September 2008 Archives

Kirchner, Bill. A Miles Davis Reader (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1997)

The essays in Bill Kirchner's A Miles Davis Reader cover the trumpeter's entire career, with the most attention given to his collaborations with composer/arranger Gil Evans. This was a plus for me, as I consider those albums--particularly Miles Ahead, Sketches of Spain, and Porgy & Bess --to be among his best works, right up there with the various pairings of Miles and Coltrane. Max Harrison agrees, calling those discs "three bodies of work that will receive attention for as long as anyone cares to listen to jazz." (p. 100, "Sheer Alchemy, for a While: Miles Davis and Gil Evans," Jazz Monthly, December 1958 and February 1960)

The book's standout chapter is Howard Brofsky's "Miles Davis and My Funny Valentine: The Evolution of a Solo" (pp. 140-63). Access to the selected recordings of "My Funny Valentine" (Cookin' from 1956, Jazz at the Plaza from 1958, and My Funny Valentine from 1964) is essential, and assuredly not a problem for Kirchner's target audience: Miles-philes such as myself. (Many of us have several other recordings of "MFV;" for example from Miles in Tokyo or the two versions from Live at the Plugged Nickel.)

Listening to his music is especially appropriate today, on the seventeenth anniversary of Miles' death. It is an occasion that may perhaps be best observed by listening to Miles' solo on "Mr. Pastorius," a lamentation for the late bassist Jaco Pastorius. (Studio and live recordings are on Miles' CDs Amandla and Live around the World, respectively.)

A former record-store employee suggests another piece, "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time" from In a Silent Way in this touching anecdote:

One day, early in the afternoon, that call came. Miles had passed. It had just taken place. The media had not been notified yet. The store was empty. I was alone. Nothing was playing. I sat at the counter, sort of numb, trying to absorb the impact of hat had just been said to me on the phone.

I was staring out into space looking at nothing when the door opened and Quine walked in. No one else was in the store.

"Miles just passed," I blurted out.

He said nothing in reply and just walked over to the bins. He came back to me with a copy of In a Silent Way and said, "Here, play this."

I put on side two and the beautiful mourning dirge filled the room.

Nothing was said. No one came in. The phone never rang. We just sat and listened. I lifted the needle at the end.

"See ya," Quine said as he got up to leave.

"Yeah...I'll see ya," I replied.

Miles had been acknowledged in a simple and perfect and way.

(Robert Cohen, "In a Silent Way," JAZZIZ, February 2004, p. 66)


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FactCheck is on top of the claims made by Obama and McCain at last night's debate, with an overview of both candidates' debatable claims. (The AP has a briefer version here.) CNN has a transcript available here, which will do until the Commission on Presidential Debates posts the official one.

Obama was less dynamic overall than I had expected, and he expressed agreement with McCain far too often. By way of contrast, I counted 7 variants of McCain's claim that "Senator Obama doesn't understand." This appears to be his campaign's new mantra, and was almost as annoying as his continued misinterpretation of Obama's "without preconditions" statement, countered by Obama's correct quotation of the odious Henry Kissinger.

One error of McCain's seems to have gotten comparatively little attention:

Right now, the United States of American business pays the second-highest business taxes in the world, 35 percent. Ireland pays 11 percent.

The GOP's corporations-are-overtaxed meme is false, and Obama's response was very much on target:

John mentioned the fact that business taxes on paper are high in this country, and he's absolutely right. Here's the problem: There are so many loopholes that have been written into the tax code, oftentimes with support of Senator McCain, that we actually see our businesses pay effectively one of the lowest tax rates in the world.

According to this recent GAO study (2.7MB PDF) of tax years 1998 through 2005, two-thirds of corporations paid no income tax, including one-quarter of large corporations (those with at least $250 million of assets or at least $50 million of receipts). An effective tax rate of 0% is, as far as I can tell, unbeaten by any other nation. (While we're discussing facts, McCain was wrong about Ireland's corporate tax rate; the Irish Times notes that it is actually 12.5%.)

The remaining debates, which I hope will be more decisive than last night's opener, are as follows:

Thursday 2 October: VP debate Washington University in St. Louis, MO (Gwen Ifill)

Tuesday 7 October: second presidential debate (town meeting)
Belmont University in Nashville, TN (Tom Brokaw)

Wednesday 15 October: third presidential debate
Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY (Bob Schieffer)

Question: What's wrong with this picture? [Answer below]


It's the same meme as this David Horsey cartoon I mentioned in January:

I'd avoid overdrawing the comparison, but it does address the "inexperience" argument rather dramatically.

[Answer: Lincoln was a Representative, not a Senator.]

The NYT reports the following about Alan Fishman, WaMu's CEO:

Mr. Fishman, who has been on the job for less than three weeks, is eligible for $11.6 million in cash severance and will get to keep his $7.5 million signing bonus, according to an analysis by James F. Reda and Associates. WaMu was not immediately available for comment.

(h/t: Bitch PhD, who wisecracks "So that's where my overdraft fees have been going.") WaMu's new owner, JP Morgan Chase, will probably be far less generous with workers:

JPMorgan executives said that it was too early to know how many employoees [sic] might be laid off, but industry analysts said the number could be as high as 5,000. Analysts expect the bank to close about 540 branch sites

I have undeniable proof that McCain already won tonight's debate!

How is that possible, considering that only reversed his chicken-out decision within the last hour? Easy: he's already running ads making the claim, and his supporters are all-too-willing to believe GOP claims without evidence (WMDs, mission accomplished, Swift Boat Liars, et al).

Here is McCain's ad (h/t: Ron Chusid at Liberal Values):

(The full screenshot is here.)

Liberals will want to actually watch the debate (assuming that McCain doesn't flip-flop again) before making any assessments.

I received several questions about my support for Obama:

There is one fact that is irrefutable
Obama is a first term US Senator
He has served almost 3 years and out of that three years he has been campaigning about 18months
Therefore, he has been actually "Senatoring" for 18months
Prior to that he never ran anything

As a law professor he never published any papers - unheard of in academia

So what is it about him that makes you think he is a good candidate for President of the Unites States?

I ran my own multi million dollar business for [x] years
I made payroll for [x] years
I employed hundreds of people who supported their family with the jobs I gave them
I'm [x+y] years old and have experience in "life matters" that come with age
Am I not more qualified to run this country than Obama?

What makes him so special to you?
Is it because he's a great orator?
Or is it because he's the Democratic nominee?
I think it's the latter

I think the Democrats would support Mickey Mouse if he was the parties' nominee

There are several misconceptions here, which I will address in order. First, not being published isn't "unheard of" for part-time faculty (remember that he was a lawyer, and later a state Senator, during that time period). Obama did manage to write (not ghost-write) a pair of books after turning down a tenure-track offer and leaving academia for politics.

Also, your claim that Obama "never ran anything" is false. He directed the Developing Communities Project, was president of the Harvard Law Review, directed Project Vote, and served on the board of directors of at least eight other organizations. Although unknown nationally four years ago, Obama created a campaign that beat the heavily favored Hillary Clinton political machine. (So much for his never running anything.)

Why do I think Obama is a good candidate? Most important to me are Obama's positions on the issues; while not perfect, they are uniformly better than McCain's. I read Obama's "Blueprint for Change" (600KB PDF) six months ago, and have no qualms about supporting his brand of progressivism against the regressive Republican ticket. Here are a few examples:

• Obama has promised to end the Iraq war, close Gitmo, restore habeas corpus, and "finish the fight against Al Qaeda."

• Obama's proposed tax cuts would benefit most Americans, as contrasted with McCain's continuation of Bush's top-heavy trickle-down failure. Obama also supports universal healthcare coverage and opposes Social Security privatization.

• On LGBT issues, there's no comparison. Obama recognizes that equality is a "moral imperative," supports ENDA, and opposes both DADT and DOMA. Until last year, McCain didn't understand the acronym LGBT.

• His experience as a professor of constitutional law gives Obama an advantage in understanding the document that he will swear to "preserve, protect, and defend." Also, his legal background will aid him in making sensible judicial appointments, repudiating Bush's torture regime, ending warrantless wiretapping, and returning the rule of law to Washington.

Age and "life matters" experience do not equal wisdom, and youthful inexperience does not equal lack of leadership potential. (Here's another irrefutable fact: like Obama, Abraham Lincoln had only a single term in Congress to his credit before becoming president.)

Business experience doesn't necessarily translate into good governance, because the nation isn't a for-profit enterprise; its goals are fundamentally different from siphoning off the value of workers' efforts to reward investors and give jobs to executives. Besides, the results of our current CEO presidency are so poor that McCain is trying desperately to run away from Bush's record rather than trumpeting his all-too-close association with it. (And no, you're not "more qualified to run this country" than Obama is. You were joking, right?)

Besides, what valuable experience does McCain have that would make him a good president? Getting shot down 40 years ago, divorcing his crippled wife to marry an heiress, getting involved in the Keating Five scandal, surrounding himself with lobbyists, and supporting the deregulation that led to the current financial fiasco? McCain may have plenty of experience, but it's all of the wrong kind; Josh Marshall at TPM handles this canard well:

"Let's face it. On major economy-imperiling financial scandals brought about by lax regulation and help from lobbyist-encrusted politicians, McCain really is the candidate of experience."

Don't assume that Obama is "so special" to me merely because I debunk GOP lies about him. If the media hadn't been so complicit in Bush's machismo mirage, all the misinformation they spread about Gore and Kerry during the 2000 and 2004 campaigns wouldn't have had the disastrous effect of putting Bush in the White House; I'm just doing my (small) part to help prevent another catastrophe.

I wouldn't call Obama a "great" orator, but he's at least a competent one. The fact that he can read a speech from a TelePrompTer doesn't make him a good candidate, although it does elevate him slightly over the illiterate president to which we've become accustomed. I'm looking forward to the debates--assuming McCain doesn't chicken out--as a chance to compare his oratory head-to-head against McCain's.

You may believe that I'm supporting Obama because he's the Democratic nominee, but you're wrong; I do not support Democratic candidates blindly, and I am not a Democrat. (Blind faith isn't exactly a primary quality of the Left, by the might want to check the other side of the aisle for some prime examples of that particular lemming-like habit.)

I think the Republicans would support an out-of-touch double-talking faux-populist plutocrat if he were the party's nominee. (Oops...I guess that's not really a hypothetical situation, given how many times it's happened lately.)

I'm not a big Maureen Dowd fan, but in this case (h/t: Ron Chusid at Liberal Values) I'm glad to make an exception. Dowd imagines a dialogue between Obama and Martin Sheen's West Wing character, President Jed Bartlet:

OBAMA They pivoted off the argument that I was inexperienced to the criticism that I'm -- wait for it -- the Messiah, who, by the way, was a community organizer. When I speak I try to lead with inspiration and aptitude. How is that a liability?

BARTLET Because the idea of American exceptionalism doesn't extend to Americans being exceptional. If you excelled academically and are able to casually use 690 SAT words then you might as well have the press shoot video of you giving the finger to the Statue of Liberty while the Dixie Chicks sing the University of the Taliban fight song. The people who want English to be the official language of the United States are uncomfortable with their leaders being fluent in it.


You were raised by a single mother on food stamps -- where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I'd ask them what their problem is with excellence.

electoral elitism

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Sam Harris recognized Palin's lack of qualifications for VP in "Average Isn't Good Enough:"

Americans have an unhealthy desire to see average people promoted to positions of great authority. No one wants an average neurosurgeon or even an average carpenter, but when it comes time to vest a man or woman with more power and responsibility than any person has held in human history, Americans say they want a regular guy, someone just like themselves. [...] This is one of the many points at which narcissism becomes indistinguishable from masochism. Let me put it plainly: If you want someone just like you to be president of the United States, or even vice president, you deserve whatever dysfunctional society you get.

He ruffled enough feathers to pen a follow-up piece to defend himself against 'sexist pig and liberal shill' accusations, and now he's drawing the ire of Newsweek's nattering nabobs with this article:

The problem, as far as our political process is concerned, is that half the electorate revels in Palin's lack of intellectual qualifications. When it comes to politics, there is a mad love of mediocrity in this country. "They think they're better than you!" is the refrain that (highly competent and cynical) Republican strategists have set loose among the crowd, and the crowd has grown drunk on it once again. "Sarah Palin is an ordinary person!" Yes, all too ordinary.


Ask yourself: how has "elitism" become a bad word in American politics? There is simply no other walk of life in which extraordinary talent and rigorous training are denigrated. We want elite pilots to fly our planes, elite troops to undertake our most critical missions, elite athletes to represent us in competition and elite scientists to devote the most productive years of their lives to curing our diseases. And yet, when it comes time to vest people with even greater responsibilities, we consider it a virtue to shun any and all standards of excellence. When it comes to choosing the people whose thoughts and actions will decide the fates of millions, then we suddenly want someone just like us, someone fit to have a beer with, someone down-to-earth--in fact, almost anyone, provided that he or she doesn't seem too intelligent or well educated.

Limbaugh lies

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Limbaugh is now taking the lead in lying about Obama, claiming that "he's not black:"

Do you know he has not one shred of African-American blood? [...] He's Arab. You know, he's from Africa. He's from Arab parts of Africa. He's not -- his father was -- he's not African-American. The last thing that he is is African-American.

Steve Benen at Washington Monthly brings the smackdown, noting that Limbaugh's claim is "demonstrably ridiculous:"

First, it's probably worth noting that Obama is not "Arab" "from Africa," he's American from Hawaii. [...] Second, his father is from Kenya, and Kenya isn't an Arab part of Africa. Third, "African American" generally refers to black people in the United States of African lineage. "The last thing that he is is African American"? Please.

But let's not overlook the point here -- far-right hacks aren't quite done with the smear. The efforts to label Obama "Arab" is just the latest twist in a larger effort launched by those motivated by fear and bigotry.

In the interest of being reality-based, here's some relevant information from the "Demographics" section of Wikipedia's article on Kenya:

Kenya is a country of great ethnic diversity. Most Kenyans are bilingual in English and Swahili, also a big percentage speak their mother tongue of their ethnic tribe.

Ethnic groups:
Kikuyu 22%, Luhya 14%, Luo 13%, Kalenjin 12%, Kamba 11%, Kisii 6%, Meru 6%, other African 15%, non-African (Asian, European, and Arab) 1%

Religious affiliation:
Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 25%, Islam 10%, Traditional Religions 10%, Orthodox 1%. Others include Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and the Bahá'í Faith.

To summarize: Kenya (the homeland of Obama's father) is 1% ethnically Arab and 10% Muslim. Using that slim shred of information to call Obama Arab is, well, just about what I expect from Limbaugh and his legion of listeners.

Simply pathetic.

Alex (The Rest Is Noise) Ross has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, commonly known as a "genius" grant (h/t: Jason Gross of PopMatters). Fishbowl NY has a brief Q&A with Ross, where he says:

When I get around to writing my next big book, this award will allow me to take some time off here and there, travel to do research, and otherwise explore the subject in depth. I wrote my last book in coffeeshops between assignments, in the middle of the night when other work was done, and whenever else I could squeeze in the time. The MacArthur will give my a lot more breathing room. I would also like to use the award to build up my website and pursue related multimedia projects. And I'm hoping to launch some home improvements, so I no longer have hundreds of books and CDs piled on the floor or in closets. Basically, I am hoping for less chaos and more time to think.

Ross is planning to begin that new book in the Spring...I can't wait!

conservative economics

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The primary principle of conservative economics is a variant of 'socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor' that boils down to this two-part formula:

1. privatize the profits
2. socialize the costs

When times are great--or at least appear to be great--then the rich elites feel entitled to award themselves ever-larger bonuses and perks as they demand to be freed from taxation and regulatory oversight; when times are bad, they send their lobbyists crying to Congress, demanding bailouts and forcing the taxpaying public to clean up the wreckage.

When they gamble and win, the rest of us have no stake in their winnings; when they gamble and lose, we cover their losses. It all goes back to the Golden Rule:

"Whoever has the gold makes the rules."

Have we had enough of conservative economics yet?

The infamous Wall Street bailouts now total $1.8 trillion, making them a deeper money pit than Bush's Iraq debacle. Check out this nice graph of US bailouts (h/t: Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise) from 1970 to the present:


The enormous magenta circle represents the 1989 S&L bailout, and the four to its right are all Bush-era bailouts:

• Airline Industry, 2001 ($18.6 billion)
• Bear Stearns, 2008 ($30 billion)
• Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac, 2008 ($200 billion)
• AIG, 2008 ($85 billion)

There appears to be additional turbulence ahead, so please keep your seatbelts fastened and your trays in their fully upright position.

My closing question in this post asked, somewhat rhetorically,

If exposure to the facts won't change conservatives' minds, what will?

S at Explicitus Est Liber responded:

The answer, I think, is nothing. Sure exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking will help. Repeated exposure is even better but until a person decides in themselves that they are ready to ask the questions, they simply will not.

Particularly insightful is the observation that "it's not about changing minds:"

It's about having the conversations. It's about being able to talk to people that are completely opposite from you and come away feeling like you've learned something about them. Whether you agree with what you learned or not, the point is you are always learning something new from different worldviews.

I enjoy the conversations, but it just seems so lopsided sometimes. If I may be permitted an over-generalization: The liberal side listens and responds to--and, ideally, learns from--the other; the conservative side ignores evidence, parrots a set of talking points, and makes personal attacks. A steady diet of those responses is what drives me into crafting less-than-productive (and, sometimes, less-than-civil) sarcastic retorts. (Debating passionately isn't a problem for me, but I need to do better in maintaining respect in difficult circumstances!) S comments on our common tendency to tune out ideologically conflicting ideas and become insulated from controversy:

With all the information on the Internet, you'd think we could find out anything but even I find myself just hanging out with my "own". I don't read conservative blogs or join social networking sites for Christians. And they don't want me to either. People don't want to participate in The Great Debate. They want to be right.

I read several conservative magazines, visit their websites and subscribe to some of their RSS feeds, but--like many other liberals--it's a struggle to fairly evaluate their positions before the tendency to critique them becomes overwhelming. (I don't always succeed, as you may have noticed!) Dialogues on political and philosophical issues, which so animated our intellectual predecessors, now seem to degenerate into monologues with depressing regularity. The Great Conversation is my ideal, but can we maintain it by ourselves against opponents who look to Dubya for statesmanship, Bill O'Reilly for civility, and Ann Coulter for intellectual depth?

Is it still an argument/conversation/debate when only one side is fully participating (i.e, listening in addition to speaking)?

Law, Stephen. The War for Children's Minds: Liberal Values and Why We Should Defend Them (New York: Routledge, 2006)

Another pro-liberal, pro-rationality book--after Dan Hind's The Threat to Reason--is Stephen Law's The War for Children's Minds. As if the title weren't obvious enough, Law states his position clearly:

This book is about the ongoing debate between these two opposing traditions [authoritarian and liberal]. [...] This book defends an increasingly unfashionable position. It argues that we should be very liberal indeed in our approach to moral education. It makes a case for a particular kind of liberal moral education, an education rooted in philosophy, not authority. (p. 3)

This book is, in effect, a defense of Kant's Enlightenment vision of a society of morally autonomous individuals who dare to apply their own intelligence rather than more-or-less uncritically accept the pronouncements of authority. (p. 7)

Law describes the tension between the conflicting traditions of authoritarianism and liberalism, and disentangles liberalism from its (conservative-manufactured) mythical association with relativism:

This book has two key conclusions. The first conclusion is that there are powerful arguments for embracing a highly Liberal approach to moral and religious education--an approach that emphasizes the importance of encouraging independent critical thought and judgement rather than more-or-less uncritical deference to Authority. [...] The second conclusion is that the case against the Liberal approach is remarkably feeble. There really is no good argument for moving back in the direction of Authority-based moral and religious education. (pp. 164-5)

Law does an excellent job explaining the Liberal position and addressing any potential objections; this book is the kind of solid, sound argumentation that most authors--myself included--dream of writing. He also deflates the "liberal+atheist=authoritarian" myth, one of the Right's favorite bogeymen:

From the Holy Inquisition to Auschwitz to the Gulag to Mao's Cultural Revolution to Cambodia's Killing Fields, the state-sponsored mass-murder of their own citizens is a speciality of Authoritarian societies, not Liberal ones. If we want to avoid such catastrophes in the future, we should realize that religion, of the lack of it, is largely a red herring. (p. 54)

Pastafarians 1, Phelps 0

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Pastafarian pirates did some great work countering a protest by the Phelps hatemongers, as described by the Arkansas Times (h/t: Friendly Atheist):

...the cuckoo Phelps hate group walked the plank this morning after a happy bunch dressed like pirates and holding signs saying "God hates shrimp -- Leviticus" and "God hates cotton-polyester blends" stood opposite them... [...]

With cars honking and waving at the pirates and a TV crew giving them all the attention, the Phelps group -- with a child in tow, sadly -- picked up their "fag" epithets and went away. Pitiful.

(photo by Brian Chilson)

Oh my FSM, that's the Best. Counter-protest. Ever.

Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church
Pastafarians and the Flying Spaghetti Monster
Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

I had an exchange that began with an email linking to a Slate article on Jim Johnson and Frank Raines (formerly of Fannie Mae) and making these claims:

This guy is Obama senior advisor

Also Frank Raines is another top Obama advisor and both are close personal friends

I responded:

That's typical executive-suite greed, all right...Obama's economic advisers are a bit too right-of-center for my tastes, so I'm not surprised that there are a few scandals in their closets.

If you're going to complain about overpaid execs with a history of shameful economic decisions, how about McCain's advisers Phil Gramm (the Enron loophole, financial deregulation) and Carly Fiorina (fired from HP, $21 million severance package)?

What's good for the goose...

In yet another self-taught lesson in verifying email claims before assuming their veracity, I did a little more research and followed up with this:

I erred in accepting your assertions about Johnson and Raines; neither of them advises Obama on economics or anything else.

Jim Johnson was part of Obama's VP search committee, but was not an adviser.

Neither was Frank Raines: "Frank Raines has never advised Senator Obama about anything -- ever." (Source: AP)

Economists for Obama has a list of Obama's actual economic advisers, in case you're interested...

Mother Jones observes the GOP's hypocrisy this way: "McCain Attacks Wall Street Greed--While 83 Wall Street Lobbyists Work for His Campaign." There are 177 lobbyists "working for the McCain campaign as either aides, policy advisers, or fundraisers:" least 83 have in recent years lobbied for the financial industry McCain now attacks. These are high-paid influence-peddlers who have been working the corridors of the nation's capital to win favors and special treatment for investment banks, securities firms, hedge funds, accounting outfits, and insurance companies. Their clients have included AIG, the newest symbol of corporate excess; Lehman Brothers, which filed for bankruptcy on Monday sending the stock market into a tailspin; Merrill Lynch, which was bought out by Bank of America this week; and Washington Mutual, the banking giant that could be the next to fall.

The DNC's report "No Reformer" (600KB PDF) looks at McCain's team of lobbyists and their financial power:

McCain's herd of lobbyists have made over $930 million over the last decade representing every major industry, from oil and gas to health insurance, telecommunications and pharmaceutical companies and a host of foreign governments, including dictators and despots guilty of murder and egregious human rights abuses. McCain has taken nearly $12 million in contributions from donors and PACs affiliated with clients represented by those lobbyists.

Massie Ritsch at Open Secrets has a good summary of the financial industry's contributions to both candidates:

Overall, the securities and investment industry has contributed about $10 million to Obama and $7 million to McCain. To all federal candidates for president and Congress, and to political parties, the industry has contributed more than $101 million in the 2008 election cycle, 56 percent of it to Democrats. The Democrats' edge is a relatively recent development, however; Republicans had the advantage for most of the last 10 years. Contributions from the commercial banking industry are roughly split between Obama and McCain -- $2 million for the Democrat, $1.9 million for the Republican. The banking industry has contributed about $25 million in this election cycle to federal candidates and parties, giving 52 percent to Republicans.

The cynic in me wonders: Are those contributors going to get their money's worth from Obama, or are they just hedging their bets against a McCain loss?

I've seen far more than my share of information graphics, but this tops them all (h/t: Flowing Data):


Best. Pie chart. Ever.

Sam Harris responds to Jonathan Haidt, and demonstrates that he certainly hasn't lost his edge:

He admonishes us to get it into our thick heads that many of our neighbors "honestly prefer the Republican vision of a moral order to the one offered by Democrats." Yes, and many of them honestly prefer the Republican vision of cosmology, wherein it is still permissible to believe that the big bang occurred less than ten thousand years ago. These same people tend to prefer Republican doubts about biological evolution and climate change. There are names for this type of "preference," one of the more polite being "ignorance."

impervious to reason?

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It's no secret that I've had my share of encounters with conservatives who seem impervious to reason (see here and here for some recent examples), but I'm unable to make headway against their my-mind-is-made-up-don't-confuse-me-with-the-facts mindset. I am amazed (and dismayed) at the tenacity with which they hold their untenable positions: although lacking any means of logical support, the GOP talking points are seemingly immune to corrections, and are repeated like magic spells to ward off critical thinking.

Even the most die-hard dittohead GOP-bots aren't completely irrational, of course, it's just that their cherished myths and media misinformation help them compartmentalize entire subject areas of discussion that are declared off-limits to correction...the "I don't care about the facts" or "let's agree to disagree" dodges are the ones I commonly see, although there are other, more aggressive forms of ignorance.

While I was ruminating on this problem, I came across Jonathan Haidt's article at AlterNet, "What Makes People Vote Republican?" Haidt wrote that he "began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society," and I expected a primer on George Lakoff's "strict father"/"nurturant parent" model to quickly follow. Instead, Haidt turned to John Stuart Mill and Emile Durkheim:

First, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to suffering and harm, particularly violent harm, and so nearly all cultures have norms or laws to protect individuals and to encourage care for the most vulnerable. Second, people in all cultures are emotionally responsive to issues of fairness and reciprocity, which often expand into notions of rights and justice. Philosophical efforts to justify liberal democracies and egalitarian social contracts invariably rely heavily on intuitions about fairness and reciprocity. [...]

My recent research shows that social conservatives do indeed rely upon those two foundations, but they also value virtues related to three additional psychological systems: ingroup/loyalty (involving mechanisms that evolved during the long human history of tribalism), authority/respect (involving ancient primate mechanisms for managing social rank, tempered by the obligation of superiors to protect and provide for subordinates), and purity/sanctity (a relatively new part of the moral mind, related to the evolution of disgust, that makes us see carnality as degrading and renunciation as noble). [emphases added]

Haidt's TED talk, "The Real Difference Between Liberals and Conservatives," (h/t: Explicitus Est Liber) expands on this thesis, amply demonstrating that conservative morality is skewed toward tribalism, totalitarianism, and taboo (my words, not Haidt's). Their worldview's composition, however, doesn't explain its frequent variance with reality; I found that answer in Shankar Vedantam's WaPo article "The Power of Political Misinformation." Vedantam discusses research showing that "some refutations can strengthen misinformation, especially among conservatives." A so-called "backfire effect" actually strengthens conservatives' misinformed views when those views are refuted:

In a paper approaching publication, Nyhan, a PhD student at Duke University, and Reifler, at Georgia State University, suggest that Republicans might be especially prone to the backfire effect because conservatives may have more rigid views than liberals: Upon hearing a refutation, conservatives might "argue back" against the refutation in their minds, thereby strengthening their belief in the misinformation. Nyhan and Reifler did not see the same "backfire effect" when liberals were given misinformation and a refutation about the Bush administration's stance on stem cell research.

The "backfire effect" explains the impervious-to-reason problem I've seen, although it leaves me with another question: if exposure to the facts won't change conservatives' minds, what will?
Hind, Dan. The Threat to Reason (New York: Verso, 2007)

Dan Hind's The Threat to Reason begins by noting that his writing "has two aims, one destructive, one constructive:"

Firstly, I want to destroy the persuasiveness of the idea that the Enlightenment is something that must be defended against its irrational enemies, as though it were an invalid or a helpless child. Secondly, I want to establish a more convincing account of what it would mean to be enlightened right now. (p. 8)

Hind writes about various conceptions of the Enlightenment, divided into two schools of thought. Folk Enlightenment essentially divides the world into rational and irrational, (following the model of Stephen Bronner's Reclaiming the Enlightenment) while Occult Enlightenment "is in love with secrecy:"

It is ambitious for total power, and therefore total knowledge, and it . It is happy to promote irrationality and misunderstanding among those whom it wishes to control; it is voracious for data at that same time that it radiates deception. (p. 149)

Hind is clearly in the politically liberal camp, identifying mostly with the left-wing Folk Enlightenment while noting that "those on the Right locate the spirit of Enlightenment among scientists and in the business community." (p. 26) He writes about various GOP corruption scandals, and broaches the "suspicion that support from the religious is a commodity sold by its leadership:"

"This must call into question their fulsome praise for Bush. It must also qualify the sense in which the religious right is properly speaking a religious phenomenon at all. In light of what we know, it looks much more like a protection racket." (p. 73)

Hind also criticizes the largely conservative politicization of science, and notes conservatives' "exaltation of powerful institutions, especially the state and the corporation" (p. 149). In discussing the media, Hind cites the standard liberal critics: Edward Bernays, the Noam Chomsky/Edward Herman opus Manufacturing Consent, and Ben Bagdikian's Media Monopoly. Hind is not a blind acolyte, however. He criticizes Manufacturing Consent:

We don't have to accept the Chomsky-Herman analysis wholesale to recognize that, in light of recent and glaring failures, the mass media cannot provide a tolerably reliable picture of reality. (p. 128)

while still recognizing the fiscal incentives behind media mendacity:

The private sector spends hundreds of billions of dollars making deception both palatable and ubiquitous. To the limited extent that we can grasp the facts in a given context, we find ourselves contradicted by the major media groups. In such circumstances we cannot reasonably claim to live in enlightened times. (p. 131)

As an aside, Hind wrote that "no politician could get away with open atheism" (p. 69), but the lone example of Pete Stark (D-CA) has since disproved that assertion. (Stark's atheist coming-out took place in March 2007, and Hind's book--released in June 2007, according to Amazon--was probably already at press.)

This chain email (seen at AmericaBlog and Liberal Values, and which appears to have originated with John Ridley at HuffPo) is grounded in fact, rather unusual for its genre:

• If you grow up in Hawaii, raised by your grandparents, you're "exotic, different."
• Grow up in Alaska eating moose burgers, a quintessential American story.

• If your name is Barack you're a radical, unpatriotic Muslim.
• Name your kids Willow, Trig and Track, you're a maverick.

• Graduate from Harvard law School and you are unstable.
• Attend 5 different small colleges before graduating, you're well grounded.

• If you spend 3 years as a community organizer, become the first black President of the Harvard Law Review, create a voter registration drive that registers 150,000 new voters, spend 12 years as a Constitutional Law professor, spend 8 years as a State Senator representing a district with over 750,000 people, become chairman of the state Senate's Health and Human Services committee, spend 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people while sponsoring 131 bills and serving on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veteran's Affairs committees, you don't have any real leadership experience.
• If your total resume is: local weather girl, 4 years on the city council and 6 years as the mayor of a town with less than 7,000 people, 20 months as the governor of a state with only 650,000 people, then you're qualified to become the country's second highest ranking executive.

• If you have been married to the same woman for 19 years while raising two daughters, all within Protestant churches, you're not a real Christian.
• If you cheated on your first wife with a rich heiress, and left your disfigured wife and married the heiress the next month, you're a Christian.

• If you teach responsible, age appropriate sex education, including the proper use of birth control, you are eroding the fiber of society.
• If , while governor, you staunchly advocate abstinence only, with no other option in sex education in your state's school system while your unwed teen daughter ends up pregnant, you're very responsible.

• If your wife is a Harvard graduate lawyer who gave up a position in a prestigious law firm to work for the betterment of her inner city community, then gave that up to raise a family, your family's values don't represent America's.
• If you're husband is nicknamed "First Dude", with at least one DWI conviction and no college education, who didn't register to vote until age 25 and once was a member of a group that advocated the secession of Alaska from the USA, your family is extremely admirable.

Other than the complete irrelevance of Mr Palin's education, that's a great email...even better than the Republican chickenhawks email from 2004!

Constitution Day

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Today is Constitution Day, and here's the immortal preamble that has served us so well for so long (go here to read the whole thing):

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

National Archives
National Constitution Center
Constitution Facts

Matt Shepherd has posted "The Mavericking Maverick Mavericks More," a series of McCain photos with captions from Frank Miller's classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns (h/t: Paul Constant at Slog). It's well worth checking out:



a bibliophile's dream

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Over at PopMatters, Lara Killian writes about home libraries, and links to this WSJ article about them being "back in style." Killian asks, "Do you have a library-like space where you can escape from your computer and other distractions to just relax? If not, what features would your dream library include?" Here is my reply:

My dream library--the one that my mind's eye superimposes over the actual appearance of the myriad bookcases that crowd my living room, dining room, bedroom, office, and basement--would of necessity be a rather large affair, and also the co-center (along with the living/dining area) of my dream home.

What I dream of is a library space that would not just store books, but provide a comfortable area for family and friends to converse and socialize--and perhaps even hold book club meetings! I envision a rather long but relatively narrow room with French doors at one end and tall mullioned windows at the other; the view sometimes features gently rolling hills and other times a large stand of trees, showing that my real concerns are within the room rather than without.

Ceiling-height shelves line the entirety of one of the long walls, which is separated from the other by a pair of rectangular tables with matching benches. An open area in the center of the room between the tables has a pair of lecterns facing away from each other, which cradle various frequently-used reference books. (My sole concession to technology would be a wireless laptop for note-taking, quick-and-dirty Internet research, and a well-stocked iTunes library for assistance in writing about music.)

In the middle of the other long wall is a sunken fireplace capable of warming several pairs of feet weary from working in the outside world. It is flanked by a pair of comfy chairs, with more bookcases toward each end of the room. Above the fireplace hangs a reproduction of Raphael's The School of Athens; reading lights next to the chairs and banker's lights on the tables provide the necessary ambient light.

You may now be wondering, "What about the books?"

Although I've begun that part of my dream library, I am nowhere close to being finished. Assembling a collection of books worthy of the room I've just described will likely be the work of a lifetime, if not several.

Here are 52 of McCain's lies, (h/t: AmericaBlog) aggregated from various exposés:

count the lies

How high will he go before Election Day?

it's about time

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Obama's newest ad finally takes aim at the firehose of fabrications being spewed by the McCain camp:

The ad's only drawback is being one step removed from the scandals: instead of juxtaposing McCain's/Palin's lies with reality, the ad features various media quotes about their dishonorable campaign of deception. This could play into both the GOP's persecution complex and their "liberal media" mythology, and gives them a way to deflect the facts yet again.

Let us hope that voters are finally beginning to pay attention.

Dale (Parenting Beyond Belief) McGowan has a great piece on the Right's "Inconvenient Commandment," (i.e., the biblical prohibition against lying) and how much trouble they seem to have following it. Here's the comment I left for him:

I, too, find it interesting (ironic?) that those with the seemingly strongest prohibitions against lying seem to do more of it than we of the godless-heathen/moral-relativist persuasion...rather like some other "moral problems" that tend to be worse in highly religious states, such as teen pregnancy and divorce. A cross-national study I mentioned three years ago (I apologize for the link-whoring, but it's relevant!) noted that "higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion."

I've seen speculation that--like the menopausal grandmother who insists that everyone should wear a sweater when she shivers--religious voters want to legislate "morality" (anti-choice laws, anti-LGBT, anti-divorce, pro-censorship, etc.) not because society as a whole needs them, but because they themselves do.

I'd like to answer your last question with another question: doesn't shame require a conscience?

P.S. Some political trivia: Carter never used the word "malaise" in his famous speech.

falling scales

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I know, I're as tired of posts about the McCain/Palin media mendacity machine as I am. I would be remiss in my blogging duties, however, if I didn't call your attention to Andrew Sullivan's post "Scales. Eyes. McCain." I can't do his fine writing justice by abridging it, so I'll reprint both his introduction and his conclusion:

Reading the "press" in this surreal climate right now, one is tempted to despair. I'm not giving in to it, because I still believe that the actual truth matters in the world. If propaganda could win in the end against truth, then Bush's approval ratings would be somewhere in the high 80s. They are in the lower 30s. In the end, the American people are not fools. And facts are facts. Right now, we are being subjected to an absolutely disorienting blizzard of lies and absurdities (Palin is a lying absurdity) from the McCain campaign. The idea is to so disorient people, to throw so many new concepts, brands, lies, images, marketing and distortions at them that they will not be able to focus on the issues in this election, and the real choices serious people have to make.


In the end, whatever the power of the religious fundamentalist movement that is now the GOP in simply denying reality, reality wins. And the fact that John McCain is now a serial and shameless liar will also sink in. The question before us is not whether this will be one day understood to be true. The question is whether it will be flushed out in time.

We cannot control these despicable liars in the McCain campaign. We can only tell the truth as fearlessly and as relentlessly and as continuously as we can until November 4. We must do our duty. And if the American people want to re-elect the machine that has helped destroy this country's national security, global reputation and economic health, then that is their choice. But I am not so depressed to think that they will.

We must give them the truth. And that will feel like hell. And we must tell it like Truman told it: cheerfully, passionately and relentlessly.

Sullivan's not right all the time, but he nailed this situation perfectly. If our media had more pundits of his caliber, we'd be much better off.

Overblown stories of Palin's book-banning desires are circulating, and it's time to set the record straight:

Sarah Palin never officially ordered that any books be removed from libraries, although she did fire a librarian who was not sufficiently enthusiastic about Palin's "hypothetical" censorship questions. (The librarian was reinstated after public outcry proved too embarrassing for Palin.)

An interesting incident is revealed in this NYT article about Palin's penchant for secrecy and rampant cronyism in office:

For years, social conservatives had pressed the library director to remove books they considered immoral.

"People would bring books back censored," recalled former Mayor John Stein, Ms. Palin's predecessor. "Pages would get marked up or torn out."

Witnesses and contemporary news accounts say Ms. Palin asked the librarian about removing books from the shelves. The McCain-Palin presidential campaign says Ms. Palin never advocated censorship.

But in 1995, Ms. Palin, then a city councilwoman, told colleagues that she had noticed the book "Daddy's Roommate" on the shelves and that it did not belong there, according to Ms. Chase [Palin's campaign manager] and Mr. Stein. Ms. Chase read the book, which helps children understand homosexuality, and said it was inoffensive; she suggested that Ms. Palin read it.

"Sarah said she didn't need to read that stuff," Ms. Chase said. "It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn't even read it."

Palin's attitude is all-too-typical of the Right's animus toward books: learning is scorned, ignorance is preferred to curiosity, and dogma is exalted over knowledge.

Look, I know we liberals badly want to win this election, but let's not start acting like Republicans by circulating bogus emails. We don't need to lie to win, because the truth is more damaging to McCain and Palin than anything else.

Paul Krugman is dismayed at the McCain/Palin campaign's "Blizzard of Lies:"

Did you hear about how Barack Obama wants to have sex education in kindergarten, and called Sarah Palin a pig? Did you hear about how Ms. Palin told Congress, "Thanks, but no thanks" when it wanted to buy Alaska a Bridge to Nowhere?

These stories have two things in common: they're all claims recently made by the McCain campaign -- and they're all out-and-out lies. [...]

I can't think of any precedent, at least in America, for the blizzard of lies since the Republican convention. The Bush campaign's lies in 2000 were artful -- you needed some grasp of arithmetic to realize that you were being conned. This year, however, the McCain campaign keeps making assertions that anyone with an Internet connection can disprove in a minute, and repeating these assertions over and over again.

McCain's "Double-Talk Express" has veered off the honesty highway numerous times, and often seems to spend more time off the road than on it. The media, however, studiously avoid his erratic path, and are barely able to muster an occasional noncommittal remark about the two campaigns' differing views on what constitutes responsible driving habits.

Fuck that.

The media must start calling McCain's lies for what they are: cynical attempts to manipulate an electorate into making this another cult-of-personality election. If they fail to do so, we as citizens must do it for them. As Anonymous Liberal writes:

John McCain is on the verge of doing one of two things: he's either about to implode under the weight of his own lies, or he's on the verge of proving, definitively, that there is no political downside to telling an endless stream of bald-faced lies. Sadly, I'm beginning to suspect the latter. [...]

The most basic function of the political press is to inform the people and to hold politicians accountable. When blatant lying carries no political downside, that means the press is serving as a conduit for disinformation and, by definition, not holding politicians accountable for their statements. And if that's the case, if all that modern news coverage succeeds in doing is amplifying and rewarding dishonestly, then democracy is actually better off without any coverage at all.

This election is a test of the political media in this country. If journalists can't find a way to dissuade the use of flagrant dishonesty as a tactic, they will have failed this country miserably.

Hmm...where have I heard the term "miserable failure" before?

"McCain and Palin's Top 20 Lies, Myths, and Flip-Flops" (AlterNet)
"John McCain's 42 Flip-Flops" (Think Progress)

Republican rumors

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One of my coworkers-in-the-hallway claimed that Snopes is biased because most of the rumors about McCain are true and most of the ones about Obama are false.

I responded that perhaps (since neither of us had seen any false assertions about McCain but several of the false claims about Obama) Snopes' data suggested a Republican proficiency at creating and spreading false rumors. He didn't like that suggestion, but was unable to either disprove it or offer an alternative explanation other than the ever-popular and ever-vacuous "liberal bias."

Tallying the results from Snopes for McCain and Obama shows an amazing disparity:

McCain: 5 rumors (2 false, 2 true, 1 undetermined)
Obama: 33 rumors (20 false, 4 true, 3 undetermined, 6 multiple truth values)

It appears that the GOP is not only much more prolific in spreading rumors, they're also much less interested in their veracity.

The ACLU has launched a new campaign entitled "I'm a Constitution voter," writing that "The fundamental rights of Americans need to be a front-and-center issue in this election. Not flag pins, not lipstick and not pit bulls:"

"...on September 17, Constitution Day, we're asking all civil libertarians to flood local and national media with letters to the editor, call-ins to radio shows and comments on the blogs urging them to cover civil liberties issues when talking about the election.

Demand to know more about how the candidates stand on wiretapping, torture, watch lists, political protest, Real ID, reproductive rights, the death penalty and LGBT rights. Let the media know that you care about these issues, and won't tolerate the fluff and mindless sniping that has dominated campaign coverage thus far."

i'm a constitution voter

The text of the ACLU's pledge reads as follows:

• I believe that no one -- including the President -- is above the law.
• I oppose all forms of torture, and I support both closing the Guantánamo Bay prison and ending indefinite detention.
• I oppose warrantless spying.
• I believe that government officials, no matter how high-ranking, should be held accountable for breaking the law and violating the Constitution.
• I believe that the Constitution protects every person's rights equally -- no matter what they believe, how they live, where or if they worship, and whom they love.
• I reject the notion that we have to tolerate violations of our most fundamental rights in the name of fighting terrorism.
• I am deeply committed to the Constitution and expect our country's leaders to share and act on that commitment -- every day, without fail.

sign the pledge

As always, I am honored to help publicize the ACLU's efforts to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution.

Children's author/illustrator Maurice Sendak came out yesterday, and I was wondering if he plans to revise and reissue some of his classic stories. Perhaps he could begin with this one:

"And now, let the Wilde rumpus start!"

(Oh, who am I kidding? Sendak's publisher would yank that book off the shelves faster than DC recalled the latest issue of All-$t@r Batman...)


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FFRF (Freedom from Religion Foundation) placed an ad (PDF) in yesterday's NYT (h/t: FriendlyAtheist) to remind us of religion's awesome power:


"....he's not eligible to be president if he was really born in Kenya...and if his mother was only such-and-such age...and if she had only lived in the US for so many years..."

I couldn't resist, and jumped right in:

"You've got to be kidding me...that conspiracy crap is right down in the sewer with black helicopters, faked moon landings, and 9/11 Truther theories. There is no question that Obama is a US citizen: his birth notice was published in the Honolulu newspaper, and his birth certificate--validated by the Hawaii Department of Health--is posted on his website."

"Well, he posted a birth might not really be his...and that newspaper could be fake...they're probably all Democrats, so you never know..."

I rolled my eyes, muttered something about the pathetic lies of media smear merchants, and kept walking. I emailed this Snopes link to one of the culprits, but not this post from my blog...I'm trying to combat misinformation, not get fired.

AlterNet has published a list of "Sarah Palin's 9 Most Disturbing Beliefs," and hopes that we can "shift the discussion to what really matters about her in the context of the White House: her dangerous views." Here's the summary:

1. She doesn't support "explicit" sex education
2. She believes that our Iraq quagmire "a task that is from God"
3. She's anti-choice...even for rape and incest victims
4. She voted for toxic waste and against clean water
5. She a hypocrite on earmarks and the "Bridge to Nowhere"
6. She supports teaching creationism in schools
7/8. She maintains a "drill everywhere" mentality, and vetoed a wind power project
9. She prefers lobbyists to community-based workers

All that leaves me wondering, "Is she on the right side of any issue?" Over at Slate, Juan Cole notes that Palin's values "more resemble those of Muslim fundamentalists than they do those of the Founding Fathers:

On censorship, the teaching of creationism in schools, reproductive rights, attributing government policy to God's will and climate change, Palin agrees with Hamas and Saudi Arabia rather than supporting tolerance and democratic precepts.

He then asks, "What is the difference between Palin and a Muslim fundamentalist?"

The answer: "Lipstick."

a Greek trilogy

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Hamilton, Edith. The Greek Way (New York: WW Norton, 1964)

First published in 1930 and revised in 1943, Edith Hamilton's The Greek Way is a classic of its genre. In just over 200 pages, she covers Pindar, Aristophanes, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides in a most engaging fashion. Hamilton's comparisons of Aristophanes to Gilbert & Sullivan and Aeschylus to Shakespeare are thought-provoking, and her comparison of the three versions of Electra (Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides) made me want to delve right into the original texts.

Cahill, Thomas. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter (New York: Doubleday, 2003)

Somewhat shallower than Hamilton's The Greek Way--but significantly broader--is Thomas Cahill's Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, which covers epic poetry (Homer's Iliad and Odyssey), lyric poetry (Sappho's fragments), Solon and the origins of Athenian democracy, the pre-Socratic philosophers, Plato's Symposium and Republic, and Pericles' entire funeral oration. Cahill's ten-page section on "Notes and Sources" delves--briefly, but very well--into the translations he used and the references upon which he relied. His application of ancient Greek wisdom to contemporary problems resonated strongly, particularly this example:

He [Pisistratus] made a sensational return in a golden chariot accompanied by an extraordinarily tall and beautiful young woman dressed in full battle armor, who he announced was the goddess Athena come to restore order to her city. Simple people knelt along Pisistratus's parade, raised their arms, and gave thanks in the streets. Though only the most credulous members of the Assembly could be counted on to swallow such nonsense, there were, as there often are, quite enough of them to ensure initial political victory to an unscrupulous liar who piously invoked the powers of heaven. Only later, when the damage is done, do such dodos of democracy regret allowing themselves to be so easily taken in. (pp. 112-3)

Bertman, Stephen. The Eight Pillars of Greek Wisdom: What You Can Learn from Classical Myth and History (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007)

In The Eight Pillars of Greek Wisdom, Stephen Bertman also illustrates the eternal applicability of Greek thought, relying mainly on mythology to illuminate the following principles:

Humanism: "Be proud of your human abilities and believe in your capacity to achieve great things."
The Pursuit of Excellence: "Try to be more today than you were yesterday, more tomorrow than you were today."
The Practice of Moderation: "Beware of going to extremes, because in them lies danger."
Self-Knowledge: "Identify and understand your weaknesses and strengths."
Rationalism: "Search for the truth by using the power of your mind."
Restless Curiosity: "Seek to know what things really are, not merely what they seem to be."
The Love of Freedom: "Only if we are free can we find fulfillment."
Individualism: "Take pride in who you are as a unique individual." (pp. 7-8)

Bertram spends the most time on his third chapter, Moderation, weaving in many of the examples that enliven his book. (This chapter is, in fact, so good that it makes several of the others--especially the first two--seem rushed and perfunctory by comparison.) His book concludes with a primer on the Greek-to-Roman transition, along with other nearby myths from the story of Gilgamesh to the Egyptian traditions.

Reading three books that largely tread the same terrain can be an exercise in repetition, but the overlap between Hamilton, Cahill, and Bertram is surprisingly slight. One example is this praise for not just the creators of ancient Greek culture, but also its audience; here are two examples:

There is no other proof so convincing of the general level of intelligence and cultivated understanding in Athens as the fact that Sophocles was the popular playwright. But however great and sad the difference between the taste of the theatre public then and now, in one respect they are the same: general popularity always means warmth of human sympathy. (The Greek Way, p. 161)

It is a testament to the intellectual level of the ancient Athenians that these plays were attended not only by an elite coterie of theater-goers, but also by a city-wide public that packed the seats of Dionysus's theater at festival time. (The Eight Pillars of Greek Wisdom, p. 32)

Under capitalism, we get the culture we deserve--as determined by the expenditure of our dollars in the marketplace. That axiom teaches a somewhat painful truth about our values and ourselves, but it is for precisely that reason that it must not be ignored.

Reading these three volumes has increased my book-lust for Penguin's Complete Greeks and Romans collection (102 volumes, $800), although my disposable income and free time are not keeping pace. With an ample supply of the latter two, I would enroll in a "Great Books" program (such as the one at St John's College, with their swoon-inducing reading list) quickly enough to make your head spin, but--barring any miracles--I'll just have to muddle along a little bit at a time.

drill, baby, drill!

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David Kravets writes at Wired about the alleged Obama-having-sex-with-Ukranian-girls video, which is laden with malware:

While the video plays for 14 seconds, malicious applications are installed on the victim's computer, researchers reported. Voila, a trojan is installed, an information-stealing application, Websense said, that posts a user's data to a compromised Finnish travel site, hxxp://*snip*

Stupidity is its own punishment, and I'm not surprised to see credulous wingnuts--ever-eager to reinforce their prejudices--becoming targets.

big experiment

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CERN's Large Hadron Collider (Wikipedia, CERN/LHC website) outside Geneva will begin operation tomorrow; at 27 miles in circumference, it is the largest and most complex experimental device ever built. Physicists hope to create a Higgs Boson, which is the only elementary particle predicted by the Standard Model that has not yet been seen.

I don't claim to understand particle physics in any great detail, but what I do understand fascinates the hell out of me. Super-geeks (and parents of little geeklets) who want to show some love for the subatomic bestiary can head over the The Particle Zoo tomorrow for a special low price on the Higgs Boson plush toy:


Oh, and I wouldn't worry too much about the LHC destroying Earth by creating a microscopic black hole--TreeHugger has a visualization here--I trust the physicists inside CERN on the issue of safety much more than the crackpots outside.

< aside >
My spell-checker doesn't recognize either "hadron" or "hardon" (as in "Large Hardon Collider") as valid's a good thing that I proofread this entry!

"Crash Course" (New Yorker)
"At the Heart of All Matter" (National Geographic)
"LHC: The Guide" (CERN)

Originally publicized by Richard Dawkins, I wrote about the Out Campaign for atheist visibility over a year ago. I can't believe that it's taken me that long to add the scarlet "A" to my blog, but it's there now (on the sidebar to your right).

I don't plan on deliberately skewing the focus--such as it is--of my blog to cover atheist news or books any more than I have been, but I want to do what little I can to publicize the freethought community. The analytical skepticism that atheism fosters carries through into all of my writings; I'm always an atheist even when I'm not writing about it.

GOP operatives stole several thousand American flags from the Democratic convention site in Denver, and Faux News has already swallowed the McCain campaign's manufactured tale about the flags being "rescued." A Democratic official observed:

"It's pretty reprehensible on their part. Someone made an assumption, took the flags, and essentially lied about what was going to happen to them."

(McCain supporters proudly display the stolen flags at a campaign rally.)

update (9/8 @ 10:59pm):
I'm well aware that there is more detail--dare I say nuance?--to this story, but I'm not inclined to cut the GOP any I'll simply echo the words of David Harsanyi from the Denver Post:

"All I can say is, [the] Republican Party better make sure [that] every image of the flag is properly dealt with at every single rally for the rest of its existence."

Andrew Sullivan is:

John McCain has demonstrated with this insane decision that he is unfit to be president of the United States. This was an act of near-criminal negligence. If he can behave this recklessly and impulsively with this decision, the idea of allowing him to become president of the United States is only a smidgen less terrifying than thinking of Palin in that position.

Whatever few doubts I may once have still had about this election, they are resolved now.

Obama has to win. The alternative is unthinkable.

However, PunditKitchen doesn't think we have to worry about that possibility (h/t: Bitch, PhD):


McCain's mendacity

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FactCheck is on the ball with a rebuttal to six whoppers from McCain's mendacious acceptance speech last night, and ClimateProgress shows that McCain doubled Palin's count of five energy-related lies to a much more manly ten falsehoods.

Anonymous Liberal writes that "what annoyed me the most about McCain's speech was the insistence on baldly misrepresenting the policy positions of his opponent. I don't expect politicians to paint their opponents' positions in the most favorable light. This is politics after all. But when it comes to policy, as I've pointed numerous times, Republican candidates lie with impunity." After listing examples (taxes, trade, health care, and energy), AL concludes:

I could go on and on, but what's the point? The Republicans are allowed to get away with this year after year precisely because they do it so egregiously. If they misrepresented one or two of their opponent's positions, then the press might well notice the discrepancies and point them out. But when they misrepresent them all, it just becomes too much for the press to deal with and they ignore the subject entirely.

Megan McArdle has noted the unintentional irony of John (Keating Five) McCain speaking the words "I've fought corruption," which should be lost on no one. (Although it seems to have been missed by the mainstream "liberal" media...)

Greek columns

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TruthOut posted a Philadelphia Daily News piece by Will Bunch eviscerating Palin's "Speech to Nowhere." It's a great takedown, except for two points.

First, Bunch erred in this slam on Palin's "cloud of half-truths:"

(uh, those "Greek columns"...did you actually even watch Obama's speech? Because there weren't any)

Actually, that was one of the few details that Palin got right, as these photos show.

Second, Bunch called Palin's misrepresentation of her support for the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" a "shameless lie:"

"...that was a lie, and the worst kind of lie in American politics, a blatant falsehood that showed utter contempt for the American people that Palin pledged to serve, assuming we are too stupid to look up or know that truth."

I have to disagree with that as well. Palin showed no contempt for Americans in general, only some of them. She--or her speechwriters--likely assumed that we liberals and Democrats would be smart enough to either know the truth or to look it up. Palin's contempt was directed rather at her conservative GOP audience--those who can apparently be trusted to neither know the truth nor be bothered to learn it; all they require is spin, which she delivered at a dizzying pace.

After this AlterNet article listed the "Top Ten Most Disturbing Facts and Impressions of Sarah Palin," I thought it was over...then they posted a follow-up with "Eight More Shocking Revelations." I have the same questions as many others do: How can anyone with so little time in office have made so many errors of judgment? And why didn't McCain's vetting process uncover them? (Or, worse, why didn't any of them matter?)

AP's fact-checking of Wednesday's speeches has gotten a lot of attention today, Climate Progress debunks Palin's energy-related lies, and the venerable site FactCheck needed two separate articles (here and here) to cover the falsehoods from the GOP convention so far. Roger Simon snarks at Politico about the "liberal media" remarks, and Biden's comments are fabulous (h/t: Slog's Jonathan Golob, one of whose commenters referred to Palin as "Caribou Barbie"):

"I think it was a skillfully delivered political speech with confidence and directness and so I think she did what she was supposed to do. I was impressed.

"I was also impressed by what I didn't hear in the speech. I didn't hear a word--didn't hear the phrase middle class mentioned, I didn't hear a word about health care. I didn't hear a single word about what we're going to do about the housing crisis, college education, all the things that the middle class is being burdened by now.

"I didn't hear the words Afghanistan or Pakistan where al-Qaeda lives and bin Laden resides, so I also, you know, there was a deafening silence about the hole that the Republicans have dug us into and any specific answers to how the McCain-Palin ticket is going to get us out of that hole."

In memory of the many Republicans' sneering comments about Obama's community organization work as somehow being less important than Palin's governorship, I'd like to offer an observation of a commenter over at Mudflats (h/t: Andrew Sullivan) as my Quote of the Day:

"Jesus was a Community Organizer, and Pontius Pilate was a Governor."

Which one would get your vote?


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Both Dan Savage and Andrew Sullivan have drawn explicit parallels between the GOP's convention crackup in Minneapolis this week and the Democrats' similar situation in 1968. Sullivan writes:

In Minneapolis, in some kind of freak political weather system, all the centrifugal forces that have been tearing at the GOP for two decades now have merged. The veneer of a serious governing party is colliding with the reality of a theocratic, fanatic base. The pull of foreign policy realism is busting up against an unrepentant neoconservatism made even more extreme by the McCain candidacy. The whole collision makes one want to look away.

And when you see who may inherit the spoils of this disaster, we can only breathe a sigh of relief. The Democrats do not have their version of Nixon to swoop in, and triumph. They already have their Reagan.

Along with many others, I saw this coming several years ago: Republicans have been fucking up this country since 1968, and now it's their turn to spend four decades in the wilderness.

The talented Jessica Hagy nails the GOP's head-in-the-sand theory of sex education:


If it works for the Palin family, it should work for everyone...right?

Vonnegut, Kurt. Cat's Cradle (New York: Dell, 1998)

Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle couldn't have been a better inaugural choice for the Atheist Nexus monthly book club. His science-fiction concept of ice-nine (a configuration of water molecules that is solid at room temperature) engages the imagination, but it's the religion of Bokononism that makes this book a classic. Indeed, Vonnegut's riffs on Bokonon and his religious writings make me wonder why I took so long to finally read Cat's Cradle.

Vonnegut deftly sets up the ice-nine threat in the first 50 pages, and then gradually adds layer upon layer of intrigue to the situation until < spoiler alert > catastrophe strikes in the last 50 pages. < end spoiler > (Unfortunately, I can't excerpt the narrator's religious asides in a way that would do Vonnegut's literary craft any sort of justice.) As the narrative takes its course, Vonnegut makes observations about war, religion, and humanity's other lunacies are as trenchant as ever. Here's his take on military pomp and pageantry:

"Perhaps, when we remember wars, we should take off our clothes and paint ourselves blue and go on all fours all day long and grunt like pigs. That would surely be more appropriate than noble oratory and shows of flags and well-oiled guns." (p. 254)

This is often a humorous book--not laugh-out-loud funny, but spiced with Vonnegutian touches: the black humor that suffuses its pages and animates its characters is his instantly recognizable style. Vonnegut skewers human pretentiousness with a caustic delight; since his passing last year, this book is a reminder of how unique his voice was.

Cat's Cradle is often mentioned as the Vonnegut novel to read after Slaughterhouse-Five; now I'm wondering which one to read next. Any suggestions?

Wikipedia article on Cat's Cradle
The Books of Bokonon

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