Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Preaching elimination

From The Anatomy of Fascism by Robert Paxton

If religious fascisms are possible, one must address the potential - supreme irony - for fascism in Israel. Israeli reactions to the first and second intifada have been mixed. Israeli national identity has been powerfully associated with an affirmation of the human rights that were long denied to Jews in the Diaspora. This democratic tradition forms a barrier against "giving up free institutions" in the fight against Palestinian nationalism. It has been weakened, however, by two trends - the inevitable hardening of attitudes in the face of Palestinian intransigence, and a shift of weight within the Israeli population away from European Jews, the principal bearers of the democratic tradition, in favor of Jews from North Africa and elsewhere in the Near East who are indifferent to it. The suicide bombings of the second intifada after 2001 radicalized even many Israeli democrats to the right. By 2002, it was possible to hear language within the right-wing of the Likud Party and some of the small religious parties that comes close to a functional equivalent to fascism. The chosen people begins to sound like a Master Race that claims a unique "mission in the world," demands its "vital space," demonizes an enemy that obstructs the realization of the people's destiny, and accepts the necessity of force to obtain these ends.
A few years ago I expressed concern over the Israeli military naming a military strike in Gaza "Operation Samson's Pillars," noting that this evokes some disturbing Biblical imagery that I guessed would likely not be reassuring to Palestinian civilians. Not least of which being the irony of the hero Samson engaging in an act that comes across as the Old Testament equivalent of a suicide bombing. That Israel considers its nuclear weapons the "Samson Option" isn't very reassuring, either. More generally, I objected to allusion to the tribal, Us vs. Them God of the Bible because:

The Old Testament God is a god of retributional violence, cruelty, and mass slaughter. Any mission paying homage to him is starting out on the wrong foot.
Now there may be further evidence of the democracy eroding effects of religious fundamentalism in Israel. Recent allegations have surfaced that in the latest IDF military operations in Gaza - which resulted in Palestinian deaths at a ratio of about 100 Palestinians killed for every one Israeli (estimated 1400 Palestinian deaths, 13 Israeli deaths) - fundamentalist rabbis were preaching to soldiers a military mission that sounds dangerously like Paxton's description of a functional fascism.

A soldier, identified by the pseudonym Ram, is quoted as saying that in Gaza, “the rabbinate brought in a lot of booklets and articles and their message was very clear: We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the non-Jews who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land. This was the main message, and the whole sense many soldiers had in this operation was of a religious war.”
The linked article goes on to note the increased presence in the military of religious nationalists, including "the military’s chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. Avichai Rontzki, who is himself a West Bank settler and who was very active during the war, spending most of it in the company of the troops in the field." After which he was "reprimanded" for distributing material that "contain[ed] a rabbinical edict against showing the enemy mercy." That's putting it nicely. The specific verse was from Book of Numbers, Chapter 31, Verses 13-18:

Moses, Eleazer the priest, and all the chieftains of the community came out to meet them outside the camp. Moses became angry with the commanders of the army, the officers of thousands and the officers of hundreds, who had come back from the military campaign. Moses said to them, "You have spared every female! Yet they are the very ones who, at the bidding of Balaam, induced the Israelites to trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, so that the Lord's community was struck by the plague. Now, therefore, slay every male among the children, and slay also every young woman who has known a man carnally; but spare every young woman who has not had carnal relations with a man."
Christopher Hitchens observes that this seems to be part of a campaign to create an army within the army which will be willing to disregard orders to disband the settlements which stand as one of the obstacles to a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and suggests that the United States make its continued support of the Israeli military conditional on putting a stop to the spread of extremism in the IDF.

Peering over the horrible pile of Palestinian civilian casualties that has immediately resulted, it's fairly easy to see where this is going in the medium-to-longer term. The zealot settlers and their clerical accomplices are establishing an army within the army so that one day, if it is ever decided to disband or evacuate the colonial settlements, there will be enough officers and soldiers, stiffened by enough rabbis and enough extremist sermons, to refuse to obey the order. Torah verses will also be found that make it permissible to murder secular Jews as well as Arabs. The dress rehearsals for this have already taken place, with the religious excuses given for Baruch Goldstein's rampage and the Talmudic evasions concerning the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Once considered highly extreme, such biblical exegeses are moving ever closer to the mainstream. It's high time the United States cut off any financial support for Israel that can be used even indirectly for settler activity, not just because such colonization constitutes a theft of another people's land but also because our Constitution absolutely forbids us to spend public money on the establishment of any religion.
Internal critics also note the seeming proto-fascist nature of the fundamentalists, with the first article I linked quoting an opponent of Rabbi Rontzki

The right tends to make an equation between authenticity and brutality, as if the idea of humanism were a Western and alien implant to Judaism,” he said.

“They seem not to know that nationalism and fascism are also Western ideas and that hypernationalism is not Jewish at all.”
The LA Times also covered this story, and provides more testimony

This rabbi comes to us and says the fight is between the children of light and the children of darkness," a reserve sergeant said, recalling a training camp encounter. "His message was clear: 'This is a war against an entire people, not against specific terrorists.' The whole thing was turned into something very religious and messianic."
In addition to commentary on the nature of the problem

But soldiers now going public with allegations of misconduct in Gaza portray the military rabbinate as a corps of self-appointed holy warriors whose sermons and writings demonized Palestinians.

"The army itself is a battleground of conflicting ideals in Israeli Jewish society," said Avi Sagi, a Bar-Ilan University philosophy professor who in the 1990s was a co-author of the military's code of ethics, which obliges soldiers to avoid killing innocents.

On one side, he said, are universal values that call for respecting all human life equally and are largely shared by Jews who seek accommodation with the Palestinians. On the other side are more nationalistic passages of the Torah, cited by religious thinkers who liken the Palestinians to Old Testament invaders and place a premium on Jewish life.
The LA Times goes on to write about a military doctrine adopted for the mission that sounds nakedly like a war crime

And after the 22-day operation, a Tel Aviv University philosophy professor with close ties to the military, Asa Kasher, said the decision to shell Gaza's cities stemmed from an anti-terrorism doctrine he had helped draft a few years ago. It stated that in Gaza, as in other areas the army does not control, there is no justification for endangering soldiers' lives in order to avoid killing civilians in the proximity of targeted militants.

That doctrine appears to be at odds with the military code, which obliges the army to avoid civilian casualties, and it was never formally adopted. However, it was echoed in religious terms in literature distributed in Gaza by military rabbis.

"Our ancestors did not always fight with a sword and at times preferred to use a bow and arrow from a distance," one text read.

"Actions must be taken from a distance in order to spare our soldiers' lives."
Human Rights Watch noted that these sort of attacks are indeed a violation of international law

Israel's use of heavy artillery in residential areas of Gaza City violates the prohibition under the laws of war against indiscriminate attacks and should be stopped immediately, Human Rights Watch said today. A Human Rights Watch researcher on the Israel-Gaza border on January 15, 2009, observed Israel's repeated use in the center of Gaza City of 155mm artillery shells, which inflict blast and fragmentation damage up to 300 meters away.
In addition to being a violation of international law, this is a morally indefensible practice. AC Grayling explained in Among the Dead Cities

[S]aving military lives by substituting civilian deaths for them is no different morally from a soldier on the battlefield using a civilian as a shield. Soldiers are contracted, trained and armed for battle, and although they are placed in danger, their commanders usually try to keep as many of them unharmed as possible, by appropriate tactics. Civilians are in a very different situation from soldiers. Many, whether or not in a minority, will not be willing parties to the war that affects them. Civilians also have many efforts made on their behalf to protect them, but the conditions of modern war - especially in respect of bombs and missiles from the air - place them in great hazard despite all that defence measures can do.
Now imagine this scenario: a sniper, let's say a black radical, is on top of a roof firing at white people in an American inner city. Its the 50s. The building is some sort of black community center usually filled with a couple hundred people. The sniper kills two people and the police respond by detonating the building, killing the couple of hundred people inside, in addition to the sniper. It later comes to light that the persons responsible for the choice to blow up the building belong to a church that preaches that black civil rights are a Satanic plot. Would anyone possibly consider the need to not risk police lives an acceptable justification for the mass casualties of civilians in this scenario?

I am not saying this is a direct parallel or anything of that sort, but am trying to draw out the underlying absurdity of the rationalization offered for what ends up being retributional violence being visited upon a population collectively.

More disturbing evidence of the radicalization of Israeli soldiers comes from a Haaretz report that some veterans have ordered t-shirts that appear to celebrate the Michael Reagan approach to peace.

Dead babies, mothers weeping on their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques - these are a few examples of the images Israel Defense Forces soldiers design these days to print on shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of field duty. The slogans accompanying the drawings are not exactly anemic either: A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription "Better use Durex," next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter's T-shirt from the Givati Brigade's Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, "1 shot, 2 kills." A "graduation" shirt for those who have completed another snipers course depicts a Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, "No matter how it begins, we'll put an end to it."
The Israeli military certainly put an end to the lives of the daughters of Palestinian peace activist and doctor Abu El-Eish who was told by the IDF that his home was a legitimate military target. He recounted the events to Democracy Now

We are standing in the scene of the tragedy, in the place where four lovely girls were sitting, building their dreams and their hopes, and in seconds, these dreams were killed. These flowers were dead. Three of my daughters and one niece were killed in one second on the 16th of January at a quarter to five p.m. Just a few seconds, I left them, and they stayed in the room—two daughters here, one daughter here, one daughter here, and my niece with them.

The first shell came from the tank space, which is there, came to shell two daughters who were sitting here on their chairs. And when I heard this shell, I came inside the room to find, to look. I can’t recognize my daughters. Their heads were cut off their bodies. They were separated from their bodies, and I can’t recognize whose body is this. They were drowning in a pool of blood. This is the pool of blood. Even look here. This is their brain. These are parts of their brain. Aya was lying on the ground. Shada was injured, and her eye is coming out. Her fingers were torn, just attached by a tag of skin. I felt disloved, out of space, screaming, “What can I do?”

They were not satisfied by the first shell and to leave my eldest daughter. But the second shell soon came to kill Aya, to injure my niece, who came down from the third floor, and to kill my eldest daughter Bessan, who was in the kitchen and came at that moment, screaming and jumping, “Dad! Dad! Aya is injured!”

The second shell, it penetrated the wall between this room to enter the other room. Look. This is the room with the weapons, where this room was fully equipped with weapons. These are the weapons which were in this room. These are the weapons. These are the weapons: the books and their clothes. These were the science handouts. There, you see, these are her handouts for the courses that she studies, which is stained with her blood. It’s mixed with her blood. These are the books. These are the weapons that I equipped my daughters with: with education, with knowledge, with dreams, with hopes, with loves.

I am a gynecologist who practiced most of my time in Israel. I was trained in Israel. And I devoted my life and my work for the benefit of humanity and well-being, to serve patients, not as someone else that you are delivering or helping choose. I am dealing with patients and human beings. We treat patients equally, with respect, with dignity, with privacy. Politicians and leaders should learn from doctors these values and these norms and to adopt them.

On his home being a legitimate target

You know, they said there were—they think there were snipers on the roof of my building. It’s important to say the truth, and the truth lies here: only innocent civilian girls were in this room and this building and this surrounding. Nothing else.
The assertion that such deaths are unfortunate but excusable because they were not intentional is one that I find to be seriously lacking. In his lengthy article on this matter, Noam Chomsky put it best

The claim that "our side" never targets civilians is familiar doctrine among those who monopolize the means of violence. And there is some truth to it. We do not generally try to kill particular civilians. Rather, we carry out murderous actions that we know will slaughter many civilians, but without specific intent to kill particular ones. In law, the routine practices might fall under the category of depraved indifference, but that is not an adequate designation for standard imperial practice and doctrine. It is more similar to walking down a street knowing that we might kill ants, but without intent to do so, because they rank so low that it just doesn't matter. The same is true when Israel carries out actions that it knows will kill the "grasshoppers" and "two-legged beasts" who happen to infest the lands it "liberates." There is no good term for this form of moral depravity, arguably worse than deliberate murder, and all too familiar.

More on O'Reilly's dishonesty

Commenting on footage of of Bill O'Reilly's paid stalker Jesse Watters attempting to physically prevent one of his ambush victims from escaping, I wrote

In the clip, you'll see that when the individual attempts to enter his car and leave, Watters sticks his foot in the door and tries to prevent him from driving off. There seems to me something very wrong with that ... at a visceral level. Trying to physically prevent someone's escape after you stalk and ambush them is a violation of the person's personal space and is threatening behavior. The sort of behavior that might trigger the flight/fight response and escalate a situation to violence.
Alex Koppelman watched the same clip and came to the same conclusion about the potential escalation to violence, but also notes that the dishonesty that O'Reilly and Watters employ actually undermines a respect for the notion of due process

That this particular ambush nearly escalated to violence is bad enough, but what's worse is the way O'Reilly and Watters twisted the facts of the situation. Clearly, no one wants to see a newly convicted sex offender out on the street, certainly not one like the man convicted in this case, whose victim is mentally challenged. But O'Reilly and Watters made it seem as if the judge had a choice in the matter, with Watters even using some loaded language -- "obviously this guy's got some predilection to being soft on sex offenders" -- in a way that seemed to suggest that perhaps Padgett had ulterior motives.

Turns out, unsurprisingly, that the real story differs sharply from the way O'Reilly told it. John Campbell, a local defense lawyer, told Tampa's News Channel 8, "As a matter of law, Judge Padgett had no choice... I would like to see that gentleman locked up as well, but the law doesn't allow for it." According to Campbell, unless it was shown that the convict is a flight risk, he had to be let out on bail pending appeal.

Moreover, as he does in most cases -- Terkel's was an exception -- O'Reilly claimed that the only reason he sent Watters out for the ambush was that they had contacted Padgett, who'd refused to speak to the show. That may be true, but it ignores an important fact: As News Channel 8 reported, "Under Florida law, sitting judges are not allowed to discuss pending cases."

O'Reilly's broadcast has inspired protests from local residents. It's also done some damage to our legal system, the idea that people are entitled to due process. Cable news shows focusing on crime generally oversimplify the law, but this sort of thing is on a different level entirely. In O'Reilly's world, if a judge acts in a way we don't like, then it's time to get him, facts and law be damned. That sort of attitude won't end well for anyone.

Quote of the day

"The conclusion of [supply side] theory is that a large reduction in U.S. taxes would actually raise government revenues ... Unfortunately, like all other perpetual motion machines, it will not work. It is a lovely vision, but it is actually a mirage - and a dangerous mirage at that." - economics Professor Robert Dunn, in the Washington Post July 9, 1978

Quoted by Haynes Johnson in Sleepwalking Through History.

One more point

In my list of highlights from the Ricks lecture on The Gamble, I forgot to mention this point:

- One way or another, the Iraqi government is going to end up being a closer ally of Iran than the United States.

I've added this back into the original post.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Thomas Ricks discusses "The Gamble"

A couple of nights ago I watched Thomas Ricks give a talk at Fora.tv about his most recent book on the last few years of the Iraq war, The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (a sequel to his previous work, the authoritative Fiasco.) I'd embed it here but I haven't been able to get that feature to work ever since Fora redesigned its website.

Anyways, the talk is a little over an hour and, as can be expected, is highly informative. Here are some key points from the discussion:

- Where as the message of Fiasco was "the war in Iraq is going worse than you think it is," the message of The Gamble is "the war in Iraq is not going as well as you think it is." The reductions in violence that have been achieved are tenuous.

- The "surge" did not work (at least not in the way that it was intended to.)

- We have not "won" in Iraq or achieved "victory." The war is, by Ricks' estimation, maybe half way done and will end up being the longest military conflict in US history.

- Leaving Iraq may be immoral. Staying in Iraq may be immoral. Iraq is poisoned fruit and we are left with having to figure out the least bad options.

- George W. Bush will be remembered as the worst president in U.S. history.

- There is no such thing as "non-combat troops."

- One way or another, the Iraqi government is going to end up being a closer ally of Iran than the United States.

I've highlighted what I found to the most significant points of the talk, but if you watch the entire thing you will see that Ricks does have some praise for President Bush and for what Petraeus has done since taking command, as well as plenty of other general information about the situation in Iraq.

One point of dissent: Ricks favors a truth commission to investigate war crimes committed during the last eight years, with amnesty granted for those who participate. I see no reason to grant war criminals amnesty. A truth commission is a good idea for a society that is moving from civil war or tyranny to a democratic state, where an open inquiry can help push the society to the right of the J curve and avoid the destabilizing effect of criminal prosecutions for the previous regime; but in America, which is already a democratic state and an open society, a truth commission will lower America's J curve by sacrificing one of our most democratic institutions: the rule of law. Besides, member of the Bush administration have long demonstrated that they are not going to be willing participants in any kind of discussion, nor will they speak honestly without some sort of penalty imposed on them (although Ricks does suggest amnesty be revoked for anyone who does not come forward freely before a certain date.)

I realize that I probably need to explain the concept of the J curve, but I'm in a bit of a rush and that link will have to do for now. Nevermind, this link explains it.

O'Reilly lies. Again.

Bill O'Reilly,not content merely to stalk and demonize Amanda Terkel, also decided to lie about it.

In a new interview with Broadcasting & Cable, O’Reilly defends sending his producer to harass me on March 21. Specifically, he says that he contacted our “website” beforehand, but received no response. He also says that I clearly wasn’t disturbed by the incident because I didn’t “look threatened” in the video that Fox aired ....

Neither I nor anyone else at ThinkProgress ever received any sort of request from anyone at Fox News. O’Reilly’s producers did ask CAP CEO John Podesta to appear on his show — after his ambush of me. They then had no problem finding the phone number of the appropriate people to contact at our organization; why wasn’t I extended the same courtesy, if they were legitimately interested getting a response from me?


So not only does O’Reilly think he knows how abducted children feel, he also now thinks that he can assess the internal emotional states of women. Maybe O’Reilly thinks that unless I cried or ran away, I must have been enjoying the harassment

Sunday, March 29, 2009

An op-ed isn't a fact-free zone

I've recommended before that The Elements of Journalism should be essential reading for both citizens and journalists. The first element of journalism listed is that "Journalism's first obligation is to the truth." The third is that journalism's "essence is a discipline of verification."

These elements apply to all forms of journalism, including op-eds. The authors explain that just because someone is writing an opinion piece that does not free them from an ethical obligation to verify facts.

I mention this because of the recent controversy that has resulted from George Will writing a global warming denial op-ed for the Washington Post that had it been fact-checked, it would not have been printed. Among his numerous falsehoods, Will only cited two scientific sources. And in both instances those sources have responded that their data does not say what Will claims it does. Yet the Post has stood behind Will's column, justifying it by saying that Will provided "sources" that contradict the work of climate experts, i.e. Will relied on the work of pseudoscientific cranks and corporate propagandists.

Carl Zimmer, who has worked as an editor and author for the excellent science magazine Discover, understands that science writing requires science fact-checking. Which is why his examination (also see here, here, here, and here) of this topic is so illuminating, and why I'll quote part of his omnibus post on this at length.

What has kept me hooked on this saga is not George Will’s errors. Errors are as common as grass. Some are made out of ignorance, some carefully constructed to give a misleading impression. What has kept me agog is the way the editors at the Washington Post have actually given their stamp of approval on Will’s columns, even claiming to have fact-checked them and seeing no need for a single correction.

The climax to this part of the story came yesterday, when the Columbia Journalism Review was finally able to get Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor at the Post, to speak directly about the ice affair:

It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject–so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don’t make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn’t be allowed to make the contrary point…I think it’s kind of healthy, given how, in so many areas–not just climatology, but medicine, and everything else–there is a tendency on the part of the lay public at times to ascribe certainty to things which are uncertain.
I’ve heard that line before…the one about how people can look at the same scientific data and make different inferences.

I’ve heard it from creationists. They look at the Grand Canyon, at all the data amassed by geologists over the years, and they end up with an inference very different from what you’ll hear from those geologists.

Would Hiatt be pleased to have them writing opinion pieces, too? There is indeed some debate in the scientific community about exactly how old the Grand Canyon is–with some arguing it’s 55 million years old and others arguing for 15 million. Would Hiatt consider it healthy to publish a piece from someone who thinks the Grand Canyon is just a few thousand years old, with just a perfunctory inspection of the information in it?

At this point, it’s hard for me to see how the answer could be no.
I've drawn this parallel before myself, noting that just like the Creationist who believes that scientific facts are atheist bias, global warming deniers consider the established science relating to AGW as liberal bias.

Another science journalist, Chris Mooney, was allowed to publish a rebuttal to Will in the Post, and his conclusion makes this point

Readers and commentators must learn to share some practices with scientists -- following up on sources, taking scientific knowledge seriously rather than cherry-picking misleading bits of information, and applying critical thinking to the weighing of evidence. That, in the end, is all that good science really is. It's also what good journalism and commentary alike must strive to be -- now more than ever.
As Mooney says, this is not an issue that only applies to science writing. Critical thinking, weighing of evidence ... verification of empirical claims should apply to all news writing, period.

You might recall that last Monday I took issue with several b.s. claims that were made by Andrew Breitbart, one of which was the assertion that Rush Limbaugh has never said anything racist. Now I see, via Media Matters, that Andrew Klavan was given an op-ed in the LA Times in which he asserted that Limbaugh critics:

don't need to listen to him. You've heard enough to know he's a) racist, b) hateful, c) stupid, d) merely an outrageous entertainer not to be taken seriously or e) all of the above.

Now let me tell you the real answer: You're a lowdown, yellow-bellied, lily-livered intellectual coward. You're terrified of finding out he makes more sense than you do.

I listen to Limbaugh every chance I get, and I have never heard the man utter a single racist, hateful or stupid word. Do I always agree with him? Of course not. I'm a conservative; I think for myself. But Limbaugh, by turns insightful, satiric, raucously funny and wise, is one of the best voices talking about first principles and policy in the country today.
At which point he goes on to issue the "Limbaugh Challenge" to listen to Limbaugh for an hour a day for several days and think about the intellectual arguments he makes.

Ok, this is another op-ed that should have never seen the light of day. It has about as much merit as if the Times had published Kent Hovind challenging readers to take his bogus evolution challenge to provide any evidence of the theory. The point of the challenge, in both instances, is not an intellectually honest effort at inquiry, but to provide propaganda for a predetermined conclusion that is at odds with the facts.

I have listened to Limbaugh. Frequently. Which is what led me to come up with the 30 second rule of thumb for listening to Limbaugh: "turn to Rush Limbaugh's radio program randomly at any moment and he'll either be lying, or will tell a lie within 30 seconds." I've found this to work virtually every time I tune in.

A stupid word: Limbaugh tells his audience that carrots are deadlier than second hand smoke and trans fats, having previously told them that nicotine is not addictive and that cigarettes do not lead to emphysema and other diseases. Limbaugh says that outrage over torture at Abu Ghraib "is an example of the feminization of this country" - I suppose retired major general Antonio Taguba just isn't as manly as the chronically fat, draft-dodging, pill-popping hypocrite, chickenhawk Limbaugh.

A hateful word: Limbaugh says that Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden are Democrats. Limbaugh equates liberals (and Carl Sagan) with cockroaches.

A racist word: Limbaugh characterizes both opposition to genocide in Darfur and apartheid in South Africa as a Democratic plot to get blacks to vote for them, with opposition to apartheid also being described as a communist ploy. Other instances include Limbaugh saying we shouldn't provide food assistance to the starving in Africa because they're getting too fat like Americans and Limbaugh denigrating and mocking efforts to put a stop to the blood diamond trade, which Limbaugh described as "mindless twaddle" which:

is typical of a bunch of weak kneed liberals trying to make a difference, and trying to make themselves feel, the new castrati [Blogger's Note - this is Limbaugh's preferred pejorative label to denigrate liberal males as being insufficiently manly] on display, make themselves feel noble and moral and superior.
See any sort of pattern developing regarding Limbaugh's views towards Africa?

On Limbaugh's supposed brilliant principles and policy proposals: Limbaugh promotes bullshit to trick people into voting against their interests. Limbaugh's notion that "Wouldn't it be great if anybody who speaks out against this country, to kick them out of the country?" Limbaugh tells his audience that Democrats are the second front in the War on Terror.

Look: one could go on and on. Limbaugh's factually-challenged pathology is no secret.

The LA Times and other news organizations should not be be in the business of treating Limbaugh's lies, bullshit, and misinformation as a "point of view" or a difference of opinion. This break down in the discipline of verification contributes to an atmosphere in which "truth" becomes the subject of political manipulation for partisan gain, and our ability to act rationally based on consideration of an emipirical reality is reduced.

From the vault: more "liberal balance" at Fox News

I was flipping through my notes just now and came across another fantastic example of what constitutes "balance" at Fox News. This particular instance comes courtesy of "Democratic strategist" Kirsten Powers, whose main purpose on the network has been for the most part to agree with Michelle Malkin about how unhinged "the left" is.

I have jotted down that Powers was disturbed by people, aka "liberals," questioning Sarah Palin's statements about God and Iraq.

Right, because only the unhinged would be troubled by a person who would be first in line to fill the presidency potentially believing that the world is approaching the End Times and that the United States by invading and occupying Iraq is carrying out God's plan for the end of the world.

Frederick Clarkson explained to Amy Goodman what Powers doesn't seem able to comprehend. (I'm bolding a key point)

FREDERICK CLARKSON: Well, I’m most concerned with the point that you raised earlier, and that is her well-documented belief that she’s living in the “end times,” we’re all living in the “end times,” and that her interpretation of the Book of Revelation may be driving her public policy and particularly her foreign and military policy views.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain what is meant by “end times.”
FREDERICK CLARKSON: Well, that means that if you take the Bible, and you begin with Genesis and Creation and the Book of Revelation, which describes God’s plan for the end of the world, we’re at the end of the book, and that it ends in a bloody conflagration before God’s people are saved. And she and people who think like her believe them, themselves, to be the people who are going to be saved, and the rest of us are not looking so good.
AMY GOODMAN: And these comments about the war being a task of God, the Alaska pipeline, you know, praying for the companies and the people.
FREDERICK CLARKSON: Yes, certainly, the idea that the war in Iraq could be a task of God could be interpreted in that way. But I think, more specifically, it’s a conflation of one’s particular political or public policy views with that of the will of God that makes for a very unstable kind of political thinking.
AMY GOODMAN: In what way?
FREDERICK CLARKSON: Well, I mean, that whatever idea may be popping into your head, that you might be inspired to invade a nation, could be the will of God. That’s where it gets very dicey. And sometimes you can find what you’re looking for in metaphor, such as what most of what the Book of Revelation really is.
The Democracy Now conversation points out that America is a secular democracy, yet Palin has long been affiliated with a form of Christian fundamentalism that believes politics should be transformed into a medium for the achievement and promotion of theological goals.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, what about this issue of separation of church and state, even raising what her religion is, that there is a separation? She’s entitled to believe what she wants to believe.
ESTHER KAPLAN: Well, she—again, she comes from a world, a theological world, in which the idea is the role of Christians is to bring God’s will into public life. She hasn’t said that explicitly herself, but there’s no question that, since age twelve, she has been attending churches whose pastors explicitly believe this. She’s said things that indicate that she understands herself that way, as well.
Her pastor at her home church, the Wasilla Assembly of God, sort of takes credit for her election as governor through his prayer. In that same speech that you played excerpts from earlier, she does thank him for that and more or less implies that she also believes that God helped to put her in office. She clearly is not immune to this idea that God is guiding her public life.
And what’s really troubling is she’s been turning down all interview requests to clarify her positions, to clarify—is she a Dominionist? Does she believe in legislating based on the Bible? Her authorized biography almost—I think there’s two or three pages, total, that refer to her religious beliefs at all. There’s a sense that she’s hiding what her true beliefs are. And she needs to answer a lot of questions.
Bruce Wilson at Talk 2 Action also captured the problem with Palin's beliefs

So, religious behaviors, in the case of the Christianity of Sarah Palin's churches, matter insofar as they are yolked to religious doctrines that effect the temporal, earthly realm. Triumphal and exceptionalist religions teaching their believers to "infiltrate" and gain control of governmental, business, educational and media sectors are toxic to the pluralist ethic that has characterized America's over two-century long pioneering experiment with democracy.

That's why Sarah Palin's churches matter : not because people at Palin's churches speak in tongues or for any specific gestural or behavioral expression. These things are deeply felt and not properly mocked or stigmatized, Rather, Palin's churches matter because pastors in those churches espouse an aggressive form of Christian nationalism and also the doctrine that all forms of religious and philosophical beliefs other than their own are invalid and even under demonic influence.
One would think that a candidate for Vice President's political beliefs being informed by anti-intellectual, extremist superstition would be legitimate ground for concern. But not from a go-to "liberal" at Fox News.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Jeffster lives!

Jeff and Lester covering Toto's "Africa" in 80s karaoke awesomeness on NBC's Chuck.*

*This clip is actually a lot better quality sound and picture but it doesn't have the intro part.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Today's discount book purchase

Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years (hc) by Haynes Johnson for the grand total of one dollar.

One thing that strikes me nearly everytime I read a book critical of the Reagan years is how deja vu the criticism is. Let me quote the Publishers Weekly review and see if you get the feeling that you've heard this before (i.e. during the last eight years.)

Washington Post columnist Johnson here presents a stunning indictment of the Reagan administration that details its impact on social, economic and political life in America. He reviews abuses in the S&L institutions, in HUD, in the National Security Council, on Wall Street, in religious broadcasting and, most impressively, reveals how the administration renounced responsibility for ameliorating social distress. The book makes clear why the rich got richer and the poor poorer in the last decade. Johnson portrays President Reagan as a kind of Dr. Feelgood who fulfilled a public need for reassurance, and ironically evaded judgment during the Iran- contra affair because of his reputation for not being in charge. Summarizing what he sees as Reagan's legacy, the "ethical wastland of the eighties," the author points to growing fractionalization, subversion of the constitutional system, corruption and ineffectiveness of government, and cynicism and inattention of the American people.

O'Reilly loses a sponsor because of his stalker/ambush crew

From Think Progress

In response to our Stop Supporting The O’Reilly Harassment Machine campaign, UPS told us yesterday that it was investigating whether to continue supporting O’Reilly’s show. “We are sensitive to the type of television programming where our messages and presence are associated and continually review choices to affect future decisions,” spokeswoman Susan Rosenberg told us.

Today UPS announced it will stop advertising on O’Reilly’s show. Here is the statement UPS emailed out just moments ago:

Thank you for sending an e-mail expressing concern about UPS advertising during the Bill O’Reilly show on FOX News. We do consider such comments as we review ad placement decisions which involve a variety of news, entertainment and sports programming. At this time, we have no plans to continue advertising during this show.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Terkel on being stalked

Amanda Terkel was on Countdown with Keith Olbermann the other night to discuss being stalked and ambushed by Jesse Watters for Bill O'Reilly.

As troubling as I thought that event was, I believe that the first segment in that video covered by Olbermann is even more disturbing. It really is nearly impossible to describe how demented it is for O'Reilly to call someone like Arianna Huffington a Nazi because his staff was able to find rude, crude, or hateful comments on her website, and then write a nationally syndicated column which suggests that investigative journalist Seymour Hersh and everyone working at MSNBC would be obvious targets for assassination. And this is even after someone who found inspiration in O'Reilly and his frequent guest Bernie Goldberg went out and killed people.

This is the sort of "joke" that is only funny if you find the idea of Hersh and employees of MSNBC being murdered funny. It's the sort of "joke" that helps to normalize the notion or idea of violence directed against them. In other words, it's a "joke" predicated in the legitimacy of hate.

I also notice that Think Progress posted footage of another Watters stalker attack. In the clip, you'll see that when the individual attempts to enter his car and leave, Watters sticks his foot in the door and tries to prevent him from driving off. There seems to me something very wrong with that ... at a visceral level. Trying to physically prevent someone's escape after you stalk and ambush them is a violation of the person's personal space and is threatening behavior. The sort of behavior that might trigger the flight/fight response and escalate a situation to violence.

However, I reiterate: I do not believe that violence or revenge stalking or anything like that is an appropriate or justifiable response. Had I been confronted by Watters and he attempted to block my egress, I would have called the police on him, and I believe that Think Progress has the right idea by contacting O'Reilly's advertisers and informing them that they are subsidizing the stalking of persons O'Reilly considers enemies.

Left-wing s-p zealot secretly working for the Soros/Media Matters/NBC axis of evil smears Glenn Beck

Bill O'Reilly

[R]adical-left zealots ... are on the attack. FNC's Glenn Beck is a good example of what's going on. The usual smear merchants on NBC are now attacking Glenn personally, and the Internet nutcases are doing the same. The more successful Mr. Beck becomes, the more these people try to hurt him.
"Axis of evil" coining Bush 43 speech-writer David Frum

What the hell is going on at Fox News?

On Friday evening, Fox viewers were treated to an hour-long televangelical special starring Glenn Beck ... On air, Beck promotes sinister conspiracy theories ...

The audience for Beck’s Friday night special were each given copies of two books. One of them was Cleon Skousen’s Five Thousand Year Leap. Skousen, who died in 2006, is one of the legendary cranks of the conservative world, a John Bircher, a grand fantasist of theories about secret conspiracies between capitalists and communists to impose a one-world government under the control of David Rockefeller.

There’s always been a market for this junk of course. Once that market was reached via mimeographed newsletters. Now it’s being tapped by Fox News.
Obviously, Frum is a deranged far left villain who is secretly funded by George Soros and is doing the bidding of Jeff Zucker for MSNBC because he hates to see Fox News doing well in the ratings.

Dispatches from another dimension

I have a post sitting in draft form which surveys about a week or so of random listening to the Republican Noise machine, or AM radio world as I like to call it. I haven't gotten around to posting it yet because I haven't felt like taking the time to add in all the links and what not, but I'll get around to it in a day or so. But the whole point of the post is that if you plug into the noise machine and consider it a reliable source of information, it will disconnect you from this reality and replace it with an alternate, parallel reality constructed through a conservative movement glass, darkly.

Via Crooks and Liars, I see that Anonymous Liberal has captured a perfect example of this dynamic in action. After contrasting quotes from John Hinderaker of Powerline blog - one of the most influential conservative blogs - demonstrating his belief that Barack Obama is an ignorant fool barely able to speak while George W. Bush is "a man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius," AL observes

The alternative universe that these folks manage to create for themselves is really quite something to behold. In their world, a man who was the editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Review and a constitutional law professor at a top law school is some sort of empty suit who is incapable of thinking or expressing a coherent thought without a teleprompter. A man who spent much of his childhood in Indonesia, has travelled extensively overseas, and who, by all accounts, is an avid student of foreign policy is some kind of ignoramus who knows nothing about the world.

But a man who was notorious for his struggles with the English language, who achieved everything in his life by virtue of his last name, a man who admittedly had no interest in foreign policy and had traveled nowhere prior to becoming president . . . that guy is worldly beyond measure, a "man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius."

What's really sad is that Hinderaker is not alone in this belief. If you read the right wing blogs, it's just an accepted fact that Obama is a moron. It's as if they think that if they say it over and over again, it will somehow catch on with the public at large.
I don't believe that it's an effort to convince the public so much as it's a way they convince themselves. A way of reconciling the cognitive dissonance that must result from a Manichean, authoritarian worldview that requires that any Democrat in power be thought of poorly, while any Leader be exalted.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Smith vs. Rand redux

The other day I provided a link to a post by Digby where she contrasted the differing ethos underlying Smithian and Randian conceptions of capitalism. Digby contrasts a Rand quote with a point made by the developmental economist Jeffrey Sachs, but I think the point is even stronger when compared to this previous quote of the day.

"All for ourselves and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind." - Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book 3, Chapter IV

"The moral purpose of a man’s life is the achievement of his own happiness. This does not mean that he is indifferent to all men, that human life is of no value to him and that he has no reason to help others in an emergency. But it does mean that he does not subordinate his life to the welfare of others, that he does not sacrifice himself to their needs, that the relief of their suffering is not his primary concern, that any help he gives is an exception, not a rule, an act of generosity, not of moral duty, that it is marginal and incidental—as disasters are marginal and incidental in the course of human existence—and that values, not disasters, are the goal, the first concern and the motive power of his life." - Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness

Or if anyone wants the most succint evidence possible that Rand's absolutist ideology can used to rationalize just about anything, here's Rand answering a question about the displacement/elimination of Native Americans as a result of Old World colonization after an address at West Point, March 6, 1974.

[The Native Americans] didn't have any rights to the land and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using.... What was it they were fighting for, if they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their "right" to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves above it. Any white person who brought the element of civilization had the right to take over this continent.
And here's the modern Rand disciple explaining how darn thankful the American Indian should be.

Before Europeans arrived, the scattered tribes occupying North America lived in abject poverty, ignorance, and superstition--not due to any racial inferiority, but because that is how all mankind starts out (Europeans included). The transfer of Western civilization to this continent was one of the great cultural gifts in recorded history, affording Indians almost effortless access to centuries of European accomplishments in philosophy, science, technology, and government. As a result, today's Indians enjoy a capacity for generating health, wealth, and happiness that their Stone Age ancestors could never have conceived.

From a historical perspective, the proper response to such a gift is not resentment but gratitude. America's policies toward the Indians were generally benign, aimed at protecting them from undeserved harm while providing significant material support and encouragement to become civilized. When those policies erred, it was usually by treating Indians collectively, as "nations" entitled to permanent occupancy of semi-sovereign reservations. Instead, Indians should have been treated as individuals deserving full and equal American citizenship in exchange for embracing individual rights, including private ownership of land.
If they'd been more resistant to European disease, I expect they would have ended up as slaves, and some Randian would be telling them - like Pat Buchanan did blacks - they should be thankful for it. Heck, maybe the wage slaves in Saipan should be thankful for all the civilization Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff brought them. Check out this dreamer from '05, right in the middle of it.

I harbor no crazy notions that the Commonwealth will embrace free markets in some Randesque rapture. But the CNMI has a lot of free market attributes nonetheless, and things are consequently far better in the Commonwealth than in most places in the world. As for Atlas Shrugged, I think it's Rand's best work, and, in fact, one of the best books, period.

The obligation to uphold the law

Jonathan Turley explains what should be obvious: talk about consideration of prosecutions of Bush administration officials if evidence of wrongdoing is uncovered is absurd. We already know - by admission in some instances - that war crimes have been committed. And the rule of law demands full investigation and prosecution of those crimes and any additional crimes uncovered.

Something you're likely not to hear in mainstream American news

From the National Security Archive

Declassified U.S. records obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act indicate that the United States was well-aware of the [US backed Guatemalan] government campaign to kidnap, torture and kill Guatemalan labor leaders at the time of García’s abduction. “Government security services have employed assassination to eliminate persons suspected of involvement with the guerrillas or who are otherwise left-wing in orientation,” wrote the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research four days after García disappeared, pointing in particular to the Army’s “notorious presidential intelligence service (archivos)” and the National Police, “who have traditionally considered labor activists to be communists.”

The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala considered the wave of state-sponsored kidnappings part of an effort to gather information on “Marxist-Leninist” trade unions. “The government is obviously rounding up people connected with the extreme left-wing labor movement for interrogation,” wrote U.S. Ambassador Frederic Chapin in a cable naming six labor leaders recently captured by security forces, including García. Despite reports that García was already dead, the ambassador was “optimistic” that he and other detainees would be released after questioning.

Many of the kidnapping victims noted in U.S. records included in this briefing book also appear in the “Death Squad Dossier,” an army intelligence logbook listing 183 people disappeared by security forces in the mid-1980s. In 1999, the National Security Archive obtained the original logbook and released a public copy. The logbook indicates that García was among dozens of students, professors, doctors, journalists, labor leaders and others subjected to intensive army and police surveillance in the weeks leading up to their capture, disappearance and – in about half of the cases – execution. The logbook entry listing Fernando García includes his alleged subversive alias names and affiliation to the Guatemalan Communist Party, as well as detailed personal information taken from official documents such as his national identification card and his passport. Other victims listed in the Death Squad Dossier who are named in the U.S. documents posted today include Amancio Samuel Villatoro, Alfonso Alvarado Palencia, José Luis Villagrán Díaz and Santiago López Aguilar. U.S. records describe their disappearances in the context of the government campaign to systematically dismantle Guatemala’s labor movement.
Maybe if this kind of stuff was reported in the news, more Americans would understand why the rest of the world is a bit skeptical about American "democracy promotion" abroad. What's more, perhaps more Americans wouldn't automatically assume that because the American government condones or encourages the military actions of a client state that those actions are just.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cosmos on Hulu

Carl Sagan's classic (although dated) tv program Cosmos - one of, if not the, most influential science progams ever - is now available for free viewing on Hulu.

(h/t Carl Zimmer)

The melting Earth

Nova will be running Extreme Ice tonight. If you don't catch it on tv it will be up available for on-line viewing at that link tomorrow.

As the world warms, the threat from rising sea levels poses an alarming potential for disaster. Some models now project a one-meter sea level rise over the next century, which could displace millions of people, from Florida to Bangladesh, and require trillions of dollars’ investment in coastal infrastructure. But these models don’t reflect recent findings that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica are melting at an ever faster rate. What explains this alarming acceleration, and just how can we figure out what’s happening inside a gigantic wall of ice? In collaboration with National Geographic, NOVA follows the exploits of acclaimed photojournalist James Balog and a scientific team as they deploy time-lapse cameras in risky, remote locations in the Arctic, Alaska and the Alps. Their goal is to create a unique photo archive of melting glaciers that could provide a key to understanding their runaway behavior. They’re grappling with blizzards, fickle technology and perilous climbs up craggy precipices to anchor cameras that must withstand sub-zero temperatures and winds up to 170 mph. In this high-action adventure, NOVA investigates the mystery of the mighty ice sheets that will affect the fate of coastlines around the world.

Adam Smith versus Ayn Rand for the soul of America

Digby points out that it is Ayn Rand's vision of unrestrained, amoral greed as the ultimate good that has come to dominate American society rather than Adam Smith's morality based, humanistic capitalism.

Member of Congress advises constituency to engage in armed revolution against carbon tax

That would be one Michele Bachmann (R - MN).

Instead of merely opposing the legislation, however, Bachmann compared Washington, D.C. to “enemy lines” and urged her supporters to become “armed and dangerous” and fight a “revolution” against cap and trade legislation:

BACHMANN: And really now in Washington, I’m a foreign correspondent in enemy lines. And I try to keep everyone back here in Minnesota know exactly the nefarious activities that are taking place in Washington. […]

I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us, having a revolution every now and then is a good thing, and the people — we the people — are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States.
I had previously asked the voters of MN to tell Bachmann that they would not be driven into an Age of Unreason. I ask again: please remove this anti-democratic, anti-reality extremist from Congress. This is beyond unacceptable.

Bachmann's conception of democracy seems to be that we hold an election and either her party wins or it's time to go to war.

Now Bachman may have been speaking figuratively. But that's well beside the point: this sort of rhetoric is dangerous. It legitimizes the violent, extremists fantasies that we already know are seething in AM radio world.

When Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people, he believed he was engaging in a little Jeffersonian revolution (click here to see the shirt he was wearing when arrested) against "nefarious activities" the last time a Democrat was president. Back then, too, prominent figures within the conservative movement engaged in this sort of legitimizing rhetoric, as Gary Wills noted in Reagan's America

Not orderly rule but violent overthrow is the fantasy haunting the minds of some of Reagan's heirs. Rush Limbaugh, expressing sympathy for the militias said: "The second violent American revolution is just about - I got my fingers about a fourth of an inch apart - is just about that far away. Because these people are sick and tired of a bunch of beuracrats in Washington driving into town and telling them what they can and can't do." Representative John Boehler of Ohio called OSHA regulators the "Gestapo of the Federal Government."

It may be objected that this is "just rhetoric" - an odd thing for any Reaganite to say. It was his rhetoric about an Evil Empire that helped destroy one system. Why should we take any less seriously his rhetoric about the evils of our government? Oliver North did not. The Freemen of Montana do not. The airwaves are full of citizens' vituperation of the representatives they have themselves chosen. Though Reagan was to courtly and well mannered to use the caustic insults orchestrated on talk radio, he made the world safe for Rush Limbaugh. And Limbaugh, down through the ranks of his even less contained fellows (like Oliver North and G. Gordon Liddy), made the world safe for the militias, the Freemen, the bombers of the Federal building in Oklahoma City. If the government was the enemy, these people would fight it, with guns if necessary; and feel that they worked under the aegis of the man who most effectively taught them that government is the enemy.
And, you know, it doesn't quite help that Fox News' newest and brightest star is busy promoting on a daily basis the same sort of conspiratorial beliefs that informed McVeigh's extremist world view.

I think this would be an opportune time to remind that Dave Neiwert's new book The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right will be coming out soon.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Liars for Bush (and Rush)

I listened to the podcast of episode #145 of Real Time with Bill Maher earlier today. One of the guests was Andrew Breitbart. Virtually everything he said was bullshit.

But he made two particular bullshit claims that I feel compelled to respond to.

1. Rush Limbaugh doesn't have a history of making racist remarks.

Characterizing opposition to South African apartheid as a communist plot and an attempt to get blacks to vote for Democrats is just a tad bit racist, in my book.

2. George W. Bush's presidential bioethics council was full of secular humanists.

Not in this universe. The council was stacked with enough conservative Christians and neoconservatives to be able to generate "advice" that served to promote the religious and ideological beliefs of President Bush rather than to consider the ethics of applied advances in particular areas of science: this is the complete and utter opposite of a secular humanist approach. And one of the only three biomedical scientists on the council was replaced, along with another member, when they failed to agree with the administration's ideological positions.

Using Google you can find plenty on the subject, but this old post from Carl Zimmer covers the topic probably as well as you'll be able to find.

For more on the absurdity of Breitbart's alternate reality views, see Sadly No!.

The scumbag tactics of Bill O'Reilly and Jesse Watters

I see that Bill O'Reilly will be running his latest stalker "interview" piece in which his twerp producer Jesse Watters accuses ThinkProgress of being part of the nefarious George Soros/Media Matters/NBC one world government socialist S-P axis of evil conspiracy O'Reilly has dreamed up.

Read with disgust how Watters literally stalked Amanda Terkel and ambushed her for having the audacity to observe that O'Reilly being chosen to speak at a fundraiser for rape victims is an odd choice given his past comment suggesting that the "moronic" 18 year old rape/murder victim Jennifer Moore brought her death upon herself.

Now Moore, Jennifer Moore, 18, on her way to college. She was 5-foot-2, 105 pounds, wearing a miniskirt and a halter top with a bare midriff. Now, again, there you go. So every predator in the world is gonna pick that up at two in the morning. She’s walking by herself on the West Side Highway, and she gets picked up by a thug. All right. Now she’s out of her mind, drunk.
Watters had the nerve to demand Terkel apologize for causing rape victims "pain and suffering."

What a complete and utter slimeball.

Update: Terkel points out that O'Reilly claims he always contacts an individual and invites them on the Factor before ambushing them, but he did not do that in her case and he lied about doing it in the case of Hendrik Hertzberg. (I previously discussed O'Reilly's stalking of Hertzberg, here.) She also links to footage of Jon Stewart demonstrating the hypocrisy of O'Reilly denoucing the paparazzi while simultaneously sending creeps like Watters out to stalk people.

Update II: Ok I just watched the footage from the Factor. Jesse Watters is a dishonest, dirtbag, miserable rotten cretin. I lack the rhetorical skill to express what disdain I have for him and the lengths to which he is willing to go to please O'Reilly. O'Reilly pretty nearly said that a rape/murder victim had it coming because of what she was wearing, and yet Watters has the nerve to call Terkel a liar because of some ridiculous red herring about Mel Gibson and alcohol? And this was shown after O'Reilly introduced the segment as evidence of the "evil" of Terkel and others in the media who have questioned the choice of having O'Reilly speak at a rape victim fundraiser. He should be too ashamed to see himself in a mirror.

As Dave Neiwert puts it, "this is a psychotic perversion of press rights in a way that violates basic American privacy rights."

[This]raises an important point about press ethics. O'Reilly's ambush crews claim to be "investigative journalists" acting in the crusading tradition of the old '60 Minutes' crews of the '70s and '80s. And indeed those journalists did excellent and serious work tracking down various official miscreants.

But they did it at their offices or their places of work. They didn't invade their homes.

Moreover, there is a big difference between people who anger you, or people with whom you disagree, and public officials or powerful people who have abused their positions. I think we all can understand why it's ethical for journalists to pursue the latter, and why everyone who has a shred of ethical decency as a journalist pauses long and hard while considering the former.

The power of the press is very easily abused, especially against ordinary private citizens who aren't celebrities, and whose privacy is every bit as sacred as Bill O'Reilly's.

If this kind of harassment continues, however, then it may comes time to turn the tables -- and they've picked a set of victims more capable of fighting fire with fire than they reckon. O'Reilly and his crew may not like it when bloggers start camping out on their lawns and demanding answers to insultingly partisan questions, shouted aggressively, as they try to get to their cars. Jesse Watters, what's your address?
I actually disagree about that last bit. I don't believe two wrongs make a right; and I think that the proper way to get O'Reilly to stop is for enough pressure be put on him through various forms of public protest and condemnation of Fox News; journalists working in print, tv, and radio especially have an obligation to denounce O'Reilly's behavior. As a society we should not tolerate such bullying. (And I think that had Terkel noticed she was being stalked she would have had legitimate grounds to contact the police.)

But it does bring to light an issue that should be obvious to anyone with at least a remotely functioning sense of ethics: if you don't want people invading your privacy you shouldn't be invading the privacy of others. Given that O'Reilly is a self-professed Christian "T-Warrior" one might have assumed he'd be familiar with the Golden Rule.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Choosing a book

As Barry Schwartz explains in the video above, too much choice can sometimes lead to decision paralysis. As a book-o-phile who has accumulated a relatively large collection of books (some of which I obtained decades ago and have yet to get around to reading) and who has additional access to thousands more books via the public library system, I can attest to the difficulty of narrowing down the options to a specific choice without lingering distress over the choices not chosen.

This leads me to often invent reasons to pick a book. Which is what I'm doing now, by using this post as a sort of late New Year's resolution about some books I intend to read this year. Here goes:

Since 2009 is the bicentennial of the births of Lincoln and Darwin I intend to read at least one of my Lincoln books and one of Darwin's works contained in my copy of the Barnes and Noble Darwin Compendium; and given that this is also the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species I can narrow those five choices in the compendium down to one.

I also resolve to read at least one of the books on my list of books that I really want to read but haven't. I'm leaning towards Crimes Against Humanity as a sort of reflection on the last eight years of the Bush administration's push towards a lawless world.

Cut his mic: Fox versus facts

Via Newshounds

Despite the fact that voter fraud allegations against ACORN are known to be a Rovian political strategy and that no instances of voter fraud can be attributed to the organization, Fox News' female beauty queen version of Bill O'Reilly, Megyn Kelly continues to attempt to portray voter registration fraud perpetrated against ACORN as evidence of its corruption. Kelly went so far as to say that ACORN has pleaded guilty to voter fraud. Needless to say, this is not the case, but it doesn't matter; Fox and the Republican Noise Machine constantly offer allegations of ACORN wrongdoing and then cite their own allegations as evidence of wrongdoing.

When confronted with someone willing to call Kelly and Fox out on the lies, Kelly resorts to O'Reilly's tactic ordering the guest's mic cut so that she can lie without disturbance.

One can see the sort of professional ethics that lands one with an anchor position at Fox and allows them to smear with impunity.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dewey on On The Origin of Species

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, who was born, along with Abraham Lincoln, in 1809, making it also the bicentennial of their births.

And it was also 150 years ago that John Dewey, one of America's great public intellectuals and philosophers of democracy, was born. One hundred years ago Dewey reflected on the 50th anniversary of The Origin of Species about the book's impact on philosophy in his essay "The influence of Darwin on philosophy."

I suggest reading the essay for one's self first, but I would guess that many people will find Dewey's style of writing a bit difficult. In which case you can consult this article by Tim Madigan for Philosophy Now which parses the essay and Dewey's thinking on the matter.

What sort of bearing does Darwinist thinking have on philosophy, according to Dewey? “Philosophy” Dewey writes, “foreswears inquiry after absolute origins and absolute finalities in order to explore specific values and the specific conditions that generate them” (p.43). In other words, it acknowledges intellectual change and the need for scientific (physical) data. Intelligence itself is not some absolute power, but rather our species’ survival tool. Our intelligence has evolved and adapted itself over time. It is not a god-like substance or supernatural gift: other animals have forms of consciousness too, and examining the similarities as well as the differences between us can have fruitful results. Throughout his many writings, Dewey called for an empirical study of humanity’s place in nature.
And for more on the subject of Darwin's impact on philosophy, particularly teleology, I recommend Darwin and Design: Does Evolution Have a Purpose? by Michael Ruse.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Liberal balance" strikes again at Fox News

You might remember me noting how Fox News seems to define "liberal balance" as Greta Van Susteren turning her program into a device for promoting the career of Sarah Palin.

Now I see that it appears that Van Susteren's husband played a somewhat significant role in the presidential career of Palin. (h/t Think Progress)

John Coale: Coale, a well-known Washington lawyer and the husband of Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren, drew national media attention when he endorsed Sen. John McCain's presidential bid in protest of the way in which Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who he backed in the primary, was treated. Coale, in an interview with the Fix, described himself simply as a "friend" of the Alaska governor but acknowledged that he suggested she start a leadership PAC and helped her navigate through some of the questions surrounding her family that lingered after the campaign. Others familiar with Palin's political team insist that Coale has far more power than he is letting on -- essentially helping to run Sarah PAC. Coale demurred on that front, noting only that he talks to Palin regularly and that she is a "fascinating person" who is "definitely not what the right thinks or the left thinks."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How we can let them disappear?

If you can watch the segment of NOVA's Ape Genius where the chimp grabs a researcher's hand and recruits him to help pull an object the chimp couldn't pull on his own and be ok with this - and other ape -species going extinct, I don't know if any other more rational based argument will have any effect on you.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hardball provides another Bush 43 surrogate a platform from which to assault reality

Ok, just a few days ago we saw Ari Fleischer - here and here - on Hardball shamelessly attempting to revise reality in order to spin the legacy of George W. Bush. The most outrageous lie pushed by Fleischer, among many, was his slimy insinuation that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks and that the invasion of Iraq prevented Hussein from attacking the United States again.

That was Wednesday. On Thursday, Matthews had on Frank Gaffney who proceeded to spread the neoconservative conspiracy theory that Saddam Hussein was the mastermind of the Oklahoma City bombing, as well as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and just about every terrorist attack on the United States over the last 20 years. This was the same drivel that fanatical liar Michael Ledeen was busy spreading four hours after the 9/11 attacks to start the propaganda case for war with Iraq.

Why is Hardball giving someone like Gaffney a platform in the first place? Shouldn't promotion of outright falsehoods - especially falsehoods that have contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people - earn someone a timeout from serious political discourse? It's long been clear that Gaffney is a propagandist whose appearances on tv or elsewhere only serves to promote reality revision.

Also: shouldn't generating lies in order to argue for putting political opponents to death also merit a tv timeout? Why is such extremism and dishonesty rewarded with more tv time?

Frank Gaffney, one of the country's most influential and well-connected neoconservatives, has a column in today's Washington Times in which he argues that the debate taking place in Congress over the war in Iraq constitutes treason. Gaffney specifically argues that the condemnations of Douglas Feith from Sen. Rockefeller Levin "really should be a hanging offense."

Gaffney begins his column by purporting to quote Abraham Lincoln. Gaffney claims that Lincoln said:

Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.
This quote has become a favorite weapon for those who want to criminalize criticism of the Leader and the War. Jack Murtha's opponent in the last election, Diana Irey, cited this quote while discussing Murtha's opposition to the war.

But this quote is completely invented. Lincoln never said it. This "quote" was first attributed to Lincoln by J. Michael Waller in Insight Magazine, in a 2003 article revealingly entitled: Democrats Usher in an Age of Treason. But as Waller himself now admits, the quote attributed to Lincoln is completely fraudulent.

The ethical dimension of climate change

From climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert's interview with e360 (via Island of Doubt)

e360: Do you think that there is a moral and ethical dimension to the issue of climate change?

Kolbert: Yeah. Well, I’m no moral philosopher, but it seems to me in that if there’s not a moral dimension to potentially leaving a totally impoverished planet to future generations, all future generations, I don’t know what would be.

These are changes that last thousands of years. They’re not things that you could turn around. What we’ve done to the oceans, for example, in terms of adding CO2 or, really, carbonic acid to the oceans, changing the chemistry of the oceans. That is irreversible for on the order of 10,000 years, okay? So we’re talking about, basically, for all intents and purposes, forever... What is our ethical obligation if not to hand off a planet that’s habitable? I can’t really see a higher ethical obligation.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I was mistaken

I had thought that of all Ari Fleischer's shameless disinformation, his claim about George W. Bush's tax cuts for the rich leading to record breaking job creation was the worst. But I now see that's only because I tend to hear Bush surrogates spinning his legacy the way the Peanuts characters hear adults: wonka wonka, wonka ....

If I had been paying closer attention, I would have noticed the even insaner implicit suggestion that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 Al Qaeda attacks and that the invasion and occupation of Iraq prevented him from attacking the United States again.

FLEISCHER: It was in part because of Iraq and large part because of the economy that Barack Obama won. Having said that, I also think Barack Obama should say thank you every day that he inherited a world without Saddam Hussein in it. The one thing people are going to remember the most is that he kept us safe. […]

But after September 11th, having been being hit once, how could we take a chance that Saddam Hussein might not strike again? We got a report saying al Qaeda is determined to attack the United States. Well, that’s not a surprise. Of course, they are. It doesn’t say where, it doesn’t say when, it doesn’t say how. So, if you get a report like that, what do you do?
Really, anyone promoting this sort of reality revising nonsense should not be treated by mainstream press as someone with enough credibility to be given a platform to spread such lies.