Saturday, June 21, 2008

Obama's Failure

As everyone who reads this blog should know by now, Barack Obama not only voted for the phony FISA "compromise" (read capitulation), he issued a public statement that reads like something from the Bush Administration. What makes this far worse than it is already is this all occurred on the same day Scott McLellan appeared before a House Committee, detailing some of the obfuscations and prevarications he was privy to in his years in service to our current Administration. In other words, the House managed to have one hand not know, or listen to, or care, what was being presented to the other hand. And Barack Obama eagerly participated in this blind-leading-the-deaf moment.

Perhaps he figures he really can support this, and remove the offending "immunity" provisions later. Perhaps he wants the power for himself, to turn around and screw Republicans once he's in office. Perhaps he's calculating that liberals and progressives, for whom this has become a signature issue, will not abandon him out of cold political calculation. Whatever the reasons, Obama's support of this horrid bit of illegality-in-the-name-of-security should be brought up at every single event at which he appears.

I hate to say this, but I think he needs to drop the "hope" schtick as well, because my own hopes were dashed by his vocal support of this crap. I may still vote for him in November, but anyone who actually believes he is anything other than a player of the game inside the Beltway is blind.

How can we tell McCain and Obama apart now that, on this most crucial piece of legislative business, they have become Siamese twins of the worst sort?

Saturday Rock Show

Without a doubt, the band I return to most often to make me feel better when I'm down is Yes. Widely criticized, even lampooned, for their often over-the-top writing and arranging, their music nevertheless gives me a lift.

One of the first songs ever written and arranged after Steve Howe joined the band, "Yours Is No Disgrace" is an eleven minute triumph. It would be almost impossible to get such a song released by a major label today; Yes got it through Atlantic Records without a care in the world. Please enjoy:

Calling Out White Feminists

Mary Curtis, columnist for the Charlotte, NC Observer, has a column in today's Washington Post that is blunt, clear, and accurate.
Michelle Obama has become an issue in the presidential campaign even though she isn't running for anything. An educated, successful lawyer, devoted wife and caring mother has been labeled "angry" and unpatriotic and snidely referred to as Barack Obama's "baby mama."

Democrats, Republicans, independents, everyone should be offended.

And this black woman is wondering: Where are Obama's feminist defenders?


The campaign against Michelle Obama -- who went on "The View" this week to prove her everywoman bona fides -- has not caused a rift between black and white women so much as it has exposed it.

I have long been frustrated over the racial blindness (as well as class blindness) of many of the feminist leaders who came to prominence in the early 1970's. Looking back at a time when the Equal Rights Amendment was the issue for feminism, I can see much more clearly that this was as much about securing certain privileges for middle class and upper-middle class white women as it was about stating clearly that men and women are equal before the law.

Many of the issues feminists cite in defense of their claims that women are "second-class" citizens were legal issues that have been resolved by legislatures long before the rise of the latest wave of feminist protest (the legal status of women before courts, the ability of women to own property, sue for divorce, etc., the right to vote).

Another set, much more difficult to deal with, is wage discrimination, which while certainly a legal issue, is far more an economic issue, based upon the reality that many women leave the work force for part of their most productive years to give birth and raise their children. There is a certain economic logic to the argument that employers are wise to pay women a bit less, because the investment in women's employment has diminished returns, due to the fact that, regardless of income level, a woman will choose to remain out of the work force in order to be a mother.

I have also been outraged at the persistent racism, and classism, of many of the (white, upper-middle class) pro-choice arguments. Many of the arguments for choice include appeals for solidarity across racial and class lines that ignore the differences between the ways different groups view pregnancy and motherhood. Also, there is the not-so-subtle taint of racism in these arguments that too often sound far more like, "We need to control the population of these dark and poor folk" than they sound like serious attempts to understand the plight of poor women and women of color.

Ms. Curtis is correct that the attacks upon Mrs. Obama are based upon unsubstantiated rumor. She is also correct that they should have been expected, given the level of vitriol directed at Mrs. Clinton in 1992. No prominent feminist has spoken clearly that her treatment is unjust. No prominent white feminist has called out the overt racism of those who say she is an angry black woman.

If she wasn't before, she should be now. I know I am.

Friday, June 20, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different . . .

I rarely, if ever, write about space exploration. Of all the things we do as a country, it is probably the least important to our social well being.

This doesn't mean it isn't cool.

Since childhood, I've loved the pictures and film we've received from various probes, flies-by, orbiters, etc. I don't think they mean a whole lot other than being fascinating scientific enterprises which, while certainly important in and for that reason, are not indicative of anything other than a human desire to figure out the universe in which we find ourselves.

The above photo is a gorgeous stereoscopic landscape, available here, the site dedicated to the Phoenix Mars Mission. While the Phoenix recently discovered evidence of water ice on the red planet, I think this image, more than any other, shows how beautiful, harsh, and uninviting, the fourth planet is and will always be to human beings. I am 100% behind robot exploration of our solar system. Human exploration, however, is extremely costly, would be marginal at best in the return on investment, compared to the relatively huge return on investment from robotic exploration, and would only prove that human space exploration is best left to the imagination.

Beautiful photos. Harsh photos. Cool photos. Let us leave them as photos, however. Mars is no place for people.

Michael Novak, Liberal Theologian

As I will be referencing two distinct works by Gary Dorrien, I though it important to provide a link to his profile at Union Theological Seminary. He is currently the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics there.

As profiled, sympathetically if critically, in Dorrien's The Neo-Conservative Mind, Novak's intellectual and spiritual journey across the ideological spectrum is usually the case cited for the way the new left was self-destructive in the 1960's and 1970's. Originally far to the left, especially on the war in Vietnam and on issues of social justice, Novak moved more and more to the right, until he became a poster child for a new kind of conservative intellectual. With his exploration of what he termed "democratic capitalism" (as opposed to "social democracy"), Novak was among the first to argue that democracy and capitalism are necessarily linked, giving a certain legitimacy to arguments, for example, that the capitalistic reforms in communist China might lead to democracy there, should we just let nature take its course.

Trained in Roman Catholic theology, Novak has also written on issues of religion. One would think that someone schooled in St. Thomas, Ignatius Loyola, and other luminaries wouldn't write the following, as Novak did in the "On Faith" forum at The Washington Post on-line:
[T]he evidence about God is not to be sought “out there.” It does not reside among other classifiable, sensory objects in this universe. The question about God is essentially a question about one’s own personal identity.

To put this in some kind of context, Novak is claiming that those whom he refers to as "the New Atheists" are backing off from their claims to have conclusively proved there is no God (despite the fact that one cannot, using logic, prove a negative). My point is not that Novak doesn't use this pretty easy take-down. Rather, someone schooled in, and a member of a Christian organization dedicated to, the idea that the beliefs of the Christian faith are available to anyone through the use of reason, using evidence available to all is suddenly saying that the claims of the Christian faith are far less open and public.

As Dorrien outlines in detail over three volumes of The Making of American Liberal Theology, this is exactly what constitutes a central tenet of liberal theology - the "evidence" and "proofs" for God are not so much about logic and evidence as they are a reflection of the inner life of the believer. I am not criticizing Novak for holding this position. Nor am I criticizing the position in and of itself. Rather, I am simply remarking that Novak seems to have made a theological turn to the left in his declining years.

This is a good thing.

False Frames - Michael Gerson Uses A Lie To Lie Some More

One would have thought that after his column a couple days ago, in which Michael Gerson managed to make such a fool of himself, he might have thought better about writing another column for the op-ed page of The Washington Post. After all, I was hardly the only liberal blogger to take him to task for his ridiculous piece. Yet, he is back at it, struggling gamely to prove that one can be both mendacious and stupid simultaneously.

Before we get to the specifics of Gerson's column (which I would urge you all to read in full by clicking the link), I would note that this column is eerily reminiscent of a discussion highlighted by Crooks & Liars between right-wing blabbermouths Stephen Hayes and Tony Blankley and Rachel Maddow.
The Bizarro-World of the punditocracy has the world so shifted askew that in their view, John McCain, who has voted with President Bush 95% of the time in 2007 and 100% of the time in 2008 is a bipartisan who reaches across the aisle and Barack Obama, who has only the 40th most liberal voting record, is a flaming liberal with no record of working on a bipartisan basis, despite co-sponsoring legislation with ultra-right wingers Tom Coburn and Dick Lugar.

The best part of the piece at C&L comes in a quick-quote from Maddow:
MADDOW: Let me ask you though, in 2004, that “National Journal” poll, who did they say was the most liberal senator in 2004?
HAYES: I don‘t know.
MADDOW: It would be John Kerry.

For those who may not have clicked the link, or are incapable of following along, the National Journal, a conservative magazine, used faulty methods and data to claim that Sen. Barack Obama had the most liberal voting record in the United States Senate, beating out Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, whose only competition on the far left in that body is socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Are you with me so far? Maddow reminds anyone who might be interested that in 2004, John Kerry was named "most liberal Senator" by this same periodical. Strange coincidence? Or, perhaps, part of a strategy to put talking points out in the discourse that can easily be accessed?

Back to Gerson. After an odd prefatory opening, in which Michael Gerson references a 1979 interview of Ted Kennedy by the late Roger Mudd of CBS News, he says the following:
When I recently asked two U.S. senators who are personally favorable to Obama to name a legislative issue on which Obama has vocally bucked his own party, neither could cite a single instance.

The contrast to John McCain is stark.

Now, if you clicked the link to the C&L piece above and read the transcript of the discussion, you might have noticed that Rachel Maddow dealt with this issue pretty easily and pretty clearly. Obama is a freshman Senator. Obviously, his record is pretty slim on bipartisanship. Yet, when he has reached across the aisle, it has been to ultra-right winger Tom Coburn and hyper-partisan Dick Lugar.

Gerson manages to do two things simultaneously in what immediately follows the above quoted section. He manages to be both honest and mendacious in a single sentence. A trick worthy of the man who brought us the "mushroom clouds may be the smoking gun" crap we had to listen to back in 2002.
Contrary to some depictions, McCain is not a moderate. He is a conservative with a habit of massive, eye-stretching heresy.(emphases added)

For clarity's sake, the italics are true, the bold is false.

Further down, Gerson types the following:
Whatever the reason, [Obama's] lack of a strong, centrist ideological identity raises a concern about his governing approach. Obama has no moderate policy agenda that might tame or modify the extremes of his own party in power. Will every Cabinet department simply be handed over to the most extreme Democratic interest groups? Will Obama provide any centrist check on liberal congressional overreach?

"Obama has no moderate policy agenda"? Has Gerson actually read Obama's health care reform proposal? Did he hear Obama's smackdown of black men this past father's day, in which he talked of absent father's in African-American communities, without noting similar absences in white families as well (apparently, this is a racial thing, not a male thing)? Did he pay attention at all to the elongated Democratic primaries, which made it abundantly clear that both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama were flaming moderates on pretty much every issue?

I suppose the easy answer to these questions is one of two possible responses - either "No, he didn't", or the far more likely, "He doesn't care".

In what is one of the sillier things I have read recently (although, the day is young yet, so there is hope), this is how Gerson ends his column:
And the independent voters so eagerly courted in this election may eventually ask about Obama the odd but appropriate question: What dogs has this man bitten?

First of all, I do not think being a liberal is bad. Obviously. Second, the claim that Barack Obama is "the most liberal Senator" is crap. Period. Third, the attempt to show that McCain, who has held elective office in Washington for 26 years (he was elected to the House in the 1980 elections, taking office in January, 1981), has a longer record of working with Democrats than a freshman Senator is one of the most dishonest, not to mention stupid, things a person attempting to do serious political commentary can do. The question at hand is clear. Is Obama "liberal"? He is certainly more liberal that John McCain (which isn't that hard). Is he "the most liberal Senator"? Hardly. The issue isn't Obama's liberal credentials, or their relevance. The issue is the dishonesty of Michael Gerson. This entire discussion is based upon the easily disproved false premise that Obama is Vladimir Lenin with a better suit and beautiful wife. My frustration with crap like this is based not on the label "liberal", but on the fact that Gerson has managed to pen an entire column based upon falsehoods.

He needs to be removed from The Washington Post. Perhaps, in a sane universe, he wouldn't be there in the first place. Yet, Washington, like Shirley Jackson's Hill House, is not sane.

McCain Lie Watch

To make up for yesterday, I will do two right away. Also, the frequency of this guy's misrepresentations, misstatements, and out-and-out falsehoods is almost breathtaking.

Again, from the best source for McCain's frequent fibbing, Think Progress:
[Wednesday] night during a townhall event in Missouri, John McCain was confronted by a protester who yelled out that he had accepted a half million dollars this year from “big oil.”


Later, McCain was asked about this in a news conference. “I don’t know what he’s talking about. So I can’t respond,” McCain said.

From The Wall Street Journal:
Indeed, McCain does lead all other senators, and all others who ran for president, in contributions from the oil and gas industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ analysis of federal data in the 2007-08 election cycle. McCain collected $724,000 through May.

I suppose one could claim that McCain is unaware of the details of the various contributions he receives. Yet, these facts are both public and easily accessible. Also, as the candidate, therefore the person in charge, the person responsible is . . . Sen. McCain. Perhaps he should educate himself about who gives him money. In either case, he's either lying, or too lazy or ignorant or apathetic to take responsibility for his own campaign.

As atrios is wont to say, facts are stupid things.

McCain Lie Watch

My apologies for missing yesterday. Exhaustion made me incapable of any serious thinking or writing after about noon yesterday. I did catch this, but was wise enough to wait until I was coherent enough to actually put something down that was clear enough to be understood.

John McCain's lies are so obvious, one wonders why he even bothers to refute them. According to Think Progress, he is now saying he has always supported Sen. Jim Webb's (D-VA) GI Bill, even though he has been so opposed to it he actually submitted a rival bill. For the life of me I can't understand why any words that come from this man are trusted.

What a maverick. Able to lie without serious challenge.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The National Security Party

If I read one more booster for the nincompoops in charge of our country carry on about how much better at national security Republicans are compared to Democrats, I will puke all over my laptop. Read this, then click the link and read the whole article at The Financial Times:
The US military cannot locate hundreds of sensitive nuclear missile components, according to several government officials familiar with a Pentagon report on nuclear safeguards.

Jesus please us, but they might actually kill us all before they leave office in January.

Shorter David Broder

Wanking forevermore.
I know what's best for the United States, and politics and differing opinions aren't among those important things in regard to foreign policy.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

McCain Lie Watch - A Two-Fer Today!

Via Crooks & Liars, we can note that the McCain campaign managed to mangle one of those email blasts, the contemporary version of the 1992 Clinton campaign fax blast, in which the Democratic candidate managed to go all out to counter smears by Republicans. See, the DNC criticized the McCain campaign for not reimbursing Mrs. McCain for the use of a company jet for campaign purposes. Furthermore, the piece circulated by the DNC quotes two Republicans.

McCain's response? Attack the DNC for going after his wife.

Except, of course, the DNC did no such thing. It's all there, folks, for people to read.

Busy, busy today, isn't he?

The Churches And Gay Marriage

I suppose I should be honest enough to say that I wanted to do a church-related post because I feel kind of bad for my vulgarity-filled rant below. I don't feel bad enough to either amend it or take it down. I just feel bad enough to do a church-related post.

Via a link at Faith in Public comes this story from Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times, in which the pastoral concerns of some clergy are examined as California opens its doors to legal same-sex marriages. The first clergy person profiled is a United Methodist, and Goodstein, for a change, gets the UM position on gay marriage, and the pastoral conflict that ensues from it, exactly right:
The Rev. Kimberly A. Willis said she had not decided what to do because she wanted to be able to minister to all of her congregants at Christ Church United Methodist, in Santa Rosa, about 10 percent of whom are gay. But if she officiates at a same-sex wedding, she could be charged with violating the United Methodists' Book of Discipline, put on trial and defrocked.

So Willis spent Sunday on the sidelines at a religious service in which several same-sex couples were celebrating their imminent marriages. Willis spied a gay couple in the front row who attend her church, and said she felt outraged that she could not join the other ministers leading the ceremony to bless them.

Willis said, "I can bless a car, and I have. I've been asked to bless animals, children, homes, bread, grape juice, but I can't bless a gay and lesbian couple. That's unreal to me."

The United Methodist Church's official position is that being gay is somehow outside the creative grace and love of God, and therefore not subject to approval and blessing by our clergy. Not only is this position theologically untenable - how in the world can any part of creation exist outside God's purview and care and love? - but it raises, in the everyday practice of ministry, serious pastoral concerns. How in the world can Rev. Willis minister to the needs of her congregants if she cannot bless their union? Indeed, if she followed the letter of the Book of Discipline, she should be telling them that they are in violation of God's law and need to be healed, or cured, or something. Instead, being a caring, grace-filled member of the clergy, with the wonderful (and rare) gift of discernment that make for the best ministers, she sees the conundrum the legalization of gay marriage places upon her. As an individual she can celebrate with her friends and acquaintances that the state will acknowledge their marriages. As a clergy person, however, she cannot minister to them even as the state says that such marriages are legal.

While I know that, at some point in time, enough churches will be willing to bless same-sex marriages, right now it puts Rev. Willis and hundreds (perhaps thousands across multiple denominations) of clergy in the awkward spot of being limited in the way they can do pastoral care with their church members. This should be a serious problem, and force the United Methodist Church, which recently ended its quadrennial General Conference by reaffirming its current stupid stance on gays and lesbians, whether in the clergy or in the bedroom, to pick up the issue again and deal with it, not at some grand theoretical level, but where the rubber meets the road, as it were - a pastoral level. If a law or rule of the church prevents any clergy person from doing his or her job completely or effectively, it seems to me that law or rule is wrong and needs to be changed.

At some point, it will. In the meantime, people like Rev. Willis are going to frustrated by the arbitrary limits placed upon her to do her job to the fullness of her ability. And her church members will know this. When a minister cannot do his or her job completely and effectively, the whole church suffers.

This, not the fact of gay marriage, is the real tragedy and price upon our society and culture, of religious bigotry and blindness.

McCain Lie Watch

The McCain campaign, the gift that keeps on giving. From Think Progress:
In a speech that pleased oil executives yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) explained his flip-flop in favor of ending the federal ban on offshore oil drilling by saying he was trying to “address the concerns of Americans who are struggling right now to pay for gasoline.”

So he's already flipped and flopped. Are we ready for the political equivalent of the triple-axle?
But McCain’s message was contradicted yesterday by his top economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who told reporters that new offshore drilling wouldn’t help lower current gas prices. . . .

It's a thing of beauty to see how contorted a politician's position can become as he strives even harder to shove his head up his own ass each day. And succeeds.

Granny-State Conservatives (UPDATE)

I suppose I could call them "Mommy State Conservatives", because the exemplar of what I am saying is actually my mother, but seeing as she is also a grandmother, we'll just go with it. It rhymes with the conservative claim that liberals want a "nanny state". When I left for college, the last piece of advice my mother gave me was to make sure I never did anything I couldn't tell her about. I didn't always achieve that goal, but the advice stuck with me. Let us assume, for assumption's sake, that my mother meant no drunkenness, no drug use, no sex - in other words, none of the things that make college life worthwhile. Along with the usual suspects, let us also assume that she wanted to ensure that my vocabulary was free from the kind of words that, in the originally published Nixon Tapes were parenthesized as obscene gerund and obscene anatomical reference. I have only ever used such strong language a few times in front of my parents, and in each case it has been since I have been married, when I felt confident enough that, even if they were offended (which, it turns out, they weren't) I could dismiss it.

In his column today in The Washington Post, Michael Gerson takes Senate candidate Al Franken behind the woodshed for being a potty mouth. This is the opening paragraph:
In the razor-close and nationally important Senate race in Minnesota, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman is presented with a unique political problem. Should he raise in his ads the issue of comedian Al Franken's offensive vulgarity? Or would this risk a backlash against Coleman for coarsening the public conversation? Remember that when Ken Starr detailed Bill Clinton's most repulsive antics -- stained dresses and such -- it was Starr who was accused of sexual obsessiveness.

Gerson manages to implicate Bill Clinton with that magical tough only conservatives obsessed with the former President's peccadilloes can attain. Yet, his first question contains the loaded modifiers "offensive" and "vulgarity" to describe a piece Franken wrote in Playboy magazine (already, for some conservatives, we are in "offensive vulgarity" territory, because Playboy publishes pictures of women in "the altogether", with boobies and everything).

Further along, Gerson takes issue with Franken's description of his work as "satire", by the neat trick of providing his own definition of the term.
Satire has been called "punishment for those who deserve it."

What's neat about that trick is it allows him to ignore the fact that satire has a real definition that might actually encompass Franken's Playboy piece. From my very own Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language - Student's Edition that my parents bought for me 25 years ago as I made my way to college:
satire - (1) the use of irony, sarcasm, and humor to criticize or make fun of foolish or immoral actions, customs, etc. of people (2) a) a novel, play, etc. in which this is done b) such literary works as a group

With me so far? On the one hand, we have Gerson's very own definition; on the other, we have an actual dictionary definition. Let us peruse a sample of Franken's piece, and see if it fits. Funny enough, Franken is quoted by Gerson (In a family newspaper!!!!):
So what is Franken's "provocative, touching and funny" contribution to the genre? Consider his article in Playboy magazine titled "Porn-O-Rama!" in which he enthuses that it is an "exciting time for pornographers and for us, the consumers of pornography." The Internet, he explains, is a "terrific learning tool. For example, a couple of years ago, when he was 12, my son used the Internet for a sixth-grade report on bestiality. Joe was able to download some effective visual aids, which the other students in his class just loved." Franken goes on to relate a soft-core fantasy about women providing him with sex who were trained at the "Minnesota Institute of Titology."

While one can argue whether this is funny or not (I am not, um, titillated by this particular blurb, but that's just me), I do believe that it qualifies as "satire" according to an actual dictionary, because it uses exaggeration to expose the hypocrisy of so much of our current discussion concerning porn, the internet, and the so-called "coarsening of our culture".

The plethora of pornographic websites is a monument to the free market and its willingness to provide a supply wherever a demand exists, something a conservative like Gerson should understand. Yet, as with all political ideologies, contemporary American conservative thought contains this little bit of cognitive dissonance (oh, no, a two-word phrase that contains big words!), viz., they don't like the fact that the market for porn happens to be bigger than the market for Bibles or website with excerpts from Jonah Goldberg's book. So, it's liberals fault for coarsening the culture and creating an atmosphere where pornographers thrive.

See, it's all our fault.

The real funny comes in the following bit. Gerson's punchline, unlike many of Franken's, isn't that funny.
Why should political discourse be any different? For at least one reason: Because vulgarity is often the opposite of civility.

In the interest of fairness to those with delicate sensibilities, let me just warn everyone reading this that what follows is laced with various four-letter words that might cause Michael Gerson to faint and blanch.

What a bunch of fucking bullshit.

Civility is a bullshit rule for those who want to make sure that we don't get out of line. Kind of like my mother as I made my to college. I didn't listen then, and I drank, I experimented with illegal chemicals, and I had sex (I'm still having sex, but now it's OK because I'm married; I no longer drink, and I don't use illegal substances anymore) and yet, somehow, I managed to turn out OK. Furthermore, our discourse is chock-a-block with offensive vulgarities - "Bring it on!"; "A dictatorship would be fine as long as I'm the dictator"; "Mission Accomplished" - that are far more serious than the occasional "C-word" (catalog? corroborate? To which c-word is Gerson referring?) or (heaven forfend) the dreaded "Eff-Asterisk-Asterisk-Asterisk". I could swear from now until the moment I died and it wouldn't equal the offensiveness to our common life of the rhetoric, and the results, of the Bush Administration.

So, Michael Gerson - shut the fuck up. And, I do so hope you are offended. Because Granny-State conservatives like you really piss me off.

UPDATE: Holy fucking shit. Seriously. Via atrios, we have this wonderful piece by Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts in The Washington Post:
Washington is a town filled with boobs.

They're everywhere, from the bare-breasted ladies who decorate the fountain at Dupont Circle to the peekaboo statue in the Justice Department's Great Hall to the countless nudes in our museums. But while those of us who live here hardly blink at the public nudity, it can shock some of our visitors. Such was the case for Robert Hurt, who last week tried to add the issue of artistic indecency in the nation's capital to the platform of the Texas GOP.

"You don't have nude art on your front porch," the Dallas Morning News quoted the delegate as telling the platform committee at the state party convention. "So why is it important to have that in the common places of Washington, D.C.?"

Hurt, 54, a Kerrville, Tex., rancher and father of 14, told us in a phone interview he first came to Washington a decade ago for a gathering of the evangelical Promise Keepers on the Mall. "It was probably not much different than 'The Beverly Hillbillies' going to Beverly Hills," he joked. At the National Gallery, he was appalled to see statues of unclothed people. "I found it very inappropriate," he said. Returning a few years later, he discovered Arlington Memorial Bridge, flanked by the bare-chested figures of Valor and Sacrifice.

He's a father of fourteen so I'm assuming he's seen a boob before. Furthermore, he's all atwitter about statues including statues in an art museum.

Why is an ignoramus like this even interviewed about his stupidity? To make us all feel better about our own open-mindedness? I can't imagine the depths of stupid here. That he's complaining about this, and the the Post put two reporters on this is unreal.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Shorter Marshall Art

In comments:
Even though I admit I'm wrong, I know I'm right, because I can repeat the same wrong thing plus-infinity more times than you, you pseudo-intellectual appeasing liberal islamofascist lover.

Answering Cameron's Question

In comments over at this post at Marshall Art, Cameron asks a good, and honest, question, which deserves a more full answer than I could fairly give in the comments section on a blog.
Geoffrey, how is taxing an oil company protecting the well-being of the whole commonwealth?

First, I dealt, in general, with the legitimacy of the taxation power of the state in an earlier comment on this same post.
From a Constitutional standpoint, Congress has the freedom to regulate interstate commerce (it even has a name, the commerce clause). Second, from a theoretical standpoint, it is important to remember that businesses exist because of government; markets exist because of government. Without the monopoly on police power enjoyed by the state, there would not be enough order to control forces that would destroy any economic regime. Furthermore, since corporations are entirely a product of the state, I see no reason in the world why the state should not regulate them in some manner.

Furthermore, in order for the state to continue to exist to provide a safe area in which economic activity can thrive, taxation is necessary to fund the continued police power of the state. This is an elementary bit of political theory. It is also common sense. If corporations want to operate without rules, they need to understand that not only will there be no regulation or taxation, there will also be no protection from criminal activity directed against them, or unethical, immoral or other actions detrimental to their continued survival in such a non-state as well.

I think this answers Cameron's question in general, should he care to read it again. If not, I shall elaborate.

States have been exercising taxation power from time immemorial. From a practical standpoint, the power to tax needs no theoretical justification; it has always been a part of our common life. To pretend otherwise is to ignore history and reality. No one enjoys paying taxes in any form, whether it is income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, what have you. Virginia has what is colloquially known as a "personal property tax", but is just a "car tax"; it is so loathed that one governor, Jim Gilmore, road to victory in 1997 by promising to rebate all of the previous year's personal property tax payments. This kind of feaux-populist garbage may win votes and influence various pin-headed "thinkers", but it hardly constitutes good government or good policy making.

Corporations have been deemed, by Supreme Court ruling, persons under the law. As such, they are not just subject to (somewhat limited) freedoms and rights (including limited free speech rights and protection from illegal takings under certain conditions), but are also subject to certain obligations with which persons must comply, under the law. One of those obligations is to contribute monies to the state for its continued existence.

Unlike ideologues of all kinds, whether they be socialists, free-marketeers, libertarians, or dyed-in-the-wool syndicalists, the fact is that, in the United States, our laws define what is and is not "proper". Congress, the people's representatives, enacts laws, which are in turn signed by the President. Provided these laws do not abrogate the Constitution that sets the limits on state action, these laws define what is in the best interest of the entire country. If Congress decides that a windfall profits tax should be levied on Big Oil, by definition that makes it in the interest of the entire commonwealth.

I believe we are a non-ideological society. We are a constitutional republic; as such, we are defined not by some theory of government, whether based in economics, race, culture, or what have you. Unlike Britain, whose constitution is unwritten, who we are is set down in a piece of paper hammered out in compromise, first, by a bunch of gentlemen farmers, lawyers, publicists, and businessmen back in 1787, and then amended on occasion in the ensuing 220-plus years to reflect changing attitudes (mostly a growing democratic and egalitarian spirit). This document is all the theory we Americans need to really understand what the state is and how and why it acts.

I think it only fair to repeat - the state has always enjoyed the right to tax those who enjoy its protection. Requiring those who live under the umbrella of its protection to contribute to that protection is a fundamental duty of the state. We can quibble over what constitutes a proper level of taxation, or whether a particular group or another is contributing its fair share; that is the work of legislatures. At its most basic level, however, the fact remains that taxation of any kind is part and parcel of living as a social animal.

Special No More

Back during World War II, British Prime Minister and adopted son of the United States Winston Churchill (his mother was American) spoke of a "special relationship" that existed between Great Britain and the United States. Linked by language, history, traditions, legal and constitutional frameworks (albeit unwritten in Britain), Churchill was the first British statesman to note that an allegiance with the US surpassed, on some fundamental level, the traditional realpolitik idea that countries do not have friends, but only interests.

The past seven years have done immeasurable harm to that "special relationship". I was going to write "irreparable", but that would be wrong. Some measure, however, of the extent of that harm comes in the form of an editorial in Britain's newspaper The Independent, marking President Bush's "farewell tour" of Europe. Entitled "The tragic legacy of a disastrous president", the article actually is far more critical than even that particular headline might indicate.
[P]erhaps Mr Bush's most significant legacy, as far as Britain is concerned, will be the destruction of the instinctive trust of America and its leaders that once prevailed here. It is no exaggeration to say that Mr Bush has done more damage to relations between our two nations than any president in living memory. This rupture is not an accident of circumstance; there are no impersonal forces of history to blame. This sorry state of affairs is the consequence of the actions of a single leader and his small coterie of advisers.

Along with shredding the Constitution, making international terrorism an even more grave threat than it was before he entered office, and destroying both conservative ideology and the Republican Party, we can add diplomatic destruction to Bush's accomplishments. Heckuva job, Georgie.

McCain Lie Watch

George Will manages to catch McCain out. I have to hand it to him, give him props, make sure that everyone knows the Willster is on the case.

With last Friday's Supreme Court ruling that prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base are entitled to habeas corpus hearings, the Supreme Court not only showed that some branches of the United States government are not craven cowards, but also, through the reactions of the two political parties, provided the best evidence yet of the stark differences that exist between those who wish us all to surrender our Constitutional rights in the name of "security" and those who might actually prefer to keep those rights even in the face of grave threats (which are never really named other than the threat of death).

George Will has managed, in his column, to show how McCain's hyperbolic red-shirt waving after the Court's ruling is a bunch of hooey. Not only that, he manages to tell us why that is so.
The day after the Supreme Court ruled that detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo are entitled to seek habeas corpus hearings, John McCain called it "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country."


No state power is more fearsome than the power to imprison. Hence the habeas right has been at the heart of the centuries-long struggle to constrain governments, a struggle in which the greatest event was the writing of America's Constitution, which limits Congress's power to revoke habeas corpus to periods of rebellion or invasion. Is it, as McCain suggests, indefensible to conclude that Congress exceeded its authority when, with the Military Commissions Act (2006), it withdrew any federal court jurisdiction over the detainees' habeas claims?

As the conservative and libertarian Cato Institute argued in its amicus brief in support of the petitioning detainees, habeas, in the context of U.S. constitutional law, "is a separation of powers principle" involving the judicial and executive branches. The latter cannot be the only judge of its own judgment.

This is part of the "Lie Watch", first, because this is hardly "the worst" Supreme Court decision. Second, by reaffirming the right to habeas corpus, it puts the executive branch on notice that it cannot, willy-nilly, scoop people up and put them in prison. It has to state in public why this is so. Habeas Corpus is not just a restraint on executive overreach. It is a guarantee that the state will not, someday in the future, come after you, me, or someone else, lock us away without cause or public hearing, for years on end, in the name of "security" or anything else. I am quite sure that McCain understands that. I am also quite sure that he does not care.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Music Monday

If you're wondering where all your requests went, the answer is simple. While the response was wonderful, the content available at YouTube sucked. If there are any other places out there on the web where I can find music videos, let me know, and we shall try again.

I am embarrassed to say that there is some music out there that I know I am supposed to like, but I just don't. No matter how hard I try, I just can't get in to it. The first and best example of this is Elvis Costello. I realize he is supposed to be this great songwriter, etc., etc. He just doesn't do it for me. I have tried to like even his semi-popular stuff, like "My Aim is True (Allison)", but, sorry, no can do.

Another band I just don't get is Los Lonely Boys. Hyped by critics and fans, I hear this and I wonder what all the fuss is about.

Finally, I heard an interview on "Fresh Aire" last week with Sheryl Crow. Good God, how did this woman become an icon for serious music fans? Other than dating Eric Clapton and Lance Armstrong, I fail to see or hear anything worth spending money on here. Am I dense, obtuse, musically-challenged, or biased? I don't know. I just can't seem to understand the attraction.

If I've disappointed anyone with my philistine ways, I can only say "I'm sorry" and hope to make up for it in the future.

An Update On AP Bullying Tactics

I was emailed by Simon Owens of Bloggasm, with some more information on the AP's attempt to smack down the Drudge Retort. The piece is pretty clear. While I have rarely used AP stories, I think I shall join the general boycott against them. Since a link provides an opportunity for more readers to see for themselves what an article says, the AP is only hurting themselves with this.

Fine by me.

Thanks for the link, Simon. I do hope I don't get sued.

McCain Lie Watch - A Look Back

Over at Crooks & Liars, there is a post which details 10 reversals of position by the Arizona Senator and his Presidential campaign in the past two weeks (twelve if you count the two since the post was originally written on Saturday). I'll advise you to click the link and read the detailed list for yourself. I just want to put here, for the record, the funniest part of the post.
As the Pew Research Center recently found, the word Americans now most frequently use to describe John McCain is not “maverick,” but “old.”

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fear Is All They Have Left

"This court decision is a disaster, which could cost us a city." That was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Face the Nation today, proving once again that the only thing Republicans have to sell the American electorate is fear. It's really quite sad.

On Intellectuals, Pseudo And Otherwise

Marshall Art calls me "a pseudo-intellectual", an epithet I find quite interesting. In the first place, he does so because I offer the wild suggestion that poor writing skills are a hindrance to understanding. I "worry about dangling participles", as if that were evidence enough of my high-falutin' ways.

First, I am not now, nor have I ever been, an intellectual. Such creatures are rare indeed. I would go so far as to say that currently we have perhaps two or three serious intellectuals operating in the United States, among them Cornel West and Daniel Dennett. The late Richard Rorty was another. An intellectual, or perhaps to be more precise, a public intellectual is someone who not only traffics in ideas for a living, but also is engaged on a practical level with the impact these ideas have on our common life. America has been blessed with several towering figures who fit this bill, including Orestes Brownson in the 19th century and Reinhold Niebuhr in the 20th. Walter Lippmann was another, aided in his stature by his participation in journalism, as well as an education that included personal friendships with George Santayana, John Reed, and William James.

A pseudo-intellectual, on the other hand, is someone who strives to do what an actual intellectual does, but fails. A great example of this type is George Will. Becoming famous for the ethically dubious practice of being Ronald Reagan's practice debate sparring partner in 1980, Will often spruces his column with quotes from historical figures. It was only when he was exposed as having a team of researchers combing Bartlett's that the practice became more rare (Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury made sport of this practice with a bit of dry hilarity, having one minor character become one of Will's "quote boys" as a summer internship; the column produced was nothing more than a series of "quotes" that meant absolutely nothing, not much different from an actual George Will column). Will further degraded himself during the Lewinsky years by referring to President Clinton as "a scumbag" and trafficking in easily disproved allegations that, as governor of Arkansas, Clinton committed rape.

Another pseudo-intellectual is David Brooks. Brooks strives to be insightful, to be original, and usually ends up being just hilariously wrong. A low-rent Will, he doesn't try to quote Cardinal Richelieu so much as he tries to construct plausible-sounding theories of our political and social life that rest on dubious, sometimes even false assumptions, and lead to conclusions that are at variance with facts. He struggles gamely on, however, spinning his webs of fantasy, his columns read and pondered as he pollutes the op-ed pages of The New York Times with his drivel. He is as much fodder for humor sites as he is the instigator of serious discussion.

What I find fascinating is the notion that there is something wrong with being educated, and attempting to use that education in a positive way. Marshall Art's "criticism" is that I spend more time dealing with the structure of a piece of writing than with the argument the piece presents. That isn't true. It is only the first thing I do. As I said in comments over there, I had to have it pounded in to me in college that one's ideas are only as good as how one presents them. Good writing is necessary to having one's ideas and arguments accepted. A good example of this is the difference between two philosophers of note - Immanuel Kant and Richard Rorty. Even allowing for differences in country of origin and the ages in which they lived, one cannot deny that Kant's impenetrable style is a hindrance to understanding. That he had important things to say is without a doubt correct. Yet, his influence upon philosophy has been baleful, to say the least. One was only as profound as one was almost completely unreadable.

Rorty, on the other hand, has a clear prose, devoid (for the most part) of jargon and cant, his ideas flow easily. Any high school graduate can grasp the flow of his writing. Even if one disagrees with him, there is no doubt that all can learn a thing or two by copying his style.

All of this is to say that good writing is essential. Poorly constructed sentences, bad syntax and grammar, common errors (to which I am prone) such as the passive voice and the compound-complex sentence, are all hindrances to understanding. An argument is only effective if understood. Poorly presented, it can be dismissed as the product of one who has no idea how to present ideas.

More to the point, not only the specific article in question (linked to in a post below), but many of those presented in American Thinker are devoid of any serious merit. Recycled arguments, hyperbolic suggestions in which "all liberals are X" and "government regulation and taxation of the oil industry will destroy our nation and livelihood", are the common currency there. Not only are these arguments easily disproved by the use of simple reason, they are also disproved by counterfactuals and history. Why should I spend time dealing with an argument the premise of which is false? Why should I refute an argument that is false on its face? This isn't so much cowardice or dodging the issue as it is a time-saving device.

One final thing. While it is true that I am prone to site various serious thinkers here on this blog, that hardly qualifies me as "an intellectual". Unless I am mistaken, blogs are about ideas, whether really big ones, or little narrative ones concerning one's life and experiences. That I use the tools I have accumulated over the years shouldn't be much of a shock, unless someone hasn't been exposed to such writers and thinkers as I have. That's OK. I don't pretend that the fact I've read one more book than some other people (but not nearly as many as I would like, nor as many as many others have read) means anything more than exactly that - I've read one more book. The difference between that attitude and an intellectual, pseudo- and otherwise, is easy to define - intellectuals of both types see a qualitative distinction between their own erudition and access to "serious" thought and the lack thereof in others. I do not. I do, however, believe that the dismissal of serious, intelligent dialogue and discourse by the ad hominem attack that one is a pseudo-intellectual reflects less on the one attacked, than on the attackers own sense of him- or herself.

Having said that, I will be far more clear and precise:

Marshall Art, the articles to which you link in American Thinker are crap.

I don't see much intellectualism there. Do you?

McCain Lie Watch

If I were fair, I would have an "Obama Lie Watch" feature. But, I'm not fair. Also, the pickings would be slim.

It seems there are veterans, and then there are veterans. The on-going tussle between the Webb GI Bill and the McCain GI Bill is interesting on a number of levels, not the least of which is the specter of a man who uses his personal history as a Vietnam POW as a constant talking point in his run for the Presidency deriding the service of other veterans. If it weren't so damn serious, it would be funny. Anyway, McCain has claimed that he has the support of "literally every veterans organization in America."

Like another discussion I have had elsewhere on the 'net, it is important to note that when someone makes an absolute claim such as this, a single counter-factual is enough to disprove it completely. So, is there one? Why, yes there is:
In 1993, the Air Force Association (AFA) — “an independent, nonprofit, civilian education organization promoting public understanding of aerospace power and the pivotal role it plays in the security of the nation” — awarded Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) the W. Stuart Symington Award, AFA’s top award for civilian contributions to national defense. While presenting the award, the AFA noted McCain’s “continued championing of programs important to the men and women of the armed forces.”

Since then, McCain’s record on veterans issues may have given the AFA pause. Most recently, McCain has been a vocal opponent of the Sen. Jim Webb’s (D-VA) 21st Century GI Bill. He offered his own watered-down version of the bill but shut out most veterans groups from the crafting of the legislation. Now the AFA and McCain have officially parted ways, with the AFA endorsing Webb’s bill, S.22[.]

In all, Think Progress counts 15 veterans groups that endorse the Webb GI Bill.

So, does X-15 veterans organization equal "literally every veterans organization"? Had McCain added any other qualifier, perhaps he could weasel out of this one. Yet, by using the adverb "literally" before "every", he opened himself up to questions concerning the veracity of his statement.

Or maybe I'm just nitpicking.

Virtual Tin Cup

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