Thursday, December 30, 2010

Party like it's 1993

I'm finishing up a couple of book reviews that I'll have up after the new year starts, but I'm checking out for a few days until then, so happy New Year and let's keep rockin' in the free world ...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Quote of the day

"Solipsism is unusual in the history of philosophy in that there are no famous solipsists. Just about every conceivable crazy philosophical position has been held by some famous philosopher or other, but, as far as I know, no famous historical philosophers have ever been solipsists. Of course, if anyone were a solipsist it would hardly be worth his or her time to tell us that they were solipsists, because on their theory we don't exist."" - John Searle, Mind: A Brief Introduction

Monday, December 27, 2010

The ascendance of the Perpetual Lie

Over at Attywood, Will Bunch has written about the deleterious effects of the Tea Party counter-factual belief that the Obama administration is determined to confiscate the weapons of patriotic Americans, something Bunch examined at length in his excellent book on the rise of backlash politics.

I heard this not once but again and again in the fall of 2009, that Obama had a secret plan to confiscate guns or at least ammunition, that if he wasn't doing it in his first year in office then he was biding his time until after the 2010 election (which seemed just as silly than as it does now, knowing how the 2010 election actually turned out). Meanwhile, the fear of the coming Obama gun confiscation was having real-world effects. A rumor that Obama wanted to tax or seize people's ammo caused the price of bullets to skyrocket in 2009 way past what the government's ability to tax them would have been. Gun manufacturers -- who were supposedly going to be crushed by the Obama administration -- reported record profits. The worst impact was several lunatics whose mounting fear of the looming firearms crackdown caused them to go on shooting sprees -- most notably Pittsburgh's Richard Poplawski, who fatally gunned down three police officers.

In the reality-based world, Obama is doing nothing and saying nothing about guns. It's been that way for a long time; in the 2008 campaign, when he had occasion to be pressed on the issue, he blandly noted that he supported the Second Amendment (PDF file) just as any elected official from a duck-hunting prairie state might do. What's happened with guns on the federal legislation since he became the 44th president in January 2009? Obama signed bills that made it easier -- that's right, easier -- to bring guns into national parks and even on board Amtrak trains. That's the Obama gun confiscation, folks.

It's Big Lie -- and the sad truth is that the Big Lie still works.
Big Lie doesn't quite cover what the conservative movement has done to American politics. It's not just that Big Lies work, but that we have a political faction with a hardcore base that lives in a hermetically sealed world of almost complete fiction, a land of the Perpetual Lie.

Take a look at the number four story in Discover's 2010 top 100 science stories, for example. Despite being vindicated by FIVE different inquiries, the public perception of the state of climate science suffered as a result of the criminally manufactured scandal surrounding out-of-context quote-mined e-mails from East Anglia's Climate Research Unit. Five separate investigations have found the claims of scientific misconduct leveled against the involved scientists to be specious yet it is now an established bizarro fact in conservative world that these e-mails are "proof" of a global warming hoax. There is virtually no engagement with the reality of the situation.

And these are not isolated incidents, but indicative of how the conservative movement operates in general. Just look at the sort of people who are chosen to represent conservatism at the annual CPAC events. Serially reality divorced individuals like Ann Coulter (Joe McCarthy was a hero and right about commies), Glenn Beck (George Soros secretly/nefariously runs the world) and Rush Limbaugh (cigarettes aren't deadly).

Any movement that can take such individuals seriously is not a movement that takes truth seriously. Indeed, or hardly can acknowledge it at all.

Update: I was remiss in not linking to this recent example of the Perpetual Lie from Chris Rodda, debunking the so very ridiculous claim of David Barton and Glenn Beck that 94% of the Founder's quotes came from the Bible; and this omnibus post of Rodda's responses to the lies and fantasies of Barton and Beck.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Baleful quote of the day

"Those who mistreat foreigners, abuse citizens, and commit heinous crimes under the guise of national security are rarely held to account for their misdeeds through any process." - Scott Horton

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What do Harry Potter and Jesus Christ have in common?

Derek Murphy, of Holy Blasphemy, alerted me via email about a book that he has written that will be published early next year which may be of interest to readers. It is provocatively titled Jesus Potter, Harry Christ and is, in the words of the author, "mostly about viewing Jesus as a literary creation through the lens of Harry Potter, a similar but obviously fictional character. It's a thorough, non-threatening introduction of the literary (non-historical) Jesus Christ aimed at the general public."

To promote the book, Holy Blasphemy is holding a $500 dollar contest. To enter the contest, post a 500 word or less review of the book either on Amazon (when the page becomes available) or directly on the book's webpage above. Of course, to review the book one would need a copy of the book: click here to download a review copy (Chap. 1 is available online.)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Quotes of the day

"William James used to preach the 'will-to-believe.' For my part, I should wish to preach the 'will to doubt.'"

"What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is its exact opposite."

-Bertrand Russell, "Free Thought and Official Propaganda"

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Quote of the day

"[It] says something miserable about the state of our political discourse." - NPR guest, commenting on Wikileaks being described as a terrorist organization

The quote may be slightly off as I am quoting from memory. The guest was discussing this Columbia Journalism School letter speaking out against prosecution of Wikileaks.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Steven Johnson on the origin of good ideas

As usual with Fora, click the "Watch Full Program" button to view the entire hour long lecture.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Four dollars, five books

Here are my latest discount book buys:

Cradle (pb) by Arthur C. Clarke and Gentry Lee - $0.50.

The Assault on Reason (hc) by Al Gore - $1.00

Five Complete Miss Marple Novels (hc) by Agatha Christie - $1.00

I only purchased Cradle out of a slight interest in the book, but mainly because I didn't feel like getting fifty cents in change back from my purchase. Upon scanning the web I see that the book did not receive favorable reviews and I may end up donating it back to the library after I finish it (if I even try.)

I have already read and reviewed The Assault on Reason; as well as owning a Kindle edition of it, but could not resist having a hard cover edition for my book shelf. It is one of the best defenses of Enlightenment values that has come out in recent years, an exemplary example of the sort of cultural criticism that we need more of - and all the more impressive having come from a former Vice President. [Which reminds me that I've neglected to add Gore's blog to my Blog roll, which is now rectified.]

The Ten-Cent Plague is another book that I have already read, but the pop culture geek in me would not allow me to pass up a chance to add it to my collection. In it, Hajdu recounts a forgotten period of 20th century censorship, a history that is not well known outside of hardcore comic book fans, in which a 1950s McCarthy style witch hunt led to the effective dismantlement of an art form.

I have never read Agatha Christie before, and have frankly never had the desire, but had my interest piqued by Joshi's comments about her work in his curmudgeonly Junk Fiction and will give it a go in the same spirit.

Baleful quote of the day

"Cheap news is a major reason that every day we are failing in our core mission of providing people with the knowledge they need for our democracy to function." - David Cay Johnston

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bipartisan feudalism

From Democracy Now

AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, when we’re watching television, tell us what are the bullet points to watch for of the misrepresentations or outright lies that the journalists continually reiterate when talking about this [Obama administration tax proposal].

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, failing to report that this is a tax increase on the bottom roughly 45 million households in America, close to 150 million people, that’s number one. This is a tax increase for those people. Secondly, that the more money you make, the bigger your tax cut under the Republican plan. Thirdly, that the estate tax reductions to 35 percent and a $5 million, or for a married couple $10 million, exemption involve money, in many cases, that has never been taxed. When very wealthy people die, the reason they’re wealthy is they’ve reported, legally, less income than they made on an economic basis, so they have lots of money that was never taxed. And now it will never be taxed, up to $5 or $10 million, because of these changes. And those are key things that I would watch for.

The other one is, we’re going to cut spending. Well, there are only four big areas of federal government spending: interest, which is low right now because interest rates are low, that will go back up; the military, the Republicans are not exactly known for wanting to restrain military spending; Medicare, Medicaid, that is, government-provided healthcare for the elderly, the disabled and the poor; and then Social Security, which people paid into and expect to collect in their old age. So what are they going to cut? Are they going to cut food safety inspection, which is a tiny, tiny fraction of a penny, and worsen a situation in which food-borne illness occurs in this country at something like—I think it’s 20 times the rate in France and seven times the rate in England? Are we going to further take away education from poor children? Are we going to raise the cost of a higher education, which reduces the value of the most valuable asset we have—young minds, that we should be training and developing so we have a prosperous future?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Chris Hitchens on the unreason of Glenn Beck

Hitchens in Vanity Fair

Glenn Beck has not even been encouraging his audiences to reread Robert Welch. No, he has been inciting them to read the work of W. Cleon Skousen, a man more insane and nasty than Welch and a figure so extreme that ultimately even the Birch-supporting leadership of the Mormon Church had to distance itself from him. It’s from Skousen’s demented screed The Five Thousand Year Leap (to a new edition of which Beck wrote a foreword, and which he shoved to the position of No. 1 on Amazon) that he takes all his fantasies about a divinely written Constitution, a conspiratorial secret government, and a future apocalypse. To give you a further idea of the man: Skousen’s posthumously published book on the “end times” and the coming day of rapture was charmingly called The Cleansing of America. A book of his with a less repulsive title, The Making of America, turned out to justify slavery and to refer to slave children as “pickaninnies.” And, writing at a time when the Mormon Church was under attack for denying full membership to black people, Skousen defended it from what he described as this “Communist” assault.

So, Beck’s “9/12 Project” is canalizing old racist and clerical toxic-waste material that a healthy society had mostly flushed out of its system more than a generation ago, and injecting it right back in again. Things that had hidden under stones are being dug up and re-released. And why? So as to teach us anew about the dangers of “spending and deficits”? It’s enough to make a cat laugh. No, a whole new audience has been created, including many impressionable young people, for ideas that are viciously anti-democratic and ahistorical. The full effect of this will be felt farther down the road, where we will need it even less.

Quote of the day

"We humans can take almost any evidence and distort it in support of our point of view when we care more about that point of view than we care about the truth." - Valerie Tarico, Trusting Doubt

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Monday, December 06, 2010

My Sisyphean struggles to blog about Glenn Beck

I've been meaning on writing a post about why I feel it necessary to blog about Beck since at least July, when I read this post at Rationally Speaking (you'll notice I show up in the comments there), but keep putting it off. A major reason why is that I am simply unable to keep up with the pace of stupid, deranged, hateful, crazy nonsense that Beck generates on a daily basis.

For months now I've bookmarked or made a note about something Beck has said, intending to write something about it in the next day or so, only to get up the next day to be confronted by something else Beck has done that I feel worthy of a response. It's impossible to keep up with.

And still is. So this post will still not be the meta-post on Beck that I intend to write someday.

But I will make note of the irony today of a person who believes the utter nonsense of the Joseph Smith story, despite Smith being a known charlatan in his day, making fun of someone else for an allegorical reference to a Mayan deity in order to make a clever point.

Of course, underlying the irony is the ignorance, childishness and cultural bigotry.

Yet Beck, along with fellow high school graduates Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, is one of the top conservative pundits. That speaks so much for the cult of anti-intellectualism at the heart of movement conservatism.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Today's discount book buys

Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich (hc) by Robert Frank for two dollars.

I've previously read and reviewed Rossmiller's excellent Still Broken but didn't own a copy.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Puppy update

Found the stray I took home a new home which she will be joining Friday.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Quote of the day

"Two Worlds, One Sun" - Inscription on the MarsDials

The Mars Exploration Rovers each carry an identical sundial, approximately three inches square. Space artist Jon Lomberg (a Planetary Society Advisor) designed the face of the MarsDial, and Louis Friedman, Executive Director of The Planetary Society, coined the MarsDial's motto: Two Worlds, One Sun. Their primary function is as calibration targets for the high-resolution Panoramic Cameras aboard each rover, so they are imaged frequently over the course of the mission. But these thousands of images of the MarsDials with their moving shadows calso serve to remind the public that Mars and Earth truly are two worlds with one Sun.

The idea of using the calibration target as a Martian sundial was a brainstorm of Bill Nye the Science Guy, then a Planetary Society board member.
For more on the inspiring story of the Mars rovers, see the 2006 Doubter Book of the Year pick Postcards from Mars.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Palin Beckifies feminist history

Glenn Beck has a terrible habit of trying to invoke figures who held views he regularly attacks as representatives of views that he holds. The ultimate case in point being Martin Luther King, who Beck has made a centerpiece of his anti social justice cause despite MLK being an advocate of social justice.

Michelle Goldberg has been looking through Sarah Palin's new book and sees that Palin shares the trait in common with her anti-intellectual pal Beck:

[Palin] sets earlier feminist heroines, who she seems to imagine were a lot like Sarah Palin. “What is hardest to take about liberals calling the emerging conservative feminist identity anti-feminist or even anti-woman is that this new crop of female leaders represents a return to what the women’s movement originally was,” she writes.

The historical revisionism here recalls that of Christian conservatives who try to paint our deistic Founding Fathers as devout evangelicals. At one point, Palin refers to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Declaration of Sentiments,” which came out of the historic 1848 women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York. Stanton deliberately echoed the language of the Declaration of Independence, referring to the rights that women are entitled to “by the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” To Palin, this mention of God proves that Stanton shared her faith: “Can you imagine a contemporary feminist invoking ‘the laws of nature and of nature’s God?’ These courageous women spoke of our God-given rights because they believed they were given equally, by God, to men and women.”

Not really. Stanton was a famous freethinker, eventually shunned by more conservative elements of the women’s movement for her attacks on religion. In one 1885 speech, she declared, “You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded women.” Ten years later, she published the first volume of The Woman’s Bible, her mammoth dissection of biblical misogyny. Stanton was particularly scathing on the notion of the virgin birth: “Out of this doctrine, and that which is akin to it, have sprung all the monasteries and nunneries of the world, which have disgraced and distorted and demoralized manhood and womanhood for a thousand years.”

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Delayed by dog

I had hoped on trying to get some posting done today, but, as I say in the post title, that has been delayed by dog.

While out for a run earlier today on a local path I noticed an apparently stray/ultra-friendly dog running up to every person in sight trying to get someone to take account for it. Walking up to the path start a girl who the dog had been following told me that it had been following people all morning.

I started my run and as I jogged by the dog it began to run along with me, then sprinted out ahead of me for a bit, looking back over its shoulder every now and then to keep track of me. As it tired out it began to fall behind but would catch its breath then sprint up to me in an effort to keep up. This went on for a literal mile and a half, at which point I had to stop running (had planned on doing 4 miles) otherwise the dog would have run itself to death trying to keep up with me.

So I took it home and will be trying to find it (actually, her) a home or the original owner. And instead of blogging I'm babysitting. A dog.

Quote of the day

"Our natural tendency is to value our countrymen and co-religionists more than others, and we expect God's loyalties to reflect our own. How many times have you seen a sign that says, 'God Bless America'? How many times have you seen one that says, 'God Bless the World'?" - Valerie Tarico, Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light

Friday, November 26, 2010

Once upon a hack ...

I've been busy taking a mental health break this week (and will get back to blogging maybe tomorrow,) but for those still checking in I present for your perusal The War Room Hack Thirty list of the most hackish pundits.

The War Room Hack Thirty is a list of our least favorite political commentators, newspaper columnists and constant cable news presences, ranked roughly (but only roughly) in order of awfulness and then described rudely. Criteria for inclusion included writing the same column every week for 30 years, warmongering, joyless repetition of conventional wisdom, and making bad puns.
And as Eric Boehlert noted on his twitter feed, the list marks a good point to remember his chapter on The Note from Lapdogs.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Quote of the day

"[B]ecause the Bible was written over a time period spanning centuries and was integrated 'by committee,' the biblical God is a mass of contradictions. The more carefully and completely one reads the Bible, the more incoherent the image of God becomes. If one attempts to build an image of God that integrates all of the characteristics, attributes, and behaviors the scriptures describe, the resulting description is nonsensical. Words have to be redefined so thoroughly that they become meaningless." - Valerie Tarico, Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The original birther conspiracy theory

"Democrats had tried to discredit the Republican president, Chester Arthur, alleging that he had been born half a century earlier in Canada, and had at some time purloined his dead brother's Vermont birth identity." - David Aaronovitch, Voodoo Histories: The Role of Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Baleful quote of the day

"Habeus corpus had less of a constituency in 2007, in the Congress of the United States, than it had in the field at Runnymede in 1215." - Charles Pierce, Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Quote of the day

"The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasure of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause. Poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight, which have the power of attracting and assimilating to their own nature all other thoughts, and which form new intervals and interstices whose void forever craves fresh food. Poetry strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man, in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb." - Percy Bysshe Shelley, "A Defense of Poetry"

America, land of the free ... war criminals

Thanks to the Obama administration's vow to "Look Forward, Not Back", which in practice amounts to an ongoing disregard for the rule of law, a continuance of human rights and civil liberties abuses, and a cover-up of criminal malfeasance, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are free to tour the country (but perhaps not the world) bragging of their authorization and support for torture.

Dahlia Lithwick comments on this as well as anything I could think to say. But I would like to note that when given the opportunity, liberal bloggers who spent years denouncing the attrocious human rights record of the Bush administration, failed to question President Obama about his active efforts to continue many of those same policies and shield members of the previous administration from criminal accountability.

This is especially frustrating when it is so easy to point out the sheer hypocrisy of this all. Given that our Versailles media class - the Chuck Todds and such - are nihilistic relativists when it comes to government actions who have managed to see their moral compass dissappear, it's not likely that many in the mainstream press will be bothered by the torture rehabilitation tour that Bush 43 is now on.

Thus, you would think that people who previously recognized torture as a grave crime might have attempted to ask the President to defend his betrayal of the values that he campaigned on.

Update: This link is merely an elaboration on the point I made above about nihilistic relativists in the press - those who, in the name of "objectivity," would do damage to objective truth. They, too, along with the current administration and an apathetic public, have helped make America safe for torture.

Update II: I believe this Amy Goodman quote speaks for itself

Which brings us back to Guantanamo. While the U.S. preaches to Cuba about its lack of democracy, maintaining an embargo against the country for decades, you would think it would set up a model of democracy on the piece of Cuba that the U.S. controls. Instead, it has formed a globally reviled concentration camp there, a Kafkaesque land beyond the reach of law. About 180 men are now interned at Guantanamo Bay, with diminishing prospects of a day in any real court, for years subjected to interrogations and to extended isolation that is both legally and actually torture. President Obama promised to close the prison camp. Congress now is unlikely to fund any Guantanamo shutdown and prisoner transfer, leaving the president shackled to Guantanamo, consigning the prisoners there to indefinite detention and despair, and deepening the disgust with which many in the world view the U.S.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

On the phrase "faith-based"

"It's a cheap salesman's term of art, something you'd use to pitch a television program or a breakfast cereal. It even sounds like an additive - 'faith-based' - an artificial flavoring to make crude biases taste of bread and wine. It's camouflage under which religion is sold like smuggled goods in places where it doesn't belong." - Charles Pierce, Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free

Friday, November 12, 2010

Quote of the day

"It is not a major exaggeration to say that [Michael] Savage makes Gordon Liddy sound like Bertrand Russell. Not to put too fine a point upon it, Michael Savage ... is a raving public nutcase." - Charles Pierce, Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Beck becomes absolute living embodiment of the paranoid style

Beck, yesterday, during his demented hour long, para-antisemitic program accusing George Soros of pretty much controlling the world and having nefarious plans to destroy America:

Eighty years ago, George Soros was born. Little did the world know then, economies would collapse, currencies would become worthless, elections would be stolen, regimes would fall. And one billionaire would find himself coincidentally at the center of it all.
Richard Hofstadter in "The Paranoid Style"

The enemy is clearly delineated: he is a perfect model of malice, a kind of amoral superman—sinister, ubiquitous, powerful, cruel, sensual, luxury-loving. Unlike the rest of us, the enemy is not caught in the toils of the vast mechanism of history, himself a victim of his past, his desires, his limitations. He wills, indeed he manufactures, the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way. He makes crises, starts runs on banks, causes depressions, manufactures disasters, and then enjoys and profits from the misery he has produced. The paranoid’s interpretation of history is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will. Very often the enemy is held to possess some especially effective source of power: he controls the press; he has unlimited funds; he has a new secret for influencing the mind (brainwashing); he has a special technique for seduction (the Catholic confessional).
Never mind that part of the supposed sinister plot ("regimes would fall") happened to be funding democratic organizations that helped to accelerate the fall of communism. Only in Idiot America can such be sold by a charlatan to a credulous audience as a global communist conspiracy against the United States.

And speaking of "para-antisemitism" ...

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Fifty cents worth of inspiration

Seeing a paperback edition of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio on sale at the library for fifty cents while recalling that the short book served as an inspiration for Ray Bradbury's - one of my favorite authors - choice of format in The Martian Chronicles - my favorite Bradbury book and the first of his I read - I was obligated to purchase it.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Quote of the day

"[I]n respect of riches, no citizen [should] ever be wealthy enough to buy another, and none poor enough to be forced to sell himself." - Jean-Jaques Rousseau, The Social Contract, Bk. 2 Chp. XI

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Phantom Left

If you follow my twitter feed, you will have noticed that I was less than thrilled by Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. Although I only had the heart to write 140 character or less comments, I can not whole heartily endorse any commentary more than I endorse what Chris Hedges has written in response, about the way that the political establishment (both Republicans and Democrats) use the "phantom left" - the non existent political left-wing in American politics - as a tool to divert the public's attention from the real sources of the erosion of our democratic institutions.

The American left is a phantom. It is conjured up by the right wing to tag Barack Obama as a socialist and used by the liberal class to justify its complacency and lethargy. It diverts attention from corporate power. It perpetuates the myth of a democratic system that is influenced by the votes of citizens, political platforms and the work of legislators. It keeps the world neatly divided into a left and a right. The phantom left functions as a convenient scapegoat. The right wing blames it for moral degeneration and fiscal chaos. The liberal class uses it to call for “moderation.” And while we waste our time talking nonsense, the engines of corporate power—masked, ruthless and unexamined—happily devour the state.
Hedges goes on to excoriate Stewart for attempting to equate those who are outraged by the damage being done to democracy with shrill extremists, without acknowledging the very real grievances that they have.

The Rally to Restore Sanity, held in Washington’s National Mall, was yet another sad footnote to the death of the liberal class. It was as innocuous as a Boy Scout jamboree. It ridiculed followers of the tea party without acknowledging that the pain and suffering expressed by many who support the movement are not only real but legitimate. It made fun of the buffoons who are rising up out of moral swamps to take over the Republican Party without accepting that their supporters were sold out by a liberal class, and especially a Democratic Party, which turned its back on the working class for corporate money.
Fox News’ Beck and his allies on the far right can use hatred as a mobilizing force because there are tens of millions of Americans who have very good reason to hate. They have been betrayed by the elite who run the corporate state, by the two main political parties and by the liberal apologists, including those given public platforms on television, who keep counseling moderation as jobs disappear, wages drop and unemployment insurance runs out. As long as the liberal class speaks in the dead voice of moderation it will continue to fuel the right-wing backlash. Only when it appropriates this rage as its own, only when it stands up to established systems of power, including the Democratic Party, will we have any hope of holding off the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party.

On Epictetus

"There is great sincerity and simplicity in the writings which record the sayings of Epictetus ... His morality is lofty and unworldly; in a situation in which man's main duty is to resist tyrannical power, it would be difficult to find anything more helpful. In some respects, for instance in recognizing the brotherhood of man and in teaching the equality of slaves, it is superior to anything to be found in Plato or Aristotle or any philosopher whose thought is inspired by the City State. The actual world, in the time of Epictetus, was very inferior to the Athens of Pericles; but the evil in what existed liberated his aspirations, and his ideal world is as superior to that of Plato as his actual world is inferior to the Athens of the fifth century." - Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy

For more on Epictetus, see his entry at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Today's discount book buy

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (pb) for fifty cents.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ann Coulter's dream come true


Ann Coulter has a new book out: Guilty: Jewish "Victims" and Their Assault on Germany oops! I mean: Guilty: Liberal "Victims" and Their Assault on America.

While out promoting this book she advocated "strong Republican men" punch non-violent (though disruptive) 99 pound female anti-war protesters in the face when they get the chance.

As far-right ophthalmologist Rand Paul (R) arrived for the candidates' final debate, Lauren Valle of tried to give him a satirical "employee of the month award" from Republicorp, a pseudo-entity created by MoveOn to draw attention to the merger of the GOP and corporate interests.

But before Valle could reach the candidate, Paul supporters grabbed her, forced her to the ground, and at one point, literally stomped on her head as she lay helpless on the curb.
But remember - only shrill, leftwing partisans see any connection between violence directed at "liberals" and the obsessive, totalistic and categorical demonization of "liberals" as evil enemies of America by leading mainstream figures within the conservative movement.

For example, one should not notice that those defending several men grabbing a woman with a sign, forcing her to the ground, then stomping at her head are doing so on the premise that she's an "unhinged leftist" who is, thus, dangerous; and that Michelle Malkin wrote a dishonest book - Unhinged - which demonized "liberals" as being dangerous and unhinged left-wing extremists.

Four years ago, I wondered

How long might it be before we see the results of the seed of hate that is being planted by the people who "joke" about the elimination of liberals?
It appears we already are - and have.

Today, Neal Boortz decided to plant a new seed.

Wanted: A Rand Paul supporter with a bad back to stand on a Media Matters staffer's head for a while

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Quote of the day

"There are three things to which man is born—labor, and sorrow, and joy. Each of these three things has its baseness and its nobleness. There is base labor, and noble labor. There is base sorrow, and noble sorrow. There is base joy, and noble joy. But you must not think to avoid the corruption of these things by doing without the things themselves. Nor can any life be right that has not all three. Labor without joy is base. Labor without sorrow is base. Sorrow without labor is base. Joy without labor is base." - John Ruskin,Time and Tide (Letter V)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Baleful quote of the day

"[W]hen someone who has got genocide on the mind thinks that you’re too extreme, you’re really kind of far out there." - Jeff Sharlet

Sharlet is speaking about David Bahati, a leading proponent of a Ugandan effort to criminalize homosexuality and make it punishable by death, dismissing the conspiracy theory of Scott Lively, who argues that the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide are the result of homosexuality.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Witness your utopian Tea Party future

Thanks to Sarah Palin, we know that Tea Partiers are firm believers in the First Amendment rights of candidates to run for office and not be criticized by the press. Which is why its so understandable that the Glenn Beck watching, Alex Jones conspiracy promoting, survivalist ex and active duty crew cut white military guys working as security for Palin endorsed Tea Party candidate Joe Miller felt the need to "arrest" a reporter at a "private event" (aka a town hall for Miller open to the public held at a public school). Miller is a self-proclaimed lover of the Constitution and his guards were obviously just fulfilling their oath to protect the Constitution from enemies foreign and liberal; they had to handcuff and detain him and threaten other reporters with the same because they were protecting Miller's First Amendment right to not be questioned by journalists about his past public service.

Thank god the Tea Party is here to save the Constitution.

Speaking of oath keeping, Digby notes that bikers from a biker gang at another "private event" (aka a rally in a public park open to the public) for Palin endorsed Tea Party candidate (and veteran discharged for torture) Allen West physically threatened a worker for West's opponent who showed up at the rally with a camera. Again, they must have been protecting West's First Amendment rights from a domestic enemy.

Thank god we have military veterans, using physical violence to give America a phoenix like rebirth from the stab in the back at the hand of liberal enemies within, in the Tea Party to save the Constitution from the fascism of the top marginal tax rate cut of 3 percentage points being allowed to expire.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Parody in the age of Beck

I recall reading recently Stephen Colbert saying something to the effect that it has become increasingly difficult to parody Glenn Beck since he is already so cartoonish and over the top. While this is certainly true, Simon Malloy has demonstrated that it is still possible to generate some brilliant parody of Beck, as he has done with his "Glenn's Beck timeline of American history"

I love this part

6,000 BC: God creates entire planet just for America.

27 BC: Caesar Augustus becomes first person to employ the Obama Doctrine.

1 AD: First Founding Father born.

1981: Ronald Reagan cuts taxes 23 percent, revenues increase 4 billion percent.

1983: Federal spending as percentage of GDP hits unsustainable 23 percent. No historical record exists of who was president at the time.
On a more serious note, historian Sean Wilentz has written a lengthy article about how Beck's psuedo-historicism is mainstreaming 50 year old extremist conspircy theory. The difference being that Beck has a megaphone in Fox News that his predecessors could only dream of and exists in a vacuum of public intellectual leadership.

The whole thing is worth reading, but I will merely highlight one of the examples of the distorted view of history that Beck gives to his audience

Beck’s readings of Progressive-era politics are nearly as bizarre. Whatever can be said about Theodore Roosevelt, he was not a crypto-radical. It was Roosevelt who coined the term “lunatic fringe” to describe the extreme leftists of his day, and his concept of New Nationalism—in which an activist government built a vibrant capitalism, partly by regulating big business—looked back to Alexander Hamilton, not Karl Marx. Nor was Wilson a Bolshevik; in fact, in 1917 he sent American troops to Russia to support the anti-Bolshevik White Army. At home, his reforms sought to break up monopolies in order to restore competition among small companies. “If America is not to have free enterprise,” Wilson declared, “then she can have no freedom of any sort whatever.”

Quote of the day

"The operation of the mind - conscious and unconscious, free and unfree, in perception, action, and thought, in feeling, emotions, reflection, and memory, and in all its other features - is not so much an aspect of our lives, but in a sense, it is our life." - John Searle, Mind: A Brief Introduction

Today's discount book purchase

Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (hc) by Arianna Huffington for one dollar.

Monday, October 18, 2010

President Obama should not have the power of judge, jury, and executioner

Via Scott Horton

It seems increasingly that the Obama White House is using the al-Awlaki case to establish a new principle: the president’s power to order extrajudicial executions of American citizens.
As with Glenn Greenwald, I find it remarkable that there is a need to argue that the president should not be able order a citizen (or for that matter - any person) to be killed outside of any legal process and far from any battlefield at his fiat.

I'm not even sure how to respond: have we as a society had the value of human rights erode so much that we don't recognize tyranny when we hear it? Are we like the frogs in the old Aesop fable, finding the law too boring, wishing instead to be ruled by a predator that we may later find will turn its appetite on us? As Paul Woodruff put it:

In our frustration with law, we forget too easily that law is all we have between us and tyranny. Aesop has a fable to illustrate the point. Long ago, the frogs lived without any form of government. Feeling the need for some sort of authority, they prayed to Zeus and asked for a king. He sent them a piece of wood. To understand the story, you need to know that ancient Greek laws were written on wooden tablets, set up for all to see. The frogs were illiterate, of course, and missed the point:

The frogs were unhappy with the anarchy in which they lived, so they sent representatives to Zeus asking him to provide them with a king. He saw how simple they were and set up a piece of wood in their pond. At first the frogs were frightened by the noise Zeus had made, and they hid themselves in the depths of the pond; but later, since the wood did not move, they came up and were so contemptous of it that they climbed up on it and sat there. Feeling that they did not deserve such a king, they went to Zeus a second time and insisted that he give them a different ruler, as the first one was too lazy. This made Zeus angry, and he sent them a water-snake who caught and ate them up.
And so it was - and still is - when people are frustrated with the law's stupidities or delays or inconveniences. If they wish for a ruler who will rise above the law, they are offering themselves to be devoured.
Since we seem so keen on a return to Nixon era corruption, often in the name of "liberty," perhaps this might be helpful to remember.

In the two decades that followed, the conflict [between Richard Nixon and syndicated columnist Jack Anderson] became so ferocious, Feldstein says, that Nixon ordered CIA surveillance of Anderson and his family — and White House operatives seriously considered assassinating the journalist.

"They actually conducted surveillance. They followed him from his work to his house," Feldstein says. "They staked out his house. They looked at it for vulnerabilities ... [and discussed] how they could plant poison in his aspirin bottle. They talked about how they could spike his drink and they talked about smearing LSD on his steering wheel so that he would absorb it through his skin and die in a hallucination-crazed auto crash."

The plot was ultimately called off, Feldstein says, because Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt, the two men who were supposed to assassinate Anderson, were instead tapped to break into Watergate.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Changing backwards

From the New York Times

In this year’s midterm elections, there is no talk of satchels of cash from donors. Nor is there any hint of illegal actions reaching Watergate-like proportions. But the fund-raising practices that earned people convictions in Watergate — giving direct corporate money to a campaign and doing so secretly — are back in a different form in 2010.

This time around, the corporations are still giving secretly, but legally. In 1907, direct corporate donations to candidates were legally barred in a campaign finance reform push by President Theodore Roosevelt. But that law and others — the foundation for many Watergate convictions — are all but obsolete. This is why many supporters of strict campaign finance laws are wringing their hands.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quote of the day

"The word 'proof' should strictly only be used when we are dealing with deductive inferences. In this strict sense of the word, scientific hypotheses can rarely, if ever, be proved true by the data." - Samir Okasha, Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction

Monday, October 11, 2010

The rationalization of evil

"Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side" - George Orwell, "Notes on Nationalism"

From The New York Times

From 1946 to 1948, American public health doctors deliberately infected nearly 700 Guatemalans — prison inmates, mental patients and soldiers — with venereal diseases in what was meant as an effort to test the effectiveness of penicillin.

American tax dollars, through theNational Institutes of Health, even paid for syphilis-infected prostitutes to sleep with prisoners, since Guatemalan prisons allowed such visits. When the prostitutes did not succeed in infecting the men, some prisoners had the bacteria poured onto scrapes made on their penises, faces or arms, and in some cases it was injected by spinal puncture.

If the subjects contracted the disease, they were given antibiotics.

“However, whether everyone was then cured is not clear,” said Susan M. Reverby, the professor at Wellesley College who brought the experiments to light in a research paperthat prompted American health officials to investigate.
A doctor quoted in the article notes the irony that this occurred at the same time that the United States was prosecuting Nazi medical experimenters for crimes against humanity at Nuremberg.

This is a point that Professor Reverby addressed in her Democracy Now discussion of these revelations

So, when bioethicists talk about why we have regulations in place now, part of it is, of course, there’s these revelations of these kinds of what we now think of as illegal, but horrific studies, that when you think about it, go back for a second and think about it, with all of the revelations of what the Japanese were doing during the war, and particularly what Mengele was doing, you get the Nuremberg Code right after the war, which says doing this kind of research on people who cannot give informed consent is immoral and a crime against humanity. The problem is that Americans treated those crimes by the Nazis and the lesser-known ones by the Japanese as something done, as the bioethicist Jay Katz so brilliantly put it, as a code for barbarians. So if you think that they were Nazi doctors, you don’t think that you, a good researcher here, could possibly do anything like that.
The last sentence touches upon an essential point (and the reason that the Orwell quote prefaces this post.) The sort of cognitive dissonance resolving rationalizations that Tavris and Aronson wrote about in Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) can lead one down a pyramid of choice (with each successive rationalization building upon the last) to such inhumane and evil actions.*

During the discussion, Amy Goodman played a clip of a documentary in which one of the experimenters from the infamous Tuskegee experiments was asked if the fact that his experiments violated the Nuremberg Code of informed consent, which had been formulated in response to the Nazis, gave him pause. His response was to be wounded at the comparison, as "They were Nazis."

Reverby responded

I think the most chilling, actually, in the clip that you just played, is Jim Jones, the historian's retelling of what Rod Heller said to him, which is it’s just—when Heller said to him, "But they were Nazis." So I think that’s the point I was making earlier, that it’s just too easy to assume that it’s only monsters.
This sort of rationalization, where actions are viewed as right or wrong depending on who does them, has been the central justification - as Orwell noted - for just about any type of wrong that can be imagined. It is the same underlying thought process that was employed to rationalize the Bush administration's torture regime and it is the same as the rationalizations that are being put forth by apologists for the Obama administration's claim to possess the tyrannical power to assassinate citizens by fiat in secret with no due process.

And this is why the sort of "patriotism" championed by Ronald Reagan - in which one's patriotism is defined as a function of one's inability to recognize any wrong on the part of one's nation - is so pernicious (and infuriating.) There is nothing patriotic about turning a blind eye to wrongs committed by one's nation. Real patriotism comes from facing uncomfortable facts. It is the patriotism of Sen. Carl Shurz: "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

*The discussions that Tavris has had with D.J. Grothe on both For Good Reason and Point of Inquiry are highly informative regarding the subject of how cognitive dissonance can lead to self-deception.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Best anti-Beck propaganda featuring Donald Duck ever

Created here

This is a re-imagined Donald Duck cartoon remix constructed from dozens of classic Walt Disney cartoons from the 1930s to 1960s. Donald’s life is turned upside-down by the current economic crisis and he finds himself unemployed and falling behind on his house payments. As his frustration turns into despair Donald discovers a seemingly sympathetic voice coming from his radio named Glenn Beck.

Will Donald’s feelings of disenfranchisement lead him to be persuaded by his radio’s increasingly paranoid and xenophobic rhetoric? Or will our favorite Disney duck decide that this voice is not actually on his side after all? Watch and find out!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Thursday, October 07, 2010

2009 Book of the Year

This is a severely late edition of The Daily Doubter Book of the Year post, but I figured better late than never. Let's get right to it. My pick for best Doubter related book read during the previous year is:

I must say that after reading The Ghost Map, I was truly disappointed that I managed to complete my primary education without ever hearing about John Snow's victory for public health during the London cholera outbreak of 1854 - the focus of the book - as it is a remarkable demonstration of the scientific process in action.

Here is an extremely short-hand synopsis of the book: it is the tale of how two men, employing critical thinking, were able to solve the riddle of one of the deadliest epidemics in London's history. The doubter related aspect of the book would be the political and medical establishments who instead employed a form of pseudo-doubt, conducting research to arrive at a predetermined conclusion to resist what they considered Snow's wrong-headed ideas about cholera; in contrast, the Rev. Whitehead, who ended up identifying the epidemics zero case, had started out with the intention of disproving Snow but ended up collaborating with him after being confronted with the evidence.

There is also a fascinating analogue to the discovery of evolution. Darwin found strong enough evidence to demonstrate the existence of evolution but was unaware of a mechanism of heredity despite Gregory Mendel being a contemporary. Likewise, Snow was able to infer that cholera was being transmitted in contaminated water but did not know the mechanism of transmission, yet Filippo Pacini in 1854 discovered the cholera bacterium. Unfortunately, Pacini's work was ignored for much the same reason as Snow's.

It really is tragic that so many people died at the hands of a disease that could have been cured by drinking more (clean) water.

Previous Doubter Books of the Year:

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Witches don't exist

I may have overestimated people's response to Christine O'Donnell's claim that she once "dabbled in witchcraft" when I noted that "they are criticizing her for an obviously bullshit story about Satanic witches that only exist in the imagination of (some) Christian fundamentalists," as I've seen numerous individuals ridiculing the claim but not so much the notion's veracity.

Slacktivist has more

The oddest thing to me about Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's "I Was A Teenage Witch" claims is that so much of the reaction has accepted her claim that such a thing might be possible.

It is not. Her claims of "dabbling" in what she called "witchcraft" are not true. The supposed witchcraft she describes is not something that exists. Such stories of bloody altars and Satanic covens are common and they are false. All of them. That is a matter of established fact.

The supposed witchery O'Donnell describes is simply the stuff of Satanic panic urban legends. Her descriptions come straight out of the fabrications of proven liar and con-man Mike Warnke. He made this stuff up. Her claims are about as credible as if she had said that she once conjured Bloody Mary by repeating her name three times in the bathroom mirror.
The rest is worth reading.

And so too is Will Bunch's take on the larger significance of the politics of corporate sponsored cult of anti-elitism.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Mr. Russell goes to Russia

I recently finished reading The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism by Bertrand Russell, a book written after Russell visited Russia in 1920 to examine for himself the effects of the Bolshevik revolution. In it, Russell gives his general impressions of the state of the economy , the populace, the culture, and the Bolsheviks themselves.

Although Russell agreed in general with the aims of a communist revolution and the need to reform the evils of capitalist society (see Russell's views on political ideals) he was critical of Bolshevik methods which conflicted with his democratic and humanist sentiments. As Russell put it: "Bolshevism is not merely a political doctrine; it is also a religion, with elaborate dogmas and inspired scriptures."

Russell later in the text goes further:

I cannot share the hopes of the Bolsheviks any more than those of our Egyptian anchorites; I regard both as tragic delusions, destined to bring upon the world centuries of darkness and futile violence. The principles of the Sermon on the Mount are admirable, but their effect upon average human nature was very different from what was intended.

Those who followed Christ did not learn to love their enemies or to turn the other cheek. They learned instead to use the Inquisition and the stake, to subject the human intellect to the yoke of an ignorant priesthood, to degrade art and extinguish science for a thousand years. These were the inevitable results, not of the teaching, but of fanatical belief in the teaching. The hopes which inspire Communism are, in the main, as admirable as those instilled by the Sermon on the Mount, but they are held as fanatically, and are likely to do much harm.
He goes on to explain his definition of a religion and why Bolshevism fits it:

By a religion I mean a set of beliefs held as dogmas, dominating the conduct of life, going beyond or contrary to evidence, and inculcated by methods which are emotional or authoritarian, not intellectual. By this definition, Bolshevism is a religion: that its dogmas go beyond or contrary to evidence, I shall try to prove in what follows. those who accept Bolshevism become impervious to scientific evidence, and commit intellectual suicide. Even if all the doctrines of Bolshevism were true, this would still be the case, since no unbiased examination of them is tolerated. One who believes, as I do, that the free intellect is the chief engine of human progress, cannot but be fundamentally opposed to Bolshevism, as much as to the Church of Rome.
It is impressive that Russell was able to realize this well before many other liberal and progressive thinkers (like, say, Albert Einstein.) There is also here a demonstrated nuance that is absent from much of what now passes for political discourse; simple minds might easily dismiss Russell as a "Communist," but Russell is both a critic of capitalism and of communism as he saw them practiced.

If Bolshevism remains the only vigorous and effective competitor of capitalism, I believe that no form of Socialism will be realized, but only chaos and destruction. This belief, for which I shall give reasons later, is one of the grounds upon which I oppose Bolshevism.

I believe that while some forms of Socialism are immeasurably better than capitalism, others are even worse. Among those that are worse I reckon the form which is being achieved in Russia, not only in itself, but as a more insuperable barrier to further progress.
Russell makes a prediction which reminds one of the conclusion of Animal Farm, where the pigs had monopolized power and reestablished Manor Farm, based on George Orwell's own observations of practiced communism twenty plus years later.

This is what I believe to be likely to happen in Russia: the establishment of a bureaucratic aristocracy, concentrating authority in its own hands, and creating a regime just as oppressive and cruel as that of capitalism.
Here are a few more quotable gems from Russell:

  • Good relations between individuals, freedom from hatred and violence and oppression, general diffusion of education, leisure rationally employed, the progress of art and science - these seem to me among the most important ends that a political theory ought to have in view.
  • This teaching of Communism, however necessary it may appear for the building of the Communist state of the future, does seem to me to be an evil in that it is done emotionally and fanatically, with an appeal to hate and militant ardour rather than to constructive reason. It binds the free intellect and destroys initiative.
  • Hatred of enemies is easier and more intense than love of friends. But from men who are more anxious to injure opponents than to benefit the world at large no great good is to be expected.
  • Perhaps a love of liberty is incompatible with whole-hearted belief in a panacea for all human ills.
  • I went to Russia a Communist; but contact with those who have no doubts has intensified a thousandfold my own doubts, not as to Communism in itself, but as to the wisdom of holding a creed so firmly that for its sake men are willing to inflict widespread misery.
  • A society which is to allow much freedom to the individual must be strong enough to be not anxious about home defense, moderate enough to refrain from difficult external conquests, and rich enough to value leisure and a civilized existence more than an increase in consumable commodities.
For a concise (and very good) review of The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, see this archived New York Times article.

No one told me

Although I was aware that DJ Grothe was leaving Point of Inquiry, after four years of hosting the excellent humanist podcast, to go work with JREF, I somehow managed to remain oblivious to Grothe's having become the host of a new (and also excellent podcast) - For Good Reason - which is now up to 19 episodes.

The new hosts at Point of Inquiry have done a good job, but the show just hasn't been the same without Grothe's superb interviewing skills. Which is why I'll look forward to being able to listen to some of the top humanist figures talk with him for For Good Reason.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

A book for the literary curmudgeon

I have never been able to understand the appeal of books of popular fiction. Having spent my formative reading years diving right into the great classics of western literature, I find the sort of books that dominate sales lists to be unpalatable. These books seem to me so bland, flat, derivative, formulaic and intellectually tasteless that I wonder how anyone that reads them can find any enjoyment it it. These books are to literature what frozen fishsticks are to food.

Back when Dan Brown was at the peak of his popularity I read both Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code after friends raved about how fantastic they were. I was in disbelief that my friends could have been serious. Dan Brown's books are horrible.

Which is why I was pleased to come across S.T. Joshi's Junk Fiction: America's Obsession with Bestsellers, a book that examines the phenomenon of the bestseller:

Bestsellers have been with us for more than a century, ever since the first bestseller list appeared in 1895. But they have received surprisingly little attention from critics. What kind of books become bestsellers? Why do people read them? Do they have literary value or are they merely the literary equivalent of crossword puzzles?

S. T. Joshi, a leading critic of horror, fantasy, and mystery fiction, devotes his attention to these and other issues, showing that bestsellers emerged only with the advent of near-universal literacy and the increased leisure time among the masses. Joshi is also aware that most bestsellers fall into the categories of genre fiction: romance (Danielle Steel, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Nora Roberts); mystery (Mary Higgins Clark, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell); suspense (James Patterson, Nelson DeMille); espionage (Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler); horror (Stephen King, Dean Koontz); and so forth.

Joshi provides detailed examinations of books by these authors, as well as of such recent bestsellers as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and such bygone titles as Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, in a wide-ranging discussion of both the virtues and the failings of popular literature. Joshi’s study, written in a witty, accessible style, is must-reading for anyone interested in the literary and cultural phenomenon of the bestseller.
I have just begun reading this and Joshi has pretty much the same impression of these authors that I have.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Wittgenstein's biography in tweets

From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, and regarded by some as the most important since Immanuel Kant. His early work was influenced by that of Arthur Schopenhauer and, especially, by his teacher Bertrand Russell and by Gottlob Frege, who became something of a friend. This work culminated in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the only philosophy book that Wittgenstein published during his lifetime. It claimed to solve all the major problems of philosophy and was held in especially high esteem by the anti-metaphysical logical positivists. The Tractatus is based on the idea that philosophical problems arise from misunderstandings of the logic of language, and it tries to show what this logic is. Wittgenstein’s later work, principally his Philosophical Investigations, shares this concern with logic and language, but takes a different, less technical, approach to philosophical problems. This book helped to inspire so-called ordinary language philosophy. This style of doing philosophy has fallen somewhat out of favor, but Wittgenstein’s work on rule-following and private language is still considered important, and his later philosophy is influential in a growing number of fields outside philosophy.
Thanks to my recently developed twitter habit, I came across a website that had a pretty neat idea for a twitter account.

The aim of Wittgenstein Tweets is to introduce the entire life of Ludwig Wittgenstein in around 500 tweets over 6 months. Yes, a silly project, and one which Wittgenstein himself would have almost certainly loathed.I am doing it purely because I find Ray Monk’s biography (1990) of Wittgenstein so captivating and hilarious that I want more people to get to know him. No love for or knowledge of Wittgenstein is necessary.
Wittgenstein Tweets is a fun and easy way to digest the life of one of the 20th century's most influential philosophers. Today's tweets about Wittgenstein wanting to build an airplaine (but settling for a kite) have already reminded me that I've got Wittgenstein Flies a Kite waiting for me in a stack of yet unread books.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blogging will be back ...

I've got my home computer set up and am trying to get the hang of an unfamiliar operating system. I'll be back to blogging regularly as soon as I get the hang of this ...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Quote of the day

"Fanatacism is, in reference to superstition, what delirium is to fever, or rage to anger." - Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary

Monday, September 27, 2010

On economic denialism

David Cay Johnston, on GOP supply-side economics

This is economic madness. It is policy divorced from empirical evidence. It is insanity because the policies are illusory and delusional. The evidence is in, and it shows beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts failed to achieve the promised goals.

So why in the world is anyone giving any credence to the insistence by Republican leaders that tax cuts, more tax cuts, and deeper tax cuts are the remedy to our economic woes? Why are they not laughingstocks? It is one thing for Fox News to treat these policies as successful, but what of the rest of what Sarah Palin calls with some justification the "lamestream media," who treat these policies as worthy ideas?

The Republican leadership is like the doctors who believed bleeding cured the sick. When physicians bled George Washington, he got worse, so they increased the treatment until they bled him to death. Our government, the basis of our freedoms, is spewing red ink, and the Republican solution is to spill ever more.

Those who ignore evidence and pledge blind faith in policy based on ideological fantasy are little different from the clerics who made Galileo Galilei confess that the sun revolves around the earth. The Capitol Hill and media Republicans differ only in not threatening death to those who deny their dogma.
Awesome. More media Johnstons, please.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Been busy on twitter

I haven't gotten around to setting up my home computer yet - and am currently burned out from blogging via iPad - but have been busy tweeting on twitter, which I'm starting to find addictive. Somehow, typing how annoying I find Meghan McCain's celebrity or mocking Christine O'Donnell's willful stupidity in 140 characters or less makes me want to bash my head into a wall because of Idiot America slightly less.

Regular blogging to resume in a couple of days.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Baleful quote of the day

'No [torture] techniques were used on Ms. Nearne [by the Gestapo] that were not also applied with authority of the Bush Administration to prisoners in the “War on Terror.' - Scott Horton

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I created a Twitter account

I'm going to experiment with twitter for a while to see if I find any utility in it. If I do find it beneficial, I'll end up adding a widget to the blog that features my latest tweets.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I am extremely happy to say that I now have access to C-Span2, which means I get to watch Book TV again.

Better news: I now have a home net connection and will be able to blog more often and with less difficulty (starting in a few days when I have my new computer up and running.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Baleful quote of the day

'[C]raziness has gone mainstream. It’s one thing when a billionaire rants at a dinner event. It’s another when Forbes magazine runs a cover story alleging that the president of the United States is deliberately trying to bring America down as part of his Kenyan, “anticolonialist” agenda, that “the U.S. is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s.” When it comes to defending the interests of the rich, it seems, the normal rules of civilized (and rational) discourse no longer apply.' - Paul Krugman

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Michelle Malkin is still intellectually bankrupt

I used to read Michelle Malkin's blog on a regular basis, but quit doing so mainly for the fact that I'd assumed I'd already seen Malkin hit the bottom in terms of pathetic intellectual argument.

And checking her website today, I see that she is still there. In defense of the Republican Tea Party senate candidate who just won the Republican primary in Delaware and who derives multiple anti-reality positions from her belief in the superstitions of pre-scientific people living thousands of years ago having said that she can speak authoritatively about witchcraft because she dated a Satan worshipping witch, Malkin writes

At 1:03 in the video, one of the panelists on the show criticizes O’Donnell for criticizing Halloween — “Wait a minute, I love this, you’re a witch, you go ‘Halloween is bad,’ I’m not the witch, I mean wait a minute.” She responds by explaining that she opposes witchcraft because she has had first-hand experience with what they do.

So, she tried it. She rejected it. And she learned from it.
What Malkin's ignorant little mind is unable to grasp is that people who intellectually inhabit this century are not criticizing O'Donnell for a youthful indiscretion from which she learned a valuable life lesson, they are criticizing her for an obviously bullshit story about Satanic witches that only exist in the imagination of (some) Christian fundamentalists.

In the same post, Malkin repeats the idiot smear that O'Donnell's opponent is a Marxist.

Isn't it lovely, what a land of opportunity America is, where someone dumber than a bag of rocks can rise to political stardom or star pundit status, provided that they are ideologically qualified (i.e. say sufficiently hateful/defamatory things about "liberals" or deny reality to the correct ends, e.g. Creationism is true) for the welfare system created by the right-wing's parallel media institutions.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fear and loathing in America

Book Review: The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama by Will Bunch

Before the 2008 election I wrote:

If a Democrat becomes president expect to have our public discourse overtaken and overwhelmed with the most extreme, insane, and rotten attacks and smears from the conservative movement that you can possibly imagine.


If either Obama or Clinton becomes president look for a resurgence in the patriot movement, with these folks going off into the woods, stockpiling weapons, and preparing to wage war with the anti-Christ.

But excluding some sort of national catastrophe, the real threat is not going to be them. (Although the families of those killed by Timothy McVeigh might beg to differ.) The bigger threat is the one Hofstadter recognized, that this kind of endless mindless drivel that comes from the Drudge-Hannity-Limbaugh axis of misinformation will create a political climate in which rational pursuit of our well-being and safety is impossible.
The Backlash presents author Will Bunch's first hand experience of that very rage and paranoia that was unleashed by the election of a Democrat, with the author traveling the country attempting to understand the fury of a right-wing populism which has pretty much made such predictions a reality. The book covers many of the same incidents that have been covered here on this blog, but with Bunch actually tracking down the involved parties and speaking with them. While Bunch provides humanizing portraits of such individuals, he also manages to provide sharp criticism of the predators who have preyed upon economic insecurity and cultural fears to fan the flames of hysteria for profit (both political and economic).

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with how often I have cited the work of Richard Hofstadter to explain movement conservatism and may recall my recent disclosure of how much I have been influenced by Neal Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death. Hofstadter and Postman are also strong influences on Bunch; with the book basically examining the way that the "paranoid style" that was fringe in Hofstadter's day has become mainstream thanks to the culture being amused to death by a vapid media that substitutes entertainment for information.

Working off of the central themes of the aforementioned authors, Bunch posits that what has fueled much of the backlash of right-wing populism in a time of economic insecurity has been conservative white fears of a changing American demographic in which whites will no longer be the majority. Conservatives of the backlash, as Hofstadter put it, feel they are "manning the barricades of civilization." (Bill O'Reilly has previously given explicit expression to this fear.)

This translates into a fear of "The Other" which turned generally powerless minorities into scapegoats. In this atmosphere, electing the first African-American president with a foreign sounding name made it almost an inevitability that the authoritarian base of the Republican party would not recognize the president's legitimacy (and implicit prejudice helped, too.). Bunch found this most on display in the state of Arizona, a state that not only took harsh anti-immigrant measures but introduced a "birther bill" designed to question President Obama's citizenship. As Bunch put it:

Republicans were asking the forty-fourth president of the United States the same question they were asking Mexicans with a busted taillight: "Your papers, please."
What's more

To modern conservatives, the elevation of a Democrat who was black and a product of the nation's most elite law school at Harvard was not just a political event; it represented the destruction of their elaborate if cheaply constructed conservative temple of belief. The only answer that made any sense to the true believers was total denial.
And here I pause the review to take a moment and note my own previous musing on the backlash, reality denial, and the paranoid style as I cannot resist the urge to add my own two cents:

It's difficult to understand how just 6 months into the presidency of Barack Obama, so many self-described "conservatives" have managed to work themselves into an hysterical furor and fear about living under an oppressive, American Nazi regime of Obama. But as I've said many times now on this blog, if you understand the core of these individuals and pundits as being authoritarians with a black/white Manichean world view, it becomes easier to make sense of their behavior.

When they lose an election, that means that Evil has come to power. Satan is in control (Figuratively for some, literally for the Christian nationalists.) It is Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia ... 1984 come to life. This is why the movement's parallel reality seems to lag behind conservative ideology. Once the Other is in power, it is only a matter of time for the leaders of the movement to construct such a reality that fits to their preconceived notions of the evil characteristics of their eternal Enemy. (E.g. President Obama isn't even a citizen! says the Manichean minded psuedo-conservative.)

What is so destructive about this sort of mentality - and especially those who fuel the epistemic fire with non-stop paranoid propaganda - is that it is difficult for democracy to function if you have a core constituency of one of the two viable political parties in your nation which has the belief that either they win an election or it is time to wage a revolutionary war to win back their freedom. This is brand of "democracy" in which the only legitimate outcome is theirs; all of the rest of electorate cease to be Americans and fall into the category of the Other. This is why Glenn Beck can say in all sincerity (after pretending to be President Obama and then setting the American public on fire in effigy) that President Obama is not delivering the change that he and his 9/12 movement voted for, managing not to notice that there are millions of Americans who voted Obama and other Democrats into office precisely because they do want some public form of healthcare. The normal democratic process of election and policy making thus turn into the very definition of tyranny, and mobs of right-wing populist protesters, organized by conservative elites, show up to shut down the democractic process at town hall meetings. Borrowing the Adorno quote that Hofstadter used in his famous essay on the psuedo-conservative revolt, "The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”
Bunch notes that paranoid, conspiratorial beliefs and smears (e.g. that Obama is not a citizen, that Obama is going to confiscate guns, that FEMA concentration camps are being built, that Obama is a socialist, etc.) that once would have been obscure, fringe crank literature distributed locally as pamphlets now circulates widely on the internet, through the airwaves of talk radio and into the mainstream discourse almost effortlessly and instantly. (See here for an example of this idiot process in action.)

Traveling along with Bunch as he encounters right-wing hysteria given political expression in various forms you will notice one unifying thread: Glenn Beck. Beck looms throughout the book, sometimes in the background, or in sections devoted specifically to him, promoting fear and paranoia. This is not surprising; Beck has been busy for the last year and a half attempting to frighten his audience that white, fundamentalist Christian conservatives will soon be the victim of radical black socialist thugs and minorities who want to take their money as reparations and then maybe start killing them in a new Holocaust or turn them into second class citizens.

Bunch also leans on the work of Alexander Zaitchik, noting that Beck in addition to being the backlash's Fearmonger-in-Chief is also its Huckster-in-Chief, promoting not merely himself but a number of dubious to bogus products which make him richer and his audience poorer. Bunch devotes several chapters to exposing the hucksters up and down the movement who profit off of fear and paranoia with junk products and schemes. (Survival seeds, anyone?) Bunch writes of Beck:


It was almost as if Beck was the bizarro-world version of Franklin Roosevelt, who in an earlier economic meltdown in 1933 had not only railed against "fear itself" but spoke of "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." But in 2010, Glenn Beck Incorporated thrived on "nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror," regardless of whether it helped to drive the body politic in the opposite direction of where FDR guided the "Greatest Generation" ... Beck was constantly straining to find the outer limits, exploring both the inner terrors of his audience and their hopes for restoration and a common purpose. And then he was brazen in taking hold of his public and using it to sell them things, with little care over the side effects.
Bunch's reporting took him across the country, from Delaware where he tracked down the "I want my country back!" Youtube birther sensation to Knob Creek where he witnessed first hand the bizarre phenomenon of people convinced that President Obama was going to confiscate their weapons and abridge their Second Amendment rights despite the reality that the president had relaxed gun restrictions with the trend across the nation towards making it easier to carry arms; from talks with devoted fans of Beck to a founder of the ultra-paranoid Oak Keepers; from rural Georgia where Congressman Paul Broun was able to rise from obscurity via extremist anti-Obama rhetoric to Pittburgh where Richard Poplawski, acting out on the conspiratorial, extremist rhetoric that has been normalized by the likes of Broun and Beck and others, killed three police officers out of fear that they were coming to take away his guns.

Although Bunch notes that the backlash and our politics-as-entertainment driven media has provided an atmosphere conducive to inspiring violence such as that of Poplawski, Jim Adkisson, Scott Roeder, or the Hutaree militia, the book is really a chronicle of the way that right-wing populism has severely inhibited the capacity for democracy in America to function. Perhaps expressed most concisely in this passage:

These [Repubican] representatives of 37 percent of teh country wielded unprecedented powers because of something the likes of which this nation had never seen before: their ability to stick together on every single issue with the sole purpose of obstructing Barack Obama and his Democratic allies. It was an "I Hope He Fails" strategy hatched in the ratings-driven studios of talk radio, but now rigid legislative fealty to the on-air musings of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck had ground Washington to a total halt.
I must confess that my one disappointment with The Backlash is that Bunch did not manage to work the following Richard Hofstadter quote in, as it seems to describe the Tea Party, 9/12 Beck/Limbaugh backlash so perfectly.

"[I]n a populistic culture like ours, which seems to lack a responsible elite with political and moral autonomy, and in which it is possible to exploit the wildest currents of public sentiment for private purposes, it is at least conceivable that a highly organized, vocal, active and well-financed minority could create a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible." - Richard Hofstadter, "The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt"

Bunch's book is a chronicle of Hofstader's hypothetical possibility becoming a realized phrophesy.

Disclosure: I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy of this book from Harper and had hoped to have a review possible by the time of its launch two weeks ago, but time (and the difficulty associated with composing such a post on an iPad) got the best of me. Better late than never, I hope.