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.