Monday, August 30, 2010

Brief, belated book reviews

Between the difficulties of blogging off of an iPad, lacking a home wifi connection, and a career change, I've fallen far behind on a number of posts that I've been meaning to write (some for over a year now.) The two books I'm about to plug fall into that category of post ... hopefully, I'll start catching up. So here goes:

- The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby.

Two of the books that have most influenced my blogging, especially as it relates to media/cultural criticism, are Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neal Postman (I've listened to it three times on my iPod) and Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter.These, to me, are superb works, exemplarary of public intellectualism, with Postman focusing on how the transformation of America from a print to a tv society has led to our transformation from an information culture to an entertainment culture and Hofstadter arguing America's long history of anti-intellectualism being a by-product of democracy.*

In The Age of American Unreason, Jacoby has continued in the tradition of both of these authors, coming down hard on the dumbth of American society, finding much blame in tv, fundamentalism, and in anti-intellectual demagogues (some of whom are themselves right-wing intellectuals) who equate intelligence with liberal elitism. Although Jacoby comes across as a curmudgeon with some of her criticism of technology (I use my iPod as an educational resource, listening to science/philosophy/skeptic podcasts and such) much else of the book provides acute analysis of the dumbing down of American culture and the absence of serious, thoughtful discourse.

To get a better feel for book's subject matter, see this discussion between Moyers and Jacoby.

- Logicomix: An Epic Search for the Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou

I would have never imagined that a biography of Bertrand Russell focusing on his search for a rigorous, formal grounding for mathematics would make for a good comic book story, but Logicomix is exactly that. I imagine that this is likely the most accessible and entertaining introduction to the early to mid 20th century philosophical efforts to establish a formal foundation of logical certainty for mathematics that one is going to encounter.

Although Russell failed in his quest (thank you, Kurt Godel) the graphic novel does an excellent job of showing how the process and search itself helped spawn the computer age.

For more on the comic, see this review in The Philosohphers' Magazine.

*The Assault on Reason by Al Gore is another book that follows in this tradition.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

How the "liberal media" functions in the age of deregulation

Columbia Journalism Review examines how Bill O'Reilly "used raw corporate power to crush a critic" who dared to protest O'Reilly's selection for a journalism award.

After working in television for nearly thirty years, Nolan had lost his $207,000 Comcast salary and, one month shy of his sixty-first birthday, was out of a job. Six months later, he filed a $1.2 million lawsuit against Comcast for wrongful termination, charging that his First Amendment rights “to speak freely” had been violated. In court documents, Comcast countered that Nolan had engaged in “insubordinate actions” and was in “material breach” of his contract for such transgressions as publicly protesting O’Reilly’s receipt of the Governors’ Award and for “repeatedly” failing to follow “clear directives” from Comcast. The suit is pending.

Many an employee has been fired for saying too much, too loudly, to the wrong people, at the wrong time. Still, some in Boston’s media community remained suspicious about Nolan’s termination. “There was something unseemly about a small player like Nolan being forced out by a giant like Comcast,” says Dan Kennedy, a former Boston Phoenix media critic and an assistant professor of journalism at Northeastern University. “It made me wonder if they were afraid O’Reilly would go running to Rupert Murdoch. But what was Murdoch going to do? Take American Idol off Comcast?”

It turns out, however, that such suspicions were well grounded. Documents filed in federal court as part of his suit show that beyond Nolan’s mouthing off publicly against O’Reilly, there was another factor at work—the mutual business interests of two media giants, Comcast and the Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, which owns the Fox News Channel.

On May 12, 2008—two days after the Emmys—O’Reilly went on the offensive against what he called Nolan’s “outrageous behavior” with a carefully worded, lawyerly letter to Brian Roberts, the chairman and CEO of Comcast, which distributes Fox News and entertainment programming, to its subscribers. The letter was written on Fox News stationery and was copied to Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.

Pointedly, O’Reilly began by noting their mutual business interests. “We at The O’Reilly Factor have always considered Comcast to be an excellent business partner and I believe the same holds true for the entire Fox News Channel. Therefore, it was puzzling to see a Comcast employee, Barry Nolan, use Comcast corporate assets to attack me and FNC.” Telling the Comcast CEO that Nolan had attended the Emmy Awards “in conjunction with Comcast,” O’Reilly apologized for bothering him but let him know he considered this “a disturbing situation.”

Consider for a moment the weights of the players in this episode. News Corp. ranks second in the latest Fortune 500 list of the world’s largest entertainment companies, right behind the top-rated Walt Disney Company. And if Murdoch is the visionary behind the News Corp. and Fox News CEO Roger Ailes is the driving force behind the Fox News Channel, Bill O’Reilly stands as the channel’s most visible face, which gives him significant clout. Indeed, this year, O’Reilly was voted one of the “10 Most Powerful in TV News” (tied with Glenn Beck for seventh place) by NewsPro, an industry trade publication—the sixth time O’Reilly has made the list. (Ailes was number one this year.)

By contrast, Barry Nolan is small potatoes. He had stints on two schlocky nationally syndicated TV shows, co-hosting Hard Copy in the 1990s and reporting for Extra in the early 2000s, and he continues to appear on Says You! , NPR’s witty word game. In Boston, he was best known as the co-host, with Sara Edwards, of TV’s Evening Magazine—but even that was more than twenty years ago.

Comcast Corp., Nolan’s former employer, meanwhile, is the country’s largest cable operator and residential Internet service provider. Last December, in a $30 billion deal, Comcast announced plans to take over NBC Universal, which includes everything from NBC Nightly News and Jay Leno, to cable channels such as such as MSNBC, Bravo, USA, and Telemundo, the Spanish-language broadcast network.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Robber baron populism

In The New Yorker, Jane Mayer examines the role that the reclusive Koch brothers have in funding the conservative movement

With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge. The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”


The anti-government fervor infusing the 2010 elections represents a political triumph for the Kochs. By giving money to “educate,” fund, and organize Tea Party protesters, they have helped turn their private agenda into a mass movement. Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist and a historian, who once worked at the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Dallas-based think tank that the Kochs fund, said, “The problem with the whole libertarian movement is that it’s been all chiefs and no Indians. There haven’t been any actual people, like voters, who give a crap about it. So the problem for the Kochs has been trying to create a movement.” With the emergence of the Tea Party, he said, “everyone suddenly sees that for the first time there are Indians out there—people who can provide real ideological power.” The Kochs, he said, are “trying to shape and control and channel the populist uprising into their own policies.”

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Today's discount book purchases

Experience and Nature (hc) by John Dewey for 1 dollar.

Escape (hc) by Carolyn Jessop (with Laura Palmer) for 1 dollar.

A big tip of the hat to The Atheologian ... Escape would have escaped my eye had it not been for his having brought the book to my attention in the first place.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Quote of the day

"Keynes said the living are always in thrall to some famous dead economist. In Beck’s case, it’s some creepy dead Mormon Bircher." - Alexander Zaitchik

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Same as it ever was

In The Republic, Plato wrote that the penalty good men pay for not being involved in the political process is to be governed by worse men.

In Foreign Policy, Stephen Walt writes

In that particular class, Craig argued that one of the many forces that doomed the Weimar Republic was the irresponsible behavior of both left-wing and right-wing intellectuals. The German left was contemptuous of the liberal aspirations of the Weimar Constitution and other bourgeois features of Weimar society, while right-wing "thinkers" like Ernst Junger glorified violence and disparaged the application of reason to political issues. So-called "liberal" intellectuals saw politics as a grubby business unworthy of their refined sensibilities, and so many just disengaged from politics entirely. This left the field to rabble-rousers and extremists of various sorts and helped prepare the ground for Nazism. (You can read Craig's account of this process in his book Germany 1866-1945, chapter 13, on "Weimar Culture").

The lesson I took from Craig's lecture was that when intellectuals abandon liberal principles, disengage from politics, and generally abdicate their role as "truth-tellers" for society at large, it is easy for demagogues to play upon human fears and lead a society over the brink to disaster. 
via 3 Quarks Daily

Quote of the day

"If a faithful account was rendered of Man's ideas upon Divinity, he would be obliged to acknowledge, that for the most part the word 'gods' has been used to express the concealed, remote, unknown causes of the effects he witnessed; that he applies this term when the spring of the natural, the source of known causes, ceases to be visible: as soon as he loses the thread of these causes, or as soon as his mind can no longer follow the chain, he solves the difficulty, terminates his research, by ascribing it to his gods ... When therefore, he ascribes to his gods the production of some phenomenon ... does he, in fact, do any thing more than substitute for the darkness of his own mind, a sound to which he has been accustomed to listen with reverential awe?" - Baron von Holbach, System of Nature (1770)

h/t to the late Carl Sagan in Cosmos

Monday, August 23, 2010

Beck ups the ante on his anti-evolutionary stupidity

Following up on last Thursday's idiotic assertion that Charles Darwin was the "father of modern racism," Friday morning on his radio show Beck upgraded the defamation of Darwin by calling him the "father of the Holocaust."

You can click through the links at this Media Matters article to listen - if you can bear it - to Beck smugly claiming that The Descent of Man reads as some sort of virulent racist text, inspiring both eugenics and the Holocaust. Beck has, of course, recycled the same tired, lame smears of Darwin that are common to Creationist websites and Ben Stein anti-science propaganda films.

Darwin was "not a tolerant guy" and a "horrible racist" according to Beck.

Yes, Glenn Beck, a man who can read a racist book written by a racist American fascist sympathist who advocated for the Nazis and endorse the books substance, finds one of the seminal scientific texts of human history - a book that helped dispel and debunk predominant rationalizations for racism, written by a man who by any kind of reasonable assessment was a kind, caring, and humane individual with compassion for all - as a 19th century Mein Kampf.

Here are a few highlights from the "dispel and debunk" link

In contrast to the existing views on race, Darwin showed that:

People cannot be classified as different species
All races are related and have a common ancestry
All people come from "savage" origins
The different races have much more in common than was widely believed
The mental capabilities of all races are virtually the same and there is greater variation within races than between races
Different races of people can interbreed and there is no concern for ill effects
Culture, not biology, accounted for the greatest differences between the races
Races are not distinct, but rather they blend together
That same comprehensive link (that I recommend reading as an antiseptic for anyone who had the misfortune of listening to the Beck audio clip) provides this passage

As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. If, indeed, such men are separated from him by great differences in appearance or habits, experience unfortunately shews us how long it is, before we look at them as our fellow-creatures. Sympathy beyond the confines of man, that is, humanity to the lower animals, seems to be one of the latest moral acquisitions. It is apparently unfelt by savages, except towards their pets. How little the old Romans knew of it is shewn by their abhorrent gladiatorial exhibitions. The very idea of humanity, as far as I could observe, was new to most of the Gauchos of the Pampas. This virtue, one of the noblest with which man is endowed, seems to arise incidentally from our sympathies becoming more tender and more widely diffused, until they are extended to all sentient beings. As soon as this virtue is honoured and practised by some few men, it spreads through instruction and example to the young, and eventually becomes incorporated in public opinion.

The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognise that we ought to control our thoughts, and "not even in inmost thought to think again the sins that made the past so pleasant to us." Whatever makes any bad action familiar to the mind, renders its performance by so much the easier. As Marcus Aurelius long ago said, "Such as are thy habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of thy mind; for the soul is dyed by the thoughts."
- Charles Darwin; The Descent of Man, 1871
This is the man that Beck wants to blame for the Holocaust.

Work that was a culmination of a lifetime hatred of the evils of slavery is, to Beck, the work of a racist responsible for the Holocaust. That would be the same Beck who considers Henry Ford a hero for fighting the fascism of FDR.

Of course, Henry Ford, unlike Darwin, actually was a virulent racist whose The International Jew did help inspire the Holocaust; and FDR, unlike Ford who was a fan of the Nazi regime and whose Ford factories in Europe helped build its war machine, actually led US efforts to defeat fascism.

What a remarkable record of inverting history Beck has. In Beck's Bizarro World, Darwin, who was on the right side of history in opposing slavery, is a villian. Yet Cleon Skousen and Ezra Taft Benson, two racists who opposed the civil rights movement that Beck is now claiming to be fulfilling, are heroes.

Had Beck been a public figure at the time of King's famous speech, there is little doubt on "which side of history" he would have stood: the same side as every other far-rightwing Mormon. Had they been contemporaries, Beck would have condemned King as a "progressive cockroach" surrounded by communists, or as an outright communist himself. We know this not only because he has imported such tactics into the present. We know this because his Mormon heroes were viciously anti-civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s.

Beck has repeatedly, respectfully, and recently played audio of men like Ezra Taft Benson, a Mormon apostle who thought the civil rights movement was a dastardly communist plot. Benson also wrote the foreward to a book of race hate whose cover illustration featured the severed, bloody head of an African American. Beck's favorite author and biggest influence, meanwhile, is W. Cleon Skousen. The author of four of the ten books on Beck's 9.12 Project required-reading list, Skousen embodied the Birchite view captured in the title of a September 1965 cover story in the John Birch Society Bulletin, "Fully Expose the 'Civil Rights' Fraud, and You Will Break the Back of the Communist Conspiracy!"

The Benson/Skousen axis of the 1960s, to which Beck would have been an energetic party, was a multi-generational affair. In 1965, Salt Lake City was plunged into hysteria when Reed Benson (son of Ezra) and Mark Skousen (nephew of Cleon) spread rumors that the NAACP was sending two thousand Black Muslims to attack the Tabernacle. When general panic ensued, the Utah National Guard was placed on alert and began practicing riot maneuvers in anticipation of the invasion. After calm was restored, the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP both condemned the Bircher-fomented race-war fearmongering in Utah. (Both groups have also condemned Beck.) The next month, the Bulletin published articles describing blacks as "savages" and civil rights leaders as "animals."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The forgotten London

Johann Hari in Slate

The United States has a startling ability to take its most angry, edgy radicals and turn them into cuddly eunuchs. The process begins the moment they die. Mark Twain is remembered as a quipster forever floating down the Mississippi River at sunset, while his polemics against the violent birth of the American empire lie unread and unremembered. Martin Luther King is remembered for his prose-poetry about children holding hands on a hill in Alabama, but few recall that he said the U.S. government was "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

But perhaps the greatest act of historical castration is of Jack London. This man was the most-read revolutionary Socialist in American history, agitating for violent overthrow of the government and the assassination of political leaders—and he is remembered now for writing a cute story about a dog. It's as if the Black Panthers were remembered, a century from now, for adding a pink tint to their afros.

If Jack London is chased forever from our historical memory by the dog he invented, then we will lose one of the most intriguing, bizarre figures in American history, at once inspiring and repulsive. In his 40 years of life, he was a "bastard" child of a slum-dwelling suicidal spiritualist, a child laborer, a pirate, a tramp, a revolutionary Socialist, a racist pining for genocide, a gold-digger, a war correspondent, a millionaire, a suicidal depressive, and for a time the most popular writer in America. In Wolf: The Lives of Jack London, his latest biographer, James L. Haley, calls London "the most misunderstood figure in the American literary canon"—but that might be because he is ultimately impossible to understand.

Hauser investigated for science ethics violations

Given that I've cited the work of Marc Hauser several times before, I think it worth noting that he's been at the center of a Harvard inquiry into research misconduct.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Zaitchik on Point of Inquiry

The best way to learn about a book is to read it. This is obviously so, but given that we don't have time to read every book that might be of interest, the second best way to learn about a book is to get a good second hand account of the book through a review or a discussion of it. Which is why my favorite programming on tv is C-Span 2's Book TV, which I used to watch every weekend until my cable provider removed it from my service. I feel myself noticebly less informed in its absence.

My digression has a point: if you had neither the time nor the inclination to read Alexander Zaitchik's brilliant book Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ignorance - a must read book for understanding the phenomenon that is Glenn Beck - you can still learn a great deal about the book's subject material by listening to Zaitchik discuss the book with Chris Mooney on Point of Inquiry, the official podcast of the Center for Inquiry.

Mooney chose to have Zaitchik on the show for mostly the same reason that I have blogged about Beck so much: Beck has become a significant force of unreason, leading a campaign of anti-intellectualism and bigotry antithetical to the principles of the Enlightenment, while demonizing the values that I hold as a secular humanist as some sort of anti-American conspiracy. Zaitchik also discusses what is generally overlooked: how deeply influenced Beck and his media empire are by his roots in right-wing Mormon extremism.

The discussion between the two is highly informative - and in honor of it, I'm going to break out another passage that I highlighted on my Kindle edition of Common Nonsense.

Beck's decision to feature [Ezra Taft] Benson on his show was a revealing one. As Beck knew quite well, Benson was not just a member of Eisenhower's cabinet. He was a notoriously illiberal Mormon Church president who helped pioneer Mormonism's apocalyptic hard-right strain, which Beck latched on to and appropriated following his conversion. Had Beck allowed the tape of Benson's lecture to continue, it is possible that listeners would have heard Benson ask, "When are we going to wake up? What do you know about the dangerous civil rights agitation in Mississippi?" Or they might have heard the sound of Benson's voice railing against "traitors within the church" who criticized the mixing of religion and extreme right-wing politics.

They might have heard Benson speak about his attempts to build a third party, led by himself and South Carolina senator Strom Thurmond. Or they might have been treated to snippets of Benson's wisdom as found in the foreword he penned to the 1967 tract of Mormon race hate, Black Hammer: A Study of Black Power, Red Influence and White Alternatives, which featured on its cover the severed, bloody head of an African-American.
Zaitchik continues on to note that Benson was a "dedicated foe of the civil rights movement, which he thought was part of a communist plot to destroy the Mormon Church."

Notice that this signifies another incident in what appears to be a pattern of Beck promoting to his audience the work of racists without informing them as such. Although the quote above is bad enough in itself, it is even worse with the context added back in.

Beck had played a clip of Benson saying that Soviet leader Khrushchev had told him communists would slowly bring about (in some undisclosed conspiratorial manner) small doses of socialism until one day America woke up and was communist without realizing it. After the clip, Beck suggested that America was already at that point. Back to Zaitchik

Beck had proof that we were already there. He then played an audio clip of a giddy African American woman who had just left a Barack Obama campaign speech.

"It was the most memorable time of my life," she says. "It was a touching moment. I won't have to worry about fas or mortgage. If I help him, he's gonna help me."

In these words, Beck heard the fulfillment of Khruschev's threat, as relayed by that grandfatherly seer, Ezra Taft Benson. "I never though this day would happen," said Beck, "as if extraterrestrials had just landed a spaceship in Central Park."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dumber and dumber and dumber he gets

When Glenn Beck comes back from break he's going to explain how Charles Darwin is the father of modern racism. Once again, Beck has managed to invert reality to the service of his insane stupidity.

F.y.i. If I had a twitter account it would look something like this post.


He never did explain that assertion.

An atheist anecdote

True story:

Upon hearing that I was an atheist, a girl I had just met asked curiously, "but what happens when you die?"

"Entropy increases," I replied flatly.

The girl and the other friends I was out with lost themselves in conversation after the girl comforted herself with the thought that I must be an agnostic and not an atheist.

What I found interesting is that she did not make an appeal to reason or evidence in not understanding why I would lack belief in a god, but to a fideistic hope for an afterlife. As if wishing could make it so.

Of liars and lunatics

From Atheist Ethicist

However, there is another relevant moral issue related to the fact that this is a community center and not a mosque.

It means that these hate-mongering bigots who use the term are lying.

They could not muster enough hate (and obtain sufficient political and economic contributions for themselves and their allies) by telling the truth, so they decided to lie.

They decided to package a community center as a mosque because this particular packaging - this false advertising - this "bearing false witness" - generates more hatred than the truth.
What's worse is that much of the bigotry at the root of the backlash against this cultural center is being pushed - thanks to mainstream media providing her with a platform to do so - by Pamela Geller, despite the fact that she is a raving lunatic who believes in wild, malicious conspiracy theories (e.g. people are being killed to protect the secret that Obama's birth certificate is a forgery) and who is apparently genocidal. This is someone so blinded by hatred of Muslims that despite being Jewish she is an enthusiastic endorser of literal crypto-fascists.

The Washington Post notes

Through her blog, Atlas Shrugs, television interviews and appearances at political rallies, Geller has become one of the chief organizers of opposition to the so-called Ground Zero mosque as well as efforts to build other Muslim prayer centers across the country.


Geller has become a prominent voice in the debate despite the fact that she once promoted the view that Obama is Malcolm X's love child. She frequently warns that Muslims are trying to impose repressive sharia law on the United States, refers to the president's holiday message to Muslims as "Obama Ramadamadingdong" and promotes a Web site, Religion of Peace, that claims to tally the number of people killed around the world by Muslim extremists.
Geller has managed to hate her way to the top. Her blog is a vortex of shrieking, hysterical crazy about all the evil, nefarious commie/facist things that liberals and Muslims are up to. Her intellectual skills and ethics are sub-par. Yet there she is on tv night after night, spreading her hate despite being an over the top joke of a bigot.

I used to generally ignore Geller because she's so cartoonish in her deranged hatred of Muslims and liberals that I couldn't imagine anyone taking her seriously. Yet she is on the national stage, helping to push crazy mainstream.

I doubt it is possible to overestimate how low our national media is willing to set the bar (I believe I heard Alexander Zaitchik first say this in regard to Beck.) We live in a country where hating liberals and/or Muslims is a qualification in and of itself to propel one to the heights of political media stardom, one's level of intelligence, education, and intellectual integrity and competence are irrelevant so long as you hate greatly enough and are willing to not be bothered by facts and reality.

Just ask Glenn Beck, Pamela Geller, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or any of the rest of their fool ilk.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Our dysfunctional national priorities

While our political process remains broken, with our elected officials of both of the two major parties which function as a virtual duopoly answering less to the electorate than to the entities that fund them, two endless wars continue with a small percentage of the country feeling the actual burden of them (i.e. deployed military and their family), a vast, ever expanding military/national surveillance that drains the nation's wealth (and upwards to the mega wealthy) and eats our liberties, an inability to respond decisively to global warming and on and on one can go about significant, important issues that go unaddressed or unresolved, what are we worked up about as a nation?

Hating gay people (the world will end if we let them get married), hating Mexican immigrants (the world will end unless we get rid of them), and hating Muslims (the world will end if "they" are allowed to turn a former Burlington Coat Factory building down the road from the WTC site into a Muslim community center.)

Sure, heck, we aren't going to do anything to make this country a better place, but by God we can still make some minorities miserable. It's not like stories like this matter

Helping to drive that surge [in campaign spending] is the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision — the invitation for corporations to take sides in elections. After that, two lesser-known decisions opened the door wider.

A federal appeals court said people can give as much as they want to groups that advertise for or against a candidate. The so-called "independent expenditure committees" just can't coordinate with the candidate or party.

And finally, the Federal Election Commission rolled those two rulings together and came up with this: These independent expenditure committees can take unlimited contributions from individuals, unions and corporations.

And because of a loophole in the FEC rules, they don't have to report it.

"Unless the donor is giving for that specific ad, the donor will not have to be disclosed," says Larry Noble, a campaign finance lawyer in Washington who formerly served as general counsel to the FEC. "So, effectively, these corporations that don't want to be seen as supporting candidates can now give the same money they would've spent on their own to another organization, to spend that money."
Or this

The Defense Department failed to properly account for almost $9 billion of Iraq reconstruction funds, which is 96 percent of the money it received from 2004 to 2007, according to a report released Tuesday by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

Eight organizations in the department were authorized to spend $9.1 billion from the Development Fund for Iraq, which is made up of funds from Iraq’s oil and gas exports, surplus money from the United Nations Oil-for-Food Program and frozen Iraqi assets. The DoD organizations were supposed to set up accounts at the Treasury Department to manage the money, but only the Army Central Command did so for the roughly $400 million it received.

As a result, the SIGIR report found, the remaining $8.7 billion was “vulnerable to inappropriate uses and undetected loss."
I keep hearing how the demagogue misnamed "Ground Zero Mosque" (which isn't at Ground Zero and isn't a mosque) is offensive to 9/11 victims (despite the fact that some were Muslims). How about using the death of 3,000 Americans as a pretense to invade a country that had nothing to do with the attacks while claiming that rebuilding the country was a number one priority in a so-called "war on terror" only to let 96 - 96! - percent of the country's reconstruction funds to go unacccounted for. The English language will need to invent a new word to describe how unacceptable this is, as "unacceptable" doesn't do it justice.

And then there's this

Extreme weather induced by climate change has dire public health consequences, as heat waves threaten the vulnerable, storm runoff overwhelms city sewage systems and hotter summer days bake more pollution into asthma-inducing smog, scientists say.

The United States – to say nothing of the developed world – is unprepared for such conditions predicted by myriad climate models and already being seen today, warn climate researchers and public health officials.
Obviously, "Scientific American" is an unreliable source of science info, inferior to, say, Investor's Business Daily or AM radio talk host Neil Boortz.

Quote of the day

"When Ted Turner launched CNN in 1980, there were high hopes for the broad diffusion of news. The results of the twenty-five-year experiment in round-the-clock cable "news," which now includes Fox and MSNBC, are now in. Here's what cable news is really good at: trapped miners, Michael Jackson, runaway brides, missing blondes, Christmas Eve murders, Princess Di, Paris Hilton, hurricanes, tsunamis, disinformation, whiz-bang graphics, scary theme music, polls, gotcha, HeadOn ads, 'Thanks for having me,' people who begin every answer to antagonistic questions with 'Look,' people who say, "I didn't interrupt you when you were talking," and anchors who say, 'We'll have to leave it there.' Here's what cable news is not so good at insight, context, depth, reflection, proportion, perspective, relevance, humility, information, analysis, news." - Marty Kaplan

Via Center for Media and Democracy

Want a free book?

The Kindle edition of Germs, Genes, & Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today by David Clark is currently free.

From Publishers Weekly
Clark (Molecular Biology Made Simple and Fun) argues that microscopic bacteria, viruses, and fungi have played an enormous and largely unacknowledged role in human history. Beginning with Attila's attack of Rome, which was likely stopped by dysentery, and continuing through modern diseases such as AIDS and the Ebola virus, Clark investigates a large number of illnesses and uncovers the ways in which they have impacted historical events. The same genes that provide humanity with protection against some endemic diseases, Clark argues, may also cause sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis. With wit and humor, the author turns death, an ever-heavy topic, into an engrossing exploration of the course of mankind. Though Clark's lack of references will make it difficult for readers to gain additional information, there's much of interest in this chronicle of microbes through the ages.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

43 conservative bloggers voluntarily demonstrate their political derangement

From Right Wing News

Out of all the gangsters, serial killers, mass murderers, incompetent & crooked politicians, spies, traitors, and ultra left-wing kooks in all of American history -- have you ever wondered who the worst of the worst was? Well, we here at RWN wondered about that, too, and that's why we decided to email more than a hundred bloggers to get their opinions. Representatives from the following 43 blogs responded...
You can click the link to see the whole list, but I'll go ahead and tell you that the top three are FDR, Obama, and Carter, in that order.

Really? Really, Jimmy Carter is worse than mass murdering terrorist Timothy McVeigh (number nine on the list)? Many of the people on the list were neither "gangsgers, serial killers, mass murderers, incompetent & crooked politicians, spies, traitors, and ultra left-wing kooks in all of American history" but ordinary politicians and public intellectuals (e.g. Pelosi, Gore, or Chomsky) who hold non right-wing political views, which apparently makes them evil incarnate.

Really, Jimmy Carter - the guy from Habitat for Humanity - is more evil than, say, this? How about the men responsible for the Hamburg Massacre?

How utterly, profoundly ignorant and ideologically blinded these bloggers have revealed themselves to be.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Read that book!

The Atheologian plugs an important book:

The contents of Oreskes and Conway's Merchants of Doubt need to be shouted from every rooftop. The anti-science segments of the right are correct about this much: profit, politics, and ideology have done a tremendous job of obstructing legitimate science, especially where environmental issues are concerned. They just happen to be wrong about everything else. It's quite amazing: a thick chain—same strategies, same players—running all the way from denial of the hazards of direct smoking, through denial of problems from acid rain, CFC damage to the ozone layer, and the dangers of secondhand smoke, all the way to contemporary denial of anthropogenic global warming, and modern revisionism about Rachel Carson and DDT—all driven by hysteria about socialism, and by dedicated funding from corporate interests.
This is the same subject that was covered in 2008 Daily Doubter book of the year Doubt is Their Product, but it can not be stressed enough how this pseudo-doubt machine works at dumbing America.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quote of the day

From Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus

Go thou and worship; fold thy hands in prayer,
And be the dog that licks the foot of power!
Nothing care I for Zeus; yea, less than naught!
Let him do what he will, and sway the world
His little hour; he has not long to lord it
Among the Gods.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sunday, August 08, 2010

More dog whistle racism from Beck

From Joan Walsh

I don't know why Fox News' Glenn Beck, railing against Barack Obama again on his show Thursday, felt the need to reference the 1968 movie "Planet of the Apes," but since I've been instructed it's bad form to call the folks on Fox "racist," it can't be racism.


Nope. No racism there. Beck didn't mean anything by the reference to "apes." Don't be oversensitive. How could Glenn Beck know that you can find "Planet of the Apes: A four year Obama survival guide" on the white supremacist site Or countless Google images and blog posts comparing Michelle Obama to the character "Dr. Zira"? Or the fact that, frankly, you can't swing a cat on the Internet without coming across some comparison of Obama's political rise to the apes' ascendance in, yes, "Planet of the Apes" (but some of them are careful to state upfront that race has nothing to do with the comparison!)

And of course Beck never read "Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America," where historian Rick Perlstein places "Planet of the Apes" in the panorama of racial paranoia and fear that defined early 1968. In the wake of bloody Newark riots, armed white vigilantes patrolled the streets, while across the country, 5,000 Black Panthers celebrated the birthday of Huey Newton, in jail for killing an Oakland cop, where H. Rap Brown saluted Newton "as the only living revolutionary," and asked, "How many white folks did you kill today?" One book advised families on how to defend themselves "as the crime rate continues to soar in the Great Society jungle." And, Perlstein added, "A new movie, 'Planet of the Apes,' imagined what life would be like if whites found themselves a subject population."
Beck may not have intended any racial subtext to his remark, but as Walsh notes, it's there none the less. And Beck has a history of making remarks that echo extremist ideas. This is probably a consequence of his traveling in the intellectual borderlands where movement conservatism merges and mingles with the extremist fringes.

Updated budget insanity

Here is a post I wrote four years ago

From the New York Times

President Bush's budget would increase the federal deficit by $35 billion this year and by more than $1.2 trillion over the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office reported on Friday.

The nonpartisan budget office said that Mr. Bush's tax-cutting proposals would cost about $1.7 trillion over the next 10 years and that his proposals to partly privatize Social Security would cost about $312 billion during that period.
And here's the best part

The optimistic outlook also assumes that Congress freezes or cuts the vast majority of discretionary government programs outside of military and domestic security ones.
See how that works? Run up a huge deficit so that you can sacrifice government programs which help people (worker protection, food safety, education, environmental protections, science research, "community development block grants, low-income housing, child-support enforcement against deadbeat fathers and scores of other programs with support in Congress.") at the altar of the military-industrial complex.
Glenn Greenwald notes some current consequences of such budget madness.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

What exactly does Glenn Beck mean by "white culture"?

"This president has exposed himself as a guy, over and over and over again, who has a deep-seated hatred for white people, or the white culture, I don't know what it is." - Glenn Beck

Given yesterday's post about Glenn Beck having listed a white nationalist forum posting about "Embrac[ing] White Culture" as one of his favorites on his Twitter account, I thought it might be an excellent time to provide this excerpt from Alexander Zaitchik's Common Nonsense:

To understand what Beck means by "the white culture," a good starting point is the title of his first and most personal book, The Real America: Messages from the Heart and Heartland. The concept of an American heartland continues to animate Beck's political imagination, and it explains much about how he sees the world. For Beck and his conservative audiences, the term white culture is not really about race, or at least not just about race. It is a synonym for an entire moral, political, and cultural universe, which Beck (among others) has nicknamed the Real America.


In speaches and writings, Beck and Palin's Real America is defined by conservative political and cultural traditions. It also has strong, usually implicit, racial overtones. Real America looks much like the red-state stereotype made famous by the 2004 election map: small-town, antigovernment, religious, blue-collar, gun-toting. It just so happens that the states closest to this stereotype are also the country's last demographic bastions of whiteness. Anyone who challenges this ideal is, by definition, an enemy of the Real America - or, in Beck's bold usage, "the white culture."

The challenges can be white, black, or biracial. The important thing is that they embody the threat of "fake" America to the "real." This "fake America" is another mx of reality and myth. In the conservative mind, it is urban, socialist, godless, educated with all the wrong ideas, unable to create anything of lasting value, and tracking darker every day. By threatening to overwhelm and extinguish Real America, the fake is hostile in every way: anticapitalist, antifamily, and - the part of the triad that usually dares not speak its name - antiwhite.

On historical fundamentalism

From Thomas Frank

'In one sense, our historical mania is nothing new. Americans have argued over the meaning of the American revolution since the day it ended. As Harvard historian Jill Lepore reminded me when I talked to her a few days ago, both Whigs and Jacksonians grabbed for the mantle of the Founders, as did Confederates and Unionists during the Civil War. So did the New Left in the 1960s. Claiming some special kinship with the revolutionary generation is simply what American political actors do. It is the oldest game in the book.

What distinguishes the current revival of interest in revolutionary times, according to Ms. Lepore, whose book about the tea party and history will be published this fall, is "historical fundamentalism." It's a way of understanding the past as "an incontrovertible argument. There is a narrowly defined past that is sacred to us as Americans." We have special historical documents, which "can be read as scripture. They come alive for us the way we need them to come alive. They cross time."'
Her upcoming book sounds promising.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Does Fox News even have a line that Beck can cross?

After Glenn Beck endorsed the work of a pro-Nazi American fascist sympathist, I asked this question of Fox News: "What would Glenn Beck have to do, short of putting on Klan robes and declaring President Obama a threat to white power, to end his career in the mainstream media?"

Not long after that, Beck accused "the Jews" of deicide.

And now he's reached another low.

I’ll let Fox News’ Glenn Beck explain this one. Perhaps he didn’t know that his list of favorite Twitter postings was available to the public.

In any case, Beck or the person responsible for Beck’s Twitter account clicked the little star adding an... umm... interesting post to his favorites list. The post in question came from Malevolent Freedom, which describes itself as a "White Nationalist News And Form":
The post which was linked to was about "embrac[ing] White Culture".

Perhaps I should revise my question: what would Glenn Beck have to do, short of participating in a literal lynching, to obtain the marginalized status that he so rightly deserves?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Quote of the day

'Last summer, Glenn Beck pushed racism into the national discourse by calling President Obama a "racist" with "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." Since that time, he has lost more than 100 advertisers on his Fox News show. Today, Beck gave himself a little pat on the back for predicting in January that "racism" would again come into the national discussion, a prediction that has as much credibility as a member of the 1919 White Sox "predicting" that the Reds would win the World Series.' - Media Matters

Monday, August 02, 2010

Latest discount book buys

His Dark Materials Trilogy (pb) by Philip Pullman for eight dollars.

The Age of Anxiety: McCarythism to Terrorism (hc) by Haynes Johnson for four dollars and fifty cents.

I have yet to read any of the Dark Materials books, but having enjoyed The Golden Compass film adaptation of the first book and having been impressed with The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ for the same reason as The Atheologian ("the book is a good book, easy and fluid, and actually quite interesting to read."), I thought I'd give them a try.

See here for my previous plug of The Age of Anxiety.

Quote of the day

'A favorite "precedent" of defenders of presidential war is Jefferson's and Madison's "Barbary Wars." But Jefferson informed Congress in his first annual message that he had ordered only defensive action when Americans were attacked by Tripolitan pirates, since he was "unauthorized by the Constituion, without the sanction of Congress, to go out beyond the line of defense" (emphasis added). "The legislature will doubtless consider whether, by authorizing measures of offense also, they will place our force on an equal footing with that of our adversaries." Jefferson asked for - and got - a mere resolution, not a declaration of war, since the pirates were not a sovereign nation. In fact,as Louis Fisher points out, "Congress enacted ten statutes authorizing action by presidents Jefferson and Madison in the Barbary Wars." A parallel to the pirates would be the terrorists of moden times, whose acts are not those of a sovereign state.' - Garry Wills, Bomb Power