December 2008 Archives

quote of the year

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This exchange between Sarah Palin and Charlie Gibson helped sink the McCain/Palin ticket:

GIBSON: What insight into Russian actions, particularly in the last couple of weeks, does the proximity of the state give you?

PALIN: They're our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.

Palin was roundly mocked for this self-aggrandizing nonsense, but perhaps nowhere better than in the following comment by Krista at Balloon Juice:

You can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.

And when I look out my window I can see the moon. Doesn't make me a fucking astronaut now, does it?

retire Bush

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I mentioned it a month ago, and today is the last day to enter The Nation's Retire Bush" contest. What will Bush do after leaving office? Send your suggestions here.

(Will Bush and Cheney spend their golden years making license plates? I can dream, can't I?)

amazon.com

Berlinerblau, Jacques. The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers Must Take Religion Seriously (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Interestingly, Berlinerblau leads off The Secular Bible with an insult to his audience. His first sentence on the first page of his introduction reads: "In all but exceptional cases, today's secularists are biblically illiterate." While it may be flattering to consider myself an exceptional case, I don't believe that I am an atypical secularist. Atheists in general are, I suspect, much more well-versed in the dominant religions of our cultures than theists would like to believe; our atheism is usually the result of understanding religion too well, not of misunderstanding it. A few pages later, he tosses off this claim:

Presently, one would be hard pressed to identify more than a few recognizable intellectuals in the English-speaking sector who speak knowledgeably about religion qua secularists. (p. 4, Introduction)

Let's see: Natalie Angier, Julian Baggini, Simon Blackburn, Noam Chomsky, Barbara Ehrenreich, Stephen Hawking, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Susan Jacoby, Clive James, Wendy Kaminer, Paul Kurtz, Heather MacDonald, Desmond Morris, Camille Paglia, John Allen Paulos, Steven Pinker, Salman Rushdie, Oliver Sacks, Peter Singer, Richard Stallman, Linus Torvalds...that's "more than a few," and I didn't even mention the Four Horsemen (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens) to pad the list. (Wikipedia has much more exhaustive lists here, and Celebrity Atheists has several here.)

This passage seems innocuous enough until one looks deeper:

There is probably no text studied in the university with as much popular appeal as the Good Book. Exegetes, unlike specialists in the fiction of Thomas Mann or experts in Baroque music, study something that is actually of interest to the masses. (p. 72)

While that is true, I have two objections. First, popular appeal should not be a criterion for the selection of study areas in higher education. If it were, studies of Titanic would outnumber those of Citizen Kane. Second, the public's love for sacred texts does not indicate approval for critical study. For example, it is hard to think of a group less approving of textual analysis of the Bible than a group of Christians wedded to the particular interpretation of their chosen sect.

You may not be familiar with the words exegesis, hermeneutics, and polysemous before reading this book, but you will be after finishing it. Berlinerblau refers to the Hebrew Bible as "reality-deficient" (p. 91) and "inconsistent to a fault," (p. 92) and notes that:

Sacred Scripture is never simple, transparent, and unequivocal. Biblical scholars are those people who bring this inconvenient fact to our attention. In doing so, they infect the social body with doubt. (p. 127)

The following two claims struck me as being misplaced criticisms:

...to be perfectly frank, secularism is in a state of intellectual emergency. Its worldview has matured little and remains moored in the mid-twentieth century. Its leading lights are old or long dead. Lacking a cadre of public intellectuals, it is incapable of defending, or articulating, its own depassé ideals. (p. 131)

Secularism, while it has not made dramatic advances since the mid-twentieth century, is nonetheless far ahead of monotheism--which has been in decline since the fifth century fall of the Roman Empire.

Candidates for elected office in the United States are not known for "playing the secular card." This is because it makes little sense to pander to a tiny constituency whose core beliefs about the universe are completely at odds with those held by everyone else in the country. (p. 132)

As I mentioned a year ago, this 2007 Harris poll on religious views and beliefs showed that 14% of American adults identify as agnostics, and 4% as atheists. Berlinerblau could make a strong case for secularists being unorganized--and, perhaps, even unorganizable--but tiny? I don't think so. (And don't even get me started on whose "core beliefs about the universe are completely at odds" with reality...)

Berlinerblau's concluding words are equally bothersome:

...even among secularists how many can actually accept the apparent and unbearable truth that when we die we are really dead? Finished. Done. This is what makes the recurring secular hope of achieving a total and decisive break with religion as realistic as trying to eradicate the air. Better to try and understand how religion works--if only to grasp the manner in which it forges even the most secular self, if only to resist and subvert it, just a bit. (p. 141)

True, the lure of wishful thinking will always remain; true, religion will likely always be a primary vector. I can't fault Berlinerblau for his emphasis on religious awareness, but his criticisms of freethinkers are often misdirected or flat-out wrong.

atheist allies

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Greta Christina asks "How Can Atheists Be Good Allies" to other communities. (I mentioned her previous pieces on the topic here.) She suggests that we atheists still need to offer corrections when "someone says something ignorant or wrong about atheists and atheism:"

I agree that it's irritating. It's totally messed up that we have to keep repeating the same talking points and demolishing the same myths over and over and over and over and over again. But the fact remains that much of the world is ignorant about who we are. If we want them to learn, it's up to us to do the teaching. It's not going to happen any other way. [...]

Remember: Our community hasn't been raising a ruckus for very long. It's taken the modern LGBT movement 40 years of being out and visible and vocal to get even the limited degree of understanding and de-stigmatization that we have now. The atheist movement, in its current ruckus- raising incarnation, has been out and visible and vocal for roughly five years. Education -- especially in the face of not only ignorance but hostility and fear -- takes time. I know it sucks. Suck it up.

Bush the book lover?

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I commented on Bush's book-reading contest with Karl Rove two years ago when it first came to light (here and here), and it's now back in the news again. Rove's WSJ piece "Bush Is a Book Lover" provides the total number of books read by Rove and Bush in each of the past three years, as well as some examples.

Jacobo Timerman's Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number was rather a curious choice for Bush. Was Dubya perhaps looking for tips to enhance his own techniques of arresting people without charge, keeping them in solitary confinement for years in clandestine prisons, and subjecting them to beatings and torture?

In his overconfidence, Rove lets slip this gem: "Mr. Bush loves books, learns from them, and is intellectually engaged by them." I was tempted to snark that "Bush loves books like OJ loved Nicole," but then I remembered this well-known example of Rove's claim:

20081230-thepetgoat.jpg

Richard Cohen's WaPo rejoinder observes that "the books themselves reveal -- actually, confirm -- something about Bush that maybe Rove did not intend:

They are not the reading of a widely read man, but instead the books of a man who seeks -- and sees -- vindication in every page. Bush has always been the captive of fixed ideas. His books just support that.

After listing a few examples--and making several suggestions--Cohen concludes:

My hat is off to Bush for the sheer volume and, often, high quality of his reading. But his books reflect a man who is seeking to learn what he already knows. The caricature of Bush as unread died today -- or was it yesterday? But the reality of the intellectually insulated man endures.

Chris Hedges' "Why I Am a Socialist" at TruthDig fires a salvo at both political parties and the extent to which they are beholden to capital:

We will find our way out of this mess by embracing an uncompromising democratic socialism--one that will insist on massive government relief and work programs, the nationalization of electricity and gas companies, a universal, not-for-profit government health care program, the outlawing of hedge funds, a radical reduction of our bloated military budget and an end to imperial wars--or we will continue to be fleeced and impoverished by our bankrupt elite and shackled and chained by our surveillance state.

The free market and globalization, promised as the route to worldwide prosperity, have been exposed as a con game. But this does not mean our corporate masters will disappear.

Hedges quotes Peter Drucker (via Joel Bakin's film The Corporation) as saying: "If you find an executive who wants to take on social responsibilities, fire him. Fast." Of course, Drucker is only echoing free-market fundamentalist Milton Friedman:

...there is one and only one social responsibility of business - to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud. [...] Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible.
(Capitalism and Freedom, p. 133)

Corporate pathologies aside, Hedges writes a strong conclusion:

If Barack Obama does not end the flagrant theft of taxpayer funds by corporate slugs and the disgraceful abandonment of our working class, especially as foreclosures and unemployment mount, many in the country will turn in desperation to the far right embodied by groups such as Christian radicals. The failure by the left to offer a democratic socialist alternative will mean there will be, in the eyes of many embittered and struggling working- and middle-class Americans, no alternative but a perverted Christian fascism. The inability to articulate a viable socialism has been our gravest mistake. It will ensure, if this does not soon change, a ruthless totalitarian capitalism.

Only FDR's popular support prevented the Right's slide toward fascism in the 1930s; Obama is perhaps the only figure who can prevent a Palinite Christianism from seizing--or refusing to relinquish--power as our crisis worsens. As Martin Wolf writes in this Financial Times article that our choice is:

...to deal with these challenges co-operatively and pragmatically or let ideological blinkers and selfishness obstruct us. The objective is also clear: to preserve an open and at least reasonably stable world economy that offers opportunity to as much of humanity as possible. We have done a disturbingly poor job of this in recent years. We must do better. We can do so, provided we approach the task in a spirit of humility and pragmatism, shorn of ideological blinkers.

One of the beams to be removed from many people's eyes is the fear and misunderstanding surrounding alternative economics. For a start, try Barefoot Bum's piece "The Commoditization of Labor" which discusses the Marxist theory of surplus value en route to making this point:

The allocation of surplus value is a political issue: the surplus value goes to those with the guns. Tell me who commands the police and the army, and I'll tell you where the surplus value is going. The only way that labor receives any of its surplus value is in their ability and willingness to resist coercion: every class will receive surplus value only to the extent that it is cheaper to give them some of the surplus than actually fight them.

Today's history lesson includes the Bonus Army, Smedley Butler, and the Business Plot. I think we're all about to become far more familiar with Depression-era politics and economics than we would prefer to be.

god and philosophy

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Alex Byrne's "God: Philosophers Weigh In" at Boston Review (h/t: Richard Dawkins) asks "have philosophers come to a verdict on the traditional arguments for God's existence?"

Although it would be too much to expect complete consensus, it is fair to say that the arguments have left the philosophical community underwhelmed. The classic contemporary work is J. L. Mackie's The Miracle of Theism, whose ironic title summarizes Mackie's conclusion: the persistence of belief in God is a kind of miracle because it is so unsupported by reason and evidence. The failure of arguments for God's existence need not lead straight to atheism, but philosophers often seem to find this route tempting.

Bryne gives us a tour of Anselm's ontological argument, followed by Paley's argument from design--and clearly shows why those arguments are failures. His conclusion that "If a persuasive argument for the existence of God is wanted, then philosophy has come up empty" gets it backward: it is theists, not philosophers, who have failed to provide an argument--let alone any evidence--for a god. They are the ones postulating the improbable, and with them lies the burden of proof.

British philosopher Stephen Law asks, "Could It Be Pretty Obvious That There's No God?" (from the upcoming volume 50 Voices of Disbelief) and sees this as a question that is likely answerable by philosophy:

It seems to me that by observing the world around us, we can answer the question of whether God exists. In fact, I'm going to suggest it's pretty obvious there's no God. [...] Not only do many (if not all) of the most popular arguments for the existence of God fail to provide much reason to suppose this particular, Judeo-Christian, God exists, there appears to be very powerful evidence against that hypothesis. I am thinking, of course, of the "problem of evil" ("evil" in this context, covers both pain and suffering, and also morally bad behaviour - such as killing, stealing, and so on).

In an interesting maneuver, Law dismisses the various theodicies (theists' attempts to answer the problem of evil) by proposing an evil god as a thought experiment:

Perhaps the universe has a creator. Perhaps there is some sort of intelligence behind it. But, even if there is, we can be very sure it's not the evil God, can't we? So why can't we be equally sure it's not the good God? We may not know what or who did create the universe, if anything. We can still be pretty sure who didn't.

This is the sort of stuff that is moving Louise Antony's Philosophers Without Gods further up my to-be-read list.

a fridge-worthy idea

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Parent Hacks posted the following idea from reader Susan about Xmas gift-giving and her 3-year-old daughter:

About two weeks ago, when she started getting really excited about Christmas and Santa, we started talking about how we need to make room for new toys. I told her on Christmas Eve, when Santa comes to visit, that next to the cookies and milk she can leave a biiiiig box of toys by the fireplace (I do a lot of Christmas shopping via Amazon.com, so I've saved one of their larger boxes just for this purpose). When Santa stops by our house to leave *her* toys, he'll take the old toys with him back to the elves who will fix them up, recycle them, and send them to little boys and girls who may not get as much from their parents for Christmas as she does - so those kids have lots of toys, too!

Well, she has been *all* gung ho, even putting some of the toys that used to be her favorites and telling us that the little boys and girls who don't have as many toys will love them even more than she does. So on Christmas Eve, when my husband and I are sneaking around to play Santa, the box will go in grandma's trunk for a trip on Dec. 26 to the local women's shelter.

This idea is a great supplement to the Toys for Tots campaign, and--although it's too late to implement for this Xmas--it's worth posting on the fridge as a reminder for next year.

GOP lobbyist and White House counsel Ed Gillespie strives to burnish Bush's legacy, but he fails miserably. He claims to provide "Myths & Facts about the Real Bush Record," he gets his myths and facts reversed:

Myth 1: The last eight years were awful for most Americans economically and President Bush's deregulatory policies caused the current financial crisis.
Myth 2: President Bush's tax cuts only benefitted the wealthy and were paid for by sacrificing investments in health care and education.
Myth 3: The President's "go it alone" foreign policy ruined America's standing in the world.
Myth 4: The war in Iraq caused us to "take our eye off the ball" in Afghanistan and with al Qaeda.
Myth 5: This Administration has been bad for the environment and ignored the problem of global warming.

Gillespie tries to debunk the facts about Bush's horrific record with the sort of myths that go over well in Kennebunkport and Crawford but fall flat everywhere else, including much of the blogosphere. In response to this claim by Gillespie,

And one last fact: Our homeland has not suffered another terrorist attack since September 11, 2001. That, too, is part of the real Bush record.

Matthew Yglesias responds forcefully:

The vast majority of Americans to have ever been killed by foreign terrorists were killed under George W. Bush's watch. [...] If you only look at Bush's final seven years, you'll see that he was as good as every other president at preventing terrorist attacks. And if you include his entire presidency, you'll see that he was by far the worst.

At Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes issue with the same claim from a slightly different angle:

First, this is plainly false. In the fall of 2001, someone (presumably scientist Bruce Ivins) launched an anthrax attack on the country using the U.S. postal system. Five people were killed, 17 were injured, and millions had the bejesus scared out of them. Why so many like to pretend this didn't happen is a mystery to me.

Second, Gillespie focuses on "our homeland," but it's worth noting that U.S. troops have been subjected to terrorist attacks overseas, as have our allies.

And third, this notion that evaluating Bush's legacy on counter-terrorism should start on Sept. 12, 2001, is just odd. Gillespie and others seem to be arguing, "Just so long as one overlooks the terrorism that killed 3,000 people in 2001, Bush's record on domestic security is excellent."

Stephen Kaus writes a more comprehensive takedown at HuffPo:

When I think of myths about the Bush administration, I think of things like the assertions that the President actually reads serious books or that he has the intellectual ability to weigh policy choices on their merits. However, this is not what Gillespie means. Instead he attempts to rebut five selectively phrased negative "myths" that Bush was bad for the economy and that Bush's foreign policy has failed.

Kaus concludes that "we cannot get rid of these people quickly enough," and that's certainly not a myth:

Seventy-five percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Friday said they're glad Bush is going; 23 percent indicated they'll miss him. (CNN)

Bush's remaining 24 days and 12 hours aren't moving quickly enough to prevent him from doing as much damage as possible on his way out.

Here's to the impending restoration of honor and integrity to the White House.

caganer in the creche

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It's no secret where I stand on the liberal-to-conservative political spectrum. As a liberal, I've spent far too much of my adult life digging out from under the avalanche of media misinformation. I'm tired of being told things that are patently untrue from media outlets that--while spreading conservative propaganda--are derided by conservatives as being liberal. The failures of Bushism--9/11, the budget, the deficit, Iraq, recessions, the housing bubble, the collapsing economy--are all around us, and these problems can't be realistically blamed on Jimmy Carter, or Bill Clinton, or the spineless Democrats in Congress, or some other bogeyman.

Ron Chusid writes about "The Republican Party and Ideas" at Liberal Values, placing much of the blame on the religious right. As much as I appreciate his analysis, I believe that the GOP's situation is more dire than that. The problem isn't just that conservative ideas haven't worked, but because--as Paul Rosenberg at OpenLeft reminds us--that "Conservative Ideas CAN'T Work:"

(1) Conservative ideas cannot work, because they are faith-based, rather than reason and evidence/experience-based.
(2) Conservative ideas cannot work, because they are accepted-and liberal/progressive ideas are rejected-based on authoritarian obedience.
(3) Conservative ideas cannot work, because they are based on an objectively false model of the world, reflected in a false moral model for human action.
(4) Conservative ideas cannot work, because they are based on a limited level of causal connectedness, which is functionally inadequate to understand the world.

Recognizing the origin and extent of the failure facing us will help us to move forward; pretending that the blame is evenly distributed will retard our efforts. (I know that this isn't the typical post that most other bloggers tend to write on December 25th, but I'm not quite like most other bloggers...I'm more like the caganer in the creche.)

The New York Times article "White House Philosophy Stoked Mortgage Bonfire" has drawn a great deal of attention for fingering conservative economic philosophy as the culprit:

Mr. Bush did foresee the danger posed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage finance giants. The president spent years pushing a recalcitrant Congress to toughen regulation of the companies, but was unwilling to compromise when his former Treasury secretary wanted to cut a deal. And the regulator Mr. Bush chose to oversee them -- an old prep school buddy -- pronounced the companies sound even as they headed toward insolvency. [...] "No one wanted to stop that bubble," Mr. Lindsay said. "It would have conflicted with the president's own policies."

As far as Bush's "Ownership Society" was concerned, plutocracy trumped free-market fundamentalism:

Mr. Bush had to, in his words, "use the mighty muscle of the federal government" to meet his goal. He proposed affordable housing tax incentives. He insisted that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac meet ambitious new goals for low-income lending. [...] The president also leaned on mortgage brokers and lenders to devise their own innovations. "Corporate America," he said, "has a responsibility to work to make America a compassionate place." And corporate America, eyeing a lucrative market, delivered in ways Mr. Bush might not have expected, with a proliferation of too-good-to-be-true teaser rates and interest-only loans that were sold to investors in a loosely regulated environment. [...] But Mr. Bush populated the financial system's alphabet soup of oversight agencies with people who, like him, wanted fewer rules, not more.

Do Fannie and Freddie get off the hook? Not quite:

A soft-spoken Texan, Mr. Falcon ran the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, a tiny government agency that oversaw Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two pillars of the American housing industry. In February 2003, he was finishing a blockbuster report that warned the pillars could crumble. [...] But the back story is more complicated. To begin with, on the day Mr. Falcon issued his report, the White House tried to fire him. At the time, Fannie and Freddie were allies in the president's quest to drive up homeownership rates; Franklin D. Raines, then Fannie's chief executive, has fond memories of visiting Mr. Bush in the Oval Office and flying aboard Air Force One to a housing event. "They loved us," he said.

Days later, as Mr. Falcon was in New York preparing to deliver a speech about his findings, his cellphone rang. It was the White House personnel office, he said, telling him he was about to be unemployed. His warnings were buried in the next day's news coverage, trumped by the White House announcement that Mr. Bush would replace Mr. Falcon, a Democrat appointed by Bill Clinton, with Mark C. Brickell, a leader in the derivatives industry that Mr. Falcon's report had flagged.

What happened after 2003, as the seeds of the foreclosure were sown? One of Bush's loyalists was put in charge:

Over the previous two years, the White House had effectively set the agency adrift. Mr. Falcon left in 2005 and was replaced by a temporary director, who was in turn replaced by James B. Lockhart, a friend of Mr. Bush from their days at Andover, and a former deputy commissioner of the Social Security Administration who had once run a software company.

On Mr. Lockhart's watch, both Freddie and Fannie had plunged into the riskiest part of the market, gobbling up more than $400 billion in subprime and other alternative mortgages.

The White House's responses (here and here) allegedly "set the record straight" about the housing crisis, but are both non-responsive and laughable. (Of course, a claim of honesty from this administration invariably means that they're lying.) My favorite passages claim that the NYT article "amounted to finding selected quotes to support a story the reporters fully intended to write from the onset, while disregarding anything that didn't fit their point of view" (which sounds like Bush's method of gathering WMD intelligence) and asserting that the housing bubble was "a problem that almost no one saw as it was happening" (which reminds me of Bush's "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levies" lie).

In "Capitalist Fools" at Vanity Fair, economist Joseph Stiglitz explains the five key mistakes that led to and/or exacerbated the mess, going back two decades:

1. Reagan's replacement of Fed chair Paul Volcker with freemarketeer Alan Greenspan
2. deregulation (Clinton's 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall and Bush's 2004 SEC rule increasing investment banks' debt-to-capital ratio)
3. Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, especially the capital gains cut
4. Sarbanes-Oxley's incentives to artificially inflate stock prices (Bush)
5. Bush's bailout package

Stiglitz observes:

You'll hear some on the right point to certain actions by the government itself--such as the Community Reinvestment Act, which requires banks to make mortgage money available in low-income neighborhoods. (Defaults on C.R.A. lending were actually much lower than on other lending.) There has been much finger-pointing at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two huge mortgage lenders, which were originally government-owned. But in fact they came late to the subprime game, and their problem was similar to that of the private sector: their C.E.O.'s had the same perverse incentive to indulge in gambling.

The truth is most of the individual mistakes boil down to just one: a belief that markets are self-adjusting and that the role of government should be minimal.

That, of course, is a notion that even Alan Greenspan no longer holds, although the blind faith of the Bushies may prevent them from ever realizing the truth.

I caught part of this NPR broadcast about Apollo 8, and the narrator mentioned that this earthrise photograph is 40 years old today:

20081224-earthrise.jpg

NASA has more information here, and Wikipedia's article is here. (If you believe I screwed up and posted the photo sideways, read this.)

airing grievances

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I was going to air some grievances in the spirit of Festivus, but Ron Chusid at Liberal Values got there first with this excellent post. It's recycled stuff from earlier in the Bush era, but it still packs a punch:

You even considered bombing al-Jazeera. Listen, if you really wanted to get rid of a bunch of religious fanatics and political extremists who were using biased news reports to prop up a corrupt government and reduce freedom you should have gone after Fox News. If Pravda had been as effective in deceiving the public as Fox News and the rest of the right wing noise machine is, the Soviet Union would probably still exist.

This "Age of Bush" post by driftglass is an even more impassioned piece, although it is not explicitly filled with the Festivus spirit. This paragraph, directed at pundit Andrew Sullivan, is particularly brutal:

I have said it before; George W. Bush was not Conservatism's aberration, but its apotheosis. His reign of faith-based disasters, failure, treason and lies all grew from the soil Sullivan and other like him aerated, plowed and fertilized year after year after year. Came shambling straight from the slaughterhouse floor of political reality on which men like Atwater and Rove, Falwell and Robertson, Weyrich and DeLay, Reagan and Limbaugh, Gingrich and Nixon and a thousand others practiced the bloody business of wielding power, while delicate souls like Sullivan - who never had the guts to face the fact that their Wingnut Welfare Chateaubriand came from the butcher's block - invented fantasies about the Libertarian Meat Fairy, who delivered his fat slice of the good life bloodlessly, on Spode china, with clean linens and a fine red wine.

And now for the feats of strength...

Courage Campaign has a community photo project entitled "Please don't divorce..." (h/t: Buffy and her wife Sapphocrat)
that features LGBT married couples, their children, their family members and friends--all asking for support in protecting their 18,000 marriages from the forcible divorces that loom over them if Prop H8 is upheld.

You can support the repeal effort here:

20081223-repeal.jpg

multiple closets

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I've mentioned atheism and the closet before, I support Richard Dawkins' Out Campaign, and I was very interested to read Greta Christina's piece "Being an Atheist in the Queer Community" describing "a lot of parallels between the atheist community and the queer community:"

I think that the two movements have a great deal in common -- the importance of coming out of the closet, an ongoing family argument between the more diplomatic and the more confrontational activist philosophies, being a scapegoat of the religious right, etc.. [...] I think the two communities could learn an enormous amount from each other, and I think that they're natural allies.

She finds being queer in the atheist community to be far easier that the reverse, and offers suggestions to her LGBT friends in "How to Be an Ally with Atheists." I found this passage especially intriguing:

As someone whose name I can't remember recently said: Religion has been discussed in hushed tones for so long, that when people talk about it in a normal tone of voice, it sounds like we're screaming. But most of us are not screaming. Most of us are talking in a normal tone of voice... for the first time in our lives.

Not just for the first time in our lives, but for the first time in their lives. This explains why theists often get so unhinged at being questioned or challenged--they've never dealt with a rebuttal before, so they often over-react. (The quote she describes seems very familiar--Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris, perhaps?--but I haven't been able to find it.)

omerta

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Someone needs to look into this plane crash and determine if it should be added to the "Bush Body Count:"

45-year-old Republican operative Michael Connell was killed when his single-passenger plane crashed Friday into a home in a suburb of Akron, Ohio. The consultant was called to testify in federal court regarding a lawsuit alleging that he took part in tampering with Ohio's voting results in the 2004 election.

Without getting into specific details, 19 Action News reporter Blake Renault reported Sunday evening that 45-year-old Republican operative and experienced pilot had been warned not to fly his plane in the days before the crash.

"Connell...was apparently told by a close friend not to fly his plane because his plane might be sabotaged," Renault said. "And twice in the last two months Connell, who is an experienced pilot, cancelled two flights because of suspicious problems with his plane."

At Harper's, Scott Horton notes two other bits of intriguing information:

After Connell was reportedly threatened by Karl Rove, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the litigation appealed to Attorney General Mukasey for protection late last summer. [...] Larisa Alexandrovna also links Connell to another important technology controversy: the "disappearance" of millions of emails connected with Karl Rove from the White House servers. The emails had been repeatedly subpoenaed and the White House had claimed they were "lost," a response which few are buying.

Christmas cannon

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Many merry Xmas thanks to Make Magazine for this hilarious video of a Christmas Cannon...it's just what I needed to get in the holiday spirit!

This one is for everyone who claims that Dear Leader Bush is an economic incompetent who has never done anything good for the manufacturing sector of the economy:

Shoe Hurled at Bush Flies Off Turkish Maker's Shelves By Mark Bentley

Dec. 19 (Bloomberg) -- The shoe hurled at President George W. Bush has sent sales soaring at the Turkish maker as orders pour in from Iraq, the U.S. and Iran.

The brown, thick-soled "Model 271" may soon be renamed "The Bush Shoe" or "Bye-Bye Bush," Ramazan Baydan, who owns the Istanbul-based producer Baydan Ayakkabicilik San. & Tic., said in a telephone interview today.

"We've been selling these shoes for years but, thanks to Bush, orders are flying in like crazy," he said. "We've even hired an agency to look at television advertising." [...] Baydan has received orders for 300,000 pairs of the shoes since the attack, more than four times the number his company sold each year since the model was introduced in 1999. The company plans to employ 100 more staff to meet demand, he said.

If you leave out the fact that Bush's positive effect has been limited to a single manufacturer--who is overseas, no less--it almost sounds like good news, doesn't it? (Hannity and Limbaugh, start spinning...I'm sure there's some way to turn a leather loafer brogue into a silk purse!)

(h/t: Jim Downey at UTI)


update (12:42pm):
Updated to reflect CNN's report that the shoe in question is a brogue, not a loafer.

John Sherffius nails it:
20081221-program.jpg

amazon.com

Haidt, Jonathan. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (Why the Meaningful Life Is Closer Than You Think) (New York: Basic Books, 2006)

When I first read some of Haidt's work, his book The Happiness Hypothesis made substantial progress toward the top of my to-be-read list. Haidt, a professor of psychology, writes about happiness from the perspective of his profession, discussing cognitive therapy, meditation, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's flow, and Maslow's peak experiences en route to illuminating the often-elusive concept of happiness. Haidt follows the lead of Peterson and Seligman in suggesting that:

...there are twenty-four principle character strengths, each leading to one of the six higher-level virtues. You can diagnose yourself by looking at the list below or by taking the strengths test (at www.authentichappiness.org).

1. Wisdom (Curiosity, Love of Learning, Judgment, Ingenuity, Emotional Intelligence, Perspective)

2. Courage (Valor, Perseverance, Integrity)

3. Humanity (Kindness, Loving)

4. Justice (Citizenship, Fairness, Leadership)

5. Temperance (Self-control, Prudence, Humility)

6. Transcendence (Appreciation of beauty and excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Spirituality, Forgiveness, Humor, Zest)

(p. 169)

Although happiness may seem a simple subject, it acquires vast complexity upon examination. The social aspect of happiness manifests itself in neurobiology, as in this especially intriguing tidbit:

...the only theory that explains why animals in general have particular brain sizes is the one that maps brain size onto social group size. Robin Dunbar has demonstrated that within a given group of vertebrate species--primates, carnivores, ungulates, birds, reptiles, or fish--the logarithm of the brain size is almost perfectly proportional to the logarithm of the social group size. In other words, all over the animal kingdom, brains grow to manage larger and larger groups. Social animals are smart animals. (p. 53, from "Coevoution of neocortical size, group size and language in humans," Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16, 681-735)

Haidt's Happiness Hypothesis is filled with such information, leading off in many happy tangents.

Bush library

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Kudos to Ed Brayton for posting this email about Bush's presidential library:

The "W" Presidential Library will include:
The Hurricane Katrina Room, which is still under construction and will remain so for at least a decade.
The Alberto Gonzales Room, where you won't be able to remember anything.
The Texas Air National Guard Room, where you won't even have to show up.
The Walter Reed Hospital Room, where they won't let you in.
The Guantanamo Bay Room, where they won't let you out.
The Weapons of Mass Destruction Room, which no one has been able to find.
The National Debt room which is huge and has no ceiling.
The 'Tax Cut' Room with entry only to the wealthy.
The 'Economy Room' which is in the toilet.
The Iraq War Room. After you complete your first tour, they'll make you go back for a second, third, fourth, and sometimes a fifth time.
The Dick Cheney Room, in a famous undisclosed location, complete with shotgun gallery.
The Environmental Conservation Room, still empty.
The Supreme Court's Gift Shop, where you will be able to buy an election.
The Airport Men's Room, where you'll be able meet some of your favorite Republican Senators.
The 'Decider Room' complete with dart board, Magic 8-ball, Ouija board, dice, coins, and straws.
The museum will also have an electron microscope to help you locate the President's accomplishments.

I heard rumors about a program of "admission relief" that pays people to visit the library. (Bush will borrow the ticket price from his wealthy supporters, and then send the bills--plus interest--to our kids and grandkids.)

more Warren

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Here are some more thoughts on Rick Warren's selection to deliver Obama's inaugural invocation. Christopher Hitchens calls Warren a "vulgar huckster," writing that:

...the man [Obama] has chosen to deliver his inaugural invocation is a relentless clerical businessman who raises money on the proposition that certain Americans--non-Christians, the wrong kind of Christians, homosexuals, nonbelievers--are of less worth and littler virtue than his own lovely flock of redeemed and salvaged and paid-up donors. [...] ...if we must have an officiating priest, let it be some dignified old hypocrite with no factional allegiance and not a tree-shaking huckster and publicity seeker who believes that millions of his fellow citizens are hellbound because they do not meet his own low and vulgar standards.

Andrew Sullivan is far less caustic in his assessment of Warren. While Sullivan understands the disappointment in Obama's choice as well as anyone, he suggests that "feelings must at some point cede to reason:"

If I cannot pray with Rick Warren, I realize, then I am not worthy of being called a Christian. And if I cannot engage him, then I am not worthy of being called a writer. And if we cannot work with Obama to bridge these divides, none of us will be worthy of the great moral cause that this civil rights movement truly is.

The bitterness endures; the hurt doesn't go away; the pain is real. But that is when we need to engage the most, to overcome our feelings to engage in the larger project, to understand that not all our opponents are driven by hate, even though that may be how their words impact us. To turn away from such dialogue is to fail ourselves, to fail our gay brothers and sisters in red state America, and to miss the possibility of the Obama moment.

Here is the crux of the matter, which Sullivan has overlooked: By falling back on the Bible and its unsupported claims of "abomination," Warren is the one refusing to let reason intrude on his feelings. By supporting "ex-gay" efforts and campaigning against marriage equality by lying about Prop H8, Warren is the one who has refused any attempt at dialogue. Note that Warren's Saddleback Church refuses membership to gays:

"...someone unwilling to repent of their homosexual lifestyle would not be accepted at a member at Saddleback Church."
[see note below]

When one's opponent is held back by rationalizations of ancient ignorance rather than freed by rationality, how does Sullivan suggest that we "engage" him?

John Cloud at Time sounds a less-than-enthusiastic note about Obama himself:

Obama has proven himself repeatedly to be a very tolerant, very rational-sounding sort of bigot. He is far too careful and measured a man to say anything about body parts fitting together or marriage being reserved for the non-pedophilic, but all the same, he opposes equality for gay people when it comes to the basic recognition of their relationships.

Cloud also quotes Warren using the vacuous "Certain body parts are meant to fit together" argument against same-sex sex...you know, that tired old naturalistic fallacy. By the way, that quote comes from this 2005 Fortune interview, which touches on Warren's support for the "ex-gay" illusion:

[Warren] would counsel gays and lesbians to adopt a heterosexual lifestyle. "In looking at the hierarchy of evil, I would say homosexuality is not the worst sin," he says. "I just believe it's not the natural way. Certain body parts are meant to fit together. And that's all I have to say about it."

If that's all you have to say, Rick, perhaps you should find something else to talk about. If I were in a snarkier mood, I'd offer a ribald response like "If god had meant for men to get fucked, he would have put a hole in their ass." Warren's inane pronouncements don't deserve much more seriousness than that, but I'm going to make an attempt anyway: The simplistically teleological tab-A-into-slot-B thinking about sexuality ignores a great deal of reality, where non-procreative and non-heterosexual sex has been a normal and natural part of human life for millennia. Particularly, Warren should learn something about sexual orientation before pontificating on the subject again; from what he's saying, he seems to have missed the past century's worth of research.

It's not too late for Obama to fix his mistake by replacing Warren with someone both more knowledgeable and more inclusive.


note:
John Aravosis notes at AmericaBlog that Warren has scrubbed the gays-won't-be-accepted language from the Saddleback website, although it is still available via Google's cache.

The latest offensive from California's anti-marriage movement is the filing of responses against the three lawsuits seeking to have Prop H8 nullified. As CNN reports (h/t: Buffy at Gaytheist Agenda), the bigots' briefs demand the forcible divorce of thousands of same-sex couples who married earlier this year:

"Proposition 8's brevity is matched by its clarity," one of the briefs read. "There are no conditional clauses, exceptions, exemptions, or exclusions: 'Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.'

"...Its plain language encompasses both pre-existing and later-created same-sex (and polygamous) marriages, whether performed in California or elsewhere. With crystal clarity, it declares that they are not valid or recognized in California." [emphasis added]

When I wrote about Prop H8 before the election, I assumed that the hate-mongers would destroy the marriages that had already taken place--this is one instance where I wish that I had been wrong.

Proposition H8's hatred is matched by its vindictiveness. There is no love, compassion, or justice in the demand that thousands of loving couples be divorced against their will. People who pretend to value marriage--and even claim its sanctity--this hate and fearfulness is both unbecoming and deeply offensive.

more Rick Warren

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Glenn Greenwald writes about Obama's willingness to lean rightward to goose his approval ratings:

Obama's "inclusiveness" mantra always seems to head only in one direction -- an excuse to scorn progressives and embrace the Right. Not even Bill Clinton's most extreme Dick-Morris-led "triangulation" tactics involved an attempt to court Jerry Falwell.

Rob Boston writes at AU that Warren "likes to portray himself as above the partisan fray:"

But he's not. Warren is a kinder, gentler Jerry Falwell in a Hawaiian shirt and blue jeans with better P.R. - and he's slick enough to know how to play both sides of the political aisle. [...] Warren likes to portray himself as a different kind of evangelical, but it seems he can't break free of the tiresome gay bashing that marks so many in the Religious Right.

For example, here's the video of Warren expressing support for California's Proposition H8:

an American hero

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Newsweek published a huge scoop on Sunday (h/t: Jon Perr at Crooks and Liars) by interviewing NSA whistleblower Thomas Tamm, who was a primary source for Bush's illegal spying scandal from three years ago:

In the spring of 2004, Tamm had just finished a yearlong stint at a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies--a unit so sensitive that employees are required to put their hands through a biometric scanner to check their fingerprints upon entering. While there, Tamm stumbled upon the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency program that seemed to be eavesdropping on U.S. citizens. The unit had special rules that appeared to be hiding the NSA activities from a panel of federal judges who are required to approve such surveillance. When Tamm started asking questions, his supervisors told him to drop the subject. He says one volunteered that "the program" (as it was commonly called within the office) was "probably illegal."

After the Risen/Lichtblau story appeared in December 2005, Tamm was in hot water:

The FBI has pursued him relentlessly for the past two and a half years. Agents have raided his house, hauled away personal possessions and grilled his wife, a teenage daughter and a grown son. More recently, they've been questioning Tamm's friends and associates about nearly every aspect of his life. Tamm has resisted pressure to plead to a felony for divulging classified information. But he is living under a pall, never sure if or when federal agents might arrest him.

Jim Naureckas at FAIR reminds us that the NYT sat on this scoop for well over a year, choosing not to let us know about Bush's illegal spying until the 2004 election was safely over. He also excoriates Times executive editor Bill Keller for "believ[ing] it is the Times' 'place' to accept officials' own evaluation of the legality of their behavior." He also notes the following month's release of James Risen's State of War, and caustically adds:

"So if one of the New York Times' reporters had not happened to be working on a book, the administration might well still be conducting its warrantless wiretaps in undisturbed secrecy."

Patrick Keefe implores us to follow up on this scandal, noting the paradoxical argument put forth by the Busheviks:

Bush administration lawyers have claimed from the outset that the surveillance program was entirely legal, yet they remain desperate to prevent any court from testing that claim. Instead, they are in the odd position of advocating immunity for something that they insist is not a crime.

Kim Zetter's summary at Wired News echoes a point from the Newsweek article:

...the case presents a dilemma for Obama and his new attorney general, Eric Holder, since both condemned the warrantless wiretapping program when it came to light and now will have to decide whether Tamm is a hero or a traitor.

One final note: there is a legal defense fund set up for Mr Tamm (h/t: bmaz at FDL):

Tom Tamm has done the Constitution, the Fourth Amendment, the rule of law and all of us a favor by exposing the rank lawlessness of the elected leaders of this country. If you see fit, send him a few bucks to lighten the load he has taken on.

I don't know about you, but if the wingnuts can pony up hundreds of thousands for the traitor Scooter Libby, I am sure as heck going to ante up a little to thank Tom Tamm for doing the right thing.

Newsweek's Jonathan Alter wrote in the wake of the scandal three years ago that "rather than the leaking being a 'shameful act,' it was the work of a patriot inside the government who was trying to stop a presidential power grab."

I could scarcely agree more.

the audacity of hate

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In a move reminiscent of the Donnie McClurkin fiasco, Obama has chosen homophobic holy man Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation. Warren's reactionary positions on many issues have upset much of the liberal and LGBT blogosphere; Right Wing Watch notes the following:

Warren declared that marriage, reproductive choice, and stem cell research were "non-negotiable" issues for Christian voters and has admitted that the main difference between himself and James Dobson is a matter of tone. He criticized Obama's answers at the Faith Forum he hosted before the election and vowed to continue to pressure him to change his views on the issue of reproductive choice. He came out strongly in support of Prop 8...

Warren even had the gall to agree with an interviewer that same-sex marriage is "equivalent" to incest and pedophilia (video here and transcript here).

Why couldn't Obama have chosen a religious speaker from the progressive end of the political spectrum, like Jim Wallis, or Michael Lerner, or Forrest Church?

links:
FDL discusses Warren's "Audacity of Hate"
People for the American Way is "profoundly disappointed"
Human Rights Campaign calls Warren's selection "a genuine blow to LGBT Americans"

open-source graphics

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I've long been a fan of the free/open-source software (FSF and OSI) movement, so I offered this advice to someone who was using MS Paint as a graphics tool:

You can find TONS of free/open-source graphics software online, and here are some good places to start: GIMP is the open-source version of Photoshop (raster)
Inkscape does SVG (vector) art (like Illustrator)
Synfig does 2D animation
Blender does 3D work
OpenOffice has a drawing component called Draw
OSalt lists more graphics applications, and other projects are at Sourceforge... Happy hunting!

Is there anything else I should have included?

Andre Schiffrin writes that "Socialism Is No Longer a Dirty Word" in The Nation, discusses some examples of public ownership, and concludes:

Socialists have long realized that if government is unable to control big business, businesses will control the government and its regulators, as has happened so flagrantly in recent years. In difficult times, it is all the more important, as we have seen in the banking crisis, that those controlling the financial industry not use the government simply to bail themselves out but to help the overall economy. Those arguing for unregulated private ownership, with ever increasing profits as their only goal, have come close to ruining the very economy they had so long controlled. The Friedmanite myth of the perfect market lies in ruins. It is clear that more and more people, here and abroad, are looking for new alternatives. As the global crisis continues, more of us, not just Obama, may want to begin to consider some of these socialist solutions.

Of course, socialism is 'no longer a dirty word' only for those who know what it means; everyone else still attaches plenty of scary baggage to it.

According to a Chicago ABC affiliate (h/t: sabra at DU), Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr (D-IL, known in Chicago political circles as "Triple-J") may have been working with Fitzgerald and the federal prosecutors in the Blagojevich investigation: "new information appears to support Jackson's claim that he was not involved in a scheme to buy a U.S. Senate seat:"

ABC7 has learned that since late last summer, the congressman has worked with federal prosecutors, informing on an alleged Blagojevich administration scheme two and half years earlier. [...] And sources tell ABC7 that Jackson has been in regular contact with the feds and has told the government that in 2003 Blagojevich denied the congressman's wife Sandi an appointment as Illinois lottery director because Jackson would not donate $25,000 to the governor's campaign fund.

Fitzgerald specifically asked that "the press in particular not cast aspersions. This complaint is only about the two people who were charged." I guess Republicans weren't listening.

Blago-gate

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The whole Blagojevich corruption case over his bribe-seeking (in exchange for appointing Obama's replacement in the Senate) has made it likely that the Illinois governor will be forced from office. The media, however, are expending a great deal of verbiage to make Obama seem complicit in Blagojevich's scheme.

Their attempted linkage goes something like this: before he became Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel talked to Blagojevich's chief of staff John Harris and suggested a list of possible Senate replacements. Blagojevich was pissed off that Emanuel didn't offer a bribe:

ROD BLAGOJEVICH said that the consultants (Advisor B and another consultant believed to be on the call at that time) are telling him that he has to "suck it up" for two years and do nothing and give this "motherfucker [the President-elect] his senator. Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him." ROD BLAGOJEVICH states that he will put "[Senate Candidate 4]" in the Senate "before I just give fucking [Senate Candidate 1] a fucking Senate seat and I don't get anything."

[...]

Later in the conversation, ROD BLAGOJEVICH said he knows that the President-elect wants Senate Candidate 1 for the Senate seat but "they're not willing to give me anything except appreciation. Fuck them."

(page 63 and 66, respectively, of the criminal complaint against Blagojevich and Harris)

And yet--on conservative Bizarro world, at least--Emanuel's refusal to offer a bribe to Blagojevich somehow taints Obama? Are you fucking kidding me? That's almost as ridiculous as the right's contradictory speculation that either a). the investigation was deliberately delayed until after the election to help Obama, or b). the investigation was ended early by Emanuel before Obama could be implicated. This "Washington Wire" story from the WSJ is instructive on this point, as it mentions the real reason the scandal broke when it did--the Chicago Tribune apparently stopped holding it back:

The precise timing of Tuesday's dramatic, pre-dawn arrest was not dictated by [US Attorney Patrick] Fitzgerald, nor was it dictated by the pace of Blagojevich's alleged "crime spree." It was dictated by the Chicago Tribune, according to people close to the investigation and a careful reading of the FBI's affidavit in the case.

At Fitzgerald's request, the paper had been holding back a story since October detailing how a confidante of Blagojevich was cooperating with his office.

Obama's team has finished their internal investigation (h/t: SusanG at DailyKos) but is delaying release of the information at the request of the US Attorney's office:

At the direction of the President-elect, a review of Transition staff contacts with Governor Blagojevich and his office has been conducted and completed and is ready for release. [...]

In the course of those discussions, the US Attorney's office requested the public release of the Transition review be deferred until the week of December 22, in order not to impede their investigation of the governor. The Transition has agreed to this revised timetable for release.

I wish the investigation had stayed under wraps until Blagojevich had actually made a deal with a crooked Senate aspirant, but I'm glad it didn't go far enough to actually have a criminal seated in the Senate (after all, we've had quite enough of those lately!). If the full wiretap transcripts tell a story that implicates Emanuel or Obama in anything shady, we'll hear about it soon enough...until then, it looks like the GOP-friendly media is pissing on our shoes and telling us that Obama is making it rain. Joe Conason laments the media's return to their Clinton-era mindset where "mere facts need not get in the way of a juicy scandal" after eight years of compliant complacency:

...don't expect the excited Republicans to calm down anytime soon. Having nothing to sustain them for the moment except a whiff of Democratic scandal, they can hardly help themselves. They will persist in their partisan efforts to undermine the new president.

As for the rest of us, including mainstream reporters, perhaps we should be mindful of the vast amounts of money, time, and journalistic, prosecutorial, congressional and presidential effort that were squandered on the mythical crimes of the Clinton era. Can America still afford that kind of stupidity?

Jamison Foser makes a similar point at MediaMatters, explicitly likening the Blagojevich scandal to the manufactured nothingness that passed for journalism in the Clinton years:

To anyone who lived through the media feeding frenzy of the 1990s, during which the nation's leading news organizations spent the better part of a decade destroying their own credibility by relentlessly hyping a series of non-scandals, the past few days, in which the media have tried to shoehorn Barack Obama into the Rod Blagojevich scandal, have been sickeningly familiar. [...]

If the news media regains a bit of the skepticism so many of them set aside for the past eight years, that would be an unequivocally good thing, and it should be applauded.

But this week brought signs that much of the media is set to resume the absurd and shameful behavior that defined the 1990s -- guilt by association, circular analysis whereby they ask baseless questions about non-scandals, then claim they have to report on the "scandal" because the White House is "besieged by questions," grotesque leaps of logic, downplaying exculpatory information, and too many other failings to list.

Once again, the so-called "liberal" media is doing conservatives' bidding, rather than--you know--doing any real journalism.

impeachment

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Over at Atheist Revolution, vjack's post "The Greatest Crime in American History" reminds us of the urgency in not letting the outgoing Bush administration whitewash their legacy:

Collectively, the acts of George W. Bush during the last 8 years constitute the greatest crime in American history. [...]

Many of us called repeatedly for impeachment because we recognize the consequences of leaving Bush's crimes unpunished. With the administration coming to an end, the focus must now shift away from impeachment and to making sure that top administration officials will be tried for war crimes. We must make sure that an accurate records of this administration's deeds remain. No revisionist history can be allowed.

I've supported impeachment for several years, but I agree that its time has passed. Something like South Africa's "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" would not be out of place, however...using whatever evidence the outgoing Bushies haven't already deleted, shredded, classified out of availability, "lost," or otherwise hidden from history.

We need to get past Bushism, but in doing so we can't give in to either the Democrats who want to forgive the administration's crimes or the Republicans who want to toss them down the memory hole. We are doomed to repeat the nightmare of this authoritarian administration if we fail to remember its lessons, and we can't remember them if we don't first learn them. Gottlieb reaches the same conclusion in "Naked Emperors and Shoeless Heroes" at My Left Wing:

We cannot afford to repeat the past of George W. Bush. Therefore we mustn't ignore it.

We don't want vengeance. We don't want political vendetta. We don't want frog-marches, show trials or public executions.

We want the truth shown the light of day. A little sunshine.

Is that asking too much?

unsettled about SETI

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Robert at Making My Way kicks off this post with a clip of my favorite scene from Sagan's Contact as an introduction to discussing the vastness of the cosmos and pointing out that theists have no good answer for its immensity.

I think theologies like Christianity and Islam will undergo a seismic shift if life is ever discovered outside our solar system, which seems ever more likely given what we are discovering about the abundance of its building blocks in space. We might not find intelligent life any time soon, but more hard questions will need to be answered by religion if it ever is. It wouldn't surprise me if such discoveries actually spawned new religions, or revived older, currently disfavored ones.

Skeptics don't raise this argument all that much, I've noticed, though it's probably among the late Carl Sagan's writings. Perhaps I should take the hint? :) What I do find interesting, however, is how often some picture of the sky or space will sit atop atheist blogs, so perhaps I'm on to something. Thoughts?

I count myself among the atheists who are fascinated by the sciences, and I often geek out over things both great and small. The cosmos may be even more wonderful and awe-inspiring to those of us who don't believe that some even more amazing sky-daddy must have created it all.

If extrasolar life is ever shown to exist, there would be an explosion in the number of UFO/Area 51 conspiracy theorists and tales of pyramid-building little green men, but I don't foresee any change in mainstream monotheistic religions. I doubt that a "seismic shift" will occur in religion--except perhaps in the increase of denialist or Luddite movements (like the Amish) who withdraw from the modern world and its challenges to blind faith. The temptations of other planets' "strange gods" (Genesis 35:2, Deuteronomy 32:16, and others) "strange flesh," (Jude 1:7) and even "strange apparel" (Zephaniah 1:8) will doubtless prove to be too much for some to bear, as the apologists would spin even more furiously.

An Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at Bush during a press conference in Baghdad today while shouting:

"This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog! This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

20081214-shoe.jpg
(The New York Times also has a video clip.)

Given all the last-minute damage Bush is doing on his way out of office, he deserves much more flying footwear. It's too bad that American journalists don't have the guts to wing their wing-tips at him.


update (12/17 @ 11:01am):
ThinkProgress has a similar report, entitled "Bush's Backward Sprint to the Finish."

Ray Kurzweil's 2001 article "The Law of Accelerating Returns" was recommended to me recently, and--at 21,000 words--it took me a while to squeeze it into my reading schedule. Kurtzweil's name is one that I'd seen occasionally, but I was only passingly familiar with his ideas on technology and transhumanism.

The "big thinkers" whose articles are featured on Kurzweil's website cover quite a range: from Vannevar Bush, Richard Feynman, and Douglas Hofstadter to right-wing nut Ted Kaczynski (whose neo-Luddite screed against "leftism" is one of the most worthless scribblings I've ever read).

Kurzweil ranges over a similarly wide territory in his article, focusing primarily on the exponential rate of technological change and speculating that it will reach a "singularity" that "represents a rupture in the fabric of human history." The whole accelerating-rate-of-change idea is one I remember clearly from Alvin Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock:

Today change is so swift and relentless in the techno-societies that yesterday's truths suddenly become today's fictions, and the most highly skilled and intelligent members of society admit difficulty in keeping up with the deluge of new knowledge--even in extremely narrow fields.

[...]

Dr. Robert Hilliard, the top educational broadcasting specialist for the Federal Communications Commission, presses the point further: "At the rate at which knowledge is growing, by the time the child born today graduates from college, the amount of knowledge in the world will be four times as great. By the time that child is fifty years old, it will be thirty-two times as great, and 97 percent of everything known in the world will have been learned since the time he was born." (pp. 157-8)

Kurzweil puts forth his ideas in an intriguing manner, and makes his books--especially The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity Is Near--that much more enticing.

links:
Wikipedia's article on Kurzweil does a good job tracking the accuracy of his predictions
Kurzweil's AI website, as I mentioned above, links to an enormous volume of additional reading

"bound to suffer"

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Stephen Dubner passes along a suggested "Bookstore Stimulus Package" at Freakonomics:

My fear is that the market has spoken just as loudly about books as it has about American cars: they are not a necessity, and therefore they are bound to suffer when times are tight.

Here's the perfect time to mention one of my favorite quotes:

"I have turned my entire attention to Greek. The first thing I shall do, as soon as the money arrives, is to buy some Greek authors; after that, I shall buy clothes." (Variant translation: "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.")

Desiderius Erasmus, letter to Jacob Batt (12 April 1500)

told you so

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David Sirota writes "We Told You So" at In These Times:

In the slow-motion train wreck that became the current economic meltdown, our bipartisan political Establishment and the sycophantic punditburo have been wrong over and over and over again. They told us that eviscerating consumer protections would unleash the market's benevolent power and boost the economy. They told us that a trillion-dollar Wall Street bailout would solve a credit crisis. They told us that bailout would be subjected to intense oversight and scrutiny.

Wrong, wrong and wrong--and when critics predicted just that, sneering commentators and congressional leaders berated us as know-nothing Luddites, conspiracy theorists, or both.

But with the release of three new reports, there's no debate anymore about who was correct and who wasn't. The studies prove that the critics were right and the ideologues of Washington were wrong.

The three reports Sirota cites are:

New York Federal Reserve Bank "Seismic Effects of the Bankruptcy Reform"

Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank "Facts and Myths about the Financial Crisis of 2008"

GAO TARP report

A little while ago, Db0 has posted a six-part series on "Misunderstanding Communism" with this introduction:

One of the most common reactions I see when I or others put forward a pro-communist opinion online is a negative, and occasionally almost rabid hostility which stems from a totally wrong perception of what this system is about and how it tries to achieve it.

In this short series I wish to refute some of the common misconceptions both as an awareness exercise for my readers and also as a way for me to have a place to link back to my own words on each subject

If you've never read anything about communism without a pro-plutocratic imprimatur, check out this series--with the caveat that it could use some editing:

Part 1: It's Not USSR
Part 2: It's Not a Religion
Part 3: It's Not Anti-Individualism
Part 4: It's Not Statist
Part 5: It's Not Stagnant
Part 6: It's Not Violent

I'm no expert on communism, but there is clearly a great deal of ideologically-based misinformation that needs to be addressed. Db0 has made a worthwhile effort in that direction, but one doubts that those most in need of the opposing viewpoint are open to hearing it.

Lisa Miller's Newsweek cover story on "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage" is audacious enough to point out a particular oft-thumped but seldom-analyzed book is long on polygamous patriarchy and short on "traditional marriage:"

In the Old Testament, the concept of family is fundamental, but examples of what social conservatives would call "the traditional family" are scarcely to be found. [...] Ozzie and Harriet are nowhere in the New Testament either.

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham's defense anticipates the "conservative resort to biblical authority," calling it "the worst kind of fundamentalism:"

Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt--it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition. [emphasis added]

The article has drawn some fire from the conservative blogosphere, including this NRO piece:

What is remarkable about this week's cover story was how Newsweek's editor, Jon Meacham, has handled the backlash. He hasn't defended the piece as a matter of opinion or part of a public debate. Rather, Newsweek has apparently come out of the closet as an explicitly ideological magazine editorially endorsing the article's viewpoint. [...] If Meacham's so convinced he is right, he should open up his pages to those who oppose gay marriage, confident that the right ideas and values will win out.

Does the anti-marriage movement have "ideas and values," or merely blind faith and bigotry?

To help answer that question, check out the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (divorce, homosexuality, marriage, polygamy) and this DailyKos primer on applying traditional-style biblical marriage to the US:

A. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5)

B. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)

C. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)

D. Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)

E. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)

F. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)

G. In lieu of marriage, if there are no acceptable men in your town, it is required that you get your dad drunk and have sex with him (even if he had previously offered you up as a sex toy to men young and old), tag-teaming with any sisters you may have. Of course, this rule applies only if you are female. (Gen 19:31-36)

That bunch of hate-filled publicity hounds from the Westboro Baptist Church are at it again (h/t: Towleroad):

20081211-wbcsanta.jpg

According to the WBC's lyrics, Santa wrecked our economy, killed our soldiers, and will rape our kids.

What the fuck is wrong with those people?

(faux) war on Xmas

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Americans United offers a few words on the season's perennial manufactured controversy: the paranoid screeds decrying the "war on Xmas."

"The best holiday present we could get this year would be for the Religious Right to stop using Christmas as a club to bash others," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. [...] "'Peace on Earth' should be more than just a slogan," Lynn said. "But we'll never get there if we continue to allow Religious Right groups to exploit Christmas for their own ends. I urge the American people to reject this mean-spirited campaign."

This summary from Fox Attacks is the best commentary on the faux controversy that I've seen:

"...all God-loving Christians must be sure to remember what this season is truly about: intolerance for those different from you, paranoia, a perpetual sense of victimhood, narrow-mindedness, and religiously-correct commercialism."

UDHR at 60

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Jamil Dakwar writes at the ACLU about today's 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Born of a need to recognize "the inherent dignity and...the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family," the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into being 60 years ago today. Its passage brought a worldwide awareness of the basic rights and protections to be enjoyed by all human beings everywhere and established the modern human rights system that provides the legal and moral authority for governments, advocates and attorneys to take action anywhere human rights are threatened.

The ACLU's site "Dignity Begins at Home" has a petition to sign:

I call for a recommitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which recognizes that "the inherent dignity and... the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

I accept and respect the principles outlined in the Declaration and call on my government and the newly elected President of the United States to recommit to the Declaration and lead the world by example.

20081210-udhr60.jpg

Over at ClownHall, George Will calls the two-decades-dead Fairness Doctrine "the government's instrument for preventing fair competition in the broadcasting of political commentary" (an inaccurate description) and claims that "liberals are seeking intellectual protectionism in the form of regulations that suppress ideological rivals."

What's missing from this screed? You guessed it: Will doesn't provide even a single example of a liberal who wants to see the Fairness Doctrine revived. Steve Benen noted this lapse at Washington Monthly and opined that "conservative apoplexy about the non-existent drive to reinstate the 'Fairness Doctrine,' is just annoying:"

I haven't the foggiest idea what compelled George Will to write such nonsense. It's not only ridiculous, it neglects to mention to the reader that no one is seriously trying to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. [...] In fact, Will ignores the point, because it would make his column appear ridiculous, but let's keep in mind that Barack Obama doesn't want to see the Fairness Doctrine brought back, and both Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have said this isn't going anywhere in either chamber of Congress. We're talking about a liberal campaign that exists only in the overactive imaginations of paranoid conservatives.

I wish conservatives would lay off the persecution complex, already...it's just embarrassing.

Bill Ayers' op-ed from Friday's NYT has drawn some attention:

Now that the election is over, I want to say as plainly as I can that the character invented to serve this drama wasn't me, not even close. Here are the facts:

I never killed or injured anyone. I did join the civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, and later resisted the draft and was arrested in nonviolent demonstrations. I became a full-time antiwar organizer for Students for a Democratic Society. In 1970, I co-founded the Weather Underground... [...] The Weather Underground crossed lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense. Our effectiveness can be -- and still is being -- debated. We did carry out symbolic acts of extreme vandalism directed at monuments to war and racism, and the attacks on property, never on people, were meant to respect human life and convey outrage and determination to end the Vietnam war.

Peaceful protests had failed to stop the war. So we issued a screaming response. But it was not terrorism; we were not engaged in a campaign to kill and injure people indiscriminately, spreading fear and suffering for political ends.

Over at Washington Monthly, Hilzoy asks Ayers to "Just Go Away:"

Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground did more than 'cross lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense.' They were, by any syandard [sic] I can think of, terrorists. As one historian says, "The only reason they were not guilty of mass murder is mere incompetence (...) I don't know what sort of defense that is." [...]

Ayers may think that there's still a debate about the Weather Underground's effectiveness. And he might also think that he "acted appropriately in the context of those times." To me, though, he's just a shallow rich kid who took himself and his revolutionary rhetoric much too seriously, helped inspire people to do things that got them killed, and helped to discredit the anti-war movement and the left as a whole.

He has done enough harm already. Now he should do the decent thing and leave us in peace.

I'll juxtapose Ayer's claim that "Our effectiveness can be -- and still is being -- debated" with his statement that "The antiwar movement in all its commitment, all its sacrifice and determination, could not stop the violence unleashed against Vietnam" to conclude that the continuation of the Southeast Asian slaughter demonstrates a lack of effectiveness--a failure, in other words.

It is a good omen that the Left has not, in the decades since then, chosen to emulate the tactics of violent resistance--and an ill one that the Right has chosen to do so.

"big 3" bailout ad

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A big h/t to Matthew McDermott at TreeHugger for posting this Beast ad for the (possibly) upcoming "Big Three" bailout:

20081209-big3bailout.jpg

capitalist chutzpah

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Merrill Lynch's CEO John Thain (who received a $15 million signing bonus last year, on top of a $750K salary) is asking for a $10 million bonus this year. I'm assuming that he must be sucking some serious dick for the members of his compensation committee, because his job performance has been abysmal enough (an $11 billion loss this year, supplemented by the 30,000 workers who have been laid off) that Thain should return his signing bonus and apologize for his offensive sense of entitlement.

Jeff Lieber at My Left Wing rephrases the news story this way:

Merrill Lynch boss seeks 10-million-dlr bonus

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The unrepentant ass-wart of morally bankrupt, pathetic and without remorse Wall Street firm Merrill Lynch is attempting to extort a 10-million-dollar audacious reward for utterly substandard performance this year in the midst of an incompetent created ethical meltdown which plunged your 401K and financial future into dire straits, US media reported Monday.

Fractally Wrong calls the Salvation Army a "Christian Cult," for their militaristic mannerisms, but the SA's persistent anti-gay bigotry (their official position on "homosexuality" is here) is what really renders them unfit for financial support. If the SA wants to be treated as a church in order to discriminate with impunity, that is their right...but they should not be able to do so while receiving our tax dollars.

Ignore their bell-ringing, and put your charitable donations to better use. There are plenty of ways to do good without sanctioning bigotry.


update (11:58pm):
I almost forgot my Quote of the Day:

"The act of bellringing is symbolic of all proselytizing religions. It implies the pointless interference with the quiet of other people."

(Ezra Pound, quoted in The Quotable Atheist, p. 244)

ornament follow-up

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The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has some supplementary information about Deborah Lawrence's ill-fated White House ornament.

Wordle redux

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Jonathan Feinberg's Wordle has gone mainstream since I mentioned it back in June. The December/January EnlightenNext magazine features a Wordle of the issue's articles:


20081205-wordlecover.jpg

Congratulations, Mr Feinberg!

amazon.com

Irvine, William. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009)

After some background on stoicism's origins and one chapter on Zeno of Citium and the Greeks, William Irvine's A Guide to the Good Life focuses mostly on the Roman Stoics: Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. Irvine emphasizes the importance of tranquility in stoicism:

We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires.

The psychologists Shane Frederick and George Loewenstein have studied this phenomenon and given it a name: hedonic adaptation. (p. 66)

They [the Stoics] recommended that we spend time imagining that we have lost the things we value--that our wife has left us, our car was stolen, or we lost our job. Doing this, the Stoics thought, will make us value our wife, our car, and our job more than we otherwise would. This technique--let us refer to it as negative visualization--was employed by the Stoics at least as far back as Chrysippus. It is, I think, the single most valuable technique in the Stoics' psychological tool kit. (p. 68)

More directly, Liveine writes that "Stoicism, properly understood, is a cure for a disease:"

The disease in question is the anxiety, grief, fear, and various other negative emotions that plague humans and prevent them from experiencing a joyful existence. By practicing Stoic techniques, we can cure the disease and thereby gain tranquility. (pp. 238-9)

Irvine has done an excellent job of enticing the reader (this one, at least!) to investigate stoicism. If you are similarly inspired by this book, check out the following:

William Stephens "The Rebirth of Stoicism"
Wikipedia
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The new Capitol Visitor Center has really unhinged Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) over its proportion of pro-religious propaganda (h/t: Andrew Sullivan). DeMint demanded that "E Pluribus Unum" (the Founders' motto) be plastered over in favor of the Christianist "In God We Trust," and got his dander up over this quote from Rufus Choate:

"We have built no temple but the Capitol. We consult no common oracle but the Constitution."

which--horror of horrors!--suggests that religious pluralism is a source of our national strength. Here are my two favorite passages from DeMint's whine:

"The millions of visitors that will visit the CVC each year should get a true portrayal of the motivations and inspirations of those who have served in Congress since its establishment."

Would that be the "true portrayal" of the Puritans' Christianist theocracy that was explicitly disavowed by the Founders? They recognized that the lack of a national church was impossible and that the separation of church and state was essential; would DeMint have us reverse both of those decisions?

"[O]ur Founding Fathers' beliefs in a higher power [is] manifest throughout our Constitution"

Sorry, but I have to call "bullshit" on this one, too. DeMint really should have read our Constitution by now; if he had, he would be able to name its two references to religion: the prohibition against a religious test for public office (Article VI), and the pro forma reference to "in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven" That's all...there is nothing else about a higher power in our Constitution, "manifest" or otherwise.

My snarky Quote of the Day is from Bob Geiger:

"I'm assuming the inclusion of the Flat Earth Society somewhere in the newest D.C. attraction is coming next or a DeMint insistence that the Capitol Visitor Center include a mural of Adam and Eve riding a dinosaur to a church social."

Reich on Keynes

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Robert Reich pens a brief primer on Depression-Era economist John Maynard Keynes, whose theories are once again important to our economic life.

Fed Governor Randall Kroszner discusses a study that explicitly disproves (speech and full report on "The Enduring Challenge of Concentrated Poverty in America") the CRA-caused-the-subprime-crisis meme that was so popular (see here and here) during the pre-election smear-fest:

Some critics of the CRA contend that by encouraging banking institutions to help meet the credit needs of lower-income borrowers and areas, the law pushed banking institutions to undertake high-risk mortgage lending. We have not yet seen empirical evidence to support these claims, nor has it been our experience in implementing the law over the past 30 years that the CRA has contributed to the erosion of safe and sound lending practices.

The criticism doesn't match the facts:

Recently, Federal Reserve staff has undertaken more specific analysis focusing on the potential relationship between the CRA and the current subprime crisis. This analysis was performed for the purpose of assessing claims that the CRA was a principal cause of the current mortgage market difficulties.

[...]

Two key points emerge from all of our analysis of the available data. First, only a small portion of subprime mortgage originations are related to the CRA. Second, CRA- related loans appear to perform comparably to other types of subprime loans. Taken together, as I stated earlier, we believe that the available evidence runs counter to the contention that the CRA contributed in any substantive way to the current mortgage crisis.

H/t to Barry Ritholtz at Big Picture, who observes:

Of course, now that the election is over, the usual parade of reality challenged nitwits won't be interested in any hard data or professional analyses.

Off-topic note: BR is disemvoweling comments left by trolls (e.g., "reality challenged nitwits" becomes "rlt chllngd ntwts"), which I find to be--well--fckng brllnt! (You can visit Disemvowelment to re-emvowel the text if you find reading it to be too onerous a chore...)

Bay of Fundie has a very nice two-part post (parts one and two) fisking Dennis Prager's latest ClownHall piece "Why Reporters--and Judges and Professors--Are Biased." (Of course, to Prager everything is an enormous leftist conspiracy: reporters, judges, professors, artists...we're all "directing...all human endeavors toward a left-wing purpose.")

I would only add one thing to BoF's remarks: that Prager's comments on "judicial activism" are the exact opposite of the truth, because conservative judges are most activist than liberal ones (see the article I mentioned here). Prager is apparently using the conservative definition of "activist"...meaning "a judge who does anything that a conservative doesn't like."

As a wise man once noted, "reality has a well-known liberal bias."


links:
"The Myth of the Pro-Obama Media Bias" (FAIR)
"The 'Faculty Bias' Studies: Science or Propaganda?" (American Federation of Teachers)
"The Myth of Christianity Founding Modern Science and Medicine" (Jim Walker)

Neal Gabler writes about "The GOP's McCarthy Gene" at the LA Times, refuting the faux-heroic Goldwater/Reagan myth of GOP ego-boosting:

...there is another rendition of the story of modern conservatism, one that doesn't begin with Goldwater and doesn't celebrate his libertarian orientation. It is a less heroic story, and one that may go a much longer way toward really explaining the Republican Party's past electoral fortunes and its future. In this tale, the real father of modern Republicanism is Sen. Joe McCarthy, and the line doesn't run from Goldwater to Reagan to George W. Bush; it runs from McCarthy to Nixon to Bush and possibly now to Sarah Palin. It centralizes what one might call the McCarthy gene, something deep in the DNA of the Republican Party that determines how Republicans run for office, and because it is genetic, it isn't likely to be expunged any time soon.

[...]

Republicans continue to push the idea that this is a center-right country and that Americans have swooned for GOP anti-government posturing all these years, but the real electoral bait has been anger, recrimination and scapegoating. That's why John McCain kept describing Barack Obama as some sort of alien and why Palin, taking a page right out of the McCarthy playbook, kept pushing Obama's relationship with onetime radical William Ayers.

And that is also why the Republican Party, despite the recent failure of McCarthyism, is likely to keep moving rightward, appeasing its more extreme elements and stoking their grievances for some time to come. There may be assorted intellectuals and ideologues in the party, maybe even a few centrists, but there is no longer an intellectual or even ideological wing. The party belongs to McCarthy and his heirs -- Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and Palin. It's in the genes.

For a look at the verbal contortions that are required to maintain conservatism's façade as an intellectually respectable political movement, check out James Lewis' piece at American Thinker calling Rush Limbaugh "a leading American intellectual." It's filled with little tidbits of twaddle like this:

Rush is the sharpest political commentator we have today. He is a public intellectual in the old sense: A fine, original thinker who constantly reveals new truths that slip past the mindless media. [...] Limbaugh has a twenty year track record of sifting truths from lies

(Limbaugh's media longevity is indeed impressive, although it's too bad that after the sifting process he disregards the truth and broadcasts the lies.)

My first reaction is to note that I don't pay much attention to Limbaugh; I listened to him semi-regularly (while traveling) about a decade ago, but I frequently couldn't make it through a single (brief) period between commercial breaks before he would say something untrue, contradictory, or nonsensical. I searched through my blog for Limbaugh lapses that were worth mentioning, and found more than I had remembered: Limbaugh claimed to be "honestly...presenting the liberal point of view," had a sex tourism scandal, attacked Michael J. Fox, defended GOP sexual predator Mark Foley,promised to stop "carrying water" for the GOP--followed by a stirring (and false) defense of the Swift Boat Liars--and claimed that Obama is "not African-American."

Those statements disqualify Limbaugh from the base-level honesty and integrity required of an intellectual, not to mention the numerous instances recounted elsewhere (FAIR, MediaMatters, and ThinkProgress).

The remainder of Lewis' piece is no better, when he calls Mao a "Leftist hero"--another nugget of nonsense--and writes that "The American Founders were conservatives, with rare exceptions." The exceptions are rare, all right: Jefferson, Madison, Paine...or maybe they're not so rare, after all. The conservatives in Revolutionary times were the orthodoxy-protecting Loyalists, who were eager to pay their tea tax and protect the existing order. The liberal revolutionaries, on the other hand, separated from the crown and created some things quite radical for their time in the nation they founded: a representative government, protections for individual liberties, and separation of church and state.

Lewis mentions Socrates, but isn't quite dishonest enough to claim him as a fellow conservative; after all, Socrates died at the hands of the state for offending (conservative) sensibilities. (It's worth noting here that heresy, blasphemy, and apostasy are all crimes created and enforced by conservatives against liberals who dare to question the status quo.) This passage is another gem:

"All high civilizations have been built by conservatives. You can't accumulate the cultural capital needed to build any high civilization if you try to destroy the past, as the Left constantly tries to do."

We "constantly...try to destroy the past?" Really? How? By working to extend citizenship to African-Americans, the vote to women, and marriage to same-sex couples? By presuming that our nation's promise of "liberty and justice for all" should apply to everyone? The problem from which Lewis suffers--along with other conservatives--is equating change with destruction. Without change, nothing--including those allegedly conservative civilizations--could be created.

Not only is Limbaugh not much of an intellectual, Lewis isn't one either.

want!

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I want this ornament for my tree:

20081202-ornament.jpg

What's special about it? According to the Washington Post, Seattle artist Deborah Lawrence (this one?) was invited to create the ornament for the White House tree, and chose to deliver a message with her design:

The nine-inch ball is covered with swirly red and white stripes -- and, in tiny glued-on text, salutes the Democratic congressman's [Jim McDermott's] support for a resolution to impeach President Bush.

(According to the Seattle Times, Bush spokesperson Sally McDonough "originally said there were no plans to pull Lawrence's artwork. But McDonough said Tuesday that the ornament is inappropriate."

Detroit dramatized

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JasonF wrote this gem in the comments at John Cole's Balloon Juice:

THE TRAGEDY OF THE AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY
A Play in Three Acts

Dramatis Personae
BIG THREE, a manufacturer of automobiles
UAW, Big Three's employee
MITT ROMNEY, an idiot

ACT ONE
BIG THREE: I have plans to build automobiles, but I need labor to do so!
UAW: I will labor for you if you will pay me $40 per hour.
BIG THREE: I will not pay you $40 per hour.
UAW: But I need to save for my inevitible retirement, and any health concerns that may arise.
BIG THREE: I will pay you $30 per hour, plus a generous pension of guaranteed payments and health care upon your retirement.
UAW: Then I agree to work for you!

ACT TWO
UAW: I am building cars for you, as I have promised to do!
BIG THREE: I am designing terrible cars that few people want to buy! Also, rather than save for UAW's inevitible retirement when I will have to pay him the generous pension of guaranteed payments and health care that I promised, I am spending that money under the dubious assumption that my future revenues will be sufficient to meet those obligations.

ACT THREE
UAW: I have fulfilled my end of the deal by building the automobiles that you have asked me to build.
BIG THREE: Oh no! I am undone! My automobiles are no longer competitive due to my years of poor planning and poor judgment!
MITT ROMNEY: This is all UAW's fault!

Bravo!

(Bonus points if you noticed that Mitt Romney is as superfluous in the play as he is in real life.)

cartoon of the day

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I've written about conservative socialism before, but this distillation is perfect:
20081201-socialism.jpg
(John Sherffius, h/t: Barry Ritholtz at Big Picture)

[link changed]

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