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"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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Wednesday, 21 September 2005

Topic: The Law

The Law: What We Forbid

So John Roberts will be the next Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

If you got to the Google news aggregator - that thing that uses infobots to continually scan the news and provide links to thousands of stories in all the major categories of news you can imagine - and you put "Roberts vote count" in the search bar and hit the return key, as of late Wednesday, September 21, you'd get about fifteen hundred links. (Try it here.)

Here are some:

Dem leader of Senate says he'll vote no on Roberts (San Francisco Chronicle)
Democrats Announce Support for John Roberts for Supreme Court (
Democrats revive filibuster threat (MSNBC)
Democrat plans no filibuster on Roberts (Atlanta Journal Constitution)
Why Roberts Should Not Be Confirmed As Chief Justice (San Francisco Chronicle)
Should Democratic Senators Vote to Confirm Roberts? (TPMCafe)

That last one is good. It's by Robert W. Gordon, a professor of law and legal history at Yale - and a graduate of Harvard College and Law School, if that sort of thing impresses you. He thinks the answer is "no," the Democrats should block the Roberts nomination - but won't pretend it's an easy call.
There are two kinds of arguments for Yes, the political and the substantive.

The substantive argument is that Roberts really isn't that bad, and is about the best we're going to get out of George Bush. He has glittering credentials, is obviously very smart, and claims not to be an ideologue. He says he respects precedent, is deferential to legislatures except when they exceed the clear boundaries of their authority, has no doctrinaire method (such as "originalism") for interpreting the Constitution, and will decide cases one at a time. He says he has no particular personal or political views, at least none that will influence his decisions. He admires his old boss Judge Henry Friendly, of whom it was said that nobody could tell if he was a liberal or conservative.
On the other hand:
Roberts knew exactly what he had to say in his job interview and he said it. He was playing for the Democratic swing votes, not just the majority's. He made strategic, but mostly symbolic, concessions to their views. He knows people are worried about his views on presidential power, so he praises Justice Jackson's opinion in the Youngstown Case, which gives a judge who wants to limit presidential power some categories and guidelines for doing it. He knows people are worried about his views on civil rights, so he distances himself from his younger self, the Reaganaut firebrand of the 1980s, and affirms his commitment to antidiscrimination and even some affirmative action. Obviously he knows people on both sides worry about how he will decide abortion cases, so while he recognizes that the case law establishes a "right to privacy", he won't say anything specific about its scope and application.

None of this however tells us much about what kind of judge he will be, except that he will be a rhetorically cautious judge - not a flamethrower like Scalia or an iconoclastic reactionary like Thomas who is perfectly willing to throw hundreds of statutes and cases overboard to vindicate an abstract theory of the Constitution. He will work within the received materials of case law and conventional argument. Unhappily those materials are not all that constraining, especially for a clever judge like Roberts. There are a hundred ways to read a precedent or a statute creating a right so narrowly that you can claim to respect it while whittling it away, or making it practically impossible for anyone to get a remedy for its violation. And when you read his testimony carefully, you see that he has not really committed himself to much of anything at all.
There's much more, the political part, but you get the idea.

For many not in agreement with the positions of the Christian evangelical right, now in almost total control of Republican Party and thus the government itself, the issue that is key is the issue of abortion rights - what they call state-sanctioned murder of unborn children, and the other side calls "choice," a decision best left to the woman and her doctor, and not the business of the government at all. The whole thing, the basis of the Roe v Wade decision, hinges on the "right to privacy" established in case law first in the 1965 Griswold decision - the highest court ruling the State of Connecticut really shouldn't be busting into the bedrooms of married couples and arresting them for having in their possession any form of birth control. The idea is there's enough in other parts of the constitution that allows one to infer a general right to privacy - some things are just not the government's business. That opened a can of worms. We got Roe v Wade, and recently the Lawrence v Texas decision - holding that the agents of the State of Texas had no business busting into the bedrooms of consenting gay men and arresting them for doing what they were willingly doing with each other. That ruling offended a lot of the righteous, or the self-righteous, who thought people shouldn't do such things.

The underlying problem has always been there. Some things the government can and should forbid - rape, murder, theft and assault and all that. Oh heck, add speeding and littering. No one, left or right, argues otherwise. No one argues some speech should be sanctioned - libel, slander, and the famous yelling FIRE in a crowded theater (when there is no fire, of course, as otherwise that might be useful). The problem is always around the edges, with things like "victimless crimes." Do you forbid gay marriage? It hurts no one - or it destroys the whole fabric of civilized society. Do you forbid the medical use of marijuana to ease pain? It actually helps people - or it is the first slip on the slippery slope that will make us a nation of drug fiends.

So what about abortion?

Digby over at Hullabaloo has a long explanation of why he signed a petition opposing the Roberts nomination. It seems right - but futile. Roberts will be the next Supreme Court Chief Justice. Digby ends with this:
... I believe that a woman's right to choose gets to the very heart of what it means to be an autonomous, free human being. Control of one's own body is fundamental to individual liberty. If the church believes that abortion is morally wrong it should instruct its voluntary membership not to do it. Individuals must always be allowed to follow their own consciences. But there should be no legal coercion on such a personal matter.

The only issue the government could be called upon to arbitrate is if the fetus has an equal right to life as the woman in whose body it lives. But there is really no argument about that. There is almost nobody who believes that an abortion is wrong if the life of the woman is at stake. Indeed, the vast majority (80%+) of Americans believe that abortion should be available at least in cases of rape or incest, so it is clear that the "abortion is murder" argument is illegitimate. No one can believe that it is moral to murder a person because of the way he or she was conceived, or by whom.

Therefore, the right of the fetus is not the real issue - the reasons a woman wants an abortion are the issue. This leads us to ask which particular circumstances are so difficult for a woman that she may be allowed to have an abortion. 80% or so of Americans think that rape or incest are such circumstances. But how about a failing, abusive marriage? A terminal illness? Five other children and no job? Being 43 years old and carrying a child with serious birth defects? Being a foolish 15 year old girl in love? Should we make exceptions for some of those? Any of them? Who decides? You? Me? John Roberts?

This isn't about murder and it isn't about the right of the fetus. It's clearly about controlling women's personal moral behavior. I don't think the government has any business doing that.

Unlike some others, I think it's quite likely that the court will overturn with these two new Bush justices as soon as they get the right case. This is simply too vital to the conservative cause. The notion that they want to milk it is quite right, of course, but I think they will happily run on abortion in individual states for as long as they can. Milking the issue seems to me to be much more likely if it's turned back to the states than if it's not.

John Roberts is a professional movement conservative at the very top of the food chain. His wife is the president of "Feminists For Life." He will vote to overturn and make women fight in more than half the states of this country for a basic right they've taken for granted for over a generation. It is depressingly likely he will be confirmed, but I'm glad to go on record opposing him.
That's pretty clear, but when I forwarded it to Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, Rick took issue -
"It seems right - but futile. Roberts will be the next Supreme Court Chief Justice."

Yes, but futility, or the lack thereof, isn't everything. I think of it this way: Doing what you believe is the right thing is the cake; being successful at doing what you believe is the right thing is the frosting on the cake.

"Unlike some others, I think it's quite likely that the court will overturn with these two new Bush justices as soon as they get the right case. This is simply too vital to the conservative cause."

I disagree with Digby on this.

Roberts has already publicly affirmed his belief in the judicial concept of stare decisis (the idea that sitting justices should not blithely overturn past rulings that have established themselves as law, even if they personally disagree with them) and has also said he sees Roe v Wade as established law.

But I wouldn't be totally surprised to find him voting in favor of allowing some state to find exceptions to the constitutional right to abortion, eventually watering down its effectiveness.

"Indeed, the vast majority (80%+) of Americans believe that abortion should be available at least in cases of rape or incest, so it is clear that the 'abortion is murder' argument is illegitimate."

Okay, although I'm on Digby's side in his overall argument, I do have a philosophical disagreement with him on this.

First of all, as much as I do pay attention to Gallup polls, I don't base my core beliefs on them. (For example, didn't one such poll have over 70% of Americans believing in the existence of angels? And so does this mean that angels actually do exist?)

Second of all, if I WERE in favor of outlawing abortions, I would probably do so based on the belief that abortion is "murder," or should be seen as "murder" in the eyes of the law. And if I DID think abortion was "murder," I definitely would NOT make an exception for rape or incest. (And I guess not even if the mother's life were imperiled by giving birth - in which case, the mother's life being no more valuable than the child's, I suppose we should try our best to save them both, hoping for the best, but letting the chips fall where they may.)

By the way, another one of my positions on this subject is SURE to annoy those on the so-called "pro-choice" side, and I would guess this probably includes Digby: I never liked the label "pro-choice," since, if indeed abortion is wrong because it is "murder," then making a "choice" is irrelevant, since the law does not allow one the "choice" to commit murder.

But nor, on the other hand, should it necessarily be about the right of a woman to "choose" to do with her own body what she wants, since the law does not permit her to commit suicide, nor (in most places) to engage in prostitution. This is not to say a woman can't get away with doing either of those things, it's just to say that we already do allow our government to claim legal authority over such matters.

But wait! Don't get me wrong! I am NOT among those who think abortion should be outlawed!

My main reason for being "pro-abortion" (and you know what I mean by that) is something I rarely talk to others about, mostly because it's based on my own personal "religious" beliefs, such as they are, that hardly anyone else seems to share.

Although I don't believe in the traditional God that most everyone else seems to believe in, I do think that if there IS a God that helps us decide how we should act, both as individuals and as a community, then this God is everything in the universe and beyond, and that God's laws are how everything works.

So just as I know not to walk off a cliff, since that would not be good for me, I know also that my whole happy existence depends on the support of a healthy community, which in turn depends on healthy adults raising healthy children. If, on the other hand, a community gets weighted down with mothers who can't support their children, it ceases to be a healthy community. (But if, instead of aborting, the mother chooses to place the baby up for adoption - and this should be HER choice, never the community's - that's fine, although it's worth noting that there are already thousands of unfortunate kids waiting to be adopted in this world, and placing them in good families is already a task that overwhelms us.)

And on that question of so-called "murder," we often forget that God does not decide what kind of killing is considered "murder" under our laws - we do. In fact, to the extent that the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God has weighed in on anything like "murder" in general, he said in his famous Ten Commandments only that you shalt not "kill" - but paradoxically, one of the few times "He" addressed the idea of killing babies in particular, he seemed to be all in favor of it, instructing the Jews it was okay to go to Canaan and kill everybody they see, women and babies included.

The death of the extremely young, awful as this may sound, has always been a natural part of life on Earth. How many newly-born sea turtles survive long enough to create their own offspring? And it wasn't too long ago in human history that infants had maybe a fifty-fifty chance of becoming children, much less adults. Back then, we created as many babies as we could afford to raise, knowing not all of them would stay with us long enough to support us in our old age; it's only now, after our scientists have come up with miracle means of straight-arming infant mortality, that we are confronted with the vexing question of whether to purposely perform a task that nature used to handle on its own.

Obviously, I don't buy into the belief that abortion should never be used for "birth control" purposes, an argument that even many "pro-choicers" are too shy to deny; in fact, that's almost always how abortion will be used. In truth, as frightening and brutal as this may seem to some, when it comes to abortion as birth control, I think God probably approves of the concept. In fact, I think God, at least the one I believe in, might actually, in most cases, mandate it.

And so now you know why I rarely talk about this stuff.
Yep, telling the Christian evangelical right that, in regard to abortion, "God probably approves of the concept," would be a tough sell. And the secular left doesn't deal much with talk of God.

Rick may be right about all this. But the argument is too hot for these times, where everyone is saying he or she knows exactly what God approves of and what He does not, and everyone else just has it all wrong. I kind of like Rick's God - sounds like a reasonable fellow.

Posted by Alan at 20:30 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 21 September 2005 20:38 PDT home

Topic: God and US

God Stuff: An Odd New Lobby Group in Washington

The most unlikely news item of week comes from Jill Lawrence, reporting in USA TODAY on Monday, September 19, where she tells a new lobbying group in Washington, representing Americans who don't believe in God. Those would be the atheists. See Non-Believers Raising Voice In Capital.

This is about Lori Lipman Brown who started Monday as executive director of the Secular Coalition for America. She describes herself as a "soft, fuzzy atheist" and says her two goals are to keep religion out of government and win respect for "a stigmatized minority."

Good luck. Lawrence:
Christian conservatives wield enormous clout here through a network of advocacy groups and relationships with politicians from President Bush on down. Atheists, humanists and freethinkers, as Brown's constituents call themselves, are usually ignored .

Is she scared? "Nah," says Brown, 47, an atheist with a Jewish background. "It feels good to be the first."
Why would she be sacred? No Christian leader ever advocated violence against anyone, like an assassination or some such thing. We'll maybe some have, but not against a pleasant, middle-aged formerly Jewish woman, at least not yet.

So what's going on with the new lobbying group? Lori Lipman Brown says atheists these days are like gay folks in the seventies - people just coming out of the closet to fight for acceptance. Yeah, think of the Village People. Lawrence quotes her saying this: "There's been so much rhetoric in the past decade about how important religion is to being a good person that it's been scary for people to say they don't believe in God." Brown vows to "use the A-word and not cringe."

This is a not going to go down well, and Lawrence trots out the figures from a recent Pew Research Center poll:

• Eleven percent of Americans said they do not believe in God but do believe in a "universal spirit" or "higher power."
• Three percent said they do not believe in God or a spirit or power.
• One percent identified themselves as actual atheists (no God there, folks)
• Two percent identified themselves agnostics (could be a God, one never knows)

And then there is the eleven percent who says they "have no religious preference." Pew Director Andrew Kohut says this includes people "who may not be ready to declare themselves atheists or agnostics." But what are they waiting for? Proof of the existence of God? Proof of the absence of God?

In any event, these are small numbers. But Herb Silverman, president of the Secular Coalition for America, counts them all and says he has "a thirty-million-strong constituency that is informed about the issues and votes." Herb is an optimistic fellow.

Lori Lipman Brown, however, has her plans - building "broad coalitions" fighting policies rooted in religious beliefs, and that would be fighting limits on stem cell research and access to emergency contraception and that sort of thing. And then there is that matter of building alliances with groups opposed to policies that blur the "wall" between church and state, like tossing great wads of taxpayer money at "faith-based" service programs. Curiously she says she doesn't want to fight about eliminating references to God from the oath of citizenship. No point to that, as she says, "the courts are on our side." And so they are, or were last week in the Ninth Circuit out here in California.

Of course, Gary Bauer, the most Christian of Christian conservatives, who now lobbies against gay marriage and for conservative "values," says atheists' timing couldn't be worse, given Hurricane Katrina. He's quoted as saying this: "We're right in the middle of a horrible event when people are turning to God. They're going to find it very hard to get people to vote for the sort of things they're in favor of."

Of course he's not considering those who now are pretty puzzled by God's gulf storms this year, or wondering if there is a God we can blame (or praise) for this massive devastation - maybe this global warming stuff the Bush administration says isn't happening, and the Christian conservatives ignore, plays a part here, and God has nothing to do with it all.

And Brown says she's just raising issues and thinks she and her like-minded folks deserve to be heard: "We want to get people thinking about what they do that excludes us. The things that perpetuate the idea that we are outsiders - that we can't be patriotic or that we can't be moral or ethical - when in reality our community is tremendously active in making the world a better place to live." She just wants in on the discussion. And she took a pay cut to do this. She was a Nevada state senator from 1992 to 1994 and she fought for gun control, gay rights and abortion rights got all the threats and hate messages and calls. No big deal. She has taught college-level constitutional and high school English. Now? The first-year budget for the coalition office, including her salary and a six-month stipend for a legislative assistant, is a hundred grand. But whatever - she's having fun. "It's important to do the work, even if you're not a high-paid lobbyist. At least there'll be an atheist voice in the mix."

Yeah, but at best she'll be ignored, or patronized. At worst? Perhaps another fatwa from Pat Robertson.

On a more scholarly note, Ronald Aronson, "Distinguished Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies" at Wayne State University and the author of Camus and Sartre: The Story of a Friendship and the Quarrel that Ended It (University of Chicago Press, 2004), in the October-November issue of Book Forum has a lengthy review of seven recent books on atheism, Faith No More? - so something is up.

The books?

The Twilight Of Atheism: The Rise And Fall Of Disbelief In The Modern World - Alister Mcgrath. New York: Doubleday. 320 Pages. $24.
The Transformation Of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith - Alan Wolfe. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press. 320 Pages. $16.
The End Of Faith: Religion, Terror, And The Future Of Reason - Sam Harris. New York: Norton. 256 Pages. $14.
Atheism: A Very Short Introduction - Julian Baggini. New York: Oxford University Press. 144 Pages. $10.
Value And Virtue In A Godless Universe - Erik J. Wielenberg. New York: Cambridge. 202 Pages. $21.
Traité D'athéologie - Michel Onfray. Paris: Grasset. 281 Pages. $23.
An Intelligent Person's Guide To Atheism - Daniel Harbour. London: Duckworth. 160 Pages. $15.

If you go to the Book Forum article there are links so you can buy each of these over the net. Of course Homeland Security may track your purchases, particularly if you order the one in French.

What's in the review? Well, it has a cute opening:
At the sight of Stephen Colbert the studio audience begins cheering with anticipation: It's time for "This Week in God." Colbert calls up the "God machine" and gives it a tap, and a window begins spinning to the most unholy sound as a panoply of religious symbols and images - the pope, believers in the shroud of Turin, assorted rabbis, imams, ministers, priests, creationists, spiritualists, even those those professing secular humanism and atheism ("The religion devoted to the worship of one's own smug sense of superiority") - flash on the screen. Finally the machine comes to rest on a particular target. We see a Jerusalem rabbi, imam, and priest set aside their mutual hatred long enough to denounce that city's gay-pride parade. Or we watch Colbert conduct a blind taste test to see whether he can tell the difference between holy water and Pepsi. Through it all he pokes fun at faith itself, sparing no religion and no holy man (in Blasphe "Me!!!" he takes on deities themselves, challenging, say, Quetzalcóatl to strike him dead by the count of five). Watching "This Week in God" on Jon Stewart's Daily Show, we are, it might seem, witnessing the culmination of a historical progression, from Robert Ingersoll, the great nineteenth-century public unbeliever, to Clarence Darrow, who in the 1920s and '30s would debate a rabbi, priest, and minister during a single evening.

No wonder, then, that it is a bit jarring, after Colbert's polished irreverence and his audience's unforced delight, to return to the real world and be reminded that it is irreligion, and not religion, that is on the defensive today.
And then he explains the books

Alister McGrath:
• In his telling formulation, we are living in the "twilight" of the great modern era of disbelief. In 1960, he points out, "half the population of the world was nominally atheist," but by now the "sun has begun to set" on this "great empire of the mind."

• ... atheists, agnostics, and secularists are less and less relevant to the needs of Americans (and, McGrath adds, the rest of the world). Whether true or not, this is an amazing commentary on the self-confidence that once made atheism the modern creed, which McGrath summarizes as "the religion of the autonomous and rational human being, who believes that reason is able to uncover and express the deepest truths of the universe, from the mechanics of the rising of the sun to the nature and final destiny of humanity."

• ... new currents demonstrate that "Christianity is perfectly capable of reinventing itself" to satisfy the spirit, feed the imagination, and satisfy the longing for transcendence. On the other hand, atheism's "embarrassing intolerance" is demonstrated by the millions of people sacrificed to Russian Communism, which confirmed the fact that modernity was as much an oppressive as a liberating force. McGrath here links Marx's liberating vision to violent "social engineering" and Freud's to "manipulating mental processes." And so he endorses the verdict of postmodernism on this ultimately uninhabitable universe: "Far from providing eternal and universal truths of reason, by which humanity might live in peace and stability, modernity found itself implicated as the perhaps unwitting accomplice of Nazism and Stalinism." Thus occurred "the decline, then the death, of modernity" and with it its partner, atheism. Atheism is now adrift in a newly respiritualized world, "uncertain of its own values," its record of violence and bigotry exposed. Thus "the established religion of modernity suddenly found itself relegated to the sidelines, increasingly to be viewed more as a curiosity than as a serious cultural option."
Alan Wolfe:
• ... over the past generation religion has become closer to people's needs, more positive and personal, and more tolerant and less authoritarian. In 2004 Wolfe pointed out that atheists seemed not to understand how religion had changed. There is a paucity of "serious treatments of why Americans might be better off intellectually, and perhaps even emotionally, if they relied more on themselves and less on powers greater than themselves, and our cultural and political life is poorer as a result." What would it look like if this were to change?
Michel Onfray:
• ... presents atheism in old-fashioned terms, as part of a world-historical process of social emancipation. Onfray's philosophical goal is to renew the modern radical project by integrating the insights of atheism with utilitarianism, hedonism, psychoanalysis, and anarchism, for the first time allowing humanity to "look reality in the face." To prepare the ground for this he seeks to lay bare the many ways in which pathological and death-oriented religious attitudes permeate our world (thus the need for an "a-theology" - to demonstrate the structure, commitments, and suppressed past of religion in its full destructiveness). In the spirit of Feuerbach, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, Onfray is determined to reveal how the creation of a world beyond this world leads to "forgetting the real" with disastrous consequences.

• Onfray is arguing, contra McGrath, that religion has always been, and remains, at the core of our civilization. "We speak, think, live, act, we dream, we imagine, we eat, suffer, sleep, and conceive in Judeo-Christian terms, constructed during two thousand years of development from biblical monotheism. Later, secularism struggles to permit everyone to think what he or she wants, to believe in his or her own god, provided that they don't take note of this publicly. But publicly, the secularized religion of Christ leads the way." It is absurd, then, to suggest that there has ever been a genuinely irreligious moment.

• Worse, Onfray argues, planetary colonialism, slavery, twentieth-century fascisms and genocides have all been carried out only with the silent or tacit approval of religion. With a penchant for list making, he details the Bible's calls to slaughter and oppression as well as the Christian history of giving them its blessing. Even today, he argues, France's official secularism remains underpinned by the same Christian values and ethics that have made hell of the world. The alternative would be a truly democratic and post-Christian morality that would fully free people from religion by beginning from the fact that this is our only world. A secular ethics, pragmatic and utilitarian, would truly pursue what he calls the "hedonist contract" - the greatest good of the greatest number.
Sam Harris:
• ... motivated by an urgent effort to avoid the worst: in a post?September 11 world where "our neighbors are now armed with chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons" and are motivated by "mad," unverifiable, and exclusivist core beliefs, Harris writes to avert catastrophe.

• Harris has raised eyebrows more than any atheist since Richard Dawkins's Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design - for his fervent belief in progress, hostility to Islam, approval of nuclear war and torture, dismissal of pacifism as "flagrantly immoral," and his slap at the "leftist unreason" of Noam Chomsky. Harris's key political sources and positions clearly lean to the Right. For our purposes, however, what matters most is what the book tells us about some of atheism's continuing problems today. If Onfray has remained true to atheism as an emancipatory project at war with religion, Harris has kept alive its image as dogmatic, fanatically rationalistic, and at war to religion.
Julian Baggini:
• ... intended not as an attack on religion but to give a positive explanation of a word, atheism, that conjures "dark images of something sinister, evil, and threatening." His point is that atheism need be neither "happy-clappy" nor "pessimistic or depressive." It is rather a kind of growing up, a turning away from "the innocence of supernatural world views" and an acceptance "that we have to make our way in the world."

• ... covers what have become familiar themes: the argument for an understanding of the world based on natural laws and according to evidence; the centrality in human life of moral choice about what is right and wrong; the "view that life's ultimate purpose must be something which is good in itself and not just something that serves as a link in a never-ending series of purposes"; and the cautionary lessons about zealotry to be learned from the history of both religion and atheism.
The others?
Like Baggini, Erik J. Wielenberg in Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe and Daniel Harbour in An Intelligent Person's Guide to Atheism respond to the current malaise in atheism by engaging in respectful and serious debate with their opponents. Wielenberg presents an analytical philosopher's argument, beautifully restrained and precise. He is responding to a major theme in contemporary thinking about religion, namely, that in a naturalistic universe - one in which there are "no supernatural beings of any sort" - life would have no meaning and there would be no reason to behave ethically. Indeed, the strong selling point of religion recently has been its utility - in providing individual and collective moral grounding, national purpose, and personal hope. In response, Wielenberg, uninterested in the question of God's actual existence, seeks to show that living without God can be both meaningful and moral. Like McGrath and Onfray, Wielenberg focuses on the idea articulated in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov: If God does not exist, everything is permissible.


Harbour's recently reissued Guide to Atheism aspires to show the intellectual and practical superiority of a secular, scientific worldview to a religious one. At stake is not simply the question "Does God exist?" but rather "the whole worldview to which we subscribe." He chooses cumbersome terms for describing the opposing outlooks (the "Spartan meritocracy" and the "Baroque monarchy"), but his focus on worldviews has the potential for shifting the usual debate over God's existence in an important direction - to the varying ways people live their lives. In practice, however, Harbour limits himself to a rather narrow worldview. Above all, he is concerned with what and how we know questions of truth and understanding. He leaves out a vast array of attitudes, feelings, perceptions, and beliefs that fall outside of knowledge - what we live by concerning love, relationships, our connections with the wider universe, death, what is right and wrong. Much of life is not ruled by knowledge, of course, and insofar as our worldview includes all this, Harbour misses it.
See? Now you don't have to read the whole review, with all its detail, or even order any of the books and put yourself on any government watchlist.

Aronson concludes with this: "If the appeal of atheism relies on arguments or it casts itself as a messenger bearing cold hard truths, it will continue to fare poorly in today's world. For secularists, the most urgent need is for a coherent popular philosophy that answers vital questions about how to live one's life."

And this: "A new atheism must absorb the experience of the twentieth century and the issues of the twenty-first. It must answer questions about living without God, face issues concerning forces beyond our control as well as our own responsibility, find a satisfying way of thinking about what we may know and what we cannot know, affirm a secular basis for morality, point to ways of coming to terms with death, and explore what hope might mean today."

Someone ring up Lori Lipman Brown down in DC and tell her.

Posted by Alan at 13:12 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 21 September 2005 13:20 PDT home

Topic: Science

Follow Up: The Other Great Debate

At the end of July in these pages, in Counting the Seconds, or Not, there was a discussion of a controversy - the real problem with adding "leap seconds" in determining what was the actual, precise time at any place on the planet.

Say what?

Of course, it is a bit hard to explain. The July item discussed the heated argument between the Americans who wanted it one way, the British who wanted it another, and some folks at the Paris Observatory who had other thoughts. (By the way, "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis, has a photo of the Paris Observatory, as of last weekend, here.)

This is arcane stuff.

We have offered a proposal at the UN, to an obscure committee on such matters that meets behind closed doors - a very pro-business proposal - but astronomers hate it. And Britain sees it as a threat to its revered standard, Greenwich Mean Time. Our plan would simplify the world's timekeeping by making each day last exactly twenty-four hours. But you see, since the moon's gravity has been slowing down the Earth, it takes slightly longer than those twenty-four hours for the big ball to rotate completely on its axis. So every few years a group that helps regulate global timekeeping, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, tells governments, telecom companies, satellite operators and others to add in an extra second to all clocks to keep them synchronized - an adjustment made on New Year's Eve or the last day of June. But this just screws up all kinds of hyper-accurate computer systems, and GPS systems, even if it helps astronomers to point their telescopes precisely.

So what to do? There seem to be three choices:

You have your International Atomic Time, or "absolute timekeeping," based on atomic clocks. You have your Universal Time, the "classic system" based on the rotation of the earth. Since International Atomic Time was introduced in 1958, "atomic time" has run, now, thirty-two seconds ahead of "ordinary time" - it's those damned fluctuations in the rate of the earth's rotation, of course. And you have the compromise system to manage the divergence - that would be what came out of the International Telecommunication Union in 1971 - a system called "Coordinated Universal Time," a system uses the leap-second idea to keep everyday time accurate within 0.9 seconds. Close enough? We say "no" at the UN meetings. (Note: Leap seconds normally are declared every few years, but because of a recent stabilization in the earth's rotation, which no one is explaining, there have been no leap seconds since 1998.)

So what? See this from the Associated Press, Wednesday, September 21 -British Group Wants Debate on Leap Seconds - they're not happy at all:
Hold on a second! Britain's Royal Astronomical Society on Wednesday called for a public debate on the proposed abolition of leap seconds, a tiny end-of-year adjustment to keep clocks in synch with the earth's rotation.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will meet in Geneva in November to debate a proposal to abolish leap seconds after 2007. The next leap second comes at the end of this year.

Mike Hapgood, secretary of the Royal Astronomical Society, said the debate has practical implications for computers, global positioning systems and for those who study phenomena - such as tides - which are related to the earth's rotation.

"The debate has been rather closed, mainly among timing experts," Hapgood said in a telephone interview. ...
So, should the debate be opened up? That might be fun, and a break from all the talk of war and politics and natural disasters, and oil running out and economic woes and global warming and coming pandemics. On the one side you have the purists, the business folks and the United States government arguing for absolute precision, for good reason, but ignoring the natural world with its imperfections. On the other side you have the realists, the folks who study the tides and stars, and this imperfect earth, and these people need a timekeeping system that matches actual, observable phenomena.

The purists versus the realists? Wait a second (no pun intended). That's the same debate as on all the other matters.

Posted by Alan at 10:53 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Topic: Couldn't be so...

Teenagers: Always a Problem

So what's wrong in Washington?

Tuesday, September 20, I came across this from Susan Estrich:
We used to joke about Bill Clinton feeling everyone's pain. Does George W. Bush only feel pain when the Christian Coalition is feeding it?

My friend Maureen says the critical thing to understand about President Bush is that, psychologically speaking, he is really just a teenager with a grown-up wife/mother. He is busy with his war. Weather is for mayors and governors. So of course he didn't want to interrupt his vacation and take responsibility for a devastating mess that in his book (ask any mother of a teenager about this logic) was simply not his fault.

Why should he, when he had other plans? Only when absolutely forced to do so has he been willing to accept the first rule of politics: that the public will forgive you for anything, but first you have to take responsibility. So yesterday, Bush said: I'm responsible. And now he will say: Let's all pull together and rebuild. What else can he say?

But just remember: It's your teenager talking. Does he really think he did anything wrong? I don't think so. And that's what makes me angry. A president's first obligation is to the welfare of his citizens, regardless of race, color or income. At least, if he's a grown-up.
Our friend Nico in Montreal:
Being someone with two teenagers (16, 19) and a tween (11) in the house, I can say that Bush's teenager-like demur means that he just doesn't see anything that doesn't interest him, either by his own directives or those of his 'parent' community. Left to their own devices, teenagers hardly notice anything but other teens. And what can a teen do when they have been busted for being insensitive, but apologize in disdain?

What has me a little baffled is that every teenager thinks New Orleans is an "excellent" place, one of the four cardinal cities of the US, along with New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. If the storm had hit only little Mobile or Lafayette, you could understand ignoring it, but New Orleans?

My thinking is that the teenage Dubya might have been the first person to arrive in New Orleans, but, as president, he had to wait for FEMA, Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, the Reserves to get there first. I imagine even GWB is disappointed at the slow response of the federal agencies, when he's spent his entire presidency trying to ramp up America's preparedness to disaster.

The federal government would do better next time if they were to call the next dangerous hurricane that threatened America's shore Osama.
Maybe so, but our Wall Street attorney friend suggest we ought to call the next one "W" - which makes some sense.

But if the president is just a teenager with a grown-up wife/mother - then she (one of the two) should help him dress. He's bad with buttons, as you see here:

Sweet Jesus! You can't take the guy anywhere!

Of course, as mentioned in another item in these pages regarding Bush and Cheney: "There's been some kind of bait-and-switch? These guys are sleepers - liberal radicals from the sixties planted in the Republican Party long ago to destroy it from within? Possibly. One of the odder conspiracy theories, of course." Just an offhand comment, but turned into a cartoon here. The nerd-shirt-button thing is part of the same plot? Could be.

But what of the speech itself?

One of our friends teaches marketing to would-be MBA students at a prestigious business school in upstate New York. The view from graduate school?
Did you see Maureen Dowd's piece last Friday - "Disney on Parade" - on the mega lighting imported to New Orleans to backlight W's salvation speech - in a town with little functional power he color-lit Cinderella's castle? I used it in my marketing class - a discussion on modern forms of "packaging."

Regarding this "destroying from within" idea, she went on to make the point that W's proposed coastal bail-out will be the largest government initiative since FDR - and that ultimately Bush Senior will be seen as the ultra-conservative in the family.

The Dowd item is here and contains nuggets like these:
• On Thursday night, Mr. Bush wanted to appear casually in charge as he waged his own Battle of New Orleans in Jackson Square. Instead, he looked as if he'd been dropped off by his folks in front of a eerie, blue-hued castle at Disney World. (Must be Sleeping Beauty's Castle, given the somnambulant pace of W.'s response to Katrina.)

• All Andrew Jackson's horses and all the Boy King's men could not put Humpty Dumpty together again. His gladiatorial walk across the darkened greensward, past a St. Louis Cathedral bathed in moon glow from White House klieg lights, just seemed to intensify the sense of an isolated, out-of-touch president clinging to hollow symbols as his disastrous disaster agency continues to flail.

• In a ruined city - still largely without power, stinking with piles of garbage and still 40 percent submerged; where people are foraging in the miasma and muck for food, corpses and the sentimental detritus of their lives; and where unbearably sad stories continue to spill out about hordes of evacuees who lost their homes and patients who died in hospitals without either electricity or rescuers - isn't it rather tasteless, not to mention a waste of energy, to haul in White House generators just to give the president a burnished skin tone and a prettified background?

• The slick White House TV production team was trying to salvage W.'s "High Noon" snap with some snazzy Hollywood-style lighting - the same Reaganesque stagecraft they had provided when W. made a prime-time television address from Ellis Island on the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. On that occasion, Scott Sforza, a former ABC producer, and Bob DeServi, a former NBC cameraman and a lighting expert, rented three barges of giant Musco lights, the kind used for "Monday Night Football" and Rolling Stones concerts, floated them across New York Harbor and illuminated the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop for Mr. Bush.
And this:
The Oedipal loop-de-loop of W. and Poppy grows ever loopier.

With Karl Rove's help, Junior designed his presidency as a reverse of his father's. W. would succeed by studying Dad's failures and doing the opposite. But in a bizarre twist of filial fate, the son has stumbled so badly in areas where he tried to one-up Dad that he has ended up giving Dad a leg up in the history books.

As Mark Twain said: "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

Of course, it's taken Junior only five years to learn how smart his old man was.
Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta -
But it was odd marketing indeed, don't you think?

Looking back on it, it seemed like the White House gardeners had been brought down to mow the lawn, which they finished only moments before Bush strolled across it. I mean, these folks fly the president all the way to this scene of desolation in order to make the case that he does feel our pain after all, yet they don't want to make it look like a mess, so he ends up making a speech from what looks like the Beverly Hilton after a lovely late night meal on the lawn with family and friends.

So did all this help him sell whatever the hell he was trying to sell us? I mean, not that I think they should have casually left a cadaver or two lying around, as if they were just "so busy doing the people's business" that they hadn't found the time to clean up the shot - I suppose that would have been pretty tacky, and obviously staged at that.

What's funny is that it used to be these people could have had him do anything they wanted - possibly including having sex on live TV with either a farm animal or a small child of either gender - and most Americans would still vote for him, but now that he's not running for anything anymore, they can't seem to do anything right. So I ask you, what's up with that?

I mean, his poll numbers are in the dirt! So what is it about Americans that they know who and what they're voting for - and this includes Richard Nixon and Grey Davis - and yet later change their minds and decide they want somebody else in there now? Why don't they see the value in trying real hard to get it right the first time?

Teenagers, my ass! Toddlers is more like it.

PS - I'm actually fond of toddlers, by the way; I just wouldn't trust them to prepare my income tax returns, much less run my country.
Yes, this didn't work out well.

But let's get the opinion of a professional - T. J. Walker, author of Presentation Training A-Z, and president of Media Training Worldwide. Here is some of his evaluation and it appeared in William F, Buckley's flagship conservative journal, The National Review:
President Bush's walk out to the lectern in front of a church last night to address the nation was a nice opening touch. His blue shirt was wrinkleless, but with rolled up sleeves, he looked like he was serious about hard work and seemed appropriately somber.

Stage Craft
Bush has greatly improved his TelePrompTer reading abilities over the years, but he is still no Reagan or Clinton. Though Bush had only a few very minor stumbles, he didn't seem as steady or rehearsed as he did earlier in the year for his Inaugural or the State of the Union addresses. Though Bush no longer rushes his Teleprompter reading as he once did, he was squinting as though he was having a hard time reading. Additionally, the lighting seemed too harsh on his eyes. While technically proficient, Bush didn't adequately personalize his delivery. Additionally positive, Bush did not shake or bob his head, as he often does when he tries to seem emphatic.

Speech Craft
Structurally, Bush's speech was well-crafted. He used ample doses of examples, stories and vignettes, complete with dialogue from real people. However, his hawking of 1-800 numbers and websites seemed un-presidential and more appropriate for a lowly public information officer giving a press briefing.


Appeal to liberals
If Hillary Clinton once channeled Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House, then Bush one-upped her by channeling FDR and LBJ. Bush said the answer to all of New Orleans' problems was big government or gigantic government. New government program after new government program was proposed. Ted Kennedy must have been chortling to himself thinking "I must be back in the 60s world of big government solutions to every societal problem." For a moment it seemed Bush would promise a chicken gumbo in every pot.

Appeal to conservatives
Zero. Bush ignored the concepts of individual accountability and responsibility in his speech. In the Bush world, his new moral relativism makes no distinctions between those who bought flood insurance and those who didn't; those who choose to live in safe mountains high above sea level and those who build below sea level in flood zones predicted by every expert to be washed away. Bush's message was redistributionist, collectivist, and nannist. Individuals bear no responsibility for their misfortunes or for their own recovery. Any conservative with third grade math skills or beyond could smell trillions of dollars of budget deficit flowing out of Bush's mouth.
So says the National Review.

Maybe the conspiracy theory, that Bush is a liberal sleeper planted long ago in Republican Party to destroy it, has its merits.

How else would explain these sorts of things?

From John Podhoretz, over at National Review Online, this:
For the crime of noting that the president's speech didn't help his poll numbers, I'm getting battered by e-mailers who suggest, among other things, that I am somehow unmanly because I'm not "supporting" the president enough. I never thought a day would come when I - the author of a book entitled 'Bush Country: How Dubya Became the First Great Leader of the 21st Century While Driving Liberals Insane' - would be accused of being a fair-weather supporter of GWB. Let me just try to explain something to my e-mailers. The president gave his speech Thursday night in an effort to reverse the decline in his political fortunes. ... It appears his effort was unsuccessful, in part (I think) because he sounded like a Big Spender and alienated more Republicans without winning over more Democrats. ... Bush supporters don't help him or themselves any by pretending his troubles are all due to the MSM. He has, for the moment, lost the country's confidence.

And he won't win it back with thing like this- the appointment of Julie Myers to head the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security.

Note this from the Washington Post:
The Bush administration is seeking to appoint a lawyer with little immigration or customs experience to head the troubled law enforcement agency that handles those issues, prompting sharp criticism from some employee groups, immigration advocates and homeland security experts.

The push to appoint Julie Myers to head the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, comes in the midst of intense debate over the qualifications of department political appointees involved in the sluggish response to Hurricane Katrina...

... After working as a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, N.Y., for two years, Myers held a variety of jobs over the past four years at the White House and at the departments of Commerce, Justice and Treasury, though none involved managing a large bureaucracy. Myers worked briefly as chief of staff to Michael Chertoff when he led the Justice Department's criminal division before he became Homeland Security secretary.

Myers also was an associate under independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr for about 16 months and has most recently served as a special assistant to President Bush handling personnel issues.

Her uncle is Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the departing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. She married Chertoff's current chief of staff, John F. Wood, on Saturday.

In written answers to questions from Congress, Myers highlighted her year-long job as assistant secretary for export enforcement at Commerce, where she said she supervised 170 employees and a $25 million budget. ICE has more than 20,000 employees and a budget of approximately $4 billion. Its personnel investigate immigrant, drug and weapon smuggling, and illegal exports, among other responsibilities.

Myers was on her honeymoon and was not available to comment yesterday. Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman, cited Myers's work with customs agents on money-laundering and drug-smuggling cases. "She's well-known and respected throughout the law enforcement community," Healy said. "She has a proven track record as an effective manager."
Right. And I'm the pope.

Also from the Post:
"It appears she's got a tremendous amount of experience in money laundering, in banking and the financial areas," said Charles Showalter, president of the National Homeland Security Council, a union that represents 7,800 ICE agents, officers and support staff. "My question is: Who the hell is going to enforce the immigration laws?"
Picky, picky. picky...

Think of Michael Brown at FEMA who just resigned, formerly the chief council to the Arabian horse organization - before they fired him. That worked out well, didn't it? And heck, Julie here is the niece of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after all, and she worked for Ken Starr on getting Clinton good for that blow job, and she just married the second in command to the man who runs all of Homeland Security, Chertoff. And Chertoff himself had no emergency management experience at all, and never ran any large organization - he ran an office investigating and prosecuting corporate crime. He's doing fine work, no?

Heck, only an irresponsible sneering teenager would appoint someone utterly unqualified just because they knew someone he knew? Think about it.

Maybe such appointments are a sort of teenage rebellious in-your-face kind of thing. Last week - see the Washington Post here - the FDA appointed Norris Alderson, a veterinarian, to the post of director of the Office of Women's Health Then, a few days later, the FDA announced an internal promotion - a Theresa Toigo would be directing the Women's Health office. They then refused to acknowledge that they had, in fact, named Alderson to the post a few days earlier. Never happened. You can imagine the Bush joke at the White House - get a retired vet to work with the damned bitches - a bitch is a bitch. At least that's what my Wall Street friend hypothesized. It was kind of a teenage joke. Of course the post was vacated last month by an MD named Susan Wood - she resigned saying the administration was throwing out scientific findings to please the religious right, and she would have none of it. She wanted to work from the proven facts. Bitch. (Covered in these pages here and in brief elsewhere - here.)

This is teenage stuff.


Apparently White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card is going to be the new Secretary of the Treasury, replacing John Snow. Over at the Washington Monthly this -
Has it really gotten to the point where it's impossible for Bush to find solid, conservative appointees for these positions who have actual experience in the relevant fields? Aren't there any left who are still willing to work for him? Or does he feel so besieged by life that he literally feels he can't trust anyone with a big job unless they've spent a couple of years working within a few feet of him?
Teenagers are like that. From Brad DeLong, the Berkeley economist, this:
Certainly there is no reason to think that Andrew Card is qualified to direct either international economic policy coordination, manage the fiscal policy of the United States, or regulate its financial system. And I have not met anybody who has in private praised Andrew Card's performance as White House chief of staff. The consensus is that he has made sure that the president hears only what the president wants to hear. But the job of chief of staff is to make sure that the president hears what the president needs to hear.
Teenagers don't like to hear what they need to hear, Brad. Sure, the man knows nothing of finance or the economy, but Bush trusts him. He says nice things. As for this huge budget and the current account deficits, and rising energy and gold prices, and a bubble in the housing market, and out of control hedge funds, and a corporate pension system in the process of collapse - any of which could trigger a real financial crisis - what's the problem? What could go wrong where the Treasury might actually have to do something? Directing international economic policy coordination, managing the fiscal policy of the United States, regulating its financial system - anyone can do that.

And we have this doofy teenager who can't button his shirt right calling the shots for the next two or three years. Hope for the best.

Posted by Alan at 20:21 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005 20:33 PDT home

Monday, 19 September 2005

Topic: Race

Race: The Fire Next Time, Again

Okay, there are a few. Fox News has them on all the time to show that the president is a fine fellow. That's the Murdoch-Ailes mission. Everyone else rags on the president, and, to make things fair and balanced, their news operation will do the opposite. So they trot out these guys, the black, pro-Bush Republicans. Yes, there are a few. They're one of the Fox News weapons in their war to take back the national narrative from the liberal, Jewish, pro-Democrat, probably socialist, clearly anti-Christian and irresponsible New York media, those guys who want Saddam back in power and would kill hundreds of millions of our embryo citizens and force teenage girls to have abortions even of they're not pregnant, and all the rest. But is the administration screwing over our black citizens? Have they been systematically doing that? Bring out the black Bush supporter. Prove it isn't so. These guys love George.

But what happens when one of them reaches his limit? Consider Robert A. George of the National Review, William F. Buckley's flagship magazine of the conservative movement. It seems he has, as he writes this -
First came House Speaker Dennis Hastert openly considering "bulldozing" parts of New Orleans - at a point when the city was still 80 percent under water, bodies were still being fished out and people were still stranded in the convention center...

Then, former First Lady Barbara Bush uttered words in a radio interview which will unfortunately haunt her remaining years: "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." Those that heard the contents state that she notably "chuckled" during the last phrase.

Now, for some, Katrina may present new opportunity. But if poor children lost their parents and were adopted by a wealthy couple, would one chuckle that things were "working well for them"?
And then, to complete the hat trick, an actual Louisiana congressman pops up telling lobbyists, "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did." Baker claimed that he was misquoted or misheard or something...

Honestly, I might be inclined to give Baker the benefit of the doubt, if it didn't seem like this disaster has given Republicans the opportunity to "share" how they really feel. Similarly, under normal circumstances, I wouldn't include Barbara Bush's comments. But, not this time. It just happens too often to ignore them anymore.

Ironically, the concern uttered here is not that the statements are necessarily racist or suggest some animus toward minorities. That's not the point. It is that the speakers seem unable to see those suffering as actual people.
Of course, this is on his web log, not in the National Review, nor on Fox. The title is "Why Am I Still a Republican?"

Good question, and don't expect Hannity or O'Reilly to interview you on the topic. But welcome aboard the reality express.

It is fascinating to watch the thoughtful conservatives deal with their party in its current turmoil, like Andrews Sullivan here:
One of the more irritating aspects of the post-Katrina debate has been the assertion by some liberals that the failure to provide emergency assistance for citizens hit by a natural disaster is a function of conservatism. The notion is that conservatives hate government so much that they do not even think the government has an obligation to act in a natural disaster. In fact, the opposite is true. Real conservatives (I'm not referring to the crew now in the White House) favor energetic executive action where only it can do the job: police, war, disaster relief, a basic social welfare net. What we're against is social engineering, redistributive taxation, over-regulation of private activity, etc. What conservatives want is a smaller yet stronger government. And getting smaller helps government focus on what it really should do, not on all the illusory goals that some liberals believe in, like, er, ending human inequality.
Yep, ending human inequality, like working for world peace, is best left to the Miss America Pageant. The sweet young things, when asked for their deep thoughts, always wish for that. Whatever. But note the argument here - "the crew now in the White House" aren't "real" conservatives. There's been some kind of bait-and-switch? These guys are sleepers - liberal radicals from the sixties planted in the Republican Party long ago to destroy it from within?

Possibly. One of the odder conspiracy theories, of course.

Friedrich Hayek is one of the heroes of the conservative movement and Sullivan notes he is quoted here:
There can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody...

Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for those common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance...the case for the state's helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong....

To the same category belongs also the increase of security through the state's rendering assistance to the victims of such "acts of God" as earthquakes and floods. Wherever communal action can mitigate disasters against which the individual can neither attempt to guard himself nor make provision for the consequences, such communal action should undoubtedly be taken.
Sullivan's conclusion ? "What has happened under Bush is not a function of conservatism. It's a function of abandoning conservatism."

And here he issues a challenge to other "real" conservatives regarding this blog effort to get some Republicans to cut "pork" out of the federal budget.
I'm as eager as the next guy to prevent pork-barrel spending, and I'd definitely support this effort. But the blogosphere campaign to battle pork in the face of Katrina, however admirable, still strikes me as too easy. The truth is: even if we got rid of all the pork, we'd still be in deep fiscal doo-doo. People like me who want to find the money to pay for Iraq and Katrina should be asked what we'd cut. Here's my basic list: postpone or repeal or radically scale back the Medicare drug benefit so it only affects the truly needy; restore the estate tax in full; phase in the means-testing of social security; end agricultural subsidies; kill off all corporate tax relief and the mortgage deduction and move toward a flat tax. That's a start. How many fiscal conservatives will bite these bullets?
Not many.

But is Fox News right? Is everyone picking on Bush, and now the "real" conservatives?

Consider the Monday polling data from Survey USA:
Three polling days after George W. Bush's prime-time speech to the nation from Jackson Square in New Orleans, a "can't win" dynamic is unfolding for the President, according to exclusive SurveyUSA data gathered Friday 9/16, Saturday 9/17 and Sunday 9/18. The number of Americans who now approve of the President's response to Hurricane Katrina is down: 40% today compared to 42% before he announced the Gulf Opportunity Zone. The number of Americans who disapprove of the President's response to Katrina is up: 56% today compared to 52% before the speech. Bush went from "Minus 10" on his Response to Katrina before the speech to "Minus 16" today.
Guess the speech didn't work. His opponents didn't see much to cheer, only a little, and he ticked off his conservative base:
One way to make sense of these numbers is to look at the number of Americans who today say the Federal Government is doing "too much" for Katrina victims. That's up to 16% today, more than triple what the number has been on 7 of the 19 days that SurveyUSA has conducted daily tracking since the storm. The more cash President Bush throws on the fire, as compensation for what some see as an inadequate initial response, the more it antagonizes his core supporters.
Heck, all he was trying to do was buy better polling numbers using two hundred billion dollars of taxpayer money, or money borrowed from the Chinese and Japanese in long-term treasuries. Sometimes you can't win for losing.

But at least he avoided a racial uprising by offering something. See Katrina stirs memories of Watts by Diane McWhorter in USA Today, Monday, September 19 ? she won a Pulitzer for Carry Me Home and wrote A Dream of Freedom, one of those "young-adult" books, a history of the civil rights movement.

She asks you to remember this:
In the late-summer doldrums, a peerless American city at the continent's edge suffered complete social breakdown. Black citizens rose up in arms against the institutions of civilization and commerce. Marauders commandeered the streets, looting guns from abandoned stores. By the time the National Guard restored peace, a major part of the city lay in ruin, and America had been shaken to the very core of its national identity.

The scene was Los Angeles, 40 years before Hurricane Katrina spun New Orleans into anarchy.
And she ends with this:
On the Tuesday the levees broke in New Orleans, the U.S. Census reported that, despite economic growth in 2004, the poverty rate had increased and income had stagnated. In Watts, the poverty rate today - 46% - is higher than it was in 1965. In the reallocation of national priorities since the country waged war on poverty, it is the rich who are now receiving "handouts," while nearly 30% of residents of a city dedicated to les bon temps live below the poverty line and beneath dignity, as the recent events so gruesomely demonstrated.

"God gave Noah the rainbow sign," goes the old Negro spiritual. "No more water, the fire next time." The omen from this flood, as the president acknowledged in his speech from New Orleans last week, is that the ark is off course.

And the forsaking of those in direst need of its shelter has fired the moral imagination of the rest of us.
So go read the middle. We're at the edge.

Okay, you remember your Langston Hughes - the "Dream Deferred" thing (here). Read the last line again.

And too, read some of the current folks on the right who are angry with Bush for mentioning "racial inequality" may have been a problem and we should do something about it. Read this guy:
His statement is the standard apology for disproportionate black poverty, disproportionate black crime, and disproportionate black underachievement in America. It is the bread and butter of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and the standard "Get out the vote" cry of the Democratic Party in the inner cities of America.

And it is simply hogwash. If you were poor and black in 1955, you could offer this explanation for failure truthfully. It no longer is very relevant. No one has been cut off from the opportunity of America by external impediments for forty years.
We fixed all that stuff:
The doors have been thrown open, the way lighted and the government has spent several trillion dollars attempting to guide poor blacks through the door. Yet many remain inside the prison of poverty. Racial discrimination, even if prevalent, cannot injure a people without other assistance. Neither can simply being born into poverty.
Yep, it's their own damned fault.

Jesse Taylor here - "I somehow find myself wanting to fall asleep and wake up to discover that all of my favorite 'racism doesn't exist' conservatives find themselves poor, black, and trying to find someplace to live in Georgia."

Oh heck, it's not racism. These guys are thinking of other things, as this Reuters item explains:
Hurricane Katrina will hurt the U.S. economy in the short run but bright long-term prospects mean the Bush administration can push ahead with its reform agenda, a top White House economic adviser said on Thursday.

"In the shorter term, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina will have a palpable effect on the national economy," White House economic adviser Ben Bernanke said in prepared remarks for delivery at the National Press Club. But he said private-sector forecasts were for healthy long-run growth.

Bernanke said the White House intends to continue pursuing policies that have make the economy able to withstand shocks and that will keep growth on track.

"These policies include making tax relief permanent, reducing the budget deficit by limiting spending, strengthening retirement and health security through efforts like Social Security reform ...and enhancing energy security," Bernanke said.
They're busy. Things are looking up. They're not thinking about race at all. It's not an issue.

Of course little things keep getting in the way. Note this from Josh Marshall, Monday, September 19 -
The Office of Federal Procurement Policy handles procurement policy for the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

Until Friday the Administrator of the office was David Hossein Safavian.

Today he was arrested on a three-count indictment.

This, from the DOJ press release ...

"David Hossein Safavian was arrested today based on a three- count criminal complaint filed at federal court in Washington, D.C. The complaint charges Safavian with making false statements to a GSA ethics officer and the GSA-OIG, along with obstruction of a GSA-OIG investigation.

"The affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint alleges that from May 16, 2002 until January 10, 2004, Safavian served as Chief of Staff at the GSA. During that time he allegedly aided a Washington D.C. lobbyist in the lobbyist's attempts to acquire GSA-controlled property in and around Washington, D.C. In August 2002, this lobbyist allegedly took Safavian and others on a golf trip to Scotland.

"The false statement and obstruction of the investigation charges relate to Safavian's statements to a GSA ethics officer and the GSA-OIG that the lobbyist had no business with GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip. According to the affidavit, Safavian concealed the fact that the lobbyist had business before GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip, and that Safavian was aiding the lobbyist in his attempts to do business with GSA."

Did I mention that before he signed on with the Bush administration Safavian worked for Jack Abramoff at Preston Gates?

Well, he did. Now reread those three grafs and see if they read any different. Golf trip to Scotland? Right. Small world.

He's also a former business partner of Grover Norquist.
The original item has links to all the appropriate news stories. This one will need to be cleaned up before anyone even thinks about black folks.

From the Washington Post, Friday, January 21, 2005, page A15, this -
The law that created Safavian's position - administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget - does not allow Safavian to intervene in ongoing procurement actions, but he can use the OMB's budget clout to call agencies on the carpet.

"We do have a responsibility to make sure that we have our policies correct," he said in a recent interview. "I view my job as helping to identify policies that are either good for the system or bad for the system, and act accordingly."

Safavian was nominated by President Bush for the OMB post on Jan. 22, 2004, and was confirmed just before Thanksgiving.

... During part of his wait for confirmation, Safavian served as counselor to Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management at the OMB. Safavian had previously served as chief of staff at the GSA, where he picked up experience in federal contracting issues.

He started his career as a lawyer and worked on Capitol Hill for three House members. He also has worked as a consultant and lobbyist on telecommunications, Indian gambling, tax policy and other matters. In his free time on weekends, he serves as a volunteer police officer in the District and in Dumfries, Va.
Whatever. The man who headed FEMA, Michael Brown, had to resign because he was incompetent, and had no qualifications. The man who was to watch over all the billions in contracts to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast? Led away in handcuffs.

What a world, what a world?

This calls for some major spin. Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes have their work cut out for them. Our friend, Rick, the News Guy in Atlanta, worked for Ailes a number of times. Maybe he can tell us all how Ailes will spin this. Our Just Above Sunset columnist Bob Patterson (the World's Laziest Journalist and the Book Wrangler if you head over there) listens to Rush and Hugh Hewitt and all the right side talk radio shows. I'm sure he will report on the spin there.

But what are you going to do with stuff like this in the major media?

Leaders Who Won't Choose
In Washington, it's business as usual in the face of a national catastrophe.
Fareed Zakaria - Newsweek - Sept. 26, 2005 issue

Zakaria is their suave international editor, with his own interview show now, and often a guest on other television panels. He knows his stuff. And he's a bit shrill now.

He opens with this:
Adversity builds character," goes the old adage. Except that in America today we seem to be following the opposite principle. The worse things get, the more frivolous our response. President Bush explains that he will spend hundreds of billions of dollars rebuilding the Gulf Coast without raising any new revenues. Republican leader Tom DeLay declines any spending cuts because "there is no fat left to cut in the federal budget."

This would be funny if it weren't so depressing. What is happening in Washington today is business as usual in the face of a national catastrophe. The scariest part is that we've been here before. After 9/11 we have created a new government agency, massively increased domestic spending and fought two wars. And the president did all this without rolling back any of his tax cuts - in fact, he expanded them - and refused to veto a single congressional spending bill. This was possible because Bush inherited a huge budget surplus in 2000. But that's all gone. The cupboard is now bare.

Whatever his other accomplishments, Bush will go down in history as the most fiscally irresponsible chief executive in American history.

And this:
Today's Republicans believe in pork, but they don't believe in government. So we have the largest government in history but one that is weak and dysfunctional. Public spending is a cynical game of buying votes or campaign contributions, an utterly corrupt process run by lobbyists and special interests with no concern for the national interest. So we shovel out billions on "Homeland Security" to stave off nonexistent threats to Wisconsin, Wyoming and Montana while New York and Los Angeles remain unprotected. We mismanage crises with a crazy-quilt patchwork of federal, local and state authorities - and sing paeans to federalism to explain our incompetence. We denounce sensible leadership and pragmatism because they mean compromise and loss of ideological purity. Better to be right than to get Iraq right.
The idea here is Hurricane Katrina was a wake-up call and it's time to get serious. Maybe work on the basics: "secure the homeland, fight terrorism and have an effective foreign policy to advance our interests and our ideals. We also need a world-class education system, a great infrastructure and advancement in science and technology."

So what else is new? The current crew has other ideas, ideas about how the world ought to be. Privatized, free market, and run by loyal friends (the "right sort of people"), even if they have no concept of how to do the job they've been handed. Maybe they'll learn on the job. (Brown didn't) Maybe they'll be arrested. But they are true believers.

The issue here is some folks see racism. It's not. It's just incompetence.



Monday, September 19, the New York Times and its European sister publication, the International Herald Tribune, put all of the columnists who write for them behind a "wall." If you want to read them or quote them it will cost you around fifty dollars a year. You can see this is an attempt to recoup the cost of publishing a major newspaper, or an attempt to severely limit the influence of those who write for them. Your choice. The Independent (UK) did this a year or two ago, and they are seldom cited now. Why bother? There's lots of good stuff all over the web available for free.

In any event, this site offers some geeky tricks for getting around the Times' wall - security holes not yet plugged. And there you will find Paul Krugman's Monday New York Times column in the relationship of race and incompetence in full. In relation to matters above, this is just one of his observations:
... in a larger sense, the administration's lethally inept response to Hurricane Katrina had a lot to do with race. For race is the biggest reason the United States, uniquely among advanced countries, is ruled by a political movement that is hostile to the idea of helping citizens in need.

Race, after all, was central to the emergence of a Republican majority: essentially, the South switched sides after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Today, states that had slavery in 1860 are much more likely to vote Republican than states that didn't.

And who can honestly deny that race is a major reason America treats its poor more harshly than any other advanced country? To put it crudely: a middle-class European, thinking about the poor, says to himself, "There but for the grace of God go I." A middle-class American is all too likely to think, perhaps without admitting it to himself, "Why should I be taxed to support those people?"

Above all, race-based hostility to the idea of helping the poor created an environment in which a political movement hostile to government aid in general could flourish.

By all accounts Ronald Reagan, who declared in his Inaugural Address that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," wasn't personally racist. But he repeatedly used a bogus tale about a Cadillac-driving Chicago "welfare queen" to bash big government. And he launched his 1980 campaign with a pro-states'-rights speech in Philadelphia, Miss., a small town whose only claim to fame was the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers.

Under George W. Bush - who, like Mr. Reagan, isn't personally racist but relies on the support of racists - the anti-government right has reached a new pinnacle of power. And the incompetent response to Katrina was the direct result of his political philosophy. ...
That seems about right - Bush is not personally racist but relies on the support of racists. The effect is the same.

Posted by Alan at 21:31 PDT | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005 11:43 PDT home

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