Wednesday, May 30, 2007


These two statements I consider to be, in a certain way, mirror images of each other; all the same except reversed in one of their dimensions:
If you do not distinguish between those with religious faith who are tolerant of other ideologies and the religious bigots, you too are a bigot.

Freedom of religion that does not permit freedom from religion is a hoax.

I like to imagine I am at a balance between those two but it is hard to be sure I am succeeding. I can't even balance blogging with employment.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sign of the Times, the Posts, the Heralds, the Globes, the Tribunes etc

That money that Huffington snared from Graycroft venture capital last summer is starting to talk. The HuffPo is adding writers, has a collaboration going with Josh Marshall/TPM and has expanded its web format to provide separate "front pages" for departments that used to crowd into their own small DIV or table cell on the old front page. Even people who do not consider her media mogul material admit Huffington rides the coming wave.

Simultaneously and very telling of the changes in the industry is an opinion piece that just coincidentally lands on the same main page where Arianna announces the growth spurt: Nancy Cleland explains her regrets and discontents as she takes leave of the LA Times in an employee buy-out/downsizing imposed by the LA Times' parent Tribune Company. The Tribune sees this as a solution to shrinking revenues. I see that as a downward spiral. Cleland writes with a better idea the Tribune Company probably would never consider: it does not involve rich people.

I see those two developments, both the rise and the demise, as being related. The Tribune board of directors could learn a trick or two from the boards at McDonalds or Walmart: rich people can get richer if they think about what poor people want or need. Just because McNews is already a media staple for network broadcast news does not mean that the product always has to be slanted or bland. It is not just that Huffington is more savvy about a "new" media and it is not going to help the Tribune to hire a better webmaster or read a thicker pile of "Web marketing for Dummies" books. The more important novelty of web vs print is its democracy, not its technology or its evanescent revenue model.

For those of us who do not read the papers or watch the TV for mere entertainment, if we take in information from those media at all, the action his here:
Recent decades have seen radical transformations of the media, and many people tend to see those changes as entirely driven by technology. But legal and political decisions have remained central in determining what kind of media develop. In 1987, the FCC discarded the fairness doctrine, and it no longer uses its authority to promote public-affairs programming. The abandonment of the fairness doctrine also released the broadcast media from requirements for balance and opened the way to the targeting of ideological audiences. In a sense, these developments represent a return to the partisan journalism of 19th-century America. Partisanship was muted in the media through the mid-20th century; now it is far more open, sharp, and often belligerent.
[I will come back to that Tech Review piece later this week from a different angle]

If you will only serve the rich who can easily afford your service, you would be smart to advocate an increase in the numbers of the rich. Will your clients support that?

Death watch for a hot water heater.

I once posted about the curious way in which a complaint can also be a boast. Its almost like we just can't stand simple and unlayered emotional observation but operate under an urge to spin advantage from all manner of is our nature. You may want to turn away if immodesty does not fascinate you for this is definitely going to be a boastful complaint.

I blew off blogging yesterday and barely ventured out into the beautiful spring weather on a day reserved for idleness, barbecue and somber reflection on the human price of war, regardless what was gained for that price. I had, not better things to do, but things I had better do....

Our hot water heater has terminal corrosion. It is days older than its warranty. It had to be located as an obstruction to the hatchway to the crawlspace because it is too tall to fit elsewhere. Rot and dankness result from its increasing leakage. It is surrounded by 25 years worth of "stuff" every item of which was for a moment considered too good to toss and now merely adds its moldy weight to the musty entropy of things that must be sorted, hoisted and disposed prior to the real work.

Replacement by a pair of heaters is planned. Hand truck is adequate to move them horizontally. Vertical is another stairs, ramp, or bulkhead since this house was let into a pocket in the bedrock. The vertical movement of heavy objects, when merely walking about the crawlspace induces injuries, has been a show-stopper. For instance, the carcass of the previous hot water heater has rested down there over ten years, shoved aside because no team of lifters and no rigging was available to extract it from that pit.

And the wiring will be thrill. I have to open up the main service panel to add a 220V breaker and the 10/3NM grounded cable, disconnects and junction boxes for the second heater. I used to hot wire those panels but this time around, I'm throwing the mains and working by flashlight. The older I get, the more vulnerabilities I know of and take to heart.

To solve the vertical challenge, I fashioned a gantry crane. Running along a beam suspended on threaded rods a tram on a phalanx of casters will traverse the load horizontally.

A block and tackle will move the load vertically. That looks like a rats nest but it is a chain stitch and will neatly undo itself with one deft tug.

A test load of 250 pounds of broken rock and dirt [from the Precambrian era of my mess-making...I had to get down to sound weight bearing strata] moved smoothly without a creak or a slip.

Out with the old

And in with the new.

To be continued...

The upside of anonymity: a review of a comment thread

Pandagon and done it again. Amanda Marcotte, in pointing up the obtuse misogyny of a particular repeat offender, managed to convene a lively, informative and, for most of its long run, a very respectful and adult conversation that managed to stay largely on its topic of the social significance of a kind of cosmetic surgery you might not have heard about. Toward the end, a few commenters began to flame each other but for most of its duration, what I'd be tempted to call the "vagina dialogues" operated as a safe place to compare experience and learn of feelings about stuff you just never could discuss face to face with more than a few of your closest friends or S.O.'s. Really, it was kinda special because for a long time, the only snark or rebuke being handed out was to a few resolutely clueless trolls. Just what Amanda and crew are tilting at when they say "patriarchy" really does become a bit clearer to at least some of the commenters as the thread progresses. Though it might seem trashy to prudes, and it is not totally free of meanness and miscommunication, I think it is an example of a beneficial sharing hard to achieve in any other format.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Step away from the keyboard

... and go outside.
I have a couple of New England acres that will, when conditions are just perfect, grow a flower we call lady slippers. I spent a little time in the yard today, finding the most profuse crop I have ever seen. They are in the orchid family, a protected species in Massachusetts.


The root of all moralities that I can endorse is the awareness in an individual of the unconditional and essential equality of another individual: the realization of the equivalent worth and validity of that other individual's capacity to feel, their inability to choose a new past or set of formative experiences and their absolute right to act. Even those who seem full of harmful mistakes. If there were not leeway for them to be wrong, there would be none for me to judge what was right. That is our dilemma.

Mistakes there may be but only in equality can we engage them.

I have rediscovered my brevity muse by both accident and necessity. Cleaning the basement to make way for the water heater replacements, I discovered a 25 year old journal. I never wrote at length back then and I have no time now.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Loose cannons lose canon

The vice president of the US does NOT have the power to make foreign policy on his own. He does NOT have the power to start wars on his own. The president does not even have sole discretion in these matters, at least not on paper. The story that Cheney is pulling strings to get us into a shooting war with Iran has been bubbling around the blogosphere for a few days now but not much heard elsewhere. When I searched the news, only blogs and partisan press sources touched the story. Echo chamber or not, my repetition of this alarm is due.

How certain are we that Darth Veep is up to something? How alarming is it? The original source is Steve Clemmons in the Washington Note, much respected by my most trusted writers like Josh Marshall. But is anyone outside the liberal circle concerned? One web zine, far enough to the right that it has to devote pages to refuting assertions that it is obsessed with the threat that immigration poses to our America ethnic purity, is convinced and packs this story of reckless warmongering in with a fairly complete broadside against the undemocratic operation of this administration. And while I have avoided reading him lately because he is so damn depressing, I always double check a story with middle eastern players and consequences by reading Juan Cole's take on the matter: he considers Clemmons absolutely credible.

So this is way beyond wingnut zeal and incompetence. This activity of the Cheney gang, as distinct now from the rest of Bush's cabinet, is extremely dangerous and probably impeachable. If 72% of polled Americans think the administration has driven the war on Iraqis into a ditch, what are they going to say about a war on Iranians? Cheney shows neither knowledge or respect for the laws that define his role in government. Efforts to impeach Cheney have a broad base but they should be supported and accelerated and the conspirators and sycophants Cheney planted among DoD and other agencies should be purged...he is just that bad for us.

Is anybody out there listening? Or would you all just rather not know about this? If we ever elect this kind of "leadership" again, we could loose not just our soldiers and our stature as a benign power, we could loose world peace entirely. What does it take? The current war really has not come home for most Americans, financially or in the form of any other hardship. But by the time grievous personal effects of war are felt in the suburbs, we will be totally screwed.

------ light posting alert --------
I have to wire, plumb and install a couple of hot water heaters this weekend and I have wrecked my schedule to put this post up. If a miracle happens and I finish the homework, I have a much less echochamberish post in draft...but right now, things are leaking in the basement....

Friday, May 25, 2007

I never thought about it that way but now that you mention it...

"....The main idea is that there are some cultures in which women feel they can’t leave the house without makeup and some in which women feel they can’t leave the house without veils– and that this similarity is significant....."

[Snagged from Feminist Philosophers, a blog Coturnix picked for his recent crop of blogroll additions.]

Republicans would steal votes even if they could earn them

I should be working but when I saw this thing on caging in my Truthout feed I combed the MSM outlets via Google News to see who covered it and who omitted it.
This is all the NY Times finds this morning in the Goodling testimony. Even editors highly critical of the clumsy DoJ political reprisal operation don't see a problem with Griffin.

Aside from the vanity, one of the strong and enduring motives for my reading blogs and other alternatives to MSM and spreading some of the things I find there is that I am well convinced and constantly reconfirmed that we, the American public are effectively being lied to about truly vital matters. The alternative press watch dogs are on the case, however. From my favorite, Truthout, we hear that this is what Greg Palast sees And Huffington Post, for another example, gets wind of the deep rot and skulduggery that DoJ was engaged in for Rove and the Republicans.

If you are not prone to stroke or heart attack from spiking your blood pressure, you really should read that Palast BBC piece to learn who the Republican stooges cheated out of their voting rights. You will be furious. Rove should be in the docket. His boss should too. Gonzo should be in chains breaking rocks or picking up roadside trash...I hear there are a few empty cells at Gitmo.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Being fair to the candidates is being fair to yourself

At this moment, my inbox is bursting with pleas from John Edwards staffers, Barbara Boxer, sundry MoveOn staff and half a dozen other good causes. If I went to their web sites and gave them my email addy, I could no doubt hear from every party on the planet who had an agenda and a server.
That would of course max out even a GMAIL account. But I just might take a step in that direction.

By virtue of their uneven finances and my sloth, I am not giving equal heed to all the interesting people who want to be the next Democratic president of the US [assuming Bush does not finally flip out and declare martial law and suspend elections rather than lose them]. I don't hear a lot from Richardson on the news shows but the few things I have heard and the people who like him pique my interest. I find Obama stirring at times, certainly a great speaker. Clinton comes to my attention mostly in the form of media and opponents spinning her...I actually know little of what she has to say. All the time I hear from Edwards people because I contributed when he was the first to dump Fox debate coverage. Yes, the candidates will tailor email messages to the kind of issues they assume matter to me. Yes, they will beg for money.

I have only had time to catch a few minutes of the debates. I read the transcripts. I grow ever more mistrustful of what I hear on TV and TV is anything but a level playing is a road to power only the powerful can afford. I am going to go ahead and sign up for email campaign messages from all the candidates just to see them in roughly similar light and at similar length.

UPDATE: this is already paying off. Here is a link the Edwards campaign mailed out: it is a sign-up page and has suggestions for things you can do over Memorial day weekend to really support the troops.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Deja Vu and nausea

The year was 1953. A kid named Elvis Aaron Presley had begun recording in Memphis studios and the CIA was working like mad behind the scenes to topple Mohammad Mossadegh and re-install a constitutional monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, more to the liking of US and British oil companies. The fomenting of a coup against one of the most democratically elected leaders of a Muslim country should have been a disgrace at the time. But it was 1953 and you could sell it as "stopping communism" with three weeks of leaking the right information to the media...we all went back to discovering Elvis and never discovered what our own government was capable of when forced to chose between oil and authentic democracy. We, the US via the CIA, set in motion a chain of events: enabling a despot, exiling Ayatollah Khomeni, the rise of Savak...and so on, but then seemed to be collectively mystified as to why the Iranians mistrusted and disliked us.

The year is 2007 and there is only one closet full of neocon morons left in the whole world who think we can just do 1953 all over again. If the rush to possess the bomb is the Iranian response to the threats the US has already made to Iran, why on earth are further threats and hostile acts expected to have a different effect? Its almost too late to try the carrot rather than the stick, almost. This administration should be in jail, listening to "Jailhouse Rock" endlessly.
[and you, dear reader, should send a little cash to]

If the Media becoming the Massage concerns you... is an interesting name to add to your Rolodex:
Professor D. Sunshine Hillygus. (Didn't I tell you it was an interesting name ;?) Prof. Hillygus is an expert in divining the meanings of polls and how pols use them. She teaches at Harvard's Kennedy school of government.

"Political scholars have long recognized that information and
communication technologies have fundamentally altered how candidates run campaigns--websites, online fundraising, and email communication have become integral to political campaigns. Often, however, these new technologies are viewed as a supplemental communication tool for conducting "politics as usual"— presumed to change the style of political campaigns, but not the basic structure of political interaction. Prof. Hillygus argues that new technologies have changed not only how candidates communicate with voters, it has also
changed the substance of that communication. "

I think I am going to knock off work early today and go over there to catch her talk ...just to see if she really has a halo.

I prefer a real democracy

I prefer a real democracy. By that I mean I would like to live in a place where
  • Voters were neither ignorant nor easily misinformed via the media.
  • All who had the right to vote felt an obligation to vote, even to the extent of spending time to independently come to an understanding of the likely consequences of votes on complex issues.
  • Voters felt responsible for their country and their society as much as for obtaining benefits for their own little piece of the demographic pie.

But the reality is we have a long history of the many disenfranchising the few. We have again and again exhibited a fearful narrowness where only one conventional idea of "normal" was tolerated and that narrowness enshrined in law or custom. As a nation we have turned away from our neighbors and turned on the TV. We have become easier rather than harder to mislead.

All these pathetic tendencies may be written off as "human nature" but let no one, not even a priest or a right wing talk show host, get away with asserting that we should be ruled by that nature. All these pathetic tendencies have long been at work and their pernicious workings were clear to those who deliberated in the writing of our national and state constitutions. A thin paper wall, a reminder of our better selves' occasional clarity about the need for fairness and easily breached by the judges and lawyers who represent that fearful narrowness...that is all we have against our pathetic tendencies.

And right now, in Massachusetts, a powerful minority, who want their reading of Leviticus to stand as law for all of us, are betting that an apathetic majority, who just don't know or don't want to look past their personal discomfort with sexual orientation, will look the other way while that thin paper wall is dismantled to make the work of narrow judges and priests easy.

You can help avert this backsliding, this cruel neglect of progress toward a fair society.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Wolfie finally gets his clue

I have less than no time to post this week but I so like short stories that have a moral...

One of the authors of Dubya's Debacle in Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz, has managed to disgrace himself thoroughly enough by conflict of interest as president of the world bank that the only choices left to him were resign right now or be fired. He has resigned. That NY Times article has a tidy little time-line box if you are interested in the blow by blow of how the man brought himself down.

The most amazing thing to me is how radically sentiment about the man's qualifications differs between bloggers like me and the accidental president with the subnormal IQ. Long before he left the Pentagon to run the world bank, Wolfowitz was almost uniformly criticized as a clumsy conservative ideologue by writers outside of the charmed circle of neoconservatives. Nothing has happened in the years since he planned the reconstruction of Iraq [how's that going?] to do anything but reinforce that opinion. Bush gave Wolfie the world bank job as a sop when it was clear he was damaged goods to the Pentagon and too rough a customer even for the Bush whacking school of governing. We could ask of Dubya, "What was he thinking?" but the answer is plainly "not much".

Posters and commenters on the blogs I read readily quipped "OMG! He has an actual girl friend" when the Shaha Ali Riza salary shenanigans came to light. I was surprised that he even has friends. The word "friend" appears seven times in the text of Steven Weisman's NYT article. But here is the heart of the illness that is Bush League conservatism: Lacking competence or a decent respect for arguments that proceed from facts, this administration relies on friendships and unexamined reputation. Friendships then, must be of the most honest and psychologically healthy sort if they are the glue that holds where ability is lacking. The character of the friendships on which the Bush white house runs aren't, can't be, much better than the character of the players in that tragedy. The "friendships" have a strongly conditional aspect and many operate on a mafia-like dynamic of reward and punishment:
But others say Mr. Wolfowitz repeated the mistakes he had made at the Pentagon: adopting a single-minded position on certain matters, refusing to entertain alternative views, marginalizing dissenters.

“Wolfowitz unsettled people from the outset,” said Manish Bapna, executive director of the Bank Information Center, an independent watchdog group. “His style was seen as an ad hoc subjective approach to punishing enemies and rewarding friends.”

Though he was one of the original coterie of "Vulcans", and had a few accomplishments in foreign service to his name when Bush took him on, Wolfie had demonstrated his incompetence by the time he was given the World Bank job. Why this is not a mark against Bush in more minds is a mystery to me. Wolfie cosponsored some of this young century's most abject and inhumane failures and, like Bush himself, met competence with conflict if it did not fit his ideology:
His time at the Pentagon was characterized by infighting, especially with the Central Intelligence Agency, which he thought underestimated Iraq as a threat to the United States. He clashed with Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, and others who warned — correctly, it turned out — that the United States would need more forces in Iraq. His vision of democracy in the Arab world also ran aground in Baghdad.
You may think I am mistaken here: aren't the stubborn shows of fidelity such as retaining Rumsfeld far past his usefulness at least a sign of closeness or faithfulness that real friends should enjoy? But I maintain that friends don't let friends govern drunkenly: these "friends" could not criticize effectively or listen to each other if the messages were not positive. They are stuck with each other more than they are friends.

Bush and his supporters have claimed that you should choose leaders based on character. They may be right, we should try it some day in this country. Until then, give me a brain trust that actually has some brains.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Yet another incompetent Bush hire

Lindsay and Larisa dug out the dirt on the man Bush chose to oversee the federal support for family planning...he turns out to be a quack with very inflated credentials and an accused medicare fraud. Go read. He was obviously "qualified" because he is against birth control, abortion or even sex education.

Start taking names.

A majority in the Senate has shown that posturing and fear of being smeared by the Republicans as "not supporting the troops" is all the deeper their thinking on the Republican war on Iraqis goes. So let these names be recorded as persons willing to own a piece of this neoconservative hell on earth. Remember their names when you vote.

Google has not indexed it yet but this is the page with congressional voting Roll Calls. Book mark it. It will come in handy when you need to know whether your Senator is more concerned about what the Republicans will say than he or she is about having American and Iraqi blood on his or her hands. For today's final vote that caves to the president and lets his little war go on in the carte blanche way it has for the last four years, these are the vote details.
For your convenience, I have filters that point out the weak Democrats for the harsh attention they now deserve:
Baucus MT
Bayh IN
Bingaman NM
Carper DE
Casey PA
Conrad ND
Dorgan ND
Landrieu LA
Levin MI
Lincoln AR
McCaskill MO
Nelson FL
Nelson NE
Pryor AR
Reed RI
Rockefeller WV
Salazar CO
Tester MT
Webb VA
Some bottom line votes: Both Democratic Senators who are candidates for president voted with Kerry to cut off this war at the checkbook. McCain did not vote. No Republican voted for an end to war. With that demonstration that they have no independence from this war-happy administration, I would write them all off come Nov 2008.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Jerry L Fallwell is dead.

I will die some day too. I will not get to meet Rev Fallwell after I die. Nor will anyone else.
We are instructed not to exalt when our enemy falls for they too are god's creatures. But this caricature, sculpted badly from a barrow full of arterial plaque, was a meddlesome fool good only at conning other fools. It will take a decade to undo his damage to individual liberties in the U.S.

But the very worst thing about him was the bad name he gave religion. His ceaseless attempts to put an unsophisticated fundamentalist stamp on all American lives by mingling church and state were large-print proof that the power of politics was the crown sought by those without the talent to seek the power of religion.

Good riddance.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Though forces of unimaginable strength were constantly pushing them along, the movement of the continents was never suspected until the 20th century. Earthquakes and volcanoes that resulted from this ever moving bumper-cars dance of tectonic plates were the nightmares of every ancient mind and personified in the old religions. Some religions can't even deal with the necessary time scales without which discussions of plate tectonics make no sense: earthquakes really are "acts of god" to some minds.

Once in a great while we wake up and notice things have been shifting and we had not noticed because the gradual change was below our threshold of detection. But more often notice comes to us in the form of a rupture, a point where what needs to move on can no longer remain fixed to what cannot move. Another way we can notice is by time travel, where telescoped time pushes the rate of change above our threshold.

Last Saturday, I attended a bar mitzvah. The family is very observant, more or less in the range conventionally labeled as "conservative". They used an old traditional prayer book for the service. I read the preface while others read the prayers. At great length and with a tender finesse the rabbis who compiled the siddur excused and apologized for minor changes they felt brought the prayers up to date for a "modern" [1944] sensibility. The changes were as little as amending the tense of a verb to indicate a sacrifice used to be performed. The sentence that stopped everything for me was the rabbinical deference to a "modern" wish for the "reconstruction of Palestine". Yes, "Palestine". I wondered if anyone ran out and rewrote the prayers in 1948 or 49 or if the language, like the conflicts there crept to its present state of schism with Israel and Palestine used depending on who is speaking.

Another lurch through the decades came when I studied Yiddish songs written by victims of the holocaust who perished in the Warsaw ghetto. The words spoke of the German guards, the German ghetto and the German extermination camps. My teacher had been a small boy being shuttled between Slovakia and Hungary when these songs were written. He said the transformation of the language into the present day descriptions that only speak of these things as the Nazi guards, the Nazi death camps and so on was gradual and was deliberately done so that Germans of present day Germany could distance themselves at least verbally from the monstrosity of those times and policies.

There is minor tremor along a fault line among the conservatives. Patricia Cohen reported back on May 6th a split in their ranks over if and how to treat Darwinism. This is PZ's territory but I give a damn about this topic and I can't believe deference the Times gives to the anachronistic thought and cracked language of the conservatives on this topic. I want to analyze the vocabulary to make clear how much thought in reasonably educated western minds has drifted away from the poor literalists. In Republican circles, it is still 1880 and these are hot questions to put to potential candidates.
But the argument also exposes tensions within the Republicans “big tent,” as could be seen Thursday night when the party’s 10 candidates for president were asked during their first debate whether they believed in evolution. Three — Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas; Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas; and Representative Tom Tancredo of Colorado — indicated they did not.

"...believed in evolution"? has the NY times no other language in which to describe this situation or is the usage simply reportorial accuracy capturing the intellectual shackles in which the republicans are preparing to run their race? Evolution is not a matter of faith, much as religious opponents insist on framing it that way. But I suppose it would have been more embarrassing if the candidates had been asked if the understood evolution. Its a theory with a lot more proof than genesis has ever had. That Brownback was a throwback I already knew. My condolences to supporters of the other two.

Two paragraphs later, Cohen reports that a few geniuses among conservatives don't toe the fundie line and indeed worry that the rest of the world will think them backward. [Gee!, do ya think so?]
Yet it is that very embrace of intelligent design — not to mention creationism, which takes a literal view of the Bible’s Book of Genesis — that has led conservative opponents to speak out for fear their ideology will be branded as out of touch and anti-science.

Some of these thinkers have gone one step further, arguing that Darwin’s scientific theories about the evolution of species can be applied to today’s patterns of human behavior, and that natural selection can provide support for many bedrock conservative ideas, like traditional social roles for men and women, free-market capitalism and governmental checks and balances.

OK, Cohen calls them "thinkers". At this point I expected to stumble upon their reinvention of social Darwinism. But they just can't call it that because even they seem to recall that particular category of misapplied an misunderstood Darwinism was thoroughly discredited early in the 20th century.

I am always going on about the difference between knowing something and believing it. The difference is not insignificant: knowledge only grows when counter examples are found, belief denys facts when they are contradictory and so actually shrinks the world of the believer. The patch of water we now call the Atlantic ocean was once not even a crack in the ground. Examine a globe and see how well the west coast of Africa would fit to the east coast of South America like two mating puzzle pieces. At some point no distance existed between belief and knowledge. That is the point where the fundamentalists insist on stopping. The drifting can go on peacefully or, if resisted, some wrenching slip will eventually happen.

Naturally, any facts contrary to articles of faith are disputed by believers. To those of us who keep piling on the theories and the facts, the world is an amazing place full of diverse categories of wonder. But to the believers, there is no diversity of findings but instead a finding of one monolithic conspiracy:
The reference to stem cells suggests just how wide the split is. “The current debate is not primarily about religious fundamentalism,” Mr. West, the author of “Darwin’s Conservatives: The Misguided Quest” (2006), said at Thursday’s conference. “Nor is it simply an irrelevant rehashing of certain esoteric points of biology and philosophy. Darwinian reductionism has become culturally pervasive and inextricably intertwined with contemporary conflicts over traditional morality, personal responsibility, sex and family, and bioethics.”
The technocrats, he charged, wanted to grab control from “ordinary citizens and their elected representatives” so that they alone could make decisions over “controversial issues such as sex education, partial-birth abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research and global warming.”
No wonder the non-fundie conservatives want a little daylight between themselves and the believers. It will be interesting to watch and see if that separation widens into a gulf. But conservatives have political articles of faith even if they aren't burdened with religious mythology. That is why many of them will never get more out of the science of evolution than a sprayed on sheen of intellectual respectability and a new word to use for their usual agenda. At the AEI conference where Mr. West spoke for old time religion as the true biology, Larry Arnhart said in effect "no its not a bad word, we can use it like its a good word:
“I do indeed believe conservatives need Charles Darwin,” said Larry Arnhart, a professor of political science at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, who has spearheaded the cause. “The intellectual vitality of conservatism in the 21st century will depend on the success of conservatives in appealing to advances in the biology of human nature as confirming conservative thought.”
But the unfortunate Mr Arnhart should actually learn the subject before he writes books in which evolution is a sloppy metaphor and a pliable label.

The Cohen article is not long and I suggest you read it if you want to get an idea of where the conservatives heads are at on Darwin. There seem to be many like Mr West who just reject it as unbiblical. There seems to few like Mr Arnhart who hopefully misuse the ideas. There are a few who wisely suggest to other conservatives that biology is orthogonal to politics:
Andrew Ferguson in The Weekly Standard and Carson Holloway in his 2006 book, “The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion and the Future of Democracy,” for example, have written that jumping from evolutionary science to moral conclusions and policy proposals is absurd.
The big conclusion was that conservatives of all stripes need to engage on the topic and that sounds like the smartest thing any of them said. They are badly stuck and talking among themselves might help. As it stands, their pronouncements of moral depravity lurking in Darwinism only hurt them. It may be "only a theory" But Perhaps Arnhart will drift over to the liberal camp when he notices what he has been saying:...
Mr. Arnhart said that having been so badly burned by social Darwinism, many conservatives today did not want “to get involved in these moral and political debates, and I think that’s evasive.”

... or maybe not
While Darwinism does not resolve specific policy debates, Mr. Arnhart said in an interview on Thursday, it can provide overarching guidelines. Policies that are in tune with human nature, for example, like a male military or traditional social and sex roles, he said, are more likely to succeed. He added that “moral sympathy for the suffering of fellow human beings” allows for aid to the poor, weak and ill.

Cohen mentioned briefly one liberal author on the topic of evolution as applied to politics and I think it is interesting that right in the title of his book, this author shows an understanding of the complimentary rolls of competitiveness and cooperation in defining fitness. Conservatives seem mostly to grasp only the competitiveness as the mainspring of evolution. But I knew that.

I believe things I know could turn out need correction. One of my few beliefs. The Titanic was operated with the belief that it could not sink. The icebergs just drift.
Only by knowing you could be wrong do you enable yourself to ever be right.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Life and death in Kansas

The pictures from Greensburg, KS look more like Nagasaki than anything I have ever seen of US disaster photography.

That story was pushed off the front page this morning by the carnage in Iraq and the folly in Washington.

Like Fallwell or Robertson pointing to New Orleans and saying god is mad at us for tolerating gay lifestyle, I will point to poor Greensburg KS and remind you that more frequent and more energetic cyclonic weather is a given when we cause the atmosphere to retain more heat energy. If I speak of a sky god who is angry that we dump methane into the sky, will you understand? If I compare the evil of our incessant polluting to the devils these fundies denounce, will you understand? The people in Greensburg seem a decent and, for farm town Kansas typically religious lot. They will ask, (it is hard not to,) "What did we do to deserve this?"


Or rather nothing more than their tiny share in the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane, which is 23 times as effective at reflecting escaping heat back toward earth as CO2. Methane only lasts a few years in the atmosphere before breaking down to CO2 and, away from livestock, swamps and certain industries, is at much lower concentrations than CO2. More like the inundation of New Orleans and unlike the Indonesian tsunami or the deadly Kashmir earthquake two years ago, the need to find causes and fix blame is not entirely in vain here. Greensburg is surrounded by feedlots. [see map toward end of pdf "rattlesnake watershed boundary"]. Those sources of methane are just one tiny part of the problem of greenhouse gases but an ignored part. The lack of alarm about global warming and the tendency to stick with poor but personally profitable practices because there is no one huge polluter to blame is a huge problem. Kansas does know feedlots contribute to water pollution. As measured by miles of dirtied rivers, feedlots are the worst polluters of moving water in the state:

miles of polluted waterway
industrial point sources 927
municipal point sources3608
combined sewer overflow152
nonirrigated crop production 14851
irrigated crop production9280
feedlots 17241
urban runoff 2683
surface mining 522
petroleum activities 5953
septic tanks 104
channelization 313
flow regulation/modification 0
removal of riparian vegetation 11879
streambank modification 0
source unknown 8865

Only three, much more populous, states have bigger feedlot industries. The last thing this post is meant to do is kick some people that are already down. Raising grain and feeding it to animals is one of the main ways, with or without subsidies, that Kansans have ever made a living. It is our preference for steaks burgers and pork chops that makes the feedlot such a an important part of the KS economy, bringing in over 600 million/year revenue. Their soybean crop has has increased and their feedlot business has been off just a bit in the last few years. That is a wholesome trend for consumers that keeps Kansans on the farm. Better switch to veggie burgers. The people in Greensburg feed you, let them feed you something that is good for all of us.

You can send money to the red cross if you don't live close enough to lend an empty bedroom or donate some furniture. Not all counted yet but 10 deaths out of such devastation seems miraculous. That sad but relatively benign statistic shows the power of having enough warning and the technology, the network of radars, barometers and signalling to sound the sirens 20 minutes before the monster tornado came through. Getting the now homeless towns people into real homes would be ideal: their basements saved them but that was not that last tornado Kansas will see and trailer houses have no basement.

You could buy a quilt to have a souvenir for the good you have done. Last year Greensburg chipped in a few quilts of its own but that may be hard to repeat this year.

UPDATE: This is what I am talking about: read editorial memo at the top of the page.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The funny thing about feminism

The funny thing about feminism is how many of us assume we have a useful amount of knowledge or even a fair set of working beliefs about it...I know I do. After all, isn't the subject matter close at hand for virtually all of us? Either you are a woman, or you live with one, or you work with one or perhaps your mother is one. What could you not know about women by now that you simply did not want to know? How many buy the venus/mars meme without even reading the book? The strength such works have in the market is in offering a free pass to avoid careful observation and strenuous deliberation. Just for reassurance, pat your round belly full of stereotypes and keep going.

I have one point to make and I will spare the clued in reader from the rest of this post by just stating it: Ideas that get into our heads about "the nature of women" or for those terminally inclined toward the borrowed truthiness of cross-species generalization, "the nature of the female" are often the end of the road for thinking, a "bridge out, Detour" sign behind which feminism sits largely unknown on the opposite shore. The operation of our ducts and glands, different and concrete as they are, do not in any uniform and straight forward way determine what we think or how we value the things, people and experiences in our lives. I think it likely too that if you have tossed your thinking in the narrow box of "the nature of women" you probably also have a category "the nature of men". The very worst excess of this tendency in thought is to fear or hate that which does not fit in your limited categories. Feminism is not about women or even about discovering things none of us yet know about women but rather it is about redressing the calamities and calumnies that arise because of the whys and ways we cling to what we think we know about women. The preservation of advantage or status is the chief and most despicable, if understandable, of the "whys".

The last nudge that moved me to a point where I thought I had an understanding worth writing up occurred when I began reading one of NY Times premium blogs written by Judith Warner. Her subject today was the review of two books on the topic of how women soldiers pictured among the torturers at Abu Ghraib did or did not shatter certain fond notions we harbor of women as gentler and less harmful by nature than men. I have to admit that some of what I say here is a bit repetitive of Warner: to me she makes perfect sense of matters some people willfully twist backwards.

Warner discusses One of the Guys, a collection of essays on the meaning of or the impact of women among those guilty of torturing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The introductory essay there is from Barbara Ehrenriech, who comes in for demerits from Warner and some of the Amazon reviewers for even having a stereotype the events could challenge:
...she admits her shock that women were torturers. Her essay drips with essentialist tendencies, yet I think many would nod their heads in agreement thinking that "women are better than this, women would change the ethos in the military."

I agree with Warner's take on the matter and summarize it as "if inducted into an institution where brutality and the threat of it are what keep order and are the only model for doing business, women will not be any less successful than men: they acclimate to group norms and internalize the power structure just the same". Other essays in that book also concluded that the institution corrupted the persons rather than the persons failed to conform to stereotype.

A second more controversial book is Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children and Our Jobs by Rosalind Barnett and Caryl Rivers. Warner appreciates the list of myths, particularly that women are innately kinder and gentler, which Barnett and Rivers take to task as "postfeminist essentialism" that "still have a certain hold over a certain kind of boomer-feminist imagination." Not all of the reviewers at the Amazon page agree with that assessment and many say the authors go too far in trying to blur or erase real differences.

The disagreements among the reviewers of "Same Difference" betray the existence of the strong need to have a mastery, an understanding of what the difference, if any, is. Most reviewers are of the opinion that the book downplays real, innate differences...yet here we are looking at pictures of the women torturers from Abu Ghaib demonstrating the absence of a precious difference. The best attitude I can think of is to not assume we know what the patterns are and especially not to assume the person you work with, live with or vote for is entirely an instance of any pattern. I am always wary of answers claimed where they are desperately is not a proper research environment.

I think it would be symptomatic of the misapprehension of feminism to presume that it has "a" prescription and policy on any personal choice, as if the woman would not have a well grounded idea of whether she wanted to be an army officer or have a child. On bearing children, for instance the conservative Christians portray feminists as having an across the board anti-procreation agenda.

Here are two posts by women reflecting on the complex weight of the decision to have a child when indeed a child is wanted but a hundred other devils are in on the deal. Here is an equal number of devils to pester a woman equally sure she wants no child. I consider both of those essays to come from feminist points of view because the deliberations take in social pressures explicitly and subject them to questioning. Both are thinking as if the choice were theirs although they must make it in an unsupportive world.

If the examples of Water Baby's ruminations about her friend and of Amanda's story cause your head to explode by some kind of "it cant be both ways!" logic, then you should know you don't get it and you are probably suffering some form of essentialism. It takes work to be unburdened of the unchallenged tacit model that women are innately this, therefor they can't be that. Women are humans and that, DD will agree with me more than I agree with myself, means that many aspects of their behavior are subject to circumstances and upbringing. The Talmud provides advice to the faithful is favored in many christian sects as well...but not used where it is really needed: "know before whom you stand" is the right attitude in which to behold and connect with any human being. Much as we may need stereotypes to get by in our world, they are nearly the opposite of "thinking" when you are weighing the wishes and ways of another person.
Feminism begins with resistance to stereotyping but that is only the beginning.

This may conclude a spate of commenting and linking posts at Pandagon and Feministe.
I have been on a bit of a "what is this feminism stuff" kick of late. It winds up being, in terms of my reading, my writing and my changed perspectives, rather like taking a course. I have half a mind to offer this post as my term project. In that light, I should thank my teachers, too numerous to credit if we include the commenters I run into but at the very least, Amanda Marcotte, Pam Spaulding and Ilyka at Pandagon and Jill, Zuzu and Piny at Feministe. I will be delighted with a C+. I always get marked down for my split infinities. My hit counter will miss the attention

Thursday, May 03, 2007

I give up, I am too steamed to go cold turkey.

Beck must be CNN's clueless and desperate attempt to grab from Rush some of the too-dumb-to-change-the-channel demographic. Seriously, who sponsors an aggressively stupid global warming denialist? Who benefits from being unaware of significant climate change? New York Times notes today how well tropical plants have been growing in formerly subtropical climates. Wherever you live, in the continental US, your growing season [or your air conditioning season] has grown a week or two longer in just 16 years. The guy must be too dumb to read pictures:


Sure, the libruls could have secretly written over the scales on all the thermometers but how did we get the eucalyptus to join our little conspiracy?

If all they can talk about is your haircut...

...all they want is your scalp but they don't have any way to get it.

You get the picture.

donate to the saginaw art museum to sooth my conscience
I have very definitely become an addict. I am addicted to my hitcounter. To log in is to go into a trance. I love this party called the blogosphere and all the exercise I get trying to keep up with the conversations...but I am unable to confine blogging to fixed hours and make proper time for all my other commitments. A darkening shadow of dread steals over the constant tug of mild curiosity and the sunshine of perpetual virtual engagement: will yet another morning see nothing delivered? Blogging is not my job. Lets see if I can stand to leave blogs alone for a while.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

To The Streets!

Well the sonofabush vetoed the bill that would have given the troops enough money to get out of the Republican war on Iraq and a time by which to leave. Its time to make a fuss. Go find your nearest rallying place. Sign up. Show up. Speak up. [Help yourself to my supercheap protest sign. And yes, it is that aniversary in two days.]

If this doesn't make you think,

...have the nurse check your pulse.

Agonist Editor Sean-Paul Kelly, triggered by Agonist diarist Don has up a post that puts in sharpest focus just how screwed we are, whether or not well intentioned. The third world living standards will not go up much. In the short term the standard of living of the most wasteful developed nations will inevitably decline, especially if being able to eat cheap food, drink clean water and breath clean air figure into your definition of "living". The problem succinctly described is how unrealistic the hopes of the mass of humanity are regarding living as well as Americans or Europeans. Ironically these are exactly the problems the World Bank is chartered to address. That must be why Bush selected Wolfowitz, an architect of our brilliant Iraq strategy, to head the world bank. How much hope should those Ethiopians have, if the guy in charge of their aid loans is too busy poaching obscenely compensated promotions for his girlfriend?

[This post had an attribution error. I fixed it. Where is the nurse?]

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Our True Magazines

Over on Pandagon last night, the women were talking about guys they think look hot. A few guys dropped in and we had a relatively educational little chat. There is a post I have not quite had the time or the full-head-of-steam inspiration to finish on the subject of sneaking a look at the other gender's literature. Lets see if Sheelzebub's post and all those comments do the trick.

It seems like it ought to be more common and a lot less maligned to be checking out how the other half thinks. When there is a guy going through the checkout at the supermarket he shuffles by the rack with Cosmopolitan. I can speak only for myself but, more than the provocative babe on the cover [Sorry, the airbrushed allure of magazine covers has no human depth, "doll" might not be such an inappropriate label either...its just not real], the halo of blurbed hooks around the image make me wonder who the editors sought to attract: "How to know if your guy is cheating", "How to drive your guy wild in bed" have seen these. Seriously guys, wouldn't you be just the tiniest bit interested what was being written there?

I never had the nerve to pick up a copy and peek.

With nobody looking on and the price being free of charge, I did pick up a copy of Skirt from a box by the MARTA station on a recent stay in the Atlanta area. In the hard copy version, they are free and that is because they have acres of advertising. This is tabloid format and vastly more celebratory and less desperate than Cosmo. Sense of humor is a strong suit in this publication. For example, page 39 of the April issue is devoted to what looks like an ad but is simply a question:
"Why is there an anti-cellulite cream but not an anti beer-belly cream"
You will notice them standing up for themselves when you go to read what PMS really stands for. That made me feel more at home since a lot of my reading lately has been at Pandagon and Feministe.

That diet of reading came about, I told myself, because "I will learn what their view really is and see if I get it and can place it properly among the perspectives that I catalog". But lately, honesty pipes up with a distinct and not dismissible reason: "that's where the girls are". Where girls minds are is at least as interesting as where their bodies can be found.

Looking back is reflexive to someone in his fifties in the throes of integrating new experience: if the past can help, there are plenty of helpings of it. I never did subscribe to Playboy, or Hot Rod. My dad briefly subscribed to True magazine when I was around 10 or 12 and, frankly, I found Time vastly more interesting. I read a few articles in his copies of Outdoor Life. 40 years later, when Tour de France is on Outdoor Life channel, I watch. In hind sight, both Time and True titles are assertions of relevance but one seems desperate and suspicious. One addressed the world to my attention in its filtered way, the other as far as I can remember, offered vicarious experience supposedly exemplary of being a man...but I already am one, thank you very much.

I don't feel a need to know what makes guys tick unless the guy is me. I am not a salesperson. And anyway, the guy-lit I have seen seems to lack or worse, misrepresent such insights. I do want to know the workings of those things and forces in this world that extend and enrich my life so I read my science news, my engineering press, my world news, my sources on domestic politics and activism and, now and then, articles "by women, for women". (At my age, why should I worry that I will be manipulated unawares by some Cosmo-girl putting her studied moves on me ;?)

BTW, My, how times have changed. Under the same name, True Magazine now operates for an audience that its original white male blue collar audience would not recognize. This is the True magazine I was talking about.


They must have huge nuts
O'Reilly's classic programming manuals, the Nutshell series has put out the 5th edition of "Java in a Nutshell" weighs in at over 1200 pages. The first edition had a paltry 460 pages. Though it has put on a lot of weight, I still love Java.
[OK, so I'm a geek. At least I can keep the name "Oreilly" from being completely ruined for y'all]

Give the Dubya his due
While you were distracted watching the video of Bush dancing for malaria, [hey don't laugh, have you seen Gore dance?], dear leader solved the immigration problem.

NOTE: There is nothing "below the fold", I am just losing a CSSing contest with Blogger.

While I am not writing, you can read....

My time for blogging in May will be stolen from much more important things, always my case but just particularly severe at this time. I need to ready a house to accommodate a graduation party we are all looking forward to with excited relief, a real celebration. [and because it will herald a permanent departure of a "child" from our part of the country, some sadness too].

Looking into the future, when done well, requires looking into the self.

Chris Bowers is one of my favorite political writers. Today, he meditates on where he might go in the future by considering a cogent theory of who make up the real cohorts that labor within the Democratic party, or at least outside the conservative club, to restore a measure of justice and progress to our nation's politics. Which of these children are you?