October 2010 Archives

Robert Kuttner describes The Debate We Should Be Having about the economy:

In the narrative of fiscal conservatives, the road to recovery is paved with sacrifice -- budget balance rather than job creation, fiscal freezes well before the economy has returned to full employment, long-term cuts in entitlements, and automatic triggers if Congress misses a preset target.

The conservative call for austerity, he writes, "defies economic logic" because "[t]he economy is performing far below capacity:"

To break the vicious circle of high unemployment, depressed consumer demand, weak business investment, and damaged banks, government should be doing more, not less. State and local budget cuts, totaling $460 billion over three years, neutralize about two-thirds of federal Recovery Act spending. President Barack Obama's February 2009 stimulus package helped, but not enough to solve the problem.

The GOP, though, will continue wailing that "We're not moving quickly enough--we must reverse course!" Kuttner concludes:

If you look out at the real economy, rather than through the green eyeshade of deficit anxiety, you see needless devastation. You also see a political trap for Democrats and progressives. If deficit-reduction is paramount, then little can be done to revive the economy, and the fiscal right ends up in an odd alliance with the hard-core right to stymie the progressive alternative.

Jon Perr's "The Triumph of Delusion" at Crooks and Liars talks about the Teabagger movement, writing that "even more than its decibel level, none-too-thinly veiled race-baiting, casual incitements to violence and perfection of a corporate-backed grassroots façade, the rise of the Tea Party marks the triumph of delusion in American politics:"

Simply put, never has a modern political movement been so utterly wrong on basic matters of fact. [...] To be sure, President Obama and the Democrats must be among the world's least effective salesmen. But for two years, a willing media has amplified the right-wing Tea Party frenzy, unprecedented Republican obstructionism and GOP myth-making, all now backed by record quantities of secret campaign cash.

Bloomberg's poll on voters' economic knowledge is distressing:

A Bloomberg National Poll conducted Oct. 24-26 finds that by a two-to-one margin, likely voters in the Nov. 2 midterm elections think taxes have gone up, the economy has shrunk, and the billions lent to banks as part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program won't be recovered.

None of those beliefs--I'm not about to call them thoughts--bear any resemblance to reality, which poses quite a challenge for Democrats. Steve Benen discusses the challenge of overcoming voter ignorance here and here:

In general, I've long considered one of President Obama's better qualities is his reluctance to talk down to voters. But it's possible his assumptions about maturity and the public discourse are simply too generous -- leaders can't assume the electorate has the wisdom to ignore nonsense when the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

Worse, this rewards Republicans, not just at the ballot box, but for lying uncontrollably for nearly two years. GOP leaders no doubt see polls like this and realize that the more nonsense they pump into the national discourse, the more anxiety-ridden Americans will believe things that aren't true.

I'll gladly leave it to others to explain how one overcomes such systemic ignorance, because I honestly don't have the foggiest idea. It's one thing for policymakers to adopt policies that make things better; it's something else for much of the public to simply ignore those policies and reject reality altogether. [...]

I don't expect the public to have an extensive knowledge of federal policymaking history, but I at least hoped Americans would realize the scope of recent accomplishments. We are, after all, talking about a two-year span in which Congress passed and the president signed the Affordable Care Act, the Recovery Act, Wall Street reform, student loan reform, Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, new regulation of the credit card industry, new regulation of the tobacco industry, a national service bill, expanded stem-cell research, the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the most sweeping land-protection act in 15 years, etc. Policymakers might yet add to this list in the lame-duck session.

Some of these efforts have been decades in the making. In the case of health care reform, politicians have been talking about a major overhaul for a full century, but it took this Congress and this president to get it done.

A plurality of Americans, though, perceive this Congress as having done less than usual. I'm not even sure how a political system is supposed to function with an electorate so far detached from reality.

Keith Olbermann had a good--but long--segment on this the other night:

Paul Krugman's pre-election broadside "Divided We Fall" worries about the GOP "tak[ing] control of at least one house of Congress next week" and states bluntly that "This is going to be terrible:"

In fact, future historians will probably look back at the 2010 election as a catastrophe for America, one that condemned the nation to years of political chaos and economic weakness.

Krugman notes Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell statement that "The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president." (Yep, you read that right--the GOP's primary goal will not be job creation, economic revitalization, or solving budgetary problems--just tearing down the White House.)

They'll refuse to do anything to boost the economy now, claiming to be worried about the deficit, while simultaneously increasing long-run deficits with irresponsible tax cuts -- cuts they have already announced won't have to be offset with spending cuts.

So if the elections go as expected next week, here's my advice: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Melissa McEwan stresses the election's importance for the economy, writing that "I am an economy voter:"

I've always been, and always will be, an economy voter, in no small part because I genuinely believe with the whole of my being that the economy lies at the root of every. single. issue. that's important to me as a progressive. [...] And the GOP will happily undermine what security our already precarious economy grants us, because chaos and desperation serve their goals. Their corporate masters are never happier than when people will work longer hours for less money and fewer benefits because they're in desperate fear of losing their jobs, and the healthcare coverage attached to them. Their cultural masters are never happier when the oppressive futility of our corrupt political system boils in fearful people's guts and comes steaming out in hot blasts of hatred and intolerance.

All of this serves the conservative elite agenda to dismantle what domestic security our government provides.

faith and health

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Related to Haidt's speculations about religion and happiness, there is a new Gallup poll that reports greater well-being for religious people. Although "Americans who are the most religious also have the highest levels of wellbeing," the study "does not allow for a precise determination of why this might be the case:"

It is possible that Americans who have higher wellbeing may be more likely to choose to be religious than those with lower wellbeing. It is also possible that some third variable could be driving certain segments of the U.S. population to be more religious and to have higher wellbeing.

Friendly Atheist is appropriately skeptical:

No doubt that strong relationships make for a happier life. But I wonder how many of those "strong bonds" involve discrimination against gay people and verbal attacks on atheism.

I would guess that, if asked, the wellbeing of gay people wouldn't be as high as that of Christians... and the Christians are to blame for much of that.

It should be noted that just because religion "feels nice," that doesn't mean religious beliefs are true.

Atheists are interested in the truth, even if those truths are uncomfortable. We don't hide behind mythology and place our hope in non-existent gods to make ourselves feel better.

The truth may set you free, but freedom isn't always easy.

John (Wingnuts) Avlon writes about the Obama-Haters' Book Club, observing that "Hating President Obama has become its own industry--and here's a new stat to prove it:"

To date, there have been at least 46 anti-Obama books published. I'm not talking about thoughtful criticisms of his policies, but detailed demonizations of the president. These screeds cannot help but have an impact on the typically low-turnout, high-intensity midterm elections that will take place Tuesday.

By way of comparison, he notes, "At this point in Bush's presidency there were only five anti-W books"--which were of far greater factual accuracy. This multitude of anti-Obama misinformation, writes Avlon, joins with "fear-mongering emails, right wing talk radio and partisan cable news" to explain why "pathetically large numbers of Americans are ready to believe the worst about our president:"

...because of the rise of partisan media, the intensity of the Obama Derangement Syndrome at this stage in his administration may be unprecedented. [...] All this is evidence of an acceleration of the impulse to demonize the duly elected president of the opposite party. We are cannibalizing our body politic. We need to stop this cycle of incitement before it destroys our ability to unite as a nation absent a disaster.

Not everyone, however, wants our nation united around a common purpose. Asking "who" desires such a disconnection (and "why") may lead to interesting discoveries.


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Seymour Hersh discusses cyberwar (h/t: Bruce Schneier):

In the next few months, President Obama, who has publicly pledged that his Administration will protect openness and privacy on the Internet, will have to make choices that will have enormous consequences for the future of an ever-growing maze of new communication techniques: Will America's networks be entrusted to civilians or to the military? Will cyber security be treated as a kind of war?

Hersh identifies the creation of the "military-cyber complex" with a large budget of "between six and seven billion dollars annually for unclassified cyber-security work, and, it is estimated, an equal amount on the classified portion." Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn III wrote in the Foreign Affairs essay "Defending a New Domain" that:

"As a doctrinal matter, the Pentagon has formally recognized cyberspace as a new domain of warfare." This definition raises questions about where the battlefield begins and where it ends. If the military is operating in "cyberspace," does that include civilian computers in American homes?

Instilling fear in the populace is, as always, an essential part of the war effort:

"A senior official in the Department of Homeland Security [...] portrayed the talk about cyber war as a bureaucratic effort "to raise the alarm" and garner support for an increased Defense Department role in the protection of private infrastructure. He said, "You hear about cyber war all over town. This"--he mentioned statements by Clarke and others--"is being done to mobilize a political effort. We always turn to war analogies to mobilize the people."

There is a corrective does of skepticism at American Prospect in Nancy Scola's Hot, Sexy, Fundable Cyber War:

NSA and others in the defense and intelligence worlds are eager to militarize the Internet space. Them upping the scariness of the cyber threats facing the country is one way to do it. That helps to consolidate power over all things cyber inside that wing of government, and it also helps grease the flow of government funds to contractors.

Jonathan Alter's "The State of Liberalism" and Christopher Caldwell's "The State of Conservatism" (NYT) each look at several recent political books. Alter talks about marketing and semantics:

It's a sign of how poorly liberals market themselves and their ideas that the word "liberal" is still in disrepute despite the election of the most genuinely liberal president that the political culture of this country will probably allow. "Progressive" is now the self-description of choice for liberals, though it's musty and evasive. The basic equation remains: virtually all Republican politicians call themselves conservative; few Democratic politicians call themselves liberal.

For four decades, conservatives have used the word "liberal" as an epithet, while liberals have used "conservative" defensively ("I'm a little conservative on . . .").

Although it does take better messaging for most people to pay attention to information, liberalism's problem is not limited to messaging:

Liberals are also at a disadvantage because politics, at its essence, is about self-interest, an idea that at first glance seems more closely aligned with conservatism. To make their more complex case, liberals must convince a nation of individualists that enlightened self-interest requires mutual interest, and that the liberal project is better constructed for the demands of an increasingly interdependent world.

He notes that "Adam Smith was the original liberal," as was our first Republican president:

By today's standards, Abraham Lincoln's support for large-scale government spending on infrastructure and appeals to "the better angels of our nature" would qualify him as a liberal. In the 20th century, progressives cleaned up and expanded government, trust-busted on behalf of what came to be known as "the public interest," and experimented with different practical and heavily compromised ways of addressing the Great Depression.

Democrats are, however, "complicit in the winner-take-all ethos:"

It doesn't take feats of scholarship to prove that simultaneously supporting balanced budgets, status quo entitlement and defense spending, and huge tax cuts for the wealthy (the Republicans' new plan) is mathematically impossible and intellectually bankrupt.

For a stellar example of intellectual bankruptcy, see Caldwell's piece:

American conservatives, most notably the activists who support various Tea Party groups, have a great variety of anxieties and grievances just now. But what unites them all, at least rhetorically, is the sense that something has gone wrong constitutionally, shutting them out of decisions that rightfully belong to them as citizens. This is why many talk about "taking our country back."

The phrase could mean either return to their control or a more general regression, neither of which is flattering. Caldwell observes that "More than 70 percent of Republicans embrace the Tea Party, but the feeling is not reciprocated:"

Much of the Tea Party is made up of conservative-leaning independents. The journalist Jonathan Rauch has called these people "debranded Republicans," and they are debranded for a reason -- 55 percent of them oppose the Republican leadership. While Republicans are likely to reap all the benefit of Tea Party enthusiasm in November's elections, this is a marriage of convenience. [...] Hence the Republicans' problem. After November, the party will need to reform in a conservative direction, in line with its base's wishes, and without a clear idea of whether the broader public will be well disposed to such reform.

When discussing Obama, Caldwell veers into nonsense by claiming that "No president in living memory has compiled a slenderer record of bipartisanship." That's absolutely correct--except for health care, the stimulus, national security, immigration, LGBT rights, and education. Dipping into the GOP's desire to pose as the underdogs, Caldwell writes that "In a time of growing populism and distrust, Republicans enjoy the advantage of [claiming that they are] running against the party of the elite...broadly speaking, the Democratic Party is the party to which elites belong:"

It is the party of Harvard (and most of the Ivy League), of Microsoft and Apple (and most of Silicon Valley), of Hollywood and Manhattan (and most of the media) and, although there is some evidence that numbers are evening out in this election cycle, of Goldman Sachs (and most of the investment banking profession). [...] Republicans, meanwhile, do not recognize the liability that their repudiation by elites represents in an age of expertise and specialization -- even in the eyes of the non-elite center of the country.

Tell that to the media outlets, the corporations that own them, and the churches to which they pay obeisance.

Charles (Bell Curve) Murray claims that Teabaggers are right to complain about "elites," but "The tea party appears to be of one mind on at least one thing: America has been taken over by a New Elite:"

That a New Elite has emerged over the past 30 years is not really controversial. That its members differ from former elites is not controversial. What sets the tea party apart from other observers of the New Elite is its hostility, rooted in the charge that elites are isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans.

This "New Elite," writes Murray, "lives in a world that doesn't intersect with mainstream America in many important ways. When the tea party says the New Elite doesn't get America, there is some truth in the accusation." The untruth in the accusation comes from identifying liberals as the elite--especially ironic given the source of Teabagger funding. Nevertheless, Murray soldiers onward:

The bubble that encases the New Elite crosses ideological lines and includes far too many of the people who have influence, great or small, on the course of the nation. They are not defective in their patriotism or lacking a generous spirit toward their fellow citizens. They are merely isolated and ignorant. The members of the New Elite may love America, but, increasingly, they are not of it.

The "elites" may be a standard deviation or two away from the mean in income, or reading comprehension, or IQ, but they are no less American because of it. Americanism does not require slavish adherence to the lowest common cultural denominator, and there is no special virtue in enjoying monster trucks, deer hunting, John Grisham novels, Big Macs, or living in a land-locked state.

Matthew Yglesias writes that Murray's op-ed is "one of those classic instances of 'provocative' journalism that manages to meld the banal and the false in a superficially appealing way," a sentiment that could describe much of the mainstream conservative punditocracy.

JW Stickings writes about the Republican Taliban:

The Ken Bucks and Christine O'Donnells and Sharron Angles of the Republican Party, the "Taliban wing" of the GOP that more and more is taking over the party, are profoundly dangerous and deeply anti-American, and it's not enough just to laugh at them for being stupid. They pose a threat to American democracy, and to America itself, and to the very idea of "America," that, in a way, far exceeds, is far more nefarious than, and is far more likely to succeed than the threat posed by Islamic jihadism.

Steve Benen skewers their pretensions toward Constitutional scholarship:

There's a striking push this year among right-wing candidates to attack constitutional principles -- all the while, running as "constitutional conservatives" -- an assault that is likely to continue if they make significant gains in the midterm elections.

He also writes about the GOP's war on the church-state wall:

But putting aside the fact that these unhinged Republicans simply have no idea what they're talking about, I have a related concern: what is it, exactly, they'd replace church-state separation with?

What we're seeing is, to a certain extent, the rise of the Taliban wing of the Republican Party -- the Taliban rails against secularism, and insists that the law must mirror and be based on their interpretation of a religious text. [...]

Let's say, for the sake of conversation, they succeed. What then? Once the foundation for religious liberty in America is gone, what does Ken Buck suggest we replace it with? There are some countries that endorse Buck's worldview and intermix God and government -- Iran and Afghanistan under Taliban rule come to mind -- but they're generally not countries the United States tries to emulate.

Ned Resnikoff calls the GOP The Party of Theocracy, writing that "It's going to get ugly" after the midterms:

I suspect that Glenn Beck is somewhat ahead of the curve here, insofar as he's already working on resurrecting the right-wing evangelical's gone-but-not-forgotten persecution complex. Remember, in Becktopia, it's not the religious right that's trying to implement a radical political agenda, but everyone else. Any attempt to resist the religious right's agenda is a direct attack on Christ Himself, let alone Christianity.

one week left

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There is just one week left before the midterm elections, and the prospect of the next Congress being under GOP control is distressing--as are the methods they've been utilizing to increase their chances at winning such a victory. FactCheck's Whoppers of Campaign 2010 is a non-partisan look at campaign-ad shenanigans, but the big-picture mythology is rather lopsided. Dave Johnson lists "Eight False Things the Public 'Knows'" about economic issues (taxes, the deficit, the stimulus, the bailouts, healthcare, and Social Security) and bluntly summarizes that:

This stuff really matters.

If the public votes in a new Congress because a majority of voters think this one tripled the deficit, and as a result the new people follow the policies that actually tripled the deficit, the country could go broke.

If the public votes in a new Congress that rejects the idea of helping to create demand in the economy because they think it didn't work, then the new Congress could do things that cause a depression.

If the public votes in a new Congress because they think the health care reform will increase the deficit when it is actually projected to reduce the deficit, then the new Congress could repeal health care reform and thereby make the deficit worse. And on it goes.

Will these false beliefs about the economy decide the midterm election? If they do, Chris Hedges believes that it's all the liberals' fault. He writes that "The lunatic fringe of the Republican Party...is the direct result of a collapse of liberalism:"

It is the product of bankrupt liberal institutions, including the press, the church, universities, labor unions, the arts and the Democratic Party. [...] The liberal class is guilty. The liberal class, which continues to speak in the prim and obsolete language of policies and issues, refused to act. It failed to defend traditional liberal values during the long night of corporate assault in exchange for its position of privilege and comfort in the corporate state.

"The death of the liberal class," writes Hedges, "is catastrophic for our democracy:"

It means there is no longer any check to a corporate apparatus designed to further enrich the power elite. It means we cannot halt the plundering of the nation by Wall Street speculators and corporations. An ineffectual liberal class, in short, means there is no hope, however remote, of a correction or a reversal through the political system and electoral politics. [...] The very forces that co-opted the liberal class and are responsible for the impoverishment of the state will, ironically, reap benefits from the collapse. These corporate manipulators are busy channeling rage away from the corporate and military forces hollowing out the nation from the inside and are turning that anger toward the weak remnants of liberalism. [...]

The collapse of liberal institutions means those outside the circles of power are trapped, with no recourse, and this is why many Americans are turning in desperation toward idiotic right-wing populists who at least understand the power of hatred as a mobilizing force.

I'm curious to see how well Hedges supports that thesis in his latest book, Death of the Liberal Class.

Joe Conason explains "Why the Right really hates NPR--with or without Juan Williams," observing that "the right-wing uproar over NPR's firing of Juan Williams" is the product of the same charlatans who have "reliably exploited every chance to damage public broadcasting:"

...not because of any supposed liberal bias, but because they disdain the straightforward, probing journalism that the public network provides every day. What the NPR haters want to see and hear on America's airwaves is the "fair and balanced mentality" of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage and nothing else. After all, they hate CNN, CBS, NBC, and ABC with almost equal passion, no matter how much those networks or NPR bend over to accomodate conservative viewpoints. [...]

Without NPR, we would soon be left with very little on the radio that doesn't conform to the debased worldview of Rupert Murdoch, or that fails to make money for the likes of him.

Peter Beinart defends NPR from Williams' charge that it is "elitist" because it doesn't "compete in the marketplace:"

Yes, NPR is elitist, and it's a good thing too. The people who run the station believe that Americans should know more about what is happening in China and less about what is happening to Britney Spears, which in today's media makes them downright subversive. That's why NPR now has 17 foreign bureaus compared to four for CBS. It's why, according to the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, NPR devotes 21 percent of its airtime to international news compared to 1 percent for commercial talk radio. [...]

And since America is increasingly buffeted by decisions made in other countries, our national ignorance is becoming a threat to our national security. Once upon a time, there was a wing of American conservatism that recognized that there were public goods and cultural standards that needed to be insulated from the whims of the market. Today, that's considered elitist. Flagrant ignorance, by contrast, especially about the rest of the world, is a sign of populism, a sign that you don't think you're better than anyone else. On the right today, Sarah Palin isn't adored in spite of her parochialism; she's adored because of it.

Although I disagreed a great deal with the exemplars of Buckley-era conservatism, I nonetheless recognize the loss of that wing of American intellectualism as a significant one. The American Scene's Conor Friedersdorf has my Quote of the Day:

If you have a network where Hannity regularly comes off as the more learned, persuasive interlocutor, you're not trying very hard to give your audience an accurate view of the world.

As I mentioned back in one of my first blog posts, studies show that NPR audiences are much better informed (and much less mis-informed) than are devotees of other media (especially Faux News and talk radio). Cynics could be forgiven the suspicion that ease of misinformation and manipulation is the root of many anti-NPR complaints.

astroturf irony

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The Guardian's George Monbiot discusses the Teabagger/Koch nexus, writing that "The Tea Party movement is remarkable in two respects:"

It is one of the biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has seen - and the biggest Astroturf operation in history. [...] It is mostly composed of passionate, well-meaning people who think they are fighting elite power, unaware that they have been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting.

The best example here is the Koch brothers, and Monbiot explains that the Koch-funded groups (Americans for Prosperity, Cato, Heritage, Manhattan Institute, Reason Foundation, American Enterprise Institute) have worked to "conflate crony capitalism with free enterprise, and free enterprise with personal liberty:"

Between them they have constructed the philosophy that informs the Tea Party movement: its members mobilise for freedom, unaware that the freedom they demand is freedom for corporations to trample them into the dirt.

Gabriel Arana comments at AmericaBlog that "this has always been the central irony of the Tea Party movement:"

Its members rail against preferential treatment for bailed-out Wall Street firms, but largely support a Republican party that has made this sort of preferential treatment for capitalist cronies -- the élites who profited even as they ran their institutions into the ground -- a central component of its platform. [...]

Current frustration with the economy is understandable, but the Tea Party's answer is for the government to keep its hands off the Wall Street firms that steered it to the brink of collapse and engineered the broad structural changes that have made it much tougher to find well-paying work as a high-school grad in the Rust Belt than it was in the 1970s.

It's nothing if not incongruous to see middle-aged Tea Partiers rallying with Republicans against the bank bailouts and then hear that the bailed-out banks have sent the largest chunk of their political donations to Republicans.

The Teabaggers are making sure that corporations have enough rope to hang us all...

Doonesbury at 40

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Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury (website, Wikipedia) turns forty today--not a longevity record, but a significant accomplishment nonetheless. This nearly-700-page retrospective hits bookstore shelves today,


and another by scholar Brian Walker is due next week.

Is it possible to OD on satire?

Jonathan (The Happiness Hypothesis) Haidt has announced his next book: The Righteous Mind, due sometime late next year (h/t: 3 Quarks Daily). Judging by Haidt's proposal to his publisher, The Righteous Mind will be a must-read:

This book will be a friendly slap in the face to liberals and atheists, delivered by a liberal atheist who desperately wants his peers to wise up, drop their self-righteousness, and understand the moralities of conservatives and of religious groups. The central idea of the book is simple but its implications are far-reaching:

Liberals and atheists generally do not understand the breadth of human morality. They think morality is about decreasing harm and increasing justice and autonomy. But for most of the world, morality is primarily about binding people into cohesive communities with strong institutions and collective goals.

Here is the basic structure of the book:

The first third of the book will be a tutorial on moral psychology. [...] In the middle third of the book I'll draw together political psychology and political theory to explain why there are conservatives and liberals in the first place. [...] In the last chapters of the book I'll offer readers tools they can use to transcend righteousness and work more effectively with others.

This part sounds particularly intriguing:

I'll also include a chapter on religion, taking direct aim at the "New Atheists" such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Dan Dennett. The rationalist mindset that is pervasive among New Atheist writers (all of whom are liberal white males with 2-foundation moralities) makes them prone to thinking that religions are sets of beliefs, most of which are demonstrably wrong (and therefore worthy of ridicule). Instead, I'll offer a characterization of religions as sets of practices that bind people together into cooperative communities that are generally good for their members, and that can be beneficial to societies (because they civilize and socialize their members) or harmful (when attacked, or when hijacked by demagogues).

Although I can see the validity in describing religions by their communal practices, it is their doctrines (or "sets of beliefs," if you prefer) that are religions' tool for differentiating between members and outsiders--and also for determining which infants are baptized and which are dashed against the stones (Psalm 137).

Haidt asks later "Why are conservative and religious people happier and more generous than liberal and secular people?" but neither of those claims is quite true. In fact, Wikipedia's look at religion and happiness notes the following:

The individual level of happiness and religiosity correlations show up when measuring within the United States, a predominantly religious country where people without religion are outsiders. According to a 2007 paper by Liesbeth Snoep in the Journal of Happiness Studies, there is no significant correlation between religiosity and individual happiness in the Netherlands and Denmark, countries that have lower rates of religion than the United States so that being without religion is not unusual. According to the Gallup World Poll survey conducted between 2005 and 2009 Denmark is the happiest country in the world, and the Netherlands rank fourth.

I would suspect that belonging to many demographic groups (Christian, heterosexual, able-bodied, etc.) is related to happiness to the extent that those groups also comprise the majority of their society. One could make a reasonable assumption that life is easier for those whose life situations are most readily acceptable in their society, leading to increased individual happiness. I'll quote here from a previous post on cross-cultural studies to point out how poorly religion does on measures of societal happiness:

In general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion in the prosperous democracies...

As far as the "more generous" claim, it is also less straightforward than Haidt's statement might make it seem. Boston Globe's Christopher Shea suggested, after reviewing the 2006 book Who Really Cares? that ignited the "stingy liberal" stereotype, that we look closely at the numbers before believing the conclusion. Evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber looked at the issue here and here, noting that older people have more disposable income and more time to volunteer. He points out that "when age is statistically controlled, there is no difference between religious and nonreligious people in the value of their gifts to secular charities."

Disagreements aside, Haidt is an interesting thinker--and I look forward to the release of The Righteous Mind.

The Bruce Katz article "City Centered" in Time looked at the "economic geography" emerging from America's urbanization and prompted Carl to write "Myth America" at SimplyLeftBehind, debunking the Republican romanticization of rural America as more "real" than suburbs and cities:

America is not an agglomeration of small towns where girls still wear gingham and boys seek tadpoles in the crick. Sarah Palin's "Real Americans" are the true sheltered disconnected elitists. [...] Neither Sarah Palin nor the Teabaggers speak for Real Americans. Real Americans, for the most part, don't really care who is running, so long as they can be secure in their jobs. They don't mind paying taxes so long as they see something back for those taxes: better schools, better roads, more police and fire fighters and trash collectors.

"Small town values," concludes Carl, "do not represent 21st century America:"

Those values are as outdated as buggy whips and oil lamps in this nation. We have to march forward, not backward, because that is how time marches. We resist time at our own peril.

breaking promises

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Blue Gal's response to the GOP's new Contract Pledge observes that the Right wants to break the social contract between the government and the citizenry, specifically in the areas of Social Security, veterans benefits, minimum wage, banking regulations, and maintaining the national infrastructure. As she writes:

We already have a contract with America. And your candidates propose breaking that contract in so many ways that you cannot be trusted to govern this nation.

That's a memorable way to frame it...is anyone listening?

This Fitzsimmons cartoon
(h/t: Creature at The Reaction) is wonderful:

(David Fitzsimmons/Arizona Daily Star)

bookshelf art

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I love books, I love bookshelves, and I love clever wood-working designs. This piece combines all three:


These videos of Jack Black as Nathan Spewman "The Mis-Informant" (h/t: Jamelle Bouie at American Prospect) made me laugh:

The website Stop Spewman gets serious about the "well-organized and lavishly funded mythmaking machinery trying to bend our elections to repeal the new health care law and increase corporate power."

As noted in The Nation, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes have revised their cost estimate for our Afghanistan and Iraq wars, first detailed in their 2008 book The $3 Trillion War:

"We were grossly conservative," [Stiglitz] said, noting that the number of veterans seeking care from the VA system since October 2001--about 600,000--far exceeds his earlier projection. [...] "I think we would easily be in the $4 trillion range."


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The website FCKH8.COM (h/t: Mojoey at Deep Thoughts) has an f-bomb-laden attack on all the anti-LGBT bigotry out there:

I fucking love it!


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In "Tumortown" from Vanity Fair, Christopher Hitchens inveighs against the "lethal stupidity" of embryonic stem-cell-research opponents:

Francis [Collins] is squeamish about the creation for research purposes of these nonsentient cell clumps (as, if you care, am I), but he was hoping for good work to result from the use of already existing embryos, originally created for in-vitro fertilization. These embryos are going nowhere as it is. But now religious maniacs strive to forbid even their use, which would help what the same maniacs regard as the unformed embryo's fellow humans!

In "Their Own Facts," Paul Waldman begins with the foundational observation that "we can only have a reasonable debate if we agree on what the facts are:"

We may disagree about which facts are more important than others, but if you believe, say, that the Affordable Care Act establishes "death panels" before which seniors and the disabled have to beg for their lives, and I assert that the act does no such thing, we won't be able to have a fruitful discussion about whether the ACA is a good thing until we can get past the factual disagreement. Without a common set of facts, we can't come to conclusions, because all we will do is argue about what's true.

In the mainstream corporate media, "the most widespread factual inaccuracies that pervade politics today...redound to the benefit of the right:"

Some are recent, and some have been around for decades. Some, like the "death panel" lie, spread because of an intentional effort to deceive the public. Others bubbled up gradually, without anyone making an explicit plea for people to believe something false. Almost all of them, though, put a thumb on the scale for conservatives.

This is not a good omen, because:

A well-functioning democracy would seem to require citizens not only to be at least marginally informed but willing to agree that certain things are true, certain things are false, and once we determine which is which, we can move on to discussing how to proceed. Whether that spirit ever characterized our democracy is doubtful. It certainly isn't true today.

For a case in point, see Sarah Palin's restatement of her "death panels" lie

I was about laughed out of town for bringing to light what I called death panels...I call it like I saw it, and people didn't like it.

and Andrew Sullivan's analysis of it:

Yes, she calls it like she sees it; and she is clinically delusional and incapable of distinguishing between fantasy and reality.

Dinesh D'Souza's "anti-colonialist" claptrap has been catapulted into the mainstream liberal corporate media via WaPo--an event that prompted Salon's Alex Pareene to snark that "The Worst Opinion Section in America found a way to get even worse:"

Editorial page director Fred Hiatt's usual crimes are limited to printing the same banalities week in and week out, and employing some of the world's most obnoxious narcissists, but every now and then he likes to remind us how truly awful he is by hiring a craven torture-apologist like Marc Thiessen, or publishing highbrow birther nonsense from the author of the book about how liberals are responsible for 9/11 because their casual sex made the terrorists mad.

"Is this piece based in reality or not" seems like the simplest editorial standard in the world, but at the Post you're welcome to invent your own reality on the opinion page. Because, you know, just one guy's opinion! (And if the plain truth sounds "biased," it can be edited out on the news side as well -- or it can be couched in a quote, but not confirmed. Readers are just supposed to guess which statements can be taken at face value and which ones are suspect.)

As we all know, "opinions" are the opposite of "facts" and so no one need ever feel guilty about feeding their audience lies and paranoid fantasies.

Pareene dismantled D'Souza's premise a few weeks ago, as well as Newt's bandwagon-jumping, writing with evident dismay that Newt "is the cream of the crop of the conservative movement:"

And it's the exact same pseudo-academic divorced-from-reality conspiratorial garbage [as Glenn Beck]. [...] Newt knows exactly what he's doing, exactly what message he's sending, and exactly what sort of argument and language he wants to normalize and introduce into the media conversation.

Newt's been a camera-seeking pile of talking shit so long that nothing he says or does should surprise anyone who's been paying attention...

Sam Pizzigati explains why our CEOs don't care about economic recovery:

Top corporations are plowing their cash into mergers, buybacks, and dividends because the executives who run these corporations have all the incentive in the world to do just that.

Top executives today don't get rich making the sorts of investments that create jobs and make their companies more efficient and effective. Those investments, after all, may take years to produce positive results. Instead, 21st century execs take the fast track to fortune. They manipulate their corporate share price. The higher and quicker their share price rises, the bigger their personal windfall -- since top execs get the vast bulk of their pay in stock-related compensation.

Lawrence Lewis discusses class warfare at Daily Kos, explaining its alignment with right-wing policies:

Republican policies that hurt the less affluent and favor those that need no favors is not class warfare, but to discuss Republican policies that hurt the less affluent and favor those that need no favors is class warfare. The pundits will say so. The policies themselves are not class warfare, but raising awareness about them is. [...] It's a question of values, and the Republicans value people with money. Nothing else and no one else matters. It's not class warfare. It's the divine right of the new aristocracy.

The Republican legacy of failure is going to propel them to victory in November?!


EJ Dionne writes about how "the class war is bringing a certain clarity to politics:"

The "logic" behind Citizens United [yes, that decision] is that third-party spending can't possibly be corrupting. The five-justice majority declared that "this Court now concludes that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. That speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that those officials are corrupt. And the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy."

You can decide what's more stunning about this statement, its naivete or its arrogance.

If one side in the debate can overwhelm the political system with clandestine cash, which is what's happening, is there any doubt that the side in question will buy itself a lot of influence? If that's not corruption, what exactly is it?

Dave Johnson points out that tax cuts for the rich made corporations predatory, largely by encouraging short-term thinking and quick profit-taking. He suggests bringing back the 90% top rate:

A top rate of 90%, phased in as income gets higher and higher, wouldn't raise taxes at all for most of the people in the country but it would mean that the top 15 hedge fund managers would only take home an average of about $100 million a year. While bringing in only $100 million a year might be a terrible hardship for them, it brings up an important question for the rest of us: how much is enough?

This reminds me of that scene from Oliver Stone's Wall Street where Charlie Sheen asks Michael Douglas:

Tell me, Gordon: When does it all end? How many yachts can you water-ski behind? How much is enough?

Robert Reich identifies the problem with money in politics that seems to have eluded Andrew Ferguson in that Commentary piece I mentioned last week--the secrecy:

The good news is average Americans are beginning to understand that when the rich secretly flood our democracy with money, the rest of us drown. Wall Street executives and top CEOs get bailed out while under-water homeowners and jobless workers sink. [...]

Right now we're headed for a perfect storm: An unprecedented concentration of income and wealth at the top, a record amount of secret money flooding our democracy, and a public in the aftershock of the Great Recession becoming increasingly angry and cynical about government. The three are obviously related.

We must act. We need a movement to take back our democracy. (If tea partiers were true to their professed principles, they'd join it.)

Steven Thrasher's "White America Has Lost Its Mind" (Village Voice) looks at both the racial and generational aspects of Obama Derangement Syndrome, in ways not very flattering to his subjects. Thrasher writes that the racist-tinged Birtherism "seemed to have taken root deep in the lizard part of the white nervous system:"

Obama is not an American. He says he's Christian, but he has a Muslim-sounding name. He's not black, he's not white. . . . Is . . . is he even human?


Now, some black folks can be forgiven for thinking, as they watched the political drama in Washington unfold over the past two years, that this was just another form of the same old thing they'd put up with in one way or another in this conflicted multiracial country.

But there is another explanation.

White people have simply gone sheer fucking insane.

Pam Spaulding has some good commentary--with, sadly, many supporting examples.

Jerry (Why Evolution Is True) Coyne's "Science and religion aren't friends" (USA Today) bluntly points out that "Science and faith are fundamentally incompatible, and for precisely the same reason that irrationality and rationality are incompatible:"

They are different forms of inquiry, with only one, science, equipped to find real truth. And while they may have a dialogue, it's not a constructive one. Science helps religion only by disproving its claims, while religion has nothing to add to science. [...] Their ways of understanding the universe are irreconcilable.

Science operates by using evidence and reason. Doubt is prized, authority rejected. No finding is deemed "true" -- a notion that's always provisional -- unless it's repeated and verified by others.

This matters, Coyne continues, because "pretending that faith and science are equally valid ways of finding truth not only weakens our concept of truth, it also gives religion an undeserved authority that does the world no good:"

For it is faith's certainty that it has a grasp on truth, combined with its inability to actually find it, that produces things such as the oppression of women and gays, opposition to stem cell research and euthanasia, attacks on science, denial of contraception for birth control and AIDS prevention, sexual repression, and of course all those wars, suicide bombings and religious persecutions.

When comparing religious dogma to the scientific method, it is plain to see that they are less like non-overlapping magisteria (all apologies to the late great Stephen Jay Gould) and more like incompatible methods of inquiry.

Chris Hedges writes in "How Democracy Dies: Lessons from a Master" that the great Greek playwright Aristophanes "feared correctly that [corruption] would extinguish Athenian democracy. And he struggled in vain to rouse Athenians from their slumber." Today, writes Hedges,

Those who shout most loudly in defense of the ideals of the founding fathers, the sacredness of Constitution and the values of the Christian religion are those who most actively seek to subvert the principles they claim to champion. They hold up the icons and language of traditional patriotism, the rule of law and Christian charity to demolish the belief systems that give them cultural and political legitimacy.

"And those who should defend these beliefs," continues Hedges, "are cowed and silent." Surprisingly, he leaves unmentioned Plato's famous comment:

"I take it that your silence gives consent." (Plato, Cratylus, 435b)
This idea, mentioned or not, leads to the tragedy at the center of both Hedges' piece and of today's politics:
Our gutless liberal class placates the enemies of democracy, hoping desperately to remain part of the ruling elite, rather than resist. And, in many ways, liberals, because they serve as a cover for these corporate extremists, are our greatest traitors. [...] They have sought to work with forces that will never be placated. They have abandoned the most basic values of the liberal class to play a game that in the end will mean their political and cultural extinction. There will be no swastikas this time but seas of red, white and blue flags and Christian crosses. There will be no stiff-armed salutes, but recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. There will be no brown shirts but nocturnal visits from Homeland Security. The fear, rage and hatred of our dispossessed and confused working class are being channeled into currents that are undermining the last vestiges of the democratic state.

drawn to reading

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Looking at data from publishers and booksellers, the NYT's Julie Bosman proclaimed "Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children." The picture book, "a mainstay of children's literature with its lavish illustrations, cheerful colors and large print wrapped in a glossy jacket," has apparently been suffering from disappointing sales. Bosman suggests that due to "increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools" parents have "accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books:"

Many parents overlook the fact that chapter books, even though they have more text, full paragraphs and fewer pictures, are not necessarily more complex.

Jonathan Liu at Wired's Geek Dad worries that kids of these parents "will miss out on some of the world's best artwork, some of which you can't truly appreciate until you're older:"

I bet they won't go for comic books, either. It's like making the mistaken assumption that because Pixar movies are cartoons, they're only for little kids.

The experiences at Borders and Barnes & Noble typify the no-picture-book attitude:

Other retailers have cut shelf space devoted to picture books while expanding their booming young-adult sections, full of dystopic fiction, graphic novels and "Twilight"-inspired paranormal romances.

Lea Carpenter at Big Think, however, takes a broader attitude--writing that:

...a love of reading, whether genetic or learned, is less about the number of words on a page than the quality of the experience of the story. Adults can wrestle with Chris Ware alongside Salman Rushdie, and appreciate the diversity of experience.

update (10/12):
GeekMom weighs in as well. She understands the argument against illustrated books, but doesn't buy it:

Picture books are seen as something for little kids, a minor step on to bigger and better things. I understand the pressure parents are under to keep their children moving forward academically. But letting go of picture books too early is not the answer. [...] By reading picture books to my son I'm exposing him to all types of art and artists. He gets the value of an illustration on a much higher level than a preschooler ever could.

domestic spying

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This story by Kim Zetter in Wired showed an interesting case of the FBI spying on an American citizen:

A California student got a visit from the FBI this week after he found a secret GPS tracking device on his car, and a friend posted photos of it online. The post prompted wide speculation about whether the device was real [Zetter notes that "A reader quickly identified it as an Orion Guardian ST820 tracking device made by an electronics company called Cobham, which sells the device only to law enforcement."] , whether the young Arab-American was being targeted in a terrorism investigation and what the authorities would do.

It took just 48 hours to find out: The device was real, the student was being secretly tracked and the FBI wanted their expensive device back, the student told Wired.com in an interview Wednesday.

One of the half-dozen federal agents who arrived at his apartment demanded, "We're here to recover the device you found on your vehicle. It's federal property. It's an expensive piece, and we need it right now."

Afifi asked, "Are you the guys that put it there?" and the agent replied, "Yeah, I put it there." He told Afifi, "We're going to make this much more difficult for you if you don't cooperate." [...]

Afifi's encounter with the FBI ended with the agents telling him not to worry.

"We have all the information we needed," they told him. "You don't need to call your lawyer. Don't worry, you're boring. "

They shook his hand and left.

In the wake of a Last week, Dan Savage addressed the recent rash of LGBT teen suicides:

Another gay teenager in another small town has killed himself--hope you're pleased with yourselves, Tony Perkins and all the other "Christians" out there who oppose anti-bullying programs (and give actual Christians a bad name).

Billy Lucas was just 15 when he hanged himself in a barn on his grandmother's property. He reportedly endured intense bullying at the hands of his classmates--classmates who called him a fag and told him to kill himself. His mother found his body.

Nine out of 10 gay teenagers experience bullying and harassment at school, and gay teens are four times likelier to attempt suicide. Many LGBT kids who do kill themselves live in rural areas, exurbs, and suburban areas, places with no gay organizations or services for queer kids.

This assessment prompted not despondency, but resolve:

Today we have the power to give these kids hope. We have the tools to reach out to them and tell our stories and let them know that it does get better. Online support groups are great, GLSEN does amazing work, the Trevor Project is invaluable. But many LGBT youth can't picture what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. They can't imagine a future for themselves. So let's show them what our lives are like, let's show them what the future may hold in store for them.

Savage and his husband created the It Gets Better Project to tell this vulnerable population that, indeed, life does goes better after high school. Their inaugural video has since been joined by many, many, others--and has now spawned an anti-bullying PSA called It Gets Worse (h/t: Lindsay Beyerstein at Big Think) to let the bigoted bullies know that the trajectory of their lives will not be aided by driving other teens to suicide.

Pointing out homophobia's religious roots didn't sit well with the sanctimonious crowd, and Savage's letter of the day last Friday played the poor victimized Christian card:

I was saddened and frustrated with your comments regarding people of faith and their perpetuation of bulling. [...] I think you need to be aware of your own prejuduces [sic] and how they might play into your thinking. At best I think your comments were hypocritical.

If your message is that we should not judge people based on their sexual preferance, [sic] how do you justify judging entire groups of people for any other reason (including their faith)?

Dan trumped it quite forcefully:

I'm sorry your feelings were hurt by my comments.

No, wait. I'm not. Gay kids are dying. So let's try to keep things in perspective: fuck your feelings.

A question: do you support atheist marriage? Interfaith marriage? Divorce and remarriage? All legal, of course, and there's no Christian movement to deny marriage rights to atheists or people marrying outside their respective faiths or to people divorcing and remarrying. Why the hell not?

Being told that they're sinful and that their love offends God, and being told that their relationships are unworthy of the civil right that is marriage (not the religious rite that some people use to solemnize their civil marriages), can eat away at the souls of gay kids. It makes them feel like they're not valued, that their lives are not worth living. And if one of your children is unlucky enough to be gay, the anti-gay bigotry you espouse makes them doubt that their parents truly love them--to say nothing of the gentle "savior" they've heard so much about, a gentle and loving father who will condemn them to hell for the sin of falling in love with the wrong person. [...]

The dehumanizing bigotries that fall from lips of "faithful Christians," and the lies that spew forth from the pulpit of the churches "faithful Christians" drag their kids to on Sundays, give your straight children a license to verbally abuse, humiliate and condemn the gay children they encounter at school. [...]

Oh, and those same dehumanizing bigotries that fill your straight children with hate? They fill your gay children with suicidal despair. And you have the nerve to ask me to be more careful with my words.

Did that hurt to hear? Good.

The Trevor Project
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)

Newt has been trying to brand Democrats as "the party of food stamps," which is interesting considering that he doesn't understand the basic economic principle behind how they work:

GINGRICH: I carry around a bumper sticker that says 2 plus 2 equals 4. So I'd be very curious how a dollar given to somebody becomes a $1.79. [...] I don't understand how liberal math turns $1 into $1.79.

There aren't opposing subjects such as "math" and "liberal math," (or "economics" and "liberal economics," to be more precise)...there are theories that correspond to reality, and then there are the Faux/talk radio explanations.

Newt, if you don't understand economic principles (e.g., the velocity of money and the fiscal multiplier effect) you should go back to school and take Economics 101. The equations you'll learn there won't fit on a bumper-sticker, but they more accurately describe how the economy works than your first-grade free-market fundamentalism. If you can't fathom the principle--let alone the math--behind stimulative spending, then perhaps you're unsuited for any position (whether pundit or politician) that requires such comprehension.

If you enjoyed the fabulous "Twilight Remixed: Buffy vs. Edward" video mashup from last year, you may want to know that the media remix artistry of Jonathan McIntosh at Rebellious Pixels is on full display again with "Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck and Right Wing Radio Duck" (h/t: Henry at Crooked Timber):

Glenn Beck's insipid and inane response is here, for what it's worth.

In the NYT, Stanley Fish writes about the film Howl. Based on the life and most famous work of poet Allen Ginsburg, (which I discussed here) Howl has a multi-layered narrative structure that affords viewers "a chance to hear the same lines and passages twice and even three times:"

...as a result, we experience the effect of deepening understanding that is produced by the classroom teacher who circles and surrounds a poem with information, references and multiple points of view.

Interpretation in still another register is provided by the amazing animation -- part-biographical, part-metaphorical, part-imagistic and largely hallucinogenic -- that seems to flow upward from Ginsberg's mouth as he reads. The phrase "teaching moment" is now overused, but this film earns it and leaves us wanting more, not more of Franco (who is terrific), not more of the plot (which is less than minimal), not more of the trial (you get just enough), but more literary criticism. Mirabile dictu!

AO Scott's review echoes this point, writing that Howl "does something that sounds simple until you consider how rarely it occurs in films of any kind. It takes a familiar, celebrated piece of writing and makes it come alive." However, Scott flags the animation sequences as "sincere, visually adept and nearly disastrous, the one serious misstep in a film that otherwise does nearly everything right." (Eric Drooker's animations from the film are published in Howl: The Graphic Novel, and Drooker's previous book of Ginsberg's Illuminated Poems.) The trailer looks pretty good:

update (10/12):
Greta Christina reviews Howl at Carnal Nation and writes that "I do have to respect Allen Ginsberg:"

I have to respect him for writing candidly about sex, at a time when writing candidly about sex could get you arrested. I have to respect him for being an out gay man in the freaking 1950s. I have to respect him for breaking the ground that I'm casually strolling on today.

Allen Ginsberg lived in a world that was much, much shittier about sex than the world I live in today. And the world I live in today is better, in part, because of him: because of the things he wrote, and the fights he fought, and the life he lived out loud.

A lot of things drifted into my mind when I was watching this film. But the idea that kept drifting into my head, again and again, gently and relentlessly, was this:


Over at Commentary, Andrew Ferguson complains about how much attention liberals have paid to the Koch brothers' funding of Teabaggers. Media watchdog ThinkProgress and Jane Mayer's New Yorker article (which I mentioned here) are Ferguson's primary targets, and he claims that worries about campaign-cash corruption "is news only to an ideological imagination made tender and impressionable by a feverish paranoia."

Sorry, Mr Ferguson, but "feverish paranoia" is what your side of the aisle looks like. Have you heard the fake furor over Kenyan birth certificates? Czars? FEMA concentration camps? Death panels? ACORN election fraud? Socialism? Liberal Nazis? Global warming hoaxes? The "Ground Zero" mosque? Impending Sharia law? Terror babies? By contrast, concern over the buying of our elected officials is a calmly expressed concern.

Ferguson's conclusion is no better:

Any Democrat unnerved by the rise of the Tea Party movement will find it comforting to learn that it's a giant confidence trick. The belief requires both a deep cynicism about one's fellow citizens and a touching credulity about the ease with which they can be manipulated. All those angry, badly dressed people shouting into megaphones on TV: they're not evil, they're just stupid.

Neither evilness nor stupidity applies in the vast majority of cases--it certainly doesn't among most conservatives of my acquaintance--but confirmation bias, the Dunning-Kruger effect (I told you I'd use it!), as well as various other cognitive biases appear to have a very significant explanatory value.

NPR interviewed a real socialist (economics professor Richard Wolff; website, Wikipedia) for a story about socialism (h/t: Oliver Willis). NPR's Alan Davidson noted that "in the 1950s, the U.S. banned socialism from polite discourse," and Wolff pointed out the obvious result:

"That meant we have now about two generations worth of people who never really engaged that topic--didn't think about it, didn't read up on it. It produces an inability to understand what socialism is [and] a gut level rejection and hostility to it."

That effect--moving the Overton window further to the right--was surely the intent of anti-Communist/socialist dogma, as its presence in Herman & Chomsky's propaganda model would indicate.

Interested parties may wish to check out the journal Rethinking Marxism or Wolff's book Capitalism Hits the Fan (which is also a film). Those who wish to remain blinded by the corporate media can just keep watching Fox, listening to talk radio, and believing that Obama and the Democrats--contrary to all the facts--are socialists.

D'Souza talks to National Review about that infamous "anti-colonialism" piece in Forbes. Here are some of the loonier bits:

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: What makes you so sure you know how Obama thinks?

DINESH D'SOUZA: It's really simple: I figure out how Obama thinks by reading what Obama writes and says. My theory about Obama is really derived from Obama himself. [...] The whole book is about how Obama shaped his values, personality, and identity in the image of his father.

This is indisputably correct--except for Obama being his father's complete opposite.

He's not going to change because, to his anti-colonial mindset, meeting the Republicans halfway is a form of sellout. He would be untrue to his principles if he were to cut deals with a group that he considers to be the neocolonial party.

On issue after issue, though, Obama has consistently compromised with conservatives.

After advancing several easily-disproved claims about Obama "com[ing] out for the release of the Lockerbie bomber," "subsidizing oil drilling in Brazil," and "turn[ing] the space agency NASA into a Muslim-outreach program," D'Souza writes this:

Obama hates Churchill because Churchill was the prime minister who cracked down on an anti-colonial uprising in Kenya, one in which Obama's father and grandfather were both arrested.

D'Souza claims to base his hypothesis on Obama's own words, but there doesn't seem to be any evidence in either The Audacity of Hope (no mention of Churchill) or Dreams from My Father (one mention in passing, without a hint of criticism). Far from "hating" Churchill, Obama respected him enough to cite him as being morally opposed to torture. (Obama's paraphrase of Churchill was likely incorrect--see NPR, NYT, and FactCheck for details--but surely an approving citation of a political authority is something other than "hatred.")

Andrew Sullivan, no friend of D'Souza's brand of conservatism, snarks:

Yes, how can we explain the bank bailouts and healthcare industry giveaways of the Obama administration without understanding the sublimated rage he feels for banks, investment companies, and drug companies? Whereas among Americans who don't have Kenyan roots, Wall Street, and health insurance companies are hugely popular.

update (10/9):
Mike Lux calls D'Souza the funniest political writer ever, writing that "while his arguments are too absurd to spend much time on, I do have to stop for a moment to write a little bit about his basic theme, because the entertainment value is just too good." He lambastes D'Souza with a few questions:

But let me just ask: did Tom Paine have a third world socialist father because he argued against big corporations having too much power and argued for a system of progressive taxation? How about Thomas Jefferson? Or Andrew Jackson? Or Abe Lincoln? Or William Jennings Bryan? Or Teddy Roosevelt? Or Woodrow Wlison? Or FDR? Or Harry Truman? Or the Kennedy brothers? Or Martin Luther King, Jr? [...] Conservatives who try to paint scary pictures of Obama's views as foreign and non-American contort and twist their arguments into such loony territory that they make funny caricatures of themselves.

the Hitchslap

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This compilation of Christopher Hitchens (h/t: Richard Dawkins) called "The Best of the Hitchslap" is simply phenomenal:

The best lines come at 5:30 when Hitchens is contrasting his love for his children to Abraham's near-murder of his son Isaac at the request of Jehovah:

"If I was told to sacrifice them to prove my devotion to god, and to do what all monotheists are told to do and admire the man who said "Yes, I'll gut my kid to show my love of god," I'll say "No--fuck you!"

My favorite Hitchslap that didn't make the compilation is the last few seconds of this clip, where he delivers a proper eulogy for Jerry Falwell.

I have an ongoing love affair with Library of America, a publisher dedicated to--what else?--keeping our nation's foremost historical, literary, and cultural works in print. The past few years have seen a broadening of the LoA canon, which now includes Kerouac, Lovecraft, and Philip K Dick (with Vonnegut on the schedule for 2011) in addition to the old standbys. The wordless woodcut novels of Lynd Ward are the newest additions to the literary stable in a two-volume slipcased edition:


Given the LOA's usual attention to detail, as well as the stature of Ward's work, I expect this set to be a remarkable literary experience as well as an unusual one. To whet your appetite, the opening sequence of Gods' Man is here, and a long essay from fellow graphic novelist Art Spiegelman is here.

Colin Eatock's "What's Wrong with Classical Music?" identifies "a litany of reasons - or at least perceptions - that collectively go a long way to explain why large swaths of society can be driven away by my favourite music:"

Classical music is dryly cerebral, lacking visceral or emotional appeal. The pieces are often far too long. Rhythmically, the music is weak, with almost no beat, and the tempos can be funereal. The melodies are insipid - and often there's no real melody at all, just stretches of complicated sounding stuff. The sound of a symphony orchestra is bland and over-refined, and even a big orchestra can't pack the punch of a four-piece rock group in a stadium. A lot of classical music is purely instrumental, so there's no text to give the music meaning. And when there are singers, in concerts and opera, their vocal style is contrived and unnatural: so much shrieking and bellowing. The words are unintelligible, even if they're not in a foreign language.

Culturally speaking, classical music is insignificant, with record sales that would be considered a joke in the pop music industry. Indeed, classical music is so un-popular that it can't survive in the free market, and requires government subsidy just to exist. Yet even with public support, tickets to classical concerts are prohibitively expensive. The concerts themselves are stuffy and convention-bound - and the small, aging audience that attends them is an uncool mixture of snobs, eggheads and poseurs pretending to appreciate something they don't. In a word, classical music is "elitist": originally intended for rich Europeans who thought they were better than everyone else, and composed by a bunch of dead white males. It has nothing to do with the contemporary world - and its oldness appeals only to people who cling to obsolete values. You say there are living composers who still write classical music? Never heard of them.

Classical aficionados, writes Eatock, "are denizens of a strange subculture, outside the mainstream."

People who have heard nothing but popular music all their lives (again, a considerable chunk of the population) will, of necessity, develop certain assumptions about what music is "supposed to" sound like. Someone who only knows a repertoire of three-minute Top 40 songs in verse-chorus form may find a lengthy, textless orchestral work daunting and interminable. Someone weaned on percussive rock or rap music at high volumes may hear a string quartet as feeble and wimpy. And someone who admires the "natural" voices of Bob Dylan or Tom Waits, may experience Plácido Domingo as artificial and overwrought.

These sorts of reactions are, I believe, the greatest challenges facing the classical-music world - because they underscore a fundamental rupture with the core values of the music itself. How does one "fix" the "problem" that a violin is not an especially loud musical instrument, or that Schubert's Octet has no words, or that Mahler's Symphony No. 9 is an hour and a half long? Ultimately, classical music is what it is, and its survival depends upon some portion of the population accepting it - and embracing it - on its own terms.

It's satire, but Phil Molé's "11 Patriotic Lessons from the Tea Party Guide to American History" at AlterNet reads like an actual book proposal to Regnery for The Politically Incorrect Guide to Teabagging, beginning with the statement that "This book will teach your children no more or less than what they need to know to be able to have a defiant, admirably unreflective perspective on their country's history." Here are some other winners:

The Constitution originally included references to the Virgin Mary and Jesus, but those have been taken out by liberals trying to prove the country is not founded on Christianity. Here's proof: Go right up to the next liberal you see and ask him what he did with the Virgin Mary, and watch his response. That flustered look says it all, doesn't it?


Feminism and Women's Liberation [...] Paved the way for Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin, but otherwise an unmitigated disaster.


Barack Hussein Obama is elected president, showing yet again that racism in America has ended.

He proceeds to destroy America with his Kenyan anti-imperialist, Islamophilic socialist agenda. The Constitution is ground into a fine powder and snorted up Obama's nose, and Christ and all of the apostles are punched in the face. In response, the Tea Party movement is born to restore America's purity.

In case your newspaper is staffed by cowards, you might have missed Wiley's "Where's Muhammad?" Non Sequitur strip yesterday. Here it is:


I hadn't heard of the Dunning-Kruger Effect before (h/t: David Thorne at 27b/6), but I can tell that it's a term that will come in handy. Here is Wikipedia's definition:

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which an unskilled person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes.

All this time I never knew that Teabaggerism had a clinical identification!

D'Souza's "anti-colonialist" hit piece in Forbes got fact-checked by Andrew Sullivan (here and here) and--surprise, surprise!--D'Souza doesn't fare well. Sullivan points out the Tocqueville "quote" that I flagged as bogus, and provides an in-depth analysis:

You will notice that, pace d'Souza, far from Tocqueville asserting that Americans were a "distinct species of mankind", he was saying that Americans "are not very remote from believing themselves to be a distinct species of mankind." And it is clear that this is, for him, if anything, a moral criticism - the gentle sarcasm of the passage above is unmissable - not an endorsement of a fact.


And this is not a trivial matter. For what the new right has come to assert as empirical fact is that Americans are actually a distinct species of mankind, that America has a divine blessing not bestowed on any other countries, that its inherent specialness means that if Americans torture, for example, it is somehow not torture; that if Americans invade a country, it is never an invasion but always a liberation; that if Americans occupy a foreign country for a decade, it is not an occupation; and so on.

This kind of nationalism is dangerous. It is not patriotism. [...] It is a kind of national idolatry in order to justify anything America does, and to demonize anyone, like Tocqueville and Obama and any educated person, who sees the imperfection and flaws of America, as well its immense and enduring and specific virtues.

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