July 2007 Archives

This letter was printed in my local newspaper this morning:

Anti-Christian police keep student from homework

While waiting in his doctor's office recently, my 11-year-old son decided to work on his homework which included math and studying a Bible verse since he attends a Christian-based school. He says to me, "Hey Dad, let's study my Bible verse." But before I can respond he gets this funny look in his eyes and says, "Oh wait, we better not read the Bible here ... somebody might sue us."

Before I had a chance to get over my surprise he says, "But I guess it would be OK if it was another religion."

The anti-Christian, left-wing, politically correct, thought-police have succeeded in making another young man question his right to pursue his faith in the matter he sees fit to do so.

[name and address redacted]

I don’t know which is worse: that an eleven-year-old has already been brainwashed by religious paranoia, that his father doesn’t know enough to correct him, or that they gleefully trumpet their unfounded fears in public.

Their Christian persecution complex is as sad as their passive-aggressive ignorance of our (secular) Constitution’s principle of religious freedom, and the (liberal) ACLU that stands ready to defend it. Fantasies about left-wing PC thought police demonstrate how much reality is obscured by panic in their minds. I would recommend finding a school that teaches facts instead of fear.


update (8/5 @ 6:55pm):
Someone else had essentially the same criticism:

Hesitation to read Bible is just right-wing paranoia

If an 11-year old boy truly believes that he can be sued for reading the Bible in a doctor's waiting room, then his civics teacher and parents have failed him. I wouldn't worry about "anti-Christian, left-wing thought police." I'd worry about his paranoid, right-wing teachers and parents instead.

[name and address redacted]

Richard Dawkins recently introduced the Out Campaign, an effort to get atheists to come out of the closet:

Today, the bestselling books of 'The New Atheism' are disparaged, by those who desperately wish to downplay their impact, as "Only preaching to the choir."

[…]

Our choir is large, but much of it remains in the closet. Our repertoire may include the best tunes, but too many of us are mouthing the words sotto voce with head bowed and eyes lowered. It follows that a major part of our consciousness-raising effort should be aimed, not at converting the religious but at encouraging the non-religious to admit it – to themselves, to their families, and to the world. This is the purpose of the OUT campaign.

One may quibble over the announcement’s wording, or disagree with the slogans, or prefer a different logo design; there is, however, no doubt that it is a movement whose time has come.


update (8/1 @ 10:53am):
Vjack at Atheist Revolution has some comments on coming out as an atheist:

Atheists are increasingly looking to the gay rights movement as a model for how to gain respectability, political power, and to ensure that our rights are protected. The key lesson many atheists seem to have taken from the GLBT community is that "coming out" solves all ills. The idea is that if more atheists were to come out, we'd be impossible to ignore, we'd have tremendous strength due to our large numbers, it would no longer be possible to discriminate against us, etc.

This sounds good in principle, but it strikes me as naive and more than a little condescending. Those of us not fortunate enough to live in the UK with Dawkins or in progressive regions of America may have realistic concerns over our personal safety. [...] Others of us are worried that publicizing our lack of religious belief would only increase our alienation or interfere with our careers.

Tony Snow’s presser yesterday (on potential contempt of Congress charges for two administration officials, Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers) was nothing unusual, save for this shovelful of bullshit:

Everybody has been made available. You have not been denied a shred of information.

How, exactly, does that square with the White House’s commandment to Miers to ignore a Congressional subpoena, or with Bolten’s refusal to turn over requested documents? Thankfully, a member of our starting-to-do-their-job-again press corps called him on it:

Tony, you said you've made everybody available and everything available, when it comes to the intelligence. But you haven't made everybody available. You've made them available if they go without the oath, if they go without the transcript, and if they go in private. But you haven't even made the documents available; you've only made the documents available that aren't the documents that they want. You won't make the documents available that they do want. [emphasis added]

He offered the standard evasive doubletalk, but the point had been made.

Many people in this lawless administration should be out on the street, and this should happen before 01-20-2009.

Scott Horton delivers “A Gonzales Recap” about the AG’s soon-to-become-infamous testimony yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

He was extremely busy rewriting history today, and it now appears that when he raises his hand and swears an oath, there’s no telling which version of the past will appear next. First, he tells us that the trip to see Ashcroft in the hospital has to do with something entirely different from the Terrorist Surveillance Program about which his former Deputy James Comey testified. In doing this, he contradicts his own prior testimony, and he contradicts Comey. [For those who don’t remember Comey’s testimony, my summary is here.] At least one person is lying. And indeed, that person has to be Gonzales. The only issue is which of his diametrically opposed statements is the lie.

Spencer Ackerman links to the relevant video clips at TPM Muckraker, and Glenn Greenwald sums up Gonzales’ problems telling the truth:

That Alberto Gonzales is a serial liar -- including when he testifies under oath to Congress -- has been long-established, and few people now bother to dispute it. He has been lying to Congress' face about the NSA scandal since it first emerged in December of 2005. When he first testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, 2006, he made a series of statements that turned out to be so obviously false that he was forced to send a lengthy letter "correcting" and retracting many of the key answers he gave.

That is what Alberto Gonzales does. He lies to protect the President.

Gonzales' tall tales need their own special investigator.

The story of the latest Bushevik power grab was broken last week by the Washington Post:

"A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case," said a senior official, who said his remarks reflect a consensus within the administration. "And a U.S. attorney wouldn't be permitted to argue against the reasoned legal opinion that the Justice Department provided. No one should expect that to happen."

In “Bush’s Magical Shield from Criminal Prosecution,” Glenn Greenwald does an excellent job—as usual—summarizing the issue and its implications:

This latest assertion of power -- to literally block U.S. Attorneys from prosecuting executive branch employees -- is but another reflection of the lawlessness prevailing in our country, not a new revelation. We know the administration breaks laws with impunity and believes it can. That is no longer in question. The only real question is what, if anything, we are willing to do about that.

Scarecrow at FDL calls the latest Bushite lawlessness “The Story of the Century,” and it’s hard to disagree with that assessment, although the “liberal” media is paying shockingly little attention to it:

We need to be very clear about what this latest WH defiance means: the White House believes the Justice Department does not have an obligation to uphold the law on behalf of the Congress of the United States; instead, DoJ exists solely as a legal arm to shield the President and his staff from all efforts to hold them accountable under the law. […] …the Bush White House is now in complete and open defiance of all lawful Congressional efforts to hold the executive accountable for misconduct and possible crimes committed by members of the White House staff. Just as Bush claimed he had an inherent right to disregard Congressional statutes (e.g., FISA, the Geneva Conventions, signing statements) and the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments, or to cover up WH complicity in crimes (via commuting Scooter Libby’s prison term), the President is now claiming he can ignore any Congressional oversight of White House misconduct. [emphasis added]

The NYT editorial on Sunday, “Power Without Limits,” noted that:

There is no legal basis for this obstructionism. The Supreme Court has made clear that executive privilege is not simply what the president claims it to be. It must be evaluated case by case by a court, balancing the need for the information against the president’s interest in keeping his decision-making process private.

Mark Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, observes that Bush’s latest lawlessness is “almost Nixonian in its scope and breadth of interpreting its power. Congress has no recourse at all, in the president's view. . . . It's allowing the executive to define the scope and limits of its own powers."

I agree, except for the “almost.”

Vjack at Atheist Revolution has a great post on “Religious Intolerance” that opens with this:

From a Christian perspective, spotting religious intolerance is a fairly simple matter. Odds are, if you are an atheist, you are intolerant. And yet, this is a simplicity based on irrationality and Christian privilege. What is religious intolerance, how should we recognize it, and is it a crime of which all atheists are guilty?

While the accusation of “intolerance” is often made against atheists, it is supported only anecdotally. The data actually support the opposite conclusion: freethinkers (atheists and—particularly—agnostics) are far more tolerant than theists. Bruce E. Hunsberger and Bob Altemeyer, demonstrate this in their book Atheists: A Groundbreaking Study of America's Nonbelievers:

Agnostics almost always had the lowest scores on dogmatism, zealotry, and religious prejudice; and atheists usually placed second, while the inactive believers usually scored higher than any of the nonbelievers, and the high fundamentalists towered over everyone. (p. 122)

Nonbelievers, including the atheists, usually proved less dogmatic, less zealous, less authoritarian, and less prejudiced than any of the believer groups, even the relatively low-scoring inactive believers. (p. 128)

Vjack makes a similar observation:

I think it is fair to say that I have never met an atheist (nor am I such an atheist) who does [not] agree that others have a fundamental right to hold any religious belief they select. It is your absolute right to maintain your Christian beliefs even if they are false and even if they cause harm to you. I hope you will outgrow them. I think they are laughably absurd. I have not one shred of respect for the beliefs themselves. However, I respect and defend your right to hold them.

Jonathan Chait writes at TNR about conservatives’ “Superiority Complex” with respect to their ideology. He identifies an oddity in the Right’s rhetorical gloating that is isn’t supported by the evidence:

With every Democratic electoral defeat, liberals have been made to endure the added ignominy of listening to every conservative op-ed scribbler and think-tank denizen lecture us on our intellectual deficiencies.

These days, of course, the Republican Party has been routed and conservatives are beset by panic and gloom. You'd think this would, at minimum, give us a small respite from boasts about the right's victory in the War of Ideas. But no. They're still at it.

When the subject turns to Iraq, Chait makes this observation:

…it's certainly true that conservatives today are more divided than liberals about whether the Iraq war has been a fiasco. I simply disagree about what this fact tells us. Conservatives see their split on this proposition as evidence of intellectual acuity. I see it as evidence that roughly half of all conservatives are barking mad.

While I appreciate the snark, his conclusion is even better:

What explains the right's insufferable need to declare philosophical victory at all times? In part, it reflects the natural insecurity that comes with being conservative in a scholarly milieu. If I were an academic or a writer who made his living defending a party that routinely wins elections by appealing to rabid anti-intellectualism, I'd be a little defensive, too.

But it also reflects the fact that conservatism is more of an ideological movement than liberalism. […] Like communists, conservatives have a tendency to believe that every question can be answered by referencing theory. […] I admit that liberals don't generally look to our intellectual forebears to tell us whether the Iraq war is going well. But, then, we don't have to. We can read the newspaper.

I don’t care how much of this it takes,
20070718-cots.jpg
(New York Times)

but this has to stop:
20070718-coffins.jpg
(Memory Hole)

I hope the Grand Obstruction Party fails to block the proposed troop withdrawal from Iraq. Senatorial cots are an inconvenience, but those soldiers’ coffins are an obscenity.


update (12:21pm):
The Republican filibuster has succeeded in blocking progress on the bill. Harry Reid has my Quote of the Day:

“On Monday I submitted a simple request for consent to proceed to an up or down vote on the Levin/Reed Amendment to the Defense Authorization bill. As I have stated, this amendment provides a clear, binding and responsible path to change the U.S. mission and reduce our combat presence in Iraq."

"Regrettably, Republicans chose to block this amendment. They chose to deny the American people an up or down vote on a bipartisan amendment. They chose to continue protecting their President instead of our troops – no matter the cost to our country."

Dinesh D'Souza is rapidly approaching the point of being such a blithering idiot whose output isn't worth reading, let alone refuting (Ann Coulter, I'm thinking of you). His latest piece, "Gays in the military? Ask Cardinal Mahoney," is filled with sophomoric errors and misrepresentations, of which I would like to address a few:

1. Homosexuality is not "institutionally entrenched" in the Catholic Church. The church mandates celibacy, dishonesty, and the closet--not openness and honesty about human sexuality. This is the exactly opposite of institutional "entrenchment." (One suspects that sexual problems are endemic in the GOP as in the Catholic Church for the same reason: the institutional bigotry of the closet.)

2. Homosexuality is a sexual orientation; pedophilia is a disorder. Trying to blame gays for child molestation is, to put it frankly, bigoted bullshit.

3. The eventual elimination of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in the military--and thereby the closet in which LGBT servicemembers are forced to live--could not conceivably cause "organizational and moral chaos." (Unless, of course, the D'Souza definition of "moral chaos" is "disobeying the Catholic Church.")

4. Sparta was not "one of the few groups in history to allow homosexuals in the military," it was one of the first of a steadily increasing number. (Has he heard of the Sacred Band of Thebes?) Leaving aside problems inherent in the relatively recent identification of sexual orientation, which skew the historical results, let's look at some contemporary examples. According to Human Rights Campaign:

"Twenty-four other nations, including Great Britain, Australia, Canada and Israel, already allow open service by gays and lesbians, and none of the 24 report morale or recruitment problems. [...] Twenty-three of the 26 NATO nations allow gays and lesbians to serve openly and proudly. The United States, Turkey and Portugal are the only NATO nations that forbid gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed services."

Here are some other countries that do not allow open military service: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Syria. Which group should our nation aspire to join?

5. D'Souza's flippant comment about gay masculinity and military prowess ("you could only beat a bunch of gays") is weak even for his pathetic rhetoric, and his "lavender mafia" remark is no better. His ignorance is on most obvious display in his blather about "the 'male' or dominant role" and "the 'female' or passive role in the relationship."

As an aside, D'Souza wrote about deconstructing atheism with Stanley Fish at TownHall. The article's content was lame, and the presentation was even worse; I counted no fewer than four spelling errors. It appears that D'Souza needs a spell-checker in addition to a fact-checker.

Michael Gerson ruminates on the subject of “What atheists can’t answer” at WaPo. Gerson poses a dilemma (“How do we choose between good and bad instincts?”), posits a theist answer (“We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it.”), and then claims “Atheism provides no answer to this dilemma.”

This statement is true to the extent that atheism is simply the absence of belief in a deity. The field of secular humanist ethics (or morality, if you prefer) does provide an answer through its reality-based methodology for evaluating behavior. Gerson’s claim that although “Atheists can be good people,” they provide “no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not” is false, and resoundingly so.

His preferred system of ethics—one based on religion—is anything but objective, as it relies completely on a series of subjective choices: the selection of a set of holy writings; their preservation, compilation, translation, and interpretation. Without the capacity for emendation, this would-be objective source of ethics is incapable of responding to its own inevitable imperfections. Humanism, however, is strong where religion is weak: it is based on real-world empiricism, which is the only way to evaluate (and correct) the competing ethical systems borne of rival religions.

Kazim responds similarly in “What theists don’t ask” at Atheist Experience:

Belief in a higher power simply adds a level of arbitrary abstraction to your moral decisions. You are no less likely to commit acts of atrocity, only now you are free to attribute these actions to the deity of your choice. Instead of picking your morals, you are picking your god, as well as your interpretation of what the god wants. […] …the question of "Where do you atheists get their morality?" is easily answered: "It's probably about the same place YOU get your morality, since it clearly isn't from God."

Amanda Marcotte supplies the snark in “How to be nice after you quit believing in Santa” at Pandagon:

I do love the idea that we’re unanchored and bereft of any way to construct a morality without making up a god or gods and having them tell us what to do. Why not cut out the middleman and just simply hammer out morality on our own? Why hasn’t anyone else thought of that? Maybe we could start a new field, a new way to approach life and morality outside of theology. Call it “philosophy”, maybe. “Ethics”, perhaps. Surely human ingenuity could think of something.

Gerson’s conclusion, which likens atheism to “liberating a plant from the soil or a whale from the ocean” and complains that “In this kind of freedom, something dies” is especially ludicrous. In recognizing death’s reality—and facing it without fairy tales—atheism’s only casualty is illusion. Living without a celestial Santa Claus is a truly liberating experience, as I hope Mr Gerson will someday realize.


update (8:35pm):
Daylight Atheism has a very thoughtful response to Gerson, long on reasonableness and short on confrontation. Well done!

Here is a great essay on privacy from Daniel (digital Person) Solove (h/t: Bruce Schneier). Solove begins by stressing the importance of grappling with the authoritarian-enabling rationalizations of the “nothing to hide” argument, as it “reflects the sentiments of a wide percentage of the population.” He then thoroughly dismantles it, and explains that privacy is a social good as much as an individual one:

Surveillance can create chilling effects on people’s conduct by chilling free speech, free association, and other First Amendment rights essential for democracy. Even surveillance of legal activities can inhibit people from engaging in them. It might be that particular people may not be chilled by surveillance – indeed, probably most people will not be except those engaging in particularly unpopular speech or associating with disfavored groups. The value of protecting against such chilling is not measured simply in terms of the value to those particular individuals. Chilling effects harm society because, among other things, they reduce the range of viewpoints being expressed and the degree of freedom with which to engage in political activity. [emphases added]

I might pass by a post titled "Most Dishonest Wall Street Journal Editorial Ever," but not when it's written by Brad DeLong. The WSJ tried to resurrect the infamous "Laffer Curve" by plotting a fanciful line over a chart of corporate taxes and revenue; DeLong posts an accurate graph showing--contrary to what the plutocratic pundits claim--that tax revenues actually rise with increases in corporate tax rates:

20070717-laffer.png20070717-corporatetaxes.png

Kieran Healy posts an analysis at Crooked Timber, and Kevin Drum writes the following at Washington Monthly:

A junior high school geometry student would be embarrassed to produce work like this. But not the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Or the American Enterprise Institute, which created it in the first place. They apparently think their readers are too dumb to see what they're doing. Why their readership puts up with this obvious contempt for their intelligence is a question for another day.

Can the WSJ get any worse when Rupert Murdoch takes over?

The disruption in the Senate yesterday—interruptions of the opening prayer, led by a Hindu priest for the first time—was carried out by a Christianist group called “Operation Save America” [sic]. H/t to Daylight Atheism, who suggested that “a rotating, non-preferential prayer schedule” comprised of all faiths (and non-faiths) of the citizenry:

…would serve many valuable purposes. It would be a powerful symbolic reminder that America has no official religion, and that all citizens are equal under the law regardless of their choice of faith. It would reaffirm the freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution and show that we are all represented by the government that our votes put into power. And last but not least, it would be a stinging rebuke to the Christian right, and that can only be a good thing. Their impotent, whining temper tantrums make it exceedingly clear that they think they have the god-given right to lord it over everyone else, and the more obvious that is to the American people, the more we can expect people to turn away from their agenda of theocracy and intolerance.

Despite my reluctance to endorse taxpayer-funded prayer, I’m inclined to agree. PZ Myers takes the opposite approach in “Good ol’ Christian tolerance,” writing that “the only fair response to all this is simply to stop the magic incantations to any deity in our government:”

Let the senators who feel a need say a quiet prayer on their own, without dragging everyone into their personal superstition. And let's chide any senators who complain about that for the weakness of their faith, that they can't even pray without someone at the front of the room to help them out.

Vjack at Atheist Revolution concurs, and CarpetbaggerReport slams the Christianist hypocrisy in “So much for religion in the public square:”

They want more religion in the public square, just so long as it’s their religion. They want more people praying, just so long as it’s their prayer. They want Big Government to do more to promote the importance of faith, just so long as it’s their faith.

Maybe the right-wing protestors would be a little more tolerant of others if the Hindu elephant-god Ganesha

20070713-ganesha.jpg

were red, white, and blue—in other words, more like this idol:

20070713-gop.gif

Andrew Sullivan mentions one of my pet peeves, Dubya’s persistent misunderstanding of his oath of office:

It needs to be stated again and again that the fundamental job of the president is not to protect the people of America, but to protect their constitution. This president has gotten things exactly the wrong way round. In a terror war, we have to acclimatize ourselves to the fact that many Americans may have to die as a consequence of a collective decision not to become a police state or a presidential protectorate. A free country that remains free in the face of terror will necessarily have many casualties. A police state would have fewer casualties. Given a choice between a loss of life and retaining constitutional liberties, what would you pick? And what would the first Americans have picked?

We've slid a long way, haven't we? [emphasis added]


01.20.09
: The bottom of the slide.

atheist books

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Dennis Prager asks “Why Are Atheist Books Best Sellers?” at TownHall, and posits a tripartite answer:

1. He observes that “Islamists […] have brought religious faith into terrible disrepute,” and there has been no “significant outcry in the Muslim world against the atrocities committed in the name of their religion.”

2. Prager pretends that a “secular indoctrination” has been taking place, where “[t]he typical individual in the Western world receives as secular an indoctrination as the typical European received a religious one in the middle ages.” Simultaneously, he claims that “religion in the Western world has, with some notable exceptions, provided few responses to the secular challenges.”

3. He notes the reliance of “many of the traditionally religious” on “irrational, mystical and emotional religiosity.” This is inarguable, whether one is deploring astrology, numerology, transubstantiation, or the trinity.

Prager’s insistence that “Only strong moral religion can defeat strong immoral religion” is wishful thinking. The liberals and secularists he decries consistently reject the authoritarian impulses of religion, whether spouted by an imam or a pope; believers in “strong moral religion” are only too happy to excuse anything (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) that is cloaked in the language of their faith.

Since the bulk of Prager’s column had nothing to do with any atheist best sellers, one wonders if Prager merely wanted to attract some attention by name-dropping those best-selling authors (Dennett, Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens). The question of his title is actually quite easy to answer: atheist books are best sellers because atheist (and curious theist) readers are buying them.

amazon.com

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five: Or The Children's Crusade, A Duty Dance With Death (25th Anniversary) (New York: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1994)

After his recent death, Vonnegut's anti-war classic Slaughterhouse-Five deserves a re-reading; who am I to argue? Vonnegut's protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, was a WWII POW who survived the Dresden firebombing in an underground meatlocker, was an alien abductee, and became "unstuck in time." The narrative, appropriately enough, jumps forward and backward in time along with Pilgrim, although Vonnegut spends comparatively little time on the Dresden tragedy for which the book is so widely known.

Vonnegut writes in the preface that "I have no regrets about this book, which the owlish nitwit George Will said trivialized the Holocaust." (p. xii) I have been unable to locate Will's accusation, although it is obvious from reading Vonnegut's book that the subject of the Holocaust is addressed several times:

Only the candles and soap were of German origin. They had a ghostly, opalescent similarity. The British had no way of knowing it, but the candles and the soap were made from the fat of rendered Jews and Gypsies and fairies and communists, and other enemies of the State. (pp. 91-2)

I myself have seen the bodies of schoolgirls who were boiled alive in a water tower by my own countrymen, who were proud of fighting pure evil at the time. [...] And I have lit my way in a prison at night with candles from the fat of human beings who were butchered by the brothers and fathers of those schoolgirls who were boiled. (p. 110)

I don't see how either passage could be construed as a trivialization, but Will's misrepresentation comes as no surprise given his biases. I have little to say about Vonnegut's classic work other than to recommend it highly; it is the type of novel which may reveal itself to different readers in different ways.

Better readers than Mr Will can expect to experience a book of great worth.

amazon.com

Levi, Primo. The Drowned and the Saved (New York: Vintage, 1989)

The Drowned and the Saved--like Survival in Auschwitz and The Awakening before it--is a masterpiece among Holocaust memoirs. It has the distinction of being the last book written by Primo Levi before his suicide in 1987; I found that fact particularly interesting considering this passage on suicide:

...all historians of the Lager--and also of the Soviet camps--agree in pointing out that cases of suicide during imprisonment were rare. Several explanations of this fact have been put forward; for my part I offer three, which are not mutually exclusive.

First of all, suicide is the act of man and not of the animal. It is a meditated act, a noninstinctive, unnatural choice, and in the Lager there were few opportunities to choose: people lived precisely like enslaved animals that sometimes let themselves die but do not kill themselves.

Secondly, "there were other things to think about," as the saying goes. The day was dense: one had to think about satisfying hunger, in some way elude fatigue and cold, avoid the blows. Precisely because of the constant imminence of death there was no time to concentrate on the idea of death. [...]

Thirdly, in the majority of cases, suicide is born from a feeling of guilt that no punishment has attenuated; now, the harshness of imprisonment was perceived as punishment, and the feeling of guilt (if there is punishment, there must have been guilt) was relegated to the background, only to re-emerge after the Liberation. (p. 76)

I was also intrigued by this passage, where Levi disclosed his atheism:

Like Améry, I too entered the Lager as a nonbeliever, and as a nonbeliever I was liberated and have lived to this day. Actually, the experience of the Lager with its frightful iniquity confirmed me in my non-belief. It prevented, and still prevents me from conceiving of any form of providence or transcendent justice: Why were the moribund packed in cattle cars? Why were the children sent to the gas? (p. 145)

The inability of religion to answer those questions is a factor in my atheism as well, and may be one of the reasons I find Levi's writing--besides its subject--so compelling.

Andrew Sullivan’s four posts on Bush’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence illustrate the difference between Sullivan’s principled conservatism and Bush’s crony conservatism. Here are my four quotes of the day:

Perjury in defense of wartime deception is now okay, as far as the president is concerned. I'm surprised by Bush's chutzpah. I retained some minimal respect. No longer. We now know full well what his beliefs are: the law is for other people, not himself, his friends or his apparatchiks. (from “Bush Commutes Libby's Sentence”)

This has to be hung around every Republican's neck. They are now the party of corruption, irresponsibility in national security, and perjury. The Republican party impeached the last president for perjury over sexual harassment. But they commute the sentence of a man who perjured himself in part because he leaked a national security secret. That tells you everything. They care more about their privileged friends than the rule of law. We now know that for sure.
(from “Obama vs Bush”)

If this shores up his conservative base, then his conservative base has no principles. They impeached Clinton for the same crime. But they let their own go free. If you needed a reason to rid Washington of the president's corrupt party, you just got one. Get angrier.
(from “Quote for the Day”)

The defense of the commutation is complicated and unpersuasive. The case against it is simple: You don't get a cleaner example of different justice for the rich and powerful. It seems to me that real conservatives - not the lawless hoodlums now parading under that banner - should be as outraged as anyone. This man risked national security for political payback, and perjured himself to cover it up. This commutation will rightly become a symbol of a great deal of rot in Washington that needs to be swept clean. Get out that broom.
(from “The Bushies’ Spin”)

The Washington Post published a four-part article on Dick Cheney last week, the first part of which began with details of Cheney's often-contentious relationship with accountability, and how that has driven his secretive working habits. It was followed by parts two, three, and four. Reporters Barton Gellman and Jo Becker describe the series as "explor[ing] his methods and impact:"

...drawing on interviews with more than 200 men and women who worked for, with or in opposition to Cheney's office. Many of those interviewed recounted events that have not been made public until now, sharing notes,e-mails, personal calendars and other records of their interaction with Cheney and his senior staff. The vice president declined to be interviewed.

The narratives contained therein do not lend themselves to brief excerpts, but I can't recommend the 17,000-word series highly enough. Having said that, here are a few passages that struck me as especially illuminating:

Stealth is among Cheney's most effective tools. [...] In the usual business of interagency consultation, proposals and information flow into the vice president's office from around the government, but high-ranking White House officials said in interviews that almost nothing flows out. Close aides to Cheney describe a similar one-way valve inside the office, with information flowing up to the vice president but little or no reaction flowing down. [emphasis added]

[...]

Cheney has changed history more than once, earning his reputation as the nation's most powerful vice president. His impact has been on public display in the arenas of foreign policy and homeland security, and in a long-running battle to broaden presidential authority. But he has also been the unseen hand behind some of the president's major domestic initiatives. [...] The president is "the decider," as Bush puts it, but the vice president often serves up his menu of choices.

Cheney's fingerprints are all over AUMF, the torture memos, MCA, the FISA wiretaps, and every other illegal and immoral decision of this administration. The vice presidency of Dick Cheney has become so odious, so objectionable, and so egregiously awful that noted conservative Bruce Fein--after the revelations from the WaPo series--is now calling for Cheney's impeachment:

The House judiciary committee should commence an impeachment inquiry. As Alexander Hamilton advised in the Federalist Papers, an impeachable offense is a political crime against the nation. Cheney's multiple crimes against the Constitution clearly qualify.

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