April 2010 Archives


Warwick, Hugh. The Hedgehog's Dilemma: A Tale of Obsession, Nostalgia, and the World's Most Charming Mammal (New York: Bloomsbury, 2008)

In The Hedgehog's Dilemma, British ecologist Hugh Warwick describes his field studies on the mortality rates of relocated hedgies, visits the Hedgehog Olympics, and even makes a trip to China to follow up on an undocumented hedgehog species. His observation that "[t]here is no other wild animal that can compare to the hedgehog--no other animal that allows us to get as close. Nose-to-nose with a hedgehog, you get a chance to look into its eyes and glimpse a spark of truly wild life," (pp. xv-xvi) may strike some as hyperbole, but--as someone who once shared my home with an African Pygmy hedgehog--I can attest to hedgehogs' quirky charm. Warwick, by the way, isn't a big fan of hedgehogs joining other wild animals in the "exotic pet" category, finding it "odd, repugnant even, to keep hedgehogs as pets." (p. 131) In fact, he notes that America's "hedgehog-nurturing zeal has erupted into perhaps the world's most counterintuitive pet-keeping craze:"

Who would have thought that a smelly, grumpy, solitary nocturnal and spiny animal would sweep a country into a frenzy of pet-hedgehog-keeping? (p. 166)

I could not see the attraction. Are they trying to create a new domesticated species or breed wild hedgehogs with accommodating personalities? I like my hedgehogs wild, grumpy and outdoors. (p. 189)

While I don't know that pet hedgies ever got to the level of "craze" or "frenzy," they are distinctive in the same sense as ferrets, salamanders, and tarantulas. Warwick bemoans the suburban encroachment on hedgies' habitat, so it's odd that he looks so unfavorably upon the kind of intimate interaction (sharing a household) most likely to lead to hedgehogophilia. Warwick's love for the hedgehogs is evident throughout the book, especially when he writes of "an appreciation for the hedgehog that goes way beyond the sentimental relationship that can infect our contact with the natural world:"

This depth of relationship convinces me that the hedgehog has much to tell us about the way we live within what is left of the natural environment. (p. 65)

He later observes that "We can love a hedgehog like no other animal. It is the first and probably only wild animal that we urbanites and suburbanites have a chance of getting really close to:"

...the hedgehog chooses to share the same space as us and if we are willing to change our point of view and get down on its level, we will be rewarded by the opening of a door into a deeper understanding of the natural world. Once the connection has been made, once we have had that chance to do the nose-to-nose thing and see the spark of wild in its eye, then we can follow it through into a new world view. (p. 268)

I doubt that reading The Hedgehog's Dilemma will create legions of hedgie-lovers out of cat or dog people, but it's a fun book for those of us already on good terms with the little critters. Check out his blog and this Daily Mail piece for more of Warwick's writing.


Hedgehog Central
British Hedgehog Preservation Society
International Hedgehog Association
North American Hedgehog Association
Isaiah Berlin's essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox"

Interestingly, Warwick mentions Beatrix (The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle) Potter, but not Jan Brett, who wrote several books (The Mitten, The Hat, and Hedgie's Surprise) starring hedgehogs.

...or are you just glad to see me?

I've been seeking to remedy my relative lack of poetry for quite some time now, and thought that I had best do so before National Poetry Month (website, Wikipedia) came to a close. Today is Poem in Your Pocket day:


There are forty downloadable poems here, and a nice (although not quite pocket-sized) hardcover anthology called Poem in Your Pocket:


I decided to share a favorite poem with you all, but rather than an obvious choice like Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn," Coleridge's "Kubla Kahn," Henley's "Invictus," Tennyson's "Ulysses," or Ginsburg's "Howl" (which I wrote about here), I'm going to go with the work of a more outré wordsmith: the former Decider, George W Bush:

by George W. Bush

I think we all agree, the past is over.
This is still a dangerous world.
It's a world of madmen and uncertainty
and potential mental losses.

Rarely is the question asked
Is our children learning?
Will the highways of the Internet become more few?
How many hands have I shaked?

They misunderestimate me.
I am a pitbull on the pantleg of opportunity.
I know that the human being and the fish can coexist.
Families is where our nation finds hope, where our wings take dream.

Put food on your family!
Knock down the tollbooth!
Vulcanize society!
Make the pie higher! Make the pie higher!

Charles Simic's optimism in "Confessions of a Poet Laureate" (NYRB) is refreshing, writing that "In a country in which schools seem to teach less literature every year, where fewer people read books and ignorance reigns supreme regarding most issues, poetry is read and written more than ever:"

Unlike my predecessors who had a lot of clever ideas, like having a poetry anthology next to the Gideon Bible in every motel room in America (Joseph Brodsky), or urging daily newspapers to print poems (Robert Pinsky), I felt things were just fine. As far as I could see, there was more poetry being read and written than at any time in our history. [...] If I were asked to sum up my experience as the poet laureate, I would say, there's nothing more interesting or more hopeful about America than its poetry.

Gina Kolata's "To Beat the Heat, Drink a Slushie First" (NYT) observed that those who exercise in the heat can benefit from some new research: "they can delay the time to utter exhaustion by getting people a bit chilled before they start." Citing this study, Kolata says that increasing endurance in the heat may be as simple as guzzling a slushie beforehand:

... young male recreational athletes who drank a syrup-flavored ice slurry just before running on a treadmill in hot room could keep going for an average of 50 minutes before they had to stop. When they drank only syrup-flavored cold water, they could run for an average of 40 minutes.

Now, if we could just find a solution for brain freeze...

1). Ken Auletta's New Yorker article "Publish or Perish" looks at Apple's iPad, Amazon's Kindle, Google Books, and the battle brewing over control of the ebook marketplace. David Adesnik at The Moderate Voice called Auletta's piece "a great blow-by-blow account of the struggle between Amazon and Apple to lasso the e-books revolution," but Auletta notes that this is less a technological battle than an economic one. "Publishers' real concern," he writes, "is that the low price of digital books will destroy bookstores, which are their primary customers:"

Burdened with rent and electricity and other costs, bricks-and-mortar stores are unlikely to offer prices that can compete with those of online venders. Roxanne Coady, who owns R. J. Julia Booksellers, an independent bookstore in Madison, Connecticut, said, "Bookselling is an eight-inch pie that keeps getting more forks coming into it. For us, the first fork was the chains. The second fork was people reading less. The third fork was Amazon. Now it's digital downloads."

The reactionary impulse is along the lines of making the pie higher, but visionaries are "reimaging[ing] the book as multimedia entertainment:"

David Rosenthal, the publisher of Simon & Schuster, says that his company is racing "to embed audio and video and other value-added features in e-books. It could be an author discussing his book, or a clip from a movie that touches on the book's topic." The other major publishers are working on similar projects, experimenting with music, video from news clips, and animation. Publishers hope that consumers will be willing to pay more for the added features. The iPad, Rosenthal says, "has opened up the possibility that we are no longer dealing with a static book. You have tremendous possibilities."

The obvious application of multimedia to books from, say, Alex Ross should need no further elucidation. Aside from the inevitable bells and whistles, I can envision numerous scholarly features to add value: Hyperlinked notes, appendices, and indices would make me think seriously about ebooks; updated errata and annotations, perhaps with embedded reference materials such as a dictionary, thesaurus, and atlas. Being able to carry all of my three-inch-thick, thousand-page Cisco manuals would make this a no-brain decision for my work-related reading, and there is some movement in that direction. Tech publisher O'Reilly has the right idea in pricing their DRM-free, multiple-format ebooks, but others need to get on board as well.

2). Tevi (Intellectuals and the American Presidency) Troy's WaPo piece about presidential reading notes that "One of the reasons the country's intellectual class has taken so gleefully to Obama is precisely that, in addition to writing bestsellers, the man is clearly a dedicated reader." Troy provides some historical perspective:

Obama follows a long line of ardent presidential readers, paging all the way back to the founders. John Adams's library had more than 3,000 volumes -- including Cicero, Plutarch and Thucydides -- heavily inscribed with the president's marginalia. Thomas Jefferson's massive book collection launched him into debt and later became the backbone for the Library of Congress. "I cannot live without books," he confessed to Adams.

3). Tom Jacobs writes at Miller-McCune that "Home Libraries Provide Huge Educational Advantage" to students (h/t: Utne Reader) Utilizing a 27-nation study, the researchers concluded that "the presence of book-lined shelves in the home -- and the intellectual environment those volumes reflect -- gives children an enormous advantage in school:"

Growing up in a home with 500 books would propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average, than would growing up in a similar home with few or no books. [...] "A child from a family rich in books is 19 percentage points more likely to complete university than a comparable child growing up without a home library."

This effect holds true regardless of a nation's wealth, culture or political system, but its intensity varies from country to country. In China, a child whose parents own 500 books will average 6.6 more years of education than a comparable child from a bookless home. In the U.S., the figure is 2.4 years -- which is still highly significant when you consider it's the difference between two years of college and a full four-year degree.

Anna Quindlen's words from the article provided my Quote of the Day, which was well worth tracking down for its full context:

"If being a parent consists often of passing along chunks of ourselves to unwitting--often unwilling--recipients, then books are, for me, one of the simplest and most surefire ways of doing that. I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. That would give them an infinite number of worlds in which to wander, and an entry to the real world, too..." (Thinking Out Loud, p. 119)

Bush's book

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Pretzeldunce Chimpy McFlightsuit has a memoir coming out--on a week after Election Day, no less:


The title isn't objectionable, but I would have chosen a different photo:


Update: I changed the title to "INDECISION POINT" and submitted it to HuffPo:


Karnazes, Dean. Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2006)

Ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes (website, Wikipedia) was a promising fifteen-year-old cross-country runner until a squabble with his coach put him off running for the next decade and a half. On the night of his thirtieth birthday, Karnazes took off for an impromptu thirty-mile run. He writes about the event that "In the course of a single night I had been transformed from a drunken yuppie fool into a reborn athlete:"

Every devout runner has an awakening. We know the place, the time, and the reason we accepted running into our life. After half a lifetime, I'd been reborn. Most runners are able to keep a rational perspective on the devotion and practice responsibly. I couldn't, and became a fanatic. (pp. 64-65)

As the title of the book indicates, his fanaticism has taken the form of ultramarathon running--anything (and everything, it seems) longer than a standard 26.2-mile marathon. (Karnazes also enjoys "windsurfing, mountain-biking, surfing, snowboarding, triathlons, adventure racing, and mountain climbing"--but more for fun than fanatacism.) Karnazes' first ultra experience was the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run (website, Wikipedia) in 1994--a race he went on to finish ten more times. This midrace insight is particularly interesting:

Covering 100 miles on foot was more than a lesson in survival, it was an education on the grace of living. Running is a solo sport, but it was no longer about me anymore; I became almost irrelevant. [...] The many supporters who'd provided encouragement and strength along the way didn't really care about me per se--hell, they didn't even know who I was. What they cared about was that a person had taken the time to train, and sacrifice, and dedicate himself wholeheartedly to the pursuit of a dream. It was a powerful message; I was just the host. (pp. 155-156)

A spectacular DNF (Did Not Finish) at the even more grueling 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon (website, Wikipedia) in 1995 didn't break his spirit--Karnazes ran the race again, winning it in 2004. Another race that gets substantial attention in the book is the inaugural (and to this date, the only) South Pole Marathon, which Karnazes calls "perhaps the toughest physical challenge of my life. (p. 183) (He was the only participant to wear running shoes rather than snowshoes.)

Ultramarathon Man is framed by incidents from his first time running the 199-mile The Relay race--solo, of course, rather than as part of a 12-person team. This exchange with a mid-race pizza delivery driver made me chuckle:

"I can't believe it's humanly possible to run 30 miles," he gasped. "Are you like Carl Lewis or something?"
"Ah...yeah," I replied. "I'm like Carl Lewis, only slower." (p. 11)

Although Karnazes has a stronger reputation among ultrarunners as a marketer than as a runner, he didn't slight any other runners here except by omission. I've read slams against Karnazes that he's sexist as well as overly self-promoting, but I didn't see any evidence of that here--in fact, this passage stood out as complimentary toward his female competitors:

There are no "endurance groupies," as far as I can tell. The women in the sport are just as tough as the men. Sometimes tougher. They're more interested in getting to the finish line before me than getting my phone number. The few times I have been hit on, it's been for a PowerBar or some extra water. And if I didn't produce the desired request quickly, they were gone. No time for a man to slow them down. (pp. 212-213)

Self-aggrandizement aside--and this book is a biography, not a history of the sport--it's easy to see why Karnazes is an inspirational figure to many runners. Ultramarathon Man is a readable and enjoyable book, and the ultrarunning movement could do worse than have Karnazes as its best-known participant. If some of the more elite ultrarunners--such as Scott Jurek (website, Wikipedia)--would like to receive their due accolades from the general public, then they will have to play the media game as well as Karnazes does, and put pen to paper with as much determination as they put their feet to the road.


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When I read the idiotic Islamic claim that female immodesty caused earthquakes, I felt little more than the usual irritation at another drop in the torrent of unscientific religious misogyny; ignoring it as background noise seemed the best use of my limited time. Here's the relevant quote from Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi:

"Many women who do not dress modestly ... lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which increases earthquakes."

Jen "BlagHag" McCreight ("a liberal, geeky, nerdy, scientific, perverted atheist feminist trapped in Indiana") proposed a great response: follow-up post explained her thinking a bit more in light of the attention Boobquake has attracted:

I don't think the event is completely contrary to feminist ideals...[a]nd I thought "boobquake" just sounded funny. Really, it's not supposed to be serious activism that is going to revolutionize women's rights, but just a bit of fun juvenile humor. I'm a firm believer that when someone says something so stupid and hateful, serious discourse isn't going to accomplish anything - sometimes light-hearted mockery is worthwhile.


And to the scientists who are concerned with my methods - don't worry, I fully plan on doing some statistics after the event. I know many earthquakes happen on a daily basis, so we're looking to see if Boobquake significantly increases the number or severity of earthquakes. Or if an earthquake strikes West Lafayette, IN and only kills me, that may be good evidence of God's wrath as well (I'm not too concerned).

Geologists (with or without boobs) know that Iranian earthquakes are actually caused by its network of faults and the ongoing collision between the Eurasian and Arabian tectonic plates which created Iran's Zagros Mountains--and forcing women into burqas won't decrease either the likelihood or severity of earthquakes in the region. Indiana will be comparatively more immodest during Boobquake tomorrow, but I doubt that anyone is overly concerned about the New Madrid Seismic Zone suddenly lurching back to life as a result.

Merchandising Charity fundraising [100% of the profit goes to charity, half to the Red Cross and half to the James Randi Educational Foundation] has, predictably, sprouted to celebrate Boobquake. I love the allusion made by this t-shirt:


homeopathic bomb

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There's some great satire of homeopathy over at NewsBiscuit (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula):

New Age terrorists have harnessed the power of homeopathy for evil. 'Homeopathic weapons represent a major threat to world peace,' said President Barack Obama, 'they might not cause any actual damage but the placebo effect could be quite devastating.'

The H2O-bomb has been developed by the radical New Age group, The Axis of Aquarius. In a taped message to the world, their leader, Professor Hubert Pennington, said: 'For too long the New Age movement has been dismissed as a bunch of beardy weirdy cranks and charlatans. But now we have weapons-grade homeopathy and we demand to be taken seriously.'

Homeopathic bombs are comprised of 99.9% water but contain the merest trace element of explosive. The solution is then repeatedly diluted so as to leave only the memory of the explosive in the water molecules. According to the laws of homeopathy, the more that the water is diluted, the more powerful the bomb becomes.

The whole thing reminds me of this hilarious poster:

Chris Hedges talks to gadfly Noam Chomsky about our current political climate and writes that Chomsky "has never seen anything like this."

"It is very similar to late Weimar Germany...The parallels are striking." [...]

"If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election. I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime. [...] The mood of the country is frightening. The level of anger, frustration and hatred of institutions is not organized in a constructive way. It is going off into self-destructive fantasies."

Chomsky's speech "Remembering Fascism: Learning from the Past" at TruthOut makes a similar observation:

The level of anger and fear in the country is like nothing I can recall in my lifetime. And since the Democrats are in power, the revulsion over the current social-economic-political world attaches to them. [...]

People rightly want answers and they are not getting them, except from voices that tell tales that have some internal coherence, but only if you suspend disbelief and enter into their world of irrationality and deceit. Ridiculing Tea Party shenanigans is a serious error, I think. It would be far more appropriate to understand what lies behind them and to ask ourselves why justly angry people are being mobilized by the extreme right...

weak tea

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Sara Robinson's "Tough Times for the Tea Partiers" at Campaign for America's Future notes that in today's media environment, "There is, absolutely, such a thing as overexposure; and the Tea Party seems to have finally achieved it:"

Reporters coming out for the third time around were no longer distracted by the novelty value of costumes, firearms, and signs -- and thus more likely to start looking at little deeper at who was there and what they were actually saying.

Robinson discusses the TP's bankrolling by Koch Industries (see SourceWatch for details), noting the contradiction in how "Tea Partiers love to present themselves as principled, individualistic patriots who want to 'take their country back' from the liberal blight:"

Most of them have no idea they're being organized specifically -- and a tremendous cost -- by the country's biggest oil and chemical interests, for the specific purpose of permanently disabling our collective ability to regulate their corporate behavior. In short: it has nothing to do with taxes, and everything to do with Koch's single-minded determination to do whatever the hell it wants without accounting to anybody. That's the real freedom you're fighting for, y'all.

A pair of 538 posts are worth reading in relation to Tea-Party demographics: this one about the Perot/Teabagger confluence, and (especially) this one about the Glenn Beck/Fox/Teabagger axis of stupid. Nate Silver writes that:

...tea-partiers are disproportionately attached to, and perhaps influenced by, FOX News. And they are particularly enamored of Glenn Beck. Nationally, just 18 percent of people have a favorable opinion of Beck (the majority have no opinion whatsoever about him). But most tea-partiers do.

Jed Lewison at writes at DailyKos that "Teabaggers are just embarrassed Republicans," with the exception that they might "think that the Republican Party is too liberal for them:"

But there's nobody in the tea party movement who thinks that the GOP is too conservative. And there's nobody who is angry at GOPers but not Dems.

Tea party sponsors like Fox have eagerly pushed the claim that teabagging is a bipartisan thing to do, but there's no real evidence to support that myth. Instead, we've got a bunch of conservatives who think that the best response to the failure of their ideas is to rebrand conservativism as tea partyism instead of Republicanism.

They'd be better off rethinking their ideas.

Thinking is difficult enough for some, but rethinking?! The odor of heresy hangs in the air around the very idea! Besides, what do Teabaggers have to be embarrassed about? How about because of stuff like this (h/t: John Aravosis at AmericaBlog):

Kudos to the Tea Partier who relentlessly heckled an Iron-Cross-wearing KKK bigot (h/t: Chauncey DeVega at AlterNet), but I only wish that more Tea Partiers considered swastikas no less offensive when drawn over pictures of Obama. As noted by DeVega, the TP claims "that liberal infiltrators (in the guise of 'agent provocateurs') are targeting the Tea Parties in order to smear and discredit them:"

Without any factual substantiation (and ignoring the racist, bigoted, and violent rhetoric that is common at the Tea Party gatherings) the Right has succeeded in reframing the narrative which surrounds the tea baggers. Now, freed from any responsibility for their own actions, the Tea Parties can point to some imagined villain as being responsible for all things disruptive and violent at their protests.

David Neiwert notes the Teabagger defensiveness and their new dark fantasies of "a plot by the 'left' to 'demonize' the poor ordinary Tea Partiers:"

Of course, the Tea Partiers themselves would never demonize anyone, would they? Other than that evil Kenyan Muslim radical Barack Obama. And his Marxist fascist progressive enablers. Just a wee bit.

Additionally, writes Neiwert, "the Tea Party apologists want to pretend that the only thing the protesters are out there saying is that they want smaller government, lower taxes, and reduced spending:"

Well gee, if that's all they were on about, I don't think anyone would be concerned about their rhetoric.

Instead, we get get Tea Party leaders -- including Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Joseph Farah and various other figures -- promoting death panels, FEMA concentration camps, birth-certificate theories, Tenther "constitutionalist" theories, and an entire range of similarly false nutcase ideas that reflect people unhinged from any sense of reality.

I want to be done talking about those Teabagging yahoos, but there are still way too many rocks under which to peer. It's a morbid curiosity, but it remains difficult to avert my gaze.

Six military veterans handcuffed themselves to a White House fence today in an attempt to pressure Obama into ending the cowardly Clinton-era "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy:

Lafayette Park was then inexplicably closed, thereby preventing the media from properly covering the protest:

John Aravosis, Pam Spaulding, and Andy Towle have all registered their disappointment, wondering why the Obama administration has chosen to behave in such a Bush-league manner.

Obama, you promised to end this discriminatory policy.

It's time to show some leadership and fulfill your promise.

smoke this book

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Sustainable-living publisher Chelsea Green is making their pro-marijuana-legalization book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? available for free until midnight tonight at download site Scribd (h/t: Paul Armentano at AlterNet).


When your munchies have been satiated, visit NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) for more information.

Am I too mean to the Teabaggers? Is it inappropriate to call them by the name they abandoned once they discovered its alternate meaning? Is it wrong to be amused by their illiteracy, their inanity, and their general incoherence? Their wild exaggerations of Tea Party crowd sizes? Their general cluelessness? Should I avoid even quoting other people who say mean things?

Nah, fuck that noise.

Teabaggers will get ridiculed because they're ridiculous--respect will only come when they start being respectable, and that doesn't appear likely to happen any time soon. Andrew Sullivan's piece "Why I'm Passing on Tea" explains his distance from the partisan Tea-Partiers, writing that "part of the tea-party anger is pent up from the Bush years:"

Most of the rational tea-partiers accept that the GOP has been as bad - if not worse - than the Democrats on spending, borrowing and the size and scope of government in recent years. They repressed this anger during the Bush years out of partisan loyalty. Now, they're taking it all out on the newbie. [...]

Their partisanship and cultural hostility to Obama are far more intense, it seems to me, than their genuine proposals to reduce spending and taxation. And this is largely because they have no genuine proposals to reduce spending and taxation. They seem very protective of Medicare and Social Security - and their older age bracket underlines this. They also seem primed for maximal neo-imperial reach, backing the nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, favoring war against Iran, etc. [...] ...they are truly not serious in policy terms... [a]nd that lack of seriousness is complemented by a near-fanatical cultural alienation from the modern world.

Sullivan is keeping his distance until the Teabaggers' fact-free frivolity has abated, or at least come into more regular contact with reality:

When they propose cuts in Medicare, means-testing Social Security, a raising of the retirement age and a cut in defense spending, I'll take them seriously and wish them well.

Until then, I'll treat them with the condescending contempt they have thus far deserved.

In their minds, however, the Teabaggers aren't clueless-they're today's heirs to the Revolutionary Era. Slate's Will Saletan provides an important history lesson in "Hegemoron: Sarah Palin's ignorant imperialism," writing that Palin has been "going around to Tea Party rallies, invoking the spirit of revolutionary Boston and castigating Obama for failing to exalt American power and punish our adversaries:"

She seems blissfully unaware that the imperial arrogance she's preaching isn't how the American founders behaved. It's how the British behaved, and why they lost. Palin represents everything the original Tea Party was against. [...]

...rather than apologize or reach out, Britain flaunted its dominance and power. It imposed military rule in Massachusetts and shut down the port of Boston, thinking that this would divide the colonies and starve the insurgents into submission. [...] There was no America, as a nation, until Britain foolishly behaved as Palin now wants America to behave. Her advice is a prescription for superpower suicide. If she understood the Boston Tea Party as more than a slogan, she'd know that.

Bill Moyers and Michael Winship write at AlterNet that "The Tea Party Crowd Needs to Wake Up to Who the Real Villains Are," also available at TruthOut, Consortium News, and BuzzFlash. As they write, "we can only wish those Tea Party activists who gathered in Washington and other cities this week weren't so single-minded about just who's responsible for all their troubles, real and imagined:"

They're up in arms, so to speak, against Big Government, especially the Obama administration.

If they thought this through, they'd be joining forces with other grassroots Americans who in the coming weeks will be demonstrating in Washington and other cities against High Finance, taking on Wall Street and the country's biggest banks.

Their conclusion that "as usual, Thomas Jefferson, whose birthday we celebrate this week, had it right. Back in 1816, he wrote, "I sincerely believe... that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies." may seem puzzling without context; here are some of Jefferson's other statements about standing armies:

"There are instruments so dangerous to the rights of the nation and which place them so totally at the mercy of their governors that those governors, whether legislative or executive, should be restrained from keeping such instruments on foot but in well-defined cases. Such an instrument is a standing army." --Thomas Jefferson to David Humphreys, 1789.

"Nor is it conceived needful or safe that a standing army should be kept up in time of peace for [defense against invasion]." --Thomas Jefferson: 1st Annual Message, 1801.

"Standing armies [are] inconsistent with [a people's] freedom and subversive of their quiet." --Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Lord North's Proposition, 1775. Papers 1:231
"The spirit of this country is totally adverse to a large military force." --Thomas Jefferson to Chandler Price, 1807.

"There shall be no standing army but in time of actual war." --Thomas Jefferson: Draft Virginia Constitution, 1776.

In this wariness, Jefferson obviously sided more with the Anti-Federalists than the Hamiltonians who won the day. The myriad examples of standing-army military misadventures since then--of which Bush's are only the latest examples--suggest that in this, as in so many other things, Jefferson was right.

Tax Day

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The observation that "Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public" opens this NYT article on their recent poll (with CBS) on the Teabaggers. Here are more of the results:

The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45.

They hold more conservative views on a range of issues than Republicans generally. They are also more likely to describe themselves as "very conservative" and President Obama as "very liberal."

And while most Republicans say they are "dissatisfied" with Washington, Tea Party supporters are more likely to classify themselves as "angry."

Much has been made of the educational component of the poll, partly because it goes against stereotype. Pandagon's Amanda Marcotte notes in "Stupid can't be cured with a degree" that the Teabagger stereotype is "based on the illiterate signage, the bad clothes, the obnoxious pride in having bad taste, and of course the mind-bendingly stupid shit they believe:"

And that's not just regarding the paranoid fantasies about Obama, but more straightforwardly asinine stuff, like that Medicare isn't government health care. It's easy to assume that these folks are just uneducated, and that they'd wise up if they got educated. And of course, the assumption that lack of education correlates with lower income is something that comes from demonstrable facts, so it's easy to leap to thinking the tea baggers are less wealthy than the liberal elite they carp about.

She continues the same line of attack, writing that "even though tea baggers are, in reality, highly privileged people who are motivated by a mean urge to sneer at and beat down the people they think are beneath them, they also come across as giant fucking morons. Which they are! But alas, the problem has nothing to do with lack of education. They have plenty of degrees and access to learning. But you can lead a horse to water, you know?"

No, tea baggers believe stupid shit because they want to. It's willful ignorance. They spin outrageous theories because they know that the naked truth about what they believe would make them look like giant bigots and big meanies. So, instead of saying, "I don't want health care reform because I like a system where poor people are shut out because that means I don't have to see them in my doctor's office," they start yelling about the slide into socialism. Instead of saying, "I'm an incredibly selfish person who wants to keep my government-funded Medicare, but I don't want to see that single mom down the street get health insurance because she's a slut and I want to see her suffer," they say that Obama's trying to take their Medicare and that's socialism. They're not confused because they were badly educated and don't have a grasp on critical thinking. [...] They're willfully ignorant, and this distinction should never be forgotten when trying to understand them.

Steve Benen writes that the poll results "confirm much of what we already know -- this is a confused contingent of conservative white people older than 45 -- but there were a few interesting tidbits:"

Tea Partiers are obviously not part of the American mainstream. Its activists are to the right of the Republican Party, they have favorable opinions of George W. Bush, and rely heavily on Fox News.

I haven't had a Quote of the Day for a while, but this one deserves the honor:

If you were to make a Venn Diagram of the issues Tea Party members care about, and the issues Tea Party members are confused about, you'd only see one circle.

Benen continues:

These folks claim to be motivated by concerns over taxes, but Tea Partiers tend not to know anything about the subject. They claim to be angry about the Affordable Care Act, but they don't know what's in it. They claim to hate expensive government programs, except for all the expensive government programs that benefit them and their families.

It's inherently challenging to create a lasting, successful political movement predicated on literally nothing more than ignorance and rage. In the case of Tea Partiers, we're talking about a reasonably large group of people who seem to revel in their own ignorance, but nevertheless seek an active role in the process. [...] The bottom line seem inescapable: Tea Party activists have no idea what they're talking about. Their sincerity notwithstanding, this is a confused group of misled people.

Politico notes the presence of GOP operatives among the Teabaggers, and that nuttiest of wingnuts, Michelle Bachman (R-MN), is being investigated regarding an anti-healthcare rally in November that "cost US taxpayers nearly $14,000" because she called it a press event. "An ethics group has raised questions about Bachmann's use of her congressional website to promote the Tea Party rally:"

But several Washington ethics attorneys and experts say that paying for the event's $13,600 bill with official funds likely fell within congressional rules, so long as it was not campaign-related. [...] Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint alleging that Bachmann had used her official website to promote "grassroots lobbying," which is prohibited under House rules. CREW also said organizers inappropriately bypassed permit requirements by calling it a press conference.

On a lighter note, Michael Silverstein suggests at The Moderate Voice that we should abolish taxes altogether. It's a parody, but it still makes more sense than the Teabaggers do.

[fixed typo]

Here's a great anonymous piece (h/t: Jason Kottke):

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US department of energy. I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the national weather service of the national oceanographic and atmospheric administration determined the weather was going to be like using satellites designed, built, and launched by the national aeronautics and space administration. I watched this while eating my breakfast of US department of agriculture inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the food and drug administration.

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US congress and kept accurate by the national institute of standards and technology and the US naval observatory, I get into my national highway traffic safety administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the environmental protection agency, using legal tender issed by the federal reserve bank. On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US postal service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the department of labor and the occupational safety and health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to ny house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal's inspection, and which has not been plundered of all it's valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log on to the internet which was developed by the defense advanced research projects administration and post on freerepublic.com and fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right.

"Security" is a much broader concept than its current limitation to Homeland Security and the Department of War Defense would indicate.


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I had an actual LOL moment when I saw this bumper-sticker (h/t: Andrew Sullivan):



Schwartz, Lynne Sharon. Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996)

I am often fascinated by books about books (meta-books?), so Lynne Sharon Schwartz's Ruined by Reading was an easy suggestion for a fellow bibliophile friend to make for my TBR stack. Weighing in at not much more than 100 pages, Schwartz's memoir is a brief and entertaining glimpse into her reading experiences and her relationship with books. Here are two choice quotes to give a taste of her bibliophilia:

Like the bodies of dancers or athletes, the minds of readers are genuinely happy and self-possessed only when cavorting around, doing their stretches and leaps and jumps to the tune of words. (p. 3)

When, every so often, I have a spasm of needing to get organized, I make lists of books to read. In between reading the books on the list I am sidetracked by the books pressed on me by friends, or the shelved books suddenly demanding loudly, after much postponement, to be read right away, or the piles of books arriving in the mail with notes from editors beseeching that I read them. If they only knew the convoluted agonies of choice! (pp. 103-104)

Her closing passage is especially delightful, eliciting many fond memories:

So much of a child's life is lived for others. We learn what they want us to learn, and show our learning for their gratification. All the reading I did as a child, behind closed doors, sitting on the bed while the darkness fell around me, was an act of reclamation. This and only this I did for myself. This was the way to make life my own. (p. 119)

Joseph Thorndike writes "Four Things You Should Know About the Boston Tea Party"--the sort of history lesson needed (to be fair) on both sides of tomorrow's Teabag protests:

1. The Tea Party was not a protest against high taxes.
2. The Tea Party was prompted by a corporate bailout.
3. The Tea Party was a grass-roots movement -- with an element of AstroTurf.
4. The Tea Party wasn't always a touchstone of American nationalism.

H/t: Bruce Bartlett, who adds:

Since the original Boston tea party is the subject of so much mythology, which animates many latter day tea partiers to this day, it's important to set the record straight.

NYT's David Leonhardt helps set the record straight on taxes, writing that "understanding who really pays what in taxes" is essential to "get[ting] a sense for our country's fiscal options:"

The answer is that tax rates almost certainly have to rise more on the affluent than on other groups. Over the last 30 years, rates have fallen more for the wealthy, and especially the very wealthy, than for any other group. At the same time, their incomes have soared, and the incomes of most workers have grown only moderately faster than inflation.

So a much greater share of income is now concentrated at the top of distribution, while each dollar there is taxed less than it once was. It's true that raising taxes on the rich alone can't come close to solving the long-term budget problem.

Citizens for Tax Justice note that 44% of teabaggers believe that Obama raised their taxes--despite the fact that 98% of them received tax cuts last year. To help correct that imbalance, CJT published a list of resources titled "Be Informed and Take Action on Tax Day." It, along with Chuck Collins' constructive advice on "How to Talk to a Tea Party Activist" from The Nation, could help to make tomorrow a bit less contentious.

If you're not already familiar with PedoBear,


you probably soon will be (see Know Your Meme and URLesque for background). Here's a mashup of PedoBear and the Pope, from Andrew Sullivan):


(Just look at those adorable ruby slippers Prada loafers!)

At Religion Dispatches, Frederick Clarkson asks "When Is Terrorism 'Christian'?" and notes that the occasional media "use of the term 'Christian militia'...suggests that "a tectonic shift may be underway in our underlying culture and politics as we continue to struggle with how to acknowledge the realities of actual and threatened religiously-motivated violence in the U.S."

Until now, of course, the elephant in the room has been our double standard, at least since 9/11. We've had little difficulty acknowledging religious motivations when Muslims are involved, but it's been rare to find the word "Christian" modifying terms like "militia" and "terrorism" in mainstream discourse.

When discussing the indictment against the Hutaree Militia, Clarkson notes that it identified the Hutaree as "an anti-government extremist organization" but didn't mention that the name means "Christian warrior" or that their uniform patch features a cross and the initials CCR ("Colonial Christian Republic"). He mentions several other examples:

...while the sentencing [of Scott Roeder] was massively covered by national and international media, it would have been fair to describe [him] as a "Christian terrorist," though the media didn't go there--he was described neither as a Christian nor as a terrorist in any of the news or broadcast accounts I could find.

...the once infamous Aryan Nations group referred to itself as the Church of Jesus Christ, Christian, and its leader was Rev. Richard Butler, a minister in one of the sects generally referred to as Christian Identity.

Mark Juergensmeyer's RD piece "The Return of Christian Terrorism" observes that, regardless of terminology, the "awful mood of American Christian terrorism--culminating in the catastrophic attack on the Oklahoma City Federal Builiding--has now returned:"

...threats and incidents of right-wing violence have risen 200% in this last year -- unfortunately coinciding with the tenure of the first African American President in US history.

It's certainly odd that concern on the Right for limited government, deficit spending, and the like seems to blossom whenever Washington is in Democratic hands--but when the GOP takes the reins, the Right falls in line.

Today is the anniversary of the start of the Civil War, when Confederate forces began firing on Fort Sumter. Last Wednesday, Governor Rob McDonnell declared April "Confederate History Month" in Virginia, and did so without even mentioning slavery. Outrage was immediate and widespread; for example, Robert McCartney's WaPo op-ed expressed astonishment at McDonnell's "effective endorsement" of the Confederate cause, noting the following:

The first paragraph said "the people of Virginia" joined the Confederacy in a war "for independence." It said they "fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth." It urged reflection on their "sacrifices." It implied it was too bad they were "ultimately overwhelmed" by the North's "insurmountable" resources.

Nowhere did the original statement condemn or even acknowledge the fact that the South was fighting primarily to defend a society based on slavery, as the Confederacy's own leaders said at the time. It neglected to mention that the state joined the Lost Cause without consulting the one-fourth of Virginians in bondage because of their race.

Bowing to the intense criticism, McDonnell added a paragraph about slavery. Ed Kilgore suggests at TNR that "Neo-Confederate History Month could remind us of the last great effusion of enthusiasm for Davis and Lee and Jackson and all the other avatars of the Confederacy: the white southern fight to maintain racial segregation in the 1950s and 1960s:"

That's when "Dixie" was played as often as the national anthem at most white high school football games in the South; when Confederate regalia were attached to state flags across the region; and when the vast constitutional and political edifice of pre-secession agitprop was brought back to life in the last-ditch effort to make the Second Reconstruction fail like the first.

The NYT overview from Jon Meacham dispenses with reverential rhetoric about Southern culture, issuing a challenge that "If neo-Confederates are interested in history, let's talk history:"

Since Lee surrendered at Appomattox, Confederate symbols have tended to be more about white resistance to black advances than about commemoration. In the 1880s and 1890s, after fighting Reconstruction with terrorism and after the Supreme Court struck down the 1875 Civil Rights Act, states began to legalize segregation. For white supremacists, iconography of the "Lost Cause" was central to their fight; Mississippi even grafted the Confederate battle emblem onto its state flag.

But after the Supreme Court allowed segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, Jim Crow was basically secure. There was less need to rally the troops, and Confederate imagery became associated with the most extreme of the extreme: the Ku Klux Klan.

In the aftermath of World War II, however, the rebel flag and other Confederate symbolism resurfaced as the civil rights movement spread. In 1948, supporters of Strom Thurmond's pro-segregation Dixiecrat ticket waved the battle flag at campaign stops.

Then came the school-integration rulings of the 1950s. Georgia changed its flag to include the battle emblem in 1956, and South Carolina hoisted the colors over its Capitol in 1962 as part of its centennial celebrations of the war.

As the sesquicentennial of Fort Sumter approaches in 2011, the enduring problem for neo-Confederates endures: anyone who seeks an Edenic Southern past in which the war was principally about states' rights and not slavery is searching in vain, for the Confederacy and slavery are inextricably and forever linked.

Matthew Yglesias discusses "Neo-Confederate History" at ThinkProgress, decrying "the white southern political tradition's very partial and selective embrace of majoritarian democracy:"

As long as national institutions are substantially controlled by white southerners, the white south is a hotbed of patriotism. But as soon as an non-southern political coalition manages to win an election--as we saw in 1860 and in 2008--then suddenly the symbols of national authority become symbols of tyranny and the constitution is construed as granting conservative areas all kinds of alleged abilities to opt out of national political decisions. Even if you think opposition to the Affordable Care Act has nothing whatsoever to do with race, the underlying political philosophy by which a George W Bush or James Buchanan is a national president but an Abraham Lincoln or a Barack Obama merely a sectional one remains incoherent and pernicious.

Writing at FDL, Blue Texan not only notes that McDonnell is "Tied to White Supremacists," but makes the brilliant suggestion that the proclamation should really be called "Treason in Defense of Slavery" month. Adele Stan suggests that we should "think again" about the Civil War actually being over, observing that "It's easy to make fun of the wing-nuts. But there's a storm brewing, egged on by the veneration of the Confederacy." We can update the flag so beloved by both neo-Confederates and neo-Nazis by combining the stars-and-bars with the swastika to create a Confederate Swastika:


The far right fringe can have their religion and racism in one ugly package, and we can see what they really stand for.

Andrew Sullivan posted this photo of a Papal billboard defaced with the word "pedoflu" (pedophile) and a Nazi Ratzi mustache:


Geoffrey Robertson suggested at The Guardian that we "Put the Pope in the Dock," writing that "the Holy See can no longer ignore international law, which now counts the widespread or systematic sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity. The anomalous claim of the Vatican to be a state - and of the pope to be a head of state and hence immune from legal action - cannot stand up to scrutiny:"

...the Vatican was created by fascist Italy in 1929 when Mussolini endowed this tiny enclave - 0.17 of a square mile containing 900 Catholic bureaucrats - with "sovereignty in the international field ... in conformity with its traditions and the exigencies of its mission in the world". [...]

The UN at its inception refused membership to the Vatican but has allowed it a unique "observer status", permitting it to become signatory to treaties such as the Law of the Sea and (ironically) the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to speak and vote at UN conferences where it promotes its controversial dogmas on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. This has involved the UN in blatant discrimination on grounds of religion: other faiths are unofficially represented, if at all, by NGOs. But it has encouraged the Vatican to claim statehood - and immunity from liability.

This claim could be challenged successfully in the UK and in the European Court of Human Rights. But in any event, head of state immunity provides no protection for the pope in the international criminal court (see its current indictment of President Bashir). The ICC Statute definition of a crime against humanity includes rape and sexual slavery and other similarly inhumane acts causing harm to mental or physical health, committed against civilians on a widespread or systematic scale, if condoned by a government or a de facto authority. It has been held to cover the recruitment of children as soldiers or sex slaves. If acts of sexual abuse by priests are not isolated or sporadic, but part of a wide practice both known to and unpunished by their de facto authority then they fall within the temporal jurisdiction of the ICC - if that practice continued after July 2002, when the court was established.

Recent revelations about Pope Ratzi's rapist-coddling past are unusually despicable:

[Rev. Stephen] Kiesle had been sentenced in 1978 to three years' probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct for tying up and molesting two young boys in a San Francisco Bay area church rectory. [...]

The diocese recommended removing Kiesle from the priesthood in 1981, the year Ratzinger was appointed to head the Vatican office [Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith] that shared responsibility for disciplining abusive priests.

The case then languished for four years at the Vatican before Ratzinger finally wrote to the Oakland bishop. It was two more years before Kiesle was removed; during that time he continued to do volunteer work with children through the church. [...]

Kiesle, who married after leaving the priesthood, was arrested and charged in 2002 with 13 counts of child molestation from the 1970s. All but two were thrown out after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a California law extending the statute of limitations.

He pleaded no contest in 2004 to a felony for molesting a young girl in his Truckee [California] home in 1995 and was sentenced to six years in state prison.

Andrew Sullivan called his post on the scandal "The Third Strike," giving a clear indication of where he stands on Ratzi's tenure:

The Pope cannot blame the local bishops this time - they desperately tried to get the priest fired.

He cannot claim he was out of the loop: his signature is on the letter.

He cannot get an underling to take the fall: it's his name and his office behind the unconscionable delay and behind the actual, despicably callous and self-serving reasons to protect a man who tied children up and raped them. [...]

He had more sympathy for the relatively young age of the rapist, rather than the innocence and trauma of the raped children.

We see a man utterly corrupted by power and institutional loyalty.

So when does he resign?

For a contrarian view, Richard Dawkins was asked "Should the pope resign?" and he replied "No. As the College of Cardinals must have recognized when they elected him, he is perfectly - ideally - qualified to lead the Roman Catholic Church:"

A leering old villain in a frock, who spent decades conspiring behind closed doors for the position he now holds; a man who believes he is infallible and acts the part; a man whose preaching of scientific falsehood is responsible for the deaths of countless AIDS victims in Africa; a man whose first instinct when his priests are caught with their pants down is to cover up the scandal and damn the young victims to silence: in short, exactly the right man for the job. He should not resign, moreover, because he is perfectly positioned to accelerate the downfall of the evil, corrupt organization whose character he fits like a glove, and of which he is the absolute and historically appropriate monarch.

No, Pope Ratzinger should not resign. He should remain in charge of the whole rotten edifice - the whole profiteering, woman-fearing, guilt-gorging, truth-hating, child-raping institution - while it tumbles, amid a stench of incense and a rain of tourist-kitsch sacred hearts and preposterously crowned virgins, about his ears.

My own opinion is somewhat in the middle: Even the dubious stature of the Papal office is debased by its current occupant; I wonder why more Catholics aren't, like Sullivan, calling for his resignation. (There is precedent for it, though infrequent.)

teabag flag

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(Bob Englehart/Hartford Courant, h/t: Creature at The Reaction)

Sean Hannity should really have a serious sit-down chat with his publisher.

His latest screed, Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama's Radical [sic] Agenda, isn't titled as provocatively as his previous books Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism (2004) and Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism (2005). His new title doesn't pretend to pit liberty against liberalism (as if that were even possible) or try to equate liberalism with evil, and this oversight may prompt his audience to wonder if Hannity has gone soft. Without that important wingnut-friendly inflammatory title, non-partisans may accidentally buy his book, possibly causing Hannity to see his name scrawled on Glenn Beck's chalkboard of craziness as a fellow-traveler of the mushy moderates.

When one considers what lies [pun intended] beneath the covers of Hannity's rant, however, he has nothing to worry about. Conservative Victory could more accurately be titled Conservative Vitriol for its bitter belittlement of all things liberal:


MediaMatters counted 21 separate categories of "falsehoods, smears, and distortions" among the book's 230-or-so pages, and they quote and debunk 25 separate errors. Hannity's pages-per-error count of 9.2 may make him seem reasonably accurate in comparison to his fellow conservative writers, but the more dynamic political fiction tomes from Beck, Coulter, D'Souza, Goldberg (either one), Limbaugh (either one, although Rush hasn't been able to find a suitable ghost writer for the past 17 years), Malkin, O'Reilly, Palin, and Savage have set a very low bar. Let's look at just one of Hannity's sentences, the first one quoted by MediaMatters:

Only months into his presidency, he had so infuriated average Americans that a series of Tea Party protests emerged across the nation, attended by everyday people who were outraged and horrified by Obama's every decision: his reckless federal spending, his seizure of control of private industry, his cap-and-trade legislation, and his obsessive quest to nationalize one-sixth of the American economy through socialized health care. [Page 4]

The MediaMatters critique only addressed the falsity of Hannity's claim that healthcare reform is either nationalization or socialism--of course, it is neither--but there are at least four other falsehoods packed into that single sentence:

1.) Obama didn't actually cause the tea protests by "infuriating average Americans." The teabag protests were caused by endless lies from Glenn Beck, funding from corporate lobbyists, and relentless cheerleading from Fox News.

2.) If "average Americans" were "outraged and horrified by Obama's every decision," his approval ratings wouldn't be where they are: 48% approval, 45% disapproval (Gallup, 3/29).

3.) It wasn't "reckless federal spending" for Obama to continue Bush's policy of propping up the financial system in order to avoid another Depression, or to recognize that Keynesian pump-priming was the best available tool of fiscal stimulus.

4.) Cap and trade is "not a polarizing term" despite GOP efforts.

As one example of the other distortions left unaddressed by MediaMatters, see this paragraph from the book's preceding page:


Actually, it is an exaggeration to say that. There's not a serious argument to be found here, although plenty of Hannity's hyperbole is on display.

"[O]ur future...has never been in greater jeopardy"? Not even during the American Revolution, when we took on the world's most powerful nation? The Civil War, when we bore arms against our brothers and our neighbors? World War II, when we mobilized our entire nation to defeat a worldwide axis of fascist dictatorships? Perhaps the Cold War, when we were often on the brink of thermonuclear holocaust? No, Hannity thinks that Obama's (centrist) agenda of compromise (with the GOP) is so radical that it endangers our future. More than anything else. Ever. Without exaggeration.

It's no less ridiculous for Hannity to claim that "our national survival" is at stake as "Obama and the American left" are trying to "rob everything" from us. JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, SEAN...were you asleep during the previous administration? How do you manage to ignore with the war crimes, the violations of international law, the multi-trillion-dollar Iraq debacle, the torture, the murders, the black sites, the habeas corpus violations, the secret searches and seizures, the Patriot Act, the "watch what you say" reminders from the White House? You're going into a fucking tizzy because--what?--we now have a middle-of-the-road Obamacare Romneycare program instead of anything even remotely resembling universal health care, or a public option, or single-payer? (Also, see the comments above about "reckless federal spending.") Have you no shame? No integrity? Or is it self-awareness that you lack?

All of this just goes to make my point that a political position isn't "reasonable" because it's voiced by a Republican, or "sensible" because a conservative says it, or "moral" because it issues from the pen of a Christian. Those words all have meanings, but they are rendered void when applied to tripe such as Hannity's rants.

Are commentators on the Left necessarily any better? No...the key word being necessarily. We have our own purveyors of hyperbole and vitriol: James Carville, Al Franken, and Michael Moore are a few of the best-selling ones, but the main difference is the (relative) lack of COMPLETELY MAKING SHIT UP on the Left as compared to the Right. I've lost track of how many times I've spent hours researching a right-wing chain email to discover (as in the infamous list of Obama's "mistakes") that it's a morass of manufactured outrage, selective quotation, deliberate misinterpretation, outright lies, and other easily falsifiable bullshit.

Today's paradigmatic conservative syllogism looks like this:

Major premise: I don't like Obama because he's a Kenyan Muslim radical--I'm afraid!
Minor premise: Teabag TV and talk radio tell me that he's a socialist!
Conclusion: Therefore, Obama is a Kenyan Muslim radical socialist...now I'm angry and afraid, although I still don't know what socialism is!

(If you can identify the logical flaws in this argument, then you're better off than Hannity's core audience.)

I don't want to go all Lakoff here (see my reviews of Moral Politics, Thinking Points, and The Political Mind for more on his analysis), but it really does seem that the right-wing psyche is much more amenable to making the leap of blind faith from hearing something to believing it without ever passing through any sort of thought or analysis.

What could the Right do about this disparity? How about finding some conservative writers who can hold their own with those on the Left; I'm thinking of Eric Alterman, Thomas Frank, Glenn Greenwald, William Greider, Paul Krugman, Lewis Lapham, Bill Moyers, Robert Reich, et al. There are thoughtful and reasonable conservatives out there--Bruce Bartlett, John Dean, David Frum, Christopher Hitchens, and Andrew Sullivan come to mind--but Hannity doesn't make the cut.

If anyone would like to suggest additions to this list, I'm all ears...

Helen Smith's Pajamas Media piece asking "How Should Conservatives Deal with the Left's Disrespect and Lack of Empathy?" suggests that liberals commonly meet conservatives with not only misunderstanding, but with "disdain and disgust," referencing psychologist Jonathan Haidt's comment that he "think[s] of liberals as colorblind." As Tom Jacobs wrote in this AlterNet article (which I commented on here), there's more nuance in Haidt's assessment:

In January 2005 -- shortly after President Bush won re-election, to the shock and dismay of the left -- Haidt was invited by a group of Democrats in Charlottesville, Va., to give a talk on morality and politics. There, for the first time, he explained to a group of liberals his conception of the moral world of cultural conservatives.

"They were very open to what I was saying," he says. "I discovered there was a real hunger among liberals to figure out what the hell was going on."

That's one of the things setting (most) liberals apart from (most) conservatives: we want to learn why the other side believes what they do, rather than simply calling them names (Socialist! Atheist! Baby-killer! Commie!) and trying to have them fired, imprisoned, or assassinated for the opinions they hold or the lives they lead.

Let's take a look at one of Smith's other examples: Congressperson Eric Cantor's claim that "a bullet was shot through the window of my campaign office in Richmond." Smith apparently assumes that her readers won't read the CBS News article to which she linked, wherein the Virginia police stated: "A preliminary investigation shows that a bullet was fired into the air and struck the window in a downward direction, landing on the floor about a foot from the window." Note the heavily-qualified remarks in this NYT article:

"We believe it was a stray bullet as a result of random gunfire," said Gene Lepley, a spokesman for the Richmond Police Department.

That means that Smith's statement that "Cantor can have his office shot at and it is played down"--an assertion that liberals are treating conservatives unfairly--is false. Cantor does have an office in that building, but even Fox News notes that his office was not targeted in the incident:

The pastel green structure with a purple door resembles a town house, and from the outside it is difficult to distinguish whether it is a business or residence. Except for a brass plate by the door identifying it as The Reagan Building, nothing outdoors links it to Cantor or to the GOP.

Smith's complaint touched a nerve for Tikkun's Mike Kashtan, who responded with "Empathy from Left Field" (h/t: Dave Belden at AlterNet). Kashtan writes that "Conservatives are just as worried about my views, and what would happen if everyone espoused them, as I am about theirs," I agree that there is plenty of worry from the other side of the aisle--but precious little curiosity; plentiful misrepresentation but little honest analysis; lots of made-up quotes and misattributions, but little factual depth; many assertions but little evidence; lots of rhetoric but little reality.

I would have much more respect and empathy for conservative arguments if they had more content and less complaint.

Here's another great CGI piece from Etérea Studios, featuring Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece Fallingwater (h/t: Barry Ritholtz at Big Picture):

For more FLW goodness, visit their About Fallingwater page.

Last Friday night, I missed a great Rachel Maddow piece about the epidemic of manufactured news:

So which did you hear more about, that climate change deniers have uncovered some huge scam about some climate data being faked? Or that when responsible, uninterested parties looked into the supposed scandal, they found that no one was faking anything?

Did you hear more about there being some scandal about ACORN giving prostitution advice to a right-wing activist dressed up like a pimp? Or did you hear more about the fact that when responsible, uninterested people looked into it, they found it was all made-up, down to the part where the guy wasn't actually even dressed up as a pimp?

What we're dealing with here is the unmooring of politics from facts. The activists pushing the ACORN scandal knew it was fake. After all, they faked it. But it made a political impact anyway, so they win, right?

Maddow went on to ask "has there ever been a time when we shared so few political facts?"

Let's argue. Let's have the great American debate about the role of government and the best policies for the country. It's fun. It's citizenship. It's activism. It makes the country better when we have those debates. And your country needs you. It needs all of us.

But two things disqualify you from this process: You can't threaten to shoot people and you have to stop making stuff up.

That's where the problem lies. Bill in Portland Maine at Daily Kos observed that "Republicans too often think that 'beliefs' and 'facts' are interchangeable and therefore they don't have to accept reality:"

It makes 'em easy pickings for right-wing politicians, talk radio hosts and Fox News talking heads, whose reason for being is to "fake and rake." Fake 'em into a lather, and rake in the bucks from campaign contributors and advertisers.

Conservatives are upset that reality has a well-known liberal bias, but I'll get to that in more depth tomorrow.

The church St. Matthew-in-the-City (Auckland, New Zealand) seems to enjoy tweaking some people's sensibilities, and their Easter billboard is a great example:


Not everyone liked that message, though:

Sometime between 8am and 10am on Holy Saturday someone chose to deface the billboard with the citation Jn 3:16. At least they understood why this billboard was probably more controversial than our Christmas one.


As discussed in this New Zealand Herald story (h/t: Candace Chellew-Hodge at Religion Dispatches):

"Clearly they objected to the theology on the billboard because they wrote John 3:16 on it, which they feel is their response to the billboard.

"This is a quote from the gospel of John which says God gave his only son for the salvation of everyone. It's a view of what happened on the cross after Easter.

Our billboard shows Jesus before Easter. Some Christians believe Jesus knew what was going to happen to him in advance, but we disagree with that. That's what the vandals were objecting to."

Do they not have a means of objection other than vandalization?

Timothy Kincaid's piece at Box Turtle Bulletin about how conservative Christians "don't get it" (h/t: Evan Hurst at Truth Wins Out) notes that while their "love the sinner, hate the sin" tactics have failed, a "new face of conservative Christianity is arising calling for more tolerance and seeking to share a loving God with their gay neighbors, to welcome them and love them rather than loudly condemn them:"

And almost without exception, they get it entirely, completely, and miserably wrong.

Rather than see gay people as people, we are seen as a mission field, lost and desperate sinners trapped in a sinful and dangerous lifestyle hopelessly searching for acceptance and grace. And they come into the discussion with the assumption that their understanding of Scripture is not only true, but universally accepted.

As churches from the Unitarian-Universalists to the United Church of Christ to the Metropolitan Community Church demonstrate, a gay-positive theology is possible; Christian writers such as Bishop John Shelby Spong (Episcopal) have isolated the strains of fundamentalism and literalism that cause homophobia, but conservative church hierarchies seem resistant to the vaccine of critical thinking. Thus, they continue to insult the LGBT community that they claim to be trying to "save." Here's the conclusion of Kincaid's message to conservative Christians:

...for as long as you continue to be part of the movement to deny civil equalities, you will never, ever "reach gay people for Christ". If your Christ compels you to take away my health insurance, then your Christ is my enemy. If His message of love is to take my children away from me, then I'll do without that kind of love, thanks.

If your position on my personal freedoms is exactly the same as that of the Phelps family, then you really have nothing to share with me or my community. If your voting pattern is identical to Peter LaBarbera, then your gospel is nothing but a sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.

Don't get me wrong. I do appreciate that you aren't calling us abominations and perverts. I really do. Setting aside the language of condemnation and revulsion is a step in the right direction.

But it isn't as big a step as you think it is.

And as long as you come to us with the message that God wants us to live a love-less life of aloneness and think that we are going to see this as good news, don't be surprised that we are not impressed. [...] And until you come up with a theology that reveals God as something other than a bigot or a bully, you can be sure that your "mission to the homosexuals" will not be fruitful.


I mentioned Republican revisionism in a weekend post, but their efforts are not limited to a single incident regarding Texas textbooks. True to their Orwellian desires, displayed so memorably during the Bush era, conservatives are trying to control the present by controlling the past--factual accuracy be damned. As Steven Thomma wrote for McClatchey last week, "conservatives are working to redefine major turning points and influential figures in American history, often to slam liberals, promote Republicans and reinforce their positions in today's politics:"

The Jamestown settlers? Socialists. Founding Father Alexander Hamilton? Ill-informed professors made up all that bunk about him advocating a strong central government.

Theodore Roosevelt? Another socialist. Franklin D. Roosevelt? Not only did he not end the Great Depression, he also created it.

Joe McCarthy? Liberals lied about him. He was a hero.

Recent conservative bestsellers feature funhouse-mirror versions of reality: Amity Shlaes blamed the Depression on FDR, Jonah Goldberg claimed that fascists are liberals, Ann Coulter all but deified Joe McCarthy, Bernard Goldberg popularized the "liberal media" myth, and David Horowitz decried ivory-tower indoctrination. There's apparently no thesis so ridiculous that conservatives can't be conned into believing--as long as it insults liberals and liberalism. No facts are required--as any book by Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin, or Michael Savage can amply demonstrate.

Thomma cites a single countervailing case--the radical Ward Churchill, who, as UNC historian Fritz Fischer noted, "ignored a lot of evidence and made some up to promulgate a particular political belief." More pariah than professor, the disingenuous Churchill can't begin to outweigh the massive misinformation--both historical and contemporary--that permeates the Right. This helps to explains, as Steve Benen discussed at Washington Monthly "why conversations with those immersed in a right-wing ideology tend to be rather frustrating, if not futile, experiences:"

In order for political discourse to have any meaning or value, there have to be certain agreed upon facts that serve as a foundation for the dialogue. But as the McClatchy piece notes, that foundation is no longer stable -- conservatives frequently choose to believe versions of events that aren't real, because the make-believe version makes them feel better. [...] When dealing with a large group of influential conservatives who believe FDR created the Great Depression, Theodore Roosevelt was a socialist, and Joe McCarthy was a hero, what's there to talk about?

Steven Taylor at PoliBlog follows up on Thomma's anecdote about Dick Armey, observing conservative pretensions to a superior understanding of history:

It frequently seems like admonitions for people to read the Constitution or the Federalist Paper are hollow because the admonishers don't actually expect people to do it (and sometimes one wonders if said admonishers themselves follow their own advice).

That reminds me of George Will's exhortations about Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations--a book with which, as I noted, Will himself appeared to be unfamiliar. Conservatives complain a great deal about American public schooling, and I wonder if this is because they themselves are so sorely lacking in the basics whose importance they stress so vehemently. Eli notes in "The War on Reality" at FDL that "[t]he right views information itself as a threat, and they're doing everything they can to combat it and co-opt it:"

After all, informed voters might decide to vote for sane candidates over crazy dishonest hatemongers. Informed students might grow up to be favorably disposed to the successes of progressivism over the failures of conservatism. And informed policymakers might decide that the survival of the planet is a lot more important than Exxon Mobil's profit margins... or at least their constituents would.

It's quite audacious when you think about it. Rather than accepting reality and adapting their ideology to it, the right instead embarked on a massive multi-decade coordinated effort to adapt reality to their ideology. Instead of asking reality what it could teach them, they decided to fight it to the death. And if they win, everyone loses.


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That's about all I have to say about this (h/t: Andy Towle at Towleroad):

The prom the school district promised at the country club in Fulton was a ruse. Only seven kids, Constance, and her date showed, and at the same time, everyone else held a "real" prom at a secret location out in the county. [...]

The school represented that Constance was invited [to a parent-sponsored prom] in court filings, testimony, and representations by the school district and its lawyers. In reality, Constance had not been invited, but, based on the representations by the district and its counsel, Judge Davidson denied Constance's request for a preliminary injunction that she could go to the prom.

The school reneged, or possibly didn't ever intend to follow through on its representations to the court.

If you're not familiar with Constance McMillen's battle against discrimination at her high school, visit the ACLU. The Advocate has an update from her:

"They had two proms and I was only invited to one of them," McMillen says. "The one that I went to had seven people there, and everyone went to the other one I wasn't invited to."

Some people are demonstrably unfit to be involved in educating children. Members of the Itawamba County School District should be ashamed of themselves.

Has everyone heard about Dr Jack Cassell, that Florida urologist who announced his preference for a Republican-only clientele?


Well, this interview with Alan Colmes (h/t: Chris in Paris at AmericaBlog) shows that Dr Cassell is even dumber than his sign indicated. Colmes corrects Cassell's misinformation about Medicare reimbursements, and then Cassell exclaims "Well you know, I can't tell you exactly what the deal is:"

Colmes: If you can't tell us exactly what the deal is, why are you opposing it and fighting against it?
Cassell: I'm not the guy who wrote the plan.
Colmes: But if you don't know what the deal is why are you speaking out against something you don't know what the deal is?
Cassell: What I get online, just like any other American. What I'm supposed to understand about the bill should be available to me.
Colmes: It is; it's been online for a long time; it's also been all over the media...

I know that medical competence isn't dependent on political awareness, but I wouldn't trust my care to anyone who takes such a public and vehement stand against something that he admits he doesn't understand. The problem isn't even simple misinformation, it's something far more virulent: an aggressive propaganda campaign. Faux News, talk radio, and wingnut websites have apparently rendered their audiences incapable of tuning out long enough to learn what's actually in the legislation.


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I've busted on the Teabaggers' lexical inanities before, and I'm not the only one. Reviewing the collective "creative spelling or grammar" of Teabagger signs led to the christening of a new language: "Teabonics." There's even a Teabonics website, which features a slideshow of specifically-tagged Flickr photos. The video "Learn to Speak Tea Bag" from Mark Fiore gave me a good chuckle, too:

Holy Week has turned into HOLY $#!T week for the Catholic Church as it scrambles to place blame for its pedophilia problem on the devil, gays, the sexual revolution, the media--anywhere but the Church itself.

Pope Ratzi called criticism of the Catholic Church's child-rape scandals the petty gossip of dominant opinion." William Donohue of the Catholic League played semantics, exonerating the Church's rapists from the charge of pedophilia because "most of the victims were post-pubescent"--apparently, neither the power imbalance nor the age of consent is an issue for him. Now the Pope's personal priest has likened complaints about the Church's rape culture to anti-Semitism:

"The use of stereotypes, the shifting of personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism"

Aside from the problem of Ratzi's Nazi Youth past, this is a curious tactic for the Church to take. Would that be the "personal responsibility and guilt" of sheltering child rapists from prosecution? Shuffling them to new parishes where they can prey on more children?

Hearing the unctuous Donohue protest that "an innocent man, the Pope, is being libeled, slandered, and framed" might be enough to tempt Jesus himself to throw the first stone. The mass criminality and conspiracy that hides perpetrators under priestly cloaks of silence--and the conflation of civil and ecclesiastical power that enables the Church to do this--is the root problem with the Vatican and every other theocracy that has ever existed. (Vatican City currently shares that category with Iran and Saudi Arabia.)

Thomas Jefferson decried this sort of double standard with his usual eloquence, writing that church-based crimes must be "punished in the same manner and no otherwise than as if it had happened in a fair or market." (Notes on Religion, 1776. Papers 1:548) Jefferson's efforts to prevent an American theocracy explain why he is still a target for Texans who recently dumbed down history education by removing any mention of his contributions to our Founding. Thus, blind faith--the fruit of theocracy's poisonous tree--blinds more than its adherents and perpetuates ignorance down through the generations.

[Note: This post was submitted to the blogswarm Blog Against Theocracy, and I highly recommend that you visit there and read the other contributions.]

I apologize for not posting much of late, but I was rather busy planning the big festivities for yesterday's National Atheist Day: strange-god-worshipping, idolatry, blasphemy, parent-dishonoring, murder, adultery, theft, lying, and coveting. (I couldn't squeeze any Sabbath-breaking into my busy schedule, but there's only so much a godless amoral libertine like myself can do on a Thursday. If only I had a faith-based moral compass, I'm sure that all things would be possible--including moving that mountain!)

Anyway, here are some slightly-belated links to recent news items that caught my attention:

Westboro Baptist Church Issues "We Were Just Fooling!" Press Release

Tea Party Thanks President Obama for Tax Cuts

GOP Admits that Obama is " the greatest president ever" (That line about "low-emission unicorns powered by the renewable energy of rainbows" was pretty good...)


Adler, Mortimer J. A Guidebook to Learning: For the Lifelong Pursuit of Wisdom (New York: Macmillan, 1986)

Mortimer Adler's A Guidebook to Learning: For the Lifelong Pursuit of Wisdom surveys taxonomic systems of knowledge, from the alphabetical (as in encyclopedias) to the topical (the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems as used in libraries). Adler aims here at encouraging the autodidact, observing at the outset that "One's education can be begun in institutions but it can never be completed there." (p. 1) As one of an exceedingly rare breed--a holder of a PhD who did not attain a high school diploma--Adler was personally involved in two large-scale information organization systems:

One is the construction of the Propaedia, or Outline of Knowledge, published along with the fifteenth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1974, and improved in the 1985 edition. The other is the Syntopicon, which was an index of the great ideas, published along with the Great Ideas of the Western World in 1952. (p. 81)

As expected, he directs the reader toward several tried-and-true resources in Appendix III ("Some Books That May Be Helpful to Autodidacts"), a pared-down selection of books from his Great Books of the Western World set, along with the Syntopicon and several of his more recent writings. A Guidebook to Learning is useful for Adler's perspective, but strikes me as a product of haste rather than one of deep consideration.

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