In which I am unimpressed with Hitchens

It’s just his latest effort in Slate — I’m not unimpressed with Hitchens the man at all. It’s just that I did not find his subject particularly interesting, since it’s a discussion about whether Rick Perry is actually sincere about his religious beliefs, or whether he’s only pandering to the rubes.

I don’t care. Not one bit.

All that matters is what he actually does, not his motivation for doing it. Given that he’s promoting idiotic policies and giving support to foolish beliefs, it wouldn’t matter if he was doing it to support starving orphans in Africa.

Hitchens seems aware that his motives don’t matter. So why write about them?

Is it better to have a candidate who actually believes in biblical inerrancy and the extreme youthfulness and recency of the Grand Canyon, or a candidate who half-affects such convictions in the hope of political gain? Either would be depressing. A mixture of the two—not excluded in Perry’s case—would lower the tone nicely.

Perry is accomplishing that, at least, in collaboration with Bachmann.

I like Cuttlefish’s take on Perry better, even if it does include Texas yodeling.

What Steve Jobs did really well

Jobs is stepping down from his leadership role at Apple, as has been all over the news for the last several days, and I had to say that he’s someone I’ve really admired. Not just as a fully committed member of the Cult of Mac, but because I’ve really liked his style.

Here’s a video of Jobs addressing a rather insulting question…and answering it amazingly well.

He doesn’t get defensive, he doesn’t defend the details, he just steps back and explains what it means to have the whole picture in his head.

And then his management style was legendarily combative and critical. Jonah Lehrer has an excellent piece on the strengths and weaknesses of in-your-face confrontation. This resonates with me: I find a little strife extremely invigorating, and I know some personalities like to seek it out and wrestle with it.

At first glance, this cultivation of anger and criticism seems like a terrible idea. We assume that group collaboration requires niceties and affirmation, that we should always accentuate the positive. Just look at brainstorming, perhaps the most widely implemented creativity technique in the world. In the late 1940s, Alex Osborn, a founding partner of the advertising firm BBDO, outlined the virtues of brainstorming in a series of best-selling books. (He insisted that brainstorming could double the creative output of a group.) The most important principle, he said, was the total absence of criticism. According to Osborn, if people were worried about negative feedback, if they were concerned that their new ideas might get ridiculed by the group or the boss, then the brainstorming process would fail. “Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom, while discouragement often nips it in the bud,” Osborn wrote in Your Creative Power.

But maybe this is a big mistake. Maybe Steve Jobs was on to something when he refused to hide away his disappointment or displeasure. That, at least, is the takeaway of a new paper by Matthijs Baas, Carsten De Dreu, and Bernard Nijstad in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Their first experiment was straightforward, demonstrating that anger was better at promoting “unstructured thinking” on a creativity task, at least when compared to sadness or a neutral mood. The second experiment elicited anger directly in the subjects, before asking them to brainstorm on ways to improve the condition of the natural environment. Once again, people who felt angry generated more ideas. These ideas were also deemed more original, as they were thought of by less than 1 percent of the subjects.

You don’t change the world by placidly finding your bliss — you do it by focusing your discontent in productive ways.

(Also on Sb)

Our baby is all growed up now!

Skatje, who is living far, far away in Wisconsin, has just turned 21. You know what that means? There’s no way we have to take her back … she’s all on her own now. We’ve managed to shoo three kids into independent adulthood, and I think we’re all done with that now.

I usually try to post a few pictures with these kinds of announcements, but of course she has no use for us any more either, so you’ll have to settle for some oldies from her 16th birthday.

Oh, OK, one slightly more recent photo.

Michele Bachmann, professional ghoul

There she goes, claiming God sent Hurricane Irene.

I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’ Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now. They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.

Hey, maybe God’s secret message is that he’s really pissed that Americans are stupid enough to promote Bachmann and Perry as candidates. How would you know?

She’s already straining to do damage control, and her campaign is claiming that it was “just a joke”, that old excuse. Was it funny? Are we to believe that Michele Bachmann now openly mocks the Power of the Lord?

After the event, a reporter asked Bachmann about the comments. She said: “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the victims. This isn’t something that we take lightly. My comments were not meant to be ones that were taken lightly. What I was saying in a humorous vein is there are things happening that politicians need to pay attention to. It isn’t everyday we have an earthquake in the United States.”

Well, make up your mind, Michele. Was it not meant to be taken lightly, or was it said in a humorous vein?

And actually, we do have earthquakes every day. There have been 2901 earthquakes in the US so far this year; there were 8493 total in 2010. It looks like, on average, there’s an earthquake above magnitude 4 every day, somewhere in the US.

Sleaze and controversy from the American Freedom Association and Discovery Institute

Two years ago, a California science foundation gave permission to to the American Freedom Alliance (“freedom” is like “family” in these organizations; when you see it, you should be instantly suspicious) to show a movie in their IMAX theater. The film was titled “Darwin’s Dilemma: The Mystery of the Cambrian Fossil Record”, and it was an Intelligent Design propaganda piece. This happens fairly often; these sleazy organizations love to present the illusion of being scientific, so they like to rent out halls in museums and universities in order to put on their shows. The physics auditorium on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus is apparently a very popular venue for just that reason. But it does not imply any endorsement of the content of the movie by the venue owner — it’s being rented as a public exhibition space, nothing more.

Unfortunately, in this case the AFA and their co-enablers, the Discovery Institute (Hiss! Spit! Booooo!) did their very best to misrepresent this showing as an endorsement by the California Science Center Foundation. The DI was involved; you know they wanted to stir up controversy, because that’s what they do. And they got it: the foundation cancelled the showing over the false representations of endorsement. So the AFA sued them, again, exactly as the DI wanted.

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Ray Comfort is a fraud

Ray Comfort is coming out with a new “documentary” called 180, which he claims has such a powerful, irrefutable argument against abortion that it will reverse pro-choice opinions within 30 seconds. Here’s his promo for it, in which he shows people becoming champions of pro-life mere seconds after hearing it.

Uh, wait…what is the argument? It’s chopped out in every example! Check the website, and it isn’t given anywhere! Why?

There’s another video there: it’s a begging video. Ray Comfort asks for lots and lots of donations so they can distribute this amazing powerful movie that will save millions of babies.

But…it’s an argument that a guy with a microphone can present in less than a minute, and it’s easily comprehensible to young distracted people lounging on a beach. This is low-tech and easy. Doesn’t he have an ethical obligation as a fervent anti-abortionist to simply state it immediately? Shouldn’t armies of anti-choice goons be standing outside of clinics right now, chanting it and converting the patients, nurses, and doctors on the spot?

Somehow, it reminds me of this other video.

But no, Ray Comfort refuses to save the billions and trillions and gazillions of little aborted babies sucked out of liberal wombs every day until he gets his Benjamins. Unless, of course, he’s holding back because it’s actually a crap argument, and once it’s out he’ll be a laughing stock, so he’s getting his money first. Either way, he’s a rotten selfish bastard.

SPOILER ALERT! People who have seen the movie report that the argument goes like this: Hitler murdered Jews. Abortion kills babies. Therefore, abortion is just like the Holocaust.

Yeah, Ray Comfort just pulled another idiotic argument out of his ass. So what else is new?

“Prolonged detention”

Watch the doublespeak dribbling out of Obama’s mouth: he’s making up excuses for the extra-legal prolonged confinement of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, all in the name of the Constitution. He’s sounding more like George W. Bush every day.

This is all in the name of our profligate and pointless anti-terrorism policy. Fear is sown to justify weakening the law…just like the Republicans want it.

Someone has taken the Coulter Challenge!

It only took five years. Remember, my Coulter Challenge was for someone to take any of Coulter’s paragraphs about evolution from her book Godless, and cogently defend its accuracy. It’s been surprising how few takers there have been: lots of wingnuts have praised the book and said it is wonderful, but no one has been willing to get specific and actually support any of its direct claims. Until now.

It takes that special combination of arrogance and ignorance to think anything Coulter said is defensible, so I suppose it’s not a huge surprise that our brave foolhardy contestant is Michael Egnor.

[Read more…]

My prayers go out to Detroit

You guys are about to be afflicted further. You’ve got a pack of idiots coming to town.

Lou Engle and Rick Joyner will be working together in September to promote The Call: Detroit, Engle’s prayer rally on November 11. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since both are closely involved in the New Apostolic Reformation, or the movement which believes that God is ordaining a new generation of prophets and apostles. Both have prophesied that America is turning into Nazi Germany and have claimed to know the reasons behind natural disasters, with Joyner calling Hurricane Katrina God’s judgment for homosexuality and Engle asserting that the Joplin, Missouri tornado was God’s punishment for legal abortion. Engle and Joyner, who leads MorningStar Ministries and The Oak Initiative, are also strong proponents of Seven Mountains Dominionism, which posits that fundamentalist Christians should take control over the seven most influential sectors of society: government, family, media, business, education, arts and entertainment, and the church.

If we’re turning into Nazi Germany (a Catholic and Lutheran regime), I know what kind of people are leading the crusade — the ones who propose taking over the government and turning it into a Dominionist tyranny, the ones who use natural disasters to demonize and dehumanize and discriminate against subsets of citizens.

Engle has said that The Call: Detroit will also focus on converting Muslims to Christianity along with the usual anti-choice and anti-gay efforts. Engle also released a new video publicizing the prayer rally:

Engle is certainly a vile creature. Anyone care to take any bets on whether the descent of these ghouls on Detroit will actually revitalize the city?