Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I'll Be Judging
In the run-up to last year's electoral debauch, I recall a post that referred to an anonymous comment left on another blog where JB's writing had appeared:
"For the rest of my life, I'll be judging someone by who they voted for in this election."
I had to dig for the quote, and as it turns out I had recalled it incorrectly. In my brain it was "how they voted" rather than "who they voted for." During a conversation in the office, a coworker revealed that she'd voted for Bush, and I felt a swell of simultaneous pity and disgust such as one might feel upon seeing a painfully injured but horrific monster.

The cited quote had it exactly correct: I couldn't help judging her, and judging her negatively, in the wake of her off-hand admission.She followed up by saying that she didn't really know much about it, but she voted for Bush because you have to support the President, and He Keeps Us Safe, blah blah blah, and that's where my misremembered quote comes in. I felt real annoyance at her cavalier and almost prideful ignorance, and that's when my inadvertant paraphrase of the quote became relevant.I realized that, as annoyed as I was that she voted for Bush, it's obviously her right to vote for whatever idiot she chooses (though I wish she'd chosen my idiot).

But her disdain for the whole electoral process, though hardly uncommon, is what really set me off. Is it better to be informed and silent or to be clueless and vocal? Based on the catastrophe last November, it seems that the vocal and clueless majority has spoken. Or maybe that should be "the vocal and clueless majority has shrieked like the blood-steeped ghouls we've always known them to be."

Hell, I'm not even sure that those who voted for Kerry are any more informed or any less vocal, but at least it can be inferred that those who voted against Bush did it consciously, without a bunch of irrelevant, Republican-generated ballot measures to fluff up their numbers.

Republican fluffers. Now that's a metaphor I'm going to try desperately not to envision.

Anyway, these observations are hardly cutting-edge material, and I only mention them here because my coworker finally had the time to discuss politics, now that Lost and American Idol are done for the season.

Hmm... American Idol Lost. Now that's a metaphor.

Not a lot of hyperlinks in this post, come to think of it. Well, here's one that you should click from time to time, if only to see if the light at the end of the tunnel is any closer.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Honoring The Fallen; There's More Where They Came From
Today, of course, is Memorial Day, the holiday formerly known as Declaration Day, during which we reflect upon the sacrifices of the men and women who died in military service to our country. It's a somber occasion, marked most poignantly by the recollections of veterans who've lost close friends in battle, sometimes sixty or more years ago, and it's clear that for many the pain is as sharp as when the wounds were visible.

Memorial Day parades are a beloved tribute, and every town with more than a dozen people has at least a two-block affair to showcase its veterans. Rolling Thunder is another event renowned for its sheer scope, and some of the riders' speeches that I caught on CSPAN were truly stirring. Many of the riders are veterans themselves, with their own stories to tell.

Nothing I write will compare to any of that. These men and women have seen such sights as I will never see, and the last thing they need is some asshole at a keyboard telling them how it is. I will note only that our esteemed President has seen fit to add 1,657 names to the list of the fallen while he himself risks nothing personally and with no end in sight to his obscene war.

Thank you, Mr. President for cutting veteran's benefits and for failing to armor our troops as needed. Thank you for ducking out of your duty when it was your time to serve, and thank you for later sitting back while your surrogates trashed an actual, decorated veteran in your name. It takes astonishing arrogance to drape yourself in the flag while sending other people's sons, daughters, husbands, and wives to die for your manufactured war, but everyone already knew about your arrogance. But the presumptuousness of laying a wreath in memory of those who've served and died, especially when so many have perished for your lies, is really breathtaking.

Before his Memorial Day remarks in 2003, Bush had declared major combat operations at an end, the U.S. government confidently predicted that weapons of mass destruction would be found and American generals said troops were in the process of stabilizing Iraq.
That's from here and elsewhere. Mission Accomplished, Whistle-Ass.

It's a good bet that none of those 1,657 will be the last to die in Iraq or in the nominal War on Terra. So thanks again, Mr. President; with you at the helm, we'll be sure to have plenty of newly-dead to memorialize next year.

But perhaps the most respectful annual commemorative is the dutiful countdown of the top 500 songs of classic rock. Countless stations have been doing it for years, of course, though the sheer volume of voting irregularities suggests that Ken Blackwell might be involved in all of them. Still, it's nice to know that while our armed forces are engaged overseas, Zeppelin still outscores Thin Lizzie by a wide margin.

These little reassurances help me keep my focus on the important things.

Not sure if I'll be back tomorrow in this capacity--it all depends upon the JB's reaction once he's surveyed the horror I've wrought during his absence. We'll see...

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Loose Change
Yesterday I put a dollar in the soda machine where I work and received 12 ounces of carbonated refreshment, but I did not get back the forty cents I was expecting from my investment.

Well, it seems that I'm not the only one having trouble with the coin return. At least I'm not Ohio.

Real estate and the stock market are two of the oft-touted favorites among longterm investments because, historically, both have trended higher over time. I'd have thought that something collectible like, say, rare coins would likewise have been a safe investment, but there's a catch--you have to retain possession in order to expect any return on your investment. And you absolutely shouldn't entrust them to someone just because he gave you a big, fat campaign contribution.

Enter Tom Noe, Republican donor and newly-investigaged coin misplacer. It seems that Ohio invested part of its holdings in rare coins and other collectibles with a combined value of some $50 million. While under the vigiliant and, I'm certain, well-qualified care of Mr. Noe, a sizable fraction of the collectibles has gone missing. I wouldn't dream of accusing Noe of wrong-doing, but if I entrusted a friend with $50 and he gave back only $12, I'd want to investigate the matter a little further (and it would be more serious that a Post-It note on the vending machine.)

Kos hits the nail on the head, noting that
It's a good thing (for the rest of you) that this is confined to the State of Ohio. I mean, what if President Bush hired someone like Tom Noe to run the IRS, or (shudder) privatized Social Security? But then again, this is the price the government pays when it hires someone whose personal gain outweighs the gain of the state...
I don't know about you, but if I'm putting $50M worth of my eggs in one basket, I'd want something more secure than a box in an apparently unsupervised warehouse.

In other news, Tom "There Will Come A Reckoning" Delay is upset that he's the butt of a joke on one of Law and Order's myriad incarnations. In the wake of a judge's murder, an investigator opines that the suspect might be wearing a Tom DeLay T-shirt (one of these, perhaps?

The ethically-challenged Leader quickly fired off a letter of calculated outrage to NBC, but the episode has already aired, so I'm not sure what kind of action DeLay expects in response.

Is the joke funny? Well, who can say? But is it outrageous? Compared to calling for actual retribution against non-lockstep judges? I'd say not.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Shows What I Know
Fresh off my lamentation about insufficient votes to overturn Dubya's likely veto of the bill to lift the ban on Federal funding of stem cell research, the New York Times quotes Arlen Specter's (R-Pa) assertion that they do have the votes, after all. Specter, by all accounts still as feisty and hard-working as ever despite the daily brutality of his cancer treatment, expresses reluctance to engage in "veto threats," but the fact that the discussion is even occurring in the public eye speaks volumes.

To date, Duyba has famously (and proudly) withheld his veto power, and he definitely hasn't nixed any spending bills, so we might be on the verge of an important moment. His approval rating is at a stupendous low, with fully 60% of Americans saying that the country is on the wrong track. At the same time, 58% of Americans approve of medical research using embryonic stem cells. So what happens if Dubya finally dusts off his stamper to veto this, of all bills? Sure, he'll gratify his WTF Christian base, but at what cost? He certainly won't make himself appear more in touch with the citizenry.

Dubya's Social Security crusade is still in the crapper, his War in Iraq is still going poorly, the Bolton vote is still being delayed, and Dubya only managed to get his judicial appointments approved at the cost of humiliating his good friend Frist. If we throw in Dubya's pandering during the Schiavo debacle, then he's zero for five. Well, he did sign the bankruptcy bill, so I guess that's one way he demonstrated himself to be keeping in touch.

If he ever had a mandate, he has a really goofy way of leveraging it.

While I have you on the line--Americablog reports that Pennsylvania's other Senator, nominally an ardent opponent of stem cell research, has in fact accepted funding from corporations that engage in it. So what does Santorum object to, exactly? Not profits from stem cell research, apparently. And not abortion, either. At least, not until he started campaigning for Senator. Thanks to Media Matters for that last bit.

If you have a few minutes and you want a chuckle, try googling "Santorum" and check out the first link that comes up. Ask your parents first, if you're under 18.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

With all the trouble in the world at the moment--and a sneaking suspicion that Bush's falling approval ratings and slaps upside the head on Social Security, the filibuster, and stem cells might lead to a wag-the-dog attack on Iran sooner rather than later--I'd rather write about cartoons.

With entire channels devoted to cartoons 24/7, plus VCRs and DVDs, kids (and adults) can live on nothing but cartoons now if they want to. Not so back in the day. You had your Saturday mornings, and maybe an hour in the late afternoon, and that was it. There was a time when almost every local TV market had a locally produced kids' show featuring cartoons. In my case, it was Circus 3 with ventriloquist Howie Olson and sidekick Cowboy Eddie, which ran from 1961 to 1972, but you probably had your own, and at about the same time. Circus 3 made me a fan of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons--Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Road Runner, et al. The Flintstones, which ran in prime-time during the early 1960s, was also an afternoon staple, on a different local station. At some point, I was turned on to Rocky and Bullwinkle and the Pink Panther, too. I have watched many of these into adulthood (well, maybe not The Flintstones so much), and I'd love it if somebody would start running Pink Panther cartoons again.

The cartoon experience was about more than the cartoons, of course. It was also about the commercials. Eagle-eyed kids (like me) knew that the same people who produced Rocky and Bullwinkle made the ads for Cap'n Crunch cereal, and there's not a kid alive who, if you say to him, "They're g-r-r-r-eat!," doesn't know who and what you're talking about. And speaking of which--Thurl Ravenscroft, who provided the voice of Tony the Tiger and hundreds of other cartoon characters (and sang the songs in How the Grinch Stole Christmas) died this week at age 91. And the guy who provided the voice of Fred Flintstone since 1979 (and thus not in the original TV episodes from the early 60s), Henry Corden, died as well. What this means is--if you're a TV cartoon voiceover person, the rule of three says you should be very afraid. It also means, especially in Ravenscroft's case, that we're losing icons of various sorts on a fairly regular basis now, and there's nobody coming along to replace them.

And now, they used to say on Star Trek, "Mr. Herbst, you have the com." I will be on hiatus until June 1, but guest blogger Tom is more than capable of flying this thing, so I'll see ya.

These are sacred, those are not
Back when Roe v. Wade was about as recent as 9/11 is to us, Carl Sagan wrote the following:

The argument about the “potential” to be human seems to me particularly weak… [I]t is possible that in the not-too-distant future we may be able to clone a whole human being from a single cell taken from essentially anywhere in the donor’s body. If so, any cell in my body has the potential to become a human being if properly preserved until the time of a practical cloning technology. Am I committing mass murder if I prick my finger and lose a drop of blood?
That’s from “The Dragons of Eden,” well worth reading for chapter eight alone.

So what’s a “potential” human life? Opponents of stem cell research assert that the embryo has such potential and all the rights of a full-grown human. Unless the human is an Iraqi civilian, when it apparently becomes perfectly acceptable to end one life to protect another.

Activists call embryos “viable,” as if they’ll gestate in their Petri dishes and grow up to pull the Republican lever. However, they’re not viable until implanted in a womb, and successful implantation isn’t guaranteed under the best of circumstances. But activists don't want to end a life to save a life, of course.

Nevertheless “viability” remains an enticingly nebulous buzz-word for activists because it promises an ever-earlier point at which an embryo must be considered fully protected. But that’s the catch—when Carl’s drop of blood finally does represent “potential” “viable” life, the absurdity of those terms will become apparent, and anti-choice advocates will lose what they think is their strongest objection.

That, I think, is the source of resistance to stem cell research (and its thematic sibling human cloning). So where are we now? Well, the House passed a funding bill for stem cell reseach, Dubya plans to veto it, and the necessary two-thirds majority to override the veto doesn’t appear to exist. And that’s a pity, because it will impair research into a field appearing to hold wide-ranging therapeutic promise, and it represents yet another scientific frontier that our nation’s pioneers will have to explore sans federal funding.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Little Ventured, Nothing Gained
I haven’t had time to assimilate the implications of the deal, but judging from CSPAN’s Washington Journal this morning, the Republican sheep are more outraged than the Democratic sheep, for what that’s worth. By and large the Repub callers viewed this more as an assault on the President’s divine mandate to construct a pyramid as tall as the sky, whereas Dem callers were of the “let’s see what happens next” mindset.

IMO the deal’s biggest “failure” for the Repubs is that it’s one of the few moments of un-Borg-like uniformity, and to hear Frist tell it, it’s the biggest crisis the nation has faced since God gave the Constitution to Jefferson. What will come of it? Hard to say, but if Frist runs in 2008 as the Great Leader, he’ll need to account for failing to Greatly Lead his simplistic majority in a simple majority vote.

The Dems biggest failure is in keeping the Nuke option on the table, which is like saying “If you agree not to kill me today, you can still maybe kill me tomorrow.” Hardly the rallying cry of a revolution—it’s more like the pitiable plea of an abuse victim.

JB has correctly observed (though not in exactly these words) that Lieberman is once again the weakest link in a chain made of noodles, and Ben Nelson hasn’t impressed me with his fortitude, either. On CSPAN this morning he indicated that only one of the three stooges is sure to get his “No” vote, so I can only suppose that he foresees a tough reelection campaign next time around.

No Nukes
At about the same time the rogue nuclear missile on last night's season finale of 24 was being zapped at the last second, the Republican Party's nuclear assault on Senate rules was being zapped, too. That's one way to spin the deal that has been reached to avert this morning's scheduled nuclear-option vote in the Senate.

It seems that people on both sides are upset, from James Dobson on the right to Russ Feingold on the left. The deal apparently calls for an up-or-down vote on Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and Bill Pryor--the three worst nominees, as it turns out. It seems likely that at least one of them will probably be defeated on that up-or-down vote, if the comments of South Carolina's Lindsey Graham are correct. (I'd have to guess that will be Pryor.) The deal preserves the right to filibuster, but only under "extraordinary circumstances." And that language concerns me a great deal--because if Janice Rogers Brown isn't "extraordinary," nobody is. As a commenter at Political Animal put it, the only judge in America who's to the right of Brown is Alabama's Roy Moore, protector of the Ten Commandments. And what if Bush tries to put Owen or Brown up for a Supreme Court vacancy in a year or so? How can Democrats filibuster the nomination then if they don't filibuster it now? I'm wary of any deal in which the Democratic dealers include Joe Lieberman--because Lieberman is the Democrat most likely to give the Republicans cover when it looks like "extraordinary circumstances" have arrived with some future nomination.

The broader implications of this will take time to play out. Does the revolt of the moderate Repugs mean a real split on other issues, too, or is this a one-time thing? Is there anything in the agreement that might curb Bush's taste for the most extreme nominees? Will you be able to get truckloads of "Frist for President" gear at a discount very soon?

I suspect we have only postponed the nuclear option, not defused it. That, combined with the apparent seating of Owen and Brown, makes this deal a failure by the standard I wrote about last week. Yet as Mark Schmitt wrote at the Decembrist last night, the nature of compromise is that everybody's a little disappointed. If this compromise means Frist and the christo-fascists have lost their whip hand over the Senate--then hurrah for this compromise.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Read a Book, Fer Chrissakes
With tonight's season finale of 24, we have officially concluded another TV season at our house. Here's a look back at the four primetime series The Mrs. and I watched regularly this past year.

NYPD Blue: We watched this one from its first episode in 1993, and I still watch the repeats most days when I knock off for lunch. The show's best years were the four-plus seasons starring Jimmy Smits (1994-1998), but Blue didn't really start running out of gas until the last half-dozen episodes, which must be some kind of record for a show that ran 11 seasons. The idea that boss-hating detective Andy Sipowicz (played by Dennis Franz) might suddenly decide to become first, a uniformed sergeant, and later, chief of the detective squad, was fairly implausible. Nevertheless, it was fitting that NYPD Blue should have gone out with the idea that the police work goes on even though the audience won't be watching every week. After all, that's how Steven Bochco ended his first groundbreaking cop show, Hill Street Blues. (The five-episode arc in which Smits' character dies of heart disease, being repeated on TNT this week at 1PM Central each day, is television that is both impossible to watch and impossible to tear yourself away from once you start.)

The West Wing: I wrote about this show last February, and I didn't see anything in the last two months of episodes that changed my mind--it's pretty much jumped the shark. The season's presidential campaign arc produced two candidates viewers are supposed to take seriously mostly because the show's other characters tell us we should take them seriously--we certainly haven't seen enough character development so we can decide for ourselves. Because I've invested six years in The West Wing--and because when the blind pigs who produce the show find an acorn in the script pile, it's still compelling TV--I'll be watching the first few episodes next fall, but I won't promise to stay for the whole season.

Desperate Housewives:
Let me say first that I really like this show. Let me say second that it's the most overrated program on television. It's well-plotted--but we've got to make a distinction between well-plotted and well-written, because I wouldn't call Desperate Housewives well-written. Some shows you can enjoy for the writing--The West Wing was certainly one of them, during the years creator Aaron Sorkin did most of the writing; Seinfeld is another; even NYPD Blue, for its creative use of profanity and slang. The writing on Desperate Housewives is strictly utilitarian--even the supposed profundities by the narrative Housewife, Mary Alice Young, who committed suicide in the first episode and whose reason for doing so was revealed in last night's season finale. (And let's be honest: Even the plotting fell apart on the finale, which hurried at least two episodes' worth of business into one hour--the least involving episode of the season.) What makes Desperate Housewives involving is the same thing that makes daytime soaps involving--not that there's anything wrong with that, but don't confuse it with Great Art.

24: It's fashionable to criticize 24 for its implausibility--this season, in a single day, we've seen the same terrorist mastermind attempt to melt down every nuclear plant in the country, successfully shoot down Air Force One, and launch a nuclear missile from Iowa toward a major city, all the while dodging government agents whose vast technological arsenal seems to fail every time it gets close to capturing him. If you can forgive 24's implausibilities, it's the wildest thrill ride in television history. Implausible or not, however, the show's meta-narrative--that there's no limit to what terrorists might try, so there's no limit to what must be done to stop them--is as troubling a premise as any TV program has ever been based on. For that reason, watching 24 often feels like looking into the future, so, when the show is at its best, it's scary as hell.

Big Shoes
To be honest, if JB is concerned about losing me as a reader just because I’ve fallen into the gearing, then he’s worrying needlessly; his blog is good and worth following, even if one happens to start a blog of one’s very own.
Of course, if he's concerned that my writing will drive away readers, I admit that this is a worthy fear. I hope that my smug bluster doesn’t drive away the faithful, at least not permanently. Heck, if you don’t care for my vibe, take comfort in the knowledge that I’m just pinch-hitting for a few days, after which the reins will be back in their proper hands.

I mentioned to JB that I’ve read this blog since before it was called The Daily Aneurysm, so it's both an honor and a privilege and a pleasure to have the chance to contribute (other than as a gadfly on the comments page.) I’m not sure when I first posted a comment, but it was something about Rick Santorum, so it probably had to do with weeping sores or oily discharges.

To those readers hearty enough to continue reading over the next few days: please voice your disgust, displeasure, and disagreement with anything I say or omit. I’ll do what I can to keep from destroying the Internets while JB is on the road, and I’m hopeful that I’ll provide a diversion and maybe even a glimmer of insight.

Stay tuned—tomorrow I unlock my word-horde, and who knows what might come spilling out? At a minimum, I hope to master the vagaries of formatting before JB gets back...

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Here's the Keys--You Drive
For over two freakin' years, the Daily Aneurysm has been almost entirely the product of one brain--mine, such as it is--although a handful of dedicated regular commenters and private e-mailers have improved it immeasurably. Now, one of those regulars is going to be punished for his good deeds. Tom Herbst, whose comments are often funnier and more intelligent than the posts to which they respond, is going to serve as my first-ever guest blogger for the next 10 days or so, especially over Memorial Day weekend, when I will be out of blogging range entirely. Tom describes himself thusly:
I reside in western PA and work in the financial industry as a low-level bean counter. I’ve lived in Pennsylvania all my life except for a dubious and very brief stint in Austin, TX. . . .

I only achieved any real political consciousness in the mid-90’s, though I voted for Clinton in ’92 and have, in retrospect, always been a liberal. . . .

I worked for a long time in food service, during which I learned that people who look down on that type of work have never had to do it, and mall-store retail clerks think they’re the top rung on society’s ladder, versus the bottom-rung pizza guys in the food court. If that kind of thing doesn’t make somebody aware of the absurd artificiality of “class,” then I don’t know what will.

My great-grandfather patented the method by which people roll up the toothpaste tube during use; every time you curl up your Colgate, I get a nickel. Keep on brushing.
I realize that by promoting Tom from reader to blogger, I have probably cut my number of readers by a significant percentage. I'm willing to risk it, however, because it'll be nice to have some good writing on here for a change. Watch for Tom's stuff over the next week or 10 days, and if you're going somewhere over Memorial Day, keep his advice in mind: "If you have to travel across country and your choices are a Greyhound Bus and the back of an offal tanker, choose the latter. Trust me on this."

Recommended Reading: Over at the Decembrist, Mark Schmitt says Tuesday's nuclear option vote may result in neither a mushroom cloud nor a fizzle. Some of the Republican senators currently trying to find a compromise could, in effect, stop the clock by voting stategically on one of the motions that would be part of the nuclear package--taking the balance of power away from Nurse Frist and the wingnut hardcores and into their hands. It may be too much to hope that this is the moment when the Republican coalition--the marriage of convenience between the christo-fascists and the old-line grownups--might finally split. But stay tuned.

(This post has been edited since it first appeared.)

Friday, May 20, 2005

I'm Somewhat Wild About Harry
Josh Marshall, who's had some great think pieces on the nuclear option fight in the last few days, made a highly ponderable point today: It's not necessarily a bad thing if some conservative judges get confirmed now and then--and it might not be the end of the world if the most awfulest of the current crop, Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, get confirmed, provided that any such deal to confirm them takes the nuclear option off the table now and forever. "Now and forever" is the key. It would be the height of dumbassitude for the Democrats to agree to a compromise that only postpones the fight until the stakes are even higher.

Nevertheless, this is the Democratic Party we're talking about--and there have been lots of times in recent years when the "D" in "dumbassitude" has also stood for "Democrats." Harry Reid has done a fine job orchestrating this fight so far. His statement the other day about Bush and the Republicans trying to reinvent reality is exactly the kind of thing Democrats need to be saying, and not just on this issue. But I'm not feeling entirely comfortable yet--because the "C" in "compromise" can also stand for "caving." The fight is about more than judges in the short term, and Democrats need to keep that in mind. The Repugs certainly will. With Robert Byrd reportedly involved in trying to craft a compromise--a man who understands the concept of the long term because he's lived through it--the likelihood of a cave-in seems less. But still, the idea nags in the back of my mind, as well it should.

Failure to reach a compromise wouldn't be an unpopular thing. The wingnuts want this fight like a 16-year-old boy wants to get laid. However, somebody (Josh, maybe?) pointed out that it's not just right-wing pressure groups who want to fight as opposed to compromising. So do some of the lefty, Move-0n types, who see it as an opportunity to split the Repugs and score a major victory. And it occurs to me that there's a third position, too--the "just get it over with" position. We can't dangle over this edge too much longer. You might have to go back to the Gulf War authorization vote in 1991 to find similar drama surrounding a vote in Congress--or perhaps as far back as the Nixon impeachment summer, 1974. So just like lancing a boil is good medicine, maybe having the showdown and getting on with whatever's next would be healthy--regardless of who's left standing at the end.

Coming this weekend: A first in the history of this blog. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Welcome to Paraguay
There are two extremely good posts on Daily Kos this morning that illustrate the point, generally missed in almost every discussion of judicial filibusters, about what makes the nuclear option "nuclear." It's true, as Repugs keep saying, that the Senate has the right to make its own rules. But to go nuclear, the Repugs are going to have to break the rule that says any rule change must be approved by a two-thirds majority. That's the nuclear part. The Senate's own parliamentarian has said they can't do it--but Frist and company have blown him off. (Kos posts are here and here.)

This is banana-republic governance. Rules don't matter; only power does. Although if the Repugs succeed, we can look forward to a day when Democrats hold the presidency and both houses of Congress, and we can put some judges of our own on the courts. Gay judges. Atheist judges. Tree hugger judges. Supreme Court Justice William J. Clinton.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Statesman Overboard
With the nuclear option fight looming in the Senate this week (probably on Thursday), those of us on the left are watching to see how many Repugs will put the good of the country (and 217 years of tradition) ahead of party discipline. Right now, we know of only three--McCain, Chaffee, and Snowe. We need three more to reach 51 votes against the nuclear option.

One vote we're not going to get is that of Indiana's Richard Lugar. Over the weekend Lugar said the Senate was skating on thin ice over the filibuster issue, but yesterday, he got in line and said he'd vote with the Repugs.

I've said nice things about Lugar in the past. In a post no longer available online, a couple of years ago, I suggested he was too smart to be a Republican, because he seemed to have a hard time staying on the Repug message if it was especially ridiculous. But in the last week, those of us who admired his independence have learned that we can kiss it goodbye, and start considering him just another GOP hack. Even before the flip-flop on filibusters, Lugar had done yeoman's work for the administration in pushing the Bolton nomination through the Foreign Relations Committee, of which he is chairman--even though he had to know how awful a nominee Bolton is. Over at the Prospect, Michael Steinberger joins in the head-scratching. There would seem to be no reason for Lugar to go in the tank for Bolton, and his decision to side with Nurse Frist seems equally inexplicable.

Recommended Reading:
Atrios and others noted yesterday the GOP astroturf about the Janice Rogers Brown judicial nomination, which trades heavily on the "child of a sharecropper" theme--and never mind that her judicial philosophy, had it been in place when her parents were still sharecropping, would have made sure she never got to be a judge in the first place. Today, Ezra Klein examines the phenomenon of young conservative pundits, and observes that if you want to make it in right-wing America, be a pundit (or a judge) that the right-wing can easily pigeonhole: the black one, the Asian one, the young one. If you're not actually representative of your ethnic or demographic group, don't worry. (Never mind that you're more accurately described as a traitor to its interests.) You're useful in making sure the Repugs "look like America," and you'll get lots of face time on Fox News. And, eventually, PBS.

Monday, May 16, 2005

I See Dumb People
Oh, those wacky Kansans, who are trying not just to impose the farce of intelligent design on science curricula across the state, but who are actually trying to change the very definition of science. Best line about this came from Daily Kos diarist Hunter earlier this month: "My problem with this debate is that this isn't about being pro-religion or anti-religion or faith-neutral; it's about institutionalizing stupidity as a valid lifestyle choice." They aren't smart enough either to understand science or to trust people who do, so they take refuge in superstition and myth--which is plenty bad, but then they try to impose it on the rest of us, which is even worse. (And they will try to impose it in the same way in other states. Kansas is just the beginning.)

But it's bad to make fun of them, right? If we call the superstitions people believe in "religion," that's supposed to inoculate them in some magical way against disrespect, and we're all supposed to take them seriously. How come? Why can't we disrespect them? What we consider religion and what we don't is, after all, utterly arbitrary. You may believe in the God of Abraham, but if I believe in Bob the Rain God or the Invisible Blue Unicorn in the Sky, I have as much empirical evidence for the truth of my belief as you do for the truth of yours.

Fact is, I am under no obligation to show the slightest bit of respect for arrant nonsense. The beliefs of these Kansas rubes are based on books written by barbarians between two and three thousand years ago--desert dwellers wearing animal skins who couldn't explain why it rained without recourse to magic. You can't blame the original desert dwellers for that, but you can certainly blame people who act like nothing has changed since about 95 AD. Like it or not, we know stuff now. One of the things we should know is that we can't base a modern, industrialized society on ignorance and superstition. Anybody who believes we can shouldn't be granted a driver's license--or a voter registation card--let alone the right to public office.

We're under no obligation to take them seriously. The best way to deal with Kansas is to laugh. They're morons, and they deserve it.

Quote of the Day: With ignorance riding high in the saddle these days, nobody should be all that surprised to see the Bush gang taking aim at NPR. Over the weekend, Bill Moyers described Corporation for Public Broadcasting chief Kenneth Tomlinson this way: "I always knew Nixon would be back, I just didn't know that this time he would ask to be chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."

This post has been slightly edited since it first appeared.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Radio Nation
From the time I was 11 years old, the only thing I ever seriously wanted to be was a radio guy. And for about 15 years, I was. Unfortunately, the industry I got into beginning in the late 70s was not the thing I'd fallen in love with a few years before. Although I had some fun, did some good work, and possessed a wee bit of talent, my radio career ended up a terrible disappointment to me. My last fulltime job ended on the first working day of 1994; my last part-time gig ended in the fall of 1997. So it's been over seven years since I did my last DJ show, yet I haven't missed it all that much.

Since 1994, the industry has been transformed into a giant slot machine for a few corporate ownership groups--they put in their money and even more comes out. For the industry giants, radio continues to be staggeringly profitable despite the fact that corporatization has led to homogenization, and not in a good way. In almost every city of any size at all, 90 percent of the radio stations are mostly unlistenable. I haven't even bothered to set all the buttons on my car radio, and I've owned it since 2001. Now, I listen to sports talk when I'm getting dressed in the morning, NPR occasionally, our local public radio station on weekend nights for jazz, and our local progressive talker now and then. But most of the time, it's CDs at home and tapes or CDs in the car, the Weather Channel for the forecast, and to hell with the rest of it.

The Nation
's latest issue deals with the state of American radio. First, Nicholas Von Hoffman writes about Air America's rocky start and the future of lefty radio. Von Hoffman observes that progressive radio has yet to find its Rush Limbaugh--a guy people know about even if they don't listen to him. Until it does, it will always be at a disadvantage.

One of my radio jobs required me to push buttons during the local broadcast of Limbaugh's show, so I heard him day in and day out for a year or so. I said then that Rush Limbaugh was the greatest radio personality to emerge since the golden days of Top 40 radio--his in-your-face egotism was straight out of the boss-jock playbook, and he was drop-dead funny in a way lots of radio people try to be and fail. Then Bill Clinton came to town. While Limbaugh's act had always been a little mean-spirited, it became far more so during the Clinton years. Today, he's almost entirely a propagandist. In the old days, I suspected he didn't really believe everything he said, and that the joke was on the dittoheads who did. Now I tend to think he really does believe it all--including the part about his talent being on loan from God.

The current progressive talk talent pool has no one in Limbaugh's league. Al Franken certainly isn't--the open secret about Franken's Air America show is that it's really quite dull a lot of the time. Randi Rhodes has the comedic chops, but her outsized Noo Yawk personality won't play in the heartland, and she lets her exasperation with the wingnuts drive her to shrillness. Fargo-based Ed Schultz, a Democracy Radio host carried on many Air America stations--but also on stations not exclusively lefty--is getting some big buzz, too. He sounds a little like Limbaugh, if you're not paying attention, but his show lacks the indefinable something that brings a listener (this one, anyhow) back every day.

Progressive talk's salvation is likely to come from the hosts Democracy Radio is placing in individual markets around the country, building an audience from the ground up. The money to build on and the audience for progressive talk seems to be there, but it will take a long time to build anything remotely capable of competing with the right-wing noise machine. Time, alas, we may not have before the right-wingers get done burning the country down.

Also in The Nation, Garrison Keillor provides a personal reflection on the lost art of real people saying real things on the radio. I'd like to think such a thing could become fashionable again, even if I don't share the opinion that Terry Gross and Ira Glass are exemplars of it. I don't believe we need any more of the narcissism that mars the concept behind This American Life, but I'd settle for radio that doesn't treat the audience like babies who need shiny things waved in their faces every two minutes to maintain their attention. That, and a couple more good jazz stations.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Leaner, Meaner, More Beastly
Nothing is a greater waste of time here in the spring of 2005 than handicapping a presidential election that's three years away, but let's do it anyhow, since the commenters got started earlier today.

A poll out this week named Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani as the leading candidates for 2008. At this point, such a poll is the grossest sort of name recognition. (A more sensible polling strategy at this point might be to ask voters to name three people who might consider running in 2008--except you'd likely find that anywhere from a quarter to a third of the electorate thinks Arnold Schwarzenegger is eligible.) Giuliani might run, although he's reportedly a candidate for New York governor if the incumbent, George Pataki, retires. Speculating on a Giuliani presidential run has been a New York pastime for years. He's been mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate since he was a racket-busting New York City DA in the mid 80s. And Hillary is Hillary--the conventional wisdom has had her in the race since about 1994.

The real entertainment is going to be on the Republican side next time anyhow, although Democrats are likely to be thick on the ground as well. Will Jeb take his turn? Will Bill Frist get Jesus to come down and nominate him at the convention? What about John McCain? Chuck Hagel? Rick Santorum? The Reverend Ashcroft thought about taking the plunge in 2000 but did not. Surely he couldn't lose to a dead guy this time, could he? John Kerry sent me a fundraising letter the other day, so he's in. So is John Edwards. I'll wager Joe Lieberman tries it again, too. My heart pines for Russ Feingold. But just as there was talk of the "seven dwarfs" during the Democrats' charisma-challenged 1988 primary campaign, the Democrats' 2008 field will be made up of dwarfs alongside giant Hillary.

Would Hillary make a good president? Probably. Would she have the chance to A) get elected and B) govern if she won? The answers are maybe and no. The Repug slime machine is already cranking up to smear her, but that can be overcome. After all, her husband did it. But even if she somehow gets the nomination--and isn't assassinated by some wingnut with a gun, which is my great fear for her--she's got big problems. She can't credibly claim to be from Arkansas anymore--she'd be a New York liberal, with all the baggage that carries in the provinces. But even if by some miracle she overcame that and managed to win, without a solidly Democratic Congress behind her, she would be finished before she began. And that's probably the best reason to support Anybody But Hillary if you're a Democrat--to spare the country at least two and maybe four years of partisan gridlock that will make everything we've seen before look like sweet Christian love.

Commenter Tom suggests that if Hillary gets the nom, Bill would be a good pick as running mate. He's not eligible, though, having served two terms already. But I have this fantasy. The Repugs decide that none of the heirs presumptive are fit to hold office. They repeal the Constitutional amendment limiting presidential terms so Bush can run again. And the Big Dog comes out and says, "I'm back." Except he'd have to elbow Hillary out of the way, which might be entertaining in its own way.

But first we've got to do 2006. Kos had some interesting stuff on governor's races around the country today. I wasn't aware Tom Vilsack was hanging it up in Iowa, but he apparently is, setting up a race between Repug Congressman Jim Nussle and current Iowa Secretary of State Chet Culver, son of former U.S. Senator John Culver. Here in Wisconsin, we've had two Republicans announce for governor in the last couple of weeks--Milwaukee County executive Scott Walker and Green Bay-area Congressman Mark Green, both of whom started their campaigns by trying to outdo one another in moving furthest to the right. (Our Assembly speaker, Republican John Gard, is probably going to run for Green's seat, which is interesting, because Gard lives in the Madison suburbs most of the year, three hours from Green Bay.) Kos speculates about former governor Tommy Thompson entering the race, but nobody is talking about that here. On the Democratic side, incumbent governor Jim Doyle has no primary opposition yet and we don't expect any, although a few progressives yearn for somebody not so likely to play footsie with right-leaning business interests. Doyle hasn't been Democrat enough for a lot of Democrats, and even if he makes nice with Republicans, they'll vote for the other guy anyhow. I'm not writing Doyle off yet. He was the least charismatic and interesting candidate in the Democratic primary field in 2002 but had the money and organization to win, and his base in Madison and Milwaukee remains fairly solid.

Recommended Reading: Few news stories have given me as much pleasure lately as the one from last week noting that Biblical scholars now believe that the Number of the Beast, 666, is actually 616. What will Jack Van Impe say?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Everybody Make Your O Face
I notice that a city in Brazil has declared today to be Orgasm Day, in honor of a conference it's holding that features a series of panel discussions by sexologists from across Brazil and a presentation of Eve Ensler's play The Vagina Monologues.

I guess you know what your homework is for tonight.

You can also get off on the Quote of the Day, and you won't have to buy it dinner first. Over at Best of the Blogs, John McCreery quoted President Dwight Eisenhower, speaking in 1952:
Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes that you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.
Was it as good for you as it was for me?

Sunday, May 08, 2005

I Heart the Constitution, Really, I Swear
The pastor at the center of the expulsion of Democrats from a North Carolina church tried to reel his words back into his mouth today, claiming it was all a misunderstanding, and that no one has ever been ousted from his church for his or her political beliefs. Of course, there are nine members who say otherwise--and based on the media reports since the story broke Thursday night, he did precisely what he's been accused of doing, and it's hard to imagine how it could have been misunderstood. Now we get to see how the aftermath plays out. The Hannitys and O'Reillys of the world will no doubt buy the pastor's version, and by this time tomorrow, the story will be yet another case of evil liberals trying to smear people of faith.

The pastor said he's gotten lots of phone calls, and took care to note that some of them were threatening. Of course they were. In any flashpoint case like this, there will always be a few nutjobs who cross the line--but instead of the reasonable assumption that those threatening violence are isolated nuts, the right-wing media will characterize them as having come directly from Harry Reid or Howard Dean. (They must think we coordinate our side as well as they coordinate theirs.)

On the left, we think the pastor's move is an unconstitutional abomination that's symptomatic of a deep sickness in the body politic--but nobody sensible is suggesting he be terminated with extreme prejudice. In fact, the only person who's suggested that physical intimidation might be a valuable political weapon in the current civil war is Ann Coulter (who suggested it in the context of arguing for the execution of John Walker Lindh). Coulter was involved in an incident the other night at the University of Texas, where a student asked her a sexually explicit question and got himself arrested for doing so.

The Coulter incident and wingnut reaction to it feeds a developing meme on the right--that liberals are so crazed with anger over, well, everything, that conservatives will soon be in general danger of bodily assault. (World O'Crap examined the idea on Friday.) My experience in psychology consists of two college courses, one of them 25 years ago, but I believe the phenomenon is known as "projection"--taking your own neuroses and assigning them to somebody else. One of the developing memes on the left since Time's Coulter love-fest is that granting her inflammatory rhetoric the stamp of mainstream approval exponentially increases the likelihood of right-on-left violence, as Rick Perlstein and Bob Somersby suggested a week or so back. The question is whether it will happen before there's some kind of left-on-right incident that "proves" the wingnuts right--a Reichstag fire, you might call it.

Spinning: You may have heard reports of the 8.2 earthquake that was centered near Hyde Park, New York, yesterday, caused by Franklin D. Roosevelt turning over in his grave as George W. Bush second-guessed him on the settlement of World War II. This is the second time in as many months that Bush has invoked FDR to sell his vision of the world. The first was the dishonest assertion that FDR intended for Social Security to be privatized eventually, and now, this critique of FDR's diplomatic skills. It's fitting, I suppose, given the long-term Republican project, underway since FDR's first term, of discrediting him and everything he stood for.

If Bush had gone to a few history classes at Yale, he might have learned that Roosevelt needed to gain Russian support for the American war effort against Japan--and remember, in February 1945, when the Yalta Conference was held, the atomic bomb was in development and by no means a certainty. At that time, it was widely believed that American forces would take hundreds of thousands casualties if an invasion of Japan were necessary. He also wanted to gain Stalin's support for creation of the United Nations, which he and Churchill viewed as vital for keeping whatever peace resulted from World War II. Precious few Allied policymakers would have wanted to give up either of those in exchange for the freedom of Poland. I am not quite sure what Bush would have done to improve on the Yalta settlement had he been there. Stomping around like a rhinoceros on crack, all the while yammering about democracy on the march, wouldn't have helped.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Our Liberal Media
Good morning and welcome to Day Five of "the Runaway Bride Returns."

Oh, and there was an election in Britain yesterday.

And somebody blew up some firecrackers at the British Consulate in New York.

And there's a scandal on American Idol (again).

And there's proof Bush lied about the Iraq war, which constitutes not just impeachable evidence, but evidence of war crimes.

And the Yankees are in fourth place, but their owner has a horse in the Kentucky Derby tomorrow.

And a church in North Carolina kicked out all of its Democrat members as sinners this week.

You won't find a peep about the latter if you search it on Google News. Only a few liberal websites are on it, and even the Daily Kos link above is somewhat outdated, as the link to video of a North Carolina TV station's report on the "excommunications" is broken.

This is what the theocrats want. If you don't believe what they believe, exactly, you have no right to participate in their version of America. And they will, eventually, want more than the right to merely exile you--they'll want to be able to execute you. (Click here; scroll down to "capital punishment.")

Current price of a ticket from Madison to Auckland, leaving tomorrow, one way: $2711.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Election Night in Swinging London
I watched a bit of the British election returns from the BBC on C-SPAN tonight, and I was surprised how much Election Night over there really is like the old Monty Python "Election Night Special" sketch. The candidates really do stand up together on stage, colored party banners pinned to their lapels, while an election official reads the final results. Back at the studio, the commentators jump swiftly from race to race. And, of course, there's the swing.

In British elections, the swing is clearly the thing--in a multi-party system where winner-take-all is not the rule, the variance in percentage of the vote from one election to another is a key indicator of political support. Tonight, at least in the early returns I watched, Labour was winning lots of races, but the swing favored the Liberal Democrats. In other words, the Lib Dems gained votes from 2001, and those votes generally came at the expense of Labour--almost certainly punishment for the Blair government's support of the vastly unpopular Iraq war.

Another bit of British election lingo that baffled me at first was the phrase, "Such-and-such a party lost their deposit in such-and-such a constituency." It turns out that in British parliamentary elections, each candidate has to put up a 500-pound bond, which is returned to them if they gain five percent of the vote. So if you run for office and lose your deposit, it means you got your ass kicked.

We like to think that nobody does flashy better than we do in America, but when it comes to election-night graphics, we lose our deposit to the BBC. Peter Snow, apparently an election-night fixture over there, does his entire night's work superimposed on astoundingly colorful and interesting graphical depictions that are intended to help viewers visualize what's happening. One segment had him walking (electronically) out the front door of 10 Downing Street and using animatronic figures of Tony Blair, Conservative leader Michael Howard, and Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy to represent various electoral thresholds that would represent success or history for each party. Snow's "swingometer" is a part of British television lore (and has been since the Monty Python days, at least).

British journalists are much more confrontational than their American counterparts, but at the same time, British politicians seem to be more forthcoming. I saw some very pointed exchanges involving a reporter and a Conservative MP, and the same reporter with a party official (Labour or Lib Dem, I forget which) who accused the BBC of faulty exit-polling. On another segment, a Labour MP candidly told BBC anchor David Dimbleby that he expected to lose his race, and that as a thorn in Blair's side these past several years, he expected his loss would be one of the rare bright notes on an otherwise bad night for Labour. Imagine an American politician saying something similar before the votes were officially counted.

One of the first things I had to get used to was that over there, Labour is red and Conservative is blue, which turns America's red/blue dichotomy on its head. (The Liberal Democrats are gold; the Greens are, well, green.) And I also had to get used to the idea that there's a lot more drama to this election than we're capable of seeing from our side of the puddle. (More than I saw this morning when I blithely stated Blair would have five more years in office, that's for sure.) Stories on American websites tout the exit polls showing Blair elected to a third term, and we equate that with success. It is amazing--even Margaret Thatcher didn't do as well. But the fact is, Labour's margin in the Commons is going to be almost halved, the Liberal Democrats are exceeding their own expectations in terms of the swing, if not actually winning seats--and many people are predicting that the Labour Party will replace Blair with Gordon Brown, currently Chancellor of the Exchequer and Blair's onetime political mentor, within a few months.

Oh, and Conservatives hate taxes. Not everything is different over there.

Recommended Reading: Mariah Blake of Alternet on the vast Christian news and talk media empire. There are literally dozens of "faith-based" news and talk outlets piping right-wing ideology to millions of viewers and listeners every day. And out here on the left, we've got no idea--and no counterparts.

Friends Don't Let Friends Be Republican
You've tried to live a good life. To be smart, to think for yourself, to do the right things. And yet, perhaps you harbor a secret fear. A fear that one morning you might wake up and start thinking the flat tax isn't such a bad idea. That maybe quotas on immigration might have some good effects. That if brown people from other countries don't want to get tortured, they should stay out of war zones. In short, perhaps you fear that you might have Republican tendencies. Now, for the first time, it's possible to find out if you have the kind of perilous thoughts that can lead otherwise normal Americans to Republicanism, and just how pronounced your Republican tendencies are. Take the Are You a Republican quiz and find out for yourself.

I am pleased to report that I am negative 14 percent Republican--but you probably already knew that.

Recommended Reading: Armando at Daily Kos on David Brooks' latest columnar abomination--twisting Abraham Lincoln's religious beliefs and deliberations regarding the Emancipation Proclamation into some kind of weird endorsement for the right-wing's culture war. And Amanda Peyser of the New York Post on the case of Jennifer Wilbanks, the bug-eyed runaway bride in Georgia. I'm a bit surprised to find something so redolent with red-state bashing in a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper, but the Wilbanks story offers such a grand opportunity for snark that it would almost be rude to pass it up. The temporarily jilted fiance, who apparently volunteered to Sean Hannity that he and Jennifer have yet to run the rat up the drainpipe, is the current leader in the clubhouse for Dumbass of the Year.

Mmm . . . Fresh Asparagus
In days of old, I used to surf around blogs and news sites in the morning like a chef goes to the market, poking around amongst the produce to find something to cook up for the customers. For several reasons, I've gotten away from that in the last several months, but today is like old times. So here are some headlines and comments:

It's Election Day in Britain today.
The Labour Party is expected to hold onto its majority, albeit somewhat reduced, and that means a minimum of five more years for Tony Blair as prime minister. It's probably a good thing that prime ministers in the British system have a great deal of control over when to call elections, because if Blair had been forced to go before the voters a year or 18 months ago, when voter outrage over Iraq was at its high point, the outcome might have been far different. Of course, the Conservative Party, the main opposition, hasn't been an electoral juggernaut since Margaret Thatcher left the building. There's a third party, the Liberal Democrats (Britain's answer to the Deaniac left), but they appear to have as much chance at passing the Conservatives to become the official opposition as the Deaniac left currently has of taking control of the American Democratic Party. TPM guest blogger Kenny Baer, who lived in England for several years, has a post that sets the scene here.

Remember when Blair first took office, in 1997? He was Britain's answer to Bill Clinton, young, telegenic, and far more liberal a leader than Britain had seen in a long time. But in the runup to the Iraq war, he cast his lot with George W. Bush--a centrist Democrat sellout, British style.

We have found a witch. May we burn her? I wish I could claim that title as my own, but I stole it from a commenter to this post at Pandagon, about the decision by a judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a Virginia county's decision to forbid a Wiccan to give the invocation before a board meeting. Invocation-deliverers henceforth are to be limited to Judeo-Christian denominations only. "The Judeo-Christian tradition is, after all, not a single faith but an umbrella covering many faiths," said the judge. Yes, but not all, and the Constitution seems to clearly contravene such a ruling, making it the sort of judicial freelancing that's got the Ayatollah Robertson so up in arms. We eagerly await Robertson's thunderous condemnation of such dangerous activism.

(Insert sound of crickets chirping here.)

Red and blue make purple. I was reading something somewhere the other day about whether the blue states should just secede from the red ones and let them establish the theocracy they so badly want. The post (and I wish I could remember where I saw it) offered several reasons why secession isn't a good idea. Would we blue staters would want a bunch of religious fanatics armed with nukes on our southern border? Would we want to abandon our blue friends in red states, anywhere from 26 to 49 percent of the population in some of them? (One commenter observed that no matter what, Austin and New Orleans should remain blue, even if it required a Berlin-style airlift to keep them that way. I'd add Iowa City, too.) It's true that no place is entirely red or entirely blue--but that doesn't keep people like David Brooks and John Tierney of the New York Times from writing precious little think-pieces on the lessons of the red/blue divide. Daily Kos contributor Hunter has had enough.
They write about mainstream America, and they write about mainstream America from the view of top-tier editorial newspaper columnists sitting in the very midst of the political powerbroker class, every one invited to the correct parties and appearing regularly on the same small set of television shows, and they tell us patiently that their view from this distant closed-circuit perch is much, much more illuminating than the view from our own cars and sidewalks and porches. Because we, living in that mainstream America, don't understand.
Hunter's point is that only when you actually get out into the provinces--which Brooks and Tierney do not--do you understand just how nonsensical their supposed wisdom really is.

The mainstream media sucks again. Tierney's column was apparently sparked by the milking-a-horse joke Laura Bush told about her husband at the correspondents' dinner the other night. Best of the Blogs had an interesting thread earlier this week about the timing of the monologue, and whether it was an attempt to open up some distance between Bush and the theocrats. (BotB's links to individual posts haven't been working lately. Go to the main page and scroll down to "Open Thread: What Was Laura's Game?" from Tuesday, May 3.) It seems to me that the correspondents' dinner is a fine symbol for what's wrong with the American press--in the end, they want to be best buds with the people they cover, and the adversarial relationship that's supposed to exist between the media and the government is all just an act. Which explains a lot.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Wicked Arithmetic
Clearly we have stumbled on the formula for firing up the comments on this blog: Say something controversial about religion. It worked after the church massacre in Brookfield, Wisconsin, last March, and it worked over the weekend, too.

What interested me most were the estimates of the number of atheists in the United States. Commenters posted numbers from Infoplease and ReligiousTolerance.org putting the number of atheists at anywhere from 900,000 to about 1.6 million (and the latter figure is for all of North America, thus lumping in many hellbound Canadian and Mexican aliens with those in the United States who threaten normal values). Those figures seem wicked low to me--so to speak. I think the lower numbers are accurate only if they are limited to atheists willing to apply the term to themselves. Not everybody is willing (or even able, for cultural or social reasons) to forthrightly say "I'm an atheist." However, if you consider anyone who's completely secular to be functionally atheist, the number would have to grow by millions.

Although there's plenty about it to quibble with, let's assume you don't decide on a religious or secular lifestyle for yourself until you're 18. The population of the country is approaching 300 million, but only about 220 million are aged 18 or over. (Age 16 would be a better cutoff point, but this is a blog post, not a research paper.) A survey at ReligiousTolerance.org says that 10 percent of Americans consider themselves "secular," which would be around 22 million. Lump in those who consider themselves at least "somewhat secular" and the number goes up to 16 percent--which would put the secular population at something like 35 million.

Regarding the number of WTF Christians ("wacko theological fringe"--thanks to reader Tom for the phrase, which is clearly the Quote of the Day), let's break that down also. Something like three-quarters of Americans identify themselves as Christian, so that's maybe 165 million people over age 18. Only about 18 percent of Christians identify themselves as belonging to sects we would consider fundamentalist (this isn't in the survey linked above, but it's been a widely reported figure in the last couple of years)--and we can reasonably guess that most of the WTF Christians can be found there. So if there are 165 million Christians in the United States, 18 percent of that is around 18 million. Not all fundies are wacko. However, if, as Tom guesses, five percent of them are, that's still almost a million.

Now, regarding the tendency of WTF Christians to murder their children--I see very little in the latest child murder story to indicate this was a case of religiosity gone nuts. Stay-at-home mom plus minister husband does not automatically equal a WTF family--and the fact that the family involved was Bulgarian and living in the Chicago suburbs doesn't fit the WTF profile, either. Nevertheless, given the likelihood, based on some back-of-the-napkin calculations, that the number of atheist/secular Americans vastly exceeds the likely number of WTF Christians, I am somewhat persuaded by the point--that the number of horrific mother-on-child murders committed by the WTF is far higher than you'd expect on a percentage-of-the-population basis--if not by the specific evidence intended to support it at this moment.

Footnote: Another look at the ReligiousTolerance.org survey an hour or so after I posted this showed me that it addresses the number of fundamentalists in the population, sort of. Eighteen percent of self-identified born-agains "meet the evangelical criteria"--a fraction of a fraction, to be sure. So that's one source of the 18 percent number I mentioned above. (And yes, I know there's a distinction between "fundamentalist" and "evangelical," but I'm not sure it matters for purposes of this discussion.) If, as the survey suggests, the number of evangelicals in the adult population (which we pegged above at about 220 million) is seven percent, that's 15 million people. Five percent of that--our guess at the number of wackos in the group--would be something around 750,000. So I think the point in my last paragraph above still holds, even if the numbers are slightly different.

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