"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Old One-Two

So, spent the mid-part of the week in bed with an intestinal bug.

This should be it. Better now.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Today's Must Read

It's a little bit of hope, from NYT, via Gary Farber at Obsidian Wings.

It's the sort of program that will never be considered here because 1) it works -- it actually solves the problem, and 2) it contains no mechanism for punishing people for being poor, i.e., less greedy and ruthless than those who stand to benefit by keeping them where they are.

It's a nice dream, though.

Saturday, January 22, 2011



I'm already down from being sick, and the news is no help. It's kind of painful to sit here and watch the country go right down the toilet and not be able to do anything about it.

So consider Hunter at Random on hiatus for an undetermined length of time.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Amazing. Just ran across her via Towleroad:

If you follow the link, you can see an 8-minute segment of her appearance on Alan Carr's show. She's British. I couldn't understand half the conversation. But man can she sing.


This just came up as I got back from the store: Court rejects appeal over DC gay marriage law.

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from opponents of same-sex marriage who want to overturn the District of Columbia's gay marriage law.

More as I find it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gabby Giffords

She opened her eyes. From NYT, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand describes the scene in her hospital room.

“We were telling her how proud we were of her and how she was inspiring the whole nation with her courage and with her strength,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Then Debbie and I started joking about all the things we were going to do when she got better. We were holding her hand, and she was responding to our hand holding, she was rubbing her hands and she was gripping our hands so we could … we knew she could hear and understand what we were saying, she moved her leg. we knew she was responding.”

And then, Sen. Gillibrand said, one of Ms. Giffords’s eyes started to twitch. (Her other eye was bandaged because it was damaged in the gunfire).

“Her eye is flickering and Mark sees this and gets extremely excited,” Sen. Gillibrand said. “He said ‘Gabby open your eyes, open your eyes,’ — he is really urging her forward, and the doctor is perking up.”

Sen. Gillibrand said that around 30 seconds later, “she finally opens her eyes, and you could tell she was desperately trying to focus.”

She described Mr. Kelly as “so happy,” and said that she and others in the room were crying.

“Mark says ‘if you can see me, give us the thumbs up,’” Sen. Gillibrand said. And instead of giving a thumbs up, Ms. Giffords raised her whole arm, and later reached out to touch her husband’s ring.

And a segment of the president's speech:

Thanks to Towleroad.

"Captain America Combats Suicide"

Just got a heads-up via Joe.My.God.: Marvel has come out with a special number of Captain America:

Marvel is proud to announce the release of Captain America: A Little Help, an all-new story free to all fans via the Marvel Comics App (for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch) and Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited in an effort to help raise awareness of suicide prevention. Written by Dr. Tim Ursiny, PH.D., CBC, RCC and illustrated by Nick Dragotta, this powerful story shows what happens when one man on the verge of suicide is drawn into a chance encounter with Captain America—and he may be the Avenger’s only hope! This story is also available in I AM AN AVENGER #5, in comic stores nationwide today—both digital and print versions include contact information for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Another Universe (Updated)

This was a jaw-drop moment this morning:

The "Survey of Affluence and Wealth in America" found luxury spending would rebound for the first time in three years, led by purchases of automobiles, services, travel and children's clothing.

But the online poll of 1,900 households with an average annual income of more than $235,000 by American Express Publishing and Harrison Group showed 94 percent still believe the United States is in recession.

The households surveyed between January and April represent 10 percent of Americans and 50 percent of all retail sales.

So they believe we're still in a recession but the 10% who own most of the wealth can now spend more money on luxuries. It gets better -- this is where my irony meter shattered:

And this pride had led to happiness among the rich, with 71 percent saying they are happy, up from 40 percent in 2007.

"It's because they didn't know they could survive something this bad," Taylor told the Luxury Marketing Council of New York on Wednesday. "They have got competent, they have gotten close to their family, they have self-esteem from their ability to handle a crisis."

"Happiness is now the abiding object of affluent American life, not success," he said. "They're really happy with their ability to operate under pressure."

So they've managed to insulate themselves against the worst effects of their own excesses and they feel good about it.

And since they own the people who should be calling them to account, they can go on living in their little bubbles.

I'm speechless.

Fortunately, Dylan Ratigan is not: here's the way the rich got to feeling so good about themselves:


There's a linkage here to the political violence that is an ongoing fact of American life but is once again in our faces. Read >this from Esquire, and then wonder how much of the wealth that's being spent on luxury goods -- because, after all, these people deserve they're pretty things -- could be used to help someone. Like maybe someone whose life they've screwed up.

And then ask yourself how much money someone like Rupert Murdoch is making from this.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Hysteria Never Dies

Mahablog was kind enough to point out this piece of trash from JacK Schafer. It's actually pretty instructive -- it would be a sterling example to present in a logic or rhetoric class on how not to construct an argument. It's also a wonderful example of wounded self-righteousness.

It starts going really downhill here:

The lead spokesman for the anti-inflammatory movement, however, was Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, whose jurisdiction includes Tucson. Said Dupnik at a Jan. 8 press conference in answer to questions about the criminal investigation:
I'd just like to say that when you look at unbalanced people, how they are—how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths, about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.
Embedded in Sheriff Dupnik's ad hoc wisdom were several assumptions. First, that strident, anti-government political views can be easily categorized as vitriolic, bigoted, and prejudicial. Second, that those voicing strident political views are guilty of issuing Manchurian Candidate-style instructions to commit murder and mayhem to the "unbalanced." Third, that the Tucson shooter was inspired to kill by political debate or by Sarah Palin's "target" map or other inflammatory outbursts. Fourth, that we should calibrate our political speech in such a manner that we do not awaken the Manchurian candidates among us.

Embedded in Schafer's "rebuttal" to the Sheriff's remarks are a series of flaws.

First, straw man: aside from the fact that the strident anti-government views coming from the right have, in fact, been vitriolic, bigoted and prejudicial, that's not really a valid conclusion to draw from Dupnik's remarks. Dupnik spoke of the rhetoric -- which has been deliberately inflammatory -- not the opinions behind it. Second, Dupnik never said that. He merely points out what anyone with two brains cells to rub together has already figured out: when major figures from either political party are spewing the kind of loaded terminology we've heard regularly from the right over the past couple of years, it stands to reason that someone whose grasp on reality might not be so firm is going to take that as a cue. The Tucson shooter may or may not have been "inspired to kill" by Palin's crosshairs map (which, again, Dupnik did not mention); he might have killed someone anyway. But let's not forget that he deliberately sought out a Democrat. Fourth, another straw man -- why shouldn't we expect our politicians to at least pretend they are adults? It has nothing to do with Manchurian candidates -- Schafer's contribution to the discussion, not Dupnik's. It's called civilized behavior in the interest of an instructive and useful public discourse. (Which, can we hypothesize, the Republicans have no interest in maintaining because they quite demonstrably have nothing positive to offer in such a discourse?)

I find it highly informative that Schafer has made the particular arguments he's made in the context of a comment by someone who mentioned none of of the points to which Schafer took exception. Little bit of an exposed nerve there, you think?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I < 3 Bill Maher

Watch this. He's right on top of it.

Circle the Wagons

The best summary I've seen so far on the right's reaction to the Giffords assassination attempt, from Roy Edroso at Alicublog.

Don't let anyone tell you that the right didn't mean you should shoot your congressperson. Something struck a nerve here, that much is obvious, and it seems to me the only logical conclusion is that they were deliberately trying to inflame their base (duh -- that's what the right has been doing for a generation or more) regardless of consequences. If a Democrat gets wasted, well, that's one for our side.

They're the victims here, you see. Here's more from Edroso on that syndrome:

After Saturday's shootings in Arizona -- which left Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords badly wounded and six people dead -- rightbloggers were swift to condemn... any possible criticism of themselves.

You can understand their defensiveness. Back during the 2010 campaign, Sarah Palin had endorsed Tea Party challengers to Giffords and others with little gun-sight images and the cry, "Don't Retreat -- Reload!" Giffords had noticed ("When people do that, they've got to realize there are consequences to that action..."); so did the local sheriff.

Oops. You might expect rightbloggers to be pouring oil on troubled waters right now, eschewing violence, promoting civility, etc.

You might expect that -- if you didn't know them. If you do, you will have guessed that they responded in their traditional manner: With rage at the great injustice they had suffered.

This is not just a function of the teabaggers and their handlers. We've seen this for years among the anti-gay hate groups -- if gays and lesbians are granted any rights, then the rights of anti-gay Christianists are being violated.

The overarching irony here is that they are allowed to avoid any consequences for anything they do. It's not just their own defensiveness that's part of that, but that the media allows it by never questioning their statements, and in the case of Fox, immediately going full-bore into attacks on those who dare to question them. It's not just the Palins and Becks I'm talking about, either -- when's the last time you saw a talk show host challenge Tony Perkins or Maggie Gallagher over obvious lies? (A footnote: just think about the reactions of FRC and its allies on being designated as anti-gay hate groups by the SPLC: in no case did they respond on the actual basis for the listing. Instead, they attacked the SPLC as "leftist" and claimed they were being listed because of their opposition to same-sex marriage, which SPLC specifically noted was not a reason for the designation.) And do you really believe that any moderator on any television program is going to hold Sarah Palin's feet to the fire? (Not that she'd be caught dead -- pardon the expression -- on such a program, at least not one that was honest.)

And so, now that the inflammatory, inciteful, violent rhetoric has claimed more victims, it's everyone else's fault. (As an aside, here's a very handy timeline/list of the sorts of things this rhetoric is feeding.)

Of course.

And if, by some weird chance, you hadn't quite registered on the blatancy of this, this says it all:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Today's Must Read

A very intelligent essay by Stephanie Coontz on how marriage was redefined forty years ago and the religious conservatives failed to notice.

Of course, since this is WaPo, I suppose we'll be getting an OpEd from Maggie Gallagher and/or Tony Perkins in a day or two.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

The Point

I want to make it clear to anyone not familiar with this blog that I'm not claiming that Jared Loughner, the shooter in the Giffords assassination attempt, was part of the Tea Party movement or in any way allied with the extreme right. I think his mental condition makes such suppositions irrelevant.

What I am saying is that it's the right, and particularly the teabaggers, who have repeatedly and shamelessly made this kind of hate speech part of their repertoire -- and it goes beyond any specific remarks or graphics by Sharron Angle or Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman. Start with Rush Limbaugh, add in Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly, Laura Schlesinger, Pam Geller, and, yes, Matt Barber, Tony Perkins, Mat Staver, Brian Brown, Maggie Gallagher, Elaine Donnelley -- it's almost a cast of thousands. These people make their livings spewing lies and hate.

That's what I'm saying.

A Footnote: I got an e-mail from Alan Grayson this morning about the Giffords shooting in which he says this:

I know nothing about the man who shot Gabby, and what was going through his mind when he did this. But I will tell you this - if he shot Gabby out of hatred, then it wasn't Gabby he was shooting, but rather some cartoon version of her, drawn by her political opposition.

And that's it. The people I mentioned above deal in cartoons, and their followers buy it. I read a lot of comics, and I love manga and anime. I can still tell the difference between cartoons and real people. Apparently, I'm exceptional in that regard.

Update: Digby, of course, has some cogent comments on this phenomenon.

Update II: Digby links to this piece by James Fallows, which draws pretty much the same conclusion that I do, but without pointing fingers. I do have one disagreement, however:

It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder for anyone to talk -- on rallies, on cable TV, in ads -- about "eliminating" opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say "don't retreat, reload."

Don't ever think it. You can call these people on their hateful rhetoric, their lies and misrepresentations, their demonization of Muslims, gays, immmigrants, whoever is in their sights at the moment, and they will do it again, no matter who gets killed or maimed. They don't seem to have anything that we'd recognize as a conscience. (You'll remember that Tony Perkins has been called out a couple of times on national TV over his completely false statement that "Social science has proved that children do better with a married mother and father." And on his next appearance, he repeats it. Of course, no one's been shot over that one, so I guess that makes it OK.)

A Perennially Disgusting Person

Joe.My.God. had these two items running consecutively this morning -- the connection is too good to pass up. First, a press conference on the Giffords assassination attempt. The sheriff's remarks occupy about the first seven minutes, and he does comment on the hate-filled rhetoric that underlies these kinds of crimes:

You'll note that Sheriff Dupnik does not name names or point fingers.

That's followed by this bit from Matt Barber's Twitter page:

Matt Barber is, as you'll recall, a front man -- officially, "Director of Cultural Affairs" -- for the anti-gay hate group Liberty Counsel.

I guess something struck a nerve.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Disgusting People (Updated)

Sarah Palin. I just hit the news reports of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Gifford as I was going out to hit some errands, and then came home to find this report at Pam's House Blend.

And guess what -- here's a screen cap from Sarah Palin's SarahPAC page:

That one has since disappeared, strangely enough.


That page is still up at SarahPAC -- or up again. (Looking more carefully, I realize that it's up on her Facebook page, from March of last year. She must have missed that one. The comments there are illuminating: it's not Sarah's fault, Loughner's the one who decided to pull the trigger. For those people, she could have bought the gun and driven him to the site, and it would still not be her fault because he decided to start shooting. That's what they think is "taking responsibility" -- nothing that their goddess said or did could possibly have contributed to this event. That's also what happens when belief replaces reality in your head. These people really are children -- this is the emotional level of a five-year-old, the one who you find standing in the middle of the wreckage of a treasured vase who says "It broke."

There's also an interesting story at NYT on the whole phenomenon, which unfortunately doesn't go far enough -- it's more "he said, she said" reporting. Matt Bai has a somewhat more perceptive article.

In fact, much of the message among Republicans last year, as they sought to exploit the Tea Party phenomenon, centered — like the Tea Party moniker itself — on this imagery of armed revolution. Popular spokespeople like Ms. Palin routinely drop words like “tyranny” and “socialism” when describing the president and his allies, as if blind to the idea that Americans legitimately faced with either enemy would almost certainly take up arms.

It’s not that such leaders are necessarily trying to incite violence or hysteria; in fact, they’re not. It’s more that they are so caught up in a culture of hyperbole, so amused with their own verbal flourishes and the ensuing applause, that — like the bloggers and TV hosts to which they cater — they seem to lose their hold on the power of words.

On Saturday, for instance, Michael Steele, the Republican Party chairman, was among the first to issue a statement saying he was “shocked and horrified” by the Arizona shooting, and no doubt he was. But it was Mr. Steele who, last March, said he hoped to send Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the “firing line.”

Key point: they don't understand that words have consequences. And Bai is absolutely correct in one thing: this is a phenomenon of the right. You don't get that kind of rhetoric from the left.

On that note, here's a similar article from Sandhya Sokmashektar at WaPo, which seems to be more cover for the teabaggers than anything else.

When asked about the Palin target map, Beck said: "I don't know. It's really easy in the context of what happened this morning to look back and say, I don't know if this was such a bright idea. At the same time, there are other politicians from the other side of the political spectrum who have said similar military-style sayings. Do I really believe they are intending harm on people? No."

Isn't it interesting that the right is quick to say "the left does it, too," but can never seem to come up with an example? And on those rare occasions when they do, the example is so far out of scale as to be a joke.

And here's Palin's statement on her Facebook page:

My sincere condolences are offered to the family of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today's tragic shooting in Arizona.

On behalf of Todd and my family, we all pray for the victims and their families, and for peace and justice.

- Sarah Palin

Offhand, I'd say Palin has assigned her own meaning to the words "peace" and "justice," as she has so many others.

I have something to say to Gov. Palin:

When you publish pictures like that, and chuckle about "targeting" people who don't agree with you, what do you expect to happen? Especially since your natural constituency is the mean-spirited, fearful, and unhinged.

And then you and your ilk prattle on about "morality" when it's obvious to any thinking person that you have no sense of what it's about.

Didn't anyone ever tell you that words have consequences? This is your fault, lady, as much as anyone's. Maybe you should just keep your mouth shut until you can run everything by an adult.

Why don't you just crawl back under your rock?

Update: Found this choice little tidbit at Joe.My.God.:

Progressive websites are already pointing out that Giffords was among the 12 members of the U.S. House targeted for defeat with Sarah Palin's now-infamous "rifle crosshairs" election map. Giffords' Tea Party opponent Jesse Kelly picked up on that and held target practice with his supporters using a "fully automatic M16."

Add Jesse Kelly to the "Disgusting People" list.

And add Sen. John Cornyn -- here's a report from several years ago on Cornyn justifying the assassination of judges.

Another Marriage argument.

This started off as a comment to this post by Rob Tisinai at BTB, concerning a debate between Maggie Gallagher of NOM and Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry in the pages of The Economist.

Tisinai quotes Susan Meld Shell, as follows:

Jonathan Rauch, a highly regarded and eloquent supporter of gay marriage, defines marriage as, essentially, a legally enforced, long-term relationship of mutual aid and support between two sexual partners. Marriage, he says, “is putting one person ahead of all others”. “If marriage means anything at all,” according to Mr Rauch, it is knowing “that there is someone out there for whom you are always first in line.”

We can here leave aside how odd this definition will sound to any married couple with young children, partners whose first responsibility is not obviously spousal. The point to note is Mr Rauch’s telling claim that marriage, as he understands it, is primarily directed towards relieving adult anxiety about facing catastrophe alone—an “elemental fear of abandonment” (ie, that no one will be “there for me”) that may well express deeply felt human needs and longings, but has little or nothing to do with parenthood as such, the main conjugal concern of historically liberal thinkers like Locke.

I think Shell misses the point of Rauch's "definition." Since she doesn't link to her source for this, I can't be assured that she is quoting Rauch fully, although from what I know of his writings on the subject, he has his blind spots and she may be correct that he misses child-rearing as a primary reason for marriage.

Before I get into that, however, I want to point out that I have serious reservations with her essay, beginning with the first paragraph, in which she states

The issue of gay marriage brings to a head a central conflict between two fundamental moral positions that interact, like seismic plates, beneath the surface of contemporary political life.

The "traditional" definition of marriage as between one man and one woman (and I'll leave for the time being what a self-serving definition that is) claims its authority from "traditional morality," but I have to say that the idea of morality enshrined in that view strikes me as rudimentary at best, and I'm surprised that in a discussion of this weight Shell would merely accept it without examination, both because its underpinnings by any sort of authority are tenuous at best, but particularly since she devotes much of her essay to the responsibility of raising children, which seems to me to encompass a much wider moral stance. That limitation suffuses her argument, to its detriment, I think.

What everyone seems to have missed, except Tisinai's partner, is the one point about marriage that the the religious opponents of same-sex marriage (and some of the "secular" opponents, although if you examine their positions at all, they are, indeed, founded in religious doctrine) keep harping on: When you marry, you're no longer, in the eyes of the gods and your fellows, completely an individual. We've heard about this "mystical union" ad nauseam, usually with the implication, whether overt or subliminal, that it is normal for heterosexuals but impossible for same-sex partners. (And as one who has been intimately involved with other men,, both physically and emotionally, I can tell you that's bullshit.)

To put this in my own terms, marriage is the recognition by the community of a new entity composed of two individuals who have willingly chosen to give up at least a part of their status as individuals and embrace a new status as a couple.

And now let's loop back up to the quote from Shell's discussion above, about children and how raising them becomes one's primary responsibility.

Well, no.

Raising children becomes the primary responsibility of the couple who have chosen to undertake that commitment. (I'm leaving single parents out of this since they are, by definition, unmarried.) As Tisinai so aptly points out, his partner observed:

He pointed out that when parents neglect each other in favor of their children, the family breaks down and children lose the security of a stable home.

He was a lifeguard as a teen, and he recalled that you can’t count on being able to save lives without someone backing you up — that’s not a theoretical stretch, but a lesson learned through practice and experience. It made me think of the instruction we get on planes: if the oxygen mask drops, put on your own before helping your kids.

It strikes me that Shell falls into the same mindset that she accuses Rauch of displaying, which is thinking in terms of individuals and not a couple.

So if I can restate the issue, for couples the responsibility for raising children is a shared responsibility that you can undertake because of the support and commitment you share with your partner, because in that area, at least, you are, indeed, one person.

And somehow all the experts missed that.

The Republican Health-Care Plan

Coming soon to a state near you:

CBS News correspondent Ben Tracy reports at least two people have died since November. Mark Price, a father of six, died waiting for a bone marrow transplant. Now the University Medical Center in Tucson says a man needing a new liver died due to the cutbacks.

A hospital spokesperson said, "We believe that it's likely that they died because they were unable to get a transplant."

"There's absolutely no way you can justify killing people to save really a little bit over a million dollars," says Ariz. Rep. Chad Campbell (D).

Campbell says cutting the transplant program is saving Arizona $1.4 million, or one-tenth of 1 percent of its $825 million budget deficit.

Ariz. governor Jan Brewer says Arizona is broke. "The state has only so much money and we can only provide so many optional kinds of care," she says.

So saving people's lives by providing the organ transplants they need to survive is"optional care".

Is this what they call "compassionate conservatism"?

I know -- let's lower the tax rates on billionaires again -- that way, their health care will tickle down.

Friday, January 07, 2011

One Wonders, Sometimes

But this is a good thing. I would love to know whether this is a result of the new Lame Joke Congress:

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has issued an order to speed up the training and processes that will lead to the actual repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy banning openly gay and lesbian service members. Stars and Stripes, the military’s newspaper, moments ago reported “Gates has instructed the Defense Department to accelerate a plan to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on openly gay military personnel and start rolling out its training within a “very few weeks.”
“We’re trying to get the first two phases of that process done as quickly as possible,” Gates said, adding he has instructed Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley to accelerate his efforts. “My hope is that it can be done within a matter of a very few weeks so that we can then move on to what is the real challenge, which is providing training to 2.2 million people. And we will do that as expeditiously as we can.”

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Rewriting Twain

This is something that's been bruited about for years, and someone has finally done it: bowdlerizing Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to remove the "n" word and replace it with something theoretically less offensive. Via Firedoglake, here's an excellent discussion from Prof. Melissa Harris-Perry of Princeton:

And here is an excellent rant from AngryBlackBitch:

Twain’s use of that word offers an opportunity to discuss it, why many find it offensive and to ponder why and how Twain used it. There is also an opportunity to explore the historical time in which Huckleberry Finn is set…what society was like in Missouri and what America was going through.

This planned censorship is disturbing for many reasons. My first thought was that the publisher was re-writing Twain based on the false assumption that only children read Huckleberry Finn. Further pondering made me reject the idea of re-writing Huckleberry Finn even if children are the only people reading it.

Literature allows for the exploration of the good, the bad and the ugly that is all around us and can be a useful tool for stimulating classroom discussions that help young people understand the good, the bad and the ugly.

It probably comes as no surprise that I'm in agreement with the attitudes expressed in both these commentaries. Art is not there to make us comfortable. It is not there to reinforce our assumptions. It is there to push us into questioning those assumptions.

And the idea that some professor can wade into what is arguably the greatest novel in American literature and alter it to fit contemporary sensibilities is beyond the pale. It's like putting a fig leaf on Michelangelo's David -- which has also been done. As Harris-Perry points out, the way to counter this madness is not to give into it, but to provide the tools to confront it.


Timothy Kincaid has come up with a thoughtful commentary on Antonin Scalia's latest bullshit about the Fourteenth Amendment. He's much more polite than I'm inclined to be about it.

My only comment is that the text of the amendment says quite plainly "all persons." At that point, I don't really care about Scalia's fantasies of what the drafters intended. That's what they wrote. We go from there.

Socially Maladjusted

I've noticed this -- but then, I was raised with the concept of courtesy as the foundation of social interaction. From John Aravosis:

The other day a friend tweeted some Web site where you were supposed to spin a virtual wheel and then do the New Years' good deed the wheel landed on. The good deed it selected for me was "hold a door open for a stranger." Who wouldn't do that anyway? Since when did common courtesies become the thing of "special New Years promises"?

I do that constantly, and it's sort of interesting: there's a Thai restaurant on the first floor of the building, and the people who work there -- all Asians, pretty much -- are unfailingly courteous. They hold the door, and they thank those who hold the door for them, unlike some of the Westerners who don't even acknowledge that you've done them a courtesy -- who in fact don't acknowledge you at all.

We don't show up particularly well against the rest of the world. I remember being in Paris a number of years ago, head full of the conventional wisdom that the French, and especially Parisians, were rude and hostile, especially to Americans. Frankly, I've never met a group of people anywhere who were so unfailingly polite and good-humored -- except maybe New Yorkers.

I think the lack of common courtesy in America is the root of a lot of other behaviors that fall under the category of "my own private universe." Call it a lack of empathy, most clearly visible in the Christianist apologists for -- well, you name it: not only ignoring others' points of view, but refusing to admit that they even exist. And as we all know from the confirmation hearings for Justice Sotomayor, "empathy" is a joke on the right -- probably because it's a notable lack in their collective character, and too many of them are way beyond feeling shame. On the left, empathy becomes a cause, as does everything else, and I wonder sometimes how many of the PC left actually feel empathy for others in any way but the abstract.

Aravosis quotes Dr. Douglas fields in this post from HuffPo, who goes into the effects of rudeness on brain development, which I'm not going to go into here -- you can read the original for that. But Dr. Fields cites the example of the Japanese, for whom rudeness is perhaps the ultimate sin. One thing I run across again and again in reading manga is the cry, "You're not thinking about how I feel!" I think that probably is an accurate reflection of Japanese attitudes, the stress on empathy -- unless you think about how others feel, you're going to be tearing at the fabric that holds us together.

We're selfish.

I think we do, as a people, worship selfishness. It's not only the Rand Paul/Megan McArdle school of libertarianism that's at fault here. Just think about the emphasis in contemporary Christianity -- at least, the most visible and vocal proponents of it -- not on the teachings of Christ, one of the most selfless individuals who ever lived, but on the dicta of authority, which have little to do with caring for our fellows. It's fairly obvious at this point that the Roman Catholic Church is all about preserving its own privilege, and not much else. I don't think many of the Protestant sects are far behind -- just think about their cries for "religious freedom" -- for themselves, of course, not for anyone else.

And there's also St. Ronny and his economics of greed -- we're paying the price for that now. If you want to see the ultimate expression of our selfishness, just look at the heroes of Wall Street, who simply have no clue that they've done anything wrong. Oh, and I'm not buying the idea that it's corporations doing this, and corporations are soulless. Corporations reflect the values of those who run them.

I sometimes feel guilty when I refuse to give change to panhandlers on the street -- I don't have huge resources, but I could probably spare a little something, most days. Then I think about the coworker who recently lost her father, and was so grateful for a hug on her first day back at work, or the editorial assistant, someone whom I almost never see, who stopped by the front desk one day and poured her heart out. That's what I give: myself.

I'm not trying to make myself out to be a saint, it's just that that's what I have to give. I think we all do, and maybe we should all think about giving it more often. It all starts with common courtesy, which is just another way of saying respect and empathy toward others.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Must Watch

Great story from someone who's trying to make a difference; beginning at about 2:30:

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

Sort of. In spite of the insanity we can expect from Washington (which is one reason I haven't been posting much lately -- it's just too depressing), I'm beginning to see some hope in the media. Here's an excellent example from CNN on the "raunchy videos" produced by the then-XO and now captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise:

Notice how Parker even corrects Cmdr. Kirk Whipple -- former commander of the U.S.S. Cole -- about the frequency of occurrence -- he insists that it was a "one-time" happening, and she notes (finally -- it did take awhile) that there were a series of these videos. She also points out that it's not just offensive, but threatening to women and any gay sailors who may have been part of the crew.

On the whole, I agree with Whipple that there should be a thorough investigation before any action is taken against Capt. Honors, but I don't trust the Navy to do that, although it is possible, given the impending repeal of DADT and the resultant spotlight on bigotry in the military, they'll be a little less cavalier.

But I'm still delighted that Spitzer and Parker are actually challenging Whipple on this while still allowing him to say his piece. That's progress.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Welcome to 2011

in which the Lame Duck Congress becomes the Lame Joke Congress. Take Daryl Issa, who called Obama's White House the most corrupt administration in history, as a case in point. Different tune, suddenly. From Crooks and Liars:

ISSA: I corrected -- what I meant to say -- you know, on live radio, with Rush going back and forth -- and by the way that was because Rush had me on to answer the question of -- about coming together, having compromise. He didn't like the compromise word, when I said we're going to agree to disagree and then we're going to find a kind of common ground, the kind of compromise that makes -- and gets things done.

In saying that this is one of the most corrupt administrations, which is what I meant to say there, when you hand out $1 trillion in TARP just before this president came in, most of it unspent, $1 trillion nearly in stimulus that this president asked for, plus this huge expansion in health care and government, it has a corrupting effect.

When I look at waste, fraud and abuse in the bureaucracy and in the government, this is like steroids to pump up the muscles of waste.

HENRY: But first of all, on TARP, that was before the Obama administration. That was pushed through by the Bush administration, not -- so how could you call the Obama administration one of the most corrupt ever if the Bush administration pushed TARP through?

ISSA: I was -- I wasn't talking about TARP legislation. What I said...

HENRY: But you said now that that's what you meant.

And isn't it amazing how all these poses come unraveled when someone from the press actually starts doing their job?

Read the whole thing -- it's priceless.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year's Must Reads

First, the ever-sensible Maha, on the teabaggers and the Constitution.

And from Ed Brayton, a riff on "Onward Christian Soldiers" as it's performed in our own armed forces.

And from Dave Neiwert at C&L, Oh! Noes! A Muslim Batman! The lily-white world of superheroes comes crashing down. (Although anyone who's been paying attention knows that superhero comics not only stopped being lily-white but also stopped being totally hetero some while ago. Welcome to the twentieth century.)

We can always count on Digby. This time it's a take-off from a piece by Will Bunch on the indiscriminate use of tasers by police and what it means. (Hint: this is the New USA, where the president can order the assassination of an American citizen for any reason at all -- or none.)

And finally, a story that I've been meaning to highlight for a while -- Pfc. Bradley Manning, said to be the man who provided the latest Wikileaks dump, who is being held in solitary confinement in Quantico. Here's a discussion of the moral vacuum in which this treatment is taking place from Lynn Parramore at HuffPo. And here's more from Glenn Greenwald. I think this one deserves a strong letter to your Congressional delegation.

I wish I had more uplifting articles to highlight here, but that's the state of the world on this first day of 2011. Gods help us.

They're Born That Way (Updated) (Update II)

To start 2011, here's a report from a study done at University College London about conservatives and their brains:

A study to be published next year at University College London suggests that conservative brains are structured differently than the brains of other people. The investigation, led by Geraint Rees, focused on 92 individuals in the U.K. -- 90 students and two members of Parliament.

Specifically, the research shows that people with conservative tendencies have a larger amygdala and a smaller anterior cingulate than other people. The amygdala -- typically thought of as the "primitive brain" -- is responsible for reflexive impulses, like fear. The anterior cingulate is thought to be responsible for courage and optimism. This one-two punch could be responsible for many of the anecdotal claims that conservatives "think differently" from others.

So much for educating conservatives -- it starts to sound like "ex-gay" programs. Sorry -- they're born that way.

This story also showed up at Alternet, and there's quite a lively and intelligent discussion in the comments there.

One comment in particular caught my attention:

So what am I? Way to right on some issues way to the left on others,does that make for a "fair and balanced" brain? Or just observant enough to see that no side has all the answers? Could it be that both sides just cater to whomever will them in power?

In my reply to that one, I touched on the fact that I'm very curious about the world and love learning -- and also that there's not much I'm afraid of. Those two qualities seem to go hand in hand, and reflect something that I've noticed in too many people: they're not curious.

The way this relates to conservatism, at least in America, is that our conservatives seem to be content with received wisdom, as long as the wisdom comes from someone they recognize as an authority figure. (And frankly, it doesn't seem to take much to become an authority figure on the right. I mean, Rush Limbaugh? Glenn Beck? Sarah Palin?) They don't seem to question much, while liberals tend to question everything. (These are broad generalities, of course: we're talking about a congeries of individuals whose attitudes and beliefs occupy a continuum. There is, after all, the authoritarian left to consider.)

Anyway, I'm not taking that study as anything definitive -- nor is anyone else with half a brain, including the researcher. (At least, not in any other way than tongue in cheek.) But it does offer some interesting correspondences.

Update: In the area of right-wing credulity, see this story from Joan McCarter at DailyKos. Why is it always "liberals" who do the fact-checking?

Update II: Amanda Marcotte weighs in on this one, and I think misses a key issue, which I pointed out above, although she comes close:

I’m not a scientist, but I do read up on this kind of thing, and I’m inclined to think the latter---or at best, a combination of the two factors---is the more likely explanation. Because there’s no real evidence that political beliefs are genetic. Yes, they’re highly heritable, but that’s because the people who raise you instill their values in you. From what I understand, there’s a lot of evidence to show that your environment dramatically shapes what your brain looks like on those FMRI machines, so it makes sense that people who are conservative and therefore obsess constantly about who they hate and who is out to steal their privileges would have brains that reflect that obsession more than people who think in more generous, relaxed terms.

Again, I think the study is indicative of attitudes and approaches, not ideologies. Sure, there's ample room for the brain to change as it develops, but on the other side of that one, someone who is born with a tendency to "conservative" thought patterns is likely to be more accepting of experiences that reinforce those patterns while rejecting experiences that undercut them.