September 2015 Archives

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Buenaventura, Alvin. The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist (New York: Abrams ComicArts, 2012)

After having my appetite whetted by the Daniel Clowes: Conversations book, Alvin Buenaventura's The Art of Daniel Clowes was just what I needed. It's a great look at Clowes' art, with a plethora of essays and art examples--of which this "Happy Holidays from the Clowes Family" Peanuts homage (p. 35) is a favorite:

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One example of the great critical commentary accompanying all the art is Ken Parille's observation about two of Clowes' lead characters, where Parille notes that "Clowes has often said that when it comes to self-expression, Marshall and Wilson are complete opposites:"

Marshall keeps nearly all his thoughts to himself and Wilson leaves no thought unsaid. While Mister Wonderful uses every trick in the bag (plus some new ones) to express Marshall's repressed interiority--mood clouds, star-filled flashback mists, psychomachia, thought balloons, interior monologue boxes--Wilson strips away nearly all of these devices, leaving only present-tense text in word balloons. (p. 164, "Narration After Y2K: Daniel Clowes and the End of Style" by Ken Parille)

Chris Ware's comments about Clowes' fastidiousness were surprising: "To see a Clowes original is to behold the cartooning craft at its zenith:"

Every line is extremely carefully wrought, placed, and considered, yet the sum total radiates a loose confidence, a casual self-possession. Even from the Lloyd Llewellyn days, a sense of "somebody actually drew that?" sums up the experience. Clowes pencils so lightly and is so fastidious in his erasures that the brush lines seem to appear there practically of their own volition, though closer inspection frequently shows spiffing up or even complete construction of larger swoops with a circle template or French curves. (p. 106, "Who's Afraid of Daniel Clowes" by Chris Ware)

Another, of more global relevance, is Chip Kidd's observation that "Cartoonists are designers. They have to be:"

They take a blank piece of paper and a drawing tool of choice, and they create the world: characters, personalities, landscapes, motivations, wardrobe, weapons, buildings, vehicles, all manner of flora and fauna. Everything. But it isn't just about drawing. It's about invention, and taking on the role of every kind of designer there is: fashion, industrial, architectural, cosmetic, automotive, aeronautic, environmental. [...] Clowes is a very skilled graphic designer. (p. 197, "Dawn of the Deadpan, Daniel Clowes: Graphic Design and Storytelling" by Chip Kidd)

I'd like to see more books like this; kudos to Buenaventura on his excellent work.

Sanders' donors

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AlterNet cheers the fact that Bernie Sanders has reached 1 million donations faster than any other presidential candidate in history:

This morning, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign announced that it had crossed the threshold of one million individual contributions to his campaign.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, this is a record for U.S. presidential campaigns. During his 2008 run, Barack Obama did not reach this threshold until February of 2008. During his 2012 run for re-election, he did not hit it until October 2011.

Christopher Parker (co-author of Change They Can't Believe In: The Tea Party and Reactionary Politics in America) claims that Reagan would hate today's GOP demagogues:

Since the GOP regained the House and the Tea Party faction took over the party four years ago, House Republicans have refused to compromise at every turn. This is a problem.

Consider the resignation of Speaker John Boehner, the latest victory for the no-compromise camp. Make no mistake, Boehner resigned because he knew the most conservative members of the House Republican caucus - the members most closely associated with the Tea Party - were gunning for him. He quit before he could be fired.

Boehner was and remains one of the most conservative speakers in history, maintaining a lifetime conservative score of 94 out of 100 from the American Conservative Union. Still, Boehner was targeted because he was willing to cut deals with Democrats.

Compromise is key if democracy is to function effectively. Tea Party Republicans' unwillingness to compromise has already had significant consequences for the nation. [...] Further, the GOP's refusal to recognize the Affordable Care Act led to a government shutdown in 2013. And now they've threatened another shutdown over the funding of Planned Parenthood.

Another Salon piece identifies crippling fear of female sexuality as a lens through which "to see how flimsy and dishonest the GOP's attacks on Planned Parenthood really are:"

One of the ways you can tell the GOP isn't being forthright about their grievances with abortion, contraception, and Planned Parenthood is that they can never quite settle on a coherent case, and they're always looking for a new angle of attack.

An objection we hear constantly is that federal funds should not be paying for abortions (even though abortion is perfectly legal in this country). But this is a tired trope, repeated mercilessly by the conservatives in Congress. It's also patently untrue. Federal money is not being spent on abortions. There's nothing to debate here.

Additionally, "politicized spectacles like the hearing yesterday are notoriously fact-free:"

And here's an inconvenient truth: According to the Congressional Budget Office, defunding Planned Parenthood would actually cost the government a net $130 million over a decade, largely due to the spike in government spending required to meet the health needs of women whose services would be disrupted.

If Republicans were honest, they'd admit that their real obsession is sex. The sordid and religiously-motivated angst over sex and the female body is what's animating all of this.

M$ Linux

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Does the idea of Microsoft Linux strike you as an oxymoron? Slate notes that "Microsoft is now running its online empire with help from its own version of Linux:"

If you know Microsoft and its long history, this rather straightforward sentence reads almost like a paradox. It invites you to read it again--just to make sure it says what you think it said. Really, go ahead. Read it again.

For years, Microsoft actively worked to suppress Linux, a computer operating system whose underlying code is freely available to the world at large. It once threatened legal action against businesses that used the open-source OS, insisting that Linux infringed on patents underpinning its flagship Windows operating system.

The piece also mentions that "Earlier this month, a Microsoft engineer discussed Microsoft's very own Linux in a Microsoft blog post:"

The company is using this creation to run at least some of the networking hardware that drives its online services.

Certainly this isn't something that Microsoft wants to shout to the world, for fear they'll see it as knock against Windows.

Abrahamic assholery

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Skeptic Ink reminds us about Blasphemy Day, noting that "Today is the sixth annual International Blasphemy Rights Day and (not coincidentally) the tenth anniversary of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy."

Blasphemy laws, the Jyllands-Posten riots and subsequent death threats, and the Charlie Hebdo mass shooting are all examples of force or threats of force directed against public displays of impiety. Other examples include the various threats and/or fatwas against Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Molly Norris, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, not to mention all of these atheist bloggers.

It's not all nincompoops abroad--some of this is a local issue:

Right here in my backyard, not long ago, the Catholic League tried to use the "community standards" gambit to shut down a Black Mass performance, and the archbishopric filed a frivolous lawsuit in order to prevent the performance from including a certain sacred foodstuff. These methods are far more civilized than death threats and murder, naturally, but they are intended to achieve the same result: Immunizing ancient ridiculous ideas against the possibility of public mockery.

As freethinkers and skeptics, we cannot let this aggression stand. Ridiculous ideas must be ridiculed, bad ideas refuted, untruths rebutted.

Go forth and blaspheme.

Another SI piece mentioned the following:

• Many Christians interpret Mark 3:29 to mean that blaspheming is the one unforgivable sin. Once it happens, no amount of prayer or regret can take away one's sentence to Hell.

• Islam considers blasphemy a form of apostasy. The punishment for apostasy is death under sharia. ("Religion of peace?")

• In Judaism, the third book of the Torah [Leviticus 24:16] states that blasphemers shall be punished by death.

Best of all is the observation that "God, as portrayed in the three major Abrahamic religions is a vicious asshole:"

I am aware that these words I am typing are blasphemous and if the Bible were actually true, I would spend an eternity in Hell. But I am so confident in my disbelief in the utter bullshit of the Bible that I am not scared to say this. I don't believe in the thousands of other possible gods, either, so if those religions have blasphemy rules, I want to break them as well.

Howl and Persepolis

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Open Culture's article on Banned Books Week and Allen Ginsberg's Howl also discusses censorship issues related to Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis:

The ostensibly objectionable content in the book is no more graphic than that in most history textbooks, and it's easy to make the case that Persepolis and other challenged memoirs and novels that offer perspectives from other countries, cultures, or political points of view have inherent educational value. One might be tempted to think that school officials pulled the book for other reasons. [...]

While prohibiting books from the classroom may seem a far cry from government censorship, Banned Books Week reminds us that many people still find certain kinds of books deeply threatening, and should push us to ask why that is.

Rall, redux

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If you're looking for an exhaustive (and occasionally exhausting) report on the Ted Rall vs. the LA Time debacle, look no further than this Comics Journal piece. "it looks like the Times compromised its integrity to please the cops," the article observes, and "it appears that Rall was not 'fired' so much for misstating some facts as he was for expressing an opinion about the police." A larger problem is that "Rall is clearly his own worst enemy:"

His intemperate letter to Goldberg brims with hostile scorn for the recipient: repeatedly, he insults Goldberg's judgment and his reasoning ability. How, after the vehemence of this outburst, Rall expects to be reinstated, I dunno. [...] Still, it's clear to me that Rall has the moral high ground. Not, maybe, all the facts, but enough to establish credibility and with that, a claim to righteous frustration and anger.

The high ground is not enough, apparently.

democratic socialism

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In a short piece on Bernie Sanders' socialism, Joe Fletcher points out that "there is huge difference between Socialism and Democratic Socialism:"

A contemporary Democratic Socialist is very much still a Capitalist, though they favor strong social welfare programs that aim to reduce economic inequality and favor regulations that curb the worst behaviors of the private sector. A Democratic Socialist is essentially nothing more than a left of left-of-center Liberal. [...]

Now that being said, there is one truly Socialist agenda item in Sanders economic platform, that no one is talking about - building worker co-ops. Sanders introduced legislation with the aim of helping to build worker owned businesses in 2014.

Following up on the previous story of a Tor node in a public library, IT Librarian Chuck McAndrew writes that "DHS is not the boss of my library:"

When considering this project, our board of trustees had to decide whether or not hosting a relay like this was appropriate for a public library, especially in the face of the concerns of law enforcement. In the end, the decision was a resounding yes. Here was a chance to put into practice the values that we have always espoused. This project allowed us to take a concrete step to further the cause of intellectual freedom not just for our patrons, but for people all over the globe.

Addressing the scary talk of "terrorists and child pornographers," McAndrew points out that "The chilling effect that surveillance has on free inquiry is well documented:"

By advocating for the right to privacy online, librarians are, in fact, continuing the fight for intellectual freedom that they previously displayed when pressured to ban books. If you aren't free to examine and explore ideas, even unpopular or counter-cultural ones, without fear of repercussions, then you can't truly have well-informed opinions. As librarians we believe in the right of every person to educate themselves and to draw their own conclusions without fear of government meddling. Tor helps them do that.

Freedom, after all, depends on a well-informed citizenry who isn't afraid to express itself, whether online or off.

mindfulness BS

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Ronald Purser and Edwin Ng note that "Mindfulness has become a household word," but nonetheless conclude that corporate mindfulness is bullshit:

To consider only the corporate sector: with over $300 billion in losses due to stress-related absences, and nearly $550 billion in losses due to a lack of "employee engagement," it is unsurprising why it has jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon. Such losses in production and efficiency threaten the logic of profit-making. For capitalism to survive, as Nicole Ashoff points out in The New Prophets of Capital, "people must willingly participate in and reproduce its structures and norms," and in times of crisis, "capitalism must draw upon cultural ideas that exist outside of the circuits of profit-making." Mindfulness is one such new cultural idea serving this purpose.

However, those celebrating the mindfulness boom have avoided any serious consideration of why stress is so pervasive in corporations and society.

Critical psychologist David Smail referred to this philosophy as "magical voluntarism," because it blames individuals for their own stress, ignoring the social and economic conditions which may have contributed to it.

The article notes that "secular mindfulness advocates...have largely sidestepped, misrepresented, or summarily dismissed the issues raised in recent critiques, like the now viral article "Beyond McMindfulness:"

Even if corporate mindfulness programs expanded to investigate the causes and conditions of stress and social suffering, would such programs be compatible with the fundamental goals of profit maximization? Wouldn't such programs be viewed as a threat (especially if top talent were exiting the corporation as a result of mindfulness training) and a liability to corporate interests rather than as an asset? [...]

Regardless of whether one is a religiously or secularly oriented practitioner, mindfulness is nothing less than a practice of faith.

As pointed out in "Beyond McMindfulness," the corporatized version of mindfulness has spawned yet another "lucrative cottage industry:"

Uncoupling mindfulness from its ethical and religious Buddhist context is understandable as an expedient move to make such training a viable product on the open market. But the rush to secularize and commodify mindfulness into a marketable technique may be leading to an unfortunate denaturing of this ancient practice, which was intended for far more than relieving a headache, reducing blood pressure, or helping executives become better focused and more productive.

While a stripped-down, secularized technique -- what some critics are now calling "McMindfulness" -- may make it more palatable to the corporate world, decontextualizing mindfulness from its original liberative and transformative purpose, as well as its foundation in social ethics, amounts to a Faustian bargain. Rather than applying mindfulness as a means to awaken individuals and organizations from the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, it is usually being refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.

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Parille, Ken & Isaac Cates. Daniel Clowes: Conversations (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2010)

The most interesting thing about the University of Mississippi's series of Conversations with Comics Artists is the insight it gives into their works when one has a substantial collection of commentary to analyze. I've only read Daniel Clowes' work sporadically, but it's no surprise that he is very much not a superhero fan--even commenting that "The thing about Marvel comics is that they're so boring:"

Marvel comics are just [created] by bored people who churn out as many pages to make as much money as they can. They couldn't care less, and I don't care what they say in their defense because if they really cared about anything other than making a buck, they wouldn't be working on stuff like that unless they were total fools. (p. 13, Monte Beauchamp, "Behind the Eightball: The Daniel Clowes Interview" from Blab! #4, 1989)

Passing by the temptation to list counter-examples, I was intrigued by Clowes' later remark that "the Mad comics by Harvey Kurtzman, to me those are just the perfect comics:"

Nobody's ever topped them, in terms of the beauty and the skill and energy that they have. My goal is to do that, as one person, which is kind of a daunting task. I'm still trying to achieve that. (p. 84, Austin English, "Parody and Perplexity with Dan Clowes" from Indy Magazine, 1999)

Clowes has plenty of beauty and skill and energy in his work, but it has such a different sensibility from Kurtzman's that I have trouble seeing the influence. (Perhaps it will become evident later, when I read more of it.) He makes the surprising admission that "Comics seldom move me the way I would be moved by a novel or movie:"

I say this as someone who would rather read comics than watch movies, listen to music, anything. But it's not an operatic medium. I hear other people talk about being moved to tears by comics. I can't imagine that. (p. 170, Elizabeth Benefiel, "Daniel Clowes" from the Onion AV Club, 2007)

Two weeks ago, a lost Clowes interview with Zack Carlson surfaced after having languished on an untranscribed cassette since 1995. My favorite passage was Clowes' observation that "When I did that anti-Christian comic ["Why I Hate Christians," Eightball #11], which I felt was really pretty sympathetic, I got letters from hardcore Christians who didn't agree with what I had to say." When Carlson asks, "Were they diplomatic about it?" Clowes responds:

Well, you know, Christians are never diplomatic. It was like they were trying to save me. It was: "You're in big trouble, and I'm trying to help you." In a way, if they really believe that, then they're just trying to be nice. So it's hard to say, "Fuck you, man." And it's hard to not take them seriously, since they're so serious about it themselves. So I tried to be nice when I wrote back. Even though I thought they were idiots.

Not surprisingly, Clowes identifies as agnostic:

RL: So...do you believe in God?

DC: I'm reserving judgment on it. I don't know enough to answer. [Laughs.] I tend not to, but then I think there is probably some master puppeteer up there laughing at us. There have been too many miserable coincidences in my life when I thought, "There has got to be somebody making this happen just to amuse himself at my humiliation." [Laughs.] But no, I think generally I don't have religious beliefs. I think it's presumptuous to try to imagine things like that. (p. 121, Rudy Lementhéour, "An Interview with Daniel Clowes" from PLG #37, 2001)

His Complete Eightball box set beckons from my bookshelves, and now I'm even more enticed to clear my reading calendar and dive in.

Salon notes that "Movement Conservatives [otherwise known as GOP extremists and authoritarians] just claimed the head of House Speaker John Boehner:"

His political death was the price of preventing a catastrophic government shutdown after Movement Conservatives in Congress tied the very survival of the United States government to their determination to defund Planned Parenthood. Movement Conservatives are gunning for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell next. We should be very afraid. Boehner and McConnell are not wild-eyed lefties. They are on the very far right of the American political spectrum: fervently pro-business, antiabortion, opposed to social welfare legislation. But they are old-school politicians who still have faith in the idea of American democracy.

Movement Conservatives do not. They want to blow up the government and remake America according to their own radical ideology.

The piece discusses William F. Buckley, Jr's God and Man at Yale and Eric Hoffer's The True Believer before pointing out that "By the time of the George W. Bush administration, Movement Conservatives controlled the Republican Party, and they abandoned reality in favor of their simple story line."

They are following the same pattern Eric Hoffer identified as the path to authoritarianism. Last week, 43 percent of Republicans polled said they could imagine a scenario in which they would back a military coup. This week, Movement Conservatives in Congress knocked off a conservative speaker because he refused to sacrifice the American government to their demands.

We should be very frightened indeed. If we are not careful, John Boehner's will not be the only head on the block.

H/t to Bisexual Books for linking to this interview with Shiri Eisner, author of Bi: Notes for a Bisexual Revolution. One of her points is the normative effect of "the focus of bi dialogues on so-called myth-busting:"

If we're saying, 'No, we're not confused; no, we're not promiscuous; no, we're not greedy,' then we accept that it's wrong to be confused, it's wrong to be greedy, it's wrong to be promiscuous. And I want to ask, why do we have to work by their rules? Society calls us all of these things because these things are fears. When we're called confused, it's an attempt to create a clear separation between heterosexuality and homosexuality, so there is a clear-cut distinction that doesn't endanger straight people from going over to the "wrong" side of the equation. Or when we're called promiscuous, it's because society fears sexuality outside of heteronormativity, outside of monogamy, outside of marriage, outside of the norm.

This Q&A is especially interesting:

You talk a lot about bisexuals being accused of reinforcing the gender binary. Why are terms like 'pansexual' and 'omnisexual' more acceptable in some queer communities?

There's like an everlasting pariah status to bisexuality that I can't exactly explain. This is partially why I like bisexuality: because it's so difficult for so many people, and I think it says something about bisexuality because difficulty means challenge. For a long time, there has been this current in queer politics and theory ascribing subversive qualities to bisexual behavior, while depicting bisexual identity as problematic. So, words like 'queer' or 'pansexual' enable people to take bisexual behavior without bisexual identity, and suddenly the behavior becomes subversive and political and shiny, while the word remains in the shadows.

RHPS

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EW mentions HBO's midnight showing tonight:

Although watching the campy, glam-rock-inflected movie in the privacy of one's own home might not pack the same transgressive punch as a participatory screening at the local repertory cinema, there's nothing stopping viewers from inviting their friends over to don some sequins, sing along, and throw toast in the air.

The Atlantic observes that RHPS has become mainstream:

Through its immersive, fan-driven screenings and unadulterated idolatry of weirdness, it's ended up so ingrained in the cultural fabric that networks like HBO and Fox are using the film's 40th anniversary to capitalize on its popularity. Rocky Horror, once an embodiment of all that's transgressive and outside the mainstream, has become the ultimate crowd-pleaser.

As the piece notes, "the appeal wasn't only in the film's content, but the sense of community and way of thinking that came along with its almost-ritualistic conventions."

GOPropaganda

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Amanda Marcotte looks at conservative hoaxes, lies, and urban legends, and calls them "a major part of modern-day conservatism." These are her examples:

1. Birtherism.

2. Planned Parenthood. ["selling fetal body parts for profit"]

3. Ahmed Mohamed. [slandering a 14-year-old as "Jihad Junior"]

4. Jade Helm.

5. Columbine myth. [that the shooters targeted Christians]

Taking a detailed look at #2 on that list, here are the 5 biggest lies about Planned Parenthood:

1) Abortion comprises most of Planned Parenthood's services

As the Washington Post's Michelle Ye Hee Le writes, "advocates and opponents of abortion rights have calculated somewhere between 15 percent and 37 percent of the organization's annual non-government health services revenue comes from abortion services."

2) The Planned Parenthood videos show a fetus being harvested for its brain

Carly Fiorina's claim that she saw "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain" is a scene that "never happened in any of the videos Fiorina was mentioning."

3) Planned Parenthood is selling fetal tissue for profit

4) Defunding Planned Parenthood is a guaranteed way to save taxpayer money [one that "could in fact end up costing the taxpayers money--rather than saving it"]

ThinkProgress' Bryce Covert estimate that Medicaid spending would increase $650 million without the contraceptive services Planned Parenthood provides. And in Texas, where family planning services were cut by $73 million in 2011, it was determined that an additional cost of $273 million in federal Medicaid coverage would be required to make up for getting rid of these expenses in the first place.

5) Planned Parenthood doesn't really help advance women's health

The CBO estimated that 650,000 women across the country would lose partial access to healthcare if the organization were to be defunded, which would lead to more unplanned pregnancies due to less access to birth control.

The conclusion?

The facts show that abortion may be a controversial issue, but Planned Parenthood should not be. No matter your feelings on the issue, keeping Planned Parenthood open is important for women and important for America.

While bemoaning the recent decline of the French intellectual, Sudhir Hazareesingh observes that "One of the most characteristic inventions of modern French culture is the 'intellectual'." He also notes that Jean-Paul Sartre "took the role of the public intellectual to its highest prominence" and praises Sartre's "contrarian spirit" as being "central to the aura which surrounded modern French intellectuals:"

And even though he detested nationalism, Sartre unwittingly contributed to the French sense of greatness through his embodiment of cultural and intellectual eminence, and his effortless superiority. Indeed, Sartre was undoubtedly one of the most famous French figures of the 20th century, and his writings and polemics were ardently followed by cultural elites across the globe, from Buenos Aires to Beirut.

Today's Left Bank is but a pale shadow of this eminent past. Fashion outlets have replaced high theoretical endeavor in Saint-Germain-des-Près. In fact, with very rare exceptions, such as Thomas Piketty's book on capitalism, Paris has ceased to be a major center of innovation in the humanities and social sciences.

Why would this be so?

Arguably the most important reason for the French loss of intellectual dynamism is the growing sense that there has been a major retreat of French power on the global stage, both in its material, "hard" terms and in its cultural "soft" dimensions. In a world dominated politically by the United States, culturally by the dastardly 'Anglo-Saxons," and in Europe by the economic might of Germany, the French are struggling to reinvent themselves.

This tweet from Jeb! Bush is so stunningly obtuse that I struggle to formulate an articulate comment:

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Dubya the Decider is literally standing on the graves of Americans who might not have died but for his astounding incompetence...and his dipshit brother has the gall to say "He kept us safe."

I thought Jeb was supposed to be the smart one.

Xenos comments that "what I can't tolerate is how, despite the horrific failure on 9/11, Bush 43, his seemingly equally idiotic brother, and their cretinous conservative comrades, consistently brag about how great the Republican Party is at protecting the country:"

In fact, bizarrely enough, terrorists successfully attacking us on a Republican president's watch somehow proves that terrorists wouldn't dare attack us on a Republican president's watch! It's absolutely maddening.

So far there hasn't been much of a backlash besides the usual lefty blogs and such. As far as I know, no major mainstream news outlet offered much criticism or grilled Jeb about it. In fact, as I was flipping through the channels the day after the debates, some program on CNN that doesn't have Anderson Cooper or Don Lemon as the host played that clip of Jeb, and commented on how the crowd seemed to like that answer and just moved on.

Once again, ladies and gentlemen. Your liberal media.

Demi Lovato dropped some not-so-veiled references to Sapphic leanings while discussing her hit song "Cool for the Summer" on Alan Carr's British talk show Chatty Man:

Alan: I put it to you Miss Lovato, that that song is about lesbianism.

Demi: What?

Alan: Lesbianism.

Demi: I'm not confirming and I'm definitely not denying. All of my songs are based off of personal experiences. I don't think there's anything wrong with experimentation at all.

Alan: No. The trouble is i experimented once and it stuck.

Demi: Hey, I didn't say that it didn't stick either. I didn't say that it didn't stick .

No one should be surprised given the lyrics (to say nothing of the video) for the song in question:

effective altruism

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The literalist in me wants to quibble with the name, but I appreciated Peter Singer's piece in Boston Review on what he calls the "exciting new movement" of effective altruism:

At universities from Oxford to Harvard and the University of Washington, from Bayreuth in Germany to Brisbane in Australia, effective altruism organizations are forming. Effective altruists are engaging in lively discussions on social media and websites, and their ideas are being examined in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and even the Wall Street Journal. Philosophy, and more specifically practical ethics, has played an important role in effective altruism's development, and effective altruism shows that philosophy is returning to its Socratic role of challenging our ideas about what it is to live an ethical life. In doing so, philosophy has demonstrated its ability to transform, sometimes quite dramatically, the lives of those who study it. Moreover, it is a transformation that, I believe, should be welcomed because it makes the world a better place.

"Effective altruism," he explains, "is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can:"

Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place.

"Effective altruists, he continues, "do things like the following:"

...living modestly and donating a large part of their income--often much more than the traditional tenth, or tithe--to the most effective charities; researching and discussing with others which charities are the most effective or drawing on research done by other independent evaluators; choosing a career in which they can earn most, not in order to be able to live affluently but so that they can do more good; talking to others, in person or online, about giving, so that the idea of effective altruism will spread; giving part of their body--blood, bone marrow, or even a kidney--to a stranger.

Singer's book The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism Is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically may be worth reading for further examination of this concept.

strength in numbers

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H/t to BoingBoing for linking to this story of a library that shut down its Tor node after a complaint from DHS and the local police:

In July, the Kilton Public Library in Lebanon, New Hampshire, was the first library in the country to become part of the anonymous Web surfing service Tor. The library allowed Tor users around the world to bounce their Internet traffic through the library, thus masking users' locations.

Soon after state authorities received an email about it from an agent at the Department of Homeland Security.

"The Department of Homeland Security got in touch with our Police Department," said Sean Fleming, the library director of the Lebanon Public Libraries.

After a meeting at which local police and city officials discussed how Tor could be exploited by criminals, the library pulled the plug on the project.

Fleming also stressed that "We need to find out what the community thinks:"

"The only groups that have been represented so far are the Police Department and City Hall." [...] "There are other libraries that I've heard that are interested in participating but nobody else wanted to be first," he said. "We're lonesome right now."

Imagine if every public library in the world ran a Tor node...it looks like the good folks at Library Freedom Project are leading the way!

You're an idiot if you're a Republican in 2016, writes Hrafnkell Haraldsson. "Plainly put, [the GOP] base - and their candidate - are batsh*t crazy:"

They have not just one, but over a dozen candidates who think Americans are ready to throw immigrants to the sharks, by deporting them, by erecting a giant wall, or tracking them like FedEx packages. In fact, 65 percent of Americans favor doing something to make these people citizens.

We get Kim Davis, who, for not being allowed to act like a Nazi, says she is being treated like a Jew in Nazi Germany. Nor is hers the craziest utterance on the subject. If your jaw drops, it's okay. You can't make this stuff up.

Well, they've been making up a lot of things:

It isn't facts that inform their thinking. Facts don't enter into it. It is ideology, an ideology which tells them that anything of the political LEFT is not legitimate. Conversely, everything of the right, no matter how illogical, contradictory, or unsupported by facts, must be legitimate.

"Shakespeare could not have written a better tragedy than the one Republicans have created for themselves," he concludes.

Also tragic--although not in a literary sense--is mass ignorance of the radical origins of Labor Day. "Labor Day," writes TPM, "has become almost entirely divorced from its origins and associated instead with one last burst of summer fun before the fall and new school year commence in earnest." After mentioning the 1894 Pullman Strike and the Haymarket riots (May 1886), the piece notes that "the fears of international radicalism that followed, led to President Grover Cleveland's 1887 recognition of a September Labor Day celebration:"

As with every victory achieved by the labor movement (including eight-hour workdays, the weekend, health protections, child labor laws, and numerous other successes), Labor Day would not exist without the movement's more radical and activist elements and efforts. Remembering the holiday's origins can thus help us not only celebrate all that the labor movement has achieved, but also recognize the continued need for radical activism.

One suspects that this very history of accomplishment is the unacknowledged reason for the intense hatred from the crazies in the GOP base (led by ideologues such as Glenn Beck) for Progressives and others on the Left--although their stated reasons are an nonsensical as, well, pretty much everything else that they're so often ranting about.

Chris Hedges pegs militarism as the real enemy in America today, saying, "If you are not dedicated to the destruction of empire and the dismantling of American militarism, then you cannot count yourself as a member of the left:"

There will be no genuine democratic, social, economic or political reform until we destroy our permanent war machine.

Militarists and war profiteers are our greatest enemy.

"The U.S. military and its array of civilian contractors operate as enforcers and hired killers across the globe for corporations," he writes, as "global corporations to expand markets and plunder oil, minerals and other natural resources while keeping subjugated populations impoverished by corrupt and brutal puppet regimes. The masters of war are the scum of the earth." The cost of this is both blood and treasure:

Military expenditures bleed the federal budget--officially--of $598.49 billion a year, or 53.71 percent of all spending. This does not, however, include veterans' benefits at $65.32 billion a year or hidden costs in other budgets that see the military and the war profiteers take as much as $1.6 trillion a year out of the pockets of taxpayers.

Hedges fulminates against the "mythical narrative [that] appeals to our fantasies about ourselves:"

...that we are a virtuous people, that God has blessed us above others, that we have the highest form of civilization, that we have been anointed to police the world and make it safe, that we are the most powerful and righteous nation on earth, that we are always assured of victory, that we have a right to kill in the name of nationalist values--values determined by our naked self-interest and that we conveniently define as universal.

In a twist on the quote often mistakenly attributed to Sinclair Lewis, Hedges concludes:

Here lies the virus of fascism, wrapped in the American flag, held aloft by the Christian cross and buttressed by white supremacy. It is a potent and dangerous force within the body politic. And it is growing. The real enemy is within.

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