June 2015 Archives

American Prospect argues that there is no slippery slope from same-sex marriage to polygamy:

According to conservatives, those who want to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples cannot explain why it should stop there. At the Supreme Court's oral argument Justice Samuel Alito invoked not only polygamous marriage but also the caring relationship of a brother and sister who reside together. Assuming consent and mutual commitment, why not let them all wed?

Despite recognizing some supportive relationships for legal or medial circumstances, the piece notes:

Such relationships, however, are not marital. The spousal bond includes a sexual dimension that would be deeply destructive if introduced into other familial relations. The distinctive forms of love and care that characterize healthy family relations among parents and children depend on the exclusion of sexual relations.

I still haven't seen a good argument against recognizing poly marriages.

gun control

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Salon isn't making any friends at the NRA with this piece observing that "requiring people to apply for a permit before buying a handgun helped Connecticut quietly reduce its firearm-related homicide rate by 40 percent:"

Connecticut's "permit to purchase" law, in effect for two decades, requires residents to undergo background checks, complete a safety course and apply in-person for a permit before they can buy a handgun. The law applies to both private sellers and licensed gun dealers. [...]

The [Johns Hopkins] study found a 40 percent reduction in gun-related homicides. Bolstering what researchers say is the correlation between the permit law and the drop in gun homicides, there wasn't a similar drop in non-firearm homicides.

Many gun-control measures have broad public support: "72 percent of Americans and 59 percent of gun owners support laws requiring people to get licenses before they can buy a handgun." The study on the "Association Between Connecticut's Permit-to-Purchase Handgun Law and Homicides" concludes the following:

We estimated that the law was associated with a 40% reduction in Connecticut's firearm homicide rates during the first 10 years that the law was in place. By contrast, there was no evidence for a reduction in nonfirearm homicides.

FirstLook's take on future harm from identity theft identifies four-year-old Benjamin Nuss as "one of the nearly 80 million people whose social security number and personal information were compromised in this year's Anthem data breach:"

While it may seem trivial to think about the harm a preschooler will suffer from a data breach, the question is not what happens to him now, but what will happen years from now. Data theft poses an indefinite threat of future harm, as birthdate, full name and social security number remain a skeleton key of identity in many systems.

Benjamin's mother commented that, "With Benjamin, well, we're going to have to watch his information forever." As I've written previously, the financial industry has done a masterful job in passing the buck by turning fraud (the theft of their money) into "identity theft" and thereby making us clean up their messes.


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H/t to Slate's Will Oremus for linking to Bloomberg Businessweek's 38,000-word essay by writer/programmer Paul Ford on "What Is Code?" As Oremus notes, "His prose is a pleasure to read, and sharp little insights abound."

Read the piece on the Web, and you'll encounter even more goodies: clever interactive elements, embedded videos, a little Easter Egg at the end. (Just don't skim too lightly, or an annoying little animated character will harass you about it.) As a work of experimental journalism, it's a wonderful achievement.

With help from Codecademy or Khan Academy, coding could become nearly universal:

I am convinced that anyone who wants to better understand the nature of software should start by simply experiencing it firsthand. To program professionally is hard and requires a lot of experience, but to program recreationally is easy and requires none.

union yes!

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In explaining how unions increase wages, TNR observes that "non-unionized workers earn much less over their lifetimes:"

Teachers who do not belong to unions lose $475,000 of potential income over their careers; transportation workers, $687,000; construction workers, $1,082,000. Those in life, physical, and social sciences come out as the biggest losers, missing out on $1.5 million dollars.

In the words of the Century Foundation's paper "Virtual Labor Organizing" (PDF), "joining a labor union is one of the best financial decisions a worker can make to boost individual and family wealth:"

According to published reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median earnings for a two-income, nonunion family are $400 a week less than that of a union family. Over a lifetime, that adds up to more than a half million dollars in foregone wealth.

Additionally, "a 2007 study found that nearly 60 percent of workers would join a union if they could; yet, that same year, only 12 percent of workers were members of a union." To aid in organizing efforts, the paper recommends the use of "technology [that] would allow workers an easy and efficient means to communicate effectively and safely outside the view of the employer:"

Conducting an organizing campaign quickly and discreetly--until a majority of workers have signed authorization cards-- allows workers to have meaningful conversations about the workplace and the benefits of organizing, without employer threats or anti-union campaigns.

Employers want to maintain the existing power imbalance, and have a financial interest in keeping workers isolated and impoverished; we need thumbs on the scale to even things out.


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Time discusses the new Miley Cyrus project #InstaPride, "a collaboration between Cyrus and Instagram that launches June 15:"

In an effort to boost awareness and acceptance of people across the gender spectrum, Cyrus is using her platform to focus public attention on about a dozen subjects whose portraits will live on Instagram branded with the #InstaPride hashtag.[...]

"Anyone should be able to express how they feel, without question, and be able to live," Cyrus says. "And use the f--ing public restrooms."

AlterNet's Tim Wise points out in mimicry is not solidarity that, rather than acting as an ally, "she opted to simply become black, to speak for and as those others:"

Perhaps it was her way of obtaining the authenticity to which she felt entitled because of her sensibilities, and which she felt had been denied her by those whose approval she sought. [...]

She wasn't willing to pay her dues, to follow the lead of people of color. She didn't want to do the hard and messy work, struggling with other white people and challenging them, which is what SNCC told us white folks to do in 1967, and what Malcolm had already said shortly before his death. She wanted to be done with white people altogether, to immerse herself in blackness, yet, as a white person, she knew she could never do that fully. And so, instead, this.

"We need not pretend to the burdens of others in order to get busy making our whiteness, though still visible, no longer relevant to our place in the world;" he says. Would that she had realized that--or even heeded her parents' injunction to simply tell the truth:

"We taught our children, as we raised all 6 of them, 'Tell the truth. Always be honest.' So we weren't going to lie, we told the truth," Ruthanne said. "Rachel is our birth daughter." [...] The Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP was scheduled to meet with Rachel Dolezal on Monday, but that meeting has been postponed.

BuzzFeed talks to her adopted brother, who recounts her plea to him three years ago: "don't blow my cover."

"She just told me, 'Over here, I'm going to be considered black, and I have a black father. Don't blow my cover,'" Ezra Dolezal, 22, told BuzzFeed News in an interview.

Rachel also told him to tell people that he and her other adopted brother were her "blood brothers," he said.

His sister did not offer "any logical explanation" for why she was changing her identity, and Ezra never confronted her about it. But it was the next stage after growing apart from her parents, Ruthanne and Larry Dolezal, and leaving their home in Montana. [...] "She puts dark makeup on her face and says she black," he said. "It's basically blackface," he said.

Why did she do it?

Ezra believes the only reason his sister would change her identity was due to the racism she claimed to have encountered at Howard University, where she graduated with her master's degree in fine art in 2002.

Here's part of her statement of resignation from the NAACP:

I am delighted that so many organizations and individuals have supported and collaborated with the Spokane NAACP under my leadership to grow this branch into one of the healthiest in the nation in 5 short months. In the eye of this current storm, I can see that a separation of family and organizational outcomes is in the best interest of the NAACP.

It is with complete allegiance to the cause of racial and social justice and the NAACP that I step aside from the Presidency and pass the baton to my Vice President, Naima Quarles-Burnley.[...]

Please know I will never stop fighting for human rights and will do everything in my power to help and assist, whether it means stepping up or stepping down, because this is not about me. It's about justice. This is not me quitting; this is a continuum. It's about moving the cause of human rights and the Black Liberation Movement along the continuum from Resistance to Chattel Slavery to Abolition to Defiance of Jim Crow to the building of Black Wall Street to the Civil Rights and Black Power Movement to the #‎BlackLivesMatter movement and into a future of self-determination and empowerment.

Smoking Gun tells the tale of how she "once sued Howard University for denying her teaching posts and a scholarship because she was a white woman:"

According to a Court of Appeals opinion, Dolezal's lawsuit "claimed discrimination based on race, pregnancy, family responsibilities and gender." She alleged that Smith and other school officials improperly blocked her appointment to a teaching assistant post, rejected her application for a post-graduate instructorship, and denied her scholarship aid while she was a student.

The court opinion also noted that Dolezal claimed that the university's decision to remove some of her artworks from a February 2001 student exhibition was "motivated by a discriminatory purpose to favor African-American students over" her.

Curioser and curioser...

Scott Timberg pessimistically suggests that the US middle class will die with the Baby Boomers:

It's no secret that the American middle class has been on the ropes for a while now. The problem isn't just a crippling recession and an economic "recovery" that has mostly gone to the richest one percent, but the larger shifting of wealth from the middle to the very top that's taken place since the late '70s. [...]

It turns out that those concerned about a tattered middle class are right about most of it, but overlooking one thing: Boomers - or rather, a particular strain of Boomer and near-Boomer - are doing great. That is, if you were born in the '40s, you are going to be the last American generation to enjoy a robust safety net, and your gray years will be far more comfortable than those a decade older or younger.

We don't begrudge these people - our teachers and professors, our older friends, our parents and other relatives - comfort in their gray years.

"But you know what else the original Boomers brought us?" he snarks:

Despite their dabbling with progressivism and hippie utopianism, this group served as the shock troops for market-worshipping neoliberalism and the Reagan-Thatcher shift in the '70s and '80s. They gave us junk bonds and the privatization push and Gordon Gekko. Some of them went into the corporate world and started dismantling.

Let's hope they enjoy their retirements. But these gray Boomers and grayer Silents - not all of them, but enough to do substantial damage - put forces in motion that mean for the rest of us, the twilight years will be significantly less cozy.

In precarity rising, however, Aaron Benanav discusses socialists "insisting that there is nothing fundamentally new in the contemporary condition of the working class:"

If anything, they claim, we are returning to the sort of capitalism that prevailed during the laissez-faire era. Thus, in their view, the old strategies should apply more, not less. [...]

If it can be shown, on the contrary, that the conditions of the working class have radically changed, then we simply cannot re-apply the same inherited political strategies. Instead of justifying a return to old solutions, we will have to find new ones.

He notes that "job insecurity has always been a feature of working life in capitalist societies:"

The news media makes it seem as if new forms of insecurity are about to become the norm in the US, as if the majority of workers were about to end up employed at arm's length in the so-called sharing economy (driving cars for Uber or working as Taskrabbits). The fact is that ostensibly novel forms of precarity - such as working for temp agencies and sub-contracting firms or as dubiously "independent" contractors - affect, as yet, only a small minority of workers.

This so-called 'independence' should be read as "unpredictability," as it gradually leads to "the widespread collapse of workers' bargaining power:"

To what extent do conditions of work and struggle, today, actually mirror those of the Gilded Age? Then, as now, rates of unionization were low and limited to skilled workers. With notable exceptions like the IWW, unions generally ignored the semi-skilled and unskilled. Meanwhile, there was no safety net for workers thrown out of work.

Will history repeat itself, or merely rhyme?

In discussing how left-wing Democrats are finally winning against Wall Street, William Greider sees the trade-deal rebellion as "the start of something far bigger--the revival of the Democratic party as a born-again advocate for working people and economic justice:"

After 25 years of losing out to Wall Street and corporate interests, the party's faithful constituency base managed to take down their Democratic president and his sweetheart deal with the big money. The left-liberal policy groups and grassroots activists agitating for change stood their ground against the power elites and, for once, they triumphed. [...]

Disregard for the party faithful began with Bill Clinton back in 1992. Labor was edged aside. Wall Street replaced it as the senior managing partner of the Democratic coalition. Clinton ran on "Putting People First" but he governed according to the needs of big business and finance. His permissive policies on so-called "free trade" globalization were especially damaging to American workers and middle-class prosperity.

"On the Democratic left, the spirit of reform is resurgent," he says--is hope far behind?

Jeffrey Tayler declares that Scalia is unfit to serve on the Supreme Court:

Sufferers of faith-derangement syndrome (FDS) exhibit the following symptoms: unshakable belief in the veracity of manifest absurdities detailed in ancient texts regarding the origins of the cosmos and life on earth; a determination to disseminate said absurdities in educational institutions and via the media; a propensity to enjoin and even enforce (at times using violence) obedience to regulations stipulated in said ancient texts, regardless of their suitability for contemporary circumstances; the conviction that an invisible, omnipresent, omniscient authority (commonly referred to as "God") directs the course of human and natural events, is vulnerable to propitiation and blandishments, and monitors individual human behavior, including thought processes, with an especially prurient interest in sexual activity.

Secondary symptoms exhibited by sufferers of FDS comprise feelings of righteousness and sensations of displeasure, even outrage, when collocutors question, reject or refute the espousal of said absurdities. Tertiary symptoms, often present among individuals self-classifying as "evangelicals": Duggar-esque hairdos and Tammy Bakker-ian makeup, preternaturally sunny dispositions and pedophiliac tendencies, sartorial ineptitude and obesity.

One incident he examines happened last week during "a commencement speech at an all-girls Catholic High School in Bethesda, Maryland" where he made the declaration that 'Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so,'" seeming to support a literalist-friendly young-Earth cosmology:

Scalia rejects the fact of evolution - the foundation of modern biology - in favor of the opening chapter of a compendium of cockamamie fables concocted by obscure humans in a particularly dark age, evidence that his faculty of reason has suffered the debilitating impairment associated with acute FDS. He therefore cannot be relied upon to adjudicate without prejudice and should be removed from the bench henceforth.

An interview with Jennifer Senior yielded another incident:

He leaned toward her and whispered, surely with eyes ablaze, "I even believe in the Devil ... he's a real person. Hey, c'mon, that's standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that."

Tayler's assessment is brutal:

You had just committed an outrage against reason, voicing belief in Beelzebub, a comic-book bugaboo the pedophile pulpiteers of your creed have deployed to warp the minds of their credulous "flocks" for two millennia. You had just declared yourself a biblical literalist, and therefore an enemy of historical fact.


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In the rise of the ripped, British journalist Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore reminds us how "past generations [of] men were not expected to be extremely well-muscled:"

A slight stomach or skinny arms were okay. While many men played sports, few went to the gym merely to beef up. Today, however, shifting gender roles and the rise of social media - where everything is recorded and broadcast on smartphones - has led to increasing pressure on men, as well as on women, to look 'perfect'. [...]

Images of this hyper-sexualised, commodified male are everywhere, from Hollywood films to glossy magazines and billboard advertising. British journalist Mark Simpson calls them 'spornosexuals,' men who want to look like sportsmen or porn stars, chiselling their physiques through a cocktail of gym sessions, diets and drugs."

"This is a visual culture for men, by men," she writes, in an unspoken parallel to Cosmo's airbrushed and Photoshopped female figures for an audience of women. The parallel to anorexia is that "Use of anabolic steroids and aggressive fat-strippers can morph into muscle dysmorphia, a disorder in which putting on muscle mass becomes all-consuming:"

One study in the United States, published in the journal Depression and Anxiety in 2010, found that 50 per cent of sufferers surveyed had attempted suicide at least once.

Media outlets such as the Daily Mail and TMZ.com now hold men to the same impossible standards as women. Muscular bodies are praised, and the rich and famous mocked for their 'man boobs'. Celebrities are not the only targets.

"It's hardly surprising then that men's body dissatisfaction tripled from 1972 to 1997," she observes:

"While the Barbie doll's body has been getting thinner and thinner over the years, action figures such as GI Joe have been getting more muscular."

Raphaël Vinot discusses ethics in IT, beginning with the observation that "The network is in terrible shape:"

Stolen identities float around by millions. The private information on your phone and computer is all over the internet in thousands of badly insecure servers -- we call this the cloud. The Internet of Things and infrastructure are often accessible on the public network. Very few people care about fixing it. All that stuff is as boring as the state of the infrastructure in the USA: nobody wants to invest money in it.

Meanwhile, ho notes, "real security...continues to languish:"

All the data leaks and all the computers keep breaking. Instead of working on fixing the infrastructure (also known as the internet in general), our leaders increase the offensive capabilities, because we believe that the best defense is attack.

He issues two complementary calls to action: "Now is the time we in IT need to think about some kind of code of conduct," and "What we need now is to see IT security become a profession:"

Even if we love to think we are the only ones in such a situation, with a lot of very crucial knowledge on a very specific topic, we aren't. Lawyers, doctors, priests, and journalists, for example, have similar requirements. But as those activities are way older than ours, those professionals have had more time to think about this problem. They found solutions, not perfect, but livable for society. Those solutions are in the form of some kind of code of conduct. None of them are perfect but, at least they have ethical codes which can be referenced when everything goes bad.

He wonders whether IT needs its own Hippocratic Oath, which is an idea worth considering.

Bill Curry (White House counselor to President Clinton) opens this piece with Bono's observation about African politics that corruption was "the problem that kept all other problems from ever being solved:"

It was long hoped that the sale of Africa's vast trove of natural resources would generate the investment capital necessary to move its people out of poverty and into the modern age. Instead, the money is siphoned off by corrupt elites who blow it on lavish lifestyles, park it in Swiss banks or invest it in high-end Paris or London real estate. It's the world's most common form of treason and goes largely unpunished.

"We live amidst a global pandemic of corruption," he continues, but "America has not had a full-throated debate of political corruption since Watergate." This explains how Bernie Sanders could win:

Republicans are by nature better at ginning up anger, but lately it's as if they had the patent on it. Progressives were first to oppose the 2008 Wall Street bailout. The first protest was hosted by TrueMajority, a liberal advocacy group founded by Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's ice cream fame. But by 2009 Obama owned the bailout and word went out that to attack it would only undercut him. Enter the Tea Party, amidst cries of "crony capitalism," to tap the rich vein of public anger. For the first time, economic populism was the property of conservatives. It was some gift.

Of course, Republicans don't really want to fix the government; they want to kill it. The only corruption they really oppose is when some business that gave to Obama gets a federal contract. But they do have a nose for the issue. And since the decline of the religious right they've been looking hard for other hornets' nests to poke.

"The only way to put ethics where it belongs, at the center of the political debate," Curry concludes, "is for progressives to mount a full-bore, grass-roots anti-corruption campaign." Sanders might just be the person to do it.

Salon discusses the end of civilization via the work of Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa. His book Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society is due out in August, and consists of "a melange of recent writings, transcripts of speeches and short critical pieces published as long ago as the mid-1990s:"

Vargas Llosa lands several palpable hits, and who can deny that our culture -- from appalling reality TV shows to those ubiquitous "From Around the Web" links -- seems to be getting worse and worse? Of course we have the vague impression that people have always complained about their times, but that doesn't mean culture hasn't be rotting for ages. Maybe it's all been one long downward slide since time immemorial?

This sentiment has a name: declinism. And it has a history, a scholarly one that amounts to much more than the perennial grousing of adults about kids these days. The notion of studying how things go to hell is almost exactly as old as the modern practice of historiography, and begins (let's say) with Edward Gibbon's seminal masterpiece, "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

Salon goes on to mention the early twentieth-century's pessimistic perspective, as epitomized by Oswald Spengler's The Decline of the West. "If by 'culture,' we mean a shared method for deciding and appreciating humanity's best creations," the piece continues, "then Vargas Llosa may be right to declare its death:"

Unlike Vargas Llosa, I think the unstable combination of audience and artwork can spark transcendence in the unlikeliest places -- one man's trifling entertainment is another man's revelation. But if culture is something we can all believe in together, then, yup, that's gone.

This fracturing of culture into shards of audiences was prefigured in Spengler's era, as explained in Dada, capitalism, and rebellion:

With art now in the public eye for the colossal sums fetched at auctions, maybe it's time to recall the subversive force of Dada, for which the price is never right. [...] forget the quixotic dream of a renegade gunman duking it out with The Man against all odds. In the belly of the beast, the survivors are those who escape notice, or figure out how to make the notice they get leave them time to slip off into the dark unseen. Now that's something we can learn from the admen, the madmen, of Cabaret Voltaire.

Rachel Dolezal "sent a message to NAACP members saying she would address the situation at a Monday night meeting of the group:"

"As you probably know by now, there are questions and assumptions swirling in national and global news about my family, my race, my credibility, and the NAACP," Dolezal's message said. "I have discussed the situation, including personal matters, with the Executive Committee.

"I support their decision to wait until Monday to make a statement. The Executive team asked that I also release my response statement at the same time, which will be during the 7-9 p.m. monthly membership meeting." [...]

On Thursday, she avoided answering questions directly about her race and ethnicity in an interview with The Spokesman-Review newspaper. "That question is not as easy as it seems," she said. "There's a lot of complexities ... and I don't know that everyone would understand that."

Her truism that "We're all from the African continent," falls quite flat in this instance.

In speculating about Dolezal's psychology and invented persecution, Patrick Blanchfield asks, "Why would a person co-opt a position of marginalization and victimization in such a highly visible, risky, and outrageous way? What type of brokenness, misguidedness, illness, or malice inside a person would lead them them to do such a thing?"

Her case suggests more than just a deep-seated problem, something more than just a highly narcissistic form of histrionic personal disorder, or an unhealthy need for obsession and approval.

Dolezal gives us stories replete with images of grotesque violence: beatings and whippings. Like slavery. Like torture. These are highly choreographed, ritualized sadomasochistic scenes, and to psychotherapists, they're nothing new.

The key point is this:

Dolezal may get to wear her blackness like an outfit she can take on and off--even if she never actually does discard it, even if she truly does believe that she is black. But actual black Americans will never get that option.

David Wong wonders if we're being tricked into hating protesters, because "the "system" comes with a number of refined and subtle processes designed to make sure the complaints of the few get ignored by the many:"

#5. Wait For One Of Them To Break The Law, Then Talk Only About That

"reframe the issue not as oppressors vs. the oppressed but as citizens vs. criminals"

#4. Convince The Powerful Majority That They're The Oppressed Ones

#3. Focus On Their Most Frivolous Complaints (And Most Unlikable Members)

...you don't talk about global warming, you talk about Al Gore. You don't talk about systemic racism, you talk about Al Sharpton's unpaid taxes. Don't talk about income inequality, talk about how Occupy Wall Street kids all have iPhones.

#2. Pit Two Disadvantaged Groups Against One Another (And Insist That Only One Can "Win")

Do you see the trick? "We shouldn't do anything about your problem when these other people have it so much worse. Also, we're not going to do anything about their problems, either." The result: Nothing changes.

#1. Insist That Any Change Will Ruin The World

It's a pretty simple trick -- just ignore every possibility that involves simply improving the current system and imply that in order to reap its benefits we must accept every single aspect of the status quo, including the parts that grind people into hamburger. It won't matter that you can't actually spell out why improvements are impossible, since the fear centers of the brain are inherently irrational. "Gay marriage proponents secretly want to destroy all marriage? Sure, makes sense to me!"

These are all good tactics to be aware of, for the next time a demonstration begins gathering attention--before the media do their work.

Paul Krugman's look at seriously bad ideas is instructive:
One thing we've learned in the years since the financial crisis is that seriously bad ideas -- by which I mean bad ideas that appeal to the prejudices of Very Serious People -- have remarkable staying power. No matter how much contrary evidence comes in, no matter how often and how badly predictions based on those ideas are proved wrong, the bad ideas just keep coming back. And they retain the power to warp policy. [...] On Wednesday, George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer and the architect of the government's austerity policies, announced his intention to make these policies permanent.
Speaking of "bad ideas that appeal to the prejudices of Very Serious People," let's look at the way Fox's bad ideas inform Bill O'Reilly's attitude toward Bernie Sanders. O'Reilly's assertion that "Mr. Sanders is a socialist who does not believe in capitalism" is, not surprisingly, bullshit. The article notes that, in reality, "Sanders is not a socialist (which is not to say socialism is a bad idea):"
He is a "Democratic Socialist," who largely believes in the Nordic Model, the economic system found in Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, with high progressive taxation, and strong social welfare programs, like universal healthcare. Coincidentally, Scandinavians are consistently found to be the "world's happiest." Of course, O'Reilly and the rest of his Fox News ilk don't quite care about the difference between democratic socialism or Marxian socialism or a welfare state. His use of the word is not so much about social systems, but about what the word means to so many of his viewers -- much like the words fascism and communism were used during the twentieth century. The right wing seems to have two views of "socialism," one of them being extremely paranoid, and the other less paranoid. The paranoid view believes that socialism means Stalinesque totalitarianism, and the less-paranoid view pictures mass laziness and a nightmarish bureaucracy.
Also relevant to this discussion is the fact that "over the past forty years of neoliberal policies that O'Reilly advocates, inequality has skyrocketed:"
Today, the top 0.1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. It is not only wealth inequality, but income inequality. Since the eighties, most of the gains in income have gone to top one percent, while the rest have stagnated. O'Reilly may be able to ignore this, with his $24 million salary, but the people cannot and will not, no matter how much him and his friends shout socialism.

Slate's look at the science of sexual orientation mentions that "homosexuality has both a heritable and an environmental component:"

Family studies have shown that homosexual men have more older brothers than heterosexual men. Homosexual men are also more likely to have brothers that are also homosexual. Similarly, family studies show that lesbian women have more lesbian sisters than heterosexual women.

Studies on identical twins are important as identical twins inherit the same genes. This can shed light on a possible genetic cause. Studies on twins have established that homosexuality is more common in identical (monozygotic) twins than in non-identical (dizygotic) twins. This proves that homosexuality can be inherited.

However, the extent of the inheritance between twins was lower than expected. These findings contribute to the notion that although homosexuality can be inherited, this does not occur according to the rules of classical genetics. Rather, it occurs through another mechanism, known as epigenetics.

Hmmm...there's that word again.

Salon lauds the way in which Bernie Sanders trolls the GOP over the "family values" agenda:

...the democratic socialist introduced the Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act, legislation that would ensure 10 days of paid vacation annually for employees who have been with the same employer for at least a year. Other elements of Sanders' "family values agenda" include 12 weeks of paid parental leave and at least seven paid sick days a year.

"Sanders now defies those who constantly hector about 'family values' to make their case against paid leave policies geared toward promoting family stability," the piece continues. His statement is blunt:

When my Republican colleagues talk about "family values," what they usually mean is opposition to a woman's right to choose, opposition to contraception, opposition to gay rights. Let me today give a somewhat different perspective on family values - on real family values.

He mentions specific legislation (Senator Gillibrand's FAMILY Act and Senator Murray's Healthy Families Act) and points out that "the United States of America is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers some form of paid family leave, paid sick time or paid vacation time:"

In other words, when it comes to basic workplace protections and family benefits, workers in every other major industrialized country in the world get a better deal than workers in the United States. That is wrong. That is a travesty. And that has got to change. [...]

Last place is no place for America. It is time to join the rest of the industrialized world by showing the people of this country that we are not just a nation that talks about family values but that we are a nation that is prepared to live up to these ideals by making sure that workers in this country have access to paid family leave, paid sick time and paid vacations just like workers in every other wealthy country on earth.

For a perfectly-timed example of the Republicans' vacuous "family values" agenda, look no further than Denny Hastert's hypocrisy:

Just before his election as House speaker in 1999, Dennis Hastert spearheaded legislation to prevent use of the Internet to encourage sexual acts with children. As he often did, Hastert invoked his personal history "as a father and a person who has dealt with public schools for a long time" to urge passage.

"We must continue to be proactive warding off pedophiles and other creeps who want to take advantage of our children," Hastert said, according to an account of an Internet forum he held in his congressional district. [...] "This bill sends a strong message to the most heinous of criminals who prey upon our children -- you will be punished to the fullest extent of the law," Hastert said at the time.

While he pontificated about pedophiles, he was covering up his own past:

Hastert, 73, was arraigned Tuesday on charges that he arranged nearly $1 million bank withdrawals to avoid filing disclosure reports, then lied to the FBI about it. The money was allegedly part of a $3.5 million payment Hastert agreed to make to an unidentified former male student over what was reportedly past sexual misconduct.


Politicus USA also calls out the GOP for "calling themselves the party of family values while carrying out an ideological agenda that weakens and undermines the economic security of the nation's families:"

Republicans oppose any steps that would strengthen families. Studies have found that the more money a couple makes, the less likely they are to divorce. Economic stability increases family stability.

When a worker has to place economic survival ahead of their family, the family suffers. Republicans have gotten away with disguising their family killing policies as values for too long. Conservatives hijacked the term family values, but Bernie Sanders is taking it back.


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Nathaniel Downes suggests that a Jubilee might be a way to "resolve significant wrongs in this country all at once:"

The concept of a jubilee is an ancient one, with its origins in the ancient Egyptian festival of Heb Sed. The ancient Hebrew people held them every 50 years. Christians held Jubilees upon Papal decree. Many nations had kings issue them, as well.

Whatever the culture, the result was the same. All debts would be forgiven, all slaves given freedom, and all prisoners released. It was akin to a grand rebirth for these people, a chance for problems to be forgotten and everyone given a clean slate to start anew.

"Here is how it should work, for maximum impact," he writes:

Non-violent criminal offenders who stole under, let's say $1 million, would have their sentences commuted. This would release millions of people from prison, and with a pardon, their histories would be effectively wiped clean. All personal debts, from credit cards to payday loans to mortgages and even court judgements up to an arbitrary number, such as $1 million, would be wiped out. All credit records wiped clean, as if every person in America had declared bankruptcy. All criminal records save for the worst, wiped out. The worst offenders would remain where they belong, while average citizens would be relieved.

This solution would also directly undermine the forces at work to erode our democracy. Big money interests, from banks to lobbyists, rely upon keeping people indebted and in jail: short-term profits, even as it ensures long-term failure as the economy grinds to a halt. These money interests then turn that revenue into lobbying, paying for PACs which undermine our democracy. Eliminating these, wiping out those who would destroy our nation as a vampire does its victim, is the best long-term solution, even if it causes short-term hardship for the banking interests. But with their massive bailout a few years ago, it is time they paid back into the system.

His point that "So long as we maintain the baggage of a broken system when the system itself is replaced, we cannot move forward" is well taken, but perhaps fewer people would be in debt without wage theft--such as that recounted in this experience with "Icing, a costume-jewelry and accessory store:"

I closed Icing alone for the first time in May 2013. I had just been promoted from sales associate to full-time keyholder, and I was eager to prove I could handle the additional responsibility. Yet as I reviewed the lengthy checklist of closing tasks--vacuuming, Windexing mirrors, counting registers, completing paperwork--I knew there was no way I would finish in the 30 minutes allotted me.

"You were here till 10:30?" my stern, mid-30s manager asked me incredulously the following morning. Embarrassed, I assured her I would become more efficient with practice.

Yet try as I might, I could not get the store closed before 10, and my manager was unforgiving. Fearful my slowness might cost me my job--which had been tough to come by--I came up with a solution. At 9:30 p.m., far from finished, I would close the registers and clock out, saving myself another talking-to--and forfeiting pay for the rest of the night.

Forcing individuals to work off the clock is, of course, illegal, and against Icing's company policy. Yet given the strict limits many corporations place on payroll, it is not unusual for employees to forego pay so as to avoid upsetting management.

Multiply by a few million, and that's the story of American retail work.


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This WaPo piece discusses the news algorithms Facebook uses on its 1.44 billion users and cautions that:

... if you get your political news through Facebook, as more than 60 percent of millennials do, please browse with extreme caution: The site doesn't show you everything, and may subtly skew your point of view.

and worries about "a new survey by the Pew Center, released on Monday, [which] suggests there may be some new urgency here:"

Per that survey, a majority of American Internet users now get political news from Facebook -- and the 2016 elections, as we know, are in just over a year.

By now, it should be common knowledge that the News Feed does not show you every post your friends put on Facebook. Unfortunately, there's still a major misconception around how News Feed works: in a recent study from the University of Illinois, 62.5 percent of participants had no idea Facebook screened out any posts.

Facebook "tries to predict the posts you're most interested in [which] does tweak political news in three important, if modest, ways:"

1. The algorithm determines the order of the posts in your News Feed, and hard news stories that the algorithm relegates to the bottom are read far less frequently. 2. In the average conservative's news feed, the algorithm cuts out 5 percent of liberal-leaning articles. 3. In the average liberal's News Feed, that rate's a little higher: 8 percent of conservative-leaning articles got cut.

The worry that "As more of those people use Facebook for news, we risk "accelerating" polarization for a large slice of the U.S. population" is dismissed by CJR, which asks, who's afraid of a big bad algorithm?

News outlets have long been black boxes [and] readers have no clue about what goes into crafting the day's news. Thousands of decisions about what to cover, what not to cover, how long to stay on a story, how to dispense resources, and now, in a digital environment, what to put on the homepage or push out over social media, take place inside newsrooms that most people will never visit.

"Zuckerberg's approach sends chills down our spines when we think about an entire generation getting most of their news from Facebook," but it's not that simple, because "we need to separate what is new and different about an algorithm from the techno-dystopian hype:"

That means knowing a little more about the history of news and media effects, and a little more about algorithms. [...] Then we can begin to understand precisely how (and if) our news environment is really changing as much as we think it is.

NPR lauds the late free-jazz saxophonist Coleman for having "liberated jazz from conventional harmony, tonality, structure and expectation"

Coleman was an American icon and iconoclast -- a self-taught musician born poor and fatherless in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1930, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, the Japanese Praemium Imperiale, two Guggenheims, a MacArthur, honorary doctorates and a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master honor.

I've been listening to his Golden Circle CDs while waiting for the NYT to update their obit, at which point I'll probably switch over to the 6-disc box set Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings--about which AllMusic wrote:

...this is, along with John Coltrane's Atlantic set and the Miles & Coltrane box, one of the most essential jazz CD purchases.

The Esquire interview with Ornette Coleman has some great aphoristic moments:

I wasn't so interested in being paid. I wanted to be heard. That's why I'm broke.

How can I turn emotion into knowledge? That's what I try to do with my horn.

I don't try to please when I play. I try to cure.

update (11:35am):
As "Doughnuts" plays, I see that the NYT has caught up:

His run of records for Atlantic near the beginning of his career -- especially "The Shape of Jazz to Come," "Change of the Century" and "This Is Our Music" -- pushed through skepticism, ridicule and condescension, as well as advocacy, to become recognized as some of the greatest records in jazz history. [...]

His music had such a force that even John Coltrane said, in 1961, that 12 minutes he had spent on stage with Coleman amounted to "the most intense moment of my life."

Among his many achievements are the following:

He was awarded a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master fellowship in 1984, and was made a MacArthur Foundation fellow in 1994; he had reached old-master status on the jazz-performance circuit... [...]

In 2007 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his album "Sound Grammar." That same year he was given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award and performed at the rock-centered Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee. [...] His performing schedule declined in his last five years; his final public performance was at Prospect Park in Brooklyn in June 2014, as part of a tribute to him organized by his son.

Fred Kaplan pegs Coleman as "the man who freed jazz" in this 2006 piece that said, "he's, above all, a musician of melody:"

Ornette's style of "freedom" lies not so much in what the musicians play as in their relationship to one another. Coleman made up his own odd word for his music: "harmolodic," roughly defined as music where harmony, motion (or rhythm), and melody play equal roles. No part is subordinate to the others. All the players feel free to improvise whenever they want.

Rolling Stone notes that:

A box set of the jazz legend's "Celebrate Ornette" tribute concert - including performances from Sonny Rollins, Patti Smith, Flea and Coleman himself - will be released this fall.

The Atlantic's David A. Graham calls Coleman "one of the genre's true polarizing geniuses:"

Jazz's version of the famous--or infamous--1913 Armory show that introduced Americans to modern art came on November 17, 1959, when Ornette Coleman began a run of shows at the Five Spot Cafe in New York.

It was an era when giants walked the jazz landscape. Charlie Parker had been dead for four years, but bebop, his brainchild, had propelled jazz to musical peaks, even as the genre's commercial appeal faded. Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, perhaps the greatest jazz record ever, had just been released. John Coltrane's Giant Steps was about to ship. Then Coleman, a short, eccentric alto saxophonist from Texas by way of Los Angeles, arrived with his band, playing something that sounded nothing like what was on the scene--but sounding quite a bit like a provocation.

Salon's Scott Timberg notes that Coleman "lived longer than almost any jazz great, and made important and challenging music for decades:"

The soft-spoken Coleman made music for half a century and released dozens of records. More than almost any musician in history, they're various enough that one listener will love an era and completely ignore or dislike another. Some of us who love Ornette are still puzzled by entire periods of his work.

The Guardian assesses Coleman as having "brought a new vocabulary to jazz, in the widest terms: melody, instrumentation and technique were all taken in new directions in his music." My Quote of the Day, despite the previous encomiums, is from guitarist Pat Metheny:

Even for the best musicians, playing with Coleman could be a challenge. In 1986, he guitarist Pat Metheny recounted the experience of playing alongside Coleman in full improvisatory flow: ""The challenge in this situation is that sometimes Ornette plays and stops, then I have to play. The other night in Washington, we did this tune called Broadway Blues, and he played the most perfect musical statement I've ever heard. I gave it my best, but I have no pretenses of improvising at that level."

professing fear

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Professors do live in fear, claims TNR's Noah Berlatsky, but not of their liberal students. [See here and here.] "The highest profile, most striking case of academic censorship on campuses in the last few years," notes Berlatsky, "doesn't fit into Schlosser's narrative at all:"

Steven Salaita had his offer of employment rescinded by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign after he tweeted vehemently in opposition to Israeli violence against Palestinians. The impetus for the dismissal did not come from sensitive students, but from donors. It was top-down enforcement of a conservative party line, in other words, not a bottom-up enforcement of a liberal one.

"I spoke to a number of university and college teachers for this piece," continues Berlatsky, "and most said that they did not feel ideologically constrained in the classroom--neither from the left nor the right:"

When academics face pressure, though, it does not occur in some sort of funhouse world where all hierarchies are inverted, students are king, and white men cower. Rather, the pressures are broadly in line with those in other parts of the workforce. America's employees as a whole face increasing precarity and job insecurity. That's true of universities as well, where the growing reliance on adjuncts has resulted in a workforce more vulnerable to retaliation from administration. [...] Both on and off campus, the threat to labor comes from employers and lawmakers, and liberal opinions are as likely, or more likely, to get you in trouble as conservative ones.

David Abramowitz (chief counsel for Democrats on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs) writes about torture, false information, and the Iraq invasion:

The Senate will soon consider an amendment by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would prevent torture from being used during interrogation by any U.S. personnel. This amendment stems in part from the release in December of the Senate's report on CIA torture, which stirred an intense debate about the efficacy of this method -- particularly whether information sought from suspected terrorists could be gleaned using other sources or techniques.

Less attention has been paid to the risks posed by fabricated information obtained via torture. The Senate's report detailed two cases in which suspects tortured by the CIA sent agents down false trails.

And I have personal experience with this problem. I remain haunted by one instance when fabricated information helped lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans.

Abramowitz notes the CIA's "great confidence" in the Fall of 2002 that "Iraq had provided chemical and biological weapons training to Al Qaeda:"

But we need to remember that nearly 4,500 U.S. service members lost their lives in a conflict that was justified, in part, using unreliable information obtained via torture. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis also lost their lives. And we are still dealing with the ramifications of our intervention there.

People will continue to debate the value of the information gained via torture during the Bush administration. What I know for sure, however, is that information coerced by using torture can lead to not only wasted resources and bad foreign policy decisions but also to tragic consequences, including the loss of life among men and women serving in uniform. We cannot allow that to happen again.


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Religion Dispatches looks at Christian fundamentalism in America, using the book Superchurch: The Rhetoric and Politics of American Fundamentalism as a springboard. As the author observes, "For practical purposes, there are two relevant definitions:"

On the one hand, fundamentalism refers to a specific movement within Protestant Christianity, which coalesced around a set of inter-church disputes in the early twentieth century. [...] On the other hand, fundamentalism has become a kind of catch-all term for describing movements or orientations that are both politically significant and militantly irrational.

"Despite the difficulties that the term presents," he notes, "the concept of fundamentalism is important to me for a couple of reasons:"

First, it more clearly highlights the stakes for many Christian conservatives who enter into politics. [...] The truth-demands of fundamentalism stand in sharp contrast to notions like compromise and pluralism, and that's a contrast that a term like "evangelical" doesn't quite capture.

Second, perhaps in part because of its slipperiness, the term can help us to think broadly about the disputes and tensions that each and every one of us have to navigate as we struggle to communicate with, live with, and govern with one another.

He also points out this paradox:

Fundamentalists describe themselves as both marginalized and a majority. They speak of national revival and theocratic dominion, but both are always deferred. They celebrate local victories while announcing imminent national destruction.

Oddly enough, the sky always seems to be falling on the heads of god's chosen people.

Salon discusses a study of affluence and the origins of moral faith:

The authors investigated variables relating to political complexity and living standards. Affluence emerged as a major force in the rise of moral religion, in particular, access to energy. Across cultures moral religions abruptly emerged when members of a population could reliably source 20,000 calories of energy a day, including food (for humans and livestock), fuel and raw materials. [...] In other words, with a steady energy supply, we had more time to cooperate, cultivate skills and consider consequences. Affluence also allowed more time for existential pondering: maybe we have some greater moral responsibility; perhaps life has a purpose.

See Current Biology for the paper "Increased Affluence Explains the Emergence of Ascetic Wisdoms and Moralizing Religions" and its observation that "Statistical modeling confirms that economic development, not political complexity or population size, accounts for the timing of the Axial Age:"

Between roughly 500 BCE and 300 BCE, three distinct regions, the Yangtze and Yellow River Valleys, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Ganges Valley, saw the emergence of highly similar religious traditions with an unprecedented emphasis on self-discipline and asceticism and with ''otherworldly,'' often moralizing, doctrines, including Buddhism, Jainism, Brahmanism, Daoism, Second Temple Judaism, and Stoicism, with later offshoots, such as Christianity, Manichaeism, and Islam. This cultural convergence, often called the ''Axial Age,'' presents a puzzle: why did this emerge at the same time as distinct moralizing religions, with highly similar features in different civilizations? The puzzle may be solved by quantitative historical evidence that demonstrates an exceptional uptake in energy capture (a proxy for general prosperity) just before the Axial Age in these three regions.

To look at some of the numbers, see this:

At the end of the first millennium BCE, these regions reached an economic level (>20,000 kcal/capita/day) that greatly surpassed the economic level of previous societies, from 4,000 kcal for hunter-gatherer societies to 15,000 kcal for archaic large-scale civilizations like Egypt or Sumer.

JPMorgan Chase CEO (and newly-minted billionaire) Jamie Dimon slammed Elizabeth Warren by wondering, "I don't know if she fully understands the global banking system:

In an April speech, Warren, a former professor, chided "finance guys" who assert she and others can't grasp their business.

"The finance guys argue that if you're never in the club, you can't understand it, but I think they have it backward," she said. "Not being in the club means not drinking the Kool-Aid." [...]

"The problem was never that I didn't understand what the finance guys were doing," she said in April. "The problem was that I understood exactly what the finance guys were doing. I knew it, and they knew it."

Billionaire Warren Buffett suggests, "She would do better if she was less angry and demonized less," but I think he really means that he would feel better.

They've felt far too good for far too long, and she knows it. That's the real reason for their animus.

Forbes shows off plans for the world's first $1-billion yacht, noting that "The 500-foot behemoth is called 'Streets of Monaco', and is actually modeled after the European principality, a haven for billionaires:"

On the top deck will be replicas of famous Monaco landmarks like the Monte Carlo Casino, Hotel de Paris, Cafe de Paris, La Rascasse, and Loews Hotel, as well as a fully functional go-kart circuit based on the Monaco Grand Prix race track. Other extravagant bells and whistles include multiple swimming pools, a swim-in Jacuzzi bar, a multi-use court for tennis and basketball, a 'dance hall', a spa with a hair salon, and enough space to accommodate 16 guests and 70 staff. And don't forget the submarine and helipad.


Now that JPMorganChase crimeboss Jamie Dimon is worth $1 billion, he could afford one of these beauties:

Under Dimon's leadership - he was and is chairman, president and CEO - JPMorgan Chase went on one of the most successful corporate crime sprees in the history of American business raking in billions of revenue from clients and US taxpayers alike. The amount of wealth snatched by Dimon's JPMorgan was almost as impressive as the firm's ability to evade substantive legal recourse from the Department of Justice over and over again.

update (6:36pm):
South African billionaire Johann Rupert fears an uprising, recently confessing (in Monaco, no less) that "he can't sleep at night because he fears a social upheaval is imminent:"

"How is society going to cope with structural unemployment and the envy, hatred and the social warfare? We are destroying the middle classes at this stage and it will affect us. It's unfair. So that's what keeps me up at night."

It is unclear whether what he considers unfair is that what's left of the middle class won't want to buy luxury goods like his jewelry or clothing for fear of exposing their wealth when the revolution comes, or if he's concerned about the inequality itself.


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William Davies writes about all the happy workers at The Atlantic, in an excerpt adapted from his book The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being. In it, he notes Gallup's findings that "around 20 percent of employees in North America and Europe are 'actively disengaged':"

They estimate that active disengagement costs the U.S. economy as much as $550 billion a year. Disengagement is believed to manifest itself in absenteeism, sickness and--sometimes more problematic--presenteeism, in which employees come into the office purely to be physically present. A Canadian study suggests over a quarter of workplace absence is due to general burnout, rather than sickness.

Few private-sector managers are required to negotiate with unions any longer, but nearly all of them confront a much trickier challenge, of dealing with employees who are regularly absent, unmotivated, or suffering from persistent, low-level mental-health problems. Resistance to work no longer manifests itself in organized voice or outright refusal, but in diffuse forms of apathy and chronic health problems. The border separating general ennui from clinical mental-health problems is especially challenging to managers in 21st century workplaces, seeing as it requires them to ask personal questions on matters that they are largely unqualified to deal with.

The work of Elton Mayo, an Australian psychologist of Hawthorne Studies fame, is summarized "An unhappy worker was also an unproductive worker, and the unhappiness stemmed from a deep-seated feeling of isolation:"

They also had to understand the unique psychological properties of social groups, which were not simply reducible to individual incentives, as Taylorism and neo-classical economics had supposed. A thriving and collaborative group identity could do far more for an employee's happiness, and hence for the manager's bottom line, than a pay rise.

Also notable is the conclusion that "Badly designed jobs and lack of proper recognition in the workplace were clear contributors to physical and mental ill-health:"

Lack of any influence over where and when one carries out a task is a stress factor, which takes its toll on both mind and body. [...] Despite the high-profile obsession with executive burn-out, this form of stress is far more common for those lacking power or status at work.


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It's been just over a month since the last time I mentioned Miley Cyrus, and her interview with Paper magazine is worth reading--especially her frank remarks about religion:

Although she was raised Christian, Cyrus maintains a particular contempt for fundamentalist lawmakers who rally against this sort of progressive, potentially life-saving change. "Those people [shouldn't] get to make our laws," she says. Those people -- the ones who believe that, say, Noah's Ark was a real seafaring vessel. "That's fucking insane," she says. "We've outgrown that fairy tale, like we've outgrown fucking Santa and the tooth fairy."

and sexuality:

She says she has come to consider her own sexuality -- even her own gender identification -- fluid. "I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn't involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that's legal, I'm down with. Yo, I'm down with any adult -- anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me," she says. "I don't relate to being boy or girl, and I don't have to have my partner relate to boy or girl." She says she's had romantic entanglements with women that were just as serious as the ones (Liam Hemsworth, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Nick Jonas) that ended up in Us Weekly. "I've had that," she admits. "But people never really looked at it, and I never brought it into the spotlight."

She recalls confessing to her mother, at age 14, that she had romantic feelings toward women. "I remember telling her I admire women in a different way. And she asked me what that meant. And I said, I love them. I love them like I love boys," she says. "And it was so hard for her to understand. She didn't want me to be judged and she didn't want me to go to hell. But she believes in me more than she believes in any god. I just asked for her to accept me. And she has."

Salon comments that "Cyrus brazenly uses her flair for getting a reaction to reveal far more of herself than just her skin:"

That makes her an artist -- one who's still early in her journey and still finding her voice, but an artist nonetheless. And if along the way she wants to be an advocate and an ally, that makes her a role model too. She's figuring it out and making mistakes along the way, but it's pretty terrific, brave stuff to watch.

If you prefer, you can skip the NSFW interview photos and just read the top 5 quotes--along with this assessment:

While Cyrus' shoot maintains the sort of out-of-this-world, avante garde, hippy-dippiness that has become emblematic of her public persona and, it seems, her private life, the Disney princess-turned-free-loving party queen tackles progressive issues with admirable seriousness...

update (6/11 @ 11:26am):
Ken Ham read the Miley Cyrus interview, and he's not happy. He suggests "that it's not just the biblical accounts of the Ark and Flood in Genesis she is dismissing, but she is rejecting our Ark of salvation--Jesus Christ." Ham might prefer to believe this, but it's entirely possible that Cyrus is a Christian--just not a conservative, literalist one.

Her statement that "I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn't involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that's legal, I'm down with" bothers him even more, because he gets obnoxious:

Question for her: Why not involve an animal? On what basis does she decide that? Besides, if there's no God and she's just a result of evolution, then she is merely an animal anyway. And those she interacts with sexually are just animals--so why not any animals? In other words, she has decided to draw a line for some reason--but what reason? It's actually because in her heart she knows God exists (Romans 1), she knows she is different from the animals as she is made in God's image (Genesis 1)--and she has a conscience (as seared as it is because of her sinful rebellion) because the law is written on our hearts (Romans 2). [,emphasis added]

Again, this belief is unsupported. He continues:

Question for her: Why only those over the age of 18? On what basis did she decide that? If there's no God, why have any age restriction? On what basis would she argue against pedophilia? Why not do whatever anyone wants to do?

He also gets in a plug for his Ark Park, of course:

That's why we are building a life-size Ark. To remind this culture of the truth of God's Word and the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, our Ark of salvation.


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Bill O'Reilly is now blaming "hysterical media" for his as-real-as-the-War-on-Xmas "war on cops," which he attributes to "a media frenzy" around various murder-by-cop incidents:

Racially charged shootings all over America have received enormous coverage on television, with certain liberal cable news programs hammering American police agencies over and over again [which is] influencing how some of them interact with the police.

No shit--concern about being shot to death might influence behavior? Really?!

The truth is that some of the kids involved in the pool party obviously did not comply with police commands. They did not hit the ground. They did not stop arguing with the officers.

Now that does not justify brutal behavior, and Talking Points is not going to try this case on television.

But it's clear that there is a growing disrespect for police officers in some American neighborhoods, and that attitude is going to lead to violence. If citizens do not obey the police, then law and order completely break down.

It's just like his lik to demand unquestioning obedience to authority figures--the very essence of their authoritarianism. "But with television news demonizing police officers, the law enforcement contract is starting to break down," he worries that:

"Anti-police zealots are given wide latitude to spew their hatred and irresponsible ravings. That kind of rhetoric sinks in."

When he whines that "cops are human too, and in the heat of battle, bad things happen" he's really off-target. There's no battle here: cops aren't soldiers in hostile territory, no matter how many FPS games they play.


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Ted Gioia reminds us that "Musicians don't agree on much, but they tend to concur that the note A in the middle of the treble staff should be tuned to 440 Hz," and asks, are we all mistuning our instruments?

According to true believers, music would generate positive healing energy if A were tuned to 432 Hz. This tuning, they claim, is more aligned with the cosmos and the natural world. "The number 432 is also reflected in ratios of the Sun, Earth, and the moon as well as the precession of the equinoxes, the Great Pyramid of Egypt, Stonehenge, the Sri Yantra among many other sacred sites," explains author Elina St-Onge.

Anticipating the likely objections, he writes that "These conspiracy theorists aren't entirely batty:"

The tuning of instruments has always been filled with compromises and influenced by competing paradigms. Listeners take for granted the conventional "well tempered" tuning of modern instruments, but this itself was a controversial innovation in its day--it represented a rejection of the Pythagorean heritage and Renaissance thinking on music. But it also made possible the chromatically-rich compositions of Bach and his successors.

Mentioning the various tunings of Mozart, Verdi, and Chopin does little to bolster his case, because the same effect (a slightly flat or sharp tone) was often accidentally achieved during mastering (as with Kind of Blue for many years; see here) or during playback with a slightly slow or fast turntable. Tuning to a lower frequency is even less consequential, as it doesn't affect the instruments' tone quality. He continues:

During the last week, I have been using a software conversion program called "Return to 432" to shift my music files back to Verdi's preferred tuning.

He claims that "a specialist in Baroque music might benefit from a return to a lower scale," but why? Doing it through software is easier than transposing the music into a lower key, but I just don't see the point.

On the topic of Christian persecution, Bill Maher is right and Joseph Farrah [sic throughout] is wrong:

What's funny is that Farrah's gang of religious thugs are not really Christians themselves. They have forgotten Jesus exists. They quote almost entirely from a cherry-picked copy of the Old Testament. I have argued many times before, and I believe the point cannot be contested, that without Jesus, you are not a Christian. It is, after all, ultimately a religion about Jesus.

But Farrah can no more quote from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount than a vampire can bathe in holy water. It violates his beliefs.

The point that "you, Joseph Farrah, are not among the persecuted, but among the persecutors" also cannot be contested.


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Conor Lynch explains why Libertarianism is so popular on the Right, largely because "hostility towards government and collective movements in general tends to attract white males who want to preserve their dominance in a society where they are quickly becoming minorities:"

So, while the libertarian movement as a whole is not inherently bigoted, and many believers despise intolerance, the ideology itself does attract many bigots who see the freedom-obsessed culture as a way to protect their "right" of intolerance, and crack down on collective movements that fight for equality. Many of these folks would like to return to the good old days, when robber barons and white men ruled. The free market ideology is particularly well-suited for the robber barons, while the freedom to discriminate comforts the neo-Confederates.

"Like the larger conservative movement," he writes, "libertarianism is a sanctuary for nostalgic white males."

In a response to this piece on scared professors, Amanda Taub declares that "my liberal students didn't scare me at all:"

I was a liberal adjunct professor at a large university until 2013, and [...] I covered sensitive topics in my courses, including rape, capital punishment, female genital mutilation, and disputed accounts of mass atrocities. Our classroom debates were contentious, and forced students to examine their own biases. I kept an "on-call" list that pressured students to participate actively in those discussions. I did not use trigger warnings.

I never had any complaints.

She describes the 'scared' piece as "truthy: it offers a conclusion that feels as if it should be true, even though it isn't accompanied by much in the way of actual evidence:"

Rather, if university faculty are feeling disempowered in their classrooms, that's because they do, in fact, have less power at work: the shrinking pool of tenure-track jobs and the corresponding rise in the numbers of poorly paid adjuncts means many university teachers are in a precarious position right now.

"The problem isn't the substance of student complaints," she continues, "the problem is that university lecturers are so terrified of the effect student complaints could have:"

That's a problem to be solved by universities having faculty members' backs, not by somehow silencing the debate over identity politics. [...]

Citing the supposed threat to the academy is another way to claim that arguments against identity politics are rooted in pure reason and are trying to protect universal concerns, rather than silence specific concerns raised by marginalized people that we'd rather not listen to.

We'll listen to worries from the front of the lecture hall, of course,--but they would have more credence if they were scared of the powerful rather than the powerless.

A liberal professor (writing under the pseudonym "Edward Schlosser") claims to be afraid of his liberal students and their "misplaced extremism:"

I'm a professor at a midsize state school. I have been teaching college classes for nine years now. I have won (minor) teaching awards, studied pedagogy extensively, and almost always score highly on my student evaluations. [...]

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me -- particularly the liberal ones. [...]

The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that's simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher's formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.

A single incident (an anonymous accusation that he "possessed communistical [sic] sympathies and refused to tell more than one side of the story") was "the first, and so far only, formal complaint a student has ever filed against me," and amounted to exactly nothing:

In 2009, the subject of my student's complaint was my supposed ideology. I was communistical, the student felt, and everyone knows that communisticism is wrong. That was, at best, a debatable assertion. And as I was allowed to rebut it, the complaint was dismissed with prejudice. I didn't hesitate to reuse that same video in later semesters, and the student's complaint had no impact on my performance evaluations.

He still worries, though, because "I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to 'offensive' texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain."

It's not students, then--he's worried about unemployment:

The academic job market is brutal. Teachers who are not tenured or tenure-track faculty members have no right to due process before being dismissed, and there's a mile-long line of applicants eager to take their place.

Just like every other career, then?

Trigger warnings may be parodied as hypersensitivity, but "teachers limit their lessons to things they know won't upset anybody." This actually seems like a real problem.

All the old, enlightened means of discussion and analysis --from due process to scientific method -- are dismissed as being blind to emotional concerns and therefore unfairly skewed toward the interest of straight white males. All that matters is that people are allowed to speak, that their narratives are accepted without question, and that the bad feelings go away.

So it's not just that students refuse to countenance uncomfortable ideas -- they refuse to engage them, period. Engagement is considered unnecessary, as the immediate, emotional reactions of students contain all the analysis and judgment that sensitive issues demand. [...]

No one can rebut feelings, and so the only thing left to do is shut down the things that cause distress -- no argument, no discussion, just hit the mute button and pretend eliminating discomfort is the same as effecting actual change.

In the interest of protecting his feelings of discomfort, I would have to clarify his point somewhat by observing that he's only "afraid" of his students to the extent that they influence the real wielders of power: the university bureaucracy. It is department heads and committee chairs who ultimately determine whether he earn tenure or an unemployment check--not his students.


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Due to religious fanaticism, there will be no Awkward Moments Children's Qur'an book to accompany the Awkward Moments Children's Bible (h/t: Hemant Mehta). As the author Horus Gilgamesh explained:

After a great deal of consideration and wise counsel, I've decided to cancel a controversial project we've been secretly working on for the past year. Why? Because of a certain group of fringe maniacal "radical" bullies who equate the transfer of lead and pigments into shapes on paper as blasphemy -- punishable by death. [...]

So, congratulations, Islam! You've managed to oppress yet another infidel into silent submission thanks your religion's all-too-typical heavy-handed scare tactics. In doing so, you aren't doing yourself any favors, but simply creating new enemies -- those who believe in freedom from the dangerous oppressive religions that continue to impede society today. [emphases in original]


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Marcy Wheeler observes that reports of the Patriot Act's death are greatly exaggerated, noting that "in spite of all the alarmism you're hearing, not much changed today:"

The PATRIOT Act-authorized phone dragnet expired last night. For the first time since 2006, the NSA won't receive records of the phone calls you make within the United States.

But that doesn't mean spying on Americans has stopped. The NSA still obtains records of calls -- potentially all calls -- you make with people overseas. It still tracks Americans' Internet communications using metadata obtained overseas. The FBI can still access the content of any communications Americans have with foreigners targeted under PRISM without a warrant or even any evidence of wrong doing. FBI can still, and indeed does, obtain phone records of individuals in conjunction with national security investigations without any court review.

Digby concurs:

I am a pessimist about such national security "reforms" in general since there's little evidence that they ever actually stop anything and in the end they almost always result in some kind of "legal" framework to allow something that was previously unheard of. I hope I'm wrong this time but watching the GOP go at it on national security and listening to the hysterical speeches in the Senate yesterday, I'm pretty confident that as long as the GWOT exists -- decades at least --- this is not going to get a lot better.

Surely you've seen this logically pathetic pro-Christian image:


Jerry Coyne's response is great:


Rather reminiscent of Bill Nye's response to Ken Ham, don't you think?

Not that atheists are all alike by any means, but Greta Christina takes issue with claims that there is no atheist movement:

Technically, the only thing gay men and lesbians and bisexuals all have in common is that we're attracted to people of the same gender. And if we'd decided that we couldn't build a movement around that, we'd be in the crapper. Forget about same-sex marriage and employment non-discrimination -- we'd still be getting put in mental hospitals, getting our bars shut down by the police, getting arrested for just looking too gay. We haven't just built a movement -- we've built an extremely powerful movement, one that radically improved our lives and has had a significant impact on society at large.

Now. Translate, please, to atheists.

Her argument boils down to "don't argue that there isn't an atheist movement. There is:"

There is a movement dedicated to promoting the rights of atheists, countering the myths and bigotry against atheists, sharing and spreading ideas about atheism, creating supportive communities for atheists who have left religion, and more. That's the reality. And atheists should not be in the business of denying reality.

Rmuse reports on Republicans' trickle-down failure, pointing out the home truth that "Republicans are incapable of coming up with any new ideas whatsoever to help the American people, at least over the past thirty years:"

It is particularly true when it comes to the economy where, for the thirty years since Ronald Reagan was president, their only policy proposal to grow the economy or create jobs is either deregulation or giving more tax cuts to the rich. What Americans should finally have worked out for themselves is that the only thing that does not create jobs more than deregulation is tax cuts for the rich. If the Republicans' assertion over the past thirty years was even semi-valid, the Bush administration's eight year folly with unfunded tax cuts for the rich should have created an entire population of millionaires and economic growth the entire world envied. Instead the economy crashed and tens-of-millions of Americans lost their jobs; the rich came out wealthier than ever.

On a smaller level, there are several "state-level catastrophes" to consider:

What is stunning, really, is that Republicans like Kansas Governor Sam Brownback have witnessed national economic growth and job creation under President Obama, and still went in the opposite direction and enacted monumental unfunded tax cuts for the rich he promised would make Kansas the national model to follow because of brilliant conservative governance.

Rmuse writes that "every American alive knows the economic recovery has been ongoing for six years and everyone but the rich are getting poorer and poorer with no end in sight:"

Over the past few months when a Republican talks about income inequality, and admits that it is a real problem in this country, they are unwittingly admitting that they know their cherished trickle-down economic policy is a riotous scam. [...] When Jeb Bush made the mistake of noting "that wages in America were not keeping pace with the growing wealth among the richest one percent of Americans," he was admitting that it is due trickle-down economics.

Meanwhile, tools like Jeb Bush believe that the retirement age should be raised "to 68 or 70:"

"We need to look over the horizon and begin to phase in, over an extended period of time, going from 65 to 68 or 70," he added. "And that, by itself, will help sustain the retirement system for anybody under the age of 40."

At the same time, Bush said that he would be open to cutting back benefits for wealthy people and their beneficiaries, a reform proposal known as means testing.

"I think it ought to be considered, for sure," Bush said.

Salon sees ominous overtones in overtures like this as a welcome to feudalism, as the 1% destroys the middle class

The idea of a property-owning democracy is no longer the reality in the United States. Edward Wolff finds that the wealthiest 10 percent own 90.9 percent of all stocks and mutual funds, 94.3 percent of financial securities but only 26.5 percent of the debt. For the middle class, their home makes up 62.5 percent of their limited wealth. (The bottom 40 percent have negative wealth.) [...]

The vast majority of Americans own no assets, but are instead laden with debt. The social safety net is being shredded by plutocrats and their political henchmen. Conservatives say workers should instead get benefits from their (preferably privately owned) employers. But those companies are supporting workers less and less: Defined benefit pensions are a thing of the past, and even basic retirement plans are in decline. And that's just for those who are lucky enough to have jobs with benefits.

It boils down to something quite unhealthy, as "A large portion of Americans now have two choices: Become servants to the rich for minimal wages, or starve to death:"

America has fallen into neo-feudalism: A wealthy capital-owning class exists behind a servile class with no assets, and only a life of drudgery ahead of them. The master-servant relationship will only further degrade social trust and civic values. Americans can't see themselves as equals in the political sphere when large portions are consigned to wait upon the whims of new aristocracy. Conservative politics relies on the middle class making a devil's bargain, believing they have more in common with the rich than the poor. It won't be long before that facade crumbles.

Speaking of the aristocracy, Salon's Sean Illing looks at conservative CEO presidents, noting that "popular trope on the right which argues that businessmen make good presidents:"

In addition to being untrue, this view perpetuates a host of misconceptions about government. As the presidential race kicks into gear, it's worth dismantling this dangerous fallacy.

First, America isn't a business. Businesses exist to turn a profit, to create wealth for shareholders; that's their only reason for being. Countries exist to preserve a cultural identity, a way of life, of which the economy is a part. Conservatives often argue that this is an abstract distinction; that, practically speaking, overseeing a corporation and deciding national economic policy are fundamentally the same.

It is "a kind of truism for Republicans," Illing writes, "is that maximizing profits in the private sector is comparable to managing a prosperous economy. Well, it's not. Such confusion is born of the belief that the country is, essentially, a corporation." He also reminds us that "two of the twentieth century's worst presidents, Herbert Hoover and George W. Bush, were former businessmen; their legacies are the Great Depression and the Iraq War, respectively:"

Recently, moreover, presidential historians were asked to rank America's presidents; the results were revealing. Of the top 10, only one, Harry Truman, had any meaningful business experience, and what experience he did have was disastrous. At the bottom of the list, however, are people like Warren Harding, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce and John Tyler, all of whom were successful businessmen. None of this proves definitively that a businessman can't be a good president, but it's certainly instructive.

Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, he notes, "is the most recent Republican to flaunt her corporate credentials as proof of her political potential:"

Fiorina, it has to be said, is a punch line; she'll never be president. But the point is that she's only welcomed in the GOP on account of her business background (which is actually terrible). And that's the problem.

Business acumen is a terrible indicator of political ability, and for obvious reasons. Business and politics are separate spheres; they require different skill sets. CEOs are despots; they don't persuade so much as dictate and they're more inclined to fire those with whom they disagree. Presidents live in a non-zero-sum context, where cooperation is crucial and consensus is critical. Good presidents also tend to care about different things than successful CEOs. The only metric that matters in private industry is profit; this attracts a certain kind of person and cultivates a certain kind of disposition.

It can't be said enough: the president is a public servant, not a private executive; only Republicans are confused about that. America isn't a business, but the GOP treats it like one. They confuse capitalist virtues with civic virtues and the result is exactly what you'd expect: a government by and for Big Business.

TruthOut narrows this focus to the 1% of the 1%, or "the top 31,000 or so donors, roughly equal to one percent of one percent of the U.S. population:"

The money coming from this select demographic is increasing and it is leaning more conservative. What's more, even within the top .01 percent, the donors at the very peak are contributing more and more of the money. [...] In 2014, all donors chipped in $4.01 billion; the top One Percent of the One Percenters accounted for about 28.6 percent of that.

It takes a peculiar type of Red-State-colored glasses to not see that as a problem.

Ross Douthat examines the prospects for polygamy, expressing dismay that "In just 15 years, we have gone from being a society divided roughly evenly between progressive and traditionalist visions to a country where social conservatism is countercultural and clearly in retreat:"

This reality is laid bare in the latest Gallup social issues survey, which shows that it's not only support for same-sex marriage that's climbing swiftly: so is approval of unwed parenthood (45 percent in 2001, 61 percent now), divorce (59 percent then, 71 percent today), and premarital sex (53 percent then, 68 percent now). Approval of physician-assisted suicide is up seven points and support for research that destroys human embryos for research is up 12, pushing both practices toward supermajority support.

Oh, and one more thing: The acceptance of polygamy has more than doubled.

Now admittedly, that last one is an outlier: Support for plural matrimony rose to 16 percent from 7 percent, a swift rise but still a very low number. Polygamy is bobbing forward in social liberalism's wake, but it's a long way from being part of the new permissive consensus.

He projects a similar rate of progress and concludes, "I feel safe predicting that polygamy will not be legally recognized, with fanfare and trumpets, in 2025. But it might be recognized in 2040, with a shrug." Salon's Katie McDonough explains what he misses, pointing out that "there's more at play here than just conservative handwringing," because "Legally recognized polygamy could be institutionally disruptive in a way that equal marriage for gay and lesbian couples never has been, and never could be:"

Picture a family with three moms and four kids or two moms and a dad, two kids and a dog who want to share a suburban home in a neighborhood that is zoned for single families. [...] ...is it really all that unspeakable to ask why a blended family can't share health care and tax breaks if they are co-parenting a child? Why a consenting, non-abusive relationship involving multiple partners can't find recognition in a legal contract that confers benefits? If the state has a vested interest in the family because families privatize care that can otherwise fall to the government -- childcare, elder care, etc. -- then why does the number of adults in the family really matter?

Why, indeed?

Questions like this deserve thought and attention, though it's unclear that they'll be seriously considered. For some, it seems the "prospect of polygamy" -- rather than a question of contract law, equal rights or a serious engagement with very real abuses happening across the country -- is just another drum to beat in the conservative culture wars.

not over yet

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WaPo reminds us that the fight for LGBT equality is not over, despite the fact that "An overwhelming majority of the country supports same-sex marriage, which is now legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia:"

So, there's a reason for the unbridled euphoria sweeping gay communities across the country as we await what many expect will be a Supreme Court ruling next month in favor of marriage equality. But if that happens we will be at the end of the beginning of the fight for LGBT civil rights.

A new report from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) looks at citizens instead of states:

Even with marriage equality nationwide, 52% of same-sex couples would live in states that do not protect them from being unfairly fired or kicked out of their homes because they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Fifty-seven percent of families would live in states where LGBT children are not protected from discrimination in school, and 86% of LGBT families would live in states where their children could face discrimination in school because of who their parents are.

Meanwhile, moral troglodytes like Rick Santorum vow to fight against marriage equality if the Supreme Court votes to support it:

"Of course I'd fight it," the Republican presidential candidate told NBC News' Chuck Todd on Sunday's "Meet The Press."

"Roe versus Wade was decided 30 some years ago, and I continue to fight that, because I think the court got it wrong. And I think if the court decides this case in error, I will continue to fight, as we have on the issue of life ... We're not bound by what nine people say in perpetuity." [...] ...it's important for Congress and the president, frankly, to push back when the Supreme Court gets it wrong," Santorum said.

On the right side of history, Queerty discusses activist Evan Wolfson, described as "a linchpin in the movement to achieve marriage equality:"

More than 30 years ago, when marriage equality seemed like an impossible fantasy, a law student at Harvard wrote his thesis on same-sex marriage. What seemed like a lost cause then appears like a sure thing now, thanks to Evan Wolfson's tireless commitment to the cause. [...]

Wolfson acknowledges that society's embrace of marriage equality has moved at a historically swift pace. However, he cautions that it's taken longer than most people think.

"People tend to think of the chapter they got involved in, like Proposition 8 or the battle in New York or the Windsor decision," Wolfson points out. "In the end, it has moved quickly, but it's a quickly that took over 40 years."

Eric Zuesse examines a number of social science findings about conservatism, from Adorno's The Authoritarian Personality (1950) to social psychologist Bob Altemeyer's The Authoritarian Specter (1996) and the 2003 paper "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition." None of the research is very flattering:

The observation is commonly made that conservatives are driven by fears, such as of "the other," and are therefore obsessed with military solutions, and police solutions, and with having guns themselves - all solutions which enable them to force their own way, against the will of "the other," regardless of whether "the other" is "the Jew" or "the Black" or "the socialist" or "the homosexual," or whatever. Religion is, for its buyer, a way to deal specifically with his fear of death. But for the seller of religion, it's a way of enslaving buyers to the seller's personal ends (which can likewise be a craving for salvation -- ergo: proselytizing so as to win eternal life).

The rather blatant ugliness of the personality traits and beliefs correlating with political conservatism (e.g., opposition to equality of opportunity, eagerness to punish people, especially high fear of death, widespread bigotry, etc.) has led some conservatives to attack this entire body of research.

One intriguing conclusion is that "Money apparently makes people more right-wing."

Americans on both the Forbes and on the Bloomberg lists of billionaires are about 70% Republicans and 30% Democrats, versus the usual norm amongst the U.S. population, of 55% Democrats to 45% Republicans (not including Independents). The Oswald-Powdthavee study helps to explain why that's the case: lucky people tend to be conservatives; it's not the case that conservatives tend to be lucky people. Conservatives are no luckier than non-conservatives. They're also not more competent than non-conservatives. Instead: Success causes one to be a conservative. No matter how progressive or conservative one is before one becomes rich, one become even more so after one has become rich.

Though it appears to cover different ground, his book They're Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010 looks to be an interesting read.

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