Checking My Political Compass

There’s this neat website I found around a decade ago called the Political Compass.  It’s basically a short test with a number of rather generic questions about your views on various economic and social issues.  It’s short – takes about five minutes – and it gives you an X/Y axis position for your political views.  The X axis represents your economic views, from left to right, and the Y axis represents your social views, from the extremes of Authoritarian to Libertarian.

The test forces you to answer all of the questions, and gives you four options: Strongly Disagree, Disagree, Agree and Strongly Agree, which prevents hedging.  It forces you to take a stance.  The best part is that after it’s done asking you its analysis questions, it gives you your results!   That’s right, no entering your email or a ton of demographic questions.  It’s just a test to give you a result.

I take this test every year in May.  It happens in May because that’s the first time I took it, and just happened to take it again almost exactly a year later.  Now, I take it once a year in May, kind of as a benchmark for where I’m at.  Spoiler alert: there are only minor fluctuations in my numbers after 2005.

Here are my results for 2013:

That’s -9.00 Economic, -8.05 Social.  Basically, I’m a left libertarian.  Waaaay left libertarian.

Now, the fun comes with the analysis of where I measure up compared to the various 2012 Presidential candidates.  You might be surprised to see Barack Obama hanging out within one point of his “ideological opposite” Mitt Romney up in right-wing authoritarian land, but if you are, that means you really haven’t been paying attention.

Here are my previous nine results:

May 2012: -9.62 / -7.38

May 2011: -9.12 / -8.21

May 2010:  -8.12 / -8.67

May 2009: -7.88 / -7.44

May 2008: -7.50 / -6.97

May 2007: -7.75 / -7.49

May 2006: -8.50 / -7.33

May 2005: -7.25 / -8.51

May 2004t: -8.00 / -5.79

So go take the test!  I love seeing where other people place on the spectrum.

Political Cartoons

Ted Rall - No More Mr. Nice Guy
Ted Rall – No More Mr. Nice Guy

I’m a big fan of editorial cartoons, both as an artform and as a medium for political commentary.  I would have to point to a number of political cartoonists that, in 1, 3, 4 or even 8 panels, have helped shape my political ideology.  They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and for editorial cartoons, that maxim is incredibly on-point.  A single-panel cartoon can often convey an entire editorial’s worth of ideas.  Usually, those ideas are condensed or refined, but that’s the point.

Jen Sorensen – Fallopitarians Protest Health Care Law

I first “discovered” political cartoons in 2000, when I would see them in the old Pittsburgh Weekly.  I honestly don’t remember the cartoonists featured, though I’m fairly certain that Ted Rall was in there, and I remember eagerly awaiting the next issue largely for the cartoons.  Rall was my “in” to the medium, which now seems a bit strange to me.  I consider myself very far left-wing these days, but not what I would consider a radical.  Rall, however, is a radical, and proud of it.  His work started me on the leftward path, and while we have many issues in common, there’s a lot of disconnect between the two of us as to how to accomplish those ideas.  Anyway, I digress.  It wasn’t until around 2002 that I really started reading cartoons regularly.  I found Daryl Cagle’s Political Cartoonist Index, which is a clearinghouse for most of the professional editorial cartoonists in America and a number abroad.  I checked it daily for years before having to step back and focus on just a few.  In that time I found favorites, fell out with some of those favorites, and then found new favorites.

Matt Bors - Binary World
Matt Bors – Binary World

I also found bugbears, which was a large part of my whittling down my consumption of editorial cartoons. I try not to live in an echo chamber, but that’s what we tend to do.  I don’t read the likes of Michael Ramirez and Chuck Asay anymore, because they tell me nothing that interests me, but often infuriates me.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  Sometimes I do read them over at A Good Cartoon, which makes them manageable.

While I’m a hard-boiled leftie, I’m not a big fan of hyper-partisans and their associated news outlets like Daily Kos.  This is mainly because while there are a number of people close to me ideologically there, most of them are quite willing – eager, even – to sell that ideology out to put yet another moderate-to-right wing Democrat into office, and scream at me for not doing the same.  The exception I make concerning Kos, however, is Comics at Daily Kos, which was launched and is curated by another one of my favorites, Tom Tomorrow.  Comics at Daily Kos is practically a clearinghouse of my favorites: Matt Bors, Jen Sorensen, and Brian McFadden, just to name a few. What’s interesting about most of the cartoonists featured on Kos is that they share my “ideology first, party very second” approach (which has earned more than one of them the ire of the group mind there).

Tom Tomorrow: The pulse-pounding adventures of Sparkman and the Blinkster

These cartoonists have created succinct messages that have in turn lead me to discover larger points about issues that I previously was uneducated about or simply didn’t realize I should have an opinion on, which has lead me to nailing down where I stand.  That has been immeasurably helpful, because my world view is very important to me.  Understanding how I see the world and what I believe is allows me to not just float along, being pushed and pulled by whatever currents I happen to be in.  The first election I ever voted in was 2004, because prior to that, I didn’t see the point.  Cartoonists like Rall, Kirk Anderson, and David Horsey, just to name a few, helped me shape my first truly political thoughts.  Heck, even the right-wing cartoonists helped by giving me a counterpoint to look at and understand that I vehemently disagreed with.  Since then, I’ve voted in every primary and general since then, twice a year every year.  I help out my state representative on election day.  I’ve stood in the rain passing out literature for insurgent candidates who drew less than 1% of the vote.

Editorial cartooning has become a dying art, though.  Newspapers are dropping cartoons, and the alt-weeklies, long the cash-cow for modern cartoonists, have begun slashing costs wherever they can, starting with their cartoon syndication.  Cartoonists are turning more and more to new forms of revenue to continue doing what they do, from merchandising their websites to running Kickstarter campaigns to put out book collections. So when you see a Kickstarter for a cartoonist that you like, kick in a few dollars. If your local newspaper runs editorial cartoons, let them that you appreciate them running editorial cartoons and ask them to get a few more. If they don’t, tell them that they should get one. If you come across an editorial cartoon that you like and want to post it to social media, find out who drew it and link to their website. But most of all, keep reading them!

*Disclosure (which makes me appear cooler than I actually am): I coded www.mattbors.com and www.jensorensen.com.

 

Is it safe to come out now?

Back just before the election (October 26th, to be exact), one of my favorite political cartoonists, Matt Bors, published this cartoon:

Drone Out The Critics

Matt was running a Kickstarter to raise money for an upcoming book at the time, and one of the donors, someone he considered a friend, retracted his $250 donation and cut off contact over this.  $250 is a big chunk of change to fork over for a book.  It’s also a big chunk of change to take back over an opinion, especially when you consider that Matt was no stranger to taking Obama to task for drone warfare.

Now that we’ve established that, according to the Democratic base, criticizing Obama was off-limits in the run-up to the election (not to mention strongly frowned-upon for the entirety of the past four years), when is it acceptable?  Now that we no longer have to worry about electing or re-electing the first Black president (or any of the other insane justifications I’ve heard), can we criticize him for what his administration has done?

Back in 2008, I put a lot of thought into the candidate I was backing from among the initially crowded Democratic field.  I examined my priorities and weighed them against the stated positions of the candidates, and came up with Bill Richardson, who agreed with all of my deal-breakers except capital punishment.  He dropped out early, so I shifted to John Edwards who agreed with me slightly less than than Richardson. Once Edwards bowed out, I grudgingly moved my support to Obama.  I did not donate to the campaign, and I did not volunteer for the campaign.  I voted for him, but I wasn’t going any further than that.

Fast-forward to 2012, by which time I was so disgusted with the administration that I refused to repeat that vote (I voted for Jill Stein).  I had a host of reasons – Indefinite detention, drone warfare, milquetoast healthcare “reform,” repeated capitulation in the face of an increasingly shrill and out-of-touch minority, especially when he had the mandate and numbers to quash their obstruction, and the ever-increasing seizure of power by the executive.  When I voted for Obama in 2008, there was one thing that made it all OK – he was a Constitutional scholar, a professor who intimately understood the document and promised to return to its precepts after the eight years of shredding it took.  That lasted all of a few months.  Nearly all of the Bush-era abuses of Constitutional authority remained, and a number were expanded.  I was not about to vote in favor of that.

Now, I was told by many people (including my State Senator, who described my position as “masturbatory”) that a vote for “Not Obama” was exactly the same as a vote for Romney.  I viewed this as the height of flawed logic.  I understand that we’re kind of stuck with our first-past-the-post system, but that doesn’t put the onus on me to vote for one of the two major parties simply based on a blind taste test, especially when there were three other parties on the ballot.  The onus is on those parties themselves to make themselves palatable.  Just because one party took positions favorable to rape and murder is not enough, should not be enough, to compel me to vote for the other party – which, incidentally, itself took a favorable position on murder, as long as the murderees were brown and in other countries.

So, getting back to the question – is it safe to come out now?  Can I openly criticize the President and his horrifying policies, or is that setting up Democrats for failure in 2014 and 2016?  And if not, will it ever be safe to express an opinion out of lockstep with the party and not be branded as a country-destroying lunatic by people I who might otherwise agree with me if the President doing these things was a Republican?

Sorry, I can’t control myself. You’ll just have to go.

Iowa’s Supreme Court earned a lot of respect when it ruled that same-sex marriage was legal and denying it was discriminatory.  However, they have decided to balance themselves out with a completely baffling ruling:  Your boss can fire you if he can’t stop thinking about how much he wants to bang you.  No, seriously.  From the ruling:

Can a male employer terminate a female employee because the employer’s wife, due to no fault of the employee, is concerned about the nature of the relationship between the employer and the employee? This is the question we are required to answer today. For the reasons stated herein, we ultimately conclude the conduct does not amount to unlawful sex discrimination in violation of the Iowa Civil Rights Act.

I just… what?

The details in the ruling are simply appalling:

Dr. [James H.] Knight complained to [Melissa] Nelson that her clothing was too tight and revealing and “distracting.”

Dr. Knight later testified that he made these statements to Nelson because “I don’t think it’s good for me to see her wearing things that accentuate her body.” Nelson denies that her clothing was tight or in any way inappropriate.

Dr. Knight acknowledges he once told Nelson that if she saw his pants bulging, she would know her clothing was too revealing. On another occasion, Dr. Knight texted Nelson saying the shirt she had worn that day was too tight. After Nelson responded that she did not think he was being fair, Dr. Knight replied that it was a good thing Nelson did not wear tight pants too because then he would get it coming and going.

In the meeting, Dr. Knight told [Nelson’s husband] Steve Nelson that Melissa Nelson had not done anything wrong or inappropriate and that she was the best dental assistant he ever had. However, Dr. Knight said he was worried he was getting too personally attached to her. Dr. Knight told Steve Nelson that nothing was going on but that he feared he would try to have an affair with her down the road if he did not fire her.

The court held from previous precedents that since favoritism in the workplace based on sexual relationships did not rise to sexual discrimination, then therefore, the opposite was also true. Melissa Nelson had not been discriminated against because of her gender, because Dr. Knight only ever hires women.

She was discriminated against because of her looks, which is apparently legal.  More to the point, she was ogled by a lech who was afraid he was going to try to coerce her into an extramarital affair or be otherwise sexually inappropriate, which is apparently legal in Iowa.

Mind boggling.

Sure, let’s try to legislate the hate away.

Something Bad Has Happened, and therefore, the Westboro Baptist Church has announced that they will picket the funerals of those who died.  This is what they do these days, their entire purpose.  Exploit tragedy in the crassest way possible.  They travel the country to use any tragedy to blast their message that their god most certainly hates homosexuals, because he let Tragedies Like This happen.  Great guy, that god of theirs.  The best part about WBC’s methods is that they get people all worked up.  Their latest announcement that they will picket the funerals of the Newtown shooting victims has triggered a call on the White House’s petition site to have WBC legally recognized as a hate group.  The petition has gathered over 90,000 signatures at this point.

This is, of course, a Bad Idea.  It’s wrong, and it’s reactionary.  WBC spews hatred on a daily basis, but they have committed no actual hate crimes.  Do you who else spews hate on a daily basis?  The American Family Association.  The Catholic League.  The National Organization for Marriage.  All three of those groups have done far and away more to actually deny people civil rights than Westboro Baptist has ever done, yet none of those groups has managed to get 90,000 people to demand that the White House declare them a hate group.  Let’s be clear here: WBC has never called for people to rise to violence.  They have never done the equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Like it or not, their message is entirely and utterly protected by the First Amendment, and they are smart enough to never stray from that.  90,000 people didn’t just ask Barack Obama to label them a hate group, they asked him to violate a group’s freedom of speech.

As Fred Clark wrote almost four years ago:

Fred Phelps is a free man, so if you think your freedom is going to be restricted, you must be planning to outdo Fred Phelps.

So there’s the two-word answer for every Tony Perkins or James Dobson or Damon Owens who makes up some dubious claim about being persecuted or punished or threatened or jailed or whatever for their anti-gay beliefs.

Fred Phelps is the canary in the coal mine of our democracy.  He and his followers say terrible things out loud in public places that common decency balks at, but they do it legally.  The moment we start curbing that, the moment we try to legislate away this type of expression, that is the moment we prove the AFA and NOM right.  That is the moment that we say “we disagree with your message, therefore, it is illegal for you to say it.”  That is the moment we actually try to take away the rights of religious people to be complete hate-filled Neanderthals, and once we’ve crossed that Rubicon, we are really not far from legislating away whatever speech the majority disagrees with.  We’re not far from criminalizing condemnation of, say, the Catholic church for any reason.  Because, hey! That might be hate speech, and that would be illegal!

But in the mean time, notes Clark:

So when the folks at NOM insist that their opposition to same-sex marriage is a matter of “religious liberty,” the liberty they’re talking about has to be the liberty to exceed the Fred Phelps standard — the liberty not just to restrict membership on religious grounds, or just to preach against homosexuality as a sin, or to condemn and denounce homosexuals as people hated by God, but the liberty, apparently, to go beyond all that, beyond anything even Fred Phelps has imagined.

Attempting to label Westboro Baptist as a hate group, when their only “crime” so far is saying things that you don’t agree with, means that you are willing to legislate any speech with which you disagree.  Think about that for a while.  Think long and hard before you demand that we violate someone’s civil rights because you don’t like what they have to say.  Because that’s what legally labeling WBC as a hate group boils down to.  Violating their First Amendment right to be complete idiots.

Edit:  Something I completely missed in the writing of this – there is no legal classification for a ‘hate group.’  There’s the Southern Poverty Law Center’s classification, but WBC has been on their list for some time now.  This petition is asking the government to create a brand new class simply to persecute a bunch of people who say things we don’t like.

Knowing the unknowable

A friend of a friend on Facebook said “It’s an unexplainable and senseless act of violence” in regards to yet another massacre.  I really detest that sentiment.  My response was this:

No, it is explainable. We just don’t have the explanation in front of us. Saying that it’s unexplainable means we’re washing our hands of ever finding that explanation and any hope of preventing a repeat. This is not just a side effect of living in our society. This can be stopped. This doesn’t need to happen again.

We don’t know what happened in the mind of the shooter.  150 years ago we didn’t know what an electron was.  Our knowledge of concussions and repeated brain injury has increased by leaps and bounds in just the past four years.  Everything has an explanation.  We need to find it.

We need to understand and be able to avoid these tragedies from occurring.

One of the first things we can do is to stop dehumanizing the people who commit these acts.  At the point where you are ready to walk into a school or a mall or a theater or a place of worship or restaurant (to name just a few of the locations that spree-killings took place in America in 2012), you have ceased to be a rational person.  Something has broken very deep inside you.  Unfortunately, we rarely get the chance to analyze these people because most of them take their own lives in the process.   There’s a big leap between becoming so filled with despair that you end your own life, and deciding to take as many people with you as possible.  These must be two different things.  One way or another, though, viewing these people as any less than human is rather medieval thinking.  Dehumanizing them allows us to place the blame for their actions solely on their shoulders, completely absolving and ignoring whatever treatable and preventable cause pushed them to that point.  When we do that, we simply ensure that tragedies like this will continue to happen.

Adam Lanza was a person. Something inside him went terribly, terribly wrong.  Let’s not forget that he was a person.  A beautiful, unique individual with people who loved him, who are now wrapped up in the horrifying hell of being connected to what he did.  We need sympathy and compassion for everyone.

“I said ya shouldn’t have worn that dress…”

Anne Hathaway recently had the misfortune of being a woman in public, in case you hadn’t heard from every news outlet in America.  As she exited a limo at an event for her new movie, someone with a camera found himself with a wonderful angle straight up her skirt. Surprise!  That dirty, shameful woman hadn’t properly covered her body in the manner demanded by society!  The cameraman then sold the pictures, and they’ve been tossed all over the internet.

Two things to note:

  1. Someone took an unauthorized picture of a woman who was in no way intending to expose herself.
  2. That person then sold the photo for money.

Hathaway then went on the Today Show, where Matt Lauer proved that his internet search history must be pretty sad.  Immediately attempting to shame Hathaway, he begins by asking her “what’s the lesson learned,” putting the blame for this squarely on her shoulders.  Hathaway, to her credit, has none of it (transcript via Shakesville):

[deep breath; looking down] Well, it was obviously an unfortunate incident. Um, I think— It kinda made me sad on two accounts. One was that I was very sad that we live in an age when someone takes a picture of another person in a vulnerable moment and, rather than delete it, and do the decent thing, sells it. And I’m sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants, which brings us back to Les Mis, because that’s what my character is—she is someone who is forced to sell sex to benefit her child, because she has nothing and there’s no social safety net. And I— Yeah, so, um, so let’s get back to Les Mis. [laughs uncomfortably; looks down]

That’s takedown if I ever heard one.  She skewers the entire culture, not just the creep who is sitting across from her.  Of course, Lauer isn’t done with that particular tube of Jergens, and he laughs the whole thing off by noting that’s one of the best turns of a question he’s ever heard, instead of, you know, acknowledging that she had a damn good point and apologizing for feeding into it and (we’re left to assume) ogling pictures of her vagina and calling it “research” for the interview.

Because he totally started that bit with “Seen a lot of you lately.” I’m reminded of Multiple Miggs’ one-sided conversation with Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.

Lauer attempted to intimidate Hathaway by foisting blame for her own violation back onto her, and though she defended herself quite admirably, she was obviously uncomfortable. Good job, creep.

Next up, comedian and commentator Dean Obeidallah posted an article on CNN entitled “Do you believe in celebrity wardrobe ‘malfunction’?,” wherein he lays the blame for such things on the celebrities themselves. Obeidallah explains that they do this in order to remain relevant and in the news when their careers begin to flag or when they need “exposure.”  What better way to do that than to slip some nip or flash ’em the old beav, huh Dean?  Of course, he absolves Hathaway in this particular case, because “she has no history of these types of antics” and “she is well-respected in Hollywood.”  Sorry, Emma Watson, you’re a has-been and we know you only do this to prolong your fifteen minutes of fame.

I called out Obeidallah on Twitter, and here’s the exchange:

Me: Yeah, what are these women doing even going out in public?! Have they no shame? She basically raped that poor photographer.

Dean Obeidallah: Dont think u get the article but thanks for reading it

Me: @Deanofcomedy I got it just fine. Someone took a picture of her crotch without her permission and sold it for money. Obviously her fault.

DO: Nah, u didnt get it- But again thanks for reading it

Me: (quoting from his article) “since Hathaway was exiting her car sans underwear, she would do so more carefully than a cowboy climbing off a horse.”
Me: “she was being dropped off on the red carpet where the paparazzi were lined up like piranhas awaiting a piece of meat. ”
Me: Or, the shorter version: “She was asking for it, dressed like that and walking down that dark alley.”

He comes back with the “sorry you’re offended” line:

DO: Ur right – Ill ask CNN to take down the article bc some people simply wont get the point

Me: Oh, I get your overarching point. You just use the classic “blame the victim” mentality to get there. Very original.

DO: U get it after all!

I’m not even sure where to go from there, because 140 characters was just not quite sufficient, and I was getting really annoyed by someone using “U” instead of “you” when he had over 100 characters left to work with.

What this whole incident boils down to is the continuing narrative that celebrities are public property, women who are taken advantage of like this had it coming, and men simply can’t be held accountable – the onus is on them to behave themselves. Because for some reason, what undergarments Anne Hathaway does or does not wear is somehow of great importance, and she should feel ashamed that she didn’t rigidly conform to the societal standard.

But what exactly is that standard?  What if she’d been wearing something under that dress?
“Hathaway flashes crotch, shows off sexy panties!”
“Hathaway flashes crotch, shows off unsexy panties!”

What if no one had managed to get that shot?
“Hathaway’s visible panty line!”

What if she’d just tried to avert the crisis altogether?
“Hathaway shocks by wearing pants to premier!”

It’s a no-win scenario.  The media is going to be obsessed with the fact that a beautiful woman has a vagina.  It’s incumbent upon scumbags to not photograph it without her express permission, and creeps like Lauer to not shame her because some scumbag photographed it.  She’s not ours.  Her body is not ours.  Her body is her own.  And if she wants to go commando, more power to her. I don’t care what she wears as long as she’s comfortable in her own skin, and no one has the right to shame her for that.

This is the story so far…

From 2005 to around 2010 I blogged fairly regularly, first on my now-defunct LiveJournal, and then on a more politically-centered WordPress site.  Unfortunately, Facebook and Twitter came along and wrecked up the joint.  All of my friends fled LiveJournal for Facebook, so I didn’t really have an audience anymore for the long screeds I was routinely cranking out.  I migrated over to WordPress for most of that, but eventually the lure of 140 characters drowned that out, and the posts became less and less frequent.  Eventually, an entire year had passed since my last post, and I knew that the experiment was over.

But I’ve got all this stuff in my head that I want to fling at the Internet!

So here I am, back again with another blog.  This time, I’m going for a rather broad spectrum, just like my Twitter account.  I’m not going to limit my time here to any one subject, but I can guarantee a standard level of vitriol, dark humor and sarcasm.  Sports, politics, gaming, religion, music; these are the many and diverse subjects that I intend to vent my spleen over.

Finally, an explanation of the title of the blog, Slàinte Mhath.  Slàinte is Gaelic for “health,” and is a traditional Celtic toast.  The extended form, the version I use when raising a pint or a dram with friends and family, is slàinte mhath, or “good health” in the Scottish Gaelic.  Of course, it’s Gaelic, and those people have no respect whatsoever for the English or their way of pronouncing the Latin alphabet. It’s not “slayntee mahath.” It’s pronounced “slahncha va.” Get it right.

It also happens to be the title of an awesome song by Marillion. If you don’t know who Marillion is, well, now’s the time to find out.