Trust Issues


You should never trust anyone who uses either religion or patriotism to sell you something. It’s their way of saying their product sucks, and sucks hard, but they’re hoping you’ll forget about that and instead just focus on God or America.

This is really, really terrible. I mean, does anyone actually allow themselves to be motivated to buy more Budweiser simply because it’s temporarily named “America”? If you do, you’re stupid; please stop reading my blog.

By contrast, here’s an ad for the only beer I’ve ever actually kind of liked. It’s called Budvar, or sometimes Czechvar, and it’s made in a Czech city whose German name is Budweis. Guess what it’s called in the non-English world?

Their ad is…strange. But makes more interested in having a Budvar than a can of America.

A Bad Court Thing


Also, when are we gonna get around to that 51st star? Come on, Congress and Peurto Rico! Get it in gear!

Also, when are we gonna get around to that 51st star? Come on, Congress and Peurto Rico! Get it in gear!

I am against the Pledge of Allegiance for several reasons. First off, it’s an odious little loyalty oath. I dislike those. I especially dislike children being made to say it in school. Part of having freedom is having the freedom to not say these things, and especially to not say them when the words “under God” are included.

Yeah, that’s in the news again, and this time a judge in New Jersey threw out a case seeking to remove the words in question from the Pledge when it’s recited by schoolchildren. His reasoning was faulty.

In his decision, Bauman noted that the nation was founded on a belief in God. He cited historical references to the nation’s founding fathers, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, and the writers of New Jersey’s constitution exhibiting faith in and reliance upon God.

“The words ‘under God’ are now as interwoven through the fabric of the Pledge of Allegiance as the threads of red, white and blue into the fabric of the flag to which the Pledge is recited,” Bauman wrote.

Irrelevant on several levels, and not especially accurate. First off, if the Founders were all that concerned about Christianity, or God in general, they could have added a lot about it to our Constitution. They did not. In fact the only reference to religion in the Constitution is where it says we have freedom to practice whatever religion we like and that we don’t have a national one. I can’t speak to New Jersey’s constitution, but it takes second place to the national one regardless.

As for the second part of his statement, it seems to basically say, “We’ve been doing this long enough that you people can just get over it.” That’s like saying, “That slavery thing has worked for the last few centuries, so why not keep going with it?” And, “Monarchy was good enough for my ancestors, so it should be good enough for you, rebel scum!”

I’m very pleased with the next sentence I wrote about this, so I’m going to highlight it: Doing the wrong thing repeatedly doesn’t magically transform it into the right thing.

The judge went on to say:

Bauman said the Pledge of Allegiance, in its historical context, has never been viewed as a religious exercise, but as a vehicle to transmit “those core values of duty, honor, pride and fidelity to country on which the social contract between the United States and its citizens is ultimately based.”

This is a lie. It is right to say that prior to the 1950s, it wasn’t viewed as a religious exercise. Then the Knights of Columbus, a religious organization, pressured Congress and the White House, and under Eisenhower the words “under God”, which were not part of the original Pledge, were added to it. Doing that is what made this a religious exercise. Either this judge is ignorant of history or straight-up lying when he says otherwise.

Oh, and as for transmitting values, etc, that’s what we have civics classes for.

The Pledge needs to die the death it so richly deserves, but failing that, I don’t think it’s at all wrong for people like me to ask that the words “under God”, which by definition cannot have anything other than a religious context, be removed from it.

Another Forgotten War


Americans have lots of forgotten wars. These are wars that we collectively sort-of pretend never happened. Usually this is because we lost them. A prime example? The War of 1812. The Korean War and Vietnam are both great examples as well. Sure, we aren’t forgetting Vietnam yet, but give us 100 years and most people will have stopped remembering it. Same thing with Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which we lost by any reasonable measure.

World War I is an odd case. We didn’t lose the war, and in fact had total victory by rushing in to the rescue during the third act. But it pushed us in all sorts of weird directions and immediately after the war, it became more-or-less official governmental policy to forget it.

But the war was waging 100 years ago, and it’s important to take some time to remember that, and to understand it.

“These CIA representations were inaccurate…”


510px-CIA.svg

The CIA lied. They straight-up lied. They lied to Congress, they lied to the White House, they lied to the American people, and they lied to themselves. They’ve proven themselves beyond the pale, and they’ve proven that they are a deeply untrustworthy, rogue agency.

The quote in the headline comes from the torture report, where there was an analysis on the “usefulness” of the information that torture extracted from people. Time and again the conclusion of the report is that “These CIA representations were inaccurate”.

To sum up, the CIA tortured people with, at the very least, the tacit approval of George W Bush and Dick Cheney. They lied about it to Congress, to the White House (mostly Obama), the American public, and to other parts of the CIA. They lied, lied, lied.

It is time, I think, to end the CIA. They have been very useful at various points in our past, but they missed the fall of the Soviet Union, toppled democratically-elected governments in various countries (notably Chile and Iran, where we still feel the aftereffects of what they did in the 1950s), and may have engaged in assassination. They certainly engaged in torture.

We need to get rid of the CIA and replace it. I’m not sure with what. I don’t really want the NSA to get expanded powers, for example. Perhaps we could broaden the FBI’s charter. They do excellent work, after all, and since Hoover died, have proven to be a way better agency than the CIA. Or perhaps we could simply create something new with very clearly defined powers and boundaries.

But it’s time for the CIA to die the death it should have died in 1991.

When We Fail…


…we fail big. The torture report has been released (also here, where Sully is live-blogging his reactions to the report, and bringing up some delightful highlights), and, yeah, we used the sort of tactics that twenty years ago we would have loudly, and rightly, condemned other nations for using. These include things like sexually violating suspects.

With the approval of the C.I.A.’s medical staff, some C.I.A. prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.”

There were also victims with broken limbs who were forced to stand in “stress positions”. Those are positions that put particular stresses on…well, various limbs. If those limbs are already broken, it’s a pretty terrible experience.

Oh, and apparently we liked telling people they if they didn’t cooperate, we’d rape their mothers in front of them.

People were tortured to death, innocent people were tortured, and we didn’t even get any useful information about bin Laden out of all this.

If you support these tactics, then you are a fundamentally immoral person.

Let me be very blunt here. The United States government, working through the CIA (a now completely rogue agency who has lied to the White House and Congress), engaged in massive amounts of torture and then tried to cover it up. This torture was approved of by Dick Cheney at least, and probably by then-President Bush. This torture was a clear violation of United States law and international law.

The Department of Justice needs to, at this point, assign some special prosecutors. Even if (especially if), the current President, the CIA and Congress don’t want that to happen, it still should. Even if the American public doesn’t want it to happen, it still should. Bush, Cheney, and everyone involved needs to be brought to justice and, yes, if found guilty, even go to prison for what was done.

These people destroyed about 225 years of goodwill that we’d built up with the world. People could say we were arrogant and obnoxious, and they’d be right. They could say we were bullies, and they’d be right about that, too. They could say we’d be hypocrites, who toppled democracies we didn’t like in order to install dicatorships that we did like. They could say all of those things, and be absolutely, 100% correct.

But until Bush/Cheney and the CIA came along, they couldn’t say we tortured people. Now they can.

So what are we going to do about it?

The American Empire


Still not an empire, since we don’t have an emperor, but our country is bigger than you might expect, and I imagine, bigger than the Founders would have liked.

Happy Fourth!

Why Columbus Deserves the Credit He Gets


So this is something I probably should hold off on writing until mid-October or so, but I saw an article today on Cracked.com. It’s an interesting read, but it feels the need to smugly report something that, as far as I know, students have been taught in school for years: Columbus was not the first European to arrive in the Americas.

This is very true. We know, for a fact, that the Vikings were in Canada in about the year 1000, and there’s legends of other people, like St. Brendan the Navigator, arriving before that. We also know that the Basques fished off the Grand Banks, and that possibly, but not likely, Zheng He made it to the New World a few years before Columbus. I’m very sure that others who we don’t know about probably made it to various points in the Americas at various times, and this isn’t even addressing the fact that thousands of years people frickin’ walked there from Asia.

But here’s why Columbus still deserves credit for the first “proper” discovery of America: those other ones, with the exception of the walkabout from Asia, didn’t “take”. When Columbus reached the New World, he didn’t find Viking settlements up and down the continent. He didn’t see bands of Irish inspired monks traipsing about. No one was speaking Basque or Chinese. None of those previous discoveries mattered because, essentially, no one outside of the people directly involved actually cared. It wasn’t until Columbus came along that people back in Europe began to give a damn.

Why didn’t they? Who knows. Perhaps everyone was just preoccupied with other things, like fighting the Muslims or dealing with the collapse of the Roman Empire. But the fact remains that, even though others got there first, Columbus’ journey to the New World was the first one that actually mattered. All the rest are nice and all, but no one at the time really cared and few people now do.

None of this excuses the fact that Columbus did a lot of really horrible things while he was in the Americas, and none of this justifies our giving him a major holiday, but he still deserves credit for being the first European to make it to the Americas and have it matter. For better or worse, he at least did that, and we should remember it.