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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Sunday, 26 March 2006
Hot Off The Virtual Press
Topic: Announcements

Hot Off The Virtual Press

Just Above Sunset logoThe new issue of Just Above Sunset, the weekly magazine-format site that is parent to this daily web log, is now online. This is Volume 4, Number 13 for the week of March 26, 2006.

This week, five extended commentaries on current events, opening with the implications of that longitudinal study of childhood personality, showing what sort of folks grow up to be conservative and which liberal - the implications are wide. Then there was that shift from the administration this week with a press conference that puzzled everyone, followed by events in Wheeling, which led everyone to think about the relationship of competence to credibility. And there's the constant buzz - the Feingold censure business and some odd alternatives from New York, peak oil and the end of the world, some infighting at the Supreme Court about your privacy rights, and, by the way, everyone hates atheists. And at the end of the week, a real good press scandal - the Washington Post gets burned bad and the conservative community mightily embarrassed (a two-fer) - with its implications regarding just what the press is actually supposed to do these days (suggestions are offered, of course).

In a separate column a famous scientist says some cold things about religion, and looks at this heaven business and decides it sounds perfectly awful. Actually he says much more than that.

The photography is deep and mixed - an architectural study with amazing colors, two extended visits to Hollywood landmarks, an homage to Georgia O'Keeffe and two pages of special botanicals, close-up and detailed, perhaps even suitable for framing.

And there's a new feature starting this week, the WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL, in special arrangement with a site for such.

And there are the usual quotes. With that fellow in Afghanistan sentenced to death for converting to Christianity from Islam sixteen years ago, and with the world-renowned scientist from Harvard suggesting religion is simply an evolutionary adaptation, you'll find new quotes on religion, even one from Joan Rivers.

Our Man in Paris, Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, isn't. He's on his way to New York for a visit there. His column will return later.

Direct links to specific pages -

Extended Observations on Current Events ______________________

Personal Politics: The game is winding down, the one started on the nursery school playground...
Defiance: The Press Conference From Another Planet
Credibility
The Buzz: Issues on the Table, and Odd Ideas
Irreconcilable Differences

Ideas ______________________

Troublemaker: The Ant Man Speaks

Southern California Photography ______________________

Color: The Pacific Design Center
Old Hollywood: Raymond Chandler Square
Frank's Place: The Capitol Records Building
Georgia O'Keeffe
Unknown Botanicals
Known Botanicals

___

The Weird: WEIRD, BIZARRE and UNUSUAL
Quotes for the week of March 26, 2006 - Religion in the News

___

Posted by Alan at 16:13 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 26 March 2006 16:19 PST home

Saturday, 25 March 2006
Troublemaker: The Ant Man Speaks
Topic: God and US

Troublemaker: The Ant Man Speaks

The Man
E. O. Wilson, or Edward Osborne Wilson, (born June 10, 1929) is an American entomologist and biologist known for his work on ecology, evolution, and sociobiology. He currently is the Pellegrino Research Professor in Entomology, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, at Harvard University.

Wilson's specialty is ants. He is famous for starting the sociobiology debate, one of the greatest scientific controversies of the late 20th century, when he suggested in his Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) that animal (and by extension human) behavior can be studied using an evolutionary framework. He is also credited with bringing the term biodiversity to the public.

Wilson's many scientific and conservation honors include the 1990 Crafoord Prize, a 1976 U.S. National Medal of Science, and two Pulitzer Prizes. In 1995 he was named by Time Magazine as one of the 25 most influential people in America.
There's much more at the link. This is the fellow who argued that the preservation of the gene, rather than the individual, is the focus of evolution. Richard Dawkins did a riff on that in The Selfish Gene (1989), a book that caused some stir arguing that all human behavior, even altruism, is a non-conscious attempt to forward our own particular genes on in time, or some such thing - we're all puppets but we really should know about the strings.

Dawkins is a "popularizer" explaining things in simple terms. Wilson is the real deal, as you see it what he's written -
Nature Revealed: Selected Writings 1949-2006, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore. ISBN 0801883296
The Theory of Island Biogeography, 1967, Princeton University Press (2001 reprint), ISBN 0691088365 - with Robert H. MacArthur
Insect Societies, 1971, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674454901
Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, 1975, Belknap Press, ISBN 0674816218
Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition, 2000, Belknap Press, ISBN 0674000897
On Human Nature, 1978, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674634411 - Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Genes, Mind and Culture: The coevolutionary process, 1981, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-34475-8
Promethean fire: reflections on the origin of mind, 1983, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-71445-8
Biophilia, 1984, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674074416
Success and Dominance in Ecosystems: The Case of the Social Insects, 1990, Inter-Research, ISSN 0932-2205
The Ants, 1990, Belknap Press, ISBN 0674040759 - Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, with Bert Holldobler
The Diversity of Life, 1992, Belknap Press, ISBN 0674212983
The Biophilia Hypothesis, 1993, Shearwater Books, ISBN 1559631481 - with Stephen R. Kellert
Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration, 1994, Belknap Press, ISBN 0674485254 - with Bert Holldobler
Naturalist, 1994, Shearwater Books, ISBN 1559632887
In Search of Nature, 1996, Shearwater Books, ISBN 1559632151 - with Laura Simonds Southworth
Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1998, Knopf, ISBN 0679450777
The Future of Life, 2002, Knopf, ISBN 0679450785
Pheidole in the New World: A Dominant, Hyperdiverse Ant Genus, 2003, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674002938
From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin's Four Great Books 2005, W. W. Norton
Of course in this day and age Wilson is something like the antichrist to the Intelligent Design crowd. That last title is his annotated complication of Darwin's works, or four of them. With recently polling show more than half of all Americans believing that the biblical account is creation is literally true, it's a wonder Norton published it. Why bother? But he has argued, again and again, with evidence, that what we do, and what we call aggression, altruism and hypocrisy, are just adaptations. They can be explained mechanistically. This put him at the center of one of the greatest scientific controversies of the last fifty years. He pretty much started it.

This God stuff, even this free-will stuff, may be nonsense.

What He's Saying Now

Wilson now is being a bit more blunt, if possible, and that came up this week here -

Religious Belief Itself is an Adaptation
Sociobiology founder Edward O. Wilson explains why we're hard-wired to form tribalistic religions, denies that "evolutionism" is a faith, and says that heaven, if it existed, would be hell.
Steve Paulson, SALON.COM, March 21, 2006

That's a hoot.

This is an interview Wilson gave Paulson before Wilson gave a sold-out lecture at the University of Wisconsin, and it's full of starting comments. It's a fascinating read, if you're willing to watch a brief ad to get to it (it's worth it).

What follows are some highlights with comment, only a sample.

Paulson does note that sociobiology, that once got everyone so upset, is now pretty much mainstream. Universities have departments for it now. The good old days are gone as when -
Fellow Harvard biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin denounced sociobiology, saying it provided a genetic justification for racism and Nazi ideology. Wilson's classes were picketed. In one famous incident, demonstrators at a scientific meeting stormed the stage where he was speaking and dumped a pitcher of water over his head, chanting, "Wilson, you're all wet!"
Wilson does upset people. And that book Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge does have "the effect of elevating science at the expense of religion and the arts. In his view, knowledge of the world ultimately comes down to chemistry, biology and - above all - physics; people are just extremely complicated machines. Paulson also notes that Wendell Berry called this scientific reductionism, and a "modern superstition."

Anyway, the two of them talked "about Darwin and the growing rift between science and religion, as well as Wilson's own take on religion - his 'provisional deism' and his personal horror of an eternal afterlife in heaven.

Cool. Provisional deism? Thomas Jefferson and his fellow deist might have been onto something.

There's much here on the new Darwin editions, and on Darwin's being deeply religious, then shifting - "But what really turned him against religion was the doctrine of damnation. He said if the Bible is true, you must be redeemed in Christ and be a believer in order to go to heaven. And others will be condemned. And that includes my brothers and all my best friends. And he said that is a damnable doctrine. Those are his words."

Darwin would have little use for Pat Robertson, who called for Disneyworld to be destroyed by God (a hurricane would be handy) when they hosted a gay event, for something the same for Dover in Pennsylvania when they voted out the school board after his side lost the Intelligent Design case, who saw Ariel Sharon's stroke as God's punishment for the Gaza real estate deal, who called for the assassination of the president of Venezuela. Pat Robertson has little sue for Darwin of course. Maybe the whole thing does revolve around damnation. Pat's in favor.

As for Intelligent Design itself, there's that recent statement from Vatican's scientific spokesmen - the Church has no problem with Darwin and evolution. It's perfectly acceptable - evolution is just God's way of "creating the diversity of life." But you can still be religious - the human soul was injected by God, as they would have it, and that's just another matter entirely. So we're just talking two different things. They do the soul stuff. Darwin and Wilson can do the evolution stuff. Peaceful coexistence.

Maybe. Is there such a thing as a soul? What is it? What about neuroscience and all the discoveries of how the brain works and center for cognition and emotion and all the rest?

Wilson - "Yeah, that's the dilemma. Of course, there is no reconciliation between the theory of evolution by natural selection and the traditional religious view of the origin of the human mind."

Oh. This brain and soul stuff is a problem - "Well, you have to choose between the scientific materialist view of the origin of the mind on the one side, and the traditional religious view that the spirit and the mind are independent of the process of evolution and eventually non-corporeal, capable of leaving the body and going elsewhere."

It seems you have to just believe in that soul. The evidence points the other way.

Note this exchange -
Paulson: This is not a view that all scientists subscribe to. Stephen Jay Gould famously talked about how science and religion are two entirely separate spheres. And they really didn't have anything to do with each other.

Wilson: Yeah, he threw in the towel.

Paulson: He dodged the question.

He dodged the question, famously. That's no answer at all. That's evasion. I think most scientists who give thought to this with any depth - who understand evolution - take pretty much the position that I've taken. For example, in the National Academy of Sciences, which presumably includes many of the elite scientists in this country, a very large number would fully accept the scientific view. I know it's 80 percent or more who said, on the issue of the immortality of the soul, they don't care.
They don't care? No, they don't. They're on the trail of what can be figured out.

But is there common ground? Wilson is having none of it - "The only common ground that I see is the one that was approached by Darwin himself. Religious belief itself is an adaptation that has evolved because we're hard-wired to form tribalistic religions. Religion is intensely tribalistic. A devout Christian or Muslim doesn't say one religion is as good as another. It gives them faith in the particular group to which they belong and that set of beliefs and moral views."

So we're hard-wired for religion. It's just another evolutionary adaptation. This guy will be shot sooner or later.

What went wrong here (or right, depending on your point of view)-

This -
Paulson: You grew up in a religious family?

Wilson: Oh yes, I grew up fundamentalist. I grew up as a Southern Baptist with strict adherence to the Bible, which I read as a youngster. As a child, I was warned by counselors and routine religious training that the truth was in the Bible. Redemption was only in Christ and the world is full of Satanic force. Satan himself perhaps - but certainly his agents, witting and unwitting - would try to make me drop my belief. I had that instilled in me. You have to understand how powerful the religious drive is - the instinct which I consider tribalist but probably necessary - in most societies for continuing day-to-day business.

Paulson: That's an interesting perspective. Basically, you're saying it's necessary but it's wrong.

Wilson: Well, you see, that's the dilemma of the 21st century. Possibly the greatest philosophical question of the 21st century is the resolution of religious faith with the growing realization of the very different nature of the material world. You could say that we evolved to accept one truth - the religious instinct - but then discovered another. And having discovered another, what are we to do? You might say it's just best to go ahead and accept the two worldviews and let them live side by side. I see no other solution. I believe they can use their different worldviews to solve some of the great problems - for example, the environment. But generally speaking, the difficulty in saying they can live side by side is a sectarianism in the world today, and traditional religions can be exclusionary and used to justify violence and war. You just can't deny that this is a major problem.
Gee, and he doesn't even mention the war in Iraq and the business with the man in Afghanistan sentenced to death by the new government we installed for converting to Christianity sixteen years ago. He doesn't need to.

So what does he believe? He says he's a provisional deist - "Yeah, I don't want to be called an atheist."

He doesn't want "to exclude the possibility of a creative force or deity." But then this - "I do feel confident that there is no intervention of a deity in the origin of life and humanity." If there is or ever was such a creative force or deity it's long gone, and seems to have nothing to do with who we are and what it all means. Those who created us? "Well, they are now either lurking on the outer reaches of the universe, watching with some amusement as the eons passed, to see how the experiment worked out, or they moved on. Who can say?"

The guy deals in reality. Others don't. And you cannot get around it -
Paulson: Would you like there to be evidence of God? Forget about this as a great scientific discovery. Just personally, given your background, would that be thrilling? Would that be comforting?

Wilson: Well, it would certainly give you a lot of material to study and think about the rest of your time. But you didn't ask me the right question.

Paulson: What's the right question?

Wilson: Would I be happy if I discovered that I could go to heaven forever? And the answer is no. Consider this argument. Think about what is forever. And think about the fact that the human mind, the entire human being, is built to last a certain period of time. Our programmed hormonal systems, the way we learn, the way we settle upon beliefs, and the way we love are all temporary. Because we go through a life's cycle. Now, if we were to be plucked out at the age of 12 or 56 or whenever, and taken up and told, now you will continue your existence as you are. We're not going to blot out your memories. We're not going to diminish your desires. You will exist in a state of bliss - whatever that is - forever. And those who didn't make it are going to be consigned to darkness or hell. Now think, a trillion times a trillion years. Enough time for universes like this one to be born, explode, form countless star systems and planets, then fade away to entropy. You will sit there watching this happen millions and millions of times and that will just be the beginning of the eternity that you've been consigned to bliss in this existence.

Paulson: This heaven would be your hell.

Wilson: Yes. If we were able to evolve into something else, then maybe not. But we are not something else.
We're not something else? Some would disagree, but then Wilson would ask why they think so, as the evidence keeps mounting we're just what we are, thinking and temporary mechanisms, trying to live long and be happy.

And that's not so bad. Wilson thought through the heaven thing. We want that? Best settle for happiness here.

Posted by Alan at 16:23 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006 16:25 PST home

Friday, 24 March 2006
Irreconcilable Differences
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

Irreconcilable Differences

Inside Baseball

A week-long drama of interest to political junkies and no one else came to its absurd climax and tacky denouement on Friday, March 24th with this -
In the past 24 hours, we learned of allegations that Ben Domenech plagiarized material that appeared under his byline in various publications prior to washingtonpost.com contracting with him to write a blog that launched Tuesday.

An investigation into these allegations was ongoing, and in the interim, Domenech has resigned, effective immediately.

When we hired Domenech, we were not aware of any allegations that he had plagiarized any of his past writings. In any cases where allegations such as these are made, we will continue to investigate those charges thoroughly in order to maintain our journalistic integrity.

Plagiarism is perhaps the most serious offense that a writer can commit or be accused of. Washingtonpost.com will do everything in its power to verify that its news and opinion content is sourced completely and accurately at all times.

We appreciate the speed and thoroughness with which our readers and media outlets surfaced these allegations. Despite the turn this has taken, we believe this event, among other things, testifies to the positive and powerful role that the Internet can play in the practice of journalism.

We also remain committed to representing a broad spectrum of ideas and ideologies in our Opinions area.

Jim Brady
Executive Editor, washingtonpost.com
What? The sad story is that the Post for some reason decided that they needed a daily web log on their website from a wild-ass conservative. They said it wasn't a matter of seeking "balance" - that would be an admission they were lefties or that they thought they were being seen as such. They said there had been no pressure from the administration to be nicer to the administration. Of course, Dan Froomkin has his "White House Briefing" column weekdays (see Thursday's) that runs on for many pages detailing who said what about events and policy, and many on the right think it's far too breezy, irreverent, and brings up embarrassing absurd things those in power sometimes find themselves saying. And it had become the go-to reference for the political buzz. Was the Domenech web log (blog), "Red America," a way to placate the embarrassed? No, the post said they just thought it would be interesting to give Domenech space and a salary. One suspects they thought, too, that they might grab new readers who had previously been angry at them for that Nixon Watergate stuff that took out an icon on the right, and had been recently angry at them for the stories on our secret worldwide prison system where people we think may know something disappear forever, without a trace. The new guy might help.

Domenech is twenty-four and best known as founder of RedState.com, daily rants from the right, and he's the fellow who edits the books published by the likes of Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt. He's a rising star in the world of conservative chatter. What else? He never went to public school - he was home-schooled by his parents to keep him pure (his father is a White House liaison to the Interior Department and may be involved in helping Jack Abramoff rip off the Indian tribes to fund the Republican Party). He did attend William and Mary, a pretty good college, but he didn't earn a degree. He dropped out, but then became a speechwriter for Tommy Thompson, the former secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The rest is history.

The Post decided this would be good, but then, as Editor and Publisher notes -
Ben Domenech's conservative blog Red America lasted all of three days at the Washington Post. He quit today after numerous examples of alleged plagiarism in his work surfaced. Yesterday, in a separate matter, he had apologized for calling Coretta Scott King a "Communist" the day after her recent funeral.

The highly embarrassing episode for the Post culminated Friday afternoon when washingtonpost.com executive editor Jim Brady published a notice on the Web site announcing that Domenech had "resigned." However, Domenech was then quoted in Human Events, the conservative magazine, as admitting he had been pushed out.
Oh well, the web can be a bitch, and billions of words are indexed. Lift a phrase and Google will find where you stole it in seconds. Those who teach know this - any professor who suspects something is amiss can check in out quickly, and now they do.

Joe Conason here runs down the major items that he just lifted from others, and notes he also just made up a few quotes here and there to prove his points. He stole from many sources - the Post itself, conservative commentary, film reviews - whole paragraphs at a time. The left side of the Internet found it all. The right side, after a flurry of the-hate-America-crowd-is-picking-on-our-prodigy and a lot of huffing and puffing about how the elites didn't understand the heart of America, gave it up. Even Malkin turned on him and said it the evidence was obvious. The guy was a serial plagiarist, claiming he wrote stuff that other people clearly wrote. So the Post caved. They forced him out, and one can only imagine what the real reporters and opinion writers there now think of their bosses.

One of the most influential websites on the left Hullabaloo, has Digby saying this -
The Washington Post hears that Dan Froomkin, White House critic, is disliked by Republicans. Writers themselves feel uncomfortable with (and jealous of) the free-wheeling, critical tone of his online White House column, an irreverent style that is common in modern online journalism (see sister site Slate). They solve the "problem" by hiring the rabidly partisan twenty-four-year-old son of a Bush administration official.

This goes beyond bending over backwards. It's gymnastic contortionism. They are as bewildered by the grassroots fervor of this modern polarized culture...
And Digby explains what's been going on for decades, a growing meme that the elite journalists from the coasts just don't understand the "middle America," but the Republicans do. (Domenech himself started off by saying he spoke for most of America and was saying what everyone really thought - "Red America's citizens are the political majority.")

So what was the Post to do?

Well -
Those journalists who haven't taken the easy way out and simply adopted the GOP worldview (and there are many of them) are so paranoid that they can't trust their own eyes and ears. They are perpetually vulnerable to the manipulations of a cynical Republican establishment that has been pounding the trope for forty years that if a journalist tells a story that is critical of conservatives, he or she is a liberal who is out of touch with the people.

The country is in the middle of several "wars" in both the literal and metaphorical sense. If it was ever called for, the time to "exercise a certain caution, a prudent restraint, in pressing a claim for a plenary indulgence to be in all places at all times the agent of the sovereign public" is long past. The public isn't crying out for "balance," particularly when those who claim to provide it have no earthly idea even how to define it. They are looking for truth. Plain, simple truth.

If the mainstream media hope to even be relevant, much less pressing a claim of plenary indulgence to be agents of the sovereign republic, they must wise up quickly and stop being agents of the right wing propaganda mills. If they don't, they will finally lose the patience of their readers who will turn to the many alternative means of finding information.

I have very mixed feelings about how our country will fare with such a system. I think a thriving democracy needs a vital mainstream press. But since the mainstream press keeps getting punked over and over again by the right wing machine, you have to wonder if it really makes any difference anymore.
Was the Post punked? Maybe so.

But then, there's something implied here that's interesting.

Okay. Fox News makes much of their slogan, "Fair and Balanced." That's code to their savvy viewers - wink, wink, nudge, nudge, we'll tell you how the elitists with their fancy degrees and fancy words are making fun of you and your values, and tell you all your resentments at your constricted and difficult lives are, really, justified. The smart people are making fun of you.

That resentment fuels the Republican Party of course, but Fox is probably more interested in making money than politics per se. Should voters turn the Republicans out of office Fox News could turn on a dime and go the other way.

In any event, for those who are not perpetually resentful about life, that Fox News claims to be "fair and balanced" (subset "no spin") raises a red flag. If you have to insist you are something, it probably isn't so. Heck, all of us figured that our in junior high. The kid who says he's really brave, who says he's really smart, who says he had sex with that cheerleader? Yeah, right. If you have to say it... Bragging carries its own proof of the opposite. Everyone knows that.

CNN and the others do the "report both sides" routine in response to the success of Fox News in the ratings, giving equal time to positions that are based on actual facts and experience, and positions based on outright lies, things that just aren't so in the physical world, and things no one has experienced. This is "not taking sides." Show both sides of everything. Objectivity. What's based on what's observably true is given equal time with what's based on bullshit, however refined. Fair is fair, as with the coverage of whether John Kerry really fought in that war and George Bush was an Air force hero-pilot. You never know. Could be so. Anyone with a conspiracy theory, who thinks God is really a large hyper-intelligent gerbil or whatever, gets serious attention. We're just reporting here.

Time to start a new news network, with Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta. He has the experience. He was one of the key people back in 1980 who created the old Turner CNN. But this network would have a new, complex slogan - "We don't really care much about being fair and balanced, just in reporting the simple, plain truth about what's happening, and if you don't like what you see, don't blame us, as we just told you what's happening, so deal with it and go whine somewhere else."

Not much of slogan. But some might appreciate it.

NASCAR and the grassroots fervor of this modern polarized culture...

In the April 3rd issue of The New Republic you'll find an interesting item from Jonathan Chait, Blue State Blues. It went up on their website Friday, March 24th - a bit early.

The tale here? This -
I blame George W. Bush's election for many ills, and, to that list, I can now add the fact that I have been publicly shamed for not owning a gun. My unwilling confession took place a month ago, while I was being interviewed by the right-wing radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt. He asked me whether I owned a gun and whether I had ever owned a gun (in what seemed to be consciously McCarthyite language). Later, he proceeded with a lengthier inquisition into whether I had friends or relatives in the military. He asked a version of this question some half-dozen times. ("Is there anyone that you want to bring up, like your aunt or your uncle, or the guy down the street?") I volunteered that my next-door neighbor and friend is a naval reservist, but this failed to mollify him. "Do you know anyone who's been back and forth to Iraq and been deployed there?" he asked. Sadly, I was unable to produce any evidence for my defense. In the court of right-wing talk radio, I was convicted of being a blue-state elitist.

This is a very odd cultural moment we find ourselves in, where there is a stigma attached to not owning a gun or not having friends shipped out to Iraq. This isn't a moral question; military service is obviously admirable, but knowing people who serve is no more admirable than knowing people who donate to charity. It's a cultural question. Since Bush's election, and especially since his reelection, liberals have grown painfully aware of the cultural gap with the white working class. The approved liberal posture is cringing self-flagellation. We brought the catastrophe of the Bush administration upon ourselves with our latte-sipping ways, and we must repent. Conservatives are gleefully pressing their advantage. Did you mourn Dale Earnhardt? Do you sport a mullet? Well, why not?
And of course he quotes the New York Times David Brooks in Brooks' book On Paradise Drive where he talks about the people on the coast who think they're so smart because they finished school and can speak and write coherently - "They can't name five NASCAR drivers, though stock-car races are the best-attended sporting events in the country. They can't tell a military officer's rank by looking at his insignia. They may not know what soybeans look like growing in the field."

Chait? -
You don't see liberals taunting NASCAR fans who can't name the host of "Masterpiece Theatre" or conservatives agonizing over their hemorrhaging support among intellectuals. Instead, conservatives have indulged in an orgy of reverse snobbery. Victor Davis Hanson, writing in National Review in the summer of 2004, asserted, with his usual insight, that liberals hate Bush because "he is an unapologetic twanger who likes guns, barbeques, NASCAR, 'the ranch,' and pick-up trucks." Actually, the pickups don't bother us, because we realize that Bush primarily rides in armor-plated limousines like most of us Democrats. But the barbequing is indeed a real sore point. Damn that barbeque-eating president!
Then he says more than a few things about the aborted Domenech web log in the Post, noting the first post there was about how the elitists at the Post never "got" one of the best movies of all time Red Dawn (1984) - "At the outbreak of World War III, Midwestern high school students turned refugees slowly organized themselves into an effective guerilla force to turn back the tide of Soviet invaders." Patrick Swayze leads them. It's pretty awful, but those words were just typed by someone with degrees sitting in Hollywood, just a few miles from the Pacific. The movie is on cable out here now and then, but one must assume it's still playing somewhere in Iowa to cheering crowds, or so Domenech implies.

Irreconcilable differences. Out here, down on the Sunset Strip, another Ferrari passes by. Three of the apartments in the building here are now the home of people from France, and they speak French of all things. The manger speaks Russian, actually Ukrainian. The old woman across the courtyard chats with everyone in mixed Yiddish and English. The retired MGM staff historian here, Austrian, speaks German at times and plays scrabble by the pool with Claudine in French (odd to watch). It's not Iowa here.

What's the plain simple truth about who we are? Are "Red America's citizens are the political majority?"

The "blue states" account for half the population, according to the last census, but Chait notes that "Conservatives cope with this inconvenient fact by redefining blue states as a few urban enclaves and making a fetish of the political map, with its misleadingly large, depopulated red states." And "this is a persuasive point if you believe in the principle of one acre, one vote.

Who knows?

Over at Smirking Chimp there's a pointer to this - "Terri [Schiavo] - MURDERED BY THOSE WHO LOVE COMMUNISM."

That was a long time ago. The fellow must have been watching that Patrick Swayze movie again.

Elitist View

What do we "get" out here on the Blue Left Coast? Friday, March 24th in Los Angeles Times they run something from the Financial Times (UK) on the op-ed page, Madeleine Albright with this -

Good Versus Evil Isn't A Strategy
Bush's worldview fails to see that in the Middle East, power politics is the key.

Oh my. She was Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001, and our UN ambassador for a time. And she's not from Iowa. She was born in what used to be Czechoslovakia, and she speaks fluent Czech and Russian. And she dresses funny.

And she's unhappy with what was released a few day earlier, the Bush administration's new National Security Strategy. You could look it up. It's "More of the Same." She says just call it "The Irony of Iran" and more tragedy than strategy. She says it's Manichean - one of those words Patrick Swayze would never use and makes young Domenech seethe with resentment he'd like to share.

Her points are clear -
It is sometimes convenient, for purposes of rhetorical effect, for national leaders to talk of a globe neatly divided into good and bad. It is quite another, however, to base the policies of the world's most powerful nation upon that fiction. The administration's penchant for painting its perceived adversaries with the same sweeping brush has led to a series of unintended consequences.

For years, the president has acted as if Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein's followers and Iran's mullahs were parts of the same problem. Yet, in the 1980s, Hussein's Iraq and Iran fought a brutal war. In the 1990s, Al Qaeda's allies murdered a group of Iranian diplomats. For years, Osama bin Laden ridiculed Hussein, who persecuted Sunni and Shiite religious leaders alike. When Al Qaeda struck the U.S. on 9/11, Iran condemned the attacks and later participated constructively in talks on Afghanistan. The top leaders in the new Iraq - chosen in elections that George W. Bush called "a magic moment in the history of liberty" - are friends of Iran. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, Bush may have thought he was striking a blow for good over evil, but the forces unleashed were considerably more complex.
More damned facts. She's one of the "facts" people.

And she's worried the administration is split between the facts people, who see what they actually are, and know this is a complex problem, and, on the other sides, the "ideologues, such as the vice president, who apparently see Iraq as a useful precedent for Iran."

She has some suggestions, "although this is not an administration known for taking advice."

The first is to drop the "our job is to end tyranny in this world" crap and fact the fact we cannot control events in Iraq - the best case is we can referee. Second, drop the call for "regime change" in Iran - just saying such things makes it less likely to happen as positions harden, and anyway, if you want someone to cooperate with you that kind of talk is not exactly useful. It might cause a bit of resentment? You think?

The third is hard, because it call for dealing with reality -
... the administration must stop playing solitaire while Middle East and Persian Gulf leaders play poker. Bush's "march of freedom" is not the big story in the Muslim world, where Shiite Muslims suddenly have more power than they have had in 1,000 years; it is not the big story in Lebanon, where Iran is filling the vacuum left by Syria; it is not the story among Palestinians, who voted - in Western eyes - freely, and wrongly; it is not even the big story in Iraq, where the top three factions in the recent elections were all supported by decidedly undemocratic militias.
That does seem to be what's happening. Put her on the new, hypothetical news network - "We don't really care much about being fair and balanced, just in reporting the simple, plain truth about what's happening, and if you don't like what you see, don't blame us, as we just told you what's happening, so deal with it and go whine somewhere else."

Expect more whining. "Being president, your see, is hard work." Some of us remember the debates with Kerry.

It's even harder if you don't deal with the facts of the situation.

It's okay. Here a conservative commentator calls her a pathetic idiot. The Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq aren't really that far apart these days on all matters. Christopher Hitchens told him so and he knows more than she does. (The glib Brit sot knows more than a Secretary of State?) Mosques blowing up? Reprisal killings? Minor stuff. And everyone knows the way to deal with the fools in Iran is slap them around. They'll respect that. Everyone knows that.

Irreconcilable Differences.

Posted by Alan at 21:24 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 25 March 2006 07:32 PST home

Thursday, 23 March 2006
The Buzz, and the Issues on the Table, and Odd Ideas
Topic: Chasing the Zeitgeist

The Buzz, and the Issues on the Table, and Odd Ideas

The Local News Becomes National

"The founding fathers didn't trust George Washington with unlimited power. Why should we trust George Bush?"

Now there's a slogan.

That came up in an item, Thursday, March 23rd, in the New York Times, about doings in that state -
Sean P. Maloney, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, will begin broadcasting campaign television commercials today that take on the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program.

With the advertisements, Mr. Maloney, a lawyer who was an aide to President Bill Clinton, becomes the first of the candidates for attorney general to broadcast a television commercial. The 30-second ad will begin running this evening on stations in New York City, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany and Buffalo, campaign officials said. It will begin in other areas of the state tomorrow.

"Hey, let's talk about what's happening in America," Mr. Maloney says in the ad. "George Bush is secretly tapping American phones without a court order. Under New York law, that's illegal and wrong."

Mr. Maloney then says that if elected, he will file a complaint in federal court demanding that the eavesdropping program be stopped. The ad concludes with Mr. Maloney stating: "The founding fathers didn't trust George Washington with unlimited power. Why should we trust George Bush?"

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Maloney said that filing such a complaint might force the Bush administration to disclose some details of the surveillance program. The administration has strongly resisted calls for a full review, saying such inquiries could disclose national security information that could help Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
What? Use New York State law to counter the president?

That seems to be the idea, in another news item noted here (emphases added) -
March, 23rd. New York City - Today Sean Patrick Maloney, former senior Clinton White House official and investigative attorney running for the Democratic nomination for New York Attorney General, revealed a fresh idea to "legalize" the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping program using a complaint that can be filed in federal court.

The complaint would seek a federal court order requiring the Bush Administration to comply with the law. The plan does not stop, compromise or hamper ongoing operations but instead compels the Bush Administration to appear in federal court, in secret session, to show cause for wiretapping any citizens of New York.

It is against New York state law to monitor communications over the phone without consent of the parties or without a court order. The benefit to New Yorkers, who cannot sue on their own behalf because the wiretapping is secret, is to initiate judicial oversight of the Bush Administration's program.

Maloney said, "As a New Yorker, I am committed to stopping, capturing, punishing or killing the terrorists who target America for attack, but I am also committed to the rule of law in this country, or at least this state. George Bush is not above the law.

"My plan both fights terrorism and protects New Yorkers' privacy from unauthorized or unconstitutional government intrusion. It does not compromise or halt ongoing anti-terror operations. It legalizes them. It's clear the Bush Administration is operating outside of New York law without legal federal authority."

There is recent case law and precedent for state attorneys general to act against federal actors who break state law and are acting outside of congressional authority. The Oregon Attorney General successfully sued then-United States Attorney General John Ashcroft, stopping him from undermining that state's assisted suicide law (analogous to New York's wiretapping law) without Congressional authorization to do so (as with the NSA's actions here).

The Maloney campaign is supporting this idea with the first paid television ads of the campaign for Attorney General. Entitled "Good Question" the 30-second spot, which airs statewide starting today, makes the charge that the President is outside his authority in using warrantless wiretaps and is violating New York state law. ...
The ad can be seen here, surrounded by stuff that only applies to those who live in New York, the state.

But if the argument of Senator Feingold, that the president needs to be reminded he is breaking a very specific law and really should follow the law, has any merit, then censure, symbolic and without any penalty, may not be the only approach. This is better - explain why you're breaking New York state law.

No censure motion would ever pass anyway - the president's party controls both houses of congress, and all but two or three other senators from the minority party are also against the idea, fearing if they oppose anything the president does they'll be called sympathizers with al Qaeda, haters of America, torturers of puppies and never get another vote.

They would? Well, you could check out this, the video of Senator Feingold explaining what he's up to to Jon Stewart. Stewart runs a clip of the man who replaced Tom Delay as House majority leader, John Boehner, saying just that - Feingold doesn't want America to be safe, and he's somehow on the side of the enemy. Feingold says the President needs to get the bad guys, and he needs to be responsible for his actions and has to follow the law. Both.

Can he make that argument? Maybe, but there's the new radio ad from the Republicans (go here to listen) - "Democrats want to censure President Bush for fighting the war on terror." Not what Feingold said, but they are assuming people are too dumb to know that. Heck, it's worked before. Will it work again. "When you ordered that salad at lunch it meant you hate the beef industry and probably all big business and probably America values in general, and you probably want al Qaeda to run Disneyland." Whatever.

We shall see how that works out. The polling is showing more than forty percent of the public agrees with Feingold. Even one big Republican Senator agrees with him, Specter of Pennsylvania saying things like this "They want to do just as they please, for as long as they can get away with it. I think what is going on now without congressional intervention or judicial intervention is just plain wrong." The majority of senate Democrats are bit too frightened to agree with the growing tide of anger. Not safe yet.

The New York complaint may help them decide popular opinion, the overwhelming majority of Democratic voters, and the law are all things that matter, along with doing the right thing. But then they're politicians. Doing the right thing needs to be considered very carefully. It's tricky. Do the right thing and people might not like you. Scary, scary, scary...

And as Tim Grieve notes here, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman made this statement at a fundraising solicitation sent to GOP supporters - "Democrat leaders' talk of censure and impeachment isn't about the law or the president doing anything wrong. It's about the fact that Democrat leaders don't want America to fight the War on Terror with every tool in our arsenal."

What? Impeachment? The Democrat leaders never proposed that, but then, they might have - "When you ordered that salad at lunch it meant you hate the beef industry and probably all big business and probably America values in general, and you probably want al Qaeda to run Disneyland." Whatever. John Conyers of Michigan had floated the idea. The whole of the Democratic Party ran for cover. Impeaching Clinton was one thing - who could be in favor of an older powerful man seducing an innocent sweet young thing, however giggly and willing she was, and then trying to pretend it was nothing? Nothing scary there. But this?

Grieve, dealing with reality, notes virtually every Democrat he's heard has said, "Keep spying on suspected terrorists - just follow the law when you do."

Mehlman says he knows what they really meant. And he says the American people know the same. We'll see. Depends on your news source, one supposes.

But then there is Howard Fineman in Newsweek with this - the polls are miserable and the current run of I'm-not-really-incompetent speeches to explain why not are going nowhere, so "at some point, even Bush's advisors have to realize that the problem with Iraq isn't that the president hasn't explained it enough - the White House is making a pivot to Plan B: Forget the Global War on Terror; now it's time for the War Against Terrorists Inside the Homeland. And as part of the usual "with us or with the terrorists" theme, the War Against Terrorists Inside the Homeland also means the War Against the Traitor Media and those Spineless, Security-Hating Democrats too."

The idea now is to present the president as some sort of tough-guy cop, as Fineman puts it, battling the "wussie lovers of legalistic niceties that get in the way of investigations and MSM news organizations that focus obsessively on explosions and mayhem in Iraq, even as they print or broadcast classified information and ask nasty, argumentative questions at hastily called press conferences."

Will this Gary Cooper in High Noon surrounded by cowards thing work? We'll see. It has its appeal. We've all seen the movie. Real heroes don't play by the rules. Traitors and cowards do.

That may be a winner. The problem is the sixty percent of the public who think the war was a mistake may not like being lumped in with the traitors and cowards. And there's the forty-plus percent who think Feingold's censure is a good thing, and that has some momentum. When the majority thinks you're on the wrong side of things, the argument that anyone who thinks that is at best a nitpicker, and at worst a coward who hates America, has its risks. If we're all going to be in the cast of High Noon who wants to be playing the part of the sniveling guy in the crowd scene? Maybe that's not the movie anyway. Seems more like Doctor Strangeglove these days, where the second characters in the bit parts were the sane ones.

It doesn't matter. We're all doomed anyway.

The End of the World

The end of the world? So it would seem, as many are now talking about this, an item that appeared in Fortune, December 26, 2005. It's about "peak oil" - we're at the point supplies will be decreasing and there's no way, as it becomes scarcer and more expensive, and it gets ridiculously more difficult to extract the last bits of it, the world we know is done. Economies just collapse, the dark ages return - all of that.

Why now? There have been scattered articles about this here and there.

Now because Fortune is profiling a personal friend of the president -
Richard Rainwater doesn't want to sound like a kook. But he's about as worried as a happily married guy with more than $2 billion and a home in Pebble Beach can get. Americans are "in the kind of trouble people shouldn't find themselves in," he says. He's just wary about being the one to sound the alarm.

Rainwater is something of a behind-the-scenes type - at least as far as alpha-male billionaires go. He counts President Bush as a personal friend but dislikes politics, and frankly, when he gets worked up, he says some pretty far-out things that could easily be taken out of context. Such as: An economic tsunami is about to hit the global economy as the world runs out of oil. Or a coalition of communist and Islamic states may decide to stop selling their precious crude to Americans any day now. Or food shortages may soon hit the U.S. Or he read on a blog last night that there's this one gargantuan chunk of ice sitting on a precipice in Antarctica that, if it falls off, will raise sea levels worldwide by two feet - and it's getting closer to the edge.... And then he'll interrupt himself: "Look, I'm not predicting anything," he'll say. "That's when you get a little kooky-sounding."

Rainwater is no crackpot. But you don't get to be a multibillionaire investor - one who's more than doubled his net worth in a decade - through incremental gains on little stock trades. You have to push way past conventional thinking, test the boundaries of chaos, see events in a bigger context. You have to look at all the scenarios, from "A to friggin' Z," as he says, and not be afraid to focus on Z. Only when you've vacuumed up as much information as possible and you know the world is at a major inflection point do you put a hell of a lot of money behind your conviction.

Such insights have allowed Rainwater to turn moments of cataclysm into gigantic paydays before. In the mid-1990s he saw panic selling in Houston real estate and bought some 15 million square feet; now the properties are selling for three times his purchase price. In the late '90s, when oil seemed plentiful and its price had fallen to the low teens, he bet hundreds of millions - by investing in oil stocks and futures - that it would rise. A billion dollars later, that move is still paying off. "Most people invest and then sit around worrying what the next blowup will be," he says. "I do the opposite. I wait for the blowup, then invest."

The next blowup, however, looms so large that it scares and confuses him. For the past few months he's been holed up in hard-core research mode - reading books, academic studies, and, yes, blogs. Every morning he rises before dawn at one of his houses in Texas or South Carolina or California (he actually owns a piece of Pebble Beach Resorts) and spends four or five hours reading sites like LifeAftertheOilCrash.net or DieOff.org, obsessively following links and sifting through data. How worried is he? He has some $500 million of his $2.5 billion fortune in cash, more than ever before. "I'm long oil and I'm liquid," he says. "I've put myself in a position that if the end of the world came tomorrow I'd kind of be prepared." He's also ready to move fast if he spots an opening.

His instincts tell him that another enormous moneymaking opportunity is about to present itself, what he calls a "slow pitch down the middle." But, at 61, wealthier and happier than ever before, Rainwater finds himself reacting differently this time. He's focused more on staying rich than on getting richer. But there's something else too: a sort of billionaire-style civic duty he feels to get a conversation started. Why couldn't energy prices skyrocket, with grave repercussions, not just economic but political? As industry analysts debate whether the world's oil production is destined to decline, the prospect makes him itchy.

"This is a nonrecurring event," he says. "The 100-year flood in Houston real estate was one, the ability to buy oil and gas really cheap was another, and now there's the opportunity to do something based on a shortage of natural resources. Can you make money? Well, yeah. One way is to just stay long domestic oil. But there may be something more important than making money. This is the first scenario I've seen where I question the survivability of mankind. I don't want the world to wake up one day and say, 'How come some doofus billionaire in Texas made all this money by being aware of this, and why didn't someone tell us?'" ...
This guy questions the survivability of mankind? He and others have briefed the president?

James Wolcott here suggests we have a bigger reason to impeach the president than anything that has to do with wiretapping. The president knows what's coming.

And why is he doing and saying nothing?
The only explanation, apart from Bush's cognitive disability in facing reality, is that he sociopathically doesn't care about the coming calamity endangering the planet because he and his cronies will be financially prepared even as most Americans lose their standard of living.

There are so many reasons that Bush's name should be dragged through the dust of his post-presidency for the harm and disgrace his administration has inflicted, and so impeachable offenses for which he would prosecuted today if we had a Congress worthy of the Founders. His malign indifference to Peak Oil and global warming may be the greatest of his crimes, because it will lead to the misery and deaths of untold millions of people, animals, and natural resources.

... It is part of the job of leaders to foresee problems and either steer around them or prepare for them. A head of state is analogous to the captain of a ship, who is responsible not only for keeping his vessel on course but also for avoiding hazards such as storms and icebergs. Some problems are not foreseeable; others are. A ship's captain who loses his vessel to a freak 'perfect storm' may be blameless, but one who steers his passenger liner directly into a foggy ice field, having no sonar or radar, is worse than a fool: he is criminally negligent.
So the idea is Feingold and Conyers are on the wrong track. There's something bigger.

Some are jumping on the idea, here and here.

But then this is a long-term threat. It won't happen next week. No one much is going to pay attention, and anyway here another reaction is there really is no need to worry, there's plenty of coal around.

We'll worry about it later. There are personal matters.

The Legal Stuff

There's a knock on your door. The police are there, asking if they can come in and search. They don't have a warrant. They're asking for your cooperation. What if you and your wife answer the door. Your wife says yes, you say no. Can the police come in and search? Who gets to say it's okay and you waive your Fourth Amendment rights and any right to protect yourself from self-incrimination?

That was what the Supreme Court decided. They said no, if one party objects then the police cannot come in. In this case the state of Georgia and the federal Justice Department got slapped down hard.

And the justices got all testy and said some pretty nasty things in the ruling and the dissents. The new Chief Justice, that nice Roberts man, may be a problem.

A friend sent along the New York Times account, calling it "a most disturbing assessment of Chief Justice Roberts' first dissenting opinion on the high court -
While the thrust of the report focuses on broad philosophical "alignments" on the court, when you read below, you'll see this guy - in his infinite legal wisdom - jumps from a case of POLICE searching a home - with permission of one inhabitant - to the logic of guests traveling miles to a birthday party to BE INVITED into a home?

The Times, as is often the case, presents this specific quote without subjective comment, but I can only ask in horror, who is this guy?

What monster has been unleashed in and on our highest court?
What is our friend tiling about?

From the Times' "Roberts Dissent Reveals Strain Beneath Court's Placid Surface" -
A Supreme Court decision on Wednesday in an uncelebrated criminal case did more than resolve a dispute over whether the police can search a home without a warrant when one occupant gives consent but another objects.

... Writing for the majority, Justice David H. Souter said the search was unreasonable, given the vocal objection of the husband, Scott Randolph. True, Justice Souter said, the court had long permitted one party to give consent to a search of shared premises under what is known as the "co-occupant consent rule." But he said that rule should be limited to the context in which it was first applied, the absence of the person who later objected.

The presence of the objecting person changed everything, Justice Souter said, noting that it defied "widely shared social expectations" for someone to come to the door of a dwelling and to cross the threshold at one occupant's invitation if another objected.

"Without some very good reason, no sensible person would go inside under those conditions," he said.

"We have, after all, lived our whole national history with an understanding of the ancient adage that a man's home is his castle," Justice Souter said. "Disputed permission is thus no match for this central value of the Fourth Amendment."

Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined the majority opinion, as did Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who explained himself in a concurring opinion notable for its ambivalent tone. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. did not vote, as he was not a member of the court when the case was argued.

The dissenters, in addition to Chief Justice Roberts, were Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. In his opinion, the chief justice took aim at the majority's description of social custom, as well as its reliance on that description to reshape "a great deal of established Fourth Amendment law."

Every lower federal court to have considered the issue, as well as most state courts, had concluded that one party's consent was sufficient. The Georgia Supreme Court, in its 2004 decision that the justices affirmed, was in the minority, ruling in this case that the evidence of Mr. Randolph's cocaine use was inadmissible.

"The fact is that a wide variety of differing social situations can readily be imagined, giving rise to quite different social expectations," Chief Justice Roberts said. For example, he continued, "a guest who came to celebrate an occupant's birthday, or one who had traveled some distance for a particular reason, might not readily turn away simply because of a roommate's objection."

Noting that "the possible scenarios are limitless," he said, "Such shifting expectations are not a promising foundation on which to ground a constitutional rule, particularly because the majority has no support for its basic assumption - that an invited guest encountering two disagreeing co-occupants would flee - beyond a hunch about how people would typically act in an atypical situation."
Souter, who wrote the majority opinion, criticized Roberts' dissent. And he wasn't nice. Under the dissent's view, he wrote, "The centuries of special protection for the privacy of the home are over."

Welcome to the new world. This was a close one but you see where things are going.

Curiously there was this reaction from a staunch Republican -
The right wing of the Republican Party has sold the libertarian/centrist wing of the party a bill of goods, and the modern 'conservatives' are clearly nothing more than statists who, rather than redistributing wealth like their brethern on the left, instead have decided that the state must have excessive rights in order to 'protect' us all from whatever the imagined fear du jour might be. Meanwhile, no one is left protecting us from the religionists and the state itself.

In the new Republican era, only fetuses, tax shelters, and 'traditional' marriage deserve protection. According to the actions of the current Republican Party, the rest of us need to be wiretapped, monitored, have our homes inspected for whatever reason without warrants, and are incapable of making decisions on our own. My 20 year affair with the Republican Party is coming to an end. I am not voting for any Republican in 2006 at any level, and I will be hard pressed to vote for this party in 2008 - unless, of course, Cindy Sheehan is the Democratic candidate. These 'conservatives' need about 10-15 years in the wilderness.
Okay, that's from the right. From the left there's this - "Just wait till Alito gets to vote. Fourth Amendment rights won't just be over - they'll be a relic."

So who is with the administration these days in its effort to change how things are done and, in this case, reinterpret the Bill of Rights?

Well, a theocratic police state is a safe state. Want one?

Belief

The same day, this -
American's increasing acceptance of religious diversity doesn't extend to those who don't believe in a god, according to a national survey by researchers in the University of Minnesota's department of sociology.

From a telephone sampling of more than 2,000 households, university researchers found that Americans rate atheists below Muslims, recent immigrants, gays and lesbians and other minority groups in "sharing their vision of American society." Atheists are also the minority group most Americans are least willing to allow their children to marry.

Even though atheists are few in number, not formally organized and relatively hard to publicly identify, they are seen as a threat to the American way of life by a large portion of the American public. "Atheists, who account for about 3 percent of the U.S. population, offer a glaring exception to the rule of increasing social tolerance over the last 30 years," says Penny Edgell, associate sociology professor and the study's lead researcher.

Edgell also argues that today's atheists play the role that Catholics, Jews and communists have played in the past-they offer a symbolic moral boundary to membership in American society. "It seems most Americans believe that diversity is fine, as long as every one shares a common 'core' of values that make them trustworthy-and in America, that 'core' has historically been religious," says Edgell. Many of the study's respondents associated atheism with an array of moral indiscretions ranging from criminal behavior to rampant materialism and cultural elitism.
Got it.

As Andrew Sullivan says - "If you were to listen to O'Reilly, you'd think atheists run this country and Christians are persecuted. The opposite is closer to the truth. Religious freedom must emphatically include the right to believe in nothing at all. I wish our president said that more often."

The president's father - August 27 1987 - "I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God. Yes, I support the separation of church and state. I'm just not very high on atheists." (See this for the whole thing.)

The son is actually more moderate. You don't want to cut out Mark Twain, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Luther Burbank, and James Smithson, the founder of the Smithsonian Institute.

Conclusion

None. Things are very strange. And that's a warp on the buzz, and the issues on the table, and odd ideas. Make of it what you will.

Posted by Alan at 22:53 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 24 March 2006 06:52 PST home

Wednesday, 22 March 2006
Credibility
Topic: Bush

Credibility

Garrison Keillor seems like a nice fellow, and his radio show "A Prairie Home Companion" (everything you ever would want to know about that is here) is cool, and everyone out here loves the "Guy Noir, Private Eye" segment each week - a spoof of Raymond Chandler, Phillip Marlow (or Sam Spade if you'd like) with his office high over 1939 Hollywood Boulevard and all that - except Guy Noir works on the twelfth floor of the Acme Building in a city that "knows how to keep its secrets" - and that seems to be Saint Paul, Minnesota. Down the street we have Raymond Chandler Square - Hollywood at Cahuenga - with the "Cahuenga Building" where Marlow had his office (actually the Pacific Security Bank building). It's cool to hear the whole thing transposed to present day Saint Paul. He's got the genre down cold. Give a listen one weekend.

So what is Garrison Keillor, the gentle cultural satirist, doing saying things like this - "No president in your lifetime or mine has seen his fundamental competence - his ability to think clearly and manage the government - so doubted by the voting public as Mr. Bush has. This is humiliation of a rare sort."

That was the state of play Wednesday, March 22nd - after all the low polling, the speech in Cleveland where the president tried to say things were fine and getting better in Iraq and there really was a plan (we win), and after the previous day's surprise press conference, a combination of defiance and surly hostility. That happens when you're humiliated, of course.

What to do? How can this be made better? Over the last several weeks commentators on right have suggested Vice President Cheney needs to go. The idea is that he's a "hate magnet" - too dark, too stuck on talking points that when not just factually wrong are so combative and off-putting he's doing much more harm than good. And shooting the old man in the face didn't help, nor did how it was handled.

Cheney is dismissed? A dark cloud would be lifted from the White House, and of course this combination of Darth Vader and the evil Monty Burns of the Simpsons would no longer loom in the background of everything.

Garrison Keillor agrees -
If Mr. Bush wanted to reverse his slide, he could do it with a phone call to his vice president. Tell him, "Hey, Gunner, I'm sending over your resignation. Sign it and leave the building immediately, and don't take any floppies with you." Mr. Cheney would have a grand mal seizure right there, and be taken away to a sanitarium, and then Mr. Bush could get 1) Newt Gingrich, 2) John McCain, 3) Jeb Bush, 4) Rudolph Giuliani - take his pick. America needs a No. 2 who wouldn't give Americans a coronary if he became No. 1. The top story on the news that night is "Gunner Dumped as Veep," and a fresh breeze blows through Washington, and the American people perk up and imagine that the Current Occupant is in charge and able to connect the dots.

"Cheney Resigns" is the headline for two days, and anonymous White House sources say that Gunner was cut loose because he was blind, deaf and demented on the subject of Iraq. The suspense of Who Will the New Prince Be? occupies us for a week. The pundits and bloggers puff and blow and when finally the new man is confirmed by the Senate and gives a ringing speech about the need to put our differences behind us and all pull together, lo and behold the subject has been changed and America is no longer standing around the coffee machine talking about what a dope the president is. Nobody uses the I-word (incompetent). We're still buzzed from the big news.
But it won't happen. The joke in 2000 was that although Bush didn't know much, and didn't want to know much, at least he'd have adult supervision. Perhaps he still needs it.

And Bush doesn't turn on his people, except when they disagree with him, like Larry Lindsey or Paul O'Neill or Richard Clarke and all the others who were tossed out for saying the wrong things, or seeing things the wrong way. Alternative explanations of what is going on, what could happen, and planning for the unexpected is more than discouraged. It ends your career.

So he stays. Shrug off the humiliation. The low polls numbers and the shared and widespread idea that you're just incompetent? Bluff it out. Be strong, and resolute. Change nothing.

Yeah, it's a kind of defeat, and as Keillor reminds us, defeat is inevitable in life, "and eventually we all go shuffling off to the Old Soldiers Home and plop down in front of the TV set and doze through the shows. We're all destined to fall apart."

But Cheney should go so Bush avoids some of that - "... you don't have to do it in your 50s when everybody is looking at you. You can fall apart gently and privately. Don't go down hard like Dennis Kozlowski or Bernie Ebbers or Kenneth Lay."

But that's where it's heading, and thus this -
I once saw an old Hollywood star eating breakfast in a hotel dining room in Dublin. He was touring in a play that had been reviewed rather gently and compassionately, and here he was with his famous face, grinning at a couple of tourists who came over to ask him to autograph their placemat. Once he was an icon and sex symbol, and now he was 80, an old trouper enjoying his breakfast and smiling at the world. Gerry got to that place, and Jimmy and Ronnie, I think, and George H.W. and for sure Bill has gotten there. People see Bill in public, grinning, and they can't help it, they grin back.

If you want to be beloved, don't wait too long.
Somehow one suspect this president doesn't want to be beloved. He just wants to get his way in this world where he doesn't seem to understand much. We're tagging along for the ride. And a good number of folks die, in the dust of the Middle East, or waiting for help that never came in New Orleans.

So Wednesday the 22nd we got another speech - "Before an overwhelmingly friendly audience in the rugged panhandle of West Virginia, President Bush said today he would pay no heed to 'polls, focus groups or election year politics' in deciding how many troops to deploy in Iraq."

More of the same, except that unlike the Cleveland thing and the press conference, this time he got an audience with no troublemakers. The venue was carefully chosen. Enough is enough. He's not listening to anyone now, and certainly not anyone like Garrison Keillor. He's made up his mind. In poker terms he's doubled-down. He's shoved all the chips in the middle of the table.

For a taste of what he said, you might check out the collection Tim Grieve assembled here. It illustrates the I-talk-you-listen shift from the previous day's press conference.

There's this - "My purpose is to share with you what's on my mind and then I look forward to hearing what's on yours ... I'm the commander in chief. I'm also the educator in chief. And I have a duty to explain how and why I make decisions, and that's part of the reason I'm here."

You can ask why he did something. He'll explain why he's right.

That's because he's here to remind people of the lesson - "I knew that the farther we got away from Sept. 11, 2001, the more likely it would be that some would forget the lessons of that day. And that's OK. That's OK ... And it's fine that people forget the lessons, but one of my jobs is to constantly remind people of the lessons."

Moving on? Thinking of various "what next" alternatives? Remember 9/11 and just think of that. That's the ticket. It's always September 11, 2001 in the White House (kind of like it's always 1953 in Toronto). The current slang term "stuck on stupid" come to mind.

Is he stuck in the past? Try this - "When I was coming up in the '50s in Midland, Texas, you know, it seemed like we were pretty safe. In the '60s it seemed like we were safe. In other words, conflicts were happening overseas but we were in pretty good shape at home."

The sixties were safe? A massive array of soviet nuclear missiles aimed at us, the civil right business exploding in the South, riots in the streets and Detroit and Watts in flames, the Vietnam War? The man was a history major at Yale. No wonder his grades were low.

But then - "By the way, if the president says something, he better mean it, for the sake of peace. In other words, you want your president out there making sure that his words are credible."

No. When the president says something you suppose he means it, or you assume he doesn't mean it at all but says it anyway, for diplomatic or political purposes. You know there are circumstances that can be tricky. That has nothing to do with credibility. You earn credibility be saying things that are true, that are anchored in what everyone generally agrees are the facts. Heck, anyone can say something false and say he or she really, really, really, really means it. That doesn't make it true, or credible. The man's logic is odd - what makes something credible is that you really mean it. On the other hand, when he says he's going to do something, however boneheaded, however much experts tell him this may be a really bad idea, he does it. That may be a sort of credibility. The audience bought it.

And they bought this incoherent statement of the big idea that drives the whole war, probably because he threw in God - "There's an interesting debate in the world, is whether or not freedom is universal, see, whether or not - you know, there's old Bush imposing his values. See, I believe freedom is universal ... The way I put it was, there is an almighty God. One of the greatest gifts of that almighty God is the desire for people to be free, is freedom."

By the way, there is no such debate.

And too, he needed to define things for this less than intellectually prepossessing audience - "Iraq is a part of the global war on terror. In other words, it's a global war."

Oh. Nice clarification. Of course it has been said all over that he explains things like a six-year-old because that's how things were explained to him. QED - but a sad one. Is there reason to doubt his fundamental competence - his ability to think clearly and manage the government? Maybe. Maybe he was working with the audience he had.

But he did say a bit about this fundamental competence - his ability to think clearly and manage the government - "My buddies come from up from Texas ... And they come up from Texas and they're, kind of, looking at you, like, 'Man, are you OK?' Yes, you know. And I tell them, I say, you know, 'I can't tell you what an honor it is to do this job.' They often ask, 'What's the job description?' I say, 'Making decisions.' And I make a lot."

Yeah, he sounds like an idiot. But then, as the novelist Jane Smiley notes here -
Bush is a man who has never been anywhere and never done anything, and yet he has been flattered and cajoled into being president of the United States through his connections, all of whom thought they could use him for their own purposes. He has a surface charm that appeals to a certain type of American man, and he has used that charm to claim all sorts of perks, and then to fail at everything he has ever done. He did not complete his flight training, he failed at oil investing, he was a front man and a glad-hander as a baseball owner. As the Governor of Texas, he originated one educational program that turned out to be a debacle; as the President of the US, his policies have constituted one screw-up after another. ... From his point of view, he is perfectly entitled by his own experience to a sense of entitlement.
So he makes decisions, for us all. They told him he should. So he does. Then they do what they want anyway and the things he doesn't understand, like the Dubai port deal, get done, one way or another.

All this does not inspire confidence.

But then he did get all intellectual - "De Tocqueville, who's a French guy, came in 1832 and recognized and wrote back - wrote a treatise about what it means to go to a country where people have - associate voluntarily to serve their communities."

Grammar and sense aside, he's read de Tocqueville? Interesting. Not one of de Tocqueville's main points, but then he did cite him. One suspects, however, that bit of academic fluff came from a staffer and found it's way onto a cue card. But maybe not. Give him the benefit of the doubt. He has read de Tocqueville. And he's citing a Frenchman, even if somewhat incoherently. As Yogi Berra famously said, "Who'd have thunk it?" Or maybe that was Casey Stengel. It wasn't de Tocqueville.

The audience must have been puzzled. Good ol' boys don't cite nineteenth century French guys.

His best line? This - "Thank goodness Laura isn't here; she would be giving me the hook."

No kidding.

There's more at the link. But you get the idea. Except for select audiences who cheer wildly, the evidence is mounting that he's in way over his head. That idea may have been confined to only the anti-Bush left for years. But as the polls show, it's gone mainstream now.

The Wheeling event didn't make thing better. It made things worse.

The Washington Post that same morning, in its lead editorial, said the president should have more press conferences. He should get out more. They like his swagger and new openness. It's probably a trick. They want him to sound like a six-year-old in public, day after day. They have it out for him. But then, they did seem serious. Maybe they were serious.

The Wall Street Journal, that same morning, in its lead editorial sort of bypassed the whole question of whether the guy was a fool in way over his head and give us this - "The third anniversary of U.S. military action to liberate Iraq has brought with it a relentless stream of media and political pessimism that is unwarranted by the facts and threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophesy if it goes unchallenged." We have to win the war in Iraq, however winning is defined. We can't bug out. Bad things would happen. Forget Bush. This is serious.

Yep, we bought it. We own it.

But then you cannot get away from for the idea these guys got us into real trouble with their wild-ass ideas. There's this - North Korea kind of likes our new idea of preemptive war. And they say, now that they have nukes and missiles, that we don't have the monopoly on that concept. Heck, we didn't trademark or patent it or anything. They say since they feel threaten by us, they have the right to lob some nuclear weapons over on our west coast. And they just might have to. It may be necessary.

Well, we said we have the right to start a war with any nation that threatens our national security - if they could harm us and we think they just might, they're gone. Screw the UN and international law. We have the right to protect ourselves. You know the arguments - WWII wouldn't have happened if we took out Hitler in the early thirties, or some special ops team assassinated his mother before he could be born or some such thing. Sometimes you have to act before bad things happen, so they don't happen.

North Korea claims that right now. Fair is fair.

Great. We say we will wipe you out before the awful act you might commit. You talk that way, and you're gone, buddy.

Now this.

But we're confused now about a lot of this, even on minor levels, as Dahlia Lithwick explains here -
Last week Robert Weisberg and I tried to highlight the central flaw of the government's conspiracy theory in the Zacarias Moussaoui penalty phase: You can't easily stretch lying into a capital federal criminal conspiracy to murder. The government's contention that Moussaoui actually caused the 9/11 deaths because he lied to federal investigators about details of the plot might satisfy some definition of criminal conspiracy. But it's a hard argument to sustain under the federal conspiracy and death-penalty rules. The causal link between Moussaoui's acts and the actual murders is just too stretched out to work under the federal laws involved in this case.

Then something funny happened at the sentencing trial: The prosecutors switched theories. Somewhere along the way, they stopped arguing that Moussaoui's lies had caused 9/11 and began to argue that his failure to tell the truth was the cause. In other words, the deaths happened not as a result of the false information Moussaoui gave FBI investigators (that he was taking lessons in flying 747s for fun, had worked in marketing research in London for a company called NOP, and had earned the money in his terrorist bank account) but as a result of the true information he withheld.
Is this obscuring clear moral matter with "legalese?" No -
There is a clear moral distinction between telling a lie and withholding the truth. Government claims that Moussaoui's lies were distinct acts in furtherance of a conspiracy are one thing. Claims that great airy fistfuls of truths might have stopped the attacks is a screenplay. A lie that misdirects or diverts government prosecutors from foiling an attack is arguably a criminal act. The decision to withhold the truth is (Fifth Amendment problems notwithstanding) a non-act.
Did we invade Iraq, replace its government and occupy the place because of what we thought they might do, a non-act? Yes. We said we had to, or that was what we said at the time. We had to change the reason a few times. But for all the talk there was no act of aggression, putting aside there were no chemical weapons, biological weapons or nuclear weapons. We did that because of what we said were their intentions. And the Moussaoui is the same thing, on a small scale.

It's complicated in this case -
The defense team urges that to be eligible for the federal death penalty, Moussaoui needed to have committed an "act" (lying) as opposed to an "omission" (not confessing). They remind the judge that the decision to withhold the truth (and thus refuse to inculpate oneself) is constitutionally protected in ways that lying is not. Why? Because what kind of legal regime would force you to choose between confessing and implicating yourself (thus making you eligible for the death penalty), or electing to be silent (thus also making you eligible for the death penalty)?

Most important, the defense lawyers remind the court about the dangers of testifying in a parallel universe of what-might-have-been: How can any witness know, and how can the jury weigh, when and how in this imaginary conversation between Moussaoui and the government the right information leading to the correct conclusions might have been conveyed? What if, in this imaginary conversation, Moussaoui revealed only some details of the 9/11 plot but not all of them, or not the ones that later proved accurate? Is he eligible to be executed for the parts he withheld? What if this imaginary confession happened too late to stop the attacks? And what if, in light of this week's testimony, Moussaoui had had this conversation with someone higher up in the chain of command than the arresting agent, Harry Samit, whose warnings, as it appears, were largely ignored? Is Moussaoui responsible for having not-confessed to the low-level guy who was not-heard at the bureau? Is every person in America who chose not to come forward with any small detail about a possible 9/11 attack now eligible for the death penalty?
Yep, logic is a bitch. Two weeks ago the judge said this - "I will warn the government that it is treading on very delicate legal ground here. I don't know of any other case in which a defendant's failure to act has been a sufficient basis for the death penalty as a matter of law."

Wednesday, March 22nd she told the jury to be careful - "Juries cannot decide cases on speculation. Nobody knows what would have happened."

But 9/11 changed everything. With Moussaoui it's a matter of life in prison or the death penalty. Those are the two choices. It's not like he walks. He's guilty. He's a vile person.

But we went to war on speculation - we said we just knew what would happen if we didn't. North Korea is claiming that right too.

The guys in charge have made a mess on many levels. And the president is not big on logic and details. But then he does say what he means.

There's even more cleanup to do when you disregard details and logic. As you recall when the administration seemed headed for a legal problem last year regarding its right to hold a citizen as and "enemy combatant," it bypassed the legal by moving Jose Padilla out of military custody just before the Supreme Court was to decide whether or not to hear his case. Note here that they do that now and then.

And Wednesday, March 22nd the Wall Street Journal, again, reports here that the administration has decided to prohibit military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay from using evidence obtained through the use of torture. The new rule, coming next week, would reverse previous policy, the one Cheney was big on and was formalized in a White House decision last summer.

Analysis from Tim Greive here -
Has the White House come to understand the immorality and unreliability of evidence obtained through torture? Maybe. Or maybe, as the Journal notes, the White House is paying some attention to the Supreme Court's docket again. The court hears oral arguments next week in a case challenging the legality of the military tribunals. Prohibiting torture evidence now could help the administration's lawyers then, the Journal says, by allowing them to argue that the tribunals comply with the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The Marine colonel who heads the team of military lawyers appointed to represent detainees doesn't seem to be impressed. Col. Dwight Sullivan tells the Journal that he hasn't seen the new rule yet, but that the devil will be in the details - in particular, whether the rule requires detainees to prove that torture occurred or the government to prove that it didn't. And even if the burden-of-proof part of the rule is favorable for the detainees, Sullivan says, hearsay evidence would still be admissible during tribunal proceedings, possibly providing a "mechanism to launder tortured evidence."

But wait, you might be saying to yourself, doesn't the Bush administration insist that the United States doesn't do torture in the first place? Well, yes, it does. But a Defense Department spokesperson tells the Journal that the new rule is designed to "eliminate any doubt" that the tribunals will comply with the U.N.'s torture convention.
This is cleaning up after the elephants. Or, as Jane Smiley implies above, cleaning up after the spoiled, mildly sadistic kid who doesn't know much and screws things up. He doesn't get subtleties. But then he does say what he means. He's resolute, or something. Choose your word.

But he is a moral man, as we see here - President Bush said Wednesday that he is "deeply troubled" that an Afghan man is being tried for converting to Christianity.

That's about Abdul Rahman, the fellow in his forties who faces a possible death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity sixteen years ago.

But then there's this -
An Afghan man facing a possible death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity may be mentally unfit to stand trial, a state prosecutor said Wednesday amid growing international condemnation of the case.

Abdul Rahman, 41, has been charged with rejecting Islam, a crime under this country's Islamic laws. His trial started last week and he confessed to becoming a Christian 16 years ago. If convicted, he could be executed.

"We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn't talk like a normal person," prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari told The Associated Press.

Moayuddin Baluch, a religious adviser to President Hamid Karzai, said Rahman would undergo a psychological examination.

"If he is mentally unfit, definitely Islam has no claim to punish him," he said. "He must be forgiven. The case must be dropped."

A Western diplomat in Kabul and a human rights advocate - both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter - said the government was desperately searching for a way to drop the case.

The United States, Britain and other countries that have troops in Afghanistan have voiced concern about Rahman's fate. President Bush said Wednesday he was "deeply troubled" and expects the country to "honor the universal principle of freedom."

NATO's top diplomat, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said he would call Karzai to insist the case be dropped.

A spokesman for Karzai, Khaleeq Ahmed, said the government would not interfere in the case but that the government "will make sure human rights are observed."
Make of that what you will. We're in an odd holy war with even odder allies.

But the president is a born again Christian. And things should be clear.

They're just not.

In these pages in early March there was this - out here in Los Angeles, on Ash Wednesday, Los Angeles' Cardinal Roger Mahoney ran the old Christian myth up the flagpole, and no one saluted - if Congress passes legislation to criminalize the act of offering support to an illegal immigrant, he will instruct his priests and Catholic parishioners to ignore the law.

The bill is moving forward and we get this -
Invoking Biblical themes, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton joined immigration advocates Wednesday to vow and block legislation seeking to criminalize undocumented immigrants.

Clinton, a potential 2008 presidential candidate and relative latecomer to the immigration debate, made her remarks as the Senate prepares to take up the matter next week.

"It is certainly not in keeping with my understanding of the Scriptures," Clinton said, "because this bill would literally criminalize the Good Samaritan and probably even Jesus himself."
So even the Jesus stuff is harder than it seems. Bush cannot catch a break.

Perhaps he should listen to the likes of Garrison Keillor - do something, anything, to show the American people they really should "perk up and imagine that the Current Occupant is in charge and able to connect the dots."

That seems unlikely. The man who said those things in Wheeling isn't good with dots.

Posted by Alan at 22:15 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 23 March 2006 08:00 PST home

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