Thursday, March 31, 2011

A few words about collective bargaining rights

In my opening post, I spoke a few words about my opposition to Governor Walker's actions against public employees and school teachers, as well as his cuts to education. My only real reason offered at the time (I was sort of rushing through items, trying to get to all of them) was that my mother is, in fact, a public school teacher. I think it's time I went a little further in explaining why my opposition isn't based simply on personal interest.

First, and most obviously, these cutbacks are being put into action by a governor who has made much of calling for "sacrifice" in difficult times. That sounds nice, doesn't it? Except what is the reality? Who is being asked to sacrifice? Surely not everyone. Instead, the governor and Republicans in the legislature - not satisfied to say to their wealthy donors and corporate allies that now isn't the best time for tax cuts and increased exemptions - chose to exclude those groups from the sacrificing. While facing a huge deficit, complaining about it daily, and making much of how easy of a life teachers supposedly have. This is like spending all your money to party and then complaining that you don't have enough to pay your mortgage.

Second, just where do people think economic growth comes from? I know this question seems rhetorical, but it really isn't, because there seems to be an entire political party in this country that has decided that cutting taxes is their new dogma, and that if they just cut taxes enough, the economy will grow and everything will get better. Never mind that St. Reagan himself actually raised taxes not once, but twice. Nationally, we've been waiting eight damn years, and still it hasn't worked. However, on a state and national level, it's pretty apparent that education is the handmaiden of economic growth. If you want growth, cutting into education isn't the way to go about it.

"But [Redacted]," my conservative friends say, "this measure of cutting back pay, school funding, and collective bargaining rights is necessary because of the deep recession we're in right now." That argument sounds sensible until you actually think about it. Requiring pay increases above CPI to be approved by referendum (How dare those teachers want to make more money in their career like everyone else!) absolutely guarantees that no such increases will ever happen. Who is going to vote yes on a referendum that says, "Do you want the state to spend more money paying teachers?" A large number of people would probably vote yes on a referendum asking if the state should instead fire all teachers and hope our students learn by osmosis (hence why populism is almost always a terrible idea). But even setting aside pay, consider the issue of collective bargaining.

The idea is that those rights need to be given up because of the extraordinary economic conditions, right? Leaving aside the possibility of this being a purely political, rather than pragmatic, operation (there's strong evidence suggesting it is*, but bear with me), suppose the economy really does grow, and in a couple years public employees and teachers ask Madison, "Please can we have our collective bargaining rights back?" The same people who disingenuously say that these actions are necessary now aren't very likely to change their mind when things get better, are they? Why not? Just look at how they handle tax policy. "Oh, look," they said in the early 2000s, "the economy is growing, and we have a surplus. We should give it back with massive tax cuts." Then, when things turned downward, the catch phrase was, "You can't raise taxes in the middle of a recession!" And now, when we're starting to claw our way out, it's time for (wait for it) more bloody tax cuts! So what on earth is going to make people of this same persuasion suddenly decide to give back collective bargaining and fair pay for government employees and teachers?

Then there's a much more basic point, and that is hypocrisy. Endlessly, you hear people on the right in Wisconsin bemoan our educational system, how flawed it is, etc., etc. But do any of these folks want to put more money into the system? Absolutely not. Instead, they'd rather blame teachers for not doing their jobs well enough when class sizes are already far too big, and then take away the funding that prevents that situation from getting worse. How on earth is a teacher supposed to help or care about an individual student when they have fifty students in each class? We may soon find out. You get what you pay for. You can either pay less and shut the hell up about school quality, or put funding where it needs to be. Education --> economic growth. Any questions?

Finally, I want to relate a personal anecdote. My mother has been going to get her hair done by the same woman for I don't even know how long now. Recently, her hairdresser started a conversation about exactly this topic. Perhaps not surprisingly, the hairdresser was very pro-Walker, and very angry with the Senate Democrats for leaving the state. Leaving aside the fact that this woman admitted to not knowing anything really about the bill until the Democrats protested, she stated that teachers needed to pay up because the state needs to "cut back." My mother, never shy about speaking her mind, pointed out that since she'd be taking an 8% pay cut, perhaps she needed to "cut back" as well, and find a less expensive alternative to this woman as far as her hair was concerned. In other words, business owners might want to be a little less callous about advocating for the massive screwing over of the very people who buy their goods and services and thus keep their businesses open. That statement, at least, isn't so much boycott advocacy, but simple common sense that if you drive the middle-class down and down and down, eventually there won't be a market for anything. And what happens to your economy then?

I'd prefer if Governor Overreach just said he was taxing his political opponents. At least that would be honest. And I'd love it if it turns out that the first person to feel the backlash from these policies is Justice Prosser. Not just because of irony, but also as a little bit of retribution for the disgraceful campaign certain interest groups (looking at you, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce) ran against Justice Louis Butler a couple years back. What goes around, comes around, and here it comes to bounce one of yours off the bench. Just saying.

*I think the fact that unions are virtually the only group that supports the Democratic Party and (important conjunction!) have the resources to take advantage of the Supreme Court's questionable-at-best-and-ludicrous-at-worst decision in Citizen's United provides pretty strong motivation for Republicans to want to suddenly engage in massive union-busting nationwide, don't you?

It's opening day!

Time for another season of Major League Baseball. Being a Wisconsinite with some background in Illinois, I'm both a Brewers and White Sox fan. Which pretty much adds up to this: I cannot stand the Chicago Cubs. I wouldn't say I "hate" the Cubs, since it's rather difficult to hate a team that hasn't won a World Series in over 100 years. Hopefully, they can keep the streak alive for another hundred years and prove without a doubt that although they cannot be the best, they sure can be the best at losing. So, while this song may be something of an anthem amongst the embittered, despondent throng known as Cubs fans, I simply can't resist the urge to post it here for a little good-natured teasing.

Play ball!

Sean Duffy thinks he's still on The Real World

I know I'm a bit late to this party, but Congressman Duffy has clearly mistaken his constituents for the audience from his time on The Real World, where every problem is a crisis.

Oh, you poor undercompensated man!  You're only making almost $130,000 more than the median income of the State of Wisconsin.  Where can I donate to help you and your family make it through your time of need?  Oh, wait.  Someone else already thought of that!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I feel your pain, Joe Klein

This is my 10th presidential campaign, Lord help me. I have never before seen such a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers coagulated under a single party's banner. They are the most compelling argument I've seen against American exceptionalism.

I get the impression he is not a fan of the GOP's options at this time.

Fitzgerald doesn't like court orders, but Scott Walker loves trains after all

Obeying court orders is for suckers.  That has to be Scott Fitzgerald's thinking.  How else could he accuse Judge Maryann Sumi of "[flying] in the face of separation of powers" in blocking the implementation of a law she had enjoined from being published?  An injunction means STOP.  I don't see the issue here, unless Fitzgerald is asserting that A) checks and balances no longer exist, or B) the judiciary branch only gets to exercise its authority to interpret law and appraise the legality and constitutionality of laws when people not named Walker and Fitzgerald are in power.  Pretty embarrassing statement, that.

Still, that little tidbit isn't nearly as deliciously ironic as this article I spotted in the Green Bay Press-Gazette yesterday.  Yes, the governor who told Congress to take their $810 million for high speed rail and shove it right up their ass is now asking for $150 million to improve the high-speed rail line between Milwaukee and Chicago.  And why, pray tell, should anyone in Washington believe him?  What's going to stop Governor Privatize Everything from waking up tomorrow, remembering that he really doesn't like trains at all, and throwing another temper tantrum about how he really doesn't want that money?  And even if he doesn't change his mind, I really don't think people in Congress will be in a mood to fork over $150 million after the way Walker made such a show of his intention to turn down high speed rail dollars in his campaign.

Besides, if Governor Walker really wanted to do some good, and I'm only half joking, what he really needs to do is build a road or railway that allows those of us in Northeast Wisconsin to get to Madison quickly (US 151 out of Fond du Lac doesn't count) without having to take Wisconsin 26 right through the Speeding Ticket Capital of the World.  I speak, of course, of Rosendale, Wisconsin, a one stoplight town with a real penchant for catching people going one mile/hour over the limit and nailing them with a ticket.  I count myself extremely lucky never to have been pulled over there, but I do have one of the t-shirts a convenience store in town sells.  It's got a picture of a police car on it and reads, "Rosendale: It's the ticket!"  Just saying.

Monday, March 28, 2011


I promised myself this wouldn't be all serious political philosophy religion stuff all the time.  So, to introduce myself (and my admittedly diverse hobbies), here's a bit of a list.  Obviously, it's not inclusive.

Things I like (with some explanations):
-Music, generally all sorts apart from country.  Of course, I have artists I like and don't like, but I'm not going to list them all.  That would take weeks.  I also enjoy making music.  I've had experience playing a lot of different instruments, but guitar was the one I've stuck with for life.  I own two guitars, one electric and one electric-acoustic.
-Cars and driving.  I enjoy watching Formula One racing (I don't enjoy NASCAR, which I find horribly boring), playing auto racing video games like Gran Turismo, and admiring nice cars.  I have a special affinity for BMWs, going back to the one time (thus far) I have been able to drive one (a 7-series).  It was a sublime experience.  From time to time, if I see a nice car, I might just mention it here.
-British television.  Top Gear, Doctor Who, and the best international news coverage in the world.  Yes, please.
-Most things from Britain.  I'm a confessed anglophile.
-Movies.  I have very definite likes and dislikes.  A few of the likes: The Seventh Seal, Layer Cake, The Godfather, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Field of Dreams (any man who says he didn't cry at the end either is an emotionless robot or a complete liar), spaghetti westerns, Bond movies, Office Space.  I like artsy movies, I like (some) trashy movies.  I like the odd chic flick (You've Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally spring to mind).  I love action movies.  Which leads us to...
-Mafia history.  Don't get me wrong, I don't romanticize the Mafia.  But I once watched The Godfather Part I, The Godfather Part II, Goodfellas, and Casino in one weekend, and it was a great weekend.  I had a philosophy prof in college who did his doctoral dissertation on the philosophical status of the gangster archetype in American crime films, and I guess it rubbed off.  I own The Mafia Encyclopedia, and I'm currently reading Selwyn Raab's Five Families.  I've never had HBO, so I wasn't able to follow The Sopranos, but I'll watch it at some point.  Say what you want about their thuggish, brutal, and criminal behavior, but the Mafia is an significant and often entertaining aspect of American history.
-Books, preferably non-fiction.  I don't find much fiction that I enjoy, honestly.  I very much enjoy philosophy, history, biography, and serious political material (not so much with the Michael Moore/Ann Coulter stuff).  Books that challenge my comprehension are always good.  When I was in high school I thought I could read Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.  Only when I actually studied it in college did I learn that that particular volume is not so much one you "read" as one you survive after your cruel, sadistic professor inflicts it upon you.  That experience probably explains why I've never even attempted to read Martin Heidegger's Being and Time.
-Drinks.  I'm not a heavy drinker by any means, but I do imbibe.  Before the author took it down, I read a blog called "Scotch and Politics" that I enjoyed very much.  When I drink cocktails, I keep it very simple: Manhattans, scotch and soda, gin and tonic.  I even have a bottle of cognac that I keep for very special occasions.
-Food.  I'll try almost anything.  Except durian.  Anyone who has had the experience of smelling one knows why.
-Humor, almost any kind.  Be it dry, deadpan, sardonic, sarcastic, goofy, dirty, slapstick, dark, satirical, one-liners or even the odd anti-joke, I love humor, and I love to make people laugh.  I don't know of many sensations more satisfying than causing a person to laugh.
-(Parentheses).  See my writing style.  I interject my own thoughts very often.  It's a habit.
-Chess and poker.
-Certain types of artwork.  I'm very particular.
-Men's fashion.  I'm a fairly sharp dresser, when I want to be.
-The Green Bay Packers, the Chicago White Sox, the Milwaukee Brewers, and Red Bull Racing.

Things I don't like (and a few responses to such things):
-Stupid and/or offensive bumper stickers and combinations thereof.  Like the minivan I saw yesterday with one that said "Are you closer to this than you are to Jesus?" and another with that happy-evil-bunny-thing smiling that said "I just remembered, I don't care!"  Or the enormous pickup truck with a sticker that read, "Drill here, drill now, pay less."  Word to the wise, jackass, you'd pay a hell of a lot less if you hadn't bought an urban assault vehicle.
-People who drive like idiots, especially when they're driving very expensive cars.  Example: a guy in an S-class Mercedes Benz pulls out of a driveway right in front of me without looking, nearly hitting me.  I know you're in a hurry, sir, but your car is so expensive that that accident would have doubled both our insurance rates for the next thousand years.
-Obnoxious gamers.  They give the rest of us who like video games a bad name.
-Pop art.  I have no idea what Andy Warhol was getting at, but I fail to see how pictures of a Campbell's soup can and Mao Tse Tung represent art unless the whole thing is some sort of joke that I'm not in on.
-Cognitive dissonance.  As opposed to playing devil's advocate, which I do all the time.
-The Tea Party movement.  Oops, here we go with the seriousness.  But honestly, if people think comparing President Obama to Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot is really the best way to get their point across, then those people need to sit down and shut the hell up.  Raising your taxes is not equal to throwing you in a concentration camp or the GULAG, QED.  So on that note...
-Hitler comparisons in general.  Hitler was Hitler.  He was one of the most deranged and evil men who ever lived.  No one now living is anywhere in the same solar system as Hitler as far as evil is concerned, and no argument on any part of the political spectrum is aided by enlisting the trusty chestnut of what Leo Strauss (I'm not at all a fan of his, but whatever...) called "Reductio ad Hitlerum."
-Grey's Anatomy.  My wife is nuts about it.  I cannot stand it.  The next time I'm in the hospital, I'm going to be worrying about whether my doctors really care about my condition, or if they're just biding their time between having sex in the on-call room, whining about getting this or that new position, and desperately needing to be told that they're "a great doctor."  And it's all this show's fault.
-People who claim to know what happens after we die.  Religious or not, I'm pretty sure that if you're standing in front of me telling me what happens when you die, you have not the slightest idea.
-In no particular order, the Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Cubs, the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Yankees, the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Lakers, Scuderia Ferrari, and the entire National Hockey League.
-Hypodermic needles.  I'm not phobic, but I'm strongly averse to them.
-Insects with stingers.  To me, they're just needles with wings.

Where to begin?

I suppose an explanation is in order.

Writing isn't something that comes entirely naturally to me.  But if there's anything that does come naturally to me, it's having an opinion.  About nearly anything, really.  While it is certainly true that conversing and debating are two very good means of communicating thoughts and opinions, even the most ridiculously talkative person on earth (my friends and relatives sometimes accuse me of being that person) knows how inexact and imprecise speech can be in the context of an off-the-cuff discussion.  I would estimate that I spend more time in a conversation trying to explain nuances, correct misunderstandings, and generally trying to clear up things already stated than saying new things.  Writing, on the other hand, permits a greater degree of exactitude.  Not to mention the freedom to be anonymous.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not much of a fan of anonymous internet opinion-peddling.  Ordinarily, such anonymity is used as an excuse to make offensive statements for the sake of causing offense.  I like to think of that sort of trolling as the debating equivalent of parking your car in the middle of a busy interstate, and then laughing hysterically at the ensuing pileup.  Plato's Ring of Gyges is exactly the right comparison: People tend to do bad things when they don't have to take responsibility for them.  So I hope it will be understood that I'm not here to be another internet shock-blogger just looking to, frankly, piss people off for page-views.

I do have my reasons for wanting to shield my identity.  Although I do not aim to cause offense for offense's sake, neither do I want to feel inhibited or compelled to censor myself for fear of causing offense.  Two major topics I plan to write about at length are religion and politics.  I don't think there exist in the universe any other topics so readily equipped to cause offense than those.  Need I say more?

Another reason I want to keep undercover is that I'm quite fond of cursing, and that's another one of those things that is sort of a no-no in polite society.  However, there are few ways of conveying emphasis so effectively as cursing.  Calling a ridiculous statement "bullshit" gets the point across a lot quicker and stronger than saying, "That's completely ridiculous."  And so on.  But I will endeavor while writing not to swear gratuitously.

So that's pretty much why I'm here.  I have need of place to opine without the constraints of speech or putting my name to it, ergo I need a blog.

Now that that's settled, I should explain my background.  I have an undergraduate degree from a small school in the Midwest, and an advanced degree from a not-quite-as-small school in the Midwest.  I'm a native Wisconsinite, and my wife is a transplant from Illinois.  We live in an apartment in Northeast Wisconsin with a very mercurial black cat.  We'll get to my interests and hobbies some other time (they are numerous).  But I do want to give a quick-ish explanation of where I stand on religion, philosophy, and politics, because those are my primary areas of interest.

Religion is simple enough: I don't have one.  Contrary to the assertions of some theists, atheism is not a religion or an ideology.  I dislike the fact that it's an "-ism" at all.  Being an atheist means only that I do not believe in the existence any deity whatsoever.  Odin, Zeus, Osiris, Quetzalcoatl, Allah, Jehovah/YHWH, Shiva, etc.  As Richard Dawkins aptly put it, "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in.  Some of us just go one god further."  It wasn't a simple matter for me to get "one god further."  That's not to say I became a nonbeliever because of some horrible tragedy in my life that destroyed my faith.  Fewer tropes annoy me more than the line used by some truly ignorant theologians and clergymen that all nonbelievers are really nascent believers who have lost faith because of personal anguish or ill-treatment at the hands of believers.

I was raised a believer, and even got through years of studying philosophy thinking of myself as a deist.  When even my belief in a non-intervening god began to waver, I briefly thought of myself as one of those people who wishes there was a god, but cannot see any evidence for it.  But that phase soon passed, and I realized that I had never actually seen any evidence for a belief in any god.  To shamelessly steal from Christopher Hitchens, "Blaise Pascal dedicates his Pensees to 'the one who is so made as that he cannot believe.'  That's me."  Moreover, I find Mr. Hitchens quite accurate when he describes the proposed kingdom of the Christian God as being rather like living in North Korea.  To quote at length:

"[Religious belief] is a totalitarian belief. It is the wish to be a slave. It is the desire that there be an unalterable, unchallengeable, tyrannical authority who can convict you of thought-crime while you are asleep, who can subject you - who must, indeed, subject you - to total surveillance around the clock every waking and sleeping minute of your life - I say, of your life - before you're born and, even worse and where the real fun begins, after you're dead. A celestial North Korea. Who wants this to be true? Who but a slave desires such a ghastly fate? I've been to North Korea. . . .  It is the most revolting and utter and absolute and heartless tyranny the human species has ever evolved. But at least you can fucking die and leave North Korea!"

In case you haven't noticed, I'm quite fond of Hitchens, but we'll get to that some other time.  Suffice to say, I agree with his assertion that religion ultimately wants a dictatorship.  The way I sum up my issues is something like this: The religions have these books.  And for centuries they told everyone that those books were literally true in every way.  Some people still believe this, but they are usually regarded as crackpots and idiots.  Now, however, science and learning have advanced, and we have hard evidence that pretty conclusively tells us that the universe wasn't created in six days, and on and on, so we can say with a fair amount of certainty that these books are not literally true.  But now the religions tell us, "Oh those books are metaphorical!"  And when we quote revolting passages from those books, like exhortations to genocide and execution for all manner of offenses in the Old Testament, we are told by the clergy that we must take such passages in context, despite the fact that they still maintain that these books were "divinely inspired."  I'm sorry, but that is obvious bullshit.  How can an omniscient, infallible deity inspire something that is completely immoral on its face and yet claim it to be moral if only we take it in the proper context?  And the only reason the religions will even go so far as to concede (for the most part) that the books aren't literally true, is because they do not possess (as they once did, and still do in some places) the authority to put me to death if I dare to say that these books are false.

I think that summation will do for now.

With respect to politics, my journey was a bit more straightforward.  Fiscally, I'm sort of an Eisenhower conservative.  Balancing the budget is good, even if raising taxes is required.  Common sense, please.  And Eisenhower is underrated as a president.  Foreign policy-wise, I've studied a lot, and I have mixed views.  Hawkish sometimes, dovish sometimes, very often skeptical of both perspectives.  Not at all in favor of continuing occupations in two Middle Eastern countries which have accomplished virtually nothing other than to hasten the radicalization of the local population and make it ridiculously easy for the rest of the world to hang upon the United States (a country founded on anticolonial sentiment) the labels of imperialism and colonialism.

Socially, I'm very much a liberal.  Mostly that can be blamed on my horror at today's "social conservatism" which looks increasingly like bigotry and intolerance based upon religious grounds.  Consider the arguments against gay marriage.  Never is this argument fundamentally based in anything other than religion.  "Protecting the institution of marriage" is perhaps one of the most idiotic phrases ever conceived.  I'm happily married, and I honestly cannot see what detriment my marriage suffered when one of my gay friends tied the knot, but nevertheless the moralizers tell me that his happiness is a threat to my marriage.  What nonsense.  I'll concede, my wife and I were married in a religious ceremony, despite the fact that even then my beliefs (I'll not speak for her, as she's her own person) were tepid at best.  It made the families happy, and I don't regret it for a moment.  But I have always maintained (and will continue to do so with my dying breath) that I do not need a diety to ensure that I remain faithful and steadfast to my wife by threatening me with punishments if I do not do so (not that that's ever been much of a hindrance to the infidelity of religious figures - looking at you, Jimmy Swaggart and Ted Haggard).  My wife is the most important person in my life, and religion has not the slightest thing to do with it.  I also don't understand why I should be offended if my friend is able to receive spousal benefits from his husband's insurance.  Perhaps someone could explain that to me.

Running down the gamut of issues, I'm pro-choice, but I'm also in favor of educating about other options, and I would love if the actual number of abortions in the country dropped to zero.  Like many other matters, I don't think you can legislate something out of existence.  Criminalizing abortion simply ensures that women seek out unsafe alternatives, and it implies that the government has a degree of control over a woman's body the moment she becomes pregnant.  That kind of logic can lead to unhappy places in a hurry.  I feel exactly the same way about, say, sex education.  Kids are going to have sex one way or another, so better to educate them to have sex safely and responsibly than to prate on about abstinence and just assume they'll listen.  With respect to guns, I'm not opposed to ownership, but the words "regulated" and "militia" appear in the first part of the Second Amendment, so I've no problem with regulations and restrictions either.  I do enjoy target-shooting occasionally, but I don't own any firearms myself.  I'm in favor of the death penalty, but only in the most extreme circumstances with absolutely irrefutable proof of the defendant's guilt.  Timothy McVeigh and the Nuremburg Tribunals come to mind.  But the costs of error trouble me greatly.

And finally, I should mention something closer to home.  My mother's a public school teacher, so I of course have an opinion on the current Governor of Wisconsin's plans to massively screw over the elderly, the middle class, government employees, children, and the entire educational infrastructure of our state.  Normally, I'm not a fan of recalls.  I think they're populism run amok.  And I don't see what's to stop the Tea Party types (how I loathe them, but I'll save that for another time as well) from recalling a Democratic governor on the grounds that "The son-of-a-bitch raised my taxes!"  But something has got to be done, and I resent anyone who calls for "sacrifice" and then proceeds to make life easier on large corporations and the very wealthy, while leaving the actual sacrificing to those less fortunate.

Someone once asked me what political party I was a member of.  I responded, "Well, I'm in favor of gay marriage, I don't believe in God, and I think it's okay to raise taxes some of the time.  What party do you think?"  It's kind of a sad commentary on the Republican Party that any one of those three things seems to automatically disqualify someone from being accepted in their ranks without being mocked or called a RINO.  Lincoln, Ike, and probably even Ronald Reagan (he raised taxes twice, remember) are rolling in their graves.

Do you see now why I'm keeping this anonymous?