Sunday, December 31, 2006

Jon Meachams and the Parallel Universes

Newsweek God Boy Jon Meacham tells Drudge that his magazine tomorrow is slapping Gerry Ford, rather than Saddam Hussein, on the cover, because Hussein's "death in 2006 matters less than his removal in 2003 does." As if Ford's death in 2006 matters MORE than his removal in 1977 did?

It's this kind of thinking (i.e., non-) that has so thoroughly defined the Ford coverage. Over on, Walter Shapiro tells us that "only the most stubborn and unyielding Nixon haters still question whether the cleanse-the-air pardon was justified." The problem is, the pardon didn't "cleanse" the air. The pardon was Lysol.

Every don't-hate-me-cuz-I'm-liberal pundit is out there now saying, "yes, of course, I see now that the pardon was the wise thing to do, so that we as a nation could heal." Only Nixon-haters, we are told, think otherwise.

The problem with this is that the only way you can know that a pardon "healed" this country better than a trial would have, is if you saw the trial, and the after-effects of it. The only people who have done that are those such as the Flash and the Fantastic Four who are capable of casual travel to parallel universes.

And everyone's prognostications about a trial seem to stop with the trial itself. The trial would be ugly. The two parties would fight over it. People would say mean things. Yeah? So? Then what?

Let's check out Earth-Nixon for ourselves. Maybe there's an ugly trial. Partisan divides run deeper than they did during Earth-Pardon's Reagan-Carter campaign. If anything, conservatives would be even more ticked off than they were. So let's assume Reagan still carries the day.

Is it maybe, just slightly possible that one of the tertiary or, um, four-iary, or five-iary effects of a Nixon trial -- along with humiliating testimony, certainty of guilt and actual punishment -- might have been a chastening of those who sought to expand executive power? Specifically, is it possible that the Nixon/Ford veterans who argued even back in the '70s that the White House can do whatever it wants, might have been humbled or scared enough to rein in those impulses? Or even genuinely question them?

If so, is it possible--just maybe--that by the year 2000, neither Ford/Nixon veteran Donald Rumsfeld nor Dick Cheney would be quite so eager to push their inexperienced new president to unprecedented heights of executive hubris and constitutional violation? I don't know. We'll never know. All the editorial we's out there do seem to know is that...the pardon was right.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

If Americans Don't Wake Up There Will Be Many More Christians Elected to Office

Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Constitution in mind and no religious text in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. Or the Torah. Or the Bible (unless someone fixes it). Virgil Goode, The Christian Representative from Virginia, was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Thomas Jefferson position on separation there will likely be many more Christians elected to office and demanding the use of the Bible. We need to stop eroding separation totally and respect no establishment of religion and end the diversity faith policy pushed hard by President Bush and allowing many persons from the Middle Ages to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Christians in the United States if we do not adopt the strict separation policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” are off the wall. A Christian student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Bible. My response was clear, “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of America as the United States President, The Bible is not going to be on the wall of my office.” Thank you again for your email and thoughts.

Sincerely yours,
Thomas Jefferson
931 Thomas Jefferson Parkway
Charlottesville, VA 22902


Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Person of the Year Is Dead

Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2006 is (yawn) YOU! Cuz you, y'know, did stuff. You posted videos on YouTube and, um, voted and stuff.

If it feels like another Time Magazine wimp-out, well, that astuteness is just one reason why YOU are Person of the Year.
Five out of the last six Persons of the Year have been bogus, safe, avoid-a-choices. The worst, of course, was Rudolph Giuliani in 2001. Yeah, sorry, no. That would be Osama bin Laden. If anyone's unclear on this, just build yourself a time machine and check out the history books of the future.

We all know that Time's ostensible criteria is not wonderfulness but impact, right? Not a moral choice, but, theoretically, a journalistic choice.

After Giuliani, we've had WHISTLEBLOWERS, SOLDIERS and THREE RICH PHILANTHROPISTS. The whistleblowers might've qualified if we'd had a Congress interested in whistles at the time. The soldiers might have qualified if they had done something other than what they were instructed to do by the commander-in-chief at the time (whose invasion of Iraq in 2003 is really the one thing that historically will justify Bush ever having been Person of the Year). Bono and Bill Gates? And, um, Mrs. Bill Gates?

Yeah, I think the world is still reverberating with the impact of their, um, stuff. What Time Magazine should have done was chosen one or a few of the architects of the Democratic seizure of both houses of Congress. You know -- the way they did when Newt Gingrich spearheaded a LESS successful coup. Howard Dean would have been the obvious choice, though Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer would have been interesting, provocative additions, too.

See, Time seems to have made the mistake of forgetting they're looking for whomever has had the greatest PLURALITY of impact. In other words, assuming no one was responsible for more than 50 percent of the world's direction in a given year (the way, say, bin Laden was), then you go for whomever had not the majority of the impact, but more impact than anyone else.

Time Magazine has now succumbed to what would have been a brilliant Onion reductio ad absurdum of its wussyish inability to actually make a choice the past few years. They can't choose anyone, so they choose everyone. There's only one place to go from here.

In the year 2007, Time will actually have to return to doing journalism and choose whomever actually has the greatest impact on the year, or just give in and name Everything Ever as 2007's Person of the Year.

Oh, and I don't want to appear ungrateful to Time, of course, so, um, thanks for the recognition. It's going on the resume.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006


This actually isn't about Barack Obama. It's about...BARACK OBAMA. It's about the fact that, if Barack Obama is a presidential frontrunner, the Democratic Party is in trouble. I don't mean they're in electoral trouble because Obama is unelectable. He seems quite electable to me.

I mean that his status as a frontrunner indicates that the party has failed to use the example of the past six years to redefine the paradigm of presidential candidates and electability. George W. Bush won, in large part, because he had (to some people) more charisma than Gore or Kerry. He also won because he knew how to treat the media: Like dirt. Gore and Kerry treated the media as if they deserved respect, which, of course, the media knew not to be true and therefore reciprocated with contempt. Paging Groucho Marx.

Obama hasn't even announced (I'm not convinced he will, either) and already some of the savvier observers out there are giving the media shit for their boosterism. Nicole at Crooks and Liars thinks the media attention is disproportionate to the electoral support. And on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart's "correspondent" Samantha Bee gushed about Obama's Jesusian qualities.

In other words, he's winning on all the things the media wants in a candidate. By now, the Democrats should have changed the way the media and the public think about their candidates. That a senator with two years of experience in national politics is considered a frontrunner tells me that we're still -- despite Tora Bora, Iraq and Katrina -- treating this job as though it were class president.

It's time we started choosing presidents the way we would brain surgeons--based on track record, experience and competence, not on whether we'd want to have a beer with them. If Democrats don't start insisting on those boring criteria, it's only a matter of time until the Republicans whip up a machine that's better at generating flashy, pizzazzy candidates primed to lure away all the voters responding to whatever's sparkly and shiny.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Let God Sort 'Em Out

I don't know if what I'm about to say is right or not. I'm not advocating it as a thought-out plan that I can defend rationally. This is an emotional response to Iraq, though I'd be interested in hearing what a political/historical/rational rebuttal would be.

David Brooks' Sunday column in the New York Times (free here) looks back from some unspecified day in the future to assess the damage done by a U.S. pullout from Iraq circa next year. As you might expect, the Middle East has fallen apart...from its, um, y'know, terrific current state.

I've opposed the Iraq War from the start. Call me nuts, but as a New Yorker, I was kind of interested in finishing the fucking job in Afghanistan/Pakistan. That said, once we went in to Iraq and fucked the place up, in a weird kind of way, the U.S. failure there made me, in essence, pro-war. Meaning, in Powell's phrase, I bought the idea that "we broke it, we bought it." I thought we had a moral obligation to protect the Iraqis from the chaotic forces we had unleashed. Now, it seems pretty clear, the Iraqis want us out.

And I'm a lot less sure these days that they, or the rest of the Middle East, deserve having American blood spilled to preserve their stability. And the reason for that is the rise of the militias. I'm sure there are lots, maybe millions, of Iraqis who embody the ideal Iraqi we were told about: The secular, free-market, tolerant, modernist Iraqi. There just aren't enough of them willing to fight for that kind of society.

So, to David Brooks, I'm inclined to say, basically, bring it on. Let the Middle East go. If they want to kill each other over which descendant of Mohammed is Allah's real best buddy, well, then--what's the phrase?--fuck 'em. Are we really worried about what these messed up morons would do if they got a nation-state of their own?


At least we'd know where to find them. And I wouldn't mind giving Osama bin Laden the added burden of having to keep the potholes filled in whatever backwater state would have him as boss. What Bush has wrong about Iraq is that democracy is not a cure-all. The founding fathers knew you need more than just democracy. You need things like freedom of the press and religion. You need education.

Without those things, democracy can yield leaders like Hezbollah and Muqtada al-Sadr. The founding fathers also said you get the leaders you deserve. Maybe it's time to give radical, fundamentalist Islam a shot at the big time. If that's the way Iraq wants to go, or any other country, maybe we should allow the world to see how it fares. Not like Iran -- where the zealots inherited a western-style infrastructure in toto -- but starting fresh.

I think radical, fundamentalist Islam is incompatible with a successful nation-state. I don't think Iran's going to make it for the long haul in its current state.

And if such a state were successful, then what? Fight us? Fight Europe? Good. Any bets on how long that conflict would last?

I don't know, maybe all this makes me a conservative, or even a neo-con, but I do think to some extent the people of a society are responsible for the leadership they tolerate. If the Iraqis don't want us there, and don't have the collective will to support secular institutions, well, shit, what are we doing there?

I'm not saying we shouldn't have some kind of mechanism for helping or extricating modernist Iraqis if their fellow countrymen want to turn their country into a war of rival religious factions, but to keep propping up a TYPE of society that so few of them seem committed to (and voter turnout is not, as President Bush would suggest, endorsement of a TYPE of democracy, just of their willingness to choose) for such ill-defined goals seems criminal at this point.

Islamic fundamentalism wants a chance to run countries. Lots of Arab Muslims want to live in such a country.

Osama bin Laden was a bigger threat to us than Afghanistan was. As we saw, it's a lot easier to fight the Taliban. Maybe if we had more Talibans, we'd have fewer bin Ladens.

At least we'd know where to drop the bombs. If anyone wants to talk me off the ledge, I'm open to it.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Kristof's Laziness and Lies

Nicholas Kristof's meek, predictable, unintelligent column in today's New York Times is headlined, unironically, "A Modest Proposal for a Truce on Religion." I say unironically, because whoever wrote the headline seems to be oblivious to the fact that "A Modest Proposal" was, in fact, an awful, hideous, stupid idea. As is Kristof's.

For one thing, the very concept of calling for a "truce" is disingenuous. A "truce" is generally something that benefits and harms both sides equally. Stop fighting, a truce says. But what Kristof is actually calling for is an end to the debate between those who argue that a truce is possible, and those who say it isn't. Which, of course, puts Kristof on the side of those who say a truce is possible.

Which side is that? The religious side, of course. There are three possible positions to take on atheism/reason/science vs. religion/faith/theism. You can argue that atheism/reason/science is right -- which some people do today. You can argue that both have their place -- which many/most people do today. Or you can argue that religion/faith/theism is right -- which virtually no one does today.


The idea that religion/faith/theism is right, without a place for atheism/reason/science, had a pretty good run. We now know it as the Dark Ages. Against religion's best efforts, the idea that humanity could/should rely on something other than faith to advance itself took hold in the Enlightenment.

That left religion two options: Give up, or start pushing the idea that, hey, it's a big world, there's plenty of room for our two contradictory epistemological systems to BOTH be right! With help from folks like Steven Jay Gould, eager to secure some safe territory for science, this view has come to predominate.

It has lots of appeal, because it LOOKS like moderation or compromise. Which may be fine things when you're not talking about determining objective truth. But it was a bogus compromise back when science needed it to survive, and it's a bogus one now that religion needs it, too.

Kristof exposes his bias, and agenda, in several lines. He cites both Richard Dawkins and a web site arguing that God hates amputees, to make the case that there is an "an increasingly assertive, often obnoxious atheist offensive...a militant, in-your-face brand of atheism that he and others are proselytizing for."

Assertive? Sure, Obnoxious? Compared to what? Pat Robertson? I'm not sure how Kristof defines obnoxiousness when he applies it to the side that uses sarcasm rather than to the side that says atheists are going to Hell.

Then he takes on the "acerbic" Sam Harris. What awful thing does Harris say?

Mr. Harris mocks conservative Christians for opposing abortion, writing: “20 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. There is an obvious truth here that cries out for acknowledgment: if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all.”

There's no mockery there. There's no nyah, nyah. There's no name-calling. There's an argument. Kristof has bought into the lie that applying reason or logic to religious claims is out of line somehow. But if we're supposed to accept Kristof's claim that the two can coincide, shouldn't we ALWAYS apply reason to religion, in order to determine which parts of the world fall into which jurisdiction?

After referring to fundamentalist religions, Kristof makes this comparison: "Yet the tone of this Charge of the Atheist Brigade is often just as intolerant — and mean. It’s contemptuous and even ... a bit fundamentalist."

Intolerant -- and mean. Contemputous...fundamentalist. Is Kristof saying that the (non-existent) Atheist Brigade's methods are all these things? Their legislative agenda? No. Their tone. Boo-fucking-hoo. Jesus, grow up.

Kristof overlooks the obvious question: Are they RIGHT? If they're wrong, hit them on that. But if they're right, then, duh, is there any reason their "tone" shouldn't be intolerant or contemptuous? Of course, dealing with whether they're RIGHT would be a lot tougher for Kristof. He'd have to deal with tough things like science and facts. Not to mention public outcry.

So he takes the classic easy-media-way-out: Call for a truce between two sides whose positions can and should, instead, be rationally debated and assessed. But Kristof is too focused on debating at the level of the average high-school sophomore:

Granted, religious figures have been involved throughout history in the worst kinds of atrocities. But as Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot show, so have atheists.

Moreover, for all the slaughters in the name of religion over the centuries, there is another side of the ledger. Every time I travel in the poorest parts of Africa, I see missionary hospitals that are the only source of assistance to desperate people.

Okay, maybe we can address these tired and moronic points once and for all. Zedong, Stalin and Pol Pot might or might not have been atheists. What's meaningful is not whether they as individuals were, but whether they as leaders were. They were not. To whatever extent they eradicated religion in their regimes (and Stalin let it back in when it served his ends -- proving that atheism was not his end), it was to the same extent that they eradicated, co-opted or seized control of every other social institution. Does anyone really think that if the United Atheist Alliance had been a powerful political force in Cambodia -- lobbying for legislation, pushing policies, endorsing candidates, whatever -- that Pol Pot would have said, "Keep up the good work, guys! I'll be over here oppressing everyone else if you need me!"

Atheism isn't right or necessary or valuable because it will eradicate all evil in the world. It's just as stupid to advance an anti-atheist argument on that basis as it is to argue against a cure for cancer because there will still be AIDS. And the fact that religious people in religious institutions do good certainly doesn't undermine the argument that the world would be better off without religion.

Who knows, maybe if more people understood that goodness doesn't come from god, we might make it easier for other people to join and form organizations devoted to doing good. We might even use the collective power of our governments to do so. And even if there were some good in the world that religion -- and only religion -- could bring us, that still doesn't justify propagating or even tolerating it. Without heroin we wouldn't have the works of William S. Burroughs. Kristof should not be in the business of weighing the relative benefits of believing in something, he should have the balls to assess whether that thing is true or not.

He doesn't, which is why he closes with this laughable observation:

Now that the Christian Right has largely retreated from the culture wars, let’s hope that the Atheist Left doesn’t revive them. We’ve suffered enough from religious intolerance that the last thing the world needs is irreligious intolerance.

For one thing, who knew that the Christian Right had largely retreated from the culture wars? You'd think that kind of thing would have merited coverage on the front page of Kristof's paper. No such luck.

But more importantly, Kristof closes with the lie that atheists are just as intolerant as the religiously intolerant. What Dawkins and Harris and others won't tolerate is the notion that we're supposed to treat religious beliefs as though they have passed the laugh test. Other than that, Kristof's implication that the intolerance of both sides is somehow equal is the kind of false, poisonous slur that's only tolerated by people unwilling to do the hard work of following the facts.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Webb v. Bush: Who Swung First?

The big debate, spurred by George Will's obtuse column, over whether incoming Sen. Jim Webb was rude to Pres. Bush in their exchange about Iraq, ignores the fact that Bush was rude first.

As Will put it, Bush merely "asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another." If that were the case, Will would be right: Webb would have been rude.

But Will is wrong. Bush is not "one parent" asking a "civil and caring question." Bush is the man who put Webb's son in harm's way. If one parent who had put another parent's son in a dangerous situation then approached that parent to inquire about how the son was doing in that dangerous situation, the natural response of ANY parent would be what Webb's instincts told him to do: Belt him in the face.

The reason Bush asked this question is not that he is civil and/or caring (does anyone really still think either?) but that he is a bully. It was a bully's question because Bush instinctively understood that he could ask it safely behind the protection of the same office he abused to put Webb's son in jeopardy.

Anyone who gets Bush should understand the following: Bush was testing Webb. Bush was pushing Webb to see how much deference the presidency would buy him.

He got his answer.

Newer Posts Older Posts Home