Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fly me to the moon

From Scientific American

On the Saturnian moon Enceladus, jets of powdery snow and water vapor, laden with organic compounds, vent from the “tiger stripes,” warm gashes in the surface. How can a body just over 500 kilometers across sustain such vigorous activity?

The answer may be the presence of underground fluids, perhaps a sea, which would increase the efficiency of heating by tidal effects. Support for this idea has come from recent flybys.

If Enceladus has liquid water, it joins Mars and Jupiter’s moon Europa as one of the prime places in the solar system to look for extraterrestrial life.
There's much more in the full length article about Endeladus at the link.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

More on Bellamy's confusions

While I had pointed out that David Bellamy's scientific assertions were b.s. I didn't really look into his claims about his being silenced because of his dissent on global warming (although I was skeptical.) Deltoid points out that Bellamy's victimization assertion is bogus, too.

Bellamy had implied that since 1996 he was being denied tv appearances and programs because of an article he wrote on global warming - but that paper didn't come out until 2004, and Bellamy believed in global warming at least until 2001! Also, while Bellamy is now attributing his status to his views on AGW and windfarms, he had previously in 2002 attributed it to his opposition to the election of John Major.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Why he became an atheist

When I first noticed the "Atheism" subsection of the Philosophy section at the local Barnes and Noble one of the first books in the section that caught my attention was Why I Became an Atheist by John Loftus. It jumped out at me because I recognized Loftus from the blog roll of The Secular Outpost.

I haven’t yet read the book but am pleased to see that an outline of the book’s argument – "Why I Am Not a Christian" - is now available at the Secular Web’s modern library. It is fairly comprehensive (while still being concise) and is written from the perspective of a former Christian believer who now finds the evidence for and idea of a God lacking. As Loftus puts it

From all of this [examination of claims of the Bible] I conclude that Christianity is a delusion that should be rejected. More specifically, Christianity makes a very large truth claim that cannot be reasonably defended on the basis of the available evidence. In addition, I describe why I am an atheist and what it means to live life without God. My entire case is a fairly comprehensive one, a complete case, from start to finish, from a former insider to the Christian faith.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

What about this media bias?

From the Center for Media and Democracy

"Dan Abrams, the chief legal correspondent for NBC News who recently lost his prime-time cable news show, is forming a consulting firm that he hopes will connect a global Rolodex of media experts with businesses that need strategic advice," reports Brian Stelter. "The firm, Abrams Research, may resemble a narrowly focused version of 'expert network' firms that connect investors to industry experts. Journalists and bloggers retained and paid by the firm could consult with corporations, conduct media training sessions, or conduct investigative reporting for corporate clients." Abrams Research says it has also "established strategic partnerships with major PR and media strategy firms" including Dan Klores Communications and the Abernathy MacGregor Group. As Alan Murray of the Wall Street Journal points out, "This is about as clear a violation of our conflict of interest rules as I can imagine. Journalists shouldn't be advising companies about how to game their own organization." Similar concerns have been expressed by journalists at CBS News and others. However, NBC seems to think that Abrams can continue to work as both a professional flack and as one of their journalists. "NBC News could not have been more accommodating throughout this process," he told TVNewser, adding that he would be "staying on as the Chief Legal Analyst for NBC News and hope to remain with NBC for many years to come."
If you check the comments there, you'll notice that Dan Abrams was not pleased by this posting and wanted CMD to correct the "errors" they'd reported. A somewhat heated exchange then ensues between Abrams and CMD's Sheldon Rampton. As I observed in the comments over there, I find it somewhat troubling that one of the former higher ups at a major news network doesn't see anything wrong with creating a revolving door between journalism and corporate public relations, nor with farming out journalists to corporate customers.

For more on why this is a problem, see The Elements of Journalism (which I consider essential reading for every citizen.)

Hearing the ghost of Tom Joad

Jeffrey Feldman reflects about how The Grapes of Wrath informs his views in these times of economic troubles this Thanksgiving.

Like Tom Joad returning to his home only to find his family gone and the house half covered by the encroaching rows of cotton, each of us this Thanksgiving will find something at home that we did not expect. We will find people in our lives who are facing fears that they never expected and that they feel illequiped to affront. At home this year, in this time of economic upheaval, we will find our communities not quite as they were, people not in the places they should be.

If you are like me, you might stand on the shoulders of someone who has seen these changes long before us, and share what you find with loved ones nearby. In a time about to be worn thin by some kind of storm--not of dust, but of something just as destructive--we should remember the value not just of gathering together, but of listening to the voices around us and of reaching out to those facing down the struggle for fundamental needs.

"The Ghost of Tom Joad" covered by Rage Against the Machine. Bruce Springsteen did the original version.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Quote of the day

"Let the human mind loose. It must be loose. It will be loose. Superstition and dogmatism cannot confine it" - John Adams, letter to John Quincy Adams (Nov. 13, 1816)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When ideology rots a brain

"The fact is that man-made global warming is a hoax. At some time you are going to have to understand that this is all a leftist scheme to destroy capitalism and capitalist economies." - Neal Boortz

Boortz's latest idiotic rant about the global warming "hoax" was inspired by a letter written by the botanist David Bellamy whom Boortz asserts can't find employment since he began expressing disbelief in anthropogenic warming. Bellamy writes

According to official data, in every year since 1998, world temperatures have been getting colder, and in 2002 Arctic ice actually increased. Why, then, do we not hear about that?
Um, because these are bullshit claims? Gristmill gives a response to the common denier myth about the world cooling since '98; the second claim is even worse, from what I can tell Bellamy is confusing another common denier argument about ice increasing in the Antarctic - not the Arctic (which is not increasing - there was actually a record low of arctic sea ice in 2002!). See here for a response to that argument.

If Boortz bothered to look, he would see that Bellamy has a history of promoting b.s. claims. Maybe Bellamy's declining standing in the scientific community has some correlation with the stupidity of his claims?

My favorite intro to a tv show I didn't like

This is the intro/theme song - "Faith of the Heart" by Russell Watson - of Star Trek Enterprise

Friday, November 21, 2008

"You can hammer ..."

From Fuzzy Memories by Jack Handey

Dad asked me to stop hammering, but first I got a couple more hammers in, and this seemed to make Dad mad. "I said, stop hammering!" he yelled.

I think he felt bad for yelling at me, especially since it looked like he had bad news. "Look," he said, "you can hammer later, but first-"

Well, I didn't even wait to hear the rest. As soon as I heard, "You can hammer," that's what I started doing. Hammering away, happy as an old hammer dog.
From Media Matters

During the November 13 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Mark Levin cited a recent study (subscription required) predicting that an ice age will occur in the next 10,000 to 100,000 years as purported evidence that humans should not "try and control carbon dioxide" emissions that contribute to global climate change. But Levin did not mention that the study's co-author reportedly warned against using the study to argue that "we should stop fighting warming" and stated: "There's no excuse for saying 'we've got to keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.' "

During the segment, Levin read portions of a November 13 London Daily Mail article about the study, which appeared in the weekly journal Nature. In particular, Levin read the following sentence from the Daily Mail article: "Lead author Thomas Crowley from the University of Edinburgh and Canadian colleague William Hyde say that currently vilified greenhouse gases -- such as carbon dioxide -- could actually be the key to averting the chill." Levin then stated: "So, according to these two scientists, we're heading into a global chill, maybe an age of an ice age, and we're gonna try and control carbon dioxide, which is the answer to global cooling. Why the hell don't we just try and leave it alone?" Earlier, after reading the portion of the Daily Mail article that reported "the experts blame the global change on falling -- rather than climbing -- levels of greenhouse gases," Levin asserted: "Well, ladies and gentlemen, without carbon dioxide, we croak. There can be no plant life, and if there's no plant life, there's no oxygen. ... On top of that, without greenhouse gases, the Earth freezes. We should be on our knees every day praying to God, 'Thank you for carbon dioxide.' "

However, Levin did not read the following portions of the Daily Mail article in which study co-author Professor Thomas Crowley explicitly warned against using his study to dismiss the threat posed by global warming:

Professor Crowley said the stark findings do not mean we should stop fighting warming.

But he urged: "Don't push the panic button."

"There's no excuse for saying 'we've got to keep pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,' " he told Reuters.

"Geologically it's tomorrow, but we have lots of time to argue about the appropriate level of greenhouse gases."
And here's Crowley before the study was released

"Climate skeptics could look at this and say, CO2 is good for us," said study leader Thomas Crowley of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

But the idea that global warming may be staving off an ice age is "not cause for relaxing, because we're actually moving into a highly unusual climate state," Crowley added.

However, Crowley's model, published today in Nature, is not likely to come true. Along came humanity and, to be more precise, the Industrial Age. Our greenhouse gas emissions, he said, are more than enough to alter the Earth's once-frigid destiny.

What's so bad about that?

We're putting so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, said Crowley, that the planet's climate isn't simply veering from a curve: it's departing at right angles.

Flooding coastal regions and risking drought across much of Earth's surface "does not seem like the normal thing a society would do for self-preservation," he said. "We're creating a situation at least as dangerous, only going in the opposite direction."
Yet here's what Newsmax got out of that

According to the Nov. 13 issue of Britain's Daily Mail, scientists claim we are actually heading towards a new global ice age.
Update: It's also interesting to note how Levin and like-minded individuals wave their hands at the strong scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming but take a single study yet to be corroborated by other researchers that they incorrectly perceive to be saying that global warming isn't happening and they take that to be conclusive.


From the Washington Post

Maryland State Police labeled members of a Montgomery County environmental group as terrorists and extremists days after they held a nonviolent protest at an appearance by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. at a Bethesda high school.

Police files released to the activists reveal that the governor's security detail alerted the state police's Homeland Security and Intelligence Division to what troopers guarding Ehrlich described as "aggressive protesting" by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in 2005.

A review by The Washington Post of those and other files given in recent days to many of the 53 Maryland activists who were wrongly labeled as terrorists in state and federal databases shows an intelligence operation eager to collect information on the protest plans of a broad swath of nonviolent groups from 2005 to at least early 2007.

Those groups included not only death penalty and Iraq war protesters who were spied on by undercover troopers in a 2005-06 surveillance operation exposed in July, but also those who opposed abortion, the manufacture of cluster munitions, globalization and the government's expansion of biodefense research at Fort Detrick.
Note that anti-abortion activists were identified as "terrorists" and spied on, in violation of their Constitutionally guaranteed liberties and recall this

While conservative movement figures are busy being reminded of Hitler and Nazis by Barack Obama and the ominous figure of Dennis Kucinich, police and the FBI have been targeting leftist groups that are planning or may be planning to protest the Republican National Convention in St. Paul for armed police raids and detentions.

But heck, these folks must have deserved it right? They must have ... why else would they be targeted? That's what Lady of Liberty (and concentration camps) Michelle Malkin thinks when the government spies on peaceful leftist groups - that if any "leftist" does something wrong then every "leftist" can justifiably be made the target of surveillance. Of course, if an Obama administration were to start targeting Michelle Malkin for surveillance because of her opposition to abortion on the grounds that some abortion opponents bomb family planning clinics she'd understand, I'm sure. Principles are what Malkin and friends are about, after all.
See, this is one of the things that I find so irritating about Malkin, Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter et al. Opposition to unchecked surveillance and a "unitary executive" which is not bound by law is not about being anti-American or anti-Bush or partisan or anything else: it's about protecting the rights and liberties of American citizens. Period.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Knowing versus believing

"And I know that the Endangered Species Act is a tangled web that doesn’t actually help support any species, including our own..." - Dana Perino

No, that isn't what you know. That's what you believe. As Think Progress notes, the ESA has saved several species, including the Bald Eagle.

Perino "knows" the ESA doesn't support species the same way creationists "know" the earth is 6,000 years old.

The death of a AGW denialist myth

From Dispatches from the Culture Wars

One of the familiar refrains from the right on global warming goes something like this: "In the 1970s, those stupid scientists actually said the earth was cooling. Now suddenly they're saying the earth is warning. Ha ha! Those damn liberal pointy headed intellectuals (insert words like "socialist" and "communist" here) don't have any idea what they're talking about. Only Real Americans like Joe the Plumber who have never read a single scientific study on the subject know the Real Truth."

A new survey of the literature in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society by Thomas Peterson, William Connolley, and John Fleck pretty much shreds this ridiculous myth, finding that in fact very few climate scientists in the 70s thought there was any cooling on the way (and those that did think that were working with limited data that has been rendered obsolete by new technology).
Of course, this isn't exactly news to those in the know.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Baleful quote of the day

"Look, I think there is a gay and secular fascism in this country that wants to impose its will on the rest of us, is prepared to use violence, to use harassment. I think it is prepared to use the government if it can get control of it. I think that it is a very dangerous threat to anybody who believes in traditional religion. And I think if you believe in historic Christianity, you have to confront the fact. And, frank -- for that matter, if you believe in the historic version of Islam or the historic version of Judaism, you have to confront the reality that these secular extremists are determined to impose on you acceptance of a series of values that are antithetical, they're the opposite, of what you're taught in Sunday school." - Newt Gingrich

Let's see, demonizing a minority as a violent extremist threat to "traditional" American values, i.e. Christian nationalism; redefining equal rights as fascism "impos[ing] its will" on "traditional" Americans, while simultaneously believing it not imposing their will to expect the government to impose their Sunday school beliefs on the rest of America.

As usual, in attacking "fascism" it is the authoritarian Gingrich himself who comes across sounding like a fascist. How much lower and absurd can Fox "News" go?

I'm not looking forward to the next 4 to 8 years of this sort of nonsense.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My latest library sale purchase

The Future of Life by E.O. Wilson, in hard cover for 1 dollar.

Quote of the day

"Joseph was rightfully no more a Slave to his Brethren, then they were to him: and they had no more Authority to Sell him, than they had to Slay him. And if they had nothing to do to Sell him; the Ishmaelites bargaining with them, and paying down Twenty pieces of Silver, could not make a Title. Neither could Potiphar have any better Interest in him than the Ishmaelites had. Gen. 37. 20, 27, 28. For he that shall in this case plead Alteration of Property, seems to have forfeited a great part of his own claim to Humanity. There is no proportion between Twenty Pieces of Silver, and LIBERTY." - Samuel Sewall, "The Selling of Joseph" (1700)

Sewall was one of the Puritan judges who took part in the infamous Salem witch trials and was the only judge involved who later recanted his participation. He was friendly towards Indians, apparently thinking them a lost tribe of Israel; and in the essay "The Selling of Joseph" he became one of the first colonists to lay out what would become standard abolitionist arguments against slavery.

For more on Sewall, see the fascinating entry on him in Head and Heart by Gary Wills.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Grayling and Hitchens discuss Among the Dead Cities

A couple of years ago I stated my intention to review A.C. Grayling's Among the Dead Cities, a book which examines the ethics of Allied civilian bombing during WWII. Unfortunately, I finished the book but never got around to writing a review, despite what I feel is the book's ongoing relevance to the current state of world affairs. Thankfully, however, I noticed that the the BookTV discussion of the book is hosted at - the talk is about two hours long and also features Christopher Hitchens who debates Grayling on the justification of bombing civilian targets during war. The bit below is a 15 minute sample clip, to watch the whole thing you can either click the preceding link or the "Watch Full Program" button on the video.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A bad science simile in a good science story

From Longitude by Dava Sobel

Time is to clock as mind is to brain. The clock or watch somehow contains the time. And yet time refuses to be bottled up like a genie stuffed in a lamp. Whether it flows as sand or turns on wheels within wheels, time escapes irretrievably, while we watch. Even when the bulbs of the hourglass shatter, when darkness witholds the shadow from the sundial, when the mainspring runs down so far that the clock hands hold still as death, time itself keeps on. The most we can hope a watch to do is to mark that progress.
The comparison of a watch/time to brain/mind is a bad one; and Sobel should have been able to tell that from what she has written here. Mind is an emergent phenomena of the brain, but time is not an emergent phenomena of the clock! When the brain ceases to function the mind does not continue on, when the watch breaks time does continue on because time is part of the structure of the universe.

Besides the analogy in the paragraph cited above* - which annoys me because it lends itself to promoting mind/body dualism - Longitude is an interesting and quick read about how a self-educated carpenter turned himself into the first person to design a clock and watch consistent, accurate, and durable enough to be taken to sea to be used to measure longitude (by comparing local time to the home port time kept by the clock/watch). In other words, John Harrison (1693 - 1776) was the first person to design a marine chronometer.

We take our ability to establish longitude today for granted, but Sobel recounts how difficult (and deadly) a problem it was as recently as the 18th century. To give an idea of the perception of the problem, Sobel points out that at the time that Britian's Parliament passed a Longitude Act of 1714 to reward prize money to anyone who could solve the problem, "the concept of 'discovering the longitude' became a synonym for attempting the impossible." For example, in Jon Swift's Gulliver's Travels, the title character when looking forward to what he could witness were he an immortal lists " the discovery of the longitude, the perpetual motion, the universal medicine, and many other great inventions brought to the utmost perfection."

Harrison spent his whole adult life working, apparently single-mindedly, on winning the Longitude Act prize. Despite eventually receiving the amount of prize money the act offered, he was never declared the winner, and that seems to be because leading members of the scientific community in charge of deciding the winner were biased towards finding an astronomical solution.

*Blogger's Note - I was expecting someone to call me on my use of simile as opposed to analogy, having rationalized the usage because I wanted to have alliteration in the post title. Since posting this I decided to compromise with myself and replace "simile" with "analogy" in this sentence.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Perhaps the creepiest commercial I've ever seen

A promising development

I noticed a month or so ago that the local Barnes & Noble had added an "Atheism" shelf to its Philosophy section. Given that I'm situated deep in the heart of the Bible Belt I was pleased to see atheism getting some fair representation in the store, hopefully reflective of a growing interest in the subject.

Now if only they'd start carrying Michael Martin's Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, which I feel should be standard in such a section.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quote of the day

"Anytime someone starts talking about 'Western science' in contrast to 'Eastern science' or some other putative science, the alarm bells start to ring. There is only science. There may be personal approaches, or flavors, to doing, thinking about, expressing, and reporting science, but there can be only science. It is not Western, not Eastern, not African, not northern Eureopean, neither male nor female, not socialist, nor communist, nor borgeois, nor proletarian; science transcends all ethnic, racial, religious, economic, and philosophical strife that so divides our modern world. As such, science becomes an archetype that has the potential to heal our painful rifts of diversity." - William Dress, letter to the Jan./Feb. 1996 issue of Skeptical Inquirer

The letter was written in response to Martin Gardner's Sept./Oct. 1995 "Notes of a Fringe Watcher" column on fuzzy logic in Skeptical Inquirer, which was collected in Gardner's book Weird Water & Fuzzy Logic.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

South Park on Mormonism

The entire episode can be viewed here. The ending isn't quite what you'd expect from the last clip above .. Stan's Mormon friend Gary gets the last word.

Limbaugh tricks people into voting against their interests

A few days ago someone mentioned to me that his relatives in South Carolina feared an Obama presidency because they think that Democrats are going to seize their 401(k) retirement plans. I shook my head in dismay, knowing that those persons had been bamboozled by the Republican Noise Machine.

Today I see that Rush Limbaugh is the culprit.

The LAT ... offers this fact-check

In a time when the nation calls out for cool leadership and rational discussion, Limbaugh stirs the caldron, a tendency he proved in a particularly grotesque way last week when he accused Obama’s party of plotting a government takeover of 401(k) retirement plans.

“They’re going to take your 401(k), put it in the Social Security trust fund, whatever the hell that is,” Limbaugh woofed. “Trust fund, my rear end.”

A slight problem with Limbaugh’s report: Obama and the Democrats have proposed no such thing.

The proposal, in fact, emanated from a single economist, one of many experts testifying to a congressional committee.
The Times article also notes Hannity's efforts to misinform his audience

Hannity and Limbaugh filleted Obama's selection as chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, in a way that exposed their partisan gamesmanship.

Mainstream newspapers have filed plenty of unflinching accounts of Emanuel's tough, occasionally ruthless tactics as a Democratic congressional leader and onetime operative in the Clinton White House. That assessment of bare-knuckle partisanship Hannity seized on. But it wouldn't do to report another aspect of Emanuel's record -- his Clintonesque bent for the political center.

So the Fox-man simply created a new persona for Emanuel as, you guessed it, "one of the hardest left-wing radicals on the left."
See, my disdain for Hannity and Limbaugh is not that Hannity and Limbaugh hold views I find repellent (which they do), so much as that they are relentless purveyors of lies and bullshit. What irritates me to no end is that they constantly tell their audience they are providing them with the truth that the "liberal media" won't provide them with, while in fact they are providing them with ignorance and ideological stupidity.

Update: Speaking of the Republican Noise Machine and disinformation, anti-ACLU idiocy from Bill O'Reilly and the Barbie O'Reilly (also see here).

In case the audience didn’t get it the first and second time (repetition is very important in propaganda), O’Reilly repeated, for the third time, “all right. Let's get this. Let's get this. So we want to say, there's no ACLU in Ohio helping Joe the plumber.”

Comment: If Bill and Jesse had bothered to check the Ohio ACLU website, they would have found several articles addressing this issue. On November 3rd, there was a piece entitled “Joe the Plumber” records search highlights the need for clear policy on use of personal information in government databases." On October 31st, the Executive Director of the Ohio ACLU issued a press statement which was entitled “Government snoops have no right to pry into newsmakers' personal information.” Christine Link begins the article by stating that “I was deeply disturbed to hear that state officials approved the use of government databases to obtain information about Joseph Wurzelbacher, also known as "Joe the Plumber.” It does not appear the “Joe” has filed any lawsuits and until such time, the ACLU would not be directly involved. But, clearly, they have articulated a concern that was ignored by Fox News which is only interested smearing those on the enemies list - and the ACLU is a favorite target. But when the intent is to smear, propaganda is more important than fact.
Since O'Reilly has written several books about how he's a "traditional" American who roots his American-ness in conservative Christianity, perhaps he should take note that by his own standards he is behaving in an anti-American fashion when he bears false witness against his "S-P" enemies.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The dying of the frogs

Via Discover

Amphibian species have been facing a steep decline for decades, in large part because of a fungus, climate change, and environment disruption. As many as one-third of the world’s 6,300 amphibian species are threatened with extinction, and researchers fear their loss could wreak havoc on our ecosystem and food webs. Here are landmark studies that have defined the problems and—we hope—will help humans to figure out how to save their froggy friends.
The studies are, obviously, at the link. We've already lost the Golden Toad.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Bill O'Reilly says gay rights are fascist

Last night on the O'Reily Factor - which unfortunately I can't find a transcript of - O'Reilly said that gay marriage in Massachusetts is fascism. Right, right ... as we all know, the courts finding rights for gays was the core of fascism, most especially in Nazi Germany.

Does O'Reilly speak some other language where he hears something different than we hear when he says stuff like this? If so, he's not the only one that speaks the language.

Focus on the Family has not so far posted this hateful fundraising letter on the web. Here is the opening section of the letter:

Dear Friend,

The spirit of Winston Churchill was alive and well on Tuesday night at Focus on the Family Action headquarters.

You may recall that in the most desperate days of World War II – when Great Britain was being pounded daily by Hitler’s Luftwaffe – that Winston Churchill called on his countrymen not to despair from danger but to rise to the challenge.
It goes on in exactly the same vein, saying that:

Our nation has never faced the kind of anti-family, pro-abortion assault that we’re likely to see in the coming weeks and months. We don’t have to guess what the Left will do now that they control Congress and the White House; they’ve told us.
What are FoF so upset about? Freedom of choice, freedom of marriage and legislation to combat discrimination against gays in the workplace. The last, according to FoF, will be an assault on FoF members' religious freedom. Nice of them to state so clearly that theirs is a path of bigotry.
Maybe they should read some Fritz Stern so that they can get an understanding of what fascism actually was.

In November 2005, Fritz Stern received an award for his life’s work on Germans, Jews and the roots of National Socialism, presented to him by Joschka Fischer, then the German foreign minister. With a frankness that startled some in the audience, Stern, an emeritus professor of European history at Columbia University, peppered his acceptance speech with the similarities he saw between the path taken by Germany in the years leading up to Hitler and the path being taken by the United States today. He talked about a group of 1920’s intellectuals known as the “conservative revolutionaries,” who “denounced liberalism as the greatest, most invidious threat, and attacked it for its tolerance, rationality and cosmopolitan culture,” and about how Hitler had used religion to appeal to the German public. In Hitler’s first radio address after becoming chancellor, Stern noted, he declared that the Nazis regarded “Christianity as the foundation of our national morality and the family as the basis of national life.”

Stern was of course not suggesting an equivalence between President Bush and Hitler but rather making a more subtle critique, extending his idea that contemporary American politics exhibited “something like the strident militancy and political ineptitude of the Kaiser’s pre-1914 imperial Germany.” At 80, Stern has just published a sprawling memoir, “Five Germanys I Have Known,” and as with that speech, he does not file away his experiences of Nazism in a geographical or temporal box.
Also see here for an essay Stern adapted from the alluded to speech.

Anti-racism as racism: more Clear Channel hate radio

Via Media Matters

From the November 6 broadcast of Clear Channel's The War Room with Quinn & Rose:

QUINN: This is by Frances Rice. You can Google this in Just Google "Frances Rice," a black historian. Frances Rice says, "It should come as no surprise that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican. In that era, almost all black Americans were Republicans. Why? Well, from its founding in 1854 as the anti-slavery party until today, the Republican Party has championed freedom and civil rights for blacks." Gee, you'd never know that walking through the hallways of a school today or listening to the media. "And as one pundit so succinctly stated, the Democratic Party is, as it always has been, the party of the four S's: slavery, secession, segregation, and now, socialism."

You know, I was thinking about this. You know, if you were a slave in the old South, what did you get as a slave? You got free room and board, you got free money, and you got rewarded for having children because that was just, you know, tomorrow's slave. So, you got a free house, you got free money, and you got rewarded for having children. Can I ask a question? How's that different from welfare? You get a free house, you get free food, and you get rewarded for having children. Oh, wait a minute, hold on a second. There is a difference: The slave had to work for it.
Rick Perlstein has previously addressed the conservative movement's somewhat Orwellian attempts to characterize the anti-war, anti-poverty, anti-inequality Martin Luther King Jr. as one of them despite King having been antithetical to historical conservatism. (h/t Orcinus)

When Martin Luther King was buried in Atlanta, the live television coverage lasted seven and a half hours. President Johnson announced a national day of mourning: "Together, a nation united and a nation caring and a nation concerned and a nation that thinks more of the nation's interests than we do of any individual self-interest or political interest--that nation can and shall and will overcome." Richard Nixon called King "a great leader--a man determined that the American Negro should win his rightful place alongside all others in our nation." Even one of King's most beastly political enemies, Mississippi Representative William Colmer, chairman of the House rules committee, honored the president's call to unity by terming the murder "a dastardly act."

Others demurred. South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond wrote his constituents, ”[W]e are now witnessing the whirlwind sowed years ago when some preachers and teachers began telling people that each man could be his own judge in his own case.” Another, even more prominent conservative said it was just the sort of “great tragedy that began when we began compromising with law and order, and people started choosing which laws they’d break.”

That was Ronald Reagan, the governor of California, arguing that King had it coming. King was the man who taught people they could choose which laws they’d break—in his soaring exegesis on St. Thomas Aquinas from that Birmingham jail in 1963: “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. ... Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.”

That’s not what you hear from conservatives today, of course. What you get now are convoluted and fantastical tributes arguing that, properly understood, Martin Luther King was actually one of them—or would have been, had he lived. But, if we are going to have a holiday to honor history, we might as well honor history. We might as well recover the true story. Conservatives—both Democrats and Republicans—hated King’s doctrines. Hating them was one of the litmus tests of conservatism.
Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg also addressed this subject in his Talking Right. "Once a symbol becomes part of the received moral vocabulary," writes Nunberg, "even those who originally avoided it try to co-opt it for their side, as the right has done with brazen audacity."

[T]he right's boldest use of this strategy has been in appropriating the language of the civil rights era. When the language first entered the received moral vocabulary, it signaled the triumph of liberal ideals of social justice in the face of conservative resistance and foot-dragging. Now the right has repurposed it to stoke resentments about race and religion, while liberals are left to thrash around for a new script.
Nunberg examines the use of color-blind as a case study of this tactic. While legal segregation was an issue the term was absent from the vocabulary of conservatives, but once the issue of segregation was settled and the debate refocused on steps toward addressing inequity color-blind entered the language of conservatives as a means of arguing against such steps. He continues:

Listening to conservatives talk about race, you're reminded of someone who discovers a collection of news clips from the 1950s and decides to run them all in reverse video. Newt Gingrich applauded the Chicago Bulls for the color-blindness in their win over the Utaz Jazz in the NBA playoffs by noting that in the closing moments, Michael Jordan didn't limit himself to black teammates in looking for an open man. "Jordan didn't look for nearest open black face," Gingrich said. "He looked for the nearest Chicago jersey. That happened to be Steve Kerr, who is white. This is the example for society to follow - a group of individuals so focused on a common goal of winning that they don't have to worry about what color the other guy is." The remark recalls Arthur Daley's 1949 comment about Jackie Robinson or the similar lines that were obligatory tropes of the "problem films" of the 1950s ... Except in Gingrich's version it's the black players who offer the model for color-blindness, in one of the few fields that blacks dominate. And in this version of the story, the implicit enemies of fairness aren't bigoted white fans or the stock racist sociopath ... They're the African Americans and their white liberal allies who have made "race consciousness" a pervasive feature of American life.

That's how conservatives have generally modified the rhetoric of the civil rights era, deploying it to defend the privileges of their strongest constituency, white male Americans. Their conversion experience to the language of civil rights came just in time to relieve them from having to change any of their positions. Read through Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom's America in Black and White or Dinesh D'Souza's The End of Racism, for example, and you find the same themes that conservatives were harping on in the 1950s and 1960s, though couched in different language. In outline, the story goes like this: blacks have made extraordinary economic and social progress and white racism is no longer an impediment to equality. If crushing disparities between blacks and whites continue to exist, they're chiefly the result of "black failure," "black cultural pathologies," or what D'Souza calls "civilizational differences" - black culture, he says, has a "repellent underside" that liberal antiracists are blinded to by their reflexive cultural relativism. Such discrimination as exists is rational, following from the same "logic or predictive evaluation" that might lead an employer to be unwilling to hire women,"who may get pregnant and leave."

Making allowances for changing times and language, that's pretty much what conservatives were saying forty and fifty years ago - at every turn, they applauded the decline of racism and the progress blacks had made, but warned that cultural differences between the races put integration and equality beyond the reach of government programs to achieve.*
Now take a look at this

The image above is the cover from one of the Regnery Politically Incorrect Guide to ... line of popular conservative movement books. This is the same conservative publisher that has brought us the work of a neo-Confederate (his Politically Incorrect Guide has a Confederate soldier on the cover) which was subsequently promoted by Sean Hannity of Fox News. So, uh, who is it again that is the party of segregation and slavery and secession? (Nevermind socialism - even using these type standards there is no party of socialism in America.**)

Update: Um, re-reading this post I noticed that I left out one of the key points that I meant to include - MARTIN LUTHER KING JR WAS NOT A REPUBLICAN.

In 1960, King was arrested for trespassing during a sit-in and held in Georgia's Reidsville prison. Fearing for his son's life, Martin Luther King Sr. appealed to presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to secure his release.

When King was freed, his father vowed to deliver 10 million votes to the Democrat, even though Kennedy was only a reluctant supporter of civil rights. That began four decades of black people voting for liberals.

The younger King voted for Kennedy, and for Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson four years later. In that election, King publicly denounced the Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater.
Besides the public criticism of Goldwater, King was a nonpartisan.

Update II [9-29-09]: Looking back at this post, I see that I forgot to mention something that I took for granted as so obviously absurd. The difference between slavery and welfare that most people would recognize is that slaves were victims of a form of oppression that denies a person his/her most basic and fundamental human rights, and, ultimately, that person's very humanity. But to Quinn, the difference is that people on welfare don't have to work for assistance like the slave did. Amazing how someone can claim to be denouncing slavery as he white-washs the horror of slavery while concomitantly playing to prejudicial sentiment.

*Nunberg also goes on to point out the selective use of King by conservatives, noting that they conveniently forget that he also called for "some compensatory consideration for the handicaps [the Negro] has inherited from the past."
**And where as Quinn is at leat correct that the Democratic Party has at previous times stood for slavery, segregation, and secession it has never stood for socialism.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What I got today at the library used book store

For a grand total of 3 dollars I got three good condition hardcovers:

The Republican Noise Machine: Right-Wing Media and How It Corrupts Democracy by David Brock - I've already most of this but for a dollar I don't mind having it on my bookshelf; or, more precisely, sitting on the floor in the already large stack of books (almost all discount buys) I have waiting to be put on the additional bookshelf that I need to purchase to accommodate them.

Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich by Kevin Phillips - I've been wanting to read this for sometime. This marks the 5th 6th book by Phillips that I've managed to get at a significant discount.

House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties by Craig Unger - I haven't heard much about this one, but I've read Unger's more recent book - The Fall of the House of Bush - and found it to be an excellent summary of the triumph and failure of neoconservative foreign policy in the Bush administration.

That ain't Breaking News!

Well, I now have confirmation that in addition to Fox and MSNBC, CNN also abuses the "Breaking News" chyron to sensationalize normal news programming. Yesterday I turned to Anderson Cooper to see this up on the screen:

Breaking News
Obama Makes History
Now Working on Transition to Power

Really? The president-elect is working on filling his administration and preparing to take office? Gee whiz! That sure is some "breaking news!" Look, your pre-scheduled topic of discussion on your show is not breaking news.

Someone tuning in a second later than I did would have been greeted by this chyron:

Breaking News
David Gergen
CNN Political Analyst

Followed by succesive "Breaking News" that the guests scheduled to appear on the program were on the program. My favorite was the schizophrenic chryon that was up while Paul Begala was talking ... it immediately switched through four of five third line titles (e.g. CNN Contributor, Former Clinton Advisor, etc.)

This seems like a pratice ripe for mockery on The Daily Show.

80s video of the day

"The Galaxy Song" from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (performed by Eric Idle).

The Wikipedia entry on the song has some background info and links about the quality of information in it.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Clear Channel finds employment of partisan lunatic profitable

Clear Channel

Clear Channel Communications is the number one radio station owner in the U.S. "Clear Channel owns, operates, programs, or sells airtime for nearly 1,200 radio stations; it also has equity interests in 240 international stations. Clear Channel owns a 90% stake in one of the world's largest outdoor advertising companies, Clear Channel Outdoor Holdings, with more than 910,000 display locations worldwide. In addition, Clear Channel owns or manages about 50 TV stations and sells spot advertising for more than 3,300 radio and TV stations through Katz Media.
We can thank the Telecommunications Act of 1996 for that.

Consolidation is particularly extreme in the case of Clear Channel. Since passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, Clear Channel has grown from 40 stations to 1,240 stations -- 30 times more than congressional regulation previously allowed. No potential competitor owns even one-quarter the number of Clear Channel stations. With over 100 million listeners, Clear Channel reaches over one-third of the U.S. population
And on one of those stations Clear Channel pays Bill Cunningham to spread his demented partisanship.

Much like Castro took over Cuba, Mao Zedong took over Red China, and the Communists took over Russia, Obama now is poised, according to many of my good friends on the left like Paul Mason and others, to seize power in America, and I hope to be a bloodless coup.
Right. When a Democrat wins a presidential election that's seizing power in a coup. This is flat out disgusting Newspeak, an attempt to destroy the democratic process by relabeling our peaceful procedure of changing our government by citizen vote as some sort of illigitimate theft of power by force (when a Democrat wins, that is.) Nevermind the absolutely ludicrous comparisons to the communists. And Hitler.

He goes out to his left-wing buddies in San Francisco and smears God, smears guns, smears everything great about this country. Then he comes to these rallies like bromides, like Adolf Hitler in 1933, and the faithful are shouting, "Yes we can, yes we can."
Oh, and let's not forget how this relates to Bill O'Reilly. O'Reilly is obsessed with telling people that if they associate with Daily Kos or Huffington Post they are promoting hate equivalent to the Nazis or KKK because his staff has managed to find handfuls of inappropriate comments at those sites from anonymous commenters. Meanwhile, Cunningham - someone who has said the despicable lie that "Obama wants to gas the Jews" - has previously appeared on Fox News to be greeted as "a great American" by Sean Hannity.

Besides voting out of office the people who condone and benefit from these spreaders of hate, one of the most important things that we can do to redemocratize our society is to re-establish media ownership regulations.

More "Breaking News" at Fox News

Ann Coulter
"If Democrats Had Any Brains"

Seen during an episode of Hannity and Colmes, while Ann Coulter was on screen talking about whatever the latest Obama attack was (I forget.) I have it written down like that, but I'm not sure if that was what actually appeared or I was short-handing the full title of her book If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans. Either way, as I said before, this is pretty pathetic.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Failing up

From The Dark Side by Jane Mayer

During this period prior September 11, inside the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, several FBI agents were on loan from the Bureau in a deliberate effort to foster bureaucratic synergy. Given the history of animosity and rivalry between th two departments it was jokingly referred to as "The Hostage Exchange Program." Doug Miller, one of these FBI agents on loan to the CIA, had access to what was called "bigoted" - meaning not shared - information on the CIA's Hercules computer system. There he saw the electronic communications mentioning that [9/11 hijacker] Hamzi had entered the United States. Twice, according to later investigations, he asked permission of his CIA supervisor to forward this disturbing information to his colleagues at the FBI. He wrote up a draft memo, to be sent to the FBI, and was ready to send it. But his boss, a CIA desk officer in the Bin Laden Unit of the Counterterrorist Center who is identified by the 9/11 Commission only as "Mike," and whose real name has never been revealed, stopped him from passing it on. After the second try, Miller dropped the matter. Oddly, three hours after "Mike" told Miller to hold off on sending the memo, formally known as a Central Intelligence Report, he nonetheless notified his bosses that the information had been shared with the FBI. The CIA assumed from then on that it had been. But it never was. The contradiction was never explained. An investigator with the 9/11 Commission who tried to sort through the details said of "Mike," "He said he couldn't remember what happened." Astonishingly, "Mike," the investigator later learned, was given a promotion by the Agency after September 11.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

McCain surrogate uses AM urban legend as argument

John Cole is correct, this is indicative of the complete intellectual rot of the Republican Party.

Did it ever occur to any of the fools circulating this nonsense that critics of extreme income inequality and the way that our tax policy concentrates wealth in the hands of a fewer and fewer people already feel that minimum wage workers are being left behind by our tax system? Or did they consider that there are individuals who may favor a portion of their taxes being used for welfare purposes yet still would not be amused by being short-changed as part of some asinine attempt to make an ideological joke?

Nevermind that no one believes that minimum wage workers should have their taxes increased to fund welfare programs, nor that Obama has made no such proposal.

Perhaps instead of letting trite anecdotes replace critical thought, they might bother reading Chapter 9 of Perfectly Legal (which can be read at that link.)