February 24, 2006

Get with the times, Gov. Smith

I have the utmost admiration for Illinois Governor's Rod Blagojevich and his stance on emergency contraception, but even I have to admit that at this point, if you're a major elected official it should be your duty to actually know what The Daily Show is.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 10:54 AM

Calling them on it

To some extent, I understand and agree with the intent of Oliver and Atrios' Modest Proposal about abortion. But I think the problem is that it dwells into the realm of rhetoric and avoids the reality of these blatantly unconstitutional laws like the one just passed in South Dakota (which, for the record, I am confident will be overturned by a Federal judge almost immediately. For all the scaremongering, the Supreme Court won't touch a bill like this with a ten-foot pole. The PBA bill, however, is a different matter.)

Anti-choice politicians and pundits don't actually care about the practical existence of abortion: that's left to the fanatics and religious fringe people who scream about baby-murdering and will go as far as the occasional lunatic like Tom Coburn and never advance any further. On the political level, the mainstream anti-choicers care about abortion the way they care about almost every other piece of social welfare legislation: convicing themselves it shouldn't be their responsibility. Just like drug rehab, welfare, youth programs, and health care in general, anti-choice politicians- who are mainly people that will never have to deal with pregnancy- (or for that matter poverty) want to elminate the idea that something they have no need for is supported by their government and society.

The obnoxious reality of these moves to ban abortion is that abortion will never go away. When it comes down to it, this isn't about making abortion existent, or even "wrong." It's about making it more expensive, and more difficult to access for anyone other than the upper-class and the elite.

If abortion was outlawed on Monday and Jenna Bush discovered she was knocked up on Tuesday, on Wednesday she'd be on a first-class flight to "visit family friends" in Canada, and not a single member of the Bush clan would even consider that they're hypocrites. And that's how a lot of voters think in this country, be it for abortion, gays, health care, drug use, and so on. (Could you imagine what would happen if the War on Drugs suddenly switched to thousands of middle-class white kids getting busted in their dorm rooms? Pot would be legalized by the end of the week.)

Unlike laws banning drug use, crime, etc., the idea of outlawing abortion as a "deterrent" factor is nonsensical. It's like saying that outlawing toothpaste will mean you don't need to brush your teeth to prevent cavities anymore. The fact remains that, in this current culture, a large number of women and girls in America will get pregnant every year who, for any number of reasons, will want or need to exercise their right to have an abortion. Until the culture is changed, that will always be the case. And trying to "force" a culture on people through religious reasoning or banning medical procedures is a proven failure. Moralizing and saying "it's bad" doesn't change it that culture: proper sex education does. Better economic conditions does. So why aren't those bills rocketing through the South Dakota legislature?

Oliver's question taps into a very important problem with the anti-choice political mindset: they want abortion to go away, but they don't actually care if abortion goes away or not. Jailing doctors, banning procedures- it won't actually do anything to change the number of people who actually want to have an abortion. Politicians need to be called on their "if I can't see it it doesn't exist" legislation even more than they need to be called on their posturing to the base.

So the question can't just be "do you support jailing doctors." The question needs to be "do you think jailing doctors will reduce the number of people who want to have abortions in this country?" And since we already have the answer, the next question needs to be "for all your posturing on being against abortion, why haven't you proposed a damn thing in your entire political career that actually reduces the need for the procedure in this country?"

Posted by August J. Pollak at 9:45 AM

February 23, 2006

Moral equivalence for the completely bored

Kevin Drum:

On a related note, it makes me feel almost nostalgic to watch the toxic stew of cherry picking, half truths, and outright misrepresentations currently being used to demonize the UAE as a virtual arm of al-Qaeda. You know what it reminds me of? The way Bush & Co. tried to sell Saddam Hussein as Osama's best buddy in the Middle East. It's poetic watching the Bushies squirm when they're on the receiving end of this stuff.
Is Drum serious here? Bush decided on the day of the 9/11 attacks that it was time to invade Iraq. He told his aides to find a connection between Saddam and bin Laden. When they didn't, he lied, including during a nationally televised speech to the nation.

On the other hand, facts revealed way back during the same time are being offered as reminders again, and the response is that this is Bush's tactics of deliberate lying "being used against him?"

That's not just bullshit, it's lazy bullshit. The connections between the UAE and bin Laden and the Taliban are, at a minimum, worthy of demanding a full and open investigation into the background for this deal, not a backroom negotiation with the standard process waived.

Liberals aren't "fearmongering." We're actually afraid.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 11:32 PM

Republicans love black Arab people

David Brooks reaches the apex of line-toeing sniveling this morning and conforms full-brunt to the official GOP talking point about the UAE port deal: if you're opposed to it, you're racist. As the post title notes, we've all heard this before.

But Brooks has decided that half the right-wing punditry in America simply doesn't exist. He doesn't have a column about FreeRepublic or Little Green Footballs, who perpetuate hate speech against Arabs and Muslims on a daily basis. Nothing on Michelle Malkin, who has, since infinity give or take a forever, suggested the complete racial profiling of all Arabs and defended their internment in prison camps. He's apparently never heard of Ann Coulter, who two weeks ago called Arabs "ragheads" at a major conservative-convention (the same convention, mind you, that used to sell stickers that said "Islam" with a swastika for the S).

Tom Tomorrow already handled pointing out the obvious for the slow folks in the crowd. This isn't about not wanting Arabs to run U.S. ports. It's about not wanting companies owned by governments who actively assisted the bin Laden family, refuse to recognize Israel, and possibly helped fund or assist in the 9/11 attacks running our ports. That conservatives will pretend to be so stupid as to act like that's not a huge difference is astounding, even for their usual rhetorical fare.

But as Tom also pointed out, it's a situation that sucks for liberals and other sensible people, because it was obvious this was the card the right-wingers were going to pull. It sucks, beyond belief, that we now have to be grouped into the same category as people like Malkin who actually are opposing the port deal out of sheer racist tendencies. But contrary to folks like Kevin Drum, I tend to think protecting a few hundred thousand people by improving port security, not selling it off to terrorist sympathizers, is a "really good reason" for having to deal with a handful of life-long racists accusing me of not liking Arabs.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 7:42 AM

February 22, 2006

Where's my royalty check

Stupid stupid stupid stupid!

The far-right British National Party (BNP) said on Wednesday it would distribute leaflets showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad, a move Muslim groups said would provoke protests and was "playing with fire."

A spokesman for the tiny fringe party, which has no seats in parliament but a handful on local councils, said its use of the image was not intended to cause offence, but illustrated how Islam and Western values did not mix.

The party says it is not racist, but its leader Nick Griffin and another activist are due in court on race-hate charges in October.


Posted by August J. Pollak at 5:40 PM



Think about this: we are so afraid of terrorists, that we have to kidnap people and jail them in secret prisons, keep innocent people in Gitmo, listen to people's calls without wiretaps, and buy bulletproof vests for dogs.

Yet, when the UAE, a country which defines the word shady, wants to run US ports, we're bigots for opposing this? I have no problem with Arabs. I have a problem with people who enable terrorists. Why doesn't President Bush.

The same people who were attacking Gore for giving a speech in Saudi Arabia are now saying liberals are stupid for noting that a terrorist-sponsoring country is now taking over shipping ports.

Oliver was right. It's a cult. A dangerous, mad cult that is going to get us all killed.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 8:07 AM

February 21, 2006

Check your ego at the door while you're at it

Kos approvingly linked to one of these "yeah, I'm awesome for fighting the MAN!" stories about a guy who was fed up with being forced to show his receipt to the door guy at Best Buy... and challenged an empire:

After being convinced that I'm not going to budge from my decision and trekking off to what must've been the end of the earth to retrieve my box, I'm told that these items must be checked out at the counter I'm standing in front of. Before he will even take my credit card, though, I have to fill out my name, address, etc on three different forms which then get laboriously typed into the register. By the time we're through the repeated sales pitch on the extended warranty and the inspection of the contents of my purchases, I'm in what might be considered a hurry to leave.

So when I'm faced with the prospect of standing in a long line at the exit to have yet another person rifle through my property, I dodge the line and head for an unused automatic door, countering an insistent "Sir, can I see your receipt?" with a polite "No, thank you."

I've gotten so used to this trick at Fry's Electronics that I don't really think twice about it. You see, Fry's doesn't trust their underpaid staff manning the cash registers to actually do their jobs right, so they post a door guard to ask people walking away from the registers carrying plastic bags to let them verify that all of the items in the bag were rung up on the receipt.

But this verification step is purely voluntary. Merchants basically have two rights covering people entering and exiting their stores. They can refuse to let you enter the premises and/or to sell you anything, and they can place you under citizens arrest for attempting to leave the premises with any property that you haven't paid for. But the second you hand over the appropriate amount of cash, they lose all rights to the items. They can't legally impair you from leaving the store with your property.

Apparently the employees of my local Best Buy aren't very familiar with annoying pedantic individuals who will choose principals over convenience when walking out with a shopping cart full of expensive home entertainment gear. I manage to get about 5 steps out the door before the door guard catches up to me and grabs my cart, with the "sir" in his "I need to see your receipt, sir" somehow not very complimentary. This is apparently a stalling tactic, as shortly a few more blue-shirted employees make a move to block me from making any more progress toward my car.

I ask, still calm, if I am being detained for shoplifting. This suggestion apparently shocks my captor into regaining some of his senses, and he lets go of my cart. I explain that unless he wishes to do so, he has no right to stop me.

It goes on to detail how the Best Buy guys had to go as far as blocking the guy's car with a security truck because he just darn felt too busy to let the employees do their job.

Lots of people read stuff like this and are amused, because it taps into their own personal experiences of retail frustration: "hey, I was stuck in line at a Home Depot once! It was just like that, only with lumber! And what is up with airline food?" I, on the other hand, read these stories and almost every single time am met with this reaction: Christ, what a douchebag.

Read the whole thing so you can get a grasp of the full sequence of events here. It's important you understand the premise of this story: because this guy hated having to wait in line (can you believe it? A line at a major retail outlet four days before Christmas!) to have his receipt checked, and because he was so damned busy (as opposed to everyone else at the Best Buy, all its employees, the rest of the universe, etc.) he decides that the door guard- who is there, mind you, for pretty much the sole purpose of checking his receipt- shouldn't have to. This leads to what is at least a five-to-ten-minute incident that requires four employees and a vehicle being diverted to deal with this one guy who, again, was just too damn busy to show a guy his receipt.

Christ, what a douchebag.

Look, I can't stand shitty service at a store either. But the only thing I can stand less are people who suddenly make their dissatisfaction with shitty service a cornerstone of their lives. This guy didn't just vent about his experience at Best Buy- an experience that is completely and totally his fault- he has an entire site about it, with updates and reader mail.

The thing that's most grating about stories like this are the lack of any interest in any other person at the store. Everyone else was slowed down because cashiers had to pause to find out what was going on. Security guards had to stop what they were doing because they thought a potential shoplifter was running off. Everyone else on the security line had to wait because the receipt checker was busy with The Most Important Man in the Universe. Christ, what a douchebag.

Ultimately, Best Buy responds to him complaining to them- oh yeah, I forgot to mention that; he wrote Best Buy complaining about this- Christ, what a douchebag- and they gave the response a blind 98-year-old who ate paint chips his whole life could have told you: that Best Buy is sorry he's pissed but they sort of have an incentive to, you know, make sure people aren't robbing them and stuff like that. Our hero continues by posting other letters from irate customers, including ones who called the door guards "nazis" and questioning if there's grounds for a class-action lawsuit.

And this whole site there's barely a mention, save from outside e-mails, about the need for a store to have a security policy. There's no suggestion offered for an alternative means to making sure people don't shoplift. There's no suggestion that maybe, just maybe, 99.999% of the people on this earth who went to Best Buy and didn't have a problem letting a guy see their receipt might actually have a point. And, of course, there's no explanation as to why you don't just order your goddamn stuff by mail if you can't handle dealing with other human beings who are doing absolutely nothing but their damned job.

Christ, what a douchebag.

Update: in what I will definitely call a surprising first, apparently longtime reader Shawn Struck got into an argument with Cory Doctorow over my post. I love BoingBoing and have the utmost respect for Doctorow, but the analogies and what-ifs became so silly by the end of that conversation I could barely believe the extent to which some people would go to defend some kind of non-existent libertarian absolutism. Fine, you got me. Checking a receipt at the door is exactly the same as putting a camera in a dressing room. (rolls eyes)

Posted by August J. Pollak at 9:31 AM

February 20, 2006

Latest comic - "Major sporting event extravaganza!"

This one is largely inspired by a combination of two recent events in sports, neither of which are the actual sporting events themselves. The first of course is the Super Bowl, which this year had some form of nearly unanimous "favorite" based on one of the teams being in a city associated with blue-collar steelworkers as opposed to the team from the city represented by people who drink lots of coffee and wear flannel. The concept of professional sports team "representing" anyone in the city they live in is just laughable to me. A few years ago an entire football team based in Cleveland snuck away in the night and showed up in Baltimore. I guess that was some kind of football Witness Protection Program or something. Last year, a baseball team so desperately needed to flee from their fans in Canada that they moved down here and changed their citizenship.

The second event currently related to this is of course the Olympics, which I suppose does better in the "person actually represents you" department. However all I'm hearing about the Americans this year are how they got disqualified or broke their groins, and how some other person tried to finish a race by posing for a Wheaties box and then lost. Yay us, I guess.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 12:50 AM