November 2007 Archives

Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz predicts a generations-long struggle to extricate our nation from the financial catastrophe of Bush the Lesser. He begins with this devastating opening salvo:

When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.

Stiglitz then observes that "Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle "worst president" when it comes to stewardship of the American economy."

He notes that Bush's "rising tide lifted all yachts," and offers a primer on the catastrophes of fiscal conservatism: lopsided tax cuts, mounting deficits, the sub-prime mortgage fiasco and the credit crunch, rising bankruptcies, and the $2 trillion war in Iraq. He also provides the common-sense solutions: "not spending money that we don't have, increasing taxes on the rich, reducing corporate welfare, strengthening the safety net for the less well off, and making greater investment in education, technology, and infrastructure."

Stiglitz ends with this observation:

In short, there's a momentum here that will require a generation to reverse. Decades hence we should take stock, and revisit the conventional wisdom. Will Herbert Hoover still deserve his dubious mantle? I'm guessing that George W. Bush will have earned one more grim superlative.

This piece should be read by every yahoo who has ever claimed that the Bush II economy is "the strongest economy we have ever had."

Over at ClownHall, Paul Edwards asks "Who's Afraid of The Golden Compass?" In doing so, however, Edwards falls prey to the "No True Scotsman" fallacy:

Pullman is not completely wrong when he characterizes the Church as an organization obsessed with holding power by suppressing and controlling. But such a Church is not the true Church as defined by Scripture.

Edwards admits that "Throughout history people who have identified with the Christian faith have done horrible things in Jesus' name," but tries to distance his religion from those same "horrible things." Calling the perpetrators "people who have identified with the Christian faith" rather than simply "Christians" performs no absolution for their deeds, although it may soften the blow for some readers.

His piece, whatever its flaws, ends on a fittingly optimistic note:

We should be willing to read the books and see the movie with our children (of the appropriate age and level of maturity), engaging the difficult issues raised by Pullman... [...] If true followers of Jesus Christ boycott "The Golden Compass" we run the risk of validating Pullman's thesis that Christians suppress and control, rather than engage in open and honest debate in a vibrant, passionate and intelligent defense of the faith.

Last week, the NEA issued a new report on reading and literacy in America, titled "To Read or Not to Read," as a follow-up to 2004's "Reading at Risk." This compendium of more than 40 studies paints a depressing portrait, beginning with Dana Gioia's Preface:

The story the data tell is simple, consistent, and alarming. Although there has been measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the elementary school level, all progress appears to halt as children enter their teenage years. There is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans. Most alarming, both reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates.

Interested readers may wish to read not just the Executive Summary (820KB PDF), but also the full report (3.4MB PDF).


Steve Benen writes about a difficult question asked at last night's CNN/YouTube Republican debate:

"My name is Keith Kerr, from Santa Rosa, California. I'm retired brigadier general with 43 years of service, and I'm a graduate of the Special Forces Officer Course, the Command and General Staff Course, and the Army War College. And I'm an openly gay man.

"I want to know why you think that American men and women in uniform are not professional enough to serve with gays and lesbians."

Kerr responded that he was disappointed with the candidates' responses, saying bluntly that "With all due respect, I did not get an answer from the candidates," and observing that "every day, the Department of Defense discharges two people not for misconduct, not for the unit cohesion...that Congressman Hunter is talking about, but simply because they happen to be gay." Then the situation became even more revealing, as the Republican audience began booing Kerr. Benen writes:

It was an interesting contrast -- at Democratic debates, veterans get standing ovations. At Republican debates, veterans get booed if they're gay.

It seems to me the problem here is that Republican presidential candidates want to discriminate against able-bodied, patriotic Americans, who are prepared to put their lives on the line during a war for their country. Conservatives can't explain why this policy makes any sense at all, so they're attacking an honorable, 43-year military veteran for daring to raise the subject in the first place.

Booing Kerr isn't the answer; allowing equality in our ranks is.

The full debate transcript is here, and the video of Kerr's question is here. Conservatives are carping that Kerr is involved with the "LGBT Americans for Hillary" steering committee, but fail to note that he also spoke at the Log Cabin Republicans convention in 2004 and is a member of the non-partisan SLDN Military Advisory Council. I see no problem with Kerr's political involvement, and neither does Benen:

Kerr asked a legitimate question about a political issue. Candidates answered it. Kerr defended his position, and the conservative audience booed him. Who cares if he supports a Democratic presidential candidate? It wasn't a partisan question.

It's not surprising that LGBT veterans support Democrats, at least until GOP is willing to treat them as full human beings.

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Ware, Chris. The Best American Comics 2007 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

The second annual edition of the Best American Comics series (see my review of the 2006 edition here) once again lives up to its name, although some of the works selected--as in any anthology of this size--don't ring my bell. BAC 2007 contains a chapter from Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (Amazon, my review), one from Adrian Tomine's Shortcomings, and some fine shorter contributions from Kevin Huizenga, Jaime Hernandez, and Ivan Brunetti.

This is an excellent compilation, and one hopes that it will draw even more attention to comics creators that are out of the superhero mainstream. There's no evidence of a "sophomore slump" in this series, which bodes well for the future.

buy nothing day

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Once again, I'm ignoring Black Friday as completely as I can. Instead, I'm celebrating Adbusters' Buy Nothing Day, a "24-hour moratorium on consumer spending."

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Participate by not participating!

happy holidays!

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This post from Bay of Fundie is the best thing I've read on the Christmas-is-under-attack-myth-that-won't-die in a long time, and it links to Austin Cline's "War on Christmas" propaganda posters. It's worth keeping BoF's sentiment in mind as we head into another contentious holiday season:

There is no war on Christmas. People say "happy holidays" because there is more than one holiday at the end of the year. There's Christmas, Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and even Festivus. Pardon me for trying to be inclusive! [...]

Most of the time, the person saying "happy holidays" has nothing but the best of intentions. He's being sensitive to your feelings! He doesn't want to make presumptions about you or make you feel marginalized. He's trying to send the signal that it doesn't matter who you are or what you are, your value in society is as great as anyone else's. That it doesn't matter whether you are a member of the majority religion or not, you're welcome in America too. If that offends you, it says a lot more about you than it does about the well-wisher.

Those who proudly proclaim their lack of knowledge of--or interest in--"foreign" holidays are essentially saying that only their tribe's rituals are important, that only their clan's traditions deserve recognition, that only their kin's opinions are worth considering. We are ill-served by such parochialism in a steadily shrinking world.

Whether or not you celebrate Thanksgiving, I'd like to wish you all happy holidays!

This WaPo article (h/t: ThinkProgress) discusses Bush's assertions that Pakistan's dictator Pervez Musharraf has "advanced democracy in Pakistan" and "hasn't crossed the line." It also contains two Quotes of the Day. The first is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE):

"What exactly would it take for the president to conclude Musharraf has crossed the line? Suspend the constitution? Impose emergency law? Beat and jail his political opponents and human rights activists? He's already done all that. If the president sees Musharraf as a democrat, he must be wearing the same glasses he had on when he looked in Vladimir Putin's soul."

The second is from White House Press Secretary Dana Perino:

"[He] has made a mistake and took a detour -- we are hopeful that he will restore the constitution and get the country back to that path to democracy."

We're hopeful, too, but you really shouldn't talk about your boss like that; his administration isn't particularly fond of honesty and doesn't tolerate dissent.

This video (h/t: Norm at OneGoodMove) demonstrates Möbius transformations in an elegant and beautiful way, as this introductory article discusses.

Many more people would understand and appreciate über-geeky concepts if they were explained as well. Bravo!

quote of the day

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I didn't watch the Democrats' Las Vegas debate, but this exchange makes me wish I had (h/t: Violet Blue):

BLITZER: Congressman Kucinich, I believe you're the only person on this stage who had a chance to vote on the Patriot Act right after 9/11 who voted against it right away.

KUCINICH: That's because I read it.

If we had had 534 more Congresscritters with a conscience, the last several years could have been far less devastating.

Andrew Sullivan is nearly as flabbergasted as Glenn Greenwald is over the president's recent speech to the Federalist Society, where Bush uttered these words:

When the Founders drafted the Constitution, they had a clear understanding of tyranny. They also had a clear idea about how to prevent it from ever taking root in America. Their solution was to separate the government's powers into three co-equal branches: the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Each of these branches plays a vital role in our free society. Each serves as a check on the others. And to preserve our liberty, each must meet its responsibilities -- and resist the temptation to encroach on the powers the Constitution accords to others.

Bush's denunciation of "judicial lawlessness" later in the speech is particularly galling, given the executive lawlessness over which he has presided for nearly seven years. How he squares his actions with his flat statement that "Our written Constitution means what it says," I may never be able to comprehend. Even more blatantly nonsensical is his later remark that:

The President's oath of office commits him to do his best to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." I take these words seriously. I believe these words mean what they say.

Sullivan asks, "is the president an idiot or just shameless?" but I don't think either assessment is correct. Bush strikes me as a silver-spoon sociopath who preys on the wishful thinking of a (steadily shrinking) proportion of the population. Thankfully, his days in office are numbered: 429 and counting.

atheism rocks

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Russell Blackford’s “The New Atheism Rocks” (h/t: Richard Dawkins) observes that the rise of Dominionism and Reconstructionism has created:

an urgency for secular intellectuals to speak up, and we should be grateful that heavyweights such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett, and Onfray are doing so, joined by relative newcomers, such as Sam Harris. We don’t have to agree with every point made by all of them to see that the New Atheism is a totally positive development. [emphasis added]

Blackford goes on to defend those same authors against slurs of being “too strident or nasty, too condescending or smug” by asking:

Will the tone of these books — often passionate, sometimes sharp, very often comic — merely alienate believers, making it less likely that they can be weaned off religion? I doubt it. The books make telling points, communicated in effective ways. […] Further, these books have put atheistic views on the social and intellectual map, as legitimate views to be weighed and explored by anyone who cares about the truth of things.

Since it is the nature of theism to assert truths rather than prove them, we skeptics must ask the hard questions and search for the difficult truths.


Quote of the day:

“All I want is the truth, Just gimme some truth.”

(John Lennon, 1971)

The Center for American Progress has started running a series of ads about progressivism that could make a difference in Americans’ political identification. John Halpin notes at ThinkProgress:

Progressive reformers in the 20th century paved the way for a more humane society that ensured decent working conditions; fought corporate abuse and corruption; provided support for the elderly and unemployed; protected our natural resources; and expanded democratic opportunities for all citizens. Our ad campaign is a first attempt at bringing these progressive values and accomplishments to light for modern audiences.

The two ads that parody the Apple/PC standoff may do well with younger audiences, and I appreciate the PRO[gressive] versus CON[servative] method of delineating the political distinction. The ads’ effectiveness is shown by Chris Bower at OpenLeft, who observes:

According to data I have seen, after watching three of the following four ads, nationwide progressive self-identification leaps from 10% to a whopping 46%, including significant gains from every other ideological self-identification group:

National ideological self-identification after watching three ads. October 11-17, 964 RVs, MoE 3.1. Numbers before watching ads in parenthesis

Progressive: 46% (10%)
Moderate: 24% (41%)
Conservative: 21% (32%)
Liberal: 9% (18%)

More, please.

When Rush Limbaugh claimed—ignoring all the evidence to the contrary—that “nobody has disproven anything [the Swift Boat Liars] claimed in any of their ads, statements, written commentaries, or anything of the sort,” Kerry spokesman David Wade delivered the Quote of the Day (h/t: Liberal Values):

At first I thought, that’s not Rush, that’s just the OxyContin talking. Nonetheless, this is a despicable but unsurprising new lie from a man whose closest brush with combat came when customs officials tried to take away his Viagra. [I already wrote about Rush’s sex tourism incident.]

Where was Wade three years ago, when a comeback like that could have made a difference?

for what it's worth

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According to this Blog Readability Test, the CognitiveDissident website is written at a “genius” level:

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Check here for some interesting speculation about what algorithms may be involved in this writing analysis.

Dinesh D’Souza has demonstrated yet again his refusal to let even the simplest research conflict with his already-made-up mind. His latest column is posed in the form of a question, but “Are Atheists the New Gays?” isn’t interested in finding an answer; instead, D’Souza ignores whatever evidence doesn’t fit his conclusion. He states flatly that “the whole atheist-gay analogy is quite absurd” without providing anything resembling supporting data, instead proffering this brilliant demonstration of ignorance:

Dawkins has also suggested that atheists, like gays, should come out of the closet. Well, what if they don't want to? I don't know if Dawkins would support "outing" atheists.

D’Souza is apparently too lazy to perform a ten-second Google search, or he would have been unable to overlook Dawkins’ announcement of the Out Campaign, which sympathizes with the “unfortunate individual not yet – or not ever – ready to confide in the world” and then clearly states:

Our OUT campaign will have nothing, repeat nothing to do with outing in that active sense. If a closet atheist wants to come out, that is her decision to make, and nobody else's. What we can do is provide support and encouragement to those who willingly decide to out themselves.

D’Souza also misrepresents Dawkins’ knowledge of atheist acceptance outside of England: “Dawkins, being British, doesn't seem to recognize that [outing] would not win many popularity contests in America.” In the announcement mentioned above, Dawkins notes that outing oneself:

…may seem trivial to people in parts of Europe, or in regions of the United States dominated by urban intellectuals where support and encouragement is unnecessary. It is anything but trivial to people in other areas of the United States, and even more so in parts of the Islamic world where apostasy is, by Koranic authority, punishable by death.

D’Souza, you’ve demonstrated time and time again that: a). You don’t know what you’re talking about, and b). You don’t care to learn. Please STFU until you remedy these shortcomings.

too much irony

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These two news items exceed my RDA for irony:

1). White House Press Secretary Dana Perino was asked "Is it ever reasonable to restrict constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism?" to which she replied, "In our opinion, no." ThinkProgress notes a few instances that should have been obvious even to an administration flack like Perino:

First Amendment: In September, a federal judge ruled that the FBI's use of secret "national security letters" to obtain citizens' personal data from private companies for counterterrorism investigations "violate[d] the First Amendment and constitutional provisions on the separation of powers."

First Amendment, Fourth Amendment: In Aug. 2006, a federal district court in Detroit ruled that the Bush administration'ss [sic] NSA warrantless wiretapping program was unconstitutional, violating the "separation of powers doctrine, the Administrative Procedures Act, the First and Fourth amendments to the United States Constitution, the FISA and Title III."

Article I: Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in June, then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales attempted to justify the administration's detainee policy by claiming, "There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution." (Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the Contitution [sic] reads: "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.")

Article II: In June, House investigators revealed that Vice President Dick Cheney had exempted his office from an executive order order designed to safeguard classified national security information by claiming that he was not an "entity within the executive branch."

2). Bush, commenting on Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf's reliance on his military history, said:

"[y]ou need to take off your uniform...You can't be the president and the head of the military at the same time."

It appears that Chimpy McFlightSuit is as unaware of the extent that those words apply to him and many of his actions during the six years since 9/11. As reprehensible as Musharraf is, his military uniform is at least earned; one can't quite say that about Generalissimo El Busho with his TANG AWOL questions still unresolved.

There is a fierce denunciation of Mukasey’s nomination and compliant Democrats over at Sadly, No:

If you can’t say whether simulating death through forced drowning is really “torture,” then you have zero common moral sensibility, and are clearly unfit to hold the office of the highest law enforcement officer in the country. It would have been nice for America’s “opposition” party to set a clear standard stating that anyone who gives weaselly, evasive answers about whether waterboarding constitutes torture will be automatically tossed into the Borkian reject pile. But once again, our brave fightin’ Dems are caving.

I didn’t ever really expect great things from the Democrats, but in my worst nightmares I didn’t expect them to suck this badly. The only thing that’s stopping me from not voting in ‘08 is horrifying visions of Preznit Rudy.

C’mon, Dems: If you don’t oppose torture, no one will. Even if the Bush administration has only tortured three people with waterboarding, it’s still unacceptable.

Don’t accept it.

Don’t accept Mukasey.

John Sinteur at Daily Irrelevant describes master homophobe Reverend Fred Phelps as “an asshole of metaphysically transcendent proportion” (h/t: Andrew Sullivan).

done with D'Souza?

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I occasionally believe that I’m done discussing D’Souza (along with Coulter, Prager, and other wingnuts) only to come across something worthwhile. Today’s words of wisdom are culled from the comments in this “Is American a Christian Nation?” piece, where Ray Ingles reposts an old “Christian Nation Challenge” that has been “[s]o far completely ignored:

The challenge is simple, really; provide the Biblical passages from which the following essential aspects of the American legal/governmental system have been derived:

* Government by officials elected by the governed (republican democracy)
* Separation of powers (executive, legislative, judicial)
* Trial by a jury of one's peers
* Presumption of innocence
* Freedom from cruel or unusual punishment
* Freedom from involuntary self-incrimination
* Freedom of speech and assembly
* Prohibition of the establishment of religion (could be a toughie!)
* Right to keep and bear arms (or establishment of a militia; take your pick)
* The concept (embodied in both the DOI and Constitution) that the power to govern resides with the governed and is granted by them to elected officials

Secular and historical models and sources for all of these are available, some of them pre-dating your religion. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to come up with Biblical ones that are at least as clear. Without them, claims that the American system of government is based on the Bible are unsupported, no matter how many quotes you post demonstrating this or that founder's belief in a God of some sort and no matter how much idolatry you insist on practicing on public land.

Well?

Well, indeed. As with my similar challenge several years ago, I’m not surprised that there have been no takers; the Christianist position on the Founding is without foundation, and attempting to prove otherwise is an impossible mission.

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