Sunday, February 28, 2010

Swift Clod

I'm not saying Jonathan Swift had nothing going for him, but he could definitely be a clod:

I am of opinion, and dare be positive in it, that not one in an hundred of those who pretend to be freethinkers, are really so in their hearts. For there is one observation which I never knew to fail, and I desire you will examine it in the course of your life, that no gentleman of a liberal education, and regular in his morals, did ever profess himself a freethinker: where then are these kind of people to be found?
Clearly, Jonathan Swift didn't bother to use any of his satirist riches to purchase a time machine and travel to find that freethinkers are, in our day, reasonably common and abnormally upright.

Continuing his plaint against the atheists he could find, Swift averred that they
are not to be reformed by arguments offered to prove the truth of the Christian religion, because reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired
It's one thing to castigate atheists for playing the role of iniquitous frauds you've cast them in your own just-so stories -- past or present, that never seems to lose its charm among some, and who, past or present, genuinely cares? It's the last bit, where Swift announces that opinions not based on reason can't be uprooted by appeals to reason, that he goes interestingly wrong.

This claim, too, has survived to the present, and it plays on both sides of the theism-atheism divide. It's ridiculous. Opinions stubbornly held in the teeth of reasons -- facts, logic, evidence, valid inferences, and so on -- are wrong opinions, and the act of obstinately clinging to them is nothing to blithely accept. Views held contrary to reason should be seen as exactly that -- unreasonable. Such opinions should be called out as wrong and suitable for rejection or, at best, bracketed as an instance where reason is not the relevant standard, e.g., my cat is the cutest, your new hair style looks good, of course secretary's day is important, etc.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Them Liberal Atheists Is Smart

Surely my interest in addressing this finding flows, in part, from my total absence of bias on the subject matter:

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa at the the London School of Economics and Political Science correlated data on these behaviors with IQ from a large national U.S. sample and found that, on average, people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. This applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women. [emphasis mine]
Whatever. Although it is not true that all religious believers are stupid people, it is true that most stupid people are religious believers (Cf.). I will add that stupid atheists are, in my experience, a rarity.

The sexual exclusivity part is an enticing little bit of whipped topping -- no doubt this has inspired redoubled efforts among right-wing think-tanks and blogs to find some way to discredit this research, since it cuts against the 'atheism degrades morality' line so cherished by those who waste their lives defending the local god's honor.

Again, whatever.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Fish Bait Redux

A further thought on the previous post: while Russell Blackford's main objection varies from mine -- even if we share the conclusion that Stanley Fish's recent anti-secularism twaddle-fest is bunk -- there is much to recommend what he says:

None of this is based on any fancy metaphysics, just on historical experience and good sense. We can see that the state does a reasonable job of deterring violence and theft, maintaining a property regime, and even providing a welfare system; but it does a horrible job when it goes on the frolic of deciding and imposing the "correct" religious views.
Fair enough, and I don't think it's open to serious dispute: as an historical matter, the state is demonstrably, hideously, disastrously bad at enforcing religious propositions; when governments do this, it consistently leads to the worst oppression, cruelty, and injustice, and for all that agony, it doesn't even succeed in cramming the "correct" religious thoughts into people's heads.

Still, I think it matters that not all foundational affirmations, moral or otherwise, are equal in their contact with observable reality -- we should pull a child away from an attacking dog because dog bites are painful, traumatizing, injurious, and sometimes deadly versus we should pull a child away from an attacking dog because a guy in a dress claims that a guy in a robe from 2,000 years ago claimed, before being crucified, that his dad was the creator of the universe and that caring about others is mandatory. One of these claims will strike any normal human being as self-evident; the other will please a small choir and then raise a mighty ruckus among endlessly splintered theological factions whose disagreements are as sharp today as they were some time before the advent of writing.

I don't think pragmatic-historical considerations are adequate as a defense of secularism. I arrive at this for pragmatic-historical reasons, e.g., the USA recently undertook a breach of secularism by giving tax dollars to religious bodies under the "Faith-Based Initiatives," and a chief argument for doing so is that religious organizations are really good at providing services. Whether they are or not, the argument framed in these terms hinges solely on what works, with the religious factions affirming that their supernatural attachments create the success -- we do good work because god is on our side, and god is on our side because we obey god's will. In this case, the harm done is fairly slight, but the door is now open to exactly parallel arguments with far higher stakes, e.g., we can't abide the equal rights of Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, skeptics, Baptists, Buddhists, Sikhs, and other assorted infidels because it would incur the wrath of the one true god.

Secularism exists to oppose this line of thought. Long, painful experience has shown the way to embracing some values through state power, but doing so, as Blackford says, as "lightly" as possible, with a clear mind to human limitations, and remaining always vigilant against the intrusions of faith-based passion. Secularism works and secularism hews closer to truths with which all can flourish.

The Fish Who Baits

I couldn't begin to improve upon the cogent criticisms of Stanley Fish's latest deconstructionist pout already made by Russell Blackford*, Ophelia Benson, Norm Geras, LarryNiven, and surely others to come. I would be particularly interested in seeing a response from Austin Dacey, who refuted Fish's nonsense at book length in The Secular Conscience, the very title of which becomes an oxymoron under Fish's silly elisions. Agreeing with the book he's reviewing, Fish claims

[o]nce the world is no longer assumed to be informed by some presiding meaning or spirit (associated either with a theology or an undoubted philosophical first principle) and is instead thought of as being “composed of atomic particles randomly colliding and . . . sometimes evolving into more and more complicated systems and entities including ourselves” there is no way, says Smith, to look at it and answer normative questions, questions like “what are we supposed to do?” and “at the behest of who or what are we to do it?”
Note the blithe equation of "a theology" with "an undoubted philosophical first principle." These are not the same. Not every first principle is as defensible as every other -- neither pragmatically, as the foundation of a functional political economy or a flourishing human life; nor epistemologically, as the foundation of a way to understand the world. Some "prior commitments" prove out significantly better than others in their repeatable, observable effects. Even if not strictly decidable, the denial of some foundational postulates requires a level of philosophical perversity rarely -- no, never -- seen outside the groves of the academy or the cloisters of the faithful (I realize I beg the question there).

Still: concretely, "the needless infliction of pain is wrong" and "Joseph Smith transcribed the book of Mormon from golden plates he dug up in his yard" are not equals among sane human beings.

Rather than presuming to add anything novel, I hope to wedge in a contribution on grounds of its brevity (notoriously a strength of mine, as this very post more and more attests): Fish's argument depends on eliding "religion" with "that which produces, represents, promotes, or otherwise upholds moral values," but this is wrong -- it is wrong as a factual description of the behavior of secular states, and it is wrong as a definition of secularism advanced by any (non-bullshit) theory I've encountered. To embrace and defend moral values is not necessarily to cross a line that secularism, properly understood, cares to draw -- secular states cross this line regularly without any harm done to the idea of secularism.

Secularism is not concerned with placing all moral distinctions beyond the province of state power. Rather, secularism is concerned with placing all theological, religious, and "spiritual" judgments beyond the province of state power. A properly secular state is neutral vis-a-vis religious claims and counterclaims -- it takes no side on whether god exists, or if so, which of the candidate gods is the real one; a secular state is not neutral vis-a-vis questions of value -- it makes and enforces laws imbued with moral distinctions constantly, e.g., whether to legalize same-sex marriage, whether and how much to tax people, whether to wage war, how to deal with the allocation and funding of health care, whether to permit abortion, and so on.

I see now that my attempt at brevity was a miserable failure, but it pales next to the analytical shortfalls of Stanley Fish.

* Ahem. I have decided to expand this former footnote to its own post. Who said footnotes can't make it big?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A True Market Solution for Healthcare®

I don't regularly agree with E.D. Kain, but in this instance, his comments have passed disagreeable and gone straight to scattershot:

Is it so hard to imagine the Tea Partier who wants government to keep its hands off his Medicare, to be turned into an advocate of protectionist policies?
Well no. Not in the least. Putting aside the ease of imagining incoherent people raving incoherently, it's quite easy to imagine teabaggers taking a pro-"protectionism"* stance, in the prosaic way that a movement shot through with Obama-focused racial paranoia can be expected to harbor unfocused racial paranoia packaged as "protectionism" -- economic populism mixed with garden variety xenophobia, especially anti-Chinese and anti-Latino. Has E.D. Kain heard of Pat Buchanan? He's a pretty well-known figure of the American far right, and while not usually counted as a teabagger, the affinities are, well, not difficult to imagine: right wing populism is not really so variegated.

Later in the piece, Kain muses:
Federalism is quickly going out of style – and the next real national movement may be a unity of tea partiers and union members, social conservatives and progressives ...
Opinions differ, I suppose, but I say federalism fell from the style pages at the close of the US Civil War, which settled the question by way of ~600,000 corpses, establishing that leaving anything significant up to the states is an invitation to injustice, disaster, and collapse.

I suppose almost anything is almost possible, but I'm not sure teabaggers and social conservatives can long endure one another's presence; throw in progressives, and you have an omnidirectional hate-fest, or at best, a temporary unity of teabaggers and social conservatives to punch the hippies before resuming their mutual antipathy. Adding unions to the mix hardly clarifies the nature of this fearful(?) alliance.

The nub of that fear, I gather, is canvassed when Kain observes as follows:
I see no future political will to actually implement any true market solution for healthcare.
How gauche! I mean the way he declined to capitalize True Market Solution for Healthcare® and worse, left off the mandatory trailing registered trade mark sign, ®. I'd hate to be his legal counsel, let alone any of the brain cell factions responsible for the dissonant cognition. Will they ever see peace? If so, will it happen in approximately the same century as the True Market delivers its health care solutions?

He boldly dares to sketch what he means by that -- recall this is the True Market Solution for Healthcare® that a looming coalition of progressives, union members, teabaggers, and blastocyst-obsessed theocrats imperils:
I think the best model would probably be something like single payer plus health savings accounts. Make people of whatever income responsible for basic healthcare costs, but protect them from really damaging bills.
And that, dear readers -- government-administered, taxpayer-funded insurance coupled with social engineering by means of the tax code and a legal bottom below which the social safety net will let no rational actor drop -- is one conservative's idea of True Market Solution for Healthcare®

I don't think I can take a second.

* Tendentious, obfuscating scare-word akin to "terrorism," "socialism," and, in its day, "communism."


Who doesn't detest government spending? I, for one, despise it* with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. The same goes for thinking* -- I mean, who needs it? It slows everything to a miserable lurch or ruins it outright.

There's a word for people who make a habit of decrying government spending but who can't or won't enumerate the spending cuts that will make them stop whining. Actually there are many words for such people, many of them colorful, but "conservative" is apt enough, and will allow me to keep the PG-13 rating* for this precious, precious blog.

Matt Yglesias has reproduced a handy chart (corrected here) illustrating the bad faith of anti-pro-spending conservatism:

They hate spending* and despair at the size of government,* but they don't want see them reduced. Neat.*

* Not really, but let's go with it.

Swimmers image: Married to the Sea

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Daily Show on Lending Reform (So-Called)

This is The Daily Show at its finest -- really it's a thing of beauty:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Make it Rain - Bank of America
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorThe Olympics

Speaking of Deficient -- What Ashley Told Pop Tarts

I don't follow beauty pageants closely -- or at all, really -- so I could be wrong in thinking that beauty pageant contestants of late have made a rather dramatic turn to casual bigotry and surprising inanity. The latest:

"The Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman. In Leviticus it says, 'If man lies with mankind as he would lie with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death and their blood shall be upon them.' The Bible is pretty black and white," Ashley told Pop Tarts. "I feel like God himself created mankind and he loves everyone, and he has the best for everyone. If he says that having sex with someone of your same gender is going to bring death upon you, that's a pretty stern warning, and he knows more than we do about life."
In response to this, Dan Savage quite sensibly asks whether the pageant contestant is a virgin, and if not, whether she is prepared to be stoned unto death by the men of Beverly Hills (her village) on her wedding night, in accordance with the teachings of that same god who "knows more than we do about life" (Deut. 22:20-21):
But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father's house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
Since I hope I never hear from this faith-addled urchin again, it follows I don't want to find the answer to the virgin/not-a-virgin question. But while we're on it, it seems plausible to me that "Ashley told Pop Tarts" constitutes an accusation of a stoneable offense based on at least one passage in Leviticus or Deuteronomy. You can't just go telling things to Pop Tarts and expect to live in good standing on the Bible god's world, or so I assume. I could be wrong about the details of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but then again, what sane person takes seriously the details of Leviticus and Deuteronomy?

Sadly, there are quite a few non-sane people around, and they seem prone to competing in beauty pageants.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

We Are Deficient

Once upon a time, there was a person named Sheldon who spent all his or her time entering comments on popular, thoughtful, well-regarded blogs. I doubt that's the same Sheldon who left this comment on this blog:

Seems like theists never tire of trying to come up with ways that atheists are simply deficient human beings simply because we doubt the existence of this ambiguous entity called "God".
I don't see how theists, Christian or otherwise, could afford to tire of doing exactly that. By definition, they think there's a super-huge mega-hero watching everything we do, making non-stop moral evaluations, and ensuring that his/her/its plan is being carried forward as he/she/it has always foreseen.

By definition, we atheists deny there's any such being. If Christians are intellectually honest and true to their convictions*, then John 14:6 speaks pretty clearly to how they are bound to see ways, truths, and lights:
Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
Jesus is god, god is Jesus, and those who don't follow Jesus go the wrong, false, dark way. We are deficient in the most basic way.

*Granted, there are plenty of people who self-label as Christians but somehow contrive to arrive at a more nuanced idea about all this -- in many contexts Christians will say "there are many paths" to god, truth, salvation, whatever -- but I have no idea how that squares with the Christianity of Jesus and the Bible. The Christianity that we can pin down to stable particulars draws a pretty clear line between the damned and the saved, light and dark, truth and its antitheses.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Magic Love Bean Derangement Syndrome

What if I told you that without magic love beans -- available exclusively through authorized dealers -- the love you feel for your child, spouse, parent, pet, paramour, robotic sex aid, robotic pet paramour, etc., is hopelessly deficient? You might smack me, or you might wonder how I can make blanket declarations about the quality of your relationships from the comfort of this armchair, or you might feel bound to ask how one acquires these magic love beans. Alex Pruss seems to favor the latter, though he implicitly denies the power of magic love beans by promoting an alternative -- god:

The following argument is valid. The only question is whether the premises are true.

1. (Premise) A failure to see someone one loves as created by a good God is a defect (culpable or not) in that love.
2. (Premise) A failure to see people as they are not is not a defect in love for them.
3. (Premise) There is an atheist, x, who loves someone, y, and does not see y as created by a good God.
4. x suffers from a failure of love in not believing y to be a creature of a good God. (1 and 3)
5. If there is no God, then no one is created by a good God. (Tautology)
6. If there is no God, then x does not suffer from a failure of love in not loving y as created by God. (2 and 5)
7. There is a God. (4 and 6)
I'm a little confused by Pruss's argument as given, maybe more than a little -- I believe I am correct to say he is a Christian who believes in a creator-god who (a) is good and (b) creates all people. If that's so, what is the alternative, for Pruss, to thinking one's child comes from that creator? Do Christians believe that some kids come from magic love beans rather than from Jesus's shop? I ask because I was totally kidding about those -- they don't even exist except, perhaps, as a species of fraud and/or a hilarious point of departure for a crashingly dull blog post.

I speak for atheists -- safely, I think -- in saying this is not a dilemma because we don't believe the people we love came from a loving creator. Atheists don't believe in creators, and this precludes loving creators, creators who fashion people out of their own image, creators who wear unitards on the weekends, and any sort of creator who is a sine qua non of defect-free love.

I can see the reasoning by which Pruss would regard god-free love as defective; it seems to be an example of theism's wider claim that human conception of the world is hopelessly incomplete, defective, and cracked without god. For believers, god is relevant to everything.

For atheists, god is irrelevant to everything -- exactly as relevant as magic love beans, and in the same way. Namely, it's a tedious pitch about which its boosters tend to drone. Once in a while, the enthusiasm is such that it leaves others to wonder if their perception of the world is deeply skewed -- call it magic love bean derangement syndrome. After all, everyone has to make a living, and this frequently requires some degree of role-playing, but people who who can't find a way to leave the pitch at the office seem downright warped to the rest of us.

There are no magic love beans and there is no god. To whatever extent love exists, and in whatever quantity or quality, it does not depend on imaginary entities.

Fantastic New Legal Defense

As expected, there will be no accountability for the Bush-Cheney lawyers who argued that torture is legal so long as the United States is doing it, the president thinks it's a good idea, and leaders of the nominal opposition party aren't inclined to make a big deal out of it.

Well, perhaps I exaggerate: these Bush-Cheney lawyers retain their current posts, and remain in good standing at the bar, but they've had to suffer the slings and arrows of an outrageous memo. Ouch!

Oh, the agony of being John Yoo and Jay Bybee -- to be chided in a memo is, for these men, no doubt the equal of having a rag stuffed down one's throat and then choked to death in prison.

As short-sighted, despicable, craven, and utterly depraved as this outcome is, I am astonished at the pretense that made it possible: that Bush, Cheney, Gonzales, Mukasey, Rumsfeld, and other principals are, in some important ethical or legal sense, exonerated because they found a lawyer who would claim, in writing, that crimes are legal. When exactly did "my lawyer said it's OK" became an adequate, non-laughable criminal defense? I have watched a lot of LA Law, The Practice, The Good Wife, and I've even done a fair amount of reading about the law, but I missed that.

I suspect countless numbers of men and women are likewise sitting in prison kicking themselves for not shielding themselves behind "legal counsel said it's OK" defenses, and for that matter, what's stopping their legal counsel from giving precisely that advice? The prospect of a sternly-worded memo? Yes, that and nothing more.

Of course, these lawyers will have to frame their crime-is-actually-legal defense in a particular way, as ably explained by Yale University Law Professor Jack Balkin -- they will have to make clear that this conclusion arises, in part, from deep and sincere ideological conviction. Passing your client a memo stating "killing your gang rival is actually legal!" would be the legal reasoning of a rank amateur; it would probably get you disbarred, and wouldn't serve your client's legal needs. Rather, you have to do a little groundwork beforehand, preferably both in and beyond the text of the memo, that can validate that you really, really believe it as a matter of abiding principle. A professional will therefore write legal advice more like the following -- mind you, please forgive my graceless clarity and feel free to legalese it up: "I have a really strong ideological conviction that robbing and killing old people / protecting one's drug-vending turf / raping children / violating the Geneva conventions / whatever crime / is the prerogative of the thieving thug / drug dealer / priest / executive branch official / whatever."

Norm Geras seems to share my bafflement and disgust.

Of Narcolepsy and Immunoglobulin Benders

Swiss researchers have made a heady announcement on narcolepsy and its possible cure:

Professor Mehdi Tafti, co-director of the sleep laboratory at Vaud University Hospital in Lausanne, said that treatment with immunoglobulin, which is commonly used for auto-immune diseases of the nervous system, had shown "extraordinary results."

The sleep disorder disappeared in most of the patients treated soon after first symptoms, the statement added.
While I don't doubt the statement added that claim, I do doubt the truth of the claim. My doubts center on something mentioned elsewhere in the article, that "the antibodies end up destroying the hypocretic neurones" [sic] -- these being the sleep-regulating neurons that roughly 99.5% of the human population don't lose to an autoimmune freakout. The rest of us are narcoleptics, and aren't only dozing off right now because this post is so boring.

I am skeptical because unlike the limbs of sea stars, the heads of a Hydra, or the hopes of "small government" enthusiasts who keep going back to the GOP, hypocretin neurons don't grow back after they're destroyed.

Maybe chugging pitchers of immunoglobulin -- mmm, immunoglobulin -- could help halt narcolepsy in the first formative moments of the autoimmune freakout that apparently causes it, but this would require detecting that moment, whereas every diagnosis of narcolepsy of which I'm aware results from a sleep study, and therefore only after the hypocretic neurons are destroyed, and therefore too late for any feat of immunoglobulin binging, however prodigious.

I would be delighted to be proved wrong on my skepticism or on any substantive point above, but you're going to have to do the legwork -- none of this "you should read the follow-up studies", or "you need to do some additional research on neurological cell types," or "you should read X's work on Y" or "just how many pitchers of immunoglobulin should I chug for a safe dosage?" or so on -- it's taken nearly all the spare energy I have to cobble together even this crappy post. Nap time!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

That God Stinks

Inasmuch as a nonexistent entity can stink, god achieves this -- see, he really is capable of the most improbable of things!

Ahem. My point of departure is this remark from Ophelia Benson:

I share the feeling, or intuition, that in some sense we would be worse off if sympathy just didn't exist. What, even if suffering didn't exist either? Yes, sort of. But the thing about that is, we are what we are, and what we are is an animal that is never immune from suffering, and that (obviously) shapes how we think about these things. So we're trapped in this circle.

Anyway I don't think sympathy is worth the worst kinds of suffering, which are all too common. And I don't think we should make friends with whatever it is that makes suffering inevitable. Natural selection stinks. If you think God did it, you should think God stinks. We shouldn't let God get away with the 'suffering is necessary for compassion therefore it's a good thing' excuse. We can have doubts about life with no sympathy at all, and still think God stinks.
A hackneyed anti-atheism debating point claims that "god stinks" amounts to a simple-minded rejection of authority, a juvenile anger at god reshaped as a rejection of his existence.

To which I think the best response is that it happens to be true to say "god stinks," since it's a manner of expressing that the world is hostile to everyday human druthers. We don't want to get cancer, but we do. We don't want to watch our children die, but we sometimes must. We don't want to be cornered by a raping priest or a rapacious thief, but we sometimes find ourselves in that circumstance. We don't want to become paralyzed, or frightened, or heartbroken, or confused, or outmatched, or bereft of options, but it happens, even to the most virtuous and well-meaning. We have to endure the families, communities, societies, and frailties into which we were born. We are subject to all manner of privations, pains, and stresses, and we confirm this even in the annals of the most privileged and fortunate who have ever lived. These and a million other depressingly familiar burdens are constants of the world as we experience it.

Ophelia Benson's key insight is in the conjunction of "natural selection stinks" and "god stinks," which come to the same thing for anyone interested in truth: namely, reality stinks. Reality is not arranged for our convenience, happiness, or comfort if it is "arranged" at all. This is manifestly so no matter the theory drawn to explain it.

The world is harsh and merciless, and any euphemising gloss of that -- nature is benign, god is loving -- is not just a denial of reality but an insult to our power to perceive reality. The non-juvenile, mature, serious option is to accept reality and to dismiss stories in which "they lived happily ever after" by any means other than blind chance or our dedicated striving.

Poem of the Day: "It's Alright, Ma"

I don't think anyone can contest its status as one of The Greatest Songs of the Rock Era, but is "It's Alright, Ma" a good poem? As read, the verses are rough diamonds of aphorism and insight, or attempts at that. As performed in song, they come out as the disconnected statements of a sage -- sometimes baffling, sometimes profound, maybe both -- separated by spaces of musical interlude that invite contemplation. I love the way this presentation rewards repeated listens.

Bob Dylan, "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"

Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child's balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying.

Pointed threats, they bluff with scorn
Suicide remarks are torn
From the fool's gold mouthpiece
The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proves to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.

Temptation's page flies out the door
You follow, find yourself at war
Watch waterfalls of pity roar
You feel to moan but unlike before
You discover
That you'd just be
One more person crying.

So don't fear if you hear
A foreign sound to your ear
It's alright, Ma, I'm only sighing.

As some warn victory, some downfall
Private reasons great or small
Can be seen in the eyes of those that call
To make all that should be killed to crawl
While others say don't hate nothing at all
Except hatred.

Disillusioned words like bullets bark
As human gods aim for their mark
Made everything from toy guns that spark
To flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark
It's easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.

An' though the rules of the road have been lodged
It's only people's games that you got to dodge
And it's alright, Ma, I can make it.

Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you're the one
That can do what's never been done
That can win what's never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you.

You lose yourself, you reappear
You suddenly find you got nothing to fear
Alone you stand with nobody near
When a trembling distant voice, unclear
Startles your sleeping ears to hear
That somebody thinks
They really found you.

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit to satisfy
Insure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not fergit
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to.

Although the masters make the rules
For the wise men and the fools
I got nothing, Ma, to live up to.

For them that must obey authority
That they do not respect in any degree
Who despise their jobs, their destinies
Speak jealously of them that are free
Cultivate their flowers to be
Nothing more than something
They invest in.

While some on principles baptized
To strict party platform ties
Social clubs in drag disguise
Outsiders they can freely criticize
Tell nothing except who to idolize
And then say God bless him.

While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society's pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he's in.

But I mean no harm nor put fault
On anyone that lives in a vault
But it's alright, Ma, if I can't please him.

Old lady judges watch people in pairs
Limited in sex, they dare
To push fake morals, insult and stare
While money doesn't talk, it swears
Obscenity, who really cares
Propaganda, all is phony.

While them that defend what they cannot see
With a killer's pride, security
It blows the minds most bitterly
For them that think death's honesty
Won't fall upon them naturally
Life sometimes
Must get lonely.

My eyes collide head-on with stuffed graveyards
False gods, I scuff
At pettiness which plays so rough
Walk upside-down inside handcuffs
Kick my legs to crash it off
Say okay, I have had enough
What else can you show me?

And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They'd probably put my head in a guillotine
But it's alright, Ma, it's life, and life only.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Quick Quizzes

  1. Is this video re-enactment of Samuel Pepys's diary creepy or very creepy?

  2. Is it weird or very weird to speak of a "re-enactment" of a diary?

  3. In its contemporary usage, is the word "terrorism" mostly Orwellian, distortive, and cheap or totally Orwellian, distortive, and cheap? (Answer)

  4. Are self-labeled American conservatives dedicated to the proposition that all "terrorists" should be tortured, or are they pants-wettingly obsessed with the proposition? (Answer)

  5. If 30% of the second most populous US state believe that humans and dinosaurs lived side by side, and another 30% aren't sure whether they did or not, would you find it depressing or wrist-slashingly depressing? (Answer)

  6. Can you name the famous African-American golfer who is definitely sincerely sorry for getting caught touching women that neither the county clerk nor the Buddhist version of Jesus bound to him in marriage? (Answer)
I, for one, hope that the counseling cures Famous Black Golfer of his improper urges, which have forced watch makers, shoe makers, car makers, financial firms, and assorted sportscasters to pretend to give a shit about marital fidelity, when his ability and fame had already cornered them into pretending to give a shit about golf.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Unrestricted Corporate Funding Debated. Or Lengthy RickRolling.

My internets are mostly broken at the moment, so I prospectively apologize if I am passing you into a video of someone repeatedly screaming about leaving Michael Jackson alone or an extended sneezing panda remix, but I am pretty sure this is a discussion between Glenn Greenwald and Lawrence Lessig concerning the Citizens United ruling (Cf. this, this, and this). I am even more sure that both are knowledgeable on the legalities and politics of the issues at hand:

If it does turn out to be a strange remix, I hope it's as great as this one was, and most of all, I hope it ends as every youtube video ought to, with a play off by keyboard cat.

White Riots in a Red Dawn

The teabaggers are showing the world how white people riot in America -- not so much by running amok through neighborhoods -- or not at first, anyway -- but by contriving to take whatever in politics they find vexing and converting it to their real-world Red Dawn:

[A] new CNN poll finds that Tea Party activists “tend to be male, rural, upscale, and overwhelmingly conservative.” Although this movement tries to portray itself as independent from either political party, the poll “indicates that Tea Party activists would vote overwhelmingly Republican in a two-party race for Congress.”
And of course, the focus on "law and order" will be among the higher-ranking reasons they'll vote overwhelmingly for Republicans, because teabagger types are all about law-and-order, humility, decency, civility, and the rejection of Hollywood's moral chaos:
"How many of you have watched the movie Lonesome Dove?," asked an unidentified female speaker from the podium. "What happened to Jake when he ran with the wrong crowd? What happened to Jake when he ran with the wrong crowd. He got hung. And that's what I want to do with Patty Murray."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Wanting Comes in Waves

Short attention spans rejoice the bulleted list!

  • I wouldn't wish the horrors of Haitian prison on my worst enemies, and I don't know these Jesus-addled kidnapping assholes well enough to count them among my worst enemies:
    The Baptists said they had planned to take abandoned children orphaned in the earthquake and raise them at a new orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
    I am unfamiliar with these missionaries, but having grown up in North Central Oklahoma, I've had enough exposure to Baptists and their stated plans to rest content not knowing their actual plans in this instance. The possibilities curdle the blood.

  • It's arguably not my place to say so, but then again I don't have the energy to make the argument, so I'll just say you'd be a dirty, tasteless savage not to see this as an excellent bargain -- the three complete seasons of Mad Men for $75? Yes.

    Whether you presently have the means to make the purchase is, of course, another matter in these wretched economic times. I happen to know that the first two seasons are very well-produced DVDs, with plenty of extras and commentary.

  • While I'm on the subject of tee-vee, I want to like and appreciate the Winter Olympics, really I do, but every single time I flip to one of the Olympics coverage channels, I get either a sportscaster person whining about the weather in Vancouver, an interminable stretch of advertisements, or one of those asinine triumph-over-tragedy profiles of some star-crossed bobsledder or mixed curling love triangle.
    Or worse: I turn to Olympics coverage only to find figure skating.

  • The entry for Stereolab was one of today's "featured articles" on Wikipedia, so this is your cue to shore up your rote memorization of that article.

    In other important Stereolab news, I recently had a brief but intense "bromance" -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- with the guy at the music store centered on a shared enthusiasm for Stereolab, which he had wisely chosen as the store's background music. I pointed out to him that somewhere in the vast ether (here, to be exact) there exists a rendering of Stereolab's "Margerine Eclipse" as separated into the two mono recordings, left and right, that were thrown together to make the album released to the public. In some cases, one of the mono channels is such a departure to be almost unrecognizable -- not in a bad way, mind you -- but in most cases, it just gives a revealing window onto Stereolab's layering and arrangement. Good stuff.

    Anyway, our bromance was doomed because, I explained, I can't live in the store. Bromance is only for dreamers.
I like to think my overall capacity for dealing with waking life will return one of these days. I like to think a lot of things.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Small Favors

Here is a small consolation, such as it is, from the keyboard of John Cole:

Hardball just highlighted the fact that Ken Starr is the new President of Baylor, and it made me think- as crazy as the Clinton era impeachment coverage was, if it happened today, with the Milbanks and the Knollers and the Gregory’s and all the worthless, overpaid, fierce proponents of the daily narrative, the complete tabloidization of the national cable media and much of the traditional media, as well as the increased prominence of the right wing narrative machine, incorporating the wingnut welfare foundations, the blogs, and the thousands of political analysts you see everywhere, it would be far worse. Who would stand up and say “Enough!”[?] After all, we did just spend the last decade debating whether or not torture is an American value, and I don’t think the good guys won that debate.
Indulging this as a non-rhetorical question for a moment: over the hypothetical course of that scandal cut from the 90s and pasted into today's media environment, plenty of people would declare "enough!," and do so repeatedly. It wouldn't matter.

But yes, John Cole is right -- it would be a hideous thing to behold, even more hideous than it was in its time. It would be as despicable, though slightly stylistically different, from the ongoing "controversy" over whether February snowfall in Washington DC falsifies the scientific consensus on climate change. Surely both sides of that controversy deserve their time to shout on camera -- certainly the side most prone to purchase advertising deserves a fair hearing.

In closing, some say unseasonably cold weather in the eastern US disproves climate change, while others say that unseasonably warm weather in British Columbia confirms climate change. Who knows?


I will give you something to fear.


It was painfully predictable from the start that the GOP would impede Obama's agenda no matter what he did, which is what made all those "post-partisan" proclamations nothing short of sad. Where is this vital GOP cooperation that would have been lost had Obama fulfilled his campaign pledges to "change" these Terrorism and civil liberties policies? It's almost as hard to find as the secret weapon Lindsey Graham possesses for single-handedly preventing the closure of Guantanamo if he's angry. Independently, Rahm Emanuel is the absolute last person who ought to be exerting influence over the Attorney General's decisions regarding where and how to try Terrorist suspects; remember when all Good Democrats agreed that Karl Rove's attempts to influence the DOJ was really bad because prosecutorial decisions are not supposed to be politicized?
I do remember when all Good Democrats -- and others of whatever party who bothered to understand, embrace, cherish, and defend our constitutional system -- agreed to that, and to various other binding, foundational principles. No more. It was a pretty nice constitutional arrangement we had so long as we had a critical mass of political figures and jurists with the courage and wisdom to uphold it, but two straight administrations, one Republican and the next Democratic, have thrown it out because, I gather, people are terrified that someone with a foreign-sounding name will set fire to his underwear, sneak a box-cutter onto a passenger plane, or stand trial within a day's drive of home.

Or perhaps they are merely pretending to be terrified, telegraphing it in public so as to validate those who feel it genuinely; it's never quite clear when we're only skating along the surfaces created by rapid news cycles and poll-driven politics. It doesn't matter -- whether genuine or fake, alarmism succeeds when cowardly fools are asked to reject it.

When candidate and then president Obama regularly declared that "we reject the false choice between our security and our ideals," he failed to add the qualifier -- but we grasp at security and drop our ideals if opinion polls favor it and/or a senator from a small state says boo.

Those who wrote and ratified the US Constitution clearly understood that the thing to fear is a legal and political system under which those in power reinvent the law in response to stunts, rhetoric, momentary exigencies, public sentiment, groundless perceptions, and other forms of ephemeral whimsy. No one is safe or free under the de facto constitutional system recent administrations have imposed.

Monday, February 15, 2010

This Post Has One Topic, For Instance

Math is strange and surprising. Consider Benford's Law, which states that

in lists of numbers from many (but not all) real-life sources of data, the leading digit is distributed in a specific, non-uniform way. According to this law, the first digit is 1 almost one third of the time, and larger digits occur as the leading digit with lower and lower frequency, to the point where 9 as a first digit occurs less than one time in twenty ... This counter-intuitive result has been found to apply to a wide variety of data sets, including electricity bills, street addresses, stock prices, population numbers, death rates, lengths of rivers, physical and mathematical constants, and processes described by power laws (which are very common in nature). The result holds regardless of the base in which the numbers are expressed, although the exact proportions change.
Apropos of that, it was article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli that declared that "... the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion ..."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Paris and Love

Sing, goddess, the poor judgment of this blogger, but I enjoy Troy, the 2004 mashup of (mostly) Homer's Iliad and Virgil's Aeneid starring Brad Pitt, Eric Bana, Peter O'Toole, Brian Cox, and Diane Kruger as Helen, the world's most beautiful and ship-launchingest woman. Yes, it is no showcase of excellent acting; yes, many scenes come across as little more than calculated eye-candy; and yes, it distorts its classical sources, but this last part is actually what I like about it. One can conceive of acceptable and unacceptable ways to distort these most foundational of epics, and I think Troy makes some defensible choices.

Consider the scene in which Menelaus (Brendan Gleeson), the cuckold Greek husband of Helen, enters into one-on-one combat with Paris (Orlando Bloom), her smitten Trojan beau:

Here is part of the corresponding passage from book III of the Iliad (tr. Butler):

He poised his spear as he spoke, and hurled it at the shield of Alexandrus [Paris]. Through shield and cuirass it went, and tore the shirt by his flank, but [Paris] swerved aside, and thus saved his life. Then the son of Atreus drew his sword, and drove at the projecting part of his helmet, but the sword fell shivered in three or four pieces from his hand, and he cried, looking towards Heaven, "Father Jove, of all gods thou art the most despiteful; I made sure of my revenge, but the sword has broken in my hand, my spear has been hurled in vain, and I have not killed him."

With this he flew at [Paris], caught him by the horsehair plume of his helmet, and began dragging him towards the Achaeans. The strap of the helmet that went under his chin was choking him, and Menelaus would have dragged him off to his own great glory had not Jove's daughter Venus been quick to mark and to break the strap of oxhide, so that the empty helmet came away in his hand. This he flung to his comrades among the Achaeans, and was again springing upon [Paris] to run him through with a spear, but Venus snatched him up in a moment (as a god can do), hid him under a cloud of darkness, and conveyed him to his own bedchamber.
Homer rescued Paris by having Aphrodite/Venus swoop down and remove him from the danger, but would a contemporary movie audience accept that? It seems unlikely.

Instead, the film casts the moment as the culmination Paris's characterization in this telling, as a rather sweet romantic thrown into the role of a warrior -- the "lover, not fighter" of Priam's sons. In the scene, he literally ducks under the fight and seeks cover at the feet of his older, more soldierly brother, Hector, and it's clear from the wider context of the scene and his character that he won't discard love if the price is mere dishonor.

This is not a bad way to bring "the goddess of love saved a man from battle" to the screen, and the film performs similar feats of figurative-literal translation -- the death of Achilles being another good one. Is this the only way to adapt the Iliad for contemporary movie-goers? No. Is it flawlessly acted? No. I enjoy it anyway, and I think it stands a good chance of spawning interest in the original among people who would never think to read Homer, and films can do far worse.

The Hazards of Love

Today is Valentine's Day, which is not only a Hallmark Holiday, but an emote-on-cue holiday to boot, so I hope everyone is obediently feeling the emotions associated with romantic love. If you are not doing so, then consider yourself history's greatest monster or, at best, a pitiable wretch stranded forlornly on the outside of humanity looking in.

Though every instance of romantic love is a precious, unrepeatable, utterly unique snowflake of human drama the like of which the world has never known, each is also uncannily, nay monotonously, like every other, differing only in the most trivial details of times, places, and labels. The latter applies to others and their predictable loves, not to you and yours, dear reader.

Fortunately, the emotional states and the events underlying them are the substance of countless songs, poems, stories, and films -- truly an embarrassment of riches if anything is. I try to be helpful even if I don't try very hard, and in that spirit, I here present a few select songs that may jar your memory of precisely what you're expected to be feeling today.

Bob Dylan, "She Belongs to Me" -- that dignity and restraint are no match for love:

Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" performed by Rufus Wainwright -- love analyzed, not to say overcome:

Death Cab for Cutie, "I Will Follow You into the Dark" -- love's penchant for producing extravagant claims:

Billy Bragg & Wilco, lyrics by Woody Guthrie, "Remember the Mountain Bed" -- the idealization of love's intimacy as shaped in the memory:

The Pixies, "Cactus" -- love's obsession:

Thurston Moore, "Silver > Blue" -- Thurston Moore has the good sense to realize that whatever lyrical distance or sophistication he tries to bring, it won't contain love, but music might come close:

Neko Case, "South Tacoma Way" -- that love will outlive the mere human beings who temporarily inhabit its spaces:

U2, "With or Without You" -- because I will always love my mother (love takes forms beyond the romantic), and I will say no more on that:

Liz Phair, "Divorce Song" -- love can die, and it almost never dies happily:

The Mountain Goats, "No Children" -- after a time, it's possible to make light of the pain of lost love; meanwhile, it's useful to vent:

Kings of Convenience, "I don't know what I can save you from"* -- what can you really say when love falters? Words can no more restore it than they can conjure it in the first place.

Notwithstanding my bluster at the start of this post, these are among my favorite songs -- "Hallelujah" and "Remember the Mountain Bed" constantly trading first and second place -- and that's because even snark, as much as I cherish it, is no match for love. Love wins, even over Valentine's Day.

Cf. "The Hazards of Love" by The Decemberists, itself a compilation of love's various states and stages, and one well worth checking out.

* I know just enough about Lost to know that the video here consists of footage from it (the comments to it help too). I trust the song is a fair enough match for the scenes and characters shown here. If not, blame the internets, not me. I chose it for the audio quality.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Gross Omissions

Is it true that porn-stached glibertarian John Stossel can take any set of facts, add a few nostrums he picked up from skimming Atlas Shrugged, and from these deepen his Manichean conviction that government is pure evil and capitalism is pure good? Apparently so:

Economic freedom saves lives. The ultimate tragedy in Haiti was not the earthquake. It was Haiti’s lack of economic freedom. That tragedy plays out every day in most of the third world.
Earthquake schmearthquake! Those only kill and maim the poor; rich people just mention their winter retreat in Davos and the walls know better than to collapse on them.

In a way, we can't blame Stossel for the gross omissions in his compare-n'-contrast analysis of first and third world political economy. Skimming Ayn Rand would tend to give one the idea that things like building codes don't exist, or if they do, and if they're worth having, then ipso facto they result directly from the private accumulation of wealth. There's only so much blame we can place on depraved, stupid porn-stache glibertarians, who are more like pets or special needs children than first appearances suggest.

I extend sincere apologies to pets and special-needs children.

(via My Quiet Life)

I don’t think from a user perspective they will understand this message.

The title of this excellent blog post is not just a verbatim quote of a credentialed communications expert with whom I have an occasional* work relationship, but also -- if you will kindly forgive its odd phrasing -- an accurate prediction of the future, certainly as promising a prediction as the implied one where I labeled this post "excellent" at word five.

What am I getting at? I sidestep that tedious question and observe that today, 13 February 2010, marks the third anniversary of this precious, precious blog. I can't believe I've bothered with anything for three straight years, let alone something so unremunerative, charmless, pointless, feckless, intemperate, embarrassing, and otherwise consistently repellent. Maybe there are grounds for hope after all!

If you're reading this, thank you for doing so. I especially thank all the people who have stopped by to leave comments, even though quite a few of those are chicken-shits who do so anonymously for some reason.


If you're not reading this, mark my words: I will track you down and ignore you too -- and with almost twice the malignant intensity with which you've ignored this precious, precious blog. Almost.

As always, I am an asshole, but I like to think I'm not just any asshole. I strive to be, in my small way, your go-to Category Five Asshole.

Seriously: thank you for reading and commenting.

* It is not occasional enough. I would love to see it become much, much occasionaller.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Honest Abe and The Beagle's Most Famous Passenger

Today marks the 201st birthday of both Charles Darwin and Abe Lincoln. Despite their advanced age and longstanding "deceased" status, both remain as relevant, interesting, and inspirational as ever. Previous encomiums to these two worthies appear here, here, and here on this precious, precious blog -- I'm a fan.

Part of this year's International Darwin Day is a petition to President Obama asking that he make a formal acknowledgement of Darwin's contributions to science, culture, and human society. I say it's very much worth signing -- surely not as courageous or consequential as the Emancipation Proclamation, but it falls to us to do what our moments demand.


Has the world of people who are doomed to follow Hotbutton Social Issues® sufficiently overanalyzed the Super Bowl 44 Tim Tebow-Mother Tebow ad? Can it ever? I don't just answer no, I shout hell no. A blogger has certain responsibilities.

Consider these remarks:

Wouldn't it be something revolutionary if NOW had protested the Go Daddy ads or pointed out how women are often used as a sex appeal accessory in alcohol and beer commercials?

As much as I may disagree with its stance, as much as I could argue with its points, Focus on the Family is, well, focused. Ask feminist and pro-choice leadership groups what they focus on and you'll find a mess of disagreement and hypocrisy.
Now hold on, back up the bus -- NOW still exists? I kid NOW because I find them of marginal relevance to the present discussion -- no more or less relevant than, say, the ACLU or the Papal See; and only slightly more relevant than, say, the Screen Actor's Guild or Moose Lodge Chapter 1006. Have their criticisms been thoroughly scrutinized for fairness and balance? Dear gawd I hope so.

I gather the point made here is a fresh instance of the claim that "If NOW were really feminists they'd say [something else I'd complain about if they actually said it] rather than [what they've said here], so they're not really feminists, and that just proves that people who call themselves feminists are useless suck-holes who should shut up or die." I admire the audacity of this instance for its implication that NOW has not bothered to criticize ads that use women's bodies as a "sex appeal accessory" -- would it be too much to suggest that someone is hoping to be plucked from obscurity and added to Sarah Palin's speechwriting staff? Probably.

Since it is evidently important to tabulate what NOW's representatives say and don't say about the Hotbutton Social Issues® touching on big budget advertising campaigns, it follows that getting it right matters. I report that I found this -- a "Media Hall of Shame" with a dedicated tag for "advertising" on NOW's very web site -- within 30 seconds of googling, although honestly it felt more like 35 seconds. Several more seconds of use of NOW's web site's built-in "search" button yielded this criticism of those Go Daddy ads from a NOW-y perspective, the exact criticism whose non-existence proves that NOW doesn't really care about improving women's lives.

Sigh. If you don't like NOW, don't join them and don't donate to them. This works for millions upon millions of people around the world. Similarly -- while we're on the topic, or somewhere in its vicinity -- if you don't like abortion, be sure not to get one. If you make the choice to carry your pregnancy all the way through, maybe some day a Christian fascist organization will use your decision as the basis of some of its anti-abortion propaganda.

This ad is definitely not that -- definitely -- because it goes without saying that the only thing to consider in the understanding of this ad is what happens within its 30-second frame. You would have to be a complete fool to think the hype leading up to it was calculated in any way, let alone that those calculations were intended to further Christianism's drive to criminalize abortion, remake the social and legal landscape, and reduce women to servile breeder-cows.

Poem of the Day: "I measure every Grief I meet"

This poem asks a bold question of the Christianity whose imagery it invokes: whether, for the grieving, eternal life is a prospect to be welcomed or dreaded.

Emily Dickinson, "I measure every Grief I meet"

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, Eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long –
Or did it just begin –
I could not tell the Date of Mine –
It feels so old a pain –

I wonder if it hurts to live –
And if They have to try –
And whether – could They choose between –
It would not be – to die –

I note that Some – gone patient long –
At length, renew their smile –
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil –

I wonder if when Years have piled –
Some Thousands – on the Harm –
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve –
Enlightened to a larger Pain –
In Contrast with the Love –

The Grieved – are many – I am told –
There is the various Cause –
Death – is but one – and comes but once –
And only nails the eyes –

There's Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –
A sort they call "Despair" –
There's Banishment from native Eyes –
In Sight of Native Air –

And though I may not guess the kind –
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –

To note the fashions – of the Cross –
And how they're mostly worn –
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like My Own –

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Features, Bugs, and the Democrats

Steve Fraser has written an interesting piece comparing Barack Obama and Franklin D. Roosevelt after a year in their respective presidencies:

Their rhetoric was similar. How did they end up in such different places, going in such different directions as their first year in office ended? Why did one president take an historic and extraordinary path and the other head into the quagmire?

This is a remarkable tale which Steve Fraser tells in his usual striking fashion, examining three key steps Roosevelt took: separating commercial and investment banking (while Obama simply shored up Wall Street), creating the Tennesee Valley Administration which competed successfully with private utility companies (while Obama's public health option went down the tubes and the insurance companies emerged triumphant), and creating millions of jobs through direct government intervention (while Obama's jobs plan relies on funneling tax relief to business).
As manifestly depressing as this kind of thing is, it also brings me relief in a perverse way. Glennzilla has the same effect frequently, especially when he describes the ways and extent to which Obama-Biden has perpetuated and ratified the most disgraceful excesses of Bush-Cheney.

Maybe it's because I'm assured I'm not crazy to be so disappointed (putting it mildly) with Obama. More exactly it lets me drop the pretense that Obama is ever going to be anything more than what he keeps showing himself to be, just another center-right order taker, as far from the FDR-Paul Wellstone-Bernie Sanders wing of American politics as, well, far too many corporatist Democrats.

Obama is not inept, he's not blundering, he's not failing to do this or do that -- we are seeing features, not bugs.

As always, this confers no excuses. The president remains bound to the Constitution -- this president and every president to come, without exception. He and other elected political figures remain bound to the commitments they made while campaigning. No amount of pissing on supporters will change these realities. And as always, if Obama and the Democrats break out of this pattern and forcefully pursue a progressive initiative or two -- even if the pursuit fails in the end from something other than the usual studied pusillanimity -- I will gleefully rush forward to declare how wrong I was to misread them.

Hope, That Certain Knot of Futility?

The images posted here are taken from an unnamed e-friend's album on Facebook, and lest you miss the trenchant message they carry, I quote the Biblical passage reproduced below Barack Obama (Micah 7:7):

But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD,I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.
And lest anyone mistake the pellucid words of THE LIVING GOD, the e-friend in question, S___, has given a helpful gloss of their meaning and of the fuller composition:
I wanted to make a t-shirt of this to combat the "HOPE" t-shirts that they had out during that time... This is not anti-Obama, just anti-putting your Hope in man and not in God...where is should be.
I'll forgive S___ for the is/it solecism, if only because I have a soft spot for everyone who experienced the same primary and secondary schooling as I did, and admire all of us who have reached the 2010s without landing in prison or in a shallow grave behind a trailer park.

With that bit of token charity out of the way, S___ here displays two significant problems with our species as currently represented on the North American land mass. First, he either believes, or pretends to believe, or in some other way wishes to perpetuate belief in the belief, that Barack Obama presents himself as a god-replacing "savior" to legions of "followers" -- or, in the milder version of this horseshit, his "followers" so regard him with or without his provable complicity. Too much time and effort has already gone to refuting that idiocy, so I won't add to it here.

The second and more sinister flaw here is in the disparagement of the idea of hope. Maybe S___ has a narrower sense of the word hope than the rest of us -- i.e., maybe it is, for him, strictly a byproduct of personal relationships with Jesus -- but if by hope he means, you know, hope in the everyday sense of aspiring to a better state of affairs -- in life, in politics, in learning, at work, wherever -- then he is embracing a form of despairing misanthropy that goes too far, even for those of us saddled with formative years in Ponca City.

To put it plainly, yes, it would be folly or worse to pile all one's hopes in Barack Obama or any other political figure. Anyone who has done so is ipso facto intellectually and emotionally retarded,* and should seek professional treatment.

Likewise, placing all one's hopes in god leads inexorably to the conclusion that death is to be longed for, since death alone will grant the believer's "heavenly reward," whether defined as everlasting life, salvation, grace, material plenty, a few dozen virgins, or what have you. Everything short of that is futile -- the inevitably broken promises and thwarted hopes of an incorrigibly fallen world.

I say no to both of the above, and I think everyone does whether they wish to acknowledge it or not. There is a wide middle between hankering after political saviors and pining for heavenly ones, consisting of everything worth getting out of bed for. Hope is involved every time we read a book, look forward to vacation, bear a child, save money, seek employment, prepare a meal, write a tedious blog post, take a shortcut, dust the furniture, work out, chide a friend, or do almost anything else. Hope shouldn't be trifled with or dumbed down, and those who flout or minimize it should be seen as the enemies of human flourishing they are -- I am looking right at you, Barack Obama, among others.

* Yes, I said retarded, because that's an apt word for it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Of Death Watches, Delays, and Strategies

The translucent-skinned hunk of dotage propped up by two people and metal braces in this photograph is Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, as he looked several months ago. According to more recent, albeit not as reliable reports, he now more closely resembles a severely malnourished Skeletor in a dark business suit that is actually, for medical and logistical reasons too complex and woeful to recount here, embedded in the remnants of his bodily frame.

I bring this forward not to mock Senator Byrd -- well, not solely for that reason, besides which I will count myself fortunate if I am upright at all by my nineties -- but to reassure the Republicans what they surely already know, that they are very much on the right track. Their response to the 2008 elections, the results of which shrunk their minority ever smaller, has been to use every means available to block or stall the majority's policy initiatives.

When Ted Kennedy finally died last August, and when the chickenshit Democrats saw fit to replace him with a seat-warming ambitionless corpse in order to clear the way for the singularly feckless special election campaign of a listless she-cadaver, in turn vaulting an obscure truck-driving Republican hack into the US Senate, any doubts as to the efficacy of the GOP's delay-everything-always approach vanished. (Among sane observers, that is.)

The approach requires little in the way of cunning. It doesn't require coherence, knowledge, insight, genuineness, integrity, or anything as difficult as that. Indeed, it builds on the bad-faith misanthropic zeal nowadays labeled "conservatism," but it would give it too much credit to call it principled. It needs, in the end, only shameless audacity, a randiness for telling whatever lies the present moment demands, and perhaps someone on staff who can set a google alert that will signal the next death announcement of a sitting Democratic senator. I report with neither sarcasm nor pleasure that it is working beautifully.

The smart money says Senator Robert Byrd will die next -- taking all his experience, eloquence, and erudition with him -- as he isn't so much knocking at Death's door as dribbling tea down his front in Death's antechamber, but it could well be any of several moribund (physically or otherwise) Democrats. If only by attrition, then, stubborn, tireless, shameless obstruction by every means can restore whatever the GOP believes, or claims to believe, it lost in November 2008.

This method is assisted, as always, by a weak, weak-willed, and craven majority, and one can do far worse in life than to enjoy worthless adversaries.

May Senator Byrd live long and healthfully enough to prove me wrong. I expect no such thing, and that truly saddens and angers me.

Rachel Maddow gives a sense of how this "system" works in this excellent segment:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Werner Herzog and Verisimilitude

There now exists, in this universe and in countless parallel ones, a youtube video in which famously lugubrious filmmaker Werner Herzog reads Curious George -- or rather reads into would be closer to the mark.

That's almost enough to make life worth living for several more minutes -- almost -- but I prefer Werner Herzog's read of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel even more because I have more vivid memories of it than of the particular Curious George tale given the Herzog. "She is like a beaten dog who still loves her master, as he is all she has ever known" -- true to the classic story, and to the style of Herzog: