Monday, December 14, 2009

The Media Whoracle

I'm on a mission. I'm utterly angered and repulsed that so many people on the Left are bamboozled by a phoney shill, who purports to be a Progressive.

People need to learn to think critically and investigate the background and modus operandi of every media talking head who puts forth an idea as fact. If you don't, you just aren't thinking. The saddest thing that can happen to a person is for his intellect to stultify.

There's a particular media person who's really getting up my tits at the moment. Just like I had George Bush pegged as the ineffectual frat boy that he turned out to be, I've had this one pegged for the last 28 years, ever since her rather ignominious departure from the United Kingdom after brazenly trying to appropriate a place amongst the serious British media intelligensia. (Don't be fooled: the fact that Kirsty Wark - the most dipshitbrained political commentator and 'pet Scot' fo the BBC - interviewed her recently only served one purpose - Huffington's stupidity made the equally vapid Wark look good).

I suppose our fathers and grandfathers, the so-called Greatest Generation, had to deal with Tokyo Rose and Axis Annie. Now we have to deal with the Greek Whoracle. I always thought, being the grandchild of three, that naturalised Americans came to this country to savour freedom. Instead the Whoracle came to enhance her brand and further her own interests, all the while criticising any and all Administrations which got in her way. I suppose Michael Huffington's loss to Barbara Boxer in the Senate campaign and his subsequent 'outing' (and thus ending of the business arrangement that was her marriage) put paid to her ultimate ambition of becoming a First Lady with an 'intellectual political salon.'

She's weighing in on everything with no experience or expertise, shouting down people whose knowledge is better, and criticising everything our President does with no basis whatsoever. In her past two television appearances, she's managed to shout down both Jane Mayer and John Podesta, both of whom have infinitely more experience in matters Afghan than she can ever hope to have. As she's adamantly demanding President Obama reveal all his strategy behind his escalation of troops in Afghanistan, I'm absolutely gobsmacked at this assertion.

Lady, this is war. And in war, sometimes you have to keep your cards close to your chest - mostly, so assholes like you can hazard second-guessing. You show everyone your hand and your enemy has you by the short and curlies ... or maybe that's what you want? Maybe you're the obvious spy, the dog in the manger, whose demands are so ridiculously silly that no one would ever think that you're working for 'the other side.'

Ah, but who is the other side? Well, we haven't heard much from the teabaggers and the birthers lately, have we? But we've been hearing a lot of the Left's base who've obviously been breathing in the toxic fumes of the Whoracle's Koolaid. These are so-called rational people - well, I'm rational too; and I never believed the Damascene conversion the first time around when it happened to St Paul, and I'm sure as hell skeptical about someone who promoted Newt Gingrich as the saviour of America in the 1990s, blatantly and openly campaigned for Bill Clinton's impeachment at the same time, supported John McCain in 2000, hurrah'd George Bush's surge and voted him in a second time, enabled Ahhnold in his bid for governor after her own laughable 'campaign' tanked, and suddenly woke up the morning after the 2004 Election to 'realise' she's a Progressive?

As the Brits would say, 'Pull the other one. It's got bleeding bells on.'

Like Rupert Murdoch, she runs with the hares and hunts with the hounds; and at the end of the day, it's all about herself and her ego. That someone of the calibre of George Stephanopolous keeps giving her the kudos by allowing her to appear on his roundtable and spew her toxic venom and ignorance is a disappointment. Perhaps it's something to do with the Greek connection. Well, Major Hasan's a Virginian too, but I'm not about to land on the side of someone who opens fire on and kills 13 people.

Nope, the reason we haven't heard from out teabagging friends on the Right is because their seemingly more intelligent counterparts on the Left, having drunk the Koolaid-flavoured retsina offered up by the Whoracle, are doing the job of debunking and discrediting President Obama for them.

Perhaps when President Palin ascends the Oval Office throne, there'll be a place at her side for the Media Whoracle too. Two good ones together, and all enabled by the totally puerile and immature base of the left, throwing a massive hissy fit and not voting for a reasonable, rational, sensitive and intelligent man. We thought we'd done something right, only to be told by a media shill that we haven't, and she's telling us what to do about it.


One great Progressive voice recently said, 'Faith is the absence of critical thinking.'
But I wonder how long he will continue to be a 'progressive voice?'

Just remember this: In the end, you get the government you deserve. Maybe y'all deserve Palin.

And in the meantime, read the bloggings of one Greek who's not afraid to call out a Media Whoracle out for the phoney she is.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Critical Thinking with Bill Maher

So endeth the seventh season of Real Time with Bill Maher, or so it did, anyway, more than a month ago now. I miss it. I miss Bill's weekly take on the relevant news issues of the day, mostly facing America, but sometimes encompassing the rest of the world.

It's no secret that Bill's a particular hero of mine, but - in keeping with his own secular stance - I don't worship at his altar. I've always liked the fact that people I've chosen to be my particular heroes, all have feet of clay. From Richard II to John Lennon, right down to Bill, I wouldn't have it any other way. For me, my heroes' perfection lies in their imperfection ... and more than a bit in their own quixotic tendencies to tilt at metaphorical and hypothetical windmills. (No surprise, either, that Don Quixote, also happens to be a particular literary hero!)

Although Real Time and Bill have been off the air for more than a month, the 'aftershock' of his last two episodes are still being felt around the cybersphere and the scientific community, in general, dating from the penultimate episode which contained an interview with Dr Bill Frist, the former Senate Majority Leader and practicing thoracic surgeon.

Of course, the controversy in question is Bill's purported stance on vaccines, which several areas of the media and cybersphere have enlarged to include his alleged controversial ideas concerning antibiotics, diet and germ theory, in general.

Bottom line from the media and the medics: Bill's a quack, whose 'unorthodox' views on eating, antibiotics and 'Western' medicine (in particular, vaccines) ally him with the likes of Pat Robertson, Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann, and card-carrying Creationists and distance him from any self-respecting, rationalist person of science and good sense, who believes in the efficacy of science instead of the blindness of faith.

Pardon me. I'm a secularist, myself, and a pretty rational person. I was under the obviously misguided conception that this sort of person was noticeably more open-minded and open to debating issues, rather than blindly shutting out an opposing viewpoint, by excoriating its proponet with diatribe, invective and dialogue, condescending to the point of ridicule. That's the stuff of the teabaggers, town maulers and Palinistas with small minds and small, faith-based messages, not the rational-minded, who adhere to science and its defined parameters.

Yet Bill's been lambasted royally in the past month, by everyone from P Z Myers to Michael Schermer, and by various other people, whom, I imagine, assume the pained expression of perpetual constipation, when they rather pithily remark that it pains them to have to agree with the likes of Bill Frist. In fact, that they dismiss Bill totally out of hand in this matter positively reeks to high heaven (pun intended) of small-mindedness.

To recap the controversy, Bill had invited Frist onto the penultimate program of the season for the interview, which traditionally takes place before the panel discussion. When I first realised Frist was going to be on the program, I initially thought that his appearance was in relation to his recent comments in support of healthcare reform, which decidedly went against the current grain of his party; but in retrospect, I'm not so sure.

Bill began the interview with a question about the purported Swine Flu pandemic, and it was Frist who took up the baton about vaccines, by stating that he 'knew' Bill 'didn't believe' in vaccines, and the interview deteriorated from that point until the end. Frist the surgeon morphed quickly into Frist the politician in his skill at spinning an argument and turning the interview on the veritable dime to the point that the interviewer, himself, Bill Maher, was suddenly put on the defensive about his perceived beliefs, with each man successively talking over the other and interrupting points. What should have been a discussion about Frist's stance on healthcare reform degenerated into Frist turning the discussion into a quasi-argument about the efficacy of the H1N1 vaccine, with Frist cleverly managing to make Bill's comments look like the meanderings of a whackjob.

Of course, this episode followed the relatively minor detail, which - in hindsight - fanned the flames of controversy: Bill's Twitter tweet on September 26th, stating, 'If u get a swine flu shot ur an idiot.'

For some people, hindsight - or Twitdsight - is 20/20 vision.

As a result of that episode, the ensuing one, and the innocuous tweet, Bill's been subjected to a veritable meltdown of attacks by the scientific and rationalist community, who've called for everything from his returning his recently-received Richard Dawkins Award to his head being sacrificed and served up on a silver platter.

Suffice it to say, he's been called a barrage of unkind names by these selfsame, so-called educated and rational free-thinking scientists.

It reminds me of the Inquisition in reverse, with the scientific community aptly enacting the role originally undertaken by the Catholic Church in squelching any sort of reasonable debate on this subject.

And, like Bill, I do think the subject of vaccines - and, indeed, the American approach to medicine, in general, needs to be addressed and debated.

I'm not, by any means, a scientist. In fact, I'm probably the least scientific person I know. I've always had an interest in biology and may, at one time, in my youth, have even been considering a career in medicine; but chemistry and a particularly frightful algebra teacher scared me away from any remaining pretensions of following a medical career. Yet, I think Bill, in his latest blog in defense of his beliefs and a lot of his statements which were cherry-picked by various critics, raises pretty valid concerns.

Let me state, from the onset, that I am not an anti-vaccinationist (to coin what sounds distinctly like a Bushism), but I've never ever had a flu jab. I think I've probably had what's deemed to be proper flu (as opposed to a really heavy cold) about twice in my life: once in my last year of high school, which meant missing a week of Shakespeare class and the study of MacBeth, and once again, ten years ago, when Asian flu swept the US and Western Europe. That particular strain, I recall, seemed to target the Baby Boomer generation, of which I'm a part. As I'm writing this blog, I think it's safe to say I lived to tell the tale.

Bill and I are of a similar age and generation, so I would imagine that, as a child, he - like I - was exposed to all the 'normal' childhood illnesses - measles, mumps, chicken pox etc - as the rule of thumb, then, was that a child should suffer each infection, in order that the body develop a natural immunity to them. I can recall my mother and my aunts dragging my cousins and me around to each other's houses as, one by one, we succumbed to whatever, in order that we all might be exposed to the particular virus in question. So various cousins caught measles from me, and I caught chicken pox from them. (I recall Valentine's Day being a non-occasion for my third grade class, so many of us had chicken pox). I never did get mumps, and my mother told me that my pediatrician told her I most probably had a 'natural immunity.' So that, in part, is proof of Bill's statement that our bodies do possess the ability to fight off or even be immune to certain viruses. After all, our bodies have the innate ability to heal ourselves in the instances of wounds and injuries - albeit, I do accept the fact that sometimes, they need a medical boost. For example, I broke my leg some years ago. I needed medical help to set and correct the fracture.

Of course, vaccines are necessary in the abolition of diseases such as smallpox, diptheria and polio, which have pretty much been eliminated. I do understand the concept of 'herd immunity' - that by vaccinating the majority of a population, this prohibits the disease from spreading to the unvaccinated element, until the disease, in that particular population, becomes virtually extinct.

But is it wrong for Bill to wonder if we aren't, now, becoming over-vaccinated, as well as over-medicated?

I don't think it is.

In 2004, the oldest son of a friend of mine in Italy, was hospitalised with a mystery virus, when the child was only 8 months old. He virtually remained in hospital, first in Bologna and then in Livorno, until he was 18 months. He was diagnosed with Kawasaki syndrome, or infantil polyarteritis, which could have had potentially serious repercussions. Later, it was discovered that he contracted the illness as a reaction to the vaccines he'd just had administered. Specifically, the attending pediatrician at the last hospital which treated him told his parents this. So, there, Bill ... you've got an independent pediatrician, actually, admitting to parents that a child's medical condition was the result of a reaction to a particular vaccine he had received.

I'm also cognizant enough to admit that, whilst this child suffered from this particular reaction, another child - the boy's cousin, for example, did not. Again, I would point to a point Bill raises about "the terrain in which bacteria can thrive is crucial and often controllable" - or rather, the fact that an infant's immune system may have been compromised as it hadn't been, as yet, fully developed.

Is this idea so strange?

Well, hell, no less than my fellow Virginian and fellow graduate of the University of Virginia, Francis Collins, says virtually the same thing: that genetics loads the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger. (Francis Collins, I might add, is the current director of the National Institute of Health; and the father of the child, in question, is a Type I diabetic, which means his auto-immune system was compromised, as well. Could not this reaction have been genetic?)

Carrying on from Collins's assertion, Bill is constantly making his audience aware of how not only our environment, but also our lifestyles compromise our immune system. It's not 'woo' to talk about toxins in our body making us feel crappy. We're exposed to any and all sorts of toxins in our daily lives - exhaust fumes, poor air quality, secondary smoking, closed environment air conditioning ... it all adds up, not only in the realm of global warming and climate change, but also with our health concerns. We've all heard tales of men down the mines forty years ago, dying from black lung, or people infected with asbestos poisoning, or soldiers exposed to radiation in early atomic bomb testing. We learn from our environmental mistakes, but unfortunately, some of those mistakes prove fatal.

As I said, initially, I like my heroes to have feet of clay, to recognise and embrace their humanity and their fallibility; and Bill does just that in his own defence. He admits openly that sometimes he tends to go off 'half cocked' on the health issue sometimes. He even apologises for it, but explains that it's only because he's found a health and dietary regime that makes him feel better. That's good. What's better is that he wants to encourage his listening public and, indeed, all of us, to eat better, instead of mindlessly over-gorging or eating fast food rubbish and things chocked full of additives and high-fructose syrup.

Obesity is rampant in the United States and is rising remarkably in the United Kingdom and northern Germany. Childhood obesity is becoming a particular problem. As Bill opined in a recent editorial, "The elephant in the room is your child."

That particular topic really does need to be addressed and urgently, so whilst a proportion of people might want to label Bill Maher a kook for consistently bringing this topic to the attention of the public, maybe we should praise him for introducing this concern and begin a debate about how we might make healthy food and exercise more affordable for lower-income families.

Another thing for which Bill's taken his fair share of flak from the scientific rationalists is their perception of him as a conspiracy theorist, who thinks the likes of Big Pharma, the medical community and the government are conspiring to make us a society totally over-dependent upon medicines and pharmaceuticals in an effort to keep us ill enough to supply the corporate profits of the lot. He's even been labelled a 'truther' and lumped with the likes of Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann and the fundamentalist Right.

But ...

On my recent visit home to Virginia, I spoke with several relatives and friends, many of whom had medical issues. My uncle, who's in his late 70s, lines up a row of 7 different capsules each morning to be taken with his breakfast cereal ... and then he has his Metamucil. Once a month, he has to have a blood test, because one medicine that he takes might make his blood too thin to interact with another type of medication he's prescribed. Go figure. My aunt, his wife, is on medication for arthritis, diverticulitis and osteoporosis. These meds are prescribed to her, by three different specialists. She should be having two blood tests per month, but she only has one. Why? Because the private health insurer who tops up her 80% Medicare will only cover one blood test monthly.

These people are in the twilight of their lives, and they should be relaxing and enjoying themselves. Instead, they have to be quasi-chemists and pharmacists in keeping track of which medication they have to take on what day and at what time. It's confusing, to say the least.

I think it's a credit to them both that they're able to keep track of such a regime, because I certainly couldn't; they're totally honest in their assessment of the situation too - that (in their own words) it's a racket, and if the doctors can keep you coming back to them in droves, it lines the medicos' pockets. (You see, I was raised in a nest of country cynics). If these sort of honest, unsophisticated people can realise this, why is Bill labelled a 'truther'? It's not rocket science ... it's basic common sense.

To say we, as a people, are over-medicated is an understatement. Even now, I'm always shocked when I return to the States at the plethora of commercials advertising prescription drugs. 'Ask your doctor for this ... for that.' Ask your doctor? Doesn't your doctor have the Hippocratic duty to diagnose first? And here's another pitch in Bill's favour: one of his best quotations is a musing that if a person has to ask his doctor for drugs, doesn't that, in fact, make the doctor nothing more than a dealer?

Think about it.

The other thing this latest trip Stateside impressed upon me was the incessant reporting about the H1N1 virus - the shortage of vaccines, the queues of people lining up all over to be innoculated, the sheer panic. I was amazed.

I was equally amazed at the attitudes of my family and friends, none of whom have undertaken to get the vaccine. In fact, like me, none of my relatives - old or young - have ever had a flu vaccine. When I asked about this particular vaccine, their reaction was unanimous.

"It's the flu! That's all. Good God, if we got a shot for everything they told us to, we'd be moving into the doctor's office!"

How succinct a reply is that? Their second assessment is that this strain of flu virus has been blown out of all proportion by the media; in fact, it's the media who overinflate a lot of issues, according to them.

No shit, Sherlock, guess what! That's another pet peeve Bill's complained about consistently throughout the course of the Real Time season - the total irresponsibility of the media, the fusion of fact, opinion and entertainment to morph into the ubiquitous 'infotainment', which people buy readily as fact. The very idea that a social satirist/political pundit can post an abbreviated musing on a social networking site, and the news media in the form of 60 Minutes can interpret this as being an ad hoc warning to society in general is less than a joke and more than indicative of just how much our society has been trivialised.

In such an atmosphere, the flu can become the 21st Century equivalent of the bubonic plague, and all a state's resources can be compromised in the urgent pursuit of a non-existent child in a homemade hot-air balloon in a chase that captured the attention of a nation and deflected the media's attention from other, more important but less exciting events of the day.

I don't think Bill's wrong in questioning medical science about his concerns. I think it's a duty. In fact, I was always raised to question doctors' diagnoses and assumptions. After all, doctors are human. They make mistakes. And part of the scientific process, a great part of it - or so I thought - entailed critical thinking and the ability to admit error. Science is based on theories, which hold intact, until other theories disprove the previous ones.

Several from the scientific community have ridiculed Bill's citing Barbara Loe Fisher as a source. I knew nothing about this woman, so I researched her. She's someone who's raised doubts about the efficacy of over-vaccination due to a very traumatic incident in her personal life: her son was disabled after vaccination. As a result of that, she's devoted her life to researching this issue and even has worked with Congressional committees in that research.

I see nothing untoward at all about that. In fact, when my mother was firs diagnosed with cancer, I read every book available in an attempt to familiarise myself with her disease, what it would entail, how it would affect her, the treatments, why she contracted it ... You do that, when something affects or interests your well-being. I would welcome hearing this woman's views on Bill's show. The snotty attitude of the medical community in dismissing her, because she has no medical qualifications, because she has a liberal arts' degree, speaks volumes.

That attitude reminds me of an incident that occurred years ago, when I was a coed. I shared digs with a nursing student, which was a Class A ticket to a wonderful social life. After all, she knew every available medical student on campus. I was a language major, with a free pass to all the med school parties. One Saturday evening, I spent about two hours at such a revel being chatted up by a medical student from the same gene pool as no less than Richard Gere. Finally, after a lot of talk and a fair amount of canoodling, he asked which 'department' was I covering at the moment.

I looked at him, baffled. I didn't understand. He clarified. What clinical rotation was I covering at the moment. He'd assumed, because I came with some nursing students, that I was, also, a nursing student. When I admitted to being a senior, majoring in Spanish and French, his ardour dampened. "Oh," he sniffed. "I thought you were someone medical, someone I could relate to."

Enough said.

It just seems to me that Bill's exercising a method of thinking, which the medico-scientific community seem to have forgotten: critical thinking. Have they gone so far within themselves that they've forgotten that a science, first and foremost, has a base in nature, and that scientists are groomed and trained to question? I think they have.

Questioning science doesn't make one 'anti-science'. Denying science does. Bill's not denying anything; he's critically thinking, and that's an art we could all do with honing.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mean Sheeple

I'm flying back to Virginia on Hallowe'en - by scheduled aircraft and not by broomstick, but lately I've felt that the cybersphere was awash with covens of witches.

I should be looking forward to going home. Goodness (which has nothing to do with anything, in the words of Mae West) knows, I've certainly been homesick enough on this side of the Pond. I should be excited that, whilst there, I'm spending a weekend in New York, seeing Bill Maher's November 8th gig. Instead, it's all become an ordeal which I would toss aside in a moment, if my air ticket weren't non-refundable.

I'm overdosed on meanness.

I've spent almost three decades on this side of the Atlantic. I'm well familiar with cynicism, almost to the point that I'm worshiping at the altar of Voltaire. People, both in the UK and on the Continent, view the politicians they elect with a jaundiced eye. The attitude is that this or that politico is only out, in the long run, to feather his nest, and the hoi-polloi be damned. The politicos, from time to time, give award-winning performances of concern and connection; but once in office, the stark truth is that they really do not give the proverbial rat's ass. With attitudes like that, it's no wonder that the great unwashed give credence and kudos to z-list celebrities, enhancing their ubiquitous 15 minutes of fame; whilst their elected representatives seek benedictory approval from these selfsame self-promoters of sophomoric fame in an endeavour to heighten their own street cred.

In the words of Bill Clinton: Give. Me. A. Break.

I am sick of Bono, citizen of the world and tax exile from his own country (a country whose economy went from boom to bust in a matter of months when the Bank of Iceland capitulated), writing op-ed portents of doom in credible publications like the New York Times, all the while trawling the earth on a world tour with no less than 6 private jets and a veritable circus of fireworks, leaving a carbon footprint the size and depth of the Grand Canyon. I'm sick of so-called journalists labouring and slavering on his every word as if he were Christ incarnate, and then navel-gazing like adolescents caught masturbating when this jumped-up navvy pontificates that he's 'dismayed' at the direction in which the United States is going.

Who the fuck is this man?

I'll tell you who he is. He's someone who got lucky with talent. He's someone, who - had he not been in the right place at the right time - might have been mulling the problems of the world over a pint of Guinness and a Castella in downtown Dublin. Instead, his ass is the Blarney stone celebrity-worshippers line up to kiss. He's 'dismayed' at the direction in which the United States is going ... I ask you. This is the same man who took it upon his pompous self to lecture Brian Williams, on the even of the Inauguration, that whilst the U S 'invented' the concept of liberty, the rest of the world owned liberty.

I beg your pardon?

What was all the more galling, was Williams, a seasoned newsman, taking all that verbal diarrhea with the spineless demeanor of a whipped puppy.

It made me sick.

Maybe Bono's worried that the US economy is still tanking, which will mean people won't have the spare dosh to buy his latest over-rated CD; or maybe he's worried that the dodgy real estate ventures his songwriting partner is pushing in Malibu, won't be up to scratch in value, now that California is less than bankrupt. Or maybe, Bono just revels in the fact that he's famous and talks because he knows people are stupid enough to listen to his drivel and reckon him clever. He criticizes another country as not being to his standard, but he'd never dream of doing the same thing or even offering valid criticism of his own country, which could do with a bit of advice from a favorite son.

I'm sick of Arianna-Hump-Straddling-Huffington, picking through the political knitwork like Madame Desfarges sitting by the guillotine, ceaselessly looking for the next nit to pick about something Obama's done/said/thought incorrectly and what he should be doing, based on something Roosevelt or Lincoln or Edward III or Alexander the Great did.

Ms Huffington fancies herself an intellect, but there are those of us about who remember how she cravenly tried to push her way into the chattering class Islington media intelligentsia in the UK in the 70s and early 80s, until a little matter of plagiarism got thrown her way. She re-emerged in the US in the mid-90s, suddenly the wife of an up-and-coming Congressman. She, herself, was so deep in the pockets of Newt Gingrich that she may have needed kneepads; and she led the charge in favour of Clinton's impeachment. To say, Ms Huffington was a rightwing Republican would be too kind. She was the Sarah Palin of the 90s, with more than a soupcon of Martha Mitchell.

Suddenly, in the wake of the 2004 election, when it became fashionable to hate George W Bush, she pops up a dyed-in-the-wool Progressive.

Damascene conversion or self-promoting reinvention? All she needed to do was strap on a pointy Christian La Croix bra, and she would have rivalled Madonna as the Mistress of Reinvention.

I thought of this instantly, when I watched one of the March episodes of Real Time, when Keith Olbermann appeared as a guest. Bill and the panel had been discussing the phenomenon of Glenn Beck, when Bill, who realised Olbermann used to work at Fox some years back, asked him if he thought the Fox News people bought into the stuff they spewed.

Olbermann revealed that he'd just interviewed the author of Rupert Murdoch's biography, who had been given licence to interview various Fox employees. On condition of anonymity, one high flier had actually admitted that Rupert Murdoch was totally apolitical. In fact, he didn't like politics at all, but he was a businessman, who'd recognised a niche in the US news media for a conservative viewpoint. Beck, Olbermann reckoned, was the real deal; but the rest of the Fox names were salesmen; and if the world woke up the next day to a rightwing US news media takeover, Hannity and O'Reilly would become Progressives overnight.

It's no surprise that Rupert Murdoch and Arianna Huffington are best buds, is it? Just as it came as no surprise that the celebrated verbal tennis match feud between Keith Olbermann, himself, and Bill O'Reilly was all for show. A sham. Contrived. For the ratings and the rantings.

Christ on a bike. Please help me. Who said, "whoever controls the media controls the government," wasn't exactly right. Instead of controlling the government, whoever controls the media controls the gut reactions of the lowest common denominators of the Right and Left.

The Right goes mental listening to Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck ranting about reverse racism and the impingeing fascist dictatorship of Barack Obama, while the Left sucks in verbal garbage propagated by Huffington, urging Joe Biden to 'resign' and lead a protest party against Obama because of Afghanistan. The puffpo HuffPo dittoes are reduced to bobble-heading idiots in agreement with anything Huffington proposes or any piece of lazy 'undocumented source' of journalism her latent adolescent reporters shoot out as fact, second-guessing the President and criticizing his every move. Obama's for the public option. No, wait a minute, he's not. Yes, he is, but only for certain people. No, wait, he wants a trigger.

I used to really care passionately about universal healthcare being implemented in the United States. It is still my home, after all, and if I do eventually return, I'd like to know that I'd be covered. Now, I couldn't care less; in fact, I could care less if I ever return. I've successfully managed to adopt the quintessential attitude of the British working classes: I'm all right, Jack. Fuck you.

And that's down to the good old US opinionated infotainment industry.

There was a time when our news media was the rival of the world. Newsmen read news reports at six or seven o'clock each night, and you did your homework while your parents watched an tutted over the latest carnage in VietNam or the latest student protest on whatever college campus. Now the nightly news is lost in a welter of 'fair and balanced' reporting which gives relevance to the trivial and exalts the mundane. Bored with fact, the viewing public turns onto opinionators, verbal snake oil salesman, who spew out their own invective and present it as snarky sarky fact, and doing it with one thing and one thing, only, in mind: ratings. People listen to Olbermann and Beck as though they're listening to God. It must be true. Keith Olbermann said it. Rush reported it; it has to be so.

This comes at us in 24/7 cycles, with every Tom, Dick and Mary hungry for five minutes of limelight and a contract for a reality show. It drives people to hoist balloons with the fiction of a child inside. It makes otherwise sane individuals welcome cameras and networks into their home to watch their children grow (and that's paedophilia in some countries) and their marriages disintegrate. And we lap it up. And we want more.

And in the end, we become mean sheeple too. We latch onto an aura of celebrity plopped in front of us via the internet universe, and we run like pigs from a gun to climb that greased pole for one iota of recognition from the person we've made into a god to worship. We can share the fame for a moment and to do so, we chase fame with flame and jealousy. We speak from the posterior portion of our bodies of the inalienable right to freedom of speech, whilst all the time whispering invective into the ears of chosen disciples in an effort to stifle that selfsame freedom of speech by good old traditional bullying. After all, nothing hurts more than an actual bitchslap than one aimed at the psyche of another. The e-mail messaged word, the subtle innuendo, the nudge-nudge-wink-wink harassment, all in the name of cruel exclusion.

We revert to the high school mean girls' mentality - if, indeed, we ever left it at all - desperate for attention and recognition. Pardon me, but this isn't a virtual classroom; and the star of the show is anything but a teacher. The motivating force here seems to be jealousy. Considering that, it makes one wonder how much jealousy plays a part in the daily debatings/discussions which occur on the floor of the Senate or the House. There's a lot of vanity there, to be sure, and a plethora of ego; but if there's jealousy, it's either cleverly concealed or its debilitating energy is channeled into arguments or actions more conducive to the cause at hand - healthcare or climate change or something of that ilk.

The chosen leader of the internet sheeple cerebrally muscles or manipulates his way to the top of the greasy pole, where he becomes paranoid of his position. Woe betide anyone who, even unthinkingly, becomes a perceived threat. There's nothing more frightening for the being being stifled than a larger than life smirking dynamic of a faux sweet Death's Head, reminding one subtly of one's place.

Someone once divulged to me that whenever this person was angry, there was a need to write. Well, I'm angry too, and so I'm writing a thank-you diatribe to all those who contrived to make my much-anticipated trip home an abject misery and to make an event which I've eagerly awaited seem like an ordeal to me.

With Americans like that, I'm better off in Britain, where the sheeple are, at least, selfish but indifferent.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

View From a Broad - Part II: Just Call Me Cassandra

On Saturday, the New York Times Weekend Opinionator column posed the question "Does the Nobel Hate America?"

Of course, the column was all about the du jour topic of the President receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. To say this was a surprise announcement is an understatement. I got the new via an e-mail alert from the selfsame Times whilst I was at work, arguing on the phone with a Frenchman in Modane and enjoying a late morning espresso. Suffice it to say that once I'd read the alert, most of the espresso ended up spewed on the computer screen.

I was that surprised. I admit my first thought was a simple ... WTF? Then, I was pleased; because even before I read the rationale behind giving the President this award, I understood why the Nobel Committee had done so.

Living in the UK, it was a refreshing change to see Obama make his first trip abroad last spring. When he spoke, it was a tangible relief not to have to clinch the cheeks of my ass in shame as I did with every halting, rambling gaggle of faux folksiness and mispronunciation that constituted George W Bush's addresses.

The height of my eternal embarrassment came three years ago at a G8 Summit in Europe, when Bush released his inner cowboy with that deprecatingly awful 'Yo Blair!' moment. I felt like Charlie Brown banging his head on his desk in frustration as I watched Bush's posturing, chest-bumping stance last year, whilst awarding degrees at the Naval Academy. What an embarrassment of a President!

I had George Bush pegged from Day One of the 2000 Presidential Campaign. He was every cocky docksider-shod frat boy who strutted his stuff on campus. He was arrogant and feckless. He didn't give a rat's ass about anything because he knew once he'd finished his degree, Daddy would be on hand to tide him over with something until he really decided what he wanted to do, and then Daddy would set him up in that venture as well. His character was all of the worst parts of my ex-boyfriend's character that I hated.

I could easily imagine George Bush spitting on Sherman's statue in full view of a DC policeman during a day out in Georgetown. I could imagine George Bush illegaly parking my car on a double yellow line on the same day and blithely telling me not to worry, only to return to find it ticketed. I could imagine George Bush throwing the Queen Mother of all hissyfits in the fast lane of Interstate 64 en route from Charlottesville to a wedding of a sorority sister of mine in Richmond, upon finding out that he was attending the wedding of a black woman to a white man. I could imagine George Bush taking up with a bottled-assed overweight co-ed during the summer I was studying for a Master's in Spain, only - upon being discovered in his transgression - to offer the lame excuse that she was merely a "cushion for the pushin' while you were kicking it up with the Spics."

Yeah, I knew George Bush.

What is important to remember, from my standpoint at least, is, living abroad, that Europeans, in general, tend to judge Americans by the President they choose. George Bush, and everything about him, to the Europeans, was an unmitigated disaster. He had never travelled outside the confines of the continental United States. He didn't give a monkey's about what the rest of world thought of him or his country, he would do what he thought best for America and be damned. A pretty arrogant attitude, to say the least; but in reality, not so very different from the ethos behind France and the French. But arrogance wears so much better with an ancien regime.

Anyway, I've had to defend the fallacious assumption, on Europe's part, of 'American stupidity' for almost three decades now - for a longer time than I'd actually lived in the United States - and most of that defense has come within the past 8 years. It hasn't always been easy.

Well, it seems the myth of 'American stupidity' has come home to roost heavily in the United States, so much so, that it's been embraced, acknowledged and broadcast about by the Left, in particular.

Two things I wish to point out:-
1. I've noticed the same political disparities which rule the Right and the Left in the United Kingdom, to be identical to the ones I now see emerging in the United States. In the UK, the Right - especially throughout the past decade - have managed to keep the public on edge through fear tactics: specifically, fear of unfettered immigration and increased islamification of the country. The Left, governing through the auspices of the Labour Party, has managed to deflect, deflate and denigrate any sense ofEnglish identity; in fact, they've gone as far as identifying any symbol of English (as opposed to British) cultural identity as racist, xenophobic and wrong. They are constantly apologising for the sin of Empire. They rule through guilt.

Fear and guilt are big factors identifiable, also, in the American Right and Left. The Right fears the unknown - the perceived terrorist threat, the increase in immigration, both legal and illegal, the downswing in the economy and the tanking of the American dream, the changing racial and cultural demographic of the United States. All this fear is neatly tied up, packaged, and released to rail against the current serving President of the United States: a man they feel far more illegitimate in that title than George W Bush, who stole the 2000 Election, ever was.

The Left, newly placed in power, on the other hand, is going about doing penance for the Bush regime, but in a curious way. Not only are they justifiably apologetic for the neocons' rude behaviour of the past two Administrations, they're cravenly apologising, embracing and advancing, almost with glee, the appeasement of 'American stupidity.' What's more, they're doing this, whilst simultaneously and slavishly agreeing to the fact that every other country in the known world, developed or not, is totally superior in every way to the United States.

2. The second factor is that there's a distinct difference between 'stupidity' and 'ignorance.' One can just as easily be ignorant, but possess an immense amount of common sense, as one can be educated to a high degree, but possess ideas and opinions which can only be described as 'stupid.'

A lot of the thought processes I see emanating from the Left, traditionally more cerebral, more intellectual and always better educated than the base of the Right, are the embodiment of stupidity.

Let me assure you, that I'm a Leftie of the first degree. I was weaned on socialism of the old order, raised to rail against Republicans. But I'm ashamed to be associated with some of the sentiment, some of the stupidity and a lot of the sheer ignorance spewing forth from the so-called Progressive wing of the Democratic party these days.

A few months ago, in an interview with Howard Kurz, Bill Maher revealed, worryingly, that most of the demands for a restriction of rights under the First Amendment - freedom of speech, specifically - was coming from young people who identified themselves as Democrats. I would agree with that. Earlier in the year, immediately after Barak Obama's Inauguration and in the wake of Rush Limbaugh's earliest pronouncements about wanting the President to fail, an American columnist, writing in the British daily, The Guardian, openly called for Rush Limbaugh to be silenced, pointedly saying that Obama couldn't hope to proceed with his agenda until Rush Limbaugh had been prohibited from speaking.

The British commentators on that site quickly shouted down her assumption in a welter of cries proclaiming Limbaugh's First Amendment rights. The British well appreciate freedom of speech these days, particularly as it's being regularly denied them by their center-left Labour government.

I see this clamour for people from the Right to be silenced everyday on the blog comments of The Huffington Post, a leftwing aggregate, whose existence dates from its founder's sudden epiphany from Gingrich Republican to fully paid-up Progressive. Believe me, only St Paul's conversion was more sudden and dramatic.

The ostensibly better-educated commentators on this site have discernably weak spelling skills and even worse understanding of the machinations of the government they swear is trying to shaft them in the worst way.

Their worst weakness is their fickleness. Always ready to second-guess the President and his motives, they slavishly echo the views of every well-known, but not necessarily well-read celebrity blogger who posts a missive. As a result, the Progressive Left has increasingly come across as a massively spoiled child, ready to stomp off in an enormous sulk, because the President seems to be ignoring their immediate and incessant demands. Things aren't going their way in the government, so they don't want to play anymore.

Back in February, when the latest season of Real Time started, Bill Maher opened his monologue, remarking on Obama's Inaugural Address, which asked for the help, support and sacrifice of all American citizens in the massive job he had before him in righting the enormous wrongs left by the Bush Administration. Bill wondered if the current generation of Americans had the fortitude to do this, reminding them of the way their parents and grandparents had, first, endured a Depression and then edured a World War, without complaint. But the current generation, he continued, seemed only to be willing to sit back and let the President shoulder the burden. They wanted Obama to do everything for them, from telling them to wash their hands to sorting out immediate health reform.
And, indeed, it seems these people thought Obama would stride purposefully into the Oval Office, whip out a magic wand and right the wrongs left by Bushco with a mere 'Abbracadabbra.'

The fact that it ain't going to happen that way or that fast seems unfathomable to these people.

Now ... maybe they're very young, or maybe they're very stupid; but to me, listening to these eminent sages speculate throwing the President under a political bus and mounting a primary challenge in 2012 with no less than Dennis Kucinich, more than slightly veers to the latter assumption.

They're stupid.

Even more stupid is the classic refrain: 'If we don't get single-payer/a public option, I just won't vote in 2010.' Never mind a 'no vote' might result in the Republicans picking up additional seats or even control of the House or Senate, damn it, the President isn't doing what they elected him to do, so they simply don't want to play anymore. So there!

The pathetic thing about this behaviour, especially with regard to healthcare reform, is that half the assholes bleating about single-payer healthcare actually think it's FREE. Honestly, it's free healthcare - more to the point, it's free healthcare on the GOVERNMENT'S ticket.

What ... the ... fuck?

Try to explain to these obdurates, as one who's lived a great part of my life under the fabled single-payer system, that it really isn't the paradise they assume - that there is an element of health rationing, that there are interminable waiting lists, that the quality of your healthcare is dependent upon the fiscal responsibility of your local health authority, and I'm shouted down as wrong. Not just wrong, but horribly wrong, and in many cases, it seems I don't know what I'm talking about.

Equally incomprehensible is their inability to identify their own faults as reflected in the actions/behaviour of their rightwing counterparts. They have their own demagogues as well, and this is part of the problem, I think, in the United States today.

There is simply too much information about. The media is everywhere, 24/7, and every humble news reporter has to have an op-ed schtick. In short, everyone has to have a viable opinion that he just has to get across to the masses: incontrovertible and undeniable. Well, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one, and there are certainly a surplus of assholes swanning about in the cable news media.

The Right has rush, but the Left has Keith Olbermann.

This past week, MSNBC rather grandiosly announced that the pundit-cum-infotainer allocated the 8pm slot, Keith Olbermann, was going to dedicate an entire program to declaim upon healthcare reform.

This was announced in the manner of a major policy pronouncement by a major political figure.

It was, succinctly, an exercise in ego.

Several so-called fashionably Progressive dittoes went orgasmic at the thought of Olbermann devoting an entire hour to lecture his listening public on the righteousness of universal healthcare. They looked forward to the event with the same sort of fervour, I would imagine, that devoted hausfrauen looked forward to an important national address by Hitler, himself.

In short, the only thing the wasted hour accomplished was informing us that Olbermann had an incredibly articulate vocabulary, especially with regard to using archaic phraseology - who uses 'mountebank' or 'inchoate' in everyday speech? - as well as giving us a detailed and embarrassingly personal account of Olbermann's father's recent illness. I didn't care to know that Mr Olbermann Sr kept a portable urinal by his bed, that he had to sit on the side of his bed and 'position' himself in a particular way in order to pee; that wasn't necessary. It was gratuitous and self-satisfying, only to Olbermann. I never did get the ethos of Olbermann's diatribe, amidst angst that his mother died from breast cancer, that he had a married sister with children and staff from a prominent New York health establishment stood smoking outside the premises.

I turned off this sanctimonious tour-de-force before the end.

A lot of other people did as well, I gather, because the two ra-ra girls, who expostulated the previous day about Herr Olbermann's discourse, couldn't be seen or heard for dust. I would imagine one got bored and turned the thing off and the other did the same, through misapprehension. But the point is that Olbermann could have called for healthcare reform to consist of headless chickens being served raw on silver platters surrounded by the corpses of aborted foetuses, and the dittoes would slavishly agreed.

Amongst this tranche of people, it's almost fashionable to criticize both the President and the country. Now I'm all for politicians, particularly leaders, being held accountable to the people who elected them; and I'm not above criticizing the country as well. After all, it's our country, and if, like our elected leaders, we see it going in a direction we don't like, we, as citizens, have a duty to correct it or to at least act in a way as to correct it - not sit around on our asses playing armchair quarterback and tut-tutting, or even wailing about 'giving up' on the country as a whole, even to the point of wanting to leave it.

Giving up? These people, and we're almost all descendents of immigrants, should take a look at their own backgrounds and discover exactly what their ancestors had to 'give up' and then endure in resettling here. America, I'm hearing most of these misguided souls say, is so bad (mostly because it doesn't have free healthcare) that they're leaving. They're going to Canada, to Australia, to the UK (always to English-speaking countries, you see, these people are too lazy to comprehend that other countries might just speak another language).

You really want to leave? Well, let me help you with your exit strategy:-

- As you're emigrating mainly for healthcare purposes, make sure you don't have what's commonly known as a 'pre-existing condition' - you know, like epilepsy, diabetes type I, cancer or any sort of heart condition - anything, in short, that might entail immediate healthcare in your new country of residence. More than health tourists, you see, these countries hate health immigrants. They want to minister to those souls whose taxes have paid into the maintenance of a healthcare program. You haven't.

- Make sure you've got a marketable skill, which your new country needs. Some countries need teachers, or nurses or doctors. Most would kill for scientists. If you're a pizza chef at the local Pizza Hut or a counter girl at the local CVS, forget it. They hire citizens first. Foreign countries are like that - unless you're willing to work for less than their minimum wage.

- Learn a foreign language. Most of the world doesn't speak English. By the way, forget about France. The most sensible country in Europe is very protectionist. In fact, if you're not European and brilliant, forget Europe, altogether.

- If you do get a foot in the door, please try not to big up the 'American stupidity' myth by slavishly agreeing with whoever in that country mentions what they perceive to be a fact. They expect you to argue against their assumption. Listen to the talking heads in their media. None of them even comes close to saying outright that the people in their countries are stupid. For you to do so is just ... stupid.

- If you can't accommodate any or all of the above, marry someone from the country to which you want to emigrate ... and stay there. But remember ... as a naturalised citizen, should you ever become disappointed in the country of your choice, you have an option ... you can always come home. Maybe by then, we'll have a universal healthcare plan, and one that's free at source, but funded by the taxpayer.


These people are either so arrogant or so stupid or both that they cannot see the harm their spoiled and puerile capriciousness is doing to this Presidency. I have never seen a serving United States President, newly elected, so pilloried, not only by the opposition, but also by elements of his own party. Look, the Republicans have put their wagons in a circle and sent up smoke signals distinctively saying NO; they've sent their drones, suitably brainwashed, their one braincell filled to the limit with Glennbeckian antifreeze, out onto the battlefield to spread the birther/socialist/communist doctrine. That's one front.

If the President has to do battle with the people who elected him, as well, he's doomed. And if all y'all don't grow up and grow a pair and realise that this is bigtime government and it ain't pretty, then don't bother voting again; and you'll always get the government you deserve. And while you're contemplating the next thing about which to nit-pick the President, as he's about to rescind DADT and DOMA, why not start by doing some reading ... I recommend the Constitution for starters.

You see, I know it's hard to believe, but we've honestly got a truly intelligent, articulate and intellectual individual at the helm now, and he's on our side. Hold him accountable for his actions, when something goes tangibly wrong. He's said as much that he expects that from the electorate; but cut him some slack on the trivial stuff. Really.

It's stupid.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

If It's a Troll, It Must Be a Republican

There's an infestation of trolls on Bill Maher's comment page - vicious, rampant Rightwing beings, insulting, narrow-minded, ugly, white individuals - you know the type: The sort you see on the news at Town Maulings. One is particularly bad. He appears to be a career militarist. His MySpace page reveals that, whilst he attended a college, he didn't take a degree. He's in the Navy, and he describes himself as 'a proud parent.' He reminds me of a particular cousin of mine, who was raised in a Southern household, but one with Progressive, liberal leanings - what his mother would call 'a Democratic kitchen.' This cousin chose to attend Virginia Military Institute and came out brainwashed in Reagan rhetoric, which descended, over the years, into Rush rhetoric.

My cousin regularly argues political dogma with me by e-mail, and consistently insults me with ad hominem remarks, but he always ends his e-mails by reminding me how much affection he holds for me - affection, but not esteem. However, this stranger troll, on Bill's page, has targeted me, but in his assault on me, he always manages to link whatever insult he's levelling against my opinion or my intelligence to Bill as well. Thus, he's called us 'windbags', and his latest rant insinuated that we were 'unAmerican elitists.'

Well, I always suspected Bill Maher and I were spiritual twins separated at birth, but this takes the assumption to a new level. I remember a time from the 2008 Presidential campaign - already, memories of that are quick upon us - when the Queen of the Trolls, herself, Sarah Palin, was fresh on the scene, casting aspersions on anyone who found himself or herself in possession of a first class university degree, anyone able to warble a word of more than two syllables, anyone who trusted science as fact rather than mythology and folk philosophy bound into a book and marketed as 'faith', as 'elitist'. In that respect, and for certain tranches of people, 'elitist' became as filthy and fearful a word as 'paedophile' or 'pervert.'

Yet scarcely a week after Palin's fateful utterance, I recall Bill, in his opening monologue, exhorting people to take the 'elitist' epithet, turn it into something positive, and wave that banner with pride. After all, and I'm sure Mrs Palin and most of her followers failed to realise this, the United States was conceived in liberty by a gaggle of classically educated men who were spawns of the Age of Enlightenment, all of whom, both by the dictates of their time and our contemporary era, would be classed as 'elitists.'

Not many Rightwing trolls know that, although a fair few of them seem fond of quoting Thomas Jefferson's blood of martyrs watering the tree of liberty line.

Well, if the wingnuts are right, and there is a God who'll have a Judgement Day, I want to be standing at the right hand of my spiritual twin, when we're assigned a passage on the boat crossing the river Styx into hell, condemned there by a trollish God for being elitist, unAmerican windbags. At least, I'll be in good company.

What amazes me, however, is how trolls seem to have pervaded America in every echelon of political life. If Sarah Palin is the Troll Queen, then I suppose Karl Rove must be her king. After all, it was Rove who decided that the ex-Republican strategist, Matthew Dowd, had the right idea, when Dowd opined that the Republicans should ignore courting independent voters and galvanise the base.

And there's the rub: The Republican base is primarily rural, agrarian, uneducated or undereducated, and religious. In God they trust, and everybody else pays cash. They are what the Europeans would call, in another age and time, peasants. Peones. The great unwashed. So the Republicans promised a theocratic government to these people and invested power-brokerage ability in the hands of the Ernest T Basses and Gomer Pyles of this world; and unlike Ernest T, these people don't throw rocks, they multitask and shoot guns, whilst reading their Bibles.

Sarah and Karl throw out zingers to their zealots and send them forth to troll the land that's become Blue America, sowing seeds of fear and distrust and hoping they'll take root. For healthcare reform, read 'death panels'. Re-engaging multi-laterally with our allies in the world means 'showing weakness.' Having an intelligent, articulate, thinking man at the helm of our government, suddenly means his legitimacy as an American citizen is questioned, he's accused of 'palling around with terrorists,' and he's shouted down as a liar to his face in the very Congress of the United States of America. Joe Wilson, people, is a troll.

And all collective souls that rebelled against the United States in the era of the Civil War, who spun their desire to continue the institution of slavery under the guise of 'states' rights' can roll to the right in their graves at the thought that the fruit of the loins of their descendents are ugly, mealy-mouthed and whining little gremlin-like beings we're accustomed to meeting under bridges in the realms of fairy tales. Well, it looks as though when fairy tales are brought into reality, they become horror stories.

What's a horror story without a wicked witch and scary clown? Who else but Michele Bachmann and Glenn Beck?

Bachmann comes to prominence by reducing the usually loquacious Chris Matthews to stupified silence by proclaiming various Congressional members of the blue persuasion as being unAmerican (that word again) and calling for investigations into 'unAmerican activities.' Joe McCarthy lives again and hails, once more, from Minnesota. Strange that a state that can spawn Al Franken and Hubert Humphrey can also give rise to political detritus such as this woman, who accuses the President of establishing secret FEMA concentration camps and who exhorts people to actually slit their wrists in order to become blood brothers in a protest against the American census. I can only assume that she doesn't realise that to slit one's wrists can prove to be fatal, and with such a shrinking base, these people need all the followers they can muster; or maybe she does hope to promote martyrs for their 'cause', as long as she's not one of the fallen.

Beck the clown is more Chucky the evil doll. He's another exhorter, whose irresponsible use of free speech has already resulted in someone going on a killing rampage because Beck opined that Obama's next objective would be to send policemen after people's guns. He enforces his followers' sense of disenfranchisement by turning the screw that the President is actually racist, with a deep-seeded hatred of white people, whilst at the same time, acknowledging that Obama actually is better for the country than John McCain would have been. Better for Beck, probably, because it's given him more fodder to foist on his rank fire of invective. And when all else fails, Glenn, give us a few tears for your country, and this will eventually result in some poor sod, being frogmarched to a place in a forest where Dan'l Boone killed a bear and hung from a similar tree, with the word 'FED' etched onto the flesh of his chest. For what? For doing his job.

Beck and Bachmann, people, are trolls.

I'm not even mentioning Rush Limbaugh, because in the theocratic world created in the minds of these bastions of the Right, Limbaugh would occupy God's throne.

The lunatics really have taken over the asylum, so much so, that it's almost comical to watch Eric Cantor, a Republican and a Southern Jew, a cultured and educated man, assume a facial expression akin to acute constipation, as he stands idly by and lets these bloviators ... well, bloviate. Lindsey Graham, a leftover from the age of Ashley Wilkesian effete Southern gallantry, keeps his dainty mouth firmly shut in a mien of disapproval, all the while looking as though he wants the earth to open and swallow him with an enormous gulp.

There's an old Greek proverb, oft-quoted, which says that a fish stinks from its head; and from the highest echelons of the Right comes the clarion call to trolldom. It assumes the guise of the First Amendment and asserts its right to freedom of speech. I'm all for civilised debate. I welcome a conservative point of view; but there's a difference between debate and discussion and vengefully personal attacks aimed at shouting an opponent down, thus, denying the opponent 'freedom of speech'; and that is unconstitutional.

I understand these people are afraid of a changing world around them. I understand that they feel disenfranchised. A lot of Democrats felt that way as well, especially during the last 8 years. A lot of people are wondering now why the Left didn't make more of an aggressive show in the face of Bushco rampant on the American scene. Many progressives deem that lack of protest a sign of weakness, but these people must remember that civil liberties were curtailed by Rovian antics, and the Constitution, itself, was deemed a mere scrap of paper. Truth is, the trolls ruled the roost until 2008, and they were de-throned. They've now assumed a hard-core and primitive protest stance. We on the Left recognise them to be nothing more than domestic terrorists, but it's worth noting that today's terrorist most always becomes tomorrow's freedom fighter.

To paraphrase Bill Maher: Not all Republicans are trolls, but if you're a troll, you're probably a Republican.

Monday, September 21, 2009

View from a Broad - Part I: The Ignorantly Stupid

Right, here I sit, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, gearing myself up for another visit Stateside to see the friends and relatives. It's not long now until the end of October, when I'll arrive. Whilst I'd hoped to visit closer Thanksgiving because I miss that particular holiday, coming earlier has its plus points - I won't be bothered by the particularly nasty brand of British Trick-or-Treaters on Hallowe'en (the sort who sullenly hold their hands out, opened palm up, and demand the 'treat' of cold, hard cash), I'll get to vote in my state's gubernatorial election (and hopefully keep Virginia firmly in the blue fold), and I'll get to see my hero, Bill Maher, at his New York City gig, with good company in the City for a nice weekend. All that more than makes up for missing Thanksgiving, and it also saves certain relatives tut-tutting over the fact that I'm a vegan.

However, unless my mood changes pretty damned quickly, I'll be coming home angry. In fact ... I'LL BE COMING HOME MAD AS HELL AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!!!

I know that's the rallying cry of the birthers, the teabaggers, and various other ignorati, who people the far right extreme of the Dark Side, and it's they who bear most of the brunt of my anger; but they share it with their spiritual nemeses, I'm afraid. Politics really do make strange bedfellows.

I'm equally as angry with the far Left of the equation.

In fact, I've come to view the culture war that's happening now in the United States as a fierce battle for our nation's soul waged between the stupidly ignorant and the ignorantly stupid.

There's a difference.

Ignorance is lack of knowledge. Stupidity is simply lack of common sense. It's very possible to be ignorant of facts, data, literature and the world in general, but also be wise in having a general modicum of common sense. I've known several elderly Italians, who speak only their regional dialect, who can't even read or write their own vernacular, yet who have a rich folk wisdom which gets them through their daily lives.

It is also possible to have a first class graduate degree education and yet be profoundly obtuse when it comes to understanding or relating to other people, everyday events and life in general in the real world. I live in an England which is controlled by the Labour Party. I know.

Thus, it is with the extremes, Right and Left, in the United States at the moment. Chalk and cheese. Oil and vinegar.

It's a safe assumption to make (and I hate assuming) that most of the folks you saw on the Mall a couple of weekends ago, are ignorant. In fact, you'd probably be hard put to find a high school diploma amongst them. Many of the really elderly who made the trip - the Korean War veterans and their wives - probably barely made it through elementary school. A lot of these folks are from the Deep South, the Red States of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and, yes, South Carolina. Suffice it to say that the Deep South, New Orleans and Atlanta apart, is neither refined nor particularly hospitable to people they perceive to be different. Short code: It's rough. I almost married a boy from Alabama. His people held me in high suspicion solely by virtue of the fact that I was a Virginian.

A lot of these people, too, came from the sparsely populated Midwestern states, where people are few and far between; and I would imagine that the older folk from that region, too, didn't value education that highly.

So they're uneducated and most of them are religious; and a lot of the older people remember when our enemies had names like 'nazi' or 'fascist' or 'communist' ... or even 'socialist.' And it's also sad to surmise that a lot of these older people remember a time when there was a different 'social order' in the United States, but they're savvy enough to know that it's not particularly au fait to voice that they preferred this type of social order.

To paraphrase a US President, a torch has been passed to a new generation, and they're feeling left in the lurch. Many of them probably remember feeling the same way 49 years ago when the electorate put a Catholic in the Oval Office, but at least, in their uneducated minds, that President was the same colour as they ... and look what happened to him.

They're feeling lost and abandoned in a country they thought they knew, while the change around them had been too great for them to comprehend. Suffice it to say, also, that these people are rooted to their geographic location. They might take the odd vacation, but it's never that far from home and certainly not out of the country. A majority of Americans still do not possess a passport, yet suddenly, in their own country, there's a need to speak another language.

This lot are easy pickings for a media-savvy opportunist, especially one who believes his own rhetoric. When I first saw Network as a college student in the mid-Seventies, I took it for the satire it was. I never imagined I would ever see Howard Beale played out in real life in front of my eyes as the hysterical, quasi-illiterate, carpet-chewing Glenn Beck ... and I'm barely old enough to remember Oral Roberts's 'put-one-hand-on-the-radio-and-the-other-in-your-pocket' rants.

Beck and his creatures, as well as Limbaugh, have honed in on these poor people and given them a healthy disguise for their inherent racism. 'That which we would call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,' says Shakespeare, so that by which we would disguise racism would stink like a sewer, unless we call it 'socialism,' 'fascism,' 'communism.' Never mind the fact that they're listening to a pundit who's preaching the gospel of Goebbels (yes, a Nazi, a fascist!) by repeating lies, rumour and innuendo again and again with mantra-like precision until, even if they couldn't believe the things he's said, they simply must be true, because he's said them enough times for the lies, the rumour and the innuendo to spread. And never mind the fact that what they want to see done - like certain science books burned, like people denied the right to speak at certain events, like God and the Christian religion becoming a part of governmental way of life - is both fascistic and unconstitutional (and that's more than a bit ironic, considering that they're clinging to Constitutional principles, about which they know nothing.)

And they know nothing because many of them, young and old, can barely read. They only know what's told them about the Constitution, and I have a very sneaking suspicion that elementary and high schools south of the Mason Dixon Line and in remote parts of the West, big up the Founding Fathers as quasi-saints with God smiling over their shoulders. This is a secular document, written by classically educated men who were products of an 18th Century enlightenment education and who were, to a man, non-believers. If these people found this truth to be self-evident, they'd rip the Constitution up quicker than George W Bush and Karl Rove did together. They genuinely believe that the President of the United States is the Anti-Christ. They believe in the FEMA concentration camps, they believe that he's foreign, that he's not a legitimate President, they fear for him to associate with their children, and there are even a few beknighted souls who'll slit their risks on a wink from Michele Bachmann in order to make the ubiquitous blood pact for their dying country.

Jimmy Carter raised the question, regarding these people, of inherent racism. He spoke the truth as a Southern man who lives in the South. I am barely old enough to remember Jim Crow, but I know that even now there are people in my own state who find it difficult to accept that a man of colour is our Commander-in-Chief; and it pains me to say that some of those people are in my own family.

Why are they like this, the old as well as the young? After all, this is the 21st Century and people and races mix freely. The key word has to be 'inherent.' People, unfortunately, inherit attitudes from generation to generation. The British are prime examples of this. They carry their grudges through centuries. Most of the British, most of the English, dislike and mistrust the French. That dislike, believe it or not, dates from the Hundred Years' War of the Middle Ages - almost 600 years ago, passed from generation to generation. It proved itself again, with Napoleon, and again, when General DeGaulle said, non, to British entry into what became the European Union almost forty years ago. Most recently, it reared its head again, when Nicolas Sarkozy accidentally on purpose forgot to issue an invitation to Her Majesty the Queen for the 65th anniversary celebrations of the D-Day Landings.

Moving up the scale, there are some British who simply just cannot get over the American Revolution. To them, we're still recalcitrant colonials who are secretly just waiting to be asked to return to the Commonwealth in order to be guided onto better and more moralistic leanings. It took them more than 200 years, but they've only just recently admitted that the rebellious colonials were, in fact, British. (That's all we were asking at the time, but there you go ... that's the Brits - too little, too late).

And then, there are the Germans. There are still people alive who remember the London Blitz and Dunkerque. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Normandy veterans cheerfully hate the Germans. What was fought in two wars in Flanders' fields, is now played out each time the England soccer team faces the Germans or on the beaches of Mallorca when the drunken English lager louts awake to find the Germans have their towels down on the sun lounges by the pool.

And so it is with the South. Parts of it, it has to be said, just haven't got over the Civil War. That was obvious with Joe Wilson, who's a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and who lobbied for the Confederate flag to fly over the capitol building in Columbia, South Carolina. Now, pardon me - and speaking as a Southerner and a descendent of traitors (because that's what the Confederates were) - but shouldn't the Sons of Confederate Veterans be, like, you know, a traitorous organisation?

My Confederate heritage is something, unfortunately, I can't shed. I'm stuck with the fact that my great-great grandfather backed the losing horse; but he was canny enough (and probably foresightful enough) to sign the Ironclad Oath as quickly as he could after the event. After all, he had mouths to feed. I don't, however, embrace it. We lost. End of. Move on. I'm actually proud of the achievements of my state - we were the first to elect an African-American governor and we supported the current President in the last election.

I know the South is slow and loathe to change; and this dichotomy makes me think of another dichotomy presented in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. It shows the divisions within the South and the Deep South. In the book, Ashley Wilkes is the classic Southern gentleman - educated, refined, well-travelled, an intellectual. He's described as being able to drink, ride and shoot as well as any of the County boys, but his heart isn't in those pursuits. His feyness, his love of the arts, his intellect, is accounted, by his contemporaries, for the fact that his mother was a Virginian; and Virginians were supposed to value those sorts of things (for which I should be proud, I suppose). Yet at the end of the War, Ashley is weak and prone to failure. In fact, he's propped up by his his wife and his would-be lover until the end, when he's left to stand alone by the death of one and the desertion of another.

The other side of the coin is represented by Scarlett, and her character - rough-hewn with a thin veneer of elegance on the exterior and a backbone of steel, who forces her way from the abject poverty of defeat and back to hollow riches, sucking up to Yankees and all sorts along the way. This is the sort of Southerner who moved to the forefront and moved ahead, forging the way for Jim Crow and 'separate but equal'.

Yet, as I've said elsewhere, some of the most progressive social legislation has come out of the South and was formed by Southern politicians. For every Strom Thurmond, we have an Al Gore, a Bill Clinton, a Lyndon Johnson, an Ann Richards, a Molly Ivins. Like Rhett Butler, another classically educated fictitious Southerner, they're pragmatic enough to have moved on from the Antebellum and embraced and worked for positive change in the South.

I look at these people, the retrograde Southerners, and I wonder when all this foolishness is going to stop. Maybe it lay dormant for many years, but the Bush neocons are the ones who manipulated the Republican base to the forefront, with the promise of a theocracy: The base in ascendancy, consigned to the comfort of their faux religion, in bed with their guns and allowing themselves to be guided by the very sort of secular men they abhor, who profess, but don't practice a religion and who couldn't give a rat's ass about them or their condition.

Knowledge is power, but to these people, knowledge is to be feared.

And next time, I'll explain my ire with their polar opposites - the far Left, or the stupidly ignorant.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Clowns to the Left of Him, Jokers to the Right

So here we are at the end of a long, hot summer (at least in Britain - how's that for an oxymoron), after an August of scorching and offtimes ridiculously ignorant debates about a topic which has suddenly become urgently de rigeur in the United States: healthcare reform.

It really has been the silly season back home - embarrassingly so for me. Living in Europe, I've just come off 8 years of trying to convince people this side of the Pond that not all Americans were as certifiable as the neocons in possession of the bully pulpit, allegedly duly elected representatives, indicating the will of the people. Just about the time when I can put my head above the figurative parapet and attempt to wave a US flag, I'm confronted with the absurd Town Maulings.

Universal healthcare in Europe is a given. It's been around a long time. In fact, it's so much taken for granted by citizens of the countries where it's established, that many citizens complain vigourously about the quality of the healthcare they receive; and even though they wouldn't be without the universal healthcare that they have, the naysayers trying to discredit Obama as a socialist/communist/fascist/illegal alien/the Devil incarnate listen to their bleatings across the Atlantic and embellish upon them, using this spin as fodder to fuel the fires of fear amongst the lowest common denominator of voters in the States.

After all, better the devil you know than the devil you don't, even if you didn't realise that the devil that gave you Medicare just might be the government.

That's the ignorance of the Right - ugly, hideously white, quasi-illiterate,faith-based, excluding and intolerant and all in the name of Christianity.

That's the base ignorance which comes as a result of poor education, which resides in provincial and rural communities, usually found in the Deep South or in the sparsely-populated Western states, the stuff of people raised on a diet of Civil War stories and survivalists. The stuff of Timothy McVeigh, the paranoia that stoked Columbine, the sort of misappropriated loyalty that equates the Pro-Life campaign with the Pro-Death approval of the death penalty.

But the Right isn't the exclusive domain of ignorance, for ignorance resides on the Left-hand side of the American street as well; and in many ways, it's just as ludicrous, just as loud-mouthed, just as close-minded and just as intolerance. This brand of ignorance is uglier, because most of its proponents are educated, presume to be intelligent, and, quite frankly, should know better.

Of course, it's all about healthcare reform. What isn't, nowadays? For the shills of the Far Left, the self-proclaimed Progressives (who are anything but), Obama has done nothing right since taking office on January 20th. First there was the Wall Street bail-out, then the compromise with the Republicans on the Stimulus Package. There was the bi-partisan approach altogether, and now healthcare. Sprinkled amongst all that, Obama's neglected to legalise marijuana, repeal Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell and rescind the Defence of Marriage Act.

But healthcare's taken as much a centre stage for these people as it has for opponents of reform; and they just might, unwittingly, unite to kill it off entirely.

According to these people, Obama should have let the banks tank and at the same time, magically pull jobs from a magician's top hat. Do they not realise that, had Wall Street not been given a lifeline, there would be no jobs full stop, never mind magical ones pulled from magical hats. The United States economy would simply stop ... along with most of the major economies of the developed world. Of course, everyone deplores the greed engendered by Wall Street and the ethos of bonus that thrives there, but without the banking industry, where would the basic economy be?

These are people who, wrongly, believe that the greener grass of Europe is a haven of socialism.


European countries are beehives of capitalism. In fact, capitalism first came of age in England. The emergence of the English middle class signaled the end of the Middle Ages and heralded the dawning of a new sort of Renaissance. The noblesse oblige of France gave way to the noblesse de robe and, by extension, the solid bourgeoisie, or ... middle class. The only vestiges left of socialism are the healthcare systems - eclectic throughout Europe in design - and the public transport systems in each country, which vary from the sublime of France and Germany, to the ridiculously expensive in the UK.

The battle-cry of the some on the Progressive Left, regarding healthcare, is 'single-payer.' Single-payer or nothing. Forget the Third Way (ineffectual at the best of times, in my opinion), single-payer is the only way.

But it's not. And, I ask ... do they understand it? Do they understand that 'free at source' doesn't really mean ... 'free'? When they cry out that 'the government pays, that's what "single-payer" means,' do they understand where the government gets the money to pay for this medical care?

They get it from taxes, which will have to be raised across the board. Not the rich, not corporations. Everyone. Proportionately, yes - after all, to each according to his ability - but raised still.

I've lived under a single-payer system for 28 years. Simply put, on a good day, it works; on a bad day, it sucks. It's the luck of the draw, or rather, the luck of where you live. Live in an area where your local health authority has managed its budget well, and you'll never know a waiting list or anything less than a pristine hospital. Live where the bureaucrats who administer the authority's budget are feckless, and you'll have services cut, waiting lists months long and MRSA-infected hospitals with six-bed, mixed wards.

They'll grudgingly accept a 'public option', a vaguely-expressed version of they hybrid public-private combination popular throughout Southern Europe. This actually makes these sorts seem a bit more sensible. It at least tells me they're aware of the fact that Medicare only covers 80% of medical expenses and extending Medicare for all, would need a private top-up option added. (Of course, this is in opposition to the shills shouting 'Medicare for all' as a single-payer option, without stopping to think that 'Medicare for all' would mean 'all' would have to cough up the balance.

Then there's an idiot, shouting on another site, about getting rid of insurance companies entirely. Entirely. Presumably, this person doesn't drive a car or live in a house, which might burn or be damaged by a storm or hurricane. Presumably, he doesn't travel or own anything of value that might be lost or stolen, much less value his life in the event he has a family for whom provision might have to be made in the unlikely event of his death. Because all of the above would entail insurance, which would mean he would, in the words of the Wicked Witch of the North, kinda sorta, you know, need insurance companies.

Single-payer's the answer. Public option, maybe. Employer-based and co-operatives is a sell-out to Big Pharma and Big Business.

And this is when my head really begins to explode with anger, because in the midst of all this pandemonium, chaos, confusion and outright lies that have dominated the better part of the summer, this lot, the Left, the so-called Progressives, are ready to throw Obama under the political bus, walk away, denounce him as a traitor. Just like that. After 8 months.

I'm sorry, but even if Jesus Christ were the Son of God, even he wouldn't be able to undo in 8 months what it took the asswipes who raped our Constitution and instituted a rule of thuggery 8 years to achieve.

Already, on some sites there is talk of hoping there might be a primary challenge to Obama's leadership in 2012. Who could it be? Some say Hillary, who's repeatedly said she won't run at 65. Some are even hopeful of Ralph Nader, as if the United States would profit from having an 80 year-old at the helm - not to sound ageist, but one would live in hope that his Vice President would be considerably younger.

And these selfsame people sneered at Sarah Palin for being a quitter.

Obama never had the Right. From the getgo, they would always be against him. He's losing the Centre, because the Centre are confused as to what sort of healthcare plan he has in mind; and, quite honestly, that's Obama's fault for not having something, if not concise, at least a concrete, if rudimentary, plan about how to approach this reform. Yet I can understand his reticence to do so, considering the resounding bitchslap the Democratic Congress gave the Clintons in 1993, when they presented a healthcare plan fait accompli.

Obama, the Constitutional lawyer, is making government work the way government should work: Congress was called upon to legislate, to formulate an cost-effective universal healthcare package, even though, as I said on Bill Maher's forum, Congress is, at best, dysfunctional at the moment. It's polarized between the Right wingnut theocrats and a Democratic caucus that's at once high on the fact that they've gained the bully pulpit and suspicious of each of its own diverse factions within itself.

Forgive my Lincoln moment, but a House divided against itself cannot stand (the Democrats), and you can't please all the people all the time (healthcare and the President). Sometimes I think Lincoln was the last sane Republican; and look what happened to Lincoln.

I'm reading James Carville's latest book at the moment, 40 More Years, and one thing strikes me: Throughout the book, Carville refers to the Republicans as just that - 'the Republicans' or 'the Republican Party.' On the other hand, when he speaks of the Democrats, he refers to them as 'the Democratic caucus' or 'the Democratic coalition,' and those epithets ring true. Coalitions are weak at the best of times, and the Democrats are as culturally diverse as America, itself. All you needed to do was scan the sea of faces at each of the national conventions last year. Which one most closely resembled the America you know? And which one looked like the America of the 19th Century?


Earlier this summer, my socio-political muse, Bill Maher, was interviewed by Howard Kurz on CNN. During the interview, Kurz briefly mentioned the tea party phenomenon and the fact that some statements emanating from that movement were veering into the realms of a fascist fantasy. However, this was Freedom of Speech. He asked Bill about the First Amendment, and Bill made a remark that, for lack of a better word than a British one, gobsmacked Howard Kurz. Bill remarked that in travelling about, he noticed a worrying trend amongst younger people, specifically those on college campuses. More than the Right wingnutters, or at least just as much, college students on the Left were calling for a denial of Freedom of Speech. In short, they wanted to squelch dissent. I don't know what baffled and astounded Bill more - the fact that these people wanted to rescind this basic right, or the fact that they clearly were unfamiliar with the Constitution, which is probably why Bill was led to surmise that America was a stupid country.

And that surmisal pains me ... not because I disagree with Bill, because I did, at first; but now I agree. Because I see ignorance on the Left as well as the Right. There's a difference, however. The Right revere Sarah Palin and cult of willful ignorance, which denotes intellectual elitism as something pejorative and not to be trusted. These people revel in what they don't know and wear it proudly as a badge of honour, clinging to their guns and their religion in defence of this.

The Left, well, the Left are like those pseudo-intellectual wannabe high school philosophers - the sort who swanned about the halls of high schools in the early 70s, clutching a copy of Lord of the Rings, whose bookmark never seemed to progress past the first third of the interminably boring story. It looked cool. So now it looks cool to pretend you understand and are familiar with the Constitution, while all the time you know as much about it as the wingnutters from the Right: jack shit.

And it's ok for you to call down the Right as stupid, blind, narrow-minded et al, whilst crying for the Republicans to be silenced on the one hand, and Obama to be sacrificed on the other. Their ignorance is more tragic, for they are blind to it, lost in a forest out of which they can't find their way, because there are simply too many trees.

Their ignorance is an ignorance of arrogance, where their way is the right way and they know better than anyone, irregardless of experience.

As my late mother would say, they won't be told.

People I've met on various internet sites and blogspheres, people from this type of Left, tell me I've been away from the US too long. I'm constantly being told that I don't know my own country, that I don't live here anymore, and, therefore, even though I possess a passport, pay taxes and vote regularly, I've no right to comment upon or even worry about any socio-economic or political situation in the United States. Well, I'll tell you what I DO know.

I know that never before in my sordid life on either side of the Atlantic, have I ever been spurred with a sense of optimism and hope as I was last year during the campaign of Barack Obama. I'd never seen a Presidential candidate that inspired me so much. I was beginning to wonder if any ever would.

My parents came of age during the Great Depression. My father cast his first vote for Roosevelt's second term in 1936; my mother's first vote came four years later when she voted for his third term. Both their families were suffering along with everyone else when Roosevelt told them they had nothing to fear but fear, itself. My dad went to war, and my mother learned to drive and worked his job, for twice the salary he earned. During the war, she and her sisters shut up their various houses and returned to live with my grandparents, so they could pool their ration cards.

Later, they were Kennedy Democrats, and, as a small child, I could sense their excitement when Kennedy won to ask us not what our country could do for us, rather that we should ask what we could do for our country. They grew up and matured under a notion of service and sacrifice, if the time required it. They may have grumbled a bit, but they simply got on with it, and they endured.

In his first show of the 2009 season, Bill touched upon this subject, wondering if the people of today had an inkling of an idea about service to the country, about responding when the President asked for their help in achieving some of the monumental tasks heaped upon him to achieve. Bill was pretty pessimistic about that, reckoning that our society today was lazy; they wanted instant gratification, and they wanted the President to 'do' everything for them to alleviate their suffering without doing anything in return. This was not, reckoned Bill, the same generation as the so-called Greatest Generation.

He's been proven right. This is what we're seeing now. People from both sides of the political coin, turning their back on a gifted, sensitive, caring and intelligent President. Inexperienced, you say? Who has the necessary experience for this Poisoned Chalice? In the past 30 years, we've had a peanut farmer, an actor, a patrician, a philanderer and a dolt. For the first time in my life, it seems as if we have a man in the Oval Office who genuinely cares about the people who've chosen him, as much as he cares about the people who haven't.

He's a human being, a man; he's fallible like we all are. He'll make mistakes and falter, but he's criticized even when he admits error; and he'll falter even more if those of us who voted for him just turn our backs and walk away, along with the birthers, the teabaggers, the Creationists and the old Confederacy. Good company, eh?

Just because they're the jokers on the Right, doesn't mean you should take pride in being the clowns on the Left. Maybe it's time the Democrats stopped falling in love and started falling in line a bit - hey, we could have a party, like, you know ... the Democratic Party.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The First Amendment for Mean Girls

On Friday night, my dog had 5 pups; by Sunday, 4 were dead, and the remaining puppy was dying. The last thing I needed was someone choosing to exercise Freedom of Speech on my laptop.

A lot of discussion has been making the rounds lately about the First Amendment; one might say there's been a lot of freedom of speech being exercised about ... well, about Freedom of Speech, especially at that curious American phenomenon called the Town Hall Meeting, with raucous crowds of the white, the elderly and the ignorant, insisting, when challenged, that they are only exercising their First Amendment right. The White House, pontificating, agrees and does nothing.

Then the earnest Left protests that these people aren't really exercising Freedom of Speech; instead, they are actually prohibiting others from exercising their Constitutional right. And, again, the White House agrees and does nothing.

The First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, can often be a confusing concept, especially when the person using it doesn't really understand it; and that's when it becomes a dangerous weapon.

You know, someone once said that the pen was mightier than the sword. If that's the truth, then the tongue - and by extension, the fingers propelled by the thought processes onto the keys of a personal computer - can only prove to be venomous to the point of being lethal; because at some point, Freedom of Speech becomes irresponsible speech, and irresponsible speech has been known, in some instances, to be an effective death sentence, sometimes literally.

The ability to discern when Freedom of Speech becomes irresponsible speech is down to tact, good upbringing, and common sense. Sometimes, we cross the divide, most times, unintentionally in a moment of anger, madness or sheer insanity; and then we repair the faux pas by that simple act of contrition: the apology.

Funny enough, apologising was the theme of this week's editorial given by my socio-political guru, Bill Maher, on his Real Time program. Bill castigated the Republican Party, personified by Mitt Romney, Karl Rove and Sarah Palin, as unabashedly propagating the misguided belief that one should never apologise for actions effected in one's country's name. In short, America, in the view of the Right, was absolute perfection, a country who never acknowledged its mistakes and, therefore, should have no reason to make any apology to anyone. They espouse, I would imagine, not so much a doctrine of American exceptionalism, but more a chauvinistic doctrine of national infallibility.

Which is really a load of turgid bullshit, when you think about it.

Bill's premise was to show how Obama (and, by extension, the Democratic Party) were showing a mature approach, in international issues, by admitting American fallacies and apologising for them, which is, basically, the mature thing to do - own up to your mistakes and make amends through the simple act of contrition. Nations, after all, consist human beings, all of whom, from time to time ... make mistakes.

The Republican approach was merely to bully through, posturing and posing, and going only as far as admitting pity for the culprits of our actions, without ever admitting culpability. It's sheer arrogance and blatant stupidity.

The three people singled out by Bill, pretty much represent the tripartite soul of the Republican Party:- Romney, basically a good man misguided by faith; Rove, a heartless and soulless opportunist; and Palin, the ultimate Mean Girl.

Now, as it happens, I know quite a bit about Mean Girls, having grown up in the South. Transplanted from Europe in colonial times, the temperate climate must have meant this species of womanhood burst to fruition there. Miss Florence King in her master work, Southern Ladies and Gentlemen, describes the Mean Girl as Scarlett dressed as Melanie with a Daddy fixation. And she's pretty much right, although probably all women have a touch of the 'Mean Girl' about them, and - in truth - it doesn't hurt to release the inner bitch from time to time. We all do it.

I remember once attending an inter-collegiate sorority function and over-indulging on Singapore Slings. When a rival sorority Phi Mu arrived at the function, I remember announcing their arrival in a loud voice to all and sundry, 'Rattle, rattle, rattle. Here come the cattle ... Phi MOOOOO!'

That went down a treat. I ate crow and apologised.

Or when I ran into my ex-fiance' with his then-current squeeze, who'd been graduated from cheap bit on the side to fully-fledged girlfriend at my expense, I couldn't resist plunging the verbal dagger and twisting it by quipping: 'Well, I see you're indulging your penchant for having a cushion for the pushin.'' THAT time, I didn't apologise. He was an almost-married man, I had the ring to prove it, and she was NO Angelina Jolie.

Freedom of Speech? Yes, on both occasions; but the first one was an example of irresponsible speech, tempered by an admission of culpability and rectified by an apology. I'd stayed too long at the free bar and thought I was being witty and cute, when, in fact, I was being a prat. The second occasion was a justified observation. This woman had snaked my man; I'd been abandoned. My pride was hurt, and I was justified a bitchy rejoinder. Besides, it made me feel better, and, anyway, they married, only subsequently to divorce. Karma works absolute wonders.

But irresponsible speech becomes exclusively the domain of the Mean Girl, when she uses it, like murder, with malice aforethought. Palin excels at this trait: 'palling around with terrorists' ... 'being a small-town mayor is sorta like being a community organiser' ... 'death panels' ... conveniently twisting words around to make herself appear the victim of a merciless onslaught - the air of injury when Obama made the remark about 'lipstick on a pig', an analogy which had nothing to do with her, but which gave her an opportunity to make it look like a personal insult; the David Letterman escapade, knowing full well the joke (admittedly in poor taste) referred to her older daughter, the one with sexual form, rather than the younger, underage one. Mean Girls are like 'cafeteria Catholics.' They pick and choose the information relevant to their slimey plans and machinations and put a pejorative spin on it.

But cherry-picking isn't exclusively a habit cultivated by professional Mean Girls. Cherry-picking information and using it to promote a specific agenda has been the prime tool of every spin doctor since the saintly Sir Thomas More, in his youthful service promoting the Tudor family legitimacy, put pen to paper to propagate the rumour that Richard III killed the Princes in the Tower - and we know what thanks he ultimately got for that! On Bill's show this week, during his monologue, he wondered aloud what on earth could be done to convince the Town Hall protesters that their fears and assumptions about healthcare reform were unfounded, that there were to be no death panels, no health rationing, that abortion wouldn't be funded by the government.

The short answer to Bill's question is: Nothing. Because all of the above rumours, like every bit of rumour and innuendo, is founded on irrefutable fact. The Republican Party have done exactly what I imagined they would do, when faced with the prospect of universal healthcare being implemented in the United States - they've gone to the original and most famous source of universal healthcare, the United Kingdom, and found cursory evidence of various inefficiencies and embellished upon them for their own purposes. Here is some evidence:-

- Death Panels: Of course, there are no such things, per se; and Palin extricated her off-kilter interpretation of this from a Republican-initiated clause in one of the healthcare bills, dealing with the living will aspect of end-of-life care. It's an option, not a requirement, and it's dependent upon the patient in question being completely compos mentis. However, it has to be said that end-of-life care, especially for the elderly, in Great Britain sucks, to put it mildly. These are the people who were adolescents or young adults, when Aneurin Bevan founded the National Health Service, whose motto at that time was a promise for care 'from the cradle to the grave.'

Of course, 60 years ago, when the National Health was founded, people stopped work at 65 and were dead 2 years later. The 'founding fathers' of the NHS never once imagined that better diet and medical advancements would mean an extended life expectancy. They also never reckoned on future generations marrying later and having smaller families, a combination of this and other factors, resulting in precious little money to spend on extended end-of-life care for the elderly. If a care home is needed for an elderly person, the person in question pays, if it's proven he has assets amounting to more than a certain amount of money - meaning, most everyone does pay, even if it means selling the family home. The care offered in a lot of these homes is questionable at best, because the wealthy owners of these private facilities employ the low-hanging fruit of the employment world at the cheapest of wages. Well, you pay peanuts, you get monkeys; and in the end, it's the elderly who suffer. There are horror stories as well, some even reported by the venerable BBC, of lackadaisical care extended elderly patients in hospital facilities, often put down to over-worked medical staff. The recent brouhaha over rampant MRSA and c-diff prevalent in filthy hospitals was brought home to the public only when the mother-in-law of a popular television personality caught c-diff from her local hospital and died.

All of the above, added to the very popular and positive presence of hospice care homes, not just for the elderly, but for anyone of any age, suffering from a terminal illness, has been pejoratively spinned into the misbegotten misnomer we now know as 'death panels.'

- Health Rationing: Again, this is based on a 'half-truth' emanating from single-payer Britain, amplified for adverse publicity purposes. The real truth is that healthcare in Britain is only as good as the local authority is able to manage its budget effectively. Basically, some do and some don't. In The Guardian, some weeks ago, there was an op-ed written by an American woman, extolling the virtues of the NHS in having dealt with her post-partum surgical procedure. Faced with the prospect of being put on a 6-bed ward, and separated from her newborn child? No problem. A kindly nurse goes away and - hey, presto! - the woman in question is immediately ensconced in a private room on the exclusive 13th floor with baby in tow. What a wonderful healthcare system! This would never ever have happened in her hometown of Brooklyn! Marvelous! Stupendous!

Then the ubiquitous commentators, most of whom were British, went into overdrive. First of all, the hospital in question was University Hospital in London, arguably the best teaching hospital in the country; secondly, that the woman in question lived in the catchment area serviced by University Hospital meant one thing and one thing only - money. Thirdly, it seems that the lady, herself, is the wife of a visiting professor at that concern. Favouritism? Just a bit. And finally, for expressing concern at being placed in a 'common wardroom' where privacy was scarce to non-existent, euphemistically understand that she pitched a hissy fit and probably scared the living shit out of the nurse in question, who had no other recourse, considering her temper and status, than to play nice. A pleb like me pulling a stunt like that would have been left to stew in her own juices. It's whom you know, dontcha know?

But I digress ... the basic truth is sometimes services are rationed, depending upon the finances available. It's a question of administrators deciding whether they need more doctors and nurses (always in short supply) or whether pharmaceuticals/treatments prevail. In some areas, yes, it is a postcode lottery. About a year ago, a woman took her local health authority to court, demanding that they supply her with the drug herceptin, which would enhance her survival chances for the breast cancer from which she suffered. Sometimes, as well, services are actually cut. Margaret Thatcher removed dentistry from the sphere of the National Health Service, and initiated fees for eye examinations (heretofore free, under the service), all in order to save a buck (or a quid, as the case may be). Until the most recent slanging match occurred over the British taking umbrage at the GOP's misrepresentation of their health service, there was much, much talk about reducing/removing various services from the scope of the National Health Service, in a last-ditch effort to prevent it from tanking in the next two years. In short, to quote a well-known Democratic sage, 'It's the economy, stupid.'

- Government-funded Abortions: Now this is something straight from the UK's system. Yes, there is abortion on demand here, and it's funded by the NHS; but there's no reason to believe that this would be something actively promoted in the US. In the UK, birth control is free and available on demand. Used responsibly, especially amongst the young and sexually active, there should be no need for abortions or even underage pregnancy. Responsible sex education is actually promoted in school health programs here, but the sad fact is that Britain leads the way in underage sexual activity and pregnancy; and children who become pregnant can actually have an abortion without their parents' consent or knowledge (not that any do, because abortion, here in the UK, is used as a means of birth control). Sordid? Well, yes, but there's truth in what the GOP are propagating, and their base is believing it.

But the Left aren't immune from picking a few cherries, themselves. Bill's been on a rant this summer about 'stupidity', specifically how stupid certain tranches of American society are.

'Stupidity is a pre-existing condition,' he remarked on this week's show; but, Bill, as much as I love ya, I gotta tell ya ... It's not just the Right who are stupid.

Single-payer seemed to be the focus of discussion on this week's Real Time, and Bill mused that possibly the majority of people in the US (meaning those who 'feared' the concept) actually understood what a 'single-payer' system was all about, what it entailed. He then proceeded to explain this system thus:

'Single-payer is when the government pays for your healthcare; it's the system that most of Europe uses.'

First point: 'Single-payer' is not a term that's widely used on this side of the Pond at all. In fact, most Britons understand their health system to be paid for via a single monthly deduction from their monthly salary to be paid into the vast kitty known as the National Insurance (hence 'single-payer', geddit?) Basically, the tax payer pays the government to provide him/her with healthcare, which is 'free' at source. Just because you don't pay your doctor at the counter, doesn't mean it's free. He gets paid via your National Health contribution. And certain services aren't free - you pay for your eye exams and your spectacles or contact lenses (and neither of those are cheap); most people pay for their pharmaceutical prescriptions (and those are, hence, the propensity of doctors in the UK to prescribe unnecessarily - Big Pharma operates here too, but in a different way).

I agree with Bill. Too many people in the US don't understand the 'single-payer' concept - but just as many people on the Left don't understand it either, and for different reasons. These people believe it actually is free, that the government will pay for your health. What they don't understand is that taxes will have to be raised to pay for this service. Honestly, there's a ditto-head who posts regularly on HuffPo, whose every rant is a mantra of 'Single-payer! Single-payer! It's free! It's free!'

I could scream.

Could it work here in the US? Probably, but it wouldn't be ideal; and it wouldn't be a long time before people would start harping back to the 'old days' of healthcare. The simplest way to implement it would be to go the Canadian route, rather than the British - extend Medicare to everyone, make it 100% instead of 80% and tack the added expense of this onto a person's Social Security contribution - a stealth tax, if you will. Then, you do what they do in Canada: present your Medicare care, the doctor's receptionist takes your details, and the doctor bills the government.

Second point: Most of Europe do not use single-payer as a healthcare system. In fact, most of Europe wouldn't touch single-payer with a barge pole. France, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Belgium and the Netherlands operate a highly effective hybrid system, where the 'public option' pays around 77% of medical care and employers offer group top-up private schemes via heavily regulated private health insurers. Taxes, I have to say, are high; because the 'public option' kicks into 100% for unemployed individuals and in certain instances of critical medical care; but a person has the option of being treated entirely within the realm of public health, or opting to get the treatment of his choice, in the hospital of his choice, with the specialist of his choice, via his private top-up. In France, this even covers holistic options.

Could this work in the US? Infinitely better, provided the public option is presented as a given. Again, extend Medicare to cover its 80% as present, and then tie the private insurers in with employers, regulate them, and then have group top-up schemes offered as part and parcel of a person's employment ... and raise taxes, because, really higher taxes is a small price to pay (bad pun) for healthcare, as opposed to bankrupting yourself, losing your home, or losing your temper and your sanity in a welter of paperwork and haggling with your insurance company.

Continuing, Germany doesn't even offer a public option. Curiosly, Germany's healthcare plan, based on work-based private group schemes, coupled with healthcare co-operatives where people's premiums are calculated on their ability to pay, is closer to the rigamarole that Obama seems to be punting about. The Germans, like everyone else, heavily regulate private insurers ... and the system there works just fine. If you're happy with the cover you have, fine; if not, you can shop around, and even go into a co-operative system.

And guess where private health insurance is making a killing at the moment? Great Britain. A lot of firms offer private health cover as a perk, but only for the executive cadre; however, more and more people are individually taking out private health insurance to circumvent the possibility of having to wait an undue length of time for a minor surgical procedure that could be taken care of privately, right away. Says it all.

Now, I know a little bit about all of the above. I live under one system and have various and sundry friends and relatives who live in France, Italy and Germany, and who can attest to the above. But I have a distinct impression that people from the Left would be just as obstreporous as people from the Right when it comes to wanting to believe certain mantra and dogma to enhance their own particular brand of righteous superiority. I know that for a fact.

I received it, unsolicited, on my laptop Sunday morning, a stark but subtle warning, cherry-picked to perfection in its spin, about my ability to exercise my 'freedom of speech'. It seems I should be due a bit of exclusion, based, more or less, on the fact, since I live abroad, I don't really have any understanding or knowledge of the country where I was born and educated, where I still pay taxes and whose passport I still hold. In a distinctly Luddite view, as I'd 'gone native', I had no real right to comment on the situation in the US, basically because the only insight I could give was that limited insight of someone abroad ... which, is to say, doesn't really count.

For an instant, I was tempted to double-check my passport just to ensure that it didn't give my name as 'Benedict Arnold', a traitor to the British, or even that I was a real-life manifestation of Philip Nolan, the man without a country.

That was exclusion. That was a denial of freedom of speech as if what comment or opinion I had to offer (in another forum) was perfidious or harmful to the collective thought processes of the participating group as a whole, because it was 'foreign'; it implied, as such, sedition. And this was from the Left.

Now ... leading on from the Rightwing Mean Girls belloweathering about exercising their basic right to Freedom of Speech, this rather insalubrious warning smacks of the only piece of Constitutional legislation effected in a misguided effort to stifle freedom of speech and any harkening of thought back to the old 'Mother Country' - the Alien and Sedition Act, something so contrary to the Founding Fathers' establishment of this nation's ethos that his passing of it weighed upon John Adams's heart until the day he died. To this day, it's never been enacted.

You may well reckon that my little billet-doux came from a lady of sorts. An anonymous Mean Girl from the Left, who even resorted to a bit of ad hominem (or should I say, ad feminim) within just for a bit of bite. Respond? Moi? The ability to respond, dear Reader ... was blocked.

So the Mean Girls of the Right invoke Freedom of Speech as their prerogative and shout the opposition down with lies and invective. And the Mean Girls of the Left, who have yet to make a mark on the public stage, do the same cherry-picking spin dance, whilst stifling any difference of opinion, simply by hitting the block button.