February 2011 Archives

Dean Karnazes: Run!

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Karnazes, Dean. Run! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss (New York: Rodale, 2011)

In contrast to his earlier books Ultramarathon Man and 50/50: Secrets I Learned from Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days, Dean Karnazes' new book Run! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss is--as the subtitle indicates--a pastiche of incidents rather than a cohesive narrative. A major portion of the book details his participation in the 4 Deserts race series (Atacama, Gobi, Sahara, and Antarctica), but there's more in here than just racing stories. Karnazes writes in Chapter 12 about training Topher Gaylord for the Western States 100, and Gaylord tells his WS100 story in chapter 15. In Chapter 14, Karnazes' wife Julie describes what it's like living with an athlete, and their kids Alexandria and Nicholas present their takes in Chapter 18.

Running Badwater for the eighth time while his father (nicknamed "Popou") recuperated from quadruple-bypass surgery, Karno had an early-morning revelation about "all the emotional deadweight we carry around with us." He and his running partner stripped down to their reflective vests (runners are required to wear them at night) and streaked down the road:

For the first time in days, nothing was chafing me. I had nothing but the shirt on my back (er, the reflective vest on my back), and it felt great. We come into this world bare, and we leave the same way. It would happen to Popou; it would happen to me. Such is the cycle of life.

The best we can do is cherish every moment. If we hold close those we love, their memories will live on within us even after they're gone. It was all about stripping away the complex layers we construct around us and accepting the truth. This revelation set me free. (p. 63)

This freedom makes our limited lifespan all the more precious:

There will come a day when Popou can no longer swing a golf club, just as there will come a day when I can no longer run. But, thankfully, today is not that day! (p. 66)

When a trip-and-fall incident at Leadville hyperextended his knee, Karnazes wrote about his encounter with an orthopedic surgeon at the UCSF Medical Center:

The doctor I was scheduled to see came highly recommended as a sports specialist. After all, he was the team physician for the San Francisco 49ers football squad. When I entered his office, he took one look at me and said, "You're a runner, you're going to have horrible knees."

After seeing me and taking some X-rays, he informed me that I had a torn meniscus. He gave me some pills and told me to stop running. He instructed me to schedule a follow-up appointment in two weeks. I walked out of his office, threw the drugs in the trashcan, and went running.

I never returned. (p. 105)

Whether this is foolhardy bravado or the justified confidence borne of repeated experience likely depends on the reader's own perspective on--and relationship with--running. Prompted by his previous books, Karnazes is sometimes quite eloquent when discussing his love of the sport:

The ultramarathon doesn't build character, it reveals it. It is here that you get an honest glimpse into the soul of an individual. Every insecurity, every character flaw is open and on display for all to see. [...] There is no hiding behind anything; the ultramarathon is the great equalizer. (p. 202)

What's next for Karnazes? He began a Run Across America last Friday, and estimates that he'll arrive in New York City on 9 May. At 2900 miles, this will be more than twice the distance covered in his 50/50 event, with only half again as much time...an average of about 40 miles per day. Next year's planned event is even bigger:

Starting in November 2012, I'm planning on running a marathon in every country in the world in a one-year period. Yep, to embark on a global expedition to hit every country on the planet in 365 days... [...]

There are currently 204 independent nations but there's only one world, and my desire is to have others join me along the way in a show of global solidarity. Regardless of the language one speaks, the god one worships, or the color of one's skin, we can all run together. Let's. (p. 256)

Running with Dean Karnazes may not be "like setting up one's easel next to Monet or Picasso"--as one NYT book review put it--but he seems like an interesting enough guy that I wouldn't pass up the chance to spend a few hours running alongside him.

public atheism

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Specter of Reason's public displays of atheism notes that "Atheism--or, rather, public atheism--has a largely political dimension" because it "often entails political views about the role of religion in society:"

Public atheism is becoming more and more acceptable, and I'm optimistic that the situation will continue to improve. More and more efforts are being made at philosophical engagement, and in a wide variety of public venues. There's much room for improvement, of course. The effects are not always heartening, but at least efforts are being made. The biggest changes will come when public policies change, especially policies about education and the rights of religious institutions.

For atheists like me, there is one issue that matters most in all of this: the role of religious authority in society. [...] Public atheism is first and foremost about putting religious authority in its proper place. For us, to be a public atheist just is to deny that there is any objectively valid moral authority which religions could claim and to deny that religious authority is similar to, equal to, or in any methodological or philosophical sense compatible with scientific authority. If we cannot argue these points in public, then we cannot be public atheists in the way that is meaningful to us.

The author discusses various moral theories, noting that "People just don't understand these [moral and cognitive] issues, but they think they do:"

That's the real problem: people are ignorant of their own ignorance. [the Dunning-Kruger effect] The public needs exposure to what atheists actually think--not in an inaccessible, academic way, but in a clear, practical and relevant way. Right now, they're mostly relying on misinformation when they criticize atheists.

Ophelia Benson is even less willing to settle for the status quo. She observes that "atheism is first and foremost about the rejection of religious authority, in an existing context in which religious authority is not just not rejected, not even just welcomed and embraced, but made all-but-mandatory:"

If religious authority weren't always being shoved at us, it might seem otiose to bother rejecting it, but that's not the situation we're in - not in the US and not entirely in other parts of the Anglophone world either, let alone more frankly theocratic states. The pope thinks he has every right to order women to bear children they don't want to bear, and to tell hospitals not to save the lives of pregnant women if it takes an abortion to do that.


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Thanks to Raw Story for delivering the best news I've heard all day: Anonymous is now "actively seeking vulnerabilities" in Koch Industries as retribution for the Koch brothers' efforts to "usurp American democracy."

I'm looking forward to seeing a bright light shined on their dirty dealings, and watching the Koch-roaches go scurrying back to their hiding places.

update (2/28):
ThinkProgress provides some good background on the Kochs, and the Anonymous press release suggests boycotting all Georgia-Pacific-branded paper products--a more meaningful tactic than temporarily taking their website offline. Harassing the Kochs via HTTP is one thing, but having a substantive effect will likely involve some real laundry-airing escapades on a WikiLeaks scale.

DOMA dumbassery

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When the Justice Department announced this week that it would no longer defend the constitutionality of a specific section of DOMA (see AG Eric Holder's letter to Speaker Boehner), it was a given that the wingnuts would start furiously spinning fantastic tales and making outrageous claims. Holder wrote that "classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a heightened standard of scrutiny [and] Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional." Regardless of this determination, Section 3 will continue to be enforced by the Executive Branch:"

To that end, the President has instructed Executive agencies to continue to comply with Section 3 of DOMA, consistent with the Executive's obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, unless and until Congress repeals Section 3 or the judicial branch renders a definitive verdict against the law's constitutionality. This course of action respects the actions of the prior Congress that enacted DOMA, and it recognizes the judiciary as the final arbiter of the constitutional claims raised.

Slate's Dahlia Lithwick observed that Obama "seems to have finally acknowledged a truth played out at the Proposition 8 trial in California last summer:"

Virtually all of the arguments advanced to deny gay couples the right to marry are based on moral animus and junk science, rooted in discredited cases like Bowers v. Hardwick and in unfounded bias that is increasingly hard to defend in open court. [...] The main consequence of today's decision is that the people who actually believe in Bowers v. Hardwick, moral animus, and junk science will get to defend it in court, if they can. The president no longer has to.

EqualityMatters did its usual excellent job of debunking conservatives' talking points, but two comments stood out from the Right's breathless blizzard of bullshit. First was Newt Gingrich's claim that Congressional Republicans "should strike back and even consider impeachment proceedings" against Obama. Newt backtracked afterward, having a spokesperson make the blatantly false--and easily disprovable--claim that "Gingrich never raised impeachment."

Not surprisingly, the anti-Obama lunacy found its most extreme expression at WingNutDaily, where birther extraordinaire Alan Keyes [who, you may remember, disowned his lesbian daughter and claimed two years ago that Obama's economic plan will "lead to the collapse of our economy"] concluded this borderline nonsensical paragraph on DOMA

Government doesn't endow people with the ability to procreate the species. The Creator takes care of that. Like all unalienable rights, those associated with the natural family exist in consequence of this endowment. [Marriage is an inalienable right?! That's great news!] A couple that cannot, by nature, procreate has no claim to those rights. [False; marriage is not predicated on procreation.] Nor can government grant them a semblance of it without impairing the claims of one or both of the parents biologically implicated in the physical conception of the child. [Marriage equality would impair straight couples?! How?] The DOMA simply makes more explicit the government's obligation to secure the Creator-endowed unalienable rights of the natural family. This obligation precludes government from fabricating other rights that impair them. [Again with the "impairment" claim? Keyes needs to realize that repeating a lie doesn't make it true.]

with this non sequitur analogy:

In this respect, granting homosexuals the right to marry is like granting plantation owners the right to own slaves. [This would only make sense if straight couples had been treated as second-class citizens for hundreds of years, with their rights systematically violated by an oppressive LGBT overclass...Keyes is suffering from a particularly virulent case of Republican reality inversion.]

If the anti-marriage arguments of Gingrich and Keyes are typical of the Right's legal acumen, which they appear to be, then the DOJ doesn't have t worry too much about defending DOMA--conservative complainants are incapable of mounting a substantive factual assault on the impending wave of equality.

Charges of crimes against humanity have been filed against Pope Nazi Ratzi:

Two German lawyers have initiated charges against Pope Benedict XVI at the International Criminal Court, alleging crimes against humanity [and including] "strong suspicion that Dr Joseph Ratzinger, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of his church and as Pope, has up to the present day systematically covered up the sexual abuse of children and youths and protected the perpetrators, thereby aiding and abetting further sexual violence toward young people."

Here is selected commentary from Ophelia Benson,

That expropriation of people's minds at birth and continuation of it via threats is a truly horrible arrangement, which the world allows only because it's so accustomed to it. Maybe this indictment will make people a little less accustomed to it.


The case is going to have plenty of challenges, but the basis of the accusations is not wrong. The behavior of the church has been immoral and irresponsible with its response to the global AIDS crisis as well as the child rape problems inside the church.

and PZ Myers:

My one reservation is that by charging the Pope alone, they are letting the whole damnable hierarchy of the church and a few centuries worth of evil doctrines off the hook.

I guess it's time to check out the book The Case of the Pope: Vatican Accountability for Human Rights Abuse.

in solidarity

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Tomorrow will see nationwide rallies in support of the Wisconsin workers, billed by MoveOn as the Rally to Save the American Dream. Joshua Holland writes at AlterNet:

Inspired not only by the protesters standing tall in Wisconsin, Ohio and a half-dozen other states but also by the seismic upheaval taking place around the world, progressive America, long overshadowed by the media-friendly Tea Parties, will show up in force in all 50 states this Saturday to demand that budgets aren't balanced on the backs of working people and the most vulnerable among us.

Also at AlterNet, Tana Ganeva writes that the Right's authoritarian tactics are being fully deployed. In addition to the usual barrage of Faux propaganda, they are also planning to sabotage demonstrations and threatening layoffs in addition to using police intimidation and the threat of military force--along with suggesting that baseball bats and live ammunition are appropriate negotiation tools.

As pointed out by Paul Krugman, the powers-that-be appear to be implementing Naomi Klein's shock doctrine:

From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.

Which brings us to Wisconsin 2011, where the shock doctrine is on full display.

(Note: If you can't attend one of these rallies, one of the US Uncut rallies against corporate tax avoidance would be a great alternate activity.)

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt's "What the Tea Partiers Really Want" piece in the WSJ mentions this proffered platitude from one of their booklet-manifestos:

"We just want to be free. Free to lead our lives as we please, so long as we do not infringe on the same freedom of others."

Haidt notes that "This claim should cause liberals to do a double-take" as it is virtually "straight out of John Stuart Mill, the patron saint of liberalism." In addition to their pilfering of Utilitarian sentiments, Haidt sees an Eastern influence among Teabaggers' morals: "The notion of karma...that for every action, there is an equal and morally commensurate reaction." He uses the Rick Santelli "rant heard 'round the world" that kicked off the Teabagger craze ("How many of you people want to pay for your neighbors' mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills?") as an example, claiming that "It's a rant about karma, not liberty."

Haidt is giving Santelli and his minions far too much credit--it's a rant about bullshit, because no one was proposing such a thing. The closest thing--Obama's Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan--was even more centrist than "cram-down" legislation that would have spread the burden of real-estate speculation gone awry on both mortgage parties instead of placing it solely on homeowners' shoulders. Keeping families in their homes through loan modifications rather than evicting them and adding to the glut of foreclosed homes is, on balance, a public good. Haidt continues down the karmic path:

The rank-and-file tea partiers think that liberals turned America upside down in the 1960s and 1970s, and they want to reverse many of those changes. They are patriotic and religious, and they want to see those values woven into their children's education. Above all, they want to live in a country in which hard work and personal responsibility pay off and laziness, cheating and irresponsibility bring people to ruin. Give them liberty, sure, but more than that: Give them karma.

The variant of karma for which the Teabaggers clamor is not only punitive, but vindictive as well. They want sexually-active women punished by unwanted pregnancies, gays punished either by the closet or by government-sanctioned discrimination, the middle class punished by economic insecurity both in work and in retirement, and the poor punished by homelessness and starvation (or perhaps debtors' prisons)...one assumes, though, that rich, straight, white Christian men will fare just fine--as always.

Haidt gave an much more intellectually intriguing talk on "The Bright Future of Post-Partisan Social Psychology" where he helpfully pointed out that "there are many reasons why conservatives would be underrepresented in social psychology, and most of them have nothing to do with discrimination or hostile climate:"

Research on personality consistently shows that liberals are higher on openness to experience. They're more interested in novel ideas, and in trying to use science to improve society. So of course our field is and always will be mostly liberal. I don't think we should ever strive for exact proportional representation.

Later in the piece, however, Haidt writes "I'd like us to set a goal [to] become 10% conservative by 2020. Yes, I am actually recommending affirmative action for conservatives. Set aside any moral arguments; my claim is that it would be good for us." Media coverage from the NYT was fodder for the Right's persecution-complex chorus, but substantive analysis was generally lacking. Ira Chernus wrote an excellent piece on Haidt's thesis at Religion Dispatches, accusing Haidt of "too little depth" while exploring the contradictions in conservatives' worldview. Noting that "Conservatives' concern for the group is narrower [than that of liberals], expressed in very few channels," Chernus observed that:

Their favored policies tend to assume that American society will do just fine with 20% of our children growing up in poverty and nearly the same percentage of adults without affordable health care, as long as we arm ourselves against some foreign enemy or other (in-group loyalty), live by the same social norms as our grandparents (respect for authority), and keep our zippers firmly zipped until we're married (purity/sanctity). A very selective interpretation of group well-being, to say the least.

These examples point to the crucial difference between the two groups. Liberals see less inherent conflict between individual and group well-being than conservatives do, because liberals, less persuaded by the notion of Original Sin, are less afraid of change. They want to improve the whole society with these changes. Conservatives, more afraid of human nature itself, assume that the only way to improve society is by preventing change.

Paul Krugman observes that "in economics, the obvious bias in things like acceptance of papers at major journals is towards, not against, a doctrinaire free-market view" and notes the following:

Biologists, physicists, and chemists are all predominantly liberal; does this reflect discrimination, or the tendency of people who actually know science to reject a political tendency that denies climate change and is broadly hostile to the theory of evolution?

Jonathan Chait notes at TNR that although "Conservatives like to present this as an issue of Marxist English professors...the reality is that scientists, mathematicians, and people trained in rigorous thinking of all kinds are overwhelmingly rejecting them." Since JS Mill was mentioned earlier, this is as good a time as any to bring up his remark about intelligence and political leanings:

I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it. (John Stuart Mill, letter to John Pakington, March 1866)

Referencing a 2007 speech from then-candidate Obama,

If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I'm in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner.

FDL's Michael Monk considers the situation in Wisconsin and asks my Question of the Day:

Well, will we see it? Or will it end up like the closing of Guantanamo Bay, a public option, or restoring constitutional checks and balances? [...] Will he find those shoes?

On Wisconsin

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Wisconsin is the current site of the plutocrats' war on public employees, and an NYT op-ed on the spreading anti-union agenda points out that "Republican talk of balancing budgets is cover for the real purpose of gutting the political force of middle-class state workers, who are steady supporters of Democrats and pose a threat to a growing conservative agenda:"

In Wisconsin, union leaders agreed to concessions requested by Mr. Walker: to pay nearly 6 percent of their wages for pension costs, up from nearly zero, and double payments for health insurance. At that point, most governors would declare victory and move on. Instead, Mr. Walker has rejected union concessions and won't even negotiate. His true priority is stripping workers of collective-bargaining rights and reducing their unions to a shell. The unions would no longer be able to raise money to oppose him, as they did in last year's election, easing the way for future Republicans as well.

The game is up when unionized state workers demonstrate a sense of shared sacrifice but Republican lawmakers won't even allow them a seat at the table. For unions and Democrats in the Midwest, this is an existential struggle, and it is one worth waging.

George Lakoff explains that the deficits in Wisconsin and other states "are convenient ruses for destroying American democracy and replacing it with conservative rule in all areas of life." and Paul Krugman observes that "it's not about the budget; it's about the power:"

What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin -- and eventually, America -- less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that's why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators' side.

Kevin Drum explains why we need unions at Mother Jones, observing that they are "the only large-scale movement left in America that persistently acts as a countervailing power against corporate power:"

...the decline of unions over the past few decades has left corporations and the rich with essentially no powerful opposition. No matter what doubts you might have about unions and their role in the economy, never forget that destroying them destroys the only real organized check on the power of the business community in America.

Drum sketches the financial history of the past 40 years in Plutocracy Now, and ends with the observation that "It's a story about power:"

It's about the loss of a countervailing power robust enough to stand up to the influence of business interests and the rich on equal terms. With that gone, the response to every new crisis and every new change in the economic landscape has inevitably pointed in the same direction. And after three decades, the cumulative effect of all those individual responses is an economy focused almost exclusively on the demands of business and finance. In theory, that's supposed to produce rapid economic growth that serves us all, and 30 years of free-market evangelism have convinced nearly everyone--even middle-class voters who keep getting the short end of the economic stick--that the policy preferences of the business community are good for everyone. But in practice, the benefits have gone almost entirely to the very wealthy.

Richard Wolff explains that corporate tax avoidance is the real reason for the public finance crisis and notes that "Organisations such as Chambers of Commerce and corporations' academic and political allies together shaped the public debate. They did not want it to be about who does and does not pay the taxes:"

If corporations paid taxes proportionate to the benefits they get from government and in fair proportion to what individuals pay, most US citizens would finally get the tax relief they so desperately seek.

GOP governors are shifting the tax burden to poor and middle-class taxpayers and advancing their plutocratic agenda:

...union busting, draconian cuts to social programs, and massive corporate tax breaks. These misplaced priorities mean that the poor and middle class will shoulder the burden of fiscal austerity, even as the rich and corporations are asked to contribute even less. [...] ...in spite of the supposed "crisis" and being "broke," as Walker himself has said, his budget plans will include "a LOT more tax breaks" for the rich and corporations that will have to be balanced on the backs of workers or with painful cuts to state services

Ed noted at Gin and Tacos that the text of Walker's bill includes provisions for the no-bid sale of public assets, and reads "like a highlight reel of all of the high-flying slam dunks of neo-Gilded Age corporatism: privatization, no-bid contracts, deregulation, and naked cronyism:"

In case it isn't clear where the naked cronyism comes in, remember which large, politically active private interest loves buying up power plants and already has considerable interests in Wisconsin. Then consider their demonstrated eagerness to help Mr. Walker get elected and bus in carpetbaggers to have a sad little pro-Mubarak style "rally" in his honor. There are dots to be connected here, but doing so might not be in the public interest.

In The Republicans Are Coming, The Republicans Are Coming, Theo Goldberg notes that "Republicans are bent on evaporating anything that resembles a public good, on curtailing government and most anything government does beyond security and basic services:"

They are committed to dissolving all regulatory regimes, from financial and banking to environmental conditions and labor standards. They are insisting on swapping out social security support for privatized and self-directed retirement schemes (401(k)'s). They are pushing to dissolve public education and to destroy union representation, especially for public workers such as teachers. And they are working to outsource public functions to private for-profit outfits.

It's another verse of the same old GOP song--privileging capital over labor. Goldberg observes that "Sarah Palin has chided state workers that 'You must be willing to sacrifice'," and makes this observation:

But of course, legislators and the governor have not voted to sacrifice their salaries, and corporations have not been asked to contribute a small percentage of their profits for the public good - quite the contrary. The fix proposed is once again on the backs of the more vulnerable among the state's citizens.

There are plenty of facts in The Truth Behind the Anti-Union Assault at ThinkProgress, and PolitiFact is on the case with analyses of both national and state claims.

Not surprisingly, the Wisconsin anti-union efforts are (like other Teabagger Astroturf events) bankrolled by the Koch brothers:

Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group [Americans for Prosperity] had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown... [...] [AFP] is already working with activists and state officials in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania to urge them to take similar steps to curtail union benefits or give public employees the power to opt out of unions entirely.

Speculating from this ad, Susie Madrak asks at Crooks and Liars if Koch Industries is already collecting managers' applications for the plants that it doesn't own yet. Madrak writes that "we can't know for sure, but it's a pretty good guess that the Kochs...are apparently so confident they're going to own the Wisconsin state-owned power plants, they're already advertising to hire new plant managers!"

Energy client is looking for experienced Plant Managers for multiple power plants located in Wisconsin. You need 15+ years of operations & maintenance experience in a power plant environment. You should have at least 5 years of experience managing operations & maintenance teams in an operational power plant. The ideal candidate has experience in a coal fired power plant. Salary is commensurate with experience.

While we're talking about Koch, the prank call to Gov Scott Walker has been dissected numerous times for what it reveals--or doesn't--about the governor. Ezra Klein makes the point that athough "the transcript of the conversation is unexceptional, the fact of it is lethal:"

The state's Democratic senators can't get Walker on the phone, but someone can call the governor's front desk, identify themselves as David Koch, and then speak with both the governor and his chief of staff? That's where you see the access and power that major corporations and wealthy contributors will have in a Walker administration, and why so many in Wisconsin are reluctant to see the only major interest group representing workers taken out of the game.

Walker claimed at a press conference that "I take phone calls all the time," but that's a lame evasion for his eagerness to placate the plutocrats. Will he get called out for his craven pursuit of conservative campaign cash?

PZ Myers responded to that Asma piece on atheists' narrow worldview, deriding it as "a long, meandering essay that accuses the New Atheists of having a narrow worldview because, he thinks, all we know about is Christianity and Islam:"

What about Buddhism, he asks, or animism? And then he does tell us some interesting things about Buddhism and animism, but they're all entirely irrelevant, because he has completely missed the point. [...] The Gnu Atheism is a positive movement that emphasizes the truth of a claim as paramount; it is our number one value. [...]

Asma concludes with a typical unsupported plea; atheism's "proponents need to have a more nuanced and global understanding of religion." No, we don't. Show us that it's true, first, and then we can talk about nuance, and implementation, and consequences. Telling us how it makes some people feel good doesn't even begin to address our core objections.

Asma deflected this criticism by agreeing that "religion fails miserably at the bar of rational validity" while again focusing on "the emotional virtues of religion:"

My argument is that religion helps people, rightly or wrongly, manage their emotional lives. And while it doesn't do very much for me and other skeptics (I prefer art), I would be very inattentive if I failed to notice how much relief and comfort it gave to other people. [...] The real tension is between the needs of one part of the brain (limbic) and the needs of another (the neocortical). Evolution shaped them both, and the older one does not get out of the way when the newbie comes on the scene.

Myers noted that:

...the whole point of what I wrote is that "it makes me feel good" is inadequate support for a complex set of beliefs about the world--"it's true" is also essential. His reply doesn't really address that.

Some critics of atheism, such as Vox Day, commit a logical failure similar to Asma's by impugning "the desire of some atheists to kick out what they see as a crutch out from under religious believers," claiming that this "is an indication of a malicious character." The point missed here is that we are demonstrating (through our lives as well as our words) that those crutches aren't needed; they may sometimes be useful for those of diminished capacity, but they're both superfluous and harmful for many others.

Russell Blackford is rather diplomatic and dispassionate about the whole argument:

I've come to believe that widespread social acceptance of the authority of various religions does a lot of harm. I think there is some urgency in challenging that authority in a forthright, high-profile way, not just in our own thoughts or in private conversations or obscure journals.

it's full of stars

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Many thanks to José Francisco Salgado for this gorgeous time-lapse video of the Milky Way (h/t: Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy):

ALMA Time-lapse sequences - June 2010 from Jose Francisco Salgado on Vimeo.

mocking morons

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Michael Lind says that the media's "constant mockery of...bloviating right-wing demagogues" [he names Palin, Bachmann, and Beck] is "likely to backfire on liberals" for several reasons:

  • It makes other far-right Republican conservatives look moderate.
  • It makes liberals look like snobs.
  • It's a reactive strategy that gives the initiative to the right.
  • It's a waste of effort and attention.

Lind writes that although most Americans don't get more than a high school education, "[t]hat does not mean they are stupid or ignorant:"

Many have a life-long interest in world affairs and the American economy and American history. It speaks well of their civic engagement and intellectual curiosity that many Americans, in the absence of alternatives, are drawn to "village explainers" like Ross Perot with his charts, which liberals mocked two decades ago, and Glenn Beck with his blackboard diagrams, which liberals mock today.

The center-left needs its own village explainers, with their own charts and their own blackboards. In the plain language used by FDR for his Fireside Chats, they could show how liberalism is rooted in American values and history, instead of being an alien transplant from socialist Europe. They could sketch the relations between today's radical right, with its loony theories about a Muslim-leftist world revolution, and the similar conspiracy theories of the Liberty Lobby in the 1930s and the John Birch Society in the 1950s. They could put up diagrams on the screen to explain elementary Keynesian concepts and show the need for public spending, or exports, or both to make up for depressed private consumption in a near-depression like the present.

The best part would be that liberal explainers wouldn't have to lie as prolifically as their conservative counterparts; while writing a guest post at Pharyngula, Iris Vander Pluym defends media figures from Lind's accusations. Pluym writes that "Even if Lind were right about any of these things, there is a far greater danger in ignoring or dismissing the deranged rantings of prominent right-wing conservatives. We do so at our grave peril:"

Left alone to fester and spread with nothing to forcefully counter them, the destructive dogmas of the fringe right-wing ooze into mainstream political discourse, and calcify there. That is what legitimizes those ideas, and makes them seem moderate. With a mass media more concerned with appearing "fair and balanced" than debunking pernicious falsehoods, we need more, not fewer people willing to pick up the torch and chase bad ideas back into the shadows, where they belong.

Combined data from British and American studies link classical music to high intelligence (h/t: Simon at Classical Values):

"[M]ore intelligent Americans are more likely to prefer instrumental music such as big band, classical and easy listening than less-intelligent Americans." [...] "On the other extreme, as suspected, preference for rap music is significantly negatively correlated with intelligence. However, preference for gospel music is even more strongly negatively correlated with it."

The study "Why More Intelligent Individuals like Classical Music," by Satoshi Kanazawa [author of the study linking liberalism and atheism to IQ] and Kaja Perina, is forthcoming from the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making. The study's abstract observed the following:

Recent work on the evolution of music suggests that music in its evolutionary origin was always vocal and that purely instrumental music is evolutionarily novel. The Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis would then imply that more intelligent individuals are more likely to prefer purely instrumental music than less intelligent individuals, but general intelligence has no effect on the preference for vocal music. [...] Additional analyses suggest that the effect of intelligence on musical preference is not a function of the cognitive complexity of music.

I have some speculation between the type of music that is conducive to one's occupation and the correlation between occupation and IQ.

From slaves in the fields to chain gangs in prison, manual labor has a long association with vocal music, which may perhaps carry over to the modern variants (pop, rock, country, R&B) that one might hear on an assembly line or at a construction site. I wonder if the lyrics of those genres might interfere with whiter-collar work that often employs language (scientists, engineers, technical workers, writers).

When I'm reading a technical manual, writing a procedural document, or juggling database tables, I gravitate toward instrumental music (Bach's Art of the Fugue, Brandenburg Concertos, cello suites, and the Well-Tempered Clavier; Beethoven's piano sonatas and string quartets; Mahler's symphonies; almost anything by Coltrane, Miles, Mingus, or Monk) and will shun most vocal music that I otherwise enjoy--but only if it's sung in English. I don't remember enough German for Schubert's lieder or Wagner's Ring to become distracting.

If simultaneous language tasks can overwhelm the brain's speech centers, could this lead to a preference for instrumental music?

The name David Hicks may be currently unknown to most Americans, but that needs to change (h/t: Jason Leopold at TruthOut). An Australian citizen who converted to Islam and trained in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Hicks was sold to US forces by the Northern Alliance and was spent several years in Guantanamo as detainee 002.

The details of his legal travails are at Wikipedia, but his memoir Guantanamo: My Journey is apparently unavailable in the US despite being released by a major publisher (Random House) and having been listed by Borders' Australian division. The Kindle edition is listed at Amazon with a cost of "Pricing information not available" and this geographic restriction:


The websites of Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and Borders all responded with "no results" for the ISBN 9781864711585. Powell's has a listing with no product details, and not-so-helpfully notes that "This item may be out of stock." I visited a Borders store and asked if they could get a copy from their corporate counterparts down under; they could not. A few used copies of the book can be found online, but without listings from the major booksellers it effectively does not exist for American readers.

Who needs government censorship when corporations can already do it so effectively?

update (2/18):
Random House posted some excerpts from Hicks' book entitled A Chance Encounter, Captured in Afghanistan, and Guantanamo.

Hicks gave a rare interview to TruthOut's Jason Leopold and another one [correction: it was an op-ed edited to look like an interview; please see the comment by Mr Leopold] to the Sydney Morning Herald.

JL Wall reminds us at League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that of the nine books of Sappho's poetry that once existed--in the Library of Alexandria, of course--we have but a single complete poem and a smattering of fragments. Whether or not her works were actually burned, their loss is still keenly felt.

This collection of twenty-eight different translations has intrigued me enough to put Anne Carson's If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho onto my TBR list.

It takes some serious cojones to call religion the ultimate tyranny, but Paula Kirby has done just that. The question "Is freedom a religious or secular idea?" prompted her to exclaim:

If you value freedom, you should flee from religion as the antelope flees the lion. Religion is the very antithesis of freedom, insisting on our complete subjugation to the unachievable demands of an invisible but supremely powerful overlord. [...]

Religion is the ultimate slavery: it is the slavery of the mind, slavery to the fear of divine judgment and damnation. The devilish irony consists in the fact that 'divine judgment' and 'damnation' are themselves the inventions of religion: religion creates and exquisitely perfects the fear, then cynically declares itself the sole and indispensable liberator from it. [...]

Religion claims to set its followers free, while all the time holding them in thrall and insisting they kiss the hand of their jailer. There can be no true freedom so long as religion still keeps the human mind in shackles.

There is nothing more antagonistic to the enslaved than the knowledge that someone, somewhere, is free.

I can't get started

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If it seems to you that the financial struggles of today's young adults are largely due to their being placed in a far more difficult economic situation than their elders were, you're right. As Trent Hamm writes at Simple Dollar, "things that were quite possible for a 25 year old in 1970 - owning their own home, having a fully-paid-for education, having a high-paying job - are much more difficult for a 25 year old today:"

...in order to have housing and an education comparable to what a young person had in 1970, they must spend 50% more on housing, spend 30% more on education, and do it all while earning about 18% less money. That doesn't even include the extra expenses [cellphone, computer, Internet access] needed to compete.


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I wanted to lift a recent comment out of obscurity (well, from out of complete obscurity into a state of somewhat-less-than-complete obscurity) because it was an unusually lame attempt at trolling. My comment at Barry Ritholtz's Big Picture (see here) prompted someone to visit my humble corner of the blogosphere and deposit this keyboard dropping:

So glad to hear you adore BR's intro note to "demonstrate your own ignorance (and) unfamiliarity with empirical data," in light of your comment: "(the Bush tax cuts were budget-busting gifts to the wealthy)"

Spend 20 seconds reviewing federal tax revenue data, and federal spending data, available on a myriad of websites, of the Bush cuts, then give your comment another thought. here's just one link for you: http://www.taxpolicycenter.org/taxfacts/displayafact.cfm?Docid=200

Here's my response:

I gave it another thought, spent a few seconds looking at the numbers, and the results are as clear as ever: Bush's fiscally conservative tax cuts (as extended by Obama) have primarily benefitted the wealthy and ballooned the deficit by several trillion dollars.

To start with, the summary of federal receipts and outlays to which you linked does not in any way disprove either the tax cuts' skewed effects toward the wealthy or their deleterious effects on the budget. Bush's 2001 tax cut package reduced most income tax rates by 3%, but the wealthy didn't just benefit from the lower- and middle-income rate decreases--they also received a special reduction of the top rate by 4.6%. This was a greater gift not only in percentage terms, but also in absolute terms--particularly given the skyrocketing income of the ultra-wealthy during a period when most wages and salaries had stagnated. Reductions in the capital gains tax rates also disproportionately benefitted the investor class, as did cuts to the estate tax. (In 2001, the top rate was 55% with a $675K exclusion; in 2009, the top rate was 35% with a $3.5M exclusion--benefits which only accrued to the wealthy.) For more details, see the work of the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities:

The TaxPolicyCenter data show that the combined effect of the tax cuts in 2004 is as follows:
  • The one-fifth of households in the middle of the income spectrum will receive an average tax cut of $647.
  • The top one percent of households will receive tax cuts averaging almost $35,000 -- or 54 times as much as that received on average by those in the middle of the income spectrum.
  • Households with incomes above $1 million will receive tax cuts averaging about $123,600. The tax cuts for millionaires will cause their after-tax income to jump by 6.4 percent, nearly three times the percentage increase received by the middle fifth.

The overall shares of the tax cuts that are going to different households also are illuminating. The TaxPolicyCenter data show that:

  • In 2004, the middle 20 percent of households will receive 8.9 percent of the tax cuts.
  • By contrast, millionaires -- totaling just 0.2 percent of U.S. households -- will receive 15.3 percent of the tax cuts. In other words, the small handful of millionaires will receive total tax cuts far larger than those received by the entire middle 20 percent of households.

Now let's examine the budgetary effects of those tax cuts. They were massaged to appear less expensive by adding an expiration date--although, as we knew would happen, they were extended because of "tax hike" complaints. The CBPP pointed out last year that the tab for the Bush tax cuts is already in the trillions of dollars--with more to come:

Together, the tax cuts account for $1.7 trillion in extra deficits in 2001 through 2008, and $3.4 trillion over the 2009-2019 period. Finally, we added the extra debt-service costs caused by the Bush-era tax cuts, amounting to more than $200 billion through 2008 and another $1.7 trillion over the 2009-2019 period -- over $330 billion in 2019 alone.

Gifts to the wealthy? Check!

A busted budget? Check!

The empirical data clearly show the Bush tax cuts to be an enormous fiscal disaster, exactly as I originally stated. Thank you for playing, and better luck next time.

thrown for a curve

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It's been known for years that the Bush administration willingly spread Curveball's lies in order to invade Iraq--he was a primary source for Colin Powell's "bullshit" UN speech--and now the liar himself has admitted his part in the deception:

"Maybe I was right, maybe I was not right," he [Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, codenamed Curveball] said. "They gave me this chance. I had the chance to fabricate something to topple the regime. I and my sons are proud of that and we are proud that we were the reason to give Iraq the margin of democracy."

A supplementary piece identifies Curveball's lies and their consequences, and Wikipedia is also useful.


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I don't watch the Grammys, so I was completely unaware that the phenomenal singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding won the "best new artist" award.

Read more about her at her website, at Wikipedia, or from my posts here and here. To top it all off, NPR reposted this 17-minute video of her playing a few songs during an in-studio concert. That video couldn't be embedded, but here's the next-best thing--a duet between Spalding and Bobby McFerrin during the pre-telecast:

Thanks to Glenn Beck's chalkboard of conspiracy, professor Frances Fox Piven has been vilified as the co-author of the allegedly nefarious Cloward-Piven Strategy--although Beck's minions have apparently been too busy making death threats to read what Piven actually wrote. Her 1966 piece from The Nation, entitled "The Weight of the Poor: A Strategy to End Poverty" asks "How can the poor be organized to press for relief from poverty?" while noting that "a vast discrepancy exists between the benefits to which people are entitled under public welfare programs and the sums which they actually receive." Rectifying this disparity, the authors observe, "would precipitate a profound financial and political crisis."

It is our purpose to advance a strategy which affords the basis for a convergence of civil rights organizations, militant anti-poverty groups and the poor. If this strategy were implemented, a political crisis would result that could lead to legislation for a guaranteed annual income and thus an end to poverty.

"By crisis, we mean a publicly visible disruption in some institutional sphere," wrote Cloward and Piven, which they believed would necessitate "action by political leaders to stabilize the situation." They hoped to direct this action toward the establishment of a universal guaranteed income--a far cry from the slanders of the Becktards. The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that Beck "has called her an 'enemy of the Constitution' and one of the 'nine most dangerous people in the world,' and accused her of trying to destroy the economy and incite violence." In the pages of The Guardian, Piven responded that although Beck's "orchestrated crisis theory...elicited many hundreds, if not thousands of rude and insulting postings directed at me, and many lurid death threats, as well," she's not focusing on her own safety:

It's harm not to myself, but to American democracy that I fear from the Fox News host's paranoid theories of social collapse. [...]

By telling simple fairy tales that trace these big and complex changes to the machinations of particular people, Beck makes the changes comprehensible in a way, and also makes the people who are presumably responsible the targets of his listeners' frustration and outrage. Partly because it is utterly irrational, and partly because it is an effort to bully and intimidate his political opponents, this is dangerous for democratic politics.

Ed Brayton's How the Right and Left View America helps to illuminate this issue. Brayton writes, although not specifically addressing Piven/Beck, that "Progressives love their country... enough to demand that it does the right thing rather than the most convenient, most dishonest or most profitable thing:"

They love it enough to demand that it love up to its ideals and promises rather than ignore them. And because they don't hold such a cartoonish version of the world, they don't have to pretend that it's perfect in order to warrant such loyalty.

These are concepts the right, I fear, will never understand.

Well, it's certainly clear that Beck and his minions don't understand those concepts--or, it appears, much of anything that they read.

yoga wars

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I'm going to file this under the category of "Christopher Hitchens was right: religion does poison everything."

Last fall, I glossed over Christianists' complaints about yoga's alleged incompatibility with Christianity--although I was perhaps premature in doing so. Reading this NYT piece about the "Take Back Yoga" campaign led me to an assertion by the Hindu American Foundation's Aseem Shukla that "Hindus must take back yoga and reclaim the intellectual property of their spiritual heritage" in a piece called "The Theft of Yoga." Meera Nanda of Open magazine says that Yoga is not as old as you think it is (h/t: 3 Quarks Daily) and debunks claims that the American yoga industry has been "'stealing'--even 'raping'--yoga by stripping it of its spiritual heritage and not acknowledging its Hindu roots:"

Millions of Americans will be shocked to learn that they are committing 'intellectual property theft' every single time they strike a yogic pose because they fail to acknowledge yoga's 'mother tradition,' namely Hinduism. HAF's co-founder and chief spokesperson, Aseem Shukla, exhorts his fellow Hindus to 'take back yoga and reclaim the intellectual property of their spiritual heritage.'

Nanda observes that HAF's "shrill claims about Westerners stealing yoga completely gloss over the tremendous amount of cross-breeding and hybridisation that has given birth to yoga as we know it:"

The reality is that postural yoga, as we know it in the 21st century, is neither eternal nor synonymous with the Vedas or Yoga Sutras. On the contrary, modern yoga was born in the late 19th/early 20th centuries. It is a child of the Hindu Renaissance and Indian nationalism, in which Western ideas about science, evolution, eugenics, health and physical fitness played as crucial a role as the 'mother tradition'. [...]

In turn, the physical aspects of yoga were hybridised with drills, gymnastics and body-building techniques borrowed from Sweden, Denmark, England, the United States and other Western countries. These innovations were creatively grafted on the Yoga Sutras...to create an impression of 5,000 years worth of continuity where none really exists.

Here is my Quote of the Day, from Religion Dispatches:

"Yoga is demonic...if you just sign up for a little yoga class, you're signing up for a little demon class. That's what you're doing. And Satan doesn't care if you stretch as long as you go to hell." (Pastor Mark Driscoll, of Mars Hill Church in Seattle WA)

That doesn't sound like any hot yoga I've heard of before...

David Sirota's The Super Bowl of Socialism notes the "Reagan-inspired paradox of cheering anti-socialist platitudes while supporting socialism in practice was the tale of Super Bowl XLV:"

The game began with a jubilant Reagan biopic that approvingly flaunted his red-baiting past, including his 1964 warning about America taking "the first step into a thousand years of darkness." The game ended with victory for professional sports' only publicly owned nonprofit organization, the Green Bay Packers--a team whose quasi-socialist structure allows Wisconsin's proletariat to own the means of football production.

Of course, notes Sirota, "the management-worshiping media avoided highlighting the Reagan celebration's underlying hypocrisy in order to avoid humiliating the owners" because:

...the politicians and corporations who frame our public dialogue have long stifled honest discussions of our socialist reality because they know such discussions would show that America primarily champions a particular form of socialism--a corporate socialism leveraging public resources for private profit.

This piece reminded me of Bill Maher's comments about the socialist Super Bowl from a few weeks ago.

Roy Edroso's 10 Historical 'Facts' Only a Right-Winger Could Believe looks at the "bizarre notions of American history" that have become "part of the folklore that helps [conservatives] understand the American experience." It's a nice summary of the ways in which they glorify robber barons, co-opt Galileo and ML King, and slander liberal heroes ranging from Margaret Sanger to Darwin to FDR.

Seeing so many pieces of the wingnuts' loony litany to be collected in one place is quite damaging to the warped view of history, as all of their errors have the same bias: supporting the status quo, comforting the comfortable, and afflicting the afflicted. One might begin to wonder if they're ever on the right side of anything.

random video clips

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That great VW/Vader commercial

now has some outtakes:

This video shows what can be done in a Vegas hotel room with a 2564fps digital camera:

politically invested

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Barry Ritholtz's WaPo piece "Why politics and investing don't mix" looks at two contrasting political eras and the market opportunities that came with them as examples of various cognitive biases being "a systematic source of errors" for investors. His first example is from the bursting of the dot-com bubble:

From the peak of the market in March 2000 to the March 2003 trough, the Nasdaq had gotten crushed, losing 78 percent of its value. As Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan took rates down to 1 percent, the Bush administration passed $1 trillion in tax cuts. [...] Yet many of my Democrat friends on Wall Street - fund managers, traders and analysts - were highly critical of the tax cuts. At the time, I heard all the reasons why they were so bad: They were deficit-busters, unlikely to create jobs, giveaways to the wealthy.

While those critiques may have been true, they were also irrelevant to equities. [...] From 2003 to 2007, the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index - the usual benchmark for equities - gained 100 percent.

And my politically active friends on the left missed most of it.

Ritholtz's second example is from the Great Recession:

Fast-forward six years to the recent credit crisis. The S&P 500 had fallen 57.69 percent. By March 2009, op-eds in the Wall Street Journal blamed the crash on President Obama. [...] My GOP pals were lamenting the occupant of the White House. I heard things like "Obama is a Kenyan, a Muslim, a Socialist. He is going to kill business."

What followed was the single most intense two-year rally in Wall Street history. As of Friday, the S&P 500 has gained 93.8 percent.

And my politically active friends on the right missed most of it.

These examples aren't exactly equivalent, given that liberals were right (the Bush tax cuts were budget-busting gifts to the wealthy) and conservatives were wrong (Obama isn't a Kenyan Muslim socialist). Also, I don't know any liberals who pulled out of the market because of Bush's tax cuts, but I do know conservatives who did so due to fears about Obama's economic program. Ritholtz's point is still a solid one:

When you are in the polling booth, vote however you like; But when you are reviewing your investing options, it is best to do so with a cold, dispassionate eye.

Understanding how your own biases impact your investing process is a key step. If you want to avoid making certain errors, you must at least be aware of them.

BTW, I also adore the introductory note of the comment section on his website:

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data, ability to repeat discredited memes, and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Also, be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor even implied. Any irrelevancies you can mention will also be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

After reading the comment below, please see my rebuttal.

The latest piece by Glenn Greenwald noted this bullet-point assessment of the anti-WikiLeaks contingent:

  • Glenn was critical in the Amazon to OVH transition
  • It is this level of support that needs to be disrupted
  • These are established professionals that have a liberal bent, but ultimately most of them if pushed will choose professional preservation over cause, such is the mentality of most business professionals.
  • Without the support of people like Glenn, Wikileaks would fold

Greenwald responds that "the very notion that I could be forced to choose 'professional preservation over cause' is ludicrous on multiple levels:"

Obviously, I wouldn't have spent the last year vehemently supporting WikiLeaks -- to say nothing of aggressively criticizing virtually every large media outlet and many of their leading stars, as well as the most beloved political leaders of both parties -- if I were willing to choose "career preservation over cause."

Because their overriding concern is for maintaining the system of corporate hegemony--and their place within it--their intellectual consistency is limited by the assumption that everyone will choose power over principle when forced to make a decision.

Remember when the House GOP made a big show of their citing-of-Constitutional-authority rule for introducing bills? Well, karoli points out at Crooks and Liars that they've already ignored it when it impedes their political agenda. Their latest anti-abortion bill tried to skirt the rules with this evasive assertion:

"Congress has the power to enact this legislation pursuant to the following: The Protect Life Act would overturn an unconstitutional mandate regarding abortion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."

As noted by Democrats in this letter, the GOP statement "does not identify any specific provision in the Constitution that authorizes Congress to enact his legislation. Indeed, it is impossible to divine any Constitutional basis" for the bill. The letter continues:

Because the bill represents a federal intrusion into the most intimate personal decisions of women and families, it is exactly the type of legislation that most needs a clear statement of Congress's constitutional authority.

Karoli notes:

Republicans can't cite Constitutional reason for the bill because there IS no constitutional authority. [...] As [Rep Anthony] Weiner [D-NY] points out, the challenge isn't whether it's constitutional or not, but that the rules require that all bills introduced must cite Constitutional authority for its introduction.

IOKIYAR, as always.

one brain

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Over at Ars Technica, John Timmer asks "How much information can the world transmit, process, and store?" This question was examined by two researchers and published in Science. As intrigued as I was by the technological changes that they discussed, the comparison to biology was more astounding:

"To put our findings in perspective, the 6.4*1018 instructions per second that human kind can carry out on its general-purpose computers in 2007 are in the same ballpark area as the maximum number of nerve impulses executed by one human brain per second," they write.

Timmer notes, also from their findings, that "Our total storage capacity is the same as an adult human's DNA. And there are several billion humans on the planet."

not the only one

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Today's combination of intriguing things is Palin-centric, breaking my too-brief participation in Dana Milbank's month-long Mooselini moratorium. Mock, Paper, Scissors posted this button from today's CPAC gathering:


If conservatives can recycle Goldwater's 1964 slogan, we can certainly re-use the Democrats' response:

"In your guts, you know she's nuts."

At a GOProud party, Sophie B Hawkins delivered my Quote of the Day (h/t: David Weigel at Slate):

"I'm not a conservative, but I'd like to [expletive] Sarah Palin."

Here are some reminders that Hawkins is not the only one:

(AP, Gerald Herber)

(Reuters, Carlos Barria)

you lie!

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SmartPolitics analyzed PolitiFact's data and revealed (h/t: Taegan Goddard) that Republicans lie three times as often as Democrats:

...a supermajority of falsehoods documented by PolitiFact over the last year - 76 percent - were attributed to Republicans, with just 22 percent of such statements coming from Democrats.

During the last 13 months, the Republicans that have led the way with the largest number of Barely True, False, and Pants On Fire grades are Sarah Palin with eight, Michele Bachmann with seven, and John Boehner, Mike Pence, and the National Republican Congressional Committee with four each.

Selection bias is suggested as a possible cause, which makes perfect sense--until we look at the data. Here's a look at some of the least truthful (Pants on Fire) conservative lies about Obama. According to various right-wing sources, Obama is a Muslim with a Kenyan birth certificate, he is an Indonesian citizen who attended a "Wahabi" school, has Muhammed as a second middle name, gave $1 million to a Kenyan politician, swore his oath of office on the "Kuran," claimed that the Constitution does not provide for economic freedom, wants to increase government by 23%, "experiment with socialism" and ban firearms, he won't admit that we're at war and thinks terrorists need "a good talking to," was advised by the Fort Hood shooter, wants soldiers to sign a loyalty oath to him, spent $20 million on Hamas immigration, renamed the White House Christmas tree, wants to mandate circumcision, will use Interpol to investigate Americans, prevented people from going fishing, and might be the Antichrist.

Based on the evidence, I'd say that those Pants-on-Fire awards were well-deserved. As soon as we can locate a well-financed media campaign of comparable Left-wing lies about the Right, though, the hint of equivalence might have the merest taste of truth. That reminds me of Eric Boehlert's mini-exposé on Faux News today, with the observation from an anonymous former Fox employee that "stuff is just made up:"

The source explains: "Like any news channel there's lot of room for non-news content. The content that wasn't 'news,' they didn't care what we did with as long as it was amusing or quirky or entertaining; as along as it brought in eyeballs. But anything--anything--that was a news story you had to understand what the spin should be on it. If it was a big enough story it was explained to you in the morning [editorial] meeting. If it wasn't explained, it was up to you to know the conservative take on it. There's a conservative take on every story no matter what it is. So you either get told what it is or you better intuitively know what it is." [...]

The source continues: "I don't think people understand that it's an organization that's built and functions by intimidation and bullying, and its goal is to prop up and support Republicans and the GOP and to knock down Democrats. People tend think that stuff that's on TV is real, especially under the guise of news. You'd think that people would wise up, but they don't."

loving libraries

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Philip (Golden Compass) Pullman passionately defends British public libraries against the misguided "austerity" measures that would force them to bid against other social service groups for a portion of public funds. This competitive culture, he writes, "always results in victory for one side and defeat for the other. It's set up to do that:"

It's imported the worst excesses of market fundamentalism into the one arena that used to be safe from them, the one part of our public and social life that used to be free of the commercial pressure to win or to lose, to survive or to die, which is the very essence of the religion of the market. Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of political power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. [...]

That branch - how much money did it make last year? Why aren't you charging higher fines? Why don't you charge for library cards? Why don't you charge for every catalogue search? Reserving books - you should charge a lot more for that. Those bookshelves over there - what's on them? Philosophy? And how many people looked at them last week? Three? Empty those shelves and fill them up with celebrity memoirs.

He closes with this plea: "Leave the libraries alone. You don't know the value of what you're looking after. It is too precious to destroy." ED Kain agrees, observing that "this, like so many other privatization schemes, is hugely regressive and undermines the entire purpose of a public sphere to begin with:"

Public education, public libraries - these are essential pieces of our society that we can't put a price tag on. In the red and black ink-stained columns of our little theoretical ledgers, all we can see is their cost, not the value they create. Which is why education is one of the first places we see cuts, then healthcare for the poor, then libraries and other 'non-essential' public services. And this worries me deeply. [...]

...libraries, health clinics, public schools, labor unions, collectives, public parks, public transit [are] all integral pieces of our democratic, civil society. Of our future and the future of our civilization. [...] I would mourn the loss of my public library before I would mourn the loss of any number of corporations.

In "Off the Books," Paul Waldman writes about the popularity of American public libraries, pointing out something that Benjamin Franklin (responsible for America's first lending library) wrote in his Autobiography:

"These libraries have improved the general conversation of the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in defense of their privileges."

Waldman observes that "demand for what libraries provide has increased at the same time that lowered tax revenues have meant cutbacks in state and local services:"

Libraries may enjoy some limited measure of protection from the budget ax, because they're still considered a benefit we all can enjoy -- as opposed to many kinds of government spending, which can be dismissed as taking "our" money to give to "them," some allegedly unworthy group like the poor -- and because for so many people, libraries are associated with children.

Alka Sehgal Cuthbert argues at Spiked for a vision of libraries resisting incursions from the bookstore ethos:

I believe it's wrong to cut public libraries, but I'm also less than enamoured with most of the arguments being made in their defence. Too many libraries are already transforming themselves into centres for a range of social activities - web surfing, book clubs, information on local services - as if providing 'mere books' were not enough. [...]

...the trend today is for libraries to invite the outside world in - and rudely shove the diminishing number of books to one side to make space. If libraries are merely another location to provide what already exists elsewhere, it does become harder to defend them against cuts. Libraries should not be justified by morphing into community centres or providing any provision other than that for which they are made: to make a wide range of books available in an atmosphere conducive to their enjoyment.

Libertarian David Boaz criticizes conservatives for offering phony solutions for real social ills. They like to complain about poverty, broken homes, drug and alcohol abuse, and teen pregnancy, observes Boaz, but "those problems have nothing to do with abortion or gay marriage, the issues that social conservatives talk most about:"

Reducing the incidence of unwed motherhood, divorce, fatherlessness, welfare and crime would be a good thing. So why the focus on issues that would do nothing to solve the "breakdown of the basic family structure" and the resulting "high cost of a dysfunctional society"? Well, solving the problems of divorce and unwed motherhood is hard. And lots of Republican and conservative voters have been divorced. A constitutional amendment to ban divorce wouldn't go over very well, even with the social conservatives. Far better to pick on a small group, a group not perceived to be part of the Republican constituency, and blame it for social breakdown and its associated costs.

That's why social conservatives point to a real problem and then offer phony solutions.

If it weren't for the phony solutions, they would have nothing to offer.

hating god

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Bernard Schweizer discusses his recent book Hating God: The Untold Story of Misotheism in a post titled (what else?) "Hating God" at Religion Dispatches:

Just when you thought that "new atheism" marked a radical turn in nonconformist thought, along comes an even more rebellious concept of religious dissent: misotheism. [see Wikipedia's article on misotheism]

While trying to "do away, for good, with the false notion that atheists hate God," Schweizer observes that misotheism:

...may well turn out to be more threatening to the pious than atheism because misotheism makes the radically subversive claim that there is a God but that he is malevolent or at least incompetent, indifferent--in any case not worshipful.

One example he cites is the "anti-prayer" of anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon "God is stupidity and cowardice; God is hypocrisy and falsehood; God is tyranny and misery; God is evil."

As an atheist but not a misotheist, I will nonetheless agree that the idea of god is all of those things while pointing out that my position is not misotheism, because I don't believe that any instantiation of the god concept actually exists. Schweizer writes that "It may surprise, and possibly irk, pious believers to realize that people's misotheism is not usually correlated with criminal, antisocial, or even cranky behavior:"

The misotheists I studied for my book are committed humanitarians, great artists, profound thinkers, and decent citizens. This would be grist on the mill of secular humanists who claim that morality is not dependent on religious reverence, and it surely is a comfort to those who feel guilty for maintaining an adversarial relationship with God, a relationship they cannot shake and yet feel apprehensive about.

ThinkProgress lists over a dozen states that are busy guarding against an imaginary problem over which the wingnuts are wetting their beds--the system of Islamic law known as Sharia:

"legislators in at least 13 states across the country have introduced or passed...bills designed to protect us from the non-existent threat of Sharia law being imposed on the United States."

South Dakota's anti-Sharia bill, to mention just one example, prohibits all its courts from using "any foreign religious or moral code" in their decisions. Missing among such bluster is the simple observation that, other than Native American spiritual practices, all religious codes are foreign to the US. Rather than singling out Islam, let's just prohibit all religious law from being used in our (secular) legal system. [see *note below]

The ever-attuned-to-wingnuttery Newt Gingrich ("who is swiftly becoming the nation's spokesperson for Islamophobia") jumped all over that bandwagon, with his statement that "We should have a federal law that says sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States." Eugene Robinson slammed Newt for "paint[ing] liberals as a bunch of fellow travelers:"

"How we don't have some kind of movement in this country on the left that understands that sharia is a direct mortal threat to virtually every value that the left has is really one of the most interesting historical questions," he said.

Where to begin? First, I guess, by stating the obvious: There is no left-of-center movement dedicated to fighting the steady, stealthy insinuation of sharia into America's legal system because no such thing is happening. Gingrich invents an enemy and then demands to know why others haven't sallied forth to slay it.

Instead of getting caught up in all the Faux furor, let's look at something similar to Sharia that is actually worth worrying about: creeping Christianism under the guise of Biblical Law--antigay laws in particular have no secular basis, and removing religion from the judicial system would remove the rationale behind much of our institutional sexism and racism as well.

Could such prejudices be recreated without religion? Perhaps, but since secularism requires evidence and proof rather than revelation and dogma--making a god-free argument against, say, same-sex marriage much more difficult (if not impossible) to support.

No, our legal system is not founded on Biblical law--we inherited it from England. For those who are about to claim that England got its law from the Bible, think again:

"For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement of England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of the Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law...This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first Christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it...that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians...we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." [emphasis added]

(Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Cooper, 10 February 1814)

the party's over

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I discussed Reagan' legacy last year in this review of two books about his presidency, and Sunday's centennial of his birth was the occasion for another round of media mythologizing. Reagan's fictional character dominated many recollections, and "Republicans' unadulterated worship of Reagan ... send[s] a message that Reagan was successful in everything he did:"

So if you remember him as a popular, consistent president who accomplished everything he wanted to, then it just feels right to assert that he convinced Americans to hate government. It feels so right, you don't even bother to check whether it's true.

Reagan's addled recollections have been justifiably mocked, as when he dissembled about his administration's illegal Iran/Contra black-ops program, demonstrating a preference for wishful thinking over reality:

"A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that's true; but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not." (Iran/Contra speech, 4 March 1987)

His supporters' substitution of emotions for facts is equally pernicious, as their cutesy names for our fortieth president indicate: Dutch, the Gipper, the Great Communicator, and--most tellingly--lauding him as the Teflon President. It takes a profound ideological blindness for conservatives to ignore the dark reality behind the stage-managed sunniness of the Reagan era, but their message discipline is amazing in both its breadth and tenacity. Some of Reagan's more deluded supporters have called him "one of the greatest presidents in the history of this nation" who is "almost universally regarded as 'Rushmore ready'."

Reagan's detractors have coined a few nicknames, too, most of them more imaginative than the cartoonish Ronnie Raygun who spouted bellicose bluster about evil empires and Star Wars missile shields. Clark Clifford famously referred to Reagan as an "amiable dunce," and the GOP sycophants have had their adoration for Saint Ronnie mocked as his many failures were enumerated under the titles the Reagan Ruins, the Reagan Nightmare, or Reagan's darker legacy. Our 40th president was also referred to as RINO Reagan and "the father of the Republican Party's fiscal irresponsibility," pointing toward his triple legacy as king of debt, tax-cut mythmaker, and underminer of trust in government. Robert Parry noted that Reagan was an enabler of atrocities, particularly in South America, and pointed out that:

[T]he true measure of a president shouldn't be his style or how he made us feel but rather what he did with his extraordinary power, what were the consequences for real people, either for good or ill.

"Real" is a word that Reagan's disciples have shied away from using, preferring to ignore inconvenient facts in the shadows cast by Hollywood's glare. Dean Baker explained the real effects of Reaganomics, Daily Kos wrote about Remembering the Real Reagan, noting that his election "is the central and enduring tragedy of our age." Paul Waldman looked at The Real Reagan Legacy, ThinkProgress discussed The Real Ronald Reagan, and Salon's multi-part series The Real Reagan offered "a critical, but fair and respectful, exploration of the real Ronald Reagan."

Rick Moran wrote at The Moderate Voice that "Even from the vengeful, hateful left, there has been a grudging acknowledgment of his gifts." Michael Kinsley answered the "Can't you say anything nice?" question this way:

Oh, sure. He was a decent, well-meaning person and a patriot. But he was intellectually lazy. He believed what he wanted to believe, and his lasting legacy is to have trained the American people in the same bad habit. He lived in a world where taxes pay for themselves, government gets smaller by cutting "waste, fraud and abuse," nuclear missiles can be stopped by an invisible shield and so on. Then he left us, totally unprepared, to deal with the world as it really is.

Republicans had their hagiographic celebration, but now the party's over...and just as with the Eighties, someone has to clean up the mess that they've left behind.

some more links:
ThinkProgress listed 10 Things Conservatives Don't Want You to Know About Ronald Reagan

DailyKos lists some of the Reagan administration's 138 investigations, indictments, and convictions--easily making it the most corrupt administration of the 20th century

Will (Tear Down This Myth) Bunch listed five myths about Reagan, observing that "much of what today's voters think they know about the 40th president is more myth than reality, misconceptions resulting from the passage of time or from calculated attempts to rebuild or remake Reagan's legacy."

I highly recommend a visit to Mock, Paper, Scissors for The Feast of Saint Ronnie and more truth-telling about the Reagan era

Obama & O'Reilly

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The transcript of yesterday's O'Reilly/Obama interview is notable mostly for O'Reilly's question "Does it disturb you that so many people hate you?"

OBAMA: You know, the truth is, that the people -- and I'm sure previous presidents would say the same thing, whether it was Bush or Clinton or Reagan or anybody. The people who dislike you don't know you.

O'REILLY: They hate you.

OBAMA: Even -- the folks who hate you, they don't know you.

O'REILLY: That's true.

OBAMA: What they hate is whatever funhouse mirror image of you that's out there. And they don't know you. And so, you don't take it personally.

For some reason, Obama was gracious enough to avoid pointing out the obvious fact that Fox is the funhouse mirror of cable channels. Much of the hatred toward Obama (AKA Fox Geezer Syndrome) is due to the misinformation that is broadcast under Rupert Murdoch's imprimatur. Fox's inaccuracy is often accompanied by incivility, as O'Reilly interrupted Obama some 17 times during 14 minutes--a rate that must be some sort of record. Interestingly, Politico quoted O'Reilly as saying before the interview that "if I interrupt him too much, I look like a dope."

I would have said douchebag, but dope will do.

And I still say that Obama should have worked the importance of science education into one of his answers--O'Reilly would have interrupted Obama again, but without the ability cut his mic.

update (2/8):
PolitiFact fact-checked the interview here, showing that both president and pundit were inaccurate at times. Mark at NewsCorpse caught an O'Reilly lie that PolitiFact missed; O'Reilly asked Obama and W vastly different questions about animosity toward them:

O'Reilly went to great lengths to respond to criticism of one of his questions to President Obama during the Superbowl interview. The question he asked the President was:
"Does it disturb you that so many people hate you? It's a serious question. They hate you."

O'Reilly was incensed that anyone would have the effrontery to disparage his inquiry or his fairness. And he was certain that he could vanquish his critics with evidence that he asked the exact same question of former President George Bush:

"The people in the press hated you. A lot of them. Why?"

Of course, to an observer with a functioning brain stem, the questions were not really all that similar. First of all, Obama was faced with a question that presumed that he was hated by the American people. Bush was only asked to answer for why some reporters may have disliked him. That's a profound difference. Secondly, O'Reilly's tone toward Obama was accusatory as he demanded that the President explain why he was so damned unlikeable. But his demeanor toward Bush was one of sympathy and wonder as he sought grasp how anyone could think a negative thought about this good man. [...]

Bill O'Reilly must be grateful every day that his audience is so intellectually vacant that they can't tell when he is being dishonest or disingenuous. It is a special gift that he has earned over years of deceiving the public and nurturing ignorance.

Crooks and Liars' David Neiwert provided another example of Fox Geezer Syndrome: Kelsey Grammer. Grammer's ex-wife bemoaned a loss of intimacy during an interview this week, revealing that "He was too busy watching Fox News. He didn't want to cuddle."

Neiwert notes that this problem is hardly unique to Hollywood:

We've all encountered it: former college pals, or hometown buds, or old flames, or coworkers, or brothers-in-law, or grandfathers -- all convinced now that you've become a bad person because you're aiding and abetting those evil liberals in their attempt to destroy America. And what happens on an interpersonal scale is often ugly. It happens at Thanksgiving tables, at weddings and family reunions, when you go home to visit and see your old friends, or at work with people you've been friends with for years.

...the relentless message of the right-wing talkers, whether at Fox or on the radio, is simple and unmistakable: Liberals are bad people, sick in their souls, and they want to destroy America and your way of life. Day and day out, that's the message the True Believers get. And boy, do they believe it. [...] ...this kind of rhetoric alienates people from reality -- including the people who choose to live in that reality. By functionally unhinging people -- there is no other way to describe the effect of persuading people to believe, doggedly and unshakably, in things that are provably untrue, even in the fact of irrevocable factual evidence -- it serves to drive a real wedge between them and everyone else...

Identifying the problem is the first step; how can it be solved?

a silly notion

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Here's a great audio clip of Rush Limbaugh's Reagan-worship getting bitch-slapped by a caller who points out that Reagan was "a tax raiser, an amnesty giver, a cut-and-runner, and he negotiated with terrorists" before asking Rush, "Why is he a hero to conservatives?"

Limbaugh asked the caller, "Where did you get this silly notion that Reagan raised taxes on Social Security?" implying that the tax hikes signed by Reagan were figments of the liberal imagination or mere rumors floated by MediaMatters. Reagan's tax increases may not be common knowledge, especially not among conservatives, but they are quite real. Although MediaMatters did recently mention Reagan's numerous tax increases, their piece is not the only source for this information; for example, I discussed them last year and cited Bruce Bartlett's 2003 National Review article.

The silliest notion is conservatives' continued accusations that liberals revere Obama--while they propose everything but deification for Reagan. Were the Gipper in office today, though, their reaction would be markedly different:

(John Sherffius)

Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast this morning, discussing his Christian faith [update: a transcript is here], and how he came to " know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace Him as my lord and savior:"

Now, that was over 20 years ago. And like all of us, my faith journey has had its twists and turns. It hasn't always been a straight line. I have thanked God for the joys of parenthood and Michelle's willingness to put up with me. (Laughter.) In the wake of failures and disappointments I've questioned what God had in store for me and been reminded that God's plans for us may not always match our own short-sighted desires.

And let me tell you, these past two years, they have deepened my faith. [...]

When I wake in the morning, I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to give me the strength to do right by our country and its people. And when I go to bed at night I wait on the Lord, and I ask Him to forgive me my sins, and look after my family and the American people, and make me an instrument of His will.

I'll leave aside my distaste for the whole president-as-preacher attitude that seems to permeate these extra-constitutional gatherings to note how CNN's Dan Gilgoff observed that Obama's speech "comes on the heels of public opinion surveys that show only a minority of Americans know that Obama is a Christian and that a growing number believe he's a Muslim:"

A major survey last fall...showed that a substantial and growing number of Americans believes that Obama - a self-described Christian - is Muslim. [...] Nearly one in five Americans believes Obama is a Muslim, up from about one in 10 Americans who said he was Muslim in 2009, according to the survey.

CNN quoted a White House source who discusses the Right's "misinformation campaign" against Obama and his faith:

"Under the radar there are of course those who would not tell the truth about him," said the White House official, who would not speak for attribution. "There are folks who have a misunderstanding of the president's faith and who repeat that misunderstanding."

While some people may genuinely not know about Obama's Christianity, the vast majority of Right-wing claims in this regard are not misunderstandings, but lies. When directly confronted with evidence of Obama's religious belief, how many purveyors of "Manchurian Muslim Marxist" conspiracy theories will actually change their beliefs to conform with the facts?

Obama has spent more than six years on the national stage, and his association with former pastor Jeremiah Wright has been examined in detail. Any remaining confusion about his Christian beliefs is more likely to be a deliberate deception (self- or otherwise) than an honest misunderstanding. They know better--or at least they should.

Here are two recent examples of conservatives demanding a larger and more intrusive government (h/t: Ed Brayton here and here): the first is access to your Internet activity. Rep James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) Wisconsin is sponsoring a bill for "data retention that would require companies to store Internet Protocol (IP) addresses for two years." Cato's Jim Harper says that "the push for legislation is an example of pro-regulatory Republicans:"

"Republicans were put in power to limit the size and scope of the federal government," Harper said. "And they're working to grow the federal government, increase its intrusiveness, and I fail to see where the Fourth Amendment permits the government to require dragnet surveillance of Internet users."

The second proposal--and a more troubling one in light of Egypt's recent acts--is a federal-level Internet kill switch." If a "national cyberemergency" occurs, Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) want federal power to shut down the Internet. A similar proposal from last year titled "Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act" would allow Homeland Security to "establish and maintain a list of systems or assets that constitute covered critical infrastructure" over which the feds will have emergency powers:

...the point of the proposal is to assert governmental control only over those "crucial components that form our nation's critical infrastructure." [...] The revised version includes new language saying that the federal government's designation of vital Internet or other computer systems "shall not be subject to judicial review."

Once upon a time, Republicans at least talked about "smaller, less intrusive government"--but even that pretense no longer applies.

For more information, visit:
Center for Democracy and Technology
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Privacy Information Center

Bill O'Reilly has issued a video rebuttal (h/t: Towleroad) to this embarrassing admission of scientific ignorance, and it's even more hilarious:

Look, you pinheads who attacked me for this...you guys are just desperate.

How'd the moon get there? How'd the sun get there? How'd it get there? Can you explain that to me? How come we have that, and Mars doesn't have it? Venus doesn't have it--how come? Why not? How'd it get here?

If there is any desperation in this discussion, it is the sole property of Bill O'Reilly. Using goddidit as an "explanation" for the order and understandability of the universe is a failure of, well, godlike proportions. O'Reilly sounds like nothing quite so much as a child whose petulant refusal to admit an error has now gotten his arm stuck up to the elbow in the cookie jar. Anyone with a grade-school science education should be able to point out that Mars has two moons, (Deimos and Phobos); both Venus and Mars "have" the sun, in the sense that they each orbit around it.

O'Reilly then falls back to the standard Creationist canard that "it takes more faith to not believe [in god] than it does to believe," prompting me to wonder if he's serious. Could he be pulling an enormous satirical prank, à la Stephen Colbert? That hypothesis makes more sense than the supposition that O'Reilly is truly as obtuse as his onscreen persona.

Amanda Marcotte uses O'Reilly's idiocies to note that "science itself is under attack, and that the reason that conservatives are so eager to lash out against it has to do with an anti-modernist bent:"

This is especially true when you understand that science really is a threat to religion. [...] Religion really draws its power from explanation. It gives order to the world. And science is poaching that territory rapidly, which pisses off authoritarians, because they rightfully understand that if they lose the power to create facile goddidit explanations for everything from gravity to the problem of evil, they will lose their power over people. Thus, the attack not just on specific scientific theories, but on science in general, and most of academia, as well.

I would like to point out that O'Reilly's explanation of why you have to believe in god because that means there is "order". To which I must point out that this is the authoritarian, patriarchal mind at its best---he wishes to believe that him being on top of others is the natural order, so he creates a parallel fantasy of a white guy in the sky who created everything, and his power is derived from the magical white guy in the sky, because presumably they look alike and are both assholes. Also, said white guy in the sky making all the rules means you don't have to think any more, just obey.

Astronomer Phil Plait writes that "it's possible that Bill is being metaphoric; he doesn't literally mean the Moon, or tides, or anything like that: he means rules and order in general. We have the laws of physics, and we don't know why those exist the way they do:"

That's true enough, and an interesting field of exploration. But to jump to say, "God did it" [...] is not an answer. It's an evasion. O'Reilly (and so many ideologues like him) wants his ignorance to be canonized, but ignorance is not a goal. It's an opportunity to learn more.

Look: I seriously and strongly feel that everyone has the right to believe what they want, and to find comfort in it if they need it. But you can't let that belief narrow your view of the Universe to where it's simply easier to avoid what you don't understand.

greatly exaggerated

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A New York Observer article on the end of blogging (h/t: Digitizd) is overblown if not outright fallacious:

Whatever blogs have become, there seems to be universal agreement that the format that made them ubiquitous--the reverse-chronological aggregation accompanied by commentary--is not long for this world...the decline of the blog has come so quickly, one has to wonder whether we ever really liked the medium at all.

The author provides no data to support his position, so I decided to see what was available. The statistics at Royal Pingdom for 2009 and 2010 show a 9% annual increase in the number of websites, a 14% increase in Internet users, and--wait for it!--a 21% increase in the number of blogs...which doesn't sound like a decline to me.

The reported death of blogging appears to have been greatly exaggerated.

Ingrid Rowland writes at NYRB about that most revered library, the Library of Alexandria, which is seemingly safe from the demonstrations in Egypt:

The Library of Alexandria has burned twice before, once, partially, when Julius Caesar made his landing in Egypt in 48 BCE, and again, with devastating effect, in late antiquity. The first burning was probably a mistake, the second the result of religious fanaticism, most probably the same fanaticism that killed the Alexandrian mathematician Hypatia in 415 CE for daring, as a woman, to profess philosophy. [...] Blind rage cannot understand anything as complex or beautiful as Rome, or a library, or even a person, an animal, a book, a tree, a work of art--but blind rage can make these intricate systems stop, and the ability to make things stop has served many of our kind since time immemorial as a fine substitute for learning, experience, scientific method, artistic creation, philosophy.

Rowland quotes the library's director, Ismail Serageldin, announcing that "The library is safe thanks to Egypt's youth,"

...whether they be the staff of the Library or the representatives of the demonstrators, who are joining us in guarding the building from potential vandals and looters. I am there daily within the bounds of the curfew hours. However, the Library will be closed to the public for the next few days until the curfew is lifted and events unfold towards an end to the lawlessness and a move towards the resolution of the political issues that triggered the demonstrations.

Erika Moen has previewed the new webcomic Bucko, with collaborator Jeff Parker. Check out my review of her two DAR! books for a look at her mad cartoon skillz...I'm so happy to see her back to work on a regular webcomic!

Andrew Samwick writes at Capital Gains and Games about last night's judicial ruling against a portion of the Affordable Care Act:

I find the whole discussion of the individual mandate being unconstitutional to be ridiculous. Is the following system unconstitutional?
1. Everyone is entitled to Medicaid. 2. Everyone is required to file an income tax return. 3. Everyone who can show proof of health insurance other than Medicaid can deduct $X from his/her income tax liability.

This system charges $X for Medicaid coverage unless some other voluntary action is taken. (Set $X high enough, and no one will seek to be in Medicaid.) If that's unconstitutional, then so are the charitable deduction and the home mortgage interest deduction, along with every tax-advantaged saving vehicle.

This end result of proposing a GOP-friendly half-measure and then compromising most of it away has made healthcare reform much less than it could have been. I've long been a fan of Medicare for all--which some have called Medicare Part E (for everyone)--but that idea is too simple a solution for those in the center (like those farther to the Right) who demand that the federal government not be allowed to help solve problems without also enhancing corporate profits.

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