Thursday, June 28, 2007

Freedom Fries Are Soooooooo 9/11

New York Post [Page Six] - June 28, 2007:

Quiche Next

Rudy Giuliani was as down on the cheese-eating surrender monkeys of France as any red-blooded American - until Nicolas Sarkozy was described as the Gallic version of "America's mayor" and elected First Frog. At an appearance at a temple in Maryland this week, Giuliani said, "I wasn't drinking French wine for a while. Then, the New York Post had an article that the 'French Rudy' was elected. I'm
drinking French wine again."

Godwin's Law May Apply

In which case, we could just send all copies of the book straight to /dev/null.

The illustrious Jonah Goldberg is "boldly" publishing an expose on the fascist left. It turns out, in a politically risky and "startling new perspective," that the real Nazis are not US conservatives, but US liberals, including FDR, who, ironically, was trying to get the US into a war with Hitler long before it was politically possible. Perhaps that was just because there can, as it were, be only one. Surely this is a dangerous position for Goldberg to espouse publicly, which is why we should all admire his courage, and his, er, ingenuity.

The publisher's page on the book boasts:

Impeccably researched and persuasively argued, LIBERAL FASCISM will elicit howls of indignation from the liberal establishment–and rousing cheers from the Right.
Yes, that's exactly what American political discourse needs more of: cheers and jeers. Thanks to the editors of the National Review for their contribution to rational conversation, which these days takes the form of mutual name-calling. Apparently, an early working title for the book was, Nunh-Uh! You are!

Great, we're all Nazis. Can we move on, now?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hearts Eaten Out 4 Ronald Reagan!

W has finally had the impact on the Supreme Court that American conservatives hoped you would.

The U.S. Supreme Court, with two new appointees by President Bush, is showing itself to be far more conservative and more deeply divided than in the recent past – despite Chief Justice Roberts' talk of consensus. Four out of five cases decided June 25 were 5-4 rulings. [emphasis added]
TalkLeft reads Stevens' amazing dissent for us. A snippet:
. . . To the extent the Court independently finds that “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” objectively amounts to the advocacy of illegal drug use—in other words, that it can most reasonably be interpreted as such—that conclusion practically refutes itself. This is a nonsense message, not advocacy. The Court’s feeble effort to divine its hidden meaning is strong evidence of that. Ante,at 7 (positing that the banner might mean, alternatively, “ ‘[Take] bong hits,’ ” “ ‘bong hits [are a good thing],’ ” or “ ‘[we take] bong hits’ ”). Frederick’s credible and uncontradicted explanation for the message—he just wanted to get on television—is also relevant because a speaker who does not intend to persuade his audience can hardly be said to be advocating anything.7 But most importantly, it takes real imagination to read a “cryptic” message (the Court’s characterization, not mine, see ibid., at 6) with a slanting drug reference as an incitement to drug use. Admittedly, some high school students (including those who use drugs) are dumb. Most students, however, do not shed their brains at the schoolhouse gate, and most students know dumb advocacy when they see it. The notion that the message on this banner would actually persuade either the average student or even the dumbest one to change his or her behavior is most implausible. That the Court believes such a silly message can be proscribed as advocacy underscores the novelty of its position, and suggests that the principle it articulates has no stopping point.
And by the way: Snugglebunnies! Snugglebunnies! Snuggle . . .

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Rush to Support Abu Mazen: Too Little, Too Late

So after all this time spent trying to divide and conquer, the Israelis may actually have to pick a side. They're finally releasing funds to the PA in an effort to bolster Abbas.

In one of a range of measures it is weighing to support Abbas, Israeli Cabinet members agreed in principle to start giving him $550 million in frozen Palestinian tax money. Israel has withheld the funds - mostly customs duties that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians - since January 2006, when Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary elections. Israel considers Hamas a terrorist group.

The freeze left previous Palestinian governments unable to pay full salaries to government employees, who support one-third of the Palestinian people. Olmert told his Cabinet that the unlocking of the tax revenues was meant to support the new Palestinian government. Abbas expelled Hamas from the government after the group took Gaza.

That's genius. Expel the people in charge from the government. It's like Charles I ordering Cromwell not to cut his head off. Oh, and never mind that Hamas actually won an election. And then won a little war, a war essentially encouraged by Israel, at least until the bad guys won.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Could They Just Handle Iraq for Us?

In a hilarious spat between England and the conservative Muslim world that reads like it would be a great Monty Python sketch, "leading Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami said during his Friday prayers sermon in Tehran [that] 'The old and decrepit government of Great Britain should know that the era of their empire is over and today they are a valet in the service of the United States.'"


Apparently, this is supposed to provoke the UK into revoking Sir Salman's knighthood and turning him over, because, apparently, that old fatwa is still in effect.

In Karachi more than 1,000 people chanted their support for comments made on Monday by Religious Affairs Minister Ijaz-ul Haq, that Rushdie's knighthood justified suicide bombings.
You have got to be fucking kidding. Right?

This one is stupid, but it's at least funny. Keep thinking Monty Python -- Eric Idle doing a BBC News report:

Pakistani traders offered a reward of 10 million rupees (165,000 dollars) late Thursday for anyone who beheads Rushdie, while a group of Islamic scholars awarded Osama bin Laden their highest honour in a tit-for-tat move.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Monday, June 18, 2007

Israel, Hamas, and the Art of Digging a Deeper Hole

As Uri Avnery points out, Israel -- in semi-partnership with the US -- made this mess (so-called "Hamastan"), by opposing first Arafat and then his successor at every turn, while at the same time, most recently, arming Fatah in the territories. Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing? Is there a plan for what happens when Abbas (and Fatah) fails and Hamas is finally really in charge? One suspects not, but I guess we're about to find out.

Our government has worked for years to destroy Fatah, in order to avoid the need to negotiate an agreement that would inevitably lead to the withdrawal from the occupied territories and the settlements there. Now, when it seems that this aim has been achieved, they have no idea what to do about the Hamas victory. [ . . . ]

Successive Israeli governments have destroyed Fatah systematically, cut off the feet of Abbas and prepared the way for Hamas. They can't pretend to be surprised.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Coup by an Elected Government

Say what you want about Fisk, he is spot on:

How troublesome the Muslims of the Middle East are. First, we demand that the Palestinians embrace democracy and then they elect the wrong party - Hamas - and then Hamas wins a mini-civil war and presides over the Gaza Strip. And we Westerners still want to negotiate with the discredited President, Mahmoud Abbas. Today "Palestine" - and let's keep those quotation marks in place - has two prime ministers. Welcome to the Middle East.

Who can we negotiate with? To whom do we talk? Well of course, we should have talked to Hamas months ago. But we didn't like the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. They were supposed to have voted for Fatah and its corrupt leadership. But they voted for Hamas, which declines to recognise Israel or abide by the totally discredited Oslo agreement.

No one asked - on our side - which particular Israel Hamas was supposed to recognise. The Israel of 1948? The Israel of the post-1967 borders? The Israel which builds - and goes on building - vast settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land, gobbling up even more of the 22 per cent of "Palestine" still left to negotiate over ? [ . . . ]

It's easy, of course, to call down a curse on both their houses. But that's what we say about the whole Middle East. If only Bashar al-Assad wasn't President of Syria (heaven knows what the alternative would be) or if the cracked President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad wasn't in control of Iran (even if he doesn't actually know one end of a nuclear missile from the other). [ . . . ]

So what will we do? Support the reoccupation of Gaza perhaps? Certainly we will not criticise Israel. And we shall go on giving our affection to the kings and princes and unlovely presidents of the Middle East until the whole place blows up in our faces and then we shall say - as we are already saying of the Iraqis - that they don't deserve our sacrifice and our love.

How do we deal with a coup d'état by an elected government?

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Gay Rights in . . . Colombia???

The Colombian legislature has voted to recognize same-sex unions.

"I think this is an incredible victory that should resonate across both continents, north and south," said Scott Long, director of the gay rights program at Human Rights Watch in New York. "It should definitely be an example to the United States. Colombia is a country that's Catholic, with a conservative government, and they still recognize that this is the right thing to do."

Colombia, like most Latin American countries, does not have fundamentalist groups with the kind of influence and funding to launch a national campaign against gay rights. But it does have a powerful Catholic Church, which argued that extending rights to same-sex couples would violate church doctrine. "This gives legal sanctity to families that are artificial and false," said José Galat, a prominent Catholic activist.

After a long public battle, advocates from groups such as Diverse Colombia slowly won over many lawmakers in Congress. Among those who support the bill is President Álvaro Uribe, a conservative Catholic. He is expected to sign the measure.

OK, there's still that matter of paramilitaries and of half of US military aid going right back to American contractors, but still . . .

Progressive Taxation is in the Wind

Via the Economist, yesterday:

In Britain several parliamentarians have grumbled after Nicholas Ferguson, a leading figure in British private equity, recently admitted that partners in buy-out firms get away with paying less tax than office cleaners.
The editors discuss the same legislation (introduced Thursday) as that covered in this WSJ article.
The fuse to Thursday's bomb was apparently lit back in February shortly after Democrats took control of Congress. That's when Fortress launched its public offering, stirring heavy press coverage of big payouts -- and drawing more scrutiny from the new leaders on Capitol Hill, who came in hungry to find new revenues to pay for new spending plans.

Senate Finance aides started researching more an issue that had, until then, been largely unfamiliar to them, and stumbled on some scathing accounts in the tax trade press about the advantages of the Fortress deal.
The Economist editors continue:
Sceptics might suggest that the senators [Baucus and Grassley, who introduced the legislation] are merely the agents of the bispartisan politics of envy [or resentment?]. Yet the electorate has much to envy. The public has not warmed to Steve Schwarzman, Blackstone’s co-founder. His 60th birthday bash attracted much press attention for featuring a set by Rod Stewart for which he was reputedly paid $1m. That lapse of taste brought greater scrutiny of his wealth. He is expected to sell stock worth as much as $677m, leaving him a 24% stake valued at almost $8 billion, unless the senators get their way. When Blackstone's shares start trading, perhaps later this month, he should trump Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs on rich lists. Last year alone he earned $398m, almost double the combined pay of the bosses of Wall Street's five largest investment banks.
Well, when you work twice as hard and create twice as much value in the economy as the leaders of Wall Street's five largest investment banks combined, you ought to get a tax break. Sheesh. I mean, how much value are those office cleaners creating? And how hard are they really working? Those offices practically clean themselves.

The Real Scientific World

Scientism! The Reality TV Series

By FERDINAND THROTTLEGRIP, Associated Press Writer

31 Minutes Ago

LOS ANGELES, Calif - Television and movie producers, eager to cash in on the success of deity ass smacking books such as silver tonged Brit reductionist Richard Dawkins' "The God Delusion" and bathtub gin distiller/ part time writer Christopher Hitchens' "God Is Not Great" are running, not walking, to develop film and television projects based on the middle finger to the sky zeitgeist.

Noted reality tv producer Mark Burnett is currently in talks with Dawkins to create a new series tentatively named Shut the F*** Up, Sit the F*** Down and Have A Hot Cup of Science! It's also known as Hot Cup of Science, for short.

"We're very excited about this new project with Prof Dawkins" Burnett said during a recent Hollywood Reporter interview. "It's going to be a hard hitting show - this one's really going to ruffle some feathers, cause fur to stand on end, make grandmothers lose their false teeth, bring 19 year olds to orgasm and generally shake things up - which always means ratings and later, new private jets...for me."

The show will send Dawkins, dressed in a silver jumpsuit and accompanied by a space suited chimp named Reason, around the US. "Let's say there's a little Bible study group meeting in the basement of a quaint, Midwestern US town; Dawkins and Reason will pop in, uninvited of course, and tell everyone to sit the f*** down and enjoy a hot cup of science!"

When asked by Hollywood Reporter what the intrepid atheist team would do if everyone was already seated and provided with beverages, Burnett said "those details will be worked out as the show takes more solid shape."
[Posted to LBO-Talk by Dwayne]

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Friday, June 15, 2007

George W Bush is Bad for Capitalism

I know it sounds crazy, but check out this Economist blog post by Jason Furman, along the lines of yesterday's piece from the WSJ. Sez Furman:

Summers, Bordoff and I argue that an important part of the solution to rising inequality is a progressive fiscal system. [ . . . ]

Unfortunately, the progressive tax system offset only about 7 percent of the $664 billion income shift since 1979. Absent the tax cuts enacted [by W] starting in 2001, the tax system would have offset 20 percent of the increase in inequality. [emphasis added]
So, thanks to W, progressive taxes offset about 1/3 of the increase in inequality that they would have offset had Clinton's tax system remained in place.

Why does income inequality matter? Let's let noted Marxist economist, comrade Alan Greenspan, explain it to us:
Income inequality is where the capitalist system is most vulnerable. You can’t have the capitalist system if an increasing number of people think it is unjust.
So, in short, by contributing substantially to increasing income inequality, George W. Bush has put capitalism itself at risk.

OK. Does this mean I'm for four more years [ahem], or that I am now happy about the last eight? No. Income inequality is A Bad Thing. What's interesting, of course, is that Greenspan doesn't actually say that it's unjust. But recognition of a PR problem with capitalism is fueling a move from odd quarters back toward more progressive taxation. Yes, gross (and growing) income inequality is a symptom of a broken system, and so progressive taxation is sort of a band-aid. But it's still right, given the circumstances, and worth trying to get.

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Viva Vivoleum

Sez "Shepard Wolff:"

"We've got to get ready. After all, fossil fuel development like that of my company [Exxon] is increasing the chances of catastrophic climate change, which could lead to massive calamities, causing migration and conflicts that would likely disable the pipelines and oil wells. Without oil we could no longer produce or transport food, and most of humanity would starve. That would be a tragedy, but at least all those bodies could be turned into fuel for the rest of us."

"We're not talking about killing anyone," added the "NPC rep." "We're talking about using them after nature has done the hard work. After all, 150,000 people already die from climate-change related effects every year. That's only going to go up - maybe way, way up. Will it all go to waste? That would be cruel."
And, as Exxon's Kenneth Cohen points out, with respect to Exxon's concerns about climate change, "We're very much not a denier, very much at the table with our sleeves rolled up."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Wealthy have a Great Idea: Progressive Taxation!

According to the Wall Street Journal,

A new argument is emerging among the pro-globalization crowd in the U.S., the folks who see continued globalization and trade as vital to the country's prosperity: Tax the rich more heavily to thwart an economically crippling political backlash against trade prompted by workers who see themselves -- with some justification -- as losers from globalization.
How . . . innovative. No wonder those guys make so much money. But here's the interesting part:
The sharpest articulation of this view comes not from one of the Democratic presidential campaigns, but from economist Matthew Slaughter, who recently left President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers to return to Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business.
Welcome aboard, d0rks.

More keen insight:

"Individuals are asking themselves, 'Is globalization good for me?' and in a growing number of cases, arriving at the conclusion that it is not," Messrs. Slaughter and Scheve write. (You can see why Mr. Slaughter waited until he had left the Bush administration to speak his mind.) [Not that Bush doesn't encourage his staff to speak their minds.]

The conventional response from fans of globalization, including the Bush administration, is rhetorical support for more aid for workers hurt by imports to salve the immediate pain and better education to equip the next generation of Americans with skills needed to command high wages in a global economy. Both are crucial. Progress on both is painfully inadequate.

But trade-adjustment assistance is traditionally targeted narrowly at workers hurt by imports. Today's angst about globalization is far more pervasive. Whatever the actual impact of offshore outsourcing today, it has millions of white-collar workers frightened. And education takes generations to pay off.

What to do? To preserve political support for the globalization dividend, spread the benefits more broadly by taxing winners more and losers less.

"It is best not to address increasingly salient concerns about inequality by interfering with trade," Mr. Summers argued at a forum sponsored by the Hamilton Project, the think tank he and others founded to provide intellectual fodder for like-minded politicians. His solution: use progressive taxation to offset some, but not all, of the increase in inequality. For starters, return tax rates for couples with incomes above $200,000 to the levels they were under President Clinton. [ . . . ]

This, obviously, would be a sea change in fiscal policy. Mr. Clinton raised taxes, especially at the top, to bring down the deficit. Mr. Bush cut taxes, especially on the top. But all this talk is likely to influence any Democrat who takes the White House in 2008. He or she will almost surely move to raise taxes on the best-off Americans -- both to raise revenue to pay the bills and to resist the three-decade-old inequality trend.

Um. Am I misreading this, or did a WSJ writer just recommend Clinton's taxation policies? And imply that the current situation is a result of Bush's tax cuts? Are the wealthy finally recognizing that it is in their interest not to be total fuckers?

The Atheist Imagination/Imaginary

[Originally extended February 19, 2006 at the old BrainMortgage offices.]

Rereading Rorty's Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity* for my ethics seminar, I came across a pithy articulation of the nature of cultural change:

What the Romantics expressed as the claim that imagination, rather than reason, is the central human faculty was the realization that a talent for speaking differently, rather than for arguing well, is the chief instrument for cultural change.(7)
Now, we could take this and apply it to any number of ways liberals and leftists consistently employ vocabularies of disdain and denigration with respect to conservatives, particularly the lower class they so often see themselves as fighting for. But I want to think more specifically about religious belief and its place in the world, theism being one of those things about which many leftists and liberals are particularly disdainful, even vitriolic. They can no more understand religionists' belief in God or rejection of evolution than they can comprehend lower-class conservatives voting for W.

The problem with atheism is not that it's wrong as a religious position, but rather that it suffers from a two-fold failure of imagination. First, there seems to be (and I admit I am generalizing) a tendency among atheists to understand science as "disproving" the existence of a creator God, particularly as that God is represented in the Bible. Unfortunately, this simply reinforces religionist understandings of science by participating in a reading of creation narratives as history or science (which they are not). Evolution only "refutes" the creation account in the Bible if we think they are telling us the same story; of course, that is also the only context in which the Biblical creation account might be understood to "refute" evolution. Better to jettison the literalist/historico-scientific hermeneutic altogether and argue what is much more plausible and more compelling, namely that Biblical creation narratives try to tell us something about how meaning arises in the world, rather than making factual claims (whether we see them as true or false) about the history of the cosmos.

The second failure of imagination within atheism is that atheists haven't found ways of talking about living in the world that are more compelling (more useful to people, more aesthetically pleasing, etc.) than religious ways of talking about living in the world. Should we be surprised, then, that religious people don't adopt an atheist vocabulary? Maybe part of the problem is the naturalist bent of so many atheists: however creative they might be in their scientific or philosophical work (and many of them are . . . although many are surely not), they see atheism precisely as a logical problem instead of as a language game, and religious belief as simply the result of ignorance or misunderstanding, rather than as a failure of atheism to bring anything useful to the table.

The problem arises, it seems to me, when atheists (or theists) are absolutists about the veracity of their language game as opposed to any other, instead of seeing that language game as a means toward the end of a better world. Such people are perhaps more in service of "the Truth" than of justice or equity or even happiness, which seem secondary considerations at best. Maybe that is a good definition of religion?

Of course, this also shows us how the atheist who takes atheism as programmatic actually agrees with the theist/religionist who takes his or her religion programmatically. Both argue that the Truth is out there; they also agree on the kind of truth it is. They disagree only on the means of attaining it. When it comes to a just world, both will say that the (only) foundation for a better, more just, happier world is the Truth, which is only available to us from the perspective of my religious position. Only when we admit that no/my God rules the cosmos will it be possible for humanity to achieve its highest state.

Personally, I don't see the need to impose a vocabulary of atheism before or as part of promoting a vocabulary of justice. To see a discourse of justice as possibly only within a discourse of theism or, conversely, within a discourse of atheism, is to construct a language game that narrows rather than expands the idea of justice, which seems precisely contradictory to the vocabulary of justice itself.

That said, many if not most theists need to adopt more coherent religious vocabularies; specifically, they need to stop talking religion like it's science.

*Love that serial comma.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Rorty on the Holy

Richard Rorty, arguably the greatest of all American philosophers, has died of pancreatic cancer . . . which also killed Jacques Derrida (and, coincidentally, my father; huh). I suppose I ought to write something substantive about Rorty's philosophical project or his impact on my own thinking, but anyone who reads what I post here about science, religion, and ethics will already have seen it. And others are doing a fine job of posting such personal witness. Habermas has this to say, concluding thus:

Nothing is sacred to Rorty the ironist. Asked at the end of his life about the "holy", the strict atheist answered with words reminiscent of the young Hegel: "My sense of the holy is bound up with the hope that some day my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law."