Daily Archives: 01 Nov 2014

The Sad State of Christian Persecution

Christian PersecutionVia Steve Benen, I learned the exciting news that Republicans Trent Franks and EW Jackson believe that American Christians are under attack. There is a “profound threat” not just to Christianity but to the mythical “Christian foundations in this country.” What’s more, Jackson asked Franks the important “Woe is me!” question, “What is the level of threat, as you see it, compared to where Christians are in terms of perceiving that threat… with this drumbeat of atheism that attacks everything, ‘get the cross down,’ ‘don’t show a Bible,’ ‘don’t wear a cross,’ ‘don’t say God bless you’? It just seems like every day we’re hearing some new effort to try to shut Christians up and shut us down.” Franks responds that this list of Christian abuse is “so right.”

What’s so pathetic about this is Christian persecution is mostly a myth. While it is true that early Christians were fed to the lions and similarly abused, they were not treated this way because they were Christians. They were treated this way because they broke the law. In some cases, Christians appear to have engaged in terrorism as a way of hastening the second coming. There is no evidence that gentle, law-abiding Christians were being martyred for their beliefs.

But Christians have long believed this myth, so over the years we’ve seen any number Christians force martyrdom on themselves. And usually this was in the cause of one set of Christians versus another. For example, Joan of Arc, was not murdered by some unwashed people; she was murdered by fellow Christians. And that’s generally been the case: Christians persecute each other as well as the unwashed. That’s something that most Christians don’t want to admit: even allowing the myth of persecution, for the vast majority of it’s history, Christianity has been the persecutor, not the persecuted.

But today, persecution comes really cheep. American Christians aren’t being killed. No! They are being forced to hear retail clerks at Target say “Happy holidays!” instead of “Merry Christmas!” Can you imagine? What a horror! And then nativity scene are not allowed on government property, so they can only been seen on every other street corner. How will the Christians ever get their message out? I mean besides big budget films, television shows, radio, books, loons on the street, billboards, churches everywhere, and of course, all the pushy Christians who come to my door out of a misreading of the Bible? Besides all those things and more, how can the Christians practice their religion?

As of 2011, America is 75% Christian. Yet among conservative Christians, there is a constant attack on them. This, I’m afraid, comes from their status as a dominant majority. I discussed this a couple of years ago, Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas. What’s happened is that Christianity was the default for many years. This wasn’t because Americans were particularly devout. It was just that the Soviet Union was explicitly atheist, so then America had to be a nation of believers. And Christians mistook this for the idea that Christianity is “true” as opposed to all those other religions. So when someone says “Happy Holidays!” it is oppressing Christians because it doesn’t give them special status as believers in The Truth™.

So the next time you hear a Christian whining about how oppressed they are, you know: what they mean is that people aren’t treating them as though they are special. Saint Sebastian had to suffer arrows and then an eventual beating to death. Modern Christians have to suffer a minority not taking their religion as seriously as they do. Oh, the pain!

Waiting for Recovery Is Like Waiting for Godot

Matt O'BrienIn other words, the economy can’t recover on its own, and if it doesn’t soon it might never be able to. We need more inflation, more infrastructure spending, and less tut-tutting about the deficit that, unlike our anemic recovery, isn’t an urgent problem. We need to realize that just waiting for catchup growth is the new waiting for Godot — and we can’t afford for it to not show up.

—Matt O’Brien
This Is Why the Economy Has Fallen and It Can’t Get Up

Matt Taibbi and the Delusion of Silicon Valley

Matt TaibbiI just heard that Matt Taibbi has left First Look Media. It is sad because the magazine he was creating, Racket, sounded like it would be a lot of fun, “His vision was a hard-hitting, satirical magazine in the style of the old Spy that would employ Taibbi’s facility for merciless ridicule, humor, and parody to attack Wall Street and the corporate world.” And apparently, First Look was completely behind that vision. The problem was a clash of cultures that I thought was very funny.

According to the big guns at The Intercept (also a First Look Media publication), it was, “A collision between the First Look executives, who by and large come from a highly structured Silicon Valley corporate environment, and the fiercely independent journalists who view corporate cultures and management-speak with disdain.” I’m really struck by this because this is correct, but the Silicon Valley folks don’t think it is. They think of themselves as incredibly open-minded. They think that all that matters is getting the work done and being skilled. My experience in Silicon Valley is that these firms are more ossified than the stodgiest of corporate behemoths of the past.

I discussed this last year, Unstable Weirdos and Business Success. Businesses do not like brilliant and creative people. They want “team members” and people who don’t upset things. The reason that the business community spends so much time talking about “innovation” and “disruption” is because they don’t actually do these things. Their fascination with the concepts is indicative of their desire to harness them without being affected by them. They want, for example, an employee who will work until two in the morning — but not if that means he won’t be clean-shaven at his desk at nine each morning.

So I can well imagine that Taibbi and First Look was always a questionable idea. For one thing, Taibbi does not strike me as the management kind of guy. He seems more like the kind of person who is completely useless as a leader and a follower. Those two attributes tend to go together. People have the wrong idea about leaders. Great leaders are normally great followers because they accept the idea of hierarchy. But truly idiosyncratic people are usually hopeless as leaders because they have no use for hierarchy. So if First Look really wanted to work with Taibbi, it should have set up a kind of “round table” where he was first among equals.

It’s funny that this is more or less what happened at The Intercept where Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill are running the show with John Cook as editor-in-chief. And even they admit in the article that they had problems of this sort with First Look Media. In fact, Cook and Taibbi seem to have been going through a lot of the same stuff, including a three-month hiring freeze last April — a strange move for a magazine that is being built. (The Intercept launched two months earlier, so it wasn’t quite as big a deal for Cook.) But this was apparently worked out. And then came another decision that strikes me as totally Silicon Valley and very funny:

A few months later, over the summer, Omidyar told employees that he was “re-tooling” the company’s focus and building a laboratory environment to foster the development of new technologies for delivering and consuming news—the idea, he said at the time, was to orient the company more toward “products,” as opposed to “content.”

Let me translate: “We don’t know what to do so we are throwing out a bunch of jargon to justify taking control away from the people doing the work; the hope is that things will somehow work out.” So eventually, First Look Media used an employee complaint (that is widely disputed) about Taibbi yelling at a worker to fire him.

The article — written by Greenwald, Poitras, Scahill, and Cook — took pains to say that they were all happy at The Intercept. But the whole thing doesn’t speak well of the enterprise. I’m sure that as long as The Intercept is growing and profitable, there will be no problem. But fundamentally, it will be treated the way that all media companies are treated. Clearly, the brand is “speaking truth to power.” I’m not sure how profitable that will be. And that is all that matters in Silicon Valley, just as surely as it is in the clothes hanger industry. The only thing that is different is that the people in Silicon Valley are so deluded they think they are different.

Strong Dollar Policy Is Unpatriotic

Larry SummersSecular stagnation is the idea that that the bad times are here by default — the only times we will get full employment is when we have bubbles like those in the housing and high tech markets. The idea is not new, but it has become quite popular for the past year are so since Larry Summers started pushing it. I don’t think there is any real doubt about it, but I haven’t heard anyone discuss what we are going to do about it. And on the right, most people don’t even accept that it is happening.

It’s interesting that Summers should become the man most associated with the concept. He was, after all, one the people in the Clinton administration who pushed the “strong dollar” policy. And a big part of the story of our economic troubles comes from the fact that we continue to pursue this policy. A strong dollar means that we are going to have a trade deficit. As Dean Baker explained, there are only three ways to offset this: business investment, consumer spending, or government spending. Nothing will make businesses invest when there isn’t demand. What we’ve depended on for the last three decades is giving consumers more credit to spend rather than increasing wages; this is morally wrong and unsustainable. And as for government spending, well, Baker put it well, “Unfortunately, our politicians are religiously opposed to budget deficits in the same way that many question evolution.”

What annoys me is that people automatically think that a strong dollar is a good thing. It sounds great, right? But we don’t want a strong dollar; we want a strong economy. A strong dollar allows us to buy a bunch of stuff from outside the country. That’s great if you already have all the money you need. But if, like 99.9% of all Americans, you need a job, then the strong dollar is a very bad thing. A strong dollar creates jobs outside America. Let me just say it: a strong dollar policy is unpatriotic.

Then why is it that all administrations are in favor of a strong dollar? Why was Larry Summers, the new Chicken Little of secular stagnation, so keen on a strong dollar? I don’t know. But I think the cinematic Deep Throat gives us a clue, “Follow the money.” Or as The Dude put it, “It’s like what Lenin said, you look for the person who will benefit, and…” The Dude never completes the thought, but, “You know what I’m trying to say…” So who benefits from the strong dollar policy? That’s pretty obvious: the rich.

What’s annoying about the phrase “strong dollar policy” is that it isn’t Orwellian. It isn’t like the “clear skies initiative,” which was a proposal to pollute more. The strong dollar policy really is what it claims to be. We would all like the dollars we have to be worth as much as possible. The problem is that along with that strong dollar goes a weak economy. It’s an opportunity cost. The people are asked, “Do you want a strong dollar?” And of course they say yes. But it would be different if they were asked, “Do you want a strong dollar and be unable to find a job?”

If you want the details of this, go read Dean Baker’s article or mine from last year, Larry Summers’ Last Chance. But the main thing is that as long as we continue to vote in small numbers, we will continue to be ruled by people like Clinton and Obama who don’t think twice about pushing a strong dollar policy. That’s because they fear the rich a lot more than they fear the people.

Antonio Canova

Antonio CanovaOn this day in 1757, the great Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova was born. He was an important artist in the development of neoclassicism. Baroque art probably found its most annoying expression in sculpture. Canova’s work is know for its refined simplicity. It is gorgeous work.

He was born to a family of stone cutters who created small statuaries. His grandfather taught him early how to draw and sculpt. You can see in the self-portrait above, that he clearly had talent in that regard. But his main interest was in sculpture and that is what he spent his career doing. By the age of nine, he was working in marble. It was through his grandfather that he made important contacts with patrons and with teachers. By his late teens, he had his own workshop.

In his mid-20s, he moved to Rome where he worked for a couple of decades. He seemed to spend the last section of his life back in Venice. All of that time produced great work. At the age of 30 he produced what is probably my favorite work, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss:

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss - Antonio Canova

And here is The Three Graces — started when he was in his late 50s and finished in his early 60s, shortly before his death:

The Three Graces - Antonio Canova

Happy birthday Antonio Canova!