I hung this outside my office this morning:
We've paid way too much attention to this non-event.
That is all.
I hung this outside my office this morning:
We've paid way too much attention to this non-event.
That is all.
Our theocratic enemy is in plain view. Protean in form, it extends from the overt menace of nuclear-armed mullahs to the insidious campaigns to have stultifying pseudo-science taught in American schools. But in the past few years, there have been heartening signs of a genuine and spontaneous resistance to this sinister nonsense: a resistance which repudiates the right of bullies and tyrants to make the absurd claim that they have god on their side. To have had a small part in this resistance has been the greatest honor of my lifetime: the pattern and original of all dictatorship is the surrender of reason to absolutism and the abandonment of critical, objective inquiry. The cheap name for this lethal delusion is religion, and we must learn new ways of combating it in the public sphere, just as we have learned to free ourselves of it in private.
Our weapons are the ironic mind against the literal: the open mind against the credulous; the courageous pursuit of truth against the fearful and abject forces who would set limits to investigation (and who stupidly claim that we already have all the truth we need). Perhaps above all, we affirm life over the cults of death and human sacrifice and are afraid, not of inevitable death, but rather of a human life that is cramped and distorted by the pathetic need to offer mindless adulation, or the dismal belief that the laws of nature respond to wailings and incantations.
I hope this isn't Hitch's last gasp; much work remains to be done.
William Greider's "The Credit-Rating Hoax" (The Nation) opens with a well-directed salvo:
Standard & Poor's, the self-righteous credit-rating agency, has a damn lot of nerve. It provoked scary headlines by solemnly threatening to "short" America. That is, downgrade the credit-worthiness of US Treasury bonds unless Congress and the president oblige creditors by punishing the citizenry with severe budget cuts. What a load of crap.
Greider calls S&P "an unindicted co-conspirator [that] blessed the fraud-based mortgage securities issued by Wall Street banks with AAA ratings [and] provided cover for the massive scam that led to the crisis that sank the national economy." Furthermore, he writes, panic over the deficit is "bogus" excuse to "avoid raising taxes on the folks who got the money:"
Naturally, this reactionary approach was first promoted by Republicans, but has been tacitly embraced by the Democratic president and Congressional Democrats. No more talk from them about jobs, jobs, jobs or doing anything real to save millions of families from home foreclosures.
Although he notes that populist tax-the-rich movements are "dismissed as uninformed or self-indulgent," Greider concludes by observing that "the one thing that can save the country from the respectable wrath of Standard & Poor's is the wrath of angry, mobilized citizens."
We've seen plenty of angry and mobilized citizens (although they are often quite confused) over the past few years, but we need something less common: an informed citizenry. Media misinformation won't help us get there.
Matt Miller's "The Shining: National Debt Edition" analyzes the madness of GOP economics:
The House Republican budget adds $6 trillion to the debt in the next decade yet the GOP is balking at raising the debt limit. [...] The supposedly "courageous," "visionary" Paul Ryan plan ... would add more debt than we've ever seen over a 10-year period in American history. Yet Ryan and other House GOP leaders continue to make outrageous statements to the contrary. [...]
"The spending spree is over," Ryan said the other day, after the House passed his blueprint. "We cannot keep spending money we don't have." Except that by his own reckoning Ryan is planning to spend $6 trillion we don't have in the next decade alone.
H/t to Stan Collender, who writes:
I don't understand why House Democrats didn't offer an amendment during the debate on the budget resolution last week that would have raised the debt ceiling by enough to accommodate the additional borrowing in the Ryan plan. That would have forced every Republican to vote on it rather than allowing them to avoid the issue.
Ezra Klein notes that Republicans can't meet their own deficit and spending targets, writing that "Republicans have done a lot more thinking about how to run against spending, debt and deficits than thinking about how to handle them going forward:"
The specific plan they voted for blows through both their spending and debt caps, and that's if you grant a series of assumptions it makes about health-care spending that even conservative wonks agree are "magical." You simply can't run the government under the sorts of targets Republicans are endorsing, and if you look at their budget, you'll realize that some of them, at least, know that.
Sure, some conservatives exhibit signs of fiscal sanity--but they're not the ones who are running the asylum.
David Barton says that the Bible, Ben Franklin and the Pilgrims all opposed Net Neutrality because it violates the rights of huge corporations to charge higher rates and discriminate on content, calling it a "wicked" policy and "socialism on the Internet." [...] Even though David Barton claims to know that the Bible is decidedly against Net Neutrality, evidently he has no idea what Net Neutrality is, since he is decrying the policy as "redistribution of wealth through the Internet."
It's clear from Barton's comments that he doesn't understand Net Neutrality and doesn't understand socialism--I'm beginning to wonder if he understands the Bible. ("Unbiblical socialism" must, one presumes, be different from the Biblical socialism of Acts 2:42-45 and 4:32-37.) Julie Ingersoll makes a great observation at Religion Dispatches:
It's easy to dismiss that charge as nothing more than demagoguery, but in fact, the discussion gives us insight into what they (and the tea partiers as well as the slew of potential Republican Presidential candidates who seem to be falling all over themselves to cozy up to Barton) mean by socialism and, ultimately, how they understand freedom.
No Gods Allowed points out the most overlooked part of the Easter narrative:
ZOMBIES!!!! We all know the Zombie Jesus story, but a whole crapload of dead people were reanimated just after Jesus H. kicked the can. They took two days fighting their way out of their tombs before running amok within Jerusalem. It's right there in Matthew 27.
For reference, here are the relevant verses (Matthew 27:51-53):
27:51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
27:52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
27:53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
PZ Myers calls this incident the first Zombie Uprising of 33AD, and notes "It's funny how this amazing awesome story didn't make it into any other historical accounts." That's not completely correct, though--there is a painting that we can use as evidence:
David Cay (Free Lunch) Johnston provides some all-too-appropriate information in "9 Things The Rich Don't Want You To Know About Taxes" (h/t: 3 Quarks Daily); CBPP's Top Ten Tax Charts should also be required reading.
For more, see Our Fiscal Security.
Rick Santorum stirred up a bit of frothy controversy with his campaign slogan "Fighting to make America America Again," which is rather similar to the title of Langston Hughes' famous poem "Let America Be America Again." The Union Leader reported that the slogan's similarity to the words of a gay black poet was a bit much for the former Senator, as evidenced by his testiness when a student questioned him about it:
"No I had nothing to do with that," Santorum said. "I didn't know that. And the folks who worked on that slogan for me didn't inform me that it came from that, if it in fact came from that." [...] When asked a short time later what the campaign slogan meant to him, Santorum said, "well, I'm not too sure that's my campaign slogan, I think it's on a web site."
This screencap from Santorum's website certainly makes the phrase "Fighting to make America America Again" appear to be his campaign slogan:
Gervais writes, "I am of course not a good Christian in the sense that I believe that Jesus was half man, half God, but I do believe I am a good Christian compared to a lot of Christians." After working his way through the Ten Commandments, Gervais observes:
Even if this doesn't prove I am a good Christian it does prove that the Bible is a bit inconsistent, open to interpretation, and a little intolerant.
This is not peculiar to Christianity to be fair. And I like to be fair. Because unlike ALL religions, as an atheist, I treat ALL religions equally.
British émigré Andrew Sullivan writes movingly about finally receiving his green card:
It has been a journey of 18 years - the promise of a new life and a new start for a jejune, precocious kid from England somehow always coming with an asterisk, the shame of my illness conflated with this crushing fear that I still did not belong and would probably never belong to the country I had fallen in love with. [...]
I do not know right now what to do or say. Except to express my love and gratitude for my family and friends and husband who lived through this with me; and to those who helped lift the HIV ban; and to my lawyer who was simply magnificent; and to those who did what they could - and they know who they are - to keep this show on the road.
But I do know this. America remains the great dream, the great promise. For all its dysfunction, it remains an ideal, a place where the restlessness of the human mind and soul comes to rest in a place it constantly reinvents and forever re-imagines. I know this in my bones, perhaps more than many who take this amazing mess of a country for granted. But for the first time in my life, I do not feel somewhere in my psyche that I am displaced, unwelcome, an impostor.
The incident took place near a table promoting a local version of "Ask an Atheist Day." The student group Freethinkers at Virginia Tech sponsored the table. Witnesses said [student Alexander] Huppert stood near the table for nearly an hour. Approaching the table, Huppert borrowed a pen and drew a circle with a cross inside on the back of his hand.
Nicole Schrand, a senior psychology major, said Huppert then asked students at the table to stab him in the cross with the pen to "prove to us God existed." The students declined. [...] Huppert then asked for the pen back, a request Schrand and other students declined. Seeing another pen, Huppert grabbed it and began stabbing himself in the back of the hand.
Huppert "then assaulted an officer who approached to check his welfare:"
After a short struggle with the officer and several witnesses, he was taken into custody. [...] ...while in custody Huppert broke out a police car window and assaulted two other officers. [...] Huppert was charged with three counts of felony assault on a police officer, as well as charges of resisting arrest and destruction of property.
On the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic spaceflight, today's must-read piece is Al Reinert's Atlantic article on the story behind the historic "blue marble" shot. "It's an iconic image we have all seen hundreds of times, possibly thousands, and probably the most widely reproduced photograph in history...and forty years later we still aren't sure who actually took it:"
At five hours and a few minutes into the flight of Apollo 17 one of the crewmen looked out the window. What he saw inspired him to grab the only Hasselblad that wasn't stowed and snap a picture -- actually four pictures, no more than a minute apart, changing the exposure after the first one. The second snap yielded the sharper image that's become famous, so a minute's attention was involved. But whoever did it said nothing on the radio or to their crewmates about it. It's possible they did it instinctively, hardly thinking about it, because none of them thought to mention it for weeks.
It wasn't until the flight returned safely ten days later, and the film was processed at the photo lab in Building 8 of the Johnson Space Center, that a film technician named Dick Underwood realized what he was looking at: the first photograph of the whole, fully illuminated, astonishingly beautiful Earth. It created an immediate sensation, printed on the front page of nearly every newspaper on the planet, the image of our world as we had never seen it before.
I mentioned futurist Ray Kurzweil a while ago, knowing that he's a rather controversial figure. It would be fair to say that Massimo Pigliucci is far less conflicted; in his piece visionary genius or pseudoscientific crank, Pigliucci leans toward the latter.
Central to this assessment is Kurzweil's prediction that the universe will "wake up" and begin a process of self-organization. Kurzweil admits that the attendant violation of General Relativity is a "highly speculative" notion--or, as Pigliucci puts it, "I think Kurzweil is a crank."
Tina Dupuy wonders what would happen if the First Amendment had to be ratified today, noting that "it's way too progressive for today's rabid rightwing:"
And if the Republicans saw this Amendment as a win for Obama - it would have to be stopped by any means necessary. All the President would have to do is say he thinks it's important for Americans to have freedom of speech, religion, the press and assembly. Then the Tea nee Republican Party would call them "Obama Freedoms." Right-wing blogs next would tap, "What do Hitler, Machiavelli, Darwin, Che Guevara and the New Black Panther Party all have in common? They all love Obama Freedoms."
"Obama Freedoms will indoctrinate our children to be secular Islamists who want taxpayers to pay for gay marriage abortions at Ground Zero," Newt Gingrich would say in some Vaseline-lensed ominous music-packed video he'd hawk on his website.
Lawmakers would rush the House floor to accuse freedom of speech as being "bad for business." Others would call it "disruptive." Speaker John Boehner, calling himself an originalist, would decry (get it?) any changes whatsoever to the Constitution. [...]
Lopsided, meaningless polls will be taken: "Do you think people who just so happen to call themselves journalists should be free to do so?" The results will be split. People will comment, "I don't know how comfortable I am with people being able to say ANYTHING they want. We're in three wars!" And, "Free speech will shove pornography down our throats!"
Commercials would be launched, and the amendment would be called a "government take over of religion" by Koch-brother-funded shadow groups. Average-looking character actors would be hired to say how scared they are of Muslims stoning their children in schools. [...]
The First Amendment - arguably the foundation of our democracy - if brought up today would die in committee.
Yes, our time is just that stupid.
The Fourth (unreasonable search & seizure, probable cause), Fifth (due process), Sixth (speedy & public trial), and Eighth (cruel and unusual punishments) Amendments wouldn't fare well with the Right--as they didn't under Dubya--but the Second Amendment would likely escape unscathed--minus that bothersome part about "a well-regulated militia."
Claire Creffield's "Know Thyself, Blog Thyself" (h/t: Massimo Pigliucci) has much to ponder, including her observation that "We need our self-examination to be conducted in terms that allow and encourage the participation of other people." In reference to online anonymity, Creffield quotes Oscar Wilde:
"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." [from his essay "The True Function and Value of Criticism," later re-published as "The Critic As Artist"]
Creffield has a nice passage about blogging being "an immense resource in the development of my thoughts:"
There is quite widespread endorsement in our culture of the practice of journal-writing as a means of achieving better knowledge of ourselves. Often these journals have been very private affairs, published only incidentally or not at all. But the essentially social nature of self-examination that I have been thinking about here clarifies the limitations of private reflection. What's needed, then, is journal-keeping plus publicity, plus the unique combination of intimacy and distance facilitated by online forums: which equals ... blogging.
Blogging might seem (has always seemed to me) like a hideously public way of conducting personal reflection, but its saving grace is its joyful acknowledgement of the inescapably communicative nature of thought. Blogging puts into practice a recognition that, if a private language is an impossibility, so, too, it is impossible to pursue self-knowledge by means of a wholly private use of language.
The blogging pursuit of knowledge (self- and otherwise) is also less limited by temporal and physical proximity to one's audience, and by any number of other factors; what matters is the thought, the word, and the sharing.
1. an educated laity ["Western universities have become essentially secular (and leftist) seminaries"],
2. an educated clergy,
3. theodicy, and
4. insufficient Islamophobia [Prager identified "Islamic violence and the tepid response to it by the liberal churches and synagogues"]
Here's his kicker:
The moral, intellectual, artistic and demographic decline in Western Europe (secular countries don't even have the will to reproduce themselves) is only gaining momentum.
There appears to be no room for doubt or dialectic in Prager's world--only dogma. Don't question, don't learn, just breed--and tithe, of course. Ed Brayton calls Prager "terminally ridiculous:"
And isn't it interesting that Prager thinks that every single person who goes to grad school and is an atheist is brainwashed? None of them are thinking for themselves and reaching a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence at hand, all of them are just mindlessly believing whatever they are told. That's all the more fascinating given that he is defending religion; if going to grad school brainwashes a person, what must going to church every week do? Oh, that's right -- it enlightens them, or so Prager thinks.
Conor Friedersdorf explains why college students are losing their religion, and asks:
Am I to believe that the subset of professors out to secularize their students are so persuasive that in this short interval, they successfully propagandize them into abandoning God? [...] It would be quite a feat to build such a program: at once unacknowledged, unorganized, and more intellectually effective than the actual curriculum on offer, which many students absorb only long enough to pass the final.
He contrasts that with his own 14-year experience in Catholic school:
The institutional structure was expressly designed to turn out practicing Catholics, and given more than a decade of our most formative years and formal religious instruction they didn't manage to hold onto most of my peers.
Friedersdorf is surprised that "religions and their congregations [are] cast as powerless in the face of university influence that is somehow made out to be irresistible:"
But if four years of college undo 18 years of parenting and religious affiliation, perhaps the faith community's tenuous hold is the problem, not the particular place outside its bubble where that hold evaporates.
He concludes by suggesting that Prager "focus more on root causes and less on the American university, a perennially convenient whipping boy that is denigrated by conservatives as ineffective, and simultaneously thought to be imbued with ill-defined, superhuman powers to shape the minds of its charges."
"Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual's political orientation," said Ryota Kanai of the University College London. "Our study now links such personality traits with specific brain structure."
Kanai said his study was prompted by reports from others showing greater anterior cingulate cortex response to conflicting information among liberals. "That was the first neuroscientific evidence for biological differences between liberals and conservatives," he explained.
The study, entitled "Political Orientations Are Correlated with Brain Structure in Young Adults" (PDF), is online here.
PsychCentral reports (h/t: Disinformation) that teens who are more into music than reading are more likely to be depressed:
...young people who were exposed to the most music, compared to those who listened to music the least, were 8.3 times more likely to be depressed.
Reading appears to show protective value as those who read books the most were one-tenth as likely to be depressed.
The other media exposures were not significantly associated with depression.
I'd be interested in a larger study--this one had only 106 participants--to see if different musical genres had any effect on the results. For more information, see the press release from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
I was reprimanded yesterday for not being willing to admit my mistakes--another in a series of unsupported allegations and accusations [e.g., Obama's a socialist and I'm a plagiarist, slanted fairy tales accurately describe reality, Obama's fictitious "mistakes" need to be explained, a million Teabaggers marched on Washington]. Evidence to the contrary was conveniently ignored: not only my explicit request for corrections, but an entire category of posts called--wait for it!--corrections.
Since projection appears to be the real motivation here, as is typical of these complaints, I paid it no heed.
Was I wrong to do so?
According to the Herald Sun (h/t: PZ Myers), a Uniting Church near Melbourne held a "Sci-Fi and Fantasy Friendly Church Service" featuring readings from The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. One critic was the unintentionally ironic Baptist minister Murray Campbell, who declared:
"I don't have a problem with people enjoying sci-fi, but church isn't the place to encourage escapism and fancy dress."
That's quite a profound lack of self-awareness, isn't it?
When the earthquake struck, the soil in these areas acted like a liquid, a phenomenon known as liquefaction. [...] In places, the ground level dropped as much as a foot. Out on the street, manholes were being pushed up out of the earth. Water pipes broke. Utility poles began to lean. [...]
... lighter structures built on concrete slab foundations tend to float, even as the ground beneath them becomes like quicksand.
Anton Krupicka writes about trail running for Running Times magazine, enthusing over the "fundamental authenticity [of] running through a grove of ponderosa pine trees or beneath a gigantic slab of sandstone turned on end by some ages-old tectonic force:"
I have found that this engaging with the natural world is, over time, very instructive. Running in the mountains creates a space -- through silence, openness, a removal from distractions -- in which I can come to know myself and explore myself.
Krupicka also snagged the cover of May's "Motivation Issue" of Trail Runner, although his head-to-toe New Balance outfit is corporate logo overkill:
Although he agrees that [as pointed out in this study] "Something is clearly up (or down) with religious affiliation," Louis Ruprecht notes dismissively at Religion Dispatches that "how to read that data is the real question, and that calls for the art for interpretation, not mathematical modeling." He also observes that religions are "arenas of social life that don't lend themselves to statistical or quantitative analysis," an observation with which I have trouble disagreeing.
Ted Rall's Fool Us Twice? is up to his usual highly caustic standards, particularly when he wonders "What, exactly, will be Obama's 2012 sales pitch?"
I seriously want to know. Think about it: how many other presidents have been so disappointing that they had to distribute lists of their accomplishments so their supporters would have talking points?
After discussing some of Obama's first-term wins, Rall asks, "Will micro-mini-accomplishment lites be enough to pry liberal asses off the sofa on Election Day?"
I think not. On the Big Issues That Really Matter--war, the economy, civil liberties--Obama is a right-wing Republican. He's only a Democrat on the little stuff. Liberals won't turn out big for Obama in 2012.
That goes double for the youth vote, a big bloc for O in 2008. From student loan debt to unemployment (which hits Americans under 30 even harder than other age groups), Obama hasn't delivered. They'll sit on their hands.
Ironically, this trend is most pronounced in America's least well-off, least educated, most blue collar, most economically hard-hit states. Conservatism, more and more, is the ideology of the economically left behind. The current economic crisis only appears to have deepened conservatism's hold on America's states.
Chauncey DeVega dissented at AlterNet, noting that the survey depended on the slippery notion of self-identifying with a political label:
Conservatives and the Right-wing echo chamber will be crowing about their success in light of Gallup's findings. They will scream that Conservatism is on the march and that Gallup's polling data is a vindication of their ideas. Those who live in the reality based world can easily foil those claims. But, the cries of victory will appeal to the true devotees nonetheless. Sadly, the foot soldiers of Conservatism do not understand that they are winning a Pyrrhic victory, one which indicates a deep and systemic rot in this country, as opposed to a triumph of ideas and values that can lead us through the decline of empire and towards a brave new future.
Christopher Hitchens' "When the King Saved God" (Vanity Fair) is a paean to the poetry and prose of the Tyndale/King James translation:
For generations, it provided a common stock of references and allusions, rivaled only by Shakespeare in this respect. It resounded in the minds and memories of literate people, as well as of those who acquired it only by listening. [...] A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek restlessly to update it or make it "relevant" is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare.
"Its abandonment by the Church of England establishment," writes Hitchens, "is yet another demonstration that religion is man-made, with inky human fingerprints all over its supposedly inspired and unalterable texts."
Here is a great illustration--a revision of Michelangelo's "The Creation of Adam" (h/t: John Loftus) that should perhaps be retitled "The Creation of God:"
Blogger donsevers wrote that atheism means arguing for the obvious, and that "Taking correction is a skill we should never want to outgrow:"
It doesn't diminish me to find out I have been wrong; being disillusioned is liberating. So, a person is never wrong, but we all hold ideas that turn out to be wrong. Respect and peacemaking don't require us to countenance contradictory or baseless claims. We wouldn't want an accountant or surgeon who did that. And any creative interchange worthy of our commitment to each other must include intellectual honesty. We owe it to each other. [...]
We don't need to say other people are wrong; but when claims are made, we should always be free to ask "What are your reasons for believing that?" Then, we can accept or reject those reasons. Only scientific reasons are allowed when we rely on each other in business, medicine and politics. Why should religion be any different? It is lamentable that our beliefs, which are so important to us, are often less examined than our finances. They should have nothing to fear from an outside audit by Nature.
NPR mentioned that the 2012 presidential election has begun. Obama is expected to officially file today, and his re-election video is already up. Not surprisingly, the campaign is re-using the iconic "O" symbol:
Will Bunch reminds us that the 2008 excitement over Obama was "heavily motivated by shame over the things that had been done in our name during the nightmarish Bush years -- pre-emptive war, waterboarding, and opening of Guantanamo, which became an international symbol of how far America had fallen so quickly in the area of human rights:"
It never occurred to any of those volunteers that Obama is so cheerfully asking today for help that he would carry on some of the worst of the Bush-era policies -- including the Kafka-esque notion of indefinite detentionand the growing sense that Gitmo is now a permanent symbol of the new America.
...when Obama caves so lamely on something that was supposed to be a cornerstone of his presidency -- restoring the American way of justice, even for terror suspects -- ir feels like it was George W. Bush asking today for four more years, and not Barack Obama.
update 2 (4/5):
Paul Waldman noted the new serif version of the Gotham typeface: