Increased Storms Sign of… End Times

Polar BearsOver the weekend, I discussed the way that atheists often fetishize science and overstate its power. But better that than the total disregard for any inconvenient science that gets in the way of the religious fundamentalists’ Iron Age dogma. And pity the once great empire that relies on such nonsense to govern itself. It will find itself needing to relearn how to smelt metal. Good people of America, I offer for your consideration and concern: Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.

Inhofe is known for his highly publicized claims that global warming is a hoax. Does he actually know any science? Of course not! But it doesn’t take much to go to The Heartland Institute website and grab a bunch of cherry-picked data and argue that global warming is just a communist plot to trick people into believing collective action is sometimes necessary. (Funny how conservatives never have a problem with the draft!) But Inhofe’s interest is not in the modern science but in the “science” of the 6th century BC.

Earlier this month, Right Wing Watch caught Inhofe on Crosstalk, a show on Voice of Christian Youth America. He explained that climate change just couldn’t be happening because God wouldn’t allow it. Again, this is because an Iron Age book, put together by countless writers, tells him so:

Genesis 8:22… is that “as long as the earth remains there will be seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night,” my point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

Three thousand years ago, people told stories around the fire at night. Someone wrote them down after hundreds of years. And James Inhore is now using those stories to explain that science is just a great big hoax. It’s an entirely typical game that he is playing. The fundamentalists know that they can’t be honest and just admit that they believe what they believe because they learned it in Sunday school when they were six. Instead, they pretend to do science. It is despicable.

If this isn’t depressing enough, Digby brought my attention to a recent Public Religion Research Institute poll. It asked what they thought the reason was for increased storms. Among white evangelicals, 49% said that they thought it was due to global warming. That’s actually pretty good. But here’s the freaky part: 77% thought that it was a sign of the End Times. This would not be a problem if these people were living in a cave somewhere. But they probably vote more consistently than readers of this blog. I think I might make a bumper sticker, “I’m a religious freak: And I vote!

I’m sure if you asked Joni Ernst, the new Iowa Senator-elect, she would provide the same answer. But for the media to report on her extremist views during the campaign would have been rude. So the media do what they always do: error on the ride of allowing right wing extremists to get away with everything. After all, there was reporting to be done on her challenger’s fight with his neighbors over chickens. We’ve got to stay focused on what’s important. And the fourth estate knows what’s important: total nonsense. But don’t worry: it will all work out fine. If you’re super rich.

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How About a Democratic Defense Secretary?

Chuck HagelNow that Chuck Hagel is on his way out as Defense Secretary, maybe we can revisit the whole question of why our New Democratic heroes are so fond of appointing Republicans to this post. It’s a really bad idea from a political standpoint. It implies that Republicans are better when it comes to the art of war. This is totally refuted by looking at how Republicans actually do manage our wars. But the people can be forgiven if they think, “Well even Democratic presidents think Republicans are best for the job; Republicans must really be better than Democrats!”

This has been going on for a while. The Secretary of Defense for Bill Clinton’s entire second term was a Republican, William Cohen. And then when Obama came into office, he just couldn’t find a capable Democrat, so he stuck with Bush’s choice, Robert Gates. (Sadly, that was not the only way that Obama followed the lead of Bush.) After leaving office, he used the opportunity to snipe at the administration. Then Obama picked conservative Democrat Leon Panetta for the job. He stayed a short period of time before leaving office so he too could snipe at the administration. So Obama put Hagel in the position, again, saying to the world that Democrats know nothing about war and must depend upon Republicans. I can’t wait for Hagel’s book where he snipes at the administration.

Obama NopeAs I wrote at the time of Hagel’s nomination, “Obama cares more about his legacy than he does the legacy of his party.” It’s always the same with the New Democrats. Their constituencies are not, you know, the people who voted for them. Those silly people probably think that electing a Democrat means they would get a Democratic cabinet and liberal governance. But instead, Obama and company care about the kind of Very Serious People that brought us the DLC of the 1990s and “third way” today. Obama explicitly wanted a “team of rivals” like Lincoln had. (Apparently, Obama had read a book.) In his immature way, Obama seemed to think that this is what made Lincoln great. Forget all the Civil War and slavery stuff. People remember Lincoln because he made William Seward his Secretary of State.

So the question is naturally raised, “Could we have a Democratic Defense Secretary now?” And I really don’t know. Will the Senate be willing to confirm any Obama appointment? I’m really not sure. But it would be nice if Obama at least was willing to nominate a Democrat. But he might try to nominate another Republican, hoping to woo Republican support. But that didn’t go all that well last time. Not that it would stop Obama. Constantly hoping that the Republicans will behave is one of his main strategies.

If the people choose a Republican President in 2016, maybe it won’t be that bad. There is, at least, a kind of truth in advertising. We can depend that at least his cabinet will be filled with Republicans. And if there is any exception, it will be something low-profile like the Secretary of Transportation. Maybe after a few elections like that the New Democrats will learn that their economic conservatism, with its “split the difference” on everything else, is not popular. Regardless, in the distant future, historians will not write Team of Rivals about Obama; they will write, “Opportunity Squandered.”

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Chris Christie’s “Tough Guy” Shtick

Chris ChristieThe thing that impresses me about Chris Christie is how he manages to have the reputation of an brave truth-teller while being as craven a politician as there is. I still remember his big Bridgegate press conference where he was gentle as a lamb. What’s really going on with him is just the manipulation of power. He knows better than other politicians what power he has and just what he can get away with. As such, it speaks poorly of people and people in New Jersey specifically that they buy his act. When I call him a bully, I don’t say it lightly. I call him that because he attacks the powerless. He’s never stood up to a powerful person or institution in his life.

It’s interesting that New Jersey should be so associated with The Sopranos. It is a relatively accurate presentation of the mob as a bunch of thugs who feed on the weak. And that is what Christie is all about. The fact that he wears a nice suit and has a law degree doesn’t change anything. In fact, that is the traditional form that thugs take. Christie just adds the yelling and the tough guy act and the people eat it up. But we all know that if Christie were around real tough guys he’d be groveling and asking if he could polish their shoes.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo provided an update on one of Christie’s most recent acts of “tough guy” politics, More on Christie’s Ditched Ebola Policy. You may remember earlier this month when Christie quarantined nurse Kaci Hickox. It was hugely popular, because once again, the people of New Jersey believed his brave truth-teller act even though the decision was pure demagoguery.

Along with locking Hickox in a cage for three days, Christie came up with a whole plan to deal with the Ebola crisis that wasn’t happening. Big plans were made. But once Christie got credit for “being tough” the whole project was abandoned. Susan Livio at NJ explained, NJ Police Force Earned 500-Plus Hours of Overtime Guarding Empty Hospital for Ebola Quarantine. It was all a political stunt, which is pretty much all that Christie does:

[PBA Local 113 Attorney Stuart] Alterman called the Hagedorn assignment “an impulsive way to deal with an acute situation that was neither planned very well or executed very well.” He said officers in the 94-member police force were concerned and frustrated they were provided no training to respond in the event a quarantined person become ill.

This morning, Jim Newell wrote an appropriate article over at Salon, No, Chris Christie Isn’t “Back”: Why He May Be Confident, but His Moment Has Passed. It discusses a front page profile by Mark Leibovich in The New York Times magazine:

What Leibovich’s piece omits all mention of is a useful metric for determining whether people do get tired of Christie’s schtick after it loses its novelty. Perhaps — a look at the public opinion polls of New Jersey residents? A late-October survey registered Christie’s statewide approval at 41 percent. That’s low.

It’s nice to think that the people of New Jersey are waking up to Christie’s shtick. I’m not convinced. The people of New Jersey seem to be deluded about who they are, and Christie is very good at using that. Just the same, I’ve never felt that Christie’s act would play in Iowa where it would just be seen as nasty (which it is). Still, given a bad economy in 2016, Christie could easily become president. That would be bad from a policy standpoint, and you can well imagine him turning the White House into a Nixon-like crime headquarters. But more than that, I don’t think I could take years of Christie’s act on the national stage.

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Marie Bashkirtseff

Marie BashkirtseffOn this day in 1858, the great Ukrainian painter Marie Bashkirtseff was born. The reason you have probably never heard of her is that she died of tuberculosis when she was only 25 years old. But she was a master. She was an admirer of Jules Bastien-Lepage, although I think she shows greater technique. What I especially like about her is that depending upon the work, she can use the finest of brush strokes while at other times using very crude strokes as found with the impressionists. Of course, she is of that time and Bastien-Lepage was an influence on the movement.

Bashkirtseff is also known as a diarist and sculptor — probably because we have so little of her work. She died in Paris on Halloween in 1884. Normally, I would provide a bit of her work. But I found this excellent three-minute video that gives a very nice overview of her work — even including one of her sculptures. She was an amazing talent.

Happy birthday Marie Bashkirtseff!

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Yet Another Murder Exoneration — After 39 Years

Ricky Jackson Leaving PrisonThe most repetitive story in America never gets boring. You know the one. The police pick up some guy and decide he committed a murder. The guy is always poor and almost always dark skinned. So the police get someone to lie or do so themselves. And then decades later, he is exonerated. It’s so much nicer than the much more common story that is the same except for the end, “And the state put him to death despite many problems with the case.” Now we have the story of Ricky Jackson and Wiley Bridgeman — two men released from the Ohio prison system on Friday after 39 years behind bars. Because Jackson was in a bit longer, he now holds the record for the longest time spent in jail before being exonerated. I assume Bridgeman holds the record for the second longest.

This case is especially bad because the police used a 12-year-old boy, Eddie Vernon, to do their dirty work. The crime was a very brutal convenience store robbery. But as usual:

There was no evidence linking the three men to the crime. Vernon said that once he told authorities the names of the three and the fact that he saw the slaying, Cleveland police fed him information about the crime and what happened.

But here’s an excellent additional example of our criminal justice system. Wiley Bridgeman was paroled back in 2000. But he didn’t stay out long:

In a chance meeting just months after leaving prison, he ran into Vernon. The two talked, and Vernon testified this week that he asked for Bridgeman’s forgiveness.

Someone saw the two men together and told Vernon that he must report the meeting to Bridgeman’s parole officer, as Bridgeman was told he could not meet with any witnesses in the case. Bridgeman was soon sent back to prison for a parole violation.

The question on my mind is why we see this over and over again, yet nothing happens. We have a broken criminal justice system where prosecutors have almost unlimited power and the police have little regard for the truth. And none of them are ever held accountable. These two men were convicted on the say-so of a child with no other evidence. That’s something more tha just laziness and incompetence. That’s villainy.

These two men also spent time on death row. I bring this up because whenever I talk to a death penalty supporter, they always think that death penalty cases are air tight. But in that, they are usually like this case: based upon almost nothing other than the fact that the defendants are poor and can’t mount a good defense.

This is justice in America, folks. It is despicable. And we do nothing about it because judges, prosecutors, and police offers have nothing to fear from being too harsh. Is it any wonder that we treat the weak as though they were animals?

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Illegal Immigration Is Not Just About the Border

Scared RepublicansI heard from my father that the Fox News ranters have been talking about our double plus good border fence. You know the one: the double fence mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The Republicans have been really mad that the fence was never completed. The problem is that the fence is estimated to cost more than four billion dollars and the Republicans never allocated money to pay for it. But that’s perfect for them. They don’t actually want to do anything about illegal immigration. They know the business community (Along with all those rich people with all those big lawns to mow!) wants those undocumented workers. So they can maintain the current situation while demagoguing the the issue on Fox News. “If the president really cared about our immigration problem, he’d build the double plus good border fence!” And that leaves the Fox News viewer outraged that yet again, Obama just won’t enforce our immigration laws!

There is a bigger problem here other than the usual Republican disingenuousness. The truth is that enormous numbers of undocumented residents did not come here illegally. Let’s start with the fact that not all undocumented people come from Mexico. The fraction is high, but probably not as high as most people think: 59%. What’s more, 15% come from five countries way across the big ocean: Philippines, India, Korea, China, and Vietnam. In total, perhaps 40% of all undocumented residents in the United States came legally and simply stayed.

Think about this. It is estimated that there are 11.4 million undocumented residents in the United States. To listen to Republicans on the subject, no undocumented population is acceptable. But if we closed down the border and didn’t allow anyone through, we would still have 4.6 million undocumented people living here. The fewer people in the country illegally, the harder it is to find them. So we are always going to have large absolute numbers of people here illegally. The only way to avoid that is to turn the United States into the kind of prison that communist China was during the Cultural Revolution. I realize that there are certain conservatives who would be all for this and that Fox News could doubtless convince a third of the country that we must do this. But it isn’t a good idea and I doubt the American people would stand for it. (But it wouldn’t shock me if they did!)

The reasonable way to look at our undocumented population is to start by deciding what we will accept. How big a population is acceptable? Currently, 3.6% of our population is undocumented. That actually doesn’t sound that bad. And that is probably why people always shout about eleven million illegal immigrants! If 1.5% is an acceptable target, then all this focus on the double plus good border fence makes a certain amount of sense. But I do not think that the immigration hysterics who rant about 11.4 million people would change at all if the number were 4.6 million. That’s why I think it is important to find out what level of illegal immigration they think is acceptable.

There will always be undocumented residents in any country that has trading relations with other countries. I’d like to see what Republican politicians have to say about this. Because I know that the Republican base is not going to think that almost five million undocumented residents is acceptable. This will be yet another case where Republicans are demagoguing an issue with no ideas as to what they would do. The demagoguing is the product. And it fits in perfectly with the Republican base’s thinking. It is a kind of magic thinking that believes that with enough will to succeed, everything will be accomplished. All we have to do is line up tens of millions of border patrol agents on the southern border and there will be no illegal immigration. What will they think when they learn this is just half the problem? Well, they will never learn that as long as we allow Republican politicians to pretend that illegal immigration is all about the US-Mexico border.


There is one solution to the undocumented residents. We could allow our economy to become so terrible that there is no opportunity here and our citizens go to other countries looking for jobs. This is what Republican and New Democratic economic policy is bringing to the United States. So maybe it is wrong to say that the conservatives don’t have an immigration plan.

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New Atheists and Non-Overlapping Magisteria

Stephen Jay GouldIn 1997, Stephen Jay Gould published an essay, “Non-Overlapping Magisteria.” In it, he posited the idea that there was no conflict between religion and science because they dealt with different things. For example, religion was concerned with questions of morals and existence — issues on which science had no opinion. One could question this on the moral front, where science actually has a lot to say about many of our morals. But the obvious counterargument is that religion isn’t really concerned with morality as find it but rather morality as we ought to find it. On the issue of existence, science really does have nothing of value to add, although sadly most atheists can’t seem to understand that.

I’ve always seen Gould’s essay as more a plea to religions to stay on their own ground. One of my great frustrations in dealing with theists is their reliance on Iron Age myths for their science. So they think that Genesis is literally true. But claims like humans being created originally in their current form and the Grand Canyon being formed by the great flood are not religious claims; they are scientific claims. Not only do these fanciful stories soil science, they also make religious people stupid in a theological sense.

Recently, the atheist community has begun to attack the idea behind Non-Overlapping Magisteria. In fact, they are so outspoken about it, I had assumed that I had missed something — that there was some critical flaw with the idea. But then I came upon the following video by Hemant Mehta. In general, I like his work. But on this video, he shows his smug atheist colors. I take special offense to one line, “If you are a devoutly religious person, and one who accepts the scientific method, something’s gotta give.” Ugh!

I am greatly concerned about the way the atheist community fetishizes the scientific method. They seem to have learned about this in high school science class and decided it was The Truth™. I noticed this same thing in the first episode of the new Cosmos. Neil deGrasse Tyson said that even though Giordano Bruno was right about stars just being other solar systems, he wasn’t a scientist. Why? Apparently because he never proved that it was true. He just had an intuition. This is an enormous error of thought. It mistakes the scientific process for what any given scientist does. What Bruno did was no different from what Einstein or Maxwell or Newton did.

The High School Science Class MethodWhat Mehta is getting at is that people who accept the “scientific method” only believe things that have been proved. This is patently false. What it means in practice is that atheists believe in the current state of science. Hooray for that! But most issues are not this clear. When it comes to the murky waters of economics or child rearing, do atheists really use the “scientific method” or do they just go with their gut? We all know the answer to that regardless of what some iconoclastic atheist might say.

There is one issue on which science has no opinion: ontology. And here I’m not just talking about the fact that science has no answers. Science is not designed to answer questions that exist outside the realm of existence itself. But I’ll admit: maybe some day science will have answers. But given the fundamental paradox of existence, it seems unlikely. But until then, science has no answer. And to expect people to simply have no opinion on such a fundamental question until science does have an answer is just silly.

I think that the Non-Overlapping Magisteria concept is just what we need today. I’ve already mentioned how religions soil science by applying their Iron Age myths to scientific questions. But atheists have a strong tendency to soil religion by applying scientific answers to theological questions. The ultimate example of this is Lawrence Krauss’ facile ontological answer, “Nothing is unstable.” It’s a perfectly fine scientific answer to why universes form. Similarly, the big bang is a perfectly fine scientific answer. And if we ever manage to show that our universe is part of a multiverse, that too will be perfectly fine scientific answer. But people who are interested in the ultimate question of why anything exists at all will not be satisfied with these answers.

From my perspective, there is one and only one question that is beyond the conceivable reach of science. But it is the biggest question there is. And atheists do themselves no good by pretending (1) that the question doesn’t matter and (2) that eventually science will answer it. And the idea that science has answered it is just fatuous. Atheists need the idea of Non-Overlapping Magisteria. Stephen Jay Gould was a lot smarter than the leaders of the New Atheist movement.

See also: Non-Overlapping Magisteria Helps Theists and Atheists


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Ever to the Right Democrats!

Thomas FrankCarter’s vice president, Walter Mondale, ran for the presidency in 1984 on a platform that The New York Times called “bluntly conservative,” a “turn to [the] right,” because it promised spending cuts and higher taxes in order to deal with the federal deficit. Yet, after Mondale lost — in a landslide even worse than Carter’s — the verdict among pundits and Democratic strategists was well-nigh unanimous: The party had to cut its ties to what were then called “special interests” (meaning labor and African-Americans) and find its way to the center.

On and on it went. The Democratic presidential candidate in 1988, Michael Dukakis, seemed like a centrist’s dream, a post-partisan problem-solver who famously refused to call himself a liberal until the race was as good as lost. Once he had been good and properly floored by George Bush senior, however, the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, high priests of the move-to-the-right postmortem, found it convenient to make Dukakis the symbol of everything they despised.

Bill Clinton, though, won elections; therefore: Visionary! Meaningful! A champion of the “vital center”! Except for when Bill Clinton didn’t win elections (like in the mid-terms in 1994, after getting the Republicans’ beloved NAFTA passed); in which case: Hie thee to the center, lib’rul! Al Gore, a DLC centrist of impeccable credentials, lost his bid in 2000; therefore: Populism discredited for all time.

Barack Obama presented the mythmakers with a challenge. On the one hand, he is obviously a fellow worshiper at the pundits’ post-partisan shrine, and his efforts to conciliate the GOP and be nice to Wall Street have sometimes been enough to make one wince with shame. On the other hand, the right has always regarded him as a socialist and maybe even a Satanist. So, what is a pundit to make of him?

Well, duh: the same as always. When Obama succeeds, it is yet another triumph for centrism, even when Obama pulls off the win by going “populist,” as he did against Mitt Romney. When Obama’s team loses, as came to pass earlier this month, the man suddenly no longer represents the “center” at all; now he has supposedly led his party into the wilderness of the left. This is asserted even though the man didn’t do anything significant to speak of between the 2012 and 2014 elections.

—Thomas Frank
Phony Spin Even Fox News Won’t Buy


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Robert Towne

Robert TowneThe great screenwriter Robert Towne is 80 years old today. I know, I know: another screenwriter?! But I quite like Towne. Most especially, I like him for Chinatown, which is a great screenplay and a great movie. In Hollywood, he is probably best known as a “script doctor.” He is legend for all the films he has helped fix. I can’t really comment on that. I tend to think that kind of stuff is anti-art. For example, he was brought in to work on Crimson Tide. But really, what major screenwriter in Hollywood was not brought in to work on that film?

The only films that I’m really sure he was the primary writer on were Shampoo and the second Mission: Impossible film. The first Mission: Impossible film is probably more typical of what Towne is paid extremely well to do. After going through a number of screenwriters, the production didn’t have much of a script. Brian De Palma (the guy who made good films at one time) put together a few action sequences in pre-production, so Towne took David Koepp’s basic story line (What?! Team leader double crosses team?) and De Palma’s action sequences and created some kind of a structure. In the end, the film almost seems like it makes sense.

Mission: Impossible II makes a lot more sense. It is riddled with Hollywood movie cliches and its most clever plot twist is so unbelievable that it would make Stan Lee wince. But it is a good vehicle for John Woo and probably as good a thing as he did in America. But it does highlight something unpleasant: being a writer for hire is probably the perfect thing for Robert Towne.

But sometimes a great craftsman gets the perfect project and great art is born. And that is the case with Chinatown. Actually, The Two Jakes is a great script too. It shows that having a great director is also important though. Towne did some directing too. Nothing worth mentioning. Let’s forget all that and just watch a little Chinatown. The following scene brings together three ideas that are very important to me: (1) money is a self-aggrandizing game for the powerful; (2) under the right circumstances, people are capable of anything; and (3) the powerful are far more likely to be evil than the weak.

Happy birthday Robert Towne!

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Fernwood 2 Night

Fernwood 2 NightI’ve noticed that YouTube is overflowing with quite good copies of the late 1970s television show, Fernwood 2 Night. When I was a kid, I thought it was a big deal. But I was wrong. It only played for 65 episodes during the summer of 1977. Then they did another 65 episodes in the fall of 1978 in a “national” format as America 2-Night. But I’m often impressed with just how good my taste was as a young boy. I don’t recall fully understanding the show, but I certainly understood that it was something hip and generally silly enough to enjoy.

The show had a strange birthing process. It all started with the comedic soap opera Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. I don’t know a lot about the show because it was far too dry for my young brain. Consider the following dialog from the first episode:

Loretta: She said, you know that new family over there, the Lombardies? And I said, well, no, I hadn’t met ‘em yet. She says, well you should have met them while you had the chance. Because they’re gone now. Somebody just shot ‘em all.

Mary: Oh my God. The whole family?

Loretta: All five of ‘em plus two goats and eight chickens.

Mary: I can’t believe it. What kind of madman would shoot two goats and eight chickens? [Pause.] And the people. The people, of course.

Funny stuff and throughout the episode, everyone seems more focused on the goats and chickens than the family. But after a year, Louise Lasser left the show. So they changed the show to Forever Fernwood, which ran for a half year with all the same characters except for Mary Hartman. And then they changed it to, Fernwood 2 Night — a local talk show.

Fernwood 2 Night was hosted by Barth Gimble, who is the brother of Garth Gimble, a wife beater on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Both characters were played by Martin Mull. Fernwood 2 Night is still pretty dry fare. But it is spiced up with Mull’s sarcasm and Fred Willard clueless silliness. The show also has Happy Kyne, as the band leader — played as dour as can be by Frank De Vol. It’s all brilliant.

The first episode is, “Talk to a Jew.” In addition to the titular segment, it also has Bruce Mahler as Howard Palmer playing piano while in an iron lung, which in addition to being offensively funny is also kind of amazing. I think you can find most of the other episodes on YouTube at this time. That also goes for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and America 2-Night as well.

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