Examples of political chameleons

In Monday’s post, I spoke about how we can expect to see the political chameleons of the one-party ruling class try to camouflage their past in order to blend in with their new political environment. Glenn Greenwald, easily one of the best political analysts around, sees right through this strategy. He reveals the truth about people like Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, who use their home in the allegedly ‘liberal’ Brookings Institution to help pursue this goal.

To lavish themselves with credibility — as though they are war skeptics whom you can trust — they identify themselves at the beginning “as two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq.” In reality, they were not only among the biggest cheerleaders for the war, but repeatedly praised the Pentagon’s strategy in Iraq and continuously assured Americans things were going well. They are among the primary authors and principal deceivers responsible for this disaster.

But as always, Tom Friedman provides the clearest example of such shameless self-serving revisionism. Greenwald points to what the so-called ‘liberal’ New York Times columnist was saying in 2003 justifying the invasion of Iraq on PBS’s Charlie Rose show:

We needed to go over there basically, and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble. . . .

And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying: which part of this sentence do you understand? You don’t think we care about our open society? …

Well, Suck. On. This. That, Charlie, was what this war was about.

We could have hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could [my italics]. That’s the real truth.

And guess what? People there got the message, OK, in the neighborhood. This is a rough neighborhood, and sometimes it takes a 2-by-4 across the side of the head to get that message. But they got the message and the message was, “You will now be held accountable.”

What does Friedman say now (November 29, 2008) was the reason for the Iraq war?

It’s a reminder of the most important reason for the Iraq war: to try to collaborate with Iraqis to build progressive politics and rule of law in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world, a region that stands out for its lack of consensual politics and independent judiciaries.

Really? That is what you thought all along? He seems to have replaced those revenge-filled early words with pompous platitudes. Observe how he has conveniently forgotten the sordid past and his own role in it, switching from insane bellicosity (what he called ‘the real truth’) about teaching those dastardly Muslims a lesson by hitting Iraqis on the head with blunt objects (just because they are the most convenient target), to noble goals of collaborating to create a model civil society. He can make such a switch effortlessly because he has had so much practice at it.

Friedman, like many mainstream commentators both ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’, has no compunction about people in other countries getting killed in wars to satisfy his own lust for destruction or some weird private geopolitical theory. Here he is writing in 1999 (New York Times, April 23) about the need for heavier attacks on Serb civilians during the conflict over Kosovo:

Let’s at least have a real air war…. It should be lights out in Belgrade: Every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road, and war-related factory has to be targeted. Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set back your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too.

Bill O’Reilly (whom most people would consider to be at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Friedman) said something very similar six days later, showing how united the pro-war one party ruling elite is.

I believe that we have to go in there and drop leaflets on Belgrade and other cities and say, ‘Listen, you guys have got to move because we’re now going to come in and we’re going to just level your country. The whole infrastructure is going.’… Any target is OK. I’d warn the people, just as we did with Japan, that it’s coming, you’ve got to get out of there, OK, but I would level that country so that there would be nothing moving—no cars, no trains, nothing.

Notice again the smug arrogance of power, writing with the confidence that no other country can make similar threats against their own country. Would they approve of their own neighborhoods being flattened by bombs because another country did not like some US policy? Do none of these people know or care that what they are advocating, the destruction of civilian infrastructure like water, electricity, and sewage systems that have no direct military value, is a war crime?

The Geneva Conventions (Protocol 1, Part IV, Chapter III, Article 54) says quite clearly:

It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away, or for any other motive.

The examples I’ve given above can be multiplied. Chris Floyd chronicles Friedman’s relentless bloodlust while media critic Edward Herman similarly calls out ‘leftist’ Christopher Hitchens as another pro-war demagogue who vociferously supported the wars started by Clinton and Bush despite the heavy toll they inflicted on civilians, and even gleefully joked about Afghanistan being “the first country in history to be bombed out of the stone age.”

This is why the labels liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, have such little value in most discussions. They are merely the veneer to disguise one party rule and the desire to impose American will and power on the rest of the world, whatever the cost on ordinary people.

POST SCRIPT: Media complicity with the one-party state

Why is it that members of the war party get so much air time in the media while anyone who critiques the policies of the one-party state gets shut out? Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman clearly laid out how it works in their classic 1988 book Manufacturing Consent. A documentary of the same name was made in 1992 that presents the key arguments in a very entertaining manner. It is well-worth viewing.

Here is a short clip from that documentary that explains how the very organizational structure of the programs on TV prevents any real discussion of important issues, to be replaced by the uttering of conventional wisdom platitudes.

This is why only extended commercial-free discussions that allow for in-depth analysis, such as Bill Moyers’s program Buying the War on PBS, are the only things worth watching on TV.

‘Certified Sabbath Mode’

In our family we tend not to throw away stuff that can still be used but recently had to reluctantly conclude that our electric stove, which came with our house when we bought it twenty years ago and looked pretty old even then, needed to go to that Great Range in the sky. The filaments in both ovens had burned out and two of the four stove top burners had also stopped working, turning this huge apparatus into little more than a hotplate.

When shopping for a replacement we noticed that the phrase ‘Certified Sabbath Mode’ was often advertised as a selling point. The fact sheet did not say what this meant but I was intrigued and immediately went to Google where I found a very long and detailed explanation (with footnotes and citations) provided by Rabbi Avrohom Mushell.

There were several technical terms in Hebrew that I did not understand but as far as I could gather the basic problem faced by highly observant Jews is how to obtain hot food on a Jewish holiday (‘Yom Tov‘) because originating a flame is considered to fall under the list of prohibitions on such days and that rules out lighting a stove.

As Rabbi Mushell explains:

Turning on an electric stovetop to warm food will initiate the flow of electricity to the burner. The halachic authorities have determined that electricity used as heat or light is considered fire. Therefore by turning on the burner one is creating a new fire. … Turning the dial on your electric stovetop may also initiate a light or icon on a control panel which would otherwise be off. This may be a transgression of kosev, writing, as well as molid. Even when the electric burner was left on from before Yom Tov, if one wishes to adjust the temperature of the burner there is also reason for concern. This is because, as a rule, one does not know if there is electric current running to the element at the time they wish to make the adjustment. Even when there is an indicator light showing that a burner is on, this may not be an indication that electricity is flowing to the burner at that moment. Rather it is indicating that the element is set to maintain the desired setting which it will maintain by going on and off at pre-determined intervals. As a result when one adjusts the temperature upward on Yom Tov they may be initiating the flow of electricity at a time that it was otherwise not flowing. As mentioned earlier, this would be prohibited because of molid.

So what to do?

To circumvent this prohibition, an electrician can install an indicator light which is attached to the actual flow of electricity to the burner. This will indicate when there is current flowing to the burner. When there is electricity flowing, one may raise the temperature in order to enhance cooking.

But that is not all, as the Rabbi warns us. Turning the stove off is also risky:

Lowering the heat setting on an electric stovetop on Yom Tov is also not without its halachic perils. We know that extinguishing a burning log is the melacha of kibui. Lowering the heat setting of a stove on Yom Tov may be associated with the melacha of kibui. Therefore, this can only be done when it is for the benefit of the food, so that it will remain warm but not burn. One may not turn the burner off completely. However, if there is an indicator light showing when power is flowing to the burner, one must be careful to lower the burner only when the indicator light is off. Once the indicator light is off, one may also turn the burner off completely.

But stoves with the Certified Sabbath Mode feature have taken care of this problem in an ingenious way that avoids having to keep track of whether a current is actually flowing or not at the time when one adjusts the controls.

Sabbath mode ovens are designed to bypass many of the practical and halachic problems posed by the modern oven…. Some Sabbath Mode ovens are designed to work with a random delay. This feature allows one to raise the temperature on Yom Tov at any time, regardless of when power is flowing to the oven. This is because when one adjusts the dial or keypad, it is not directly causing the temperature to change. These “instructions” are being left for the computer to read at random intervals. The computer will then follow the “instruction” to raise the temperature. Therefore, this action is only causing a grama, an indirect action, which in turn will cause the temperature to be raised.

A cynic might say that priests have conveniently found a way to allow people to have their creature comforts while pretending to adhere to religious commandments. Whatever, it is clear that the simple, timeless, universal, and harmless act of cooking food has, thanks to priests, come to be believed by some religious people to be riddled with dangers that only those same priests can protect them from. The Rabbi even has an FAQ section to deal with such subtleties as: Can I set the timed bake feature on Yom Tov? May one turn off their stove or oven to conserve energy on Yom Tov? Can I open and close a standard oven door at any time on Yom Tov? Must I wait until I see the glow plug glowing to open the door to my gas oven on Yom Tov?

To me, this is a compelling demonstration of the power of all organized religions to get people to worry about the most trivial things, to spend enormous time and effort to try to interpret and follow arbitrary rules written down by unknown people millennia ago and collected together in books like the Bible and Koran.

And it furthers a self-serving goal for all religious institutions. Once their priests have got people worrying about whether this or that minor action is going to make their god angry and imperil their souls, those people are less likely to ask themselves really dangerous questions such as: Why would I worship a god who cares so much about such petty issues? And even if I do believe in a god, why would I think that priests and other religious authorities know any better than I do about what god wants?

POST SCRIPT: Penn and Teller explain why the Bible should not be taken at all seriously

Political chameleons

In analyzing politics in this country, the key to unlocking its underlying structure is to realize that what we have is essentially a single pro-war/pro-business party and that the Democratic and Republican ‘parties’ are merely factions of that one party, differing mostly on some social issues or on tactical matters. This underlying unity ensures that there is continuity in the overarching attempt to create an economic and political empire, using the military to achieve that goal when other means fail.

But ordinary people do not like not having choices in their leaders so we need to have a two party façade and this means requiring people to think of themselves as Democrats and Republicans, even strongly partisan ones. But only the middle class takes these labels seriously. The poor suspect that the entire system is rigged against them and in favor of the rich, while the very rich know this for a fact.

Servicing this system is an entire class of people who do not really care about party labels or even political philosophy as such but have very narrow agendas that can be advanced whichever party is in power. This is why they can so easily shift back and forth between the two. Because the Democrats are now in control and in a position to dispense favors, look for media institutions like Fox News to shift its views and change its programming to be more favorable to Democrats. Its owner Rupert Murdoch cares mostly about making money and in other countries has shown himself quite capable of shifting his political allegiances depending on who can do him the most good. We already hear stories that Murdoch dislikes the way Fox News operates and despises Bill O’Reilly.

We can also expect to see a lot of people who once enthusiastically supported Bush and Cheney start maneuvering to portray themselves as critics in order to wheedle their way into the new administration. They will be aided in this by the media, which likes to see the permanent establishment class run things. Some of the agendas of these political chameleons are personal. For example, there is a whole industry of political commentators, analysts, and think-tankers whose main goal is to stay in the media eye, to be highly visible. That is how they earn their living. Such people will now shift their views, tacking to the prevailing winds.

During the heyday of the Bush-Cheney fiasco, these people found all kinds of reasons to justify the concentration of executive power, the Iraq war, torture, extraordinary renditions, lack of oversight of the financial and environmental sectors, and the undermining of responsible government by the placing of party hacks and ideological loyalists in important positions, especially in the Departments of Justice and Environment. Now they talk about the ‘excesses’ of the Bush-Cheney administration, that ‘mistakes were made’, that some people were ‘overzealous’, and so on. Very rarely will you see any acknowledgement that they were accomplices in, and enablers of, all of it.

You already saw this happening with attitudes towards the Iraq war because that fiasco became plain to see much earlier. The fundamental problem that the single pro-war/pro-business party faces is that the general population is not unthinkingly pro-war (or pro business) so the one party leadership has to keep finding new ways to convince them that although past wars were usually disasters, the next war is a good and noble cause that must be fought.

One strategy is to make people think that even those who opposed the previous wars support the new proposed war. This process has already started. The way the warmongers do this is to now advertise themselves as having been either against the Iraq war or critical of it. They then try to extrapolate this tenuous claim to make it seem like they always took a principled stand against the war. They will then be described in the media with the preamble “Even fierce critics of the Iraq war such as …” This puts them in the position of supporting the next war from the position of being ‘antiwar activists’ and thus allow the warmongers to suggest that the next war must be a good one if it has persuaded even such ‘principled opponents’ of previous wars.

The neoconservatives will be among those who try to make this shift. In my series on the future of the Republican party, I foresaw a bleak time ahead for Republicans because of the intramural battle for the leadership by the old-style conservatives, the neoconservatives, and the Christianists. One thing that might save that party is if the neoconservatives see little likelihood of it getting back in power soon and abandon it. Their departure will enable the old style conservatives a better chance of regaining their former leadership role since religion by itself does not really provide a governing political philosophy.

The neoconservatives will then try to re-enter the Democratic party which was their original home anyway, because the old-style Republican conservatives who once dominated that party were always a little leery of the kinds of reckless foreign adventures favored by the neoconservatives. They will try to do this by rewriting history. They will shift positions and start to claim that they had reservations about the war all along. The more brazen will say that they opposed some or all of the Bush-Cheney policies. They will be aided in their makeovers by the Obama administration’s centrist let’s-get-along mindset, which will prevent them from taking a too critical look at the past of those people.

But if you look back at the actual record, you will see that these so-called opponents were initially strong supporters of the Iraq war, shifting to merely tactical criticism of how the war was conducted by the Bush administration when it became clear that it was going badly.

Next: Examples of such political chameleons

POST SCRIPT: Stephen Colbert chimes in on the ‘War on Christmas’

The future of the Republican Party-14: The once and future queen?

It is time for me to leave that seemingly inexhaustible well of material that is Sarah Palin, though it is clear that we are not going to be free of her presence any time soon. There is no question that Sarah Palin was the phenomenon of the election. When was the last time that the losing vice-presidential candidate garnered so much continuing media attention after the election, totally eclipsing the winning counterpart?

The last question that I want to explore before moving on is whether she represents the future of the Republican party.

It is often the case that post-mortems of losing campaigns can be quite nasty, as people try to wash their hands of any blame for the debacle and seek to salvage their reputations so that they can hook up with future campaigns. What is startling about the McCain campaign infighting was its particularly vicious nature and that this process started even before the election was over. I think it is because there are some within the Republican party who recognize the long-term danger that Palin represents. The brutal internal sniping that erupted is a sign that they think her rise should be nipped in the bud.

On her side, there were reports that they think McCain campaign advisors made serious tactical errors, that she saw defeat looming and was distancing herself from him in order to maintain her own future political viability and laying the groundwork for her own presidential run in 2012, that she blames the McCain staff for her disastrous introduction to the nation and for the public relations fiasco over her $150,000 clothes shopping spree.

On his side, leaked reports say that McCain was annoyed with her and that his staff thinks that she is the main reason the campaign lost. People close to McCain have called her a ‘diva’ who had ‘gone rogue’ by pursuing her own agenda and going off-message, and some have even called her a “whack job”. But the McCain camp’s attempt to blame Palin for their loss is a bit disingenuous since he is the one who freely picked her.

Her inability to think or speak coherently seemed to come as a big surprise to the McCain campaign, and her unwillingness to quickly study up on the issues suggested an intellectual laziness.

“Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic,” said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the “hardest” to get her “up to speed than any candidate in history.”

It is clear from her ignorance on so many issues that she has not shown any interest in national and international affairs all her life, and had to learn to deal with them only after being nominated for vice-president. But such habits and interests are formed early in one’s life and without that desire to know such things I am not convinced that she can get up to speed within the next few years.

It was notable that even a few days before the election she still could not give a correct or even coherent answer to the question of what the vice president’s role was, even though she had first flubbed that question when it was posed to her months earlier when her name was first floated as a possible running mate for McCain. The US constitution is notable for its conciseness. How hard would it be to read the few sentences that deal with the very post to which you are aspiring? She seems to think that a breezy confidence in your gut instincts is all you need.

It is now clear that even during her vice-presidential debate where her supporters think she acquitted herself well, she was reading much of her answers from notes and using pre-packaged responses whatever the question. If you go back and look at her interview with Katie Couric, you see that she frequently looks down at her lap, as if taking a quick peek at something.

She also lacks self-discipline. One example of this is her continuing to buy expensive clothes for her and her family after the scandal about them broke. The other is her tendency to repeat falsehoods (such as the story about the ‘bridge to nowhere’) after they have been exposed.

As we have seen in the few interviews she gave before the election, when asked a question, instead of pausing a moment to consider what point she wants to make, she has the unfortunate tendency of immediately launching into a blizzard of words and phrases without having a clear endpoint in mind, so her answers meander all over the place, a stream of consciousness monologue that is both oddly captivating and grating at the same time.

She squirts words out like a squid squirts ink when it is cornered, creating a cloud of incoherence. Take this recent example when she was trying to explain away the issue of whether she thought Africa was a country:

“My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.”

Dick Cavett writes:

What will ambitious politicos learn from this? That frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences that ramble on long after thought has given out completely are a candidate’s valuable traits?

What on earth are our underpaid teachers, laboring in the vineyards of education, supposed to tell students about the [above] sentence, committed by the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High?

Some have responded that this pre-occupation with Palin’s shaky grammar and syntax is an elitist obsession of those with expensive educations. But there is a huge difference between being plainspoken and expressing your ideas in the vernacular, and saying things that no one can make any sense of. Jim Hightower and the late Molly Ivins are examples of people who know how to wield Texas colloquialisms and regional idioms like scalpels, using breezy language to skillfully dissect any issue to quickly expose the underlying core. The problem with Palin is not that she says things badly but that we cannot tell, without careful parsing of her words, what idea she is even trying to convey.

Language can be an important clue as to the state of one’s thinking. George Orwell said it best in his 1946 essay Politics and the English Language:

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Sarah Palin is a textbook example of the point Orwell is making. An immersion course in grammar and syntax by itself is not going to help Palin become a clear thinker, although it would help her to not embarrass herself so much. Her use of language indicates that her problems go much deeper, to her very thought processes. The Republican party would be unwise to place its future in such thoughtless hands.

As the Republicans jockey to see who will lead the party in the future, look behind the actual names and faces that are bandied about and focus on which of the three groups (the old-style conservatives, the Christianists, and the neoconservatives) are supporting them. The key struggle to watch is the extent to which the Christianists are successful in convincing the more traditionally religious base of the Republican party that they represent their values, or whether other religious leaders who are dismayed by the current dominant coalition of end-timers and neoconservatives will successfully challenge the Christianists for the leadership position.

Which group emerges as the victor of that struggle will tell you which way the party is moving.

POST SCRIPT: Brain teaser

I received this interesting puzzle and thought I’d pass it on. I will post my solution in the comments.

On being a contented loner

I have a confession to make: I am a bad Facebook friend. Although I have a Facebook account, I don’t do anything with it. From time to time someone will request that I be their friend and I almost always say yes even if I know them just remotely or they are just a friend of a friend. But to accept them as a friend is about the only time that I even log into my Facebook account. I have the vague sense that I should be doing more with the site, that somehow I am neglecting my Facebook friends, but am not sure what I should be doing.

So why did I join Facebook at all if I was not going to do anything with it? It started long ago when I read about Facebook in an article, when it was still limited to a few ivy league schools. I was intrigued by the concept because I felt that there were not enough avenues for students at Case to meet and socialize and I felt that Facebook might be a good thing to get started here. Since I was not quite sure how it worked, when the opportunity arose for non-ivy leaguers to join up, I was one of the first to do so to check it out. It seemed like a good thing and I recommended to the computer and student affairs people here that we should consider promoting it strongly amongst our students.

Of course, Facebook exploded in popularity without any help from us, and so I let the matter drop and forgot about my account. But after some time people discovered that I had a Facebook account and I slowly started getting requests to be friends. It seemed to me that the polite thing to do was to say yes. After all, how can you say be so churlish as to say no to a request from someone to be your friend? And so my list of Facebook friends slowly grew. Of course, the total number of friends I have is still tiny, in the double digits, unlike some people who have thousands. But I still feel guilty that I am ignoring this small group of people who took the trouble to reach out to me and I sometimes wonder what they think of me (“What a jerk. He never calls. He never writes. He never tells us what he is doing or feeling at the moment.”) I have thought of closing my account but that seems even ruder, like abruptly moving to another city and not giving people a forwarding address. So I am stuck.

(I am also puzzled by the occasional request to be a friend from people whom I do not know in the least, with whom I have no common Facebook friends, and who live in places I have never even been to. Why would they ask a stranger to be their friend? Is there some social networking dynamic that I am not aware of that is causing this?)

My problem is that I am somewhat of a loner. I do not actively seek out the company of people. (This is consistent with the post last week about how my writing pegs me down as an introvert.) I am perfectly content with my own thoughts and books and the internet. I do enjoy occasional socializing with friends, but even then I prefer conversations with a few people than large and noisy parties. If I do attend such a party, I try to find a few congenial companions and spend the entire evening in their company. I enjoy meetings with colleagues at work provided the meetings are not too frequent or go on for too long. After about an hour I start looking forward to going back to the solitude of my office where I can sort out my thoughts and put them into writing.

I also still do not own a cell phone, which shocks many people. When asked why, I reply truthfully that my job is such that emergencies do not arise and people do not need to contact me at short notice. Also my habits are fairly regular so that people can usually reach me at my office or at home. Furthermore, I have lived all my life quite happily without a cell phone and am not convinced that it has suddenly become a can’t-do-without item. In short, a cell phone has not become a functional necessity for me and I try to not clutter up my life with things I don’t need.

But there are two other major reasons that I usually leave unsaid. The first is that I hate talking on the phone. I am much more comfortable writing an email to someone or speaking with them face-to-face than picking up the phone and calling them. If I have to talk to people on the phone because the matter is too complicated to write about or requires a personal touch, I tend to get to the point quickly, and when the matter is settled, try to end the call as politely as I can.

I don’t know why I dislike phone conversations but I know I am not alone in this. Recently on some blogs the discussion turned to this topic and almost all of the bloggers said that they hated talking on the phone too. This is perhaps not too surprising. Bloggers, after all, are people who like the written word and have chosen to express their thoughts in writing.
The other reason that I do not have a cell phone is that I like to be left alone. There are many times when I simply do not want to be contacted. Once you have a cell phone, the presumption becomes that it should always be on, that you should always have it with you, answer all calls immediately, or call back within a few minutes. I have noticed that people get annoyed and frustrated when they call someone’s cell phone and it is not answered or they do not get an immediate callback.

There is an explosion of new ways of being in contact, social networking systems such as Twitter and Second Life being just two. I steadfastly refuse to join any of them unless I absolutely have to.

I did join Second Life out of curiosity when it first came out and because Case was getting deeply involved in it, but stopped doing anything with my avatar soon after, thus repeating my unfortunate Facebook experience. I am probably now as much a social pariah on Second Life as I am on Facebook.

I am not a total Luddite who rejects all new technology. If I need something I will use it. Recently I actually initiated a private social networking group on Ning (thanks to help from Heidi) to facilitate the organization of a college reunion, so I can and will use these devices if I feel the need.

I am well aware that I am fighting the tide on this one. Eventually, everyone will be on many social networks with everyone else, each person constantly aware of what other people are doing. And scattered here and there will be these isolated individuals like me who have no clue as to what is happening all around them.

That realization is a little disturbing. I like to think of myself as a social being and the thought that I am actively shunning avenues for being in touch with other people is troubling, suggesting that I am somewhat of a misanthrope. But not really. I do not hate or distrust humankind. And I am also not like Linus of Peanuts fame when he said, “I love humanity! It’s people I can’t stand!”

I really do like people and humanity. I just don’t want to be in touch with a lot of them all the time and there does not seem to be any word other than ‘loner’ to describe people like me.

POST SCRIPT: Christmas cheer for the godless

British comedians like Ricky Gervais and Robin Ince have organized a program of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People: A Rational Celebration of Christmas.

[Gervais's] motivation is as benign as it is pro-rationalist. “I wanted to do events around Christmas for people who don’t have any belief, to show that they’re not bitter, Scrooge-like characters. Everyone is going to be approaching the evening from a passionate scientific perspective rather than from a bashing-the-Bible slant.”

For Ince and his missionary friends, the word that needs to be spread is that the universe is wondrous even without faith in a divine plan. Dawkins will read from his book Unweaving the Rainbow, “which is about how science makes things more beautiful and more exciting – not less”.

But by holding this rationalist jamboree so close to Christmas, are they not guilty of provocation?

“If it riles people,” says Ince, “it does so because they’re fools. Anyone who feels we are ‘stealing Christmas away’ would just be half-witted. Some people are desperate to be offended.”

For those who do not know Robin Ince, here is a clip that I have shown before where he compares evolution with creationism and intelligent design.

The future of the Republican Party-13: The case against Palin

Should Sarah Palin be the next Republican nominee for president?

It is clear that she thinks she is up to the job. She says that whether she should be president or not depends on what god wants.

Palin told Greta Van Susteren Monday on Fox News that her faith will guide her on a 2012 run. “I’m like, O.K., God, if there is an open door for me somewhere — this is what I always pray — don’t let me miss the open door,” she said. “Show me where the open door is, even if it’s cracked open a little bit, maybe I’ll plow right on through that and maybe prematurely plow through it.”

But like all delusional religious people who say they seek a sign of god’s will, she will see what she wants to see. It is clear that Palin thinks god has big plans for her and will view random events as god ‘cracking open’ doors for her. She likely thinks that McCain selecting her is already a sign of that.

I recall a study that compared competent people and incompetent people. One reason the incompetents were incompetent was that they were incompetent at judging their own competence. They had a breezy and unshakeable confidence in their own abilities and so never felt the need to work to improve themselves, whereas competent people were better able to judge their strengths and weaknesses and thus recognized which areas they needed to develop themselves in.

Palin strikes me as someone who is completely oblivious to her shortcomings. Her vanity and sense of entitlement, coupled with her tone deafness to the image she creates, has provided endless material for comedians.

The biggest example was, of course, her $150,000 shopping spree at upscale stores and the way she responded when the news broke.

When Politico reported on Oct. 21 that Palin had spent $150,000 for clothes for herself and her family, the governor had been all wounded innocence. At a campaign stop in Tampa, she said, “These clothes—they’re not my property, just like the lighting and the staging and everything else that the RNC purchased. I am not taking them with me. I am back to wearing clothes from my favorite consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska.” Publicly, McCain aides backed up Palin, saying that a third of the clothes had been returned immediately, before they were worn in public, and that the rest would be donated to charity. Privately, however, McCain’s top advisers fumed at what they regarded as Palin’s outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist, but thereafter Palin had “gone rogue,” as the media buzz put it. She began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. A week after she announced that she was going back to her consignment shop she was still having tailored clothes delivered. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards; the McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent “tens of thousands” more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as “Wasilla Hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast,” and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.

Such things invite ridicule. Maureen Dowd writes:

As Michael Shear reported in The Washington Post, on top of the $150,000 first cited in F.E.C. filings, Palin spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on more clothes, makeup and jewelry for herself and her family, including $40,000 in luxury goods for the First Dude. The campaign was charged for silk boxers, spray tanners and 13 suitcases to carry the designer duds, Shear reported, adding that one source said, “She was still receiving shipments of custom-designed underpinnings up to her ‘Saturday Night Live’ performance” in October. Silk boxers and custom-designed underpinnings? Sounds like Sarah and Todd were treating the vice presidential run as a second honeymoon.”

There had been other warning signs (that the McCain camp would have easily discovered if they had bothered to vet her) that she liked having others pay for her high style of living, such as her practice as governor of getting a per diem for staying in her own home and having taxpayers pay for her family’s travels and luxury hotel accommodations even though they had no official function.

She also courts controversy because of her habit of not thinking things through. For example, she gratuitously dismissed scientific research on fruit flies when she had no need to. She seems to be unable to resist the sarcastic one-liner that gets immediate laughs, and that is a recipe for trouble.

The latest fiasco was when she was speaking about Thanksgiving while a turkey was being slaughtered behind her. People wondered how Palin could be so oblivious to the poor scene being set. Instead she just rambled on and on, seemingly delighting in the sound of her own voice, whether she has anything to say or not. Jay Leno joked that the reason for the photo op fiasco was that the turkey couldn’t bear listening to her anymore and said “Please kill me now.”

Even if the more outlandish stories about Palin (such as her not knowing that Africa is a not a single country) are not true, her problem is that she has now acquired a reputation for deep ignorance that they are seen as plausible, and that image will be hard to shake off.

As a counter-example, in mid-September John McCain had an interview with a Spanish-language newspaper in which it seemed like he did not know that Spain was in Europe or that it was a US ally in NATO. But after some initial eye-rolling by commentators, that story did not gain much traction because it was highly implausible that someone like McCain would be so ignorant about geography. Even McCain’s critics looked for plausible alternative explanations for his strange comments. But if the same thing had happened with Palin, people would easily believe that she does not know that Spain is not in Latin America. That is not a good reputation for a national leader to have.

The real problem, as I said above, is not that Palin is ignorant about many things that she should be aware of. All of us are. The problem is that she seems oblivious to the fact that she is ignorant and hence is unlikely to improve. If the Republican party does choose her, they will be taking a huge political gamble.

Next: The once and future queen?

POST SCRIPT: Talk on Israel-Palestine

The well-known Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein, who has long advocated for a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, will speak on:

Israel and Palestine: Roots of Conflict – Prospect for Peace
The talk is on Thursday, December 11, 2008, 6:30 pm in the Ford Auditorium, Case Western Reserve University. This is in the Allen Library building at the corner of Euclid and Adelbert.
The talk is free and open to the public.

Preachers, faith healers, and other conmen: The story of Marjoe

I watched a fascinating Academy Award-winning 1972 documentary called Marjoe, that follows the ‘farewell tour’ of Marjoe Gortner, a Pentecostal evangelical revivalist preacher. Marjoe (named after Mary and Joseph) was born in 1944 to Pentecostal preacher parents. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were also evangelists and his parents noticed early in his life that he had a precocious self-confidence and good mimicry skills. They had the idea of making him a child preacher, publicizing a story of him at the age of three being visited by the Holy Ghost and speaking in tongues while having a bath.

Whether this story was made up out of whole cloth or whether the clearly playful Marjoe was merely mimicking what he had seen others do at revival meetings was not clear. What Marjoe does admit is that he himself never ever believed, even as a child, that he had any special spiritual experience or that god was speaking to him, despite all the adulation he received as some kind of child prophet. Instead his parents had to relentlessly coach him and made him, under threat of punishment, memorize his lines and worked out codes and signals for him to use as cues while he was preaching. He was ordained soon after.

The parents took this show on the road in the Midwest and the South when Marjoe was four, and the child evangelist was a sensation. The sight of a little boy, with blue eyes and hair consisting of tight golden curls dressed in a suit, preaching hellfire, damnation, and salvation grabbed the attention of the public and the media, and his parents milked the attention for all it was worth, even arranging for him to officiate at a wedding before he was even five. This caused a bit of a stir legally and eventually led to California requiring marriage officiators to be at least 21.

This lucrative racket went on until Marjoe was fourteen by which time the novelty was beginning to wear off. His father absconded with all their money and Marjoe himself ran away to California and became a bit of a drifter until he was befriended by an older woman and got back to a somewhat steadier life.

In the mid 1960s, he decided to return to preaching to the same audiences as before but with a new message of civil rights and social justice. But the audiences did not want to hear that. Needing money, he returned to his roots, becoming once again a hellfire and damnation Pentecostal preacher, using his still considerable reputation as the boy preacher to gain access to the revival circuit. Using many of the stage techniques of the rock stars (particularly Mick Jagger) he aspired to be, he put on quite a show for the faithful, and he soon had people speaking in tongues, going into seizure-like trances, and being ‘cured’ of their illnesses again. He made enough money doing this to have to work only for six months of each year, spending the other six loafing on the beaches.

In this book excerpt he explains in detail how he operated, how he got people ‘speaking in tongues’ and ‘healed’. He also explained some of the appeal that these revival meetings had.

During his years on the Bible Belt circuit, he came to see the Evangelical experience as a form of popular entertainment, a kind of participatory divine theater that provides its audiences with profound emotional rewards.

“The people who are out there don’t see it as entertainment,” he confessed, “although that is in fact the way it is. These people don’t go to movies; they don’t go to bars and drink; they don’t go to rock-and-roll concerts — but everyone has to have an emotional release. So they go to revivals and they dance around and talk in tongues. It’s socially approved and that is their escape.”

But after four years of this, he did not have the stomach anymore for this charade and he explains what turned him off. “I’d see someone who wanted to get saved in one of my meetings, and he was so open and bubbly in his desire to get the Holy Ghost. It was wonderful and very fresh, but four years later I’d return and that person might be a hard-nosed intolerant Christian because he had Christ. That’s when the danger comes in.”

So at the age of 26, he went on a farewell tour for two years, but this time to create an expose of the revivalist preacher racket which he knew so intimately from the inside. He was accompanied by a film crew with whom he shared, in confidence, the tricks of the trade: how you get people worked up, how you ‘cure’ them, how you know when to hit them up for money. The documentary was the end the result and it is quite gripping.

I had mixed feelings while watching the film. I despise the so-called preachers who shamelessly fleece poor people, calling on them to ‘sacrifice for Jesus’ and to show their ‘love for Jesus’ by giving money they cannot spare in order that the preachers can live well, buying expensive cars and extensive properties around the world. Behind the scenes, it is pure business, these sharks greedily counting the day’s takings, coldly calculating what would sell, what would make people give more, devising gimmicks to gain market share from their competitors, and developing techniques to increase revenue.

But at the same time one cannot but help feel pity for the people who attend these meetings and get caught up in the emotions, so much so that they cannot see that they are being played for fools and suckers, and to be exposed as such in the documentary. These are clearly desperately needy people, looking for hope and meaning in their lives, emotionally vulnerable and ripe for plucking by con-men and women. To watch them be so easily convinced that Marjoe, who does not believe any of this stuff, is god’s conduit through which the ‘Holy Ghost’ passes to them, and as a result to hear them ‘speak in tongues’ and collapse on the floor shaking in the grip of the ‘Holy Ghost’, is to be amazed at the power of delusion, at the ability of people to believe what they want to and need to believe.

It seems to me that there are only two kinds of people involved in this phenomenon. A few cynical money loving preaching and faith healing exploiters and their support teams, and the vast number of gullible saps who do not realize that it is not their souls these preachers seek to lift but their wallets.

It is worthwhile to note that Sarah Palin comes from this world. I wonder which part.

POST SCRIPT: Praise the Lord and pass the collection plate

Here is the opening segment of the documentary Marjoe, where you can see the child Marjoe do his stuff.

The future of the Republican Party-12: Puppet or puppeteer?

The key issue that will determine the future of the Republican Party leadership is whether it will revert to the control of the old-style conservatives that can reclaim the support of numerically large social values base, or whether leadership of the party will remain with the new alliance of Christianists and neoconservatives, united under the banner of Sarah Palin.

At present, it seems like the latter are firmly in control. These people don’t worry too much about whether Sarah Palin is competent, since they feel they can ‘manage’ and ‘control’ her. Randy Scheunemann is a neoconservative and PNAC project director who is a strong supporter of Palin and was the person assigned to brief her on foreign policy (which did not turn out too well, to put it mildly). He is also strongly anti-Russia, a paid lobbyist for Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, and someone who pushed for a strong US reaction against Russia over the conflict with Georgia over South Ossetia even though it has become clear that Georgia provoked it.

Under his tutelage, Palin’s first important meeting that took place just before her convention speech was with the board of directors of AIPAC, a leading member of the Israel lobby. So clearly, the neoconservatives seem to think that in Palin they have someone they can influence.

Republicans who think Palin is the future also planned a secret meeting to be held two days after the election to plot long-term strategy. It is clear that they are going to use support for Palin as a litmus test to determine who, in their Manichaean worldview, is with them and who is against them.

Jim Nuzzo, a White House aide to the first President Bush, dismissed Mrs Palin’s critics as “cocktail party conservatives” who “give aid and comfort to the enemy”.

He told The Sunday Telegraph: “There’s going to be a bloodbath. A lot of people are going to be excommunicated. David Brooks and David Frum and Peggy Noonan are dead people in the Republican Party. The litmus test will be: where did you stand on Palin?”

Mr Frum thinks that Mrs Palin’s brand of cultural conservatism appeals only to a dwindling number of voters.

He said: “She emerges from this election as the probable frontrunner for the 2012 nomination. Her supporters vastly outnumber her critics. But it will be extremely difficult for her to win the presidency.”

Mr Nuzzo, who believes this election is not a re-run of the 1980 Reagan revolution but of 1976, when an ageing Gerald Ford lost a close contest and then ceded the leadership of the Republican Party to Mr Reagan.

He said: “Win or lose, there is a ready made conservative candidate waiting in the wings. Sarah Palin is not the new Iain Duncan Smith, she is the new Ronald Reagan.” On the accuracy of that judgment, perhaps, rests the future of the Republican Party.

Those of us who think Palin is utterly inept and incompetent based on her performance are aghast that anyone would seriously consider her to be their candidate for president. These backroom power brokers who support her are not stupid and cannot be blind to her obvious deficiencies as a national leader, even though she does have some crowd appeal. So what can they be thinking?

The fact is that politics has a long history of people who think they are so clever that they can control a useful, popular, but politically ignorant puppet leader, usually a woman. Such attempts almost always have a bad end. We have seen this played out in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.

In Sri Lanka, a charismatic Prime Minister S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike was assassinated in 1959. His party’s leaders responded by appointing his widow as his replacement although she had no background whatsoever in politics. Their thinking was that she would be a figurehead who would reap the sympathy of voters and keep their party in power while they could control her from behind the scenes. While serious political analysts ridiculed the idea of a total novice being thrust into national leadership, what happened was that Sirimavo Bandaranaike turned out to be a shrewd manipulator of power who outmaneuvered and outlasted all her would-be puppeteers, and retained leadership of the party for over three decades, serving three terms as Prime Minister.

But while she proved to be a tough and wily politician, her previous lack of any interest in politics or even a coherent political and economic philosophy resulted in an ad hoc and chaotic style of governing, driven by personal whims and vendettas and intrigues, lurching from one policy to another, based on short-term tactics and no real long-term strategy.

The Christianists and neoconservatives backing Palin risk a similar fate. She reminds me of Mrs. Bandaranaike, someone with no coherent political or economic philosophy, ignorant and uninterested in national and international issues, but who knows how to appeal to a particular segment of voters, has shrewd political skills, and a lust for the trappings of office that she will use to her advantage. Those who support her thinking that she will be malleable to their agenda may be in for a nasty surprise once (and if) she gains power. In Alaska, she already has a reputation of someone who has no qualms about using people to propel her to higher office and then turning her back on them, and treating anyone who disagrees with her as an enemy to be destroyed.

So we should not be so quick to write her off as a political force.

Next: The case against Palin

POST SCRIPT: Proposition 8 – The Musical

Despite the passage of Proposition 8 in California and similar defeats for gay rights in Arizona and Florida on election day, there seems to be a surge in support for gay rights.

Watch Proposition 8 – The Musical, starring John C. Reilly and Jack Black as Jesus.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

The internet is watching you

Recently I came across two sites that made me realize that the internet is getting too smart for its own good.

One is the site Typealyzer. You insert the URL of a blog and it does a Myers-Briggs type analysis of the personality of the author.

The results of a Myers-Briggs analysis places the subject along four axes:

Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).

Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).

Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).

Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

So I inserted the URL for this blog into Typealyzer and got the result that I am an INTP-type, broadly classified as ‘The Thinker':

Private, intellectual, impersonal, analytical and reflective, the INTP appears to value ideas, principles and abstract thinking above all else. This logical type seeks to understand and explain the universe–not to control it! Higher education often holds a particular appeal to this type who tends to acquire degrees and amass knowledge over the entire course of life. Abstract or theoretical subjects are usually the INTP’s cup of tea, and academic or research careers may seem attractive to this type. From science and math to economics and philosophy: just name the discipline, and you’ll find INTPs perched on the loftiest rungs of theory and analysis. In whatever field they choose, INTPs take on the role of visionary, scientist or architect, and they usually prefer to make their contributions in relative solitude. The mundane details of life may be the INTP’s undoing, since this type lives in a world guided by intuitive thinking. Often perceived to be arrogant and aloof, the quiet and sometimes reclusive INTP may have to struggle in the personal realm, as well, for feelings are not this type’s natural forte.

I then compared this with one of the many quasi-Myers-Briggs assessments available on the internet for free (you have to pay for the real thing) and got the result that my personality type is INTJ.

Of course, each of the four axes is a continuum and few people are at the very extremes of each. The strengths of my individual preferences were given as 44% Introverted, 50% Intuitive, 25% Thinking, and 89% Judging. These can be expressed qualitatively as moderately expressed introvert, moderately expressed intuitive, moderately expressed thinking, and very expressed judging.

The Myers-Briggs site describes the two types in the following way:

INTP: Seek to develop logical explanations for everything that interests them. Theoretical and abstract, interested more in ideas than in social interaction. Quiet, contained, flexible, and adaptable. Have unusual ability to focus in depth to solve problems in their area of interest. Skeptical, sometimes critical, always analytical.

INTJ: Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance – for themselves and others.

The URL analyzer seems to be in pretty good agreement with the more detailed questionnaire-based analysis. The main difference is the last quality that switched from the T in the blog analyzer to the J, which switched me from the umbrella category ‘Thinker’ to the ‘Scientist’.

Since I was in the mood for navel-gazing, I also tried GenderAnalyzer, that says it uses Artificial Intelligence to determine the gender of the author of the home page of a blog. I did it twice over a couple of weeks and the first time it returned 77% male and the second time 83% male.

I am not sure how to interpret the results since the basis of the algorithm used is not given. Presumably it does some kind of textual analysis of key words in comparison with a database of some sort.

But what would be a ‘good’ result? If for some reason a reader really wants to know the gender of the author, the closer you get to 100% accuracy the better. But from the view of the blog’s author, that may also mean that you are highly gender-stereotypical in your language and/or choice of topics and/or views on them, depending on what the algorithm does. Should an author be aiming for 50% so that one is writing in ways that are free of gender bias?

Jesus’ General (from whose site I first heard about this) who proudly claims that he is “an 11 on the manly scale of absolute gender” was horrified to find that he scored only 72%, lower than even some women bloggers, and he took the necessary steps to raise his manly score.

There also seem to have been a few anomalous results for some well-known people.

What all this tells me is that the internet knows us better than we think or may like.

The old cartoon joke “On the internet no one knows you are a dog” may no longer be true. It not only knows you are a dog, it can even tell the breed.

POST SCRIPT: Put down the duckie!

One of my favorite Sesame Street music segments.

The future of the Republican Party-11: The last straw

As this series has tried to show, there was an increasing divergence between the vision of the Republican party as seen by the old-style conservatives and that seen by the new alliance of Christianists and neoconservatives. Looking back, it seems inevitable that the tension would become too great and the party finally snap.

It was Sarah Palin that was the last straw. We saw how towards the end of the campaign, many leading old-style conservative Republicans, their party’s intellectual backbone for so many years, abandon their party and support Obama, citing McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as the reason for their defection. I suspect that that was not the sole reason but that their disillusionment had been brewing for a long time and this was the defining event that pushed them over the edge.

The split over Palin resulted in bitter and public infighting within the Republican party, with many stalwarts jumping ship. The website Talking Points Memo has put together a nice graphic and quotes from the many Republican stalwarts who distanced themselves from the McCain-Palin campaign, particularly because of their reservations about Palin.

Andrew Sullivan is a good example of someone for whom the scales fell from his eyes. When reading the excerpt below written after the election, it is good to recall that he was one of the most gung-ho of conservative supporters of Bush and his policies, especially the Iraq war, who believed without any evidence that Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks, and who heaped vitriolic ridicule on all those of us who expressed concerns that the Bush administration was leading the country into a ditch.

He now makes an about-face and puts the current old-style conservative view most brutally:

Let’s be real in a way the national media seems incapable of: this person should never have been placed on a national ticket in a mature democracy. She was incapable of running a town in Alaska competently. The impulsive, unvetted selection of a total unknown, with no knowledge of or interest in the wider world, as a replacement president remains one of the most disturbing events in modern American history. That the press felt required to maintain a facade of normalcy for two months – and not to declare the whole thing a farce from start to finish – is a sign of their total loss of nerve.

It happened because John McCain is an incompetent and a cynic and reckless beyond measure. To have picked someone he’d only met once before, without any serious vetting procedure, revealed McCain as an utterly unserious character, a man whose devotion to the shallowest form of political gamesmanship trumped concern for his country’s or his party’s interest. We need a full accounting of the vetting process: who was responsible for this act of political malpractice? How could a veep not be vetted in any serious way? Why was she not asked to withdraw as soon as the facts of her massive ignorance and delusional psyche were revealed?

The Palin nightmare also happened because a tiny faction of political professionals has far too much sway in the GOP and conservative circles. This was Bill Kristol’s achievement.

It was a final product of the now-exhausted strategy of fomenting fundamentalist resentment to elect politicians dedicated to the defense of Israel and the extension of American military hegemony in every corner of the globe. Palin was the reductio ad absurdum of this mindset: a mannequin candidate, easily controlled ideologically, deployed to fool and corral the resentful and the frightened, removed from serious scrutiny and sold on propaganda networks like a food product.

This deluded and delusional woman still doesn’t understand what happened to her; still has no self-awareness; and has never been forced to accept her obvious limitations. She cannot keep even the most trivial story straight; she repeats untruths with a ferocity and calm that is reserved only to the clinically unhinged; she has the educational level of a high school drop-out; and regards ignorance as some kind of achievement. It is excruciating to watch her – but more excruciating to watch those who feel obliged to defend her.

Her candidacy, in short, was indefensible. It remains indefensible. Until the mainstream media, the GOP establishment, and the conservative intelligentsia acknowledge the depth of their error, this blog will keep demanding basic accountability.

Even I have not have been so harsh in my critique of Palin but this just shows how resentful the old-style conservative Republicans feel about being squeezed out of the leadership. What the Palin selection did was to confirm in their mind that the party had passed the point of no return, that their worst fears were confirmed. Robert Draper of GQ magazine gave one of the many insider views at how the Palin choice was made and the disaster it had become.

Such reports must have persuaded the old-style conservatives that their party had completely abandoned any commitment to basic competence or traditional conservative philosophy in favor of short-term expediency and neoconservative ideology. They could no longer shut their eyes to the plain fact that Republican party had been taken over by deeply unserious people with a wrong vision for the future.

POST SCRIPT: The failure of the credit ratings agencies

Some time ago I wrote about the role of the credit rating agencies in creating the subprime mortgage mess.

Last week, PBS’s NOW had a good 25-minute program on this topic.