June 2009 Archives

John Corvino's piece "Gay Marriage and the Bigot Card" in The Humanist magazine yesterday led me to check out his "Gay Moralist" column. He quickly became a new favorite of mine, especially when he observed that "opponents [of same-sex marriage] ignore the substance [of our arguments] in favor of touting their alleged persecution:

Marriage-equality opponents are increasingly complaining that we're calling them bigots. This leads to a kind of double-counting of our arguments: For any argument X that we offer, opponents complain both that we're saying X and that we're saying that anyone who disagrees with X is a bigot.

Then, instead of responding to X--that is, debating the issue on the merits--they focus on the alleged bigotry charge and grumble about being called names.

I've dropped the b-bomb a few times over the past several years of blogging--100 times out of 600,000 words in nearly 2,000 posts--but not without reason. (Actually, "without reason" is my justification for using the word bigot in the first place: when dealing with unjustified discrimination, identifying it as bigotry is an appropriate response.) Our use of the word bigot irks Corvino as well:

Personally, I think the term "bigot" should be used sparingly. Many of those who oppose marriage equality are otherwise decent people who can and sometimes do respond to reasoned dialogue.

To call such persons bigots is not merely inaccurate; it's a conversation-stopper.

If anything, their claim that bigotry is required by their religious beliefs is the real conversation-stopper. Since--in their minds, at least--reveled religion always trumps human law, they are the ones stopping all dialogue, refusing to compromise, and demanding that we all live according to their rules (whichever ones they choose to obey, anyway). As we make no similar demands of them, their persecution complex seems especially ludicrous.

In "That's How I Was Raised," Corvino accuses opponents of marriage equality of "moral laziness" despite accepting them as "otherwise decent folk misled by powerful tradition:"

When traditions cause palpable harm to people, it's time to change. At that point, rethinking tradition is not merely optional...it's morally mandatory.

One can see that--without a formal mechanism for self-correction--religion does a much poorer job at making those changes in a timely manner.

Check out this great gallery of past-their-prime superheroes by Donald Soffritti (h/t: Geekologie). This is one of my favorites:

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Neda links

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Since her death, Neda Agha-Soltan has become an icon of the Iranian revolution. Voices of solidarity have been writing in Neda's memory at We Are All Neda:

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Computer geeks should check out NedaNet, a "network of hackers formed to support the democratic revolution in Iran:"

Our mission is to help the Iranian people by setting up networks of proxy severs, anonymizers, and any other appropriate technologies that can enable them to communicate and organize -- a network beyond the censorship or control of the Iranian regime.

If you're technically inclined--or know someone who is--read Richard Esguerra's article at EFF about setting up a Tor Bridge or Relay to help the Iranian resistance communicate.

Comic geeks may want to share SpreadPersepolis, (h/t: Journalista) which has remixed Marjane Satrapi's excellent graphic novel Persepolis to help illuminate the Iranian struggle.

Greta Christina's "Why Do Atheists Have to Talk About Atheism?" at AlterNet takes aim at theists' complaints about our participation in the marketplace of ideas, often expressed as a variant of "I wish atheists wouldn't talk so much about atheism." Her call is for a level playing field--one that does not privilege religion:

We see no reason to treat religion any differently from any other hypothesis about the world. We think it's valid to ask it to support its case just like any other hypothesis ... and just like any other hypothesis, we think it's valid to poke holes in it in public.

And we think one of the main reasons religion has survived for so long is that it's so impressively armored against criticism and indeed against the very idea that criticism of it is an acceptable thing to do.

So we therefore think criticizing religion is not only valid, but important. It doesn't just chip away at religious beliefs themselves. It chips away at the idea that religious beliefs should be immune to criticism. It chips away at the armor that religion has used so effectively for so many centuries to shield itself from any and all questions and critiques.

This passage is a great summation of why we need to keep talking:

Queer activists were "in your face"; civil rights activists were "hostile"; feminists were "strident." And now atheists who make our case are "intolerant" and "evangelical." When people speak out, not against atheism, but against the very idea of atheists persuasively expressing their views, I always want to ask if that's really the side of history they want to end up on.

We must contribute to the discussion, and help bend the arc of the moral universe ever closer toward justice.

The replies I made to Reverend Bresciani regarding his "slap in the face" comments about Gay Pride Month had an effect, primarily a shotgun-spewing of wingnut falsities, fears, and the ubiquitous persecution complex. I don't play the fractally wrong card very often, but Bresciani is the best example I've seen in some time.

I wrote that his "slap in the face" line only makes sense if LGBT people are not also fathers, patriots, and warriors--which is not the case. According to Barna, 70% are Christians, too! As I predicted, the Reverend answered with the evasive No-true-Scotsman fallacy. He claimed that:

"It isn't Barna who determines who is a christian [sic] he simply polls them."

I pointed out the fallacy and responded: "Are you able to determine whose faith is genuine and whose is not--at least moreso than Barna can--or are you denying the existence of millions (yes, millions...do the math!) of LGBT Christians for your own rhetorical convenience?" I didn't expect much of a response, and didn't receive one. Trying to puff up the numbers of like-minded bigots, Bresciani wrote about:

"all those (About 290 million [sic] Americans who still cringe at the perversion known as homosexuality."

The US Census Bureau reports that there are 306 million Americans, of which a much smaller number would call homosexuality a "perversion" or "cringe" at it. Two-thirds are in favor of either civil unions or marriage for gay couples, and the cringe contingent is steadily shrinking. Bresciani's holy text--or his understanding of it--may be immovable, but morality will nonetheless continue to progress. He can allege "slaps in the face" as much as he wishes, but most Americans have come to understand homosexuality in a far more accurate way than was possible thousands of years ago. He complained about

"the heavy handed gay agenda we are enduring today"

but that doesn't add up either. Non-discrimination in employment, marriage, adoption, and military service are a "heavy-handed gay agenda?" (At least we already have the right to vote, or he'd be really upset!) Later, Bresciani asserted:

"You have your protections of the law."

Really?!? ENDA has been passed, and DADT and DOMA have been repealed? How could I have missed that momentous news? (Oh, that's right...because it never happened.)

[homosexuality is] "a lifestyle that will assuredly bring about the demise and eventual judgment of our nation"

Hmmm...dogs and cats living together, right?

"We who believe in both the Bible and our constitution have to tread a fine line."

Bresciani clearly doesn't believe in both--his faith always overrides the freedoms bequeathed to us by the Founders. The Constitution clearly permits many things (freedom of speech and religion, equal protection under the law, etc.) that are prohibited by his religious beliefs. Recognizing the freedom of others to make non-fundamentalist choices may seem like "treading a fine line" to him, but we are not obligated to believe in his deities, participate in his rituals, or observe his taboos. Bresciani asserted that

"Very few sins are said to be an abomination. Homosexuality is one of them."

I'm familiar enough with the Bible to not be cowed by a statement like this, but I dug into the subject a little bit more out of curiosity. The list of Biblical abominations is actually rather long: idolatry; witchcraft; improper sacrifices; eating seafood without fins or scales (and some birds); cross-dressing; dishonesty, and using inaccurate scales to cheat one's customers. Linda Malcor's "Putting Abominations in Perspective" is an excellent piece of research, and well worth reading:

Of the sixty-seven times that the word "abomination" is used in the Bible (Revised Standard Version), only twice does it appear in the New Testament. Revelation 21:27 simply says that anyone who practices abomination will not enter Heaven. In Luke 16:15 Jesus defines the love of money as an abomination to God. That's it as far as abominations in the New Testament are concerned, in spite of all the hoopla about Romans 1, which does not use the word.

Of the sixty-five occurrences of the word in the Old Testament, five refer to something as being an abomination to another people. Thirteen of the things labeled "abominations" are dietary restrictions, the observation of which would bar a person from consuming such things as clam chowder, shrimp and, one of my favorites, the non-existent four-legged insect, which certainly refers to something besides what we call "insects". Seventeen refer to improper sacrifice, although I am hard pressed to think of a single Christian (or Jewish, for that matter) congregation that slaughters animals on their altars these days. Outright adultery and adultery cause by divorce, which is prohibited by the Bible even though it is a widespread practice today, account for three of the verses. In addition to Jesus's comment in Luke, the love of money is decried as an abomination in two Old Testament passages. Four related verses cite dishonest trading practices as abominations. Twelve other verses list behaviors ranging from murder to women wearing "anything that pertains to a man" (for example, pants). Eight passages, including the one from Revelation, are not clear about what they mean by "abomination." Precisely two refer to homosexual behavior, though there was no understanding in biblical times of homosexuality as we define it today.

Another commenter pointed out that "(by any reasonable assessment) thousands of Allied troops who hit the beach at Normandy must have been gay," and Bresciani responded:

"This little gay re-writing of history is more proof enough that you live in an alternate world of your own creation."

Not surprisingly, Bresciani was the one doing the re-writing. Approximately 130-150,000 troops were landed at Normandy on D-Day, which puts the number of gays in the initial invasion force at between 1,300 (1% of 130K) and 7,500 (5% of 150K), to make conservative and moderate estimates. That's not a "gay re-writing of history," that's simple math. (This does not include any portion of the 850,000 or so that followed over the next few weeks.) There was plenty of other error-filled ranting by Bresciani, mostly directed at Obama:

"Our new socialist President"

"about two million people...are still waiting for his long form birth certificate" [...] Obama has spent "an estimated $1,000,000 to supress [sic] the uncovering of his own birth certificate and other personal documents"

"He has slapped the next generation in the face with a 9 trillion dollar debt"

He seems to hate Obama quite passionately, but calling him a socialist (how many times has that been disproven? I've done it so many times myself that I've lost count), blaming him for the national debt (over $10 trillion before his inauguration), and buying into the "Birther" conspiracy (despite how often and how thoroughly that has been debunked--see here, here, and here) does little to enhance Bresciani's credibility. His claim that an

"independant [sic] inspector" was "fired without warning for blowing the whistle"

required a little research. The firing of IG Gerald Walpin (see here and here) was done with 30 days notice, after an investigation initiated at the Board's request. (Yep, that sounds like a typical Faux conspiracy to me...)

For today's WTF moments, I offer these from among the Reverend's other remarks:

"anyone who has chosen to follow the gay lifestyle already has impaired judgment and I don't expect too much level thought after that" "It seems something in your thinking long ago caught fire and is now missing. I think the term is 'burned out.' Are you looking for it, complaining or blaming us because it is gone?"

"your own argument is...being trampled underfoot."

"your little serpent has tried to swallow his own tail."

"I think you are a long way down the road to burying yourself in your own self serving arguments. Perhaps its [sic] good for your website and your gay bloggers but it is fading beyond the pale of even the most rudimentary reason."

I honestly have no idea what he's trying to do here, other than adding some ad hominem remarks to his other logical fallacies. Although I rebutted his assertions with the relevant facts, but he kept re-firing the final lightweight and dull arrow in his quiver: he's offended because the Bible tells him that he should be. His refusal to address any of his numerous factual errors tells me that the facts don't matter to him--or, at least, they matter far less than his faith. His impervious-to-reason faith isn't much to stand on, but it's all he has left.

He had the last word over at Christian Voice, but he's not entitled to it here.

Besides being an astoundingly capable aircraft, the SR-71 Blackbird is also remarkably beautiful. This Smithsonian article (h/t: Jason Kottke) mentions that a Blackbird was featured in the new Transformers film.

I prefer its appearance as an inspiration for the J-Type 327 Nubian Royal Starship in the Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace:

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Bunch, Will. Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (New York: Free Press, 2009)

I originally wrote that Reagan was "nowhere near as bad as Bush," but then reconsidered that position--at least provisionally. These two books--Will Bunch's Tear Down This Myth and William Kleinknecht's The Man Who Sold the World--make the case that Reagan belongs, if not at the bottom of the list, at least much nearer to it than GOP propagandists would prefer. Allen Barra at TruthDig observes that:

Bunch sees Reagan primarily as a pragmatist whose image has been hijacked by a neoconservative cabal while Kleinknecht sees Reagan himself as the betrayer of what once was regarded as genuine conservatism.

The fallacies surrounding Reagan's tax-cutting, government-is-the-problem rhetoric come in for early criticism from Bunch. After listing Reagan's tax increases (Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982, Highway Revenue Act of 1982, Social Security Amendments of 1983, Deficit Reduction Act of 1984, Tax Reform Act of 1986), he observes:

Bruce Bartlett, the leading defender of the Reagan tax legacy, conceded in a 2003 article in National Review [online here] the stubborn facts that Reagan raised taxes every single year of his presidency except for his all-important first year in the Oval Office and his last, 1988, when his vice president, George H.W. Bush, was locked in what looked like a close race to succeed him. (pp. 58-9)

Contrary to the media myths of Reagan as "one of the most popular presidents in history" and "the most popular president ever to leave office" (p. 98), Bunch notes that:

FDR was more popular right before his death--not surprising with America on the brink of victory in World War II--but also the much-maligned Clinton had better poll numbers leaving office than Reagan. (p. 98)

The majority of voters disagreed with Ronald Reagan on most of the major issues facing America, from the time he took the oath of office until the day he left. (p. 104)

The cult-of-personality, president-I'd-like-to-have-a-beer-with mentality has served us rather poorly in the decades since, hasn't it? Bunch addresses Reagan's real legacy--after telling the story of the Grover Norquist's fabled Reagan Legacy Project--by noting that:

The GOP front-runner for 2000 had made it very clear to the American public: he wanted to be Ronald Reagan in the worst way.

This is exactly what would happen. (p. 162)

Reagan's untimely death during the election Summer of 2004 makes me wonder about the likelihood of a Bush victory without the hyper-emotional appeals of Operation Serenade's funeral extravaganzas and the flood of misty-eyed hagiographies. Even today, that misty emotionalism prevents a clear-eyed of Reaganism for many:

...the biggest obstacle to a more honest reappraisal of the Reagan presidency is even more complicated, and that is a new, more reality-based approach to our modern history from the American news media. Arguably, the book you are reading right now is a tiny step in that direction... (p. 223)

In the aftermath of the GOP's 2006 electoral defeat, George Will wrote about the "nostalgia for Ronald Reagan has become for many conservatives a substitute for thinking." This "mental paralysis," as Will called it, remains endemic in today's moribund GOP. Bunch ends on a note of hope:

Someday, the Oval Office will be home to a president who is not only a Great Communicator but also a visionary leader, who will appeal to this nation's spirit but with an agenda grounded in reality and with a common sense of mission, propelling citizens in the direction we want to go, toward a society that is prosperous but also fair, with opportunity once again for all Americans. (pp. 228-9)

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Kleinknecht, William. The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America (New York: Nation Books, 2009)

Kleinknecht's focus on domestic policy in The Man Who Sold the World is, if anything, more devastating to the Reagan myth than the international follies epitomized by the Iran-Contra fiasco. He notes that "No one--certainly not the mainstream media--seems to have noticed the Reagan's diagnosis of our economic problems has been debunked in its entirety, and not just be Keynesian economics" (pp. xvi-xvii, Introduction):

With his incessant claim that reducing government intervention in the economy would return us to the good times of the midcentury, Reagan was conveniently forgetting that America's prosperity had reached its highest levels at a time when government activism--the legacy of Progressivism and the New Deal--was also at its peak. America came out of World War II with the common man a hero, the welfare state firmly ensconced, and the influence of labor unions at an all-time high. And yet it was also a period of high capital formation, rising profits, rising productivity, and increasing living standards for even the poor and the middle class. (p. xix, Introduction)

(Not to mention that the top marginal income tax rates were much higher, as well; from 1932-1980, they ranged from 63% all the way up to 94%--in other words, at least twice today's top rate of 35%.)

Reagan's aw-shucks, golly-gee, there-you-go-again folksiness may have charmed (some of) America for a time, but the GOP-colored glasses no longer blind us to the reality of Reaganomics. Although "The bitter legacy of Reaganism...is all around us [...] ...the controversy that once surrounded Reagan seems to have been banished from our public discourse." (p. ix, Introduction) Kleinknecht comes to the conclusion that "the image of Ronald Reagan as a man who never wavered from the small-town values that he absorbed during a simpler, more wholesome period in American history is far off the mark:"

His values were actually quite malleable. He shifted his core beliefs depending on what he became convinced was in his own self-interest at the moment. He was a leftist until he felt duped by Hollywood communists and became an FBI informant. He was a committed labor leader until his own interests required self-serving deals with management. He was a New Dealer while the philosophy was benefiting him personally, but switched to Republicanism when the social welfare tab was coming out of his taxes. (p. 51)

Kleinknecht refers to Reaganomics as "the coup d'état that the rich were staging in Washington" (p. 70) and notes that the S&L crisis "worked out well for the new class of robber barons that emerged in the Reagan years:"

A small group of rich business types went on a spending spree, and the public picked up the $150-billion tab. Privatize the wealth and socialize the risk. That was the new ethos in the post-Reagan era. (p. 119)

He observes that "Reagan achieved deregulation merely by ordering the bureaucracy to stop enforcing the regulations that already existed and by filling the government's ranks with people who had little inclination to interfere with the private sector" (p. 107) and asks:

Where was the Securities and Exchange Commission while this free-for-all on Wall Street was reshaping the corporate map? Where were the Federal Regulatory Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the Justice Department Antitrust Division, and a host of other deferral regulatory agencies whose job it is to protect citizens from corporate thievery? They were fulfilling the promise of Reagan and his Millionaire Backers. They were letting the market work its magic. (p. 154)

The thieves were thick inside the Reagan administration as well, although this fact received little comment outside of a series of Doonesbury's "Sleaze on Parade" cartoons in April 1986:

By the end of Reagan's two terms, 138 members of his administration had been convicted, indicted, or investigated for criminal activity, a record of graft that far surpassed even the Nixon, Harding, and Grant administrations, Reagan's closest competitors in the sweepstakes for the most corrupt presidency. (p. 193)

A prime example is the series of scandals at the Department of Housing and Urban Development:

HUD was a branch of government that Reagan and his aides would just as soon have seen disappear. But they could not get away with closing down such a large federal agency, so they did the next best thing: by allowing it to be plundered and neglected to such an unconscionable degree, they ensured it would have no effectiveness and lose its already anemic constituency. (p. 202)

As Wikipedia reminds us, the various HUD scandals resulted in six convictions, including James Watt (Reagan's Secretary of the Interior) and two assistant HUD Secretaries. The rich (and well-connected) got richer--except when they got caught--and the rest got nothing. The bifurcated effects of Reaganized government are also seen in other areas besides corruption and taxation:

Reagan pledged to take government off the backs of the people, but for many Americans, that government is more intrusive than ever. Its emissaries are searching our children at school, stopping and questioning us at roadway checkpoints, rummaging through our bank accounts, gathering profiles of us in cyberspace, collecting samples of our urine, spying on us with cameras mounted in public spaces, and putting record numbers of us behind bars.

Some Americans are privileged enough not to notice these harshest aspects of the new law-and-order regime. Dogs tend to search schools in poor and working-class school districts while the children of the affluent go unmolested. Cameras don't watch over the public in affluent Ridgewood, New Jersey; they hang on telephone poles in working-class Harrison. [...] We treat the Constitution as a sacred text in the classroom and then, through these pointless exercises, teach the students that in real life it is meaningless. (pp. 229-230)

Reagan was a giant of modern politics, but one whose effect on the body politic is far less salutary than his hagiographers would have us believe.

The Age of Reagan will not be erased by empty promises of change followed by business as usual. It will have passed only when our leaders regain a sense of national purpose and contemplate real public investment in science, infrastructure, education, and job training--investment in the people of America. Human investment means not just education and health care but also increases in the minimum wage and government strategies to promote unionization in the service and manufacturing sectors.

It seems vaguely utopian to speak in such terms, but that only shows how far Reagan pushed the country to the right. Not long ago these were the enunciated policies of the federal government, fully accepted by centrist politicians, not just those on the left. Reagan's demagoguery was so skillful that these policies were virtually banished from public life. (pp. 267-268)

We may have begun to emerge from the long, dark shadow cast by his presidency, but the bills for his borrow-and-spend conservative economics will be with us for generations. For a president of Reagan's stature, no less than three Quotes of the Day will do:

Mark Hertsgaard noted in On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency that:

The American news media remained remarkably blasé in the face of the seemingly endless stream of irrational or otherwise baseless claims flowing from Washington. Upon Reagan's ascension to power in 1981, the press quickly settled into a posture of accommodating passivity from which it never completely arose. (p. 343)

American Scholar's Matthew Dallek writes that Reagan is "Not Ready for Mt. Rushmore," no matter what the Legacy-mongers would have us believe. In "reconciling the myth of Ronald Reagan with the reality," he observes that "The 20-year consensus about Reagan's achievements is slowly beginning to unravel:"

...it's become increasingly clear that his policies and politics had a more damaging economic, social, and political impact than has been acknowledged. For all of his impressive political achievements, Reagan was an angrier, more divisive figure than he is remembered as being, and at least some of Bush's biggest failures are traceable to Reagan's controversial approach to tax cuts, business regulation, national security, and social issues.

Senator Al Franken's Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot has a great riff after referring to Bill Clinton as "The Greatest President of the Twentieth Century:"

I know you're thinking, "Wait a minute, Al. Franklin Roosevelt was the greatest president of the century." And I suppose an argument could be made for FDR. Or Truman, I guess. Or Wilson, Kennedy, or Johnson. Or the other Roosevelt, if you're a Republican. Or Reagan, if you're a fucking idiot. (p. 246)


links:
Tear Down This Myth excerpts are at AlterNet and Salon, with a book salon at FDL.

Robert Scheer describes "Reagan's Socialist Legacy" at The Nation

The list on this sign is for a group of home-schooled student athletes. Perhaps their priorities should be re-examined...

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(h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula)

remiss, again

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Once again, like here and here, I've fallen behind in posting my book reviews. Up this time are the following:

Daniel Levitin: This Is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs

six books on argumentation and rhetoric

Alison Bechdel: The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For

Mark Richardson: Zen and Now

Ashley Kahn: The House That Trane Built

Juan Cole writes that "despite the bluster of the American Right that Something Must be Done" about Iran, "US politicians are no longer in a position to lecture other countries about their human rights. The kind of unlicensed, city-wide demonstrations being held in Tehran last week would not be allowed to be held in the United States:"

At the Republican National Committee convention in St. Paul, 250 protesters were arrested shortly before John McCain took the podium. Most were innocent activists and even journalists. Amy Goodman and her staff were assaulted. In New York in 2004, 'protest zones' were assigned, and 1800 protesters were arrested, who have now been awarded civil damages by the courts. Spontaneous, city-wide demonstrations outside designated 'protest zones' would be illegal in New York City, apparently.

When Cole observes that "The number of demonstrators arrested in Tehran on Saturday is estimated at 550 or so, which is less than those arrested by the NYPD for protesting Bush policies in 2004," he misses the crucial distinction that none of the US protesters ended up dead. Cole continues:

I applaud the Iranian public's protests against a clearly fraudulent election, and deplore the jackboot tactics that the regime is using to quell them. But it is important to remember that the US itself was moved by Bush and McCain toward a 'Homeland Security' national security state that is intolerant of public protest and throws the word 'terrorist' around about dissidents. Obama and the Democrats have not addressed this creeping desecration of the Bill of Rights, and until they do, the pronouncements of self-righteous US senators and congressmen on the travesty in Tehran will be nothing more that imperialist hypocrisy of the most abject sort.

The reality of freedom in the US may not quite live up to our rhetoric about it, but it remains demonstrably better than Iran's. When we have a "Brooks Brothers Riot" over election results (in that case, to preserve fraud rather than protest it) no one winds up getting shot to death in the streets.

This LA Times piece on writing by J Robert Lennon observes that "Writers, by and large, do not do a great deal of writing:"

We may devote a large number of hours per day to writing, yes, but very little of that time is spent typing the words of a poem, essay or story into a computer or scribbling them onto a piece of paper.

Recently, I timed myself during a typical four-hour "writing" session, in order to determine how many minutes I spend writing. The answer: 33. That's how long it took to type four pages of narrative and dialogue for my novel-in-progress, much of which will eventually end up discarded.

Most of my writing sessions--if they can truly be called that--are like his, especially what he later describes as "Frenetic typing accompanied by quiet sinister chuckling." Lennon also notes that despite life's intrusions, "writers are always working:"

To allow our loved ones to know that we are working when we are supposed to be engaged in the responsibilities of ordinary life would mark us as the narcissists and social misfits we are. And so we have invented "writing time" as a normalizing concept, to shield ourselves from the critical scrutiny we deserve. Indeed, even writers who don't write fiction are engaged in the larger fiction of imitating normal humans whose professional activities are organized into discrete blocks of time.

A big h/t to Wil Wheaton, who's no slouch as a writer himself, for linking to Lennon's article. My Quote of the Day is from Truman Capote, who was dismayed at the rapidity with which Jack Kerouac could put words on paper:

"It is not writing. It is only typing." (Lawrence Grobel, Conversations with Capote, p. 32)

Rev Michael Bresciani's Christian Voice column (h/t: Barry Duke at The Freethinker) decries the "social engineering" of Obama's proclamation that June is LGBT Pride Month. Brescsiani claims that there is a conflict between LGBT Pride and celebrations of Father's Day, Flag Day, and the anniversary of D-Day--and that "choosing the month of June is almost a slap in the face to millions of Americans who choose to remember the fathers' [sic] warriors and patriots who have given so much to make the country what it is."

He appears to be ignorant of the LGBT civil right movement that began at the Stonewall Rebellion (28 June 1969), which is the reason that Pride parades have been held on the last weekend in June for the last 40 years--not just in the US, but around the world. Brescsiani could have picked up some of that information from the very first paragraph of Obama's proclamation, but one wonders if he read past the title:

"Forty years ago, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City resisted police harassment that had become all too common for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. Out of this resistance, the LGBT rights movement in America was born. During LGBT Pride Month, we commemorate the events of June 1969 and commit to achieving equal justice under law for LGBT Americans."

Celebrating the month of June as Pride Month is not a "slap in the face" to fathers, WWII veterans, or our flag--after all, members of the LGBT community are also parents, patriots, and warriors, as the debates over adoption and military service demonstrate. (Besides, we can celebrate more than one thing at a time--Black History Month doesn't conflict with Presidents Day, does it?)

I mentioned in the comment thread that 70% of gay adults are Christians; do you think Reverend will respond with the "No true Scotsman" fallacy? (Someone else has already used Pascal's Wager, so I'm not optimistic about the level of argumentation...)

[See the follow-up post here.]

Kevin Baker's "Barack Hoover Obama" at Harper's looks skeptically at the president's political style and predicts that Obama "will be unable--indeed he will refuse--to seize the radical moment at hand."

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Probably the moment most comparable to the present was the start of the Great Depression, and for the scope and the quantity of the problems he is facing, Obama has frequently been compared with Franklin Roosevelt. So far, though, he most resembles the other president who had to confront that crisis, Herbert Hoover. [...] Hoover--like Obama--was almost certainly someone gifted with more intelligence, a better education, and a greater range of life experience than FDR. And Hoover, through the first three years of the Depression, was also the man who comprehended better than anyone else what was happening and what needed to be done. And yet he failed.

Baker wonders "Why was Herbert Hoover so reluctant to make the radical changes that were so clearly needed?"

Ultimately, Hoover could not break with the prevailing beliefs of his day. [...] Much like Herbert Hoover, Barack Obama is a man attempting to realize a stirring new vision of his society without cutting himself free from the dogmas of the past--without accepting the inevitable conflict. Like Hoover, he is bound to fail. [...] It is not too late for him to change direction and seize the radical moment at hand. But for the moment, just like another very good man, Barack Obama is moving prudently, carefully, reasonably toward disaster.

Comparing Obama to Hoover may be an overstatement, but so is likening him to FDR. Obama is a centrist whose position on the ideological spectrum is skewed by the reactionary era which we recently left behind.

Jenn Q Public at American Thinker talks about having "lost [her] faith in the Atheist creed," making a distinction between atheists "who are simply nonbelievers" and "the big 'A' Atheists for whom Atheism is almost a religion:"

Atheists think they're smarter than you. Atheism isn't simple skepticism. It is a certainty that believers are wrong, and by extension, intellectually inferior. Religion, especially Judeo-Christian religion, is nothing more than a crutch for dupes.

But Atheists aren't content to leave religion as a mere object of ridicule. They want it cleansed from public life.

Hemant at Friendly Atheist calls bullshit:

Most atheists (and national atheistic organizations) have no desire to "cleanse" religion from public life. Rather, we just don't want faith getting any sort of special privilege from the government.

Ms Public continues: "Atheists stoke fear among religious and nonreligious alike that conservatives view government as a tool to force religion down your throat."

I'll tell you what: When theists stop mandating prayers before legislative and judicial sessions, restore the Pledge, return the original motto to our money, pay for religious displays with your own money and put them on your own property--when your religion is treated neutrally rather than being subsidized--then you can complain that, just maybe, any further steps might be inappropriate. Until then, you obviously haven't a clue. (If you want to imply that atheists are fear-mongering, you'll also have to show that Dominionism and Reconstructionism have no adherents. Good luck with that.)

Patrick Farley's "Overview of the Same-Sex Marriage Debate" (h/t: Dan Savage), and does so quite entertainingly:

20090623-samesexmarriage.gif
[Click to see the full version.]

The actual quotes are the best part, particularly the "non sequitur" one and the line from Ghostbusters. I could easily see similar overviews being made for the creation/evolution debate, atheism-vs-theism, global warming, the "liberal media" myth...

As if burying their son (a bystander killed during the protests) weren't bad enough, this WSJ article includes an appalling insult-to-injury "fee" imposed by the regime's forces:

On Saturday, amid the most violent clashes between security forces and protesters, Mr. Alipour was shot in the head as he stood at an intersection in downtown Tehran. He was returning from acting class and a week shy of becoming a groom, his family said.

[...]

Upon learning of his son's death, the elder Mr. Alipour was told the family had to pay an equivalent of $3,000 as a "bullet fee"--a fee for the bullet used by security forces--before taking the body back, relatives said.

H/t to DU, where a commenter wrote:

Must be tempting to give the fee assessors a few bullets "very quickly", if ya know what I mean, and tell them keep the change.

In light of the ongoing worldwide demonstrations over the aftermath of Iran's election, it's worth reflecting on the primary reason that many Iranians feel ambivalent at best about American interest in their internal affairs. It isn't covered much in the corporate media--or in school curricula--but the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup (Operation Ajax) that overthrew Iran's democratic government and installed the Shah and his quarter-century reign of terror led to the Islamic theocracy that is currently attacking protesters in the streets. Chris Hedges reminds us of this fact in "Iran Had a Democracy Before We Took It Away," and quotes Stephen (All the Shah's Men) Kinzer on more recent history:

"Then, in the 1980s, the U.S. sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, providing him with military equipment and intelligence that helped make it possible for his army to kill hundreds of thousands of Iranians," Kinzer said. "Given this history, the moral credibility of the U.S. to pose as a promoter of democracy in Iran is close to nil."

This history is one reason why Obama is wise to tread cautiously in Iran. His recent address at Cairo noted that "Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us:"

In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

Christopher Hitchens discusses "Persian Paranoia" at Slate, realizing that even a "noninterventionist position" is not without risk:

...be aware that nothing will stop the theocrats from slandering you for interfering anyway. Also try to bear in mind that one day you will have to face the young Iranian democrats who risked their all in the battle and explain to them just what you were doing when they were being beaten and gassed.

What are we doing?

I don't remember where I saw this mentioned, but the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (recently voted "The World's Greatest Orchestra" by Gramophone magazine) is performing a complete Mahler cycle:

20090622-rco-mahler.jpg

I'm so glad that I live in Amsterdam!

<wakes up severely disappointed>


update (6/23 @ 1:36pm):
A belated h/t to Universal Edition; if you're a fellow Mahlerite, check it out!

Iranian protester-cum-martyr Neda was assassinated by a sniper during a protest:

There's much more coverage here and here, with photos here and here (h/t: Explicitus Est Liber). This is a protest sign from a demonstration in LA:

neda.jpg
(Getty: David McNew)

My condolences to Neda's family, her friends, and her fellow patriots.

I wonder...

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...if the average person had previously been exposed to any of these facts about waterboarding, let alone on the comics page:

doonesbury

greed is...good?

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Fareed Zakaria's cover story in the latest issue of Newsweek, "The Capitalist Manifesto," doesn't quite deliver on the promise of substantive, authoritative articles that their recent redesign heralded:

A specter is haunting the world--the return of capitalism. [...] The simple truth is that with all its flaws, capitalism remains the most productive economic engine we have yet invented. Like Churchill's line about democracy, it is the worst of all economic systems, except for the others. [...]

Capitalism means growth, but also instability. The system is dynamic and inherently prone to crashes that cause great damage along the way. For about 90 years, we have been trying to regulate the system to stabilize it while still preserving its energy. We are at the start of another set of these efforts. In undertaking them, it is important to keep in mind what exactly went wrong. What we are experiencing is not a crisis of capitalism. It is a crisis of finance, of democracy, of globalization and ultimately of ethics. [emphasis added]

I see what Zakaria is trying to do with that little bit of misdirection, and I'm not fooled. Our current situation most definitely is a crisis of capitalism--of (capitalist) finance, (capitalist-funded) politicians, globalization (of capitalism), and the (capitalist) ethics of selfishness. He makes a surprising admission later that he can't quite weasel out of:

The global financial system has been crashing more frequently over the past 30 years than in any comparable period in history. [...] The problems that have developed over the past decades are not simply the products of failures. They could as easily be described as the products of success.

Success means instability? And all this time I believed that a successful system is one that is stable and reliable. Zakaria identifies the problem later, writing that "More broadly, the fundamental crisis we face is of globalization itself. We have globalized the economies of nations. [...] But our politics remains resolutely national." The free travel of capital (secret Swiss accounts, shell corporations in the Caymans) shows the extent to which capitalism privileges profit over people--especially when contrasted with the restrictions (immigration hysteria, visas, green cards, work permits) that prohibit a similar global movement of labor.

Another criticism comes from Derek Thompson's piece in The Atlantic, which notes that Zakaria's comforting viewpoint "might relax you in the short-term, but it's not helping you in the long run:"

We need a new lesson in how to restructure a financial system that, for two decades, has dealt with crises by only lowering interest rates. We need a new lesson in how to build a regulatory structure that properly identifies risk identities and exposure.

Michael Hirschorn, also at The Atlantic, writes about the plight of weekly news magazines, and asks "Given that even these daily digests [Newsweek, Time, US News & World Report] are faltering, how is it that a notionally similar weekly news digest--The Economist--is not only surviving, but thriving?"

I'd say The Economist's success is due to having a smaller proportion of writers like Zakaria.

I heard an interview with Chip Berlet earlier this week on NPR's Fresh Air about his report "Toxic to Democracy: Conspiracy Theories, Demonization, & Scapegoating." The Executive Summary notes that:

Drawing on his extensive scholarly as well as popular writing on the topic, author Chip Berlet shows that the development of modern conspiracism is rooted in bigotry and that the conspiracist analytical model itself encourages demonization and scapegoating of blameless persons and groups. In so doing, conspiracism also serves to distract society and its would-be agents of change away from ongoing, structural causes of social and economic injustices.

Berlet examines conspiracism on both the Left and Right, because they have structural similarities despite doctrinal differences:

The specific allegations embedded in destructive conspiracy theories change based on time and place, but the basic elements remain the same:
  • Dualistic Division: The world is divided into a good "Us" and a bad "Them."
  • Demonizing Rhetoric: Our opponents are evil and subversive...maybe subhuman.
  • Targeting of Scapegoats: They are causing all our troubles--we are blameless.
  • An Apocalyptic Timetable: Time is running out and we must act immediately to stave off a cataclysmic event. (p. 10)

Part of his conclusion ties the whole sordid mess (from the Illuminati and "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" forgery through the John Birchers, the LaRouchites, the "New World Order" paranoid Christianists and the 9/11 Truthers) together, with a nod to our present circumstances:

While conspiracists tell compelling stories, they frequently create dangerous conditions as these stories can draw from pre-existing stereotypes and prejudices. Cynical movement leaders then can hyperbolize false claims in a way that mobilizes overt forms of discrimination. People who believe conspiracist allegations sometimes act on those irrational beliefs, and this has concrete consequences in the real world. Angry allegations can quickly turn into aggression and violence targeting scapegoated groups. (p. 47)

Berlet's phrase "apocalyptic aggression" is becoming an all-too-familiar aspect of our lives, and his report helps to explain why. I recommend it highly.

amazon.com

Neiwert, David. The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right (Sausalito, CA: PoliPoint, 2009)

The recent epidemic of right-wing gun violence has made David Neiwert's The Eliminationists so relevant that it jumped over several other books on my to-be-read stack. Neiwert's 2007 series "The Politics of the Personal" (introduction and parts one, two, three, four, and five) became the opening argument of The Eliminationists. The subtitle has been changed from Newspeak and the Rise of the Pseudo-Fascist Right in America to How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, and "pseudo-fascism" has become "para-fascism" throughout, but Neiwert's observations continue to gain in timeliness and importance. In April, SusanG wrote at DailyKos that:

Rarely has a book been released at a time when it's been more relevant than David Neiwert's The Eliminationists. [...] ...an understanding of the right-wing extremists now deeply embedded in the modern conservative movement is more important than ever.

Last month brought comments from Elbert Ventura at American Prospect that "Neiwert's commentary is depressingly timely" and his book "arrives in stores as if conjured up by the zeitgeist:"

Neiwert's book should serve as a wake-up call not just for progressives and moderates but also for conservatives who still seek to participate in the American pluralist experiment. Some may want to brush off the Adkissons and Poplawskis as deranged aberrations, but that would be a dangerous temptation. As The Eliminationists persuasively argues, they are less anomalies than inevitabilities: the terrifying end products of a conservative movement that has nothing left to offer but the conspiratorial murmur and the rabble-rousing howl.

Sadly, June is no different--the Roeders and von Brunns of the world are still trying to eliminate those with whom they disagree and terrorize like-minded liberals. Neiwert defines eliminationism as "a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the other side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination" (p. 11, Introduction) and notes that:

Eliminationism has become an endemic feature of modern movement conservatism (which, as we shall see shortly, is something wholly distinct from traditional conservatism). It shows itself as an unwillingness to argue the facts or merits of issues and to demand outright the suppression or violent oppression (and ultimately the purgation) of elements deemed harmful to American society. (p. 18, Introduction)

This differentiation between para-fasicst movement conservatism and garden-variety conservatism is an important one, and the sort of distinction that is far too seldom made by the subjects of Neiwert's book. As he has done previously, Neiwert takes issue with Jonah Goldberg's up-is-down/left-is-right theory of "liberal fascism," preferring the historical accuracy of the term as used by Robert Paxton and Roger Griffin. Regarding the "para-fascism" denotation, Neiwert writes that "Para-fascists are distinct form proto-fascists in that they lack certain traits of genuine fascists:" (pp. 27-8)

Unlike the genuine article (or even its nascent form, proto-fascism) it presents itself under a normative, rather than a revolutionary, guise; and rather than openly exult in violence, it pays lip service to law and order. Moreover, even in the areas where it resembles real fascism, the similarities are more often familial than exact. It is, in essence, less virulent and less violent, and thus more likely to gain broad acceptance within a longtime stable democratic system like that of the United States. (pp. 100-101)

He identifies three particular transmitters of eliminationism, from the fascist fringe into the mainstream: Rush Limbaugh, Fox News ("The cable-news behemoth touts itself as 'fair and balanced,' but no one has ever really figured out just who they think they're kidding," p. 73), and The Wall Street Journal ("the paper's editorial page has become one of the real scandals of print journalism, particularly its unethical predilection for publishing provably false and thinly disguised smears of various liberals..." p. 79). Neiwert explains how their rhetoric of demonization becomes dangerous:

The history of eliminationism in America, and elsewhere, shows that rhetoric plays a significant role in the travesties that follow. It creates permission for people to act out in ways they might not otherwise. It allows them to abrogate their own humanity of people deemed undesirable or a cultural contaminant. (p. 200)

America's history of largely racism-inspired eliminationism, from the Native American exterminations through the slavery of African-Americans and the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans, leads to the targeting of Jews, communists, and immigrants--as well as hate crimes against gays and lesbians, which Neiwert notes are "probably the chief manifestation of the eliminationist impulse in America today." (p. 214)

He is optimistic about the resistance of our body politic to the eliminationist impulse,

American democracy has not yet reached the stage of genuine crisis required for full-blown fascism to take root. (p. 123)

but cautiously so:

...the GOP has become host to a totalitarian movement that exhibits so many of the traits of fascism that the resemblance is now unmistakable. (p. 238)

We needn't tar all conservatives as para-fascists in order to treat these dangerous traits with the seriousness they deserve. Right-wing eliminationism may not yet be killing liberals en masse, but that's only because the fringe's virulence hasn't overcome Americans' antipathy toward violent lawlessness. As long as the hate talk continues, though, we must not let down our guard.


links:
excerpt
AlterNet interview Digby's review in two parts
DailyKos review
American Prospect review
FDL book salon

A great cartoon from Mike Luckovich:

20090619-twittering.jpg

Austin Cline takes issue with a premise from Robert Morey's book The New Atheism and the Erosion of Freedom, that "people today become atheists because they 'actually hate God':"

Why? According to Morely, atheists are distraught at God's demands for servitude. Atheists don't want to acknowledge any authority above themselves, and so attack the idea of a god in order to deny the existence of that Supreme Authority.

Cline identifies several problems with Morey's reasoning, writing that "the argument for rejecting atheism because of the claim that atheists disbelieve in God in order to avoid divine authority is both invalid and unsound:"

This misconception is similar to the claim that atheists don't believe in God in order to be immoral. What occurs here is an attempt to attribute a person's disbelief to a desire to evade what they don't like about God. The first thing to notice about this argument is that it is a logical fallacy, known as the Genetic Fallacy.

All that is happening here is that the theist is making a claim about why a person is an atheist and then attacking that motivation. [...] The Genetic Fallacy is a type of ad hominem argument because it attacks the person who holds the position, not the position itself. [...] Contrary to what Morey and what others may think, atheists accept the authority of others in their lives all the time -- for example the authority of a boss, or the authority the police. [...] Atheism, then, cannot be reduced to mere rebelliousness.

Barefoot Bum observes a difference between theists and atheists in their attitudes toward authority:

Christians, especially fundamentalist Christians, obey authorities because they're authorities. I see this often in fundamentalist apologetics: "God truly is a sovereign, therefore has the right to govern us entirely as He sees fit, and we have no right to question such governance."

Atheists, on the other hand, typically consider the individual to be sovereign: the individual grants authority to an institution because she chooses to do so, because it is in her interests to grant authority.

He calls the theist view of authority "fossilized feudalism," writing that:

Once one abandons this feudal notion of sovereignty and adopts the idea that the individual is sovereign, the Christian apologetic argument from God's sovereignty collapses: Not only does no god exist, but there is no unfilled position of king of kings in which to place an imaginary god.

Romans 13:1-2 is my favorite example of how Christianity teaches blind obedience rather than critical thinking:

"...the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

It's a lesson I should have learned by now: don't write a post on national security stories until making use of Glenn Greenwald's excellent research. Case in point: the latest NSA revelations, which Greenwald analyzes with his usual incisiveness:

Every time new revelations of illegal government spying arise, the same exact pattern repeats itself:

(1) euphemisms are invented to obscure its illegality ("overcollection"; "circumvented legal guidelines"; "overstepped its authority"; "improperly obtained");

(2) assurances are issued that it was all strictly unintentional and caused by innocent procedural errors that are now being fixed;

(3) the very same members of Congress who abdicate their oversight responsibilities and endlessly endorse expanded surveillance powers in the face of warnings of inevitable abuses (Jay Rockefeller, Dianne Feinstein, "Kit" Bond, Jane Harman) righteously announce how "troubled" they are and vow to hold hearings and take steps to end the abuses, none of which ever materialize;

(4) nobody is ever held accountable in any way and no new oversight mechanisms are implemented;

(5) Congress endorses new, expanded domestic surveillance powers; and then:

(6) new revelations of illegal government spying emerge and the process repeats itself, beginning with step (1).

Greenwald asks, "If that isn't the picture of a rampant, lawless Surveillance State, what is?" and the answer isn't a pretty one for Democratic partisans who wish that only Republicans were guilty of such perfidy.

Of all the posts and tweets and photos about the Iranian election posted over at Andrew Sullivan's blog at The Atlantic, which is the most comprehensive coverage I've seen, I keep coming back to the defiant hopefulness expressed in this one:

20090617-iran.jpg

Will these protests be Iran's Tiananmen Square? Will that shade of green still retain its power 20 years from now?

Risen and Lichtblau have another exposé of NSA spying here at the NYT, where they note "concerns in Congress about the agency's ability to collect and read domestic e-mail messages of Americans on a widespread basis:"

Supporting that conclusion is the account of a former N.S.A. analyst who, in a series of interviews, described being trained in 2005 for a program in which the agency routinely examined large volumes of Americans' e-mail messages without court warrants. Two intelligence officials confirmed that the program was still in operation. [emphasis added]

[...]

The N.S.A. is believed to have gone beyond legal boundaries designed to protect Americans in about 8 to 10 separate court orders issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to three intelligence officials who spoke anonymously because disclosing such information is illegal. Because each court order could single out hundreds or even thousands of phone numbers or e-mail addresses, the number of individual communications that were improperly collected could number in the millions, officials said.

Marc Ambinder has more at The Atlantic about the NSA's "Pinwale" database, Kevin Bankston has a good summary at EFF, and ThinkProgress notes that one analyst was investigated for spying on Bill Clinton's personal email.

Austin Cline discusses "Mainstreaming Right-Wing Extremism" and debunks the "accepted wisdom" that the media are biased to the Left:

Anyone who looks very closely at what sorts of material, views, and ideas keep being repeated in America's news media will find not only a surfeit of conservative ideas as compared to liberal ideas, but in fact an incredible amount of right-wing extremism that is presented without any attempt at critique or challenge. [...]

Over time, this causes the political and social culture of society to tilt farther and farther to the right. People believe more and more far-right delusions as if they were facts, including delusions about liberalism and liberal political ideas. Falsehoods, distortions, and propaganda get accepted uncritically as truths, shutting off political debate and growth.

As noted by Frank Rich in "The Obama Haters' Silent Enablers," this truncated spectrum of debate really hurts us in enabling all those factless fantasies to take root in the far Right:

Hard-core haters resolutely dismiss any "mainstream media" debunking of their conspiracy theories. The only voices that might penetrate their alternative reality -- I emphasize might -- belong to conservative leaders with the guts and clout to step up...Where are they? The genteel public debate in right-leaning intellectual circles about the conservative movement's future will be buried by history if these insistent alarms are met with silence.

Obama and Rawls

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Jeremy Young writes about Obama and political philosopher John Rawls at Progressive Historians, stating:

If you want to understand President Obama's soul, read his books. But if you want to understand his beliefs, read John Rawls.

Young briefly explains the Rawlsian "overlapping consensus" principle, and uses it to shed light on "Obama's baffling and infuriating rejection of progressives and his embrace of the moderate wing of the Republican party:"

Obama does these things not because Mr. 68% in the polls needs the additional support, but because he truly believes that Republicans within the overlapping consensus are more important than Democrats outside it. The consensus, for Obama, is more important than the outcome.

The wingnuts screaming "liberal/radical/socialist/Marxist" about Obama don't have a better explanation for his centrism because--naturally--they don't even realize that it is centrism.

The economic meetings in Yekaterinburg, Russia--the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) summits--are seen by TruthDig's Chris Hedges as "the first formal step by our major trading partners to replace the dollar as the world's reserve currency:"

If they succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value, the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket, interest rates will climb and jobs will hemorrhage at a rate that will make the last few months look like boom times. State and federal services will be reduced or shut down for lack of funds. The United States will begin to resemble the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe.

Hedges writes that "the flight from the dollar has clearly begun...China is frantically spending its dollar reserves to buy factories and property around the globe so it can unload its U.S. currency." He sees something more behind this action than mere worries about repayment:

The architects of this new global exchange realize that if they break the dollar they also break America's military domination. Our military spending cannot be sustained without this cycle of heavy borrowing. [...]

To fund our permanent war economy, we have been flooding the world with dollars. The foreign recipients turn the dollars over to their central banks for local currency. The central banks then have a problem. If a central bank does not spend the money in the United States then the exchange rate against the dollar will go up. This will penalize exporters. This has allowed America to print money without restraint to buy imports and foreign companies, fund our military expansion and ensure that foreign nations like China continue to buy our treasury bonds. This cycle appears now to be over.

Is the spike in long-term interest rates on government debt just a coincidence, or is this a sign of real concern for our financial stability?

more puns

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It's been a week since the contest, but my brain keeps generating Swifties:

"I'm invaluable to the Mob because I know where all the bodies are buried," the undertaker said cryptically.

"Which category will you choose next?" asked the game-show host quizzically.

"Let me explain how I cut your steaks from this side of beef," the butcher expounded.

The Right has been hard at work trying to make their recent assassins appear to be "lone wolves" rather than movement members; I've seen signs lately that their revisionism is starting to reach into the past--some of them are trying to paint Ted (Unabomber) Kaczynski as a liberal or even a "radical leftist." His Manifesto, which is largely a rant against liberalism and modernity, does not support such an interpretation:

When we speak of leftists in this article we have in mind mainly socialists, collectivists, "politically correct" types, feminists, gay and disability activists, animal rights activists and the like. But not everyone who is associated with one of these movements is a leftist. What we are trying to get at in discussing leftism is not so much a movement or an ideology as a psychological type, or rather a collection of related types. (¶7)

...a movement that exalts nature and opposes technology must take a resolutely anti-leftist stance and must avoid all collaboration with leftists. (¶214)

He [the leftist] is fond of using the common catch-phrases of the left like "racism, " "sexism, " "homophobia, " "capitalism," "imperialism," "neocolonialism " "genocide," "social change," "social justice," "social responsibility." Maybe the best diagnostic trait of the leftist is his tendency to sympathize with the following movements: feminism, gay rights, ethnic rights, disability rights, animal rights political correctness. Anyone who strongly sympathizes with ALL of these movements is almost certainly a leftist. (¶229)

He sounds like a leftist, all right--just like Tim McVeigh was a big-government liberal, Eric Rudolph is a gay activist, Scott Roeder is radical feminist, von Brunn supports multiculturalism, bin Laden is really a secular progressive...

Sara Robinson at Orcinus looks at the recent spate of shootings, observing that "Eight episodes of right-wing extremist violence in four and a half months...is not business as usual:"

True: there have always been occasional events, usually dismissed by the corporate media as "isolated incidents," the work of "lone wolf shooters" acting for reasons all their own. But you have to go back a long, long way in American history before you come to a place where you find incidents like this happening an average of once every two weeks. And the chattering classes are finally beginning to realize what those of us who've been faithfully watching the right wing for years were telling them a year ago: there's nothing isolated about any of this.

This is how terrorism begins.

Paul Krugman's "The Big Hate" follows up on this pattern, noting that "Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment:"

Now, for the most part, the likes of Fox News and the R.N.C. haven't directly incited violence, despite Bill O'Reilly's declarations that "some" called Dr. Tiller "Tiller the Baby Killer," that he had "blood on his hands," and that he was a "guy operating a death mill." But they have gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric, just as they did the last time a Democrat held the White House.

And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.

Krugman cites Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh as the two most obvious examples, but there are almost too many more to list: Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, G Gordon Liddy, Sean Hannity, Pat Buchanan...their rationalizations for "joking" about violence may vary, but their audience is drinking the same tainted Kool-Aid of eliminationism.

Alex Ross' paean to the popularity of Mahler's symphonies in The New Yorker noted that "With each passing year, Mahler seems to tighten his hold on the public...Mahler has become a pillar of the repertory:"

His appeal is at once visceral and intellectual. On one level, he is the supreme magician of orchestral spectacle, the master of the oh-my-God moment. [...] Yet Mahler is also an ironist, a deconstructionist, a highly cerebral composer.

Although Ross refers to Michael Tilson Thomas and Riccardo Chailly as "[b]orn Mahlerians," their efforts on the podium are not represented on his list of favorite Mahler recordings. None of the several current cycles-in-progress I've heard (London Symphony Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra) made his cut either--nor did other new discs from Chicago, Philadelphia, or either of the two Mahler cycles I own (New York under Bernstein, and Holland's Royal Concertgebouw under Chailly).

Apparently, I still have a lot of listening to do...

not dead yet

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Peter Dougherty posted "A Manifesto for Scholarly Publishing" at The Chronicle of Higher Education (h/t: Arts & Letters Daily), writing that "[a]lthough we live in an era of disaggregated knowledge, I believe scholarly books will thrive. [...] Books -- specifically scholarly titles published by university presses and other professional publishers -- retain two distinct comparative advantages over other forms of communication in the idea bazaar:"

First, books remain the most effective technology for organizing and presenting sustained arguments at a relatively general level of discourse and in familiar rhetorical forms -- narrative, thematic, philosophical, and polemical -- thereby helping to enrich and unify otherwise disparate intellectual conversations.

Second, university presses specialize in publishing books containing hard ideas. Hard ideas -- whether cliometrics, hermeneutics, deconstruction, or symbolic interactionism -- when they are also good ideas, carry powerful residual value in their originality and authority.

Dougherty quoted Stephen Carter from a piece at The Daily Beast where Carter reminisces about the "weight and solidity" of books--and how "a book signals to the world that there are ideas worth preserving in a form that carries heft, and takes up space:"

...books themselves, the actual physical volumes on the shelves of libraries and stores and homes, send a message through their very existence. In a world in which most things seem ephemeral, books imply permanence: that there exist ideas and thoughts of sufficient weight that they are worth preserving in a physical form that is expensive to produce and takes up space.

[...]

A book matches perfectly the ideal of reflection.The tougher the text, the more reflective we must be in absorbing it. This suggests the importance of reading books that are difficult. Long books. Hard books. Books with which we have to struggle. The hard work of serious reading mirrors the hard work of serious governing--and, in a democracy, governing is a responsibility all citizens share. And if we are willing to work our way through difficult texts, we are far more likely to be willing to work our way through our opponents' difficult ideas. An important lesson of serious reading is that ideas need not be correct to be important.

E-book devices serve a useful niche for readers, as does the Internet, but books--sometimes derided by technophiles as "dead tree slices"--retain a special place in bibliohiles' hearts. Thousand-page technical manuals and reference books may be more usable as PDF files, but more substantive books still benefit us more as quality editions in a well-appointed library.

Although conservatives claim to champion fiscal responsibility, the reality is somewhat different. David Leonhardt's NYT article "America's Sea of Red Ink Was Years in the Making" shows how their ire at our current economic situation is somewhat misplaced:

Obama's agenda, ambitious as it may be, is responsible for only a sliver of the deficits, despite what many of his Republican critics are saying. [...] About 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill that Mr. Obama signed in February. And only 3 percent comes from Mr. Obama's agenda on health care, education, energy and other areas.

Despite GOP complaints about the deficit, Leonhardt notes that "Republicans favor extending all the Bush tax cuts, which will send the deficit higher." This graph is particularly telling:

20090611-deficit.gif

H/t: Jack Balkin at Balkinization, who observes the Bush administration's "noxious combination of incompetence, arrogance, hubris, and ideological zeal:"

The Bush tax cuts were primarily targeted to benefit the wealthiest Americans, and exacerbated a growing inequality of wealth in the United States. The Iraq War was a war of choice, justified by false claims of weapons of mass destruction and insinuations of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. It proved to be a foreign policy disaster and an enormous waste of money which we must still shoulder. Deregulatory financial policies were unwise and unsound and helped push us toward the current Great Recession.

All in all, it is one of the most remarkable displays of ineptitude, greed, and corruption in American history. And now that they have run the country into the ground, President Bush's party, now thankfully out of power, is blaming the party that succeeded them, the Democrats, for the baleful effects of deficit spending. Colossal ineptitude is being followed by equally colossal chutzpah.

Sully concurs:

It is not Obama's debt - or, rather, he owns about 10 percent of it. It's Bush's. And like everything Bush did, he left the wreckage for others to handle after he left the stage. And the bribing, war-making, spending and borrowing didn't even win him any durable popularity. They sold this country, its reputation and its treasure for a one-off re-election.

He follows up here as well, noting the inevitable tax increases:

The magnitude of the damage Bush did is still amazing. But when those tax increases come, they need to have his name attached to them. He made them inevitable; and deserves to go down in history for them.

Dick Cheney should also go down in history for his participation in Bush's budget-busting agenda. I wonder why, not that he's emerged from his undisclosed location to attack Obama, no one in the mainstream corporate media has asked him about his earlier statement that "deficits don't matter." (Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty, p. 291)

I guess deficits only matter when they're being blamed on Democrats.

If we lived in a world where crazed conservative gun nuts weren't shooting up liberal churches and immigration centers, killing cops, assassinating doctors, and murdering Holocaust Museum security guards, shit like this (h/t: Chris at Cynical-C) might be marginally humorous:

20090611-huntinglicense.jpg

Unfortunately, we don't live in that world...we live in this one. The latest "humorous" permit is similar to this old standard,

20090611-huntingpermit.jpg

so I guess they're getting better at putting the same old hate in a shiny new package.

When will they stop?


update:
I added the links to the Pittsburgh PA and Binghamton NY shootings after posting my first draft.


update 2 (6/12 @ 10:15am):
Steve Young wrote about this at HuffPo.


update 3 (6/13 @ 7:30am):
David Neiwert has what may be the first mention of the original permit, from June 2005.

Remember back before the election when Sarah Palin claimed that Obama would "experiment with socialism," as if A) she understood the word, and B) it meant something bad? In a recent conversation with Sean Hannity, she continues to fail on both counts:

We are the only state with...a share of our oil resource revenue that goes back to the people that own the resources. Imagine that. [...] ...we wanted a fair and equitable share of the resources that we own, and the people will share in those resource revenues that are derived.

(h/t: Andrew Sullivan, who notes that Fox's transcript is incomplete)

If you have five minutes to spend being dismayed at a series of I-can't-believe-they-said-that comments from conservative pundits, check out Conservative Misinformation University from Media Matters (h/t: Steve Benen at Washington Monthly):

The sad part is that this video could have been several hours--or days--long.

The upcoming film "It Might Get Loud" (14 August, featuring guitarists Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White) might be fun:

(h/t: PopMatters)

Cenk Uygur made the suggestion last week that Dr Tiller's assassin be tortured, and utilized the Bushies' pro-torture arguments in making his case:

Let's torture the son of a bitch. Remember the people in Guantanamo Bay were just detainees, they were not convicted of anything before we started the "enhanced interrogation" techniques. Most of them didn't even have the verifiable criminal and terroristic history of Roeder who was previously arrested with bomb making material and has called murder of doctors "justifiable homicide" before. So, if you can't waterboard Roeder, then who can you waterboard? He is the perfect candidate.

Now that the accused murderer has been bragging that "I know there are many other similar events planned around the country," the idea of torturing him will continue to gain ground--even if only in hyperbole. Tim Dickinson at Rolling Stone uses a popular Bushie rationale in arguing that "this is the quintessential 'ticking time bomb scenario' that advocates of torture always use to justify going medieval on jihadis:"

So how about in Hannity? Should we break out the waterboard before these terrorists strike again in the Homeland?


update (6/9 @ 11:47am):
I neglected to mention Ben Schwartz's piece at HuffPo:

If, like the detainees of Guantanamo Bay, provable guilt isn't the standard for torture, we can get started on Roeder, correct? Here is a man who tells us he knows of more murders to come -- do we torture him to save lives?

The only thing that doesn't fit the pro-torture scenario is that Roeder is a white man and not a Muslim. Let's ask the question anyway: where is the right wing pro-torture faction when it comes to water boarding a domestic terrorist who happens to be a right-wing American?

Boone again

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Pat Boone tried to defend his ridiculous ACLU=Taliban accusation (see my comments here) at WingNutDaily, but wound up digging himself even deeper into a hole by claiming that "If it's religious, moral or patriotic, the ACLU will likely bring suit against it; if it's sacrilegious, anti-American or degenerate, the ACLU will actively defend it."

Jon Rowe dismantles some of Boone's historical revisions about Jefferson and Washington, noting that Boone's screed is "a textbook example of confusion of his own evangelical faith for the theology of the American Founding." An aggravated veteran wrote to Boone and observed that "If you don't like what the ACLU does, then either you really don't approve of the Constitution and the First Amendment themselves, or you don't fully understand what they say and mean:"

We most certainly do have an effort here in America to impose upon us the equivalent of an American Taliban. But that comes not from the ACLU, but from the ranting, raving Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists - the Christianofascists who are running rampant over America these days trying to cram their irrational theology and their silly Bible down our throats.

[...]

You "nutty" fundamentalists are the American Taliban, not the ACLU, and as long as we have the Constitution and the ACLU, you will not prevail.

I could scarcely have said it better--bravo!

In light of the murder of Dr Tiller by a Christianist assassin, BT Murtagh writes at QuarkScrew (h/t: Making My Way) about the failure of theistic absolute morality. In a wonderful rebuttal, Murtagh writes that "theists (or, to be fairer, Abrahamic theists)...claim that without religion there can be no 'absolute' basis for morality." I'm going to quote it at length, because it's just that good:

What that argument fails to recognize is that an attempt to define morality as following the wishes of God is itself a moral decision, and not necessarily an admirable one. Quite apart from the difficulty of deciding what God's wishes actually are - a dispute which the Tiller/Roeder incident throws into high, sad, relief - there is the inescapable decision, in the end, of whether to obey them. You cannot pass that responsibility on, no matter how much you'd like to. It is the only moral decision you cannot escape, cannot hand off.

If your notion of absolute moral values is that you absolutely follow someone else's decisions as to what is moral, or worse yet someone else's unsupported claim as to what a third party has decided is moral, then your only absolute moral decision is an abdication of moral responsibility.

It really doesn't matter what the status of the other personages may be - your parents, spouse, cult leader or even what you believe to be a deity - you are a moral coward trying to pass the buck.

What's even more pitiful is that the attempt to do so is foredoomed. "Just following orders" doesn't absolve you of responsibility for choosing to follow evil orders, no matter whose orders they were. [emphasis added]

Murtagh also sees this abdication of moral judgment in the story of Abraham and Isaac (which has been criticized before), showing yet again that the "divine command" theory of ethics has been untenable ever since the Euthyphro Dilemma was posed some two millennia ago. Somehow, it continues to wreak havoc in moral discussions to this day.

EJ Dionne complains at WaPo about "the right wing's rants get[ting] wall-to-wall airtime:"

If you doubt that there is a conservative inclination in the media, consider which arguments you hear regularly and which you don't. When Rush Limbaugh sneezes or Newt Gingrich tweets, their views ricochet from the Internet to cable television and into the traditional media. It is remarkable how successful they are in setting what passes for the news agenda.

The power of the Limbaugh-Gingrich axis means that Obama is regularly cast as somewhere on the far left end of a truncated political spectrum.

Steve Benen comments acidly:

Exactly. If far-right voices are characterized as mainstream, it shifts the center of political gravity. For all the talk about media adulation of the president, this dynamic produces "a deep and largely unconscious conservative bias in the media's discussion of policy. The range of acceptable opinion runs from the moderate left to the far right.

That's a good description of the Overton Window (Wikipedia, illustration), which has been moved rightward for decades. Meanwhile, Lamar Smith (R-TX) believes that "The greatest threat to America is a liberal media bias." I'm sure that, from a far-right vantage point, the media seems to have a liberal bias--but it has a fair distance left to travel before it even reaches the center, let alone the left.

Robert Parry asks "Was Ronald Reagan an Even Worse President Than George W. Bush?" and suggests that "a case could be made for putting Ronald Reagan in the competition" for Bush's bottom spot:

Granted, the very idea of rating Reagan as one of the worst presidents ever will infuriate his many right-wing acolytes and offend Washington insiders who have made a cottage industry out of buying some protection from Republicans by lauding the 40th President.

But there's a growing realization that the starting point for many of the catastrophes confronting the United States today can be traced to Reagan's presidency.

It's a possibility that I had initially dismissed, although perhaps I was too hasty in doing so. Parry lays out a decent case, discussing Afghanistan, Wall Street greed, union-busting, and deregulation--but Parry's observation that "Reagan's team created a faux reality for the American public" resonated strongly for me:

Reagan had become a pied piper luring the American people away from the tough choices [oil dependence, environmental degradation, the arms race, and nuclear proliferation] that Nixon, Ford and Carter had defined.

With his superficially sunny disposition - and a ruthless political strategy of exploiting white-male resentments - Reagan convinced millions of Americans that the threats they faced were: African-American welfare queens, Central American leftists, a rapidly expanding Evil Empire based in Moscow, and the do-good federal government.

Reality doesn't matter if you feel good about it, right?

Ben Schott is running a "Tom Swifties" competition at the NYT (h/t: Jason Kottke). Here are his examples:

"I manufacture table tops," said Tom counterproductively.

"Let's have a debate about cows," Tom mooted.

"Who discovered radium?" asked Marie curiously.

"Just parsley, sage and rosemary," said Tom timelessly.

"This sea-spray will ruin all the metal-work," said Tom mistrustfully

"I can't tell you how much it resembles a table," said Tom veritably.

"Show no mercy killing the vampire," said Tom painstakingly.

"It keeps my hair in place," said Alice with abandon.

Here are my entries:

"We should stop...somewhere...around here," the drum major said haltingly.

"That certainly is something to ponder," replied the monk meditatively.

"I always got along swimmingly with my teammates," said Greg Louganis Michael Phelps.

"My integrity is at stake here," Giordano Bruno commented incendiarily.

"I can't falsify your account balance that easily," the accountant wrote morosely.

"I won't be an amateur for much longer," Tina proclaimed.

"Please don't make this stir-fry too spicy," the waitress suggested gingerly.

"I can't stand British New Wave music," he declared adamantly.

Help...I don't know how to stop!


update (9:53pm):

The proctologist pursued his career assiduously.

The lawyer delivered her summations judiciously.

The gardener pickled her cucumbers diligently.


update 2 (6/7 @ 1:17pm):

No, really--I can't stop:

The musicians smiled appealingly as their conductor said, "We're glad that you enjoyed our handbell concert."

"I submit this bill as an effort to end our discord," declared the senator resolutely.

"I'm confident that you'll make a complete recovery after the mitral valve replacement," said the transplant surgeon whole-heartedly.

"Thank you for your dedication to our residents' mental health," stated the psychiatric director committedly.

20090606-housethattranebuilt.jpg

Kahn, Ashley. The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records (New York: Norton, 2006)

On the basis of Ashley Kahn's books about two of the greatest jazz albums ever--Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and John Coltrane's A Love Supreme--his book on the jazz records label Impulse! seemed likely to be a good bet. Kahn does not disappoint.

Two-page spreads highlighting classic Impulse! releases are interspersed throughout the text, which does a fine job explaining the history of Impulse! and of Coltrane's contributions to the label--and to jazz itself. There's a separate four-disc box set of CDs to accompany the book, which would have made excellent background music for reading Kahn's book--but I settled on Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard set. Whatever music you choose, The House That Trane Built is a great read for jazz buffs.

Kahn's book on Blue Note, Somethin' Else, was originally scheduled for release in April, but it seems to have disappeared. Based on the strength of The House That Trane Built, I'm looking forward to it--whenever it arrives.

My Left Wing's konopelli lists 20 things that we won't be [weren't] reminded of on today's fifth anniversary of Reagan's death, including the "October Surprise," selling weapons to Iran and Iraq, Iran/Contra, backing al Qaeda in Afghanistan, propping up right-wing dictators and terrorists in Central America, instituting the global gag rule, and the ever-popular trickle-down economics--not to mention the appointment of Randite Alan Greenspan to chair the Fed.

Konopelli also wrote that "the outpouring of sanctimonious twaddle, gratuitous propaganda and lugubrious schmaltz over the anniversary of the death of Ronald Reagan [...] will surely occupy virtually the entire news spectrum of the day...and the obsequious drone of the sycophants [...] will be reciting their eulogies." This horrid Alaskan hagiographic mess is a case in point, I think.

Paul Krugman's "Reagan Did It" from earlier this week was rather harsh in going back to Reagan for the roots of today's economic crisis, writing that "the more one looks into the origins of the current disaster, the clearer it becomes that the key wrong turn -- the turn that made crisis inevitable -- took place in the early 1980s, during the Reagan years:"

Attacks on Reaganomics usually focus on rising inequality and fiscal irresponsibility. Indeed, Reagan ushered in an era in which a small minority grew vastly rich, while working families saw only meager gains. He also broke with longstanding rules of fiscal prudence. [...] There's plenty of blame to go around these days. But the prime villains behind the mess we're in were Reagan and his circle of advisers -- men who forgot the lessons of America's last great financial crisis, and condemned the rest of us to repeat it.

Robert Scheer's "Reagan Didn't Do It" observes that Reagan's culpability "pales in comparison to the damage wrought fifteen years later by a cabal of powerful Democrats and Republicans who enabled the wave of newfangled financial gimmicks that resulted in the economic collapse:"

Reagan didn't do it, but Clinton-era Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, now a top economic adviser in the Obama White House, did. They, along with then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and Republican congressional leaders James Leach and Phil Gramm, blocked any effective regulation of the over-the-counter derivatives that turned into the toxic assets now being paid for with tax dollars.

There's plenty of blame to go around, and Reagan certainly deserves his share--but let's not over-react to the acolytes who treat his presidency like the Second Coming. His two terms were filled with failures, but he was nowhere near as bad as W.

Far from being consigned to the ash-heap of history, Marxian economics are being looked at with fresh eyes in the light of capitalism's latest catastrophic failure. Foreign Policy's article, "Thoroughly Modern Marx" by Leo Panitch observes that "Those of us now cracking open Marx will find he had much to say that is relevant today:"

The economic crisis has spawned a resurgence of interest in Karl Marx. Worldwide sales of Das Kapital have shot up (one lone German publisher sold thousands of copies in 2008, compared with 100 the year before), a measure of a crisis so broad in scope and devastation that it has global capitalism--and its high priests--in an ideological tailspin. [...]

The irrationality built into the basic logic of capitalist markets--and so deftly analyzed by Marx--is once again evident. Trying just to stay afloat, each factory and firm lays off workers and tries to pay less to those kept on. Undermining job security has the effect of undercutting demand throughout the economy. As Marx knew, microrational behavior has the worst macroeconomic outcomes. We now can see where ignoring Marx while trusting in Adam Smith's "invisible hand" gets you.

People will continue to worship what they don't understand, though, and the common oversimplification of Smith holds a great deal of allure for many, although others are disillusioned. As noted in the accompanying article "Confessions of a True Believer" by John Judis, "Socialism, once banished from polite conversation, has made a startling comeback. But what about socialism as a remedy for today's crisis?"

If you think of the Soviet Union or Cuba, socialism doesn't have any relevance. But if you consider the Scandinavian countries, as well as Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, whose economies were shaped by socialist agitation, then another kind of socialism--call it "liberal socialism"--has a lot to offer.

Panitch mentioned another Judis article, "Socialism Forever," but his link points to the paywalled EBSCO. The article is also unavailable from AEI, but there's a copy here. As Judis wrote in that piece, "Here are some principles of Marxist thought and socialist politics that continue to be valuable:"

The Marxist interpretation of history as a series of discrete epochs defined by different modes of production (slavery, feudalism, capitalism), driven, ultimately, by struggle over the economic surplus generated by subordinate classes remains useful.

Marxist theory helps us understand capitalism as an historical creation that depends for its existence on legal and social relationships, a creation that goes through successive stages (mercantile, competitive, corporate).

Marxists remind us that capitalism is an inherently unstable system that, without political contravention, ignores national boundaries, tends toward monopoly, cycles through boom and bust, and brings unequal results to individuals and nations.

Eric Ruder's cover story in the latest issue of International Socialist Review, "What Is Socialism?," should clear up some confusion, observing that "The distinctive feature of much of this public discussion of socialism--with some exceptions--is that most admirers and detractors generally share a common (and hollowed out) idea of what socialism is: namely, state intervention in the economy:"

The U.S. financial bailout is a perfect demonstration of the idea that state intervention doesn't automatically equal a socialist vision of society that puts people before profits. Rather, it's a reflection of the fact that the scale of the economic crisis requires an institution that can marshal resources far greater than even the world's largest financial institutions are capable of mustering. The use of massive state intervention to save the big banks, insurance companies, mortgage companies, and automobile makers while letting the lives of working people be ripped apart by foreclosures, evictions, inflation, and unemployment represents an effort to save global capitalism from its own excesses.

Conor Clarke discusses the issue in light of Obamanomics, and concludes that "This is what socialism looks like:"

20090604-socialism.jpg

The hot-pink portion of this pie chart is the percentage of listed American business assets that have recently been nationalized by the American government (ie, General Motors). Obama's version of socialism is so sneaky you can hardly see it!

Journalist I.F. Stone once remarked, "What kind of ignoramus brags that he hasn't read Marx?" (Todd Gitlin, "I.F. Stone, Journalist--and Spy?" American Prospect, June 2009), and today we all too familiar with that type of ignoramus: the type of free-market fundamentalist that infests the mainstream corporate media, and calls everything else socialist.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Chinese army's entry into Tiananmen Square to put down the weeks-old student uprising there, and the subsequent massacre. This image of the anonymous protester generally known as Tank Man was taken 20 years ago tomorrow, and is to my mind one of the most poignant photographs ever:

20090604-tankman.jpg
(Jeff Widener, AP)

Most people can safely ignore this XKCD cartoon, but the design-y, art-y people will get it:

20090603-papyrus.png

If you need to cleanse your mental type palate after thinking about overused typefaces, here are some good typography links:

Émigré
House Industries
I Love Typography
T.26
Typographica

It should no longer be news that the US doesn't lean to the right, but a new study "America: A Center-Left Nation" (from Campaign for America's Future and Media Matters) puts another nail in the "fundamentally conservative country" myth. The full report (473KB PDF) observes that "an examination of public opinion, election results, and demographic trends reveals that though America might have been center‐right 15 or 25 years ago, it is most assuredly not today:"

Whether it is basic beliefs about government, opinions on domestic and foreign policy issues, or support for candidates of differing ideological perspectives, the public leans decidedly left. Not only has the country become progressive, it is likely to remain so for some time to come.

20090602-essentialdykes.jpg

Bechdel, Alison. The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008)

Alison Bechdel is a fabulous cartoonist whose work easily belongs in the company of the greatest art produced by the medium's masters. Her characters, her dialogue, and her lively linework combine to create a unique voice in both the comic strip and graphic novel genres. Bechdel's Essential DTWOF book stands beside her autobiographical novel Fun Home (reviewed here) her previous collection The Indelible Alison Bechdel, and the series of DTWOF books as essentials of graphic storytelling.

This Essential volume makes Bechdel's artistic maturation startlingly clear. Her early strips show the seeds of her eventual artistic flowering, but her drawing wasn't quite there yet; practically each turn of the page shows her development as an artist and her increasing skill as a writer. It's a joy to watch her talent blossom, and her example is something that should inspire other artists. Her cover illustration's homage to Norman Rockwell's "The Gossips" was a nice touch:

20090602-rockwellgossips.jpeg

The wealth of background detail is one of Dykes' most notable qualities: book titles, t-shirt slogans, and especially newspaper headlines help to add another layer of meaning to the proceedings by weaving current events into the plotlines. Bob Proehl wrote at PopMatters that Bechdel "has an uncanny ability to juxtapose news coverage, be it from NPR or Fox News, with the daily traumas of her characters, as radios and televisions constantly foretell doom in the background."

The episode titles--and even their typography--are also done with an uncommon attention to detail that rewards close attention. It's unusual to see such high quality sustained over such a long period. Even though I own all twelve of the DTWOF books, I've never read them all consecutively--which is pretty much the experience that Essential DTWOF delivers. Bechdel omitted the short stories from each volume and some of the strips--137 out of 527--so this book delivers an almost-complete experience.

The completist in me still wishes that this were an exhaustive collection, because I'd love to have everything under one cover; however, it's so nice a book that I feel churlish complaining about it. Besides, adding the supplemental stories from the individual books in addition to the missing strips would have added another 300 pages--this book may not be exhaustive, but it is still essential. Proehl made a similar remark:

If there's one complaint to be made, it is that some cartoons had to be left out of the collection. There's a lot here, but the occasional omission of cartoons combined with the large cast and juggling storylines sometimes leave the reader with the feeling they've missed something, or that they'd have happily paid an extra ten dollars to upgrade to more of an omnibus-level collection.

If there's ever an Exhaustive DTWOF collection available, I'll be first in line for it!


links:
Bechdel has archived some of the recent strips (through #527) here, and an older sequence (#303-480) is archived at PlanetOut.

There is a review from PinkNews, an interview with Windy City Times, and an article at AfterEllen with some sample strips.

The book was also reviewed by the NYT, Times Online, Powell's, and there's a personal view from Cathy Resmer at Vermont's Seven Days.

(More reviews are available at Xtra, Comixology, Forbidden Planet, Comic Book Galaxy, and Comic Book Resources.)

20090602-zenandnow.jpg

Richardson, Mark. Zen and Now: On the Trail of Robert Pirsig and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (New York: Knopf, 2008)

Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a whirlwind of philosophy, travelogue, and a defense of auto-didactic intellectualism all rolled into one. It's also--in a seeming contradiction--an indelibly memorable book that inspires multiple re-readings, and has even driven fans to make cross-country motorcycle trips along the protagonist's route of discovery. What is it about ZAMM that inspires such devoted enthusiasm?

Mark Richardson is a fellow ZAMM reader, so intrigued by the book that he decided to retrace Pirsig's travels from Minnesota to California on his motorcycle "Jackie New." Richardson combines the narrative of his ride with the story of Pirsig's life and book. After you read (or re-read) ZAMM, Richardson's Zen and Now would be a good next choice. The words with which he ended the Afterword echo my thoughts as well:

Robert Pirsig's remarkable book changed my life in numerous ways. I hope that you'll seek it out and give it an opportunity to change your life, too. (p. 274)


links:
Wikipedia on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
ZAMM text
Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality website
Pirsig interviewed by Julian Baggini
All sorts of ZAMM stuff from Henry Gurr

Sara Robinson's long post "The Far Right's First 100 Days: Shifting into Overdrive" asserts that "we could be in for a wave of domestic terrorism unseen since the mid-90s," and with good cause. She identifies five aspects of their worldview that presage violent activity: an apocalyptic narrative frame, dualistic mindset, retreat from reality, persecution complex, and eliminationist fantasies. (Not to mention their propensity toward stockpiling firearms and explosives...) The irony, of course, is that the Right laid the groundwork for their own paranoia:

Back when they were gleefully dismantling the Constitution and building a surveillance state, it never occurred to them that they might someday be out of power. Now, of course, they're terrified to find all that unleashed, unaccountable power in the hands of Libruls and That Black Guy.

Weirdly, they seem to have almost total amnesia about their role in all this. To hear them tell it, Barack Obama seized all this power for himself in just the past three months. Given that epic memory failure, there's not much hope that they'll draw the right lessons from this reversal. It's far more likely that their newfound terror of government power will lead them to resent -- and eventually overreact to -- even casual encounters with government authority.

If the murder of Dr Tiller is any indication, there may be many parallels to Eric Rudolph and the Unabomber--and echoes of Waco and Oklahoma City--in the next few years.

Two aspects of right-wing might-worship have bothered me for some time: their reduction of presidential duties to "protecting the nation," and their extreme emphasis on his role as commander-in-chief of the military.
Glenn Greenwald touches on both of them while eviscerating Brookings fellow Benjamin Wittes for referring to Obama as "the guy who has sworn an oath to protect the country:"

The President doesn't have some broad, vague duty to "protect Americans." The Constitution really couldn't be clearer about the President's primary responsibility: it's to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Sometimes, the duty actually assigned by the Constitution is consistent with the duty to Keep Us Safe, but many times, Constitutional imperatives are, by design, in conflict with the goal of maximum security. [...] ...the U.S. wasn't created to be a National Security State. That's why the Constitution imposes numerous limits on the government that conflict with maximization of safety, and it's why the President is required to swear to defend the Constitution, not do everything possible to Keep Us Safe.

[...]

This deceitful description of the Presidentíal oath -- just like the compulsion for civilians to refer to the President as "our Commander-in-Chief" even though he is no such thing to civilians -- reflects the modern fetishization of the President as Supreme Military Protector, who has few other duties that matter, if he has any, other than single-handedly protecting us from danger.

At least under this administration, I'm confident that the president has read and understood the document that he has sworn to "preserve, protect, and defend."

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