Saturday, March 14, 2009

Absent Facts, Idological Babble Is Stupid Reagrdless Of Which Side Does It

In the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich said:
I want to say to the elite of this country - the elite news media, the liberal academic elite, the liberal political elite: I accuse you in Littleton…of being afraid to talk about the mess you have made, and being afraid to take responsibility for things you have done, and instead foisting upon the rest of us pathetic banalities because you don’t have the courage to look at the world you have created.

Two years ago, after the Virginia Tech shootings, for some reason beyond my comprehension, George Stephanopoulos had Gingrich on and asked him if the same words would apply to the Blacksburg, VA massacre, to which Gingrich said, "Yes."

There is enough information in the record about both events, the perpetrators, and events leading up them that larger points on social factors - the nihilism and anomie of a certain segment of the suburban youth population; the role played by bullying and social castes in our high schools; the self-perpetuating loneliness of those who are sinking in to mental illness and how it can lead, in extreme cases, to violence - can certainly be explored with these events as touchstones for serious discussion.

I have a problem with this kind of speculative nonsense, based on nothing at all:
But I think of a man in Alabama, couldn't make it into the marines. Couldn't pass day one of the state police training camp.

Redneck from deep in redneck junctions.

He didn't take his guns and blow away his family, friends, and strangers because he was a redneck, because he had redneck values.

He did it because he (and the family and community who couldn't tell he'd been cooking toward crazy for at least a year or two) had nothing else to be and nothing else to value.

He was a nigger redneck, knew he was a nigger redneck. Knew the world (as much of it as he could conceive) thought of him as a nigger redneck and gave him only nigger redneck things to do.
(italics added)

Did Michael McLendon think of himself as a redneck? A "nigger redneck" who "had nothing else to be and nothing else to value"? We don't know. Even the information on the triggers - his confessed depression over failure to become a Marine of state police officer, a dispute over ownership of a family Bible - leave us no further ahead in attempting to really grasp what happened, what caused an otherwise quiet, polite young man to suddenly become the biggest mass-murderer in Alabama history. We knew this in the immediate aftermath of the event; lines have been drawn between and among various dots by officials that should leave us scratching our heads.

Whether it's Newt Gingrich calling out liberals for their responsibility for the Columbine HS massacre, or Maureen Down insisting she knows what goes on in the heads of various politicians, or a blog commenter figuring out the motives of a mass murderer based on very little information, this kind of thing does no one any favors, and muddies the water of further understanding with a whole lot of nonsense.

She Came And Gave . . . Pain

I love this story. Too funny.
Barry Manilow has now joined the ranks of Metallica and Barney the Dinosaur. They are all part of that exclusive group of musicians whose songs are used as torture. The controversial practice involves blasting music at ear-splitting volumes for hours on end. A truly annoying song helps. U.S. soldiers have used it on everyone from Manual Noriega to the prisoners locked up at Gitmo. Predictably, most songwriters don't dig this kind of use. It's not the kind of audience they had in mind when hoping for a hit.

The list includes Metallica's "Enter Sandman" as well as Captain and Tenille's "Muskrat Love". US Armed Forces in Panama in late 1989 used Guns-N-Roses blasted at the Vatican Embassy to drive out Manuel Noriega, who had taken refuge there.

I can think of all sorts of songs, but I think "Mandy" by Barry Manilow is ranked far too low as an inflicter of pain. I would also include "The Rose" by Bette Midler. Just thinking of it . . . brrrr . . .

Political Conservatism And Bees

Jamison Foser's weekly "Media Matters" column focuses its attention on what he calls the "stupidity" of Republican talking points concerning the $410 billion supplemental budget bill passed by Congress and the presence of "earmarks", specifically on the national media's transcription of so many of these Republican talking points without serious research or considerations of scale or relevance or importance.
For weeks, the news media have been buzzing about earmarks in the recently signed omnibus spending bill. We've been told over and over that the bill is "loaded," "filled," and "stuffed" with earmarks. Since earmarks made up less than 2 percent of the bill's total spending, this is a little like saying Alaska is "filled" with people.

But John McCain doesn't like earmarks, so that's where the media have focused their attention. (OK, there's more to it than that, but not much.) Unfortunately, they've done so in the most juvenile way possible. Following McCain's lead, the media's assessment of the earmarks consists of nothing more than sarcastically listing them, as though they are self-evidently a waste of money. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently described the approach McCain and the Republicans have adopted:

The intellectual incoherence is stunning. Basically, the political philosophy of the GOP right now seems to consist of snickering at stuff that they think sounds funny. The party of ideas has become the party of Beavis and Butthead.

And the media have gone right along with it, producing news reports about the spending bill that are no more substantive than an adolescent chortle: Heh, heh, he said "pig waste." Heh.

Foser zeroes in on the inclusion of federal money for support of honeybee research.
Consider, for example, the honeybee. If you have watched television news or picked up a newspaper in the past several weeks, you've probably heard about federal funding for honeybees.

The assault on the honeybee began with the stimulus package, when CNN and other news organizations dutifully repeated GOP attacks on the inclusion of $150 million for "honeybee insurance." Columnist Charles Krauthammer went so far as to call the bill an "abomination" for including the honeybee insurance.

Now, there are a few things you need to know about the honeybee insurance. First, there was no such funding, according to Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik. Second, if the funding did exist, it would have amounted to somewhere around two one-hundredths of 1 percent of the stimulus package. Third, if the funding existed, it might well have been a wise use of money.

Foser goes on to make the not-insignificant point that the honeybee population is dying off; both "domesticated" and wild bee populations are used not just for producing honey for commercial sale, but also for pollination of various commercial crops; the demise of so much of the bee population is already putting a multi-billion dollar dent in certain segments of agriculture. Further research into the rather dull name of "Honey Bee Colony Collapse Disorder" should seem a no-brainer; which, it seems, is Foser's point. Much of the criticism of funding here is not based in any philosophical opposition to federal funding for scientific research as such; nor is it linked to some kind of federalism, in which it would be preferable that the states where this problem exists would be far better equipped both to target the funds and to see a direct benefit from such research. Sadly, the latter two points have neither been argued nor even made an appearance. It is, sadly, all about laughing about stuff that sounds funny.

Now, one point Foser makes is that most Americans not only do not know about the importance of the honeybee to agriculture, it would be almost impossible for them to know this.
Now, you can't expect most Americans to know this. Most Americans don't give much thought to bees beyond hoping they don't get stung by one. And that's fine: The life cycle and migratory patterns of bees, and their resultant effects on avocado and cucumber growth, are fairly obscure subjects. We can't, and shouldn't, expect the typical American to know about or act upon these things. After all, there are a lot of obscure but important things that, as a nation, we need to know about and act upon. We can't know about and act upon them all individually; it's literally impossible.

It isn't just the media who could or even should find out if such federal funding is either important or even defensible. It might be thought that members of Congress who laugh like drunk frat boys at fart jokes about this kind of thing have highly paid staffs at their disposal who could use this newfangled thing called Google and discover the nature of the spending proposal.

Of course, they don't do that. And the press neither reports their not so doing, nor does it on its own. Indeed, the entire process of political discourse has become a weird kind of joke. On the one hand, you have Pres. Obama and some Democrats (although not all) raising serious questions, insisting on accountability, treating the American people like adults who are facing numerous problems that will not be fixed either easily or quickly. On the other hand, you have people like John McCain who Twitter about bee research, with a smirk and a nudge to their neighbor, without ever really doing the job they were elected to do - find out if the money is either proposed well, or serves a broader public good. A conservative argument can certainly be made about funding for bee research, or hog-waste odor control (another line-item earmark) or any of the hundreds of proposed spending plans that are the target of the "Nyuck-nyuck" crowd.

They aren't doing so. Political conservatism, it is sad to say, has nothing serious to offer as an alternative. All they have are the public equivalent of fart jokes, which while funny (sometimes) are what they are - juvenile humor. Meanwhile, there is on offer some funding for research in to why an important part of the web of agriculture is disappearing, and all the Republicans can do is snicker at it.

Is it any wonder the Republicans no longer hold any serious power? We have all sorts of problems, and we get sniggers about bees and pig shit.

Saturday Rock Show

When The Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails was released, I was so impressed, not least by the presence of Adrian Belew as guest guitarist and producer, I listened to each and every track, and read up on it. There was something transcendent about it, in a strange way. "Big Man With A Gun" was Reznor's less than sly dig at the macho posing of some of the early "gangsta rappers". Considering the prevalence of guns in our culture, however, the song definitely has a much broader attack. Considering the way far too many men supplement nature with a piece of steel that goes bang, it is pretty much a dig at most American men. One thing Reznor has in his favor in making this statement is, despite the sheer weight of volume and noise associated with NIN, there is something vulnerable about so much of the lyrical content. Now, obviously, he hides this vulnerability behind layers of sound, and one can get distracted by the presence of naughty words if one allows oneself. For all that, though, this is an anti-machismo song, by someone who, at the time, was a young man wrestling with demons he has since been able to set aside (alcohol, specifically; I recently read he's been clean and sober for a decade).

Thursday, March 12, 2009

“This is the beginning of Bradford County,”

I love stories like this:
Local landowner Todd Kent Campbell couldn’t believe his eyes when he looked at some maps that were contained within the archives of the Tioga Point Museum.

The maps that he discovered were the famous warrant maps drawn up by Zephin Flower back in the 1700s, which laid the foundation for all the land within Bradford County.

That’s not all that Campbell found when he was doing research on the deed to the former Cohen property in Athens Township — he also found the warrant maps developed by Flower’s grandson Z.F. Walker, and also Flower’s great-grandson N.F. Walker.

Historical significance

Every deed for every property in Bradford County is based off the original warrant maps created by Zephin Flower, said Campbell.


This discovery occurred approximately 10 days ago when Campbell was in the midst of researching the deeds for the former Cohen property.

Those old deeds kept referencing the surveys of a “Z.F. Walker,” he related.

“Right up into the adjoining lands, even into 2003, they’re still calling out ‘Z.F. Walker’ because that is what their deeds say,” he said.

Campbell said he went to the county register and recorder’s office, and couldn’t find any copies of those referenced survey maps.

He then contacted local surveyors and asked them if they knew where he could locate these Z.F. Walker survey maps. He was told “No” and “They would be a great find if you found them.”

“So I kept muddling along and I came here to the museum, and I asked if they had any pictures of the Interstate Fairgrounds (which became the Cohen property),” he said.

Campbell said he asked about Z.F. Walker, and the museum’s computers referenced an article on the individual.

Campbell then inquired about any old maps that the museum may have. The museum aide answered in the affirmative and went back into the archives.

“I helped her carry out a big box (and) the first one I opened up, I about fell over — because there (was a) Z.F. Walker map,” he said.

Aside from the local significance, this story is important because it reminds us all that even the small local museums can be repositories of untold information. Sitting in boxes in archives all over the country, unresearched and forgotten, may just be all sorts of significant information that many think has been lost forever.

What became Bradford County, Pennsylvania was anchored at the junction of the Susquehanna and Chemung Rivers, at a place called Fort Tioga, just south of the current Borough of Athens. It was a "frontier outpost" set up by the British to keep an eye on the Iroquois in the western reaches of the colonies of New York and Pennsylvania. The early Americans took it easily, and Gen. Sullivan, after his atrocious conduct in some early battles against the British, was sent there to drive the Seneca and Mohawk away from settlers (these two members of the Iroquois Confederacy were being bribed by the British to rampage through settlement communities) and did not exactly distinguish himself. He did manage to push them as far north and west near to what is now Geneseo, NY before he turned back.

I'm sure there are many who shrug their shoulders and say, "So what?" As the article makes clear, however, the physical layout of Bradford County is rooted in these early warrant maps. It is one of the sources for its current look. In a very real sense, it is a first pass as Bradford County's birth. As someone with deep roots in Bradford County (my grandmother's family settled in Wysox, PA after the Revolutionary War, and that family has members there to this day) I would dearly love to see these warrant maps. As someone who values history and recognizes the importance of every bit of material that aides in understanding how we came to be who we are today, these are priceless pieces of paper.

Many thanks to Tioga Point Museum for holding on to these documents. I hope they manage to get them online, once they are thoroughly reviewed.



Rush Limbaugh told what he thought was a joke to a cheering crowd at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative activists and politicians. In his rambling remarks televised on FOX News, Limbaugh said that when Larry King died, he went to heaven and was met at the gates by Saint Peter. King's one question was: "Is Rush Limbaugh here?"

"'No, he's got a lot of time yet, Mr. King,'" said Limbaugh, pretending to be Peter.

"So Saint Peter begins the tour," said Limbaugh. "Larry King sees the various places and it's beyond anything we can imagine in terms of beauty. Finally, he gets to the biggest room of all, with this giant throne. And over the throne is a flashing beautiful angelic neon sign that says, 'Rush Limbaugh.'"

The audience laughed.

Limbaugh said, "And Larry King looks at Saint Peter and says, 'I thought you said he wasn't here.' He said, 'He's not, he's not. This is God's room. He just thinks he's Rush Limbaugh,'" said Limbaugh.

The crowd erupted with laughter, applause and hoots. Conservatives thought it was hilarious that God would envy the rival deity named Rush Limbaugh. Not a boo, not a hiss, not a grumble was heard from the crowd.

Robert Parham, executive Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, who relates this story, writes further:
When Lennon said, "We're more popular than Jesus," Bible-belt Christians roared with anger. They burned Beatles records, banned Beatles songs on the radio and boycotted Beatles concerts. They tolerated no rival claims to the messiah. When Limbaugh uttered a parallel claim, those who see Christianity under attack offered no response. No cry of cultural hostility toward religion was heard. No demand for an apology boomed from pulpits. No boycott was launched.

Why is that?

Why is it that the Christian Right reacted with such reverence to a man who, through thinly disguised humor, disclosed his prideful self-perception and espoused a worldview that counters the biblical witness? Are they afraid of Limbaugh? Are they afraid of his followers who pack their pews?

What explains the fact that Limbaugh can speak untruthfully, and yet he goes unchallenged by conservative Christians? He certainly spoke untruthfully at CPAC when he said that conservatives did not see other people with contempt. Yet he exhibited contempt in his comments about Senators Harry Reid and John Kerry.

When Limbaugh asserted that President Obama "portrays America as a soup kitchen in some dark night," that he wants to destroy the United States and that he was fueling "class envy," his untruthfulness went unchallenged. Limbaugh claimed, "We don't hate anybody." Yet he proceeded to speak hatefully about Obama, defending his statement that he hoped Obama failed, which was hardly endearing speech.

If truth telling isn't a conservative value, what about unbridled greed? Is greed a Christian concern? Limbaugh defended greed. He defended the conspicuous consumption and the corporate mismanagement of Merrill Lynch's former CEO John Thain as a way to defend capitalism.

Limbaugh asserted the primacy of excessive individualism. Again and again, he preached a radical individualism--the rights of the individual are transcendent. Never did he advocate sacrifice for another or urge his audience to avoid the pursuit of one's rights for the well-being of others.

Limbaugh's agenda had no room for the parable of the Good Samaritan, perhaps no longer a valued Christian narrative. Is Rush Limbaugh's agenda in sync with the moral values and vision of conservative Christians?

Given the thunderous silence of Christian Right leaders about Limbaugh's worldview, one wonders if talk radio's man of excessive individualism and political extremism has replaced the biblical witness as a moral compass.

Obviously, Rush being an ignorant drug-addled sex tourist, serially lying his way through decades of on-air hatred, racism, sexism, and bitterness, would not understand Mr. Parham's questions. Yet, the questions are not for Limbaugh, but his supporters, those who laughed at his "joke". Are you so afraid of this little fat man that you are unwilling to stand up and call him on his error? Are you so enamored of the desire to be powerful that you will hitch your wagon to this unholy purveyor of lies, non-facts, and political and social bile?

I think that question, too, is already answered.

25 Dead, Half A World Apart

Yesterday was the last day for far too many young people. Yesterday was the day two other young people, for whatever reason they had concocted, decided to make their mark on the world. It is a sad fact that an otherwise unremarkable human being can become infamous, remembered as long as computers keep the names floating around, through dealing in death and horror.

In Alabama, a young man killed ten. In Germany - GERMANY - another killed fifteen.

If someone can explain to me how any of this makes sense, feel free. Other than the insanity and evil of human sin, I have none.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

I Score An 89

Take the quiz to see how progressive you are. I scored 356 out of a total of 400 (not a shock!). With a generous hat-tip to Oliver Willis.

The Upcoming EFCA Battle

I think it is important to note upfront that I am employed by what is perhaps the most notorious anti-union corporation in the United States. I have to admit that I believe I am risking my job just writing about this subject, but it is important and needs to be addressed. The looming reintroduction (correction - it was introduced today) of the Employee Free Choice Act, popularly known as the "Card Check Bill", already has various groups lining up for what will be a very ugly fight. Yesterday, my employer got a stock downgrade because of "fears" EFCA will pass, "hurting" their "profitability".

Let me say for the record that (a) Employee Free Choice will pass; (b) not just WalMart, but Target and other retailers, as well as foreign companies such as Toyota that have manufacturing plants in southern "right to work" states will fight tooth and nail, after passage, to block any unionization efforts; (c) eventually - in no more than five years, and perhaps a good deal fewer - WalMart will be unionized, and once it is done, just as with the automobile industry and steel during the Depression, and the protracted machinists fight in various tool and dye manufactures (my grandfather fought that battle for years) - many, including major shareholders in WalMart (who mostly include the children of founder Sam Walton) will wonder what the fuss was about. In other words, the final push to organize the retail sector will result in a win-win for both the company and the employees.

Now, as the above-linked report from National Public Radio's Morning Edition notes, both business and labor groups are using the current economic downturn to argue that the bill, if it becomes law, would hurt (business)/help (labor) the economy. A spokesman from the National Federation of Independent Business is quoted as saying:
A lot of small-business owners tell us that if they are forcibly organized under this legislation, a lot of them will close their doors, so you're going to have job losses from businesses shutting down, so it is going to have an impact on the economy. . .

On the other hand, a senior official with the AFL-CIO says:
"This is one of the most important issues facing America today." He argues that one of the reasons for current economic stagnation is that workers haven't gotten meaningful wage increases in recent decades. And as a result they've lost buying power.

"We need to put more money in the hands of the people who will spend it in this economy. You can't power this economy if average Americans can't buy things, and this will allow workers to negotiate for a fair share of the wealth that they create so that they can then spend it and power this economy."

For the record, I can't imagine folks in true small businesses clamoring to join the SEIU or Teamsters, although that is certainly possible. On the other hand, the point made by labor's representative was something even Henry Ford - perhaps the most virulently anti-labor corporate giant in American history - understood. While he certainly hated unions, his position vis-a-vis his employees was highly paternalistic (in both the good and bad senses of that term), which was at the heart of his anti-labor position. He paid his assembly line workers enough money to purchase the vehicles they produced, figuring that not to do so just made no sense. While hardly making a living wage, Ford employees could buy the Model T's and later Model A's with relative ease.

Wages have been stagnant for close to a generation, the only real uptick occurring during the last couple years of the Clinton Administration. While there is no guarantee that EFCA, if passed, will begin a new wave of workplace organizing leading to higher wages, the idea that paying people more to buy more at a time of depressed demand makes much more sense than threatening to close down an independent local grocer because the forty employees want to join a local union.

Also, it should be noted that the insistence by business that EFCA eliminates the secret ballot is simply not the case. As labor law currently exists, unorganized workplaces face so many obstacles - and employees in virulently anti-labor corporations face termination and intimidation - that furthering the goal of organizing unskilled and semi-skilled workplaces is impossible in practical terms. EFCA makes the first step toward organizing easy, secret (from the company), and much less threatening. The rest of the process - including a final vote by secret ballot - still occurs; yet making a preference known as to whether or not a workplace wishes to organize will be easier and far less strewn with obstacles.

In any event, I believe that the battle will be pretty ugly, with both sides making charges and counter-charges. I believe some companies (not necessarily my own) will get pretty intimidating toward workers who might consider starting an organizing drive. At the end of the day, however, EFCA will be a boon to both labor and the service/retail sector, the economy, and we will wonder what all the fuss was about.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Science Versus Ignorance

Yesterday, as most who follow these things know, Pres. Obama lifted the Bush Administration's ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. In The Washington Post story on the event, there is a remarkable contrast given between Obama's and Bush's approach that is startling. First, Pres. Obama:
Obama said, "Promoting science isn't just about providing resources -- it's also about protecting free and open inquiry."

"It's about letting scientists like those who are here today do their jobs free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient -- especially when it's inconvenient," Obama said to applause.


In his remarks to an audience that included people in wheelchairs and others using guide dogs, Obama said, "In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent."

Now, from 2001, we have the words of former Pres. Bush:
In August 2001, President George W. Bush limited federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to the 21 stem cell lines in existence at the time. Although he acknowledged the research value, Bush said that "extracting the stem cell destroys the embryo, and thus destroys its potential for life."

"Like a snowflake, each of these embryos is unique, with the unique genetic potential of an individual human being," Bush said in a nationally televised speech that offered a summary of his personal ethical debate on the subject

"Like a snowflake"? "Personal ethical debate"? Obama discusses the issue in terms of public policy. Bush talks like a kid in a church youth group.

Now, who does the Post decide to ask for commentary on Obama's decision? A scientist, perhaps? No. Yuval Levin. His cv at the end of his piece includes the information that he is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, described as a "socially conservative interest group." There isn't anything wrong with having a conservative comment on the policies of a moderately liberal executive. Yet, one wonders why they would make this choice, since Levin also served on the President's Council on Bioethics from 2003-2005. In other words, there might be thought a conflict here, no?

Anyway, Levin makes a bald statement as fact that is not really one:
What you think of his policy depends on what you think of the moral status of embryos. If (as modern biology informs us) conception initiates a human life, and if (as the Declaration of Independence asserts) every human life is equally deserving of some minimal protections, government support for the destruction of human embryos for research raises profound moral problems.(italics added)

While it is true that an embryo is certainly a stage in human development, to call an embryo a "human being" for legal purposes would be a stretch. I think it important to note that Levin mentions the Declaration of Independence, which has no legal standing in the United States, rather than the Constitution, precisely because the courts, federal and state, have said that an embryo is not, legally, a "person", which is the real issue.

A further note on Levin's column. He closes as follows:
Modern science offers tremendously powerful means of knowing and doing. It is the role of elected policymakers to consider the knowledge that science offers and the power it gives us, and to balance these with other priorities -- be they economic as in the case of environmental policy, strategic as in the case of nonproliferation or moral as in the case of embryonic stem cells. In all these areas, politics ought to govern, with science merely its handmaiden. Science is a glorious thing, but it is no substitute for wisdom, prudence or democracy.

The problem, of course, is that the weight of ethical consideration is precisely on the side of further embryonic stem cell research. There are certainly voices all over, even scientifically-trained voices, that denounce such research. Yet, since science is about neither absolute certainty in a factual sense, and even less about truth in any sense whatsoever, but doing the best we can with the knowledge we currently posses; and since the knowledge we currently possess does not see an embryo as a human being in any sense, certainly not a legally protected one; and since the desire for research on embryonic human stem cells if most definitely guided by the ethical desire to find ways to treat illnesses, disorders, diseases, and injuries currently outside medicine's ability to treat effectively, it seems to me that Obama has most definitely considered the ethical balance, and come down foursquare on the side of ethical science.

And it's about time.

Is It Any Wonder Newspapers Are Going Under?

I was perusing The Daily Howler, and I came across this:
In an interview with Barack Obama, unidentified [New York] Times reporters asked the president, three separate times, about the notion that he is a socialist.

My first thought was this was a joke. I clicked the link to Steve Benen's "Political Animal" blog at Washington Monthly, and discovered it was not, in fact, a joke. These yahoos were quite serious.
President Obama chatted with a couple of New York Times reporters aboard Air Force One yesterday, and the interview covered quite a bit of ground. I was taken aback, though, by the NYT approaching this nonsense in a serious way:

Q. The first six weeks have given people a glimpse of your spending priorities. Are you a socialist as some people have suggested?

A. You know, let's take a look at the budget -- the answer would be no.

Q. Is there anything wrong with saying yes?

A. Let's just take a look at what we've done....

Let me get this straight. Unhinged and hysterical Republicans have engaged in an absurd red scare, in large part because the White House supports a 39.6% top rate. The very idea that the president's agenda is similar to "socialism" is demonstrably ridiculous. So, given an opportunity to interview with president, the New York Times, arguably one of the world's most prestigious news outlets, asks, "Are you a socialist?"

Indeed, the reporters brought it up again soon after.

Q. Is there one word name for your philosophy? If you're not a socialist, are you a liberal? Are you progressive? One word?

A. No, I'm not going to engage in that.

Bene's last sentence sums it all up beautifully:
Sometimes our political discourse is very, very dumb, and journalists who should play a constructive role in making it better often make it worse.

It's one thing for the brain dead, the ignorant, and the clinically sociopathic to carry on about Obama being a Muslim Communist Fascist who is hell-bent on destroying America. For The New York Times to buy in to this, even the tiniest fraction thereof, is mind-numbing.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Music Monday

One of the greatest bands of all time emerged from the punk movement in Britain. They should have taken the world by storm. Well, they did, except here in the US where radio programmers were tone deaf to their merits. The Clash had so much going for them, far more than so many others at the time. Here they are at the very beginning of their life as a band, "Garageland", filmed at a gig in 1978.

The title says it all. "English Civil War", live (of course):

While most people think of "Train in Vain" as the song that brought The Clash to their attention, it was "London Calling", a song that actually got rotation on my commercial FM station I listened to as a kid, that made me sit up and take notice (they also played "Radio Free Europe", and late at night "God Save the Queen"). Here they are live in New Jersey.

Prayers Please

There is no safe place. Would that it were so, but, alas, it is not. Many thanks to Monk-In-Training for the information, as horrifying as it may be.
On Sunday, March 8, 2009, a little after our 8:15 service began, a man entered First Baptist Church and fired several gunshots at our Senior Pastor, Dr. Fred Winters. Pastor Winters was taken to the hospital but died of his wounds.

Please pray for Dr. Winter’s family, our two brave members who were injured when they stopped the assailant, for the assailant himself and his family, and for our church members as they deal with this tragic loss.

For all the people of Maryville, IL; for all worshipers everywhere who may now understand how vulnerable we all are to the violence and hatred embedded in this world; for the family of the Rev. Dr. Winters, his widow and two children; for the person who is responsible for this (please note the church asks for prayers for the assailant . . .) - please lift your hands and hearts to heaven for presence, peace, healing, and mercy.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

“It is an intrinsic part of our personhood and should be treated as sacred,”

The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society is presenting a series on sexual ethics, and all I can say is - it's about time.
Bishop Deborah Kiesey, GBCS board of directors president, and Jim Winkler, the social justice agency's chief executive, issued a joint statement announcing the monthly series.

“We see it almost every day in the news in one way or another: HIV & AIDS; rising divorce rates brought on by marital infidelity; teen pregnancy; homosexuality and homophobia. The topic is sexuality,” they say in their statement. “It is important for us and the Church to address this issue and its impact on all of us.”

They said “Sex and the Church” will provide theological, educational, scientific and sociological sustenance along with specific questions for dialogue and discernment.

Kiesey and Winkler point out that the United Methodist Social Principles describe human sexuality as “God’s good gift to all persons.” “Yet we also know that on this the Church has often remained silent or been too polarized,” they declare. “So GBCS has recruited some outstanding resource people to share their expertise on a number of key topics within the framework of human sexuality.”

Dr. Traci West, professor of Ethics and African American Studies at Drew University Theological School, Madison, N.J., wrote the series lead-off article, “The Theology of Sexuality.” West leads sexual ethics seminars and participated in a sexuality study that found seminaries in the United States are not adequately preparing future clergy to deal with sexuality issues despite ongoing debates within their denominations about issues such as homosexuality.

“Sexuality has to do with the way in which our bodies, our spirit and our mind respond to other people and to the way we understand our bodies as sensual,” West said.

Some of the other scheduled articles in the series include “Teaching Abstinence in a World Awash with Sex,” “The Myths of Sex: Sex, HIV and Gender,” “Cheaters Think They Prosper: Myths about Marital Infidelity,” “Politics of Sex,” “What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know,” “Surviving Rape,” “A Black Woman's Guide to Sex and Spirituality,” “Clergy Living with AIDS and the Role of the Church,” and “Young People Speak out About Sex!”

From the first installment, written by Traci West, a professor at Drew University:
God’s wondrous creation of human sexuality should never be reduced simply to a sex act or a particular sexual practice. To suggest that you can practice sexuality or not like flipping a light switch on or off is a blasphemous negation of God’s creativity, of how sexuality is woven into the fabric of the human mind, body and spirit.

God’s gift of sexuality is experienced through:
# our sensory perceptions — taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing;
# our emotional life — wants, needs, fears, shame, joys, wonder;
# our spirituality — prayers of thanksgiving, mind/body/spirit meditation, acknowledgement of being God’s precious creation;
# our affect — sensual/emotional presence impacts others when we enter the room;
# our minds — ability to imagine, fantasize, delay and interrupt sensory responses; and
# our physicality — our body's shape, texture, hairiness, stamina, flexibility, capacities, movement.

Furthermore, sexuality should not be understood as merely an individualistic quality. It includes the inherent social dimensions of vulnerability and accountability to others. A person may be in an intimate, covenantal relationship with another person, or single and celibate. You may be taking a solitary, luxurious, sensual bath, or talking to your doctor about a sexual reproduction issue. In both our being and our doing, sexuality is a continuing part of our emotional, spiritual, social and bodily “practice.” It is an inherent part of our God-created, shared humanity.

Exploring theology about the trinitarian nature of God can be a creative way to remind ourselves of the meaning of human sexuality and its ethical dimensions. As Christians we believe that God created the incredibly diverse beings we are. This, of course, includes human sexuality. It reminds us to humbly marvel at God’s handiwork in the diversity of human creation and to treat each other with respect and equal regard.

The incarnation of Jesus, at once fully divine and fully human flesh and blood, reminds us of the preciousness of our own bodies to God. It should also remind us to always treat our own bodies and other people’s as equally endowed with precious, sacred worth.

The Holy Spirit is God with us at all times. It reminds us that God’s loving presence never abandons us, always supports our wholeness, no matter whether in joyful sexual pleasure or cruel sexual victimization. This loving witness of the Holy Spirit models solidarity for us to emulate by supporting one another.

Read the whole thing, and tell me what you think. It's a good start.

It's Getting Ugly

The struggle for dominance among the non-dominant is something to behold.
In his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, hate radio talker Rush Limbaugh repeated his assertion that he hopes President Obama “fails.” In the same speech, Limbaugh took a veiled shot at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is one of his rivals for the leadership of the conservative movement, saying that people who say the GOP needs to move on from Ronald Reagan must be stamped out.

On NBC’S Meet The Press today, Gingrich fired back, saying that “you’ve got to want the president to succeed.” “You’re irrational if you don’t want the president to succeed because if he doesn’t succeed, the country doesn’t succeed,” said Gingrich.

From an online textbook for an introductory course in psychology:
Group-living animals commonly joust for dominance. Different animals test each other to see who is "really boss." The outcome has important implications for each animal's genetic success. Dominant animals usually reproduce more than non-dominant animals. Aggression in primates is related to the male hormone testosterone . The more testosterone a male primate has, the more aggressive it tends to be. Defeated males lose testosterone. . . .


When a larger or more dominant animal makes a threat display, a younger or more submissive animal usually backs down, and violence is averted. A low growl accompanied by a stare is an unmistakable threat display used by many large mammals. A common threat display for the dog is a low growl, with ears laid back and teeth bared. Cats have a threat display also: they stare, make a low growling sound, and adopt a posture that indicates they may attack. If seriously threatened, they hiss, arch their backs, and fluff their fur in the classic "cat fight" posture. Such a display might be considered a fear display as much as a threat display. Fear and threat displays are often similar.

The primate grimace known as the threat face tells an aggressor to "back off." Dr. Dian Fossey, whose life was portrayed in the movie Gorillas in the Mist, used her knowledge of social displays among gorillas.

In response to a silverback that would not stop bluff-charging her, she made a fright face, [a] kind of horrible grimace... The startled silverback sat down at once and began to eat, nervously, with one eye on her. Then he got up and walked away. (Hayes, 1990)


As a rule, only group-living animals are "programmed" to submit to dominant animals. In group-living species, submission is adaptive; it gives the subordinate animal better odds of survival and reproduction.


Submission postures are body positions that a submissive animal uses to acknowledge a dominant animal and ward off aggression. The submission conveys the message, "OK, you're bigger. I am no threat to you." . . .
Submission postures often involve exposing a vulnerable part of the body such as the neck. A supplicant bowing before a king illustrates a submission posture. In the kneeling position, a person is vulnerable to being struck on the neck or back of the head. . . .
Submission postures are called appeasement displays if used to appease (lessen the anger of) an aggressive animal. One striking characteristic of animal and human appeasement strategies is infantilization. Cowering, whining, crying, begging, and nervous laughter-all are responses that partially mimic the behavior of children. All can make an aggressive animal decide not to attack

As we watch the conservative civil war unfold over ensuing weeks and perhaps months, remember that the entire dominance-and-submission role playing among primates is geared toward mating.

That should make you drink heavily.

Seriously, though, it is interesting to consider these two middle-aged, semi-corpulent, non-alpha males battling for control of a political/ideological movement in decline. Gingrich's notion that Obama needs to adopt "different policies" is, in reality, a desire for failure, considering our current circumstances; a distinction without a difference in all practical terms. Adding in pseudo-public intellectual David Brooks criticisms, which include digs at the heart of the conservative myth of Ronald Reagan, and you have the makings for a whole lot of fun. The conservative revolution, which really started with Richard Nixon, gained prominence under Reagan, and reached some kind of peak under Gingrich, and is now in eclipse, has become Saturn, devouring the last of its children in an attempt to stave off its demise.

Nursery Niestzsches

NB: The title comes from a review of Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's novel The Illuminatus Trilogy and is as good a description of devotees of Randian objectivism as I can imagine.

Some of the lesser lights of the right are threatening the rest of us. They believe it is time, as the current phrase puts it, to "go Galt". For the uninformed (blessedly, I could add), this refers to the protagonist of Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, who, in a speech toward the end of the novel (a speech that seems to take up most of the novel, and also seems the sole reason Rand wrote it) decided to refuse to participate in society anymore. Because his greatness was not recognized, and mediocrity (in his opinion) was continually rewarded, he would, as the title of the novel puts it, shrug off the weight of the world he was carrying. Even now, at the remove of decades since I first laughed at this silly attempt at pseudo-philosophizing, I cannot imagine the appeal of such drivel.

Yet, for some reason, Rand appeals. Alan Greenspan, along with being a jazz clarinetist, was also a follower of the Russian immigrant. There is a very vocal Randian organization, the leader of which published an op-ed in the Richmond Times Dispatch one year on Christmas Day that read like parody, and was even funnier when I realized the guy was quite serious.

The ones who are braying loudest about "going Galt", however, are not the types to which Rand was referring. As Hilzoy points out they are, in fact, a combination of public university professors (parasites living off the public dole, whose sole claim to fame is a blog of limited intellectual merit even for a blog), racist screechers who would be thought overachievers if one called them mediocrities. Even a member of Congress, certainly parasitic on our money.

Now, to give Rand her due, she was speaking of creative types. Galt was an architect. Certainly, should those who create, either wealth or beauty or both, simply decided to cease creation because they were not being given their due respect, the world would be a poorer place. Yet, there has never been a time when true creators, either of wealth or beauty, would surrender their need to create out of some sense of abandonment by society. Indeed, it seems to me that such an act - refusing to create in order to punish all those lesser lights who do not understand the transcendence inherent in creation - is a sign of mediocrity rather than genius or cunning. It is a Great Pout, a hissy fit of epic proportions.

So, please, all you who insist it is time to "go Galt", please do so. For all our sakes.

Virtual Tin Cup

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