Hitchens Destroys Straw Man?

Christopher HitchensAs I was watching Jane Siberry videos, YouTube recommended one named Galloway tries to justify 9/11 and gets destroyed by Hitchens. I don’t off hand know who Galloway is, but I get the picture. Did he “justify” 9/11? Who knows? He may have just tried to explain why it happened. To the neocon crowd, there is no distinction between the two. And I’m sure that Christopher Hitchens’ argument would be the same either way. Hitchens was a brilliant man, but to say that he had a huge blind spot when it came to these issues, is a great understatement. What’s more, it was clear in the last decade of his life that he was a racist. The fact that many humanist to this day hold him in high esteem is mind boggling.

But very briefly, I want to take on the case. No reasonable person would ever justify 9/11. And I have no clear memory of ever hearing anyone justify it. But too many people in the United States want to claim that 9/11 is simply the work of fanatics and it had nothing to do with our policies. And these very same people support our blanket killing program. We kill people in Afghanistan based upon suspicious behavior that has never been explained to the American people. And I’m sure that in 50 years when the documents that explain what constitutes such suspicious behavior are released, we will learn that it is a lot of generic stuff that doubtless killed far more innocents than anyone else.

My point is that of course 9/11 is an indefensible attack on innocent people. But our nation has also been in the business of killing innocent people all over the world for my entire lifetime. That too is indefensible. And 9/11 does not give us just cause to kill innocent people. There is never just cause for killing innocent people. And regardless, we were killing innocent people long before 9/11.

The funny thing is that pre-9/11 Christopher Hitchens understood this. And he never repudiated his old opinions. So he could kind of get away with claiming that our bombing campaigns were based upon the “war” started on 9/11. But most people have the same opinions both before and after 9/11. So the question is where do these people stand? Either it was okay for the terrorist to attack us on 9/11 or our many acts of modern warfare on civilian populations were wrong. For me, it is very clear: they are both wrong. But sadly, for most Americans and almost all conservatives, any act of aggression is right as long as we are the aggressors.

So I just watched the beginning of the video and it does appear that Galloway is not saying that the 9/11 attacks were justified. He’s only saying they didn’t come about in a vacuum. But I can’t watch any more because after saying that, the audience started going crazy. An individual has no problem understanding that a pedestrian crossing against the light does not justify a motorist running him down; but it does at least partly explain it. Put a hundred people together and they can’t understand the distinction. Apparently, they think the only way we can have moral authority is if our hands are completely clean. When people think like this, they never mature. The same is true for societies.

Claying Around with Art Clokey

Art ClokeyOn this day in 1872, the great British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was born. He is a very distinctive composer that I’ve never really been able to peg. Wikipedia quotes John Alexander Fuller Maitland as saying, “One is never quite sure whether one is listening to something very old or very new.” I don’t totally agree. Stylistically, he was not ever on the cutting edge. But I now see that as largely the correct approach for a composer to take. Despite all that we have been through in music over the last century, Williams is still deeply edifying. And that’s true both as a listener and as a musician. I remember in college, his work was really difficult to play, even though it didn’t have much in the way of “fireworks.” It required great care, but was very rewarding for the effort. Here is perhaps his best known work, the hauntingly beautiful Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis:

The very great singer-songwriter Jane Siberry is 58 today. I’ve seen her in concert a number of times. She’s absolutely fabulous. And she’s made all of her catalog of albums available for free download. I recommend checking out her first couple of albums. All of them are good, but she has become more and more musically challenging over time. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t check them out. But unlike too many popular artists, Siberry has been on a journey her whole career, and I think listeners are best taking that journey with her. Start with the first album. She brings you along gently. The following song is from her third album, The Speckless Sky. It is “The Taxi Ride” and it is one of the best expressions of what it is like to end a relationship. “It’s a long long lonely ride to find the perfect lover for your lover and the morning light’s just breaking.”

Other birthdays: French scholar Jacques Sirmond (1558); inventor Elmer Ambrose Sperry (1860); comedian Dick Gregory (81); musician Samuel David Moore (78); actor Hugh Jackman (45); and really fucked up professional Christian Kirk Cameron.

The day, however, belongs to the great Art Clokey who was born on this day in 1921. (His 90th birthday was the occasion for a great Google Doodle.) He was a pioneer of stop motion clay animation or claymation, best known for The Gumby Show. His career started in 1953 with the short animated film Gumbasia. It’s pretty rudimentary compared to what he was doing a decade later. I think people of my age tend to misremember Clokey’s work because growing up we were introduced to a great deal of weak claymation. I remember being shocked at how great the work of Aardman Animations (e.g. Wallace & Gromit) was in the 1990s. And it was! But it wasn’t that much better than what Clokey was doing 30 years earlier. Here is a beautiful and charming episode of The Gumby Show, “A Hair Raising Adventure”:

Happy birthday Art Clokey!

Conservatives Eager to Hate Obama

Fox Not NewsEven by Fox News standards, this is incredible. And note, this happens all the time in conservative media. But last Saturday, Fox News reported a satirical news story on National Report as real news. (See the video below.) What’s going on is that conservatives really do believe their own rhetoric. They think that Obama is the anti-Christ. How else do you explain believing a headline like this, Obama Uses Own Money To Open Muslim Museum Amid Government Shutdown? And even if you, as a reader, believed it, how does a reporter just believe it without checking it in the least?

As I mention all the time (conservatives especially get confused), I am not a reporter. Yet whenever I read anything interesting enough to write about, the first thing I do is search Google to see how other people are reporting on it. In this case, apparently some Fox News producer saw the article and didn’t think twice. It was too delicious. And note the way it was reported by Anna Kooiman, “President Obama has offered to pay out of his own pocket for the Museum of Muslim Culture … yet it’s the Republican National Committee who’s paying for [the veterans’ memorial].” That’s fair and balanced, God damn it!

If the Fox News producers had looked on the internet, they probably would have found a 3 October article from Free Republic, tellingly titled, (Satire) Obama Uses Own Money To Open Muslim Museum Amid Government Shutdown. In fact, on the morning of that Fox News broadcast, the top Google search for that headline yielded, MORE FAKE NEWS: Obama Uses Own Money to Open Muslim Museum at About.com’s Urban Legends section.

Or they could have simply looked at the bottom of any page on National Report. They all say:

DISCLAIMER: The National Report is an online portal for “citizen journalists”. The views expressed by writers on this site are theirs alone and are not reflective of the fine journalistic and editorial integrity of National Report. Advice given is NOT to be construed as professional. If you are in need of professional help, please consult a professional. National Report is not intended for children under the age of 18.

What’s especially sad is that Fox News wasn’t alone. Most of the articles as of the day of the Fox News report were conservative websites proclaiming the outrage that Obama was using his own money to keep the museum open. Is it any wonder that conservatives hate Obama so much when they get “news” of this quality?

Baby Goes Gay

Gay Baby The Onion • ISSUE 49•22

EDMOND, OK—Following weeks of deliberation during which he carefully considered what sort of life he wanted for himself, 4-month-old baby Nathan Reynolds announced Wednesday that he had decided to be homosexual.

“I thought about it for a long time,” said Reynolds, who took into account both how his peers would view him and how he would be treated by society at large before determining his sexual orientation. “I weighed the pros and cons of homosexuality, and ultimately I decided that it was the right thing for me.”

The 16-week-old infant, who admitted that he was fully aware of the negative consequences associated with choosing to be attracted to members of the same sex, claimed that he was now prepared to go through life struggling with rejection, intolerance, and unprovoked hostility.

You can read the rest at The Onion, where you will notice that MY choice of pilfered baby photo is far superior and à propos, pardon my French.

GOP Negotiation Feint Ends

Paul Ryan - Reagan 2.0The House negotiations with Obama have broken down. Despite everything that people have been saying, this really isn’t a surprise. The standard narrative was that the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll freaked out the Republicans and caused them try to end the crisis that they’ve created. I agree that the poll pushed the Republicans into action, but only to limit the damage. They worked with Obama so they could get some good press. And it worked. Last night, MSNBC gave the Republicans fairly positive, if triumphalist, coverage. Now the GOP can hope that the polls will move in their direction, or maybe even that the Senate will save them.

Yesterday, Jonathan Chait nailed what was going on. No one I know of is as keen an observer of Paul Ryan as he is. And when he saw that Ryan was heading up these negotiations, he called foul, Paul Ryan’s Ridiculously Unfair Deal. The crux of the deal is that Obama would agree to cuts (“reforms”) in entitlements and the Republicans would agree to to suspend the Sequester. This is classic Paul Ryan.

I’ve known a lot of people like Ryan. They are smart, but not real smart. As a result of this, they over estimate their own cleverness and underestimate that of their opponents. But it isn’t just lack of brilliance. It is also arrogance. As much as I may have problems with Obama, I would never think I could run a blatant con on him. And that is what Ryan was doing.

To begin with, the whole Grand Bargain is a trap. It is a way for Republicans to get Democrats to cut Social Security. Most of the Republicans still wouldn’t vote for such a thing. So at the next election, the Republicans could scream, “Democrats cut your Social Security!” So Ryan might want to broker such a deal, but when it came down to it, even he wouldn’t vote for it.

But as Chait examples, it is much worse than that. Ending the Sequester would be a temporary measure that is renewed year to year. Changes to entitlements would be permanent. So Republicans could get their entitlement cuts forever in exchange for increased discretionary spending they could kill whenever they were back in power. A real bargain would be what Obama wants: permanent entitlement cuts for permanent tax increases. Even that’s a terrible idea, but at least it is somewhat equivalent. What’s more, over half the Sequester cuts are to military spending, which the Republicans are at least as keen to stop as the Democrats. But Paul Ryan, with his little brain and great big ego, figured he could slip this all past the president without anyone noticing.

So now it all goes back to the Senate, where we will probably get a clean continuing resolution for a year and a few month Debt Ceiling raise in return for an end to the medical device tax, that many Democratic politicians are eager for anyway. It’s not the worst deal. But it still provides the Republicans with positive encouragement to misbehave. Still, I’m inclined to take it. The problem is that allowing a debt default (In only 5 days!) would create a shock to our economic system. I’d like to think it would mean the end of the Republican Party. But it could actually make the party far more powerful. A bad economy was what allowed the relatively marginal Nazi Party to come to power in Germany. A 12% unemployment rate could cause the Tea Party to gain power, even though they were the ones who created it!

These are dangerous times. And the conservatives playing this dangerous game are not patriots. But sadly, that really does give them power.

Wind Power Heats the Earth

Joe BartonWind is God’s way of balancing heat. Wind is the way you shift heat from areas where it’s hotter to areas where it’s cooler. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? Now, I’m not saying that’s going to happen, Mr. Chairman, but that is definitely something on the massive scale. I mean, it does make some sense. You stop something, you can’t transfer that heat, and the heat goes up. It’s just something to think about.

Joe Barton