30 November, 2008

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

In the next four years, we're going to have a hellacious amount of work ahead trying to put the country back together. There's all of the damage from the Bush regime to set right, but the work doesn't stop there - the media's going to need a severe ass-kicking:

David Barstow had a devastating New York Times piece back in April, documenting the practice of retired U.S. generals appearing on the major cable networks as "independent" media analysts, while they were simultaneously working for defense contractors, and repeating talking points from the Pentagon. The painted picture was a train wreck of conflicts of interest and journalistic ethical malpractice.

Today, Barstow has yet another blockbuster, directing his focus to one of the more prominent retired generals: Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general, military analyst for NBC News, and highly-paid consultant to defense contractors.

It's really worth reading the whole piece, but Spencer Ackerman's take was spot-on.


[T]he scope of McCaffrey's hustle is really breathtaking. Barstow demonstrates that many, if not most, of the pronouncements he made on TV about the wars benefited one or another defense contractor who employed him. That's the way the scheme worked: Company hires retired general to use his connections to its benefit. Retired general accepts special grants of access from the office of the secretary of defense that benefit both his TV career and his consulting career. Retired general proclaims on TV things that benefit both the secretary and the company -- or, when circumstances necessitate, the company at the expense of the secretary. TV viewer, looking for informed analysis of confusing wars, is unaware of any of this. Welcome to the new military-media-industrial complex.

It's that bad. As Barstow explained, "On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC's viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television."

Allowing self-interested dickweeds to get away with selling a war to line their own pockets while claiming independence is something the media needs to be trained not to do. That's not journalism, it's fucking propaganda.

For those who still have a soft spot for torture, convinced that it works because Jack Bauer always gets the info he wants, I have bad news for ye:

In a Washington Post op-ed today, a former Special Operations interrogator who worked in Iraq in 2006 sharply criticizes American torture techniques as ineffective and dangerous. “Torture and abuse cost American lives,” he writes:

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. … It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.

The writer, who used a pseudonym for the article, adds that when he switched his team’s techniques to a rapport-building method, they found enormous success. One detainee told the author, “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”

Let me say it one more time, for the record: torture doesn't work. It's self-defeating, a damned fool way of getting information, doesn't give us accurate intel, and worsens situations drastically. Don't make me repeat myself.

This shit has to stop.

In other news, we might have to return the new SOFA:

On Thursday, 149 members of the Iraqi Parliament voted for approval of the SOFA, 126 either voted against or simply did not show up. While we wait for the decision of the three members of the Presidential Council – each of whom has a full veto – the reactions inside Iraq are understandably mixed given the uncertainty on what is even in the agreement.


Grand Ayatollah Sistani has made it clear he is not pleased with the agreement. "He had previously said he would not express an opinion on the pact and would leave it up to parliament to decide, as long as there was broad consensus in the event it was passed."

Today he made it clear that the standard of a “broad consensus” has not been met:

“There was no national consensus over the pact, a matter that disturbs the country,” the source said in a press statement that was made while Aswat al-Iraq was present. “The pact is incomplete and mysterious,” he added. The source questioned “the Iraqi government’s ability to execute the pact,” considering U.S. pressures in this regard. He also referred to preserving “Iraq’s sovereignty and funds.”

Looks like they've learned their democratic lessons from Bush very well indeed. Still and all, they're at least trying to make an effort at democracy, something Bush gave up on long ago.

In two days, Georgia will make a very important decision: whether to elect as their senator a reasonably intelligent man, or a complete fucking idiot:

This morning of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) about a statement he made in July when he argued that the U.S. economy “may not be in a recession.” Wallace played a recording of Chambliss from an ad released by Jim Martin’s campaign:

CHAMBLISS: We may not be in a recession. I don’t know what that term means.

Chambliss attempted to defend himself, saying that he was “quoting Alan Greenspan.” Wallace, however, noted that while Chambliss used the Greenspan quote in July 2008, Greenspan had said in April 2008 that “we’re headed into a recession.” Chambliss responded by attempting (and failing) to fall back on the “technical definition” of a recession...


Definitions aside, Chambliss’s apparent inability to recognize that the U.S. is in a recession demonstrates he is uninformed about the state of the economy. Indeed, the Federal Reserve’s latest economic outlook “warned that a recession is believed already to be underway could last until mid-2009 or later.” Further, as Forbes recently reported on the significant rise in unemployment claims in recent months, “[c]laims above 400,000 are generally considered a sign of recession, and claims have been above that level for 17 weeks.”

I really hope Georgians show more intelligence than Chambliss. We have enough stupid people in Congress as it is, thank you very much.

In closing, I'd like to turn your attention to an interesting idea:

The story of Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign serving as the catalyst of the modern conservative movement, which reshaped the Republican Party, is well known. But Neal Gabler presents an interesting idea today, arguing that the real father of modern conservatism is Sen. Joe McCarthy. Indeed, as far as Gabler is concerned, "the McCarthy gene" runs deep in the GOP's DNA, "and because it is genetic, it isn't likely to be expunged any time soon."

You know, the man could be on to something. It certainly would explain a lot...

Progress Report: We've Crossed the Line


Woozle was right.

We're not done yet. There's some cleaning up to do - atheist bios to add, a bibliography and list of resources to complete - but for the most part, this is the finished first draft. It never would have happened without your help, input and encouragement.

Copies will be going out in a few days to those of you who requested one (it's not too late - if you've decided you want an advanced peek, email me at dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to tear the damned thing apart. Help me improve the arguments, clean up the messy bits, cut the repetition, and kick this into shape. The goal is to make this catch a publisher's eye, so that we'll have one more tome on the shelves to swell out our paltry little atheism section. Either that, or bookstores will stick it smack in the middle of Christianity, which will be just as satisfying.

Nothing really outstanding emerged from tonight's writing - it was a matter of filling in the holes - but I'll give you this bit from the beginning, where I'm showing folks we can get along before I start smacking them with the common mistakes Christians make in conversation with us:


Atheists and Christians have already started talking. Not just that, they've started doing. In the past, we worked together on projects like abolishing slavery, advocating civil rights, and earning women the right to vote. We're working together today on all sorts of issues. There are plenty of areas where religious belief doesn't matter so much as shared ideals.

I want to highlight a few of the efforts and organizations out there that specifically and explicitally foster cooperation between believers and non-believers alike. We're not only united around shared ideals, we're united around the idea that we each bring unique strengths to our efforts to enrich and improve the world.

Many of us are also united in our desire to protect religious freedom. The following examples should give you an idea of what we can accomplish when we come together.

I go on to cite Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Talk to Action, the National Center for Science Education, a foodbank project between freethinkers and a Christian group, and a talk given by the Friendly Atheist at the Interfaith Youth Core Conference. It's a pretty good range of examples, I think.

Thank you all again for making this book not only a possibility, but a very likely success. You guys are teh awesome.

Best of luck to the rest of you who are in the final stretch of NaNoMadNess today. Once again, I find myself wishing we had a real cantina so I could be there with the drinkage for you after you've crossed the finish line.

You can do this. I don't have faith in gods, but I have faith in you.

Sunday Sensational Science

To Mark the Passing of Events

Sunday Sensational Science is over at Slobber and Spittle this week. Cujo359 has put together a fantastically beautiful article on clocks of all sorts, from the crudest clocks in stone to the most sensitive atomic models. I was grateful when he offered to let me filch it so that I could finish NaNo without trying to put together something non-hokey, and I'm thrilled with the result. We've got one of the best Sunday Science articles ever, and I finished this damned book.

Not bad!

Go. Enjoy. Wonder why the hell Dana can't do anything half so good.

Muchos gracias, Cujo! Salud, mi amigo.

Comic Book Secrets Revealed! Terrible News!

OMG, they're killing Batman! However will I cope?

Apparently, in the comic books, Batman is...


Bruce Wayne — who by night is Batman — gets murdered by a man claiming to be the father he thought was dead.

In a highly controversial new comic book storyline, Bruce, who first appeared in 1939, is killed by Simon Hurt — the leader of the shady Black Glove organization.

Now, my first response to this was, "Oh, for fuck's sake. It's been DONE."

The Stranger, my wonderful hometown newspaper, expressed my sentiments much better:

Oh my God. This is terrible. How could they kill Batman. Oh my God. There has never been anything like this in comic book history. They've raped my childhood. I must buy multiple copies of that issue because it is sure to be a collector's item. Etc. Etc.

Nailed it.

I love comics, and I usually love the DC universe, but for fuck's sake, this is beyond lame. It just screams desperate execs trying to figure out a way to get gullible fans to freak out and buy more issues. The problem is, I don't think there's enough gullible fans left after that "Death of Superman" debacle. Seemed like everybody jumped on the "kill a major character" bandwagon after that, and it's lost its novelty. Yet here they are, trying to make a tired old idea seem fresh and new, trying to hit people with a trainload of emotion rather than engaging them with truly creative and useful ideas...



I know where this is coming from. They've been talking to Andrew Breitbart, haven't they?

Shopping for Candidates at Abercrombie & Fitch

There's going to be quite a bit of what might be loosely termed "ideas" thrown out by right-wingers in their quest to rescue the Republicon party from obscurity. Some will have more, for lack of a better word, merit than others. What's going to be most interesting is to see which suggestions the party embraces and which it discards.

I'm torn on this one. On the one hand, eye candy during the next election cycle wouldn't be a bad thing - after all, if the Cons are going to get trounced anyway, they might as well look good doing it. On the other hand... eew:

Andrew Breitbart, LA’s most dapper wingnut, has some advice for the GOP if it wants to win any future elections. Enlist hunky models from Abercrombie & Fitch as the new GOP candidates and run them against the ugly, baby boomer Democrats. Seriously. And, best I can tell, Breitbart isn’t attempting parody. He’s as serious as Jonah “the Whale” Goldberg at the sundae station of an all-you-can-eat early-bird buffet.

[H]ere’s an unorthodox fast-track plan for a full-scale GOP recovery in 2010. The future of the Grand Old Party needs to be dangerously youthful, devastatingly attractive and outrageously fun.

Like these young Republicans.

With the economy in the pits, the young, the restless and unapologetically handsome should use their looks, vigor and Internet knowledge to wrest away elective office from joyless bureaucrats who gallingly repackaged the soiled utopian promises of their overly replayed Woodstock days as “hope” and “change.”

Woohoo! Zac Efron can be like the next Secretary of Treasury. My 401(k) got hard and throbby just at the thought.

So let’s stop first at Abercrombie and Fitch. See those shirtless models in the storefront tossing footballs in the air? There’s a better use of their time and efforts. Tanned, coiffed and seriously cut, these young studs could be tossing free-trade legislation across the halls of the Cannon House Office Building faster than you can Twitter “The Bella Twins.” Just tell these $15-an-hour beefcakes there’s a Democrat standing between them and a $169,300 job.

And this is where I have to stop for a moment to let my stomach stop churning. "Seriously cut?" Did I really just hear a wingnut say that out loud? I mean, I knew they had a lot of closeted gays in their ranks, but listening to them salivate over male models.... It's like listening to Mark Foley wax poetic over White House pages.

Once the nausea fades, I realize that this is the right-wing plan for regaining their popularity. Screw this responsible government stuff. Instead of policy, they're going for porn. The "party of family values," many of whose members like to wank over the decline of morals in our society, want to use sex to sell candidates.

Andrew Breitbart thinks they should give up trying to win hearts and minds. He thinks they should attempt to win hearts and loins instead. I think that describes the problem with the right wing in this country perfectly.

Under my plan, the party will grow as the parties grow. Weekly keggers and Guitar Hero and karaoke fundraisers can make a mockery of the self-serious poetry slam-faced Obama youth movement. …

We’ll even throw in some Republican punk rockers and conservative performance artists while we’re at it. They do exist.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather convert to Mormonism than attend a Republican punk rock concert or watch a conservative performance artist perform.

Seconded. I actually have a song by a Christian death metal band on one of my Death is Just the Beginning... CDs. I tried to listen to the song. I had to spend five hours on a steady diet of Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, Satryricon, and Dismal Euphony afterward to scrub the horror from my mind. Note to evangelical Christians: you don't know jack fucking shit about death metal, so please stop trying. You're only hurting yourself and others. And as for conservative punk rockers... fuck joining the Mormon church, I'll become a damned nun before I allow myself to be subjected to that agony.

Can we take just a moment to realize two things here? One, Andrew thinks the Republicon party can regain the youth vote by throwing keggers, because obviously young people only care about beer. Secondly, he juxtaposes frat parties with karaoke. And he thinks he will be making a mockery of Obama supporters, who instead of drinking beer and singing badly in public merely recite poetry instead.

This man frightens me.

If we’re going to make the Republican Party a big tent again, why not make it large enough to hold a rave?

I give the fuck up.

It's obvious what's going on here.

He knows that the Cons have nothing that will win a normal person to their side. Instead, he wants to lure them in with Abercrombie and Fitch models, then get them blind drunk and deaf (because believe me, if you have to listen to Republican punk rock, you're likely to stab your eardrums out with a fork), and then, just to be on the safe side, destroy what's left of their brains with bad Ecstasy, after which they will be like putty in the Cons' hands.

The saddest part is that he thinks people are actually stupid and shallow enough to fall for this kind of shit. He actually thinks he's being hip.

I hope his recommendations are adopted in full, because as long as I get to wear earplugs, watching the Cons try this out should be endlessly entertaining.

Now, if you'll excuse me... my brain bleach is beckoning.

29 November, 2008

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

Can I just mention something? I hate holiday weekends. I've just spent the better part of two hours sifting through too many blogs in search of gold nuggets. How'd that go, you ask?

Well, I'm not rich, if that's what you mean. But I've got enough to be comfortable with, and that's what really matters in the end, eh?

From the department of brilliant Republicon ideas comes advice that's sure to have every liberal trumpeting its greatness:

The latest "what do we do now?" piece for the Republican Party comes from South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who outlines his approach in a piece for the Politico today.

There's some predictable prescriptions -- Republicans should, apparently, try sticking to their principles -- but this one jumped out at me.

There needs to be a high standard for our franchisees. In other words, I believe Republicans and conservatives must agree on our core principles. St. Augustine called for 'unity in the essentials, diversity in the nonessentials, and charity in all things,' and while I believe there should always be a big GOP tent, there must also be a shared agreement on the essentials — including expanding liberty, encouraging entrepreneurship and limiting the reach of government in people's everyday lives.

In this regard, the tent cannot be so big as to include political franchisees who don't act on the core tenets of conservatism -- and as a consequence harm the brand and undermine others' work on it.


If, in context, that means purging, say, convicted felons from the party ranks, it would clearly be sensible. But I don't think that's what Sanford means. If I understand his piece correctly, Sanford wants to see a Republican Party that shed itself of factions that fall short of the "core tenets of conservatism" -- as defined, presumably, by Mark Sanford -- so as to let voters know exactly what they'd get by way of the party label. What the GOP needs now, in other words, is fewer people.

Absolutely! I agree wholeheartedly, and might I suggest that one of those core principles be that anyone who doesn't worship Sarah Palin as the future of the party is right out. And hang on to that philosophy for, oh, say, the next thirty years.

Long enough to allow us to clean up the mess you made.

You know, we have a lot to fear from the Cons. They're trimming the dead wood (their brains), getting back to core principles (i.e., failed ideology), and, ye gods, they've got Bill Kristol. And Bill Kristol knows exactly what Bush should do in order to polish up his legacy:

In his new Weekly Standard column, right-wing pundit Bill Kristol lays out a to-do list for President Bush before he leaves office. He urges Bush to deliver speeches “reminding Americans of our successes fighting the war on terror.” Kristol dreams, “Over time, Bush might even get deserved credit for effective conduct of the war on terror.”

After urging Bush to fight the incoming administration’s desire to close Guantanamo, Kristol concludes with this:

One last thing: Bush should consider pardoning–and should at least be vociferously praising–everyone who served in good faith in the war on terror, but whose deeds may now be susceptible to demagogic or politically inspired prosecution by some seeking to score political points. The lawyers can work out if such general or specific preemptive pardons are possible; it may be that the best Bush can or should do is to warn publicly against any such harassment or prosecution. But the idea is this: The CIA agents who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the NSA officials who listened in on phone calls from Pakistan, should not have to worry about legal bills or public defamation. In fact, Bush might want to give some of these public servants the Medal of Freedom at the same time he bestows the honor on Generals Petraeus and Odierno. They deserve it.

In the Bush era, the Medal of Freedom has come to absurdly represent a reward for those who carried out policy failures at the urging of the Bush administration. By this standard, the implementers of torture and warrantless wiretapping certainly qualify for such a medal.

Oh noes! If Bush follows Kristol's advice, he's certain to go from the most reviled to the most revered President in history overnight!11!!1!! Even Think Progress says torturers deserve medals - the logic is inescapable!!11!!1eleventyone!

But really, aren't we asking for too much? Bush is already working so hard to leave a lasting legacy for our country. Just look what he's done for edimicashun:

Just as the economic house of cards finally collapsed around George W. Bush and his cronies (and did so a good three months earlier than they'd hoped), the efforts to privatize public schools in order to make them "better" have been increasingly revealed to be less than successful at anything other than weakening education overall while lining the pockets of a fortunate few with our tax monies.

The horror show that is Chris Whittle has seriously damaged the public-school systems of Philadelphia and other American cities, in addition to raiding, with Jeb Bush's help, the pension funds of Florida's teachers in order to prop up his Edison Project. (And no, his schools aren't significantly better than the public schools they're designed to supplant. In a 2007 RAND study of Philadelphia's schools, the study's authors stated that "We find no evidence of differential academic benefits that would support additional expenditures on private managers." In fact, studies of charter schools nationwide have found that they usually do worse than comparable public schools.) Whittle, who found that he could no longer count on friendly governors turning over their employees' pension funds to him, has now decided to forsake inner-city students in favor of the wealthy elite; he's stepped down as Edison's CEO and his new "Nations School" scheme has a tuition rate similar to Ivy League colleges.

And, and, the envyronmint (h/t):

The Bush Administration has just released its final plan to significantly increase logging on 2.6 million acres of public land in western Oregon by clearcutting and reducing protections for salmon-bearing creeks and streams. Rising out of an agreement between the timber industry and the Bush Administration, the Bureau of Land Management's 'Western Oregon Plan Revision' is the gravest threat to Oregon's ancient forests in years.

The Final Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR) will mean the loss of ancient forests from the northern Willamette Valley to southern Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains.

And, and, wurkplase hazurds (h/t):

The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.

The rule, which has strong support from business groups, says that in assessing the risk from a particular substance, federal agencies should gather and analyze “industry-by-industry evidence” of employees’ exposure to it during their working lives. The proposal would, in many cases, add a step to the lengthy process of developing standards to protect workers’ health.

Public health officials and labor unions said the rule would delay needed protections for workers, resulting in additional deaths and illnesses.

With the economy tumbling and American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush has promised to cooperate with Mr. Obama to make the transition “as smooth as possible.” But that has not stopped his administration from trying, in its final days, to cement in place a diverse array of new regulations.

And, and, he's made our guvernmint funkshun all friendly:

George W. Bush's fascination with "loyalty" is practically legendary. The president considers it the single most important trait a person in public service can have, far exceeding competence and qualification. Bush, for example, picked Dick Cheney because he knew he'd be loyal (Cheney had no presidential ambitions of his own). Loyalty led to high-ranking posts for all kinds of people who had no business taking on their responsibilities -- Alberto Gonzales, I'm looking in your direction -- but who were rewarded for their personal devotion and fidelity to the man in the Oval Office.

Slate's Jacob Weisberg had a good piece today explaining that loyalty is not only wildly overrated in presidential politics, but that truly successful presidents know that an obsession with loyalty is a waste of time and energy.

...I doubt Obama will have much trouble with disloyalty in his administration, from Clinton or anyone else, for the same reason it wasn't a problem in his campaign: He doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about it.

Loyalty is a wonderful human quality and a necessary political one. No president would think of moving into the White House without known and trusted advisers such as David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett. At the same time, the recurrent presidential obsession with forms of disloyalty, including leaks, disobedience, and private agendas, is a marker for executive failure. Those presidents who fixated on personal allegiance, such as Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush, tended to perform far worse in office than those, such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, who could tolerate strong, independent actors on their teams.


If one "equates disagreement with disloyalty," he/she necessarily creates an insular bubble where no one is allowed to stray from the party line, and everyone is expected to agree wholeheartedly with the president,regardless of merit. In this sense, Bush's obsession with loyalty not only helps explain why incompetent, partisan hacks were promoted to critical government posts, it also helps highlight why never paid attention to those whose opinions he should have taken seriously.

See? He's done a great job - proving why conservative can't fucking govern. And don't forget the legacy he's leaving when it comes to worldwide reputation in toilet, Constitution in tatters, horrifying precedents set for dictators to follow while being able to claim they're just living up to America's standards, a failed economy, and dead people everywhere.

Not to mention what he's done to the English language.

So yes. I'm thrilled to see that some Cons have the idea of making the party even smaller and more parochial than it is now. The last thing I want to see before I'm in my sixties is another Con face beaming from the Oval Office.

I'd like my country to survive until the 22nd century, thanks ever so much.

Progress Report: All-out Dash to the Finish


Remind me to tell you later what happened when my supervisor found out the subject of the book I'm writing. Too tired to discuss it now.

I've been all over this book, from beginning to end, adding a bit here and a chunk there. Here's one inspired by you lot, which I hope will meet your approval:


This is one of those canards that American Christians trot out when they want to justify denying atheists their freedom of conscience. They think it denies atheists any rights at all. There's a reason why this is such an uphill battle.

Since so many Americans don't even know what's in the Bill of Rights, let's have a look at the First Amendment together. It's important to know what it says, because it protects some of our most cherished freedoms:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Whole books have been written on exactly what freedoms these little sentences cover. We'll just take on the ones pertaining to our discussion here.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." This means that our government can't declare one single religion as official, or favor one religion over another. If the majority of Congress voted to make, say, Hinduism the official religion of the United States, that law would be struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The same thing would happen if Congress attempted to pass a law establishing any one sect of Christianity, or even a generic interpretation of Christianity, as America's religion. And, for the purposes of the courts, I'm pretty sure atheism would be treated as a "religion." Our Founders wrote the Establishment Clause this way because they didn't think belief - or lack of it - is something that can be legislated. Our government must remain officially agnostic and wholly secular in order to protect the next bit of the Bill of Rights.

"...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." You are free to be a practicing Christian. With a few extremely narrow exceptions, the government cannot outlaw your church attendance, your worship services, or your beliefs. When religious beliefs conflict with the law, the government has to be careful about prohibiting your religious practices. If you, for instance, decided to follow the Old Testament's order to stone unruly children to death, the government can and would step in to protect your children, because society's interests in keeping those children safe, healthy and alive override your belief that disobedient children must die. But the government can't willy-nilly proclaim that your religion as a whole is illegal, and you have no right to practice it.

On the flip side, and emerging naturally from that, the government also can't compel you to go to church. It can't force you to worship. That's where atheists come in: we may not be a religion by definition, but we can't be forced by the government to believe in any religion, either. In that sense, yes, the Constitution does indeed provide for our freedom from religion. But that's not all.

"...or abridging the freedom of speech..." This covers all speech. My speech, and yours. I can talk about atheism. You can talk about Christianity. It has nothing to do with religion: speech is protected whether it's religious, debunking religion, political, artistic, or just plain boring.

"...or of the press..." You can publish a Christian newspaper, and I can publish an atheist newspaper, and both are equally protected. Freedom of the press, of course, has extended beyond the printing press, but you get the idea.

"...or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." This is certainly not limited only to religious people. Atheists are just as free to assemble and petition as any believer.

What all of this taken together adds up to is a freedom not spelled out by name, but one that the courts have recognized as the logical conclusion from the freedoms enumerated and what our Founders said about freedom: we have freedom of association. While there are some limits on that right, as there are with any right, there is no exclusion for the non-religious. Atheists are just as free to associate with one another and exercise their rights as are debate clubs, hobbyists, political activists, and church groups.

The Constitution also prohibits a religious test for office. Here's Article Six:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

No religious test means that Congress can't establish the requirement that someone have a religion in order to serve their country in office. All an atheist has to do is affirm his or her commitment to support the Constitution.

All of this adds up to a clear intent by our Founders to establish freedom of conscience. Nothing supports the notion that citizens of this country are forced to have faith. And that's a good thing indeed, because I doubt many of you would like the result if government had the power to choose your faith for you.
Long. Yeah. But it's one of those hard-to-explain-in-a-soundbite subjects.

I also attacked belief in chairs. Steve, Howard and Woozle will be pleased.

Fellow NaNo sufferers: we have all day. We're going to make it across the finish line. Even though we may feel like we're going to die of a heart-attack two feet away from the tapes...

Going to bed for a few hours now. argharghargh.

Satire - It's ALLLIIIIVVVEEE!!!11!!

Remember your Poe's Law, my darlings, and enjoy:
Unfortunately, liberals have distorted the history and meaning of Thanksgiving because they see everything through the ideology of victimhood, which is a glass-half-empty view of history. Thanksgiving to liberals is a celebration of purported genocide against the Indians perpetrated by the Christian pilgrims. But in fact this is not what Thanksgiving is about at all. As usual liberals are ignoring the real victims here.

Thanksgiving celebrates the day that Pilgrims and Indians sat down to eat together before the gay secularist Indians divided this country and tried to foist their atheism and savage decadent culture on the God-fearing pilgrims. The pilgrims were rightly appalled by Native American culture where transgendered “two-spirit” people or “berdache” were accepted as normal members of the tribe. To Native Americans, who were ignorant of the Bible’s proscriptions against homosexuality and running around practically naked, there was nothing wrong with squaws marrying squaws and braves marrying braves. The pilgrims did not care what Indians did in the privacy of their own teepees, but they did not want their children exposed to this immorality. So the pilgrims were forced to defend themselves, just as Proposition 8 supporters, under assault from gay activists, must defend themselves now.

Read the whole thing. It is made of awesome.

Apropos of nothing, I had a gander at the blogs Jon Swift follows. Our very own PTET is up there.

You're famous, love!

(Tip o' the shot glass to Crooks and Liars)

Whet Your Appetites

Scandal's cookin'. Sure smells tasty:

Mitchell Wade, the corrupt former lobbyist who plead guilty in 2006 to bribing former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA), is reportedly assisting “the government in investigating five other members of Congress,” according to a memorandum filed on Wednesday.


Prosecutors drop tantalizing hints about an even bigger, ongoing investigation. Wade was debriefed in 2006 and provided “moderately useful” background information in another “large and important corruption investigation” that also has not yet resulted in any charges.

My mouth, it is watering.

Robert Gates Doesn't Get the Boot

If Obama's going to have to salt token Republicons throughout his administration in order to live up to the post-partisan promises, this seems like a decent start:

Following up on an item from Wednesday, I've been reading a bit about the various perspectives on whether it's wise for Barack Obama to keep Robert Gates on as the Secretary of Defense. Slate's Fred Kaplan, whose perspective on military and national security issues I regularly enjoy, described Gates as "an excellent choice" and "a stroke of brilliance."

In his nearly two years at the helm of the Pentagon, Gates has delivered a series of speeches on the future direction of military policy. He has urged officers to recognize the shift in the face of warfare from the World War II legacy of titanic armored battles between comparably mighty foes to the modern reality of small shadow wars against terrorists and insurgents.

More than that, he has called for systematic adjustments to this new reality: canceling weapons systems that aren't suited to these kinds of wars and building more weapons that are; reforming the promotion boards to reward and advance the creative officers who have proved most adept at this style of warfare; rethinking the roles and missions of the individual branches of the armed services; siphoning some of the military's missions, especially those dealing with "nation building," to civilian agencies.

From the start, he knew that he wouldn't have time to make a lot of headway in these campaigns -- which, within the military, represent fairly radical ideas. His intent was to spell out an agenda, and lay the groundwork, for the next administration.

I know. Kaplan's laying it on thick, right? May be a little too starry-eyed to trust his judgement. That's where Steve's post from last week comes in:

Gates may be a leading member of Bush's team, but he represents a complete break from the neo-conservatives who dominated the administration's first term. Gates is considered a non-ideological pragmatist, who's open to competing ideas, and who enjoys broad respect from the brass and lawmakers in both parties. In the midst of two wars, having a competent and qualified Pentagon chief, who has no partisan or ideological axe to grind, will bring a degree of steadiness and consistency that may benefit Obama enormously.

You know what he sounds like? An Obama Democrat. I don't think Obama would be keeping him on otherwise - post-partisan stops at retaining the bumbling fuckwits that got us in to this mess. It seems Gates has been trying to dig out, and making a bit of headway even though the Bushies above keep trying to fill the hole back in.

I know a lot of folks are screaming for change, change, and more change. They want nothing but die-hard Democrats posted throughout the administration, a quid pro quo, in fact, for the Bush years. And that would be emotionally satisfying, yes. But it won't get us anywhere. That would be playing the same childish games that Bush did.

So Obama reaching out to the two or three eminently-qualified Republicans left, holding on to the very few folks that somehow convinced Bush they were incompetent enough to serve the regime even though they were actually smart, tough, and independent-minded, that doesn't bother me in the least. Maybe I'm not far-left enough, but I just can't see punishing good people for the dumbshit they served under. If they're good at what they do, that's what matters. And it seems that Gates is good at what he does.

Besides, this shuts down a lot of the trouble Obama would've gotten in to had he appointed someone else more to the left's liking. That's how real governing is done.

We may not recognize it after the last eight years.

28 November, 2008

Ahoy, There! The Ship Be Sailin' Tomorrow!

Ye don't want to miss the boat, now, do ye? I know ye be nursin' a turkey hangover, an' ye might be wonderin' where all the rum's gone, but elitist bastards stop for no ill and no holiday. Get yer links in to me, or ye'll be regrettin' it. I'll be watchin' for ye until the clock strikes midnight.

NaNo sufferers - I know ye don't be havin' time for articles. We'll take a snippet o' prose instead. I be thinkin' that'll be elitist bastardly enough.

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

Um. Ew:

What media genius in the Chambliss campaign approved this spot? Because nothing says "I deserve your vote" quite like inappropriate contact with a prepubescent girl.

And, um, "Big Daddy"? Geebus.

You know, it wasn't a bad ad until the end there, when he mashed his hand all over her breast buds. There's a certain age at which girls' chests become off-limits. "Vote for my big daddy" indeed. Bit o' advice to Georgia: don't.

(My NaNo-addled brain can't remember if I've highlighted the following bit before or not. If I did, just do me a favor and pretend it's fresh news, mkay?) The last thing we need if more fucking Cons in the Senate, anyway.

Everybody knows we've got a ginormous financial crisis on our hands. Everybody knows that our bailout is supposed to have some oversight, yet there is no arse in the chair that's supposed to be overseeing. The Bush regime did something nearly sane and chose Neil Barofsky, a former federal prosecutor, to sit his arse down in said chair and watch our hundreds of billions of dollars like a hawk. Barofsky's butt is needed in that chair starting now, he's one of those rare inoffensive-to-both-sides sorts, and everyone knows it's in the country's best interests to get him confirmed.

Everyone except the Cons. Here's how they put "Country first!" rhetoric into practice:

Last week, Sen. Chris Dodd, the Connecticut Democrat who chairs the banking committee, issued a little-noticed statement saying that although the nomination "was cleared by members of the Senate Banking Committee, the leadership of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and all Democratic Senators," it was "blocked on the floor by at least one Republican member." (itals ours.)

Senate rules allow any senator to anonymously block a vote on confirmation to any federal post, for any reason.

The rationale for the move remains unclear. But a Washington Post story from a few days before Dodd's statement offers two suggestions. It notes that Barofsky supported Barack Obama, and describes an unresolved "battle between the Finance and Banking committees over which has jurisdiction over the confirmation process."

Blocking an urgent nomination because the nominee, like 52 percent of voters, supported Obama seems petty even by contemporary GOP standards. But a congressional turf war over jurisdiction seems only slightly less so. So either of these two explanations would be a pretty damning indictment of Congress's response to the crisis.

No wonder these holds are anonymous. Whichever obstructionist fuckwit is playing political games with the country's future would get their ass reamed by their constitutents, not to mention hunted down by an angry mob of taxpayers.

"Country First" my ass.

Doesn't that just make you sick? But I hope not too sick - Bush is busy ensuring people can't afford to get treatment:

As rising unemployment swells Medicaid rolls, the Bush administration issues a new federal rule that would allow states to “deny care or coverage to Medicaid beneficiaries who do not pay their premiums or their share of the cost for a particular item or service.”

In what the New York Times describes as a “sea change” in Medicaid, states will now “charge premiums and higher co-payments for doctors’ services, hospital care and prescription drugs provided to low-income people under Medicaid“:

The administration acknowledged that ’some individuals may choose to delay or forgo care rather than pay their cost-sharing obligations’…The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that 13 million low-income people, about a fifth of Medicaid recipients, will face new or higher co-payments. Most of the savings result from “decreased use of services,” it said.

Rather than the Bush administration’s approach of forcing poor Americans to pay more for health care during an economic crisis, the federal government should increase FMAP — the percentage the federal government reimburses states for Medicaid — and expand the program to allow more Americans to buy affordable health coverage.

And Karl Rove thinks our healthcare system is just dandy the way it is:

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today, Karl Rove applauds Barack Obama’s appointment of a “first-rate economic team,” cheering the selections of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, National Economic Council director Lawrence Summers, Council of Economic Advisers chief Christina Romer, and OMB head Peter Orszag.

But while issuing compliments of most of Obama’s nominees, Rove issued this back-handed swipe at Melody Barnes, who ThinkProgress first reported would be chosen to lead the White House Domestic Policy Council:

The only troubling personnel note was Melody Barnes as Domestic Policy Council director. Putting a former aide to Ted Kennedy in charge of health policy after tapping universal health-care advocate Tom Daschle to be Health and Human Services secretary sends a clear signal that Mr. Obama didn’t mean it when his campaign ads said he wouldn’t run to the “extremes” with government-run health care.

During the campaign, Barnes helped inform Obama’s health care approach — the same approach he is now promising to pursue in office. Obama pledged to bring together “doctors and patients, unions and businesses, Democrats and Republicans” together to build on the existing system and “reduce the cost of health care to ensure affordable, accessible coverage for all Americans.”

Y'see, in Rove's eyes, it's okay to talk about giving healthcare a new coat of paint (lead-based, of course), maybe duct-tape a few of the broken bits, move the potted plant over to cover up the hole in the wall, but actually fixing it - that's just extreme, that is.

Whatever Karl Rove finds unacceptable is perfectly acceptable to me. And why he thinks his opinion is worth two tugs on a dead dog's dick is beyond my ken. But apparently, both he and Bush think they still have influence, and that they know better than the majority of the country and our incoming president what's best for us.

Laura Bush is under almost as many illusions as Rove and her husband. She thinks they're leaving an actual legacy to be proud of:

The Bush family have recorded a Story Corps interview about George W. Bush's presidential legacy, and what they're most proud of. This is what Mrs. Bush had to say

Well, it’s certainly been very rewarding to look at Afghanistan and both know that the president and the United States military liberated women there; that women and girls can be in school now; that women can walk outside their doors without a male escort.


Well, then. I would have been more charitable, but since Mrs. Bush has chosen this as her legacy, allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Bush's legacy

Afghan police have arrested 10 Taliban militants involved in an acid attack against 15 girls and teachers walking to school in southern Afghanistan, a provincial governor said Tuesday. "Several" of the arrested militants have confessed to taking part in the attack earlier this month, said Kandahar Gov. Rahmatullah Raufi. He declined to say exactly how many confessed.


And how, in an occupied country where the situation was so settled that we could leave it to go to war with a disarmed Iraq, did the Taliban gain the ability to attack little girls with impunity?

For seven years, the Bush administration has pursued al Qaida but done almost nothing to hunt down the Afghan Taliban leadership in its sanctuaries in Pakistan , and that's left Mullah Mohammad Omar and his deputies free to direct an escalating war against the U.S.-backed Afghan government.

The administration's decision, U.S. and NATO officials said, has allowed the Taliban to regroup, rearm and recruit at bases in southwestern Pakistan . Since the puritanical Islamic movement's resurgence began in early 2005, it's killed at least 626 U.S.-led NATO troops, 301 of them Americans, along with thousands of Afghans, and handed President-elect Barack Obama a growing guerrilla war with no end in sight.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest levels since 2001; the Taliban and other al Qaida -allied groups control large swaths of the south and east; NATO governments are reluctant to send more troops; and Afghan President Hamid Karzai faces an uncertain future amid fears that elections set for next year may have to be postponed.

Nevertheless, a U.S. defense official told McClatchy : "We have not seen any pressure on the Pakistanis" to crack down on Omar and his deputies and close their arms and recruiting networks. Like seven other U.S. and NATO officials who discussed the issue, he requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly.

"There has never been convergence on a campaign plan against Mullah Omar," said a U.S. military official. The Bush administration, he said, miscalculated by hoping that Omar and his deputies would embrace an Afghan government-run reconciliation effort or "wither away" as their insurgency was destroyed.

And so, the Taliban regroups, little girls end up scarred for life, and we chalk up yet one more horrific example of Bush's fuckwittery.

There is nothing this man is leaving behind that isn't tainted, nothing that isn't damaged, nothing that was worth the cost. Nothing. If these people consider themselves good Christians, I'd suggest they start repenting. They should be performing penance - and not this "say a few prayers and it'll all be better" shit but real, fucking, sacrifice and suffer and work yourself to death to make it right penance.

For how long? Well, lessee... how long is it 'til the next century, again? That'll do - for a start.

Progress Report: Oops


I was supposed to be much further along tonight, but I made the mistake of deciding to go back and bung in the list of famous atheists, with little thumbnail bios. Sounds simple, right?


Not when you have to sort through some rather extensive lists, which you whittle down by well-known names, further contemplating whether that name is well-known because Christians already know and despise that atheist, and then trying to phrase the bio so that you're not plagiarizing Wikipedia... I should've given it a miss and waited to add it in the revision stage.

Heh heh heh whoops.

And I'm not even close to done with it. Ah, well.

I spent the last bit of the night revising Rule #9. I didn't hit on the Constitutional question - I might do that elsewhere in the book, but it really doesn't belong here - but I did find your suggestions useful, and I hope this works:

9. Absolutely under any circumstances never ever bring up that old "atheism is a religion too" chestnut. Atheism is a philosophical stance, a way of thinking about the world that is profoundly irreligious, or simply a lack of belief in anything supernatural. In the immortal words of my friend Howard, "Atheism is a religion the way bald is a hair color." Atheism is different from religion in many ways, but perhaps the most important is this: if empirical proof of God were presented to us and verified by science, we'd become immediate theists, just as you would become a "unicornist" if unicorns were discovered living in some remote forest. You may find it impossible to comprehend a life without religion and thus think of atheism as a religion, but your thinking it doesn't make it so, no more than if I were to call your Christianity a form of atheism because I can't comprehend a life with religion. Besides, people who say things like "atheism is a religion, too" are just trying to discredit atheists, and showing that they have no good argument in the process. You don't want to look ridiculous, so don't make that mistake.

I can already think of a few minor changes to words that would make that clearer, but damn it, I'm tired.

As for the famous atheists, I have a lot of names, including of all people Allan Pinkerton of Pinkerton Agency fame. Whod'a thunkit? I'm thinking of sticking Ron Reagan in there just to twist a few conservative noses. The fact that the son of their hero is a ballet dancer and a liberal has got to kill them - the fact that he's an atheist, too, is just the insult to injury.

Yes, I'm an evil atheist. Why do you ask?

I'm also a very tired atheist. And I have got nearly 7,000 words to go. Argh.

If anyone has a good argument as to why theology isn't philosophy, and knows of groups where atheists and Christians are working together in harmony to stop fuckwits from destroying the world, now is the time to say so. I could surely use your help.

Friday Favorite Exchange This Week

Crap in a hat, I nearly forgot it's Friday. Time for something favorite, and the choice is easy: you guys.

The vast majority of my commenters here are outstanding. One of the absolute joys of writing a blog is having a comments section, in which you often say things that make me laugh, weep, think, and marvel. I can ask a question, and I get answers. The book I'm writing now has been shaped in no small way by your input and assistance. I'll never be able to thank you enough.

I don't often highlight specific comments, because I don't like to play favorites, and it's usually too difficult to choose between you all. But for the purposes of this week's Friday Favorite, I'm extracting the exchange that had me absolutely howling:
Howard said...

One more thing: When the topic of "what atheists believe" comes up, I like to say, "I believe in chairs."

When someone offers me a chair, I sit in it. Given that there is a nonzero chance that the chair will collapse, spilling me onto the ground (as I can personally attest), this is a remarkable leap of faith. And yet it is one I make on a daily basis. I don't stop to evaluate the structural integrity of every chair I'm offered, I simply trust that it will support my weight and offer sweet respite from the tedious grind of standing upright.

And yet, despite my miraculous faith in chairs, I know that my belief is easily falsifiable. And on those rare occasions when I suffer a bad chair, I know that it is the chair that has failed, and not I who has failed the chair.

To which stevec said...

Howard, I would disagree that you have faith in chairs. You have plenty of evidence (in the form of past experience) that chairs generally work. And if you were to sit down on a chair, and it were to creak portentously, you might well get up and take a hard look at the chair, and maybe gingerly test it a bit before sitting on it again.

To put it more shortly, you do not appear to believe in the structural soundness of chairs to a degree which exceeds the available evidence. And that is what faith is, as best I can tell, believing something to a degree of certainty which exceeds what it warranted by the available evidence. So, to be blunt, I doubt your faith in chairs. You are no chair-believer, you.


While I'm singling people out, I want to speechify Woozle, George, and Cujo359, who have all worked their guts out sending me material that's proven extremely useful, clarifying my thoughts, and providing the support and encouragement that this book so desperately needs. All of you who have commented or emailed me have been of vital service, but those three have really taken this project to heart, and so have earned an extra tip o' the shot glass.

I know you all have extremely busy lives. I know you probably have eleventy-one thousand better things to do than hang about here, adding your wisdom to my work. The fact that those of you who have commented on this book-in-progress, no to mention those who have read and commented on my other posts, have found it worthwhile to add your insights is incredible to me. There's no greater gift you can give to a writer.

I need to work on this whole becoming rich and famous thing so that I can gather you all together in a real cantina, and show my appreciation with a lavish application of food, drink, and entertainment. You deserve nothing less, and a great deal more.

Muchos gracias, mis amigos. Salud.

Wu Li: Five-fold Path to a Story

I. My Way

Stories change their writers. They shape us as surely as we shape them. They set us on paths we never thought we'd follow. When I left home for college, I thought I was writing a quest novel. But the story was already changing, and so was mine.

I'd figured on an English degree, but within the first semester, I realized I needed more. My Western Civilization class had made me realize I'd only tasted an atom of the ocean. To build a world, I'd need far more than my paltry bit of knowledge. I'd need world history, because other civilizations are an excellent inspiration for alien cultures. I'd need geography, geology, and astronomy. I'd need comparative religion, because other worlds wouldn't believe the same way we did.

Comparative religion led me to Nina Pearlmutter, one of the most incredible philosophy professors I've ever come across in my life. Eastern philosophy hadn't even been on my radar before she gave me a sip of Buddhism. A Buddhist Jew? How the hell does that happen? She made me
realize there was a dramatic amount of knowledge out there I hadn't even tasted.

Jim Bennett, who taught my geology course, hooked me on harder science with humor and simplicity. I'd meant to focus on English, but our English professors were, ah, decidedly not the caliber of my philosophy, science and history professors. Out on its ear went the English degree. Into Western Civilization II, Eastern Philosophy, and Physical Geography I went. This is what the story demanded. I could smith the words. What I needed was the raw knowledge to craft into something greater than the next Forgotten Realms ripoff.

II. Patterns of Organic Energy

Physical Geography led me to an uncomfortable realization: if I wanted to create a universe for my characters to live and breathe in, if I wanted to do this thing right, I'd have to delve into the hard sciences. I'd rather chosen fantasy to avoid that, but then I read far too many books where the "world" was just a blob of a continent with a few islands thrown in, or a map of Europe turned topsy-turvy. Nothing for it but to go for the really big stuff. Understand how things really worked.

But I figured I could avoid quantum physics. Einstein didn't like it, I'd heard - good enough for me. All I needed, after all, was enough hard stuff to figure out how planets got here, right? No need to torture myself. I'd glanced at quantum mechanics - it looked horrible. No way.

Working at a book store throws you in contact with books you wouldn't otherwise do more than glance at. I kept having to shelves this little book called The Dancing Wu Li Masters. A lot of people bought it. I had no idea why. Utterly ridiculous title, even worse cover illustration, it was labeled New Age, and it had the word "quantum" on the back cover. Noooo thank you.

I think a customer browbeat me into trying it, but I honestly don't remember. I just know I ended up at home with it, staring at it was a chary eye. Opened it up. Started reading.

It was like mainlining heroin. So hooked. Physics had never been my friend. Neither had philosophy, especially Eastern, to be honest, despite Nina's genius. This book brought the two together and made me fall hard for both.

Schroedinger's Cat. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Patterns of organic energy. Far from being a cold, clinical thing, it turned out that physics was a warm, wonderful, weird thing. Outstanding. From there, I had no choice but to snap up Steven Hawking, Richard Feynman, Michio Kaku, and a myriad other tremendous writers on physics. I was an addict. I'd take it in any variety I could get it.

Marrying quantum mechanics to Eastern philosophy had blunted its terror for me. It was just "patterns of organic energy," which is what the Chinese word for physics means. It was bizarre enough for a fantasy writer to really get her teeth in to. If I'd had something like this early on in school, I would've gotten into calculus, and I would've taken as much hard science as I could lay my hands upon. The stuff was phenominal.

III. I Clutch My Ideas

The story was starting to force me onto another path, but I still thought of it as fundamentally a quest story. And, while I was using all of the things I was learning to spice it up a bit, I wasn't letting it expand out and become what it needed to become. I wasn't letting either one of us really grow.

As a writer, you have to stop clutching your ideas eventually, or you'll strangle them.

Gradually, the story and the learning I had to do for it began to loosen my grip. The Dancing Wu Li Masters had shattered my assumptions about physics and philosophy. All of those meanings of wu li came dancing through my mind. Something there, something important, but I still wasn't seeing it. I'd been raised with certain Views, you see. It takes a while to let go of the parochial view of the world and let your mind wander free. It takes a long while before you can hear what your story really is.

IV. Nonsense

I finally let go of the quest motif. Wrote, rewrote, and one day looked on all I had written and found myself appalled.

Western ideas. Christian themes. I'd expanded my view of the world considerably, but obviously hadn't internalized it. Everything sounded like every other novel written by people who never left the West - totally parochial.

This could not stand. That was not what the story wanted to be. I could sense its misery.

Off to the mythology shelves. Back into the weird world of quantum physics. And the themes of The Dancing Wu Li Masters started dancing before me. Shades of the Eastern Philosophy class I'd take arose. If I wanted a different way of seeing the world, brother, that was it.

I'd never been all that enamored of Eastern thought. I became so. Because when you really delve into it, when you study both quantum physics and Zen Buddhism, you're struck at first by how bizarre it is. None of it makes sense to a parochial mind raised on Christianity and Newtonian mechanics. How can something be a wave and a particle at the same time? How can someone be enlightened merely by being told to go wash his bowl? Just what is it with all this nonsense?

Chinese thought may not have anticipated the wonderful weirdness of quantum physics in quite the same way as The Dancing Wu Li Masters implied, but that doesn't change the fact that they are, on a fundamental level, similar. They both teach us to see the world in an entirely different way. If you try to apply your ordinary way of thinking to them, you'll see nothing but nonsense. Once you begin to understand them, you see that they're not nonsense at all. And you will never see the world in quite the same way again, which is a fantastic gift for a fantasy author.

V. Enlightenment

When it comes to the story I'm telling over a series of books and short stories, yes, I've been enlightened. And I've been awakened to far more than that.

Zen Buddhism teaches a way of seeing wonder in the most mundane activity. Eating your meal and washing your bowl afterward are activities just as marvelous as a marathon meditation session. This moment is perfect, just as it is. This is where you find enlightenment. No doctrine, no dogma, can do it for you. Those things only get in the way.

Quantum physics and the hard sciences take none of the wonder from the world. They're far more magical than magic could ever be. The chair I am sitting in feels solid, but it's made of motion. On a subatomic level, it's mostly empty space. That knowledge makes the mundane marvelous, just as much as Zen does.

SF writing is all about eliciting a sense of wonder. That used to seem like a very difficult thing to do, but now, I see the wonder has been there all along.

Standing outside my pointed-roof hut
Who'd guess how spacious it is inside
A galaxy of worlds is there
With room to spare for a zazen cushion.


Illustrations: Wu Li, Boat Trip on the River Underneath a Buddhist Temple; Chinese calligraphy spelling wu li.

Airport Security: Ur Doin it Rong

If you want to get contraband past TSA, you're better off with a with a pocket knife than Peter Pan:
When Jessica Fletcher was flying home to New York from Las Vegas, she went through the usual security rigamarol just like everyone else. She knew all the usual rules and regulations, but still found herself surprised when they confiscated something she thought of as being fairly innocuous: a jar of peanut butter.

"I'm a poor, young New Yorker, and it's cheaper in Vegas," she explains. "But seriously, what am I going to do with peanut butter? Sneak up behind the pilot and shove it in his face, causing him to veer off course and send us hurtling toward earth?”

But what Fletcher finds most confusing about the scenario is what she mistakenly got away with on several flights to Dallas, Texas and Brussels, Belgium -- carrying a combination wine opener/pocket knife through security in her carry-on bag. It wasn't until her third trip between her home and Dallas that security finally confiscated it.
Strangely enough, I can see a modicum of sense: after all, with reinforced cockpit doors and nervous passengers ready to tackle terrorists, a knife could do a lot less damage than a jar of C4 disguised as food. But you'd think TSA could've, y'know, brought one of the bomb dogs over, or stuck a fork in the jar to determine that, yes, this is stuff that will only explode if Mythbusters gets their hands on it.

The two goobers this article interviews for suggestions on improving security don't help the situation. One swears by profiling, which may be kosher in Israel but is a civil liberties nightmare here. The other is a babbling freak who thinks terrorists will somehow employ 90 year-old wheelchair-bound grandmothers if we stop searching them.

I hope President-Elect Obama puts a sane person in charge of developing new ways to keep us safe. This Keystone Kops routine is getting ridiculous.

27 November, 2008

Happy Hour Discurso

Today's opining on the public discourse.

What fucking discourse? Everybody's off eating themselves into oblivion, arguing with conservative relatives, and giving thanks, it seems. I've got a thimble's worth of political news for those of you who just can't get enough, and some fun stuff to compliment your turkey hangover.

What am I giving thanks for today? That some of my favorite political bloggers only took part of the day off. Among an abundance of other things, which I shan't bore you with here.

We have a new SOFA:

Just 10 days ago, Iraq's cabinet overwhelmingly approved a security agreement with the U.S. that calls for a withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2011. The measure then went to the Iraqi Parliament for approval, but success was not a given.

As it turns out, it passed rather easily.

Iraq's parliament approved Thursday a security pact with the United States that lets American troops stay in the country for three more years.

The vote in favor of the pact was backed by the ruling coalition's Shiite and Kurdish blocs as well as the largest Sunni Arab bloc, which had demanded concessions for supporting the deal.

Iraq will hold a referendum on the SOFA, allowing their war-weary populace to vote on whether to keep the Americans about or kick us the fuck out, leading Hullaballoo's dday to make an incisive observation:
It is, however, interesting that the Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, politicians throughout the Parliament, and now every individual Iraqi will have a chance to weigh in on this security agreement with the United States, yet basically one "decider" in this country is allowed to do so.

We are, however, a shining city on a hill, so that balances things out.
That's right. Iraq has a better handle on democracy right now than we do. Outstanding. Our work there is finished.

Instead of forcing our tender attentions on Iraq, it might be a good idea to actually, you know, start doing something useful about fighting terrorism. It seems some terrorist organizations have no problem with escalating the "war:"

Terrorist attacks are not, tragically, entirely uncommon in India, especially this year, but the events in Mumbai have been on another level of magnitude.

Indian police commandos rescued some hostages on Thursday as standoffs continued against heavily armed militants who a day earlier had swept into Mumbai, India's commercial capital, in a shocking series of coordinated and bloody attacks.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a televised address that the attackers probably had "external linkages" -- the first official indication that the authorities were likely to blame outsiders.

The hooded gunmen, firing automatic weapons and throwing hand grenades, attacked at least two luxury hotels, the city's largest train station, a Jewish center, a movie theater and a hospital.

The Mumbai police said Thursday afternoon that the attacks killed at least 101 people and wounded at least 314. It was not immediately clear how many hostages were freed in the commando operation or how many were still being held.

This year, the more routine terrorist attacks in India have featured bombs left in public areas. The coordinated, well-orchestrated attacks that began yesterday were executed by young men with machine guns, who brazenly made no effort to hide their identity. The LA Times speculated that the attacks "required a previously unseen degree of reconnaissance and planning," leading some experts to suspect "the likely involvement of experienced commanders."

But it's not at all clear that India's dealing with an external group. This atrocity may be homegrown:

There's now evidence that the attacks were carried out by indigenous militants and motivated purely by rage at Hindu-supremacist atrocities inside India rather than being part of an international Al Qaeda plan of attacks or Pakistan's strategy of "foreign policy by terror proxy". Blake Hounshell notes:

Today's horrific attacks in Mumbai were claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen...A group calling itself the "Indian Mujahideen" has claimed responsibility for attacks in a number of different cities over the past several months. The Indian Mujahideen sent a warning in September expressing anger over recent raids by the city's antiterrorism squad (ATS). Today's message from the Deccan Mujahideen appears to be identical...

And what might they be pissed about?

Christine Fair, senior political scientist and a South Asia expert at the RAND Corporation... believes the attacks could be "yet another manifestation of domestic terrorism" that has its genesis in a longstanding institutional discrimination against Muslims.

"There are a lot of very, very angry Muslims in India," she said, "The economic disparities are startling, and India has been very slow to publicly embrace its rising Muslim problem. You cannot put lipstick on this pig. This is a major domestic political challenge for India."

Invading countries isn't going to solve the issues that lead to terrorism. Changing the conditions that breed it and treating terrorism as a law-enforcement issue will do far more. It's a good thing we have a President-Elect incoming who understands nuances, and not McPalin, who would probably call for war on India and condemn Ms. Fair for making sexist references to Sarah Palin.

Of course, some folks aren't as grateful for our new president and the complete repudiation of the insanity of the last eight years as others. Saxby Chambliss, in fact, is counting on Palin's star power and easily-frightened ignoramuses to get him back into Washington:

Sarah Palin will spend part of Sunday and most or all of Monday, campaigning for Senator Saxby Chambliss, in his bid to keep his seat from the strong challenge of Jim Martin. This move on the part of the Saxby campaign is being widely perceived as one to use her ability as a "closer," that is - somebody who can cinch a deal.

Certainly, Palin has proven she can make her base base salivate. And many appearances by her in the Southeast United States during September and October drew huge, enraptured throngs.

I'm sure Saxby's campaign will love throwing scraps of red meat out to the crowds greeting Palin. But her rabid stump style might just as well drive undecided voters toward Martin.No doubt, the group plowing a lot of money into Georgia right now, the National Republican Trust PAC, has sent her the talking points she will use Sunday and Monday:

Barack Obama is just one seat away from TOTAL CONTROL Obama will enact crushing new taxes to pay for immediate citizenship for 15 million illegal aliens Obama is getting ready to enact a RADICAL AGENDA

This should be highly entertaining. I just wish we could focus on, y'know, actual important issues in this country rather than another round of ZOMG the commofascistscarybrownsocialibruls iz taking over!!11!eleventyone!11!!! hysteria from our resident rubes.

Still... at least she makes for some good LOL moments:

Happy Thanksgiving from the Bush administration:

And, finally, what I'm giving thanks for right at this moment:

A President who knows the true meaning of compassion and competence. If you need your heart warmed, go and view that photo diary. My deepest, most heartfelt thanks to the people who made this moment possible: Yes, we could, yes, we did, and yes, we will. Together.

Happy Thanksgiving, my darlings.