"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

Monday, December 31, 2007

My First Real Comment on the Election

It's gotten to the point where Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish is of much more value for the dissents he publishes than for anything he says himself. (I finally figured out that he is, indeed, one of the Beltway insiders. I thought he was just a shallow poseur.) (This one encapsulates a lot of what I find lacking in Sullivan's approach: he just doesn't understand Democrats, he doesn't understand leadership, and he doesn't understand what is necessary in a president right now. I think he just doesn't really understand American politics at all -- at least, not the way it's done in the heartland.

The real key to understanding the difference between Republicans and Democrats is in their reactions to the previous two Presidents. In fact, Bill Clinton was the best damned Republican policy President of the past half century. Republicans hated his slippery personality, the way he played fast and loose with the truth, and his personal approach to life. Democrats hate what George Bush has done to the country. There's a real difference, and Republicans as well as so-called (conservative) independents, project their feelings about the Clintons on ours about George Bush. To analogize, Michael Moore is not Michelle Malkin, but people like you can't see the difference.

Like I keep sayin' -- Sullivan just doesn't get it.

I will probably support Edwards in the primary. As this writer notes, he's an old-style Democrat with a strong program who is not afraid to take a position -- even when it's one that many of his constituency don't agree with -- and is willing to learn. I have never favored Obama, for many of the reasons the writer notes: first and foremost, he's not a leader. He might be an effective facilitator, but that's not what we need. Clinton is too far to the right on most issues for my taste, but I will probably support her in the general election if she wins the nomination. The alternative is unthinkable.


Here is an excellent piece by Matt Stoller that nails the "bipartisanship" mantra right to the wall.

As Chris Bowers and Matthew Yglesias among many others have pointed out, what this bipartisanship is really about is undermining the public's ability to participate in policy-making. . . .

Clearly, we are dealing with an extremely conservative set of decision-makers in DC within both parties and a public that is completely cut out of the process. That is bipartisanship, by the numbers. The vote authorizing the war in Iraq was a bipartisan vote, and partisanship would have stopped it. Five years later, wiretapping authority has been expanded and legalized by a bipartisan majority; partisanship would have stopped it. The Military Commissions Act which destroyed habeas corpus and legalized torture passed by a bipartisan vote; partisanship would have stopped it. Every attempt to reign in the national security authoritarian state has been beaten back by a bipartisan majority; partisanship would have pushed to roll it back. In fact, if we could just get Democrats to consistently vote the way the public would like on issue after issue, this would be a progressive country. Partisanship in other words would mean a progressive country responsive to the public, and bipartisanship means an authoritarian country where the public is cut out.

The idea of the Village elders running the country is becoming more and more obvious, if you read the likes of Broder, Brooks, Sullivan, et al. will any regularity: this is their stance, because it's their turf. It is, of course, essentially a Republican idea, and always has been, at least as party ideologies have been constituted for the past century.

Bipartisanship is an operating paradigm is nothing more than a shell game. Here's Digby's analysis:

It was inevitable. I wrote about it right after the 2006 election --- as soon as the Republicans lost power, I knew the gasbags would insist that it's time to let bygones be bygones and meet the Republicans halfway in the spirit of a new beginning. GOP politicians have driven the debt sky-high and altered the government so as to be nearly unrecognizable, so logically the Democrats need to extend the hand of conciliation and move to meet them in the middle --- the middle now being so far right, it isn't even fully visible anymore.

Today we have none other than the centrist drivel king, David Broder, reporting that a group of useless meddlers, most of whom who were last seen repeatedly stabbing Bill Clinton in the back, are rising from their crypts to demand that the candidates all promise to appoint a "unity" government and govern from the the center --- or else they will back an independent Bloomberg bid.
Boren said the meeting is being announced in advance of Thursday's Iowa caucuses "because we don't want anyone to think this was a response to any particular candidate or candidates." He said the nation needs a "government of national unity" to overcome its partisan divisions in a time of national challenge he likened to that faced by Great Britain during World War II.

"Electing a president based solely on the platform or promises of one party is not adequate for this time," Boren said. "Until you end the polarization and have bipartisanship, nothing else matters, because one party simply will block the other from acting."

Except the one party is called the Republican Party. When was the last time the Democrats blocked anything?

I don't really have anything to add to that. It's a pathetically self-serving in-group tactic to maintain power in the hands of those who are "qualified" to wield it. That anyone with eyes can see that they've been wrong consistently for years doesn't penetrate because they never look outside their own small circle of mutual back-strokers.

These people really disgust me.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Case Studies in Immigration

The Flight into Egypt.

This comes from Pastor Dan, in a post on Mike Huckabee's latest inflammatory nonsense quoted at Down With Tyranny:

"The fact is the immigration issue is not so much about people coming to pick lettuce or make beds. It's about people that can come with a shoulder fired missile and can do serious damage and harm to us, and that's what we need to be worried about. And the unsecure borders that we have pose a real national security threat."

It's true that those 660 Pakistanis may have brought surface-to-air missiles with them. Given that most illegal immigrants overstay visas rather than swim the Rio Grande, it seems unlikely, but anything's possible.

Or they may have been like Joseph and Mary, frightened young parents fleeing a dangerous, chaotic situation to protect their lives and the life of their child. It may have even been that two of them were toting a new messiah with them.

Who knows? Anything's possible.

I want to be surprised that Huckabee, the Southern Baptist pastor, could miss such obvious symbolism. But I'm not, and for the very reason that underscores the importance of this lesson: while privileged men work their games of power, it is the children of the poor and dispossessed who get stuck with the tab.

If Mr. Huckabee were much of a Christian, he would have drawn the obvious line between anti-democratic violence in Pakistan and instability outside its borders. He could have articulated the faith claim that God has and does act decisively to establish peace and justice, and calls his disciples to do the same. He might even have said that stable, peaceful, democratic regimes around the globe are not only consistent with the Christian faith, but in the best interests of our own nation.

But apparently, that would have provoked a hostile response. He would have been deluged with accusations of being "soft" on illegal immigration and "not serious" on foreign policy. Both those charges seem to translate into being insufficiently bloodthirsty, or at the least not punitive enough to salve the hardened hearts of many Americans. Collateral damage be damned, we want to be safe at any cost, and if a few hundred brown children more or less get greased, well, it's their own fault for being born into such a f***ed-up part of the world. Which means, unfortunately, that Rachel will continue to weep for her children. Today - and every day - is Holy Innocents' day.

The link to the original post is no good, apparently because the original post is no longer up at Street Prophets.

I'm so sick of these snake-oil salesmen hiding behind their Bibles.

Puff Pastry

This bit of fluff from WaPo on Bush and global warming is just choice. This nails it:

"There's no question the profile has changed in a pretty dramatic way," said Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and a leader of a coalition of corporations and nonprofit groups called the United States Climate Action Partnership, which has been lobbying Bush. "But the policy prescriptions haven't changed at all."

I found this pretty telling, too:

Business figures, led by former Exxon Mobil executive Arthur G. "Randy" Randol III, launched what lobbyist Michael McKenna called a "soft lobbying campaign" to prod the White House to address climate change, if for no other reason than a plan from Bush would be less onerous on industry than one written by the Europeans or by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "We couldn't fight something with nothing," said the former Bush adviser. "We had to have something."

The spin on this article is amazing -- the whole tenor is to cast Bush as moving aggressively on global warming when, in fact, nothing has changed. One wonders why WaPo feels the need to cater to a failed president.

Friday, December 28, 2007


Somehow, I managed to survive the latest infestation of the Gut Bug. Still not much energy, but I'm getting better -- by increments.

I will, I'm sure, be back to form within a week or so, now that I'm eating again.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

From the Deeps

I have pretty much spent the past three days in bed with round two of the Intestinal Bug from Hell. (As if there were any other kind.)

Still a bit spaced out, and not much of an attention span, although I feel almost normal again -- just really, really tired. I was, however, able to read for more than five minutes at a time yesterday afternoon.

I also ate some real food yesterday -- and then lay in bed last night with my gut going through a roller coaster ride trying to deal with it. Interesting.

The one very clever thing I did was not to go to work. I was all ready to try it, and finally just sat myself down and said "Who are you trying to kid?" Called in, went back to bed. Probably the smartest thing I've done all week.

At any rate, now that I've missed Yule, belated wishes for a blessed season as the wheel turns yet again toward sun and warmth and life in the new year.

Nataline Sarkisyan

From Richard Blair at All Spin Zone, a discussion of how health insurance works:

She was ready for a liver transplant (a relatively routine procedure in this day and age), but even though hers had failed, her family’s insurance company would not approve the procedure by claiming it was “experimental”. In other words, a bean counter at Cigna made the decision that since they had already shelled out a lot of cash for the bone marrow and kidney transplant, that the cost of a liver transplant and followup care was just too high.

The actual costs?

According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), estimated charges for liver transplantation are:

Estimated First-Year Charge: $314,600
Estimated Annual Follow-up Charge: $21,900

With a life expectancy after the transplant of 62 years, follow-up care for Nataline would have cost Cigna about $1.3 million. Seems like a lot, doesn't it? Until you notice that Cigna's CEO has an annual compensation package of almost $29 million.

Does it look like someone's priorities are just the least little bit screwed up?

Insurance began as a way of spreading risk among a larger pool of participants, the same way corporations did. Now that it's proven to be a cash cow for its investors (mark you, "investors" does not include policyholders), the risk management, as Blair points out, is all about not exposing the company to the possibility of actually having to pay claims.

This is another area in which it appears that the American public is ready for a change but that interlocked complex of business and political interests known as our "government" isn't too enthusiastic about the idea. (How odd!) And of course, the insurance industry operates behind a screen of invisibility.

John Edwards is far and away the favorite on this issue -- he's the only one who has given any indication of being ready to back the insurance companies into a corner and start taking them apart.

Footnote: The family's attorney is referring the case to the prosecutor's office for possible criminal charges.

Footnote 2: Where are the Terry Schiavo-niks? The senate resolutions? The legislation giving federal courts the authority to interfere in the decisions of insurance companies?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Instant Replay

Of that really nasty intestinal bug I had over Thanksgiving. The pain has stopped, but I'm sore and just a little bit out of it. So of course, I have no brains today, so I guess you'll have to do without a post.


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Keep Digging

Common sense says that when you discover you've dug yourself into a hole, you should stop digging. Apparently, politics operates on a different paradigm. This is funny. I love watching press secretaries flopping around trying to paint over their bosses' grafitti.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

There Is a Leader in the Senate

And it's not Harry Reid. Via AmericaBlog, this story from AP:

The Senate late Monday delayed its consideration of a vote on a new government eavesdropping bill until January.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delayed the bill because there were more than a dozen amendments planned, and not enough time left on the legislative calendar to manage them.

"Everyone feels it would be to the best interests of the Senate that we take a look at this when we come back after the first of the year," said Reid, D-Nev. . . .

"For the last six years, our largest telecom companies have been spying on their own American customers," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

Dodd spoke for several hours and threatened a filibuster, vowing to use "all the tools" at his disposal to prevent the bill's passage. After Democratic leaders pulled the bill, he issued a statement saying, "Today we have scored a victory for American civil liberties and sent a message to President Bush that we will not tolerate his abuse of power and veil of secrecy."

I think Dodd just got my vote. If he's not on the primary ballot in Illinois, I'm going to write him in.

The Democrats made a miserable showing on this. Here is the vote tally on cloture. I think my senators, Durbin and Obama, are going to get a nasty letter.

In fact, here's the letter I just sent Dick Durbin:

Dear Sen. Durbin:

I am very disturbed at finding that you voted for cloture on S. 2248, the new FISA bill that contains provisions for retroactive immunity for telecom companies. I find any bill that contains this provision completely unacceptable, and I am extremely disappointed that you did not support Sen. Dodd's filibuster of this atrocious piece of legislation.

Perhaps you or someone on your staff -- or perhaps Sen. Reid's -- can answer a question for me: Given the results of the 2006 general election, why is Congress still a rubber stamp for the White House?

I look forward to your response.

Obama got a similar letter, with an additional paragraph about his lack of leadership on this issue in light of his presidential aspirations.

I can be a real bitch, sometimes.

I have to confess, I'm not real enthusiastic about my senators, and I think I've just turned over a new leaf. I'm like most Americans, I think -- I sit here and read the news and get pissed off but never say anything except to bitch at work (a toally liberal/progressive environment). I have now set up a bookmarks folder for congressional contacts, -- my senators, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and my congresswoman, Jan Schakowsky (who votes right on everything) -- with contact information. They will be hearing from me more regularly, I think.

I urge you all to do the same.

Update: Here's Ted Kennedy's speech, enumerating the faults of the Senate bill.

Profiles in Punditry

Andrew Sullivan has endorsed Ron Paul. I know he's been favoring him, probably as a knee-jerk reaction to the label "libertarian." Here's his rationale:

More than all this, he has somehow ignited a new movement of those who love freedom and want to rescue it from the do-gooding bromides of the left and the Christianist meddling of the right. The Paulites' enthusiasm for liberty, their unapologetic defense of core conservative principles, their awareness that in the new millennium, these principles of small government, self-reliance, cultural pluralism, and a humble foreign policy are more necessary than ever - no lover of liberty can stand by and not join them.

Here's Paul's record, from a post by the indispensible brian_igo at EA Forums. Take a look at Paul's legislative activity: he opposes any form of birth control or family planning, and introduced legislation at the federal level to ban it. He favors legislation defining a zygote as a person. He wants to remove the courts' ability to hear discrimination cases. He wants to repeal OSHA, opposes the minimum wage, and wants to make unions more vulnerable to decertification. He also wants to repeal the Davis-Bacon Act and the Copeland act, which apply federal labor standards to workers under government contract and prohibit kickbacks. He wants to make it harder to register to vote. He wants to repeal the bulk of antitrust laws. He favors open, legal discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities -- by constitutional amendment, no less. He wants to repeal most environmental protections, and favors an increase in offshore drilling and opening ANWR to drilling.

It goes on and on and on. This is Sullivan's "true conservative"? (Do please note that this is all legislation that Paul has introduced or co-sponsored at the federal level -- so much for "federalism.") The man's a nightmare -- the worst of the right-wing nutjobs. I seem to recall a post by Sullivan in which someone brought this record to his attention -- that was the version compiled by David Neiwert, I believe -- and he dismimssed it as "liberal whining." All this means to me is that Sullivan is willfully blind to Paul's deficits, which are many, and has no sense of what this country is really about. It amazes me that someone as fundamentally clueless as Andrew Sullivan is so influential. But then, considering what we're seeing from the Beltway insiders, maybe not.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

More on Free Trade

Joe Murray at Paleo Place has an interesting post on free trade and what it's costing us. He starts with a question:

With one in every five manufacturing jobs having vanished since 2000, the Big 3 automakers awaiting a visit from Jack Kevorkian and Michigan an industrial bone yard, one would think that the folks in Washington would be starting to feel the headache from the free trade hangover that has left America's manufacturing base decimated and her economy vulnerable.

But why is economic nationalism, the creed espoused by Alexander Hamilton, the man who provided America with her economic blueprint, to be discouraged? Why is it deemed such a radical idea? And, more importantly, why are free traders willing to abandon an economic policy that turned a colony into a superpower for an economic ideology that has been the ruin of empires?

From my perspective, the answer is fairly simple: free trade advocates are laregely multinational corporations and those who have a strong stake in them. The collapse of the American economy is not going to affect them, except insofar as it affects the world economy, and in terms of nuts-and-bolts manufacturing of goods, it won't that much. (And note that it's not only that manufacturing sector jobs have deserted the country, but that now the service sector is being shipped overseas. When's the last time you called a customer service number and actually spoke to someone in the US?)

And yet, it's not as though these overseas profits are going to be any sort of long-term resource for our major corporations. They leave themselves vulnerable to restrictions by other governments -- we've already seen that happening with China and Europe. But then, no one ever accused American business of long-range vision. In their terms, that translates as next quarter's forecast.

Couple that with the newfound ability of foreign corporations to dictate our domestic laws and regulations and you have probably the best indication that the patriotism of the corporatist wing is pointed at their own pockets and nothing else.

The question is not "Why is economic nationalism being discouraged?" That's fairly obvious. The question is, "What are we going to do about it?"


It doesn't seem to have gone away yet. We got another 3-4" of snow, and now it's blowing around. Choice.

I think it might be a good day to reinstall Photoshop (yes, I'm still reinstalling software after the last reinstallation of Windows, necessitated by the fact that hooking up my DSL modem fritzed both my browsers), hook up my scanner, and work on the landscape galleries for a/k/a Hunter. I'm sort of burned out on reading right now -- that last review was a real pain. Two collections by the same poet, and it wound up being the same damned poem over and over again.

OK. Today I will not-read.

The More Things Change. . . .

From Dan Eggen at WaPo:

The exchange followed a letter earlier in the day from Mukasey that rebuffed congressional demands for details about the joint Justice-CIA inquiry into the tapes' destruction and rejected calls for the appointment of an independent prosecutor. Mukasey said that providing the information to Congress would make it appear that the department is "subject to political influence."

He's joking, right? Everyone knows DoJ is subject to political influence. That's why so many of Bush's top hacks had to leave -- somebody blabbed about their practice of hiring only loyal Bush Republicans for non-political jobs. That's one of the reasons that Gonzo lost his job.

As Barbara O'Brien puts it at Mahablog: "So stonewalling Congress makes them look all principled and aboveboard?"

Uh -- did we expect any different from Mukasey?

And just exactly what to we expect the DoJ/CIA internal investigation to find? Yeah, I think you're probably right.

Related: See this from Salon. I suppose it's only a matter of time until detainees are considered evidence that can be disposed of. Considering that the only evidence we have that any of this is working is the repeated assertions of a known liar . . . well, do I really have to say anything?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Now They Get It

The Christianist enablers are finally catching on. Andrew Sullivan provides an intelligent and sometimes passionate post:

The theocon consensus that front-runners Romney and Huckabee both reflect is that religion is intrinsic to public life and public debate, that it is a necessary component of any political discussion - and that this does not merely mean rote invocations of Nature's God or Providence or the kind of inclusive, vague language that the Founders believed in. It means a very thick, constant and inviolable recourse to religious argument in secular politics. If you haven't noticed this development in the past decade, you have had blinders on.

This is nothing more than what many of us have been saying for a while. In my own words, private motivations for supporting a particular public policy may very well spring from religious belief. The policy itself, however, must be formulated in rational, nonsectarian, secular terms. Sullivan's ongoing example is torture, which I also find morally repellant. My arguments against it are similar to his, with the basic one being that it simply doesn't work. My real motivation for supporting a ban on torture is that it more or less reflects the only real definition I have of evil: the abuse of power. (If that sounds somewhat simple, I suggest you reflect on it for a while, and consider what the exercise of power without restraint actually means.)

This is why I consider someone like Mike Huckabee not only an unsuitable candidate for public office, but a very dangerous man.

Here's Charles Krauthammer, from the OpEd that Sullivan cites:

This campaign is knee-deep in religion, and it's only going to get worse. I'd thought that the limits of professed public piety had already been achieved during the Republican CNN-YouTube debate when some squirrelly looking guy held up a Bible and asked, "Do you believe every word of this book?" -- and not one candidate dared reply: None of your damn business.

Instead, Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee bent a knee and tried appeasement with various interpretations of scriptural literalism. The right answer, the only answer, is that the very question is offensive. The Constitution prohibits any religious test for office. And while that proscribes only government action, the law is also meant to be a teacher. In the same way that civil rights laws established not just the legal but also the moral norm that one simply does not discriminate on the basis of race -- changing the practice of one generation and the consciousness of the next -- so the constitutional injunction against religious tests is meant to make citizens understand that such tests are profoundly un-American.

This is no more than I've been saying for a looong time. It's ironic to see Krauthammer, who has been one of the most vocal enablers of the Christianist wing of the Republican party, suddenly freaking out. It's fairly entertaining to see him finally take his head out of the sand and realize just what he's been touting.

Barbara O'Brien at Mahablog also has some comments on the phenomenon:

But this is a monster of the Right’s own creation. They’ve spent years cultivating the Christian Right as a political force, and now it’s a political force. What did they expect?

Footnote on Pundits:

They really are out of touch. It seems that everyone else has already caught on to the fact that the Christianist Republicans are out of control -- even clergy.

Speaking of Values

Paganism teaches respect for and stewardship of the earth, much more than the Abrahamic faiths do -- when you look at it, in spite of recent efforts to bend Christianity, especially, toward some form of environmentalism, they actually condone exploitation of the earth and its creatures. This post from Down With Tyranny gives some reasons why I can't really support the Democratic front runners. Here's a summary of the Democratic candidates' positions on energy, which is the major environmental issue of the day. (For everyone but George W. Bush -- for him it's turning into another international embarrassment.) Interestingly enough, the link is from Edwards' campaign site, and he doesn't come off all that well compared to, say, Chris Dodd. And here is a summary of candidates positions and past records on various environmental issues.


I am not one. No way.

I'm a sniper.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Election '08

Talk to me after the conventions.

The Genetics of Intelligence

Amanda Marcotte graces us with this post on the racial basis of IQ nonsense most recently resurrected by William Saletan (who, it seems, is the best example contra his own arguments). And Atrios has this to say about it:

I suppose this round is over, but let me just finish it off with a hearty simelsesque "blow me" to all the people who excuse Saletan's racism by pretending it's merely knee-jerk contrarianism. If you make the claim that black people are stupid, assert that anyone who denies this is equivalent to a creationist, rely on the junk science of explicit racists to make your claims, and manage to studiously avoid the vast numbers of very smart people who have repeatedly pointed out that this stuff is bunk, then the conclusion is unavoidable. Will Saletan may be a perfectly lovely person who has lots of black friends, but his only "contrarianism" here was his eagerness to embrace junk theories of racial superiority. While issues of race and racism manifest themselves in complex ways in our society, the belief in the innate inferiority of one culturally defined racial subgroup relative to another pretty much is the root definition of racist thinking.


The latest antt-LDS flap seems to revolve around the idea that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers. Here's Matthew Yglesias on the controversy, quoting from the LDS website:

On first hearing, the doctrine that Lucifer and our Lord, Jesus Christ, are brothers may seem surprising to some—especially to those unacquainted with latter-day revelations. But both the scriptures and the prophets affirm that Jesus Christ and Lucifer are indeed offspring of our Heavenly Father and, therefore, spirit brothers. Jesus Christ was with the Father from the beginning. Lucifer, too, was an angel “who was in authority in the presence of God,” a “son of the morning.” (See Isa. 14:12; D&C 76:25–27.) Both Jesus and Lucifer were strong leaders with great knowledge and influence. But as the Firstborn of the Father, Jesus was Lucifer’s older brother. (See Col. 1:15; D&C 93:21.)

Frankly, as a Pagan, I find the adoption of this concept, and the controversy around it, somewhat amusing. Considering that early Christianity adopted so much from Paganism -- including the date and most of the trappings of Christmas, not to mention the idea of the Sacrificed God -- it's not such a far stretch to find the idea of the Divine Twins, good/evil subset, working its way in.

As for anteceents, shall we start with Set and Osiris?

Conservative Values

I've touched on this idea several times in passing over the past few years, but Digby highlights it:

We on the left are being chastized daily for being terrorist sympathizers. Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are said to be on the other side. Any criticism of the government is Unamerican. And all of this is based upon the idea that liberals are rejecting Western values and putting ourselves in league with Islamic fundamentalists. This is literally nonsensical.

In point of fact, the argument could much more easily be made that it is the other way around. It grows more and more likely that the right, who wholeheartedly supported the war and are currently supporting the political handling of the occupation, deposed a totalitarian dictator to install a repressive fundamentalist theocracy in its place. I fail to see how that advances the cause of our country or western civilization. Indeed, it is a betrayal of everything we stand for.

If you actually look at the philosophies here, the Christianists in America and the Islamists in the Middle East are quite obviously sympathizers. The real values demonstrated by our own right wing fit neatly with those espoused by the militant wing of Islam: authoritarianism, intolerance, distrust of reason, demonization of outsiders, militarism -- you can just go right down the list.

Either, of course, would be appalled to be confronted with something like that. The only thing that saves the rest of us from real problems is that they hate each other worse than they hate us.


This, also from Digby, raises another question: these are the people who are passing themselves off as "values voters." What kind of values are they talking about? Is this how they raise their kids?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Outrage Allowance Used Up

And I'm on deadline for a really knotty review.

The president has vetoed childrens' health care again, and is now trying to gut improved mileage standards. The fed wants to bail out mortgage lenders, not the homeowners who are losing their homes. The polar ice cap will be gone in five years. We don't have enough soldiers to prosecute the war against the people who actually attacked us on 9/11 because of Iraq. New Orleans is still a mess.

And the Democratic leadership has managed to turn Congress from a rubber stamp to a clusterfuck.

I'm not going to provide links -- these stories are all over the place.

It's something when post-Apocalypse science fiction seems cheerful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Scott Lemieux points out something that I should have thought of:

From a liberal standpoint, the correct answer to the question of whether sexual orientation is voluntary or not is "who the hell cares?" To argue that gays and lesbians "have no choice" or whatever is to implicitly accept the frame of bigots; the underlying assumption seems to be that if people did choose to have sex people of the same gender then legal discrimination would be perfectly acceptable.

And of course, he's absolutely right. In light of the landmark decisions in the past couple of generations on the right to personal autonomy, beginning with Griswold and going all the way through Lawrence, it's obvious that "nature or nurture" is irrelevant. I've sort of skirted around the logical inconsistencies of the anti-gay position -- after all, religious belief is a choice, and they don't seem to have any problem with laws protecting that (at least for themselves) -- but I never quite made that jump. Thanks to Lemieux for pointing it out.

So the correct answer to the next bigot you meet who's spouting off about "choice" in sexual orientation is "So what?"

Read the post Lemieux links to by M. Leblanc at Bitch, Ph.D. It's brilliant.

Here's Alex Blaze of Bilerico Project weighing in on the question at Pam's House Blend.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Letter from the Birthday Boy

As the War on Christmas heats up again, thanks to those meek, humble Christians such as Bill O'Reilly, William Donohue, and their ilk, I thought it would be nice to address that issue a little bit. This one is making the rounds and showed up at EA Forums

Letter from Jesus about Christmas --

Dear Children, It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that people are taking My name out of the season. Maybe you've forgotten that I wasn't actually born during this time of the year and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually a time of pagan festival. Although I do appreciate being remembered anytime.

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

Now, having said that let Me go on. If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. You can remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grape vine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten that one, look up John 15: 1 - 8.

If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wish list. Choose something from it:

1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.

2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.

3. Instead of writing George complaining about the wording on the cards his staff sent out this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up. It will be nice hearing from you again.

4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.

5. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.

6. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don't know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile; it could make the difference.

7. Instead of nit picking about what the retailer in your town calls the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn't make so much money on that day they'd close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families

8. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary-- especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name.

9. Here's a good one. There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no "Christmas" tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Salvation Army or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.

10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do things in secret that you wouldn't do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember : I LOVE YOU, JESUS

'Nuff said.

On the Inheritance of Bourgeois Virtues

It gets worse. Via Andrew Sullivan, this travesty from Tim Worstall:

The inheritance of acquired characteristics is, in evolutionary terms, referred to as Lamarckian: and as above, with reference to genes, it’s wrong. However, with reference to culture it most certainly is not wrong.

No, I’m not going to try and prove that culture is transmitted in a Lamarckian manner. Rather, I’m going to prove that you and everyone else already believe it is. . . .

So we believe this about our society now: that attitudes, mindsets, extended networks, are indeed transmitted across the generations, not via Darwinian evolution, but in a way that can best be described as Lamarckian. The inheritance by the next generation of characteristics acquired by the previous one.

It goes downhill from there. It's really just a matter of sloppy thinking based on sloppy terminology. (Well, thinking about it, maybe it is more than that -- note the comment about "we all believe it is." We're back to the "belief trumps reality" meme.) Sure, we refer to our cultural heritage as an "inheritance" all the time, but that's a very different meaning of the word than that used to descibe our genetic heritage. It's really no different than the creationists' use of the term "theory": They shuffle back and forth between different meanings in order to fuzz the argument. I can't really tell if Worstall is doing it deliberately, or whether he really doesn't know what he's talking about.

The central flaw, again, is using the term "evolution" to describe the development of culture without any apparent awareness that in that context, the term must be taken as a metaphor. When you start dragging Darwin into discussions of cultural transmission, what you wind up with is a big mess. Adding Lamarck only makes it worse.

The irony here is that there's no reason for Clark or Worstall (or Sullivan, for that matter) to drag in Darwin or Larmarck, or any of it. No one is describing an evolutionary phenomenon. I don't know why any of these people muddied it up like that, except that in Clark's case it's a way to get some attention for a book that has probably been written by several other people at various times with cogently structured arguments based on the real phenomena and mechanisms of the transmission of culture. And yes, we even have a term for it there -- the one I just used. Maybe not as sexy as "evolution," but a hell of a lot more accurate.

Worstall's piece is titled "Getting Greg Clark Wrong." It should be "Getting Everything Wrong."

Monday, December 10, 2007

Darwin, Interrupted

I cant really comment on this with any depth, because I'm working from a book review, but it seems to be another case of the woefully ignorant building castles of smoke and mirrors.

Gregory Clark is an economic historian who has written a book explaining the distribution of rich and poor in terms -- yep, you guessed it -- of Darwinism. (snicker). To wit:

n “A Farewell to Alms,” Gregory Clark, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, suggests an intriguing, even startling answer: natural selection. Focusing on England, where the Industrial Revolution began, Clark argues that persistently different rates of childbearing and survival, across differently situated families, changed human nature in ways that finally allowed human beings to escape from the Malthusian trap in which they had been locked since the dawn of settled agriculture, 10,000 years before. Specifically, the families that propagated themselves were the rich, while those that died out were the poor. Over time, the “survival of the richest” propagated within the population the traits that had allowed these people to be more economically successful in the first place: rational thought, frugality, a capacity for hard work — in short the familiar list of Calvinist, bourgeois virtues. The greater prevalence of those traits in turn made possible the Industrial Revolution and all that it has brought. (A lacuna in the argument is that Clark never says just how prevalent this Darwinian process made the traits he has in mind. Would an increase from, say 0.05 percent of the population to 0.50 percent have mattered much?)

Of course, he doesn't seem to mention that it is the poor who have more children, both within a society and across societies -- birthrates in Africa and South America are astronomical compared to Europe and the US, while within the US, the birthrate among the wealthy is paltry compared to that among the poor.

I have serious reservations toward looking at culture and societies in evolutionary terms -- "survival of the fittest" simply doesn't apply, and it annoys the hell out of me when people who obviously do not understand the mechanisms of evolution try to apply them inappropriately.

The heart of Clark’s analysis consists of a detailed examination of births, deaths, income and wealth in England between 1250 and 1800, as evidenced primarily by wills. Although the records are scant, he finds that on average richer people were more likely to marry than poorer people, they married at earlier ages, they lived longer once they were married, they bore more children per year of marriage, and their children were more likely to survive and to bear children themselves. The result was centuries of downward mobility, in which the offspring of richer families continually moved into the lower rungs of society. Along the way, their behavioral traits and attitudes became ever more dominant.

Point: until the nineteenth century, poor people mostly didn't bother with formal marriage -- they simply moved in together, announced that they were married, and all the neighbors said "Fine." Poor people seldom left wills -- they generally did not own much in the way of property, were more likely to be tenants than freeholders, and thus they had little to leave their children. Depending on circumstances, there might be baptismal records -- and there might not be, particularly in rural areas, which was where the poor were concentrated. The whole data base is suspect, simply because formal marriage was essentially a contract dealing with the disposition of property. Those who didn't have any property didn't bother.

To cast an argument like this in evolutionary terms really misses the point. Evolution operates through a combination of chance and necessity: the creation of offspring is, initially, a matter of the random combination of the two genetic heritages of the parents (and within the set of available genetic material, it is really random). Survival is a matter of the viability of that combination against the necessities of environmental demands. Cultures tend to follow a pattern of growth and decay, but there's no evidence that any sort of "evolutionary" mechanism is at work there, except in a metaphorical sense, and using "evolution" as a metaphor is dangerous, at the very least. In this case, it seems to misrepresent both evolution and the development of culture. (If you want to go whole-hog Richard Dawkins sociobiologist on the issue, I suppose there might be the possibility that evolution is a valid paradigm to describe cultural development. I can deal with the idea that Beethoven's Ninth is the product of biochemistry, but what operates on an individual level doesn't necessarily operate on a larger level and vice-versa -- Beethoven does not equal nineteenth-century Vienna. I think the random factors become too overwhelming to accept that idea without severe scrutiny. This, however, seems much more to be "Oh, look! Development equals evolution!" Not.)

One thing that seems to be missing here is the idea that the transmission of culture, one of humanity's strong points, assumes, given the fact that people have brains and some of us even tend to use them, that we build on what we inherit. That's not the same as evolving, which is the replacement of not-quite-optimum organisms by those that are closer to optimum for a given environment. We simply took Euclid and came up with engineering.

Frankly, from the review the book sounds like the kind of thing I don't even want to review myself any more because I hate wasting my time on garbage, and this looks to be one step short of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. This sort of nails it down:

One frustrating aspect of Clark’s argument is that while he insists on the “biological basis” of the mechanism by which the survival of the richest fostered new human attributes and insists on the Darwinian nature of this process, he repeatedly shies away from saying whether the changes he has in mind are actually genetic. “Just as people were shaping economies,” he writes in a typical formulation, “the economy of the preindustrial era was shaping people, at least culturally and perhaps also genetically” (emphasis added). Nor does he introduce any evidence, of the kind that normally lies at the core of such debates, that traits like the capacity for hard work are heritable in the sense in which biologists use the term.


Brought to us by the staggeringly uncritical Andrew Sullivan.

By the way, if you want a very clear if slightly technical exposition of what evolutionary theory says and how it works, I recommend Ernst Mayr's What Evolution Is. Probably the best one-volume description available.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Profiles in Cowardice

Another faith-based candidate for president. From WaPo:

Mike Huckabee once advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public, opposed increased federal funding in the search for a cure and said homosexuality could "pose a dangerous public health risk."

As a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat in 1992, Huckabee answered 229 questions submitted to him by The Associated Press. Besides a quarantine, Huckabee suggested that Hollywood celebrities fund AIDS research from their own pockets, rather than federal health agencies. . . .

At a news conference in Asheville, N.C., on Saturday, Huckabee said he wanted at the time to follow traditional medical practices used for dealing with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.

"Medical protocol typically says that if you have a disease for which there is no cure, and you are uncertain about the transmission of it, then the first thing you do is that you quarantine or isolate carriers," Huckabee said.

When Huckabee wrote his answers in 1992, it was common knowledge that AIDS could not be spread by casual contact. In late 1991, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were 195,718 AIDS patients in the country and that 126,159 people had died from the syndrome.

Contrast this passage on the reaction of Fr. Mychal Judge. Andrew Sullivan, quoting himself:

We forget how terrifying HIV was in the early and mid 1980s, how patients would be quarantined in dark rooms, abandoned by their families, with their meals rolled into their rooms on trolleys. From the beginning, Mychal did as Jesus did and walked right in and kissed these frightened souls on the lips. If they recoiled from the sight of a priest - gay men at that time saw the church as an alien, hostile entity - he would persist in silence. He would simply bring holy oils, take a chair to the bottom of their hospital beds, and massage their bony, cold, pain-racked feet. He seemed to express no anger, just a kind of suspended joy in the moment, a joy he found resuscitated by the fact of the resurrection and the intercession of Our Lady.

Let's consider that the stance of someone like Huckabee -- and those to whom he is trying desperately to appeal -- embodies not only ignorance but a deep-seated cowardice. To proclaim oneself a "Christian" and react to the needy by demanding that they be shut away sort of misses the point, doesn't it? This of course applies not only to Huckabee, but to the entire complex of those who have fastened on a grotesque mockery of the lessons of a teacher whose compassion, love, and courage was far beyond what we can really understand to push a mean-spirited agenda that reveals only the smallness of their souls.

And on that score, read Sullivan's whole piece on Judge. It reminds me of something the patriarchal monotheisms have forgotten -- or suppressed: throughout history, and probably before: those with "aberrant" sexual orientations have been seen almost universally as persons of great spiritual power, a bridge between male and female and between the spirit world and the mundane -- conduits, if you will, for the grace of god. We see it again in people like Mychal Judge. I think that's why we scare the right so much.

Hate Crimes

Catching up on this one. Dave Neiwert has a couple of posts (here and here). He summarizes it better than I can:

There's a pattern here: Democrats -- either through spinelessness or surreptitious mendacity -- have a history of refusing to take the fight over hate crimes to the carpets. Every time they have the votes to pass one, they attach it to another piece of legislation, which renders it vulnerable to the seemingly inevitable euthanasia in committee. This either reflects an unexpressed wish to kill a hate-crimes bill, or a failure to recognize bias crimes as an essential matter, and write it off as a fight they can't win.

Indeed, it's mind-boggling that congressional Democrats seem incapable of connecting the big bright fluorescent dots in front of them when it comes to bias crimes -- that they lie, in fact, at the heart of the national cultural divide. This bill isn't just about gay rights. It's about the Jena 6 and noose incidents. It's about the tide of anti-immigrant hate crimes being committed against Latinos.

Bias crimes lie at the black beating heart of everything progressives have historically fought: injustice, bigotry, exclusion, and violence. These things are the enemies of democracy itself, and that is why we fight them. Effectively confronting and addressing them is an imperative: politically, ethically, morally.

So the sad if utterly predictable fate of the latest federal bias-crimes law really represents an act of cowardice. I suppose we can look forward, fifty years from now, to seeing subsequent generations of politicians finally step forward and recognize that this abysmal failure to adequately confront bias crimes was a gross historical mistake for which many thousands of Americans paid the price. After all, it's what the Senate did not long ago in confronting the legacy of a previous generation's purposeful failure to act against its version of hate crimes, lynching.

Read both posts -- as always, excellent analysis, although the conclusions are pretty depressing.


If anyone has any doubts that hate crimes legislation is necessary, read this post by Pam Spaulding.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Criminal Government

From NYT:

The Central Intelligence Agency in 2005 destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody, a step it took in the midst of Congressional and legal scrutiny about the C.I.A’s secret detention program, according to current and former government officials.

The videotapes showed agency operatives in 2002 subjecting terror suspects — including Abu Zubaydah, the first detainee in C.I.A. custody — to severe interrogation techniques. They were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy, several officials said.

What amazes me is the blatant admission of lawlessness here. I guess the assumption is that the American people have become so blase about criminal acitivity in the administration that it's OK to admit it -- no one will do anything about it, and if they do, the president will pardon the wrongdoers.

This is a scary article. A really scary article.

And of course, the apologists for immorality in government are out in full force, and just as arrogant as we might assume. Here's Andrew Sullivan on Charles Krauthammer's appearance on Fox News:

I just listened to Charles say that the torture of terror suspects in 2002 was justified because the United States was flying blind and had no knowledge of what al Qaeda was planning. He won't say "torture", of course, although the law is clear that it is torture. (He and Fox News keep referring to the notion of "harsh interrogation techniques". I think they realized that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" was a little too close to the Gestapo's euphemism for comfort.) And he then Gitmomarkwilsongetty said that destroying the tapes was justified because you don't want them coming up on YouTube, do you? So there you have it: the government has a right to torture when it feels like it and the right to destroy the evidence because it would incriminate them and hurt the image of the United States. Again, I keep pinching myself that I am actually hearing these things on the television.

Hot Air blames John McCain:

This, essentially, is the result of Sen. John McCain’s announced policy of keeping interrogation techniques like waterboarding illegal, but knowing full well that it will be used in extreme circumstances, and that when it is used the agents who used it will find themselves in legal jeopardy no matter what the outcome of the interrogation was. It’s the politics of passing the buck.

This post is staggering, and probably does as much as anything else to reveal the complete lack of moral grounding on the right. (I had to think about linking to it, but decided that you deserve easy access just to see the kind of gutter these people live in.) Andrew Sullivan, in his post on the Hot Air piece opines that the president will have some explaining to do. No -- no one will put his feet to the fire on this. Congress doesn't have the balls, and he owns the Supreme Court.

And keep in mind that destruction of evidence is a consistent pattern in this administration. Scott Horton pulls some threads together:

The CIA leadership and other senior administration officials are fully cognizant of the fact that the use of a number of specific practices which these tapes almost certainly document, to-wit: waterboarding, long-time standing, hypothermia, psychotropic drugs and sleep deprivation in excess of two days, are serious crimes under American law and the law of almost all nations. Consequently, those who have used them and those who have authorized their use will almost certainly ultimately face criminal prosecution at some point in the future. The Administration’s attempts to immunize the perpetrators have failed. Any purported grant of a pardon by President Bush will be legally ineffective, because Bush himself is a collaborator in the scheme. And there is no statute of limitations. Therefore the prospect of prosecution is hardly far-fetched. It is a virtual certainty. So the evidence is being destroyed precisely because it would be used as evidence of criminal acts in a prosecution of administration figures and those acting under their direction. Therefore, this is a conscious, calculated obstruction of justice.

The role of Congress in this is appalling, including those Democrats who had knowledge of the existence of these tapes and the intention to destroy them. Jay Rockefeller knew that they had been destroyed in 2006 and kept his mouth shut. Jane Harman urged the CIA not to destroy the tapes -- and otherwise kept her mouth shut. Why should we place any trust in these people?

And here's Marty Lederman's commentary, including the letter from Mike Hayden to CIA personnel on taping interrogations. The whole thing rings hollow, and even if his concerns are justified, the real damage is that he has absolutely no credibility. In the context of this administration's history and its politicization of every deparment of the government, the whole thing reads as a smokescreen.

I suppose we're lucky we have a government left at all..

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Election

I still haven't made a decision on who I'm going to vote for. The Republicans, of course, are beyond the pale -- anyone who spends his campaign slobbering over the least American members of his own party is not on my ticket.

I'm still leaning toward Edwards. So far, he's actually coming up with policy proposals that make at least a modicum of sense, he is not going after Bush's base (an exercise in futility), and he has great hair.

I have to admit, though, that every time I see a new smear on Clinton, I waver. I figure if the fringe right hates her that much, she's probably just what we need.

The Keystone Kops Go To Congress

We really should have expected this.

Via AmericaBlog.

Dave Neiwert lays out some history.

I don't have anything to add.

Thursday, December 06, 2007


We finally got some. Not anything like your legendary Chicago snows, but enough. More coming, we're told.

I guess winter's here.

The Boys in the Bubble

This is sort of unbelievable. It turns out, according to Eric Boehlert at Media Matters, that not only to right-wing bloggers object to Democrats asking questions at Republican debates, they object to Democrats asking questions at Democratic debates.

Open discussion is obviously a terrorist plot.

And, in a related story (it is related, truly, if you think like I do), this choice quote from Dan Bartlett, via TPM.

I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on.

What's astonishing is not the strategy, but that someone actually admitted it. (Read the second half of the interview -- it's really illuminating. The first half is drivel.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Republicans Will Hate This

Mostly because it doesn't punish anyone. It just ends the problem.

Pontificating from Complete Ignorance

I sort of missed this story -- chalk it up to tandem viruses. (Actually, I didn't really miss it -- I just came at it from a different direction.) It's a prime example of the tendency of certain pundits to pontificate on the basis of complete ignorance.

Here's a lengthy rebuttal of the William Saletan/J. Phillippe Rushton "blacks are dumb" arguments by Daniel Koffler at Jewcy. Saletan's essays at Slate are ludicrous. (Andrew Sullian gives the whole thing way too much credibility, but then he's no rocket scientist, either.) Stephen Metcalf took Saletan's remarks apart quite nicely.

Long story short, Saletan based his entire arguments on the work of J. Phillipe Rushton, who has strong ties to white supremacists. Rushton's paper is based on studies of skull size as it reflects brain size. I really thought that was totally debunked about 1904. There's no scientific support for that at all.

Any first-year neurophysiology student will tell you that brain size is no indicator of intelligence. It's all about structure and organization. Any developmental psychologist will tell you that standardized tests only reliably measure cultural adaptation. Any any human geneticist will tell you that genetic racial differences are too small to measure.

It's actually been sort of entertaining watching the outraged reactions from the left, and Saletan's defensiveness when his essential -- and completely thoughtless -- bigotry is revealed, but mostly it's a minor tempest of the sort that occupies people who can't deal with real issues. Actually, the entertainment value wore thin pretty quickly.

Next teapot.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Winter Cheer

I am going to have flowers soon. Colmanara Wildcat, known as "Old Reliable," is putting up two new spikes. I'm not sure when they'll flower -- probably toward the end of the month -- but it looks at though I'll have orchids through January.

Check out this site for some wonderful orchid photos. Makes me wish I had some place to grow them again.

Dictators, English Usage, and Our Own MSM

Atrios, in his own inimitable way, spotlights the MSM's reaction to Hugo Chavez. Quoting NYT:

After Chavez was elected in 1996 and re-elected in 2000, the New York Times cheers on a military coup which installed "a respected business leader" and hails it as a move signaling "democracy is no longer threatened."

In a later post, he comes up this quote from CNBC:

A major setback for Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez. Venezuelans narrowly rejected his bid to run for re-election and to accelerate his socialist revolution.

Trivia question: Who's the last dictator you know of to lose an election?

Free Trade and Poison Pills

Granted that the various free trade agreements as they've manifested are in general bad news for the US, this report from Digby sort of puts the cherry on top:

I'm not sure most people realized that these deals could actually adversely affect well ... us, in any other way than perhaps job loss (which we are told is a perfectly reasonable trade-offs for the privilege of buying cheap goods.) As bad as that is, it's not the whole story. These trade deals basically make it possible for global corporate interests to circumvent our laws right here in the good old USA in a number of different ways.

One wonders where people like Grover Norquist -- free trade and untrammeled national sovereignty -- are hiding.

And how does it feel to know that all your local environmental laws and product safety laws aren't worth the paper they're printed on?

The whole Word Bank/WTO/Free Trade cabal really needs to be cut down to size. They're nothing more than economic terrorists as far as I can see. We should just pull out.

As an indicator of just how blindly pernicious the IMF/World Bank/WTO cabal is, see this post by PhoenixWoman at FDL.

If you haven't picked up a copy of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine yet, please do so. It not only explains what the Chicago-School-educated dictators and their US backers have been doing around the world to destroy government programs that actually help the poor and working classes -- it also shows how the people, especially in Latin America, have been fighting back and winning, blowing off the free-marketeers of the IMF and World Bank and other like-minded entities. To the growing list of nations that are fighting back and winning, we can add one more: Malawi.

As recently as 2005, Malawi's leaders had obediently followed the dictates of the free-market gospel spreaders. They cut back their government subsidies, especially for seeds and fertilizer, and watched as harvest after harvest failed. Yet the free marketeers kept giving Malawi prescriptions for more of the same: No government interference. Besides, why should your silly people bother with being able to feed themselves, when they could be growing cash crops for export!

One begins to wonder just what the agenda is here? Nothing rational, apparently. Fortunately, Malawi told the IMF to go blow itself. Result? Huge increases in harvests.

A thought: "imperialism" itself is value-neutral. Too much depends on who's running the empire. The IMF/World Bank/WTO kind is the worst -- purely exploitive, anti-humanitarian, and authoritarian.

Throw the bums out.

Faith and Politics

From Jonah Goldberg, this amazing piece on the evangelical reaction to Romney's Mormonism.

This seems to be the majority view:

Speaking for myself, there is no policy that I think a Mormon would pursue that I find objectionable. I will not vote for a Mormon because they claim to be Christian, when they are not Christians. Electing, or even nominating, a Mormon continues to send the message to Americans that Mormons are fine and dandy, Christians like everyone else. Thousands of Christians are converted to Mormonism each year, and it is done under false pretenses. From what I have read, Mormons are very good at appearing to be orthodox Christians with new recruits. It's only later that the blatantly non-orthodox views come out. So, I rule out voting for a Mormon not because of actual policies they might pursue, but because of the message their election would send to Americans.

Let me make a couple more quick comments. I would vote for a Jew. I would vote for a Hindu, an atheist, etc. Also, I do not support a "religious test" for people running for office. I can decide my vote anyway I wish (short of selling it I believe). So I am getting tired of people claiming that I cannot take Romney's membership in a cult masquerading as a Christian church into account when I vote. I'll take the candidates eye colors into consideration if I feel like it. I don't think I'm a bigot. . . .

Who has ever thought they were a bigot? (Except Jesse Helms.) The logical disjunction is unbelievable.

And does it ever occur to these people to wonder what happens when someone who doesn't subscribe to their beliefs comes into power?

Monday, December 03, 2007

"I Saw the Devil!"

At this point, does anyone really think I care how many men had sex with Larry Craig?

Pornography, Masculinity, Men, and a Big Dose of Feminist Cant

There is the most amazingly bass ackwards discussion going on over at Pandagon on pornography, masculinity, and what's wrong with men. I'm still not quite up to snuff as far as constructing lucid arguments (as witness the growing pile of book reviews waiting to be written), but I'll try to hit at least some of the high (low?) points. The biggest problem is that there are a lot of people arguing from fairly obvious agendas here, and I'm not sure they're even aware of it.

To start, there's a couple of missing elements (and this is based on a first reading of Marcotte's post, without any real study of the materials she's referencing). Let's just point out that pornography is about fantasy of a particular kind. Since it deals with sex in a no-holds-barred context -- i.e., minus all the social constraints -- and since sex is a basic matrix for a lot of psychological shit, given the way we deal with it -- or refuse to -- in this society, it's only to be expected that these fantasies are going to include elements of power, control, cruelty, superiority, emotional distance, and a lot of other things that we're not allowed to express otherwise.

Yeah, I readily admit that heterosexual porn is pretty much foreign territory for me -- not interested. However, gay porn, although it sidesteps the misogynist issue completely, does contain a lot of the same fantasy elements -- and also allows the audience to play either role, which is not something that Marcotte and her commenters seems to touch on at all vis-a-vis straight porn. In fact, the arguments are so heavily weighted against the construct of masculinity -- and there seesm to be a strong bias against any construction of masculinity -- that there doesn't seem to be any admission of the possibility.

It's the construct of masculinity that is they core of Marcotte's post:

When he talks about eradicating “masculinity”, he’s talking about eradicating the social construct of masculinity, especially as it’s defined in America. Think about how masculinity is constructed in America: violent, hateful, out of touch with “softer” emotions like love, irresponsible, stupid, willfully ignorant, and of course with a sexuality based around violence and conquest, not around pleasure and the sharing of it. (Today’s example—how anal sex is only “fun” if it’s a coercive process—is just one of many to add to the mind-numbing amounts of misogynist porn out there.)

Her description of how masculinity is contructed in America is grossly one-sided -- I'm not sure if it's her definition or if she's paraphrasing Jensen, but the result in either case goes way beyond the bounds of credibility. Commenter Steve points out some of the flaws:

These are parts of the construct of masculinity, but it also includes things like self reliance, self-sacrifice, and innovation. Certainly one can argue that these qualities are expressed in anti-social ways when combined the other, or that these qualities are not emphasized in culture as whole enough. However, the notion that masculinity — as a cultural construct — is responsible for violent porn seems a bit of an over-reach, as violent porn has continued to exist across multiple cultures for several thousand years. The nature and extent of violent porn tends to ebb and flow with upheavals in societies - often as a reaction to particular moral movements. For instance, one can see the increase in child and rape oriented porn as the Victorian era reached its peak. These images wained, though did not disappear completely, after WWI. Porn tends to be a hyper-reaction to social fores - at least that’s my opinion.

He's absolutely correct in fleshing out the definition of "masculinity," and his picture is much more balanced than that provided by Marcotte. (He's also pretty much on point in his comments about "fashions" in porn. It's an almost one-for-one correspondence with fashions in body imagery related to periods of social repression, particularly in the preponderance/scarcity of open renderings of the male nude.) The response to his comments by SarahMC are indicative to me to the degree to which the agenda permeates the discussion:

But Steve, self reliance, self-sacrifice, and innovation are not qualities exhibited only by men. And it’s because of that that the concept of “masculinity” is harmful; it’s essentialism. While both “femininity” and “masculinity” include positive characteristics, the binary model means that those characteristics are assigned to either men or women, not both. Both men and women are capable of self-sacrifice (”masculine”) and sensitivity (”feminine”).

I.e., the positive qualities of masculinity are universal, with the implication being that the negative qualities are not? It's instructive that she starts with some amelioration of this black/white dichotomy, and then immediately drops it in favor of broad generalities about the "harmfulness" of the concept of masculinity -- and again, does this mean that the definitions of "femininity" are not harmful? And why isn't that addressed, if not solely to preserve the moral high ground?

And, in case there was any doubt about the agenda here, Marcotte's own comment (#51) lays that misapprehension to rest: pure, textbook "men are the oppressors and are big babies to boot" feminist cant.

It's really a shame. There is the potential in these questions for an interesting examination of how something like pornography reflects social stresses and the role of sexual fantasies in defusing otherwise touchy social conflicts, not to mention the social construction of gender and sex roles, but it seems all to have gotten lost in the sloganeering.

(The irony here is that Marcotte uses an image from Homobilila.com, a site devoted to vintage homoerotic images, to head her post. So how seriously should I take this whole thing?)

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Via AmericaBlog, this comment from HuffPo:

There is a growing dispute over the veracity of reporting from Lebanon by former Marine W. Thomas Smith, Jr. who is posting reports on his blog, The Tank, published by the conservative website, National Review Online (NRO). Smith is a supporter of the war in Iraq, and is affiliated with two politically conservative organizations, the Counterterrorism Research Center and the Family Security Foundation. He is the executive editor of World Defense Review, and the co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Intelligent Design. (Emphasis added.)

There's a story there, I'm sure of it.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

How the Media Creates the News

By Tom Toles.

For background, here's a rundown by Taylor Marsh.

Local Races: IL-14

Denny Hastert's seat, now up for grabs. Rahm Emanuel, of the DCCC, seems to want to keep it in the Republican camp by running another DINO. Check out this information on John Laesch, a grassroots progressive and someone that Emanual seems to wish would disappear. Aside from the endorsements, which at the local level I think are even more important than otherwise, look at Laesch's responses to questions about the issues. Close to perfect as you're going to get in this world.

The Great Race

With cameos by all your favorite has-beens.

OK -- The election is eleven months away, and I am already sick of the campaign. And I've been ignoring it as much as possible.

I think what finally did it was the sight of those several states scrambling to see who could have the earliest primary, i.e., who could retain their disproportionate influence on the party selection process.

A big part of it is things like this:

I don't get this. According to Media Matters, CNN apologized for allowing General Kerr to ask that question at the Republican debates about "Don't Ask Don't Tell" and expunged it from their re-broadcasts because he is a Clinton supporter.

I could see it if the question itself was rude or shockingly partisan, but there is a GOP "special interest group" called the Log Cabin Republicans who actually sued the government over the same issue. One of them could have asked it just as easily. It's obviously a salient political issue in America and I don't see why any news organization should apologize and expunge the record just because of the political leanings of a citizen who asked a question. Apparently, after all these years of Bush's canned Townhall meetings with sweet softball questions, the media has decided that's the only form of legitimate debate.

The pearl-clutching over this is simply astonishing. I really can't understand where the idea that only party members were allowed to submit questions at a public debate by presidential candidates came from, unless, as Digby points out, it's a legacy of Bush's hand-laundered "Town Hall" meetings.

Dave Neiwert, in an unusually sharp post, makes the point:

Republican presidential candidates have, for the past six years, been operating almost completely inside a bubble -- creating campaign appearances that have been almost completely insulated from anything resembling the real world. It's helped, of course, that during that time the GOP has had only a single candidate -- George W. Bush -- which has made the job that much simpler.

Essentially, it's been a simple process: Shut out anyone who might raise any "controversial" (i.e., "dissenting") voices, pack the audience with True Believers, and foster the illusion of broad and fervent support.

If you start opening up these things, you might get some real questions. Maybe that's the problem. Musn't let the news get out of control. (Although as Sadly, No! points out, the Democrats managed to cope just fine.)

Or, as Digby puts it, "What a big bunch of babies."

Update on the Lizard Brain

Digby has further information on that focus group nastiness from the debate. Seems that it might have been somewhat of a fluke (and keep in mind that Joe Klein was telling the story, so the source is not unimpeachable).

There are Americans in the Republican party -- still.

Now, why is everyone trying to court the lizard vote?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Bug Art

This is just too cool. Sort of throws a whole new monkeywrench into the "What is Art?" issue.

There's something very Chinese about this one.

By all means, check out this site. (And yes, he's very careful of the bugs.)

You Can Tell When They're Really Afraid

If it hadn't been something that's happened before, particularly with Bush's "town meetings," this, from Steve Benen, would simply note one of those WTF? moments.

This is America for crying out loud. Somebody expects me to take a loyalty oath to a political party?

Get real.

Tasers, Brownshirts, and the Like

A lengthy and sobering post by Arthur Silber on tasers and how they reflect the worst trends in contemporary American society:

In brief: tasers can kill people, or cause very serious injury; tasers are "commonly used...to gain compliance" -- from people who are usually unarmed and who pose no serious threat whatsoever; and tasers are frequently used on suspects who have already been subdued and immobilized.

I don't really have a lot to add to this, but if you can get past the shrillness of some of the rhetoric (and keep in mind that Silber at his worst is sort of the left-wing equivalent of Malkin on a normal day), there's some interesting information. It's part three of a multi-part series, and just happens to be the one I stumbled across.

One thing that really jumps out, and it should be no surprise: every incident Silber discusses is marked by poor judgment, arrogance, and bullying on the part of the police. It's no secret that police and other paramilitary organizations tend to be attractive to a certain personality, those whose guns and nightsticks substitute for the penises they're afraid they don't have. There is also way too much of a club atmosphere in their dealings -- too many of the inquiries have exonerated the officers when the evidence is quite clear that they were overreaching, or even completely out of line.

And yes, this is relevant:

Last night Joe Klein sat in on one of Frank Luntz's focus group sessions for the Republican debate. It was one of those deals where each participant got a "dial" that allowed them to register instant approval or disapproval of what each candidate said. Klein's report:

In the next segment — the debate between Romney and Mike Huckabee over Huckabee's college scholarships for the deserving children of illegal immigrants — I noticed something really distressing: When Huckabee said, "After all, these are children of God," the dials plummeted. And that happened time and again through the evening: Any time any candidate proposed doing anything nice for anyone poor, the dials plummeted (30s).

The other big loser: John McCain saying we shouldn't torture people. In fact, it was an even bigger loser. It turns out that the only thing these GOP voters hated more than helping the poor was being told that it's wrong to torture people.

The UN, by the way, has declared tasering to be torture.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I Love It When Wingnuts Debate

From Andrew Sullivan, this tidbit:

[Duncan] Hunter basically said that the military is a Judeo-Christian institution and therefore should keep gay service-members permanently under threat of being fired. At least Hunter is principled: when you are part of a religiously-based organization, the GOP, and believe that religion should define public institutions, including the military, of course, there needs to be an enforcement of religious moral norms in public service.

"Hunter is principled"?? 'Scuse me? This is why I think Sullivan is subject to fits of brainlessness brought on by too much navel-gazing. This is a man running for president of the United States, which not only declares religious freedom as part of the basic rights of every American, but also specifically states that there will be no religious test for any public office, who baldly states that our military is a "Judeo-Christian organization" and should maintain the religiously based moral norms inherent in that idea. Sullivan is willing to give Hunter the benefit of the doubt, apparently, by caving to his definitions. To me, a statement like that takes Hunter out of the realm of the principled immediately.

The disturbing part is thinking about how many of our top brass agree with Hunter. And I think I would limit that to upper brass -- a reader at TPM has this to say:

Are the Republican hopefuls really that naive? I'm an active duty officer currently in Korea. If they believe that the military is a Christian-right, conservative institution they need to spend a few nights in the "ville" around a military base here...they would be "shocked!" by what they saw. After 17+ years in the military, most of it overseas, nothing amazes me anymore. It would make most people's heads spin what goes on, on a daily basis, at bars and clubs here.

Although with the right-wing tolerance for cognitive dissonance, I'm sure the goings-on would fit within the category of "boys will be boys."

For color commentary on the rest of the debate, see this post from Down With Tyranny!

Support the Troops Note:

From Tapped:

In a breathtaking moment for us queer folk, a question submitted by an openly gay retired brigadier general was aired by Anderson Cooper, who is rumored to be gay. The general not only challenged the "Don't ask, don't tell" military policy; he did so by turning the tables. Why, he wanted to know, did the candidates not trust the professionalism of American soldiers to work with gay men and lesbians?

As it turns out, the good general was in the audience, and when Cooper gave the elderly gentleman -- who served more than 40 years in the military -- the microphone, Brig. Gen. Keith Kerr (ret.) was booed by an audience of Republicans. There's your patriotism for you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Somewhat Unfocused Post on Marriage

Mostly because I'm a little unfocused myself. Do you suppose it's from living on root beer, ginger ale, and vitamin C for a week?

However, this this somewhat puzzling post by Bean at LG&M generated some very interesting comments. Bean takes off from an OpEd by Stephanie Coontz which is largely an outline of the history of marriage as an institution that these days somewhat awkwardly straddles religious-governmental-private territory. However, I think Bean's comments miscast Coontz' piece:

Here's the nub of Coontz's argument:

Perhaps it’s time to revert to a much older marital tradition. Let churches decide which marriages they deem “licit.” But let couples — gay or straight — decide if they want the legal protections and obligations of a committed relationship.

I am with her 100%. When I suggested as much in my property class during my first year of law school, during a discussion of marital assets, people were shocked and appalled by the idea that marriage should be a religious institution and the state should be in the business only of civil unions for all couples, gay or straight. I would like to think that Coontz's piece is a sign that notions are changing. But then again, that law school discussion was only two years ago.

First off, Coontz' reference to "licit" marriage refers specifically to the Church's decision that only marriages performed in a church were licit, but that couple married outside a church were still married.

For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.

In 1215, the church decreed that a “licit” marriage must take place in church. But people who married illictly had the same rights and obligations as a couple married in church: their children were legitimate; the wife had the same inheritance rights; the couple was subject to the same prohibitions against divorce.

This obviously has nothing to do with whether "licit" marriages should alone carry the "married" status, as Bean seems to imply. Bean seems to be reinforcing the idea that the word "marriage" itself is essentially a term with religious connotations and that the churches should have exclusive authority for its use, which, as you well know at this point, I think is poppycock. In fact, one of the commenters points out:

As an anthropologist, I have to tell you that in the overwhelming majority of cultures in the world marriage is a secular and not religious institution. This, by the way, includes Islamic societies. Under Sharia (Islamic holy law) marriage is a civil contract negotiated between the parties. There are really only a handful of non-Judeo-Christian societies where marriage is a religious sacrament (including Hinduism and the Hopi). Even in the West, marriage remained a largely secular affair until the late Middle Ages when the Catholic church hijacked it.Kind of punches majaor holes in your argument. Marriage is, and should remain, funadmentally a secular social relationship which regulates the care and assignment of children, the disposition of property, and the division of labor, among other things.

That accords pretty well with my understanding of the role of the state, the church, and the individual. The comments, as seems to be the case generally with left-wing blogs (at least, the left-wing blogs I read), are generalyl intelligent and well informed. It's just that the initial post is so vague.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

In the Land of the Blind

The One-Eyed Man is as likely to be set upon by an angry mob as to be made king.

From Andrew Sullivan:

"A headline last Sunday about a Muslim man and an Orthodox Jewish woman who are partners in two Dunkin’ Donuts stores described their religions incorrectly. The two faiths worship the same God — not different ones," - The New York Times, November 25.

Of course, any idiot realizes that. Except the likes of Gen. Keith "My God is Bigger than His God" Boykin. (Angry mob? Follow Sullivan's link to John Hinderaker's comment at Powerline for a free chuckle: Hinderaker calling NYT "arrogant." Sorry -- there's enough foo shit there for everybody.)

About That Infinite Universe

This is so cool:

From IT Wire:

The Mersini-Houghton team, however, says it is another universe at the edge of our own. They looked at string theory for the explanation. In string theory, [10 to the 500th power] [sorry for that, but Blogger can't handle some not-very-complicated functions, such as superscripts] universes (or string vacuums) are described, each with unique properties. They contend that the largeness of our universe is due to its vacuum counterbalancing gravity. This counter-gravity of the vacuum keeps our universe very large (rather than shrinking due to gravity)—larger than the other multitude of universes. The team says that smaller universes are positioned at the edge of our universe, and because of this interaction they are seen by us.

The team predicts that another giant void will eventually be found. The already found void is in the northern hemisphere. They contend another one will be found in the southern hemisphere.

One of the more exciting parts of this story is that they're already prepared to make a prediction on the existence of others.

Here's a report on Space.com from this summer.

Thanks to AmericaBlog.