Stuff Comes from Somewhere

Back before I distracted by the shiny new car and purchasing of same, our own George W. had a post up that really forced some thinking.  And it’s all because he was up at 4 in the morning thinking about bolts:

Where’s the nickel (which plates the bolt) mined? What’s the state of mine-safety technology? Do mining companies pay lobbyists to keep the laws lax? Or more likely, does the manufacturer just buy the nickel salts for plating from some third-world country where the government doesn’t protect the workers or the rivers or the children who live along them? Is that why the bolts are so cheap? What’s the external cost of the carbon output from manufacturing the bolt? Maybe that’s the reason I saved the bolt that was left over from a project of years ago.  Or maybe I’m just really cheap.

Read the whole post.  It’ll make you think about bolts, politics, change and resources all in one go, which is damned impressive for a short post brought on by insomnia.  This is why I love George’s blog so: when I leave there, it’s not with the same eyes as when I arrived.

Now That’s An Engineering Project!

When we went to Arizona last year, my intrepid companion and I crossed Hoover Dam.  It’s not an experience I care to repeat any time soon.  Lots of traffic funneled through an itty-bitty road sucks mightily.  But considering we weren’t getting anywhere anyway, we pulled over to snap some pictures and ogle the Hoover Bridge, which was under construction and promised to someday make the trip less onerous.  It wasn’t very close to completion, and in fact it was difficult to tell just what it was and how it was going to come together, as you can see from this photo Cujo shot:



A few days ago, @Perrykid put a link up on Twitter that dropped my jaw.  Looks like they’re close to finishing the thing, and now it begins to make sense:



I need to call my daddy.  About the most impressive thing I can say about this is, “Ooo!  Big…”  He’s an engineer, so I’m sure he can expound on the awesomeness of the design.

The sad part is, once they’ve finished it, the drive over Hoover Dam will be no more.  They will no longer allow traffic over the dam itself.  So I guess we were lucky to go when a person could still drive one of the most impressive dams in the United States.

Funny.  Didn’t appreciate it at the time… now I find myself wishing I had enough vacation left to fight the traffic just once more, with feeling.

Corporate Responsibility: BoA Gets It Right

Sometimes, just sometimes, corporations do things that make me proud:

This summer, after months of conversations, some top executives from Bank of America agreed to accompany NRDC staff on a fact-finding trip to Appalachia. In July we flew them over moonscaped mine sites in West Virginia, took them to Kayford Mountain for a closer look at mountaintop mining, and introduced them to several local residents/activists who are fighting to save their beloved homeland from reckless coal mining companies.

Today, BofA released its revised coal policy, which will have the immediate effect of curtailing commercial lending to companies that mine coal by blowing off the top of mountains in Appalachia. The policy states, in part:

Bank of America is particularly concerned about surface mining conducted through mountain top removal in locations such as central Appalachia. We therefore will phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal. While we acknowledge that surface mining is economically efficient and creates jobs, it can be conducted in a way that minimizes environmental impacts in certain geographies.

Why is this so important? Bank of America still stands as a pillar of our country’s shaky financial system. In fact, the trying economic crisis has only served to strengthen this behemoth bank unlike other once proud and stable institutions. All the more reason to engage BofA in using its investment power and influence to affect positive environmental change.

There are some corporations that realize you can run a successful company without being a total ratfucking bastard, who don’t believe that “good corporate citizen” is just a useful lie to tell the citizens you hope to suckerpunch. I saw that in action with Target, which does more charity work than I’ve ever seen another company do and also runs a forensics lab that helps out police agencies without charge:


Turns out Target has one of the most advanced crime labs in the country at its headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was initially set up to deal with things like theft, fraud, and personal injury cases in their stores. Now, Target also helps law enforcement agencies nationwide solve crimes, even murders. Target has worked with the Secret Service, the ATF, and the FBI, to name a few.

Target does the work for free, seeing it as a kind of community service. It doesn’t advertise its crime lab services, but word started spreading and law enforcement agencies started asking for help. Some government agency labs aren’t as well-equipped as Target’s. In other cases, Target can get results faster because of logjams in agency labs.

I’ve seen the pictures. The place is straight out of CSI, and if it wasn’t in a frozen, landlocked city like Minneapolis, I would’ve been getting my forensics degree and joining the lab. It was pure awesome. They also had safe communities programs running that had an enormous impact in some dangerous areas. I’ve had jobs I enjoyed more – taking phone calls from angry credit card customers isn’t fun no matter how great your company is – but I’ve never been prouder of the company I worked for than I was with them. They truly did put a huge effort into making a positive difference.

I’d love to see more of this. Most corporations do just enough community service to make themselves look nice, but it’s the rare few that actually devote substantial time, resources, and attention to doing right by the world.

Bank of America looks to be on its way to true good corporate citizenship. It’s much appreciated. Here’s hoping others will follow these companies’ leads.

Condemned to Repeat

EX PRAETERITO PRAESENS PRVDENTER AGIT NI FUTUR- ACTIONE DETVRPET


History became a living thing in Roz Ashby’s and Ken Meier’s hands.

On the first day of Western Civilization I, they handed out a quote and asked us to date it. It was a typical “kids these days” rant, full of complaints about their manners, their dress, and their stunning lack of respect toward their elders. Most of the class guessed it had been written in the 1950s or 60s. Professor Meier revealed, with a delightfully sardonic smile, that we were all wrong. The rant had been written by Socrates more than two thousand years ago.

Titian, An Allegory of Prudence

I still have the handout they gave us that day: “The Value of History” by Robin Winks. I’d signed on as a history major because I love the past. I hadn’t, until then, thought of it as something of urgent importance. But the professors’ punk, their impassioned lecture on the vitality and relevance of history, and Winks’ case for its value changed my perception entirely.

History wasn’t just curiosity. It wasn’t simply tradition and heritage, important to preserve for its own sake. It was also essential in order to understand the present and navigate the future.

“From the past the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future,” Titian inscribed on his famous painting. We should chisel that saying into every monument. Those who don’t take the past seriously, who treat history as a trivial handful of facts, interesting stories, and events that have no bearing on today, won’t have the wisdom to create a better future.

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” George Santayana wrote in The Life of Reason. Too many don’t listen to that warning. How many times have we weathered a crisis only to discover that it had all happened before? Individuals, organizations, entire nations have rushed themselves over cliffs that others fell from before, when a safe way down had already been discovered.

It’s true that things change, and no situation is exactly the same as another. Some people seem to believe those cosmetic differences mean there’s nothing to learn. And so, mistakes get repeated. Safeguards get torn down because no one seems to remember why they were put in place to begin with. Blinded by the present, looking toward the future, we don’t see what history is trying to show us. We strip away the protections that people made wise by the events of their own day put in place in order to protect the generations to come. We’re seeing the effects of that now, in a myriad of ways: our failed imperial experiment in Iraq, the erosion of our Constitutional rights, and the crisis in our banking industry brought on by the repeal of regulations enacted to prevent another Great Depression.

That was another age, those who disregard history say. Things are different now. And they plunge in, believing they’re blazing new trails when they’re traveling down well-worn roads.

The past is never truly past. “Great events have incalculable consequences,” Victor Hugo said in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Some of those consequences echo down through ages. You can’t understand what’s happening now if you don’t understand what happened then. The effects are still being felt. What we do now will impact generations to come.

“This black page in history is not colourfast / will stain the next,” Epica warns in their song “Feint.” We can’t prevent that stain, but history can give us advice on how we can limit its spread.

Some things, perhaps, we’d rather forget. But as Chaim Weizman knew, “you cannot deny your history and begin afresh.” History comes with us, whether we will it or no. Denying it gets us nowhere. Embracing history, knowing it, allows us to accomodate its effects.

History is of great practical value, then. But that’s not the whole of its worth. It offers perspective and proportion. Knowing what others survived gives us hope for a future in dark times. It can put current events in context, just like your old dad giving you the yarn about having to walk to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways as a kid. I often take comfort from that when the world seems like it’s coming apart at the seams. It’s frayed, often torn, before. We always manage to patch it back up somehow. Civilization has been through worse. As long as we avoid following the same paths that led other ages to worse, we’ll probably do just fine. I tell myself that a lot these days, and I have plenty of history to prove it. From history comes hope.

There’s delight in seeing ancient people behaving the same way we do. We tend to get only the broad brushstrokes of history in school. We don’t get the delightful, everyday bits, the ones that tell us people are people everywhere. Read Socrates griping about the idiot kids in ancient Athens, or abu Nawais looking for his next drink, and you realize that they were people like us. There were fart jokes in the cradle of civilization and risque graffitti in Pompeii. The more you learn of history, the more you realize that the things we consider larger than life arose not from some golden age of supermen, but from mostly ordinary people doing their best to deal with times that were no more or less challenging than now. The best days are indeed behind us – but they are also now, and they are ahead. How much easier it is when we can pick the brains of our ancestors, pluck up their best ideas, and avoid their worst mistakes. It’s practically cheating!

“He who cannot draw on three thousand years of history is living merely hand to mouth,” Goethe once said. When we neglect our history, we impoverish ourselves. History gives us a chance to live richly. When we can draw on thousands of years of knowledge and experience, we’re no longer condemned.

What the Fuck Can I Possibly Say?

I work with a wonderful young woman from Serbia. She’s one of the most competent people I’ve ever met: practical, insightful, and wise. She frequently leaves me tongue-tied, but never more than when we were on a break the other day, when she asked me, “What do you think should be done about what’s happening in Georgia?”

How the fuck can I answer that? I’m standing with a woman who went through war. She keeps her important documents packed in easily portable containers because she knows safety can crumble in an instant. Americans talk about natural disasters tearing their homes down around them: she watched homes get bombed into oblivion. And she’s been on the receiving end of large countries playing deadly political games with small ones.

I got the sense she expects America to do the right thing. How? I told her what I honestly believe to be true: the European Union is going to have to step up and take the lead on this one, because our credibility is shattered. How can America condemn Russia for expansionist, regime-changing belligerence when we’ve engaged in the same bad behavior? We have no diplomatic capital left. We’ve spent our moral authority. And our military readiness is a fucking joke. We can’t afford to kick Iran around, much less start a brawl with fucking Russia. And the Russians know it. We can’t bluff ‘em: the bluff’s already been called.

I wish we could stop this. We can’t – not alone.

And I don’t know enough about the history and politics of the region to answer the whys. I don’t know exactly why Russia’s flexing its muscles, or why it chose Georgia to kick around. I don’t know what the people over there want. I don’t know what the separatists want from Russia, Georgia, or America. I don’t know what they expect us to do. I don’t know how they can expect us to do anything. I got the sense that some people are still looking to America to lead the way into peace and democracy. They don’t understand that our current regime has no comprehension of either.

“I just want leaders to stop invading countries and killing people,” I finally said. To which she laughed, and agreed: this is exactly what we all want, an end to the politics of the big guns and the military jack boot. We just want leaders who are willing to settle things with diplomacy and civility rather than reaching for bombs, without a single fucking care in the world as to the ordinary people who will die for their ambitions.

I wish America could lead on that front. I wish America had the diplomatic and moral might to say, with authority, without hypocrisy, that the killing needs to stop. We’ll help you stop it, and we’ll help you find solutions that work.

It’s sad how Pollyanna that sounds. Working together to negotiate the best possible outcome for all is the tough, strong way to handle international relations. It’s just the warmongers who have made “negotiation” a synonym for “weakness.” It’s the warmongers who have so squandered our political capital that we don’t have a penny to spare.

Canada Kicks Self-Righteous Ass

The Westboro Baptist Church, apparently bored with picketing American servicemembers’ funerals, decided to head north for a Canadian jaunt. One of the planned stops on their grand tour was the funeral of Tim McLean, the victim of a horrific attack that left him beheaded on a bus.

According to the raving fuckwits of the WBC, McLean was murdered because God’s pissed at Canada for allowing gays and abortion. How the murder of a straight man by a mentally ill man sends God’s message was left unexplained. Most lunatics I know can come up with at least a pseudo-rational explanation for their beliefs and behavior, but members of this “church” are no ordinary nutcases.

Perhaps if they’d been just a tad saner, they would have realized that what they regularly get away with in the U.S. is a fuck of a lot less welcome in Canada.

Not only does Canada have laws that allows it to reject hate-filled frothers at its borders, it’s full of rational, kind people who don’t take well to obnoxious assholes waving around florescent signage at innocent victims’ funerals.

A counter-protest against the church’s picket plans was launched on the social networking site Facebook on Thursday.

More than 700 people have since joined the group; postings indicate they plan to form a “human wall” around the family to shield them from the church protest, if it takes place.

Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin said the group should be “sent packing,” and should not try to show up in Winnipeg “for their own safety.”

“We’re not going to allow these people to compound the tragedy of the McLean family loss, and Canadians simply won’t tolerate these lunatics disrupting what should be a respectful service,” he told CBC News on Friday.

When the day came, border guards turned back one group of frothing fundies, and the handful who slipped through faced a cordon of outraged Canucks. Having God on their side apparently wasn’t enough for the WBC crusaders. They slunk away into the shadows, leaving counter-protesters with little to do.

Kimberly Lemay handed leaflets throughout the crowd, which began forming 21/2 hours before the 4 p.m. service, to urge those on hand to remain calm should Westboro members arrive.

She suggested the U.S. group wouldn’t have had a chance to protest outside the funeral.

“We’ve got the whole place covered,” said Lemay. “Winnipeg and Canada won. Canada is too tough for them.”

You bet it is. Good on yer, Canada.

And that, my darlings, is how you handle the appalling antics of a bunch of crazed fanatics. We don’t even need laws to shut down fucktards like this. All we need is a cordon of good people, sheltering the grieving and standing up for common human decency.

Thoughtful (If Snarky) Answers to Thoughtless Questions

One of the things that stood out like a red coat on a soldier during the whole cracker debacle was the sheer quantity of snivelling. In a thousand permutations, the charming and concerned Christians raised the cry: “Why don’t you desecrate the Koran? Why are you always picking on Christianity? Wah!”

Religious fuckwits being religious fuckwits (and mind, we’re not talking about the Christians here at the cantina who responded with rationality, restraint, and no little amount of hysterical laughter over the antics of their “brethren”), they decided the answer must be: “PZ’s afraid of the scary Mooslims!!1!!!11!”

In a word, no. And he proved that. The Koran ended up nailed to The God Delusion and the cracker, and all ended up in the trash, a vile act of desecration the Muslims have yet to start sending death threats over. To an atheist, no religion’s paraphenalia is sacred. And it’s not fear that keeps us from bashing Islam with the same abandon with which we bash fundamentalist Christianity.

It’s prevalence.

That simple.

You may have noticed that I don’t spend a vast amount of time around here unleashing the Smack-o-Matic 3000 upon the Animal Liberation Front, Harlequin Romances, white supremacists, or any one of ten thousand other ridiculous groups or detriments to culture. I might reach over and give any one of them a sharp rap on the knuckles from time to time, but I won’t dedicate multiple posts to them.

They have no power.

They don’t have the numbers, the organization, or the importance to be any great threat to my way of life, and there’s only so much stupid I can handle in a day. They’re not a priority.

Now, I know what the outraged little rabid Christians are going to scream: “But it was Islamofascists who attacked America!”

Yes, indeed, ’twas. And it was the born-again fuckwit in office who allowed them to succeed. It’s the cons in power who used that one terrible day to push through their religious and political agenda.

I know who the greater threat is, thanks ever so much. A handful of fanatics trickling in from overseas have got nothing on the native-born God brigade here.

Muslims haven’t achieved the kind of political power in this country that threatens the Constitution, no more than ALF has. They don’t have the kind of numbers to try to impose their religious fuckery by legislative fiat on this society. I don’t see Muslims getting themselves elected to school boards so they can sneak Intelligent Design and God into the classroom. I don’t see Muslims in high office doing everything they possibly can to create a theocracy. Until they have political and social power, fundamentalist Muslims just don’t matter much to me on a day-to-day basis.

They pop up their heads, I’ll be happy to use the Smack-o-Matic to play whack-a-mole before they get out of hand. Until then, I’m frantically busy with our own batshit insane theocons, thanks ever so much.

And there’s another important component here. They’ve never had power in this country. They’re a minority. They’ve got all they can handle trying to keep the old, established, have-to-make-up-persecutions-because-they’re-not-actually-persecuted Christians from destroying them.

Do you hear of Christians getting racially profiled at airports? No.

Christian phones being tapped without warrants simply because, as Christians, they’re assumed to be terrorists? No.

Is it Christians being tortured in Guantanamo Bay? No.

Is Monkey Boy George a fundamentalist Muslim? No.

Are Muslim universities turning out droves of right-wing asshats who then go on to infest every level of our government and come up with creative explanations as to why torture is perfectly legal? No.

Christians, on the other hand, have had vast power in this country from the bloody beginning, and they keep demanding more. So, while I might find Islam just as ridiculous as Christianity, and I despise fundamentalism of all stripes, I’m more inclined to give the few fundamentalist Muslims in this country a wee bit o’ a pass. So what if they want to impose Sharia law and all manner of other fuckery on us? It’s not even vaguely possible for them to do so at the moment, and in the meantime, they’re suffering really real persecution for being brown and calling God by the wrong name. My morals tell me you don’t apply the spiked boots to the bloke bleeding on the floor.

When the fucker gets up is a whole other matter. We’re not there yet.

You won’t see me being gentle on terrorists. You won’t see me indulging overwhelming religious stupidity just because the perpetrators happen to be a minority – if we have even a hint of what Denmark faced with the outrageous reaction to a few tasteless cartoons, you can bet the Smack-o-Matic’s coming out. But I’m not going to go out of my way searching out examples of fundamentalist Islamic stupidity out of some misguided attempt at balance.

Do I fear the reaction if I piss off the Islamic fundamentalists, who have at times demonstrated a rather distressing tendency to respond to ridicule with violence? No.

Listen. All a Muslim fanatic has the power to do right now is kill me. A Christian fanatic, on the other hand, has the power to destroy everything in my life that made it worth living.

You tell me what I should fear more.

The Right-Wing Death Machine

I’ve been meaning to do several posts: one on the shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, one on the disturbing rhetoric of violence and death that so obsesses the neocons, and an article in the National Review that spews hate even while it’s preaching tolerance.

A post on Dawg’s Blawg made me realize these things aren’t separate issues at all. They’re all tied together into one horrible cult of death. Forget the right-wing noise machine: they’re not just noise. They haven’t been since they got their bloody hands all over the federal government.

Dr. Dawg puts it in stark terms:

Far too many on the Right (with a few honourable exceptions) are pathologically obsessed with death, with hurting and killing other people. Whether it’s capital punishment, endless wars, waterboarding,
easy access to
handguns, knee-jerk defences of police brutality and sadistic, racist southern sheriffs, or shooting abortion doctors, they lap it up and howl for more. And in the US they take it that extra mile: they would literally rather have their opponents tortured and/or killed than discuss the issues.

The leading lights of the liberal movement call for cooperation, toleration, and positive solutions to problems. They reach for science, reason, and diplomacy. The right reaches for weapons.

Listen to the rhetoric of their heroes:


This evening we learn from the Knoxville News that officers entering the home of murder Jim Adkisson “found Liberalism is a Mental Health Disorder by radio talk show host Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring by talk show host Sean Hannity, and The O’Reilly Factor, by television talk show host Bill O’Reilly.”

The presence of somebody’s books in a mentally disturbed person’s home does not make them accessories to a killing. But right-wing rhetoric toward liberals and humanists like those who attended the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church has been exceptionally violent for years. Liberal groups are often called “Nazi” or “Nazi-like” by O’Reilly (he even said that about our own Arianna Huffington). Savage says he’d “hang every lawyer” who tried to establish constitutional rights for Guantanamo prisoners, describes Obama as an “Afro-Leninist,” and said the folks at Media Matters were “brownshirts.” He describes Rep. Wexler as a “Nazi” and calls Nancy Pelosi a “Mussolini.”

As for Hannity, he said that “there are things in life worth fighting and dying for and one of ‘em is making sure Nancy Pelosi doesn’t become the speaker (of the House).” Think about it: “worth fighting and dying for.”

And that’s just a sampler.

Ann Coulter says liberals should be beaten with baseball bats and tried for treason (she’s not clear about the order in which these events are to take place.) Dick Morris says they’re “traitors” who should be decapitated.


You don’t hear that from the left. There may be a few isolated instances, but it’s not our heroes, not our talk show hosts and writers and opinion-makers, certainly not our political leaders, who call for the deaths anyone and everyone who has the audacity to hold a contrary opinion. When have you heard of a Democratic presidential candidate singing about bombing Iran? Bet you a dollar you can’t name an instance.

It fascinates and horrifies me, this fixation on violence from the very same people who claim the upper hand on morality. They bitch about violence in movies and video games, wring their sweaty hands and try to pass legislation “to protect the children,” and yet their political speech is filled with more vivid violence than you’ll ever find in Grand Theft Auto. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

They bleat endlessly about the sanctity of human life, then murder abortion doctors, leave unwanted children to languish in abuse, filth, and poverty, and urge the death penalty on the retarded and the young. This tells me that their concern for fetuses has nothing at all to do with human life, and everything to do with controlling women. Everything they do is about control. And if a control freak can’t manipulate people with superior arguments and persuasion, well, violence controls too, right?

So they resort to fear. They call for the deaths of their opponents because they can’t defeat the living. They want power and authority. There’s no greater power and authority than that which comes from holding a person’s life in your hands. Just ask any serial killer.

Even when their hearts are superficially in the right place, the disturbing fixation on violence and death is manifestly present. Ed Brayton at Dispatches From The Culture Wars found a right-winger who wants to do away with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and on the surface it seems like this is a person with his head screwed on straight:


Here’s a shock: Deroy Murdock, a contributing editor to the National Review Online, has come out strongly in favor of allowing gays to serve openly in the military. It’s quite a powerful essay, in fact. He contrasts the fact that the Pentagon is continually lowering standards and granting exceptions to get people with violent felony convictions on their record into the military while throwing out gay soldiers with impeccable service records and badly needed skills:


Between 2006 and 2007, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently revealed, convicted felons accepted by the Marine Corps rose 68 percent, from 208 to 350. Equivalent Army admissions rocketed 105 percent, from 249 to 511. Between 2003 and 2006, U.C. Santa Barbara’s Michael D. Palm Center calculates, “106,76
8 individuals with serious criminal histories were admitted” to the armed forces.

Last year, the Army gave moral waivers to 106 applicants convicted of burglary, 15 of felonious break-ins, 11 of grand-theft-auto, and eight of arson. It also admitted five rape/sexual-assault convicts, two felony child molesters, two manslaughter convicts, and two felons condemned for “terrorist threats including bomb threats.”

“The Army seems to be lowering standards in training to accommodate lower-quality recruits,” RAND Corporation researcher Beth Asch observed at a May 12 Heritage Foundation defense-policy seminar in Colorado Springs.

Conversely, expelled military personnel include Arabic linguists and intelligence specialists who help crush America’s foes in the War on Terror. “Don’t Ask” has ousted at least 58 soldiers who speak Arabic, 50 Korean, 42 Russian, 20 Chinese, nine Farsi, and eight Serbo-Croatian — all trained at the prestigious Defense Language Institute. Al-Qaeda intercepts need translation, and Uncle Sam may need people who can walk around Tehran with open ears. Yet these dedicated gay citizens now are ex-GIs.


Ye gods, that almost sounds sane, and he’s talking about teh gays!!11!!1! Aside from that little “crush America’s foes in the War on Terror” screed, we could be talking to an ordinary, rational, reasonable human being.

By now you’re asking, “What’s the catch?” So glad you asked. It doesn’t take long before his true conservative colors seep through like bloodstains:


“Don’t Ask” should yield to equality: Sexual orientation should be irrelevant while inappropriate sexual conduct — gay, straight, or otherwise — should be punished. Our enemies are Islamofascists who murder Americans, not gay patriots who unravel terrorist plots and introduce jihadists to Allah.


Uh-huh. There it is, the real reason for this call for “equality.” He wants teh gays to go after “those murdering Islamofascists” and kill them. As long as they’re killing Mooslims and not having sex (you noticed that little “inappropriate sexual conduct” caveat, I trust, and realized that applies to any sort of sex a gay person might engage in), gays are okay by him.

We’re right back to the death machine again.

Let’s sum up the right-wing philosophy: Anyone who disagrees with their politics is a traitor and should suffer and die. Anyone with an alternative lifestyle is a moral leper and should suffer and die, unless that person happens to be useful to the military, in which case they can live as long as they’re killing America’s enemies. America shouldn’t negotiate with other countries: other countries should do what we say or die. Religious dissenters should suffer and die. People who mistreat a communion wafer should suffer and die. And on and on.

But they won’t do the killing and torturing themselves. Oh, no. They have people for that. After all, why get your hands dirty with blood and gore when it’s so much cleaner to get others to do it for you?

Fuckwits this obsessed with killing absolutely anyone and everyone they don’t like shouldn’t be in the mainstream. They shouldn’t be a part of our politics, government, or media. They shouldn’t be in any position where they can encourage or order others to carry out their fantasies of death and mayhem. They truly should be on the lunatic fringe, not front-and-center. Why the fuck have we tolerated these assholes? Why have we allowed dangerous infants to play with the adults?

It’s time we shoved them out of power. Time we isolate and contain them.

But I won’t use their rhetoric. I’m old enough and wise enough to know that death is not the answer.

Ridicule is. Shame is. Information is.

Show people how ridiculous these lackwits are.

Show those who admire and respect them realize that they should actually be ashamed.

And never, ever relent on the facts. We can start with the fact that it’s not McCain and Bush’s policies of belligerence, so enthusiastically cheered by the bloodthirsty right, that work to keep America safe. If they were enough, Bush & Cronies wouldn’t be dashing to embrace Obama’s policies of direct talks and troop withdrawls.

Let’s shut the right-wing death machine down before they get us all killed.

Sapere Aude!


Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!”–that is the motto of enlightenment.


- Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”

The Enlightenment. Those two words send a cascade of awe and delight down my spine. They set synapses to firing like chains of fireworks. Names and ideas erupt from the sparks: Newton, Spinoza and Leibniz released science and mathematics from their classical and medieval cages and advanced them by light years in a virtual instant. Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau struck through chains and risked their lives to set human minds free. Locke, Smith and Montesquieu set forth major components of political and economic philosophy that led to democracy and capitalism. Franklin, Jefferson, and Hamilton created a whole new kind of nation from scratch. Beethoven, Mozart, and Goethe elevated music and literature to heights they had never known before.

Men, and not a few women, dared to know, and changed the world.

There had been hints of an awakening for centuries. A few flames burned dimly in the Middle Ages. A few flames flared up brilliantly during the Renaissance. But the Enlightenment was a conflagration, a wildfire beside a candelabra. In less than two centuries, the scientific method arose and began advancing knowledge at an incredible pace; the foundations of democracy and liberalism were laid and thriving nations built on them; education was no longer a prerogative of the fortunate few, but a practical gift offered to a broad swath of the population. The entire Western way of thinking changed virtually beyond recognition. All of those ideas we take for granted – freedom of religion, equality, political and civil rights, and countless more – emerged because of men and women who refused to remain ignorant.

Look at the lives and work of any group of Enlightenment thinkers, and you’ll see similarities. They were desperate to know and understand. They were determined to use rational thought to overcome superstition. They believed in man’s ability to understand the world. They didn’t believe religion had all the answers, or even most. They weren’t afraid to challenge established authority; indeed, they often risked their lives to do so. They found ways to make end-runs around the censors, evaded every attempt to silence them, and believed beyond doubt that what they were doing was right, necessary, and valuable.

They argued with absolutely everyone, each other included. They accepted no limits to their curiosity. There was nowhere to them that Man was forbidden to go.


All is not lost when one puts the people in a condition to see it has intelligence. On the contrary, all is lost when you treat it like a herd of cattle, for sooner or later it will gore you with its horns.

-Voltaire

In the salons of Paris, the coffee houses and Gresham College in London, in the dining rooms and halls of power all throughout Europe, intellect raged. Pamphlets, books, magazines, scientific papers all poured into the streets and captured the imaginations of men and women who then used those ideas to create new governments, societies, and values. Knowledge was passed into the hands of ordinary people, and those ordinary people did extraordinary things with it.

The two revolutions of the 18th century, the American and the French, get all of the attention, but neither would have been possible without the revolution in ideas that preceded them. Never before in the history of Western civilization had common people been entrusted to govern. Even Greece, that thriving original democracy, was more of an aristocracy than anything else. But the Enlightenment thinkers believed that all regular people lacked was education and the freedom to use their native intelligence. Given those things, a peasant could rise to rule. Peasants eventually did.

It wasn’t just the aristocracy and absolute monarchy that the Enlightenment thinkers overthrew. They broke the stranglehold religion had over the populace. Religion didn’t escape their scrutiny. The sacred got subjected to the same empirical analysis as the natural world, and where it was found wanting, it suffered the same scathing criticism unleashed on politics, pseudoscience, and ignorance. Some of them treated Christianity with respect and reverence, but they were in a minority. Most Enlightenment thinkers had no use for a Church that sought to keep people in ignorance and servitude, a faith that led to intolerance and claimed miracles it couldn’t prove, and religions rotten with hypocrisy.

“Let’s eat some Jesuit,” Voltaire wrote in Candide. Baron d’Holbach proselytized for atheism, churning out a flood of books and pamphlets proclaiming that there is no God, only nature, and that only a society of atheists has any hope of being truly moral. He often had to publish his books under innocuous titles to evade the censors. But other philosophes left nothing to doubt with theirs: among the books on offer was Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious. Pretty revolutionary for a world in which religion still ruled.

Other books might have seemed innocent enough until they were opened. Woolston’s Six Discourses on the Miracles of Our Savior proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ “the most notorious and monstrous Imposture, that was ever put upon mankind.” Voltaire, when completing the Philosophical Dictionary, wrote, “Theology amuses me. There we find man’s insanity in all its plenitude.” Jefferson removed all of the miracles from the Bible, a decision which Hume would have applauded.

The only sacred thing was the pursuit of knowledge. Rational thinking, empiricism, science, and intellect reigned supreme. The next world meant very little to them, if anything at all. People had to make a difference in this one. And that was exactly what they set out to do, and succeeded. They brought us the modern age.


A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to Farce, or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

-James Madison

The Enlightenment never truly ended: its results permeate every aspect of our lives. But there hasn’t been another time quite like it since. The passion for knowledge has been eclipsed. We’ve entered an age in which ignorance rather than intelligence is celebrated. As Kant said, it’s easier to be immature, to let others do the thinking. We become habituated to the yoke: we become afraid of freedom. “The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult,” Kant wrote. “Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone.”

He could have been describing our age.

Fundamentalist religion is attempting to rein us in. Governments want to control, not serve, the governed. This has always been the case. The powerful never relinquish power easily, and they always desire more power. It’s easier for them to take it from people made willfully powerless.

War, poverty, ignorance and despair are rising all around us.

We should be thrilled
.

After all, the Enlightenment grew out of a desperate age. Europe was torn by war, crushed by despotic governments, ripped apart by religious strife, and it was from this harrowing that the philosophes grew. When I look at the conditions surrounding the Enlightenment, I see clear parallels. Strife can destroy people: it can also galvanize them.

I think we’re standing on the cusp of a new Age of Enlightenment.

Bloggers are the new pamphleteers. What bloggers are saying today about politics and religion, life and learning, show the same spirit as those tracts poured from the pens of subversive thinkers who went on to redefine the foundations of the world.

Comments threads and message boards have become the new salons, where ideas are exchanged and intelligence elevated. Those discussions wouldn’t have been out of place in the most illustrious gatherings of learned people.

All we need is the passion, the commitment, and the courage those revolutionaries displayed. Nothing is beyond us. But we have to step outside of the little boxes we’ve put ourselves in. Scientists need to brush shoulders with artists. Writers need to converse with mathematicians. Political philosophers and musicians should mingle. That cross-fertilization of knowledge is what leads to world-shaking ideas, quantum leaps in human understanding.

Politeness and deference are sweet social ideas, but we can’t defer to those who would impose ignorance and superstition. Contention was the order of the day during the Enlightenment. We should never shy away from it. Conventional thinking will get us nowhere. The world is on the cusp of a crisis: we’re never going to get anything solved if we don’t break away from tradition and habit. We won’t solve a damned thing if we don’t risk capsizing the boat.

The philosophes changed the world not by force of arms, but force of mind. Their ideas, their writings, their experiments, are what changed the world irrevocably.

It can happen again. Ignorance has no power to stand against those who dare to know. And those who dare have the power to change everything.


Here and today begins a new age in the history of the world. Some day you will be able to say – I was present at its birth.”

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Self-Righteous Exclusionary Bullshit

Progressive Conservative deserves a more coherent response than I’m capable of just now. I’ll leave it up to you lot to go read his comment and respond accordingly: my thoughts will follow after Aunty Flow has stopped creating her usual havoc. I’m just pleased to have a dissenting view round the place, albeit one that contains elements that thoroughly piss me off. I’m sure the feeling’s mutual. The point is that he’s brought some ideas to the table that bear debating.

In my sorry state, however, all I can do at the moment is riff on a theme he brought to mind: self-righteous exclusionary bullshit.

This is by no means a purely Christian trait. It’s a human one. I read quite a lot of history, and many common themes run through it. Self-righteous exclusionary bullshit is a major one. Call it tribalism, nationalism, or religion, it all comes down to one group of fuckers thinking they’re better than all the other fuckers to such an extent that they get obnoxiously overprotective of their petrified views. Nobody else could possibly be as perfect as they are, so nobody else’s point of view means jack shit. And if that’s all it was, it would just be annoying, but the self-righteous exclusionary fuckers then go on to paint everyone else’s views as evil.

Every human group and enterprise suffers from variations of the disease. I’m fully aware of that. The very definition of human could be “a jackass who thinks they’re right and everyone else is wrong.” It’s just a matter of degree. Some of us jackasses pause a moment to ask, “Am I right?” before gleefully proclaiming everyone else wrong. Some of us enjoy being proved wrong, or at least handle it gracefully and adjust accordingly. The jackasses I’m talking about not only refuse to admit the possibility they could be wrong, they won’t accept proof when they are and instead of adjusting themselves, they try to adjust everyone else by force of dogma or arms rather than evidence and persuasion.

The self-righteous exclusionary fuckers can’t budge aside to accomodate differing views. Most of the folks I hang about with these days may hold views diametrically opposed to mine, but we put more emphasis on the points of agreement, allow the apostasy, and would never, ever, dismiss or exclude each other on the basis of a few disagreements. Not so the self-righteous exclusionary fuckers.

For example:


Having been drawn to Senator Obama’s remarkable “love thy neighbor” style of campaigning, his express aim to transcend partisan divide, and specifically, his appreciation for faith (“secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square”), I did not expect to be clobbered by co-religionists.

On the blogs, I have been declared “self-excommunicated,” and recently at a Mass before a dinner speech to Catholic business leaders, a very angry college chaplain excoriated my Obama-heresy from the pulpit at length and then denied my receipt of communion.


You heard that right. Doug Kmiec, devout Catholic, was told he couldn’t cannibalize Jesus because he backed the wrong candidate.

Granted, the chaplin’s reaction was extreme, and I doubt many Catholic priests would deny some poor bastard communion just because he’s voting for Barak Obama, but it’s a perfect illustration of what I’m talking about. There’s no room for dissent in that particular chaplin’s flock. He’s a self-righteous exclusionary fucker practicing self-righteous exclusionary bullshit.

So was the fatwa against Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses. Modern fundamentalist Islam has raised the art of self-righteous exclusionary bullshit to a pinnacle not achieved since the Middle Ages. Our very own fundies can only aspire to that kind of bullshit. Nothing would make them happier than a theocracy – or so they think. (Just wait until the wrong denomination gets their hands on the reins, you silly shits. You’ll be begging for the good ol’ days of separation of church and state.)

I gave up Christianity because of this crap. Other religions, including other branches of the Christian (dysfunctional) family tree, seemed to have some pretty nifty ideas, but God forbid you bring them up. Church X had it right and Churches Y, Z and T had it completely wrong, and as for those other so-called religions, they’re all tools of Satan. It got so bad among the youth group that the youth pastor devoted an entire night to slamming M.C. Hammer – that’s Christian Minister M.C. Hammer – for having a dude in a red devil costume in one of his videos.

My Christmas cards in the following years were in direct protest of this trend. They had a cutsey little painting of people of multiple colors and faiths gathered round, and a quote that said, “God created so many different kinds of people – why would He allow only one way to worship Him?”

Good question, Rocko.

America’s self-righteous exclusionary bullshit gets up my nose just as badly. America goes through these petulant phases where the rest of the world has absolutely nothing to contribute and America is the only way. American fashion, American democracy, American entertainment, American ad nauseum – and ignore the fact that other democracies do a better job taking care of their people, other countries produce entertaining entertainment, other countries are leading the way in fashion. You remember that whole flap over Japan and trade back in the nineties? America was so perfect she couldn’t possibly be losing market share because America’s no longer top dog in manufacturing. Oh, hell, no. Those evil Japs were up to all kinds of shennanigans. Total conspiracy to keep America down. Or some such crap. The problem with self-righteous exclusionary bullshit is that it can’t admit reality. It sure as fuck doesn’t allow for course corrections.

Thankfully, we didn’t have a self-righteous exclusionary fucker in office at the time, or we might have seen some extremely stupid antics. Like a second invasion of Japan.

The self-righteous exclusionary fuckers in power right now have taken the bullshit to a whole new extreme. America used to admit that, although she was perfect in every way and couldn’t possibly be made better by other countries’ input, treaties like the Geneva Conventions weren’t beneath her. She could abide by them without undue difficulty. Then the fuckwits took over, and decided that since America was perfect in every way, nothing she did could possibly be wrong, so what the Geneva Conventions quaintly called “torture” was just “enhanced interrogation” and absolutely fine as long as it’s America or her proxies doing it. The self-righteous exclusionary principle went into overdrive, excluding every opposing view.

You see how that weakens a country, right? Weakens a country, a faith, a person.

Self-righteous exclusionary bullshit serves no one in the end. All of these self-righteous exclusionary fuckers playing holier-than-thou lose an opportunity to adapt, grow stronger, savor a world that’s full of variety and incident and damned interesting stuff. And they make it harder for folks like myself, who try to avoid being completely self-righteous exclusionary fuckers, to include them. You see, the problem with a self-righteous exclusionary fucker is that if you give a millimeter, they take ten thousand miles and run you out of the country in the bargain.

That complicates matters.

What I’d like to see is a world of self-righteous inclusionary bullshit. Huma
ns are always going to be self-righteous and full of bullshit, but the world’s a banquet, and I’m damned tired of the fuckers who insist that only certain items at the buffet can be enjoyed.