"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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Ignorance As A Weapon

Thanks to PZ Myers, this from Baptist Press. The reporting itself is quite straightforward -- or as much as can be expected -- note the attempt to make opponents of evolution sound reasonable and cogent. The quotes, however, for anyone who is used to thinking rationally, are dead giveaways:

The language in the proposed standards, Kendall said, is dogmatic when it asserts that "evolution is the fundamental concept underlying all biology."

Referring to the discovery that Pluto no longer is considered a planet by scientists today, Kendall said scientific opinions can change as scientists explore new information.

Note, that last is an argument against science. These people are obviously not equipped to deal with a universe that contains uncertainties, which, regrettably, is the universe we inhabit. I doubt that Mr. Kendall is deliberately obfuscating the issue through his use of the word "dogmatic." It's probably something he picked up from the likes of James Dobson or Lou Sheldon and is just parrotting without realizing what he's saying. Ditto the later attempt to describe evolution as a religion (see below).

This is slightly more subtle:

Another speaker at the Feb. 3 hearing, Beverly Slough, a member of the St. Johns County school board and president-elect of the Florida School Boards Association, said opponents of the proposed science standards aren't advocating the teaching of creationism or Intelligent Design but instead are advocating open-mindedness.

"I think to limit our children and to teach evolution as dogma, not allowing them even open discussion, is not intellectually honest," said Slough, who has a degree in biology.

It's still a crock. Open-mindedness is a requirement of science, but it doesn't necessarily include dumb-as-a-post credulity. It has to come with a healthy dose of scepticism. This is another case of the Christianists saying the opposite of what they mean in order to sound reasonable. She's being dishonest herself, and ignoring an earlier statement by one of the writers of the standards:

The proposed standards ask students to examine the evidence for evolution and to think critically, said Campbell, one of 20 people who spoke in support of the proposed standards and who teaches advanced placement biology in Clay County.

"Did we eliminate other concepts? Yes, we did," said Campbell, who identified himself as a lifelong Christian. "We did not include Intelligent Design based on legal work and on decisions made earlier. I would also point out that we eliminated dogmatic ideas like flat earth, astrology, geocentrism and the prospect that canals on Mars were actually constructed by intelligent life."

In Christianist vocabulary, "thinking critically" means accepting authority as a replacement for rational thought and examination of evidence -- i.e., not thinking at all. Slough is lying, to put it bluntly: of course they are advocating the teaching of creationism and ID, because those are the only alternatives to evolution that they recognize.

Here comes the "religion" argument:

"My objection to their proposal is that, at its core, the suggested science standard relative to evolution is a set of beliefs unproven. They believe that millions of years ago there was nothing and then suddenly there was something. They have no proof. It's not replicable. It's clearly a belief," Kemple said. "You can give it a name and call it evolution, but it is nonetheless a set of beliefs."

Let's start with the straw man and the sliding definitions. First, the flat assertion that evolution is a set of unproven beliefs. Demonstrably untrue, unless you are in complete denial. Then the straw man, his second statement. Not what evolutionary theorists believe at all, and one of the most pernicious, because most widely accepted, arguments: evolution does not address the origin of life. Period. Never did, never will. Third, another unfounded assertion, that there is no proof, and therefore evolution is a "belief." If you believe evidence, yes, it is. It is not, however, a belief in the sense that he is trying to project. It's the same tactic the creationists use with the word "theory." Change usage in midstream, but don't tell anyone you're doing it.

Kemple noted that a set of beliefs is typically considered a religion or non-religion. A large number of educated people believe evolution is not correct, he noted, and thus, as a set of beliefs, it should not be taught without stating its shortcomings.

Robin Brown, a retired middle school science teacher from Polk County, quoted from a number of well-educated people who disagree with the theory of evolution. Drawing from philosopher Karl Popper, astronomer Fred Hoyle, law professor and author Phillip E. Johnson and quantum physicist Paul Davies, Brown discussed ideas promoted by these men that argue against evolution and/or develop the idea of Intelligent Design.

Note the "well-educated people" who deny evolution: a philosopher, an astronomer, a lawyer, and a physicist. Not a biologist in the group. Regrettably, being "well-educated" in this country does not mean that you understand everything, or even most things. (And do note that intelligent design is now part of the mix.) The sad part is that the basic concepts of evolutionary theory are not that difficult or esoteric, and you can see them around you. (One of the prime examples of selection, and one that influenced Darwin's thinking, is stock breeding. Granted, it's not natural selection, but the mechanism is the same. It's just that a cattle breeder becomes a factor in the environment.)

I really can't interpret these comments as anything other than a combination (in which proportions I'm not prepared to judge) of ignorance, stupidity, and mendacity. Some of these people are obviously just parroting things they've heard from prominent creationists; others, I think, are really working an agenda, and doing so dishonestly.

And so Florida continues its campaign to become the Alabama of the twenty-first century.


Margaret, the 10-day-old Giraffe, is bottle fed by Chester Zoo keeper Tim Rowlands on January 30, 2008, in Chester, England. Margaret is the first Rothschild giraffe born at the zoo and is being hand reared after having difficulty suckling from her mother. By Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.

OK -- How cute is she?

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Culture Wars Through the Microscope

Good post at Pharyngula that shows, using the example of science education in Texas, what the culture war is all about. It's not about religious freedom, it's not about protecting traditional values, it's about turning the USA into a theocracy through whatever means necessary. The bulk of the post is Steven Shafersman's report on the state of science standards right now; Shafersman is president of Texas Citizens for Science. I found this particularly revealing:

On Friday, 2007 November 17, the SBOE rejected a math textbook in violation of the statutes that govern textbook selection, and the publishers have rightfully appealed the decision to the Commissioner of Education. If that doesn't work, the decision will be appealed to the Attorney General, and then go to litigation in a court of law, because the unlawful rejection will cost the publisher tens of millions of dollars in lost sales.

By Texas law, textbooks can only be rejected by the SBOE if (1) the book contains factual errors that the publisher refuses to correct, (2) the book does not teach the subject's curriculum standards, the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), and the publisher refuses to make changes, or (3) the book's binding is not sturdy and the publisher will not fix this. None of these apply in this case. The book contained some errors but the publisher promised to fix them (the other math books contained even more errors), and the book fully met the math TEKS. . . .

Other SBOE members simply refused to give a reason. In reality, the math textbook rejection was a power play designed to assert a precedent for the Board's self-claimed power to reject books for no reason at all, so that they will have this power to reject biology books when they come up for adoption in future years. The radical religious right members of the SBOE have not been able to get mainstream biology texts that contain evolution information thrown out or censored by legitimate means, so they are resorting to naked political force and daring anyone to sue them.

This is about the time the Christianists start screaming about religious discrimination and freedom of speech. If you put it to them seriously that tactics like this amount to cheating, they truly wouldn't know what you meant.

I realize that the politically correct attitude is that they are sincere in their beliefs and we should have respect for that. That, as far as I'm concerned, is really stretching a point: you have to consider, I think, that their beliefs have become a tactic in what is actually nothing more than a major play for total control over the lives of all Americans. This is a sketch of the overall war that the Christianists have declared on America: they want to dispense with the rule of law, dispense with the idea of equality for all, dispense with our basic liberties, all in order to enforce their view as the only view.

Next to people like this, Osama bin Laden's a joke.

More on Memes

In light of my comments on the corporate media's contribution to the race/gender memes of this season's races, I found these comments by hilzoy illuminating.

A week ago, CNN ran a story that was more than usually fatuous, even for them. The headline: "Gender or race: Black women voters face tough choices in S.C." Their description of this choice:
"Recent polls show black women are expected to make up more than a third of all Democratic voters in South Carolina's primary in five days.

For these women, a unique, and most unexpected dilemma, presents itself: Should they vote their race, or should they vote their gender?"

The women in the piece don't seem to see things this way at all. They are interested in whether or not to count Hillary Clinton's time as first lady as "experience", and in, um, you know, issues:

"They rank health care, education and the economy in order of importance."

But did CNN choose to highlight these issues? No: for them, the main storyline was black women being torn between voting their race and voting their gender, despite the fact that no actual South Carolina voter interviewed in the article suggested that she might decide how to vote on those grounds.

I start to wonder how we can rely on the corporate media to deliver, you know, actual news, much less analysis, when they can't even understand the sense of their own reporting. Talk about a disconnect.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Late Entry

I'm going to have to come up with a new category -- maybe something like "really, really stupid posts." Andrew Sullivan quotes this piece by Ross Douthat with no comment. I would guess he's waiting for the feedback before he commits himself to a position (gee -- he could be running in the Republican primaries).

Here's the quote:

Over the long run, my assumption is that a ban on abortion, by changing the incentives of sexual behavior and family formation, would actually end up reducing out-of-wedlock births, welfare spending, and all the rest of it, and that a short-term investment in a pro-life welfare state (and an acceptance of the short term spike in illegitimacy, dependency and government spending that would presumably accompany it) would prove a boon to conservatism in the end. But that's a long-term hope, not a short-term plan - and even if that assumption weren’t borne out, I still think that a higher illegitimacy rate and a more expensive and intrusive welfare state would be a small price to pay for a country where every human being enjoyed the protection of the laws.

Uh, Ross -- we've tried that. Didn't work. It's a nice little fantasy, but that's all it is. To promote it as rational thought is sort of beyond the pale. As for having a country where every human being enjoys the protection of the laws, maybe we could start with those who are already born?

Race, Gender and the Primaries

This post by Logan Murphy at C&L touches on something that's been at the back of my mind about the primaries. I thought it was just me, but maybe it's not. The press and the pundits are making a lot of noise about race and gender issues around the candidacies of Clinton and Obama. Oh, they're there (and I wonder how much of that is because of said press and pundits), but they have nowhere near the importance that the talking heads would have us believe, I think.

Matthews:”…And I have to think given the ethnic, you know, excitement - let’s call it American excitement about Barack Obama. If he doesn’t make it to the nomination a lot of people on the Republican side might say, well why don’t we try do something to offset that and take advantage of the hope of having an African American at a high level of government.”

This is wrong on so many levels, and certainly does nothing to end the media meme that race and gender are driving this primary season. Somehow, I don’t think Condi would motivate a lot of Democrats to vote for a Republican this year.

Aside from the ick factor in Matthews' statement, what's wrong is that he completely misses the point. Whatever Obama's capabilities might be as president, the point is that putting Condi Rice on the ticket is not going to magically bring minority votes to a party that is busily screwing everyone in the country who's not white or rich or preferably both.. (First of all, we know that she's incompetent.) Obama's causing excitement not because he's black and a credible candidate for president, but because he is talking about getting rid of the Bush legacy. The Republicans are all running for Bush's third term. Chris Matthews doesn't get it (of course, he doesn't get just about everything). The idea that the Republicans, who have spent most of their campaigns doing everything they can to alienate minorities, can plunk in a token black woman and make it all go away is about par for the course on media thinking. Of course, it's par for the course on Republican thinking, too.

McArdle and Food

A. J. Rossmiller weighs in on Megan McArdle's ridiculous comments on food stamps and obesity. On the whole he's on point, but he makes one statement with which I take strong issue:

[A] proper, balanced diet promotes health and often correlates with avoiding obesity. Cheap food generally does not make such a diet, and food stamps make the problem worse, rather than better.

That's not necessarily the case. It's what you buy with the food stamps that is going to make the difference, and I have news for everyone: food stamps can be used to buy good, nutritious food as easily as cheap, not so great food. In fact, they can make it possible to buy good, nutritious food. If you have a little bit extra to spend, so much the better. (And it doesn't really take that much more -- literally, a couple of bucks can make the difference. You don't, as Rossmiller did, have to spend twice as much.)

His conclusions are pretty much OK, but I don't want to let that particular misstatement go unchallenged.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Is It Possible . . .

for an incoming president just to fire everybody and start over? I've thought the FCC laughable for a while now, but this is over the top:

FCC's definition of indecent content requires that the broadcast "depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities" in a "patently offensive way" and is aired between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The agency said the show was indecent because "it depicts sexual organs and excretory organs _ specifically an adult woman's buttocks."

The agency rejected the network's argument that "the buttocks are not a sexual organ."

Lord. Love. A. Duck.


As the results pile up and the speeches accumulate, some things are becoming apparent. Almost parallel posts from BooMan and Maha on South Carolina and the Clintons' tactics, although focused on the smears against Obama, point up something that I hadn't quite crystallized in my own mind. There's a deeper substrate there, though. I've never believed Clinton when she's talking about change, and I was right: she's waging a campaign straight from the Republican playbook. Obama is not, but that doesn't mean he's right. His message is very inspiring, and will probably win him the election. I don't think it will make him a functional president: it's all very well and good to call for uniting the country and dispensing with the divisiveness of the Republican years, but I think John Edwards has called it right in one area: the next president is going to be dealing with people whose idea of compromise is that everyone does it their way. There's going to be obstruction and backstabbing from the Republicans in Congress, the business sector, and probably the bureaucrats in the executive, considering that there are now huge numbers of Bush's political hacks putting in time there for no other reason than to advance the right-wing agenda (they're certainly not doing anything that looks like governing).

Obama's tactics, by the way, are not above reproach. See this post by TerranceDC at BooMan Tribune on Obama's handling of the gay community. Of course, he's not so different from the rest of the Democrats, but then, that doesn't smack too much of change now, does it?

I'm starting to think that "Change" is the Democratic buzz-word for this campaign. Don't look for it to happen

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bush's Legacy

Here it is, courtesy of Digby, in a nice chart you should send to all your Republican friends:

And just in case you were thinking that there is a touch of reality in the president's world view, get this:

Fox News reporter Bret Baier "was granted unprecedented access by George W. Bush" to put together a one hour documentary that reflects back on his presidency. The documentary will air this Sunday night.

Baier previewed his documentary — "George W. Bush: Fighting to the Finish" — on Fox News this afternoon. He said that what surprised him from the interview was the President's repeated efforts to link himself to Abraham Lincoln:

We talked a lot about President Lincoln. And there's going to be a lot of people out there who watch this hour and say, is he trying to equate himself with Lincoln?

I tell you what — he thinks about Lincoln and the tough times that he had during the Civil War. 600,000 dead. The country essentially hated him when he was leaving office.

And the President reflects on that. This is a President who is really reflecting on his place in history.

Update: A number of readers have written in to point out how odd it is that Bush characterizes Lincoln as being hated when he was "leaving office," as if he doesn't know that Lincoln had actually just been reelected in a landslide, was despised only by those in the defeated south and was well ... shot.

Not that Baier is a twit or anything, but can you believe him delivering that little encomium with a straight face? Oh, wait -- this is Fox News.

Footnote: This bit from hilzoy seems right on point.

Megan McArdle's War on the Poor

Just in case you thought something had changed. Her thoughts (if we can dignify them by that term) on why including increases in food stamps benefits to the stimulus package is senseless:

1) The poor don't need more food. Obesity is a problem for the poor in America; except for people who are too screwed up to get food stamps (because they don't have an address), food insufficiency is not.

2) Food stamps only imperfectly translate into increased cash income, meaning that the poor will spend . . . more money on food.

That's just her first two points, and if you know anything about food stamp programs and nutrition, you can already see that she's full of the brown stinky.

Food that is high in fats and starches is cheaper than food that isn't. Trust me -- the only place I like to shop is grocery stores, and if you take a look at the cost of meat or chicken -- even the cheapest cuts -- they are much more expensive per serving than something like peanut butter (which, depending on the brand, can still be relatively healthy, but the most popular brands are heavy on sugar and added oil; the low-fat varieties are even worse). The cheapest bread is also the least nutritious. Fresh vegetables are not cheap, and even frozen or canned can run into money. Fruit is even more so. If you want to live on rice and pasta, that's cheap -- but also loaded with starches.

I don't know about other states, the the food stamp program in Illinois basically gives you cash to buy food, and it's tax-free (even though our sales tax on groceries is only 2%). How this "translates imperfectly into increased cash income" is beyond me -- it is increased cash income.

And, of course, while McArdle is moaning about the "distorted food sector" she seems to miss the point that this is an economic stimulus program -- the point is to get people to spend more money. If you're giving people money that they can only spend on food, that's going to stimulate something. (She might at least acknowledge that the distortions in the food sector are largely a result of government subsidies to Big Ag.)

News flash for the brain-dead Republican "libertarians" -- major corporations do not drive the economy. Consumer spending drives the economy. Tax breaks for business aren't going to help anything but Republican campaign coffers. Food stamps will put money into the economy pretty damned effectively and even have the side benefit of helping poor kids get enough to eat.

I feel sort of embarrassed for her.

Thanks to hilzoy, whose take-down is delicious.

Friday, January 25, 2008

One Trick Pony

If Hillary Clinton were not running for president, Andrew Sullivan might have to stop blogging.

Centrism, Bipartisanship, and Other Political Jokes

A couple of interesting posts today, one by Barbara O'Brien on the "bipartisan" economic stimulus package ("bipartisan" meaning the Democrats caved again) and one by dday at Hullabaloo on the centrism fetish (it really does become a fetish -- like bad sex with a script).

I'm seeing a core issue -- the idea that the middle in and of itself is a wonderful thing. No, that's simply what you wind up with when all the yelling is done. This is coupled with the idea that bipartisanship is the answer to all our problems. (This is "bipartisanship" in the old sense of opposed interests working together, not the contemporary Republicanese of "do it my way or I'll pick up my marbles and go home.")

I used to call myself a centrist, but that doesn't really define my political point of view. I don't really hold a middle ground on any given issue -- I guess I have a pick-and-choose ideology, centered on what works or what I feel the general purpose of government should be (the greatest good for the greatest number, and include the outsiders, thank you very much). So I hear about things like Unity '08 and just have to laugh -- why on earth would anyone mount a presidential campaign based on the idea that he doesn't believe in anything in particular? (Although we've had some very successful presidents who worked that way -- Bill Clinton is the latest -- but that's not anything you can campaign on.)

In light of what I said earlier about the center being where you wind up with all the shouting is done, that explains, I think, why the center is constantly shifting, and points out one of the flaws in trying to see "the center." There isn't one, in that sense. It's constantly shifting, and it's going to take different casts on different issues -- there simply isn't a "center."

At least, not in real life.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Nature/Nurture and Moral Judgments

Andrew Koppelman has an interesting post from last weekend over at Balkinization on the 'ex-gay" movement and how it may be subverting the anti-gay Chistianists.

The article, unsurprisingly given its venue, takes as unquestioned premises that homosexual desire and homosexual conduct are always evils to be avoided. It notes an important shift in the claims being made by the “ex-gay” movement, a primarily Christian movement that has been around for some decades now, promising to lead gay people away from homosexuality. In the early days of the movement, it claimed that a gay person could transform him- or herself into a heterosexual through a pure act of will. Those claims have now disappeared. The article reports that “[e]arly hopes for instant healing have given way to belief that transformation occurs through a lifetime of discipleship.”

Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, the largest of the ex-gay groups, “is frank that change does not eradicate temptation. He wonders if change is ever 100 percent complete in this life. ‘One thing we can expect as Christians is a life of denial,’ he says. ‘I don't think we're afraid to tell people that they may have a lifetime of struggle. Freedom isn't the absence of struggle, but the life of struggle with joy in the process.’”

“The ex-gay movement seeks to integrate the reality of same-sex attraction into a life of discipleship. In that lifelong journey, they expect many changes, including changes of feeling and attraction. But they emphasize that each person's experience is different, and that instant transformation is extremely rare.”

In effect, the claims of a "cure" are gone, except among the most unhinged. What's left is simply the acknowledgment that leaving the "gay lifestyle" (and no one has ever really explained exactly what that is -- there's only been the caricature of the club culture put out by the likes of Peter LaBarbera, which doesn't seem to include jobs and grocery shopping and laundry and, you know, normal life) is a matter of choice. I find that deliciously ironic, insofar as the whole "choice" question got moved to an entirely different arena. The choice is now not to be gay, or not to follow one's natural instincts in terms of partnering.

One of Koppelman's commenters, Robert Link, brings up a terrifically important point in the first comment:

It's a big can of worms you offer up. I have some thoughts on the general correlation of belief in innateness to support for gay rights. To make my argument a bit more palatable, I include two other types of deviance: alcoholism and left handedness. I have seen parallel thinking processes applied to all three groups.

The first premise, held deeply and widely in the society at large and accepted consciously or unconsciously by the deviant herself is that said deviation is bad, a matter of deep personal shame. To take the seemingly trivial case of left-handedness, note that "the collective unconscious," as manifest in language, denotes left as both gauche and sinister. That's makes for a cute joke, but it remains fact that "the left hand path" is a euphemism for Satanism in the minds of many people who are afraid to explore it.

So, start with the premise that what you are, what makes you different is bad. Now add the premise that you can't change it. Left-handedness used to be trained out of all but the most incorrigible, and the numbers for earlier generations claim no more than 1 in ten were lefties. With the permissive teaching systems of the second half of the 20th century we've seen a rise in the incidence of left-handedness, and in this case there's plenty of reason to assume that the correlation highlights causation as well. Before the permissive trend in education, for 1-in-ten this affliction was not curable.

I think, actually, that his introduction of alcoholism and left-handedness obscures the issue, which is simply that we need no justification for being the way we are. The much better position, which undercuts the Christianist dogma, is that being gay is simply another way of being human. It's just there -- deal with it. The point is stated more clearly by Gary Chartier a few comments down:

For gay rights activists to stake their claim on the assumption that innateness is important here is, effectively, to suggest that there is something wrong with same-sex desire and sexual contact, but that innateness provides an excuse of some kind. If, as seems clear, same-sex sex isn't inherently harmful to the participants or to others, that ought to be sufficient reason to regard it as morally acceptable and legally protected. People concerned about gay rights needn't be--shouldn't be--concerned either about whether sexual orientation is narrowly focused (to that few or no people are actually bisexual) or invariant (so that it doesn't change over time).

That is where our arguments need to be coming from. That's been my intuitive position, being the in-your-face hillbilly that I am, but I've seldom been able to articulate it clearly.

FISA, Again

Here's Digby on Harry Reid's determination to ram Bush's FISA bill through the Senate. Here's the post by Glenn Greenwald that she's working from, with the money quote:

To do so, Reid announced that, unlike for the multiple filibusters from Republican colleagues, he would actually force Dodd and company to engage in a real filibuster. This is what Reid said:

[I]f people think they are going to talk this to death, we are going to be in here all night. This is not something we are going to have a silent filibuster on. If someone wants to filibuster this bill, they are going to do it in the openness of the Senate.

That is what Democrats have been urging Reid to do to the filibustering Republicans all year -- in order to dramatize their obstructionism -- but he has refused to make them actually filibuster anything, generously agreeing instead that every bill requires 60 votes. Instead, he reserves such punishment only for the members of his own caucus trying to take a stand for the rule of law and the Constitution, those who are trying finally to bring some accountability to this administration.

Reid's leadership in the Senate has been nonexistent, and I'm really tired of his pandering to the Republican minority -- did you hear that, Harry? MINORITY. I really wonder how many contributions his campaign fund has gotten from telecoms and their lobbyists and employees. It would be interesting to see those figures.

The Wall

A very good post from Steve Benen at C&L on separation of church and state, based on a very good answer that Obama gave on that question -- particularly good in light of Obama's reliance on religion in his campaign.

“My general criteria is that if a congregation or a church or synagogue or a mosque or a temple wants to provide social services and use government funds, then they should be able to structure it in a way that all people are able to access those services and that we’re not seeing government dollars used to proselytize.

“That, by the way, is a view based not just on my concern about the state or the apparatus of the state being captured by a particular religious faith, but it’s also because I want the church protected from the state. And I don’t think that we promote the incredible richness of our religious life and our religious institutions when the government starts getting too deeply entangled in their business. That’s part of the reason why you don’t have as rich a set of religious institutions and faith life in Europe. Part of that has to do with the fact that, traditionally, it was an extension of the state. And so there is less experimentation, less vitality, less responsiveness to the yearnings of people. It became a rigid institution that no longer served people’s needs. Religious freedom in this country, I think, is precisely what makes religion so vital.”

As Benen points out, Obama is calling for a return to the model that was in place pre-Bush. He also makes a very important point in the second paragraph that needs to be stressed again and again, and one that the Founders stressed: the wall is as much for the protection of religion is it is for the protection of the state.

This really should be a no-brainer. It's an indication, yet again, of how the discourse in this country has become warped by those who see a road to power in the subversion of our basic institutions.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger is dead at 28. There's a lot of speculation, but the latest reports seem to indicate that his death was accidental. He was found in his NY apartment with sleeping pills scattered around him; he was also suffering from pneumonia, according to his family.

There may be more on this later.


The pills were not scattered, according to police; they were prescription medications because he had been having trouble sleeping while working on his latest film.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Identifying the Issues

I've said before that John Edwards, whom I support for the Democratic nomination, is the one who is waging the real campaign. Crooks and Liars has this letter to Edwards from Martin Luther King III:

…I appreciate that on the major issues of health care, the environment, and the economy, you have framed the issues for what they are - a struggle for justice. And, you have almost single-handedly made poverty an issue in this election.

You know as well as anyone that the 37 million people living in poverty have no voice in our system. They don’t have lobbyists in Washington and they don’t get to go to lunch with members of Congress. Speaking up for them is not politically convenient. But, it is the right thing to do.

I am disturbed by how little attention the topic of economic justice has received during this campaign. I want to challenge all candidates to follow your lead, and speak up loudly and forcefully on the issue of economic justice in America.

That's one major reason I support Edwards. Another is that he understands that you can't compromise with the elite that is presently running this country -- they have no reason to sit down with you because they already have everything.* It's symptomatic that the press doesn't bother to give him coverage -- after all, they're part of the problem. Both Clinton and Obama seem sort of washed-out when you compare their statements to Edwards' -- they're trying to hard to cater to the right, which hates them both anyway.

They're all talking change, but Edwards is the only one I believe.

* The third reason is his haircut.


The post above actually started edging toward the whole concept of "framing" as it is practiced in contemporary politics. Edwards has done a lot to reframe the debate on the Democratic side, while both Clinton and Obama are perpetuating the current, Republican-built frames.

Digby has a post on this from the Obama angle -- I mentioned somewhere that I hvae no use for a Democrat running on Republican talking points, which Edwards is not (and that's one gaffe in Digby's post -- she doesn't acknowledge that Edwards is not buying the St. Ron of Hollywood mantra. I don't think he's mentioned it specifically, but his message is distinctly 180 from any praise of Ronald Reagan or his policies. My own take on Reagan was that he was a mediocre president, but pragmatic enough that he didn't screw up completely, although his economic policies -- apparently his strong point, aside from foreign policy, where he didn't do anything new -- were fairly stupid if you're talking about benefitting the country as a whole, which of course he wasn't. His message -- "Greed is good!" -- was ultimately pretty damaging.)

Booman has a contrary view on that issue, and I think he's wrong:

Unfortunately, the progressive movement is replete with pinheads that think running for president is some kind of academic exercise. Krugman is a case in point. His column today is correct in all its details. Reagan's presidency was no economic miracle and it hurt the middle class, working people, and the poor. Reaganomics have worked no better in the present administration. It's important that progressives fight back against false narratives about the Reagan years because those narratives matter. They matter because they set the framework within which the public debate takes place. And that framework is falsely skewed to the right in large part because of accepted myths that have been built into the national narrative. Progressives should concede none of these myths and fight back against them at every opportunity. Or...almost every opportunity. [. . .]

That Obama can walk into a meeting with a corporate editorial board in Nevada and walk out with an endorsement over two white opponents is something that should be applauded. Instead, progressives accuse him of selling out, of reinforcing false frames, of insulting progressives.

On its face it looks like a good argument from the basis of political pragmatism. However. . . .

What exactly is the value of an endorsement from a conservative editorial board in a Democratic primary?

Nor, I think, can you take Obama's remarks about Reagan as an isolated event. This is not the first time he's repeated the conservative viewpoint, and in general, although more progressive than Clinton, he's not really left of center at all -- aside from the fact that, because of the repetition ad nauseam of the right's talking points, 70% of the country is left of center, according to the Villagers, who, after all, are the ones honking that particular horn.

Which leads me to another thing:

Sometimes progressives deserve their position on the fringe of American politics. This is one of those times.

Take another look. Turnout for Democratic primaries is roughly double that for Republicans. A lot of it is independent voters. Tell you anything? (If the Democrats would actually field some genuine progressives, I'd be willing to bet they would wind up with solid majorities in both houses of Congress.)

* Obama did make a further comment on those remarks, quoted in the comments to BooMan's post:

Today Senator Obama responded to their criticisms at his Columbia, South Carolina rally, saying his statements have been mischaracterized - just another Washinton "trick."

"I didn't' say I liked Ronald Reagan's policies," Obama explained. "What I said was that was the kind of working majority we need to form in order to move a progressive agenda forward. So when I see, you know, Senator Clinton or President Clinton distort my words, say somehow that I was saying Republican (sic) the only ones who had good ideas since 1980 - then that is not a way to move the debate forward. That is not a way to help the American people. And I am not running for president just to become president - I'm running to help the American people and move the debate forward. I'm not willing to say or do anything just to win an election, because when you start operating that way, you lose the trust of the American people and we need trust if we're going to build the kind of country that all of us want for our children and our grandchildren."

Obama told the crowd that Reagan "was able to tap into the discontent of the American people and he was able to get Democrats to vote Republican - they were called Reagan Democrats." This skill of bridging party divides is one that Obama admits he hopes to emulate. "We as Democrats right now, should tap into the discontent of Republicans. I want some Obama Republicans!"

I will give him this: I'm not going into this election identifying issues as either progressive or conservatives. The issues are ideologically neutral. Positions on those issues are not.

Edwards' value is that he has identified some key issues in this campaign and kept them on the table, as much as the corporate media will allow -- that little band of oligarchs is not really interested in introducing any reality into American politics at this point. My problem with Obama is that, by perpetuating the Republican memes in any fashion, he's conceding the debate, which seems to me to be the end result of BooMan's position. This is even more a problem with Clinton, in my view.

Granted, it's a Catch 22: you perpetuate the myth to appeal to those who subscribe to it, because if you don't they have the power to bury you. But if you win on that basis, you're compromised.

No one ever thinks about what the road from Hell is paved with.

Footnote: Here's a further comment on Obama's speech from Natasha Chart that strikes me as extraordinarily perceptive: in her view, he's not perpetuating the myth, but subverting it.

I just wonder how many people can catch that.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sanity in Scientific Reporting

Here's a piece by Bean at LG&M on a study that finds a correlation between caffeine intake and miscarriage. The alarmists, of course, are immediately declaring that pregnant women should cut out caffeine completely. However:

Thankfully, there is one voice of reason in the panic over perfect pregnancy. Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, a professor at Columbia Medical School and the director of their family planning clinic rides to the rescue:

"[Dr. Westhoff] said that most miscarriages resulted from chromosomal abnormalities, and that there was no evidence that caffeine could cause those problems.

'Just interviewing women, over half of whom had already had their miscarriage, does not strike me as the best way to get at the real scientific question here,' she said. 'But it is an excellent way to scare women.'"

Do I really need to point out the parallels between this and the reporting on MRSA?

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Finally! Some Real Reporting About MRSA

Perhaps the yelling had some effect. Newsweek provides some good information that counters the alarmism of previous reports. This strikes me as a key bit:

n the UCSF study, researchers found that men in a clinic for HIV-positive patients who had a history of having sex with men were 13 times more likely than other HIV-positive patients to get a particular form of community-associated staph infection called MRSA USA300. But this does not mean that there is a new "gay" form of MRSA, the study's authors say. USA300 has been around since 2002 and has appeared in at least 38 American states among heterosexual and homosexual patients. What is new is the rapid rate the bacteria spread among this particular population of gay men, studied between 2004-2006. Why these men are more vulnerable than the heterosexuals studied is still a question. Researchers stopped short of labeling USA300 a sexually transmitted disease, but they did note that the infections in the men they studied were commonly found on parts of the body where skin-to-skin contact occurs during sexual activity.

Gay men's health advocates point out that MRSA can be spread through any kind of skin-to-skin contact, either sexual or nonsexual, without regard for sexual orientation. And they have been very critical of the media for its focus on the sexual aspects of the story. "It's very unfortunate," says GMHC's Stackhouse. "It's very stigmatizing, it's alarmist, it's homophobic and it's just unnecessary."

The article, unfortunately, does not address the irresponsible press release from UCSF which started the whole thing, nor the senseless remarks of the chief researcher, which is unfortunate. On the whole, however, this is a lot better than what we've seen so far.

As far as Binh Diep's remarks, Jim Burroway has this summary:

With this latest study, MRSA quickly became the newest “gay plague” and lead author Binh Diep rang alarm bells around the world with remarks like this one to Reuters:

Once this reaches the general population, it will be truly unstoppable.

That comment was like manna from heaven to anti-gay demagogues. But he didn’t stop there. Dr. Diep hyped the importance of his study to the San Francisco Chronicle, saying:

We probably had it here first, and now it is spreading elsewhere… This is a national problem, and San Francisco is at the epicenter.

Dr. Diep also said in his press release:

The potential widespread dissemination of multi-resistant form of USA300 into the general population is alarming.

But there’s a problem with all of this. None of it is true.

According to the medical literature — which Diep ought to be well acquainted with — the USA300 variant of MRSA is already widespread in the general population. And gay men, who are in the general population, had little to do with it. If the medical literature is any indication, it’s the “general population” that’s responsible for spreading MRSA into the gay community.

Diep's remarks are worse than irresponsible -- they misreprsent the entire situation completely. The UCSF Public Affairs department has issued an apology and what amounts to a repudiation of his statements, but the damage is done. All the usual suspects have seized on this as evidence of the threat we pose to America. Too bad it's all bullshit, but don't expect reality to intrude on their hype. Burroway's post, by the way, presents solid information along with a history of MRSA that is a lot more detailed than the Newsweek article.

But don't expect to see a lot of front-page stories with real information on this. Not in the mainstream media. Not gonna happen. Newsweek will probably be it. I doubt very much that NYT sees anything to correct.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Or, a better mousetrap ain't gonna do it. From the inevitable PZ Myers:

Now there's another king of the rodents: Josephoartigasia monesi, which is estimated to have tipped the scales at about 1000kg, over a ton. Don't worry about getting bigger rat traps; these beasties have been extinct for perhaps 2 million years.

See Pharyngula for a picture. Charming brute, isn't it?

Update on MRSA Reporting

Andy Towle brings us an update on the official word on the spread of MRSA. From the CDC's latest release:

MRSA is a common cause of skin infections throughout the United States. These infections occur in men, women, adults, children, and persons of all races and sexual orientations, and are known to be transmitted by close skin-to-skin contact. In this issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, Diep et al looked at isolates of MRSA - USA300 strains containing a particular plasmid associated with additional drug resistance. The paper shows that multidrug-resistant USA300 has emerged as an important source of disease among men with have sex with men in 2 geographically distinct communities. The strains of MRSA described in the recent Annals of Internal Medicine have mostly been identified in certain groups of men who have sex with men (MSM), but have also been found in some persons who are not MSM. It is important to note that the groups of MSM in which these isolates have been described are not representative of all MSM, so conclusions can not be drawn about the prevalence of these strains among all MSM. The groups studied in this report may share other characteristics or behaviors that facilitate spread of MRSA, such as frequent skin-to-skin contact.

Which is the diplomatic way of saying that Diep and Altman are scare-mongers with some masculinity issues. Get this quote (from Salon):

Binh An Diep, lead author of the San Francisco and Boston study, addressed the outcry on NPR: "Because USA300 and other Staph aureus [bacteria] are so easily spread -- just through skin-to-skin contact transmission -- we don't think it will be restricted to the men-who-have-sex-with-men population, but will be spread into the general population."

Diep fails to mention that MSRA is already in the "general population," and that his study was limted to MSM (the men, not the medium). In fact, looking at it, his statement is deliberately misleading. The major vectors are noted here:

When it comes to spreading the bacteria, it is not homosexuals we have to worry about. It is that much wider swath of the male population examined in the New England Journal of Medicine. In the journal, the medical researchers were not studying gays, they were studying the St. Louis Rams. That is correct: football players; in particular, linebackers. 'In our investigation,' the journal noted, 'infection occurred only among linemen and linebackers, and not among those in backfield positions, probably because of the frequent contact among linemen during practice and games.' Those rug burns I mentioned are in fact turf burns. 'All MRSA skin abscesses developed at sites of turf burns," declared the journal.'

Rates of transmission also seem to be higher in college and high school showers and locker rooms. No guesses on that one. Of course, if you're Peter La Barbera, it's probably because gays have taken over the schools.

Dominion, Not Influence

I realize I'm spending a lot of time commenting on Mike Huckabee, but the man is scary weird. He's a snake oil salesman with a lot of charm and a poisonous product.

Andrew Sullivan (yes, I'm still reading the Daily Dish) is after Huckabee. I guess the idea of amending the Constitution to bring it in line with Jehovah's standards got to him.

The post itself is merely reporting blog wars on the right, namely Hugh Hewitt's response to Stephen Bainbridge's -- well, I guess "attack" is an appropriate description -- on Huckabee's relationship with Christian Reconstructionism. If anyone needed any further evidence that Hewitt is out there someplace, this should suffice:

Huck called for amendments to the Constitution to protect life and traditional marriage. These are mainstream, conservative positions. He is not a "reconstructionist" Christian, as even a casual glance at his decade of governing in Arkansas shows. Professor B's tortured string of cites never delivers anything remotely connecting Huck to "reconstructionism," and implying otherwise is just imagination.

Disagree with Huck on economics, but his positions on life and marriage are mainstream GOP positions, repeatedly endorsed at the ballot box across the country.

I don't see how anyone could justify such a statement. Note also the neo-right idea that civil rights are fit subjects for plebiscites. That's hardly a traditional conservative position in itself. Frankly, since the right is so fond of "slippery slope" arguments, this seems like an excellent example: once you start amending the Constitution to conform to Jehovah's plan for humanity (or at least your interpretation of it), where do you stop? Huckabee claims that abortion and marriage are the only two issues for which he favors Constitutional amendments, because the right to life and the sanctity of traditional marriage are being challenged. Any guesses on what his response would be to the next challenge to traditional Christian tribal taboos? (Here's some more information on Huckabee's links to Dominionists and Reconstructionists, embedded in a wake-up call from tristero at Hullabaloo.)

I have to join tristero in pointing out that Huckabee and his supporters are the most dangerous element in American society right now. I've heard comments in discussion groups (in fact, Huckabee has his own thread at EA Forums) to the effect that "well, when he was governor of Arkansas he didn't do that." Of course, his tenure as governor had other problems, most notably his lack of judgment and willingness to be stampeded by pressure from the right -- sort of like another governor who recently became president, and look what that's done to us. Do I want Donal Wildmon and his ilk dictating domestic policy? I don't think so.

However, my real comment on Sullivan's post is on his conclusion.

I don't think people have really understood the logical consequences of the fundamentalist psyche. There is nothing more antithetical to the principles underlying traditional conservatism. Eventually, the complacent Republicans will realize the tiger they are riding. Huckabee is charming. The charming ones are often the most dangerous.

It's not just antipathy toward the principles of traditional conservatism that's in play here. If I can repeat myself yet again, it's a fundamental antipathy to the underlying princples of American democracy. Sullivan outlines that in the preceding paragraph, and somehow misses the point.

I can't say I'm surprised.


Hilzoy has a terrific analysis of Huckabee's statement and its implications:

In his clarification, he suggests that he was just pointing out a difference between the Constitution and the Bible: the Constitution can be amended, while the Bible cannot. But that won't wash. It is, of course, true that the Bible cannot now be amended, although at various points in its earlier history, it could.

This touches on something that has always puzzled me, but I've gotten to the point where I just ascribe it to willful ignorance: the Bible as it is known to most American fundamentalists and literalists is a translation of scattered religious texts that were selected, edited and assembled in the Middle Ages to conform with the Church's idea of what the Christian scripture should be. And yet somehow it is inerrant and not subject to change. Aside from the obvious cognitive dissonance inherent in this position, it also begs the issue that our understanding of things changes, including the Bible.

Or, I guess that's true unless you're Mike Huckabee.


A wonderful piece from Martin Schramm of the Sacramento Bee:

Along with the handful of presidential candidates who dropped out so far, voters might be better served if a hundred or so of my political-reporter and pundit colleagues dropped out as well – and were replaced by journalists whose beats are about national security, economics, environment and health care.

I'm not convinced those could do any better -- see the comments on Ackerman's piece in NYT about MRSA, a couple of posts below -- but it would be a start.

Thanks to bluegal from C&L.

Maybe It's Just Me

But race is something that never occurred to me regarding Obama's campaign, except in a very abstract way as I noted that the top Democratic contenders were a woman, a black man, and a southern white man (and that the field also included a Latino candidate with solid foreign policy experience). Apparently, I'm a little out of it.

Of course, now that I think of it, if Obama wins the nomination, watch for the "jokes." I'm sure Ann Coulter is stocking up on red meat.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tunnel Vision

Interesting that Andrew Sullivan can see the Chrisitan Dominionist, white-supremacist tendencies in Mike Huckabee, but not in Ron Paul, whose links to those groups are older, deeper, and probably more genuine.


The latest "gay disease," apparently -- if you listen to the right-winghysterics such as Peter LaBarbera and the NYT. Here's a post from Michael Petrelis debunking the mythology as perpetrated by the aforementioned "reliable sources."

The major part of Petrelis' post is a letter from Duncan Osborne to NYT challenging the reporting by Lawrence K. Altman. In essence, aside from the overwhelming credulity displayed by Altman in his reporting (a characteristic of contemporary reporters -- I can't call them journalists -- as a whole), there are quite a few misstatements of fact and the article as a whole is grossly misleading regarding the role gay men are playing in the spread of these new strains of staph. MRSA is already a major health problem in the US and Europe -- we, as Osborne points out, are only the latest population to be affected. The first outbreaks were among children and athletes.

Here's an earlier post by zbriboy at Pam's House Blend, with more information on the scapegoating.

I probably don't have to point out how tired I am of this sort of thing. I remember very clearly when the disease was AIDS and the focus of the press was on transmission among gay men -- although the disease was rampant in Africa and transmission was almost exclusively through heterosexual contact. Aside from providing fodder for the right-wing anti-gay crazies (not that they need fodder -- they've demonstrated repeatedly that they can make it up out of whole cloth; I guess the Ten Commandments are for other people, sort of like sexual abstinence and monogamy), this sort of thing is just irresponsible reporting. It used to be called "yellow journalism" when William Randolph Hearst was doing it, and I don't see that it's any different when NYT does it. Here's a link to the Times article. It reads too much like similar reports in the 1980s. And, looking at it, what it reports casts the whole slant of the article into doubt:

The infection can cause unusually severe problems, including abscesses and skin ulcers. The bacteria can invade through the skin to produce necrotizing fasciitis, giving them the popular name of flesh-eating bacteria. They can also cause pneumonia, damage the heart and produce widespread infection through the blood.

Altman makes no comment on the fact that if this bacterium can be spread through casual contact, there is no reason to single out gay men as a vector. Instead, the parrots the researchers' focus on gay men (and did they do any work on other groups, one wonders) without so much as a lifted eyebrow.

All in all, it's a fairly appalling example of the state of journalism today.

Thursday, January 17, 2008


The old question of perception and reality has made its way from philosophy to physics and neuroscience. In cold mathematical terms, you don't exist.

It's a short post with a lot of meat. Read it and consider: objectively, as much as we can conceive of such a state, your parts do not make up your whole. Consider also, however, that self is a construct: you may be an illusion in terms of physics, but in terms of day-to-day life, you make your reality. (This is both a good thing, since it gives us at least some sort of anchor for ourselves, and also a bad thing, since it gives us the machinations of Karl Rove.)

So the deconstructivists weren't completely full of hot air.

It Was a Joke

An interesting post from Andrew Sullivan. I agree with both Roger Scruton and Norm Geras on this (their positions are not mutually exclusive, in spite of what Sullivan seems to think): humor is our saving grace, and when we lose that, we don't really have much left that's going to enable us to live together, but it can also be a weapon.

We've had a set of interesting discussions over at EA Forums about insults and humor, and have come to the conclusion that intent plays a major role in whether a comment is funny or insulting. It's not as though people's motivations are a complete mystery -- body language and context provide the missing information in most cases (a possibility sadly lacking on the Internet -- hence emoticons -- which perhaps is one reason that medium is so contentious).

My own feeling is that life is pretty ridiculous to begin with, but, in line with the post above, we do make our own reality as we go along. I happen to be very aware of, for example, how absurd the human body is. I mean, think about it: we walk upright by constantly saving ourselves from falling, our heads are too big, the idea of the organs of elimination and reproduction being the same is a hoot, and what use are nipples on men, after all? (Well, I can think of one, but that sort of blows the design contingent out of the water). None of this stops me from thinking that men are beautiful. (Well, women are too, but not the same way.)

I think, though, that this is all getting too serious.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Judicial Activism

Glenn Greenwald has a clear and somewhat scathing post on judicial activism, based on the recent suit by Dennis Kucinich against MSNBC for breach of contract for disinviting him to the Nevada debate. Greenwald's discussion is telling and, as far as I can see, perfectly apt.

I started hunting down and reading court decisions on a regular basis beginning with the various gay marriage cases in state courts, as well as findings of the federal courts in creationism/ID cases (which go back a lot farther than Kitzmiller), and I did once work in a law office (in itself no qualification in general, save that I'm not stupid nor incurious -- which I guess makes me unsuitable for the presidency -- and legal documents are not all that impenetrable, in spite of what lawyers would like you to think). I've found that, just to take perhaps the most egregious example, the opinion in Goodridge, et al. was cogent and tightly reasoned. It also caused perhaps the loudest screams from the right than any other finding in recent memory, with the possible exception of Lawrence because, as far as I was able to tell, it wasn't "godly" or something like that. The fact that it was a logical and reasonable extension of legal rights to a previously disfavored class seems to have had much more to do with the conservative reaction than its foundation in the Massachusetts constitution.

And you will note, I hope, as you remember back on some of the singular court cases of the last few years, that those most ready to scream "judicial activism" are those least likely to be willing to live under the rule of laws equally applied. (I don't think this is too strong a characterization. We've seen, in the actions of a conservative administration and the statements of conservative candidates, just how much contempt contemporary conservatives have for American traditions and the foundations of our society -- to the degree that I, who have normally voted a split ticket for lo! these many years, would not consider voting for a Republican until there is a major shake-up in that party.)

I do have to say that I'm not so forgiving as Greenwald in imputing the cries of "foul" on the right to mere wishful thinking. Aside from the overt contempt for the rule of law and for American judicial traditions, I see a deeply cynical political maneuver designed to discredit the courts. I do note that the pace of this reaction, reaching to the Oval Office itself, seems to have accelerated in the past six or seven years. From an administration that seems determined to establish that the executive is the only branch of government, this is no surprise.

At any rate, read Greenwald's post. He's spot on.

Vote Fraud Revisited

It seems as though no one really believes in the right to vote. The Democrats are against it in Nevada, while the Republicans are against it in Kansas.

But of course, it's the voters who are perpetrating fraud. Just ask the Indiana legislature.

The Real Mike Huckabee

This is the man who claims no relationship to the Christian Reconstructionists. From TPM Election Central.:

"[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it's a lot easier to change the constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that's what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards rather than try to change God's standards," Huckabee said, referring to the need for a constitutional human life amendment and an amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

The more he opens his mouth, the more the real Mike Huckabee slips out. (I won't even mention the arrogance of claiming to know exactly what Jehovah is thinking.)

It's instructive to compare this statement with a couple from less than a month ago. First, the outright lie:

"The key issue of real faith is that it never can be forced on someone,” Huckabee said. “And never would I want to use the government institutions to impose mine or anybody else's faith or to restrict."

I'd like to see the spin his campaign puts on that one now. Robert Farley has a good take on it at LGM:

Of course, it's a bit unclear to me what amending the Constitution to "God's standards" would require, although I presume that it wouldn't involve the banning of pork products.

And then this one:

"But the most important thing is to find out, does our faith influence our public policy and how? I've never tried to rewrite science textbooks. I've never tried to come out with some way of imposing a doctrinaire Christian perspective in a way that is really against the Constitution. I've never done that," he added.

He may never have tried to impose his beliefs in a way that violates the Constitution, but he advocates the same strategy as the Dobson Gang: if the Constitution is against you, change the Constitution.

That's not so hard to figure out.

I don't know if I want Huckabee to get the Republican nomination or not. I don't think there's a realistic chance of it -- Iowa was a blip. And, while he's unelectable in a general election, he'll bring out the Bible-thumpers in droves, which would have deletrious effects on local races and referenda.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Faith and Questions

Here's an enlightening post from Mahablog on the role of faith in politics, digging a little deeper than most commentators who address the issue. (And frankly, most of them don't really "address" it -- they sort of nod at it and pick out the obvious tactical elements.) It fits right in with one thing I've noticed about the difference between science and religion: religion provides answers; science asks questions.

And what, you may ask, has this to do with politics? Well, first read the post. The idea that certainty, or the quest for it, plays a major role in people's lives is not a new one, or even very remarkable. I suspect the number of people who can live with constant uncertainty is small indeed: it's wearing, emotionally and physically, never to know exactly what's coming down. At the very least, people need stable patterns in order to live their lives.

Most basically, the thrust to make religion dominate the political life of the country comes, I think, from those who rely on authority to shape their lives. (Not something that appeals to me. "Mother, please! I'd rather do it myself.") So, as O'Brien points out, politicians offer to do that.

Unfortunately, democracy, at least our particular brand of it, is not founded on certainty. It's founded on inquiry, the necessity to question our leaders, question our institutions, and never be satisfied with easy answers handed down from on high. This is what's behind the assertion I've made that Christianity, and the Abrahamic faiths in general, since they rely on unimpeachable authority, are essentially anti-democratic. Probably the most extreme example of this is the Pope, who has held, among other things, that separation of church and state is a "myth," that gay marriage is a threat to world peace, and similarly cogent and well-reasoned pronouncements. (I suppose I should be grateful that there is a living and highly public example of the old dictum that the difference between idiocy and genius is that genius knows limits.)

However, I wander. The point is, although I defy you to find a candidate for public office who will actually say so, there is no certainty. Not in objective reality, at any rate. And so the task becomes to give faith its due place, but that place is not as the determining factor in public discourse or American politics. I seem to be led back again to the conclusion that the role of faith is a private one, to provide for each of us a grounding that enables us to participate in the world from a secure foundation, but not one that dictates how that participation, being as it is a joint effort by people of many beliefs, is to be conducted -- your faith can determine no one's behavior but your own. I think what I'm trying to say here is that your faith can form your life and your behavior, but that our public life is based on rational discourse for a reason: in the polyglot mess that is America, reason is the only basis we have for a workable dialogue, because faith cannot be challenged or questioned, and we don't all believe the same. And, after all, if we are to have dialogue, we must allow questions.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Why Am I Still Reading Andrew Sullivan?

This post typifies why I'm about to take Andrew Sullivan off my bookmarks. I don't know whether it's a matter of my greater awareness of the insular mentality afflicting the Washington establishment -- of which he certainly is one -- or that Sullivan has just become more and more irrelevant. Here is his response to some justified criticism of his attacks on the Clintons:

No. I'm not objective on the Clintons. But it's an opinion gained from many years of observing their cynicism, shallowness, self-serving machinations and self-righteousness. And, no, I do not believe that Bill Clinton is doing what he's doing out of marital duty either. Please. We all know what Bill Clinton believes he owes his wife as a wife. But what he owes her as a political device to regain power for the two of them is another matter. And the truth is: former president Bush never trashed his son's rivals as Bill Clinton has Obama; and has kept an admirable arm's length distance from his son's administration. Bill Clinton is campaigning for himself as well right now, his own future power. He'll be in a Clinton White House, ready from Day One. And if they get there for a third term, the marital psychodrama they inflicted on us for eight long years will be with us once again.

This is just so blindly wrong that it's hard to know where to start. He criticizes the Clintons' cynicism, shallowness, etc. to start, and this is a man who supported Bush -- possibly the most cynical, most shallow, and most self-serving occupant of the White House ever -- until 2004, and then reluctantly -- very reluctantly -- withdrew his support. He still thinks the war in Iraq is justified. So Bill Clinton will have a major role in an HRC White House. When it was his White House, he did a pretty damned good job, so what's the problem there? Certainly we were better off than under the Rove White House. As for the "marital psychodrama," excuse me -- who inflicted that on us? It wasn't Bill Clinton's idea. You can thank a Republican Congress out to grab power by any means available for that one, aided and abetted by a corporate Republican press, of which Sullivan appears to be a member in good standing.

And so Andrew Sullivan is revealed as just another Republican Establishment pundit, blinders firmly in place, who expounds profoundly on things he knows very little about (his commentaries on William Saletan's race/intelligence bullshit are prime examples) because, apparently, he has an entitlement to "shape" public opinion. And, like so many others of his class, he reveals only ignorance and arrogance.

Sullivan has just lost it.

Footnote: I'm not crazy for Hillary Clinton as a possible president, but I think she'd be effective. I just don't think she's progressive enough to suit me.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Of Note: On Morality

Fascinating post at Mahablog on the neurological basis for morality. I don't have time to go into it right now (I've about used up my blogging allotment for the day), but it's worth a read.

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology

I lost this morning's posts when my system froze while trying to open a video clip. Following is a reconstruction of one of them.

Evangelical Democrats?

This one comes via Steve Benen at Crooks and Liars, from Faith in Public Life:

They did it again! Just as in Iowa, yesterday’s media-sponsored Election Day poll failed to ask Democrats in New Hampshire if they were evangelical. Voters from both parties were asked about their church attendance and if they were Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Other Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Something else, or None. But only Republicans were asked if they were born-again or evangelical Christian.

This is something that has sort of bothered me subliminally for some time -- the idea, pushed by the Republican Christianists, that the only people of faith in this country are on the far right. On its face, that's ridiculous, but it permeates the discourse at this point, not least, as the writer here points out, because of the press.

It would be informative to know the percentage of evangelicals who voted for Democrats yesterday. It would be informative to know which Democratic candidates were helped or hurt last night by Democratic evangelical turnout.

It certainly would, and I would guess there would be some surprises. However, don't look for any such reports from the MSM, unless it turns out the Britney Spears is a left-wing evangelical.

However, there is a bit of overreaching here:

No party can own any faith. Evangelicals have broadened their agenda to include care for the planet, the poor and the stranger, and as a result are increasingly independent politically. Exit polls need to abandon the hidebound frames of the culture war -- evangelicals already have.

Well, not exactly. I don't know if you remember, but I certainly do, that when one of the leaders of the American Evangelical Association (I believe that's the name -- having a small senior moment here) recommended that the Association broaden its agenda along just those lines, the Dobson Gang immediately wrote his superiors demanding that he be relieved of his duties and his recommendations ignored, lest the shift in emphasis take resources away from fighting the real enemy -- gay men and lesbians. I haven't heard that Dobson has become a tree-hugger of a sudden.

So, it's not a done deal, and I'm not going to greet evangelicals as a whole with open arms to the ranks of social progressives. They still need to demonstrate that they are willing to listen as well as to talk.

Footnote: As an illustration on how the conservative/evangelical Christian agenda has not changed appreciably, see this post at Pam's House Blend.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

OK: Time To Bash the Press Again

An interesting commentary by echidne on one of my favorite targets, the press. Interesting, I should say, as far as it goes, which is, like most of the commentary I see on the MSM, identifying symptoms. I tend to take a slightly darker view of life, apparently, and tend to zero in on the personal and sometimes seamy.

This article at Politico is quite a good summary of many of the criticisms the blogs have directed at the way the mainstream media covers politics. It defines three problem areas for political reporters: seeing election campaigns as horse races (or as theater performances), living in an echo chamber, and having personal biases influence the reporting. And oh boy but are those problem areas!

The Poliltico piece she cites essentially covers the same points in more detail. What I'm seeing underlying this is a sort of double-barreled motivating force: the "in-group" mentality, and power -- what the blogosphere has begun to call "the Village." The Village, of course, is the Washington insiders -- the press, pundits and politicos -- who honestly do seem to think that the rest of us out here should just go back to sleep and let them make all the decisions. The problem is, they're doing a really crappy job of it. It's symptomatic of the whole syndrome that William Kristol, who has not been right about anything in so long that everyone's forgotten when he went off track -- if he was ever on it -- is now an NYT OpEd columnist. As if thh Times didn't have enough problems with credibility. The point is, of course, that the whole situation there is a joke, and the only ones who don't get it are the Times
The whole power thing started with the Reagan presidency, simply because reporters who got out of line lost access. That phenomenon has transformed itself into a true in group -- what some on the left (most notably Atrios) call "the kewl kids." That's a sobriquet that may be more accurate than even Atrios realizes: remember how the high-school in group was so sure of themselves, at the top of the food chain as they were, while the rest of us thought they were jerks (even though we secretly wanted to be them)? And remember when we realized just how irrelevant they were?

Guess what?

The New Hampshire call (and the reporting on the presidential race to date, as disgraceful as it's been) is merely the latest in a long list of egg-on-face moments that by right should be shaking up the press establishment. Know what? It won't. It will be swept under the rug along with the other things that the press doesn't want to think about.

In the meantime, they still think they are molding public opinion. The problem with that is, as much as the idea gives them a collective woody, the public doesn't seem to be buying it any more.

But that's the syndrome: they are the kewl kids, and they're the kewl kids because they tell everyone what to think. The only way they manage to maintain that idea is that they don't listen to anyone but each other. Meanwhile, the rest of us aren't paying attention very much any more.

Something in the back of my head is saying "emperor, clothes."

Liberal Fascism

Jonah Goldberg, a prime example of nepotism run amok, has been the major target of the left blogosphere lately (when they're not going after Hillary Clinton and/or the entire Republican stable) for his new book, which so far seems to prove something, but not, I think, what Goldberg had intended. John Cole sums it up nicely:

First there was Godwin’s Law. Then we had the less noticeable Kevin’s Law and Cole’s Law. Now, after reading the Jonah Goldberg interview in Salon, our commentariat has come up with the “Goldberg Principle”:

You can prove any thesis to be true if you make up your own definitions of words.

There you have the key concept in right wing discourse.


Dave Neiwert has concise and deadly review of Goldberg's magnum opus, as well as comments on Goldberg's response. Regrettably, Neiwert is holding off on any further substantive commentaries until Goldberg actually addresses the basic issue in the review, which he has not done -- and will not do. He can't. He doesn't seem to be equipped intellectually to deal with substantive questions, nor, apparently, emotionally to deal with disagreement (another key element in right wing discourse). What will happen is that Goldberg will slough off the criticism and loudly proclaim that, because Neiwert is not responding to his response (inadequate and beside-the-point as it is), that proves the invalidity of Neiwert's original comments. This is a standard tactic, and one that Neiwert should be aware of. After all, it's this kind of projection that has fueled the right wing noise machine for a generation or more.

Actually, Neiwert has several posts on Goldberg's book, here, here, and here. You might wonder why I -- and more important, Neiwert -- am spending so much time on a logically challenged piece of right-wing propaganda. Neiwert's purview is tracking hate groups and their doings in America. That's mostly what he and Sara Robinson report on. I'm interested in the overall effect of the semantic distortions by the right and left and how they affect our understanding of the reality of our political context. (You may have noticed that I have much more to say about distortions on the right; that's because, as far as I can tell, there are more of them and they are more serious.) So Goldberg's book, as ludicrous as it is, is important because it's another effort to warp the public discourse toward an extremist position. The fact that Goldberg's thesis and his arguments in support of it are so much bullshit simply won't register with most of his readers -- and, since they're likely to be on the right to begin with, that will be because they don't want to think critically about this sort of thing. It is, however, ammunition: it's published, it's out there, and so it becomes justification for their position, no matter that it has no real substance.

Vote Fraud

Amanda Terkel comments on the real voter fraud, which the ID laws don't touch, and a concise discussion of the ID laws and what their effect is going to be if the Supreme Court, as expected, supports the Indiana voter ID law.

Keep in mind that the Indiana law is only one facet of a nationwide Republican effort, led by the Republican Party's Department of Justice, to crack down on nonexistent "vote fraud" cases while ignoring corruption among office holders. The real fraud has been in the lack of paper trails from electronic voting machines, questionable counting procedures, placement of voting machines, hiding polling places, understaffing -- all things that will discourage working people from voting.

It occurs to me that the right to vote is one of those rights, like habeas corpus, that conservatives find questionable, especially the "strict constructionists" on the Court. After all, it's not mentioned specifically in the Constitution, so by their thinking, it doesn't exist. (Actually, I sort of take that back. Paragraph 2 of Article I says that Representatives shall be "chosen every second Year by the People of the several States," although it doesn't specify a direct vote. Amendment XIV, however, does specifically refer to the "right to vote." So it is in the Constitution. Sort of.)

Platinum Parachutes

I don't often comment on economic issues, because to be perfectly honest, the
economy is a different world for me. I can understand that things are either bad or good, but the subtleties of the mechanisms escape me. However, I can smell the shit in the corner, and with the economy taking over as the number one issue among voters, it's worth comment. This is just one aspect:

Bush is not the first to reward failure. It's been going on in corporate America for quite some time. John Aravosis at AmericaBlog has some comments on one of the latest examples -- CEO Angelo Mozilo of Countrywide Financial, up to its neck in the subprime fiasco, which has just been bought out by Bank of America. From LA Times:

Steven Castello, a maintenance worker in Salinas, Calif., says he believes in accountability.

After running up thousands of dollars in debt on nine credit cards, he didn't file bankruptcy. He didn't try to dodge his obligations. Instead, Castello, 57, went to a credit counseling service and, patiently, painfully, paid his bills.

"This was my foolish mistake," he told me. "I had to take responsibility."

Compare Castello's situation with that of Angelo Mozilo, the well-tanned chief exec of mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp.

After driving his company to the brink of bankruptcy (or so the rumor mill had it last week), Mozilo now stands to make as much as $115 million in severance-related compensation if an acquisition of Countrywide by Bank of America goes through, which it almost certainly will.

I suppose the difference is that Mr. Castello was screwing up his own finances. Mozilo was screwing up other people's. The consequences are a little different, obviously:

So what sort of consequences will Mozilo face for his managerial failure?

Aside from nearly $88 million in cash, he'll have to make do with not one but two pensions, accelerated payment of stock options, free rides on the company jet and his country club bills being paid until 2011.

Man, that has to sting.

"This is another clear example of pay for failure," said Fred Whittlesey, principal consultant with Compensation Venture Group in Seattle. "How many more examples of this will we have to see before this gets fixed?"

This seems to be the reigning paradigm in corporate America: reward failure, and reward it big. It's no surprise that our corporate president is following the same pattern. After all, every business he was ever involved with went belly up. Now he's working on the country as a whole. It's the same pattern:

One problem is that big companies' boards are frequently dominated by senior execs from other companies, who have little interest in drawing the line on runaway pay.

And who is the administration dominated by? People who have no interest in accountability because they're the ones who should be accountable.

I knew I should have become a CEO of some company -- I'd be just as bad at it as the ones who are raking in millions. Then I could run for president.

Footnote: This is not an isolated incident. Merrill Lynch is in deep doo-doo, and Aravosis reports that former CEO Stanley ONeal walked away with $161 million as his share of the debacle.

Reality Check

Steve Benen at Crooks and Liars sort of puts his foot in it in this
about a possible Bush surge in the polls:

I was especially amused by the notion that the White House is anxious to work with his “GOP congressional allies” on “continuing his tax cuts.” They do know the Dems are in the majority in both chambers, don’t they?

They probably do. The problem is, the Dems don't.

Friday, January 11, 2008


It seems likely that the Supreme Court is against it. From NYT via Crooks and Liars:

The justices’ questioning indicated that a majority did not accept the challengers’ basic argument — that voter-impersonation fraud is not a problem, so requiring voters to produce government-issued photo identification at the polls is an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.

The tenor of the argument suggested, however, that rather than simply decide the case in favor of the state, a majority of five justices would go further and rule that the challenge to the statute, the strictest voter-identification law in the country, was improperly brought in the first place. Such a ruling could make it much more difficult to challenge any new state election regulations before they go into effect.

There you have it: when you've lost the Court, you've lost the country. This is some of the real damage that the radical right has done. And it's going to take decades to fix it.

Here's an interesting post on the mechanics of SCOTUS decision-making by Sandy Levinson at Balkinization. Read the comments as well -- very interesting discussion. And here are comments by Scott Lemieux that point out some fo the implications of the Court's likely decision:

Rather, indigent voters would have to wait until they've been disenfranchised (although the state can burden their rights in order to address a non-existent problem) before filing a lengthy and expensive lawsuit after the results of the election have already been entrenched. This doesn't make any sense unless you just don't care about poor voters being disenfranchised, so you can see why it's so appealing to the Court's conservatives. Trying to do away with facial challenges irrespective of how illogical the result would be is likely to be a major weapon of the Roberts Court -- this could also be used to gut constitutional protections of reproductive freedom, for example.

The Court as presently constituted is not friendly to ordinary citizens. That's been amply proven already. It seems obvious to me that the Court will decide on ideological (i.e., party) lines. After all, that's why Roberts and Alito are there.

St. John McCain

is going to clean up everyone's act. From Crooks and Liars:

“I’m going to raise the level of political dialog in America,” McCain, R-Ariz., said at a campaign rally in central Michigan, “and I’m going to treat my opponents with respect and demand that they treat me with respect.”

After he's elected, of course.

By the way, this story is a couple days old, but very revealing, I think, of the level of leadership we could expect from a McCain presidency:

As for pulling out of Iraq, McCain said there is only one man who will determine when that is appropriate and the name he mentioned was not his own.

“There is only one man who should decide when to withdraw from Iraq and that is (General) David Petraeus,” the Arizona Senator said.

Excuse me -- just who is supposed to be Commander-in-Chief?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Comment Moderation

I've been forced to enable comment moderation on this site because of a spate of spam. I do try to get here every day, so there might be a slight delay in seeing your comments posted, but not, I hope, an awful one.

Thank the armies of the brainless who think that my site is their soapbox. It's not. It's my soapbox.

What Digby Said

Digby has a series of highly entertaining posts, here, here, and this one by dday.

I really don't have much to add to these, except to note that one thing about the blogosphere (at least the Hullabaloo, Orcinus, etc. wing of it): we get it.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


I don't understand why Nancy Pelosi has taken impeachment off the table. Down With Tyranny draws heavily on an OpEd by George McGovern to bring this question up again.

I have to say that I'm terrifically disappointed in Pelosi as Speaker, almost as much as I am in Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader. We were hoping for some opposition to the White House in 2006, in case no one noticed. Sadly, it seems the Republicans are still in control of Congress, no matter what the numbers say.

Felafel Boy

I honestly don't understand the appeal of a thug like Bill O'Reilly. My father used to watch him, mostly for laughs, I think. I happened to be visiting and O'Reilly was on the TV. My only comment was "He almost makes sense." My dad answered, "Almost."

He's gotten more extreme, from everything I hear. But I don't get the compulsive reporting in the left blogosphere on the doings of O'Reilly. He easily eclipses Malkin, Limbaugh, and Coulter as the featured wingnut on any given day. Maybe it's just another instance of O'Reilly continually insisting that he's important and people who shoul dknow better buy into it. His ego seems to have gotten completely out of hand, however. (It really amazes me that this story has showed up on every blog on my daily read list. Every one. Why? The man is a nonentity with a soapbox.)