Friday, December 31, 2010

A Story For The New Year

Here's a moving story. It's about cancer, death, and marijuana. Sadly, it's also about idiot doctors, the sort that make me embarrassed to share the title.

Over the holiday, my children came home and I showed them “The Cannabis Closet” book, which got here a few days ago. I showed them the excerpt that I had written about their mother’s battle with cancer and her use of marijuana to alleviate the effects of chemo.

Our oldest son, who has his masters in nursing and runs the nursing staff at the local VA hospital, was surprised that I had not included her oncologist’s reaction to her using pot. To tell you the truth, I had forgotten about it. But he thought it was important that I write it out and send it to you. So, here it is. Sorry it's a bit long; I tried to shorten it up.

It's worth a read; and it's not really all that long.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brain Dead

Possibly (small study) confirming a long-held belief of mine that the conservative brain differs from the progressive one in ways of which the former should not be proud, a study in England reports the following:

Scientists have found that people with conservative views have brains with larger amygdalas, almond shaped areas in the centre of the brain often associated with anxiety and emotions.

On the otherhand, they have a smaller anterior cingulate, an area at the front of the brain associated with courage and looking on the bright side of life.

We've already seen how conservatives, when faced with facts that disprove their preferred beliefs, tend to believe even harder those discredited views. The behavior is not in doubt. Now, perhaps, we find it's built of neurons and axons and olives.

So, maybe they can't help it. Their paranoia, their tendencies to make up conspiracies, to see the worst in everyone and everything (except, of course, their economic policies -- but that's in the category of resistance to fact; only a variation on the theme of inbred catastrophic thinking) -- it all percolates up, uncontrolled, from the deepest and most reptilian parts of their less-evolved encephalons.

This is not to say, of course, that conservatives should be allowed to roam freely. We can understand, we can sympathize, I can try to be less judgmental -- it's the liberal thing to do, after all. We can agree that, like those with other forms of brain damage, conservatives are not fully responsible for the ills they've caused. But, armed with that knowledge, we must find ways to keep them safe, to prevent them from harming themselves. More importantly, we must be vigilant toward their tendency to harm others. Because somehow, despite their neuroanatomic inadequacies, so far they seem to have figured out how to limit the destruction they cause to those around them, while feathering and protecting their own nests most effectively.

Gimme some of that amygdala, I guess.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


This little item hasn't gotten a lot of reaction, but I think it might be the most important thing to know about the people well on their way to becoming (even as the ashes have yet to settle on their last effort) our leaders. While teabaggers are busy calling Obama a fascist, the people they've put into power are actually being Soviet-style fascists. By that I refer to the so-called Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, appointed by Congress to find out what the hell happened, and to make recommendations. That it broke down on party lines isn't surprising; neither was it unpredictable that, in their zeal to blame everything on government (and poor people) and to give bankers a pass, Republicans would want to dilute the report. It's how they went about it that's so revelatory, and it ought to be deeply, deeply disturbing to everyone. Especially those America-loving conservatives we keep hearing about.

Republicans on the committee demanded that certain words not be used -- not be used!! -- in the FCIC report. To wit, and believe it or not: "derivatives," "deregulation," "Wall Street," "shadow banking," "interconnection." Interconnection?? Unbelievable! Deriviatives. Wall Street. Struck from the report, if those guys would have had their way. That's like talking about sex without referring to male or female. Or being screwed.

Fortunately, in a rare example of not caving to crazy, Democrats refused; so the Republicans are issuing their own, separate, report. With no inclusion of the banned terms. Blaming the entire debacle on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and borrowers. Not mentioning Wall Street's role at all. How much credence would you give a report on New Orleans and Katrina that didn't mention water? Or the federal government?

No, this post isn't about the financial crisis. It's about the fact that supposedly serious Republicans would actually demand the elimination of certain words. They were perfectly happy to censor the work, to rewrite history, to turn an important investigation into a lie, for their own purposes: namely, the preservation of the myth of their economic wisdom. And, certain of their audience, to be public about it!! Shameless. But of a piece.

Are not hallmarks of totalitarianism -- of which they (falsely, clearly) accuse President Obama -- the censoring of truth, the manipulation of news, demanding control of message, banning discourse? The dishonest management of the public's view of history? What is this, if not a perfect example of hiding the truth to maintain a lie? Something for which the Soviets were deservedly famous.

Everywhere you look, the evidence is overwhelming and undeniable: these are deeply dishonest, agenda-driven ideologues, with not the least interest in the common good. Their respect for voters is miniscule; their respect for truth is non-existent. Want the final proof what they're about? Listen to the about-to-be (thanks to teabaggers) chairman of the House Financial Services committee, Spencer Bachus:

"'In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks,' he said.

Any questions?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


[Normally I don't try to explain the clever witticisms of my title pictures. This is, in part, because no one ever seems to notice -- much less appreciate -- them. But in this case, recounting the path might shed light: based on the title of the post, I looked for images of johns, as in guys who patronize prostitutes. Not much from which to choose. So to be more precise, I searched "john sting..." Enough said. Besides, I don't want to distract from the point of the post. For that, we have Frankie.]

Came across this article, making an undeniable -- yet under-considered -- point. It's...

....about John McCain and John Kerry, and how the two men were and are portrayed, and how things have turned out, in real life. McCain and Kerry have quite a bit in common. Both long-term Senators, both lifetime “government employees”, both veterans, hell, they both married wealthy women (the second time around), so there’s some similarity even in their personal lives.

They’re also members of a very exclusive club. They both lost Presidential elections.

And that’s where the similarities end.

After John Kerry lost to George W. Bush, he returned to the Senate and simply did his job there, and he’s continued to do his job there.

Kerry lost, big, on climate change this year and he still rallied and led on START, rather than booking time on cable shows to bitch.

Kerry didn’t subject the country to two years of bitter griping, temper tantrums and petulant demands. Kerry didn’t pursue purely personal vendettas against whole groups of voters who (allegedly) “betrayed” him. Kerry didn’t flip-flop on each and every policy position he has ever held. He voted and votes the same way he always did. John McCain, remarkably, considering what we were told about him, has done all those awful things since his loss in 2008.

In the 2004 Presidential election, political media and pundits portrayed John Kerry as an elitist, foppish, slightly silly “flip-flopper” who lacked character and core convictions. The same political media and pundits lovingly and carefully nurtured the fairy tale that John McCain is a rock-ribbed, Country First, straight-shooter. Events since tell a radically different story.

How can this be? Wasn’t this script supposed to run the other way? Could they have been more wrong?

Of course it's about character, and about perceptions. It's about startling differences in grace, in seriousness, in effectiveness particular to those two men. But it's also about the laziness and the herd mentality of the media, and of the consumers thereof. In the fastest of fast-drying concrete, such conceptions and misconceptions become cast. Kerry was a flip-flopping elitist; McCain was sturdy, heroic, patriotic (Kerry, who risked his life to save others in Vietnam, wasn't), a man of high principle. And, like a pack of hyenas, the media swallowed the narrati, made them entrenched, never veered, once established, from their shared wisdom. Insight.

How sadly and completely they fail their obligations. How easy it must be to do that sort of "journalism." And how destructive.

My question is this: is such shallow punditry the chicken, or the egg? Who leads whom? From where do the stupid come?

To me it's indisputable that, as a general principle, our media have let us down, failing to uphold their bargain with the democracy. Namely, they've long since (with only a couple of exceptions) forsworn their role as serious investigators, educators, questioners on serious matters. It'd take more work, thought, and time than that of which I'm capable to consider how and when and why it happened. But happen it did. Fox "news," as dangerous and damaging and despicable as it is, is only the ultimate extension of the steady replacement of deep journalism with shallow and dollar-driven entertainment. It just took it to the logical conclusion. (Assuming that by "logic" is meant "willingness to substitute the pretense of journalism with overt propaganda, and to place profit over purpose.")

Nevertheless it's interesting to wonder: when such memes as Kerry-as-fop and McCain-as-principled take hold, what explains it? Are the concepts like diseases which attack the most vulnerable, spreading among those with no natural resistance? Stupid talking heads, for example, and teabagger types? Is it as simple as accident plus laziness?

Or is it more dire? Is it the deliberate and cynical planting of ideas by those with dark motive? We know this happens, and it's no surprise at all. But why is it so effective? Are the "journalists" on the take. Is Fox "news" not the only gaggle of gag-worthy grifters who take their marching orders from above? Are they all on the take, or are they just all that dumb and superficial?

And what explains the rapidity and ease with which stupid shorthand becomes stone-carved seriousness? Has dumb news produced the public preference for pablum, or is it the Texification of education? Are the dumbing-down and religioning-up merely the inevitable results of increasingly complex and overwhelming problems, or has it been a deliberate, cynical, and coordinated (not to mention highly successful) long game, planned and carried out by the Roves and Norquists and Murdochs of the world? Was public pliability their great insight, on which they built their strategy, or did they first set out to stupefy us?

I wish I knew. For now, I all I know is that it's ubiquitous and depressing. And only showing signs of getting worse.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Governing Principle

Maybe this guy can knock some sense into birthers:

Reporting from Honolulu —
Neil Abercrombie knew Barack Obama's parents when the future president was born here in 1961, and he has been aggravated by the so-called birther movement, which alleges Obama was not born in the United States and thus should be expelled from office.

Now Abercrombie has an office of his own — he became governor of Hawaii on Dec. 6. — and he intends to do something about it.

What, exactly, is unclear. But in an interview this week at the state Capitol, he left little doubt that torpedoing the conspiracy theorists was a priority.

"What bothers me is that some people who should know better are trying to use this for political reasons," said Abercrombie, 72. "Maybe I'm the only one in the country that could look you right in the eye right now and tell you, 'I was here when that baby was born.' "

It's a tall order. The birthers are of a piece with young-earthers and trickle-downers: people who cling to beliefs that have no relation to -- which, in fact have been thoroughly debunked by -- facts.

I can only assume that if the new governor were to place the birth certificate in a well-lit room and invite those people to file by like visitors to the National Archive, they'd come out the other end telling anyone who'd listen that Obama was born in Kenya.

Still, the prospect of the contortions and back-filling and changing of the subject from the idiocracy is fun to contemplate.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sad News On Christmas

I'm sorry to pass on sad news on this holy day, but I thought it was important:

WASILLA (The Borowitz Report) – The Tea Party’s plans for a first annual Tea Party Christmas Pageant have been cancelled at the last minute, an organizer of the pageant confirmed today.

“We couldn’t find three wise men,” Tea Party holiday coordinator Carol Foyler told reporters. “It’s too bad, because we had plenty of sheep.”

Ms. Foyler said that the Tea Party was hoping to replace its Christmas pageant, however, with an ambitious staging of the Book of Revelation.

“We already have Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Christine O’Donnell lined up,” she said. “One more Horseman and we’re good to go.”

Friday, December 24, 2010

Good Choice

[What are you doing reading this? It's Christmas eve. So here's sort of a throw-away post, written a week ago.]

Pulitzer Prize winning political fact-checker, Polifact, has named "government takeover of health care," as used by Republicans in the health care debate to characterize the Affordable Care Act, lie of the year. Hard to argue. Frank Lunz, among our most cynical and sociopathic spinmeisters, came up with the term, Republicans and their mouth organ Fox "news" hyped it, and voters -- especially the teabagging kind -- swallowed it whole (neat trick, with their mouths already full.)

In the spring of 2009, a Republican strategist settled on a brilliant and powerful attack line for President Barack Obama's ambitious plan to overhaul America's health insurance system. Frank Luntz, a consultant famous for his phraseology, urged GOP leaders to call it a "government takeover."

"Takeovers are like coups," Luntz wrote in a 28-page memo. "They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom."

The line stuck. By the time the health care bill was headed toward passage in early 2010, Obama and congressional Democrats had sanded down their program, dropping the "public option" concept that was derided as too much government intrusion. The law passed in March, with new regulations, but no government-run plan.

But as Republicans smelled serious opportunity in the midterm elections, they didn't let facts get in the way of a great punchline. And few in the press challenged their frequent assertion that under Obama, the government was going to take over the health care industry.
Whatever health care reform was, it was as far from a government takeover as it could be. In my view, it should have been way more of a takeover, offering a plan that eliminated the money-sucking private health insurers, who provide no service at all, from the mix.

The really sad thing, though, is the extent to which Republicans and their RWS™ unabashedly and cynically -- and proudly -- seek ways to obscure and ignore truth. Sadder still is the effectiveness of their efforts.

The lie of the year. And you heard it throughout the recent election. Without doubt it significantly affected the electoral results.

The lie of the year. Other than obstructing everything Obama, the search for it is the only effort the right wing has consistently made. You gotta work at it to win the award two years in a row. What'll they come up with next?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I Had A Dream

My wife likes to tell about tribal cultures that recount their dreams to each other. I forget why they do.

Anyhow, here's an actual dream I had last night. Were I to tell it around the fire, while the shrinking heads were boiling, there's no telling what would happen.

So there I was with Todd Palin.

We were doing guy sorts of things, fishing maybe. Outdoorsy. Getting to know each other, becoming buddies. I liked the guy, and he liked me, it seemed. At some point I noticed he had some newspaper clippings, containing letters I'd written to the editor. (For some reason, the paper was The Oregonian, the paper with which I grew up but to which I've never sent a letter.) They were partisan, of course, but not particularly inflammatory; this, anyway was the incepted assumption. But I assumed that he'd soon be reading my blog.

I think there was some conversation about it; in any case, the dream ended at an airport, I think, where we were saying our goodbyes. I told him it'd been great to know him on a personal level, he seemed to imply likewise, and there was the knowledge that when he got home he'd be checking out my blog.

I figured I wouldn't be hearing from him again.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Stupidity In The Highest

It's not a question of whether it was stupid. When Jon Kyl claimed that, by suggesting the Senate might have to work during the week between Christmas and New Year, Harry Reid was "disrespecting" Christmas, the idiocy was self-evident. (I've spent plenty of Christmi and the week that follows in emergency rooms, operating rooms, making rounds, and can attest that Congresspeople are among the very few workers [if the term applies] that feel entitled to the full week off -- let alone the day itself. And might I mention our soldiers, concern for whom Rs claim as their own?) The question is, what was he thinking when he said it, and what does it say about Congressional Republicans that one of their senior people felt, what, empowered? encouraged? to utter the words?

Let's stipulate that he's not the sharpest knife in the candelabra. Can he really not have considered the ridiculosity of whining while cops, firefighters, soldiers, etc etc ad humorum work, as they always have, and will, in Kyl's sacred time? Is he that obtuse? He's dumb, all right; but that dumb? No, I think he thought he had a winner. Counting on the ace in the hole that pulling the Christmas card always is (especially when it's from the "poor me" deck), he figured he'd have the immediate approval of the Democrats-as-amoral-America-haters crowd. I'll be on Fox for sure, he must have believed, railing against those godless liberals. He could just see Glenn Beck weeping into his chalk over the outrage, Sean Hannity forcing one-syllable words of derision out of his vacuoled cerebrum, Bill O'Reilly devoting a whole talking-point to it.

He must have figured the voters would be incensed. It's not as if they haven't been easily manipulated: look at the last election, he calculated.

So if Jon Kyl is dumb -- and he is -- what about the people who elected him? If he was wrong in thinking he had a humdinger of a sound-byte, why did he think so? What does it say about his -- and, by direct and obvious inference, his party's -- view of their supporters? Isn't it pretty clear? They think they're dumb as dough, pullable as putty, distractible as dogs.

Buoyed by the knowledge that Fox "news" and the salacious cell of RWS™ will hawk their disinformation and idiocy as if they were prime beef, certain that any response by Democrats will be ignored, Congressional Republicans have taken to saying any damn thing they want, with impunity. And, secure in the knowledge that Fox followers and Limbaugh listeners will neither question nor even think about the crap they're being fed, they act with a kind of abandon that bespeaks having long since concluded that there's no need for facts. Their base doesn't demand them. They don't even want them. They want punchlines.

So Kyl's claim is the perfect metaphor for where we are: one party has zero interest in governance, has no sense of duty to the American people. It's given entirely to the pursuit of power for its own sake, of destroying the other party and its president, uncaring of any consequences to the country they claim to love like no one else. If they think they have a way to further that agenda, they'll do it, no matter the disconnect from reality.

Worse, because of constant propagandizing and derision of expertise and education, they've cultivated a group of voters, teabaggers, actively disinterested in thoughtful governance. They believe they can get away with it because there's no reason not to. The disregard in which they hold the American people is breathtaking. But, for now, entirely reasonable.

Will they ever be rebuked for it? Teabagger? Teabagger?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Going Nowhere

Here is a pretty compelling article on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which begins thus:

General David Petraeus will soon be back in Washington D.C. to report on progress in a war many consider lost, this time in Afghanistan. The narrative that Petraeus and his surge in troops along with the new way of war he is credited in perfecting led to "success" in Iraq is hard to challenge these days. It informs our view of Afghanistan as well, with many placing their faith in the hopes that Petraeus will save us in Afghanistan just as he did in Iraq. The truth is much more complex. Iraq's fortunes changed for many reasons, not only the changes introduced by Gen. Petraeus. And the terrible costs to Iraqis should give pause to those who want to replicate the experience in Afghanistan.
If we hope to avoid learning the wrong lessons for Afghanistan, we have to better understand what really happened in Iraq...

After a concise but comprehensive review of the course of the insurgency in Iraq, the article addresses Afghanistan:

All we have succeeded in doing is pushing all of Afghanistan's problems into Pakistan, a country with nuclear weapons, a huge population and a persistent conflict with India. So now the Taliban and al Qaeda and drug networks are in Pakistan and our drone strikes are pushing them deeper into Pakistan, even into Karachi. How is that an improvement? ...

... In Iraq the American surge led to a strategic reassessment on the part of Iraqi militias. But successive surges in Afghanistan have only led to surges in violence in that country. The Taliban are not changing their calculus. At best when the Americans surge in a village, as they did in Helmand's Marjah, the Taliban may simply move on to another village, knowing the Americans can never achieve enough troop number so make a strategic difference and that the Americans will eventually leave anyway while the Afghan "government in a box" is not coming to replace them.

It's worth taking the time to read the whole thing. The author has spent a great deal of time in the region.

In my attempts to make sense of our continued involvement there, the only thing up with which I can come is that it somehow relates to keeping Pakistan's nukes out of terrorist hands. The article mentions that not at all. Near the end, though, it says this:
The conflict in Afghanistan is a political one and it requires a political settlement. But Petraeus seems to have given up on the hearts and minds approach and is undermining or preventing negotiations, focusing on killing or capturing Taliban commanders. These are easily replaced by younger and more radical Taliban commanders with less ties to the community and less respect for Mullah Omar's authority, which means it will be even harder to negotiate with them. Meanwhile al Qaeda has moved on to Pakistan and it has evolved into something else. It will never again have training camps that could easily be targeted -- it is now an idea and not a base.

That doesn't sound like a strategy that's building a wall around the nukes.

.... there were leaks about a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the combined findings of all 16 US intelligence agencies. This key intelligence report is explosive and may not be fully revealed.
The NIE reportedly asserts that the $13 billion a month Afghan War is at best stalemated; at worse, Western occupation forces are on the defensive and their vulnerable supply lines increasingly threatened. Taliban is expanding its control, particularly in northern Afghanistan.
Claims by US generals that “progress” is being made in the war are false.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who was installed by CIA, put it bluntly last year, saying the US-led war was “ineffective apart from causing civilian casualties.”
The new NIE may also restate a 2007 report that found Iran had no nuclear weapons program. The pro-war party in Washington is desperately trying to prevent its release.
Frustrated American generals and politicians, facing a failing war and ruined careers, are blaming Pakistan for the war they cannot win.

Look Up "@sshole" In The Dictionary

If you want the definition, start by looking up "Congressional Republican." For these are the guys who, senatorially, blocked money for 9/11 first responders -- yep, the people the very thought of whom brings tears to their collective eyes, who went toward the disaster to which Republicans refer in patriotic self-reference unceasingly, especially when campaigning.

No act of disgrace is too hard to follow for these guys. As their tears replenished, not to be outdone by their counterparts across the hall, House Republicans blocked a bill aimed at prevention of forced child marriage. Forced child marriage. They're for it, evidently. (Their reasons, as you might expect, had to do with the horrible possibility that some of the funds might go to groups that support family planning, even, perhaps, abortion services. Yet the bill passed the Senate unanimously, with no objections from such hard-core christianists as Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn. Even diaper-boy was a co-sponsor.) Some of the Republican sponsors of the bill caved to pressure from their asshole leaders and joined those who voted it down. Sponsors. Voted no.

Referring to the 9/11 responders bill, Mike Huckabee, on The Daily Show, first complained that it should have been a stand-alone bill, and blamed Democrats for playing games. It was a stand-alone bill (which tells you all you need to know about Huckabee in particular, and the nature of Republican debate in general). Then he claimed Democrats had politicized it. Unable to say how, he left the subject when it was argued that they not only hadn't, they should have.

That episode of The Daily Show had more to say, powerfully, about the shameful Republican Senatorial behavior.

Too busy shoving each other out of the way to get the next Sarah Palin interview, none of the networks covered the story. When Fox "news" mentioned it, barely, they neglected to mention who it was that blocked the bill. Twice -- the second time being after Shep Smith watched The Daily Show. Isn't the Republican obstruction a central part of the story? Not to Fox "news."

Which network was the only news source actually to cover the story in depth?.... Al Jazeera.

Liberal media? What a joke.

So. For their usual partisan and selfish reasons, Republicans block two humanitarian bills that ought to be no-brainers. Christian, even, if I don't repeat myself. And they get away with it, in part, because no one knows. Because the actual news media are disgracefully cowed by the constant cries of lameness and liberalism from the right, and because the house organ of the right wing deliberately denies and distorts coverage.

Which, of course, is entirely consistent with the fact that in yet another study, we find that viewers of Fox "news" are the least well-informed, the most misinformed of followers of any network. It's not the first we've heard of this, so there's no surprise. And the more they watch, the less they know.

[Same shit, different day: in yet another move designed to embarrass President Obama at the expense of our nation, McConnell has puffed up his already more than puffiness and announced his opposition to the new START treaty. Raising phony objections not of concern to every former Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and experienced diplomat from the time of Reagan (of whose original treaty this is mainly a continuation), he pretends to be worried despite having all his (and Kyl's) debunked objections addressed. And, of course, he tosses in the usual and tired jamming-it-down-our-throats nugget. A treaty worked on for years, discussed for months. It's politics of the worst possible kind. Which, by definition, means Congressional Republicans in action.

Assholery of the first order. Enabled and abetted by a bunch of clueless teabaggers, who neither care nor understand the poison they've been peddled.]

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Huge Loss

I didn't know him, but for some reason the loss feels personal. I've always admired Richard Holbrooke, and I think his death couldn't have come at a worse time, critical as he was to finding a diplomatic way out of Afghanistan. That he went to the same college my son did, that he was a Democrat who was tough and clearly patriotic, that his parents escaped the Holocaust -- who knows if any or all of these were part of my admiration. For sure, though, it was his obvious brilliance and toughness, his central role in finding a reasonable peace in Bosnia (where I'd spent an amazing summer in medical school), his unwavering confidence in America (and not a little in himself) that affected my view of him.

In the New York Times there was a touching letter to the editor from one of my favorite scientists, Neil deGrasse Tyson, right up there with Carl Sagan at broadcasting unbridled joy in the pursuit of science and the cosmos. I'll paste the whole thing here, because it's succinct and important:

When I gave Ambassador Richard Holbrooke a personal tour of the newly opened Rose Center for Earth and Space and Hayden Planetarium in 2000, I could not help notice how fluent he was in the depth and breadth of his cosmic curiosity.

True science literacy is less about what you know and more about how your brain is wired for asking questions. Later in the tour he confessed that, as an undergraduate at Brown, he studied physics before switching to politics.

I could not resist asking him whether that exposure to physics made a difference in his career as a diplomat, especially in tense, war-torn areas of the world that are resistant to negotiated peace settlements.

He answered emphatically “yes,” citing the physics-inspired approach of sifting for the fundamental drivers of a cause or phenomenon — stripped of all ornament. To get there, one must assess how and when to ignore the surrounding details, which can give the illusion of importance, yet in the end, are often irrelevant distractions to solutions of otherwise intractable problems.

Mr. Holbrooke’s career was a living endorsement for more scientifically literate peace negotiators in the world.

Neil deGrasse Tyson
New York, Dec. 15, 2010

In the same edition there's an opinion piece by Roger Cohen, a tribute to Holbrooke that's also worth a read:

It was the worst summer. The war seemed as unending as the excuses of Western leaders for their inaction. In a besieged Sarajevo, people raised hands to their necks in a gesture of self-strangulation as the flat fracturing boom of another shell reverberated in the valley.

Then Richard Holbrooke appeared in the snake pit.


I’m not sure we breed his like any more in this age of narrow-gauge specialization. The pusillanimous paper-shufflers — the kind that denied him a deserved Nobel Peace Prize — busy “putting the best possible twist on bad policy” multiply; they complicated Holbrooke’s life in the Obama administration. American power in 2010 is not what it was in 1995.

Still, this untimely death is a clarion call to America to set aside smallness in the name of values that can still inspire. Holbrooke was a fierce believer in the U.S. capacity for good. Here stood the nexus of his multiple beings. It is what made him so consequential in so many places and saved so many lives.

Wilsonian idealist? Ruthless realpolitiker? He was both rolled into one dreamer-doer. As he once told me, “We cannot choose between the two; we have to blend the two.” How could Americans forsake their idealism if they had become Americans precisely in defiance of the hateful ideologies that drove Holbrooke’s Jewish parents from Europe and ooze from Waziristan caves today?

The second piece just confirms what I felt I knew. The first, though, is chilling. As I've written many times here, I think our nation is, in the long run, at far greater risk from those who deride science, who consider well-educated people elitists to be sneered at, than it is from terrorists. If it comes, our end will evolve from within, Palinized, Texified, teabagged. Neil deGrasse Tyson was, I think, encoding that concern in his letter. In all areas, for our survival, we need people taught how to think, who exemplify "science literacy."

Richard Holbrooke was everything Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck consider despicable: smart, educated, thoughtful, liberal, persistent. He didn't quit halfway through his first term. He didn't go on wild and fact-free tangents. Unlike those two disgraces and the rest of the RWS™ and the teabaggers who revere them, he studied, he learned, he acted, he stuck it out, he found solutions.

I hope there's someone to take his place. We need more like him.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

About Time

Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend.

By ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell, no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.

As Commander-in-Chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known. And I join the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the overwhelming majority of service members asked by the Pentagon, in knowing that we can responsibly transition to a new policy while ensuring our military strength and readiness.

I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Senators Lieberman and Collins and the countless others who have worked so hard to get this done. It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly. I urge the Senate to send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law.

Now the fear-mongers, the nay-sayers, the hate-peddlers will have the opportunity to see if they were right, and, one might hope (yeah, one might hope for the ability to poop golden eggs, too), to learn from it. We'll find out if kicking out highly capable soldiers of all kinds, heroes, translators, you name 'em, is better for our security than keeping them. We'll see if our combat readiness suffers, if there's wholesale defection; simply, we'll be able to decide if we were better off before or after repeal.

I don't doubt there'll be some soldiers that'll leave service as a result. My prejudice is that we'll be better off without such people, as we expect more and more from our troops as person-to-person emissaries for our country. People inclined to hate categorically ought not have fingers on triggers, I'd argue.

But if I'm wrong, we'll learn that, too.

Friday, December 17, 2010


Ho Hum

It's getting a little humdrum noting the speed with which teabagger-supported congressfolk are proving themselves to be no different from those they criticized. Seeking -- and getting -- lobbyist money while their words to the contrary during their campaigns are still vibrating in the air.

After Francisco "Quico" Canseco beat Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Tex.) as part of the Republican wave on Nov. 2, the tea party favorite declared: "It's going to be a new day in Washington."

Two weeks later, Canseco was in the heart of Washington for a $1,000-a-head fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Club. The event--hosted by Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.)--was aimed at paying off more than $1.1 million in campaign debts racked up by Canseco, much of it from his own pocket.

After winning election with an anti-Washington battle cry, Canseco and other incoming Republican freshmen have rapidly embraced the capital's culture of big-money fundraisers, according to new campaign-finance reports and other records.

Dozens of freshmen lawmakers have held receptions at Capitol Hill bistros and corporate townhouses in recent weeks, taking money from K Street lobbyists and other powerbrokers within days of their victories. Newly elected House members have raised at least $2 million since the election, according to preliminary Federal Election Commission records filed last week, and many more contributions have yet to be tallied.


"The lobbyists are all saying, 'Welcome to Washington; let me help pay off your debt,'" said Nancy Watzman, who tracks political fundraisers for the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group. "It's particularly interesting when so many of this year's freshmen were running against Washington. But as soon as they get elected, they come to Washington and put out their hand."

It was obvious from the moment teabaggers appeared on the scene that they were being played for suckers by the corporate money-men bankrolling them behind the scenes. How much more of this will it take for them to realize it?

I'm not the only one to see it. (Which is unsurprising, since it's like a sun shining at night.)

Dear Tea Party voter: You've been had.

When the good people of South Dakota voted last month to send Republican Kristi Noem to Congress, they probably believed that she would give no quarter to the lobbyists and special interest groups who enjoyed, as she put it, "throwing money at the feet of a member of Congress."

But since she defeated Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (in part by making an issue of Herseth Sandlin's marriage to a lobbyist), Noem has hired as her new chief of staff . . . a lobbyist! And on Tuesday afternoon, she was the guest of honor at a "Meet & Greet" with Washington high-rollers at the powerhouse lobbying firm Barbour Griffiths Rogers (BGR). Once these boys start throwing money at Noem's feet, she'll soon be chin deep in lobbyist greenbacks.

What's next? Finding out the earth revolves around the sun?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

One Of The Good Guys

I've been challenged to say something nice about a Republican. After an exhaustive search, I've finally found one worthy of commendation. This guy, the above guy, willing to sacrifice himself, again and again, to expose, as it were, the dastardly homosexual agenda.

And the more he does it, the harder it gets...

The fact that the video is a parody does not change certain central truths about the above, and the anti-equality movement in general; and there's nothing funny about it. Insane, sure. But not funny.

Time and again, the loudest agitators against homosexuality turn out to be homosexual. And, not coincidentally, religious. Preachers, not rarely. What a toxic mix: self-hatred based on biblical literalism. How devastaing to know who you are, having been taught to hate it, based on made-up stories. Like believing the earth is a handful of thousands of years old, believing homosexuality is a choice, a deliberate affront to god, requires a nearly unimaginable amount of ignorance. In the sense of ignoring.

It's being said that repeal of DADT is a mere one vote shy now, in the Senate. Meaning, like so many other important things in the last two years, it could fail with an overwhelming amount of approval.

In a world of thoughtful people, it would pass unanimously.

What's In A Name?

In a recent email, a person I know referred to me as an atheist. "I know you are an atheist," she wrote. "But..." For some reason I found the term jarring. It's not that I deny the characterization; it's that using the word like that makes it sound like a choice or something. Or the equivalent, on some level, of a religion. As if in the cafeteria of belief systems, I put a plateful of atheist on my tray, you picked up a little Christian, and the guy over there grabbed a cup 'o Buddha.

I can't say why I chafe at the label. Nowadays there seems to be a movement loosely (or not) referred to as "the new atheism," characterized by people aggressively arguing their case: Hitchens, Dawkins, Myers, Harris. I like reading them, I find myself mostly in agreement. But, for me anyway, it's not about a movement or feeling part of some sort of group. Atheist. Like a Shriner. It's simply that, having thought about it a lot, the idea of a creator -- especially one described (however inconsistently) in the big books, like the Bible (new and old models), the Koran, the Book of Mormon -- makes no sense to me. In a matter as large as that, the quest for meaning, it ought to be a leap of reason, not faith. (As I've said, I can dig what little I understand of Buddhism in many ways; but not the reincarnation stuff. I find the chaos of polytheism, like Hinduism or ancient Greeks or animists, more consistent with what we observe of life, were it ruled by superpeople; but I'm not buying them, either.)

It's a conclusion, not a category.

Call it skepticism, realism, a mind-set, the result of a process. It's not a club I joined, a group with which I identify any more than I'd consider myself a mathist, a photosynthetist. A cyclist (Krebs, that is). Those are things I know to be discoverable and true. The other -- religion -- is something I feel I know to be untrue. Or, at minimum, unproven, unprovable, unsupportable. So internally inconsistent as to be unacceptable. So I reject it like I reject young-earthism or that the sun revolves around that ancient earth. I can't help it, I didn't choose it. It's like solving an equation. You have to show your work. Like kittens, we're born with our eyes shut. Like most people, I was born into a family of believers (to some extent.) I went to Sunday School.

There's no point in denying -- while claiming no part of a movement -- that I've written much here about my views of religion, pointing out obvious inconsistencies inherent in the idea of miracles, prayer, an all-knowing all-powerful loving god. But, I think, I do it in a political context and, to a large extent, as an academic exercise. I say what makes sense to me, and what doesn't. Less an attempt to change minds, it's -- as we observe the Beckopalinization of our politics -- a cry for reason before it's too late: if you're going to believe stuff that has no coherence, fine; just recognize it for what it is. I write as a plea not to destroy our country with your beliefs. Keep them in your heart and home, where they belong. Consider that your religion has no more validity than that of someone else; they reject yours for the same reason you reject theirs. Live and let live. Solutions to our vast problems will come -- if they still can -- from hard work and cold reason, not untestable beliefs.

I'd not feel the need to show you mine, if you didn't constantly show me yours, and try to make it the law of the land. (And I don't mean you. I mean "you.")

Where this little tract seems to be heading is along a tightwire: because I guess I'm saying that my skepticism -- my "atheism," if that's the word -- is different from (and, yes, since I'm arguing for what's factual, more defensible than) your religion. My process of getting there is not really comparable to your getting to where you are. It is, in fact entirely different. That's, I think, why the term is discordant to me. It's the result of a process, of evaluation, of searching for truth and meaning while staying in contact with fact. I'll give you that I am an atheist in the same way that we are both round-earthers. I'm not an atheist in the same way you are a Christian, or a Muslim, or Hindu. On a certain level, I don't think the two are comparable; not in the same arena, maybe not the same conversation. It's like comparing being a vegetarian to being a swimmer.

I'm not anything. I'm just a guy who thinks in a certain way.

Does that make sense? (Of course if it did, we'd not be having the conversation in the first place.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Courtly Men

Most of what I know about courtrooms I learned on TV. (Not everything.) Evidently, lawyers sometimes ask judges for a "sidebar." So here's a sidebar to the recent ruling on the constitutionality of the health care law; something sort of relevant, and very telling.

The judge who ruled, Henry Hudson, in addition to exploring rivers and designing blankets, was, before his federal appointment by G.W. Bush, a highly partisan Republican. Known, among other things, for coercing an Alford plea from a mentally retarded man accused of rape, despite exculpating semen from the crime and offering no apology when another was finally convicted years later; owning stock in a very partisan p.r. firm with ties not only to the health care case but many prominent Republicans who oppose the bill, legitimate questions could be raised about his fitness for the federal bench. Yet he was approved by the Senate, with no filibuster, no secret hold, no grandstanding by Democrats.

This is in stark contrast to the judicial appointments of Barack Obama. They have faced an all-time high level of obstructionism, despite being nearly universally moderate and enjoying broad and bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee. Even Republican judges are speaking out at the damage being done to our legal system by this blatant political hackery. (It's of a piece, of course, with their recent obstruction of health care for their Republican-owned heroes, the 9/11 first responders [watch the video in the link if you haven't seen it: it's perfect]; but in the case of judges it threatens our entire legal system instead of, you know, just a few hundred people who risked their lives...)

So, sure, a pox on both their houses. Politicians can be assumed to be assholes until proven otherwise. But, sorry. There simply is no precedent for the assholery of the current crop of Republicans in their willingness to harm the nation in their pursuit of damaging President Obama. In their worst moments Democrats never obstructed George Bush to this extent; and, given that Bush lost the popular vote and had the presidency handed to him by a partisan court in an act of judicial overreach of the first magnitude, they had plenty of reason to have done so.

But Democrats, the party of atheist America-hating communists with no morals, have never acted in such a concerted way to destroy a president while ignoring the most basic needs of fellow Americans. Never. No way. No how. And that Hudson guy proves it.

Keeping The X in Xmas

The final marble has rolled out of Bill Donohue's head.

He's outraged, outraged!!!!, at the news that a YMCA has substituted Frosty the Snowman for Santa the Claus at some annual event or other.

"Christmas is not about Jack Frost; it's not about snowmen," fumed Bill Donohue of the Catholic League. "We're not talking about some secular organization that has no religious roots. If they can't celebrate Christmas, then they should check out. What a bunch of cowards."

Gee, Bill; I thought Christmas was about, uh, Christ.

So I guess it's official: even Bill Donohue agrees Christmas is about a made-up and Americanized guy whose main job has been to promote the buying of toys and getting early to half-off sales.

Raising the indignation ante and 'tis-ing the season, Jim Inhofe refused to horse up in Oklahoma, because of a holiday parade sponsored by a local drinking establishment and whose name was changed a year ago to "Holiday Festival of Lights." Gail Collins, one of my favorite columnists, gives kudos:

Go to it, Senator Inhofe! I love this controversy, and only in part because it diverts Oklahoma’s senior senator from his normal day job of trying to convince the world that global warming doesn’t exist.

We live in a time of so many terrifying, insurmountable problems. It’s comforting to return to arguing about whether the nation’s moral fiber is endangered if Tulsa downplays the religious aspects of a parade full of Santa Clauses that is currently sponsored by a popular downtown pub.

The war on Christmas. The phoniest, most cynical, deliberate, manipulative, and dumbest outrage ever ginned up by Fox "news." And that's saying one hell of a lot.

For perspective, there's this:

A new wave of Iraqi Christians has fled to northern Iraq or abroad amid a campaign of violence against them and growing fear that the country's security forces are unable or, more ominously, unwilling to protect them...

.... [On] Fox News segment on the annual Parade of Lights in Tulsa, Oklahoma[,]Gretchen Carlson asked, "[I]f we're supposed to be tolerant of all these other religions, which pretty much everyone accepts, why does it always seem like Christianity is the one to take the boot?"

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who's boycotting the event until organizers include the word "Christ" in the parade's name, added, "[W]hy do they always pick on the Christians?"

In context, "they" appeared to refer to those Americans who wish people a "happy holidays" and organize public holiday celebrations that are inclusive and reflect communities' diversity.

If Republican culture warriors are genuinely worried about Christians being "picked up" and "taking the boot," they're clearly looking at the wrong country.

Well said.

How horrible, how frightening to be confronted by some random evil person who wishes you "Happy Holidays." How terrible the conditions American Christians must endure, forced, as they are, to face good will and inclusiveness every day.

[Added: they just can't help themselves:

GOP Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl quickly took offense to the notion that legislators might be expected to work after December 25 and accused Reid of potentially "disrespecting one of the two holiest of holidays for Christians."

Words fail.]

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Not So Fast?

Well, I did acknowledge I was no Constitutional scholar; and I pointed out a certain degree to which the judge in question might have a political and personal agenda. So it's not as if I swallowed it whole. Nevertheless, I may have been pessimistic overmuch in my recent post on ruling as unconstitutional the individual mandate part of health care reform:

"I've had a chance to read Judge Hudson's opinion, and it seems to me it has a fairly obvious and quite significant error," writes Orin Kerr, a professor of law at George Washington University, on the generally conservative law blog The Volokh Conspiracy.

Kerr and others note that Hudson's argument against Congress' power to require people to purchase health insurance rests on a tautology.

The key portion of the ruling reads:

If a person's decision not to purchase health insurance at a particular point in time does not constitute the type of economic activity subject to regulation under the Commerce Clause, then logically an attempt to enforce such provision under the Necessary and Proper Clause is equally offensive to the Constitution.

Kerr notes that this is all wrong. The Necessary and Proper Clause allows Congress to take steps beyond those listed in the Constitution to achieve its Constitutional ends, including the regulation of interstate commerce. Hudson's argument wipes a key part of the Constitution out of existence. Kerr says Hudson "rendered [it] a nullity."

So, who knows? I still think my essential prediction is correct: it'll go to the Supreme Court and the hard-core right-wing judicial activists who sit there will hand the loss to Obama the way they handed victory to Bush.

Seen Stealer

I like this. I agree with it, mostly. Here, and elsewhere, I've made up words just for the sound of it, used a little alliteration. After watching the above, I decided to let the misuse of "its" or "it's" pass. Hell, even before finding the video I'd stopped correcting Frankie's debauchery of his kidnapped tongue (though not so much out of good graces as the recognition that it was like trying to get the earth to rotate backwards.)

Still however nonetheless no matter: I'll never be able to find equanimity of ear at the sound of an eyewitness on the local news saying "I seen this guy..." Or reading the quote in a news article. Same pain, in the eye.

It's/its. Your/you're. Their/they're: I... (gritting teeth) can.... (clenching jaw) handle.... (digging fingernails into own skin) them.... They're homophones, after all, so...

But "seen" for "saw." No. No can do. I can't help it. It yokelizes. It dumbifies, fingerpointbacks. It announces "I dropped out, I never paid attention, I haven't read anything since the third grade and if I noticed, I wouldn't care. In fact, I'm glad."

Sorry. I know it's nasty elitism on my part. But it's a sound I can't unhear, a screech I can't ungrate, a saber I can't unstab. I've thought about it, I've looked at it hard, and I seen it for what it is.

[Bonus entertainment:]

Monday, December 13, 2010

Motto Citizen

Hope you're sitting down. Turns out, Fox "news" and the RWS™, in their mad-on about Obama referring to "E Pluribus Unum" as the national motto, ignoring god like the America-hating Muslim Kenyan terrorist that he is, might have been a teensy bit selective in their outrage.

Would Ronald Reagan, the Great Communicator, the Gipper, refer to E Pluribus Unum as our national motto?

The answer is Yes. Speaking at the National Forum on Excellence in Education, on Dec. 8, 1983 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Ronald Reagan said, and I quote:

“The motto of the United States is ‘E Pluribus Unum,’ from many, one.”

As far as I can tell, there wasn’t a Congressional Prayer Caucus around in 1983 to scold Mr. Reagan for calling E Pluribus Unum the official motto of our nation. [Turns out, that latin phrase is the official motto of our nation's seal] and the official motto of the president’s seal, but not the official seal of the good old U.S. of A.]

There wasn’t a national outcry when Ronald Reagan called E Pluribus Unum our “national motto.”

In addition to Barack Obama, such luminaries as Dwight Eisenhower (WWDD), Jimmy Carter (WWJD), and Pope John Paul II (WWJPIID) have referred to E Pluribus Unum as the nation’s motto.

In more recent days: WWWD — What Would W. Do? Well, George W. Bush issued two separate proclamations (here and here) referring to E Pluribus Unum as the national motto.

Neither claim unleashed an avalanche of letters, press releases and condemnations. Did Bush’s gaffes simply escape the attention of the Congressional Prayer Caucus? Or is the prayer caucus a Republican attack machine denouncing President Obama for political purposes?

Will it ever happen? Ever? Will the teabaggers who fell for the well-planned manipulation ever have a second thought? Will they realize how toxic are the people they revere? How they got used by the very rich and very private-agenda-driven?

And while you contemplate that, ponder this: what will they think (a word, for the benefit of teabaggers, that means applying some brainpower to something) if they ever learn of this?

Bamboozled much?

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