Monday, August 31, 2009

...And Your Little God, Too

I wasn't aware he had a normal side:

Catholic League President Bill Donohue presented a paranoid side of his personality to Fox News Monday morning, declaring that “militant, dogmatic” atheists are “out to get” Catholics and dismantle American society.
And I know the Lebowski quotations are IOZ's thing, but still, this is just too tempting:

“But the new radicals are the nihilists, all they want to do is tear down the cultural edifice of American society. They are intellectually spent, they have nothing to offer.”

Walter Sobchak: Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos.

“This was the most Nazi-like assault,” Donohue said. “The most unrelenting half an hour of bashing I’ve ever seen.”
The Nazi comparison appears to be Donohue’s theme for his publicity battle with Penn & Teller, which he blames on CBS, as it owns Showtime, the network that airs Penn & Teller’s show.
“The Nazis couldn’t have done better,” Donohue said in a statement.
Donny: Are these the Nazis, Walter?
Walter Sobchak: No, Donny, these men are nihilists. There's nothing to be afraid of.

Sisyphus Minus the Self-Awareness

The "Democrat" lever gives a nasty shock yet again

It's a good thing Pavlov was working with dogs and not liberals progressives, or he would have had a nervous breakdown.

It's one thing for shrill bloggers like us to point out that DLC corporate politics are poisoning the Democratic agenda and that the national security hawks are once again taking a promising Democratic president down the garden path. It's quite another for a mainstream liberal of impeccable credentials and strong moral authority like Bill Moyers to say it so plainly on national TV.

DLC corporate politics and the Democratic agenda are two different things? Huh.

Maybe it's linked to all the emotion over Ted Kennedy's death, but the nostalgic longing for an honorable Democratic hero is really getting embarrassing here. Maybe it's just that I was too busy rolling my eyes at Moyers' insistence on the honorable intentions of JFK & LBJ in Vietnam to get all verklempt over his impeccable credentials and strong moral authority. But once again, we see liberals progressives pin so many hopes on seeing their rhetorical themes validated by the MSM they claim to hate so much. I wonder what conclusions they'll draw when Moyers' words have no discernable effect on anything...

Anyway, I'm too lazy to go dig up particular lines from Obama's speeches that show he can swing a star-spangled dick just as well as anyone, so I'll just say this: call me cynical, but I don't think the guy who hinted at attacking targets in Pakistan (at least he did keep that promise) needed any coaxing from "national security hawks" to consider escalating military operations there.

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Writing about music in the previous post reminded me of something I'd read recently, somewhat related to the topic of depression. Some relevant passages:

Yet the ancient Greek conception of mousikê is much more complex than our conception of "music."

...First, unlike our conception of music, mousikê includes tones, rhythm, dance and words. The idea of "absolute music" (i.e., music without words) is simply foreign to the ancient Greeks, who normally thought of poetry being sung with accompanying movement as mousikê.

...But of course, "musical" here would be used in the richest possible sense of mousikê, which includes thinking, writing, composing music, dancing and singing -- or living life in a way in which one is utterly "in tune" or in harmony with life. One would be a mousikos in the complete sense: musician and scholar, writer and dancer, one fully developed.

...First, Nietzsche thinks that music allows us to face the tragedy of human existence, not so much in the sense of a diversion but as a means of "speaking" about life. There are things that can be "said" musically - or perhaps sung - that cannot be said philosophically.

...Since language is always metaphorical - and so never delivers to us the "thing itself" - music is all the more significant. For Nietzsche (like the German Romantics) thinks it has a directness that is unlike language...Of course, whatever it is that music conveys cannot be conveyed by words. So, at a certain point, we are - by definition - unable to "describe" exactly what it is that music says. If it could be put into words, we wouldn't need music.

...For Nietzsche, music proves capable of sharpening his mind, which in turn gives him critical distance, new insights, and new ideas - to the bursting point. Moreover, life becomes more natural, which is precisely what Nietzsche seeks.

...Music also proves ecstatic for Nietzsche. It has the power to take us out of ourselves, allowing us both to see the world in a different way and also to transform us.

...Although Nietzsche never explicitly speaks of decadence in terms of "de-cadence" (falling out of rhythm), that way of thinking about decadence actually fits quite well with what Nietzsche says about it.

...But one can also interpret decadence musically, as a "de-cadence", in the sense of a loss of rhythm. On that read, decadence is the loss of life's rhythm in which we are out of step both with our true selves and with the earth.

...But that "change of heart" requires finding a new rhythm to life. More accurately, it requires getting back into life's true rhythm...

...In contrast to Socrates, the early Greeks viewed life as inherently tragic. Not only is existence full of suffering, but there is no explanation for it. In an important sense, the early Greeks were not philosophical: that is, they did not live with an acute sense of the contingency of their existence, wondering why suffering takes place and asking deep philosophical questions about it. Rather, they simply accepted its existence - and its inexplicability - as a matter of fact.

I included that last paragraph because I think that a certain fatalism about suffering (or depression) is not only a more accurate way to view life, but a more beneficial one as well. I know that's at odds with our teleological progressivism that insists that every day should be an improvement over the one before, and life should be a neverending series of goals set and challenges met, but I find an acceptance of a more cyclical worldview makes suffering seem like less of a wrong or a failure. It will always be there in one degree or another; as a Russian expression has it, if you wake up feeling no pain, you know you're dead. Accept that fact, and fall back on tried-and-true methods for overcoming your "de-cadence" and regaining your rhythm.

Il Penseroso

Well, I suppose it depends on how you define depression, doesn't it? Melancholy has been called the thinking person's disease, so it does seem that deep thought and the "black bile" go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and in a limited application, it could lead one to find solutions to everyday problems that require extra concentration and willingness to see past surface appearances. But obviously, it doesn't take much for depression to cross over into being debilitating, and one could probably convincingly argue that too much thinking, especially about the big picture as opposed to a specific problem, will lead one to nihilism. All is vanity. Bring on the heat death of the universe.

I don't doubt that if I were to walk into a psychiatrist's office and say, "Hey, here's what I think about things," I'd be classified as moderately depressed at least. I've never taken medication for it, but not out of any strident anti-pharmaceutical principle. I just figure I've managed to make it this far in mostly sound mind and body, and I definitely value the insights I feel I've gained by nature of my saturnine temperament. The trade-off is the fact that a lot of energy gets spent just trying to come up with reasons to get out of bed or do anything besides watch TV and play video games.

I've always thought of it as being comparable to a pair of colored lenses -- when you're depressed, you still see things the same way and in the same relation to each other; it's just as if everything takes on a different hue. What seemed golden and bright before now looks cool and blue. Nothing has essentially changed, it all just strikes you differently.

Several studies have found that expressive writing promotes quicker resolution of depression, and they suggest that this is because depressed people gain greater insight into their problems.

To an extent, yes. You're looking at the proof, even! For a while now, I've been facing the imminent deaths of two loved ones in addition to the slightly longer-term prospect of major upheaval on the employment front, and that of course is in addition to the general weltschmerz any person with general awareness and at least a modicum of intelligence feels. Yet, when I'm able to find the time to write and something to write about, I'm content, at least for a while.

But in my experience, the same applies to music. Writing a song has the same effect, and it's not because it somehow "captures" the way you're feeling, just like how I don't necessarily write about sad topics when I'm feeling that way. Plus, it's not even that writing when you're depressed or frustrated gives you any answers; sometimes, it's more like it gives you the energy to tackle your problems again. I imagine there's just something life-affirming about the act of creativity. It's a small way of shaping order and structure out of chaos. It's a way of gaining a measure of control over your experience, a way of feeling your own power to affect your life instead of feeling helpless and adrift. And it's also the case when appreciating other people's creative output -- experiencing good writing or musicianship can be uplifting, whether or not it has anything to do with whatever's specifically bothering you at the time.

You can force it but it will not come
You can taste it but it will not form
You can crush it but it's always here
You can crush it but it's always near
Chasing you home
"Everything is broken"
"Everyone is broken"

Why can't you forget?
Why can't we forget?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

No, Woodstock, No

As I recall, it was Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias who unwittingly started the "dirty fucking hippie" thing. They admitted to having been early supporters of the Iraq invasion in large part as a knee-jerk reaction to what they saw, in turn, as the knee-jerk leftism on their respective campuses. As always with precocious brats, they decided to show their elders what's what.

Retardo Montalban, now HTML Mencken, was one of the few actual leftists in the blogosphere who was enraged at the way people like Klein, Yglesias, Kevin Drum, Robert Farley, and so on, managed to be so utterly wrong on some of the most important issues of our day, and for such puerile reasons, yet managed to keep failing upwards into paid writing gigs for what pass for liberal/left publications (and since that post was written last year, Klein has started blogging at the Washington Post. Not bad for a guy who admits he only started paying attention to politics after 9/11.) Retardo/HTML started sarcastically referring to people who didn't accept the milquetoast, squishy, moderate, sensible liberalism as dirty hippies in angry, ironic tribute, and soon after that, Atrios picked up on the theme. Now it's everywhere, and I don't even remember where I saw it most recently, but I finally felt like expressing my annoyance with it.

Problem is, many of the people who proudly refer to themselves as DFHs simply...aren't. I don't doubt they're all for peace and love and all that groovy stuff (maybe even an occasional smoking of the devil weed!), but there's nothing radical about them (not that the hippies necessarily were either, but just for the sake of argument, let's accept the popular image of them as such). Hell, I even have to wonder if they're simply being ironic as well: "Here I am, a well-groomed, middle-class professional with a degree and a mortgage, and I get treated like a hippie just because I questioned the invasion of Iraq?!" I guess there's no way to know.

But still, these are the kind of people who think boycotting a grocery store (to no avail) over an op-ed is direct action. These are the kind of people who never have a thing to say about the increasing concentration of media ownership, but can complain all day about this journalist, that pundit or some radio blowhard and how unfair they're being to the left wing of the Big Business party, as if getting any of them replaced would change a single thing about the way news is presented. These are the kind of people who race to assure Democrats that there's no way in hell they'd consider not voting for them in the next election - which is always more urgent and important than any that came before - and then wonder why they get completely taken for granted. These are the kind of people who pay attention to George Lakoff and Paul Krugman while ignoring Chalmers Johnson and Noam Chomsky (I recall the middle-aged Digby even saying a few years ago that she had never heard of Chomsky before), and would never dream of using their blog-pulpits - which they claim are being ignored by the powers-that-be anyway - to try to advocate for huge slashes in military spending; that might compromise their potential to be taken seriously by the MSM they profess to hate so much, I suppose. And Quetzalcoatl forbid that they should ever stop cringing in terror at the thought of being accused of insufficient genuflection before The Troops. (Those two brave examples aside, most efforts to address the issue have to hide behind "satire".)

They're moderates, nothing more, nothing less. It doesn't matter how many curse words they use. And besides, we all know what the hippies turned into fifteen to twenty years later, don't we?


I loved House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects (especially Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding) but Rob Zombie needs to keep his fucking hands off the Halloween movies before he does any more damage. His remake of the first one was so atrocious as to defy description, though many heroes step up and give it their best effort on IMDB. (Those almost make up for the agony of watching the film. I watched the fucking thing for free and it still wasn't worth it.)

One cool thing about the original 1978 version was the way there was no explanation given for why Michael Myers was a killer. He just was. And even though they tried to unnecessarily (and unconvincingly) explain him in the sequel as being motivated by a desire to kill his siblings, he still remained not so much a personality as simply a force of nature, not entirely human. They even referred to him in the credits as "The Shape", which fit perfectly with Dick Warlock's portrayal of him as the lumbering man-mountain who never hurries and never shows the slightest emotion. (That, plus the fact that the second movie took place in the eerie, antiseptic setting of a near-deserted hospital during the graveyard shift, makes it my favorite of the two.)

Zombie, of course, gave us the revised image of Michael Myers as a fat dork with an alcoholic stepfather and an oblivious stripper of a mother, who gets bullied at school and finally snaps, after giving helpful warning signs such as torturing small animals (okay, one funny deleted scene: Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis, trying to convince Michael's mom of the seriousness of these actions: "And this canary has clearly been raped!"), before growing up to be a greasy-haired, giant, mute redneck with a thing for making masks like an obsessed Slipknot fan. You could almost imagine the Oprah episode about it. Now he wants to fuck up another version? Bastard. Get back in the studio and release more music. Knock this moviemaking shit off.

And on that note, here's what I know: I still want the two hours of my life back I wasted watching the execrable Grindhouse: Death Proof. It's rare for me to find a movie where you wish for almost every single character in it to die quickly and horribly, but there you have it. I would rather stab my own eardrums with an icepick than sit through the most inane dialogue delivered by the most obnoxious, unlikable bitches imaginable again.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Things That Will Not Happen

President Obama Must Free Leonard Peltier

Oh-ho! Must he, now? (Or what? You won't vote for him again?) Yes, I'm sure he'll get right on that, given his appetite for confrontation and his steadfast refusal to be bullied by people who think anyone to the left of Mussolini is a communist (though, goodness me, wouldn't it be fun to see the apoplectic reaction from the right wing if he did.)

I remember people being optimistic that another charismatic young Democratic president would free Peltier. I was at a concert/rally back in 1994, where the excellent band Red Thunder performed. I didn't really believe anything would come of the trip up to D.C. the following day, but at least one cool thing occurred: a kindly, elderly man came up to my table, shook my hand and thanked me for coming, asked me my name, where I was from, and so on, before introducing himself as Dennis Banks. (I believe I responded with something brilliant like, "Ah gur duh hoouh...")

Ho-lee shit.

Haven't washed that hand since!

The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret

For secrets are edged tools
And must be kept from children and from fools

- John Dryden

I am — yet what I am, none cares or knows

- John Clare

The gauntlet has been thrown down!

Some bloggers who post under their real names say that those who write under pseudonyms have something to hide or don't want to be held accountable to their audiences.
Heather B. Armstrong, who was fired from her job after her employer discovered her blog, Dooce, where she posted under her real name, said there are few valid reasons a blogger should veil his or her identity.
"I think if you're doing something anonymously you've got some issues going on," she said. "There's a reason that you're hiding."

"If you're not doing anything wrong, what are you so afraid of?" It really is a stupid argument no matter what the context, no? I would say that if you're more obsessed with a writer's name, address, or place of employment than whatever's being written, you're the one with the issues. How interesting that she doesn't seem to feel that anyone, including herself, apparently, should be able to write anything unless they're willing to lose their job over it. Hey, I wish we did live in a society where controversial opinions were accepted as a banal fact of life, and not something one should act ashamed of, only to be discussed with close friends behind closed doors lest they cause a fatal attack of the vapors in people unwittingly exposed to them, but given recent events, I'm not holding my breath.

I happen to be self-employed and a member of no particular standing in the community, so it's no skin off my back if anyone knows who I am or not. No money or reputation on the line. Yet, I write pseudonymously for several reasons, not least of which being that it just doesn't matter who I am or what I look like. Go gawk at celebrities if that's your thing; but if you're reading what I write, I would hope it's because it somehow resonates with you or makes the time pass a little easier, not because you're desperate to know where my house is or what I had for breakfast.

Largely, I wanted to have a space where I could focus on writing just for the fun of it, and possibly to even improve at it. A space where the words and ideas are everything, and the person behind them next to nothing. I've got the whole rest of the day to deal with my personal life; this is a place to escape all that for a while.

And also, to some extent, pseudonymity is my little protest against a fishbowl world where everything about everybody is a topic for discussion or a plot for a reality TV show. I've come to appreciate the value of sometimes seeing people as characters in an artistic sense, not specimens in a laboratory to be closely studied, poked and prodded under harsh lights. An element of mystery or surprise is important, too; knowing where not to look, what to leave unsaid. So, yes, this blog is somewhat of a project of that sort, a way to develop what's interesting about me and leave the rest in the shadows.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Goldstein, Snowball, Nader

In 2000, I recall standing in line to see Al Gore speak here in LA and I was inundated by a bunch of young, impressionable lefties, inspired by the globalisation movement and Ralph Nader's message. We sparred for some time, me telling them how third parties don't work, and them having none of it. They had no political experience except what they saw as a betrayal of liberalism and they found Nader's analysis of the two parties as being in bed with corporate interests extremely convincing. And it was very hard to argue that point, although I did try valiently, knowing as I did that while both parties were corporate whores, the Republican Party, being insane, wanted to actually kill large numbers of people in foreign countries, put the church in everyone's bedroom and give everybody's money directly to the wealthiest people in the nation. But I didn't convince any of them. And we know the result...

Why the Democrats persist in believing that it can't happen again is beyond me. Perhaps they internalized all the villager CW about Al Gore being a bad candidate, but the fact remains that if a slice of the left hadn't been so disgusted by the New Democratic, mushy centrism of the Clinton years, he would have won...

It's worth remembering that a third party run from the left is what created the conditions for eight long years of Republican governance that pretty much wrecked this country.

I don't feel like rehashing all this, even if it would make a difference. I'll just content myself with chuckling over the way Digby manages to note - correctly - that those impressionable young lefties were extremely convinced that both parties were in bed with corporate interests, but still apparently believes they would have voted for Gore anyway, rather than staying home and not voting at all out of disgust, if only Nader hadn't led them into temptation.

Bonus irony: the fact that "
the Republican Party, being insane, wanted to actually kill large numbers of people in foreign countries" was a good reason to vote for the party that had spent the last eight years consigning who knows how many tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to death by starvation and easily preventable diseases by means of sanctions.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Apparently Mozart died of strep throat.

Even as a kid, Mozart was always appealing to me. My gateway drug into the world of classical music. I've always thought it was odd, because if I had never heard a note of any composer and had to rely on written descriptions and impressions, I would think "Yeah, Beethoven sounds like the guy for me." And I do like a lot of his work, but I always found Mozart a little more compelling, and could never understand why some people didn't hear more depth to his music.

I would try to say something worthy of the great man's almost-incomprehensible talent, but luckily, my co-blogger Arthur said something eloquent in an email exchange last year that beats anything I could come up with (in reference to his clarinet quintet in A major):

This is one of my favorites. Absolutely right about Mozart. It's not Mozart who's superficial, it's people who think he is. There's great sadness in this quintet (written, I think, in the last year of his life), but the complete absence of self-pity and emotional exaggeration makes it too subtle for many people to notice it's there. There's great consolation, too. This is someone who has suffered, but his devotion to his craft and his delight in his own inexhaustible inventiveness take precedence over self-dramatization. The more familiar you become with the milieu in which he composed -- the cookie-cutter classicism of his day, with its bland, homophonic textures (studiously avoiding the complex counterpoint of Bach) and standardized orchestration, the clearer and more deeply gratifying Mozart's subtle but consistent pushings of the envelope become. None of the bang-crash-boom of Beethoven (whom I of course also revere, but not as much as Mozart), just constant delight and surprise at his turns of thought, his remarkable ear for sonic textures, his limpid but always piquant use of counterpoint. Not to mention that he is one of the great melodists of all time. It goes on and on...
The homily on Mozart and Haydn is that Haydn dances and Mozart sings. Beethoven wanted to study with Mozart but "settled" for Haydn when Mozart died. This may explain in part why dynamic rhythm plays such an important role in his music. Who knows how he would have turned out if he'd had the chance to study with Mozart?

Another favorite piece here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Babble Babble Bitch Bitch

We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the
Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.

- Thoreau

That's all? I suspect a generous allowance of wiggle room when it comes to defining "pointless", given the amount of mind-numbing trivia that makes up most conversations. At any rate, I'm still amazed at how many people I know who initially rolled their eyes at Twitter only to shamefacedly admit to having joined shortly thereafter. I can barely find enough stuff I feel is interesting enough to comment on, leaving aside the immense problem of trying to find an interesting way to do it. I can't imagine subjecting anyone to my random, passing thoughts and other assorted mental effluvia, and I shudder to think how desolate of a life one would have to have to even want the experience!

For some reason, I don't get invited to many parties.

Don't Get Sick

The Cajun Cryptkeeper says we should let Republicans win the fight over health care reform because --

g i a n t

l e a p

o f

l o g i c

-- it will lead to Mo-Betta Democrats, who will --

f r e e - f a l l

i n t o
t h e
c a n y o n

o f
w i s h f u l
t h i n k i n g

-- be forced to come up with new ways to justify doing nothing, I suppose.

That's assuming that the Bullshit Strategy doesn't work, though.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Fuck Michael Vick

Fuck Michael Vick. Fuck that slackjawed, retarded, beady-eyed bastard with a fucking chainsaw. How is getting paid millions to play football a chance to "prove he's doing the right thing?" If you want to do the right thing, find a way to travel back in time and abort the motherfucker with a rusty coathanger; otherwise, let this useless piece of shit spend the rest of his life in anonymity, getting paid minimum wage to hose out kennels at the SPCA.

Ah, but he's been "speaking across the country." Well, I'm sure it's enthralling to hear a subliterate fuckhead mumble about how much he's suffered by spending a couple years away from the NFL enhancing his street cred, so don't do what he did, kids, wink wink. I wonder if his entreaties to avoid torturing and killing dogs are as heartfelt and convincing as his lawyer-scripted "Durr, oh, uh, yeah, and, uh, I done found me some Jesus" lines from his press conference a couple years ago.

Oh well. With any luck, he'll end up paralyzed from the eyes down from a crunching tackle on the first snap he takes, and he can spend many happy years being wheeled down to the dog park, where all the male dogs can walk by and lift their legs on him.

...adding, hell the fuck yeah.

Les Paul

Thank you for everything.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

You, Sir, Are a Gentleman and a Scholar

Personally, I tend to skip the interview portion of the show.

I'm not one of those who complain that Stewart is some kind of soulless corporate lackey because he doesn't preach a radical Green/Marxist/anarcho-syndicalist message with his airtime, or that his show serves as a safety valve to release frustrations that would otherwise find expression in confrontational political activism (uh, this is still the Yew-Nahted States, isn't it?) He does his thing very well, and says a lot of things that you never hear anywhere outside of the blogosphere, and I just never saw the point of griping over the obvious limitations of someone working within the system, just like I don't pay to go watch movies starring Keanu Reeves or Mark Wahlberg only to complain about the terrible acting. You should already know what you're getting when you sit down.

On that note, it's certainly true that this is a guy who admitted that he would have voted for McCain over Gore in 2000, and who displays an irritating habit of forced evenhandedness (the "extremists on both sides" bit, which really pissed me off when he used that in an interview discussing abortion with Ramesh Ponnuru). He's really not terribly "liberal"; like so many, he seems to have been slightly radicalized by the Bush years, but he'll always rush to take potshots at official enemies like Ahmadinejad and Chavez while assuring everyone that he didn't really mean to call a U.S. president a war criminal. Boats and apple carts will remain upright and at rest, don't you worry.

But the sliver of idealism in me leads me to hope that he might feel a little discomfort at having bullshit artists like John "Got Milk?" Bolton and Bill Kristol - who lies like most people breathe - singing his praises. That grinning sociopath Kristol especially should be pelted with garbage and rotten fruit anytime he shows his face in public, if not on trial at the Hague for his influence on recent foreign policy. It's perfectly possible to be "fair" to your guests without acting like old high-school buddies, and the real-world consequences of their words and actions should carry far more weight than their savoir vivre and sense of humor.
And for fuck's sake, Jon, enough with Doris Kearns Goodwin already, especially when you apparently can't find time for much better guests.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Where Do I Sign?

Just in case the rumors are true, and we will all be visited by Obama's medical bureaucrat-assassins in order to inform them how we wish to die, I figure it can't hurt to make a statement for the record, right here, right now. For all I know, maybe there are limited opportunities available for certain arrangements, and I don't want to procrastinate on something so important. All y'all can be my witnesses, too. All right? Ready? Here it is:

I want to die by means of a lethal, heart-stopping orgasm (to be induced by a partner of my choosing, yet to be determined) while on a heroin high.

Is it official now?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Mr. Occam? Your Razor, Please

A minor quibble: I can vouch that the "euthanizing old people" stuff isn't believed exclusively by conservatives. About a week before this became news, I got one of those mass emails forwarded to me* from a professional acquaintance warning of this, and it took a few back-and forth exchanges before she finally either accepted that there was no government plan for euthanasia or just wrote me off as one of Them.

She's not a doctrinaire conservative, although she is also a firm believer in La Reconquista being official policy of the Mexican government -- for one thing, she can't believe that the global warming denialists can be so stupid. She has no problem understanding that mega-corporations like ExxonMobil that make tens of millions in daily profits just might be tempted to lie and fudge data and generally be as obfuscatory as they can in order to keep those profits from being threatened by changes in our fossil fuel consumption (as opposed to the alternative of Al Gore being involved in a conspiracy with every reputable climatologist on Earth to destroy global capitalism and force us all to live in caves and forage for grubs and berries), but it doesn't seem to have occurred to her that the for-profit health insurance industry might be similarly motivated (as opposed to the alternative that Obama really does have a Stalinist streak and sees a million premature old codger-deaths as just a statistic). It reminds me that Digby, some months ago, took issue with the conventional wisdom that says this country is too ideological and polarized. She suggested that often times, people aren't ideological enough, meaning that in cases exactly like this, they haven't even devoted a few minutes to establishing some ground rules, some basic pattern of principles underlying the rhetorical needlework of specific issues. They just go with their knee-jerk reactions. (For that matter, too often, this is also what passes for being an independent thinker, or - sigh - a "maverick". Wild, superficial incoherence being mistaken for originality or independence.)

I believe the philosopher Forrest Gump's maxim had it that "stupid is as stupid does," and pace John Stuart Mill, I'm afraid I have to admit that conservatives don't have a monopoly on stupid people (New Agers? Come on -- they may be affably harmless, but have you ever met people with a worse case of reality-aversion syndrome?) Yes, different political philosophies seem to dispose one towards different types of conspiratorial thinking, but I think the underlying theme is one of being unable to think contextually, to be shockingly ignorant of current social and political realities, to think that certain events can happen like a bolt out of the blue simply because somebody wills them to happen.

*And while I'm thinking of it, how 'bout you lazy fuckers delete the addresses of all those who received the email before forwarding it on to others? I don't particularly care to know the last ten stops this piece of shit made before landing in my inbox. Thanks much.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Marduk and Baal Were Probably Involved, Too

Har har. I just wrote in the last post:

That doesn't even touch on another favorite parlor game of secular liberals, that of insisting that no one with any kind of education or position of power could possibly believe this crap; it has to all be a cynical put-on.

And then I see this:

Incredibly, President George W. Bush told French President Jacques Chirac in early 2003 that Iraq must be invaded to thwart Gog and Magog, the Bible’s satanic agents of the Apocalypse.

Honest. This isn’t a joke. The president of the United States, in a top-secret phone call to a major European ally, asked for French troops to join American soldiers in attacking Iraq as a mission from God.

Now out of office, Chirac recounts that the American leader appealed to their “common faith” (Christianity) and told him: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East…. The biblical prophecies are being fulfilled…. This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins.”

This bizarre episode occurred while the White House was assembling its “coalition of the willing” to unleash the Iraq invasion. Chirac says he was boggled by Bush’s call and “wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

But I'm sure this was all just part of Rove's eleven-dimensional chess plan to make Bush appeal to the average Pabst Blue Ribbon-drinking stumpfucker in the heartland, even if we're only finding out about this now. Or something. Truly crazy people would never actually be allowed near power, right?

Sunday, August 02, 2009

What a Fool Believes

Steven Weinberg:

Religious liberals are in one sense even farther in spirit from scientists than are fundamentalists and other religious conservatives. At least the conservatives, like the scientists, tell you that they believe what they believe because it is true, rather than because it makes them good or happy. Many religious liberals today seem to think that different people can believe in different mutually exclusive things without any of them being wrong, as long as their beliefs "work for them." This one believes in reincarnation, that one in heaven and hell; a third believes in the extinction of the soul at death, but no one can be said to be wrong as long as everyone gets a satisfying spiritual rush from what they believe. To borrow a phrase from Susan Sontag, we are surrounded by "piety without content." It all reminds me of the story that is told about an experience of Bertrand Russell, when in 1918 he was committed to prison for his opposition to the war. Following prison routine, a jailer asked Russell his religion, and Russell said he was an agnostic. The jailer looked puzzled for a moment, and then brightened, with the observation that "I guess it's all right. We all worship the same God, don't we?"

Wolfgang Pauli was once asked whether he thought that a particularly ill-conceived physics paper was wrong. He replied that such a distinction would be too kind - the paper was not even wrong. I happen to think that the religious conservatives are wrong in what they believe, but at least they have not forgotten what it means to really believe something. The religious liberals seem to me to be not even wrong.

One often hears that theology is not the important thing about religion - the important thing is how it helps us to live. Very strange, that the existence and nature of God and grace and sin and heaven and hell are not important! I would guess that people do not find the theology of their own supposed religion important because they cannot bring themselves to admit that they do not believe any of it. But throughout history and in many parts of the world today, people have believed in one theology or another, and for them it has been very important. One may be put off by the intellectual muzziness of religious liberalism, but it is conservative dogmatic religion that does the harm. Of course it has also made great moral and artistic contributions. This is not the place to argue how we should strike a balance between these contributions of religion on one hand and the long cruel story of crusade and jihad and inquisition and pogrom on the other. But I do want to make the point that in striking this balance, it is not safe to assume that religious persecution and holy wars are perversions of true religion. To assume that they are seems to me a symptom of a widespread attitude towards religion, consisting of deep respect combined with a profound lack of interest. Many of the great world religions teach that God demands a particular faith and form of worship. It should not be surprising that some of the people who take these teachings seriously should regard these divine commands as incomparably more important than any merely secular virtues like tolerance or compassion or reason.

This reminded me of the distaste many liberals have for the so-called New Atheists for supposedly being intolerant and unnecessarily divisive. Personally, I think Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, Harris, etc. pay advocates of old-school religion the respect of treating them like honest opponents who know what they believe and are willing to fight for it, not confused little kids who just haven't grown up enough yet to realize that you're not supposed to take all that stuff about heaven and souls and judgment literally, you big sillies! (That doesn't even touch on another favorite parlor game of secular liberals, that of insisting that no one with any kind of education or position of power could possibly believe this crap; it has to all be a cynical put-on.)

The popular bumper sticker image above encapsulates that for me -- people who think that "we all worship the same god" and that all faiths are just different paths to the same goal don't seem to realize that that in itself is a secular ideal. Asking people to subordinate what they believe about the ultimate nature of existence and the meaning and purpose of life to a general commandment to get along and play nice is fine; in fact, I'm all for it! I just don't pretend that it's an inherent aspect of religious belief itself. It reduces important issues to the level of lifestyle accessories, and I can fully understand why some people see that as intolerable. Certain belief systems make some very clear truth-claims upon the world, and I think it's actually more disrespectful to condescendingly tell those people that "Oh, you don't really mean that," than to tell them they're flat-out wrong.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

In Hoc Signo Vinces

"Turn the other cheek," "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" and "As you have done to the least of my brethren, so have you done unto me" are hardly pro-torture slogans. But in the hearts and minds of movement conservatives, not even Churchill, Saint Ronnie or Jesus himself can compete with the comforting violence of Jack Bauer.

- Battochio

Essays like this would be much better if they could leave out the dishearteningly inevitable appeals to the authority of a certain ancient demagogue. Scrutamini scripturas!

From J.L. Mackie's The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and Against the Existence of God:

Richard Robinson has examined the synoptic gospels as the best evidence for Jesus's own teaching, and he finds in them five major precepts: "love God, believe in me, love man, be pure in heart, be humble." The reasons given for these precepts are "a plain matter of promises and threats": they are "that the kingdom of heaven is at hand," and that "those who obey these precepts will be rewarded in heaven, while those who disobey will have weeping and gnashing of teeth." Robinson notes that "Certain ideals that are prominent elsewhere are rather conspicuously absent from the synoptic gospels." These include beauty, truth, knowledge and reason:

As Jesus never recommends knowledge, so he never recommends the virtue that seeks and leads to knowledge, namely reason. On the contrary, he regards certain beliefs as in themselves sinful...whereas it is an essential part of the ideal of reason to hold that no belief can be morally wrong if reached in the attempt to believe truly. Jesus again and again demands faith; and by faith he means believing certain very improbable things without considering evidence or estimating probabilities, and that is contrary to reason.

Robinson adds:

Jesus says nothing on any social question except divorce, and all ascriptions of any political doctrine to him are false. He does not pronounce about war, capital punishment, gambling, justice, the administration of law, the distribution of goods, socialism, equality of income, equality of sex, equality of colour, equality of opportunity, tyranny, freedom, slavery, self-determination, or contraception. There is nothing Christian about being for any of these things, nor about being against them, if we mean by "Christian" what Jesus taught according to the synoptic gospels.

And let's not forget that his famous love of man seems to have only obtained if you define "man" as "fellow Jew", not Gentiles.

What about the historical Jesus? What do we know about him?

It's popular to say he said the good stuff and not the less good stuff. I think it's the opposite.

He's typically seen as the great prophet of peace and love.

Yeah. But the fact is, the Sermon on the Mount, which is a beautiful thing, does not appear in Mark, which was the first written gospel. And these views are not attributed to Jesus in the letters of Paul, which are the earliest post-crucifixion documents we have. You see Paul develop a doctrine of universal love, but he's not, by and large, attributing this stuff to Jesus. So, too, with "love your enemies." Paul says something like love your enemies, but he doesn't say Jesus said it. It's only in later gospels that this stuff gets attributed to Jesus. This will seem dispiriting to some people to hear that Jesus wasn't the great guy we thought he was. But to me, it's actually more inspiring to think that the doctrines of transnational, transethnic love were products of a multinational, imperial platform. Throughout human history, as social organization grows beyond ethnic bounds, it comes to encompass diverse ethnicities and nations. And if it develops doctrines that bring us closer to moral truth, like universal love, that is encouraging. I think you see it in all three religions.

If Jesus was not the prophet of love and tolerance that he's commonly thought to be, what kind of person was he?

I think he was your typical Jewish apocalyptic preacher. I'm not the first to say that. Bart Ehrman makes these kinds of arguments, and it goes back to Albert Schweitzer. Jesus was preaching that the kingdom of God was about to come. He didn't mean in heaven. He meant God's going to come down and straighten things out on Earth. And he had the biases that you'd expect a Jewish apocalyptic preacher to have. He doesn't seem to have been all that enthusiastic about non-Jews. There's one episode where a woman who's not from Israel wants him to use his healing powers on her daughter. He's pretty mean and basically says, no, we don't serve dogs here. He compares her to a dog. In the later gospels, that conversation unfolds so you can interpret it as a lesson in the value of faith. But in the earliest treatment, in Mark, it's an ugly story. It's only because she accepts her inferior status that Jesus says, OK, I will heal your daughter.
But wasn't Jesus revolutionary because he made no distinctions between social classes? The poor were just as worthy as the rich.

It's certainly plausible that his following included poor people. But I don't think it extended beyond ethnic bounds. And I don't think it was that original. In the Hebrew Bible, you see a number of prophets who were crying out for justice on behalf of the poor. So it wasn't new that someone would have a constituency that includes the dispossessed. I'm sure in many ways Jesus was a laudable person. But I think more good things are attributed to him than really bear weight.

Why, it's almost like all he cared about was the supposed imminent end of the world! A fanatically anti-intellectual cult leader who demands unquestioning loyalty, even at the cost of alienating friends and family, who exults in the thought that anyone who rouses his resentment will suffer greatly in the new world know, I don't think it's the conservatives who don't understand how to interpret his message.