Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tom DeLay: The New Terri Schiavo?

I think Tom DeLay may be on the verge of becoming the new Terri Schiavo.

The only problem is, Democrats still have yet to understand, or implement, the lessons of the first Terri Schiavo.

The takeaway lesson of Terri Schiavo was not the zealotry, fanaticism and fetishism of the "culture of life," nor was it the hypocrisy of supposed states-rightsers trying to move heaven and earth (and all the government branches therein) to intervene on a state issue. The real takeaway lesson was that the GOP leadership refused to let the Schiavo issue (or the judicial heat it stoked) endanger its legislative agenda last spring, because that would have imperiled its pro-corporation goals.

Last year, Thomas Frank explored in "What's the Matter with Kansas?" the dichotomy of a Republican Party that sells itself to America's poor by trumpeting religious values, and then sells out those same voters by championing big business. It's always been a tenuous relationship, built on sleight-of-hand marketing and religious-based rhetoric. But it's worked because there are very few issues which pit the Christian right's interests against the interests of big business.

When Terri Schiavo and the ensuing anti-judicial fervor came into conflict with corporate interests, the Republican Party did something unusual: It blinked.

Now, Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo speculates that DeLay's indictment may stem from his corporate donors: Donors who gave money to DeLay partly to protect their asses and partly to fatten their wallets, but with no interest in DeLay's Christian ideology.

Therefore, Marshall suggests, the corporations would have no moral qualms about betraying the cause by ratting on DeLay because there is no cause. There's merely a cost-benefit analysis.

If Marshall's right, DeLay might end up being undone because of the same schism that Schiavo exposed. And it's not just a schism between evangelical Protestantism and rampant capitalism, it's a schism between faith-based thinking and empirical materialism. Both have been perverted and twisted to satisfy the goals of corrupt leaders, but the lesson for Democrats -- if they want to win next year -- has to be that this schism is vulnerable, it can be penetrated, and it can be widened.

The problem for Democrats, however, is that first they'll have to decide which side of that schism they're on.


Tom DeLay v. The People

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tx) seems to have changed his views somewhat about the American legal system. Following his indictment yesterday, Delay gave a prepared statement, in which he called the indictment:

" act of blatant political partisanship, [by] a rogue district attorney...wholly unsupported by the of the weakest, most baseless indictments in American history. It is a sham...the product of a coordinated, premeditated campaign of political retribution, the all-too-predictable result of a vengeful investigation led by a partisan fanatic."
That the United States could have a "rogue district attorney" in power is shocking enough. The coincidence that this "rogue" just happened to have jurisdiction over a case involving one of our nation's leaders is also striking. But what's truly stunning is that this "rogue," despite the predictable and partisan nature of his attack, could still get a grand jury of American citizens to indict one of the most powerful politicians in the state, as well as the entire nation!

After all, as the grand jury foreman told the Associated Press, "[prosecutor] Ronnie Earle didn't indict him. The grand jury indicted him."

Apparently, not only are some American prosecutors motivated by forces other than sweet Lady Justice, but some American jurors are not to be trusted, either! In retrospect, this ought not come as a surprise to anyone who's followed DeLay's career.

After all, one of DeLay's most fervent crusades has been to save helpless corporations from the predations of greedy Americans, and the American jurors who side with them. DeLay sells it, literally (through the very same political action committee that got him indicted), as "tort reform," and what it does is take decisions about wrongdoing and punishment out of the hands of American juries, preventing them from rendering verdicts sufficiently harsh to dissuade American companies from similar wrongdoing in the future. It also allows companies to predict the cost of malfeasance and negligence, permitting them to allow for such things, even when doing so might be lethal, as part of a now-capped cost-benefit analysis. In these matters, too, American juries can not be trusted.

So, Tom DeLay is not selfishly protecting only himself from the corruption and weakness and stupidity of the average Americans who sit on juries, he's also protecting the most vulnerable among us: American corporations.

Clearly, "rogue" elements of law enforcement, and "sham" indictments handed up by American citizens must be stopped.

But wait! What's that? It turns out there are times when law enforcement must NOT be reined in, but given MORE power. When might that be?

Well, specifically, despite his shocking expose of partisan investigations, Tom DeLay believes it's okay to empower SOME law enforcement to work in unprecedented NEW ways with OTHER law enforcement -- even deceiving them, if necessary -- IF the goal is something benign, such as, ironically, his efforts to track down Texas legislators as part of the very same partisan campaign to gain control of Texas that, as I mentioned, got him indicted.

And, it turns out, there are other times when he trusts law enforcement AND prosecutors AND American juries SO much that he's willing to put his life in their hands! That is, if by "his life" we actually mean "a poor black man accused of a crime and defended by incompetent counsel's life." Tom DeLay has voted time and again to reduce the ways in which mistakes and miscarriages of justice can be revealed and rectified before criminals are put to death.

So, to sum up: Tom DeLay trusts law enforcement, prosecutors and juries fully and fights to give them new powers when their targets are:

  • Accused criminals facing the death penalty
  • Elected Democratic officials
Tom DeLay finds law enforcement, prosecutors and juries suspect, over-reaching and susceptible to vengeful investigation unsupported by fact when their targets are:

  • American corporations
  • Political-action committees
  • Tom DeLay
In fact, when you look at the case of People v. Tom DeLay in the context of DeLay's career, it actually might be more appropriate to call it Tom DeLay v. The People. Call it Justice DeLayed.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

This was the day

Tom DeLay has a sign in his office that reads, "This could be the day."

Today, it was.


Laurie David Beggars the Imagination

Why Laurie David felt the need to take a swipe at Michael Crichton, I don't know and don't much care.

But her latest post on Huffington Post plays right into the Bush administration's anti-thought, anti-intellectual, anti-imagination, anti-science ideology.

David castigates the Senate not just for its choice of Crichton, but for wanting to listen to ANYONE in his profession (which, she should realize, is -- in the broadest sense, the same as hers): "Only a madman would think it's a good idea to have a guy paid to make stuff up testify on a serious scientific issue with national security implications."

Well, Laurie, as grateful as I am for your support of anti-Bush stuff (and my former employer, Air America, in particular), only a moron would think it's a bad idea to have a guy paid to IMAGINE testify on a serious scientific issue with national security implications.

If anything, this administration, this country and, yes, even the left, need to listen MORE to the imaginers among us. They're the ones on the forefront of the ethical and societal issues of technical advances that haven't even hit us yet. And if merely honoring science-based imagination isn't enough to change your mind, or Laurie David's, I'd like to rebut her thesis that the Senate shouldn't heed science fiction writers about serious scientific issues with national security implications by introducing her to the man responsible for the global communications network that allows her slander of imagination to traverse the globe:

Arthur C. Clarke.


Michael Brown: The Real Culprits Get Away With It

Not surprisingly, the news media opened up on Michael Brown after his testimony yesterday about the Federal Emergency Management Agency's response to Hurricane Katrina.

Brown, they said, blamed everyone but himself for FEMA's botched response.

Not surprisingly, the media did not blame everyone. In fact, those most responsible went unnamed during the testimony and in most of the coverage of it. So, who really was to blame?

The Senate itself. USA Today gets that part of it right. The fact is, Michael Brown should not be blamed for FEMA's response. Pres. Bush should be blamed for putting FEMA in unqualified hands and the Senate should be blamed for its incompetent level of advising and consenting back in 2002, less than a year after the September 11th attacks, when it waved Brown through the confirmation hearing with nothing more rigorous than a pat on the back.

But it's not just the Senate's fault. The Senate's role, after all, is supposed to be adversarial to the president. The Senate is supposed to challenge and test his appointments.

But there's someone else out there who's supposed to do the same thing to both the president and the Congress.

And that's the goddamned media itself!

I did a Nexis search for "Michael Brown" for all of June 2002, when his confirmation hearing was held, and turned up not a single reference. No print mention. Not even a C-Span transcript. Just the daybook listing of his hearing. A listing clearly ignored by every single one of the hundreds of media outlets who receive it.

Less than a year after terrorists flew passenger jets into the three buildings that lay at the core of our economic and military strength, leaving almost 3,000 people dead in the two cities that virtually every major network executive calls home, not a single television outlet or newspaper saw fit to cover the elevation of the next person to lead the federal emergency management agency!

What was CNN, America's most trusted name in news, talking about that day? Here's the lineup, from CNN's transcripts page, for American Morning that day:

  • Latest on Elizabeth Smart's Abduction Contradicting Earlier Reports
  • Police Say Smart's Younger Sister Not Threatened by Abductor
  • Starbucks Pulls Controversial In-Store Poster
  • U.S. Officials Confirm Abu Zubair Al-Haili in Custody in Morocco
  • Interview with Lauren Young
  • Ripley's Releasing New Encyclopedia
  • Interview with Donny Deutsch
  • Interview with Andy Serwer
  • Doctor Comes Up With Way to Try to Prevent Hospital Mistakes
  • Another Twist in Abduction of Elizabeth Smart
  • Israel Beginning Counter-Offensive in Response to Suicide Bombing
  • Ventura Will Not Make Second Run for Governor of Minnesota
  • Man Officials Call Key Senior Al Qaeda Operative Taken Into Custody
  • Tale of Woman Who Spoke Limited English and Was Repeatedly Turned Away by Police
  • Russian Teen Sisters Receive Masters Degrees From Stanford

Along with developments in the Middle East (namely, another bomb), the latest details about the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping led the news. Larry King's guests that night included her parents. His other guests? Dominick Dunne. And Dear Abby.

The news media were once considered watchdogs. Today, they no longer act like dogs at all -- they certainly don't bite, let alone bark or growl -- except in obediently knowing how to heel and lie down. And they barely even watch.

The news media are supposed to be adversarial to government, to anyone in power. And if Americans have become so complacent that they don't like journalism any more, well, tough shit, because real journalists won't let that stop them. And good journalists would start doing adversarial journalism in ways that bring Americans on board and makes them part of the adversarial process and reminds them why its adversarial nature is not an unfortunate by-product of our system, but an essential, intended part of it.

So, I don't want to see another journalist get indignant over government complacency, or cry over another dead American, until they're willing to spend the rest of their broadcast doing the unsexy and boring (unless well-produced) stories of process and policy. Until they're willing to pay attention to the Julie Myers' of the world, they've lost any moral authority to voice outrage at the Michael Browns.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Angel of Methy

Ashley Smith, the purpose-driven liar, got a lot of media drool all over her when she supposedly used her discussion of her religious faith to calm an escaped criminal who was holding her hostage after fleeing an Atlanta courthouse shooting that captured national media attention.

Well, turns out what she fed the guy wasn't just the opiate of the mass media, it was good, old-fashioned crystal meth. She tells a local newspaper that she quit drugs immediately after her ordeal, because, "If I did die, I wasn't going to heaven and say, `Oh, excuse me, God. Let me wipe my nose, because I just did some drugs before I got here.'"

"It's hard for people to understand the miracle of the story," she told the newspaper. "This was totally a God thing, to me in my life. This was God getting my attention, going, `I'm going to give you one more chance.'"

Her re-newfound faith, however, and her inexplicably obtained knowledge that God had issued a waiver specific to her, didn't keep her from accepting media accolades, while lying about the circumstances. And it didn't keep her from lying to investigators. Perhaps she wanted to keep getting those remunerative faith-based speaking engagements that God wanted to book for her.

According to her new book, she revealed a scar to her captor as evidence of the scourge of drugs. She obtained the scar during a car crash caused when she let go of the wheel in a drug-induced psychosis that led her to hear an inner voice that said, "Let go and let God."

Unfortunately, we still have a national news media that treats the car-crash encounter with God as a drug-induced psychosis, but her post-captivity redemption a genuine miracle. No wonder people like this still lie to us, and to the media.

More of her sickness and self-delusion can be found here (free registration required) and there's a list of her upcoming media blitz. Feel free to let the outlets she's using know that you want to see the news media challenge not just her dishonesty, but her religious delusion.


The Bush Conservation Con of 2005

It's official. President Bush wants us all to conserve energy!

Here's how the Houston Chronicle topped its coverage of yesterday's remarks by President Bush:

President urges Americans to conserve gasoline
He says storms offer U.S. chance to reassess its energy policies
WASHINGTON - President Bush, the former oilman whose administration has emphasized expansion of oil production, on Monday urged Americans to conserve gas to help replenish a national supply that's been battered by two hurricanes.

Bush's plea kindled memories of former President Jimmy Carter's call for conservation in the 1970s when OPEC nations cut back exports.

"The storms have shown how fragile the balance is between supply and demand in America," Bush said after a briefing at the Energy Department, which Carter helped create to prevent the very energy crises that dogged his presidency.

Bush, who has seen his public approval ratings slide this year as gasoline prices increased, urged motorists to avoid wasteful trips, saying all Americans must do their part.

"People just need to recognize that the storms have caused a disruption and that if they're able to maybe not drive ... on a trip that's not essential, that would be helpful," Bush said.
Outside the disaster zone, the New York Times took a similar tone:

President Calls for Less Driving to Conserve Gas
Published: September 27, 2005
With fears mounting that high energy costs will crimp economic growth, President Bush called on Americans yesterday to conserve gasoline by driving less. He also issued a directive for all federal agencies to cut their own energy use and to encourage employees to use public transportation.

"We can all pitch in," Mr. Bush said. "People just need to recognize that the storms have caused disruption," he added, and that if Americans are able to avoid going "on a trip that's not essential, that would be helpful."...

Mr. Bush's comments, while similar to remarks he made shortly after the disruption from Hurricane Katrina pushed gasoline prices sharply higher, were particularly notable because the administration has long emphasized new production over conservation. It has also opted not to impose higher mileage standards on automakers.

In 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney said, "Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it cannot be the basis of a sound energy policy." Also that year, Ari Fleischer, then Mr. Bush's press secretary, responded to a question about reducing American energy consumption by saying "that's a big no."...

Mr. Bush, speaking yesterday after he was briefed at the Energy Department, did not use the dour tone or cardigan-wearing imagery that proved politically deadly for Jimmy Carter during the oil crisis of the 1970's. Nor did Mr. Bush propose new policies to encourage conservation. But he was more explicit than in the past that Americans should cut back.
So, in short, Pres. Bush yesterday for the first time emphasized conservation over production in calling on Americans to curb their energy consumption as a way to do their part to reduce the nation's dependence on oil and, unlike Pres. Carter, he did it without wearing a sweater.

The Bush White House has long been expert at putting out two simultaneous messages; one for its core that the media will miss, one for the media to spoonfeed to the not-paying-attention crowd. This supposed new conservation policy is an excellent example. Let's consider a few observations the media coverage would have us believe and examine whether they're supported by the actual text.

1) Energy conservation was the most important part of Pres. Bush's remarks. It was, after all, the primary topic of the two stories we just looked at. The Houston Chronicle's sub-head, in conjunction with its headline, suggests that the president wants to reassess policies regarding energy usage, rather than production. But, by my count, in the president's remarks, this apparent major reversal of administration energy policy, this clarion call for the nation to change the way it thinks about and uses energy, constituted the 12th and only the 12th out of 14 paragraphs in the White House transcript of his prepared remarks. Here's the entirety of what he said about conserving energy:

Two other points I want to make is, one, we can all pitch in by using -- by being better conservers of energy. I mean, people just need to recognize that the storms have caused disruption and that if they're able to maybe not drive when they -- on a trip that's not essential, that would helpful. The federal government can help, and I've directed the federal agencies nationwide -- and here's some ways we can help. We can curtail nonessential travel. If it makes sense for the citizen out there to curtail nonessential travel, it darn sure makes sense for federal employees. We can encourage employees to carpool or use mass transit. And we can shift peak electricity use to off-peak hours. There's ways for the federal government to lead when it comes to conservation.
In fact, most of this eloquent appeal for national sacrifice concerns not individual Americans, but the federal government. If you pare it down to only those sentences that address Americans directly, here's the entire basis for those big headlines:

Two other points I want to make is, one, we can all pitch in by using -- by being better conservers of energy. I mean, people just need to recognize that the storms have caused disruption and that if they're able to maybe not drive when they -- on a trip that's not essential, that would helpful.
Come to think of that, the first sentence of his two-sentence call to arms doesn't ask anyone to do anything, it merely states the uncontroversial fact that we can be "better" conservers of energy. It's really only the single following sentence that approaches, though does not achieve, becoming a request of the American people. Let's break it down further. The first part of it is a simple declaratory observation that everyone knew beforehand: "people just need to recognize that the storms have caused disruption" -- well, I think it's safe to assume people have fulfilled that need by now. So, what does that leave us with as the core -- the entirety, actually -- of the president's new national call for conservation? Here it is: "if they're able to maybe not drive when they -- on a trip that's not essential, that would be helpful." To repeat (that historians may sooner recognize, as journalists already have, this pivot of history):

"If they're able to maybe not drive when they -- on a trip that's not essential, that would be helpful."

-- President George Walker Bush, September 26, 2005, unveiling the bold outlines of his dramatic call for a national commitment to the conservation of energy

2) Pres. Bush for the first time emphasized conservation over production. The Times tells us specifically: "Mr. Bush's comments...were particularly notable because the administration has long emphasized new production over conservation." That would make his comments notable only if they represented a change from the administration's "long" emphasis. But what did the president emphasize yesterday?

Let's skim through the 13 out of 14 paragraphs of his prepared remarks that don't address conservation and see whether we can detect any trace, any lingering evidence of an emphasis on new production:

President Discusses Hurricane Effects on Energy Supply
U.S. Department of Energy
Washington, D.C.

10:59 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: I want to thank...

A lot of our production comes from the Gulf, and when you have a Hurricane Katrina followed by a Hurricane Rita, it's natural, unfortunately, that it's going to affect supply. There's about 1.56 million barrels of oil that is shut in...So that when you really look on a map you have, if you follow the path of Katrina and the path of Rita, it pretty much covers a lot of production in the Gulf of Mexico.

Right now the producing companies are assessing damage to the platforms and rigs...

Secondly, gasoline prices, obviously, are on our mind, and so we've watched very carefully the assessments done on the refining -- the refineries there on the Gulf Coast. There are a lot of -- a lot of gasoline refineries in the Houston area, in the Beaumont area, in the Port Arthur area, as well as Lake Charles, and the Louisiana area. There was about 5.4 million barrels per day that were shut in as a result of Rita and Katrina. A million of it is back up already, and we expect another 1.8 million barrels a day to get back on line relatively quickly because the storm missed a lot of refining capacity down the Texas coast...

The other thing that's going to affect the ability for people to get gasoline is, of course, the pipelines. In other words, you manufacture the gasoline in a refinery and you have to ship it across the country...

My point is, is that the storm affected the ability to get gasoline to markets...

And so while there's a shortfall because of down refining capacity, we will work with -- we have instructed EPA to leave the rules in place, or to suspend the rules that were in place, keep the suspension in place, which would make it easier to increase supply, and continue to get supply of gasoline here...

Let me repeat, we'll use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to help refineries with
crude oil. We will continue the waivers to allow the winter blends of fuel to be used throughout the country. We will continue to waiver that -- to allow broader use of diesel fuel. Because we understand there's been a disruption in supply and we want to make sure that we do everything we can to help with the supply disruption.

...In other words, we're taking action to help deal with the shortfall caused by Katrina and Rita.

[Bold new call for conservation-based national sacrifice]

And, finally, these storms show that we need additional capacity in -- we need additional refining capacity, for example, to be able to meet the needs of the American people... But it's clear, as well, that we're also really dependent on the capacity of our country to refine product, and we need more refining capacity. And I look forward to working with Congress, as we analyze the energy situation, to expedite the capacity of our refiners to expand and/or build new refineries....
Call me crazy, but it seems to me like the administration's long-standing emphasis on production remains firmly intact.

3) Pres. Bush said, "all Americans must do their part," as the Houston Chronicle paraphrased him. Must? I see "if" and "able" and "maybe" and "helpful," but I don't see "must." So, where did "must" come from?

Let's check the White House "fact sheet" for yesterday's event:

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 26, 2005

Fact Sheet: President Bush Discusses Energy Supplies in the Gulf Region

The Federal Government Is Prepared To Again Tap The Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR)...
That's not it.

The Federal government is working closely with state and local authorities as well as the private sector to monitor the situation, support repairs, and ensure adequate energy supplies. The President is committed to working with Congress to examine our energy supplies and expedite the capacity of our refiners to expand or build new refineries...
That's not it.

President Bush Has Called On Americans To Conserve Energy and Help Hurricane Recovery. The American people can do their part by conserving fuels and ensuring that hardest-hit areas have the energy supplies they need for first response and restoration efforts.
Hey, there we go! Of course, it only says Americans "can" do their part, not that they "must" do their part and, just in case the Houston Chronicle got confused, a White House "fact sheet" is not actually the president.

4) Bush has experienced a fact-based epiphany about the nature of our dependence on oil. Here's what the Houston Chronicle wrote:

Bush's plea kindled memories of former President Jimmy Carter's call for conservation in the 1970s when OPEC nations cut back exports.

"The storms have shown how fragile the balance is between supply and demand in America," Bush said after a briefing at the Energy Department, which Carter helped create to prevent the very energy crises that dogged his presidency.
Bush's eco-friendly observation about the "fragile...balance" between supply and demand sits cozily between evocations of Carter's dramatic, politically dangerous calls for national sacrifice to wean us off dependence on the world's finite oil supply, foreign and domestic. But what was the actual context for Bush's observation? Here's what he said:

...finally, these storms show that we need additional capacity in -- we need additional refining capacity, for example, to be able to meet the needs of the American people. The storms have shown how fragile the balance is between supply and demand in America. I've often said one of the worst problems we have is that we're dependent on foreign sources of crude oil, and we are. But it's clear, as well, that we're also really dependent on the capacity of our country to refine product, and we need more refining capacity.
So, while the Houston Chronicle cites Bush's supply-demand reference in the context of Carter's call to reduce demand, Bush's actual intent was to make the case for increasing the supply.

5) Pres. Bush's remarks were Carter-like in their scope or political significance. Here's how Pres. Carter began a televised speech to the nation on April 18, 1977:

Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly.

It is a problem we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century.

We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and grandchildren.

We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.

Two days from now, I will present my energy proposals to the Congress.
In fact, the press that actually stood in the same room with Bush realized full well that he had nothing to say to America about conserving energy. How do we know? Well, when handed a major news story like a famously anti-conservation, anti-environmental president reversing course and calling for dramatic national cutbacks in energy usage, wouldn't you expect one of the reporters to ask even a single question about it? Didn't happen. Here's what they asked, instead:
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I want to ask you about a different result of these storms, and that is the racial divide that's been exposed in this country...

Q Mr. President, now that Judge Roberts is heading for confirmation, how close are you to choosing your second nominee for the Supreme Court? And how much of a factor is diversity going to be?

Q In suggesting that the Department of Defense might become the first responder in catastrophic disasters, are you not conceding that the Department of Homeland Security is not up to the task?

Q Mr. President, you had mentioned refining capacity. I'd like to ask you about an offer from the Kuwaiti oil minister, who has said that he is willing to offer to build a capacity -- a refining capacity in the U.S.; it would be the first time in about 30 years. Says he's asked for White House assistance -- assistance -- assistance getting permits and fed support and so forth. What do you think of a proposal like that?
(The president's answer? "I am for increasing supply...because that will take pressure off of price. U.S. refiners...have said, we'd like to expand onsite, but the amount of paperwork necessary to do so is staggering...we ought to look at those rules and regulations...if you take a good look at what it means to build a refinery, or expand a refinery, you'll find there's a lot of regulations and paperwork that are required, thereby delaying the capacity for more product to come on to the market and discouraging people from doing -- building refineries...The first thing we need to look at is how to encourage people to do just that without getting -- without all kinds of time being taken up through the bureaucratic hurdles.")

Q Some have called for the continued idea of the reconstruction czar...

END 11:20 A.M. EDT
Any more questions?


Monday, September 26, 2005

Extremism in the Name of Jesus Is No Sin

I continue to be stunned by how blind the mainstream media and even much of the theoretically astute Democratic commentariat remain to the influence and implications of Pres. Bush's brand of Christianity.

Look at how the L.A. Times sums up Pres. Bush's supposed judiciary quandary:

"In making his nomination, Bush faces something of a political dilemma: Choose a true conservative and face a major fight in the Senate, or choose a moderate and risk losing the backing of his strongest supporters."
Can anyone imagine for one second, with a straight face, Pres. Bush worrying about "a major fight" in the Senate? For one thing, who says he'd have a major fight? Republicans control the Senate, and close-enough to handily that Roberts is getting a walk. Democrats may be put off if Bush doesn't choose an O'Connor successor in the O'Connor mold, but the reality is that there is no designated "O'Connor" seat on the high court. The bench doesn't have x conservative seats, y liberal seats and z peacemaker/consensus-builder/flip-flopper seats. It has whatever configuration is determined by the nine most recent appointments. Period. That's why America was supposed to vote this scourge out last year.

But the left has discounted, in its condescending way, the fact that Bush doesn't compromise. He may yield on those occasions when he has no choice. But he does not honor the art of consensus or compromise. He does not value that which is valuable in politics and American polity. Why is this? It's not because he's stubborn, though he is surely that. It's not because he's principled, though in his own way he is surely that, too. It's not because he is in some more authentic than other politicians.

It's because he's sure.

He's so sure, even about intrinsically empirical matters, that the knowledge of these things lies not in his brain -- the realm of cognition and analysis -- but in his heart, the realm of purity and faith.

How can he have such certainty? He's told us since day one, and like smirking, northeastern liberals, we've doubted and discounted him. He has such certainty because he has faith.

God is on his side and, far more importantly, he is on God's side. If, just once, the Democratic political establishment would internalize this fact, then all of Bush's supposed "stubbornness" would fall into place. There's no reason for Bush to compromise. It would be, literally, insane to compromise if you knew that the all-knowing creator of all-there-is had told you what is right.

For decades, if not centuries, we've perceived American politics through the lens of adversarial relationships, competing interests. House clashed with Senate. Republicans clashed with Democrats. Congress clashed with Judiciary. Judiciary clashed with Executive Branch. Through it all, each side pushed its interests where it could, made analytical choices, based on fact and empirical reality, about where to give in, which horses to trade, which logs to roll. The fight was the process. Give and take was the point.

That's over now.

President Bush will nominate a conservative -- an ideological conservative, regardless of politically correct hue or genitalia -- because it's been divinely sanctified as the right thing to do. Compromise is not only wrong, it's unthinkable.

The left can not stand against Pres. Bush's certainty, can not turn it into a political liability rather than a virtue, without addressing the cause of it. And if they don't learn to do so with Pres. Bush, they'll find that he'll spawn an entire generation of politicians who share his stubbornness, his certainty and, most importantly, his willingness to impose them both upon us all in the name of God.


SCOTUS: The Diversity Shibboleth

The Associated Press tonight is reading Pres. Bush's tea leaves and finding signs that "diversity" will influence the president's nomination, expected as soon as this week, of Sandra Day O'Connor's successor on the Supreme Court of the United States. Here's the AP lede:

WASHINGTON - John Roberts, hailed by supporters as "the brightest of the bright," cruised Monday toward easy confirmation as chief justice while President Bush hinted that his next pick to the Supreme Court could be a minority or a woman.

"Diversity is one of the strengths of the country," the president said.

Here's the full exchange per the White House transcript:

Q Mr. President, now that Judge Roberts is heading for confirmation, how close are you to choosing your second nominee for the Supreme Court? And how much of a factor is diversity going to be?

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I will -- I'm cautiously optimistic about Judge Roberts' vote in the Senate. I will -- he's done a fantastic job of showing the Senate and the American people he's not only a brilliant person, but a decent person with a great heart. And so I await confirmation and I hope it goes well. It looks like it might.

Your question indicated that it looked like it was headed in the right direction. I will withhold judgment until the Senate exercises their consent part of the advice and consent relationship with the White House.

I have interviewed people in the past, and thought about people from all walks of life. And I will put the person in to do the job. But I am mindful that diversity is one of the strengths of the country.

Any other questions?

Yeah, you could say that. One question would be, where does AP get off seeing Bush's minimal acknowledgment of the reporter's question as a tea leaf worth reading? But the real question at issue with this nomination should be posed at this point to Democrats and it is: Why does diversity matter?

Because if diversity matters for the sake of diversity then Democrats should be thrilled if Pres. Bush were to nominate a gay black Latina, regardless of her political views. But as we saw with Clarence Thomas, that won't be the case.

It's time for Democrats to remember why they initially championed diversity and then, once they've rediscovered those goals, dump the concept that diversity in and of itself has value.

Democrats, and the left in general, have been pushed, particularly since September 11th, to address the question of whether every culture is of equal value. The answer is no. Virgin-worshipping cultures merit neither celebration nor salvation. The Sicilian Mafia culture of omerta deserves the fate it seeks for its enemies. The macho, anti-women, anti-gay cultures of barracks and dorms and locker-rooms have earned the same disinfectant their host environs so often desperately need.

Put another way: Valuing diversity ought not mean declaring English cuisine the moral or asthetic equivalent of French cuisine. If we could save only one, we would be wrong to submit it to a coin toss. Why? Because some cultures are better than others. The culture of western-civilization's centers of learnings is demonstrably better than the culture of the madrassas. And that should be a liberal position, rather than a conservative one.

Why? Because liberals championed diversity originally for one reason -- fairness -- but with an understanding of why diversity gives us strength: It's our societal equivalent of genetic mutation.

Nominating blacks to the high court is a noble goal not just as part of a striving toward equality, but also as a way of introducing new genetic material into our cultural and national makeup. That's why liberals were flummoxed by the nomination of Thomas: Their focus on the former had made them lose sight of the latter.

Thomas satisfied the notion of pursuing racial equality. So why were liberals so pissed by it? And why were they unable to articulate a coherent reason for their rage? It's because they had lost sight of the fact that diversity is not the goal. It's a tool we have for strengthening our society. Thomas fell short of that goal because he didn't bring actual diversity to the court.

In genetic terms, again, the American society needs the constant infusion of new genetic material (the ideas, perspectives and opinions of minorities, immigrants, the disenfranchised, the outcasts, the mutants) in order to continue evolving. When I started working at one big American media company, I was impressed to see the wide-ranging diversity among the desk assistants in its news room. I was disheartened, soon after, to discover that the pay scale was so low that only rich minority students could be found among their ranks. These students represented the status quo and so would be hard pressed to know how to question it, let alone find the motive to do so. They offered the company no new intellectual mutations that could improve its survival ability.

If diversity for the sake of diversity were truly a liberal goal, the left would demand the nomination of a right-wing fundamentalist Christian, or an Orthodox Jew whose religious beliefs forbade him to shake Ginsburg's hand, or an anti-Semitic Imam. Hell, if anyone on the left had any real courage, they'd nominate someone from the most politically under-represented religious minority in America: the non-religious. But what the left really values is not diversity of race or even of opinion, but diversity of ways to pursue certain goals which the left values more than diversity.

Goals like: Human rights, freedom of expression, social justice, economic justice and government accountability. Until the left learns to rank diversity appropriately, and to recall why diversity is of value, the right will continue to distract the media with its diversity shell-game, and confound the left by appeasing its calls for superficial diversity, while killing its hopes for meaningful diversity.


ABC News: Even-Handed and Wrong

Tonight's e-mail blurb for ABC's "World News Tonight" previews the following story:

In other news, once again the separation between church and state is being hotly debated, as the American Civil Liberties Union accuses a Pennsylvania school board of inserting religion and creationism into their public schools. Jake Tapper brings us more about a case that will likely influence school boards across the country, where "intelligent design" and other theories that challenge evolution are gaining momentum.
ABC News thought it was playing fair, but actually played into the hands of un-American theists. How?

By putting the onus of the "accusation" on the ACLU. There is no question that the Pennsylvania school board is inserting religion, if not outright creationism, into public schools. The second error ABC makes is by labeling "intelligent design" a theory. It's not. It's the lack of a theory. It doesn't have the attributes of a scientific theory, nor does it have even a meaningful fraction of the support of the scientific community. So, why does ABC News treat it as a viable, let alone rival theory? Fear of the Christian right is one answer. Insecurity about their intellectual ability to distinguish between a real, accepted theory and a bogus, would-be theory is another. Fair-minded but wrong-headed loyalty to some sort of notion of post-modern objectivity -- under which every claim occupies equal grounds in the eyes of journalism -- is another. Unfortunately, this combination of cowardice, intellectual laxity and flawed concepts of objectivity will spell our doom until someone in the news media gets some courage, some brains and some heart.


Sunday, September 25, 2005

No Shit, President Sherlock

Here's the impeachment-worthy headline from the Associated Press this morning:

Bush Told U.S. Needs Post-Disaster Plan
By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press Writer

Military officials told President Bush on Sunday that the U.S. needs a national plan to coordinate search and rescue efforts following natural disasters or terrorist attacks...
Now, it would be one thing if, five years after vowing to defend this nation, and four years after the attacks of September 11th and one month after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, military officials told the president that he should be prepared to deal with disasters after they happen and the president replied, "No shit, it's taken care of."

But that's not what happened.

Here's what the military told him:

Bush got an update about the federal hurricane response from military leaders at Randolph Air Force Base. He heard from Lt. Gen. Robert Clark, joint military task force commander for Hurricane Rita, and Maj. Gen. John White, a task force member, who noted confusion in search and rescue operations after Hurricane Katrina.

With Katrina, "we knew the coordination piece was a problem," White said. "With Rita, we had the benefit of time. We may not have that time in an earthquake scenario or similar incident."

"With a national plan, we'll have a quick jump-start and an opportunity to save more people," White said.
The crucial part of White's quotation is this: "'ll." As in, "will." As in, "don't yet." As in, "there is no national plan to give responders to a major disaster (natural or otherwise) a quick jump-start and an opportunity to save more people." As in, "due to the U.S. government's planning, Americans will die needlessly."

So, what did President Bush say in response? Did he angrily deny the allegations? Did he show us the elaborate document that lays out exactly the well-thought-out plans he and his crack team have developed over the past four years? No. Without coercion, he confessed:

Bush said he has been interested in whether the Defense Department should take the lead in disasters "of a certain size."

"It's clearly the case in a terrorist attack," Bush said. "It's going to be a very important consideration for Congress to think about." ...

Bush thanked White for his recommendations.

"This is precisely the kind of information I'll take back to Washington to help all of us understand how to do a better job," the president said.
Again, "'ll" is the important part. Along with "going to be." Four years after September 11th, a national disaster-response plan could only be the topic of a future-tense discussion in a criminally negligent administration.

Constrained by the prevailing notions of "objectivity," A.P. writer Deb Riechmann nevertheless figures out a way to remind people of this point, by tossing in an unnecessary anecdote for the final paragraph:

On Saturday, [Bush] made a stop in Austin, Texas, and at the U.S. Northern Command in Colorado, where he autographed a photo of himself gripping a bullhorn at ground zero three days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
UPDATE: The White House has posted a transcript of President Bush's remarks from this morning. Here they are, in full (or, at least, the portion they've chosen to make public), with my emphasis added to remind folks that this president is someone who got re-elected on the premise that he already was the best man to make us safe:

7:35 A.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT: Part of the reason I've come down here, and part of the reason I went to NORTHCOM, was to better understand how the federal government can plan and surge equipment, to mitigate natural disasters. And I appreciate very much, General, your briefing, because it's precisely the kind of information that I'll take back to Washington to help all of us understand how we can do a better job in coordinating federal, state and local response.

The other question, of course, I asked, was, is there a circumstance in which the Department of Defense becomes the lead agency. Clearly, in the case of a terrorist attack, that would be the case, but is there a natural disaster which -- of a certain size that would then enable the Defense Department to become the lead agency in coordinating and leading the response effort. That's going to be a very important consideration for Congress to think about.

END 7:36 A.M. CDT


Friday, September 23, 2005

Rita Washes Away Post-Katrina Rationalizations

After Katrina, one meme the administration tried to sell was that, okay, the flooding of New Orleans might have been predicted, but that the odds of it actually happening had been judged minuscule, and that reasonable cost-benefit analyses had led to the construction of defenses only against hurricanes no stronger than category 3.

Writing for Reason, Jonathan Rauch says:

"Remember, the odds of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane hitting New Orleans any given year were small. [Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Gen. Carl] Strock told reporters, 'We figured we had a 200- or 300-year level of protection. That means that an event that we were protecting from might be exceeded every 200 or 300 years. So we had an assurance that, 99.5 percent, this would be OK. We, unfortunately, have had that 0.5 percent activity here.'

"Remember, too, that reinforcing the levees was a multibillion-dollar project. An ancillary project to restore the protective marshes of the Mississippi Delta, which would have reduced the force of storm surges reaching the city, would cost something like $14 billion over three decades. For that kind of money, there are always competing priorities, some of them urgent.

"The question, then, is not whether the failure to improve New Orleans's flood protection was a mistake in hindsight—obviously, it was—but whether it was a reasonable choice in foresight, based on the probable odds and costs as they appeared at the time."
Rauch, and, for that matter, the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, seem to have fallen prey to some common fallacies about probability. I'll explain in a second, but Rauch continues:

"Using the more cautious of Strock's figures, assume the odds are that a storm surge would overtop or breach the existing New Orleans levees once every 200
years. This seems, if anything, optimistic..."
Here's the thing about probability: Your deepest, strongest-held instincts about it often couldn't be more wrong.

Let's assume that Strock and Rauch are right, though, in saying that a storm surge would occur only once every 200 years. Therefore, it seems a little excessive, to Rauch, to prepare for a 1-in-200-year event.

Here are the problems with that reasoning. For one thing, just because something is expected only once in the next 200 or even 300 years, doesn't mean it comes at the end of that span. The whole point is that it could come at any time during that span. Thus, you can't claim there's only a 0.5% chance, let alone "assurance," that it'll happen now. Also, when considering what "now" means, there's no reason to think in terms of years. A sturdy levee system would, after all, last at least a decade, right? So, let's look at this in terms of decades. Suddenly, we're talking about a 1-in-20 event. And if the levee were to last (with appropriate maintenance) for 20 or even 25 years, now you're talking about a 1-in-10 event or even 1-in-8.

More to the point, as Rita has shown us, the randomization of nature truly is random. It's not random the way fate would be if fate existed, let alone were guided by a magic man in the sky; there is no sentient decision-maker spacing out low-probability events. If you toss heads a million times, the odds of it coming up heads the next time are still 50-50. In other words, once you win the lottery, at a million-to-one odds, the next time you play you still have just as good a chance of winning even if it's the very next day.

Or, in Rita's case, losing.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Christian Cancer Metastasizes

If you think George W. Bush, Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, Rick Santorum, Sam Brownback and their buddies are bad, just wait.

The latest Chronicle of Higher Education (a really good publication the mainstream media ought to plunder from more often) has a really important piece by Thomas Bartlett on the next generation of anti-American Christians. It shows us that Bush, et. al.’s virulent strain of Christianity has evolved several traits that will aid in defense and spread of the virus. First, it’s inoculating future carriers. Second, it’s programming those carriers with traits that will serve to propagate and defend the virus in the future. (Yes, I know I’m swapping the carcinogenic metaphor of my headline for a viral one. Indulge me!)

It’s important to think in viral terms about this for several reasons: It helps us predict its patterns of growth and attack and, frightening though it may be, it makes clear just how quickly and thoroughly we should expect it to spread.


In order for a virus to succeed, it has to develop resistance to anything that threatens its survival. In the case of Christianity (and any faith), the primary threat is reason. The need to oppose reason’s advances (or avoid conflict with it) is at the root of virtually every substantive theological shift. When religions pursue the mainstream (a la Vatican II) it is to make themselves appear in concert with reason (like a virus camouflaging itself from a host’s white blood cells). When religions turn militant and fundamentalist it’s to confront and challenge reason’s threat. This notion of immunologically-based theology explains why so many religions evolved tenets that promote indoctrinating the young: The young have not yet developed the immune systems of cognition and ratiocination. If a religion advocated waiting until children were 21 to make itself and its tenets known to them, it would die in a generation. Natural selection ensures that only youth-indoctrinating religions survive.

So, think of religion (in this case, the North American strain of the Christianity fundamentalis virus) in viral terms. And consider reason (which encompasses both the internal phenomenon of logic and its empirical manifestation, science) as the cure. When religion evolves (i.e., mutates in a way that promotes either survival or spread) it does so in response to threats from the cure, or to exploit weaknesses of the cure.

In the excerpts below from the Chronicle piece, you’ll see this dynamic play out. But first, a quick word about epidemiology, or the nature and rate of viral spread:


We’re witnessing in the United States right now the latest, arguably greatest metastasization ever of North American Christianity fundamentalis. (I know, I’m mixing the metaphors again. Let’s stipulate that when I say, “metastasization,” I mean, “the spread of viral elements through a social body in the same way cancer cells spread through an animal’s body.”) How does a religion virus spread? Only two ways: Reproduction and transmission. To aid reproduction of itself, virtually all religious viruses promote reproduction of its carriers (i.e., sex) within parameters defined by the religion (i.e., marriage). Virtually all religious viruses also promote transmission (i.e., proselytization) of the virus from carriers to non-carriers. How does this occur? Marketing: Everything from preaching to wearing Kaballah bracelets; whatever spreads the word.

So, why is Christianity fundamentalis metastasizing? Because it has evolved mechanisms that combine new types of immunity with aggressive new modes of transmission. When you get a virus that’s immune (or, at least, highly resistant) to existing, widely available forms of treatment (i.e., schools and books) and also develops highly efficient, effective forms of transmission, what do you get? An epidemic.

Now, let’s get to the Chronicle piece, which shows us how the virus has developed and combined the necessary traits to begin an epidemic.

Christian students gather and prepare to defend their beliefs
(Available in full here for five days after the date of this post)
Manitou Springs, Colo.
...Each summer more than 1,200 [Christian teenagers] come from around the country to attend a two-week workshop on how to defend their faith during college. They listen to lectures on creationism versus evolution, abortion, homosexuality, Christianity and the media, euthanasia, and postmodernism, among other topics. … On an average day, students sit through six hours of classes…
Two important features right off the bat. We’re talking about teenagers (young, with yet-to-develop-fully ratiocination skills) and we’re talking about training specifically, overtly designed to inoculate carriers against the threat posed by college (i.e., education).

Spend a couple of days at the workshop and it becomes clear that, for many of these students, college is fraught with peril. There is the pressure to party, to drink, to have sex.
Hedonism’s greatest threat is not to the supposedly moral components of the religion virus. Hedonism poses a threat to the virus because its rewards – and the fact that negative consequences often fall short of those predicted by the virus – can trigger questions (i.e., thought) about the religion, specifically about its misuse of moral language to control individuals in pursuit of society-wide goals. In other words, sex and booze can kill you, but if you indulge in them with some thought you can often, easily avoid the “Reefer Madness”-style hells predicted by Christianity fundamentalis.

There is also the subtle pressure to conform to a non-Christian worldview. There are biology courses that ask students to accept evolution, which workshop organizers and most of the students reject as untrue and ungodly. There are literature courses that see any text, including the Bible, as open to multiple interpretations. And there are philosophy classes that view absolute truth as nothing more than an illusion.
Again, the threat here is not about conformity to a non-Christian worldview (there are, after all, Christian sects that accept biology, Biblical interpretation and even post-modernism/deconstructionism). The threat here is thought itself. Accepting evolution means considering empirical evidence and considering it rationally. Both processes are anathema to our virus. Interpretation by definition requires thought. Ironically, I happen to think that post-modernism/deconstructionism – that school of thought so assailed by the right and the Christian right – is actually the least hostile to our virus (widespread disbelief in absolute truth led Americans to justify neglecting fact, documentation and reason at the voting booths in 2000 and 2004) – but that’s a separate discussion.

Professors are often portrayed not as keepers of knowledge, but as clever propagandists determined to undermine the beliefs of gullible Christians. "The dirty little secret of education is that our young people are being indoctrinated into another faith, but they're not told that," says the Rev. David Noebel, the president and founder of Summit Ministries, which runs the workshop. "They're being told that secular humanism is somehow agenda-free and value-neutral when it is not."
The deeply epidemiological nature of this conflict starts to pop out at you after a while, right? The Reverend Noebel sees the conflict in terms of an exterior entity intent on penetrating cell walls and inserting its own ideological DNA in place of his religion’s DNA.

What this means for Christian students, he says, is simple: "Either they're going to get serious about their faith, or they're going to lose it."
In Darwinian terms: Survival of the fittest.

When David Noebel started Summit Ministries in 1962, the group's focus was on communism...He also wrote books and pamphlets warning of the dual threats of communism and rock 'n' roll. One of those books, Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles, has become an underground classic among memorabilia collectors. Its cover features the disembodied heads of the Fab Four floating beneath an ominous-looking hammer and sickle.
In other words, as the threats to religion have evolved, so has its response. It now has new defense mechanisms. It now recognizes other strains as threats. Past threats have either died off (Soviet-style communism) or been neutralized (rock music) by other viruses (recording-industry executives).

Even after more than 40 years, the 69-year-old minister and author seems to revel in the company of his young students. He calls them "Tiger" and they call him "Doc." As it happens, Mr. Noebel did not finish his Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin, though his rapid-fire references to philosophers and theologians tend to impress listeners. "Did you know he used to read a book a day?" one teenager asks, her voice full of awe.…
At some point, the carrier David Noebel found -- maybe even accidentally -- that when he coated his cell wall with a deceptive membrane (one that mimics a doctorate) he more easily penetrated other cells (those with lower resistance to the element known as PhD than to the element known as Mr). Because viruses stick with behaviors and traits that improve their spread, he kept “Doc.”

On a recent Thursday, the guest lecture was delivered by Dave and Mary Jo Nutting, a husband-and-wife team who founded the Alpha Omega Institute, which is devoted to "exposing the fallacies of evolutionary worldviews and defending the accuracy of the Bible," according to its Web site. They have put together an entertaining two-hour PowerPoint presentation to promote creationism. In one sequence, Mr. Nutting shows a cartoon of a man standing next to a pile of lumber covered with dynamite. The cartoon man lights the fuse and -- boom! -- suddenly the lumber is gone and in its place is a lovely house. "That, folks, is evolution," Mr. Nutting says…
He may be Nutting, but he’s right. His explanation is evolution in action, it's an explanation that has evolved to counter evolution itself. Simple explanations beat complicated ones almost every time (if you cut me with Occam’s Razor, do I not bleed?) – just as a small needle penetrates the skin easier than a thick one does. We comprehend, and can defend, simpler concepts better and easier than we can complex ones – regardless of their truth value! If you’re a parent who’s ever skimped on an explanation for your kid, you know what I mean. That’s why religions have evolved explanations that are not just simple, but explanations that are deceptively simple and, most importantly, explanations that are deceptively simple in ways that require particularly complex rebuttals. The evolutionary advantage of this is that it raises the bar for successful challenges to the virus. Why does Nutting’s folksy, compelling, intuitive example amount to, well, nutting? Well, you can start with the initial flaw in his analogy: Explosion creates iteration of an existing type of structure (house) ≠ evolution creates iteration of a new structure (humanity). And if you want to get more complicated than that, I recommend you read The Blind Watchmaker (yes, it’s tough going – that’s what Christianity fundamentalis relies on!)

About half of Summit's expenses are covered by student fees. The other half comes from the 6,000 or so donors who consistently support the program. It doesn't seem to hurt fund raising that the workshop has been endorsed by some of the most prominent evangelical leaders in the country, including Tim LaHaye, co-author of the extraordinarily successful Left Behind book series, and James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, located in Colorado Springs, just a few minutes from Summit's headquarters.
In other words, in the free market that they espouse, they have yet to evolve sufficiently well to survive on their own. So, they’ve evolved several compensating mechanisms. First, they only advocate free markets in ways that benefit them (or hurt their threats). Second, they’ve evolved parasitic (or, more accurately, symbiotic) relationships with particularly powerful carriers of the virus. And they continue to thrive and spread because they have evolved the trait of social cooperation, and, literally, insulation from hostile environments (i.e., cities, public schools, Broadway, etc.).
Mr. Dobson, who sent his son, Ryan, through the program, writes that Summit helps teenagers "suddenly understand the civil war we have described and what it means to them personally."
Note the recurring use of the word “war.” This is, to them, an elemental, primal struggle for survival (and they’re right).

When a professor or fellow student asserts something that runs contrary to Christianity, Mr. Thomas intends to speak up.
Why? Who hasn’t had a professor that said something dumb? Is it really so important to voice disagreement every time it occurs? Why? A few reasons: One, it’s an inevitable side effect of the virus's fundamentalism. Two, it serves to proselytize other students. Three, it tends to repress the tendency of the threat (professors) to utilize their threatening traits (reason).

And now, thanks to the workshop, he knows what to say. "Without Summit, I would have been very much unprepared," he says.

That's how Sarah Keyes feels, too. Ms. Keyes, a sophomore at Columbia University, came to Summit before her freshman year and decided to return this summer "just to reaffirm what I learned." As part of its well-known core curriculum, Columbia undergraduates study the Bible not as divinely inspired scripture, but as literature. For Ms. Keyes this was distressing. But, she says, Summit taught her that the Bible is "historically accurate," and this knowledge kept her from believing that it belonged on the same plane as Homer or Aeschylus. "It equipped me to think through things and not accept everything I was told," she says.
One of the genius elements of this strain (and many good thought viruses) is its subversion and co-option of language (the medium for the cure, after all). When Sarah says she thinks things through, she genuinely believes it. She’s come to consider mental activity about a particular subject as equivalent to thinking about that subject. Genuine “thinking through,” ratiocination, would require application of logical scrutiny to her faith. Because her faith is a matter of faith, it must by definition eventually come into conflict with reason. If her alleged thinking never yields that result (and some of the Christians I respect most are those who acknowledge the inherently unrational nature of faith) then she’s not really thinking. (And, ironically, she gets into Columbia because academia values diversity of thought, and hasn't yet recognized that Christianity fundamentalis isn't thought).

(Quick parable: When I took Logic I in college, I had a proof to do using symbolic logic. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t figure out how to prove it. Rather than turn in a non-proof for a non-grade, I did the next-best (or worst, if you want to get all ethical on me) thing: I hid my failure. I came up with a proof that I knew was flawed. But I built my proof in such a way that the flaw was limited to a single step, in what superficially appeared to be, well, I guess you’d call it a sub-routine. The result? The entire argument was wrong, the entire thought process was a sham. But it looked – even under some degree of scrutiny – like a substantive, thoughtful proof with, maybe, one little error along the way. That’s what these students don’t realize that they’re learning: False methodologies of rebutting reality and logic -- while appearing not just to embrace them, but to utilize them – without ever even understanding what they’re doing. Conscious carriers of Christianity fundamentalis, they are unwitting carriers of its defense mechanisms, even when those mechanisms are directed at the carriers themselves).

Still, she experienced plenty of challenges to her faith, and she felt like a second trip to Summit was necessary. "There were several times when I felt professors were trying to undermine my faith, though perhaps not intentionally," Ms. Keyes says…
The booster shot.

The workshop has only one session devoted to homosexuality, but the topic seems to come up frequently. Mr. Noebel contends that gay and lesbian organizations wield more power than any other group on college campuses.
Perhaps “Doc” Noebel has confused gay student groups with the varsity football team. In fairness, an easy mistake.

Students are encouraged not only to take sides on controversial issues like abortion, but also to evangelize whenever possible during college. Some of the more fearless ones even fan out into Manitou Springs to attempt to convert locals and tourists. This is not always appreciated. They are no longer welcome at a certain New Age gift store, and one local innkeeper says students "come up to you and say awful things about how you're going to hell." …
Of course they’re encouraged. Why shouldn’t they be? If you thought I were going to hell, wouldn’t you be morally obligated to do everything you could to save me? Frankly, a Christian who believes only the saved go to heaven and then doesn’t proselytize the hell out of us, comes lower on the moral scale than do the proselytizers. That’s why belief in hell, and belief in belief itself as the key to heaven, is such a powerful viral trait. Of all the cults in the world, why do so few of them say, “Join us and go to heaven! Or don’t join us, but go to heaven anyway! It’s all the same!” Because that trait has no transmissive value. Which means the trait dies off. The religions that evolve the trait of offering advantages – specifically, undisproveable survival advantages – tend, not surprisingly, to survive the Darwinian world of competitive theology.

Politics and theology mix in a none-too-subtle manner at Summit. In the lobby of the main building hangs a framed drawing of Ronald Reagan. Among some students the words "liberal" and "atheist" are used as synonyms. Mr. Noebel's views on a range of issues, including free-market capitalism (he's in favor of it) and environmentalism (he seems to be against it), slip out during lectures...he does believe in blending politics and religion. In his book, The Battle for Truth, he argues that "the state was established to administer God's justice" and encourages Christians to run for political office. "If the people rejoice when the righteous rule (Proverbs 29:2), the righteous need to rule," he writes…
Now we get to the epidemic. The body in which Christianity fundamentalis wants to spread is the body politic. It has spread, essentially, as far as it can within the body’s unessential organs (the isolated, gated communities; survivalists; home-schoolers) and it’s now bumping up against the essential organs – our heart, brains and circulatory system – and the organs that, therefore, enjoy the greatest defenses.

The only way to continue promoting growth is to turn the body’s organs into organs of transmission. And the two organs of transmission in America are politics and media. Both of them, if you haven’t noticed, are under assault. Furthermore, Christianity fundamentalis has devoted untold manhours and millions of Mammon dollars to the task of figuring out and implementing the most effective methods of transmission.

Make no mistake, this phenomenon is not a side effect of a benign attempt to spread happy Jesus-ness. The entire, sole point of everything “Doc” Noebel and other carriers do is specifically, consciously, overtly to wage, in their own words, a “war” (a metaphorically biological conflict) in which soldiers must put on armor and brandish their weapons. Sorry to switch hackneyed metaphors on you again, but they have spent millions on munitions research and defense. They have recruited more successfully than has the actual United States military. And they have spent centuries refining their tactics.

They churn out carrier/soldiers in their home schools, they immunize them against the intellectual rigor of college, they train them at their own law schools and then feed them into the brachia of our government. They have cultivated our laxity, thrived in the neglect of our condescension. In Bush, DeLay, Brownback, et. al, we’ve seen only a minor outbreak, a slight incidence of symptoms. In the next generation, we’ll start to see what happens now that the virus is no longer limited to isolated iterations. We’ll see what happens when the virus gains a sufficient number of carriers not to overwhelm the entire body, but only that number necessary to overwhelm the organs that control the body and sustain it. That's true of every infected patient. Even when it’s already too late to save them.


George Bush's Arab Clone...

Not only does he look like Bush, but he's already begun to attack anyone who criticizes him, and he's starting to hate school. He also respects his god's will, while doing his best to fight it. And, to top it off, his real identity is: Usamah. He's almost outBushed Bush. At this rate, he'll be president by 14. Just like ours.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Honore Without Honor

Transcript from Media Gab of news conference on Hurricane Rita, emphasis added by me:

Honore: And Mr. Mayor, let's go back, because I can see right now, we're setting this up as he said, he said, we said. All right? We are not going to go, by order of the mayor and the governor, and open the convention center for people to come in. There are buses there. Is that clear to you? Buses parked. There are 4,000 troops there. People come, they get on a bus, they get on a truck, they move on. Is that clear? Is that clear to the public?

Female reporter: Where do they move on...

Honore: That's not your business.

Male reporter: But General, that didn't work the first time...

Honore: Wait a minute. It didn't work the first time. This ain't the first time. Okay? If...we don't control Rita, you understand? So there are a lot of pieces of it that's going to be worked out. You got good public servants working through it. Let's get a little trust here, because you're starting to act like this is your problem. You are carrying the message, okay? What we're going to do is have the buses staged.

Male reporter: General, a little bit more about why that's happening this time, though, and did not have that last time...

Honore: You are stuck on stupid. I'm not going to answer that question. We are going to deal with Rita. This is public information that people are depending on the government to put out. This is the way we've got to do it. So please. I apologize to you, but let's talk about the future. Rita is happening. And right now, we need to get good, clean information out to the people that they can use. And we can have a conversation on the side about the past, in a couple of months.
In other words, Gen. Honore got the Bush memo: Journalists serve no function other than to distribute its information. Non-cleared information that could be pertinent to life or death for American citizens is "not [our] business."

Hey, General Honore? You work for us. So fuck you, and answer the goddamned questions.

Oh, and on the same day, this obscenity from CNN's Kyra Phillips:

PHILLIPS: General Russel Honore, always a pleasure, sir. You're my hero. I'm curious, are you going to -- are you still with me?

HONORE: Yes, ma'am.

PHILLIPS: All right. Final question. Are you going to sing with Wayne Newton? Because I know you can hum a mean tune.

HONORE: No ma'am, I can't sing, but I will see him sometime today.

PHILLIPS: I'm just trying -- there we go, I got a smile. General, great to see you, sir.

PHILLIPS: All right. General Russel Honore. Quite a man.
Thanks for asking the hard questions that America needs answered, Kyra. And Gen. Honore, thanks for making time to answer her questions.

And if you think I was being facetious about Honore getting the memo, there's clearly been a directive that no one in the Bush administration is to admit that anything is being done differently post-Katrina. Look at Scott McClellan's refusal to specify a single thing done differently, even while he claims that lessons have been learned and things have improved. Emphasis, again, is mine:

Q Are you confident that the lessons learned from Katrina will be applied in the case of this hurricane?

MR. McCLELLAN: And I might want to point out, too, before I come to that question, too, that the disaster medical teams are in the region. You have nine -- at least nine search and rescue teams that are in the region so that they can deploy quickly once the storm has passed.

Q So the lessons learned from Katrina will be applied in the case of Rita?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of Katrina, that was a storm that was unprecedented in size and scope and devastation. It is something that we want to make sure all the lessons possible are learned, and we want to make sure that we know exactly what worked and what didn't work. And that's why we are working closely with Congress as they move forward on their investigation. That's why the President has tasked his Homeland Security Council to make sure that there is a comprehensive review of the preparedness and response relating to Katrina, so we're doing that. Now, in terms of Rita, I just talked about the steps that we're taking. And we're going to make sure that we are doing everything we can to have the strongest possible coordination with state and local governments as we prepared and respond to Hurricane Rita.

Q Well, Scott, continuing with what Steve said, how is what you're doing for Rita different from what you did from Katrina?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. A couple of things -- one, the President is focused on making sure we have the strongest possible coordination with state and local governments in the path of Hurricane Rita. We hope Rita is not devastating, but we must be prepared for the worst. Coordination at all levels needs to be seamless, or as seamless as possible, and that's what we're working to do. Homeland Security and FEMA officials are working closely with state and local governments so that resources can be targeted where they are most needed. They are redoubling efforts to make sure we have a full understanding of what the needs are so that we can make sure that those needs are met. And I went through several steps that were already taken to address these issues.

Q So that's -- you think that that's going to be an improvement over what was done in Katrina?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, in terms of Katrina, we're still focused on the immediate needs of the people in the region and working to make sure that they are getting back up on their feet, that we're moving forward on the recovery, that we're moving forward on the rebuilding to help people rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities. We are determined to learn the lessons of Katrina, and that's why we have been assessing what's been working and what hasn't been working and taking steps to address those issues. That's why we're also working closely with Congress, and the President is committed to making sure that there's a thorough investigation so that we can learn those lessons.

Q Well, can you distinguish what you're doing differently?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I just talked to you about where the President's focus is and what we are doing. We want to make sure that we're --

Q And these are things you didn't do in Katrina?

MR. McCLELLAN: We want to make sure that we are better prepared and better positioned to respond to Hurricane Rita and that's what we're doing. That's why I outlined the several steps that we are taking. And that's why I just told you that the President is focused on making sure that we have the strongest possible coordination with state and local officials, and that we have --

Q Which you didn't have before, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- as seamless as possible coordination with state and local officials.

Q In other words, better than the last time?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just answered that question, Bill.

Q No, not really.

Well, on the other hand, maybe McClellan meant it when he said: "the President is focused on making sure we have the strongest possible coordination with state and local governments in the path of Hurricane Rita...Coordination at all levels needs to be seamless, or as seamless as possible, and that's what we're working to do. Homeland Security and FEMA officials are working closely with state and local governments so that resources can be targeted where they are most needed. They are redoubling efforts to make sure we have a full understanding of what the needs are so that we can make sure that those needs are met." If it's true, that definitely would be different from Katrina.

In either case, though, less than a month after a massive hurricane wiped a major American city off the map, both the American military and the American civilian leadership refuse to tell the American people a single change in procedure, even on the eve of another potentially devastating natural disaster.


Unholy Trinity

A Philadelphia grand jury today displayed the requisite courage and moral fortitude to spit in the face of United States Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa) and the Roman Catholic Church. (Thanks to Capitol Buzz, via Rising Hegemon, for the news...) The grand jury said that top diocesan officials ought not to have sheltered and concealed the actions of known child molesters, let alone assigned them to work in children's hospitals. In a 70-page report described as "blistering" (what, not stigmatizing?), the archdiocese disagreed.

Also this week in news of the Holy Roman Catholic Church...

Mexican Catholic officials, including a bishop, got a lecture on corruption from the government of Mexico. Specifically, the government of Mexico informed a Catholic bishop that he ought not be involved with laundering drug money. The bishop disagreed.

Our third story of despicable behavior comes from The Super-Sacred Extra-Special Holy Zone of Galveston, Texas, where the Magic Kingdom of Vatican-Land declared that its mightiest wizard is above the law and so can not be held accountable for his role in decades of church conspiracy to protect child molesters. And the government of George W. Bush agreed.

What's gone wrong here? A Philadelphia prosecutor and a grand jury of everyday citizens stand on moral ground, understand moral grounds, more than do the depraved local officials of the world's largest religion. A bishop in Mexico, one of the most religious (not to mention Catholic) countries on Earth, doesn't meet the exacting ethical standards of the Mexican government when it comes to corruption. The Mexican government!

Only the corrupt, religion-over-rationality government of George W. Bush bucks the trend. Why is that?

It's because government officials in Philadelphia and Mexico (intuitively or consciously) understand something that the faith-based Bush government does not: Morality is neither a creation of a magic creature, nor could it be even if there were a god. Morality is reason. Morality is logic. That's it. Every moral rule that deals with autonomy is a necessary logical parameter for the equitable interaction of independent, autonomous, intentional, sentient beings. (It's not quite, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That's a flawed rule, one that aims at the right target, but misses such exceptions as The Missionary Example; to wit: If I were a missionary, I could justify torturing heathens because if I were them, I would want my soul to be saved no matter what).

The point behind it, though -- the logic behind it -- is that we all have the same rights, and protections. These rights and protections are the logical boundaries between my personal autonomy and yours. I can't hit you or steal your stuff, you can't hit me or steal my stuff. Lying, too, falls in this category because bad information is usually intended to deceive us into acting differently than we otherwise would, thus also subverting our autonomy.

The Catholic officials in Rome, Mexico and Philadelphia are operating under the belief that morality came from somewhere, that the rules are not intrinsically logical but merely make sense cuz the guy whut wrote ‘em is REALLY smart. Their morality is answerable solely to a god. They mustn't displease him, or dishonor him, or go against him. So why should they worry about molested children or the victims of drug-running gangsters? It’s not hurting god, it’s not violating the rules he wrote, so what’s the problem?

Now, the instinctive counter-argument, for some, will be that I’m Catholic-bashing; that the church is a flawed, human institution consisting of people who err. (Anyone wishing to defend the church is kindly asked to read these documents first). The argument might have some merit if the Magic Kingdom restricted its judgment to autonomy. Autonomy is really the only thing with which a rational morality ought to concern itself (in addition to fairness, which preserves the value of our autonomy).

We can tell that the Catholic church is flawed in its moral thinking because of how it categorizes its sins. (No, I’m not talking about cardinal v. venal sins. I’m no more interested in the distinctions regarding those rules than I am in the rules of that other once-dominant role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons). What I’m referring to is the fact that Catholicism (like, to be fair, many or even most other religions) strays well beyond autonomy in deciding what behavior to condemn.

Look at how the Philadelphia archdiocese addresses issues of consensual sexual conduct. Its web page of sex-judgment doesn’t, of course, address its own horrific failings (and sins against the autonomy of children and parents who trusted it), but condemns people for normal, consensual, safe sexual behavior for no reason (and that’s what we’re dealing with: reason) other than God doesn’t like it. Here's the proof -- the church's site explains that masturbation is wrong because, "it is a misuse of God's gift of sexuality which, in his divine wisdom, the Lord intended to be used between husband and wife." As a philosophy major, I think I'm on solid ground when I postulate that the best, most succinct refutation of this argument would be: So? Using a gift in a way the giver didn't intend isn't a sin. It's not wrong. Sorry, but it just ain't. In fact, the only inherently negative aspect of it is that the giver might not like it. As any fourth grader could tell you, "Dude, tough shit, you gave it to me."

But more tellingly, the unnamed author begins his (do allow me the presumption here!) explanation of masturbation's sinfulness with this: “The Church has consistently taught that what determines a particular human act to be sinful is not the context or conditions in which a human act is performed nor the foreseeable consequences of an act, but rather the act itself.” I wish I had explained it that way myself. The act is sinful regardless of context or consequences! Why is it wrong to hit people? Because it hurts them. Why is it wrong to steal things? Because it deprives others of their property. Consequence is not irrelevant to morality, it’s the defining factor! That's why I don't think the Catholic church actually engaged in a conscious conspiracy to conceal decades of child molestation in hundreds if not thousands of churches around the world. But if you're dogmatically opposed to the consideration of consequence, to the unthinking adherence to "divine" laws, you will become a church forbids masturbation while enabling child molestation. In other words, because the church abhors consideration of consequences, the rest of us have to pay them.


New Storm, Same Hot Air

A quick epilogue to my lengthy rant about the media reaction to Katrina...

First, I should have acknowledged how valuable TVSpy's Shoptalk was in compiling the media coverage of the media coverage.

Second, we're already seeing just how extravagantly the media are taking the wrong lessons from Katrina. CNN and NBC are opening bureaus in New Orleans. Why? The problem was not that TV news failed to get good video from New Orlenas, the problem was that TV news institutionally fails to respond to boring, unphotogenic information like the 2001 FEMA prediction that the top three likely threats to the U.S. were a terror strike on New York, a flood in New Orleans and a San Francisco earthquake. We don't need bureaus anywhere. We need executives in New York to start crafting news that's forward-thinking about America's challenges, not over-saturated on the allegorical plundered barns now that the horses are gone. (Les Moonves, are you listening?)

Third, apparently the TV news media have ordained their first Katrina star. Sorry, their first Katrina-victim star. Not surprisingly, it's a child. (How long, after all, could a grown, capable, rational-and-angry black man like Mayor Nagin retain an uncritical spotlight?) That the media are giving over the airwaves to a Katrina survivor based solely on that survivor's charisma demonstrates not just that the media have not figured out how to cover, in compelling fashion, the boring, unfriendly, procedural matters that ACTUALLY shape our lives, but that it hasn't occurred to them to try.

Sorry, San Francisco. See you soon.


Why Katrina Won't Change a Thing I: The Media

By now, I think everyone has fully catalogued the multitude of ways in which Katrina will change everything. Ornery contrarian that I am, I've become pretty convinced that Katrina will change nothing (except, well, New Orleans, Gulfport, etc.) in the long term. That said, the strongest candidate for Katrina Makeover so far has been: The media. The rise of a "new," "adversarial" media is the most viral meta-meme making the rounds. I predict it'll be dead before New Orleans is dry. I'll explain why, but first, a quick survey:

New York magazine: "In many ways, [Anderson] Cooper and [Brian] Williams defined a fork in the road for the future of broadcast journalism."

The New York Times (9/5/05): "CNN...and National Public Radio...both found their voices amidst the chaos."

The New York Times ("Reporters Turn From Deference To Outrage" 9/5/05): " is clear that television is having a major mood swing."

USA Today "Katrina Rekindles Adversarial Media" (9/5/05): "Reporters covering Hurricane Katrina on the scene showed their human — and often angry and frustrated — face as they questioned the slow response over the weekend...

"Says Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson, 'The media rose to the occasion, shone their light on the desolation and the needy, and kept it focused there until the cavalry finally began to arrive.'

"...some observers say that Katrina's media legacy may be a return to a post-Watergate-like era of tougher scrutiny of the federal government and public policy issues.

"'If any good comes from the catastrophe, it will be that it signaled the beginning of the media's reassertion of aggressive, in-your-face reporting, in which it confronts government wrongdoing, rather than just swallowing the government's public-relations handouts,' Levinson says."

USA Today (also Peter Johnson, but later in the day): "...experts and journalists predict that mounting questions about U.S. government preparation, policies and response to Hurricane Katrina will result in intense news coverage for months.

"Katrina 'doesn't just have legs, it has tentacles,' says Bob Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. 'Its implications reach into hot-button controversies involving race, poverty, economics and partisan politics. The reach of this story will make the O.J. Simpson case look like a news brief.'"

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (9/6/05): "...reporters and anchors have been asking tough questions in combative and even angry tones."

SF Indymedia (9/6/05): "Not for decades has there been such merciless questioning of the president and his administration by the US media."

Reuters (9/7/05): "American TV reporters and newscasters are covering Hurricane Katrina and problem-plagued relief efforts with a sense of outrage and antagonism many thought had long gone out of fashion in broadcast journalism."

Chicago Tribune "A Cronkite Moment in the Gulf Story" (9/9/05): "...we might be witnessing something no one thought was possible in this age. This may be a Cronkite Moment."

Boston Phoenix (9/9/05): " took a hurricane to wake up the press, raise the issue of race and class, and redefine the political landscape.

"Hurricane Katrina did not simply destroy physical infrastructure, social fabric, and countless lives on America’s Gulf Coast. It blew away the ground rules that had defined post-9/11 American politics and protected the most polarizing administration in recent history...

"All the elements that George W. Bush and Karl Rove had exploited for political gain — a timid and kowtowing mainstream media, a deafening silence about America’s growing underclass, the fear that criticizing the White House in the era of Al Qaeda was tantamount to treason, and Bush’s can-do, cowboy image — were shattered by the same winds and rains that savaged casinos in Biloxi and homes in Jefferson Parish."

USA Today (9/11/05): "ABC News executive Paul Slavin [says] 'Katrina has uncovered grave weaknesses in this country's ability to handle a crisis, and we need to make sure we hold officials accountable and investigate as best we can both what happened and what might happen.'"
Salon even posted a "Reporters Gone Wild" compilation reel.

So, what does the post-Katrina news media look like? In condensed form, the storyline goes like this: Their "timid and kowtowing" nature "shattered" by Katrina, the "rekindled" media are "asking tough questions," shining "their light on the desolation and the needy" with "merciless questioning of the president and his administration" in "a return to a post-Watergate-like era of tougher scrutiny of the federal government and public policy issues" "with a sense of outrage and antagonism many thought had long gone out of fashion" and "aggressive, in-your-face reporting, in which it confronts government wrongdoing;" "something no one thought was possible in this age...a Cronkite moment," complete with "reporters gone wild."

Wow. That's amazing. And indicative of a grave misunderstanding of some elemental forces that shape news media's editorial judgment. This mistake about the media will, very quickly, come to be seen just as ironically as we now consider the post-9/11 obituaries for irony itself.

Katrina became a media storm for a very simple reason: Its sheer magnitude overwhelmed the fundamentally flawed media levee known by the misnomer of "objectivity." My personal theory is that Watergate, rather than inspiring investigative journalism, inspired a generation of people who became journalists not to challenge power, but to gain the fame that comes with journalism's podium.

Look past the headlines of the stories I've posted above, and you'll see in them the seeds for the return of old-time, useless "journalism." Here are a couple important points SF Indymedia made, though I think the author missed the meaning of the former:
"Never before, say some observers, have US reporters been so emotionally involved in a story to the point of being enraged.

"They are not just telling a story, they have become part of it.

"'Has Katrina saved the US media,?' asked BBC reporter Matt Wells who sees the shift in tone as a potentially historic development.

"A number of US journalists who cover federal politics, especially television presenters, had become part of the political establishment, says Wells.

"'They live in the same suburbs, go to the same parties. Their television companies are owned by large conglomerates who contribute to election campaigns.'

"It's a 'perfect recipe' for fearful, self-censoring reportage, he says, but thinks 'since last week, that's all over'."
No, it's not. And the reason is that after Katrina, the same reporters who were emotionally engaged, and outraged, will return to their desks and their bureaus. And their suburbs. And their parties.

The emotional root of The New Adversarialism is just one reason it will be short-lived; such high-pitched feelings can't and won't last (and shouldn't: Journalists who really cared about Katrina's victims would have wept less afterward and done more boring, public-policy stories beforehand). Nikki Finke in the LA Weekly attributes the death of The New Adversarialism to corporate politics. But even more profoundly at work here is the dynamic of how the media engage not with emotion but with the nature of reality itself.

Yes, this was the first time many of these reporters and journalists saw such conditions on U.S. soil, but the reason that translated into outrage had to do not with emotion, but fact and objectivity. This was the first story in which a critical mass of high-level, decision-making media were on the ground to witness X and have government officials tell them to their face "-X."

It was the first time they were directly, personally cognizant of the Bush administration's willingness to lie to their face about matters they could verify instantly with their own eyes.

This was a shocking event. It was an outrage. Look at who was outraged: Primarily reporters on the ground. The schism at Fox News was not between secret liberals and true conservatives, it was between Shepard Smith knee-deep in reality and Bill O'Reilly back in the studio.

Katrina changed the nature of media coverage because it overcame the media not emotionally but epistemologically. If human suffering were the sole trigger for media outrage, why have the past few years' rising poverty rate -- casting millions of Americans into squalor and despair -- not unleashed the same fury Katrina did? It's because the causal nature of the former is more elusive than the latter. That cognitive distance between cause and effect guarantees the old media will return far too soon.

Why? Media decision-makers don't understand very well themselves why Bush budget policies are factually, objectively, inarguably biased toward the rich: Hence, they won't articulate, let alone explain, that position to their viewers. Media decision-makers don't understand very well themselves not just why evolution is real but must be real: Hence, they wrongly assume they're fulfilling their responsibilities by presenting "both" "sides," when they're actually abdicating their responsibilities by treating one "side" as though it's credible. A journalist's job is not merely to say, "He said/She said." A good journalist says, "He said/She said, but our investigation/analysis revealed that Her numbers have a greater claim to factuality and He has a history of twisting facts." Katrina did the journalism for them by literally swamping journalists with irrefutable, unmistakeable facts.

Without a hurricane at their doorstep, the flow of facts fueling The New Adversarialism will dry up. Don't believe me? It's already happening. Ask Larry Johnson. Already, and on the issue of Katrina itself, he's allegedly been informed by MSNBC that verifiable, quantifiable, empirical matters of fact are actually matters of "opinion" and "perspective."

On the Daily Show, one of the newest and last TV outlets of genuine journalism, Brian Williams, The Transformed Man, was asked who was at fault. "I'm gonna let that one go," he said. "I don't do opinions, I'm going to leave it to others." But Brian, dude, it's not an opinion. It's a matter of law and statute and the performance of public officials under same. Williams mistakes it for opinion because he'd have to convey it in the same way he would an opinion: Not with video of a starving flood survivor, but with nothing more than his assertion that, yes, NBC has assessed applicable laws and statutes and determined that Agency X bore primary responsibility for evacuation coordination and State Department Y was legally in charge of initial law-enforcement response and X only provided 72.3% of buses needed and Y failed to implement maximum-response measures. It feels like an opinion because it can be disagreed-with (out of dishonesty or ignorance) but that doesn't obligate Williams to treat it like an opinion.

The ultimate evidence that this is not a Cronkite moment comes from the simple fact that Cronkite's moment was his declaration of U.S. woes in Vietnam. It became a Cronkite moment because Cronkite did not have the luxury of video proving him right but put his credibility on the line to warn America what the reality was even though Americans could, out of ignorance or ideology, reject his assessment in a way they could not reject video. Katrina gave American media the safety net of objectively indisputable, immediately verifiable reality. Vietnam did not. Katrina will actually prove to be the anti-Cronkite moment. If today's media wants a Cronkite moment, they already have had several years of opportunity to claim that moment: In Iraq.

That they have failed to do so, that they still embrace and mistake omni-subjectivity as objectivity, indicates that we're already returning to the "who-knows-what's-true" school of anti-journalism journalism that nurtured the growth of neglectful government that made possible the post-Katrina woes over which those same journalists wept. And already it makes those fleeting days of early September -- of direct confrontation and confident assertion of fact -- seem positively antediluvian.

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