September 2010 Archives

trickle-down failure

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David Cay Johnston discusses the Right's trickle-down failure in light of the upcoming midterm elections: "Just as they did in 2000, the Republicans are running this year on an economic platform of tax cuts, especially making the tax cuts permanent for the richest among us. So how did the tax cuts work out?"

...the data show overwhelmingly that the Republican-sponsored tax cuts damaged our nation. [...] I think [the Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, in Wasilla, and on the airwaves] are captive to economic theories few of them understand and that are simplistic in the extreme. I take them at their word, that they truly believe their policies will produce broad benefits for all, but accepting that does not diminish the fact that the policies these Republicans promote also produce massive tax savings for the superrich who finance their campaigns. [...]

This is economic madness. It is policy divorced from empirical evidence. It is insanity because the policies are illusory and delusional. The evidence is in, and it shows beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts failed to achieve the promised goals.

So why in the world is anyone giving any credence to the insistence by Republican leaders that tax cuts, more tax cuts, and deeper tax cuts are the remedy to our economic woes? Why are they not laughingstocks? It is one thing for Fox News to treat these policies as successful, but what of the rest of what Sarah Palin calls with some justification the "lamestream media," who treat these policies as worthy ideas? [...]

Those who ignore evidence and pledge blind faith in policy based on ideological fantasy are little different from the clerics who made Galileo Galilei confess that the sun revolves around the earth. The Capitol Hill and media Republicans differ only in not threatening death to those who deny their dogma.

How much more evidence do we need that we made terrible and costly mistakes in 2001 and 2003?

Heather Mac Donald 's "Dinesh D'Souza's Poison" at Secular Right observes that fact-checking "is irrelevant to this travesty of an article; you can't 'fact-check' a fever dream of paranoia and irrationality." Although D'Souza's book is "useless as a guide to the Obama presidency, it is all too representative of the hysteria that now runs through a significant portion of the right-wing media establishment:"

The article is worth analyzing at some length as an example of the lunacy that is poisoning much conservative discourse. [...] D'Souza's screed is just the latest manifestation of the rebirth of the conservative hysteria that marked the Clinton era. The fact that both Clinton and Obama's critics became obsessed with the person rather than his policies suggests that those critics have no faith in the public's ability to grapple with abstract issues, rather than alleged personal failings. The shrillness of the hysteria around the last two Democratic presidents also suggests a conservative sense of entitlement towards holding power.

QOTD

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Thanks to Paul Waldman for my Quote of the Day:

Amendment rights and as a consequence found themselves the target of government intimidation. But these cases have almost always been people on the left, not people on the right. Whether we're talking about the Palmer raids nearly a century ago, or the McCarthyite surveillance of supposed communists in the 1950s, or COINTELPRO in the 1960s, or Nixon's "enemies list," or the explosion of surveillance of anti-war groups that occurred after the passage of the PATRIOT Act (you know those Quakers, always harboring terrorists), the fact is that corporations campaigning to be rid of the burden of taxes aren't the ones who get the FBI sniffing around their garbage cans.

That may explain why Tea Partiers, who are so passionate about government tyranny in the form of giving people health insurance, never express much concern when the government does things like read people's e-mails and listen in on their phone conversations. Because they know they're not going to be the target.

paradox in the pews

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This shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, but a new Pew study shows that non-theists are more knowledgeable about religion than every group of theists:

Atheists and agnostics average 20.9 correct answers. Jews and Mormons do about as well, averaging 20.5 and 20.3 correct answers, respectively. Protestants as a whole average 16 correct answers; Catholics as a whole, 14.7.

Some of the results were particularly surprising:

More than four-in-ten Catholics in the United States (45%) do not know that their church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize but actually become the body and blood of Christ. About half of Protestants (53%) cannot correctly identify Martin Luther as the person whose writings and actions inspired the Protestant Reformation, which made their religion a separate branch of Christianity. Roughly four-in-ten Jews (43%) do not recognize that Maimonides, one of the most venerated rabbis in history, was Jewish.

NYT's Laurie Goodstein quotes American Atheists president Dave Silverman:

"I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people," Mr. Silverman said. "Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That's how you make atheists."

Mitchell Landsberg of the LA Times wonders "why would an atheist know more about religion than a Christian?"

American atheists and agnostics tend to be people who grew up in a religious tradition and consciously gave it up, often after a great deal of reflection and study, said Alan Cooperman, associate director for research at the Pew Forum.

"These are people who thought a lot about religion," he said. "They're not indifferent. They care about it."

Friendly Atheist observes that "many of us left religion for a reason -- we learned too much about it. That helped push us away from faith altogether. Why else do you think we scored the best?"

I took Pew's 15-question sample quiz, with this result:

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(The questions were easy, and I'm not trying to brag by saying so.)

The superior showing of atheists and agnostics in this poll renders John Shook's remarks at HuffPo even more ridiculous than they originally were. Shook opened his piece with this broadside:

Atheists are getting a reputation for being a bunch of know-nothings. They know nothing of God, and not much more about religion, and they seem proud of their ignorance.

I spend a not inconsiderable amount of time correcting theists about the history and content of their own religions, and I know plenty of other atheists who do the same.


update:
Shook's inanity prompted this response from Jerry Coyne:

Well, Dr. Shook, show me some new evidence for God, for the divinity of Jesus and Mohamed, for the existence of the Hindu pantheon and the afterlife, for the intercession of a celestial being in the world, and I'll start paying attention to the finer points of theology.


update (9/29 @ 5:40pm):
Jamelle Bouie at American Prospect writes that "religious minorities...are well-served by a working knowledge of religion:"

...the United States is culturally Christian, and for religious minorities, getting along means understanding those reference points. That those religious minorities can also answer questions about other religious traditions is a sign of broader religious education that isn't necessary when you're in the majority. Put another way, there's a strong chance that religious privilege explains the difference in knowledge between Christians and everyone else.

Russell Blackford writes that "the ignorance of religion displayed by religious believers in America is appalling:"

Their reasons for believing in a particular set of religious propositions certainly cannot be based on a sound knowledge of what is on offer and deep reflection on the evidence. In America, at least, most believers simply don't know what they're talking about. [...]

Forget the arguments about atheists rejecting the proposition that God exists, while being untutored in the more subtle kinds of academic theology. American believers accept extraordinary claims about the existence of a God, and much else, from a position of vastly more profound ignorance. That's the reality, folks.

Tom Flynn's piece at WaPo's "On Faith" website observes that atheists and agnostics are groups who have "made it their business to be exceptionally knowledgeable about religion:"

In addition, as adherents of an often-unpopular worldview, atheists and agnostics are frequently challenged to defend their position. In my experience, people whom propriety would restrain from grilling a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness about his or her religious beliefs are seldom shy about challenging the unbelievers they encounter. So even atheists and agnostics who didn't engage in the study of religion in the course of abandoning their childhood faith feel pressure to come to "know thy enemy."

Dave Silverman at Fox notes the "simple truth" that "the more someone knows about religion, the more likely they will reject it as mythology:"

When a person begins to doubt the veracity of the religion into which they happen to have been born, they often read the holy books in the hope that they are wrong, that it will all make sense, and that the answers provided by those books will be logically valid. The problem is, they aren't.

Hemant Mehta writes in a follow-up post at Friendly Atheist that "many Christians choose not to read the Bible for themselves:"

They like having someone else interpret it for them, leaving out the stuff that might cause cognitive dissonance. Which is disappointing. If people understood why they reject every other god, maybe they'd see why we reject theirs.

Mehta also writes in the Chicago Tribune:

They say a little knowledge can hurt you, but in our case, a lot of knowledge led us to believe that what we were being taught in our churches, synagogues, and mosques were a collection of lies -- Well-meaning lies in most cases, but certainly not reflective of reality.

left vs. right

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Barry Ritholtz suggests that people vs. corporations is a more accurate paradigm for understanding our political dynamic than the ubiquitous left-vs-right spectrum:

We now live in an era defined by increasing Corporate influence and authority over the individual. These two "interest groups" - I can barely suppress snorting derisively over that phrase - have been on a headlong collision course for decades, which came to a head with the financial collapse and bailouts. Where there is massive concentrations of wealth and influence, there will be abuse of power. The Individual has been supplanted in the political process nearly entirely by corporate money, legislative influence, campaign contributions, even free speech rights.

This may not be a brilliant insight, but it is surely an overlooked one. It is now an Individual vs. Corporate debate - and the Humans are losing.

"What difference did the Left/Right dynamic make," asks Ritholtz, in any number off issues: government spending and deficits, tax cuts, military adventures? His answer: "Almost none whatsoever." This is the poison fruit of the corporate personhood tree, and its rottenness will continue until the entire doctrine is uprooted from our judicial and legislative thought, and odious decisions like Citizens United will deform our politics until a remedy is implemented.

comical Teabaggers

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In the pages of the Boston Globe, cartoonist Ward Sutton has reimagined newspaper comics pages, Teabagger-style (h/t: Towleroad). Favorites include Sutton's mimicry of the stuck-in-the-past Blondie,

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Dilbert's right-to-workplace,
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and a Teabagger-style Family Circus:
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Harlan Ellison (website, Wikipedia) has apparently bid farewell to being a convention guest at MadCon 2010 this past weekend, writing that he is not long for this world:

"The truth of what's going on here is that I'm dying," says Ellison, by phone. "I'm like the Wicked Witch of the West -- I'm melting. I began to sense it back in January. [...] "An old dog senses when it's his time -- dogs have that capacity; nobody doubts that. Nobody. But everybody doubts when you say, 'I'm dying.' They think you're being a Victorian actress. They think you're doing Bernhardt."

[...]

"My wife has instructions that the instant I die, she has to burn all the unfinished stories. And there may be a hundred unfinished stories in this house, maybe more than that. There's three quarters of a novel. No, these things are not to be finished by other writers, no matter how good they are. [...] If somebody wants to take the unfinished Edgar Allan Poe story, which has now gone into the public domain, and write an ending that is not as good as Poe would have written, let 'em do whatever they want! But not with my shit, Jack. When I'm gone, that's it. What's down on the paper, it says 'The End,' that's it. 'Cause right now I'm busy writing the end of the longest story I've ever written, which is me."

Check out the Dreams with Sharp Teeth documentary for a taste of Ellison's persona:

In a funeral for folly, PZ Myers decries "efforts by authorities to confer special secular and legal privilege on the intangible aura of sacredness -- a figment of the imagination of deluded believers, which they insist all we non-believers must honor:"

I refuse.

The insistence by the faithful that we all must treat their precioussses as magical and inviolable has convinced me to re-evaluate the books on my shelves, and I've decided that no, they aren't worth keeping. These holy books have been influential, that's for sure, but it's been a pernicious kind of importance... [...] ...these horrors belong in libraries and museums, they should be taught as vile mistakes in our schools, but we should not be expected to honor them. The proper perspective is to repudiate them. [...]

I don't want them. I don't need them. I must reject them.

And so I have...

miscellaneous

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Here are several items that briefly caught my attention over the past few days, but first I had to deal with the blizzard of bullshit emanating from the GOP:

***

Conor Williams bemoans the corporate media's ongoing efforts to slander liberal politics in "Defending Progressivism" (Dissent):

Largely by their rhetorical force, [conservatives] have converted progressivism into utopianism, bureaucratic technocracy, corporatism, emotivism, anti-Americanism, philosophical non-foundationalism, racism, and so on and so forth. [...] As has become customary, progressives are waiting for their more organized opponents to define the debate, its terms, and their role in it. They are routinely on the defensive in public debate, even when the facts overwhelmingly support their positions.

***

Tony Judt's "Captive Minds" (NYRB) looks at Czeslaw Milosz 1951 classic The Captive Mind:

Never out of print, it is by far the most insightful and enduring account of the attraction of intellectuals to Stalinism and, more generally, of the appeal of authority and authoritarianism to the intelligentsia. [...] One hundred years after his birth, fifty-seven years after the publication of his seminal essay, Miłosz's indictment of the servile intellectual rings truer than ever: "his chief characteristic is his fear of thinking for himself."

James Brett writes at American Liberalism:

I must answer whether my own mind is captive of Democratic Party ideas. No, it is not. It entertains each platform of ideas and chronicle of events, statements, and rulings on a daily and weekly basis, subjecting every last idea to the method of multiple working hypotheses. This is, as we noted a few weeks ago, the very meaning of liberal, in the expression "liberal democracy" bequeathed to us by the men of the Enlightenment. It is the scientific method applied to politics. And, it is a burdensome chore, believe me, but it is the only way to land somewhere sanely between having a captive mind and the irresponsible, undisciplined anarchy of the ego-centric existence.
  ***

Lewis Lapham writes on deploying history as a weapon:

Well, you deploy it against the dealers in fascist politics and quack religion. You deploy it against people promising miracles. It teaches you to rely on the blessings of experience, which is the great teacher, I think, as opposed to abstract outcome. [...] Jared Diamond wrote a book a couple of years ago called "Collapse," in which he says that ideas, civilizations, in a state of decay cling desperately to the systems that are no longer functioning. And it's also probably true to say that capitalism in its stronger forms went out the window in the United States in the 1930s, because now, once you get the combination of government and business -- I mean, speaking to Diamond's point -- propping up a system that is essentially dead in the water is what we've done with the government takeover, the stimulus bill, the TARP. I suspect we're attempting to rescue a corpse.

***

As I mentioned here, Jay Kennedy's analysis of Plato' dialogues is featured in the latest issue of TPM: The Philosopher's Magazine. In the piece, Kennedy announced a book on the subject entitled The Musical Structure of Plato's Dialogues: a Guide to the Evidence.

teabagger taxonomy

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Michael Lind writes that Teabaggers "chose the wrong historical precedent when it selected the Boston Tea Party of 1773, a genuinely revolutionary event, as its symbol. Today's Tea Party movement is much more like the misguided and ill-fated Whiskey Rebellion of the early 1790s:"

Whether they are educated or not, the supporters of the Tea Party movement, like the supporters of the Whiskey Rebellion, are deeply confused. The Whiskey Rebels failed to understand that the federal funding of state debts almost certainly spared them much higher state taxes in the long run. [...] But the Whiskey Rebels were too busy grabbing their muskets to understand their own interests.

Lind notes that while Teagabbers' violence has been expressed in slogans such as "don't retreat, reload" and "we came unarmed...this time," it remains in the realm of rhetoric:

Its members will maul, not individual tax collectors, but the tax code, if the movement succeeds in sending even more intransigent reactionaries to the already paralyzed Congress and the Senate in this fall's midterm elections.

They can gum up the works, but that is all they can do. Like the Whiskey Rebels of the 1970s, the misnamed Tea Partiers do not understand their own interests and have no plausible alternative program for the nation. They may pose as revolutionaries, but they are only a mob.

Eric Laursen notes the common error in suggesting a general antipathy toward government, writing that "Conservatives, including those of the Tea Party variety, aren't 'anti-government':"

In most respects they are pro-government to the point of authoritarianism. What they really oppose is any form of cooperative or collective solution to the problems of a complex industrial (or post-industrial) society -- especially when the beneficiaries are people they regard with suspicion or fear.

They want to maintain (or even increase) the size of our military, along with drastically expanding the size and scope of immigration and documentation requirements--a police state in all but name. How, then, can they claim to be small-government and pro-liberty? Laursen explains this dichotomy by mentioning their antipathy to social solidarity institutions (Social Security, Medicare, welfare, public schools) and writes that:

Conservatives loath all institutions of social solidarity...because they serve as a refuge from or even an alternative to an economic system that insists on absorbing everything into the market. Conservatism today can be defined accurately as a program to eliminate anything that exists outside that system. [...] Tea Partiers aren't anti-government - they merely insist that government serve their interests alone.

EJ Dionne suggests that the Teabaggers are "one the most successful scams in American political history," expressing no small amount of admiration that "a very small group has shaken American political life and seized the microphone offered by the media, including the so-called liberal media:

Just recently, tea party victories in Alaska and Delaware Senate primaries shook the nation. In Delaware, Christine O'Donnell received 30,563 votes in the Republican primary, 3,542 votes more than moderate Rep. Mike Castle. In Alaska, Joe Miller won 55,878 votes for a margin of 2,006 over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who is now running as a write-in candidate.

Do the math. For weeks now, our national political conversation has been driven by 86,441 voters and a margin of 5,548 votes. A bit of perspective: When John McCain lost in 2008, he received 59.9 million votes.

The GOP has finally revealed its "Pledge to America" (135MB PDF) in an attempt to counter criticism that the party has nothing to offer Americans other than obstructionism. I have read the whole lobbyist-written Pledge, and have some observations. The self-evident observation in the introduction that "In a self-governing society, the only bulwark against the power of the state is the consent of the governed," which is this followed by a series of claims that "regarding the policies of the current government, the governed do not consent:"

An unchecked executive, a compliant legislature, and an overreaching judiciary have combined to thwart the will of the people and overturn their votes and their values, striking down longstanding laws and institutions and scorning the deepest beliefs of the American people.

An arrogant and out-of-touch government of self-appointed elites makes decisions, issues mandates, and enacts laws without accepting or requesting the input of the many.

Remind me again: which party won the last two federal elections? Not the GOP? Oh, so I guess that explains the aroma of sour grapes. Paul Waldman called the document a Pledge to Whine at America:

In order to have a genuine democratic debate, there are a few things we all need to agree on. One of them ought to be that a government isn't illegitimate just because it's made up of people who aren't from your party. Right now, Democrats control the government. [...] That's how the system works: when you win, you get to make the decisions until the next election. [...]

The fact that you don't like the outcome of that process doesn't mean it was undemocratic, or that it happened without "the input of the many." [...] ...the fact that after all that input, a majority of them voted in a way you didn't like about one thing or another doesn't mean they acted illegitimately. They might or might not be wrong, but they're not tyrants.

The pledge contains a few Republican dog-whistle phrases such as "honor[ing] familes, traditional marriage, life and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values." that have thrilled members of the Religious Right on fairly meager fare:

there is one throwaway mention of marriage and one passing mention of religious liberty in 21-pages of text and yet the Religious Right is acting like it pulled off a major coup.

American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie describes the Pledge as emanating from a mirror universe where "Barack Obama appointed himself to the presidency [and] used his mind-control powers to manipulate Congress into repealing, among other things: apple pie, baseball, the Republican Party, and optimism." That black-is-white mentality is also evident in the Pledge's statements about "the best ideas trump[ing] the most entrenched interests," "fiscal accountability" and plans to "stem the relentless growth in government that has occurred over the past decade"--as if GOP lobbyists don't represent entrenched interests who have spent the three decades since the beginning of the Reagan era spending like drunken sailors on shore leave. The Pledge states that "Washington's out-of-control spending spree needs no introduction," but apparently IOKIYAR.

The GOP comes out strongly against the pump-priming spending that stopped our economic freefall, claiming that it's "time to end this liberal Keynesian experiment." Let's pause for a moment to look at some facts, represented in these graphs about job losses and Obama's economic policies:

20100923-joblosses.png

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(I'm on thin ice here considering the GOP's preference for misleading graphs, but I thought that some accurately-represented data couldn't hurt...)

The Pledge claims that "Democrats continue to double-down on their job-killing policies," but that's more reality inversion. Without the recovery programs, we'd be staring a second Great Depression in the teeth--and the watering-down that has occurred may be enough to cause a repeat of the Recession of 1937-1938. The Pledge asserts that "Federal spending ...is crowding out the private economy," but private economic interests are sitting on trillions of dollars rather than putting that money to work. Far from crowding out the private sector, public spending has been vital in keeping the economy from grinding to a halt.

The Pledge spends a fair amount of time on healthcare reform and repeats an old lie from the Paultard wing of the party:

Roughly 16,500 IRS auditors, agents, and other employees may be needed to collect the hundreds of billions of dollars in new taxes levied on the American people by the new health care law.

The problem is that, like so much else in the Pledge, this claim is false:

Q: Will the IRS hire 16,500 new agents to enforce the health care law?

A: No. The law requires the IRS mostly to hand out tax credits, not collect penalties. The claim of 16,500 new agents stems from a partisan analysis based on guesswork and false assumptions, and compounded by outright misrepresentation.

ThinkProgress notes "at least 7 of the GOP's ideas on health care are already included in the health care law" that the Pledge promises to "repeal and replace." TP also notes the absence of a previously-made promise to end earmarks; here's a suggestion about how this oversight should be corrected:

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Online reactions from the Web have been fairly dismissive, even without mentioning that the Pledge's 1994 ancestor--Newt's 1994 Contract on America--made little difference at the polls. The Center for American Progress analyzed the Republican scheme: increasing the deficit by extending Bush's top-heavy tax cuts, repealing healthcare reform, and shutting down the government if they don't get their way.

House Republicans are ready to double down on the failed policies of the Bush administration, on everything from taxes and federal spending to national security, and want to undo some of the strong progressive policies enacted by the current Congress.

Andrew Sullivan excoriates the GOP for its fiscal fraudulence, writing that "this is the most fiscally irresponsible document ever offered by the GOP:"

It is an act of vandalism against the fiscal balance of the US, and in this global economic climate, a recipe for a double-dip recession and default. It is the opposite of responsible conservatism.

WaPo's Ezra Klein calls the plan a bad idea, an agenda that

will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that's already got too little of it. [...] It is a document with a clear theory of what has gone wrong -- debt, policy uncertainty, and too much government -- and a solid promise to make most of it worse.

Jonathan Bernstein sums up its foreign policy as "amateurish and pathetic...a sad piece of work that really does not reflect well on the party." It's a sad-but-true reflection of the party. Washington Monthly's Steve Benen writes that the Pledge appears to be something of a joke and "an embarrassing failure...that simply doesn't make any sense to those who take reality seriously:"

The document combines old ideas, bad ideas, contradictory ideas, and discredited ideas. The Republican Party that lost control of Congress four years ago has had an abundance of time to craft a policy vision that offered credible, serious solutions. Instead, we're confronted with a document that can best be described as tired nonsense. [...] If Republicans set out to prove that they're wholly unprepared and incapable of governing effectively, they've succeeded beautifully.

Unfortunately, that's the only sense in which they've been successful in quite some time.


update:
Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars takes aim at some of the Pledge's lofty rhetoric:

You have the nerve to talk about liberty? You not only want to forbid access to abortion for rape and incest victims, you're backing candidates who want to make birth control illegal.

Screw you, and the elephant you rode in on. Even wifebeaters eventually learn an important truth: You have to sleep sometime. Sooner or later, the new "Third World" workers of the U.S. will slam a cast iron frying pan upside your sleeping heads.

Because once you rig the game, and buy off the refs, well, people won't care anymore about sportsmanship.

RJ Eskow writes in "Pledge to Rob the Middle Class" about some of this GOP's economic sportsmanship, calling the Pledge "a trillion-dollar giveaway to the rich - at everybody else's expense:"

Their "pledge" would slash needed spending, kill jobs and end any hope of growing the economy. It declares open season on the public's health and safety with a deregulation agenda that would unleash BP, Goldman Sachs, and every other corporation whose risky behavior endangers us. It would lead to even more financial crashes and environmental disasters. Firefighters, cops,and teachers would be laid off in droves. The deficit would soar. We'd face a permanently stagnating economy. The middle class would wither away.

That's the future they're offering. It's Bush on steroids, fattened up and ready to feast on ... you. If you like today's economy, you'll love the one these guys are cooking up.

Maybe that scenario won't actually come to pass, because The NY Daily News notes that Republicans are already breaking their pledge:

It didn't take long for Republicans to break a promise in their new "Pledge to America" to "give small business tax deductions," Democrats charged this afternoon.

Four hours after the GOP rolled out its new campaign manifesto, a bill containing $12 billion in tax cuts for small business passed on a 237-187 vote in the House. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) was the lone Republican to vote for the measure.

Paul Krugman calls the Pledge a war on arithmetic, writing that

In essence, what [Republicans] say is, "Deficits are a terrible thing. Let's make them much bigger." The document repeatedly condemns federal debt -- 16 times, by my count. But the main substantive policy proposal is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which independent estimates say would add about $3.7 trillion to the debt over the next decade...

Stewart vs. O'Reilly

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Jon Stewart was on Bill O'Reilly last night (h/t: Jillian Rayfield at TPM), and it was pretty typical for both of them. O'Reilly ridiculed the upcoming Stewart/Colbert march on 30 October as a "Halloween Rally," went on a tirade about "dope," and then lied by calling Christine O'Donnell's opponent in the Delaware Senate race, Chris Coons, "the Marxist with the beard" (see MediaMatters for the facts); Stewart countered by being reasonable, truthful, and funny. My favorite part was Stewart slamming O'Reilly for his Faux-populist pretensions:

O'Reilly: Do I have to wear a costume if I come to this rally on October 30th?

Stewart: No, you can dress up as a guy pretending to still be blue-collar.

The second part of the interview was mostly about Stewart's new book; here's the video of part one:

In response to O'Reilly's continual suggestions that Obama voters feel remorseful, Stewart made a comment that pretty much demolishes the Right's favorite argument that Obama is some sort of radical:

Stewart: He campaigned as a revolutionary, but has governed as a functionary.

Is it any wonder that there's an enthusiasm gap between Republican and Democratic voters?

losing libraries

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Craig Fehrman's Boston Globe piece "Lost Libraries" notes the dismay among fans of author David Markson when his "personal library, about 2,500 books in all, had been sold off and was now anonymously scattered" following Markson's death. Fehrman asks, "How could the books of one of this generation's most interesting novelists end up on a bookstore's dollar clearance carts?" and finds similar incidents involving authors ranging from Melville, Crane, and Hemingway to Updike and Mailer.

When reflecting on how much time and effort we bibliophiles spend assembling personal libraries that reflect our enthusiasms, I was reminded of an American Scholar tidbit from William Zinsser entitled "One Man's Library." The widow of author James Norman Hall (Mutiny on the Bounty) said this about his library in their home:

"I was always jealous of the books-they took so much of my husband's time... He once asked me what I wanted to do with them when he died-maybe give them to a library? I said, 'Why, Jimmy, it wouldn't be my house if it didn't have those books.'"

Zinsser suggest that "no such library will ever be assembled again," and asks:

Does any architect still design a house with a "library"? Does any interior decorator advise a client to decorate a wall with bookshelves? Does any carpenter remember how to build a bookcase?

I certainly hope so, as I hope to one day employ just such an architect, interior designer, and woodworker.

Bill Murchison's "Atheism: What a Joke" at ClownHall is one of the most insipid things I've ever read there--which is quite a distinction given the inanities that regularly appear under the bylines of such intellectual luminaries as Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, David Limbaugh, Michael Medved, and Dennis Prager. In his piece, Murchison takes issue with the Stephen Hawking's well-publicized quote from his new book The Grand Design,

"the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going."

and complains that "Hawking & Co.," a group which includes Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, "want everyone to see God as, I guess, some sort of celestial intrusion in the affairs of intelligent men and women." The idea of god(s) is a useless supposition, and any of his/her/their/its intrusions into cosmology are of the uncaused first cause variety--the sort that Laplace dispensed with two centuries ago when he told Napoleon "I had no need of that hypothesis."

For Hawking et al to point out this simple fact is not an attempt to "render non-atheists, Christians especially, mute and fearful," as Murchison claims, but pointing out that theists need to provide some reason why the concept of a celestial deity is useful--let alone necessary--to our understanding of the universe.

Many [atheists] are technically intelligent (Hawking is routinely labeled "brilliant"), but they swallow with satisfied smiles the intellectual bilge called atheism. [...] The atheist mode is pure assertion. It's, shut up, listen here, I'm giving you numskulls The Facts.

Here's a fact, you numbskull: your assertion is false. The scientific mode of inquiry is based on the question of 'what theory best explains the available facts?' If theists wish to have their god(s) taken seriously by science, they must apply some rigor to their assertions. Build your intellectual house on something more solid than theological quicksand, and we'll be glad to pop over for a visit.

[If] atheists ever find anything new or remotely plausible to say about God, that would be a red letter day in the history of the world.

That's ironic, considering the complete dearth of "new or remotely plausible" statements coming from the theist camp. Murchison's piece isn't all tripe, and he does manage to pen one true and worthwhile sentence:

The obverse of Reality is the Ridiculous -- that which makes itself farcical precisely by taking itself with deep earnestness.

Of course, that statement applies to wine and crackers far more than to science.

In honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day, here's some buccaneering humor from Eric Lippert:

A pirate walks into a bar, and the barkeep says "Excuse me, cap'n, but did you know that you've got your ship's wheel stuck in your pantaloons?"

"Aye," says the pirate, "that thing be drivin' me nuts! Aaargh!"

The "big lie" of greatest currency among conservatives is that Obama campaigned as a moderate but became a fire-breathing radical once he reached the Oval Office--for example, see Newt Gingrich's version:

I think [Obama] worked very hard at being a person who is normal, reasonable, moderate, bipartisan, transparent, accommodating - none of which was true.

Joshua Greenman analyzes this claim in the NY Daily News that Newt and the other conservatives are (big surprise!) lying:

Since taking office, the President has been remarkably consistent in doing what he said he would do. In fact, if he has veered at all, it's been by drifting toward the center or the right on issues dear to the Democratic base.

Greenman provides examples on issues ranging from healthcare to the economy, from Gitmo to gay rights, and from immigration to education. I doubt that conservatives could provide a coherent rebuttal--or, if they could, their list would likely be (like Newt) full of shit.


update (9/20):
Marc Ambinder writes at The Atlantic that "Gingrich Is So Off, He's Not Even Wrong:"

It will be interesting for Gingrich to try to portray the President, who has sanctioned the expansion of CIA and special forces operations worldwide to hunt and kill anti-Western Islamic jihadists worldwide, as somehow blindly obeying a command by his unconsciousness to weaken America because he believes in socialism and in reducing America's power. [...] Newt Gingrich is an intensely smart man given to peregrinations of crazy. He can be a legitimate presidential candidate, or he can be a demagogue. For 2012, perhaps in this political climate, he is signaling that he is going to be both.

Daniel Larison's "Chasing Ghosts" at American Conservative observes that:

Obama made himself into the accommodating, establishmentarian, conventional politician and monogamous family man...as a complete repudiation of his father's life and political failures. People who insist on trying to see Obama as a left-wing radical, closeted or otherwise, will simply be chasing after ghosts and making themselves look inexcusably foolish in the process.

As long as the wingnuts keep getting TV invitations and book contracts, it doesn't appear that they care very much about looking inexcusably foolish.

dueling rallies

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Saturday 30 October will have an interesting confluence of events: Jon Stewart will hold a Rally to Restore Sanity while Stephen Colbert will host a March to Keep Fear Alive. Stewart soothes,

Ours is a rally for the people who've been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs) -- not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence... we couldn't. That's sort of the point.

while Colbert seethes:

They want to replace our Fear with reason. But never forget -- "Reason" is just one letter away from "Treason." Coincidence? Reasonable people would say it is, but America can't afford to take that chance.

20100917-rallies.jpg

Tom Diemer wonders at Politics Daily, "is this actually going to happen?" while Steve Benen opines at Washington Monthly:

For what it's worth, my only concern here is one that I often hear in the media -- the notion that the left and right are equally crazy, and the fringes are driving their respective parties' agendas. That strikes me as a mistaken assumption. Republicans really have moved sharply to the far-right and allowed extremists to call the shots, while Truthers and Code Pink have no meaningful influence whatsoever in Democratic politics.

Democrats revamped their website yesterday, along with the unveiling of a new logo:
20100916-democrats.jpg
The new logo is also featured in tandem with the Obama logo:
20100916-demobama.jpg
It's a decent-enough logo, though it does suffer somewhat by comparison.

Glenn Beck had a charming Rabbi on his show last night (h/t: One Good Move) to deliver this claim that:

atheists are parasites in the sense they're benefitting from everything that religious culture has built in America but they're doing nothing to add energy into the system. [...] I think that the real answer to atheism, the real answer to the cataclysmic epidemic of disbelief in the country is for people to show the enhancing of life and how the quality of life goes up when faith is a part of a life.

He has apparently been looking at things through a religious reality inverter (Patent Pending), because the data show that quality of life is higher in less-religious nations. Pope Ratzi got into the anti-atheist act yesterday upon his arrival in England, with this jaw-dropping pronouncement:

Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regime's attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a "reductive vision of the person and his destiny."

One might suspect that Papa Ratzi's one-time membership in the Hitler Youth might give him some special insight into the Nazi mentality, but his current disconnect from reality deserves neither immunity from response nor lenience in criticism.


update:
Richard Dawkins is livid, identifying Nazi Ratzi's statement as "a despicable outrage:"

Even if Hitler had been an atheist, his political philosophy was not based upon atheism and had no connection with atheism. Hitler was arguably (and by his own account) a Roman Catholic. In any case he enjoyed the open support of many of the most senior catholic clergy in Germany and the less demonstrative support of Pope Pius XII. Even if Hitler had been an atheist (he certainly was not), the rank and file Germans who carried out the attempted extermination of the Jews were Christians, almost to a man: either Catholic or Lutheran, primed to their anti-Semitism by centuries of Catholic propaganda about 'Christ-killers' and by Martin Luther's own seething hatred of the Jews.

PZ Myers slams the Papal ignorance as well:

Britain is now one of the most secular countries in the world, and yes, they stood up bravely against the Nazis...we cannot say the same about the Catholic Church, which had a complicated relationship with Nazi Germany that can't be called quite collaboration, but also can't be called opposition. The Nazis did not try to eradicate God from society -- read Mein Kampf. It is not an atheist tract at all. The population of Germany was largely Catholic and Protestant, with very few open atheists.

Oh, well, we knew he was going to spew lies. That's nothing new. He's the pope -- he doesn't care much about truth.

Oh, and Bill (Catholic League) Donohue writes that atheists must apologize for Hitler:

Hitler, Stalin and Mao were all driven by a radical atheism, a militant and fundamentally dogmatic brand of secular extremism. It was this anti-religious impulse that allowed them to become mass murderers. [...] ...let the atheists take some of their own medicine and start apologizing for all the crimes committed in their name.

Hitler was Catholic, however much Catholic apologists might wish to deny it. Atheist Oasis has a substantial selection of Hitler's pro-religion words, and takes issues with Ratzi's claims about "atheist extremism:"

Atheist extremism? Did I miss a news story about atheists flying planes into buildings? Have atheists been showing up at funerals with signs reading "The Universe hates god-botherers?" Have atheists been calling for the imprisonment and execution of Christians -- as Christians have been calling for the imprisonment and execution of homosexuals?

AO is astounded by Nazi Ratzi:

...this party-hat-wearing, child-rapist-protecting douchebag has the gall to suggest that people who do not believe in his god are comparable to one of the most bloodthirsty dictatorships of the twentieth century -- a dictatorship, by the way, that was led by a Catholic.

Wow. This guy's got a couple of great big brass balls clanging under that dress of his. I wonder where he deposits their contents.


update (9/20):
In response to the Rabbi, there is a Field Guide to Atheist Parasites (h/t: Hemant at Friendly Atheist)


update (9/20):
The UK's Freethinker features a nice rebuttal to Papa Ratzi's lies about Nazis being atheists. Richard Dawkins had some comments, calling Nazi Ratzi "an enemy of humanity" (prepared text and video) at a protest-the-Pope rally:

Dawkins' best points were his statement that "the Pope's disgraceful attack on atheists and secularists [is] a desperate attempt to divert attention from the child rape scandal" and his forceful reminder that Hitler was, in fact, Catholic:

Or at least he was as much a Roman Catholic as the 5 million so-called Roman Catholics in this country today. For Hitler never renounced his baptismal Catholicism, which was doubtless the criterion for counting the 5 million alleged British Catholics today. You cannot have it both ways. Either you have 5 million British Catholics, in which case you have to have Hitler too. Or Hitler was not a Catholic, in which case you have to give us an honest figure for the number of genuine Catholics in Britain today...

We can use the Nazis' criteria for banning books, suggests PZ Myers, to separate their ideology from that which they wished to eradicate. Here are sections from "the most influential literature blacklists from 1933 to 1935:"

The Jewish mind...has already penetrated into German literature [and] must be eradicated together with all liberalism.

We demand of German students the desire and capability to overcome Jewish intellectualism and the resulting liberal decay in the German spirit.

The literature of Marxism, Communism and Bolshevism. [...] Pacifist literature. [...] Literature with liberal, democratic tendencies and attitudes...

Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism. [...] Writings on sexuality and sexual education which serve the egocentric pleasure of the individual. [...] All writings that ridicule, belittle or besmirch the Christian religion and its institution, faith in God, or other things that are holy to the healthy sentiments of the Volk.

more O'Donnellisms

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TPM has a helpful list of the "Top Ten Quotes from of Christine O'Donnell," which cover the wingnut spectrum from complaining about Obama's "anti-Americanism," the gay "lifestyle," and irreverence at Price Parades to alleging a connection between dancing and date rape.

It's not just social issues that highlight O'Donnell's ignorance, but scientific ones as well. New York magazine (h/t: Ed Brayton) quotes O'Donnell trying to explain her young-earth creationist mythology:

There is not enough evidence, consistent evidence to make [evolution] as fact...there is just as much, if not more, evidence supporting [creationism].

Brayton calls this the "Same old creationist stupidity:"

Theories do not become facts, theories explain facts. Theory is the highest level of certainty assigned to explanations in science, not a step up a ladder of certainty to some other designation.

O'Donnell wouldn't even lie to save a Jew from the Nazis--by her own admission--so I suppose the rest of us can expect far less from her.

Robert Wright discusses "The Meaning of the Koran" at NYT
(h/t: Morgan Meis at 3 Quarks Daily). Wright talks to "self-appointed guardians of Judeo-Christian civilization who might still harbor plans to burn the Koran," saying "I want them to be aware of everything that would go up in smoke." The "darker side of the Koran," writes Wright, "has already come to the attention of would-be Koran burners and, more broadly, to many of the anti-Muslim Americans whom cynical politicians like Newt Gingrich are trying to harness and multiply. The other side of the Koran -- the part that stresses interfaith harmony -- is better known in liberal circles:"

American Muslims of good will can describe Islam simply as a religion of love. They see the good parts of scripture, and either don't see the bad or have ways of minimizing it. So too with people who see in the Bible a loving and infinitely good God. They can maintain that view only by ignoring or downplaying parts of their scripture.

People consumed with fear and hatred see the Qur'an represented in the media as a text filled with military conquest and political subjugation; a balanced appraisal--as Wright notes--" doesn't come to the attention of many people." Adherents of all three Abrahamic religions would do well to read each others' texts, with the goal of becoming something more than "the people of the book:" the peoples of the books.

an upsetting upset

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The big news last night for Congress-watchers was the victory of Christine O'Donnell (Teabagger) over Mike Castle (RINO) in Delaware's Senate primary. It doesn't look good for O'Donnell in the general election--Castle has declined to endorse her, the state GOP chair has said that "She's not a viable candidate for any office in the state of Delaware...She could not be elected dog catcher," and Karl Rove (!) busted her for saying "a lot of nutty things." Following in Sarah Palin's neologistic footsteps, though, O'Donnell fired back that Rove was being "unfactual" in his criticism.

The weeks until the election could be quite entertaining, as O'Donnell's hilarious anti-masturbation rant from her 1996 appearance on MTV suggests:

My favorite part is when O'Donnell says that, in marriage, "you're going to be pleasing each other--and if he already knows what pleases him and he can please himself, then why am I in the picture?"

Why indeed? With any luck, your fifteen minutes will be over very quickly.


update:
ThinkProgress noted that O'Donnell blamed school shootings on secularism, and TruthOut mentions O'Donnell's revealing reaction to a LGBT Pride parade in 2000:

They're getting away with nudity! They're getting away with lasciviousness! They're getting away with perversion! [...] They're getting away with blasphemy!

It must be so difficult for her when other people don't live their lives according to her opinions--it just sounds so awful!

out of the limelight

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Over at GeekDad, Dave Banks writes "21--no, 12 Geeky Reasons Why Rush Should Be Inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame." He mentions their 24 gold- and 14 platinum-selling records and their 40 million discs sold, but his justification goes far beyond mere mercantilism. Read it, and go sign the petition for Rush's induction. It's been a few years since I saw Rush live, and an Induction ceremony set would make me quite happy.

While examining the list of HOF inductees, it appears that the most obvious omission besides Rush is Yes--I don't understand how that seminal progressive-rock group could have been overlooked, either.

Paul Karl Lukacs is my new hero. His blog post here (h/t: Bruce Schneier) is worth reading--and worth remembering the next time you're passing through customs:

"Why were you in China?" asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

"None of your business," I said.

Her eyes widened in disbelief.

"Excuse me?" she asked.

"I'm not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country," I said.

This did not go over well. She asked a series of questions, such as how long I had been in China, whether I was there on personal business or commercial business, etc. I stood silently.

Lukacs describes the subsequent events, summarizing that:

The end result is that, after waiting for about half an hour and refusing to answer further questions, I was released - because U.S. citizens who have produced proof of citizenship and a written customs declaration are not obligated to answer questions.

One commenter mentioned this Customs page detailing agents' mission to "prevent the entry of persons who are inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act, and to prevent the smuggling of merchandise, including narcotics and other contraband items, into the United States."

Citizenship status is a verifiable fact, as is the presence--or absence--of contraband items in one's luggage. What, exactly, is the point of the "purpose of your trip" question? Could it be the inculcation of a submissive attitude in our citizenry? After all, as Lukacs notes in a follow-up post:

To the authoritarian mind, there are only two responses to a demand: submission or defiance, and anything less than total submission is defiance.

introversion

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Laurie Helgoe's Psychology Today piece "Revenge of the Introverts" is quite interesting. "Depleted by too much external stimulation," writes Helgoe, introverts "thrive on reflection and solitude:"

Scientists now know that, while introverts have no special advantage in intelligence, they do seem to process more information than others in any given situation. To digest it, they do best in quiet environments, interacting one on one. Further, their brains are less dependent on external stimuli and rewards to feel good.

According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test, approximately half of the population consists of introverts, demonstrating "a preference for solitude, reflection, internal exploration of ideas vs. active engagement and pursuit of rewards in the external/social world." She also says this:

Introverts are collectors of thoughts, and solitude is where the collection is curated and rearranged to make sense of the present and future. Introverts can tolerate--and enjoy--projects that require long stretches of solitary activity.

This piece prompted a fellow introvert blogger [it's not a contradiction, as he explains] to come out on his blog (h/t: The Reaction):

My life is not about passivity. It's about reflection. My life is not somehow diminished because I don't jump into the first available vacuum. My life is enhanced because I spend my days watching the world and making the connections that social interactions create. If I act, it's because I understand a situation and can influence. If I speak, it's because I feel I have an unique knowledge or perspective that can benefit someone.

It's why I blog, in fact. I blog, not to spite my introversion, but because of it.

I confess to no small amount of sympathy for the introspection of introverts--especially those who spend much time outside their comfort zone. Societal expectations of extroversion are like an average shoe size: marginally uncomfortable for most people and drastically so for many of them. Expecting everyone to have a gregarious personality is neither realistic nor pragmatic.

specious speculation

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Right-wing serial bullshitter Dinesh D'Souza claimed to understand "How Obama Thinks" in the pages of Forbes, but he manages to exceed even the bounds of plutocrat-friendly propaganda. D'Souza writes that "Theories abound to explain the President's goals and actions." "Critics in the business community," he continues, suggest that Obama is either "clueless about business" or that he's a "European-style socialist." D'Souza writes, however that "The real problem with Obama is worse--much worse."

D'Souza attempt to support this claim by reaching into Obama's biographies and draw dark conclusions about Obama's father, who was "a Luo tribesman who grew up in Kenya and studied at Harvard. He was a polygamist who had, over the course of his lifetime, four wives and eight children." [That's only one wife more than Newt Gingrich (so far), so obviously Obama Sr was not a role model!] It's the anti-colonialism of Obama's father that worries D'Souza the most:

Anticolonialism is the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America. [...] Anticolonialists hold that even when countries secure political independence they remain economically dependent on their former captors.

D'Souza writes that "From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction:"

He came to view America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America. In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America's power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe's resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.

Selfish, over-consuming bullies will by definition be the wealthy. D'Souza scrambles to protect them, exclaiming that Obama "wants people who are already paying close to 50% of their income in overall taxes to pay even more." I've addressed the Teabaggers many times before, but their "taxed enough already" canard is demonstrably false; the overall tax burden the lowest in 50 years and even the upper income brackets are significantly lower than in the Reagan years.

D'Souza's concluding claim that "our President is trapped in his father's time machine" is a textbook example of projection, as conservatives are the ones still fighting against every measure of progress that has been achieved over the past century. Aside from deploring pacifists, the environmental movement, civil rights, women's rights, LGBT rights, and the sexual revolution, they spend far too much time pining for the Fifties when they could censor the media, blacklist dissidents, and force their religious platitudes into every nook and cranny of the public square.

Right-wing serial bullshitter Newt Gingrich cranked the nonsense dial up to 11 in an interview with National Review, calling D'Souza's inane thesis a "stunning insight" into Obama's character and suggesting the following:

"What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?" Gingrich asks. "That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior."

[Hey, Newt: Do you know who else was anti-colonialist? The Founders. For a "historian," you really missed a basic observation here--perhaps you'd be better off making fewer specious statements of the armchair-psychoanalytical variety...] Gingrich expresses "zero doubt" that Obama will be a one-term president:

"I think Obama gets up every morning with a worldview that is fundamentally wrong about reality," Gingrich says. "If you look at the continuous denial of reality, there has got to be a point where someone stands up and says that this is just factually insane."

[Newt's been looking in the mirror again, methinks...] For sensible commentary on the D'Souza/Gingrich "Obama Derangement Syndrome," see Daniel Tencer at Raw Story and Steve Benen at Washington Monthly. Benen writes that "in all his pseudo-intellectual glory, [Newt] has become so enveloped in his own garbage, he appears to have suffered some kind of severe head trauma:"

I care about this, not because Gingrich is a lunatic, but because Republicans and the media establishment continue to treat Gingrich as a sane, credible visionary. I think it's fair to say most reasonable people would charitably describe his attacks on America's leaders as idiocy, but the problem is, it won't make any difference.

Given the way the political establishment is "wired" for Republicans, there simply aren't any consequences for this kind of abject stupidity. In the first year of the Obama administration, the most frequent guest on "Meet the Press" was Newt Gingrich. Despite having left office more than a decade ago in disgrace, he remains a leading figure welcome in polite society.

There's literally nothing the man can say to lose his platform to spew nonsense.


tangent:
Speaking of wingnuts' nonsense-spewing and shallow understanding of that which they claim to revere, here's an interesting example from D'Souza. He wrote in his piece that the Founders "believed the nation was a 'new order for the ages.' A half-century later Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of America as creating 'a distinct species of mankind.' This is known as American exceptionalism." When one looks at Tocqueville's actual words, though, they mean something quite different:

For the last fifty years no pains have been spared to convince the inhabitants of the United States that they are the only religious, enlightened, and free people. They perceive that, for the present, their own democratic institutions prosper, while those of other countries fail; hence they conceive a high opinion of their superiority and are not very remote from believing themselves to be a distinct species of mankind. (Democracy in America, Book I, Chapter XVIII)


update (9/13):
Matt Lewis echoes one of my points at Politics Daily, wondering:

Why do people think being "anti-colonial" equals being anti-American?

I mean, didn't we rebel against Great Britain?

Meanwhile, the White House is pushing back against this Faux narrative. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said of Gingrich's comments that "I don't even have...the slightest idea what he's talking about:"

Look, it's political season and most people will say anything. Newt Gingrich says that generally on a regular basis.

Paul Waldman asks at American Prospect "How do you support a charge like the one D'Souza begins the article with, that 'Barack Obama is the most anti-business president in a generation, perhaps in American history'?"

The policy record doesn't really support that rather fantastical claim, but you don't need the policy record, if you know that in his heart of heart Obama is a "Kenyan anti-colonialist" looking to wreak vengeance on the white oppressors. It explains everything, even (or especially) things that haven't actually happened.

To repeat: anyone who writes regularly about politics and has opinions will now and again speculate on motives and intentions. But when you read someone say about a politician, "What he really wants" or "What he really believes," remind yourself that the writer probably has little or no idea what the politician wants or believes, and you should be as skeptical as you can.


update 2:
Slate's Dave Weigel wonders why Newt is helping D'Souza publicize his new book on Obama's alleged rage. "D'Souza was the first modern conservative author to discover," writes Weigel, "that if you want to be a pundit, there is no downside to making a reprehensible argument." Of course, the result--sensationalism and sloppy scholarship--is endemic in the mainstream conservative punditry.


update 3:
Andrew Sullivan isn't very fond of either D'Souza or Gingrich:

What still staggers me is that either D'Souza or Gingrich are regarded in any way as "thinkers". They are not. They are self-promoting charlatans, with not an ounce of decency, personal or professional, between them, who see ideas as weapons to be used, or sources for personal advancement and enrichment.

This NYT article notes the observation of Henry Farrell (a political scientist from George Washington University) that "in the ranks of captured and confessed terrorists, engineers and engineering students are significantly overrepresented. Maybe that's a numerological accident. The sociologist Diego Gambetta and the political scientist Steffen Hertog don't think so:"

Each month, Gambetta and Hertog's database grows. Last December, Abdulmutallab's attempt over Detroit. In February, Joseph Andrew Stack, a software engineer, crashed his plane into I.R.S. offices in Austin, Tex. In March, John Patrick Bedell, an engineering grad student, opened fire at an entrance to the Pentagon. In early May, Faisal Shahzad (bachelor of science in computer science and engineering) was arrested at Kennedy Airport for a failed attempt to set off a bomb in Times Square. Also in May, Faiz Mohammad, a civil engineer, was caught at Karachi's airport with batteries and an electrical circuit hidden in his shoes. And going back, of the 9/11 conspirators who had been educated beyond high school, eight studied engineering. As this list suggests, the phenomenon isn't confined to Muslims or Middle Easterners.

[...]

Gambetta and Hertog found engineers only in right-wing groups -- the ones that claim to fight for the pious past of Islamic fundamentalists or the white-supremacy America of the Aryan Nations (founder: Richard Butler, engineer) or the minimal pre-modern U.S. government that Stack and Bedell extolled.

Among Communists, anarchists and other groups whose shining ideal lies in the future, the researchers found almost no engineers. [...] The engineer mind-set, Gambetta and Hertog suggest, might be a mix of emotional conservatism and intellectual habits that prefers clear answers to ambiguous questions -- "the combination of a sharp mind with a loyal acceptance of authority." Do people become engineers because they are this way? Or does engineering work shape them? It's probably a feedback loop of both, Gambetta says. [...] ..."engineers' peculiar cognitive traits and dispositions" made them slightly more likely than accountants, waiters or philosophers to react to career frustration by adopting violent, right-wing beliefs.

Primitive lizard-brain reactions--one hesitates to elevate such behavior to the realm of thought--abound on the reactionary Right whenever their xenophobic buttons get pushed. Thus, Fred Phelps is eager to step in to burn some Korans (and American flags, to boot) on today's 9/11 anniversary if pastor Terry Jones has a change of heart.

In the face of this predictable-yet-sad display, these words from Leonard Pitts' Miami Herald op-ed (h/t: Andrew Sullivan) are my Quote of the Day. Pitts laments how people have "often resorted to fire to purge themselves of that they fear and misunderstand:"

The Nazis did it in the 1930s, throwing books into flames as a way of killing the dangerous ideas on their pages. Southern whites did it in the 1950s, throwing rock 'n' roll records into fire as a way of denying the cultural miscegenation the music proved.

There is in the act of burning something primitive and tribalistic, something that appeals to the lizard brain which has no ability or desire to reason, no comprehension of ideals and abstract concepts, that knows only that it lives in fear of a world it cannot understand and will do anything to send the fear away.

The process of becoming a truly human being is the process of conquering that lizard brain. Unfortunately, some people never do.

On Saturday, some of those people will gather round a bonfire to watch pages blacken and curl and turn to smoke. You listen to the hatred spewing from respectable leaders in prominent places, you think of how normal that has become, and one thing suddenly seems starkly clear:

We're burning a whole lot more than books.

So, about that upcoming box set "Mahler: The People's Edition" that I mentioned a while ago...

DC's classical station WETA issued a plea to "Make the People's Mahler Interesting" (h/t: Jens Laurson at Ion Arts), noting that "one could create a marvelous, superbly interesting Mahler cycle of individualistic, rare, splendid interpretations that would be a boon to obsessed Mahlerites everywhere, even (and especially) the seasoned collector:"

Could is the operating word here, because the worst case scenario is that where the People's Edition merely mirrors the fame of recordings and ends up something where all included symphonies are already readily available, and/or are already in Universal's big box "Mahler, Complete Edition". What a terrific opportunity completely gone to waste that would be.

Go here to vote; voting closes on 15 September, with the box set due in November.

Here's an interesting quote from anthropologist Robin Nagle at The Believer (h/t: Zoe Pollock, filling in for Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic), discussing one of the "cognitive problems" associated with our garbage:

Every single thing you see is future trash. Everything.

So we are surrounded by ephemera, but we can't acknowledge that, because it's kind of scary, because I think ultimately it points to our own temporariness, to thoughts that we're all going to die. [...]

It's an avoidance of addressing mortality, ephemerality, the deeper cost of the way we live. We generate as much trash as we do in part because we move at a speed that requires it. I don't have time to take care of the stuff that surrounds me every day that is disposable, like coffee cups and diapers and tea bags and things that if I slowed down and paid attention to and shepherded, husbanded, nurtured, would last a lot longer. I wouldn't have to replace them as often as I do. But who has time for that?

Are we really moving so quickly through our lives that we don't have time to even notice the wake of refuse that trails behind us?

Obama's 2008 campaign is surely the high point of election-related design to date, and its excellent visual branding has been documented in the new book Designing Obama ($80, h/t: Jason Kottke, and Paul Waldman at American Prospect):

20100904-designingobama.jpg

Here's a small sample of the designers' flexibility while maintaining Obama's brand identity:

20100904-obamadesign.jpg

(In addition to the printed version, the book is also viewable online and available as a downloadable PDF.)

20100904-ovalofficerug.jpg

A new Oval Office rug contains several famous sentiments:

"GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE" - Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

"NO PROBLEM OF HUMAN DESTINY IS BEYOND HUMAN BEINGS" - John F. Kennedy.

"THE WELFARE OF EACH OF US IS DEPENDENT FUNDAMENTALLY ON THE WELFARE OF ALL OF US" - Teddy Roosevelt.

"THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS FEAR ITSELF" - FDR's inaugural speech.

"THE ARC OF THE MORAL UNIVERSE IS LONG, BUT IT BENDS TOWARD JUSTICE" - Obama's favorite Martin Luther King quotation.

The source of the "moral universe" quote is not Martin Luther King Jr, as is commonly believed. Jamie Stiehm points out at the Washington Post that many people (myself included, on several occasions) misattribute those words, which were actually spoken by 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."

Unless you're fascinated by antebellum American reformers, you may not know of the lyrically gifted Parker, an abolitionist, Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist thinker who foresaw the end of slavery, though he did not live to see emancipation. He died at age 49 in 1860, on the eve of the Civil War.

A century later, during the civil rights movement, King, an admirer of Parker, quoted the Bostonian's lofty prophecy during marches and speeches. Often he'd ask in a refrain, "How long? Not long." He would finish in a flourish: "Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."

King made no secret of the author of this idea. As a Baptist preacher on the front lines of racial justice, he regarded Parker, a religious leader, as a kindred spirit.

Restoring Truthiness

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Stephen Colbert's Restoring Truthiness rally (h/t: Susie Madrak at Crooks and Liars) is scheduled for 10 October 2010.

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Madrak writes: "It'll be just like Colbert's mockery of GW Bush at the 2006 White House Correspondent's Dinner, but 500,000 people will be able to participate with him:"

We'll all stay totally in character as teabaggers. The kid with the microphone that interviews all the idiots at these things can come by and we'll ramble into his microphone.

This would be the high water mark of American satire. Half a million people pretending to suspend all rational thought in unison.

She implores Colbert to make this a reality: "We need you. There's no way to have a logical public discussion with the teabaggers. The best we can do is to mimic them. Show them a mirror and hopefully some will realize how ridiculous they actually are..."

I'll bet that we can get a million people there--or, at a minimum, we can get enough to make an unsupported assertion of a million attendees.

You can't handle the truthiness!

Newsweek cover

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The latest Newsweek cover is a better-than-usual typographic treatment:

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There is one major flaw, however: the asterisk should be adjacent to "Muslim," and both it and its footnote (*who isn't actually any of these things") should be white instead of red. The existing design appears to state that "president" is another of the things that Obama isn't.

Upon reflection, this image reminds me a bit of the cover of Geoffrey Nunberg's 2006 book Talking Right:

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I wonder...

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...which one of these people believes in the Obama-is-a-Muslim myth?

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(Nate Beeler/Washington Examiner)

Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally on Saturday is flawed by its very name, as noted by Ed Brayton's reply. Brayton countered Beck's implication by observing that "America hasn't lost anything," let alone its honor. "We are today what we have always been," writes Brayton, "a nation of people that proclaims a set of very audacious ideals to the rest of the world and only sometimes lives up to them. It isn't any worse today than it was in years past; in fact, it's better -- but only because the forces of progress won previous battles for liberty and equality:"

Those principles provide the solid base from which we have launched assault after assault against discrimination and oppression. America fully has its honor only insofar as we live up to those ideals. America hasn't lost its honor, it is the same as it always was, partially living up to our own declared principles and partially failing. And the more we live up to them, the closer we come to that illusive place of honor.

Glenn Beck isn't going to do a damn thing to help in that effort. He's on the side of regress, not progress. He's a carnival barker on the political midway, selling a product -- fear -- to an eager public. For him, the notion of honor is just a marketing slogan, something flashy with which to fleece the rubes and keep the money flowing.

But the rest of us must continue the fight for freedom and equality because in extending those ideals to others, we provide them more fully and more meaningfully to ourselves. In extending those promises where they should have applied in the first place, we reinforce our shared humanity, the thing that Martin Luther King fought for so bravely.

Hitchens takes on the "White Fright" of Glenn Beck's weekend rally is that its "overall effect was large, vague, moist, and undirected: the Waterworld of white self-pity." Hitch continues by noting that "recently, almost every European country has seen the emergence of populist parties that call upon nativism and give vent to the idea that the majority population now feels itself unwelcome in its own country:"

The ugliness of Islamic fundamentalism in particular has given energy and direction to such movements. It will be astonishing if the United States is not faced, in the very near future, with a similar phenomenon. Quite a lot will depend on what kind of politicians emerge to put themselves at the head of it.

Politifact's summary of Beck's bullshit is a useful refresher on his general mendacity, and another example surfaced this morning: Beck's claim that "I went to the National Archives, and I held the first inaugural address written in his own hand by George Washington." Mother Jones notes the implausibility that "the persnickety gatekeepers of the nation's historical legacy at the National Archives [would] allow some talk show bombthrower to put his mitts on a rare (and fragile) artifact:"

Beck was not telling the truth.

Beck did receive a special VIP tour of the archives, arranged by an as-yet unidentified member of Congress. During that tour, he did get a peek inside the "legislative vault," which isn't open to ordinary visitors. But Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper insists that Beck didn't lay a finger on any precious documents, much less George Washington's inaugural address. That would be a major violation of policy. "Those kinds of treasures are only handled by specially trained archival staff," she explains. Cooper acknowledges that someone at the archives did show the document to Beck, but that was the extent of it.


In addition to Beck's propagandistic Ministry-of-Truth style, AlterNet's Chauncey DeVega calls the rally a "Perversion of Dr King's Vision" and accuses Beck of taking the "nakedly Orwellian" and "morally repugnant route of claiming progressive heroes like Martin Luther King as his own, never mind the fact that they are about as different from each other as two people can get:"

One stood for social justice, peace, coexistence, freedom, and equality, the other stands for avarice, ignorance, opportunism, divisiveness, and bigotry. To my mind one represents that which is right with America, and the other what is so horribly wrong and getting worse in our troubled political times. You can guess who is who.

Here's a clever vision of Beck transported to the Civil Rights era:
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(David Fitzsimmons/Arizona Star)

Will Saletan suggests that Beck's attempt to co-opt King and the civil rights movement (as other conservatives tried to do at Coretta Scott King's funeral four years ago) should be celebrated instead of ridiculed. Saletan quotes various rally speakers discussing themes of "Consciousness, shame, redemption, change, impatience. These are more than concessions. They're ways of thinking and living. They're the core of the progressive worldview:"

If you think this isn't enough--if you're holding out for an endorsement of carbon taxes or subsidized health insurance--you're looking at the rally the wrong way. This is how conservatives embrace progress. First they resist it. Then they lose to it. Then they assimilate it. They frame it as a fulfillment of longstanding values. They emphasize common threads between reformers and founders. They reinterpret the nation's origins to match the new ethos.

He continues by noting that "Crying 'socialism' is what conservatives do before they yield to change:"

It's a stage in the process of defeat. But the process doesn't end with defeat. It ends with absorption. It ends with the political descendants of George Wallace embracing the legacy of Martin Luther King. Beck today is just catching up to where King was 50 years ago. That's because King was in the front of the civil rights bus, and Beck is in the back. And it's a really slow bus. [...]

Fifty years from now, when conservatives gather on the National Mall, they'll be celebrating the integration of American Muslims. On the hologram projector, they'll show dimensionally enhanced video of an anti-mosque rally from the bad old days of 2010. Their tribute won't be insincere. It'll just be a little bit late.

Speaking of insincerity, a right-wing rally wouldn't be complete without vastly inflated attendance claims. MediaMatters notes Michelle Bachmann's wild declaration that "We're not going to let anyone get away with saying there were less than a million here today " is unsupported by the actual attendance--which CBS called at 87,000 (give or take 9,000).

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