December 2010 Archives

year-end lists

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The last week has seen innumerable year-end lists: the good, bad, and otherwise notable from the year that is now almost past. Les Leopold's Wall Street's 10 Biggest Lies of 2010 is one of my favorites, as is Adele Stan's reference to 2010 as The Year of the Big Lie:

In the politics of 2010, the Big Lie, in both its gigantic and more attenuated forms, was almost always deployed in the service of corporations. It may not be so obvious at the surface, especially when the Lie dubs the nation's first black president a racist, or labels a Jewish holocaust survivor an anti-Semite, but the ultimate aim of the Lie in these contexts is to discredit purveyors of ideas and policies that certain corporate leaders and shills find threatening to their quest for all the world's riches. [...]

Because the Big Lie relies not on facts for its impact, but the counter-factual, it cannot be refuted by empirical data. If progressives are to thwart the momentum of the Big Lie's suffocating expansion, they must offer a viable counter-narrative -- stories that speak to people's souls, emotions and experiences -- something more than a raft of facts and policy solutions. We know the true story of our people. We must learn how to tell it.

Glenn Greenwald has been tenacious in pursuing WikiLeaks' revelations during 2010, noting that "it's well worth reviewing exactly what WikiLeaks exposed to the world just in the last year:"

... the breadth of the corruption, deceit, brutality and criminality on the part of the world's most powerful factions. [...] It's unsurprising that political leaders would want to convince people that the true criminals are those who expose acts of high-level political corruption and criminality, rather than those who perpetrate them. Every political leader would love for that self-serving piety to take hold. But what's startling is how many citizens and, especially, "journalists" now vehemently believe that as well.

With revelations about Bank of America on the horizon, perhaps 2011 will be The Year of the Leak. To quote Lennon:

I'm sick and tired of hearing things
From uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth

I've had enough of reading things

By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians

All I want is the truth

Just gimme some truth...

rediscovering Marx

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I made a recent recommendation to investigate non-capitalist economics; others have come to the same conclusion, such as Richard Wolff in his essay Rediscovering Marx in a Capitalist Crisis. Wolff writes that "Capitalism's defenders have variously sought to kill, repress, ignore, or otherwise marginalize Marxism and Marxists." Although "Marxist analyses continued to be excluded from the mass media and Marxists from academic and political positions," he sees the Great Recession as helping to break the hold of economic groupthink on American society:

Thirty years of systematic and often successful anti-Marxism agitation are fading in politics, the media, academia, and beyond. A new generation discovers and wrestles with the diverse richness of that tradition's insights. [...] Once Greenspan's "new economy" had collapsed in 2008, exposed as the same old crisis-prone capitalism, Marx and Marxism were rediscovered yet again. The Marxian tradition was found to be helpful in understanding the crisis's causes and costs and in finding solutions that entailed alternatives to capitalism.

A large component of this reevaluation is the continued effect of income disparity caused by wages no longer rising in tandem with productivity--or, in Marxist terminology, as workers' surplus value being siphoned upward to further enrich the wealthy:

From the 1970s to 2008, as productivity gains combined with stagnant real wages, corporate profits soared. [...] The post-1970s squeezing of the American worker financed unprecedented prosperity for US capitalists. They and their associates enjoyed a new "gilded" age. Extreme personal wealth among them became the object of media adulation that cultivated mass envy. The US at the end of the 20th century replicated for a new group of capitalists what Rockefeller, Carnegie and their ilk had achieved at the end of the previous century. Corporate boards of directors could also spend lavishly on computerization, research and development, and costly shifts of production facilities abroad. They generously lubricated politicians to better control government at all levels, just as flat wages and household turmoil turned workers away from civic affairs to concentrate on jobs and families. Capitalists thus could and did make government much more responsive to them in enhancing the conditions and profitable outlets (lower tax burdens, technical change, immigration, job exports, etc.) for their exploding surpluses. Workers felt ever more alienated from politics and resentful of politicians.

Will ours be known as The Age of Ressentiment?

Earlier this year, I mocked the Teabaggers' Constitution-reading stunts; now they're about to take over the House and have announced plans to read the Constitution aloud. FDL's Blue Texan calls the new Teabagger stunt "meaningless political theater," and provides a nice running commentary with many Constitutional sections that they will likely find objectionable. Similarly, Scarecrow writes that this Teabagger stunt "will be a delicate undertaking:"

...requiring the utmost care in selective reading and limited understanding, followed up by required reeducation seminars conducted by Cardinal Scalia. Any stray logic, misplaced feelings of empathy, or, God forbid, commitment to the public welfare constitute a threat to the enterprise. Nor will the new Taliban tolerate any inadvertent dwelling on something as clear as the First Amendment, emphatic as the Fourth or morally compelling as the 5th and 14th Amendments.

update (12/31):
Robert Parry's piece The Coming War over the Constitution makes a number of additional points. Here's a taste:

The same right-wingers who happily accepted George W. Bush's shift toward a police state - his claims of limitless executive power, warrantless wiretaps, repudiation of habeas corpus, redefining cruel and unusual punishment, suppression of dissent, creation of massive databases on citizens, arbitrary no-fly lists, and endless overseas wars - have now reinvented themselves as brave protectors of American liberty.

Despite the obvious contradiction, he notes that the Teabaggers "are not likely to pay any price for their reckless ideas or their blatant hypocrisy:"

If we've learned anything over the past several decades, it is that reason and consistency have little place in the U.S. political/media system. What counts is the size of the megaphone - and the American Right has built a truly impressive one, while the Left has largely downplayed the need for making an alternate case to the public. [...] So, it seems the country is in for a new round of crazy while the voices for sanity stay largely mute.

Slacktivist's Fred Clark suspects that the Teabaggers will have difficulty reading our godless Constitution without perverting it to their theocratic ends:

I'm a big fan of the Constitution and I'm all for reading it -- publicly or privately, silently or aloud. If almost anyone else were proposing this stunt, I'd say it couldn't hurt. But I pay attention, and after years of seeing this lot disrespecting national symbols and institutions by reducing them to tribalist slogans and playground taunts I don't relish the idea of these idiots doing the same to the Constitution. I don't want to see it distorted and disrespected the way the John Birchers of the tea party movement treat the American flag, the national anthem, the names and memories of the founders and every other symbol they can usurp for use as a culture-war weapon while failing utterly to comprehend its meaning.

National Review published a one-paragraph bullshit piece about the blizzard, calling it "definitely a force for conservatism, and not only because it has had the global-warming crowd scrambling for explanations:"

The blizzard reveals something basic: Liberals in government want to tell us what to eat, counsel us about how and when to die, and in general attempt to engineer our lives. But when reality knocks, they can't do the basic stuff such as clearing the streets so that newborns don't die in bloody apartment-building lobbies. Mayor Bloomberg may be receiving an unfair amount of criticism for his lackluster performance in coping with Mother Nature, given the almost unprecedented nature of the storm, but the unplowed city streets provide a metaphor for the nanny state: It can order us to do anything, but it can't take care of the basic obligations of government.

This idiocy drew a small response from Conor Friedersdorf (subbing for Andrew Sullivan), who remarked "I'm going to start highlighting the most absurd efforts to use for partisan or ideological gain news events that don't have anything to do with either." Amanda Marcotte really went to town on it with a great point-by-point refudiation, and her conclusion is especially delightful:

I hear all the time from conservatives about how evil it is that there are government workers out there drawing paychecks to do things like rebuild roads. And the first time that we start to get an inkling of libertarian paradise, where no one is there to plow your street because god forbid we tax people to pay for it, all of a sudden it's time to blame the liberals. And it'll work, because deliberate dumbassery is the order of the day for conservatives.

To top it off, Dave Johnson notes the conservative counter-narrative (manufactured by their mass-media noise machine) that the city's union workers caused the problem with a deliberate work slowdown:

The story claims the unions did this to protest budget cuts. Of course the obvious cause of the snow mess was that budget cuts caused the problem because there were not enough people employed to clear the snow.

Crooks and Liars' Susie Madrak follows up with the point that this is what our 'new austerity' will look like:

It's bad enough that NYC has laid off 500 sanitation workers in the last two years (you know, instead of taxing Wall Street) or that there were plows sitting idle because they didn't have enough people to drive them, or that people died because the EMTs couldn't get down their streets.

But that the mayor didn't even bother to call a snow emergency? That's plain crazy. [...] Not to mention, NYC residents couldn't go back to work. Manhattan was cleared, but people couldn't get in to work from the outer boroughs. Wonder how much taxable revenue was lost this week?

pension problems

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David Dayen's FDL piece on the war on public employees:

There has been a concerted effort for years to demonize and delegitimize public employee unions, from both Republican pols and the media in general. This has left a distorted impression about greedy union contracts and well-paid government functionaries. So the new class of Republican governors ... are animated by a general hatred of unions, which have maintained their strength in the public sector while fading away in the private sector.

Dave Johnson observes in Ten Holiday Attacks on Public Employees that:

If you haven't already noticed, there is a corporate/conservative campaign underway to convince the public that public employees are living high on the taxpayer's dime and should have their pay and pensions cut back. [...] When you see this kind of coordinated campaign from the right (and "mainstreamed" by corporate media) you know it is part of a larger strategic plan. The larger plan is to weaken public-employee unions, including teacher's unions.

Jon Perr's 590,000 Republican Lies about Public Employees also notes that "Republicans are ramping up their war on government workers:"

At the heart of their crusade is the bogus claim, as 2012 GOP White House hopeful Tim Pawlenty put it two weeks ago, that "since January 2008 the private sector has lost nearly 8 million jobs while local, state and federal governments added 590,000." Alas, as with so much conservative mythmaking, the statement isn't merely a lie. As the data show, the public sector has actually shed hundreds of thousands of jobs over the past two years.

Arun Gupta's piece at AlterNet on corporate America's assault on the middle class lays bare their pension-looting scheme:

Having decimated aid to the poor over the last 30 years...the economic and political elite are now intent on strangling middle-class benefits, namely state-provided pensions, health care and education.

The NYT discussed some municipalities' precarious finances:

Bankruptcy, increasingly common among corporations and individuals, remains rare for municipalities. Local leaders who want to win elections find it unappealing and often have other choices for solving financial woes. Besides, states have a say in whether a municipality may pursue bankruptcy at all, and they have every reason to avoid such an outcome, not least of all for fear of a creating a ripple effect that could cripple the municipal bond market and drive up the cost of borrowing.

Yet with anemic property tax revenues and forecasts of more dire financial times ahead, some experts and elected leaders fear more localities may have to at least consider bankruptcy.

Providing another example, Susie Madrak writes at Crooks and Liars about the beginning of NJ's pension problem:

New Jersey's pension problems came to a head in 1997, during the rein of one Christine Todd Whitman, who cooked up a high-risk scheme to finance tax cuts by refusing to make the state's mandated pension payments from general revenue. Instead, she and state treasurer Brian Clymer floated a $2.75 billion bond issue that would fund the payments.

In other words, she and Clymer were gambling that the market would generate enough money to cover their pension obligations, so they could borrow that money right away for tax cuts. (The state paid $23.9 million in bond fees, by the way. Plus interest.)

Jamison Foser notes at MediaMatters that "a big part of the reason that 'Christie and his predecessors' failed to make required contributions to the pension fund is that they decided to use the money for tax cuts instead." Madrak provides this helpful reminder, also missing from most media accounts:

When a state is in debt and cuts taxes, the cost of the tax cut is actually a loan that taxpayers will pay interest on, sooner or later.

Again and again, we hear the plutocrats complain about the working class's unreasonable desires to be paid a living wage and to receive a secure retirement after a lifetime of work--we must give back some of our wages, our benefits, and our pensions because times are tough. One never hears, though, that the wealthy should give back their tax cuts...that's an idea so unreasonable that it cannot be voiced in the corporate media.

I've wondered about the psychological basis of conservatism for years (see conservative cognition and neuroscience and nuance for examples), and cognitive neuroscience professor Geraint Rees (University College London) has some intriguing research being reported in the Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald (both h/t: Daniel Tencer at Raw Story). Apparently, "conservatives' brains have larger amygdalas than the brains of liberals:"

Amygdalas are responsible for fear and other "primitive" emotions. At the same time, conservatives' brains were also found to have a smaller anterior cingulate -- the part of the brain responsible for courage and optimism.

If the study is confirmed, it could give us the first medical explanation for why conservatives tend to be more receptive to threats of terrorism, for example, than liberals. And it may help to explain why conservatives like to plan based on the worst-case scenario, while liberals tend towards rosier outlooks.

This is interesting in light of the University of California study (h/t: TexBetsy at Mock, Paper, Scissors) due next Summer showing that "Republicans are nearly three times as likely as Democrats to experience nightmares when they dream:"

Not only is the frequency of nightmares much higher among Republicans, but the content is different, too: The nightmares of Republicans tend to be characterized by more aggression, misfortune, and physical threats to family and friends, while Democrats' nightmares are moderated by familiar settings, familiar characters, and more elements of hope, power, and positive action...

Researcher Kelly Bulkeley speculates that:

[P]eople on the right are very attuned to the dangers in the world, and they're seeking ways to defend themselves against those threats. [...] People on the left tend to be more utopian and open to the possibility of going beyond the way things are now to how things could be made better.

Media outlets on the Right are very skilled at continually manipulating the fear-filled brains of Chicken-Little conservatives by manufacturing stories that prey upon their prejudices against out-groups; see the Salon list of 2010's trumped-up pseudo-scandals for some recent examples.

I look forward to reading the full studies when they are released.


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Many thanks to Jerry Coyne for succinctly deflating the bogus doctrine of NOMA--the failed attempt to portray science and religion as non-overlapping magisteria that can be reconciled with each other. As Coyne writes, "let's reiterate what each magisterium can gain from 'dialogue' with the other:"

1. Religion. Religion gains but one thing from science: an increasing knowledge about the universe that makes mockery of religious doctrine, forcing the faithful to revise their dogma while claiming that it was consistent with science all along.

2. Science. Science has nothing to gain from religion, which is simply an annoyance that distracts us from our job.

atheist musings

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Atheist commentator Austin Cline suggests several resolutions for the New Year, writing that "making a conscious effort to be open and deliberate in your godlessness would be better for you and those around you:"

Godless Americans should commit to setting a good example about what godlessness means, and should not imply that there is something shameful about it by keeping silent.

Godless atheists should commit to engaging religious believers in substantive discussions. These may obviously include discussions about religion, but should not be limited to that subject. We should engage others in conversations on philosophy, family, politics, and more -- all from an explicitly godless perspective. We can make it plain that neither gods nor religion are needed in order to have credible, reasonable positions on various topics.

Ricky Gervais wrote an explicitly godless op-ed in the WSJ entitled "Why I'm an Atheist" (h/t: Richard Dawkins), identifying "the gifts of my new found atheism" as:

The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. [...] I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.

But living an honest life - for that you need the truth. That's the other thing I learned that day, that the truth, however shocking or uncomfortable, in the end leads to liberation and dignity.

Gervais answered readers' questions here, and Ray Garton commented at Atheist Oasis on the common query "Why don't you believe in God?"

There is, of course, no right way to answer this question, because those who ask it are almost never interested in an answer; they simply want to open the subject so they can tell you how wrong you are. They will always be offended by whatever you say, no matter how gently you say it, because the fact that you do not believe what they believe is seen by them as an attack on the fact that they believe it. [...] Let's face it, my fellow nonbelievers -- we are the punching bags on which believers take out their own doubts and fears about their beliefs.

Greta Christina asks, "What, exactly, do religious believers want from atheists?"

If you follow the atheism debates in op-ed pieces and whatnot, you'll see that critiques of the so-called New Atheist movement are often aimed at our tone. Among the pundits and opinion-makers, atheist writers and activists are typically called out for being offensive, intolerant, disrespectful, extremist, hostile, confrontational, and just generally asshats. The question of whether atheists are, you know, right, typically gets sidestepped in favor of what is apparently the much more compelling question of whether atheists are jerks. And if these op-ed pieces and whatnot were all you knew about the atheist movement and the critiques of it, you might think that atheists were simply being asked to be reasonable, civil, and polite.

But if you follow atheism in the news, you begin to see a very different story.
You begin to see that atheists are regularly criticized -- vilified, even -- simply for existing.

Or, to be more accurate, for existing in the open. For declining to hide our atheism. For coming out. [emphasis added]

That question of correctness prompted Austin Cline to ask his readers:

Do you consider yourself to be an "intellectual"? How much time do you spend in careful, critical reflection on your beliefs -- especially those beliefs you like? How much time do you spend on maintaining critical distance to things you learn?

Cline writes that that "is a situation that I find interesting and worth thinking about:"

Of course, that involves thinking about what I am doing and why which would place me squarely in the "intellectual" camp. The same goes for you, if you have read this far, even if you disagree with everything I have written. We are as much a part of the situation as we are observers of it. Do our biases preclude us from understanding and evaluating it properly? And on we go...

" does your family celebrate Christmas?"

Out-of-the-closet atheists have probably fielded that question in one form or another, particularly if they have children. Here is my answer:

One doesn't need belief in the supernatural to enjoy the best parts of Christmas: Santa and his elves, Rudolph and the other reindeer, Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch; pine trees and ornaments, candy canes and gingerbread houses; milk and cookies, eggnog and fruitcake; snowballs and carols (see Greta Christina's list of the 10 best Xmas songs for atheists), A Christmas Story and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas;" peace and goodwill--not to mention family and friends exchanging gifts and breaking bread together.

What, exactly, are atheists missing?

There is no angel atop our tree (we have the Flying Spaghetti Monster instead) and there is no crèche on our lawn, but we're not missing out on anything by enjoying a godless holiday. As noted in Alan Wolfe's review of Olivier Roy's book Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways, the faux (and Faux News) claims of a "war on Christmas" are false. "[I]t is those defending Christmas who are not being true to their traditions and teachings:"

There are no Christmas dinners in the Bible, which is why America's Puritans, strict adherents of what that venerated text offers, never sat down by the raging fire awaiting St. Nick; indeed, they briefly banned Christmas in Massachusetts.

Yule as we celebrate it today owes more to Charles Dickens than to Thomas Aquinas. Our major solstice holiday is what Roy calls a "cultural construct" rather than a sectarian ceremony, which explains why Muslims buy halal turkeys and Jews transformed Hanukkah into a gift-giving occasion. Mistakenly believing that Christmas is sacred, those who defend it find themselves propping up the profane. The Christ they want in Christmas is a product not of Nazareth but of Madison Avenue.

Festivus grievance

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Thanks to Barry Ritholtz for posting these classic Seinfeld videos...they definitely got me in the Festivus spirit. Since feats of strength wouldn't work in a blog post, I decided to celebrate with an airing of grievances.

FactCheck examined 2010's bogus chain emails, those ubiquitous lies about everything from Obama's dog [who didn't fly on his own private jet] and the National Day of Prayer [it wasn't cancelled] to Congressional pay raises [none this year or next] and healthcare reform legislation [Muslims aren't exempt, and there's no civilian army].

What continues to aggrieve me about this phenomenon is that the fabricated quotes, manufactured data, and Photoshopped images are almost exclusively created to benefit the Right. I've written a few lengthy rebuttals of conservatives' lie-filled screeds (fables about "Hanoi" Jane, oblivious professors, and Obama's mistakes) as well as reviews of some of their books (Ann Coulter's Godless and Sean Hannity's Conservative Vitriol Victory) over the past few years, so I have no small appreciation for the structure and composition of their arguments. It was in that piece on Hannity that I wondered about differences between liberals and conservatives:

Are commentators on the Left necessarily any better [than those on the Right]?

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

I don't want to go all Lakoff here ... but it really does seem that the right-wing psyche is much more amenable to making the leap of blind faith from hearing something to believing it without ever passing through any sort of thought or analysis.

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about fighting back against this pernicious annoyance:

If a liberal dares to hit "reply" and sends back a criticism or a correction, then the emailer's true purpose is laid bare. Conservatives are rarely looking for discussion or debate, they're looking for--sometimes all but demanding--ideological agreement and emotional validation. They expect to be able to tell all of us what they believe, without ever having to deal with us talking back to them.

Their time of monopolizing my inbox is over...much of what they write needs to be rebutted, whether or not they can handle it.

By airing this grievance, I'm likely to receive complaints that I'm being "vitriolic" toward those poor conservatives--they just want to continue lying with impunity, and who am I to stand in their way with my research and my book learning, providing facts that negate their fantasies?

So...what are you thinking about on this beautiful Festivus evening?

This update to A Charlie Brown Christmas (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula) made my day:


After the decades-long relentless Christianization of practically every square inch of our culture, it's nice to see a little bit of truth breaking through here and there...bravo!

ThinkProgress explodes the Right's mendacity about regulations protecting network neutrality being "yet another government takeover:"

Of course, these provisions do nothing of the sort. Network neutrality rules are explicitly designed to prevent anything like Internet censorship or control -- they prohibit providers from being able who gets to "determine who gets to say what, where, how often," in Limbaugh's words. [...] Needless to say, there is nothing in the provisions that would allow the government to censor or control Internet access.

These complaints about network neutrality are almost completely divorced from the reality of the new provisions...

Conservative pundits and politicians have been telling us for years that WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. They've just added a fourth slogan to the list:


American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie explains this up-is-down reality reversal as reflexive anti-liberalism:

If liberals like something, then conservatives will find a reason to hate it, even when the rationale is absurd. In this case, conservatives should want to maintain a free and open internet, but since both are associated with liberals, they don't. The same goes for the new START or the 9/11 responders bill. Neither measure was controversial, but the mere fact of liberal support guaranteed conservative opposition.

Watching a live feed of the DADT repeal signing at Towleroad was a nice pick-me-up on a rather meh kind of morning. It was only a few months ago that a group of veterans was arrested for protesting DADT. Today, one of the protestors (Dan Choi) was present at the ceremony where Obama consigned this discriminatory policy to obsolescence.

It's a shame that Randy Shilts isn't still alive, because his classic book Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military, Vietnam to the Persian Gulf could now have a happier ending.

Here are a few passages from Obama's remarks at the signing:

I want to speak directly to the gay men and women currently serving in our military. For a long time your service has demanded a particular kind of sacrifice. You've been asked to carry the added burden of secrecy and isolation. And all the while, you've put your lives on the line for the freedoms and privileges of citizenship that are not fully granted to you. [...]

There can be little doubt there were gay soldiers who fought for American independence, who consecrated the ground at Gettysburg, who manned the trenches along the Western Front, who stormed the beaches of Iwo Jima. Their names are etched into the walls of our memorials. Their headstones dot the grounds at Arlington.

And so, as the first generation to serve openly in our Armed Forces, you will stand for all those who came before you, and you will serve as role models to all who come after. And I know that you will fulfill this responsibility with integrity and honor, just as you have every other mission with which you've been charged. [...] I hope those soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have been discharged under this discriminatory policy will seek to reenlist once the repeal is implemented. (Applause.)

The right-wing reaction to DADT's repeal has been a steady drumbeat of bullshit. AFA's Bryan Fischer, the epitome of Chicken-Little conservatives, claimed that our military "will now be feminized and neutered beyond repair, and...[w]e have been permanently weakened as a military and as a nation:"

If the president and the Democrats wanted to purposely weaken and eventually destroy the United States of America, they could not have picked a more efficient strategy to make it happen.

Rarely can you point to a moment in time when a nation consigned itself to the scrap heap of history. Today...was that moment for the United States. If historians want a fixed marker pointing to the instant the United States sealed its own demise, they just found it.

History will prove them wrong.


(Not they'll ever admit it.)

Rob Boston at Americans United quotes Richard (Southern Baptist Convention) Land's fulmination that "Homosexual behavior cannot be normalized without rejecting God's moral standards." Land's unspoken assumption is wrong: our military is neither specifically Baptist nor Christian, but American. It exists not to support the particular and peculiar beliefs of a specific religion or sect, but to protect the United States and its freedoms--not just the "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment, but the "no establishment" clause as well. (Land and his fellow bigots are free to form an Army of God is they wish, but--oops!--another group of Christian terrorists is already using that name.)

When debunking the Christianists' bogus worries about the "religious freedom of chaplains and Service members," Boston writes:

For those chaplains who absolutely can't deal with this change, I have two words: private sector. If you don't want to do the job the government has hired you to do, if you can't overcome your personal bigotries and provide services and help to every member of the military, then maybe it's time to get out.

Barney Frank enumerated the contents of the so-called "radical homosexual agenda" (h/t: Towleroad) here:

"It's to be protected against violent crimes driven by bigotry, it's to be able to get married, it's to be able to get a job, and it's to be able to fight for our country. For those who are worried about the radical homosexual agenda, let me put them on notice. Two down, two to go."

multiple holidays

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Today certainly qualifies as a multiple-holiday day: it's Winter Solstice, there was a total lunar eclipse [see also NASA and Sky & Telescope], and it's both the final day of Zappadan and International Rush Day.

I saw some of the eclipse this morning--the first one on the Winter Solstice for over four centuries--while I was out for a slightly-earlier-than-usual run. Despite my thirst after the first few miles, I heeded Zappa's advice and stayed well clear of the yellow snow:

I would have loved a few of these yellow snow cupcakes after I got home, though:


Speaking of Zappa, I finally finished reading the MOJO special issue on him and his work:

It was an interesting read, and now I need to find one of these buttons:

Last but not least, it's also International Rush Day (Americans write today's date as 12/21, but it's 21/12 for much of the rest of the world).

Whatever you choose to celebrate, don't forget that axial tilt is the reason for the season!


start buying stuff

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Cartoonist Tom Toles identifies the economic problems caused by extreme concentration of wealth (h/t: Ezra Klein):


sad songs

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Daniel Watternberg asked "What Makes a Song Sad?" in The Atlantic, noting that:

Scientific American recently reported on a Tufts University study that purportedly lends experimental reinforcement to the widely accepted, albeit vague, notion that the interval of a minor third (two pitches separated by one full tone and one semi-tone) conveys sadness, in speech as in song.

The Scientific American article about communicating sadness in a minor third quotes Meagan Curtis from Tufts's Music Cognition Lab:

"Historically, people haven't thought of pitch patterns as conveying emotion in human speech like they do in music," Curtis said. "Yet for sad speech there is a consistent pitch pattern. The aspects of music that allow us to identify whether that music is sad are also present in speech."

Her co-authored paper "The Minor Third Communicates Sadness in Speech, Mirroring Its Use in Music" (PDF) suggests that "human vocal expressions of sadness and anger use pitch patterns that approximate those used in music to convey the same emotions:"

The pitch patterns that were used similarly across domains to encode sadness were the descending minor third (300 cents) and the descending minor second (100 cents). The ascending minor second (100 cents) was used to encode anger across domains. [...] The ascending interval of 600 cents (the diminished fifth) was positively associated with a small proportion of variance in the happiness and pleasantness ratings of the speech samples.

The authors admit that these conclusions may be biased by the specificity of their sample:

Given that the present findings are specific to patterns produced by speakers of American English, it is necessary to examine the prosodic patterns produced across cultures to determine whether the minor third is used universally to communicate sadness. Such findings will elucidate the whether the minor third is a vocal pattern tied to the physiological manifestations of sadness.

In addition to its minor key and dirge-like tempo, the melodic line of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," that ubiquitous aural accompaniment to tragedy, is replete with minor thirds (if music theory isn't your strong suite, Wikipedia can help you out). Thomas Larson's book The Saddest Music Ever Written discusses the Adagio in depth, and it's on my TBR list.

A new study from World Public Opinion (associated with PIPA, whose media studies I mentioned in January and October 2004), looks at "Misinformation and the 2010 Electorate" (PDF) and observes that "the poll found strong evidence that voters were substantially misinformed on many of the key issues of the campaign:"

Such misinformation was correlated with how people voted and their exposure to various news sources. [...] In most cases those who had greater levels of exposure to news sources had lower levels of misinformation. There were, however, a number of cases where greater exposure to a particular news source increased misinformation on some issues.

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points). The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it--though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican.

Steve Benen snarks at Washington Monthly that "in some cases, regular Fox News viewers would have done better, statistically speaking, if they had received no news at all and simply guessed whether the claims about current events were accurate:"

It would take an unlikely twist of self-reflection, but at a certain point, Fox News and its audience might take a moment to ponder why these viewers are so wrong, so often, about so much. That almost certainly won't happen, of course, in part because the network and its viewers aren't quite informed enough to realize they're uninformed.

Last week, PolitiFact named the Right's relentlessly repeated claim that healthcare reform is a "government takeover" as their Lie of the Year:

In the spring of 2009, a Republican strategist settled on a brilliant and powerful attack line for President Barack Obama's ambitious plan to overhaul America's health insurance system. Frank Luntz, a consultant famous for his phraseology, urged GOP leaders to call it a "government takeover." [...] The memo is about salesmanship, not substance. It doesn't address whether the lines are accurate. It just says they are effective and that Republicans should use them. [...]

By selecting "government takeover' as Lie of the Year, PolitiFact is not making a judgment on whether the health care law is good policy.

The phrase is simply not true.

As the epitome of the Right's mendacious messaging, their "takeover" meme is the latest in a long series of rhetorical roadblocks to progress. NYT's David Leonhardt reminds us of the GOP's traditional opposition to healthcare by noting that "Nearly every time this country has expanded its social safety net [thanks to liberals] or tried to guarantee civil rights [ditto], passionate opposition [from conservatives] has followed:"

The federal income tax, a senator from New York said a century ago, might mean the end of "our distinctively American experiment of individual freedom." Social Security was actually a plan "to Sovietize America," a previous head of the Chamber of Commerce said in 1935. The minimum wage and mandated overtime pay were steps "in the direction of Communism, Bolshevism, fascism and Nazism," the National Association of Manufacturers charged in 1938.

After Brown v. Board of Education outlawed school segregation in 1954, 101 members of Congress signed a statement calling the ruling an instance of "naked judicial power" that would sow "chaos and confusion" and diminish American greatness. A decade later, The Wall Street Journal editorial board described civil rights marchers as "asking for trouble" and civil rights laws as being on "the outer edge of constitutionality, if not more."

This year's health care overhaul has now joined the list.

For want of the truth, an election was lost...

Alan Wolfe's 2006 piece "Why Conservatives Can't Govern" was a favorite of mine, and his follow-up in the latest issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas entitled "Why Conservatives Won't Govern" covers adjacent territory by analyzing the "profoundly radical shift [that] has taken place in the way conservatives in government understand power, accountability, and policy:"

Rather than using government badly out of a conviction that it always fails, they now refuse to allow government to do its work at all. They have, in a word, become nihilists. When Nancy Reagan urged Americans to just say no to drugs, little could she have realized that her party would soon say no to everything.

"Nihilism," continues Wolfe, "is a politics without meaning and without fulfillment:"

If the result is endless deficits, Republicans will find ways to excuse them away. If nihilism instead produces dramatic cutbacks in services, they will blame them on liberals. When nothing is done, anything is possible, and any explanation will suffice. [...] But a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic.

Over at Commentary, Peter Wehner calls Wolfe's essay silly:

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional. [...] Professor Wolfe's essay is instructive in this respect: it shows the kind of paranoia and diseased thinking that afflicts some liberals and progressives.

It would be all to the good, I think, if people on both sides resisted the temptation -- unless the evidence is overwhelming and to the contrary -- to refer to one's political opponents as Nazis, as terrorists, as nihilists, and so forth. This is almost always a sign of the weakness, not the strength, of one's arguments.

Based on that stance, the past several decades of slurs against liberals as immoral, unpatriotic, anti-American fifth columnists bent on our nation's destruction must indicate the weakness of the Right's arguments--but we already knew that, didn't we?

In case you haven't heard, the Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell repeal has now passed the Senate, and will reach Obama's desk next week for signature into law. Andrew Sullivan contrasts Obama's slow progress on DADT with what would have been no progress under McCain:

We also know now what a McCain administration would have done: nothing. The disgraceful bitterness and rancor and irrationality that the Senator has shown these past few months reveal just how important it was to defeat him and his deranged, delusional side-kick in 2008.

Sullivan also wonders about McCain's bizarre assertion that "Maybe it will require another election" to reinstate the bigoted DADT policy. (I rather doubt that. Southern racists united behind Nixon in 1968 without leading to the repeal of any Civil Rights laws; even a full wingnut takeover of the government wouldn't reverse support for DADT repeal among both civilian and military majorities.) Jen McCreight's summation looks ahead to the next step toward liberty and justice for all:

So, now that we think it's okay for gays to be open about their sexuality when they're getting shot at fighting for our rights, will we actually extend those rights to them and let them marry when they come home? Or is that too much to ask?

Oh well. Baby steps.

A British group called Cage Against the Machine is promoting John Cage's famed "silent" composition 4'33" in an attempt to make it the top song (h/t: Bonnie Alter at TreeHugger) during Xmas this year. The Guardian has a nice article here, and a video of the entire recording session is here.

I have to thank Norman Lebrecht for mentioning the publication of the 4'33" score by Edition Peters. Leaving a copy of it on a music stand would be an interesting conversation-starter; interested parties can see images of it here without coughing up $5 for a copy:


Note: Since it's still Zappadan, I should mention that the 2-disc set A Chance Operation: The John Cage Tribute features a FZ rendition of 4"33".

Walter Russell Mead's American Interest piece "The Crisis of the American Intellectual" begins with the observation that "America has everything it needs for success in the twenty-first century with one exception: a critical mass of thinkers, analysts and policy entrepreneurs:"

[T]he biggest roadblock today is that so many of America's best-educated, best-placed people are too invested in old social models and old visions of history to do their real job and help society transition to the next level. Instead of opportunities they see threats; instead of hope they see danger; instead of the possibility of progress they see the unraveling of everything beautiful and true.

Mead identifies "three big reasons why so many intellectuals today are so backward looking and reactionary:" ideology, interest and class, and training. Along the way, it became clear that a reality inversion was in progress; the "backward looking and reactionary" intellectuals who are "too invested in old social models and old visions of history" are apparently...progressives?! Mead writes that "The foundational assumptions of American intellectuals as a group are firmly based on the assumptions of the progressive state and the Blue Social Model." This follows from an earlier post discussing how the Blue Model of stable jobs and rising living standards is "no longer sustainable."

Perhaps the task of some eras is the manifestation of progress, whereas others may be better characterized as preserving previous gains under new circumstances. Calling that impulse "reactionary" is a bit of a stretch, even for American Interest. Writing about the effects of ideological blinders, George Orwell provides my Quote of the Day:

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle."

That struggle doesn't appear to be easier for intellectuals than it is for anyone else.

The secret ingredient (h/t: Azra Raza at 3 Quarks Daily) behind the increased happiness of religious people (something that I speculated about here) is apparently unrelated to religion itself. Assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chaeyoon Lim's study in American Sociological Review explains that "friendships built in religious congregations are the secret ingredient in religion that makes people happier:"

"...the evidence substantiates that it is not really going to church and listening to sermons or praying that makes people happier, but making church-based friends and building intimate social networks there," Lim said. [...]

The study's findings are applicable to the three main Christian traditions (Mainline Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, and Catholic). "We also find similar patterns among Jews and Mormons, even with a much smaller sample size," said Lim, who noted that there were not enough Muslims or Buddhists in the data set to test the model for those groups.

The study (PDF) begins by noting that "Although the positive association between religiosity and life satisfaction is well documented, much theoretical and empirical controversy surrounds the question of how religion actually shapes life satisfaction. [...] Studies diverge as to why people who are committed to their religion, and especially those who regularly attend services, have a higher level of subjective well-being." Here are some other tidbits:

For life satisfaction, what matters is how involved one is with a religious community, not whether that community is Baptist, Catholic, or Mormon. [...] ...congregational friendships appear to account for most of the effect of religious service attendance on life satisfaction. People who frequently attend religious services are more satisfied with their lives not because they have more friends overall (when compared with individuals who do not attend services), but because they have more friends in their congregations.

...strong religious identity makes little difference on life satisfaction unless it is supported by a group of close friends in one's congregation. Among respondents with large numbers of congregational friends, those with strong religious identities are almost twice as likely to say that they are ''extremely'' satisfied than are individuals without a strong religious identity. We find little difference among individuals who do not have close friends. In short, only when people have both a strong sense of religious identity and within-congregation networks does religion lead to greater life satisfaction.

Another interesting finding is that private religious practices, such as prayer and holding religious services at home, are not significantly related to life satisfaction.

Because "it is difficult to think of any non-religious organizations in the United States that are comparable to congregations in scale and scope of membership base, intensity of member participation in collective rituals, and strength of identity that members share," religious groups are "unique among American voluntary organizations as a source of life satisfaction."

These insights should prompt further studies, particularly of the increasing godless contingent.

The No Labels political movement (h/t: Luisita Lopez Torregrosa at Politics Daily) due to launch tomorrow is based on a simple premise:
More than a thousand Democrats, Republicans and independents are expected to converge on New York City on Monday to launch a national political organization to bring together Americans and put an end to damaging partisanship and divisive labels.
Aptly, it's called "No Labels. Not Left. Not Right. Forward." Here's their logo: 20101212-nolabels.jpg
No Labels' Statement of Purpose ends with this:
The times are challenging and they call for national renewal. We don't need labels; we need leaders, everywhere, throughout society, who will discuss issues based upon their merits.
Their non-partisan name and logo need an adjustment to correct the implied equivalence between Democratic and Republican partisanship. Specifically, it should address the largely one-sided war on facts being waged (and won) by the Right:
Now that would be a good way to move forward.

Two posts by Kris Broughton at Big Think (here and here) look at the efforts of cognitive linguist George Lakoff to improve progressives' messaging efforts. This exchange from an old interview with Lakoff is quite telling:

POWELL: Why do conservatives appear to be so much better at framing the language?

LAKOFF: Because they've put billions of dollars into it.

Those billions of dollars--spent over the past forty years--have framed issues in ways favorable to conservatives for two generations of voters. As Broughton notes:

It is from this combination of coast to coast radio cheerleaders, think tank position papers whose "findings" are echoed by newspaper columnists, and TV commentators that words like armageddon, fascist, communist, muslim, radical, and babykiller have become the lexicons of the Republican Party and Tea Party activists.

George Lakoff explains how untellable truths are created by conservatives' " superior message machine:"

Dozens of think tanks with communications facilities, framing experts, training institutes, a national roster of speakers, booking agents to books their speakers in the media and civic groups, and owned medias like Fox News and a great deal of talk radio.

There is no comparable progressive message machine. [...] The conservative message machine has so dominated political discourse that they have changed the meaning of words and made some truths untellable by political leaders in present discourse. It takes a major communication effort to change that.

Broughton writes that "even if the progressives could hone their messaging and could lash together a permanent movement, they are still a couple a billion dollars a year and a few thousand message outlets short" of anything resembling messaging parity with Republicans.

We are all poorer for that shortfall.

Glenn Greenwald uses Time as an example of media authoritarianism in the War on WikiLeaks. He calls Time's WikiLeaks article and a misleading correction "a monument to the corrupted premise at the heart of American journalism," and observes that Time's claim about "WikiLeaks' indiscriminate posting of the cables" is easily disproven. "[A]s a casual review of its site independently proves -- WikiLeaks has done very little other than publish the specific cables that have been first released by newspapers around the world, including with the redactions applied by those papers:"

In other words, the most Time is willing to do -- when forced by public complaints -- is note that "some" people (i.e., Assanage) "dispute" the Government's accusatory claims of "indiscriminate" documenting dumping, ones uncritically amplified by Time and countless other media outlets. The most they're willing to do now is convert it into a "they-said/he-said" dispute. But what they won't do -- under any circumstances -- is state clearly that the Government's accusations are false, even where, as here, they unquestionably are.

...establishment media outlets, by definition, will rarely do: state clearly when the facts contradict -- negate -- claims by those in political power, especially when the target of the false claims is a demonized outsider-of-Washington faction like WikiLeaks.

Why raise a fuss about this?

The reason this matters so much is because this falsehood is at the center of both the propaganda war against WikiLeaks and the efforts to criminally prosecute it by claiming it is not engaged in journalism. Almost every radio and television show I've done over the last ten days concerning WikiLeaks -- and most media accounts I read -- have featured someone, somewhere, touting this lie, usually without contradiction: that WikiLeaks has indiscriminately dumped thousands of cables, whereas newspapers have only selectively published some.

Greenwald also notes that "the media's willingness to repeat this lie over and over underscores its standard servile role in serving government interests and uncritically spreading government claims:"

This is the same mentality that expresses such self-righteous outrage over the mere prospect that disclosures of the truth by WikiLeaks might hypothetically one day lead to the death of a single innocent person, while barely uttering any real anger over the massive numbers of innocents actually being caused right now by the U.S. Government. And it's the same mentality that purports to acknowledge the massive secrecy abuses, deceit and pervasive crimes of the U.S. Government, while demanding that one of the very few people who risked something to do anything meaningful to stop all of that -- Bradley Manning -- be severely punished, or that Julian Assange be punished. This is authoritarianism in its classic form -- an instinctively servile loyalty to power even when it is acting corruptly, lawlessly and destructively -- and it finds its purest and most vigorous expression in those who most loudly claim devotion to checking it: our intrepid adversarial journalists.
Hitch excoriates the Teabaggers from the pages of Vanity Fair, writing that "A large, volatile constituency has been created that believes darkly in betrayal and conspiracy:"
Beck's "9/12 Project" is canalizing old racist and clerical toxic-waste material that a healthy society had mostly flushed out of its system more than a generation ago, and injecting it right back in again. Things that had hidden under stones are being dug up and re-released.
The Teabaggers, writes Hitch, are "sublimat[ing] anxiety into hysteria and paranoia:"
The president is a Kenyan. The president is a secret Muslim. The president (why not?--after all, every little bit helps) is the unacknowledged love child of Malcolm X. And this is their response to the election of an extremely moderate half-African American candidate, who speaks better English than most and who has a model family. Revolted by this development, huge numbers of white people choose to demonstrate their independence and superiority by putting themselves eagerly at the disposal of a tear-stained semi-literate shock jock, and by repeating his list of lies and defamations. But, of course, there's nothing racial in their attitude ...
(I'm sure that there's no racism among the neo-Confederates Teabaggers, either.)

Thor trailer

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After that tease a few months ago, the trailer for Thor has finally been released:

The film opens on 6 May 2011.

Long Now Foundation has a great post on a replica of the Antikythera Mechanism--built from Legos: Now that's a Lego set that I would love to have...1500 pieces and 110 gears would be a lot of fun! update (12/11): See the website of creator Andrew Carol (h/t: Dave Giancaspro at GeekDad) for more photos, including this one: 20101211-antikythera.jpg

Daniel (Pentagon Papers) Ellsberg signed this press release about the War on WikiLeaks. The document notes that "The corporate-and-government dominated media are apprehensive over the challenge that WikiLeaks presents:"

WikiLeaks has teased the genie of transparency out of a very opaque bottle, and powerful forces in America, who thrive on secrecy, are trying desperately to stuff the genie back in. [...] So shame on Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and all those who spew platitudes about integrity, justice and accountability while allowing war criminals and torturers to walk freely upon the earth. ... the American people should be outraged that their government has transformed a nation with a reputation for freedom, justice, tolerance and respect for human rights into a backwater that revels in its criminality, cover-ups, injustices and hypocrisies.

As Ellsberg points out, "The truth is that EVERY attack now made on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange was made against me and the release of the Pentagon Papers at the time."


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There's a neophyte-friendly "Remembering Frank Zappa" piece at PopMatters, observing that Zappa "was around so long, was so productive and had (has) such a fanatical following, it's difficult for the uninvolved observer to make heads or tails of his legacy:"
Zappa's dense catalog of recordings is serious, ceaselessly rewarding, and likely to be dissected several generations from now. [...] His music was too complex, challenging, and ultimately unclassifiable for mass consumption. [...] His approach was kitchen-sink in the best possible connotation of that term. He was too intelligent, ambitious, and driven to create material that fit comfortably into any simple category.
The piece inexplicably fails to mention Zappadan, the annual holiday between the dates of Zappa's death (4 December) and birth (21 December). I recommend the ongoing Zappadan series over at Mock, Paper, Scissors, which features various Zappa clips (musical and otherwise). During Zappadan this year, I'll be listening to The Grand Wazoo (my first Zappa album), Joe's Garage (an old favorite), and Yellow Shark (a new favorite). Zappa's serious talent didn't mean that he couldn't be wickedly funny. For example, here is Zappa's response to the Christianist "Parental Advisory" warning stickers on CDs:

math doodles

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If you were--or still are--a compulsive doodler with a fondness for mathematical geekery, check out this "Snakes + Graphs" video from Vi Hart (h/t: Amanda Dobbins at New York magazine): There are several more at her website...great stuff!

The past few days have proven that John Perry Barlow's comments about the War on WikiLeaks were not hyperbole. AlterNet details the six methods of attack and suppression against WikiLeaks, writing that the website's attackers include "the governments of most major powers, some really bloodthirsty political figures, many financial institutions and Internet companies, and members of the media."

Glenn Greenwald writes about the lawless Wild West attacks on WikiLeaks, and talks to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now!

Just look at what the U.S. Government and its friends are willing to do and capable of doing to someone who challenges or defies them -- all without any charges being filed or a shred of legal authority. They've blocked access to their assets, tried to remove them from the Internet, bullied most everyone out of doing any business with them, froze the funds marked for Assange's legal defense at exactly the time that they prepare a strange international arrest warrant to be executed, repeatedly threatened him with murder, had their Australian vassals openly threaten to revoke his passport, and declared them "Terrorists" even though -- unlike the authorities who are doing all of these things -- neither Assange nor WikiLeaks ever engaged in violence, advocated violence, or caused the slaughter of civilians.

Assange's clarification of the situation (h/t: Taylor Wray) lists some of the personal threats against him. "I have been accused of treason," writes Assange, "even though I am an Australian, not a US, citizen:"

There have been dozens of serious calls in the US for me to be "taken out" by US special forces. Sarah Palin says I should be "hunted down like Osama bin Laden", a Republican bill sits before the US Senate seeking to have me declared a "transnational threat" and disposed of accordingly. An adviser to the Canadian Prime Minister's office has called on national television for me to be assassinated. An American blogger has called for my 20-year-old son, here in Australia, to be kidnapped and harmed for no other reason than to get at me.

Christopher Hitchens calls Assange "an unscrupulous megalomaniac with a political agenda," but at least Hitch's criticism is couched in terms of diplomacy and civil disobedience rather than the simple-minded jingoistic rants that are so prevalent on the Right. The great Marcy Wheeler says that she's "been waiting for our Titanic moment:"

...the moment when the government would use some convenient excuse to shut down the imperfect but still better than broadcast model of the Internet. The moment when-as the government did with the Titanic and its demand for Navy hegemony of the airwaves-the government could sow fears about national security to shut down citizen media. [...]

Sure, the crackdown-which puts our counterterrorism efforts to shame-is a response to the scope of this latest leak. Sure, it's an attempt to prevent the next leak, on Bank of America. But just as much, it's about creating the excuse they need-the government and the legacy media protecting their turf-to undercut the power of the Internet.

In this essay about security for the Washington Monument, Bruce Schneier makes an unusual recommendation. He writes that instead of inflicting gate-rape security measures on visitors "we should close the monument entirely. Let it stand, empty and inaccessible, as a monument to our fears:"

An empty Washington Monument would serve as a constant reminder to those on Capitol Hill that they are afraid of the terrorists and what they could do. They're afraid that by speaking honestly about the impossibility of attaining absolute security or the inevitability of terrorism -- or that some American ideals are worth maintaining even in the face of adversity -- they will be branded as "soft on terror." And they're afraid that Americans would vote them out of office if another attack occurred. Perhaps they're right, but what has happened to leaders who aren't afraid? What has happened to "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"?

An empty Washington Monument would symbolize our lawmakers' inability to take that kind of stand -- and their inability to truly lead. [...] The empty monument would symbolize the empty rhetoric of those leaders who preach fear and then use that fear for their own political ends. [...]

The empty monument would symbolize our war on the unexpected, -- our overreaction to anything different or unusual -- our harassment of photographers, and our probing of airline passengers. It would symbolize our "show me your papers" society, rife with ID checks and security cameras. As long as we're willing to sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety, we should keep the Washington Monument empty.

Dave Brubeck

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Today is the 90th birthday of pianist/composer/bandleader Dave Brubeck, best known for the ubiquitous jazz-in-odd-meters disc Time Out. The Brubeck Quartet's great alto sax player Paul Desmond wrote the classic "Take Five," which also features a nice solo by drummer Joe Morello: For further listening, I would suggest the CD box sets Original Album Classics 1 and Original Album Classics 2.They each consist of five classic albums from the Quintet's quintessential fifties-to-sixties era, and can be had for about $30 a piece--quite a bargain!

In addition to the Ark Park, there are plenty of opportunities to expand Biblically-literal entertainment into the neighboring area. Here are some other possible attractions:

Red Sea Water Park: just like the secular variety, except that an inexplicable dry area divides all the waters whenever Charlton Heston makes a guest appearance.

Biblical Justice Arena: rebellious kids, non-virginal brides, gays and lesbians, and worshippers of other religions can be stoned to death for their offenses.

Flat-Earth Planetarium: features a scale model of a four-cornered Earth, a demonstration of our geocentric solar system, and a depiction of how the stars are fixed in the firmament over our heads.

Satan's Stegosaurus Show: an archaeology exhibit explaining how dinosaur fossils were buried by the devil in order to deceive us about the true age of the Earth.

Plans are also underway for the Garden of Eden Biology Museum (to explain how Adam was created from dust, how Eve was formed from his rib, and why dinosaurs were all herbivores before The Fall) and a Conundrum Commons (various displays will reconcile the major Biblical contradictions and explain how three equals one, but will not discuss either unicorns or zombies).

Note: Biblical rules prohibit the serving of shrimp or lobster in any park restaurants. Also, poly/cotton blend t-shirts are not sold in the gift shops (which are sweatshop-friendly, because slavery is condoned by the Bible).

Security guru Bruce Schneier wonders what's next after the TSA's full-body scanners. He writes that "PETN is the terrorist tool of the future. The problem is that no scanners or puffers can detect PETN; only swabs and dogs work:"

What the TSA hopes is that they will detect the bulge if someone is hiding a wad of it on their person. But they won't catch PETN hidden in a body cavity. That doesn't have to be as gross as you're imagining; you can hide PETN in your mouth. A terrorist can go through the scanners a dozen times with bits in his mouth each time, and assemble a bigger bomb on the other side. Or he can roll it thin enough to be part of a garment, and sneak it through that way. These tricks aren't new. In the days after the Underwear Bomber was stopped, a scanner manufacturer admitted that the machines might not have caught him.

"[I]f a group of well-planned and well-funded terrorist plotters makes it to the airport," continues Schneier, "the chance is pretty low that those blue-shirted crotch-groping water-bottle-confiscating TSA agents are going to catch them:"

The agents are trying to do a good job, but the deck is so stacked against them that their job is impossible. Airport security is the last line of defense, and it's not a very good one.

We have a job here, too, and it's to be indomitable in the face of terrorism. The goal of terrorism is to terrorize us: to make us afraid, and make our government do exactly what the TSA is doing. When we react out of fear, the terrorists succeed even when their plots fail. But if we carry on as before, the terrorists fail -- even when their plots succeed.

Paul Waldman discusses the fall of John McCain, writing that "Not too long ago, John McCain was one of the most admired people in Washington:"

He was held in esteem by both Republicans and Democrats. His legion of admirers in the press painted a picture of a heroic figure working to clean up the political system, fighting against overwhelming odds, pushed on by courage and principle. [...] And over the last few years, McCain has fallen further than most politicians ever imagine they could.

His fall isn't just because he gave us Sarah Palin, either. In the Congressional arena, there is also his moving-goalposts opposition to LGBT military service:

We don't know whether "don't ask, don't tell" will end this year or next, but we all know it will end, and gay people will be allowed to serve their country in the military, just like they do in almost every other Western nation. And when this debate is remembered, John McCain will be the symbol of fear and bigotry, abandoned by even his wife and daughter, the military's answer to George Wallace circa 1963, a bitter old man standing in the recruiting office door, shouting, "Discrimination now, discrimination tomorrow, discrimination forever!" That will be his legacy.

It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for him. Almost.

James Fallows writes about McCain's mystery, asking "how did he end up this way?"

I have been trying to think of a comparable senior public figure who, in the later stages of his or her career, narrowed rather than broadened his view of the world and his appeals to history's judgment. [...] John McCain seems intentionally to be shrinking his audience, his base, and his standing in history. It's unnecessary, and it is sad.

Even more devastating, though, is Jon Stewart's comparison of McCain to Monty Python's Black Knight (h/t: Towleroad):

There is plenty of chatter about the WikiLeaks DNS/webhosting debacles, but the best summation I've seen is from Nate Anderson at ars technica. Anderson mentions this tweet from EFF co-founder John Perry Barlow, which I suspect will go down in history:

"The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops."

Lest anyone reduce this to WikiSycophancy, Barlow clarified his position:

Because if they can silence WikiLeaks, they can shut anyone up. Don't fight for Assange. Fight for yourself.

As Barlow's EFF compatriot John Gilmore once said, "The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it."

ark park

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There are plans afoot to create an Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky. In addition to "a full-size Ark, built to biblical dimensions," the park will contain a 14-acre walled city, a zoo and aviary, and a 100-foot-tall Tower of Babel. PZ Myers calls the ark park "a fancy Disneyland for ignoramuses," shows this drawing


and snarks:

Lookie there: the centerpiece will be a genuwine, life-sized, full scale copy of Noah's very own ark, all 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits of it, and they say it's gonna be built with materials and methods as close to possible as the ones in the Bible. Where they gettin' gopherwood? And are they really gonna build it with handsaws and mallets and wooden pegs? That's gotta be impressive, but it's gonna be tough to git'r done by 2014.

But wait a consarned minute: it ain't floatin'. And there's no talk of stockin' it with 8,000 pairs of animals, or however many they say there ought to be in there. I'll give 'em a pass on fillin' it with dinosaurs (well, maybe not...some say they're daid, but the folk at AiG say they're just hidin'), but I want elephants and hippos and giraffes and sheep and pigs and cassowaries and kangaroos and rhinoceroses and monkeys and squirrels and everythin' tucked in there, to give me the true and odoriferous varmint-rich Ark Experience.

ThinkProgress features a clip of an ark spokesperson answering the question "Will there be dinosaurs on the Ark?"

ANSWERS IN GENESIS OFFICIAL: [off-mike] Well you know the position of Answers in Genesis so you can probably answer that yourself. We'll have appropriate animals on the ark based on -- [on mike] I'm sure we'll have representative kinds of animals on the ark, to include dinosaurs.

very enlightening

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This lamp from Studiomeiboom (h/t: Bookshelf Porn, photo by Amy) is a fabulous idea:


It's gorgeous, but the price of €105 (including postage from the Netherlands) makes it a bit too spendy for an impulse purchase. Maybe I'll get one for my dream library...someday...

In a post on reaction to the (impending?) repeal of DADT, Andrew Sullivan quoted a Special Forces member:

"We have a gay guy [in the unit]. He's big, he's mean, and he kills lots of bad guys. No one cared that he was gay."

Sullivan then responded:

"Manhood is neither straight nor gay. It's male."

Sorry, but this sexist rebuttal to homophobia is a failure.

Courage is neither male nor female. It's human.

Early speculation about the discovery of extraterrestrial life was squashed, but a leak this morning scoops NASA's much-awaited press conference scheduled for 2pm today:

NASA has discovered a completely new life form that doesn't share the biological building blocks of anything currently living in planet Earth. [...] ...they have found a bacteria whose DNA is completely alien to what we know today. Instead of using phosphorus, the bacteria uses arsenic. All life on Earth is made of six components: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. [...]

Discovered in the poisonous Mono Lake, California, this bacteria is made of arsenic, something that was thought to be completely impossible. [...] The implications of this discovery are enormous to our understanding of life itself and the possibility of finding beings in other planets that don't have to be like planet Earth.

update (2:29pm):
NASA's press release is here:

"The definition of life has just expanded," said Ed Weiler, NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington. "As we pursue our efforts to seek signs of life in the solar system, we have to think more broadly, more diversely and consider life as we do not know it." [...]

The results of this study will inform ongoing research in many areas, including the study of Earth's evolution, organic chemistry, biogeochemical cycles, disease mitigation and Earth system research. These findings also will open up new frontiers in microbiology and other areas of research.

"The idea of alternative biochemistries for life is common in science fiction," said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute at the agency's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. "Until now a life form using arsenic as a building block was only theoretical, but now we know such life exists in Mono Lake."

...when you piss off the wrong people.

In the wake of the latest WikiLeaks document dump, an Interpol warrant was issued for founder Julian Assange yesterday. Kevin Poulsen wrote the story for Wired:

The investigation stems from separate encounters Assange had with two women during his August visit to Sweden, where he was applying for Swedish residency... [...] Assange has denied any wrongdoing, and hinted that the complaints are the result of a U.S. "smear campaign" targeting WikiLeaks -- leading some supporters of the group to publicly investigate the two women and their families.


In a statement earlier this month, Assange's British counsel said that his client repeatedly offered to cooperate with local investigators while he was in Sweden, and has offered to answer questions remotely from Britain since then. "All of these offers have been flatly refused by a prosecutor who is abusing her powers by insisting that he return to Sweden at his own expense to be subjected to another media circus that she will orchestrate," wrote attorney Mark Stephens. "Pursuing a warrant in this circumstance is entirely unnecessary and disproportionate."

Carl at Simply Left Behind comments that "The timing of all this is a little suspect:"

In July of this year, Assange released the Afghan war documents, internal Pentagon documents that detail secret conversations and discussions of the war in Afghanistan. In August, he's accused of rape. By December, he's on what amounts to an international terror watch and presumably could be assassinated by a trigger-happy cop in whatever country he lands in.

All because he spoke the truth.

Like it or not, support him or not, this has to send a chill down your spine.

Assange pissed off the wrong people.

I owe a big h/t to Kathy Ceceri at Wired's GeekDad for posting this clip of the coolest pop-up book ever--it's about CERN's LHC:

The book is called Voyage to the Heart of Matter, and you can read more about it at the ATLAS store.

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