Monday, November 30, 2009

More on the historical wrongness of Beck

Dispatches from the Culture Wars has commented on Glenn Beck's attempt to rewrite Thomas Jefferson as a Christian nationalist.

The comments there reminded me of another absurdity relating to Beck's bizarro version of Jefferson.

'"Question with boldness." Um, is he even aware how the sentence is supposed to end?'

Yep, he quotes it all the time. I don't fault him that, since he at least seems to understand the point that Jefferson was making to his nephew in that letter...

... If you'll notice in that segment, Beck is also citing the Jefferson quote at the Jefferson Memorial. This one: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Beck completely misses the point of the quote. It's not indicative that Jefferson believes that the United States is supposed to be a theocracy (which Beck apparently does, given that he believes the country is "founded" on the injunctions of the Ten Commandments, including the ones that command worship of God); The form of tyranny Jefferson is referencing in the letter that quote is taken from is that of those who seek to establish religion and that he is thus sworn to oppose them!

The delusion into which the X. Y. Z. plot shewed it possible to push the people; the successful experiment made under the prevalence of that delusion on the clause of the constitution, which, while it secured the freedom of the press, covered also the freedom of religion, had given to the clergy a very favorite hope of obtaining an establishment of a particular form of Christianity thro' the U. S.; and as every sect believes its own form the true one, every one perhaps hoped for his own, but especially the Episcopalians & Congregationalists. The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

Casual, conversational eliminationism

The other day I spent a few minutes in conversation with someone who was perfectly polite and friendly, yet within the course of the conversation this individual casually made a joke about wishing Al Gore to be assassinated and stated later that the state of California doesn't deserve to live (because it doesn't have the death penalty.)

As I've said before, the reason that I focus so much on the conservative movement is that I do not appreciate the way that it spreads venomous hatred into our society.

Here's a case in point: Andrew Breitbart casually calling for NASA climate scientist James Hansen to be executed for treason.

The "treason" Breitbart speaks of? Someone hacked the e-mails of the climate scientists at England's University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (where Hansen doesn't work) at which point movement conservatives quote-mined the e-mails until they could stupidly convince themselves of the nefarious conspiracy they already believed in. I've intended to write a post on this topic (of the hacked e-mails) so I won't go much further into it than to say that it's another instance of the never-ending stream of manufactured controversy and outrage that such persons traffic in.*

So let's instead focus on how casually Breitbart called for James Hansen's death. I've noted before how readily movement conservatives would apparently put persons to death for specious charges of treason, but I don't recall ever coming across any such call as utterly absurd as that of Breitbart's. Even were the accusations true, how would employees of a climate institute at a UK university falsifying data mean that treason has been committed in the United States by James Hansen of NASA? (Hansen actually offered some mild criticism of the behavior of the climate researchers involved.)

I have lost count of the number of times I've made the following point, but I marvel again how it is that somone such as Breitbart can make comments that are so profoundly ignorant, vile, and extreme all at the same time and be paid well to do precisely that.

*See here for Kevin Drum's summary of the non-scandal "scandal."

Update: Breitbart also called for the execution of Brad Friedman for challenging him on the facts relating to global warming and the hacked e-mails. After Friedman responded that when you're short on the facts, you can always call for the murder of your political opponents, Breitbart responded, "capital punishment after a fair trial by your peers isn't murder!" Friedman's response:

Still no hint at the "crime" for which I am to face the possibility of being murdered after being given my "fair trial." But perhaps "Calling Out Fact-Challenged Liars and Propagandists" is now a crime in Breitbart's little fantasy world. I suspect Breitbart's brain-washed readers see little necessity for either a trial, or any laws to be broken, before meting out their own justice as they see fit. It's a Wingnut World --- we just live in it.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

You can be Pro-Israel and spread anti-Semitism at the same time

Dave Neiwert noticed that Glenn Beck's response to the ADL calling him out for "creat[ing] an intersection between the mainstream and the extreme" which "play[s] an important role in drawing people further out of the mainstream, making them more receptive to the more extreme notions and conspiracy theories" was to dismiss such criticism on the ground that he's "friendly to Israel" and wants to protect Israel from Iran.

As Neiwert astutely observes, Beck seems to not comprehend the actual purpose of the ADL

What really stands out about this rant is the stereotyped image Beck has of Jews, to wit, the only aspect of their "plight" worth mentioning is the defense of Israel.

In reality, the ADL has historically been focused on the much broader "plight" of the Jews represented by anti-Semitism and its pernicious effects. As you can see from just visiting the "About" section of their website, the ADL was founded primarily to combat anti-Semitism. Yes, the defense of Israel is in fact a concern of the ADL's -- but it is only one of many items on its agenda.
Neiwert goes on to note that the point the ADL was making in its report about Beck was that whether or not he intends to, he helps to promote - indeed, to mainstream - extremist ideas that are either anti-semitic in origin or carry with them vestiges of anti-Semitism.

Beck, in fact, gives real succor to some of the country's worst anti-Semites because he helps promote their ideas; Beck's fearmongering echoes theirs so closely that it is rapidly becoming an important recruiting tool for them.

Alexander Zaitchik explored this recently for Salon, examining what white supremacists themselves say about Beck, with illustrations culled from the discussion forums
This comes as no surprise, given how much Beck's conspiracy theories structurally resemble traditional anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

Further, I previously noted that being "friendly to Israel" doesn't preclude anti-Semitism, given that some of the earliest champions of a Jewish state were also promoters of the notoriously anti-Semitic hoax The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; and that John Hagee appears to be cut from such a mold.

Bruce Wilson of Talk To Action - whose writing was the basis of my previous post on Hagee - has written another post about Hagee's anti-Semitic zionism which brilliantly makes the point

As The Economist's Democracy In America blog notes , support for Israel doesn't preclude anti-Semitism:

Bigotry comes in many forms, and can easily be set aside for the right reasons. Marcus Garvey found common cause with the Ku Klux Klan, for instance: they both wanted to keep their respective races pure. Loving racial or theological purity is both easy and juvenile; it is a rejection of the world as is in favour of a perfect world that can never be.
Marcus Garvey wanted to resettle New World blacks in a "homeland" in Africa. Christian Zionists think God wills it that all Jews on Earth move "back" to Israel. The Economist's citation, of the strange alliance between Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan, resonates well with a thought experiment I've recently sketched out...

Imagine, in America of 2009, the formation of a lobby dedicated to, as one of its principal goals, convincing all African Americans to move "back" to Africa - a continent they weren't born on and which most of them had never even set foot upon.

Imagine, further, that leaders of this lobby publicly praised African-American cultural and racial identity but also promoted, in sermons and writing, many of the worst anti-black accusations and slurs known to history.

Imagine those leaders taught that if African Americans don't willingly "go back" to Africa, God will rise up an army to slaughter all African Americans so stubborn as to remain in the land of their birth, as American citizens.

Take out "African-American" and replace it with "Jewish-American", change "Africa" to "Israel," and the description fits an existing, national lobbying group - Christians United For Israel.
Update: I forgot to mention that Beck has previously done an interview with Hagee, in which he asked Hagee whether or not Barack Obama is the Antichrist.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dana Perino obviously a political hack

Dana Perino has responded on Twitter to criticism of her having stated that "we did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush's term." Her response is thus: "I obviously meant no terror attack on U.S. post 9/11 during Bush 2nd term."

Right, because obviously a political hack trying to characterize President Obama as a failure on keeping America safe from terrorist attack and President Bush as a success would naturally omit President Bush having failed to prevent the largest terrorist attack in American history (not to mention the subsequent unsolved anthrax attacks) and just skip ahead to his second term when no such attack occurred.

The level of intellectual a-integrity displayed here is staggering. First, as Jim Lippard noted in his response, the attack - Major Hasan's on Ft. Hood - that Perino is characterizing as a terrorist attack that President Obama failed to prevent doesn't really fit the description of a terrorist attack so much as that of a disgruntled employee who snapped.

Secondly, while there were warning signs about Hasan's fitness for duty that could have been noticed by those around him, this is hardly something that would have been on the President's radar. No one was briefing President Obama that Major Hasan was determined to strike a military base; however, President Bush was briefed that Bin Laden was determined to strike in the United States prior to the 9/11 attacks.

Lastly, it really irritates me how the lack of terrorist attacks on US soil post 9/11 are counted in President Bush's favor while the precipitous increase in global terrorist activity resulting from his administration's post 9/11 actions is ignored, as if all the lives lost to that terrorism don't count since it didn't happen in America.

Update: I left it out since I'm not sure that it should count as terrorism, but in the Lippard post I linked to he mentions that Perino has conveniently also forgotten the Beltway snipers, which should count as "terrorism" by Perino's standard. Futher evidence of her hackery.

Also, I don't want to undersell the absurdity of Perino's comparison. As I noted, no one was predicting that some random disgruntled soldier would go on a shooting rampage on a military base, but back in 2001, prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, FEMA predicted a terrorist attack in New York.

Rush Limbaugh wants US military to "detain" President Obama

It's so great that we have such a champion of democracy as Rush Limbaugh, battling rhetorically on a daily basis against totalitarian liberals who think that having a democratically elected president thrown in prison indefinitely by the armed forced - in other words, a military coup - is a bad thing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Resolved: Glenn Beck thinks the United States is supposed to be a theocracy

This brief clip doesn't do full justice to Beck's lamentation that America has strayed from the theocratic origins of colonies like that of Massachusetts Bay Colony which carried over into some of the early state constitutions. Nothing, absolutely nothing, that Beck does nauseates me more than the way he tries to co-opt people or persons by bulldozing over their actual views in order to transform them into props to support his John Birch Society type extremist political views.

For example, he has depicted himself as a modern day reincarnation of Thomas Paine and has cited Thomas Paine to justify "refounding" America by dismantling the welfare state and progressive taxation. The actual, real life Thomas Paine - as opposed to the one that only exists in Beck's demented imagination - wrote in several of his major works that the French revolution could establish its legitimacy by establishing a welfare state with progressive taxation and that Britian should follow suit.

Here we have Beck citing Thomas Jefferson - of all people - to support the notion that the separation of church and state is "fictional" and "nonsense." That would be the same Thomas Jefferson who wrote this to the Danbury Baptists

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
So obviously Thomas Jefferson was in favor of theocracy and it's only those evil, Satanic, New World Order progressive liberal fascist communists who believe in the separation of church and state.

And Jefferson and Madison - the other man most associated with the First amendment - having worked tirelessly to disestablish official state religion in Virginia is evidence that they favored state theocracies. (And Madison actually proposed disestablishing religion at the state level in the Bill of Rights, but having the federal government overrule state laws was not feasible at the time, regardless of what the early founders might have thought about the merits of disestablishment.1)

And Thomas Jefferson, the bizarro Thomas Jefferson that only exists so that Beck can wrap his Mormon nationalism up in patriotic garb that is, believes that the basis of U.S. law is the Ten Commandments. That would be the same Thomas Jefferson who wrote this to Thomas Cooper

If, therefore, from the settlement of the Saxons to the introduction of Christianity among them, that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians, and if, having their laws from that period to the close of the common law, we are all able to find among them no such act of adoption, we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.
1. See Head and Heart: American Christianities by Gary Wills

The bloody truth

From The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox by Stephen Budiansky

A bald fact: Generations would hear how the South suffered “tyranny” under Reconstruction. Conveniently forgotten was the way that word was universally defined by white Southerners at the time: as a synonym for letting black men vote at all. A “remonstrance” issued by South Carolina’s Democratic Central Committee in 1868, personally signed by the leading native white political leaders of the state, declared that there was no greater outrage, no greater despotism, than the provision for universal male suffrage just enacted in the state’s new constitution. There was but one possible consequence: “A superior race is put under the rule of an inferior race.” They offered a stark warning: “We do not mean to threaten resistance by arms. But the white people of our State will never quietly submit to negro rule. This is a duty we owe to the proud Caucasian race, whose sovereignty on earth God has ordained.”

“No free people, ever,” declared a speaker at a convention of the state’s white establishment a few years later, had been subjected to the “domination of their own slaves,” and the applause was thunderous. “This is a white man’s government” was the phrase echoed over and over in the prints of the Democratic press and the orations of politicians denouncing the “tyranny” to which the “oppressed” South was being subjected.

A bald fact: more than three thousand freedmen and their white Republican allies were murdered in the campaign of terrorist violence that overthrew the only representatively elected government the Southern states would know for a hundred years to come. Among the dead were more than sixty state senators, judges, legislators, sheriffs, constables, mayors, county commissioners, and other officeholders whose only crime was to have been elected. They were lynched by bands of disguised men who dragged them from cabin by night, or were fired on from ambushes on lonely roadsides, or lured into a barroom by a false friend and on a prearranged signal shot so many times that the corpse was nothing but shreds, or pulled off a train in broad daylight by a body of heavily armed men resembling nothing so much as a Confederate cavalry company and forced to kneel in the stubble of an October field and shot in the head over and over again, at point-blank.

Why is Howard Dean hosting The Rachel Maddow Show?

Last night I noticed that Howard Dean filled in for Rachel Maddow. I reiterate

One of the most obvious means we have of telling that Fox News is not a news network is its revolving door between Republican politics and and Fox "news." The network is run by Republican operatives and employs Republican politicians, strategists, operatives, and hacks as hosts, commentators, and analysts. The line between what is supposed to be journalism and Republican propaganda is blurred out of existence.

So when Howard Dean steps down as DNC chair and moves on a few months later to guest host two episodes of MSNBC's Countdown I'm not exactly thrilled with another network deciding to create a revolving door between Democratic politics and what is supposed to be objective journalism. Sure, having Dean guest host might generate ratings, but it's not worth sacrificing your credibility.

There ought to be a distinct line between politics and journalism, and having someone so heavily and currently involved in Democratic politics fill a spot that is supposed to be reserved for a journalist blurs that line beyond distinction.
Although Maddow's show is supposed to be more commentary/analysis oriented than Countdown, and is obviously supposed to present a liberal perspective on the news, the general point still holds. Maddow is an independent voice of opinion, Dean is someone who not to long ago was the head of the DNC.

Is Dana Perino the biggest political hack on the planet?

"We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush's term" - Dana Perino

Absolutely, utterly unbelievable. Perino is apparently capable of forgetting 9/11 (and the subsequent, unsolved anthrax attacks) momentarily if it serves her propaganda purposes.

Once again, the revolving door between "news" commentary and Republican political spin at Fox News strikes again.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quality science fiction

If you haven't heard about it or seen the Duncan Jones directed Sam Rockwell vehicle Moon and are a fan of science fiction, I highly recommend it.

I watched it last night after a friend recommended it to me. Its precisely the sort of genuine science fiction film that rarely gets made anymore: a movie with an intelligent, patient, minimalist approach which allows story to drive the plot rather than action and special effects, using a science fiction setting to explore human nature.

The basic plot is that a helium miner (Sam Rockwell) is stuck on the Moon by himself for 3 years as he runs a mining station. His only companion is a multi-functional robot voiced by Kevin Spacey. As the film begins, Rockwell's character is getting ready to return to Earth as his 3 year contract is getting ready to expire. He leaves the base in a rover to make some repairs but gets into an accident, when he wakes up everything has changed for him.

That's all I'll say about it, and I would caution to avoid looking up any reviews or anything else that might spoil what comes next. (I don't even think I'd have wanted to see the movie's trailer beforehand.)

Census worker death ruled a suicide

The death of U.S. census taker Bill Sparkman has been ruled a sucide, with Sparkman having conspired to fabricate the appearance of a murder in order to win insurance money for his family.

As I mentioned before, this should demonstrate the danger of premature speculation (including my own about anti-government sentiment possibly being behind Sparkman's apparent murder.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Another reason to not eat pork

I've mentioned before that I do not eat pork, as I consider it wrong given the pig's level of intelligence. Now some recent research suggests pigs may be able to pass the mirror test for self-awareness.

In the current issue of Animal Behaviour, researchers present evidence that domestic pigs can quickly learn how mirrors work and will use their understanding of reflected images to scope out their surroundings and find their food. The researchers cannot yet say whether the animals realize that the eyes in the mirror are their own, or whether pigs might rank with apes, dolphins and other species that have passed the famed “mirror self-recognition test” thought to be a marker of self-awareness and advanced intelligence.
Until reading this article I was unaware that one of the tricks pigs can be trained to do is to "make wordlike sounds on command." I'd like to hear/see that.

Friday, November 20, 2009

How to save $85.50 on books

At the library book sale today, I purchased 89 dollars worth of books for the grand total of 3 dollars and fifty cents. The titles I got are:

The Consolation of Philosophy (pb) by Boethius for $.50.

The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition into the Forces of History (pb) by Howard Bloom for $.50.

Dune (pb) by Frank Herbert for $.50.

The Age of American Unreason (hc) by Susan Jacoby for $1.00.

Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches (hc) by John Dean for $1.00.

Liking to consider myself an amateur forensic book detective, I like to see if I can reconstruct the life of the books I get preceding my purchase of them. Judging by the wear and tear on Dune, The Lucifer Principle, and The Consolation of Philosophy, these books enjoyed a relatively normal life of library books that were checked out and read semi-regular. Broken Government, however, is mint. I would guess with about 98% certainty it has never been checked out, much less read.

The Age of American Unreason was a book sale donation, meaning it is from someone's personal collection and was not a library book. The actual book itself would seem to indicate that it has never been read, despite the book's jacket having slight wear: the front is near mint, but the back has sustained some moisture damage and has a ring from someone sitting a drink down on it. I would conclude that someone was given the book as a gift, put it down on their coffee table and never read it, or never did more than flipping through it.

Baleful quote of the day

"I don't care about the Constitution." - Bill O'Reilly

To O'Reilly, the Constitution is apparently only relevant if it can be used as a prop to support his beliefs.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Watching human evolution

I'm a bit occupied this week with jury duty, so in the meantime I'll simply give a recommendation to the 3 part PBS Nova series Becoming Human

Where did we come from? What makes us human? An explosion of recent discoveries sheds light on these questions, and NOVA's comprehensive, three-part special, "Becoming Human," examines what the latest scientific research reveals about our hominid relatives.

Part 1, "First Steps," examines the factors that caused us to split from the other great apes. The program explores the fossil of "Selam," also known as "Lucy's Child." Paleoanthropologist Zeray Alemseged spent five years carefully excavating the sandstone-embedded fossil. NOVA's cameras are there to capture the unveiling of the face, spine, and shoulder blades of this 3.3 million-year-old fossil child. And NOVA takes viewers "inside the skull" to show how our ancestors' brains had begun to change from those of the apes.

Why did leaps in human evolution take place? "First Steps" explores a provocative "big idea" that sharp swings of climate were a key factor.

The other programs in the "Becoming Human" series are Part 2: "Birth of Humanity", which profiles the earliest species of humans, and Part 3: "Last Human Standing," which examines why, of various human species that once shared the planet, only our kind remains.
All three parts really are excellent educational resources. Even if you're generally familiar with the subject matter, these shows really bring the material to life and help you to visualize what our ancestors and evolutionary cousins looked like and how they lived. (I found the segment in part 2 about the Homo Erectus fossil Turkana Boy particularly compelling.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rethinking the "war on drugs"

Johann Hari argues its time to quit dogmatically pursuing a counter-productive policy (via Butterflies and Wheels)

What would happen if we started to build our drugs policy around the facts, rather than our desire for a fuzzy feeling inside? Professor Nutt only took tiny baby steps in this direction before he was booted out. He argued that we should rank drugs by the harm they do, rather than by the size of the panicked headlines they trigger. Now the row is fading, it is possible to see how conservative he was. A must-read new report out this week – ‘After The War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation’ – follows the facts as far as they will take us. It shows that the rational solution is to take the drug market back from the unregulated anarchy of criminal gangs, and transfer it to pharmacists, off-licenses, and doctors who operate in the legal economy. To see why this is necessary, we have to look at some of the facts our politicians refuse to see.

Fact One: The drug war hands one of our biggest industries to armed criminal gangs, who unleash terrible violence across the country...

Fact Two: Under prohibition, drug use becomes more hardcore...

Fact Three: The drug war doesn’t reduce drug use – but the alternatives can...
There is more at the link, of course.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Quote of the day

"[S]kepticism is essential to the quest for knowledge; for it is in the seedbed of puzzlement that genuine inquiry takes root. Without skepticism, we may remain mired in unexamined belief systems that are accepted as sacrosanct yet have no factual basis in reality. With it, we allow for some free play for the generation of new ideas and the growth of knowledge." - Paul Kurtz, The New Skepticism: Inquiry and Reliable Knowledge

Friday, November 13, 2009

Off with his head! or: Neoconservative justice

Bill Kristol apparently believes that if you're a Muslim and accused of an act of terrorism then you should be executed summarily at the discretion of the President without charge or trial.*

Law enforcement officials announced yesterday that Maj. Nidal M. Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder in the brutal attacks at Fort Hood Army base. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that “the number one issue, I think right now, is that Major Hasan be brought to justice.”

Last night on Fox News, Bill Kristol called Napolitano’s comment “stupid” and stated outright that there should be no trial:

KRISTOL: I was very struck also by Janet Napolitano’s comment, I hadn’t read it before to see her say that, that the number one priority is to bring him to justice is such a knee-jerk comment and such a stupid comment. He’s going to be brought to justice. He is not going to be innocent of murder. There are a lot of eyewitnesses to that. They should just go ahead and convict him and put him to death.
Giving the Executive branch of government the power to declare a U.S. citizen guilty and have that individual killed by fiat without due process of the law was exactly why this country was founded, you know? The founders sought to break away from an oppressive, undemocratic system of government in which the most bedrock principle was that of habeus corpus: the right to not be imprisoned or punished without a fair trial. That's what our history books say, right?

I'm not sure what is worse, Kristol's open contempt for the most basic civil liberties and principles of western democracy which are enshrined in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, or the Obama administration's more subversive tiered system of justice.

So what we have here is not an announcement that all terrorism suspects are entitled to real trials in a real American court. Instead, what we have is a multi-tiered justice system, where only certain individuals are entitled to real trials: namely, those whom the Government is convinced ahead of time it can convict. Others for whom conviction is less certain will be accorded lesser due process: put in military commissions, to which most leading Democrats vehemently objected when created under Bush. Presumably, others still -- those who the Government believes cannot be convicted in either forum, will simply be held indefinitely with no charges, a power the administration recently announced it intends to preserve based on the same theories used by Bush/Cheney to claim that power.

A system of justice which accords you varying levels of due process based on the certainty that you'll get just enough to be convicted isn't a justice system at all. It's a rigged game of show trials.
At least with Kristol, you have the injustice right out in the open. With the heads I win, tails you lose system being proposed by the Obama Department of Justice, there is a facade of due process which hides the injustice.

*I'm granting for the sake of argument that Hasan is guilty of terrorism, yet I don't believe his murderous rampage is terrorism. The profile of his act that seems more appropriate is that of the disgruntled employee who "goes Postal" on his co-workers. What's more, terrorism is generally defined to be an act of violence directed towards civilian targets to make a political point ... that didn't happen with Hasan. See here for more thoughts on the subject.

Beck gets South Parked

Crooks and Liars has a nice 5 minute clip. You can view the entire episode - "Dances with Smurfs" - here.

The amazing thing, to me, is that Beck considers the mocking to be a compliment (that the shows creators are libertarians who have run episodes mocking Al Gore and global warming helps), failing to notice that the joke is predicated upon the ridiculous and baseless nature of Beck's obsessive, non-stop character defamation.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scientists as villains

In the original V mini series, the "Jews" of the Nazi analogue aliens were scientists who were persecuted by the aliens for supposedly plotting against the human race. Knowing how many movement conservatives were quick to assume the new version of the show depicts President Obama as a fascist totalitarian alien, its a tad bit ironic to see so many conservatives who seem to have bought into the same sort of anti-science conspiracy that the Visitor aliens sold to the public.

Witness Christopher Monckton who believes that the IPCC was created to establish a one world dictatorship rather than to address anthropogenic global warming and the associated climate change.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When "free market" doesn't equal "free"

Visit for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

One of the reasons I cover Glenn Beck and his ilk so much is that I'm disgusted by the way that they characterize anyone who doesn't share their market fundamentalism as communists or fascists intent upon reducing human freedom. It is truly Orwellian watching Beck describe progressivism as totalitarian and the source of human slavery because it takes away the "freedom" to be a wage slave or be worked literally to death.

Here's the David Sirota piece that inspired that segment

Check out this report from Inside U.S. Trade (no link- subscription required) - it's straight from the I Shit You Not File:

Business groups are worried by the potential effects of provisions banning the import of all goods made with convict labor, forced labor, or forced or indentured child labor that were included in a customs bill sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) and Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-IA)...

These groups are examining the ramifications of the bill's provisions, especially in light of the bill's requirements that a newly created office in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) annually report to Congress on the volume and value of goods made with child labor, forced labor or convict labor that have been stopped at the border.

Business sources say this reporting requirement could cause DHS to more actively seek out imported products made with child labor, forced labor or convict labor...

One source did expect a push from lobbyists closer to the Finance Committee markup of the bill, and speculated that U.S. industry groups and foreign governments could form ad hoc coalitions to help send a united message.

AM radio conspiracy of the day

I flipped on Neal Boortz's radio program earlier today to here him explaining that Media Matters was created/funded by George Soros in order to attack anyone who got in the way of Hillary Clinton's presidential aspirations.

Is there simply any non-conservative project that is not linked to some George Soros/Clintons conspiracy by movement conservative cultists?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Happy birthday, Mr. Sagan

The late Carl Sagan, probably the greatest science communicator of the 20th century, would have been 75 today.

In memory of his contributions to science and the public understanding and appreciation of it, eSkeptic has made available a lecture series on Sagan and a compendium of articles about him.

Every book that I have read by Sagan has been a tremendous pleasure, but The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark remains seminal reading for every skeptic and science enthusiast.

Update: Click here to watch James Randi's hour long talk in rememberance of his friend Sagan.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Quote of the day

"My TV doesn’t work and I’ve never watched Glenn Beck. Can you imagine how hard it is for me to understand, much less believe, that this routine is based on the gestures and madness of an actual person who apparently influences 30% of (US) Americans?" - Commenter Linda N. at Arthur Goldwag's blog, responding to Jon Stewart's parody of Beck

Update: I made this point in response to Linda in that comment thread, but I think it worth repeating here. If you aren't familiar with Beck's program and see Stewart do that routine, you'd just assume when Stewart uses the game Operation to allege a conspiracy to remove Beck's appendix he's just being silly. But that's based on an actual segment of Beck's show in which Beck played Connect Four to demonstrate a supposed Marxist conspiracy of radicals in the White House.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Jon Stewart mimics Beck, Thomas Jefferson applauds

"Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them" - Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, July 30, 1816

As a regular viewer of Beck's conspiratorial, anti-intellectual nonsense, I must say that Stewart's performance is impeccable. The glasses, the piling up of books on the desk, the scribbled madness, the Daffy Duck (pre Chuck Jones turning him into a foil for Bugs Bunny) style performance ... it's all perfect.

Update: The plot thickens ... the nefarious SEIU in on the conspiracy to remove Beck's appendix?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

And so it goes ...

Shorter conservative movement: we believe the apparently benign Obama administration is a secretly totalitarian, figuratively alien (unAmerican) entity, with nefarious plans to destroy America; therefore, a tv show about an apparently benign but secretly totalitarian, literally alien entity, with nefarious plans to destroy the planet is obviously about the Obama administration.

It's just a syllogism of conservative illogic for movement conservatives. Likewise, they believe that President Obama is a Nazi, a "liberal fascist"; therefore a remake of an allegory about Nazis is also obviously about President Obama.

And since one single journalist is pressured by the Visitor leader into giving her a soft ball interview, the show is also obviously taking on "Obama-mania."* That there is such a thing as Obama-mania in the first place is simply an article of faith for movement conservatives: the press is always "liberally biased" for liberals against conservatives. This is an axiomatic truth that can not be effected by reality (also see here.)

*In the original 1983 series, the analogous journalist character becomes the Visitor leader's press secretary. In the new series, the journalist is actually more skeptical of the leader's motives than the original character was. One could just as easily interpret the character having been pressured into reporting favorably on the Visitors to something like Dan Rather saying after 9/11, "George Bush is the president. He makes the decisions, and, you know, it's just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where. And he'll make the call." I don't believe the creators had that in mind, but it goes along way towards demonstrating how singular the worldview of Beck and Hannity and the rest is.

Update: From Media Matters

Fox News' Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Glenn Beck have all endorsed the new ABC television show V, citing the show's depiction of aliens seeking to conquer Earth who offer to provide universal health care as a critique of "Obama-mania" and "Obamacare." This is not the first time Fox News personalities have promoted a television show to buttress their right-wing world view; many of them cited Fox's 24 to defend the use of torture by U.S. authorities, among other conservative positions.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Update on a modest prediction or: confirmed - I have psychic powers

I previously made the following prediction:

not long after ABC's reboot of the sci-fi series V launches, the aliens in the show will be viewed as analagous to the Obama administration by persons like Glenn Beck and such.
The show's premier was last night. It took one day.

"'V' aims at Obamamania"

Imagine this. At a time of political turmoil, a charismatic, telegenic new leader arrives virtually out of nowhere. He offers a message of hope and reconciliation based on compromise and promises to marshal technology for a better future that will include universal health care.

The news media swoons in admiration -- one simpering anchorman even shouts at a reporter who asks a tough question: "Why don't you show some respect?!" The public is likewise smitten, except for a few nut cases who circulate batty rumors on the Internet about the leader's origins and intentions. The leader, undismayed, offers assurances that are soothing, if also just a tiny bit condescending: "Embracing change is never easy."

So, does that sound like anyone you know?
Yes, when the show was created in 1983 with the same exact plot and premise, it was obviously done as an allegorical tale about the future presidency of Barack Obama. The bit about universal health care was also obviously meant to demonstrate that President Obama is trying to trick the American people into accepting repressive government; it certainly wasn't a joke based on health technology from outerspace aliens truly being "universal."

"Is Obama an alien? ‘V’ and the age of hysteria"

The appearance of “V,” a refried UFO show on ABC, suggests that President Barack Obama is a dangerous alien. What’s interesting is that this new series is by a major network that went unconscionably gaga over Obama last year.

Such reportage — the gushing, idolatrous positivism issued by Katie Couric and Charles Gibson in the 2008 race, a perfect, present-day equivalent of Aldous Huxley’s “feelies” — is viewed here as it is with Huxley: as totalitarian. Elizabeth Mitchell, Earth Mother incarnate from the “Lost” series, back from True North to form an underground, is definitely worth the watch. Maybe they are cruising under the censors as they do in “Lost,” like the 19th-century Russians did, but the insurgents here very definitely view the federal government with its “sleeper cells” bringing “endless wars,” duplicitously “spreading hope,” pitching healthcare bribes to the clerks and proles and cultivating the blind devotion of the young in the Maoist and Leninist traditions as totalitarian. This could get interesting.
"V: The New Series or Obama Takes Manhattan"

So, dont know if anyone saw this last night, but I felt a bit of Obama satire going on. Alien sleeper cells come to Earth to ruin it, then the aliens land and use propaganda to bring us hope and change, including...wait for it...universal health care! Theres also the legion of young brownshirts, the control of the media. This should be interesting with the shoe on the other foot.
"'Left Lashes Out at ‘V’, Obama’Friendly ABC Purges Showrunner"

Last night a brave and insightful documentary was aired that accurately portrayed the wave of ObamaMania that swept the nation. It was called “V” and aired on ABC to mostly rave reviews and tremendous ratings.
"Parallels to Obamamania in ABC's 'V' Sci-Fi Mini-Series, Plus Reporter Helps the Aliens"

The top producer of the mini-series, set to air over the next four Tuesdays and then return in March, denied to USA Today's Levin's any parallels to Obama:

Others on both sides of the political spectrum may point to the visitors' explicit promises of hope, change and universal health care as a pointed reference to pledges of the Obama administration. But [Executive Producer Scott] Peters says the show has been in the works since 2007. Reality was “never really a factor,” he says. “There's no political message being shoved down anyone's throat.”
Obviously, the producer denying the show is an allegory about President Obama is proof that the show is an allegory about President Obama.

"V" Returns

So that's why Obama is hiding his long form birth certificate! Under race, instead of "Colored" or "Negro" it says, "Carnivorous Lizard."
Kudos for working birther denialism and racism into it.

"'V' Premier has Obama's promises all over it"

I watched the premier of the series 'V' on ABC last night with my wife. The press wasn't kidding - it was a frontal assault on Obama's policies. Two scenes in particular were eye-openers. One was later in the show when a suck-up media reporter was interviewing the alien leader "Anna." In the interview, the alien promised what the reported correctly pointed out was "universal healthcare." That is an Obama promise that he can't keep. The other scene was before the interview when the same reporter was being prepped and Anna demanded that he ask no questions that would make the visitors look bad. This is modus operindi of the Obama White House.
"ABC’s “V” A Knock Against The Obama Administration?"

What really grabbed me were the parallels between the V storyline and the realities of the Obama administration.
"'V offering better universal health care than Obama"

I was just drawing paralells with 'V'. They even mentioned Hope and Change!!! I'm surprised that the communications Czar from the Obama administration allowed this show to make it on naitonal t.v.
"The Parallels of V & the Obama Administration"

The simularities are uncanny.V is a television mini series that made its debut last night about Aliens who come to earth. They promise hope and change, health care for all, dictate over the type of press and they have young adults/teenagers in a grass roots campaign dress up in V uniforms to serve them which is kind of reminiscent of Obama's vision of recruiting American youths into his Civilian Defense Force.
That was posted by someone going by the moniker "David Duke is Right"

"ABC’s “V” - A Scathing Critique of the Establishment and Obama"

I tuned into catch the series premiere of ABC’s new Sci-Fi series “V” and was pleasantly surprised. Not only is the show well written and decently acted with a good amount of action and intrigue leaving the viewers wanting more. It is a not-so-thinly veiled critique of Barack Obama and the cult of personality that surrounds him.

One of the biggest points in the series premiere is made by the priest, Father Jack Landry is to not blindly trust the “Visitors” a group of more advanced aliens seeking seemingly peaceful refuge with us and our resources in exchange for technology.

The visitors come from no where. Their leader, Anna, like all the other visitors look like really attractive human beings. She promises peace to Earth’s leaders and assures the planet she is looking to leave it better than when they arrived. Sound familiar?
Yes. Just like Barack Obama coming from the "no where" that is the United States Senate and the far away, distant galaxy that is Chicago.

"ABC Series ‘V’: Invading, Fascist Lizards Arrive With ‘Universal Health Care’ and ‘Message of Hope’ –ABC Network Portrays Aliens, Hell-bent on Destroying Planet Earth, as the Obama Administration"

"Obama Parable?: Brownshirt Lizards Return in ‘V’"

Today, I’m writing to comment on “V,” as I’m sure many viewers missed the parallels of the questions raised in the show regarding our own politics today.

Hollywood script-writing 101 classes tell writers, “If you want to write a good script, write what you know.” Kenneth Johnson, creator of the original “V” series and story writer of the resurrected version, apparently knows his history. For disclosure purposes, I have met him and visited his home many years ago, but don’t know really much about him other than he has a good grasp on good and evil and human, albeit lizard, nature. (Possible political jab that the Left is slimy … even though lizards are not?)
The self-professed blacklisted Christian director goes on to wonder why so many conservatives objected to the protagonist in V for Vendetta blowing up the English parliament building despite it having been "occupied by representatives of the people who later voted in Leftist oppressors." That's right, the film adaptation of an anarchist parable inspired by Alan Moore's disdain for the Thatcher administration, retooled as a post 9/11 parable about trading liberties for the promise of security was really about fighting them evil leftists.

And I saved this link from Glenn Beck's site for last: "Favorite new show for Glenn?"

KEVIN: This could have been a Glenn Beck production. If Glenn Beck wrote this script, it could not have been better.

PAT: Wow.

KEVIN: It was really amazing.

STU: I'm surprised that I mean, there's got to be some part of them that knows that there's going to be a reaction. I think it's going to get people to talk. But also that there is some sort of, some sort of that general sort of angst against the government right now.


STU: Is it true reading a little bit about this online and, Kevin, you might know something about this, that one of the strategies of the visitors is to sort of implant people in different, like, levels of government and media and everything else, which is, I mean

KEVIN: This is right out of the Glenn Beck playbook.

STU: It really is.

KEVIN: Yeah. What they did was they sent, you know, a small group here a decade ago or whatever and now some are firmly entrenched in government and some are local news anchors that you recognize.

PAT: Wow.

KEVIN: And all of this stuff.

PAT: Wow.

KEVIN: So that when the rest of them come, there's already this structure as Glenn might call it or a framework.


PAT: And there's just a teeny little Glenn Beck fraction that's like, these guys are not what they seem?
Yep, just like the shows writers intended. The resistance fighters in V who have evidence that the visistors are really reptiles who kill humans are obviously supposed to be Glenn Beck.

Gee, why don't these folks cut out the middle man and conclude, like David Icke did after he watched the original '80s series, that reptilian alien "elites" really are trying to implement a one world government.

Torture and cognitive dissonance

From ScienceDaily (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars), a study that suggests that the act of torturing itself leads to the belief that the tortured victim is guilty.

"Our research suggests that torture may not uncover guilt so much as lead to its perception," says Gray. "It is as though people who know of the victim's pain must somehow convince themselves that it was a good idea -- and so come to believe that the person who was tortured deserved it."

Not all torture victims appear guilty, however. When participants in the study only listened to a recording of a previous torture session -- rather than taking part as witnesses of ongoing torture -- they saw the victim who expressed more pain as less guilty. Gray explains the different results as arising from different levels of complicity.

"Those who feel complicit with the torture have a need to justify the torture, and so link the victim's pain to blame," says Gray. "On the other hand, those distant from torture have no need to justify it and so can sympathize with the suffering of the victim, linking pain to innocence."
This is consistent with the cognitive dissonance model of behavior rationalization.

Pat Boone wants to kill President Obama, figuratively speaking

Nothing sweller than seeing a crappy crooner wax poetic about gassing the "alien rodent" that is Barack Obama to his political death.

In time, it seems to happen to all older houses, no matter how well tended they may be.

All manner of parasites, vermin, roaches, rats, worms and termites find their way into the building. Long before they're detected, they infiltrate the walls, the floors, the roofs – and then chew their way into the structure, the supporting beams and the very foundation of the house itself. Silently, surreptitiously, whole communities of invaders make places for themselves, hidden but thriving, totally unknown by the homeowner.

Then, in time, tell-tale signs are seen. Little droppings, discolored trails, proliferating piles of residue appear in corners, on tabletops, little hanging sacs from ceilings – alarming evidence that the grand old dwelling has been invaded. Decidedly unwelcome creatures have made this place their home, and by their very existence will eventually destroy the house and bring it to ruin.

What can be done, when you learn that your house has already been invaded?

Well, the tried and true remedy is tenting.

Experts come in, actually envelope the whole dwelling in a giant tent – and send a very powerful fumigant, lethal to the varmints and unwelcome creatures, into every nook and cranny of the house. Done thoroughly, every last destructive insect or rodent is sent to varmint hell – and in a day or two, the grand house is habitable again.


And they will do just that, drastically … unless we act, decisively and powerfully. Our White House is being eaten away from within. We urgently need to throw a "tent" of public remonstration and outcry over that hallowed abode, to cause them to quake and hunker down inside. And then treat the invaders, the alien rodents, to massive voter gas – the most lethal antidote to would-be tyrants and usurpers.
Again, this is why I call this kind of attitude conservative supremacism: any political outcome different from what is desired by the individual in question is by definition tyrrany, thus there can be no legitimate governance that is not "conservative." In his article, Boone asserts that President Obama thinks himself an emperor. Why? Because he is attempting (lamely in some instances) to promote the issues that he campaigned on, the ones that led to voters to vote and elect him.

The sad irony being that the previous president asserted a pseudo-legal theory of presidential power that was imperial, monarchical in nature; yet that doesn't bother Boone. Even the aspects of the imperial presidency and national security state that President Obama has inherited and continues to use do not seem to bother Boone; actual impingements on civil liberty and encroachments of Executive power do not factor in. Imaginary totalitarianism explaining normal democractic outcomes Boone disagrees with is more important. This is a mentality that helps to enculturate a disrespect for the rule of law, as exemplified by the United States being a culture that will impeach a president for failing to acknowledge a consensual sexual affair but not for waging illegal wars.

And as Dave Neiwert notes, Boone's conservative supremacism is expressed with eliminationist rhetoric.

Remember my discussion of this kind of rhetoric in The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right:

What motivates this kind of talk and behavior is called eliminationism: a politics and a culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through suppression, exile, and ejection, or extermination.

Rhetorically, eliminationism takes on certain distinctive shapes. It always depicts its opposition as beyond the pale, the embodiment of evil itself, unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus worthy of elimination. It often further depicts its designated Enemy as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and disease-like cancers on the body politic. A close corollary—but not as nakedly eliminationist—are claims that opponents are traitors or criminals and that they pose a threat to our national security.

Eliminationism is often voiced as crude "jokes," a sense of humor inevitably predicated on venomous hatred. And such rhetoric—we know as surely as we know that night follows day—eventually begets action, with inevitably tragic results.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Living in his own alternate reality

You may recall I previously observed that virtually everything Andrew Breitbart says appears to be bullshit. Yet this is someone who is promoted by Fox News as a credible figure.

He's just part of the never ending stream of figures who are paraded on the network that live in some imaginary alternate reality. It borders on insane.

Example: Media Matters notes that Breitbart believes that President Obama "turned his domestic army of union thugs on the American people" by telling this fictional army to show up at townhall meetings to physically assault protesters.

Of course, it's easy to become desensitized to the absurdity of someone who holds such a worldview being promoted as a credible figure when it is a common belief of the Republican base that President Obama is deliberately attempting to destroy the American economy in order to install a totalitarian socialist regime.

Quote of the day

"The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power … has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false." - Theodor Adorno, as quoted by Al Gore in Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis

via Joe Romm's review of Our Choice.

Monday, November 02, 2009

How Goldman Sachs bet on losing

From McClatchy

In 2006 and 2007, Goldman Sachs Group peddled more than $40 billion in securities backed by at least 200,000 risky home mortgages, but never told the buyers it was secretly betting that a sharp drop in U.S. housing prices would send the value of those securities plummeting.

Goldman's sales and its clandestine wagers, completed at the brink of the housing market meltdown, enabled the nation's premier investment bank to pass most of its potential losses to others before a flood of mortgage defaults staggered the U.S. and global economies.

Only later did investors discover that what Goldman had promoted as triple-A rated investments were closer to junk.
McClatchy also released another report on Sachs' new role as the taker of people's homes

Theirs is an infrequent happy ending among the hundreds of cases in which subsidiaries of Goldman, better known for sending top officers such as Paulson to serve in top Washington posts, have sought to contain bondholder losses by foreclosing on properties and evicting delinquent borrowers.

Goldman spokesman Michael DuVally declined to comment on individual cases or on the firm's new role in bankruptcy courts.

Joining other Wall Street firms that bought millions of subprime mortgages, Goldman companies have gone to courts from California to Florida seeking approval to foreclose on the homes of middle- and lower-income Americans who couldn't keep up with their loans' soaring monthly payments.
And while people were losing their homes, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was secretly negotiating for Goldman Sachs and AIG against the interests of the US taxpayer.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

The history of evolution in cinema

From The X-Change Files (via Framing Science)

Distributors’ concerns about Creation’s marketability are not surprising when we examine the history of cinema in regard to depicting Darwin and evolution. In my academic work I have followed the evolution of how Darwin and evolutionary thought have been depicted in cinema. Darwin’s demonstration of humanity’s link to its primate past was first played for comedic purposes in films of the early twentieth century. Films such as Reversing Darwin’s Theory (1908), The Monkey Man (1908), and Darwin Was Right (1924) poked fun at those who took Darwin’s evolutionary claims seriously. People who believe they are descended from apes will act like apes.

After the highly publicized Scopes Monkey trial in 1925 the notion of a human/primate connection changed from one of comedy to one of horror in cinema. Several post-Scopes films, beginning with The Wizard in 1927, feature “mad evolutionist” characters who design evil experiments in order to prove their “crazy” evolutionary theories about humanity’s connection to the animal world. Likewise, the goal of the mad evolutionists in The Beast of Borneo (1934) and Dr. Renault’s Secret (1942) is to prove humanity’s link to the animal kingdom. In front of a chart detailing the evolutionary “ladder of life,” the mad evolutionist Dr. Mirakle (played by Bela Lugosi) from Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) informs an unbelieving carnival audience that “the shadow of the ape hangs over us all” and that he will mix human and gorilla blood to “prove Man’s connection with the ape.” While this evolutionary-minded scientist is ultimately punished for his heretical conceptions, the film actually conveys the human/primate connection through Mirakle’s grotesque appearance and his clearly “animalistic” actions. In mad evolutionist films, the only human beings with a clear connection to primates are the evolution spouting evil scientists and their simian-like assistants.
Recognizing the uphill battle facing the Darwin biopic Creation, the blogger notes that given this cinematic history and the on-going antipathy fundamentalists have to Darwin and evolutionary theory, it's:

unfortunate given how well the film depicts Darwin’s conflict with his wife over faith, his struggles concerning his theory’s moral implications, and his disagreements with his colleagues (especially T.H. Huxley). Most importantly, the film humanizes Darwin through his grief.