Archive for May, 2007

May 31, 2007

It’s a serious mistake to be dismissive of Brownback as a contender in the Republican primary. The guy’s smart, he’s charismatic, and I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility that he believes every single word that comes out of his own mouth. I can’t think of any other remotely viable candidate from either primary with that sort of conviction.

He’s also right some of the time, like when he’s talking about foreign aid, the death penalty, prison reform, etc.

I’m not opposed to forming strategic alliances with people who generally disagree with me when we happen to be together on the same issue. One of the things I admire greatly about freshman Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, was his ability to form bipartisan coalitions in the House on what were traditionally thought of as liberal issues. So if Brownback wants to see what America can do about the situation in Darfur, that’s fantastic, and one would hope that a lot of people would get together with him on that.

But none of that makes Brownback an attractive candidate to me. It’s difficult to get past the fact that he doesn’t believe in separation of church and state, and the myriad of other positions that go along with that. Brownback is the fundamentalist candidate and if he wins the primary he will owe it to an angry, combative base of religious zealots.

There are plenty of reasons to be worried about Brownback. Here are a few, for starters.


May 31, 2007

If there was ever a good reason to hold a caption contest, it’s this:

Seriously. Even McCain was smart enough not to wear that ridiculous helmet – if you’re trying to make the point that it’s safe to wander around an Iraqi marketplace, the large security detail accompanying you causes enough cognitive dissonance on its own without your choice of headgear adding to it.

May 30, 2007

Via Fark, Pew Research finds that 65% of Americans believe that in general, corporations make too much profit.

These are promising numbers. They don’t really get to the root of the problem – usually it’s more the means by which corporations make their profits than the profits themselves that are the issue – but numbers like this suggest that the public would be receptive to some significant curtailing of corporate power.

I’m talking about stuff like ethics reform in Congress – real ethics reform, not the watered-down bullshit that they try to pass off as ambitious – but also things like holding American corporations to a certain standard for working conditions even when said corporation doesn’t have any factories in the United States. Maybe even things like capping CEO salaries or – and here’s a crazy idea – why don’t we just get rid of the legal definition of a corporation as a human being? It’s obviously not one, and it doesn’t deserve more protection than its workers. If we got rid of that, then that would open the door up to empowering the government to actually enforce regulations.

The reason why you won’t see anyone run on stuff like this, unfortunately, is that in order to be able to finance any sort of federal campaign, one has to be almost automatically a pro-corporate candidate. So this is an example of a situation where it’s really more about raising awareness amongst the public and hoping that forces Congress into a position where they have to do something about it.

Dana Milbank: Al Gore is a big fat nerd
May 30, 2007

Of all the stupid labels that the mainstream media tags politicians with, the stupidest one has to be “too smart.” Apparently when someone shows remarkable foresight and substantive knowledge on major policy issues, that’s supposed to be a bad thing.

Note that near the end of the column, Milbank even goes so far as to refer to his subject as “Professor Gore.” Get it? Because he’s a geek! Everyone knows that cowboy beats professor.

This isn’t an isolated occurrence, either. David Brooks’ most recent column goes after Gore for being too rational, suggesting that the new anti-Gore meme is that he’s an intelligent, logical problem-solver. Like some kind of evil robot.

But to my mind, Milbank’s column is far more pernicious because while Brooks is pretty forthright about his intentions, Milbank cloaks his completely illegitimate criticism in faux-concern over Gore’s image, as if this perception of Gore is something completely beyond his control. In reality, public perception doesn’t have to be that Gore is “too smart” for it to become conventional wisdom in DC – all that needs to happen is for someone like Milbank to write a column about it being true, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as the concern trolls lay siege to Gore’s image on the 24-hour news networks and national papers.

The real story here isn’t that Al Gore is the kind of geek that John McCain used to stuff into lockers. The real story is that Dana Milbank thinks you’re so stupid that voting for someone who actually knows what he’s talking about scares the crap out of you.

May 30, 2007

Today was one of the most productive days I’ve had in weeks, which is funny, because I didn’t go to school. But I managed to get a bunch of work done, including sending out four more query letters.

Ten school days left. I’ve got a few pretty ambitious goals lined up for this summer, and I want to see how many of these I can accomplish.

I will:

– Discover middle America and red state America.

– Write (and maybe perform in) a short film that a friend of mine will direct.

– Finally get an agent.

– Finally get a part-time job.

– Become a better writer.

– Work my way through that big, disorganized mental list of classic movies and books that I probably should have already read by now.

– Write and record some decent songs with some decent sound quality and post them online.

We’ll see about all of this stuff. Some of it will probably work out, some of it won’t. We’ll see.

Then of course there’s Rock the Bells this summer. Featuring the following.

May 28, 2007

Happy Memorial Day, everyone. I’m going to be in New York City for the day at my future home NYU. So in the meantime, here’s an excellent column from Paul Krugman, and a music video from one of my favorite current punk bands. Bonus points: the song, and the album it comes from, are relevant to the theme of religious fundamentalism I’ve been talking about.

Ignore the link at the bottom of this post. I think I’m going to get rid of the concept of the fold. It’s more annoying than useful for posts of the length I usually write.

May 27, 2007

Matt Zeitlin hits on a point that is absolutely crucial to understanding religious fundamentalism: Christian evangelicals are not significantly more theologically literate than the rest of us.

Many liberals are of the mark when they characterize certain conservative social and moral views as just taken straight from the Bible, and thus unworthy of our consideration. Instead, at least according to this data, that when one says they believe the Bible to be the inerrant word of God, it is more a way of signaling your belief in some sort of traditional, conservative, unchanging, “Christian” moral structure by which you live your life, rather than ascribing to any specific content of the Bible.

This should kind of go without saying, since much of the platform of the movement seems defined more by leaders such as Dobson or the late Falwell than actual Biblical commandments (I defy anyone to find a passage in the Bible that specifically singles out abortion as a sin). But I think this poll is also at least tangentially related to a rather awkward question: what’s the correlation between adherence to a religion and an actual understanding of that religion’s tenets and holy texts?

Obviously as an atheist, my outlook on this is going to be tainted by my own beliefs or lack thereof, and so far I only have anecdotal evidence to back the following conjecture, but I’m pretty sure that there is a correlation. The more one knows about world religions, the less likely one is to be an adherent to the literal word espoused by any specific religious text. I would even go so far to say that religious literacy creates more agnostics and atheists.

That probably sounds like a pretty arrogant thing to say coming from an atheist, but it makes sense. After all, every religious text has its own internal contradictions and myths that fly in the face of logic or scientific fact – accepting those and being a believer despite them is central to having faith. I’m not trying to disparage faith, but that’s essentially what it is – belief despite the absence of evidence.

So the more internal contradictions and logical fallacies there are in a given religious text, the stronger one’s faith has to be in order to remain a fundamentalist. Most fundamentalists take something that doesn’t make sense – like creationism, for example – and don’t even try to reconcile it with the evidence around them. Instead they maintain a willful ignorance of the evidence around them, even going so far as to completely misunderstand the very foundation of the theory of evolution. Similarly, the majority fundamentalists will ignore many of the rules in the Bible about things like public stonings and whatnot because acknowledging their existence makes the literal word of the Bible impossible to reconcile with living in a society with any sort of modern justice system.

So the more you understand about this stuff, the more faith it requires to soldier on for God. And the more you understand about other religions, their laws, creation myths, and common quirks like the ubiquitous flood myth, the harder it is to coherently argue that you know for a fact yours is right and all the other ones are wrong.

But again, all the evidence I have for this is anecdotal. I’d like to see some data on the correlation between religious literacy and atheism versus moderate belief versus fundamentalism. Otherwise I’m just working on blind faith here.

Come Together
May 26, 2007

The play went pretty well yesterday, I thought. My role basically involves hopping around on one foot for the duration of the whole first segment, and a whole day of hiking and walking around in 90+ weather had already left me pretty exhausted, so the last minute or so was spent in a state of desperation and near-panic that I don’t think I disguised from the audience perfectly.

Anyway, tonight’s production (the last one) will probably go even better.

While I was working on this thing, I missed the opportunity to blog about the Democrats caving to Bush. I’m not sure what I would say that hasn’t been said elsewhere, anyway – this was an example of cowardice at its worst, as well as a signal of weakness to Republicans. It was a catastrophic failure of integrity and I’ve lost what little confidence I had in the Democratic majority.

While I’m on the subject of political blogging, how does one go about getting links from Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein and Garance Franke-Ruta? I’m envious. Matt’s a good thing going here though, I can see why the aformentioned big-name bloggers have taken a liking to him.

May 21, 2007

Posting will be light and sporadic for the next couple of weeks. This is the last week before the school play goes up, so there’s going to be a lot of rehearsal time, and the week after that is probably going to be layout for the last Blue Prints issue of the year, which also happens to be the last one with me as editor-in-chief.

But I believe layout is going to be the last example of real work or anything of significance that occurs during normal school hours. I’ll still have seven days left (I know this because I’m keeping track very carefully), but they’re seven days of saying goodbye, random awards and superlatives being distributed, and doing what I’m doing right now, which is counting down the days.

I suspect that this is going to be a good summer. And there’s no question in my mind that I’m going to like the next four years of school more than I’ve liked the last four, much less the last twelve.

Gonzales is going to resign soon
May 20, 2007

That’s my prediction. As Josh Marshall pointed out, Gonzales is the only thing between the GOP and a flood of unpleasant investigations, but at this point that doesn’t really matter anymore. This is too much for the Bush administration to take, and Bush is backing off from defending Gonzales just like every other Republican politician is.

How do I know? This is how:

The top Republican on the Senate committee investigating Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Sunday he believes Gonzales could step down before a no-confidence vote sought this week by Senate Democrats.

Gonzales failed to draw a public statement of support from Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (news, bio, voting record). Asked whether Gonzales effectively can lead the Justice Department, McConnell said “that’s for the president to decide.” The senator suggested there may be several resolutions introduced to dilute a no-confidence vote. (Emphasis mine)

Mitch McConnell is the most unrepentant Bush crony in all of Congress. He is essentially a mouthpiece for the administration, and if Bush wasn’t signaling that he’s done defending Gonzales, then McConnell would be standing by the AG.

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