Saturday, May 20, 2006

Wherein I disagree with my brother. Sorry spoon.

My brother thereisnospoon wrote a diary on Kos that is current on the rec list at the time of this posting, arguing that we will not do as well in 2006 and 2008 because of the apparent failure of Democrats to stand for their values and preach a message to the general public that counters the "default setting" that the public has concerning the Republican Party.


Spoon argues that running on the other party's corruption and incompetence, without creating a message of our own, will not lead us to victory.  I agree with his premise here, and if the evidence that he uses to support the conclusion he draws were entirely accurate, then his conclusion would be accurate.



Unfortunately, I don't think his premise about Republicanism is accurate.

Republicanism as defined by spoon in his diary is:


Any average voter can tell you: smaller government, stronger military, and "moral values."


Hard to disagree with that.  Spoon forgot to mention the fourth foundation of Republicanism, and that is lower taxes.  That is most certainly important, because the common refrain that you hear from conservatives is that Democrats will raise their taxes.  So, in short, the four fundamental principles that define Republicans are:


1. Smaller Government

2. Stronger Military

3. Moral (family) values

4. Lower taxes


So let's start there.  Obviously, I'm not going to go into how the current manifestation of the Republican party has nothing to do with any of these, or how the Republican party isn't really about these principles and they're really about the corporations.  We all know that over here, and that's not my point.


My brother is correct when he points out that the Republican Party, using their various media of talk radio, field organizers, churches, and everything else, spent the past 30 years selling these principles as the most important things for America.  And it is certainly true that the average voter "knows" that these are the elements Republicans "stand for."  What he didn't say is that the current version of that party has spent the past 6 years shifting the debate away from these values.


By selling terrorism as the central focus of the current Republican party and branding it into the mainstream--and then handling the issue with publicly avowed atrocious incompetence--the Republican Party has shifted the debate away from their traditional strengths into a new, uncharted area in which they were initially strong, but have since become weak.  Partly because of the personality cult of Bush, the Republicans have become the party of the Iraq War.  They have become the party of the Patriot Act.  The Party of NSA surveillance.


Where I disagree with my brother is on the fundamental question he raised: if you ask your average voter in the street what the Republican party stands for, I think your answer is far more likely to center around terrorism than it is around smaller government.


The Republican Party sacrificed the principle of smaller government at the altar of anti-terrorism.  This might even have been a successful long-term strategy had it not been for their absolute incompetence in handling the Iraq occupation, in their failure to get Bin Laden, and in the public disclosures of torture--something which Cheney's 18% base may support, but the other 82% of Americans find utterly distasteful.  But when you have an unpopular war, the most wanted person on Earth still on the loose, AND you start doing a KGB-style collection of the phone records of ordinary citizens?  Well, so much for smaller government.  And the public knows it.  The Republican Party has changed its entire philosophy of governance in order to become the Security Party, rather than the Limited Government Party.  And that is the new line of attack.  Quite frankly, the main reason that Republicans are in disarray is because the voters actually don't know what they stand for.  Do they stand for limited government, or do the stand for large government?  Do they stand for isolationism and anti-nation-building, or do they stand for neo-Wilsonianism?  Contrary to my brother's opinion, the problem the Republicans have is PRECISELY THAT THE VOTERS DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY STAND FOR, AND THEIR HOUSE IS DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF.


Furthermore, the Republicans have turned the central focus of the day and age on combatting terrorism.  The problem they now have?  More people trust Democrats than trust Republicans now when it comes to combatting terrorism.  There were plenty of Gore voters that voted for Bush again in 2004 because of terrorism, and they'll be back.


So, let's take the principle of the stronger military.  Here again, the problem is the Iraq War.  Now, this may be a short-term thing, and not ultimately relevant to the overall meme of the association of "stronger military" with Republican, but I'm arguing against my brother's opinion that we'll lose in 2006.


The thing about the Iraq war is that the Republican Party identified itself so strongly with it.  The current mentality right now among the populace is the Republicans in government support the war, and the Democrats in government oppose it.  Well, guess what?  Most people oppose the war, and that leads to an identification with--and votes for--the Democrats who oppose it.  Things may be different in 2008 or 2012, but for 2006 certainly, I don't think the "stronger military" is going to come back and bite us.  That may work to get the people who still support the war out to the polls to vote for Republicans, but it won't work for people who disapprove of the war--because the Republicans are in charge right now.  This is their military.  This is their war.  This is their new philosophy of governance.  They don't like the new Republicanism.  Why vote for more Republicans?  In addition, voters don't like voting for the party that was in charge when the latest military setback occurred.  It's a point of pride.  That doesn't bode well for "Republicans"--no matter what they claim to stand for.


It is true that we will need a more long-term strategy to deal with this argument later on.  Obviously, increasing troop pay and benefits while streamlining defense spending is a good way to go--as would be doing something to make the military an honorable career again, as opposed to a career of last resort.


So let's move on to taxes.  This is still a big issue, I agree.  But again, we move on to the subject or whether government should be limited or whether it shouldn't.  The problem is that raising taxes becomes a much smaller issue when faced with the larger issues we've discussed above.  Take this passage from Buzzer's recommended diary:


 Then Lee said, "Well, the Dems will probably want to raise my taxes, but I can probably live with that if it helps fix things." I told him that his taxes probably wouldn't go up too much, if at all, but didn't push the point.


Even Republicans know that Democrats would be better at fixing the problems that New Republicanism has caused.  And taxes are s small price to pay when the nation's "minimum payment" is at FOUR HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS.


Lastly, New Republicanism--the unholy alliance between the Security appratchiks and the Theocratic movement--has caused the identification of family values with Christian supremacy--an unpopular notion.  The term "family values" has turned into a code word which rings hollow now to everybody except the base.


So in short, my main point is that in 2006, there is no default setting for the Republicans to turn to to get their voters back.  The New Republicans have permanently shifted the meaning of what the Republican Party is all about, and it's something that is in direct contradistinction to what the voters "know" that Republicanism stands for--and this makes my brother's entire diary kind of a moot point.  You can't make a campaign for traditional Republicanism without sounding like a Democrat--and if that's the direction you're going to go, why not go for the people who have been saying it longer?


So, there is no more default setting for what Republicans stand for.  But in addition to that, there is a host of other issues that are gaining increasing national prominence on which the nation sees things increasingly our way:


The environment.

Global warming.

Energy independence.

Corporate malfeasance.

Education.

Healthcare.


On all of these issues, voters trust the Democrats far more to do right by the American public.  What are the Republicans--whoever they are and whatever the voters think they stand for--going to do about their party's traditional footdragging on these issues?  Start running to the left of us?


I do agree with my brother about one thing:  we actually need to stand up and campaign on these issues and be proud of them.  Turn them into a drop-down list that voters can identify as a platform.  


But I disagree with him on the idea that the Republicans can just return to a default setting.  They unleashed a snake that they hoped would bite us, and it bit them instead.  It's too late to put it back in the wicker basket.

[Cross-posted at My Left Wing and Daily Kos]

Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday Spider Blogging

Science (Spider) Friday: Sydney Funnel-Web

(Previous Spider Fridays: The Black Widow)

Hello, and welcome to this week's edition of Spider Friday--your opportunity to learn more about the fascinating spiders that inhabit our pale blue dot. This week, we'll venture down under to examine what is perhaps the most dangerous spider in the world--the Sydney Funnel-Web.

So put another shrimp on the barbie and come along for the ride.


Kingom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthoropoda
Class: Arachnida
Order: Araneae
Infraorder: Mygalomorphae
Family: Hexathelidae
Genus: Atrax or Hadronyche


BACKGROUND:

You know, there are a bunch of people out there that say "spider" like it's a dirty word. And usually, I'm the one telling them that spiders are our friends. They help us out, and all they really want is to be left alone to eat their fill of insects in peace. But if there's one spider that provides the counterexample to this, it's the Sydney Funnel-Web. It just doesn't like you. But don't take it personally. It doesn't like anyone else either. And it has the power to back it up. The Sydney Funnel-Web is one of the most aggressive spiders known, and unlike most spiders who just want to run away if they can, the Sydney Funnel-Web will not hesitate to bite if given the opportunity.





The Hexathelidae (funnel-web) family of spiders lies within the infraorder of Mygalomorph spiders--an infraorder which includes the bigger, stockier hunting spiders like tarantulas, trapdoor spiders and wolf spiders. There are several genera within the Hexathelidae family, but of these, only two are dangerous: the Hadronyche genus, which includes several funnel-webs with dangerous venom, such as the extremely dangerous, but rarely encountered, H. formidabilis, the Northern Funnel-Web, and the dangerous Queensland and Toowoomba funnel-web spiders; and the Atrax genus, which has only one species: A. robustus, the Sydney Funnel-Web.

Thankfully for us in America, the dangerous spiders of the Hexathelidae family are only found along the Southeast coast of Australia--though a few stragglers have been observed in Tasmania and the Solomon Islands:



And the Sydney Funnel-Web has an even smaller distrubution--it is only found within a roughly 75-mile radius around the city of Sydney. But unfortunately for the residents of Sydney, the life cycle of the Sydney Funnel-Web make it extremely susceptible to human contact.

The body of a fully-grown Sydney Funnel-Web is about 1 1/2 inches long. The carapace and legs are a shiny black, with little noticeable hair. The abdomen is of a lighter color, generally dark brown or dark purple. It's a stalky spider, but like most Mygalomorphs, it is capable of moving plenty fast when it sets its mind to it.

Funnel-Webs will eat anything of adequate size that happens to come near their burrow. Usually this will include insects, such as cockroaches:



But it can include anything else, as well, including lizards:



LIFECYCLE:

Like many mygalomorph spiders, including tarantulas, Funnel-Webs need humidity to keep going--when exposed to direct heat and sunlight, they dessicate and die rather quickly. They will either use convenient crevices to form a burrow, or will dig one themselves. The burrows are easily recognizable owing to the general funnel shape, and the silk tripwires which radiate out from the burrow like spokes from a wheel.





Sydney Funnel-Webs generally mature a couple of years after hatching. While females can live up to eight years, males only live a couple of months after their final molt, at which point they leave their burrows to focus exclusively on finding a mate and give up eating, usually dying within a few months. Because females tend to remain in their burrows unless disturbed, most unfortunate encounters with Funnel-Webs are usually the result of running into a male wanderer in the evening, or accidentally disturbing a male's resting spot during the heat of the day. Females produce an yellow-green pillow-shaped egg sac containing about 50-150 eggs. The spiderlings go through two molts in the protection of mom's burrow before venturing out to make their own.

(Spiderlings of H. infensa, the very dangerous Toowoomba Funnel-Web)

Males and females have morphological differences that can be recognized by a trained observer. Males are more slender, but also have hooks at the end of their pedipalps (the short leg-like appendages on each side of the fangs) with specialized grooves that facilitate the transfer of sperm to the female's sex organs. In addition, males have a hook on each leg of the second leg pair--this hook serves to prevent the female's fangs from snapping down on the male during mating.


(A. robustus; male at left, female at right)

(H. formidabilis mating; male at left, female at right).

BITES:

If you live in Sydney, you already know what to do. If you're traveling there and some big, black spider has just delved its fangs into you, apply a tourniquet IMMEDIATELY and call for medical assistance.

13 people have been known to have died from Sydney Funnel-Web bites, with deaths ranging in time from 15 minutes for children to several hours for an adult. All known fatalities have been confirmed to have come from male spiders. Severe allergic reactions resulting in anaphylactic shock is also possible, which was usually the undoing of victims that weren't either children, old or otherwise infirm. Fortunately, there have not been any deaths from Funnel-Webs since the introduction of a very capable anti-venin in 1981. This antivenin is effective for all dangerous members of the Hexathelidae family. Antivenin is reserved for the most dangerous 10% of cases, usually involving children or the elderly, as antivenin, like all homeopathic vaccinations, carries a risk of side effects.

The venom of the Sydney Funnel-Web is a strong neurotoxin, called Atraxtoxin. This poison is very light in terms of molecular weight, which contributes to rapid manifestation of symptoms, such as profuse sweating and salivation, tachycardia, hyperventilation and severe abdominal cramping. The effects of the venom usually wears off in a few hours, with no lasting effects.

Surprisingly, the sexual dimorphism in bites between male and female spiders goes along opposite lines from the black widow discussed last week. The male Funnel-Web's venom is thought to be five times more toxic than the bite of the female, though the female's is dangerous as well--an unfortunate happenstance, given the fact that most bites are delivered by wandering males.

Before a Funnel-Web bites, it goes into a characteristic, and very menacing stance, in which is raises its entire body up off the ground:



The spider will then snap down its carapace (the "head" section) like a trapdoor, resulting in a bite of incredible force. Funnel-Webs have been known to to bite straight through fingernails, leaving the fangs embedded in the cuticle beneath. There has also been a case of a Funnel-Web biting through a soft shoe and hitting the skin below.

Sometimes, though, this can be a boon to the victim: Although many spiders will do venomless "dry bites" in self defense, Funnel-Webs generally don't. Before biting, Funnel-Webs will channel venom into the fangs through the venom ducts right above them. Since the fangs are hollow, sometimes the venom will protrude as a glistening drop before the bite:



In some cases, Funnel-Webs have bitten down with such force that the venom drops were shaken off the fangs before impact, resulting in an unintentional dry bite! But don't expect to get that lucky.

So, that just about wraps it up for the Sydney Funnel-Web. As mentioned before, it has various relatives, but their coloration really isn't all that interesting, and they all look relatively similar, so it would seem like a real waste of time to show you a bunch of images of random Funnel-Webs. The only further note that I'll make here is that H. formidabilis (pictured mating above) has a venom that is even more lethal than that of the Sydney Funnel-Web, but bites are extremely rare because formidabilis tends to live deep in the forests of New South Wales, north of Sydney, and human contact with it is rare.

There is, however, a scientific debate concerning a potential second member of the Atrax genus, tentatively named A. murdoch, pictured below:



A. murdoch is native to Australia, but has spread rapidly upon introduction to the United States and Great Britain, infesting most American households and becoming endemic. Poisoning by A. murdoch is common, but often misdiagnosed. Symptoms tend to include rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, paranoia and stupor.

For more information on Funnel-Webs in the Hexathelidae family, you can always visit Wikipedia.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

2,455

Four more GI's, and an interpreter. Brings the total number of U.S. soldiers killed to 2,455.

But all you Republicans who started this war, you don't have to worry about it. Murtha is responsible for all the deaths from here on out.

Republicans, Wile E. Coyote and Peter Pan

I thought up a phrase not too long ago that I originally thought served to best exemplify the attitude of your average Republican politician and MSM talking head concerning Iraq, the NSA, and other scandals:

"It's not our fault for doing it; it's your fault for pointing it out."

It's this mentality that has driven the chief point of criticism of the Iraq occupation--namely, the mere fact that we on the left point out that the mission is not in fact accomplished is precisely what is preventing the mission from being accomplished. Ben Ferguson has taken this to extremes, as I pointed out in a recent diary--his outlandish claim is that the fact that we said that our troops were too few and insufficiently equipped is precisely what made them--apparently by some sort of voodoo-style sympathetic magic--too few and ill-equipped.

The Republicans--and that includes Jane Harman--have said the same thing about NSA spying. Their illegal spying isn't the problem--the leaks are the problem. Same with the CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. Same with the Abu Ghraib photos.

That phrase above seemed really bulky to me, though. I wanted something catchy, but for a long time, nothing would come. And then it happened. I came up with something.

The inspiration came to write this because something really set me over the edge: a diary at Redstate calling Murtha a murderer for publicizing the massacre of children at Haditha on Nov. 19. Apparently, according to tbone, the hit job against children by our troops isn't what will lead to increased anger against U.S. troops, it's the fact that Murtha talked about it--apparently because if Murtha hadn't decried it, the relatives of these dead children--and the tens of thousands Iraqi children who shared the same gruesome fate at the hands of our indiscriminate war machine--apparently wouldn't have known or cared, and everything would have been hunky dory in Iraq. After all, if a child is executed and no traitorous reporters or politicians talk about it, does the murder still have adverse effects?

So how best to summarize this mentality? It was, in fact, a comment by Sagra on my Ben Ferguson post that provided a moment of clarity:

The Republicans are the party of Wile E. Coyote.

I'm sure you all have seen Bugs Bunny cartoons. You see Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner across the desert, and run off a cliff or something and suddenly find himself in mid-air. He'll keep running--the sprinting equivalent of air guitar--until he all of a sudden realizes that he's in mid-air, and then he looks down. And right after he looks down and gets that scared look on his face, he falls.

Well, the Republican mentality is simply this: see no evil, hear no evil, and there will be no evil. The Republican mentality is that if only Wile E. Coyote hadn't looked down--if nobody had pointed out to him that there was no more dry land--he could have sprinted on air all the way until he caught that Roadrunner. If all of the traitorous, Coyote-hating, Roadrunner-loving vegan peaceniks hadn't made the coyote look down by telling him he had just run off a cliff, the law of gravity wouldn't have applied. And when you see the 10-foot-deep coyote-shaped crater hundreds of feet below, you can thank the pessimistic anti-coyote defeatists for that--because if it weren't for them, the coyote would be having savory roadrunner steak right now.

Biscobosco came up with an analogy just as brilliant:

The Republicans are the party of Peter Pan.

In the world of Peter Pan, the mere belief in something has the power to make it real. If you say that you believe in fairies often enough, well, a fairy will show up sooner or later. And if you publicly disavow a belief in fairies, well, you'll kill them. If you're a Republican, it apparently works the same way both with body armor and executing children.

You see, if we all say that we have enough troops and they're adequately armored, well, that's exactly what will happen. It must be true, after all, since nobody is saying otherwise. But the moment that we--the pessimistic fringe left--go out of our way to say, "hey! the troops have no body armor!", well, at that point, all the body armor the troops used to have goes the way of the fairy: invisible and non-existent--at least to our faithless infidel, non-believing eyes.

Similarly, if one never makes mention of killing children in cold blood, well, it never happened. It's kind of like the converse of the fairy principle. If you refuse to believe in something bad, it won't exist. But the moment some military-hating fanatic--even if he did serve in the Marines for 30 years--points out the existence of evil, well, all bets are off.

What's the main point behind all this snark? Well, the main point is simply that Republicans--and their supporters--are no longer even dealing in the real world. Their mentality is more akin to a child entranced in a cartoon fantasyland, focused exclusively, and with increasing intensity, on the vain hope that a fantasy held tightly enough will magically become a reality. Have you ever wondered how it's possible for so many people to willfully blind themselves rom the obviousness of the truth? How Ben Ferguson can say with a straight face that the bsence of body armor is a fault of the negativity of our words? How so many people can put a "support our troops" ribbon--though at this point faded just as much by exposure to truth as by exposure to the sun--and consider their obligations and their sacrifices to the war effort fulfilled?

The reason is that we are not so much dealing with a faith-based movement as we are with a delusional fantasy-based movement. And a fantasy can only persist just as long as it is insulated from any critique, from any exposure to outside reality. When confronted with the preposterousness of their delusions, the deluded will not blame themselves for basing their lives on a quest for the impossible--they will instead blame their failure to achieve their fantasies on those who exposed the truth of what their fantasies really were.

And my friends, this is where the GOP finds itself today: forced increasingly by those who no longer feel constrained to tell the emperor that his clothes are the most stylish on the planet to confront the harshness of reality, and the accompanying self-doubt, loathing and blaming the outside world is just getting started.

It won't be long now before Ben Ferguson blames the Democrats for letting Bush invade Iraq.

I'm only half-joking.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

How dare Murtha tell the truth!

Tbone at Redstate calls Murtha a murderer.

No, Tbone, that's wrong. You see, Murtha isn't the murderer for pointing out what the Iraqis already knew took place. American troops won't be put in further danger because Murtha came out and tells the nation what happened; American troops will instead be put in the way of further harm because they executed children to begin with.

Another example of the Wile E. Coyote Republicans: if you hadn't made us look down, everything would be just fine.