March 2011 Archives

searching...

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This Economist interview mentions a recent study looking at information search methods and times:

Thirty years ago, getting answers was really expensive, so we asked very few questions. Now getting answers is cheap, so we ask billions of questions a day...

Of course, it's unlikely that the questions are identical between time periods; I strongly suspect that we've gone from inquiring into a few big issues to the incessant obsessing over trivialities. The study, "A Day without a Search Engine" (PDF) used "a random sample of queries from a major search engine" to "evaluate the amount of time participants spend when they use a search engine versus when they use the library without access to Web resources." Nicholas (The Shallows) Carr notes that the study's observed time difference between online and offline searches (7 versus 22 minutes) may be skewed by one factor noted in its conclusion:

Lastly, since all our queries were drawn from actual questions asked on the web, it might not be too surprising that the searchers were more likely to find answers there. In a follow-up study, we would like to look at questions that users ask in a library to investigate whether there is a bias for non-web search.

electrifying

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In case there hasn't been enough beauty in your day, here's a gorgeous time-lapse video of the aurora borealis:

The Aurora from Terje Sorgjerd on Vimeo.


(h/t: Towleroad)

trumped

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Donald ("I was a very smart guy") Trump, now a birther conspiracist, was speculating on Faux News last night (h/t: HuffPo) about Obama's birth certificate, stating "there is a doubt as to whether or not" he was born in the US. [There is no doubt, except among those who lack basic reading comprehension or common sense.] Trump says "He doesn't have a birth certificate:"

"He may have [a birth certificate], but there is something on that birth certificate. Maybe religion. Maybe it says he's a Muslim. I don't know. Maybe he doesn't want that. Or he may not have one."

20110331-birthcertificate.jpg

The inanity of manufacturing a religious identity for a newborn is something that Richard Dawkins mentioned in The God Delusion:

A child is not a Christian child, not a Muslim child, but a child of Christian parents or a child of Muslim parents. This latter nomenclature, by the way, would be an excellent piece of consciousness-raising for the children themselves. A child who is told she is a 'child of Muslim parents' will immediately realize that religion is something for her to choose--or reject--when she becomes old enough to do so. (p. 382)

[This is, of course, what Obama did: he rejected his largely irreligious upbringing in favor of Christianity.] Birthers are still hunting for a mythical long-form Kenyan birth certificate that will prove not only that Obama is a Marxist/fascist/socialist/radical/Muslim, but that he's also the Antichrist. It's a sad and ultimately fruitless quest, but their loopy theories and lazy forgeries are sometimes entertaining.

In the same interview, by the way, Trump made this announcement:

"I'm opposed to gay marriage [because] I just don't feel good about it."

Well, Mr Trump, perhaps you'd care to explain why your emotions should have any bearing on the legal recognition of other people's marriages. [Like Newt, Trump is on his third wife--so it appears that he's fond of marriage, just not marriage equality.]

At Tikkun, Ian Mitroff writes about treating mass psychosis:

[C]onservatives are highly effective in getting their views across and their policies adopted not just because they control major media outlooks and think tanks, but because they have powerful narratives that appeal directly to gut emotions. [...] Progressives don't need to abandon rationality altogether. Instead, they need a better theory of it that shows how emotions and reason not only influence one another, but are interdependent.

Psychoanalytic theory, he writes, "helps to explain why facts alone are insufficient to dislodge someone from strongly held positions. Without dealing with the underlying emotions that undergird our beliefs, facts and counter-arguments only serve to strengthen a person's beliefs."

Mick Brown's "Godless in Tumorville" contains this gem from Christopher Hitchens:

"One thing that makes the atheist position intellectually, and in some ways morally, superior is that we accept conclusions on the basis of reason and evidence that are not welcome to us. We don't want to be annihilated. We just think the overall likelihood is that we will rejoin the molecular cycle when we die. We don't wish it to be true, but we face it."

I really must read Hitch's memoir one of these days.

3eanuts

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Even better than Garfield without Garfield, 3eanuts takes classic Peanuts strips and simply drops the last panel:

20110329-3eanuts.png

Charles Schulz's Peanuts comics often conceal the existential despair of their world with a closing joke at the characters' expense. With the last panel omitted, despair pervades all.

(h/t: Brian Childs at Comics Alliance)


update:
See this WaPo feature for more information.

Newt has drastically shrunken the amount of time between making contradictory statements--it used to take him days or even weeks to make a 180° flip-flop, but now he can contradict himself in a single sentence. Speaking in front of evangelical churchgoers in Texas, Gingrich served up this wingnut word salad in honor of his grandchildren:

"...by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists..."

Sorry, Newt--secular atheists won't let radical Islamists dominate our nation, but we won't let reactionary Christianists like you do it, either.


update (4/25):
Right-Wing Watch has the video.

twit

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I succumbed:

Follow cog_dissident on Twitter

It'll be like writing in haiku form compared to some of my wordier posts here, but I relish the challenge.

Scott Bradner's Network World column mentions McCain's prediction that net neutrality [see here and here] will "stifle innovation, in turn slowing our economic turnaround and further depressing an already anemic job market." Bradner suggests that McCain is "someone has absolutely no idea how the Internet works or what it is used for:"

The only way such an objection makes sense is if you only look at the carriers and assume that they will be worse off if they cannot get a piece of the action for the business that is done over their networks.

BBC reports on a study suggesting the extinction of religion in nine nations:

"The idea is pretty simple," said Richard Wiener of the Research Corporation for Science Advancement, and the University of Arizona. "It posits that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive to join, and it posits that social groups have a social status or utility. [...]

Dr Wiener continued: "In a large number of modern secular democracies, there's been a trend that folk are identifying themselves as non-affiliated with religion; in the Netherlands the number was 40%, and the highest we saw was in the Czech Republic, where the number was 60%."

The study, "A mathematical model of social group competition with application to the growth of religious non-affiliation" by Daniel Abrams and Haley Yaple at Northwestern (PDF), mentions that "a single parameter quantifying the perceived utility of adhering to a religion determines whether the unaffiliated group will grow in a society:"

The model predicts that for societies in which the perceived utility of not adhering is greater than the utility of adhering, religion will be driven toward extinction.

It also contains this caveat:

Our assumption that the perceived utility of a social group remains constant may be approximately true for long stretches of time, but there may also be abrupt changes in perceived utility, a possibility that is not included in the model.

Disinformation observes that "the nine countries pinpointed to become religion-free are among the healthiest, happiest, and most prosperous in the world," and wonders "shouldn't God be giving them a dose of wrath?"

Vox Day makes some sensible remarks--I know, I know--noting that "The key logical flaw in the study is that in addition to positing that social groups that have more members are going to be more attractive and that social groups have a social status or utility, it also posits that all social groups have equal utility:"

But this isn't the case, particularly when comparing religious groups with non-religious groups. The non-religious groups don't provide their memberships with the same benefits as the religious groups, for the obvious reason that they are an intrinsically negative group, defined solely by what they are not. [...] But even if the non-religious do have some things in common, this doesn't mean that they will benefit from membership in the non-religious group the way that most religious individuals do.

Atheists are only an "intrinsically negative" group because we have neither dogma nor an enforcement mechanism to define and maintain group-wide beliefs. Decreased in-group benefits are, I suspect, an unavoidable consequence of being a minority group.

Former SNL actress Victoria Jackson has taken some criticism for her ditzy dumbassery, and her latest WingNutDaily screed (h/t: Simply Left Behind) about an interview with CNN (which she calls " The liberal, left, propaganda channel") shows why. Jackson's persecution complex is incredibly pronounced:

I feel like I'm in the book "1984," where the protagonist is being grilled and electrocuted when he answers the wrong way. [...] American children...are being brainwashed by the secular-humanist media to be sexually promiscuous/ambiguous and anti-God. [...] Secular humanism: It's the great lie of Satan.

This alleged liberal brainwashing is even more pernicious among the adults:

These people are like robots, pod people. They have no minds of their own. They say the words they've been programmed to say, even if it's stupid. [...] Can't one liberal stray from the pack ... It's like they all got a playbook to memorize... [...] Pod people. No minds of their own. Brainwashed. They wear identical hairdos, identical clothes and have identical thoughts

The depths of her cognitive dissonance are demonstrated two paragraphs later, when she rhapsodizes over one of the fundagelical virtues:

Believers are told to "take every thought captive" that doesn't conform to Christ's standards. We must evaluate every one of our actions, desires and impulses and bring everything under the control of Jesus. It's for our own happiness.

So, just to recap: Someone who thinks critically about religious dogma and rejects it because it conflicts with reality is a brainwashed pod person; someone who uncritically conforms to that dogma is an independent-thinking rebel against totalitarianism. Yep, that makes perfect sense to me.

Evan Hurst fisked the hell out of Jackson at Truth Wins Out, writing that she's "really helping people make the connection between fundamentalist Christianity and utter lunacy:"

The liberal media cannot understand how a Christian can love a homosexual and yet not condone their lifestyle.

That's because you don't. You have "fundamentalist Christian love," which is selfish, prideful and arrogant. In short, it's not love.

She also has plenty of "fundamentalist Christian logic," which is nonsensical, contradictory, and based on emotion rather than empiricism. In short, it's not logic.

awesomeness

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H/t to Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy for featuring this video:

Just as fascinating--but in an entirely different way--is this great piece of furniture (h/t: TreeHugger):

It's more than meets the eye!

Newtered

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Vanity Fair reports that Newt's tweets have been memory-holed. VF shows a screenshot of Newt's paean to peanut-butter eggs before remarking:

These tweets and all others composed before July 22, 2010 are unable to be found. According to Twitter, Gingrich has written more than 2,300 tweets, but just a small portion of the sum total are currently available on his feed. Additionally, permalinks to many earlier tweets are broken.

Jed Lewison comments at Daily Kos:

This caught my attention because last week I noticed that a couple of infamous tweets from Newt (one boasting about "having shabu shabu at tachibana in mclean virginia" and the other calling Sonia Sotomayor a "Latina woman racist") had both gone missing despite still showing up in Google's cache. [...]

It's easy enough to understand why he'd want to delete his "Shabu, Shabu" tweet (arugala, anyone?) or why he'd want to get rid of his closed-minded attack on Justice Sotomayor, but it doesn't explain why he sent those tweets in the first place--or what else he's hoping to erase by purging his Twitter archives.

A h/t goes to my friend Bill for mentioning the piece by Dave Davies (from Philadelphia station WHYY) about the media rush to judgment over the fake NPR scandal. Based on James O'Keefe's 11-minute version (deceptively edited, it should be noted) of 2 hours of footage, Davies notes that "NPR condemned [NPR exec] Schiller's comments as appalling before anybody at the network had even seen the raw tape:"

Once NPR came out with its hands up, every news organization had the network's surrender on the record, and a narrative was established: A senior NPR executive said horrible things on tape, confirming conservative stereotypes of the network at the worst possible time, forcing NPR into frantic damage control.

Instead of letting wingnuts drive the discourse, Davies suggests a thought experiment:

Suppose NPR had taken a few more hours before offering a substantive comment, then said something different: that while this fundraiser, who is leaving the company and who has no role in producing NPR content expressed some troubling opinions, the video was edited to misrepresent the conversation in significant ways; that remarks Schiller made about the Republican party that appear to be his own were actually his re-telling of the views of others; that in the lunch meeting Schiller said positive things about the Republican party and the intelligence of conservatives; that he told the make-believe Muslims a half dozen times that no donation would get them influence over network content; that the video depicts Schiller laughing agreeably to a statement that the phony group promoted Sharia law, while in fact he was reacting to a trivial comment about the lunch reservation.

The narrative might then have been different - a debate between O'Keefe, claiming to have exposed bias in NPR, and the network arguing it had been slimed by an ideological cheap shot artist. Other news organizations would have then been compelled to go to the full two-hour video, make their own judgments and talk to both sides.

That's been the conservative MO for some time now:

1). Make a sensational claim (about trickle-down economics, Iraqi WMDs, ACORN election fraud, Obama's birth certificate, death panels)

2). Garner free publicity from conservative-friendly media outlets.

3). Rely on voters' incuriosity to ensure that the initial claims won't be corrected


update (3/26):
Bill Moyers has some very fine comments about conservative accusations of "liberal bias" at NPR:

When it comes to covering and analyzing the news, the reverse of right isn't left; it's independent reporting that toes neither party nor ideological line. We've heard no NPR reporter -- not a one -- advocating on the air for more government spending (or less), for the right of abortion (or against it), for or against gay marriage, or for or against either political party, especially compared to what we hear from Fox News and talk radio on all of these issues and more. [...]

So what do conservatives really mean when they accuse NPR of being "liberal?" They mean it's not accountable to their worldview as conservatives and partisans. They mean it reflects too great a regard for evidence and is too open to reporting different points of views of the same event or idea or issue. Reporting that by its very fact-driven nature often fails to confirm their ideological underpinnings, their way of seeing things (which is why some liberals and Democrats also become irate with NPR).

The GOP's resident pseudo-intellectual, Newt Gingrich, has once again demonstrated his utter lack of principle--this time over Libya. A few weeks ago, Newt was all for the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya to punish Qaddafi's dictatorship. When asked "what would you do about Libya?" Newt's answer was forceful:

Exercise a no-fly zone this evening. ... We don't need to have the United Nations. All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we're intervening.

As soon as Obama took action, though, Newt abruptly changed his mind:

I would not have intervened. I think there were a lot of other ways to affect Qaddafi. I think there are a lot of other allies in the region we could have worked with. I would not have used American and European forces.

Newt is spinning furiously, but the truth is clear: he is driven far more by political opportunism than by principled intellectualism.


update (3/24):
ThinkProgress pointed out that Newt, despite his tendencies toward flip-flopping, disdained the practice in 2004 [see my piece on the Bush/Kerry campaign]:

Gingrich on Neil Cavuto, 9/17/04: "You can't flip-flop and be commander-in-chief."

Gingrich on Hannity & Colmes 9/27/04: "I think Kerry's problem is one of identity... He can't quite decide, you know -- and so I think what you're going to see more likely with him is a kind of schizophrenia. And if the moderator's at all serious with Kerry, and puts Kerry on the spot as saying, now, you said a, and you said b. Which is it? I think Kerry's got a big problem."

Gingrich on Hannity & Colmes, 5/5/04: "I think maybe the pretzel should become the symbol of the Kerry campaign, because he kind of twists himself into a pretzel trying to fit every group he shows up in front of and trying to appeal to each group on the national issues. I'm beginning to think it's not such a shock he's running for president. It's a little bit of a shock he survived as a Senator."

As always, IOKIYAR.


update 2 (3/25):
TPM has more examples of Newt's reflexively anti-Obama rhetoric, showing that he flip-flopped not just on the no-fly zone and humanitarian justifications for it, but also on the issues of air-power efficacy and the propriety of Obama's personal involvement.

I'm not sure if Newt has enough popular support to make it in today's GOP, but he certainly has the pandering down to a science.


update 3 (3/26):
It's not just Newt who's busy pandering to the Right's reflexive anti-liberalism. As shown by Salon's Alex Pareene in flowchart form (h/t: Bluegal at Crooks and Liars), there's a soundbite for every right-wing pundit.

20110322-manifesto.gif

(h/t: Daily What)

Colin McGinn's Why I Am an Atheist looks at the selective atheism of theists, noting that "People believe in the reality of their own God but they are not similarly credulous when it comes to other people's gods--here their disbelief is patent and powerful:"

They do not preach agnosticism about those other gods; they reject them outright. I am with them on this point, but I extend it to their God too. My point is that they are as "dogmatic" as I am in their atheism; we are just atheists about different gods. I am an atheist about all gods; typical theists are atheists about the majority of gods believed in over the centuries by human beings of one tribe or another. I find their disbelief thoroughly sensible; I would merely urge them to push it one stage further. I favor total atheism; they favor selective atheism--none of that pusillanimous agnosticism for either of us. So please, theist, do not accuse me of epistemic irresponsibility in my atheism. [emphasis added]

happy trails

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In the NYT, Chris (Born to Run) McDougall talks about being born to be a trail runner. Although "big money has invaded mountain biking, marathoning and the Ironman," he writes, "off in the woods, Fat Asses are flourishing." As he explains:

Fat Ass events are trail races governed by three rules: no fees, no awards, no whining. Distances are typically 50 kilometers or 50 miles, but vary according to a race director's whims or ability to borrow his buddy's GPS device. Fat Ass runs have no lotteries, no expos, no qualifying times, no triple-digit entry fees subsidizing multimillion-dollar "running clubs." [...] The appeal isn't strictly about cash; it's about connection. A Fat Ass is hometown and homemade. It's not Hollywood; it's your high school play.

Running races like these was what really rekindled my love for running over the past few years, and I can't recommend them highly enough. Check with your local running clubs to see what's happening in your neck of the woods!

This fascinating (and frightening!) video shows soil liquefaction caused by the Japanese earthquake:

winning

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A survey of independent voters shows that, as a presidential candidate, Sarah Palin has less support than Charlie Sheen (h/t: Jed Lewison at Daily Kos).

20110317-winning.jpg

Sheen's tiger blood and Adonis DNA really make a winning combination.

This site's availability has been a bit spotty lately due to a high volume of traffic [over 2 million pageviews so far this month] from China--it was completely unavailable for a while when the monthly traffic limit was exceeded.

I have to catch up with some posts from the past few days, but things should be back to their abnormal normality in short order.

Thanks for your patience.


update (3/19):
I should have done this days ago, but it didn't hit me until last night that China's notorious problems with censorship and human rights may have provided me with a way to solve the problem of their bandwidth-hogging on my webserver. Mentioning topics such as Falun Gong, the Tiananmen Square protests, and the independence movements in Taiwan and Tibet should get them off my back...and here are a few more things they don't like:

Amnesty International
Dalai Lama
Free Tibet
Human Rights in China
Human Rights Watch
Nobel laureate (and dissident) Liu Xiaobo

motto

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Thanks to Perplexed Observer for linking to this video about the mid-century godification of our Pledge, our motto, and our money--one of my pet peeves, and a favorite retort when I encounter Christianists' persecution complex:

I was going to ignore Glenn Beck's idiotic remarks about Japan and Jesus on Monday, but I just can't resist. Although Beck cautioned his listeners during his apocalyptic ramblings that "I'm not saying God is, you know, causing earthquakes," he continued, "I'm not not saying that either:"

I'll tell you this: whether you call it Gaia or whether you call it Jesus -- there's a message being sent. And that is, 'Hey, you know that stuff we're doing? Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it.' I'm just sayin'.

Let's follow this logical path through Beck's mental underbrush, shall we? He's supposing that there has been:

1). An increase in the frequency and/or severity of earthquakes that is
2). due to supernatural intervention which was
3). prompted by human action and
4). intended as a sign to humanity, and that
5). his theology can ascertain this sign's meaning.

Beck hasn't proven the first supposition--does he even know what plate tectonics is?--and can't prove the next four. His rhetorical house isn't even built on sand--it's built on bullshit. As MediaMatters points out, Beck follows in the illustrious footsteps of wingnuts Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in using disasters to push nonsensical theo-political dogma.

It boggles my mind that millions of people swallow that demagogic swill as though it were the most wholesome of edifications.

Looking at the labor demonstrations erupting across the nation, Chris Hedges reminds us that power concedes nothing without a demand. "The liberal class has busied itself with the toothless pursuits of inclusiveness, multiculturalism, identity politics and tolerance," writes Hedges, "and forgotten about justice." As most media outlets have come to function as "a shameless mouthpiece for the powerful and a magnet for corporate advertising," he continues,

Legitimate news organizations, such as NPR and The New York Times, are left cringing and apologizing before the beast--right-wing groups that hate "liberal" news organizations not because of any bias, but because they center public discussion on verifiable fact. And verifiable fact is not convenient to ideologues whose goal is the harnessing of inchoate rage and hatred.

Hedges sees our situation as both dire and pregnant with possibilities, as "The only place left for us is on the street. We must occupy state and federal offices. We must foment general strikes:"

The powerful, with no check left on their greed and criminality, are gorging on money while they busily foreclose our homes, bust the last of our unions, drive up our health care costs and cement into place a permanent underclass of the broken and the poor. They are slashing our most essential and basic services--including budgets for schools, firefighters and assistance programs for children and the elderly--so we can pay for the fraud they committed when they wiped out $14 trillion of housing wealth, wages and retirement savings. All we have left is the capacity to say "no."

The title of Hedges' essay comes, of course, from Frederick Douglass:

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. [...] Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. [...] If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others.

The Weekly Standard's Joseph Epstein has a negative reaction to the Northwestern sex-ed demonstration that I mentioned last week, bemoaning it as an example of "decades of misunderstanding of the meaning of academic freedom." He admits that "In earliest times, academic freedom's greatest opponent was religion," but doesn't connect that fount of conservatism with the strains that constrain academia today:

Academic freedom, though, works two ways. While it protects university teachers from outside forces that would inhibit them, it also sets a standard of conduct on what doesn't deserve to be protected by academic freedom.

He takes issue with a question from Laurie Essig (assistant professor of sociology at Middlebury College):

"Why are we so damn uncomfortable with sex that is not mediated by film or text that ABC, CNN, and all the rest of the media outlets can't stop talking about it?"

I suspect that, outside these bounds, sexual expression is too real for some people--too strong a reminder of our physicality, our animality, and even our mortality. Epstein states, though, that "Students don't need universities to learn about varying tastes in sex, or about the mechanics of human sexuality:"

They don't need it because, first, epistemologically, human sexuality isn't a body of knowledge upon which there is sufficient agreement to constitute reliable conclusions, for nearly everything on the subject is still in the flux of theorizing and speculation; and because, second, given the nature of the subject, it tends to be, as the Bailey case shows, exploitative, coarsening, demeaning, and squalid.

Epstein's imagination only extends as far as likening the woman to a prostitute, the students to johns-voyeurs, and the professor to a pimp--a sure sign that a little horizon-broadening is in order.

Not to pick on the rich so soon after the last time, but I just couldn't resist.

Fidelity's latest millionaire outlook reported that 42% of millionaire households (with $1M+ of investable assets) "still do not feel wealthy," and would need to have $7.5M on hand in order to feel wealthy.

These households are in the top 5%, but aspire to be in the top 1%; I imagine they'd feel wealthier if they deigned to look in the direction of the 95% of us below them.

I'm strongly in favor of online anonymity, whether in blogging, commenting, or making business transactions--although this seems to be an increasingly less-common opinion. Farhad Manjoo inveighs against anonymity at Slate, saying that "as a writer" he doesn't want anonymous comments on his articles:

Everyone who works online knows that there's a direct correlation between the hurdles a site puts up in front of potential commenters and the number and quality of the comments it receives. The harder a site makes it for someone to post a comment, the fewer comments it gets, and those comments are generally better. [...]

Anonymity has long been hailed as one of the founding philosophies of the Internet, a critical bulwark protecting our privacy. But that view no longer holds. In all but the most extreme scenarios--everywhere outside of repressive governments--anonymity damages online communities. Letting people remain anonymous while engaging in fundamentally public behavior encourages them to behave badly.

Russell Blackford is more nuanced in his analysis. Although recognizing that anonymity can be abused, he realizes his own position of privilege. "I'm far better placed than most people," he writes, "to get by without the need for anonymity:"

Within quite broad limits I can get away with saying very controversial things without suffering for it - this is almost expected of someone whose public presence is as a writer and a philosopher - and in recent years I've reached a point where, although I'm far from rich, I can live a comfortable life with some little luxuries without having to worry about falling into poverty. [...] I don't need to worry about actual bosses and employers. Not many people are in that position unless they're fully retired.

My own online anonymity is driven by the desire to avoid having social and economic reprisals for my dissident opinions. For the time being, a pseudonym is a small price to pay for being able to write with complete honesty.

Eric (The Cathedral and the Bazaar) Raymond writes about religious toxicity, observing that there is"pretty general agreement on which religions are the toxic worst:"

These would be the religions that combine particularly crazy superstitions with a blood-soaked historical record. We atheists think of these as deadly memetic plagues, occasionally found in relatively well-behaved quiescent phases but prone to bloom into full-fledged insane murderousness whenever the next charismatic nutcase wanders along to remind them what they're really about.

And which two religions are at the very top of the threat-potential list? No prizes for guessing that they are Christianity and Islam, not necessarily in that order. Both have relatively tolerable minorities (Christianity's Quakers and Unitarians, Islam's Sufis) but have extremely dangerous and powerful fundamentalist groups that effectively dominate the discourse inside their communities.

Bernard (Hating God) Schweizer, who I mentioned here, is at it again at CNN. In what reads like an ad for his book, Schweizer writes that misotheism is "a dark, disturbing and perplexing strand of religious dissent," lauds misotheists as "radical dissenters [who] have remained almost unknown to date," and asks "Why do I care so much about them?"

They strike me as brave, visionary, intelligent people who reject God from a sense of moral outrage and despair because of the amount of injustice and suffering that they witness in this world. [...] ...nobody has bothered yet to draw the larger lines of development over time, beginning with the Book of Job and ending up with utilitarianism, philosophical anarchism and feminism. That story in itself is quite engrossing, but again it is not a story that has really ever been presented.

This prompts a series of questions: Can misotheists reform religion from within? Do they even want to? How does the community of believers treat the misotheists in their midst? Is pointing out religion's faults more readily acceptable when it comes from within the flock rather than from atheist outsiders?

AC Grayling's piece on god and disaster will ruffle a few theists' feathers:

Someone told me that there were to be special prayers in their local church for the people of Japan. This well-intentioned and fundamentally kindly proceeding nevertheless shows how absurd, in the literal sense of this term, are religious belief and practice. [...] How, in the face of events which human kindness and concern registers as tragic and in need of help - help which human beings proceed to give to their fellows: no angels appear from the sky to do it - can they believe such an incoherent fiction as the idea of a deity? This is a perennial puzzle.

Here's an image that says it all:

20110313-prayer.png

H/t to Atheist Revolution for reminding us that Japan doesn't need your prayers:

If you are praying for the Japanese people, please recognize that you are doing this only to comfort or distract yourself. It is for you, not for them. It does not do them any good.

If you really want to do some good for the people of Japan, donate to a relief agency.

Visit InterAction for a list of groups that are helping victims of the tsunami.


update (3/14):
Slate also has a list of charities, as does HuffPo


update (3/14):
Here's another example:

20110314-hopeandpray.jpg
(Cam Cardow, The Ottawa Citizen)

Since hope and prayer do absolutely nothing, doing ANYTHING ELSE is doing more...

ThinkProgress mentions that yesterday's pro-worker rally in Wisconsin was the largest yet--and at 100,000 people, it was as large as (or larger than) any of the Teabagger rallies.

Liberals and labor don't get the wall-to-wall media coverage routinely granted to the astroturf Teabaggers, though, because real grass-roots efforts are threatening to the corporate media.


update:
As the eloquent John Cole put it:

The size of the protest only matters if half of you are in Medicare scooters with "Jesus is my CoPilot" stickers on the back, and the other half of you are carrying signs taking the Founding Fathers out of context. If you do that, then the media will pay attention to you like they do the tea parties.

Or it might be that the oligarchs running the media and all the newsmen making 200k+ a year are much more interested in tax cuts and "limited government" so they cover the tea parties, but couldn't give a shit about unions or teachers. But that would be crazy talk.

boo-fucking-hoo

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Graeme Wood's "Secret Fears of the Super-Rich" from The Atlantic looks at an upcoming Boston College study on wealthy households (>$25 million in assets) entitled "The Joys and Dilemmas of Wealth." The dilemmas, though, are really just a bunch of bitchy whines from the over-privileged:

"One of the saddest phrases I've heard," [Robert] Kenny says of his time counseling the wealthy, is when the heir to a fortune is told, "'Honey, you're never going to have to work.'" The announcement is often made, Kenny explains, by a rich grandparent to a grandchild--and it rarely sounds as good to the recipient as to the one delivering it. Work is what fills most people's days, and it provides the context in which they interact with others. A life of worklessness, however financially comfortable, can easily become one of aimlessness, of estrangement from the world. The fact that most people imagine it would be paradise to never have to work does not make the experience any more pleasant in practice.

Even more pathetic is Wood's assertion that "the rich stare into the abyss a bit more starkly than the rest of us:"

...the truly wealthy know that appetites for material indulgence are rarely sated. No yacht is so super, nor any wine so expensive, that it can soothe the soul or guarantee one's children won't grow up to be creeps. When the rich man takes his last sip of Château d'Yquem 1959, he tips back the wineglass to find at its bottom an unforeseen melancholy.

Oh, the horror...

Frances Fox Piven commented on her Glenn Beck experience [see my post the Beck-Bullshit Strategy] in "Crazy Talk and American Politics:"

Propaganda and its place in American politics is not my academic specialty. But I have been prodded to think about it a lot in recent months because I have been made into a central character in Beck's stories about the evils that have befallen America.

She also touches on the media's endemic Islamophobia as well:

Lunatic though they are, the ravings about our plan for an orchestrated crisis to destroy capitalism--or a Muslim caliphate that will devour Europe--are important because they provide theories of a sort to people who are made anxious by large-scale changes that have overtaken American society. [...] The blank space in the democratic process is an invitation to propaganda by those who want to limit the democratic influence of the public, and propaganda is flourishing in American politics today.

It is indeed, and nowhere as consistently as at Beck's network.

Sarah Posner's piece on the Shari'ah conspiracy theory industry at Religion Dispatches identifies the five claims behind outbursts like the King hearing:

...that the goal of Islam is totalitarianism; that the mastermind of bringing this totalitarianism to the world is the Muslim Brotherhood, the grandfather of all Islamic groups from Hamas to the Islamic Society of North America; that these organizations within the United States are traitors in league with the American left and are bent on acts of sedition against America; that the majority of mosques in the United States are run by imams who promote such sedition; and that through this fifth column shari'ah law has already infiltrated the United States and could result in a complete takeover if not stopped.

Posner quotes retired Christian warrior Lt Gen Jerry "there is no greater threat to America than Islam" Boykin that "Islam itself is not just a religion--it is a totalitarian way of life:"

It's a legal system, shari'ah law; it's a financial system; it's a moral code; it's a political system; it's a military system. It should not be protected under the First Amendment, particularly given that those following the dictates of the Quran are under an obligation to destroy our Constitution and replace it with shari'ah law.

In this, they are not so very different from the Christianists who look to the Bible for answers in legal, financial, moral, political, and military matters--not only do they want to replace parts of the Constitution (church/state separation, free speech, democracy), they have already written their theology into our Pledge of Allegiance, changed out national motto to support their monotheism, and are trying to codify restrictions on reproductive rights and marriage equality.


update (3/23):
Sarah Posner does her usual wonderful job of describing the Right's hypocrisy over shari'ah:

Fox News and conservative bloggers are freaking out about the long, slow, imaginary march to shari'ah law taking over the Constitution. But they've never objected to very similar arrangements made by Christians. [...]

Shari'ah scare mongers complain that application of shari'ah law threatens the Constitution, most specifically by interfering with the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial, but also by requiring application of religious law over state law. But what they ignore is the fact that Christians and Jews also make such arrangements in private contracts as well, with nary a peep from conservatives.

Intellectual consistency was never exactly the strong point of Chicken-Little conservatism, though, and stirring the racist/xenophobic pot is a proven tactic for riling up the wingnut minions.

LG_T

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What's missing from the acronym LG_T? That's right: the B!

Pam Spaulding mentioned a new report from the San Francisco Human Rights Commission on "Bisexual Invisibility: Impacts and Recommendations" (PDF) that examined many health implications of the institutional focus on either/or sexuality:

  • One in two bi women and one in three bi men have attempted or seriously considered suicide. This is significantly higher than the rates for heterosexuals, lesbians, and gay men.
  • Bisexuals experience higher rates of hypertension, depression, poor or fair physical health, smoking, risky drinking, and other mood or anxiety disorders.
  • Bisexual men were 50% more likely to live in poverty than gay men, and bisexual women were more than twice as likely to live in poverty as lesbians.

As the report notes:

Despite the overwhelming data that bisexuals exist, other people's assumptions often render bisexuals invisible. Two women holding hands are read as "lesbian," two men as "gay," and a man and a woman as "straight." In reality, any of these people might be bi―perhaps all of them.

Here is the last paragraph of the report's "Recommendations" section:

Many assumptions lie at the core of bisexual invisibility: assumptions about a person's sexual orientation based on her/his partner's gender; about bisexuals people's reliability, honesty, or commitment to the LGBT movement; about bisexuals' health concerns and needs; and about the world as an "either/or" place rather than one of infinite variety. Any long-term solutions must dispel these assumptions to make room for those whose lives exist beyond binaries.

Not to be too flippant about it, but one of the "Other Forms of Biphobia" phrases caught my eye--the complaint that "bisexuals just want to have their cake and eat it too."

What's the point of having cake if you're not going to eat it?

I am a Muslim

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This morning, noted IRA supporter Rep Peter King (R-NY)--who once remarked that "we have...too many mosques in this country"--held a hearing on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." King admitted to the hearing's purpose as carefully staged political theater and used his opening statement to hit back against pre-hearing criticism:

This Committee cannot live in denial which is what some would have us do when they suggest that this hearing dilute its focus by investigating threats unrelated to Al Qaeda. [...] Al Qaeda is actively targeting the American Muslim Community for recruitment. Today's hearing will address this dangerous trend.

King complained about "a lack of full cooperation from too many people in the Muslim community," but I wonder: are the gun nuts and Christianists, the militia groups and neo-Nazis on the Right known for their cooperation with federal law enforcement organizations? David Neiwert writes that right-wing domestic terrorists should also be the subject of hearings, but pundits such as Bill O'Reilly can't understand why:

"Are you kidding me? The radical right? The last terror act assigned to them was the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. [...] How many people have the radical right killed?"

Neiwert responded:

Well, Bill, just to get you up to speed: There have been many, many more right-wing terrorist acts on American soil since 1995 -- including the bombing of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, just for starters. [...] We've documented, to date, 22 cases of domestic terrorism since July 2008 involving right-wing extremists of various stripes, all inflicting (or attempting to inflict) violence on a variety of "liberal" and government targets.

ThinkProgress notes that non-Muslim terrorists are nearly twice as common in the US. In the post-9/11 era, "Muslims have been involved in 45 domestic terrorist plots. Meanwhile, non-Muslims have been involved in 80 terrorist plots." While Muslim-originated domestic terrorism is disproportionately high given their small numbers, violence committed by right-wing extremists (combining anti-government/anti-tax radicals with KKK/NeoNazi/White supremacist movements) is much more frequent. The Right's violence targets broad areas of modern civilization (in service of their sexism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia), but let's look at just one: their anti-abortion attacks. Over the period from 1977 to 2009, anti-abortion activists have been responsible for:

216 arsons and bombings
97 attempted arson or bombing
643 bomb threats
184 incidents of assault and battery
416 death threats
4 kidnappings
14293 incidents of hate mail or hate phone calls

(That's in addition to 9 murders and 4 attempted murders; all by firearms.)

You'll almost never hear the phrase Christian terrorism used in the (conservative) corporate media, though, because right-wing extremism is rarely examined--they'd rather keep rehashing the Sixties. (For one example, see the uproar over the DHS report on right-wing extremism.)

Although I can't countenance Islam's bigoted irrationality, I'll gladly stand with Muslims against the Peter Kings of the world--particularly if the hearings degenerate into questions like "Are you now, or have you ever been, a Muslim?" The Interfaith Assembly on Homelessness & Housing protests in NYC last weekend had the right idea:

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Barry Ritholtz reminds us of the fabulous (at least on Wall Street) two-year-long economic recovery, pointing out a WSJ op-ed from March 2009 claiming that "Obama's Radicalism Is Killing the Dow." As with the Right's florid fantasies that Clinton's economic plan would destroy the economy, which I mentioned here, their pundits were completely wrong about Obama's stimulus program. For the record, here are the numbers:

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Dow Jones Industrials: up 83.64%
S&P 500: up 93.32%
NASDAQ: up 115.21%

Gee, I wish Republicans would "kill the Dow" like that...

road trip!

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Newt is "leaning toward yes" for a long-rumored presidential run, and planning a campaign announcement in late May at Independence Hall.

I'm leaning toward a road trip, and planning a snarky sign...any suggestions?

introversion

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I wrote a little bit about introversion last year, but didn't dig around enough to find Jonathan Rauch's 2003 Atlantic piece "Caring for Your Introvert" (h/t: Eric at Classical Values) mentioned it. Rauch wrote that "introverts are people who find other people tiring" and uses the rule of "two hours alone for every hour of socializing" to manage his own introversion:

This isn't antisocial. It isn't a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: "I'm okay, you're okay--in small doses."

"Extroverts are easy for introverts to understand," he noted, but "Extroverts have little or no grasp of introversion:"

They assume that company, especially their own, is always welcome. They cannot imagine why someone would need to be alone; indeed, they often take umbrage at the suggestion. As often as I have tried to explain the matter to extroverts, I have never sensed that any of them really understood. They listen for a moment and then go back to barking and yipping.

I love Rauch's answer to the question "How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice?"

First, recognize that it's not a choice. It's not a lifestyle. It's an orientation.

Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don't say "What's the matter?" or "Are you all right?"

Third, don't say anything else, either.

marginalia

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Dirk Johnson's NYT feature on the dim future of marginalia rattled around my head for a few days until I came upon a sister piece. Sam Anderson wrote about wanting readers to be rolling around in the text. "[M]arking up books," writes Anderson, is "a way to not just passively read but to fully enter a text, to collaborate with it, to mingle with an author on some kind of primary textual plane:"

Today I rarely read anything -- book, magazine, newspaper -- without a writing instrument in hand. Books have become my journals, my critical notebooks, my creative outlets. Writing in them is the closest I come to regular meditation; marginalia is -- no exaggeration -- possibly the most pleasurable thing I do on a daily basis.

Writing marginalia never seemed quite right to me, so I took voluminous notes instead. Some books were only worth a single quoted sentence or a few paragraphs of copied text, while others required many pages. The act of copying the written word has led to the creation of a modern commonplace book (actually a collection of Word documents) that I can search through far more readily than the hundreds of books that have since been returned to various libraries or friends' homes.

Anderson writes later that "books are curious objects: their strength is to be both intensely private and intensely social -- and marginalia is a natural bridge between these two states." That's an excellent point, and one that need not be restricted to the physical instantiation of a book. My digital commonplace book is, unlike my home library, immune from fire, from weather, and from misfortune. If the thousands of books in my home were destroyed, I would still be annoyed by Augustine, intrigued by Russell, amazed by Jaynes, inspired by McDougall, puzzled by Pirsig, entranced by Feynman, daunted by Ginsberg, awed by Sagan.

Anderson has an "ultimate fantasy of e-marginalia [that]would be something like a readerly utopia:"

It could even (if we want to get all grand and optimistic) turn out to be a Gutenberg-style revolution -- not for writing, this time, but for reading. Book readers have never had a mechanism for massively and easily sharing their responses to a text with other readers, right inside the text itself. Now, when the Coleridge of 21st-century marginalia emerges, he should be able to mark up the books of a million friends at once.


links:
See here for a selection of Anderson's marginalia

Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse (philosophy professors at Vanderbilt and authors of the upcoming book Reasonable Atheism: A Moral Case for Respectful Disbelief) argue in a post entitled "The Moral Argument" (h/t: Ophelia Benson) that "there's an intrinsic moral wrong in religious belief:"

The thought is frequently associated with Bertrand Russell: The worship of anything is beneath the dignity of a rational creature. That is, we argue that worship is immoral. Consequently, for any type of religious belief, if it requires one to worship anything, then it is intrinsically immoral. The argument turns on the claim that any conception of worship that's worth its salt will involve the voluntary and irrevocable submission of one's rational faculties to those of another. Invoking a few low-grade and noncontroversial (even among anti-deontologists) insights associated with Kant, we argue that this kind of submission is intrinsically morally wrong.

Aikin's "The Problem of Worship" (PDF) covers his thesis ("we shouldn't worship God...because we shouldn't worship anything") in greater detail:

Rational agents do not submit their lives unconditionally to the commands or dictates of others. The requirement that one do so is immoral. [...] The fact that God needs to command us to worship Him seems not only to place him in similar ethical territory as the petulant philanthropist, but it seems to concede that we don't have reasons for worshipping him beyond the command.

There's nothing intrinsically demeaning about the kneeling position--it's just that one could be engaged in activities far more rewarding than prayer...

This clip from Jon Stewart's Daily Show has been making the rounds (AmericaBlog and Ed Brayton), and it is so perfect in its evisceration of the zombie economic lies of Faux News corporatocracy that I couldn't resist posting it:

This clip tackles so many of the classics: the income disparity double standards (bankers making $250K are "not rich" and are "actually close to poverty," but teachers should be satisfied with a fraction of that), fears of a talent exodus from bailed-out financial firms if their executives' income is restricted (with no comparable concern for the teachers who have already made economic sacrifices, and are now fighting to preserve their future bargaining rights), and the inviolability of contractual obligations (only when it applies to Wall Street bonuses, never teachers' benefits).

This cartoon tackles the same subject, but from the Right' blame-the-unions perspective:

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(Jim Morin/Miami Herald)


update:
Mark's piece on "The Republican Model of Shared Sacrifice" at NewsCorpse is great, as is the accompanying illustration:

In the process of dispensing these hardships, working people are castigated if they object that the contracts to which they agreed are being broken in order to pare back their lavish lifestyles. But any suggestion that the Wall Street crooks who created this recession in the first place be asked to forgo their extravagant bonuses, paid for by the people via government bailouts, is an affront to the order of business and the contractual benefits they negotiated with their executive pals.

So remember, when contemplating the value of shared sacrifice, that if you support firefighters and factory workers getting fair compensation, you're a socialist. But if you support hedge fund managers and insurance company CEO's getting millions in government handouts, you're a patriot. That's shared sacrifice in right-wing America.

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Andrew Sullivan discussed culling his personal library, and mentioned an essay on deep cleaning that contained this observation:

Clutter is about aspirations unmet; unspoken feelings of loss; relationships we can't let go; old injuries; and lack of self-esteem. For academics, four shelves of books, double-shelved, that you have never read says: "I'm worried I'm not smart enough!" Or, "Maybe if other people see these books, they will recognize that I am smart." Meanwhile, the books sit there looking at you, sending another silent message: "You bought us, now you are stuck with us. Before you get to your own writing, or any reading that would give you pleasure, you have to make good on the promise to read us. What -- you don't" (sniff!) "want us any more?"

Palmer would suggest that you sit down and have a chat with these books, thank them for the time they have spent in your house, apologize for not reading them and explain to them that you want them to go somewhere that someone will really appreciate them. Then box them up and take them to the library sale.

I nearly always try to find a good home for my unwanted books, but some volumes filled with exceptionally low-value content (e.g., religious apologetics, wingnut politics) that have found a temporary home on my shelves may do more good through recycling than through being read be someone else. (Yes, some authors deserve the insult that their books' paper is more valuable than their words.)

The smarmy unctuousness that exemplifies Newt Gingrich is on full display in his new Newt Explore 2012 website:

America's greatness lies in 'We the People.'

We are a nation like no other. To remain so will require the dedicated participation of every citizen, of every neighborhood, of every background. This is the responsibility of a free people.

We are excited about exploring whether there is sufficient support for my potential candidacy for President of this exceptional country.


links:
Ed Kilgore writes about Newt's liberal history:

Everything we know about the adaptable Gingrich tells us that he will bend over backwards to give Republican audiences what they want, whether or not it comports with what he was saying the day before yesterday. In this strange environment, that might be all that's necessary.

John Avlon describes Newt's descent to pandering hyper-partisan flame-thrower:

The Newt Gingrich of 2008 would be a serious presidential candidate, worthy of broad-based support.

The Newt Gingrich of 2011 doesn't deserve to get anywhere near the Oval Office.

Michael JW Stickings bemoans the continuation of Newt's "self-aggrandizing bullshit:"

Maybe he's convinced himself that it's his time and that he could actually beat Obama -- highly, highly unlikely -- but I'm not buying it. He can't even bring himself to form an actual exploratory committee, after all, just to set up a website, and thinking "seriously" about something isn't exactly the same as actually doing it. He's not serious about running, just about keeping his name in the news and remaining a key player in the Republican Party, and I suspect we'll learn soon enough that his "framework" is just as full of shit as he is.

MediaMatters rounds up Newt's greatest hits: the smears, falsehoods, and inflammatory rhetoric that have made him (in)famous, while ThinkProgress lists 10 things Newt doesn't want you to know about him (focusing on Newt's contradictions, hypocrisies, and flip-flops)

The post-lecture portion of a "Human Sexuality" class at Northwestern got more interesting than some students were anticipating (h/t: PZ Myers at Pharyngula):

More than 100 Northwestern University students watched as a naked 25-year-old woman was penetrated by a sex toy wielded by her fiancee during an after-class session of the school's popular "Human Sexuality" class.

The woman said she showed up at the Feb. 21 lecture in the Ryan Family Auditorium in Evanston expecting just to answer questions, but was game to demonstrate. The course's professor on Wednesday acknowledged some initial hesitation, but said student feedback was "uniformly positive."

Bravo to Professor John Michael Bailey, who said afterward that he was "not in a mood to surrender to sex negativity and fear:"

"Do I have any regrets? It is mostly too early to say. I certainly have no regrets concerning Northwestern students, who have demonstrated that they are open-minded grown ups rather than fragile children."

Ah, but the fragile children of the right-wing punditocracy will have more than enough regret--and rhetoric--to go around.

Potential GOP candidate Mike Huckabee shared a Murphy Brown moment with Michael Medved when they were talking about the Oscars:

MEDVED: ...there was one moment where a very brilliant and admirable actress named Natalie Portman won Best Actress, and she won for a movie which I loathed called Black Swan. But in any event, she got up, she was very visibly pregnant, and it's really it's a problem because she's about seven months pregnant, it's her first pregnancy, and she and the baby's father aren't married, and before two billion people, Natalie Portman says, 'Oh I want to thank my love and he's given me the most wonderful gift.' He didn't give her the most wonderful gift, which would be a wedding ring! And it just seems to me that sending that kind of message is problematic.

HUCKABEE: You know Michael, one of the things that's troubling is that people see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts of, 'Hey look, you know, we're having children, we're not married, but we're having these children, and they're doing just fine.' [...] ...it's unfortunate that we glorify and glamorize the idea of out of children wedlock.

I owe an enormous h/t to Evan Hurst at Truth Wins Out for mentioning this awesome-beyond-awesomeness rap by Ms Portman that is a perfect response:

[an uncensored, even-more-NSFW version is here]

Conservatives' alienation from academia has gotten some press lately--see here for an example--and it appears likely to continue garnering undeserved media attention. WaPo's five myths about liberal academia dismisses several fantasies about ivory-tower brainwashing; Rufus F pens a digression on liberal scholarship and looks at conservatives' complaints this way:

I have a feeling that conservatives think there are so many studies about how gender is constructed, for example, because the profession only legitimizes those studies, or blocks scholarship on more traditional topics. But, of course, it's pretty hard to actually prevent someone in academia from working on any topic they want.

Most academics will give each other leeway in terms of scholarship because they don't want a situation in which someone else is dictating to them what they can study; but the other part of it is just that, if you have enough initiative and energy, you can always establish a conference, journal, or interdisciplinary program in academia. [...] ...if you're looking for prestige in academia, you might want to consider another profession.

I haven't heard of any professors getting multi-million-dollar golden parachutes, either...

John Boehner's speech to the National Religious Broadcasters Convention was chock full of nuttiness, particularly on the subject of network neutrality. Boehner claimed that "freedom and free expression are under attack by a power structure in Washington populated with regulators who have never set foot inside a radio station or a television studio:"

We see this threat in how the FCC is creeping further into the free market by trying to regulate the Internet. 'Network neutrality,' they call it. It's a series of regulations that empower the federal bureaucracy to regulate Internet content and viewpoint discrimination. The rules are written vaguely, of course, to allow the FCC free reign.

The last thing we need, in my view, is the FCC serving as Internet traffic controller, and potentially running roughshod over local broadcasters who have been serving their communities with free content for decades. [...] As far as I'm concerned, there is no compromise or middle ground when it comes to protecting our most basic freedoms. So our new majority in the House is committed to using every tool at our disposal to fight a government takeover of the Internet.

At Ars Technica, Nate Anderson points out that "net neutrality is Boehner's top bogeyman, reminding us just how seriously Republicans take the issue"--including references to the FCC as "vampires" and "federal bloodsuckers." Josh Silver wrote at FreePress.net that "Speaker Boehner's cautionary stories and bold stands would be inspirational if they were connected to reality:"

Instead, he is parroting talking points from industry lobbyists, and front groups and intentionally misleading the public. The FCC's Open Internet rules will have the opposite effect of what Mr. Boehner claims: They would prevent companies from unfairly blocking or degrading Internet websites and applications. [...]

Speaker Boehner knows full well that real Net Neutrality has nothing to do with a government takeover of the Internet. He's playing dog-whistle politics and stoking irrational fears of government repression, while raking in campaign contributions from the phone and cable companies. All a ban on Net Neutrality would do is hand over our online freedom to Comcast, Verizon and AT&T - with no recourse for the public when they block or discriminate against content they don't like for any reason.

There's no government takeover, there's no censorship, and there's no gatekeeper when there's Net Neutrality -- that's the whole point. The government doesn't decide what's available, and neither does your Internet service provider. Speaker Boehner knows the truth, but telling the truth won't help his patrons on K Street.

My previous comments on the Orwellian slogans of network neutrality opponents are echoed by the Kerry/Wyden/Cantwell/Franken letter (PDF) on GOP plans to prevent Neutrality enforcement. The authors note that although Net Neutrality opponents "claim to stand for freedom...the only freedom they are providing for is the freedom of telephone and cable companies to determine the future of the Internet, where you can go on it, what you can attach to it, and which services will win or lose on it."

Evgeny Morozov's Boston Review article on why net neutrality is worth saving calls it "a simple idea with powerful implications:"

A neutral net would, for example, prevent cable providers from slowing down their customers' connections or, worse, banning them from running certain services. That is good for customers, who get equal treatment whether they are streaming movies on Netflix, chatting on Skype, or shopping on Amazon. And it is also good for Netflix, Skype, and other companies that have grown using an Internet infrastructure they do not own and have been able to innovate without worrying about shifting rules of the road.

With those credentials, net neutrality seems like a winning policy. But what about the network operators? They are not so happy with net neutrality, and it is easy to see why. If they respect net neutrality, they cannot impose special burdens on consumers who occupy lots of bandwidth by running data-intensive applications during periods of peak use. Nor can they ban Internet services that compete with their own offerings of cable TV or telephony, thus denying them a lucrative source of revenue. The result may be an underinvestment in infrastructure improvement, which is not good for Netflix and Skype, which depend on fast and ever-improving networks. Predictably, then, network operators prefer that the government not tell them how to run their networks and embrace industry self-regulation instead.

Morozov also notes that "the outcome of the net neutrality debate has geopolitical ramifications:"

Discriminating between different types of content on networks requires monitoring that content, so the network operator would have to deploy software and hardware tools that reveal the kinds of data passing through its system. Comcast may only wish to throttle peer-to-peer file-sharing services, but many of the tools it would need could aid authoritarian states in censoring political speech and spying on dissidents. Iranian authorities are already moving in this direction, with their tight embrace of "deep packet inspection" [see here] technology.


links:
Wikipedia has articles on the principle of net neutrality and on its legal history in the US

OpenInternet.gov

Save the Internet

Tim Wu's Network Neutrality FAQ

This series of what Dr Seuss books were really about is wonderful:

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...along comes something even crazier. David Corn's piece at Mother Jones explains the latest Chicken-Little Conservative conspiracy theory:

Obama is scheming to bring tens of millions of Muslims--perhaps up to 100 million--from the Middle East into the United States in order to turn this country into an Islamic nation by the end of his second term.

The furthest extremes of the Right are definitely approaching fractal wrongness.

Anti-gay wingnut Sally Kern (R-OK) wrote a book (h/t: Good As You) entitled The Stoning of Sally Kern: The Liberal Attack on Christian Conservatism--And Why We Must Take a Stand. For reference, here's part of the infamous anti-gay tirade for which Kern is now known:

"Studies show that no society that has totally embraced homosexuality has lasted more than, you know, a few decades. So it's the death knell of this country. I honestly think it's the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam, which I think is a big threat... If you got cancer or something in your little toe, do you say, well, you know, I'm just going to forget about it because the rest of me is fine? It spreads. OK? And this stuff is deadly, and it's spreading, and it will destroy our young people, it will destroy this nation."

Did she get stoned for those remarks? No, but she did get criticized--and her reactions to being called out as a bigot and a liar is to pretend to be persecuted, to present herself as a martyr.

Simply pathetic.

Koch whores

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Believe it or not, Charles Koch's WSJ op-ed complained about crony capitalism, whining that "Too many businesses have successfully lobbied for special favors and treatment:"

Crony capitalism is much easier than competing in an open market. But it erodes our overall standard of living and stifles entrepreneurs by rewarding the politically favored rather than those who provide what consumers want.

ThinkProgress calls Koch Industries "the most politically active...private company in America," and points out many instances of special treatment the Kochs have received on the taxpayers' dime. Although "Koch funds both socially conservative groups and socially liberal groups, [...] Koch's financing of front groups and political organizations all have one thing in common: every single Koch group attacks workers' rights, promotes deregulation, and argues for radical supply side economics:"

Not only do the Koch's front groups pad Koch Industries' bottom line, they supply the Koch brother's talking points. In fact, for his opinion piece today, Charles heavily relied on front groups he finances for statistics. The "freedom index" cited by Charles is a creation of the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation, and the erroneous "unfunded liabilities" claim was supplied by the Koch-funded National Center for Policy Analysis.

Apparently, the Koch-whore intellectuals will do anything for money.


update (3/3):
ThinkProgress has added a second part to their exposé on the Kochs, focusing this time on corruption and pollution.


update (3/7):
Karoli's response to Charles Koch is great; here's a taste:

Let's talk about your "activism", because it goes far beyond just political philosophy. You fund groups who actively seek to promote lies about the current President's place of birth, his legitimacy as a United States citizen, and undermine the mandate he received from voters in 2008. [...]

...you deny climate change, pay millions to lobby for the defeat of climate change legislation, buy politicians who must do your bidding and vote to de-fund the Affordable Care Act (and any other good and decent thing government does).

You call this 'activism'. I call it destruction.

Conflicting reports are circulating about whether or not Newt is about to form an explanatory committee for a presidential run, but Faux News has suspended Newt's contract for 60 days or until conflict-of-interest concerns abate.

Whether or not Newt decides to run, his flinty demeanor continues to throw off sparks in the media. Rob Boston, for example, identifies Newt Gingrich as "the perfect storm of ignorance and arrogance:"

...everything Gingrich believes about pretty much any topic must first bow to his rigid, right-wing ideology. Unlike a real scholar who seeks looks at the evidence in an effort to find the truth, Gingrich begins with an answer and twists the "facts" to back that up.

"I am not in the habit of passing judgment of the religious beliefs of others," writes Boston, but "with Gingrich, I'm going to make an exception:"

Gingrich is about two things: power and ideology. He seeks the former to implement the latter. If the road to power must be paved with God talk and kissing up to the Religious Right, then so be it.

Although Newt didn't invent the category of pandering hypocritical demagogue, he has certainly come to personify it. The Gingrich/Palin bumpersticker I saw today gave me a glimmer of hope for 2012--but it made me weep for my country as well.

The Nation reminds us that the Right's recent attacks on unions, ACORN, and Planned Parenthood are part of a coherent whole. "While it's obvious that the right wing is out to break the back of the progressive movement," notes author Ilyse Hogue, "it's easy to miss the strategy that guides their selection of specific targets:"

Their attacks are all carefully aimed at the same critical juncture: institutions that work for people in their daily lives and in the political arena, those that connect people's personal struggles across the country to the political struggle in Washington.

Paul Waldman points out how unions in particular "connect your problem to larger political issues" and help to "define those people's identity in economic terms:"

Conservatives, on the other hand, want them to define their identity in any terms other than the economic. You're first and foremost a Christian, or a gun owner, or a heartlander, or whatever, so long as you're not defining yourself by economic class. Break the link between economics and identity, and the party that advocates for the welfare of the wealthy has a much, much easier time persuading you to side with them.

As an example of this divide-and-distract, don't-look-behind-the-curtain tactic, see RightWingWatch's note that wingnuts are planning to hear "testimony" from a 9-week-old fetus (which they call an "unborn baby") in a session of the Ohio state House:

Two in-utero babies will appear live before the committee by an ultrasound projector which is able to not only show that baby's moving arms and legs, but also display--in color--the baby's beating heart.

[I would remark that a functioning brain is far more relevant a criterion than a beating heart, but many anti-abortion activists would fail that test.] Conservative stunts are effective in manipulating the media, which William Rivers Pitt points out when discussing Wisconsin in "The Liberal Media Strikes Again:"

We have a huge story in the making here, rife with old and new politics that cuts across virtually every segment of American life - blue collar workers, unions, protests, Tea Party governors, fleeing Democratic senators, teachers, budget issues, new media, old media, and the power of simple shoe leather - and yet those who represent the protesters in Wisconsin had to fight like wolverines to get just one of their representatives onto the Sunday political talk shows. Just one. As far as the American "news" media is concerned, Wisconsin simply doesn't exist. [...] Were it not for the alternative/online news media, the protests in Wisconsin would be taking place in a virtual information blackout.

Pitt reminds us that this is very different from another recent group of protests that were, when one looked beneath the propaganda, far more corporate-friendly:

Remember the first stirrings of what came to be termed as the "Tea Party" uprising? Never mind that it was created by powerful conservative corporate entities like the Koch Brothers. Never mind that the "Tea Party" was nothing more or less than the GOP base with a new coat of paint. Never mind that virtually everything they were yelling about was based on lies and deliberate misinformation. Never mind that most of them really didn't know what they were talking about, and couldn't spell to save their lives.

Three blivets wreathed in American flags and automatic weapons could stand on a streetcorner with signs reading "Keep Your Damn Government Hands Off My Medicare," and they would find themselves surrounded by camera crews from CNN, MSNBC and, of course, Fox News. But put 50,000 people a day out on the streets of Madison, put tens of thousands more on the streets in every state in the union, and those same news cameras are suddenly too busy covering the Oscars and Lindsey Lohan's ongoing crime spree to make an effort at coverage.

For just one example: the pro-union rallies on Saturday that drew hundreds of thousands to demonstrations across the nation were ignored by the (allegedly liberal) CNN in favor of--you guessed it!--a celebration of the Teatards' second anniversary. (The lesson from this is, I guess, that only right-wing rallies are newsworthy.)

The Right's talent for storytelling is something those of us on the Left should learn to emulate in our often-too-dry discussions. You may have seen a variant of the following analogy recently; if not, it's a good example of what we should be doing:

A union worker, a Teabagger, and a CEO are sitting at a table--in the middle of which is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO takes 11 of the cookies for himself and whispers conspiratorially to the Teabagger, "Watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."

The CEO's claim on those cookies is the crux of the matter--after all, he didn't bake them.

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