February 2010 Archives

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Religion is a subject near to my heart, although not exactly dear to it; I had been looking forward to reading this issue of Lapham's Quarterly for two months. Lewis Lapham's introductory essay, "Mandates of Heaven," started off with a seemingly worrisome disclaimer that "[t]his issue of Lapham's Quarterly doesn't trade in divine revelation, engage in theological dispute, or doubt the existence of God," but I soon discovered a simpatico soul behind the editorial tact. Lapham writes:

I came to my early acquaintance with the Bible in company with my first readings of Grimm's Fairy Tales and Bulfinch's Mythology, but as an unbaptized child raised in a family unaffiliated with the teachings of a church, I missed the explanation as to why the stories about Moses and Jesus were to be taken as true while those about Apollo and Rumpelstiltskin were not. (p. 13)

As usual, the selection of historical material is first-rate: Marx's "opium of the people," Nietzsche's "God is dead," and Pascal's infamous wager rub shoulders with Joan of Arc, St Teresa of Avila, and Mary McCarthy's Memories of a Catholic Girlhood. One false note was struck with this partial sentence from Washington's Farewell Address, which was truncated past the point of obscuring its nuance:

...reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. (p. 107)

A fuller version of that passage adds the necessary context:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

It's the same old atheists-are-less-ethical argument that we saw, surprisingly, in Locke's "Letter Concerning Toleration:" "those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God." A good antidote to this sort of religious bigotry is the extract from Jean Meslier's not-yet-infamous-enough Testament, which is nearly bold enough to make the Four Horsemen of atheism blush:

Don't fool yourselves, my dear friends... [...] Your religion is no less vain or less superstitious than any other; it's no less false in its principles, no less ridiculous and absurd in its dogma and maxims. You're no less idolatrous than those who you yourselves accuse and condemn of idolatry--the idols of pagans are different from yours only in name and shape. (p. 33)

This passage is contained in Chapter 2 of the first complete English edition of Meslier's Testament, released last year by famed freethought publisher Prometheus Books. Since I gave up sugar-coating my atheism for Lent, I'm looking forward to reading the entire work and feasting on it past the famous morsel (less famous, however, than a later version by Denis Diderot) about the confluence of ecclesiastical and political power:

I remember the wish of a man a while back who had no culture or education, but who, to all appearances, did not lack the common sense to pass sound judgments on all these detestable abuses and tyrannies. [...] His wish was that all the rulers of the earth and all the nobles be hanged and strangled with the guts of priests.

This expression may seem hard, rude, and shocking, but [...] it expresses very well in a few words everything these kinds of men deserve. (Testament, p. 37)

Speaking of the separation of church and state, far too few people are familiar with these words from Tocqueville's Democracy in America:

I found that they [members of all the different sects] differed upon matters of detail alone; and that they mainly attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country to the separation of Church and State. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet with a single individual, of the clergy or of the laity, who was not of the same opinion upon this point. (p. 29)

My, how times have changed. It is common now among the politicized preachers on the Right to claim that church/state separation is "a lie of the Left" or some such nonsense. A century of fundamentalism has done a great deal of harm to our nation, to which the Religious Right stands as the most egregious exemplar and secularism the broadest bulwark. Warren Breckman's essay "Secular Revival"(pp. 203-212) is of particular interest for his reference to "the emergence of modern secularism, including outright atheism" as an "extraordinary event:"

After all, from the earliest evidence of human symbolic activity--art, song, dance, and ritual--dating back at least fifty thousand years, there is evidence of religion: conceptions of an afterlife, of deities, and of the human desire to summon these supernatural powers. Measured against this vast stretch of time, the strictly naturalist conception of the world is a brand new creature. It may have begun to stir as long ago as three, four, five, or six hundred years--exact chronology is not the really important point. To an ear tuned to the long duration of human history, the claim that the cosmos is godless still rings with bold novelty.

[...]

...if the human past was fully intertwined with religion, the future is long and open. As far as the eye can see, it is a future indelibly stamped by the great turning point when nonbelief entered the world.

That turning point has been on the horizon, however, since ancient Greece:

"But if horses or oxen or lions had hands
or could draw with their hands and accomplish such works as men,
horses would draw the figures of their gods as similar to horses,
and the oxen as similar to oxen,
and each they would make the bodies
of the sort which each of them had."

(Xenophanes of Colophon: Fragments, A Text and Translation with a Commentary, Fragment 15, trans. J.H. Lesher, p. 89)

Skepticism's flowering into out atheism has taken rather a long time, from Montesquieu's parallel observation two thousand years later that "if triangles were to make to themselves gods, they would give them three sides" (Persian Letters Letter 59, 1721) to today's secularism-with-strength. Publications such as Lapham's Quarterly can help, by nudging the process along in a more thoughtful and insightful path.

Now that I've read this issue, my magazine backlog (which has continued with the addition of a few issues of Common Review, Democracy, Dissent, Foreign Policy, TPM, and the like) is finally finished. My next reading adventure is taking shape, but I won't have any more to say about that until a little later.

An upcoming study has some interesting IQ-related results (h/t: panzerfaust at DU) that are going to really push some buttons:

Liberalism, atheism, male sexual exclusivity linked to IQ

Political, religious and sexual behaviors may be reflections of intelligence, a new study finds.

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa at the the London School of Economics and Political Science correlated data on these behaviors with IQ from a large national U.S. sample and found that, on average, people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. This applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women. The findings will be published in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly.

It's only a summary, but it's still worth reading--bearing in mind the standard caveats about correlation and causation.


update (2/27 @ 2:22pm):
The paper is online at Dr Kanazawa's personal website here. Kanazawa uses the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis ("more intelligent individuals may be more likely to acquire and espouse evolutionarily novel preferences and values than less intelligent individuals, while general intelligence may make no difference for the acquisition and espousal of evolutionarily familiar values.") and writes that:

...consistent with the Hypothesis, more intelligent individuals are more likely to espouse liberal political ideology and to be atheists, and more intelligent men (but not women) are more likely to value sexual exclusivity.

Here is Figure 1, showing higher intelligence along with liberalism and atheism:

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Kanazawa writes, though, that the data "cannot explain the origin of covariance between general intelligence and certain values:"

Why do intelligent parents tend simultaneously to be liberal and atheist, to pass on their genetic tendencies toward liberalism and atheism to their intelligent children? Why are there not an equal (or greater) number of intelligent parents who are conservative and/or religious, to pass on their conservative and religious tendencies to their intelligent children? Why are there not many less intelligent parents who are liberal and atheist?

After the anti-gay comments of beauty-queen wannabe Lauren Ashley (AKA "Miss Beverly Hills") started to draw some fire online, Faux News removed the "abomination" remarks from the original article. Google cache to the rescue:

"The Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman. In Leviticus it says, 'If man lies with mankind as he would lie with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death and their blood shall be upon them.' The Bible is pretty black and white," Ashley told Pop Tarts.

"I feel like God himself created mankind and he loves everyone, and he has the best for everyone. If he says that having sex with someone of your same gender is going to bring death upon you, that's a pretty stern warning, and he knows more than we do about life."

That's nothing more than standard fundamentalist Bible-banging bullshit, but it's the inconsistency that mystifies me. Shellfish, blended fabrics, and inaccurate balance scales are also called abominations in the Bible, but for some reason I don't see any fundies getting worked up over people eating lobster or wearing cotton/poly slacks. I assume that none of Ms Ashley's future interviews will be held in churches, because (as a good Biblical literalist) she would have to cover her head and stay silent.

There was enough online outrage earlier this week that the city of Beverly Hills repudiated her remarks (h/t: Bruce Garrett at Truth Wins Out):

In a statement Wednesday, the city said it was "shocked" by Ashley's description of herself as "Miss Beverly Hills." The city "does not sponsor a beauty pageant and has no association with Miss California USA," the statement said. "As such, there should be no individual claiming the title of Miss Beverly Hills."

The city's statement said Ashley lives in Pasadena and "does not represent Beverly Hills in any capacity."

Aside from the "false witness" problem, I found one of Ashley's later remarks interesting:

"I have a lot of friends that are gay, and ... I have a lot of friends who have different views, and we share our views together," she said. "There's no hate between me and anyone."

I doubt that she really has any gay friends, although she may believe so. Would you think someone didn't hate you if they believed you should be killed for your sexual orientation? Would you still consider someone a friend who believes that you are an abomination?

The "liberal condescension" piece that I looked at here got a much fuller analysis by Paul Rosenberg at OpenLeft, in a six-part series subtitled "Projection and conservative victimology on parade:" Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and
Part 6. Rosenberg notes that "a careful reading reveals a welter of different forms of deceit woven together in his narrative...precisely the sort of sweeping, undifferentiated argument against liberalism as a whole that he accuses liberals of making against conservatives:"

As such it is a classic example of projection, based simply on direct examination of the argument presented. [...] ...this projection is an example of conservative victomology, in which relatively minor-even imagined-slights suffered by conservatives are magnified to gigantic proportions, in total denial of the fact that others suffer on similar grounds to a much larger degree. Since conservatives believe they are (or are aligned with) the natural, unquestionable leaders of society, and are morally superior to others, the asymmetrical nature of their perceptions of injury directly follows from their presumptions of moral superiority.

Citing page after page of example after example, Rosenberg thoroughly demolishes Alexander's argument before delivering the coup de grace that "liberals care about ideas in a way that conservatives generally do not:"

This goes back all the way to the Enlightenment--or even the Renaissance, if not earlier--with liberals pushing for the exploration and development of new ideas, and conservatives warning that it will all end in ruin. Conservatives, OTOH, care a great deal about loyalty, hierarchy, tradition, and running things, which also tends to make them rather keen on wars, and fighting in general, as opposed to sit down together with others and trying to work things out--which also, of course, involves thinking. No doubt Alexander would find this statement "condescending" on my part, but there's an enormous literature out there backing this up. For centuries now, conservatives have tended to rally round churches, the military, the landed aristocracy and other owners of property, while liberals have rallied round educational, artistic and scientific institutions. It's only natural that liberal think-tanks should be more university-like, while conservative think-tanks are more Vatican-like... as in going to war against the Reformation. [...] Alexander can try all he wants to characterize this as a liberal narrative based on condescension--but first he has to deal with the inconvenient fact that it's largely true.

Jamison Foser has some much briefer remarks at MediaMatters, observing that Alexander's argument is "filled with more holes than a donut shop" and is essentially an enumeration of "liberal criticisms of conservatives, which he mistakes for condescension:"

Those criticisms can, of course, be made in ways that are condescending. But that isn't what Alexander argues -- he argues that they are inherently condescending. They aren't -- not unless we want to rob the word of all meaning.

Conservatives will, as is human nature, try to deflect attention from their errors by various means--including acting like victims when they get called out. I would suggest that a better solution is simply to be wrong less often. Ignoring the substance of liberal arguments (are they true?) in favor of complaining about their style (are they palatable?) does not reflect well on conservatism, and do not bode well for its resurgence in the foreseeable future.

How's that for condescension?

a scandal shelved

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Ron Chusid's Liberal Values mentioned another conservative attempt at creating an Obama scandal--based on this photo showing a portion of the White House library:

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Kathy Kattenburg mentioned at The Moderate Voice that the right-wing blogosphere was oh-so-concerned (thanks to Rob's hyperventilation at Say Anything Blog) about a few books on communism and socialism and what they allegedly indicated "[i]n the context of Obama's economic policies." As the flames of paranoia were being fanned by some, others were busy finding out the facts: WaPo noted that the books have been in the White House library since 1963, and Matthew Yglesias observed that the book on communism shown in the photo was written by an anti-communist author.

Rob issued a semi-retraction, but his charges will no doubt continue ringing through the Right's media echo chamber for years. (Remember the tales about crack pipes, condoms, and cock rings on the Clinton Xmas tree? Yeah, it'll be just like that.)

Getting back to a central pillar of Rob's analysis, Chusid wrote later in his piece:

Of course the presence of books in one's library tells nothing about one's political or economic beliefs. [...] A photo of my home library would show books by Karl Marx as well as Friedrich von Hayek and Ayn Rand, along with books by authors with views in between.

Like Chusid, communism and libertarianism sit shoulder-to-shoulder on my shelves as Marx and Engels are bracketed by Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. Since I tend to group my books by subject matter, Pat Robertson and Tim LaHaye share a shelf with Osama bin Laden--they're all fundamentalists, after all--and my Bibles sit between Graves' Greek mythology and the Arthurian legends.

While I admit to a certain fondness for pairing books with their rebuttals (Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind and Lawrence Levine's The Opening of the American Mind; Bernard Goldberg's 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America and Jack Huberman's 101 People Who Are Really Screwing America; Ann Coulter's Godless along with Soulless and Brainless; Robert Bork's Slouching Towards Gomorrah and Dan Savage's Skipping Towards Gomorrah) I generally try to be more subtle that merely putting Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh side-by-side...although I did that, too.

It's fun to watch people's expressions as they scan my bookshelves, looking for a clue...

more waterboarding

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Glenn Greenwald suggested that Cheney is taunting the Obama administration:

...not only will I not hide or apologize, but I will proudly tout and defend my role in these crimes, because I know you will do absolutely nothing about it, even though the Attorney General and the President themselves said that the act to which I'm confessing is a felony.
Harper's Scott Horton wants the DOJ to rise to the occasion:
What prosecutor can look away when a perpetrator mocks the law itself and revels in his role in violating it? Such cases cry out for prosecution. Dick Cheney wants to be prosecuted. And prosecutors should give him what he wants.

Cheney asserted that "the proper way to deal with [the BVD bomber] would have been to treat him as an enemy combatant," but MSNBC's Rachel Maddow had some comments about that (h/t: Bill in Portland Maine at Daily Kos):

The underwear bomber is being treated exactly the way that terrorism suspects arrested in the U.S. were treated during the Bush administration---arrested, interrogated, charged as a criminal and, yes, that process includes being Mirandized. The Bush administration did it hundreds of times and the current administration has continued doing it. Only now, the Bush-administration-in-exile would have you believe that what they did all those years was a huge mistake...the mistakenness of which only became apparent when some other president did it, someone who's a Democrat.

This is just like the deficit commission or PAYGO or cap-and-trade or televising the health reform hearings or closing Guantanamo or any of these other things, where politicians were for it until Barack Obama signed on with it. Then those same politicians are against it all of a sudden.

It's called hypocrisy. And it should be reported as such.

Oh, but the "liberal" media wouldn't do that; that kind of evidence-based investigative journalism goes counter to their standard MO of presenting every issue as a he-said-she-said, Democrats-vs.-Republicans, on-one-hand-but-then-again-on-the-other difference of opinion rather than one of having the facts on your side versus, well, just making shit up.

If Cheney ever gets convicted, maybe he could be Khalid Sheikh Muhammad's cellmate--after all, they both have blood on their hands. (True, Cheney's a delegator while KSM is a hands-on kind of guy, but they could probably get past those differences...)

Isn't it ironic?

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...when a Teabagger mocks Obama's TelePrompTer use and--wait for it--reads the joke from a TelePrompTer?

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The Tea Party's choice in the Florida Republican primary, Marco Rubio, began his address to a crowd of conservative conventioneers by taking a shot at President Obama for reading from a teleprompter. He did it while standing in front of two easily visible teleprompters. [...]

...Rubio could clearly be seen looking intently and repeatedly at the teleprompters. He also had a stack of papers with him at the lectern and flipped through them as the speech progressed, perhaps unwilling to take any chance he would flub the swipe at Obama.

Don't you think?

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"Harrowing" is the word that most quickly comes to mind when describing the topic of medicine as presented in Lapham's Quarterly. Fanny Burney's "Mastectomy" (pp. 138-139, 1811, Paris) from the era before anesthesia, the abortion-gone-awry tale from John Barth's The End of the Road (pp. 75-78, 1953), and James Orbinski's eyewitness report of Rwandan butchery from An Imperfect Offering (pp. 112-114, 1994) combine with many of the issue's other featured writings to remind us of our good fortune to be living today rather than at any previous time--especially where the medical arts are concerned.

A selection from Trotula's twelfth-century Book on the Conditions of Women (p. 50, c. 1100) discussed menstruation and how it was thought to be affected by various imbalances of the humors; that it preceded an adjacent piece by Soranus (pp. 51-52, c. 120) by nearly a thousand years is astonishing given how little actual medicine separates their respective eras. The LQ editors note this explicitly, writing of Soranus that:

"His writings on contraceptive measures, podalic child delivery, and hygiene served as the basis for women's medicine for nearly one thousand years."

Later in the issue, the "Wandering Womb" prayer excerpt (p. 175, c. 950) is another example of the sort of ignorance which displaced knowledge for far too long:

"I conjure you, womb, by the Holy Trinity, that without any trouble you return to your place, and from there that you do not move or stray, that without anger you return to where God placed you."

Jonathan Lyon's "Early Islamic Medicine" (pp. 189-194) fingered Augustine as one of the villains in this centuries-long lacuna in the progress of medicine:

For six centuries the authoritative works of St. Augustine of Hippo had directed the Christian faithful to see only God's mystery in an otherwise unknowable world. Upon his conversion to Christianity in 387, Augustine set aside his once-lively interest in art and science ("Certainly the theaters no longer attract me, nor do I care to know the course of the stars.") and replaced it with superstition. Everyday existence was shrouded in allegorical meaning, while natural phenomena were seen--if they were seen at all--in the context of moralizing tales. [...] Disease was viewed as divine punishment for the sins of man, rather than as a condition to be addressed or ameliorated through human intervention.

The following essay, Meehan Crist's "Dissection," made a similar point when discussing the anatomy of the brain:

Only during the 1500s, when anatomists such as Andreas Vesalius finally turned back to the human body, putting aside for a moment the sheep and cats and pigs, did scientific understanding of the brain begin again to evolve.

One wonders: What would the state of medicine be if we hadn't blinded ourselves with faith for so long? If we had been learning from scientists instead of threatening them and burning them at the stake? If we had been reading their books rather than erasing them to write prayers?

One wonders...

Donald Trump made some remarks to 500 members of the Trump National Golf Club:

With the coldest winter ever recorded, with snow setting record levels up and down the coast, the Nobel committee should take the Nobel Prize back from Al Gore. [...] Gore wants us to clean up our factories and plants in order to protect us from global warming, when China and other countries couldn't care less. It would make us totally noncompetitive in the manufacturing world, and China, Japan and India are laughing at America's stupidity.

The only problem is, as pointed out by ThinkProgress, that everything Trump said is contradicted by the facts. He's wrong on international climate-protection efforts:

In reality, China, Japan, and India have all submitted greenhouse gas emissions targets under the Copenhagen Accord, and are leading the United States in the race to build the clean-energy technologies of the future.

He's also wrong about the climate:

Following the hottest decade on record, we are now in the hottest winter in the satellite record, and this past January was one of the hottest Januaries on record for the planet.

With a track record for accuracy like that, Trump should be hosting a show on Fox News.


update (6:02pm):
That paragon of Faux journalism, Neil Cavuto, interviewed Trump here:

Dick "Shooter" Cheney made an admission on ABC's "This Week" yesterday that, in a just world, would influence (or truncate) the course of his life:

CHENEY: I was a big supporter of waterboarding. I was a big supporter of the enhanced interrogation techniques...

Andrew Sullivan called him on it, observing that "the former vice-president has just confessed to a war crime:"

There is not a court in the United States or in the world that does not consider waterboarding torture. The Red Cross certainly does, and it's the governing body in international law. It is certainly torture according to the UN Convention on Torture and the Geneva Conventions. The British government, America's closest Western ally, certainly believes it is torture. No legal authority of any type in the US or the world has ever doubted that waterboarding is torture.

Sullivan continued by noting that "[t]here is no statute of limitations for such a crime; and the penalty under law is either the death penalty or a prison sentence for life... [...] The question is therefore not if, but when, he is convicted as a war criminal - in his lifetime or posthumously:"

If the US government fails to enforce the provision against torture, the UN or a foreign court can initiate an investigation and prosecution.

These are not my opinions and they are not hyperbole. They are legal facts. Either this country is governed by the rule of law or it isn't. Cheney's clear admission of his central role in authorizing waterboarding and the clear evidence that such waterboarding did indeed take place means that prosecution must proceed.

Cheney himself just set in motion a chain of events that the civilized world must see to its conclusion or cease to be the civilized world. For such a high official to escape the clear letter of these treaties and conventions, and to openly brag of it, renders such treaties and conventions meaningless.

I know I'm dreaming, but this requires an independent investigator.

Now.

It's been a decade since cartoonist Charles Schulz died and his final Peanuts strip appeared in newspapers. Many papers are still printing Peanuts reruns, but I think it's time to free up that scarce space for a cartoonist who isn't, you know, dead.

Revisiting the masterpiece that was Charles Schulz's Peanuts can be done in better ways than by its continued presence on newspaper comics pages. There's a Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, those ubiquitous TV specials, and a plethora of books. Renowned comics publisher Fantagraphics has released the first dozen volumes of a projected twenty-five-volume series collecting the entire half-century run of Peanuts. Here is Schulz's final strip, from 13 February 2000:

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I don't presume to know which up-and-coming comic strip might become the next Peanuts, but let's give the new kids a chance.

As noted by Media Matters, the corporate media (and Congress) are full of people who apparently don't understand the difference between weather and climate, claiming that recent snowfalls in the Northeast somehow disprove global warming.

The Moderate Voice observed that "the global warming skeptics and denialists, like the various talking heads on Fox News, don't want anything to do with science, with truth and the search for truth, with reality:"

For them, it's about sticking their heads out the window, once they remove them from their backsides, and basing everything on a) how they feel, and b) what fits their partisan political ideology and narrative.

"Oh, look, it's snowy, it's cold... Al Gore is wrong!"

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

And extraordinarily dangerous. We disregard what our world is telling us at our peril. And, in refusing to deal with what is going on, with what an overwhelming consensus in the scientific community is telling us, we put not just ourselves in peril but also future generations that will have to deal with our willful negligence.

For the record: When we liberals complain about the number of conservatives who gladly tolerate anti-intellectualism and eagerly misrepresent science for political ends, this is exactly the sort of thing we have in mind.

And the first person I hear say "this blizzard proves that there's no global warming" is going to get smacked upside the head with a snow shovel.

Manhattan Declaration

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The religious right's latest manifesto, the Manhattan Declaration (website, Wikipedia), is online here. Full of both Catholic persecution complex and evangelical Protestants fervor, the MD focuses mostly on the authors' opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage:

...we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are gravely jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.

To bolster their case, the MD strives mightily to take credit for every good work done by a Christian while simultaneously ignoring the evil done by Christians:

It was Christians who combated the evil of slavery... [...] The great civil rights crusades of the 1950s and 60s were led by Christians claiming the Scriptures and asserting the glory of the image of God in every human being regardless of race, religion, age or class.

Of course, racial equality was also opposed by many Christians--who used scripture (such as the Curse of Ham) to support prejudice just as their forebears used it to justify slavery. Peter Montgomery's piece at AlterNet about the MD notes the authors' inability to discuss abortion without comparing proponents of choice to Nazis:

Eugenic notions such as the doctrine of lebensunwertes Leben ("life unworthy of life") were first advanced in the 1920s by intellectuals in the elite salons of America and Europe. Long buried in ignominy after the horrors of the mid-20th century, they have returned from the grave. The only difference is that now the doctrines of the eugenicists are dressed up in the language of "liberty," "autonomy," and "choice."

Montgomery summarizes: "In other words, the declaration suggests the only difference between Nazi master-race theorists and today's pro-choice and death-with-dignity advocates is rhetorical." Also interesting--at least from a psychological standpoint--is the fact that the MD authors can't see the difference between a woman making a decision about her own body and a woman having a decision forced upon her. That the locus of control is completely different somehow goes unnoticed.

When it comes to discussing marriage, the MD authors couldn't resist taking shots at "those who are disposed towards homosexual and polyamorous conduct and relationships" as being guilty of "immoral conduct:"

We have compassion for those so disposed; we respect them as human beings possessing profound, inherent, and equal dignity...

...just not equal rights. (They bring up incest, too, despite its complete lack of relation--no pun intended--to same-sex marriage and polygamy.) Their pronouncement that "No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage" is also misguided. I would instead suggest, as did the Founders, that no one has the right to have their religious beliefs treated as law. When the MD authors turn their attention to religious liberty, this bit of idiocy stood out:

The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself.

Check out Deuteronomy 13:1-13 for a look at what the Bible teaches about religious tolerance. Demanding that believers in other gods be stoned to death is no better as the Koran's bloodthirsty injunction in Sura 9:5 to "slay the idolaters wherever ye find them," which says a great deal about the character of their god. The authors go on to make this claim:

It is ironic that those who today assert a right to kill the unborn, aged and disabled and also a right to engage in immoral sexual practices, and even a right to have relationships integrated around these practices be recognized and blessed by law--such persons claiming these "rights" are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments...

Even more so than other claims in this declaration, this statement is pure unadulterated bullshit.

We liberals hold individual freedom as a primary principle: we want to let women make their own reproductive decisions, the aged and disabled to make their own end-of-life decisions, other adults to make their own decisions about choosing marriage partners, and we also want to keep impediment and coercion (not to mention government funding) out of religion. That's why efforts by the ACLU and People for the American Way to protect freedom of belief are so important, because in every instance they oppose conservatives' attempts to enforce their reactionary religious agenda both in private and in the public square by misusing government power.

The MD positions are described as "inviolable and non-negotiable" and thus the authors have no interest in compromise as part of the political process--only our obedience to their demands. The MD authors tout their determination to participate in civil disobedience as an illustration of their fervor, but it smacks of persecution complex when one considers their prominent social and political power in our culture. Montgomery also noticed this incongruity:

Given that in many parts of the world, Christians and people of other faiths are actively persecuted and killed for their religious beliefs, it's nothing short of shameful that these privileged and powerful public figures are pretending they run the same risk for their anti-gay and anti-abortion advocacy in America. After all, it isn't anti-choice activists in America who have been paying the "ultimate price," but doctors and other workers at clinics providing women in America with medical care who have been killed by advocates for "life."

Robert George, the first name on the MD drafting committee, was profiled as "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker" in the New York Times, but that assessment is only half correct: he's definitely a conservative Christian, but the appellation "big thinker" should mean more than what has here been demonstrated by Mr George. While it's refreshing to see a conservative who can discuss Aristotle, Hume, and Gaius Musonius Rufus as well as Aquinas, George's statements exhibit more rationalization than reason--using every source as a means to his faith's pre-determined ends.

The NYT highlights George's anti-gay animus, noting that "[m]ore than any other scholar, George has staked his reputation on the claim that same-sex marriage violates not only tradition but also human reason." Such a misguided stance may temporarily ally him with contemporary religious power, but it will sully his reputation over time, as the arc of the moral universe continues to bend in the direction of justice [* see note below]--for women, for same-sex and polygamous spouses, and for anyone who want to make a decision not pre-approved by today's Pharisees.

As an aside, the image used by Montgomery to illustrate his article

20100211-liberalsareevil.gif

goes a long way toward showing the ultimate power behind the reactionary religious agenda: the threat of fiery eternal torture if we don't live our lives according to their demands. They can issue all the reasonable-sounding declarations they want, but their hatred remains just beneath the fa├žade, barely concealed by the glossy sheen of faux tolerance and erudition.


*note:
The "arc of the moral universe" quote from King is actually a paraphrase of these words from Theodore Parker in 1853:

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one. . . . But from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice."

See here for more details.

Gerard Alexander asked at WaPo "Why are liberals so condescending?" and suggested that there is a "chorus of intellectual condescension" among liberals:

American liberals, to a degree far surpassing conservatives, appear committed to the proposition that their views are correct, self-evident, and based on fact and reason, while conservative positions are not just wrong but illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration. [...] This condescension is part of a liberal tradition that for generations has impoverished American debates over the economy, society and the functions of government -- and threatens to do so again today...

True, liberals don't often rhapsodize over how their candidate's flirtatious winking "sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America"--we prefer our politics to be based on policies instead of personalities, empiricism rather than emotion. If you want to prove that we're wrong, you'll have to do better than slinging around your aggrieved feelings: you'll have to support your contentions with a foundation more substantial than "Those horrible liberals are impoverishing American debates by citing facts to back up their positions!"

Over at Hullabaloo, Digby pillories Alexander's "simpering whine" and quotes from a particularly obnoxious National Review piece on John Walker Lindh as a prime example of conservative condescension. NR blamed Lindh's pathology--incomprehensibly, illogically--on California's liberalism rather than the reactionary religion that he embraced. Calling conservatives out for this nonsensical position, Dan Savage criticized their "burning desire to convince us that [John] Walker [Lindh] is some sort of liberal:"

Excuse me, but Walker didn't embrace the Marin County's live-and-let-live liberalism. Walker rejected Marin County's liberal ethos in favor of an intolerant, ranting, raving "faith." What's more, Walker and his co-religionists hate all the same things [Jerry] Falwell hates: liberated women, secular culture, homosexuals, religious freedom."

(Skipping Toward Gomorrah, p. 270)

Is it condescending to point out that intellectual consistency does not appear to be a strength among the wingnut/teabag crowds? Or is it simply a factual observation? In a stance not atypical among liberals, I freely admit that I may be wrong--if you can show that I am in error, please do so; otherwise, your carping about "condescension" sounds as if you're just angry that you've lost another argument.

Alexander was scheduled to give a lecture on the subject of "Do Liberals Know Best? Intellectual Self-Confidence and the Claim to a Monopoly on Knowledge" at AEI last night, but it was postponed. I'll be interested to see whether or not his longer presentation is better supported, or merely a wordier version of the same whine. (On a personal note: I've been accused of condescension, but such accusations are usually conveyed via insults or accusations; conservative condescension seems to be at least as common a phenomenon as that exhibited by liberals.)

Last week, Alex Ross announced that his next book will be released on 28 September. Entitled Listen to This, and utilizing this New Yorker article as the basis for its first chapter, Ross aims to "approach music not as a self-sufficient sphere but as a way of knowing the world."

Given how much I enjoyed his twentieth-century music appreciation book The Rest Is Noise, I'll be pre-ordering Listen to This as soon as it's available.

note-taking

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I've been meaning to try a note-taking app for some time, with Evernote and Microsoft's OneNote being the main contenders. The combination of Evernote's price (free for 40MB/month) and their web clipper add-on for Firefox made the decision for me.

20100208-evernote.gif

It's trivially easy to clip things from the Web into Evernote folders, making resource collation and post editing simpler as well. The fact that Evernote is an accessible-from-anywhere Web app is a plus, too--it's one less thing to worry about backing up. If you're like me, constantly collecting information to use for blogging or book-writing endeavors, check out Evernote as a way to keep track of your data.

The Denver Post wrote last Sunday that the "tax-averse" city of Colorado Springs "is about to learn what it looks and feels like when budget cuts slash services most Americans consider part of the urban fabric:"

More than a third of the streetlights in Colorado Springs will go dark Monday. The police helicopters are for sale on the Internet. The city is dumping firefighting jobs, a vice team, burglary investigators, beat cops -- dozens of police and fire positions will go unfilled.

The parks department removed trash cans last week, replacing them with signs urging users to pack out their own litter. Neighbors are encouraged to bring their own lawn mowers to local green spaces, because parks workers will mow them only once every two weeks. If that. Water cutbacks mean most parks will be dead, brown turf by July; the flower and fertilizer budget is zero.

City recreation centers, indoor and outdoor pools, and a handful of museums will close for good March 31 unless they find private funding to stay open. Buses no longer run on evenings and weekends. The city won't pay for any street paving, relying instead on a regional authority that can meet only about 10 percent of the need.

At Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte identified the faulty political ideology behind the problem, writing that "Colorado Springs isn't just in the grip of the fallacy that you can have services without taxes, but also that you can have a tax base without having a population that makes enough money to pay taxes." She quotes this passage from the DP article:

Community business leaders [are] questioning city spending on what they see as "Ferrari"-level benefits for employees and high salaries in middle management. Broadmoor luxury resort chief executive Steve Bartolin wrote an open letter asking why the city spends $89,000 per employee, when his enterprise has a similar number of workers and spends only $24,000 on each.

and then comments, "We all hope you can see the irony---Bartolini [sic] is part of the problem:"

By paying his employees so little they can barely afford food and rent, he's basically choking off a revenue stream into the city, because they aren't paying that much taxes. If his people could afford to do things like buy property, they'd pay property tax that the city could use to pay its lighting bill. But here's Bartolini [sic], who is a huge part of the problem, complaining because some people out there aren't starving to death, and starving the government while they're at it. Why is he complaining? Presumably, a government that's falling apart is what he wants.

This reminded me very strongly of the piece "It's Not Your Money" by Ian Walsh (h/t: Corrente) that I read a few weeks ago:

We'll start with two numbers. The income per capita for the US in 2005 was $43,740. The income per capita for Bangladesh was $470. [...] ...being American is worth $43,270 more than being Bengali and it's not due to Americans being superior human beings. If it isn't because Americans are superior, then what is it?

The answer is that if it isn't individual, it must be social. [...] ...the vast majority of money that an American earns is due to being born an American. Certainly the qualities that make America a good place to live and a good place to make money are things that were created by Americans, but mostly they were created by Americans long dead or they are created by all Americans working together and are not located in the individual. [...] So, if you're American, a large chunk of the reason you make a lot of money (relative to the rest of the world) is that you are American. [...]

So let's bring this back to our typical Libertarian with his whine that he earned it, and the government shouldn't take it away. He didn't earn most of it. Most of it is just because in global terms, he was born on third and thinks he hit a triple. That doesn't mean he doesn't have to work for it, but it does mean most of the value of his work has nothing to do with him (and Ayn Rand aside, it's almost always a him).

[...]

Since the majority of the money any American earns is a function of being American, not of their own individual virtues, the government has the moral right to tax. [...] More importantly than the moral right, it has the pragmatic duty to do so. The roads and bridges that government builds and maintains; the schools that it funds, the police and courts that keep the peace; the investment in R&D that produced the internet; the sewage systems that make real estate speculation possible, and on and on, are a huge chunk of what makes being American worth so much more than being a Bengali. Failure to reinvest in both human and inanimate infrastructure is like killing the golden goose, and America, for decades now, has not been keeping its infrastructure properly maintained, let alone building it up.

"Lower taxes" may be a great bumper-sticker, but it's clearly insufficient as a political philosophy. For some more details on the cutbacks, see the back-and-forth between Colorado Springs councilperson Sean Paige and journalist David Sirota at HuffPo.

A recent WSJ piece showed that actual playing time in NFL games is about 10 minutes and 43 seconds. As the article noted, football "is the rare sport where it's common for the clock to run for long periods of time while nothing is happening:"

After a routine play is whistled dead, the clock will continue to run, even as the players are peeling themselves off the turf and limping back to their huddles. The team on offense has a maximum of 40 seconds after one play ends to snap the ball again. A regulation NFL game consists of four quarters of 15 minutes each, but because the typical play only lasts about four seconds, the ratio of inaction to action is approximately 10 to 1.

Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey were performing on stage during the halftime show for about 12 minutes, probably exceeding the time of the players' on-field efforts. The veteran rockers said as much during a press conference last week:

"We're going to be playing for about 12 minutes at halftime," he said. "But I've heard if you take out the commercials, there's about 11 minutes of playing."

"We're going to be playing longer than the players," Townshend added.

Their ages (65 and 64 respectively) mark this as a past-their-prime performance, but at least they played better than Peyton Manning.

With battle lines hardening over Obama's budget, it might be worth taking a moment away from the talking heads to look at big-picture reality. Considering that the enormous deficit was unavoidable due to Bush's profligate presidency, claims about Obama's "immoral" budget are particularly disingenuous--even for chicken-little conservatives who learn their financial fallacies from Faux News. Paul Krugman observes that despite the "sudden ubiquity of deficit scare stories...there's no reason to panic about budget prospects for the next few years, or even for the next decade:"

Consider, for example, what the latest budget proposal from the Obama administration says about interest payments on federal debt; according to the projections, a decade from now they'll have risen to 3.5 percent of G.D.P. How scary is that? It's about the same as interest costs under the first President Bush.

Why, then, all the hysteria? The answer is politics.

The main difference between last summer, when we were mostly (and appropriately) taking deficits in stride, and the current sense of panic is that deficit fear-mongering has become a key part of Republican political strategy, doing double duty: it damages President Obama's image even as it cripples his policy agenda. And if the hypocrisy is breathtaking -- politicians who voted for budget-busting tax cuts posing as apostles of fiscal rectitude, politicians demonizing attempts to rein in Medicare costs one day (death panels!), then denouncing excessive government spending the next -- well, what else is new?

As noted in this NYT editorial, the "breathtaking" deficit numbers are surpassed by "the Republicans' cynical refusal to acknowledge that the country would never have gotten into so deep a hole if President George W. Bush and the Republican-led Congress had not spent years slashing taxes -- mainly on the wealthy -- and spending with far too little restraint:"

The Republican amnesia and posturing are playing well on the hustings, where Americans are deeply anxious about the economy and fearful of losing their jobs and homes. Far too many Democratic lawmakers are losing their nerve.

Americans should be anxious, for reasons including the huge deficit. But the cold economic truth is this: At a time of high unemployment and fragile growth, the last thing the government should do is to slash spending. That will only drive the economy into deeper trouble.

If the GOP succeeds in causing a double-dip recession with their deficit fear-mongering, no doubt they'll want to continue slashing the safety net for the lower and middle classes while cutting taxes for the wealthy. Those are the only economic tools they know how to use, so why learn anything else?

Palin's palmistry

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Sarah Palin apparently took a swipe at Obama as a "charismatic guy with a TelePrompTer" during her Teabagger keynote address last night, which was rather ironic considering her use of a sixth-grade palm-of-the-hand cheat-sheet during the Q&A that followed. Her notes read as follows:

Energy
Budget Tax cuts
Lift American Spirits

Here's a photo of Palin's palm:

20100207-cheatsheet.jpg

As Steve Benen wrote at Washington Monthly:

First, if Palin is going mock the president for using a teleprompter while giving speeches, it's probably not a good idea to act like an unprepared 14-year-old, scribbling answers to easy questions on her hand. It doesn't exactly scream "presidential material."

Second, that she wrote notes at all suggests Palin was aware of the questions in advance. She obviously couldn't prepare answers unless she knew what she'd be asked. If so, think about what that tells us about her readiness -- Sarah Palin was afraid questions from Tea Party activists might be too difficult.

It's pretty pathetic when a politician can't even remember her own bumpersticker slogans.

preoccupied

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Since the accidental reformatting of my flash drive last week, I've been rather preoccupied with A). recovering what files I could from it, B) retrieving editing copies (notes on paper, believe it or not) from the past few weeks of un-backed-up work, while C). reconstructing whatever else I felt was worth the effort.

Most importantly, I've also been D). keeping my data well away from various physical hazards.

I hope to be back to my usual posting schedule shortly.

Today's lesson: Before letting the flash drive on which you store in-progress work get too close to your BlackBerry's magnetic clasp, make sure that you have a backup more recent than six fucking weeks ago.

You have been warned.

Fuck.

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