Saturday, March 10, 2007

A Bully Pulpit, or a Pulpit for Bullies?

This post is a follow up to my post earlier this week in which non-members of the NAE tried to oust lobbyist Rev. Richard Cizik because of his principled stance on global climate change. Those non-members include James Dobson and Paul Weyrich.

Jim Wallis, no stranger to evangelical circles, being one himself, threw down the gauntlet to Dobson, as reported here in the LA Times. In his challenge, Wallis asked whether global poverty, the AIDS/HIV pandemic, and war were not on an equal moral footing with abortion and same-sex marriage. The response, both unexpected and typical, was, in effect, that for this group of aging reactionaries, sexual morality trumps everything. Dobson refused to debate Wallis (probably a good idea, as we wouldn't want to give Wallis any more publicity than he already gets), but I do believe that the fact he was not ignored, but indeed that a Dobson spokesman felt the need to respond publicly shows that, while still powerful, the old guard is no longer monolithic. Of course, Wallis is as pro-life as the rest of those gray-beards of the old religious right, but he has tended to focus on issues of public, rather than private, morality in his career, and therefore has downplayed his own very conservative views on sexual morality and abortion.

Dobson, Falwell, et al. still feel it possible to speak from the mountain top, but, to change the metaphor a bit, they may need to look behind them to see if anyone is actually following them. They can no longer feel secure in their position of authority, although they still wield quite a bit of power and influence. I do believe that as the generations change, the tide turns, and it is washing many an old salt out to sea, hopefully, one wishes, to float away to ignominy and irrelevance (although, I think Falwell's role in the revival of a certain kind of activist conservative evangelicalism is secure, despite his many public failings). The pulpit, these gentlemen should recall, is no place for bullies.

Counter-Question: A response to Another Aspect of Richard Dawkins Silly Little Book

For a variety of reasons, over the winter I let my copies of unread New York Review of Books pile up on my bedside table. Having reached a point now where I can relax and enjoy them, I am only sorry I have not been keeping up as they are a wonderful source for material for this web log. I just finished, in fact, an essay in one of the recently passed volumes, reviewing Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion. For those not in the know, Dawkins is an excellent biological scientist, author of a ground-breaking work in the popularization of genetics, The Selfish Gene, and a professor at Cambridge University, intellectual home of Isaac Newton. In Dawkins' view, religion is not just a holdover from our ancient past best discarded as we rid ourselves of our immature mythical fantasies, but a festering sore on the bottom of humanity, to be stamped out actively in the name of the survival of the human race. Religious moderates (I do not know if Dawkins can imagine a religious progressive such as myself; that was one of the failures of Dawkins' work, according to the NYRB article, a failure of imagination) are actually worse than fundamentalists, because they attempt to give respectable cover to those horrid fundamentalist types whom we all know will be the death of western civilization as we know it if we aren't careful.

According to the review essay, Dawkins spends quite a bit of time on the traditional proofs for the existence of God, and shows them to be, to say the least, inadequate to the task. While not having read Dawkins (and I shall be honest enough to say that, while I may at one time have considered it, after reading the review, I think I shall find better things to do with my time), my supposition is that the reference here is to what has come to be known as "the five ways", the five different philosophical movements that follow various causal and other links from known and visible phenomena to God. It might surprise Dawkins to learn - and I mean that quite literally - that St. Thomas, the perfecter of those five ways as an intellectual structure - was not only refuted at the time, but significantly so. Indeed, far more important is the so called "ontological argument" presented a century earlier by British monk St. Anselm of Canterbury, which is best summed up in the dictum, "God is that than which nothing greater can be thought," and which holds as its supposition that, containing all perfection within the divine existence, God must necessarily exist because existence is a perfection in itself.

Be that as it may, it highlights a failure of Dawkins to seriously engage religious thought across the broad spectrum of his its depth, its breadth, and through the veaious changes in its history. Keeping that in mind, I wish to offer a counter-example to all those who believe as Dawkins does. I want it clear that I am not anti-atheist or anything like that; I am not even against those like Dawkins, or the shallow torture apologist Sam Harris, who wish to be atheistic evangelists. Let them have their say, and try to make converts. My objection is the utter dismissal of Christian theological thought as a human enterprise that should inspire, if nothing else, awe at the sheer variety and capacity of human thought. Such rank intellectual snobbery is unbecoming, and counter-productive to a serious engagement of many of the issues that Dawkins attempts to address. He wishes to be taken seriously, yet refuses to grant seriousness to those he criticizes; why should I, therefore treat him with any amount of respect?

Anyway, my proposal. As a Christian, I want to prove that science is not only a base influence upon morals and conduct, but actively engaged in the destruction of society through its fruits in technology such as global climate change, the threat of bio-technology, and thermo-nuclear weapons. In order to do so, I turn to . . . the writings of Albertus Magnus, teacher of St. Thomas, and a vast publisher on matters in physics, optics, meteorology, animal husbandry and so on. Indeed, to his credit, St. Albert the Great, while not developing the idea fully, pointed in the right direction in his examination of rainbows, saying that "it is in the water that we must look for answers." I would spend much of the book showing how wrong St. Albert was on just about everything (except rainbows, at least obliquely). Furthermore, I would dismiss those who argue that science today is vastly different from science in the twelfth century as so much rhetorical nonsense - I would point out that the goal of understanding the world in terms of cause and effect has not changed, only the methods, quantitative rather than qualitative, have. I would refuse to even mention Isaac Newton, Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, Huygens, Benjamin Franklin, Laplace, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, or Charles Darwin, considering them as having added nothing of substance to the sins of science, only confusing the central fact that science is a pernicious horror, a plpague upon humanity that must be stopped before it kills again.

One would hope that such nonsense would be laughed away, dismissed as rank nonsense, anti-intellectualism of the highest order. When the tables are turned, and it is Martin Luther, Jean Calvin, Huldrich Zwingli, Count von Zinzendorf, Friederich Schleiermacher, David Strauss, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Gustavo Gutierrez, and Jurgen Moltmann that are ignored, treated as intellectual pariahs in such a shallow, cavalier manner - he is taken seriously. There are good arguments for atheism, as the review author notes. It is just that Dawkins' book isn't one of them.

What it is I do here . . .

You know, I am just floored every time I check out that neo-Earth map. It's one thing to consider in some kind of abstract way the possibility that people "around the world" are reading these nonsensical scribblings of mine. It is another thing to see those yellow dots in Canada, Mexico, the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Portugal (Hi, Wind, and I hope, Cristina, too), Spain, Germany, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, China, South Korea, and Brazil (I saved the best for last; I do so wish to relax on a beach in Rio some day). This list does not include people from across my fair, native land (Pennsylvania), and my country, stretching from California to Maine have all checked in at least once, leaving a small imprint of their visit forever on my map.

When I started this whole blogging thing, one blog and several months ago, I thought I knew what I was going to say without almost no trouble. The problem was, of course, that what my head told me I wanted to say, and what my gut told me I should say were two entirely different things. I have evolved - as all things that wish to survive - and mostly, I think for the good. I spend several hours every day pouring over various links to the right (why else would I have them?), and when something strikes me as interesting or surprising or thought-provoking or funny or outrageous, I take note of it in a little notebook my lovely, loving wife gave me for Christmas, using a "Dad" pen my kids gave me for Father's Day last year. I have been cutting and pasting more and more, but I still take note of the various URL's so I can get the links right.

My wife has one complaint. She thinks if I am to remain true to myself and my original vision, I need to focus more on religion. She made this comment to me last week, and I have been following up on it. I think she is right. I have been a bit caught up in the whole disaster that is the current state of our Executive Branch, and thinking about "what it all means" and all that - and I have neglected the fact that there is a serious Christian element to all this, "this" being my political views. While not neglecting politics (I could not do that and still be me), I will in all likelihood not be posting three times a day on politics, but probably post twice a day, once on politics, once on religion. A third post may be warranted if something untoward arises, but I think that I have to start limiting myself in order to keep some semblance of balance in my life.

I have other ideas in mind for directions I would like to take, but those I am keeping to myself for now. Currently, I am disappointed that I just can't seem to get the energy or interest to post daily over at my other blog, even though God knows I have enough ideas and opinions about music to fill several small volumes; I am delighted that both the site meter and neo-earth give me a glimpse at my visitors, readers, etc. Recently, Duncan has been noting that some bloggers either whine because some of the bigger bloggers, like him, or Kos, or whomever, don't link to them. Others are convinced that they are selling out, becoming part of some conspiracy to keep the little guys down. He posted some good tips for those who wish to make a big splash, and had I the time, energy, and/or inclination I would follow one or more of them. Fortunately or no, I am quite happy with the pace of my traffic, the average time of visits (it shows people are scanning a bit when they come, not just taking a peek and thinking, "Nah"), and my humble status as a very small blogging player in a very huge blogging universe. I am, to be honest, a bit floored by the amount of attention I get now. I think any more would silence me forever (of course, some would say that's a good thing . . .)

I realize this bit of navel-gazing is either redundant or boring, but I think it important to make readers aware of what is going on, why the blog changes the way it has, and what my thought and emotional and other processes are that are at work "behind the scenes" as it were. One thing my fellow bloggers I am sure are aware of, and one thing that few who do not do this fail to realize, is that this is hard work. Seriously - hours sitting and staring at a screen, trying to make sense out of what is mostly nonsense, hours spent away from my beautiful wife of nearly fourteen years and two beautiful children, who nonetheless keep their father company by sitting downstairs with me when they get home from school. That's another thing that I am perhaps too casual about, and that is my identity. The thing is, we all know how easy it is to find an individual's identity, and besides that, I find using my own name shows that I am a bit less afraid of the more, shall we say, less-securely hinged segment of our society. So far, they have left me alone, but I have no doubt one or two may stop by. That is a topic for another day. For now, au revoir, enjoy your weekend (I am currently operating on no sleep since about 5:30 Friday morning, so you can just imagine my own state of mind).

Friday, March 09, 2007

"What is whispered in secret will be shouted from the rooftops"

This particular saying, attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, has always intrigued me. While it seems fairly certain from the context that the reference was to the Gospel of the Kingdom preached by Jesus - it would start as a little secret, but soon be hailed about in public - I have always taken it to be a dictum that governs life in general. That is to say, what all of us wish could stay hidden forever will not, especially the less attractive, more underhanded aspects of our lives. The harder we work to conceal our own wrongdoings, our own nefarious actions, the more likely it will be that what we have worked so hard to keep under wraps will one day become general public knowledge.

I have been thinking about this particular phrase as the revelations continued this week about the rampant abuse of power, neglect of injured troops, and the Scooter Libby verdict all became part of our national dialogue. Each case - the firing of US Attorneys for political reasons; the conditions as Walter Reed and other Army medical facilities; the entire structure of the Administration's take-down of a war-critic - while horrible in itself, also shows a much broader contempt for just about everything contemporary Americans hold as sacrosanct. Most of all, these issues are clouded in secrecy, misdirection, and obfuscation - Bush Co. did not want any of this coming to light. Indeed, the VP has a consistent record of maintaining that the Executive Branch has no obligation to inform even Congress of its doings, let alone the public. And yet, the word is getting out, and I do believe I hear a clock ticking, ever so much louder, in the background.

What is even more amazing is the fact that, with little effort, through much haggling, and under fierce criticism from progressives, the Democratic Congress at less than two months of age in this session has already done more to uncover rampant Republican abuse of power than was accomplished in six years of Republican control; imagine what the rest of the session will look like! I am not saying that the obstacles Democrats in Congress face aren't real; I am also not suggesting that the criticism of progressives is unwarranted or ill-conceived. Far from it; we need to hold these folks' feet to the fire. I believe, in fact, that we are now discovering all this nonsense precisely because the Dems are feeling the pressure both from outspoken progressives and the public in general.

We are witnessing the unraveling of another Republican Administration and its secretive attempts to use its power for placing a partisan stranglehold upon the country. While I do believe that the attempt would have succeeded at any rate, the fact the attempt was made, on a number of fronts, only shows the desperate need for a reinvigorated press, a reinvigorated two- or multi-party system, and a restoration of the balance between Congress and the Executive Branch. It also shows that, far from being a specific prophetic witness to the power of the Gospel, Jesus' little dictum is a good rule to remember whenever we think we are going to succeed keeping our misdeeds hidden.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

This is What IRD Idiocy Looks Like

Rooting around Christian Bloggers, I came across another example of the Institute for Religion and Democracy's really stupid statements, which you can read in full here. Part of Mark Tooley's article is as follows:
“It’s revealing that when Congress and the President have debated such topics as same-sex "marriage," partial-birth-abortion, and religious liberty around, these bishops remained silent, despite our church's clear stances on these issues. Where were the bishops’ voices when Congress and the President debated matters of the soul?

Same-sex marriage is a matter of the soul? Why, I thought it was blatant discrimination! Partial-birth abortion is a matter of the soul? Why, I thought no such medical practice existed (for those whose "harumph"-meter suddenly went off the charts, it is called Intact dilation and extraction [IDE]; birth has nothing to do with this quite legal and ethical medical procedure)? The question of "religious liberty" to which Tooley refers is beyond my reckoning, although it might be prayer in public schools, or putting the Ten Commandments on public property in direct violation of federal court orders, or perhaps something I may have missed all together. What has Tooley so up in arms is that the Council of Bishops has condemned the President's budget for fiscal year 2008 because of its neglect for programs to aid the poor.

I am quite sure Tolley is correct to say that spending on social programs, including entitlements such as SSI and Medicare, are at historically high levels; however, these are due to structural problems in the programs in question (including a lack of serious health care policy at the national level, that puts an undo burden on Medicare). Of course, one could also argue that, if it is true that social welfare spending is at an all-time high, what does this say about the vaunted Bush economy? None of this addresses the question of whether the comparison Tooley makes are in constant dollars or adjusted to account for inflation. You see, spending on everything is higher today than it was in years past, because a dollar is worth less today than it was even five years ago, and therefore everything costs more.

Tooley's remarks about worshiping at "the altar of the welfare state" are just plain silly. The Bishop's statement, including condemning the way in which the Bush budget priorities are warped out of alignment towards supporting human beings - including our troops - to helping corporate interests and the Iraqi war machine, is pretty standard, and lightweight, stuff. Tooley's comments would be laughable if they were not meant in dead earnest; calling Congressional debate to restrict same-sex marriage a matter of the soul is so much rhetorical nonsense. One would wish that Scaife's money were buying better criticism than this.

I bring this up as a further example of the kind of nonsense even religious institutions face from right-wing nuts.

More Heresy from Rev. Cizik - At Least According to IRD

Thanks to the good folks at Faith in Public, I found this piece at Christian News Wire, the on-line news service of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD). For those not in the know, as it were, IRD is a Scaife-funded organization that exists for the sole reason of attacking Christian liberals, progressives, and even moderates, in the name of Biblical and doctrinal purity. One of the their biggest operations is "The United Methodist Project", headed up by Mark Tooley. Most UMs have heard the name, even in passing, for years; he has been relentless in attacking the UMC on just about everything from its statement on the sacraments to calling Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, Pres. Bill Clinton's pastor at Foundry UMC in Washington (and a former professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, one of my alma mater's) a liberal heretic. Void of serious scriptural or theological knowledge, the attacks tend to be based more in a shallow, popular understanding of what the church is and what it does, and most leaders in the UMC look upon Tooley and his group as ab annoyance rather than a serious threat to the denomination.

Now, Rev. Richard Cizik, who I spoke of yesterday in regards to his position of what the NAE calls "Creation Care" (good position, good name), is being attacked in the run-up to the NAE board meeting in Minneapolis because he has spoken out against torture. Yes, that's right - a group claiming to uphold Christian principles is attacking the leader of the largest Evangelical Association in the US because he has criticized the US acquiescence to and use of torture against terrorist suspects. The following from the IRD press release is the key:
Cizik has . . . used his NAE title in endorsing a petition against torture that alleges that the practice 'is condemned in word but allowed in deed' by the Bush administration. Yet the same petition makes no mention of torture being practiced by any country other than the United States.

As should be clear to any thinking person reading this particular passage, the real concern of the IRD is that the President of the NAE - straight, doesn't consort with prostitutes, doesn't take meth - is critical of the policies of the Bush Administration and refuses to say anything about the use of torture by other states. One wants to pat their hand and say, "There, there, it will be all right," but in truth, the issue is simple. As an organization representing American evangelicals, and speaking for American evangelicals, and as Americans themselves, one would think the point plainly obvious to anyone, but I shall make it here. The reason the NAE is speaking out against the use of torture by the United States (that particular phrase needs to be removed from the lexicon as soon as possible, by the way) is because they are an advocacy group for American evangelicals. What possible influence on the conduct of other states could they possibly have? As an American umbrella organization, however, they can wield influence over policy here in the US, and perhaps make moves to ending the practice. Unless there is some supranational organization that allows people who live in America to seriously influence the policies and practices of, say, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, or other states that use torture, I suggest that the IRD stop blowing smoke and remember that it is here in the United States that Americans must work, and for the US, its integrity, the restoration of some semblance of constitutional and legal protections for persons not even charged with crimes; and it is here and only here that they can be most effective. It is all too easy to point at others and say, "Boy, you torture. That's baaaaad!" It is more important to do actual work to end torture here in the US, and the NAE is one organization with some clout that could actually make a difference.

Of course, religion has little to do with the IRD's statement. They don't like the fact that the current President is critical of the Bush Administration. This is crass politics - and schoolyard politics at that - masking itself in religious language, offered on behalf of nameless members of the NAE. The NAE should be lauded for its principled stance, not criticized by a bunch of hoodlums masked as clergy.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My Only Word on Libby/Plame

I have avoided this particular bit of legal/political theater until the final verdict came down, out of respect for the process. Now that Lewis Libby has been convicted on four of five counts, including perjury and obstruction of justice, I think it is fascinating to watch the way administration apologists' heads are spinning as they try anything and everything to somehow make this entire episode into something it is not. Should one be interested, Think Progress and Crooks and Liars have numerous examples of right-wing journalists and politicians stretching reality to the breaking point as they try to nullify the conviction of the VP former chief of staff.

I will only say this once, and will not respond to comments that either take umbrage with my views, or question the facts of the matter. You can comment all you want, but the facts of the matter - now not just matters of fact but matters of law because they are a part of the entire prosecution's now successful case against Libby - are now indisputable (of course, they always were; it is sad it took a legal case to ensure they are enshrined as legal truths forever more):

1. Valerie Plame was the head of the desk at the CIA investigating Iraq WMDs. One would have thought that an administration devoted to proving that such existed as a casus belli would ensure that under no circumstances would her person or position be compromised; instead, they gave information on her person and positions, past and future, to a political columnist who placed them before the public. Had this been the Clinton Administration, what might the reaction have been?

2. The Office of the Vice-President, not content with the information Plame's desk at the CIA was sending - that the Iraqis had no WMDs, had not had any for close to a decade, and while they intended to at some point in the future reconstitute such programs, were in no position to do so for the foreseeable future - set up an "Office of Special Plans" in which various unsourced, unfiltered intelligence was put together to construct a phony argument concerning Iraqi WMDs. This is kindergarten-type stuff - I don't like what you're telling me so I am going to find some way to prove you wrong - but the consequences - just consider what Plame's known contacts must have gone through in countries as varied as the former Soviet Union and China, or even Iraq and Iran. We are talking real life and death stuff here, because the VP didn't like the fact he was being proven wrong.

3. Libby did what he did as part of a larger plan to discredit any and all nay-sayers within and without the administration. Porter Goss' assignment to be DCI was also part of that. The fact Goss left less than a year after his initial appointment, under a huge cloud of controversy, with CIA morale about as low as it has been since the Church Hearings of the 1970's should tell us something about what Cheney's little "outing" has done.

4. We are less secure, less safe, and our ability to analyze and deal with threats has been irreparably harmed by what the administration, in the person of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby did to Valerie Plame. The right loves to trot out the name of John Walker Lindh as an example of treasonous behavior. I would disagree - this is a clear undermining of the security, integrity, adn yes, the sovereignty of the United States. As someone who is not a huge booster of sovereignty in general, the danger posed by such actions as Libby's and Cheney's is almost incalculable.

5. All the phony, disgusting talk about what a nice guy Libby is, how awful this is for his family makes me want to retch. This isn't about whether Libby walks his dog and plays with his kids; it's about whether, through a deliberate policy of leaking classified information, including the identity of a classified analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency, the security of the United States was damaged. Of course, the answer is yes, and any sympathy Libby may be getting from jurors is based upon their own conviction that the true culprit behind this entire affairs resides at the National Observatory on Massachusetts Ave., NW in Washington, DC. They want to get Cheney, in other words.

The Doctrine of Creation, Environmental Awareness, and the NAE (Updated)

I have not written of this subject much, but it is one to which I shall turn more often over time; there is an increasing awareness among leaders of evangelical churches and church leaders of the dangers posed by global climate change, and the Biblical imperative for care of creation. Faith in Public has been following this story, and you will see more and more links to articles and blog posts there in the ensuing weeks and months as I follow this particular story, and examine what it means on a variety of levels. For now, I just want to introduce some general thoughts, as well as highlight this particular piece at FIPL. In particular, I want to consider the opening of the article, reprinted below:
More than two dozen evangelical leaders are seeking the ouster of Rev. Richard Cizik from the National Association of Evangelicals because of his "relentless campaign" against global warming.

In a March 1 letter to L. Roy Taylor, chairman of the NAE board, Focus on the Family Chairman James Dobson and others said the NAE vice president's activism on global warming is "demoralizing" the evangelical umbrella group.

"If he cannot be trusted to articulate the views of American evangelicals on environmental issues, then we respectfully suggest that he be encouraged to resign his position with the NAE," wrote the leaders, none of whom are members of the association

There is something so laughably silly in this particular little bit that one is almost tempted to ignore it, but I just want to make the most obvious observation. The previous president of the NAE was Ted Haggard, who resigned last fall after revealing that he had an ongoing professional relationship with a male prostitute, and may or may not have experimented with methamphetamine. Something tells me that members of the NAE might be a bit more demoralized by the criminal hypocrisy of its previous president than by the environmental advocacy of its current president.

Be that as it may, this is a story that FIPL has been highlighting since this summer, as more and more evangelical churches have determined that care of creation mandates they highlight the abuse of creation and work to make amends. While this seems surprising, in fact it should not be for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, it must be remembered that evangelicals are not fundamentalists; they are a group - including a variety of denominations, non-denominational "Free" and "Bible" churches - that professes the responsibility of the individual before his or her God, a responsibility that follows from the saving action of Jesus on the cross and through the resurrection. Biblical literalism, one of the hallmarks of fundamentalism, is, for the most part, unknown to true evangelicals, who have produced some of the most learned, insightful scripture scholars, motivated by faith to examine the text of the Bible for guidance for leading a faithful Christian life.

Evangelicals tend to be attracted to doctrinal statements, statements they often attribute to a systematic examination of scripture, and so it is no surprise, really, they often discuss their growing environmental awareness within the context of a reexamination of and reappropriation of the doctrine of creation. The doctrine of creation gives us, among other things, the final statement of God as to why human beings were created, and how we are to comport ourselves toward the rest of the created order. We are, in the words of British scripture scholar N. T. Wright, the caretakers of God's garden - our job is to make sure that creation is sustained as it was meant to be, as God proclaimed it on the evening of the sixth day - very good. The doctrine of creation is a rich mine of insight and motivation for action; it is not creationism, which is not religion at all, but ideology that uses religious language to mask a power grab by those threatened by the complex realities of modernity. Real Christians aren't threatened by science.

In their return to the Biblical imperative for creation care, evangelicals are coming to realize that environmental activism is warranted, not as a side project, but as part and parcel of the evangelical impulse to proselytize. One does not just preach, despite St. Paul's self-deprecating statement, "Jesus Christ and him crucified". One starts there, and moves forward to the very real, burning, urgent question of what this means for our lives as faithful disciples. Paul recognized this, and his correspondence is full of a variety of instructions as to how Christians are to live faithfully. Rev. Cizik is continuing that Pauline tradition, instructing the faithful as to their Biblically-mandated imperative to take care of creation, and to work diligently for the arresting of human-induced global climate change. James Dobson is more worried about spanking kids. Who, I ask not-so-rhetorically, is the more faithful evangelical?

May Rev. Cizik resist the pressure and continue to show us what real evnagelicals are and what they do.

UPDATE: Mea Culpa's all around. Richard Cizik is not the President of the NAE, but an executive VP. I need to make corrections. Cizik and the real President have this to say about the letter from Dobson, et al.:
"I speak with a voice that is authentically evangelical on all the issues, from religious freedom around the world to compassion for the poor [to] ending oppression in Darfur -- and yes, creation care is one of those issues," he said.

Anderson, meanwhile, told the paper Cizik was "a great asset" and noted that Dobson's organization released the letter to the news media before NAE officials were aware of it. "I guess that says it all," he said.

Here's an Example of Real Science

I have been waiting for an example of how real science works, not just in the abstract, but as real scientists do it, to demonstrate a point I have been attempting to make in re climate change skeptics. I offer the following abstract from a scientific journal article for your consideration:
Regulation of Expression of 1,25D3 –MARRS/ERp57/PDIA3 in Rat IEC-6 Cells by TGFβ and 1,25(OH)2D3

Benjamin Rohe1, Susan E. Safford2, Ilka Nemere3, and Mary C. Farach-Carson1*

1Department of Biological Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark, DE, 19716; 2 Department of Biology, Lincoln University, Lincoln University, PA; 3Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, UT

* Corresponding author

Tel: 302 831 2277
Fax: 302 831 2281

Running title: 1,25D3 –MARRS Expression in Rat IEC-6 Cells Abstract

We examined the transcriptional regulation of expression of the redox-sensitive Membrane-Associated Rapid Response, Steroid-binding (1,25D3-MARRS) protein specific for 1,25(OH)2D3 in a rat small intestinal cell line, IEC-6, that demonstrates rapid responses to 1,25(OH)2D3. 1,25D3-MARRS binds and is activated by 1,25(OH)2D3, but is not itself up-regulated by treatment with 1,25(OH)2D3, nor is there a vitamin D response element (VDRE) in its proximal promoter. We previously reported that transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) increased steady state levels of 1,25D3-MARRS transcript and protein approximately two-fold (Rohe et al, 2005). To determine if this up-regulation could be attributed to the function of a highly conserved consensus smad 3 binding element present in the proximal promoter of the 1,25D3-MARRS gene, we created a promoter-reporter [SEAP] construct that was responsive to TGFβ (200 pM). Deletion or mutation of the smad 3 element greatly reduced the response of the 1,25D3-MARRS promoter to TGFβ. Subsequent studies found that the smad 3 response element is bound by a protein found in the IEC-6 nuclear extract, most likely smad 2/3. Interestingly, although 1,25(OH)2D3 alone did not increase expression of the 1,25D3-MARRS promoter-reporter, co-treatment of transfected IEC-6 cells with 1,25(OH)2D3 and TGFβ shifted the dose response for the response to a lower concentration (100 pM). We conclude that TGFβ is a transcriptional regulator of 1,25D3-MARRS expression via a functional smad 3 element and that cross-talk with non-classical 1,25(OH)2D3-stimulated pathways occurs. The findings have broad implications for redox sensitive signaling phenomenon including those that regulate phosphate transport in the intestine.

To the uninitiated, this may look like garbage, or hokum, or double-talk. Actually, it is clear, concise (as a good abstract should be), and demonstrates exactly a point I have tried to make about the way science works. The authors of this study had made some initial findings that did not exactly comport with the hypothesis they had initially used to govern their research, and these findings prompted further research using a control variable to determine exactly why their initial hypothesis was incorrect. Below is the sentence in the abstract to which I refer:
To determine if this up-regulation could be attributed to the function of a highly conserved consensus smad 3 binding element present in the proximal promoter of the 1,25D3-MARRS gene, we created a promoter-reporter [SEAP] construct that was responsive to TGFβ (200 pM). Deletion or mutation of the smad 3 element greatly reduced the response of the 1,25D3-MARRS promoter to TGFβ. Subsequent studies found that the smad 3 response element is bound by a protein found in the IEC-6 nuclear extract, most likely smad 2/3. Interestingly, although 1,25(OH)2D3 alone did not increase expression of the 1,25D3-MARRS promoter-reporter, co-treatment of transfected IEC-6 cells with 1,25(OH)2D3 and TGFβ shifted the dose response for the response to a lower concentration (100 pM).

By modifying their research methods to account for the new data, they discovered something they call "interesting" in the metabolism of these rat cells:
Subsequent studies found that the smad 3 response element is bound by a protein found in the IEC-6 nuclear extract, most likely smad 2/3. Interestingly, although 1,25(OH)2D3 alone did not increase expression of the 1,25D3-MARRS promoter-reporter, co-treatment of transfected IEC-6 cells with 1,25(OH)2D3 and TGFβ shifted the dose response for the response to a lower concentration (100 pM). We conclude that TGFβ is a transcriptional regulator of 1,25D3-MARRS expression via a functional smad 3 element and that cross-talk with non-classical 1,25(OH)2D3-stimulated pathways occurs. The findings have broad implications for redox sensitive signaling phenomenon including those that regulate phosphate transport in the intestine.

In other words, the system is more intricate and involved than they initially suspected, and the chemical governors operate in a manner not accounted for in their initial hypothesis. This does not mean that they were "wrong", or that the hypothesis was "false" - they simply had not accounted for all the possible variables and the chemical interactions among the various bits of stuff (I am using non-scientific short-hand here). Their new conclusions, based upon a refinement of their initial hypothesis culled from preliminary research shows that, while the initial hypothesis was fruitful for various research, even with the discordant results that forced further research, these results "have broad implications for redox sensitive signaling phenomenon including those that regulate phosphate transport in the intestine." In other words, their little chemical experiment with rat intestine cells has actually increased the ways in which such research can be used to examine the functioning of chemical processes in digestion.

Is this conclusion 100% accurate? Of course not! Their initial research was certainly not, which is why they went further, introducing a control variable in order to take account of the odd results of their initial findings. One key phrase towards the end of the abstract I want to highlight is the authors describe the mechanism as "most likely" - not definitively, not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but within the bounds both of their operating hypothesis and the statistical margin of error governing their research, their conclusion is probably right. That their results in this particular research study are fruitful for further research could sharpen that conclusion, or it could overturn it. But, further research being not only possible but likely, changes can occur which the authors themselves call "surprising", as they did of their initial experimental results.

By the way, one of the authors of this study is my sister.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

When Is a Debate Not a Debate?

When your debate partner declares victory and goes home, I guess. My right-wing fellow blogger, Goat, of Goats Barnyard invited me to a debate, in a way, and so I obliged him here. His response was simply to say that what I was written was full of falsehoods, said "America is rising" (to which I replied that I have no idea what that particular sentence means), and went on his way. I like a good exchange of views - even a heated verbal donnybrook, but apparently this was not to be one of those times.

When I titled the previous post linked above "Sort of", I was being serious, because I can hardly sum up either what I believe politically or its sources in a short (?) blog post. Indeed, I could write post after post after post - and invoke all sorts of names, from James Madison to Richard Rorty to Reinhold Niebuhr to Godfrey Hodgson - as sources, but all of this would still not exhaust what it is I profess to consider my political views and their roots. I could write about my socialist/pacifist grandfather, who served for a time as the political director for the AFL-CIO for the state of Ohio; I could write about my father's role as a teacher's union negotiator in our local school district. I could write about walking away from a gay rights march in Washington, DC in disgust at the blatant racial and class blindness I perceived. I could write about my utter frustration as the 1990's unfolded and lunatics like Newt Gingrich were taken seriously by so many in the political and journalistic class. I could write about books I have read, discussions I have had, significant friends, acquaintances, and others in my life who have pushed and nudged me this direction and that, sometimes in directions I never thought I would go.

I could also beg off the whole affair, as I know my political views are constantly changing, as I encounter each day, each day's challenges, each day's idiocy, each day's events. What I profess as my political views will no doubt look very different in twenty years than they do now - precisely because my life is open to all sorts of possibilities, and I recognize that nothing, not life, not history, stands still.

There is much more I could say, but one thing I will say. Even though the post below is a nice summary of the relationship between various philosophical views of politics, and my own preference for viewing politics and nation-states as participants in an on-going process, where improvisation counts much more than having a pre-formed plan ready in one's head, I want it to be clear that just because I can quote different philosophers doesn't mean I adhere to what they teach. Indeed, I find most philosophers from the past remarkable historical artifacts, and that about sums up their relevance to our current situation. What I believe more than anything else is that the Constitution of the United States is the most remarkable single political document ever written, and it is to that we must return time and again to ground ourselves in what makes us uniquely American. It is not blood or faith or social creed; it is a simple, clear document that sets forth what it means to be American. The fact that the Constitution allows for amendment shows that, even at its founding, the country knew about improvisation. Madison, Hamilton, Jay - they were our first political jazz performers.

I know I may have muddied the waters even more than usual with this particular post, but I just wanted to make sure that, just because Goat thinks I am wrong doesn't mean I am giving up the debate.

A Note to Visitors

The addition of Neo-Earth, while prompting some soul-searching on my part, is also a wonderful tool to give me an idea of how far afield these little missives of mine travel. I have had visitors from China, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Portugal, Brazil, Canada, Poland, and now, Spain, and Italy. I want to welcome all of you; I hope your expectations aren't too high; I am a provincial blogger - I write about the US most of the time, and religion, and I hope I do not appear too irrelevant to those whose perspective is different, or who might be looking for something else. I can only say that I follow the first rule every beginning writer is given - I write what I know. I also hope that Babelfish helps; it is an imperfect tool, but from my own experience, it does give a reader enough of the flavor of a piece that one can follow along, even if the idiomatic intricacies of various languages are sometimes lost. I keep Babelfish so that my international readers might be able to decipher my scribblings (I sometimes wonder if there shouldn't be one to translate them into better English).

Anyway, welcome. Tell your friends and neighbors that I'm here. You don't have to comment, but you can visit anytime you like. Thanks for stopping by.

"Stopped at a dead standstill in a stinking pile of crap"

The title of this post comes from this post at Swampland by Ana Marie Cox. She posits it as a possible description of the current status of the Bush Administration, and it gets my vote. Yesterday was Walter Reed day in the House. Today, as Talking Points Memo has covered thoroughly (and Think, it was US Attorney day in both chambers of Congress. Of course, we can't forget the verdict in the Libby trial. Like the Nixon Administration after the firing of Haldeman and Erlichman, and the "Saturday Night Massacre" (brought to us by that icon of the right, Robert Bork) in which two Attorneys General quit rather than fire Archibald Cox, until Brok summoned the cowardice to accede to the President's illegal order, we are watching the slow implosion of the Bush Administration. Like a huge luxury liner, slowly listing to one side (in this case, the right), then rolling, then sinking not-so-gracefully beneath the waves, we can only stand back and watch and hope everyone got out OK, and that no one is too close to be dragged down to the depths with it. In this case, like the entire country.

One of the saddest, most telling events today is discussed here at Think I heard Paul Morin's comments on NPR this morning, in which he laid at the feet of the President (and Congress) the entire Walter Reed/Army hospital travesty. Morin is the national commander of the American Legion, and there are few organizations one wants to annoy less than the Legion, especially if one touts oneself as a "War President". Bush went before the Legion today, and one can only imagine the tension in the air as Bush stood there and lied about how the health care of wounded soldiers is a priority for his administration. I mean, please - he no more cares about the health care of returning Iraqi and Afghan war vets than he cares about tin deposits in Peru. He drags troops out as right-wing poster-children, then throws them to privatized, down-sized, under-funded, under-staffed facilities to sink or swim on their own. One wonders at the utter gumption of Bush standing there saying all this nonsense, when there is enough empirical evidence to prove that the exact opposite is the case. The dissonance from the Administration is really staggering, and I do believe we have passed the tipping point (I think the election proves that) and no one, except a bunch of dead-enders (what else can one call them?), believes anything these people say.

As our government unravels before our eyes, let us be careful. There are fewer things more dangerous than a wounded animal - quite willing to lash out in a desperate attempt to stay alive. These people, whose judgment, competence, and political instincts are nil, also have access to the single most destructive weapons on the face of the earth, and have been quite willing to talk publicly about using nuclear weapons anywhere and everywhere. This is a dangerous time, and for all the fascination of watching this particular bug writhe on the needle placed there by their own actions, this is a bug with some serious venom.

A Literary Note

My friend and fellow blogger Cristina reminds the world that today is the birthday of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (the post is in Portuguese, with translation via Babelfish). If there is a more beautiful, lush author on the planet, please point me to that person. I will admit I am a latecomer to Garcia Marquez, having read One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera only in the past couple years, but all I can say is, if you have not availed yourself, please do yourself a favor, find these books, read them, and your entire literary outlook will change. Every book you ever read ever after will be a disappointment precisely because Garcia Marquez' prose is so beautiful - I almost hesitate to call it perfect - it is a bit like relationships after one's first true love; there will never be another like it, as sweet or as special.

Garcia Marquez started life as a journalist in his native Colombia, gaining fame for his reporting on the survivors of a shipwreck; that story became his first non-fiction work. Going in to exile in Mexico due to Colombia's persistent political upheaval, and his own left-of-center views, he first imagined Solitude after thinking about the stories his grandmother used to tell. The phrase "magical realism" has often been used to describe this particular novel, but such an idiotic phrase means little, and actually misses the point. The novel, both as it unfolds and in its original conception, is nothing more or less than a series of folk tales, and as Garcia Marquez tells it, elements of the fantastic and the realistic were so interwoven in the stories he remembered from his grandmother that he decided to keep that flavor as he wrote the novel. While sad, even poignant, especially as the novel ends, it is filled with characters both lovable and believable, even with all the strange and fantastic events that fill their lives.

Love in the Time of Cholera is, as the author said in an interview he gave (I think it was Playboy but don't quote me) after the publication, an ode to his parents. I remember quite vividly reading how, as he read the first draft, he wept because he had not realized how deeply his own parents' story was interwoven into the plot of the novel. Again, do yourself a favor, and read this marvelous, wondrous tale of love that is stronger than all the vicissitudes of life and personality and even hatred.

For those who might not like Garcia Marquez because he is a communist sympathizer, I just want to note that, along with him and other left-leaning authors, I also happen to like the poetry of that fascist-loving traitor to the United States (actually, that is only technically true; he avoided prosecution on an insanity defense, and spent years in St. Elizabeth's hospital in the US until exiled back to the Italy he loved) Ezra Pound. Another extremist I happen to like, I guess.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Turning Over Rocks Reveals Vile Creatures

I grew up with a small creek running behind my house. As a child, my friends and I spent hours, sometimes all day, down there doing all sorts of things. The creek was full of life - minnows, crayfish, salamanders, water-striders - some of which could only be found if you turned over the rocks on the bottom of the creek bed. One day, I turned over a rock, looking for a crayfish, and saw the most horrific looking creature imaginable. It was small, but it was still vile. I consulted a field guide my parents own, and it described the creature as the larva of a crane fly, what we in our ignorance called "mosquito hogs", because they look like huge mosquitoes. Years later, at the Monterrey Aquarium, I saw a larger version of the same thing - only this was called a Sea Cucumber. When invited to touch it, I thought I would rather touch anything else - a rotting corpse, say - than this disgusting creature.

The Washington Post turned over a rock two weeks ago at Walter Reed Army Hospital, and all sorts of vile creatures emerged. Today, Congress held hearings and, while the specifics are bad enough, and some of the testimony defies any moral description other than horrible (two examples, via links are here at Think in which current Army Surgeon General and former Walter Reed Commander Lt. Gen. Kiley blamed "junior officers" for the conditions described in the Post piece, and this one, also at TP, in which a DoD official argues that increasing money for the health care fo returning vets endangers national security). The best summary of the entire day was given in one single bit of testimony, by the wife of a returning vet who said (as you see here and here) that their lives were "shattered", first by the war, then by the inadequate care offered by the Army.

While these details - and I am quite sure more to come - are awful in and of themselves, and point to an almost pathological disdain for returning vets, I am interested, for the moment, in the process that is unfolding before our eyes. Today, it was Walter Reed, tomorrow it will be hearings in both the House and Senate on recent firings of US Attorneys (TPM has been on the trail and deserves a Pulitzer for its tenacity). All this points out what happens when there is real oversight. All this shows the power Congress has, all by asking a few simple questions. All of this vindicates Glenn Greenwald's piece yesterday in which he calls for vigorous hearings on the part of Congress. These hearings, like my creek expeditions, are uncovering all sorts of horrors.

Of course, as Rep. Henry Waxman noted, the information the Post revealed was not exactly new. had an article two years ago on this very issue, and the General Accountability Office has issued several reports on sub-standard conditions both at Walter Reed and at VA Centers around the country. The difference between 2005 and now is really quite simple, and should be obvious to anyone - the Democrats are in charge, and for all their faults, with Waxman in a position of authority, these and other issues will be pursued relentlessly (Waxman is tireless, like a terrier with a rag; he is my current hero). This is what Congress is supposed to do; oversight is not just some part of Congress' duties, but a very necessary act in which those who are in charge of making sure various executive departments actually do their jobs as they are legally required to do. Giving a pass to the Bush Administration is no longer possible, and should never have been done. We are reaping the fruits of Republican control of Congress for the past six years, and the results are every bit as vile as that crane fly larva.

I should just like to make one point. Like the war in Iraq, the deficit, Ann "Edwards is a faggot" Coulter, and the potential death of one of America's greatest cities (New Orleans, for those not paying attention), this latest outrage needs to be placed firmly and locked around the neck of the Republican Party. This is not the result of "mistakes" or "incompetence" or "the failures of junior officers" (how like Rumsfeld's excuses for Abu Ghraib) but the direct result of conscious decisions on the part of our elected officials. This point needs to be made over and over and over; perhaps, just perhaps, the Republicans will reap the benefits of the reality of their rule once the public recognizes the utter, abysmal failure at governance that is the modern Republican Party.

One final note. While much of the press has done an admirable job, Brit Hume's comments yesterday need to be held up as the kind of awful apologetics too many in the press have engaged in for far too long. To focus solely on the political fallout - as if the situation is not objectively awful, and the result of policies enacted from the top down - is to add an idiotic insult to the egregious injuries our vets have already suffered. In an ideal world, Hume would lose his job for such a statement. In Bush's world, Hume most likely will get a raise.

Butting Heads - What I believe, Sort of

In comments in a thread below, recently added Blogger blogger Goat, from Goat's Barnyard, challenges me to "think" and "use logic" not adhere to "failed philosophies." He also manages to call me a "slavery supporter", and that particular logical leap I simply fail to see - because I support progressive taxation on the rather banal basis that those who make more money can afford to pay more, and that such taxation includes funding for transfer payments (SSI, Food Stamps, WIC, AIDC, and may other direct payments to individuals) I apparently also support "legal theft". I suppose, because Goat has thrown down the gauntlet, as it were, I should explain, clearly and simply, why I hold the political views I do. I promise this will be as short as possible, because there are other, far more interesting things out there than the source of my political views.

First, I tend to view governments not as discrete entities, but as participants in history. Political philosophy, even at its best - Locke, Rousseau, Montesqueu - attempts to be descriptive rather than proscriptive. Until, that is, the mid-19th century. With the rise of industrial capitalism, the destruction it caused to the traditional social contract and social fabric (a good examination is given by religious historian Richard Rubenstien in The Age of Triage in which he examines the effects of English enclosure laws, and the creation, for the first time, of "citizens" and "individuals" - and at the same time, the creation of "surplus populations" - not members of a larger society with traditional rules), and the havoc wreaked by Napoleon upon Europe and the rise of German national identity we have two developments with which we are still living, although their moment has past, for the most part. First, taken in reverse order, was the development of a political philosophy by Hegel, and then the application of Hegel's method, if not his conclusions, by his erstwhile student, Karl Marx. For the first time since the Renaissance, serious thinkers were thinking about the state in prescriptive terms (although I doubt Marx would agree with that description, as he insisted that he was merely describing the effect of certain historical forces upon the state and society). Since then, a whole host of social and political and economic upheavals have brought us syndicalism, anarchism, trade unionism, democratic socialism, fascism, Naziism, Stalinism, democratic socialism, neo-liberal economic capitalism, and American reactionary conservatism. Each has attempted, first, to construct some kind of theoretical basis for why it does, or would do, what it does, or would do, before it actually begins ruling (with the exception of Stalinism, which was essentially an old-style autocratic regime with better organizational tools and more guns, and given a patina of philosophical verbiage thanks to Stalin's time in a seminary in Georgia; his approach was as didactic as a cathechism).

This is ludicrous. One does not invent a theory of the state and then seek to apply it. States already exist, with all sorts of political and social and civil infrastructure, and the task of any ruling elite is to use these tools to maintain the viability of that state. It's really that simple. FDR is often scorned by the right as an ideologue, but FDR was the exact opposite of an ideologue, and indeed is the model from which I derive much of my thought. His idea of attacking the Depression through "bold, persistent experimentation" is the best way to describe what I think is a good way to govern. You try something, using existing legal and political, social and civil institutions, and if it fails, you try something else. As Roosevelt said at an early cabinet meeting, as reports of the ravages of the Depression piled up on his desk, "For God's sake, do something."

In other words, the best rulers are those who can improvise well. As any musician worth his salt knows, however, improvisation at its best works within an agreed chord and modal framework, and follows the melody, or enhances the melody, or acts as a counterpoint to bring out the melody, rather than simply playing any note one wants to play. The latter is practicing. The former is called jazz, and is art.

I am not doctrinaire in my political views - I like what works. My problem with much of conservatism, and the past six years have proven this quite clearly, is that, as a governing philosophy for a nation-state as large and diverse and variegated as ours, doesn't work. It doesn't work not because too many people have become dependent upon government; it doesn't work because (a) it fails to account for all sorts of institutional changes that make many of its underlying assumption not just wrong but irrelevant; and (b) when put in to practice, as it has been for the past six years, it fails abysmally. Actual failure is usually a good test of the effectiveness of any theory, and no amount of tweaking reality, no amount of time given for some idiotic plan to work, no amount of ignoring certain uncomfortable facts can change the unutterable failure of conservative ideology. For Republicans to charge that conservatives and conservative ideas haven't failed, but were never given a chance during the past six years is ludicrous. We have had nothing but conservative ideas and principles and legislation since January 20, 2001, and look where we are. Our Constitution is in tatters, our economy is moribund (at best) and near to sliding down a narrow slope to recession, we are mired in a war/occupation shoved upon us through duplicity and questionable legality, and otherwise intelligent thoughtful persons such as yourself (anyone who can admire Goldfinch's is OK in my book, and yes, I am still your friend, even with our differences) can call an evil person like Ann Coulter "brilliant", and Hugh Hewitt "the master of the interview".

The state shoulders all sorts of obligations fulfilling its function of self-preservation, including taxation (who likes to pay taxes?), defense, what has been called in historical and political science circles "the police powers" (the state maintains a monopoly on force to maintain civic order), and the construction and maintenance of both they physical and social and civil infrastructure of the state. One of the most dismally awful failures of conservatism, based upon the ludicrous Milton Friedman book Capitalism and Freedom (actually, Goat, I minored in economics in college and managed an "A" in every class I took, including a paper in which I tore Freidman apart), is the privatization of public services. From security at embassies around the world, long the purview of the Marine Corps, to health care at Walter Reed (more about this later) to simple municipal services like garbage collection, privatization has been an abject failure, costing us more money, and operating less efficiently and with less direct control than any publicly run entity could possibly provide. The idea that the commonweal (what is known, again in poli-sci circles, as the "commons", based upon old British traditions of communal property used by all for grazing their sheep) should be managed by a profit-driven corporation, with only minimal oversight by its actual owners (the people represented in Congress) is an abject failure, no matter how one looks at it.

As an undergraduate, I attended a faculty debate over the management of certain social institutions. One of the faculty members was an engineer, who prattled on and on, saying over and over "if we can predict and control all variables, when we can manage the outcome of every endeavor". Essentially, that was his argument. I asked a simple question: "How is it possible to predict, in advance, every variable, or control what by definition is unknowable beforehand?" His nonanswer was to repeat his original formula.

More than any class I took, any book I have ever read, that one little exchange proved decisive to me; I no longer looked to "philosophies" but to the way states actually have worked in the past, and work now in their governance; I no longer thought it important to make sacrifices in the short-term, sacrifices that meant real people got hurt, or even died, for some imagined future that was all rosy and warm and cuddly. It also meant that, like all of us, I support things that I don't always enjoy - like the occasional higher tax (as old as society; calling it "legal theft" and "confiscatory" is rhetorical sleight-of-hand; our taxes were much higher and much more "confiscatory" at a time when the US enjoyed unprecedented economic growth and general prosperity) - but deem necessary for the greater good. The reason I do so is simple - I am not an isolated individual, whole and complete unto myself, but a small part existing for a brief blip of time of an ongoing project called the United States of America, and sacrifices on my part are necessary for its continuation as an entity. You see, for all my complaints about much of our current government and its idiotic policies and its ridiculous propaganda, I happen to love living in the US. I am with Churchill; our form of government is the worst there is - it is inefficient, costly, rancorous, and occasional delusional - until one considers the alternatives.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Real Hateful Speech and its Consequences

From Ann Coulter's "faggot" line at CPAC to journalists whining about liberal nastiness, we have ample evidence that there is some kind of dissonance in the way one approaches the growing issue of the place of blogs - and the way speech happens on the net - and the way the issue is covered by the media. In the Think post linked above, we have journalists complain that, when their pieces are highlighted on blogs, they get nasty e-mails. I can imagine they do; I can even imagine some of those e-mails cross the line from adolescent vulgarity to somewhat scary, if for no other reason than there are scary people out there, and politics is irrelevant to that whole question. In a week where we have had Howard Kurtz type love notes to Michelle Malkin - who, in outing college students, managed to get their lives threatened - and whine about how nasty some comments at Huffington Post were. This whole issue is starting to come to a head, and I think we need to ask some questions here, before we get all caught up and perspective is lost.

First, how many people have died because of nasty e-mails from liberal bloggers? I do not ask this question lightly, nor do I think it a frivolous one. Again, how many people have been hurt or killed, directly or indirectly as a result of liberal vulgarity? Joe Klein can whine about straw leftists and their hateful ways, but how many Americans have lefties killed lately?

I will return to this question, but first I would offer a reflection from Talking Points, specifically this post in which a reader challenges any leader of the Democratic party to hang not only Coulter and her remarks, but Limbaugh, Hannity - the whole gasbag gallery - firmly around the neck of the entire Republican establishment. Glenn Greenwald has already done so, but he is not Howard Dean, or Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, or Harry Reid, or any other establishment Democrat. If this part of the freak-show aspect of American political culture is going to have a home, it needs to be firmly planted where it belongs - Republican territory. That, indeed, is step one of taking back our public dialogue from these filth-peddlers. Digby makes much the same point here and needs to be read in full because much of what he - and the others linked here - are background for the point I am trying to make here.

These links are important precisely because I wish to take the charge against Republicans and their filth-spewing publicists a step further, returning now to the question of the results of such speech, both from the left and the right. First, it is important to note, as Digby does in the piece linked above, that an anonymous commenter on some website is not the same in terms of public impact as Rush Limbaugh insisting Hillary Clinton is a conspiratorial murderer or Sean Hannity smearing an entire church congregation because of the political views of one of its members. Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, - these folks entire life-style is monetarily derived from speaking horrifically. Limbaugh could not have become an oxycontin addict, or afforded a trip to the Dominican Republic (famous for its underage sex trade) if not for his radio show; Coulter could not afford a whole retinue of body guards, houses all over the place, and her seemingly endless supply of cigarettes were it not for her ridiculously non-researched "books". People think of these folks, and others, as thoughtful, brilliant, the source of all wisdom (all those "dittoheads"), and as a result our public discourse has become seriously deranged.

More to the point, however, is the hate speech coming from those in public office. Dick Cheney said that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his WMD program; Condoleeza Rice said that questions were inappropriate because the answer might be a mushroom cloud over some American city; Rumsfeld, Feith, even Pres. Bush poo-pooed questions of the cost and duration of the war and its aftermath - Feith going so far as insisting that we could, in essence, steal oil money from the Iraqis to pay for the war (like the Soviet Union did to Germany at the end of WWII). Cheney continues to insist that there were operational links between al-Qaeda and the former Iraqi regime, despite them being repeatedly debunked (and not one single journalist has called him on this particular fantasy). Alberto Gonzalez, before him John Ashcroft, John Yu, and others at the Justice Department, insist that due process is a luxury we can ill-afford at a time when we are fighting for western civilization against the barbarian hordes, locking anonymous people away for years at a time, without charge, without any way of finding out who these people are or why they are being held; indeed, Gonzalez claimed in a Senate hearing that the constitution of the United States does not guarantee the right of habeas corpus - something I do believe the authors of that document might have been surprised to learn.

All this is hate speech because it, like the vomitous spew from unelected spokespersons like Coulter, is opposed to so much of what is traditionally American (although, to b honest, hating others, not least sexual and racial and religious minorities is, sadly, as American as cherry pie), and is much more insidious because, like the more blatant rhetoric of a Limbaugh or Michael Savage, one would think it needs to be taken seriously precisely because of its source - official, elected leaders of our government. It is hate speech because it leads to the silencing of dissent, the destruction of our constitutional rights and liberties, and an entire climate in which opposition views can be considered marginal at best precisely because they are defined by official sources as obstructing national survival. We currently are invovled in two "regional" wars, or perhaps two fronts in the same region, and tens of thousands on all sides are dead - as a direct result of the hate speech spewed forth from official sources and their cheerleaders.

Some anonymous commenter on some liberal website may be egregiously awful; the V-P of the United States insisting that the President of the United States can take the country to war regardless of the will of Congress is truly dangerous hate speech, for so many reasons one should not have to list them. This is the fundamental difference. Coulter's little missive about Edwards' sexuality is insignificant in and of itself; it is part and parcel, however, of a much larger pattern of destructive, hateful speech that has led to the deaths of thousands, the shredding of the Constitution, and the whithering of serious political dialogue in this country. This is a perspective one would hope journalists, who now wring their hands and wipe their brows at liberal bloggers sending them nasty notes, would understand and consider.

Virtual Tin Cup

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