years later — thanks to Miss Katharine Lee Bates.

Katharine Lee Bates

Katharine Lee Bates

Katharine Bates was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts in 1859, the daughter of a Congregational minister. She was a rather independent and unorthodox woman. She obtained a degree from Wellesley College, studied for a while at Oxford in England, and eventually became a teacher and a writer.

In the summer of 1893, while she was briefly teaching in Colorado, Bates and some of her fellow teachers decided to visit Pikes Peak.

We hired a prairie wagon. Near the top we had to leave the wagon and go the rest of the way on mules. I was very tired. But when I saw the view, I felt great joy. All the wonder of America seemed displayed there, with the sea-like expanse.

She wrote a poem describing that beauty. The poem garnered a great deal of attention when it was published two years later in 1895. In 1910, her poem (with a few minor changes) was coupled with Samuel Ward’s tune Materna, and became known as America the Beautiful.

Why would conservatives be outraged by the history of this song? Because Katharine Bates lived for a quarter of a century with her ‘friend’ Katharine Coman. We don’t know for certain whether theirs was a sexual relationship, but there’s no doubt about the love they felt for each other. At some point Bates was described by a colleague as being a “free-flying spinster,” somebody who existed on the “fringe on the garment of life.” Bates response: “I always thought the fringe had the best of it. I don’t think I mind not being woven in.”

I think I’d have liked Katharine Lee Bates. I know I like the version of her song in the Coca Cola commercial. It pleases me that lyrics celebrating America written by a lesbian are sung in English and Hindi and Tagalog and Arabic. It pleases me that we see men and women of different races and different ethnic backgrounds and different sexual preferences and different religions celebrating this nation. And yes, even though the message being sent is ‘Buy Coke,’ it pleases me that the message is delivered in a way that is inclusive.

It does show an America that’s beautiful. And it’s a shame that some people can only find hate in that message.