“Before we work on artificial intelligence why don’t we do something about natural stupidity?” ~ Steve Polyak

 

“There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion.” ~ Lord John Emerett Edward Dalberg Acton

The following story is reprinted verbatim from TPM Live Wire:

The Secret Service investigated an Alabama high school teacher for using the example of shooting President Obama while teaching a geometry lesson.

The Secret Service spoke with the man, a teacher at Corner High School in Jefferson County, but decided not to arrest him.

“We did not find a credible threat,” Roy Sex­ton, of Birmingham’s Secret Service office, told the Birmingham News. “As far as the Secret Service is concerned, we looked into it, we talked to the gentleman and we have closed our investigation.”

A student in the class described the lesson: “He was talking about angles and said, ‘If you’re in this building, you would need to take this angle to shoot the president.'”

The district superintendent told the News that the unnamed teacher will not be disciplined.

“We are going to have a long conversation with him about what’s appropriate,” he said. “It was extremely poor judgment on his part, and a poor choice of words.”

The superintendent, Phil Hammonds, did not immediately return a request for comment.

So many things wrong with this picture. Where do I begin . . .

  1. A “long conversation with him about what’s appropriate.” Is this also known as a stern talking to? If so, than I’m greatly relieved because everyone knows that a stern talking to in the South is just one step away from a lickin’ with a switch. And after all, it’s not like he was talking about killing the president or anything . . . No wait. He was. Dang.
  2. Imagine if this same scenario had taken place three years ago. Now imagine that the teacher is black. Do you still think that the teacher would have only been chastised verbally? Would the Secret Service have so blithely dismissed the situation as non-threatening?
  3. All Alabama jokes aside, research shows that Alabama ranks 35 in state rankings for education. According to a report by the NEA, Alabama is 36th for average teacher salaries in 08-09, and the state come in at 25th for the number of public high school graduates for 08-09. Since 1990, Alabama has climbed from 40th to 70th in the percentage of students who achieve at the basic level in math; However, minority teachers compose only 25 percent of the teacher pool for the state.
  4. Interestingly enough, Corner High School in Jefferson County ranks 184 out of the 369 high schools in Alabama. Corner’s student population is 99.6 percent white, and .1 percent black. So let’s not pretend that racial bias does not play into this situation.
  5. Some of the people from Jefferson County, Alabama think that too much is being made of this incident, as in it was an innocent mistake, live and let live. I don’t think so. This teacher was discussing assassination outside of the context of an historical event. I think that’s a pretty big deal.
  6. For those of you who contend that this is a local incident and not anyone else’s business, I beg to differ. The well-being of the POTUS is everyone’s business. Remember? People, please.

Here’s what I think: The next time a teacher of this ilk decides to try to make his or her lessons more real-world applicable, how about determining the angle of the shadow cast by the flagpole at 2 p.m. Nothing violent about that. No hidden messages. Nothing incendiary.

If you do click on the TPM link, take a few moments to peruse the comments. Priceless and hugely entertaining.

More later. Peace.

Music by Nada Surf, “Where is My Mind?”

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“It’s possible to fight intolerance, stupidity and fanaticism when they come separately. When you get all three together it’s probably wiser to get out, if only to preserve your sanity.” ~ P. D. James

Infamous Image of Secret Service Agent Climbing President Kennedy’s Limousine

“Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” ~ Haile Selassie

Warning: Free-thinking female liberal on a rant . . .

While perusing Andrew Sullivan’s “Daily Dish,” one of my political blogs, I came across a reference to an article by Mark Warren of Esquire. I clicked on the link to the article, which deals with the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and certain parallels to today’s society.

President Kennedy's Dallas Motorcade

The article, entitled “On the Anniversary of Kennedy’s Death, Extremism Lives On,” is a wonderful commentary on “the toxic atmosphere that holds in our current politics” with cries of socialism and communism at very turn. Warren then explains how he came across the following letter while doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas. Initially, I was going to include only selected parts of the letter, but after rereading it, I realized that the entire letter deserves to be read, so here it is.

The Letter:

Tyler, Texas
November 24, 1963
President Lyndon B Johnson
The White House
Washington D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

In this time of mourning and appreciating how very busy you are, I still must write about existing conditions here in East Texas, even if you are too busy to read this, because I feel it is my duty to do so. I wanted to write President Kennedy’s staff and try to get them to persuade him not to go to Dallas but unfortunately didn’t do it for fear of being that crank or busy–body. This time I will risk that appellation. I am frightened at conditions that prevail in East Texas.

Flier Created by John Birch Society

Mr. President, the easy thing and what is desperately trying to be done [is] to convince a stunned nation and world that Mr. Kennedy’s murder was the work of some deranged crackpot, and while the trigger was pulled by such a one, perhaps the atmosphere that made it inevitable was the hatred of the people (I don’t mean every one of them but a big majority) who wanted Mr. Kennedy and any one connected with him out of the White House. A week ago this might have sounded ridiculous but subsequent events lend it credence, I believe. There is a virus of disrespect and hate spreading here very rapidly. And unless one lives right here with it, day in and day out, it is unbelievable how quickly and subtly it infects reasonably intelligent persons. This is not too hard to understand only if one recognizes the unremitting, deep, bitter religious and racial prejudice existing today in this section of our land — I don’t know if any of them are similarly infected in other sections, but I know personally of what I speak as regards East Texas. In fact, although nearly every one indignantly denies having any racial or religious prejudice to the point where he deceives even himself in this matter, after listening seriously to protestations of horror and shock one can almost hear a collective sigh in essence, “Too bad he had to die but after all a Catholic is no longer in the White House and this ought to set the ‘niggers’ back on their heels for awhile!” It is painful to some of us I know to give credence to such a condition so we blind ourselves and blame a mentally confused person — forgetting in our desire to remove the blame from ourselves that where religious and racial prejudice prevails, not just the killer but all are mentally confused. When this prejudice is played upon adroitly and exploited actively (as in our locality) by such groups as The American Fact-Finding Committee and many more [of] that ilk, for instance the John Birchers, etc., it soon fans into a situation as exists here, many, many citizens ridden by a vicious hate which inevitably erupts and expresses itself in violence — as in the case of Mr. Kennedy’s murder in Dallas.

A strong evidence of this was the recent demonstration of violence against Ambassador Stevenson in Dallas, and even more clearly by an article carried in the Dallas News (a 100% anti-Kennedy sheet) stating that Mr. Bruce Alger [then-congressman from Dallas, and the only Republican in the Texas delegation] advised the citizens of Dallas there was absolutely no need to feel apologetic about this incident — everyone being free to express his opinion. He neglected to specify the degree of violence of such expression. And the citizens vote for Bruce Alger! So what can one expect? I just heard the flash about Oswald being shot and also the theory that is was caused by mass hysteria. That is here, all night, but I think rather there are certain groups and individuals who wish to insure Oswald’s complete and continuing silence because, knowing the ‘temper’ of Dallas, I can’t believe a known police character of Ruby’s caliber would risk his neck through any feeling of patriotism or love for Mr. Kennedy — can you?

I don’t know if anything can be done about the festering sore of prejudice and hatred on our social structure here, but I doubt if you can know its deadliness unless you are in constant, daily touch, and I thought it my duty to mention it, in that case, even though you may consider I am an alarmist and am exaggerating. I only wish I were.

Respectfully,

Charlotte Essman

Barack Obama at Richmond, VA Rally

“You have been asking what you could do in the great events that are now stirring, and have found that you could do nothing. But that is because your suffering has caused you to phrase the question in the wrong way . . . Instead of asking what you could do, you ought to have been asking what needs to be done.” ~ Steven Brust

What an incredible find, not just for Warren but also for those of us who carry with us a deep-seated anxiety over the current state of politics in the U.S., those of us who wonder openly if President Obama has enough security, wonder if the Secret Service is doing enough, if they are taking seriously the hate-fueled threats against the sitting POTUS.

To be perfectly candid, the anxiety over Obama’s safety is something that has plagued me since the campaign. After attending on of candidate Obama’s rallies, and seeing how open he made himself, I was immediately reminded of another president who wanted to make himself open to the American people: John Kennedy.

“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” ~ John F. Kennedy 

The other parallels between these two men have been discussed in just about every forum, but they bear noting: both men were accused of being communists because of their liberal politics. Both men were accused of dragging the country into socialism because of their desire to implement social change in a country that still treats part of its population as less than equal. Both men were questioned because of their ideologies, their backgrounds, their religious affiliations (or in the case of Obama, his supposed affiliations).

Fox Noise Phony Glenn Beck

And the most worrisome parallel between the two men rests not in the men themselves, but in the reactionaries who shout to the rafters about these two Presidents, separated by 46 years, generations, wars, and social change. In some of the more fanatical (and ignorant) quarters, President Obama’s plans for national healthcare are being compared to Nazi Germany. Take Rush Limbaugh: “Obama’s got a health care logo that’s right out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook . . . Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate.”  Or how about former New York lieutenant governor Betsy McCaughey with her death panel lie:  “Congress would make it mandatory—absolutely require—that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” And then there is Louie Grohmert, a Republican representative from Tyler Texas, who claims that the president’s healthcare bill will “absolutely kill senior citizens. They’ll put them on lists and force them to die early.”

What is truly amazing is that people really believe this idiocy. Death panels? Killing senior citizens? Nazi Germany? What are these people putting on their Wheaties?

Then there are the comments that defy categorizing: “This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, for the white culture . . . I’m not saying he hates white people (uh, you just did you moron). This guy has a problem. He has exposed himself as a racist,” this according to pompous ass Glenn Beck. Or how about John Boehner, the House minority leader, who declared that Obama’s stimulus package was, “one big down payment on a new American socialist experiment.”

“No government can help the destinies of people who insist in putting sectional and class consciousness ahead of general weal.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

President Franklin Roosevelt Signing Social Security Bill

Of course, President Obama is not the first president to be accused of being a socialist or a communist. Any president who goes in as a reformer, that is, someone who takes on the status quo to improve the lives of the majority, is usually labeled as such. Consider FDR: The American Liberty League called Roosevelt both a fascist and a  socialist (what?).  When JFK and Lyndon Johnson tried to pass Medicare—a system that has become a staple of American society—they were accused of trying to convert this country to socialism. The American Medical Association denounced proposed medicare, sending out a letter to its members,  “Doctor, now is the time for you and every other ethical physician in the United States to individually and voluntarily pledge nonparticipation in HR-6675, the socialized hospitalization and medical care program for the aged.”

In 1961, Ronald Regan made a ten-minute plea on an LP for the AMA, concluding by saying that if Medicare passed, “one of these days we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free.” Barry Goldwater, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole—all fought against Medicare because it would cause the U.S. to become a socialist nation.

Unless I am seriously mistaken, the U.S. did not become socialist after the New Deal, or after Social Security, or after Medicare, or even after Earned Income Credit (thank Ronald Reagan for that on), all of which were supposed to take us on that long dark road to socialism and the end of our country as we know it.

“What experience and history teach is this—that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles.” ~ George Wilhelm Hegel

But as usual, I digress. What first struck me when I began writing this post is how both JFK and Obama took office as reformers, and how both men really caused an upheaval in conservative parts of the nation with their supposed radical ideas for change. I won’t delve into a detailed analysis of how these two men differ or ar similar as that is not the point of this post.

Kennedy did not listen to his advisors and went to Dallas on November 22, 1963. Kennedy also made the fatal mistake of telling Secret Service agents that he did not want them to ride on the small running boards at the rear of his open convertible. We all know what happened on that fateful day. Even those of you who are not old enough to remember that day in November still know all about it. History also tells us that many in this country, politicians included, believed that Kennedy got what he deserved.

If ignorance is bliss, then this woman is one happy camper

What kind of climate fostered such animosity against the president 46 years ago? The same kind of climate in which we currently find our country: hate-filled speech, hyperbolic statements likening the POTUS with Adolf Hitler, calls to arms, bold statements by those in the public eye that perpetuate this climate of fear, hatred, racism, and paranoia.

But what we need to remember is what happened as a result of the pervasive unrest then could happen now. Those who are being churned into a collective frenzy in their hatred for the man who currently sits in the Oval Office include individuals who only need a push in the right direction to carry that hatred into an act of senseless violence.

It’s all well and good for me to include examples of extreme ignorance, such as the smiling woman with the stupid poster, because I know ignorance when I see it. I also know racism and hate when I see and hear them. But there are people out there who suck up this kind of thing like milk and honey. It nourishes and sustains the hatred that is already part of their make up, and it is precisely this segment of the population that scares the living crap out of me.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana’s quote is often repeated with variations, but the fact remains that Charlotte Essman’s letter could have been written yesterday.

More later. Peace.

Jann Arden and Jackson Browne singing “Unloved”

  

A Matter of Style: Obama Has It and Well . . . McCain Doesn’t

Three Days to Go and So Much to Be Done

John McCain’s Twilight Zone Redo

Okay. I’ll admit it. I do watch a few reality shows. I know that I have claimed to abhor most of them, and I do. But I love “Project Runway,” and I’ve started to watch Tim Gunn’s “Guide to Style,” mostly because I love all things Tim Gunn. I watch “What Not to Wear” occasionally, not as much as I used to, but Tim Gunn is more fun right now, I suppose because of the novelty, that and because of the outrageous idea that a woman can get along with 10 basic items in her closet. What a hoot!

The other wonderful thing about Tim Gunn’s show is that he surprises every woman by taking her to some designer’s workshop just to give her an inkling of how fabulous she would look in a designer gown. Now, if someone did that to me, and then didn’t give me one of those designer’s gowns, I’d be spitting fire. I mean, really, that’s cold. But of course, the women get the gowns, and go off to their special events looking fabulous. And here I sit, looking like a sausage, bemoaning my fate.

So I turn to Corey, and I say, “I’d love to call the show and tell them I need a makeover to bring my look up to date.” To which he replies, “Are you out of your mind? You can’t let Tim Gunn come in our house.” Which is true, so there goes that idea . . .

I only mention this whole idea of new styles and makeovers because I’ve decided with three days to go in the campaign that John McCain needs a redo, a complete start over from the beginning and try again. I’m serious. I mean, it couldn’t hurt. Could it?

Work with me here. Let’s go back . . . Doo do do do . . . doo do do do (eerie music from the “Twilight Zone”). Voice over: “Imagine if you will a man, so completely overwhelmed by circumstances, that he would like nothing better than the chance to start again. Now imagine, that man goes through a door and finds himself exactly where he wants to be: August 1, 2008. He has entered (dramatic pause and music) the Twilight Zone.”

Why August 1? Well let’s see, that gives him a chance to reconsider his vice presidential candidate and to vet that person thoroughly (what a concept). It gives him a chance to redo the Republican National Convention without starting late and to make it more of the spectacle that his party wanted. It gives him a chance not to pseudo-suspend his campaign and threaten to hold his breath over the first debate. It gives him a chance to do a take back, or actually, never happened on the incredible statement, “the economy is fundamentally sound.” It gives him a chance to uphold his basic sense of decency and never let his handlers push him into the murky waters of mudslinging and chargers of “socialism, terrorism,” and all of that other malarkey.

It gives him a chance not to embarrass himself by hanging his hat on some incredibly ill-conceived idea of Joe the Plumber as an American everyman. It gives him a chance to distance himself from George Bush much, much sooner in his campaign. And if he had played all of it better, then he probably wouldn’t be defending traditionally red states right now, and this would be a much tighter race.

Not that that’s what I want. But a part of me really does want the old John McCain back. The man who wasn’t going off half-cocked at every turn. The man who wasn’t wandering around on stage looking for Mr. Puddles. The man who wasn’t calling on a Joe the Plumber who wasn’t even there. Hey, I’m human. I really do feel for the guy, even though I have grown to hate what his campaign stands for. But I attribute that more than anything to two things: Sarah “Alexander Haig I’m In Charge” Palin, and some really bad handlers who have given him some really bad advice.

So if wishes were fishes, and I had a few extra to give away, I’d give one to John McCain, and let him have that one. Maybe. I mean, I’d let him have his dignity at least. After all, November 4th is only three days away, and Obama is moving into Arizona, and one of my favorite songs is by Jamie O’Neal: “There is No Arizona.” Let’s hope not for John McCain, anyway.

Speaking of Style

I was watching Rachel Maddow’s interview with Barack Obama the other night, and I loved her comment about his personal style. She was simply amazed by how calm the man was. She said that if he were any calmer, he would “be on ambien.” She also commented on how calm the people around him were, surprisingly so.

It’s a presidential campaign, people. Why aren’t you running around like the firestorm that it’s supposed to be? I remember comments about the Clinton campaign and the subsequent administration, how everyone was adrenaline-filled and running around like crazy all of the time. What a contrast. It’s kind of like jazz, how it can be hyperkinetic and then really smooth. Doesn’t surprise me at all that Obama isn’t hyper. If you’ve ever seen him come on stage, he kind of lopes, very casually, like he hasn’t got a care in the world, or another three stops to make. I’ll bet he makes his Secret Service contingent crazy.

News From the Phone Banks

Unlike Barack Obama and his handlers, things at campaign headquarters are, shall we say, a bit frenzied. I think the junk food may have something to do with it—lots of leftover Halloween candy, homemade cakes, carbs, and a few veggies for good measure. We’re down to making calls for volunteers to come in on the last few days for door-to-door canvassing and for phone bank work, and we’re getting more answering machines than answers. Most people have heard from us at least two times by now, and they’re getting a little touchy, as in the woman who said, without grace, shall we say, “I wish you people would just leave me alone. I’m old!” All right. Point taken.

Granted, I hate to be on the other end of a rolling poll machine. I know how relentless they can be, which is why I like to be on the calling end and not the receiving end. But for those of you who are receiving the calls, just remember, it’s almost over. And if you really want to get rid of us, join us!

And I have to say, these Obama people are pretty relentless, they even have sign-up boards for ninja stealth canvassing during the night before polls open. No, no one is going to be knocking on doors, but they will be putting door hangers on door knobs so that it’s the first thing you see when you open you door in the morning to get the newspaper, if you still read a hard copy, that is. And guess what? I gently urged (hah!) Corey to sign up for one since he’s up all night anyway. I’m not sure, but I think that he may have been shooting daggers at me with his eyes, or maybe it was just a look of love. Who can tell these days . . .

Out of my calls today, I did manage to persuade one guy to come in after his shift at work to make telephone calls tomorrow, and another to come in to drive people to the polls after he drops his daughters off at school on election day. Me? On election day, we’re signed up for more phone work, and who knows what else we’ll be doing. Brett will be working, too, since school is closed that day. I’ve promised him his manna from heaven when all of this is over: His own dozen of Krispy Kreme donuts, hot off the racks. Mom knows how to bribe.

I was speaking with the phone bank coordinator, one of the nicest people you could ever meet. Turns out we have more in common than a belief in the visionary guy. She, too, has fibromyalgia and her share of pain problems, but she’s still working and volunteering. I’m in awe, truly. I know that I couldn’t do what she’s doing, by half. A sincere, big shoutout to her (and I would do the windshield wiper wave, but I refuse to take my Palin impersonation that far).

Finally, a Word from the Mighty Cleese

The word is berk, b-e-r-k. It’s a wonderful British word that means in general, fool. But its derivation comes from the Berkeley Hunt. In Cockney rhyming slang, hunt rhymes with c*nt, so berk takes on a much more derogatory meaning. Cockney, for those who might not be familiar with the term, is generally used to refer to slang from the East End of London, and rhyming slang is far more complicated, involving the dropping of a word with another word or phrase that rhymes with it.

Long story short, John Cleese appeared on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” last night and read another one of his poems, this one an homage to that twit, Bill O’Reilly. Cleese used the word berk in his description of O’Reilly, and when Olbermann asked him what the word meant, Cleese actually brought up the Berkeley Hunt definition. Priceless.

It’s been a long time since I’ve actually heard the word berk used, except once in a while on Masterpiece Theatre on mysteries, and I read it frequently in my British mysteries, but I used to hear it when I was a child, and my mother and I would travel around London, especially in the markets. Even as young as I was, I knew what a berk was, but I was never allowed to use the word. It’s a wonderful word, and Cleese’s use of it makes me want to reintroduce it into my personal patois. Think of the fun I could have . . . Oh stop being such a berk . . . That man is a complete and total berk . . . and so on. It really is too tempting. You do know that I’m going to have to go there.

On that note, more later. Peace.