Saturday, May 24, 2008


A quick survey of some of the liberal blogs and websites gives one the impression that they are populated either by really stupid people, or people so ideologically or otherwise committed to the defeat of Sen. Clinton that common sense and the ability to actually listen to a person's words has left them.

As to Democracy Lover's specific comment, "Hillary needs to bow out NOW. Not next week, not after May 31 - NOW! The woman is a menace.", I could not disagree more. How is she a menace? Because she continues to run for the Presidential nomination? Because she has every word parsed with a hermeneutic based on a suspicion that she is nefarious and calculating? She is engaging in democracy, not some theoretical "Thing", but the real nuts and bolts of democracy, advocating for her own qualifications for the office of President. The Democratic Party is pretty evenly split between her and Sen. Obama - whom I support should one not notice the big banner at the top of the right column - and is doing everything any other candidate would do to secure that nomination.

It is one thing for those on the right to vilify Mrs. Clinton, to take every single phrase she utters and make it malevolent. It is quite another for Democrats to so do (although I quite understand left-wing disdain for both Clintons on a policy level). Olbermann's commentary is absurd on its face, and adds fuel to the already-raging anti-Clinton hysteria. Mrs. Clinton was no more discussing the possibility that Sen. Obama might be murdered than she was discussing the weather in California in June. She was referencing the fact that there has been, in living memory, hotly contested Democratic primaries as late as June. Robert Kennedy's win in California set up an interesting situation, had he not been murdered that night. His final words to his supporters was to go on to Chicago and a win there. He, like Sen. Clinton, had a mathematical chance to wrest the nomination from Humphrey. With RFK's death, the nomination was clearly Humphrey's. That's it, and that's all.

I see no reason for Mrs. Clinton to exit the race. I also do not see her as a menace. The only menace is the constant barrage of nonsense tossed at her by people who should know better. The cult of the offhand comment has reached absurd depths.

For the sake of all that's good and true and holy, please stop.

UPDATE: Eli at Fire Dog Lake takes up this same topic, and writes:
I really, really want to take Hillary at face value and not believe that she was actually using the prospect of an opponent's assassination to score political points - hell, maybe the possibility of Obama getting shot simply didn't occur to her (it's certainly not on my mind very often). But even if her intentions were pure, it was still an incredibly careless and stupid thing to say, and now the media and the right-wing crazies like Malkin have a new Democratic outrage to wring their hands about. Not only that, but now that the idea is "out there," they all get to breathlessly speculate about the chances that maybe something could happen to Obama. And won't that be fun.

First of all, it's only out there because people like Oliver Willis, BradRocket, and Eli will not take her at face value, or understand what seems pretty clear from the entire discussion as seen in context. As for offering a rationale for murdering Barack Obama - I honestly cannot get that from this quote, no matter how you parse it, unless you believe all the worst of the unbelievable crap from the right during the 1990's about the Clintons. Lamenting that the right now has another cudgel with which to beat Democrats is a non sequitur, since they often have such tools ready at hand, making them up out of thin air, just as this one is. What is feeding this entire thing is the on-going faux-outrage from Obama supporters and others, not the delusions of the already delusional Michelle Malkin.

Saturday Rock Show (It's Back)

I hate to admit that I'm not a huge fan of Dire Straits. I admire Mark Knopfler's guitar playing, but their songs just don't do it for me. Except for this one. I think it's the arrangement and mix - the way the keyboard just floats underneath the vocals in the verses; the guitar call and response in the chorus. This is "Skateaway":

The Complexities of Human Innocence

In comments on a post over at Cameron's blog that references some of the writings of Australian-born ethicist Peter Singer, there is a good discussion that ensues on the issue human innocence. While I agree with Cameron the issue of innocence has become central to many discussions concerning abortion, I also agree with Democracy Lover, at least to the extent that the issue is for the most part irrelevant. Innocent people die and are killed all the time. By what measure or rule can we say that a infant, as opposed to a toddler, a teen, or an adult, is of superior moral worth? Singer, for all his faults, at least wrestles with this question. I do not agree with his conclusions, but as Democracy Lover says, at least he deals with the issue.

I am at a point in my reflections right now that I no longer believe that a word like "innocence" has any meaning or value, because, for the most part, most human beings are a complex mix of naive innocence and compromised morality. Whether we wish to admit it or not, all of us are both morally upright as well as having a vicious streak. The whole issue, it seems to me, when laced with superlatives such as "innocence", becomes more confused, and such terms add far more heat than light.

That is why I agree and disagree with both Cameron and Democracy Lover here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Bizzaro World Is Taking Over Everywhere

The latest anti-Hillary nonsense comes from a comment she makes in an interview, the full version of which is here. Unbelievably, Brad at Sadly!No writes, after posting a transcript of part of the interview:
I don’t think there’s anyway this is being taken out of context. She literally listed potential assassination as a reason for her to stay in the race.

As I said in the comments, I don’t think she’s praying for Obama to get assassinated or anything that gruesome. I think she was trying to think of examples of Dem primaries that didn’t end until June, and she picked the absolute worst possible one to mention.

But wow. Wow-wuh-wee-wuh-wow. It’s about the most shockingly dumb thing I’ve ever heard her say. And it’ll probably be the final nail in her candidacy’s coffin.

Um, sadly, no. She brought up the fact that Robert Kennedy was assassinated after winning the California primary in June, 1968. Her point was that Kennedy's win was relatively late, and we remember it so well because he was killed that night.

These people are just out of their minds. That's it, and that's all.

One More Right-Wing Fantasy Bites The Dust

Feministing reports on a study by the Guttmacher Institute that destroys the widespread right-wing myth/urban legend that teens are engaging in oral sex parties ("rainbow parties").

On the one hand, this isn't exactly "news". Along the same lines as the infamous "wilding" crap we heard a while back after the Central Park jogger business (a young white woman was raped and left for dead; a group of young black men were arrested, and right-wing sociologists and criminal justice types invented something call "wilding", which they claimed was some kind of initiation ritual that spelled doom for America until a serial rapist's DNA was linked to the crime), this just has the whiff of bullshit all over it.

At the same time, I want to know what, exactly, is wrong with oral sex. If I remember high school correctly (way back in the dim, dark days of the early 1980's when Ronald Reagan was President, and $1.15/gallon gas was considered outrageous), there were folks back then who engaged in it, not just as an alternative to intercourse, but because, ahem, it feels really good. All these right-wingers who have their panties in a wad over this aren't upset over teens having oral sex so much as they are disturbed that people might actually be enjoying sex in a variety of ways and with a variety of people.

My theology concerning sex was handed down to me by my mother, and I really have nothing to add to it: "If God made anything better than sex, He kept it for himself."

Amen. And Amen.

As a postscript, may I just add David Bowie's comments from the song, "Changes":
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Character In Politics

This is one of those things that drives me absolutely bonkers. Seriously. Whenever our public discourse turns to the question of a candidate's "character", we end up talking about something that "everyone" seems to understand without anyone actually sitting down and defining the term. I think George W. Bush actually "gets it" better than most, because whenever he has appointed someone to a senior position, his public statements usually include the phrase, "he is a good man", as if that trumped every conceivable argument. This is the character issue in a nutshell - if a person hugs his or her kids, walks the dog, and puts the clean laundry away without being reminded, hey, that's good enough for me.

The issue of "character" really came alive in the 1990's, when the Republicans, while reaping a certain electoral whirlwind, had difficulty dealing with the on-going popularity of Pres. Clinton. Since his policies were liked by most Americans, they decided to take him down on his personal foibles, either real or alleged. Now, one could argue that this begs certain questions of character - what kind of scruples does an individual or a group have that is willing to do anything, including lie, go after someone's family, etc., in order to achieve a political victory? - but that issue was never addressed. To this day, conservatives are convinced that Bill Clinton was not just a bad President, but a morally degenerate human being unwilling to sit in the Oval Office. Considering the absolute mess the current occupant has made of things, I think that even if every charge against Clinton were true, I would still prefer a scoundrel.

A person can be morally vicious in his or her private life, yet be extremely good at one's job, and be preferred to someone who is upright and true, yet demonstrably bad at the same job. Electing the President of the United States is hiring a person for a job. We don't list our character points on our c.v.'s for the very good reason - our potential employers do not care if we are "good people". They want to know if we can do the job we are hired to do. Period. That's all. We have been fortunate in this country that we have had examples of great politicians who have also been overflowing in personal moral integrity. Yet, one could also argue that our two greatest Presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, were also flawed in this regard (Washington was a bit of a moral scold, and thought a bit too much of his own ethical rectitude; Lincoln's marriage was a stormy affair, partly because both he and his wife, Mary Todd, were chronic depressives and had little emotional energy left to deal with each other's problems). Yet, for the most part, Presidents, whether great, good, or awful, are just people, with all the moral complexity and limitations that implies. Whether it is Warren Harding sitting in the White House getting drunk during prohibition; Richard Nixon railing against Jews to his Chief of Staff; or Franklin Roosevelt relaxing in Warm Springs, GA with his mistress - well, some character flaws are bigger and more relevant than others. In the end, though, even had Harding been a tea-totaler, it wouldn't have mattered because he had many other limitations as President. Ditto, Richard Nixon. Roosevelt's long-running affair, while a burden to his wife, didn't mean he couldn't perform the duties of the Office of President, anymore than his polio limited him, because he was a larger than life individual (rare, but they do come along). Teddy Roosevelt was a belligerent war-monger and imperialist who nonetheless managed to broker a peace between Russia and Japan and earn the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the end, character in politics doesn't mean all that much. It's actually sitting down and doing the job the counts.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cry Me A River

One thing I really haven't spent much time worrying about is the way the various media-created narratives have effected voters' perceptions of the candidates or the resulting polls. I have felt, and still feel, that the media is so far behind the curve this election cycle that all the nonsense is Shakespeare's tale told by an idiot. Yet, this piece by digby, which features some folks with serious gender-related issues, brings up a point that I think is important to remember in this overheated primary season:
I don't think that it's fair or reasonable for the Obama campaign to be held responsible for this. I've not detected sexism coming from them toward Senator Clinton, certainly in any systematic way. I suspect they have been quite conscious of not going there, which is to their credit. Many Clinton supporters feel that Obama has benefited from the sexism in the media and should have stood up to it, but I just reject that. Both he and Clinton are fighting hard campaigns for the most important job in the world and they are not obligated to defend their rivals while the battle rages. (It might have behooved the progressive movement to have done so, however.)

Unfortunately, at this point I think the media is actually hurting the Obama campaign with their continued sexist coverage. He is trying to reach out to her supporters and the press is making it much harder for him by keeping this hostile, demeaning discussion --- particularly this endless call for her to drop out --- roiling in the ether. The party will work this out, but the media, as usual, is making things worse.

The discussion on blogs has too often degenerated in to "Your candidate sucks!", "No, your candidate sucks!" flame wars. They often reach in to the grab-bag of right-wing talking points to elaborate on why the other person's candidate sucks - she's a "rhymes-with-witch", he's "bigger" (snicker, snicker) - and we end up perpetuating this crap. While I support Obama, I have not and will not write a word against Sen. Clinton for the simple reason that I have known since last summer the level of invective that would we tossed her way, and I in no way wanted to contribute to that. Besides that, I do not support Sen. Obama to be "against" anyone, but for Obama. I do not do any favors to anyone by running down Sen. Clinton. What's the point of that?

To the media types who are all upset because the Clinton campaign is pointing out what is quite clear to so many people, all I can say is I don't have a hanky to spare for you because they are being so unfair to you. When a political operative can sit on a cable news show and say that some women deserve to be called "bitches", and not have his mic cut and the "journalist" doing the interview apologize to viewers, I think that says all that needs to be said. I will only stop criticizing the media when someone else gets on CNN or MSNBC, says that some nationally broadcast journalists are assholes, and isn't poo-pooed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Making Sense, Part II

In line with my previous post, I have been reading, for the second time, Gary Dorrien's history of American Liberal Theology. Still in the first volume, covering the 19th century birth of the movement, the key elements of what is still a wonderful, lively theological tradition were formed. One of the central tenets of this point of view is an emphasis on Divine love, and its cognates in human personal and social life. There are strains of this in our contemporary religious discourse, whether liberal or conservative, but one can become frustrated with a serious discussion of the issue of divine love if one sets it up without any reference to either scripture or the reality of the messiness of human love. This is one of the bases of the feminist critique of sexist God-talk; mindlessly repeating "Father" as a personal pronoun for God misses the reality that fathers are an equivocal role, sometimes a healing presence, strong and supportive, but also a source of fear, violence, and hostility (if they are present at all).

Human love - real human love, not some ideal we set up in our minds - is a complicated affair (no pun intended). Some people love people of the opposite gender. Some love both genders equally. Some love people of the same gender as themselves. Some love runs smoothly. Some lasts briefly but intensely. Some lasts a lifetime and beyond. Love is as diverse and numerous as the numbers of individuals who can and do love, and have and will love. Each and every time we fall in love and navigate its strange and beautiful waters is different as well. Making sense of divine love analogically from the messy reality of human love, were one honest, should leave us scratching our heads rather than clear on the concept.

At the same time, this messiness - the irrational, sometimes even counter-productive, nature of human love - is an important factor in understanding what it is we mean when we say that God is love, or that God loves us. This love is expressed differently each and every time, in each and every distinct moment of life. It is complicated. It is confusing. It makes no rational sense whatsoever.

Then again, if it did, it wouldn't be love.

Making Sense, Part I

When I was a wee little lad of 28, I started a serious study of the philosophy of science. One of the "big names" was the brilliant mathematician Imre Lakatos, who was a colleague of Sir Karl Popper at the London School of Economics. He died far too early, but managed to publish a post-T. S. Kuhn defense of Popperian philosophy of science, "The Methodology of Scientific Research Programs" that nonetheless moved the goalposts a tad in the then (early 1970's) disagreements between Popper and Kuhn. One of the phrases that Lakatos introduced to the discussion was "rational reconstruction"; that is to say that philosophy of science should seek to strip away the detritus of actual scientific research, all non-scientific forces and influences, and deal solely and simply with a reconstruction in scientific terms of what happens when science is done. While this has the advantage of keeping one's mind focused, it has the disadvantage of leaving science neutered, some inhuman thing that has no reference to anything real.

I realized pretty quickly that this was not just untenable, but by creating this imaginary world where science was not so much a human project but some Thing that did and could exist without human beings, it stripped the scientific project of any connection to the actual practice of human beings. In other words, just as I have complained in the past of Richard Dawkins making up a religion, calling it Christianity, then proving that this invention of his stood in for all religions at all times, and at the same time was untenable, so Lakatos' castle in the air he called science was just as fantastic - and flawed.

Two anecdotes should suffice to show how irrelevant such a method is. The first involves the discovery of the chemical construction of benzene. The researcher who was attempting to figure out how the elements that make up benzene bonded the way they did was stuck for a long time. One night, he had a dream in which a snake bit its own tail, then rolled around the ground like a wheel. When he awoke and went to work the next day, he referred to the dream and discovered that benzene was, in fact, a chemical ring.

Percival Lowell was a member of a famous, and wealthy, Massachusetts family who was interested in astronomy. He had this fantastic idea that Mars was not only inhabited, but by a civilization so advanced they had constructed a series of canals visible to the telescopic eye as it observed the fourth planet. In order to further investigate this phenomenon, Lowell spent a bunch of his own money setting up an observatory. His decision to do this was prompted by a visit he had one night by a group of gnomes, who convinced him that this would be money well spent.

How can the philosophy of science deal with these two stories, if the goal is to strip away the human element from the practice? It cannot.

We can only make sense of any human project - science, love, religion, politics, art - if we embrace the wholeness, the complexity, the idiosyncratic nature, and, yes, even the irrational elements that go into each and every event and human experience. We cannot make any real sense of the world unless and until we are willing to accept that "rational reconstruction", whether of science or anything else, limits our understanding.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Since It's Black Human Beings Not White Fetuses, The Pro-Lifers Couldn't Care Less

The title of this post expresses my view of right-wingers approach to this article at Fire Dog Lake. I urge you all to go read it.

In a nutshell, like they removed us from the Chemical Weapons Treaty, the NPT, the agreement against the nuclearization of space, the ABM Treaty, the Kyoto Treaty, and pretty much every other international agreement that makes sense, the United States will no longer participate in the Helsinki Accords in regards to the use of human test subjects in medical experiments. In other words, Dr. Mengele's shingle is hanging back up (that's two for two in re Godwin).

January cannot come fast enough. These people are hurting us more and more each day.

Nothing Left

Perhaps I'm partisan, and therefore blind, but it seems to me that the Republicans are going to get trounced as they have not been trounced in my lifetime (the 1964 election was one year and a couple weeks before I was born). Right-wing pundits sound more and more like they work for the Volkischer Beobachter (yes, I just violated Godwin's law; sue me); the Republicans can't win in freaking Mississippi (even racist and sexist appeals to the fears of Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi didn't work). The latest bit of delusional nonsense, via mcjoan at The Great Orange Satan, reads as follows:
"John McCain is kind of like Jesus Christ on the cross," Everhart said as she began the second day of the state GOP convention. "He never denounced God, either."

It's like they are trying to destroy themselves.

Taking Up Marhsall's Challenge, Just For The Fun Of It

Getting back in to the whole blogging thing, slowly but surely, I decided to peruse old fave Marshall Art, who issued some kind of challenge about reading an article over at American Thinker, then arguing against it, or something like that. I'm really not sure, but I went over and I picked this article about Obama's father's religion, about as politically relevant as Reagan's father's alcoholism, or Clinton's father's death, or any other factoid about any candidate's father. The point was to pick an article relating to Barack Obama (whom Marshall refers to as "Barry"; it's so childish, but in an unfunny way), and this one struck me right away as perhaps the silliest piece of "political writing" I came across since reading Jonah Goldberg, I thought I'd run with it. Out of a sense of fairness, I'll offer some snippets from the article here, and allow you, dear readers to be the judges, to whit, am I wrong that this is about as relevant as a discussion of Nixon's mother's obsessive-compulsive disorder or Woodrow Wilson's sister's illegitimate child (I don't really know if either of these claims are true; from this article, however, I don't know what the religious beliefs of Obama's father were, and I am still perplexed as to why I should care).
When it comes to Barack Obama, only one subject infuriates the swooning mainstream media more than his father's race -- and that's his father and stepfather's religion. Why, the very mention of Barack's early Islamic training -- or even his Muslim middle name -- has become more sacrosanct a PC no-no than disclosing the race of a non-white crime suspect.[Please note the subtle racism in the last sentence. These folks have it down to an art form]


Accordingly -- while it's unclear at exactly what point in life Obama forsook the tenets of Islam, are questions pressing the presumptive nominee's positions on such topics as Shari'a in America or Palestinian right of return any less justifiable?

The stakes just don't allow such sophistry.

I have quoted the beginning and end of the article; the middle is a jumble of nonsense that has been disproved - Obama attended a "madrasa" in Indonesia; he's an apostate Muslim facing the death penalty in Muslim nations; his middle name is "Islamic"; we are at war with Islam - that really doesn't deserve to be aired again, but if you wish, be my guest, click the link and read the article. I'm still not sure what the whole point was. Obama's father was a Muslim, who took his family with him when he traveled to a Muslim country, where he educated his son at a religiously-affiliated school. This means that, uh . . . that, um . . . What does it mean?

This is just ridiculous nonsense. The periodical is called American Thinker, but I see no evidence of it here. I do hope there is something, somewhere that deserves to be listed under such a title.

So, I guess I didn't answer Marshall's challenge, because there is just no arguing with people who parade disproved allegations that are really racially and religiously biased personal attacks as if they had any relevance. This isn't serious stuff; it's middle school name calling, no more no less.

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