Saturday, October 13, 2007

Is It Two Equal but Opposing Points of View? Or Insanity Versus Honesty? (UPDATED)

In the red corner, wearing a knee brace and smiley-face briefs, we have Marshall Art opining on Al Gore's Nobel win.

In the blue corner, wearing a Botany 500 ensemble with a smashing Harvard tie, we have New York Times columnist Bob Herbert.

Read each, and judge for yourselves.

UPDATE: Links fixed. Thanks for letting me know, Jim. I hate when that happens.

Saturday Rock Show

Here's something obscure.

In the summer of 1983 (the year I graduated from High School), Zebra released their first album. Getting heavy rotation on MTV and AOR radio, the first two singles seemed to portend a good career ahead.

Alas, it was not to be. To this day, I have wondered if the album was released 18 months too late, or perhaps 12 months too early. They were in the trough between the kind of artificial "music" promoted by FM radio (Journey, Loverboy, Supertramp) and the rise of melodic hard rock a la Bon Jovi, Ratt, Def Lepard, and the onslaught of the hair bands. As their initial album fell in to no neat category, I believe that Zebra's debut just fell between the cracks. Also, while the two singles were pretty good, and the final track, "The La La Song", was also pretty good, the album can generously be described as uneven.

Anyway, I always liked the first single. Here's "Who's Behind the Door".

Beauty or The Beautiful?

As I am reading von Balthasar's The Glory of the Lord, I thought it appropriate to discuss, in general terms, my own views on beauty. As von Balthasar begins his introduction, he discusses the issue of "aesthetics in theology" and "the beautiful" that should be familiar to anyone who understands classical (Thomistic) metaphysics - the vocabulary of form, or perfection, of the interrelationships among the transcendentals (the one, the true, the good and the beautiful). While I think there is some merit to what von Balthasar is doing, especially as regards the loss of an aesthetic sense in the Protestant Reformation and after, what I personally find frustrating is the persistence of an abstract discussion of "the beautiful" as a metaphysical category without reference to anything actually beautiful.

The image above, Michaelangelo's Pieta, is of my own personal favorite sculpture. There is something transcendent about it - something that surpasses the combination of form, emotive quality, and technical excellence that are evident in this piece.
This painting, by Jackson Pollock, is also among my favorite pieces of art. There is, just as in the Pieta, a transcendent quality to all of Pollock's work, surpassing all the individual qualities that make this work a masterpiece of technical brilliance. I do believe that von Balthasar would be troubled by my inclusion of Pollock as an example of beauty, for in the abstract expressionism here we have the attempt to represent not form, but if we are to continue our use of Thomistic categories, but rather "matter". By raising a quality to the level of something to be represented, we have, in classical parlance, made a category error. There is nothing of beauty about the accidental qualities that come and go; only in form as it pertains to that which does not change is worthy of being called beautiful.

Of course, I am fairly early in a dense work, the center of which isn't a discussion of "worldly aesthetics" at all, but rather a theological aesthetics in which the entire issue is the contemplation of the beautiful as we apprehend it in the Divine. In other words, the work is an examination of Christian interiority - prayer, the mystical and contemplative life, the eschatological promise of a New Heaven and New Earth - with "the beautiful" elevated from any reference to actual beauty to a hermeneutical principle. This is all well and good. Without any anchor in what an individual, or individuals, or even societies, view as "beautiful" we are bereft of any reference that might make such an abstract discussion meaningful.

What a Week (UPDATED)

It has been, to say the least, one of the oddest weeks in our public life that I can remember. We have had the on-going spectacle of Michelle Malkin leading the charge to undermine the credibility of . . . a 12-year-old boy and his family. The attack upon the Frosts is just the latest in the never-ending attempt to discredit any and every critic of the Bush Administration. That the battle was joined, and orchestrated a bit after the initial attack, by staffers of Sen. Mitch McConnell only shows the depravity of the contemporary Republican Party.

This depravity was on display at the end of the week as Al Gore, along with UN Climate Change Panel shared the Nobel Peace Prize. It seems that any recognition of non-Bush reality by the rest of the world is a sign of anti-Americanism, the worthlessness of the Peace Prize, and on and on. Again, is seems as if some folks just can't help themselves. My own hope was that, with Gore now the target of the right's venom, at least the Frosts would get a reprieve. I underestimated the ability of these people to multi-task.

In this vein I found this post by Eli at Fire Dog Lake not just apropos but wonderfully clear and succinct.
Before the Frosts were accused of faking their middle class status, we had Algore the fibber in thrall to his image consultants… now Algore the hypocritical energy hog. John Kerry the effete, out-of-touch, phony war hero. Paul Hackett the resume-padding “staff puke” and all the other “phony” anti-war soldiers. John Edwards, whose money and haircuts make it impossible for him to care about poverty. Hillary Clinton’s calculated “cackle.” And so on, and so on.

Meanwhile, Republicans and conservatives (with the possible exception of Mitt Romney, a non-Christian Mormon with shaky conservative credentials) never have to deal with accusations of phoniness, despite far more abundant evidence to the contrary. Fred Thompson’s folksy down-home persona is accepted at face value, with nary a mention of his lobbying career or his phony red truck. Likewise for Dubya, the decisive straight-shootin’ Texas cowboy whose entire identity is a lie. Likewise for Rudy, the Hero Of 9/11 who has thoroughly pissed off the firefighters’ union. Not to mention all the Republican politicians and preachers and boosters who wind up in corruption and/or sex scandals, or Bill Bennett’s gambling addiction, or Rush Limbaugh’s love of Oxycontin and Viagra. This is supposed to be the party of “moral values,” yet they make us godless hippies look like Dudley Do-Right.

In the topsy-turvy world of the Republican-led media assault upon our sense of reality, the immoral and amoral right-wing are defenders of all that is good, true, and beautiful, while the sensible, moderate, steady Democrats are transmogrified into Devil-worshiping, America-hating "leftists". It would be hysterically funny if it weren't for the horrible effect upon our public discourse.

With the display this week of the depths to which the right will sink - and the almost inevitable nature of such sinking, on any issue one can name - we may have arrived at a watershed moment. While the Frosts continue to twist in the wind blown from the mouth of hell that is the right wing of America, I think they and we can be consoled that, in the long run, they may have done themselves far more damage than any they imagine they have inflicted upon either the Frosts or the imaginary liberals they are attacking by proxy.

UPDATE: Jamison Foser's weekly Media Matters column says much the same thing as Eli's piece at FDL. And much of what I have been saying. Every accusation, every imputation of evil, bad faith, and scandalous behavior. Every. Single. One. Is a reflection of the reality of the American right, not some hypothetical "left".

Let me say that again. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. It's really that simple. When you read or hear someone on the right say something horrid about "the left" or hear, for example, John Gibson call himself "the black man's best friend" - we are hearing the exact opposite of the truth. That is to say - the scandalous are those among the right currently under indictment or convicted of crimes; the immoral are those on the right who have acted immorally; "the black man's best friend" is most likely a racist demagogue. This is key to parsing every word that flows out of the noise machine.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Some Thoughts On My First Influence

At the very beginning of my second semester of college, I wandered down to the bookstore in Alfred, NY during a break between classes and found a copy of Einstein on Peace, a collection of writings edited and with introductions by Einstein's literary executors, Otto Nathan and Heinz Norden. At the time I found this book, I had many questions and not a whole lot of answers regarding the international system. Please recall the times. This was January of 1984, less than a year after Ronald Reagan's infamous "Star Wars" speech in which he called the Soviet Union "the focus of evil in the modern world". The Cold War was heating up again. It seemed that we were on the brink of tragedy.

Einstein's writings of peace were like nothing I had ever read. Beginning with a manifesto he signed during the First World War, in protest to one signed by hundreds of German intellectuals defending German aggression, including the violation of Belgian neutrality, and continuing through his work with the League of Nations, his advocacy for collective security against the Nazis, his work advocating for American research into atomic energy, right up to the night of his death, when he wrote on the intractability of the Israeli-Arab conflict - Einstein wrote with a combination of logic, passion, and naivete that is still astounding.

The main point Einstein made that stuck with me was the need for subordinating national sovereignty to supranational law in the face of the threat of global annihilation from nuclear weapons. In many ways, Einstein's writings continue to have resonance as the most serious threats facing us - global warming, international finance and banking, the ongoing threat of piracy, terrorism - go beyond borders and cannot be dealt with by individual countries. With the evolution of various supranational organizations, from the European Union, the International Criminal Court, the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization we are seeing the dawning of what seems to be the first steps toward global political coordination.

I think that we are still centuries away from real supranationalism, but should we survive the worst of the immediate near future, I believe Einstein's vision will have more truth and more perspicacity than that of his critics.


You may have noticed the new widget at the top. I feel a bit awkward about this, but I have been thinking about doing this kind of thing for a while. How to set it up has been a bit more difficult.

I spend from twenty to thirty hours a week, uncompensated, reading, researching, and writing this blog (although the results usually seem like less . . .). That's thirty hours on top on the forty-plus hours I work. That's thirty hours a week I am not spending with my kids or my wife.

I am not asking for anyone to give should they not want to. I am asking, however, if you are so moved, to give as you might be moved.

The first of each month, starting December 1, I shall give a summary of the giving for the month. 10% of that total will be given to Poplar Grove United Methodist Church. Another 10% will be given to a non-profit organization - the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Amnesty International, the Sierra Club are examples - based upon what you readers and givers might suggest. The rest will be a nice little fund to help keep me from falling in to destitution.

Let me just say, in advance, that I am uncomfortable doing this, because I do not want anyone thinking that I am demanding something from them. I also want to say thank you now for whatever you might be moved to give.

Kablam! (UPDATED)

That sound you hear is the combined explosion of heads all over right-wing America. Al Gore has won the Nobel Prize for Peace, along with the United Nations Climate Change Panel.

What's better than being President?

I think being a prophet.

UPDATE: Not surprisingly, Bob Somerby has a nice summary of the mainstream press' take on Gore and his Nobel. It differs little in either intent or even content, only in tone.

UPDATE II: Here's a complete list of Nobel laureates, dating back to 1901. Among Americans who have won, we have three Presidents (Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Jimmy Carter), two diplomats (Ralph Bunche, Henry Kissinger), a physicist (Linus Pauling), and a couple religious figures (Jane Addams, Martin Luther King, Jr.).

I think the prize is even more important, and prestigious, now than it was a century ago. As the age of the nation-state wains, and as international and supranational organization becomes paramount, we shall look more and more to those who have been recognized for their unique contributions to peace as guides to the future. Whether they are democracy leaders such as Aung San Su Khyy of Burma and Nelson Mandela of South Africa; spiritual leaders such as the 14th Dalai Lama; or international organizations such as the Office of the UN Commissioner of Refugees or Medicin Sans Frontiers - these will be the harbingers of the world to come.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

I Don't Know What To Say, Except . . .

. . . Go vote for me.

I have been nominated for two (2) Blogger's Choice Awards!

It's an honor just to be nominated, of course. But, even though I nominated ER, and believe his blog is much better than mine . . . I still want to beat the pants off him! Vote for me!


Back on September 24, I did a post on a Washington Post story that debunked some myths surrounding the whole "human trafficking" nonsense that funds so many organizations and fuels so much outrage. My main point was that, yes, human trafficking, sometimes specifically for sex work, does occur, but the numbers advocates keep putting out there just do not reflect reality.

Now, over at Alternet, author Susie Bright interviews Laura Agustin, who has written a new book entitled Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labor Markets and the Rescue Industry. Augustin's argument is controversial, provocative, and subtle - the interview needs to be read in its entirety to appreciate her perspective.

There are a couple things I wish to highlight that I agree with. Please note that I am not advocating for the legalization of the sex trade or prostitution; nor am I defending the enslavement of human beings for sex (and please note that in the interview, both Bright and Augustin are pretty clear that even "non-sex trade" bondage, such as work in sweatshops or migrant harvesting very often includes sexual exploitation). I am merely pointing out that Augustin makes a point that is central to my own sense of the world.
There are risks in selling sex and there are risks in being a live-in maid, picking ground crops, selling pirated or stolen goods or drugs, working in sweatshops. It's not a good idea to generalize. They are all unregulated jobs with no insurance, no security, no workplace health and safety, and personal dependence on the boss.

People are concerned about the risk in selling sex when they believe that sex is different from every other human experience, or that it is sacred, that it belongs in the same room with love and should never be tainted by money. Some people think that women are sexually vulnerable by definition, always in danger of being violated.

But not everyone feels that way. Some migrants who sell sex do hate what they are doing, but stay on because the money is better and faster than in any other job they can get. Some don't mind selling sex because they learn how to "act" it, and keep it separate from the rest of their lives. Some like doing it. Everyone does not feel the same way about sex.

Men and women selling sex account for a large percentage of migrants, certainly. Notice I'm not talking just about women.

The societal fears about "damage" only get applied to women, so the attention goes to them, but men, transsexuals, and transgenders work in large numbers selling sex, possibly making up half of the total.


SB: Why does the "empowerment" crowd rub you the wrong way?

The idea of empowerment is that someone gives power to another, or encourages them to take power or find it within themselves.

It's the "politically correct" way of thinking about those at the bottom of the social heap. However, it places emphasis on the helper and her vision of how to help, encourage and show the way -- on good intentions.

In the compromised worlds of "Aid" and "Development," first-world entities use their funds to help those less privileged. They spend money to set up offices and pay salaries, many to people who work in offices writing proposals that will allow them to stay in business. These organizations have hierarchies, and those engaged at the grassroots level often are the last to influence how funds will be used.

Those closer to the top, know how to write proposals to compete in the funding world. When empowerment comes from above in this way, it's not surprising that money is spent to little effect, such as rescue projects which can't find anyone who wants to be rescued.

SB: By its very nature, your book is going to attract the sort of person who DOES want to make the world better, help people, be a RESCUER! What does a caring person do?

LA: I certainly hope people working in social-justice projects will read the book. Many of them already have doubts and feel caught up in a bureaucratic web, dependent on pleasing funders, or itching to take more relevant action.

Those who want to support undocumented workers have few options for getting funds -- AIDS prevention and "rescuing victims of trafficking" are two.

But the undocumented want papers. They want the right to work and rent housing legally, to stop fearing the police or bosses, to be able to get on with their lives, and make money to pay back debts.

It is very frustrating for grassroots educators to know they can't help with any of that.

What should they do? It's a huge structural question, but if social-type workers don't believe they have any power to change things they are in the wrong business.

At the end of my book I suggest that people "leave home" -- meaning their mental home, the safe place where there cherished ideas about right and wrong go unchallenged. Leave behind nationalisms and religious moralisms -- and, above all, the assumption that certain people Know Best how everyone else should behave all over the world.

Imagine, the world is a complex place where people do all sorts of things for all sorts of motivations that don't fit in to our notions of noblesse oblige as we attempt to "help" those who are so unenlightened as to make choices we judge as erroneous.

Again, I am being contrarian here not to defend prostitution. I am being contrarian here to point out that the world is a big, messy, complex, contradictory place. Ideologues of any and all stripes, even those with the best intentions, very often work out of faulty assumption, bad ideology, and no sense of the realties faced by those whom they are trying to help.

Trying To Keep Up With The Stupid Makes My Head Hurt

Trying to remain focused on such things as the war/occupation of Iraq; the various, almost daily outrages of the Bush Administration; some kind of positive statement about my always-evolving ideas on the Christian faith - it's almost impossible because the right just keeps throwing stuff out there, hoping it will stick, sucking the oxygen out of the public sphere enough so that the dying can continue apace, the Constitution can be shredded even further in the name of partisan power, etc.

Sometimes, though, you want to laugh to keep from crying.

Media Matters for America has a report on a FoxNews special on an Air America Radio show called FreeThought Radio, teased with the question:
"War on God?"

I realize there are 24 hours of television air time to fill. I realize that FoxNews has a demographic that would have to replace their pacemaker batteries just reading such a teaser. I realize that the very notion of thinking for oneself is so far outside the minds of those who both produce and consume FoxNews as to be quite unimaginable.

These people are desperate. Truly. Flailing. From "phony soldiers" being touted by a bunch of cowardly draft dodgers to the hate-filled stalking of a family advocating for public policy to, now, the very notion that a radio program is some threat to the Creator of the Universe just boggles the mind.

These people are just nuts.

Punch Them In The Nose (UPDATED; UPDATED again)

With the ongoing brouhaha over Michelle Malkin stalking the Frost family, I thought I would get just a tad meta here. First, I think the best take on the entire mess isn't a news site or a liberal blogger. I think it's Sadly,No!. In the linked post above, Bradrocket writes:
You can’t fight these people by being calm and nice. You have to let people know that they’re vile, hateful scumbags with no sense of standards or simple human decency. You have to stand up to them and (rhetorically speaking) punch the sick SOBs right in the nose. Otherwise, they will walk all over you for the rest of your life.

I want to back up just a tad, because we are treading upon ground that I have been wandering over for a bit in my head. Specifically, it relates to the issue of differences between our contemporary liberals and our contemporary conservatives. Liberals are, I do believe, uncomfortable with the entire issue of power. We like to discuss power as something diffuse, coming from "the people", as if by magic. We are uncomfortable with ambition, with drive - the idea that there are those who actively pursue positions of power is unsettling. I think that part of the left's discomfort with the Clinton's has been the naked ambition of both of them. There was always a glint in Bill Clinton's eye during the 1992 campaign; he practically sweated a desire to occupy the White House. His wife is being attacked now for being "shrill", which is really a kind of code-word for being a woman who is too ambitious.

In this post at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall writes, in re the fundamental differences in style between the Obama and Clinton campaigns:
Obama isn't so much running for the nomination in the sense of reaching out and taking it. He's trying to show us how marvelous he is (and this isn't snark, he's really pretty marvelous) so that Democratic voters will recognize it and give him the nomination.

But that's not how it works in this country. I don't know if it really works otherwise anywhere else. But you have to really want it, come out and say it, take it. I thought about qualities that describe what is at issue. 'Toughness' seems to bound up in meta-national security mumbojumbo. 'Ruthlessness' sounds too, well, ruthless. You have to want it enough that you reach out and take it. Which isn't always pretty and admirable. But that's what it takes.

I think that is why, in the end, despite my preference for Dodd or Edwards, or perhaps Dennis Kucinich, I believe that Hillary will win. Not only is she disciplined, professional, and bright, but she is ruthless. She will do what it takes to win.

And that makes liberals uncomfortable.

Which brings us back to our current contretemps. The right-wing has displayed not just a lack of moral sense and proportion, but the kind of ruthless pursuit of an agenda one usually only sees in totalitarian regimes. Joe Gandleman at The Moderate Voice writes (h/t C&L):
Those who support Bush and the group of win-one-for-our-team might perhaps focus their efforts countering arguments such as this. Then you’d have an actual back-and-forth debate over issues and come up with policy (which might be different from the existing bill).

But no, it’s easier to go after a 12 year-old. After all, these days, anyone who is in the way of an agenda has to be discredited so that no one listens to them anymore.

Yet, once upon a time, American society would pull out all stops not to go after a kid. The bar has been lowered yet again.

Liberals may be uncomfortable with ruthless displays of ambition. We may have been caught unawares by the depths to which some sectors of our society might sink (I think that is why this entire episode is such a big deal; this is the kind of thing no one could really expect to happen due to its outrageousness). Of course, this is also why the left is often playing defense/catch-up with the right. We refuse to get down in the muck. Like Obama, we want to persuade with our ideas rather than show people how much we desire power. Like Ezra Klein, we would rather debate issues than gleefully wallow in the attention we are receiving for going after a family with six children, one of whom is severely disabled.

When the attack does come, we continue to be reasonable - we try pointing out the facts (the family's income, the price they paid for the house, the scholarships for the kids' private schools, etc) as if those attacking the Frosts were at all interested in facts. Indeed, by doing such as this, we fall in to the trap of treating the attack as something it is not - a legitimate part of our public discourse, rather than the rantings of fringe whackos. Instead of pointing out factual errors ("See, here's where you're wrong; if you knew this you might not have attacked a family of eight who make less that $50,000 a year. Right? Right?") we should be . . .

Calling them batshit crazy. Insane. Not allowing them to make a single point. Not granting one ounce of legitimacy to anything they say. This issue is not what the Frosts make or don't make; the issue isn't what the cost of the private school for their kids might or might not be. The issue is very simple, really (I'll highlight it here):
You don't attack a child, or the child's family, in public. Ever. For any reason. By doing so, you have demonstrated that you have no place in our public discourse.

You don't just push back. You act ruthless. You silence them. Every time they try to get a word in edgewise, interrupt. Keep pushing them to answer uncomfortable questions. Don't grant them legitimacy by arguing their points. Keep them guessing. Call them liars. Call them fascists. Call them absolutely nuts. Keep at it, don't ever let up.

Until we on the left show the kind of courage and fortitude to do this, I think we deserve to be have more such incidents in our public sphere.

UPDATE: Over here at Ezra Klein's blog there is a good example of what I am talking about here. A commenter named "Jerri Jones" attempts to address the whole question of the Frosts and the SCHIP debate from the standpoint of something called "personal responsibility" (as if getting help when help is offered is not responsible). The liberal commenters attempt to address issues that "Jerri Jones" raises, instead of saying that the perspective being offered is illegitimate on its face, and the Frosts, and any responsibility they may or may not have exercised is not at issue. Instead, the post rambles on and on, granting legitimacy (for the most part) to a point of view that has none.

UPDATE: E J Dionne makes the same mistake so many others make by treating the attacks by the right-wingers as if they had any merit, or were related in any manner, fashion, or form, to questions of fact or context. They are not, which is why a reasonable voice like Dionne's is as ineffective as the best-intentioned fact-checking by the left.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On Christian Love

Over here, in comments at Marshall Art's place, Mom2 attempts to school me in "Christian love", or at least claim that I do not know what Christian love is. Over there, I dispatched her attempt both succinctly and, some might think, rudely. I thought that I might make a bit more constructive comment here. To be fair, here is her comment in full:
Geoffrey, The Word says how can we say we love God if we don't love the brethren. You are very harsh on fellow Christians if they do not agree with you politically. You are not the only one, but it does seem to be a leftest trait to get angry, call names and imply that those not in agreement with them are of lesser intelligence.

First, it should be "The Word asks". Second, "The Word" neither says nor asks anything. In this case, it is St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church, that asks the question. I have never implied or stated explicitly that those who disagree with me are "of lesser intelligence". When people demonstrate a certain lack of intelligence, or at least a lack of the grasp of facts, I might point that out. I do believe that Mom2 has a bit of an issue here, but I will set that aside for the moment.

Living in a post-Enlightenment and (more important) post-Romantic age, we too often think of love either as an emotion swamping our reason or as the expression of affection towards others. Along with the idea of love being primarily emotive, i.e. something within our heads, is the idea that love expresses itself, when it does so, without any admixture of anger, rancor, bitterness, spite, or any other "emotion". For Christians influenced by the Enlightenment/Romantic notions both of love and of the overwhelming nature of the Divine Nature, Christian love most especially is expressed in tenderness, in empathy, without dilution from other emotions.

Since Christianity was not born in the Enlightenment, I think the best way to sum up this view is to say - malarkey.

My own view of Christian love is this - The beaten, bloody, pierced, and dying Jesus hanging on the cross is the full expression of God's love. That same Jesus, dead from his wounds, raised from the dead - this is the full expression of God's love. God's love isn't a Precious Moments figurine or a Hallmark card. It is the love expressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is the love that is willing to go so far as to be outside of God's grace, to be abandoned and alone - dying without any friends, family, loved ones, or even the Divine Presence. This is Christian love. It is not an emotion; Christian love is love that understands itself as intimately linked with death, and, of course, resurrection.

But we can't get to Easter without going through Good Friday, folks. Jesus had to die, first, and he died pretty horribly.

When Mom2 seems to think I do not have "love" for the "brethren", I think what she means is that I should be nicer, more polite.

As I said to here in comments, "Nah, I don't think so." The love of God isn't polite. It isn't nice. It's confrontational. It's demanding. It claims us in our totality, demanding our entire lives.

I am, like the rest of us, free to say "No" to such a demand. I am free to refuse to turn my whole self over to God. I am free to confuse warm and cuddly feelings for the harsh demand for sacrifice unto death of the Gospel. I gain nothing and lose far too much if I do so.

Again - this barely scratches the surface of what I think of Christian love, but I think it is a sufficient starting point, at least for now.

More Rocks, More Icky Squirming Things

With a thank-you to TBogg for the link to the story in The Baltimore Sun, we see what happens when the reasoned voice of the mainstream press meets the rabid squirrels of the right (and along the way, we see why the mainstream press is held in such disdain by so many). In a story understatedly titled "Frost Family Draws Ire of Conservatives" by Matthew Hay Brown, we have this observation on the differences between liberals and conservatives, people of conscience and people with no conscience, and the way the world works right now thanks to the empowerment of the right wing of the blogosphere:
[W]hile the Frosts were helping a bipartisan majority in Congress sell a plan to expand the program, they were not prepared for comments such as this one, posted over the weekend on the conservative Web site Redstate:

"If federal funds were required [they] could die for all I care. Let the parents get second jobs, let their state foot the bill or let them seek help from private charities. ... I would hire a team of PIs and find out exactly how much their parents made and where they spent every nickel. Then I'd do everything possible to destroy their lives with that info."

Please make sure you take this all in. A family was volunteering to help Congress on a bill that had benefited them, so that it could help others. For their trouble, a commenter over at Redstate (I refuse to link, sorry) wants them to die. Is their any further need to argue over the moral chasm that divides liberals and conservatives?

Some more from the Sun piece:
The onslaught began over the weekend, a week after 12-year-old Graeme Frost delivered the Democrats' weekly radio address with a plea to Bush to sign the bill. A contributor to the conservative Web site Free Republic noted Graeme's enrollment in the private Park School and the sale of a smaller rowhouse on the Frosts' block for $485,000 this year and questioned whether the family should be taking advantage of the state program.

That post was picked up by the National Review Online and other Web sites. By Monday, Rush Limbaugh was discussing the family's earnings and assets on the air, and the blogger Michelle Malkin was writing about her visit to Halsey Frost's East Baltimore warehouse and her drive past the family's Butchers Hill rowhouse.
(emphasis added) Liberal bloggers, meanwhile, were complaining that the Frosts were being "swift-boated."

"It's really frustrating," said Bonnie Frost, 41, who stated she is upset by the angry Internet posts, e-mails and telephone calls targeting the family. "The whole point of it for me was that this program helped my family, and I wanted it to help others. That's the message, and I can't believe the way the spotlight has been taken off of that."

"It's a distractive technique," said Halsey Frost, also 41. Speaking from their cluttered front room yesterday, the Frosts said they would continue to advocate for government-funded health care.

The Sun, which published articles about the Frosts when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced Bonnie and 9-year-old Gemma at a news conference last month and again when Graeme delivered the radio address, also has drawn criticism from posters on conservative Web sites for not reporting the details of the family's financial circumstances more fully.

At issue is the proposal to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program - also known as SCHIP - which provides coverage for 6.6 million children from families not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid.

In the section highlighted above, I want it noted how mater-of-factly the reporter notes the intrusion of right-wing bloggers in to the lives of a family doing what they saw as their civic duty. These people are undergoing a very public, very high-tech mugging cum character assassination, and the reporter only seems to note it as if it were on side of a reasoned debate on the merits of S-CHIP expansion. Of course, we can't really pretend this is so for too long, thanks to the blooming psychosis of the American right. Brown quotes a "criticism" of a commenter at Redstate:
"Hang 'em. Publically [sic]," the contributor wrote. "Let 'em twist in the wind and be eaten by ravens. Then maybe the bunch of socialist patsies will think twice."

While I object to the reporter offering the treatment of the Frosts as if it were some kind of normal, to-be-expected political event, rather than the contemporary equivalent of a mob with pitchforks and torches dragging the witch to the stake, I am glad that at least one mainstream paper is noticing the shenanigans. I believe the reporter is trying to be "fair" in this case because the only other recourse is to shake one's head and type out, "These people are batshit crazy."

Peering Under The Rock

With the Rush Limbaugh/"phony soldiers" flap still simmering away, I thought it might be nice to check out the reaction of Limbaugh supporters towards Vote Vets. One of the leaders, Brandon Friedman, has a diary over at Daily Kos, and yesterday he offered a sampling of the love sent the way of Vote Vets from Limbaugh listeners.

This is from someone named Cliff:
Subject: Your a "P.O.S." & a traitor!

I just went on your communist web site, unreal, I am retired military and you are a "P.O.S." a mater of fact crap smells better than you! Your website "Vote Vets" is despicable. I am not a huge Rush fan, like I use to be, I am a huge Michael Savage & Glenn Beck fan! I did hear the audio last week and those traitor Senators have been speaking of & Rush said nothing that offended me nor my friends! I have been to the middle east a few times and the phony soldier Rush had mentioned was a traitor piece of crap, who couldn't finish basic training! I have heard and seen the audio numerous times and how the
far left such as you, who probably never spent a day in the military could put out such trash is unbelievable! My friends, family and relatives who have been or are still in the military are not buying
it. You need to get a life, if you really cared about are soldiers you would be supportive!

I like this one, where the writer fancies himself "A Great American":
Subject: weak commercials

Rush Limbaugh is a great America and you are a phony. Your organization lacks the capability to tell the truth. Where is your ad condemning Nancy Pelosi having tea with a leader of a terrorist state, Iran. Where is your ad condeming senator dick for calling our troops nazis. Where is your ad condeming murtha? Where is your ad condemning reid who proclaimed defeat in April

You are so scared of progress. Shame on you. You are a phony, and your organization is a phony

A Great American,
Rich M.

Finally, the best of the lot. In ALL CAPS!! WITH MANY EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!11!!!:
Subject: LIES , LIES ....MORE LIES !!!!


Is it any wonder Michelle Malkin is stalking a family in Baltimore, questioning their character, their integrity, and even their income (the middle two traits, character and integrity, simply do not exist within her shriveled soul)? Is it any wonder Limbaugh and (as Alan calls her, h/t) She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named are thought of as great people by the right? Is it any wonder that our politics is so broken in this country? The kind of people who write these letters, the kind of people who cheerlead while Michelle Malkin stalks and defames a twelve-year-old - these people are impervious to reason, to any kind of coercion whatsoever.

When you pick up a rock on a hot summer day, usually the bugs scamper out of the light. Here, they scamper to the light, because they aren't very bright.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Our Broken Public Discourse, Part III (UPDATED)

As I wrote about yesterday, the on-going saga of the lunatic right going after the family of a twelve year old boy doesn't seem to want to end. The boy had the temerity to speak out on how he and his family benefited from a program the Bush Administration wants to end. Were we a truly civilized society, were we a people with a public moral sense, were we a people with an understanding of common decency - this kind of thing, while it might happen, would be the target of national approbation. It seems, alas, that Republicans in Congress are aiding and abetting this travesty. From ABC News, yesterday:
Manley cited an e-mail sent to reporters by a Senate Republican leadership aide, summing up recent blog traffic about the boy's family. A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declined to comment on Manley's charge that GOP aides were complicit in spreading disparaging information about Frosts.

Meanwhile, Iraqis continue to die by the hundreds each day. Congress is well on its way to enshrining in law the revocation of the Constitution. It seems that Bush Administration managed to leak sensitive information, information that may be a fake anyway.

And what are the idiotic lunatics frothing about? A family that needed held due to a devastating, traumatic event that left then unable to meet, financially, their medical needs. Do we need any more evidence that our public discourse is broken?

UPDATE: Ezra says it best:
This is not politics. This is, in symbolism and emotion, a violent group ritual. It is savages tearing at the body of a captured enemy. It is the group reminding itself that the Other is always disingenuous, always evil, always lying, always pitiful and pathetic and grotesque. It is a bonding experience -- the collaborative nature of these hateful orgies proves that much -- in which the enemy is exposed as base and vile and then ripped apart by the community. In that way, it sustains itself, each attack preemptively justifying the next vicious assault, justifying the whole hateful edifice on which their politics rest.

With the collusion of Senate Republicans, this entire vile episode should be used by every Democratic candidate, from local municipal elections to the Presidency, as the epitome of contemporary Republicanism. These people are despicable.

Nincompoop Narcissists

Atrios' word for the day is the "a" word. It is both compelling and, as anger-filled short-hand, highly appropriate. I think, however, at least in the case of Roger Cohen we have less an asshole than we do a narcissist. As Duncan is also prone to point out to those who, like Cohen, believe that the moral agony they put on display is somehow indicative of their own depth and seriousness, the Iraq war isn't about them. It's about the lying, the manipulation not just of the American people but all the accouterments of our civil life - the various branches of government, including the military and the intelligence services, the media - and, of course, the death and devastation of a entire country meant us no harm. These people cannot help themselves, however.

If you read the criticism of Cohen's piece here, it is quite clear that Cohen does not care about the destruction of Iraq, or the devastation of our national civil life and Constitution. Trying to impress . . . someone . . . with his seriousness, he tosses about historical analogies without any sense of proportion or even relevance (Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, oh my!). Rather than deal with the moral cock-up he continues to support, he imputes moral viciousness and historical ignorance to his enemies (displaying his own ignorance and moral myopia in the process) continuing to see the entire mess in Iraq as a referendum on his judgment.

It might be pointless to point out that, rather than dredge up bad analogies from the past, it would be better to deal with the specifics of the case in point, the multiple failures and abuses with which we continue to live, and Cohen's on-going role in pushing the mess we're in, and all the death in its wake. For a narcissist like Cohen, however, the realities of the outside world are irrelevant except insofar as they can be used to justify his own pathetic excuse for an existence.

It isn't about him. It's about pretty much everything else but him. You can't argue with a narcissist, though, because they always manage to turn the tables and make the issue be them.

I'm with Duncan. Why in the world does anyone publish this kind of tripe?

E. J. Dionne And The On-Going Fetish With "Centrism"

Faith in Public Life highlightsthis column by E. J. Dionne, which discusses, according to the title, a "culture war treaty" promoted by a group called Third Way. Third Way's Website Banner is subtitled "A Strategy Center for Progressives", yet Dionne mentions only "moderate Democrats" to whom the place is "close".

Before we go to Third Way's "Leadership" list, I just want to point out a couple things from Dionne's article that make this column almost, but not quite yawn-worthy. I say "almost" not because it is mildly interesting, but because it would take an effort to build up to a yawn.

One of the "signs" that Dionne points to as a sign not only of the fracturing of the conservative Christian movement, but an opening for new alliances between conservative and "moderate" (I refuse to use the word "progressive" as Dionne does, because not to many progressive Christians of whom I am aware would want to make an alliance with fundamentalists) Christians is a recounting of the events around the collapse of the Rev. Joel Hunter's attempt to become head of the Christian Coalition last winter. The Rev. Hunter, as you may recall, was more animated by working on issues of environmental concern, and a more pastoral approach to questions of sexual identity than he was interested in promoting fetuses of bashing gays and lesbians as the true fruit of the Tree in Eden. Needless to say, his candidacy belly-flopped. While it might be noteworthy to include this story, perhaps we should remind people that Hunter's nomination failed. Along with James Dobson's announcement that he plans to lead a walk-out of the Republican Party should Giuliani get the nomination, it seems the fracturing of Christian conservatives, while something I have been talking about since last summer, still has some mileage to it - it isn't quite time to discuss building new coalitions until the old ones die very painful, public deaths.

Another point in Dionne's piece is the first issue he addresses - Third Way's approach to stem cell research.
A new generation of evangelical leaders, tired of the rancid partisanship, is breaking away from the culture wars. The reach of this new evangelical politics will be tested with the release tomorrow of a statement under the very biblical title "Come Let Us Reason Together." The question for the future is how many in the evangelical ranks will embrace this call.

Organized by Third Way, a group that is close to many leading moderate Democrats, the statement calls for "first steps toward bridging the cultural divide between progressives and evangelicals."

Third Way's effort is not happy boilerplate about how religious Americans and liberals share a concern for helping the poor, protecting the environment and reaching out to the victims of HIV-AIDS -- although these areas of agreement are important and too often overlooked.

Rather, the statement, co-authored by Robert P. Jones, a progressive religious scholar, and Rachel Laser, director of the Third Way Culture Project, takes a step toward religious conservatives by acknowledging the legitimacy of many of their moral concerns. For example, while not backing away from Third Way's support for stem cell research, the statement urges a series of restrictions to prevent the sale or manipulation of human embryos and reproductive cloning.(emphasis added)

"Americans have a deep faith in science but also worry that scientific advances are outrunning our best moral thinking," Jones and Laser declare. Worrying about ethical issues raised by science is not the same as being anti-science.

First of all, in reference to the highlighted section, I'm really not sure what the references are about here, but except for Ayn Rand-style imbeciles, I have never heard anyone in the US advocate selling human embryos. In fact, human embryos created for purposes of in vitro fertilization or (currently privately funded) stem-cell research remain under tight controls as the property either of the parents who contributed the seed cells, or the laboratories in question. As for human cloning - we are decades, if not more, away from anything like real human cloning, and even then, one doubts whether it will remain anything other than a cell-level ability simply because of the complexity involved. I am troubled more by scientific ignorance than I am whether or not the group's statement could be characterized as "anti-science". The idea that scientists involved do not operate under moral and legal strictures is ludicrous; scientific and medical ethics are a highly specialized, lively and robust practical discipline. That folks at Third Way would not know this only betrays ignorance, rather than some kind of breakthrough for a new coalition of conservatives and moderates.

As for Third Way's "Progressive" leadership and relationships (which Dionne is at least honest enough to call "moderate"), you can see the multiple lists, from management to "Honorary House/Senate Chairs" here. Not exactly a bunch of flaming lefties, are they?

I suspect that Third Way's "announcement" tomorrow will be about as memorable as all the other manifestos we see coming out in Washington - because it has no constituency other than some moderately influential people inside the beltway, it will disappear as quickly as the Baker/Hamilton Report.

This last point needs to be made more explicit. The pundit love-affair with "centrism", with "moderation", misses one crucial aspect of political life - except for the pundits themselves there is no constituency for "centrism" in the United States right now, whatever merits such a position might or might not have. As long as the Beltway-types continue to push such non-starters, ignoring the general publics' oft-stated desire to push back against the Bush Administration and it's policies, the agenda of such groups as Third Way will continue to be the fancies only of the elite. The elite, in turn, will scratch their heads in wonder at the public who simply ignore the irrelevancies put forth as possible solutions.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Pavlov's Idiots

We should have seen it coming. Whenever anyone criticizes the Bush Administration, the miniature daschunds and lhasa apsos of the right who think they are pit bulls go in to full attack mode. This time, with no sense of either shame of decency, it's the child who gave the Democractic Party response to President Bush's speech on his intention to veto S-CHIP.

The out-of-her-mind, immoral, Michelle Malkin "visited the Frost’s home and business today." As the piece at Think Progress notes - the children do attend private schools, the boy under scholarship, the girl under a full ride because of a brain injury (she isn't going to Philip's Exeter).

I understand why the lunatics on the right do this - they are trying to silence dissent. If I saw Michelle Malkin driving by my house, or heard she had interviewed my neighbors, I might be a bit nervous. On the other hand, brownshirt tactics like this really need to be confronted.

Music Monday

Some excerpts from St. John's Passion, an oratorio by Johann Bach.

Destined For Trouble

Sometimes you hear a story, and you just know, intuitively, that you will be hearing much more of it in the future. Such a one is this story by Jeff Brady on Morning Edition this morning.
A natural gas boom in the Rocky Mountain West has drilling rigs popping up in unlikely places. Near Parachute, Colo., gas companies want to drill close to where a nuclear bomb was detonated Sept. 10, 1969, a plan that has local residents worried.

Project Rulison was part of the government's Plowshare Program — developing peaceful uses for nuclear energy. The goal was to vaporize the tight sandstone and release gas trapped there. Television news reports said the ground shook like jelly and there was a muffled sound when the bomb went off 8,426 feet below ground.

The experiment worked — a lot of gas was released, but it was radioactive and couldn't be used.

You read that right - radioactive natural gas. Now, we have an Executive Branch with an unusually close relationship with the oil/natural gas industry, so you just know that a story that begins this way has little chance of ending well.

And you'd be correct.
For more than 30 years, a three-mile barrier around the site kept drilling rigs out. But in recent years, drillers have been moving closer and closer to the blast site.

The Department of Energy conducted tests and concluded that if a well were drilled just a few hundred feet from the site, there's only a 5 percent chance that radioactive pollution would leak out of the ground.

That did not reassure families living in the area. They hired attorney Luke Danielson, who says profits are trumping common sense among drillers.

"I drilled this well and no contamination showed up immediately…" Danielson said. "Well then, I can drill another well even closer …. And when I don't see any problem immediately there, well then I can drill another even closer …. That approach guarantees that you're going to hit something."

But if the DOE says it's safe, then why not tap into this rich supply of gas, asks Brian Macke, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

"The Williams Fork formation is known to hold between 90 to 130 billion cubic feet of gas per section. So every square mile of land that you set aside that can't be developed is worth a huge amount of wealth," Macke said.

I want to focus on one small point: "But if the DOE says it's safe, then why not tap into this rich supply of gas. . ." The simple answer to this question is this - we are dealing here with the Bush Administration. (A) They lie the same way others breathe; (B) with their cozy relationships with the oil and natural gas industry, it might seem that they would hedge their bets (also known as politically influence scientific data to achieve a narrow partisan outcome, something else they have been known to do) in order to benefit those companies that would like to push the limit on this.

It seems to me we are dealing with something that is such a no-brainer here. Yet, as we are also dealing with the Bush Administration, we should never underestimate their capacity to do the stupid thing first. Especially if their's a buck in it for their cronies.

Again - this has disaster written all over it, if it isn't stopped.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Third Transcendental

In traditional, Thomistic metaphysics, there were what are known as "the transcendentals", predicates that subsist in and of themselves and are applicable to all subjects. For St. Thomas, they subsist perfectly in God, but can still be predicated of all things created by God. They are truth, goodness, and beauty. For most of western philosophy, the first two - Truth and Goodness - have been the subject of the most heated and deep discussion. Like the Third Person of the Trinity, however, the third transcendental tends to get short shrift, especially in modernity. The Romantics, and post-Romantics such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, certainly spent quite a bit of time on the issue of beauty, but their insistence that it was beyond rational comprehension has left little room for serious discussion. Some philosophers - Hans-Georg Gadamer in particular comes to mind, although Terry Eagleton's The Ideology of the Aesthetic is an excellent example of neo-Marxist aesthetics - have dealt with the issue of "art" less so than "beauty" as a category of thought in and for itself. Aesthetics, however, is too often relegated to an irreducible subjectivism.

This is due in part to the work of Immanuel Kant's The Critique of Judgment. In this third of his examinations of traditional metaphysical subjects (which paralleled nicely with the Transcendentals, his other two having to do with "truth" and "goodness"), Kant made clear that aesthetic judgments were not available for intersubjective examination, because the criteria for such judgments were explicitly within the sole purvue of the individual. Since then, this has been taken as Gospel, except perhaps by some neo-Marxist critics, who insist that aesthetic taste be subservient to the will of the proletariat.

I am writing this because I am seeking encouragement. I am at a point I occasionally find myself in my reading. I am floundering about, trying to find something, some subject, to explore in depth. I thought Weber's book on Wesleyan political ethics would be interesting.


I thought I might want to return to my roots, as it were, and revisit some philosophy of science.

More yawning and a stretch.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss theologian, attempted to write what he called "a triptych" based upon the three transcendentals. The first one he wrote, surprisingly enough, was a theological aesthetics, called (in translation) The Glory of the Lord. Spanning seven volumes, it explores the dimension of beauty and contemplation in the Christian life. I managed to get all seven volumes, and years ago read the first, but stopped. To be honest, except for some general comments on the lack of Protestant aesthetics (which is true), I really have no memory of what Balthasar wrote.

I am at a point in my own thought and faith where I think that I am ready to take on the monumental task of reading this work. I guess what I am asking for is encouragement. Be warned, however. I tend to process these kinds of things on this blog, so there will be much discussion as I try to figure out for myself the deeper meaning behind Balthasar's work, if I so choose.

Do They Think We Are Stupid? Or Are They Really That Stupid?

I haven't commented at all on the on-going "phony soldiers" Rush Limbaugh business because it really isn't much within the purvue of this blog. On the other hand, one might argue that it is, because it is part and parcel of the rank dishonesty and lack of morality that infects the Republican establishment (and the media establishment as well) from head to toe. The thing is, I really wanted to stay away from it because it is pretty much everywhere, and it seems so cut and dried.

Blogging buddy Erudite Redneck blithely mentioned Limbaugh and the recent contretemps in passing, and received this and this in response:
You should get your facts about Rush from someone other than your Democratic handlers
# posted by ELAshley : 4:30 PM

You and Brian McGough, and everyone else listening to Media Matters, USA Today, and every other Democrat shill news-source, are being lied to.

You're smarter than this, ER. Get the facts before you accuse someone of being a "fool" over a specific issue... especially THIS one. You've been lied to.
# posted by ELAshley : 4:36 PM

Now, when someone writes something like that, I am forced to wonder, without rancor or any hard feeling at all - Are they really so stupid as that?

Seriously. It isn't as if there weren't resources out the there to investigate this kind of thing, for people to find out for themselves what might or might not have been said, its intent, its context, and all the rest. It isn't as if we were dealing with an unknown quantity in Rush Limbaugh, either. He has only a passing acquaintance with the truth even at the best of times; like Ann Coulter (my fingers hurt whenever I type that name), Rush really believes in nothing at all other than publicity and ratings and attracting as much attention as possible. Both are nihilists, although Coulter is a bit less of a coward, quite willing to confront those who "disagree" with here, but only because she has absolutely no moral sense whatsoever, saying whatever foulness pops in to her empty skull. Limbaugh, on the other hand, refuses to leave the cocoon of right-wing radio, refuses to confront those whose opinions are different from him, refuses to engage in serious discussion with others because, in his heart of hearts, he knows he will be left looking like a wet rag used to wipe down a dirty dog when all is said and done.

Having said all that - there is abundant evidence available showing Limbaugh said exactly what he said, intending it the way it has been interpreted by critics; in Limbaugh we have an individual with a history of outrageous provocations, and a further history of hiding behind lies and the help of others to protect him - I just have to know if those who defend Rush and his comments really, truly believe what they are saying. I do not for an instant believe that those members of Congress who are trying to push a resolution commending Limbaugh believe it; they are far too savvy and aware to be fooled by his antics. They are trying to keep the subject off Iraq, unwittingly keeping a focus on it by trying to elevate Limbaugh (thus showing that, while savvy, they aren't quite as adept as one might think). But, the loyal Limbaugh listener, who listens to the words that pour forth as if God were speaking, has to know exactly what Limbaugh was saying, and understood it correctly. Again, there is abundant evidence, considering the slandering of pretty much every veteran not a Republican war-booster, that this is part and parcel of a strategy that has been going on for decades.

So, either ELAshley is stupid. Or thinks we are stupid. Or deluded. I just can't figure out which.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More