November 2009 Archives

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"We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush's term."
(former Bush press flack Dana Perino on Hannity, Fox News, 24 November 2009)

(h/t: Media Matters, Think Progress, Washington Monthly)

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Shapiro, Larry. Zen and the Art of Running: The Path to Making Peace with Your Pace (Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2009)

I'm generally dismissive of (if not contemptuous toward) woo, but I've found useful insights in various Zen books. In contrast to the warm-and-fuzzy psychics/crystals/astrology varieties of new-age belief, the mindful detachment of Zen has always struck me as more interesting the farther it drifted from doctrinaire Buddhism. Larry Shapiro's Zen and the Art of Running is a level-headed application of Zen to the sport of running, a pairing that turns out to be quite rewarding. As he notes in the Introduction:

Whether you are a seasoned runner interested in enhancing your running experience, a novice curious about how to take your running to the next level, or a non-runner who has been searching for one more reason to give running a try, Zen has gifts to offer you. (p. ix)

Zen and the Art of Running applies Zen techniques to running's big issues--overcoming obstacles, training and racing, injuries and aging--without getting too deep into mysticism. Shapiro has written an enjoyable book, spicing his text with quotes from the Buddha in addition to many from ordinary runners. If you find yourself "stuck" in some aspect of your running, Shapiro's insights may help free you (or, more accurately, help you to free yourself) from whatever attachment may be causing the problem.

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Shapiro's book has a predecessor in The Zen of Running by Fred Rohé (1975), a PDF of which can be obtained here (h/t: Barefoot Ted). Rohé's book is a quicker read than Shapiro's; it's more a poem than a treatise. Although his writing is very much a product of its time, some of Rohé's observations are invaluable--such as his comparison of running to dancing.

These two books complement each other quite nicely, and can be an enjoyable break from the sometimes-tedious focus of other books on nutritional supplements, detailed training regimens, and overpriced footwear features that (when combined into lists of prescriptions) can suck the fun out of an inherently enjoyable activity.

This kiddie-book parody (h/t: Tengrain at Mock, Paper, Scissors) is spot-on:

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For a narrated version, click here.

In the wake of the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Stephen Zunes reminds us that "Reagan Didn't End the Cold War--Leftist Intellectuals Did." He praises "the power of nonviolent action by ordinary citizens" as leading to "a great triumph of the human spirit" over totalitarianism:

These movements were largely led by democratic socialists who mobilized workers, church people, intellectuals, and others to face down the tanks with their bare hands. Yet here in the United States, we are told that it was a result of President Reagan's militarism and the supposed inherent superiority of capitalism. It is this false narrative that has played such a major role in shifting discourse to the right in subsequent decades and has been used to discredit those struggling for a more just and egalitarian economic system and a more sane and less imperialistic foreign policy. [...]

While Reagan was certainly capable of inspirational leadership and personal charm, to claim that he is responsible for the downfall of Communism and the end of the Cold War is a disservice to the millions of Eastern Europeans and others who struggled against great odds for their freedom. For it was not American militarism, but massive nonviolent action -- including strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations, and other forms of noncooperation -- which finally brought down these Communist regimes.

The media's Reagan-worship has been a tad more muted since the orgy of grief (see here and here) that puffed up W's re-election in 2004, but it's good to take a look at the facts every now and again.

Palin's Newsweek cover has itself become newsworthy, more for its photo (a recycled shot from her Runner's World article this past summer, which I mentioned here) than its headline or its contents:

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Was using this athletic cheesecake shot a sexist decision? Julie Millican at Media Matters thinks so, opining that "this photograph may have been completely appropriate for the cover of the magazine for which the picture was apparently intended, Runner's World. But Newsweek is supposed to be a serious newsmagazine, and the magazine is certainly not reporting on Palin's exercise habits:"

Like her or not, Palin is a former governor and vice presidential candidate. She deserves the same respect every single one of her male counterparts receives when they are featured on the cover of the magazine. I must have missed the cover of Vice President Joe Biden in short shorts or of Mitt Romney in a bathing suit.

What is missed in that analysis, however, is the fact that notorious publicity-hound Palin was apparently an eager participant in the original photo shoot; her inability to dictate her public image isn't de facto sexism--it's a fact of life in a free-press society, whatever the subject's gender. Palin posed in running garb with a US flag and other props--now she needs to live with her decision. This would only be "the latest in a pattern of the media's sexist coverage of female politicians" or "sexist treatment of Palin's physical appearance" if Joe Biden had tried to exploit his physical condition to garner attention.

Palin called the photo choice "unfortunate," and complained:

The out-of-context Newsweek approach is sexist and oh-so-expected by now. If anyone can learn anything from it: it shows why you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, gender, or color of skin. The media will do anything to draw attention - even if out of context.

Ron Chusid at Liberal Values suggests that although the photo is "somewhat sexist,"

...if Sarah Palin did not want to be shown in pictures of this nature she should not have posed for this photo. Sure Newsweek could have used a number of other pictures available of her but Palin's own behavior encourages covers such as this. Her winks and use of sex appeal are part of her act. [...] This is far more a case of conservatives loving to play the victim than anything meaningful.

Pandagon's Jesse Taylor notes that "[t]he problem with crying 'sexism' about Newsweek's use of this picture is that it's photo she took for calculated appeal being used to show her calculated political appeal:"

If you're a politician, you don't trip and fall into the feature article and photo spread in a nationwide magazine. No governor of a state and former vice presidential candidate stands up in front of a professional photographer with an American flag draped over a chair...just because. [...] It's hard to argue the sexism of others when you're portrayed exactly as you yourself chose to be portrayed.

Sheril (Unscientific America) Kirschenbaum writes "I'm (Actually) with Sarah" at Discover, asking "How are we to encourage more women to consider a career in politics when the media casts every female as a 'pin-up' or 'bitch' with no middle ground?"

I often wondered how many girls might be completely turned off to politics by watching the unrelenting onslaught of ogling, sexy photo-shopping, and worse that ensued from across the aisle.

I'm certainly not recommending a burka, but that Runner's World photo series was intended to draw attention to her athleticism, not her politics--Palin could have posed in a modest sweatsuit instead, but chose not to. Nina Berman at BAG News Notes calls Newsweek's choice "brilliant:"

They take an inelegantly, even laughably propped photo where Palin is an obvious participant as opposed to being a manipulated subject, and recontextualize it to show how far out she is willing to travel on the road of self promotion. They beat her at her own game and in the process shield themselves from what would have been the inevitable criticism if they had dolled her up themselves and posed her the same way.

theistic Tourette's

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The all-too-common phrase "God willing" or "Lord willing" ("insha'Allah" in Arabic, or "Lord willing and the creek don't rise" in Redneck) is one of those sayings whose purpose is still somewhat opaque to me. Although its usage indicates a meaning akin to "barring unforeseen circumstances," its heavy use among theists--particularly devout ones--seems like a verbal tic. Those afflicted by it have a sort of theistic Tourette's, and seemingly can't resist name-dropping their deity into every conversation--regardless of appropriateness.

After all, positing that a deity may decide to thwart one's plans adds nothing to the original statement that a simple expression of uncertainty couldn't cover. I find it interesting, however, that their omniscient and omnipotent god is used as a proactive excuse for the possibility that their own knowledge and/or abilities may be inadequate--shouldn't they be blaming a demonic influence instead?

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Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying (New York: Scribner Classics, 1997)

As a follow-up to a philosophical look at the end of life, I looked to On Death and Dying for a psychological take on the subject. In this classic 1969 examination, psychologist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (website, Wikipedia) proposed a model that has since become known as the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

On Death and Dying is long on interviews with the terminally ill and their families, but disappointingly light on hard data. Although I respect the book's place in the field of thanatology, I was hoping for more rigor and less mortis. After the constant mention of religion in her interviews, I was surprised at Kübler-Ross' observation that "[r]eligious patients seemed to differ little from those without a religion:"

...we found very few truly religious people with an intrinsic faith. Those few have been helped by their faith and are best comparable with those few patients who were true atheists. The majority of patients were in between, with some form of religious belief but not enough to relieve them of conflict and fear. (p. 266)

Kübler-Ross opens each chapter with a verse from Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, which lends the right tone to her work; equally poetic is the passage with which she closes the book:

Watching a peaceful death of a human being reminds us of a falling star; one of a million lights in a vast sky that flares up for a brief moment only to disappear into the endless night forever. To be a therapist to a dying patient makes us aware of the uniqueness of each individual in this vast sea of humanity. It makes us aware of our finiteness, our limited lifespan. Few of us live beyond out three score and ten years and yet in that brief time most of us create and live a unique biography and weave ourselves into the fabric of human history. (p. 276)

H/t to Mock, Paper, Scissors for linking to this RightWingWatch video of the Baptist Bible Burning that I mentioned last month. Rain and an ordinance against burning paper meant that the event was held indoors and apparently consisted of tossing a few torn-up "Satanic" items into a kitchen-sized trashcan:

Of course, the Baptists labeled the event a "Great Success" anyway.

Jason Richwine asks "Are Liberals Smarter Than Conservatives?" at The American (from the American Enterprise Institute). He writes that although "most people at one time or another have suspected that their political opponents are dim bulbs... questioning the IQ of opponents is a specialty of liberals." That's true, but it's hardly an unfair tactic; after all, questioning the morality and patriotism of their political opponents is a specialty of conservatives. Is the liberal questioning unwarranted? Richwine cites the study "Conservatism and cognitive ability" (Scribd) by Lazar Stankov; here is part of the Abstract:

Conservatism and cognitive ability are negatively correlated. [...] At the individual level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with SAT, Vocabulary, and Analogy test scores. At the national level of analysis, conservatism scores correlate negatively with measures of education (e.g., gross enrollment at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels) and performance on mathematics and reading assessments...

This passage from the study gets to the issue's root:

...people with lower cognitive abilities may perceive threat and uncertainty where more capable people do not see it and therefore express more conservative views than those with high cognitive abilities. This is also consistent with the view that a common causal mechanism may underlie individual differences in both conservatism and cognitive ability.

Stankov suggests that, "At the individual level, this [common cause] may be [mental] rigidity. At the country level, this may be fundamentalism." Although presenting an argument sympathetic to conservatives, Richwine makes an intriguing admission; he notes that "liberals are on to something when they question the IQ not of the conservative politicians themselves, but of some of the voters they represent:"

A certain bloc of the conservative electorate may very well be less intelligent than its liberal counterpart. [...] Consider that social conservatism is about following traditions. It is intellectually easier, in some sense, to follow the crowd. Iconoclasts face a cognitive hurdle--they have to justify to themselves and others why they feel differently. Probably for that reason, non-traditionalists tend to be smarter than the average person.

Trying to avoid gloating over that point, I will instead express agreement with this passage from Richwine's conclusion:

The bottom line is that a political debate will never be resolved by measuring the IQs of groups on each side of the issue. Even if certain positions tend to be held by less intelligent people, there will usually be plenty of sharp thinkers who take the same side. Rather than focus on the intellectual deficiencies, real or imagined, of certain politicians and their supporters, people should strive to find the best and brightest spokesmen for the opposing side.

If only the media would supply those "best and brightest" spokespeople with a soapbox, so that their voices might be heard over the din of talk radio and teabaggers.

A big ol' h/t to Chris Mooney at Discover Magazine for summarizing the tiff between and Tom (The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science) Bethell and Stephen Barr over Einstein's relativity.

Bethel displayed his ignorance in this American Spectator article, where he suggested that Einstein's special theory of relativity "may have to be discarded because the logical consequences of its postulates do not correspond to experimental results." Bethell's book Questioning Einstein might provide something resembling a proof of this assertion, but his article falls far short even for the scientific layperson. For example, Bethell quotes from page 9 of Stephen Hawking's The Universe in a Nutshell, perhaps not reading far enough to see that Hawking was supporting Einstein:

...the theory of relativity is now completely accepted by the scientific community, and its predictions have been verified in countless applications. (The Universe in a Nutshell, p. 11)

Barr's response in First Things noted that "The world is full of people who think they know something about physics, but haven't even the barest inkling of what it is that they don't know," and suggests that Bethell "should stick to subjects he knows something about." Bethell attacked Barr in the comments:

He shows no understanding of relativity at all. I mean really none. Maybe he took a course on it once but maybe he already forgot it. On the basis of his post, I doubt if he could be teaching the subject. [...] I don't think he knows the FIRST THING about science. And that includes physics.

Barr, however, has a much stronger hand to play:

For the record, I teach a one-semester course in General Relativity for advanced graduate students every two or three years. I also teach Special Relativity at the graduate level (as part of a course in Classical Electrodynamics) almost yearly. [...] I neither had nor have any intention of "disputing" with [Bethell] about relativity theory. One cannot have an intelligent dispute with someone who lacks even a rudimentary knowledge or understanding of the subject. [...] The problem with you is not your lack of credentials, but that you quite literally don't know what you are talking about.

A commenter from an earlier thread suggested a possible reason for Bethell's antipathy toward science other than generating a controversy in order to sell his book:

It could be part of the young-Earth creationist campaign. One problem they'll always have is the fact that their 6,000-year-old universe contains a whole lot of stuff that's more than 6,000 light years away. But if they can "prove" that light doesn't have a constant speed, then they can explain away all those 13-billion-year-old galaxies with the idea that the light just got held up in the aether and merely "looks old."

On the basis of Bethell's work, it appears that the "P" in GOP does not stand for "Physicists."

Andrew Sullivan wrote here and here about e inconsistency of teabaggers' criticizing Obama for budget deficits that are largely due to Bush's "program of fiscal recklessness"--which they supported. He noted that "[t]he nakedness of their opportunism doesn't make it any the less repellent:"

Maybe one day, the Republicans can regain some credibility by accounting for their past failures in ways that actually implicate themselves or president Bush and vice-president Cheney. Maybe, at some point, they will propose some serious, constructive reform - on taxes, entitlements, war, and civil rights.

When they do, I'll take the tea party movement seriously - and even support its message. But right now its message is a farrago of fear, fanaticism and fantasy.

The fringe of any political group is, by definition, out of that group's mainstream; what distinguishes the Far Right fringers is how frequently they serve as a source of "news" for the Drudge/talk radio/Moonie Times/Fox axis of disinformation. "The Tea Party Takeover" at Mother Jones observes how Michelle Bachmann's teabagger rally shows that the GOP "has fully embraced the conservative movement's most extreme elements:"

...what was most noteworthy was that the entire House Republican leadership was also in attendance--and their rhetoric was just as over-the-top as some of the protesters. House Minority Leader John Boehner declared the health care bill the "greatest threat to freedom I have seen." [...] Standing in front of them was a protestor who carried an enormous sign that read, "National Socialist Health Care--Dachau, Germany 1945" over a large photo of a stack of naked bodies piled up at a Nazi death camp.

That sort of over-the-top lunacy supports Paul Krugman's observation that "the G.O.P. has been taken over by the people it used to exploit." Sadly, his citation of Richard Hofstadter's classic The Paranoid Style in American Politics, is becoming increasingly relevant.

fair play

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A poll in California found that although there is a 51%/43% split in favor of same-sex marriage, most voters "did not want to revisit the issue in 2010." Reacting to that information in addition to this comment from a Maine resident,

I, for one, am sick and tired of this issue being rammed down my throat. The people have voted. Now give it a rest and get a life.

a DailyKos writer unleashed his inner Swift:

...it occurs to me that there has never been a benchmark established for how long we should wait between votes for civil rights. So I have an idea. I think you'll love it because it'll put all this confusion to rest once and for all and allow us all to "get a life." In fact, it's so perfect it's already been put into motion:

You're losing your marriage rights at midnight.

Trust me---this isn't some plot to get revenge on you for stealthily taking away our legally-granted marriage rights via the anonymous safety of the voting booth. Not at all. We simply want you (the majority) to show us (the minority) how long you would wait before you put your rights on the ballot. We know from the poll cited above that you'd want to go at least two years as a legal stranger to your husband wife spouse partner. Would you call for an election on the third year? The fifth? The tenth? You show us, and we'll follow your lead.

A few details: If you're married with children, you'll need to figure out which parent will be the legal guardian and which one won't. If your finances are jointly held, you'll need to separate them. Property will need to be divided up. There's all kinds of stuff like that. BUT...you can fix that by going to an attorney and drawing up all the necessary legal contracts between you and your sweetie. Probably won't cost more than several hundred dollars.

[...]

Show us the way, heterosexual America. How long will you be willing to wait before you put restoration of your civil rights on the ballot? We'll be watching...and learning.

Bravo!

replacing religion

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Austin Dacey asks "Why Replace Religion?" and notes the atheist/humanist split among skeptics. "It is not enough," say some humanist critics of the New Atheists, "to take a stand against religion--we must stand up something in its place:"

Instead, it could be that in the lot once occupied by faith there springs up a variegated garden, a patchwork of independent institutions, each of which fulfills one of those functions. Out of one, many. [...] The promise and the peril of the open, liberal democratic society lies precisely in the possibility of a civility and a solidarity untethered from any unitary philosophy or community--it doesn't all have to hang together. The secular house has many mansions.

I'm tempted to echo Voltaire's reply to the question, "If you were to succeed in abolishing superstition, what would you substitute for it?"

"...when I deliver the world from a monster which devours it, I am asked what will I put in its place?" (Voltaire: The Incomparable Infidel, p. 60)

As satisfying as that snarky reply is, it's important to recognize religion's place in many people's lives--the need for community and ritual that believers find lacking in the "patchwork of independent institutions" that serves our needs. Religion's intrusions into politics and law, however, are righty identified as problematic. The Guardian piece "Stand up, stand up against Jesus" reminds us that "When religion claims authority in the political sphere, it is unsurprising -- and totally justifiable -- that atheists and skeptics question the source of this authority:"

If religious organisations or their leaders claim to speak on behalf of a god, it is fair to ask whether the god concerned really makes the claims that are communicated on its behalf. Does this god even exist? Where is the evidence? And even if this being does exist, why, exactly, should its wishes be translated into law?

Churches may prefer to dodge those questions, but that doesn't make them disappear. The mere fact that they are asked publicly is a big part of believers' persecution complex. Over at AlterNet, Frank (Patience with God) Schaeffer asks, "Are the 'New Atheists' As Bad As Christian Fundamentalists?" He begins by giving an affirmative answer, writing that "several of the most successful of the New Atheist leaders [...] remind me of the worst of my own fundamentalist evangelical background." Despite the length of his article, however, his support for the claim that "The New Atheist movement is being led by several egomaniac intolerant fundamentalists" lies between slim and none.

Schaeffer complains about Dawkins' online merchandising and decries Hitchens' sibling rivalry, but neither of those has anything to do with an atheist "fundamentalism." One reply to Schaeffer was penned by PZ (Pharyngula) Myers, who observed: "All I can say about Schaeffer's definition of a fundamentalist is that under it, if you've opened a Cafe Press store, that makes you the Pope of a money-gouging cult."

Australia's The Age ran an article on "A Plague of Atheists" with a Catholic author who complained about being "beset by atheists:"

Worse, they are not traditional atheists. [...] No, the new hobby atheist is as brash, noisy and confident as a cheap electric kettle. They want everyone to know that they have not found God, and that no one else should.

He asks, "Why would anyone get so excited about the misconceptions of third parties as to the existence of a fourth party in which they themselves do not believe?" and proposes as an answer that "you get to think of yourself as immensely clever" and "contemporary Australian atheism seems to consider itself terribly funny." Is that all? Surely not:

At the bottom, of course, lies hate. I am not quite clear why our modern crop of atheists hates Christians, as opposed to ignoring or even politely dismissing them, but they very clearly do. There is nothing clever, witty or funny about hate.

His complaint drew a response entitled "The New Crybaby Theists" from Richard Dawkins: "Craven's article was remarkable for being almost entirely composed of ad hominem attacks on people who disagree with him."

It appears that there really is nothing new under the sun...

I had originally thought that the whole Carrie Prejean sex-tape scandal was just a typical conservative-caught-with-a-hand-in-the-cookie-jar (heh!) that wasn't worth noting beyond the obvious hypocrisy, but Candace Chellew-Hodge showed me otherwise by pointing out Prejean's "Jarring Ugliness" at Religion Dispatches. Despite Prejean's complaints of being "under attack" for her anti-marriage opinion, the reality is rather different:

What really happened to Prejean is this: possibly for the first time in her life, someone stopped looking at her body long enough to listen to her words, and found her to be ugly. Her white, pretty girl, privilege has worked fine up until this point. It has opened all the doors she wanted - to modeling, to beauty pageants, and now to TV and book deals. For once, though, in that brief, shining moment at the Miss USA Pageant, her beauty was not what people saw -- it was the ugliness of her words, the cognitive dissonance between a beautiful body and ugly bigotry that caused people to criticize her...

Is Prejean arguing for her father's right to sell her--against her will--into marriage? Is she arguing that she should be stoned to death for premarital sex? No? Then she should STFU about "defending traditional marriage."

Some traditions are simply indefensible.

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Critchley, Simon. The Book of Dead Philosophers (New York: Vintage, 2009)

Philosopher Simon Critchley opens The Book of Dead Philosophers with this epigram from Montaigne:

If I were a maker of books, I would make a register, with comments, of various deaths. He who would teach men to die would teach them to live." (Essays, "That to Philosophize Is to Learn How to Die")

It is just such a register that Critchley has here assembled. Jim Holt's "Death: Bad?" (NYT) calls Critchley's book "a breezy and often entertaining tour through the history of philosophy, looking at how 190 or so philosophers from ancient times to the present lived and died:"

There is arch merrymaking over beans (Pythagoras and Empedocles proscribed them) and flatulence (Metrocles became suicidally distraught over a bean-related gaseous indiscretion during a lecture rehearsal). We are told of Marx's genital carbuncles, Nietzsche's syphilitic coprophagy and Freud's cancerous cheek growth, so malodorous that it repelled his favorite dog, a chow.

Alexander Provan observes in "End of Self-Help" from The Nation that "the point of Critchley's book is not so much to recommend any particular variation on the good death as to suggest that heightened attention to mortality increases our quality of life." In the course of his book, Critchley makes some sharp observations

"The extent of Boethius' consolation by philosophy is not known. He was cruelly tortured before being bludgeoned to death." (p. 81)

and passes along some parting words from the philosophers in question:

[John] Toland's self-written epitaph concluded with the words "If you would know more of him, search his writings." (p. 143)

Diderot's last word, spoken to his daughter, Mme. Angélique de Vandeul, were "The first step towards philosophy is incredulity." (p. 157)

One drawback to Critchley's book is, as he notes, that some philosophers "led wonderfully successful and influential professional lives and died in an undramatic manner which has no absolutely [sic] bearing on their philosophical views." (p. 227) This rather undercuts his intent to show "that often the philosopher's greatest work of art is the manner of their death" (p. 240). In this NPR interview, Critchley remarks:

I think the main conclusion I came to can perhaps be encapsulated in a quotation. Wittgenstein says eternal life is given to those who live in the present because we live so much of our time either in the future, thinking about whether I'm going to be well, whether I'm going to be wealthy or whatever in the future, or in the past, with our traumas and memories from whatever might have happened. The difficult thing is living in the present. [...] And a large chunk of the philosophers I'm concerned with focus on that. And for me, that's incredibly consoling.

For philosophical consolation, let's go back to the Montaigne essay quoted from at the beginning. At the beginning of it, we find this attribution:

Cicero says "that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one's self to die." The reason of which is, because study and contemplation do in some sort withdraw from us our soul, and employ it separately from the body, which is a kind of apprenticeship and a resemblance of death; or else, because all the wisdom and reasoning in the world do in the end conclude in this point, to teach us not to fear to die. (Essays, Book I Ch. 19)

It appears that the words from Cicero to which Montaigne refers are as follows:

"Cato left this world in such a manner as if he were delighted that he had found an opportunity of dying; for that God who presides in us forbids our departure hence without his leave. But when God himself has given us a just cause, as formerly he did to Socrates, and lately to Cato, and often to many others--in such a case, certainly every man of sense would gladly exchange this darkness for that light: not that he would forcibly break from the chains that held him, for that would be against the law; but, like a man released from prison by a magistrate or some lawful authority, so he too would walk away, being released and discharged by God. For the whole life of a philosopher is, as the same philosopher says, a meditation on death." (Cicero, The Tusculan Disputations, Book I: On the Contempt of Death, Section XXX)

I haven't dug deep enough to find the original quotation--if it still exists--but Cicero appears to be referring to his contemporary Cato the Younger rather than to his predecessor Cato the Elder. The fact that we are still discussing the importance of who said what over two millennia ago indicates that Critchley's observation

We might say that wherever a philosopher is read, he or she is not dead. If you want to communicate with the dead, then read a book. (p. 243)

may well be true. In that sense, the philosophers of whom Critchley writes are not truly dead.

I love the '80s

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Amazon has a free download of the following symphonies:

Brahms 3
Mahler 1
Tchaikovsky 5
Dvorak 6
Borodin 3
Saint-Saens 3
Bruckner 9


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All told, it's a 492MB download...about 5 hours of music. (They're offering a bunch of other freebies as an incentive to get people to install their MP3 Downloader software...their tactic worked in my case!)

Did I mention that it's free?!

At ThinkProgress, Matt Corley notes the claim made by G. Gordon Liddy's producer Franklin Raff that today's sparsely attended anti-healthcare rally (which DC police estimated at about 4,000) was "just as big or bigger" than the 9/12 Teabagger rally. Here's a photo of the crowd:

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In the reality-based community, that's definitely in the low-to-mid thousands; claiming that it represents tens of thousands (the real Teabagger attendance) or a million people (the in-their-dreams Teabagger attendance) is laughable. Today's Quote of the Day comes from one of the ThinkProgress commenters, who snarked:

"It just seems like one million people because the tea-baggers are so incredibly dense."

Zing!

Stalwart conservative Bruce Bartlett writes of Obama's deficit that "[n]ot one penny is due to higher spending." He looks at the numbers from CBO and OMB, analyzes federal revenues and deficits, and in unable to square reality with GOP orthodoxy. He concludes, "I continue to believe that the Republican position is nonsensical:"

I think there are grounds on which to criticize the Obama administration's anti-recession actions. But spending too much is not one of them. Indeed, based on this analysis, it is pretty obvious that spending - real spending on things like public works - has been grossly inadequate. The idea that Reagan-style tax cuts would have done anything is just nuts.

Over at Big Picture, Barry Ritholtz sounded a note of amazement at Bartlett's forthrightness:

Wow, when this guy burns bridges, he sure doesn't fuck around!

Considering that Bartlett's latest book explains the failure of Reaganomics, I'm not sure how much more a pariah he can become. Nonetheless, his Q&A with NYT is even more blunt:

I think the Republican Party is brain-dead. It stands for one thing and one thing only - being against whatever the Democrats are for and regaining political power by whatever means necessary. The idea that the G.O.P. is the party of ideas is laughable. [...] What now passes for a conservative movement is either pure Republican partisanship or right-wing populism. I no longer consider myself to be a Republican and am very happy to be a political independent.

Anonymous Liberal calls the GOP "The Party of One Idea," observing the following:

As near as I can tell, they don't currently have a single idea, realistic or otherwise, for reducing the deficit in the long term. My guess is that if they suddenly found themselves back in power, they'd fumble around for a while and then, having thought of nothing else to do, try to pass some sort of tax cut. It wouldn't make any sense and it would make the budget situation worse, but they just don't have any other policy ideas. They are the Party of One Idea. And it doesn't matter that their one idea is the primary reason we are in such a bad budget situation in the first place.

Without more conservatives willing to call out GOP's groupthink, the party's situation will only deteriorate.

Ayn Rand's position in contemporary politics--a patron saint of unregulated capitalism, right up there with Milton Friedman--is the subject of Anne Heller's Ayn Rand and the World She Made and Jennifer Burns' Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. Adam Kirsch has the best one-liner in "Ayn Rand's Revenge:" "A specter is haunting the Republican Party -- the specter of John Galt." Later in the piece, he writes:

Rand's particular intellectual contribution, the thing that makes her so popular and so American, is the way she managed to mass market elitism -- to convince so many people, especially young people, that they could be geniuses without being in any concrete way distinguished. Or, rather, that they could distinguish themselves by the ardor of their commitment to Rand's teaching.

Kirsch writes about "a growing group of young Rand followers, a herd of individualists who nicknamed themselves 'the Collective'" who "began to display the frightening group-think of a true cult." Rand's philosophy of Objectivism was practically a faith without the supernatural--a group that believed in all earnestness that they alone possessed special insight into human nature, that they could divine the secrets of our life on Earth, and that their wishes about the world would magically come true under the guidance of Galt's Sermon on the Mountebanks. Mark Sanford (yes, the disgraced GOP governor of South Carolina) displays considerably less analytical ability in his Newsweek piece "Atlas Hugged," writing this neo-Randian assessment of our current economic calamity:

When the economy took a nosedive a year ago--a series of events that arguably began when the government-sponsored corporations Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac went broke--many Americans, myself included, watched in disbelief as members of Congress placed blame on everyone and everything but government. [...] Over the past year, we've seen Washington try to solve all our problems--chiefly by borrowing billions from future generations--to little effect.

The key word here is "arguably," as the financial status of Fannie and Freddie hardly caused the crisis; rather, they were affected by the same subprime crisis that had already taken down Bear Stearns, Indymac, and--shortly thereafter--nearly the entire global economic system. Sanford wants to blame government for the crisis, and its actions are certainly culpable to the extent that low interest rates inflated the housing bubble. However, various aspects of government inaction--such as the unregulated financial derivatives market, lax standards for credit-rating agencies, the repeal of Glass-Steagall--demonstrate a far greater culpability that is completely invisible to Sanford's ideology. Johann Hari's Slate piece "How Ayn Rand Became an American Icon" sums up her influence on the GOP:

The figure Ayn Rand most resembles in American life is L. Ron Hubbard, another crazed, pitiable charlatan who used trashy potboilers to whip up a cult. Unfortunately, Rand's cult isn't confined to Tom Cruise and a rash of Hollywood dimwits. No, its ideas and its impulses have, by drilling into the basest human instincts, captured one of America's major political parties.

20091104-runnersrulebook.jpg

Remy, Mark. The Runner's Rule Book: Everything a Runner Needs to Know--And Then Some (New York: Rodale, 2009)

There are many useful suggestions in Mark Remy's Runner's Rule Book--and plenty of chuckles, too. The Runner's Rules of Thumb (pp. 145-149) and the Runner's Glossary (pp. 158-165) are my favorite parts of the books, and the "incorrect" definitions are particularly funny. The following Rule of Thumb is especially appropriate at this time of the year:

#22. Sick? If symptoms are above the neck, you can still run. (p. 146)

The only real disagreement I have is with his assessment of beach running as "overrated:"

What's not to like? [...] ...tiny, irritating granules in your socks and shoes, which will be there for the next 2 ½ months. (Rule 1.36, p. 39)

I agree that sand can be annoying, but a beach is one of the best places to run barefoot! Why would anyone wear shoes there, of all places?!

For "Save the Race Shirt for Postrace" (Rule 3.5, p. 133),

"Wearing the official race shirt during the race is like wearing a U2 T-shirt to a U2 concert. Not cool. Don't do it."

I would suggest a corollary:

It is permissible, however, to wear a t-shirt from a previous year's running of the same race.

For such a slim hardcover book, The Runner's Rule Book is a little pricey at $18; it might, however, make a nice present for any runners on your holiday gift-giving list.

I've written about the Conservative Bible Project here and here; Religion Dispatches writes that "Even leaving aside the question of historical or linguistic accuracy...this project presents serious problems for those scholars, ministers, and lay-people concerned with the ethics of interpretation:"

One would have to question the grounds of understanding young girls to be "temptresses" or "bimbos," for example, or of excising a passage in which Jesus defends a woman from being stoned to death for adultery because it is too "liberal." The CBP's approach stands in stark opposition to that of feminist and other exegetes who have sought to reconsider possible readings of the text on ethical grounds. Such interpreters have typically rejected the positivist search for a unique, original meaning while maintaining a strong degree of philological and historical-critical rigor in their development of ethical interpretations.

The members of the Conservative Bible project have moved precisely in the opposite direction, insisting that they are restoring the original, authentic meaning without having any historical, linguistic, or ethical justifications for their interpretive choices.

FDL's Teddy Partridge deserves a huge thumbs-up for this great smackdown suggesting that "When you next hear Liz Cheney, or her Dick, spew nonsense about "keeping America safe" this is what you can yell at your teevee:"

Fifty-Two Days.

That's how many more days Barack Obama's "false narratives" have kept America safe than the Bush team. Sure, Bush & Cheney would like Americans to start their safety record on 9/12/01, but it doesn't really work that way. An Administration's entire opus counts.

[...]

So when Dick Cheney says this President is "dithering" or when MItt Romney says he's "weakening America" or when the GOP wails that he's "betraying our allies" let's remind them. Barack Obama has kept America safe fifty-two days longer than George W Bush did, as of today, 11/01/09.

Because when it comes to the death of 2,993 people on 9/11/01, there are no mulligans. No do-overs, really, on keeping America safe. They can't call backsies. Bush and Cheney don't get to re-set the clock and say, "We kept America safe [afterwards]."

"From then on" is not a safety metric.

"Well... not counting 9/11″ doesn't cut it.

They didn't keep America safe. Why Americans never held them accountable I shall never understand. How they managed to win re-election on a platform of "keeping America safe" boggles the mind.

But one thing the Bush/Cheney cabal can never now deny: this guy Americans elected to succeed their incompetent criminal enterprise, this President we have now? This new fellow? He has kept us safer than they did.

By fifty-two days.

And counting.

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