Pop Goes the Weasel – By Cobb

With this post ThomasPaineBlog.org starts a new column called “Paine and Loathing”. A humorous, irreverent look at our world. You may not like everything said here, we’re bound to ruffle some feathers. And for that we take as our inspiration Thomas Paine himself.

“Pop Goes the Weasel”

Every night when I go out
The monkey’s on the table
Take a stick and knock it off
Pop goes the weasel!

-uncommon verse

There is no more big news. Every image you see, every soundbite that attacks the psyche is no longer about new information. It’s about saturation, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, THEY have won.

If you need me to point out who THEY are, you’re beyond help. Jump out a window. Casually walk in front of traffic. If you know THEY’ve won, well, despair is not an option and this is a call to arms.


Bush jumps on the airwaves and lets his fellow Americans know that we’re staying the course. We’re augmenting, we’re surging, we’re Big Sizing, but we are definitely not escalating. Near 22,000 soldiers is a daunting number; six battalions is a lot, but it puts us nowhere near troop levels we’ve had in Iraq in the early days of this war and only puts us back on track with where levels were about this time last year.

People aren’t happy to hear this. They’re dissatisfied. But this is what Papa says and what Papa says goes. We did, after all, (re)elect him. Even with the Democrat’s slim victories last November, what wisdom is our Commander-in-Chief supposed to take away from it? Okay, he knows people aren’t happy with a lot of his policy, but he’s made it clear from the start he’s in the driver’s seat with regard to Iraq. November meant he’d be more than happy to “listen to suggestions,” but the last word was always going to be his.

Last word: 21.5K more bodies to latch the seal on a pressure cooker.

I’m not going to pretend to exhibit the divine wisdom Bush claims to have. I don’t know what SHOULD be done. Pulling out will save lives now, but the Baghdad Vacuum would make mid-ninties Bosnia look like DisneyWorld. It’s already a heluva mess, but maybe McCain’s 500,000 soldier march would make a difference…for now. But how long are we going to need to be there to pacify Sunni/Shiite animosity? How long, oh lord how long?

“My friend my friend, do not be afraid. I have hated my brother since the beginning of time. You leave tomorrow or next year or next millennia, we will be at each other’s throat as soon as your Black Hawks are in the air.”

Either solution is ugly and difficult. Both have sour consequences for the short- and long-term. But at least they’re new ideas, something to fight the monotony. However our man is staying the course; his idea is the same as it’s been for the last six years. I had no idea that between two shitty solutions, our C-I-C manages to come up with something that makes them both smell like roses.


A lot has been made of Dick Cheney’s interview with Wolf Blitzer on CNN last week, specifically the awkward exchange they had regarding Cheney’s daughter Mary, and her pregnancy. Thanks to modern technology that I’ve perfected in secret with Apple and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I give you a partial transcript not of what was said, but more importantly, what was MEANT:

Wolf Blitzer, CNN: So, your administration really doesn’t care about gays having equal rights, but you have a gay daughter, who is pregnant–isn’t that a little bit of a conflict of interest?

Dick Cheney, VP: No. You’re an asshole. I will crush you.

WB: I like your daughter…not in that way but, well, I’m sorry. Please don’t get me fired.

DC: Listen, jerk. She’s a lesbo. Can’t change that. She campaigns for me, which means I love her. It also shows that our administration thinks that even mutants like gays have a place in our society; a perfectly subservient place in our society.

WB: But…

DC: I don’t want to have to tell you again. Do you know where this interview is taking place? Do you think you can kick me in the shin and walk out of here like nothing happened? I can end you any time I want to, Blitzer.

WB: I am so so sorry.

DC: Yeah we shit on gays. Who cares? Most people don’t like ’em, so we don’t have to like ’em. I’m not going rogue with the gay issue like Nancy Regean did with stem cells. Too much of a hot button. Gotta keep those Evangelical blocs behind us.


I used to think that the Internet was for porn. Turns out it’s for snuff videos. Saddam Husseins last humiliating moments are up for free perusal to the billions, and your V-Chips can’t stop your kids from watching it over and over again. I wish I had more to write about it, but the subject is exhausted. And it’s more fun to talk about it when a hanging goes wrong!

Dwight Eisenhower helped design the modern hanging chart for military punishment, which factors in weight with regard to the length of rope needed to effectively break the neck of a guilty party. It is a dark and cruel science, but a science nonetheless. When the neck breaks, you’re paralyzed and then you choke to death without feeling it. Hooray!

But if you don’t follow the chart, two pretty awful things can happen. If the rope is too short, the guilty’s neck won’t break and they get to dangle by their own body weight and writhe in pain until they suffocate. If the rope is too long, the guilty’s head will pop right off. I’m no head scientist, but I’ve read in crude French Revolution romance novels that the head remains alive shortly after being separated by the body. So, if you’re unlucky enough to have too much rope to hang yourself with, not only does your head come off, but you also get punched in the face, because your head has to land somewhere and I’m pretty certain no one’s going to catch it before it hits the cold concrete floor.

That happened a couple weeks ago, didn’t it?

Insult, meet injury. Food for thought. Think of it while watching “Capote” or “Dancer in the Dark.” Until then…


Thomas Paine Celebrates 270 Years

Thomas Paine was born on January 29th, 1737 in Thetford England. He was born to modest circumstances, the son of Quaker craftsman who sewed whale bones into the stays of ladies corsets, Paine (the name was originally spelled “Pain” with the “e” added later) tried has hand at corset-making, starting at the age of twelve as his father’s apprentice.

At the age of twenty he took to the sea as a privateer. Two years later, in 1759, he opened his own stay-making shop. The next year he married a servant girl, and only a year after that both she and their child died in childbirth.

Paine struggled through the ensuing years. Trying his hand as a schoolteacher and later as a tax collector. In 1771 he married a grocer’s daughter. Three years later he was fired from his job, all his possessions were sold to pay off his debts, and his childless second marriage fell apart.

Paine’s life was going nowhere. So he did what all Englishmen did with nothing left. He sailed to America.

On the journey across the Atlantic he became sick with Typhus, arriving in Philadelphia in December of 1774 so ill that he had to be carried off the ship.

And thus was the inauspicious beginning in America of the man whose words inflamed and inspired a revolution.

“The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind”

And so it was with these words and the resolve of a ragged yet determined Continental Army led by George Washington, who had Paine’s “The Crisis” (These are the times that try men’s souls…) read to his men before his surprise attack on a British outpost in the Winter of 1776, that the cause was established as one for all mankind.

Paine was a rough man. In his later years he was reviled by many of his more famous contemporaries, primarily due to his unwavering polemic against Christianity and any other sort of organized religion. Thomas Paine was a devout Deist, believing that God was found in nature and nowhere else, and that all the affectations and words prescribed to God was phony posturing. Another attempt to curb the innate freedom of Man.

He died destitute, lonely, and unkempt, and barely a handful of people mourned at his funeral.

Nonetheless, it is through his words that even today we are able to define the spirit of ’76 that galvanized a people and created a nation like no other ever seen on the face of the Earth.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Thomas Paine.

On Right Thinking, Logical Reasoning, and Not Judging a Book by its Cover

“It is only by tracing things to their origin, that we can gain rightful ideas of them, and it is by gaining such ideas that we discover the boundary that divides right from wrong, and teaches every man to know his own.”

Thomas Paine, writing in one of his later works “Agrarian Justice” speaks of how, through diligence of thought, by following a logical path back to the origin of a thing, or to what is hidden to any that do not pursue this path, we can begin to learn of the true nature of things.

This concept pervades our daily lives, both of individuals and of nations.

We may see a homeless man laying on the sidewalk early one morning and instinctively feel a sense of mild disgust, or pity, or superiority. But what do we know of this man? It is easy to make wide sweeping generalizations. But unless we know his story, trace back the path of events and situations, decisions this man may have made, or events that shaped his life, we can not know in any real sense what it is that brought him now to lie on the sidewalk with nothing more than the ragged clothes on his back for warmth and a cardboard box for protection.

In such a situation, where we can’t possibly hope to know what is true for this man, we do well to trace back our own route that has led us to be walking by this man just now, and perhaps be thankful of our own fortune, than to be disgusted or pitiful of another’s perceived misfortune.

And from this example we see our days are peppered with such happenstance; where, with just a moment of reflection, we understand that much of what we think we know of something or someone before us is but a facade of the truth that lay beneath. And through that moment of reflection, we are allowed the opportunity to, at the very least, acknowledge that there is much in this world we will never comprehend unless we take the time to stop and really look.

On the State of the Union Address and Governement Assembled

“That government is best which governs least.”

It is hard to imagine what Tom Paine might think should he be witness to the current state of our country and the world if he should see it today.

One thing he would find this year that is different from years past is a George Bush whose power has peaked and is now on the wane as he grapples with what is now generally believed to be an ill-conceived and now intractable war in Iraq, and the declining popularity in his overall presidency that goes along with it.

This is no more in evidence by the woman – Madam Speaker – sitting directly behind the president as he delivered his State of the Union Address to the assembled Congress last evening.

Many have claimed that in proceeding years and in his previous speeches to Congress, Bush has moved to push executive powers to unprecedented levels, even to the direct contradiction of our Constitution and in violation of the law. Many have further asserted that Congress has been bereft of their core responsibility of oversight, letting the president shape and mold a new, some would claim almost monarchical, presidency.

And with the word “monarchical”, we would surely raise the ire of Mr. Paine.

But as one Libertarian has reported, the sight and sound of a chastened president, a Congress no longer willing to blindly do the president’s bidding, and the gridlock in governance that this often produces, is nothing more than the sweet call of limited government; for when an over-reaching president is not balanced by a watchful and prudent Congress, then that government is not best. Not for the people and not for the future state of our Union.

After all the pronouncements, proposals, and rhetorical flourish echoed through the halls of Congress, perhaps this is what Tom Paine would take away if he had witnessed the State of the Union address last night.

The state of our Union will be strong only so long as all participants in the process do their job and uphold their obligation to the American People and the Constitution upon which any and all authority those in government derive their power.

On Legislation Introduced to Address Global Warming and Climate Change

“To preserve the benefits of what is called civilized life, and to remedy at the same time the evils it has produced, ought to be considered as one of the first objectives of reformed legislation”

In Agrarian Justice, one of Thomas Paine’s later works written in 1797, Paine lays out his ideal vision for society, one that combines human equality with respect for the natural world.

Paine could surely have had no notion the impact the birth of the industrial revolution he witnessed would have some two centuries later. The benefits anyone reading this blog has through the hyper-accelerated technological advances of human society since Paine’s time have in turn created “evils” the likes of which could hardly have been imagined in the dawn of the Enlightenment. Not the least of which is the reality of a warming global environment.

Yet, legislation introduced today by the newly-sworn Congress calling for benchmarks toward a drastic reduction of CO2 emissions by 2050 reflect the notion Paine felt so long ago that our natural world is the foundation of all humanity’s higher endeavours.

Is it not an innate sense in all of us that only through the bounty of nature, the aggregate beneficence of our “Mother Earth” that we have any notion at all of life itself, let alone anything resembling the artistic expressions and higher aspirations that we consider civilized life?

On the Execution of a Tyrant

“Civil Government does not consist in executions; but in making that provision for the instruction of youth and the support of age, as to exclude , as much as possible, profligacy from the one and despair from the other.”

In Baghdad last week a brutal dictator was hanged. For many, if not most, this was a just and deserved ending for a man whose own regard for human life sowed death and misery for millions of his own people, bringing an entire nation to its knees. If there is a case for the formalized, state-sanctioned execution of a human being, the killing of Saddam Hussein is a prime example.

And yet when a grainy video recording of his hanging emerges on the internet, complete with guards taunting him in his final moments with calls of “To hell!”, the execution, which in all cases should proceed with the tragic solemnity that any such event represents, loses some of righteous justification.

An “official” execution of another human being, even of a terrible and ruthless tyrant that arguably deserves it, should, as much as possible, remain a dignified affair – even sacred, as perverse as that may sound.

Execution is not random killing. It is not a senseless act of violence. When it is determined by the process of law that a person’s life is so abhorrent that it must end, it is, in fact, rendering what in other circumstances most consider to be the judgement of God.

When rendering such judgement, we are but a hare’s breath from becoming mere killers ourselves.

In such a moment, cries of “To Hell!” step across the line that we dance upon when putting a man to death. In human terms, the man is already condemned. He is to be no more of this world. Whatever may come of his soul once his body swings lifeless at the end of a rope is surely the realm of God.

It is for our own souls, and the soul of a nation, for which we should be concerned, when we presume to act as God and render his judgement.

On Greeting a New Year

“We have it within our power to begin the world over again”

An oft-quoted saying of Thomas Paine’s in this blog, a perfect expression of the quintesential faith of Thomas Paine in the continually emerging human spirit.

A New Year dawns and it is a time to consider Paine’s optimism as we strive for our better selfs, living in a better world.