Saturday, October 30, 2010

Irony, Indeed II: Eat Your Spinach

Mike Huckabee

I just saw film of an interview with Mike Huckabee on CNN today in which Huckabee predicted a Republican tsunami next Tuesday.

According to CNN, Huckabee
cast the Democratic National Committee's opposition research effort as a sign of desperation as they brace for a "political tsunami" next Tuesday.
"They know they are going to get wiped out next Tuesday," he said. "They wouldn't be looking down the road in two years if they thought that they really had any shot at winning these races next week."
He compared the Obama administration to "parents who kept feeding spinach to their kids when the kids hated it" and said Democrats have given up all hope of moving their agenda forward after next week.
"They have pulled out, they have given up, they have circled the wagons, they are having prayer meetings and closed doors sessions," he said of the Democratic Party. "They are getting out the Kleenex and starting the crying, and they have done it to themselves."
In the same interview, Huckabee predicted that Republicans would take control of both the House and the Senate. While I'm not sure how "political tsunami" should be defined, Huckabee's prediction is not likely to come true. FiveThirtyEight is now predicting a 90% chance that Democrats retain control of the Senate after Tuesday.

While the Democrats' mistake may have been to feed spinach to an electorate that was clamoring for pizza, it's well known that spinach is good for you (when it's not tainted, of course). And that's the irony. Here are just two pieces of evidence: jobs are coming back, and some experts are confident that there will be no double-dip recession. When conservatives complain about the work Democrats have done since January 2009, they are likely to make the ludicrous claim that we're on a slippery slope to socialism. That really is how bad it has gotten, intellectually, for Republicans. So why are Republicans going to take the House back this year? Perhaps it's because we are so loathe to do nothing when times are hard that we would rather do something even if it makes us worse off. Perhaps it's because too many think that these are the end times, not just hard times. Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: Huckabee is more right than he knows.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

RedState's Dear Leader imagines masturbating to images of President Obama

What is Erick Erickson doing on CNN?

This morning, Erickson complained about President Obama's meeting with five liberal bloggers, two of whom work for Media Matters, according to Erickson. And what is so bad about this?

Erickson calls the Media Matters bloggers "George Soros funded character assassins who see evil racists in the white filling of every twinkie they consume." He calls one of them, Oliver Willis, "an internet troll" who is "kryptonite to thinking."

Erickson complains that Media Matters "routinely engages in partisan hit jobs on conservatives and anyone in the media who does not show proper respect for the 'Obama is the smartest man who ever was and is the only image you need when you go to the bathroom for certain business' narrative they peddle like smut."

The truth is actually a bit inconvenient for Erick: Media Matters is a right-wing media watchdog, period.

How does this prick, who claims to be on the right side in some holy war he has conjured in his overactive imagination, get taken seriously enough to be on a panel with respectable people on CNN?

David Frum called people like Erickson "responsibility-free" for a reason: no one in the right-wing echo chamber wants to be held accountable for what they write or say. And that is exactly what Media Matters does.

Erickson wants his readers to think that liberal bloggers are mere Obama lapdogs who find racism in everything. This is exactly what his readers already believe and expect him to say, so they will not question it. None of Erickson's readers will visit Media Matters to fact-check Erickson's claims for themselves. Whatever Erickson tells them, they nod approvingly, and, like minor characters in one of Plato's dialogues, say, "Indubitably, Erick! That is quite true! I cannot deny it!" In lying about what Media Matters actually does (in a "Christian" manner, of course), Erickson discourages any of his readers from actually taking anything anyone at Media Matters says seriously. How convenient for Erick!

If they did visit Media Matters, however, and find this "REPORT: More than 30 Fox Newsers support GOP in 600-plus instances during midterms," then they might begin to understand what sparked Erickson's adolescent tantrum. How dare Media Matters attack his friends for doing exactly what Media Matters says they're doing! Don't they know that conservative politicians and "journalists" cannot be held accountable for such behavior, whereas liberal politicians and bloggers can?

Erickson, a "Christian" has every right, of course, to call people names. And he has every right, as a "Christian," to joke about his ideological opponents masturbating to images of President Obama in an effort to ridicule them, in a way that is completely consistent, of course, with his faith. I mean, come on, if Jesus were here on earth right now, that's exactly what he would do! It is well known that Jesus loved to ridicule his opponents and joke about masturbation! He might even have called one or two people "goat-fucking child molesters" in his time. Seriously, we all know that Christian religious services sound like screenings of The Big Lebowski anyway, don't we?

Anyway, Erickson is incensed that these liberal bloggers are meeting with the President. Clearly, it is important that there be vast stretches of daylight between bloggers and politicians. I just wonder when he will get around to addressing the problems mentioned in the Media Matters report. Oh, wait a minute, I forgot: I must completely ignore Media Matters and believe only what Erick Erickson tells me to believe.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Remember Helen Thomas' retirement from Hearst Corporation back in June?

Remember Shirley Sherrod's forced resignation from USDA back in July?

Some writers are comparing these cases to the case of Juan Williams, with mixed results.

Parvez Ahmed writes:
Let us get one thing correct -- Helen Thomas, Rick Sanchez, Octavia Nasr and Juan Williams are neither racists nor bigots. By all accounts they are good journalists. But by expressing negative stereotypes about a racial or religious group they are guilty of breaching the ethics of fairness, crucial ingredients to succeed in journalism. Thus their forced resignation or firing from Hearst, CNN and NPR respectively is the right action. Having publicly expressed their biases they could no longer be viewed has having the credibility to be impartial arbiters of news.
In June, I wrote, "I invite anyone to explain to me why Thomas ought to have resigned for her comments." In fact, the title of my post was, "Helen Thomas lost her job for this?" Ahmed has given me the explanation I requested. I was emphasizing the fact that Thomas's speech was legitimately political and not bigoted. The comments that got Williams in trouble, on the other hand, were. So I believe that Williams' speech was worse than Thomas'. But Ahmed is right. As a journalist, Thomas ought to have been fired, and Hearst had every right to do so. I screwed up. Consistency demands that I admit my error here, and I do.

Slate's William Saletan compares Williams to Sherrod:
Three months ago, right-wingers clipped a video of Sherrod to make her look like a racist. They circulated the video on the Internet, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture fired her. 
Now it's happening again. This time, left-wingers have done the editing. They clipped a video of Juan Williams, a commentator for Fox News and NPR, to make him look like an anti-Muslim bigot. They circulated the video on the Internet, and last night, NPR fired him.
Saletan came out against the firing of Sherrod in July, and now he comes out against the firing of Williams. Saletan writes:
The damning video clip of Williams, like the damning clip of Sherrod, cuts off the speaker just as he's about to reverse course. According to the full transcript, immediately after saying, "I don't think there's any way to get away from these facts," Williams continues: "But I think there are people who want to somehow remind us all as President Bush did after 9/11, it's not a war against Islam." That continuation has been conveniently snipped from the excerpt.
If Williams is guilty of anything, according to Saletan, it is for expressing his fears. Saletan writes: 
But admitting such fears doesn't make you a bigot. Sometimes, to work through your fears, you have to face them honestly. You have to think through the perils of acting on those fears. And you have to explain to others why they, too, should transcend their anxieties or resentments and treat people as individuals.
That's what Shirley Sherrod did in her speech to the NAACP. It's what Juan Williams did in his interview on Fox News. 
There are significant differences between these two cases, however. 
  • The irrational fears Sherrod confessed to having were fears she had many years ago; Williams confessed to having irrational fears now. 
  • NPR was well within its rights to fire Williams; since Sherrod's bigoted actions occurred so long ago, it's not clear that USDA was justified in firing her. 
  • It is abundantly clear that Sherrod is a reformed bigot; it is not so clear in the case of Williams. Everyone is familiar with the phenomenon of bigots taking back their bigotry in the same breath in which they express it. Williams appears to be a bigot in spite of himself. It may be that we're all bigots. But we are smart enough to combat our own bigotry, and we can certainly avoid expressing it in public. Universal bigotry is no excuse for bigotry. 
In addition, it's not clear that putting Williams' comment in context helps. Even if Williams recognizes the irrationality of his bigotry, as the rest of the segment suggests, that doesn't show that he is not a bigot. Saletan admits as much in his defense of him. Saletan denies that Williams' fears are bigoted, I know, but he is simply wrong about that. 

But the fact that Williams is a bigot is not, strictly speaking, the real problem here anyway. The problem is that Williams chose to express his bigotry in a public forum. He didn't have to work through his fears in front of who knows how many viewers of The O'Reilly Factor. As a journalist, he should have done that in private. No one had a gun to his head, and there was plenty of material from the preceding Talking Points segment to talk about without confessing to this or that irrational fear. 

I have a great amount of respect for Saletan and the high quality of his work for Slate. On this one rare occasion, unfortunately, he dropped the ball. We all do at some point. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Other Side of the Story

So why did NPR fire Juan Williams?

According to NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller,
The reason that we terminated his contract is because of our news ethics guidelines.
The guidelines are based on the same news ethics guidelines of the Society of Professional Journalists, and are very similar to that of The New York Times and many other news organizations.
According to the SPJ Code of Ethics,
Journalists should . . . Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
In addition, Schiller claims that Williams "had several times in the past violated our news code of ethics with things that he had said on other people’s air." And
We made the decision here because, at a certain point, if someone keeps not following your guidance, you have to make a break. And that’s what we did. And that is the sole reason.
Fox "News" and the conservative blogosphere is trying, once again, to blow this out of proportion, for political purposes, of course.

In reaction to the firing, Williams appears to be saying, "Fuck the code of ethics! I'll say whatever I please!"

And that's why you're at Fox, Juan—right where you belong.

More thoughts on the firing of Juan Williams from NPR

Here are my reactions to passages from an Associated Press story "Gone From NPR, Williams Begins Bigger Role On Fox."

According to the AP, during his appearance on The O'Reilly Factor Friday, 
Williams went on to note that commentator Nina Totenberg said 15 years ago that if there is "retributive justice," former Republican North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms or one of his grandchildren will get AIDS from a transfusion.
An NPR spokeswoman said Totenberg has repeatedly apologized for her comments. 
I'm not a huge Totenberg fan myself, but there is a significant difference between her case and that of Williams: Totenberg apologized for her comments, and Williams has not. My guess is that conservative bloggers (like this lunatic) fail to mention this fact. 

The AP also reports that 
Veronica Richardson, 38, a paralegal from Raleigh, N.C., said the firing revealed that NPR had a "political agenda." She said she would stop listening and donating to her local station, WUNC-FM in Chapel Hill. 
"I think it's unfair to fire someone for a comment that was innocuous to begin with. It's how many people feel," said Richardson, who describes herself as a libertarian. 
Richardson's problem is that Williams' comment was not "innocuous to begin with." It had the effect of legitimizing Bill O'Reilly's irrational fear of Muslims. Before you conclude that such comments are harmless, perhaps you ought to get to know a few American Muslims and ask them about it. In addition, bigotry is not a legitimate "political agenda," and neither is firing those who express it. Bigotry is rooted in ignorance of non-political matters; reforming bigots is therefore not political. 

Finally, according to the AP, 
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he will introduce legislation to end federal funding for public radio and television. 
"Once again, we find the only free speech liberals support is the speech with which they agree," he said in a statement. "With record debt and unemployment, there's simply no reason to force taxpayers to subsidize a liberal programming they disagree with."
Liberals like me have been saying that conservatives' irrational fear of Muslims is bigotry. I do in fact disagree with Williams' comments, but not because I am a liberal. I disagree with Williams' comments because they are rooted in ignorance about factual matters. And I don't care whether most Americans agree with Williams or not. Their agreement with him wouldn't make his comments any less false. Conservatives have a long history of using propaganda, including false propaganda, to further their political goals. And if DeMint want to ally himself with bigots, he can be my guest. 

DeMint also assumes that NPR can air only those views with which Americans agree. Think about that. He assumes not only that the airing of minority opinions on NPR is forbidden, but also that Americans agree with him. This is a conservative delusion in the Obama era: that the conservative wing of the Republican Party is representative of Americans in general, and that Obama and the Democrats are ignoring the will of the American people. DeMint, and the rest of them, are out of their fucking minds. Andrew Sullivan writes
"A convenient Tea Party mantra has been the presumptuous, and seemingly amnesiac notion that President Obama 'betrayed the American people,' that 'We the People have spoken and never wanted Obama’s policies.'" . . .
I have one loyal and valuable reader who keeps going nuts about the health insurance bill being rammed down the throats of the country.
But Obama explicitly campaigned on it; it was never hidden; he didn't change it significantly from his final campaign message (although he opposed mandates in the primaries). It was fought over in the presidential debates. And he won the election by a landslide on that platform. And he passed it after months of Congressional wrangling. There was nothing faintly wrong or treacherous or deceptive about any of it.
Jim, I understand your political reasons for doing what you're doing, but to many of us, you sound about as insane as Erick Erickson. Your contact with reality is tenuous at best. Take your meds. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Radical Theology of Erick Erickson

I know that I already talked about this, but I have a few more things to say. 

RedState's Erick Erickson found a way to make the following remarks in a post about Juan Williams:
The most significant truth is that had Juan Williams made his comments about Christians or Jews he would still have his job. The world is at war with Christ and, more generally, the Judeo-Christian God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Islam, derived from a man of this world, and the world are in supernatural alliance against Christ. This is the moment non-believers laugh and believers nod knowingly.

The secular world hates the real God of the Bible and those who follow Christ. Any group that is not of Christ or allied with Christ is spared by the world because it is of the world. Any group of Christ or allied with Christ is fair game for attack and ridicule.

Christians are aliens in this world and ultimately, on the last day, win. But until then, the world hates them.
In the same post, Erickson provides a laundry list of unkind words uttered by present and former NPR staffers about certain Christians. He then writes:
NPR would never, nor would any other network, say anything similar about Islam or any group perceived to be a victim group. Superficially, this is because the left has unyielding sympathy for victim groups, whether or not they actually are real victims. It is how the left can embrace tolerance for both gays and muslims though many of the latter would gladly see all of the former put the death.
One of the myths promulgated by conservatives these days is that liberals like me kowtow to Muslims and to any group conservatives perceive as being hostile to Christians and Christianity. Let's set the record straight, shall we? Christians are not a "victim group" in this country. Christians are doing just fine. I know a lot of you Christians might find that shocking, but it's true. When was the last time someone told you that you'll just have to build your church somewhere else, out of sympathy for the feelings of those who dare not be Christian? When was the last time you were prohibited from reading your Bible, or going to church, or watching religious programming on television? The left has sympathy for "victim groups" because the left, unlike the right, actually takes rights seriously. Christians don't have to worry about threats to their right to worship; Muslims do. If anyone has a right to worship, everyone does, including Muslims. (Obviously, this does not mean that religious people can do whatever they want, so anyone out there itching to interpret my words in the least charitable way should forget about it.) I find Islam just as annoying and ridiculous as Christianity or any other religion. But I believe in everyone's right to self-determination, and that extends to religious matters.

What is most disturbing about Erickson's comments is the extremism inherent in them. In Erickson's world, there are only Christians and those who are at war with them. You're either with the Christians or you're with their enemies. Since I am not a Christian, I have entered into a "supernatural alliance against Christ." (I don't recall doing that, actually.) And since the religious right speaks for Christians, either I accept everything they say, or I am their mortal enemy. There is no middle ground: if I argue for the religious freedom of anyone who isn't a Christian, then I am at war with Christ. This is just the kind of extremist thinking that gets holy wars going. Let me say that again: this is just the kind of extremist thinking that gets holy wars going. People like Erickson pose a far greater threat to this world than atheists do.

Erickson thinks of himself as a Christian. I think of him as a lunatic.

This is where the party ends

Juan Williams

The people at Fox "News" are devoting a lot of airtime to Juan Williams lately.

As you've probably heard, National Public Radio fired Williams for the comments he made about Muslims on The O'Reilly Factor. Williams said:
I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous.
According to NPR, "Williams also warned O'Reilly against blaming all Muslims for 'extremists,' saying Christians shouldn't be blamed for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh." But it wasn't enough. The damage had been done. As They Might Be Giants sang, you can't shake the devil's hand and then say you're only kidding.

Andrew Sullivan hit the nail on the head. In response to Williams's assertion that he is not a bigot, Sullivan writes:
What if someone said that they saw a black man walking down the street in classic thug get-up. Would a white person be a bigot of he assumed he was going to mug him? What percentage of traditionally garbed Muslims - I assume wearing a covered veil or some other indicator and being of darker skin - have committed acts of terror? And, of course, the 9/11 mass-murderers were in everyday attire, to blend in. So was the Christmas Day undie-bomber. The Fort Hood murderer was in US military uniform, for Pete's sake. 
How did Fox "News" react to Williams's remarks? They gave him a new contract with a raise and an expanded role in their entertainment division.

Conservatives, naturally, are upset by NPR's move. According to The Los Angeles Times,
By midafternoon Thursday, more than 4,900 comments had been posted on, including many from people who said the media organization was bowing to political correctness and unfairly punishing Williams for expressing his personal opinions.
An apoplectic Michelle Malkin is calling for public funding of NPR to be cut. In another post, Malkin defended Williams on the grounds that he was merely giving "his honest opinion," claimed that "NPR has apparently caved into left-wing attack dogs on the Internet," and asserted that "NPR has undermined whatever credibility it had left with this boneheaded capitulation."

So why did NPR fire Williams? What is their side of the story? According to a statement issued by NPR, "[Williams's] remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR."

Why are conservatives so upset and liberals unconcerned about Williams's firing? Williams's remarks were bigoted. And bigotry is a sign of ignorance. Civilized people don't tolerate bigotry when its targets are African-Americans or Latinos or Christians and so on. Bigotry is no more tolerable when its target is Muslims. Without the ignorance bigotry needs to flourish, there is no uproar over a planned Islamic community center near Ground Zero in New York City. Conservative media outlets exploit ignorance to accomplish their political goals as they did in the case of the so-called Ground Zero mosque. Inside actual news organizations like NPR, however, ignorance is a serious liability. I am willing to bet that NPR listeners have much less tolerance for ignorance than do Fox "News" viewers. Williams showed his ignorance and it cost him; Fox "News," however, rewarded it.

And that brings us to Malkin. She may think that NPR's credibility is undermined by this move. She is wrong for two reasons. First, NPR has no credibility with conservative nit-wits like Malkin, so they had none to lose with Malkin by firing Williams to begin with. Second, NPR's move actually enhanced their credibility: it sent the message that the people who work for NPR must be smart enough not to be bigots and reassured their listeners that the kind of propaganda one typically gets from Fox "News" and the people who promulgate it will not be tolerated at NPR.

Conservatives claimed that the opinions of those opposed to the planned mosque were valid, and that sensitivity demanded that we take them seriously. Malkin appears to think that we need to take Williams's opinions seriously as well. She complains that Williams was fired because he "committed the deadly sin of expressing public concern about traveling with 'people who are in Muslim garb.'" Both Williams and opponents of the planned mosque have been victims of political correctness, according to conservatives. But what's really going on here? They plead for sensitivity to the feelings of those victimized on 9/11; they plead for tolerance for Williams's bigoted views. But what about sensitivity to the feelings of Muslims wrongly vilified by Williams? What about sensitivity to the feelings of Muslims wrongly vilified by those opposed to the planned mosque? Many conservatives are bigots: they believe in their hearts that Islam is evil and Muslims are to be feared. Why wouldn't they? That's what their trusted media outlets have been telling them for years. And that, again, is why the firing of Williams has made them so upset. To them, Williams speaks the truth.

Malkin quotes Thomas Jefferson as saying, "To compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical." While Malkin wants her tax dollars spent on airing bigoted views, I think we can aim higher. Not all opinions are equal. Williams's opinions are based in ignorance, as are the feelings of those opposed to the planned mosque. These opinions have as much right to be taken seriously as do the opinions of astrologers and alchemists.

I'm also not buying the argument that firing Williams is an infringement on his right to free speech. He has a new expanded platform on Fox "News" to say what he wants. And how long would a Fox "News" personality remain on the air if she asserted that, say, George W. Bush is a war criminal, or Republican thinking about the deficit is divorced from reality, or that global climate change is unquestionably real and caused by human beings, or that God doesn't exist? Not long.

Update. I wrote above that "Civilized people don't tolerate bigotry when its targets are African-Americans or Latinos or Christians and so on." RedState's Erick Erickson has a different view of things:
The most significant truth is that had Juan Williams made his comments about Christians or Jews he would still have his job. The world is at war with Christ and, more generally, the Judeo-Christian God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Islam, derived from a man of this world, and the world are in supernatural alliance against Christ. This is the moment non-believers laugh and believers nod knowingly.
The secular world hates the real God of the Bible and those who follow Christ. Any group that is not of Christ or allied with Christ is spared by the world because it is of the world. Any group of Christ or allied with Christ is fair game for attack and ridicule.
Christians are aliens in this world and ultimately, on the last day, win. But until then, the world hates them.
All right. Let me just say this first, and get it off of my chest: Erick Erickson is out of his fucking mind.

That's better. Now, then. Erickson sees the world as a battlefield on which followers of the Judeo-Christian God are at war with everyone else. Here's the deal: I am as secular as they come, and I don't hate God or Christians. The problem is that far too many Christians are complete assholes, and I just want to be left alone. I don't want to be indoctrinated into your faith, and I don't want you forcing me to live by your rules. And it would be really swell if far fewer Christians were hypocrites. Your problem, Erick, is that many people who profess to be Christians are actually more morally corrupt than many atheists. That would explain a lot of the abuse you folks are experiencing. So work on that, all right?

And I'm not too stupid to see that you are furthering the myth that Christians are persecuted in this country, when in reality they're running the fucking show, and making it unpleasant to be an atheist. And I can also see that furthering that myth helps you achieve your political goals. Just thought you should know.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Don't be stupid

Lori Ziganto, "NOW Rewards Sexism; Strengthens Jerry Brown’s Pimp Hand With Endorsement":
A mere 24 hours after Jerry Brown was caught calling Meg Whitman, his opponent in the race for California Governor, a “whore”, [the National Organization for Women] endorsed him. 
Lori Ziganto, "The Anti-Women Left Falls Back On Sexual Slurs And Dehumanization":
Kirsten Powers attended the panel I was on, called Feminism 2.0, the New Face of Feminism, with Jenn Q. Public and Pamela Gorman, moderated by Adrienne Royer. While Kirsten is an unabashed liberal and likely disagrees with us on most policy points, she listened and understood the vile hatred toward conservative women that comes out of the Left. Her article at the Daily Beast today reflects that. She touched on some examples, including the most recent one whereby Jerry Brown called Meg Whitman “a whore.”  
The Los Angeles Times, "An associate of Jerry Brown calls Meg Whitman a 'whore' over pension reform" (i.e., the story cited by Ziganto as evidence that Brown called Whitman a whore):
In a private conversation that was inadvertently taped by a voicemail machine (audio below), an associate of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown can be heard referring to his Republican opponent Meg Whitman as a “whore” for cutting a deal protecting law enforcement pensions as the two candidates competed for police endorsements.
The comment came after Brown called the Los Angeles Police Protective League in early September to ask for its endorsement. He left a voicemail message for Scott Rate, a union official. Brown apparently believed he had hung up the phone, but the connection remained intact and the voice mail machine captured an ensuing conversation between Brown and his aides.
With evident frustration, Brown discussed the pressure he was under to refuse to reduce public safety pensions or lose law enforcement endorsements to Whitman. Months earlier, Whitman had agreed to exempt public safety officials from key parts of her pension reform plan.
“Do we want to put an ad out? … That I have been warned if I crack down on pensions, I will be – that they’ll go to Whitman, and that’s where they’ll go because they know Whitman will give ‘em, will cut them a deal, but I won’t,” Brown said.
At that point, what appears to be a second voice interjects: “What about saying she’s a whore?”
“Well, I’m going to use that,” Brown responds. “It proves you’ve cut a secret deal to protect the pensions.”
whore noun
1 : a woman who engages in sexual acts for money : prostitute; also : a promiscuous or immoral woman 
2 : a male who engages in sexual acts for money
3 : a venal or unscrupulous person
  1. Brown did not call Whitman a whore; his associate did. 
  2. It may be plausibly argued that, in at least one sense of "whore," Whitman appears to be (in this case at least) a whore. 
  3. How Ziganto can maintain her readership with such sloppy work is a bit of a mystery. 
  4. And by the way, Lori: being a feminist does not prohibit one from criticizing other women. You appear to assume that it does. Don't be stupid. 
Update. In her latest Brown-related rant, Ziganto has shown a momentary and uncharacteristic regard for the truth. She writes:
Earlier this month, the National Organization For Women (N.O.W.) endorsed Jerry Brown for Governor of CA a mere 24 hours after an audio tape surfaced wherein Jerry Brown was heard agreeing with an aide that Meg Whitman should be called a “whore“.
Good for you, Lori. I'm proud of you. I hope that wasn't too painful.

    Conventional Conservative Wisdom 1, Reality 0

    Andrew Sullivan brought my attention to a post by Mark Oppenheimer. In that post, Oppenheimer writes:
    [W]hy is there anti-Muslim rage in places with very few Muslims and no history of Muslim terrorism whatsoever? There are good answers to this question, I am sure, but it is late, and for now I will just marvel at how odd it is that somebody thinks it is easy to be a Muslim sympathizer in New York, but out in the rest of the country [it is not]. 
    I have an hypothesis. One of the targets on 9/11 was New York City, which many conservatives believe to be a bastion of liberalism. And, as many conservatives believe, liberals support that Muslim socialist President Obama and insist on tolerance for all religions except for the one practiced by conservatives. So, they believe, it is easy for New Yorkers to enthusiastically support Muslims even though they were attacked nine years ago by terrorists who many conservatives also (incorrectly) believe to have been very good Muslims.

    In other words: this is a case in which conventional conservative wisdom conflicts with reality. And in battles between conventional conservative wisdom and reality, reality often loses. This how yokels like Sarah Palin can appear to be more invested in American ideals than your average New Yorker, i.e., someone who has actually been on the front line in the so-called War on Terror and sacrificed more for those ideals than most.

    By the way, while you're visiting Sullivan's blog, check out "Yglesias Award Nominee II."

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    The Tax Cut that Fell in the Woods

    From The New York Times:
    In a troubling sign for Democrats as they head into the midterm elections, their signature tax cut of the past two years, which decreased income taxes by up to $400 a year for individuals and $800 for married couples, has gone largely unnoticed.
    In a New York Times/CBS News Poll last month, fewer than one in 10 respondents knew that the Obama administration had lowered taxes for most Americans. Half of those polled said they thought that their taxes had stayed the same, a third thought that their taxes had gone up, and about a tenth said they did not know. As Thom Tillis, a Republican state representative, put it as the dinner wound down here, “This was the tax cut that fell in the woods — nobody heard it.”
    Actually, the tax cut was, by design, hard to notice. Faced with evidence that people were more likely to save than spend the tax rebate checks they received during the Bush administration, the Obama administration decided to take a different tack: it arranged for less tax money to be withheld from people’s paychecks.
    They reasoned that people would be more likely to spend a small, recurring extra bit of money that they might not even notice, and that the quicker the money was spent, the faster it would cycle through the economy.
    Economists are still measuring how stimulative the tax cut was. But the hard-to-notice part has succeeded wildly. In a recent interview, President Obama said that structuring the tax cuts so that a little more money showed up regularly in people’s paychecks “was the right thing to do economically, but politically it meant that nobody knew that they were getting a tax cut.”
    “And in fact what ended up happening was six months into it, or nine months into it,” the president said, “people had thought we had raised their taxes instead of cutting their taxes.”
    Democrats are in danger of losing the House of Representatives to Republicans, and this is certainly due in part to their failure to advertise their own tax cut and one that many Republicans would agree is stimulative. Oh, the irony.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    A Few Bad Arguments against Homosexuality

    Perhaps you've heard that Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck compared homosexuality to alcoholism over the weekend during a debate with his opponent on NBC's Meet the Press.

    Buck made the comparison during this brief exchange:
    MR. GREGORY: . . . Mr. Buck I want to start with you.  The issue of gays in our country, in a debate last month you expressed your support for "don't ask, don't tell," which we talked about with Mr. Gibbs, and you alluded to lifestyle choices. Do you believe that being gay is a choice?

    MR. BUCK:  I do.

    MR. GREGORY:  Based on what?

    MR. BUCK:  Based on what?

    MR. GREGORY:  Yeah.

    MR. BUCK:  Well...

    MR. GREGORY:  Why do you believe that?

    MR. BUCK:  Well, I guess you can, you can choose who your partner is.

    MR. GREGORY:  You don't think it's something that's determined at birth?

    MR. BUCK:  I, I, I think that birth has an influence over like alcoholism and some other things, but I think that basically you, you have a choice.

    MR. GREGORY:  Does that put him outside the mainstream of views on this?

    SEN. BENNET:  I absolutely believe he's outside the mainstream of views on this.
    Why do I bring this up? I recently wrote that I haven't seen a decent argument that homosexuality is wrong or that we ought to discriminate against homosexuals in the law. I'd like to take this opportunity to explain further.

    Buck supports "don't ask, don't tell." This is a form of legal discrimination against homosexuals. Therefore, Buck supports at least some forms of legal discrimination against homosexuals. What are his reasons for doing so? I don't know. Perhaps he has no reasons and he just doesn't like homosexuals or he is afraid of them or he thinks that being hostile to homosexuals will help him get elected. As I will show, the belief that homosexuality is somehow a choice is not a good reason for discriminating against homosexuals. So if that is one of his reasons, he ought to reevaluate his view.

    According to NBC News, Buck later refined his position:
    After the debate, Buck clarified that he thinks there is "some element of predisposition" in homosexuality. He noted that he mentioned alcoholism as an example of another behavior that can be influenced by genetic factors.

    "I wasn't talking about being gay as a disease," Buck said. "I don't think that at all."
    I am happy to take him at his word. It seems to me that Buck was drawing an analogy between homosexuality and alcoholism, and in arguments by analogy, the objects being compared needn't be alike in all respects, and the arguer shouldn't be understood as claiming that they are.

    Now, does the assumption that homosexuality is a mixture of predisposition and choice justify discrimination against homosexuals?

    The argument may be more precisely articulated thus:
    1. Homosexuality is a mixture of predisposition and choice. 
    2. Discrimination in the law against anything that is a mixture of predisposition and choice is justified. 
    3. Therefore, discrimination in the law against homosexuality is justified.
    Notice that one can't derive (3) without (2).

    In what sense would homosexuality be a mixture of predisposition and choice? Perhaps this: one is born disposed to be a homosexual, and this disposition is activated when one makes certain choices. Indeed, this is what Buck appears to believe, since he says that homosexuality involves a predisposition but that one chooses one's partners. Now, here's the crucial question: is heterosexuality any different? Not that I can tell. Heterosexuality is also a mixture of predisposition and choice. Therefore, if (2) is adequate grounds to discriminate against homosexuals, then (2) is also adequate grounds to discriminate against heterosexuals. But clearly, it is absurd to think that we ought to discriminate against heterosexuals, simply because their heterosexuality is a mixture of predisposition and choice. So the argument in question fails.

    Many arguments against homosexuality and for discrimination against homosexuals fail simply because parallel arguments mentioning heterosexuality and heterosexuals are clearly absurd. For example, my mother-in-law argues that homosexuality is wrong because homosexual behavior is medically risky. But it isn't essentially so, and many heterosexual activities are also medically risky and would therefore also be wrong. Even heterosexual intercourse in marriage involving penetration of the vagina by the penis involves some medical risk. If anything, this argument at best proves only that we have a moral obligation to minimize medical risk in our sexual activities (which is, of course, a pretty good idea anyway). 

    Another problem with the argument is the assumption that predispositions are somehow morally relevant. From the fact that one is predisposed to do something, nothing follows morally. Those who defend the moral permissibility of homosexuality have claimed that homosexuality is permissible since it is predisposed rather than a mere lifestyle choice. But some of the things we may be predisposed to do are clearly wrong. For example, it may be that we are predisposed toward violence in densely populated areas or when resources are scarce, but that would hardly morally excuse violent behavior in those circumstances. Alternatively, those who hold that homosexuality is wrong sometimes argue that it is wrong because it is merely a lifestyle choice. But plenty of lifestyle choices are perfectly permissible: there is nothing wrong with becoming a monk, or getting married, or living frugally, or devoting one's life to helping others, and so on. The fact that something is a lifestyle choice is not itself a good reason to discriminate against people.

    I am a heterosexual. I have no interest in engaging in homosexual behavior, and in fact I find the idea of homosexual behavior disagreeable. But homosexual relationships clearly bring great happiness to many people (as my marriage brings great happiness to me), and there is no good reason to discourage them or discriminate against people in them.

    At bottom, I simply don't care what other people are doing in their bedrooms because I have more important things to think about. So does Ken Buck.

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    A Certain Conservative Delusion

    One of my Facebook friends posted a link to this column on RealClearPolitics by Arnold Ahlert entitled "Why Dems are Going Down in November." It's rife with the usual right-wing internet boilerplate. (Did you know that health care reform is the "absolute epitome of ideological, public-be-damned arrogance"? I guess I was supposed to be happy with Republicans doing absolutely nothing to reform our health care system beyond passing Medicare Part D. I just love paying $322 for half an hour in a recovery room!) But there is one point in particular I wish to take issue with here. Ahlert writes:
    Progressive contempt for the values and traditions which make this the greatest country on earth can no longer be disguised. An American president who "believe(s) in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism" has made it plain that this is not a great nation which needs tweaking, but a fundamentally flawed one needing a complete progressive make-over. Once one understands this basic premise, everything this administration and Democratically-controlled Congress does makes sense. All of it centers around the ridiculous premise that America owes the world an apology for any number of shortcomings, many of which can only be alleviated by government-mandated "social justice." That would be the same social justice which demanded-and still demands-that Americans manifestly unqualified to own homes be given mortgages, regardless.
    What is this shit about progressive contempt for American values? What makes Ahlert think that he speaks for American values? President Obama has lived American exceptionalism; he is a product of it, a manifestation of the American Dream and the belief that any American can reach the limit of her potential, no matter how modest her beginnings. If anyone is invested in American exceptionalism, it is President Obama, not some rube who blogs for the New York Post.

    For too long, conservatives have gotten away with claiming that they have some kind of monopoly on American values, when in fact it is conservative ideology that contradicts it.  Rather than insist on rules of fair play that make it possible for everyone to flourish, conservatives insist upon deregulation and its attendant anarchy which preserves the advantage the very wealthy enjoy in the "free" market. Conservatives claim that they represent family values, and yet consistently make it more and more difficult for actual families to tread water in this economy, by resisting health care reform, increases in the minimum wage, extensions of unemployment benefits in a recession, and so on.

    Ahlert claims that Democrats feel the need to apologize to the world for American shortcomings. He hopes that you will infer that Democrats feel the need to apologize for America. Ahlert thus implicitly identifies America with the policies of the Republican Party during the reign of Bush II. In fact, we do need to apologize to the world for the actions of the renegade Bush II administration. But those actions were not representative of America, and to apologize for them is not to apologize for America: to apologize for them is to apologize for the actions of those brought under the influence of an insane ideology by radical terrorist Muslims and opportunistic neocon politicians.

    You don't represent American ideals, Arnold: you represent a political party that will do virtually anything to regain power and make government work for corporate elites at the expense of ordinary folks like me.

    Democrats will go down in November, but Ahlert is out of his mind if he thinks that it's because Republicans have a monopoly on American values.

    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    The Most Bizarrely Shaped Congressional Districts

    Alabama - 6th

    California - 3

    California - 38

    Florida - 3

    Florida - 4

    Illinois - 4

    Maryland - 3

    North Carolina - 1

    North Carolina - 2

    North Carolina - 12

    New Jersey - 12

    Pennsylvania - 6

    Pennsylvania - 12

    Pennsylvania - 18

    Tennessee - 3

    Tennessee - 7

    Texas - 19

    West Virginia - 2

    And the most bizarrely shaped congressional district is . . .

    Arizona - 2!

    Congratulations, Arizona! That's one weird-looking district!

    Second place goes to . . .

    Illinois - 17!

    Nice work, everyone! Keep those bizarrely shaped districts coming! 

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Another Inconvenient Truth

    There's been an interesting conversation happening about why the GOP is the only major right-of-center political party that doubts the science behind global warming. . . . This isn't a very popular statement, but there is a role for elites in public life. Just like I want knowledgeable CEOs running companies and knowledgeable doctors performing surgeries, I want knowledgeable legislators crafting public policy. That's why we have a representative democracy, rather than some form of government-by-referendum. But of late, the elites in the Republican Party are abdicating their roles, preferring to pander to the desire for free tax cuts and the hostility to Al Gore than make tough and potentially unpopular decisions to safeguard our future. —Ezra Klein, "The Failure of Conservative Elites"

    William Blake, "A Poison Tree"

    I was angry with my friend:
    I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
    I was angry with my foe:
    I told it not, my wrath did grow.
    And I watered it in fears
    Night and morning with my tears,
    And I sunned it with smiles
    And with soft deceitful wiles.
    And it grew both day and night,
    Till it bore an apple bright,
    And my foe beheld it shine,
    And he knew that it was mine, —
    And into my garden stole
    When the night had veiled the pole;
    In the morning, glad, I see
    My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Just one more thing

    One thing I've learned since I started writing this blog is that conservative bloggers hate Meghan McCain. This is what Lori Ziganto recently said about her and McCain's recent Daily Beast article: "The very first paragraph alone divulges Meghan McCain's real problem; childish jealousy due to a gigantic, and unwarranted, ego mixed with a delusional persecution complex. She's like Jan Brady, only not as groovy."

    Ziganto says that McCain's political analysis is "banal" and characterizes McCain's book as "drivel-filled." "Your book was basically a tale told by a useful idiot," writes Ziganto. "Full of shrieking sound and temper tantrum fury, signifying nothing." And that's not all. According to Ziganto, McCain "thinks incredibly highly of herself for no discernible reason" and "has no leadership qualities whatsoever, nor any original thoughts of her own." 

    But I want to focus on one passage in Ziganto's post in particular:
    [McCain] talks a big game about a "big tent." Except, by big tent she means very exclusive tent consisting only of people who agree with her and who, she desperately hopes, will worship her while they're at it. Those who disagree with her need not apply. Tolerance for me, but not for thee, says Meghan. She's not a fan of diversity, particularly not of diversity of thought.
    Ziganto appears to be castigating McCain for allegedly shunning those who disagree with her. McCain is not the only person Ziganto has abused for this particular crime. Consider what Ziganto said about Gloria Steinem recently:
    Gloria Steinem recently said conservative women cannot be Feminists. Cannot. Why? Because you are anti-woman if you are pro-life. Many other faux-feminists, or femisogynists, have been flapping their soy-drinking gums with outrageous, and shrieking, outrage in a similar vein. “Oh noes!” they say “Conservative women are trying to steal Feminism! They can’t be feminists. They are icky!” Um. Selective support for only “the right kind” of woman and slamming the doors you claim to open right in their faces is antithetical to actual feminism. Shatter that glass ceiling, but only if you do it by walking in lock-step with us!
    Again, the problem with Steinem, according to Ziganto, is that she shuns conservative women, i.e., women with whom she disagrees. And consider an exchange on Twitter between Amanda Marcotte and Ziganto. Marcotte tweeted, "I don't know why women who aren't feminists want to be called 'feminist' anyway. Do they think we get special discounts or something?" In response to Marcotte, Ziganto tweeted, "Not feminists? Saying some women don't meet yr assy club standards is antithetical to Feminism. Not very For The Women-y!" Again, Ziganto criticizes someone for shunning those who disagree with her, but this time she goes even further: she claims that shunning women who disagree is "antithetical to Feminism."

    Ziganto has declared that she herself is a feminist. I am not making this up. Ziganto writes:
    I’ve said before that one day I hope to take back the term Feminist, as it has been bastardized beyond any recognizable meaning. I lied. I’m doing it now. I am a Feminist. [Feminists] are not. They are, at best, Faux Feminists and, at worst, misogynists. In fact, I think they require a new term: Fem-ogynists.
    Great. So I take it that Ziganto herself, being a feminist, is against shunning those who disagree with her, since it's "antithetical to Feminism." In fact, she congratulates herself for attending the so-called "Smart Girl 2010 Summit" with "the strong and diverse group of women, and the men who support them, who are at the center of the Conservative movement today." All right, then.

    Just one more thing.

    How are we to understand this other post in which Ziganto says the following to one Meghan McCain:
    If you were truly brave, you would actually, you know, discuss Conservative principles. You would STAND UP for conservatives, not constantly deride them. You would applaud them, not mock them. You would work WITH them, not against them.
    Come to think of it, why does Ziganto abuse McCain so savagely? I know they disagree on a number of issues. McCain is apparently not conservative enough for Ziganto. But McCain is a woman, and Ziganto wouldn't want to shun her, would she? But it sure seems as if that's exactly what she's doing. Ziganto writes, "Meghan must believe in antiquated stereotypes of the Republican Party, perpetuated by her buddies in the media, that are not true." Is that why she is abusing McCain? They don't agree about the truth of the stereotype? It just doesn't seem very for-the-women-y to me. I mean, you know, with feminists celebrating diversity of thought. Well, whatever it is, I'm sure Ziganto can explain her apparently hypocritical behavior. Perhaps someday she will!

    Bonus Comment

    Can you find the problem with the following sentence from McCain's article?
    The further I got into my book tour last month, the more paranoia set in as I started questioning the idea that the only thing that made me interesting to some people was my association with Sarah Palin.
    Me neither. Grammarian-in-training Ziganto believes that there is something wrong with the phrase "questioning the idea," but I have no idea why. One sense of the verb "to question" is "to subject to analysis." Can't ideas be subjected to analysis? I thought they could. 

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Feminism defined

    In this Slate DoubleX entry, Amanda Marcotte explains the concept of feminism:
    I thought Lisa Jervis, co-founder of Bitch, overstated the case in a piece she wrote five years ago when she denounced the feminist obsession with women. She suggested that feminists should stop wasting their time celebrating women and get back to dismantling the construct of gender. But now that we have Sarah Palin running around claiming to be a feminist just because she happens to be an ambitious woman, I'm beginning to see that Jervis was exactly right. So, if I was given the power to say who is and isn't a feminist—and I'm just going to lay claim to that power right now—I'd go with Jervis' definition: Real feminists support a society in which biological gender 'doesn't determine social roles or expected behavior.' Sarah Palin is only onboard with that project when it suits her ambitions. She opposes the old-fashioned rule that women can't be political leaders. But as she rejects the rest of the feminist project, since at the end of the day feminism is about bringing an end to patriarchy. Considering that few things are more critical to the maintenance of the patriarchy than controlling women's reproduction, yes, I'm happy to say that opponents of legal abortion can't be feminists. Suggesting otherwise is like saying that owners of factory farms can be animal rights activists. 
    Follow the link and you can also read the thoughts of Amy Bloom, Nora Ephron, Katha Pollitt, and Anna Holmes on the subject. Pollitt's definition is closest to my own:
    Feminism is a social justice movement dedicated to the social, political, economic, and cultural equality of women and men, and to the right of every woman to set her own course in life. 
    I quote Marcotte's at length, however, because it seems to me that she is getting at something fundamental: as long as the patriarchy lasts, then we can't really say that women who have set their own courses in life have achieved equality, since the menu of available life-courses is liable to have been determined by men in advance. At least, I think that's what Marcotte is getting at. The idea is more concisely expressed by one of the definitions of "feminism" provided by Holmes:
    A convenient, seemingly benign, stand-in descriptor for submissiveness to the patriarchy, i.e., the foundation of former SNL comedian Victoria Jackson's definition of Sarah Palin's feminist credentials: "… a feminine woman achieving goals with the blessing of her man, while she simultaneously supports his career endeavors and celebrates his masculinity." 

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    A Christian offers a psychopathic defense of morality

    A Facebook friend recently introduced me to the writings of one Matthew Archbold, blogger for the National Catholic Register. Let's just say that he's no St. Thomas Aquinas.

    In his post "Atheists Love You. They Just Don't Know Why," Archbold tries to show that the moral thinking of atheists is somehow dependent on or presupposes his religion.

    Archbold's target is Richard Dawkins' charitable website. The site was created in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti early this year. At that time, Dawkins wrote on the website that "When donating via Non-Believers Giving Aid, you are helping to counter the scandalous myth that only the religious care about their fellow humans." Archbold had this to say about Dawkins' altruistic efforts:
    If he’s helping people because he wants to help people then I almost hate to tell him that he’s kind of supporting some of our arguments. While Dawkins argues that he can be good without God, I think he’s actually only proving that Richard Dawkins can be good while not acknowledging God.

    I have to wonder from what philosophical grounding does Dawkins’ altruism emanate? Why is other human life worth anything if there is no God? From what philosophical groundwork is he basing his good works on? Dawkins, it would seem to me, hasn’t defined his terms and is only borrowing our definition of “good.” Because without our definitions he’d have to ask the question, “What is good without God?” And that’s something I haven’t seen answered yet.

    In fact, I think Dawkin’s efforts to do good is one of the best arguments for innate knowledge of right and wrong.

    I almost hate to inform Mr. Dawkins that his little plot is actually helpful to believers as we believe that no matter what you espouse verbally each man has written on his soul the ability to tell right from wrong. And while Dawkins denies it, his actions indicate otherwise. There is a moral sense which you can ignore but your choosing to ignore or embrace it has no effect on its existence, much like God Himself.
    Let's take Archbold's last point first. Archbold is clearly arguing that one cannot be good without God. In the third and fourth paragraphs, Archbold argues thus:
    Human beings have an innate knowledge of right and wrong.
    Therefore, no one can be good without God. 
    This argument is obviously question-begging. For the conclusion does not follow without additional premises, which are (2) and (3) below:
    1. Human beings have an innate knowledge of right and wrong. 
    2. Only God can be the source of an innate knowledge of right and wrong.
    3. An innate knowledge of right and wrong is necessary to do good. 
    4. Therefore, no one can be good without God. 
    Now, what reason has Archbold given the atheist to accept (2)? None. His readers will certainly accept it. But as a moral argument against atheism, this is a bush-league pile of shit, because it convinces only those who already agree with him.

    In the second paragraph, Archbold asserts that God is the source of morality. The only argument he appears to give for this assertion is this: there is no other possible source of morality. Unfortunately, his lone premise is false. In Atheism: A Brief Insight (New York: Sterling, 2009), Julian Baggini writes:
    [A]t the very root of morality is a kind of empathy or concern for the welfare of others, a recognition that their welfare also counts. This is, for most of us, a basic human instinct. Total indifference to the welfare of others is not normal human behavior, it is symptomatic of what we would normally call mental illness. Its most extreme form is that of the psychopath, who has no sense of the inner life of others at all. This recognition of the value of others is not a logical premise but a psychological one. If we accept it, then we have the starting point for all the thinking and reasoning about ethics that help us to make better decisions and become better people. But the truth of the premise, the fundamental conviction that others do count, is not something that can be demonstrated by logic. . . . Moral reasoning can only get going if we have a basic altruistic impulse to begin with (66). 
    There is another possible source of morality: a basic altruistic impulse. Archbold would credit my possession of this impulse to a benevolent creator, but as we have seen, he has given us no reason whatsoever to believe that such a creator exists. The best evidence available to me that one can be good without God is that I actually am good without God. I am an atheist, and I and the atheists I know often have a greater capacity for morality than theists I know. And that is a fact.

    The key statement Archbold makes is, "Why is other human life worth anything if there is no God?" The problem with Archbold's religion is that it is psychopathic. In his post, Archbold speculates that Dawkins' real motivations aren't exactly pure. Archbold writes, "If Dawkins is running this charity to show up religion and helping Haitians is only a secondary consequence then we could hardly claim that what he’s doing is good by most definitions." But notice this: when helping fellow human beings, Christians always have an ulterior motive, i.e., to do what pleases God. And Archbold seems to admit that this ulterior motive is actually their only motive, for if God does not exist, then they have no reason to help their fellow human beings at all.

    The atheist helps her fellow human being whether it pleases anyone else or not, simply because it is the right thing to do. As Baggini writes,
    [T]he average ethical atheist actually appears to have more moral merit than the average ethical religious believer. The reason for this is that religion, with its threat of punishment and promise of reward, introduces a nonmoral incentive to be moral that is absent in atheism (58).
    Having such nonmoral, prudential reasons to be moral "appears to undermine morality rather than support it," writes Baggini. "Acting morally because it is in one's own best interest to do so does not seem to be acting morally at all" (63).

    I believe that most Christians are not psychopaths. Their moral sense is as strong as mine or any atheist's. But Christians are being indoctrinated into accepting a psychopathic philosophy of morality, according to which the only reason they have to do what they know is right is that God has commanded them to. That, combined with atrophied or non-existent critical thinking skills, can produce psychopathic behavior.

    If there is one thing that disgusts me these days, it's theists who complain that they are oppressed and yet attack atheists with pseudo-intellectual garbage. Archbold doesn't know the first thing about philosophical groundings. He should leave the philosophy to the experts.

    Update. Denying that morality is grounded in religion does not entail that God does not exist. God, rather than being the creator of morality, would instead be an infallible detector or discoverer of it. Even though I am an atheist, I have not argued for atheism here. Even theists can therefore endorse my objections to Archbold's amateurish post.

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    Catholics can shovel it just as well as anyone else

    One of my Facebook friends posted this blog post from the National Catholic Register by Matthew Archbold. Archbold quotes, at length, this interview at the New York Times with former Planned Parenthood head Gloria Feldt. (And it is important that Archbold frame his post for his Catholic audience by associating Feldt with Planned Parenthood, naturally.) Regarding women who "flee the work force," Feldt states:
    They make it harder for the rest of us to remedy the inequities that remain. We have to make young women aware of how their choices affect other women. It should be acceptable criticism to point out that, although everyone has the right to make their own life decisions, choosing to “opt out” reinforces stereotypes about women’s priorities that we’ve been working for decades to shatter, so just cut it out. And, the “individual choice” women have to become stay-at-home moms becomes precarious when they try to return to the workplace and find their earning power and options reduced. If we could see child-rearing as a necessary task and not an identity, and if we could collectively recognize that facilitating it benefits us all, we would go much further in guaranteeing women’s choices than we do when we are expected to uncritically celebrate every individual’s decisions.
    Now, Feldt makes some valid points here. It is certainly true that women who return to the workforce after bearing children will not earn as much or have as many options as women who make different choices, and it is in every woman's interest to be aware of this fact when they deliberate about having children. And Feldt does clearly state that "everyone has the right to make their own life decisions."

    Archbold, of course, wants to portray Feldt as some kind of monster:
    So let’s get this straight, the former head of Planned Parenthood is telling women to STOP being so selfish and think of someone other than themselves and their kids? Seriously?
    In short, she wants you to think of Gloria Feldt’s feelings rather than your kids.
    If you thought feminism was all about giving women choices, well it turns out you were wrong. Feminism is about doing what Gloria Feldt wants you to do.
    So now it looks like the Planned Parenthood folks are not only doing their best to to make sure women don’t have children but now they’re saying that if you do mistakenly have children you should at least be 21st century enough not to take care of them.
    Read those four paragraphs again, carefully. Does Archbold make a single true assertion in any of them? No:
    • Feldt would like women to think not only of their own kids but also other women. (Since when is thinking of others a bad thing?) 
    • Feldt is not saying that women ought to think about Feldt's feelings. 
    • Feminism is not about doing what Feldt wants us to do. 
    • And Feldt is not saying that people shouldn't take care of their children. She is saying that child-rearing is a necessary task the facilitation of which would benefit us all, is she not?
    Archbold, are you a freaking idiot, or are you just irresponsible? What is your problem?

    Archbold's assertions are not only false, they are laughably absurd. Think about it: why on earth would anyone actually demand that you not take care of your own kids? If you're willing to believe that feminists want us to neglect our children, then you already believe that feminists are monsters. Do we really have to assure everyone that they're not? Sure, there may be feminists here and there who actually believe that children ought to be neglected (and surely there are a few conservatives out there who agree with them), but are they typical of feminists in general? From the fact that the Catholic Church has been crawling with pedophile priests, I could just as easily infer that Catholics love to molest children, couldn't I? Why does Archbold enjoy sexually assaulting children? I might ask.

    No one in Archbold's audience will take issue with anything he says. But it's obvious that Archbold is dealing not with feminism but a caricature of feminism, a straw man. Archbold takes the comments of one feminist, distorts them, and then claims that the distorted version is typical of feminism in general.

    Hey, Archbold: I'm a feminist, and you don't have a fucking clue what we stand for.

    Such are the products of bullshitters. Catholics can shovel it just as well as anyone else, can't they?

    Update: I wish to thank Feldt for posting a link to this analysis. I'm happy to help.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    Three from Eddie Jobson / Zinc

    "Listen to Reason," "Through the Glass," and "Transporter II" from The Green Album (1983)

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

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    Equality and self-determination for women is harmful to women?

    For your amusement, I have reproduced a debate conducted via Twitter today between Amanda Marcotte in one corner and Snark and Boobs (a.k.a. Lori Ziganto) and Moms4SarahPalin in the other. And I did so in a creepily obsessed manner (he said sarcastically).
    AmandaMarcotte I don't know why women who aren't feminists want to be called "feminist" anyway. Do they think we get special discounts or something?
    Moms4SarahPalin @AmandaMarcotte excuse me, but doesn't being FEMALE qualify one to be a feminist? Since when did liberals own the word?
    AmandaMarcotte @Moms4SarahPalin It's not what's between your legs that makes you feminist. It's what's in your head. Only conservatives could confuse it.
    snarkandboobs .@AmandaMarcotte *Not* Feminists? Saying some women don't meet yr assy club standards is antithetical to Feminism. Not very For The Women-y!
    AmandaMarcotte @snarkandboobs Why do you want to be a feminist if you disagree with all the actual ideas of feminism?
    snarkandboobs @AmandaMarcotte Yeah, no. YOU don't understand what it actually is. You've twisted Feminism to lock-step w/Lefty agenda, HARMFUL to women
    AmandaMarcotte @snarkandboobs Again, I ask. If you disagree with the ideas, why want the title? Is it because you're insecure and desperate for approval?
    Moms4SarahPalin @AmandaMarcotte well that's pretty clear, because most feminists look like men's rather confusing. Is Barney Frank a feminist?
    AmandaMarcotte @Moms4SarahPalin So, if you hate feminists so much, why do you want the title?
    snarkandboobs .@AmandaMarcotte I don't want nor need the title. Clearly you do as part of your desperate quest for perpetual victimhood.
    AmandaMarcotte @snarkandboobs Yet, you're so angry that I would kick you out of the club? If it's such a hateful club, why do you want in? Sounds insecure.
    AmandaMarcotte @snarkandboobs I wouldn't be like, "No, I'm the real Tea Cracker!" I don't want to be in that club.
    snarkandboobs @AmandaMarcotte PS Modern day faux-feminists are the ones who are antithetical to feminism. Hence your lame attempts to "disqualify" women
    AmandaMarcotte @snarkandboobs I'm confused. You want in or not? You say yes, you say no. It's awfully confusing.
    Moms4SarahPalin @AmandaMarcotte btw, I don't "hate" feminists, I pity them.
    AmandaMarcotte @Moms4SarahPalin Then why so angry that I accurately say that you aren't a feminist?
    AmandaMarcotte @snarkandboobs As for "victimhood", I'm not the one crying about not being allowed in a club of people I openly hate.
    snarkandboobs @AmandaMarcotte Don't give a crap what you do. Just pointing out YR hypocrisy. Can't claim to be "4 the women" when all you do is ANTI woman
    AmandaMarcotte @snarkandboobs You don't give a crap what I do, and yet you obsessively follow me and whine and whine at me. I don't believe you.
    Moms4SarahPalin @AmandaMarcotte and who are you to define feminism? what is a feminist to you? i'd love to hear your definition.
    AmandaMarcotte @Moms4SarahPalin Believes that we should end the patriarchy and install equality and self-determination for women instead.
    Moms4SarahPalin @AmandaMarcotte you saying I believe that, or that that's your definition?
    AmandaMarcotte @Moms4SarahPalin That is pretty much *the* definition. Saying feminists want to end sexism is like saying Christians believe in god.
    snarkandboobs @amandamarcotte You're slipping. So many "you are insecure" comments, yet you haven't devolved to sex stuff yet. Shocking.
    snarkandboobs @AmandaMarcotte You really are obtuse. It's kinda sad. I'd feel sorry for you if you didn't, you know, excuse *actual* misogyny all the time
    snarkandboobs @AmandaMarcotte Obsessively? Okay, Meggie Mac. Anyway, your stupidity amuses me. Your hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance is HE-Larious.
    Confused? Don't be. Read Marcotte's primer "A Short History of "Feminist" Anti-Feminists."

    Oh, and by the way, I thought I should tell you that I am a real conservative. That's right! You see, my support of regulation of the markets is actually pro-business, because the Republican party's deregulation of those markets is bad for business. Not very for-the-corporation-y, Republicans! And they call themselves conservatives! 

    Well, at least neither of us has ever been a witch.

    I know posts like this one will be popping up everywhere, but I couldn't help myself.

    Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell claims that she is not a witch. Furthermore, she claims that she is me:

    But how could you be me, Christine? After reading this laundry list of your positions on the issues, I don't see how you could be me. For
    • The fact that the whole country is having sex does not bother me
    • I don't believe that condom distribution causes AIDS 
    • I see nothing wrong with contraception
    • I don't believe that wives must submit to their husbands
    • I have no problem with women attending military academies
    • I am against overturning Roe v. Wade
    • I am not afraid of homosexuals and I don't believe that they are sick
    • I think gay bashing is a serious problem
    • I believe that the scientific evidence for the truth of evolution is overwhelming
    • I never dabbled in witchcraft
    • I am an atheist
    • I believe that Satanism and rock music are two different things
    • I believe in the separation of church and state, and I don't blame school shootings on a lack of organized prayer in public schools
    • I am liberal and pro-American
    • I don't believe in death panels
    • I don't believe that Britney Spears is dangerous
    • I am not some right-wing nutjob 
    I hope that clarifies things.

    Klein counters RedState-fueled hysteria

    Just in time for the election season, folks on the right are trying to turn health care reform into a liability for the Democrats.

    Consider the lather RedState bloggers have worked themselves into. (Did I just end a sentence with a preposition? Oh, dear! What will Leon Wolf think?Erick Erickson complains that the Obama administration is going to give waivers to corporations to mitigate the "devastating effects of Obamacare." Brian Simpson complains that very few people will opt for the high risk pools created by health care reform (without mentioning, of course, that high risk pools were also proposed by Republicans). Ben Domenech complains that "HHS has missed one-third of the deadlines contained within the legislation for the first six months under Obama’s new health care regime." Brian Simpson compiled a short laundry list of problems, ranging from the refusal by some insurance companies to issue child-only insurance policies to 3M's decision to reimburse retirees' purchase of health insurance rather than sponsoring a health care plan for them.

    Of course, had health care reform not been watered down, perhaps none of these problems would have surfaced. Maybe those waivers would not have been necessary. Certainly the high risk pools wouldn't have been necessary. Single-payer was the best solution, but Democrats took it off the table at the very beginning.

    Ezra Klein gave us a reality check this morning. Health care reform will bring an end to practices that ought to end. One of the complains Brian Simpson makes is that health care reform will bring an end to McDonald's "mini-med" coverage. This is actually a good thing. According to Klein, Sen. Chuck Grassley actually called McDonald's mini-med coverage "not better than nothing." "The point of health-care reform," writes Klein, "was to get people into real insurance and protect them from illusory plans that run out when they get sick." The consequence of health care reform, according to Klein, will be
    a vastly better health-care system, where 32 million more people have coverage and where tens of millions of more are in far better plans than they would've had without the law. But that will require changes in some of the worst plans, and on the part of some of the worst employers and insurers.
    Which is worse: the coming changes, or the status quo?

    RedState bloggers complain about these changes, but from the fact that changes are coming, it doesn't follow that catastrophe is on the horizon. And if Republicans really are worried, rather than calling for the repeal of health care reform, they ought to be calling for strengthening it.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    I just like the graph . . . a lot.

    Here is one person's "brief, subjective guide to the baseball playoffs":

    The person is Tom Scocca, and you can read more about the graph here.

    As for me, my Cubs's season is over (as usual).

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    My enthusiastic agreement with a conservative blogger . . .

    . . . and the patron saint of the Republican Party

    I happened to notice a post on Andrew Sullivan's blog about South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint yesterday. According to Sullivan, DeMint has said that
    “People are beginning to see that there's no way we can pay the interest on our debt and every week, we're borrowing money to pay the debt we have and are creating new programs that are costing more money,” he said. “Hopefully in 2012, we'll make headway to repeal some of the things we've done, because politics only works when we're realigned with our Savior.” 
    Sullivan also reports that
    DeMint said if someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn't be teaching in the classroom and he holds the same position on an unmarried woman who's sleeping with her boyfriend — she shouldn't be in the classroom. “(When I said those things,) no one came to my defense,” he said. “But everyone would come to me and whisper that I shouldn't back down. They don't want government purging their rights and their freedom to religion.”
    (Sullivan's source appears to be

    Sullivan objects to DeMint's attack on homosexuals. "'Freedom to religion' [sic] means firing gay high school teachers. Fiscal conservatism is to 'realign with our Savior.' On gay high school teachers, it's worth remembering that Ronald Reagan as long ago as 1978 aligned with Harvey Milk in opposing discrimination in the Brigg's Initiative," Sullivan writes.

    Sullivan cited a piece by Dale Carpenter posted at the Independent Gay Forum about Reagan's views. As it turns out, there is one issue on which Reagan and I agree.

    Reagan was "anti-gay;" I am most certainly not. But Reagan was also admirably tolerant toward homosexuality in his politics, and it is on this point that Reagan and I agree. According to Carpenter, biographer Lou Cannon claims that
    Reagan was "respectful of the privacy of others" and was "not the sort of person who bothers about what people do in their own bedrooms." This attitude was consistent with Reagan's larger philosophical commitment to individual liberty and limited government. 
    Cannon also states that Reagan was "repelled by the aggressive public crusades against homosexual life styles which became a staple of right wing politics in the late 1970s." Reagan was courageous in his battle against religious conservatives:
    In 1978, for example, Reagan vigorously opposed a California ballot initiative sponsored by religious conservatives that would have barred homosexuals from teaching in the public schools. The timing is significant because he was then preparing to run for president, a race in which he would need the support of conservatives and moderates very uncomfortable with homosexual teachers. As Cannon puts it, Reagan was "well aware that there were those who wanted him to duck the issue" but nevertheless "chose to state his convictions."
    In defense of his position, Reagan wrote at the time, "Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this."

    While Reagan could not condone homosexuality, then, he could not accept unjustified discrimination against homosexuals. DeMint looks like some time traveler from the 1950's by comparison.

    And this brings me to that blogger I mentioned earlier. Killtruck defended Ann Coulter's decision to speak to GOPROUD, a gay conservative group, at HomoCon in New York City last month. It appears that WorldNutDaily chose to punish Coulter for her decision. Killtruck writes,
    Color me radical and unconservative.  It’s one thing to be against gay marriage.  Many conservatives are against gay marriage for a variety of reasons, some of them are even related homosexuality.  But WorldNetDaily seems to just be against gay people.  Much like the Ground Zero Mosque (Park 51 hates it when you call it Ground Zero Mosque, so be sure to call it that every time), WorldNetDaily has every right to drop Ann Coulter for any stupid reason they want, and I still have the right to express my opinion that they are homophobic dinosaurs and big jerkfaces. 
    Killtruck goes on to say, "I’d like to go into how great the gay conservatives I’ve gotten to know are, but there’s no way to do it without sounding patronizing."

    I doubt that I would agree with Killtruck on much else; it sounds as if we most certainly would not agree on the issue of the proposed mosque in New York City. (And why must you do something that other people hate? Is it just to be an asshole?) But I do agree with her on one thing, enthusiastically: homophobia is wrong. Of course, I would go further than Killtruck: Killtruck seems to suggest that some forms of legal discrimination against homosexuals are acceptable, and I find any form of legal discrimination against homosexuals completely unacceptable. Killtruck does, however, support civil unions for homosexuals, as do I. And for that, she deserves praise. Her views on this issue are actually pretty sophisticated and nuanced and progressive, and I respect that.

    Yes, it's true: I agree with a Snark and Boobs blogger, on these two small things, at least.

    Now, all conservatives have to do is give me one good reason to think that homosexuality is wrong or that homosexuals should be discriminated against. I haven't seen one yet, and I've seen a lot of bad arguments on this topic in my time. A lot. So, good luck with that.

    By the way, Conservative, the polling appears to indicate that you would do well to follow politicians who are more like Reagan and less like DeMint. Your choice.

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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