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Huckabee on Life of Brian

[ 67 ] May 10, 2015 |

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In 1979, Mike Huckabee gave a sermon that included a discussion of Life of Brian.

There was a time in this country when a movie like The Life of Brian which, I just read — thank God the theaters in Little Rock decided not to show, but it’s showing all over the Fort Worth–Dallas area, which is a mockery, which is a blasphemy against the very name of Jesus Christ, and I can remember a day even as young as I am when that would not have happened in this country or in the city in the South.

I wonder if there’s anything else the 1979 version of Mike Huckabee can nostalgically remember not happening in the South of his youth?

But friend, it’s happening all over and no one’s blinking an eye, and we can talk about how the devil’s moved in and the devil’s moved in but what’s really happened is God’s people have moved out and made room for it. We’ve put up the for sale sign and we’ve announced a very cheap price for what our lives really are. We’ve sold our character, we’ve sold our convictions, we’ve compromised, we’ve sold out and as a result we’ve moved out the devil’s moved in and he’s set up shop. And friend [he’s] preying on our own craving for pleasure.

I for one crave catchy songs while being nailed to the cross.

McDonald’s

[ 234 ] May 9, 2015 |

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Willard Scott as Ronald McDonald

McDonald’s constant gimmicks to reinvent itself are ridiculous and hilarious. Yes, I’m sure breakfast bowls with kale are totally going to revolutionize the chain, bringing it back to the glories of decades past! And I know, what if we reinvent the Hamburglar! This is a brilliant idea because I just learned about Poochie and thought it was a model for how I could totally leverage remaking one of our characters for a corporate synergy!

Now, I admit I am not a corporate hack with a talent for meaningless mumbo-jumbo so what do I know. But if McDonald’s wants to reinvent itself, why not, oh I don’t know, produce a burger that’s not disgusting? I mean, call me crazy. But if you are getting killed by Five Guys, Chipotle, and many other upstarts, maybe you should realize what Five Guys does better than you, which is to produce a burger that is not disgusting. Keep the fries–they’re great! And then combine them with a burger that is not grey and with toppings that have even modicum of character.

Is this that hard to figure out? With all of McDonald’s other advantages either gone or mitigated by changing times–a lack of competition from higher end fast food changes, the decline of the car culture that fueled its early years combined with every other chain having driving through windows, that it is no longer a destination for children, etc–doesn’t it have to compete with its actual product? I suppose it could pull a rabbit from the hat like it did with chicken nuggets in the 80s or like Taco Bell with its Doritos tacos, but one can hardly count on that. And said miracle product is surely not going to be a kale breakfast bowl. Given the incredibly low standards of the product at McDonald’s (again, outside of the fries), it’s not surprising it is becoming the K-Mart of the food industry.

Japanese Whitewashing of the Past

[ 72 ] May 9, 2015 |

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187 of the world’s most prominent historians of Japan have written an open letter to Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, urging that he stop whitewashing the atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II. You can read the letter here. Of course, Japanese right-wingers refuse to allow this to happen, denying horrors ranging from the sexual slavery of comfort women to the depredations at Nanking. Abe has been pretty awful on these issues:

Earlier this year Japan took the unusual step of requesting the US textbook company McGraw-Hill to change its account of Japan’s wartime practice of rounding up women in occupied nations and providing them as sex partners for its soldiers. Abe himself has been part of an effort to suggest the women behaved in a voluntary manner in nations like Korea, and that local Koreans organized the military brothels, not Japan.

The 187 historians took exception with that revision:

“The ‘comfort women’ system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan,” their letter said.

Incidentally, I just watched this documentary on Nanking earlier this week and I highly recommend it, disturbing as it is.

Livestock and Riparian Ecosystems

[ 7 ] May 9, 2015 |

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Nothing motivates the LGM readership like the relationship between agriculture and riparian ecosystems so let’s start this Saturday morning with me recommending you read this report from the Chesapeake Bay Commission on the need to keep livestock out of waterways. Basically, most livestock are allowed to enter riparian ecosystems where they cause shocking damage. But it’s really not that hard to restore riparian ecosystems to reasonable health if the cattle are left out. You create cleaner water, greater biodiversity, and arguably more profitable farming. But it often doesn’t happen for complex reasons the report lays out for the reader quite effectively that revolve around distrust of government, tradition, and regulatory complexity. Given how an organization like the CBC needs to carefully tread very conservative institutions, it’s a pretty good report with a lot of useful suggestions that environmentalists should prioritize.

I will however say that whoever chose the color scheme in that report needs retraining as that pink screen is truly blinding.

Judicial Genuflection before Capitalists: New Gilded Age Style

[ 52 ] May 8, 2015 |

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One sign of the New Gilded Age is how the courts back up obnoxious aggressive corporate behavior against citizen activism. In the first Gilded Age, this would happen in all sorts of ways, perhaps most prominently in completely disregarding the Sherman Anti-Trust Act when it could be applied to corporations but creating reasons to apply it against unions in order to bust their strikers. While on the federal level the upsurge in Obama-appointed judges after the judicial filibuster was broken is providing some buffer against this, in Republican states, the courts are issuing increasingly ridiculous decisions.

Take this example from, you guessed it, Texas. A fracking operation opened near a house. The residents of that house could then set their tap water on fire. They filmed it and complained. The company responded by filing a defamation suit. Even though this is absurd, there’s no way a regular family can fight this because they don’t have the money. The Texas Supreme Court said the defamation suit can go forward. The family now basically has no choice but take whatever the company offers to settle their complaints without actually solving any of the problems.

Mission Accomplished

[ 56 ] May 8, 2015 |

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Jeb is really starting his campaign on a high point.

The Washington Post reported that Jeb cited his brother as an adviser on Israel, however, four sources confirmed to CNN that the comments were focused on foreign policy more broadly. Three of them said Jeb noted his brother was an adviser on the Middle East.

One of the people in the room jotted down Jeb’s comment as such: “What you need to know is that who I listen to when I need advice on the Middle East is George W. Bush.”

OK.

Warm Enough For You?

[ 36 ] May 8, 2015 |

CLIMATE CHANGE

The planet keeps getting toastier and toastier. In March, the atmosphere passed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide for the entire month. This is the first time this has happened. Note that Bill McKibben’s movement, building off scientific recommendations, suggests carbon dioxide levels must be no higher than 350 ppm in order for the world to remain ecologically stable. So you can forget about that.

Luckily, Republicans are stepping up with forward thinking policy solutions.

Last week, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, headed by Texas Republican Lamar Smith, approved a bill that would slash at least three hundred million dollars from NASA’s earth-science budget. “Earth science, of course, includes climate science,” Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat who is also on the committee, noted. (Smith said that the White House’s NASA budget request favored the earth sciences “at the expense of the other science divisions and human and robotic space exploration.”) Johnson tried to get the cuts eliminated from the bill, but her proposed amendment was rejected. Defunding NASA’s earth-science program takes willed ignorance one giant leap further. It means that not only will climate studies be ignored; some potentially useful data won’t even be collected.

The vote brought howls of protest from NASA itself and from wider earth-science circles. The agency’s administrator, Charles Bolden, issued a statement saying that the bill “guts our Earth science program and threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate.” In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Marshall Shepherd, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Georgia and the former president of the American Meteorological Association, said that he could not sleep after hearing about the vote. “None of us has a ‘vacation planet’ we can go to for the weekend, so I argue that NASA’s mission to study planet Earth should be a ‘no-brainer,’ ” he wrote.

The vote on the NASA bill came just a week after the same House committee approved major funding cuts to the National Science Foundation’s geosciences program, as well as cuts to Department of Energy programs that support research into new energy sources. As Michael Hiltzik, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, noted, the committee is “living down to our worst expectations.”

We all know that science is anti-American anyway anytime its findings disagree with current Republican talking points. So you can see why House Republicans would seek to defund NASA.

The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body (TM) is obviously a lot more responsible:

As carbon dioxide levels surpassed 400 parts per million globally, Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma headed to the Senate floor on Wednesday to explain the benefits of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Counter to the doomsday predictions of climate alarmists, increasing observations suggest a much reduced and practically harmless climate response to increased amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide,” he remarked. “Also missing from the climate alarmists’ doomsday scenarios and well-scripted talking points are the benefits from increased carbon that has led to a greening of the planet and contributed to increased agricultural productivity.”

Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, wondered why people didn’t understand that carbon pollution was good for the Earth.

“People do not realize that you cannot grow things without CO2,” he said. “CO2 is a fertilizer. It is something you cannot do without. No one ever talks about the benefits that people are inducing that as a fertilizer on a daily basis.”

Inhofe, realizing that he can’t survive without oxygen, followed this speech by pledging to replace the other elements in his body with pure oxygen.

Siting Prisons on Coal Ash Dumps

[ 12 ] May 8, 2015 |

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I know it’s the national pastime to degrade prisoners. But siting prisons on top of a coal ash dump, as Pennsylvania did in 2000, really should be a violation of the Eighth Amendment since giving them horrible illnesses just because the state’s contracting process was so shoddy as to allow this is indeed cruel and unusual punishment.

Soon after arriving at SCI Fayette, Foskey began to notice that “trucks were dumping this black stuff on top of the mountain.” At the time he didn’t know what it was, but he wasn’t the only one who noticed. Eric Garland, a guard at the prison, was familiar with the dangers of coal ash; his father has worked at a coal-fired power plant for 30 years. In 2010, he contacted the Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) with worries about the dump after he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Concerns about the environmental and health effects of coal ash have been widespread in Pennsylvania for years. The state produces more than 15.4 million tons of the stuff a year, the most in the nation. Coal ash typically contains arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, and selenium—toxins that if ingested can cause cancer, heart damage, lung disease, respiratory problems, and a host of other ailments. Drinking water from a well near an unlined coal-slurry pond, like the one the coal-ash dump in La Belle was built on top of, increases your chance of getting cancer to one in 50.

After the CCJ heard from Garland, they forwarded his complaint to the ALC, a public-interest law firm in Pittsburgh that works on cases involving human rights abuses in prisons. In August 2013, the ALC began interviewing prisoners about their health issues and environmental concerns. In all, 75 inmates agreed to participate, but only 14 would be quoted by name, fearing retaliation from the prison. In “No Escape,” a report released on September 2, 2014, the ALC outlined the health issues people were experiencing in the prison, including skin conditions, throat and respiratory illnesses, thyroid issues, and tumors. Out of the 75 people surveyed, 61 reported experiencing breathing and sinus conditions, 51 had experienced gastrointestinal issues, 39 had experienced skin issues, and nine had been diagnosed with a thyroid disease or had a previously diagnosed thyroid issue that worsened after incarceration at SCI Fayette. The report also noted an alarming rate of cancer—11 of the 17 prisoners who died at SCI Fayette between 2010 and 2013 passed away from the disease.

Perhaps most concerning in the report were the inmate accounts of lack of medical attention and, in some cases, accusations of medical neglect. Darin Hauman, an inmate at SCI Fayette since 2010 who works in the prison infirmary, outlined how medical staff deprived a sick man (who later died of brain cancer) of drinking water. He told the ALC, “In his last few weeks of life certain nursing staff deliberately induced dehydration by simply refusing to assist him in drinking water. No hydration by way of intravenously either. With healthy humans it takes a short time being dehydrated for organs to begin shutting down. Regarding Greg, I would have to sneak into his ward area, I would have to dip my finger into water to moisten his lips as they were ‘glued’ shut, then would have to drip a few drops of water onto his tongue just so he could use a straw to get a few sips of water. Of all things I was yelled at numerous times for doing this. This pisses me off each time I think of this. To deny a man a drink of water speaks volumes as to the ideology of this particular nursing staff.”

Let’s face it, from the moment people, who are predominantly people of color as in this prison, enter the criminal justice system, they are treated as subhuman, whether by cops, prison guards, prison doctors, whoever. It’s a national shame. Or it would be if this nation was capable of shame. As the article states at the end, this is a case when environmental justice and prison reform are two movements that should be deeply intertwined.

Travels with Erik

[ 39 ] May 7, 2015 |

I might as well start a travel series here. I am on the road a lot. And I see a lot of weird things. And sometimes I visit weird things intentionally. I am presently in a small Pennsylvania town who’s identity will remain anonymous, largely because why should my wife, who works here, be subjected to the kind of problems I bring on myself through the internet?

Anyway, today Thaddeus Stevens wept from the grave.

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The best part is that the Confederate flag sticker has black type through it, reading “Yankee Lake Truck Night.”

OSHA and Transgender Workers

[ 4 ] May 7, 2015 |

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I’m very glad to see OSHA move to protect transgender workers on the job.

Water Pricing

[ 78 ] May 7, 2015 |

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In addition to a disastrous downtown, Fresno also struggles with a strikingly unfair water pricing system, charging all users the same price per unit rather than charging high water users vastly more per unit than users who use less as they do in Santa Fe. Charging high water users more per unit is the water price equivalent of progressive taxation and makes all the sense in the world. Government should have a duty to ensure reasonably priced or free water for basic uses like showers, laundry, etc. Watering your lawn on the other hand is a luxury that you should have to pay out the nose for if you want it.

Best Leftist Films

[ 219 ] May 6, 2015 |

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I just watched Mario Monicelli’s The Organizer and was blown away by it. One of my favorite leftist films. Then I wondered what the best leftist films are. I brought this up on Twitter today and thought it would be a good conversation here.

What are the best leftist movies? These come in 2 basic forms I think, which are films that display left activism and films that analyze left activism from a perspective that is basically sympathetic. Obviously people are going to define what makes a leftist film differently, which we can argue about.

Anyway, here are 20 I like a lot, more or less in order.

1. The Battle of Algiers
2. The Organizer
3. Modern Times
4. The Battleship Potemkin
5. The Grapes of Wrath
6. A Generation
7. Z
8. Man of Marble
9. I Am Cuba
10. Matewan
11. Punishment Park
12. The Baader Meinhof Complex
13. The End of St. Petersburg
14. Que Viva Mexico
15. Grin Without a Cat
16. The Times of Harvey Milk
17. The Decline of the American Empire
18. The China Syndrome
19. Norma Rae
20. The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks

Interestingly, when I think of the greatest leftist directors, Ken Loach is one of the first to come up. But his most overtly political films are often his worst (that terrible SEIU Justice for Janitors film with Adrien Brody) while his relatively apolitical portrayals of the English working class are his most powerful (Sweet Sixteen, Throwing Stones, etc).

What am I leaving out?

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