Saturday, September 4, 2010

Harris: "The Case Against Faith" ('06)

Newsweek
Nov. 13, 2006

The Case Against Faith
by Sam Harris

[excerpted; full text at the link above]

... 44 percent of Americans are confident that Jesus will return to Earth sometime in the next 50 years... nearly half the American population is eagerly anticipating the end of the world.... this faith-based nihilism provides its adherents with absolutely no incentive to build a sustainable civilization—economically, environmentally or geopolitically....

Much of what people believe in the name of religion is intrinsically divisive, unreasonable and incompatible with genuine morality...

Religious people will devote immense energy to so-called moral problems—such as gay marriage—where no real suffering is at issue, and they will happily contribute to the surplus of human misery if it serves their religious beliefs.... [stopping stem cell research]

We have elected a president who seems to imagine that whenever he closes his eyes in the Oval Office—wondering whether to go to war or not to go to war, for instance—his intuitions have been vetted by the Creator of the universe. Speaking to a small group of supporters in 1999, Bush reportedly said, "I believe God wants me to be president." Believing that God has delivered you unto the presidency really seems to entail the belief that you cannot make any catastrophic mistakes while in office. One question we might want to collectively ponder in the future: do we really want to hand the tiller of civilization to a person who thinks this way?... [Sadly, yes, "we" apparently do! Grrrr. -- RH]

We are living in a world in which millions of Muslims believe that there is nothing better than to be killed in defense of Islam. We are living in a world in which millions of Christians hope to soon be raptured into the stratosphere by Jesus so that they can safely enjoy a sacred genocide that will inaugurate the end of human history. In a world brimming with increasingly destructive technology, our infatuation with religious myths now poses a tremendous danger. And it is not a danger for which more religious faith is a remedy.

More bumperstickers ('06)

Be nice to America or we'll bring democracy to your country.

Bush: Like a rock, only dumber.

Annoy a conservative: Think.

Ignorance and arrogance is a bad foreign policy.

Which God do you kill for?

Of course it hurts, you're getting screwed by an elephant.

Love Thy Enemy strongly implies not killing them.

Hey Bush supporter, embarrassed yet?

When fascism comes to this country, it will draped in a flag and carrying a cross.
- Sinclair Lewis

If you want a nation ruled by religion, move to Iran.

America: one nation under surveillance

You can't be pro-life and pro-war.

Nothing is less patriotic than lying to your country.
Impeach Bush.

Jesus was a bleeding heart, long haired, peace loving, anti-establishment hippie freak with strange ideas - everything conservatives hate.

At least in Vietnam Bush had an exit strategy.

I'd rather have a president screwing his mistress than screwing his country.

They that can give up essential liberty for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
- Ben Franklin

Rich man's war, poor man's blood.

We're making enemies faster than we can kill them.

If you support Bush's war, why are you still here? Shut up and ship out!

I think, therefore I am liberal.

The Republican Party, our bridge to the 11th century.

Torture is not a family value.

You voted for Bush?? Are you evil or just stupid?

Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents' Dinner ('06)

Satirist Stephen Colbert at the White House Correspondents' Dinner in April 2006.
The full video (24:10) is here
The full transcript is here

Excerpts:

I give people the truth, unfiltered by rational argument. I call it the No Fact Zone. Fox News, I hold a copyright on that term.

I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.

Though I am a committed Christian, I believe that everyone has the right to their own religion, be you Hindu, Jewish or Muslim. I believe there are infinite paths to accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior.

Reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president's side, and the vice president's side.

But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished. Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know - fiction!

I've got a theory about how to handle these retired generals causing all this trouble: don't let them retire! Come on, we've got a stop-loss program; let's use it on these guys.

Jesse Jackson .... Very interesting and challenging interview. You can ask him anything, but he's going to say what he wants, at the pace that he wants. It's like boxing a glacier. Enjoy that metaphor, by the way, because your grandchildren will have no idea what a glacier is.

New press secretary, Tony Snow. Got some big shoes to fill, Tony. Big shoes to fill. Scott McClellan could say nothing like nobody else.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

On language, thought, gender, and direction

("Finally!" some readers may feel, "a blog post that's closer to what a blog post should be!")

Today's New York Times Magazine has a feature article on "Does Your Language Shape How You Think?" by Guy Deutscher. Deutscher is a linguistics scholar at the University of Manchester, and the article is from his forthcoming book, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages

The article touches on three issues of great interest to me. (I was a linguistics minor in grad school, and I probably would have been a cognitive science major had there been such a thing at the time.)

First, the article starts with the ideas of Benjamin Lee Whorf, about how language might affect our thinking. I first read Whorf as an undergraduate (not for any assignment), and I was so intrigued by the idea that I applied for a Watson Fellowship to travel and research it. (I didn't get the Fellowship.)

Second, one of the "case studies" the article discusses is the gender of nouns in many languages, one of the impediments to my foreign language learning. I strongly resist the illogical genderfication of everything. Deutscher writes,
[O]nce gender connotations have been imposed on impressionable young minds, they lead those with a gendered mother tongue to see the inanimate world through lenses tinted with associations and emotional responses that English speakers — stuck in their monochrome desert of “its” — are entirely oblivious to. Did the opposite genders of “bridge” in German and Spanish, for example, have an effect on the design of bridges in Spain and Germany? Do the emotional maps imposed by a gender system have higher-level behavioral consequences for our everyday life? Do they shape tastes, fashions, habits and preferences in the societies concerned? At the current state of our knowledge about the brain, this is not something that can be easily measured in a psychology lab. But it would be surprising if they didn’t.

Third, Deutscher discusses the remarkable directionality of an Australian aboriginal language:
In order to speak a language like Guugu Yimithirr, you need to know where the cardinal directions are at each and every moment of your waking life. You need to have a compass in your mind that operates all the time, day and night, without lunch breaks or weekends off, since otherwise you would not be able to impart the most basic information or understand what people around you are saying. Indeed, speakers of geographic languages seem to have an almost-superhuman sense of orientation. Regardless of visibility conditions, regardless of whether they are in thick forest or on an open plain, whether outside or indoors or even in caves, whether stationary or moving, they have a spot-on sense of direction. They don’t look at the sun and pause for a moment of calculation before they say, “There’s an ant just north of your foot.” They simply feel where north, south, west and east are, just as people with perfect pitch feel what each note is without having to calculate intervals.

That's me!

It's slowly diminishing, but I've always amazed people with my sense of direction and place, particularly how strongly it was tied to my memories of events. If I half-remembered something, one of the first pieces that would come to me would be what direction I was facing, then whether I was indoors or out, where the door or highway or downtown or other landmark was, and that would usually pinpoint where this took place, which would remind me of everything else -- when it occurred, who was there, who was speaking, etc.

My sense of direction was weaker when I was a passenger in a car or boat or plane, and, if I couldn't pin down the directions at all in a memory, it usually was something that happened in a dream or when I was stoned! (Those were the days!)

My sense of direction is not as strong now as it used to be. I'm not sure why.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On boycotting Target (Aug. '10)


This letter of mine was published in the Los Angeles Times in August 2010:

Most of my clothes are from Target, but no more. Why in the world would I want to contribute to those who would deny my rights? I will instead use what little leverage I have to support those who support me.

Political actions have consequences.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

"Will somebody..." ('06)




I received this photo in e-mail in April 2006.

Threatening First Interstate Bank ('94)

When First Interstate Bank (now part of Wells Fargo) removed sexual orientation from their non-discrimination policy, I wrote the letter below. They did rescind the change.

[My best letter (so far) on gay rights]

Bruce Willison, President and CEO
First Interstate Bank
707 Wilshire Blvd., M.S. W25-1
Los Angeles, CA 90017

Dear Mr. Willison,

I am a long-time, generally satisfied First Interstate customer. In fact, as my checks tell the world, you consider me a "time-honored" customer. Hence, it deeply saddens me to hear about the recent changes to your employment non-discrimination policy.

I have read Ken Preston's January 25 letter to George Kronenberger, and I find it completely unacceptable. With regard to sexual orientation discrimination, all you are now saying is, "We obey the law." Well, I should hope so, but you should be ashamed to proclaim this as your only corporate policy on the question. It provides no protection at all for your gay and lesbian employees or applicants in jurisdictions without external governmental protection.

Unless you quickly re-instate protection against sexual orientation discrimination for employees of all units of First Interstate world-wide, I will begin transferring my business elsewhere, I will close my account, and I will encourage others to do the same.

It should not take these kinds of threats to make you act. All you need to do is ask yourself what is the right thing to do for your employees, and make your corporate policies reflect that. It's an easy question with an easy answer. I hope to hear that you have figured it out.

Sincerely yours,

Rodney Hoffman

cc: Edward Carson, First Interstate Bancorp
George Kronenberger, NGLTF

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bill Maher: "George of the Bungle" ('05)

Bill Maher, HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher, Sept. 9, 2005:

The video (3:52) is here.

Partial transcript:

Mr. President, this job can't be fun for you any more. There's no more money to spend -- you used up all of that. You can't start another war because you used up the Army. And now, darn the luck, the rest of your term has become the Bush family nightmare: helping poor people. Listen to your Mom. The cupboard's bare, the credit cards maxed out. No one's speaking to you. Mission accomplished.

Now it's time to do what you've always done best: lose interest and walk away. Like you did with your military service and the oil company and the baseball team. It's time. Time to move on and try the next fantasy job. How about cowboy, or space man?

Now I know what you're saying: there's so many other things that you as President could involve yourself in. Please don't. I know, I know. There's a lot left to do. There's a war with Venezuela. Eliminating the sales tax on yachts. Turning the space program over to the church. And Social Security to Fannie Mae. Giving embryos the vote.

But, Sir, none of that is going to happen now. Why? Because you govern like Billy Joel drives. You've performed so poorly I'm surprised that you haven't given yourself a medal. You're a catastrophe that walks like a man. Herbert Hoover was a shitty president, but even he never conceded an entire metropolis to rising water and snakes.

On your watch, we've lost almost all of our allies, the surplus, four airliners, two trade centers, a piece of the Pentagon and the City of New Orleans. Maybe you're just not lucky.

I'm not saying you don't love this country. I'm just wondering how much worse it could be if you were on the other side.

So, yes, God does speak to you. What he is saying is "Take a hint."

How a Bill Becomes a Law ('06)



How a Bill Becomes a Law - Revised Version
(click to enlarge)

Where's the fiber optic line to my door? ('06)

(Click the image to enlarge it.)


Still infuriatingly true! The text below is from 2006, but the graphic above is from Feb. 2010.

Link: $200 Billion Broadband Scandal

From the free book Broadband Scandal:

The Bell Companies never delivered symmetrical fiber-optic connectivity to millions of Americans though they were paid more than $200 billion to do it.

During the buildup to the 1996 Telecommunications Reform Act, the major U.S. telcos promised to deliver fiber to 86 million households by 2006 (we’re talking about fiber to the home, here). They asked for, and were given, some $200 billion in tax cuts and other incentives to pay for it. But the Bells didn’t spend that money on fiber upgrades — they spent it on long distance, wireless and inferior DSL services. Some headlines from Kushnick’s work:

  • By 2006, 86 million households should have been rewired with a fiber optic wire, capable of 45 Mbps, in both directions.

  • The public subsidies for infrastructure were pocketed. The phone companies collected over $200 billion in higher phone rates and tax perks, about $2000 per household.

  • The World is Laughing at US. Korea and Japan have 100 Mbps services as standard, and America could have been Number One had the phone companies actually delivered. Instead, we are 16th in broadband and falling in technology dominance.

Bumperstickers ('06)


Some favorite bumperstickers and slogans in early 2006:

(Each is a link to cafepress)

Military records of politicians ('05)


Comparing military records of prominent politicians and pundits.

Some of the Republicans are shown here. The full list, including Democrats (many of whom had distinguished service records), is at the link above.

  • George W. Bush: failed to complete his six-year National Guard; got assigned to Alabama so he could campaign for family friend running for U.S. Senate; failed to show up for required medical exam, disappeared from duty.
  • Dick Cheney: did not serve. Several deferments, the last by marriage.
  • Don Rumsfeld: served in Navy (1954-57) as flight instructor.
  • Dennis Hastert: did not serve.
  • Tom Delay: did not serve.
  • Mitch McConnell: did not serve.
  • Rick Santorum: did not serve.
  • Trent Lott: did not serve.
  • Phil Gramm: did not serve.
  • John McCain: Vietnam POW, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.
  • Sean Hannity: did not serve.
  • Rush Limbaugh: did not serve (4-F with a 'pilonidal cyst.')
  • Bill O'Reilly: did not serve.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Credit Card Rewards ('10)



Responding to a column by David Lazarus about credit card processing fees, I sent this letter to the Los Angeles Times in June 2010 (not published):

My credit card offers nice rewards (although a bit less than a few years ago). It's obvious that the rewards are coming directly out of other consumers' wallets.

It's ridiculous for the cash customer to subsidize my rewards, but that's the system we've got. I'd be just another sucker if I didn't get all I can, so I almost never pay cash.

Still, for fairness, I wish the credit card processing fees and the rewards they pay for would be drastically cut back.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Ivins: The Looting of America ('05)




Link: The Looting of America
by Molly Ivins

December, 2005

[Excerpted; full text at the above link. (The pictured book is just for illustration; it does not include this Ivins column.)]

I do not think it premature to conclude that the entire financial industry of this country is riddled with fraud....

Jack A. Blum, a Washington lawyer and expert in money-laundering and other forms of tax evasion, wrote the following for an academic conference held earlier this year at the University of Texas: "Corporate managers have spent the last century developing tools for avoiding regulation and taxation. They brag that acts of tax avoidance are part of corporate productivity. For them, each dollar of tax not paid because of their machinations is the added value they bring to a company. Tax avoidance is a profit center. Avoidance of regulation and supervision is an equally high priority. Corporate contributions and the personal contributions of senior corporate managers have funded anti-regulatory think tanks and anti-regulatory scholarship. Political contributions have turned theory into reality."...

The social control of corporate behavior also stops with this administration. George W. Bush's first choice for chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Harvey Pitt, famously planned "a kinder, gentle SEC."...

At the Treasury Department, John Snow, master of paying no corporate taxes and the golden parachute, is now in charge. Bush's Federal Power Commission, with one member banished by Ken Lay of Enron and another selected by him, couldn't be bothered to notice the enormous fraudulent "energy crisis" in California until $30 billion had been sucked out of that state.

Talk about the lunatics running the asylum. Former lobbyists for special interests now dominate the top of the bureaucracies -- not to regulate, but to facilitate corporate rip-offs. Michael Powell at the Federal Communications Commission thinks more media mergers will be good for the nation. At the Interior Department, it is rip and run, all-out exploitation of natural resources, leaving nothing but a trash heap behind -- a trash heap, incidentally, that the taxpayers will have to pay to clean up, since the Superfund for toxic waste cleanups has been allowed to lapse entirely.

Richard Todd, writing about the mutual-fund scandal in the Times Sunday Magazine, asked: "Were these laws and rules taken seriously by anyone -- or was it common knowledge in the industry that they were routinely flouted? Who was in on the deal? Was all this done more or less in the open with a genial nod and wink among hundreds of guys who understood the game? Or was the money inhaled like cocaine in a surreptitious instant in the back room? Did non-players know? Did 'my' broker know?"...

And the corrupt corporate culture has in turn bought the political system. Medicare "reform" is a huge boondoggle for the drug companies. The energy bill is nothing but corporate subsidies. We have seen people like Dennis Kozlowski and Ken Lay loot their corporations. We are now watching the looting of an entire country.

Friedman on Singapore, Katrina, and government ('05)

Link: Singapore and Katrina
by Thomas Friedman

New York Times
September 14, 2005

[excerpted; full text at the above link]

There is something troublingly self-indulgent and slothful about America today - something that Katrina highlighted and that people who live in countries where the laws of gravity still apply really noticed. It has rattled them - like watching a parent melt down.

That is certainly the sense I got after observing the Katrina debacle from half a world away here in Singapore - a city-state that, if it believes in anything, believes in good governance. It may roll up the sidewalks pretty early here, and it may even fine you if you spit out your gum, but if you had to choose anywhere in Asia you would want to be caught in a typhoon, it would be Singapore. Trust me, the head of Civil Defense here is not simply someone's college roommate.

Indeed, Singapore believes so strongly that you have to get the best-qualified and least-corruptible people you can into senior positions in the government, judiciary and civil service that its pays its prime minister a salary of $1.1 million a year. It pays its cabinet ministers and Supreme Court justices just under $1 million a year, and pays judges and senior civil servants handsomely down the line....

"In the areas that are critical to our survival, like Defense, Finance and the Ministry of Home Affairs, we look for the best talent," said Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy....

When a subway tunnel under construction collapsed here in April 2004 and four workers were killed, a government inquiry concluded that top executives of the contracting company should be either fined or jailed.

The discipline that the cold war imposed on America, by contrast, seems to have faded. Last year, we cut the National Science Foundation budget, while indulging absurd creationist theories in our schools and passing pork-laden energy and transportation bills in the middle of an energy crisis.

We let the families of the victims of 9/11 redesign our intelligence organizations, and our president and Congress held a midnight session about the health care of one woman, Terri Schiavo, while ignoring the health crisis of 40 million uninsured. Our economy seems to be fueled lately by either suing each other or selling each other houses. Our government launched a war in Iraq without any real plan for the morning after, and it cut taxes in the middle of that war, ensuring that future generations would get the bill.

Speaking of Katrina, Sumiko Tan, a columnist for the Sunday edition of The Straits Times in Singapore, wrote: "We were shocked at what we saw. Death and destruction from natural disaster is par for the course. But the pictures of dead people left uncollected on the streets, armed looters ransacking shops, survivors desperate to be rescued, racial divisions - these were truly out of sync with what we'd imagined the land of the free to be, even if we had encountered homelessness and violence on visits there. ... If America becomes so unglued when bad things happen in its own backyard, how can it fulfill its role as leader of the world?"

Janadas Devan, a Straits Times columnist, tried to explain to his Asian readers how the U.S. is changing. "Today's conservatives," he wrote, "differ in one crucial aspect from yesterday's conservatives: the latter believed in small government, but believed, too, that a country ought to pay for all the government that it needed.

"The former believe in no government, and therefore conclude that there is no need for a country to pay for even the government that it does have. ... [But] it is not only government that doesn't show up when government is starved of resources and leached of all its meaning. Community doesn't show up either, sacrifice doesn't show up, pulling together doesn't show up, 'we're all in this together' doesn't show up."

Michael Moore: To All My Fellow Americans Who Voted for George W. Bush ('05)

Link: A Letter to All Who Voted for George W. Bush from Michael Moore

September 11, 2005

[excerpted; full text at the above link]

Dear Friends,

On this, the fourth anniversary of 9/11, I'm just curious, how does it feel?

How does it feel to know that, the man you re-elected to lead us AFTER we were attacked, went ahead and put a guy in charge of FEMA whose main qualification was that he ran horse shows? ...

[H]ow do you feel about the utter contempt Mr. Bush has shown for your safety?...

Are we safer now than before 9/11?...

When men who never served in the military, and have never seen young men die in battle, send our young people off to war, do you think they know how to conduct a war? Do they know what it means to have your legs blown off for a threat that was never there?

Do you really believe that turning over important government services to private corporations has resulted in better services for the people?

Why do you hate our federal government so much? You have voted for politicians for the past 25 years whose main goal has been to de-fund the federal government. Do you think that cutting federal programs like FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers has been good or bad for America? GOOD OR BAD?!

With the nation's debt at an all-time high, do you think tax cuts for the rich are still a good idea?...

Do you believe in Jesus? Really? Didn't he say that we would be judged by how we treat the least among us?...

And on this sacred day of remembrance, do you think we honor or shame those who died on 9/11/01? If we learned nothing and find ourselves today every bit as vulnerable and unprepared as we were on that bright sunny morning, then did the 3,000 die in vain?

Our vulnerability is not just about dealing with terrorists or natural disasters. We are vulnerable and unsafe because we allow one in eight Americans to live in horrible poverty. We accept an education system where one in six children never graduate and most of those who do can't string a coherent sentence together. The middle class can't pay the mortgage or the hospital bills and 45 million have no health coverage whatsoever.

Are we safe? Do you really feel safe? You can only move so far out and build so many gated communities before the fruit of what you've sown will be crashing through your walls and demanding retribution. Do you really want to wait until that happens? Or is it your hope that if they are left alone long enough to soil themselves and shoot themselves and drown in the filth that fills the street that maybe the problem will somehow go away?

I know you know better. You gave the country and the world a man who wasn't up for the job and all he does is hire people who aren't up for the job. You did this to us, to the world, to the people of New Orleans. Please fix it. Bush is yours....

Yours,

Michael Moore

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Celebrity trumps all ('09)

I do blame Gov. Schwarzenegger for much of the state's budget
troubles. But, even worse and even harder to overcome, is the
mentality of his supporters, the voters who elected him based on
impossible promises, and then re-elected him after he failed at every
turn.

Celebrity trumps all. How we can overcome that?

The cowardly APA on religion ('09)

In August 2009, the American Psychological Association issued a 138-page report on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation.

The press release said that the APA resolves that "mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments." About time!

But at the same time, task force chair Dr.Judith Glassgold told the Wall Street Journal, "[W]e have to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else." That's a cop-out. See below.

The WSJ framed the message this way:

[T]he American Psychological Association said Wednesday that it is ethical -- and can be beneficial -- for counselors to help some clients reject gay or lesbian attractions....

[T]he therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn't signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation.

But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God.


In response, I wrote the following letter to the Wall Street Journal. It was not published.

Dr. Glassgold says there has been little research about the long-term effects of rejecting a gay identity, but there is "no clear evidence of harm" and "some people seem to be content with that path."

Bull. The APA are cowards. They refuse to make the obvious recommendation: [Some] religions are the problem here, brain-washing children with scientifically false crap, crippling their sexual and psychological well-being for life. If parents want all children to be able to live full and satisfying lives, they must spurn gay-bashing religions.

And if you agree with the APA that, "Oh, no, we couldn't say anything against someone's religion!" then you, too, are part of the problem. Stop giving religion undue deference. Religion is a choice. The APA and everyone should tell people which choices demonstrably help lives and which hurt lives.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Repeal the 2nd Amendment

(Click the image to enlarge it.)


Over here, it seems that many agree with me about repealing the right to bear arms.

As the top graph (copied above) shows, web hits for "Repeal 2nd" / "Repeal Second" run three times higher than for any other amendment.

(Click the "Guns" label below for more from me.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Arizona: "I've got mine. Screw you." ('10)

The LATimes editorialized about Arizona's ban on ethnic studies in schools.

This letter of mine in response was published in the Los Angeles Times in May 2010:

You write: "But it is now clear that Arizona's problem isn't only immigration — legal or otherwise. Its problem is Latinos."

No, it's even worse than that. In one of her first acts as governor, Jan Brewer rescinded many state benefits for the children and partners of unmarried state employees, heterosexual or homosexual.

It's not only immigration; it's not only Latinos; it's not only gays and lesbians; it's "I've got mine. If you're different from me, I don't care about you."

Friday, May 14, 2010

Slogans ('05)



Signs reported at a September 2005 anti-war march in D.C. (just weeks after Hurricane Katrina):


YeeHa is not a foreign policy

War is Terrorism with a Bigger Budget

Make levees not war

Ex-Republican. Ask me why.

Blind Faith in Bad Leadership is not Patriotism.

Bush is a disaster!
(with the President's face in the eye of a hurricane);

Osama bin Forgotten

Cindy speaks for me

Liar, born liar, born-again liar

Dude -- There's a War Criminal in My White House!!!

On supporting military actions ('05)

Link: Ahh, the good ol' days
from Daily Kos, August 2005

Quotes from when Clinton committed troops to Bosnia:

"You can support the troops but not the president."
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Well, I just think it's a bad idea. What's going to happen is they're going to be over there for 10, 15, maybe 20 years."
--Joe Scarborough (R-FL)

"Explain to the mothers and fathers of American servicemen that may come home in body bags why their son or daughter have to give up their life?"
--Sean Hannity, Fox News, 4/6/99

"[The] President . . . is once again releasing American military might on a foreign country with an ill-defined objective and no exit strategy. He has yet to tell the Congress how much this operation will cost. And he has not informed our nation's armed forces about how long they will be away from home. These strikes do not make for a sound foreign policy."
--Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)

"American foreign policy is now one huge big mystery. Simply put, the administration is trying to lead the world with a feel-good foreign policy."
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"If we are going to commit American troops, we must be certain they have a clear mission, an achievable goal and an exit strategy."
--Karen Hughes, speaking on behalf of George W Bush

"I had doubts about the bombing campaign from the beginning . . I didn't think we had done enough in the diplomatic area."
--Senator Trent Lott (R-MS)

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"
--Rep Tom Delay (R-TX)

"Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is."
--Governor George W. Bush (R-TX)

Funny thing is, we won that war without a single killed in action.

Urban Archipelago ('05)



Link: Urban Archipelago: It's the Cities, Stupid.
by the editors of The Stranger, Seattle's alternative newspaper

[excerpts; full text at the link above]

Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion--New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on.

Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland "values" like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country. And we are the real Americans. They--rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs--are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers.

For Democrats, it's the cities, stupid--not the rural areas, not the prickly, hateful "heartland," but the sane, sensible cities--including the cities trapped in the heartland. Pandering to rural voters is a waste of time.

Democrats need to pursue policies that encourage urban growth (mass transit, affordable housing, city services), and Democrats need to openly and aggressively champion urban values.

We can secede emotionally by turning our backs on the heartland. We can focus on our issues, our urban issues, and promote our shared urban values. We can create a new identity politics, one that transcends class, race, sexual orientation, and religion, one that unites people living in cities with each other and with other urbanites in other cities.

To red-state voters, to the rural voters, residents of small, dying towns, and soulless sprawling exburbs, we say this: Fuck off. Your issues are no longer our issues. We're going to battle our bleeding-heart instincts and ignore pangs of misplaced empathy.

It's no secret what the urban population is against--the Bush administration and its red armies have done us the favor of making it a cinch to identify: We oppose their sub-moronic, "faith-based" approach to life, and, as stated above, we hereby relinquish our liberal tendency to sympathize with their lack of, say, livable working conditions, a family wage, and a national health care program. We no longer have to concern ourselves with the survival of the family farm, nor do we have to concern ourselves with saving fragile suburban economies from collapse. They're against us; we're against them. This is a war.

We're for pluralism of thought, race, and identity. We're for a freedom of religion that includes the freedom from religion--not as some crazy aberration, but as an equally valid approach to life. We are for the right to choose one's own sexual and recreational behavior, to control one's own body and what one puts inside it. We are for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The people who just elected George W. Bush to a second term are frankly against every single idea outlined above.

Unlike the people who flee from cities in search of a life free from disagreement and dark skin, we are for contentiousness, discourse, and the heightened understanding of life that grows from having to accommodate opposing viewpoints. We're for opposition. And just to be clear: The non-urban argument, the red state position, isn't oppositional, it's negational--they are in active denial of the existence of other places, other people, other ideas. It's reactionary utopianism, and it is a clear and present danger; urbanists should be upfront and unapologetic about our contempt for their politics and their negational values.

Let's see, what else are we for? How about education? ... universities ... science ... And reason. And history. All those things that non-urbanists have replaced with their idiotic faith. We're for those.

A city belongs to everyone in it, and expands to contain whoever desires to join its ranks. People migrate to cities and open independent businesses or work at established ones. They import cultural influences, thus enriching the urban arts and nightlife, which in turn enrich everything.

It's not a question of tolerance, nor even of personal freedom; it's a matter of recognizing the fundamental interdependence of all citizens--not just the ones who belong to the same church.

Dubya's Second Inaugural ('05)



Dubya's Second Inaugural: The photos you didn't see in the mainstream media coverage.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Religion as Corrosive (July '09)

Link: Religion as Corrosive
From Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish

An unnamed reader writes:

I think the unfortunate thing about [your coverage] on this issue is that you've failed to represent Dennett's (or other "grating" atheists') full arguments justifying their combative approach to religion. Personally, I'm a "grating" atheist because of two deep concerns about the influence of religion in general (i.e., religion as a concept).

First, the vast majority of religious people inculcate (or to put it another way, brainwash) their intellectually defenseless children with their own beliefs, demanding that the little ones believe these often ridiculous things to be true with no logical or empirical evidence, which I am convinced undermines children's development of logic and critical thinking.

Secondly, and more concretely, religion is the most pernicious cudgel influencing policy. Because religious beliefs (e.g., homosexuality is bad) are not held on account of logic or evidence (and perhaps also because of the way religion has influenced adherents' critical thinking skills), it is impossible for us to argue against them, yet their consequences affect us all.

Religion warps the policy sphere by determining how people vote and shaping the media dialogue, since a great number if not the majority of sincerely religious people seem openly unwilling to concede that their own supernatural beliefs should not be imposed upon the electorate in general.

The marriage equality debate is a perfect example of this, since all non-religious arguments (i.e., the ones not revolving around the word "sacred,") that I have heard against it are thoroughly specious. We can also reference the nakedly religion-based support for the Bush administration displayed by huge numbers of the Republican base, and ongoing local school board revolutions intended to place ill-disguised creationist dogma into the public school science curriculum.

Meanwhile, pandering to the religious crowd in policy debate merely reinforces their own biases (and reasserts their entitlement to a national audience) and hence does not usually result in any constructive compromise.

Thus, it is not merely that we atheists disapprove of people being religious because we like to chide them for not yet discarding that "crutch"... it's that we feel the violent political force of religion shaping our laws and leadership on a daily basis, while a new legion of young zealots is being indoctrinated with every generation.

[emphasis added]

Russell's Teapot

Link: Russell's Teapot (From Wikipedia)

Russell's teapot was an analogy first coined by the philosopher Bertrand Russell, to refute the idea that the onus lies somehow upon the sceptic to disprove the unfalsifiable claims of religion. In an article entitled Is There a God?, commissioned (but never published) by Illustrated magazine in 1952, Russell said the following:

If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.

In his book A Devil's Chaplain (2003), Richard Dawkins developed the teapot theme a little further:

The reason organized religion merits outright hostility is that, unlike belief in Russell's teapot, religion is powerful, influential, tax-exempt and systematically passed on to children too young to defend themselves. Children are not compelled to spend their formative years memorizing loony books about teapots. Government-subsidized schools don't exclude children whose parents prefer the wrong shape of teapot. Teapot-believers don't stone teapot-unbelievers, teapot-apostates, teapot-heretics and teapot-blasphemers to death. Mothers don't warn their sons off marrying teapot-shiksas whose parents believe in three teapots rather than one. People who put the milk in first don't kneecap those who put the tea in first.

See also the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

And, of course, my own note Why I am an angry atheist

(For more, click on the "Religion" label below.)

Rushkoff: Faith = Illness (April '06)

Link: Faith = Illness. Why I’ve had it with religious tolerance
by Douglas Rushkoff

[excerpted]

I think it's time to ... let everyone in on the bad news: God doesn't exist, never did, and the closest thing we'll ever see to God will emerge from our own collective efforts at making meaning.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I no longer see the real value in being tolerant of other people's beliefs. Sure, when beliefs are relegated to the realm of pure entertainment, they pose no real danger. ... When religions are practiced, as they are by a majority of those in developed nations, today, as a kind of nostalgic little ritual - a community event or an excuse to get together and not work - it doesn't really screw anything up too badly.

But when they radically alter our ability to contend with reality, cope with difference, or implement the most basic ethical provisions, they must be stopped.

Like any other public health crisis, the belief in religion must now be treated as a sickness. It is an epidemic, paralyzing our nation's ability to behave in a rational way, and - given our weapons capabilities - posing an increasingly grave threat to the rest of the world.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why Victor can't visit the U.S.


That's all the travel postings until I get a chance to scan even older photos. (Click the "Travel" label at the bottom of this post to see what's here.)

But in keeping with my blog title, there's an outrage subtext to many of my trips.

In the mid-90s, I was naive about some aspects of immigration.

I knew all about the homophobia of our immigration laws: how citizens can bring a spouse into the U.S., but not a same-sex partner.

Living my whole life in south Texas and southern California, I also knew about all the issues around undocumented Mexicans in the U.S.

But I also knew that plenty of Mexicans came to visit with proper papers, so I thought that was easy, just a tourist visa. I had a lot to learn about tourist visas!

I was shocked when Victor's first application for a tourist visa was denied. The vague denial information from the State Department didn't help.

A staffer in my Congressman's office explained it to me more thoroughly. The U.S. needs to be convinced that a visa applicant will return to Mexico. How are they convinced? If you have a good job to return to in Mexico, that helps. If you have money in the bank in Mexico, a spouse and children well-established in Mexico, if you own a home in Mexico, if you have a non-refundable return ticket, if you've traveled outside of Mexico in the past and returned -- these sorts of things help convince the U.S. State Department that you will return to Mexico.

If, on the other hand, like Victor in the 90s, you're prime working age, your job in Mexico pays near minimum wage (Mexico minimum wage!), you have no wife or kids (!), you own no property, you have no savings, .... Well, forget it!

And there's nothing I could do to promise that Victor would return to Mexico, since, as the Congressman's aide put it, "Kidnapping is illegal." That is, short of locking someone in chains, there's no way to guarantee that they'll get back to Mexico.

On our second application, I wrote offering to post a monetary bond, but the application was denied again.

We tried once more. This time, I went with Victor to speak to the U.S. consul. He bluntly told us to stop wasting our time and money; Victor would not be getting a tourist visa.

We got the message. We gave up, and decided to travel outside of the U.S. (So far, Costa Rica, British Columbia, Argentina and, of course, all over Yucatán.)

At the time, I had hopes that maybe the politics of immigration would improve in the future. Ha! With Dubya's election, 9/11, vigilante border militias, things just kept getting worse.

Please support the Uniting American Families Act, and comprehensive immigration reform that includes it. Thanks!

[2014 update]

Travels around Yucatán

Liz (my niece), Rodney, and Victor at Chichen Itza, 2005

(Click the image to enlarge it.)


I've been going to Yucatán once or twice a year since 1993. Victor and I have traveled around the region quite a bit. You can see a few photos here.

Trip to Costa Rica (Dec. '99)

Victor and I went to Costa Rica in December 1999 - January 2000, on a tour with Wildland Adventures. We arrived a day before the tour started, spending the extra day in and around San Jose:


Victor at La Sabana Park, San Jose

With the tour group, we went to Tiskita Jungle Lodge:


Sunset over the Pacific, Tiskita

Then to Arenal National Park:


Victor and volcanic rocks

Then Monteverde Cloud Forest:


(That's not a blurry photo; it's a cloud forest!)

We then went back to the Pacific coast, and from there, returned to San Jose.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Trip to Argentina (Sept. '87)


At Bariloche


My friends and 1980s neighbors Lito and John went to Argentina every year, usually in the Fall. (Lito was born there.) I kept telling them that if they would only go a little earlier, before my teaching duties began, I would join them. In 1987, I made it.

We visited Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, and Bariloche, then back to Buenos Aires. I returned home from there, while Lito and John stayed another week or so.

Lito arranged all the flights and accommodations. While in Buenos Aires, we also had dinner with different relatives of his almost every night, including one side trip to La Plata. I had a wonderful time.


Lito, John, and Lito's Israeli cousin Tzur, at Iguazu Falls

Trip to the Soviet Union (Spring '84)


Me in Red Square, Moscow, in front of St. Basil's Cathedral


In 1984, the late Ron Peterson, Professor of Russian Language and Culture at Occidental, led an Oxy group to the Soviet Union over Spring Break. We would visit Moscow and Leningrad, with a stop in Helsinki at the end. I jumped at the opportunity.

For more than you ever wanted to know about my week in the Soviet Union, read my journal (7 pages).

I bought some Soviet propaganda posters that you can see here.

In the group picture below, I'm in the back row, just beneath the raised hand. Ron is seven heads over to the right. (Click on the photo to see it larger.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Trip to Japan (August '03)


Link: Photos from my trip to Japan in August 2003. (Try the "Slideshow" button in the upper left.)

I took a "Japan Sampler" tour of Japan with General Tours. (That tour is no longer offered.) The tour was 9 days, and I added non-tour days in Tokyo before and after the tour.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Trip to British Columbia (summer '06)


Link: Photos from Rodney and Victor's trip to British Columbia in July-August 2006.

Victor loves bears. Since he can't get a tourist visa to come to the U.S., we couldn't go to Alaska. So we decided on B.C., in particular Knight Inlet Lodge.

I put together a trip that took us from Mexico City direct to Vancouver. We stayed in Vancouver before and after our trip to Knight Inlet.

We had a great time. In addition to seeing bears every day in Knight Inlet, we saw orcas and beautiful scenery.

Victor had also never eaten salmon, and loved it.

In Vancouver, we were there for the gay pride parade and some of the annual Celebration of Light, an international "pyro-musical fireworks competition," including Mexico's show, which won it all.

Trip to Argentina (Dec. '09)



Link: Photos from Rodney and Victor's trip to Patagonia and Iguazu in Dec. 2009.

Click on each set and try the "Slideshow" button in the upper right. If you want captions, click "Show info". (You can also use the "Pause" button and then "Next".)

It's my first time using Flickr, so I may not have done it the best way, but it was fast and easy.

The trip was arranged through Wildland Adventures. It was their 2009 version (Argentina-based) Best of Patagonia plus a two-day extension to Iguazu Falls.

Victor had been intrigued by Patagonia, and had long wanted to touch snow. I had been to Buenos Aires, Iguazu, and Bariloche in 1987 (more here), but never to Patagonia.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Republican Dictionary ('04)

Link: The Republican Dictionary

by Katrina Vanden Huevel
The Nation, Nov. 2004

[excerpted; full text at the link above]

BI-PARTISANSHIP – When conservative Republicans work together with moderate Republicans to pass legislation Democrats hate.

CLARIFY – Repeating the same lie over and over again.

FAIRER – Regressive.

FAITH – The stubborn belief that God approves of Republican moral values despite the preponderance of textual evidence to the contrary.

HONESTY – Lies told in simple declarative sentences: "Freedom is on the march."

MORAL VALUES – Hatred of homosexuals dressed up in Biblical language.

MANDATE – What a Republican claims to possess when only 49 percent of the voting public loathes him instead of 51 percent.

THE MEDIA – Immoral elitist liberally-biased traitors who should leave Republicans alone so they can complete God's work on Earth in peace and quiet, behind closed doors.

PHILOSOPHY – Religion.

SIMPLIFY – To cut the taxes of Republican donors.

Believing in Miracles ('04)

Link: "Believing in Miracles"

by Hal Crowther
Dec. 2004

[excerpted; full text at the link above]

...The United States of America, technologically advanced, technically literate and nominally civilized, now stands in the dock of world opinion with little choice but to plead guilty to pernicious, pandemic, pre-Enlightenment, near-medieval gullibility....

The great abyss of difference that now yawns between Europe and America is the average American's eagerness to believe damn near anything....

Creationism, the kind of thing that leaves Europeans speechless, is the pièce de résistance of imbecile fundamentalist rubbish. When the Darwin-bashers crawl out and try to flex their muscle, bookburners and witchburners are never far behind....

The United States was founded by post-Enlightenment intellectuals, many of them agnostic, who pursued the science of liberty with the support of austere Anglicans, Congregationalists and Quakers. If you could poll the shades of the Founding Fathers, you'd be hard pressed to find one who believed in the Virgin Birth. What they all believed in passionately, and believed to be the cornerstone of democracy, was the strictest separation of church and state.

"What have been its fruits?" asked James Madison of state-supported Christianity. "More or less in most places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."


In the USA ... the Dark Ages seem to loom ahead of us. What nation's intellectual history ever ran in reverse? ...


[emphasis added]

Monday, March 29, 2010

Jesus and Alinsky ('04)

Link: "Jesus and Alinsky"
by Walter Wink

[Excerpted; Full text at the link above.]

...There are three general responses to evil: (1) violent opposition, (2) passivity, and (3) the third way of militant nonviolence articulated by Jesus....

[nice explanation / re-interpretation of "if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" omitted here...]

Jesus' Third Way

  • Seize the moral initiative.
  • Find a creative alternative to violence.
  • Assert your own humanity and dignity as a person.
  • Meet force with ridicule or humor.
  • Break the cycle of humiliation.
  • Refuse to submit or to accept the inferior position.
  • Expose the injustice of the system.
  • Take control of the power dynamic.
  • Shame the oppressor into repentance.
  • Stand your ground.
  • Force the Powers into decisions for which they are not prepared.
  • Recognize your own power.
  • Be willing to suffer rather than retaliate.
  • Force the oppressor to see you in a new light.
  • Deprive the oppressor of a situation where force is effective.
  • Be willing to undergo the penalty of breaking unjust laws.

... Maybe it would help to juxtapose Jesus' teachings with legendary community organizer Saul Alinsky's principles for nonviolent community action (in his Rules for Radicals) to gain a clearer sense of their practicality and pertinence to the struggles of our time. Among rules Alinsky developed in his attempts to organize American workers and minority communities are these:

  • Power is not only what you have but what your enemy thinks you have.
  • Never go outside the experience of your people.
  • Wherever possible go outside the experience of the enemy.
  • Make your enemies live up to their own book of rules.
  • Ridicule is your most potent weapon.
  • A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.
  • A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.
  • Keep the pressure on.
  • The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
  • The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure on the opposition.
  • If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through to its counterside.
  • The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.
  • Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it.

... To Alinsky's list I would like to add another "rule" of my own: never adopt a strategy you would not want your opponents to use against you.

[This piece is reprinted from The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, edited by Paul Loeb]

How to Respond to Conservatives ('04)

Link: How To Respond To Conservatives
by George Lakoff

[edited; full text at the link above]

[I'm not very good at this. I get too angry. And I believe the facts should convince any rational person.]


1. Show respect
2. Respond by reframing
3. Think and talk at the level of values
4. Say what you believe

Now the details:

Progressive values are the best of traditional American values. Stand up for your values with dignity and strength. You are a true patriot because of your values.

  • Show respect to the conservatives you are responding to. No one will listen to you if you don't accord them respect.

  • Listen to them. You may disagree strongly with everything that is being said, but you should know what is being said. Be sincere. Avoid cheap shots.

  • What if they don't show you respect? Two wrongs don't make a right. Turn the other cheek and show respect anyway. That takes character and dignity. Show character and dignity.

  • Avoid a shouting match. Remember that the radical right requires a culture war, and shouting is the discourse form of that culture war. You gain a victory when the discourse turns civil. They win when they get you to shout.

    What if you have moral outrage? You should have moral outrage. But you can display it with controlled passion. If you lose control, they win.

  • Distinguish between ordinary conservatives and nasty ideologues. Most conservatives are personally nice people, and you want to bring out their niceness and their sense of neighborliness and hospitality.

  • Be calm. Calmness is a sign that you know what you are talking about.

  • Be good-humored. A good-natured sense of humor shows you are comfortable with yourself.

  • Hold your ground. Always be on the offense. Never go on defense. Never whine or complain. Never act like a victim. Never plead. Avoid the language of weakness, for example, rising intonations on statements. Your voice should be steady. Your body and voice should show optimism. You should convey passionate conviction without losing control.

  • Conservatives have parodied liberals as weak, angry (hence not in control of their emotions), weak-minded, softhearted, unpatriotic, uninformed, and elitist. Don't give them any opportunities to stereotype you in any of these ways. Expect these stereotypes, and deal with them when they come up.

    By the way you conduct yourself, show strength, calmness, and control; an ability to reason; a sense of realism; love of country; a command of the basic facts; and a sense of being an equal, not a superior. At the very least you want your audience to think of you with respect, as someone they may disagree with but who they have to take seriously. In many situations this is the best you can hope for. You have to recognize those situations and realize that a draw with dignity is a victory in the game of being taken seriously.

  • Don't expect to convert staunch conservatives.

  • Avoid the usual mistakes. Remember, don't just negate the other person's claims; reframe. The facts unframed will not set you free. You cannot win just be stating the true facts and showing that they contradict your opponent's claims. Frames trump facts. His frames will stay and the facts will bounce off. Always reframe.

  • Once your frame is accepted into the discourse, everything you say is just common sense. Why? Because that's what common sense is: reasoning within a commonplace, accepted frame.

  • Never answer a question framed from your opponent's point of view. Always reframe the question to fit your values and your frames. This may make you uncomfortable, since normal discourse styles require you to directly answer questions posed. That is trap. Practice changing frames.

  • Be sincere. Use frames you really believe in, based on values you really hold.

  • Tell a story. Build up a stock of effective stories.

  • Always start with values, preferably values all Americans share like security, prosperity, opportunity, freedom, and so on. Try to win the argument at the values level.

  • Remember that our goal is to unite our country behind our values, the best of traditional American values. Right-wing ideologues need to divide our country via a nasty cultural civil war. They need discord and shouting and name-calling and put-downs. We win with civil discourse and respectful cooperative conversation.


Examples

  • If they are nurturant at home but strict in business, talk about the home and family and how they relate to political issues:

    Real family values mean that your parents, as they age, don't have to sell their home or mortgage their future to pay for health care or the medications they need.

  • Use rhetorical questions: Wouldn't it be better if…? Such a question should be chosen to presuppose your frame:

    Wouldn't it be better if we had a president who went to war with a plan to secure the peace?

  • Suppose someone argues against a form of universal health care. If people don't have health care, he argues, it's their own fault. They're not working hard enough or not managing their money properly. We shouldn't have to pay for their lack of initiative or their financial mismanagement.

    Most of the forty million people who can't afford health care work full-time at essential jobs that cannot pay enough to get them health care. Yet these working people support the lifestyles of the top three-quarters of our population. Some forty million people have to do those hard jobs—or you don't have your lifestyle. America promises a decent standard of living in return for hard work. These workers have earned their health care by doing essential jobs to support the economy. There is money in the economy to pay them. Tax credits are the easiest mechanism. Their health care would be covered by having the top two percent pay the same taxes they used to pay. It's only fair that the wealthy pay for their own lifestyles, and that people who provide those lifestyles get paid fairly for it.

  • Your opponent says, “We should get rid of taxes. People know how to spend their money better than the government.”

    “The government has made very wise investments with taxpayer money. Our interstate highway system, for example. You couldnʼt build a highway with your tax refund. The government built them. Or the Internet, paid for by taxpayer investment. You could not make your own Internet. Most of our scientific advances have been made through funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health—great government investments of taxpayer money. No matter how wisely you spent your own money, youʼd never get those scientific and medical breakthroughs. And how far would you get hiring your own army with your tax refund?”

  • Use wedge issues, cases where your opponent will violate some belief he holds no matter what he says. Suppose he brings up abortion:

    Raise the issue of military rape treatment. Women soldiers who are raped (by our own soldiers, in Iraq, or on military bases) and who subsequently get pregnant presently cannot end their pregnancies in a military hospital, because abortions are not permitted there. A Military Rape Treatment Act would allow our raped women soldiers to be treated in military hospitals to end their rape-induced pregnancies.

    If he agrees, he sanctions abortion, in government-supported facilities no less, where doctors would have to be trained and facilities provided for terminating pregnancies. If he disagrees, he dishonors our women soldiers who are putting their lives on the line for him. To the women it is like being raped twice—once by a criminal soldier and once by a self-righteous conservative.

  • Suppose he starts touting smaller government:

    Point out that conservatives donʼt really want smaller government. They donʼt want to eliminate the military, or the FBI, or the Treasury and Commerce Departments, or the nine-tenths of the courts that support corporate law. It is big government that they like. What they really want to do away with is social programs—programs that invest in people, to help people to help themselves. Such a position contradicts the values the country was founded on—the idea of a community where people pull together to help each other. From John Winthrop on, that is what our nation has stood for.

  • Your opponent may use language that means the opposite of what he says, called Orwellian language. Realize that he is weak on this issue. Use language that accurately describes what heʼs talking about to frame the discussion your way. Suppose he cites the “Healthy Forests Initiative” as a balanced approach to the environment:

    Point out that it should be called “No Tree Left Behind” because it permits and promotes clear-cutting, which is destructive to forests and other living things in the forest habitat. Use the name to point out that the public likes forests, doesnʼt want them clear-cut, and that the use of the phony name shows weakness on the issue. Most people want to preserve the grandeur of America, not destroy it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Dubya's supporters ('04)

Link: "The Homecoming"
by Hal Crowther
Oct. '04

[excerpted; full text at the above link]

... If ever there was a deal-breaker, a faith-breaker between a president and the people who elected him ..., it's this bloody-minded travesty of a war that Bush concocted out of far-right obsessions and cooked intelligence, lied flagrantly to legitimize and then pursued to such a tragic, pitiful cul-de-sac. Such poor judgment yoked to such abysmal incompetence is unprecedented in all presidential history known to me....

I disagree with Bush on virtually every issue; most of his supporters support him for reasons I find incomprehensible or abhorrent. In four short years his administration has poisoned or criminally neglected our economy, our environment, our international reputation and our tradition of human rights and civil liberties. Even science has come under fierce attack by a right-wing coalition of corporate thugs and fundamentalist illiterates....

The great mystery is, who are The Others--the 45 percent or more who manage to believe in this man and his war?...

When you add up neocon imperialists, assault-gun psychos, shallow-closet segregationists, fat-wallet whores who coddle fascists for the sake of deeper tax cuts, fundamentalists for whom pro-choice is pro-Satan, Darwin is Mephistopheles and the Book of Revelation is the literal word of God -- this loose federation of unsavory cults and cliques that make up the modern Republican Party -- you know they don't add up to anything close to an electoral majority....

Where, then, are the rest of the true believers, the Bush bedrock...?

"People getting their fundamental interests wrong is what American political life is all about," writes [Thomas] Frank [in What's the Matter With Kansas]... He describes "a panorama of madness and delusion ... of sturdy blue-collar patriots reciting the Pledge while they strangle their own life chances; of small farmers proudly voting themselves off the land; of working-class guys delivering up a landslide for a candidate whose policies will end their way of life and transform their region into a 'rustbelt.'" ...

It's here in the empty country that the great Republican gullibility holds sway. People surrender their soldier-children, their votes, their meager taxes without a murmur, then call in to right-wing radio hosts to rage about abortionists and same-sex marriage. Where hope is hard to find, people turn to more accessible emotions, like anger and fear.

It takes enemies to give them purpose in the world, and if Osama bin Laden is out of range they're happy to substitute you and me--the too-tolerant, too-skeptical "secular humanists" for whom, ironically, the post-Enlightenment American democracy was expressly designed.

The Republicans are wondrous manipulators of these lost souls, these disenfranchised Middle Americans....

The Day the Enlightenment Went Out ('04)

Link: The Day the Enlightenment Went Out

by Garry Wills
New York Times
Nov. 4, 2004

[excerpted; full text at the above link]

... [Dubya's re-election] might be called Bryan's revenge for the Scopes trial of 1925, in which William Jennings Bryan's fundamentalist assault on the concept of evolution was discredited. Disillusionment with that decision led many evangelicals to withdraw from direct engagement in politics. But they came roaring back into the arena out of anger at other court decisions - on prayer in school, abortion, protection of the flag and, now, gay marriage....

Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?...

We now resemble [the secular states of modern Europe] less than we do our putative enemies.

Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed.

It is often observed that enemies come to resemble each other. We torture the torturers, we call our God better than theirs - as one American general put it, in words that the president has not repudiated.

President Bush promised in 2000 that he would lead a humble country, be a uniter not a divider, that he would make conservatism compassionate. He did not need to make such false promises this time. He was re-elected precisely by being a divider, pitting the reddest aspects of the red states against the blue nearly half of the nation....

The moral zealots will, I predict, give some cause for dismay even to nonfundamentalist Republicans. Jihads are scary things. It is not too early to start yearning back toward the Enlightenment.

Why Americans Hate Democrats ('04)

Link: "Why Americans Hate Democrats"
by Jane Smiley
Slate, Nov. 4, 2004

[excerpted; full article at above link]

... It's time to be honest about our antagonists....

The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry....

Ignorance and bloodlust have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states....

The error that progressives have consistently committed over the years is to underestimate the vitality of ignorance in America.... The blue state citizens make the Rousseauvian mistake of thinking humans are essentially good, and so they never realize when they are about to be slugged from behind.

Here is how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you -- if you don't believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex thought and so it is best not try it.

Next, they tell you that you are the best of a bad lot (humans, that is) and that as bad as you are, if you stick with them, you are among the chosen....

The history of the last four years shows that red state types, above all, do not want to be told what to do -- they prefer to be ignorant. As a result, they are virtually unteachable....

Third, and most important, when life grows difficult or fearsome, they (politicians, preachers, pundits) encourage you to cling to your ignorance with even more fervor.... (* See below)

A generation ago, the big capitalists, who have no morals, as we know, decided to make use of the religious right in their class war against the middle class and against the regulations that were protecting those whom they considered to be their rightful prey -- workers and consumers.

The architects of this strategy knew perfectly well that they were exploiting, among other unsavory qualities, a long American habit of virulent racism, but they did it anyway, and we see the outcome now....

remember that threats to democracy from the right always collapse. Whatever their short-term appeal, they are borne of hubris and hatred, and will destroy their purveyors in the end.

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(*) Now, in 2010, that reminds me of this:

Barack Obama caught on cellphone video during a campaign fund-raiser in April '08:

"... Our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there’s not evidence of that in their daily lives....

"It’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations...."

Full video (Click "more info" on the right for the transcript.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Unitarian Jihad ('05)

Link: "Unitarian Jihad"
by Jon Carroll
San Francisco Chronicle
April 8, 2005

[excerpted; full text at the link above.]

... Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States. We are Unitarian Jihad. There is only God, unless there is more than one God. The vote of our God subcommittee is 10-8 in favor of one God, with two abstentions. Brother Flaming Sword of Moderation noted the possibility of there being no God at all, and his objection was noted with love by the secretary....

Greetings to the Imprisoned Citizens of the United States! Too long has your attention been waylaid by the bright baubles of extremist thought. Too long have fundamentalist yahoos of all religions (except Buddhism -- 14-5 vote, no abstentions, fundamentalism subcommittee) made your head hurt. Too long have you been buffeted by angry people who think that God talks to them. You have a right to your moderation! You have the power to be calm! We will use the IED of truth to explode the SUV of dogmatic expression!...

Why is the news dominated by nutballs saying that the Ten Commandments have to be tattooed inside the eyelids of every American, or that Allah has told them to kill Americans in order to rid the world of Satan, or that Yahweh has instructed them to go live wherever they feel like, or that Shiva thinks bombing mosques is a great idea?...

We are Unitarian Jihad. We are everywhere. We have not been born again, nor have we sworn a blood oath. We do not think that God cares what we read, what we eat or whom we sleep with. Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity notes for the record that he does not have a moral code but is nevertheless a good person, and Unexalted Leader Garrote of Forgiveness stipulates that Brother Neutron Bomb of Serenity is a good person, and this is to be reflected in the minutes.

Beware! Unless you people shut up and begin acting like grown-ups with brains enough to understand the difference between political belief and personal faith, the Unitarian Jihad will begin a series of terrorist-like actions. We will take over television studios, kidnap so-called commentators and broadcast calm, well-reasoned discussions of the issues of the day. We will not try for "balance" by hiring fruitcakes; we will try for balance by hiring non-ideologues who have carefully thought through the issues.

We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other.... Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.

We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: "Sincerity is not enough." We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it's true doesn't make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn't mean you are not doing harm. Get a dog, or comfort someone in a nursing home, or just feed the birds in the park. Play basketball. Lighten up. The world is not out to get you, except in the sense that the world is out to get everyone....

People of the United States! We are Unitarian Jihad! We can strike without warning. Pockets of reasonableness and harmony will appear as if from nowhere! Nice people will run the government again!...

This startling new underground group spreads lack of panic! Citizens declare themselves "relatively unafraid" of threats of undeclared rationality. People can still go to France, terrorist leader says....

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Find your Unitarian Jihad name at the Unitarian Jihad Name Generator.