Holiday sentiment

I’m pretty comfortable here, waiting for the kids to get up and open their presents, last night we had a pleasant evening with a vegan dinner with mead, and later today we’re getting on a plane and heading back home, so I’m too mellow right now to write something ferocious. For that, I recommend reading this article which I heartily endorse: Burn the Fucking System to the Ground.

I’m indulging in a little personal complacency today, but never forget: America is screwed up.

We were more free under Nixon than we are under Obama

Edward Snowden has been unfavorably compared to Daniel Ellsberg: both leaked classified documents that exposed government wrongdoing, but Ellsberg was brave enough to stand and face the legal system. Now Ellsberg himself repudiates that argument. America has changed over the last 40 years. We now live in a country that actively suppresses whistle-blowers, with a lapdog media that colludes in maintaining government secrecy.

I hope Snowden’s revelations will spark a movement to rescue our democracy, but he could not be part of that movement had he stayed here. There is zero chance that he would be allowed out on bail if he returned now and close to no chance that, had he not left the country, he would have been granted bail. Instead, he would be in a prison cell like Bradley Manning, incommunicado.

He would almost certainly be confined in total isolation, even longer than the more than eight months Manning suffered during his three years of imprisonment before his trial began recently. The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Torture described Manning’s conditions as “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” (That realistic prospect, by itself, is grounds for most countries granting Snowden asylum, if they could withstand bullying and bribery from the United States.)

Snowden believes that he has done nothing wrong. I agree wholeheartedly. More than 40 years after my unauthorized disclosure of the Pentagon Papers, such leaks remain the lifeblood of a free press and our republic. One lesson of the Pentagon Papers and Snowden’s leaks is simple: secrecy corrupts, just as power corrupts.

I remember the Nixon years, and thinking it was a disgrace to be living in a crook’s regime. Who would have thought I’d someday be living in that same country, with a slightly more liberal Democratic president, and be pining for the days before Reagan?

So simple, even an invertebrate can understand it

The Digital Cuttlefish read the federal ruling striking down Utah’s gay discrimination laws, and makes an interesting point: Utah’s arguments were stupid. Not just poorly reasoned, but youtube-comment-grade stupid.

You’d think after all these years of clever people trying to rationalize their religious beliefs into law, you’d think someone would have said something that would make you stop and think, “Hmm, that’s a tough one…I’m going to have to think for a few minutes to counter that.” But no, they haven’t. And the court ruling goes through them all and points out how superficial and foolish Utah’s lawyers were.

By the way, if you want to get married in Utah today, Equality Utah has recommendations. Work fast — there are forces in Utah working to block this decision.

Also, “work fast” is bad advice about something as serious as getting married. Only move quickly if you’re already in a committed relationship and have wanted this for some time.

Capitalism: not just an idea, a religion

I don’t think I’ve ever met one of these face to face: an unapologetic libertarian fanatic who denies the existence of poverty, and claims that private charity would take care of it if it did exist. And at the same time, he’s stupid enough to voluntarily allow himself to be interviewed for the Daily Show! Oh, right, those two things are not contradictions.

(via Kick! )

David Brooks still has a job?

The web has been resounding with a mighty echoing “WTF?” — David Brooks has written another column in the New York Times, and it’s weird, even for Brooks. He’s sneering at “Thought Leaders”, apparently this new generation of pundits who are beneath his contempt. At first I thought maybe it was entirely autobiographical, and that he was describing his own career, in which case he really needed to be put on suicide watch. And then I thought, nah, it’s David Brooks — I’m assuming a degree of self-awareness that simply isn’t there.

So I wrote my own impression of Brooks.

David Brooks. Paris. 1789.

David Brooks was awakened early by the shouting and rumbling of carts outside his apartment window — why, it was perhaps as early as 11 o’clock, a most uncivilized hour for a gentleman. It was one of the obligations of nobility, however, to be willing to address his duties at any hour, and by God, he could rise even before the sun had reached its zenith.

He rang the little silver bell by his bedside to summon his servants to come and dress him, rose, and slipped on his silk dressing gown. A pinch of snuff to invigorate the blood, and he was ready to investigate. He looked out his window, down upon the unwashed mobs of Paris.

The tumbrels were rolling. Yet another day when the ranks of the aristocracy would be purged of their dead weight, he thought, leaving only the deserving to lead the country. He recognized one of the men roped in the cart, despite the shabbiness of his velvet coat and the loss of his wig; that young cockerel! His great grandparents had been merchants, and even now he was rumored to dabble in trade. No loss there. Just another trumped up nobody who had dared to regard himself as a match for those privileged by righteous birth.

He was moved to write another missive for the King — the last had been well received and read aloud at court, and he was gaining quite the reputation as the clever wordsmith. His dismissal of the middle class as the “bohemian burgeoisie” had provoked mirthful titters from the right courtiers. An elegant letter explaining how the regime was right and natural and safe, and that the elimination of the arrogant young upstarts was only right and proper would strike just the right tone. He rang his bell again. Where were those lazy servants? He had work to do! These nouveau rapscallions needed to be named and chastised. How else will everyone know the right people to rebuke? And behead?

He rang the bell insistently. Hands on his hips, he stood facing the entry door: the instant that worthless layabout finally arrived, he was going to receive the fiercest verbal scourging, and be thrown out on the street with the rest of the rabble. You do not question the right of David Brooks to be treated with respect and dignity and the deepest humility. You do not delay him.

He waited.

There was a loud and ferocious pounding on the main doors downstairs. The servants will get it.

What is that crashing great racket?

Damn it. Charles Pierce has already done it so much better.

Many people wonder how they too can become Thought Leaders and what the life cycle of one looks like.

Well, you start out being a coddled little genius nurtured by the think tanks and vanity publications and fanzines of the American right. Then you make a career out of whatever pop sociology text you read 10 minutes ago. Then you write a couple of books about how the American genius for mindless consumerism is the future of the country. Then you get a column in the New York Times. Unfortunately, there comes a conservative president who fks up everything from hell to breakfast, and all of the intellectual arboretums in which you were raised fall into disrepute. Dutch Elm disease of the mind become epidemic. So you backpedal as fast as you can, running over several of your previous selves in the process until you finally end up one day writing a column in which you pretend that you haven’t spent your adult life pumping your speaking fees and grazing the buffet tables at various brainiac circle jerks.

I’m sorry. Were we talking about someone else?

Yeah, that’s David Brooks alright.

North Koreans really know how to denounce a guy

News from North Korea: Traitor Jang Song Thaek Executed. Read the whole thing — it’s a classic example of long-winded Communist pomposity, which ends, sadly, with the announcement of the immediate execution of the corrupt fellow who clapped half-heartedly at a conference.

Jang committed such an unpardonable thrice-cursed treason as overtly and covertly standing in the way of settling the issue of succession to the leadership with an axe to grind when a very important issue was under discussion to hold respected Kim Jong Un in high esteem as the only successor to Kim Jong Il in reflection of the unanimous desire and will of the entire party and army and all people.

When his cunning move proved futile and the decision that Kim Jong Un was elected vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea at the Third Conference of the WPK in reflection of the unanimous will of all party members, service personnel and people was proclaimed, making all participants break into enthusiastic cheers that shook the conference hall, he behaved so arrogantly and insolently as unwillingly standing up from his seat and half-heartedly clapping, touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people.

Jang confessed that he behaved so at that time as a knee-jerk reaction as he thought that if Kim Jong Un’s base and system for leading the army were consolidated, this would lay a stumbling block in the way of grabbing the power of the party and state.

I hope this North Korean denunciation doesn’t end the same way.

Is your rape insured?

The state of Michigan has just passed a measure stripping abortion coverage from insurance plans: women will have to ask for additional coverage to get it. Why excluding this particular health issue is so important that it engages the legislature to specifically write it out is a mystery. It’s not as if they are going through a long list of potential surgical procedures, like say, appendectomies, and deciding for patients and doctors that they have to plan ahead for these things and purchase separate riders for them (hey, that might actually benefit me, since I don’t have an appendix; why should I have to financially prop up all you looters who still walk around with that risk factor in your abdomens?).

Unless…oh, right. Misogyny. Women’s lady parts are weird and unusual and not part of the Standard Human’s equipment, so we shouldn’t be expected to treat them as a mundane part of human health care. At least one person, Gretchen Whitmer, sees the problem of special exceptions.

In a charged hearing Wednesday, Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer told the story of her own rape and called the legislation “one of the most misogynistic proposals I’ve ever seen in the Michigan Legislature,” according to the Detroit Free Press. The fact that women are required to plan in advance to have an abortion, Whitmer said, “tells women who are raped … that they should have thought ahead and bought special insurance for it.”

“The fact that rape insurance is even being discussed by this body is repulsive,” she added.

The people responsible for this abomination of a bill are, as you might expect, a so-called Right to Life group in Michigan. Once again, the fetus gets privileges that involving taking away rights from women.

Jesus. Texas.

Four Republican candidates for Lt. Governor of Texas gathered for a debate. They all agreed on the most pressing issue facing the American state today: whether Jesus made dinosaurs.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Sen. Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said in the first televised debate of the campaign Thursday night that they favor teaching that there are flaws in the theory that humans evolved from lower life forms.

Late last month, state Board of Education members adopted new high school science books that include full coverage of evolution without the disclaimers sought by social conservatives and other critics of Charles Darwin’s theory.

While none of the lieutenant governor candidates mentioned the board’s decision, three — Patrick, Patterson and Staples — blasted teaching only evolution as a form of “political correctness.” They linked it to what they described as a broader moral decline.

“The breakup of the family in this country has started when we took God out of the classroom,” said Patrick, a radio talk show host.

“As a Christian, certainly creationism should be taught,” said Staples, a former state legislator.

Dewhurst, who is seeking a fourth term, agreed.

“It’s a fair discussion to expose students to both sides and let them make the decision with the advice and counsel of their parents,” he said.

Patterson said the country has gone too far in deleting religious instruction from government institutions such as schools. A 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling banned teaching of creationism in science classes.

How do you bear it down there? If you think I’m cranky and rude living in Minnesota, think what I’d be like if I had landed a job in Texas!

Well, most likely dead of apoplexy and barbecue, but other than that.

I’m a bit uncomfortable with this

Gregory Paul says that Nelson Mandela was an atheist. I’ve looked around a bit, and I can’t find any confirmation of that — I wouldn’t be surprised, but at best I find that he was a committed secularist who avoided coming out clearly about religion. Can anyone confirm? I don’t like it when dead people are immediately brought into the fold of a religion when they can’t deny it, so I’m not keen on atheists doing likewise.

Back in the last decade there was a cable talk show titled Faith Under Fire. Hosted by a right wing Christian, it featured theists and atheists in direct conflict over assorted matters. In one segment a theist challenged a leader of an atheist organization to name a single atheist who had become a great moral leader. To my annoyance the had-not-thought-about-that-one-before atheist was stumped. 

A leading example, of course, is Andrei Sakharov. The wholly ungodly leftist physicist started out as the father of the Soviet H-bomb, but became so fed up with dictatorial communism – Khrushchev’s insistence on detonating a colossal 50 megaton thermonuclear device for no practical reason being a factor – that he became the leading dissident against the system, fighting for progressive democracy at considerable expense to himself.

And the other great moral atheist leader of the 20th century was Nelson Mandela. He too was an nontheist of the left (as most are, in the US 3/4s of the nonreligious are progressives, the rest Randian libertarians.)

Now that last bit is interesting. If you’ve been wondering how big the atheist rift is, and are a little tired of vague claims that those jerks are a minority, it at least pins a specific number on them: 25%. Which isn’t small.

The claim is a little overstated, though. They aren’t necessarily Randian libertarians. The basis of that 25% comes from the Pew poll of the “nones”, which found that about a quarter of them were politically conservative.


I looked through the whole thing; no sign that they actually assessed the details of political alignment closely enough to recognize libertarians. But yeah, 25% does sound like a reasonable estimate of the fraction of jerks infesting the atheist movement.