Saturday, November 15, 2008

Please Stop

I asked nicely. I doubt it will help with this bunch. . .
On Hardball, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard asserted that if President-elect Barack Obama names Sen. Hillary Clinton secretary of state, "she will run a parallel government. It will be a huge problem." Additionally, Jennifer Donahue, political director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, asked: "Will she [Clinton] be, in fact, trying to create only one term for Barack Obama?"

Ernst Bloch On The Dangerous Dreams Of The Endangered Class

Bloch's Principle of Hope is my current reading assignment to myself. I first read it years ago, and it has faded from memory in the press of other things. As I return to it, at this particular moment in our national life, I find it not only invigorating but apt. Consider the following passage, wholly relevant to my own on-going interest with the right's attempt to redress the grievance of a lost election. It is subtitled, appropraitely enough, "The Night Of The Long Knives", and comes from Volume 1, translated by Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice and Paul Knight and published MIT Press in 1986, from the 1959 German edition of Das Prinzip Hoffnung:
Not so far from here are the various dreams that are fond of getting their own back. They are particularly delicious, revenge is sweet when merely imagined, but also shabby. Most men are too cowardly to do evil, too weak to do good;; the evil that they cannot, or cannot yet do, they enjoy in advance in the dream of revenge. The petit bourgeoisie in particular has traditionally been fond of the fist clenched in the pocket; this fist characteristically thumps the wrong man, since it prefers to lash out in the direction of least resistance. Hitler rose out of the Night of the Long Knives, he was called by the masters out of the dream of this night when he became useful to them. The Nazi dream of revenge is also subjectively bottled up, not rebellious; it is blind, not revolutionary rage. As for the so-called iron broom, the hatred of the immoral life and the hooknoses and those at the top, middle-class virtue, as always in such cases, was here merely betraying its dearest dream. Just as, with its revenge, it does not hate exploitation but only the fact that it is not itself an exploiter, so virtue does not hate the slothful bed of the rich, but only the fact that it has not become its own and its alone. This is what the headline have always aimed in those papers which love to see red, the gutter-press. 'The truth, latest news: Broilers at Wertheims store - the Harem in the Tiergarten villa, sensational revelations.' But they are only revelations concerning the outrage of the bourgeois conformist himself, both regarding Wertheim raking in the shekels and regarding Jewish lechery. Hence the immediate impulse to set oneself up in place of the eliminated Wertheim, after an act of retribution which, in the supposedly detested fraud, merely replaces the subject which is practising it. The malicious and brutal aspect of this, the repulsiveness of this kind of wish, as pervasive as the smell of urine, has always characterized the mob. This mob can be bought, is absurdly dangerous, and consequently it can be blinded and used by those who have the means who who have a real vested interest in the fascist pogroms. The instigator, the essence of the Nights of the Knives was, of course, big business, but the raving petit bourgeois was the astonishing, the horribly deducible manifestation of this essence. From it emerged the terror, which is the poison in the ;average man on the street', as the petit bourgoeis is now called in American, a poison which has nowhere near been fully excreted. His wishes for revenge are rotten and blind; God help us, when they are stirred up. Forutnately though the mob is equally faithless; it is also quite happy to put its clenched fist back into its pocket when crime is no longer allowed a free night on the town by those at the top.

While rooted in pretty traditional Marxist rhetoric and theory, this passage reflects a certain political trend that political scientists, working in the late-1970's discovered. Those whom Bloch calls "petit bourgeois" are the small shopkeepers, the middle managers of large corporations who feel threatened from below, but hopeful of above, of inhabiting that immoral bed of the rich as its sole occupant, as Bloch writes. A study of support of Joseph McCarthy - perhaps our country's most successful quasi-fascist politician - shows exactly the same persons supporting him, regardless of race, educational background, or other political identifiers. As in the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany, it was this group, the class that felt itself most threatened by the twins of democracy and economic insecurity, who backed politicians who provided an easy target upon which one could heap coals of frustration and vent all that pent-up fear and rage. For the Nazis, obviously, it was the rapacious Jew (I would caution that the use of "hooknoses" by Bloch here should not be taken for his own anti-Semitism; he was using the rhetoric of German fascists, not reflecting his own support of such vile talk). For McCarthy, it was the Communist, although not actual communists. Rather, he targeted people like Secretaries of State Gen. George Marshall and Dean Acheson. Both were men of learning, integrity, honor, and in Acheson's case probably the most hawkish Democrat of the post-war years (Lyndon Johnson would turn to him even as Acheson was ill and out of favor because Acheson wanted an out-and-out offensive against North Vietnam).

Closer to our own time and context, I think this description by Bloch captures the essence of my own reading of the right in the wake of the election. I do believe, in fact, that the clenched fist is already returning to the pocket, in Bloch's wonderful picture. Except for other true believers, there just isn't an audience for their rage against the coming communist state Barack Obama is going to institute. Also, rage and the dreams of heroism one encounters can only last so long before becoming not only enervating but just plain boring.

Yet, I think we should still remain vigilant against the vengeful dreams of those who find themselves on the losing end of history. While most have usually self-destructed, they can also do much mischief.

Saturday Rock Show

Those who may have heard of King Crimson usually limit their knowledge to the songs on their first release, 1969's In The Court Of The Crimson King. As the band is still active in some form or another, however, this is very limiting. The first King Crimson, lasting from 1969 to 1972, was an unstable unit, led reluctantly by Robert Fripp, through multiple personnel changes and various albums with Fripp's guitar work being the only consistent part. The path from Court up through Lizard and Islands would have been daunting for anyone to follow.

After bassist Boz Burrell quit to form Bad Company, Fripp recruited bassist/vocalist John Wetton, stole Bill Bruford from Yes, and violinst David Cross (Fripp was a huge fan of John McLaughlin, who had a violinist in the Mahavishnu Orchestra) as well as percissionist Jamie Muir who lasted only long enough to complete the first release of the new band, Larks' Tongue in Aspic. This new band released two more albums, then Fripp decided to break up the band. Their last release came after the official demise. Most of the tracks were taken from various live recordings, with some overdubbing (like the sax solo on "Starless"). One instrumental, "Providence", was an improv piece from their last concert, in Providence, RI. The track that leads off the album, however, is a blistering instrumental that reminds anyone who was unsure that this band, once all the myths about them are stripped away, was quite capable of melting concrete. When Fripp put the band back together in the early 1980's, with Adrian Belew on a second guitar, Bruford once again keeping the beat, and Tony Levin on bass and stick, "Red", along with "Larks' Tongue in Aspic, Part 2" was one of two older tunes the band resurrected for their live show.

Crossing The Line

I think it's time we revisited the issue of tax-exemption for the Roman Catholic Church:
A Catholic priest in South Carolina has decided that the democratic act of casting a vote is, in some cases, a mortal sin. Therefore, he has decided that parishioners who voted for Barack Obama are not entitled to the grace of Jesus Christ through communion until they've done penance.


Newman is denying communion not to those who have conducted or received an abortion, and not to those who enact laws that allow for abortion, but to those who cast a vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights. In effect, he's saying that thinking is now mortal sin. He's saying that having an opinion is a mortal sin. He's saying that freedom of speech and thought is a mortal sin.

This is not just about Father Newman. Since this reflects, in sum, the teaching of the Roman Church from Pope Ratzinger on down, it seems to me that we should not just consider the issue of this one congregation's tax exempt status. This blatant foray in to narrow partisan politics is a clear, prima facie case of the breach of the wall between church and state.

If Fr. Newman, and any other priest, minister, bishop, or whatever leader of whatever church, wishes to make partisan political stances a matter of theological import, that is certainly his right. If one wishes to play this game, however, there are consequences that should follow upon it. I have nothing against the Roman Church - or any other church for that matter - speaking out on public issues. When a church crosses the line from policy advocacy to distinct partisan preferences, the solution is quite clear. Tax exempt status is not a right, and I have no problem revoking it - on any church whatsoever - that crosses the line.

Friday, November 14, 2008

On Letting Them Fail

There are good arguments for and against bailing out the auto industry. I think Josh Marshall saying is both nuts and a failure of imagination regarding claims the auto industry is part of the problem in re global warming and that we would be rewarding failure by handing out money to an industry that is sliding towards oblivion for good economic reasons is just plain wrong. It isn't nuts. These are both excellent points, the latter of which I have made a couple times.

Were the opposing arguments based either on easily falsified data, or faulty logic, I can see dismissing them out of hand. Yet both these points need to be kept in mind (although the second is far more important precisely because there has been no discussion of serious concessions from the auto industry such as, say, ditching senior management before making any cuts on the shoproom floor) precisely because they are rooted in facts, and are directly relevant to our current historical moment.

On the other hand, I do not think that liberal arguments in favor of bailing out Detroit are "nuts", or represent some sort of failure of imagination. Indeed, I think they have much merit, especially the consideration of the impact on the economy of tossing tens of thousands of workers out on the streets even as the economy hovers on the brink.

There are a couple points to consider. First, each of the big three could file for Chapter 11, which is a kind of bailout, and one far more stringent than the kind of free money being discussed (up until recently) on Capitol Hill. The part that worries me, however, is that any "restructuring" would almost assuredly include . . . tossing thousands of workers out on the streets even as the economy hovers on the brink. Rather, it might be considered good form to have those members of senior management who have refused to diversify, to retool, to invest in new physical plant and other capital improvements start looking for employment elsewhere. Of course, having the following on one's resume might not have employers beating a path to one's door:
Designing and implementing strategies for utterly destroying one of the signal industries of the United States through short-sightedness, a refusal to consider options, and the belief that things would get better one day.

In any event, I heard a discussion on NPR this morning, in which a reporter duly noted Chris Dodd's dashing of hopes of any bailout in the lame duck session. The discussion then turned to bankruptcy and failure as the only options left, unless the new Congress, seated in January, decides to do something. One reporter ominously noted it might be too late; what if the auto industry tanks before then?

While I appreciate the enormity of the potential impact of the demise of the American auto industry, I think that "failure" is a bit much. They might be purchased, their assets then sold off in pieces, creating smaller units that could compete more aggressively. They could file for Chapter 11 restructuring, downsize (I think some kind of serious pain is in store in any event), retool, and start designing and selling automobiles people buy. Or, they could cling by their fingernails until January, the new Congress could convene, and they could be given all sorts of money . . . to downsize, retool, and start designing and offering automobiles people might buy.

In the end, there will be job losses and pain. The question is whether or not Buick, Chevy, Mercury, and Dodge make it to see a new day. Part of me, nostalgic for the heady days when Americans designed and built excellent cars people would buy, hopes in my heart of hearts it is so. That hope is tempered, however, by the understanding that these automobile manufacturers, in essence, screwed themselves; we, the people who don't buy their product, are being called upon, in essence, to bail them out without any serious consequences. That I do not like.

I don't think it's a failure of imagination to consider the limited options, and the good arguments one way or another, and then come to a conclusion. I think this is an issue where reasonable people can disagree. That's all. In the end, I doubt the real-world results will look all that different one way or another.

More Gobbledygook God-Talk

Along with our fabulist friends at American Descent, I am taking a renewed interest in Neil's House of Horrors. I can almost hear Alan now; "Why, oh, why?" First, because some of the things he says are directly relevant, in a twisted, irrational way, to some of our national conversations. Up until fairly recently, the smug, self-righteous, triumphalist tone and position of Neil and others like him seemed to be the sole face of Christianity. A dangerous face, indeed; bereft of institutional memory, of any consideration for the wide variety of belief and practice that has been called Christian down the millennia, a refusal to humbly consider the limitations even of Scripture in conveying the Divine Reality - these are hallmarks not just of a certain kind of fundamentalism and fundamentalist; they are the danger signs we should all be aware of. Once ideas and words become more important than actual facts and real human beings; once it becomes necessary for some individual to appoint him- or herslf the sole arbiter of who is and who is not a Christian (no doubt you have already surmised that, for Neil, I am in the "not" column) we are dealing with one for whom the love of God incarnate in Jesus Christ just does not hold value; it is about either being in or out. Period. Making sure those who are out stay out, or at least understand their outness is far more important than listening, than loving, or badgering.

One of Neil's favorite ploys is to insist that he does not hate gays. With a dedication to logic that surpasses his faith in the salvific power of divine Grace, he claims that, once one accepts certain premises as being True, it is necessary to refuse to grant gays and lesbians equal rights in society. Here, from his latest missive, is a sample:
Yeah, I’ve noticed [when discussing the issue of gay marriage] that too, with dogma such as, “Haters! Irrational! Uneducated! You want to send gays to internment camps! You’re forcing your religion on us! Of course we wouldn’t teach kindergarteners about this! Etc.!”

Here is some logic for those who are interested:

* Same sex unions can never provide a mother and a father to a child, so the State has no interest in promoting or regulating them.
* Marriage is a union of a man and a woman.
* Gay couples already get benefits from the State of California. This was all about affirmation.
* The judges ignored the will of the people, so the amendment made perfect sense.
* Sexual preferences are not Civil Rights. Skin color is morally neutral, sexual behavior is not.
* Oxymoronic “same sex marriage” doesn’t mean that marriage is redefined as man/woman, woman/woman or man/man, it redefines it to say that it is not just between a man and a woman — it is whatever anyone wants to define it to be. The same “anti-discrimination” rationale is immediately available for polygamists, incestuous couples, etc.

Note that I didn’t even refer to the Bible. If people want to know what God has to say — and they should, since He created the universe and us – here’s a summary:

* 100% of the verses addressing homosexual behavior denounce it as sin in the clearest and strongest possible terms.
* 100% of the verses referencing God’s ideal for marriage involve one man and one woman.
* 100% of the verses referencing parenting involve moms and dads with unique roles (or at least a set of male and female parents guiding the children).
* 0% of 31,173 Bible verses refer to homosexual behavior in a positive or even benign way or even hint at the acceptability of homosexual unions.
* In short, to advance “same sex marriage” is to be perpetually shaking your fist at God in rebellion.

I refuse to take this bit of flailing seriously enough to "debate" any of the points. Like Marshall Art and the folks over at American Descent, I am far more interested in keeping an eye on things in right-wing world as well as, occasionally, holding them up to the light for all of us to simultaneously cringe in disgust and laugh.

I would note one thing, a bit of unintentional irony on Neil's part. While typing it, I am quite sure he was clueless as to what, exactly, he was saying. When he says that redefining marriage means that we can arbitrarily redefine any word we want, I smacked my forehead and thought, "This guy's been reading Rorty!" Of course we redefine terms of social engagement all the time. Whether it's citizen, or property, or liberal or voter - these words get changed around all the time by circumstance. Sometimes by the will of the people; sometimes through judicial intervention to protect the rights of minorities threatened by a repressive majority. There is nothing either wrong or unusual about this. Unless, apparently, you are Neil for whom words only have one meaning forever and always.

This is the kind of crap that people think of far too often when they think "Christian theology." Actually, it's just gibberish. It is neither logical, nor based in fact. It is a series of assertions based on a combination of ignorance and prejudice, and constructed in such a way as to reinforce a preordained conclusion. Obviously, this isn't logic. What it is, well, (I know he will take offense but at this point I am beyond caring) is bullshit, plain and simple. Yes, Neil, it is hate-filled. It is ignorant, hate-filled nonsense. You continually refuse to allow the full acceptance of other human beings in society for no reason other than blind fear and hatred. As there is neither logic nor principle involved in your little "lists", and as the whole thing is designed to bolster the continued refusal to grant full citizenship rights and privileges to sexual minorities, all I can say is that you, Neil, are prejudiced against gays and lesbians.

That you would abuse the word of God to back up your hatred and fear is far worse than your on-going argument to deny the right of marraige to gays and lesbians. You torture and twist the words of Scripture to make them out as a guide to hatred and exclusion, something they most assuredly are not.

It's all just nonsense. Prejudiced nonsense. In the name of God.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Some Real, Awesome News

For those of you who may not know, the photo at left is far more important an historical moment that the election last week. It is, in fact, the first visible-light photograph of a planet in orbit around another star.

While I didn't grow up reading science fiction (that was my older brother's thing; as such I tended to seek out my own thing), but was certainly a big fan os Star Trek. Until I was in college and took an astronomy lab course (Alfred University actuall has a small observatory with four telescopes; taking that class in the spring semester of 1984 was cold; out of a sixteen week semester, we had ten clear nights, eight of them in January through early March) that I realized astronomy actually had no evidence there were such things as planets around other stars. There were certainly plans, even then, for the kind of thorough search no going on; we just didn't have the kind of technology then we do now.

As such, the confirmation of the existence of extra-solar planetary systems was pretty important. Now, we have confirmation that our surmises were correct. Actual photographic evidence of a planet in orbit around another star.

I think this is so cool.

To understand the photo, the little dot at the center is the star; the box in the lower right hand corner are photos taken at discrete time periods of the planet, showing the planet itself as well as the elliptical nature of its orbit, just as it should be.

On Obama's Transition

Some of the commentary on the transition to an Obama Administration has been quite maddening. I have thought quite a bit about this, and I have come to some conclusions about why he is doing things the way he is, and specifically why, for example, he is signaling to Senate Democrats to keep Lieberman in the caucus.

First, on the Clinton retreads with which he is consulting, and possibly seeking to name to various offices. THEY'RE FREAKING DEMOCRATS! Come one, people, get a clue. Not only are they Democrats, they are among the few Democrats with real Federal Administrative experience. While I was not happy with everything the Clinton Administration did, it was a positively rosy time compared to now, and we have much to do just to return to the level of those relatively heady days.

Specifically on keeping Bob Gates at Defense, after some reading and much consideration, I think it only fair to say that while I would much prefer a Democrat at the Pentagon, I believe he is a good keeper for a couple reasons. First, he has been extremely unpopular with Bush supporters because, above all else - before party, before being a Bush man - he is an able administrator with a realistic approach to what the US military can and should do, and has some interesting ideas on reshaping the military for the future. At a time when our military is, for all intents and purposes, broken, we need someone in charge who has been an advocate for the troops and for some kind of rational approach both to defense policy and structural change in the military . Gates has been these things, and a thorn in the Bush Administration's side since he took office. No ideologue, I would think him a good choice if for no other reason than he has hit the wall on any number of policy recommendations.

From a larger perspective, please consider Barack Obama's conduct of his campaign for the White House, as well as his background as a Chicago politician. Whether they are Clinton re-treads, Republicans, or Joe Lieberman staying in the Democratic caucus, all these people will owe their positions, in the end, to one person - Barack Obama. Unlike the kind of Mafia-like omerta practiced by Bush and Cheney, this is a far more traditional approach to administration and loyalty. Obama has shown himself to be very, very disciplined, keeping his cards very close and preventing leaks by not telling anyone what he is planning until he announces it publicly. Those who are elevated to cabinet and sub-cabinet positions in the Obama Administration will, I am quite sure, be given very clear instructions, the first of which will be - you will be implementing my policies. You have a problem with that, here's the door, and don't let it hit you in the ass on the way out. Obama holds every single card in this game, and is playing them like a master.

This is why I do not think it necessary to get all upset about his move to keep Lieberman in the Democratic caucus. He will most definitely exact a price from Holy Joe, the first of which will be, "You come after me with your committee, and the only place anyone will listen to you is a Washington TV studio." Make no mistake, Obama will make every single cabinet officer, the major players in Congress, and even the detestable Lieberman his.

We are seeing the way machine politics works, writ large on a national stage, and I have to admit I like it.

Neil Manages To Invalidate Himself, Er, His Own Argument

Last night on my way to work, I had a "D'oh!" moment. Something about Neil's little list of points here was bugging me, and then it occurred to me. Point (2) completely invalidates not only the rest of his points, but in fact the entire purpose behind his blog, the Christian Church, and reasoning in general. Here it is, to refresh your memory:
His standard of goodness is not your standard of goodness. Even in your best moments you can’t win over God with your good behavior. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus is that Savior, and Christmas celebrates his entry into his creation.(emphasis added)

This rather bland restatement of St. Paul's dictum "for all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God", in this context negates not only any discussion of "morality", universal or otherwise, but indeed even the claim made in point (1) that God is real. In fact, it negates not only Christianity itself, but the need not only for Christianity, but any religion whatsoever. If, in fact nothing we do can earn God's love (which, I have to admit, I accept as part of the doctrine of grace), then we are either condemned whether we believe or not, or saved whether we believe or not. In this case, even "spreading the Gospel" is meaningless, not only steeped in sin, but irrelevant to God. Ditto "universal morality". Since there is nothing that can place us righteously before the throne of God, it seems to me that claiming there is a morality that applies that is a necessary follow-on to believing in God (itself irrelevant, since believing is something we do, and therefore something God cares about not at all) is not only meaningless logically, but practically irrelevant.

Is my reasoning correct here?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Who's The Whiny Ass Titty Baby Now? (Strong Language Alert In What Follows)

It's been eight days since the election. Eight days. President-elect Obama hasn't even named a single potential cabinet member. All sorts of new Congress members are busy buying houses in Chevy Chase and Alexandria. And Brad at Sadly, No! is already predicting that they are fucked.
And here’s the thing: the Democrats aren’t going to be able to do anything to stop it [the recession]. The bed has already been shat, and they’re the one party in control of the whole government now. If we’re facing 9% unemployment at the start of 2010, a bunch of Dem congressmen can start packing their bags.

What I’m trying to say here is the Dems have a roughly two-year window to enact policies that they think will be for the long-term benefit of the country. They need to hit the damn ground running and hope that the economy starts recovering by 2012. Otherwise, we could be looking at a Sarah Palin-Joe the Plumber dream ticket. Just sayin’ is all.

Again, let's remember what the context is here. Eight days since the election, about a month and a half from the sitting of the newly-elected Congress, then another three weeks until the inauguration of a new President, and already we're being told that the Democrats had better do what Brad says or they'll lose everything.

This not just stupid. It is more than ridiculous. It is a signal that the loser mentality is still alive and well among Democrats and liberals.

The reason the Democrats were elected is people knew things were bad and bound to get worse, and the voters figures they were better able to deal with the situation we were in than the Republicans. I am quite tired of all the whining about right-wingers and "corporate media" attempting to hamstring the incoming Obama Administration and Democratic Congress. As far as Obama has shown, he is quite immune to their tactics, treating them with the kind of disdain they deserve. While times indeed are bound to get worse before they get better - and who doubts that is true? - they will get better. We elected the Democrats to actually, you know, do stuff to make them better, and I have few doubts about their ability to do so.

Stop your freaking whining. You won. Play the hand you've been dealt, not with fear and shuddering at the possibility of failure, but with a certain confidence. If all you can counsel is fear and worry, I think you are as much a part of the problem as the reactionaries out there. Stop your whining, in other words. We won.

At least wait until the winners actually get to do stuff before you start saying they are already destined for the historical scrap heap.

Jesus, but this is tiresome.

By the way, I would note that some of the discussion in the comments on this post is just about the stupidest I have seen on a "liberal" site in a long, long time. I guess these folks can't get it through their numb skulls that we liberals won, and yet have to wait to actually do stuff.

More On America Descending (UPDATE)

It's like an itch I just can't scratch enough. I do not believe that ignoring them is an option anymore. Yet, I cannot take them seriously. Indeed, I pay attention to them to make sure that those who think this way no longer are taken seriously, at least in my lifetime. Yet, there is something so heartening, so earnest, about this site.

Consider this post. If any proof were needed that those on the far right are not dealing with the way the world really is, just looking at this post (never mind reading it) would disabuse them. After reading it, and going through the comments, it is quite clear that these fabulists and fantasists are at least honest enough about their delusions to see themselves as the heroic few who understand the real deal. We as a nation are headed towards the most vile tyranny, our Constitution is in peril, and they alone are standing athwart our national descent and screaming, "Stop!"

Facts mean nothing to these folks. This is why I do not so much point out errors of fact (it would take a blog in and of itself to do so), as I do poke little holes in their delusions of grandeur, their view of themselves as the hero of the novels they are writing in their heads about themselves.

On one point, however, I would try to be a bit more clear. Especially as regards their latest post, I would only let them know that, even if Obama is planning a network of domestic spies and reeducation camps for right wingers, my own sense is that, in fact, most liberals (myself included) don't really care all that much what you think anymore, except as a source of fun. You are no longer relevant. Your cranky, ill-informed, fact-free opinions do not mean anything in the large scheme of things. Once again, America skidded close to the edge of some weird kind of domestic fascism, and pulled itself away from the brink. Those like you who think that in some way we are endangered because a moderately liberal Democrat will become President on January 20, 2009, should perhaps consider this - once he's in office, you will matter even less.

I don't want to diminish your internet traffic by ceasing to link to you, so please keep the fun alive. Just don't mistake attention for something akin to agreement.

I, for one, am laughing my ass off at all of you.

UPDATE: Apparently, these vigilant protectors of our freedoms are so concerned about the imminent Soveitization of America they haven't bothered to "chronicle" our national demise for a couple days. Was there a sale on Pabst at the local supermarket or something?

Outrage Du Jour

The mind boggles. A group pays for ads that say, "Why believe in a god? Be good for goodness' sake." Seems a wonderful idea, promoting ethical behavior on its own merits.

Yet, like Pavlov's dog, Neil just can't help himself. I do so love it when, claiming rationality, he asserts the following as if they were inarguable, self-evident principles.
1. God is real.
2. His standard of goodness is not your standard of goodness. Even in your best moments you can’t win over God with your good behavior. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus is that Savior, and Christmas celebrates his entry into his creation.
3. Individual standards of goodness vary. Stalin thought he was good. Abortionists think they are good. You may think you are good. But how would you like have the content of every one of your thoughts communicated publicly? Me neither.
4. If there is no God, then the concept of unviersal morality is just a fiction that our defective bags-o’-chemicals bodies created. Good will always just be what we want it to be, or what people vote it to be.

I guess my favorite is the first - "God is real". First, which God. Second, please define "real". Actually, while you're at it, define "is" (Martin Heidegger wrote a big book on the subject, you know, and it was pretty inconclusive on the results).

Point (4) should be irrelevant, since the confident assertion of point (1) makes it nonsensical. Yet, allow us a moment to consider what he actually writes. "Universal Morality" consists of, what, exactly?

These are questions that philosophers and theologians have wrestled with, and come up empty on, for centuries. Not just in the west, or in Christianity, but around the world. For my part, I find the phrase "universal morality" to be utterly meaningless, a way to use words to obscure rather than define. Since it belongs to a time and context in which none of us live, it is part of a dead vocabulary as much as, say, Sumerian. Why use it to try to say something? Why even pretend it has meaning?

Anyway, I find it a hoot that an ad on a bus has his panties in a wad. Of course, he claims that he has no problem with the ads, because it helps Christians sharpen their skills at spreading the Gospel. Yet, if Neil's list is his way of spreading the Gospel, I do believe his skills are in need of sharpening.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Leading By Example

In my previous post, I gave some general thoughts on dealing with right-wingers even as the Democrats move to (I hope) take over our national public discourse. I noted that I am keeping up via a couple sites to which I link. I must say they are providing no end of fun, so I thought I would offer a link to one post in particular, and offer a couple examples from the comment thread, because there are few things more hilarious than the cluelessness of people who write things that, in the real world, are turning around and dope-slapping them hard.
GKS, if you honestly fail to understand what D-Dad was takling about, then you should have stayed home on Election Day.


Do you really not understand why people around the world who do not have America's best interests at heart would be "quite ecstatic" over the election of a weak, inexperienced, and radical President who has arguably taken the Anti-American position on almost every issue he has bothered to take any position on over the course of his career?

(Remember, the President does not vote "present"...)

Of COURSE the enemies of America are ecstatic!

And, yes, America has some, whether you personally recognize them as such or not.

You guys have absolutely no idea what you have done...


The real enemies are people like Geoffrey, D. Trabue, and Feodor, who gleefully embrace the coming totalitarian state and condescendly sneer at us common people for attempting to warn them.

When America falls, it will come from within, and these pseudo-intellectuals are hastening our demise.


Absolutely astounding how Geoff and co. can spin facts 180 degrees.

The first of the above three was from tugboatcapn. The other two are from our old friend, Mark.

Even more than shooting fish in a barrel, it's like shooting at a barn wall from the inside. Not only is it impossible to miss, there are several to pick from.

Debate, Ridicule, And The Right

I agree with Thers. Treating right-wing arguments as if they were valid is a fools game, one I do not play. I have links to a couple fabulists from the right not to engage them in debate - how do you "debate" someone who simply denies the facts of the matter, but rather begins from premises that are demonstrably false? - but to keep an eye on the various permutations of bullshit in which they are currently indulging. Yes, I point out errors of facts and logic when I post, but that is hardly "debating" with them. It is, rather, just what it is - pointing out how very wrong they are. As Thers says:
To be a conservative nowadays and not be Cast Forth from the Tribe, you need to believe:

1. Anthropogenic climate change is a Lie.
2. The "Main Stream Media" has a partisan bias in favor of Democrats.
3. The invasion of Iraq was based on an honest appraisal of the evidence.
4. Torture is acceptable, and also, we do not torture.

I could go on, but these will do to make the point. To be a conservative in the 21st century American sense, you need to believe things that are not true, and you need to tie yourself into knots to pretend otherwise.

It helps that our local variant on homo rightus ignoramus usually ends up spitting mad, calling names, and refusing to acknowledge just how wrong they are.

At the same time, I would have to say that I do not think it is "ridicule" to say, "Boy, you folks are just nuts, and full of crap to boot!" That is, rather, a pretty accurate description of what one encounters, for example, here, here, and most recently here. Rather than get sucked in to feeling bad for calling out nonsense, just remember one thing. These are the same people who believe there is nothing wrong with torturing Muslims because they are Muslims, but get their panties in a wad over a Presidential blowjob. Our recent history suggests that they will stop at nothing to end Democratic rule, so we should keep an eye on them. Take them seriously, though?


To End All Wars

History is a slaughterbench. - G. W. F. Hegel

In the late spring of 1918, the German General Max Ludendorff struck the last of his three massive hammerblows against the Allied lines in France. His first two had failed, in the end, to achieve the massive breakthrough he had hoped. After the separate peace the fledgling Soviet Union, about one million German troops were freed up, and everyone on both sides knew the massive offensive was coming. The German nation was starving, due to the British blockade, and while the Allied forces has been bled white the year before (especially the French, who actually mutinied; had the Germans realized that the French had abandoned their trenches, they would have walked to Paris and ended the war in a few days), the Allies resolve had stiffened not only because of their massive losses, but because of the arrival of the Americans.. At this point, with the failures of the first two offensives - despite obliterating the British lines across a miles-wide front in an artillery barrage that would not be equaled until the North Koreans started shelling across the 53rd parallel in 1950 - the best they were hoping for was forcing a negotiated settlement with the troops in their current positions (most of Belgium being left in German hands).

The last blow was even less effective than the first two, partly because, at the hinge of the British and French lines, the Americans were feeding more and more troops on to the lines. Unseasoned, prone to making mistakes (they had managed to wander in to a trap set by the Germans in the Belleau Wood, and the results were horrific), the sheer weight of American numbers was beginning to be felt. As this last desperate gamble by Ludendorff faded, and with Allied refusal to consider a negotiated settlement stiffening even as more and more American troops came forward, their last chance was to retreat in order. The plans were drawn up, and the Germans managed to set all sorts of traps for the unsuspecting Americans and British forces. Their trench-lines had been prepared, and the Germans retreated quickly, sometimes giving up miles of territory even as they moved to better positions, leaving the Allies more exposed.

Among those American units that took advantage of the quick German advance to the rear was Company M of the 30th Infantry, AEF. Finding the redoubts empty, they continued to move forward. Unfortunately, they moved faster than their artillery spotters could keep up. American shells continued to rain down on what had been, until the previous day, German forward positions. Mostly high explosive concussion and shrapnel, the shells knew no loyalty, killing and maiming those they were supposed to be supporting. A young corporal from Company M, Everett Shores, was too close to high explosive concussion shell. While his skin was relatively untouched by fragments, the shock wave and heat acted like a microwave, beating through his body, cooking his internal organs. He fell dead in the mud, along with many of his fellow Americans, another casualty of friendly fire.

Everett Shores was the only brother of my paternal grandmother. On this Veteran's Day, we should never forget the sacrifices of those so long ago. Lost too often in discussions of grand events are the various ways these grand events become deeply personal. The only way to ensure that Corporal Shores, and the hundreds of thousands like him who have died in the wars of this nation, is remembered properly is to work to keep war from happening. We owe it to his memory, to the memories of all those whose deaths have purchased our freedom, a freedom soaked in their blood, their dying voices echoing in our ears, shouting out, "No more!"

Monday, November 10, 2008

No Cranks Allowed

One of the heartening things about the upcoming Obama Administration is the opportunity to have an Executive Branch peopled with those who not only know what science is, but who know how to merge science, policy, and politics in constructive ways. No more "Abstinence Only" sex ed, or global warming denial, or even National Park Service Employees who can't talk about geologic time scales because some creationist somewhere complained.

I had no idea that RFK, Jr. bought in to junk pseudo-science. That's too bad. I have heard his show, "Ring of Fire", a few times on the radio, and I will admit I was off-put by his frequent forays in to conspiracy mongering vis-a-vis electronic voting machines. Yet, for him to continue to pursue the notion that mercury used in processing vaccines is the signal cause of autism, in the face of clear scientific evidence to the contrary is more than troubling. It might seem good politics to offer the son of a Democratic icon some kind of cozy spot in an upcoming Democratic Administration. Yet, it is pretty clear RFK, Jr. just doesn't have what it takes, either in terms of experience or intellectual honesty, to do much more than be a constant source of migraine headaches.

We have a real opportunity here to give good people positions of authority. Don't waste it by hadning out legacy appointments to anit-intellectual nincompoops.

Music Monday

Along with "Give Peace a Chance" and "Imagine", John Lennon also wrote and performed some songs that were, um, "controversial". Why not see them now? If you are offended easily, well, just ignore what follows.

"Woman is Nigger of the World"

"Cold Turkey"


Don't Know Much About Marxism

Courtesy of ER, I have found a wonderful new right-wing site that will be chock-a-block with fun and laughs for all. Called American Descent, it is a group of our very own right-wing bloggers banding together in solidarity against the coming Communist-Islamist revolution America voted in to existence last Tuesday. A recent post actually links to another blogpost that claims that Barack Obama, American's first African-American President, will reinstitute slavery.

One in particular, however, that just has me grinning at the stupendous ignorance of these folks is one that claims Barack Obama will make of us a Soviet-style dictatorship. Along with the woeful ignorance of the differences between Marxism as a theory, including an on-going intellectual project, an communism as a political practice, we have the wonderful discussion of the place of religion in such a state. Of course, there is the conflation of communism and socialism and liberalism, as tired and ridiculous as it is all too common.

If one is interested, click the link and have fun. I certainly am.

Be warned, however. These folks are deadly earnest, and believe everything they write. Don't take them too seriously, have some fun, and watch the descent of the American right in real time.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Most Powerful Office

Many former Presidents have written in memoirs that, while many who have never held the office marvel at the power, that power is constrained by all sorts of forces. Yet, if there is an individual who is willing to assert that power, those constraints can melt away. Consider the following anecdote about Harry Truman. The same day FDR died, after having been quickly sworn in, he was in the Oval Office, and said he was about to do something. A Presidential aide (not someone who had served Truman) said, "But the President wouldn't do that." Truman turned and looked at the aide and said, "The President just did." It really can be that simple.

In that light, I think it is important to consider not just the previous post, but Paul Krugman's column in yesterday's New York Times.
[W]ill the election also mark a turning point in the actual substance of policy? Can Barack Obama really usher in a new era of progressive policies? Yes, he can.

Right now, many commentators are urging Mr. Obama to think small. Some make the case on political grounds: America, they say, is still a conservative country, and voters will punish Democrats if they move to the left. Others say that the financial and economic crisis leaves no room for action on, say, health care reform.

Let’s hope that Mr. Obama has the good sense to ignore this advice.

I thought, sixteen years ago, that Pres. Clinton would be the kind of person who would assert the authority of the Office in the way Krugman is recommending here, and as Truman did. I did not think, at the time, that Clinton would be far too cautious in the face of conservative hysteria, and trim his sails to the prevailing right-wing winds.

Those days are over. The Democrats have clear majorities in both houses of Congress, and clear progressive majorities as well. The commentariat, for all its self-importance, might just need to take a good dose of STFU and notice that the times are a-changing. If Obama manages to insist, as Truman did, that the President will do what the President will do, and the pundits all moan and complain that he can't or shouldn't do that, no one will be happier than I am. Since, it seems, Obama understands not only the nature and depth of the problems we face, but is surrounded by people who are not bound by conventional wisdom in their pursuit of a solution, I think we are already on the right track.

Let us hope that Obama manages to do what needs to be done, not only showing political courage, but displaying the power inherent in the Office he will hold as of noon on January 20, 2009.

The Burial Of Supply Side

I am not a fan of Robert Reich. Ever since his star-turn as Clinton's Labor Secretary, and his pouty and self-promoting tell all book after Clinton gave him the boot, I have found him to be a bit of a bore. He does frequent commentaries on economic issues on NPR, and what I come away from these with is, "Why doesn't anyone listen to my brilliance?" Or, perhaps, I have a block in my head where he's concerned. In any event, like I said, I am not a fan.

So it is with more than a bit of surprise that I am recommending an article he has written at TPMCafe. There is a non-trivial error in his piece - he claims that government spending on infrastructure helped end the Great Depression; it was, in fact, government spending on the military (Lend-Lease, then active military service after we entered the war) that ended the Depression - that should not be passed over lightly. For someone in a position of potential authority, as well as being as professor of economics, to claim that the New Deal ended the Depression when it clearly did not is disturbing.

In any event, he says what I have been saying, and uses basic Macroeconomic theory - anyone remember the C+I+G+exports curve? - to make his point. It is all about investing in infrastructure improvements.
So the crucial questions become (1) how much will the government have to spend to get the economy back on track? and (2) what sort of spending will have the biggest impact on jobs and incomes?


The answer to the second question is mostly "infrastructure" -- repairing roads and bridges, levees and ports; investing in light rail, electrical grids, new sources of energy, more energy conservation. Even conservative economists like Harvard's Martin Feldstein are calling for government to stimulate the economy through infrastructure spending. Infrastructure projects like these pack a double-whammy: they create lots of jobs, and they make the economy work better in the future. (Important qualification: To do this correctly and avoid pork, the federal government will need to have a capital budget that lists infrastructure projects in order of priority of public need.)

Government should also spend on health care and child care. These expenditures are also double whammies: they, too, create lots of jobs, and they fulfill vital public needs.

So not just physical, but social infrastructure investment, too. I couldn't agree more. Not just roads and bridges, public land improvements and Head Start programs, either; my hometown post office was built during PWA days, as was the Sayre, PA High School. All sorts of public buildings could be erected, or repaired and improved.

He deals pretty easily with the supply-side argument that its all about tax cuts by pointing out in the real world, people who get these tax cuts either don't spend the money (they save it), or they use it to help relieve debt (which is what happened with the money sent out in the last stimulus package last spring).

This is not to say there should not be some modest tax relief. I also think there should be a reduction, if not out-right revocation - of payroll tax deductions for those earning below a certain amount. These folks get this money back in the form of tax returns, anyway. Why not eliminate a step and allow them to keep their money in the first place?

Anyway, I would highly recommend Reich's little article.

Virtual Tin Cup

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