May 2009 Archives

Murdering someone in their church isn't necessarily any worse than doing it anywhere else, but I goes to show the depth of lawlessness of the anti-abortion movement that one of their assassins has finally done so. The Rude Pundit, saying what many of us feel but do not say, "wants the guy who assassinated Dr. George Tiller fuckin' hooded, chained, put on a cargo plane with fuckin' headphones on so he can't hear shit, and flown across that little bit of ocean to Cuba, man, our little colony on the bay:"

And when that cocksucker gets there, the Rude Pundit wants him interrogated, interrogated like a terrorist oughta be interrogated, strippin' off his clothes and pointing and laughing at his scared, tiny cock, slammin' him up against a fake wall over and over and over, slapped in just the prescribed places. Fear up that motherfucker. And who knows what plots he's involved in? Who knows how many radical fascist Christianist sleeper cells are waiting to blow away more abortion providing doctors, destroy their hospitals, attack the mothers themselves? How can you be sure? Because the authorities asked him? Because he said he was acting alone? You trust the killer?

Fuck that. Lay that backwards ass, shack-dwelling mule fucker out. Tie him down and tilt him back. It's time for the cloth and the water, 20 seconds at a time, oh, fuck yeah, 83, 100, 150 times, he'll talk. Shit, he'll tell you how much he's fucked his sister by the time you're done with him. Then put him in solitary, toss his Bible in the john when he pisses you off, slap him around some more.

Or better yet, rendition that Christian fundamentalist killer. Yeah, send him to Syria or Egypt, have them put him in some shithole prison where they can get Ottoman on his ass. Get those motherfuckin' electrodes on his nuts, on his nipples. Whip him with stripped cables. Keep him in a space the size of a grave, letting the rats and the cockroaches crawl all over him. Then send him back to Guantanamo so he can perhaps one day face a tribunal. Or preventive detention. Real indefinite-like, until the abortion battle is settled.

Yeah, you better keep him at Gitmo, because if he's put in Supermax on the mainland, there's no telling how many Christians he'll recruit. Isn't that what they do? Isn't that what their radical preachers tell 'em all they're supposed to do? Evangelize and get people to give up their souls to Jesus, just like this murderer?

Or, perhaps, will we treat this Christian terrorist differently than we treat Muslim ones?

WingNutDaily has an...interesting...piece by a star in the Right's intellectual firmament--Pat Boone (he's right up there next to Ted Nugent and Chuck Norris). Called "The ACLU: America's Taliban," it's the best demonstration of fractal wrongness that I've read in quite a while--and I waste a fair amount of time reading the Right's fever-swamp missives. Boone purports to show a "stark comparison between the Taliban and the ACLU:"

Each seeks to disrupt the traditions and guidelines that identify and protect society - and to impose its own perverted will and ideology on a bewildered people.

Of course, reality shows the starkest possible contrast between the Taliban and the ACLU. If the ACLU operated in Afghanistan, they would oppose the Taliban's Islamic fundamentalist theocrats as vociferously as they oppose the Christianists here in the US--and for the same reasons. Any theist who is tempted to believe Boone's twaddle should learn what work the ACLU actually does to protect religious freedom in this country--and then act accordingly. Pat Boone's work for the Ministry of Truth may require him to declare the ACLU doubleplusungood, but the rest of us are under no such restriction.

Oh, and a big h/t to Ed Brayton, who, when Pat Boone asked

Do you, gentle reader, think I'm exaggerating?

responded

No, I think you're a fucking idiot.

Glenn Greenwald does some investigating into the Sotomayor situation, and notes that:

Because of her background, ethnicity and gender, hordes of people who know nothing about her and haven't bothered to examine what she's actually done as a judge instantaneously believe this caricature, while the media keeps repeating these accusations without, as usual, any critical scrutiny.

Greenwald continues, writing that "I have no doubt that there are legitimate grounds for criticizing Sotomayor,"

[b]ut the bile coming thus far from the Right (and Respectable Intellectual Center) is laughable, contrary to all the available evidence, and grounded in the most naked and destructive stereotypes (the little lady can't keep her emotions in check or her mouth shut; the Latina woman decides in favor of minorities at the expense of the oppressed white male). Before the media keeps repeating the screeching and inflammatory accusations from Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove, they might actually want to first see if there is evidence to support those accusations. That is what "reporting" allegedly is about.

For some solid reporting, let's turn to MediaMatters. They debunk the right-wing myths and falsehoods about Sotomayor: the "activist" and "legislating from the bench" shibboleths, the smears of racism and high reversal rates, and the carping about intellect and empathy--which the Right claims are either important or insignificant, depending on the needs of the moment. (What a surprise--hypocrisy about judicial appointments...who could have predicted that?)

When the cries of empathy and emotionalism are shot down, what remains is just...elephantine excrement.

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Pirie, Madsen. How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic (London: Continuum, 2006)

Pirie Madsen's How to Win Every Argument is less a strategic guide than a tactical one. He lists a few dozen logical fallacies--in alphabetical order, along with Latin names where appropriate--provides plenty of examples, and includes a taxonomic appendix that groups the fallacies appropriately.

Madsen writes that, "In the hands of the wrong person this is more a weapon than a book, and it was written with that wrong person in mind." (p. x, Introduction) For the right--or wrong--audience, How to Win Every Argument could indeed be a most useful reference.

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Capaldi, Nicholas & Miles Smit. The Art of Deception: An Introduction to Critical Thinking, Fully Revised and Updated (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2007)

Capaldi and Smit are more concerned with winning than with having a better argument--except insofar as a winning argument is "better" by virtue of its success. Prometheus http://www.prometheusbooks.com/ is a noted publisher of freethought books, and I had expected better from them than this uneven volume.

The authors' reference to "A-Theology" as "a religious philosophy for intellectuals who are unwilling or unable to confess a belief in God" (p. 88) comes most readily to mind--how can atheists be guilty of being "unwilling" or "unable" of betraying ourselves by "confessing" a belief we don't have?

Three other errors also caught my attention:

First, the claim that "At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, a film was shown depicting a little girl playing with a flower, quickly followed by an atomic explosion." (p. 101) is incorrect. (The infamous "Daisy" ad aired on NBC on 7 September; details are here.

Second, this great point about the common quotation "the exception proves the rule" is marred by a simple mistake:

Actually, the original statement was made by Francis Bacon, and, when he said, it the word "prove" meant "test." You test a generalization by looking for exceptions. Rather than helping the generalization, the exception invalidates it. (p. 168)

The authors are correct in their analysis--see Snopes for details--but wrong in their attribution; the source of these words does not appear to be Francis Bacon.

Third, this type of anti-PC complaint was tired fifteen years ago--and it hasn't aged well:

...it is the dictionary makers who are trying to win arguments by making certain views true by definition. Moreover, if this keeps up, we shall end up with what Orwell described in 1984 as Newspeak, a language constantly manipulated for the benefit of a few. The promulgation of speech codes on campus and elsewhere has served just this purpose. (p. 169)

This argument falls apart upon the realization that PC speech codes are written not to protect the powerful, but the powerless. Dan Savage said it best:

I feel compelled to point out that accusing others of being "politically correct" is the first refuge of lazy bullshitters who can't be bothered to mount a decent argument. [...] Perhaps the freedom to risk offending by asking "politically incorrect" questions only applies when the questions are reactionary, sexist, racist, or homophobic.

It seems that when one is defending a progressive position, one has to be ever-so-careful of the easily bruised feelings and delicate sensibilities of closed-minded straight white guys and their dupes, lest one be accused of "political correctness." [...] I'm all for direct questions and open debate - as long as those who claim to want it so badly don't invoke the "politically correct" bogeyman every goddamned time you lose a round. (Savage Love, pp. 133-134)

The appendix, featuring a lengthy dissection of Mill's On Liberty, is the book's redeeming feature; more critical reading examples like that would have been greatly appreciated.

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Del Gandio, Jason. Rhetoric for Radicals: A Handbook for 21st Century Activists (Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society, 2008)

Jason Del Gandio's Rhetoric for Radicals identifies a "rhetorical crisis" early on, and uses that idea to good effect throughout:

Rhetoric is no doubt an ongoing and ever-present process, but good rhetoric is labor intensive. It takes time, thought and energy. Bypassing this labor has created a communication gap between our actions and the public's reception of those actions. Simply put, our radicalism suffers from a rhetorical crisis. (p. xvii, Preface)

His target audience is much narrower than those of the previous volumes, and that is one of Rhetoric for Radicals' strengths. Del Gandio is able to discuss broader rhetorical methods (marches, demonstrations, etc.) en route to pointing out the position of life itself as laden with rhetorical meaning:

Remember that your lifestyle is a communicative phenomenon. Every choice you make is communicating something to someone else. [...] ...we're talking about the rhetoricity of lifestyle. This means considering how others will respond to your way of life. (pp. 170-1)

I was surprised that Del Gandio barely mentioned the existence of blogs, given their utility for the radical movement--at least those parts of it that are wired. Anyone looking

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Whyte, Jamie. Crimes Against Logic: Exposing the Bogus Arguments of Politicians, Priests, Journalists, and Other Serial Offenders (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004)

Rare is the book that is a joy to read from cover to cover; Jamie Whyte's Crimes Against Logic is such a book. From the beginning of the preface, it was already evident that I would love this book:

All self-help books should begin with a confession. Here is mine: I write letters to the editor. "Outraged of London," that's me. I am getting better, though. I often don't send the letters, and sometimes I don't even write them. If I had a therapist, he would be pleased by my progress. (p. ix, Preface)

As a not-yet-reformed writer of such letters, I can appreciate his predicament as well as his iconoclasm. Whyte's remarks on the contradictory nature of the Christian Trinity no doubt earned him the ire of doctrinaire Christians, but he is nonetheless correct:

Indeed, it's [the Unity of the Trinity] a strict mystery. Strict mysteries are those that are of the very nature of the thing and which it is both hopeless and sinful to attempt to resolve. This response may satisfy the sheep in the congregation but it should satisfy no one with his critical faculties intact. (p. 33)

The incantation "it's a mystery" does not wash away the intellectual sin of contradiction. It remains impossible both that three does not equal one and that the Trinity is a Unity. If you hold both beliefs, you contradict yourself. One belief must be wrong, and because it is necessarily true that three does not equal one, we know which it is. Cry mystery all you like; it won't stop you being wrong. (p. 34)

I wonder why polytheism scares Christians so much, and why they can't just admit that they worship more than one god--but those are questions for another time. Whyte's book has several such gems, including this passage:

It takes a terrible pedant to worry about such contentious built-in assumptions, and pedantry has got itself a bad name. But don't let that put you off. As Bertrand Russell said, a pedant is just someone who prefers his opinions to be true. (p. 116)

Russell's actual text reads "PEDANT--A man who likes his statements to be true" and an image of the page from The Good Citizen's Alphabet is here. One can't go wrong reading Russell, nor--it seems--with Whyte.

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Weston, Anthony. A Rulebook for Arguments, Fourth Edition (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2009)

Anthony Weston's statement that his book is "not a textbook but a rulebook" (p. ix, Preface) is undoubtedly true; unfortunately, it is too slight to compare well with the other volumes in this survey. His comment in favor of argumentation was much appreciated, though:

Argument is essential, in the first place, because it is a way of finding out which views are better than others. Not all views are equal. Some conclusions can be supported by good reasons. Others have much weaker support. [...] Argument is essential for another reason too. Once we have arrived at a conclusion that is well supported by reasons, we use arguments to explain and defend it. A good argument doesn't merely repeat conclusions. Instead it offers reasons and evidence so that other people can make up their minds for themselves. (pp. xi-xii, Introduction)

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Baillargeon, Normand. A Short Course in Intellectual Self-Defense: Find Your Inner Chomsky (New York: Seven Stories, 2007)

Taking its title from Noam Chomsky,

"My personal feeling is that citizens of the democratic societies should undertake a course of intellectual self-defense to protect themselves from manipulation and control, and to lay the basis for more meaningful self-democracy." (Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies, p. viii)

Normand Baillargeon's A Short Course in Intellectual Self-Defense is perhaps the most well-rounded of these books. Baillargeon takes the reader on a tour of "the concepts and skills which seem to me to be necessary for every citizen to master," (p. 13) and does an exemplary job.

Chapter Two on mathematics (including numeracy, probability, and statistics) is very well put together, and at about 80 pages comprises nearly one-quarter of the book. Chapter Five on the media, however, is not quite 30 pages; as good as it is, is would have benefitted by greater length. My Quote of the Day comes from Baillargeon's quotation of Alex Carey:

"The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power from democracy." (Taking the Risk Out of Democracy, p. 18)

Acquiring the ability to critically examine government and media propaganda is a primary reason to become well-versed in argumentation and rhetoric. One can scarcely be too well-versed on the subject.


links:

FallacyFiles has a great taxonomy page of logical fallacies

Logic & Fallacies: Constructing a Logical Argument (infidels.org)

Fallacies (Nizkor Project)

Schopenhauer's The Art of Controversy

Lisa Miller's "Let's Talk About God" from Newsweek is more a book review than an idea piece. Miller notes that in his upcoming book The Evolution of God, Robert Wright "grapples with God as an idea that has changed--evolved--through history:"

He argues that the scriptures of the three Abrahamic faiths were written in history by real people who aimed to improve things--economic, social, geographical--for their constituencies.

The texts' composition by self-interested people is hardly news, although it is perhaps unusual to see it admitted so bluntly by theists. The capricious, petty, and vengeful character of the Old Testament tribal god was easily surpassed by the New Testament authors' creation of the more morally evolved Jesus; what I've read of the Qur'an doesn't strike me as a continued improvement--but that may be due to the pederasty and other unsavory aspects of Muhammed. The creation of a new holy text today would doubtless illustrate the further evolution of morality--perhaps reflecting the elimination of slavery, racism, sexism, homophobia, and monarchy--but that is progress that we've made as a civilization largely despite the effect of religion rather than because of it.

Miller then quotes these sentences from Wright

"You might say that love and truth are the two primary manifestations of divinity in which we can partake, and that by partaking in them we become truer manifestations of the divine. Then again, you might not say that. The point is just that you wouldn't have to be crazy to say it."

and claims that they offer "relief and intellectual ballast" to believers.

That sort of lightweight feel-good supposition may not indicate a break with reality, but neither does it have the heft to withstand the slightest intellectual wind. Austin Cline's piece "Godless Intellectual Values: Intellectual Values are Important, Godless, Secular" lists several intellectual values that can continue our moral evolution--provided that they aren't overwhelmed by anti-intellectualism.

I'd like to see Miller write a column about that.

Alex Knapp at Heretical Ideas notes the Right's fixation on the race and gender of Obama's first Supreme Court nominee:

As of this writing, the current headline at the Drudge Report is "Obama Picks Latina." Not "Obama Picks 2nd Circuit Appellate Judge." Not "Obama picks Princeton Valedictorian." Not "Obama Nominates Supreme Court Justice."

Quick question -- had Obama picked a white, male nominee, do you think that Drudge's headline would have been "Obama Picks White Guy"?

Yeah, I didn't think so, either.

John Cole at Balloon Juice says that he "can really only base my judgments on her achievements as a person," and comes to a similar conclusion:

What I see is someone who was the top student pretty much everywhere she went, and who then went on and served for years as a judge, racking up years of service and accomplishment. She's done much more with her life than I probably ever will, and with a much harder path to success than I had. To then listen that she is somehow stupid or was just given what she earned because of her skin color just doesn't make any damned sense to me at all. A couple years ago I looked at Sam Alito and John Roberts and saw the same thing- really bright people who had accomplished a lot, worked hard, and made something exceptional of themselves.

Maybe that is what is the basis of so many of the attacks the past 36 hours...she had the audacity to [succeed] while having a vagina and an exotic last name.

disbar them

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DisbarTortureLawyers.com (h/t: TalkLeft) is recommending disbarment as a suitable punishment for the Bush torture lawyers, stating that "Attorneys who advised, counseled, consulted and supported those memoranda [...] must be held accountable:"

We have asked the respective state bars to revoke the licenses of the foregoing attorneys for moral turpitude. They failed to show "respect for and obedience to the law, and respect for the rights of others," and intentionally or recklessly failed to act competently, all in violation of legal Rules of Professional Conduct. Several attorneys failed to adequately supervise the work of subordinate attorneys and forwarded shoddy legal memoranda regarding the definition of torture to the White House and Department of Defense. These lawyers further acted incompetently by advising superiors to approve interrogation techniques that were in violation of U.S. and international law. They failed to support or uphold the U.S. Constitution, and the laws of the United States, and to maintain the respect due to the courts of justice and judicial officers, all in violation state bar rules.

Their list overlaps substantially with the 13 people who made torture possible, which is, of course, why they're so notorious:

Jay Bybee
Douglas Feith
David Addington
Stephen Bradbury
Michael Chertoff
John Ashcroft
Timothy Flanigan
Alice Fisher
Michael Haynes
John Yoo
Alberto Gonzales
Michael Mukasey

Decisively ending Bush's torture regime by disbarring these lawyers would remove significant recruiting tools for terrorists, which have "cost us hundreds if not thousands of American lives." That should matter to everyone who really supports our troops, and values their sacrifices--right? (Wasn't there just a holiday about that?)

Fundie wingnut Timothy Birdnow wrote a long rant about atheists and the "vandalism" we allegedly commit against the First Amendment. My favorite part was his assertion that atheists are really religious--in fact, we worship a three-in-one god just like Trinitarian Christians:

Atheism is triune in nature in many ways; we have Universe the Father (Let there be light, and there was the Big Bang), Earth the Son (all life evolved from the mechanistic determinism of the Blind Watchmaker), and the Holy Spirit of Human intellect. As a result, atheism incorporates several beliefs into one system.

Atheism worships (they hate that word) the Cosmos, Evolution, and Reason. The Big Bang and Darwinian Evolution are the creation myths, and the Big Crunch the prophecied cataclysm.

For the record, atheists don't hate the word worship; we just don't see the reason why some people genuflect before things that they don't understand. The awe and wonder at the natural world that lead to curiosity and investigation are the reasons that we understand light, and the Big Bang, and evolution. If we just relied on the Bible, we'd still be living on a flat Earth under a fixed canopy of stars at the center of the universe.

I'm probably taking Birdnow too seriously, as PZ Myers indicates. Myers takes this passage from the close of Birdnow's rant

Atheism itself acts as a substitute for faith, but how can one ultimately find hope in a belief in nothing?

That is why our society is sliding down the long, greasy pole; too many believe in nothing. This is evident in every facet of our lives. All of society`s problems can ultimately be traced back to the severing of human reason from human passion, and that is the fruit of Western Civilization`s arrogant belief in himself, the material world, and his disbelief in the Divine. The looming triumph of Atheism is bringing forth the demons of the human abyss, as surely as did Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, or the other Atheists who ruled over their kingdoms for one hour. The bell is now tolling for we.

and replies:

As we all know, sliding down a long, greasy pole is the homophobe's worst nightmare, which is why they dwell on it so much. The poor man is deranged, so I'll just have to forgive him for his very typical, hateful attitude. Unfortunately, I have to despise him forever for "The bell is now tolling for we."

That's all the seriousness Birdnow's rant deserves.

more on Allen

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The giant turd-in-the-punchbowl that was Charlotte Allen's anti-atheist rant has been making the rounds. I decided to write a letter to the editor about it, reworking my previous comments:

I am disappointed in your editorial choice to reprint Charlotte Allen's anti-atheist screed "Atheists: No God, no reason, just anger" in the newspaper this morning. Her complaints add nothing to the discussion of religious pluralism in this country, but instead serve only to highlight her ire and her ignorance. Unreasonable animus toward atheists is perhaps the last socially acceptable prejudice, as Allen's rant clearly demonstrates. Imagine for a moment if Allen had written the following:

"I can't stand Jews -- but it's not because they don't believe in Jesus. It's because they're crashing bores. [...] My problem with Jews is their tiresome -- and way old -- insistence that they are being oppressed and their fixation with the fine points of Christianity."
My problem with theists like Allen is their tiresome--and way old--persecution complex and their fixation on the fine points of everyone else's lives. She complains about "the obsessively tiny range of topics around which atheists circle like water in a drain," but that sounds suspiciously like the projection of a writer whose co-religionists are violently obsessed with women's reproductive choices and LGBT civil rights.

Allen tries to set up a dilemma for atheists: she accuses us of "whining" when we point out their efforts to force their religion into every aspect of our lives, and accuses us of a "frenzied fascination with Christianity and the Bible" if we rebut them with their own texts. I guess what she really wants is for all of us to withdraw silently into a stained-glass closet. Well, guess what? That's not going to happen. We're not going back, and we're not shutting up--if she doesn't like it, she can move to a Christian nation--like Vatican City.

Atheists are not clamoring to replace our nation's motto with "in no gods we trust" or inserting "under no gods" into the Pledge--nor are we interested in regulating anyone's private religious exercise. (We do object, though, to religions co-opting the power of government in support of their beliefs.) The non-religious deserve an equal place at our nation's table, regardless of how much Allen might complain about our tendency to say things to which she objects.

So, theists, how about losing the tired claims of moral superiority and the boring persecution complex and engaging non-believers seriously?

PZ Myers responded to the pathetic anti-atheist screed from Charlotte Allen in the LA Times that I eviscerated a few days ago. Myers writes at his website Pharyngula that "I'm already getting lots of unhappy email from people, so I must have done it right," and takes aim directly at Allen's claim that atheists are "boring:"

I'm afraid I don't believe Allen. There are other motivations behind her denunciations, and they aren't as simple as that she finds us boring. She should drop the pretense that the objectionable part of our character is our lack of excitement. What really annoys Allen is that in our books, blogs and media appearances, we challenge religious preconceptions. That's all we do. It's admittedly not exactly a roller-coaster ride of thrills, but it does annoy the superstitious and the fervent true believers in things unseen and unevidenced. We are also, admittedly, often abrasive in being outspoken critics of religious dogma, but it's also very hard to restrain our laughter and contempt when we see the spectacle of god-belief in full flower.

[...]

Allen requests that we atheists take religious belief seriously. We do; it's hard not to take seriously a bizarre collection of antiquated superstitions that are furiously waved in our faces in our schools, on television, in our politics and even on newspaper editorial pages. That we take the intellectually bankrupt beliefs of religion seriously is precisely why we do question it, and will continue to question it, in our boring way: by simply speaking out.

Marlene Winell wrote at ExChristian.net that "Salvation is NOT a free gift," pointing out the obvious "fundamental contradiction in the evangelical message of salvation:"

...according to them, it is NOT Christ's atoning death that saves you, it is YOUR BELIEF in it. (otherwise everyone would be saved). Therefore, this is not a salvation by grace, it is another salvation by works, albeit cognitive work. You must DO several things - find out about and understand the atonement, accept that Jesus dies for your sins, feel guilt and express your sorrow for being responsible, ask forgiveness, and invite Jesus "into your heart" to rule for the rest of your life.

She then takes aim at theists' god-loves-you-so-much-that-he'll-torture-you-for-eternity problem, asking "isn't it pretty weird that the gift-giver is one and the same as the creator of the torment you get if you don't accept the gift?"

Talk about strings attached. Imagine if we gave each other gifts like that. I just had a birthday recently, and I'm glad ordinary humans have a better idea of giving.

Since we created the idea of eternal torment, though, clearly not every one of our ideas is a good one.

The motion-picture graphics of Saul Bass have been parodied, but parodies are only successful when the source material is distinctive. A great selection of Bass' work can be seen in this wonderful gallery (h/t: Kevin Church):

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If you don't want to search YouTube for more of his work, there are selections of Saul Bass clips here and here, some movie posters here, and the obligatory Wikipedia article here.

The Indiana Atheist Bus Campaign put this ad on the side of a transit bus (h/t: Richard Dawkins):

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(Of course, it's not quite true: we made tools, fashioned clothing, learned hunting techniques, taught ourselves to paint our caves, built rudimentary societies, and then constructed language before creating the gods...but the slogan does have a nice ring to it.)

Talk-radio host Matthew Erich "Mancow" Muller (website, Wikipedia) was waterboarded on air today as a publicity stunt (see pieces at AlterNet and ThinkProgress), and lasted all of six seconds before throwing in the towel and admitting that waterboarding is "absolutely torture." Tengrain at Mock, Paper, Scissors and Swopa at FDL noted the connection to blowhard bullyboy Sean Hannity--who volunteered to be waterboarded for charity and then, well, didn't have the stones to follow through. As Swopa wrote, "there's a point to calling the bluff of the posturing phonies who advocate torture publicly:"

As anyone familiar with framing understands, the purpose of their argument is to shore up the right-wing pose of being morally self-assured tough guys who are willing to do what it takes to defend America.

The truth, which isn't brought up nearly often enough in the cable back-and-forth, is exactly the opposite: At a time when America was tested, these cowards folded, throwing in the hand on the precise values they should have been protecting.

So I'm not above rude tactics in pointing out their weakness, their irresponsibility, and their hypocrisy. If Sean Hannity and others won't back up their talk about waterboarding, I'm fine with humiliating them using the same derisive language they've been aiming at the left for years.

They're cowards, and moral failures. And they need to be told that to their faces.

Sean Hannity, you're a coward and a moral failure. Every day that goes by without you either a). living up to your offer, or b). apologizing to both the victims of torture and those who oppose it, makes your failures more egregious.


update (5/23 @ 7:54pm):
Keith Olbermann has rescinded his offer to Sean Hannity, instead donating $10,000 to Veterans of Valor after Mancow's waterboarding (h/t: ThinkProgress):

OLBERMANN: Mancow Muller had the guts to put his mouth where his mouth was, and the guts to admit he was dead wrong. As you saw, he not only said it is torture, but that he had nearly drowned as a boy, and it is drowning, and that he would have admitted to anything to make it stop.

So the offer to the coward Hannity -- a thousand dollars a second he lasted on the waterboard -- is withdrawn.

For anyone who believes that Pelosi must be lying when she contradicts Porter Goss, blogger extraordinaire Marcy (emptywheel) Wheeler has compiled a handy list of the CIA's briefing list mistakes. Wheeler observes that "CIA has made errors on at least six different briefings...[t]he CIA's own version of when it briefed and whom is riddled with errors." Somehow, though, the corporate media outlets help GOP partisans smear any Democrat (Pelosi, in this instance) with different information.

The ever-astounding Wheeler writes at Salon that we should instead be looking at "The 13 people who made torture possible." She identifies "13 key people in the Bush administration," some of whom "manipulated the federal bureaucracy and the legal process to 'preauthorize' torture in the days after 9/11. Others helped implement torture, and still others helped write the memos that provided the Bush administration with a legal fig leaf after torture had already begun:"

1. Dick Cheney, vice president (2001-2009)

2. David Addington, counsel to the vice president (2001-2005), chief of staff to the vice president (2005-2009)

3. Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel (2001-2005), and attorney general (2005-2008)

4. James Mitchell, consultant

5. George Tenet, director of Central Intelligence (1997-2004)

6. Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor (2001-2005), secretary of state (2005-2008)

7. John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel (2001-2003)

8. Jay Bybee, assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel (2001-2003)

9. William "Jim" Haynes, Defense Department general counsel (2001-2008)

10. Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense (2001-2006)

11. John Rizzo, CIA deputy general counsel (2002-2004), acting general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency (2001-2002, 2004-present)

12. Steven Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general, OLC (2004), acting assistant attorney general, OLC (2005-2009)

13. George W. Bush, president (2001-2009)

Where's the special investigator, already?

Obama nominates Jesus for the Supreme Court, and--of course--Republicans object (h/t: John Aravosis at AmericaBlog):

Charlotte Allen's "Atheists: no god, no reason, just whining" story at the LA Times is as nonsensical an opinion piece as any that I've ever seen in a major newspaper--which puts her in league with the likes of Ann Coulter, Cal Thomas, George Will, and the rest of the wingnut media syndication brigade. Her lede is the first sign that we're in for a bumpy read:

I can't stand atheists -- but it's not because they don't believe in God. It's because they're crashing bores. [...] My problem with atheists is their tiresome -- and way old -- insistence that they are being oppressed and their fixation with the fine points of Christianity.

Well...I guess we're even, then. My problem with theists is their tiresome--and way old--persecution complex and their fixation on the fine points of everyone else's lives. Allen complains about "the obsessively tiny range of topics around which atheists circle like water in a drain," but that sounds suspiciously like the projection of a writer whose co-religionists get violently obsessive over women's reproductive choices and LGBT civil rights.

The Christianist fundies want to force religion into every aspect of our lives, but here Allen tries to set up a dilemma for atheists: she accuses us of "whining" when we point out their moves toward theocracy, and accuses us of a "frenzied fascination with Christianity and the Bible" if we rebut them with their own texts. I guess what she really wants is for all of us to withdraw silently into a stained-glass closet.

Well, guess what? That's not going to happen. We're not going back, we're not shutting up, and if she doesn't like it, she can move to a Christian nation--like Vatican City.

When Allen claims that "What primarily seems to motivate atheists isn't rationalism but anger," she is somewhat closer to making a point; some of us are indeed angered by several faith-based problems. Let's list a few: Believers demanding that women be subjugated and sexual minorities be persecuted as abominations; mandating prayer and religious observance in schools; teaching abstinence-only ignorance instead of comprehensive sex ed, and the mythology of a 6,000-year-old Creation instead of biology, geology and cosmology; putting Ten Commandments plaques, crosses, and creches in every public space; and placing pro-god slogans on our money--and on our country!

If your religious observance were more about faith and less about force, you would encounter no opposition from us, because we don't care about your faith--we care about our freedom. Praying in private attracts little attention, though, and--despite the fact that Jesus instructed his followers to do exactly that--the Allens of the world want their prayers to be less about their god and more about coercing others to listen and join in. When we say "No thanks" to the same tired old rituals, she complains that we're the boring ones? Please.

Her final paragraph

What atheists don't seem to realize is that even for believers, faith is never easy in this world of injustice, pain and delusion. Even for believers, God exists just beyond the scrim of the senses. So, atheists, how about losing the tired sarcasm and boring self-pity and engaging believers seriously?

could easily be reworked to be much more accurate:

What theists don't seem to realize is that skepticism is never easy in this world of injustice, dogma, and delusion. Your belief in god(s) may be an important part of your lives, but that doesn't mean that it's important to us. So, theists, how about losing the tired claims of moral superiority and the boring persecution complex and engaging non-believers seriously?

In light of Newt Gingrich's over-publicized comments on Pelosi, Eric Boehlert asks "Who Cares What Newt Gingrich Thinks?"

And I don't mean that in the partisan sense. I mean it in the journalistic sense: How do Gingrich's daily pronouncements about the fundamental dishonesty of Democrats (Newt's favorite phrase) translate into news? Why does the press, 10 years after Gingrich was forced out of office, still treat his every partisan utterance as a newsworthy occurrence? In other words, why does the press still treat him like he's speaker of the House?

Here's the answer he suggests for the "unprecedented...double standard the press has concocted for Gingrich:"

In the eyes of the Beltway press, if somebody within the GOP routinely stands up and says mean, nasty things about Democrats, and if that person at times uses shocking rhetoric to denounce Democrats, then that person, by definition, is important. That person is newsworthy. And that person must be taken seriously.

But this rule applies only to Republican name-callers. Anybody on the left who engages in those kinds of ad hominem attacks is dismissed as overly partisan and unserious by the press corps.

Speaking of unserious, here's the Rude Pundit's take on Gingrich:

Could someone, somewhere tell this tubby, hypocritical fucker to go the fuck away? Wait, no. Instead, please let him run for president in 2012.

I've been in favor of a Gingrich-led GOP ticket for a while now, I'm just not sure what we could call the 2012 possibilities...Gingrich and Gidget? Grinch and the GILF?

I offer a big tip-of-the-hat to Timothy Mills at Friendly Humanist for mentioning this hilarious Jon Carroll piece from the SF Chronicle...it's a few years old, but still quite entertaining:

People of the United States! We are Unitarian Jihad! We can strike without warning. Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again! There will be coffee and cookies in the Gandhi Room after the revolution.

Go ahead and read the whole thing...it's worth it!

Commentary declared "case closed" on the accusations that liberal muckraker I. F. Stone (website, Wikipedia) spied for the Soviets, asserting that "Charges about Stone's connections with the KGB have been swirling about for more than a decade, prompting cries of outrage among his passionate followers. Until now, the evidence was equivocal and subject to different interpretations. No longer:"

To put it plainly, from 1936 to 1939 I.F. Stone was a Soviet spy.

That Stone chose never to reveal this part of his life strongly suggests that he knew just how incompatible it would be with his public image as a courageous and independent journalist. His admirers, who have so strenuously denied even the possibility of such an alliance, have no choice now but to reevaluate his legacy.

D. D. (American Radical) Guttenplan's "Red Harvest" at The Nation observes that the accusers "can't be relied on to acknowledge internal evidence that contradicts their thesis," but also that "their command of the external evidence--the overall historical context--is even less convincing." Guttenplan lays out the details quite convincingly, and Eric Alterman notes that the accusation against Stone suffers from a massive definitional failure:

Stone did not obtain any secret information of any kind, nor even any government information of any kind, much less that related to military or naval affairs. He had access to none during the course of his work as a well-known radical journalist and there is no indication whatsoever that he ever attempted to secure it surreptitiously. (In fact, Stone's famous methodology--one that has inspired tens of thousands of bloggers today--was to find information about official malfeasance that was available on the record in published government documents, but that went largely ignored by the then-MSM.)

The fact that "Stone had a few conversations with Soviet agents who were working undercover in order to help them identify people in Berlin who might be helpful in opposing Hitler and the Nazis" is hardly criminal, especially considering that "Stone's decision to aid the Soviets against the Nazis was exactly the same one made by the United States government after Hitler's Barbarossa invasion."

Stone's accusers do not mention that, "for literally decades after World War II, the FBI maintained a constant watch on Stone's actions, and particularly during the height of the McCarthy-era hysteria, were never able to locate a single questionable action from the standpoint of his loyalty to his country or his principles."

So what do we have? I think the following: A man of avowed anti-Fascist sympathies, and to my mind, still-foolishly naïve about Stalin and the Soviet Union, agreed on a couple of occasions to help those whom he believed to be actually fighting fascism, while his own country, still mired in childish isolationism, preferred to look away. He stopped, however, immediately following the Hitler-Stalin pact of August 1939...

Alterman concludes that "nothing the authors claim to have uncovered would be used by a careful historian, unmotivated by either anti-Stone or anti-liberal animus, to declare Izzy Stone to have been a 'spy':"

They say, "case closed." I say, lucky for them that it's impossible to libel a dead man.


update (5/19 @ 12:59pm)
For those who are highly motivated, the Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project has posted all 1,115 pages of the Vassiliev Notebooks (h/t: pha7boy at SlashDot).

Over at ClownHall, John Hawkins vented at liberals by listing the "Top Seven Techniques Liberals Use to Lie About Conservatives" (h/t: Gavin M. at Sadly, No!). Hawkins claimed that "liberals lie incessantly...for liberals, lying is the rule, not the exception:"

... the more shameless the lies, the better because the target of the scandalous accusation and his defenders will often waste inordinate amounts of time and energy fighting ridiculous, unfounded allegations that a certain percentage of uninformed Americans will simply assume are true without evidence.

If you've been asleep for the past few decades, have an enormous capacity for self-delusion, or are willfully blind to most of what is said in the mainstream corporate media, Hawkins' assertions might almost seem to make sense. For the rest of us, however, his article is a standard exercise in conservative projection. More interesting than that tired up-is-down Coulterish balderdash, though, is his claim that:

If liberals told the truth about what they believe and want to do, the Democratic Party would practically be wiped out in much of the country. [...] Unlike liberals, conservatives believe most Americans share our values and so, if you want to know what we think, all you have to do is ask us and we will tell you.

That explains the unprecedented secrecy of the Bush regime, the disappearing White House visitors' logs, the secret energy policy meetings, the spying without warrants, the ghost detainees, the insistence on not giving straight answers (and especially not sworn testimony), the secret memos, and the general desire to avoid investigation into all the crimes that took place behind their resolutely closed doors.

Conservative politicians love to talk about their "values," but they also feel a need to hide the huge disconnect between their rhetoric and the reality of their actions in office. Hmm...I wonder why?

Austin Cline writes about theists' efforts toward "Defining Atheism," noting that "when someone claims that a person is an atheist because they 'deny the existence of God,' we can start to see some of the errors and misunderstandings that statement involves:"

First, the term "God" hasn't been defined, so what the atheist thinks of it cannot be automatically assumed. The theist cannot simply assert that whatever they have in mind must also be something which the atheist has in mind. Second, it is not true that whatever this god turns out to be, the atheist must automatically deny it. This concept might turn out to be too incoherent to justify either belief or denial.

As a matter of fact, many exchanges between atheists and theists turn out to be frustrating and unsatisfactory because no one ever bothers to stop and explain what is meant by the key term "god." Until that happens, no serious, productive, or rational discussion can take place. Unless we know what the theist means by "god," we'll never have any chance to judge if anything said in defense of belief is adequate. Only when we know what the theist means by "god" will we be able to seriously critique their concepts.

Letting theists leave their primary concept undefined is a key tactic that I've rarely seen addressed; nearly as pernicious is their propensity to manufacture a definition of atheism that suits their interests (e.g., hating a non-existent deity, wanting to live an amoral life). We would do well to point out that theists are obligated to first define their god(s), and then to supply proof that supports his/her/its/their existence. Letting them off the hook with a simple statement such as "I believe in the God of Christianity" won't do, either; there is too much disagreement between the 38,000 Christian sects, not to mention the continuing effects of religion's doctrinal inventiveness.

Once they offer up some details, explaining our position becomes that much easier.

Brian Tamanaha at Balkinization is reporting that, "According to reports out of Kabul, the Taliban announced that they have waterboarded three U.S. soldiers taken prisoner:"

The Taliban commander asserted that waterboarding is not torture and does not violate the Geneva Convention or U.S. law. He assured everyone that a medical officer monitored all waterboarding sessions to insure that no permanent damage was done to the soldiers. [...]

In support of his assertion that waterboarding is not torture, the Taliban commander cited legal analysis produced by the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice. He pointed out that the authors of this legal analysis are a respected federal judge on the second highest court in America and a professor at a top American law school.

What possible objection could the Bushie wingnuts have if this were a real news story instead of a thought experiment? Their disdain for the law reminds me of this exchange between William Roper and Sir Thomas More from Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons:

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!

More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast -- man's laws, not God's -- and if you cut them down -- and you're just the man to do it -- do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

For daring to voice her objections to Bush's torture, Nancy Pelosi has come under increasingly vitriolic attacks from the GOP's media mouthpieces. Karl Rove used a WSJ column to call her "an accomplice to 'torture'," MediaMatters points out that this accusation, not surprisingly, is false:

Rove's claim is not consistent with either the definition of "accomplice" or with the reality of Pelosi's ability to influence the Bush administration's conduct of interrogations. Black's Law Dictionary defines an accomplice as "[o]ne who knowingly, voluntarily and with common intent unites with the principal offender in the commission of a crime." Black's states further: "One is liable as an accomplice to the crime of another if he gave assistance or encouragement or failed to perform a legal duty to prevent it with the intent thereby to promote or facilitate commission of the crime."

But Pelosi could not have "failed to perform a legal duty to prevent" the conduct if she was in fact powerless to stop it.

Newt Gingrich unloaded on her as well:

"I think this is the most despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort I've seen in my lifetime. [...] She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowist [sic] of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior."

Newt's hypocrisy knows no bounds--and neither does his projection--but Anonymous Liberal's "Pelosi-gate" summary puts the blame where it belongs: "To the extent Nancy Pelosi knew about the Bush administration's torture program and didn't raise objections, she deserves to be criticized."

But there's a HUGE difference between ordering the commission of war crimes and simply being on notice that they may be occurring. On the list of culpable actors, of which there are many, the people who lacked the courage to protest are far down the list, particularly those like Nancy Pelosi who had no real say in what was going on (remember she was the minority leader; the Bush administration did not care what she thought about anything).

Finally, and this is worth emphasizing, Pelosi herself is calling for the creation of a Truth Commission, which presumably would explore what everyone knew and when. The level of hypocrisy and incoherence it takes for Republicans to point to Pelosi as being some sort of key figure in this scandal is astounding. And the fact that the press corps would latch on to this rather ridiculous diversion is telling.

The blame, in fact, goes all the way to the top of the previous administration. The beginning of this YouTube clip features Dick Cheney explaining to Bob Schieffer last weekend that Bush signed off on the torture program:

TPM has the transcript:

SCHIEFFER: Did President Bush know everything you knew?

CHENEY: I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew -- he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the president. He signed off on it.

Even if Pelosi knew about waterboarding, the (so-called) liberal media's spin on this as a Democratic scandal is ludicrous. Joe Conason's "We Tortured to Justify War" reminds us that the reason for Bush's torture was the fabrication of 'intelligence' to justify the Iraq invasion:

Cheney now claims that he preserved the country from terrorism and saved thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives. We need a serious investigation, with witnesses including the former vice-president under oath, to determine what he and his associates actually did with the brutal powers they arrogated to themselves -- because instead their actions cost thousands upon thousands of American and Iraqi lives, all in the service of a political lie.

When I posted that brand timeline yesterday, I got to thinking about a design-oriented post I never finished earlier this month. Logan Walters redesigned a bunch of Wu-Tang Clan album covers in the classic Blue Note style (h/t: David Schmader at Slog). These are some samples of his work, with more at his flickr photostream:

20090516-wunote.jpg

He definitely nailed the design flavor of the originals, but I would have used a logo that's more Blue Note and less Wu-Tang...perhaps something like this:

20090506-wunote.gif

This image of daily brand usage from Dear Jane Sample (h/t: Geekologie) is eye-opening:

20090515-brandtimeline.jpg

Andrew Sullivan's Quote of the Day from earlier this week began:

Torture "works" in that torture victims speak. The information gained is notoriously unreliable, however, as noted since the time of Aristotle.

Aristotle's Rhetoric does indeed mention the unreliability of torture:

...people under its compulsion tell lies quite as often as they tell the truth, sometimes persistently refusing to tell the truth, sometimes recklessly making a false charge in order to be let off sooner. [...] ...no trust can be placed in evidence under torture.

(Book I, Chapter 15)

So much for conservatives honoring the wisdom of the past, eh?

al-Libi

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In following up on the death of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, I found that Andy (Guantanamo Files) Worthington reported the death on 10 May. At the time, he wrote that "So far...the only English language report is on the Algerian website Ennahar Online:"

...which reported that the Libyan newspaper Oea stated that al-Libi (aka Ali Abdul Hamid al-Fakheri) "was found dead of suicide in his cell," and noted that the newspaper had reported the story "without specifying the date or method of suicide."

The case has been slowly gathering steam, and Worthington now has an AlterNet feature on it:

...al-Libi was rendered by the CIA to Egypt, where, under torture, he claimed that Saddam Hussein had offered to train two al-Qaeda operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons.

This claim was used by Colin Powell, in his speech to the UN in February 2003, when the Secretary of State was attempting to drum up support for the invasion of Iraq, even though, as the New York Times revealed in 2005, the Defense Department's own Defense Intelligence Agency had concluded, in February 2002, that al-Libi was "intentionally misleading" his interrogators.

In "The Death of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi," Ken Silverstein observes: "I wouldn't bet big money that he was a suicide, as Libya doesn't treat political detainees very well." Scott Horton's "A Convenient Death," also at Harper's, notes that "Al-Libi could have been a star witness in a case against those who built the bogus case for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the Bush Administration has long been eager to have him disappear:"

When, in September 2006, President Bush ordered the transfer of the "worst of the worst" terrorist detainees from CIA black sites to Guantánamo, al-Libi was nowhere to be found. Why? Al-Libi had great potential to embarrass the CIA and the Bush White House. The Bush Administration wanted him out of sight. They accomplished that, in the first instance, by turning him over to Libyan authorities, who subjected him to a pseudo-trial and locked him away for what turned out to be a life sentence.

I don't remember where I saw the Simply Calvin & Hobbes fan website mentioned yesterday, but I'm glad I did. The Snowmen and Calvinball pages are highly recommended, as is--of course--the whole ten-year run of the strip. ProgressiveBoink lists "25 Great C&H Strips," which hardly indicate the consistent brilliance of Watterson's creation; other sets of 25 equally stellar strips could easily be chosen.

The three-volume Complete Calvin & Hobbes boxed set is essential even for those of us who have all the original books, although Wikipedia notes that it's not quite complete:

The alternate 1985 strip [November 28, 1985] is still omitted, and two other strips (January 7, 1987, and November 25, 1988) have altered dialog.

links:
The official C&H website is here
Martijn Reemst wrote a C&H search page
an archive of the strip is here

Politico is reporting that "when the RNC meets in an extraordinary special session next week, it will approve a resolution rebranding their opponents the "Democrat Socialist Party." Oh, that's so clever! Brad DeLong snarks the following:

I hear that the Republican Party plans next week to rename the Democratic Party the "Democratic Socialists"...

... And to rename themselves the "National Socialists."

Zing!

(DeLong corrected the GOP's grammar, but I noticed that Republicans' confusion between the singular noun "Democrat" and the adjective "Democratic" persists. They really are the party of tradition--accuracy, not so much.)

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for posting this picture of bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding (website, Wikipedia) during a performance at the White House yesterday:

20090513-esperanzaspalding.jpg

The Washington Post wrote up the event here, and you can find her latest CD here.

pull the plug

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In reference to Richard Posner's "Is the Conservative Movement Losing Steam?" article, Nate Silver at 538 looked at education and exit polling, observing that "Republicans have gradually been losing the egghead vote:"

I wonder how that translates into their ability to recruit strategists and "thought-leaders" who can work on the campaign, policy and media sides and help to lead them out of their current slump.

Posner's article laments the decline of conservative intellectuals, noting that as "[l]eading conservative intellectual figures grew old and died [...] their successors lacked equivalent public prominence, as conservatism grew strident and populist:"

...it is notable that the policies of the new conservatism are powered largely by emotion and religion and have for the most part weak intellectual groundings. That the policies are weak in conception, have largely failed in execution, and are political flops is therefore unsurprising. [...] By the fall of 2008, the face of the Republican Party had become Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber. Conservative intellectuals had no party.

To point out that this is not a recent development, here are the opening and closing lines of Michael Lind's 1995 Dissent essay "The Death of Intellectual Conservatism:"

The collapse of intellectual conservatism in America has been as complete as it has been swift.

[...]

Today, as always, it is possible to be an American intellectual who is politically conservative. But conservatism as an intellectual movement in the United States is dead.

It's been nearly fifteen years since then, and the conservative movement still shows no higher brain functions. Will someone do the humane thing and pull the plug?

bankrupt

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Dean Baker discusses "The Bankrupt Debate Over Bankrupting Our Children" at TruthOut. He calls out deficit hawks for "bad logic and bad economics" and for "promot[ing] a nonsense worldview in which the metric of how well we are treating our children is the size of the national debt:"

For example, improving the education system or rebuilding the infrastructure or developing clean energy technology all make our children worse off, since their main measure of intergenerational equity is the size of the government debt.

In reality, what determines the well-being of future generations is the whole world that we hand down to them: the public and private capital stock, the state of technical knowledge and the specific skills and education that we give the future workforce as well as the natural environment and resources.

I didn't hear many complaints from the Right about the cost of Bush's trillion-dollar tax giveaways or military misadventures, but now that federal spending might benefit the least among us--well, that's socialism! Apparently, they don't want to spend a dime on anything other than exacerbating income inequality and spilling Muslim blood.

Bernie Horn exposes the GOP's falsity-fest on healthcare, courtesy of their Orwellian pollster and wordsmith Frank Luntz. Luntz's secret "Language of Healthcare" memo was leaked, with such startling advice as

If the dynamic becomes "President Obama is on the side of reform and Republicans are against it," then the battle is lost...

and

If you make this debate about Republicans vs. Obama, you lose.

In the face of Obama's popularity--and the public's recognition of the need for healthcare reform--Luntz's best advice for the GOP is this:

Say no to a Washington takeover of healthcare and say yes to personalized patient-centered care.

and this

The idea that a doctor or a hospital would deny care that they need is what frightens them the most about a Washington takeover.

Of course, that's exactly what happens in the profit-driven healthcare system today: HMOs and insurance companies routinely deny care to fatten their profit margin. After all, they're not in the healthcare business--they're in the money-making business. Horn said much the same thing later in the article:

Progressive proposals guarantee grievance and appeal procedures in all types of health insurance, and protect all federal and state patients' rights. So we should not only defend our program from conservative misrepresentations, we should counterattack that our progressive health care proposals protect Americans from insurance company bureaucrats who currently make arbitrary decisions and improperly interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.

The infamous "Harry & Louise" ads helped to torpedo Clinton's proposed reforms in 1993, and I fully expect a similar campaign this time around. No doubt Luntz has much more up sleaze up his sleeve than calling reform "a Washington takeover."

At Box Turtle Bulletin, Jim Burroway shows how the Right is "Lying About The Hate Crime Bill:"

You can always tell when our opponents are really scared. Their lies become more ridiculous. Such is the case with the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (also known as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act). The proposed legislation expands the already existing federal hate crime law to include violent crimes based on the victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and/or disability. The current law already covers actual or perceived race, ethnicity, color and religion.

James Dobson (of Focus on the Phallus) claims that the Hate Crimes Bill "contains no adequate safeguards to protect the preaching of God's word" and states:

Because the liberals in Congress would not define sexual orientation, we have to assume that protection under the law will be extended to the 30 sexual disorders identified as such by the American Psychiatric Association.

Burroway quotes the relevant federal and APA definitions of sexual orientation, and shows Dobson's dishonesty in his claim of the legislation's protection for "30 sexual disorders." Burroway also offers this observation:

Remember, Dobson holds a Ph.D. in psychology. He clearly knows that he's lying, and he has chosen to do so as a deliberate tactic. There's simply no other plausable explanation.

I would only add a rebuttal to Dobson's "adequate safeguards to protect the preaching of God's word" remark, which is also manifestly untrue. Dobson is free to preach his interpretation of his translation of his compilation of what he supposes to be his god's words--thanks to the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. Recognizing that fact would negate his Christianist persecution complex, so he sweeps it aside along with all those inconvenient facts. What will he lie about next?

The he-said/she-said situation between Porter Goss and Nancy Pelosi that I mentioned here became even more contentious with the release of some CIA briefing notes. WaPo's article "CIA Says Pelosi Was Briefed" lays it out like this:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was briefed in September 2002 about the use of harsh interrogation tactics against al-Qaeda prisoners, seemingly contradicting her repeated statements over the past 18 months that she was never told that these techniques were actually being used.

Pelosi's spokesperson Brendan Daly said:

"As this document shows, the Speaker was briefed only once, in September 2002. The briefers described these techniques, said they were legal, but said that waterboarding had not yet been used."

Upon hearing that the Bushies considered their torture techniques to be legal, Pelosi should have assumed that such techniques were intended to be used. Any other position is self-serving naïvete. From the Left is calling for Pelosi's resignation, while others--such as emptywheel--are skeptical of the CIA's claims, given the agency's pervious veracity problems. In particular, emptywheel notes that the CIA's list of briefings "doesn't mention waterboarding specifically in its description of that briefing (it does in quite a few others)."

ThinkProgress notes the CIA's disclaimer ("you and the committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened") and observes that "the CIA briefed Pelosi without staff, told her their practices were legal, and forbade her from discussing the meeting with colleagues." There is no doubt that had Pelosi would have suffered for daring to challenge the Bushevik legal machine at the height of their "Saddam Hussein = bin Laden with WMDs" full-court press, and John Byrne at Raw Story notes the potential legal ramifications:

It's important to note that all of the briefings were held in secret, and that lawmakers could have faced criminal prosecution if they spoke out. However, at least two Democrats did lodge complaints: Sen. Rockefeller, expressed his disapproval of items he learned during the briefings in a personal, hand-written letter to Vice President Dick Cheney; while, as the Washington Post revealed in December of 2007 that in 2003 Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) "filed a classified letter to the CIA...as an official protest about the interrogation program."

Mcjoan at DailyKos sees the larger picture:

Obviously Republicans fear what investigations could lead to, as does the CIA. Their leaders committed war crimes and they know it, and if they're going down, they'll take Democrats with them. It's entirely possible that the few Democrats briefed early on were told that waterboarding had been used, but these documents don't prove that.

This episode is further evidence that we need criminal investigations from a special
prosecutor, who would be as removed as possible (though obviously not entirely) from the politics of the story.

Scott Horton at Harper's notes that "the ground rules of these intelligence briefings require the silence of those who are briefed" and asks, "is it appropriate to gag Congressional leaders this way?"

Critics of such an effort [a probe into the Bush Program] have long seen the fact that Democratic Congressional leaders were briefed about the program as an Achilles heel. Use it to embarrass the Democratic leadership, they think, and any probe will be shut down. So it's suspicious when the two prime figures in the briefing group, Jane Harman and Nancy Pelosi, suddenly become the targets of mysterious leaks sourced from the CIA or figures close to it. Extreme skepticism is warranted.

Horton's conclusion is that "The system failed over the last eight years:"

We need to ascertain exactly how it failed in order to prevent future incidents. And we need to give Pelosi credit for pushing for a probe, even when its results may well prove embarrassing to her. In this war of words, my instincts are clear. I'll go with the people who are pushing for disclosure and candor over supposedly well-intentioned guardians of the deep-dark secrets who hide in the shadows.

Agreed: let's have an investigation, without regard to party affiliation.

FDL's bmaz writes about the death of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in a Libyan prison (you remember, the guy who was tortured into giving us bogus intelligence that "justified" Bush's invasion of Iraq).

Heckuva job, Bushies.

Here's another image of the day--one that dumped 48 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and cost taxpayers over $300,000 as well as some New Yorkers their peace of mind at seeing a jetliner escorted by a fighter plane over their airspace:

20090508-costlyflight.png

(The responsible party has resigned from the White House Military Office.)

Here's an Image of the Day for you:

20090508-godlesscreation.jpg

Yesterday was the National Day of Prayer, and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State reminds us that "It is simply not the business of government to advise when, if and how people pray:"

America does not need an official, government-mandated "National Day of Prayer." Religious individuals who feel strongly about the country are free to pray for it at any time. They do not need to be directed or encouraged by government.

Government should refrain from sponsoring religious worship. It would be best if the National Day of Prayer were ended entirely. If that is not possible, the event, at the very least, should be pried free from the suffocating grasp of the Religious Right.

The Moonie Times is upset that Obama is "distancing himself" from the NDoP rituals, and Shirley Dobson of the National Day of Prayer Committee is "disappointed in the lack of participation by the Obama administration." She's not alone:

"For those of us who have our doubts about Obama's faith, no, we did not expect him to have the service," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. "But as president, he should put his own lack of faith aside and live up to the office."

Delusional much? Obama a) issued a pro-NDoP proclamation and b) prayed. That is more than enough to "live up to the office" of the president, which has no requirement of either faith or observation. Obama hosed a Passover Seder last month, a White House first, but the wingnuts are pissy because Obama didn't ask to attend the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast. Interestingly, as the Moonie Times observes, Obama:

...would not have been allowed to speak because of a 2004 directive from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops saying that public figures who have taken positions opposing Catholic doctrine should not be publicly honored.

Steve Benen notes at Washington Monthly that "There's no need for the White House to host a special event, organized by evangelical activists, promoting an exclusive and unnecessary 'holiday' encouraging worship" and quotes CWA's Wright as complaining that "President Obama may have problems believing in the Christian faith, he should at least honor the traditions and foundation of our country." Benen replies:

First, the president doesn't have a problem "believing in the Christian faith," and these ridiculous attacks only make the religious right appear more sleazy. Second, if we're going to honor "the traditions and foundation of our country," I'd remind the religious right that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison specifically opposed government-endorsed prayer days.

Over at Balloon Juice, John Cole snarkily mocks Christianists' paranoid ignorance

"Suck it, wingnuts. Maybe if you promise to hold the event facing Mecca next year, Obama will show up."

but I'll go with Thomas Jefferson for my Quote of the Day:

"Fasting & prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the Constitution has deposited it." (letter to Rev Millar, 23 January 1808)

Freethinkers can celebrate the National Day of Reason; those of a particularly sarcastic bent may wish to start a National Day of Magical Thinking instead.


update (5/8 @ 8:51am):
Steve Benen sets the record straight in this postscript, asking "So, what's the problem?"

Unlike George W. Bush, Obama didn't open up the White House to the self-appointed National Day of Prayer Task Force, run by religious right activists, which has hosted exclusive events for the last eight years.

This has led a variety of conservatives to make a variety of demonstrably false claims.

After debunking five of their falsities, he concludes:

Honestly, I'm not sure which is more annoying -- the conservatives' prayer-related dishonesty or their prayer-related whining.

This list of Mahler's instruction to musicians (h/t: Bruce Hembd at Horndog Blog) is a great April Fool's parody, and here are a few of my favorites:

Im Anfang sehr gemaechlich - In intense inner torment

Alle Betonungen sehr zart - With more intense inner torment

Sehr gemaechlich - With indescribably horrific inner torment

Von hier ab unmerklich breiter werden - As if wild animals were
gnawing on your liver

The Daily Beast's John Sifton writes about "The Bush Administration Homicides" (h/t: John Byrne at AlterNet):

In February 2006, a review by Human Rights First determined that almost 100 detainees died in U.S. custody in Afghanistan and Iraq facilities as of 2005, and that almost half of the cases were clearly homicides. Several cases discussed in the report were clear cases of torture homicides.

(The HRF report on detainee deaths that Sifton discussed looked familiar, and I could have sworn that I'd blogged about it--but I couldn't find a post.) In contrast to torture, Sifton notes that the homicide of detainees is "an uncomplicated crime:"

A criminal homicide occurs when a person or set of persons simply causes the death of another without legal justification. There is little nuance, little room for escape. Once a person is dead, the killer and those assisted him, those who solicited his crime or aided or abetted it, are accomplices.

The bottom line is that many detainee homicides in Iraq and Afghanistan were the direct result of approval and orders from the highest levels of government, and that high officials in the government are accomplices. Any meaningful investigation of those homicides would reveal the initial authorizations and their link to the homicides.

Homicide presents legal issues impossible to ignore. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice cannot conclude their deliberations about Bush-era torture policies without closely investigating the homicide cases tied to them. One cannot speak glibly of "policy differences" and "looking forward" and "distraction" when corpses are involved.

Conservatives are reluctant to admit that torture is a crime, but at least they realize that torturing someone to death is a crime--right? Or will they have an excuse for that as well?

Last week, Dennis Prager suggested that there are "Nine Questions the Left Needs to Answer About Torture," but it is the apologists for Bush's torture who need to answer a few questions--and I have a few for Prager, based on the questions from his article:

1). I haven't seen a study on this, but it's my perception that most liberals opposed Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq because the country was scared into supporting it on the basis of cooked evidence. (Cf. WMD lies) If the case for removing Saddam Hussein were so strong, why wasn't it done during the first Gulf War when we had the full backing of the international community?

2). I draw the torture line with the Geneva Convention, the UN Convention Against Torture, and the US Army Intelligence and Interrogation Handbook. Why would you move any closer to outright barbarism than is absolutely necessary?

3). The hypothetical Hollywood example of "a high-level terrorist with knowledge that would likely save innocents' lives" is hardly a moral justification for torture. Why are common decency and adherence to the law the issues, rather than lawless torture?(Cf. Ronald Reagan)

4). Referring to Bush's torture enablers as lawyers "prosecuted for giving legal advice [that is] unpopular but sincerely argued" sidesteps the fact that their opinions were deliberately dishonest--even for Bushevik lawyers--and designed merely to provide legal cover. Is there any reason why impeachment and disbarment should not be on the table as their cases move forward?

5). Blaming the press for releasing the OLC memos ("classified reports [that] would inflame passions in many parts of the Muslim world") points the finger of blame in the wrong direction. Why would journalists be culpable rather than the torturers?

6). From Prager's claims that "fear [of prosecution for torture] has paralyzed agents on the ground," it is clear that he underestimates the power of morality. Gandhi, King, and Mandela didn't worry about prevailing in the face of violent injustice--why should we?

7). Prager asks if we want to "prosecute members of Congress such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who were made aware of the waterboarding of high-level suspects and voiced no objections." First, following the legal advice of Bushies is a questionable decision. Second, this is a he-said-she-said situation; according to Politico, Pelosi's recollection differs from that of Porter Goss:

They said they had a legal opinion. They said they weren't going to use [waterboarding] and when they did they would come back to Congress to report to us on that.

Legislators' culpability is rather limited here, don't you think?

8). The photos of the torture of (accused) terrorists is evidence of criminality and relevant to ongoing legal proceedings. Would predicating their release on other actions make you feel better about the torture?

9). Prager asks "Do you think that evil people care how morally pure America is?" The obvious answer is "No," and the reason is far deeper than his mere tactical concern with terrorists. They don't care, but we must; morality is the primary qualitative difference between them and us, and throwing that away in the rush for revenge serves their interests far more than ours. Aren't a "shining city on a hill" and a torturer's dungeon fundamentally incompatible?

In "A Skeptic's View of Sexual Transcendence," Greta Christina discusses non-supernatural sexual transcendence:

I am a hard- core atheist/ materialist/ naturalist/ humanist/ skeptic/ whatever you want to call someone who doesn't believe in any supernatural entities or substances. And I'm just as unconvinced -- and almost as troubled -- by the ideas of the Goddess and chi energy and immortal consciousness and so on, as I am by the ideas of God and angels and Hell.

As with her previous piece on the idea of the "mundane physical world," she sees the materialist view of life and sex as "magnificent:"

To me, the idea that, out of nothing but earth and water and sunlight, these wildly complex living beings have developed, not only with the capacity for consciousness but with the capacity to create the experience of ecstasy for ourselves and one another . . . that is just jaw-droppingly astonishing. We can create the experience of joy, of deep, expansive pleasure that takes us out of ourselves and into one another . . . and we do it through a complex re-arrangement of the energy of the sun, and the atoms and molecules of the planet.

That is magnificent. That, more than any spiritual belief I ever had, makes me feel both humble and proud. That makes me feel intimately connected with the rest of the Universe . . . in a way that no spiritual practice ever did. What's that old hippie song about how we're stardust, made of billion- year- old carbon? You don't have to believe in metaphysical energy to think that that is wicked cool.

[...]

...the act of sex, and the experience of sexual pleasure, connects us to every other living thing on earth. We are the cousins of everything that lives on this planet, with a common ancestor of primordial soup going back billions of years . . . and we are all related, not entirely but substantially, because of sex.

That is awesome. That makes me want to go fuck right now, just so I can feel connected with my fish and tetrapod and primate ancestors. That is entirely made of win.

Her writing is also entirely made of win.

Pew looked at the "Religious Dimensions of the Torture Debate," which CNN summarized by noting that "The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists." At The Atlantic, Chris Good adds up the numbers

A combined 54 percent of at-least-weekly church-goers say torture is either often or sometimes justifiable; for those who attend monthly or a few times a year, that figure is 51 percent; for those who do not attend, it is 42 percent.

and asks a few questions:

How could this be? What happened to forgiveness and the other cheek? The Lamb of God's teachings stop at the walls of Guantanamo?

Andrew Sullivan calls this study "terribly depressing news:"

So Christian devotion correlates with approval for absolute evil in America. And people wonder why atheism is gaining in this country. [...] ...it remains a fact that white evangelicals are the most pro-torture of any grouping.

Not only is religion not necessary for morality, it appears--at least in this case--to be a hindrance.


update (5/6 @ 2:57pm):
This study has similar to a 2006 study that I mentioned here.

Karen Horn's Standpoint article "Why Adam Smith Still Matters" (h/t: Arts & Letters Daily) discusses the continued relevance of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, as well as his earlier Theory of Moral Sentiments. We need to read more than Krugman and Keynes in order to understand economics, and reading Smith is necessary in order to effectively counter the Right's misrepresentations and oversimplifications of him.

Tom Jacobs' piece on psychologist Jonathan Haidt's Happiness Hypothesis, "Conservatives Live in a Different Moral Universe," should be a model for journalists to emulate. Jacobs grounds Haidt's theory in his life, explains it and its relevance, and does it all in an entertaining manner. His lead anecdote, though, rubbed me the wrong way:

Jonathan Haidt is hardly a road-rage kind of guy, but he does get irritated by self-righteous bumper stickers. The soft-spoken psychologist is acutely annoyed by certain smug slogans that adorn the cars of fellow liberals: "Support our troops: Bring them home" and "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

"No conservative reads those bumper stickers and thinks, 'Hmm -- so liberals are patriotic!'" he says, in a sarcastic tone of voice that jarringly contrasts with his usual subdued sincerity. "We liberals are universalists and humanists; it's not part of our morality to highly value nations. So to claim dissent is patriotic -- or that we're supporting the troops, when in fact we're opposing the war -- is disingenuous.

"It just pisses people off."

As a liberal, I see those bumper-stickers as attempts to reclaim patriotism from conservatives' pretense that only they can be patriots--and I always considered them to be designed for encouraging other liberals more than at converting conservatives. I wonder if Haidt ever considered the possibility that liberals may be doing something other than offending conservatives' delicate sensibilities.

Nathan Schneider's "Beyond Belief" at the Boston Globe (h/t: Nigel Warburton) observes that "some of the world's healthiest societies have the lowest levels of piety" and notes the work of Phil (Society without God) Zuckerman. Schneider writes that Zuckerman's book "offers a revealing portrait of irreligion in Denmark and Sweden, countries where paltry levels of church attendance coincide with economic prosperity, low crime, and abounding quality of life. These nations challenge the claim that piety is a prerequisite for a healthy society..." and notes a curious lack of interest from the often-secular scientific community:

Philosophical reflection about nonbelief has been common since Nietzsche declared the death of God more than a century ago, but scientific research on it has been rare. [...] "People who truly have no religion are not very well understood," says David Yamane of Wake Forest University, editor of the journal Sociology of Religion.

I have yet to read Zuckerman's book, but I did discuss one such cross-cultural study here. Studies of atheists are so rare that the only one with which I'm familiar is the one from this book by Hunsberger and Altemeyer, which I mentioned here.

James Lewis rails against "The Great Liberal Pandemonium Machine" at American Thinker, writing that:

The Left rules by constant fear, but none of its predicted catastrophes come true. Ever notice that?

Uh, yeah...sure. Let's take a look at some of those predicted catastrophes:

Saddam (Axis of Evil) Hussein is the next Hitler, he's in cahoots with bin Laden to supply WMDs to terrorists, and the smoking gun will be a mushroom cloud; our president is a Kenyan-born radical Muslim/socialist/Marxist who is "taking cues from Lenin" and planning to socialize medicine and ration healthcare; ATF stormtroopers and government "gun grabbers" are censoring churches, silencing Christians, and banning Bibles as they set up FEMA labor camps overseen by UN black helicopters and led by the ZOG antichrist; amoral atheist scientists are planning animal-human hybrids and pining for man-on-dog marriages in order to destroy civilization as we know it; we'll never know the truth about any of these conspiracies because an updated "Fairness Doctrine" will silence conservative talk radio.

Ever notice those?

The conservative noise machine has been scaring voters into compliance for decades--since at least the evil-empire/Red-Dawn/cold-dead-fingers era. 9/11 was, one hopes, the last time that their scaremongering and bullying will work out to their advantage.

Today is a double holiday for geeks, celebrating the natural wonders of Astronomy Day along with the artistic creations of Free Comic Book Day. I searched for an image that covered both holidays, and this Jack Kirby/Terry Austin pinup of the Silver Surfer fits the bill:

20090502-silversurfer.jpg

This year's free comic books are listed here, and are available at your local comic-book shop (if you're visiting for the first time, DC's After Watchmen site might help suggest further reading choices).

links:
NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day
HubbleSite's gallery
NASA's Image of the Day

This made me laugh, and now it's my turn to pass it along:

20090501-pigletpooh.jpg

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