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.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Quote of the day

"I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny—fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear." - Sen. Margaret Chase Smith (R - ME), "Declaration of Conscience" (June 1, 1950)

She was talking about McCarthyism.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Book review coming

I'm in the process of finishing up a book review for a recently released book that I should be ready to post either Wednesday or Thursday. This will be the first full-on review that I've done in a good while.

In the meantime, I've just discovered another book that looks like a must read - and it has a great title!

Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception

From the press release:

In Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception (Viking, Sept.), New York University’s Charles Seife shows how numbers can be a powerful rhetorical weapon, but warns that “in skillful hands, phony data, bogus statistics, and bad mathematics can make the most fanciful idea, the most outrageous falsehood seem true.”

Seife, a professor in NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, defines “proofiness” as the art of using pure mathematics for impure ends.

“Phony numbers have the appearance of absolute truth, of pure objective fact, so we can use them as a justification to cling to our prejudices,” he writes. “Proofiness is the raw material that arms partisans to fight off the assault of knowledge, to clothe irrationality in the garb of the rational and the scientific.”

From Senator Joseph McCarthy’s claims of exact numbers of communists who had infiltrated the State Department to the misuse of census data to skew the formation of congressional districts to the application of a mathematical formula to falsely accuse the Soviet Union of violating the Threshold Test Ban Treaty in the 1980s, proofiness continues to erode democracy, Seife posits.

“Proofiness is toxic to a democracy, because numbers have a hold on us,” Seife maintains. “They are powerful—almost mystical. Because we think that numbers represent truth, it’s hard for us to imagine that a number can be made to lie. But proofiness is not merely a tool for propaganda as it was for McCarthy—it is much more dangerous than that. Democracy is a system of government based upon numbers, and rotten numbers are eroding the entire edifice from within.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Cool site of the day

Big Think

Big Think is a global forum connecting people and ideas.

It may be a cliché to say that knowledge is power, but that doesn’t make the statement any less true. We know that there are just 24 hours in a day, that you are bombarded with information, and that the bombardment will only escalate.

We believe that not all information is equal. We believe that expertise is invaluable and should be shared. If you had a heart problem and could afford the counsel of the world’s leading cardiologists, you would seek their advice. If you owned a business and wanted to expand into China or Russia, you’d want to hear from people who had already done that. If you planned to write a novel or a screenplay, you’d want to get pointers from the world’s leading writers. At Big Think, we put you in contact with the ideas of very smart people.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Book sale bonanza

Here is what I purchased at the library book sale, yesterday, for the grand total of eight dollars (hard covers for a dollar; paperbacks fifty cents):

The Coming of the New Deal, 1933-1935 (The Age of Roosevelt, Vol. 2) (hc) by Arthur Schlesinger

Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back (hc) by Amy Goodman and David Goodman

Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity (hc) edited by Michael Lewis

The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World (1788 - 1800) (hc) by Jay Winik

The Informant (pb) by Kurt Eichenwald

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (pb) by Douglas Hofstadter

Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (hc) by Michael Isikoff and David Corn

Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (hc) by Chalmers Johnson

Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free (hc) by Charles Pierce

The only one of these books that I have previously read is Nemesis. Of the remaining books, I'm probably most excited to read Idiot America, although there is no telling when I'll get to it.

Godel, Escher, and Bach is a 1980 edition that was donated and looks like someone has had it on their book shelf for thirty years without ever reading it. And The Coming of the New Deal is a '59 edition and is in remarkable condition considering its age.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Obama administration makes a mockery of human rights

Scott Horton observes

Diplomacy, according to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, is the “patriotic art of lying for one’s country.” A fine example of this comes from the U.S. Department of State’s Report to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Conjunction with the Universal Periodic Review (PDF), submitted at the end of August:

Thus, the United States prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of persons in the custody or control of the U.S. Government, regardless of their nationality or physical location. It takes vigilant action to prevent such conduct and to hold those who commit acts of official cruelty accountable for their wrongful acts. The United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture, and U.S. law prohibits torture at both the federal and state levels. On June 26, 2010, on the anniversary of adoption of the Convention Against Torture, President Obama issued a statement unequivocally reaffirming U.S. support for its principles, and committing the United States to continue to cooperate in international efforts to eradicate torture.
Horton goes on to note that contrary to what the United States officially asserts, it in fact does torture when the president feels like authorizing it and it does not hold those who torture accountable.

The "vigilant action" apparently includes arguing in court and winning expansive executive power to shield criminal conduct from legal scrutiny. It also includes "Looking forward, not backward" which allows the authors of a torture and kidnapping regime to walk around freely, making television appearances bragging about how proud they are of the torture that they had committed.

This is the sort of thing that should generate national outrage and dominate a news cycle. Perhaps we would have less such moral outrages if we had a media class that had a functioning moral compass in the first place. As it is, many of those in a position to hold the Obama administration's feet to the fire for its campaign promise shattering continuation of human rights violations are too busy having fun water gun fights with White House officials at the Court of Versailles Vice President's mansion.

Update: I agree with Brayton's sentiment, although I disagree that lying and winning an appeal are in themselves impeachable, no matter how despicable or destructive to the rule of law.

Obama lied, plain and simple. And now it is no exaggeration to say that we are on the cusp of the end of the very notion of constitutional checks and balances. Think for a moment about what Obama's victory in this appeal means. It means that the government can torture people at will -- entirely innocent people -- and the victims of that torture have no ability to seek justice in court. The moment the government says this is a state secret, the case has to be dismissed -- do not pass go, do not even think about demanding due process or justice.

The plaintiffs plan to appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds it, the rule of law is a dead letter in this country. It really is that simple. There is no more important issue facing this country. If the executive branch is allowed to violate the constitution, the law and our treaty obligations at will and there is no judicial oversight allowed for those actions, we do not have a president we have a dictator -- and the fact that we are allowed to change dictators every four years does not change that reality one bit.
Not a dictator, so much as a para-dictator. We still have the institutions of democracy, the hypothetical seperation of powers and such, the laws on paper ... they all just happen to be useless when it comes to doing anything about the monarchical national security state war president. The Obama administration has just helped to transform, further, the Rule of Law, into a vestigial organ of the American political body.

And here's another recent example of the "vigilant action" that has been taken to hold those who commit torture to account: rehiring a torturer as a contractor.

As Andrew Sullivan puts it

The cloak of secrecy [Obama] is invoking is not protecting national security but protecting war crimes. And this is now inescapably his cloak. He is therefore a clear and knowing accessory to war crimes, and should at some point face prosecution as well, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything any more. This won't happen in my lifetime, barring a miracle. Because Obama was a test case. If an outsider like him, if a constitutional scholar like him, at a pivotal moment for accountability like the last two years, cannot hold American torturers to account, there is simply no accountability for American torture. When the CIA actually rehires as a contractor someone who held a power-drill against the skull of a prisoner, you know that change from within this system is impossible. The system is too powerful. It protects itself. It makes a mockery of the rule of law. It doesn't only allow torture; it rewards it.

The case yesterday is particularly egregious because it forbade a day in court for torture victims even if only non-classified evidence was used. Think of that for a minute. It shreds any argument that national security is in any way at stake here. It's definitionally not protection of any state secret if all that is relied upon is evidence that is not secret. And so this doctrine has been invoked by Obama not to protect national security but to protect war criminals from the law.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Pathology of a political response

From Germs, Genes, and Civilization: How Epidemics Shaped Who We Are Today by David Clark

When a new problem arises in society, especially a novel health issue, the response of the political establishment is pretty much as follows:

1. The problem does not exist.
2. The problem is extremely rare and, in any case, is declining. There are more important things to worry about.
3. The problem has been highly exaggerated by irresponsible activists and popular journalists.
4. There is a serious problem, and we have been doing everything possible to deal with it from the very begginning.

Both the American response to the AIDS crisis and the British response to mad cow disease followed these stages.

Monday, September 06, 2010

A quote for Labor Day

"A good labour union is of value because it keeps out radical unions, which would destroy property. No one ought to be forced to belong to a union, however. All labor agitators who try to force men to join a union should be hanged. In fact, just between ourselves, there oughtn't to be any unions allowed at all; and as its the best way of fighting unions, every business man ought to belong to an employers' association and to the Chamber of Commerce. In union there is strength. So any selfish Log who doesn't join the Chamber of Commerce ought to be forced to." - Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt

Still the finest satire of manufactured market values that I know of.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Quote of the day

"One of the most significant developments in the U.S. is the rapidly and severely increasing rich-poor gap. A middle class standard of living is being suffocated and even slowly eliminated, as budget cuts cause an elimination of services that are hallmarks of first-world living. Because the wealthiest Americans continue to consolidate both their monopoly on wealth and, more important, their control of Congress and the government generally, we respond to all of this by enacting even more policies which exacerbate that gap and favor even more the wealthiest factions while taking more from the poorest and most powerless. And now, the very people responsible for the vulernable financial state of the U.S. want to address that problem by targeting one of the very few guarantors in American life of a humane standard of living: Social Security." - Glenn Greenwald

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Rabbi on Glenn Beck show echoes Nazi rhetoric

Just look at how delighted Beck was to hear Rabbi Lapin tell his audience that "atheists are parasites" benefiting from the good society and culture that religion has built for them. I love how he prefaced his bigoted statement with the old bigot tactic of claiming to know some good atheists, kinda like how Henry Ford would say he knew some good Jews to demonstrate he wasn't prejudiced when he denounced "Jewish parasites."

I expect that there might be some who would be so inclined to believe that I'm being unfair with my post title. For such individuals, I suggest you read this.

Friday, September 03, 2010

A quintessential example of why I despise Nancy Grace and CNN HLN so very, very much

I randomly turned to CNN HLN twice today. The first time I was informed by this "news" network something or another about Kat Von D (a reality show tatoo artist) hanging out with Jesse James (a reality show mechanic) ... I'm not sure exactly what important information the network had about the two as I tried to turn the channel as quickly as possible to avoid mental contamination.

The second time I flipped by the network I was confronted by an angry, scowling Nancy Grace (this is apparently her default facial posture for television) in her most serious and grave, indignant and outraged demeanor, covering the "BREAKING NEWS" that a nanny was caught on tape physically abusing an infant. The child's parents fired the nanny and turned the tape over to police, so what exactly is the news significance of this tragedy to a national audience?

On the other hand, I also flipped once randomly to NPR, and this is what I heard

Melissa Block speaks with Miel Hendrickson, regional coordinator for International Medical Corps in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hendrickson's team has treated more than 200 women who were raped in rebel attacks a month ago. The area is known for its gold and mineral deposits, and attacks on villages in the area is frequent.
While CNN HLN and Nancy Grace are trading on celebrity gossip and individual personal tragedy for profit, there actually is relevant news with important significance out there that goes generally unnoticed.

One can google the topic for more information about the systematic raping of women (and abuse of children) that is occurring in the Congo, but here is one that kind of puts in perspective the fraud that is CNN HLN

Cassiterite, wolframite, coltan: they might be the spoiled offspring of celebrity parents, or characters from an unfamiliar fairytale. The truth is much more prosaic. They are the minerals on which laptops and mobiles and even the tin of tomatoes in the cupboard depend. Cassiterite is the main component of tin oxide. Wolframite is a source of tungsten, used in many electrical applications. Coltan makes mobile phones work.

There are two reasons why it is necessary to know about these otherwise apparently esoteric minerals. First, the rich world has a capacious appetite for them, and second, it is fuelling conflict in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The rape of more than 150 [Note - now confirmed at 240] women and children earlier this month in Luvungi, North Kivu, in the DRC's mineral heartland is probably (it is not yet proven) directly connected with the exploitation of the mines from which these minerals come.

Despite the enormity of the crime – and even though it apparently took place over several nights – news of the rapes travelled only slowly into the western media. Even the UN's Monusco stabilisation force, based less than 20kms from the village, claims to have heard nothing. The force, due to leave in a year, has long been accused of spending too long in barracks, failing to patrol on foot, and making too little attempt to listen to the concerns of the people it is supposed to be there to protect. Partly because of its failings, Kivu, geographically and politically remote from Kinshasa, has become the killing field in what is being called Africa's world war. Proportionally, it is a conflict that dwarfs any British war: it has already claimed 5 million lives and cruelly disrupted millions more. Yesterday, a leaked report from the UN accused neighbouring Rwanda of a genocidal spree as its Tutsi-controlled army hunted down Hutu refugees in the late 1990s. Then soldiers of the Lord's Resistance Army, pushed out of Uganda, launched a series of deadly raids.
Oh, and this, too.

3 September 2010 – More than two dozen children were among the hundreds of civilians recently raped by members of armed groups active in the far east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations reported today.


The UN said today that 27 minors, including one boy, were among those assaulted, with one attempted rape reported as well.
You see, this is actually breaking news. It's been breaking for more than a god damned decade.

Here's a bit from the latest report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo from the International Rescue Committee:

"It was not uncommon to hear accounts of armed groups seizing young women from farms or water points and enslaving them and raping them for one to three months," says [IRC D. R. Congo Gender Based Violence team coordinator Sarah] Mosely. "Now women in North Kivu talk to me more about gunmen breaking into their homes and brutally raping them in front of their families."

She says the attacks have become so frequent that families in the north cross into Uganda at night to sleep in the forest. It's safer than staying at home.
That was written in 2007.

I'll close my little rant with the same question the above author asked 3 years ago: "Wonder when Nancy Grace will get around to those women."

Better "communists," please

McClatchy reports

Democrats in Congress are poised to play a leading role this month in thwarting their party's effort to raise income tax rates on the wealthy.
So, let's see, the Bush tax cuts for the rich will stay while Democrats are considering reductions in Social Security benefits. Remembering that taxes on the middle class were raised in the 80s under the pretense of funding Social Security but in reality to finance Reagan tax cuts for the wealthy, it does make a kind of nice symmetry to the whole affair to see Social Security being put on the chopping block in order to further subsidize the transferance of wealth upwards.

Gee whiz, I sure can see why everyone is so worked into a hysteria about how radical socialists in Congress are persecuting the wealthy. I mean, with Leninists like the ones Greenwald mentions, it's a wonder that the Obama administration hasn't carved Stalin's face into Mt. Rushmore yet.

Following Robert Gibbs' announcement that liberal Obama critics should be drug tested, and before that, Rahm Emanuel's declaration that the same group is "fucking retarded," a new book by former Obama "car czar" Steven Rattner describes how Emanuel worked to thwart union interests and declared, in the midst of the auto bailouts:  "Fuck the UAW."

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Ten top psychology myths

The authors of 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology have an article in eSkeptic listing the top ten myths. Take a look.

I'm pleased to see my own pet peeve of pop psychology mythology - the lie detector - made the list.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Living through World War II with Orwell

In case you quit checking the blog since you found the number of eggs that George Orwell had for breakfast that day to be not all that interesting, I thought I'd point out that the daily unfolding of Orwell's diary at Orwell Diaries has now gotten to where he is commenting on living through World War II on a daily basis (with each entry correlating to this day seventy years ago).

Given that Orwell wrote probably the most influential anti-totalitarian novel of all time, and that his experiences living through World War II no doubt played a significant part in shaping his thoughts about such matters, I find the diaries to be a fascinating window into his mind and how Orwell experienced the war.

Here is yesterday's entry:

Air-raid warnings, of which there are now half a dozen or thereabouts every 24 hours, becoming a great bore. Opinion spreading rapidly that one ought simply to disregard the raids except when they are known to be big-scale ones and in one’s own area. Of the people strolling in Regent’s Park, I should say at least half pay no attention to a raid-warning . . . . . Last night just as we were going to bed, a pretty heavy explosion. Later in the night woken up by a tremendous crash, said to be caused by a bomb in Maida Vale[1]. E. and I merely remarked on the loudness and fell asleep again. Falling asleep, with a vague impression of anti-aircraft guns firing, found myself mentally back in the Spanish war, on one of those nights when you had a good straw to sleep on, dry feet, several hours rest ahead of you, and the sound of distant gunfire, which acts as a soporific provided it is distant.