February 2007 Archives

Medved: full of merde

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Michael Medved once again shows how full of it he is, complaining in “Liberals are right to hate the Ten Commandments” that all of us to the left of Roy Moore are “tireless fanatics” and “militant separationists” who are consumed with a “fiery obsession” and a “hostility” (both “ferocious” and “implacable”) toward his deity’s dictates.

He speaks of the Ten Commandments’ “irreconcilable conflict with the demented and dysfunctional philosophy of today’s left,” but seems incapable of dealing with actual philosophy beyond the Right’s standard caricature of liberalism.

Medved should heed the injunction against bearing false witness, unless lying about liberals is acceptable to his deity.

The wingnut whining about Gore’s real-life environmentalism has been extraordinary ever since his Oscar win for An Inconvenient Truth. David Roberts deflates the hype at HuffPo:

Gore has done heroic work making global warming a top issue for governments the world over. He has prompted more individual and collective action on this issue than anyone else alive. The changes he has wrought outweigh his personal carbon emissions by many orders of magnitude.

They know Gore's message is winning. They know they are losing. Even if they're successful in tarnishing Gore, it won't change that.


update (3/1 @ 9:33am):
If you’re looking for detail about kWh and square footage, as opposed to a list of talking points, check out Anonymous Liberal’s piece on “Gore’s Energy Use.”

Ken Silverstein has a three part series on Iran (here, here, and here) at Harper’s. His interviews with various analysts dissect the situation, starting with the Busheviks’ bellicose blustering:

The Bush Administration's combative rhetoric—its accusations about Iran's nuclear program, involvement in Iraq, and support for Hezbollah and Hamas—looks like a prelude to military action. It's eerily reminiscent of the fall 2002/winter 2003 rhetoric on Iraq, when the administration was talking about WMDs and Saddam Hussein's meddling in the region. [Anonymous former CIA official #2]

Silverstein’s other sources are paint a pessimistic portrait of our future interaction with Iran, calling it everything from “risky in the extreme,” “delusional,” and stating flatly that “If the United States attacks Iran, the consequences would be disastrous.” Seymour Hersh’s new article in The New Yorker, “The Redirection,” explains that despite Robert Gates’ assurance that “we are not planning for a war with Iran,” a disturbing escalation is nonetheless underway:

According to current and former American intelligence and military officials, secret operations in Lebanon have been accompanied by clandestine operations targeting Iran. American military and special-operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and, according to a Pentagon consultant on terrorism and the former senior intelligence official, have also crossed the border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq.

[…]

The Bush Administration has publicly pledged the Siniora government [of Lebanon] a billion dollars in aid since last summer. A donors’ conference in Paris, in January, which the U.S. helped organize, yielded pledges of almost eight billion more, including a promise of more than a billion from the Saudis. The American pledge includes more than two hundred million dollars in military aid, and forty million dollars for internal security.

Thus, we are inadvertently helping to finance the Iraqi insurgency. Hersh, to his credit, draws the appropriate historical parallel:

The Bush Administration’s reliance on clandestine operations that have not been reported to Congress and its dealings with intermediaries with questionable agendas have recalled, for some in Washington, an earlier chapter in history. Two decades ago, the Reagan Administration attempted to fund the Nicaraguan contras illegally, with the help of secret arms sales to Iran. Saudi money was involved in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, and a few of the players back then—notably Prince Bandar and Elliott Abrams—are involved in today’s dealings.

Hersh summarized his findings in an interview with CNN (h/t: ThinkProgress):

We are simply in a situation where this president is really taking his notion of executive privilege to the absolute limit here, running covert operations, using money that was not authorized by Congress, supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11, and we should be arresting these people rather than looking the other way…

The SundayTimes reported over the weekend that “up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack:”


“There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran,” a source with close ties to British intelligence said. “There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible.”

The article goes on to note that “A generals’ revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented.” Craig Unger’s latest piece at Vanity Fair, “From the Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Iraq,” is a disturbing look into the administration’s imperviousness to reality in the Middle East (h/t: Digby at Hullabaloo). Unger is scarcely more pessimistic than Silverstein’s interviewees in observing that “waging war against Iran could be the most catastrophic choice of all:”

It is widely believed that Iran would respond to an attack by blockading the Strait of Hormuz, a 20-mile-wide narrows in the eastern part of the Persian Gulf through which about 40 percent of the world's oil exports are transported. Oil analysts say a blockade could propel the price of oil to $125 a barrel, sending the world economy into a tailspin. There could be vast international oil wars. Iran could act on its fierce rhetoric against Israel.

[…]

The Bush White House has already built the fire. Whether it will light the match remains to be seen.

Iraq turned out so wonderfully that there’s no reason why Iran shouldn’t be another cakewalk.

Paul Kurtz asks if “evangelical atheists” are too outspoken at SecularHumanism (h/t: Richard Dawkins). Kurtz expresses astonishment at “the preposterous outcry that atheists are ‘evangelical’ and that they have gone too far in their criticism of religion:”

Really? The public has been bombarded by pro-religious propaganda from time immemorial—today it comes from pulpits across the land, TV ministries, political hucksters, and best-selling books. […] Let’s be fair: Until now, it has been virtually impossible to get a fair hearing for critical comment upon uncontested religious claims.

Kurtz asks, “why should the nonreligious, nonaffiliated, secular minority in the country remain silent?”

We dissenters now comprise some 14 to 16 percent of the population. Why should religion be held immune from criticism, and why should the admission that one is a disbeliever be considered so disturbing? The Bush administration has supported faith-based charities—though their efficacy has not been adequately tested; it has prohibited federal funding for stem cell research; it has denied global warming; and it has imposed abstinence programs instead of promoting condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS. Much of this mischief is religiously inspired. How can we remain mute while Islam and the West are poised for a possible protracted world conflagration in the name of God?

Given all these facts, why should the criticism of religion provoke such an outcry?

The central part of his argument is this paragraph:

What is often overlooked by the critics of “evangelical atheism” is that skepticism about the existence of God does not by itself define who and what we are. For there is a commitment to the realization of human freedom and happiness in this life here and now and to a life of excellence, creativity, and fulfillment. Life is meaningful without the illusion of immortality. There is also the recognition that the cultivation of the common moral decencies—caring, empathy, and altruism—is an essential part of our relating to other human beings in our communities of interaction. Humanists have always been concerned with achieving justice in society. Many of the heroes and heroines in human history were freethinkers who contributed significantly to democratic progress and a defense of human rights. Indeed, the agenda of secular humanism is twofold: first is the quest for truth, a critical examination of the assumptions of supernatural religion in the light of science; second is the development of affirmative ethical alternatives for the individual, the society in which he or she lives, and also the planetary community at large. To label us “evangelical atheists” without recognizing our affirmative commitment to secular humanist morality is an egregious error. [emphasis added]

amazon.com

Martin, William. The Best Liberal Quotes Ever: Why the Left Is Right (Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2004)

Martin's book is a somewhat useful compendium of liberal wisdom, although constrained by its length. Its only real flaw--other than its brevity--lies in its conspicuous lack of sourcing. This problem surfaced rather early, with this unverified quotation from Alexis de Tocqueville:

"America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great." (p. 8)

Through WikiQuote, I found a website devoted to Tocqueville that cited a Weekly Standard article pointing out this quote's lack of verification. Had the author done the same work, his book would be shorter but more trustworthy. The quote "I believe in God, only I spell it Nature" (p. 85), allegedly from Frank Lloyd Wright, is another example; I have never seen this quote documented.

While many of the quotations in The Best Liberal Quotes Ever glitter quite brightly, their questionable provenance will require the reader to verify which ones are genuine liberal gems.

This “Special Comment” by Keith Olbermann about Condi Rice’s astounding ignorance of history is one of the greatest smackdowns he’s ever delivered.

Watch it and be amazed.


update (11:36am):
MSNBC has a better transcript here.

Rob Boston rebuts Jim Wallis’ piece on the Religious Right, likening it to “a vampire from a schlocky drive-in horror movie:”

Despite what Wallis believes, the Religious Right will not fade away because some of its allies lost elections. Rather, these groups will redouble their efforts, demonize more of their perceived opponents, raise more cash and gird themselves for the next fight. Letting our guard down now, as Wallis proposes, only means we won’t be ready to meet the Religious Right when it rises up out of the coffin once again.

conservative comedy

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If you haven’t heard about Conservapedia, you’re really missing a treat. Apparently, the reality-has-a-liberal-bias wingnuts have decided that the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is liberal, and have started a conservative-friendly alternative.

Tom Tomorrow gives the project the type of attention it deserves: mockery and derision. On his blog, he excerpts an actual Conservapedia entry for “Unicorns:”

The existence of unicorns is controversial. Secular opinion is that they are mythical. However, they are referred to in the Bible nine times, which provides an unimpeachable de facto argument for their once having been in existence.

In the original texts, unicorns go by the Hebrew name Re-em whereas the Greek Septuagint used the name Monokeros. Unicorn itself is Latin. All three names mean “one horn”.

There are neither enough facts nor enough wisdom at Conservapedia to merit much notice, but the unintentional self-parody is rather amusing.

For once, I agree with Frank Luntz. Isaac Chotiner reveals at TNR (h/t: Bill Berkowitz at Smirking Chimp) that Luntz referred to the out-of-control GOP as “one giant, whining windbag.” (No wonder he’s persona non grata among the “adrift” and “leaderless” Republicans.)

Whatever his faults, Luntz is dead accurate this time.

not the only book

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Tommy’s “Where My Values Come From” at An Exercise in Futility (h/t: Stardust at God Is for Suckers!) says a number of things that need to be said about the value of multicultural morality. In contrast to the simplistic “the-bible-is-all-I-need” mentality, we atheists get our moral values from the best that our world has to offer:

I derive my values from the wisdom and knowledge accumulated by the human race from thousands of years of experience. You see, what Karen Hunter, Jesse Peterson and countless others fail to realize is while they focus on the comings and goings of a collection of semi-nomadic tribes between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, complex and sophisticated civilizations thrived in Egypt, Crete, Greece, Asia Minor, Mesopotamia, along the banks of the Indus River and in China. The Israelites and their collection of tales that would eventually comprise the Old Testament had no impact on the development of these civilizations.

[…]

It is only very recently in human affairs, say the last two or three centuries, that it has become possible for an educated person to have access to the moral and ethical traditions of cultures outside of his own. Nowadays, anyone can go to a local library or Barnes & Noble bookstore to find books about the Greek philosophers, 'The Analects' of Confucius, the texts of Hinduism and Buddhism, along with the Bible and virtually every great work that has been written and published up to the present day. Because we live in a predominantly Christian country, it is to be expected that the Bible will have a greater hold on the imaginations of most Americans. But as the Clarence Darrow character in "Inherit the Wind" says of the Bible, "It is a good book, but it is not the only book." When considering the collective wisdom of humanity, the Bible is but one of many pillars of human civilization. So, when Jesse Peterson boasts that he gets his values from the Bible, I would tell him that the source of his values is much poorer and limited than mine.

emulating the enemy

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Glenn Greenwald calls the Bush administration to task for its reprehensible tactics, observing that they are “Emulating the Enemy.” Greenwald identifies a central pathology of Bushism—its blind belligerence:

One of the hallmarks of the Bush presidency -- arguably the central one -- is that we have adopted the mentality and mimicked the behavior of "our enemies," including those whom we have long considered, rightfully so, to be savage and uncivilized. As a result, our foreign policy consists of little more than flamboyant demonstrations of our own "toughness" because that, so the thinking goes, is the only language which "our enemies" understand, and we must speak "their language" (hence, we stay in Iraq not because it makes geopolitical sense, but because we have to prove to Al Qaeda that they cannot "break our will").

Thus, any measure designed to avert war -- negotiations, diplomacy, compromise, an acceptance of the fact that we need not force every country to submit to our national Will -- are scornfully dismissed as "weakness," which, in turn, is "provocative." Conversely, war-seeking policies are always desirable because they show how tough and strong we are.

Greenwald excerpts Richard Hofstadter’s classic essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” which illuminated the same base bellicosity over four decade ago. In light of Hoftadter’s observation that “We are all sufferers from history, but the paranoid is a double sufferer, since he is afflicted not only by the real world, with the rest of us, but by his fantasies as well,” perhaps we should be kinder to the long-suffering wingnuts. He concludes that:

Their obsessions with displays of power and their (quite related) intense fear of being perceived as weak are, as Hofstadter documented so conclusively, more psychological and personal than political…

I would say “pathological” instead of “psychological,” but that’s quibbling.

Rolling Stone bestows the title “The Most Honest Man in News” on MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann. Their list of his “Top Five Rants” is here. This quote from Arianna Huffington is particularly nice:

"Keith's importance, to me, is as a truth teller. […] I think the way he's been represented -- as leaning to the left or catering to the anti-Bush crowd -- minimizes what he has done, which is to ignore the traditional journalistic view of the anchor as referee and stop pretending there are two sides to every issue. That's not how it is. Sometimes the truth is on one side."

The right-wing critique of Keith Olbermann, OlbermannWatch, calls him “the most dangerous man on television today.” In a “Who watches the watchmen?” situation, OW even has its own critique site, WatchingOlbermannWatch.

RJ Eskow has a nice summary post on the recent dust-ups in the Left blogosphere over the issue of religion. He observes that “while the left is busy chasing its own shadow, the right is getting busy on the God front:”

There's a concerted effort out there to convince Christians that their religion is under siege from the left - and its working. The "siege on God" memes ("War On Christmas," etc.) weren't being promoted for laughs, but for strategy, and now most religious voters now believe their faith is under attack. Guess what that's going to do to the '08 election if the left doesn't get its act together?

wonder

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Eric Lorson at UTI ruminates on death, and ends up talking about faith and science with this Saganesque remark:

For religion to work people have to put their heads down and pray. For science to work, people have to lift their heads up and wonder. I prefer wonder.

General Wesley Clark announced the formation of StopIranWar.com along with VoteVets:

Americans and their elected officials in Congress must work together to demand that President Bush stop the rush to war with Iran. The United States must use every option available to defuse tensions with Iran - diplomatic, political, and economic - before even considering military force. Military force must be viewed as the last resort - not the first option.

How long until he announces a 2008 presidential exploratory committee?

This was Scott McClellan’s comment in September 2003 about the Plame leak:

The President has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration. [emphasis added]

The NY Daily News (h/t: Ron Chusid at Liberal Values) summarizes the ten—yes, ten!—people in Bush’s administration who leaked Valerie Plame’s identity as a covert CIA operative:

Vice President Cheney When Libby reminded his boss the vice president that he learned about Plame from him, Cheney tilted his head quizzically and said, "From me?"

Karl Rove
Bush's top political mastermind told reporters Robert Novak and Matt Cooper about Plame.

Richard Armitage
The former deputy secretary of state gossiped about Plame to Novak, and marveled to Watergate icon Bob Woodward, "How about that?"

Ari Fleischer
Bush's former spokesman got immunity before admitting he told reporters John Dickerson and David Gregory about Plame. Reporter Walter Pincus said Fleischer told him about her, too.

Dan Bartlett
Fleischer claimed Bush's counselor blurted out to him on Air Force One in July 2003 that Plame "worked at the CIA."

Robert Grenier
The top CIA official overseeing Iraq operations got nervous over Libby's pestering and later "felt guilty" about telling Cheney's chief of staff about Plame.

Bill Harlow
The CIA spokesman told Cheney flack Cathie Martin.

Cathie Martin
She told Cheney and Libby about Plame.

Marc Grossman
The No. 3 at the State Department also told Libby about Plame.

Craig Schmall
Cheney's CIA daily briefer discussed Plame with Libby.

I wondered, briefly, when the firings would happen. Then I remembered: living up to a promise would require someone in Bush’s administration to have integrity.

Here is Sam Harris’ latest volley in his discussion with Andrew Sullivan, where he defends the value of science:

Are you really surprised by the endurance of religion? What ideology is likely to be more durable than one that conforms, at every turn, to our powers of wishful thinking? Hope is easy; knowledge is hard. Science is the one domain in which we human beings make a truly heroic effort to counter our innate biases and wishful thinking. Science is the one endeavor in which we have developed a refined methodology for separating what a person hopes is true from what he has good reason to believe. The methodology isn't perfect, and the history of science is riddled with abject failures of scientific objectivity. But that is just the point-these have been failures of science, discovered and corrected by-what, religion? No, by good science. [emphasis added]

gays and the GOP

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Andrew Sullivan responds to a Republican refugee:

When I think of a gay person who lives responsibly, saves his or her money, goes to church, contributes to charity and settles down in a stable relationship, I think: conservative. When such a couple wants to get married, I think: conservative. When such a person decides to serve his country in the military, I think: conservative. But the new Republican base sees all this and thinks: evil. It didn't have to end this way. But it has. The GOP won a couple of elections with the help of it. They have won a generation's contempt as well.

Aside from implying that responsibility, thrift, faith, altruism, fidelity, duty, and sacrifice are conservative values, Sully’s right on the money.


update (2/21 @ 10:11am):
Barefoot Bum calls Sullivan on his “particularly loathsome example of his smug self-righteousness,” and continues on to delineate some real differences between liberals and conservatives:

I'm a liberal because, unlike conservatives, I believe that I have a positive obligation to actively promote the happiness of my fellow citizens and my fellow human beings, and this responsibility is by virtue of my citizenship, not just my particular preferences.

I'm a liberal because, unlike conservatives, I believe that as much as I admire what's good about my country, we have no sort of obligation whatsoever to promote our values at gunpoint; indeed we have an obligation to the contrary.

I'm a liberal because, unlike conservatives, I do not become paranoid and delusional and see existential threats in a few criminal acts, however horrific, perpetrated by cave-dwelling religious fanatics.

I'm a liberal because, unlike conservatives, I figured out that "compassionate conservatism" is an absurd oxymoron; and I figured it out in 1999.

I'm a liberal because, unlike conservatives, I recognize and reject the conservative dog-whistle of "personal responsibility" as "I've got mine, Jack."

I'm a liberal because, unlike conservatives, I do not ask for whom the bell tolls: It tolls for me. Every time.

This long Texas Monthly article, “The Test of Time,” (h/t: Paul at Alien & Sedition) has a variety of opinions on how Dubya’s presidency will be remembered. It’s not a flattering portrait, even given its Texas provenance.

Douglas Brinkley refers to Bush’s “meanness of spirit,” noting that Bush isn’t “somebody who was in any way healing the nation or trying to be bipartisan. He became a stubborn ideologue.”

Kathleen Hall Jamieson opens her piece this way:

I think that George Bush’s legacy is going to be his use of signing statements [written documents that presidents can issue when they sign a bill into law]. He has used them to replace the veto, which represents a shift in institutional power and alters the relationship between the branches. When a president doesn’t issue a veto until the sixth year of his presidency but nonetheless systematically takes exception to legislation, that person is doing something different from what his predecessors did. Some observers view this as a healthy exercise of executive power; others view it as overstepping. I’m in the second camp.

Michael Lind takes the longer view, correctly placing the Bush presidency as the (literal and figurative) tail end of the GOP’s nearly forty-year dominance of the executive branch. Lind notes that “If you look at George W. Bush in a larger perspective quite apart from Iraq, you see him as the peak of the post-sixties conservative wave that began with the white backlash against the civil rights revolution.” The “worst” appellation comes only hypothetically, when Lind posits that:

If Bush were to attack Iran in the next two years, he could cement his legacy as the worst commander in chief of all time. The Iranians hate the Sunni jihadists and Al Qaeda hates both the Iranians and the Iraqi Baathists. To declare war simultaneously on three archenemies who are not coordinated, who have not formed an alliance against you, is just madness.

Paul Begala’s standard of judgment—the same one he uses to praise both Reagan and Clinton—is “Did George W. Bush accomplish what he set out to accomplish?” This benchmark leads to his evaluation of Bush as “an abject failure.” By the standard of “How long do your benefits last, and how long does it take to clean up your mistakes?” Begala rates Bush as “the worst president in history.” (Even conservative Niall Ferguson is forced to admit that “it’s going to be very hard…to conclude that this was a great presidency.”

H.W. Brands recognizes the two central failures of the Bush era: “The things that he chose to have happen—cutting taxes and going to war in Iraq—were not decisions he had to make at all. He decided to do these things utterly on his own. The fact that he got them both wrong is going to really tell against his historical reputation.”

Bruce Bartlett opines that “There isn’t much question that George W. Bush will rank among the bottom of all presidents in terms of his accomplishments in office,” placing Hoover and Nixon at the very bottom of the list. Bartlett identifies Bush’s two biggest failures as the pursuit of his policies “with such ineptness that he has made things worse” and his closed-mindedness: “He doesn’t listen to anybody. […] You can’t reason with him. You can’t do anything except wait for the clock to run out.

20 January 2009 can’t get here quickly enough.

closeted theists?

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Jim (God’s Politics) Wallis writes in Time magazine that “The Religious Right’s Era Is Over.” He makes some worthwhile comments on the evangelical/GOP crackup, but then seriously misrepresents the Democrats’ situation by claiming that “[t]hey are running more candidates who have been emboldened to come out of the closet as believers.”

In what sort of upside-down American political arena is any religious person—at least a mainstream Christian—in any way closeted? In what parallel universe do theists not comprise the totality of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the White House? Even in situations where theists aren’t trumpeting their membership in a specific sect throughout the media, they are incessantly proclaiming the importance of generic “faith” and “religion.”

Earth to Mr Wallis: I fear you’ve been reading the paranoid fantasies of wingnuts like LaHaye and Robertson, where a secular humanist cabal rules the world from the UN, while a fleet of black helicopters stands poised to eliminate all trace of religion from public life. Reality is quite different: religious believers are not in the closet about their faith. Atheists, however, are likely to be silent about their lack of same.

Dinesh D’Souza’s “Secularism Is Not the Solution” at TownHall claims that secularism, not American foreign policy, is responsible for producing a blowback of Muslim rage” that includes bin Laden, al Qaeda, and other Islamists. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’d expect a pro-Christianist commentator to say.

I find it interesting that D’Souza hates many of the same things about America that bin Laden does, such as secular government and civil freedoms. Why does D’Souza care what bin Laden wants? Why does he want to appease terrorists by restricting our society to their liking?

No, seriously! Haaretz reports that Ariel Sharon told his biographer Uri Dan about a conversation with Dubya about bin Laden:

Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the ass!" [emphasis added]

I hope Bush finds bin Laden soon, because I don’t the American people can stand two more years of him fucking us instead.

stupid atheist?

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Mary Grabar’s “Letter to a Stupid Atheist” at TownHall, ostensibly a rebuttal to Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, is a rhetorical failure on many levels.

In attempting to denigrate the scientific method, Grabar refers to “how we scoff at the foolish scientific ideas of our father’s and grandfather’s times,” but misses the obvious parallel with the pre-scientific ideas which comprise the bible. I wouldn’t call the science of either one generation or one hundred ago “foolish,” but it is appropriate to use that word for those (such as the anti-Copernicans) who persist in propagating long-discredited ideas.

She criticizes Harris for his “ability to string together clichés and tired arguments,” but her piece does little else. Her caricature of his readers as “correct-minded, nipped and Botox-ed activists” who bought his book after “whipp[ing] out the credit cards from Louis Vitton bags” [sic, it’s actually Louis Vuitton] and read it during “trips to the salon, masseuse, and transcendental meditation retreat” says precious little about us but much about her.

Grabar claims that “historically Christianity was the first real democracy,” but this makes me wonder: Has she never heard of Athens? The Greek concept of democracy predates Christianity by five hundred years, as the word “democracy” itself (demos + kratos) suggests. While Athenian democracy was hardly perfect, it was very real.

She even attempts to misconstrue slavery as “an historical fact that Christians had to deal with, and not something they promoted.” This does not square with the fact that nowhere does the bible condemn slavery, although it does prohibit such practices as beating a slave to death. The New Testament is hardly better than the Old in this respect, especially considering Paul’s words in Ephesians that slaves are to be obedient to their masters. Contrary to the directive in Deuteronomy, Paul returns the runaway slave Onesimus to his master Philemon. What would Grabar call returning a slave to his servitude if not a “promotion” of slavery?

Grabar’s piece could scarcely have been worse if it had been typed in all caps.

brights

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Friendly Atheist has a good post on the Bright movement, complete with some history and an interview with Paul Geisert (who coined the term “Bright”) and Mynga Futrell of the Brights website. I’m not convinced of the need for using the terms “bright” and “super” to delineate the naturalist/supernatural divide, but I’m intrigued enough to think about it.

flat-earth wingnuts

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No, the “flat-earth” insult isn’t just a slam against the anti-evolution IDiots, it’s even (disturbingly!) closer to reality than that. Some of the bible-banging Dominionists don’t want to drag our scientific knowledge back to the pre-Darwinian era, they want to go back before Copernicus. From the FixedEarth website:

The Earth is not rotating...nor is it going around the sun.

The universe is not one ten trillionth the size we are told.

Today’s cosmology fulfills an anti-Bible religious plan disguised as "science".

The whole scheme from Copernicanism to Big Bangism is a factless lie.

This website, not nearly far enough from the far Right, was approvingly mentioned in memos from GOP state reps in Georgia and Texas (h/t: Joshua Micah Marshall at TPM). Sara comments at Orcinus:

We've often derisively referred to the Christian Dominionists as "flat earthers."

Now, it turns out that bit of rhetorical whimsy was far more accurate than we knew.

Copernicus is dead. Long live the Dark Ages.

sad but true

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Alan Mackenzie at Rank Atheism has a great piece (h/t: Mojoey at Deep Thoughts) that uses formal logic to demolish some all-too-common anti-theism arguments. He then points out the “unfortunate fact” that:

most people do not reason well, and demonstrate an enormous capacity to employ fallacious reasoning during arguments. Likewise, those parts of the population who suffer from these shortcomings often fall prey to arguments that are superficially plausible, but in fact wrong, especially if those who put forth such arguments are highly skilled in debates. The most effective way to combat plausible, but poor quality arguments is to acquire a level of knowledge equal or superior to that of the people one happens to debate alongside. Once we gain sufficient knowledge to identify misleading premises due to rhetorical abuse, we become equipped with the requisite skill to inoculate debates from propositional logic, and so protect those who are less adept at formal and analytical reasoning from the influences of sophistry.

Propositional logic is a potent tool for sophists, especially when deployed carefully to those who lack formal critical thinking skills. Under such circumstances, students may hear 'both sides' of a manufactured argument, rationalise them, and then choose an answer based upon their preconceived beliefs, or prejudices. [emphasis added]

That describes any number of issues advanced by the Right-Wing Noise Machine.

Paul at Alien & Sedition has a commentary about economic conservatism that solves a bit of cognitive dissonance I’ve had with the GOP’s libertarian/wingnut coalition:

…economic conservatism does not provide a principle for governing, so it begets government without principles. I think that many of these conservative intellectuals would like to create a libertarian paradise, but their policy ideas, failing utterly to bring us any closer to such utopia, therefore serve only to clear the way for the raiders and the pillagers who follow the conservative standard they carry. The Crusades never had any hope of Christianizing the holy land, despite the fevered prayers of the true believers who promoted them - but they did provide a golden opportunity for those who mainly sought to rape, plunder, and destroy.

As overly melodramatic as James Cameron’s Titanic was, I found one moment of it surprisingly moving: the string quartet playing on the deck of the doomed ship. The true story of Vedren Smajlovic, described at Digital Journalist (h/t: Brendan Kiley at The Stranger), has an element of personal bravery in a war zone—in addition to demonstrating the importance of art in the face of tragedy—that simply floors me.

why they resigned

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Amanda Marcotte writes at Salon about her resignation from the Edwards campaign:

That two young feminist women were the targets of such a strenuous harassment campaign from bloggers and the Catholic League hints of more being at stake than scalp-collecting for conservatives. The posts that sent Donohue into a well-financed swoon were on topics such as the right to abortion, the right to contraception and gay rights. Donohue and the long list of culture warriors on the league's board of advisors are dedicated to stomping out those very rights McEwan and I were defending. It's unlikely they took issue with just the coarse, comedic vernacular that we used to defend those rights. [emphasis added]

Melissa McEwan discusses her life as a right-wing target at the Guardian:

If you're trying to legislate a behavior that would have no affect on you, and your only justification is "God said so," I'm going to have an opinion about that - which is both my right and obligation as an active participant in the political process, and should be expected by those who endeavor to politicize their religious beliefs.

She adds another comment here:

What those who believe I (or Amanda) 'caved' don't seem to understand is that from Day One, this situation just kept escalating. When Donohue went after me, I didn't quit. When Malkin went after me, I didn't quit. When the rightwing blogosphere went after me, I didn't quit. When the mainstream media went after me, I didn't quit. When someone from another Democratic campaign went after me, I didn't quit. When Bill O'Reilly went after me, I didn't quit. And after all that hadn't made me quit, the threats poured in.

I was disappointed that Edwards accepted their resignations; if he buckles this easily to wingnut whining, what would he be like in the Oval Office?

The Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers has joined the Secular Coalition for America (h/t: Friendly Atheist). Their joint press release is here:

MAAF identifies, examines, and responds to insensitive practices that illegally promote religion over non-religion within the military or unethically discriminate against minority religions or differing beliefs. The MAAF community includes active and retired military, family, and civilians who support these goals, but it also includes local organizations willing to sponsor MAAFers. Prove that there are atheists in foxholes -- sign up on the MAAF Web site, or add your group to the MAAF network.

Sullivan disappoints

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Andrew Sullivan has (finally) responded to Sam Harris with “The Unclean Glass,” and wrote this jaw-dropping passage:

No civilization has ever been atheist at its core. No polity has ever been constructed in the absence of faith, or in the absence of a tradition of faith that makes belief in the present possible at all. Earth to Sam: Does this not tell you something? Or is it plausible that human beings tomorrow will become something that in all of human history and pre-history they have never, ever been?

Agriculture, philosophy, technology, the sciences, and the arts have all—individually and collectively—produced cataclysmic changes in civilization that can be interpreted as changing the very nature of what it means to be human. A non-nomadic lifestyle unhindered by anthropomorphic animism and mysticism was once literally beyond belief, but humanity eventually embraced the notion of progress. The unforeseen nature of those changes did not prevent them from happening, and the same may be true regarding monotheism. The last throes of religion may be invisible—or incomprehensible—to Sullivan, but they are neither unseen nor unhoped for by others.

Sullivan’s later claim that “There is more wisdom, depth, range, glory, nuance and truth in my tradition than can be dreamt of in your rationalism” was another disappointment in this piece. The history of science is filled with far more “wisdom, depth, range, glory, nuance and truth” than can be found religious myths and rituals.

You can do better, Sully.

Paul Weyrich’s piece at TownHall yesterday attempted to reanimate last week’s factless Moonie Times smear that Speaker Pelosi demanded the use of a large and expensive airplane for nefarious personal purposes. He continued mouthing the manufactured “scandal” by repeating accusations against Pelosi that have been proven false; here are a few of them:

Weyrich claimed no fewer than ten times that Pelosi requested the plane; this is false. ThinkProgress has remarks from the House Sergeant at Arms:

I made the recommendation to use military aircraft based upon the need to provide necessary levels of security for ranking national leaders, such as the Speaker. I regret that an issue that is exclusively considered and decided in a security context has evolved into a political issue. [emphases added]

In addition, Weyrich claimed that a C20 (the plane used by Denny Hastert) is capable of flying non-stop to California. This is also false. As ABC noted here,

A C-20 can make the 700-mile flight to Hastert's Aurora, Ill., district easily but would generally have to stop to refuel to complete the 2,800-mile trip from Washington, D.C. to the San Francisco Bay Area, depending on the headwinds.

The coup de grace in Weyrich’s screed was his remark that “everyone who reads or hears can understand the story.” This statement is true, except for those who read the Moonie Times or listen to Faux News; their understanding may be correspondingly impaired by the amount of misinformation they consume.

Dave Johnson at Smirking Chimp detailed how the lie was spread throughout the Right-Wing Noise Machine here, and Eric Boehlert noted the following in his MediaMatters commentary on the faux scandal:

Keep in mind, this story of marginal interest only worked if Pelosi had in fact demanded a larger, more luxurious plane than her predecessor in order to fly her and her pals around the country. The fact is, she never made that request. It's true that Republicans made that claim against Pelosi. But journalists are supposed to report facts, not amplify phony partisan allegations. [emphasis added]

Given the numerous falsehoods in Weyrich’s piece, perhaps TownHall’s new slogan should be:

Where Your Opinion Counts More Than the Facts.

The resignations of bloggers Amanda Marcotte (Pandagon) and Melissa McEwan (Shakespeare’s Sister) from John Edwards’ campaign, based on complaints about their writings from Bill Donohue (President of the Catholic League) and assorted other wingers, does not sit well with me for all sorts of reasons: protecting journalistic freedom is important, as are avoiding conservative groupthink and religious correctness.

Check out the Pandagon link for a few choice examples of the Right’s efforts to welcome women into their big tent. Amid the standard misogynistic remarks calling her “ugly” and a “stupid bitch” who “just need[s] a good fucking from a real man” was this semi-literate rant:

YOU RACIST WHORE. FAT UGLY BITCH. SUCK MY LONG COCK ASSHOLE I HOPE YOU KIDS NEVER LIVE AND YOUR PARENTS DIE A TRAGIC DEATH YOU ASSHOLE BITCH!

If you wonder what, exactly, did the Edwards Two write that got the CAPS LOCK CRETINS so upset, here is an example:

Q: What if Mary had taken Plan B after the Lord filled her with his hot, white, sticky Holy Spirit?

A: You’d have to justify your misogyny with another ancient mythology.

Some may find words like that offensive, but there hardly exists a right to go through life without having one’s delicate sensibilities offended or—heaven forbid!—one’s religious beliefs questioned. Certainly don’t read blogs like The Rude Pundit (“No, this is Catholic bashing”) if you can’t handle life without FCC content restrictions. Lorraine at Progressive Historians (History Of, By, and For the People) has—what else?—a historical perspective:

If one of the Democratic candidates had hired, say, Thomas Paine to blog for them, undoubtedly Bill Donohue would have immediately trumpeted selected portions of Paine's writings-the nasty bits, the parts of his pamphlets where Paine, overcome with rage at the mass suffering he encountered-Donohue would have seen those offerings of pain, and rage, and righteous anger, as anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-religion. He would have instituted a smear campaign against Paine, called for him to be fired, and whipped his believers into such a frenzy so that the mob would send Paine letters in which Christian individuals would promise to sodomize him, torture him, kill him. And Bill Donohue, good Christian that he is, would have sat back upon his sulferous [sic] throne and said, "Lo. Behold. For this is the Lord's work."

Due to its involvement in politics, Bill Donohue’s Catholic League does not deserve their tax-free charitable 501(c)(3) status, and there is a campaign underway to have it removed. Here are the IRS instructions to file a complaint form, and here is a completed example.

Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) has re-introduced a bill entitled “Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007” that, among other things, will:

restore Habeas Corpus protections to detainees, bar information acquired through torture from being introduced as evidence in trials, and limit presidential authority to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.

Details are here (h/t: DU), and the full text of the bill is here (58KB PDF).

origami

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This Slate wrap-up mentions a New Yorker article about origami artist Robert Lang. Lang’s website is somewhere beyond simply interesting; if I had a few days to fold, I suspect it could be a very rewarding experience.


update
(2/13 @ 11:55am):
The New Yorker article is now online, as mentioned in Make magazine.

The more I look at Lang’s origami—especially the polypolyhedra—the more intrigued I become. Thomas Hull’s instructions for building the “five intersecting tetrahedral” piece are going to inspire a search for large origami paper as soon as I get home. (I’ve also spent too much time drooling over the images in the Mathematica gallery, so there’s definitely a geometric commonality between my recent mini-obsessions.)

Say what you will about Barack Obama’s past, but he’s shaping up to be a formidable candidate. According to this RawStory article, when Australian PM John Howard tried to swift-boat Obama with this quote:

"If I was running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008, and pray, as many times as possible, for a victory not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats."

Obama fired back with:

"I think it's flattering that one of George Bush's allies on the other side of the world started attacking me the day after I announced. […] I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops in Iraq, and my understanding is Mr Howard has deployed 1,400 […] I would suggest that he calls up another 20,000 Australians and sends them to Iraq. Otherwise it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric."

I’m glad to see such a quick and forceful response from Obama, because the Right’s repeated slander of the Left as weak and pro-terrorist can’t be ignored.

It needs to be slapped down.

Hard.

Every single time.

Like it or not, their bullshit needs to be responded to; otherwise, it will fester into another group like Swift Boat Liars for Bush. That can’t EVER happen if Obama wants to win.

happy Darwin Day!

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On the heels of Evolution Sunday, Darwin Day Celebration points out that today is both the 198th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 148th anniversary of On the Origin of Species’ publication. DDC suggests a celebration of science and humanity as a commemoration of these events, and I heartily agree.

Evolution Sunday

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Today is “Evolution Sunday.” I think it’s a good idea, as far as t goes, but PZ Myers is somewhat less convinced:

It's that day when participating ministers will say a few supportive words about evolution from their pulpits, or as I prefer to think of it, when a few people whose training and day-to-day practice are antithetical to science will attempt to legitimize their invalid beliefs and expand their pretense to intellectual authority by co-opting a few slogans.

[…] You have a choice. You can go to church today, and among the hymns and prayers and magic rituals and chants to nonexistent beings, you can hear a few words in support of science; or you can refuse to support the whole rotten edifice of religion and stay home and read a good book.

Lyle Rossiter (quoted by Joan Swirsky here) has a piece at TownHall about “The Psychodynamics of the Radical Liberal Mind” Rossiter’s weak slaps at the “essentially childlike nature” of the “radical liberal mind” are nothing if not adolescent attempts at name-calling, and the “mad dream” of liberals achieving “grandiose goals” through “drastic government action” comprise the standard conservative caricature of liberalism. His incessant attempt to emotionalize every situation and infantilize every attempt at liberals’ work to uphold our founding principles is a sad statement on contemporary conservatism, revealing an enormous blind spot in their skewed view of reality.

GIfS fisks McGrath

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Alister McGrath’s latest apologetic fusillade gets fisked by The Old Git at God Is for Suckers! Here’s the best passage from among many contenders:

…whilst McGrath and his sort are unable to produce any credible empirical evidence proving the existence of the entity which they refer to as ‘God’, atheists are expected to admire their intelligence for being able to produce their duplicitous and mendacious arguments, peppered with convoluted sophistry, in support of their faith, but we are not to be permitted to point out that, despite their best efforts, their faith in the existence of this ‘God’ of theirs is neither supported by evidence nor logic.

This tale of fiscal conservatism in Iraq—as evidenced by the unaccounted-for billions in pallets of $100 bills, as recounted here—is all-too-typical of Bushevik money management. Paul Bremer whined that, "I arrived in Baghdad at a time when much of the city was burning. Looting was still widespread. My responsibilities were to kickstart the economy."

Those sorts of slapdash slushfunds and cash handouts is quite at odds with the administration’s carefully planned wealth redistribution at home, with upwardly targeted tax cuts being the most obvious of many examples.

appointing attorneys

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Joe Conason’s article at Slate about “Albert Gonzales’s Coup d’Etat” discusses the administration’s partisan antics with the appointment of US attorneys. Conason traces the problem to:

December 2005, when the Senate renewed the Patriot Act. At the behest of the Justice Department, an aide to Sen. Arlen Specter slipped a provision into the bill that permitted the White House to place its own appointees in vacant U.S. attorney positions permanently and without Senate confirmation.

How (un)surprising: the Bush administration promulgating its “unitary executive” theory at the expense of the separation of powers.

when atheists attack!

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Ken Connor’s “A Tale of Two Cities: Resisting the Atheist Attack” at Human Events is a shoddy attempt at the now-ubiquitous “when atheists attack” Christianist paranoid fantasies that are infecting our civic discourse. Connor slams Princeton philosopher Peter Singer for this recent op-ed in the New York Times, but even a cursory review of Peter Singer’s ethics (as in the FAQ on his website, or the article so deliberately misrepresented by Connor) shows that, when asked about assisted suicide, his explicitly believes in respecting the will of the individual while looking out for their best interests:

When a human being once had a sense of the future, but has now lost it, we should be guided by what he or she would have wanted to happen in these circumstances. So if someone would not have wanted to be kept alive after losing their awareness of their future, we may be justified in ending their life; but if they would not have wanted to be killed under these circumstances, that is an important reason why we should not do so.

Singer’s extreme utilitarianism and anti-speciesism may be inflammatory for much of Connor’s audience, but his thoughts are hardly representative of atheists as a whole. Focusing on Singer’s theories on personhood is a deliberate red herring, and nearly as inaccurate as the false dichotomy Connor poses between “moral truth” and “atheist rhetoric.” Mojoey at Deep Thoughts wonders:

Are we really proposing to throw out our current ethical standards and replace them with some degenerate hedonistic alternative? Is Ken Connor reading the same books I read? I don't think so.

TruthDig has an interview with Chris (American Fascists) Hedges. He discusses the totalitarian aspects of the Dominionist strain of Christianism, including its “theology of despair:”

It is about bigotry, intolerance, there’s not only a lust for violence, but a kind of pornographic fascination with violence. There’s a cult of masculinity. There’s a war on science, a war on truth. And what they do, like many totalitarian movements, is speak in a language that’s comforting to the rest of us, but hollow out the definitions so they mean something else. It has a kind of newspeak quality, so peace is war. The concept of liberty, for them, as it is defined, is not our traditional definition of liberty, but liberty that comes with giving yourself over to Jesus and complete submission to Jesus Christ.

Harris/Sullivan

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Sam Harris returns Sullivan’s last volley here; Harris even tells Sullivan that “I now feel like a tennis player, in mid-serve, who notices that his opponent is no longer holding a racket.” Harrls’ comments on sexual orientation are perhaps his most trenchant:

I also hope you appreciate the irony of your viewing your sexual orientation as a gift from God. I’m very happy, of course, that you don’t consider your homosexuality to be a curse or a product of Adam’s fall. […] …I do not doubt for a moment that your struggle with the sexual taboos of Christianity has made you a better person. But your experience does not transform a two-thousand-year pandemic of needless and crushing sexual neurosis in the name of Christ into some kind of spiritual sacrament. Generally speaking, the Church has promulgated views about human sexuality that are unconscionably stupid and utterly lacking in empathy. Full stop. The fact that you have navigated this labyrinth of sacred prejudice and kept your sanity is no point in favor of religion. The glory is very much your own. [emphasis added]

I look forward to Sullivan’s response.

wingnut fantasyland

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Faux News, WingNutDaily, the Sludge Report, and NewsMax have a competitor for the dubious distinction of producing the most out-of-touch ultra-conservative reality-free rhetoric: New Media Journal. They published a “Pathology of Liberalism” column by Joan Swirsky (h/t: Sadly, No!) that gives the worst excesses of Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Michael Savage-Weiner worthy competition for the most unhinged and logically incoherent commentary; even Jonah Goldberg, with his upcoming oxymoronic book Liberal Fascists, can’t compare to Swirsky’s inanity.

Thanks to Swirsky’s insight, though, I now realize that I and my fellow liberals are “uniformly glum,” “uniformly negative,” yet somehow “live in a world of utopian dreaminess.” We are burdened with a “childlike, irrational anger” despite our desire “not to engage in conflict, not to fight, not to judge” anyone. My “silence shows my amorality,” yet I am inexplicably concerned about the threat of economic recession, the catastrophic war in Iraq, civil liberties, and “a deep identification with ‘victims’.” To top it all off, we liberals are the ones who “called names, spewed insults, and stamped their feet,” yet Swirsky’s piece is the one filled with gratuitous—not to mention inaccurate and contradictory—insults.

It is apparent that Swirsky is closer to being without “any semblance of rationality” than are the liberals that she so clearly despises.

I think so

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The Nation is polling people’s opinions on whether or not Dubya is the worst president we’ve ever had.

You know what my assessment is.

Bill Scher writes at Liberal Oasis about Michelle Malkin and the growth of conservative correctness, “where if you say something impolitic about the president, the war, interpretation of scripture, etc. an attempt is made to shame the speaker, pressure associates and stifle debate:”

The kind of thing conservatives used to complain about. (Actually, still complain about.)

I understand why most conservatives play this game. Because to them it is a game.

Because they're hypocrites and bullies. Their interest in conjuring up a phony narrative of the nature of liberals, and the joy they derive in getting under the skin of liberals, supercedes any interest in intellectual consistency.

[…]

In any event, "Conservative Correctness" should be called out for what it is. Mischief making.

For whatever excesses have occurred under the umbrella of "P.C.," at least the intentions were generally honorable -- mainly, trying to rid society of debilitating bigotry.

"Conservative Correctness" is not well intentioned. It's simply just about intimidating people who disagree with you.

Jack Huberman has posted some excerpts from his latest book, The Quotable Atheist, at AlterNet. He writes about the need for “the steady application of powerfully abrasive ridicule,” and does just that when he describes Jerry Falwell as an “American evangelical pastor, televangelist, and leading excrescence.”

I look forward to reading the rest of his book.

Andrew Sullivan writes about a National Portrait Gallery exhibit on Walt Whitman, and asks a few pertinent questions:

Why, I wonder, is Whitman not central to gay studies in American universities? Why are young gay students not being taught about their extraordinary cultural inheritance? Why do straight students not know that one of America's greatest poets, one of this country's great patriots, was proudly, openly gay well over a century ago? It would do a great deal to dispel the ignorance, philistinism and stupidity that lies behind the homophobia of so many.

I agree with Sullivan’s point, but it’s not as if Whitman is the only public figure whose unacceptable proclivities have been erased from RC (religiously correct) education. Much sexuality remains to be reclaimed from the neutered history with which we are presented.

This dissection of a reader’s email by Brent Rasmussen at UTI is a nice mixture of sarcasm, snarkiness, and a thorough smackdown of the Christianist persecution complex:

I don't give a shit what you believe. I personally think it's insane, but whatever. Go knock yourself out. Virgin birth, super-special flying god-men, magical chariots in the sky, invisible spirits, talking donkeys - go for it, man.

However, as soon as one of you wackjobs tries to legislate your kooky religious views into law, or tries to force your fantasy magical-happy-land stories on my kids in a public school that ALL of us pay for with our taxes at the expense of real science, I will make some noise. I will kick and scream and shout and write and fight for mine and my children's rights as defined in the United States Constitution.

[…]

I don't care what you believe - but I will NOT pay for your beliefs with my taxes, and I will NOT be forced to respect your beliefs by law. Bank on it. We are not going to be quiet any longer. I realize that this probably frightens you a bit. It's got to be scary when this previously unknown silent minority of atheists, agnostics, skeptics, rationalists, and non-religious folks suddenly decided to stand up, demand our rights, and demand our place in the political process. I suggest that you either attempt to understand our position, or get used to it, because it's going to happen a LOT more.

Read the whole thing.

right-wing hoaxes

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Steve Young asks, "Why are Internet hoaxes always right-wing?" His answer involves the emotional similarity between Internet hoaxes (such as the Jane Fonda "slips of paper" hoax, the Kerry/Fonda demonstration hoax, the "Kerry Flip-Flops" list of lies, the "Osama supports Kerry" smear, the "Clinton Body Count" hoax, the "Hand of Hope" photo, the incredulity of "Bush Lied?" the yearly "War on Christmas" claptrap, etc.) and talk radio:

I'm not saying that all those on the right lack smarts, but the part of their brain that detects the crap from the distinct smell of the bull alone, suffers near-fatal dysfunction when that crap supporting their side is squeezed out.

It's why when we write back to our misinformed, forwarding friends, providing proof of the lie, they don't care whether it's true or not. They believe in the message...

Don't confuse them with the facts...

right and left

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Barbara O’Brien’s posts “Who’s Right?” and “Who’s Left” (h/t: Barefoot Bum) are interesting, at least for her take on the dangers of basing decisions on over-simplified ideologies:

…a whole generation of people too young to remember much before the Carter Administration has been conditioned to accept, unquestioningly, the propaganda of the Right. “Free markets” are intrinsically good. “Deregulation” is always right. Any sort of government regulation is bad. “Big government” is bad. “Limited government” is good. And they mindlessly regurgitate these ideas without understanding their historical context or even thinking them through.

[…]

History tells us that complete deregulation more often results in the exploitation of resources and nasty boom-and-bust cycles, but telling that to some people is like telling a four-year-old there is no Santa Claus.

Her “A (Pretty) Short History of Wingnutism” is also a good read.

Jack (Quotable Atheist) Huberman has posted “How to Save Our Secular America” at HuffPo and at JackHuberman.com. His dismissal of cultural/religious relativism is very welcome:

Conservatives have been right all along to attack the notion that all beliefs are somehow equal and have a right to be treated with equal respect. Too bad they won't acknowledge that a great many religious beliefs deserve to be treated with equal disrespect: beliefs that encourage discrimination against homosexuals and subjugation of women; that obstruct life-saving medical research; that increase teen pregnancy and abortion by preventing honest and realistic sex education; that discourage condom use in regions that have already lost millions of people to AIDS, because the Vatican and other "pro-life" churches, and the U.S. government, still regard opposing birth control and discouraging sex as more important than saving lives; beliefs that have led to persecutions, wars and massacres throughout history, and to us secularists' favorite recent example of religious madness, 9/11, 2001. The habit of faith itself leaves people vulnerable to the enticements of any political scoundrel who advertises himself as a man of God. [emphasis added]

The National Day of Reason (h/t: Friendly Atheist) is a great idea: both a compassionate day of community service (of various sorts) and a useful antidote for the National Day of Prayer.

What are you doing on the first Thursday in May?

This LA Times op-ed by Alan (Fashionable Nonsense) Sokal and Chris (Republican War on Science) Mooney contains a suggestion to combine “political activism and institutional [governmental] reform:”

Congress needs to establish safeguards to protect the integrity of scientific information in Washington — strong whistle-blower protections for scientists who work in government agencies would be a good start.

We also need a strengthening of the government scientific advisory apparatus, starting with the revival of the Office of Technology Assessment. And we need congressional committees to continue with their investigations of cases of science abuse within the Bush administration, in order to learn what other reforms are necessary.

At the same time, journalists and citizens must renounce a lazy "on the one hand, on the other hand" approach and start analyzing critically the quality of the evidence. For, in the end, all of us — conservative or liberal, believer or atheist — must share the same real world. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria do not spare deniers of evolution, and global climate change will not spare any of us. As physicist Richard Feynman wrote in connection with the space shuttle Challenger disaster, "nature cannot be fooled."

To avoid nature's punishment, we must take steps now to restore reality-based government.

Francis Bacon wrote similar words of wisdom in his Novum Organum, “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.”

A tip of the hat to PZ Myers, who evaluated the Sokal/Mooney piece this way:

I'd just add that we also need more bottom-up preventive measures: more education. I want a reality-based government, and the best way to get there is to increase the pool of reality-based voters. [emphasis in original]

I thought the Sam Harris/Andrew Sullivan blogalogue was over, but it isn’t. Here is Harris’ most recent post, where he offers this critique of Sullivan’s misappropriation of doubt as an element of faith:

It is the willingness of scientists to say "I don't know"-to really integrate doubt into their view of the world-that constitutes their privileged position with respect to truth. As you know, there are an uncountable number of questions upon which religion once offered a faith-based answer, which have now been ceded to the care of science. Indeed, the process of scientific conquest and religious forfeiture is relentless, unidirectional, and highly predictable. Some smart person begins to doubt received opinion-about the causes of illness, the movement of celestial bodies, the nature of sensory perception, etc.-he or she then observes the world more closely (often making shrewd use of technology and/or mathematics) and makes predictions that can be verified by others. What we see, time and again, is a general unwillingness for religious people to seriously interact with this discourse (and even an eagerness to subjugate or murder its perpetrators) whenever it challenges doctrines to which they are emotionally attached. [emphasis added]

Sullivan’s response contains the statement “I have never doubted the existence of God,” which sounds particularly odd coming from a supposed champion of doubt as a foundation of conservatism. Sullivan softens the contradiction somewhat with this later admission:

I should add that this unchosen belief in God's existence - the "gift" of faith - does not prompt me to lose all doubt in my faith, or to abandon questioning. I have wrestled with all sorts of questions about any number of doctrines that the hierarchy of the church has insisted upon. As a gay man, I have been forced to do this perhaps more urgently than many others - which is one reason I regard my sexual orientation as a divine gift rather than as a "disorder"

This plaintive question, implying that atheists have been snubbing good-willed theists, caught me off-guard:

… I think you're wrong that we religious moderates are mere enablers of fundamentalist intolerance. I think, rather, we have an important role in talking with atheists about faith and talking with fundamentalists about the political dangers of religious fanaticism, and the pride that can turn faith into absolutism. In fact, people of faith who are not fundamentalists may be the most important allies you've got. Why don't you want us to help out?

This response by Barefoot Bum has a better answer than I could have written:

We'd love for religious moderates to help out, but they're not helping. By using the words "truth" and "reality" to label opinion, which is not and cannot be rationally substantiated (and for which Sullivan disclaims rational substantiation), moderates such as Sullivan make it that much harder to insist on rational discourse on the basis of fact.

He then poses (and answers) this rhetorical question to Sullivan:

Why have fundamentalists in the West so successfully hijacked conservatism and religion, the foundations of Sullivan's belief system, instead of atheism, secularism, and/or liberalism?

I submit is [sic] is precisely the tendency of both religious moderates and moderate conservatives to confuse truth, fact and reality with opinion and preference which has rendered these movements vulnerable to the fundamentalists.

Chris (American Fascists) Hedges writes in “Christianists on the March” at TruthDig explains somewhat his intellectual inheritance of the “fascism” concept from Dr James Luther Adams at Harvard Divinity School. In light of this personal tale, his parallels to Weimar-era Germany appear far less hyperbolic:

The Christian right has lured tens of millions of Americans, who rightly feel abandoned and betrayed by the political system, from the reality-based world to one of magic—to fantastic visions of angels and miracles, to a childlike belief that God has a plan for them and Jesus will guide and protect them. This mythological worldview, one that has no use for science or dispassionate, honest intellectual inquiry, one that promises that the loss of jobs and health insurance does not matter, as long as you are right with Jesus, offers a lying world of consistency that addresses the emotional yearnings of desperate followers at the expense of reality. It creates a world where facts become interchangeable with opinions, where lies become true—the very essence of the totalitarian state.

[…]

The radical Christian right, calling for a “Christian state”—where whole segments of American society, from gays and lesbians to liberals to immigrants to artists to intellectuals, will have no legitimacy and be reduced, at best, to second-class citizens—awaits a crisis, an economic meltdown, another catastrophic terrorist strike or a series of environmental disasters. A period of instability will permit them to push through their radical agenda, one that will be sold to a frightened American public as a return to security and law and order, as well as moral purity and prosperity.

…that IQ and religiosity appear to be inversely correlated. Here are the data (h/t: Deep Thoughts).

For anyone who needs a reminder why Molly Ivins’ untimely passing is such a blow to American journalism, read Paul Krugman’s recollections of her (h/t: Ron Chusid at Liberal Values):

I’ve been going through Molly’s columns from 2002 and 2003, the period when most of the wise men of the press cheered as Our Leader took us to war on false pretenses, then dismissed as “Bush haters” anyone who complained about the absence of W.M.D. or warned that the victory celebrations were premature.

Krugman lists a number of her eerily prescient analyses of Iraq’s “three-way civil war” and the quagmire of occupation, and closes with:

So Molly Ivins — who didn’t mingle with the great and famous, didn’t have sources high in the administration, and never claimed special expertise on national security or the Middle East — got almost everything right. Meanwhile, how did those who did have all those credentials do?

With very few exceptions, they got everything wrong. They bought the obviously cooked case for war — or found their own reasons to endorse the invasion. They didn’t see the folly of the venture, which was almost as obvious in prospect as it is with the benefit of hindsight. And they took years to realize that everything we were being told about progress in Iraq was a lie.

Rest in peace, Molly. You are missed.


update (1:29pm):
The “Tributes” page at the Texas Observer contains memorials from the usual suspects such as Bill Moyers and Jim Hightower, and these surprising words from the man Ivins referred to as Shrub:

Molly Ivins was a Texas original. She was loved by her readers and by her many friends, particularly in Central Texas. I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words, and her ability to turn a phrase. She fought her illness with that same passion. Her quick wit and commitment to her beliefs will be missed. Laura and I send our condolences to Molly Ivins’ family and friends.

It’s quite a testament to Ivins’ talent that such a frequent target of her ire was moved to write those words.

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