Friday, April 29, 2016

Bathroom Accident

These anti-trans bathroom bills prove conservatives cannot think things through.

Don't they realize the results would freak them out more? These are often the same bigots who want gays to act straight because they do not want to see anyone defying their norms. "Go back in the closet!" they shout. But such laws would force conservatives to acknowledge the existence of trans folk. They cannot say "go back in the closet" when they are using the same bathroom.

Of course, conservatives have been using the same bathrooms with trans people since trans people have existed - conservatives just didn't know it. But now it is with trans people of the opposite gender than before, so it will become totally obvious. They are blindly destroying their own blissful obliviousness.

What are they thinking? Conservatives either want to encourage anti-trans violence or acclimate men and women to sharing the same restrooms. And I don't think they will openly cop to wanting either outcome. Clearly, the goal is to shame trans people and give cops an excuse to arrest them if they try to avoid an awkward washroom confrontation or defy the law. But I guarantee you that some - if not most - trans people will obey the law, ironically turning compliance into defiance. Talk about transformative.

Then there are the logistics. Loathing both social engineers and city planners alike, it is predictable that conservatives did not think of that. Specifically, consider the issue of urinals: Trans women in the men's room cannot use them anymore, so this will increase demand for toilets. Urinals really exist to benefit building owners rather than guys going on the go because they save space. Toilet stalls take up more square footage. From a capitalist standpoint, bathrooms are wasted space because they do not generate rents and require greater maintenance. Therefore, building owners are incentivized to cut corners there. These laws are already costing their localities jobs and tourist dollars, and business leaders are calling for repeal. I imagine their zeal runs deep because they also do not want to rip out walls to expand bathrooms.

Others have already covered the more important aspects of this story. The myth that trans people are child predators has been utterly debunked. Indeed, as some have pointed out, Republican lawmakers are far more likely to get arrested for sexual misconduct in public restrooms. Samantha Bee's segment was particularly brilliant in exposing who the true predators are.* And the civil rights angle was summed up quite nicely in this tweet: "[I]t was never about water fountains in the 50s, and it's not about bathrooms now." But, like Thomas Jefferson, I am a bit of an infrastructure geek and looking at how conservatives think is in my bailiwick, so hopefully this is a fresh angle on the story.

Excuse the bathroom humor, but this will humiliate conservatives any way it shakes out. Looking bigoted, foolish, or weak in inevitable defeat is just the tip of the issue. If they win, they lose. It will turbocharge tolerance and hasten the addition of unisex restrooms already underway. Not to mention the unintended short-term discomfort they cause themselves when they go to pee and encounter someone in the restroom who is of the opposite gender by every single metric except their birth certificate. All for some short-term "family values" saber-rattling that they obviously did not think through beforehand.

Put another way: Dude, you are peeing on your shoes.


* And amazingly, she did it without mentioning the Duggars! Before it was revealed that Josh Duggar molested his sisters, he was campaigning against LBGT rights specifically invoking the specter of trans people in bathrooms. Indignant Duggar-defender and failed presidential contender Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) had also floated the notion that trans people are predators. It seems that predators and their apologists tend to project their activities onto others. Of course, another close associate of Huckabee and the Duggars, Bill Gothard has a rapey history as well. I am starting to see a pattern.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dear Donald Rumsfeld

I am writing an open letter in reply to your open letter to the IRS. You seem somewhat flummoxed about many complex tax matters and I sympathize entirely. Let me help.

Tax brackets are actually not complicated. It's a chart. We all learned to read charts in middle school. Ditto with percentages. You need to know both in order to play Dungeons & Dragons.

What's actually complicated are all the loopholes the rich write into the tax code to benefit themselves.

Did you declare your doohickey on your whatchamacallit investment? It's taxed slightly differently than the money from your transnational thingamajig holdings. Most folks have no idea what these things are. But if we are deducting our student loan or mortgage interest, we are asked a barrage of questions about all the whatchamacallits and thingamajigs that we don't have and probably never will.

At least we are pretty sure we don't. I did not know I was pre-diabetic until my doctor told me. Maybe we do have doohickeys to declare that we do not know about. And that possibility understandably terrifies us.

But tax brackets are not rocket science. And even if they were, that would not concern you because you can afford an accountant to do your taxes for you. Your motives are different than mine because your situation is different. You are trying to pay less taxes whereas I know I am getting money back. You don't need to wrestle with any complexity yourself, but I do. I strongly doubt you have much in common with the millions of average Americans you mention in your letter.

This is probably why you advocate a flat tax which would tax rich and poor alike at the same percentage rate. Many opulent conservatives support it arguing that progressive taxation is unfair and un-American.

But it seems that a couple of founding fathers disagreed. Both the Toms - Jefferson and Paine - explicitly advocated progressive taxation. In a letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson wrote about conditions in pre-revolutionary France. Sounding a tad like Bernie Sanders, he remarked, "The property of this country is absolutely concentered [sic.] in a very few hands." Like many other founders, Jefferson felt a rough economic equality was essential to a just society, but he stopped short of land redistribution or advocating absolute equality. His solution was to outlaw primogeniture - the traditional practice of leaving all property to the eldest son - and (drum roll, please) progressive taxation:
The descent of property of every kind therefore to all the children, or to all the brothers and sisters, or other relations in equal degree is a politic measure, and a practicable one. Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.
Thomas Paine was also against primogeniture and for progressive taxation - although he wanted to end primogeniture through progressive taxation. In The Rights of Man, he devised a tax plan that would make vast estates prohibitively expensive thereby compelling wealthy families to break them up into smaller holdings in order to qualify for a lower rate. "It will reach the point of prohibition by a regular operation, and thereby supersede the aristocratical [sic.] law of primogeniture." As Paine explained:
According to this table, an estate cannot produce more than £12,370 clear of the land tax and the progressive tax, and therefore the dividing such estates will follow as a matter of family interest. An estate of £23,000 a year, divided into five estates of four thousand each and one of three, will be charged only £1,129 which is but five per cent., but if held by one possessor, will be charged £10,630.
In other words, Paine advocated using taxation to destroy the aristocracy. This might be why conservatives prefer Edmund Burke - the guy who Thomas Paine wrote The Rights of Man in reply to.

Granted, Jefferson and Paine made their proposals for England and France, not America. This was because our government was still giving away Native land and would continue to do so for another century. England and France had no such frontier and breaking up big estates could only help so much. At the close of his letter, Jefferson said America was not yet at that point. But now we are. The frontier closed a century ago. When this happened, historian Frederick Jackson Turner famously argued that the frontier had shaped America's egalitarian ethos and feared what the absence of the frontier might bring. This was when Americans began to look toward government to safeguard equality. It was when the Progressive Era began, bringing with it demands for greater democracy - and the progressive income tax. Turner's Frontier Thesis may have missed the mark, but back then people believed it. And it was consistent with what Jefferson and Paine believed, which is what matters here. Contrary to conservative canards, America has always practiced government assistance. It's just that the "handouts" were originally land. Then it ran out.

But I am sure you are brushed up on your Burke, etc. and therefore already familiar with this conversation.

Go back to playing solitaire with Winston Churchill. It will keep you out of trouble.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Liberated Literature!

I am doing a free ebook promotion on Amazon.

For five days until Friday, April 11th to 15th, the Kindle edition of my book,
Conservatism is Un-American & Other Self-Evident Truths will be available to download for free.

If you enjoy my blog, there is a lot more where that came from. The writing styles are pretty similar, as my posts' copious footnotes should suggest. The Amazon page offers a very generous sample - the entire introduction plus half of the first chapter. I have also posted the chapter on conservatives' ass-backwards Nazi analogies here on this blog, so you can download with confidence.

Senator Bernie Sanders has started a national dialog on socialism - not just on its desirability but on its place in American history. My book has ample examples that buttress his arguments. And as the quote in the graphic below shows, these roots reach even deeper than he thinks.

So, download the book, tell your friends, and please feel free to share the graphic.

EDIT: And here is the citation for the Franklin quote in the graphic:

- Benjamin Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, ed. William B. Willcox, (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1982), 22:533.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Broken Beck

It is said that a broken clock is right twice a day.  Apparently, that also applies to cuckoo clocks.

Glenn Beck recently panned Batman vs Superman, sight unseen. Of course, most reviews on Rotten Tomatoes claim that the movie is a testosterone-stuffed turkey garnished with ham-handed CGI-effects, but that is not Beck’s objection. No, he is turned off because he thinks that Batman and Superman “would never fight.” He sees this as liberal Hollywood’s attempt to destroy our faith in heroes.

It is true that Zack Snyder’s vision is quite a bit darker than many fans like. However, the notion that these heroes would never fight proves that Glenn Beck has never read a comic book. Heroes punching each other is a tread-worn trope in comics and similar media. It may be the result of a plot or they may have a rivalry. Maybe somebody is mind-controlled - that one is used quite a bit. Whatever. The majority of cross-over covers show the two heroes fighting because that sells copies.* Of course, in this familiar formula, the two heroes ultimately cooperate to defeat the villain after their initial conflict – as they do in the movie – but said initial conflict is practically mandatory. Comic book geeks are notorious for arguing over “Who would win?” in a bout between two noble heroes. It’s our version of fantasy football. The comic book industry has always gratuitously catered to that dynamic. Seriously, how many times has Thor fought the Hulk to see who's stronger? The point is that superheroes hit things – frequently each other. If you don’t know that, you don’t know comics.

The idea that Supes and the Bat would never fight is particularly ridiculous since the contrast between their styles has been explored for decades. They have gotten along fitfully, at best. My first exposure to this friction was Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986), in which Batman donned powered armor – as he does in the movie – so that he can stand toe-to-toe with the Man of Steel. Incidentally, it's also a bit late to lament darkness in comics. Check the freshness date, above. That ship has sailed, come back, and left again.

And, given Glenn Beck's penchant for apocalyptic pessimism, I am quite surprised to see him decry dark depictions. Ironically, Frank Miller’s fascist version of Batman would probably appeal to Glenn Beck. The two authors also share identical ideas of Islam. Perhaps they should collaborate on something. I would read the shit out of whatever they created together. The unintentional entertainment value of that spectacular train wreck would be truly epic.

I am fascinated by this chronic problem of conservatives hopelessly garbling everything they claim to love. As I’ve written about twice before, their fandom mirrors their patriotism. Conservatives loathe most of the things America is supposed to stand for. Liberty, equality, and democracy are the big three, but the ripples affect a range of related issues from their hostility to the separation of church and state to their contempt for protecting the rights of the accused. They like the righteous feeling associated with noble ideals. Actually championing them is another matter. Conservatives don't oppose dumb slugfests: They just don't like them being dark because it saps the sanctimoniousness out of it.

After all, enjoying pious violence is the whole point.

Stan Lee frequently called Marvel readers "true believers." He meant it facetiously, But those who similarly describe themselves this way earnestly, without irony often do not have the foggiest idea what they are talking about. But that does not stop them from opining how "the people in Hollywood do not understand America at all." - An odd call from the guy who gets his history from David Barton.


* Likewise, the shock-value of showing Superman behaving ignobly has been exploited from days of yore. There is actually a website entitled “Superdickery” facetiously arguing the theory that Superman is a dick by showing old covers of him tormenting Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Of course, there was always a logical explanation inside: It was an object lesson in not judging a book by its cover. The point is that trading on such shock is old school.