January 2011 Archives

Richmond Ramsey writes in Fox Geezer Syndrome at FrumForum that "Over the past couple of years, I've been keeping track of a trend among friends around my age (late thirties to mid-forties):"

Eight of us (so far) share something in common besides our conservatism: a deep frustration over how our parents have become impossible to take on the subject of politics. Without fail, it turns out that our folks have all been sitting at home watching Fox News Channel all day - especially Glenn Beck's program. [...] Spending a few days in the company of the channel - especially Glenn Beck -- it all became clear to me. If Fox was the window through which I saw the wider world, for hours every day, I'd be perpetually pissed off too.

Ramsey's observation of "a correlation between the fevered emotionalism of their elderly parents' politics, and increased exposure to Fox News" was followed up by Paul Waldman at American Prospect. Waldman pointed out that "Fox boasts the highest median age [and] part of Fox's appeal for a certain kind of old person lies in some particular features of the Fox narrative:"

Yes, the network presents a Manichean world view where all liberals are villainous. But it also pines for the good old days, when immigrants weren't speaking foreign languages near us, when young folks didn't talk back, and when everything was simpler. [...] Needless to say, this message is a lot more resonant to those for whom today's world is so often confusing and threatening.

If only we could fix the problem by saying, "Take two independent media outlets and call me in the morning."

In this National Review piece, conservative pundit Mona Charen put together a misleading assemblage of numbers:

President Obama has budgeted $635 billion for Obamacare over the next decade. Even those not given to panic, like the CBO, estimate that $1.2 trillion is closer to the mark. But even that is probably way too low. The bill doesn't really kick in until 2014. From 2014 to 2024, the more likely costs will be $2.5 to $3 trillion.

After tracking down the dubious data points' various origins, Ezra Klein wrote that "conservatives are being deceived by the people they trust when it comes to the health-care bill:"

I can't say whether Charen knows better and is attempting to mislead her readers by repeating this stuff or is honestly confused. I can say she has at least three factual errors in a paragraph that only includes three facts, that the National Review published it, and that it seems plausible that this is the sort of work that conservatives are using to form their impressions of the law. [emphasis added]

It is of bricks of bullshit just like this--hundreds if not thousands of them--that the Right's impregnable edifice of ignorance is built, isolating their fragile psyches from any intrusion by the reality-based community.

looking up

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This day-long photo collage of the sky is a work of art (h/t: Jason Kottke):


As the photographer writes, "It took me about 12 hours to pull together and process a single image that included over 500 star trails, 35 shots of the Sun and 25 landscape pictures."

shame and awe

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This United States of Shame map


has been countered with this United States of Awesome map:

[slightly reformatted for ease of comparison]

The characteristics chosen yield some interesting combinations, such as infertile Vermonters who are otherwise healthy. One might be tempted to mock Utah's happy porn users or Mississippi's fat church-goers, but avoid picking on Pennsylvania's hunters--doing so might get your house burned down.

Ohio's nerdy library users, however, make that state sound positively enticing.

Bill Maher has some thoughts on how socialism makes the NFL great:

It's no surprise that some 100 million Americans will watch the Super Bowl next week - that's [...] 85 million more than watched the last game of the World Series, and in that is an economic lesson for America. Because football is built on an economic model of fairness and opportunity, and baseball is built on a model where the rich almost always win and the poor usually have no chance.

Maher continues with the observation that "football is more like the Democratic philosophy:"

Democrats don't want to eliminate capitalism or competition, but they'd like it if some kids didn't have to go to a crummy school in a rotten neighborhood while others get to go to a great school and their Dad gets them into Harvard. Because when that happens "achieving the American dream" is easy for some, and just a fantasy for others.

That's why the NFL runs itself in a way that would fit nicely on Glenn Beck's chalkboard - they literally share the wealth, through salary caps and revenue sharing - TV is their biggest source of revenue, and they put all of it in a big commie pot and split it 32 ways. Because they don't want anyone to fall too far behind. That's why the team that wins the Super Bowl picks last in the next draft. Or what the Republicans would call "punishing success." [...]

So, you kind of have to laugh - the same angry white males who hate Obama because he's "redistributing wealth" just love football, a sport that succeeds economically because it does exactly that.

To top it off, I'll add a football joke:

Q: What do you call a bunch of guys sitting at home watching the Super Bowl on TV?

A: The Philadelphia Eagles.

Tomorrow, Tom. Too Much Crazy (Berkeley: Soft Skull Press, 2011)

Under the pseudonym Tom Tomorrow, cartoonist Dan Perkins has spent the last twenty years skewering various political foibles and fallacies in his strip This Modern World (website, Wikipedia). His previous collections (including 2008's The Future's So Bright, I Can't Bear to Look) have just been joined by his ninth book: Too Much Crazy. It covers the period from mid-2008 through mid-2010, with Obama's election serving as prelude to the, well, craziness that the Right has foisted upon us since. (The Left's craziness has largely been limited to wishful thinking that Obama is anything but a centrist, a belief that the author ridicules several times.)

In his introduction, Tom Tomorrow laments a prominent crazy component of today's media, "The constant unending refrain, the low keening wail that just seems to grow louder every day:"

Obama's a Marxist, a fascist, a Muslim; progressives have a century-long plan devised by Woodrow Wilson to overthrow capitalism itself, blah blah blah blah--if you're paying the least little bit of attention, you've heard it all out there. [...] There was a time when we might have been able to at least politely pretend that most of the people around us had some tenuous connection to sanity, but thanks to chat boards and comments sections and Tea Party tallies and those aging standbys, talk radio and Fox News, we have all been thoroughly disabused of that notion. Now we know all too well just how much crazy there is around us at every moment. (p. xxiii, Introduction: When the Levee Breaks)

Here are links to a few of my favorites from the book, beginning with a memento from the early 2009 "post-partisan" moment in "Wrong about Everything" (1/7/2009, p. 35):

Glenn Beck's conspiracy theories take a hit in "Democrats Are Fascists" (4/15/2009, p. 48),

along with double standards on political rhetoric in "Then and Now with Goofus & Gallant" (9/9/2009, p. 63),

Tom Tomorrow examines anti-abortion self-righteousness in the "Rightwingoverse" (6/10/2009, p. 78)

and his "All the Rage" is, sadly, as relevant as ever (4/6/2010, p. 93)

Sparky the Penguin asks "WWSAD?" (4/26/2010, p. 96)

and Obama is exposed as a "Far-Left Radical" (6/8/2010, p. 104)

If this sampling intrigues you, please visit the cartoon's archives at This Modern World and Salon--then go out and buy some of his books. Independent newspapers don't support political cartoons like they used to, so it's up to readers to pick up the slack!


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Obama repeatedly used the phrase "winning the future" in his State of the Union last night, words which I remembered from this 2005 book by Newt Gingrich. This thematic element signaled a general adoption of right-wing rhetoric, as indicated by the business-centric ideas expressed here

Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again.

and here:

We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business.

How about being the best place to live? The best place to raise a family? Is he less interested in competing for the intellectuals and researchers of our time? To top it off, Obama wants more corporate tax cuts:

Over the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change.

So tonight, I'm asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years - without adding to our deficit.

How about the privileging of capital over labor, as reflected in the lower tax rate on capital gains and a higher one for salaries and sages? Similar disappointments studded the rest of the speech, although it seems to have been generally well-received. Obama was fact-checked, with this summary: "We found no outright false factual claims in Obama's State of the Union address, but we did note some that were arguable, and some promises that may prove unrealistic." Not surprisingly, the right-wing responses didn't fare as well.

The GOP response (Paul Ryan, R-WI) contained two boilerplate lies that are ubiquitous in GOP-land: that Obama's stimulus "spending spree...failed to deliver on its promise to create jobs" and that the Affordable Care Act (which actually saves money) "is accelerating our country toward bankruptcy." Salon's Joan Walsh asked why does the GOP hide its agenda? and noted the CBO assessment of Ryan's "infamous Roadmap:"

Ryan's plan wouldn't balance the budget until 2063, and would add $62 trillion to the debt by then. Citizens for Tax Justice said Ryan's Roadmap raises taxes on 9 out of 10 taxpayers and while slashing them for the wealthiest.

The wingnut response by Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was every bit the trainwreck that I expected. MediaMatters' fact-check of it was quite devastating, and WaPo's Dana Milbank lamented Bachmann's "alternate universe," writing that "It was angry, and at times wrong, but Bachmann has gone far with that formula." In reference to Bachmann's assertion that Obama's "bureaucracy tells us which lightbulbs to buy," Crooks & Liars pointed out that it was Bush who signed that 2007 bill.

FactCheck has identified two more errors in the GOP response, and I identified an erroneous Bachmann claim that no one else seems to have debunked yet:

"the cost of gasoline is skyrocketing"

Let's look at some gas price statistics from the Department of Energy, shall we? Retail prices flirted with $3/gallon in 2005 and 2006, and hung there consistently beginning in Summer 2007. Actual skyrocketing occurred when the price exceeded $4/gallon in Summer 2008 before dropping due to the Great Recession's demand destruction; increases during the subsequent recovery have been nowhere near that drastic. Here's a chart:


Let's zoom in on the past year's prices, so the "skyrocketing" becomes clearer:


Bachmann also asserted that "the President should...support free market solutions like medical malpractice reform." So, she wants to remove patients' ability to redress medical grievances--via use of the judicial system, which is financed by taxation--which is supposed to dramatically reduce costs? The CBO estimated (in this October 2009 letter) that the enactment of so-called tort reform:

"would reduce total national health care spending by about 0.5 percent...[consisting of] direct reduction in spending of 0.2 percent from lower medical liability premiums...and an additional indirect reduction of 0.3 percent from slightly less utilization of health care services."

That's fiscal conservatism, all right: screwing taxpaying Americans twice while protecting oligopolies' profit margins. Obama's partial adoption of their rhetoric does not bode well for the remainder of his term.

Prager's paranoia

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Christianist wingnut Dennis Prager theorized another conspiracy today, although he took pains to claim that it wasn't one. "Tonight, when you tune in to the networks to watch President Obama give his State of the Union address," claimed Prager, "you will not see, and probably have never seen...something of surpassing importance." What mystery is Prager about to dramatically reveal?

[C]hiseled in the marble wall behind the speaker and vice president, in giant letters, the words, 'In God We Trust.'

My immediate reaction was to wonder: Why had I never seen that before? I have, after all, been watching State of the Union addresses for about 40 years.

Here is my theory -- and I say "theory" because I cannot prove it.

A generation of Americans has been raised to regard any mention of God outside the home or church as a violation of the deepest principles of our country. To the men and women of the left-leaning news media, in particular, "In God We Trust" is an anachronism at best, an impediment to moral progress at worst. The existence of those giant chiseled words so disturbs the media that, consciously or not, they do not want Americans to see them. [...] The words "In God We Trust" emblazoned in giant letters behind the president of the United States just don't sit well with the secular media. So you won't see them.

Prager, you dolt, it isn't a theory "because you cannot prove it"--that's misusing the word, especially considering that a false claim cannot be proven. Tintin debunked Prager's paranoid bullshit at Sadly, No! with this image from last year's SOTU:


It is a never-ending source of wonderment to me that right-wing whack-a-doodle dandies like Prager will dream up some improbable conspiracy based on wildly counterintuitive beliefs -- such as the idea that not once in 40 years had a camera ever revealed the secret words on the wall -- without taking a moment to see if what they are asserting is actually true or not. It took me less than five minutes to find a YouTube clip of the 2010 SOTU and to find one (of many) frames in it showing the frightful inscription that the demonic media is trying to suppress. Worse yet, Prager expounds with absolute certainty on this wholly imaginary state of affairs which he has fabricated from whole cloth and then doubles down by predicting that the conspiracy will continue for the 2011 SOTU address.

Prager's closing assertion that "I am convinced, no camera tonight will give you a long or wide view of the president" is as false as his other claims. The inscription was clearly visible tonight:

(MSNBC, slide 2)

Far from being "giant" letters, as Prager claimed, they appear to be 8-10" tall. Looking at the photo above as well as this image from Life, it's clear that Prager is wrong about another detail--the words appear to be affixed to the marble, not chiseled into it:


It's a good thing that facts don't matter to wingnuts.

Yesterday, it was revealed that Bush and Rove broke the law by violating the Hatch Act's prohibition on electioneering by federal employees (The US Office of Special Counsel report is here). It should surprise no one that Rove was not asked about the report when he appeared on Faux News.

Meanwhile, SC Justice Clarence Thomas amended 13 years of financial disclosure forms. He had somehow not thought it relevant to mention $690,000 of his wife's income from groups such as House Republicans the Heritage Foundation, claiming a "misunderstanding of the filing instructions" despite having checked a box indicating "none" for spousal income.

The incoming GOP House majority has had its second scandal (the first being illegitimate voting and illegal fundraising) break only three weeks into their reign: Politico has the details on David Rivera (R-FL):

The 45-year-old Rivera, who was elected to the House in November after eight years in the Florida Legislature, has been under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement since last fall over allegations that he failed to disclose more than $130,000 in loans from a company owned by his mother. Rivera has since repaid the loans by selling off some real estate, but there are least two parallel probes into his finances and campaign records going on now... [...]

[GOP House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor, meanwhile, has promised a "zero-tolerance policy" for GOP lawmakers caught up in the scandals. But so far, the Virginia Republican has refused to comment on the Rivera case, drawing criticisms of hypocrisy from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Steve Benen observes that Rivera:

...is also at the center of domestic violence allegations, has been accused of driving a truck off a road because it was carrying flyers from a rival campaign, hiding the finances surrounding foreclosure proceedings on a house he co-owned with Marco Rubio, and bizarre lies about non-existent work he did for the U.S. Agency for International Development. [...]

The GOP's culture of corruption apparently hasn't faded away just yet.

Stephen Asma fulminates against The New Atheists' Narrow Worldview in The Chronicle of Higher Education (h/t: Richard Dawkins). He writes of modern atheism's "Four Horsemen" (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens) that their "mistake is not their claim that science can guide morality:"

Rather, they're wrong in imagining that the primary job of religion is morality. Like cosmology, ethics is barely relevant in non-Western religions. It is certainly not the main function or lure of devotional life. Science could take over the "morality job" to-morrow in the developing world, and very few religious practitioners would even notice.

This strikes me as spectacularly wrong, because the 4H are primarily concerned with the effects of Western religion on Western society, where the primary job of those self-appointed guardians is very much driven by the job of morality. Adherents of non-Western religions will continue to be relatively immune from criticism until they begin burning gay bars, bombing women's clinics, and flying airplanes into skyscrapers. Asma suggests that "the more fruitful question [is] how do we discriminate between dangerous and benign religions?"

Religious ideas that encourage dehumanization, violence, and factionalism should be reformed or diminished, while those that humanize, console, and inspire should be fostered. [...] In short, the reduction of human suffering should be the standard by which we measure every religion.

That sort of critical thinking is anathema to fundamentalisms of every stripe, and should serve to separate truly pernicious religious practices from their relatively benign brethren.

Heather Wilson (a former Rhodes Scholar who spent two decades on Rhodes selection committees) wonders about our current crop of superficial Rhodes Scholars, noting that "Even from America's great liberal arts colleges, transcripts reflect an undergraduate specialization that would have been unthinkably narrow just a generation ago:"

As a result, high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why. [...]

Our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study.
This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism.

The old practices of employers mentoring employees and providing on-the-job training have disappeared over the past few decades, as corporations have pushed those costs onto their youngest workers--who must now take an expensive gamble (in both out-of-pocket costs, lost opportunity costs, and long-term debt) five or more years before they are deemed ready to enter the job market in many fields. They graduate into careers that are both less well-paid and less stable than in years past.

Turning universities into glorified trade schools is less due to "the pressure of parents," as Wilson claims, and more because that's what employers have demanded.

I'm unfashionably late to the party on this one, but Christopher Beam's piece on Libertarianism ("The Trouble with Liberty" from New York magazine) continues to draw fire from various corners of the blogosphere. Beam writes:

For all the talk about casting off government shackles, libertarianism is still considered the crazy uncle of American politics: loud and cocky and occasionally profound but always a bit unhinged. [...] The traditional libertarian line is that government should be responsible for a standing army, local security, and a courts system, and that's it--a system called minarchy. [see the Wikipedia article]

"There's always tension between freedom and fairness," writes Beam:

We want less government regulation, but not when it means firms can hire cheap child labor. We want a free market, but not so bankers can deceive investors. Libertarianism, in promoting freedom above all else, pretends the tension doesn't exist. [...]

The result [of a Libertarian utopia] wouldn't be a city on a hill. It would be a port town in Somalia. In a world of scarce resources, everyone pursuing their own self-interest would yield not Atlas Shrugged but Lord of the Flies. And even if you did somehow achieve Libertopia, you'd be surrounded by assholes.

FrumForum's John Vecchione demolishes a central conceit of Libertarians by noting that "The Founders were no Libertarians. They were constitutionalists:"

The Founders believed in carefully delineated federal powers either broad (Hamilton) or limited (Jefferson, sometimes) but all believed in a more powerful state than libertarians purport to believe in. If ever there was a libertarian document it was the Articles of Confederation. There was no national power. The federal government could not tax. Its laws were not supreme over state laws. It was in fact, the hot mess that critics of libertarians believe their dream state would be... and it was recognized as such by the majority of the country and was why the Constitution was ratified. The Articles of Confederation is the true libertarian founding document and this explains the failure of libertarianism.

Ross Douthat wrote about The Specter of Minarchy, ED Kain responded with accusations of caricatures of Libertarianism and discussed aggrieved Libertarians:

Beam's article reads like a confirmation or a summary of all the things liberals tend to complain about when they talk about libertarians rather than any grand new insights.

Speaking of aggrieved Libertarians, Reason writers commented here and here, with Radley Balko writing that Beam's piece was "a thrashing disguised as a primer." Perhaps, however, the umbrella under which some of those nutty ideas reside (eliminate the Federal Reserve, return to the gold standard, privatize our national infrastructure) needs to be thrashed a bit.

update (1/30):
I got into a discussion of Libertarianism today, and (surprise!) disagreed with the positive assessment put forth of Libertarians' "consistent stance on the issues." Their ideological consistency is very reminiscent of a broken clock--their predictable response is sometimes precisely correct but generally irrelevant to real-world problems.

Mindlessly cutting taxes and shrinking government would, in all likelihood, entrench corporatism more deeply and enrich the plutocracy more obscenely; how it would expand liberty for the rest of us is an issue never truly addressed by Libertopian dreamers.

The latest cover of ClownHall magazine--complete with a Godfather-style puppeteer's hand--is titled The 50 Most Dangerous Liberals in America & Their Secret Agendas Exposed:


I understand how the far Right's whole scapegoat-seeking, conspiracy-driven paranoid mindset works, but I have one question: did I miss the epidemic of conservatives getting rubbed out for refusing offers from the (allegedly liberal) elite decision-makers and kingpins? Does the analogy really hold--are the people profiled here really exercising illegitimate authority, profiting from illegal activities, and promoting immoral violence--or is that more projection by the wingnuts?

Billionaire bogeyman George Soros takes the top spot and the Kenyan usurper Obama [who "surrounds himself with crazy (and very dangerous) people"] is at #3. Obama's advisor Cass Sunstein (4) is identified as the "regulation czar" [sic; actually Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs] and John Holdren (13) is called the "science czar" [sic; actually Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy].

The list provides plenty of insight into the Right's mindset, with the requisite claims of a "massive government takeover of health care" (PolitiFact's Lie of the Year) and the "massive stimulus that didn't work" (FactCheck points out that the stimulus did work) along with offhand remarks about "so-called greenhouse gases," "abortion on demand (infanticide/genocide)," and complaints about "stopping global warming (fear mongering)." Further instances of the Rashomon Republicans' problems with reality are the ACLU (18) being criticized for its "never-ending assault [sic] on America's core values" and Al Gore (30) for "promoting his [sic] ideas about global warming." Townhall digs deep for the tinfoil-hat crowd, with the "Democrat [sic] Shadow Party" (11) as perhaps the most fanciful of all.

Mass-media outlets are targeted by particular animus, with NYT publisher Bill Keller (20) joining columnists Paul Krugman (32) and Thomas Friedman (48). Media Matters (41) is smeared as "a far-left attack and smear machine" guilty of promulgating "blatant falsehoods" [has someone been watching Fox too much?] and MSNBC (44) called a "sea of ignorance, partisan invective, and unhinged diatribes" [enough about Fox, already].

No right-wing hit list would be complete without unions (#12 AFL-CIO and #14 SEIU), SC Justices (#21 Ginsberg, #26 Breyer, #39 Kagan, and #42 Sotomayor), and comedians (#28 Jon Stewart and #49 Bill Maher) as well as Harry Reid (24) and Nancy Pelosi (34). Bloggers Arianna Huffington (16) and Markos (40) make the list along with Oprah (37), well above the why-are-they-still-obsessing-about-him Bill Ayers (46).

On balance, this piece is as close to being fractally wrong as anything I've seen since my last regular visits to ClownHall and WingNutDaily.

After hearing David Brooks described as "the consummate intellectual thinker" by Newsweek's Tina Brown on NPR yesterday morning, I decided to check out the New Yorker piece which was being discussed. Brooks' piece "Social Animal" (from his upcoming book of the same title) and the Ask the Author Q&A will sound familiar to his readers, because Brooks has been mining this vein since BOBOs in Paradise a decade ago, and his Bourgeois Bohemians from that era feel strikingly similar to his new "Composure Class" denizens:

Many members of this class, like many Americans generally, have a vague sense that their lives have been distorted by a giant cultural bias. They live in a society that prizes the development of career skills but is inarticulate when it comes to the things that matter most. [...]

Intelligence, academic performance, and prestigious schools don't correlate well with fulfillment, or even with outstanding accomplishment. [...] In short, these achievers have a sense that they are shallower than they need to be.

Brooks writes that "We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness," and sees neuroscience as "help[ing to] fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy:"

A core finding of this work is that we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. The conscious mind gives us one way of making sense of our environment. But the unconscious mind gives us other, more supple ways. The cognitive revolution of the past thirty years provides a different perspective on our lives, one that emphasizes the relative importance of emotion over pure reason, social connections over individual choice, moral intuition over abstract logic, perceptiveness over I.Q. It allows us to tell a different sort of success story, an inner story to go along with the conventional surface one.

In the hands of a more astute observer--or perhaps simply a writer who is less of a hack--this subject has the potential to be a great book. I do not, however, have high hopes for anything issuing from the pen of David Brooks.

Cato's David Boaz had an interesting observation about conservatism in an email to WaPo's Jennifer Rubin (h/t: Ed Brayton). Boaz writes that, contrary to conservative pretensions to originalism and permanence, "sometimes ideas evolve:"

Take traditional values, for instance: In pre-Reagan years even National Review thought that segregation was a traditional value. That opinion is long gone, and banished from mainstream conservatism. Or take the role of women in society: A generation ago (maybe a long generation) conservatives said that mothers should be home with their children. By 2008 conservatives enthusiastically said that a mother of five, one of them a pregnant teenager and another a special-needs infant, could perfectly well serve as vice president. Conservative ideas on gay rights have also evolved and will continue to evolve. Conservatives defended the sodomy laws until the Supreme Court struck them down (the Montana and Texas Republican parties still do). But most have moved on to opposing gay marriage and gay adoption, and some have even accepted civil unions for gay partners. Twenty years from now, conservatives will deny they were ever anti-gay, just as they now have no memory of ever supporting discrimination against African-Americans or women.

Here's a sketch of the process from my POV:

1). Liberals propose something new.
2). Conservatives fight against it.
3). Liberals win, and their idea is adopted.
4). Conservatives co-opt the now-traditional idea.

virtual death

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Rob Walker's NYT rumination Cyberspace When You're Dead wonders about what we leave behind after we have "logged off this mortal coil:" He wonders, "So what happens to this version of you that you've built with bits? Who will have access to which parts of it, and for how long?"

For most of us, the fate of tweets and status updates and the like may seem trivial (who cares -- I'll be dead!). But increasingly we're not leaving a record of life by culling and stowing away physical journals or shoeboxes of letters and photographs for heirs or the future. Instead, we are, collectively, busy producing fresh masses of life-affirming digital stuff: five billion images and counting on Flickr; hundreds of thousands of YouTube videos uploaded every day; oceans of content from 20 million bloggers and 500 million Facebook members; two billion tweets a month. Sites and services warehouse our musical and visual creations, personal data, shared opinions and taste declarations in the form of reviews and lists and ratings, even virtual scrapbook pages.

"Maybe the momentous and the momentarily amusing add up to a pleasing means of real-time connection," suggests Walker, "but what do they add up to when we're gone? The legacy of a life you hope your survivors will remember? Or a jumble of 'digital litter' for them to sort through?"

Sifting the essential from the ephemeral is perhaps more difficult in the virtual world, where there are no tangible cues as to something's inherent worth or intrinsic value. Walker writes that "accessing and then assessing the digital effects of a dead loved one entail a thicket of choices and challenges that many would simply rather avoid," and observes that, for him, "pondering the digital afterlife made me rethink digital life:"

We're encouraged to record and express everything, all the time. In real time, we can record and distribute the most important moments of our existence, and some of the least. For the generations growing up in the Web era, this mode of being is more or less taken for granted. But the tools we use privilege the moment, not the long term; they also tend to make everything feel roughly equal in importance and offer us little incentive to comb back through our digital scribblings and sort out what might have lasting meaning from what probably doesn't. The results are pretty much the opposite of a scrapbook carefully edited to serve as a memory object but could end up serving that function by default.

One of Walker's interviewees has my Quote of the Day:

"If people thought about dying more often, they'd think about living differently."

Lifehacker asked late last year What Should I Do About My Virtual Life After Death?

Do you want your executors to make an announcement? Post your obituary? Activate a guestbook on your web site, photo blog, or other virtual outpost and turn it into a virtual memorial?

LH suggests that, since "hardly any sites have any sort of standard method for dealing with user death," online denizens must either find someone willing to do the job [both Walker and LifeHacker suggest several firms] or cobble together our own solutions:

...the best course of action is to provide your executors with a means for accessing your accounts before the companies [Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, and HotMail are mentioned] are aware that you're deceased. Once your status with the company switches from active user to deceased user things get significantly more complicated.

The City Journal piece by André Glucksmann entitled The Original Birth of Freedom (h/t: Conor Freidersdorf, subbing for Andrew Sullivan) looks back, of course, to the Greeks:

The Athenians demonstrated incredible audacity in affirming that human freedom must be understood without the gods, who are held not to be implicated in human affairs--no longer at the helm, so to speak. That affirmation is the source of philosophy, as we learn from Plato's Apology.

Socrates' "question[ing] all of Athenian society...revealed a rupture that gave birth to philosophy:"

The divine word is a mystery; it can mean everything or nothing. Zeus neither speaks nor holds his tongue but makes a sign, as Heraclitus said. Man discovers that he himself is responsible for giving meaning to this sign. The word from above, or from elsewhere, must be deciphered. This is the Greek genius: the separation of heaven and earth. [...] ...the Greek experience seems more radical than that of the monotheisms, since it presupposes no adherence to a unique word that would dominate the thought and freedom of men and women. For the Greeks, there was no way around the permanent crisis that constitutes the existence of a free human being.

Glucksmann continues by observing that "Athens taught us that free will and critical thinking go together:"

The necessity of submitting celestial voices and their dictates to the painstaking criticisms of reason is a matter not of pride but of modesty: it is not because I think myself good or intelligent, but because I know I am fallible and capable of deceiving myself... [...] No prophet opened the Red Sea for Athens, no god showed it the path to follow. Freedom gave rise from the beginning to disorder: how to think, survive, act, and resist in the jumble of human relations.

Glucksmann's book from which the article was adapted, La Plus Belle Histoire de la Liberté, is currently available only in French. It looks to be a fine companion to Paul Woodruff's First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea, a book that has been languishing unread on my shelves for far too long.

Corey Robin's "Conservatism and Counterrevolution" (from the Summer issue of Raritan) was excerpted in a previous issue of Harper's, and it's one of the better poli-sci essays I've read in quite some time.

While the conservative theorist claims for his tradition the mantle of prudence and moderation, there is a not-so-subterranean strain of imprudence and immoderation running through that tradition, a strain that, however counterintuitive it seems, connects Sarah Palin to Edmund Burke.

His observation that "the conservative actually learns from the revolution he opposes" explains much of their contemporary obsession with sixties radicals (e.g., Glenn Beck's constant demonization of Saul Alinksy and Frances Fox Piven):

While conservatives are hostile to the goals of the Left, particularly the empowerment of society's lower castes and classes, they often are its best students. Sometimes, their studies are self-conscious and strategic, as they look to the Left for ways to bend new vernaculars, or new media, to their suddenly delegitimated aims. [...] ...the conservatives' encounter with revolution teaches them that the revolutionaries were right after all: inequality is a human creation. And if it can be uncreated by men and women, it can be recreated by men and women.

He continues:

From the revolution, conservatives also develop a taste and talent for the masses, mobilizing the street for spectacular displays of power while making sure that power is never truly shared or redistributed. That is the task of right-wing populism: to appeal to the mass without disrupting the power of elites or, more precisely, to harness the energy of the mass in order to reinforce or restore the power of elites.

Robin rebuts Christianists' persecution complex (and Palin's paranoia) by noting that "victimhood has been a talking point of the Right ever since Burke decried the mob's treatment of Marie Antoinette:"

The conservative, to be sure, speaks for a special type of victim: one who has lost something of value, as opposed to the wretched of the earth, whose chief complaint is that they never had anything to lose.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing (PDF).

Jill (Whites of Their Eyes) Lepore writes about the Constitution for the New Yorker, criticizing in particular the simplistic originalism barely concealed by the Teabaggers' veneer of veneration. To prove her point, Lepore quotes from Franklin's address to the Constitutional Convention, "I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better Information, or fuller Consideration, to change Opinions even on important Subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise." This ties in well with both the Constitutional amendment process--would a perfect document need to include a mechanism for its own alteration?--and this sentiment from Thomas Jefferson:

"I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."

Lepore concludes with the observation that although the Constitution is " forty-four hundred words [of] ink on parchment,"

...it is, too, the accreted set of meanings that have been made of those words, the amendments, the failed amendments, the struggles, the debates--the course of events--over more than two centuries. It is not easy, but it is everyone's. [...] If the Constitution is a fiddle, it is also all the music that has ever been played on it. Some of that music is beautiful; much of it is humdrum; some of it sounds like hell.

Dissent may sound like discord and dissonance to some ears, but forced harmony is the most hellish music.

ML King Day

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We should celebrate Dr King as today's visionary, not yesterday's celebrity, writes RJ Eskow at Campaign for America's Future:

A lot of people in the media are so afraid of offending anyone with controversial truths that they can't even tell the truth about the man whose holiday we're celebrating this weekend. [...] This weekend Dr. King's name will be spoken by politicians and business leaders who would probably despise what he would have had to say about 21st Century America. They'll try to appropriate his name and memory to ensure their own well-being. They hope to domesticate his moral challenge in order to protect their own ambition.

King wrote that "True compassion ... comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring" and promoted "a federal program of public works, retraining, and jobs for all." He derided "the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth" and deplored profit-seeking as "the sole basis of an economic system." He railed against economic exploitation, and said this about Viet Nam:

"Congress appropriates military funds with alacrity and generosity. It appropriates poverty funds with miserliness and grudging reluctance. The government is emotionally committed to the war. It is emotionally hostile to the needs of the poor."

No one should doubt that, if he were alive today, Dr King would be railing against dropping bombs overseas and rising poverty at home. He might even have wound up in jail again.

Perplexed Observer writes that "the more I read about Martin Luther King Jr., the more I discover his humanism," noting that King's accomplishments were "geared towards human needs and human rights:"

Although his speeches and writings were often framed in religious language, his actions focused on making this world a better place for people to live in. King fought for justice now. He encouraged his followers not to be satisfied that their suffering would be rewarded in the heaven that their religion promised, but to stand up and take their destiny into their own hands and to struggle for justice now.

Here is my Quote of the Day:

"It's my favorite holiday because it honors a great man and it annoys racist nitwits." (Barry Crimmins, via Ed Brayton)

Frank Cocozzelli writes at New Deal 2.0 about the Right's obsession with the gold standard. He observes that "almost eighty years since FDR ended it, the gold standard is rising in our national discourse like a zombie from the grave in a bad horror movie:"

It is again the mantra of the right, ranging from libertarians Ron and Rand Paul, to Mama Grizzly Sarah Palin, to the populist ramblings of Glenn Beck and even to some on the religious right such as Robert P. George. Interestingly, it was one of several anti-government rants echoed by Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner.

Slate's Christopher Beam wonders what would happen if we returned to the gold standard, and the answer is that it would amount to leaving the economy subject to the vicissitudes of the gold index:"

If the price of gold goes up, the United States would have to raise interest rates, which could lead to tighter credit. Which might be OK, except that gold is a primary indicator of economic uncertainty: When the economy is bad, the price of gold goes up. So the Fed would be tightening credit just when people need it most. The result: a deflationary spiral that drives the economy even deeper into recession.

Oddly enough, a peculiar trait of contemporary conservatives seems to be an inability to learn the lessons of history.

Reactions to the Arizona assassination are becoming more carefully considered, and David Neiwert's piece violent rhetoric and the mentally ill is a must-read. Correcting the conservatives who call the Arizona assault an "isolated incident" perpetrated by a "nutcase," Neiwert calls this "a cop-out, and a dangerous one:"

One of its chief consequences, in fact, is that the list of "isolated incidents" -- and the body count that accompanies it -- will just keep mounting. At some point, people will realize that the incidents are perhaps not so isolated after all.

Although the Right "certainly can't be blamed in any direct sense, and especially not in a criminal sense," Neiwert notes that "either are they without culpability:"

...especially when the rhetoric upon which the mentally unstable person has acted violently is as deliberately inflammatory and as profoundly irresponsible as what we have seen from the American Right in recent years. The Right, indeed, bears the lion's share of the blame for creating a toxic environment in which unstable people come to believe that their political opponents are the embodiment of pure evil -- that they are destroying America deliberately and maliciously -- and therefore must be dealt with violently. This is an environment that today exists not just in Arizona, but everywhere in America.

Put simply (and colloquially): There's been a lot of crazy talk from the American Right in recent years. And crazy talk -- especially condoned at the highest social levels -- has a powerful effect on people who are already crazy.

saving liberalism

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Walter Russell Mead wonders at American Interest Can the L-Word Be Saved?

Politically speaking, America may be the most confused country in the world. Millions of people in this country are conservatives and even reactionaries who think they are liberals; we have millions more liberals and radicals who call themselves conservative.

It is an unholy mess and it needs to be cleared up. It's time for a language intervention.

This confusion is caused by the ways in which "the words have been hijacked:"

They've been turned into their opposites: a liberal today is somebody who wants to defend and restore the Blue Social Model from the last century; a progressive is now somebody who thinks history has gone horribly wrong and that we must turn the clock back to make things better.

I disagree with Mead's identification of progressives as reactionaries, although they are involved (with liberals) in defending past progress from destruction. His political taxonomy is interesting, and describes liberalism as having "gone through four distinct incarnations:"

Liberalism 1.0 was the political expression of the original enlightenment philosophy that developed in Britain and shaped the Glorious Revolution of 1688. [...]

The 2.0 liberalism of our founding fathers replaced constitutional monarchy with a republic expressly founded on natural rights and the sovereignty of the people. [...] The 2.0 Revolution of 1776 separated the church from the state to the benefit of both.

The 19th century saw the development of liberalism 3.0 [...] a philosophy of radical individualism and equality [which] included once unthinkable ideas like universal suffrage, the abolition of slavery, an end to state-enforced monopoly corporations, limited government, free markets at home and free trade abroad. [...]

Uniting all four liberal versions is a belief in the individual conscience and a drive to find a creative compromise between the individual's drive for self-expression and free action and the need for a stable society. There is a belief that an open, dynamic society will lead to a better life for all and that promoting ordered liberty is the morally obligatory as well as the pragmatically desirable thing to do. All four versions were grounded in the history, philosophy, literature and culture of the western world - while progressively opening to new ideas and perceptions from within and beyond the west. All four versions were pragmatic, developing their visions and ordering their priorities based on an understanding of what their society's abilities and limits were.

Mead writes that our current task "is to begin to put together a new synthesis of the enduring liberal values in the 21st century: liberalism 5.0" when he calls the current 4.0 liberalism "increasingly outdated and backward-looking" and opines that "American society must move beyond the increasingly dysfunctional and outdated ideas," I have to ask: Which ideas are the "outdated" ones? What is "backward-looking" about the consolidation of progress? I had hoped that his follow-up entitled "Give the People What They Want" would provide some answers, but I was again disappointed. Mead stated that "Blue State Liberalism [...] doesn't work anymore as a political philosophy:"

That argument gets some powerful support from the latest Gallup polls: only 21% of Americans consider themselves liberals; 40% of Americans consider themselves 'conservative', and 35% call themselves 'moderate'.

This isn't actually evidence for the argument that blue liberalism "doesn't work anymore," but rather for a far different argument: that conservatism is a better-funded and better-branded option in the public mind. "A generation ago," writes Mead, "blue liberalism was pretty good at giving most of the people what they wanted," but now "policies based in the liberalism of the 20th century don't seem to be able to deliver the goods." What he identifies as liberalism's failure to "provide a political and social system that Americans like" means that conservatism's triumphs over the past 40 years have been failures for America. Liberalism has a history of success, as per his 1.0-4.0 lists above, but conservatism has reversed some of those gains. Masaccio writes at FDL about the abandonment of liberalism,

Liberal principles have not been replaced by an equally compelling set of conservative principles. We are now governed only by the principles of power. Our liberties are gone in the name of fighting terrorism, or offered up as sacrifices to the demands of the religious right wing. Our economy is run for the benefit of the tiny minority of financiers and their wealthy clients.

The President says he is a pragmatist. Whatever that means, it has nothing to do with liberal principles. That era of American history is over.

Liberalism needs to be saved from both sides: from centrist sellouts (Obama, I'm looking at you) and the Right, which wants to redefine liberals as radicals.

I mentioned musical chills before, which MSNBC revealed was the subject of a recent study:

PET scans showed the participants' brains pumped out more dopamine in a region called the striatum when listening to favorite pieces of music than when hearing other pieces. Functional MRI scans showed where and when those releases happened.

Dopamine surged in one part of the striatum during the 15 seconds leading up to a thrilling moment, and a different part when that musical highlight finally arrived.

[study co-author Robert] Zatorre said that makes sense: The area linked to anticipation connects with parts of the brain involved with making predictions and responding to the environment, while the area reacting to the peak moment itself is linked to the brain's limbic system, which is involved in emotion.

The McGill University study by Robert Zatorre and Valorie Salimpoor (HTML, PDF) explains that "Pleasure is a subjective phenomenon that is difficult to assess objectively:"

However, physiological changes occur during moments of extreme pleasure, which can be used to index pleasurable states in response to music. We used the 'chills' or 'musical frisson' response, a well-established marker of peak emotional responses to music. Chills involve a clear and discrete pattern of autonomic nervous system (ANS) arousal, which allows for objective verification through psychophysiological measurements.

The study observes that "through complex cognitive mechanisms, humans are able to obtain pleasure from music ... which is comparable to the pleasure experienced from more basic biological stimuli:"

Our findings provide neurochemical evidence that intense emotional responses to music involve ancient reward circuitry and serve as a starting point for more detailed investigations of the biological substrates that underlie abstract forms of pleasure.

Music isn't the only way to soothe the savage breast; the abstract from this study (h/t: Skeptical Humanities) informs us of the following:

A recent study showed that people evaluate products more positively when they are physically associated with art images than similar non-art images. [...] These findings are consistent with our hypothesis, leading us to propose that the appeal of visual art involves activation of reward circuitry based on artistic status alone and independently of its hedonic value.

According to The Guardian, WikiLeaks will soon be making more headlines:

The offshore bank account details of 2,000 "high net worth individuals" and corporations - detailing massive potential tax evasion - will be handed over to the WikiLeaks organisation in London tomorrow by the most important and boldest whistleblower in Swiss banking history, Rudolf Elmer, two days before he goes on trial in his native Switzerland.

British and American individuals and companies are among the offshore clients whose details will be contained on CDs presented to WikiLeaks at the Frontline Club in London. Those involved include, Elmer tells the Observer, "approximately 40 politicians".

The article describes Elmer as "one of a small band of employees and executives seeking to blow the whistle on what they see as unprofessional, immoral and even potentially criminal activity by powerful international financial institutions."

"I agree with privacy in banking for the person in the street, and legitimate activity, but in these instances privacy is being abused so that big people can get big banking organisations to service them. The normal, hard-working taxpayer is being abused also."

Over at Wired, Clive Thompson made the counter-intuitive suggestion that tweets and texts nurture in-depth analysis. He writes that "The torrent of short-form thinking [text messages, tweets, and status updates] is actually a catalyst for more long-form meditation" as society "chew[s] over what happened, forming a quick impression of What It All Means."

"It used to be that only traditional media, like magazines or documentaries or books, delivered the long take [of] deeply considered report and analysis," Thompson writes, but this has been gradually migrating to online blog essays. "The real loser here," he continues, "is the middle take:"

This is what the weeklies like Time and Newsweek have historically offered: reportage and essays produced a few days after major events, with a bit of analysis sprinkled on top. They're neither fast enough to be conversational nor slow enough to be truly deep. The Internet has essentially demonstrated how unsatisfying that sort of thinking can be.

David Pierce wrote at Digitizd that "It used to be that we tried to understand a few things, relatively well:"

Now, thanks to the Internet, which allows us to go as deep as we want on any subject we want, we tend to do it a little differently: we skim the surface with a vast number of things, understanding headlines and bullet points, and then we dive deep into a few select things. Not the big stories of the day, but the big stories of my day.

We don't stand in the four-foot section of the pool - we stand in the shallow end until we decide where to dive in, and then we jump off the high dive.

Anti-atheist Vox Day responds to Greta Christina's piece about 'angry atheists' by attacking "the self-styled atheist" as "usually an intrinsically repellent individual for the very reasons that caused him to primarily identify himself on the peculiar basis of one very specific non-belief:"

The reason that believers, agnostics, and even other atheists all dislike atheists who identify themselves as atheists is because they don't like annoying, dishonest, and literally self-righteous people with social handicaps who reject every objective moral or ethical code. You don't have to be an asshole to call yourself an atheist, but it quite clearly helps.

I have to wonder, based on Vox Day's "self-styled" criterion, if being a closeted atheist is OK. If so, we could blend in with all the "annoying, dishonest, self-righteous, socially handicapped" Christian assholes who pontificate on the horrible character traits of atheists.

Also intriguing is his claim that "most atheists lie about the source of their atheism" and that we are "clearly not telling the truth" about having an honest curiosity about and interest in religion:

We can easily confirm this to be untrue on several levels. First, while most atheists claim that they gave religion a sincere try, it is patently obvious when they haven't because one can reliably expose an atheist's ignorance of even the most basic Christian doctrine...

Readers may remember this survey showing that atheists tend to be more knowledgeable about religion than theists are. Vox Day knows that reality has rebutted his argument, but he prefers to conclude with yet another torrent of anti-atheist invective:

The combination of ignorance, epistemic incoherence, and ill-founded arrogance that is necessary to label oneself an atheist is as distasteful to the average individual as it is contemptible to the intellectual. When one combines those qualities with the social autism and hate-filled evangelicalism that is all too commonly displayed by atheists, it is a wonder that they are tolerated as much as they are.

This is, sadly, very typical of religious argumentation: much assertion, but no evidence.

Perhaps he thinks we would be better off if our parents had anticipated Pope Ratzi's reminder about the importance of selecting proper Catholic names for our children (h/t: Melissa McEwan):

If you're Catholic and are expecting a baby don't even think of naming it anything like Crystal, Heather, Track or Chelsea unless you want to upset Pope Benedict.

The pope, who baptized 21 children on Sunday at a traditional annual ceremony at the Vatican, said afterwards that every new member of the faith acquires the character of a son or daughter of the Church "starting from a Christian name."

This, he said, was "an unequivocal sign that the Holy Spirit gives a rebirth to people in the womb of the Church."

Bill Maher's address to the Teabaggers is my Quote of the Day. From about 3:35-4:10 of this clip, Maher says to them that "I think it's pretty clear that the Founding Fathers would have hated your guts:"

And what's more, you would have hated them. They were everything you despise: They studied science, read Plato, hung out in Paris, and thought the Bible was mostly bullshit.

Maher errs in calling Thomas Paine an atheist, but nobody's perfect...

Taking some information from Chris Kromm's piece at the Institute for Southern Studies, OpenLeft's Paul Rosenberg deflates the "violent Left" myth. Kromm writes that "Dr. King was especially adamant that [segregationist Alabama governor George] Wallace and other Southern politicians who inflamed racist sentiments were complicit in the era's trail of blood:"

On September 16, 1963 -- the day after four African-American girls were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham -- King wrote
The governor said things and did things which caused these people to feel that they were aided and abetted by the highest officer in the state. The murders of yesterday stand as blood on the hands of Governor Wallace.

The evidence seems to support King and others who argue there was a connection: As Raines notes, 12 people were killed in civil rights-related slayings during Wallace's first term between 1963 and 1966 -- a product not only of Wallace's escalating rhetoric, but also his famous unwillingness to prosecute the murder suspects.

And then there was Dr. King himself: James Earl Ray, the man eventually convicted for shooting King, was greatly influenced by Wallace and his agenda, even moving to Los Angeles to volunteer in Wallace's campaign headquarters in North Hollywood.

Rosenberg points out that the existence of "over 100 unsolved murders that happened during the Southern civil rights struggle...gives the lie to the comfortable centrist trope that 'we've always had violent movements in America, in the 60's and 70's they were on the left, now they're on the right':"

To be sure, there were some scattered incidents of violence on the left. The Weather Underground did perpetrate a number of bombings in which people were killed. But that was really about it. There were others who burned or blew up buildings or did other property damage, and there were a few individuals inadvertantly killed or injured. But violence (which by definition targets people--or animals) was not the intention, damage (which targets property) was. And while pundits today may trivialize the difference, it was a monumental one for those who engaged in it, and those who tacitly either supported it, or did not strongly oppose it. All this, of course, took place in the context of an underclared, illegal war.

Since the Black Panthers "were, on balance, less violent than the murderous police forces they confronted," wonders Rosenberg, "is it really accurate to say that the 1960s and 70's were characterized by 'violence on the left'?"

Or is it more accurate to characterize it as a period in which there was some violence on the left to counter a preponderance of violence on the right, much of which was either perpetrated by the state, or condoned by it?

In short, the characterizing of the 60s and 70s as a time of violence on the left is one that is accurate in one narrow sense, while being entirely misleading in a broader sense, because the 1960s and 70s were a time of endemic violence across the entire society, especially the political establishment...

Susie Madrak (or, more precisely, her son) came up with the best idea I've read all day--requiring gun owners to purchase insurance:

If they have risk factors (like teenagers in the house), their rates go up. If one of their kids sneaks a gun out of the house and gets caught, or uses it to commit a crime, the insurance gets canceled for some meaningful period of time -- say, 10 years.

And if someone steals your gun and you don't report it in a 24-hour window of you finding out, your insurance is suspended.

If you have a rifle and it's only used for hunting, low rates. If you have a Glock and you carry it in an open-carry town or state, your rates will be very high -- because odds are so much higher that innocent bystanders may get caught in a shootout.

Homeowners could be required to carry gun insurance as long as they're still paying on a mortgage, because a gun accident or misuse could result in a large legal judgment against the house.

Oh yeah, and you have to buy coverage for each gun you own.

We're required to buy car insurance, homeowner's insurance...if implemented sensibly, gun insurance could make a great deal of sense. Are there any counter-arguments?

I wasn't going to discuss Palin's speech on the Arizona massacre--which you can see here, if you have the stomach for it--because I'm sick unto death of her attitude of aggrieved victimhood/martyrdom, but then Andrew Sullivan noted that her central premise is self-contradictory. He wrote that "Palin's key point in her video is that no words can inspire or enrage or mislead or whip up someone to murder another person:"

"Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them."

But then she directly contradicts this by arguing that airing concerns about violent rhetoric after such an incident - rhetoric that Giffords herself personally flagged as dangerous - "serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn." But if violence cannot be incited by language, then no harm could possibly come of such a discussion.

More poisonously, it seems to me that the history of the blood libel against Jews is a very powerful rebuttal of the loopy case that rhetoric cannot lead to or inspire violence. [...] ...eliminationist rhetoric is, in fact, a necessary condition for pogroms or genocides to occur. Palin takes the example of ancient anti-Semitism to invert the lessons of history.

I think, though, that Sullivan may be giving Palin too much credit for what was probably an accidental inversion of reality; ignorance of the phrase blood libel is far more likely than extreme cleverness.

Charles Ellison wonders why aren't we calling Loughner a terrorist?

When a "crazy" white guy with a gun, wound up on polarized talking points and manifestos, indiscriminately kills innocent Americans in broad daylight, it takes several days in the aftermath before the larger public will even accept a hint of premeditation. Typically, the collective American psyche will initially trivialize the event by calling the perpetrator "deranged" or "mentally unstable." The social response script is fashioned to fake us into a false sense of security. It's isolated, they say. Just one crazed nut with a gun.

That dude who flew his plane into an IRS building? Isolated. Or the cat who waited for, scoped, then killed three Pittsburgh police officers? Crazy. What about the man who shot at the Panama City school board then shot himself? Off the edge.

Brown skin man with bombs strapped to his torso? Oh, that's a terrorist.

Ellison also writes: "I can't help but wonder why folks are so afraid to call the mass shooting in Tuscon, Arizona an act of terrorism."

Perhaps folks are worried about being attacked for saying so--not attacked by the Left [criticized], but attacked by the Right [shot].

Just sayin'.

Remember when the Right was all a-twitter over the power of words and images? TV character Murphy Brown was vehemently criticized for deciding to become a single mother, Prince's song mentioning masturbation was all but banned, and Sister Souljah got hammered (by Bill Clinton, no less) for suggesting violence.

Back then, conservatives believed fervently in the power of mass-media content to shape beliefs and inspire behavior--but now that their speech is under attack [see above], well, it's just not fair to them to even suggest the possibility that their glorification of gun violence and recommendation of targets might have anything to do with what happens in the real world.

It's long past time to call out liars as liars, and terrorists as terrorists.

They're pointing firearms at us--are we not allowed to point fingers at them?


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Anderson Cooper discussed the mental illness aspect of the Arizona attack with Bill Maher on AC360 (h/t: Towleroad) and asked:

COOPER: "Do you think--does this say something about mental health systems in America?"

MAHER: "I think it says a lot about small government, which is the great summum bonum of the Right.

Well, you know, Governor Brewer of Arizona just cut a lot of money from health programs, among them mental health programs. ["Arizona slashed this year's budget for mental health services by $36 million -- a 37 percent cut."]

This is what you get from small government: You get someone who is unable to get readily-available healthcare, and quite easily able to buy a gun.

There's your small government for you."

Amanda Marcotte notes in the mental illness gambit that "If Loughner does turn out to be psychotic, then the person whose moral culpability is reduced in that case is his:"

It doesn't reduce the moral culpability of people who pour out a steady stream of paranoid, violent rhetoric when they know full well some people out there are, for whatever reason, unhinged or unconnected enough to act on it. This is why I come down on 9/11 Truthers and anti-vaccination nutters so hard, even though they're often on the left "team", because I believe in my heart of hearts that spreading irrationality and paranoia incites violence, along with other inexcusable social ills.

The DailyKos piece on "stochastic terrorism" (h/t: Paul Rosenberg at OpenLeft) should be widely disseminated:

Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to stir up random lone wolves to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable.

This is what occurs when Bin Laden releases a video that stirs random extremists halfway around the globe to commit a bombing or shooting.

This is also the term for what Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity, and others do. And this is what led directly and predictably to a number of cases of ideologically-motivated murder similar to the Tucson shootings. [...] ...you heat up the waters and stir the pot, knowing full well that sooner or later a lone wolf will pop up and do the deed. The fact that it will happen is as predictable as the fact that a heated pot of water will eventually boil. But the exact time and place of each incident will remain as random as the appearance of the first bubbles in the boiling pot.

Alan Grayson has some comments on the assassination attempt on Giffords:

I know nothing about the man who shot Gabby, and what was going through his mind when he did this. But I will tell you this -- if he shot Gabby out of hatred, then it wasn't Gabby he was shooting, but rather some cartoon version of her, drawn by her political opposition.

At Tikkun, Rabbi Michael Lerner calls the Arizona attack more than a tragedy, writing that it is "part of a right-wing assault on government and the liberals and progressives who support it:"

Liberals and progressives are hated in many Red States because they support government policies that put restrictions on corporations; challenge the racism, sexism, homophobia and hatred of foreigners that has been part of the traditional conception of white male power... [...] ...don't think of this action as a mere "irrational event," because it fits very well with the agenda of those who want to give the country back 100% to the corporate powers and their Republican agents in Congress while scaring those who might wish to participate in helping build any kind of progressive alternative.

While discussing the tone vs. substance problem, Conor Freidersdorf admits that "the right does have a rhetoric problem:

Since Barack Obama took office, prominent voices on the right have called him an ally of Islamist radicals in their Grand Jihad against America, a radical Kenyan anti-colonialist, a man who pals around with terrorists and used a financial crisis to deliberately weaken America, an usurper who was born abroad and isn't even eligible to be president, a guy who has somehow made it so that it's okay for black kids to beat up white kids on buses, etc. I haven't even touched on the conspiracy theories of Glenn Beck. The birthers excepted, the people making these chargers are celebrated by movement conservatives - they're given book deals, awards, and speaking engagements.

If all of these charges were true, a radicalized citizenry would be an appropriate response. But even the conservatives who defend Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, D'Souza, McCarthy, and so many others don't behave as if they believe all the nonsense they assert. The strongest case against these people isn't that their rhetoric inspires political violence. It's that they frequently utter indefensible nonsense.

Cenk Uygur wonders was Jared Loughner's act political? and admits to being "confused" by the question of "whether both sides are equally at fault:"

What the hell did the Democrats or liberals do here? Nothing, except get shot. How can the media possibly attach false equivalency to this? Are the Democrats equally culpable for getting shot as the conservatives are for shooting them?

Loughner shot a Democrat. Gee, I wonder which side he was on? He hated the government and thought they were out to get us. Gee, I wonder which side he was on? [...]

Come on, this is all a smoke screen to make sure people don't see what's going on here. In the last two years, there have been dozens of attacks and shootings aimed at government officials and political organizations. Every single one of them was directed at liberals, Democrats or the government. Now we're to believe that's the world's largest coincidence?

John Aravosis points out that no, both sides don't do it:

There is no left-wing NRA. There is no vice presidential candidate on the Democratic side who puts bullseyes on the districts of members of Congress he doesn't like. And there is no Republican presidential nominee who has seen a spike in death threats in part because of the ramblings of the other team's noise machine and its elected officials.

When you tell people that Democrats in Congress, and the White House, are planning to institute death panels to kill their grandmother, how do you expect them to respond - with roses?

There aren't two sides to the Republicans' embrace of guns, violence, and angry mobs. It's all theirs. And it's time the media stopped pretending otherwise.

Sheriff Dupnik rebuts Rush Limbaugh's assessment of him as a "fool:"

"The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh, in my judgment he is irresponsible, uses partial information, sometimes wrong information," Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said today. "[Limbaugh] attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials and that kind of behavior in my opinion is not without consequences."

PFAW defends Dupnik against those on the Right who want to demonize truth-tellers, writing that:

amidst calls for responsibility, we are also seeing efforts to demonize truth tellers and censor the important debate we need to have about how to curb the dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric.

William Rivers Pitt writes an open letter to the far right. After some biographical information on those killed and injured, he writes to the Right "I just thought you should know a few things about the people you helped into their graves and hospital beds this weekend:"

Yes, you.

You false patriots who bring assault rifles to political rallies, you hack politicians and media personalities who lied through your stinking teeth about "death panels" and "Obama is coming for your guns" and "He isn't a citizen" and "He's a secret Muslim" and "Sharia Law is coming to America," you who spread this bastard gospel and you who swallowed it whole, I am talking to you, because this was your doing just as surely as it was the doing of the deranged damned soul who pulled the trigger. The poison you injected into our culture is deeply culpable for this carnage.

You who worship Jesus at the top of your lungs (in defiance of Christ's own teachings on the matter of worship, by the way) helped put several churchgoers into their graves and into the hospital. You who shriek about the sanctity of marriage helped cut down a man who was about to be married. You who crow with ceaseless abandon about military service and the nobility of our fighting forces helped to critically wound the wife of a Naval aviator who fought for you in a war. You who hold September 11 as your sword and shield helped put a little girl born on that day into the ground.

You helped. Yes, damn you, you helped.

He continues with some specifics. "And yes, I'm talking to you, Sarah Palin, you unutterably disgusting fraud:"

...you put cross-hairs - literally, cross-hairs - on Rep. Giffords, you blithered about "reloading" instead of "retreating," and you made this country more stupid and violent with every breath you took. Well, congratulations, you failure, you quitter, you inciter of mobs. You put the cross-hairs on her, and someone finally pulled the trigger. Run from it all you like, Lady MacBeth, but this blood will never be washed from your hands.

No, her hand will rather
the multitudinous seas incarnadine...

Fox disinfotainer Glenn Beck has come under fire [by liberals, so "under fire" means verbal criticism] for doing his part to help foment wingnut violence, to which he responded:

"I don't use [violent rhetoric] on or off the air."

Well, here are some example that show Beck to be--surprise, surprise--full of shit:

To top it all off, here's a screenshot from Beck's website:


Holding a gun to protest gun violence? In what crazy-chalkboard kind of world does that make sense?

Atheism Resource is a nice compendium of freethought items, and I've been poking around the site ever since PZ Myers linked to their "Rational Debating" flowchart.

Their "Top 10 Myths About Evolution" (PDF) is a nice compendium of brief responses to the most common Creationist fallacies. The only shortcoming is a lack of notes to supporting evidence. Something like the NRDC's Global Warming FAQ could go a long way with their nice short answer/long answer format...

Sharon "Second Amendment remedies" Angle, Michele "armed and dangerous" Bachmann, and Sarah "don't retreat, RELOAD" Palin may be the most obvious examples of mainstream conservative eliminationist rhetoric, but they are far from being the only ones.

If liberal protestors are shouting or breaking windows, then OMG the Lefties are out of control and it's the Sixties all over again--and we're still hearing about the same decades-old incidents. The corporate media will never point out the constant drumbeat of Right-wing violence (particularly when a Democrat is in the White House) despite the fact that it results in people being maimed and murdered.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence posted a long timeline of insurrectionism; it and Jon Perr's piece on Republican rhetoric and right-wing terror are both useful overviews. As a humble blogger, I mentioned but a handful of the recent terrorist incidents that they catalog: the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Tennessee (here, here, and here), the DHS report on right-wing extremism, and the murder of Dr Tiller. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, conservatives are claiming that liberals are the ones who are truly guilty of incendiary rhetoric, which (as FDL's Eli points out in my Quote of the Day) makes no sense at all:

I have some questions for you, if you're not too busy telling us all about how Jared Loughner is a pot-smoking hippie:

1) If all these acts of violence are committed by dangerously disturbed people who are completely apolitical and uninfluenced by your steady drumbeat of "DEMOCRATS ARE TYRANNICAL AND BAD! KILL DEMOCRATS!", then wouldn't they be attacking conservatives in roughly equal numbers?

2) If you deplore these violent acts of dangerously disturbed individuals acting completely on their own with no political agenda whatsoever, why do you insist on making it so easy for them to acquire guns? Especially when the law of averages suggests that the next twenty or so Totally Random Apolitical Attacks will be on conservatives?

3) Have you, at long last, no sense of decency? How can you continue to use such recklessly violent language after so much violence? If you had dinner with a family who lost a family member to gun violence, would you be cracking gun jokes all night long or talking about how much you'd like to see some liberal politician taken out and shot?

4) Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you people???

Melissa McEwan notes that when "Faced with the overwhelming evidence of the violent rhetoric absolutely permeating the discourse emanating from their side of the aisle, conservatives adopt the approach of a petulant child--deny, obfuscate, and lash out defensively:"

This culture, this habit, of eliminationist rhetoric is not happening in a vacuum. It's happening in a culture of widely-available guns (thanks to conservative policies), of underfunded and unavailable medical care, especially mental health care (thanks to conservative policies), of a widespread belief that government is the enemy of the people (thanks to conservative rhetoric), and of millions of increasingly desperate people (thanks to an economy totally fucked by conservative governance).

The shooting in Tucson was not an anomaly. It was an inevitability.

Amanda Marcotte comments on the inevitable right-wing deflection campaign and Meteor Blades talks about the Right's crocodile tears at Daily Kos, noting that "What we're going to be saturated with for the next week or so are the inevitable false equivalencies:"

We'll hear, for instance, how there are "nuts on both sides." Undeniably true. But there is no ubiquitous liberal - much less, left-wing - network of talk-radio stations spouting Two Minutes' Hate 24/7. The collective voice of the right wing on radio and the Internet ... simply has no visible counterpart on the left. When the right discusses the violent left, it must seek overseas examples or something from decades ago in America's past. [emphasis added]

John Judis observes at TNR that "if you look broadly at today's political discourse...what you find is that gun, warrior, murder, mayhem, and generally Armageddon-like, apocalyptic rhetoric is virtually monopolized by right-wing organizations, talk-show hosts, and politicians." Dana Bash flies the false-equivalence flag, but it is pointed out that:

...there's just one side that needs to get that message [about "spreading lies and whipping up the fear and anger"] and it's the Republicans and their enablers on Fox and right-wing hate radio. We don't have any Democratic members of Congress out there telling their constituents to "reload' or that we need investigations looking into whether they're anti-American or not.

Peter Daou writes about the rightwing hate machine and their bogus equivalency, noting that "one of the most dangerous myths promulgated by the media and political establishment is that there is a comparable level of extremism among conservatives and liberals:"

Even the most cursory perusal of rightwing radio, television, blogs and assorted punditry illustrates a profound distinction: in large measure, the right's overarching purpose is to stoke hatred of the left, of liberalism. The right's messaging infrastructure, meticulously constructed and refined over decades, promotes an image of liberals as traitors and America-haters, unworthy of their country and bent on destroying it. There is simply no comparable propaganda effort on the left.

The imbalance is stark: Democrats and liberals rail against the right's ideas; the right rails against the left's very existence.

The result is an atmosphere where bigotry thrives, where science and reason are under assault, where progress (associated with progressivism) is frowned upon. And it's an atmosphere where violence becomes more likely. Pretending this is not the case is to enable it.

James Fallows discusses the cloudy logic of evasionism, and David Neiwert debunks the Right's "just a nutcase" campaign:

Indeed, what we can say clearly is that Jared Loughner -- like a lot of people who buy into right-wing conspiracism -- believes a lot of things that are provably untrue. He's a classic demonstration of the unhinging effect that conspiracism and right-wing up-is-downism has on people: once people become unhinged from reality, they inevitably become unhinged in their behavior.

Chip Berlet discusses how Giffords got Becked, observing that "the shootings have created a new word floating across cyberspace: becking:"

To be "becked" is to be held up as such an evil and destructive person that someone, somewhere, will interpret it as a call to eliminate that problem through violence.

George Packer writes at the New Yorker that it doesn't matter why Loughton did it:

This relentlessly hostile rhetoric has become standard issue on the right. (On the left it appears in anonymous comment threads, not congressional speeches and national T.V. programs.) And it has gone almost entirely uncriticized by Republican leaders. Partisan media encourages it, while the mainstream media finds it titillating and airs it, often without comment, so that the gradual effect is to desensitize even people to whom the rhetoric is repellent. We've all grown so used to it over the past couple of years that it took the shock of an assassination attempt to show us the ugliness to which our politics has sunk.

Kris Broughton at Big Think observes that Republicans Own Political Hate Speech Like Bill Gates Owns Microsoft, and quotes Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik:

"I would just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people, how they are, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. [...] That may be free speech, but it's not without consequences."

Matt Osborne suggests that we should welcome the hate for its role in prompting "courageous, creative nonviolence," and Michael Stickings writes in political rhetoric and political violence that "this isn't just about speech but about ideology as well:"

It's not just that Palin put Giffords and others in the crosshairs, targeting them, or that military terminology is prevalent specifically on the right, but that conservatism today, as reflected in both the Tea Party and the Republican Party, is exceedingly violent. It isn't just about limited government, it's about conspiracy theories rooted in anti-government, and specifically anti-federal government paranoia. It isn't just about the right to bear arms, it's about owing guns en masse, carrying them in public (whether concealed or right out in the open), and flaunting them (and also using them) as political protest.

(Lest the gun-clingers get too haughty about incorrectly identifiying the crosshairs in question, Dennis G reminds us at Balloon Juice that Palin herself once referred to them as "bullseyes.") It's the threat implied by the presence of firearms in a place where they are not needed--the threat that, if things don't go their way those guns will be used and their deadly force embodied in a body count. Stickings continues, summarizing that "our fingers ought to be pointing at Palin and all those like her on the right, which is to say, at much of American conservatism today, including the Tea Party and the GOP:"

We must not allow them to get away with what they're doing. And they should not be allowed to get away with claiming that they had nothing to do with it.

Driftglass identifies Glenn Beck as a possible accomplice, noting "The sad truth is that Hate is the Right's Ring of Power:"

They're never going to give it up, because they know the minute they do -- the minute they're no longer allowed to pretend that Liberals are evil, freedom-hating fifth-columnist monsters who are dragging America into a Marxist abyss on the secret orders of our Kenyan Usurper Overlord -- their whole ideology would implode...

...they would never win another election...

...and tens of thousands of powerful, well-remunerated insiders from Rush Limbaugh to David Gregory who depend on that hate for their daily bread would suddenly have to go out and find honest work.

PZ Myers demolishes the "don't politicize this tragedy" argument:

What we have here is an attempted assassination of a politician by an insane crank at a political event, in a state where the political discourse has been an unrelenting howl of eliminationist rhetoric and characterization of anyone to the left of Genghis Khan as a traitor and enemy of the state...and now, when six (including a nine year old girl) lie dead and another fourteen are wounded, now suddenly we're concerned that it is rude and politicizing a tragedy to point out that the right wing has produced a toxic atmosphere that pollutes our politics with hatred and the rhetoric of violence?

Screw that. Now is the time to politicize the hell out of this situation. [...] Do not sit there cowering, trying to make excuses for teabaggers and violent morons. This is supposed to be the part where you stand up, look at the shouters on the other side, and tell them, "This is wrong, and this is the harm you bring to our country."

Tom Tomorrow's "Don't Go Blaming Guns" strip is, as usual, all-too-poignant:


Greta Christina wonders why believers are so hostile toward atheists, and asks these questions:

Why is atheist anger so offhandedly dismissed as nihilistic bitterness? Why is atheist happiness so offhandedly denied as logically impossible? Why is it so important for so many believers to frame atheism as inherently joyless and hostile?

Part of their reaction, she notes, "is just the standard-issue response to a social change movement:"

Think about shrill, shrewish feminists; violent and irrational black activists; hysterical queers: any time a marginalized class starts finding its voice and expressing its outrage, they're framed as either dangerous or trivial, and anything they have to say is automatically dismissed. Hegemony in action, kids! If a system of power is going to protect and perpetuate itself, it's not about to recognize the validity of any criticism against it. It's not even going to consider the possibility, even for a second, that this criticism might be valid. And religion has some of the best self-protective, self-perpetuating mechanisms going.

She also suggests "another reason so many believers reflexively frame atheism as bitter and nihilistic...It's because they have to:"

It's because accepting the existence of good, happy atheists undercuts so many of the rationalizations for their beliefs. [...] ...the existence of atheists with rich, good, meaningful lives makes it patently clear that religious belief isn't actually all that useful. Which is why so many believers, faced with the reality of happy and moral atheists, simply stick their fingers in their ears and chant, "I can't hear you, I can't hear you, I can't hear you!"

Rather than shouting "La la la la," some theists will accuse us of being parasites on a society that they claim wouldn't exist without religion. Atheists can tout the Greco-Roman contributions and play the game of whose-intellectual-heritage-is-more-important, but I'm reminded of one of Noam Chomsky's frames for discussing American foreign policy toward non-capitalist economies: the threat of a good example. Atheists can recognize the morality of the faithful, but theists seem unable to treat us as we treat them...isn't there a Golden Rule about that?

After the House GOP Teabagged the Constitution last week, David Cole penned a bitingly sarcastic Conservative Constitution of the United States. My favorite parts are the Preamble,

We, the Real Americans, in order to form a more God-Fearing Union, establish Justice as we see it, Defeat Health-Care Reform, and Preserve and Protect our Property, our Guns and our Right Not to Pay Taxes, do ordain and establish this Conservative Constitution for the United States of Real America.

the passage about presidential eligibility,

No person except a natural born Citizen who can produce video, photographic or eyewitness evidence of birth in a non-island American State shall be eligible to the Office of President.

and the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law abridging the Freedom of Speech, except where citizens desecrate the Flag of the United States; respecting an establishment of Religion, except to support Christian schools, religious apparitions in food products and the display of crosses and creches in public places; or abridging the free exercise of Religion, except to block the construction of mosques in sensitive areas as determined by Florida Pastors or the Fox News Channel.

The rest of it is pretty good, too.

More seriously, People for the American Way discusses Teabaggers' real Constitutional philosophy in the report Corporate Infusion (PDF). PFAW notes that "Despite all the hype, the Tea Party is not a 'populist,' 'libertarian,' or 'constitutionalist' movement:"

Rather, it is a movement of grassroots frustration that has been co-opted by wealthy corporate interests to fight against the historic victories of Populism, against the key movements for civil liberties and civil rights, and against modern constitutional principles...

In addition, the report debunks "the boastful and ubiquitous claim that the Tea Party speaks for liberty and freedom:"

Tea Party activists may dress themselves up in colonial garb and swear their devotion to the Constitution. But the Constitution they revere is not the real one, but only a projection of their own reactionary desires. [...]

The much-trumpeted passion for "liberty" in the Tea Party has little to do with promoting the actual freedom of citizens... [...] The freedom being advanced is not the freedom of people; it is overwhelmingly the freedom of corporate capital. [...]

If the Tea Party's political project is populism, it is corporate populism; if it is libertarianism, it is corporate libertarianism; and if it is constitutionalism, it is corporate constitutionalism. These are strange hybrids that prior generations of Americans fighting for popular democracy and freedom would recognize as laughable contradictions in terms.

"Rhetorical gestures aside," observes the report, "the real-world political program of the [Tea Party] movement and its elected officials...is all about tightening the stranglehold of corporate power over American political institutions:"

It is now up to Americans who remember what the real Populists fought for, who love the real Constitution and Bill of Rights, and who cherish real liberty to reclaim these words and defend the ideals of America.

The Right's long effort to co-opt patriotism has been--at least in the popular mind--largely successful; we can't let them steal the Constitution, too.

...and I'm not the only one:

(h/t: Comics Worth Reading)

...right-wingers kill people--with guns.

RIP, Representative Gabrielle Giffords one of the shooting victims.

Contrary to earlier media reports, Rep Giffords is still alive and in surgery. Best wishes to her and everyone else who was shot in the attack.

update 2:
Thanks to Brad DeLong for quoting from Clinton's speech after the Oklahoma City bombing. Clinton said that "we hear so many loud and angry voices in America today whose sole goal seems to be to try to keep some people as paranoid as possible and the rest of us all torn up and upset with each other:"

They spread hate. They leave the impression that, by their very words, that violence is acceptable. You ought to see--I'm sure you are now seeing the reports of some things that are regularly said over the airwaves in America today. [...] It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.

If they insist on being irresponsible with our common liberties, then we must be all the more responsible with our liberties. When they talk of hatred, we must stand against them. When they talk of violence, we must stand against them. When they say things that are irresponsible, that may have egregious consequences, we must call them on it. The exercise of their freedom of speech makes our silence all the more unforgivable. So exercise yours, my fellow Americans. Our country, our future, our way of life is at stake.

Back in the day, Rush Limbaugh wrote a Newsweek op-ed disavowing any ideological affiliation with the bombers. No doubt Sarah Palin's handlers are preparing a similar defense for her website's [now-removed] violent imagery literally targeting GIffords and other Democrats:


update 3:
TPM unearthed this video where Giffords discussed Palin's crosshairs ad:

"For example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list. But the thing is, the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they've got to realize there's consequences to that action."

Unfortunately, one of those consequences has been a disturbed individual going on a shooting spree.

update 4 (1/9):
Right-wing apologists have pointed out (h/t: TPM) that Palin's crosshair icons are from surveyors and not gunsights. Excuses for decades of the Right's eliminationist rhetoric--not to mention their actual violence--have not yet been provided.

In his analysis of elite media conservatism, Matthew Yglesias notes that "You don't need to endorse the view that the tea party phenomenon is some kind of astroturf to recognize that that there's a major grasstops element" to conservative ideological conformity:

It wouldn't be a smart move for Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney to get on the wrong side of Rush & Fox. Jim DeMint might or might not find it useful to act as a rightwing defector from dealmaking, but he wouldn't actually get anywhere without conservative media to back him. In essence, coordinated action among a very small number of people can cut the oxygen off from the tea party fire any time they want to. So the question becomes not how "the tea party" will react, but how a relatively small number of influential conservative media figures will react.

Andrew Sullivan scoffed at Yglesias' suggestion that "the media elite runs the conservative movement," but is at least expresses concern that "Tea Partiers are overly credulous when it comes to conservative elites:"

So many of its members trust the factual veracity of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, and imagine the motivating factor of everything they broadcast is ideology, when profit and ego are inherently alloyed in the mix. These voices are incentivized to make a huge deal out of something like earmark reform, while steering clear of more consequential policy failures - especially when they're fraught with divisive controversy or cannot be distilled into useful soundbytes. They remain the only way to really reform conservatism, while being the main forces restricting it to a form of entertainment.

Sullivan's take on the situation is very weak compared to that of Driftglass, whose piece is so good that it deserves--nay, demands--to be read in full. Here's the gist of it:

There is no Big Brother bestriding the Right, because there doesn't need to be: because the one, genuine innovation of the Right has been to spend 40 years carefully cultivating a dumbed-down Base which at this point are little more than reprogrammable Golem.

Whatever they are told today through the Right's trusted in-house organs, they will believe.

Whatever those in-house sources tell them tomorrow -- even if it is in 180 degree opposition to what they were told today -- they will believe.

Because the day-to-day ebb and flow of Conservative lies -- no matter how malevolent or jaw-droppingly ridiculous -- no longer matters to a Base that knows only two things: that Big Brother loves them and that Emmanuel Goldstein is to blame for all of their problems. [...]

Of course it's a scam -- a childishly transparent scam to anyone standing outside of it. And of course it's incredibly destructive. So is selling meth. So is cranking out propaganda denying global climate change. So what? Working for evil will always pay better than teaching school or feeding the poor, and those at the bottom of the Ponzi scheme will always end up getting fucked, but so what? As long as the wingnut proles have their one-size-fits-all scapegoats, they will never rise up, and as long as the hundreds of thousands of Inner Party stooges continue to swim in an open sewer of Frank Luntz/AEI/Karl Rove talking points that they willingly eat, drink, shit and regurgitate, they will continue to lack even the basic vocabulary necessary to understand the evil which they so eagerly serve.

Of course, outside of the Beltway Bell Jar there still exists a group called "Liberals": a group that has repeatedly tried to warn that this day was coming.

Tried and failed. Again and again. For years and years.

Which is why the entire system depends on Hating Goldstein. Because the whole filthy enterprise would fall apart if these God Fearing Patriots of the Right were ever forced to stop for even a moment and submit to an honest accounting of who has been right and who as has been wrong for the last generation or two.

Driftglass' commentary-via-logo on Sullivan, which I've enjoyed for some time, is also quite nice:


It is the nature of backward-looking conservatism to trail in liberalism's wake--sometimes by years, at other times by decades or even centuries. One hopes that Sullivan's epiphanies of the elite can help guide some of his center-right audience in the direction of a reality-based sanity, perhaps at a faster pace than they could otherwise manage.

So, Bill O'Reilly is going to interview Obama before the Super Bowl...I wonder what topics they'll discuss. I'd love to see Obama touch on the importance of education, especially scientific literacy. O'Reilly recently said (1:30-2:30 from this clip) that "you can't explain" why the tide goes in and out:

The action of tides is actually quite explainable, but it's only been three centuries since Newton--anti-science conservatives such as O'Reilly may need longer than that to catch up with the rest of us. (Perhaps they're right to be cautious, though: gravitation is "just a theory"...)

Last night, Stephen Colbert showed that O'Reilly has played the same argumentum ad ignorantium card numerous times before:

Colbert sums up O'Reilly's stance this way: "There must be a god, because I don't know how things work."

...that they wanted to start violating it right away:

Two House Republicans have cast votes as members of the 112th Congress, but were not sworn in on Wednesday, a violation of the Constitution on the same day that the GOP had the document read from the podium.

The Republicans, incumbent Pete Sessions of Texas and freshman Mike Fitzpatrick, missed the swearing in because they were at a fundraiser in the Capitol Visitors Center. [...] House ethics rules forbid fundraising in the Capitol.

Only slightly less idiotic than the n-word being stripped from new editions of Huckleberry Finn--see Ta-Nehisi Coates for commentary--was the GOP's Constitution-reading stunt in the House today. TPM points out that today's reading was of an amended version--the notorious three-fifths clause being the most blatant omission--which is in direct opposition to the simplistic originalist doctrine that animates much of the Right.

Francine Prose's observation during the NYT debate over Huck Finn is key:

[W]hat puzzles me most about the debate -- I'm not trying to sound willfully naïve -- is why the word "nigger" should be more freighted, more troubling, the cause of more (to paraphrase the edition's introduction) "resentment" than the word "slave." Racial epithets are inarguably disgusting, but not nearly so disgusting as an institution that treats human beings as property to be beaten, bought and sold. "Nigger" and "slave" are not synonyms by any stretch of the imagination. Jim's problem is not that he is called a "nigger" but that he is chattel who can be freed or returned to his master.

Instead of excising the word from the novel, students should be reminded that however uneasy the word makes us, what should make us much more uneasy is the fact that we -- the United States -- were a slave-holding society.

Slate's Dahlia Lithwich notes that the Teabaggers' Constitutional reverence is hopelessly selective, although "This newfound attention to the relationship between Congress and the Constitution is thrilling and long overdue:"

This is an opportunity to engage in a reasoned discussion of what the Constitution does and does not do. It's an opportunity to point out that no matter how many times you read the document on the House floor, cite it in your bill, or how many copies you can stuff into your breast pocket without looking fat, the Constitution is always going to raise more questions than it answers and confound more readers than it comforts. And that isn't because any one American is too stupid to understand the Constitution. It's because the Constitution wasn't written to reflect the views of any one American. [...]

Reasonable people can differ about constitutional values and systems. There's probably no better evidence for that than the Constitution itself. But it doesn't get less nuanced or complicated just because you've read it aloud. It merely gets harder to hear the other side.

Over at Washington Monthly, Steve Benen agrees, writing that "If members want to read the Constitution, that's probably a good thing:"

Maybe we'll all get lucky and the exercise will lead to a larger discussion about why constitutional text is open to interpretation -- and why right-wing activists aren't the final arbiters of its meaning. [...]

In fact, one of the elements of today's public reading that should be most interesting is how Republicans work their way through the parts of the document they find inconvenient. We were reminded this week, for example, that the right doesn't care for the "general welfare" or the "necessary and proper" clauses.

But why end there? I'll look forward to conservatives gritting their teeth just a little as they read the establishment clause, the language creating a federal income tax, the prohibition on religious tests for public office, the language that establishes birthright citizenship, and the "due process" clause that applied the Bill of Rights to the states.

The Constitutional Accountability Center points out that our founding document favors progressive results and that the Teabagger version of the Constitution "has far more in common with the failed Articles of Confederation-the dysfunctional, loose confederacy that was in place between 1776 and the Constitutional Convention of 1787-than with our actual, enduring U.S. Constitution:"

Eight separate amendments expanded the enumerated powers of the federal government, giving vast powers to the government to protect equality, civil rights, and voting rights, and to raise funds through taxes on income. Many Tea Partiers disdain these Amendments-or even want to repeal them-but they are just as much a part of the Constitution as the language written in 1787. When the new members of Congress are sworn in this week, they will swear to uphold the entire Constitution, not just the parts written in the 18th century.

Bill Scher suggests at Campaign for America's Future that "maybe they'll learn something" from reading the Constitution, but ThinkProgress identifies their current attitude as unconstitutional conservatism:

Republicans have attempted to wrap themselves in the document and use the Constitution like a bludgeon against progressives. In reality, conservatives consistently ignore, distort, and pervert the Constitution in order to force it to fit their political goals and ideology. [...] Tea party conservatives often accuse progressives of undermining the text or abandoning its principles, when in fact it is progressives who must repeatedly defend the document and its emphasis on social justice, expanded franchise, and equality for all from conservative attacks.

Jamelle Bouie provides my Quote of the Day at The Atlantic--although writing about Huck Finn, his observation that avoiding embarrassing words "doesn't change anything" applies equally well to the Teabaggers in Congress:

It doesn't provide racial enlightenment, or justice, and it won't shield anyone from the legacy of slavery and racial discrimination. All it does is feed the American aversion to history and reflection. Which is a shame. If there's anything great about this country, it's in our ability to account for and overcome our mistakes. Peddling whitewashed ignorance diminishes America as much as it does our intellect.

WaPo has some annotations related to today's reading, as does the NYT.

When the reading came to the passage about presidential qualifications (see Article II, Section I) some idiot birther in the gallery began shouting "except Obama, except Obama." Here's some news for all the Teatards out there: Obama's birthplace of Hawaii has been part of the United States since 1959, making him at least as much a natural-born citizen of the United States as a certain Republican Senator who was born in Panama.

David Corn explores the GOP's plan to weaponize the Constitution despite their deficient reading comprehension:

This is, of course, a stunt designed to position the GOPers as the party that really, really, really cares about constitutional government. But the exercise is the showy equivalent of wearing a flag pin. It's no great feat to mouth the words written in 1787 in Philadelphia by a committee of the Federal Convention. That doesn't resolve any issues, for as any high school student with a decent history teacher knows, Americans have been arguing about what is and isn't constitutional governance since Marbury v. Madison.

The WaPo quotes Constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar as pointing out the following:

"My disagreement is when we actually read the Constitution as a whole, it doesn't say what the tea party folks think it says."

Amar argues that the Constitution charters a "very broad federal power" and is not the narrow states' rights document that tea party activists present it as.

I wonder who will read the part about treaties being "the supreme Law of the Land" (Article VI), and if that representative will be at all familiar with our secular roots:

"The government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."

(from The Treaty of Tripoli; ratified unanimously by the Senate and signed by John Adams)

Senator Arlen Specter's new career will be teaching law at Penn. I wonder if he'll be reprising his famous "not proved" vote from Clinton's impeachment, perhaps by teaching a course entitled "LAW 101: Guilty, Not Guilty, or Something Else"?

fisking faith

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Russell Blackford re-posted a classic piece from last August, taking apart this Moonie Times op-ed by Suzanne Fields which claimed that atheism has become a "fashionable topic." I'll take a look first at Fields' op-ed, which I've interspersed with Blackford's remarks. His initial comment was that her "anti-atheist diatribe...is of such poor quality that it scarcely merits a response:"

Unfortunately, I can't allow every such meretricious piece to go unrebutted: there are so many of them that there's a significant cumulative impact if we let too many through without comment. At least now and then, it's worth taking the time to pick apart such a piece in some detail, if only to demonstrate just how intellectually empty it is. [...] Fields' article is not merely intellectually empty, though it certainly is that: again and again it demonstrates the very arrogance that she accuses her opponents of.

Fields' article is bereft of even one worthwhile point, though it does offer up a few useless, platitudinous truths. Unfortunately, there's obviously a market for such pieces as long as they attack an easily-demonised group such as outspoken atheists.

One of her first attacks is a variant of the argumentum ad populum fallacy:

Some atheist tomes become best-sellers, but all taken together cannot remotely compete with sales of the Bible.

Because religious belief is largely driven by society and family, it is hardly a surprise that contrarian books would be less popular than majoritarian ones. She blunders a bit further down the same path:

Atheists think of themselves as nonconformists, but the catechism of unbelief is as old as the doctrines against the mythical Greek and Roman gods.

Fields' suggestion of atheist self-aggrandizement makes this statement ridiculous. We don't merely "think of ourselves" as non-conformists, we actually are non-conformists. Blackford observes:

The trouble is that even if we were motivated by a sense of ourselves as non-conformists - which might show some element of vanity, I suppose - her argument that we actually are not what we imagine ourselves to be clearly fails. Even if atheism had a long history, it would not follow that it is currently popular. Conformity is about going along with the majority view that you see around you, not about going along with a view that happens to have a long historical pedigree. [...]

The fact is that atheism is a minority view right now in the English-speaking countries, taken overall, and especially in the United States where Fields' article is published. [...] So what the hell is she talking about?

When writing about medical missionaries, Fields writes that "atheists are unwilling to celebrate the belief behind such generosity and goodness." This is, unlike many of her claims, largely true--we would rather skip the middleman and celebrate generosity and goodness themselves. Blackford:

Fields says that some religious people do good things. But hang on a minute: it doesn't follow either that religion is true or that religion brings about good results on balance. Plenty of evil has been inspired by religion. And yes, I know that plenty of evil has been inspired by other things, such as greed, desperation, political ideology, but that's not the point. No one says that religion is the source of all evil in the world. What we do say is that it's not beyond criticism and satire.

She then claims that "the books of the New Atheists [are filled with] smug, shallow and arrogant assertions." Blackford notes that instead of providing examples, Fields "simply sneers at what atheists are supposedly like, as described by her:"

I suggest strongly that Fields is factually wrong here, and that she writes absolutely nothing to back up her implausible generalisation about atheist writing. It also hasn't escaped me that the claim is itself smug, shallow, and rather arrogant. Fields seeks to smear and belittle her opponents, rather than to engage them.

Then she really starts making things up:

Atheists by definition believe in nothing, and anyone would find it hard to make something of nothing.

That's a stellar example of religious reality reversal. Atheists believe in the natural world, in what actually exists, in what can be proven; it is theists who by definition believe in the supernatural, in things that are not seen, and for which there is no evidence. As rebutted by Blackford:

That is a nice smug bit of rhetoric, but what in the world does it actually mean? It is simply not the case that atheists "believe in nothing". We don't believe that any of the gods identified in human religions actually exist, but so what? If believing in nothing is meant to mean that atheists have no beliefs at all, that is just false. [...] The issue is not whether bare lack of belief in the existence of gods is sufficient for a full belief system - clearly it isn't. The real questions are about which belief systems are likely to be close to the truth, which systems might be socially beneficial, whether theism as we've known it historically, in the Abrahamic religions, is likely to be true, whether or not it has been beneficial, whether it is beneficial right now, and so on. [...] Fields' approach is not charitable, fair, intellectually reputable, or even civil.

Fields then touches on the plight of Christopher Hitchens, writing that "since he has been diagnosed with cancer, he seems to appreciate not only his physicians but the 'astonishing number of prayer groups' working on his behalf." One can feel gratified by good wishes while recognizing that such wishful thinking has no proven efficacy. Blackford concludes his rebuttal by noting that "sometimes it's necessary to respond at length in order to show in detail just how bad some of these anti-atheist articles are:"

The piece by Fields is badly written and poorly argued; it is as smug, shallow, and arrogant as anything ever written by any so-called "New Atheist" known to humankind. All in all this piece is a worthless contribution to current debates about God and religion. I'd like to ignore it, but we do have to grapple with these sorts of pieces from time to time.

Fields' writing is the sort that I deplore; Blackford's is the sort to which I aspire.


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I'm tempted to snark that this year's resolution is the same as last year's:

1920x1200 @ 32-bit color

...but I won't.

There are a few publicly-mentionable things--ones not related to home and family--that I'd like to work on this year, so I wanted to mention them here.

I ran 1300 miles last year, and (barring any significant injury) I think a goal of 1800 miles isn't unreasonable for 2011. This will mean increasing my average monthly mileage from 110 to 150, but spending more time running on trails than on roads should make that easier. (I ran my first ultra last year, and have a few more on my calendar this year.) I'm also continuing to transition toward more minimalist footwear, with some barefoot runs as conditions allow. More yoga and strength training would help, too...

Keeping up with my reading has been a losing struggle for the past few months, so I've begun a process of pruning and prioritizing my growing TBR stacks. Two related sub-goals are spending less time at my local chain bookstores (to cut down on impulse purchases) and more time at the local university library (which is my best $20 annual expenditure).

I'm going to try writing more about music (I listen to a lot of classical and jazz) and graphic novels (I'm a huge fan of the medium) in addition to my usual posts about politics, media, religion, and books. I joined LibraryThing a while ago and GoodReads very recently, and I'll be cross-posting my book reviews there--and perhaps on Amazon as well. I'll also be trying to leave more comments on the blogs I frequent, especially when I link to someone else's post.

That's about enough, don't you think?

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