Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Michelle Bachmann: Liar for Jesus

You may recall that the Obama administration, citing the same sort of "common sense" rhetoric that the Bush administration used to use to rationalize political decisions at odds with the science of an issue, recently overruled the FDA to prevent making Plan B pill an over-the-counter product available to those under 17 years of age.

Obama defended the decision of HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, saying that she "could not be confident that a 10-year-old or 11-year-old going to a drug store would be able to, alongside bubble gum or batteriers be able to buy a medication that potentially if not used properly can have an adverse effect."

Nevermind the nonsense of that response given the science the FDA based its decision on has already found that Plan B does not pose a health risk to minors. Let's look as what Michelle Bachman had to say in response to this at an anti-abortion group sponsored GOP presidential candidate town-hall last night.

Each of the candidates, who spoke separately and took a couple of questions each, took the same hard-line position. The differences were on the margins. Bachmann distinguished herself with her dishonesty, claiming at one point that Obama is “putting abortion pills for young minors, girls as young as 8 years of age or 11 years of age, on [the] bubblegum aisle.” (Obama, of course, recently overrode an FDA recommendation to make emergency contraception available over the counter for all ages, infuriating women’s-health activists.)
Wow. Three staggering lies in one: 1)Plan B prevents pregnancy, it is not an abortifacient. 2)President Obama's administration blocked Plan B access to minors 3)President Obama defended that decision on the grounds that Plan B shouldn't be available to minors on the bubblegum aisle.

Really. The magnitude and audacity of this dishonesty is overwhelming - what can one even say to this, say to the fundamentalist base Bachmann is speaking to that has so worked itself into an alternate universe that it tolerates such lies as a virtue - and worse - accepts them as a truth more accurate than reality?

How ironic that a self-professed Christian who cries persecution that the Ten Commandments aren't featured in public schools and courtrooms can't seem to remember the injunction against bearing false witness.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Transposed hate

I've written numerous posts over the years here arguing that often the derogatory rhetoric directed towards "liberals" by movement conservatives looks and sounds like more obviously prejudicial hate rhetoric of the past; that this is part the result of parallel thinking, part meme evolution which finds a more socially acceptable target for hate.

I now have a perfect example of exactly what I've been talking about.

In at least three instances, Andrew Breitbart's Big Journalism website has used an image connected to a Nazi-era German magazine noted for anti-Semitic cartoons and pro-Hitler leanings.
At that Media Matters link you will see that what Big Journalism did was post a slightly modified version of an anti-Semitic cartoon from a 1942 issue of a pro-Nazi magazine. In the original art, the American news press is depicted as being controlled by a giant Jewish figure (complete with a Star of David tie and a hook nose). In the Big Journalism version the Star of David has been removed,the nose has been straightened out, and the the phrase "Media Bias" appears on the figure's shirt.

Let's take a moment to look at the response from Big Journalism's editor, in which she asserts that there was no anti-Semitic intent in the cartoon and that it was taken down at the request of one of Breitbart's editors when he suspected it was a recycled anti-Jewish cartoon.

This misses a more interesting point: the users of the doctored image were attempting to spread the same prejudice towards Liberals that the original pro-Nazi German cartoonist was trying to spread towards Jews. That their new hate can be so easily transposed on old hate of the past is quite remarkable.

Speaking of which, I don't believe I have yet to plug Arthur Goldwag's next book, The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right. Dealing with this subject in depth, it will be out Feb. 7th and has gotten great advance reviews from Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly.

See here and here for sample excerpts.

[Disclosure: I've been informed that this blog is mentioned in the book.]

Good environmental news: new mercury and toxins regulations

Dave Roberts at Grist writes

Wednesday, at long last, the EPA unveiled its new rule covering mercury and other toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

Anyone who pays attention to green news will have spent the last two years hearing a torrent of stories about EPA rules and the political fights over them. It can get tedious. After a certain point even my eyes glaze over, and I'm paid to follow this stuff.

But this one is a Big Deal. It's worth lifting our heads out of the news cycle and taking a moment to appreciate that history is being made. Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live.
Despite being deeply troubled by some of this administration's recent actions degrading scientific integrity for political reasons (see here for example) I must credit it for these new standards.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Credit where credit is due

From The Dream of Reason by Anthony Gottlieb

Consider ... what [John Philoponus (AD c.490 - c.530)] had to say about Aristotle's assertion that unsupported bodies fall towards the earth with a speed that is proportional to their weight - i.e., that heavy things fall faster than light ones:

But this is completely erroneous, and our view may be corroborated by actual observation more effectively than by any sort of verbal argument. For if you let fall from the same height two weights of which one is many times as heavy as the other, you will see that the ratio of the times required for the motion does not depend on the ration of the weights, but that the difference in time is a very small one.
Philoponus' own theory of falling bodies was not quite right, but the experiment he describes here (which does at least refute Aristotle's view) was heralded as a momentous scientific breakthrough when it was repeated in the seventeenth century. Nowadays the experiment is traditionally credited to Galileo, who lived more than 1,000 years later than Philoponus (and who knew his works well.)

Newt for dictator (to save the Republic!)

Steve Benen

Just so we’re clear, this week, a leading presidential candidate articulated his belief that, if elected, he might (1) eliminate courts he doesn’t like; (2) ignore court rulings he doesn’t like; and (3) take judges into custody if he disapproves of their legal analyses.

I hope it’s unnecessary to note that Gingrich’s vision is stark raving mad.

I’ll just conclude with this observation: Newt Gingrich believes Barack Obama is a wild-eyed fanatic, guided by an extremist ideology, hell bent on overseeing a radical overhaul of the American system of government.

The irony is rich.
I call it depressing - and a sad reflection of how poorly major news media is serving this country.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Anaximander of Miletus as First Scientist

Carlo Rovelli at Scientific American writes

Modern science is a vast activity which has many fathers. Many could be named “the first scientist,” and I am sure you have your favorite one. By focusing on Anaximander, I wish to illustrate and emphasize one characteristic of scientific thinking that is even more fundamental, I believe, than Galileo’s introduction of modern experimentation, or Newton’s dynamical laws, or even Ptolemy and Ipparchus’ predictive mathematical astronomy or Aristotle’s keen observation of nature. What Anaximander started is the process of questioning common knowledge in depth, subverting the shared vision of the world, and proposing a novel conceptual structure for understanding reality. Observed from the particular perspective of a scientist of today, the ideas of Anaximander acquire a new sense, and the immensity of their legacy becomes evident.

Anaximander lived 26 centuries ago in Miletus, a Greek city on the coast of modern Turkey. He understood a surprising number of facts that we consider obvious today, but which had taken humanity millennia to figure out. Foremost, he is the one that first realized (and who was able to convince the world) that the Earth is not lying on something else (columns, turtles, an ocean, earth down forever), bur rather it floats free in space. The sky is not just above our heads: it is all around us, including under our feet.

Karl Popper, the famous philosopher of science, called this idea “one of the boldest, most revolutionary, and most portentous ideas in the whole history of human thinking.”
There is much more at the link explaining why Rovelli considers Anaximander to be exemplary of the core of the scientific endeavor ("the process of questioning common knowledge in depth ... and proposing novel re-conceptualizations of the world"; "a deep acceptance of our persisting uncertainty, and our vast ignorance").

Rovelli covers the topic in even greater depth in his newly released book The First Scientist: Anaximander and his Legacy.

As an aside, note that Rovelli draws a link between the birth of science and democracy

[S]cience started precisely at the same time when democracy was being born. Anaximander was a contemporary of Solon, who wrote the first democratic constitution in Athens. Anaximander’s Miletus was part of the Ionian league, whose delegates met in the Panionium sanctuary: perhaps the first parliament in the history of humanity. At the very same time when they get rid of kings and emperors, people started looking the world with new eyes and discovered something very new about it. The idea that common decisions are better found in an open discussion where everybody can listen to others and is ready to change his (and, later, her) mind was born together with the idea that we can increase our knowledge by observing, discussing and by changing our minds about the world. Democracy and science are close sisters.
Timothy Ferris argued a similar point in his excellent The Science of Liberty, but focused on the modern birth of democracy at around the time of the scientific revolution.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bill O'Reilly's crybaby conservatism

One of the character defects that seems to be nearly universal to many of the conservative media stars that dominate Fox News and AM radio is an ability to be brutally mean-spirited and vicious towards others, only to then turn around when called on it or when someone responds in kind and cry about how mean and unfair and hateful that person or category (e.g. "liberals") is.

Witness Bill O'Reilly, who routinely sends out slimeball producers to stalk and confront people going about their normal business, like when he had Jesse Waters stake our Amanda Terkel's apartment, follow her several hours across state lines, then start questioning her after she checked into a hotel; or when Jesse Waters confronted a judge in a gas station, then stuck his foot in the judge's car door in an attempt to prevent him from driving off. (In both instances, O'Reilly and partners were dishonest.)

So imagine what Bill O'Reilly's reaction was when he walked out of a hotel in D.C. and was approached by an Occupy Wall Street protester with a camera asking him if he attended a Newt Gingrich fundraiser. O'Reilly shoved his umbrella into the guy's face, then he tried to have him arrested by White House police. Then he went on his tv show and complained that if he had punched the protester like he wanted to he would have been charged for assault. My favorite part, though, is O'Reilly asserting that had the person identified himself before asking the question he would have been glad to respond.

So O'Reilly is perfectly fine with sending his minions out to interrupt people's lives and put them in extremely uncomfortable situations, but when someone tries to ask him a single question after accidentally coming across him (as opposed to the deliberate stalking that O'Reilly's team engages in) he considers it a criminal threat to himself and laments that the law doesn't enable him to physically assault the individual.

I actually do sympathize with O'Reilly's fear that some random person could come up to him and do him harm. I detest the tactics of paparazzi and believe the protester who approached O'Reilly could (and should) have identified himself and asked O'Reilly if he minded being asked a question and/or filmed - to which O'Reilly almost certainly would have said yes. (Or would have done the same exact thing, regardless, I'm guessing.)

But what bothers me is O'Reilly's own inability to take the feelings he has about being confronted and extend them to others put in a similar situation by his own crew. In other words, to empathize and exercise the Golden Rule which a self-proclaimed Christian like O'Reilly is supposed to hold as the bedrock foundation of his ethics.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

More Bizarro Change

Obama administration continues Bush administration policy of Plan B restrictions for political, not scientific, reasons

In 2005, Susan Wood resigned her job as the top women’s-health official at the FDA, claiming that the agency’s refusal to allow over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception was the result of political pressure by the Bush administration. “The decision, which left women of all ages without appropriate and timely access to emergency contraception, was a clear rejection of recommendations that had been based on extensive review and evaluation of the pertinent data,” she wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

This controversy was constantly cited in feminist indictments of the previous president. It was usually mentioned in critiques of Bush’s ideological, anti-empirical approach to science. That’s why women’s-health advocates and other progressives were so shocked yesterday when the Obama administration overruled an FDA recommendation to expand over-the-counter access to Plan B One-Step, a type of morning-after pill.

Quote of the day

"Plato's invention of Atlantis was so vivid that scholars and lunatics have looked for it ever since." - Anthony Gottlieb, The Dream of Reason: A History of Philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance

Monday, December 05, 2011

Garry Wills reviews Doonesbury

Somehow it had escaped my notice until now that the eminent historian Gary Wills wrote a review of one of my all-time favorite comic strips - Garry Trudeau's "Doonesbury"- in The New York Review of Books for 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective celebrating four decades of the strip. (Also see Slate's 40th anniversary celebration.)

An excerpt

There have been other comic strips that dealt with politics, but they did so sporadically, and as one-trick diversions—Al Capp satirizing the welfare state with his schmoos, Walt Kelly turning Senator Joseph McCarthy into Simple J. Malarkey—but Trudeau has reflected on politics at a depth and with a breadth no one else has achieved. No wonder he won the first Pulitzer Prize given to a comic strip (in 1975). When Nixon bombed Cambodia without telling Congress that he was invading another country, Trudeau sent his terrorist character Phred to the bomb site. When he sees a couple standing American Gothic–style before a leveled museum, he asks if this happened during the secret bombing of Cambodia. The man says it was no secret. “I said ‘Look Martha, here come the bombs.’” Nothing could say more succinctly that many of our national security secrets are not meant to deceive the enemy, but to keep Congress and the American people in the dark about what our government is doing in our name. (I liked this strip so well that I asked Trudeau for the original, and it now hangs on my wall.)

Over and over Trudeau pinpoints governmental absurdities. After Mike and a friend have discussed the casualties of the Iraq war, in a strip that ran in 2005, they wonder if the dead cause any anguish in the President. The last panel shows voices coming from the White House in the night. Laura asks, “What’s wrong, dear?” and Bush answers, “It’s the stem cells. I hear their cries.” Another strip shows a soldier coming home. His wife asks who that is arriving with him. He says it is the terrorist following him home, as Bush had claimed they would.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Blog interrupted

I've been working much overtime recently, which has been good for my pocket, terrible for my neglected blog. I have however, finished Glenn Greenwald's Liberty and Justice for Some and drafted out an outline of notes for a review which I hope to write as soon as my batteries recharge.

I also have my 2010 Book of the Year pick (I know, inexcusably late) which I've drafted up but have found many excuses to hold off on finishing that I would like to have up soon.

Those two items and another post about Rush Limbaugh and another about what really bothered me about President Obama's response to Donald Trump's bitherism are in the pipeline. I may end up working a good deal more overtime before the end of the year, however.

In the meanwhile, I can whole-heartedly recommend NOVA's The Fabric of the Cosmos series. Very well done; entertaining and inspiring.

I can also note that if you have a mobile device that you read texts on and have not already downloaded a Google books app, you may want to add that, as I've been able to find a couple of e-texts that I had been having difficulty locating. Namely: Justice in War Time by Bertrand Russell, The Brass Check by Upton Sinclair, and An Historical and Critical Dictionary by Pierre Bayle.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Rush Limbaugh's Other-World

As I turned on Rush Limbaugh's radio program today - randomly - I was met by Limbaugh saying that liberals have been openly advocating communism for two decades now and that Barack Obama wants to be re-elected so that he can install a communist regime.

I'm not sure how to respond, as having never visited this parallel, alternate dimension Earth that Limbaugh broadcasts from, I'm not really in a position to comment.

On this Earth, however

A new report shows that despite a campaign pledge to get lobbyists out of Washington, the Obama White House has weakened regulation in favor of corporate interests more than the Bush administration. The study, "Behind Closed Doors at the White House: How Politics Trumps Protection of Public Health, Worker Safety, and the Environment,” examines more than a thousand meetings that took place over a decade between lobbyists and a little known regulatory office, then checks to see how proposed rules were weakened to accommodate industry requests. It found the Obama White House changed rules 76 percent of the time, while Bush changed them just 64 percent of the time. EPA rules were changed at a significantly higher rate — 84 percent.
And the President Obama on this Earth kept in key financial positions in his administration the men responsible for this

The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing.

The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.

Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Richard Nixon versus Richard Nixon

From "What Happened to America?" (1967) by Richard Nixon

Our teachers, preachers, and politicians have gone too far in advocating the idea that each individual should determine what laws are good and what laws are bad, and that he then should obey the law he likes and disobey the law he dislikes.
From the May 19, 1977 Frost/Nixon interview

FROST: So what in a sense, you’re saying is that there are certain situations, and the Huston Plan or that part of it was one of them, where the president can decide that it’s in the best interests of the nation or something, and do something illegal.

Nixon: Well, when the president does it that means that it is not illegal.

[...]

Frost: The point is: the dividing line is the president's judgment?

Nixon: Yes ...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Baleful quote of the day

"[W]hen did we accept the idea that local police forces would always dress up in riot gear that used to be associated with storm troopers and dystopian sci-fi movies?" - James Fallows

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Update for the New American Newspeak Dictionary

Today's addition to the New American Newspeak Dictionary is:

Lawfully coerce: illegally torture

Via the Washington Post's liar torture enthusiast Marc Thiessen

The corporate response to Occupy Wall Street

From Chris Hedges

Get back into your cages, they are telling us. Return to watching the lies, absurdities, trivia and celebrity gossip we feed you in 24-hour cycles on television. Invest your emotional energy in the vast system of popular entertainment. Run up your credit card debt. Pay your loans. Be thankful for the scraps we toss. Chant back to us our phrases about democracy, greatness and freedom. Vote in our rigged political theater. Send your young men and women to fight and die in useless, unwinnable wars that provide corporations with huge profits. Stand by mutely as our bipartisan congressional super committee, either through consensus or cynical dysfunction, plunges you into a society without basic social services including unemployment benefits. Pay for the crimes of Wall Street.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Justice" in the land of Forward Looking Hope and Change

From Truthout (via Greenwald)

"We're a party to the Convention Against Torture and clearly we tortured people," Davis said, angrily. "There is an affirmative duty under the convention to investigate and prosecute. It doesn't say when it's convenient or when you get around to it or if it's not politically detrimental to your administration. It says it's a duty. And it also says, in addition to prosecuting people that were tortured the person that is the victim has to have a right to compensation and the Obama administration refuses to investigate and prosecute the allegations of torture. But when the victims go to court to try and get civil remedies they're entitled to under the Convention Against Torture the Obama administration asserts the state secrets privilege to knock them out of court."

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Quote of the day

"Philosophy teaches us to feel uncertain about the things that seem to us self-evident. Propaganda, on the other hand, teaches us to accept as self-evident matters about which it would be reasonable to suspend our judgement or to feel doubt." - Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Trivia of the day

Question: Who coined the phrase "willing suspension of disbelief?"

Answer: Samuel Coleridge in Biographia Literaria (1817)

The thought suggested itself (to which of us I do not recollect) that a series of poems might be composed of two sorts. In the one, the incidents and agents were to be, in part at least, supernatural; and the excellence aimed at was to consist in the interesting of the affections by the dramatic truth of such emotions as would naturally accompany such situations, supposing them real. And real in this sense they have been to every human being who, from whatever source of delusion, has at any time believed himself under supernatural agency. For the second class, subjects were to be chosen from ordinary life; the characters and incidents were to be such, as will be found in every village and its vicinity, where there is a meditative and feeling mind to seek after them, or to notice them, when they present themselves.

In this idea originated the plan of the 'Lyrical Ballads'; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Latest discount book buys

Perelandra (pb) by C.S. Lewis for 50 cents.

The People's Doonesbury: Notes from Underfoot (hc) by Gary Trudeau for 1 dollar.

The Doonesbury Chronicles (hc) by Gary Trudeau for 1 dollar.

Quote of the day

"[L]iberty ... cannot flourish in a country that is permanently on a war footing, or even a near-war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent control of everybody and everything by the agencies of the central government." - Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Behold, the Horrors of the New Deal

From The New Deal: A Modern History (via Slate)

The New Deal physically reshaped the country. To this day, Americans still rely on its works for transportation, electricity, flood control, housing, and community amenities. The output of one agency alone, the Works Progress Administration, represents a magnificent bequest to later generations. The WPA produced, among many other projects, 1,000 miles of new and rebuilt airport runways, 651,000 miles of highway, 124,000 bridges, 8,000 parks, and 18,000 playgrounds and athletic fields; some 84,000 miles of drainage pipes, 69,000 highway light standards, and 125,000 public buildings built, rebuilt, or expanded. Among the latter were 41,300 schools.
And just this afternoon I turned on Rush Limbaugh to hear him saying that liberalism is destructive.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The history of philosophy

It has come to my attention that for some reason I have failed to forward The Atheologian's recommendation of Peter Adamson's History of Philosophy without any gaps podcast.

Peter Adamson, Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at King's College London, takes listeners through the history of Western philosophy, "without any gaps." Beginning with the earliest ancient thinkers, the series will look at the ideas and lives of the major philosophers (eventually covering in detail such giants as Plato, Aristotle, Avicenna, Aquinas, Descartes, and Kant) as well as the lesser-known figures of the tradition.
I've been listening for a year now and Adamson is 51 episodes into the project, just recently having gotten to Aristotle.

This really is a fantastic podcast - interesting and informative. Anyone with a remote interest in philosophy who isn't already following should start catching up.

Adamson has provided an invaluable resource: a convenient way to learn the history of philosophy in twenty minute or so intervals. In terms of digestible informational value, I would rank this podcast up with Bertrand Russell's masterpiece History of Western Philosophy, to give you an idea of the level of admiration I have for it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Retconning history

From About.com entry Retcon

Definition: This term has become more and more used in the world of comic books. A retcon is when a later writer changes the history of a comic book to accommodate their own storyline. The more comic books continue, especially in the case of Marvel and DC, the more history current writers have to wade through. Many feel that it is easier to change the continuity than to have to deal with it.
Listening to the Chris Mooney Point of Inquiry interview of Rick Perlstein about leading Republican figures inventing their own versions of history, I could think of no better way to describe their cartoonish historical revisions than as comic book style retcons.

For example, it is easier to change the continuity to accommodate one's own storyline than to have to deal with it. Instead of coming to terms with the overwhelming consilience of evidence for evolution, David Barton simply cites the authority of the Founding Fathers and claims, contrary to reality, that Thomas Paine said that creation science (something that did not exist at the time) should be taught in the classroom instead of evolution (a theory that would not be presented for nearly another 70 to 80 years). Easier, but intellectually corrupt.

The sad part - that Perlstein addresses in the interview - is that media outlets, out of a false sense of balance, now tend to treat such claims as having merit by virtue of their being presented rather than treating them as the obvious nonsense they are.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Baleful quote of the day

"Every now and then it’s worth pausing to reflect on how often we talk about the killing of people by the U.S. Literally, the U.S. government is just continuously killing people in multiple countries around the world. Who else does that? Nobody — certainly nowhere near on this scale. The U.S. President expressly claims the power to target anyone he wants, anywhere in the world, for death, including his own citizens; he does it in total secrecy and with no oversight; and this power is not just asserted but routinely exercised. The U.S., over and over, eradicates people’s lives by the dozens from the sky, with bombs, with checkpoint shootings, with night raids — in far more places and far more frequently than any other nation or group on the planet. Those are just facts." - Glenn Greenwald, commenting on the killing of a 16-year-old (among others) by a U.S. drone strike

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The end of an era

Since this blog started back in '05, one of the topics I've blogged the most about has been cable news pundits, particularly Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly, and how antithetical to the things I value as a humanist they are. (See here for an early example.)

Haunted by Neal Postman's ghost and looking to save money I have canceled my cable subscription, so (for the time being at least) I will no longer be able to watch these programs as I did before.

This isn't much of a change, however, in that I had already mostly quit watching these shows, anyway. I feel I may have reached my saturation point after years of regular viewing. With the two years of insanity that was the Glenn Beck program on Fox News, it may take quite some time before my batteries are recharged enough to feel like ever doing such a thing again.

Hopefully, this will give me more time to spend with my book collection, which will in turn lead to better blogging (once I get back to blogging) more in line with the original intent of the blog (doubting humanist and all that.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quote of the day

"Every thing secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity." - Lord Acton, Lord Acton and His Circle

Friday, October 14, 2011

Excerpt of the day

From The End of America by Naomi Wolf

"Could what happened to Maher Arar happen to a U.S. citizen? Chaplain James Yee was arrested and investigated on suspicion of "espionage and possibly treason" on September 10, 2003. It is not widely reported that he had also spoken up on behalf of better treatment for the detainees in Guantanamo. Military officials claimed that Yee had classified documents that included diagrams of cells at Guantanamo and lists of detainees. He was also said to have "ties to [radical Muslims in the U.S.]."

Chaplain Yee was taken to a navy brig in Charleston, South Carolina, and interrogated. He was blindfolded; his ears were blocked; he was manacled and then put into solitary confinement for seventy-six days; he was forbidden mail, television, or anything to read except the Koran. His family was not allowed to visit him. He was demonized on TV, radio, and the internet and accused of being an operative in "a supposed spy ring that aimed to pass secrets to al-Qaeda from suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo ... Court papers said he would be charged with espionage, spying, aiding the enemy, mutiny or sedition, and disobeying an order." Chaplain Yee, born in New Jersey and raised a Lutheran before converted to Islam, was baffled at the accusations. His lawyers were told he could face execution. Within six months, the U.S. government had dropped all criminal charges against Yee. But the government said it did so to avoid making its sensitive evidence public, not because Yee is innocent.

Yee was released - but charged with what looked like punitive "Mickey Mouse" charges: "adultery, lying to investigators and two counts of downloading porn." In the presence of his humiliated wife and his 4-year-old daughter, military prosecutors compelled Navy Lt. Karyn Wallace to testify about their extramarital affair. The military rarely prosecutes adultery. The government never presented the evidence on which it based its first accusations against Yee. But after Yee was set free, he was placed "under a new Army order not to talk about his ordeal in any way that might be seen as critical to the military." If he says anything negative about what happened to him, he faces further prosecution.
Yee has since been released from his gag order.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

A book that should be read

I've been busy (again) finding reasons not to blog, but am taking a moment to remind you of what I anticipate to be one of the most important political books coming out this year - Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law is used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful by Glenn Greenwald - and that it is coming out later this month.

Given the recent news that the CIA will face no consequences for illegally destroying evidence of torture and conspiring to hide both the crimes of torture and withholding/destruction of evidence, while more and more Americans find themselves falling victim to the prison-industrial complex, this remains a book on a subject that is long overdue.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A prototypical example of why I dislike President Reagan

From On the Media

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And, as a matter of fact, you note in the film a kind of proto-McDonald's story in a story about a telephone booth that President Ronald Reagan recounts.

PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: In California a man was using a public telephone booth to place a call. An alleged drunk driver careened down the street, lost control of her car and crashed into the phone booth. It’s no surprise that the injured man sued, but you might be startled to hear whom he sued, the telephone company and associated firms. That's right.

SUSAN SALADOFF: The telephone booth was in a very dangerous place and it had been hit several times. And the telephone company had never properly fixed the door, so even though he was trying to get out he couldn't get out until he was hit in the booth. He lost his leg. And so, it wasn’t a real - a real joke the way President Reagan had portrayed it.
Of course, I also detest the corporate propaganda campaigns that Saladoff has documented (see the link.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Why he wasn't a communist

I'm not sure why, but it wasn't until about a year ago that the work of the great Czech writer Karel Capek escaped the periphery of my knowledge (as the popularizer of the term "robot") and found itself on my kindle in the form of R.U.R. and The War with Newts. (Unfortunately, neither of those works are available for the dollar price that I found them at a year ago.)

And it wasn't until today that Capek's deeply warm and humane 1924 essay "Why I am not a Communist" came to my attention. I found it interesting - having known that Capek had satirized the Nazis but not having been aware he'd seen through the pretenses of the Communist leaders of his day so early - and present the link to whomever might also not have heard of it.

I have already said that real poverty is no institution but a disaster. You can reverse all orders but you will not prevent human beings from strokes of bad luck, from sickness, from the suffering of hunger and cold, from the need of a helpful hand. Do whatever you like, disaster presents human beings with a moral, not a social task. The language of communism is hard; it does not talk of the values of sympathy, willingness, help and human solidarity; it says with self-confidence that it is not sentimental. But this lack of sentimentality is the worst thing for me, since I am just as sentimental as any maid, as any fool, as any decent person is; only rogues and demagogues are not sentimental. Apart from sentimental reasons you will not hand a glass of water to your neighbor; rational motives will not even bring you to help and raise a person who has slipped.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Quote of the day

"That is how crazy we remain today. Attacking a civilian population from the air, with or without warning, with or without a declaration of war, has become for most of us simply one more symbol, like the Liberty Bell, of national pride." - Kurt Vonnegut, Fates Worse than Death

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rosen on NPR and the act of "he said, she said" reporting

Jay Rosen defines "he said, she said" reporting thus:

“He said, she said” journalism means…

  • There’s a public dispute.
  • The dispute makes news.
  • No real attempt is made to assess clashing truth claims in the story, even though they are in some sense the reason for the story. (Under the “conflict makes news” test.)
  • The means for assessment do exist, so it’s possible to exert a factual check on some of the claims, but for whatever reason the report declines to make use of them.
  • The symmetry of two sides making opposite claims puts the reporter in the middle between polarized extremes.
A few weeks ago, Rosen listened to a NPR report on new licensing restrictions for abortion clinics in Kansas, in which critics asserted the regulations were an attempt to drive the clinics out of business and proponents claimed they were common sense public health practices, while NPR didn't make an effort to evaluate either set of claims.

And then he wrote a thoughtful post about it, well worth reading and considering.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Quote of the day

"There are no nations! There is only humanity. And if we don't come to understand that right soon, there will be no nations, because there will be no humanity." - Isaac Asimov, I.Asimov: A Memoir

Friday, September 09, 2011

Kindle book deals or: speaking of Vonnegut ...

Serendipity! I get annoyed by a Fox News guest ignorantly citing Kurt Vonnegut to buttress his politics back in June, but wait until September to get around to writing a post about it, in which I note my appreciation of Vonnegut's books, then a day later I see that Amazon Kindle is offering 18 of his books through September 28 for four dollars.

I have read fifteen of his works and have enjoyed every one of those reads, but if you have not read any of his works before, I would have to say that Slaughterhouse Five* (his most important/famous novel), Breakfast of Champions, and maybe Cat's Cradle are the ones I would start with.

There's also the recently launched Kindle Daily Deal which is fairly self-explanatory: it features a different book from a different genre everday at a discounted price ranging from a dollar to three or four dollars.

And, finally, thanks to the tip from Sheldon, there is Dean Baker's The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive for a dollar which can also be found for free in pdf format. Baker describes the book, here.

*I must note that Vonnegut unfortunately relied on the figures of Holocaust denier David Irving to inflate the number of dead in Dresden from Allied firebombing - a central event in the novel - from around 25,000 to 140,000. Although it is unlikely that Vonnegut would have realized what Irving's true intentions were, even after it came to light (thanks largely to the work of Deborah Lipstadt) that Irving was an anti-Semitic liar, Vonneut for whatever reason stuck to the original false figures in his book.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

In Bizarro World (aka Fox News), Orwell and Vonnegut warned us about big government liberals



Ok, we have an AM radio host on Fox News saying that liberals who support government regulations and such are "the people that George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut warned us about."

Now look here: George Orwell and Kurt Vonnegut were both socialists, so it's certainly absurd to be trying to turn them into props for movement conservatism.

The people in George Orwell's dystopian literature that he warned us about were not those who seek to implement environmental regulations on the amount of pollution that can be dumped into our water or air, nor were they those who think that restaurants should disclose the calorie contents of their food and such; they were, broadly speaking, totalitarians who ruled by oppression in the name of fighting an ever-present intangible enemy.

I can kind of see what the guest, Chris Plante, was getting at, however. Being an AM radio movement conservative, his picture of "a boot stamping on a human face — forever" is something like the government not allowing Fast Food to seduce children with toys into eating unhealthy food. Me, personally, am more concerned with, say, the government starting a forever-war against an intangible enemy ("terror") and then abrogating civil liberties (torture, mass surveillance, habeus corpus roll-back...) in the name of that war, but that's just me.

The Vonnegut thing, though, that really bothers me. Checking Amazon's author page (my books are still in storage) I can count 15 books by Kurt Vonnegut that I have read. I'm guessing Chris Plante has read close to zero.

Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. You will find no greater, richer source of humanist fiction than Vonnegut, in my opinion. If you've ever noticed my sometimes habit of starting a paragraph with "Look:" or "Listen:" or ending a post with "And so it goes" and such, those are small little tributes to Vonnegut. So this is a roundabout way of my saying that I'm somewhat famliar with Kurt Vonnegut's work.

Chris Plante has no business trying to make the man who could write something like this into a mouthpiece for his AM radio worldview:

One of my favorites is Eugene Debs, from Terre Haute in my native state of Indiana. Get a load of this:

Eugene Debs, who died back in 1926, when I was only 4, ran 5 times as the Socialist Party candidate for president, winning 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the popular vote, in 1912, if you can imagine such a ballot. He had this to say while campaigning:

As long as there is a lower class, I am in it.
As long as there is a criminal element, I’m of it.
As long as there is a soul in prison, I am not free.
Doesn’t anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools or health insurance for all?
Characters in Vonnegut's Hocus Pocus and Deadeye Dick are named after Debs. Jailbird, the most recent book of his I've read and actually have a copy on hand, has this epigraph:

Help the weak ones that cry for help, help the prosecuted and the victim, because they are your better friends; they are the comrades that fight and fall as your father and Bartolo fought and fell yesterday for the conquest of the joy of freedom for all the poor workers. In this struggle of life you will find more love and you will be loved.

-Nicoloa Sacco (1891-1927) in his last letter to his thirteen-year old son, Dante, August 18, 1927, three days before his execution in Charleston Prison, Boston, Massachusetts. "Bartolo" was Bartolomeo Vanzetti (1888-1927), who died the same night in the same electric chair, the invention of a dentist. So di and even more forgotten man, Celestino Madeiros (1894-1927), who confessed to the crime of which Sacco and Vanzetti had been convicted, even while his own conviction for another murder was being appealed. Madeiros was a notorious criminal, who behaved unselfishly at the end.
Later, the protagonist laments

I thought now about Sacco and Vanzetti. When I was young, I believed that the story of their martyrdom would cause an irresistible mania for justice to the common people to spread throughout the world. Does anybody know or care who they are anymore?

No.
I have no opinion of Sacco and Vanzetti, but mention this to give you an idea of where Vonnegut's political sympathies lie.* It's beside the point, however. What Vonnegut wrote about was not totalitaranism, as was the case with Orwell, but about the follies of human nature and striving to find meaning and getting by in a capricious world.**

Et cetera.

*Previously, Fox demonstrated it was aware of Vonnegut's politics, which is likely why it trashed him the day after he died.
**Vonnegut's fiction did contain some dystopian elements, such as in Player Piano, but that novel certainly doesn't make Plante's point, given that Vonnegut was making a point about what he perceived as the dehumanizing aspects of industrial capitalism.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

More change you can't believe in

Recycled in full from Al Gore's blog

On Friday afternoon, as brave and committed activists continued their non-violent civil disobedience outside the White House in protest of the tar sands pipeline that would lead to a massive increase in global warming pollution, President Obama ordered the EPA to abandon its pursuit of new curbs on emissions that worsens disease-causing smog in US cities. Earlier this year, the EPA’s administrator, Lisa Jackson, wrote that the levels of pollution now permitted -- put in place by the Bush-Cheney administration-- are “not legally defensible.” Those very same rules have now been embraced by the Obama White House.

Instead of relying on science, President Obama appears to have bowed to pressure from polluters who did not want to bear the cost of implementing new restrictions on their harmful pollution—even though economists have shown that the US economy would benefit from the job creating investments associated with implementing the new technology. The result of the White House’s action will be increased medical bills for seniors with lung disease, more children developing asthma, and the continued degradation of our air quality.
President Obama's directive is apparently illegal - and Gore isn't correct - this decision by the Obama administration will result in more pollution being allowed than the policy that the Bush administration had proposed.

The current 8-hour ozone standard of 84 ppb dates back to 1997. During the GW Bush Administration, EPA's Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) recommended in 2006 and 2007 the standard be reduced to 60-70 ppb based on evidence of serious health harm to children and those with respiratory disease at higher levels. But in 2008, the GW Bush Administration ignored CASAC's recommendation and proposed a 75 ppb for ozone.

When President Obama took office, however, this change was put on hold presumably for one more in line with the CASAC's recommendation and protective of public health. Now three years later, the 1997 standard of 84 ppb remains in place and the Obama Administration is telling us it will be several more years before a more health protective standard will be proposed. I choked when I read this in professor McGarity's piece:

"Americans living in cities - where ozone pollution is at its worst - will be left in worse shape than they would have been had the inadequate Bush Administration standard gone into effect."
With that legacy ahead of her, I agree with professor McGarity, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson should either defy the President's order, or resign.
I find myself more and more in agreement with Chris Hedges that "We have to turn our backs for good on the Democrats, no matter what ghoulish candidate the Republicans offer up for president. "

My fantasy is for people who plan to vote for President Obama to instead write in "Eugene V. Debs" instead. At least then that might get the point across.

The Washington Post doesn't understand journalism

Either that or it just doesn't care if its employees practice it.

Why else is George Will allowed to continue to write columns about global warming that make claims that are false? As I've said before, an op-ed is not a fact free zone. Just because an article appears in the Editorial section does not mean that the author can make assertions that are factually false, nor can those falsehoods be excused as "opinion."

When George Will says:

For Jon Huntsman: You, who preen about having cornered the market on good manners, recently tweeted, "I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." Call you sarcastic. In the 1970s, would you have trusted scientists predicting calamity from global cooling? Are scientists a cohort without a sociology -- uniquely homogenous and unanimous, without factions or interests and impervious to peer pressures or the agendas of funding agencies? Are the hundreds of scientists who are skeptical that human activities are increasing global temperatures not really scientists?
He is spreading misinformation that has already been demonstrated false. There never was a global cooling scare in the scientific literature, and there is widespread consensus, now, in the scientific literature that man-made activities are increasing global temperatures. And "the agendas of funding agencies": please.

I was of the idea that a newspaper is in the business of informing its audience. Yet that is not what the Washington Post does everytime it lets George Will write a column on a subject that he is grossly uninformed about and uses reasoning parallel to that of the Creationist to invent his own version of reality.

The Post should be embarrased. But I suppose if you can champion torture, what's a little climate denial?

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Quote of the day

"Now, when I read constantly about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think the door is closing and that American society has found one more way to destroy itself." - Isaac Asimov, I.Asimov: A Memoir

Monday, September 05, 2011

Excerpt of the day

From Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov

"I was not doing nothing, Trevise. I was studying the Guardian Robots' minds, and trying to learn how to handle them."

"I know that's what you were doing. At least you said you were at the time. I just don't see the sense of it. Why handle the minds when you were perfectly capable of destroying them - as you finally did?"

"Do you think it is so easy to destroy an intelligent being?"

Trevise's lips twisted into an expression of distaste. "Come, Bliss. An intelligent being? It was just a robot."

"Just a robot?" A little passion entered her voice. "That's the argument always. Just. Just! Why should the Solarian, Bander, have hesitated to kill us? We were just human beings without transducers. Why should there be an hesitation about leaving Fallom to its fate? It was just a Solarian, and an immature specimen at that. If you start dismissing anyone or anything you want to do away with as just a this or just a that, you can destroy anything you wish. There are always categories you can find for them."

Saturday, September 03, 2011

"A serious matter"

The other day one of the daytime hosts of CNN HLN said that when they came back from break they'd be discussing a serious matter. What might that be? People making fun of Disney tv star Demi Lovato's weight on Twitter after she made an appearance at an MTV awards show.

Look: An eating disorder (which Lovata had) and people harassing someone with one over their weight is a serious matter. For the person involved and their friends and family. It's not "a serious matter" for a national "news" network. It's gossip.

A serious matter for a news network might be something like this

A U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks provides evidence that U.S. troops executed at least 10 Iraqi civilians, including a woman in her 70s and a 5-month-old infant, then called in an airstrike to destroy the evidence, during a controversial 2006 incident in the central Iraqi town of Ishaqi.
Of course, that CNN HLN is not actually a news network but rather a tabloid that specializes in celebrity gossip and sensationalized crimes featuring attractive young white females is not exactly a secret.

But it's not as if the other networks are much better. (I would highly recommend following up the preceeding link with this post by Jay Rosen on the whys of broken political coverage.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quote of the day

"War between civilised States is both wicked and foolish, and it will not cease until either the wickedness or the folly is understood by those who direct the policy of nations." - Bertrand Russell, Justice in War Time

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Quote of the day

'It's amazing, though it shouldn't be, to see the former vice-president of the United States arguing that the government still should be torturing people, and that torture is one of the things he's proudest of. I think the worst thing about the Obama administration's "looking forward" doctrine is that it virtually guarantees that torture will happen again--perhaps even under the very next administration.' - Ta-Nehisi Coates

via Greenwald

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reality has no impact on the shameless liars who rule our discourse

A while back I lamented that we live in a mendocracy where there is practically no political consequence for lying; indeed, that lying, or bullshitting, is one of the most profitable things one can do in our country to achieve media stardom. As part of that post I noted how insanely frustrating it is that no matter what level of rebuttal the lies of global warming deniers receive, they continue to tell the same lies without shame.

I don't know where I'm going with this, other than to once again note the democracy eroding effects of getting citizens to engage civically on false beliefs. Mother Jones also features a lengthy article about the so-called "Climategate" incident in which a criminally manufactured faux controversy has become part of an axiomatic faith for conservatives that man-made global warming is a hoax and a conspiracy. Again, I cut to the key point:

SO DID THE SCIENTISTS DO something more diabolical than gripe about critics and fret over how their research would be interpreted? Not according to seven separate inquiries on the subject, each of which found that the researchers' work was not in question—though several concluded that their behavior was. An independent probe organized by the University of East Anglia (PDF) found that some had turned down "reasonable requests for information" and had, at times, been "unhelpful and defensive." It noted "a consistent pattern of failing to display the proper degree of openness."

But none of the exonerations mattered: The scientists had lost control of the narrative. The percentage of people who believe that the world is warming has fallen 14 points from its 2008 high, according to polling (PDF). Gallup's annual poll in 2010 found that 48 percent of Americans said they believe that fears of global warming "are generally exaggerated"—the highest figure since pollsters began asking that question in 1997.

Most significant, however, has been the long-term hardening of the political divide on the issue. In 1997, the percentage of Republicans and Democrats who believed in climate change was nearly the same—47 percent and 46 percent, respectively. By March 2010, 66 percent of Democrats and only 31 percent of Republicans agreed that global warming was already occurring. Half of the new House GOP members flatly deny that the planet is warming, and only four say they accept the science of climate change.
Since then another inquiry - ANOTHER INDEPENDENT INQUIRY - by the National Science Foundation has found no scientific misconduct.

And on this very day, anyone who happened to be watching Fox "News" this afternoon was witness to a collection of political hacks saying that the science supporting AGW is dubious (it is not), that Al Gore is not well informed about climate science (where he's one of the most informed non-scientists on the planet), and the CRU emails demonstrate that climate scientists were fabricating evidence (which they were not.)

Of course, we have a fair and balanced press that doesn't see fit to call out these liars as liars, or bullshit as bullshit.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Quote of the day

"The natural philosopher, in addition to the sensations common to all men inspired by the event of death, believes that he sees with more certainty that it is attended with the annihilation of sentiment and thought. He observes the mental powers increase and fade with those of the body, and even accommodate themselves to the most transitory changes of our physical nature. Sleep suspends many of the faculties of the vital and intellectual principle; drunkenness and disease will either temporarily or permanently derange them. Madness or idiocy may utterly extinguish the most excellent and delicate of those powers. In old age the mind gradually withers; and as it grew and was strengthened with the body, so does it together with the body sink into decrepitude. Assuredly these are convincing evidences that so soon as the organs of the body are subjected to the laws of inanimate matter, sensation, and perception, and apprehension, are at an end. It is probable that what we call thought is not an actual being, but no more than the relation between certain parts of that infinitely varied mass, of which the rest of the universe is composed, and which ceases to exist so soon as those parts change their position with regard to each other." - Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Necessity of Atheism

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I'll be back

I'll be moving back into my home at the end of next week (for certain.) Regular blogging will start back then with two long overdue posts going up at the start of next week.

In the meantime I'll be trying to do some quick catch-up posts.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Quote of the day

'Dear NYT: the Christian right theory that Nazism was a primarily gay movement isn't "disputed," it's bullshit.' - Michelle Goldberg

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Excerpt of the day

'As we watched from the playground, amid the monkey bars, the school principal told the young crowd, "No students were here on that day, but this did not save them. Over 1300 of your former classmates died that day. Now you are 780 in number. Look around you and imagine all of you plus 500 of your brothers and sisters perishing." My own daughter was barely out of elementary school so tears filled my eyes. Indeed, the death toll of children from this one school eclipsed by more than a thousand the total number of Japanese military personnel killed in Nagasaki that day. The school also lost twenty-eight of its forty-two teachers.' - Greg Mitchell, ATOMIC COVER-UP: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made

Latest discount book buy

Other People's Money And How the Bankers Use It (pb) by Louis Brandeis for 2 dollars.

Of course, if I had realized that there is a 1 dollar kindle version, I would have gone with that.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Quote of the day

"I have a message to those who attacked us. A message from the whole of Norway. You won’t destroy us. You won't destroy our democracy. We are a small but proud nation. No one can bomb us to silence. No one can scare us from being Norway." - Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

Friday, July 22, 2011

Kindle book sale through July 27

The Atheologian points out that through July 27, Amazon is having a bargain Kindle sale of 900 plus books.

Amazon.com is having another big sale on select Kindle books. I have already tweeted the most important titles, but they deserve as much exposure as possible, so here are the ones I bought:

Loftus: The Christian Delusion $2.99
Stenger: The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning $3.99
ibn Warraq: Why I Am Not a Muslim $1.99
Pickover: Archimedes to Hawking $1.99
Jones: The Quantum Ten $1.99
Stenger: Timeless Reality $0.99
I can vouch for Why I Am Not a Muslim and Archimedes to Hawking, both of which I have on my bookshelf; although I have not done more that skim and browse the latter, I have read numerous other books written by Pickover and find him to be one of the best popularizers of science. It is difficult to read something by Pickover and not end up wanting to go read something else to satisfy an intellectual curiousity that he has piqued - and from what I've already read of A to H, this certainly seems to be a book that will be true to that form.

In addition to the books that The Atheologian has spotted, I've found some other books of note on the list that I can recommend from previous readings:

Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and My Sister Stole My Mother's Boyfriend by Barbara Oakley $1.99

Adams vs. Jefferson : The Tumultuous Election of 1800 by John Ferling $1.99

Longitude by Dava Sobel $2.99 (Which I've discussed previously.)

Given the pleasure I got from reading the Ferling book above, I am pleased to find that his John Adams: A Life is also on sale for $1.99.

And finally, also courtesy of The Atheologian, the free sampler Superheroes: The Best of Philosophy and Pop Culture, which collects articles about superheroes from the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series.

Callahan reviews Jesus Potter Harry Christ

I previously passed along some information about a book comparing the literary similarities between Jesus Christ and Harry Potter, a book which is now out, available in both a print and a (fairly priced) Kindle edition.

Tim Callahan reviews Jesus Potter Harry Christ in this week's eSkeptic, ultimately giving this recommendation:

Whether or not one agrees with Murphy’s ultimate position, and whether or not one agrees with his arguments that Jesus was entirely (rather than mostly) mythic, Jesus Potter Harry Christ is well worth wading through, and wade through it one must, simply because of the sheer mass and volume of evidence the author provides. Make this a book whose pages you dog-ear for further reference and second readings.

How much longer?

I am still waiting on work on my home to be finished and still have most of my things (including my computer) in storage. I have been told that it should be another week until the work is complete, but given that I had expected to be back home at least a month ago, I haven't got my hopes up.

So the light blogging will continue until then.

Monday, July 04, 2011

A patriot's Fourth of July reader

Every July 4th I re-read "The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro," a speech given by Frederick Douglass when he was asked to contribute to a celebration of the Declaration of Independence on July 5th, 1852.

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.
I don't believe any speech better embodies the spirit of patriotism, nor honors the principles of the Declaration of Independence better; yet it is almost entirely negative and critical. Did Frederick Douglass "hate America?"

It's important to remember this manner of honoring the 4th of July: especially so in a United States that lets torturers walk free while whistleblowers are persecuted.

The morality at play in the Manning persecution is mangled beyond belief. It's perfectly conventional wisdom that the war in Iraq was an act of profoundly unjust destruction, yet normal, psychologically healthy people are expected to passively accept that there should be no consequences for those responsible (a well-intentioned policy mistake), while one of the very few people to risk his life and liberty to stop it and similar acts is demonized as a mentally ill criminal. Similarly, the numerous acts of corruption, deceit and criminality Manning allegedly exposed are ignored or even sanctioned, while the only punished criminal is -- as usual -- the one who courageously brought those acts to light. Meanwhile, Americans love to cheer for the Arab Spring rebellions -- look at those inspiring people standing up to their evil dictators and demanding freedom -- yet the American government officials who propped up those dictators for decades and helped suppress those revolts, including the ones currently in power, are treated as dignified statesmen, while a person who actually exposed those tyrants and played at least some role in triggering those inspiring revolts (Manning) rots in a prison after enduring 10 months of deeply inhumane treatment.

There's no doubt that it's illegal for a member of the military to leak classified or secret documents -- just as there was no doubt about the illegality of Daniel Ellsberg's leaks, or a whole slew of other acts of civil disobedience we consider noble. The fact that an act is legal does not mean it is just, and conversely, that an act is illegal does not mean it is unjust. Many people enjoy hearing themselves condemn the acts of tyrants and imperial forces in the world. If the allegations against him are true, Bradley Manning knowingly risked his liberty to take action against those acts, in the hope of exposing those responsible and triggering worldwide reforms. It's hard to dispute that these leaks achieved exactly that, but even if they hadn't, his conduct is profoundly commendable, and the world needs far more, not fewer, Bradley Mannings.
Or, as Henry David Thoreau put it:

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislation? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Baleful quote of the day

'A democracy survives when its citizens have access to trustworthy and impartial sources of information, when it can discern lies from truth, when civic discourse is grounded in verifiable fact. And with the decimation of reporting these sources of information are disappearing. The increasing fusion of news and entertainment, the rise of a class of celebrity journalists on television who define reporting by their access to the famous and the powerful, the retreat by many readers into the ideological ghettos of the Internet and the ruthless drive by corporations to destroy the traditional news business are leaving us deaf, dumb and blind. The relentless assault on the “liberal press” by right-wing propaganda outlets such as Fox News or by the Christian right is in fact an assault on a system of information grounded in verifiable fact. And once this bedrock of civil discourse is eradicated, people will be free, as many already are, to believe whatever they want to believe, to pick and choose what facts or opinions suit their world and what do not. In this new world lies will become true.' - Chris Hedges, "Lies Become Truths"