The Lady Doth Protest Too Much

One's Out. One's Not.

Well, this is sad.  It seems that a certain Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell in the Michigan Attorney General’s Office has a bone to pick with an undergraduate student leader at the University of Michigan, Chris Armstrong, president of the student body.

Shirvell’s contention is that Armstrong is out to convert unwitting heterosexuals to be gay and other various nonsensical charges against this kid that don’t bear either repeating or dignifying with explanation.  This is so far off base that arguing with these kind of people is totally pointless.  Shirvell has been waging his own private campaign against this undergraduate via his blog and now by media interviews.  And it’s sad, but I think this kid has to take it.  Is what Shirvell saying right?  Of course not.  It’s reprehensible and awful and immoral.  But that doesn’t mean that Shirvell doesn’t have the right to say it.  So, sorry Chris, but this is the price that we pay for free speech.

So while Shirvell has his constitutional right to express his views, so have I.  I watched the video on the link above.  It was the first time I’ve heard this Shirvell character’s voice and observe him, overall.  And here’s my constitutionally protected opinion: I immediately and strongly inferred that Andrew Shirvell is a self-loathing homophobe, a closet case of the first rank.  To me, it is so obvious that this poor, sad man is so threatened by someone who is open about their sexuality as Chris, that he lashes out at the nearest, convenient target.  I’m not a betting man, but if someone offered me a wager as to whether or not Shrivell likes the dudes, I’d consider that investment grade.

What I would love to see happen, in this particularly shrill and nasty incident, is to have a sequel to the Ted Haggard episode.  Ted Haggard was a fundamentalist Christian minister who was influential, prominent and strenuously opposed to all things gay.  Except gay male prostitutes, for whom he had a weakness.  Haggard was outed by a male prostitute who came forward with substantive proof he had been paid to have sex with Haggard.  The allegation broke in the days leading up to the 2006 midterm elections, only one in a series of scandals that plagued the GOP at the time.  The proverbial icing on the cake in this scenario, at least for me, would be for some guy to come forward and say that Shirvell had paid him for sex.  So, here’s for hoping.


The Loose Cannon of Buffalo

MSNBC does not approve. Shocking.

We’ve only known who is facing off in New York for the governor’s race for only a short period of time, and in that short period of time, it’s gotten nasty.  Fast.  And not just normal nasty, it’s gotten really nasty.

Carl Paladino, the Republican real estate developer from Buffalo is facing off against Andrew Cuomo, son of former Governor Mario.  Cuomo is the current attorney general of New York and was a former HUD Secretary for Bill Clinton.  Cuomo is the odds-on favorite, which isn’t all that surprising, given that Democrats historically have a huge advantage over Republicans in the state.  Not that Democrats really appear to know what to do with that advantage, but if they ever decide to get their act together, it’s there.  I digress.

Paladino is kind of a firebrand.  As in, he stated in an interview that he wants to ‘take a baseball bat’ to Albany.  He broke Ronald Reagan’s cardinal rule, calling former Republican governor George Pataki a ‘degenerate idiot’ and saying that State Assembly Leader Sheldon Silver ‘belongs in Attica,’ a reference to the famous prison in New York.  Throughout all of this, Cuomo has kept his distance, counting on Paladino to implode on his own.  The problem is, what would usually qualify as an implosion seems to be fueling Paladino’s popularity.  Recent polls have put Paladino only six points behind Cuomo.

And of course, it gets better.  Paladino admitted to having fathered an illegitimate child during the course of an affair he had with one of his employees years ago.  Now, verbal pitbull that he is, he decided it would be a good idea to toss out unfounded allegations that Cuomo has his own skeletons.  Cuomo was formerly married to Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert Kennedy and they divorced some years ago.

Paladino makes for good TV, but he’s a joke.  He reminds me of a loudmouth drunk shouting obscenities on the street after he gets cut off at the bar.  Anger can be good in politics, but rage is no substitute for adult policies that will actually move this country forward out of this morass.  And while the polls may indicate that the race is close today, my prediction is that come election day, Cuomo’s going to take this guy in what’s going to be the biggest statewide landslide for a Democrat anywhere in the country.

The Next Issue You’ll Get Sick Of

Best case scenario.

And that issue is water.  It seems relatively straighforward, water is wet, we drink it, bathe in it, etc.  It’s always, there, right?  Well, for many of us, yes, abundantly and it’s clean.  Lucky us.  But for most of the developing world, not so much.  In the years to come, we’re going to hear a lot about water and how many, many people and countries will struggle with it.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, most of the developed world (Japan, north America and Europe) is going to be alright.  Population growth is slow to negative, the infrastructure is already in place, and economic growth rates are not going to necessitate increasing water supplies beyond what we have.  That, however, does not apply to east and south Asia, and most of Africa.  In the coming years, water is going to be scarce, and when commodities are scarce, they get expensive.  I’m not old enough to remember any of the oil shocks from a few decades back, but basically, the US was cut off from Middle Eastern oil producers because of political considerations.  The price of gas went through the roof, and it significantly slowed down the US economy for a few years at a time.

Now, instead of oil, imagine that scenario with water.  You can conceivably get by without much gas, or at least reduce your consumption of it.  And while you can do the same with water, you can’t do it to the same extent.  Especially in countries such as India and China, where the economies are growing rapidly, tens of millions of people are getting modern plumbing and sewage systems for the first time.  Basically,what’s happening is that we will see demand skyrocket at the exact moment that supplies will probably start to shrink.

As with everything, I take this study with a grain of salt.  Particularly due to the fact that in my home state of Michigan, even with a quarter of the world’s freshwater, even under the ‘managed’ scenario you can click on in the map, the situation there is still considered ‘moderate.’  Given as many inland lakes and rivers that the state has, combined with the Great Lakes, I find that hard to believe.  But, countries like India and China (significant parts of which are arid) both with populations over a billion?  Absolutely.  This is easily going to lop off a few points of GDP each year if they don’t play their cards right.

The Other White Meat

Eat me.

Every culture has its own strictures as to what’s alright to eat, and what’s not.  And, more often than not, it has something do with religion.  Hindus can’t eat beef, Muslims must abstain from alcohol and Jews have to abstain from pork.  Which to me, at least is a horrible tragedy.  There’s not one single reason as to why a faith mandates its adherents to abstain from eating various kinds of food.  For the Jews, it’s the idea that it’s unclean, or trayf.  But where there’s a rule means that there’s someone, somewhere, who loves flaunting it.

Dr. Eli Landau, a 61 year old retired cardiologist in Tel Aviv, has just published a pork cookbook aimed at an Israeli readership.  Shortly after the foundation of the Jewish state, laws were put in place to prevent the production, distribution, purchase and consumption of tasty, tasty pork.  The White Book, as the title is known, was printed in a 2000 book initial run, about 1200 copies of which have been sold already.

Younger Israelis are much more likely to eat pork than their elders, and there are various sects of Jews, namely ultra-Orthodox, who are vocally opposed to the publication of the cookbook, arguing that it’s an ‘abomination’ and that it’s offensive.  Please.  I think it’s baffling that anyone would think it appropriate to decree what their fellow Jews would eat, but then again, remember that the criticism is coming from the same group of people who also decree what their members have to wear (think black for everyone).  I’m glad to see that pork’s gaining a following in Israel.  And once they have bacon, all bets are off.

The Kims of Pyongyang

Not the craziest family, but the most powerful family of crazies.

I’ll be the first one to admit it.  I’m fascinated with the Kim family in North Korea.  Not only are they all absolutely insane, they basically own the entire country and have a nuclear arsenal to boot.  Imagine Christmas in your family.  Now imagine Christmas when your father’s a certified psychopath and he has advanced nuclear weapons systems at his disposal.  Fun, right?

For starters, you have the patriarch of the clan, Kim Jong-il.  This charmer was rumored to have killed his brother when he was FIVE.  What an auspicious beginning.  State media outlets claim that when he plays golf, he routinely gets 4-5 holes in one and that he’s also an accomplished composer, allegedly having scored no less than five operas.  What talent!  He’s short, wears  his hair in a wonderfully tall pompadour and allegedly wears lifts to supplement his meager height.  Jong-il is afraid of flying, so when he travels to places like Moscow, he goes by train.  He keeps the economy propped up by exporting high grade crystal meth and counterfeit $100 bills, the country’s two most lucrative exports.

Predictably, his children are losers.  The eldest, Kim Jong-nam is overweight and generally unremarkable, save for his own stupidity.  He was thought to have been his father’s favorite and heir apparent until falling out of favor a few years ago.  This was because he used a forged Dominican Republic passport to try and go to Tokyo Disneyland.  Of course the Japanese authorities thought it was suspicious that some giant Korean was using a Dominican passport with a Chinese name on it to go to Tokyo Disneyland.  He was detained and later expelled.  The political fallout forced his father to cancel a summit with the country’s only real allies (read: the only people that will talk to the North Koreans) the Chinese.

The middle brother, Kim Jong-chul, was passed over for the top job.  ‘Kenji Fujimoto,’ a former Japanese chef who used to work for the dictator said his father thinks his son is gay (specifically, he acts like a little girl), and was not eligible to keep the military in line.  There’s also a sister, also not eligible, because she’s a girl.

Kim: King of Krazy

So, just by process of elimination (stupid fat son, gay son, ineligible daughter) it appears the youngest son is going to be taking over.  Kim Jong-un (either 28 or 29) was promoted to the rank of a four star general this week in special meetings of the Korean Workers’ Party.  Since good ol’ Dad had his stroke a few years ago, it’s important to have a designated successor in place, in the event he keels over after shooting his next hold in one.  The problem is, this kid isn’t yet 30, and he’s expected to preside over the military, which is largely controlled by 80 year old generals.  In a hierarchy obsessed culture like Korea’s, this will be, um, what’s the word?  Oh: totally unworkable.

Enter the mean drunk aunt: Kim Kyong-hui.  She’s Jong-il’s little sister and is married to another power broker in the North Korean power structure, Jang Song-taek, a high-ranking military official.  If this is any indication of her parenting skills, her only daughter committed suicide in France in 2006 over a fight they had.  Kyong-hui is expected to help the younger Kim maintain his grip on power by smoothing over relations with the generals.  This could be problematic for her, as she’s apparently a raging alcoholic, so bad, in fact, she was allegedly hospitalized for drinking so much she put herself in a COMA a few years back, causing a bit of brain damage in the process.

So, that’s what’s going on with the first family of North Korea these days.  They are all, without exception, totally, batshit crazy.  And while we could sit around worrying about them and the misery they cause, I find it far more entertaining to laugh at them.

Basketcase Afghanistan

I have difficulty keeping up with the news from the two wars in which the US is involved.  For a while, we only had to deal with Afghanistan, and at first, it seemed we were doing well.  Then, we invaded Iraq, and we seemed to be doing well there.  Then Iraq fell apart, and we had low-grade civil war going on for a while.  So we shift troops into Iraq, and the situation stabilizes.  Only to realize that the situation in Afghanistan had fallen apart and the Taliban was making a comeback.  And now, the focus is back on Afghanistan.

So, here we are with more troops in Afghanistan, and are simultaneously pursuing a strategy escalating the conflict against Taliban militarily, even as President Hamid Karzai is pursuing the idea of peace talks with them.  Meanwhile, suspected Taliban insurgents executed a woman for being seen alone with a male to whom she was not related, calling int question the very idea of pursuing ‘peace’ talks.  In Bob Woodward’s latest book, he revealed that Karzai is a diagnosed manic depressive, and that he’s been taking medication for it for some time.  He started crying on a nationally televised speech earlier this week.  On the one hand, we’re dealing with a group of people whose ideology is positively medieval.  On the other hand, our ‘ally’ is a psychologically unstable, chronically corrupt weakling who has been either unwilling or unable to govern Afghanistan effectively.

We’ve been in Afghanistan for over eight years at this point.  The cumulative cost of both wars has been a trillion dollars thus far, with the costs rising year over year.  Over 5600 US soldiers have died.  Thousands upon thousands more have been wounded, which will easily cost over a trillion dollars to care for them.  And there is an end in sight, but it’s in dispute.

The President wants to begin a pullout in July of next year.  And his ranking general in the field, David Petraeus, isn’t on the same page as him.  Petraeus wants more troops, for a longer period of time, ostensibly to stabilize Afghanistan to the point where it would be politically acceptable for us to leave.  Not really a win, but better than an embarrassing military defeat.  Basically, we’d be calling it a draw.  After over a trillion dollars spent on both wars, almost six thousand American dead, we’re settling for a draw.

We’re settling for a draw because we can’t win.  If we were to win, that would require hundreds of thousands more troops in both theaters, stretching for decades into the future, costing tens of trillions of dollars, with no guaranteed results.  The American people don’t have the appetite for increased taxes and pictures of the boys coming home in body bags.  And at this point, I’m not even sure why we’re there.  It seems like the best argument that we can come up with is that we’re there because we’re there.  And ultimately, even if we’re willing to spend more political and financial capital than our Afghan and Iraqi counterparts, even if we want peace more than they do, it will not happen unless their respective governments truly desire it and are willing to make hard, and painful choices.  They have demonstrated that they are not.

We cannot win these wars.  We ought to ‘stabilize’ them to the best of our abilities, and get the hell out at the earliest possible opportunity.

Brothels Legalized in Ontario

Good news ladies! You get to work inside this coming winter!

I like Canada/Canadians.  I should also disclose that I’m 1/8 Canadian.  What I like about Canada is that they’re a rather progressive lot.  Case in point: a court in Ontario overturned a ban on brothels, solicitation and managing sex workers (pimping).  I can go through the routine legalization arguments that apply to anything that’s recently been decriminalized (drop in crime, better regulation, tax revenues, etc.).  But we’ve heard those before.

There’s a reason that it’s called ‘the oldest profession.’  That reason is that there will always be, no matter what governments do to ‘ban’ it or make it illegal, people who are willing to pay for sex.  Prostitution has been around since the dawn of time.  It’s going to be around forever.  What I want to laud the Canadians for is that they’re realistic about what their society (and consequently, their people)  is capable of.  I think they have a much more accurate (and far less ideological) view of how their society functions.  Canada, while our neighbor to the north, and very similar to us in many ways, is much more accurate when it comes to the way it perceives people, and as a result, they’re much more liberal.  And that’s a good thing.