Monday, August 31, 2009

In Which Greenwald Wins the Internets

Update on Greenwald's post on nepotism in Washington:
Just to underscore a very important, related point: all of the above-listed people are examples of America's Great Meritocracy, having achieved what they have solely on the basis of their talent, skill and hard work -- The American Way. By contrast, Sonia Sotomayor -- who grew up in a Puerto Rican family in Bronx housing projects; whose father had a third-grade education, did not speak English and died when she was 9; whose mother worked as a telephone operator and a nurse; and who then became valedictorian of her high school, summa cum laude at Princeton, a graduate of Yale Law School, and ultimately a Supreme Court Justice -- is someone who had a whole litany of unfair advantages handed to her and is the poster child for un-American, merit-less advancement.

I just want to make sure that's clear.
I have nothing else to say.

Freak of the Week #2

Hey kids! Have you ever spuriously accused someone of anti-Semitism from a blog that seems to encourage Holocaust denial and compares Darwin to Hitler? No? Well, random nut Larry Fafarman has, and that makes him this week's Freak of the Week:
The "Cafeteria Christian" Darwinist goyim -- e.g., Ken Miller and Francis Collins -- who take the gospel literally but do not take the bible's creation story literally are being anti-Semitic, because that is the exact reverse of what true orthodox Jews believe and hence these Christians are mocking the religious beliefs of orthodox Jews. The Cafeteria Christian goyim further mock Judaism by holding that the Christian New Testament is the literal truth while the Jewish Old Testament is false.
That's right, just by being Christian you're being anti-Semitic! Now let's "freely debate" the Holocaust! Yay!

Oh, someone might want to tell Mr. Fafarman that the kind of biblical literalism that is often a feature of evangelical Christianity simply has no parallel in mainstream Judaism. Even the ultra-literalist Karaites, a small group of Jews who deny the authority of the Talmud and rabbinic law, don't take the Bible that literally.

So he's making a spurious claim based on a false assumption. Awesome.

Friday, August 28, 2009

*sniff sniff* Smells Like Bullshit Here

Apparently, about a year ago Bloomberg sued the Federal Reserve in order to make them release the names of the banks that are receiving emergency federal bailout loans. Since these loans are rumored to be in the trillions of dollars, this doesn't seem unreasonable. The Fed fought and lost, and now the banks are trying a last ditch effort to stop the reveal. They're saying that if the names of the banks are revealed it could OMFG DESTROY THE WHOLE BANKING SYSTEM NOOOOOO!!1!!11!one!uno!

Yeah, right. Who honestly believes that the entire banking system would collapse just because people knew who was taking emergency funding from the Fed? I think the reason is this - banks are so used to conducting most of their operations outside the public eye, so they're bound to react badly when people ask to find out what, actually, goes on in those big, tall buildings behind the curtain. So they're just knee-jerk opposed to any efforts at transparency. Too bad for them, then, that their attempt to get out of transparency requirements is just, well, lame.

They should ask Obama how it's done. Seems he and his predecessor were pretty good at that sort of thing.

More Fun with the Freak of the Week

A couple of posts back I gave my inaugural "Freak of the Week" award to Pastor Steven Anderson from Tempe, AZ. Now it turns out that the guy who was stopped outside an Obama appearance in Phoenix with a big-ass gun is a member of his church.

A guy who's a member of a church that preaches "Obama should die" is outside a rally with a big-ass gun? Comforting!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Looking Back at Katrina

The Guardian's Comment is Free blog enlists Rebecca Solnit to reflect on Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans four years ago this Saturday. What Solnit focuses on mostly is the rumor mill that developed in the wake of the storm, and how it was fueled by racism and unrealistic views of human nature.

We all remember the rumors - murderers in the Superdome, mass violence in the streets, yadda yadda yadda. Of course, none of that actually happened, but that didn't stop the rumors. Solnit blames racism, and it's hard to say she's wrong. By now, most of us have read A.C. Thompson's disturbing article about murderous wackos in Algiers Point who took it upon themselves to shoot black people who wandered into their neighborhood.

By and large, though, I think a lot of the post-Katrina rumor mill and its persistence (people still believe there was chaos in the streets, despite the facts saying otherwise) is that, put simply, people have been reading "Lord of the Flies" too damn much. "Lord of the Flies," of course, is William Golding's darker-than-dark book that details the breakdown of human relationships in the absence of a society. Recent movies like "Watchmen" only reinforce our notion that without a meaningful power structure, human nature is such that society will descend into chaos. So when Katrina came along and created what was essentially anarchy for a couple of days, people just expected bloodshed and chaos.

The fact is, though, that human nature is one hell of a lot brighter than we seem to think it is. No order collapsed in the wake of Katrina, and no dog-eat-dog Hobbesian struggle followed it. Conversely, there were many heartwarming stories of people actually helping others. The violence that was perpetrated during Katrina wasn't brought about by poor people who suddenly lacked a place in the power structure but by the people at the very top of that power structure - police departments and the rich white people in Algiers Point. They were motivated by the fear that their privilege was under attack, while the rest of New Orleans just wanted to help each other.

I made my first trip to New Orleans this past March, as part of a building project called Historic Green. As such, I spent a good deal of time east of the canal, and I was impressed by the extent to which what remained of the Lower 9th community looked out for each other. But then I realized something - why the hell should I be surprised? Is it really a shock that poor black people look out for each other the same way middle-class white people do, and that such a community pulls together in the face of tragedy the way communities often do? We weren't surprised by Greensburg's resilience - why would we be surprised when the people of the Lower 9th stick together too?

Our attitudes towards poor black people tend to be somewhat patronizing, I've found. I wonder whether we have two different views of human nature - one that assumes that privileged people will maintain their communities when the social order breaks down and one that assumes that poor black people will descend into everyone-for-themselves chaos without strict social controls. Similar philosophies, I note, underpin our attitude toward crime and law enforcement in general. We look at poor black people like the kids in "Lord of the Flies:" helpless and destined to bloodshed if some benevolent social force doesn't keep them in place.

So screw this "Lord of the Flies" bullshit. Katrina, if we look at it the right way, taught us differently - that communities are often stronger than they look to the outside observer, and that all people, regardless of race and class, tend to pull together when disaster strikes. It's just human nature.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Your Torture Buffet

Greenwald has an interesting post up describing his long, strange trip down the rabbit hole that is the CIA's Inspector General report on torture and interrogation methods used on detainees.

Remember when you're reading about these techniques - if it's okay for us to do this sort of thing to our detainees, it's okay for, say, Iran to do this kind of thing to Americans detained there. The morality of an action doesn't depend on whether it's the "good" guys or the "bad" guys taking that action. In fact, one might say that what differentiates the "good" guys from the "bad" guys is the morality of their actions. So far we've been kinda sucking at being the "good" guys in this regard.

I think most people reject the abstract idea that the ends justify the means. If you're a supporter of torture, though, you must necessarily believe this.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Freak of the Week

I'm thinking of starting a new segment here on ONAF, highlighting people who are so insane and delusional that they belong in a circus. I do that a lot already - might as well make it a recurring piece, right? So with apologies to the Marvelous 3, here's your first Freak of the Week nominee:

Come on down, Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, AZ:
Anderson began his rampage against gays by saying, “The biggest hypocrite in the world is the person who believes in the death penalty for murderers and not for homosexuals.”

“The same God who instituted the death penalty for murderers is the same god who instituted the death penalty for rapists and for homosexuals, sodomites and queers.”

Anderson then goes on to paint gays as child molesters, including Congressman Barney Frank.

“The sodomites are recruiters and you know who they are after? Your children. They are being recruited by the sodomites. They are being molested by the sodomites. They recruit through rape, they recruit through molestation, they recruit through violation.”

“Our country is run by faggots. You know who was the man who was the architect of the bailout? His name is Barney Frank, he is a pedophile…”

“That’s who just sold our country into fascism. That’s who just sold our corporations to the government. That’s who sold out our country, a faggot!”

Read the whole thing - it's pretty special. He advocates, among other things, eating avocadoes and nuts to aid with Bible memorization. With the amount of avocadoes I eat, I should have the entire Bible memorized, plus the Talmud.

Pam Spaulding - bless her - tracked down a video which she posted on Pandagon, in which she notes that the camera never pans over to his congregation. I think it's because there's a guy with a goofy nose juggling. Also a lion tamer. And maybe, like, two congregants. The real comedy starts at about 5:00. Somebody needs to put "Yakety Sax" in the background here - that's really all this video needs.

Friday, August 21, 2009

On Loony Conspiracy Theories

Remember back in 2004, when liberals were accusing the Bush Administration of manipulating the goofy color-coded terror alert system for political gain? And remember how everyone in the mainstream media and on the right pilloried them for being insane conspiracy nuts?

Well, then-DHS Secretary Tom Ridge has a new book coming out that basically admits that this was the case, and that this is what drove him out of the Cabinet. (Ridge basically said the same thing back in 2005, just no one paid attention for some reason.)

Greenwald has fun with it, writing what might be the longest "we told you so" in the history of mankind. It's worth a read, definitely, and Greenwald's point has implications beyond just the terror debate.

Greenwald strongly states that skepticism of the administration is a good thing. This is something conservatives, mainstream commenters, and a sizable chunk of Americans forgot during the Bush years, when the reasoned liberal skepticism of Bush Administration motives and actions got lumped in with the loony ideas from the far left Loose Change crowd. But that's worth remembering now that we're talking about conspiracy theories that surround Obama's health care proposals, and Obama in general.

I've lampooned the "birthers" (people who think Obama was born outside the U.S.) and the "deathers" (people who think Obama's health care plan will establish government-run euthanasia) rather frequently, and with good reason - they have no evidence to back up their conspiracy theories, and indeed the evidence we have completely debunks both theories.

So why are conservatives' conspiracy theories so anti-factual while liberals' "loony" theories about Bush's terror policy tended to be correct (no WMDs, use of torture, political manipulation of the terror alert, etc.)? Well, remember there were some bizarre liberal theories about Bush too. I seem to remember one theory going around that Bush intended to use another terror attack to set up a fascist police state, which doesn't sound too different from some of the crap being thrown around about Obama. Most liberals, however, had the good sense to reject the stupid conspiracy theories that lacked evidence and latch on to the ones that were actually believable. That skepticism was rewarded.

What I'm saying is that we ought to remember that for every silly conspiracy theory out there, there's another conspiracy theory that has some truth to it. And this is the shame of the conservative obsession with the "birther" and "deather" crap. By latching on to conspiracy theories that are so easily debunked, they're missing opportunities to examine the evidence and call bullshit on Obama effectively. We shouldn't trust the Obama administration to tell the truth any more than we trusted the Bush administration, but I really wish conservatives would actually put a little effort into separating lies from truth, because doing so requires lots of time and evidence-gathering, as well as an ability to admit when the evidence just ain't going your way.

And for liberals, this means that conspiracy theories, no matter how goofy, deserve to be debunked thoroughly. We've done a good job dispensing of the "birther" and "deather" lies, but conspiracy theories deserve some sort of respect. Remember, it wasn't that long ago when we were the "loonies" - and as we well know, today's loony is oftentimes tomorrow's Cassandra.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sentencing Fail

Let me get this straight.

Michael Vick got 23 months in jail for dogfighting.

Plaxico Burress just got two years in prison for accidentally shooting himself.

Donte' Stallworth got 26 days in prison for killing someone while driving drunk.

Translation: Killing a dog is way worse than killing a human. But the worst thing you could do is do something stupid to hurt yourself.

What. The. Fuck.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Do I Really Have To Keep Saying This?

OK, people, comparing anyone you disagree with to Hitler is stooooopid. I've said it before and I'll say it again. Stooooopid. Stupid stupid stupid. Why? Because eventually your brain will turn to mush so much that you'll find yourself shouting "Heil Hitler" at an Israeli describing his country's socialized health care.

Update: More "calling a Jew a Nazi" hilarity, this time from some dumb-shit constituent of Barney Frank. Frank's smackdown is the stuff of legends.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wait, what?

Your Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Story of the Week comes from Balko's Twitter feed: Fake police raid = romance!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Deathers Want To Kill You, Too

You know how Rush and Newt and Governor Failin' are trying to convince you that voluntary government assistance with a living will is somehow a secret plot to kill you on your 80th birthday? Yeah, well, according to Rachel Maddow, they're all in on it:
Can't sleep. The death panels will eat me.

Bonus link: that Matt Taibbi post Maddow references is here. If you're concerned about Maddow's use of ellipses, don't worry - the full quote makes Gingrich look worse.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yep, Hate Still Exists, Vol. III

Also this. Still in the "yahoo with spray paint" category, but still scary. I think with the health care debate rapidly going off the rails (hello, "death squads"), it's time to revisit this post from earlier in the year.

Yep, Hate Still Exists, Vol. II

And this time, it goes way higher than some idgit with a can of spray paint. Take a bow, Iowa Governor Chet Culver...
Gov. Chet Culver weighed in on the controversial Des Moines bus ad that has been yanked after multiple complaints.

“I was disturbed, personally, by the advertisement and I can understand why other Iowans were also disturbed by the message that it sent,” Culver said.
OK, that doesn't sound hateful, right? Well, Brayton has an image of the ad in question. "Disturbing" is perhaps the least appropriate word for the ad, which simply informs atheistic Iowans that other Iowans share their views. No challenge to anyone's faith, no confrontation, nothing. Just a sign saying there are other atheists out there.

See what Culver did there? He's "disturbed" that atheists exist, and that they're proud enough to proclaim this fact. Worse, he thinks it's okay that other Iowans were "disturbed" by this fact as well. That's bigotry, pure and simple, and any attempt to call it anything else is putting lipstick on a pig.

I've often said that hatred for atheists is America's last socially acceptable bigotry. In my mind, it's also the most incomprehensible. Hatreds for African-Americans, Jews, and immigrants are fairly easy to explain in terms of power and culture - white Americans, especially poor ones, can feel threatened by the upward mobility of people from groups supposedly lower in social status. Furthermore, most of these groups have significantly different cultural practices that makes them easy to "otherize," fear, and hate.

But there's no power struggle with atheists. It challenges no one's social status for someone else to proclaim that God doesn't exist. There isn't a huge cultural difference between your average Christian and their atheist neighbor, except for what goes on for a few hours on Sunday morning. And yet, while it's okay for Christians to put up billboards encouraging others to adopt their religious beliefs, people are "disturbed" by atheists advertising their mere existence. I don't get it. I really don't.

The common thread, I guess, is that all these various hatreds are exploited by people at the top of the power structure who wish to remain there, which makes Culver sort of the heir of Orval Faubus and George Wallace (the bigoted segregationist incarnation) in that sense. Not good company, Chet.

Also: This interesting AlterNet article discusses how, in the Bible Belt, being an atheist involves a "coming-out" process reminiscent of what gay and lesbian Americans have to go through. (Imagine what it would be like to be a Southern gay atheist.) I didn't mention homophobia, which I guess is still socially accepted, but it's becoming less and less so. Recall the University of Hawaii football coach who was suspended for making an anti-gay joke that I'm guessing is fairly common in the sports world. He probably would have been suspended for dropping the N-bomb, but it's a punishable offense now, and that's a baby step towards acceptance at least. Anyway, homophobia is just as incomprehensible to me as anti-atheism, for much the same reasons that I've listed above. Is it progress that our bigotries are getting less based on economic/social factors and more on raw irrational fear? I don't know...

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crazy All These Years

To folks like Sara Robinson who are sounding the alarm about the fear of right-wing fascism, I point you to this little walk down Memory Lane courtesy of Ed Brayton. Yeah, the birthers and the idiots shouting about how Obama's gonna kill Granny are nuts and kinda scary, but this crap's been downright commonplace for centuries.

Oh, and let's not dismiss legitimate concerns over the health care plan's cost and effectiveness just because some schmucks want to yell really loud and make fools of themselves? Kthxbai.

Smell the Fear

Jacob links to this Economist article that looks at our bizarre, screwed up laws regarding a class of erstwhile criminals we've dubbed "sex offenders." We've all heard the stories of people who are mired on sex offender registries for crimes that seem laughably benign, and the Economist goes into all that. But then it reports on a proposed solution from Human Rights Watch:
Human Rights Watch urges America to scale back its sex-offender registries. Those convicted of minor, non-violent offences should not be required to register, says Ms Tofte. Nor should juveniles. Sex offenders should be individually assessed, and only those judged likely to rape someone or abuse a child should be registered. Such decisions should be regularly reviewed and offenders who are rehabilitated (or who grow too old to reoffend) should be removed from the registry. The information on sex-offender registries should be held by the police, not published online, says Ms Tofte, and released “on a need-to-know basis”. Blanket bans on all sex offenders living and working in certain areas should be abolished. Instead, it makes sense for the most dangerous offenders sometimes to face tailored restrictions as a condition of parole.
Eminently reasonable. It's hard to argue against these reforms from a rational perspective. But then again, nothing about this issue is addressed rationally.

For some reason, the issue of sex offenses brings out the fear in all of us. As the father of a 17-month-old daughter, I get it. You're constantly watching out for things that could hurt your child. But the irrationality of fear is astounding. My kid is more likely to die in a playground accident than to be victimized by a sexual predator, yet I still take her to the park. She's more likely to drown in the pool, yet I still take her swimming (or try to - she's not a fan of the water yet). I've taken her to baseball games (flying balls) and soccer games where we sit right behind the net. And yeah, all of these things are a constant fear, but not so that I'd change my routine because of it. And if a guy who had consensual sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend lives within 1000 feet of the park, I'm supposed to be crippled by fear? Anyone who's using their brain knows that's ridiculous.

Clearly it's the presence of sex that deals the death blow to rationality here. Thing is, though, that the worst sort of sexual offenses - rape, child molestation... you know, the ones we're all scared of - have little to do with sex and everything to do with power and control. It's not out-of-control sexual urges that are the culprit; rather, it's the use of those urges to control others that truly concerns us. Our sexualities are so deeply personal that crimes against them should perhaps be punished more severely than other crimes. Indeed, the use of something so deeply personal as a means to control and intimidate us is what makes sex crimes so severe and the specter of their commission such a powerful vehicle for fear. But let's not lose the rationality here. Most of what we call sex crimes are rather benign misdemeanors. Perhaps the 45-year-old teacher who takes advantage of his/her 15-year-old student is a danger, but the student's 19-year-old paramour poses little threat to society. Same goes for the guy who runs around naked on the football field.

More than anything else, provision for a case-by-case determination of what offenses ought to be punished by registration is what is needed here. And the burden should be on the prosecution to explain why registration is necessary to protect society from the offender. And I guess we'll just have to hope that one juror out of twelve can think rationally about this sort of thing.