Thursday, September 30, 2010

"We're a nation of religious illiterates."

Here's the lead of a recent Associated Press/CBS story:
A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths. 
The survey in question was released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Who performed best on the survey? Atheists: 

Most Protestants "could not identify Martin Luther as the person who inspired the Protestant Reformation," according to the AP/CBS. Given the importance of Martin Luther to the history of Protestantism, one would think that more Protestants would know who he is.

Boston University Professor Stephen Prothero told Byron Pitts of CBS, ""We're a nation of religious illiterates. We have a lot of people who really love Jesus, but don't know much about him. We have a lot of people who believe and hope that the Bible is the word of God but they don't really bother to read it."

Perhaps theists are relatively ignorant about the tenets of their own religions in part because no reasonable person would accept them—at least not without brainwashing, though I don't think brainwashing is a reliable way of making persons reasonable.

Here's an example of what I am talking about. According to the AP/CBS, "Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn't know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ." This is known as the doctrine of transubstantiation.

If I were some Catholic VIP, I would not advertise the official Catholic view regarding communion, because the official Catholic view regarding communion is insane. That might explain why so many Catholics are unaware of of the doctrine of transubstantiation. That might also explain why so many atheists are not Catholic.

Why on earth would I want to consume the body and the blood of the savior? Why would a religion encourage and promote cannibalism?

I am not a theist in part because I have knowledge of many of the tenets of theism, and I find those tenets far too incredible to be believed.

According to the AP, the survey also discovered that
many Americans don't understand constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools. While a majority know that public school teachers cannot lead classes in prayer, less than a quarter know that the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly stated that teachers can read from the Bible as an example of literature. 
"Many Americans think the constitutional restrictions on religion in public schools are tighter than they really are," Pew researchers wrote. 
This is not surprising, given that so many Christians in this country appear to think that they are being persecuted and oppressed. The very idea is laughable. How could one be oppressed when one has so many opportunities to pray, read the Bible, go to church, consume religious programming on radio and television, and so on? 

With sufficient brainwashing, anyone can be made to believe virtually anything.

Update. Godless Girl has some thoughts about the study which you might find interesting. 

Two from Thomas Dolby

First, "Europa and the Pirate Twins" from 1982's The Golden Age of Wireless:

Next, "Eastern Bloc (Sequel to Europa and the Pirate Twins, 1981)" from the 1992 release Astronauts & Heretics:

Yes, that's Eddie Van Halen playing lead guitar.

I tried posting "Eastern Bloc" on YouTube, but something called WMG objected on the grounds that they own or license the content I used. It makes perfect sense if you think about it: wouldn't it be terrible if a fan actually advertised your product and perhaps created demand for it? Because the last thing anyone in the music industry wants to do is sell records, right?

Anyway, if we're lucky, no one will complain about these videos. Enjoy. And do yourself a favor: buy The Golden Age of Wireless and Astronauts & Heretics. And while you're at it, buy The Flat Earth and Aliens Ate My Buick.

"Europa" is one of the few songs I am aware of that has a sequel. Another is David Bowie's "Space Oddity," the sequel to which is "Ashes to Ashes."

Note: I am aware that the sound quality of Blogger video is far from perfect. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One blogger's double standard

Recently, Ines Sainz complained about the behavior of football players in the New York Jets' locker room. It has been reported that the men in question rather boisterously informed Sainz that they appreciate her physical endowments.

Was it boorish and crass behavior on the part of the New York Jets? Sure. But, who ever claimed that professional football players are the epitome of chivalry? You think one would know that, having worked in the sporty field for years. Secondly, it’s not unexpected at all. On this, the science is settled: men like – and like to look at – hot chicks. . . .
Teachable Moment: If you truly don’t want to be ogled and whistled at, don’t, you know, go into a male locker room sporting a camel toe. 
On a related note, Ziganto reports that Playboy writer Guy Cimbalo published a "serial rape fantasy list." On that list was Michelle Malkin. Ziganto writes, 
Playboy writer Guy Cimbalo’s roster of women he wanted to hate f*** was online for less than a day before it was pulled. At the top of his serial rape fantasy list was Michelle Malkin, described as a “‘highly f***able Filipina’ and purveyor of ‘frothing idiocy’ Her hate f*** rating? ‘Worse than f***ing Eva Braun.’”  He even imagined that Malkin was somehow asking for it:
Malkin’s “tight body and get-off-my-lawn stare just scream, ‘Do me!’”
According to Ziganto, some blogger named Bonnie Erbe did not come to the defense of Malkin: 
Erbe called the article disgusting, sexist, and in Malkin’s case, well-deserved:
I also want to note that at least one woman on the list is so venom-spewing, she unfortunately invites venom to be shot back at her: Michelle Malkin. Her posts and her “routine” are so venomous and predictable, in fact, I stopped paying attention to her years ago.
Michelle Malkin invites sexual degradation because of her viper-like tongue? This is feminism?
Let's summarize what we know: 
  • According to Ziganto, those who complain about the treatment of Ines Sainz are out of line because Sainz was asking for it. 
  • Ziganto complains about the treatment of Malkin even though some people assert that Malkin was asking for it. 
Care to explain this to us, Ziganto? 

Here are some possible approaches to addressing this appearance of a double standard: 
  1. Malkin was not, in fact, asking for it. 
  2. Malkin was asking for it, but unlike the behavior of the men in the locker room, the Playboy writer's behavior was beyond the pale. 
  3. Malkin was asking for it, but the Playboy writer is responsible for his actions and the football players are not. 
  4. A reasonable person would expect Sainz's actions to elicit such behavior, but a reasonable person would not expect Malkin's actions to elicit such behavior. 
Here's how I address this: those who engaged in the behavior in both cases have to take responsibility for their own behavior, and they can't avoid that responsibility by complaining that someone was asking for it. It doesn't matter what someone else is asking for: you have to take responsibility for your own actions. And I find the actions of both the Playboy writer and the football players pretty offensive.

I suspect that Ziganto and people like her would opt for (4) above. But that won't work. Either they're not familiar with Malkin's work, or they don't understand how offensive some people really find it. That's why Andrew Sullivan's award for "for shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric" is named after Michelle Malkin.

(I've been away for a while, so I thought I'd give you a little attention, Lori. I hope this is helpful.) 

Monday, September 27, 2010

I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

The "Mike" Johanns-bot is back in the news today with a likely software issue.

According to the Lincoln Journal-Star, "The message sent by voters in this November's elections should influence what Congress decides to do in its post-election lame duck session, Sen. Mike Johanns says."

One of those issues is whether to extend the Bush tax cuts. The Johanns-bot is in favor of extending the cuts for everyone. It argues that "a return to higher tax rates could slow or stall economic recovery."

Why wait until after the election? "'This is an election cycle where voters appear to be fired up and members of Congress should endeavor to listen' to the message they deliver at the ballot box, the Republican senator said."

But what about this poll? As CBS News reports, "Fifty-three percent of Americans agree with Mr. Obama that the tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire, while 38 percent do not, according to the poll, conducted Sept. 10-14."

Why can't we listen to that message, Mike? I'll wait for an answer while all of this computes.

The Johanns-bot's puzzling behavior could be explained by a failure to download current data, of course. But it is cause for greater concern.

Back in March, the Johanns-bot argued that the issue of abortion "should not be an issue of political gamesmanship, especially when the game is so rigged against pro-lifers. This is an issue of conscience. On this one, you are pro-life or you are not."

That's interesting. On the one hand, the Johanns-bot appears to think that its decisions ought to be determined by the people, but on the other, it appears to think that its decisions ought to be determined by its conscience—or, rather, whatever emulates a conscience in the Johanns-bot. What would happen if its conscience were to come into conflict with the people?

The Republican Party ought to address this issue before the Johanns-bot starts killing astronauts or something.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Congratulations, sir.

I finally got around to writing my response to CSBadeaux. It is as follows: 

CSBadeaux, It's good to see you got all of that smug out of your system.

Your reasons for refusing to even read the post strayling linked to are as follows:
  1. The writer of the post is a C-list lefty blogger. 
  2. You were made aware of the post in a "drive-by" comment. 
  3. The writer of the post is desperate for hits and graduation to the B-list. 
  4. The writer of the post doesn't matter, and neither do his opinions. 
  5. Responding to it would aggravate the mental illness of the writer of the post. 
  6. The writer of the post attributes a certain legal view to all Republicans in a different post. 
  7. The post is written in "Middle Gibberish." 
  8. The comments expressed in the post are irrelevant to Wolf's review. 
  9. The writer of the post falsely attributes to Wolf some view that is irrelevant to Wolf's review. 
  10. There is no way that the blogger in question could have knowledge of Wolf's ulterior motives. 
Items (1) through (6) are all irrelevant to the actual merits of the blogger's post. A course in rudimentary critical thinking would have made you aware of this fact. Fortunately, your ignorance of such matters has given you an outlet for your sociopathic need to abuse those who have committed the terrible crime of disagreeing with you. While your critical thinking skills have suffered, your ability to abuse others has clearly flourished. Bravo!

(7) is false. The post is written in English. Have you heard of it? I take it that it is not your mother tongue, since, by your own admission, you find it incomprehensible.

(8) is also false. This would have been obvious to you had you actually read (and understood) the post.

(9) is so vague that its merit cannot be assessed.

Your reason for asserting (10) appears to be this: the only way one could have knowledge of Wolf's ulterior motives is by either knowing Wolf personally or by reading his mind "at a distance." (Is there any other way of reading another's mind?) But this assumption is obviously false.

One thing we can say for sure: you are clearly a bigger asshole than Leon H. Wolf. Congratulations, sir.

Steven Huff, "Boarding a Bus"

Boarding a Bus

In a small-knit Iowa town I watched
a couple board the bus and take the seat
behind me. They'd waited till then to count
their cash. I could hear each of them whisper
fives and ones like vespers, and repeat, then declare
they couldn't afford to go. "But," she added,
"we haven't had a vacation in—" "That's
very true," he said. And they sighed into the rolling scene:
the sunset on a sea of corn,
a lonely red gas station, an old man changing a flat.
I don't want to scare anyone, but
this is your life too. Tell me how it's any different.

From Proof (Clinton, NY: Two Rivers Review, 2004).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thomas Dolby, "Cloudburst at Shingle Street"

Update. Yesterday, September 16, was the one-year anniversary of this blog. Happy Annniversary, YAA.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Can you spot the fallacies?

The following exchange occurred today in comments on Leon H. Wolf's review of Meghan McCain's book Dirty Sexy Politics.

Note how steadfastly CSBadeaux refuses to read the review strayling mentions. 

strayling hours ago
This review of your review says it far better than I could.
CSBadeaux 2 hours ago in reply to strayling
Goodness, a C-List Lefty blogger who can't carry his? her? its? own water. Wow. Never saw one of those before.
Thanks for bringing that to our attention!
strayling hours ago in reply to CSBadeaux
You're welcome. I take it from your lack of specific criticism that although you dislike the person who wrote the review you can find nothing in it with which to disagree.
CSBadeaux 1 hour ago in reply to strayling
You take incorrectly, which really shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with practitioners of commenting-by-drive-by-pooping. 
Rather, I was noting that your drive-by consisted of giving us the (facially inarticulate) ramblings of someone either obsessive enough or desperate enough for hits (and a graduation to the B-List!) to write what appeared to be a screed that probably had something to do with Leon's piece (though what, I confess to not knowing), despite the incredibly low likelihood that anyone would read that ramble, care, or link to it. 
(I confess to not knowing because I skimmed across it, dipping oh-so-lightly into its fetid waters, occasionally grazing across thoughts on "anchor babies" and other matters neither really touched on by Leon nor indeed, from what I can see, Ms. McCain.)
I could doubtless find things with which to disagree, but as a rule, I don't spend time pretending that people who don't matter, do; and actually pulling out my Rosetta Stone, translating the Middle Gibberish in which that was written, then reading what he/she/it wrote, let alone formulating a response, would not only violate that rule, but would also encourage the poor dear in his/her/its insanity. Basic Christian charity compels me not to render a mental illness worse.
Hope that clarifies things.
strayling 1 hour ago in reply to CSBadeaux
I gave you a "like" vote for the wonderful phrase "facially inarticulate" and for taking the time to write all that out. I do, however, encourage you to be more precise in your use of language in order to avoid the ambiguity in your original response which led to this exchange.
I am a little disappointed that you failed to provide any pertinent criticism of the (excellent, in my opinion) meta-review which I linked to, but then life's full of these small irritations and we mustn't let them get us down.
CSBadeaux 1 hour ago in reply to strayling
I confess to presuming too often that sarcasm, even if in context, will slip the surly bonds of pixel and touch the face of God.
As for your second paragraph: Indeed, as a friend of mine likes to say, ours is a vale of tears; or if you prefer, life is pain, princess. Were this person or persons someone whose opinion not only matters, but could be and was written coherently and interestingly, I might be moved to care. As you can't be bothered to peel out those "excellent" criticisms and share them here (I'm particularly intrigued about the "anchor baby" thing, as I still can't find it in Leon's piece -- and a quick Google search would show that he's on record as opposed to changing the prevailing interpretation of the U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment -- and incoherent Lefty screeds definitionally believe that all Republicans are in favor of that), I have to conclude that, lamentably, you either lack the strength of the C-List Lefty blogger's convictions, or you, too, don't care, and are simply trolling.
Regardless of the truth, which is indeed doubtless out there, I am still unmoved to care.
strayling 29 minutes ago in reply to CSBadeaux
That was a fun little conversation, thanks. I do wish you'd read that review a bit more seriously because it does cut this one down to size rather well, and gives some useful insight into the unstated reasons why Mr. Wolf is so hostile to the book. I promise you I'm not trolling, but I'll admit to enjoying the spectacle of conservatives fighting amongst themselves. If that makes me a bad person, so be it.
CSBadeaux 21 minutes ago in reply to strayling
Sorry. As I said, I'm not fluent in Middle Gibberish; the "review" appears to purport to associate Mr. Wolf with a view to which a very quick Google search would give the lie, and which at any rate appears to have nothing to do with this review; and as you can't be bothered to do more than glowingly approve of it in the most general possible terms, I'll have to spare this person as he or she or they begin the long march to almost being cited and read by influential, or indeed, more than a few people. That you suggest the writer to whom you link either knows Mr. Wolf personally, or can read minds at a distance; and yet you still don't find the arguments worthy of regurgitation, is frankly a consistent surprise to me.
Well, not really. That was sarcasm again. I know drive-by commenting idiom.
In the context of Leon Wolf making fun of Meghan McCain, by both subjects' explicit statements, there is only one conservative. Your joy therefore does not make you a bad person, but it does make you, at best, an incorrect one, and at worst, a thick as a pile of bricks. I suspect it's the former, but you're welcome to prove it's the latter. 
Poor CSBadeaux.  His writin' sure is fancy, but his critical thinking skills bleaux. 

Yes, Christine O'Donnell, there is nothing wrong with lying to Nazis.

According to Think Progress, Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell endorsed some unorthodox moral reasoning back in 1998:
Long before Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell rocked the Delaware GOP by upending establishment favorite Mike Castle, she founded a group named the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth (SALT). SALT focuses on promoting Christian morality among Generation X and places particular emphasis on always telling the truth. In 1998, while O’Donnell was a guest on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher, she elaborated on this point, arguing that “telling the truth is always the right thing to do, I believe, and that’s what always gets you out of a situation.”
Comedian Eddie Izzard pressed her on just how far she would take her anti-lying beliefs. Izzard asked O’Donnell whether or not she would lie to Nazis who showed up at her door during WWII and demanded to know if she were hiding any Jewish people in her house. O’Donnell refused to even entertain the notion of concealing the truth from Nazis in that scenario because “you never have to practice deception.” 
You never have to deceive others because "God always provides a way out," said O'Donnell.

Talk about losing one's moral compass.

Now, I know what's going on here. O'Donnell rather unexpectedly won the Republican primary, and now liberal sources of information are going after her. Still, I can't help but comment on this, because the extremism  in O'Donnell's bungling of Izzard's question must be dealt with.

The situation Izzard presented to O'Donnell is one confronted by who knows how many students every year in introductory ethics courses. Kant is famous for having agreed with O'Donnell, but for different reasons. Kant held that anyone who lied in this kind of a situation would be following a certain rule, e.g., "When I wish to protect others from harm, I will tell a lie." But it is impossible even to conceive of a world in which everyone followed exactly the same rule. Why? Well, the liar is successful only if he is believed, but if everyone followed the same rule, the liar would not be believed. The rule, therefore, ought never to be followed, according to Kant, since it is inherently contradictory.

I think that Kant was wrong in this. Do not misunderstand me: I believe we have a strong moral obligation to tell the truth. But, as with perhaps all obligations, it can be overridden by a more stringent obligation in the right circumstances. And in the circumstances O'Donnell was asked about, you are obviously morally obligated to lie, since our obligation to protect others from grievous harm is obviously more stringent than our obligation to tell the truth in the imagined circumstances. College freshman can handle such reasoning with ease; O'Donnell seems unable to.

And this is the problem with extremist thinking. If you believe, like O'Donnell, that moral principles are absolutely exceptionless, you lose your moral compass and end up making moral judgments that are obviously wrong. O'Donnell attempted to finesse the problem by claiming that God would ensure that no one would ever be faced with such a situation. But we know better: people are faced with such moral dilemmas every day, everywhere. Add to that the fact that it is extremely unlikely that God exists.

This is what happens when amateurs attempt to engage in ethical reasoning.

What are you smoking, Leon?

According to grammarian Leon H. Wolf, "Meghan McCain’s book [Dirty Sexy Politics] is an active attempt to split the Republican Party in two and thereby destroy its ability to win elections."

(By the way, I find it hilarious that the anal Wolf cannot allow the name of McCain's book to appear in his attack piece without a comma between "Dirty" and "Sexy.")

If the Republicans fail to win big this November, is that really McCain's fault? Or someone else's?

Holly Bailey of Yahoo! News writes:
With polls showing significant GOP momentum this fall, Republicans in recent weeks began to believe they had a real chance of retaking control of the Senate in November. But a major primary upset at the hands of a tea party insurgent on Tuesday may have put the Senate GOP's dreams of a majority at serious risk. 
In the biggest electoral surprise of the night, conservative activist Christine O'Donnell defeated longtime GOP Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware's Republican Senate primary. Castle, a moderate who once served as the state's governor, had been so favored to win in November that his decision to run had reportedly influenced Democrat Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden, to abandon plans to seek his father's old seat.
But with O'Donnell's come-from-nowhere win Tuesday night, top Republicans in Washington now see virtually no chance the GOP will be able to pick up the Delaware seat this fall. As a result, they admit their already slim chance of winning back Republican control of the Senate is likely dead. 
"It's hard to see a path for us," one senior Republican official, who declined to be named while discussing party strategy, told The Upshot. "Never say never, but it has become much harder for us after tonight." 
The burden of proof is on anyone who would deny this. Tea Party candidates are typically less moderate and therefore less electable in the general election. McCain is being raked over the coals precisely because she is urging the Republican Party to moderate itself and its positions. And McCain is the threat?

What are you smoking, Leon?

Actually, it's not the woman's fault.

From "Ines Sainz: The Woman Who Cried Wolf Whistle":
This past weekend, the woman billed by her employer  as Mexico’s “Hottest Reporter” entered the locker room of the New York Jets football team to conduct an interview. She was wearing the totally demure outfit pictured above. Shockingly, the locker room full of testosterone-laden men noticed that she’s more than a bit attractive and catcalls, whistling and leering ensued. . . .
Was it boorish and crass behavior on the part of the New York Jets? Sure. But, who ever claimed that professional football players are the epitome of chivalry? You think one would know that, having worked in the sporty field for years. Secondly, it’s not unexpected at all. On this, the science is settled: men like – and like to look at – hot chicks. . . .
Teachable Moment: If you truly don’t want to be ogled and whistled at, don’t, you know, go into a male locker room sporting a camel toe. 
From "Seven Conditions For Women's Dress in Islam":
1. Clothing must cover the entire body, only the hands and face may remain visible (According to some Fiqh Schools).
2. The material must not be so thin that one can see through it.
3. The clothing must hang loose so that the shape / form of the body is not apparent.
4. The female clothing must not resemble the man's clothing.
5. The design of the clothing must not resemble the clothing of the non believing women.
6. The design must not consist of bold designs which attract attention.
7. Clothing should not be worn for the sole purpose of gaining reputation or increasing one's status in society.
The reason for this strictness is so that the woman is protected from the lustful gaze of men. She should not attract attention to herself in any way. It is permissible for a man to catch the eye of a woman, however it is haram (unlawful) for a man to look twice as this encourages lustful thoughts. 
From "Rape Victims 'Asking For It'" (21 November 2005)
34% believe women who flirt can be blamed if they are raped and 26% say if a woman is in sexy clothing she is partly to blame
Women who flirt, get drunk or wear sexy clothes are asking to be raped, according to a shocking new survey.
More than a third of people - mainly males - believe girls trying to chat up men are partially or totally responsible for being attacked.
A quarter reckon a woman wearing a provocative outfit is at least partly to blame - especially if she has been drinking.
One in 12 thinks she is a natural target if she has had a number of sexual partners.
And a third believe she is responsible to some degree if she has clearly failed to say No.
The disturbing attitudes towards rape and rape victims were uncovered by Amnesty International in a national survey to promote its Stop Violence Against Women campaign.
The poll of 1,000 adults found 30 per cent considered a woman partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was drunk.
Why is it so difficult for some of us to ask men to take responsibility for their actions?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

No, and cut taxes.

Here's a fun quiz!

You are a Republican. What solutions do you propose for the following problems?
  1. The economy is pulling out of recession, but growth is sluggish. Some fear that another recession is possible. 
  2. The federal budget deficit is soaring. 
  3. Health care costs are skyrocketing, and many people are uninsured. 
  4. Many suspect that the goal of Iran's nuclear program is the production of nuclear weapons. 
  5. While considered by many to be physically attractive, your vice-presidential candidate appears to be no more intelligent than your average college sorority member. 
  6. It seems that you just can't get rid of the crabgrass in your yard, no matter what you do. 
  7. The older you get, the more difficult it becomes for you to to achieve an erection. 
  8. You're out of ideas. 
If your answer to (1) through (8) was "Cut taxes," you win! 

If your answer was, "Say 'no,'" you also win! 

What are Republicans going to run on in the Fall? According to The Daily Caller, a Republican advocacy group, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, will release an agenda today "made up mostly of things they think Republicans should oppose or eliminate." 

Among other things, Crossroads GPS "calls on the GOP to 'stop' the Bush tax [cuts] from expiring at the end of the year." 

According to Think Progress, Mike Pence was on Fox "News" recently, and when asked "what, besides tax cuts, he would do to turn the economy around, Pence at first dodged, but then said tax cuts for the rich would be the way to go." Besides tax cuts, then, tax cuts are needed to stimulate the economy. 

President Obama and many Democrats would like to extend the Bush tax cuts on the middle class and allow the Bush tax cuts on those with household incomes exceeding $250,000 to expire. Over the weekend, John Boehner said, "If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I'll vote for them." 

Other Republicans begged to differ. According to NPR, Jon Kyl of Arizona "accused Democrats of 'pitting Americans against each other.'" Kyl said that "We don't want to punish anyone for being successful — that class warfare went out of style when the Cold War ended. I don't think it has a part in our debates." 

Let's look at Kyl's statement a bit more closely. Kyl claims that raising taxes on the wealthy is punishing them for their success. Is Kyl suggesting that it would be more appropriate to tax the middle class for their lack of success? Assuming that revenue is constant, any taxes not paid by the wealthy will have to be paid by everyone else. So, if wealth is a measure of success, then the middle class have failed, and they should be punished for that failure by being required to pay higher taxes. Who, exactly, is waging class warfare here? 

Republicans, you have been bitching and moaning about the deficit ever since Obama was inaugurated. If you suddenly want to balance the Federal budget, rather than offer us vague proposals like ending "wasteful 'stimulus' spending and pork-barrel earmarks," tell us exactly what you're going to cut, and run on that this November. Oh, and stop saying that tax cuts need not be offset by budget cuts

Monday, September 13, 2010

Leon Wolf's review of Meghan McCain's book is way over the top (updated)

Meghan McCain

Let me begin by saying that I have not read Meghan McCain's Dirty Sexy Politics and I doubt that I ever will—not because I don't respect McCain: I simply don't have the time. But I am going to review Leon H. Wolf's scathing review of the book anyway. And by the time I am finished, I'm sure you'll agree that no one needs to read McCain's book to see Wolf's review as the sociopathic partisan hack job it is.

Wolf is a RedState blogger. That alone tells you what you need to know about his review. His complaints about the book are as follows:
  1. McCain violates what Wolf considers to be rules of proper grammar, punctuation, and word choice. 
  2. McCain devotes too much space on descriptions of clothing, hair, and makeup. 
  3. McCain's book includes factual inaccuracies. 
  4. McCain does not agree with the political opinions of Leon H. Wolf. 
Wolf's review is roughly 5,500 words long. Roughly 1,100 of those words, or one fifth of the review, are devoted to (1). What terrible crimes against the English language has Wolf decided to bore the reader with? Wolf takes issue with the following passages, among others.
Our room was crowded with our stuff – a total mess, totally trashed with blog equipment, photo stuff, cameras, and all our makeup, clothes, our huge suitcases. We were like animals, like bears who have to litter and mess up their cave to feel it is theirs.
This, combined with the fact that I’m a nonstop extrovert, a people person who loves mingling and gabbing and getting out in the world, a blog that chronicled my days on the campaign – and showed the silliness and madness, as well as the seriousness – seemed like a perfect idea.
These days, the name Ronald Reagan – as well as his legacy – has become oversaturated, just white noise.
It was going to be a tough race. Not much disagreement about that.
Some of these sentences show that McCain's book could have used more editing. (An incomplete sentence here and there is not a big deal, Leon.) But do they show that McCain has "horrible communication skills"? Or that the book is "impossible to read"? Or that it reads like "the first draft of an essay written for a high school English class"? Obviously, no. McCain writes better than many college students. (I know, believe me.)

Not only is Wolf's lecture regarding grammar way over the top, it's insincere. Where is the conservative grammar police when people like George W. Bush or Sarah Palin open their mouths? Their political leaders can massacre the language as much as they want; if you're someone like McCain and you don't share the political views of the Republican Party establishment, however, you'd better not allow even one superfluous comma to find its way into print, because Wolf isn't fucking around. "The entire book is riddled with inappropriate comma use," writes the professorial Wolf. Hey, Leon, did McCain reject your advances at some cocktail party or what? Have a drink and chill the fuck out!

Let's take a look at (2). Here's my question: what is wrong with including descriptions of clothing, hair, and makeup in a book? Even if the book is about politics, what is the problem, exactly? Let's find out from the grammarian himself:
Meghan’s primary goal in writing Dirty, Sexy Politics appears to have been to show off her encyclopedic knowledge of who was wearing what clothes on what occasion. From all appearances, it is physically impossible for Meghan McCain to describe a given scene or occurrence without describing in detail what everyone in the room was wearing (and how their hair was done), most especially including herself. . . .
When not describing the outfits, hairstyles, and makeup of people you don’t care about (most notably the author herself), Meghan’s narrative usually actually descends from the merely tedious to the shockingly banal. 
What's going on here? Well, there are huge numbers of people in these United States who do not find such details to be "shockingly banal." But there is one sad blogger, Leon H. Wolf, who hopes to contribute to the narrative that McCain is some blonde brainless bimbo who cares only about stereotypically female concerns. How do I know? Why else would Wolf write the following?
Or consider the following excerpt on her fondness for the state of New Hampshire, which she certainly composed on post-it notes while giggling madly with her BFFs as they called one another “naughty” about all the bon-bons and tequila. 
How convenient this narrative is to those who wish to discredit McCain and retain their stranglehold on Republican thought, or what little is left of it. It is not up to Wolf to decide what details may be included in a book about politics and what details must be left out. Perhaps you are not part of the book's intended audience, Leon. Had that ever occurred to you? Wolf's second criticism therefore reduces to the complaint that McCain is interested in things that do not interest Leon H. Wolf. How dare her!

Let's move on to (3). This is perhaps the only worthwhile criticism of the book. Wolf notes that McCain includes the following disclaimer in the first chapter:
I checked dates and facts, and corroborated my accounts with friends and family, but my stories are decidedly impressionistic rather than reportorial.
Wolf's response to this is to assume, without argument, that publishing impressionistic non-fiction is strictly forbidden. If we grant Wolf's plausible assumption, a lack of fact-checking is a problem. But one wonders why the tightly wound Wolf would be such a stickler for correct grammar but sloppy in his critique otherwise. Wolf writes:
In other cases, Meghan’s made up facts are demonstrably and embarrassingly false. For instance, in one place, Meghan claims to be proud of her father because he got almost 48 million votes. About 20 seconds on Google will tell you that John McCain got over 59 million votes. If I could do this while fact-checking Meghan McCain’s book, why couldn’t she do this while writing it?
Wolf, of course, fails to mention that McCain's assertion is actually true: John McCain could not have gotten 59 million votes without getting at least 48 million. I think it is fair to expect from Wolf the same rigor and precision that he expects from his political targets. Consider Wolf's uncharitable interpretation of McCain's assertion that "Reagan was 'elected by moderates and Democrats, not the Far Right/Religious Right.'" Wolf writes,
This sentence is correct if you replace the word "not" with the word "and"; as written, it is completely fictional and false. Only a narcissistic fool with no grasp of history or politics would suggest that the Republican party could win nationally (or in almost any state) if they jettisoned Christian conservatives from the coalition, or summarily ignored their concerns.
Wolf's uncharitable reading is made possible by a certain ambiguity in McCain's writing. Obviously, McCain is saying that Reagan needed the support of moderates and Democrats to get elected (which is true); Wolf interprets McCain as saying that Reagan did not have the support of the far right and the religious right. Wolf interprets McCain in the least charitable way, but fails to mention the lack of grammatical precision that made his uncharitable interpretation possible. And it's obvious why. Wolf read McCain's book with the preexisting notion that McCain is an idiot; he did not arrive at that notion as a result of reading that book.

And now (4). Wolf writes,
Meghan’s real talent, however, is not in manufacturing facts, but rather in manufacturing enemies. Sizeable portions of Dirty, Sexy Politics are dedicated to defeating a shadowy conspiracy of Republicans who are attempting to railroad her out of the party. 
Wolf is apparently unaware of the irony of saying this in a review in which he excoriates McCain for her political views. If he wants to know who these Republicans are, he need only look at himself. Here's another. And they are certainly not the only ones.

If you want an example of the sort of political view Wolf trashes McCain for having, here's one. According to Wolf, McCain writes:
I have to wonder, if [Reagan] and Goldwater were alive today and could see where their party has gone in the last decade, what they would think. Somehow the walls closed in. The conservative movement seems hell-bent on constricting our freedoms rather than expanding them. The base has moved to the Far Right and, sadly, it seems to be dying there.
Wolf then asks, "Who’s closed in the walls? What walls? What freedoms is the conservative movement hell-bent on constricting?" Who exactly is the "narcissistic fool with no grasp of history or politics," Leon? Republicans have been fighting to restrict individual rights for decades. I'll give you a few examples. Republicans have been fighting to deny homosexuals the right to marry. Republicans have also been trying to find a way to revoke the citizenship and therefore the legal rights of so-called anchor babies. They have fought to restrict a woman's right to an abortion and therefore individuals' right to privacy. Republicans (and too many Democrats) supported the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which effectively nullified much of the Bill of Rights.

Wolf quotes McCain as saying the following:
Rather than the party of openness and individual freedom, it is now the party of limited message and less freedom. Along with an ideological narrowness, an important PR battle is being lost. Rather than leading us into the exhilarating fresh air of liberty, a chorus of voices on the radical right is taking us to a place of intolerance and anger. We hear them on the radio and TV. They love to spread fear because it keeps the money rolling in. You know who I’m talking about. The more afraid we are, the richer they get. . . .
Somehow, being a Republican isn’t a political decision anymore. It is a lifestyle choice. You have to look one way, think one way, and act one way. Wear the uniform! Embrace groupthink! And for goodness’ sake, no strangers allowed! 
Wolf feigns ignorance and asks, "Who the hell is saying these things, Meghan?" I'll name them for those of us who haven't been paying attention: Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, among others, have been spreading irrational fear of Muslims for political gain; the responsibility-free talkers and bloggers on the right and those in charge of the Republican Party have been insisting on absolute ideological purity and groupthink. Wolf's savage attack on McCain for expressing unorthodox Republican views is itself evidence of such groupthink and what has also been called epistemic closure. None of Wolf's readers will notice this, of course.

How savage can Wolf be? This is a sampling of what he says about McCain in his review:
It is impossible to read Dirty, Sexy Politics and come away with the impression that you have read anything other than the completely unedited ramblings of an idiot.  
It is important to know that I was repeatedly tempted just to put the book down, eat the relatively small price I paid to download it to my Kindle, and silently curse Hyperion for publishing this book. After all, they are the ones taking advantage of this particular idiot’s fifteen minutes of fame by exposing her idiocy for the entire world to see. 
[M]ost of Meghan’s flaws – such as her unbearable narcissism, delusions of persecution, anti-religious bigotry, and mendacity – couldn’t be chalked up to her manifestly below-average intelligence.  These are blameworthy traits born of a malfunctioning moral compass. 
I get the vague impression (through the haze of her horrible writing) that Meghan McCain would like for Dirty, Sexy Politics to be taken seriously as a political book. McCain approaches this serious topic as a person who has accomplished absolutely nothing of note in her life.  
The sad truth is that Meghan McCain is never going to write a book that imparts a basic level of understanding about any topic until she reaches a basic level of understanding about herself.
Even if we grant Wolf's criticisms of the book, i.e., (1) through (4) above, does McCain really deserve this kind of abuse?

If Wolf wished to leave us with the impression that he is an asshole, I believe that he succeeded.

Wolf reveals his real motivation for writing this sociopathic attack in the final sentence of the review:
If you simply must have large doses of poorly-written fictional tripe written by a narcissistic person who hates conservatives and everything they stand for, read Mike Lupica instead. At least he’s smart enough to know which side he’s on.
Such is McCain's punishment for standing up to the powers that be and forgetting her place.

The savagery of the attacks against her indicates the importance of what McCain is doing. McCain is in a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. If Republicans know what is good for them, they will hope that her side wins.

Update. (1) For a valuable critique of Wolf's review from the perspective of an editor, visit Rumproast. (2) Someone posted a link to this post in a comment on Wolf's hatchet job. Predictably, cravenly, someone at The New Ledger removed it this morning. (3) Captain Napalm (see comments) has prompted me to point out that a second comment on Wolf's review containing a link to this post has not been taken down. Yes, more than one attempt has been made to link to this post in comments on Wolf's review. Believe it or not.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Remarks by the President at the Pentagon Memorial (excerpt)

[T]he highest honor we can pay those we lost, indeed our greatest weapon in this ongoing war, is to do what our adversaries fear the most -- to stay true to who we are, as Americans; to renew our sense of common purpose; to say that we define the character of our country, and we will not let the acts of some small band of murderers who slaughter the innocent and cower in caves distort who we are. . . .

They may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust.  They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice. . . .

They may seek to spark conflict between different faiths, but as Americans we are not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam.  It was not a religion that attacked us that September day -- it was al Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion.  And just as we condemn intolerance and extremism abroad, so will we stay true to our traditions here at home as a diverse and tolerant nation.  We champion the rights of every American, including the right to worship as one chooses -- as service members and civilians from many faiths do just steps from here, at the very spot where the terrorists struck this building. . . .

Those who attacked us sought to demoralize us, divide us, to deprive us of the very unity, the very ideals, that make America America -- those qualities that have made us a beacon of freedom and hope to billions around the world.  Today we declare once more we will never hand them that victory.  As Americans, we will keep alive the virtues and values that make us who we are and who we must always be.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

When this McCarthyist hysteria is over, Erick, you're going to be sorry.

RedState's Erick Erickson posted the following this morning:
[1] If korans are burned in Florida by some moron preacher, the terrorists will get new recruits.
[2] If the Ground Zero Mosque is moved in New York, the terrorists will get new recruits.
[3] In other words, we either bow to the demands and wishes of radical Islamists or else.
This is madness. No. This is Barack Obama’s America.
This is what passes for critical thinking at RedState.

We have good evidence to believe that (1) and (2) above are true.

According to Abdul Shakoor, an 18-year-old high school student in Kabul who protested the planned Koran burning, "We know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the president and the entire United States." As William Saletan points out, people in the Muslim world will hold all of us responsible for the actions of "some moron preacher," just as many Americans hold all Muslims responsible for 9/11. (How does it feel?) There is also the report from Interpol that the Koran burning is likely to lead to retaliatory attacks against innocent people.

According to Taliban operative Zabihullah, "“By preventing [the New York City mosque] from being built, America is doing us a big favor. It’s providing us with more recruits, donations, and popular support.” According to NPR, "Experts worry the controversy surrounding an Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan is playing right into the hands of radical extremists." There is little doubt that (2) is true as well.

From (1) and (2), Erickson infers that "we either bow to the demands and wishes of radical Islamists or else." What Erickson is assuming, of course, is that the Muslims who are upset about the Koran burning and opposition to the mosque are radicals. Naturally, that is what your typical conservative thinks: all Muslims are radicals.

That's the problem that bigoted bloggers face: if they're not careful, they will mistakenly put their bigotry on display for all to see. Not that Erickson has anything to worry about; I'm sure that virtually all his readers are just as bigoted as he is.

I believe that there is no good reason to prevent the mosque from being built. Does my belief in American freedom of religion make me a radical?

I believe that those rednecks down in Florida should not be burning copies of the Koran. Does my belief that books ought not to be burned make me a radical?

Why does it seem as if conservatives just want to be allowed to be complete pricks?

Because a lot of them are complete pricks.

What is the mentally challenged Erickson doing on CNN?

This is not madness. This is my America, and I bet it was your America, too, Erick, before you sold your soul to help Republicans win an election. When this McCarthyist hysteria is over, Erick, you're going to be sorry you so cowardly acquiesced to aid and abet it.

Update. It occurred to me after I posted this that I may have interpreted Erickson uncharitably. Even if I did, however, he still has a problem.

Erickson writes, "In other words, we either bow to the demands and wishes of radical Islamists or else." Now, perhaps it might be said that, by "radical Islamists," he is not referring to those of us who are upset about opposition to the New York City mosque or the Koran burning. Perhaps he is referring to potential terrorists, and he is saying that we ought not to give in to their demands.

But think about it: what good reason do we have not to give in to these demands? The demands, if you want to call them that, are reasonable. These are demands that we would place on ourselves as decent Americans if we were thinking clearly. That redneck Jones has a right to have a book burning, but given our belief in our 1st Amendment rights, it would be unwise to exercise that right. We have a right to demand that the New York City mosque be moved, but again, given our belief in our 1st Amendment rights, it would be unwise to exercise that right.

If I were to interpret Erickson charitably, I would be interpreting him as saying the following: we ought not do anything our enemies demand that we do, even if we otherwise have excellent reasons to do it. Were we to do as Erickson suggests, we would in effect give our enemies the power to dictate what we do anyway. Why don't we simply do what we believe is right, regardless of what our enemies' demands are?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day?

I publish this, my 200th post, on Labor Day 2010, which is as good a time as any to extol the virtues of work, remind us all of the value of the worker to the nation's economy, and survey a few of the threats to our nation's workers.

Thanks to the Republican Party, this is not a good time to be a worker in the United States.  Illegal immigrants contribute to our economy by doing difficult, back-breaking work the rest of us would rather not do and by paying sales tax.  In this recession, however, they have become the target of misguided laws, while the people who hire them have, for the most part, escaped the public's wrath.  While health care reform was signed into law earlier this year, Republicans are attempting to create barriers to its implementation, even though the bill that became law wasn't anything close to what the American worker really needed, i.e., a single-payer system, or perhaps a system advocated by Sen. Ron Wyden.  Democratic attempts to make the economy more fair for consumers (e.g., passing credit card reform, creating a consumer protection agency) are met with hostility from the Republican Party. Republicans and some Democrats oppose the President's proposal to make the Bush tax cuts on the middle class permanent and to allow the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy to expire.  By opposing the proposal, they also oppose a more progressive income tax, even though the Bush tax cuts shifted the income tax burden onto the middle class in the last decade.

Whenever there is debate about the income tax, you can be certain that Republicans will call for tax cuts. Since endorsing tax cuts for the wealthy only is normally politically risky, they express support for tax cuts across the board. And that is what they are doing now by saying that the Bush tax cuts should not be allowed to expire, even though the strategy of proposing tax cuts as a solution to every problem is clearly unsustainable. On occasion, however, a Republican will argue that the wealthy deserve a tax cut at the expense of the middle class. The belief is that the wealth at the top will eventually trickle down to the middle class and everyone will be better off. I'm no economist, but I think that the best evidence most Republicans have for what is otherwise an article of faith is that Ronald Reagan claimed to believe it. And it is even argued that the wealthy become wealthy through their own hard work, and to tax them is to penalize them for their hard work. The implication is that those of us in the middle class are lazy and therefore deserve to be taxed, and that we would have been better off had we only worked harder. Debates over taxes thus often descend into attacks on the character of the American worker. We have even occasionally been called "whiners."

Virtually all middle class Americans are consumers. And this era of deregulation has made it more expensive and more hazardous to be a consumer, as Bob Sullivan illustrates in Gotcha Capitalism. Corporations nickel and dime us for doing business with them by requiring that we sign contracts no consumer can reasonably be expected to understand. This creates a huge drag on the economy: according to Sulllivan, Americans are charged around $45 billion in "sneaky fees" every year. This lack of respect for contracts and contract law is what has inspired Elizabeth Warren to urge that a consumer protection agency be created to protect American consumers, many of whom are middle class.

My goal is not to attack the wealthy today. All of us play an essential role in this economy: not only the wealthy CEO, but also the middle class workers who toil at the CEO's company over 40 hours a week. In the face of Republican propaganda, it is all too easy to forget the American worker. As Howard Dean noted some years ago, Republicans have been incredibly successful in convincing American workers themselves to neglect and vote against their own interests. This needs to end.

In "Is Inheritance Justified?" * D. W. Haslett identifies three values underlying capitalism:
  • Productivity: income ought to be distributed according to productivity.  
  • Equal Opportunity: every individual ought to have an equal opportunity to “pursue, successfully, the occupation of their choice.”  
  • Freedom: we ought to do what results in greater freedom.  
The first value is what concerns me here. Here's the idea: a free society cannot compel people to be productive; it can only entice them to do so. Distributing wealth according to productivity is the most effective way of encouraging productivity. (And it is a mistake to think that those who earn more in the market also necessarily produce more, so don't even go there.) By increasing the tax burden on middle class families, and by allowing corporations to prey upon middle class families, we actually discourage productivity and reward the possession of wealth and the employment of underhanded methods of making money.

If you are a middle class worker, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Don't let the Republican Party and their various propaganda outlets convince you otherwise. And don't be intimidated by politicians and CEO's who hope to benefit from increasing your economic misery. 

* Philosophy and Public Affairs 15 (1986): 122–155.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Republicans: budget cutters or hypocrites?

The Associated Press reports that election-year politics is preventing Democrats from repealing any of the Bush tax cuts, which are scheduled to expire in January.

According to the AP, "Worried about the fragile economy and their own upcoming elections, a growing number of Democrats are joining the rock-solid Republican opposition to President Barack Obama's plans to let some of the Bush administration's tax cuts expire."

President Obama wants to make the tax cuts for the middle class permanent and allow the tax cuts for individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000 to expire.

In response to a new jobs report, Obama said this morning that "we need to take further steps to create jobs and keep the economy growing including extending tax cuts for the middle class and investing in the areas of our economy where the potential for job growth is greatest."

As the charts above clearly show, the Bush tax cuts will become the biggest contributor to the Federal budget deficit. Clearly, we have some reason to allow them to expire. However, tax cuts probably stimulate the economy somewhat, and so we have reason to keep them in this slow economic recovery. (Interestingly enough, the tax cuts Obama has been calling for may be among the most stimulative. Naturally, the GOP opposes them.) Obama's position on the issue is moderate and reasonable: allow some of the tax cuts to expire, and ask those who are best able to afford increased taxes to shoulder them. (For more on the second chart, read Ezra Klein's "Your Deficit in Charts." For more on the first chart, read the corresponding Center on Budget and Policy Priorities report.)

According to the AP, the increased tax burden on middle-class families would be significant:
Taxpayers making between $40,000 and $50,000 a year would get hit with an average income tax increase of $923 next year. Those making between $50,000 and $75,000 would face an average increase of $1,126, according to estimates by the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation. 
As the AP reports, Republicans would rather "make all the tax cuts permanent, adding nearly $4 trillion to the national debt over the next decade."

Are these the same Republicans who have been complaining about the deficit?

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All right, Republicans. Here's how it works: if you want to cut the deficit, you must either raise revenues, or cut spending. So, this is my question: what are you going to cut from the budget, Republicans? Or is it that you're simply hypocrites?

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It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. ---W.K. Clifford

Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear. ---Thomas Jefferson