May 2012 Archives

Politico's VandeHei and Allen report on GOP cries of "blatant bias," adoringly quoting Haley Barbour and Ari Fleischer and observing that "Republicans cry 'bias' so often it feels like a campaign theme:"

It is, largely because it fires up conservatives and diminishes the punch of legitimate investigative or narrative journalism. But it also is because it often rings true, even to people who don't listen to Rush Limbaugh...

Not that it is true, mind you--just that it supports their persecution complex. At American Prospect, Paul Waldman points out that working the refs continues to work for the Right:

VandeHei and Allen's article is a masterpiece of unsupported claims, false equivalences, speculations about what news stories "imply," and Republican complaints taken not as complaints but as truths. [...]

Let's examine this, shall we? The bias charge, they say, "often rings true." But is it true? Well, that's a complex question, so why bother trying to answer it at all? It feels true, so that's good enough. The "imbalance" in coverage, which has been alleged by Republicans but we don't know is actually true, is nevertheless doing "unmistakable damage to Romney." Really? Any evidence for that? Nah, but it sure feels true.

Media Matters explains what 'liberal bias' claims are really about, snarking "Republicans? Alleging liberal media bias? Pardon me while I find some pearls to clutch:"

The conceit behind this whole affair is that Haley Barbour and Ari Fleischer told Allen and VandeHei that "liberal bias" is real and it's devastating, and Allen and Vandehei believe them...

People who level the "bias" charge aren't looking for balance. They're not interested in journalistic good practices and they certainly don't give a damn where a story appears in the Washington Post. They're looking to game the refs.

It's all about discouraging journalists from turning a critical eye on Republicans and conservatives, lest they be tarred with the "liberal bias" epithet.

Salon calls the Politico article a "deeply stupid piece" that "could be the latest installment of Breitbart's whiny, posthumous 'Nobody Vetted Obama So We Have to Do It, By Printing Stuff We Know is False!' investigative series." It's useful to remind ourselves that these same "liberal media" outlets haven't given Obama a week of positive coverage in almost a year (h/t: Eric Boehlert), as the conservative "cottage industry" of media grievance "that pays the bills for talk radio, fills endless hours of commentary on Fox News, and produces content for right-wing authors" remains dominant. Pew studied the media from January to early April this year, concluding the following:

Of all the presidential candidates studied in this report, only one figure did not have a single week in 2012 when positive coverage exceeded negative coverage--the incumbent, Democrat Barack Obama. [...]

While Republicans have jockeyed for their party's nomination for the last year, the Democratic president has been hammered with negative press coverage. And it's coverage whose harsh tone has been matched only by its week-in and week-out consistency.

Behold the liberal media.


update (6/1):
James Fallows examines Pew's research into press coverage of Obama and Romney, noting that "At no time in the past year has coverage of President Obama been as positive as that of Governor Romney:"

Indeed, at no time in the past year has it been on-balance positive at all.

You can argue that negative coverage of the administration is justified. You can argue that incumbents are -- and should be -- held to a tougher standard, since they have a record to defend. But you can't sanely argue that the press is in the tank for Obama, notwithstanding recent "false equivalence" attempts to do so.

Amazonian

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The Nation looks at Amazon's effect on the book publishing ecosystem, observing that [Jeff] "Bezos understood two things:"

One was the way the Internet made it possible to banish geography, enabling anyone with an Internet connection and a computer to browse a seemingly limitless universe of goods with a precision never previously known and then buy them directly from the comfort of their homes. The second was how the Internet allowed merchants to gather vast amounts of personal information on individual customers.

In the face of ebooks and economics, the piece proclaims that "The bookstore wars are over:"

Independents are battered, Borders is dead, Barnes & Noble weakened but still standing and Amazon triumphant. [...] Last year it had $48 billion in revenue, more than all six of the major American publishing conglomerates combined, with a cash reserve of $5 billion. The company is valued at nearly $100 billion and employs more than 65,000 workers (all nonunion); Bezos, according to Forbes, is the thirtieth wealthiest man in America.

Fred Cody, owner of Cody's Books in Berkeley, notes that "Amazon simply has too much power in the marketplace. And when their business interest conflicts with the public interest, the public interest suffers."


update (6/1):
The Nation lists 10 reasons to avoid doing business with Amazon, including: the company dodges taxes, wreaks havoc on small business via monopolistic practices, collects customers' information, abuses its employees with brutal working conditions, fights unions, and removed WikiLeaks from its Cloud service.

In slandering the heretics, DisInfo's Colby Hess laments how we atheists "are made outcasts from our own society:"

In trying only to achieve a free and open civilization based on facts and on reason, as reward for our efforts we are attacked by those on both the left and the right and smeared with the label "intolerant" or told that sharing our ideas amounts to nothing more than "proselytizing." [...]

Atheist opposition to religion doesn't stem from some deep-seated bias or unconsidered opinion. It's not derived from some ancient book immune to rational criticism. Modern atheism is built upon critical thinking and knowledge of objective scientific facts about the workings of the universe coupled with an unblinking awareness of the countless, clearly documented instances--both in the news and throughout history--in which religious believers have repeatedly sought to impose their own narrow ideology in ways that restrict other people's rights and limit their freedoms. [...]

When you think about it, this charge of intolerance against atheists is itself a form of intolerance, for if atheists are not allowed to expressly dispute the claims made by religion--if we are required to just sit there politely with our mouths shut while twiddling our thumbs--then essentially we are not allowed to exist.

Just like in previous eras--the ones about which they reminisce so longingly.

moral markets

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In "What Money Can't Buy," Michael Sandel asks the questions "Do we want a society where everything is up for sale? Or are there certain moral and civic goods that markets do not honor and money cannot buy?" to which NYT's Nicholas Kristof remarks:

This issue goes to the heart of fairness in our country. There has been much discussion recently about economic inequality, but almost no conversation about the way the spread of markets nurtures a broader, systemic inequality.

Market fundamentalism, Kristof observes, "is gaining ground:"

It's related to the glorification of wealth over the last couple of decades, to the celebration of opulence, and to the emergence of a new aristocracy. Market fundamentalists assume a measure of social Darwinism and accept that laissez-faire is always optimal.

That's the dogma that helped lead to bank deregulation and the current economic mess. And anyone who honestly believes that low taxes and unfettered free markets are always best should consider moving to Pakistan's tribal areas. They are a triumph of limited government, negligible taxes, no "burdensome regulation" and free markets for everything from drugs to AK-47s.

If you're infatuated with unfettered free markets, just visit Waziristan.

Paul Waldman brings the sarcasm in it's hard out there for a billionaire,

America's barons feel assaulted, victimized, wounded in ways that not even a bracing ride to your Hamptons estate in your new Porsche 911 can salve. And now that the presidential campaign is in full swing, their tender feelings are being hurt left and right.

Pyramid-scheme tycoon Frank Vandersloot is the national finance co-chair of Romney's campaign (to which he donated $1 million), but he whines that the Obama campaign's mention of this fact is equivalent to being placed on an "enemies list:"

What VanderSloot obviously wants is a situation in which he can put millions of dollars into influencing the course of elections and policy debates, but nobody ever criticizes him for it. Well, that's just not how things work in a democracy.

Politicus USA comments on the latest fact-free factoid floating around the conservative media cesspool, that Obama's consumer protection adviser Elizabeth Warren "is basically a Communist [because] she's a supporter of everything conservatives hate." Of course, as Politicus points out, "most of us know that communist (like Nazi and socialist) is a term conservatives like to throw around without really comprehending what it means:"

And not just the average ignorant Tea Partier but congressmen like Allen West, who is convinced that there are between 78 and 81 Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party.

On the surface, it would seem both West and Carmenker are on agreement: a communist is one who is diametrically opposed to conservative ideology. This is all very Cold War and McCarthyesque and it's no wonder it's an attractive thesis to conservatives. It's a simple appeal - emotional and "patriotic" and it requires little thought - everyone knows that those commies were the enemies of American democracy and since conservatives are "real Americans" communism must be its opposite, right? (remember too that witch-hunts have historically been conservatism's response to people getting uppity and thinking for themselves).

Politicus comments on the factoid's source:

They claim that "For a refreshing and informative change in where you get your news, log on to OneNewsNow.com." If by informative they mean dishonest and misleading, they are apparently spot on and certainly in good company... [...]

Apparently, conservative viewers and readers want to be liberated from the world of facts and from the millstone that is a fact-based universe where fantasy is not allowed to have its way with reality. If one hate-filled group says something the hate-filled news service has to report it and certainly won't violate the precepts of the agreed upon fantasy universe to question it. Why introduce facts when the fantasy is so congenial?

Zizek has some remarks on austerity in LRB, mentioning the "black-shirted vigilantes from the Holocaust-denying ne0-fascist Golden Dawn movement:"

The trouble with defending European civilisation against the immigrant threat is that the ferocity of the defence is more of a threat to 'civilisation' than any number of Muslims. With friendly defenders like this, Europe needs no enemies.

Zizek notes that, despite its economic bellwether status, "Greece is not an exception:"

It is one of the main testing grounds for a new socio-economic model of potentially unlimited application: a depoliticised technocracy in which bankers and other experts are allowed to demolish democracy. By saving Greece from its so-called saviours, we also save Europe itself.

Salon asks if literary classics are obsolete, and looks at Dartmouth professor Daniel Rockmore's study "Quantitative Patterns of Stylistic Influence in the Evolution of Literature" (The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences):

The Dartmouth study analyzed multiple works by 537 authors who wrote English language texts published since 1550. Comparing them to each other, they found, not surprisingly, that authors from a given historical period have more in common with each other stylistically than they do with authors from the past (or future). They also found that the more recent a work is, the more "localized" its stylistic brethren are in time. [...]

Where the Dartmouth article makes a big leap, however, is in claiming that contemporary authors are less "influenced" by authors of the past than they are by those of their own time. Furthermore, they propose a reason: The explosion in the number of published books in the past century or so. Titles by contemporary authors are in the (vast) majority. By this logic, with "even more authors to choose from and selection dominated by contemporaneous authors," writers, like everyone else, are less likely to read the classics.

Then the author moves in for the kill:

There are so many wobbly assumptions built into these interpretations that they could be used as an illustration of the dangers of empirical hubris: Having a lot of numbers and equations is not the same as knowing what they mean, especially in such a complex and meaning-rich field as literature.

AlterNet's Don Hazen talks to Charles Ferguson about Ferguson's new book Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America:

He is appalled that despite ample evidence of disastrous decisions and large-scale lawbreaking, much of it outlined in his film and his book, not a single person has gone to jail for a fiasco that has wiped out a good deal of the hard-working American middle-class' resources.

And he holds Barack Obama responsible, considering him a huge disappointment in his first term.

Funded by the GOP's 'geezer empire' of billionaires, the far right is using the lackluster economic recovery to justify a great leap backward:

Beyond the usual GOP jeremiads--cutting taxes and government spending, shredding safety nets, eviscerating federal regulation and privatizing whatever remains--many of the GOP's biggest moneymen have specific issues and goals, often business-related, and would expect a Romney presidency to advance those agendas.

Among the goals of "this posse of unbelievably wealthy white men who have written million-dollar checks to GOP super PACs and non-profits in 2012" are pushing fracking, promoting unconstrained financial speculation, repealing Dodd-Frank, weakening Sarbanes-Oxley, eviscerating consumer protections, and supporting Israeli extremists:

The GOP's billionaire donors--all white, wealthy men and patriarchs heading their own empires--have a lot in common. They know no rules other than doing whatever it takes to win. They don't take no for an answer. They keep at it until they get what they want. And they see Mitt Romney as a kindred spirit who shares their values and will get the federal government to step in, or step aside, to help them secure their next fortune.

Democrats shouldn't continue compromising with them.

Ron Rosenbaum meditates on two famous poetic lines,

"What will survive of us is love." (Philip Larkin, "An Arundel Tomb")

and

"We must love one another or die." (WH Auden, "September 1, 1939")

"These two lines," writes Rosenbaum, "may be the most well-known lines of poetry about love written in the past century:"

But what's remarkable about them both is that the poets who wrote them agonized over them, were conflicted and critical of their own lines. Both Larkin and Auden eventually tried to distance themselves from their original unmediated utterances.

Toward the end of his (excellent) piece, Rosenbaum suggests that "it's no accident that these powerfully eloquent sentiments were virtually torn out of the souls and stanzas of these two poets:"

And no accident that in some ways they became embarrassed by how nakedly they reveal themselves in those lines. And how they had to do everything they could to cover up that nakedness, like the first couple, expelled from the garden. Make themselves and their poems more "mature" and "sophisticated" for a culture that makes a fetish of complication and ambiguity above earnestness as signs of "seriousness." Larkin put the barbed wire of irony around the ecstatic utterance, Auden altered or erased his.

For shame. [...] Can't we have both, the complex poems and the consolatory one-line reductions?

drained

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The Demos report entitled The Retirement Savings Drain (PDF) should open many 401(k) advocates' eyes when it points out that:

administering the average defined benefit plan, or traditional pension, costs 46 percent less than a typical 401(k) to provide the same benefit level in retirement, largely because of the higher fees and lower investment returns of 401(k)s and the ability of defined benefit plans to pool risk.

Using median incomes and actual average contribution rates, the report reveals that the lifetime costs of 401(k) fees can be as much as $154,794 for a hypothetical two-earner household:

To put that in perspective, that's the average cost of a house in many parts of the country, or more than the cost of a public-university education, including room and board, for two children.

Another key fact reported by Demos relates to relative costs:

In the long run, the average mutual fund earns a 7 percent return, before fees, matching the average return of the overall stock market. However, the post-fee returns average only 4.5 percent, meaning that, on average, fees eat up over a third of the total returns earned by mutual funds.

The report also asks, "why are fees, which limit Americans' already-scarce retirement savings, still so high?"

The answer is that the market for individual-account retirement savings is neither efficient nor competitive. 401(k) savers and plan-sponsoring employers lack information about the true costs or even existence of retirement plan fees and how they reduce returns.

The Department of Labor's new fee disclosure rules will take effect on 1 July, and may prompt workers into asking their employers difficult questions about their retirement benefit options. Perhaps fewer fund managers will be selected on such criteria as golf vacations for HR directors...


update (5/31):
Calling 401(k) fees "a pernicious rip-off," Forbes notes that a nagging and costly question persists:"

Whenever I asked the question "how much are 401k savers being overcharged" over the years, I haven't been able to get a decent answer. The government doesn't really track it and the middleman and your employer don't want you to know.

WSJ previews the sobering news about 401(k) fees:

There are more than 50 million Americans with investments in 401(k) and other defined-contribution retirement-savings plans. They're about to be getting more information about the fees they pay. [...]

Retirement-plan administrators have to provide detailed information to employers by July 1 about the fees they charge. Employers have to share that information with workers in their plans by Aug. 30, and once a year after that. The charges include investment-related fees and fees for administering a plan itself.


update (6/1):
Reuters wonders if we should scrap the 401(k) system and start over, looking ahead to investors' reaction "when 401(k) account statements hit their mailboxes this summer:"

A new format mandated by federal regulators will give investors a more transparent view of the fees they pay and a study released this week suggests many will be shocked by what they see [because] fees are not well understood by investors and even plan sponsors.

A recent AARP survey found that 71 percent of retirement savers do not think they pay any investment fees at all.

The Globe and Mail asks why is walking in the woods good for you?

In Japan, they call it shinrin-yoku - literally, "forest bathing." Here, we might just call it a walk in the park. Either way, people around the world have an intuitive sense of the restorative power of natural environments. The question is: Why?

Scientists have advanced a wide range of theories about the specific physical and mental benefits nature can provide, ranging from clean air and lack of noise pollution to the apparent immune-boosting effects of a fine mist of "wood essential oils."

The physical pleasures may be dwarfed by something less obvious, as "the most powerful benefits, a new study suggests, may result from the way trees and birds and sunsets gently tug - but never grab - at our attention:"

Dr. Berman and his colleagues believe that going for a walk in the park gives voluntary attention a break, since your mind has a chance to wander aimlessly and be engaged - involuntarily but gently - by your surroundings. [...] In contrast, honking horns and traffic lights and crowded sidewalks - and pretty much every other ingredient of modern life in a big city - constantly force you to exert your voluntary attention to react or block them out, leaving you more cognitively depleted.

The piece cautions that "[t]easing out the key variables will take time:"

...and ultimately, it seems unlikely that there's a single magical quality or essential oil that fully explains the call of the semi-wild. For now, it's enough to know that the benefits of exposure to nature are real and measurable. And in an increasingly distracting and distracted world, they're more important than ever.


update (5/31):
WSJ has something to add, courtesy of psychologist Ruth Ann Atchley at the University of Kansas:

To measure the mental benefits of hiking in the middle of nowhere, Dr. Atchley gave 60 backpackers a standard test of creativity before they hit the trail. She gave the same test to a different group of hikers four days into their journey.

The results were surprising: The hikers in the midst of nature showed a nearly 50% increase in performance on the test of creativity, and the effect held across all age groups.

"There's a growing advantage over time to being in nature," says Dr. Atchley. "We think that it peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the cellphone. It's when you have an extended period of time surrounded by that softly fascinating environment that you start seeing all kinds of positive effects in how your mind works."

How many of us can disconnect for that long?

Providing another reason why BofA's Brian Moynihan is America's worst CEO, Mother Jones reports that "Bank of America, which last fall announced plans to lay off 30,000 workers, is about to go on a hiring spree--overseas:"

America's second-largest bank is relocating its business-support operations to the Philippines...less than three years after Bank of America received a $45 billion federal bailout.

The next time BofA needs a cash infusion, they should ask the Philippine taxpayers for help.

conversion

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AlterNet maintains that Christians are good at getting people to convert--to agnosticism or atheism:

If the Catholic bishops, their conservative Protestant allies, and other right-wing fundamentalists had the sole objective of decimating religious belief, they couldn't be doing a better job of it.

Sometimes education does the trick, sometimes life experience opens one's eyes, and "[s]ometimes a believer simply picks up a copy of the Bible or the Koran and discovers faith-shaking contradictions or immoralities there." Institutional homophobia is a primary factor in driving people out of the church, as it "makes Fred Phelps a far better evangelist for atheism than for his own gay-hating Westborough Baptist Church." Biblical literalism fails because "it is easy to find quotes from the Bible that are either scientifically absurd or morally repugnant:"

But the more they resort to strict authoritarianism, insularity and strict interpretation of Iron Age texts, the more people are wounded in the name of God and the more people are outraged. By making Christian belief an all-or-nothing proposition, they force at least some would-be believers to choose "nothing."

One notable part of these spiritual successes is their long-standing war on gays. Mel White's new book Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality "examine[s] the innate cruelty and proto-fascism of the Christian right:"

"When I moved to Lynchburg it was a blue city, in spite of Liberty University being there," White said. "The reversal came with the collapse of our financial system [in 2008]. Suddenly everything blue was seen as costing too much money, including helping the poor. There was a revolt led by Fox News and its allies. It's difficult to find a restaurant or bar in Lynchburg that isn't playing Fox News. People quote Fox as though Fox is the arbiter of truth."

Tired of being scapegoated, White and his partner left:

"By the time Gary and I moved away from Lynchburg, a majority of Virginians seemed to be turning against gay people," White said. "They passed a constitutional amendment against marriage equality and new laws saying we cannot adopt [children] or provide foster care. More than half the people of Virginia seem to see us as the enemy." [...] "Too many of my sisters and brothers in the gay community don't seem to understand the power of religion," White lamented.

White points out that "[w]ithout religion there would be no homophobia:"

What other source of homophobia is there but six verses in the Bible? When Bible literalists preach that LGBT people are going to hell they become Christian terrorists. They use fear as their weapon, like all terrorists. They are seeking to deny our religious and civil rights. They threaten to turn our democracy into a fundamentalist theocracy. And if we don't reverse the trend, there is the very real possibility that in the end we will all be governed according to their perverted version of biblical law."

Here is Mr Fish's great illustration of religion's danger to humanity:

20120528-jesusjaws.jpg

World Affairs succumbs to night terrors over current interest in communism, positing that "the specter of 'new communism' ... is mounting a comeback; a new form of left-wing totalitarianism that enjoys intellectual celebrity" thanks to the Badiou, Hardt & Negri, and Zizek:

The appeal rests on one fact above all: only the new communists argue that the crises of contemporary liberal capitalist societies--ecological degradation, financial turmoil, the loss of trust in the political class, exploding inequality--are systemic; interlinked, not amenable to legislative reform, and requiring "revolutionary" solutions.

The piece cautions that "the new communism turns out to be a simple repetition of the old [and] remains within the orbit of leftist totalitarianism:"

Indeed, new communism seems to repeat every theoretical disaster of old communism. It is profoundly elitist, rehabilitating the Jacobin notion of the educational dictatorship. [...] Recent history tells us that authoritarian philosophical and political ideas can still find their way to the streets in advanced capitalist societies. The new communist ideas might yet connect with the young, the angry, and the idealistic who are confronted by a profound economic crisis in the context of an exhausted social democracy and a self-loathing intellectual culture. Tempting as it is, we can't afford to just shake our heads at the new communism and pass on by.

Sad Red Earth provides a pithy summary of their fears:

The Soviet edifice, and within, Zizek as court jester theorist.

Before he's shot.

And a ruthless clerk takes power.

That fate is more like conservative managerial dominance than communism, but I don't expect any better from corporate media outlets.

classic

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From the Twitter feed of Daniel Mendelsohn, I became aware of his 2009 Berkeley commencement address. After a pre-collegiate conversation with his mother about his desire to study the classics, he writes:

She took a deep breath and wearily ended with a sentence that--as she could not possibly guess, that May afternoon 30 years ago--would give me the title of a book I would write one day, a book about her vanished world, and how it vanished. "Plato, the Greeks," she muttered. "In a thousand years, it will all be lost."

Mendelsohn asks "what can it mean to devote oneself to a discipline that likes to think that it is timeless, that it has cheated the centuries, the millennia?" and uses Virgil's Aeneid to ruminate on the many losses along the way:

And even to think of the poem and everything it has produced over time is to be reminded, inevitably, of all the songs and stories and poems that didn't make it to the safe shore of "classic": the nine books of Sappho's lyrics, of which a single poem remains; the 75 lost plays of Aeschylus, the 116 vanished works of Sophocles, the 70 of Euripides; Aristotle's early dialogues, the banished Ovid's lost verse drama, Medea, the love elegies of Cornelius Gallus, the bosom friend of Vergil, which once comprised four whole books and of which 10 lines now survive; so much else.

Classicists, he writes, "bear the responsibility of being as aware of what we have lost as we are of what has survived to be studied by us." Mendelsohn later segues into discussing an "old Jewish woman [whom] I had been interviewing her for the book I wrote about the Holocaust:"

"So what happened when the war was over?" I asked softly. "What was the first thing that happened, once things started to be normal again?"

The old lady, whose real name had disappeared in the war along with her parents, her house, and nearly everything else she had known, was now called Mrs. Begley. When I asked her this question Mrs. Begley looked at me; her weary expression had kindled every so slightly.

"You know, it's a funny thing," she told me. "When the Germans first came, in '41, the first thing they did was close the theaters." [...] And I'll tell you something, because I remember it quite clearly: the first thing that happened, after the war was over and things got a little normal-the first thing was that the actors and theater people who were still alive got together and put on, in Polish, a production of Sophocles' Antigone."

He concludes "that was the story, and here is what I think it means:"

A lot of life gets lost--almost everything, in fact. [But] what remains means something--something very real, to real people, to people whose knowledge of suffering is derived from more than a book or a night at the movies. And so, I would ask you this: when you think of what it means to be a classicist, don't think only about your deconstructive readings of Homer, or post-structuralist approaches to Plautus, or Freudian readings of the Euripidean romances, or Marxist interpretations of the Peloponnesian War, the iconography of red-figure vases or the prosopography of the late Roman Republic. Think about Mrs. Begley; think about the people in Kraków, who, when they had very good reasons to believe that civilization had ended, felt that the first thing they needed to do was to put on a play by Sophocles.

WSJ looks at comic books and the success surrounding the Avengers, Batman, Spiderman, and X-Men franchises:

You might thus assume that superhero comics, the original properties on which these franchises are built, are in flush times. They aren't. The upper limit on sales of a superhero comic book these days is about 230,000; just two or three series routinely break into six digits. Twenty years ago, during the comic industry's brief Dutch-tulip phase, hot issues of "Spider-Man" and "X-Men" sold millions.

That two-decade slide "is a bit of a puzzle, especially because comics, broadly speaking, are respectable as never before:"

If no cultural barrier prevents a public that clearly loves its superheroes from picking up a new "Avengers" comic, why don't more people do so? The main reasons are obvious: It is for sale not in a real bookstore but in a specialty shop, and it is clumsily drawn, poorly written and incomprehensible to anyone not steeped in years of arcane mythology. [...]

The people who produce superhero comics have given up on the mass audience, and it in turn has given up on them. Meanwhile, the ablest creators have abandoned mainline superhero comics to mediocrity.

I'm not that concerned about superhero comics tending ward mediocrity--in the same way that summer blockbusters (like the Transformer movies) are for the motion-picture art form, or soap operas for TV. "The superhero comic has for decades been the fixed point around which this vital American art has revolved," the piece continues, and "it deserves better than to be reduced to a parody of a parody of itself."

Agreed. The medium needs better works of art, but also requires better criticism.

Marion Nestle's "Utopian Dream: A New Farm Bill" (Dissent, Spring 2012) contains this bit of historical sleuthing:

"Further increasing competition was the advent of the shareholder value movement to force corporations to produce more immediate and higher returns on investment. The start of the movement is often attributed to a 1981 speech given by Jack Welch, then head of General Electric, in which he insisted that corporations owed shareholders the benefits of faster growth and higher profit margins. The movement caught on quickly, and Wall Street soon began to press companies to report growth in profits ever quarter." (p. 17)

Jack Welch's speech at The Hotel Pierre in New York City entitled "Growing fast in a slow-growth economy" (8 December 1981) and was printed as Appendix A in Jack: Straight from the Gut (pp. 447-451). However, its actual content seems far too mild to have catalyzed such a movement. I would suggest instead that the impetus dated back at least to Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom a half-century ago:

The view has been gaining widespread acceptance that corporate officials and labor leaders have a "social responsibility" that goes beyond serving the interest of their stockholders or their members. This view shows a fundamental misconception of the character and nature of a free economy. In such an economy, there is one and only one social responsibility of business - to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition, without deception or fraud. [...] Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make as much money for their stockholders as possible. (p. 133)

Salon's piece on No Child Left Behind and the cheating epidemic points out that "[r]Rampant and widespread cheating on high-stakes standardized tests has been uncovered in districts nationwide" in the decade since NCLB became law:

NCLB mandates high-stakes standardized testing to monitor student achievement and aggressive intervention into schools that fall short: making Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, became a matter of a school's -- and increasingly teacher's -- survival.

Test results have been used as the pretext to fire teachers and force schools into becoming privately managed charters, even though research has shown that corruption-prone charters are not, as a whole, better, and are often much worse than traditional public schools. And the testing mandates have proven to be a bonanza for for-profit education companies likePearson and Kaplan (the latter is owned by the Washington Post Co.), which produce tests and materials to drill students in preparation.

Often derided as "No Child Left Untested" for its reliance on test results, NCLB has had other effects--"[t]he pressure to do well on standardized tests has also eviscerated the curriculum:"

Arts, science, music, physical education, literature and even recess are on the chopping block as teachers are forced to spend an ever greater amount of time on test preparation. This degrades classroom learning -- and, once again, the fundamental value and accuracy of the test.

The article concludes that "the high-stakes standardized testing regime cheats our children in more ways than one," and I have no difficulty agreeing with that analysis.

In 9 great freethinkers and religious dissenters, Adam Lee asks "What kind of world would we have if a majority of the human race was atheist?"

The defenders of the faith argue that atheism inevitably leads to selfishness and nihilism, and that only religion can justify charity or compassion, bind people together in community, or inspire a lively and flourishing culture. But this assertion can only be sustained by ignoring the accomplishments of famous nonreligious people throughout history, of which there have been many.

Lee lists Albert Einstein, Robert Ingersoll, W.E.B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Asa Philip Randolph, Robert Frost, Emma Lazarus, and Yip Harburg; for more examples, he recommends Susan Jacoby's Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism and Jennifer Michael Hecht's Doubt: A History.

TNR's Timothy Noah has compiled a list of conservative clichés; here are my favorites:

Central planning. Any decision-making process by the federal government that conservatives dislike. The Pentagon never engages in central planning.

Job creator. A rich person. The idea is that one mustn't tax the rich, because it's rich people who, through investment, create jobs. This used to be called "trickle-down economics," and 31 years ago, when Ronald Reagan's budget chief got caught admitting to The Atlantic that the Reagan administration practiced it, he suffered public humiliation. Today, trickle-down economics is preached without shame.

Mainstream media (popular variation: lamestream media). The non-conservative news media, including every TV news organization except Fox and every nationally distributed newspaper except the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal. The term's usage in recent years reflects the right's growing comfort with its position on the fringe. Where once conservatives claimed to inhabit the mainstream (as reflected in phrases like "silent majority" and "Moral Majority"), today the right sees the mainstream as so thoroughly compromised (and ruthlessly dominant) that it prefers to define itself as an unfairly besieged minority.

Starve the beast. A Republican strategy to cut government spending by cutting taxes. The theory is that lower tax revenue will force budget cuts down the road. But this doctrine contradicts conservatives' false-but-cherished belief that tax cuts so incentivize economic activity that revenue will rise rather than fall. Also, in practice, starving the beast hasn't lowered spending at all; it has merely increased the deficit.

I hadn't noticed that contradiction before.

One cliché that has far more than outlived its usefulness is the socialism-would-be-disastrous slur. The Independent's Owen Jones points out that, contrary to conservative myth, working people would benefit if socialists really did run the show. "'socialist' is regarded as the ultimate insult by much of our wealthy elite, who have been in a virtually uninterrupted triumphalist mood since Margaret Thatcher defeated their political opponents in the 1980s:"

If socialists really were running the show in Britain, they would be building a society run by, and in the interests of, working people [but] Instead, we have a government ... ruthlessly forcing working people to pay the immense cost of getting capitalism out of its mess.

In contrast to today, when having them meet us halfway to reality would be progress, EJ Dionne notes that conservatives used to care about community and compromise. "For most of the 20th century," he writes, "conservatives and progressives alternated in power...and this equilibrium allowed both sides to compromise and move forward" and asks, "So why has this consensus unraveled?" Obama has "pitched communal themes from the moment he took office [but] the more he emphasized a better balance between the individual and the community, the less interested conservatives became in anything that smacked of such equilibrium:"

That's why today's conservatives can't do business with liberals or even moderates who are still working within the American tradition defined by balance. It's why they can't agree even to budget deals that tilt heavily, but not entirely, toward spending cuts; only sharp reductions in taxes and government will do. It's why they cannot accept (as Romney and the Heritage Foundation once did) energetic efforts by the government to expand access to health insurance. It's why, even after a catastrophic financial crisis, they continue to resist new rules aimed not at overturning capitalism but at making it more stable.

AlterNet's piece on the failure of capitalism makes the ubiquitously banal observation that "[t]he old economic model has utterly failed us:"

It has destroyed our communities, our democracy, our economic security, and the planet we live on. The old industrial-age systems -- state communism, fascism, free-market capitalism -- have all let us down hard, and growing numbers of us understand that going back there isn't an option.

But we also know that transitioning to some kind of a new economy -- and, probably, a new governing model to match -- will be a civilization-wrenching process. We're having to reverse deep and ancient assumptions about how we allocate goods, labor, money, and power on a rapidly shrinking, endangered, complex, and ever more populated planet.

New governance and economics will, of course, be unobtainable as long as we're mired in the clichés of yesteryear.

Arun Gupta reassures us that "Occupy has hardly disappeared" despite the general perception that "the Occupy movement appears to have tumbled off a cliff, having failed to organise anything like a general strike on May Day." Gupta also reminds us that "protests did take place in more than 110 cities on May Day in recognition of worker resistance and solidarity," which is "no mean feat given the hostility to labour among the ruling elite in the US:"

Nationwide, [Occupy] is defending homeowners from evictions and disrupting auctions of foreclosed homes. There is a national campaign to force the government to break Bank of America into regional banks. Students are fighting against tuition increases and school cuts and for a moratorium on student debt. Occupiers are working with unions to battle corporations cutting wages and benefits. And many Occupy groups have joined movements for single-payer healthcare and against environmentally destructive oil and gas drilling.

Reason Being discusses the Catholic Church's war on America, observing that "The Church is waging a war on women, religious freedom, and general American values." This war is not merely punishing their own nuns, but by restricting the rights of non-Catholics to obtain contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. Prime among these offensive campaigns is the Catholic Church's demand for special exemptions from healthcare laws:

One of the main problems that we are facing is the dishonesty of the Catholic leadership. Under the leadership of Pope Benedict and Cardinal Dolan the Church is trying desperately to frame this issue as a violation of their religious freedom. It is not. In truth, the goals of the Church would be a violation of the religious freedom of all non-Catholics in America. [...]

If the U.S. government were to pass a law that allowed Catholic institutions or businesses owned by Catholics to not offer contraceptive services it would violate the 'free exercise' clause of all non-Catholics. It would, in effect, be forcing people to live under the rules of Catholicism in many areas.

Commenting on the venality of the Vatican, RB cautions us to "not be fooled by the rhetoric of Rome:"

No one is forcing Catholic Churches to marry same-sex couples. Yet, this organization is fighting mightily to prevent unions between homosexuals. They are fighting against civil rights. When we remove religion from this conversation, the debate crumbles. The only opposition to same-sex marriage comes from religion in this country. That is wrong. [...] If a same-sex couple wishes to get married that is their business and none of the Church's. The Church should have no say in matters of civil rights.

Dennis Prager claims that "rational people" should fear big government, instead of big business, asserting that "You cannot understand the left if you do not understand that Leftism is a religion:"

It is not God-based (some left-wing Christians' and Jews' claims notwithstanding), but otherwise it has every characteristic of a religion. The most blatant of those characteristics is dogma. People who believe in Leftism have as many dogmas as the most fundamentalist Christian.

One of them is material equality as the pre-eminent moral goal. Another is the villainy of corporations.

Without a trace of irony, Prager blames these conclusions on "dogma - a belief system that transcends reason:"

Religious Christians and Jews also have some irrational beliefs, but their irrationality is overwhelmingly confined to theological matters; and these theological irrationalities have no deleterious impact on religious Jews' and Christians' ability to see the world rationally and morally.

This is, quite simply, patriarchal nonsense. Supporting it would require one to ignore religions' wars on sex education, contraception, marriage equality, stem-cell research, global warming, evolutionary biology, cosmology. Prager's conclusion is even weaker:

It is noteworthy that none of the 20th century's monsters - Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao - were preoccupied with material gain. They loved power much more than money. And that is why the left is much more frightening than the right. It craves power.

Ed Brayton (who refers to Prager as "Rush Limbaugh with a thesaurus") points out the false dichotomy in Prager's argument--where "the right insists that nearly all government action is evil:"

...except when it puts someone to death, goes to war against an enemy that does not threaten or harm us, tortures people or violates their rights in the name of stopping terrorism, of course -- but that it is "socialism" to advocate preventing corporations from violating the rights of workers, squandering the hard-earned money of investors and depositors, or destroying the environment?

Of course giving any government too much power is dangerous, but so is giving a corporation too much power. It wasn't the government that polluted hundreds of square miles of the state I live in with dioxin, or created more than 1200 Superfund sites in the US, or was so negligent that they caused a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn't the government that created the Bhopal disaster or that used hired thugs to kill union organizers. Unchecked corporate power may be less dangerous on a global scale because they don't command armies, but that hardly justifies letting them do whatever they want to do.

Government also didn't lay off millions of workers, issue and then foreclose on fraudulent mortgages, and crash the global financial system.

Michael Fumento talks about leaving the hysterical Right behind, contrasting today's "mass hysteria" with the era when "right-wing publications...were interested in serious research:"

I also founded a conservative college newspaper, held positions in the Reagan administration and at several conservative think tanks, and published five books that conservatives applauded. I've written for umpteen major conservative publications - National Review, the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, among them.

But no longer. That was the old right. The last thing hysteria promoters want is calm, reasoned argument backed by facts. And I'm horrified that these people have co-opted the name 'conservative' to scream their messages of hate and anger.

As their decibel level has skyrocketed, their collegiality has cratered:

Civility and respect for order - nay, demand for order - have always been tenets of conservatism [but] All of today's right-wing darlings got there by mastering what Burke feared most: screaming 'J'accuse! J'accuse!' Turning people against each other. Taking seeds of fear, anger and hatred and planting them to grow a new crop.

After their somnolence during the Bush regime's excesses, the more excitable conservatives "who practice shutting down the opposition through shouts and smears ... have been promoting hysterical attitudes toward Obama since before he was even sworn in." Writing about conservative commentators, Fumento points out that "when times changed, and it became profitable to move from honorable advocacy to shrill name-calling, they changed too:"

They cashed in their reputations, as well as their ideology, for lucre. Those who didn't - because conservatism runs against screaming, extremism and sensationalism - began disappearing from the talk shows, magazines and store shelves.

He tries the "no true Scotsman" defense--postulating a "real conservatism" that the Right doesn't espouse and the Left doesn't understand--but it's more accurate to say that "conservatism runs on screaming, extremism and sensationalism"...that's the fuel which powers their stuck-in-reverse ideology.

I know that it covers well-trod ground, but the study "What you know depends on what you watch" (PDF) from Farleigh Dickinson shows yet again that NPR listeners are the best-informed, and Fox viewers are the worst-informed:

People who watch MSNBC and CNN exclusively can answer more questions about domestic events than people who watch no news at all. People who only watch Fox did much worse. NPR listeners answered more questions correctly than people in any other category.

As these two graphs indicate, the Fox audience is even less informed (believe it or not) than the no-news audience:

20120524-worsethannonews.jpg

Fox: when you want to know less than nothing.

WaPo looks at raising the profile--and the purse size--of ultramarathons due to their increased popularity:

According to the American Trail Running Association (ATRA), the number of trail races has more than tripled since 2000 to 2,400 events, and the number of participants has grown from 90,000 to 230,000.UltraRunning Magazine reported the number of runners who finished ultra-length trail races increased from 15,500 in 1998 to 52,000 in 2011. Though participation still does not compare with marathoning -- 518,000 people finished U.S. marathons in 2011 -- ultramarathon trail running has grown as much in the last four years as it did in its first 27.

There is a difficulty beyond elite sponsorships and prize money, though--media coverage:

Mountainous trail races present a challenge for the media, and may require innovation when it comes to coverage and broadcasting. But the event could be recorded and edited, then shown later, like the Ironman Triathlon race in Hawaii. "I think ultra can pack the same visceral punch that triathlon does if covered properly," said Tia Bodington, managing editor of UltraRunning magazine.

Although elite runner Anton Krupicka would probably earn some prize money, he partially agrees with the keep-it-small ethos:

"I totally see their point of view, but I think the sport is big enough to accommodate both kinds of races: those with large fields, media, prize money, and a focus on the sharp end and those that are more low-key and grassroots with no fanfare. I enjoy both types of events and hope that both continue to exist and proliferate."

As long as there are plenty of fatass events for back-of-the-pack endurance athletes, I'll be happy--regardless of what happens at the sports' pinnacles.

AlterNet sums up Krugman's latest tome End This Depression Now! this way:

It doesn't have to be like this. No external dynamic is keeping unemployment at more than 8 percent and consigning a generation of young workers to an economy in which risk is plentiful and opportunities scarce. It is only a failure of political will -- and an almost universal embrace of conservative voodoo economics - that is keeping us mired in this dark economic moment.

Here's one question from the interview:

JH: I find it frustrating that there is such a concerted effort to create this alternative reality where Keynesian economics has failed and giving tax cuts to the wealthy will create jobs. It's a parallel universe.

Krugman responds, in part, that "Political polarization and income inequality march hand in hand. There's every reason to believe that relationship is not an accident:"

What happens is when the wealthy are very wealthy they can in effect buy political support. The way that's worked in practice in the United States is that the Republican party moves with the interests of the super elite. Not the 1 percent, but the .01 percent. So the extraordinary explosion in incomes of the .01 percent relative to everybody else has pulled the Republican party far to the right to the point where there is no center. The center did not hold, it dissolved and turned into a chasm. That's not because Democrats moved to the left, because they didn't; they moved right. It's because the Republicans moved off into the Gamma quadrant. That is at the root of our political paralysis right now.

When asked about the "austerity madness," Krugman replies that "we are moving back towards sanity:"

Whether it'll be time enough to avoid catastrophe I don't know. I think hammering on these points and pointing to the evidence does seem to work, which is why I published the book. It's in the hope we can get the debate to move a little bit further in the direction of doing the right thing.

Chris Mooney follows up his PolitiFact analysis by observing the fact that conservatives are more wrong, more often:

The fact-checkers do try very, very hard to temper their competence, and to be fair, they don't have much choice. As a non-partisan outfit, PolitiFact probably feels compelled to blow a few things the left says out of proportion or they wouldn't look that much different than Media Matters. [...]

Yet for all their even-handedness and efforts to be fair, conservatives still fare worse. PolitiFact has pulled the yoke about as far as it can go without breaking, and have lost nearly all credibility on the left as a result, and they're still not within 20 yards from the 50 yard line.

He recommends that PolitiFact should "decide this is the last epicycle they're going to tack onto their centrist model of the solar system, and finally come to accept the political equivalent of Kepler's ellipse: asymmetry:"

As the data show - despite PolitiFact's best tampering - one side just has a much tougher time with the facts. PolitiFact can either deal with it, or double-down on denial.

While we're on the subject of conservative denialism--see my 2004 and 2009 pieces on marriage equality in Massachusetts--Slate wonders does gay marriage destroy marriage? "[B]y tracking what happened to marriage and divorce rates in the subsequent years" [after same-sex marriage] we can tell whether right-wing fears are valid:

Start with Massachusetts, which endorsed gay marriage in May 2004. That year, the state saw a 16 percent increase in marriage. The reason is, obviously, that gay couples who had been waiting for years to get married were finally able to tie the knot. In the years that followed, the marriage rate normalized but remained higher than it was in the years preceding the legalization. So all in all, there's no reason to worry that gay marriage is destroying marriage in Massachusetts.

The other four states that have legalized gay marriage--New York, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and New Hampshire--have done it more recently, somewhere between 2008 and 2011. But from the little data we have, it looks as if the pattern will be more or less the same--a temporary jump in marriage followed by a return to virtually the same marriage rates as before gay marriage became legal. Washington, D.C., which started accepting same-sex marriages in March 2010, saw a huge 61.7 percent increase in marriage that year, though it's too soon to see where it will settle. Again, no signs of the coming apocalypse.

The states' divorce rates haven't worsened, either:

In each of the five states, divorce rates following legalization have been lower on average than the years preceding it, even as the national divorce rate grew. In 2010, four of the five states had a divorce rate that was lower than both the national divorce rate and the divorce rate of the average state.

I'm sure that conservatives will eventually try to spin this into a we-were-right-all-along scenario--as they tried to do with civil rights--but I just don't see how they could do so.

Jon Chait takes issue with conservatives' fantasy history of civil rights, wherein they cast themselves as heroes of the struggle:

The civil rights movement, once a controversial left-wing fringe, has grown deeply embedded into the fabric of our national story. This is a salutary development, but a problematic one for conservatives, who are the direct political descendants of (and, in the case of some of the older members of the movement, the exact same people as) the strident opponents of the civil rights movement.

Thus, "conservatism's revisionist dogma" becomes necessary to create the illusion:

... a tale in which the Republican Party is and always has been the greatest friend the civil rights cause ever had. The Republican takeover of the white South had absolutely nothing to do with civil rights, the revisionist case proclaims, except insofar as white Southerners supported Republicans because they were more pro-civil rights.

Sometimes, mockery is the optimal response--and Chait snarks at the end of his piece that "The pseudo-historical attempt to attach conservatism to the civil rights movement is just silly:"

Here's another idea: Why not get behind the next civil rights idea (gay marriage) now? It would save future generations of conservative apparatchiks from writing tendentious essays insisting the Republican Party was always for it.

Along similar lines, Martin Longman claims that today's GOP is the worst political party since the Civil War:

I think it's fair to say that the GOP that exists today, as expressed by both its behavior in Congress and its recent display in the presidential primaries, is worse than it has ever been. [...] We have not seen a party this dangerous in any of our lifetimes. Not in this country, anyway. The last time things got this bad was about 150 years ago. The last time things got this bad, we needed a Civil War to resolve it.

geek victory

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Writing about fandom, Parabasis (h/t: Alan Jacobs) noted that Avengers had "the best opening weekend in the history of the movies, both domestic and foreign" and observed that "The success of the Avengers is only a small part of a broader phenomenon: the rise of 'geek culture' as the single most powerful force, commercial and cultural, in the art and media landscape:"

The major genres and media once consigned to the realm of geek or nerd culture, such as science fiction, high fantasy, comic books, and video games now dominate both in terms of commercial success and popular attention. They are simply unavoidable. [...] Yet despite this dominance, there remains a remarkable sensitivity towards perceived slights among these genres' most dedicated fans.

The author goes so far as to suggest that "fans of geek culture have become like the Tea Party," because "both are so invested in certain grievances, and have so integrating airing those them into their culture, that they seem completely incapable of judging whether those grievances are rational:"

In both cases, what we have is the rage of the enfranchised: an implacable hunger for more recognition for a group that could scarcely be more recognized. And in both cases, feelings of exclusion and marginalization have become so deeply ingrained into the character of the movement that grievance threatens to overwhelm everything else, to define them entirely.

The recommended remedy is a dramatic bow while taking a victory lap:

Victory is yours. It has already been accomplished. It's time to enjoy it, a little; to turn the critical facility away from the outside world and towards political and artistic problems within the world of geek culture; and if possible, maybe to defend and protect those endangered elements of high culture. They could use the help. It's time for solidarity.

According to Michael Lind, technological progress killed social conservatism as "social traditionalists who claimed to be a 'moral majority' in the United States in the 1980s are acting like an embattled, declining minority in the second decade of the 21st century:"

Many paranoid social conservatives blame the triumph of moral liberalism on a conspiracy of sinister secular humanists, using the media and the public schools to indoctrinate their children and grandchildren in a godless morality. But the truth is that social conservatism has been undermined by technological progress, which has increased the opportunities for freedom in matters of sex and censorship while raising the costs of enforcing traditional norms.

Noting that "The pill did more to undermine traditional sexual morality than an imaginary secular humanist conspiracy could have done," Lind notes the effects of other freedom-increasing technologies:

Once most Americans stopped listening to priests, preachers and rabbis who seek to prescribe what married couples do in bed, it was only a matter of time before they stopped paying attention to clerical rules about what anyone does in bed.

He concludes that:

The cultural revolution of recent decades does not mean Americans are less moral than they were in the ages of speak-easies and corner bordellos and vaudeville strip shows. They are just less hypocritical.

and suggests that conservatives stop trying to force the rest of us into their peculiar closets. "Short of reversing the industrial revolution, emptying the cities and restoring agrarian society," he writes, "the best hope for social conservatives is to retreat to minority enclaves like those of the Amish:"

On self-created reservations they can raise their children as they see fit, segregated from mainstream culture and visited, perhaps, by morally liberal tourists nostalgic for an older, simpler way of life.

Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short? No thanks.

Daily Beast's Marc Wortman asks, are books becoming too long to read? At a mere 630 pages, Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs is nearly the shortest of the recent tomes he uses as examples:

Those weighty 11 printed books and the two linear feet or so of valuable shelf real estate they take up amount to an advertisement for compacting them into an e-book. [...] All 11 were produced by reputable writers, scholars, and thinkers. They almost certainly merit a careful read. But the same could be said for many other recent very long BIG books, often books that come out nearly simultaneously on the same subjects, from biographies to policy issues to histories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of course, all this reading is only for those who have the leisure or professional obligation to read at length.

He asks exasperatedly: "Why do so many writers feel compelled to write big books?"

In part, it seems that big now equates with importance and value. That substitutes form for function, and frequently evidences a writer's ego--or perhaps an editor's laziness--and indifference to a reader's limited time and attention. Life is a busy place, but don't tell that to those who write big books.

The opportunity cost of massive tomes is exemplified by Slavoj Zizek's 1000-page, $70 opus on Hegel, despite paeans to the philosopher like this:

"In the first 30 pages, Žižek free-associates his way through Alan Turing, Hans Christian Anderson, Hercule Poirot, Kafka, Kant, Wittgenstein, and God. We couldn't put it down."

See Verso's description of the book and this excerpt on Buddhism and the self for more. If one can't put the book down, though, perhaps one should avoid picking it up in the first place.

Among other looming ecological issues, WaPo wonders if the end of fish is imminent, writing that "there's some evidence that we've already hit 'peak fish':"

World fish production seems to have reached its zenith back in the 1980s, when the global catch was higher than it is today. And, according to one recent study in the journal Science, commercial fish stocks are on pace for total "collapse" by 2048 -- meaning that they'll produce less than 10 percent of their peak catch.

David Atkins calls this example an existential threat to conservatism, and "a reminder of the grand ideological precipice on which conservatism itself rests:"

Economic conservatism rests on the principle that government intervention is largely unnecessary because markets in their grand wisdom correct themselves over time without the need for interference. Economic conservatism is also predicated on the notion that the best way to improve human happiness is to ensure unending economic growth as measured by Gross Domestic Product, regardless of what industries are growing, or whether that growth is sustainable.

Ecological crises like climate change, peak oil and fish depletion present an existential threat to economic conservatism. Self-correcting markets are ill-equipped to handle problems that creep up invisibly but are already too late to solve by the time market consumers truly start to take notice. Once fish or oil become so rare that their prices cause consumers to seek alternatives, the economic and ecological damage will already have been done. The problem will be beyond the point of repair.

"In short," he concludes, "there is no free market solution to these problems:"

Which means that conservatives ultimately must insist that there is no problem in order for their ideology to maintain credibility.

They enable the ultra-rich to continue betraying America by benefitting greatly from US infrastructure but want to avoid, as much as possible, making a contribution. For one example, "almost 1,800 Americans gave up their citizenship to avoid taxes:"

The wealthy benefit disproportionately from property and inheritance laws, contracts, stock exchanges, favorable SEC regulations, the Small Business Administration, patent and copyright and intellectual property laws, estate planning, trust funds, Internet marketing, communications infrastructure, highway maintenance, air traffic control, local and national security, and 60 years of research in technology and other industries.

A major cause of this imbalance is that speculative financial transactions are untaxed:

While average Americans pay a 10% sales tax on necessities, millionaire investors pay just a .00002% SEC fee (2 cents for every thousand dollars) for a financial instrument.

Implementing such a tax (like the proposed Tobin Tax on currency conversion) would help, as would the other main suggestion--to "Eliminate the tax break on unearned income (capital gains)."

Romney's Ampad-destroying deal at Bain Capital is an all-too-typical example of rapacious conservatism, and I'm glad to see that the Obama campaign is hitting this issue hard. They're pointing out that "Romney and his partners were able to squeeze out more than $100 million" from Ampad while laying off workers and saddling the firm with debt that led to bankruptcy:

The GOP's furious denials are full of revisionist bullshit; former Bain managing director Marc Wolpow spilled the beans in a 2002 interview that Romney bears the blame for Ampad:

Romney was responsible for the business plan carried out by Bain in Indiana."Mitt's employees executed that transaction," [Wolpow] said. "We carried out the business plan. He was CEO of the firm."

Romney's statement dodged his culpability:

President Obama confirmed today that he will continue his attacks on the free enterprise system...President Obama refuses to accept moral responsibility for his failed policies.

Oh, and it's so surprising that Teabagger Congresscritters have been bought off by the banks that they once derided. The fifteen GOP freshmen in the House "received significant PAC contributions from the banking industry -- and have become a reliable vote and mouthpiece for the financial industry," most notoriously Rep Joe Walsh (R-IL), who once berated a constituent with this rant:

"Don't blame banks, and don't blame the marketplace for the mess we're in right now! I am tired of hearing that crap!"

Why put the blame where it belongs when they can keep lying about birth certificates, czars, socialism, death panels, and Kenyan anti-colonialists?

Richard Dawkins wants all our kids to read the King James Bible. He calls Ecclesiastes "one of the glories of English literature," suggests that "[a] native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian," and writes that:

European history, too, is incomprehensible without an understanding of the warring factions of Christianity and the book over whose subtleties of interpretation they were so ready to slaughter and torture each other.

He does admit to "an ulterior motive" in promoting Biblical literacy:

People who do not know the Bible well have been gulled into thinking it is a good guide to morality. [...] I have even heard the cynically misanthropic opinion that, without the Bible as a moral compass, people would have no restraint against murder, theft and mayhem. The surest way to disabuse yourself of this pernicious falsehood is to read the Bible itself.

After a tour of various OT atrocities and barbarisms, he writes that "'Sophisticated' theologians (what is there in 'theology' to be sophisticated about?) now treat these horrors as parables or myths, which is just as well." and concludes that:

Whatever else the Bible might be - and it really is a great work of literature - it is not a moral book and young people need to learn that important fact because they are very frequently told the opposite.

Jerry Coyne agrees with Dawkins about the Bible's necessity for educated individuals, and asks is it great literature? He notes that "So many allusions (and illusions), and so much of what we hear, derive from that singular work of fiction:"

If someone wanted to place a single book in all schools that has not only literary value but a tremendous influence in our culture, let it be Shakespeare--preferably the complete works as compiled in The Riverside Shakespeare. The Bible is already in most schools, reposing unread in the library; why not ensure that every school also has a copy of Shakespeare's great works? They have all the beauty and humanity of the Bible with none of the stupidity and superstition. (I suspect that Shakespeare has added as many phrases to our language as has the King James Bible).

The Guardian observes that, much like the Bible, Shakespeare has benefited from cultural imperialism. Confronting the culture-warrior claim that "All the world loves Shakespeare! His plays are universal!" The Guardian's Emer O'Toole nails it: "Universal my toe. Shakespeare is full of classism, sexism, racism and defunct social mores:"

The Taming of the Shrew (aka The Shaming of the Vagina-Bearer) is about as universally relevant as the chastity belt. I'm sick of directors tying themselves up in conceptual knots, trying to frame poor Katherina as some kind of feminist heroine. The Merchant of Venice (Or The Evil Jew) is about as universal as the Nuremberg laws. What's that? Shakespeare allows Shylock to express the progressive sentiment that Jews are people before confiscating his property and forcing him to convert to Christianity, therefore Merchant is actually a humanist text? Come off it, sister.

So where has the idea that Shakespeare is "universal" come from? Why do people the world over study and perform Shakespeare? Colonialism. That's where, and that's why. Shakespeare was a powerful tool of empire, transported to foreign climes along with the doctrine of European cultural superiority. Taught in schools and performed under the proscenium arches built where the British conquered, universal Shakespeare was both a beacon of the greatness of European civilisation and a gateway into that greatness - to know the bard was to be civilised.

One should note that no wars have been waged over rival interpretations of Shakespeare; would that religions were as consistently ennobling.

In describing standard right-wing propaganda, Justin Rosario explains "how the right debases political and moral debates in this country:"

Liberals says, "We want to keep violent criminals from buying guns" and a conservative will claim we said, "Ban all guns." Liberals say, "We want everyone to have access to healthcare" and a conservative will claim we said, "Kill the sick and elderly." Liberals say, "America is open to all religions, not just Christianity" and a conservative will claim we said, "Ban Christianity and the Bible."

This is how people who are afraid to confront their own failings respond. Rather than simply admit their greed or fear or prejudice, they mischaracterize our positions to make it easier on their conscience when they oppose us. If conservatives would only be honest about their motivations, we could have an honest conversation but that will never happen as long as the political platform of the right is built on hate and anger.

Gulliver at DU suggests that the real reason they're sabotaging America (h/t: Rightardia) is their own "personal humiliation:"

Their man, George W. Bush, was president for eight years, and their party also held majorities in Congress for most that time. And the result? [...] ...everything went horribly, horribly wrong. All on their watch. All in broad daylight. Afghanistan fell apart as Bush's unnecessary, ill-conceived, and falsely motivated war in Iraq dragged on. Osama was on the loose. Bush made a complete ass of himself in every news conference. And the whole country came apart at the seams in 2008. Republicans were wrong, and it was obvious.

The Busheviks hid their embarrassing cheerleading under tricorn hats and Gadsden flags:

The most incompetent, most blameworthy, most idiotic Republicans dodged their identity as Republicans to become Tea Partiers. Then they came back and "took over" their party again. It wasn't the old Republican Party that had done all of those bad things to the country anymore, though. All that sin was washed away by the name change and the Uncle Sam costumes. The Republican party rose phoenix-like from the ashes. And all the old, bad ideas were now new and worse. [...]

Republicans needed Obama to fail because Republicans had themselves failed so badly. America lost horribly under their leadership, and the were not about to let America win under someone else. It is as ugly and simple as that.

When GOP mouthpieces say "I hope he fails" or proclaim that their "single most important" goal is defeating Obama, they're being honest--as ridiculous as that may seem to those of us who are less emotionally invested in ideology.

This New Scientist piece on shadow social networks has some disturbing implications--even for those people who avoid Facebook and similar services:

20120521-shadownetwork.jpg

Now there's a way to use the structure of an online social network to deduce the offline connections, dubbed "shadow connections", between people who don't use the service. [...] Fred Hamprecht, of Heidelberg University in Germany, and his colleagues were curious about what it is possible to discover about the relationships between people who do not belong to an online social network. Privacy advocates have already expressed concerns about this but no one has attempted to quantify it mathematically.

Public information can be used to illuminate heretofore private relationships:

Using the network structure of four of the university campuses, a machine-learning program picked out attributes that seemed to predict whether two non-members knew each other, such as how many members knew both of them and how many knew one but not the other. The program used only the relationships between members and the email data, both of which a social network company could access.

When the researchers then used the program to predict links between non-members in the remaining college Facebook network, 40 per cent of the predictions were correct. By contrast, they calculate that using a random guessing approach, just 2 per cent of suggested connections would be right...

If that weren't bothersome enough, AlterNet lists the terrifying ways Google is destroying your privacy:

Unless you have the time or the technical know-how to encrypt your digital communications, none of what you transmit - however personal -- through a digital wireline or wireless network is "private." Rather, through the spectacle of post-modern capitalism, the private has become public, the property of the corporation that owns your keystrokes. [...]

Two complementary forces are driving this change: short-term corporate self-interest and a self-serving security-state. The ordinary American's traditional privacy rights are giving way to the demands of the militarized corporate state.

The article notes that "investigations have gone forward in at least 12 countries and at least nine countries have found Google guilty of violating various anti-trust and anti-privacy laws"--and those are only the violations that have become public.

Barry Bearak's tale of Caballo Blanco's last run is suffused by a poignant melancholy:

For three days, rescue teams had fanned out for 50 yards on each side of the marked trails. Riders on horseback ventured through the gnarly brush, pushing past the felled branches of pinyon-juniper and ponderosa pine. An airplane and a helicopter circled in the sky, their pilots squinting above the ridges, woodlands, river canyons and meadows.

"We're in the middle of nowhere, and this guy could be anywhere," Tom Bemis, the rescue coordinator appointed by the state police, said gloomily. He was sitting in a command center, marking lines on a map that covered 200,000 acres. Some 150 trained volunteers were at his disposal, and dozens of others were there too, arrived from all over the country, eager and anxious, asking to enlist in the search.

Caballo's body was eventually found by fellow runners, not professional search-and-rescue personnel; they also mourned him appropriately. Bearak's description is quite poetic:

The moon was a half-circle. The stars were abundant. Someone had thought to buy beer.

For them, this was a requiem for a dead friend. They ate tortillas and eggs and canned stew, heating the food on an old white stove and subduing their sorrow with laughter. They each had a favorite Caballo Blanco story to tell, or two or three. The past flooded into the present. [...]

His death was terribly sad, and yet there was also perfection about it.

Micah True died while running through a magnificent wilderness, and then many of his closest friends came together to search for him, stepping through the same alluring canyons and forests and streams, again and again calling out his name.

educational

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AlterNet's Sara Robinson looks at the conservatives versus critical thinking imbroglio, noting that "[t]he education of our children is a core cultural and political choice that reflects the deepest differences between liberals and conservatives." Here is a summary of conservative educational philosophy:

The main imperative of education is to break the child's will, force him to conform to society's expectations, make him an obedient and compliant employee, and prepare him to survive in a hostile and competitive world... What kids need most from school are hard skills and marketable credentials that will enable them to find a stable place in the hierarchy, thus securing their futures.

Robinson points out the criticism of John Taylor Gatto [in his 1992 book Dumbing Us Down: the Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling] that "the 'hidden curriculum' of public schools is designed from the ground up to reinforce these deeply authoritarian lessons" [and] "fosters a lifelong dependence on external authority:"

In the conservative model, critical thinking is horrifically dangerous, because it teaches kids to reject the assessment of external authorities in favor of their own judgment -- a habit of mind that invites opposition and rebellion.

Among liberals, the ultimate purpose of both education and parenting is to bring forward the best that lies within us, with the ultimate goal of maximizing the unique potential of each child. [...] Education should, above all, foster self-knowledge and self-discipline, equipping us to make the best possible contributions...and to pursue life, liberty and happiness wherever those pursuits may take us. [...] It's assumed that people who are accustomed to this kind of personal freedom will also fiercely resist authoritarian leaders...

Conservative freedom, tainted by their unadmitted authoritarianism, is like their religion--where one is liberated to choose what they've pre-selected:

It's not exactly accurate -- but nonetheless true -- to say that the reason we call it "liberal education" is that the more of it you have, the more liberal you're likely to be. If we buy into the idea that critical thinking is somehow non-essential, we're not only betraying the entire future of the liberal tradition in America; we're also depriving future generations of the basic skills and knowledge they'll need to defend their democracy from the plutocrats who are always standing in the shadows, determined to wrest it from them.

Once you understand how very different our underlying worldviews are, the things we need to do to preserve our idea of a progressive, empowering education become far more clear.

In addition to the liberal distrust of standardized testing as the primary metric of educational achievement, there is also our recognition that education is more than the 'three Rs"--that "[t]he arts, crafts and humanities matter:"

When we short-change students on the liberal arts curriculum, we are dooming the next generation to be led by people whose perspective, vision, flexibility, insight, and compassion aren't up to the highest standards. If we want our nation to be better, we need to train better minds -- and for thousands of years, a firm grounding in the arts and humanities have been the main way civilizations around the world have always developed this talent.

Robinson concludes, interestingly, by observing that "conservatives are not wrong:"

...for 150 years, the schools have been the leading promoter and disseminator of progressive values. It's precisely because they understand the power of education to preserve democracy that they're now doing their best to dismantle that system, and replace it with one that produces followers, subjects and serfs.

What is education for? We won't even be a contender in this fight until we're committed to our own clear, coherent, values-based answer to that question. How we answer it will shape the country's future.

(For additional thoughts, see my review of Stephen Law's The War for Children's Minds.)

WSJ calls artist Jack Kirby the lost Avenger and announces that "sky-rocketing auction prices and a new museum in his honor are signaling that Jack Kirby may finally have arrived" with a $155,350 purchase:

That was the winning bid for a single page of "Fantastic Four" comic-book art drawn in 1966 by original "Avengers" artist Jack Kirby (and scripted by "Fantastic Four" and "Avengers" co-creator Stan Lee) on the website of Heritage Auctions.

The record-setting art, from Fantastic Four #55, can be seen here--with the artistic contribution of inker Joe Sinnott, who completed Kirby's vision with unparalleled skill:

20120518-fantasticfour55.jpg

polymaths

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Harvard Business Review comes out in defense of polymaths, noting that "there aren't a lot of polymaths around anymore...while we admire the select 'geniuses' that can do it all, we tend to disparage the regular folk that attempt to spread their knowledge around a little:"

If they are so foolish as to dabble instead of devoting themselves to a single calling, those unfortunates sometimes earn the time-dishonored label of "Jack of all trades, master of none."

But why? What's so wrong with trying to learn new things? [...] Polymath status is accessible to just about anyone with a modem, a library card, and the desire to learn.

HBR also speculates that polymathy is less common today because "We live in an age where deep-specialization is highly encouraged:"

Doctors specialize, lawyers specialize, academics specialize, mechanics specialize ... just about everyone professionally specializes. The more deeply you specialize, the more money you're likely to make.

The problem, though, is that "specialists tend to get stuck in their own points of view:"

They've been taught to focus so narrowly that they can't look at a problem from different angles. And in the modern workscape we desperately need people with the ability to see big picture solutions. That's where being a polymath has certain advantages.

HBR asks "What insights might physicists bring to international relations? What might plumbers bring to cardiology?"

Polymathism is largely untapped force in business practice, but it's also the future of problem-solving.

Those are the perks of being a polymath. May they inherit the earth.

Jeff Madrick asks will the Eurozone crisis end austerity? and observes that "the threat of economic collapse in the eurozone...can only be eliminated by renewed economic growth in the struggling countries." Keynes and the Keynesians noted that, historically, "government spending has consistently created more growth than the cost of the additional stimulus; the Great Depression itself was lifted from the depths by World War II spending:"

Indeed, the evidence shows that austerity--the prescription of choice in the early 1930s and then again in 1937--was partly to blame for the durability of the Great Depression, which included a second deep recession in the late 1930s.

But the Keynesians can also draw on recent economic history to support their views. Austerity has failed to reduce debt as a proportion of GDP in every European nation in which it has been tried since 2008. More to the point, it has also--as Keynesian economists predicted--directly resulted in another recession in much of Europe...

The Next New Deal makes a simplified case against austerity. Although "It's good to hear more economists talking about the foolishness of austerity," the author writes, "I have yet to hear anyone put the argument in terms simple enough for the average citizen (including the average Republican not too tied in ideological knots) to understand. I'd therefore like to take a shot:"

To reignite the economy, we need more people to buy things. For that to happen, we need to keep people in their present jobs, re-employ people who have lost jobs, and employ those just entering the job market. Once people are buying things, those who make the goods and services being bought will have reason to invest, hiring new workers and buying new machines that make things. They have no reason to invest now; there is no likely return on their investment.

Republicans have things backwards. They assume that investors will invest if we give them more money. But they already have lots of money. Why assume that giving them more will change their behavior? They're not stupid (at least most of them aren't). What they need is a prospect of profit.

Tax breaks aren't any incentive. What good are lower taxes on income that you don't have? What's the point of hiring another worker if he or she will have nothing to do? Fewer regulations are equally irrelevant. This is why "uncertainty" and "confidence" (the claim that investors won't invest because they are uncertain what their taxes might be in the future or what new regulations they may face) are smokescreens.

He takes specific aim at the GOP:

In the language of economists, this is a demand-side problem, not a supply-side problem. Republicans have been looking at the world through supply-side lenses for over 30 years and can't see the total economy. They are blind to common sense. [...]

Once demand is stimulated through public jobs, private investment will return and private jobs will increase. A healthy economy can then deal with deficits. It will be costly to regain that economy, but if we don't, we will have both stagnation and deficits.

Will their eyes be opened?

Chris Mooney writes that "we live at a time when Republican 'Big Lies'...are everywhere," looking at PolitiFact's analyses:

Republicans were overwhelmingly more likely to draw a "false" or even "pants on fire" rating (the worst of all). Out of the ninety-eight politicians' statements that received these dismal ratings, seventy-four were made by Republicans--or 76 percent.

Mooney weighs the suggestion that "PolitiFact is biased against the right" against "another possibility: the left just might be right more often (or the right, wrong more often)." Also interesting is the Washington Post "Fact-Checker" column, where Republicans got nearly three times as many "four Pinocchio" ratings as Democrats. Rather than "liberal bias" among fact-checking organization, Mooney suggests "A potentially simpler explanation for these results:"

...that the fact-checkers are simply doing their job--and Republicans today just happen to be more egregiously wrong. Democrats, meanwhile, are certainly not innocent when it comes to making misleading statements, but their pants are not on fire.

Mooney continues by observing that "psychology... suggests that one's politics are driven partly by one's personality, and Democrats and liberals are simply more open to new information and experiences as well as more tolerant of ambiguity and uncertainty:"

Moreover, this difference has been exacerbated by a well-documented turn toward psychological authoritarianism in the Republican Party over the past four decades. Increasingly, the GOP has become the party of those who are more rigid, less given to compromise, and more inclined to see the world in black and white.

When talking about political polarization, don't just blame Republicans. TNR's William Galston spreads around the blame for the "complex story" of political polarization. He makes two key observations--that the electorate has polarized while the parties have become ideologically homogeneous, and also notes that "conservatives and liberals have come to understand the practice of politics differently:"

Unlike most other Americans, conservatives seem to believe that compromise represents defeat [and] intransigence represents their only hope; never mind the risks.

Big lies - compromise = disaster

Farhad Manjoo loves his iPad so much that he declares "I'm through with paper" while admitting "I thought it would be a long time before I gave up on print magazines. I revere magazines:"

The Retina iPad is the first electronic device on which photos look better than they do on magazine pages. Colors are more brilliant, they never fade, and the shots are dynamic--many newspaper and magazine apps let you expand and zoom in on photos, allowing images to play an even bigger part in a story's narrative. [...] The Retina display has brought iPad magazines up to par, as a reading experience, with their print counterparts. [...] In fact, since getting the new iPad, I've pretty much stopped reading on paper altogether. [...] I'm surprised by how quickly I shifted to a paper-free lifestyle.

BofA figurehead Brian Moynihan earned--if one can use that verb--the worst-performing CEO title from Fortune:

Michael Mayo, a bank analyst at Credit Agricole Securities, recently ranked current bank CEOs by the relative performance of their shares during the time since they took over the banks. Moynihan became the CEO of B of A in early 2010. Since that time the bank's shares have fallen 42%. That puts Moynihan at the bottom of the heap.

Although Moynihan took $3 million pay cut, he still hauled down $7 million for 2011. "Based on the company's stock market performance," notes Fortune, "you might wonder if even that payout is too high." HuffPo commented during last week's BofA shareholders' meeting that "Today was a very good day for Brian Moynihan, the Bank of America CEO whose 2011 compensation package was just approved:"

As they were preparing to formally approve his lavish remuneration, I stood outside in a line of shareholders with a letter naming me the official representative for an investor who owns 82,000 BofA shares. Around me were about forty investors, each of whom was about to contribute in some small way to Mr. Moynihan's payday. But our little band of investors were haughtily dismissed by bank executives after waiting, some for hours, in the wilting Carolina heat.

The protesters chanted in the street as a PR executive told us we would not be admitted into the meeting -- and then asked us to get off the bank's property.

All around us, in what officials acknowledged was a dry run for the Democratic Convention, city authorities had given everyone's constitutional rights the day off by declaring the protest an "extraordinary event."

Also noted is the disparity in rights, where "bank execs continued to enjoy their full constitutional protections despite working for an institution with the worst rap sheet in town. The rest of us were guilty until proven innocent:"

Bank of America has profited greatly from taxpayer largesse. Yet, despite the billions of dollars it's paid out for illegal behavior, no one employed by the bank has been charged with any crime. Attorney General Eric Holder has yet to explain how it's possible for billions of dollars worth of crimes to commit themselves.

On the day before Mark Zuckerberg's big IPO, Salon features people who are saying "no thanks" to Facebook. We're not among its 901 million users worldwide (of which the under-35 crowd has a 50% daily participation rate) and are proud to be dubbed "the resisters."

But if Facebook is to live up to its pre-IPO hype and reward the investors who are clamoring for its stock this week, it needs to convince some of the resisters to join. Two out of every five American adults have not joined Facebook, according to a recent Associated Press-CNBC poll. Among those who are not on Facebook, a third cited a lack of interest or need.

One holdout remarked:

"I do not want more distractions," he says. "As it is, I am deluged with email. My friends and colleagues have ready access to me and I don't really want another service that I would feel obliged to check into on a frequent basis."

That tracks rather well with my own attitude toward Facebook: despite its potential utility, I just don't have time--there's nothing I'm willing to give up to spend time curating a Facebook identity. That sentiment is expanded here:

Steve Jones, a professor who studies online culture and communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says many resisters consider Facebook to be too much of a chore.

"We've added social networking to our lives. We haven't added any hours to our days," Jones says. "The decision to be online on Facebook is simultaneously a decision not to be doing something else."

David Graeber's "Of Flying Cars and the Declining Rate of Profit" in the latest issue of The Baffler has my Quote of the Day:

"The final victory over the Soviet Union did not lead to the domination of the market, but, in fact, cemented the dominance of conservative managerial elites, corporate bureaucrats who use the pretext of short-term, competitive, bottom-line thinking to squelch anything likely to have evolutionary implications of any kind." (pp. 80-81)


update (6/4):
The article is now online here.

LRAD

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New Inquiry writes about LRAD [Long Range Acoustic Device] weapons, noting that they are "simply about power:"

Communicati0n is a means of making you obey -- one cannot, after all, speak back to an LRAD, since it's simply one-way projection -- and the violence of forcing compliance takes up the sonic register, similarly displacing sound as a vector for dialogue. There are simply higher and lower volumes.

NI also emphasizes "the way violence and speech become literally the same thing:"

To ask the question of whether an LRAD is designed to hurt people or designed to communicate across long distances with people is to mystify its central design function: it is a technology whose purpose is to FORCE you to listen and obey, and one which is less interested in the difference than you'd think.

Waged on many fronts, the conservative war on marriage is driven by "a conservative economic program that has wreaked havoc on the family lives of struggling Americans:"

For many, [marriage] rests on a commitment of two people to share their lives, to create a permanent union that provides support for children, and to manage the tradeoffs between careers, finances and services necessary to manage a family. This is an ideal held by both heterosexual and same-sex couples who are more financially secure. But it no longer fits large numbers of working-class couples who conceive children together. That's because the foundation for their relationships has been destroyed by the very people who accuse President Obama of a war on marriage.

They've attacked wage and job stability (unions in particular), work/family balance (including unemployment benefits and paid leave), women's autonomy, reproductive freedom, and fostered high incarceration rates and income inequality--and, typical of their projection-laden mode of discourse, the Right accuses liberals of waging a war on marriage for--horror of horrors!--recognizing same-sex unions. Obama "cited his Christian faith as a motivating factor in his decision" to support marriage equality, but New Civil Rights Movement looks at religion-driven homophobia and asks can we trust Christians?

Homophobic Christianity is rampant in our culture and made even more virulent by a media culture that over-emphasizes conservative Christianity. It also understates (or all out ignores) its moderate and progressive Christian counterparts.

There are over 5,000 congregations in the U.S. that have declared their unequivocal affirmation of LGBT equality. Four of the seven largest mainline Protestant denominations have institutionalized LGBT equality measures - ranging from ordination of LGBT pastors to embrace of same-sex marriage.

The piece suggests that "we must support 'conflicted' individuals as they journey towards LGBT equality:"

Just as President Obama needed to "evolve" on this issue, so will countless others. Our support of this process is essential for true change to occur...supportive Christian voices are necessary to win full LGBT equality. So today, let's stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow LGBT advocates-even those who are Christian.

Adam Lee discusses the religious war on women--including the youngest and most vulnerable. Catholic bishops, he notes,

...are widening their quest to find and root out dissent wherever it may hide, and their gaze has landed on the latest culprits preaching radical feminism and undermining sound doctrine: that den of vipers known as the Girl Scouts.

Why? Because, as noted at HuffPo:

Critics contend that Girl Scouts materials shouldn't contain links to groups such as Doctors without Borders, the Sierra Club and Oxfam because they support family planning or emergency contraception.

Lee observes that "It's stories like this that make all the church's lofty rhetoric ring hollow:"

They claim they want to help the poor, but they're rabidly opposed to empowering women and letting them control the size of their families, which is absolutely essential if you actually want to reduce poverty in the long run. They've taken the teaching of Jesus - "For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them" (Mark 14:7) - and turned it into a prescriptive statement, actively fighting efforts to reduce poverty and thus ensuring an ample supply of poor people upon whom they can bestow charity to demonstrate their virtue.


update (5/23):
Rmuse writes at PoliticusUSA that Republican traitors declared war on the American people, observing that "it started in earnest in January 2011 when Republicans assumed control of the House of Representatives and several state legislatures:"

Shortly after taking their oath of office, Republicans immediately singled out women for their initial assault, and then set out to increase hunger and poverty with vicious spending cuts affecting the poor, children, and elderly Americans. [...] Cutting food stamps, housing and heating assistance, healthcare, and aid to children cannot be misconstrued as anything other than a war on the poor because none of the cuts will reduce the deficit or create jobs, and in fact will eliminate hundreds-of-thousands of jobs if not millions.

Rmuse analyzes Romney's 'first day in office' fantasy, and sees the underlying nightmare, commenting that "if Americans are not appalled at the blatant oligarchy Romney plans, then they are stupider than dirt," an opinion somewhat mitigated by the forces involved. "Republicans have the finest weapons their corporate money can buy," Rmuse notes, "racists, ignorant Americans, and the media:"

If Republican's supporters could get past their hatred of an African American President or their rank stupidity, they would ask Romney and Ryan what exactly they intended to do for the people. If their supporters were not stupid, they would ask why the GOP thinks giving the rich more tax cuts will have any different outcome now than it did eleven years ago when Bush tax cuts were first introduced. If the media did their jobs as advocates for the truth and transparency, they would ask Romney and Ryan how their economic plans benefitted anyone but the rich and corporations, but they do not and it is why Romney gets votes, and Ryan has support for his Draconian budget. The media is as complicit as Republicans in this war on America for never asking the right questions and failing to report what Republican legislation really entails, and if not for the Internet, few Americans would be aware of the looming crisis if Republicans prevail in November.

American Conservative refers to neocon progenitor Leo Strauss as the Right's false prophet because:

the practical influence of Strauss, its manifestation as Straussianism, and Straussianism's connection with neoconservatism still present themselves as intriguing problems in contemporary American intellectual history.

Strauss' focus on "the esoteric meaning of such texts...yields an interpretative strategy both naïve and paranoid:"

Strauss's argument about esotericism is both historically and philosophically incoherent and useless in any methodological sense.

His seminal influence on the neocon movement was, perhaps, inevitable:

Finally, regarding the phenomenon of Straussianism, the cult took hold here for the same reasons that cults generally succeed in the U.S.: ignorance, inexperience, and a desire to have a simple answer to complex problems.

When asked what he finds interesting or surprising, Victor Stenger responded "I find it surprising that most scientists, believers and nonbelievers alike, refuse to apply their critical thinking skills to matters of religion:"

The rationale usually given by those who reject any role for science on religious matters is that science concerns itself, "by definition," solely with natural phenomena. Since the supernatural is unobservable, then, they assert, science has nothing to say about it.

However, while supernatural entities may not be directly observable, any effects these entities might have on the material world should manifest themselves as observable phenomena. Anything observable is subject to scientific inquiry. On the other hand, if the supernatural has no observable effects on the natural world, then why even worry about it?

Stenger concludes with the observation that "scientists and science organizations are being disingenuous when they say science can say nothing about the supernatural:"

They know better. Their policy of appeasing religion for presumably political reasons only empowers those who are muddling education and polluting public policy with anti-scientific magical thinking.

Jerry Coyne replies:

Can anybody really deny that? They do know better, or if they don't, they're dumb.

I wouldn't attribute this faith-driven blindness to an intellectual deficiency, but rather insufficient self-awareness. We all have blind spots, but it's odd that theists' blind spot is something so central to their psychological being.

Michael Lind asks why do conservatives hate freedom? while admitting that " The question may be startling:"

After all, don't conservatives claim they are protecting liberty in America against liberal statism, which they compare to communism or fascism? But the conservative idea of "freedom" is a very peculiar one, which excludes virtually every kind of liberty that ordinary Americans take for granted. [...] Since World War II, mainstream conservatives have opposed every expansion of personal liberty in the United States.

The "appallingly authoritarian" conservative movement opposed civil rights legislation, legalization of contraception and abortion, recognition of LGBT rights (including their current campaign against marriage equality), among other things such as protecting the rights of suspected and accused criminals. Lind asks, "What would America look like, if conservatives had won their battles against American liberty in the last half century?"

Formal racial segregation might still exist at the state and local level in the South. In some states, it would be illegal to obtain abortions or even for married couples to use contraception. In much of the United States, gays and lesbians would still be treated as criminals. Government would dictate to Americans with whom and how they can have sex. Unions would have been completely annihilated in the public as well as the private sector. Wages and hours laws would be abolished, so that employers could pay Third World wages to Americans working seven days a week, twelve hours a day, as many did before the New Deal. There would be far more executions and far fewer procedural safeguards to ensure that the lives of innocent Americans are not ended mistakenly by the state.

That is the America that the American right for the last few generations has fought for. Freedom has nothing to do with it.

Andrew Ferguson's Weekly Standard hit piece on "psychopundit" Chris Mooney's book The Republican Brain snarkily summarizes Mooney's thesis this way:

Mooney's wide-eyed acceptance of this social science, no matter how sloppy or ideologically motivated, is the kind of mistake we're all likely to make once in a while, though seldom with his particular self-confidence and élan. [...] Mooney shuts off his skepticism when he is confronted with what other people tell him is Science. He thinks of his intellectual servility as an unshakable devotion to reason, which pleasingly places him at odds with his irrational political opposites. [...]

On the one hand, conservatives won't like the scientific fact that they tend to deny reality and treat their errors as dogma. On the other hand, liberals won't like the scientific fact that all their well-meaning attempts to reason with conservatives are doomed

Mooney responds here and here, pointing out that "what's particularly interesting is how Ferguson handles the overwhelming evidence of modern day conservative science denial. The basic answer is that he trivializes it."

He attacks a book about how conservatives blithely dismiss science by....blithely dismissing science! [...] Ignoring the weight of the evidence is certainly objectionable, but Ferguson's tone is still more revealing.

Mooney lists several of Ferguson's ad hominem attacks and emotionally-loaded phrases, and concludes:

All of which demonstrates why conservatives should really read and take seriously the research I'm reporting on. If they did, they would know that when you emote like this, you're just tipping your hand and showing that you're engaged in motivated reasoning.

But, it is good to see that The Republican Brain is having its expected effect.

20120514-gaypresident.jpg
Andrew Sullivan's NewsBeast cover story calls Obama the first gay president and talks about attending a Spring 2007 "private fundraiser in a tony apartment in Georgetown" where Obama equivocated on marriage equality with "I think civil unions are the way to go. As long as they are equal." Sullivan was disappointed with this "excruciating nonposition:"

I didn't believe it. I thought he was struggling between political calculation and his core belief in civil rights. And it was then that I realized he was both: a cold, steely, ruthless, calculating politician who nonetheless wanted to do the right thing in the end.

In the runup to last week's announcement, Sullivan writes that "I braced myself for disappointment. And yet when I watched the interview, the tears came flooding down:"

I was utterly unprepared for how psychologically transformative the moment would be. To have the president of the United States affirm my humanity--and the humanity of all gay Americans--was, unexpectedly, a watershed. He shifted the mainstream in one interview. And last week, a range of Democratic leaders--from Harry Reid to Steny Hoyer--backed the president, who moved an entire party behind a position that only a few years ago was regarded as simply preposterous. And in response, Mitt Romney could only stutter.

He disagrees with the cynics who call Obama's statement of principle "pure and late opportunism:"

...when you step back a little and assess the record of Obama on gay rights, you see, in fact, that this was not an aberration. It was an inevitable culmination of three years of work. He did this the way he always does: leading from behind and playing the long game. [...] This, by any measure, is an astonishing pace of change in one presidential term. In four years Obama went from being JFK on civil rights to being LBJ: from giving uplifting speeches to acting in ways to make the inspiring words a reality.


update (5/15):
History News Network (h/t: Will Bunch) assails the magazine for "cheap sensationalism," noting that "Newsweek is desperate for sales:"

The caption is a superficial way to characterize an important development of thought that the president -- along with the country -- has been making over recent years. It is also entirely wrong. [...] There can be no doubt that James Buchanan was gay, before, during, and after his four years in the White House. Moreover, the nation knew it, too -- he was not far into the closet.


update (5/17):
Michelangelo Signorile notes that "For almost four years the president, for political reasons, didn't say he was for marriage equality:"

Then, after being pressured by gays, and after many in his own administration couldn't hold back their own support for marriage equality, the president announced his support in the midst of an election campaign.

The president still qualifies his support, arguing that marriage is a state issue rather than a federal right...the president still hasn't signed the executive order that would give LGBT people who work for federal contractors protections from employment discrimination.

"Let's give the president immense credit for coming out for marriage equality," writes Signorile, but "let's leave the 'gay president' label to those of the past who actually may be shown to have been homosexual...like James Buchanan and--in a fact especially horrifying to Republicans--Abraham Lincoln.

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In capitalists and other psychopaths, the NYT comments on "an ongoing debate in this country about the rich: who they are, what their social role may be, whether they are good or bad. Well, consider the following:"

A recent study found that 10 percent of people who work on Wall Street are "clinical psychopaths," exhibiting a lack of interest in and empathy for others and an "unparalleled capacity for lying, fabrication, and manipulation." (The proportion at large is 1 percent.) Another study concluded that the rich are more likely to lie, cheat and break the law.

The only thing that puzzles me about these claims is that anyone would find them surprising.

There's been a lot of talk lately about "job creators," a phrase begotten by Frank Luntz, the right-wing propaganda guru, on the ghost of Ayn Rand. The rich deserve our gratitude as well as everything they have, in other words, and all the rest is envy.

The article also points out that "if entrepreneurs are job creators, workers are wealth creators [and] neither entrepreneurs nor the rich have a monopoly on brains, sweat or risk:"

There are scientists -- and artists and scholars -- who are just as smart as any entrepreneur, only they are interested in different rewards. A single mother holding down a job and putting herself through community college works just as hard as any hedge fund manager. A person who takes out a mortgage -- or a student loan, or who conceives a child -- on the strength of a job she knows she could lose at any moment (thanks, perhaps, to one of those job creators) assumes as much risk as someone who starts a business.

Enormous matters of policy depend on these perceptions: what we're going to tax, and how much; what we're going to spend, and on whom.

Under a capitalist regime, where money is the metric of worth, then intelligence, talent, and hard work are literally worth less than gambling (with other people's money) on Wall Street.


update (5/21):
Deresiewicz comments on how far out of balance the system has become:

It wasn't enough for the rich to have most of the money. They had to have all of the money. And then that wasn't enough, so they had to have all of the power. And still that wasn't enough, so now they have to have all of the virtue, too.

Scott Neuman asks at NPR, how independent are independents?

There's a lot of talk this election cycle about how important independents will be in deciding the November presidential election and which candidate will win their votes. But exactly how independent are the self-styled independents?

"Truly independent voters do exist," he writes, "but they account for just 10 percent to 15 percent of the electorate." Center for Politics concurs:

Research has demonstrated that, when pressed, independent voters often reveal significant partisan preferences: They lean Democratic or lean Republican. When leaners are reclassified and grouped among their partisan peers the share of pure independents in the electorate falls -- by some accounts -- to less than 10% of the electorate.

A later piece also observes that "most independent leaners are closet partisans rather than true independents:"

Americans who identify themselves as independents but who indicate that they lean toward one of the two major parties generally think and behave more like partisans than like true independents.

In three myths about independents, John Sides notes the increase in the number of voters who claim to be independent, but his analysis also shows that "most independents are closet partisans" with an even smaller percentage of true independents:

20120513-independents.jpg

Again, there is really no difference between partisans of either stripe and independent leaners. As far as their views of Obama are concerned, it doesn't really matter whether you say you're a Democrat or an independent who leans Democrats, and the same is true on the other side of the aisle. Only "pure" independent appear to have evenly divided attitudes as of November, but, as above, these people are only a very small part of the sample--7% overall. [...] 90% of the public is partisan and about 80-90% of those voters vote for their party's candidate.

My favorite question for Republicans-in-Independent-clothing is: When was the last time you voted for a Democrat? Sometimes, an evasion is more illuminating than an answer.

Psychology Today has a piece by Larry Rosen discussing his new book iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us:

An iDisorder is where you exhibit signs and symptoms of a psychiatric disorder such as OCD, narcissism, addiction or even ADHD, which are manifested through your use--or overuse--of technology. Whether our use of technology makes us exhibit these signs or simply exacerbates our natural tendencies is an open question, but the fact is we are all acting as though we are potentially diagnosable. [...]

Our most surprising study examined a thousand teens and adults to see whether technology use might be related to signs and symptoms of psychiatric disorders. The short answer is YES. For each generation, regardless of ethnic background, socioeconomic status, or gender, the more certain technologies are used the more likely it is that the person will exhibit these signs. Different technologies appear to be predictive of different signs. One of the major culprits is social networking, which is a predictor of many disorders.

NYT describes the book as "a pleasant surprise -- lean, thoughtful, clearly written and full of ideas and data you'll want to throw into dinner-party conversation."

A dinner party?! That sounds like too much work--wouldn't it be easier to just tweet some aphorisms and update our Facebook statuses instead?

Discussing the correlation between religiosity and well-being, Jerry Coyne points out that "those societies with higher levels of income inequality, child mortality, incarceration, and lower levels of health care ... are the most religious." Studies have documented "a pronounced (and statistically significant) negative correlation between the degree of religiosity of 17 Western nations (and Japan) and their 'success' as measured by the SSS [Successful Societies Scale]," which is "precisely the same relationship among states (using the HDI [Human Development Index]) as I found among countries: American states with lower HDIs are more religious:"

The HDI uses a set of traits that differ from those used in the SSS: the former amalgamates three traits (life expectancy, education, and income), while the latter combines 25 traits, including corruption, income disparity, child mortality, access to medical care, suicide rates, and so on.

Nevertheless, dead-end deists ignore the facts and insist that religion is indispensible.

An article asking why atheists align with Democrats finds a reason for the unsurprising "preponderance to be towards the left (Democratic) side of the political spectrum:"

The less religious a topic, the less atheists oppose it and the more divided they are in their opinion of it. The more religious a topic, the more atheists oppose it and the more homogenous their opinion of it. This becomes extremely clear with the following issues of women's rights, gay rights, and science [particularly evolution and stem-cell research].

The growth of atheists' numbers combined with their "align[ment] with Democratic policies and issues" has some positive implications:

As the voting block grows, there simply won't be the political support for right-wing religious issues anymore. No matter how hard they try, Republicans won't be able to ignore atheists. They can either fear them and lose or embrace them and change.

Or, more probably, they will do both. As demonstrated by the Uncle Tom Log Cabin Republicans, there could eventually be a group of atheist Republicans whose mere existence could be used as an alleged big-tent example while being demonized by the party's rank and file. The LCR problem is, of course, due to Republicans serving the Bible instead of the Constitution on LGBT issues:

The fact that Republicans immediately, in the dark of night, attached an amendment to a $51.1 billion Department of Justice and Commerce funding bill that reinforces the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) proves they are serving the Christian bible and not the Constitution. It is more evidence that Republicans are bible-inspired bigots who hate any American who is not a white Christian male and does not fit their paradigm of a good American married couple. The blatant hatred Republicans have for the LGBT community that they are willing to spend taxpayer dollars to defend discrimination and punish same-sex couples is nothing less than passive bullying. [...]

They may not be physically bullying gays like Willard Romney did in high school, but they are legislating state sponsored discrimination under authority of the Christian bible and they are breaking their oath of office to support the Constitution's guarantee of equal rights in the 14th Amendment, and failing to abide by the Separation Clause in the 1st Amendment. Their assertion that same-sex marriage is an attack on traditional marriage is fallacious in theory and practicality, but they are not known for objectivity when fear-mongering has worked so well for them in drumming up religious opposition to same-sex marriage.

The Boston Globe points out the evolution and de-evolution in presidential candidates' stances toward marriage equality. "By any objective standard," notes the article, "Obama's previous position was simply untenable:"

His administration ended "don't ask, don't tell" and stopped enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between and man and a woman. Privately, he supported gay marriage, and how and when he would make that clear was regularly discussed among his advisers and the press. But he was plainly in no rush.

"If Obama's evolution was awkward and embarrassing for a modern president," the article continues, "the same is also true of Romney's devolution:"

In 1994, he proclaimed himself "better than Ted Kennedy" on matters of gay rights. But by the time he began running for president in 2007, Romney had restyled himself, in typically heavy-handed fashion, as a staunch social conservative who favored a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage -- a shift in public emphasis no less expedient than Obama's.

In a sense, Obama and Romney are mirror images of one another: on gay rights, each is a cautious pragmatist trying to catch up to his party, although this entails their running in opposite directions.

Obama has progressed to meet both the Democratic majority position as well as that of the whole American people--while Romney has regressed to please Republican reactionaries in a stance that grows more embarrassing with each passing day.

This piece on rethinking Marx and religion is intriguing work. In addition to his well-known "opiate of the masses" remark from the introduction to Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1844), Marx made several other remarks on religion:

The Established Church ... will more readily pardon an attack on thirty-eight of its thirty-nine articles than on one thirty-ninth of its income. Now atheism itself is a culpa levis [a venial sin], as compared with the criticism of existing property relations. [Preface to Capital, Vol. 1 (1867)]

Christianity is...the special religion of capital. [...] One man in the abstract is worth just as much or as little as the next man. In the one case, all depends on whether or not he has faith, in the other, on whether or not he has credit.
[Theories of Surplus-Value, Chapter 24 (1863)]

Paul Lafargue's The Religion of Capital [here or here (PDF)] (1887) are also intriguing, and will perhaps eventually lead to John Raines' Marx on Religion.

Walter Benjamin's Capitalism as Religion (1921) observes that "capitalism is a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was:"

One can behold in capitalism a religion, that is to say, capitalism essentially serves to satisfy the same worries, anguish, and disquiet formerly answered by so-called religion.

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek inverts Dostoyevsky's classic phrase, suggesting that "If there is a God, then anything is permitted:"

Although the statement "If there is no God, everything is permitted" is widely attributed to Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (Sartre was the first to do so in his Being and Nothingness), he simply never said it.

The closest one gets to this infamous aphorism are a hand-full of apoproximations, like Dmitri's claim from his debate with Rakitin (as he reports it to Alyosha):

"'But what will become of men then?' I asked him, 'without God and immortal life? All things are permitted then, they can do what they like?'"

But the very fact that this misattribution has persisted for decades demonstrates that, even if factually incorrect, it nonetheless hits a nerve in our ideological edifice

He continues:

Lacan's reversal - "If there is a God, then everything is permitted!" - is openly asserted by some Christians, as a consequence of the Christian notion of the overcoming of the prohibitive Law in love: if you dwell in divine love, then you do not need prohibitions; you can do whatever you want, since, if you really dwell in divine love, you would never want to do something evil.

The inverse is more accurate:

...it is for those who refer to "god" in a brutally direct way, perceiving themselves as instruments of his will, that everything is permitted. These are, of course, the so-called fundamentalists who practice a perverted version of what Kierkegaard called the religious suspension of the ethical. [...]

Most people today are spontaneously moral: the idea of torturing or killing another human being is deeply traumatic for them. So, in order to make them do it, a larger "sacred" Cause is needed, something that makes petty individual concerns about killing seem trivial. Religion or ethnic belonging fit this role perfectly. There are, of course, cases of pathological atheists who are able to commit mass murder just for pleasure, just for the sake of it, but they are rare exceptions. The majority needs to be anaesthetized against their elementary sensitivity to another's suffering. For this, a sacred Cause is needed: without this Cause, we would have to feel all the burden of what we did, with no Absolute on whom to put the ultimate responsibility. [...] ...without religion, good people would have been doing good things and bad people bad things, only religion can make good people do bad things.

Religion, then, simultaneously justifies and protests transgressions:

Isolated extreme forms of sexuality among godless hedonists are immediately elevated into representative symbols of the depravity of the godless, while any questioning of, say, the link between the more pronounced phenomenon of clerical paedophilia and the Church as institution is rejected as anti-religious slander. The well-documented story of how the Catholic Church has protected paedophiles in its own ranks is another good example of how if god does exist, then everything is permitted. What makes this protective attitude towards paedophiles so disgusting is that it is not practiced by permissive hedonists, but by the very institution which poses as the moral guardian of society.

Dostoevsky's question thus points out another right-wing reality reversal.

WaPo reports on some "troubling incidents" in Romney's past, particularly a 1965 attack on a fellow student during Romney's senior year of high school at Cranbrook:

John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn't having it.

"He can't look like that. That's wrong. Just look at him!" an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann's recollection. Mitt, the teenage son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber's look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school's collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber's hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

The incident was recalled similarly by five students, who gave their accounts independently of one another.

One participant, who later apologized to the victim, called the incident "vicious...a senseless, stupid, idiotic thing to do" to Lauber, who was "terrified." Three decades later, Lauber responded to another classmate's apology for participating in the attack: "It was horrible. It's something I have thought about a lot since then."

Romney's campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul claims that Romney "has no memory of participating in these incidents," which--like many of his claims--strains credibility.


update (4:06pm):
ABC News has more details on the vicious--although brief--assault that Romney is shrugging off as one of a series of unremarkable "pranks" and "dumb things:"

One former classmate and old friend of Romney's - who refused to be identified by name - said there are "a lot of guys" who went to Cranbrook who have "really negative memories" of Romney's behavior in the dorms, behavior this classmate describes as "evil" and "like Lord of the Flies."

The classmate believes Romney is lying when he claims to not remember it.

"It makes these fellows [who have owned up to it] very remorseful. For [Romney] not to remember it? It doesn't ring true. How could the fellow with the scissors forget it?"

AlterNet suggests that conservative religion makes the Right stronger because "conservative religious paradigms...play an essential role in giving conservatives a unique kind of emotional and social durability:"

Conservatives know, beyond the shadow of doubt, that they are on the side of the angels, and this profound sense of spiritual assurance reduces hesitation, spurs action, and increases their willingness to take big risks for the sake of the ultimate victory they know in their bones is coming. They shake off defeat more easily, too, because they know it's only a temporary setback on their way to that promised victory.

Progressives, in contrast, are "suspicious of that kind of deep spiritual certainty, because we know how often it's led people and nations into moral catastrophe."

Religion is a potent social technology -- and its greatest strength is not about theology, but rather in its ability to knit people together in tight, close communities of trust, commitment, care and meaning.

Conservatives may think and believe differently than we do. But their sheer political durability is due to some specific strengths in their communities and characters -- strengths that aren't out of reach for us, even if we arrive at them by different routes.

TruthOut writes about the rising phoenix of common-good conservatism, claiming that "American conservatism has degenerated into an intellectually and morally bankrupt ideology:"

It offers nothing more than bumper-sticker slogans that pander to the prejudices and ignorance of the lowest common denominator in order to enrich and empower an oligarchic elite. Angry, cruel and sneering, it is exemplified by the carnival barkers on talk radio and Fox News. High in volume, but devoid of substance, it has no long-term future because it lacks credible solutions to the range of very real problems American society is facing.

Worse, conservatism "has become infected with a virulent strain of extreme libertarianism heavily influenced by the thinking of Ayn Rand:"

Rand's disciples claim to champion liberty and freedom, but really care only about license - the notion that actions have no consequences and individuals have no broader responsibilities to anything or anyone but themselves.

"America needs a conservatism that can deal with reality," a strain that is lacking in today's political environment. The piece's main prescription is for a "common-good conservatism," which is defined like this:

It is a political philosophy rooted in the stewardship ethic of traditional conservatism. It begins with three simple premises: that recognition of the shared dignity of all human beings is the essential predicate of a just society, that rights always correspond to duties and that we bear a collective responsibility toward one another.

Can such common sense unify both the religious fundamentalists who hold up one of the GOP's tent poles, and the market fundamentalists who wield the other?

A year ago, Obama claimed that "attitudes evolve, including mine" on the issue of same-sex marriage, but it's been an open secret for over three years that he supported marriage equality before reaching the national stage. David Corn called Obama's support for marriage equality "one of the worst kept secrets in Washington," calling it "a looming dilemma for the president:"

Biden's unplanned comments placed this challenge on the center stage, and the president and his aides decided now was the time to confront it, realizing the political consequences could be mixed.

In his landmark speech today endorsing same-sex marriage, Obama grounded this evolution in the faith he shares with the First Lady:

"we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it's also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated. And I think that's what we try to impart to our kids and that's what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I'll be as a as a dad and a husband and hopefully the better I'll be as president."

Religion Dispatches points out this "at odds" situation with right-wing religious rhetoric:

Obama didn't just endorse same-sex marriage today. He abandoned conservative religious rhetoric about it and signaled that religious conservatives, even his close religious advisors, don't own the conversation on what Christianity has to say about marriage.

Predictably, Fox freaked out over the statement and claimed that Obama "declared war on marriage," to which Jason Easley of Politicus USA responded:

They think that it is still 2004 and same sex marriage is a potent culture war issue that will carry them to victory. Same sex marriage is a wedge issue, but not in the way the right thinks it is. [...] ...when Fox News and the right try to revive the culture war and use gay marriage as political wedge, they are only hurting themselves and their party.

Andrew Sullivan cautions that "The interview changes no laws; it has no tangible effect. But it reaffirms for me the integrity of this man we are immensely lucky to have in the White House" while observing that "Today Obama did more than make a logical step. He let go of fear:"

He is clearly prepared to let the political chips fall as they may. That's why we elected him. That's the change we believed in. The contrast with a candidate who wants to abolish all rights for gay couples by amending the federal constitution, and who has donated to organizations that seek to "cure" gays, who bowed to pressure from bigots who demanded the head of a spokesman on foreign policy solely because he was gay: how much starker can it get?

My view politically is that this will help Obama. He will be looking to the future generations as his opponent panders to the past. The clearer the choice this year the likelier his victory.

Obama should be confident that he's on the winning side of this issue, as--for the second consecutive year--a majority of Americans support marriage equality.

20120509-marriage.gif

update (9:23pm):
After being questioned about same-sex marriage, Romney complained to a reporter, "aren't there issues of significance that you'd like to talk about?" In contrast to this insulting dismissal, Obama sent this pro-marriage email to his supporters:

Today, I was asked a direct question and gave a direct answer: I believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. [...]

I've always believed that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. I was reluctant to use the term marriage because of the very powerful traditions it evokes. And I thought civil union laws that conferred legal rights upon gay and lesbian couples were a solution.

But over the course of several years I've talked to friends and family about this. I've thought about members of my staff in long-term, committed, same-sex relationships who are raising kids together. Through our efforts to end the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, I've gotten to know some of the gay and lesbian troops who are serving our country with honor and distinction.

What I've come to realize is that for loving, same-sex couples, the denial of marriage equality means that, in their eyes and the eyes of their children, they are still considered less than full citizens.

Even at my own dinner table, when I look at Sasha and Malia, who have friends whose parents are same-sex couples, I know it wouldn't dawn on them that their friends' parents should be treated differently.

So I decided it was time to affirm my personal belief that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

I respect the beliefs of others, and the right of religious institutions to act in accordance with their own doctrines. But I believe that in the eyes of the law, all Americans should be treated equally. And where states enact same-sex marriage, no federal act should invalidate them.

In his look at the ongoing housing crisis, Felix Salmon notes that "principal reduction is exactly what the country needs right now," although:

... many homeowners might not be able to afford to accept this principal reduction, since after the end of this year, forgiven principal will count as income, for income-tax purposes, and the income tax on $150,000 of windfall income is substantial.

It's a little bit crazy: if these [underwater] homeowners were rational, especially if they live in a nonrecourse state like California, they would just mail their keys in to their bank and be done. That's certainly what the bank would do, in the same situation.

Homeowners for whom principal write-down (called cram-down by banks) would make sense are in a bind, because "If you're current on your mortgage, the banks won't let you refinance, and if you're behind on your mortgage, they won't let you stay in your home:"

The solution, then, is clear. We need to encourage banks -- and servicers -- to mark their mortgages to market, and to do whatever makes sense if they're being realistic about how much those mortgages are worth. And while it's okay to assume that homeowners will develop an emotional attachment to their homes and pay more than necessary to stay in them, it's not okay to take advantage of that fact to extract thousands of dollars a year in extra mortgage payments from those homeowners.

More generally, principal reduction in mortgage modifications has to become the rule rather than the exception. [...] A sluggish housing market will act as an economic drag for as long as millions of homeowners owe vastly more than their house is worth.

B of A (a big player in the subprime arena with their acquisition of Countrywide) is using other people's money to dodge punishment:

BofA will try to extinguish cash penalties by modifying principal on loans they service but don't own. [...] They'll pick and choose the special cases and "pay" their debt to the government with someone else's money.

"Bank of America," notes The Nation, "labors under the dual burden of being both ethically challenged and incompetently managed, so everybody will have a beef today" at their annual shareholder meeting in Charlotte NC:

In what many observers consider a dry run for this summer's Democratic Convention, the city has decided that Constitutional protections end at the city limits. It has outlawed camping, reserves the right to search private property like backpacks, briefcases and duffel bags, and has banned a long list of common objects [including hammers, spray paint, non-soluble liquids, utility knives, and etching materials]. [...]

City officials say these extraordinary--and extrajudicial--measures are designed to prevent criminal behavior before it happens. But it's unlikely that anyone in Charlotte has a longer rap sheet that Bank of America. It's already paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to settle charges that include forgery, perjury, and tax evasion related to foreclosure fraud.

The likelihood that BofA's criminal behavior (lobbying, making false statements, failing to disclose material facts) will be punished is, of course, approximately zero.

Joshua Holland's interview with Charles (Little Green Footballs) Johnson shows that Johnson "has undergone a remarkable political transformation over the past five years:"

Visit LGF today, and you'll find posts decrying his former fellow travelers' knee-jerk Islamophobia, debunking the Breitbrats' steaming piles of nonsense and defending the Obama administration against scurrilous charges from Fox News.

This part of the interview is particularly telling:

JH: You say you have regrets. I wonder is there one thing that you regret more than others? Is there something that stands out in your mind?

CJ: I was totally wrong about Barack Obama. That's one of my main regrets at this point. I really fell for a lot of the right wing propaganda, and I thought he was going to be a communist and a radical leftist and all that stuff. I believed a lot of the propaganda about him. If I could go back I would vote for him now... [...] That was one of the things that really woke me up, seeing the truth as opposed to all the lies that were being spread by this blizzard of propaganda.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Haidt exclaims that "the last 2 weeks have pushed me to be more explicit about criticizing the Republican Party:"

I don't think there's a way forward for our country until something happens that leads to a massive reform of the Republican Party.

"Republicans," he continues, "are irrationally committed to fighting all tax increases," and therefore he concludes that:

Republicans deserve much more of the blame for our current dysfunction, and I am rooting for anything that will change them. That could be a reform movement from within, or a crushing defeat in some distant future election, which empowers the few remaining moderates in the party...

Know hope.


update (5/21):
Haidt walks back his statements, thoughtfully commenting that "my argument in the post was wrong, and...I seem to have gotten 'carried away' by my liberal inclinations."

Slate looks at how the design of printed books will evolve in the digital age:

Luddites can take comfort in the persistence of vinyl records, postcards, and photographic film. The paper book will likewise survive, but its place in the culture will change significantly. As it loses its traditional value as an efficient vessel for text, the paper book's other qualities--from its role in literary history to its inimitable design possibilities to its potential for physical beauty--will take on more importance. The future is yet to be written, but a few possibilities for the fate of the paper book are already on display on bookshelves near you.

From illustrations by William Blake and Gustave Doré to modern formal experiments like Tree of Codes and Nox, the author makes a great case for books as art objects as opposed to commodities:

...the paratextually unremarkable, unimaginatively designed rows of paperbacks and late-edition hardcovers that line most of our shelves...are headed for the same place most manufactured objects go eventually--the scrapheap.

David (Debt) Graeber writes on OWS' liberation from liberalism and notes that, in the wake of last week's under-reported May Day demonstrations, "Occupy is shedding its liberal accretions and rapidly turning into something with much deeper roots, creating alliances that promise to transform the very notion of revolutionary politics in America:"

...when OWS re-emerged in the spring, the abandonment of the liberals, the drying-up of the money, have become an almost miraculous blessing. Activists have honed and polished their street tactics and democratic process. New alliances have been created, with community groups, immigrant rights organizations, and, increasingly, labor unions.

Adbusters talks about efforts around "building coalitions with 'legacy progressive groups', labor unions and immigrant rights organizations, [although] these efforts did not yield the anticipated results:"

In New York, for example, despite amassing a coalition of over a hundred organizations and rallying a crowd of more than 30,000, occupiers were thwarted in their attempts to shut down banks or re-occupy Wall Street. And some Zuccottis have complained that union representatives actively blocked an attempt to lead the crowd toward direct action at the end of the night. Meanwhile in Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, New Orleans and elsewhere, anarchists using Black Bloc tactics stole the show.

If anarchists (more easily misrepresented by media outlets) become the face of Occupy, all bets are off:

Anarchist occupiers are energized and their visceral tactics are attracting members. Now, the power of the Black Bloc is growing within Occupy and pushing the movement in unexpected directions.

Dissent observes that "The signal achievement of the Occupy movement, at least so far, is to challenge the conservative reasoning and the narrative that accompanies it:"

"We are the 99%" conveys a deeply moral, democratic message that represents a leap beyond what most left activists have been saying since the 1960s.

"But," the piece continues, "the very breadth and openness of this proudly leaderless uprising make it difficult to sustain." In an excerpt from his new book Occupy!, Noam Chomsky asks if we're entering a rebellious world or a new dark age:

The Occupy movement has been an extremely exciting development. Unprecedented, in fact. There's never been anything like it that I can think of. If the bonds and associations it has established can be sustained through a long, dark period ahead -- because victory won't come quickly -- it could prove a significant moment in American history.

Wondering if our current trajectory "could become irreversible," Chomsky notes that "the world is now indeed splitting into a plutonomy and a precariat -- in the imagery of the Occupy movement, the 1% and the 99%:"

That's where we're heading. And the Occupy movement is the first real, major, popular reaction that could avert this. But it's going to be necessary to face the fact that it's a long, hard struggle. You don't win victories tomorrow. You have to form the structures that will be sustained, that will go on through hard times and can win major victories.

Asking is your brain right-wing?, Chris Mooney examines recent neurological research and wonders "should we take this research seriously, given its highly controversial nature?"

Political conservatives in the UK have been found to have a larger right amygdala...and also to rely on it more in performing a risky gambling task. Thus, the hypothesis is that the amygdala is involved in conservatives' greater sensitivity to threat, and a suite of political responses that flow from that - harsher views on crime and punishment, for instance, and a greater distrust of out-groups.

Political liberals, meanwhile, have been shown to have more gray matter in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) - a region thought to be involved in error detection, helping us switch out of automatic responses and into controlled, measured responses - and to show greater ACC firing in a task requiring one to change a habitual pattern of responding. And this, in turn, is hypothesised to relate to liberals' greater tolerance of uncertainty and nuance, and stronger acceptance of political change.

Noting the broader implications of incomplete--although tantalizing--knowledge, he concludes that "There is simply no running away from scientific knowledge:"

This bell cannot be unrung. But interpreting its meaning is something else again. My plea: we all have strengths and weaknesses, and if politics is partly rooted in biology, then tolerance and understanding - a full understanding and acceptance of difference - become more important than ever.

Similarly, here's a look at evangelical voters and how their voting rationales differ from those of secular liberals:

When secular liberals vote, they think about the outcome of a political choice. They think about consequences. Secular liberals want to create the social conditions that allow everyday people, behaving the way ordinary people behave, to have fewer bad outcomes.

When evangelicals vote, they think more immediately about what kind of person they are trying to become -- what humans could and should be, rather than who they are.

It's too bad that their beliefs--political and otherwise--are not more amenable to change.

Kevin Drum analyzes a standard memo from the administration about being informed of "additional risks" in the bin Laden raid, which is being spun by the Right into the creation of hypothetical "wiggle room...in case the mission went bad." Drum remarks, "I continue to be amazed at the creativity of the arguments conservatives come up with:"

...the idea of Obama getting credit for killing bin Laden just drives conservatives up a tree. At this point, many of them are, apparently, literally willing to believe anything that suggests otherwise.

Just as in previous presidential election years, the Republicans try anything antics will be all but unavoidable; visit MyRightWingDad for the lowlights.

Chris Mooney makes the case against knee-jerk centrism, particularly the false equivalence of the "centrist 'pox on both your houses' approach:"

Just because the left is not always 100 percent factually correct, it does not follow that the left and right are equally wrong, or that the left and right handle or process information in the same way, or that they're equally biased, just in opposite directions. [...] If knee-jerk centrists really want to make a serious argument, then they should start by showing one or more of the following:

1. The dramatic extent of left anti-science, and how it equals or surpasses right anti-science.

2. The regular mainstreaming of left anti-science in the Democratic Party.

3. Left wing distrust of science that is equal to or greater than right wing distrust, as shown in national polling data.

4. Psychological evidence that the left and scientific community aren't actually aligned, or that the right and the scientific community are just as well aligned as the left and the scientific community.

It should be apparent that no such serious argument will be forthcoming--because none exists.

Roosevelt Institute fellow David Woolner explains http://www.nextnewdeal.net/fdrs-new-deal-shattered-austerity-myth how the New Deal shattered the austerity myth and contrasts our current "fragile yet steady recovery" to the double-dip recession in Europe:

We are told again and again [by the GOP] that the way to create jobs is to reduce spending and cut the size of government. Never mind that these policies have failed in Europe over the past two years, while President Obama's rejection of austerity has resulted in sustained economic growth over exactly the same period.

Writing that socialism isn't the answer, Robert Reich wants to reform capitalism--but not, of course, in the up-is-down manner of Republican "reform." Their demands for more top-heavy tax cuts are "perverse" because "Corporations and the rich don't need more tax cuts; they're swimming in money as it is:"

The reason they don't invest in additional productive capacity and hire more people is they don't see a sufficient market for the added goods and services, which means an inadequate return on such investment.

A New-Deal style share-the-profits recovery is thus excluded from consideration:

A resurgent right insists on even more tax breaks for corporations and the rich, massive cuts in public spending that will destroy what's left of our safety nets, including Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, fewer rights for organized labor, more deregulation of labor markets, and a lower (or no) minimum wage.

This is, quite simply, nuts.

Nuts or not, they have plenty of (Astroturf) support.

Charles Murray asks in the pages of New Criterion:

Given what we know about the conditions that led to great accomplishment in the past, what are the prospects for great accomplishment in the arts as we move through the twenty-first century?

Although I take issue with his dark hints about "problems associated with increased secularism" [such as lower crime, higher education, and longer lives?] and his "strongest conclusion that ... Religiosity is indispensable to a major stream of artistic accomplishment," this article functions as an intriguing appetizer for his 2004 book Human Accomplishment: The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950.

Ron Chusid notes differences between Left and Right in associations with violent fringe, pointing out that "a key difference between the left and right [is that] The right is dominated far more by their more radical elements as compared to the left, with many on the right willing to ignore the problem of right wing violence:"

Occupy Wall Street is to the left of the Democratic Party and many liberal groups but has not shown the degree of extremism seen on the right. As noted above, the local Occupy group immediately repudiated the use of violence and did not try to defend those who promoted violence.

"In contrast," he notes, "it has been common for many in the conservative movement to show reluctance to dissociate themselves from those who promote violence:"

We saw this in the reaction of conservative bloggers to a report from the Department of Homeland Security on far right extremists. We were reminded of the frequent use of violent rhetoric by the conservative movement following the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. Ron Paul has pandered to neo-Nazis and white supremacists to raise money, bringing in elements to the conservative movement which would have been ostracized in past years before the move by the conservative movement to the extreme right.

Their attempts at political philosophy are just as unflattering. A Chronicle piece on right-wing political philosophy looks at Mark Levin's best seller, Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America and asks, "What gives? How can so bad a book, on so serious a topic, sell so well?" After rebutting the claim of mainstream-media blacklisting, the author snarks that "Ameritopia is really Ameritastrophe. It's disastrously bad from beginning to end:"

Levin's tone throughout is alarmist--undoubtedly the chief lure of such books to angry readers bent on demonizing their political opponents. And he is nothing if not a name-caller. Ameritopia, like many polemical bad books in political philosophy, teems with misused abstractions and contains few empirical examples. [...]

When Fox Business News anchor Neil Cavuto asked him if Obama was a socialist, Levin replied that the president is "a Marxist." Only a benighted, philosophically illiterate ideologue could hang the sign of "utopian" on Obama, whose pragmatist bent, exhibited in endless compromise and readjustment of hoped-for goals, makes the judgment ludicrous.

Speaking of alarmist utopian ideologues, in Ayn Rand or Jesus, Mike Lux examines Paul Ryan's sudden disavowal of his former devotion to Rand:

This is the ultimate irony in American political life right now, the conservatives who swear on a stack of Bibles that they worship Jesus Christ when they really bow down to the philosophy of Ayn Rand and the golden idol of the free market to be placed at the center of all other things. They preach of an American exceptionalism blessed by a Christian God, and call for America to be a shining city on a hill which can be an example to the entire world.

Their vision of exceptionalism is a nightmare of Social Darwinism, with Supply-Side Jesus the object of official veneration--and they want to paint liberals as radicals preaching a discredited ideology with violent consequences.

Talk about projection.

Martin Weller extols the virtues of blogging as a scholarly activity with a paean to the publish button:

I have been an active blogger since 2006, and I often say that becoming one was the best decision I have ever made in my academic life.

In terms of intellectual fulfillment, creativity, networking, impact, productivity, and overall benefit to my scholarly life, blogging wins hands down. I have written books, produced online courses, led research efforts, and directed a number of university projects. While these have all been fulfilling, blogging tops the list because of its room for experimentation and potential to connect to timely intelligent debate.


Lee Harris attacked Chris Mooney's Republican Brain, taking issue with conservatives being labeled anti-science. He strives mightily to portray conservatives as the real scientific heroes of his tale, using the paradigmatic example of Johannes Kepler:

If anti-science means challenging the scientific consensus of one's own epoch, then all the great scientists of the past have been anti-science. As the historian and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn has demonstrated, every scientific revolution begins by overturning the dominant scientific paradigm of its time.

Of course, simply challenging the dominant scientific paradigm of the day does not necessarily make you a great scientist. It may simply make you a crackpot.

Is it just coincidental that conservatives' favorite crackpots merely reinforce their pre-existing beliefs? How convenient. The scientific beliefs supported by liberals, by contrast, have better explanatory and predictive value and comport more closely with the best available evidence instead of following the line of industry-funded propaganda. As a rebuttal to Harris, Chris Mooney published this guest post by Dylan Otto Krider:

The problem with [Harris'] argument is that if you take the greatest scientific revolutionaries of the past couple hundred years - Darwin and Einstein - far from being persecuted, they were hailed by the scientific communities in their lifetimes.

He demolishes the key defense by asking "why is Kepler revered?"

Because despite his most deeply held convictions, and despite the years of denial, in the end Kepler did the difficult thing, the courageous thing, really: based on the evidence, he abandoned his religious conviction. [...]

Kepler is not revered for his Republican brain because of its "deep resistance to yielding before mere scientific evidence." He is revered because when confronted with contrary evidence, his Republican brain did a very un-Republican thing: it changed.

Slate's James Sturm writes, "I have decided to boycott The Avengers" due to Marvel's mistreatment of the characters' primary creator, Jack Kirby:

His style was completely original. His characters flew across the page with fierce purpose and yet total abandon, fighting their hearts out against a backdrop of crazy machinery and abstract depictions of elemental energy. Though lacking in finesse, the drawings possessed a brute force that made the reader feel a pulse-pounding urgency that other cartoonists could not elicit. Every panel propelled the story forward at warp speed. Other cartoonists' work hit you with a water pistol; Kirby's slammed you with a fire hose.

Kirby's most creatively fertile decade (the 1960s) saw an output of about 800 pages of artwork per year, from The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and the X-Men to The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Nick Fury. Later decades saw Kirby singled out for onerous contractual restrictions, and his heirs denied any share of Marvel's $4 billion sale to Disney in 2009:

What makes this situation especially hard to stomach is that Marvel's media empire was built on the backs of characters whose defining trait as superheroes is the willingness to fight for what is right. It takes a lot of corporate moxie to put Thor and Captain America on the big screen and have them battle for honor and justice when behind the scenes the parent company acts like a cold-blooded supervillain.

Hero Complex introduces some memories of Jack Kirby's son Neal this way:

"The Avengers," which unites the title characters from four film franchises -- Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk - to save Earth from a cosmic threat. The only person who had a hand in creating all of those characters was the late Jack Kirby, a titan figure in comics, but his heirs weren't invited to the premiere; their presence would be awkward considering their legal quest to reclaim the rights to hundreds of his Marvel creations.

Neal writes, "I think about Dad a lot lately, especially when I see Thor, Captain America, Magneto, or the Hulk on a movie poster:"

My father drew comics in six different decades and filled the skies of our collective imagination with heroes, gods, monsters, robots and aliens; most of the truly iconic ones are out of the first half of the 1960s, when he delivered masterpieces on a monthly basis. I treasure the fact that I had a front-row seat for that cosmic event.

20120503-avengers4.jpg
[Avengers #4 cover by Jack Kirby (1964), featuring the return of Captain America, a character he co-created in 1941]

Getting back to the movie, Comics Alliance speculates "it's not unlikely that The Avengers will earn a hundred million dollars on its opening day alone" and notes that "This represents a pretty big payday to a lot of people:"

...shamefully, the people who aren't making a big profit from these movies are the people (and the families of the people) who did the essential work of creating them in the first place. It's not just Jack Kirby, either, or (Black Widow and Hawkeye co-creator) Don Heck, but also Steve Engelhart, Peter David, Herb Trimpe, Jim Steranko, Roy Thomas and dozens more - the artists and writers who refined and defined the characters appearing in this movie, who fleshed out the original creations and molded them into the figures we cheer for when we see them on the screen.

Some very sensible people are calling for a boycott of this film on those grounds, but I think it's fairly obvious that a boycott of idealistic comic fans isn't going to accomplish much.

CA suggests instead that "as a thank you to the creators who brought you these characters in the first place, who gave you something to enjoy so much -- you match your ticket price as a donation to The Hero Initiative?"

THI is a charity which provides essential financial assistance to comic book professionals who have fallen on hard times. For decades, the comic industry provided no financial safety net to its employees, most of whom it regarded only as freelancers and journeymen, meaning they were offered no health insurance, no unemployment insurance, no retirement plans -- none of the financial support most of us enjoy from our jobs and careers. A small donation will help this agency provide a valuable safety net in times of need to these beloved entertainers.

Savage

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Amanda Marcotte analyzes the faux controversy over Dan Savage's "bullshit" remarks:

The manufactured outrage over Dan Savage's remarks about the Bible that inspired what appears to be a staged walkout at a high school journalism conference may appear on its surface mostly to be a last stand of the anti-gay movement to regain ground by attacking one of the most compelling pro-gay activists in the country. [...]

[The Right] claims that Savage is a "bully" because he accurately recounted what is in the Bible. It's an attempt to redefine acceptable discourse so that statement of uncomfortable facts is considered off-limits, and, in fact, is redefined as "bigotry."

She concludes that "taking umbrage [at Savage's remarks] is, at best, nonsensical, and at worst, some kind of weird ax-grinding that has no respect for the truth:"

Which is basically what this entire Savage dust-up is about. The American right is undertaking a huge project of trying to put right-wing politics beyond criticism by shouting "religious bigotry" any time someone gets in the way of their political agenda. [...] Sounds ludicrous? Well, consider that we're currently debating whether or not it's oppressing Christians to accurately state what's in the Bible. Anyone who is actually supportive of gay rights shouldn't be playing along with this feigned umbrage, because it sure isn't going to stop until it's considered completely off-bounds to oppose anti-gay actions on the grounds that it's an attack on religion.

Bruce Lindner lists several unreasonable reasons for voting Republican, of which this is my favorite:

O -- Gas prices:
(1) High gas prices are due to President Obama's poor energy policies, and since they're high on his watch, it's up to him to resolve it.
(2) They're only dropping now, because of the Republicans in Congress, and Obama doesn't deserve any credit for that.
(3) Oh, and when gas prices were at an all-time high in July 2008 under George W. Bush, that wasn't his fault, it was the fault of the Democrats in Congress. See how this works?

Responding to this Daily Caller piece, Chris Mooney points out that ignoring contrary evidence is typical of right-wing rants. In addition to reality inversion and their penchant for political misinformation, he points out this "deep irony:"

If conservatives are so open-minded, then where is the Daily Caller's discussion of all the relevant counter-evidence?

For example, DC's analysis of political knowledge surveys is flawed:

The widest partisan gap in the survey came in at 30 points when only 46 percent of Democrats -- but 76 percent of Republicans --- correctly described the GOP as "the party generally more supportive of reducing the size of federal government."

Conservatives posture against financial profligacy, but their governance is radically different. Witness their support for deficit spending when it's driven by top-heavy tax cuts, pharma-friendly Medicare benefits, a bloated military budget, unfunded wars overseas, and a drug war at home. I could easily see how Democrats surveyed would be thinking to themselves, "Sure, they talk about reducing the federal government--but they don't do it!"

I would hardly say that "liberals don't understand how conservatives think because they don't recognize conservatives' additional intuitions about loyalty, authority and sanctity." As far their beliefs are concerned, out perceived lack of understanding may well be due to their inability to provide factual support for them.

loving books

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In why I love books, technophile Mark Pack proudly proclaims "I like my gadgets, but I love my books. There is no e-book reader in that monument to technology on the table." He praises their reliability, usability, and searchability, lauding books as "a permanent format for permanent ownership:"

No worries about future legal changes or technological discontinuities suddenly depriving me of books or making them unreadable. No fuzziness about whether you own or are just renting a book. Purchased and mine; simple and easy.

So it should be, for a book is far more than a mere transmission mechanism for words. It is a memory, an entertainment and a form. [...] The look, the touch, the smell, the convenience, the memories - they make books lovable.

Today is the National Day of Reason, and the NDOR website promotes it as a reasonable alternative to prayer:

With faith-based initiatives giving preferential treatment to religious organizations, and strengthened attempts to introduce creationism in public school science classrooms, there has never been a better time in which humanists, atheists and freethinkers should affirm our commitment to the Constitutional separation of religion and government, and to celebrate reason as the guiding principle of our secular democracy.

Rep Pete Stark's proclamation got political:

Our nation faces many problems--bringing our troops home from Afghanistan, creating jobs, educating our children, and protecting our safety net from irresponsible cuts. We will solve these issues through the application of reason. We must also protect women's reproductive choices, the integrity of scientific research, and our public education system from those who would hide behind religious dogma to undermine them.

David Niose refers to NDOP as "the annual fiasco wherein conservative Christians utilize the apparatus of government to publicly exalt their theological beliefs, to ensure that their vociferous anti-secular views are promoted as official state doctrine." Herb Silverman summarizes:

I strongly support the National Day of Reason, although I wish it weren't needed. There would be no National Day of Reason if there were not a government-endorsed National Day of Prayer.

Jonah Goldberg [of Liberal Fascism infamy] writes that Chris Mooney's Republican Brain "purports to show that conservatives are, literally by nature, more closed-minded and resistant to change and facts:"

His evidence includes the fact that conservatives are less likely to buy into global warming, allegedly proving they are not only "anti-science" but innately anti-fact, as well. "Politicized wrongness today," he writes "is clustered among Republicans, conservatives and especially Tea Partiers."

"The data might be correct," Goldberg avers, but "the conclusions are beyond absurd."

Oblivious to the anti-factualness of his criticism, Goldberg blunders onward. He parodies scientific analysis as an "algorithmic whirligig" and calls Mooney's research "inherently undemocratic and ... self-serving bigotry that allows liberals to justify their own closed-mindedness on the grounds that Republicans aren't even worth listening to."

Mooney's response points out that Goldberg "extensively misrepresented The Republican Brain:"

He talks about Republicans having "bad brains," as if this is something that I allege. This is both inflammatory and false. I say no such thing.

...it is hard to miss the irony here. Conservatives are reacting defensively to a book about how they react defensively...just as the book predicted they would.

As for Goldberg's latest screed, The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, Mother Jones points out the following:

Jonah Goldberg argues that liberals craftily use innocuous-sounding yet hackneyed phrases such as "social justice" and "diversity" to obscure their nefarious intentions. Never mind that issue-framing is nothing new in American politics and that conservatives are pretty darn good at it. And never mind that Goldberg's last book, Liberal Fascism, indulged in the very argument-by-sloganeering that he now decries.

AlterNet's Joshua Holland wonders why the conservative brain is more fearful, and wants us to "Consider for a moment just how terrifying it must be to live life as a true believer on the right:"

Reality is scary enough, but the alternative reality inhabited by people who watch Glenn Beck, listen to Rush Limbaugh, or think Michele Bachmann isn't a joke must be nothing less than horrifying. Research suggests that conservatives are, on average, more susceptible to fear than those who identify themselves as liberals [which] has implications for our political world.

The "nightmarish landscape[of] the world around them" is indeed frightening:

The White House has been usurped by a Kenyan socialist named Barry Soetero, who hatched an elaborate plot to pass himself off as a citizen of the United States - a plot the media refuse to even investigate. This president doesn't just claim the right to assassinate suspected terrorists who are beyond the reach of law enforcement - he may be planning on rounding up his ideological opponents and putting them into concentration camps if he is reelected. He may have murdered a blogger who was critical of his administration, but authorities refuse to investigate. At the very least, he is plotting on disarming the American public after the election, in accordance with a secret deal cut with the UN and possibly with the assistance of foreign troops.

On issues as diverse as immigration, terrorism, violent crime, "sharia law," "death panels," global warming "hoaxes," gay "indoctrination" in sex-ed classes, rampant voter fraud, and the ever-popular "War on Christmas," Holland implores us not to "look at these specters haunting the right with exasperation or amusement, but just consider for a moment how bleak the world looks to those who buy into these ideas." It's hard to be empathetic toward their self-inflicted fantasies when they're burying us under a blizzard of bullshit, but we must try.

In his piece on anti-gay pseudoscience, Mooney examines "the underlying psychology behind how conservatives, especially religious ones, can believe such falsehoods" about same-sex marriage (such as Amendment 1 in North Carolina) and asks "Don't Christian conservatives want to be factually right, and to believe what's true about the world?:"

And shouldn't a proper reading of this research actually come as a relief to them, and help to assuage their concerns about dangerous social consequences of same-sex marriage or civil unions? If only it were that simple. We all want to be right, and to believe that our views are based on the best available information. But in this case, Christian conservatives utterly fail to get past their emotions, which powerfully bias their reasoning.

"Christian conservatives," he observes, "rely on their gut emotions to come up with wrong beliefs:"

Their deep emotional convictions guide the retrieval of self-supporting information that they then use to argue with, to prop themselves up. It isn't about truth, it's about feeling that you're right -- righteous, even.

"In the end," he concludes, "facts are facts -- and emotions and gut instincts are an utterly unreliable way of identifying them:"

We can try to be understanding of people different from us -- even when they're manifestly failing at the same task. But the latest research makes it more untenable than ever to base public policy on gut-driven misinformation.


update (5/3):
Amanda Marcotte contemplates the psychology involved, and asks, "Do they really believe this shit?"

I'm not so sure. I've said it before, but I think it's worth repeating: I think they only "believe" it. Which is to say, there are two kinds of ways people believe something. They have things they believe because they're factually accurate: That it's raining outside, that items dropped will fall, that Barack Obama is President. Then there's stuff that isn't real that people believe: that there's a God in heaven and an afterlife, that miracles happen, ghosts exist. These are things you don't really believe in the same way you believe in truths. It's more that these beliefs are convenient to apply a belief-like approach to, because the stories make you feel good or, more commonly, because joining in the belief connects you to your community.

In the end, she writes, "I don't think they believe-believe this stuff:"

I think they're just confused about the difference between fake belief and real belief, though I think they're highly motivated to be confused about it. After all, that confusion helps generate right wing identity. They may even mistakenly believe it's politically beneficial, though the available evidence shows that it instead causes everyone else to think they're nut jobs.

OWS success

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Salon asks if May Day succeeded, and Sean Captain suggests that "May Day failed to become a significant national news story [because] it may have looked like just another case of vague protestors shoving and getting shoved by police:"

A long view of the movement - beyond day-to-day sit-ins and arrests - reveals no "typical occupier" in New York City. Unless "typical" simply means that they are unhappy with and want to change one or more aspects of U.S. government or business institutions. Some advocates are crystal-clear in their critique and reform goals. Others are virtually opaque with vagaries.

That inevitably makes the loosely connected movement hard to parse from the outside.

Josh Harkinson writes that "the Occupy movement's May Day protests were a resounding success:"

...with demonstrations held in more than 100 cities and a march in Manhattan that drew some 30,000 people--more than any Occupy event last fall. But if the movement is going to sustain the kind of momentum that captured the nation's attention six months ago, it must begin to evolve in a different direction. [...] What Occupy really ought to do if it intends to live on is plunge directly into electoral politics on the local, state, and congressional level. It ought to co-opt the Democratic Party.

Occupy Election Day!

CERN's LHC has discovered their second new subatomic particle, named Xi(b)*

20120502-particle.jpg

After crashing particles together about 530 trillion times, scientists working on the CMS experiment at Switzerland's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) saw unmistakable evidence for a new type of "beauty baryon."

Baryons are particles made of three quarks (the building blocks of the protons and neutrons that populate the nuclei of atoms). Beauty baryons are baryons that contain at least one beauty quark (also known as a bottom quark). The new specimen is a particular type of excited beauty baryon called Xi(b)*, pronounced "csai-bee-star." [...]

The Xi(b)* particle had been predicted by a physics theory called quantum chromodynamics, which predicts how quarks bind together to form heavy particles, but had never before been observed.

Amanda Marcotte asks "why are conservatives petrified by sexual freedom?" and reaches some unflattering conclusions. "Pure B.S. is the lingua franca of the anti-choice movement," she writes, which "reveals the utter terror and hatred of feminism, particularly of feminist demands for women's sexual liberation, that is at the heart of the anti-choice movement." In contrast, "most progressives want to make sure that every woman can have sex on their own terms without apology:"

That shouldn't seem so terrifying to conservatives, but it clearly is. It has been terrifying to conservative forces throughout history and across cultures, so there's no real reason to be surprised or skeptical that we have that problem in the United States. By ensuring access to safe, legal abortion, the government ensures women have a right to sex without facing unwanted consequences. That kind of validation of women's right to be free, independent human beings is and always has been what this war is over, which is why anti-choicers have to create this elaborate code language to talk about their views.

She goes on to observe that women "are making exactly the gains feminists of the second wave hoped they would:"

Rape and domestic violence rates are down, contraceptive use is up, women are delaying marriage and childbirth, more women are going to college than ever in history, women are popping up in leadership roles in government and media, and heterosexuality is becoming less compulsive. Any fool can see that most of this wasn't possible without women gaining control over their reproductive systems. Realizing they're losing, conservatives are making a big last stand to turn back the clock by taking this critical control away. The fear of female sexuality feels hysterical, primal even, but if you're dedicated to patriarchy, it actually makes perfect sense to fear letting women control their own sex and reproductive lives.

Sara Robinson suggests that we've finally turned the corner away from fascism. Despite her dismay over our "overall conservative drift since the Reagan years ," she is optimistic that "history may look back on George W. Bush's eight years as the 'Peak Wingnut' era -- a high-water mark in radical right-wing influence and power in America." One reason for this is age-related: "conservatives know that the demographic trends are not on their side, and that whatever limited advantages they enjoy now are receding with every election cycle that passes:"

Right-wing America is old, white, rural, and religious -- a cohort that's shrinking with every passing year, and is even now in the process of being swamped by a tide of voters who are younger, urban, ethnically diverse, and largely non-churchgoing. It was that tide, mobilized, that elected Obama -- the first time it's been heard from, but by no means the last.

In 2010, she feared that "the far right [would] manage to consolidate power fast enough to hijack our democracy entirely, and institute the fascist theocracy of its dreams," but what else, aside from the glacial pace of genetic replacement, changed her mind?

Finally, after years of impotence, average Americans have done the one thing that will make all the difference: they woke up and got pissed. Wisconsin was the first sign. Then came Occupy. Now, this spring, it's sprouting up everywhere, to the point where our would-be fascists can't take a step anywhere without getting their feet tangled up by protestors determined to hold them to account.

The Right's sense that "the clock is running out" leads to desperation:

It's rushing to consolidate its gains as fast as it can, in the hope of slamming America as far to the right as possible in the time it has left -- and also building big, ugly legal obstacles that will make it much harder to undo the damage when the younger, more progressive wave that's rolling in finally does assume full control. [...]

Now that the pushback has started, the GOP has locked itself into a self-destructive cycle in which no change of course is possible. As long as it keeps spinning this way, the odds of a Fascist America will continue to diminish by the month [although] we can expect to see an uptick in violent retribution as the most militant members of the far right make a desperate last stand for their vision of the country's future.

Stephen King writes tax me, for f@%&'s sake and points out that even the charitable donations of the 1% can't "assume...America's national responsibilities:"

the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can't fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, "OK, I'll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS." That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.

Americans tend to worship the wealthy, obviating the need for them to "acknowledge that you couldn't have made it in America without America:"

...those who have received much must be obligated to pay--not to give, not to "cut a check and shut up," in Governor Christie's words, but to pay--in the same proportion. That's called stepping up and not whining about it. That's called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn't cost their beloved rich folks any money.

Nick Moran asks if "total eBook adoption [is] really an ecologically responsible goal," noting that "the average e-reader is used less than two years before it is replaced:"

I used basic arithmetic and some minimal Googling to calculate the carbon footprint of the average American reading an average number of average novels at an average speed both in print and on an iPad.

I determined that it takes five years (32.5 books) of steady eBook consumption (on the same device) to match the ecological footprint of reading the same number of print books the old fashioned way.

Here's his graph:

20120501-greenreading.jpg

"If you live in a household with multiple eReaders," he writes, "your family's carbon emissions are more than 600-750% higher per year than they would be if you invested in a bunch of bookshelves or, better yet, a library card."

sloganeering

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Republicans--by way of Faux News and the Moonie Times--are claiming that Obama's just-unveiled slogan "FORWARD" is actually a word that has "a long and rich association with European Marxism:"
20120501-obama.jpg

David Badash ridicules their silly sliming:

Forward is a leadership position in football, basketball, and rugby. The Forward is also a Jewish-American newspaper. Forward is also the name of several towns in Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Forward is also the name of a truck sold in the U.S. by Isuzu. And Forward is the name of an album recorded by American Idol semi-finalist Ayla Brown.

Interesting that Fox News and the Washington Times didn't bother to make those sports, journalism, geographic, automotive, or musical references.

Conservatives' antipathy to the concept of forward progress is instructive, and points toward a new slogan for their standard-bearer-of-the-moment Mitt Romney:
20120501-romney.jpg

update (1:34pm):
Ron Chusid mocks the manner in which conservatives tremble in fear of moving forward:

To the frightened reactionaries of the right, the priority is avoiding Marxism, despite the fact that (except in their imaginations) there aren't enough supporters of Marxism left to present any threat. To the right wing, liberal ideas such as individual liberty and a market economy which everyone has the opportunity to benefit from, as opposed to oligarchy and plutocracy, are terrifying ideas.


update 2 (5/4):
After further reflection, I have two better solutions:
20120504-romney.jpg
This one preserves the original "R" as well as reversing the period's position to the wrong end of the word. Also, it makes me chuckle.

So does this one:
20120504-romney2.jpg

stop CISPA

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In stop CISPA in 5 minutes, Business Insider writes that "if we want to keep the Internet free of over-governance and widespread state surveillance without warrant, opposing CISPA is crucial:"

It has already passed the House and now heads to a Senate vote. Here's a quick action kit you can use to make your voice heard -- in as little as 5 minutes, you can do almost everything you can "reasonably" do to help prevent CISPA from becoming the law of the land.

Educate yourself, sign a petition, call your Senators, and follow the situation online...that's pretty much it.

Can we warn millions of Americans in time? Can we all present massive opposition to CISPA as it is currently worded? Absolutely.

Slate notes that CISPA will flood the US government with more data that it can handle. Leaving aside the "centralized, paternalistic, 'trust us with your personal data' approach," the author notes that CISPA "makes little technological sense given the complexity and growth trends of today's digital networks, systems, and services:"

Over the last decade or so, thoroughly analyzing the world's data to identify potential cyberthreats has gone from difficult to impossible. The volume of digital information has become far too large.

Last year's online data creation and replication amounted to approximately 1.8 trillion gigabytes, and the article notes that "thoroughly analyzing all of that traffic...is simply not possible."

It's also not appropriate in an ostensibly free nation.

20120501-iwouldprefernotto.jpg

Even more obvious since the May Day protests, OWS owes a debt to Herman Melville--particularly relevant is the observation that "Bartleby was the first laid-off worker to occupy Wall Street:"

And the way that Melville represents Bartleby's occupation can help us understand the power of the endlessly intriguing movement that is promising to return with renewed fervor this spring. What's more, this staple of the English Literature curriculum can speak to the ways that Wall Street itself is coming to occupy the classroom itself.

If you haven't read the novella already, I recommend this edition. Melville House Press offers an intriguing illuminated edition, and comments here that, passive protestations aside, "Bartleby is not idle:"

Instead he is invoking what Melville believed to be the most powerful of stances: dissent. Bartleby is peacefully defying those that believe their will is stronger than his. [...] Bartleby thus becomes the ideal and most realistic patron-saint of a movement like Occupy, which strives above all things to say "no" to the assumed course of action.

Here is another excerpt from Chris Mooney's Republican Brain, this one looking at the science of partisanship and how motivated reasoning ("thought and argument that seems rational and dispassionate, but really isn't anything of the sort") is built into the human brain. Mooney writes that we are "driven to interpret information in a biased way, so as to protect and defend our preexisting convictions:"

...motivated reasoning might perhaps best be thought of as a defensive mechanism that is triggered by a direct attack upon a belief system, physically embodied in a brain...the individual -- or the individual in a self-affirming group that does not provide adequate challenges -- is capable of going very wrong, because of motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.

Along those lines, this image struck me as mordantly amusing (h/t: Weekly Sift):

20120501-excuses.jpg

I would cut a slice from "liberal media bias" to add their "let's agree to disagree" dodge, but otherwise it's fairly comprehensive.

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