SocraticGadfly: 2011

December 31, 2011

#Skeptic fail: #Dunning, #Shermer have blocked me at SkepticBlog

Looks like I can post about a bit of New Year's Eve "skeptic" (as opposed to actual skeptics) fireworks and narrow-mindedness.

I have apparently been blacklisted from posting comments at SkepticBlog, one of the allegedly top blogs for alleged skeptics. Anyway, that's what WordPress tells me when I try to post comments there. (And, I checked again today; other people have posted comments since then, so this is not a generic WordPress error. The only other possibility is that WordPress doesn't like this dial-up ISP. But that doesn't make sense.)

Apparently, my last comment on libertarian and selective skeptic Brian Dunning's latest blog post, trying to poo-poo the idea that biopiracy exists (sorry, no links if you're going to blacklist me), including a snarky aside about Dunning's upcoming court date on civil and criminal fraud allegations, was too much.

I will, speaking of that, give you this link though, to a previous blog post of mine about Dunning's legal woes and their connection to his libertarianism and selective skepticism. I'll also give you this link to a blog post of mine about how I apparently had a comment on another post of Dunning's deleted a couple of months ago.

That said, Dunning's not the sole proprietor of the blog. In fact, it's theoretically headed by his fellow libertarian and selective skeptic, Michael Shermer, editor-in-chief of Skeptic magazine. So, any "block" decision ultimately falls on his hands, theoretically.

As for the "snark" of my comments, there's been more personal attacks there by other commenters in the past, including some directed at me.

So, this is a tolerance and open-mindedness issue.

And, speaking of Shermer ...

He's now a gun nut, too, while ignoring that John Lott's been refuted more than once, many more times than once, across a full decade. I'm actually glad to be banned from Skepticblog with stupidity like this, and it reminds me ever more than "professional skeptics" ... aren't; in fact, they're the equivalent of Gnu Atheists.

So, just as Gnu Atheists are a reason I don't primarily identify myself as an atheist, libertarian selective skeptics like Shermer, Dunning, magicians Penn/Teller and many others who deliberately conflate libertarianism and skepticism are another reason.

But, there's yet another reason.

More generally reasonable skeptics, like Daniel Loxton, have too narrow a definition of skepticism.

On this blog, I identify myself as a skeptical left-liberal (in U.S. terms, at least, I'm a left-liberal). That is, I apply skepticism to my own political stances and views. But, folks like Loxton don't want to apply skepticism to politics, or even too much to psychology or sociology, instead focusing on claims testable within the "harder" natural sciences only.

And, in addition to that, folks like Loxton are generally thinly informed on the history of Skepticism the philosophy. Were this not the case, and they had a deeper grounding in Philosophy 101, they wouldn't have such a narrow view of what "skepticism" is or should be.

That said, that's one blog to scratch off my reading list again. I went back there regularly about two years ago because friend Leo Lincourt said Shermer was posting less in the way of libertarian stuff there.

Well, he started again, and Dunning made up for that in spades.

And, you Skeptic's Guide to the Universe readers, you wonder why I wonder about Dunning? Or Shermer?

And, I didn't think I'd have anything to blog about more than a trip to Austin (nothing big) or Iowa caucus thoughts

December 30, 2011

#Mercury, #CO2: Environment takes two dings in court

The second may actually be the more serious in the long term, given today's political environment on global warming issues.

A George W. Bush-appointed Federal district court judge has blocked enforcement of California's greenhouse gases law, the much-trumpeted effort that folks like oil companies have previously tried to kill by ballot initiative.

This time, it's the ethanol folks, and getting a win, at least for now.

Judge O'Neill said that this was interference into interstate commerce.

But ... given that California has latitude for tougher state standards on car emissions than national EPA standards, given that courts have ruled EPA can indeed regulate CO2 as a pollutant, and given that a major source of CO2 is either cars running on  various sources of CO2 emissions, or power plants from out of state supplying part of California's electricity, I'm halfway hopeful the judge's injunction will get overturned by the Ninth Circuit. But, this one could wind up at SCOTUS level.

The other? A federal appeals court has blocked enforcement of the EPA's new mercury rules. And, in a "shock me," this is the legal action pushed by  Luminant, aka the power generating part of the former TXU, and the state of Texas.

Why does Rick Perry hate kids near power plants?

And, Luminant says now that coal plants it was going to mothball Jan. 1 will keep running instead.

So, it has admitted it can live without those plants, it just doesn't want to.

The one true libertarian leaves GOP race - NOT #RonPaul

There was one no real libertarian in the GOP presidential race, but we're now down to zero, as Gary Johnson is seeking the Libertarian Party nod. Sit DOWN, Ron Paul and Paul-tards. As Johnson said, in reference. to Paul, "I am not a social conservative," indicating the truth that Paul IS.

Will the fact that Johnson is, as the Libertarian Party bragged, the first two-term governor to join the party, help it in the fall, should Johnson get the nod? Probably a bit, in Libertarian Party terms.

That said, as to Johnson's complaints about the GOP? All valid. He deserved on the debate platform more than Santorum based on polling alone. He also deserved up there over Bachmann and others based on the executive experience background.

But, while they, and Paul, are just bat-shit crazy, they're not too bat-shit crazy for Republican elections. But the GOP can't accept true social libertarianism at all. No drug legalization on top of pro-choice and other issues. So, Johnson gets frozen out.

And, per Sheldon's comment below, click here for a great cartoon on the varieties of bat-shit libertarian, vs. actual social libertarians like he and I are.

December 27, 2011

2012 economic-political sneak peak

Early economic predictions for 2012 continue to sound like could be good news, could be iffy news for President Barack Obama's re-election chances.

Growth is expected to be better in the coming year, breaking 2.5 percent. But unemployment is only expected to drop slightly, down to 8. 4 percent by election time in November.

The story adds that the Federal Reserve could be more aggressive next year. Changes on its policy board will help that.

So, for Obama, the tipping point on his chances will probably remain, as they have been, who his opponent is. Although Romney has his job-slashing background on his resume, he doesn't come off as batshit crazy, like Gingrich or Paul. Everybody else is probably already falling outside the ring of probability. And, Romney does have the executive angle, the telegenic angle, etc.

What if Paul runs as a Libertarian? Or Huntsman angles for the Americans Elect nod? The former? Helps Obama for sure. The latter? A real wild card.

In short, this election is going to remain up in the air.

December 25, 2011

Marble Falls views


Well, folks, just a couple of quick photo impressions from the city park between my apartment and the office, but this is a quick glimpse of Marble Falls. The creek hits the Colorado River about two blocks past the photos. I'll take my camera with me to the Balcones National Wildlife Refuge next weekend. There's even better color still left on a few of the oaks there.

December 24, 2011

#RonPaul, meet #racism

I'm sorry, you don't need to meet, you're well acquainted and the non-Texas public is finally getting the chance to start learning that.

AND, and, and .... In 1995, on video, Paul fessed up to being the publisher of record of this racist and racialist crap. 

AND, much, much more, in one handy location, here.

Going to love seeing the Paul-tards try to spin this baby. Have fun with the continued denialism, Paul-tards, and don't forget that there's one real libertarian in the GOP race and his name is Gary Johnson (not that I'm any sort of libertarian, myself).

Now, will this hurt him in Iowa? And, presuming it does, how much? Paul had been surging there, but, with the holiday weekend and all, there's not any polling to go by since the new rehashing of his past for a national audience during the past few days. Attempts to use the issue against him backfired in Texas, but, that says more about Paul's Congressional district (and other fairly large swaths of Texas) than it does about the substantiveness of the issues. And, even if Iowans are white-bread Midwesterners who may in many cases hold closeted racial feelings, in New Hampshire, the story's a bit different, between it being more libertarian, including on social issues, having GOP emigrants from Masschusetts, and having independent voters who can vote in any primary.

So, GOPers, it looks like your bat-shit crazy grandfather is going to crash and burn for sure. That leave bat-shit crazy Uncle Newt or a semi-normal slicked-back businessman ... who unfortunately has a track record of killing thousands of jobs.

#Poynter #PolitiFact and St. Pete Times: Overblown blowhards?

Between deliberately slapping ESPN in the face at times just to prove it's a good contract/consultant ombudsman, between financially affiliated St. Petersburg Times getting ready to call itself the Tampa ("Bay, if you will") Times while the Tampa Tribune still publishes, and other things, I'm beyond skeptical to cynical about both the paper and the media institute.

The latest? Its/their PolitiFact have awarded the claim that the GOP wants to kill Medicare the lie of the year, then said that the raft of objections to that award is all just from liberals being in an echo chamber.

Oh, technically, the GOP doesn't want to directly kill Medicare. But, privatization of it? Everybody with a brain knows that is exactly what will happen.

Basically, PolitiFact descends into he said/she said journalism:
We stand by our story and our conclusion that the claim was the most significant falsehood of 2011. We made no judgments on the merits of the Ryan plan; we just said that the characterization by the Democrats was false.
That's exactly the problem: Politifact made no judgment on the merits of the Ryan plan. Krugman's right: RIP PolitiFact. And, as far as I am concerned, everything else in the Poynter/St. Pete Times stable.

December 23, 2011

Rick Perry, fading fast

Tricky Ricky won't be on the ballot for the Virginia GOP primary because he didn't get enough signatures.

Somehow, I don't think Perry needs to worry about the Texas primary getting pushed back to April.

I mean, 10,000 total signatures, at least 400 in each Congressional district? To not get that is a clear sign of poor administration and poor grassroots support.

Moved ... and grateful

I am at a Starbucks in Austin. Took my laptop, equipped with wi-fi antenna (part of why I bought it years ago) when I drove into Cedar Park, suburban Austin, to turn in my rental truck, not knowing if I would get back to the Starbucks in Marble Falls before it closed tonight, not having checked hours before I left there.

That said, I'm grateful for a Starbucks there. I'm grateful that, on the phone connection, Verizon got out this afternoon, said it had fixed what was outside, and contacted my apartment complex to do what it needed to do inside. So, between high-speed at work, wi-fi at Starbucks, and good old dial-up at home, assuming it's fixed by early next week, I'll be fine on Internet.

I'm grateful for not only Whole Foods but the even better Central Market (a Texas-only chain) in Austin. I've stocked up on good coffee, great dehydrated split pea soup, black bean stew and curry lentil stew mixes, three types of curry powder, charsalt-type dry hickory smoke flavor, some sparkling waters, some high-ginger ginger ale and such. (And, the bulk food stuff I mentioned is actually relatively inexpensive.) Oh, and I had to get some non-inexpensive cheese, an indulgence of mine.

Halfway between Marble Falls and Cedar Park, northwest suburban Austin, is the Balcones National Wildlife Refuge. So, you can guess where I will do some hiking! The road winds a bit, in a good sense, following Texas' Colorado River through hills, with a mix of red oaks, white oaks, live oaks and cedars (could get rid of a few of those!).

I have tuned in Austin's 24-hour classical music station. I've already visited the Austin Symphony website. The Austin Classical Guitar Society, I knew about years ago.

I am grateful; grateful enough to start tearing up when I got in. I don't have to make a lot of money in life, if I can have amenities like this.

Marble Falls is not your typical small town, either. There's old Texas rancher money and at least reasonable-money retirees there. Not many towns of 7,000 have a Home Depot and a Lowe's. And two Thai restaurants, as I discovered today. So, even without going into Austin, I think life will be at least OK if not better there.

I'm grateful the job came open and other things, to make this possible.

Finally, I am grateful for the people on this list, some of whom go beyond acquaintances to friends, whether I've met you in person or not.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Splendid Saturnalia and best of the new year to everyone.

#Stlcards bite on Beltran

Well, good thing is that the Cardinals aren't standing pat after not resigning Albert Pujols. MOre to the point, is Carlos Beltran worth $13 million a year for two years?

I'd say yes, if his net WAR stays at around 4, he doesn't get any more ugly in the outfield, and his knees don't cause him to miss significant time.

But, that's not a question to be taken lightly, given his missing significant time in both 2009 and 2011. If the Cards paid for the Beltran of 2011, it's worth it. If they paid for the 2009-10 Beltran, it's an overpay.

So, stay tuned. Assuming Prince Fielder leaves Milwaukee, I'll push the Cards back ahead of the Reds for the NL Central title if the Cards have a reasonably healthy Beltran. And it looks like others agree.

Kyoto carbon poetry

A comment from a friend on Google+, after he posted a haiku, led me to ask myself if I had a copy of this 1998 Kyoto treaty talks op-ed that I wrote all in haiku. And, I did. And yes, what follows was an actual op-ed column. (Small weekly paper, where I was publisher, and nobody to say 'You can't do that.')

Clinton seeks freer trade
With Chilean producers
Free wine, grapes, and fruit

Gephardt says "Never"
Dreaming Presidential dreams
Gore stands idly by

Newt and his minions
Will swap taxes for tariffs
Clinton: "See me next year"

He's to Kyoto
To cut back greenhouse gas growth
Subtle irony

Speaking, not doing
More global warming threatens
With his ev'ry word

Business USA
Claims the climate data is
Still insufficient

They preach doom and gloom
For our proud, strong economy
From mandated change

Clinton will stand and speak
To please Japan, Europe, home
And yet fall far short

Back in Washington
Ere his Orient Express
Reno had good news

Of campaign violations
Is terminated

Clinton breathes easy
As does loyal Gore besides
But is it over

On the back benches
Hot Republican firebreathers
Demand impeachment

The outside person
Knows all hands are money-green
Has cynic disgust

December 22, 2011

Resentment and 'creative anger'

Twelve-step programs (and, to some degree, their secular alternatives), pop psychology and even "real counseling" will all warn from time to time about the dangers of holding on to resentments.

But, unless it's for an addicted person early in sobriety, are all resentments "bad," or at least, "totally bad"? I say no.

I say that there can be a sort of "good resentment" that leads to a sort of "creative anger."

I can offer a few historical examples off the top of my head.

Had Mohandas Gandhi not resented the British for stooping so low as to have the salt tax on Indians, he wouldn't have thought of his Walk to the Sea, followed by his larger idea of passive resistance.

Had Martin Luther not resented Johann Tetzel's willy-nilly sale of indulgences, he might never have had the anger to share his 95 Theses and start down the road of the Reformation, even though he didn't nail them to a church door (urban legend, medieval division).

Three great revolutions, the American, French and Russian ones, started over resentments by the eventual rebels. American's turned out the best for the short and medium term, even if the long term fueled American exceptionalism. France's, while horrible for the short term, for the medium term, even, left European monarchs who kept or regained their thrones keeping at least a bit better lookout for their people and, in the long term, eventually helped drive European democracy on the Continent. Per Zhou Enlai, the book is still out on Russia's more than France's or America's, but we shall see.

We don't have to look at great moments in history, though, to see resentment leading to "creative anger."

Many ordinary people desire to "prove someone else wrong." As long as, per Hume, they let reason be the slave of the passions without letting passion obliterate reason, such resentment may well lead to creative anger that proves that other person wrong. That may be through job or personal accomplishment, reframing one's mindset or, even, with some Husserlian "bracketing" of the resentment for a while, eventually serving up a cold dish of revenge.

So, don't try to suppress, hide or smother resentment. Listen to it, then decide what to do with it and about it.

December 21, 2011

Obama the anti-drug Nazi

OK, so arrest me for skirting the edges of Godwin's Law, even if I didn't call Dear Leader Hitler himself. But first, read up.

OK, Obama's really gone worse than Bush on the War on Drugs. Federal prosecutors threatening with crimes a person who recommends jury nullification outside a trial court?
Earlier this year, prosecutors charged Julian P. Heicklen, a retired chemistry professor, with jury tampering because he stood outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan providing information about jury nullification to passers-by. Given that I have been recommending nullification for nonviolent drug cases since 1995 — in such forums as The Yale Law Journal, “60 Minutes” and YouTube — I guess I, too, have committed a crime. 
And, don't tell me the Manhattan federal DA is doing that all on his own. Here's the reality, which is itself "interesting":
In 1895, the Supreme Court ruled that jurors had no right, during trials, to be told about nullification. The court did not say that jurors didn’t have the power, or that they couldn’t be told about it, but only that judges were not required to instruct them on it during a trial. Since then, it’s been up to scholars like me, and activists like Mr. Heicklen, to get the word out. 
Anyway, the column's author may not be alone:
In October, the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, asked at a Senate hearing about the role of juries in checking governmental power, seemed open to the notion that jurors “can ignore the law” if the law “is producing a terrible result.” He added: “I’m a big fan of the jury.” 
Let's see Mr. Heicklen get backing from ACLU and/or the Center for Constitutional Rights and start suing federal prosecutors for false imprisonment.

Anyway, the bottom line is that the Manhattan DA's actions didn't come out of nowhere. One of Obama's biggest campaign claim vs. administration reality lies was about the War on Drugs. Once again, our constitutional law hypocrite lives down to reputation.

Could Bradley Manning beat the rap?

Today, he got to face his "accuser." No, not the Army, but Adrian Lamo. And, based on Lamo having an "ordination" from the Universal Life Church, Manning's attorney aimed at the "confidentiality of the confessional" angle. He also went with Lamo's claims to be a reporter, and the "confidential source" angle.

Here's the "confessional" angle:

Coombs asked Lamo if he was acting as a minister, and then repeatedly asked, “Don’t you think he was contacting you for moral support?” At that point, Manning looked off into the short distance, perhaps recalling the state of confusion and despair that prompted him at the time to reach out to Lamo.

Coombs and Lamo went back and forth over whether Lamo violated his responsibility as a “minister” to keep Manning’s confessions private. Coombs asked Lamo whether it wasn’t clear that bradass87 (Manning's alleged chat ID) intended their chat to be confidential.

“A reasonable person would conclude that,” Lamo conceded.
Interesting, and smart.

In a civilian court, I don't doubt it would play well. Not sure if it will go as well in the military. But, it's possible.

At the least, it sets things up for full court-marshal.

If it works at all, besides Lamo's own testimony getting tossed, how much else of the Army's case would become inadmissible? THAT's the biggie.

December 20, 2011

Cynicism is not the same as conspiracy thinking

Unfortunately, both here and here, skeptic Steve Novella confounds the two.

Novella  makes the mistake of thinking that cynicism and conspiracy thinking are rough equals when they're not. I can be cynical about government without believing in conspiracy theories. For instance, a member of Seal Team 6 has a book out refuting a number of details of Obama's official story about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Therefore, I could be cynical about Obama's claims about how the operation went down, yet have no problem accepting that OBL was killed.

I could think of other examples easily enough, but, given that Novella focuses on  OBL's death, and given that many conspiracy theories focus on the government, this is an easy one.

But, let's add a few. I can be cynical about the amount of money Obama got from Wall Street for his 2008 campaign without believing he was "anointed" by the Bildebergers.

I can be cynical about how many of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons Obama either skipped or slept through without believing in a conspiracy that joining a Christian church was part of covering his Muslim tracks.

I can be cynical about George W. Bush's intellectual laziness on his 2001 summer vacation and Condi Rice's own narrowmindedness and intellectual laziness for focusing on Russia, not the Middle East, and how all of this increased bin Laden's chance of "success" on Sept. 11, 2001, rather than believing Bush was part of a conspiracy to take down the Twin Towers.

I could be cynical about TWA's maintenance schedules on wing fuel tanks, and FAA monitoring and enforcement, but not believe Flight 800 was shot down as part of a conspiracy.

Or, to cite from literary history. Both Oscar Wilde and the later Mark Twain, not to mention Ambrose Bierce, were cynics. None were conspiracy theorists.

Part of being a modern skeptic should include precision in language.

Nativities, #GnuAtheists, and nuttery

I agree that the nativity on the courthouse lawn in Athens, Henderson County, Texas, is technically unconstitutional. But, there are better ways to address this issue than the Freedom from Religion Foundation throwing Gnu Atheist firebombs.

First, since it's erected by a private group, per previous court rulings there is the option of putting up a countervailing display of some sort. Per the story:
If it is open to all faiths, then the Freedom from Religion foundation tells News 8 it wants to put it's own sign at the courthouse. One that reads, in part, "That there is no God, no devils, no angels or heaven" and that, "Religion hardens the heart and enslaves minds."

It's happened before.

The same sign was put up at the capital building in Washington state back in 2008. The same group, the Freedom From Religion foundation, got it posted right next to another nativity scene. The sign brought out angry protesters there, and county officials believe it would bring out the same anger, having an outsider forcing their hand.
That said, Olympia, Wash., is NOT Athens, Texas. That sign would be shredded the first night, as not a single cop in Athens would patrol the site, and not a resident there would admit to seeing anything being done.

Second, what do tactics like this do for Gnu Atheist evangelism?

People here have heard me say before: They backfire. It's the old flies and honey vs. vinegar cliche. If you're trying to get people to respect atheists, or trust them, since trust seems a big issue, this sure isn't the way to do it.

Why not put up a positive sign, like: "We're sharing caring and rejoicing in our own glad tidings without feeling the need to be religious." And then include a URL, whether to FFRF or a list of famous atheists or something.

In the light of an Anglo-American pundit's death, it does often seem that for Gnus, it's about rebellion more than civil liberties. Ridiculous.

Economic good news, it seems

I won't link to the stories, because they're getting splashed everywhere. But, first, November unemployment fell in 41 of 50 states as part of the national drop to 8.6 percent. Second, albeit primarily due to apartment construction, the housing industry is set to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, for the economy for the first time since 2007. Third, a Gallup Poll notes that Americans not only expect to spend more than 10 percent more on Christmas this year than last year, but personally feel more confident about making such spending, not just having a "generic" increasing confidence for the economy in general.

We've still got a ways to go. But, this is a start.

December 19, 2011

A note about blogging in coming days

Sums it up, doesn't it?
I'll be packing Wednesday, moving Thursday, and getting settled into my new place right around Christmastime, then spending the next few weeks after that getting used to a new job. So, blogging will definitely be light the next few days, and perhaps light-ish through mid-January.

And, living near Austin, with more things to do, and more things to do in the Hill Country, blogging may be a bit lighter, and more non-political at times, anyway!

Anyway, I'm moving of my own free will. I still don't know the next allegedly hot career trend. I'm anxious, but over a move and job change? That's human nature, nothing more. And, maybe, with a place I should like more, and learning the on-the-job ropes, maybe I'll figure out that next big thing.

#Tebow - an anti-Catholic?

Frankly, I was glad for the New England Patriots' takedown of Tim Tebow and his Denver Broncos yesterday. And, it happened as I and millions of other NFL fans knew it would: The opponent got far ahead of the Tebowites and forced him to come from well behind by passing.

That said, in light of that, over at ESPN's Grantland, Charles P. Pierce has a great take on Tebow's religiosity, and how he's not "a Christian" but a specific, narrow slice of Christian. And, if Timmeh is like his old man and his old man's "ministry," he is, per the title, an anti-Catholic:
Let us be quite clear — Tim Tebow adheres to a particular form of American Protestantism. He belongs to — and proselytizes for — a splinter of a splinter, no more or less than Mitt Romney once did. This particular splinter has a long record in America of fostering anti-Enlightenment thought, retrograde social policies, and, more discreetly, religious bigotry. To call Tim Tebow a "Christian," and to leave it at that — as though there were one definition of what a "Christian" is — is to say nothing and everything at once. Roman Catholics are Christians. So are Lutherans, Episcopalians, Melkites, Maronites, and members of the Greek and Russian Orthodox faiths. You can see how insidious this is when discussion turns to the missionary work that Tebow's family has done in the Philippines. This is from the Five Priorities of the Bob Tebow ministries, regarding its work overseas:
It is the goal of the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association to preach the gospel to every person who has never had an opportunity to hear the good news of eternal life in Jesus Christ. Most of the world's population has never once had the opportunity to hear the only true message of forgiveness of sins by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.
It so happens that 95 percent of the population of the Philippines is Roman Catholic. Catholic doctrine just happens to be in conflict with what Bob Tebow and his son preach in regard to personal salvation. ... Bob Tebow's goal is not to convert unbelievers. It is to supplant an existing form of Christianity. So who's the actual Christian here? This is not an idle point to be made. Down through history, millions of people have died in conflicts over what a "Christian" really is, which is what so exercised (James) Madison, and also what brought down a lot of Hitchens' wrath upon religion in general. History says that as soon as you start talking about "the only true message" in this regard, you guarantee that, eventually, people will get slaughtered in the town square.
A long quote from the article, but well worth it, in part to show that, like Rick Reilly, there's a few thoughtful sportswriters out there who can put sports into a larger context. Any sports writer who knows his or her religion enough to reference John Chrysostom deserves a kudo and a long quote. And, most red-state types whom Pierce excoriates in his book or over at Esquire are probably clueless about who Chrysostom is.

And, Pierce is right, Tebow's religion is fair game in the public square, just as is Christopher Hitchens' political hypocrisy, even more than his atheism. As Pierce notes earlier in the column, a Christian can always pray on the other side of a metaphorical or literal lake in another metaphorical or literal village. (Or, in his closet, as Jesus himself says. Funny how the Tebows of the world overlook that one.)

#Hitchens, #BillClinton and snobbery

While I agreed with many of the political criticisms of Bill Clinton that Christopher Hitchens wrote in his book about the two, Scott McLemee of The American Prospect wonders if there wasn't another angle behind this: snobbery.

In the context of Hitch's one-time (and always, psychologically) "Trotskyite" affiliations, he wonders:
Was his shift to the right already unmistakable in the 1990s, with l’affaire Blumenthal as the equivalent to Kronstadt? That would make the ferocious and protracted campaign against Bill Clinton as something like the Russian Civil War. To my mind, this is plausible. Despite agreeing with almost every political criticism Hitchens lodged against the administration, I could not help noticing the tone of upper-class loathing for Clinton as pushy plebian upstart. (Such an attitude suggesting that Hitchens was more of a Czarist officer than a Bolshevik.)
Interesting indeed. That could also explain part of why he rounded so much on Gore Vidal when Vidal dissolved into 9/11 Trutherism -- it wasn't just that Vidal was wrong, but that "civilized people don't engage in such things."

Beyond that, McLemee notes, we have Hitchens "outing" himself in his autobiography:
(I)n Hitch 22, Hitchens confessed that in the late 1960s he was a leftist militant by day and guest at posh dinner parties by night.
But, that was apparently no surprise:
As it happens, his double life was no secret from the comrades, according to the literary critic Terry Eagleton, who was one of them. They nicknamed him Hypocritchens.
So, the World Socialist was onto something itself:
Hitchens was the sort of private school “leftist” that British society regularly turns out, essentially snobs and careerists, who ditch their former “comrades” as soon as the wind shifts or more tempting opportunities present themselves. His autobiography is an exercise in shameless name-dropping and self-promotion. ...

In the late 1990s, by which time Hitchens had largely given up his leftist pretensions, the Washington Post bluntly portrayed the circles he belonged to in the US capital as “an elite subset of Washington society—the crowd of journalists, intellectuals, authors and policymakers, mostly in their thirties and forties, who regularly dine together and dine out on each other.”  
Too bad there's no Hitchens left any more, to turn in his grave after it being pointed out that he was filleted by an "establishment" newspaper.

And, maybe we should, like Ross Douthat, in light of this, even question the motivation for his atheism.  Douthat suggests that Hitchens' atheism was more rebellion against the ultimate authority figure:
At the very least, Hitchens’s antireligious writings carried a whiff of something absent in many of atheism’s less talented apostles — a hint that he was not so much a disbeliever as a rebel, and that his atheism was mostly a political romantic’s attempt to pick a fight with the biggest Tyrant he could find. 

This air of rebellion did not make him a believer, but it lent his blasphemies an air of danger and intrigue, as though he were an agent of the Free French distributing literature deep in Vichy. Certainly he always seemed well aware of the extent to which his writings traded on the unusual frisson of saying “No!” to a supposedly nonexistent being.
I'd have to say he's at least pretty much right on the insight about Hitchens himself. Picture Byron as atheist, British class/style and sometimes shallowness of thought, all in one. But, I think many a Gnu Atheist, like many an old "village idiot atheist," is looking to pick the same fight with the same nonexistent tyrant, only with less romantic mood and less literary style.

Per a friend of mine, who (like me) longs for the "sweet spot" of triple Venn diagram intersection of skeptics, atheists and liberals, Hitchens was spotty on all three.

Now, McLemee may be wrong. But, given World Socialist, I don't think so, on the class issues. Maybe that's even part of the rebellion against god; how dare this (non)-figure not open the first-class cabin section to talk to him?

I think, though, that the snobbery issue doesn't explain as much as the pure rebelliousness issue. Hitchens the Trotskyite, like Churchill's Stalinist USSR, was a mystery inside a riddle inside an enigma, in some ways, possibly even to himself.

At the same time, if he was known to be such a political poseur, why did the Nation "hang on to him" for another half a decade, until the post-9/11 final break? There's other riddles and mysteries connected to his life, too.

And, otherwise, yes, I'm done with Hitchens. Any new insights by me, or revelations to other pundits I think worth passing on, I'll add to what I've already written in one post or another.

December 18, 2011

#GnuAtheists may have point at times; wronger at others

Guardian columnist Julian Baggini argues on the basis of an admittedly self-selecting survey that, even for non-fundamentalist types, religion indeed seems to be about doctrine first, and practice/religious socialization second:
So what is the headline finding? It is that whatever some might say about religion being more about practice than belief, more praxis than dogma, more about the moral insight of mythos than the factual claims of logos, the vast majority of churchgoing Christians appear to believe orthodox doctrine at pretty much face value. They believe that Jesus is divine, not simply an exceptional human being; that his resurrection was a real, bodily one; that he performed miracles no human being ever could; that he needed to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven; and that Jesus is the only way to eternal life. On many of these issues, a significant minority are uncertain but in all cases it is only a small minority who actively disagree, or even just tend to disagree. As for the main reason they go to church, it is not for reflection, spiritual guidance or to be part of a community, but overwhelmingly in order to worship God.

This is, I think, a firm riposte to those who dismiss atheists, especially the "new" variety, as being fixated on the literal beliefs associated with religion rather than ethos or practice. It suggests that they are not attacking straw men when they criticise religion for promoting superstitious and supernatural beliefs. Yes, I know you can define "supernatural" in such a way that turning water into wine isn't supernatural after all, but when atheists use this word, their argument is not based on an unjustified linguistic or metaphysical stipulation. They are simply pointing out that religions maintain that things happen which cannot be explained simply in terms of physical laws and human agency, and on this it appears most churchgoers agree.

There are some areas where the mainstream belief is not quite traditional. Most accept that although the Bible refers to God as "He", God is neither male nor female. Only a minority – albeit a very large one – believes in biblical infallibility, which is not the same as its factual accuracy, since most reject a reading of Genesis as history. Nonetheless, even in these areas one might be less pleased that these are no longer majority views than disturbed by how many still hold them.
Remember, this is all in Britain, which, while religiously less liberal than the UK, is more liberal religiously than the US. And, almost half the people from the primary survey were Church of England, likely to be more liberal in belief than Catholics or other Protestants.

The biggie? 68 percent said belief and practice had equal weight, 23 percent said belief had more weight, and 9 percent said practice had more weight.

The even bigger biggie? A whopping, I'd say for this, 45 percent said salvation is through Jesus only.

Baggini is therefore right in part about Gnu Atheists. However, upon further reflection and re-reading of the survey responses, I think he's pushing the case a bit. A more honest, or less overarching claim, would be to say that most Christians are quasi-Marcionites. If it was written about in the Old Testament, whether creation, OT miracle claims or whatever, Christians are more ready to write it off as not literal or not true.

However, American Gnus are shown to be wrong, wrong, wrong about something else. Beyond claims of a "surge" in American atheism, Gnus want to claim atheism is broad spread in Old Europe. I think the "nullius salvus" response, if it more broadly applies than just in a self-selective survey, shows that Christian belief is still relatively strong.

At least about the Old UK, they may be hugely wrong.

 And, there's still that matter of PR and messaging.

#Islamofascism, #BigTobacco, #Hitchens as a-hole

A Big Tobacco poseur trying to blow smoke in our eyes?
With some parallels to Ed Abbey ....

After putting the last touches on my "the dark side of Hitchens" blog post, I got to thinking about 9/11, his being one of the first people to use the word "Islamofascism" and similar, and a newspaper column I wrote on the first anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

I tied those thoughts together with Christopher Hitchens' known smoking history, his claims to be standing up against totalitarianism throughout his life, and his attitudes toward control of smoking in public places, and knew I had another blog post to write, even if it further angered people who want to think of nothing other than Secular St. Christopher.

So, here goes, starting with a synopsis of that 2002 newspaper column.

In that column, while not minimizing 9/11, I reminded readers of how many other things in America, usually recurring situations whose lessening was a matter of public policy in general or public health policy in particular, killed the same amount of people as al Qaeda did on 9/11, albeit perhaps over a week's time, or a month's rather than a day's time.

For example, I said diabetes kills X people per month, and is at least controllable, especially with Type 2, through diet. I said traffic accidents killed about 50,000 per year, and that safer driving, driving with seat belts, and driving while sober could eliminate many of those deaths.

Finally, I said that cigarettes killed about as many people every two days as al-Qaeda did that one day. And then killed about as many more the next two days. And again, the next two, ad infinitum.

Well, there's no "Big Sugar," re diabetes, not really. And even a "Big Alcohol" possible role in DWI fatalities is small.

Big Tobacco? Quite different. Now, that column didn't go beyond this, because that wasn't its focus.

But, I am now doing so, and going to riff on Big Tobacco and some of the issues Hitchens claimed to fight for, or against.

My focus now is, not just on Big Tobacco per se, but how, via being a poseur for Big Tobacco, Hitchens was a liar about what he claimed to stand for.

No, not just morally or psychogically inconsistent. Not even contradicting himself in a Whitmanesque, multitudes-containing way.

But lying to himself (and to us), and, I believe, quite consciously, all while being an asshole, to get in the last part of the title. More below the fold.

December 17, 2011

The flip side of #Hitchens - was he really a leftist?

Is he fantasizing about Iraqis being killed for WMD?
As a counterweight to all the encomiums of praise from (primarily Gnu) Atheists, it is perhaps well worth asking just how much of a leftist he was in the first place, as far as political stances, and how long ago he started, then finished, abandoning the degree of leftism he had, the World Socialist website take on his death is a blast of fresh air:
Hitchens was the sort of private school “leftist” that British society regularly turns out, essentially snobs and careerists, who ditch their former “comrades” as soon as the wind shifts or more tempting opportunities present themselves. His autobiography is an exercise in shameless name-dropping and self-promotion. ...

In the late 1990s, by which time Hitchens had largely given up his leftist pretensions, the Washington Post bluntly portrayed the circles he belonged to in the US capital as “an elite subset of Washington society—the crowd of journalists, intellectuals, authors and policymakers, mostly in their thirties and forties, who regularly dine together and dine out on each other.”  
Too bad there's no Hitchens left any more, to turn in his grave after it being pointed out that he was filleted by an "establishment" newspaper.

Realistically, I should have titled the post the "dark side" of Hitchens, not the "flip side." If you'll click the link above, or read Glenn Greenwald, linked below, this man was just as bloodthirsty over the Iraq War as George W. Bush or Donald Rumsfeld. And, he had long ago stopped being a leftist, if he ever was one totally in the first place.

World Socialist also says that the story of his various "fallings out" with left groups, such as the Nation, was as much myth as reality, and offers this among examples:
D.D. Guttenplan in the Nation, for example, writes: “The last time I saw Christopher was in the summer of 2009, when he materialized at the edge of the audience after I’d done a reading at Politics and Prose in Washington. There had been a kind of froideur [coldness] between us over various matters, some personal and some political, and I was deeply touched that he’d come. After we exchanged kisses, he asked if I was free for dinner and I explained that I was going out with my cousin and her daughter … Agreeing—or disagreeing—with all of Christopher’s positions over the years was impossible. But he was always very easy to love.”
The WS obit may be uneven here and there in its claims, and here, neglects to say that many people found him personally likeable, even loveable, whatever political disagreements were involved. And, don't we all name-drop at times? And, I'm not a Trotskyist, so I don't feel qualified to parse its comments in that area.

But, it has its good points, and others. As a real journalist of, say, the Middle East with some sort of truly left-of-center claims, I'd take Robert Fisk over Hitchens any time, from British journalists. (It should be noted that Fisk, among others, has won an Orwell Prize. The prizes are non-partisan, but reflect depth of political thought. Hitch's own brother, Peter, won one, too, as did Patrick Cockburn of the famous left-liberal family. Well, except for Alex, who's now writing for paleocons, which in itself may well say something about British left-liberalism!)

So, laud Hitchens, and rightfully, as a Gnu Atheist, or just as an atheist. Laud him as a dropper of bon mots, like Oscar Wilde. Laud him for his English style. Laud him for his essayist skills.

But, don't laud him for his deeper journalism. Or deeper political thought. And, don't even laud him without accepting that he had a dark side, not just a flip side, and that, because he's a public figure, if you go beyond laud to hagiography, people will fire back.

And, let's add to that, this. Was he really an Orwellian type civil libertarian, either?

An even better “counterweight” to Hitchens encomiums than the World Socialist one — Glenn Greenwald nails it, including the issue on etiquette of public figure vs. private figure deaths. Go read it, including this thought:
 And particularly over the last decade, he expressed views — not ancillary to his writing but central to them — that were nothing short of repellent.
Basically, Greenwald does at least a good a “takedown” of Hitch, if not better, than Hitch did of Gore Vidal, on his politics.

While we may laud him as a Gnu Atheist, or just as an atheist, we cannot do so without noting that, to put it bluntly, he was a warmonger who valued Muslim lives in general little more than Sam Harris, and did little more to distinguish between Muslim fundamentalists and average Muslims, in many cases, among other things. Yes, he was a warmonger. And, like Harris, not much different that way than Christian or Jewish neocons. (Somebody alert P.Z. Myers that there are conservative Gnu Atheists.)

Sorry, but, an atheist who was like Hitch was the last 10-15 years of his life, while he had dignity in dying, while living was not the best example of humanism, or close to it.

As for “getting facts straight,” which humanist/paleoatheist R. Joseph Hoffmann claims? Balderdash. He never admitted that he and the BushCo War with Iraq regime he supported got massive amounts of facts wrong. In fact, he refused to admit this to the end of his life, often engaging in scurrilous name-calling when challenged.

He was a great literary stylist. A good literary intellectual, even.

But, in many ways, perhaps petty and shallow. Even if we allow for his upbringing, and his drinking, that's still no excuse for the way he became with the "War on Terror." As Greenwald also notes, his literary skill doesn't give him a pass, either.
There’s one other aspect to the adulation of Hitchens that’s quite revealing. There seems to be this sense that his excellent facility with prose excuses his sins.
Maybe the Hitchens of 20 years ago would have rebuked the Hitchens of 10 years ago. But, I actually doubt that.

Greenwald, in an update, even tackles that, indirectly. Quoting Hitch, Greenwald notes that what's good for the dead goose is good for the dead gander:
The day after Jerry Falwell died, Hitchens went on CNN and scorned what he called “the empty life of this ugly little charlatan,” saying: ”I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.” As I said, those demanding that Hitchens not be criticized in death are invoking a warped etiquette standard on his behalf that is not only irrational, but is one he himself vigorously rejected.
So, there it is.

No, none of us have perfect lives. But, Hitchens, over the Iraq War, was just like the neocon politicians that Gnu Atheists generally love to mock.

Americans were greedy long before Atlas Shrugged

Creative Commons via Alternet
I see a new Alternet column is making the rounds of liberal bloggers, etc., claiming, per the title, that: "Ayn Rand Seduced Generations of Young Men and Helped Make the U.S. into a Selfish, Greedy Nation," and per the subtitle, that: "Thanks in Part to Rand, the United States is one of the most uncaring nations in the industrialized world."

Note: The following comments are not meant as in any way being a personal attack on any of those bloggers, Google+ or Facebook posters. Rather, they're simply my assertion, and documentation, that greed is a far bigger, more ingrained, more diversely rooted problem in America than a simple attack on Randian Objectivism would suggest.

The reality? American greed was around long before Ayn Rand. Look at all the gold rushes, and "salted" gold and silver mines, of 100-150 years ago. Look at the rampant railroad speculation, to the degree that Congressmen accepted stock shares on the floor of the Capitol in the Credit Mobilier scandal. Look at Grover Cleveland's hard-hearted response to the Panic of 1893.

Rand, and Randian Objectivism isn't cause; it's pseudo-intellectual justification for a worship of money and greed that was around long before Ayn Rand popped out of the womb chain-smoking cigarettes as Ann Coulter's fairy godmother. Alexis de Tocqueville, in observing what he perceived as the alleged leveling of class effects in America, cautioned how such leveling and mass democracy would likely lead to a rise in materialism. And he was right.

Beyond that, the success gospel, or prosperity theology, per the Wiki entry, has a history in America, too, arguably going back to Ye Olde Massachusetts. Plenty of proclaimed Christians who would be horrified to be lumped with Rand are, if anything, even greedier than she is.

So, let's get past these attempts to blame Rand for all of today's GOP hard-heartedness just because the likes of a Paul Ryan or Rand Paul are in Congress today.

Prosperity theology, if anything, provides more of a "veneer" for more greed in America than Ayn Rand does. It certainly has a LOT more followers. You can see Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and others hawking their ideas, sermons and wares all over the place. (I've never seen a Randian website where anybody had a $20,000 marble commode lid for sale like the one Meyer originally has. [Note to Joyce Meyer: Buying shit like that doesn't help you heal from child abuse. Note to Meyer devotees: Wake up and smell the shit in the commode and on her TV show, eh?]) I don't see a Rand channel on cable TV, though. Hell, New Agers, with "The Secret" and older versions of the same idea, are a more integral part of American greed today than is Objectivism.

But, in part because New Ageism is liberal, and because not all success gospel preachers are politically active conservatives, they don't make as easy of targets as do Randians, along with the politicians mentioned above and Alan Greenspan.

But, even in the political sphere, success gospel preachers who are also politically active conservatives surely have more influence than Randians. George W. Bush likely never cracked a page of Rand in his life, but President "Jesus is a philosopher" hung out with success gospelers both black and white.

And, there's another dirty secret. The success gospel isn't limited to white, so it's harder to criticize its effect on American greed for that reason, too. It's a lot easier to bash Alan Greenspan or Paul Ryan than it is the likes of T.D. Jakes.

Beyond that, the column ignores other history. For example, the "charity inducing" Harriett Beecher Stowe? She wound up living in post-Reconstruction Florida and supporting Jim Crow. Nathaniel Branden has moved further beyond Rand than Levine credits. (And, his writing shows it. The Branden of the 1990s and beyond is further separated from Randianism than is the Branden of the '70s or 80s.)

And, per Tocqueville, let's admit that he had a fair degree of true insight about the connection between materialism and modern American democracy. Whether one is "liberal" or "conservative" politically.

In a democracy, especially one that theoretically (if not actually) has class movement, it's actually easier for greed to get inflamed, if anything. This gets back to the Occupy Wall Street protests, too. What needs reform goes beyond even political structures and into social psychology and social structures. That said, perhaps morality can be legislated in some ways, including through more progressive taxation, but this is a virus, a retrovirus that's deeply engrained in America's cultural DNA. Let's not pretend otherwise, whether with simplistic blame games or something else.

For a more in-depth view on this, and on how computerization may actually be making this all worse, read about Adam Curtis' documentary "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace."

I guess what I'm really getting at, ultimately, is what skepticism involves, for me. It's more than just the science-minded skepticism of "professional skeptics." Rather, my skepticism is also influenced by philosophy, and says let's expect to see little in the way of blacks and whites in the world. In an America of 310 million people, now, technology (per Curtis), mass-movement democracy and semi-leveling sociology of the 19th century, and religion, American-style going back to Plymouth (not Jamestown, nor, totally, Santa Fe, N.M., Catholicism) are all factors on American materialism with longer bloodlines and more adherents than Ayn Rand. (Jamestown was secular greed from the 17th century predecessor to a joint-stock company and its board of directors. The Spanish in Santa Fe knew New Mexico held no riches of gold.)

Related to all of this is the issue of "blame." Greed isn't necessarily just a conservative issue. And, greed also isn't limited to money. If we talk about greed for fame and other things, the iGeneration mentality of at least a segment of Occupy Wall Street shows that greed is pervasive indeed.

You and I are greedy. Zen monks from Tibet can be as greedy for fame as Steve Jobs. It's part of who we are.

One could even trot out a "Gods Must Be Crazy" type of claim that private property accelerated greed 10,000 years ago. That said, to the degree it's true, I don't think any anti-Randians want to go back to Paleolithic times. Ditto for those who say we need to go back to "natural living," of course; they never volunteer themselves to be part of the 90 percent of the Earth's population we'd have to kill off to sustain pre-agricultural population.

December 16, 2011

TX primary gets pushed back to April 3 - cui bono?

Ron "Who Am I?" Paul
OK, who all benefits, or loses, from Texas' primary being pushed back from March 6 to April 3?

1. Pre-April 3, let's hope "we the people" benefit in that the Supreme Court doesn't give carte blanche to the old GOP maps, especially with Republicans no longer able to argue we're under a time crunch. That said, I'm wondering how vocal the first Latino/a justice, Sonia Sotomayor, will be in this case.

2. The state benefits from not doing split primary dates, thereby wasting more voter money.

3. The biggie, of course, to the larger American political world is GOP presidential fallout. The AP story says this could hurt Rick Perry's campaign. Of course, that's predicated on the unstated assertion that Gov. "Strong" would still be around in even March, to be hurt by a pushback. Frankly, I would have given you more than even odds he'd be withdrawn by March 6 were the primary date still there; I"m sure he will be now.

The real question the GOP should be asking is, "Will this help or hurt Ron Paul?" And, if Perry's out and Paul's still in, does this help or hurt state GOP leadership vis-a-vis the tea party wing of voters within the state GOP?

The thought of the likes of David Dewhurst having to at least pretend to kiss Paul's butt even the smallest bit is a bit heart-warming.

4. Theoretically, the Texas Democratic Party could benefit, but, this is a party that still is lost in a somewhat self-created wilderness, a party that hasn't had a decent gubernatorial candidate since Ann Richards ran for re-election in 1994 against W. More proof of that: The list to date of Dems filed to run in statewide races, now that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has (good, in my opinion) pulled out of the Senate race.

#SEC sues Fannie, Freddie bigwigs; where's #Newt?

Fig Newton Gingrich
This could be good news, or it could be hot air. The Securities and Exchange Commission is suing six former top officials at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

On the surface, it's good news. But, we've seen just how air-pillow light the SEC's punishment hammer has been in the past couple of years.

Anyway, here's the gist:
The SEC's complaint against the former Fannie Mae executives alleges that, when Fannie Mae began reporting its exposure to subprime loans in 2007, it broadly described the loans as those "made to borrowers with weaker credit histories," and then reported — with the knowledge, support, and approval of Mudd, Dallavecchia, and Lund — less than one-tenth of its loans that met that description. Fannie Mae reported that its 2006 year-end Single Family exposure to subprime loans was just 0.2 percent, or approximately $4.8 billion, of its Single Family loan portfolio. Investors were not told that in calculating the Company's reported exposure to subprime loans, Fannie Mae did not include loan products specifically targeted by Fannie Mae towards borrowers with weaker credit histories, including more than $43 billion of Expanded Approval, or "EA" loans. ...

In the complaint against the former Freddie Mac executives, the SEC alleged that they and Freddie Mac led investors to believe that the firm used a broad definition of subprime loans and was disclosing all of its Single-Family subprime loan exposure. Syron and Cook reinforced the misleading perception when they each publicly proclaimed that the Single Family business had "basically no subprime exposure." Unbeknown to investors, as of December 31, 2006, Freddie Mac's Single Family business was exposed to approximately $141 billion of loans internally referred to as "subprime" or "subprime like," accounting for 10 percent of the portfolio, and grew to approximately $244 billion, or 14 percent of the portfolio, as of June 30, 2008.
There's another way this could be good news, for the general public and for Barack Obama, and GOP presidential contestants along with Obama.

Two words: Newt Gingrich. His allegedly non-lobbying lobbying efforts for Freddie Mac are going to draw even more fire now. He got hammered for it in last night's debate:
Fox News debate moderator Brett Baier pointed out that in a previous debate, Gingrich said that Rep. Barney Frank, former Sen. Chris Dodd and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke should be imprisoned for their roles in the financial meltdown. He pointed out that such statements could look hypocritical given that Gingrich supports government policy to encourage home ownership.
Gingrich defended his earlier remarks by saying that "Barney Frank was in public office with direct power over Freddie Mac [and] he exploited that power... I was a private citizen, engaged in a business like any other business." 
As I blogged yesterday: Newt, it's your turn to slip. And, it's going to happen pretty quickly, perhaps. If it's a slow news cycle otherwise, this is going to draw plenty of chatter on Sunday morning political talk TV.


Beyond Newt, though, this says Fannie and Freddie should be reformed, and frankly, made back into straight government entities. The filing involves some major fraud allegations.

Do you know why they're "hybrid" quasi-public, quasi-private government service enterprises? LBJ, as part of his guns-and-butter financial strategy for the budget and the Vietnam War, pushed the two out of government. Yet another way he got way too fixated on Vietnam, to his own detriment and the country's as well.

The Depression VS Keynesianism

The title above isn't meant to be 100 percent literal. And, I haven't jumped on any conservative bandwagon.

It IS, though, to signify I largely agree with Paul Stiglitz's new essay, that anti-Keynesian monetary contraction may well not have been the primary cause, or even primary exacerbator of, the Depression.

Rather, as in today's economy, it was ultimately an employment issue.

Just as Henry Blodgett noted a week ago that consumers create jobs more than anybody else, Stiglitz notes taht if we can't consume, to put it crudely, job creation is in trouble.

Read the whole thing. He says the same issues apply to the Great Recession, too.

As does, to the degree it worked more than deficit spending in particular or monetarism in general, Stiglitz' solution. It's the other half of the New Deal: A direct federal jobs program, or more than one.

Unfortunately, Obama the neolib ain't a bold experimenter, unlike FDR, so we ain't getting any such thing. Instead, it's "college for all" even as we already face a "higher education bubble."

RIP Christopher Hitchens

I, along with many other atheists, secularists, freethinkers, and ... writers of all stripes, too, saw the news just moments ago.

Christopher Hitchens, one of the leaders of New Atheism, an oftimes lion of literary style, critic, pundit, political commentator, analyst and more, has lost his battle to cancer at age 62.

I and other liberals eventually lost a fair amount of political faith with him over Iraq; I and other non-Gnu Atheists occasionally took issue with his pronouncements there, though he was less the bastion of white European privilege than Richard Dawkins and certainly less bombastic than a Sam Harris.

But, now is not the time to pick nits, nor to bury Hitchens in negative words, but rather praise the good in his material-based consciousness and self.

First of all, Hitchens "lived his dying" in a public and humanistic way. Humanistic in the best sense of the word, sharing his ups and downs of pain, chemotherapy and more, being sentimental without ever becoming mawkish or maudlin.

And, by living it in a public way, without doing so for such deliberate reasons, he insured there will be no mythos of a deathbed conversion to Christianity to be told anywhere.

Second, Hitchens lived his life in a public way, too. Not like a Jeff Jarvis, certainly not. But, whether on the Iraq War and his sentimentality for Iraqi Kurds, or his filleting of Bill and Hillary Clinton as economic neoliberals, or of Mother Theresa as an apparent sham, he never hid his opinions. And, he usually never hid the thinking and investigation, often extensive, that lay behind them.

Third, by his own lights, he often did a more-than-reasonable job of living by the Shakespearean dictum: "To thine own self be true." Whether it was following his inner political compass, discussing family affairs in his autobiography, or dissing and dishing on fellow authors in book reviews in Vanity Fair, he rarely pulled punches, whether metaphorical or occasionally physical.

At the same time, and not because he was an atheist, nonetheless, there seemed something a bit James Dean-ish about Hitch. Unlike the 20-something actor, the 50-something Hitchens had causes for which to be a rebel; however, often, the act of being a rebel ... dare I say, a Trotskyite rebel, seemed at least as important as the cause itself.

A somewhat tortured family history, combined with a seemingly Churchillian relationship with alcohol that, like Churchill's, went noticed in the non-acknowledgement more than anything else, seem to have been both cause and effect of such rebellion. It had a bit of Camus in him, but, even at the end, Hitchens, while a humanist, wasn't the existentialist to play Camus' rebel.

A thinker he was, as shown by his voluminous output, but not in that philosophical sense.

And, sadly, he said, even after the cancer diagnosis, that he never regretted either the smoking or the drinking. And, I think, kept up the drinking with whatever gusto he still had.

But, he was who he was, and for that, he'll be missed indeed.

Read "God is Not Great" or his "Atheist Reader," or "Arguably," his latest collection of essays. Or his book on the Clintons, or on Kissenger, both of which are even better, overall, than his Mother Theresa book.

That said, as I have hinted above, Hitch was no secular saint. Encomiums he gets above the fold, but more critique below it.

December 15, 2011

#Newt, it's your turn to slip

Fig Newton Gingrich
Ron "Who Am I?" Paul
In what could be called regression to the mean within the GOP, or just regression to the mean GOP, Newt Gingrich is doing the same thing Rick Perry, Herman Cain and others did: sliding backward in Iowa after a quick peek.

How bad? Bad enough the caucuses could be a three-way tie, with every establishment GOPer's nightmare of Ron Paul being one of those three.

Per the first link, Newt's relative lack of time in Iowa plus his past support for a Mitt Romney/Barack Obama individual health care mandate are both becoming stumbling blocks. The latter? "Newt Romney" comments are starting to bite. The former? A campaign thin in staff and budget can't change that a lot in the few days left.

Besides that, Newt may be having his Freddie Mac connections about to blow up in his face, with an SEC fraud lawsuit filing against former Fannie and Freddie execs.

I would sooo laugh my head off if this happened, a three-way tie. I'm sure someone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would chuckle a bit, at least, two. Odds of the top three candidates all finishing within 4 percentage points, from first down to third? One in ten, right now, I'd say.

And, there's Newt-vs-Newt: National Review still doesn't trust him as a flip-flopper. And I don't think it is alone.

I think, viscerally, Paul probably dislikes Gingrich most of all the GOP candidates. We've not seen any fake cameraderie, like Romney's approach to Perry, between the two. I would suspect that die-hard Paul-tards write off Romney's shellacked slickness as part of his package, but, really reserve their fire for Gingrich as a man trying to have it both ways.

Meanwhile, for those Paul-tards boo-hooing that their candidate doesn't get enough media attention, watch out: You might just get what you wish for, and, per this analysis, he might have his own meltdown. But, he's already been outspoken on war and civil liberties issues at one debate, at least; contra Dean Baker, I doubt more media spotlight on Paul would shake up the GOP much.

More fun: Tricky Ricky Perry, acknowledging he's not gaining new traction in Iowa, says finishing fourth won't push him out. I'm sure he's betting in part on Texas keeping at least its presidential primary on the date now set. More fun yet: Jon Huntsman has passed Paul in New Hampshire.

That could lead to the GOP's worst nightmare yet: Paul winning Iowa and crossover votes pushing Huntsman to No. 2, at least, in the Granite State. Huntsman's still got a ways to go to move to No. 2, but, it's possible.

If that happened, could we have Chris Christie rethink again? A "favorite son" candidate elsewhere? Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, my comments on the last pre-caucuses debate below the fold.

Maybe Obama was right last week

First, let's not be too hasty based on one month's numbers and second, let's not forget about eurozone issues. But, today's news that jobless claims hit a 3 1/2 year low has to be seen as some sort of good news for larger, longer economic growth.

That said, the story offers a caveat:

Another concern: The economy has been here before.

In February, unemployment claims fell to 375,000. Companies added about 200,000 jobs a month for three months. But then oil prices spiked and Europe's debt problem got worse. Employers added just 53,000 jobs in May.
But, nonetheless, an irregular pitter-patter of financial news for the past two months has cautiously moved more optimistic.

That's not all. Add to it not only the fact that the Federal Reserve sees decent growth in 2012 but, as noted in the same story, three of Ben Bernanke's inflation-hawk opponents on the Fed's policy-setting board will rotate off next year:
The Fed made no mention of a new communications strategy in its statement. But economists say it could be unveiled as soon as next month, after the Fed's Jan 24-25 policy meeting.

Diane Swonk, chief economist at Mesirow Financial, said the November minutes showed the Fed discussed adding an interest rate forecast to its quarterly economic projections.

Swonk said the Fed may be trying to build a stronger consensus before announcing the change. She also noted that three Federal Reserve regional bank presidents who opposed key policy changes this year will not have votes next year.

Charles Plosser of Philadelphia, Richard Fisher of Dallas and Narayana Kocherlakota of Minneapolis all dissented from the Fed's policy statements in September and August after citing concerns that the actions introduced at those meetings could fuel inflation.
Good riddance to all three. And, it will free Bernanke's hands a bit more in a variety of ways, which could help us all.

As the first story notes, we still need more hiring, especially as halfway good news tempts those who have dropped out of the job hunt to drop back in. There are the Europe worries. And oil price worries.

But, if U.S. growth can top 2.5 percent next year, some sort of recovery can keep going.

And, per Obama's "60 Minutes" comments, unemployment may just drop down to 8 percent by, say, the end of next summer.

Depending on who the Republicans nominate and how bloody the battle is, that number would look very good to the president.

A "dirty" book about the War on Drugs

American Desperado: My Life--From Mafia Soldier to Cocaine Cowboy to Secret Government AssetAmerican Desperado: My Life--From Mafia Soldier to Cocaine Cowboy to Secret Government Asset by Jon Roberts

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very dirty book. Not in the sense of pornography, though Playboy Bunnies, as well as prostitutes, are on a few pages. But, rather, very "dirty" in the sense of the dirtiness of the Mafia's violence, the dirtiness of its involvement in drug trafficking, and the dirtiness of the government's "War on Drugs": corrupt cops, corrupt politicians, corrupt judges (at the state level, at least, due to most states electing them) and more. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is in Congress today because her hubby, a Florida state DA, cut a "smelly" deal that kind of smeared her first Congressional opponent, for example.

Jon Roberts was long known as one of America's top "cocaine cowboys." You'll learn his part in getting Medellin Cartel cocaine distributed across the U.S. and more, along with other players such as pilot Barry Seal, killed after a double-cross; Ricky Prado, a Cuban-American hitman later to become a top CIA asset personally lauded by President George W. Bush for his part in the War on Terror and retiring as the CIA equivalent of a two-star general, and more.

Author Evan Wright is painstaking in trying to verify all claims of Roberts', no matter how outlandish, and usually succeeds.

View all my reviews

December 14, 2011

Another fail from our constitutional law prof Prez

First, after vague modifications to the defense authorization bill, Obama drops his veto threat over the issue of the military becoming more involved in the War on Terra on U.S. soil.
In a statement, press secretary Jay Carney said the new bill "does not challenge the president's ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists and protect the American people."
Specifically, the bill would require that the military take custody of a suspect deemed to be a member of al-Qaida or its affiliates and who is involved in plotting or committing attacks on the United States. There is an exemption for U.S. citizens.
House and Senate negotiators added language that says nothing in the bill will affect "existing criminal enforcement and national security authorities of the FBI or any other domestic law enforcement agency" with regard to a captured suspect "regardless of whether such ... person is held in military custody."
The bill also says the president can waive the provision based on national security.
"While we remain concerned about the uncertainty that this law will create for our counterterrorism professionals, the most recent changes give the president additional discretion in determining how the law will be implemented, consistent with our values and the rule of law, which are at the heart of our country's strength," Carney said.
First, there's no guarantee future presidents will act with the same "discretion" as Obama. (Some might actually be less reliant on the military, rather than more, tis true.)

Second, this does, indeed, gut the Posse Comitatus Act. Whether civil libertarians, or tea partiers, or other, will be more angry at Obama or at Congress remains to be seen. As it was, the House musters just more than 2/3 support; had Obama wanted a stand on principle, a veto probably could have been sustained.


Meanwhile, continuing in the 'lack of principles league," this time, the non-Constitutional division, Obama looks ready to cave on a "millionaires' surtax." This time, it's not just him, though. Congressional Democrats are also in the "fool me once, then please fool me again" league:
Obama discussed the possibility of abandoning the millionaire tax, which Republicans strongly oppose, at a White House meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other top Senate Democrats, a senior Senate Democratic aide told Reuters.

"It remains to be seen if we will drop it," the aide said. "But we want to strike a deal and get this done."

Democrats will not consider making any offer on the millionaire surtax, however, until Republicans agree to negotiate, another Democratic aide said.
Yep, that's today's Democratic Party. Talk tough, then hit the plunger on the chess timer clock, wait fot the GOP to talk or act tougher, then "cave."

Is #AP prostituting itself?

Possibly, if you look at this story about what sounds like another cockeyed initiative that shows the Net-stupidity of AP's board vis-a-vis anybody under the age of 35:
The Associated Press said Wednesday that it has entered into a partnership with WhoSay Inc., a company that helps celebrities manage interactions with fans through social networks and traditional media outlets.
The AP will give celebrities who are members of WhoSay the option to provide exclusive, personal photos and videos to the AP for licensing to major media companies worldwide. ...

The company puts celebrities in greater control of —and offers the opportunity to profit from— their photographic lives. It also allows them to spread their social media posts easily across sites like Twitter and Facebook. As an example, (Sofia ) Vergara posted a picture of a family lunch in Miami last month. The photo has a copyright symbol, indicating she owns it and can make money from it if, say, a magazine wants to publish it.
At the least, it sounds like it's cheapening itself. Basically, WhoSay looks like an elitist version of Twitter. Which makes it look very much like AP is doing celebrity butt-kissing. Great. AP's entertainment feed will look like TMZ soon.

And, shock me that Dean Singleton, as ongoing chairman of the board (who should have been canned when MediaNews filed Chapter 11) would think this is a wonderful idea. Hell, look at AP's whole board of directors.

Singleton/MediaNews? Chapter 11. Mary Junck/Lee Enterprises? Chapter 11. Donna J. Barrett/CNHI? Should be in Chapter 11, but, being owned by the Alabama state pension system, probably can't be. Craig A. Dubow/Gannett? Should be. Still doing mandatory furloughs, isn't it? Michael Golden/New York Times? The company that has a fake paywall and lies about it. Paul C. Tash/St. Petersburg Times? Lives on its Poynter reputation. Katharine Weymouth/Washington Post? Would be in Chapter 11 if not for Kaplan. Gary Pruitt/McClatchy? Wouldn't surprise me if it winds up there.

As Michael Hirschorn at The Atlantic notes, it's precisely strategies like this that have made the general public undervalue daily newspapers for years if not decades. Add in the AP board originally selling its content to online aggregators for pennies, and the circle is complete.

AP? As an organization? Ideally, it would up its rates to Google, et al. But, with the degree that both Reuters and Agence-France Presse have expanded in the US in the past decade, that's probably not that realistic.

And, member papers should play Reuters off AP to negotiate prices down, if needed. Bigger chains should have kept more of their DC bureaus open and tried to bargain down AP at the same time.

Dem Sens get #FDA backbone ... against Obama

I guess that party discipline, "triangulation," or platitudes from Preznit Kumbaya only go so far. Fourteen Democratic Senators have written Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius demanding she give scientific cause for her juvenile Plan B decision overriding the Food and Drug Administration.

And a good NYT column says the best way to stop such politicization is to make the FDA a totally independent agency. I agree.

Socialism, of a sort, is alive and well in Texas

I'm going to be moving shortly from the Permian Basin to the heart of the Hill Country.

And, my electricity will be going from TXU to ... a coop!

Not technically "socialism" in a narrow sense, but, it shows how government is here to help people, and was nearly 75 years ago.

Coops around the state got their boost from LBJ's push for rural electrification, paid for by the federal government. I wonder how many tea party types in small towns across Texas, as they run their stoves, air conditioners or electric heat, ever stop to think about what hypocrisy might be involved.

And, on the op-ed pages of the New York Times, Gar Alpherowitz talks about worker-owned businesses, with perfect timing:
Some 130 million Americans, for example, now participate in the ownership of co-op businesses and credit unions. More than 13 million Americans have become worker-owners of more than 11,000 employee-owned companies, six million more than belong to private-sector unions.

And worker-owned companies make a difference. In Cleveland, for instance, an integrated group of worker-owned companies, supported in part by the purchasing power of large hospitals and universities, has taken the lead in local solar-panel installation, “green” institutional laundry services and a commercial hydroponic greenhouse capable of producing more than three million heads of lettuce a year. 

Local and state governments are likewise changing the nature of American capitalism. Almost half the states manage venture capital efforts, taking partial ownership in new businesses. Calpers, California’s public pension authority, helps finance local development projects; in Alaska, state oil revenues provide each resident with dividends from public investment strategies as a matter of right; in Alabama, public pension investing has long focused on state economic development. 
Some good food for thought.