September 2014 Archives

religious freedom

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The religious freedom for me, but not for thee attitude is illustrated here:

On May 5th, 2014, SCOTUS ruled to allow the practice of sectarian prayer before government meetings to continue. The United States moved a step closer to full blown Scalia Law that day. Teavangelicals were tickled!

Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, expressed his glee to a Washington Post reporter:

"Today's Supreme Court decision is a great victory for religious liberty".

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins was similarly chipper is his statement to the Washington Post:

"The court has rejected the idea that as citizens we must check our faith at the entrance to the public square".

Flash forward four months later. What do Teavangelicals think now?

The loss of special privilege had a delightful manifestation:

An Agnostic Pagan Pantheist by the name of David Suhor delivered an invocation for the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners. It was awesome!

"I think they should not be offering a prayer or sponsoring a prayer of any particular religion," He explained. "Instead I think they should have an more exclusive moment of silence which allows anyone to pray according to their own conscience".

"In a way I would like for other people to experience what it's like when I go to a meeting and am asked to pray against my conscience".

Watch the video:

Escambia County School Board member Jeff Bergosh issued this warning:

"You're never going to get to do a satanic prayer... never".[...] What if a "Witch Doctor" comes to the podium with a full-on costume, chicken-feet, a voodoo doll and other associated over-the-top regalia? It could easily get out of hand..."

They prattle about having religion in schools and in the public square--but only their religion. When they're listening instead of controlling, then "religious freedom" is a problem for them.

FDR

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Next New Deal discusses Ken Burns' Roosevelts, a seven-part, fourteen-hour PBS documentary:

The film also has much to say about the transformative nature of government: the idea, which all three Roosevelts shared, that it was the responsibility of government to serve as the primary guarantor of social and economic justice for all Americans - not just the privileged few at the top. It was this belief that formed the basis of Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism and Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, and this belief that helped inspire Eleanor Roosevelt's efforts to craft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was ratified by the United Nations just three years after its 1945 founding.

What is often overlooked in this story is the role that all three of these remarkable leaders played in helping to preserve the American free enterprise system, of trying to mitigate the worst excesses of capitalism, not only out of a desire to protect the American people from exploitative labor practices or fraudulent financial dealings, but also out of a desire to protect our very way of life during an era when liberal capitalist democracy was under siege in much of the rest of the world.

The piece reminds is that "as much as we may admire the leadership of the Roosevelts, none of their accomplishments would have been possible without the support of the American people:"

Leadership, after all, is a dynamic process that requires the cooperation of the both public figures and the public, and if we are living in an age that seems incapable of producing transformative government, we need to recognize that in a democracy it is the people who bear the final responsibility for their fate.

Franklin Roosevelt perhaps put it best when he urged the American people to recognize that "government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and Senators and Congressmen and Government officials but the voters of this country."

This NatGeo interview with Burns contains this gem:

"Franklin Roosevelt is, without a doubt, the greatest president of the 20th century. And even though I'm a Lincoln guy, he lives up to Lincoln in my eyes."

It is certainly fitting that FDR has a monument in Washington DC, putting all four of our greatest presidents in close proximity.

DMB

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Kevin Craft, writing in The Atlantic, discusses the Dave Matthews Band, and asks, "Why do their many detractors talk so much about the fan base, instead of the music?"

There's a longstanding perception that the group's diehard fans are just swarms of doofusy frat bros, flocking to the band out of some sort of musical groupthink rather than a genuine interest in artistic expression.

Is there any truth to that perception?

An eclectic collection of blues, rock, funk, and folk songwriting, the [band's debut] album gained traction slowly, eventually pushing DMB into the mainstream. Its first single, the almost jazzy "What Would You Say," would receive ample air time on pop radio, providing a contrast to the fuzzed-out guitar anthems of more established early '90s acts. [...]

Unable to lump the group within the established rock taxonomy, many people reverted to associating DMB with stereotypes about its fans. On the rare occasions that they're not focused on the demographics of the band's listeners, detractors snicker at the group's tendency toward jam sessions, both live and in studio.

In summary, "to discount DMB's two-decade career as an exercise in peddling shlock to middlebrow college kids is fundamentally unfair:"

Whether or not the group's songs jibe with your tastes, they've created a unique sound in a medium replete with predictability and sameness, and they've attracted a passionate following. This may not make the group may as artistically or generationally important as iconic American rock acts like The Beach Boys or The Ramones, but it means they merit a designation longed denied them: a great American band.

Aside from country of origin, that puts DMB in the same category as other commonly-maligned bands such as Rush and Yes.

uncommon

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Here's my Quote of the Day, from Malcolm McCullough's "Governing the Ambient Commons" in the Summer issue of The Hedgehog Review:

Fortunately, the rise of a more networked age has established that commons are not socialist regimes, or indeed states or markets at all. They are, instead, necessary complements to both states and markets. Perhaps no better explanation of this exists than the recent contribution by Lewis Hyde, Common as Air. By now, most scholars know that the oft-cited tragedy of the commons doesn't describe a commons at all. Indeed, "Garrett Hardin has indicated that his original essay should have been titled 'Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons,'" Hyde explains, "though better still might be 'The Tragedy of Unmanaged, Laissez-Faire, Common-Pool Resources with Easy Access for Noncommunicating Self-Interested Individuals.'" (pp. 50-51)

As long as they have a bumper-sticker phrase, however, conservatives will misuse Hardin as they do Adam Smith.

parents and Saga

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Mark Peters tells parents, "you need to read Saga:"

This is an ongoing Image comic by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples that puts a sci-fi spin on adventures in parenthood and marriage. Underneath all the space monsters, warring factions and ghost nannies is the simplest drama of all: How the hell are you supposed to raise a kid in a galaxy like this?

He deftly dismisses the glamour of a possible page-to-screen translation:

I assume "Saga" will eventually be a TV show or movie, but I don't care and neither should you. "Saga" is perfect as is: a glorious reminder of how spectacular comics can be. If I could only buy one comic a month, this would be it--and I don't even have kids.

risky bets

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Robert Reich uses The Donald as an example of our two-tiered system of economic justice:

Thirty years ago, on its opening day in 1984, Donald Trump stood in a dark topcoat on the casino floor at Atlantic City's Trump Plaza, celebrating his new investment as the finest building in Atlantic City and possibly the nation.

Last week, the Trump Plaza folded and the Trump Taj Mahal filed for bankruptcy, leaving some 1,000 employees without jobs.

Trump, meanwhile, was on twitter claiming he had "nothing to do with Atlantic City," and praising himself for his "great timing" in getting out of the investment.

In America, people with lots of money can easily avoid the consequences of bad bets and big losses by cashing out at the first sign of trouble.

The laws protect them through limited liability and bankruptcy.

But workers who move to a place like Atlantic City for a job, invest in a home there, and build their skills, have no such protection. Jobs vanish, skills are suddenly irrelevant, and home values plummet.

They're stuck with the mess. [...] As long as the laws shield large investors while putting the risks on ordinary people, investors will continue to make big bets that deliver jackpots when they win but create losses for everyone else.

Average working people need more fresh starts. Big corporations, banks, and Donald Trump need fewer.

BBW

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Book Riot suggests that we should stop celebrating Banned Books Week:

Celebrating banned books week is a marketing opportunity in many corners of the book world, and not without reason. These books are important. They deserve to be talked about. Talking about these books matters because it's how we talk about reading, about the sharing of ideas, and about why books and words are tools for growth.

But there's a fine line between celebrating banned books week and marketing books because they've been censored. This isn't a week about profits or how to sell these banned books. [...]

When we "celebrate" banned books week, we strip the context of censorship from the equation. Books are the conduit for discussion, but they aren't the purpose. Their being banned isn't the celebration.

The celebration is intellectual freedom.

That's a great point, and CBR cautions us against complacency:

And in case you think this stuff is ancient history, here's a reminder: It just happened again last week.

EW's list of 10 essential banned and challenged graphic novels is a decent one, reminding us that "While comics are now being taken seriously as literature, they're also being challenged and banned along with literature:"

Below is a list of 10 essential graphic novels that have been deemed, at some point, unworthy of First Amendment protection. Taken together, they're a measure of just how far we have to go when it comes to freedom of speech--and how far comics have come, in terms of popularity as well as their ability to embody everything from satire to education to poignancy.

I've read six of the ten books on the list, and have just begun a seventh--but I have the luxury of being more impervious to censorship than many other readers.

Openly Secular

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Earlier this year, the Richard Dawkins Foundation announced a coalition "aimed at raising awareness about the underreported civil equality issue of our time, and helping nonreligious people reveal their beliefs in the safest way possible." The Openly Secular website is now live, stating that their mission "is to eliminate discrimination and increase acceptance by getting secular people - including atheists, freethinkers, agnostics, humanists and nonreligious people - to be open about their beliefs."

Their report entitled "Opening Minds, Changing Hearts: A Guide to Being Openly Secular" (PDF) candidly states that it's "a common experience for many people who conceal, downplay, or in some cases, have to be untruthful about their secular beliefs:"

Choosing not to affiliate with a religious institution is becoming increasingly normal, but expressing doubt or disbelief in the existence of god, gods, or supernatural phenomena is still taboo. To majority of Americans, being secular is unacceptable. [...]

We believe that secular people have remained silent for far too long. This toolkit provides practical information on how to be openly secular.

The closet is a large part of the problem:

According to a 2012 Pew study, more Americans say they do not believe in God or a universal spirit (7%), than say they are atheists (2.4%). These people have not opened up about their atheism to themselves. The term "atheist" generates many negative connotations, resulting in people avoiding the label--but avoidance is exactly how the label gets its power.

The report goes on to dispel eight common myths about secular individuals (that we're angry, arrogant, immoral, etc.) and generally does a good job of it.

Right up there with Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, George Marshall's Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change looks to quickly join my reading list. Grist writes that Marshall's book is "a fantastic, if slightly depressing, introduction to the social and psychological science involved," and makes some trenchant remarks about the "rolling coal" assholes:

Diesel pollutants, unlike carbon dioxide, are local. The asthma and cancer these guys are spreading are not afflicting coastal liberals, but the very rural communities they call home. They are effectively punching themselves and their families in the face because Obama said face-punching is bad.

As Melissa Dahl notes on New York magazine's (excellent) new blog Science of Us, this, like so much of recent American politics, can be explained through the panic of rural white men who are losing cultural power. As "Real Americans" become more and more of an inward-looking, revanchist cult, they increasingly define everything outside their bubble as one giant lump of evil.

Corey Robin snarks that "the truth is, though conservatives are supposed to care about conserving the past for the sake of the future,"

...they've always had a strangely distended notion of time. Even Burke. An almost teenage, James Dean-esque, version of time. In which we're burning the candle at both ends, so why worry today about what we may not survive to experience tomorrow?

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