What Fucking Bipartisanship?

We’re hearing a lot about “bipartisanship” and “post-partisanship” and “working together despite disagreements” (like, oh, say, the little tiff we’re having over whether gays are nasty incestuous pedophiles or decent people who should be allowed to suffer marriage just like heteros). We’re hearing it mostly from Republicons who think they can get their way with the new administration and, of course, Obama. The “Kumbaya” singing is notably lacking when it comes to folks like Rep. Jon Kyl and other leading Con lights whose raison d’etre is to fuck up a Democrat’s day whilst raiding a blue collar worker’s pension fund.

Digby’s take on the situation refreshed me like a pleasant morning breeze:

Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I think Americans are probably not destined to all come together in comity and good will to work toward the common good any time soon. And you also know that I don’t think there’s anything especially wrong with that. If politics is war by other means then that’s the way things are supposed to work.

[snip]

As Ezra says, it’s not enough that everyone has their views “respected” in any case. I don’t even know what that means when it comes to fundamental issues of freedom, liberty, faith, duty etc. Of course I respect everyone’s right to their beliefs and I will fight the proverbial fight for them to be allowed to express them. But I don’t have to respect every view that comes down the pike and I certainly don’t have to willingly make room in my political coalition for people to enact their agenda if it goes against what I believe in. Why would anyone think I should?

The truth is that it’s disrespectful to sincere people on all sides to suggest their disagreements are so shallow that they can be dealt with by pretending that all we need to do is proclaim that we respect one another. Even if you respect someone, sometimes there’s no avoiding a fight.

Exactly so. That’s precisely the problem, and why this reaching out to homophobic fucknuggets like Rick Warren is so damned odious to me.

Believe it or not, economist Paul Krugman has a little something to say on the subject as well:

Guest host Chip Reid asks Krugman if the recession is actually a blessing in disguise, because it opens the door for a 21st Century New Deal. Krugman agrees, but only if we let go of the myth of “bipartisan agreement”:

He’s [..] not going to get bipartisan consensus. He may be able to get some moderate Republicans votes. He may be able to get the moderate Republicans in the Senate – both of them — to go…vote with the Democrats. The point is, you look at what John Boehner is doing in the House right now, the House Republican Leader. He’s dead set against doing anything constructive right now. He’s actually soliciting on his website, saying if there are any credentialed economists who are willing to you know, say negative things about stimulus plans, please contact me. So no, it’s not going to be bipartisan, in the sense that leaders of both parties are going to get together. Reaching out across the aisle, trying to find some sensible people on the Republican side is not the same thing.

I find it hilarious that after all of the petty partisanship of the last eight years that somehow it’s incumbent upon the Democrats to be the grown-ups in Washington and reach across the aisle. Where was all the talk in the media circles of bipartisanship for the last eight years? Is it that the media knows that Republicans aren’t mature enough to do so? And where, in all their history, have the Republicans shown themselves to be able to do anything for the good of the country instead of their party, as Krugman so aptly describes?

Krugman is dead on right. There will be no bipartisan consensus. The Republicans’ agenda will be to obstruct and hobble as much of the Obama plans as possible to regain the majority in 2010 with the argument that the Democrats couldn’t do anything. Boehner has all but admitted it. So let’s let go of the notion of “bipartisanship” and get the majorities necessary to get things done.

All too true. And I love how despairing Krugman sounds when he talks of “trying to find some sensible people” among the Cons.

The truth is that the sensible Republicans have pretty much been booted out. What we’ve got left to work with is a bunch of posturing, histrionic, fucktarded loons.

That doesn’t exactly make for ideal bipartisan efforts, now, does it? It’s good to see folks who realize that. I think Obama does, too, but he’s going to try to force the other side to break the “truce,” and if he’s more skilled than previous Dems, he’ll be able to make that blow up in the Cons’ faces for once. Which would be delightful.

Prop 8: Bet You Didn’t Realize There’s a Lesson to be Learned from the Romans

EmperorHadrian at Daily Kos has a wicked cool diary up exploring how the tyranny of the majority ends up affecting democracy:

We might be prone to be sympathetic to the Roman assemblies, and certainly its members were not nearly as powerful as the senators. The problem, however, is that democracies then as now can be manipulated by demagogues, sometimes even those with dictatorial ambitions (as we saw in the 2004 election). This was what helped Julius Caesar rise and overthrow the republic. The constitutional balance between the democracy and the aristocracy was what prevented a tyrannical leader, with no one’s interest in mind other than his own, from seizing power. The point of any constitutional system is to place checks and balances so that no source of authority (executive, aristocratic, or democratic) can achieve unchecked power. For this, look no further than our constitution. Our constitution is designed so that, say, some 52% majority can’t just invalidate the equal protection clauses in the constitution and thus deny rights, say marriage rights, to some unpopular minority group.

[snip]

In effect, Tiberius used the same theory of popular sovereignty that Julius Caesar would later use, and that the supporters of Prop 8 in California used. The theory, that laws and constitutional mandates can simply be ignored when popular majorities disagree with them, was (is) repugnant to the genius’ of both the Roman and American constitutional systems, and if carried to their logical ends, would put the state under the absolute control of any temporary popular majority. Replace “popular majority” with “president”, and you get Nixon’s famous decree that “if the president does it, that means it is not illegal”.

Deary, deary me.

He makes a good case that following the popular will without respecting minority rights can weaken and eventually topple a democracy. Go have a read. It’s another good arrow to have in the quiver.

Prop H8ers Eating Their Own

I am amused.

It’s a fact of human nature that you shouldn’t mistake haters uniting against a common hatred for friendship. Once the object of their mutual hatred is vanquished, they go right back to despising each other.

Observe:

After the success of the Evangelical-Mormon lovefest otherwise known as Prop 8, I was really looking forward to reading what Glenn Beck might write over at James Dobson’s place. Would Glenn use the opportunity to ask Dr. Dobson about that time back in 2004 when Dobson’s wife, Shirley, excluded Mormons from the National Day of Prayer? And would Glenn suggest that maybe, in the afterglow of Prop 8, now was a good time for Dr. Dobson to offer an apology to Mormons for not letting them use the word “Christian” to describe themselves? And would it be an apology as heartfelt as the one that Beck delivered to Dobson on-air in 2007? And, considering how successful the Mormons were at helping the Evangelicals keep the word “marriage” all to themselves out in California, would Dr. Dobson perhaps finally be moved to graciously begin sharing the “C” word with the Mormons? I mean, Beck and Dobson are both good “Christians” right?

The potential was there for an absolutely riveting read.

So, what happened?

Well, it turns out that apparently Dr. Dobson has agreed that the “C” word does apply to Mormons. The problem now is that it’s that other “C” word. See if you can spot it while I try to sort out the story behind this gripping tale of a dead link.

December 19: A story goes up on Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink website promoting Mormon TV host Glenn Beck’s latest book, “The Christmas Sweater.”

Later that same day, a Christian blogger pens a brief diary under the title Focus on the Family Embraces Mormonism.

[snip]

December 22: A press release goes out over the ChristianNewsWire announcing that Focus on the Family Promotes Mormon Glenn Beck at CitizenLink and that:

Clearly, Mormonism is a cult. The CitizenLink story does not mention Beck’s Mormon faith, however, the story makes it look as if Beck is a Christian who believes in the essential doctrines of the faith … to promote a Mormon as a Christian is not helpful to the cause of Jesus Christ. For Christians to influence society, Christians should be promoting the central issues of the faith properly without opening the door to false religions.

And by December 24th, Beck had been booted. Merry Christmas, Glenn!

I think this sordid little tale illuminates our path. If we want to eliminate the threat posed our liberties and our civil rights from fundamentalist bullshit religious groups, all we have to do is stir things up again. Whisper in some ears. “Did you know the Mormon cult has a plan to take over the US government and sell all evangelical Christians into slavery?” “Focus on the Family axed Glenn Beck – you’re next!”

Then sit back and watch them tear each other apart. Brilliant!

There’s one disturbing coda to this happy tale. You see, Glenn Beck was up on the FotF site to promote his new book. Here’s what he said about it whilst responding to Dobson’s snubbing:

Beck bites back:

The Christmas Sweater is a story about the idea of Christmas as a time for redemption and atonement. Whatever your beliefs about my religion, the concept of religious tolerance is too important to be sacrificed in response to pressure from special interest groups, especially when it means bowing to censorship. I’m humbled and grateful that hundreds of thousands of people from different faiths have read the book and have appreciated its uplifting message for themselves. At a time when the world is so full of fear, despair, and divisions, it is my hope that all of those who believe in a loving and peaceful God would stand together on the universal message of hope and forgiveness.
-glenn

Glenn Beck thinks he can preach a “universal message of hope and forgiveness?” Is he insane?

I think his book provides clear evidence in the affirmative.

(Tip o’ the shot glass to Ed Brayton)

Happy Hour Discurso

Today’s opining on the public discourse.

Celebrity Death Match time! And what better way to play than to pit two dead presidents against each other?


What an odd poll from Rasmussen.

It’s a showdown between the two most influential presidents of the 20th Century. Franklin D. Roosevelt versus Ronald W. Reagan.

Forty-five percent (45%) of U.S. voters say FDR, the Democratic father of the big government New Deal who led the country to victory in World War II, was the better president of the two.

But 40% say Reagan, the Republican champion of small-government conservatism and the winner of the Cold War, was a better president. Fifteen percent (15%) aren’t sure which of the two they like better in a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

As befits the times, there’s a gender gap — men narrowly preferred Reagan, while women overwhelmingly preferred FDR. Whites were split, while African-American voters backed FDR by more than a two-to-one margin. Dems, liberals, the unmarried, and those who attend worship services less often went with Roosevelt, while Republicans, conservatives, married voters, and evangelicals supported Reagan.

I can appreciate the fact that fawning, sycophantic, and generally embarrassing conservative cheerleading has helped bolster Reagan’s image in the wake of his presidency. I also realize that Reagan, more than any modern leader, is the only GOP figure who’s claimed by every wing of the Republican Party as their own — from New England moderates to Deep South far-right conservatives.

But up against FDR, how is this even a contest?

How, indeed. Steve mentions a variety of embarrassments from the Reagan presidency, and Crooks and Liars details some of the “benefits” of Reaganomics:


I, too, have fond memories of Reaganomics. Why, until Reagan waved his magic wand, our unemployment checks weren’t even taxed! I was absolutely thrilled to be able to make that sacrifice to fund tax cuts for the wealthy:

Another Reagan proposal that came in for criticism was the plan to tax all unemployment compensation.

[…] “What he’s doing is taxing something to a person who is under a rough time to begin with,” noted Herbert Paul, a New York tax lawyer. “But you don’t seem to have a strong lobby group to push to eliminate that, so I think it may well stick.”

And stick it did. Why, thanks to Reagan’s Tax Reform Act of 1986, I only recently finished paying the taxes (and interest) due on unemployment income from 2001 – and here I am, unemployed again, thanks to yet another Republican-sponsored economic crash.

But I digress. The fact is, facts simply aren’t relevant to Republicans, since their economic views and objects of veneration are more appropriate to a religious cult than intellectual rigor. (You might want to get Will Bunch’s new book for a look at this phenomena – and why it’s so important.)

Cute how the Cons can snow authoritarian types into believing that the man who raped them economically was actually a great president. Sadly for them, their influence is on the wane:


David Broder highlights an increasingly obvious political reality about the regional power of the Republican Party.

[snip]

The Southern domination of the congressional Republican Party has become more complete with each and every election. This year, Republicans suffered a net loss of two Senate and three House seats in the South, but they lost five Senate seats and 18 House seats in other sections. No Republican House members are left in New England, and they have become ever scarcer in New York and Pennsylvania and across the Midwest.

Kinda hard to be a national party when most of the nation wants nothing to do with you, innit?

And poor Dick Cheney has no idea why he and his party are reviled:

Only 29 percent of Americans approve of the job Dick Cheney is doing as Vice President. In an interview with his hometown Wyoming newspaper, The Caspar Star-Tribune, Cheney expressed his bewilderment over his low approval numbers:


QUESTION: How do you explain your low approval rating?

CHENEY: I don’t have any idea. I don’t follow the polls.

Perhaps we can clue him in:

In addition to his well-documented abuse of power and disregard for the rule of law, Cheney’s public disapproval ratings might be explained in part by his own personal disregard for the public. When told that two-thirds of Americans disapproved of the Iraq war, Cheney responded “so?,” adding that he didn’t care what the American people thought.

That might have a little something to do with it, yes.

Condi’s just as clueless:

This morning on CBS, Sunday Morning’s Rita Braver interviewed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. In a portion of the interview that does not appear to have aired, Braver noted the results of the recent Pew Global Attitudes survey which found that “the U.S. image abroad is suffering almost everywhere.” Braver prompted Rice saying, “It has to be more than just a perception problem.” Rice dismissed the poll’s results, claiming that the Bush administration has “left a lot of good foundations”:

Q: Looking at the big picture of what’s the whole foreign policy of this Administration – you come out of the academic tradition so I think it’s fair to ask, what kind of grade do you give yourself and this Administration on foreign policy?

RICE: Oh, I don’t know. It depends on the subj
ect. I’m sure that there are some that deserve an A-plus and some that deserve a lot less. … We’ve left a lot of good foundations.

Q: You know, you say that, but the Pew Global Attitudes Project released a new report very recently. On the very first page it says, “The U.S. image abroad is suffering almost everywhere.” … It has to be more than just a perception problem.

RICE: No. Rita, first of all, it depends on where you’re talking about. In two of the most populous countries, China and India, the United States is not just well regarded for its policies, but well regarded.

When pressed further, Rice responded by saying, “It’s not a popularity contest.”

There’s this thing about governing, Condi. It’s not a popularity contest, no, but a) in a democracy, there’s this little “will of the people” thing to contend with because, well, it’s government “of the people, for the people, by the people,” and b) if the world hates you, good fucking luck getting anything done in it. Just sayin’.

Funny how Cons never seem to learn that.

Sunday Sensational Science

Unsung Women of Science


The history of science, you may have noticed, is dominated by men. When we’re pulling names of famous scientists from the tops of our heads, the vast majority are male: Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein. If women come up at all, it’s a paltry few: Madame Curie, of course. Perhaps Vera Rubin, Dian Fossey, Mary Leakey or Rosalind Franklin, if you know your science well. But you’d be forgiven for thinking that women were vanishing rare in science before the mid-to-late 20th Century.

But delve deeper, and you find women there from the very beginning. Their work went unnoticed, unappreciated, or usurped by a male-dominated world, yet they worked on, performing experiments, making discoveries, fleshing out theories. You never realize how much women have contributed to science until you look.

While I was reading E = mc²: A Biography of the World’s Most Famous Equation, I stumbled across three extraordinary women who contributed to Einstein’s revolutionary physics. They prove beyond a reasonable doubt that science isn’t just for the men.

Emilie du Chatelet

History knows her as Voltaire’s mistress, conveniently forgetting that she more than any other person was responsible for bringing the gospel of Newton to passionately Cartesian France.

Born in 1706, she lived in a time when women were expected to become nothing much more than wives, mothers and mistresses. Education for women was limited, but her father, seeing her intelligence, had her privately tutored. He also gave her fencing lessons to help her develop graceful movement – lessons which she later put to good use fending off annoying suitors. Not many men were willing to pursue an unwanted relationship with a woman who could best them with the foil.

She married the Marquis Florent-Claude du Chastellet, whom she knew would be away on military campaigns much of the time and thus leave her to her own devices, which consisted of a series of liasons that not only fed her need for male companionship, but furthered her scientific education. One lover, the Duc de Richelieu, encouraged her to learn higher mathematics. She became fascinated by Newton in her 20s, and spent the rest of her life bringing his elegant theories of gravity to France.

She met and fell in love with Voltaire after he returned from exile in England. They set about turning her husband’s disused country chateau into their own laboratory, stocking it with over 21,000 books – far more than some universities contained. She tested Newton’s theories in the great hall, swinging wooden balls from the rafters. Together, in 1738, she and Voltaire wrote Elements of Newton’s Philosophy, although “together” may be the wrong word. Voltaire said of their collaboration, “She dictated and I wrote.” His name appears as the sole author, but the book was illustrated with an image of Emilie shining Newton’s knowledge on Voltaire’s hand. The book brought Newton to France, explaining his discoveries in light, optics, and astronomy for a wide audience. It was the beginning of the end for Descartes as France’s premier scientific theorist.

Emilie wrote her own book, The Foundations of Physics, which combined the theories of Descartes, Leibniz, and Newton into an elegant whole. The book, published anonymously, resolved previously intractable problems in describing force and movement.

Her most prestigious work was undertaken at the end of her life. She translated Newton’s Principia into French from the original Latin. Her translation, which is not merely a rendition of Newton’s text but also translated Newton’s geometry into the new algebra then current on the Continent, converted the complex mathematics into prose, and summarized recent research and experimental confirmations of Newton’s work. Her translation is still the standard translation of Principia into French.

As she was writing the book, she discovered she was pregnant – a virtual death sentence for a forty-two year-old woman in that age. She pushed herself to work eighteen-hour days, and finished the book on September 1st, 1749. Three days later, she went into labor; less than a week later, she died from either infection or embolism, leaving Voltaire distraught.

Aside from her books, her most astounding contribution to physics was the realization that Newton was wrong. She discovered the experimental results of William s’Gravesande, who had discovered by dropping brass balls into a clay floor that something moving twice as fast will bury itself twice as deep – energy doesn’t merely equal mass times velocity, but mass times velocity squared. With those results in hand, she was able to prove that Leibniz had been right: E ∝ mv². Scientists now started thinking in squares.

I think you know where that led.

Further reading:

Wikipedia entry
Physicsworld: “The Genius Without a Beard”

Lise Meitner

Born in 1878, Lise Meitner cracked a lot of glass ceilings and should have won a Nobel Prize. She discovered nuclear fission, which earned her the unwanted title of “Mother of the Atomic Bomb.”

She studied physics at the University of Berlin. At that time, women in science, especially the hard sciences, was nearly unheard of – she had to get permission to attend classes. Max Planck didn’t believe it was right or natural for women to do more than become housewives and mothers, but he let Lise in – and she did so well she ended up becoming his research assistant.

After university, she and her research partner Otto Hahn moved to the new radiation research unit at the Kaiser-Willhelm Institute. Lise came as his “unpaid guest” – women could not be official employees of the Institute. She did the lion’s share of the work, while Hahn’s name ended up as senior author on all of their papers, and she ended up with only a copy of the award their work won.

Her fortunes changed after WWI, when she became Germany’s first woman professor. She became a full professor of physics at the University of Berlin, where she continued her studies of radiation, atomic theory, and quantum mechanics. But her Jewish heritage caught up with her: she was forced to flee Berlin, leaving Hahn and all of her work behind. She ended up in Stockholm, Sweden, where she discovered that mass is lost when a nucleus splits, released as energy. Einstein’s E = mc² told her how much energy would be released: using his theory, she was able to predict that a chain reaction could result. She wrote to Hahn to share her theory: he did the experiments and published the results – without mentioning her name. Later, he convinced himself that his work alone had resulted in the discover of nuclear fission, for which he won the Nobel Prize.

Franklin Roosevelt invited Lise to work at Los Alamos, where the first atomic bomb was being developed. Lise refused. She would have no hand in using her discovery to kill.

Later in life, she finally received the honors she deserved. Appropriately enough, she received the Max Planck Medal. She also won the Enrico Fermi Award and was elected to the Swedish Academy of Science. Only two other women had ever earned a position at the Academy before her. Long after her death, the 109th element, meitnerium, was named for her.

The inscription on her headstone was written by her nephew, Otto Frisch. It sums her up perfectly: “Lise Meitner: a physicist who never lost her humanity.”

Further reading:

Wikipedia entry

Neatorama, “Lise Meitner: Mother of the Atomic Bomb”

Lise Meitner Online


Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

Born in 1900, Cecilia ended up coming to America from England for the freedom to be a woman and a scientist.

She completed her early education at Cambridge, but earned no degree – degrees weren’t awarded to women at that time. Fortunately, she met Harlow Shapley, director of the Harvard College Observatory, and realized that Harvard was far more open to women. She crossed the pond and, with Shapley’s encouragement, wrote her doctoral dissertation on “Stellar Atmospheres, A Contribution to the Observational Study of High Temperature in the Reversing Layers of Stars.” It marked a huge turning point for women in science: before then, women didn’t do PhD’s, but more than that, her dissertation was very nearly a bombshell:

Astronomer Otto Struve characterized it as “undoubtedly the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy”. By applying the ionization theory developed by Indian physicist Megh Nad Saha she was able to accurately relate the spectral classes of stars to their actual temperatures. She showed that the great variation in stellar absorption lines was due to differing amounts of ionization that occurred at different temperatures, and not due to the different abundances of elements. She correctly suggested that silicon, carbon, and other common metals seen in the sun were found in about the same relative amounts as on earth but the helium and particularly hydrogen were vastly more abundant (by about a factor of one million in the case of hydrogen). The thesis thus established that hydrogen was the overwhelming constituent of the stars. When her thesis was reviewed, she was dissuaded by Henry Norris Russell from concluding that the composition of the sun is different from the earth, which was the accepted wisdom at the time. However Russell changed his mind four years later when other evidence emerged.

Until Cecilia’s work, no one had considered that the sun might be mostly hydrogen and helium. The realization to the contrary revolutionized the way we think of stars – after folks started accepting the evidence.

She spent the rest of her life studying stars and teaching astronomy students. Her work on high-luminosity stars, along with the surveys she and her husband did on stars brighter than the tenth magnitude – a staggering 3,250,000 or so observations – helped astrophysicists understand stellar evolution.

Further reading:

Wikipedia entry

Notable American Unitarians, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin: Astronomer and Astrophysicist

Many women have now followed the trails these extraordinary females blazed. Science is indebted to their discoveries. It’s never been just a man’s world, as these three women and countless others prove. Science wouldn’t be the same without them. That being so, it’s time to start singing their praises.

“The reward of the young scientist is the emotional th
rill of being the first person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something. Nothing can compare with that experience… The reward of the old scientist is the sense of having seen a vague sketch grow into a masterly landscape.”
—Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (accepting the Henry Norris Russell Prize from the American Astronomical Society)

Elitist Bastardry: The Reprise

Anyone need a chaser after our latest COTEB sailing? I have just the thing:

One of my hopes for the New Year would be for a substantial decline of the anti-intellectual fervor that has been dominant in our public discourse since the early 1980’s.

I am defining anti-intellectualism as blatant hostility toward intellectuals, along with the incessant attacks on science, education, and the arts. The anti intellectual critiques suggest that highly educated people are an isolated social group removed from the realities of Main Street.

[snip]

Intellectualism should not mean that one must possesses a graduate degree in order to embrace it. It means we cannot allow oversimplification to trump responses to complex issues that require more than a sound bite.

It also means that our civic duty did not end on November 4, 2008. Our elected officials will treat us however we dictate. If rote, simplistic responses will suffice that is what we will get. But we should demand more because we deserve it.

And at least with Obama, if we demand more, we might just get it. He has, after all, not been afraid to surround himself with elitist bastards. Let the intellectuals rule and the fundies drool!

Hilzoy Schools the Pope

Excuse me a moment while I curse out a “holy” man. I can’t stand Pope Beenadick XVI, who used to be Cardinal Ratfucker, and likely has always been an insufferable ass. It seems like every few days, we’re treated to a new bit of wankery, whether it be bawling people out for buying stuff, or saying that Native Americans were “silently longing”for Christianity, or saying that only the Roman Catholic Church brings hope, or yawping about how Catholics must put a stop to child abuse (without, of course, mentioning that they might best begin by, y’know, not fucking sheltering child raping priests). The man is a complete prick.

Which is why I’m so delighted that Hilzoy once again borrowed the Smack-o-Matic and schooled the Pope with it:

I see that while I was away celebrating Christmas, Pope Benedict decided, as Time put it, to take “a subtle swipe at those who might undergo sex-change operations or otherwise attempt to alter their God-given gender.” Here’s what he said:

“What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense. When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term “gender”, results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator. The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition.

[snip]

It is not true that the natural world teaches us that marriage is between a man and a woman — it doesn’t have teachings on the subject of either human or divine institutions, and it surely does not teach us that homosexuality is unknown in nature. (The Pope is reputedly very smart and intellectually curious; did he somehow miss the stories about gay penguins, fruit flies, bonobos, and even, topically enough, black swans?) Lots of fish change sex, as did this ex-hen. There are male animals who act like females, and vice versa.

More to the point: so what? Lots of things that we find immoral are widespread in nature. Spiders eat their mates, for instance, but that doesn’t imply that it’s OK for us. Lots of things we think are just fine are unknown in animals — number theory, for instance, or blogging. If you want to argue about what we learn when we “listen to the language of creation”, you need to explain how we distinguish it from, say, the language of prejudice. Does the fact that the purpose of eating seems to be nourishment imply that it is immoral to drink diet soda? Does the fact that we ‘naturally’ get around using our legs imply that we were wrong to invent the bicycle, or, for that matter, the wheelchair? Does the fact that we are born vulnerable to a whole host of diseases mean that we should not develop vaccines and cures?

Personally, I think that the idea of defining what’s “natural” for human beings is generally confused. What’s natural is often contrasted to what’s cultural, but human beings are social animals. If anything is natural for human beings, it is being raised by other human beings, and learning things from them: if we tried to find out what’s ‘natural’ for human beings by dropping an infant into an unpopulated wilderness, we’d have to conclude that what comes naturally to us is starvation.

I stand in awe.

Happy Hour Discurso

Today’s opining on the public discourse.

Thank you, George W. Bush, for bringing peace to Israel:

Israeli fighter-bombers and combat helicopters strike dozens of targets inside Gaza starting shortly after local dawn. Guardian UK reporting 120 dead. Other accounts as high as 180, with over 300 wounded. Video shows that large high explosive bombs were used by the Israelis, and witness report massive explosions. Witnesses say that Gaza’s police chief is among the dead.

Most were Hamas security and police forces, but many were also civilians, including children. Gaza hospitals are overwhelmed with the casualties. Israel has announced that it’s intent is to destroy Hamas, and called for Arab Palestinians to reject Hamas. Inside Gaza the belief is that Israel, Egypt, and the US are trying to destroy Hamas, which is the de facto government of Gaza. Peres stated that there would be no “invasion” of Gaza, , but left open military incursions.

The strikes were expected for Sunday, but were done a day earlier to increase casualties, in what is now clearly the first step to escalation of the conflict. The bulk of the casualties occurred when Israeli jets struck a graduation at the Hamas headquarters.

Remember how everybody was going to be singing “Kumbaya” by now? Good times:

In January, George W. Bush famously predicted he would broker a Middle East peace by the end of his presidency. Now with Israel’s launch this morning of airstrikes in Gaza — which so far have left 155 dead — Bush’s pledge of a two-state solution is just the latest failure of his disastrous tenure in the White House.

[snip]

After years of malign neglect regarding the simmering Israeli-Palestinian conflict, President Bush launched his renewed peace effort at the November 2007 Annapolis conference. During a subsequent meeting on January 11, 2008 with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Bush made his pledge of a signed agreement during his presidency:

“I believe it’s going to happen, that there will be a signed peace treaty by the time I leave office…I’m on a timetable. I’ve got 12 months.”

[snip]

For her part, Secretary of State Rice finally put an end to Bush’s wishful thinking on December 15. After a meeting of the diplomatic Quartet of Mideast peacemakers – the U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia – held at the United Nations, Rice announced:

“They won’t achieve agreement by the end of the year, but they have achieved a good deal of progress in their negotiations, a good deal of progress in the work that is being done on the ground.”

Right. Progress. So what does progress look like, anyway?

One target was the Gaza City police station where a graduation ceremony was taking place (this is raw footage from the aftermath of the attack and is graphic):

Ian Welsh has a good analysis (okay, two) of what Israel can hope to gain from this, which is jack diddly shit. Israel and America both are currently run by men who think the answer to every argument is a bomb. The fact that bombs have failed so often and so dramatically doesn’t deter them in the slightest.

Israel didn’t used to fight so many stupid wars. The fact that they are now might possibly have something to do with the fact that America, their staunchest ally, has been run for eight years by batshit insane neocon fucktards. Thank you, George W. Bush, for fucking up the world even further than it was already fucked up.

And what’s America’s response to this development been? What it always is when a Bushie’s in charge. They’re lying about it:

N.S.A. Spokesman Gordon Johndroe condemed Hamas for breaking the 4 month de-facto truce by firing rockets into Israel.

It was “completely unacceptable” for Hamas, which controls Gaza, to launch attacks on Israel after a truce lasting several months, said Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

AP

The only trouble is it was Israel who breached the de-facto truce on November 4th with an IDF raid into Gaza killed 6 Palestinians. Hamas reacted immidately to The IDF´s breach of the truce by lanching rockets into Israel later on the 4th.

Gaza truce broken as Israeli raid kills six Hamas gunmen

A four-month ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza was in jeopardy today after Israeli troops killed six Hamas gunmen in a raid into the territory.

Hamas responded by firing a wave of rockets into southern Israel, although no one was injured.

I can hardly wait to see what other lies they spin around this. And just think, my darlings, he has over 20 days left. That’s plenty of time for him to fuck things up even more spectacularly.

We’re not likely to see more effective Republicon leadership come down the pike, either. Remember yesterday, when we discovered that Chip Saltzman, one of the contenders for RNC chairman, was handing out racist CDs as part of his campaign and responding to the backlash by saying it’s all just good, clean political fun? Remember how there was nothing but silence from the current leadership?

That changed this afternoon, nearly 24 hours after the news broke.

Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan issued a statement Saturday distancing the party’s leadership from one of the GOP’s best-known operatives, Chip Saltsman, who distributed a CD containing “Barack the Magic Negro” as part of his campaign to be elected chairman of the Republican National Committee next month.

Duncan, who has served the campaigns of five presidents dating back to Richard Nixon, is seeking reelection as the party’s 60th chairman in a hotly contested race that includes Saltsman and several other viable candidates.

Duncan’s statement, in its entirety, read: “The 2008 election was a wake-up call for Republicans to reach out and bring more people into our party. I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate as it clearly does not move us in the right direction.”

Um…

That’s it?

That’s the best he could come up with? Not “this was wrong because racism is wrong.” Not “I am shocked and appalled that anyone would think this is appropriate” period? Notice that it’s all about consequences, not remorse. Duncan is upset because this debacle makes it harder to sucker people into becoming Republicons. He’s acting just like a serial killer. Serial killers who cry when they get caught aren’t crying for their victims, but themselves.

So are the Cons. Which demonstrates as clearly as anything that the only thing they find wrong about racist bullshit is that people won’t let them get away with it. They see nothing intrinsically wrong with making racist jokes, treating minorities like inferior beings, and discarding them once they’ve outlived their usefulness.

We allowed these fucktards to be elected. The majority of our fellow citizens trusted them to govern well, govern fairly, and keep the world from falling to bits.

If we’d been paying more attention to their idea of a joke, we would’ve easily been able to predict how all this would turn out.

Perspective

Captain Future has an absolutely gorgeous diary up at Daily Kos telling the story of how this photo was taken:

The Apollo 8 mission was to just orbit the Moon, not land. The astronauts had been concentrating on the lunar surface, when Frank Borman caught a glimpse of color on the gray horizon, a conspicuous glow of blue and white against the black sky. It was the Earth. While he excitedly snapped photos in black and white, Bill Anders loaded his camera with color film, and got the shot that became historic. We know it as “Earthrise.”

And it almost never happened. But you’ll have to head over there for the full story, and the full-size photo. I invite you to read the story, and then just spend a few moments gazing at that cloud-swirled blue marble. That’s home, rising in a lunar sky.

There’s another photo, not quite as famous, but just as awe-inspiring:


Carl Sagan named it “The Pale Blue Dot.” It was Voyager’s Valentine’s Day gift to Earth, a portrait. The distance was so vast – nearly 4 billion miles – that Earth filled less than a pixel, bathed in a ray from the sun.

Seeing Earth like this places everything in a different perspective:

In a commencement address delivered May 11, 1996, Sagan related his thoughts on the deeper meaning of the photograph:
Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Exactly so.

Bugger This. I Want A Better World.

Just past the winter solstice, on the cusp of a New Year, my thoughts inevitably begin to play the retrospection game. I hate it. All of those end-of-year “Best of/Worst of” lists drive me crazy, my New Year’s resolutions are always the same, and it’s not like things magically change on January 1st. Every year I am firm in my determination not to indulge in the sillyness.

This year, the failure doesn’t sting. Gazing backward leaves my jaw agape. Just a few highlights: we found water ice on Mars. We learned that America’s government approved torture at the very highest levels. The world’s economy imploded with horrific speed. Barack Obama became America’s first African American president, and gave us all something to look forward to in 2009: a future.

And I became a blogger, joined forces with other brilliant bloggers, and started Carnival of the Elitist Bastards. This is of a piece with voting for Obama. I did all three things for one simple reason: I want a better world.

We can make that happen.

Several years ago, I read a graphic novel series called The Authority. You all know about Spiderman’s schtick – “with great power comes great responsibility.” Well, Jenny Sparks, leader of The Authority, takes that to its logical conclusion. If you have the power to change the world for the better, that’s what you do. No whining, no excuses. Do the job. Fix the world.

Together, we can do that.

We all have our special talents, areas of interest and expertise. We’ve put them to good use in these last many sailings, battling ignorance, expanding knowledge. We’re taking back the word “elitist” and making it respectable again. And it’s working. Have you seen the Elitist Bastards Obama’s stocked his Cabinet with? There’s a Nobel Laureate in there, for the first time ever.

Okay, so maybe we can’t quite claim responsibility for that. Not completely. But every one of us who voted for him has played a part in bringing wisdom back to Washington. I claim this year in the name of Elitist Bastard.

We have a chance now to make this a better world. Time we seize it with both hands.

This year, we shall make it our business to spread the love of learning. We shall ensure that the word “elitist” is once again a mark of distinction rather than a cry of derision. We will continue to beat down ignorance wherever it raises its dribbling head.

But we can go further.

Are you fed up with poverty? Act. Support the politicians who are working to eradicate it, volunteer, donate, train people for new and better jobs.

Fed up with ignorance? Act. Watch what your school board does. Push for better education standards in your country. Promote childhood literacy. Educate.

Fed up with war? Act. Push politicians to reach for diplomacy before they turn to armies. Get involved with programs that attempt to bring enemies together. Make people all too aware of the cost of war.

Fed up with global warming? Act. Get the facts out there. Support environmental groups. Plant a tree, green up your house, protest pollution. Roll up your sleeves and clean up a neighborhood.

We can do much more than we think, just by taking action. Signing a petition may not seem like much, but it adds one more voice, turning a murmur into a shout. Donating a few dollars may not seem like enough, but as we saw with Obama’s campaign, enough small donations add up to plenty of money for change. A few hours of your time may not seem like much, but a few hours may be all that’s needed to change someone’s life. Don’t hold back just because you can’t do much. Become a snowflake, as my character Ishaarda Telsuun recommends:

“The answer is leverage. Place a thousand snowflakes in precisely the right places, and you cause a thousand avalanches…. A thousand snowflakes can reach half the world.”

Ghandi said we must be the change we wish to see in the world. We don’t even have to become fabulously rich or powerful or prestigious to do it. All we have to do is add our snowflake’s worth of weight to the scales: enough of us together will make them tilt.

And then we change the world for the better.