If you haven't read David Brooks' latest Times op-ed, The Presidency Wars,
don't. Instead, read Shorter
David Brooks. Trust me, the informational content is the same and it's a lot less painful.
Oh, the hand wringing. Oh, the pity. Our national discourse has been forever sullied by these uncivilized
leftists attacking the poor president. They're just like the conservatives who went after Clinton for all those years,
only (gasp) even worse!
Forgive me, but can't we go one damned week without another steaming load of this crap being dumped on
us by some publication? We've seen it from Will Saletan, Jack Shafer, Howie Kurtz and countless others already. Give
it a rest.
To Brooks' dubious credit, he does bring something new to the table. Check out this whopper:
"The fundamental argument in the presidency wars is not that the president is wrong, or is driven by a misguided ideology.
That's so 1980's. The fundamental argument now is that he is illegitimate."
This move is brilliant in its audacity. Brooks leaves Saletan and Shafer in the dust. Those guys merely failed to
address the content in the recent spate of books criticizing Bush. Brooks denies it even exists. Out go the
thousands and thousands of pages taking Bush to task, point-by-carefully-backed-up-point, for his failed, destructive policies,
all of which are driven by a hard-core ideological agenda. Whoosh! Gone. Brooks says that's not what they're
arguing about. So, hey, I guess they're not, right? If David Brooks says so, it must be true. Well, at least it's true
now for those legions of Times readers who haven't taken the trouble to read the authors Brooks criticizes.
What a cheap shot. Brooks not only lacks the guts to look his opponents in the eye and attempt to refute
their arguments, he actively distorts the content of their work, knowing full well that he's turning off a large and potentially
more receptive audience from ever checking them out. And this is the conservative that liberals are supposed to like?
Take a look at these quotes:
"[Saddam Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to
weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours."
-- Colin Powell, Feb. 24th, 2001
"We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been
rebuilt." -- Condoleeza Rice, Spring 2001
Australian journalist John Pilger dropped a
bombshell in a British television report where he dug up these quotes and more, conclusively
proving (to all but the most ideologically encrusted) that the Bush admin knew Saddam was no
threat but attacked him anyhow in the service of larger geopolitical goals. Here's the worst of
"..After the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11
that year, Pilger claimed Rice said the US "must move to take advantage of these new opportunities"
to attack Iraq and claim control of its oil."
This better become a huge story. As
Conason points out, this shows Condi and Powell's later remarks in support of the war to be
lies of the clear, black-and-white, "I did not have sex" variety. And, of course, it goes higher
than that. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz knew. Bush and Cheney knew. The whole lying pack of them set
this thing up, and now all their cronies are set to make a
killing dividing up Iraq and selling off "rebuilding" contracts to the highest bidder (or to
Halliburton, which doesn't have to bid at all).
Needless to say, the main characters in this are all backpedaling and obfuscating like crazy, trying
to pretend that the inconsistencies which are smacking us all in the face don't really exist. Powell's
"I didn't change my assessment ... I did not say [Saddam Hussein] didn't have
weapons of mass destruction. He was a threat then. The extent of his holdings were [sic] yet to
be determined. It was early in the administration and the fact of the matter is it was long before
Look, let me save you the trouble of scrolling back up. Here you go:
"[Saddam Hussein] has not developed any significant capability with respect to
Weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours."
I don't know about you, but that sure as shit tells me that he "changed his assessment".
Gosh, I don't know. Maybe it depends on what the meaning of "is" is.
This is big news. Bigger than Watergate. Bigger than lying about a blow job. In a just world,
this story would bring down the administration. The question is: Just how much more lying will
the American people take?
Jack Beatty has a cutting
essay in the Atlantic. Looking ahead to the 2004 election, Beatty asks:
"Will Bush be re-elected? Only if voters wittingly ignore his long list of
failures while in office."
"With one phrase Dick Gephardt has defined the issue to be decided next November.
Can a "miserable failure" of a president win re-election? Bush's victory would testify to a civic
failure more dangerous to the American future than any policies implemented or continued during a
second Bush term. A majority would have demonstrated that democratic accountability is finished.
That you can fail in everything and still be re-elected president."
"Even Republicans must be capable of applying a cost-benefit analysis to this
record of miserable failure. Their tax cuts on one side, the burden of Bush-begotten debt on their
children on the other. And surely even Republicans breathe the air befouled by those power plants."
Election 2004, in other words, will be nothing less than a national Political I.Q. test, and
Beatty, for one, is not optimistic that America will pass.
Understand, when I frame this as an "intelligence" test, that's not some cheap-shot attempt to
claim that all Bush supporters are dumb, at least not in any general sense. As I pointed out
in an earlier post on a completely
different topic, otherwise "smart" people can believe really dumb things. Or, put another way, they
can continue to hold on to past beliefs in the face of overwhelmingly contradictory evidence.
A crucial facet of human intelligence is the ability to re-examine our beliefs about the world
as new facts are made available. That is the sort of intelligence the electorate will need
to demonstrate next year if we're going to turn this country around.
Let's be generous. Let's wipe the slate clean from the first go-round in 2000. We'll forgive
moderates and swing voters for overlooking Bush's lies and inconsistencies during the campaign.
We'll put aside their blissful ignorance of his hideous record in Texas and his personal history
as a failed businessman who only survived due to the largesse of his family's connections. I
mean, let's just assume there was some way they missed all that.
Well, no one can miss what's happened since. No one can claim not to have noticed the job
losses, the failing economy, the exploding deficit, and the gutting of our environmental policy.
No one can not have noticed the secrecy around our energy policy, the stonewalling on the
9-11 inquiry, and the lies told to take us to war in Iraq. No one can not see these things. Unless,
that is, they choose to not see them. Unless they choose the path of willful stupidity.
Don't be surprised if a lot of the people you know choose that path. Reevaluating your beliefs
and admitting you were wrong hurts. You can bank that some people will steadfastly stick
by Their Man, even after he's been shown to be a mouse. Or a rat. I, personally, have friends and
family members who still fiercely back Bush. I can't reach them. If you rub their noses in the
reality of our situation, it just makes them fight all that much harder to hang on to their
skewed vision of things. If they're going to come around, it will have to be something that comes
from within them. I just hope it happens soon.
ReCRUIT! Ah ORDER you to git your BEEhind over to Rolling Stone and read their
Interview with General Wesley
Clark. Report back here on the double when you are finished.
Finished? Read it? OK.
While everyone's been jumping on Clark's gaffes in his first television interview after declaring his candidacy,
and criticizing him for being fuzzy and vague on policy positions, this RS interview -- wherein Clark comes across
as smooth, polished, and ready to get down to particulars -- was waiting to hit the stands. Pity he couldn't have
timed it differently.
Rolling Stone spends about half the interview quizzing Clark on foreign policy, the Middle East crisis, and the
war in Iraq. There are some money quotes in there, including this zinger on the probable effects of the Iraq war
"We helped bin Laden. The only thing we could have done that would have helped him more is if
we had invaded Saudi Arabia and captured Mecca."
Of particular interest was Clark's response to a question asking why he was against the war in Iraq but
defended the Kosovo campaign. Now, the short answer is that he was Supreme Allied Commander NATO, and
not exactly in a position at the time to question Clinton's decision to involve us in that conflict. But Clark's a gamer,
and his formulation provides a succinct rebuttal to the hawks - both liberal and conservative - who kept trying to use
Kosovo as a leverage point to justify the Iraq war on humanitarian grounds:
RS: "You call the war in Iraq unjustified. So why was the campaign you led in Kosovo
Clark: "Kosovo was OK because Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was engaged
in ethnic cleansing that was destabilizing the entire region. By intervening, NATO could stop the killing. We tried every
means to resolve it, and we ended up using force only as a last resort. But there was no imminent threat in Iraq. If
Saddam Hussein did all these bad things, we should have indicted him for war crimes, held an international tribunal
and ordered him to surrender. That's what we did with Milosevic. In Iraq, we just invaded a country ten years after the
crimes happened, in violation of international law, without charging him with anything. It just doesn't work that way."
On the domestic front as well, Clark's responses show that he's learning how to flesh out his anti-Bush positions
with positive prescriptions, and to back them up with sound reasoning that will appeal to the "average" voter. Here's his
take on how to reduce our dependency on Middle Eastern oil:
"The easy, conventional way is to raise the price of gasoline. But I don't want that. That's a regressive
tax -- the people who pay it the most are the people who can afford it the least. There's people in my part of the country,
in Arkansas, who are traveling sixty miles a day for a minimum-wage job. If you raise the price of gas to three dollars a
gallon, they can't pay that. They're trying to save everything they can right now. The president talks a lot about hydrogen
being the fuel of the future, but where are you going to get your hydrogen from? You're probably going to get it out of natural
gas -- and a lot of that natural gas is going to come from the Middle East. So I'd raise average-mileage performance
on automobiles. That's something we can do right now that will decrease our oil dependence - but it's something the
administration has dragged its feet on."
This, to me, sounds like the sort of stuff winning campaigns are made of. Dean should read this and
take a few notes. Going after the president is fine, but you get a lot more mileage out of it (ba-dum-bump) if you
take that criticism, use it to highlight how your approach is different, and top it off with a solid suggestion or two. Also, being
specific shows you have guts. Think the automobile and oil industries are going to give one cent to the Clark campaign
after that answer?
Finally, I have a confession to make. I get as pumped as any red-blooded liberal when I hear Dean rip into Dubya or
see Gephardt (jackass that he is) call him a "miserable failure". But I'm starting to "get" what some of my friends are
talking about when they discuss the disadvantages of employing such a negative tone. Read Clark's take on
Cheney and Rumsfeld (emphasis mine):
"The reason the [Ford] White House was [paranoid and suspicious] was not only because of Watergate
but because of the two guys in charge: Donald Rumsfeld, who was Gerald Ford's chief of staff, and Dick Cheney, who was
"Today you've got the same people in there running things, trying to close down access to government.
Rumsfeld and Cheney are patriotic men, and I know they are doing the best they can. It's just that I disagree with them.
I don't believe that government is made better by secrecy and restraint. It's made better by transparency, by being open
and honest. If you're right, you're right. If not, you take your licks."
That is the kind of language that will win the majority. Clark could have said something like "Look, I've worked
with both of those evil pinheads before, and we need to get them out of there before they figure out a way to blow up the
Earth." And if he had, the 20% of us who understand just how malevolent the Bush administration is would have gone
wild. But we'd lose the moderates and fence-sitters who hear tone first and substance second.
(sigh) I don't know. I'll stick by my guns that the Dems cannot be afraid to criticize Bush and company,
and in harsh terms when necessary. But Clark's proving to me that maybe, just maybe, that criticism can be delivered in a
way that is less bitter, less partisan-sounding, and less open to claims of ad hominem bashing, while still retaining its
effectiveness. Keep selling me, Wes.
Didn't see the debate yesterday. I read that it was taking place at 4:00 P.M. - which is a silly time to have
such a high-profile event - and didn't think to check if it was being re-aired. As a result, I had to depend on
what I've read today to get a sense of how it went.
This wasn't easy to do if you went to the Times. Their
front pager on the event seemed to indicate it was a hot & sweaty free-for-all, rife with personal attacks:
"The Democratic presidential candidates squabbled intensely over tax cuts, health care and
trade policy yesterday afternoon at a debate in Manhattan, trading often personal attacks."
Flipping to the editorial page, however,
I was told that:
"The few voters who could spare two hours in late afternoon to find the debate on television saw little
internecine savaging. Less sensational and more substantive, the event was steeped in the nation's record budget
deficits, persistent unemployment, uncertain recovery and costly adventure in Iraq."
A little confusion here, guys? I haven't seen this kind of disconnect between the news and editorial pages since
the last time I picked up the Wall Street Journal. Which was approximately never ago...
Turns out there were some tense moments. From what I can tell, the worst of these came when Gephardt accused
Dean of "Standing with Newt Gingrich" during the 90s on the issue of Medicare funding. (I was lucky enough to catch a
CNN replay of this tussle while wandering by a TV at work today.) Understandably, this provoked Dean's inner hot-head
to peek out from under the covers. He indignantly pointed out that no one up there should be compared to Newt. Then
Kerry jumped in, asserting that Gephardt hadn't actually compared Dean to Newt, but merely said that he shared
a policy position with him.
I haven't done enough homework to know if that claim is true or not, but I sure know this: Gephardt's attack,
combined with Kerry's assist, made for one slimy exchange. Gephardt "didn't compare" Dean to Gingrich in exactly
the same way that George Bush "never claimed" Iraq was behind 9-11. Gephardt didn't have to "compare" the two,
because he knew that under our media's rules, simply linking the two in the same sentence would be sufficient to
inflict the desired damage. Kerry, by backing him on this, just made himself look like a hair-splitting ninny.
The fun wasn't over. Al Sharpton -- the "Sideshow Bob" of these events -- decided to wade into the
aftermath posing as the Voice of Reason (I hear Reason was pretty pissed about it too). Sharpton, amazingly for
such a life-long crusader against injustice [cough], decided to blame the victim, admonishing Dean:
"I think all of us have disagreed. I think clearly we need to make sure we don't give George
Bush the night by getting too personal, Brother Howard."
Uh, yeah, Brother Al. But maybe next time you should put Dicky and Johnny over your knee instead, OK?
The Big Story of the night, of course, was that it was The General's first debate. By all accounts Clark
looked good and sounded confident and comfortable (if perhaps a bit substance-free on the issues):
"..Supporters must have liked what they saw up on stage. A former member of
the West Point debating team, Clark still has the touch. Given the afternoon's first question -- Are you really
a Democrat? -- Clark lit up the small screen with a combination of swipes at Bush's "reckless tax cuts," as well
as a cogent statement of his Democratic identity: "I am pro-choice, I am pro-affirmative action, I'm pro-environment
, pro-health. I believe the United States should engage with allies. We should be a good player in the international
community. And we should use force only as a last resort. That's why I'm proud to be a Democrat.""
Bravo, Wes. And thanks for getting a plug for the party in there too. Clark, apparently, never got dragged into
the penny-ante personal bullshit going on around him, so he had every chance to come off clean and he took
advantage of it. Now, this was no trick of statesmanlike finesse on his part. By all accounts the rest of the pack
just politely ignored him. I'm not sure what to make of that. Maybe it's a one-time pass. If so, it's kind of
odd, since I've always thought that rookies (and pledges) are the ones that are supposed to get hazed. In any event,
good for Clark. I hope he gets up to speed quickly, because as much as I like his upside as a candidate -- he's got
bags of charisma, his heart's clearly in the right place, and he's got the whole General thing going on -- I still
need to see him bring it on the issues before I can support him as my #2/#1 pick.
Dean, though, for the record, is still my number one. I hope he can hang in there and keep his composure
through these attacks. Howard, they're all Player Haters. Trust me, having a careerist ass-kissing punk like Dick
Gephardt go after you just makes you look bigger. Keep reminding him that he voted for Bush's huge,
irresponsible tax cut. He voted for Bush's blank check to go to war. In a fair world, the DNC would
duct-tape his mouth shut before each debate. Alas, the world is not fair.
A word about the ongoing tax cut sub-debate. As I note on my
Dean V. Clark page (which is woefully incomplete - my apologies) I back Dean 100% on his assertion that
we need to roll back all of Bush's tax cuts. I am middle class, and I can tell you that the taxes we were
paying under Clinton were not unduly burdensome. More importantly, I seem to recall that under Clinton's tax policy, we had
this thing called a... a... Surplus? Was that it? Yeah, I think that's the word. We ran a surplus and we paid our bills
and we should just take a giant leap back to those taxation levels so we can start repairing all the damage to our
government that BushCo has done. In addition to not making fiscal sense, the tactic that Kerry, Lieberman, and
others have advanced of rolling back only the tax cuts that affect the rich leaves the Dems wide open to
accusations of "Class Warfare". Fair or not, you know that's what the Republicans will say, and you know the
corporate media will pick right up on it. Better to roll the cuts back wholesale and avoid that dead-end debate.
Truly scary interview in Salon
today with Bev Harris, the writer who has been investigating Diebold's flaky new touch-screen voting system. The
Diebold story has been bubbling under on the left side of the net for a while now, mainly because of a combination
of two things:
- Their new touch-screen systems leave no paper trail, making them prime targets for anyone wishing to
commit voting fraud.
- Diebold's CEO, Walden O'Dell, is a big Bush backer, who publicly stated that he is "Committed to helping
Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year."
(Heh heh. Yeah, but... I mean... you don't think he'd... nah.)
Wait, the story gets better. Harris managed to get her hands on several internal Diebold memos discussing
security flaws in the system which allow a knowledgeable user to go into the database and change whatever they want
without leaving any audit trail. Moreover, Diebold is fully aware of this flaw, but rather than fix it, their
goal -- again, according to their own memos -- is to cover it up and keep the press away from the story.
Why, you ask? Well, there's a saying we have in software development: It's not a bug. It's a feature! And it
turns out that some users of the system are looking at this wide-open back door into Diebold's system as exactly
that: A convenient way to jump right in there and, you know, change any stuff that might be, uh, incorrect.
All of this is bad enough, but what almost made me fall out of my chair is this: Diebold developed the system
using Microsoft Access. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Access, it is a lightweight, desktop
database engine with a user-friendly front end for doing small database projects. It's the kind of thing you use
if you're a three-person company who needs to throw together a quick solution to some problem in-house. What it
is not is an industrial-strength, enterprise-level database management system. Which, in my professional
opinion, is what you'd want to use if you were, oh, say, designing a voting system to be deployed nationally
for use in, among other things, a presidential election. Folks, no kidding, this would be like Boeing
announcing that they had just built their newest wide-body airliner using Legos.
Diebold could turn out to be the cleanest company in the world, but their horrendous choice of technologies,
combined with their refusal to fix this gaping security hole -- the result of, at the very best, sloppy
coding -- should be sufficient to disqualify them from consideration for any state contracts to provide
Anyhow, go read the interview. Click through Salon's dumb-ass ad if you have to. This one's important.
Just when you thought it would never happen, when you thought this proud nation of ours was
doomed to a slow, humiliating demise at the hands of our Republican leadership, America plants
its hands firmly on the back of its thighs and, with a great, squishy pop
extracts its head from its ass:
(CNN) -- President Bush has the lowest approval rating of his presidency and is
running about even with five Democratic challengers led by newly announced candidate Wesley Clark,
according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday.
A few points. First, Clark's showing is frankly amazing. He didn't just take the lead, he almost
lapped the field. These numbers have to be a shock to the other campaigns. It will be interesting
to see how the others in the race react to him at the next debate. When Dean attained front-runner
status, they all went after him. Will the same hold for Clark, or will they take a different
Second, on the matter of Bush's approval rating, I'm curious just how much further it can fall.
I have a feeling that 50 -- or, at best, high 40s -- might be getting near the basement. I
really want to be wrong about that, but the way I see it the support he's lost in the last
few months had to have come from outside his base, and now we're almost down to the 45% or so of
Americans who will support this idiot no matter what he does. Like I said, I hope I'm wrong.
Alan Dershowitz delivers a short and sweet
dismissal of the ridiculous notion -- oft repeated by the theocrats in our midst during the
recent scrap over Judge Moron's monument -- that American law is based on the Ten Commandments.
Aside from "Don't Kill", "Don't Steal", and "Don't Lie", which aren't exactly Judeo-Christian
Originals, the remainder of the decalogue has little to offer in the way of guidance for any pluralist,
democratic society. As Dershowitz (and others) have observed, the Commandments prohibit worshipping
other gods, implicitly condone slavery, and threaten to punish children for the sins of their
ancestors. Hardly a code that the planet's self-appointed Beacon of Freedom and Justice would
endorse, don't you think?
"So what is so American about the Ten Commandments? Nothing, I submit. The rules
we accept actually precede the Ten Commandments and are accepted by all civilized nations. The
remaining provisions - which call for punishing children for the sins of parents, acknowledge
slavery, mark Saturday as the exclusive day of rest and were read as exempting married men from
the prohibition against adultery - the United States has generally rejected.
Not only do the Ten Commandments not belong in public courthouses or classrooms,
they do not even belong - at least without some amendments and explanatory footnotes - in the
hearts and minds of contemporary Americans."
I couldn't agree with Dershowitz more on this one if I borrowed his brain for the weekend.
Look, everyone in this great land of ours has a right to follow whatever creed they want, no
matter how nutty and backwards it may seem when exposed to the hard white light of reason. But this
issue of the Commandments should make it abundantly clear that the United States is not
a "Christian Nation". We are, in fact, far, far better than that.
David Horowitz doesn't
think Al Franken's new book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them", is very funny. For
once, I understand where Horowitz is coming from. If I were a conservative, I wouldn't be
laughing at Franken's book either.
I'm about a third of the way into "Lies". It's slow going, because every few paragraphs
Franken makes me laugh so hard I have to put the book down while I recover. Gotta say, Franken's
wit is razor sharp, and seeing him use it to rip these lying right-wing punks a new one just puts a permanent
grin on my face. Page after page after page, he trots out the right's own statements and then
tosses them back in their face with not-at-all concealed glee. Consider his treatment of Coulter's
notorious attempt to paint the New York Times as elitist by claiming they were the only paper
not to run a front-page story on Dale Earnhardt's death the day after the race. Rather than simply
point out the truth, that the Times most certainly did run a front page story (which was,
contrary to the Coulter Monster's claims, quite respectful in tone) Franken is helpful enough to
provide a full-page photocopy, with the date and headline circled.
I love this stuff. I love it when someone puts a 'winger in a chokehold that they can't
get out of. See? This is a lie. It's not a matter of opinion, nor are we interested in your spin.
Anyhow, what's Horowitz's beef? Well, as anyone who reads his screed in detail will quickly see,
not once does he go after Franken on a point of fact. Good thing, too, since Franken's facts are
unassailable. Horowitz surely recognized this. So instead of addressing the point of
Franken's book, he trots out the same tired gripe he has aired for years now in publications
across the country: Liberals dominate academia, the one venue where his poor, down-trodden right
wing brethren (and sistren) are unfairly excluded. In this case, he's put out by Harvard's
decision to give Franken an office and a staff to work on "Lies". Well boo-fucking-hoo. I guess
there aren't a lot of Ivy League schools out there eager to finance the work of a vicious,
racist, right-wing hit man with a bad habit of getting his facts wrong. Tough break, Davey.
Many are the nights I have sat here in front of my computer, surfing the hundreds of political sites I know,
feverishly reading analyses and commentary of all sorts.† Sometimes, I'd think to myself "What are you doing?†
What are you looking for?† Some sort of ultimate condemnation of Bush?† Of who and what he is and what he stands for?†
Get a life! Go play video games or something!† Do something useful."† But I would persevere, driven by a flame
I could not quench, searching for the One True Article.
I believe I have found it. This is The One:
"I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it. I think his policies rank him among the
worst presidents in U.S. history. And, while I'm tempted to leave it at that, the truth is that I hate him for
less substantive reasons, too. I hate the inequitable way he has come to his economic and political achievements
and his utter lack of humility (disguised behind transparently false modesty) at having done so. His favorite
answer to the question of nepotism--"I inherited half my father's friends and all his enemies"--conveys the
laughable implication that his birth bestowed more disadvantage than advantage. He reminds me of a certain type
I knew in high school--the kid who was given a fancy sports car for his sixteenth birthday and believed that he
had somehow earned it. I hate the way he walks--shoulders flexed, elbows splayed out from his sides like a
teenage boy feigning machismo. I hate the way he talks--blustery self-assurance masked by a pseudo-populist
twang. I even hate the things that everybody seems to like about him. I hate his lame nickname-bestowing-- a
way to establish one's social superiority beneath a veneer of chumminess (does anybody give their boss a
nickname without his consent?). And, while most people who meet Bush claim to like him, I suspect that, if I
got to know him personally, I would hate him even more."
um... (tap) (tap) (mic check)
CAN I GET A 'HELL YEAH'????
Thank you, Jonathan Chait, for saying what so many of us have wanted to say for so long.
Josh Marshall has his interview up with Ambassador Joseph Wilson today. Wilson, you all surely remember, is the guy
who went to Niger to check out the uranium story, came back and told Cheney and Rice's offices that it was bogus, only
to have them use it in the SOTU anyway. That pissed him off, so he wrote a NYT editorial about it. That pissed Karl
Rove off, so Rove blew Wilson's Wife's cover as a CIA agent. (They really are vicious thugs, aren't they?)
Anyhow, here's the first exchange, to give you a taste:
TPM: It is September 16th and it seems in the last couple months in Iraq we've basically
gone through--quickly gone through--three phases, as near as I can tell. We had a period where there were fairly
constant guerilla attacks, and then things escalated with a series of major bombings, and then the administration
--first in sort of fits and starts and then in two or three major moves--did this reconfiguring of their policy.
The president came forward with his budget request and the new overture towards the United Nations, and we're
still trying to negotiate some sort of new arrangement with the international community. So, setting aside why
we're in Iraq, how we go there, whether we should have gone in in the first place, where are we now? Where do
you see our position right now?
WILSON: Well, I think we're fucked.
OK, OK, there's a lot more to his answer than that. But I do love it when those foreign policy types
drop all their professional jargon and speak to us in lay terms. Heh heh.
I have one question for General Wesley Clark: Why couldn't you have entered the race before I
put the Dean bumper sticker on my car?
This changes everything. For me, at least, the race for the Democratic nomination was Howard Dean and
then everybody else. Dean was hitting all the right notes on most of the issues, had the best anti-Iraq War
bona fides, and, above all, was a pit bull ready to tear George Bush's head off. The rest of 'em? Hopeless
insiders, kiss-asses, wanna-bes, and unelectable fringe candidates.
And then The General came marching in.
Fellow Dean supporters, help me out here in my moment of doubt, because from where I'm standing Clark's got
everything our guy has and then some. Solidly liberal on social issues, a more saleable personality, and a
military resume that must have Dubya wetting his flightsuit. Eric Alterman today perfectly
captures the dilemma facing those of us in the Dean camp:
"What are you Deanies gonna do? Letís all admit that, in the abstract, a decorated general,
Southerner, and Rhodes Scholar has a better chance to be elected president of the United States during an age of
terrorism than the governor of a hippie state, born and raised in upper-class Manhattan (and with a Jewish wife
and kids to boot), who has no military or foreign policy experience.
True, Dean deserves the support heís earned. And personally, I find him to be a very
attractive candidate. But to me, even that means heís likely to lose; possibly in a wash-out. (George McGovern
is one of my favorite people ever to serve in U.S. political history.) Just how much do you want to make a
statement and how much do you want to win?"
That really sums it up nicely, don't you think? Dean's a good candidate. Hell, he's a great candidate.
I'd put him in the White House before Al Gore, Bill Clinton, or just about any other Dem since J.F.K.
Unfortunately for Dean, he's now in the same race with a guy who could be even better. (Hey, Drexler had to
play his whole career with Jordan in the league. Shit happens. Life isn't fair.)
Something else about Clark that, while it may seem superficial to many, strikes me as deeply important.
Michael Moore mentioned it in his open letter
urging Clark to run:
"The other night, when you were on Bill Maher's show, he began by reading to you a quote from Howard Dean
where he (Dean) tried to run away from the word "liberal." Maher said to you, so, General, do you want to run
away from that word? Without missing a beat, you said "No!" and you reminded everyone that America was founded
as a "liberal democracy." The audience went wild with applause."
That's right. He's not ashamed to be called a liberal. And that takes more political courage than I've seen
anyone in the Democratic Party demonstrate since... well, at least since Paul Wellstone's death. If a guy with
all those stars on his collar runs as an unabashed Liberal, it could truly be a turning point in the national
There isn't much in the realm of politics these days that gives me cause for joy. But I gotta
say, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals really knows how to put a smile on my face. The same court
that had the cojones to stand up and say "Get your God out of the Pledge" -- in a nation where 95% of
the population professes to believe in that fairytale -- today issued a ruling which is a deliberate
slap in the face to our corrupt Supreme Court.
Wading into the California recall fiasco, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit postponed the
scheduled coup d'etat... uh, I mean "election"... until next March, at which time the state is
expected to have replaced their unreliable punch-card voting machines. Their reasoning? Voters
in the counties that use the old voting machines, because they are several times more likely to
have their votes read incorrectly or not at all, are being denied equal protection under the law
as guaranteed by the fourteenth amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Yep, the 9th Circuit based their ruling on the Supreme Court's 2000 Bush V. Gore decision.
Several articles I've read on this today note the obvious: This is a deliberate test of the high
court's consistency in applying the convoluted, disgracefully partisan "logic" they used in their
What I haven't seen yet -- and I'm sure it's out there, but I'm surprised it's not
front-and-center on everyone's analysis -- is mention of the fact that the Supremes in Bush V. Gore
specifically forbade lower courts (and, presumably, themselves) from using that decision
as a precedent in future cases. Embedded in the decision was the admonition that it was "limited
to the present circumstances". Unbelievable as it may sound to those of you who missed it the
first time, Bush V. Gore was a one-off, a "disposable ruling" as it were, to be used only to
hand Bush the White House.
This is a no-win situation for the Supreme Court.
- If they uphold the ruling, election laws nationwide will need to be thrown out the window (as
predicted by Bush V. Gore's critics) because practically every state has county-to-county
variances in vote-counting methods.
- If they overturn the ruling on the merits, they open themselves to the obvious claims of
inconsistency that will arise.
- If they overturn the ruling citing the "immunity" from use as a precedent that they built into
the prior decision, they drag front-and-center that embarrassing and despicable blunder at a time
when the Right is already under increasing scrutiny for making up the rules of the political
process as they go along.
Salon's Tim Grieve really brings out
the extent to which today's ruling gives the higher court the finger:
[The Ninth Circuit judges] quoted frequently and at length from Bush vs. Gore,
and they threw in other taunts at the Republicans as well. In a nod to other Florida 2000
controversies, they noted that the rushed nature of the California recall will make it difficult
for voters serving in the military to have their ballots back in California in time to be counted.
And in what appeared to be a fairly gratuitous reference to the war in Iraq, the judges noted the
importance of modeling good democratic behavior for citizens of foreign lands at this "critical
time" in history.
Heh heh. Oh, that last part is just rich. You can almost hear the sarcasm dripping
from their pens...
Antonin? Billy? Clarence? You're screwed. The 9th Circuit is calling your lying, cheating asses
on the carpet, and you haven't got a leg to stand on. So much for repairing your legacy, boys.
Jack Shafer! Come back! All is forgiven!
My very first post on this site
was a take-down of Jack Shafer (Slate editor, BSATSS victim) for his article in which he tried
to equate the lies of right wing shills Coulter, Hannity, etc. with the recent spate of left-wing
books addressing those lies. I was pretty pissed at Shafer at the time.
Folks, compared with Slate stable-mate Will Saletan, Shafer's a reasonable guy. Saletan today administered the latest
rap on the nose to those disobedient Democratic
puppies who dare to point out the undeniable truth that the Right is engaged in a systematic
attempt to subvert our nation's system of governance. This article truly raises the bar for
disingenuous pseudo-objectivity. Saletan notes that several Dems have pointed out a pattern which
runs through the 2000 election, the Texas redistricting fight, and the California recall. He then
revisits the first in an insanely skewed attempt to paint the Gore campaign's actions as somehow
In Florida, Al Gore originally asked for a recount only in counties in which
he thought Democrats would gain votes. Moreover, to be precise, he wasn't for "counting" more
ballots; he was for reinterpreting already-counted ballots until he came out ahead.
Let's break those last few statements down. Gore wasn't for "counting" more ballots, he was for
"reinterpreting" already-counted ballots. This is a semantic shell game. Part of the purpose
of any recount is to "re-interpret" already counted votes to make sure they were interpreted
correctly in the first place. The other primary component of a recount is indeed to
count additional votes that were not counted initially because they were rejected for some reason
(in the FL case by the ridiculously suspect voting machinery). Saletan has to
understand this, but instead he pretends ignorance in order to make Gore's actions appear
devious. Finally, there's the low-blow clause "until he came out ahead". As if any politician
asking for a recount does so when they're ahead with the intention of losing.
Outside of the explicitly right-wing press, this has to be the most dishonest paragraph I've
seen a "journalist" put into print in a long, long time.
And yet it is just one example of Saletan turning reality completely on its head in order
to pretend that Democrats are engaged in unethical and/or illegal electoral behavior on a par with
that currently being orchestrated by the Republican machine. The entire piece is a case of BSATSS
gone supernova. Read the article. (And then be sure to read Digby's
hilariously droll rebuttal.)
I wish I had Digby's sense of humor on this subject. But when I see "independent" journalists
absolutely whoring their intellects out in order to maintain the illusion that what we're now
witnessing in this country is somehow "politics as usual", it just makes me want to throw up.
Al Sharpton may be a few bits short of a byte, but sometimes he's the only guy out there who's
really willing to go all the way and call things as they are: "We are witnessing a non-military
civil war." My advice to those of you still stuck in your precious "middle"? Get on the right
side of this, while we've still got something left to fight for.
Remember, lo those many years ago, when William Safire of the New York Times famously referred to Hillary
Clinton as a "congenital liar"? I forget precisely what issue he was bloviating about at the time. Could have
been Filegate, could have been Travelgate, could have been about the Rose Law Firm billing records. In any case it
was one of those trivial matters that the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy could be counted on to blow way out of
Compared with the constant, choking flood of untruths emanating from the Bush White House, Hillary's alleged
fibs - even if each and every one of them really were fibs - don't amount to a hill of beans. Makes you wonder
when this massive devaluation of The Lie occurred.
Here, for instance, courtesy of Josh Marshall at Talking
Points Memo, is our Vice President today on Meet The Press:
MR. RUSSERT: The Washington Post asked the American people about Saddam Hussein, and
this is what they said: 69 percent said he was involved in the September 11 attacks. Are you surprised by that?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. I think itís not surprising that people make that connection.
MR. RUSSERT: But is there a connection?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We donít know. You and I talked about this two years ago. I can remember
you asking me this question just a few days after the original attack. At the time I said no, we didnít have any
evidence of that. Subsequent to that, weíve learned a couple of things. We learned more and more that there was a
relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda that stretched back through most of the decade of the í90s, that it involved
training, for example, on BW and CW, that al-Qaeda sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are
involved. The Iraqis providing bomb-making expertise and advice to the al-Qaeda organization.
Cheney goes on from there, reciting a veritable Greatest Hits album of bogus assertions. Here's Josh's response:
"In Cheney's answer he reels off a series of allegations, most of which have either been
positively discredited or remain wholly unsubstantiated. Even if each point were true -- which, for the most part,
they aren't -- they are clearly intended to muddy the issue by tossing out a variety of points not directly
related to the question of Iraqi government involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
The one supposed piece of 'evidence', of course, is the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta
and a senior Iraqi intelligence official in the spring of 2001. But contrary to Mr. Cheney's claim that "weíve
never been able to develop anymore of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it," US intelligence
officials have thoroughly discredited that report. And it has even been denied by the Czechs. What's more, as al
Qaida expert Peter Bergen noted last month when he spoke with TPM, the US now has in custody the two Iraqi
intelligence officials connected with this alleged incident.
As Bergen asked, "Don't you think he knows his get-out-of-jail-free card to some degree is
saying "Hey I did meet with Mohammed Atta"? He's obviously not saying that, otherwise we'd know about it."
The point is that there is simply no evidence whatsoever connecting the Iraqi regime with the
9/11 attacks. What's more, it's not as though we don't know quite a lot about how the attacks were carried out.
We know who the perpetrators were -- both those in the planes and many in support roles. We know where the money
came from. We know about their ties with al Qaida and bin Laden. We know a great many details about how this
horrific attack happened. And none of them have led us back to Saddam Hussein or the Iraqi regime.
Even applying so low a standard as that by which we judge incidents with four-year-olds and
cookie jars, Cheney's statement that "we just don't know" whether Saddam was involved in the 9/11 attacks is a
I wish Josh had included more of the original transcript,
because it says a lot about Cheney's warped and inconsistent behavior in the idle speculation department:
MR. RUSSERT: We could establish a direct link between the hijackers of September 11
and Saudi Arabia.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We know that many of the attackers were Saudi. There was also an
Egyptian in the bunch. It doesnít mean those governments had anything to do with that attack. Thatís a different
proposition than saying the Iraqi government and the Iraqi intelligent service has a relationship with al-Qaeda
that developed throughout the decade of the í90s. That was clearly official policy.
MR. RUSSERT: There are reports that the investigation Congress did does show a link
between the Saudi government and the hijackers but that it will not be released to the public.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I donít know want to speculate on that, Tim, partly because I was
involved in reviewing those pages. It was the judgment of our senior intelligence officials, both CIA and FBI
that that material needed to remain classified.
So, let me get this straight: A huge majority of the hijackers were Saudi. We have a classified report which,
it has been widely leaked, contains incriminating details linking bin Laden's operation in the States to high-placed
members of the Saudi regime. But Cheney "doesn't want to speculate" on those links. He does, on the other hand,
feel quite comfortable rehashing the same old tired speculations about Iraq's completely non-fucking-existent
connection to the 9-11 attacks.
Got it, Dick.
This is where one might normally make some outraged comment along the lines of "How stupid do they think we are?!"
But the sad fact is that 69% of Americans have bought the administration's lies about Iraq being linked to
Al Quaeda. Some 40% think we've found WMD in Iraq. Better than 20% think Hussein used WMD during the recent
U.S. invasion. If Cheney and his fellow scoundrels think Americans are stupid, at least it would be a rare instance
where their beliefs are supported by the evidence.
My only question is, where is Will Safire when we really need him?
"In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."
- Benjamin Franklin
With all due respect to Mr. Franklin, he missed a third fundamental constant of our earthly
existence: Bitching about taxes. Although, appropriately enough, his famous dictum provides
an early example of that selfsame phenomenon.
Americans whining unjustifiably about taxes is just one of the topics that Paul Krugman
addresses in his excellent New York Times Magazine
feature article. (P-Krug's been on a tear of late - you should also check out his
piece in this week's Rolling Stone on the Bush admin's strategies and goals, unfortunately not
available online.) Setting the stage for a long and revealing look at the fundamental dishonesty of
the right's anti-tax crusade, Krugman first examines Americans' overall tax burden as compared
with that of other advanced western countries. As of 2002, total taxes in the United States stood
at 26.3% of GDP, compared with 38.2% in Canada, 45.8% in France, and 52.2% in that pinko socialist
stronghold, Sweden. Seems to me that living in the good old U.S.A. is a bargain. And yet still,
virtually every day, I hear some wingnut raving about the govmint ripping them off. Here's Krugman:
"So here's the picture: Americans pay low taxes by international standards.
Most people's taxes haven't gone up in the past generation; the wealthy have had their taxes
cut to levels not seen since before the New Deal. Even before the latest round of tax cuts,
when compared with citizens of other advanced nations or compared with Americans a generation
ago, we had nothing to complain about -- and those with high incomes now have a lot to celebrate.
Yet a significant number of Americans rage against taxes, and the party that controls all three
branches of the federal government has made tax cuts its supreme priority. Why?"
Why indeed? Why do Americans fail to understand the necessity of taxation and the role it serves
in the relationship between the government and its citizenry? The government is our employee. Taxes
are the wages we pay it to provide the services we demand, and boy, we sure do demand a lot of
services. It's so simple, really. But when the occasional brave Democrat tries to point out
this link, the fear-mongers on the right cry "Tax and Spend! Tax and Spend! Big Goverment is
coming to steal your hard-earned money!" It's insane. Anyhow, go read Krugman. I'll be
back with more later.
It was almost a year ago that I was driving around in the desert outside Las Vegas with a couple of old
High School friends. Adrian, who knows my musical tastes almost as well as I do, popped a CD in the stereo.
"Who's this?" I asked. "It's Andrew W.K." he replied (and, yes, he even
said it as a hyperlink. Adrian's amazing.) "Never heard of him." "Trust me, you're going to
love him." About five seconds later, I heard the opening chords of It's Time To Party. "Oh! It's that
song from that Travelocity commercial where the kids trash the house while their parents are away!"
Well, it turns out Adrian was right, as
usual. I loved every damned song on A.W.K.'s first album,
I Get Wet (left). I think it was in my car's CD player for about six straight months. His songs are
short. They are loud. They are fun. And they are very, very simple. AC/DC sounds like Bach by comparison.
A.W.K.'s sound is a kind of revved-up, hyper-produced, 80's throw-back pop/rock/metal. But that doesn't really
capture it. To get a better idea of what he's like, check out this
Tapefuzz review. He's not for everyone. On my return home, when I brought up A.W.K. to my friend Erik, he
said to me "Look, with all due respect, if you like him, you are a retard." (After reading that Rolling Stone
had given the album a four-star
review, Erik amended his statement to "OK, you're not retarded. But you are still wrong.")
Anyhow, enough background. About two weeks ago, my beautiful and thoughtful fiancee spotted a poster saying
Andrew would be playing at a local club. And so it was that I saw him live for the first time last night.
I was not disappointed.
The venue, Pearl Street night club in Northampton, MA,
was great. It's the kind of place I like to see bands in, but rarely do (usually I wind up going to concerts in
civic-center/stadium venues, or in one of those god-forsaken, accoustically awful open-air theaters). The beer
was way cheaper than we expected, and you could see the stage from anywhere in the place. Oh, and the sound
level was about ten times what the room required. In other words, it was perfect. The first opening band,
Vaux, sounded pretty awful from outside,
one of those alt-metal bands with a singer who shrieks every word, so Tracy and I repaired to the bar across the
street for a few drinks prior to heading into the club. The second opening band,
High On Fire was a death metal outfit that actually wasn't half bad. (Long live the goddamned double bass
drum, dude.) Ah, but then, after a long, long interlude, came the moment we'd all been waiting for.
There was only one real choice for the opener. Everybody knew it was coming. And when It's Time To Party
erupted from the amps, the crowd went nuts. So began an hour of fist-pumping, head-banging, crowd-surfing, and
general euphoria. Although the tour is ostensibly in support of W.K.'s new album, The Wolf, the set was
heavily weighted towards material from I Get Wet. Highlights included the aforementioned opener, Party
Hard, Ready to Die, She is Beautiful (also known, in my household, as "the Tracy Song"), and
the show-closer, I Get Wet. There were at least two songs from the new album, Tear It Up and Your
Rules, both of which went over quite well, considering the album's only been out for a few days and most of
the crowd couldn't possibly have known them. Hey, it's Andrew W.K., right? You're either going to love the stuff
instantly or not. These were no different.
Andrew is electric in person. He's got boatloads of charisma and he connects with the crowd effortlessly. Not
a lot of talk. None of that trite "How are you motherfuckers doing out there!!! Let's make some noise!!!" Nope.
He likes to spray the crowd with water a lot. And he never, ever, stops smiling. Here's this huge biker-looking
party dude up on stage, and you think he'd be playing-up the bad-ass factor, but no, he's smiling like a
five-year-old kid with a new toy the whole way through the show.
The high-point of the evening was the closing song. All night there was a line of people by the amps waiting
to get their ten seconds on stage with the band before diving back into the crowd. This was encouraged. Some
guy or girl would make their way to center stage and Andrew would drape his arm around them while still hollering
out his vocals. Couple times the visiting fan was allowed to join in. Anyhow, Tracy kept saying "Come on. You know
you want to go up there. You'll hate yourself if you don't." I'm not a big one for going up in front of any sort of
crowd, and I really thought I was going to pussy out. But by the time the band started into I Get Wet, I
was a crazed maniac, and one last urging from my woman had me climbing up and clawing my way into the throng. That's
right, during the closing song there must have been thirty of us up there. It was a madhouse. Sweat (mostly my own)
was sheeting off of me. The push and pull of the crowd made it almost impossible to keep my feet. At one point I
thought I was headed off the front of the stage for my first crowd surf, but I managed to fight the current and
get back to the drum riser, in front of which stood The Man himself. I got a high-five in before he marched into the
center of the crowd on the stage. The bass player, who was nearby, was kind enough to let a few of us hammer out
some notes for him as the song crescendoed. Then A.W.K. goes by up in the air, surfing the crowd on stage. It was
a Rock and Roll Moment.
Today, my neck is sore. My arms are sore. My ears are still ringing, it seems, and I'm feeling a little crispy.
Hell, I'm not a teenager anymore, although I must say I can still bring the head-snap when the music calls for it.
My advice? If you like your music loud and dumb and happy, check for a tour date in your town. It's a show you
won't soon forget.
I wasn't going to do one of these. Honestly. I'm one of those people who gets tired of hearing everyone invoke
9-11 every five minutes, particularly when they have something to gain from it. Yes, it is the worst thing that's
happened to our country in my lifetime. But, no, I am not psychologically scarred from it, and -- aside from the
families of the dead and the residents of New York City -- I've always been a little nonplussed, skeptical even,
about the legions who weren't there, didn't lose anybody, but claim it changed their life. Call me an asshole. I
assure you, you won't be the first.
There have been hundreds of 9-11 commemorations today in honor of the victims. I look back too, and I'm truly
saddened by all that useless killing. I can't speak with moving, eloquent words about people I didn't know,
however, so instead, I'll speak about what I can.
I have a picture on my desk at work. It's one of my all-time favorites. Me and four of my fraternity brothers
standing on the outside observation deck of the World Trade Center about, oh, five, maybe six years ago. That
was a glorious day. Not a cloud in the sky. Perfect weekend. All of us looking forward to our long-planned pub
crawl, literally on top of the world, perched a quarter mile above the most electric city the world has ever known.
I remember looking out across the bay, my eyes sweeping past the Statue of Liberty and taking in the gargantuan
span of the Verazanno Narrows bridge, then back in, up the East River to my personal favorite, the Brooklyn Bridge,
one of the sacred temples of engineering (and I'm not just saying that because it was designed and built by a
fellow alumnus of mine). And then I remember looking some fifty yards to the southwest and seeing an island of steel
floating in the sky. That vision sticks with me to this day. Everyone's seen the old pictures of the southern
Manhattan skyline, but if you never went to the WTC in person -- never went up it -- it's hard to grasp how
singular an experience it was. None of the other buildings in that part of town even came close in terms of size or
grandeur to the World Trade tower I was standing on. Except for the tower right across from it. It was
the only thing in the foreground, swaying perceptibly in the air currents. It was extraordinary.
When I see pictures now of the towers before they came down, it almost moves me to tears. It affects me
personally - I am somewhat ashamed to say - more than the abstract number of the death toll ever will.
Look at what we built. This awesome monument to human ingenuity, austere and simple and perfect and - Hey! We
did it twice! Right next to each other! - just in case anyone thought the first one was a fluke. And then we
gathered people from around the world and set them about the world's business inside those impossibly soaring
walls. It would be like the pharaohs building the great pyramid at Giza and then using it as an indoor mall. We
could do it, though, because that's how far we've come. We made the impossible into the prosaic because that's
what we can do when we choose to put our minds to it.
That's what they took away from us. Lashing out in their fury, that's what they destroyed. We created a
wonder of the world, and they smashed it down to the ground. I wish I could understand why.
There's a new line of attack in the debate between religious believers and non-believers making the rounds. Or
maybe it's an old line of attack that I just haven't come across before. I'm calling it the Validity By Association
Argument, and it goes a little something like this:
"A lot of very smart people believe in God.
Therefore, religious belief cannot be dismissed
I first encountered this gambit in a
Guardian article which a friend sent my way a few days back. Then, this morning, I saw it again in an
NPR essay posted (alongside a rebuttal) on the Brights
A little background. I am an Atheist. More specifically, I subscribe to what is sometimes called "weak" atheism.
I simply do not believe in any sort of supernatural deity because there is not any evidence to support
such belief. I generally stay away from "strong" atheism, which makes the positive claim that God does not exist
because I don't think there's sufficient evidence to make that statement either (although, the Christian God in
particular, as He is defined in, for instance, Catholic Dogma, strikes me as so riddled with contradictions that I
feel I'm on firmer ground saying that sort of god does not exist).
Now, I get in my share of arguments about this topic because, while I'd like to be live-and-let-live about it,
I see irrationality in general (i.e. believing things for no damned good reason) and religiously-grounded
irrationality in particular as being among the most fundamentally destructive forces in the world today, and
indeed throughout human history. Seems to me that, in the grand scheme of things, it's a short walk from condoning
irrational, unprovable assertions about the supernatural to having guys flying planes into buildings.
Unfortunately, even among my more sympathetic friends, when I push this argument I usually get some response
along the lines of "Toast, you're being just as dogmatic in your non-belief as they are in their belief. Let
people believe what they want."
Which brings me to the aforementioned Guardian article that, I suspect, was sent to me to gently make that
point. The author, Tim Radford, basically sets about to combat just the sort of disapproval that
rationalist atheists like myself often express. He does so by pointing out the large percentage of scientists
who profess to believe in God:
In the US, according to a survey published in Nature in 1997, four out of 10 scientists
believe in God. Just over 45% said they did not believe, and 14.5% described themselves as doubters or agnostics.
This ratio of believers to non-believers had not changed in 80 years.
Colin Humphreys says that quite a number of his colleagues at Cambridge are also believers.
"My impression is - and it is just an impression - that there are many more scientists on the academic staff
who are believers than arts people."
Now, this goes to the "Validity by Association" argument somewhat indirectly. It is assumed that scientists,
generally, are smart people. Steve Waldman's NPR essay, on the other hand, gets right to the point:
Two surveys earlier this year - one from Harris, and one from Gallup - indicate that even
supernatural religious beliefs are held not only by most Americans, but by the majority of well-educated Americans.
Listen to these numbers - 55% of people with post-graduate degrees (lawyers, doctors, dentists, and the like)
believe in the Devil. 53% believe in Hell. 72% believe in miracles. Remember these are people with post-graduate
educations. 78% if them believe in the survival of the soul after death. 60% believe in the virgin birth. And 64%
believe in the resurrection of Christ.
OK. There is, it seems, overwhelming evidence to suggest that intelligence and religious belief are not
mutually exclusive. But here's the thing: Being "intelligent", either in raw IQ power or in terms of competence
in some field or fields, has never prevented anyone from holding irrational, wrongheaded, counter-factual, or
just plain stupid beliefs. There have been smart racists. There were probably smart flat-Earthers. Paul
Wolfowitz is, by all accounts, a Major Brain, and yet he helped father the worst foreign policy in U.S. history.
There were probably (although this is a stretch) smart economists who favored supply-side economics. The number
of smart people who have held irrational beliefs is just about the same as the number of smart people, period,
if you know what I mean.
People believe things for any number of reasons. I suspect the primary reasons people hold religious
beliefs are psychological -- fear of death, need for meaning in life, need for an authority to tell them what's
right -- and historical, in the sense that, generation after generation, we brainwash our children to follow
the religious creed that we were brainwashed to believe in. What these reasons are not is rational, because
there is not a shred of evidence to support even mild conjecture about the existence of a supreme, supernatural,
So why do intelligent people, rigorously trained in the rules of logic and the scientific method, profess
religious belief? Simple. They have not, either through lazy oversight or deliberate exclusion, applied those
tools to that area of their life. The latter case tends to prevail, so perhaps I should be more clear on what I
mean. When I say "deliberate exclusion", I mean to encompass those many bright individuals who place the
question of god outside the realm of scientific knowledge, referring obscurely to other ways of knowing
and the like. (To my mind, the ways that we can claim to "know" something are pretty clear. If someone finds a
new way of "knowing" that doesn't involve either direct empirical evidence or logical extrapolation from same,
let me know.) The desire to believe is so deeply ingrained that people who ought to know better
consciously choose to exempt religious belief from rational examination. Hence you get PhDs in particle physics
claiming that they literally believe Christ walked on water and that Mary was (ahem) a virgin when she gave
Why do I care? I get that a lot. Why can't I just let people believe whatever the hell they want? Well, by and
large I do. I don't go around knocking on doors saying "Have you heard the Bad News?" (Not that I think it's
bad news, but most believers would... Anyway.) I care because some beliefs have more consequences than others.
And the greater the consequences, both for the individual and society, the more rationally well-founded the
belief ought to be.
I confess - I have an irrational belief: I believe the Los Angeles Lakers suck. I hold this belief despite the
three consecutive championships they recently won. No one, however, not even I, am harmed in any way by this
belief. It is victimless stupidity, if you will.
Paul Hill had an irrational belief: He believed that fetuses are given a thing called a soul at the moment
of conception. He killed two people because of that belief, and now he's dead too. That's an irrational belief
The terrorists who killed 3,000 people in the WTC attack had irrational beliefs: They
believed their god wanted them to kill Americans. They also believed in an afterlife where they would be
rewarded for their deeds. This allowed them to commit suicide for their god's cause. That's an irrational belief
This is why I care. And this is why I will continue to tell people -- even and especially smart people -- that
they ought not to believe in an idea as important as "god" without a damned good reason.
Richard Blow has this excellent essay up at
TomPaine.com on the subject of What Happens When Pissed Off Liberals Fight
Back (Answer: Hand-wringing from other liberals in the press). Here's his response to recent attempts to draw
parallels between Al Franken and the liars he goes after in his new book (emphasis mine):
The pundits snort that Franken is resorting to the same tactics nasty conservatives use. As
Howard Kurtz put it in his Washington Post Web column, "Franken is trying to do for the left what Ann Coulter
and Bernard Goldberg... have done for the right: Demonize the other side."
Well, no, actually, he isn't. He's trying to correct the other side. There's a big difference.
And saying that everyone involved in this debate is morally equivalent is just sloppy thinking dressed up as
Kurtz isn't the only one taking this line. "Liberal scriveners may improve their team's
political lot by matching the conservative investment in liar-liar stock, but it will come at the expense of
their credibility," says Slate's Jack Shafer in an exquisite summation of the punditocracy's conventional
It's a curious argument -- especially since, just a couple paragraphs higher, Shafer concedes
that Franken "accurately document[s] the right's most egregious lies." So let me rebut it: To attack a lie is
not the same as to tell a lie. Would Shafer prefer that Democrats just sit back and get pounded for a few more
years, secure in the knowledge that, even though they're getting their asses kicked, at least they're right?
Here (actually, right here) and there, we're starting to see voices raised stating what
should be painfully obvious to anyone with a pulse: Both sides are NOT the same. Frankly, I'd like to see
this corrective statement made by one - just one - mainstream pundit. But a start is a start...
Avedon Carol, over at The Sideshow, has one of the best
posts up that I've read in quite a while. This was in
response to a Bob Herbert
piece which, in turn, was responding to a Wall Street Journal article which noted that markets do, in fact, need
to be "supervised" (Ten bucks says the author of the Journal piece wanted to use the word "regulated" but the WSJ
Style Book wouldn't allow it).
"Some "conservatives" think the Republicans are the party of New Ideas because they have no
knowledge of history at all. They seem to regard things like SEC regulations and worker safety laws as though
they have existed since Adam ate the apple, and imagine that if - for the very first time ever! - we got rid of
them, we would suddenly live in a utopian free-market meritocracy. Their perspective is so narrow that they don't
even realize that their "new" idea has been around as long as there have been humans and still exists in many
(most?) parts of the world, and that the world Franklin and Jefferson and FDR (and even LBJ) et al. wrought for
us - the world they grew up in and always knew was better than all the others - is the genuinely new idea, and
that it was working precisely because it was fine-tuned with all those fiddly little regulations and things.
Yes, they require maintenance - you have to keep watching out for things like regulatory capture, you need
accountability and public scrutiny to make sure that neither the government nor anyone else gets drunk with
power - you remember that thing about "the price of liberty", right?"
"But so-called "conservatives" have their dream of a kind of socio-economic perpetual motion
machine that is somehow immune from natural laws, where entropy never sets in, where there are no such things
as gravity and inertia, and where, by the way, rich men won't cheat and poor people will just calmly sit by
and watch their children starve to death rather than violate the mighty dicta of free-market values, secure
in the knowledge that it's just and right. ("Oh, gosh, I forgot to become immorally rich, so I guess it's
just my place to lie down and die while you sit there hoarding all the resources, more than any 600 really
profligate people could ever possibly use in a lifetime....")"
"Well, a hundred years ago we'd already had enough of this. People died to get you that
40-hour work week and a bit of job security that we are now allowing the Republican Junta to throw away.
They died because the wealthy owners of powerful commercial entities were perfectly happy to hire their own
little private armies to fight off union activists, and the government was just as happy to let them: to
force people at the point of a gun to either starve to death or work 84-hour weeks at near-starvation wages
in frequently terrifying conditions. That was a "free-market economy"."
"And once it was gone, nobody missed it - not even them. Because it didn't work."
A friend of mine is always pointing out to me that so many of the articles and commentary pieces that I
find on the web that I really enjoy (and pass along to our e-mail cabal) are those that express my own opinion
on a subject in a way that's better - more creative, more passionate, more articulate - than I myself have been
able to. I'd say this falls in that category. 'Nuff said.
I confess, I only watched the first hour of the Democratic debate because I had to watch my Jets kick off
the NFL season at nine o'clock. (I'll have more on that debacle in my Sports section later today.) For my
money, the fireworks in the debate topped any of the lame, pop-drivel stagecraft the NFL pre-game had to offer.
Just got back from my first Howard Dean Meetup. Pretty low-key event. Our group is a new "splinter" group
from the original Hartford area group, which got too big. Decent mix of people. About 50/50 men and women, ages
18 to 78. (OK, I'm guessing on the latter.) This is the first time I've ever tried to participate in a
political campaign. But then, Dean's the first candidate I've ever been this enthusiastic about...
Whether you buy the premise or not, it's a thought-provoking read. Plus you get the added fun of imagining
Karl Rove and Dubya discussing the finer points of Derrida...
At the end of the day, even if Marshall is right, his theory of Bushian mendacity provides only an
explanation, not an excuse. Where he says:
"The president and his aides don't speak untruths because they are necessarily people of
bad character. They do so because their politics and policies demand it."
"Now, after observing Bush's first few years in the Oval Office, we have a clearer
understanding of what his words meant on that auspicious day in New Hampshire. Being a "fiscal conservative"
meant passing lopsided tax cuts for the wealthy few and leaving the federal budget in deficit for the
foreseeable future. Being a "family conservative" meant looking after certain families, particularly if
their annual incomes are higher than $200,000 and their estates are valued at more than $2 million. And
so far, being a "compassionate conservative" appears to mean nothing very different from being a hardhearted,
stingy, old-fashioned conservative."
"Bush's budgets prove that he still emphatically prefers cutting the taxes of wealthy
individuals and corporations to maintaining living standards for poor and working-class families. States
and localities, their economies soured and their budgets overstrained, are unable to maintain services
for their neediest citizens. Food deliveries to many of the helpless elderly will end. Nearly a million
Americans are losing their Medicaid benefits in what the National Governors Association describes as
"the worst fiscal crisis since World War II." For the first time in a decade, the rate of poverty is
rising again, with 1.3 million Americans falling below the poverty line in 2001."
"The most vigorous response of the Bush White House to these grim prospects is to
propose abolishing "double taxation" of stock dividends. "That is very much pro-poor," according to
R. Glenn Hubbard, the former chairman of Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, even though the poor won't
get any of the benefits."
Anyhow, Conason goes on to show how, time after time, with program after program, Bush has gone to bat
for conservative initiatives and either killed the compassionate ones or let them wither on the vine. It's
a sad but familiar story to those of us on the left who have been paying attention to these bastards. The
question is, when will the rest of the country start to notice?
[Bush Department of Labor Solicitor Eugene Scalia] has written that heavy lifting does not
cause back strain and that reported increases in repetitive stress injuries are caused by "feeding frenzies."
Try doing the same thing hundreds and hundreds of times an hour, hour after hour, day after day, week after
week. Has Scalia, who has since left the post, or President Bush ever held a job that involved physical labor?
In a fundamental reassessment of presidential political strategy, White House and
Democratic Party officials say that turning out core Republican and Democratic voters will be more critical
to next year's election than winning independent voters, long a prime target in national campaigns.
The activity reflects a new view of a political landscape changed because of what each
party sees as an increasingly polarized and evenly divided electorate. Americans who move between parties
ó known as swing voters ó are being overshadowed by a growing and very motivated base of Republican and
Well all I can say is it's about damned time.
Two points to make on this. First: The article should have been titled Democrats Shift Emphasis to
Core Voters. The Republican party has always been good about focusing on and taking
care of their constituencies. The largest and most demanding of these are the wealthy and corporate interests,
who, as has been exhaustively documented, have reaped greater and greater spoils in direct proportion to
the right's control of the national agenda. The social & christian conservatives, meanwhile, are fed a steady
diet of red meat rhetoric, which primarily consists of being told how morally superior they are to those damned
librulz. Sure, you can count on the Repubs to fake toward center a little bit during general elections, usually
with some transparent, shallow rhetoric involving their deeply held concern for the middle class. The reality
is that they keep their base fat and happy.
Believe it. Walking away from this futile attempt to capture the middle plays to our strengths. Where are
the Republicans going to get additional voters from by shaking up their core? The religious right has
consistently been highly organized and highly motivated. Can't get too much more blood from that stone. The
corporate lobby is already in their pocket. (Or is it the other way around?) I think they're maxed out. It's
the Dems that have everything to gain.
Oh yeah, and I almost forgot: That precious middle? Those "swing" voters? Going back to our roots will
get them too, or at least a lot of them. They're the BSATSS crowd and, frankly, since the Dems haven't been
playing up their differences with the Republicans, you almost can't blame them for gravitating towards the
louder, superficially stronger party. (Almost.) But, trust me, if the Dems get on message, you just watch
that spineless blob in the middle start drifting back towards the forces of lightness and good. (That's code
for "The traditional, liberal Democratic party".)