February 26, 2008

Campaign Videos

After posting yesterday on campaign videos and campaigning below the cortex, I took a look at some vintage campaign commercials that contain absolutely no policy content.

Check out this 1952 Stevenson ad.  "Vote Stevenson, Vote Stevenson, a man you can believe in son."

Two more below the fold...

Continue reading "Campaign Videos" »

February 25, 2008

Campaigning below the Cortex

I don't know if Obama's people are directly behind the production of this video or not, but they've definitely had the upper hand when it comes to visceral appeal.  Think of this as a love song from a suitor and you can appreciate how powerful a campaign device like this can be.  Betcha they're hoping a lot of Hispanic Texans are going to watch this during the next month.

The next one by Hillary's people would be great too... if she were running for president in the 1976. What were they thinking?

Maybe she's just trying to woo elderly Republicans.

And, I think Obama has the crucial 6 through 12-year-old demographic sewed up with this one.

Photo of the Day: Indecency in Washington (1922)

Policeman_in_washington_dc_checki_2

One way to make everyone look (Click photo to enlarge).

D.C. cop enforces Washington's decency code.  No more than 6 inches above the knee may be exposed.  Meanwhile, 1922 was the year that a senate investigation into illegal cash payoffs for oil leasing rights began in what became known as the Teapot Dome scandal.

February 22, 2008

Quote of the Day

[T]he relative success of countries like Denmark and Iceland is outstanding evidence that the best way to ensure high levels of welfare spending (in tiny, ethnically homogeneous countries) is to let the capitalism rip -- from the always interesting Will Wilkinson.

February 20, 2008

NRO Columnist Says Mixed Race Obama is Part of Communist Plot

Lisa Schiffren at NRO suggests that it's only political correctness that stops us from seeing that Obama's biracial background means he could be part of a communist plot to take over the US government.

Ah, yes... the elevated discourse continues.

Obama Surges Ahead of Clinton In Latest Zogby Poll

In results just released by Zogby, Obama outpolled Hillary Clinton 52% to 38%.  Obama leads in all age groups except seniors and in all income groups except those earning under $25,000/year.  Obama has a small lead among white voters, a larger lead among male voters and is tied with Clinton among women voters.

Zogby also found Obama running ahead of McCain with 47% to 40%.  With the general election still 9 months away, the numbers for an Obama-McCain match up don't mean anything.  But we may be seeing the end for Hillary in the latest polling figures.

So what's happening?  The relentless efforts to define Obama's change mantra as style without substance are not impressing voters.  The message to voters: "Obama is hoodwinking you."  The response from voters:  "No he's not. A change in style is exactly what we want."

Photo of the Day: 1942

1942_long_beach_ca_douglas_aircraft

Long Beach, California: Douglas Aircraft (photo by Alfred Palmer).  Click photo to enlarge.

February 18, 2008

Let's Run This Meme Up The Flagpole and See If Anyone Salutes

If you caught William Kristol's column today, you know about the meme he is promoting -- namely that, as the opposition party, the fatal flaw of the Democrats is that they have been excused from the responsibility for making decisions.  Those irresponsible Democrats are contrasted with Kristol's ruling Republicans who must always ask "in such and such circumstances, what would you do?"  Kristol gleans this insight from a 1942 Orwell essay on Kipling.

While there is a degree of truth to be found in Orwell's insight into the opposition, Kristol's admiration for the essay does not extend so far as to actually share this insight within the context of Orwell's broader portrait of Kipling.  To a startling degree, Orwell's description of Kipling resembles men like Kristol.  That description is not wholly flattering.  Perhaps Kristol was hoping that his political comrades in the blogs would eagerly develop the self-serving meme without bothering to read an essay that should embarrass the man who cherry-picked an insight to serve his narrow partisan purpose.  Or, maybe it's simply the case that, blind to his own troubling limitations, Kristol can't admit to a sense of kinship with the deeply flawed Kipling of Orwell's rendering.

Although Orwell correctly identified a flaw among some who are part of a privileged and secure opposition -- they can maintain a sense of virtue while relying on the ruling establishment to promote the uncivilized dirty work that affords them a more comfortable life -- he was not suggesting that the ruling establishment sees matters clearly, acts morally or judges wisely.  This less politically useful dimension of the essay has escaped Kristol's attention.

As you read the following excerpts from Orwell's piece, think of Kristol, Neocons, oil, Iraq, Arabs and the Middle East:

Kipling spent the later part of his life in sulking, and no doubt it was political disappointment rather than literary vanity that account for this. Somehow history had not gone according to plan. After the greatest victory she had ever known, Britain was a lesser world power than before, and Kipling was quite acute enough to see this. The virtue had gone out of the classes he idealized, the young were hedonistic or disaffected, the desire to paint the map red had evaporated. He could not understand what was happening, because he had never had any grasp of the economic forces underlying imperial expansion. It is notable that Kipling does not seem to realize, any more than the average soldier or colonial administrator, that an empire is primarily a money-making concern. Imperialism as he sees it is a sort of forcible evangelizing. You turn a Gatling gun on a mob of unarmed ‘natives’, and then you establish ‘the Law’, which includes roads, railways and a court-house. He could not foresee, therefore, that the same motives which brought the Empire into existence would end by destroying it. It was the same motive, for example, that caused the Malayan jungles to be cleared for rubber estates, and which now causes those estates to be handed over intact to the Japanese. The modern totalitarians know what they are doing, and the nineteenth-century English did not know what they were doing. Both attitudes have their advantages, but Kipling was never able to move forward from one into the other. His outlook, allowing for the fact that after all he was an artist, was that of the salaried bureaucrat who despises the ‘box-wallah’ and often lives a lifetime without realizing that the ‘box-wallah’ calls the tune.

And see if you don't recognize a bit of Kristol in this:

How far does Kipling really identify himself with the administrators, soldiers and engineers whose praises he sings? Not so completely as is sometimes assumed. He had travelled very widely while he was still a young man, he had grown up with a brilliant mind in mainly philistine surroundings, and some streak in him that may have been partly neurotic led him to prefer the active man to the sensitive man. The nineteenth-century Anglo-Indians, to name the least sympathetic of his idols, were at any rate people who did things. It may be that all that they did was evil, but they changed the face of the earth (it is instructive to look at a map of Asia and compare the railway system of India with that of the surrounding countries), whereas they could have achieved nothing, could not have maintained themselves in power for a single week, if the normal Anglo-Indian outlook had been that of, say, E.M. Forster. Tawdry and shallow though it is, Kipling's is the only literary picture that we possess of nineteenth-century Anglo-India, and he could only make it because he was just coarse enough to be able to exist and keep his mouth shut in clubs and regimental messes. But he did not greatly resemble the people he admired. I know from several private sources that many of the Anglo-Indians who were Kipling's contemporaries did not like or approve of him. They said, no doubt truly, that he knew nothing about India, and on the other hand, he was from their point of view too much of a highbrow.

February 16, 2008

Hillary Versus Obama: Who Believes in Fairy Tales?

One major difference between Clinton and Obama: Hillary is an old school liberal in her approach to problems, while Obama has an appreciation for the dynamic activity of markets.  Make no mistake, Obama is a liberal whose vision includes an active role for government in everyday life, but he is not a command and control liberal.

This key difference in the two candidates' thinking is exposed in their approaches to the mortgage crisis.  Hillary believes that the mortgage mess can be cleaned up entirely by command from the top.  Her belief rests upon the assumption that unintended consequences won't flow from her well-intended presidential edicts. Obama has a better understanding of the workings of markets, even daring to suggest that the government should not bail out every distressed borrower.

For decades in this country, Rodham-nomics was in the mainstream.  The government, most Americans assumed, could solve any problem with some combination of money and an edict ordering the problem to go away.  Today, more American's than ever understand that intentions are not the same as results.  Without out a basic understanding and respect for the functioning of markets, even the most well-intentioned plans can end up greatly exacerbating the problems they are intended to remedy.

We saw evidence for Hillary's grand economic fantasies in her politically doomed 1990s health care plan.  She says she has learned from her mistakes.  Whatever she learned from that political debacle, it doesn't seem that she learned anything about economic principles, if we can judge her based on her plans to fix the mortgage crisis.

Steve Chapman discusses this key difference between Obama and Clinton:

[Hillary Clinton's] policy rests on the assumption that upon arriving in the Oval Office, she'll open the closet and find a magic wand. Obama, by contrast, acknowledges the bitter truth that when government regulators clamber into a carriage, it can easily turn into a pumpkin.

Their approaches to the problem are not an aberration but a symptom of a larger difference. Obama is not a staunch free marketeer, but he grasps the value of markets and shows some deference to economic laws. Clinton, however, tends to treat both as piddly obstacles to her grand ambitions.

Continued below the fold...

Continue reading "Hillary Versus Obama: Who Believes in Fairy Tales?" »

February 15, 2008

McCain As President

What would a 'President McCain' look like?  Check out an interesting piece by a Chicago columnist, Tom Roeser, who had a long career as a Republican operative.  Roeser is recounting a recent conversation with an old McCain pal:

[Roeser]: There is no doubt that McCain was once a conservative and did a lot of switching after the 2000 presidential race which he lost to George W. Bush. Did he experience an epiphany or something?

[McCain friend]:  Not at all. The radical switch came as result of bad temper, rage, tirade and pique.  You know John--... He is irascible, short-tempered, has a temper like a blowtorch. He was hotter than I ever saw him following that loss and he resolved to make Bush pay for his victory which he felt was the use of innuendo and rumors to make the case that he had fathered a black baby out of wedlock...

and

[Roeser]: Are we to suppose that the new version of McCain which is a recycling of the old-old McCain is the one we will see if he becomes president?

[McCain friend]: Yes. Listen here’s a guy who told Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to go f--- himself. A guy who called Arlen Specter an a------. Do you know who I think he would most resemble as president?

[Roeser]:  Who?

[McCain friend]: Andrew Jackson. Combative, mercurial and thin-skinned, with Scotch Irish blood like McCain. He could hate with a biblical fury and change overnight.

Read the rest...

February 09, 2008

Ann Coulter's Mouth Is At It Again

If Ann Coulter helps anyone at this point, she helps Democrats with her portrayal of conservatives as mean-spirited clowns.  I guess that isn't a problem for her now that she intends to vote for Hillary Clinton over John McCain.

Here's Think Progress on Coulter's latest as she is speaking to the Young America’s Foundation at CPAC:

Hillary wanted [to change her campaign song to] “I am woman,” but it was already taken by Edwards.

and...

The best thing that had ever happened to the campaign of “B. Hussein Obama” was when he was born “half black.”

Some conservatives wish Coulter would just go away -- and, lately, some conservatives wouldn't mind too much if Limbaugh and Ingraham went with her.

January 27, 2008

Quote of the Day

"Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in '84 and '88. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here." -- Bill Clinton

I guess the Clintons have given up on African-American voters.  Might as well go after the doughface Democrat vote, eh?

Two Presidents Are Not Better Than One

Gary Wills cautions us about a Clinton presidency.  I didn't buy his argument immediately, but as I gave the matter some thought I realized that Wills is on to something.  It is unquestionable that Bill Clinton would be a very active, powerful force in Hillary's presidency -- more powerful and unchecked than Dick Cheney and far more powerful than Hillary was in the first Clinton presidency.  Does anyone believe that someone other the Bill Clinton would be Hillary's firm, second in command and, more significantly, that much of the former president's power would be exercised in ways designed to conceal his authority from public view?

January 23, 2008

Tony Blair's Religion: I'm Not a "Nutter"

From an article (America, 1-7-08) on Blair's reception into the Catholic church:

[Blair] was careful to keep his faith well below the radar as prime minister, for fear of being seen as a “nutter," he recently told a BBC documentary. It is a grand irony that in the United States, where Church and State are separated by high constitutional walls, it is helpful for politicians to speak often of God; whereas in Britain, where the Anglican Church is “by law established” and the state is officially Christian, it is very advisable for politicians to steer well away from the subject. “We don’t do God,” Blair’s press secretary, Alistair Campbell, once famously remarked. And in his interview Blair explains what Campbell meant.

“If you are in the American political system or others then you can talk about religious faith and people say ‘Yes, that’s fair enough’ and it is something they respond to quite naturally,” he tells the BBC. “You talk about it in our system and, frankly, people do think you’re a nutter. They sort of [think] you maybe go off and sit in the corner and commune with the man upstairs and then come back and say, ‘Right, I’ve been told the answer and that’s it.’”

Joseph Stiglitz: Stopping The Economic Downturn

From the NY Times:

In 2001, the Bush administration used the impending recession as an excuse to cut taxes for upper-income Americans — the very group that had done so well over the preceding quarter-century. The cuts were not intended to stimulate the economy, and they did so only to a limited extent. To keep the economy going, the Federal Reserve was forced to lower interest rates to an unprecedented extent and then look the other way as America engaged in reckless lending. The economy was sustained on borrowed money and borrowed time.

The day of reckoning has come. This time we need a stimulus that stimulates. The question is, will the president and Congress put aside politics to get the job done?  Read the rest here.

January 22, 2008

Hillary and Obama Take Off The Gloves In South Carolina

Here's a CNN debate Video Clip

Some highlights:

(Hillary criticizes Obama for speaking positively about Republican economic ideas. Obama accuses her of misrepresenting comments he made about Reagan and goes on the attack.)

Obama: While I was working on those streets [in Chicago] watching those folks jobs shipped overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart.

Hillary continues: In an editorial board with the Reno Newspaper, you said two things... I have read the transcript.  You talked about Ronald Reagan being a transformative political leader.  I did not mention his name.

Obama (interupts): Your husband did.

Hillary: Well, I'm here. He's not.

Obama: Well... I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes. (ouch)

Hillary gets her legs back quickly and hits Obama with this zinger:

I was fighting against those ["bad" Republican] ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor -- Rezko -- in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.

Hillary also pounced on Obama for voting 'present' over 100 times as an Illinois state senator.  The implication was that Obama was a negligent legislator whose positions were often unclear.  Obama's response to the charge was nearly lost in the ensuing commotion.  He correctly answered that voting present in the Illinois Senate is a way to say that you don't accept a bill as is, but that you might support it in modified form.  Obama also shot back that he voted present over 100 times, but that was out of approximately 4000 bills he voted on while he was a state legislator.  Hardly an abuse of the 'present' vote.

So, it was all very lively, but was there any substance behind the personal attacks?

Some, but not much.  Hillary deliberately distorted Obama's comments about Reagan and was being completely disingenuous when she said that she hadn't mentioned Reagan's name.  From the get-go, she was, of course, referring to Obama's comments about Reagan during his Reno interview.  And, bringing up Obama's present votes in the Illinois Senate, as if he had been a negligent legislator, was a cheap and deliberate misrepresentation of Obama's record as a state senator.

But, Hillary's Rezko remark had more meat on it than most of the Obama faithful are willing to acknowledge.  Like many politicians in Illinois, Obama has had his share of shady friends and patrons.  As I've said before, Obama isn't as clean as Joe Biden thinks he is.

As for Clinton's work for Wal-Mart, it's true that Hillary reaped the benefits of global capitalism and free trade, although in Hillary's case the Wal-Mart job had much to do with the benefits of being married to a very prominent politician -- something the very well-compensated Mrs. Obama knows all about.

Finally, I, too, wonder which Clinton Obama is running against.  After all, it will not be Hillary, but Bill, campaigning in South Carolina for the rest of the week.

Update:

Interesting... from Marathon Pundit: "Obama's wife Michelle once served on the board of directors of TreeHouse Foods, whose biggest customer is--Wal-Mart."

January 21, 2008

Huckabee Courting Racists

Christopher Hitchens asks why the press is giving Huckabee a pass.

January 19, 2008

Obama Surfaces In Rezko Case

I've written previously about Obama's association with the corrupt characters who infest Illinois politics.  The Chicago Sun-Times updates the story, reporting on documents filed in the federal corruption case against Tony Rezko:

Obama is not named in the Dec. 21 court document. But a source familiar with the case confirmed that Obama is the unnamed “political candidate” referred to in a section of the document that accuses Rezko of orchestrating a scheme in which a firm hired to handle state teacher pension investments first had to pay $250,000 in “sham” finder’s fees. From that money, $10,000 was donated to Obama’s successful run for the Senate in the name of a Rezko business associate, according to the court filing and the source.

Rezko, who was part of Obama’s senatorial finance committee, also is accused of directing “at least one other individual” to donate money to Obama and then reimbursing that individual — in possible violation of federal election law.

January 18, 2008

How Voters Decide

An excellent column by today by David Brooks:

People in my line of work try to answer certain questions. Why did Hillary surge after misting up in New Hampshire? Why have primary victories produced no momentum for the victors? Why did John McCain win among Republicans who oppose the Iraq war in both New Hampshire and Michigan, but lose among voters who support it?

The truth is that many of the theories we come up with are bogus. They are based on the assumption that voters make cold, rational decisions about who to vote for and can tell us why they decided as they did. This is false.

In reality, we voters — all of us — make emotional, intuitive decisions about who we prefer, and then come up with post-hoc rationalizations to explain the choices that were already made beneath conscious awareness. “People often act without knowing why they do what they do,” Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize winner, noted in an e-mail message to me this week. “The fashion of political writing this year is to suggest that people choose their candidate by their stand on the issues, but this strikes me as highly implausible.”

Nobody really knows how voters think, especially during primary seasons when the policy differences are minute, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the cognitive chain went something like this:

After seeing a candidate for 100 milliseconds, voters make certain sorts of judgments based on expressiveness, facial structure, carriage and attitude. Alexander Todorov of Princeton has found that he can predict 70 percent of political races just by measuring peoples’ snap judgments of candidates’ faces. Read More...

January 16, 2008

Tim Russert: Playing Hardball or Sillyball?

Matthew Yglesias writes in Washington Monthly:

Viewers watch a candidate getting grilled by Russert not to assess the candidate's views but to assess his or her ability to withstand the grilling. And, when this sort of toughness and sparring becomes its own reward, the vacuity of the questioning is almost guaranteed. After all, if you asked a politician a serious, important question and got a perfectly good answer, then maybe, for a moment, you couldn't be tough. Instead, Russert relies on his crutch of confronting politicians with allegedly contradictory statements they've made—to highly monotonous effect.  Read More.

I've had a similar reaction to Russert.  I've lost interest in watching him play the same game with his guests, irrespective of party or ideology.

January 12, 2008

Psychology, Mind and Neuroscience Roundup

  • Enlarged hippocampi in London taxi drivers have been associated with extensive navigational knowledge.  Now, the researchers who identified this association also report that this navigational knowledge comes at a cost. H/T: PsychBLOG.co.uk
  • Did Hillary get a boost from a change in ballot ordering rules in New Hampshire?  The Situationist has a persuasive post on ballot name-ordering effects in the New Hampshire race.

When asked to forecast the probability of a specific event happening, pundits tended to perform worse than random chance. A dart throwing chimp would have beaten the majority of well-informed experts.

  • Jeremy Dean has a nice post on what some of the research tells us about self help books.

Your school soccer team's star player tells you he wants to skip tonight's game because he needs to study for a test. The coach comes looking for him and asks you if you've seen him. If you betray him and tell the truth, your team will probably win the game, but if you lie and cover for him, he'll pass his test.

Children in China tended to rat him out, while North American children said they would lie and claim they hadn't seen him. Other questions presented an inverse scenario where in lying would help a team but harm an individual, and Chinese children chose to lie in these situations, whereas North American children told the truth. Lee chalks it up to the two cultures' different priorities: Chinese culture tends to emphasize the collective good, he says, while Western culture focuses more on the individual.

After The Elections

Stephen Chapman writes about the unacknowledged cost of keeping campaign promises:

Listening to the Democratic contenders, for example, is like listening to a 4-year-old tell Santa what she wants for Christmas—an array of cherished desires, and no sense that someone has to pay for them. Universal health insurance! Affordable college! Grants for child care! Money for schools! Every doll ever made by American Girl!

According to the non-partisan Web site PolitiFact, which assesses the accuracy of what candidates say, all the programs envisioned by Hillary Clinton would add about $174 billion a year in outlays. And that was before she unveiled a $70 billion fiscal stimulus plan Friday. Barack Obama, according to a November analysis in the McClatchy newspapers, has promised "at least $181 billion in new annual spending on middle-class tax cuts, health care and retirement and energy plans."

How would they pay for it all? Their prime source is repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest households. What they don't acknowledge is that those tax cuts are already scheduled to expire in 2010, helping to eliminate the deficit. But if the money is going to be used to close the fiscal shortfall, it can't be used to pay for new programs.

Clinton says she intends not only to shower us with blessings but balance the budget. Can that be done? Of course—if she is prepared to raise taxes far more than she has let on.

January 10, 2008

Nixon: Is There Any Way We Can Screw Dick Cavett?

Here's a recently unearthed conversation between Richard Nixon and Nixon's Chief of Staff H.R Haldemann reacting to John Kerry's appearance on The Dick Cavett Show with Nixon supporter John O'Neill (later of Swift Vets for Truth).

Nixon: Nothing you can do about it, obviously?
Haldemann: We've complained bitterly about the Cavett show.
Nixon: Well, is there any way we can screw him [Cavett]? That's what I mean. There must be ways.
Haldemann: We've been trying to.

It has been reported that Cavett was fascinated by the discovery of this material.  Rumors at the time were that an inordinate number of IRS audits of employees of the Cavett Show were related to White House efforts to intimidate the late-night talk show host.

January 06, 2008

Hillary's Other Albatross: Condescending Liberals

Bill Clinton isn't Hillary's only problem.  A reader at the Daily Dish bristles with the kind of old-fashioned, liberal condescension that turns so many voters off to Hillary.

Obama won't earn my vote until he stands up to his boorish supporters, the boorish "Hillary Haters" of the Right, and the media. ...hostility and disrespect toward the women who, bearing the brunt of massive social change over the last 40 years, stepped up to the plate, accepted new responsibilities, and worked to create new and better conditions and opportunities for their sons and daughters. Obama would not be where he is today without 40 years of commitment from the liberal women, black and white, of Hillary's (and my own) generation. That unique "biography" that you claim as Obama's advantage isn't Obama's alone -- it is his mother's, too, and perhaps most of all.

In other words, Mr. Obama, you're a black man. You're nothing without our virtue.  You thought you could be proud of the way you've lived your life?  You thought you could be proud of your own accomplishments?  Well, Mister, we're here to tell you that you're nothing.  It's all about us.

And you know all that stuff about oppressive sexist values, Mr. Obama?  We reject those values, except when it comes to defending Hillary.  You can't treat her the way you treat the rest of your opponents.  We expect a man to step up to the plate to defend Hillary's honor, because she's a woman and men are supposed to defend a woman's honor.

There's more:

I'd like to see Obama, if he gets the nomination, choose a woman VP... It would also help convince life-long Democratic women, like me, that Obama really is seeking to lead the country past the old politics of "culture war" -- so much of which has always been based in fear of the changing role of women in our society and economy -- rather than just exploiting that fear in new and more subtle ways.

Huh?  Since when does choosing a running mate based on gender represent getting past the old politics of the culture wars?  Obama isn't running on his blackness and it would pollute his message of change if people thought that he chose a running mate based on the old politics of identity.  I'm not saying he should or shouldn't choose a woman as a running mate.  I'm saying that he should not choose a woman (or anyone else for that matter) as an accession to the resentful demands of people clinging to the old politics of identity.  One great positive about Obama is that voters sense that he is above that kind of politics; he's not running on resentment and he isn't laying guilt trips on voters.  That's the kind of change he represents.

Hillary keeps protesting that she is about change because she gets things done in the real world, but that defense misses the mark.  People want a change of attitude in politics.  No matter how much Hillary does in the "real world," if she still represents the old values expressed by Andrew Sullivan's reader, then she is not about the kind of change that voters want.

January 04, 2008

Right-wing Carping About Media Bias: Pots, Kettles & Statistics

In a post titled Bush Unemployment at 5.0%- Bad... Clinton Unemployment at 5.4%- Good, Gateway Pundit complains about bias in mainstream media analysis of unemployment rates during the Clinton and Bush years:

Something you will never hear from the mainstream news...
The average unemployment rate during the Bush years is running lower than during the Clinton years.

Gateway Pundit includes a bar graph (below) to document the media's well kept secret about unemployment rates during each man's presidential tenure:

Unemploymentrate

But, when it comes to spin, GP's graphic is a case of the pot meeting the kettle.

Graphic depictions should bring interpretive clarity to numbers, but I've never seen a minuscule difference of 0.0088% in the unemployment rate appear to loom so large. The lower and upper values selected for the y-axis in GP's bar graph are severely constricted to magnify the appearance of small variations in unemployment percentages, thus creating a visual impression that unemployment was markedly lower during the Bush years compared with Clinton years.  This is an old trick unworthy of someone complaining about biased media reporting.  (Does anyone remember those Anacin commercials during the 1960s?)

But more problematic than his bar graph is the way GP collapses annual unemployment rates into incumbency averages that obscure context and trends during each man's time in office.  So, let's examine the yearly figures since 1992 to see what GP has buried in his averaging of the data.

Look at the unemployment rate in the year before Clinton assumed office (7.49%) and check the rate in his last year (3.97%). Then look at the rate under Bush as of December 2007 (5.0%).

1992 7.49 Bush
1993 6.91 Clinton
1994 6.10
1995 5.59
1996 5.41
1997 4.94
1998 4.50
1999 4.22
2000 3.97

2001 4.76 Bush, G.W.
2002 5.78
2003 5.99
2004 5.53
2005 5.08
2006 4.63
Dec 07 5.00

You know the old expression, "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."  By collapsing the annual data into averages for entire periods in office, Gateway Pundit obscures what really happened to unemployment rates while each president served, leaving himself wide open to a charge of hypocrisy on the issue of spinning the unemployment numbers.

If we believe that unemployment rates viewed in isolation from other data are valid measures of a president's performance on economic matters, a more detailed examination of the data makes Clinton look spectacular while Bush appears merely to hold on.  But, I'm not arguing that Clinton is responsible for the figures we see while he was in office, nor am I arguing that Bush is responsible for the numbers we see under his presidency.  I am saying that Gateway Pundit's spin on the unemployment numbers smacks of the kind of biased reporting he finds so objectionable in the mainstream media.

Gateway Pundit post via Maggie's Farm

January 02, 2008

Saudi Government Arrests Popular Blogger

FarhanThe Saudi government confirmed that it is has been holding a popular blogger for interrogation since December 10, according to the NY Times.  The blogger, 32-year-old Fouad al-Farhan, has been an outspoken critic of corruption in the Saudi government.  He has also written about the plight of Saudi political prisoners.

Mr. Farhan was one of the first Saudi bloggers to post in Arabic using his real name.  He had been expecting his arrest, according to friends who continue to publish his blog

Read more at Global Stories.

January 01, 2008

Mitt Whiz: Real Candidate Food

David Brooks offers an insightful discussion of Mitt Romney's candidacy in today's NY Times:

He [Romney] has spent roughly $80 million, including an estimated $17 million of his own money, hiring consultants, blanketing the airwaves and building an organization that is unmatched on the Republican side.

And he has turned himself into the party’s fusion candidate. Some of his rivals are stronger among social conservatives. Others are stronger among security conservatives, but no candidate has a foot in all camps the way Romney does. No candidate offends so few, or is the acceptable choice of so many...

And yet as any true conservative can tell you, the sort of rational planning Mitt Romney embodies never works. The world is too complicated and human reason too limited. The PowerPoint mentality always fails to anticipate something. It always yields unintended consequences...

As I read the Brooks piece, I found myself thinking about Easy Cheese (aka Snack Mate, Cheez Whiz).  For non-Americans, Easy Cheese is a cheese-like spread dispensed from an aerosol can.  For years it was a staple of American college dormitory life because it would keep indefinitely without refrigeration.  In the middle of the night, lacking other options, you might eat the stuff and think that it wasn't half-bad.

Mitt Romney's candidacy is just like Easy Cheese ― a market researcher's contrivance.  Easy Cheese is so inauthentic that they have to call it "cheese food" to avoid running afoul of laws pertaining to the legal definition of cheese.  I don't think it's possible to win an American presidential election by being the Easy Cheese candidate.

December 31, 2007

Politics Around the Blogs and Tubes

  • Hillary telling fibs?  You'd think she'd have known that someone would check into her claims?

  • I wouldn't play poker with Edwards OR Obama, but Edwards suggests that Obama is too nice to play with the big boys.  I've written about the way Obama plays here.

  • Why is the Musharraff government lying about Bhutto's death?  New video.

  • Ed Brayton has been stirring up the Paul-bots:

  • There's a lot about Ron Paul that I like a lot and I'd like to support him... [but] Over the last few weeks I have reached the reluctant conclusion that Paul is what Sandefur calls a "doughface libertarian." The evidence is clear to me that he supports what I consider to be the reactionary elements of libertarianism, the neo-confederate, anti-14th amendment wing. It isn't just that he takes money from them; he has actively courted their support. Read more here and here.

  • Dirty PipesHave you no sense of decency, Mr. Pipes?

December 28, 2007

Quote of the Day

"If the French hadn't saved our asses in the revolutionary war, we'd all be speaking English right now." --Ed Brayton.

Immigration Wars: Making A Case For Guest Workers

President Bush's proposed expansion of guest worker programs has been widely denounced by critics on both the left and the right, but in a fresh analysis, Kerry Howley argues that guest worker programs might be good for the both U.S and for "the world's poorest people."

“Give the Senate some credit,” James Suroweicki wrote in the June 11 New Yorker: “In shaping the current immi­gration-reform bill, it has come up with one idea that almost everybody hates.” Hates was an understatement. President George W. Bush had been pushing for some sort of guest worker program since before the 9/11 attacks, and as that idea inched closer to realization in 2007, his critics grew more vitriolic. Right-wingers who fervently believed the U.S. government would succeed in rebuilding the Middle East excoriated Bush for his starry-eyed idealism, and left-wingers who wanted amnesty suddenly came out against the entrance of hundreds of thousands of new immigrants.

The New York Times complained that no worker should be sent home; National Review complained that no worker would go home. The New Republic said the plan fell within “the tradition of the African slave ship,” and the right-wing Center for Immigration Studies, which wants more deportations of peaceful undocumented workers, called it “morally dubious.”  Continue Reading Kerry Howley (Reason, January 2008)

Bush might be right about an expanded guest worker program being our best alternative. I think that a substantial number of American's could be persuaded to an give expanded guest program a try, but I don't think Howley's analysis would persuade the discourse-dominating ideologues who insist on an America that replicates the America of their fantasies.

For better or for worse, ideologues are defending frames of reference they rely upon to make sense of all things political.  With stakes like that, changing one's mind on a single political issue can seem like stepping into a moral and intellectual abyss -- and no one likes stepping into an abyss.

H/T: Will Wilkinson

Related post: La Shawn Barber's Fictional (ideologically-driven) History of Immigrants

World War IV

The Barrister points to an interesting 2005 article by a war opponent who traces U.S. policy in the Middle East to key decisions made by Franklin Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter.  The author, Andrew Bacevich, is a conservative professor of international relations at BU and a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam.  He was the subject of much media attention in May 2007 when his son Andrew was killed serving in Iraq.

From The Real World War IV:

America's political and military efforts in the Middle East go by many names: War on terror. Clash of civilizations. Democratization. But our author argues that all of these undertakings grow from a fateful decision made decades ago that the American way of life requires unlimited access to foreign oil. Read More...

December 27, 2007

Bonus Photo: Chicago's Kennedys

Chicago_1951_2

Chicago River, 1951.  Click photo to enlarge.

That's the Merchandise Mart on the left.  In square footage, it's one of the largest buildings in the world.  Built by Marshall Field and opened in 1930, the Mart was sold to Joseph P. Kennedy in 1945.  Eventually, the Mart was run by Kennedy son-in-law R. Sargent Shriver (father/father-in-law of Maria/Arnold), later by William Smith (father of William Kennedy Smith) and most recently by Christopher Kennedy (son of Robert F. Kennedy) who remains as CEO of the Mart for Vornado Reality Trust.  In 1998, Kennedy's heirs sold the building and divied up over $500 million. They kept other commercial real estate holdings in Chicago.

Conservatives Abandon Strict Constructionism For "Mass of Organic Utterances" Approach To Constitution

A foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but how should we think about conservative inconsistency on judicial activism?  Is such inconsistency wise, self-deluding or just plain dishonest?

Take the case Justice Antonin Scalia who has no problem with judicial activism when he finds it convenient.

And in this Right Wing News interview, an anti-ACLU attorney cites Justice Brewer writing for the majority in an 1892 Supreme Court decision.  Jay, from Stop the ACLU exclaims:

This is a Christian Nation! And we ought to be damn proud it is! Because it is only in Christian Nations where you will find freedom of religion. We are a Christian Nation, and the U.S. Supreme Court said so. The Supreme Court in HOLY TRINITY CHURCH v. U.S. that this is a Christian Nation. That is our history. The history the ACLU wants to erase."

But a look at that opinion reveals that the rationale offered by Justice Brewer is hardly consistent with strict constructionism:  Brewer wrote:

"These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation."

So what are we to think about a right-wing attorney citing this court opinion to support his own contention that the United States is a Christian nation?  Has the right given up on strict constructionism in favor of the mass of organic utterances approach to the constitution?

December 23, 2007

Feds Drawing In On Illinois Governor As Not So Clean Obama Friend Awaits Trial and Mayor Daley Don't Know Nothin' About Any a Dat

Government and politics in Illinois have been rife with corruption at all levels for as long as anyone here can remember.  Last week, I wrote about recent corruption scandals at Illinois state universities.  I also mentioned that three of the state's last seven governors have gone to prison on felony convictions (a fourth was tried and found not guilty).  Now the feds led by Northern Illinois district prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may be closing in on sitting Governor Rod Blagojevich (D), according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

Blagojevich_2Blagojevich (left) is a political mediocrity who owes his improbable rise to a combination of family connection, the misfortunes of scandal plagued (now jailed) Republican former governor George Ryan and a very flexible conscience that has landed him in more than a few scrapes that betray his sleaziness.

On the day after I wrote about corruption at Illinois universities, one of Blogo's top advisers, Christopher Kelly, was indicted for tax evasion.  Another Blogo pal, real estate and pizza magnate Tony Rezko, goes on trial this coming spring.  The indictments fit a pattern we've seen before in Illinois.  The federal prosecutor takes down a politician's close associates, squeezing them until they turn on each other and their big shot patron.

An Obama Connection

Readers outside of Illinois may recognize the name, Tony Rezko.  Rezko is a longtime Barack Obama friend and patron who made a shady real estate deal with the senator.  Even though I prefer Obama to anyone else running on the Democratic side, I don't think the man is as clean as Joe Biden thinks he is.  Besides the Rezko deal, there are Obama's ethically questionable investments and Michelle Obama's mind-blowing, overnight pay raise from $121,000/year to $316,000/year right after her husband was elected to the U.S. Senate.  Her bosses said she deserved it.  I guess they didn't notice that she deserved it until her husband became a U.S. Senator.  It's not that anyone has suggested that accepting the raise violated the law, but it isn't exactly a sign of good ethical hygiene, either.

When people say that Obama transcends the usual divisive, partisan politics, they may not fully appreciate that it's because he cut his political teeth in Illinois where ideology and party affiliation are far less important than figuring out how to plug-in to what one Chicago columnist calls the combine uniting politicians of both parties in a culture of corruption.

Anyway, it's easy when discussing one Illinois political scandal to spin off into discussion of other scandals because there are so many scandals and the characters can all be linked in a big game of six-degrees of the federal pen.  Actually, it's a much easier game to play than the Kevin Bacon version because there are, at most, only one or two-degrees separating any Illinois pol from the federal inmate population.

Next up for federal prosecutors may be the most slippery Illinois politician of them all, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley.  They've been taking down his friends, but Daley, who was once the state's top prosecutor, always makes sure that he doesn't know anything about deals and the city money that falls from the sky all over the people standing close to him.

Last week we learned of another beneficiary of Richard Daley's ignorance, the mayor's son, Patrick Daley.  In 2003, 27-year-old Patrick and a cousin, Robert Vanecko, invested in a sewer firm doing millions in business with the city.  The problem is that the contractor illegally failed to disclose Daley family interests in a firm raking in cash from city contracts.   Patrick Daley was conveniently unavailable for comment when the story broke last week.  He is preparing to ship out for duty in the Middle East.  The younger Daley, who was previously employed by a private equity firm, abruptly sold his interest in the sewer firm and enlisted in the military shortly after it became known in 2005 that federal prosecutors were investigating city contracts awarded to mayoral cronies.

If you really want to understand Illinois politics and Illinois politicians, think of the friendly relationship between Richard Daley (D) and Jesse Jackson (D-Budweiser).  In the right-wing media, the story is portrayed as a tale of Jackson's corruption, but it is more fundamentally about the way politics is conducted in Illinois.  Jackson is silent on race politics when it comes to Chicago and Budweiser and the Jackson family lands a beer distributorship, a congressional seat and, more recently, an aldermanic seat.  Jackson is just doing politics the way it's done in Illinois; he transcends the divisive approach whenever he's in town.

Update: Another Obama Connection

Obama_haloI see that Daley cousin, Robert Vanecko, turns up in the news again today in this story about the transcendent Barack Obama's role in securing money from a charity for a development project that netted Obama's ex-boss, Allison Davis, $700,000 in consulting fees.  Obama admits that he failed to inform the charity of his relationship with Davis when he voted to fund the Davis deal.  According to the article, Vanecko [the undisclosed beneficiary of city sewer contracts] is a business partner of Obama's [undisclosed] ex-boss, Davis.  Davis is also a business partner of... Tony Rezko.

December 22, 2007

The Québécois and Immigrants

From an article in the Sunday NY Times featuring the notoriously tribal Québécois pitted against notoriously tribal Mulims and Orthodox Jews:

Viewed separately, the incidents seemed relatively insignificant. Members of a Hasidic synagogue here wanted a neighboring YMCA to block or tint the windows of an exercise room used by women. A Muslim girl was barred from playing soccer for wearing a hijab on the field. And, in Quebec, some Muslims and Orthodox Jews refused to deal with police officers and physicians of the opposite sex.

Then came the decision in late January by Hérouxville, Quebec — a town of French-speaking Catholics — to create a code of conduct for immigrants that prohibited, among other things, the covering of women’s faces except for on Halloween and the use of public stoning as a form of punishment. This despite the fact that there are no Muslims in the town and no modern history of stonings.

December 18, 2007

Good, Evil and Political Identity

Yesterday, I offered the following thoughts about political identity:

Political identities always seem to demand moral inconsistency in exchange for club membership.  I find that I can't call myself a conservative or a liberal anymore and I suspect fundamental corruption of anyone who reaches the fifth or sixth decade of life still wearing such a label without some sense of ambivalence.

In his column today, David Brooks said of Barack Obama:

Obama does not ratchet up hostilities; he restrains them. He does not lash out at perceived enemies, but is aloof from them. In the course of this struggle to discover who he is, Obama clearly learned from the strain of pessimistic optimism that stretches back from Martin Luther King Jr. to Abraham Lincoln. This is a worldview that detests anger as a motivating force, that distrusts easy dichotomies between the parties of good and evil, believing instead that the crucial dichotomy runs between the good and bad within each individual.

I don't know if Brooks is right on Obama, but I agree entirely with one part of his observation:  "the crucial dichotomy runs between the good and bad within each individual."

H/T: Andrew Sullivan

December 17, 2007

The Mind of Jonah Goldberg

Sadly, No! gives us a pre-release peek at Jonah Goldberg's new book, Liberal Fascism.

From the jacket:

Fascism was an international movement that appeared in different forms in different countries, depending on the vagaries of national culture and temperament.  In Germany, fascism appeared as genocidal racist nationalism.  In America, it took a friendlier, more liberal form.  The modern heirs of this friendly "fascist" tradition include The New York Times, the Ivy League professoriate, and the liberals of Hollywood.  The quintessential liberal fascist isn't an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade-school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.

I'm wondering how Jonah would characterize a person who gets paid to look "for really dirty stuff...Who was sleeping with who, what the Secret Service men were doing with the stewardesses, who was smoking pot on the plane--that sort of thing."

The quintessential Republican, perhaps?

A Proposal for a Gender Tax

Commenting on Alesina, Ichino, and Karabarbounis's proposal for a "man tax," Robin Hanson shows us that it's easy to find supporters for such a measure.  Hanson also notices that a strictly utilitarian analysis could justify a height tax as well, yet no one seems to favor such a measure.

Of gender taxes, Hanson also asks:

if careful economic analysis had instead favored taxing men less than women, how many supporters do you think that proposal would have found, even among economists?

Let me take a wild stab at the answer to that question... None?

Read more here...

Saudi King Abdullah Pardons Female Rape Victim

The NY Times is reporting that Saudi King Abdullah has pardoned a female gang rape victim known as the Qatif girl.  The woman had been sentenced to 200 lashes for meeting privately with her ex-fiance, but don't get the idea that Islamic justice is anything other than a system of institutionalized evil run by a morally warped, primitive people.  The underlying system of Islamic brutality that masquerades as justice remains intact and unquestioned.

Commenting on the pardon, the Saudi justice minister, Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Sheik, told Al Jazirah that the king fully supported the verdicts against the woman but had decided to pardon her because it was in the “interests of the people.”

Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University who specializes in Saudi Arabia, said that this is a kind of “double message” that is commonly employed by the Saudi government.

“On one hand this tells people, ‘We support our system and we will punish you if you violate it,’ ” he said. “Yet he’s also showing mercy. Throughout, he’s making it clear that he is not disagreeing with the judge’s opinion on this sensitive issue of sexual chastity, but he believes that there is a higher interest to be served by the pardon, whether that’s relationships between Shiites and Sunnis, or international opinion.”

“Conservative scholars and judges will still take this pardon as a slap in the face,” Dr. Haykel continued.

“These decisions are always made like this, ad hoc, so that the core values and institutions of the Saudi state are not questioned or threatened.”

There is no word yet on whether the ex-boyfriend who was also gang raped would be spared the 90 lashes he was sentenced to for meeting privately with his ex-fiance.  While the female victim's sentence ignited a storm of criticism in the West, liberal Westerners who are more interested in identity politics than justice were utterly indifferent toward the Saudi judge's punishment of the male rape victim. 

For many liberals, woman-as-victim rather than justice-for-all serves as the basic interpretive template for the Qatif story.  This isn't the least bit surprising.  Political identities always seem to demand moral inconsistency in exchange for club membership.

I find that I can't call myself a conservative or a liberal anymore and I suspect fundamental corruption of anyone who reaches the fifth or sixth decade of life still wearing such a label without some sense of ambivalence.

God Squeezed Out Of The Public Square

Christmas_chicago

Why Is Hillary Tanking in Iowa & New Hampshire?

Because, according to former Bill Clinton adviser Dick Morris, Hillary is appealing as an abstract idea but people don't like her once they get to know her.

December 16, 2007

As Usual, Bill O'Reilly is Full Of Baloney

Video H/T: Maggies Farm.

After nearly 30 years of evangelical-Republican fusion, O'Reilly blames the press for inserting religion into Republican politics.  Is O'Reilly drunk?

O'Reilly (introducing segment):  Have y'all noticed this talk about religion in the Republican presidential race, how could you miss it. As Dennis Miller astutely pointed out last night, left-wing publications like Newsweek can't wait to headline the religion factor when it comes to Republican candidates...

O'Reilly (talking to Tony Snow): They [the press] don't want to keep Christ in Christmas.  They want that outta there.  But they do want to keep Jesus in the Republican primary.  Now I'm not a conspiratorial kinda guy, but CNN lifts in a guy with a bible, alright, pumpin' it into the camera as you just saw; Newsweek, cover story, Holy Huckabee with his hands folded; now you know what's going on here Snow.  You know what these guys [in the press] are doin'.

O'Reilly knows that many Americans are fed up with religion in politics, but the role of religion in the Iowa Republican race is a big story.  Huckabee, an evangelical Christian and former minister, has surged among Iowa voters largely because of his appeal to Christian conservatives who are not comfortable with the other candidates for religious reasons.  Huckabee's rise is linked directly to his religious beliefs.  The press is doing its job by reporting on that.   O'Reilly blames the messenger because he knows that many voters are turned off by a very real Republican-Evangelical connection, but the press did not invent this connection.

Did the press write and pay for the airing of campaign ads touting Huckabee's Christianity?  Did the press tell Huckabee to suggest that Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers?  Did the press tell Romney to make a speech about faith that upset even conservative pundit and FOX News regular Charles Krauthammer?

Republican strategists poisoned their own political well by injecting religion into politics.  Now, O'Reilly wants his viewers to believe that the left wing administered the poison.  That is a lie.  As I mentioned yesterday, whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  Christians are supposed to know that.

December 15, 2007

whatever a man sows, that he will also reap...

Somehow Charles Krauthammer didn't see it coming.

December 13, 2007

Alan Keyes at the Republican Debate

I was surprised to see him there.  The man can't possibly believe that he has a snowball's chance in hell of getting the nomination or winning the election.

Keyes comes off as increasingly bizarre with each election cycle.  Obama knocked him over like a feather in the senate race in bellwether Illinois.  So, why does Keyes continue to run for president every four years?  Is it good for his business as a public speaker or is it merely the vanity of a man who must feel he is in the public eye?  I could be wrong, but personally, I suspect vanity.

December 12, 2007

Illinois State Universities: A Playground for Corruption

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that administrators at Chicago State University purchased two copy machines worth $41,000 apiece for $250,000 from a company owned by the university employee charged with getting price quotes for the purchase of the machines.  The machines were purchased for a grant-funded textbook project in Ghana.

Michael Vernon Warren, the university employee who made arrangements for the school's purchase of the machines, admitted that he did not disclose the fact that he was the owner of the company selling the machines.  Warren enlisted a friend to act as his agent at the contract signing.

Defending his actions in a way that gives chutzpah a worse name than it already has, Warren explained:

"I was following what I perceived to be directions and directives coming from the university to do the research, to get someone to do the deal and when I did that, it was close to home. Meaning, I trusted me."

The Tribune reports that Warren refused to disclose how much money he made on the deal, stating "my margin is confidential for the moment."

Illinois universities have been plagued by scandal recently.  Earlier this year, it was discovered that the president of Chicago State, Elnora Daniels, used university funds to purchase alcohol, family trips and personal entertainment without offering receipts or explanations for numerous expenditures unrelated to university business.  After an investigation uncovered Daniel's misuse of a university credit card to pay for personal expenses, Daniel reimbursed the school approximately $8,600 although questions were raised about charges for far greater sums.  Daniels offered a fascinating explanation for the misuse of her university credit card:

"Women do change purses ... They look for the card. It's not there so they pull out [another] card. ... That was two years ago and now I use my own personal card."

So let me get this straight; some of Daniels' purses contain university credit cards and some contain her personal cards.  So, did Daniels charge university expenses on a personal card when she was carrying her personal card purse?

In the meantime, it was recently discovered that Southern Illinois University president and former Illinois State Senator Glenn Poshard had undeniably plagiarized large portions of both his master's thesis and his doctoral dissertation.  Poshard justified his behavior saying that he was very busy with family matters and a run for the Illinois senate while he was in graduate school.  He just wanted to finish his dissertation, he said.  Poshard also claimed ignorance of the rules for citation -- a startlingly lame excuse for someone who feels entitled to hold the position of university president.

Despite his egregious academic misconduct, Poshard was allowed to keep his job as the university president having agreed to "fix" his dissertation.  And it gets worse.  Besides Poshard, a number of other high ranking university officials were also accused of plagiarism when the Poshard scandal broke.

An aside to the Poshard story: in 1998, Poshard ran for Illinois governor as a Democrat against Republican George Ryan who now resides in a federal penitentiary for crimes he committed when he served as Illinois secretary of state during the 1990s. George Ryan is the third Illinois governor to be jailed since the mid-1970s and some believe that US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald could be working diligently to find a new home for number four. (Seventy-six other individuals have also been convicted in connection with Ryan's criminal activity.)

And, this past September, Tom Dempsey, the director of the U of I Police Training Institute resigned after the disclosure that he was seeking employment with Blackwater security at the same time that he was handling contracts to provide Blackwater employees with training at the University.

Nothing about these stories surprises me after my experience working in the University of Illinois system for a brief time.  The university is a playground for incompetent, self-serving careerists who don't give a damn about students, education or professional excellence.  The conduct and motivations of many (if not most) of the university employees I've known make a mockery of the manifest liberal values they espouse.

December 08, 2007

Mitt Romney's Grovelling

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom... Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religious endure together, or perish alone."

Or not.

Romney's platitude-laced flattery was supposed to change the minds of evangelical Christians who regard the candidate as unfit to hold office because of his religious beliefs.  I suspect that most will continue to see Romney's Mormonism as a deal breaker.

Question: How does Islam fit into Romney's religion = freedom paradigm?

December 06, 2007

Psychology, Mind & Neuroscience Roundup (edited)

  • Dr. Bliss comments on a study that looked at self-reported emotional impairment and party affiliation.
  • Michael Merzenich offers the second post in his series on common misconceptions about the neurology of aging.  In this post, Dr. M. discusses the treatment of memory decline when the problem is that pretty much every underlying brain process goes into decline in the aging brain.
  • The Rorschach is like a Rorschach: Interpretation of the Rorschach relies upon a complex empirical analysis of perceptual data generated from the standardized administration and scoring of the test.  Shrinkwrapped says in a post today that the NIE is a Rorschach test, but the NIE is no more a Rorschach than anything else in this world that we observe and comment on.  I'm not sure why he uses this overworked analogy unless it is to suggest that there are established psychological principles that would justify the dismissal of the report findings as little more than blots of ink.  But SW and every other blogger might just as well preface every post with the observation that event x,y,z is a Rorschach since every piece of news and every post in the blogosphere could be similarly construed and dismissed as a Rorschach response.  To appreciate the truth in this, you need only examine the wide range of blog reactions to any news item.

December 05, 2007

Is The System Working?

Andrew Sullivan argues that it is.  Here is his thought provoking post.

November 25, 2007

The Love Affair With Hugo

I have no problem with criticism of the U.S. government, but the romance with Hugo Chávez is perverse.  Missing from this little rant about America's anti-democratic behavior is any mention of Chavez's failed 1992 coup attempt:

Steve Chapman has more about Chavez's inane decrees, his thoroughly discredited economic views and the fools in Venezuela who are about to vote for an end to their own democracy.

November 24, 2007

More On Net Neutrality

From an interesting post written by Pete Abel at The Moderate Voice:

Google didn’t give up on its fight and eventually succeeded in accomplishing something AT&T could not. Google convinced the Internet grassroots (including many bloggers) that this issue was not really a fight between titans, but a fight between one group of titans (the major ISP’s) and average people — people who wanted nothing more than to express themselves via the Internet. Thus motivated, the “netroots” (not all of them progressives, in this case) applied a constant drumbeat of pressure on Washington, slowly persuading one lawmaker after another that their fears were real.

Today, their cause is championed by the likes of Barack Obama, a lawmaker and candidate whom I generally respect. Unfortunately, there are at least two problems with proposals like those from Obama. First, they largely fail to distinguish between flagrant censorship and legitimate network management. Second, by curtailing the latter, they could have the exact opposite of their intended impact.

Related: Obama supports net neutrality.

November 21, 2007

What Do Conservapedia Users Think About Most?

This is disturbing, but it isn't a complete surprise.

November 19, 2007

Comparing Matchups for 2008

"Compare two potential races next year: Clinton vs Giuliani or McCain vs Obama. One would bring out the worst in us; the other would move this country forward in desperately needed ways." --Andrew Sullivan

November 17, 2007

Maybe I Missed Something...

but the right wing blogs have thus far been strangely subdued about this example of Islamic evil.  You'd think they'd be shouting about it from the rooftops.

November 14, 2007

And Now, The Right

After venting my cranky spleen on the left and multiculturalism, I'll let publius at Obsidian Wings explain what bugs me about the right with his insightful post on race and the Republicans.

Cranky Rant About the Annoying Left (updated)

A few comments on the Left in the news...

Hunger strikers at Columbia University want to take back the university, never mind the fact that it didn't belong to them in the first place.

Five Students at Columbia University began a hunger strike five days ago as part of a series of actions in order to get the University to Agree with their demands. The demands were created and consensed apon [huh?] by various student groups and students in an attempt to create a University where man worlds can exist. Where critical examination and the wellbeing of students and the community are held in higher priority than profit and public image.

One demand of the striking students is the reorientation of a core curriculum they deem too Eurocentric:

Columbia's Core Curriculum has been criticized for decades for not only its Eurocentrism, but its marginalization of nonwhite peoples within the West, and the issues of racialization and colonialism. While there have been additions throughout the years of a Major Cultures requirement, and individual texts such as The Souls of Black Folk, The Wretched of the Earth, and the Haitian Revolutionary Constitution, these efforts to remedy the Core have been insufficient in concept and execution.

The five strikers are prepared to stay on a hunger strike "as long as necessary" or about 2 1/2 weeks depending on how you interpret this statement from their spokesperson:

"We're prepared to stay as long as necessary through the Thanksgiving holiday, but we're hoping the university doesn't let it come to that point,'' [hunger striker Emilee] Rosenblatt said.

A friend of mine who has had a two-decade-long belly full of self-important students, university "counselors" and student affairs administrators couldn't help but notice Ms. Rosenblatt's Anglo-Americentric use of the term "Thanksgiving holiday" as a time marker.  Shame on you, Ms. Rosenblatt.  You should know better.

Rosenblatt also complained about "the lack of any response from University President Lee Bollinger."  I know exactly how she feels.  My mother used to totally ignore me when I held my breath as a child.

Other demands by the strikers read like a jobs program for otherwise unemployable university graduates who eschewed those awful Eurocentric classes when they were pursuing their own university degrees.

We demand more advisors and counselors for cultural groups, students of color, the LGBTQ community and communities of faith, with student involvement in the hiring process of said personnel.

We demand a Vice Provost for Multicultural Affairs to administer and direct the University's policies affecting students within all the schools of the University.

We demand institutionalized, mandatory, full day workshops on issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, power and privilege for all incoming faculty, and public safety; and that the training focus on anti-oppression, rather than sensitivity and diversity.

Lovely... they want to open a compulsory ideological re-education camp.  Too bad Pol Pot isn't available as a project consultant.

Here is a radical suggestion for the strikers.  I'm sure that at one time you were very happy about getting into one of America's top universities.  If that wasn't the case, why would you have applied to Columbia in the first place?  Okay, so Columbia turned out to be too Eurocentric for your highly discerning pancultural tastes.  I understand.

There is a simple solution: transfer to another college.  I transferred as an undergraduate so that I could attend a school more to my liking.  I was very happy with my decision and I thank my lucky stars that I had a great academic experience.  There are thousands of colleges and universities out there.  Open-minded cultural egalitarians like you were probably never going to be comfortable attending one of America's most prestigious universities anyway.

Would you consider the University of Haiti?   After all, Haiti is the home of the Haitian Revolutionary Constitution.  No, the University of Haiti isn't an Ivy.  I don't think it's even a private university, but consider that it could be an enriching cross-cultural experience for you.  And, far more important, your presence could be so enriching to Haitians who are dying to meet an open-minded American who purpsosely gave up a coveted spot in the advantaged world of the Eurocentric Ivy League to join them in the struggle.  Yes, I know the Haitians speak a Eurocentric language, but it's way too hard for most westerners to learn to speak a non-European language, anyway.

Striker Update:

Plans for the strike to continue as long as necessary hit a frightening bump when Barnhard sophomore Aretha Choi was taken away on a stretcher three days into the strike.  Ms Choi availed herself of assistance provided by Eurocentrically-educated paramedics and physicians before returning to her dorm room.  She will not continue with the strike for "personal medical reasons."

Revolutionaries just aren't what they used to be.

November 12, 2007

Founder of the Weather Channel Declares Global Warming a Hoax

Bloggers are quoting Joe (sic) Coleman, the founder of the Weather Channel, who claims that global warming is "the greatest scam ever."

So writes Joe [sic] Coleman founder of the Weather Channel:

It is the greatest scam in history. I am amazed, appalled and highly offended by it. Global Warming; It is a SCAM. Some dastardly scientists with environmental and political motives manipulated long term scientific data to create an illusion of rapid global warming. Other scientists of the same environmental wacko type jumped into the circle to support and broaden the “research” to further enhance the totally slanted, bogus global warming claims. Their friends in government steered huge research grants their way to keep the movement going. Soon they claimed to be a consensus.

First, I must mention that the aging meteorologist turned businessman is named John Coleman, not Joe Coleman as it has been widely reported in the conservative blogosphere today.  The wisecracking John Coleman was for many years the popular, irreverent local weatherman at WLS-TV, the ABC affiliate here in Chicago.  After leaving WLS, Coleman did a stint with the network (at GMA) in New York for a few years.

I've never commented on global warming (human-caused or otherwise) before and don't intend to take a position on it now.  I find much of the blog discussion on the subject to be patently asinine.  I'm not a meteorologist, nor am I an environmental scientist, so my own confidence in my opinions on the subject is quite limited.  I notice, however, that a similar lack of qualification doesn't seem, in the least, to dampen the sense of utter conviction expressed by so many on the subject of global warming.

Some of the bloggers who are enthusiastically quoting "Joe" Coleman today seem to think that owning a television network makes Coleman a credible source for scientific information.  I don't know his educational credentials, but John Coleman is a TV "meteorologist" and businessman who got into on air work because of his easy and entertaining on camera presentation.  For all I or anyone quoting him today knows, John Coleman might have no more than BS in meteorology earned 50 years ago.  Coleman's notoriety has nothing to do with his credibility as a scientist.

TV's "doctor" Phil (McGraw) holds a doctorate in psychology.  I suspect that McGraw earned his degree much more recently than John Coleman earned his.  I can assure you that anyone confidently crowing about something Dr. Phil said as if the celebrity therapist is a credible social scientist would be dismissed as uninformed (I'm choosing my words with great kindness now) by 99% of the psychologists in the U.S.  Yet bloggers who don't even know that the TV weatherman's first name is John are citing Coleman approvingly because he agrees with their politically-driven opinions on global warming.

Not being a meteorologist or an environmental scientist, I don't have first-hand knowledge of the scientific literature on the subject, nor am I equipped to critique that research, but at this point it isn't difficult to surmise that there are many scientists who believe that global warming is occurring and there are many who believe, to varying extents, that human activity plays a part in global warming.  Thanks to the constant attacks on these scientists by their lay critics, I'm reasonably confident that these scientists exist, probably in very large numbers given the fury of the lay opposition.

Posts quoting the mad ranting of someone like John Coleman only further cement the perception that critics of global warming arguments don't know or care who they cite as long as that person agrees that global warming is a hoax.   On the surface, at least, with every passing year, the entire debate bears increasing resemblance to the imaginary scientific debate over evolution and 7-day creation.  While Coleman's conspiracy theories might be pleasing to the ears of his recent crop of admirers, his dismissal of all scientists who disagree with him as conspirators and wackos leaves both Coleman and his newfound admirers sounding more like dismissible ideological cranks than serious contributors to the discussion.

Update

From John Coleman's bio:

John Coleman has been a TV weatherman since he was a freshman in college in 1953 and TV was brand new. He still loves predicting the weather and relating to the television viewers. "I also love working at KUSI NEWS", he adds. "It is a rare thing; a locally owned and managed TV station. And, there are dozens of wonderful people who work here."

John has predicted and shoveled his share of snow. He has been a TV weatherman in Champaign, Peoria and Chicago, Illinois; Omaha, Nebraska, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and New York City. For seven years he was the weatherman on "Good Morning, America" on the ABC Network.

John also cooked up the idea of a cable channel devoted to nothing but weather and spent six years developing "The Weather Channel" on cable. "That's my baby", he says. "The bad guys took it away from me, but they can't steal the fact that it was my idea and I started it and ran it for the first year."

After reading Coleman's bio, I'm thinking that TV weatherman is probably the most accurate way to describe his qualifications.

November 10, 2007

Bernie Kerik & Rudy Giuliani

Should we be surprised by Kerik's indictment?   Kerik has always had thug written all over him, but the inclination to identify with the aggressor caused many to treat this showboating bully as if he were a good guy.  That he was a police officer only attests to the fact that law enforcement agents and criminals are sometimes little more than different sides of the same psychological coin.

And, Kerik's pal Giuliani is another example of a guy who oozes thuggery.  If we ignore this, we do so at our own peril.  Giuliani gets a great deal of mileage out of his handling of crime in New York, but I suspect that even Stalinists weren't half bad at controlling street crime during their heyday.

Bernard_kerik

November 09, 2007

LGBT

The LGBT "community" is a left-wing political invention.  Say LBGT enough and some people will believe it's a real community.

Andrew Sullivan vents on the subject.

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November 08, 2007

Musharraf Targets Political Opponents Instead of Islamic Extremists

Has Musharraf been playing the US?

During an interview with Tavis Smiley yesterday, author Lawrence Wright said as much.  Wright argues that military leaders in Pakistan are targeting progressive political opponents while siphoning off U.S. aid to build their personal fortunes.  According to Wright, Musharraf and his supporters in the the military don't really want to get Osama bin Laden or the Taliban forces in Pakistan because massive American aid would end if the military crushed the extremists.

In the meantime, Benazir Bhutto has said that she will aggressively pursue Islamic extremists if she is chosen to head the government in Pakistan's upcoming elections.  If Wright's assessment of the situation in Pakistan is correct, then it is understandable that both the military leadership and Islamic extremists in Pakistan would vigorously (and violently) oppose a leadership role for Bhutto.

Does this mean that Bhutto is one of the good guys, or is she merely an opportunist standing against extremism to gain the support of the US government in her bid to return to power?  Matt Yglesias says that the old corruption charges against Bhutto hold water and that the former prime minister and her husband are unusually corrupt [even] by Pakistani standards.

Related:

The Moderate Voice

This author argues that Musharraf doesn't want to wipe out Taliban militants in Pakistan because they are underming Afghan stability.  Musharraf fears an alliance between a stable Afghanastan and India.

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November 07, 2007

Victory In Iraq!

Vj_day_alfred_eisenstaedt

It's the news we've all been waiting to hear:  dough-faced, right-wing, Australian pundit, Andrew Bolt, has announced our victory in Iraq. Thank goodness!  The neocons have been vindicated, the liberals have been defeated and the troops are coming home.

Related: Carpetbagger ReportSo We Can Bring the Troops Home Now, Right?; Iraq: A Long-Run Victory?

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November 05, 2007

The Epitaph of the Bush Era in Pakistan

From an interesting article on Pakistan's complex political dynamics and Musharraf's relationship with the United States:

When the epitaph of the Bush era in Pakistan's contemporary history finally gets to be written in a year's time, there will be a complex, engrossing story to tell. Bush began reasonably well in 2001 by threatening to bomb the daylight out of Pakistan and to dispatch that country to the Stone Age. His threat of shock and awe indeed worked. Musharraf quickly fell in line in the "war on terror". The world community applauded Bush. But in the process, Musharraf ensured his regime gained international legitimacy.

Also, Musharraf promptly put a price tag on Pakistan's role in the "war on terror". He negotiated hard. And he extracted out of the Bush administration in bits and pieces over the past six years a staggering amount of US$10 billion as assistance. That kept the Pakistani economy going, the army well equipped and his support base intact.

Of course, he took care to endear himself and the Pakistan army as an indispensable ally to Bush. As time passed, like a skilful commando, he began walking a fine line - in and out of the "war on terror" - almost unnoticed, as he pleased. Certainly, Bush noticed but had to pretend he didn't. There was no other option. Bush was preoccupied in Iraq, and Musharraf knew that as well.

In fact, Bush, who once saw Russia's President Vladimir Putin's soul in his deep blue eyes and liked it, has no choice but to keep insisting he is on a "hunt" with Musharraf in the Hindu Kush. Now, with a much-weakened Bush presidency almost entering a lame-duck phase, it is only natural that Musharraf feels he must look ahead. He will know by now as well as anyone that his number one public liability within Pakistan is his close association with the George W Bush presidency.

But continued US backing remains vital for Musharraf's regime. How he reconciles the conflicting interests remains to be seen. One thing is for sure. None of Pakistan's previous military dictators had such mastery over the art of the possible. 
Read More

November 04, 2007

They Hate Our Freedom

No, I'm not talking about the al-Qaeda.  I'm referring to the USDOJ thugs who have shown their contempt for our freedom and our law by censoring (in the name of national security) this quote from a U.S. Supreme Court decision.  H/T: Dennis

Photo of the Day: War Bonds

Fairbanks_and_chaplin_2

Douglas Fairbanks & Charlie Chaplin at the Treasury Building on Wall Street promoting Liberty (War) Bonds (1918).

Liberty Bonds were part of an aggressive campaign to finance America's effort in the First World War.  Celebrities, including Fairbanks and Chaplin, made numerous public appearances encouraging Americans to buy bonds as an act of patriotism. At his own expense, Chaplin also made a film short in support of the drive.

In 1952, at the behest of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, the INS showed the English-born Chaplin America's gratitude by revoking his re-entry permit while he was on a brief trip to England.  Chaplin's liberalism motivated the effort to keep Chaplin out of the US.  Although he had lived in the United States legally for nearly 50 years, Chaplin's American wife and American children had to leave the country in order to keep the family together.

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November 03, 2007

At Least They Didn't Get The Waterboard

Perhaps these Customs and Border Protection agents were reacting to some little-publicized epidemic of drug smuggling by Finnish folk-singers, but if this report is correct these cops sound more like the Stasi than they do a policing agency in a modern democratic state.

I wonder if the CBP is this serious on the southern border?

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November 02, 2007

Website Warns of November 11th Cyber-Jihad

A website with ties to the Israeli military is warning that al Qaeda is planning a November 11 launch of a cyber-jihad against "Western, Jewish, Israeli, Muslim apostate and Shiite Web sites."  The article at debka.com says that al Qaeda plans to expand the operation until hundreds of thousands of cyber-mujahideen have been enlisted in the operation.  Read more...

Problems With Federal Sentencing Policy: Sentencing Discretion Transferred From Judges to Prosecutors

Jacob Sullum at Hit & Run notes that federal sentencing policy was intended to reduce disparities in the sentencing of individuals convicted of similar crimes by eliminating judicial discretion from the sentencing process.  In practice, Sullum says, discretion has been transferred from judges to prosecutors.

Sullum sees a serious problem with this transfer of sentencing discretion.  "At least judges are supposed to be neutral referees, rather than advocates for one side."

November 01, 2007

Who's Paying America's Taxes?

You might disagree with a progressive tax sytem, but Warren Buffet is right.  The current system is not progessive.

The Agonist exposes the disingenuous criticism of Buffet.

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October 30, 2007

Britain To Offer Iraqi Interpreters Resettlement Package

The Brits are doing the right thing.  I hope the U.S. government does as much.

From the Times Online:

In a written statement to the Commons yesterday, David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, set out the details of the assistance to Iraqi interpreters and other staff who will be offered the chance to resettle in Britain or receive cash to help them to relocate in the region.

After reading through the Government’s statement, one senior interpreter was left speechless with relief. “For me, this decision means that the British Government has saved the lives of two children and a lady,” said M. Saraj, referring to his wife and two young children. “I think that they have appreciated all the efforts we have made, according to what I am reading. Thank you for the British Government, they have respected our rights. I have no words.”

In his statement, Mr Miliband acknowledged that Britain owed “our Iraqi staff an enormous debt of gratitude for their dedicated service”.

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Obama Supports Net Neutrality

And so does The Agonist.

I don't know much about this issue, so the following is just a thought.  In general, I don't like to see many restrictions on businesses, but when it comes to local phone and cable companies that were established as government protected monopolies, unfettered private control over the last miles of communication pipeline worries me.

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October 29, 2007

Gagged FBI Translator Ready To Blow The Whistle

Is she an attention-seeking menace, does she have some personal ax to grind or is she a good citizen who, at great personal risk, wants to expose corruption at the top levels of American government?

The most gagged person in American history, FBI translator Sibel Edmonds, says she is ready to spill all to any network that will let her do so in an unedited interview.  Edmonds says she is ready to name names, reveal post 9/11 cover-ups and even face criminal charges for doing so.

National security surely requires that governments keep certain matters secret, while government officials often survive on cover-up and obfuscation of the truth to protect their own hides.  It is also inevitable that government officials will attempt the latter in the name of the former.  9/11 has given government officials a more compelling pretext for this bait-and-switch than they have enjoyed in many years.

Edmonds' insistence makes me wonder what she wants to say.

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October 28, 2007

I'm Not Crazy... You're Crazy

A dysfunctional liberal media operating like a defective conscience is smitten with an Evangelical Republican.

Like anyone else, I criticize the press, but I've never considered the press sick because the composition of reporting fails to adequately reflect my personal perspective on the world.  But, the press as defective object seems to be a preoccupation with many politically fringy characters, whether they are left-wing extremists, right-wing extremists, religious extremists or 9-11 truthers.

This is understandable since being on the fringe can entail a troubling sense of vulnerability to being branded or dismissed as a disturbed person, particularly if one doesn't recognize one's own fringiness.  To be clear about this, it isn't that I don't consider myself fringy.  I do.  But, that is why I don't expect the press to report things the way I see them.

But many on the fringe can't accept an honorable place as an outlier.  Instead, they hope that withering condemnation will marginalize an occupationist middle that is sitting in the cultural space that rightfully belongs to their own brand of the edge.

Even though I'm on the edges, the idea of letting the edges displace the middle scares the heck out of me.  There is plenty, in my opinion, that is wrong with American cultural and political life, but America's messy (the fringe might say feckless) middle seems to make it a very decent, sometimes great behemoth that eats up its crackpots before things go so far that there is no turning back.  Granted, as it has happened in the past, the fringes have done considerable damage lately, but the behemoth middle has been eating well again, which is why some on the edges might feel disheartened.

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October 27, 2007

Support From The Troops: Hillary vs Obama

One difference between Obama and Hillary:

[Obama] leads all candidates in donations received from donors affiliated with the military... Hillary leads all candidates in donations from private defense contractors.  Read More

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October 25, 2007

What Would Rudy Do?

Will Giuliani give the federal Government what he gave New York City?

...Giuliani watchers already understand that Rudy is a hothead and a grandstander, even a bit of a dictator at times. These qualities have dominated the story of his mayoralty that most people know. As that drama was unfolding, however, so was a quieter story, driven by Giuliani's instinct and capacity for manipulating the levers of government. His methods, like those of the current White House, included appointments of yes-men, aggressive tests of legal limits, strategic lawbreaking, resistance to oversight, and obsessive secrecy. As was also the case with the White House, the events of 9/11 solidified the mindset underlying his worst tendencies. Embedded in his operating style is a belief that rules don't apply to him, and a ruthless gift for exploiting the intrinsic weaknesses in the system of checks and balances. That's why, of all the presidential candidates, Giuliani is most likely to take the expansions of the executive branch made by the Bush administration and push them further still.

How Powerful Is The President Of Iran?

Yesterday, I posted a summary of the Frontline-Iran report written by this blogger.

A commenter in that blog offered this astute observation:

when the President of Iran was a reformer like Kahatami and the U.S. had the opportunity of making some real progress with our relations, he and his office were dismissed by Georgie [Bush] as figureheads and that the Mullahs were in charge. Now that someone as off balanced as Ahmad whats his name is in office, all of the sudden the President of Iran has become the 12 foot tall death dealing Persian Warlord from '300'.

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October 24, 2007

Iran on Frontline Last Night

I found a quick-and-dirty summation here:

The documentary basically walked through the timeline of the US and Iranian relationship post 9-11 through today, and why the war drums are gaining volume.

The most alarming point of discussion is basically how the Bush Administration knocked out the reformers in Iran. The Reformers, who were in charge on 9-11, condemned the attacks and sent help in Afghanistan. The Iranians, we're told, were instrumental in the topple of the Taliban and solidifying the various rebel groups in Afghanistan. The US however, realized that they had their own issues and intentions in allowing the US to succeed there. The relationship soured after rumors and intel suggested that Sr. Al QDah officials snuck into Iran and were being protected in Tehran.

"Axis of Evil" comment. Not exactly good for the reform movement.

They reformers again offered their assistance again in Iraq. This was dismissed out-of-hand by the Bush Administration. The US would not need Iranian help in taking out Iraq. They were right... at first.

After the initial success in Iraq (ah, let's say the first week) the reformers took their biggest leap. Their last chance at building a relationship with the Great Satan. They sent a 'fig leaf fax' to the White House. The offer basically said, we'll leave Israel and you alone, give up terrorism and our nuclear program - but you gotta leave us alone.

Nope.

The reform movement was killed. Mock Mood brought in. Iranians have had the upper hand ever since. And, judging by the tone of the documentary, they are both ready to meet their makers.

And since both leaders believe they are working directly for their Lord, and have been swinging the phrase "WWIII" around, you might want to refresh your bomb shelter's can goods.

Quick and Dirty Reaction:

The only alteration I would make to this summary is in the last line.  Given Iran's thinly veiled threats of retaliation against Israel (our missiles can reach every inch of the Middle East), it is the Israelis rather than Americans at home who are at the greatest risk in any apocalyptic showdown.

No doubt, the increasingly fringy right will simply dismiss as lefty extremist propaganda the significance of the administration's strategic blunders and the lost opportunities for progress on Iran discussed in the Frontline piece.  But Americans have grown weary of the hard right branding all challenges to its omniscience as the handiwork of America-hating socialists.  After watching the Bush administration make so many spectacularly bad calls in the Middle East over the past 5 years, few Americans have confidence in the judgment of Bush-Cheney, the Neocons and their cheerleaders in America's shrinking armchair army, no matter how loud and morally self-righteous their assertions that only they understand the nature of the threats and the dangers that lie ahead of us.

As Dick Armitage suggested during portions of an interview broadcast last night, in his thirty years involved in Middle East affairs, the actions of the United States might not have always been viewed favorably in the Middle East , but the United States was never viewed as incompetent.  According to Armitage, that has changed in the past five years.

With good reason.

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Rudy: "How I Subdued The Sex Industry In New York"

Touting his accomplishments as mayor Tuesday while on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, Giuliani crowed, "I took a city that was known for pornography and licked it to a large extent, so I have my own set of qualifications."

October 22, 2007

If You Build It, They will Come and Take It

Politicians just can't keep their grubby mitts off of anything:

From Italian blogger, Beppe Grillo:

The Levi-Prodi law lays out that anyone with a blog or a website has to register it with the ROC, a register of the Communications Authority, produce certificates, pay a tax, even if they provide information without any intention to make money.
Blogs are being born every second, anyone can start one without a problem and they can write their thoughts, publish photos and videos. In fact, the route proposed by Levi limits access to the Internet. What young person is going to submit to all these hoops to do a blog? the Levi-Prodi law obliges anyone who has a website or a blog to get a publishing company and to have a journalist who is on the register of professionals as the responsible director.

99% would close down.  The lucky 1% still surviving on the Internet according to the Levi-Prodi law would have to respond in the case of the lack of control on defamatory content in accordance with articles 57 and 57 bis of the penal code. Basically almost sure to be in prison.

According to Grillo, a draft of the measure has already been approved by the Italian parliament.

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October 21, 2007

Toward A New Conservativsm

Andrew Sullivan posted excerpts from an interesting reader email examining the possibility that we are in the midst of a major political realignment as blueprints for the political coalitions of the past four decades disintegrate.  More here...

Certainly, the Republican coalition has disintegrated because conservative latecomers from the Christian right, as well as a substantial proportion of neoconservatives, could never truly accept that they were part of a conservative CO-alition.  Instead, they sought to redefine conservatism to serve their fetish-y special interests.

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Sunday Stories: Hillary, Haredi, Hamas...

  • Socks, the Clinton White House cat who softened Hillary's brittle image, was dumped on Bill Clinton's personal secretary, Betty Currie, after the Presidency ended. More...
  • I remember when voices from the other side of the pond smugly derided Americans for our racism.  Now, one of Britain's top black police officers urges more stops of blacks under a "stop and search" approach to reduce that nation's soaring violent crime rate.  Notice that the headline refers to those who would be stopped as "suspects."   Where are Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson?
  • Haredi youths in Israel attacked a woman, a soldier and police after the woman refused to move to the back of a bus on their orders (from the Jerusalem Post).  Haredi is an ultra-conservative form of Orthodox Judaism.
  • On a narrow Tokyo street, near a beef bowl restaurant and a pachinko parlor, Aya Tsukioka demonstrated new clothing designs that she hoped would ease Japan's growing fears of crime.

With a deft motion, Tsukioka, a 29-year-old fashion designer, lifted a flap on the front of her skirt to reveal a large sheet of cloth printed in bright red with a soft drink logo partly visible. By holding the sheet fully open and stepping to the side of the road, she showed how a woman walking alone could elude pursuers - by disguising herself as a vending machine. Read More...

Vending_machine_dress

Not very convincing.  It looks like a "disguise" Michael Jackson might wear.  Besides, I see the potential for a seriously uncomfortable moment with a thirsty assailant. 

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October 20, 2007

Right-wing Facebook

Rudy Giuliani's page: pretty funny stuff here.

Photo of the Day: The Auchincloss Family (1946)

Hugh_auchincloss_jackie_kennedy

The Auchincloss Family (1946). From back, L-R: Jacqueline Bouvier (Kennedy), Yusha Auchincloss (recent photos: 1, 2, 3), Nina Auchincloss, Carline Lee Bouvier (Radziwell), Janet Lee Auchincloss (holding baby Janet Auchincloss), Tommy Auchincloss, Hugh D. Auchincloss.

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October 19, 2007

Pelosi Pandering to Armenian-Americans in Her District

Andrew Sullivan is right to sneer:

Buried beneath the blather, Scott Johnson is clearly accusing Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership of raising the Armenian genocide resolution at this time to sabotage the war effort in the Middle East. Charles Krauthammer aired the "stab-in-the-back" meme only to dismiss it - an act of Insta-level passive aggression. But Powerline goes there:

I doubt that stupidity is a sufficient explanation in this case.

Which leaves treason, right? -- The Daily Dish

It's difficult to believe that anyone in Washington is in the dark about Pelosi's motive for pushing the resolution.  The Congresswoman has a long history of pandering to Armenian-American voters in her district.  At a 1998 fundraiser given in her honor by the Bay Area Armenian National Committee, Pelosi expressed strong support for continuing a ban on US aid to Azerbaijan ([Article 907) -- a ban which was supported by the Armenian Nactional Committeee:

In her remarks, Nancy Pelosi stressed the importance of the direct role the ANC and the Armenian-American constituency plays in its constant communication with her office. "We won by 49 votes , people thought we’d lose, the reason we won is because of you, because of your grassroots participation, education of members, and because of the clear case you make to us because it is in the interest of the United States to have a principled policy towards Armenia."

Pelosi also criticized "Jewish American organizations" (creepy) and big oil (easy) for their opposition to continuing the ban on aid:

Pelosi’s presentation enthralled the group of young and old with her enthusiasm and sense of justice on this issue. She questioned the involvement of the Jewish American organizations in their opposition, criticized the U.S. oil lobbyists for their economic arguments and neglect for human rights, and reprimanded the influence Turkey plays in the Administration’s discriminatory position. Congresswoman Pelosi stated that the ANC’s list of principles as to what should happen in the region are consistent with national interests of the United States, "We want to do everything we can to have peace with justice in the region and respect for political integrity of Nagorno-Karabagh and Armenia….

And, the fundraiser ended with ANC organizers urging support for Pelosi in the upcoming congressional election:

"We can maneuver all we want in the House, but can not succeed without your mobilization…. You give ammunition, inspiration, and courage to us to fight on your behalf {said, Pelosi]" The evening ended with the ANC-SF recommending to all those present and their friends and family to vote for Nancy Pelosi on November 3rd.

Columbia University's Inhouse Ahmadinejad

Columbia University's own Ahmadinejad is Palestinian Christian Joseph Massad, Associate Professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History. James Kirchick reports:

According to Massad, a Palestinian Christian and disciple of the late Columbia professor Edward Said, the case for gay rights in the Middle East is an elaborate scheme hatched by activists in the West. Massad posited this thesis in a 2002 article, "Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World," for the academic journal Public Culture, and he has expanded it into a book, Desiring Arabs, published this year by the University of Chicago Press. In it, he writes that such activists constitute the "Gay International" whose "discourse ... produces homosexuals as well as gays and lesbians, where they do not exist." The "missionary tasks" of this worldwide conspiracy are part of a broader attempt to legitimize American and Israeli global conquest by undermining the very moral basis of Muslim societies, as the "Orientalist impulse ... continues to guide all branches of the human rights community." Massad's intellectual project is a not-so-tacit apology for the oppression of people who identify openly as homosexual. In so doing, he sides with Islamist regimes over Islamic liberals.

H/T: Ed Brayton

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October 17, 2007

David Bernstein on Neocons and Liberals

David Bernstein (Volokh) points out a glaring contradiction that haunts the neoconservative movement:

The irony is that the other, domestic policy wing of neoconservatism, the wing that focused on the failures of the Great Society, got its reputation and influence by explaining that good intentions (as in failed Great Society programs) aren't enough, and that throwing government resources at problems not only isn't enough, but is often counter-productive. Idealism is one thing, but as non-neoconservative P.J. O'Rourke puts it, giving the government money and power is like giving car keys and whiskey to a teenage boy. Foreign policy neocons like Muravchik sound just like the domestic liberals their domestic neocon brethren delighted in attacking in the 70s and 80s: "it wasn't our policy that failed, much less our ideology, we just need to redouble our efforts, maintain our idealism, and give the government more money and power."

Neoconservatives and liberals share much more in common than they would care to admit:

  • Both overestimate the effectiveness of coupling their wishes with brute force.
  • Both are prone to engaging in moral attacks on anyone who registers resistance to their grand schemes.
  • Both resist the lessons of monumental failure.

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October 15, 2007

NY Times Exposes Militant Islamic Website Operator Without Pajamas Media Blogger Approval

Michael Moss wrote an article in the NY Times about English language websites that offer support for militant Islamic views.  In his piece, Moss discussed a thoroughly repugnant 21-year-old Muslim nutjob, Samir Khan, who runs a militant Islamic website from the home of his chagrined parents in Charlotte, NC.

I decided to search for more information on the Times story and was quickly reminded that self-important nutjobbery is rarely a one-sided affair.  It seems that in some sectors of the Pajamas Media world it is believed that the NY Times should get clearance from America's pitchfork and lantern ePatriots before it runs a story.


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October 12, 2007

Ann Coulter: Christian Icon?

I had expected to skip any reference to the Ann Coulter-Donny Deutsch exchange on Jews, Judaism and Christianity, but this comment from one of Coulter's "friends" left me scratching my head:

Danny [sic] Deutsch in short is an angry anti-Christian bigot, looking to make a name for himself by biting into Christian icons. Pretty sad way to attempt to "scratch your way" into the "big time."

Coulter is considered a Christian icon?  Not among any Christians I know and I know a lot of them of all political stripes as well as some of no political stripe whatsoever.  And I'm not a fan of [D-O-N-N-Y] Deutsch, but as for making a name for himself and scratching his way into the big time, Deutsch is the chairman of a $3 billion company.  True, Donny Deutsch hasn't expressed his perfection by dating Bob Guccione, but Deutsch seems to be scratching out a niche for himself with a television show and a sizable personal fortune.


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October 10, 2007

Erich Fromm on Freedom and Ambivalence

The Barrister comments on Erich Fromm and human ambivalence about freedom.

This is a rich subject well known to psychoanalytic thinkers.  The human psyche must continuously deal with conflicting wishes and regressive pulls toward more primitive ways of relating to the world around us.  These conflicts and the mental compromises we make to deal with these conflicts occur, to a large extent, unconsciously, but they have enormous implications for the kinds of lives we lead and the societies we construct.

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October 09, 2007

As Israel Goes, So Goes America?

Perhaps this neocon blogger would have us believe as much:

At the moment, it is fair to say that Civilization is threatened by radical Islam, a supremacist, racist, anti-Semitic ideology based on the Koran.  While it is proper and expectable that any religion believe that it offers the best and most fitting avenue to approach God, only Islam insists that anyone who raises questions about it deserves death.  This leads to such quaint customs as beheading infidels, heretics, and apostates, and suicide bombing, which the Arabs did not invent but have gone a long way toward perfecting.  It also suggests a commonality of outcome for Israel and those other nations most at risk from the depredations of Imperialist Islam. -- Shrinkwrapped

Shrinkwrapped's comments reminded me of a statement attributed to former G.M. Chairman, Charles E. Wilson who conflated the interests of his company with those of the United States as a whole when he said "what's good for General Motors is good for the country."   Is it any surprise that it was the chairman of G.M. rather than the chairman of Chrysler who made that statement?

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Photo of the Day: Fenway Park (1946)

Ted_williams_eddie_pellagrini_john_

29-year-old John Kennedy campaigns for a congressional seat in the election of 1946.  Seen here left to right are Ted Williams, Eddie Pellagrini, JFK and Hank Greenberg at Fenway Park, Boston.

In playoff news: Chicago Cubs merchandise is being recalled because of high risk of choking.

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October 08, 2007

Are Liberals Nicer People Than Conservatives? A Reader Comments

Yesterday, I posted a quote from Paul Krugman's column on the "personality type" attracted by the modern conservative movement.  Krugman describes an attitude of petty cruelty that many modern conservatives flaunt as if it were a badge of honor.  Krugman further asserts that "if you identify with the downtrodden, even a little, you don’t belong [in the conservative movement]."

There is truth in Krugman's observation (think Ann Coulter as a graphic case in point), but it would be a mistake to assume that liberals are fundamentally more decent in their underlying intentions.

One reader offered a trenchant insight into conservatives, liberals and their respective identifications with the downtrodden.  I thoroughly agree with this observation:

For every conservative who ridicules a disadvantaged person, there's a liberal who gets a charge out of feeling superior to one, and there are more than enough of both to go around. Of conservatives, Krugman writes, "If you identify with the downtrodden, even a little, you don’t belong." To the same extent, I would add, liberals don't "identify with the downtrodden," they patronize them.

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October 07, 2007

Are Liberals Nicer People Than Conservatives?

Paul Krugman is on to something when he says of conservatives:

...modern movement conservatism attracts a certain personality type. If you identify with the downtrodden, even a little, you don’t belong. If you think ridicule is an appropriate response to other peoples’ woes, you fit right in.

More here...

Krugman isn't simply making all of this up out of thin air.  Callousness that frequently degenerates into open cruelty has been embraced by too many conservatives in recent years.  But, I have a problem with Krugman's piece.  Cruel humor is not the only way to be cruel.  Although there is truth in his observation about modern conservatism, one might incorrectly infer from it that the underlying heart of the average liberal is somehow a better one than the heart of the typical conservative.  I don't believe this for a moment.  Nothing about my personal experience with liberals tells me that they are more genuinely compassionate, empathic or principled than conservatives.   I think they're simply more apt to misrepresent even their most base intentions as altruistically driven idealism.

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October 06, 2007

David Brooks on the Republican Collapse

David Brooks writes about Burkean conservatism and the Republican collapse:

the temperamental conservative is suspicious of rapid reform, believing that efforts to quickly transform anything will have, as Burke wrote “pleasing commencements” but “lamentable conclusions.”

The world is too complex, the Burkean conservative believes, for rapid reform. Existing arrangements contain latent functions that can be neither seen nor replaced by the reformer. The temperamental conservative prizes epistemological modesty, the awareness of the limitations on what we do and can know, what we can and cannot plan....

...over the past several years, the G.O.P. has made ideological choices that offend conservatism’s Burkean roots. This may seem like an airy-fairy thing that does nothing more than provoke a few dissenting columns from William F. Buckley, George F. Will and Andrew Sullivan. But suburban, Midwestern and many business voters are dispositional conservatives more than creedal conservatives. They care about order, prudence and balanced budgets more than transformational leadership and perpetual tax cuts. It is among these groups that G.O.P. support is collapsing.

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October 05, 2007

Viva Fidel y Michael Moore

The Cuban hospitals Michael Moore didn't see: Viva Fidel y la revolucion.  H/T: Bird Dog

The Jena 6: Choosing between America’s Sunni and Shia

Dawn Turner Trice argues for examining the shades of gray in this case.

Should morally principled people exert themselves analyzing the shadings of moral degeneracy?  Do you crave justice more for Iraq's Shia thugs than you crave it for Iraq's Sunni thugs?  Was cracker Justin Barker beaten to a bloody pulp or was he merely battered and bruised?  Did Barker hang the nooses on the “white’s only” tree or was he merely a friend of the primitive punks who hung those nooses?  Did Barker provoke his attackers by ridiculing the black student who was beaten by his friends?  Did the berserk black students actually intend to beat Barker to death or did they merely intend to beat him to within an inch of his life?  Which thugs received harsher treatment and what role did race play in determining whose evil would draw the harshest treatment?

It is difficult to care about a situation in which all involved appear to have acted in a morally repugnant manner.  Without a scintilla of evidence that anyone involved in this, white or black, attempted to navigate these events using a working moral compass, it doesn't seem quite right to worry from afar about the refined application of justice.

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October 04, 2007

New Revelations in Israeli Attack on USS Liberty

The Chicago Tribune ran a disturbing story about the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty during the 1967 war.  Forty years later, survivors are still spitting mad.

For [Marine Staff Sgt Bryce] Lockwood and many other survivors, the anger is mixed with incredulity: that Israel would attack an important ally, then attribute the attack to a case of mistaken identity by Israeli pilots who had confused the U.S. Navy's most distinctive ship with an Egyptian horse-cavalry transport that was half its size and had a dissimilar profile. And they're also incredulous that, for years, their own government would reject their calls for a thorough investigation.

"They tried to lie their way out of it!" Lockwood shouts. "I don't believe that for a minute! You just don't shoot at a ship at sea without identifying it, making sure of your target!"

Four decades later, many of the more than two dozen Liberty survivors located and interviewed by the Tribune cannot talk about the attack without shouting or weeping.

Their anger has been stoked by the declassification of government documents and the recollections of former military personnel, including some quoted in this article for the first time, which strengthen doubts about the U.S. National Security Agency's position that it never intercepted the communications of the attacking Israeli pilots -- communications, according to those who remember seeing them, that showed the Israelis knew they were attacking an American naval vessel.

As the Tribune tells it, evidence that the Israelis knew they were attacking an American ship is substantial.  If the attack was intentional, the question remains why attack an American ship?  The Tribune offers speculation, but nothing solid.

Many of those who believe the Liberty was purposely attacked have suggested that the Israelis feared the ship might intercept communications revealing its plans to widen the war, which the U.S. opposed. But no one has ever produced any solid evidence to support that theory, and the Israelis dismiss it. The NSA's deputy director, Louis Tordella, speculated in a recently declassified memo that the attack "might have been ordered by some senior commander on the Sinai Peninsula who wrongly suspected that the LIBERTY was monitoring his activities."

Read More here 

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October 03, 2007

Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill & America's Homegrown Ahmadinejads

Ed Brayton's discussion of the Thomas-Hill story explores the powerful tendency of ideologues on the left and the right to poison our political discourse by making attributions of fact based upon ideology even when the relevant facts simply can't be determined with confidence.  Both the left and the right proceed from the certainty that Hill-Thomas confirms what they already know: the other side is evil.

But, both sides know the facts behind Hill-Thomas in the same way that Ahmadinejad "knows" that the holocaust didn't happen and that there are no homosexuals in Iran.  Regardless of how flimsy or contrary the data might be, ideology predetermines the facts.

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October 02, 2007

Mearsheimer & Walt

I haven't read the book and don't intend to read it, but it has been impossible to avoid hearing about it.

Last night I saw the very strange Mike Gravel suggesting something sinister about AIPAC's role in Kyl-Leiberman. The facts will dribble out, he said in a creepy, offhanded way to interviewer Ray Suarez.  That was followed by a local reporter interviewing a red-faced Abraham Foxman who repeatedly used the words "bigot" and "antisemitism" while he insisted that critics of American policy on Israel are not subjected to unfair moral attacks.

On the net, Jeffrey Goldberg gets his hands on Mearsheimer and Walt, followed by David Weigel who begs to differ.

Without a doubt, anti-Semites will be pleased by M&W's central claim that AIPAC exerts an outsized influence on American policy, but the habitual smear-and-destroy tactics employed by neocons and authoritarian conservatives leave me skeptical about the motivations underlying claims of antisemitism directed specifically toward Mearsheimer and Walt.  Since the political right reflexively brands its political opposition with charges of intellectual, psychological or moral degeneracy, such charges tends to lose currency with reasonable people.  Too bad the right has so cheapened the discussion in recent years that such a serious accusation must as a matter of course be taken with a very large grain of salt.

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September 26, 2007

Ahmadinejad at Columbia

It wasn't a pro-Islamic fundamentalist rally.

Pronazi_german_american_bund_rally_

Pro-Nazi German-American Bund rally at Madison Square Garden (1939).

There has been plenty of hysterical bloviating over Ahmadinejad's appearance at Columbia, but it isn't clear that his appearance there will have meaningful consequences -- just a lot of armchair theorizing that isn't acknowledged as such.  I haven't heard anyone say that they've changed their opinions on U.S.-Iran relations, Iran's nuke program or, for that matter, on the nature of evil.

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September 25, 2007

Ahmadinejad's Idiotic Smile

Ahmadinejad

In a previous post I wrote about duper's delight -- the experience of pleasure betrayed by the smile of a lying psychopath.

Every time he evades the truth or tells an outright lie, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad busts an idiotic smile for his audience.  His stupid grin expresses a moral perversion extending beyond the psychopath's simple pleasure in the power of deception.  He takes obvious delight in making offensive claims that are so transparently false his audacity shocks the moral sensibilities of his listeners.

Ahmadinejad knows we don't believe him when he speaks.  Our belief is not what he wants.  Listening to him and watching him even briefly, it becomes abundantly clear that he is gratified by a sense of diabolical power that accompanies his ludicrously, offensive statements.

Life expectancy for political leaders like Ahmadinejad tends to be short.  Perhaps it's wishful thinking on my part, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is a Persian noose or an Iranian manufactured bullet that wipes that shit-eating grin off his face permanently.

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September 21, 2007

If Bush Had One More Term...

Bush_with_petraeus_replacement_2

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September 18, 2007

Is Obama A Littering Firebug?

According to this account from David Mendell's new biography of the candidate:

Late at night, during one tour of (downstate Illinois), I was riding shotgun in a car trailing Obama’s black SUV amid the campaign caravan….

As we motored along the dark, flat country roads of Illinois, I spied a small orange-lighted object fly from the passenger window of Obama’s SUV and smack into the road ahead of us, briefly bouncing along the pavement until it disappeared beneath our car.

(Campaign Press aide Tommy) Vietor, understanding the magnitude of Obama’s well kept secret and the potential  consequences of its revelation to a reporter, immediately turned his head my way to see if I had noticed what was obviously a cigarette butt discarded by Obama…..

Only half-awake and tired, I lacked the energy to mention what I had seen and open a conversation about it….Several minutes later, however, out flew another orange cigarette butt….

After another several minutes, out popped another. Again Vietor turned my way, looking ever more worried as Obama flicked each cigarette from the SUV. “You know, Tommy, I’ve known for a long time that Barack smokes,” I said.

September 17, 2007

McCain Takes The Low Road

Time Magazine reports that Senator John McCain was enthusiastically applauded when he told a crowd gathered at a New Hampshire VFW hall that MoveOn.org should be thrown out of the United States.  McCain is quoted as saying:

"It's disgraceful, it's got to be retracted and condemned by the Democrats and MoveOn.org ought to be thrown out of this country, my friends."

Regardless of what one thinks about MoveOn.org, thoughtful persons should recognize that McCain appealed to an authoritarian inclination to silence or eliminate those with whom one disagrees.  That the crowd reacted enthusiastically to his comment only adds to a troubling perception of a compromised man playing to a mindless mob.

A once moderate Republican, McCain has repeatedly sidled up to the authoritarian branch of the party because appeasing authoritarians has become the linchpin of Republican victory over the past thirty years.  After being smeared in the 2000 primaries by the Bush team's dirty race politics, the war hero has recognized that the path to victory in his party demands a roll in the filth along the way.


Pitchforks

September 16, 2007

Alan Greenspan: The Age of Turbulence (Book)

Is anyone surprised by anything Alan Greenspan has to say about the Bush administration in his new bookGreenspan has long been a libertarian Republican.  And as a member of Ayn Rand's salon in its heyday, I never imagined that Greenspan found much to admire about Bush's presidency.  Rand herself would likely have held Bush in contempt for his lack of intellectual curiosity, his venal cronyism and his "subjectivist epistemology."

For those who may not have seen the widely circulating prepublication quotes from Greenspan's book, here are a few:

“I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.”

“‘Deficits don’t matter’, to my chagrin, became part of Republicans’ rhetoric.”

“My biggest frustration remained [President Bush’s] unwillingness to wield his veto against out-of-control spending.”

“The Republicans in Congress lost their way. They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose.”

“Most troubling to me was the readiness of both Congress and the administration to abandon fiscal discipline.”

September 15, 2007

General Petraeus Suffers Brain Injury: He Can't Stop Saying 'al-Qaeda'

Brian Williams: "Over the last two days of testimony, you mentioned al-Qaeda, by our count, 160 times. Now for a lot of Americans, al-Qaeda - that's the guys who flew those planes into the buildings in New York, and Washington, and Pennsylvania.  Explain what you mean — because al-Qaeda in Iraq wasn't around that day."

General Petraeus:  We do not label them all al-Qaeda and we have tried very hard not to imply that or to state that.

Maybe the general has suffered one too many combat-related concussionsWhat else could account for his inability to stop saying al-Qaeda?

September 12, 2007

Lies and Videotapes: Sergeant Kuehnlein's Dashboard Video Vanishes

Yesterday, Brett Darrow met with Saint George, Missouri police chief Scott Uhrig to discuss Sergeant James Kuehnlein's abusive behavior during an encounter with Darrow in a commuter parking lot.  According to Darrow, the video from Kuehnlein's cruiser dashboard has mysteriously vanished.  This is not a surprise.  Police videos that incriminate police officers have a tendency to disappear when allegations of police misconduct surface.  I suspect that most videotaped exposure of police misconduct comes from citizen owned equipment just as it did in the case of Sergeant Kuehnlein and Brett Darrow.

Brett_darrow_3Abusive police officers may lament their increasing vulnerability to exposure by video cameras, but the emergence of cheap, compact video technology is a good thing for police officers and citizens.  Videotape is often used to support the prosecution of criminals and the possibility that a citizen has video equipment can only encourage police officers to maintain a professional attitude while on the job.

Videotape can also clear the innocent which is not only right, but part of good police work.  While I don't favor placing government cameras everywhere, they are appropriate in police cruisers and I believe they should always be employed during interrogations where abuses are commonplace.  While not a perfect solution to misconduct, taping police encounters with the public whenever possible represents a great advance in the effort to protect both the police and the public from wrongful accusations related to interactions between cop and citizen.

Although officers have accepted and even embraced the presence of video equipment in cruisers, detectives still have mixed opinions about videotaping interviews start to finish.  Some investigators who oppose the use of cameras claim that videotaping may cause interviewees to clam up.  This may be true, but cameras protect interviewees and suspects from the very serious problem of abusive interrogations leading to false confessions.

Here is where I part company with many bloggers who feel the need to qualify their comments on this subject with deferential praise of police officers in general.  I have personally and professionally known police officers, detectives and departmental officials at all ranks in the city of Chicago and the suburbs.  Abusive behavior by police officers in the field is a serious problem, not because of a few bad apples but because it is widespread and entrenched.  Police officers vehemently deny this publicly, but talk about it privately.  Prosecutors know this goes on and take the attitude that as long as they are not told about it they can ignore it.  I assume that many judges know about it as well because many come from the local prosecutorial ranks.

Besides having personal knowledge of such conduct, serious misconduct during interrogations is chronic and well documented in Chicago where police have a long history of beating citizens (including innocent citizens), coercing false confessions and using torture as late as the 1980s.  Police routinely go off on citizens who assert their rights and they routinely arrest citizens on false charges.  Sergeant Kuenhlein's verbally abusive, illegal threatening behavior in the Brett Darrow videotape was not atypical.  It is commonplace.

Although I don't know Sergeant Kuehnlein's age, I've been told that the problem in the field lies mostly with younger male officers.  That problem has been exacerbated in recent years as many younger officers have gotten heavily into the aggression-stoking weightlifters subculture.  What no officer has admitted to me but what I strongly suspect based on appearances is that the problem has been further compounded by pockets of steroid abuse among younger cops who hit the weights.  I have certainly known police officers who admitted to using testosterone pro-hormones prior to the legal ban on these substances early in 2006.

One police officer I knew (outside of a therapeutic context) who used these substances was a big guy who benched close to 400 lbs.  He was always a very pleasant and even-keeled fellow around me.  He had even been quite critical of fellow officers who mistreat the public saying that he looked at citizens and would think to himself "she could be my mother or he could be my brother."  I was surprised one day when he told me about grabbing the arm of a kid of about 13 for giving him lip and dragging the kid down the street alongside his squad car.  The panicked boy screamed as he tried to keep up with the car, his arm clamped in the iron grip of Officer Terminator.

Okay, some people might do this to a younger brother, but that is not what I was thinking this police officer meant when he said that he tried to think about citizens as family members.  His dangerous and illegal stunt may or may not have diminished the possibility of this kid giving lip to police officers in the future, but I doubt it will have the slightest positive effect on any propensity this kid may have to engage in criminal conduct.  It might, however, make him less likely to "snitch" to police during an investigation of a serious crime.  I should add that I doubt my "good cop" acquaintance of several years would still be a police officer if this stunt had been caught on tape.

As I said in my original post on the Kuehnlein incident, human beings are not good with power.  Among those who have power there is a tendency to abuse it, while the defensive tendency to identify with the aggressor is one significant factor behind excessive public tolerance of police misconduct.  Deferential glorification of aggressors provides a sense of safety from aggression, but it also emboldens the aggressor.  But, videotapes can't identify with the aggressor.  That's why videotapes like Brett Darrow's can be helpful to promoting better police work while also guarding the rights of citizens.

Update: In an interview with radio station KMOX Saint George Police Chief Scott Uhrig suggested that driver Brett Darrow baited Sergeant Kuehnlein:

Just the normal person doesn't respond to questions... you know... that he [Darrow] did and with that I find that rather strange.

Chief Uhrig is right.  "The normal person" doesn't respond this way to a police officer.  Normal persons are usually afraid to assert their legal right to privacy while alone in an empty parking lot with a police officer who is challenging that right.  That's why Kuehnlein blew up.  Darrow did not show the fearful deference to which Sergeant Kuehnlein is accustomed when he demands that a citizen forfeit his legal rights upon Kuehnlein's demand that he do so.  As Chief Uhrig clearly knows, most normal persons are afraid of his officers in these situations.

I don't care if Keuhnlein was baited or set up.  Police officers frequently behave this way when citizens refuse to cede their legal rights.  More officers should be set up until such behavior is no longer an acceptable part of police culture.

Uhrig also acknowledged that the dashcam tape is missing and says that Kuehnlein told him the dashcam "had a glitch" on the night of the incident.  Uhrig says he has checked the dashcam and it is apparently glitchless now.

September 10, 2007

Nanny Staters and Daddy Staters

19-year-old Brett Darrow has a history of run-ins with the police.  He was once assaulted by a drunk off-duty police officer, arrested, cleared and subsequently paid a settlement by St. Louis County.  Darrow keeps a police scanner and video camera with a relay to a secure source in his car.  He has captured some interesting encounters with police on his mobile system.

In the first video below, Darrow is stopped at a Saint George, MO police drunk-driving road block.  He lawfully asserts his Fourth Amendment right not to discuss his personal travel business with a police officer.  His car is searched illegally and he is detained until he informs the police that he has videotaped the stop.  There are long audio blanks in this video (a time marked transcript is here).  Darrow is cool under pressure and does nothing other than assert his legal right to refuse to disclose to the state his personal plans for the evening.  Nonetheless, I suspect that some right wing Daddy staters who deplore the left wing nanny state will blame Darrow for the illegal search conducted by police officers in this video.  But all Darrow did was refuse to provide the police with information to which the state has absolutely no right.

In the next video below (the audio on this one is much better -- transcript here), Darrow pulls into a commuter parking lot which is empty except for a Saint George, MO police car.  Saint George P.D. Sgt. James Kuehnlein asserts that he is investigating Darrow as a suspicious person who might be planning to break into cars even though Darrow drove right by the police officer into an empty lot where he remained in view of the officer.  Kuehnlein also accuses Darrow of driving erratically and failing to use his turn signal.  The video plainly shows that Darrow used his turn signal.

It is clear that Darrow doesn't like being interrogated by police when he hasn't committed a crime.  Kuehnlein repeatedly threatens to bring false charges against Darrow because of Darrow's attitude.  Once again, Darrow is probably spared an arrest after revealing his secure source video system. 

Many people on the political right complain loudly about hate crime laws that "criminalize bad thoughts" about minorities, even though they are conspicuously quiet (or apologists) when it comes to arrests on false charges stemming from presumed bad thoughts about government goons with badges.  The underlying consistency behind such apparent hypocrisy is defensive identification with the aggressor -- the sine qua non of the authoritarian character.  I hasten to add that authoritarian leftists are probably just as plentiful as right wing authoritarians.  Human beings just aren't very good with power.

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September 09, 2007

Fundy Researchers To Report On Religiously Mediated Change In Sexual Orientation

InterVarsity Press announced the upcoming publication of a study that finds a high rate of religiously mediated change in sexual orientation:

In September, InterVarsity Press will publish the results of a longitudinal study conducted by researchers Stanton L. Jones (Wheaton College) and Mark A. Yarhouse (Regent University). Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation directly addresses two of the most contentious and disputed questions of our day—Is change of sexual orientation possible? and Is the attempt to change harmful?—and the findings of the study appear to contradict the commonly expressed views of the mental health establishment. InterVarsity Press will hold a press conference at the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) World Conference on September 13, 2007, in Nashville, Tennessee, to announce the results of this study.

In a joint statement, Jones and Yarhouse explain the reasoning for their research: "We are evangelical Christians committed to the truth-seeking activity of science. In conducting and reporting this study, we took seriously the words of one of our heroes, C. S. Lewis, who said that science produced by Christian persons would have to be 'perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly.' "

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Bush Speaks About Gayhood and Gaydom

From Robert Draper's new book Dead Certain:

Draper also quotes then-Governor Bush talking about homosexuality, saying it shouldn't be part of public discourse. Quote, "I wouldn't appoint someone based on their gaydom. Or gayhood. But I don't know, it's none of my business."

Yep, he's our president.

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September 08, 2007

Unintended Consequences: Afghanistan's Bumper Crops of Opium and Addiction

Yesterday, Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Kim Barker reported on the growing problem of opium and heroin addiction in Afghanistan.  We may be struggling to keep the supply of oil flowing freely, but there is more than enough heroin for everyone now.

By Kim Barker
Tribune foreign correspondent
September 6, 2007
KABUL, Afghanistan

Sabera came to the new treatment center for female drug addicts with a plan. In five days, she would check in along with her daughter, and this time she would leave heroin forever.

And then Sabera went home. Within minutes she started smoking the brown powder on a small canoe-shaped piece of foil. So did her two children. Her son, Zaher, is 14. Her daughter, Gulpari, is 12. The family slumped on cushions against a wall. Zaher barely held his eyes open, rubbed his stomach and muttered, "God, God." Gulpari cuddled against her mother. Their fingers were black with tar.

"I feel very sad about it," said Sabera, who has no last name, like many Afghans, and guesses she is about 45. "It's my fault they're addicted. It's my fault they can't quit."

In this land where more opium and heroin are produced than the entire world consumes, Afghans are increasingly hooked on their own product. And now, Afghan doctors say, more and more women are using the drug, desperate to escape depression or pain. The women suck on pea-sized pieces of opium beneath their tongues, chew it or drink it with tea. Like Sabera, some have started to smoke heroin, which is more refined than opium and considered much more addictive.

Often, mothers take their children with them. They give the skin of the addictive poppy fruit to hungry babies to make them feel full, the mothers say. They blow smoke in the mouths of crying toddlers to quiet them -- a practice that public-service warnings try to discourage. Or, as Sabera says she did two years ago, they say yes to children who wonder what their mother is doing and want to try it.

In July, responding to the capital's growing problem, a new drug treatment center opened for women in Kabul. It is the city's eighth treatment center to open since the fall of the Taliban, which largely banned poppies, and is the first in-patient clinic that treats only women.

"There are families where the whole family is using heroin," said Dr. Shaista, the coordinator of the government-run Sanga Amaj Drug Treatment Center, which keeps patients for a month and then gives follow-up treatment.

"Nobody stops it. Nobody bans it. The police are there, but they do nothing. In every corner of the city, people are selling heroin," Shaista said.

For generations Afghans have grown poppies in the country's arid climate, but they traditionally didn't use heroin. Instead, raw opium was exported and refined into heroin for sale in the West.

Since the Taliban was toppled in 2001, poppies have threatened to carpet much of Afghanistan's agricultural land, especially in the south. And increasingly, heroin is being processed inside the country, according to the United Nations and local authorities.

The annual poppy survey by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, released last week, showed yet another record-breaking year for poppies in Afghanistan, which now is nearly the world's exclusive supplier of heroin. No other country has produced narcotics on such a scale since China in the 19th Century.

Production exceeds demand

Opium production in Afghanistan now exceeds the world's demand by more than 3,000 tons, the report said, adding that this year's harvest may kill, directly and indirectly, more than 100,000 people in the world.

As the amount of poppies has skyrocketed, more Afghans have started using the drug.

Almost 1 million Afghans use drugs, from illicit prescription drugs to heroin, according to a recent study by the Ministry of Counter Narcotics, or 1 in 32 Afghans.

About 7 percent are children, and 13 percent are women, ministry spokesman Zalmai Afzali said. Last year there were 13 treatment centers in the country. Now there are 27.

"And still these are not enough," Afzali said.

The situation has gotten so bad that the head cleric at the Shrine of Ali in Kabul has started lecturing against drug use at Friday prayers and allowing treatment centers to advertise over mosque loudspeakers.

"The problem is increasing every day," said Sayed Yasin Alawi, the cleric. "If you sit on a bus, if you go to the mosque, people are talking about it. It's just getting worse and worse."

The reasons are varied. Drugs are everywhere here, and they're cheap. Sabera or her son has to walk only 20 minutes and spend only $2 to get the family high.

Many returning refugees from Iran and Pakistan also have come home as addicts, doctors say. In remote areas opium may be the only medicine available. In cities a doctor's visit costs more money than opium or heroin.

"My husband always told me not to take it," said Zahra, 45, a handkerchief vendor at the Shrine of Ali who started treatment for opium addiction Aug. 18. "I told him, 'You don't make enough money for me to go to a doctor. What am I supposed to do? This is the only thing that makes my pain go away.'"

More women addicts seen

Doctors and social workers say they see more women using drugs, or at least, seeking treatment. At the New Life Center, which treats mostly men but has an out-patient program for women, 123 women had signed up a year ago. Now, 865 women are registered.

Sabera said she started using opium after her husband, a cleric, died of a heart attack four years ago. She was depressed, she was poor, she was in pain. She moved on to heroin.

Her daughter, Gulpari, started smoking when she was 9 or 10. "She just came and sat beside me and said, 'What are you doing?'" Sabera recalled. "I said, 'It's not a good thing.' She said, 'If it's not good, why are you doing it?' Finally I gave her some, and day by day, she got addicted."

Then her son, Zaher, started. The family now lives for free in a tiny storage room at the home of a family friend who took pity on them. Sabera begs, sometimes with her daughter's help. Zaher is too weak.

The two children are skinny, wasted, high. They said they want to quit, but one attempt a year ago failed.

"I hate this habit I have," Gulpari said. "I hate this life."

Related stories: Opium production reaches record levels, U.N. Drug Agency Urges Greater NATO role in combating production and trafficking,

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September 07, 2007

Army of Dude, General Petraeus & Congress

Check out this new addition to the out-of-iraq blogger's roll.  22-year-old Alex is just completing a tour in the Iraq.

Also take a look at Paul Krugman's piece on General Petraeus, congress and the White House.  I can just imagine the right-wing guardians of truth, fingers sticking in their ears... "la, la, la, la, la, la, la... New York Times... la, la, la, la..."

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September 05, 2007

"The Mental Health Industry's Dirty Little Secret"

From Shrinkwrapped:

"The primary misunderstanding of Freud and Psychoanalysis, a misunderstanding that continues to be propagated by the forces of Therapism, concerns the locus of responsibility for our behavior. Freud's greatest insight was that to a large extent our manifest behavior is the outcome of compromises among many impulses and inhibitions, most of them unconscious, which sum and move us to action. As such, the goal of Psychoanalysis has always been to make us more aware of our hitherto unconscious motivations so that we can take more responsibility for our behavior. Therapism does the exact opposite; it attempts to relieve us of responsibility by assigning motivation and blame to all sorts of agencies (parents, society, brain chemistry) which are by definition outside the realm of our moral agency.

"It is a small step from such thinking to enabling and encouraging the government to tell people how to live, how to raise their children, and how to think. As Neuroscience enlarges our understanding of the biochemical and physiological underpinnings of behavior, those who have done so much to diminish moral responsibility will be in a powerful position to mandate proper thought. The dangers are real and growing."

The Money Quote:

"And here is the dirty little secret at the heart of Therapism: Those who press the Therapism ethic are unknowingly pursuing their own unconscious desires, for power, control, and a host of other hidden wishes. They imagine their motives are pure but the unconscious exists even within those who wish to help you 'for your own good'"

It would not be excessive to say that in many if not most sectors of the mental health industry, the pursuit of unconscious desires for power, control, and a host of other hidden wishes is epidemic.  This can be seen, for example, in many university counseling centers where serious study and discussion of unconscious mental processes has become taboo (especially among counseling psychologists).  In the name of egalitarianism, discussion of unconscious processes is derisively dismissed as the "medical model."

In fact, fiercely guarded ignorance of unconscious processes frees these practitioners to behave in self-serving, destructive ways that seriously diminish the quality of assistance that can be offered to students while also damaging the quality of professional peer support, consultation and clinical training available in these settings.

Over the past 20 years, the venom directed toward depth approaches to psychotherapy has increased in tandem with a growing sense of entitlement to career advancement that is most often reflected in unabashed political exploitation of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual-orientation.  These issues typically serve as cover stories for individuals pursuing fulfillment of an assortment of unsavory conscious and unconscious wishes.

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September 01, 2007

Authoritarians

Larval Subjects points to an online book on authoritarianism.  He finds the chatty style a bit irritating, but he says the material is interesting.  I agree on both counts.  Check out chapters 3 and 4.

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August 28, 2007

Senator Larry Craig's List

Senator_larry

Click To View full-size.

August 26, 2007

The Inanity Of Evil

Ordinarily, I don't like to quote so extensively, but this (from jurassicpork, Brilliant at Breakfast) is just too quotable to be ignored:

Hannah Arendt would’ve described this administration’s increasingly Byzantine dealings as “the inanity of evil.” There’s really no other phrase to describe it.

In describing the nondescript, guilt-free testimony of
Adolph Eichmann to an Israeli court as “the banality of evil”, Arendt gave future generations a cautionary tale in miniature as to how easily we can coexist with evil even when it rears its innocuous-looking, balding head. However, she unintentionally left us unprepared for another kind of evil that’s comfortably nestled like a camouflaged snake in what passes for American culture: The inanity of evil.

By this, one can infer that the current administration runs like a crippled Ratso Rizzo in a universally-inhabited dream world of shifting sand, where traction, grace or a step is never lost and bad never happens or, at worst, is casually acknowledged and pre-emptively written off. Indeed, George W. Bush has become quite adept at neutralizing current and future criticism of the war in Iraq by coldly predicting that US casualties will be heavy in the month of August and that’s merely the cost of doing war.

But that’s but one of the many Protean rationales and objectives that one could not have predicted from an administration and army of flacks and drumbeaters who’d assured us in 2003 that US troop casualties would be kept to a bare minimum, that Iraqi civilians would be spared from senseless destruction ("the sheer humanity" gushed Rumsfeld) due to the quasi-divine level of technology of our laser-guided missiles and smart bombs.

Then, after being told to be patient while we await the good news from Gen. Petraeus this September, we were then told not to raise our expectations or expect too much from the man who'd said from the outset that the surge "had a one in four chance of suceeding." The turnaround time from lofty promises to lowered expectations is getting alarmingly more brief.

The most disturbing aspect of this war is not merely the constantly metamorphosing impetuses for invading and occupying Iraq but that the administration never makes it a point to remind us that these expectations have been lowered, that they’d once made pie-in-the-sky promises that Iraq’s war would cost one billion dollars and would be paid for by their own oil revenue, that we could mop up the place with 135,000 troops and be back home by the 4th of July 2003, that we’d be greeted as liberators, that democracy would take root and become the political gold standard for the Middle East.

This constant revisionist mindset, accompanied by the paternal invocation of, “Trust us, we know what we’re doing” fits like a velvet glove over an iron fist with a criminally deferential press and an American “culture”, for want of a better word, that embraces the catchphrase of, “It’s all good.”

H/T: Welcome To Pottersville

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Pulling Out Of Iraq and The Definition Of Giant Brass Balls

Iraq war hawks warning the rest of us about the lessons of Vietnam.

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August 24, 2007

Ted Nugent Waving Guns, Raving Like A Mad Man About Obama, Arnold and Hillary Clinton

Rock buffoon Ted Nugent waves what looks like automatic weapons in the air and tells Arnold and Obama to "suck on these" and tells Hillary Clinton to "ride these."

It's all vaudeville, but you can bet that if it was Hollywood buffoon Alec Baldwin waving those weapons, telling John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney to suck on these, Sean Hannity would be demanding Baldwin's immediate arrest and Bill O'Reilly would call for a boycott of advertisers who sponsor 30 Rock.

Original video shot by Kevin Caroll at the Feather Falls Indian Casino in Oroville, California on 8-22-07.

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"Papier Mâché President Must Be Held Accountable"

The Onion locates the line between being morally better and being an idiot: Bush Censured in Effigy.

August 22, 2007

The Thought Police: Discussion Of Autogynephilia Is Strictly Prohibited

The NY Times reported on a story dating back to the end of 2002 when Northwestern's psychology department chair, J. Michael Bailey, published The Man Who Would Be Queen.  I haven't read the book and my local Border's was sold out, so I've ordered a copy.  My comments below are offered tentatively, based upon what I've picked up in the past few years in the press.  After I' read the book, I'll repost on any of the material details I may have gotten wrong.

From what I've gathered through a number of articles in the local press, Bailey argued that there are two types of male-born transgendered persons.  The first type, which includes most males who seek gender reassignment surgery, are men who have felt like girls and women for most or all of their lives.  They are typically more feminine in manner and seek sexual reassignment early in life.  Bailey contends that a second, much smaller group, identify as heterosexual males for most of their adult lives.  Quite often, these men marry, raise families and are even regarded by their peers as very masculine men.

Bailey says that this smaller subset of transgendered persons find the idea of having their own female genitals sexually exciting, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as autogynephilia.  According to Bailey, autogynephilia distinguishes the motivation of these later-in-life transgendered men from the larger group of male-born transgendered persons who have always identified as women.

Bailey has suggested that autogynephilia represents a reparative effort to address narcissistic injury by making the object of erotic love part of oneself.  That may sound wacky to some people, but I have seen heterosexual men who report this experience as a sexual fantasy that seems to appear during prolonged periods of narcissistic deflation, only to disappear entirely during periods when they are more narcissistically intact and stable.  I have no idea if Bailey is right about autogynephilia applying to the motivation of a significant number of transgendered persons, but I have little doubt about his formulation being rooted in psychological phenomena that real people report.

Continue reading "The Thought Police: Discussion Of Autogynephilia Is Strictly Prohibited" »

August 20, 2007

Death Of 11-year-old Egyptian Girl Caused By Ritual Genital Mutilation

I'll bet you didn't know Egypt is peaceful and secure because of female genital mutilation:

"If a girl is not purified, she will just go hook up with men. This protects women's honor. Otherwise it will become just like America here and girls will go with guys," said Asma Said, a 16-year-old secondary school student.

"Those who say it doesn't happen are lying 100 percent. There is not one person here not circumcised, and it will continue."

She like many of the schoolgirls in Maghagha who spoke to Reuters said they supported the practice, even if they were frightened of having it done.

The only girl who spoke against the practice was shouted down by her classmates until she conceded that genital cutting was a necessity.

"No one can get married without it," said the girl.

Another classmate, 15-year-old Nesma Radi, chimed in: "Egypt lives in peace and security because there is circumcision."

Maybe all those Shia and Sunni murderers would settle down if they could just be certain that they've mutilated every last little girl in the Middle East.

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August 19, 2007

Duper's Delight: Do Micro-expressions Reveal More Than Words Alone?

Vaughan at Mind Hacks discusses a Time Magazine report on the introduction of behavior detection officers at U.S. airports to identify potential terrorists.  According to the Time piece, officers will rely, in part, upon analysis of facial expressions and micro-expressions.

Psychologist Paul Ekman has been researching facial expression for over four decades.  Ekman coined the term "duper's delight" to refer to facial expressions that betray psychopathic pleasure taken in duping others.

Several months ago, a video of George Bush telling George Stephanopoulos "we have never been stay the course" circulated widely on the internet.  I thought it would be interesting to watch that video again with the notion of duper's delight in mind.  There is no question that Bush's statement was an impulsive lie. That was documented endlessly at the time.  What is of interest to me about this video is the micro-smirk suggesting that he experienced pleasure in telling that lie.

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August 17, 2007

Nuke Iraq and Declare Bush President For Life?

WTF is this all about?

August 15, 2007

Cheney Nails It On Iraq

Coming from Cheney, the insights into Iraq are jaw-dropping.  Yes, the simian tone, the micro-sneers and the palpable certainty are so... Cheney.  It almost makes me want to say he's wrong, but intellectual honesty requires an acknowledgment of indisputable facts.  I never thought I'd say this:

Cheney is right.

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Why Congress Can't Kill Pork

The_logic_of_pork

Pork rules: Novak

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August 13, 2007

Prosecutorial Sadism?

Ed Brayton has been following the Mark O"Hara case.  Recently, the Florida appeals court tossed out O'Hara's drug trafficking conviction.  O'Hara was serving 25 years for merely possessing 58 Vicodin tablets from a legally obtained prescription.  The prosecutors did not offer a shred of evidence that O'Hara was engaged in drug trafficking.  Now prosecutors intend to refile charges even though the appeals court has called the original charges "ridiculous" and "absurd."

This reminds me of the Manhattan prosecutor's handling of the Palladium murder case.  Detectives working on that case were deeply disturbed and flabbergasted by the prosecutor's determination to keep innocent men in prison for life, yet fossil D.A. Robert Morgenthau's office insisted that one of its prosecutors argue, against his own better judgment, that the innocent men should be kept in prison for life.

Both of these cases may represent instances of Dr. X's dictum which says that any occupation or office meant to be used for good attracts a significant number of people who revel in doing bad things.  Power is attractive to sadists and, for sadists, the pleasure of crushing others, body and soul, is multiplied by the knowledge that they can destroy idealism, purpose and hope by abusing positions of trust.

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August 03, 2007

Taliban Justifies Killing Koreans As "An Eye For An Eye"

Taliban spokesman Qari Yousaf Ahmadi has invoked the religious tenet of an "eye for eye'' to justify, in advance, the murder of female Korean hostages held by his comrades.  Qari suggested that killing the hostages would be morally justified because western military forces are holding female prisoners in Bagram and Kandahar, Afghanistan.  Even though the South Korean hostages have not been accused of kidnapping or murdering anyone, sociopaths like Qari freely apply this religious principle of retribution to persons on the basis of nothing more than a perceived tribal affiliation between their intended victims and other persons deemed guilty of some offense.

But, leaving aside the morally vacuous assignment of guilt by perceived association, invoking the principle of an eye for an eye to justify murdering the hostages is especially perverse in light of the Taliban's history of unrestrained violence and murder.

To more modern minds culturally influenced by the call to "turn the other cheek," an eye for an eye might seem as if it affords great moral license to retaliate.  But considered within the broader context of human nature, an eye for an eye is a call for great restraint.  As moral progress goes, an eye for an eye stands as a great moral leap beyond the primitive framework of unmeasured retaliation for any perceived slight or offense.  Thus, the moral strength of an eye for an eye lies not within the license to fulfill retribution, but within the command for restraint implied by a principle of limited retribution.

But, nothing about the Taliban has ever even hinted at such restraint and the kidnapping of the South Korean missionaries is no different in that regard.  Abandoning any sense of proportionality, Qari's fellow thugs specifically selected innocent, defenseless human beings to be murdered in cold blood, allegedly to gain the freedom of their violent comrades who, not incidentally, would be free had they shown a measure of restrained decency in the first place.

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Photo Of The Day

Lbj_and_kennedy

Click photo to view full-size.

Vice Presidential candidate Lyndon Johnson shouts at a heckler while campainging with JFK in 1960.

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August 02, 2007

Sharpton Puts The Squeeze On Daley And Chicago

The ever opportunistic Al Sharpton arrived in Chicago this week to confront Mayor Daley about the problem of police brutality.  Sharpton complained that Daley has been given a pass and he, Sharpton, intends to hold Daley's feet to the fire.

Sharpton is right about Daley getting a pass, although the pass has not come from the press, nor is it due to a lack of public awareness of police misconduct.  The press regularly hounds Daley and has for many years reported on rampant police brutality and misconduct, as well as breathtaking corruption among public officials and city, county and state employees.

Daley gets his pass from a populace that likes things the way they are.  He has been victorious in his last six runs for mayor.  In the last election, a three-way race, Daley took 71% of the vote and won the election in every last one of the city's 50 wards.  So firm is his hold on this city, that Daley did not even bother to campaign before the election. City services, jobs and favors dealt out to those who play ball with corrupt neighborhood party representatives describes how it has always worked in the city that works.

Daley has also gotten a pass from local so-called civil rights leaders.  Two civil rights celebrities, Jesse Jackson, Jr and Louis Farrakhan are based in this city, but neither gives any grief to the mayor.  Why?  Because they are just like many citizens of Chicago; they play ball with the mayor and they get theirs.  Jesse, Louis and friends are free to shakedown Americans to their hearts content, but they have a deal with the mayor:  don't do it to Daley and fortune will continue to smile upon you.

So, is Sharpton opening shop in this city to put an end to Daley's pass or is Sharpton here to get his share?  If it's the former, he faces long odds of success.  Daley has proved adept at managing characters like Sharpton.  Instead of returning fire on Sharpton, the mayor scolded the Chicago Sun-Times for trying to stir up a controversy and invited the "reverend" to meet with him.

If Sharpton isn't just here for a cut of the pie, and if he actually intends to accomplish something, he will have to work against the local civil rights franchisees who are happy with their local distribution deals.  That means going up against the likes of Louis F's organization, Jesse, Jesse's congressman son, his alderdaughter-in-law and a host of other beneficiaries of the city that works for those who play nice with hizzoner, da mare, as he is known in these parts.  Most of all, Sharpton will face an uphill struggle against the people of Chicago.  Most Chicagoans know what goes on in this city.  The just don't seem to care.

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July 31, 2007

Dementia Is Contagious And Spreading Quickly

Cheney On Gonzales "visit" to Ashcroft's hospital bed.

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South Korean Hostages Were Not Aid Workers

While they are being called "aid workers," the primary mission of the South Koreans held hostage in Afghanistan appears to have been the conversion of Muslims to Christianity.  Although their mission was illegal under Afghan law, the Koreans decided that going to a very dangerous place to illegally gain converts superseded any concern about the personal dangers, the dangers to others and the political ramifications of their actions:

The hostages, members of Saemmul Church from Bundang, near Seoul, appear to have been somewhat naive. They were traveling from Kabul to Kandahar on one of the most dangerous routes in Afghanistan. They rode a charter bus often used by foreigners, immediately attracting attention, and they did not alert local police to their presence for fear of being questioned about their identity papers, the bus driver has said. Photos of some of the missionaries, mostly women in their 20s and 30s, have surfaced on the Internet; they are seen giddily posing in front of the government sign at Seoul's Incheon International Airport warning about the dangers of travel to Afghanistan...

...As Christianity has taken firmer hold in the past few decades, riding the boom that has turned South Korea into one of the world's leading economies, competition among churches has turned fierce. Deploying missionaries abroad has become one of the quickest ways for a church to broaden its reputation and attract members. The more volatile the area, the holier the mission.

In highly wired South Korea, the debate is heating up online. President Roh Moo Hyun, who is Catholic, issued a statement yesterday asking bloggers to stop lashing out at the missionaries for bringing the nation to a standstill. His government is being criticized for not adding Afghanistan to its list of no-travel zones earlier. Some devout Christians are calling the abductees martyrs, evoking the self-glorification of extreme Islamist jihadists. The head of Saemmul Church has been forced to apologize to the nation for sending ill-prepared congregants on such a mission.

The South Korean government has asked the Afghan and American governments for flexibility in dealing with the kidnappers' demand for the release of Taliban prisoners.  Both governments have refused to negotiate with the hostage takers.

I can't find fault with the position of the U.S. and the Afghan governments on this one.  Afghanistan is a war zone and the Koreans were there voluntarily on a mission to exploit the instability in Afghanistan for their own purposes.  Freeing Taliban prisoners that the US government has deemed dangerous would send the wrong message.  It would encourage future kidnappers and future Korean missionaries.

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July 27, 2007

Photos Of The Day

Lbj_and_mcnamara

LBJ and former defense secretary Robert McNamara. Click photo to view full-size.

Lbj_2

Above: President Lyndon B. Johnson.  Below: LBJ and Robert McNamara

Lbj_and_mcnamara_2_2

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July 26, 2007

Bomb Class

Bomb_2

When I was a kid growing up Catholic, we took our religious faith seriously, but we loved a good Catholic joke.  Recently, I found myself wondering if Muslims have a tradition of self-deprecating humor. Eric Rasmusen is wondering , too.

The cartoon above is probably not produced by a Muslim and it deals with such a sensitive area that it might not draw a chuckle from the average Muslim.  The cartoon below capitalized on a sensitive subject and offended many Catholics, but it made me laugh.  Humor often draws upon matters that make us uneasy, resolving in juxtapositions that crack us up.

Altar_boys_2_2

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General Keane's Surge... In Profits?

In an interview with NRO, retired General Jack Keane said that the surge is working better than expected (H/T: Bird Dog, Think Progress).  Keane authored and promoted the surge proposal to the Bush administration together with AEI neocon Fred Kagan earlier this year.

Since his 2003 retirement from the military, Keane has profited handsomely from the continuation of the war.  He sits on the board of General Dynamics, a major military contractor.  From the company’s 2005 annual report on the commercial significance of the continuing war:

“The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan fueled continued strong demand for several of our largest programs, including the Stryker wheeled infantry vehicle, the M1 Abrams tank and the Marine Corps’ Light Armored Vehicle (LAV). The high operational tempo of the U.S. military also generated increased requirements for the company’s ammunition and high-performance armaments.”

General Keane also advises the chairman and chief executive officer of URS Corp.  According to the URS website, the company derives a significant part of its income from “military construction, infrastructure rehabilitation and reconstruction projects in Iraq."
And, Nick Mottern reported last February:
Reviewing the testimony of Mr. Keane and three other former generals on January 18 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, there is a distinct pattern. Those most involved in the military industry, Mr. Keane and former four-star army general Barry McCaffery, endorsed, respectively, escalation and continued investment in the Iraq War. Those with the least involvement in the military industry, former Marine General John P. Hoar and former army Lt. Gen. William Odom were for withdrawal.

None of this means that Keane's assessment is wrong, but reasonable people should question the credibility of General Keane's assessment since the continuation of the war is deeply tied in with the profitability of corporations that pay him.

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U.S Senators Want Universal Internet Filtering

Looks like another simple-minded idea from Washington.  Just say you're doing it for the children and it's got to be good.

H/T: The News Junkie

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Malaysian Police Menace Blogger: Demand Commenter Identities

In a move seen as by many as the beginning of a crackdown on dissent before the next general election, Malaysian Police recently detained a prominent blogger for eight hours.  Umno, the right wing ruling political party, accused 57-year-old Raja Petra Karmudan of making statements critical of the government and Islam.

Raja Petra is the publisher of MalaysiaToday, a 3-year-old site that gets 340,000 visitors a day.   This is second time the webmaster for the popular site has been grilled by police.  In 2006, Malaysian police questioned the him about a post accusing government officials of selling state titles.

Raja Petra said that police also demanded that he reveal the identities of commenters in his blog.

"How am I to know who? We have 20,000 news items and five million comments from bloggers coming from 146 countries. Although 70% of these are comments from Malaysians, how are we to know who they are. I don't know who they are and neither do I want to know."

The webmaster also claimed that the ruling political party is behind many of these postings:

"These people are Umno 'cybertroopers', there are about 25 of them paid RM2,750 a month to raid and invade malaysia-today.net. They flood my website with about 500 to 600 unwanted and sensitive comments daily and I lose sleep every night cleaning this mess up by deleting them from my site."

Malaysian Law Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz said that the government would use security laws such as the Internal Security Act and the Sedition Act against bloggers who criticize the administration of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi.  The action taken against Raja Petra comes just eleven days after the webmaster for an opposition party website was detained by police.

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Elizabeth Kucinich: Getting The Short End Of The Stick

Yesterday, I wrote about intersubjectivity and partners looking more alike over time.

Elizabeth_kucinich

Dennis and Elizabeth Kucinich (married: 1 year and 11 months).

And, to be fair:

Fred_and_jeri_thompson_2

Fred & Jeri Thompson (married 5 years).

Hundreds more Great photos here.

July 25, 2007

The Welfare State and Income Transfer To The Rich

From the LA Times, on farm subsidies:

[I]f subsidies were really designed to alleviate farmer poverty, then lawmakers could guarantee every full-time farmer an income of 185% of the federal poverty level ($38,203 for a family of four) for under $5 billion annually - one-fifth the current cost of farm subsidies.

Instead, federal farm policies specifically bypass family farmers. Subsidies are paid per acre, so the largest (and most profitable) agribusinesses automatically receive the biggest checks. Consequently, commercial farmers -- who report an average annual income of $200,000 and a net worth of nearly $2 million -- collect the majority of farm subsidies. Fortune 500 companies, celebrity "hobby farmers" and even some members of Congress collect millions of dollars under this program.

Why are some conservatives so deeply resentful of welfare, while relatively untroubled by farm subsidies?  Both are income transfer programs, but farm subsidies tend to reward the wealthy.  While many conservatives deplore farm subsidies, an ugly subset of conservatism harbors social biases so deep in their bones that they reserve their resentment exclusively for the impoverished individual welfare recipient.  Frequently, this resentment takes the form of moral scorn -- something I rarely hear directed toward wealthy recipients of farm subsidies.  And, I can't think of a more reprehensible recipient of welfare than a wealthy recipient.

H/T: The Daily Dish

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Photo Of The Day

King_vidor_ayn_rand_gary_cooper_194

King Vidor, Ayn Rand & Gary Cooper (Set of the Fountainhead 1949). Click photo to view full-size.

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July 22, 2007

Liberals, Conservatives and Unintended Consequences

One great failure of modern liberalism has been the persistent lack of appreciation, among its adherents, for the unintended consequences of policies they advocate.

Steven Chapman writes about proposed new federal mileage standards:

Our lawmakers can command auto executives to do whatever is necessary to make their cars use less gas.

But the likely results of this particular mandate bring to mind the movie "Bedazzled," in which a guy sells his soul to the devil in exchange for seven wishes -- only to find that every time he gets a wish, it turns out to have a major catch. Asking to be rich and powerful, for example, he's transformed into a Colombian drug lord whose confederates are trying to kill him.

We shouldn't be surprised that many neocons are ex-liberals who converted following the attacks of 9-11. The neocons and the modern Republican Party are the new Utopians, believing they can will their vision on a complex world, commanding it to conform with their intentions.  To be sure, they espouse different policy positions post-9-11, but their post-conversion approach to the world is the same.  They continue to confuse their own ideas and intentions with possibilities and actual outcomes in the real world.

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July 21, 2007

Man With Tiny Brain Discovered

A 44-year-old man with a "tiny brain" showed up at a French clinic complaining of mild weakness in his left leg.

"The whole brain was reduced – frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital lobes – on both left and right sides. These regions control motion, sensibility, language, vision, audition, and emotional and cognitive functions," said Lionel Feuillet, a neurologist at the Mediterranean University in Marseille.

Doctors treating the man said that, as a child, the patient had a shunt inserted to treat hydrocephalus.  The shunt was removed when he was age 14.  The man is said to have lived a "normal life," although doctors report an IQ of 75 (approximately the 5th percentile -- not good).

Expressing amazement, a neurogeneticist at the National Human Genome Research Institute, Dr Max Muenke, said: 

"the brain can deal with something which you think should not be compatible with life... If something happens very slowly over quite some time, maybe over decades, the different parts of the brain take up functions that would normally be done by the part that is pushed to the side."

The images on the left show the patient's brain, while images on the right show a normal brain.  (The dark areas are fluid).

Click Image Below For Alternate View:

Brain

H/T: neurophilosopher

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July 20, 2007

David Ignatius On The Bush Administration And The CIA

Washington Post associate editor, columnist and author of Body of Lies, David Ignatius, talking about the CIA with Charlie Rose:

“A whole generation of top CIA people really got purged in a crazy period when the Bush administration put a Republican congressman, Porter Goss, in as head of the agency.  He basically began getting rid of people who were suspected of disloyalty.”

No great revelations, but an interesting discussion with someone who has covered the CIA for many years -- Watch the entire interview here.

And, in his July 7th column, Ignatius writes about the Reagan administration reaction to the failure of a CIA team dispatched to stop the 1985 hijacking of TWA-847.  Vice President George H.W. Bush was assigned to assess the problems leading up to this failure and address them aggressively.

"He [V.P. Bush] spends three hours with these junior officers, probing for the mistakes that contributed to poor performance. When he is finished, he promptly takes steps to hold people accountable and fix problems: A two-star Air Force general is reprimanded; the CIA is given new authorities that allow it to conduct anti-terrorism operations more effectively.

"The issues we faced in that event were identified and fixed, immediately, and as word spread throughout the system, we got an amazing amount of cooperation," recalls a former CIA officer who was involved in counterterrorism operations at the time.

"Now, contrast this tight accountability with how intelligence has been managed during the administration of George W. Bush. Vice President Cheney's role has been to push for the answers he wants, rather than to ask questions. CIA officers who tried to warn in 2003 and 2004 about dangers ahead in Iraq were punished or ignored. George Tenet, the CIA director who unwisely embraced the administration's obsession with Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, was awarded the Medal of Freedom. Tenet, to his credit, had angered the White House earlier when he refused to be the fall guy on false claims about Iraq's nuclear program.

"Wary of an independent CIA, the administration installed a Republican congressman as Tenet's successor. He arrived at Langley with a team of congressional aides who began a purge of CIA officers suspected of disloyalty. Competence was not their concern: They installed as the agency's No. 3 official a glad-hander who made his name taking care of congressional delegations traveling overseas. That official was indicted this year for allegedly misusing his position to steer contracts to a friend."

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July 19, 2007

Worth Consideration

"The present day shows with appalling clarity how little able people are to let the other man's argument count, although this capacity is a fundamental and indispensable condition for any human community.  Everyone who proposes to come to terms with himself must reckon with this basic problem.  For, to the degree that he does not admit the validity of the other person, he denies the ‘other’ within himself the right to exist – and vice versa.  The capacity for inner dialogue is a touchstone for outer objectivity," - C.G. Jung, "The Transcendent Function."

H/T: Andrew Sullivan -- Quote of the Day.  Sullivan's post is accompanied by a photo of Michael Moore.  I'm not sure what Sullivan was thinking with respect to Moore, but Jung's observation seems applicable both to Moore and to many of his critics.

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Anti-Semitism In The Military?

Ed Brayton reports on anti-Semitism in the case of Canadian Rabbi Jeffrey Goldman, a U.S. military chaplain who is listed as a deserter by the Army.  Brayton is usually a cautious reporter, so I take his comments on this seriously.  If the facts as he presents them are anything close to accurate, the conduct of the officers involved is reprehensible.

For the most part, the military has been ahead of the curve in dealing with bigotry (homosexuality being a disgraceful exception), but disturbing reports of Christian bigotry in the officer corps have been surfacing with alarming frequency over the last ten years.  The military must be more transparent and vigorous in pursuing accusations of the sort Goldman has made.

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July 18, 2007

The Neocon's Benighted Enlightenment

It seems that, in recent years, the word "benighted" has enjoyed a surge in popularity among bloggers who brand their opposition as benighted.  Casual use of the word often leaves me feeling a twinge of discomfort because we human beings are, by nature, a pretty darn benighted lot.  When I hear the word used casually, I automatically slow down to reflect on just who it is that presumes to tag others with this all encompassing derogatory judgment.

Surely, some human beings are less benighted than others, so I don't entirely object to the use of the word.  For example, I'm untroubled when I hear it spoken by someone I know, from personal experience, to be both wise and appropriately modest.  When I'm confident that the speaker understands that the word benighted is a relative description, I hear it without feeling abused by arrogance.  I must confess, though, that when a blogger refers to some person or group of individuals as benighted, in many instances, my gut says that the word serves fundamentally as an arrogant affectation that leaves the blogger and the blogger's least enlightened readers feeling superior to anyone who doesn't see things their way.

My sense is that these bedaylit folks derive a sense of moral superiority and political certainty from the belief that they alone are the sighted ones in a dark world.  Nowhere does this casual use of the word strike me as peculiar quite in the way it does when it comes out of the mouth or from the pen of a nonconservative describing those who don't buy into the neocon assessment of world affairs.

On Monday, I posted a link to neocon William Kristol's latest attempt to explain what is happening in Iraq to the rest of us.  Why anyone would continue to listen to Kristol is beyond me.  Like his fellow neocons, the guy has been dead wrong --repeatedly.

Then, there is Victor Davis Hanson.  Hanson strikes me as a man infatuated with his own intellect.  Like an infatuated lover, he only sees the flawless projection of his own sense of perfection embodied in the image of his beloved.  The rest of us are like skeptical family members and friends left to watch the unfolding disaster.

Victor Davis Hanson on March 18, 2003:

The president reviewed the history of disarming Saddam Hussein, and reminded us it is not pretty: violation of the 1991 armistice accords, obstruction of U.N. resolutions, sanctions, and inspectors, a record of aggression, hatred of America, and a propensity to abet and engage in terrorism.... [W]ar nonetheless has come due to the 12 years of U.N. dereliction and the moral cowardice of the world--a policy of appeasement that nearly ruined the 20th century, but in an age of frightful weapons would surely result in global suicide of our own.

The fact is that U.S. Marines will find more deadly weapons in the first hours of war than the U.N. did in three months. And by day two the world will have forgotten Dominique de Villepin and be listening instead to Tommy Franks, who will practice a different sort of diplomacy. Get out of town in 48 hours sounds tough — but not when it results in liberation, rather than subjugation, and reconstruction instead of destruction.

Critics have claimed that Mr. Bush has backed himself into a corner; it is hard to see how when his promise was democracy and freedom for a tyrannized Iraq. We should not underestimate the power of his message of human liberty or the need of overwhelming force to ensure it. The EU, the U.N., NATO, the European street, the American Left, and a host of others, by failing to understand the post 9/11 world and its requirement to neutralize Saddam Hussein, have unnecessarily put their perceived wisdom, prestige, and influence in jeopardy — and with the liberation of Iraq they all are going to lose big time.

Now the battlefield, Thucydides's harsh schoolmaster, will adjudicate what talk cannot. The only question remaining is not the ultimate verdict, but to what degree the past failure of allies to support the United States emboldened Saddam Hussein, cost the American military tactical surprise, complicated logistics, and needlessly raised casualties.

And Victor Davis Hanson on April 11, 2003:

I think Messrs. Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, when this is all over, will have done a great favor to millions of Iraqis and provided Americans increased security, but I don’t expect that they will win any popularity contests for all their efforts. Don’t expect that Walter Cronkite, Arthur Schlesinger, David Halberstam, Susan Sontag, and a host of others who predicted a nightmarish “hornet’s nest” and American diplomatic catastrophe in Iraq to admit their error. (ital. added Dr. X) More likely, such critics will commit a trifecta of hubris and misjudgment by predicting further endless terror to complement their past gloomy prognostications about the Taliban and Saddamites.

Maybe Hanson has admitted his error since he wrote these pieces.  I don't read him enough to know.  In any case, I have the sneaking suspicion that any contrition doesn't extend as far as offering public apologies for smearing "Walter Cronkite, [the late] Arthur Schlesinger, [the late] David Halberstam, [the late] Susan Sontag, and a host of others who predicted a nightmarish 'hornet’s nest' and American diplomatic catastrophe in Iraq."

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Photo Of The Day

Saving_rubber_for_the_war

Saving rubber for the war (1942).

President Bush has kept taxes low, insulating American voters from the costs of war.  Why?  Because many Americans never regarded the war in Iraq as a necessary war and most have come to regard it as a colossal mistake.

During WWII, Americans accustomed to the sacrifices of the depression put up with rations on foods, gasoline and other materials.  They believed that they must do whatever is necessary at home and abroad to win because they were convinced that the war was necessary.

The president didn't pretend that victory would be painless.  The leadership didn't crow about cakewalks and flowers being tossed at victorious soldiers before the war had even begun.  The president didn't don a flight suit as a prop and declare mission accomplished before the fight had even begun.  The President didn't react to the killing of American soldiers by egging on the opposition with taunts of "bring it on" as he sent thousands of Americans into harm's way.

Four years later, this war has cost thousands of lives and taken an emotional and physical toll that will be felt for decades.  The economic cost has also been enormous, while respect for the United States (if we can still speak of such a thing) has been greatly diminished around the world.  And, more Arabs than ever see the United States as an enemy.  Bush did not bring the war to the enemy who attacked us on 9-11.  He gave that enemy a better recruiting tool than even they could have ever imagined.

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July 16, 2007

Bill Kristol Was Right, Except When He Wasn't

Triumph summarizes David Corn on Kristol's prescient insights:

9/15/02: "No one believes the inspections can work."

9/18/02: An Iraq invasion "could have terrifically good effects throughout the Middle East."

9/19/02: Billy's analysis of Saddam's development of nuclear weapons: "He's past that finish line. He's past the finish line."

11/21/02: "We can remove Saddam because that could start a chain reaction in the Arab world that would be very healthy."

2/2/03: Billy predicting the content of Powells' UN speech on WMDs in Iraq: Powell will "show that there are loaded guns throughout Iraq"

3/1/03: Billy's penetrating analysis of domestic Iraqi politics: "We talk here about Shiites and Sunnis as if they've never lived together. Most Arab countries have Shiites and Sunnis, and a lot of them live perfectly well together."

3/1/03: This one speaks for itself: "Very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president."

3/5/03: "I think we'll be vindicated when we discover the weapons of mass destruction and when we liberate the people of Iraq."

3/17/03: "But the war itself will clarify who was right and who was wrong about weapons of mass destruction. It will reveal the aspirations of the people of Iraq, and expose the truth about Saddam’s regime."

Kristol_clear

7/15/07:  We're winning in Iraq.  That's my story and I'm sticking with it until the Democrats win the White House and I can blame them for this disaster.

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Bill Kristol Was Right

Not really, but he wishes that he could convince us that he was right.  Kristol will need to explain why sober people should bother listening to him on foreign policy ever again.  Here's what we can look forward to:  we finally got it right and we were just about to win in Iraq when you pulled the plug on us.

Damn, we were just about to win.  Just about there... almost there... then 2008 came and the Democrats and the American people snatched defeat from the jaws of neocon victory.  How could they do this to me?  How could they?

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President Set To Veto Expanded Health Insurance Coverage For Children

The NY Times is reporting that President Bush will veto a bipartisan proposal to expand public funding of children's health insurance.

According to Whitehouse spokesman, Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman The proposal would dramatically expand the Children’s Health Insurance Program, adding nonpoor children to the program, and more than doubling the level of spending,” Mr. Fratto said. “This will have the effect of encouraging many to drop private coverage, to go on the government-subsidized program.”

The president's advisers are probably right about the effect this bill would have on people who currently carry private coverage for their children.  When the government offers people something for nothing, some who formerly provided for themselves will stop providing for themselves and take the freebie.  And as conservatives have long pointed out, massive liberal welfare programs beginning in the 1960s had the effect of creating a permanent underclass that could not or would not lift itself up from the entrenched misery of nanny state dependency.  The government served as an enabler of social pathology, allowing the irresponsible, the criminal, the malevolent and the lazy to survive because the liberal nanny state insulated people from the most serious consequences of their own pathologies.

In recommending a veto of expanded health care coverage for children, the president's advisers know that you can't just give people something for nothing and expect them to behave well.  They understand what pomo liberal do-gooders don't understand -- government can't change human nature.  Government can only abet bad decision-making and encourage moral depravity by keeping people from taking responsibility for their own fates.

It's just like what we've seen in the Iraq war and, more recently, the surge.  By placing the US government in the position of nanny to the Iraqi people for the past four years -- by throwing US money and lives at the problem of an Iraqi culture of moral and social irresponsibility -- the Iraqis and their elected representatives have not worked to solve their own problems.  And, why would the Iraqis pull it together if their international nanny in Washington keeps reaching into the pockets of Americans to take care of problems for which the Iraqis themselves bear ultimate responsibility?  Like dependents on welfare, the Iraqis hate their own addiction and they hate their dealer, but they can't seem to take responsibility for themselves as long as someone else foots the bill and protects them from the full consequences of their bad choices.

Of course, you might say that increasing funding of insurance for children by $35 billion is a lot cheaper than the hundreds of billions of dollars spent in Iraq.  And you might point out that health insurance spending for children isn't likely to kill thousands of Americans servicemen and Iraqis (including Iraqi children) and... uh... you'd be right.  But ask anyone in the administration and they will tell you -- handouts don't don't instill values of hard work, personal responsibility and moral integrity and they don't give people a sense of hope.  They just feed the cycle of dependency and resentment.

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July 14, 2007

Impeachment

Bruce Fein is a conservative legal scholar who wrote the articles of impeachment against Clinton.  In this interview, he discusses Bush and impeachment.

It's a very interesting discussion.  I'm not qualified to comment on the legal merit of the arguments, but I don't expect that Bush or Cheney will be impeached.  Democratic politicians want to see Bush's problems strung out into the next election.  The administration will enthusiastically oblige.

July 11, 2007

OMG! The Bush Administration Put Politics Above Public Health

Testifying under oath before a congressional panel yesterday, former Surgeon General Richard Carmona reported that top Bush administration officials tried to suppress reports on important matters of public health.  According to the NY Times:

[t]he administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.

On issue after issue, Dr. Carmona said, the administration made decisions about important public health issues based solely on political considerations, not scientific ones.

“I was told to stay away from those because we’ve already decided which way we want to go,” Dr. Carmona said.

Although the Bush administration may not regard public health as a matter of concern for the nation's seniormost public health official, the administration does expect the Surgeon General to use his time and energies to boost the president's public image and support Republican candidates for elective office:

Dr. Carmona said he was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of his speeches. He also said he was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings.

In his testimony, Dr. Carmona said that at first he was so politically naïve that he had little idea how inappropriate the administration’s actions were. He eventually consulted six previous surgeons general, Republican and Democratic, and all agreed, he said, that he faced more political interference than they had.

A Puerto Rican-American raised in Harlem, Vice Admiral Carmona enlisted in the US Army after dropping out of high school in the 1960s.  Carmona joined the Army Special Forces and is a decorated Vietnam combat veteran.  After earning an Army GED, Carmona completed college and graduated from UCSF Medical School at the top of his class.  He completed a surgical residency and a fellowship in trauma, burns and critical care.  In 1998, Carmona earned a Masters of Public Health at the University of Arizona.

Reacting to Carmona's testimony, 27-year-old administration spokesperson and former executive assistant to Karl Rove, Emily Lawrimore, said:

the surgeon general “is the leading voice for the health of all Americans.”

“It’s disappointing to us,” Ms. Lawrimore said, “if he failed to use this position to the fullest extent in advocating for policies he thought were in the best interests of the nation.”

It is completely understandable that the Clemson '02 speech major and Bush spokesperson is very, very disappointed in Vice Admiral Carmona for giving in to pressure from top Bush administration officials.  I mean, like OMG, Carmona is such a ho.  You know, like, you shouldn't just say whatever your bosses in the administration want you to say.

That's little disappointed Emily, on the left, in the photo below. You can tell she is a person of great substance who knows all about doing the right thing because there are lots of flags and photos of politicians around her. 

Lawrimore

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July 10, 2007

"But Before I Kill You All, I Would Like To Thank You For Voting Me Your Indionesia Idol"

"Mati syahid"

That was the reply given by a contestant on the Indonesian TV talent program, Pildacil, in response to a question about his desires.  Mati syahid means "to die as a martyr."  The contestant was competing in the show's young Islamic preacher contest.

I don't know if he won the competition or if all of his dreams have come true yet, but here is more in a Jakarta Post editorial.

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July 06, 2007

Psychology, Mind and Neuroscience Roundup (Updated)

  • A new study of marital relationships finds women exerting greater situational power along with more forceful and dominant behaviors than men.  The findings refuted the authors' hypothesis that husbands would exert more situational power and dominance in marital relationships.  In an effort to make of these findings whatever they damn well pleased, the authors explain that "Women are responsible for overseeing the relationship--making sure the relationship runs, that everything gets done, and that everybody's happy... And so, maybe some of that came out in our findings in terms of women domineering and dominating-that they were taking more responsibility for the relationship, regardless of whose topic was being discussed."  Well, I'm sure there are no biases affecting the views of the authors, but I can't help suspecting they would have been just a bit more pleased if the study found that men were the bossy ones.  That way, they could more neatly explain the results in terms of the oppression of women by evil, brutish men.
  • A report in Mindhacks about a possible link between human herpes virus 6B and mesial temporal lobe epilepsy.
  • Blogger, videogame lover, and Cal Poly Psychology professor, Laura Fredberg, discusses a recent study of teen video game habits.
  • Shrinkwrapped has an interesting take on contemporary politics.  I'd offer an alternate title to his post: 1960's Redux: Adolescent Tribal Narcissism In Contemporary Politics.

  • Deric Bownds posted a PDF version of a July 3 NY Times article on dreams.  In the Times piece, Rebecca Cathcart reports on a growing trend toward seeing dreams as "meaningful representations of our concerns and emotions."  For years, reductionists have had themselves thoroughly convinced that dreams are nothing more than neurological housecleaning processes that generate bits of incidental perceptual experience.  The skeptics believe that narrative meaning is entirely superimposed after the fact.  Even if that were true, the imposition of particular narratives would offer an interesting window on the themes, desires, fears and conflicts that animate our psychic lives, but reducing dreams to biometabolic processes defensively blinds us to the creative genius and purposes of dreams.  An old Charles Krauthammer column on the subject of strict psychic determinism comes to mind.  If I remember correctly, he likened psychic determinism to disassembling a television set to study the plot of Dynasty or Dallas.

Dr_cliff_hanger_investigates

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July 03, 2007

Photo Of The Day

Oj

OJ Simpson, J. Edgar Hoover and Larry Csonka.

Simpson and Csonka were named all-Americans in 1967.  I have no idea what that has to do with J. Edgar Hoover.

"Hoover has been described as becoming increasingly a caricature of himself towards the end of his life. The book, "No Left Turns," by former agent Joseph L. Schott, portrays a rigid, paranoid old man who terrified everyone. For example, Hoover liked to write on the margins of memos. According to Schott, when one memo had too narrow margins he wrote, "watch the borders!" No one had the nerve to ask him why, but they sent inquiries to the Border Patrol about any strange activities on the Canadian and Mexican frontiers. It took a week before an HQ staffer realized the message related to the borders of the memo paper." -- Wikipedia on Hoover

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July 02, 2007

Bush Commutes Libby Sentence

I welcome this as good news.  I don't get a charge out of seeing people spend long stretches in prison for non-violent crimes, but more importantly, this latest Bush action increases the chances that Republicans will get their asses handed to them in the next election.  I have absolutely no affinity for the Democratic Party, but the Republicans have morphed into a dangerous collection of unprincipled thugs.  Just about anything the Democrats could offer would be cleaner and less dangerous than what we've got now.  In the meantime, watch Republicans in Congress continue to distance themselves from Bush even as law and order Republican presidential aspirants like TV prosecutor, Fred Thompson, and former real life federal prosecutor, Rudy Giuliani, hypocritically approve the Libby decision in order to avoid the disapproval of rabid elements in the base.

And, while that rabid base wets their pants over the commutation of Libby's sentence, I'll be thinking of lemmings committing mass suicide.  Of course, it isn't really true that the little rodents commit mass suicide.  They aren't that foolish.

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Salman Rusdhie's Wife Incites Envious Muslim Rage

Just a thought...

Padma_lakshmi

Salman Rushdie and his wife, Padma Lakshmi.

Update On Rushdie and Padma

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Pakistan Links To The Failed Suicide Attacks In London and Glasgow

Commenting on the decision to award knighthood to Salman Rushdie, Pakistan's minister of religious affairs said "If somebody has to attack by strapping bombs to his body to protect the honour of the Prophet then it is justified."   Within two weeks of making that statement, attempts to detonate car bombs in London and Glasgow are being linked to Al Qaeda planners operating in Pakistan.  Police are speculating on the possibility that retaliation for Rushdie's knighthood may have been behind the most recent bombing attempts.

Like Saudi Arabia, the country where most of the 9-11 hijackers originated, Pakistan is an ally in the war on terror and a breeding ground for lunatic Muslims.  Even if Pakistan wasn't nuclear armed, it is unlikely there would be any talk of invasion.  Besides, the U.S. military has got its hands full taking the war to the terrorists who were supposed to be too busy fighting us in Iraq to send suicide bombers to western countries.

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June 24, 2007

Deflecting Blame For Iraq

From Frank Rich (via Welcome-to-Pottersville):

"For the Bush White House, the real definition of victory has become "anything they can get away with without taking blame for defeat," said the retired Army Gen. William Odom, a national security official in the Reagan and Carter administrations, when I spoke with him recently. The plan is to run out the Washington clock between now and Jan. 20, 2009, no matter the cost."

And, Left End of the Dial expects the Dolchstoßlegende to escalate in coming months and years as the administration's supporters attempt to deflect blame for the Iraq failure.

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June 22, 2007

Dixie Insurgents Continue Their Assault On American Values

Hat tips to Ed Brayton and Pam's House Blend on this one.

Conservatives frequently decry the blindness of culturally-neutral, postmodernism to pathologies that threaten to undermine America's core social and political values.  As they correctly point out the dismal human rights record of tribal Muslim societies, they rail against multiculturalists who tiptoe around Muslim sensibilities.  Hear, hear!  Let's not tiptoe.

When it comes to their own backyard, however, some conservatives go PoMo blind while our highest values are assaulted again and again by a Southernist subculture that has arrogantly claimed to represent "true" American cultural values.  These are the same people who defiantly wave the confederate battle flag as a Southernist shibboleth while masquerading as a "states' rights" movement.  That movement amounts to nothing more than advocacy for an inanimate state's so-called "right" to deprive actual living human beings of their rights.

Continue reading "Dixie Insurgents Continue Their Assault On American Values" »

June 21, 2007

Immigration Dividing Republicans By Region

In today's NY Times, Timothy Egan offers a piece on the immigration bill and the erosion of support for Republicans in the west.  Consistent with several reports I've read, support for the immigration reform bill is stronger in the border states than it is away from those states where the population of Mexican illegals represents only a tiny fraction of the general population.  I don't bring this up as an endorsement of the immigration bill.  I just note it as an interesting phenomenon.  I have many thoughts about illegal immigration, but don't hold strong opinions on what to do about it. 

Although the state where I live, Illinois, isn't a border state, I don't hear a great deal of locally generated hot wind on the subject.  While there is some grumbling, there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming sense of panic (or certainty) in Chicago that one might expect given the intensity of feelings in places that have barely been touched by illegal immigration from Mexico.  Illinois trails only California and Texas in the number of Mexican and Mexican-American residents (estimated at over 1 million in the Chicago area); but to hear some bloggers tell it, Chicago area residents should be in cultural and economic crises over illegal immigration.  We're not.  Not even close.  Perhaps inexperience with the issues affords some the opportunity to indulge in certainties that wither in the face of real life experience -- but I'm not sure if that explains the fevered distress of a person spouting certainties from Kansas or Montana.

For now, I'm inclined to give a bit more credence to the views of those with substantial real life experience -- particularly those living near the border.

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June 19, 2007

Immigration And Employment: How To Avoid Hiring An American

A consultant explains how to secure green cards for non-immigrant foreign (H-1B visa) workers while skirting the spirit of laws designed to give preference to Americans.  It may be legal, but it's a shady abuse of American job seekers who, in good faith, pursue jobs that employers advertise without the intention of offering to applicants.

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June 18, 2007

Begging For Justice: The Libby Sentence

Edger at Edgeing has a post on Bill Moyers discussing the Scooter Libby sentence for perjury and obstruction.  The accompanying video is compelling if only to see the parade of dark characters complaining about the injustice of the Libby sentence.  None of these people give a flying f*** about justice, nor have they given any indications that they oppose our incarceration happy approach to crime.  They do not care about harsh sentencing guidelines, forced confessions, wrongful imprisonments, inhuman jail and prison conditions, detentions without trial or torture of government detainees.  In the war on terror, they have been the architects of these policies.

The sight of the robotically calculating Condoleeza Rice, the reptilian Paul Wolfowitz and Alpha-bully Dick Cheney complaining about the injustice of Libby's incarceration is an affront to decency.  What offends me isn't the idea of a shorter sentence or an alternate sentence for Libby; I believe prison should be reserved for dangerous and refractory criminals who don't respond to alternate forms of correction. What offends me is the hypocritical whining of Libby pals who have allegedly discovered the notion of justice now that one of their own is facing government detention.

Perhaps one good thing will come of it if Libby is forced to serve his sentence.  I would expect him to emerge from prison advocating for reform of our barbaric penal system.  They almost always do.

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June 17, 2007

U.S. Declares Victory: Part II

Yesterday, I commented on a redefinition of success in the Middle East posted over at Dr. Sanity's blog.  In her post, Dr. Sanity offered a quote attributed to Alan Chamberlain:

"Five years ago, Middle Eastern extremists were killing Israelis and Americans. Today they are killing each other. Why is it that some people persist in claiming that Israel's and America's Middle East policy is a failure?"

This morning, as I read about the bus bombing in Kabul, Afghanastan, it occurred to me that no matter what happens in the Middle East -- whether the violence is quelled or explodes -- some hawks will say that we are witnessing the success of U.S. policy.

I remember a time when success was not so broadly defined.  For example, Dr. Sanity once suggested that those who noticed the growing violence in the Middle East weren't seeing signs of success (or failure), they were suffering the equivalent of a paranoid delusion:

Here we have the media and their masters on the Left in full-blown paranoid mode. I'm not even sure they are capable anymore of understanding how destructive and irrational their behavior has become. But their descent into hysteria and delusion seems to have no bottom....

And as Dr. Sanity diagnosed psychoses in those who noticed the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, she offered her own assessment of the situation: 

Afghanistan is in good shape and very healthy. Iraq is in good shape and getting healthier. Our economy is doing superbly (even the price of gasoline is going down and not up). By all standards; and all tests; America is healthy and strong.

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June 16, 2007

U.S. Declares Victory In Gaza: Bush Policies Vindicated

If you're a neocon, you might see everything that has happened in Iraq and Gaza as exactly what Bush planned all along:

Five years ago, Middle Eastern extremists were killing Israelis and Americans. Today they are killing each other. Why is it that some people persist in claiming that Israel's and America's Middle East policy is a failure?" -- Alan Chamberlain

Never mind all that stuff about cakewalks, natives tossing flowers, getting bin Laden and missions accomplished.  Victory and success are fungible concepts; or, to borrow a page from the Rumsfeld handbook of warfare, "you define success as the results you have, not the results you wanted."

While I wouldn't praise Bush for what is going on in Gaza, I don't know that it is fair to blame him, either.  The Palestinian Authority was a fragile kleptocracy held together by threats, murders, bribes and a tangle of criminal alliances.  The void left by Arafat's death meant that the most primitive elements would step up to the plate to do their thing with or without the nicety of elections.  But, that isn't the entire story.

For a range of other opinions, this poster offers three different takes on Gaza, while this poster offers opinions from two who blame the U.S and Israel for events in Gaza and this poster argues that it's partly the doing of Israeli right wingers who do not want to negotiate with the Palestinians for a two-state solution.  Among the array of opinions offered, I suspect that events are generally interpreted to confirm the interpreter's preexisting assumptions and beliefs.  It is difficult for people to seriously consider that events may not be best explained by what they already believe about the world.

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June 15, 2007

Friday This and That

What's wrong with American schools, or should it be what's wrong with public schools?

Why does the phrase "nearly no one" get caught in your throat?  Could it be that this word grouping sounds too much like there is a double negative in there somewhere?

Really, now... the Palestinians have been doing a fine job of thoroughly screwing things up regardless of who has been in charge in the U.S.  H/T: Bird dog

Shrinkwrapped speaks in defense of the traditional diamond engagement ring.  Personally, I like sapphires.  They symbolize purity of heart... sort of.

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Loving Versus Virginia: Constitutional Law And the Law Written On The Human Heart

In 1958, with interracial marriage banned in their home state of Virginia, Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and a black woman, left the state to marry legally in the District of Columbia.  Upon their return to Virginia, the Lovings were arrested and found guilty of violating the state's marriage ban.  The Lovings were each sentenced to one year in prison.  In its 1967 decision (Loving vs. Virginia), the Supreme Court found Virginia's Racial Integrity Act unconstitutional.

Here is Mildred Loving's statement on the 40th anniversary of the court's decision.

Forty years later, in arguments over police tactics, affirmative action, hate crimes, English only laws, and immigration law, many Americans continue to obsess over tribal identities.  Distinguishing decently motivated positions from crafty rationalizations that serve to express underlying bigotry can sometimes be a tricky proposition.  Beyond the obvious, unapologetic racist, people on all sides of these debates have shown considerable sophistication in masking the truth about their nasty prejudices, confusing themselves as much as they confuse others with tangled arguments tainted by stealth bigotries.

Decent people can and do disagree on the specifics of what the law can and should do when prejudices are in play, but the law cannot cleanse the individual heart of its corruptions.  That will require much more than a Supreme Court decision and forty years.

H/T: Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

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June 13, 2007

Wolfowitz, Nietzsche and Gump

Chris Christensen wonders if neocons are, as some portray them, idealists who made a mistake in pursuit of a noble cause or, are they arrogant idealogues who were profoundly ignorant about the politics, culture and history of Iraq.

This is the great paradox of the neoconservatives: their movement is a bizarre blend of intellectual arrogance and stupefying ignorance. If one individual could personify neoconservatism, he would be a combination of Friedrich Nietzsche and Forrest Gump.

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Decency Abandons The Middle East

Thomas Friedman writes about Palestinians and their Arab neighbors with brains and money fleeing to the West as both the state and the mosque crush all hope for a decent life.  Friedman's comments will draw the usual chorus of boos from Islamists and those on the left who can only see Israel and the U.S. as the causes of an epidemic of evil that holds saner, more decent Arabs hostage to thugs and messianic nihilists.  While I believe that the Israelis and the U.S. have made some fantastically provocative mistakes that have, inevitably, entailed wrongdoing that infuriates many in the Middle East, the thugs and religious lunatics who have crippled Arab societies need no provocation to engage in evil of the most staggering proportions.  Many need only the opportunity and the excuse of an external enemy to “justify” their barbaric behavior.  Those who are fleeing may apportion some of the blame to Israel and the U.S., but, as they move west, it is their fellow Arabs in the Middle East they are giving up on.

Friedman's column reminded me of an acquaintance who, earlier this year, shared with me the details of his odyssey as a Christian Palestinian.  The man was born in what later became the state of Israel.  During his childhood, his parents lost their home and business during what he politely referred to as “the displacement.”  They were forced to relocate to the West Bank, but the emotional and economic damages wrought by Jewish immigrants to their land were not the only challenges they faced.  Being a Christian in Palestine was always somewhat uncomfortable, even in the more religiously tolerant Muslim society of his late boyhood and adolescence in the Jordanian controlled West Bank.  Christians were not mistreated, but they tended to maintain a low profile, watching their words carefully in matters of religion and politics.

With the generous assistance of several patrons, the man was able to attend college in the United States.  On the way to earning his degree, he met and married an American.  After both finished college and graduate school, the couple returned to the Middle East to live and raise a family. The man built a successful career in a large Arab owned company.  During much of this time, the family lived in Saudi Arabia.  Life for Christians in Saudi Arabia was particularly challenging because Christian religious practice was forbidden.  The man was transferred several times during his career and it became something of an art for the couple to feel people out and discreetly elicit information about clergy in the area and the locations in private homes where underground worship services would be held.

In the build up to the 1991 Gulf War, the couple decided that, as a mixed Arab-American family, it was unsafe for the wife and the couple's children to remain in the Middle East.  The wife returned to the U.S. with the children, while the husband remained in the Middle East, calling his family several times per week and traveling to the U.S. several times each year for the next decade during their continuing separation.  The hardship was great, as it had often been for this man, but this couple shared a deep, abiding faith and love for one another that helped to sustain both of them through this time.

Upon his retirement, the man joined his family in the U.S.  His children are now adult college graduates building successful careers and families of their own in the America.  Barring some unforeseen circumstance, none of them will ever return to live the Middle East.

Although the man and his wife do not speak with even a hint of regret or resentment toward Saudis, Arabs, Israelis, Muslims or Jews, I can't say with certainty that they aren’t merely reticent as a result of living lives that demanded that they always choose their words carefully.  What I do know of them, first hand, is that they are very grateful for many good things in their lives, that they live modestly and that they are among the most kind and charitable people I’ve ever encountered.  And, it also seems, that no country or territory in the Middle East has room for their kind.

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June 11, 2007

Bush To Pope: "Go Stick It"

Gifts are fascinating things to psychoanalysts.  An analyst does not accept a gift from an analysand without giving careful consideration to the possible meanings of a gift to the gift-giver.  Like the dreams and stories recounted by the analysand during the analytic hour, gifts convey manifest conscious meanings that often disguise multiple unconscious meanings and feelings held by the giver of a gift.  A gift that is ostensibly given as an act of love, friendship, gratitude or generosity, may, for example, also express unacknowledged or unconscious ambivalent feelings held by the giver.

A few months ago, Chris Allan at InThe Room offered a wonderful brief discussion of receiving a gift of a crossword puzzle book from a patient prior to his leaving for a three-week vacation.  Chris understood the gift of "cross words" as an expression of unacknowledged anger the patient felt over his leaving.  Chris’s discussion offers an interesting example of how an analyst or therapist might go about understanding the purpose and meaning of a particular gift.

During his recent visit with Pope Benedict at the Vatican, President Bush presented the Pope with a walking stick inscribed with the Ten Commandments.  I can’t help but think of possible meanings of giving the Pope this particular gift.

Pope:  But I don’t need a walking stick, Mr. President
Pres:  That’s okay, Benny.  Just stick it somewhere.

Unmentioned anywhere in the coverage of the President's gift to the Pope, is whether the stick carries the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments or the version accepted by Protestants. Catholics drop the second commandment that forbids making graven images while dividing the last commandment into two commandments, keeping the total number of commandments at ten.  Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians see much of Catholic art as idolatry — a violation of the second commandment.  Carved by a black man in Texas, I strongly suspect the stick carries the version used by Protestants.

The gift is particularly interesting because the Pope has been a moral critic of the US presence in Iraq.  One can’t help but consider the multiple possible meanings of giving the Pope a stick inscribed with a moral code that even includes a commandment that morally condemns the Catholic Church in the eyes of many evangelicals and fundamentalists.  Sold for the artist by a friend of the First Lady, the walking stick might well convey the President’s feelings about the Pope’s moral rebuke of his policies.   It isn’t hard to imagine the President being publicly cordial with the Pope, while privately or even unconsciously feeling what he cannot say with words but can say with a gift: “do you know what you can do with your moral condemnation, Your Holiness?"

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

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June 07, 2007

Bush Nominates Another Hack?

Are we witnessing yet another example of Bush’s preference for ideology over competence with the nomination of Dr. James W. Holsinger, Jr. to the office of Surgeon General?  It isn’t that ideology should automatically exclude a capable nominee from consideration.  C. Everett Koop was a conservative, a pioneering pediatric surgeon and a decent, charitable man who separated his politics from the responsibilities of the office of the Surgeon General.  But, Bush's track record on appointments doesn’t inspire confidence that Holsinger will be an Everett Koop or that he will even be minimally competent.

One has to know something about substance and competence from the inside out to fully appreciate its manifestations in other people.  Herein lies the problem with Bush:  the president spent much of his life utterly unconcerned with serious matters before parlaying his family connections and an alpha dog’s political knack into the most powerful public office in the world.  Whatever one believes about the sincerity of the president’s religious conversion and its effect on his boozing and carousing, it does not substitute for a lack of substance and competence built through thoughtful examination, study, effort and experience.

Bush’s ass-patting, shoulder rubbing, habitual wisecracking, putdown social style is telling when we realize that this is a man who is better at jockeying for position than knowing what to do with position once he has gained it.  If we look back to the time before 9-11, Bush seemed like he didn’t quite know what to do with the presidency other than to appoint his friends to powerful positions.  Nothing changed after 9-11, except that a man lacking depth, competence and substance led this country into the worst policy disaster and human disaster this nation has seen in decades, if not longer.   Other than when he nominates a competent person by accident, we should expect that Bush appointments will continue to be based upon anything but competence.  And, so far, Holsinger’s history gives us no reason to believe that his nomination is any different.

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June 06, 2007

Life In Mayberry: Huckabee Complains About Evolution Question

"It's interesting that that question would even be asked of somebody running for president. I'm not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book. I'm asking for the opportunity to be president of the United States."  — Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee complaining about evolution question during the Republican debate

Governor Huckabee can criticize the press for asking the question, but the issue is on the table because the Republican party sold its collective soul during an avid twenty-eight year courtship of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians.  Now, some Republicans chafe around the collar when they are forced to own up to or reject the polarizing sweet-nothings they've been spouting to the Goober base for so long.  The trouble is that the scales have tipped and the advantage in the Goober strategy ain't what it used to be.  Republicans can blame the press for this state of affairs, but this is the bed that Republicans made for themselves.

___________________________________

Darwin

From Monkey Fluids

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June 05, 2007

Photo Of The Day

Richard_nixon_1962

Click photo to view full-size.

Richard Nixon campaigning in San Francisco for the California Governorship in 1962.  Nixon was defeated by Pat Brown.   Angered by favoritism he believed the media showed his opponent, Nixon famously declared during his concession speech, "you don't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore."

June 04, 2007

Psych, Mind, Neuro Blog Round up

  • Phineasgage discusses Prader-Willi Syndrome.  While this is a real disorder, I expect that one day some enterprising type will declare it a spectrum disorder.  Perhaps that 10 pounds of winter flab is due to Seasonal Prader-Willi Syndrome.
  • Neurophilosophy offers a report on anatomical findings from a brain imaging study of synaesthesia, a condition in which a stimulation of one sensory modality elicits sensation in another.  For example, an individual may experience the sensation of seeing different colors in response to hearing certain musical notes.
  • Neuroimaging reveals that reward centers in the brain show increased activity in men but not in women when gazing at images of the opposite sex.  There's a shocker.  More at neurocritic.
  • A few days ago, I commented on the possibility that the presence of conservative and liberal types within a society might be related to some underlying adaptive advantage for societies that are personality or neuro diverse.  As much as some conservatives and some liberals decry the other type as crazy, I continue to wonder if societies that include both types survive better than would those without such diversity.  While conservatism and liberalism are not personalities, it is possible that underlying traits or types may exert influence over political beliefs.  Related: Deric Bownds has an interesting post on evolution of human and animal personalities.

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June 02, 2007

Peggy Noonan's Abusive Husband, George Bush

Peggy Noonan’s bottom-of-the-ninth abandonment of the Bush administration might seem opportunistic (rewards for being a Bushworld crony are running thin), but Noonan paints an implausible portrait of herself as an innocent victim who is both shocked and reprehended by a sudden turn in Bushco political tactics:

“For almost three years, arguably longer, conservative Bush supporters have felt like sufferers of battered wife syndrome.  You don't like endless gushing spending, the kind that assumes a high and unstoppable affluence will always exist, and the tax receipts will always flow in?  Too bad!  You don't like expanding governmental authority and power?  Too bad.  You think the war was wrong or is wrong?  Too bad.

“But on immigration it has changed from ‘Too bad' to 'You're bad.’

“The president has taken to suggesting that opponents of his immigration bill are unpatriotic--they 'don't want to do what's right for America.'  His ally Sen. Lindsey Graham has said, 'We're gonna tell the bigots to shut up.'  On Fox last weekend he vowed to 'push back.'  Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff suggested opponents would prefer illegal immigrants be killed; Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said those who oppose the bill want 'mass deportation.'  Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson said those who oppose the bill are 'anti-immigrant' and suggested they suffer from ‘rage’ and ‘national chauvinism.’

“Why would they speak so insultingly, with such hostility, of opponents who are concerned citizens?”

Although Noonan has been increasingly critical of the Bush administration, it is disingenuous to suggest, as she does, that the administration has suddenly adopted a filthy new tactic of moral condemnation in response to political dissent.  The moral smear has, since the beginning, been the sine qua non of the Bush administration’s approach to dissent.  As a politically savvy, longtime Bush family ally, Noonan knows this as well as anyone.

Noonan also knows that any further association with Bush is a distinct liability for Republicans who hope to influence the future course of the party.  But jumping ship so late in the game holds certain perils — chief among them that Noonan will be perceived as a disloyal opportunist who, when she had nothing to lose and everything to gain, abandoned a friend in desperate straits.

Without appearing to be a disloyal opportunist, Noonan must justify her belated decision to cleanse her image of any remaining perception that she harbors loyalty to a morally sullied and discredited Bush administration.  What better way to justify herself than to suggest that the administration has changed — that Bushco has suddenly taken to smearing decent, loyal, concerned citizens?  Heavens to Murgatroid!  Who could blame Noonan for dropping Bush?  Doing so is practically a moral imperative now that Bushco has resorted to dirty smears of decent, loyal people.  Bush used to be mean; now he’s evil.  Who knew?

Not only is Noonan’s denial of history laughable in light of the administration’s reliance on an apparatchik network that routinely swift-boated the opposition, but Noonan takes additional cover behind the ungainly metaphor of a battered wife.  It wouldn’t trouble Noonan if Americans absorbed the subtle impression that Noonan was a dazed, helpless victim, battered too senseless and scared to leave a tyrannical mate.  But, now that Bush is abusing the children — those innocent concerned Republican citizens who merely disagree with the administration — the morally courageous Noonan must leave her abusive husband, George Bush.  She isn’t leaving because she’s a disloyal opportunist.  She's leaving for the sake of the children.

For more on Noonan, see Andrew Sullivan, The Good Democrat

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June 01, 2007

Is There A Smoking Gun Leading Back To Karl Rove?

One of the fired US attorney's thinks so.

From edgeing:

"Jason Leopold interviews former US attorney for New Mexico, David Iglesias, one of eight US attorneys fired in December for reasons that appear to have been motivated by partisan politics. Iglesias says he believes a "smoking gun" exists that will lead directly to Karl Rove and blow the scandal wide open."

More from the interview with David Iglesias.

May 31, 2007

Sam Brownback's Doubletalk On Evolution

Former evangelical Christian convert to Catholicism, Senator Sam Brownback, has written an article for the NY Times OP-ED  pages  to explain his position on evolution.  Brownback’s piece hardly illuminates his view in a way that might matter to voters.  He notes that asking participants in last week’s Republican presidential debate to raise their hand if they “do not believe in evolution” prevented him from sharing his position with the “nuance and subtlety” the subject deserves.

The result of Brownback’s effort to elaborate a more nuanced and subtle view is, however, a strained concoction that advocates a theologically Roman Catholic approach to science, while simultaneously hinting that Brownback rejects the notion of evolution – a position that is sure to please the evangelical Republican base.   I suspect that the strange evolutionary brew Brownback cooked up for this article might be less a product of his real beliefs and more a product of Brownback’s wish to appeal to all parties by claiming a seat on both sides of the fundamentalist versus non-fundamentalist fence.

Early in his piece, Brownback presents the contemporary Catholic position that studying nature and observing natural processes is one way to examine the creative activity of God.   In contrast to the evangelical and fundamentalist point of view, the Catholic view does not require that scientific discovery pass religious doctrinal muster.  Instead, reason and scientific knowledge are complementary to faith.  Brownback writes:

“The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.”

The Catholic Church does not take a doctrinal position on evolution, but treats the material details of evolution as a subject best addressed by biologists who study these matters.  In practice, this means that most Catholic churchmen and most educated Catholics believe in evolution, although there is no religious requirement to hold any particular belief on the subject.

Brownback tries to reassure non-evangelicals who might fear he is a fundamentalist fanatic by suggesting that he has no quarrel with their belief in the scientific approach.  He even says that faith “supplements” the scientific method, a position that is deeply at odds with what most evangelical Christians believe.  He softens that blow by emphasizing the centrality of faith in human experience:

“Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.”

So far, still Catholic.  But Brownback has no intention of losing the evangelical base.  This is where things get sticky.  Brownback continues:

“The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.”

Huh?  Who is arguing that belief in microevolution means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic view of the world?  Moreover, Brownback’s statement about microevolution tells us nothing about his view of macroevolution – the evolution of species. He drops a reference to microevolution into the discussion because it signals evangelicals that he rejects the notion of species evolution… sort of.  Anyone else care to parse Brownback’s comments above and figure out where he actually stands on so-called macroevolution and the evolution of species?

Without explicitly rejecting macroevolution, Brownback manages to sound like he might reject it – or not reject it.   Brownback further muddies the waters with more evangelical pseudo-science by insinuating that he might believe in “intelligent design” when he tosses in the more vague term “guiding intelligence.”

So, the problem with Brownback’s piece is that the real question dividing evangelicals and most of the rest of educated humanity is the question of so-called macroevolution.  For all of his obfuscation nuance and subtlety, Brownback has ducked that question.  And this, I suspect, is why Brownback didn’t like the way the question was asked during the presidential debate.  During the debate, he was not offered sufficient opportunity to duck the question.

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Update:

I notice that Radosh.net saw this in much the same way in his post "What does Sam Brownback think about evolution?"  Other than Catholic versus evangelical distinctions, the point is the same.

Reading a few others on the subject, you may notice that words and phrases like politically motivated, false dichotomy, doublespeak and twisting are prominent:

The Cup Of Joe

Sunbeams From Cucumbers

The Carpetbagger Report

Friendly Atheist

Brownback's effort to sit on both sides of the fence on this one was, as Friendly Atheist said, just digging himself a deeper hole.

May 30, 2007

Not In Our Names: Nazis, Torture And The Bush Administration

Sullivan has written an excellent piece on Nazi techniques of torture endorsed by the Bush administration.

If you're offended by comparisons between the Bush administration and the Nazis, then you should urge the Bush administration to abandon the use of bloodless torture methods pioneered by Nazis who were later convicted of war crimes including homicide resulting from interrogations that incorporated the savage methods embraced today by top Bush administration officials. 

While Sullivan considers the simple equation of the Bush administration with Nazism to be out-of-line (as this writer does), he notes correctly that Cheney, Rumsfeld and John Yoo have all relied upon arguments used by Nazis convicted of serious war crimes in defense of torture techniques employed today by American interrogators in U.S. detention facilities.

No offense to Barak Obama intended here, but if we accept this, it is who we are.

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Illegal Immigration And Unemployment

Illegal immigration is a more complicated, multi-layered issue than the heated words in this political debate often suggest.  I really don't have a side — just some observations, some concerns and a few opinions.  So, don't take this as a "pro-illegal" immigration position on my part, but among the 18 states that have set new records with historically low rates of joblessness, one finds California, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.

This data runs against the grain of resentment that can be found among many of those who are extremely troubled by illegal immigration.  Of course, these record low rates of joblessness don't prove that illegal immigration doesn't take ANY jobs from Americans.   If, however, one's contention is that illegal immigration takes jobs from legals and from American citizens in the aggregate, you've either got to collect some data and start testing that hypothesis or you will be arguing entirely on the basis of fanciful theory — something that is particularly suspect when the argument is associated with resentment.  At the very least, it is difficult to look at data like this and declare that illegal immigration has had a significant negative effect on the employment prospects of legals and Americans.

Many economic and cultural issues like the immigration issue involve dynamic subtleties that don't lend themselves to simple bifurcation into all good versus all bad positions.  The primitive side of the human mind wants to simplify things in just this way because, for a variety of reasons, a world in which our wants, desires and opinions are unassailably pure is more manageable and bearable.  In service of achieving such simplicity, however, the truth has a tendency to get back-written to fit assumptions that either aren't supported by data or are supported by fudged and cherry-picked data.

Previously, for example, I wrote about a fictionalized history of immigration in response to LaShawn Barber's ill-informed moralizing on the issue.  Barber's version of history represents an instance of how someone operating with nothing but a data set simplified by a puerile imagination tends to avoid the effort of investigation if those fantasy "facts" support an opinion they hold dear.

H/T: The News Junkie

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May 27, 2007

Congress Approves Imaginary Solution To High Gas Prices: NOPEC

Last Tuesday, Congress passed NOPEC (No Oil Producing Export Cartel Act) a useless bill intended to counteract OPEC's influence on gas prices.  Michigan Democrat John Conyers has been a key supporter of the bill outlawing cartels operated by foreign nations:

"We don't have to stand by and watch OPEC dictate the price of our gas," Conyers said. "We can do something about ... this anti-competitive, anti-consumer behavior. And we are."

Although President Bush has announced that he will veto this useless piece of legislation if it reaches his desk, I find myself wondering just how, exactly, Conyers and the other 344 representatives who supported NOPEC believe the U.S. government would enforce the legislation if it were signed into law?  Do they believe that the Saudis, the Iranians and Hugo Chavez will simply roll over and reduce prices if they are sued by the US attorney general?

Besides the problem of enforcement, congressional representatives who favor NOPEC overlook one of the essential functions of price.  Price conveys information about supply to the both the consumer and to the potential producer of competitive alternatives.

In the case of oil, for better or for worse, OPEC's influence on pump prices reflects the fact that much of the world's oil supply is under the control of volatile states run by corrupt, semi-hinged autocrats.  To the extent that pump prices rise due to the influence of OPEC, consumers adjust consumption downward whether they know about the politics of oil producing nations or not.

Conyers would have American consumers behave, instead, as if there is no reason to adjust consumption to reflect the fact that much of the world's oil supply is under the control of backward governments in unstable societies populated by people hostile to the United States.  Or, perhaps Conyers would merely make-a-wish that American consumers would adjust their consumption downward instead of being motivated to do so by higher prices that actually reflect the elements of corruption and instability that drive oil prices up.  And, if NOPEC could do what Conyers claims it could do, suppressing oil prices would also discourage competitive alternatives on the supply side of the equation.

It seems to me we want to be less dependent, not more, on unstable oil states run by corrupt despots.  But if NOPEC could be enforced, it would encourage increased dependence those governments for our oil supplies.  If I didn't know better, I would say that Conyers and the other 344 congressional reps who voted for this bill want to protect the long-term interests of despots and terrorists dependent on oil money from the United States.

Of course, this entire discussion is rendered moot by one demonstrably obvious fact.  If the US government could have simply outlawed OPEC to end that cartel's influence on energy prices, it would have done so years ago.

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May 26, 2007

Scott Horton On Torture

Stephen Soldz posted a Scott Horton article about torture as a talisman of power.  The friendliness to torture that has infected the minds of rank and file new conservatives and neoconservatives (torture is an absolute anathema to traditional American conservatives) must be exposed as a morally repugnant concession to authoritarianism.  And, that any wing of the conservative movement calling itself Christian can find accommodation with torture is unfathomable to me.

Such crap might fly in nations throughout the Middle East where, apparently, pre-modernism tends to enchant the public mind, but when Americans accept torture as a legitimate instrument of government, we are in deep trouble as a nation.  We should be better than that... much better than that.

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May 25, 2007

New Evidence Bush Administration Ignored CIA Warnings On Iraq Invasion

Thought Theater has the story here.

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In Harm's Way: Military Discharges Three More Desperately Needed Arab Linguists

Demonstrating once again that soldiers lives are secondary to courting the post 1960s southern provincial base of the new Republican party, the military discharged three more desperately needed Arab linguists under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.  That brings the number of Arab linguists discharged under don't ask don't tell to 58.  58!  All of the rationalizations in the world cannot excuse such flagrant disregard for the lives and safety of American soldiers (and innocent Iraqi civilians).

Gays have always served in the military and gays work successfully in every other occupation and profession.  With the possible exceptions of male professional athletes and Republican party leadership positions, they do so openly.

Perhaps situations like these firings do more to advance the so-called gay agenda (aka the same rights as everyone else) as Americans see that pig-headed bigotry is trumping the safety of American soldiers.

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May 24, 2007

Thoughts On Obama: "Make No Mistake. This Guy Is A Liberal"

Will Obama do to conservatism what Reagan did to liberalism?  Conservative Andrew Sullivan, believes that maybe he will.  On attending an Obama appearance in Washington last night, Sullivan writes:

The overwhelming first impression that you get - from the exhausted but vibrant stump speech, the diverse nature of the crowd, the swell of the various applause lines - is that this is the candidate for real change. He has what Reagan had in 1980 and Clinton had in 1992: the wind at his back. Sometimes, elections really do come down to a simple choice: change or more of the same?

And...

From the content and structure of Obama's pitch to the base, it's also clear to me that whatever illusions I had about his small-c conservatism, he's a big government liberal with - for a liberal - the most attractive persona and best-developed arguments since JFK.

I fear he could do to conservatism what Reagan did to liberalism. And just as liberals deserved a shellacking in 1980, so do "conservatives" today. In the Bush era, they have shown their own contempt for their own tradition. Who can blame Obama for exploiting the big government arguments Bush has already conceded?

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Wendy Kaminer's Criticisms Of The ACLU In the WSJ

Kaminer, who was on the ACLU board until 2006, criticizes the organization for showing an increasing bias favoring typically liberal causes in choosing the cases it accepts.  What I've admired most about the ACLU is its record of commitment to protecting speech which, if it is to mean anything, means protecting unpopular speech.  Historically, the politics of those the ACLU represented had not been a noticeable factor in its selection of cases.

There are defenders of the ACLU on the right and the left who understand that it is only unpopular speech that needs protection.  Likewise, there are knee-jerk critics of the ACLU on the right and the left who do not understand this simple idea because all of their opinions are automatically processed through the lens of tribal interest and self-interest.

Defending the speech of those opposed to one's own interests is incomprehensible to the self-interested "tribesman."  I don't believe this type knows what it means to to take a principled position rather than a narrowly self-interested position because they don't know what principles are.  They may know of and even use the word, but it's like one of those empty file folders on your computer.  They've got a principles folder, but it's empty because they haven't a clue about what belongs inside that folder.

So, it is disconcerting, indeed, if the ACLU is becoming another organization that places politics above principle.  Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars has more of the story and some thoughtful observations here.

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May 21, 2007

Falwell's Legacy

I agree with this Sullivan reader's blunt assessment of the morally fatuous conservatism that has emerged since the Republicans cynically sold out to southern Democratic party racists in the sixties.  In 1980, they sold out again to the southern Christianist culture of fundamentalist provincialism.

Before anyone barks about either of these observations, look at a map of elections victories state by state.  Republicans sold their souls to the white, southern xenophobe, thinking they could slip free minds and free markets under the door unnoticed.  Instead, we've ended up with a president who has squandered American wealth on an ill-conceived war, disgraced America with policies supporting torture and humiliation of prisoners and spied on American citizens without legal authorization to do so, all the while passing out appointments to key government positions like they are fraternity memberships awarded based upon connections instead of competence.

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Jerry Falwell Bears False Witness In The Hours Before Death

In one of the last interviews he granted, Jerry Falwell explained that Liberty University Law School was created to "infiltrate the legal profession with a strong commitment to the Judeo-Christian ethic."  Lying until the end, Falwell claimed once again that:

"Children cannot say grace over their meals in public schools. No prayers at football games and on the list goes, virtually driving God from the public square."

Not true and Falwell knew it.  Public school children can say grace over their meals.   The law prevents school officials who are on the public dime from leading children in grace over meals.  Private school teachers and school officials can lead children in grace over meals.  Public school children are free to say grace over their meals.  Public school children are free to pull out their Rosary beads and recite the Rosary over the meals if that's how they wish to spend their lunch hour.  And, public school students can pray at football games.  They can pray before games, during games and after games.  Public school officials are legally barred from leading formal prayer at football games.

Falwell understood these distinctions.  His misstatements up until the last hours before his death amounted to a pack of politically self-serving lies designed to appeal to the provincial resentments of his intellectually opaque supporters and potential supporters.

As for ejecting God from the public square, the Christian right has done an excellent job of it without help from secular liberals.  Forgiveness, charity, loving others as you would have them love you (not an eye for an eye) and the notion of grace are at the heart of the Christian message, yet many Christian conservatives ridicule the suggestion that such sentiments have any place in government.  When it comes to the exercise of forgiveness, charity and love, Christianity is suddenly a private, deeply personal matter that has no business mixing with government.

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May 20, 2007

Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell: Made For Each Other

Flynt_falwell

Larry Flynt: My Friend Jerry Falwell.

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Sunday Photos

Billy_sunday_red

Billy Sunday (C.U. Williams, 1908). Click photo to view full-size.

There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know. - H.S. Truman

Billy Sunday (1862-1935) played professional baseball for the Chicago Whitestockings (renamed the Cubs in 1907) during the 1880s.  Sunday was ordained by the Presbyterian Church in 1903, but his ministry was nondenominational, 'fire and brimstone,' fundamentalist.  He preached against evolution, dancing, alcohol, gambling and fun, in general.  Sunday made a fortune on the revival circuit and politicians of his day cozied up to Sunday, taking advantage of his wide popularity.

Sunday's star declined as the advent of movies and radio distracted the American middle class from Sunday's live Christian performance art.  And, those darn kids... Sunday found himself repeatedly disgraced by the scandalous public behavior of his three sons.  Are you listening, Dr. Laura?

____________________________________________________

The 1888 Chicago Whitestockings

1885_chicago_white_stockings_sunday

Billy Sunday, front row, right.  Click photo to view full-size.

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May 19, 2007

Dr. Laura's Son Under Investigation By Army For 'Repulsive' Website

This makes for an interesting follow up to Dr. Laura's ridicule of military wives for "whining" about their husbands' long, repeated deployments.  Dr. Laura's son is serving in Afghanistan and now the Army is investigating a webpage linked to him that has been called "repulsive" by one army official.  Like mother like son, I guess.

Anyway, I sure hope we don't have to listen to Dr. Laura whine about the hot water her son is in for a website that depicts "rape, murder and child molestation; soldiers with guns in their mouths; a photograph of a bound and blindfolded detainee captioned 'My Sweet Little Habib,' acounts of illicit drug use; and a blog entry headlined by a series of racial obscenities and racial epithets."

Well don't kid's just say the darnedest things, Dr. Laura?

Here's the report.  

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May 18, 2007

Hey, I Didn't Say It...

He did.

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May 17, 2007

Morning Reading: Dr. Laura, The Pope, Antipsychotics For Kids, And Your Lyin' Eyes

Shrill conservative radio minstrel, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, insults military spouses over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

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May 15, 2007

What Is an Iraqi Life Worth?

The Defense Department announced the death of Lt Andrew Bacevich this week:

1st Lt. Andrew J. Bacevich, 27, of Walpole, Mass., died May 13 in Balad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his unit during combat patrol operations in Salah Ad Din Province, Iraq. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood, Texas.

Lt Bacevich's father, Boston University professor of history and international relations, Andy Bacevich, has written about the value of all lives lost in Iraq.  He wrote this compelling piece for the Washington Post 10 months before his own son's death.

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H/T: Steve Clemmons, The Washington Note

In Memory Of Jerry Falwell: His Own Words

Rev. Jerry Falwell, in his memory and in his own words, at Thought Theater.

Jerry Falwell Dead

Televangelist and founder of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell, was pronounced dead soon after he was discovered unconscious and without a pulse in his office earlier today at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA.  In 2005 Falwell underwent an angioplasty to open a 70 percent blockage in one of his coronary arteries.  A talented athlete who ran with a fast crowd in his younger days before going to bible college, Falwell's weight visibly ballooned to staggering levels in recent years.

After initially refusing to mix politics with religion earlier in his career, Falwell entered the political arena in the late 1970s with the formation of a political organization he called the Moral Majority.  The name was seen by some as a reference to the "silent majority," a phrased coined by President Richard Nixon's operatives to refer to an allegedly unrecognized core of conservative American Nixon supporters.  Falwell later claimed credit for the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 after encouraging evangelical and fundamentalist Christians to register to vote.

In addition to his television ministry, Falwell was pastor of the 22,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church and the chancellor of Liberty University, a fundamentalist Baptist University that began as Lynchburg Baptist College.

Falwell frequently spoke out publicly against homosexuality, pornography, abortion and stem cell research and also declared that any medical treatment should be required to pass a three part test: “Is it ethically correct? Is it biblically correct? Is it morally correct?"

Some of Falwell’s more controversial public remarks include blaming gays, lesbians, liberals and feminists for the 9-11 attacks and saying that the anti-Christ will be a Jewish man who is probably already alive.  Falwell was also widely ridiculed for claiming in an article that a popular children’s television character, Tinky Winky, is a gay role model damaging to children.

In 2004, his Faith and Values Coalition sought the appointment of anti-abortion judges and a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Following the Jim Bakker criminal trial and the Jimmy Swaggart scandal of the 1990s, contributions to Falwell organizations dropped precipitously, leaving his school and church deeply in the hole.   On the brink of financial collapse, his enterprises were rescued when wealthy supporters of Falwell persuaded corporate creditors to forgive the organization’s debts.

Falwell is survived by his wife, Macel, and his sons Jerry, Jr. and Jonathan, who will take over the leadership of Liberty University.  He is also survived by a daughter Jeannie who is a surgeon.

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Photo Of The Day: Jean Seberg

Jean_seberg_red

Age 19 (1957). Click photo to view full-size image.

This American born actress debuted in Otto Preminger's St. Joan.   She played roles in over 30 films in the U.S. and France during her career.  She was active in antiwar politics during the sixties and was the target of a racism-tinged undercover FBI campaign to discredit her because of her support for the Black Panthers.  Seberg died of a barbiturate overdose near Paris in 1979.

Jeanpaul_belmondo_and_jean_seberg_2

Jean-Paul Belmondo & Jean Seberg.  Click photo to view full-size image.

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May 14, 2007

Proposed Law Seeks Death Penalty For Those Who Abandon Islam

Far outdoing even fundamentalist Christians who seem thoroughly intent on besmirching the name of Christianity, some radical Islamists in Pakistan are determined to convince the world that Islam is a savage, intolerant religion.  This kind of thing sets the bar for what qualifies as moderate Islam quite low (or high?).

Well, just be sure that you won't change your mind down the road if you do decide to convert.

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H/T: Ed Brayton

What I'm Reading and Watching On The Web

What's that smell?  The US government is pursuing advanced scent detection systems to sniff out terrorists via Neurophilosopher.

  • Liars (and little brother) beware:  the government is seeking high tech ways to detect lying at a distance via Deception Blog.
  • Drink milk and live longer?  Not yet, but Deric Bownds has a post on a vitamin found in milk that may offer clues on activating an anti-aging protein in humans.
  • A scientifically based revolution in how to display text online?  Here is a sample of something called Live Ink -- first try to read the text on the left (before Live Ink) as quickly as you can, then read the same content on the right as quickly as you can (after Live Ink). And here is a link to the Live Ink site with a brief explanation of Live Ink and some better quality samples of Live Ink layouts.

  • Unexpected finding: no link between heavy marijuana smoking and lung cancer.  I still don't recommend smoking it, but criminalization of marijuana use is probably a huge waste of federal and state resources.  Criminalize sale only -- legalize growing, posession and smoking and get the criminal types out of the pot biz. H/T: VidiotSpeak
  • Libertarian Ed Brayton on the American Family Association's mean-spirited war on the so-called gay agenda in Dispatches from the Culture Wars.  Taking people's jobs and health insurance -- is that how conservative Christians love their enemies?

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May 13, 2007

Earth To G.O.P: The Gipper is Dead

Welcome to Pottersville has Frank Rich's latest on the Bush-Rove and the Republicans.

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Mixing Religion And Government

Christianists and Islamists who want to mix God and government seem to believe that God will be uplifting to government.  They never consider the possibility that God is debased in the mix.

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May 11, 2007

Radical Islam and Marxism: Same Problem Different Tactic

Marxists often can't stand it that the rest of us don't see the rightness and appeal behind their ideas, but I've simply never known a committed Marxist who didn't also seem like a self-righteous misanthrope.  This hardly makes Marxism appealing except, perhaps, to other self-righteous misanthropes who identify with the aggressor.  Idealizations aren't, after all, necessarily about identification with all-good objects.  For some, only the destructive power of aggression can be idealized.

Theodore Dalrymple compares Marxism and radical Islam in an interesting discussion of Sayyid Qutb’s book, Milestones (There Is No God but Politics).  He argues (correctly, I believe) that fundamentalism is essentially a defensive manifestation of an underlying brittleness of beliefs.  Though Dalrymple doesn't say so, Marxist hyper-intellectualism often looks like the manic but brittle defense of a precarious underlying sense of self that the believer tries to shore up by relentlessly constructing an ever more towering house of cards in pursuit of some elusive sense of omnipotent perfection.

The experience-distant intellectualism common to so many Marxists strikes me as an intellectual sophisticate's version of defensive religious fundamentalism; it is closed to challenging data and deployed in fierce attacks on skeptics who cannot help but notice the unmooring of belief and logical systems from any reasonable claim of evidence or experience.

Psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut and others since him (and our clinical experience, as well) have convincingly shown us that idealizations serve an important self-maintenance function; they appear to provide a sense of internal cohesion through fantasy fusion with the perfection of the idealized object.  The idealized object is omnipotent and viable, therefore we are viable through an affirming fusion of power and purpose found in our tie to the idealized object.

In healthier persons, a strong element of realism evolves, tempering idealizations, thereby allowing for the acknowledgment and even appreciation for humanizing faults and flaws in the idealized person or humanly constructed belief system.  This tempering allows for a more resilient maintenance of higher values and purpose in the face of limiting imperfections.

In contrast to the calmer reactions seen when tempered, mature idealizations are challenged, if you poke at a more precarious idealization, you will frequently witness disintegration into narcissistic rage.  In those whose idealizations are brittle and untempered by realism, there is no give, no resilience, when challenged.  This is a plainly observable phenomenon, both clinically and in everyday life.

This is why I believe that Marxism, Islamic fundamentalism and other religious fundamentalist movements are inherently prone to degeneration into authoritarian regimes supported by murderous aggression.  Their adherents cannot bear challenges that expose the imperfections of their brittle, precarious idealizations.  The regular occurrence of scapegoating 'purges' that seem endemic and essential to the preservation of these belief systems only serve to underscore their function as stabilizing ties to fantasied perfection.  To maintain the stabilizing function of a defensive idealization, impurity must be repeatedly rendered and destroyed or the sense of perfection found in the tie to the perfect object will be lost.

H/T: Andrew Sullivan

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May 10, 2007

A Reader Comments On Zimbardo

Thanks to Edwin Galegos for these comments on my Zimbardo post:

The question of where evil resides is not settled by Zimbardo’s experiment or his conclusions since, as you say, “…evil residing in their hearts and minds often goes unrecognized until they act in some thoroughly repugnant way when the conditions are just right.” He has not demonstrated that a situation has the power to create evil in anyone rather than simply unleash a potential that only exists in some, and that lies in wait for the right opportunity or provocation to activate it. His experiment sheds little, if any, light on the very serious matter behind your lighthearted phrasing: “…Why Evil People Appear To Behave Reasonably Well Most Of the Time.”

This question becomes all the more interesting (and touchy) when you recall that Zimbardo himself expressed surprise at the effect his prison study had on him. He said that in spite of having designed the experiment, he quickly lost his own objectivity and that he became completely caught up in and identified with his role as prison superintendent (http://www.prisonexp.org/). In one anecdote he comments:

“I briefly described what we were up to, and Gordon asked me a very simple question: ‘Say, what's the independent variable in this study?’

“To my surprise, I got really angry at him. Here I had a prison break on my hands. The security of my men and the stability of my prison was at stake, and now, I had to deal with this bleeding-heart, liberal, academic, effete dingdong who was concerned about the independent variable! It wasn't until much later that I realized how far into my prison role I was at that point -- that I was thinking like a prison superintendent rather than a research psychologist.”

Although I can’t say (and maybe he does, somewhere) whether Zimbardo also took this as an opportunity to reevaluate the depth of his own "decency," it appears that he has defensively made the case that any of us, under the circumstances, would behave just as he, his “warden” and “guards” behaved. It is difficult for me not to translate this as a statement to this effect: "Rather than deal with the evil in me that I keep hidden even from myself, let's just say the devil—oh, sorry, the situation—made me do it. And if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone."

A quote borrowed from the book of Jeremiah for your post of 04/29/07 is a timeless advisory: “The heart is deceitful above all things.”

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Zimbardo, Abu Ghraib And The Locus Of Evil

Vladimir J. Konecni (UC San Diego) exposes some gaping holes in renowned social psychologist Philip Zimbardo's naive understanding of evil in purely situational terms (The Lucifer effect: How Good People Turn Evil).

There are situations that encourage and permit the expression of evil behavior, but not all human beings will behave in evil ways when the bars are removed from the social cages that restrain them under ordinary circumstances.  And, those bars don't always deter the enactment of evil even when situational factors offer no encouragement to evil.

Many decent people say or do things that send shivers down my spine, but my suspicion is that the evil residing in their hearts and minds often goes unrecognized until they act in some thoroughly repugnant way when the conditions are just right.  These characters go unrecognized, in part, because their social intelligence works in tandem with the psychological defenses of those around them, allowing the signs of evil to slip under the conscious radar of most people most of the time.  I wonder if Zimbardo ever experiences that chill running down his spine while listening to a supposedly upstanding person speak?

I'm inclined to reframe Zimabardo's data to yield an alternate book title: The False Angel Effect: Why Evil People Appear To Behave Reasonably Well Most Of the Time.

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Response To Conservative Christian Prison Love

From a reader email response to a post on Christians and prisons:

"God is welcome in the conservative public square just as long as he leaves his forgiveness and love at home."

So true! There is little that is Christian about conservative Christianity besides the name "Christian." To love God and love one's neighbor are the only two commandments a Christian needs to know down into the bones. Conservative Christian bullies have made a public spectacle of the first part while treating adherence to the second part as a character defect...

And:

As they live in pursuit of security and earthly control, I can only assume that conservative Christians must have their fingers in their ears every time Jesus is quoted as saying: "But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first."

...you would think that would give them drop-dead serious pause..."

May 09, 2007

Conservative Christians And Prison Love

One troubling aspect of conservative Christian culture is its emphasis on revenge and punishment inflicted by some human beings upon other human beings.  As I said in a previous post:

grumpy conservative Jesus, who emphasizes accounting, paying one's debts and doing the time, gets annoyed with the kind of love that transcends ledger sheets and laws written in stone.  I'm still looking for conservative Jesus in scripture, but so far I only find him in a punitive conservative culture that finds civic forgiveness and love offensive almost as a matter of principle.  God is welcome in the conservative public square just as long as he leaves his forgiveness and love at home.

I suppose I've heard just about every imaginable rationale for punitive, merciless attitudes that endorse the treatment of non-fetal human beings as disposable trash.  Not always, but too often, such harsh, mercy-free attitudes are espoused by conservative Christians who are striving for or wish to maintain their already relatively safe, secure, materially comfortable lives.  Often they react with rabid resentment toward the notion that, as Christians, they are called to charity, love and mercy for the least of their brothers.

This is on my mind because I just read a post by Evangelical Christian and "young earth creationist" Kent Hovind who is imprisoned on a 58 count conviction for tax crimes.  Hovind has undergone the usual imprisoned conservative Christian realization that locking hordes of people in prison is not a good thing:

Having been here for nearly six months, I will forever be an advocate of closing most jails and prisons.  What this type of punishment does to families and society is terrible.  I believe that we as Christians are unwittingly funding and encouraging the very prisons that will house the Christians as the New World Order approaches!

Good for Hovind.  He recognizes that prisons do terrible things to people.  Unfortunately, that the larger conservative Christian movement has so little interest in cultivating love and mercy as Christian values means that Hovind must appeal to the bald, tribal self-interest of Christians when he warns that the prisons Christians encourage and support are the "prisons that will house the Christians as the New World Order approaches!"

___________________________________________

I don't think that it is any accident that a large segment of the conservative Christian movement pushes for public posting of the Old Testament decalogue as opposed to the New Testament beatitudes or heaven forbid the so-called Golden Rule.

New Testament scripture asks much that is uncomfortable of Christians; it is very anti-tribal, anti-power and often at odds with 'pragmatic' self-interest.  When challenged by those who don't recognize the Jesus of conservative American invention, one often sees a great deal of semantic twisting, rationalizing and even outright anger.  A Christianity that doesn't promise material security, earthly justice, personal revenge and a society cleansed of the weak and sinful doesn't go down easily with many conservative Christians.  The idea that Christianity actually asks believers to surrender security, give up vengeance and love the weak, the rejected, the broken, the outcast and even the sinner seems, for all practical purposes, out of the question.

___________________________________________

Sometimes I wish that everyone could spend some time in jail or prison, not play jail or the play prison of a 'reality' show, but in real jail or prison, as a terrified accused or convict living in the brutal, loveless conditions of an institution where they could experience what it is to exist entirely stripped of love, mercy and dignity.  The experience would do some law-abiding Christian citizens more good than they might imagine.

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May 08, 2007

An Ado About Nothing

I tend to roll my eyes in reaction to reports (here and everywhere)  critical of Republican Senator Ted Poe for quoting a confederate general and a founder of the KKK.  The criticism strikes me as a 'gotcha' tactic leavened by political correctness.  I don't believe that using the quote indicates that Poe is a racist.

POE: Mr. Speaker, does anybody realize there’s a war going out there in the desert sands of Iraq and the rough mountains of Afghanistan? Apparently not or Congress would be taking care of our troops. Mr. Speaker, the troops will be out of funds to carry the fight to the enemy by the end of June. So where’s the money? Spending money is what Congress does. Why hasn’t this body provided the funds for our troops and equipment and more personnel?

This is an emergency. Delay will put our troops at risk. We should authorize the funds now. Send equipment now. And if needed send more troops. The American people expect our military to do their duty. Well the American people expect us to do ours as well. Congress needs to quit talking about supporting the troops and put money where our mouths seem to be. Nathan Bedford Forrest, successful Confederate general, said it best about winning and victory and the means to do so. He said, “Git thar fustest with the mostest.”

There was nothing racist in the remark itself.  Poe was quoting the general on military tactics in connection with with funding for the Iraq war.  If Forrest were a figure who evoked distaste in the mind of the average person upon the mere mention of his name, I would say the comment would be in bad taste, but I don't think the mention of his name evokes thoughts of racism in the average person's mind.  I didn't know who Forrest was and I don't think the average person knows who he is.

If I were going to gin up some controversey or crack wise about Poe's remark, it would be that he quoted a general from the losing side in the civil war.  But, I'm not interested in ginning up anything.  I guess it will be a lame wisecrack, instead.

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May 07, 2007

Hey! Cut That Out. It's Against The Law To Disrespect The Flag!

No, not that flag...  this flag.

May 06, 2007

On Sandmonkey Quitting

Just regarding the name, I guess I’d be glad to see it go.  The roots of this derogatory term for an Arab are ingloriously linked to a very ugly part of American life that may fall outside the visceral grasp of some Arabs (and a few Americans who haven’t had any personal contact with vicious names to describe them as persons of a particular ancestry).  It’s all hypothetical when you don’t know what it’s like to have ever wondered just what vile word to describe you floats dimly somewhere in the preconscious experience of even the good people you meet… people who would just as soon have had no contact with a kind of evil carried in our cultural viscera.

Not that this is on my mind very much (I'm not a cultural Puritan), but these derogatory terms originate in a place in the heart that seeks to perpetuate tribalism, that cultural derivative of our not so distant past as animals amorally and biologically committed to the genetic lineages of our troops, herds and packs.  There is nothing inherently dirty or evil in a word itself, but as a carrier of sentiment that influences how people feel about themselves as 'other,' words and the sentiments behind them subtly exert self-serving influences, including the perpetuation of tribal-animal advantage that should have no place among moral creatures.

Dr. Greaseball X

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The Liberal Case For Gun Rights: This Isn't About Guns

Adam Liptak wrote a piece for the NY Times discussing the shift in thinking about gun rights among some liberal legal scholars.  What I find interesting is that scholars are reaching conclusions at odds with their personal politics.  The right accuses academics of being incapable of this kind of 'objectivity,' while I find the right to be, just as often, incapable of this sort of objectivity.  Meantime, many of those on the left who often imagine that they are operating in the realm of 'objectivity' will defensively decry this shift in the position of liberal legal scholars as mistaken.  Since they don't believe guns should be legal, they may not be able to face recently evolving views of legal scholars who have come to regard their previous understanding of the second amendment as historically mistaken.

Sadly, I doubt that many on the right will budge in their cherished hostility toward liberal academics who they regard collectively as intellectually dishonest, while few on the left will feel the need to examine the way they arrive at their own opinions and judgments.  Challenges to dogmatic beliefs often harden rather than soften the convenient lies people tell themselves about a complicated world.

None of this comes as a surprise if you regard self-honesty as a thorny construction that is better seen as a type of striving rather than something that is fully possible to us.  Our internal representations of the world and our cherished narratives about our place in the world are squeaky, limited affairs that provide us with a sense of stability as we attempt to manage our involvement in the far more complex 'larger reality' (there are no good words to use here) that is mentally inseparable from our subjective viewpoint.

The need to maintain a sense of stability and cohesion in our conscious experience renders us human beings an inherently defensive, often self-deluding, dishonest lot much of the time.  Nonetheless, some people strive for self-honesty that leads to genuinely inconvenient acknowledgments that are not necessarily comforting or self-serving.

I find evidence of this capacity largely absent from much of the discourse on both the left and the right, but the problem is not politics; the problem is our inherently 'broken' human nature.  Our capacity to investigate ourselves and the world around us, to hypothesize, to hold symbolic representations of reality in our minds, is a two-edged sword.  The upside is that our capacity to represent and hold hypothetical versions of reality in our minds extends our mental reach and species survivability far beyond what is possible based upon our immediate perceptions alone.  But this very same capacity to represent the world in mental constructions, symbols, narratives and fantasies, leaves us poised to create, believe in and defend fantastic lies.  And, for many people, the pursuit of truth never entails much more than accepting those self-serving beliefs that go down easiest.

My thoughts on this subject will seem abstruse to some readers, but to others they will seem elementary, undeveloped and even mundane.  I'm well aware of that.  It is this latter group I find to be guilty most often of self-indulgently ignoring the simplest of truths hidden behind elaborately defensive, intellectual hoaxterism.  In the eyes of the right, they supply all of the rope needed to hang liberalism.

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Why Did "Sandmonkey" Quit Blogging?

Popular Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey has written a rambling follow-up post attempting to clarify the reasons he quit blogging. He is critical of rumors circulating that he fled to the United States and he seems to be saying that Egyptian government intimidation wasn't the primary reason for shutting down, even though he previously described the growing heat from the Egyptian government as one of the chief reasons for quitting.  SandM reported that, at times, he had been reckless in his enthusiasm and that he had gotten carried away with his own sense of invincibility.  In his initial resignation post, he did explain that he was also quitting because of some sort of discontent with the current state of Egyptian blogging, noting accomplishments, but complaining about 'big heads' and the need to change directions.

After reading both his initial post and his follow up, I'm not sure about how to understand his resignation, nor am I sure SandM fully understands why he quit.  That isn't a criticism of him.  This is often the way decisions are made.  Sometimes we think we know why we're doing this or that and sometimes we're less clear about why we're doing things.

Perhaps SandM felt intimidated into quitting and can't quite face that he has been cowed or can't quite admit that to his audience, but it does seem that he is struggling with some less specific discontent as well.

In any case, I give the guy credit for speaking and writing in an atmosphere where speaking against the government can get one jailed, tortured or killed.  And, I wouldn't fault him for being reckless or taking so-called foolish risks;  I suspect that those who challenge tyranny have always wondered about their own foolishness or recklessness.

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May 04, 2007

Thomas Sowell, It's Time To Retire

Thomas Sowell, the guy who wrote Knowledge and Decisions, has degenerated into writing tripe like this:

When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup.

Sowell's idiotic comment exposes the truly authoritarian underbelly of today's neo-conservative movement.  Okay, does anyone want to argue for the reasonableness of a military coup as a principled way to uphold American values of freedom and self-determination?  Just what would a military coup accomplish?  Maybe the military could kill and imprison people for having thoughts at variance with those of George Bush and his neocon supporters?  I guess one neocon political premise is that people shouldn't have the right to disagree with neocons, or if they do, they certainly shouldn't have a right to hold elective office or pass laws at variance with neocon beliefs about governance.

I suspect that Sowell has succumbed to his position as right-wing minority darling.  A one-time libertarian economist, he now sounds like Archie Bunker writing from a library full of dust-coated books he hasn't cracked in ages because he's been out on the circuit willingly playing the role of high-paid righty demagogue.  Sowell used to have a lot more going for him than third-rate, political media-hacks like Dinesh D'Souza.   I guess money and the easy life supported by a partisan fan club isn't always good for the life of the independent mind.

H/T: Stephen Soldz

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Student Teacher Denied Education Degree Because Of MySpace Page

The first blog I read most days is Ed Brayton's Dispatches from the Culture Wars (part of Seed, science blogs).  Ed is a businessman, former standup comic and a clear-thinking libertarian writer who covers a broad range of issues, but he seems to specialize in legal, church-state, speech, evolution and creationism.  I appreciate that Ed goes to much more trouble than the average blogger to actually inform himself on the subjects he writes about by going directly to the sources in many cases, often reading through suits filed, legal briefs and lengthy court decisions rather than shooting his mouth off based on noise in the rumor mill. I do occasionally disagree with him, or as I would see it, I bring a different dimension to the discussion.  It's not that I can ever say that I see Ed as wrong in his reasoning, but sometimes I'm looking at a different set of variables.

One such instance arises in connection with his post on Stacy Snyder vs. Millersville University.  Ed quotes from FIRE:

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Stacy Snyder, a 27-year-old student at Millersville University of Pennsylvania, was denied her education degree (and the accompanying teaching certificate) after student-teacher advisors and university officials discovered an "unprofessional" picture of the degree candidate on her MySpace page. The picture, which portrays Snyder drinking from a plastic "Mr. Goodbar" cup and wearing a pirate hat at a 2005 Halloween party, is accompanied by the caption "Drunken Pirate." Despite the fact that (a) Snyder was of legal drinking age at the time of the picture; (b) the picture was posted on an outside, non-university website; and (c) the drinking captured in the picture happened in a private, non-university setting, Millersville officials decided that the picture alone was enough to cost Snyder her degree and teaching certificate, despite the fact that Snyder was on the dean's list and received positive evaluations for her final student/teacher evaluation in every area except for "professionalism." The school instead awarded Snyder a degree in English.

Ed continues:

Snyder is suing the school; if the claims in her complaint are even close to being true, she's got a hell of a case.

The discussion following Ed's post is interesting.  Perhaps I should have just written my own post on this to begin with, but I got carried away with the discussion over at Ed's site.  I will reprint some of the comments from his site along with my own below the fold.

Continue reading "Student Teacher Denied Education Degree Because Of MySpace Page" »

May 03, 2007

Indian Judge In Gere Case Gets A Really Bad Job Transfer

Gere

The Dalai Lama fighting off an excited Richard Gere.

Perhaps that kissing bandit, Richard Gere, and Bollywood's Shilpa Shetty can see a light at the end of their legal tunnel of love.  The judge who issued arrest warrants for the pair was transferred to another court.  Authorities are calling Judge Dinesh Gupta's transfer to a backwater town several hours away from where he currently holds court, 'routine.'

At least Gere and Shetty can be thankful that they didn't have to deal with one of New York's village court judges.

May 02, 2007

Criticism Of Tenet Obscures Cheney And Rumsfeld Deception

While neocons attempt to defend the Bush administration by ripping Tenet's new book, former intelligence officials are criticizing Tenet for supporting the Bush administration's intentional misrepresentation of prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Here is Maureen Dowd quoting from a letter sent to Mr. Tenet through his publisher. It is signed by six former CIA officials angry about the lives lost in an unnecessary war resulting, in part, from Mr. Tenet's complicity in the Bush administration's prewar intelligence deception:

“By your silence you helped build the case for war,” the former C.I.A. officials wrote. “You betrayed the C.I.A. officers who collected the intelligence that made it clear that Saddam did not pose an imminent threat. You betrayed the analysts who tried to withstand the pressure applied by Cheney and Rumsfeld.”

Although Dowd's column was intended to expose Tenet as a deeply compromised careerist, it is obvious that the former CIA officials who sent the letter to Tenet also hold Cheney and Rumsfeld responsible for lies about prewar intelligence on Iraq.  For neocons who wanted the United States to go to war against Arabs, no amount of evidence of corruption will be sufficient for them to admit the fraud perpetrated by the Bush administration.

Right-wing Christofascist Terrorism?

Right-wing Christofascist American terrorism, here?

H/T: Real's World

The Convict And The Singer

On the surface, Carly Simon as godmother to an imprisoned rapper is ripe for ridicule. One might be tempted, then, to dismiss this story as an account of another wealthy celebrity naively taking up the cause of a criminal.  I think something different is occurring here.

Many conservative Christians who have, for all practical purposes, purged their Christology of mercy and grace, probably won't find much of interest in this story;  grumpy conservative Jesus, who emphasizes accounting, paying one's debts and doing the time, gets annoyed with the kind of love that transcends ledger sheets and laws written in stone.  I'm still looking for conservative Jesus in scripture, but so far I only find him in a punitive conservative culture that finds civic forgiveness and love offensive almost as a matter of principle.  God is welcome in the conservative public square just as long as he leaves his forgiveness and love at home.

Now don't get the idea that I like liberal Jesus any better.  Snobbish liberal affectation, envy and identity politics are no less imbued with materialist legalism than Jesus armed with a ledger sheet.  Conservative Jesus simply relies a little more heavily upon math to make his turnip-wringing calculations.

One other thing I should mention is that those who are tempted to reconstruct the story of the singer and the convict as a static white liberal narrative should be aware that Simon, whose mother was half white and half African-American (in the south of the very recent past, that would make Simon black), isn't known for identity politics.

As you might imagine there is a bee inside today's derivative bonnet.  But since the explicit has a way of squeezing the truth out of life, I'd rather just let this cranky bee tell its story in its own way.

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May 01, 2007

The Fall Of The Soviet Uniion

Krauthammer strikes me as one of the darkest beings to have ever had a column, but it isn't that I disagree with everything he says. 

From his column on Yeltsin's death:

Yeltsin is not the first great revolutionary to have failed at building something new. Nonetheless, it is worth remembering what he did achieve. He brought down not just a party, a regime and an empire, but an idea. Communism today survives only in the lunatic kingdom of North Korea, in Fidel Castro's personal satrapy and in the minds of such political imbeciles as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who can sustain his socialist airs only as long as he sits on $65 oil.

... In the end, Yeltsin succeeded only in midwifing Russia's transition from totalitarianism to authoritarianism with the briefest of stops for democracy -- a far more modest advance than he (and we) had hoped, but still significant. And for which the Russian people -- and the rest of the world spared the depredations of a malevolent empire -- should forever be grateful.

And, yes, I've heard all those things they say about Christopher Hitchens, but I appreciated when, regarding Reagan's "evil empire" speech, he once asked (I'm paraphrasing) "which word is untrue?"

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April 30, 2007

Encouraging Signs From Iraq?

More jaw-dropping denial from the right, aided by Fox News:

Although Neoneocon is hopeful for Iraq, she worries that Iraq is under the gun because President Bush, that great enabler of Iraqi success, will be out of office in 2009.  Gee, he'll have had only 6 years to achieve victory;  what great president could be blamed for failure operating under such ridiculously tight time constraints?

Neoneocon goes on to suggest that things are better in Iraq than either the western press or the American public realizes because we've all been manipulated by the sophisticated strategies of the public relations people at al-Qa'ida and the insurgency.  Yes, they know how to play reporters from the NY Times, but they can't fool Neoneocon with all those bombings.  That's because actual professional reporters don't know nearly as much about the war as New England's very own psychotherapist-expert on the war in Iraq.  (note to Leo Burnett, step up recruiting efforts in Baghdad.  There is a well-spring of untapped creative talent in the middle east.)

But, Neoneocon has been seeing success in Iraq since she began her blog and she has been talking about the blindness of those who don't for just as long.  I would suggest that if we become any more successful in Iraq, there won't be anything left of Iraq at all.

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Giving Credit Where Credit Isn't Due

In a review of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Niall Ferguson writes in the Telegraph:

In any case, as President Bush has learned, you don't get rewarded for trying to stop bad things from happening, precisely because if you're successful they don't happen. On his watch, after all, there hasn't been another 9/11 (a classic Black Swan event). And Saddam Hussein will never invade Kuwait again. But is anybody out there grateful? Not even Bush himself can be certain that his strategy of pre-emption deserves the credit for non-events.

Although Taleb makes some interesting points in his book, Ferguson goes off the deep end in his effort to give credit to Bush.  First, by treating 9-11 as a Black Swan (a highly improbable, unpreventable event), Ferguson leaves himself caught in a contradiction when he gives Bush credit for preventing another 9-11 since he has already absolved Bush of responsibility for 9-11 by declaring it an improbable, unpreventable event.  But, if we ignore this apparent contradiction in Ferguson's position, we encounter other problems with his argument.

While Presidents may not get credit for things that haven’t happened during their terms of office, 9-11 did happen while Bush was President.  It did not happen during the tenure of Clinton, Bush 41, Reagan, Carter or Nixon.  Is Ferguson troubled by the absence of credit given to those presidents because 9-11 didn't occur during their terms?  If he is troubled by this failure to give credit, he certainly doesn't tell us about it.

But, potentially more troubling in Ferguson's statement is the perpetuation of a lie that the Bush administration subtly propagated linking 9-11 to Saddam Hussein.  There is an inexplicit link being drawn here between Bush's efforts in Iraq and the fact that there hasn't been a second 9-11 during his term of office, as if Saddam was somehow connected to the first 9-11.

It is highly dubious to suppose that the disastrous invasion of Iraq has even the remotest connection to the fact that there hasn't been another 9-11 in the US.  Sure, Ferguson doesn't claim this explicitly, but that is the point.  He makes no effort to clarify just what he means by Bush's 'efforts' to prevent bad things, while mentioning Saddam and Kuwait in the same paragraph.  He goes on to insinuate that we are somehow remiss for failing to be grateful to Bush for his successful efforts to prevent a second 9-11 during his presidency.  It's pretty clear that Ferguson makes a muddle of all of this to leave the impression that there is a link between the toppling of Saddam and the fact that we haven't had another  9-11.

So here we have 9-11 occurring during Bush’s term and Bush has presided over the huge mess in Iraq that has killed and maimed more Americans than 9-11.  Yet, we’re supposed to give him special credit because he could have but did not preside over a second 9-11 during his terms in office?

And, while Ferguson is busy noting that we fail to give Bush credit for allegedly preventing another Saddam-led invasion of Kuwait, he might as well complain that we weren't properly grateful to Saddam for preventing mutual slaughter between Shia and Sunni's... something that occurs daily because Bush took Saddam out.  I guess Saddam wasn't getting proper credit for the things that didn't happen when he was in charge.

Such a pity.

H/T: Bird Dog

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Deputy Secretary of State Resigns Amid Prostitution Scandal

Another madame says she's going to out Washington insiders who are customers of her prostitution business.  Deputy Secretary of State, Randall Tobias, was the first casualty.  Tobias predictably says that although he was a customer, he did not have sex with any of the prostitutes at Pamela Martin Associates, the prostitution 'firm' owned by Madame Deborah Jeane Palfrey, also known as Miz Julia to customers.

Dick Morris has also been named as a customer by Miz Julia.  The oportunistic former Clinton advisor turned right-wing, lackey Fox News contributor is known for having frequented prostitutes in the past.  Morris has denied the latest allegation against him.

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Gertrude of Arabia

Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations

A NY Times review of the Georgina Howell book about the woman behind the creation of modern Iraq.

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April 29, 2007

The Intellectual In French Popular Consciousness

An interesting TimesOnline piece by Charles Bremner.

Like the American right in recent years, the ideological left has long had a way of peevishly denying when it has been wrong to a point that so strains the credulity of ordinary people just trying to live their lives, that they doom themselves to replacement by light entertainment.

Okay, I'm overstating things a bit, but I think there is some truth in what I'm saying.

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April 27, 2007

Indian Court Issues Arrest Warrant For Richard Gere And Shilpa Shetty

An Indian court has issued an arrest warrant for Richard Gere and Indian actress Shilpa Shetty over a kiss at an AIDS event.   Though it was clear that the kiss was not wanted or reciprocated by Shetty, the actress is nonetheless being charged along with American actor Gere.  I suppose that's fair given that the helpless Mr. Gere was clearly provoked by her most provocative womanly existence.

This is why I always say that all women must be covered head to toe in a thick coating of asbestos.  One never knows what horrible things (such as kisses) will occur when uncovered skin of the female intersects with the unobstructed gaze of the human male eye.

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Taking The Generals To Task

Blue Girl, Red State has an interesting post on discontent with the conduct of the war among command-level officers -- captains, majors and Lt colonels. Her account is taken from a report in WaPo.  Worth the read.

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The ONION: Boldly Going Where No One Else Dares To Go This Week

Boldly going or 'insensitively' going (depending on your point of view) where others dare not go right now...

Weird Kid Shines During Dissection

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April 26, 2007

Sure Signs That The Surge Is A Success

Not really.  As General Paetraues explains, we've got a mess on our hands.  But last month when I read this post by Dr. Sanity, I couldn't imagine it would be long before I would repost her 'sure signs of the surge's success?'

Dr. Sanity's blog consists of almost nothing but graceless posts passed off as psychological insights.  It all seems intended to demean anyone who dares to disagree with her extremist politics, which is just asking for it since she is both mean and wrong so often.

Dr. Sanity's:

SURE SIGNS OF THE SURGE'S SUCCESS ?

1. The Democrats are no longer talking about it.

2. The whiney left is no longer talking about it.

3. The Media is talking about everything else except for it.

If the signs of the surge's success were 'sure,' I wonder why the question mark?  Pretty strange stuff. Maybe Dr. Sanity has gone PoMo on us.

Going back a little further in time, I remember that it was the same Dr. Sanity who referred to the 'media and their masters' (huh?) as paranoid in this bizarre rant:

Here we have the media and their masters on the Left in full-blown paranoid mode. I'm not even sure they are capable anymore of understanding how destructive and irrational their behavior has become. But their descent into hysteria and delusion seems to have no bottom....

The media and their masters?  Just who is paranoid?

Comparing the left to a psychotic patient (oh brother), Dr. 'Sanity' says:

I remember one paranoid individual who was convinced that he had Hodgkins Lymphoma... [when] test results and xrays that clearly demonstrated that he was actually okay and in good health... he came in convinced he was dying of colon cancer. The doctors referrred him to psychiatry at that point.

All of this was to argue that things in Iraq were going well and that those who suggested otherwise were just like Dr. Sanity's psychotic patient whose illness was nothing more than a hypochondriacal delusion.  And this is what Dr. Sanity had to say about Afghanastan and Iraq in response to the allegedly psychotic left and the psychotic media and the media's psychotic masters, all of whom were noticing problems in Iraq.

Afghanistan is in good shape and very healthy. Iraq is in good shape and getting healthier. Our economy is doing superbly (even the price of gasoline is going down and not up). By all standards; and all tests; America is healthy and strong.

I don't know why Dr. Sanity chose the name Dr. Sanity, but as she points an accusatory diagnostic finger in every direction except toward herself, I wonder if she ever ponders the line from Hamlet, 'the lady doth protest too much, methinks.'

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April 25, 2007

Murder And Forgiveness: Catholics, Jews and Palestinians

I ran across this post on the subject of evil and forgiveness by Dr. Bliss at Maggiesfarm.  It was originally posted after the Amish schoolhouse shootings and reposted following the Virginia Tech shootings.  In the final two paragraphs Dr. Bliss offers her thoughts on forgiveness:

Remarkable to me, in this story, is the speed with which the Amish speak of forgiveness. It comes too soon for it to be convincing to me, but I know what it is they seek. They seek to have God cleanse their souls of hatred because a soul burdened and contaminated by hate or chronic anger is alienated from God and from one's spiritual community. But at the same time, I suspect (but I don't know any Amish) that they would expect to see this guy executed.

Forgiveness is not a gift to a wrong-doer; it's a blessing which, with God's help, is conferred on ourselves to release us from the burden of hatred and vengefulness. It is difficult and it is not natural: it is supernatural soul-maintenance, like an oil change from above.

I agree with Dr. Bliss up to the point of regarding forgiveness only as a blessing for the wronged party.  I believe that forgiveness is for the wrong-doer as much as it is for the wronged party, but the dynamics of the relationship between forgiver and forgiven are complex and do not lend themselves to simple formulations.  If you're interested in more of my thoughts on this, I offered this comment in response to Dr. Bliss's post.

While I accept the challenges presented by my own understanding of forgiveness from both a psychoanalytic perspective and a Christian perspective, I was curious to look further at the notion of forgiveness from a non-Christian perspective.  I must confess that I have no understanding of how Muslims might look at forgiveness and my awareness of the Jewish outlook is limited.

While looking for more on the subject, I found this piece on interfaith dialogue by Rabbi David Blumenthal.  I presume that it was offered in response to attempts by the Roman church to seek the forgiveness of Jews for anti-Semitism and for persecution of Jews by Catholics and the Roman Catholic Church.

At the heart of Rabbi Blumenthal's explication of the Jewish tradition of forgiveness is teshuva, or repentance.  He outlines the general rabbinic consensus that teshuva “requires five elements: recognition of one's sins as sins (hakarát ha-chét'), remorse (charatá), desisting from sin (azivát ha-chét'), restitution where possible (peira'ón), and confession (vidúi).” Each of these steps to teshuva is necessary. He goes on to say, with respect to forgiveness proper, “The most basic kind of forgiveness is ‘forgoing the other's indebtedness’ (mechilá). If the offender has done teshuva, and is sincere in his or her repentance, the offended person should offer mechila; that is, the offended person should forgo the debt of the offender, relinquish his or her claim against the offender.”  There is, however, one indispensable condition for the granting of mechila: “the offended person is not obliged to offer mechila if the offender is not sincere in his or her repentance and has not taken concrete steps to correct the wrong done.” He adds, “The principle that mechila ought to be granted only if deserved is the great Jewish ‘No’ to easy forgiveness. It is core to the Jewish view of forgiveness, just as desisting from sin is core to the Jewish view of repentance. Without good grounds, the offended person should not forgo the indebtedness of the sinner; otherwise, the sinner may never truly repent and evil will be perpetuated.”

This treatise on the Jewish tradition of forgiveness leaves me thinking about the following statement widely attributed to David Ben-Gurion, who was instrumental in the founding of the modern state of Israel and who was also Israel's first prime minister:

"If I were an Arab leader, I would never sign an agreement with Israel. It is normal; we have taken their country. It is true God promised it to us, but how could that interest them? Our God is not theirs. There has been Anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?"

I don't know anything about Islamic traditions of forgiveness or the Muslim conditions for forgiveness (if there are, indeed, conditions for forgiveness), but I do not see how Israelis and Palestinians could move forward with the tight conditions on forgiveness as outlined by Rabbi Blumenthal.  How are Israelis to reconcile themselves to life with Palestinians and Arabs who supported and endorsed suicide bombers, without seeking Jewish forgiveness, experiencing remorse or offering compensation?  And, how do Palestinians forgive Jews who do not acknowledge guilt or ask forgiveness for, as David Ben-Gurion is said to have put it, stealing their country?

According to Rabbi Blumenthal, it is for the injured party to decide when and if forgiveness will be granted, but when one does not even admit wrong-doing, how is reconciliation to occur?  And when one regards forgiveness as optional as opposed to a moral imperative, on what basis can we hope for generosity on the part of the aggrieved parties, each with their lists of stringent conditions for forgiveness and no moral imperative to forgive?

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April 23, 2007

No Hiding

Marine_2

Former Marine Sgt. Ty Ziegel knows the horrible aspects of war in a way few of us will ever have to endure. In a 2004 suicide bomber attack during his second tour of duty in Iraq, he was seriously wounded, losing an eye and suffering burns over much of his body. His injuries, including a fractured skull and an amputated arm, required 50 operations and 19 months of rehabilitation.

This image is from Ziegel’s wedding day last October, when he married his longtime fiancée Renee Kline. Recently chosen for the 2007 World Press Photo Foundation Award, it was taken by Nina Berman, a New York–based photographer whose work, online at ninaberman.com, includes the photoessays “Purple Hearts,” studies of wounded Iraq war veterans, and “Under Taliban,” scenes from the repressive former regime in Afghanistan.

In the Internet age, war is no less hell than it was in Sherman’s day. But it is increasingly impossible to suppress its horrible aspects, or the scars that soldiers and their loved ones must learn to live with.

Reason.com

False Lessons From An Atrocity

I've long admired Stephen Chapman as an honest, principled writer.  This genial Texas transplant to Chicago consistently offers observations that will offend almost everyone, although it is clearly not his intent to offend anyone.   Offense is inevitable when ideological sanctimony is abandoned in favor of a more humble search for truth.  Chapman isn't easily pigeonholed, but moderate pro-life, anti-death penalty, strong first ammendment and second ammendment, anti-Iraq invasion, ex-Christian, libertarian gives you some idea that he is not the conventional partisan package.

Chapman comments here on the lessons learned about guns from the VA Tech massacre.

Born in Brady, Texas in 1954, Chapman grew up in Midland and Austin. He attended Harvard University, where he was on the staff of the Harvard Crimson, and graduated with honors in 1976. He has been a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and has served on the Visiting Committee of the University of Chicago Law School

Cho Seung Hui (from a reader)

From a reader in response to Cho Seung-Hui:

During the campus memorial, hundreds of somber students and area residents, most wearing the school's maroon and orange, stood with heads bowed on the parade ground in front of Norris Hall, the classroom building where all but two of the victims died. Along with the bouquets and candles was a sign reading, "Never forgotten."

"It's good to feel the love of people around you," said Alice Lo, a Virginia Tech graduate and friend of Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, a French instructor killed in the rampage. "With this evil, there is still goodness."

The mourners gathered in front of stone memorials, each adorned with a basket of tulips and an American flag. There were 33 stones -- one for each victim and Cho.

"His family is suffering just as much as the other families," said Elizabeth Lineberry, who will be a freshman at Virginia Tech in the fall.  -- The Chicago Tribune

April 22, 2007

Cho Seung-Hui

In previous posts, I offered some thoughts on the Virginia Tech killer (here and here).  This NY Times story raises the strong possibility that a Pervasive Developmental Disorder formed the backdrop to Cho's paranoia.  The emerging information on Cho's history serves as a reminder that it is easy to offer explanatory hypotheses about the actions other human beings, but our hypotheses are never any better than the quality of our data.   Even when we bring theoretical depth to our explanations for world events or the behaviors of other human beings, we can easily misunderstand what we are seeing due to the inaccuracy or incompleteness of our data -- an incompleteness that is often abetted by our resistance to incorporating data that challenges our own cherished theories and beliefs.

As I read about Cho, I'm aware that our culture almost demands that we engage in defensive splitting (beatifying the victims and totally banishing any compassionate stirrings for Cho Seung-Hui), but I am not able to look at Cho without some empathy for the life of deep pain that he apparently lived during his short time on this earth.  We human beings can be a hard and merciless lot, both in attitude and behavior, toward the most troubled and vulnerable among us.

It is not for me to forgive Cho (he didn't harm me or anyone I know), nor would I expect anyone who was harmed directly or indirectly by his actions to similarly experience the compassion I feel for Cho and his family, but my sympathy and compassion for the innocent victims, their families and their friends is not diminished by my sadness for Cho.

_________________________________________________________________

I notice that tribute is being paid appropriately to the heroism of holocaust survivor, Liviu Librescu, who died saving the lives of his students.  It is the mark of genuine goodness when one acts on behalf of others who are not necessarily of one's own clan or tribe.

Tribal preference has its roots in evolutional dynamics that place a premium on those who share genetic kinship.  This biologically programmed preference has an amoral underpinning that can incline us to behaving more like animals operating out of genetically instinctual subroutines than out of compassion-driven altruism that relies on a capacity for genuine empathy.  The same genetic programs that makes us more protective of our clan and our tribe, also leave us more prone to indifference and even hostility toward the odd, the weak and those outside what we perceive as our own tribe.  I firmly believe that to be better human beings we must do our best to shed our tribalism.

It is in this spirit that I offer a link to the less publicized story of another Virginia Tech hero:

Egyptian student killed at Virginia Tech leaves behind wife and 1-year-old son

_________________________________________________________________

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. -- Paul of Tarsus

_________________________________________________________________

UPDATE

Thanks to Disembedded for contacting me about this post.  He is thinking along the same lines about Cho and asks some excellent questions.  Diembedded is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who is tops in the area of developmental disorders.  He's at one best institutions out there.

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April 20, 2007

Al-Qaida Cracks Down on Immodest Fruits And Vegetables

It's about time.

American commanders cite al-Qaida's severe brand of Islam, which is so extreme that in Baqouba, al-Qaida has warned street vendors not to place tomatoes beside cucumbers because the vegetables are different genders, Col. David Sutherland said.

Here's the story.

Tomato

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April 19, 2007

Reactions To Virginia Tech

I continue to be astonished by bloggers who seem incapable of dealing with this tragedy without treating it as another opportunity to grind their own political axes, whatever those may be.  I'm not going to be point to specific blogs on the left, right or otherwise because I could point almost anywhere to find examples of this phenomenon.  I will say that I almost wince with embarrassment for bloggers who tie the massacre to their dislike for Bush or their political views on the Middle East.

If you're tempted to introduce the name 'Bush' or the words immigration, Palestinian, Christian, Jew, Muslim or atheist into your explanation for events in Virginia, it might be time to hold off on posting and sleep on it for a few days.  You're probably working with an organizing principle that you're heavily invested in for reasons other than a genuine search for truth.  Proceeding will mostly likely take you far afield from the complicated, real people and circumstances associated with events in Virginia.

It is natural and even necessary for us to interpret events based upon our preexisting narrative templates. This is how we organize the data of our experience.  But, much like a paranoid person who attends to the world in a highly selective, inflexible manner that supports a delusional system, bloggers who politicize the Virginia shootings seem utterly oblivious to their own patterns of selectively attending to events in ways that can only end up supporting their preexisting opinions.  If we fail to recognize the hypothetical nature of our preexisting narrative templates and if we do not allow ourselves to seriously consider alternative ways of seeing and organizing our understanding of events, we will inevitably wed ourselves to conclusions that represent little more than the comforting reassurances of a delusion.  This is especially ironic, given what we are learning about the paranoid world view of the killer.

April 17, 2007

Reactions To The VA Tech Murders

From the Daily Dish

Shockingly, the television is chock full of politicians and advocates of various stripes claiming that the disaster at Virginia Tech is a vindication of . . . whatever they already believed.  If only we had had [more gun control/less gun control/better mental health treatments/tougher law enforcement/colleges that acted more like parents/tighter immigration rules/whatever] then this never would have happened.

Personally, I think that the only thing this really illustrates is that we need some stiff legal enforcement against people who think that large numbers of bodies were delivered by the Almighty for the express purpose of providing publicity for their pet cause.  And I'll say so, publicly, if only CNN will ask me . . .

Charles Whitman: The Texas Tower Sniper

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred (that's one blogger) has written a piece that seems to blame antiwar folks for the Virginia Tech rampage.  He anticipates and condemns the political exploitation of the killings by gun-control advocates, but proceeds to associate the the rampage with a social climate that tolerates terrorists and, in turn, peace advocates who are allegedly supporting terrorists.  Bet you didn't know that your opposition to the invasion of Iraq sent Cho Seung-Hui on his killing spree.  It's strange to see a conservative blaming society for an individual's act of mass murder.  It makes SC&A seem like one of those liberal types.  I don't know much about him.  Maybe he's one of those 'new' conservatives.

Shrinkwrapped has written an essay more suitable for people interested in the psychology of explosive violence.  It has a sound basis in clinical and developmental theory.  Shrink examines the role of shame and rage in violence. I may disagree with his application of theory at times, and I disagree with him on Middle East policy, but he knows what he's talking about theoretically and his insights into the shootings are robust and viable explanations for what may lie behind the killer's rampage.

Continue reading "Charles Whitman: The Texas Tower Sniper" »

April 16, 2007

Conservative Group to Bush: Fire Gonzales

Lest Bush's remaining supporters continue to imagine that serious criticism of the administration is coming only from 'freedom-hating lefties,' a group of conservatives who supported George Bush have called upon him to fire Attorney General Gonzales.  In a letter addressed to Bush and Gonzales, the group stated that:

"Mr. Gonzales has presided over an unprecedented crippling of the Constitution's time-honored checks and balances... He has brought rule of law into disrepute, and debased honesty as the coin of the realm... He has engendered the suspicion that partisan politics trumps evenhanded law enforcement in the Department of Justice...Attorney General Gonzales has proven an unsuitable steward of the law and should resign for the good of the country... The President should accept the resignation, and set a standard to which the wise and honest might repair in nominating a successor..."  -- Time Magazine

Calling itself the American Freedom Agenda, the newly formed group called for the restoration of "the roles of Congress and the federal judiciary to prevent such abuses of power and protect against injustices that are the signature of civilized nations." The group recommended the following:

  • Prohibit military commissions whose verdicts are suspect except in places of active hostilities where a battlefield tribunal is necessary to obtain fresh testimony or to prevent anarchy;
  • Prohibit the use of secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture or coercion in military or civilian tribunals;
  • Prohibit the detention of American citizens as unlawful enemy combatants without proof of criminal activity on the President’s say-so;
  • Restore habeas corpus for alleged alien enemy combatants, i.e., non-citizens who have allegedly participated in active hostilities against the United States, to protect the innocent;
  • Prohibit the National Security Agency from intercepting phone conversations or emails or breaking and entering homes on the President’s say-so in violation of federal law;
  • Empower the House of Representatives and the Senate collectively to challenge in the Supreme Court the constitutionality of signing statements that declare the intent of the President to disregard duly enacted provisions of bills he has signed into law because he maintains they are unconstitutional;
  • Prohibit the executive from invoking the state secrets privilege to deny justice to victims of constitutional violations perpetrated by government officers or agents; and, establish legislative-executive committees in the House and Senate to adjudicate the withholding of information from Congress based on executive privilege that obstructs oversight and government in the sunshine;
  • Prohibit the President from kidnapping, detaining, and torturing persons abroad in collaboration with foreign governments;
  • Amend the Espionage Act to permit journalists to report on classified national security matters without fear of prosecution; and;
  • Prohibit the listing of individuals or organizations with a presence in the United States as global terrorists or global terrorist organizations based on secret evidence.

H/T: Stephen Soldz

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More Bizarre Output From The Right

Right wing blogger Dr. Sanity scores another one for Dick Cheney's untruth squad with her latest post attempting to cast blame for 9-11 on the Clinton administration.  This one is a real treat for aficionados of bizarre output from the right.

Dr. Sanity offers us a post entitled, So Is This What Berger Was Hiding?   She leads off her post proposing that "this news story makes everything clear, doesn't it?"

The news story is a Newsday account of French intelligence warnings of an impending hijacking prior to 9-11:

Dr. Sanity quotes the article selectively:

France's foreign intelligence service learned as early as January 2001 that al-Qaida was preparing a hijacking plot likely to involve a U.S. airplane, former intelligence officials said Monday, confirming a report that also said the CIA received the warning.

Le Monde newspaper said it had obtained 328 pages of classified documents on Osama bin Laden's terror network that were drawn up by the French spy service, the DGSE, between July 2000 and October 2001. The documents included a Jan. 5, 2001, intelligence report warning that al-Qaida was at work on a hijacking plot.

But here is what the Newsday article actually said.  Pay particular attention to the second paragraph omitted by Dr. Sanity:

PARIS -- Nine months before al-Qaida slammed airliners into the World Trade Center, French intelligence suspected the terror network was plotting a hijacking -- possibly involving a U.S. airline -- and warned the CIA, former French intelligence officials said Monday.

But the French warning hinted at a plot in Europe, not the United States, and there was no suggestion of suicide attacks or multiple planes. One former official said al-Qaida may have leaked misinformation to divert intelligence agencies from the bigger, deadlier plot to come on Sept. 11, 2001.

The article also said:

The warning was another example of how intelligence agents sensed al-Qaida was hard at work in the months leading up to Sept. 11 but were unable to piece together fragmented warnings into a coherent plot.

and,

Details were vague.... 'It wasn't about a specific airline or a specific day, it was not a precise plot,' Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, the former chief of staff for the agency's director, told The Associated Press. 'It was a note that said, 'They are preparing a plot to hijack an airplane, and they have cited several companies.'

This report hardly incriminates the Clinton administration, but Dr. Sanity's post underscores the degenerating condition of the right which has been reduced to defense by inane distraction from the mess in Iraq caused by Bush administration duplicity and incompetence.

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April 11, 2007

We Never Said Saddam Was Connected To 9-11

Here's Cheney doing his impression of a weasel for Rush Limbaugh:

"He [Zarqawi] took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq, organized the Al Qaeda operations inside Iraq before we even arrived on the scene and then, of course, led the charge for Iraq until we killed him last June," Cheney told radio host Rush Limbaugh during an interview. "As I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq."

Did he say that Zarqawi "led the charge for Iraq?"  Gee, that clumsy verbal slight of hand almost creates the false impression that Zarqawi was leading the Iraqi nation or that he replaced Saddam. That would be kind of like suggesting Al Qaeda and Saddam were in league with one another and we know the administration never meant to suggest such a thing.

It certainly takes gall for this grimacing windbag to spout variations on the same lines that he used to promote his now thoroughly discredited vision for Iraq. Maybe he's just trying to see how low he can push Bush's approval ratings.

It's no wonder Poppy Bush, the one who accomplished his mission in Iraq, can't stand Cheney.

H/T: to one of my readers

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Imus

Imus_2

Click photo to view full-size.

I've got a few thoughts about this.  I'll get to them in a future post. The direction I'm considering is the role of splitting in racism and the necessity for apologies and forgiveness, both for personal and social transformation.

Suggested reading for now (unfortunately, only the abstract is available online for free).

April 09, 2007

Is the Bush Administration Persecuting Political Opponents?

Over the line, Smokey has an excellent post reviewing evidence that Bush administration critics are being harassed in the name of homeland security.  I don't agree with everything OtLS writes, but he is a very thoughtful observer of political events (generally, with a leftward tilt) and this is a cautious analysis of the sort we rarely see from the hysterical right side of the blog world.

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The Right Likes Pomo After All

One of the more peculiar defenses of Bush policy to have emerged of late goes like this:

'Yes, it turned out that we were wrong about everything, but our beliefs were reasonable which is really the same as being right."  The defense continues, "Accordingly, we remain 100% behind Bush and continue to be certain about the rightness of our position on Iraq."

This defense surfaces most often among segments of the right who ridiculed anyone who even raised the possibility that their rosy pre-war predictions for Iraq were not 100% on target.  One of the more galling aspects of the defense is the suggestion that 'everyone' believed that the Iraqis had WMD, therefore being wrong about WMD doesn't count as a real mistake.

That suggestion, however, represents a particularly shameless rewrite of history.  Substantial doubts about WMD were raised before the invasion.  Those who voiced doubts were variously branded by the right as idiots, crazy libs, post-modernist loons and traitors.

It turns out those idiots and traitors were right, not just about WMD, but about the ancient tribal rivalries that would undermine American attempts to unify Iraq as a peaceful, democratic society.

At a time when the right is finding solace in pomo-like defenses, we must try to remember that being right about Iraq is actually much more right than 'could have been right' will ever be, but that is not the point.  The point is that the forces of political certainty don't seem chastened in the least as they continue to brand anyone who disagrees as insane, America haters.

_____________________________________________

Sadly, No! skewers RedState's A Mistake Reconsidered, a right-wing, Iraq apologia. Some highlights follow:

We seem to have discovered a new stage in the traditional Kübler-Ross process:

1. Denial: “The media doesn’t show the good news in Iraq.”

2. Anger: “The treasonous far-left-liberals and their media lapdogs are making us lose in Iraq.”

3. Bargaining: “If we send x-thousand more troops to Iraq, victory will be ours.”

4. Depression: “Did you catch 300 yet? [munch-munch-burp] God, it made me hate liberals even more. [channels flipping] They wouldn’t last a day in ancient Sparta.”

5. Advanced Literary Theory: “The hegemonic binary of ’success’ and ‘failure’ traumatizes the (re)interpretive possibilities of an ethos of jouissance regarding the War in Iraq.”

Not to be phallogocentric here or anything, but we have to go with the non-fancy everyday definition of ‘mistake,’ meaning when you try to do something, like for instance apply aftershave to your face while your date waits in the hallway, but perform an action which thwarts your desired ends, like for instance mixing up your bottle of aftershave with the bottle of bobcat urine you bought to keep the deer out of the herb garden.

Maybe somebody could be all like, “But nobody knew it was bobcat urine, so how is that a mistake? How was it obvious that there was ever a correct set of decisions to be made, if nobody reasonably considered the chance of covering themselves with bobcat urine?

Dude smells of cat pee. That’s all I’m saying.

Read the this very funny post in its entirety here.

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Photo Of The Day: Opening Day with Richard Nixon

Playball_1969_2

Richard Nixon, April 7, 1969. Ralph Houk(?), right, in Yankees cap.  Click photo to view full-size.

Nixon throws out first ball on opening day:  Washington Senators vs. NY Yankees in D.C.

Final:  Senators 4, Yankees 8

Senators Finished season .531

Washington Senators 1969 salaries:

Lee Maye  $22,000.00
Dennis Higgins  $19,000.00
Tim Cullen  $18,000.00
Dave Baldwin  $14,000.00
Cisco Carlos  $10,000.00
Jim Shellenback  $8,500.00

United States Senators 1969 salaries:

Raised from $30,000 to $42,500 in 1969

Average MLB Player Salary 2006: $2,866,544.00

United State Senator Salary 2006:  $165,200.00

Career earnings (salary only) through end of 2006:

Barry Bonds: $172,711,352.00

A 1961 expansion club that replaced the original Washington Nationals/Senators (now Minnesota Twins), the Senators became the Texas Rangers in 1971 (George Bush, Managing General Partner, 1989-1994).

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April 06, 2007

Bush's Words: RNC 2000 Revisited

A thing to behold:

Rnc2000

Click image to open video window.

To embed this video, go here (copy code right of screen).

More On Malkin, Oaths and Pledges

(Michelle Malkin Needs A Sturdy Cage)

If Wikipedia can be trusted on this subject, the original Pledge of Allegiance was written for children, by a socialist, as part of an advertising campaign for a private business selling flags.  The author believed that the value of the pledge was that it taught obedience to the state.  The author considered using the words "equality" and "fraternity" in the pledge but decided they were too controversial since many people opposed equality for blacks and women.

April 04, 2007

Bad Wishes

The right wing frequently accuses the left of hoping for American defeat in Iraq.  Though many on the left might be loathe to admit it, I believe that the criticism holds water in some, if not many, cases.  The wish to be right, the wish to demonize and prove the opponent wrong, can be so strong for some that they can actually hope that bad circumstances remain bad or get worse if only to vindicate themselves.  None of this is to say that those of us who oppose continuing involvement in Iraq should yield in our opposition, but merely that decency should not permit us to hope for the failure of the U.S. forces.

All of this came to mind as I read a post by Shrinkwrapped today.  Shrinwrapped is a relentless hawk who has shown a mighty gusto for war with Arabs and Persians.  I could be wrong, but I wondered if he found some welcome reassurance in the continuing imprisonment of 15 British sailors in Iran.  Referring to the 'hostage drama, redux,' he alluded to the 444-day-long 1979 -1981 hostage crisis when Iran-hatred reached its popular zenith in America and bumper stickers urged the administration to 'Nuke Iran.'  Ah, for the good old days.

Since he posted, the Iranians announced that all of the sailors will be released very shortly.  The sailors, who do not appear to have been tortured, spent 13 days in captivity.  The ordeal must have been a terrible one for them.

I wish those on the right who were genuinely concerned about the fate of those sailors would show as much concern for those who have been wrongfully imprisoned in Iraq, those who have been illegally kidnapped and rendered to torturers by the US government (some of them, it turns out, had done nothing wrong), and those held without trials in Guantanamo.  It is beneath us to permit our government to engage in behavior that makes the Tehran leadership look civilized by nefarious comparison.

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April 02, 2007

Michelle Malkin's Oath And Karl 'No-oath' Rove

Some in the right wing blogosphere are vigorously defending the John Doe oath, insisting that without oaths we we would all just simply abandon the commitment to goodness.

In the meantime, President Bush still believes that oaths are unnecessary to a search for the truth.

I wish they'd figure out where they stand.

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Michelle Malkin Needs A Sturdy Cage

Michelle Malkin strikes me as the kind of person who finds sentimental loyalty oaths attractive.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  As long as oaths don't become fuel for paranoid hate, they can be helpful for people whose underlying moral character is insufficiently stable and well-developed.  Oaths of commitment to higher ideals are social carrots that complement the legal sticks that many people seem to require in order to behave like civilized human beings.  Working in tandem, laws supported by oaths can function like reinforced bars on a cage holding a wild animal.

A tiger in a cage can be quite docile even with human beings standing in sight just a few feet away.  Similarly, restrictions on bad behavior and incentives for good behavior can be reassuring to those whose internal worlds leave them one large-scale social crisis away from savagery.

Oaths can be great for kids who are in the process of developing mature, durable ideals.  Many grown-ups also continue to require oaths to point them toward good behavior.  But, it is troubling when oaths turn from pledging allegiance to a nation's highest ideals, to paranoid oaths accompanied by the expectation that being a good person requires one to become suspicious and hateful.  When that happens, oaths cease to promote idealism and fail to support the bars on the legal cage many require to keep their impulses under control.  Instead, they become taunts that incline the animals to charge the bars, turn on the keeper and attack indiscriminately.

H/T: Blue Girl, Red State

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Sympathy For The Other

""Any person who has been involved in a cause, and pity the person who has not, knows the pressures that political ardor puts on intellectual honesty. When one’s universe is separated into sides, and one has chosen among the sides, the surest signs of intellectual honesty are expressions of sympathy for one’s other and antipathy for one’s own. 'Once Upon a Country' is not only a celebration of Palestinian national life, it is also a criticism of it — a ferocious criticism. Nusseibeh despises its maximalist hallucinations, and prefers to emphasize 'the liberation of the human being” over 'a return to the seized lands of the past.' "

From