Freedom From Want, Freedom to Imagine

Here is some interesting stuff from the past few days. Included are online writings I’ve been perusing and my thoughts that were inspired.

First of all, in response to my last post on basic income, a regular commenter pointed out two articles, one from Inc. Magazine and the other from the Atlantic Magazine.

American Entrepreneurship Is Actually Vanishing. Here’s Why
by Leigh Buchanan

Welfare Makes America More Entrepreneurial
by Walter Frick

The second is the most interesting. That directly touches upon my thoughts about basic income. Like welfare, basic income is a form of social safety net that creates freedom from want and so freedom from fear, including freedom from being punished for taking risks.

As I’ve said before, this liberating support and protection breaks the oppressive morality-punishment link. A society can have rigid social control or a society can have experimentation and innovation, but to the degree it has one is the degree to which it constrains the other.

Putting those two articles together does make one think.

Much of what Americans, especially on the political right, assume to be common sense may very well be blatantly false. But we will never know one way or another, until we try something new or else we’ll keep getting more of the same, which is the point. The stifling of innovation and experimentation is no accident.

It is so rare that people scientifically formulate their ideological beliefs as falsifiable hypotheses to be tested, but most things could be tested if people had the courage to do so. What we perceive as common sense and counter-intuitive depends on the beliefs we dare not question, which often leads to a self-reinforcing reality tunnel where our assumptions create the conditions that result in the evidence that conforms to our assumptions. That is what makes experiments, social or scientific, so dangerous to the status quo.

What little data we have about basic income experiments, it appears that the results are not as many would predict. Social problems decrease while unemployment doesn’t appear to increase, except within specific demographics such as young mothers and students (who are doing non-paid forms of work). One wonders, if such an experiment was ever done on the large scale, that there might be a large increase in such things as entrepreneurship.

What certain people actually fear isn’t the stifling of innovation, but the possibility of encouraging too much of it. Innovation is always dangerous to the status quo. Some of those on the political right might talk a good game about such things, but too many of them want a highly constrained and uneven playing field to determine only a narrow set of innovations are possible, those that can’t challenge the social order itself. What they fear isn’t that a social safety net can’t work, but that it might work too well.

While I was at the website of The Atlantic, I noticed a few other interesting articles about a different topic. They are all by the same author, James Fallows.

Language Mystery Redux: Who Was the Last American to Speak This Way?

That Weirdo Announcer-Voice Accent: Where It Came From and Why It Went Away

Language Mystery: When Did Americans Stop Sounding This Way?

There is another kind of societal change. There once was a faux aristocratic dialect in the US. It survived into the early era of mass media. Along with it, there existed some of the remnants of the ideal of an enlightened aristocracy with its noblesse oblige.

The Roosevelts were among the last major example of an American family of inherited wealthy that embodied both these ideals and the way of talking, and noblesse oblige was a major force driving the Progressive Era and the New Deal. The last wave that still carried on the faux aristocratic dialect were those like William F. Buckley Jr who used it as a pose, although no longer held the worldview of noblesse oblige that went with it.

The post-war period with its rising middle class ended the old order with its quirks of language and such. It was also a time of mass assimilation, some combination of chosen and forced. For example, German-American culture was annihalated in a generation or two, despite it having been the single largest ethnic culture in the country, larger than that of the English ancestry. The German-Americans dominated the most populous region in the US (the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest), as French-Canadians still do in Quebec.

This is what is known as the Midlands culture, which German culture heavily influenced since before the American Revolution. Out of this formed the Midlands dialect. One particular variety of this became Standard American English. This dialect then replaced the faux aristocratic dialect that had previously dominated mass media.

Here is another article from The Atlantic.

America’s Largest Mental Hospital Is a Jail
by Matt Ford

It’s a sad state of affairs.

Prisons have become the one-size-fits-all solution for America’s problems. If we incarcerate the people afflicted with social and psychological problems, then we can pretend that we don’t need to face the problems themselves. The poor, homeless, unemployed, mentally ill, etc are then reclassified as criminals. The problem is dealt with by locking away the victims of the problem, but that is a bandaid on a gaping wound.

Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t justice. This brings me to some other things I’ve come across. There is a book I just noticed, Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice by Adam Benforado. It could be a worthy read and it sounds like it might be a useful extension and broadening of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Two related articles, the first from Yes! and the second from The New Yorker, are about the long-term costs this has had for the African-American population, often quite personal costs.

40 Acres and a Mule Would Be at Least $6.4 Trillion Today—What the U.S. Really Owes Black America
by Tracy Loeffelholz and DunnJeff Neumann

Kalief Browder, 1993–2015
by Jennifer Gonnerman

The second is particularly heartbreaking. A kid was locked away and tortured for years. It turns out he was innocent the entire time and there never was a trial. Most people don’t get a trial with a jury of their peers, as most people assume is their right, but it turns out many people don’t even get a trial.

Where are the right-wing libertarians when big government steps on the rights of the poor minorities? Where is Fox News to argue that failed, money-draining big government programs like mass incarceration need to be shut down? Where are the GOP politicians, or any mainstream politicians for that matter, to demand a full investigation of the entire US prison system and the industrial-prison complex that promotes it?

Another article from The New Yorker is about one of the main costs of these divides in justice.

What Poverty Does to the Young Brain
by Madeline Ostrander

This is how the personal meets the political, when an entire social order of dysfunction causes brain damage to a significant part of the population. This is also how this dysfunction gets perpetuated as a vicious cycle. This stunting of brain development leads to all kinds of cognitive and psychological problems, which create massive stumbling blocks for those inflicted.

That article reminded me of Robert Putnam’s recent book, Our Kids. I haven’t read it yet, but I noticed some reviews, articles, and interviews mention the neuroscience research.

Poor kids’ brains don’t work as well as rich kids’ brains do
by Doyle McManus

Growing Up Alone?
by Hope Reese

Review – Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis
by Carrie Sheffield

Author Robert Putnam sounds alarm about growing inequity among rich and poor youth
by Leslie University

All of that and, from what others have written, it appears that Putnam mostly ignores the larger and deeper structural issues, from rigid class hierarchies to entrenched power. One review pointed out that he was avoiding talking about anyone as the bad guys, as if this shift was a mere side effect.

Richer and Poorer
by Jill Lepore

““Our Kids” is a passionate, urgent book. It also has a sad helplessness. Putnam tells a story teeming with characters and full of misery but without a single villain. This is deliberate. “This is a book without upper-class villains,” he insists in the book’s final chapter. In January, Putnam tweeted, “My new book ‘Our Kids’ shows a growing gap between rich kids and poor kids. We’ll work with all sides on solutions.” It’s easier to work with all sides if no side is to blame. But Putnam’s eagerness to influence Congress has narrative consequences. If you’re going to tell a story about bad things happening to good people, you’ve got to offer an explanation, and, when you make your arguments through characters, your reader will expect that explanation in the form of character.”

(If you want some hard-hitting analysis of how corruption and power go hand in hand, see the recent Salon piece by Corey Robin, Your boss wants to control your vote: The real reason to fear corporate power. The society we have is created by intentional policies that are promoted by those with concentrated wealth and power. We shouldn’t fear pointing fingers at those who are responsiblte.)

If anything, Putnam puts the focus on poor parents.

Putnam misses the mark
by Nicki Ruiz de Luzuriaga

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D Putnam review – concerned, scholarly
by Richard Reeves

Book review: ‘Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis’ by Robert D. Putnam
by Alan Wolfe

It reminds me of clueless people wondering where black fathers are, because of the lower marriage rates. Well, like other disproportionately poor and disadvantaged populations, many of them don’t have the opportunity to spend as much time with their kids as they’d like; plus, research has shown how destructive poverty and social stress is to relationships, often either preventing marriages or breaking them up. Also, there are economic disadvantages for poor single mothers to hitch themselves to a poor man, an issue discussed in Putnam’s book and elsewhere.

That said, many black fathers are doing quite well in their rates of visiting with and helping their kids (see here and here). As for those fathers who genuinely are missing, if they aren’t excluded from contact with their kids because of incarceration or criminal records, they likely are working long hours at multiple jobs, forced to seek work elsewhere, or simply unemployed and not in a position to play a supporting role.

Forgotten Fathers: Parenting and the Prison Industrial Complex
by David J. Leonard

Sampling Again: Shawn Carter and the Moynihan Report Remix
by David J. Leonard

6 Actual Facts Shatter the Biggest Stereotypes of Black Fathers
by Antwaun Sargent

About these systemic problems, some people see hope for reform, whether social reform or political and economic reform. Putnam puts his hope in the former. Others look to the latter, including sometimes myself (as in my last post on basic income).

A Practical Vision of a More Equal Society
By Thomas Piketty

Of course, Piketty was reviewing a book written about reform in another country. Many Americans are too cynical to believe that kind of thing is possible here.

This brings me to my last item for consideration. Corey Robin had another recent piece, that can be found on his blog. In it, he offers an extended quote from an article by William Hazlitt.

“The language of poetry naturally falls in with the language of power. The imagination is an exaggerating and exclusive faculty: it takes from one thing to add to another: it accumulates circumstances together to give the greatest possible effect to a favourite object. . . . Wrong dressed out in pride, pomp, and circumstance has more attraction than abstract right.”

What is possible is largely based on what we can imagine is possible. Hazlitt makes a case for the power of imagination wielded by the reactionary right-wing, a topic of particular interest for Robin. There is power to the conservative imagination because it idealizes and serves power. Power of imagination relates to power in the world, and there is a blunt force in how those on the political right use this power, their aesthetic sensibility being as subtle as a hammer (the reason there are few highly successful conservative comedians).

That said, in one response to Robin’s post, someone pointed out that imagination is obviously not owned by any single group. There is also a long history of its power being used by the political left.

With both Hazlitt’s view and that of the response to it, I felt a resonance to my own thinking. I want to dig below the surface. It’s great to read discussions of data, policies, and real world examples. But that doesn’t get to the beating heart of the matter.

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Mechanical Spider Legs and Progressive Reform

Did you see this article about FDR?

Report: White House Officials Deliberately Hid FDR’s Mechanical Spider Legs From Public

It does explain a lot. I always wondered why public photos of him never showed his legs.

On a happier note, here are some thoughts about the coming future, when mechanical spider legs will no longer need to be attached to humans.

‘Rise of the Robots’ and ‘Shadow Work’

One of the jobs that hasn’t been mechanized yet is that of torturer. But with Poland being held accountable, let’s hope it won’t be a growing job sector.

With US Accountability MIA, Poland to Make Payout for Torture of CIA

That article points out how the US government officials aren’t being held accountable for their own actions. That isn’t just true internationally, but also nationally. The US government isn’t accountable to American voters anymore than it is accountable to international courts.

Study: Congress literally doesn’t care what you think

Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change. – The Boston Globe

A major reason for this is big money. The US government has big money (funding a big military—and increasingly militarized police—along with helping to fund a big defense industry) and, of course, American politicians are beholden to big money (including from that defense industry), a cozy corporatist collusion. Besides indirect bribes (beyond just campaign money) and unofficial kickbacks (via no-bid contracts and below-market-value of natural resources from public lands), there are also direct subsidies to corporations and banks.

US taxpayers subsidising world’s biggest fossil fuel companies

U.S. Taxpayers Subsidizing World’s Biggest Fossil Fuel Companies

Why Should Taxpayers Give Big Banks $83 Billion a Year?

Top Banking Analyst: Subsidies to Giant Banks Exceed $780 Billion Dollars Per YEAR

Big Banks Have Raked In $102 Billion In Subsidies Since 2009: Report

A related aspect is that of the climate change debate. People are always arguing over who is getting funded how much and who is doing the funding. Interestingly, many of the same big energy sources that fund political campaigning also fund the opponents of the scientific consensus, from funding think tanks to funding scientists. No matter how much money climatology researchers get, they can’t use that money for lobbying and campaign donations, as does big energy.

Accusations that climate science is money-driven reveal ignorance of how science is done

Not just the Koch brothers: New study reveals funders behind the climate change denial effort

Graphs of Science Funding

It’s obviously a complex issue, but one has to wonder what are the end results of all that money. Even the money that goes to research, is the issue really a lack of enough data to know we have a problem to deal with? I doubt it.

Big money corruption is a non-partisan issue, not that you’d realize that from the mainstream media. It has been a central concern of both the Tea Party and the Occupiers. In general, it has been a growing concern of all Americans. A movement is forming and those involved, individually and collectively, are demanding to be taken seriously. In some cases, concerned citizens are going to extremes in their attempt to get heard.

Can the Gyrocopter Gang Start a Political Reform Movement?

Much of the organizing is grassroots and the changes are starting at the local level. Just recently, the county I live in issued a resolution and so joined the ranks of a growing number of local governments across the country, in both red and blue areas.

County supervisors call for Constitutional amendment – The Daily Iowan

Now, we just need a president who is even half the man FDR was and apparently he himself was already half machine. Maybe having mechanical spider legs gives someone the courage to face down the fascists and oligarchs in order to demand progressive reform.

Interesting Stuff on the Web: 3/23/13

Here are a few things that caught my attention. Taken together, they almost form a loosely coherent thought-web about the complexity of the left/right spectrum and some interesting examples in contemporary politics, from left-wing states’ rights secessionists to conservatives of the liberal tradition. I’ll share them without any commentary:

U.S. Out of Vermont!
Move over, Texas: In the Green Mountain State, it’s leftists who want to secede.
By Christopher Ketcham

“Yet here in granola-eating, hyper-lefty, Subaru-driving Vermont was a secession effort that had been loud during the Bush years, had not ceased its complaining under Barack Obama, did not care for party affiliation, and had welcomed into its midst gun nuts and lumberjacks and professors, socialists and libertarians and anarchists, ex–Republicans and ex-Democrats, truck drivers and schoolteachers and waitresses, students and artists and musicians and poets, farmers and hunters and wooly-haired woodsmen. The manifesto that elaborated their platform was read at the conference: a 1,400-word mouthful that echoed the Declaration of Independence in its petition of grievances. “[T]ransnational megacompanies and big government,” it proclaimed, “control us through money, markets, and media, sapping our political will, civil liberties, collective memory, traditional cultures.” The document was signed by, among others, its principal authors, a professor emeritus of economics at Duke University named Thomas Naylor and the decentralist philosopher Kirkpatrick Sale, author of Human Scale. “Citizens,” it concluded, “lend your name to this manifesto and join in the honorable task of rejecting the immoral, corrupt, decaying, dying, failing American Empire and seeking its rapid and peaceful dissolution before it takes us all down with it.””

Conservatives Please Read
Book review by Historied of Sidanius and Pratto’s Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression

“I have worked as an executive in the corporate sector for 35 years and felt how powerfully this approach could be used there. The chronic lack of real talent to solve real issues of the business and environment, is very much compounded by issues of dominance and restriction of the search for talent and the education of talent to elite groups who are often clueless about the world. And this book provides a critical thinking 101 approach quite independent of its content.The growing hereditary nature of management succession (think President of the USA)is part of social dominance. The socially dominant send their kids to the best schools and these seem to be structured to restrict critical thinking or divert it into postmodernist irrelevance. This book helps you see such apparently unconnected phenomena in new ways. And it might direct students towards structurally relevant issues of society rather than the marginal. While this book is an obvious resource for the oppressed, I heartily recommend it to members of socially dominant power groups like myself.”

Comment by Andrew on Corey Robin’s post Edmund Burkey on the Free Market

“I’ve always been a fan of SDO theory. It reconcils social dominance and ‘selfishness’ with altruism, solving the riddle by positing that egalitarianism is actually a form reverse social dominance whereby the group overpowers the alphas and thens uses threat of violence and/or humiliation to keep any one member of the group from becoming more power than the other. This pairs nicely with anthropologists’ and of course, Marx and Engels’ observations on the ‘primitive communism’ of early hunter-gathering societies.

“Although many would likely cringe at the suggestion, I feel it’s an actual evolutionary explanation for the differences between leftwing and rightwing politics.”

Is There a Conservative Tradition in America?
By Patrick J. Deneen

“There’s a further problem in the contemporary narrative that has been developed by conservatives regarding the course of the Constitution. While the narrative of the Constitution’s corruption by Progressives has been popularized by Glenn Beck, it has largely been developed by scholars who study in the tradition established by the German émigré scholar, Leo Strauss. They largely rely on a significant essay written by Strauss entitled “The Three Waves of Modernity.” In that essay, Strauss explains that the break with antiquity – particularly classical Greek and Roman as well as Christian thought – was inaugurated by thinkers of “modern Natural Right,” in an incipient form by Machiavelli and then further by Hobbes and Locke. These thinkers argued that a new science of politics was needed, one that was not as resigned simultaneously to a vision of ideal politics based upon the inculcation of virtue, and also a theory of decline that necessarily accompanied those high aims, as that which characterized ancient thought. Building on the “low but solid ground” of self-interest, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Locke sought to channel the great source of political strife toward productive ends, particularly in the areas of commerce and expansion of human knowledge (modern science). Aided by the insights of Hobbes’s one-time boss, Francis Bacon, the new science of politics was devoted to “the relief of the human estate,” a project that relied upon the new natural sciences for the expansion of human power and mastery over nature. This “first wave” of modernity recognized the inherent imperfectability of human beings – thus, that we have a nature, and that a successful politics can be built upon that nature – and served as the philosophical basis for the American founding.

“The “second wave” of modernity is called by Strauss “historicism.” Like a wave – following upon and deriving its content from the previous wave – this “second wave” took its point of departure from an instability within the first wave. The “second wave” of modernity took the basic insight of the philosophers of the first wave – that nature was subject to human control – and extended this insight to human nature itself. If external nature were subject to human dominion, why not human nature itself? Thinkers like Rousseau, Condorcet, Comte, and later, John Stuart Mill, developed the idea of human perfectibility, of the human ability to master not only external nature, but to improve human nature as well. If philosophers of the “first wave” argued that human nature was unalterable, philosophers of the “second wave” argued that human nature could be improved concurrent with an improvement in the material domain. The concept of moral progress became a central feature in second wave philosophy, a progress in historical time that was believed to culminate in man’s perfection, even ascent to a godlike condition. In America, thinkers like Dewey, Croly and later, Richard Rorty adopted the basic insights of this “second wave” of modernity.

“What Strauss perceived – and what his epigones too often overlook – is that the seeds of the second wave are planted within the logic of the first wave. A theory that rejects the fundamental governance of nature (at least that nature external to humanity) – or natural law – and substitutes this ancient Aristotelian and Thomistic standard for a more utilitarian calculus of interest inevitably jeopardizes any standard and even its own effort to ground its politics on a now more limited understanding of human nature. The “second” wave is embedded in the first wave – that is, lacking a standard by which humans are to be limited, their tendency will be to develop a political philosophy that invites thorough re-creation not only of our environment, but of the human creature. According to the implicit logic of Strauss’s argument, we do better to see that Progressive liberalism is the consequence of “Classical Liberalism,” and not its wholesale betrayal, as many today would like to believe.

“Strauss discerned that it is from the very individualistic basis of liberalism that arose the collectivist impulse of “progressivism,” initially in communism and fascism, but today in what we might call “progressive liberalism.” The false anthropology of liberalism – anathema to the deeper insights of a pre-liberal “conservative” tradition – spawns the perverse but inescapable progeny that it purports to despise, but which at every turn it fosters. Any conservative impulse is throttled by its more fundamental fealty to the liberal tradition.

“It’s true that “conservative liberalism” is more “conservative” than “progressive liberalism,” if we mean by that it takes at least some of its cues from an older, pre-liberal understanding of human beings and human nature. Still, its dominant liberal ethic – summed up in the five points I suggested at the outset – means that in nearly every respect, its official allegiances end up eviscerating residual pre-liberal conservative allegiances. In particular, it could be argued that conservative commitments 1-4 – that end by favoring consolidation (in spite of the claim to favor “limited” government), advancing imperial power and capitalism (i.e., why consolidation is finally necessary), and stressing individual liberty, are all actively hostile to commitment number 5 – the support for family and community. It is a rump commitment without a politics to support it, and one that daily undergoes attack by the two faces of contemporary liberalism, through the promotion of the Market by the so-called Right and the promotion of lifestyle autonomy by the Left. A true conservatism has few friends in today’s America.”

The ‘About’ page for the Front Porch Republic website

“The economic crisis that emerged in late 2008 and the predictable responses it elicited from those in power has served to highlight the extent to which concepts such as human scale, the distribution of power, and our responsibility to the future have been eliminated from the public conversation. It also threatens to worsen the political and economic centralization and atomization that have accompanied the century-long unholy marriage between consumer capitalism and the modern bureaucratic state. We live in a world characterized by a flattened culture and increasingly meaningless freedoms. Little regard is paid to the necessity for those overlapping local and regional groups, communities, and associations that provide a matrix for human flourishing. We’re in a bad way, and the spokesmen and spokeswomen of both our Left and our Right are, for the most part, seriously misguided in their attempts to provide diagnoses, let alone solutions.”

What It Means To Be A Progressive: A Manifesto
By John Halpin

“As progressives gear up for inevitable fights over taxes, budgets, and social policy, we shouldn’t forget about the importance of values in explaining who we are and what we want to achieve. We believe in freedom with opportunity for all, responsibility to all, and cooperation among all. We believe that the purpose of government is to advance the common good, to secure and protect our rights, and to help to create a high quality of life and community well-being. We want decent paying jobs and benefits for workers and sustainable economic growth. We want growing businesses producing the world’s best products and services. We want an economy that works for everyone, not just the few. We want all nations to uphold universal human rights and to work together to solve common challenges. This is what a progressive America looks like.”

Interesting Stuff on the Web: 4/1/10

You’d be mad to support climate change science

In a recent forum debate, a poster suggested I wouldn’t look at science that didn’t agree with my position – that I displayed confirmation bias. I have a standard response to this, which is that I’ll look at anything that isn’t junk science. If it’s credible science, why would I not study it?

The poster who challenged me did so on the basis of how he sees things. To him, this is a debate to win, and because he thinks that’s what I’m here to do, that I have an agenda, it seems obvious to him I’m going to select only that science which supports it (and I have to add that in all likelihood, that’s what he’s doing). This assumption is made because the denialists do have an agenda, and it is largely political. They attack the science, because for them, climate change science is a proxy for socialism, or a token of some movement towards a ‘world government’ that is essentially socialist in nature.

They oppose this, and because the basis for climate change is scientific, they end up attacking the science because they take it as a tool of ideologues. In making this unfortunate conflation, they also project the same motives and concerns on people like me, because if their agenda is to oppose the left, in their eyes I must be another lefty ideologue opposing the right, supporting climate change as a means to my own ideological ends.

Parliament’s investigation: Stolen e-mails reveal no wrong-doing by climate scientists

As Galileo might have said, “Still the planet warms.”

A committee of England’s Parliament released its report on Hadley Climate Research Unit’s (CRU) stolen e-mails earlier today.  The reports you heard that the scientific case showing global warming with human causation had died, were exaggerated, significantly in error, and hoaxes themselves.

The report comes from the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee.  Press release with links and previous releases from the Committee, below:

The disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia


[…] The focus on Professor Jones and CRU has been largely misplaced. On the accusations relating to Professor Jones’s refusal to share raw data and computer codes, the Committee considers that his actions were in line with common practice in the climate science community but that those practices need to change.

On the much cited phrases in the leaked e-mails—”trick” and “hiding the decline”—the Committee considers that they were colloquial terms used in private e-mails and the balance of evidence is that they were not part of a systematic attempt to mislead.

Insofar as the Committee was able to consider accusations of dishonesty against CRU, the Committee considers that there is no case to answer.

The Committee found no reason in this inquiry to challenge the scientific consensus as expressed by Professor Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, that “global warming is happening [and] that it is induced by human activity”. […]

How to split up the US

 Finalmap

As I’ve been digging deeper into the data I’ve gathered on 210 million public Facebook profiles, I’ve been fascinated by some of the patterns that have emerged. My latest visualization shows the information by location, with connections drawn between places that share friends. For example, a lot of people in LA have friends in San Francisco, so there’s a line between them.

Looking at the network of US cities, it’s been remarkable to see how groups of them form clusters, with strong connections locally but few contacts outside the cluster.

Millennials and Postmodernism in TV Comedies

I recently read a fantastic but dense essay by David Foster Wallace drawing connections between fictional literature and television, emphasizing the commonalities between the genres’ narrative structures. The essay was written in the early 90s but is oddly premonitory, particularly with reference to reality shows and on-demand programming. He frequently cites the increasingly self-referential nature of television programs (and fiction), and it piqued my interest in postmodernist television narratives. So I wanted to think and write a bit about how postmodernist comedy writing on several contemporary TV shows shares many elements with the Millennial Generation’s defining traits. This isn’t really a new revelation, but it’s one worth exploring in more depth – it may help us supply Millennial qualities with some context.

So, first, a few key factors of literary postmodernism that I will consider, as described in Literary Theory:

  1. a tendency toward reflexivity, or self-consciousness, about the production of the work of art, so that each piece calls attention to its own status as a production, as something constructed and consumed in particular ways.
  2. an emphasis on fragmented forms, discontinuous narratives, and random-seeming collages of different materials, and, contrary to modernism, celebrates the ensuing incoherence and nonsense.

Millennials —yes, they can

They have not generally gotten involved with candidates or issues because “Millennials perceive politics as a polarized debate with no options for compromise or nuance,” in the words of the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. They don’t want to be limited by political party affiliation. They care about issues important to their “community” and will work with anyone who can get something done.

But they are impatient. That is why so many seemed to drift away from President Barack Obama as the healthcare debate dragged on and partisanship in Washington got out of hand. For nearly a year and a half their parents’ and grandparents’ generations argued over what — to many — seemed like petty details. They tuned out not because they didn’t care but because they were bored.

Now that there actually is a healthcare bill, it will be fascinating to see if they are willing to re-engage. The Obama campaign showed how to communicate with and motivate this generation in 2008. Re-engaging them will be crucial to the president’s reelection and, arguably, to Democrats’ congressional future. There are 44 million Millennials eligible to vote, which is about 20 percent of the electorate. Most of them are independents — at least in their voting patterns. Recent polls show independents drifting away from the Republican Party as a result of the angry debate in Washington.

Millennials do faith and politics their way

[…] The core finding of Pew’s “Religion Among the Millennials” report is that young Americans are “less religiously affiliated” than their elders. In fact, one in four of Americans ages 18 to 29 do not affiliate with any particular religious group. This is not entirely unexpected, since it is a sociological truism that young people cultivate some distance from the religious institutions of their parents, only to return to those institutions as they marry, raise children and slouch toward retirement. According to Pew, however, “Millennials are significantly more unaffiliated than members of Generation X were at a comparable point in their life cycle … and twice as unaffiliated as Baby Boomers were as young adults.”

This is an important finding because it provides strong evidence for the loosening of religion’s grip on American life. Or does it?

[…] This liberal turn will not necessarily convert young people into Democrats, however, because “Democrat,” too, is a brand most Millennials are unwilling to call their own. Even so, the new data do lay bare the so-called new conservatism of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party not as the next new thing but as the last paroxysm of a spent revolution.

Both the Tea Party activists and their beloved Palin are as white as Alaskan snow, but the American population is increasingly brown; 19% of Millennials are Hispanic and 14% are black. No religious or political movement propelled by white rage (or for that matter by the fury of retirees) will have legs in the America this new generation is making.

One of the big stories of the past few decades in American religion has been the decline of the mainline denominations at the expense of evangelical megachurches. One of the big stories of the next few decades in American politics could be the decline of the major political parties at the expense of grassroots (and “cyberroots”) initiatives. As Boomers yield power to Millennials, the political movements that succeed will look less like the Southern Baptist Convention and more like your local non-denominational church. They will be browner, more comfortable with rapid change, higher tech, more upbeat and unworried by tattoos.

The Coming End of the Culture Wars

The term “culture wars” dates back to a 1991 book by academic James Davison Hunter who argued that cultural issues touching on family and religious values, feminism, gay rights, race, guns, and abortion had redefined American politics. Going forward, bitter conflicts around these issues would be the fulcrum of politics in a polarized nation, he theorized.

It did look like he might have a point for a while. Conservatives especially seemed happy to take a culture wars approach, reasoning that political debate around these issues would both mobilize their base and make it more difficult for progressives to benefit from their edge on domestic policy issues such as the economy and health care. This approach played an important role in conservative gains during the early part of the Clinton administration and in the impeachment drama of the late 1990s, which undercut progressive legislative strategies. And the culture wars certainly contributed to conservative George W. Bush’s presidential victories in 2000 and 2004.

Yet these issues have lately been conspicuous by their absence. Looking back on Barack Obama’s historic victory in 2008, culture wars issues not only had a very low profile in the campaign, but where conservatives did attempt to raise them, these issues did them little good. Indeed, conservatives were probably more hurt than helped by such attempts— witness the effect of the Sarah Palin nomination.

Attempts to revive the culture wars have been similarly unsuccessful since the election. Sarah Palin’s bizarre trajectory, culminating in her surprise resignation from the Alaska governorship, has only made culture war politics appear even more out of touch. And culture warriors’ shrill attacks on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor have conspicuously failed to turn public opinion against her.

Acharya S: Religion, History, Human Rights

Recent articles of interest from Acharya S (aka D.M. Murdock):

dead sea scrolls imageDead Sea Scrolls prove Bible unoriginal

Certain ideas in the scrolls also appear in the New Testament, meaning, of course, that the impression of Christianity as a “divine revelation” appearing whole cloth miraculously from the very finger of God is clearly erroneous. Read more…

first human rights charter persian cyrusFirst ‘Human Rights Charter’ is Persian

 A 2,500-year-old clay cylinder bears what has been called the world’s “first human rights charter” and was inscribed under the direction of the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great in 539 BCE. In the Greek Bible (Isaiah 45:1), Cyrus is called “Christ” (“…τῷ χριστῷ μου Κύρῳ…”) or “the Lord’s anointed” for his role in rescuing the Jews out of the “Babylonian Captivity.” Read more…

fort hood holland islamFrom Fort Hood to Holland, Islam wins

 The entire world is evidently so terrified of the religion of peace that it is capitulating to Islamist demands in the most bizarrely in-your-face and transparent manner. Wow! To completely omit the name and religion of the Fort Hood shooter in the official report! Read more…

discovery proves egypt's religious popularityDiscovery proves Egypt’s religious popularity

 In my book Christ in Egypt: The Horus-Jesus Connection, I utilize thousands of ancient texts as well as the testimony of many highly credentialed authorities to show that the gospel tale and much Christian tradition are solidly based in pre-existing myths and rituals, in this case revolving around the ancient Egyptian religion. Read more…

Gnod: No Quentin S. Crisp

I discovered an interesting website: Gnod.  Quentin S. Crisp linked to it in a comment on his blog.  He was pointing out that his name isn’t included in the map of literature.  Nonetheless, the map is still pretty cool.  I tried out some other author’s names and it was interesting to see the other authors that were mapped.  The website also has a map of movies as well.

Matt Cardin: What I read in 2009

I was just now checking out Matt Cardin’s blog The Teeming Brain.  He had some new posts since the last time I visited.  I was impressed by one in particular: What I read in 2009.  He listed a wide variety of reading material.  Some I was already familiar with, but there was much I hadn’t come across before.  I particularly appreciated his listing of articles.  The following are a few that caught my attention.

Whose Country?
By Andrew Sullivan

Buchanan, of all people, should know better than these tedious recurring explosions of racial panic. And, of course, he does know better. He has read more history than most pundits. He is personally a civil and decent man. But he feels these things in such a profound and tribal way that what he knows is submerged by tribal fear and expressed as hateful hackery. But this much is true and deserves restating:

Black Americans have shed blood in every American war since the Revolution. This country, even the very Capitol building in which today’s legislators now demand to see the birth certificate of the first black president, was built on the sweat and sinew of slaves. Before we were people in the eyes of the law, before we had the right to vote, before we had a black president, we were here, helping make this country as it is today. We are as American as it gets. And frankly, the time of people who think otherwise is passing. If that’s the country Buchanan wants to hold onto, well, he’s right, he is losing it.

And about time too.

I couldn’t agree more.

Rand’s Atlas Is Shrugging With a Growing Load
By Amity Shlaes

Some assumed the libertarian philosopher would fall from view when the Berlin Wall fell. Or that at least there would be a sense of mission accomplished. One Rand fan, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, wrote in his memoir that he regretted Rand hadn’t lived until 1989 or 1990. She’d missed the collapse of communism that she had so often predicted.

But “Atlas Shrugged” is becoming a political “Harry Potter” because Rand shone a spotlight on a problem that still exists: Not pre-1989 Soviet communism, but 2009-style state capitalism. Rand depicted government and companies colluding in the name of economic rescue at the expense of the entrepreneur. That entrepreneur is like the titan Atlas who carries the rest of the world on his shoulders — until he doesn’t.

Yeah, this is true to an extent.  I, however, think it misses a major issue. 

The companies colluding with the government once were entrepreneurs themselves.  The entrepreneurs became successful by beating out the other entrepreneurs.  As history shows, many successful entrepreneurs became powerful by fighting dirty which included using political influence when it was convenient.  The problem is that many of these pro-capitalists use Rand’s capitalistic mythology to support their views of state corporatism. 

Sadly, Rand’s vision of honest, hardworking entrepreneurs are the exception to the rule; and they aren’t the ones that get filthy rich.  In reality as it is, entrepreneurs are as devious as any other group of people including politicians.  There is a very good reason that Rand is most popular for her fiction that reads like Romance novels.  She does tell a good story.

Critical thinking? You need knowledge
By Diane Ravitch

Just a couple of years later, “the project method’’ took the education world by storm. Instead of a sequential curriculum laid out in advance, the program urged that boys and girls engage in hands-on projects of their own choosing, ideally working cooperatively in a group. It required activity, not docility, and awakened student motivation. It’s remarkably similar to the model advocated by 21st-century skills enthusiasts.

This article does make some good criticisms.  However, the traditional method of teaching is problematic in its own way.  Traditional rote memory does have its merits, but it has its weaknesses in a world of such vastly increasing amounts of knowledge.  It is true that the hands-on approach doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of helping kids to really understand.

This article isn’t criticizing critical thinking.  Neither the traditional rote memorizing nor the modern hands-on methodology teaches critical thinking skills to any great degree.  I personally think that education should include the best of both of these methods all the while teaching actual critical thinking skills.  I don’t have any solutions to offer, but I’m always irritated by the attitude that the past was better.

The problem, for certain, isn’t that good teaching methodologies don’t exist.  The problem is that teachers have little motivation to take risks by stepping outside of pre-packaged curriculum.  Most parents aren’t wealthy enough to send their kids to private schools that offer the best of education and most politicians aren’t interested in encouraging public schools to offer the best of education.

Matching Teaching Style to Learning Style May Not Help Students
By David Glenn

If you’ve ever sat through a teaching seminar, you’ve probably heard a lecture about “learning styles.” Perhaps you were told that some students are visual learners, some are auditory learners, and others are kinesthetic learners. Or maybe you were given one of the dozens of other learning-style taxonomies that scholars and consultants have developed.

Almost certainly, you were told that your instruction should match your students’ styles. For example, kinesthetic learners—students who learn best through hands-on activities—are said to do better in classes that feature plenty of experiments, while verbal learners are said to do worse.

Now four psychologists argue that you were told wrong. There is no strong scientific evidence to support the “matching” idea, they contend in a paper published this week in Psychological Science in the Public Interest. And there is absolutely no reason for professors to adopt it in the classroom.

I was prepared to be critical of this article, but it turns out to have been a fair analysis of a complex topic.  Basically, the conclusion is that there needs to be more research.

Confessions of a Middlebrow Professor
By W.A. Pannapacker

The Great Books—along with all those Time-Life series—were often “purchased on the installment plan by parents who had never owned a book but were willing to sacrifice to provide their children with information about the world that had been absent from their own upbringing,” Jacoby writes. They represented an old American belief—now endangered—that “anyone willing to invest time and energy in self-education might better himself.”

What has been lost, according to Jacoby, is a culture of intellectual effort. We are increasingly ignorant, but we do not know enough to be properly ashamed. If we are determined to get on in life, we believe it will not have anything to do with our ability to reference Machiavelli or Adam Smith at the office Christmas party. The rejection of the Great Books signifies a declining belief in the value of anything without a direct practical application, combined with the triumph of a passive entertainment—as anyone who teaches college students can probably affirm.

For all their shortcomings, the Great Books—along with many other varieties of middlebrow culture—reflected a time when the liberal arts commanded more respect. They were thought to have practical value as a remedy for parochialism, bigotry, social isolation, fanaticism, and political and economic exploitation. The Great Books had a narrower conception of “greatness” than we might like today, but their foundational ideals were radically egalitarian and proudly intellectual.

As Beam concludes, “The Great Books are dead. Long live the Great Books.” And, I might add: Long live middlebrow culture.

I’m always of a mixed opinion about The Great Books.  I do think that many of them are great for a reason, but I’m also a fan of lowbrow philosophizing and counterculture thought.  I want the best of both worlds.  What I dislike is ignorance.  I don’t like the populist ignorance of intellectual knowledge and I don’t like the intellectual elite ignorance of anything that exists outside of their specialization.

This middlebrow perspective seems admirable in that it’s taking a broad perspective.  It was originally the purpose of a liberal arts education.  It’s at the heart of the ideal of meritocracy.  It feels like the reality of meritocracy is dead, but the ideal is still lovely.  This article relates to another article (Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School?) which I wrote about in another post (Interesting Stuff on the Web: 1/13/10).

Please Save This Nation From the Birthers
By Laurie Fendrich

Instead, I’d like to ask everyone involved in education–at any level–the following question. Where did we go wrong? Why did we end up with so many citizens who have been through our schools who don’t know how to distinguish between fiction and fact, or rumor and truth?

Some, like Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, blame the Internet. Would that it were so simple. True, it takes only a few bucks to get yourself a Web site where you can post whatever slimy hogwash you want. And even the dullest crayons in the box can stumble their way to that post. But posting hogwash and mustering passionate followers is an entirely different matter. “True believers” (as opposed to people using their reason) frequently morph into an ugly mob. (Shouting down your Congressional representative, for example, constitutes ugly mob behavior.)

Scariest of all is the “mainstream media,” which keeps stoking this stinky fire–especially Lou Dobbs at CNN, and with the implicit approval of CNN. After giving credence to “Birthers” by saying, “Well, perhaps, maybe, blah, blah, blah,” Dobbs wasn’t even chastised. Instead, CNN’s president Jonathan Klein hid behind the wretchedly abused excuse of “freedom of speech.” Freedom of speech! That lofty idea, born of the Enlightenment, now used as a smokescreen for a major news organization to deliberately spread malicious rumors? (If you’re wondering about the reason for CNN’s behavior, you don’t need to look far. Hint: money.)

The Birther movement reflects our failure as parents and teachers to educate our children. We no longer seem to care if they become rational adults. This absurd movement reflects a wholesale abandonment of the original American idea of an educated, democratic citizenry.

Three definitely is a failure somewhere.  If it isn’t the education system at the root of the problem, then I don’t know what is.  There will always be an irrational element to society, but it’s perplexing how it becomes mainstream in a society that has so much educational opportunities.

The Rural Brain Drain
By Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas

What is going on in small-town America? The nation’s mythology of small towns comes to us straight from the The Music Man’s set designers. Many Americans think about flyover country or Red America only during the culture war’s skirmishes or campaign season. Most of the time, the rural crisis takes a back seat to more visible big-city troubles. So while there is a veritable academic industry devoted to chronicling urban decline, small towns’ struggles are off the grid.

And yet, upon close inspection, the rural and urban downturns have much in common, even though conventional wisdom casts the small town as embodiment of all that is right with America and the inner city as all that is wrong with it.

I’ve been thinking about this recently.  It’s from these rural areas that much of the outrage arises.  Combined with how electoral colleges represent underpopulated areas, this creates a weird political dynamic.  The problematic part is that the media pays a lot of attention to the outrage that results but little attention to the social context that creates that outrage.

Interesting Stuff on the Web: 1/13/10

Jesus Had A Cat [PIC]

This is, of course, assuming that Jesus himself wasn’t a cat.  Anyways, a lion-maned savior “walking on water” isn’t any great surprise for those familiar with astrotheology.

The Americanization of Mental Illness

It’s because of this kind of in-depth article that I appreciate The New York Times so much.

This is an area of study that fascinates me.  Mental illness and culture are topics of interest on their own, but combined they offer much insight.  As an American, it is easy to forget how different the world looks from the point of view of other cultures. 

Sadly, not only is ecological diversity dying out but so is cultural diversity.  I truly hope that Americanization never becomes entirely complete.

Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School?

The view presented in this article should confirm what many intellectual elite liberals already knew, but it may seem counter-intuitive or morally questionable to certain conservatives (i.e., those who think it’s a criticism to call someone intelligent and well-educated).

That insight led Mr. Martin to begin advocating what was then a radical idea in business education: that students needed to learn how to think critically and creatively every bit as much as they needed to learn finance or accounting. More specifically, they needed to learn how to approach problems from many perspectives and to combine various approaches to find innovative solutions.

In 1999, few others in the business-school world shared Mr. Martin’s view. But a decade and a seismic economic downturn later, things have changed. “I think there’s a feeling that people need to sharpen their thinking skills, whether it’s questioning assumptions, or looking at problems from multiple points of view,” says David A. Garvin, a Harvard Business School professor who is co-author with Srikant M. Datar and Patrick G. Cullen of an upcoming book, “Rethinking the M.B.A.: Business Education at a Crossroads.”

Learning how to think critically — how to imaginatively frame questions and consider multiple perspectives — has historically been associated with a liberal arts education, not a business school curriculum, so this change represents something of a tectonic shift for business school leaders. Mr. Martin even describes his goal as a kind of “liberal arts M.B.A.”

“The liberal arts desire,” he says, is to produce “holistic thinkers who think broadly and make these important moral decisions. I have the same goal.”

Considering multiple perspectives, dismissed as relativism by conservatives, is something that liberals excel at.  Liberal arts education lost it’s favor in recent decades.  The only thing students cared about was getting careers that made lots of money and so they got degrees in business and management.  The problem is that our democracy was built on the ideal of liberal arts education.  Having a widely educated public is supposed to make for a better voting public, but it turns out that it makes someone a better thinker in all areas of life including business.

This reminds me of how I once had some unintentional influence.  I believe it was sometime shortly after highschool.  I argued to my dad about the importance of critical thinking in that the human ability to use logic is one of the few things that truly differentiates humans from the rest of nature.  My dad was a professor of business management at the time and it just so happened that he was participating in a discussion about the curriculum of business majors.  Based on my argument, my dad suggested that logic courses should be included and I think his suggestion was accepted.

This article doesn’t provide any grand insight, but apparently it’s an insight that many people in the business field have so far lacked.  My dad was a proponent for teaching ethics to business students and I think it’s clear that ethics is inseparable from critical thinking skills.  It’s too bad that it took an economic downturn for leaders in the business field to figure this out.

Let’s Talk About Faith

The author made starts off with some decent points, but then offered some questionable analysis about the specific incident in question.  On the other hand, I did appreciate some of the comments.

13. Ken: Mr. Hume is a news host/reporter on FOX News. He is not a guest theologian who is invited to compare religions. Should Katie Couric over at CBS proclaim her religious views? What about Sawyer at CBS, Williams at NBC, etc.? Mr. Douthat should be astute enough to know that Mr. Hume was playing to the religious/cultural tendencies of his audience. As I am an Evangelical Christian, I would love for Tiger Woods and all people to come to Christ. However, the misuse of public airwaves, and the put down of Buddhism, exhibited by Mr. Hume is not the way to win converts.

107. jj: This column is a somewhat disingenuous, face-value analysis. I don’t think the problem with Brit Hume’s statement was any factual debate over whether Christianity offers a forgiveness or compassion that Buddhism does not. What I found outrageous was the arrogance and implied superiority Hume exhibited, in holding up his religion as a model for someone else.

I think that the tendency – even requirement, as you noted here – to proselytize is one of the most repellent things about Christianity (the same can be said for any religion that actively seeks to convert non-believers). Hume’s statement reflected the same condescension and patronizing arrogance that missionaries world over practice, in taking their beacon of light into the benighted lands. Buddhism is not a missionary religion.

The only forgiveness that Tiger Woods needs is from his family – certainly not from us, and not from someone else’s god. And theology is not the most important debate there is, particularly for those of us who are non-religious. Morality is.

126. Gloria Endres: I think what bothers people most about the Brit Hume comments is the hubris he showed in denigrating the Buddhist religion from a one sided and very public national forum that most of us do not have.

He was not a theologian or clergyman having a nice philosophical discussion about the merits of his faith with another theologian, but a talking head engaged in a one sided condemnation of another person’s personal beliefs. It sounded exactly what it was – bigoted and rude.

If Mr. Hume really had Tiger’s salvation at heart, he could have offered to meet with him in a private conversation and offered him his counsel for improving his situation, man to man. Woods would have had the option of politely accepting or declining the invitation. The shock of it was that Hume decided unilaterally to make the suggestion publicly and with no chance at a “no, thank you” from Woods.

Coming from someone who is neither a pastor nor personal friend, it sounded crass and highly offensive.

127. Rob: I’m not bothered that Mr. Hume voiced the opinions he did — I strongly defend his right to free speech and free opinions. However, I’m very bothered that we all refer to him as a “news analyst” on “Fox News”, instead of as a “commentator” on “Fox Opinions”. The latter is accurate; the former is a dangerous blurring of the very thick line between objective news analysis and evangelizing.

 Religion and Women

A nice op-ed piece about the relationship of religion and human rights. 

It can’t be denied that many holy texts and many religious histories offer examples of atrocious beliefs and behaviors.  Religious people aren’t wrong when they quote their favored text to support slavery or oppression of women because there are passages that directly support such things.  Monotheism in particular has clear messages in support of slavery and oppression of women… which goes back to the 10 commandments (it states that you shouldn’t covet you neighbors property with ‘property’ being defined as including your neighbors wife and slaves; and that is the very same 10 commandments that Christians would like to have put on the walls of courthouses and schools).

This reminds me of two things.  First, Derrick Jensen’s book The Culture of Make Believe is an awesome book that analyzes this in detail.  Second, I was reading about the beginnings of the culture wars. 

The culture wars began with anti-communism and the Republican fight against the New Deal.  At one time, Republicans were supportive of some civil rights and they criticized the KKK.  However, when the Democrats embraced civil rights, the Republicans turned their back on the poor and took up the Southern Strategy to steal the Democrat’s southern base.  This worked for the Republican party, but this led to odd results.  In poor states, the rich vote for Republicans and the poor vote for Democrats.  In rich states, both poor and rich vote for Democrats.  The swing states are the middle income states and the swing voters are the middle class. 

The interesting part is that Republicans became the party that was against communism and socialism, and the two were seen as the same.  As the socialists in this country were for civil rights, the Republicans became the party that opposed government intervention into civil rights issues.  This seems odd at first glance considering that the Southern Strategy also made the GOP the party of the religious right.  You’d think that Christians would be for helping the poor and underprivileged, but that isn’t the case for the religious right because the fear of communists/socialists was greater than their love of the gospel.

How News Happens: A Study of the News Ecosystem of One American City

The study, which examined all the outlets that produced local news in Baltimore, Md., for one week, surveyed their output and then did a closer examination of six major narratives during the week, finds that much of the “news” people receive contains no original reporting. Fully eight out of ten stories studied simply repeated or repackaged previously published information.

And of the stories that did contain new information nearly all, 95%, came from traditional media—most of them newspapers. These stories then tended to set the narrative agenda for most other media outlets.

I’m not surprised, but it does dissapoint me.  The newspapers do a mediocre job of reporting.  The failure of our political system largely rests on the major media such as newspapers that set the narrative agenda.

What dissapoints me is that the newspapers aren’t creating most of the new information, but they are creating most of the new information that gets read by most people.  There are many organizations that report on various issues.  These organizations often focus solely on a particular issue or area of study and they do very detailed investigations.  Newspaper reporters depend on these kinds of organizations to discover news stories that exist outside of press releases. 

Newspapers are shrinking and doing less investigative reporting.  The fact that the public is so dependent on them is a sad state of affairs. 

What papers do well is less about offering new information and more about offering information that has been filtered and analyzed.  If you want to consider simply the factor of new information, twitter beats all of the news media combined.  Even news media watches twitter to discover emerging trends and breaking news, but the average person doesn’t want to follow thousands of twitterers in order to discover random bits of new information.

Two defense contractors indicted in shooting of Afghans

I don’t know too much about this incident, but I have researched some of the history of Blackwater.  This incident seems to be systemic to the entire organization as this isn’t an isolated event.  I always wonder why upper level officials are rarely held accountable.  The way Blackwater employees acted would appear to be grounded in how they were trained and the general policies of the company.

This is similar to other types of organizations.  Consider the case of the FBI vs Judi Bari.  The FBI agents involved were found guilty, but it was obvious that the responsibility went beyond just some low level employees.  The FBI upper level management were simply untouchable by the court system.  Or consider the torture situation.  It was obvious that many people in the military and in Washington knew what was going on at various military detainment prisons, but those who were ultimately culpable never were charged or even investigated to any extent. 

There are hundreds of examples like this.  A number of US politicians and military leaders have been charged of crimes against humanity and yet they walk free.  And just consider the enormous number of corporate crimes and how it’s rare for wealthy people to spend much time in prison (if any time at all).  Some corporate criminals have stolen more money by themselves than all of the thiefs held in prison combined.

We don’t live in a just society.

A Fight for the Homeless and Against Authority

This guy is the kind of libertarian that I’m so fond of.  If you actually want to help the poor and homeless, there is no way to do it but fight those in power.

“I believe he truly does care for the people he takes in,” said Bruce Gibson, the outgoing chairman of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. “And there’s only one thing he cares more about. And that’s fighting with the county.”

Mr. de Vaul admits to enjoying battling local officials, but he also says he has been shaken by his prosecution.

“What I’m saying is that I’m in over my head,” Mr. de Vaul said. “And because I don’t like authority, I’m not going to give up.”

Millennials: They’re Younger – But Their Preferences Aren’t That Different

There was one detail about this survey that caught my attention.  Millennials and GenXers are on the same page when it comes to technology and the internet.  These are the two generations that are now taking over the work force and positions of leadership.  Because of various reasons including economics, Boomers have been slow to leave the work force and positions of leadership, but it’s inevitable that the Boomers will be leaving in large numbers in this upcoming decade. 

We are in a transition right now.  Once that transition is complete, the entire work force and the positions of leadership will be filled with the technology embracing generations.  I don’t know if that is good or bad, but there are massive changes on the horizon.

This is why Republicans are so worried [PIC]

From looking at demographics, I already knew that the younger generation was liberal to moderate on most issues.  All of this is interesting as the conservative movement has been fleeing the moderate position and attacking all moderate Republicans.  If the GOP simply stopped catering to extremists (most of them being of the religious variety) and returned to an egalitarian form of libertarianism, they could quite possibly attract many of these younger voters.

Her GOP Critics Unleashed, Will Palin Fire Back?

Palin is joining Fox News and speaking at the first tea party convention which is the movement backed by Fox News.  Palin, Fox News, and tea party leaders have been attacking many GOP politicians. 

Within the tea party movement, many of the Ron Paul libertarians are critical of their movement having been taken over by Fox News and the Beckheads.  In the near future, the real libertarians are going to start causing problems for the career politicians like Palin who simply want to take over the GOP.

It makes me excited.  The conservative movement is going to get really ugly when all these folks turn on eachother.

The former Alaska governor’s memoir did, in fact, outrage many people involved in the McCain-Palin operation. They saw in the book an array of the same qualities they had come to discern in her during the two months of the general election: the self-serving habits, the vindictiveness, the distant relationship with the truth. For McCainworld, all the old feelings toward Palin came back in a rush. But except for chief strategist Steve Schmidt’s concise dis of the book (“fiction”) and communications adviser Nicolle Wallace’s somewhat more lengthy refutation on The Rachel Maddow Show, virtually everyone else in the McCain-Palin orbit abided by the Senator’s wishes — keeping the secrets of the campaign secret.

Until this week, that is. With the publication of our book Game Change and the appearance of Schmidt on 60 Minutes in a piece discussing our reporting, much of the truth about Palin has begun to emerge. The questions are how she might respond and what effect the turn of events will have on her future — a future that now includes a gig at Fox News.

The picture presented in Game Change of Palin’s emergence as national phenomenon — and the real Palin behind her public persona — is often startling and sometimes shocking. The scantness of the vetting she received before being placed on the Republican ticket. Her substantive deficiencies, even more dramatic than those that had previously been reported: her lack of understanding about why there are two Koreas, her ignorance about the function of the Federal Reserve, her belief that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. The fact that, at her lowest moments during preparation for her debate against Joe Biden, some senior McCain aides worried that she was mentally unstable. And, ultimately, their fears that she wasn’t up to the job of being Vice President.

Adding to the picture are the revelations that Schmidt brought forward on 60 Minutes — in particular, her habitual shading of the truth in ways that exposed the campaign to extreme political vulnerability. “You know, it [was] the equivalent of saying down is up and up is down,” Schmidt told Anderson Cooper on the program. “[She routinely said things] that were provably, demonstrably untrue.”

No Seat for Wall Street at Tea Party

Judson Phillips, a Tennessee attorney and organizer of the convention, says the tea-party movement, disparate as it is, includes many people “who believe that Congress pays far too much attention to Wall Street and not enough attention to Main Street.” Tea-party rallies, he says, draw a lot of small businessmen and women frustrated at their own inability to get capital while big banks prosper, and thus inclined to think the deck is stacked against them.

Asked specifically about Wall Street bonuses, Mr. Phillips replies: “I think the reaction of most people in the tea-party movement is going to be this: If a company is doing well, they don’t have a problem with it. Most people in the tea-party movement are capitalists….If the company in question is one that received a government bailout — totally different story. Most people in the tea-party movement don’t believe in the concept of too big to fail.”

Would a transnational mega-corporation such as News Corp that is behind Fox News support the tea party movement if they thought it was against the financial interests of transnational mega-corporations? The tea party was originally the party of Ron Paul. Many Fox News pundits such as Glenn Beck criticized, ridiculed, and dismissed Ron Paul. After undermining Ron Paul’s movement, Glenn Beck (and Fox News in general) has attempted to take over Ron Paul’s movement and call it his own.

Many in the tea party have as much faith in the market as they do in God. It goes back to the earliest Christians who came to America. They believed that being rich was an outward sign of being saved. This is why the lower middle class tea party movement trusts the rich and distrusts those even more poor than they are. This same mentality has led the legal system to be tough on crimes of the poor all the while going easy on the crimes of the rich.

The problem with the government we have right now is that it’s neither capitalism nor socialism. It’s a soft form of fascism where the line between govt and capitalism is so blurred as to almost not exist at all. The bailouts are a problem, but just focusing on them would be to ignore the real problem. If a free market is to exist, the influence of big money needs to be taken out of Washington. I don’t know what the exact solution is, but the government we have doesn’t serve the average person of any political persuasion.

Free markets only can be held accountable if the general public can have direct influence on the companies they work for and have money invested in. When companies become transnation megacorporations, they become so big that they can’t be controlled and instead usurp control. Free markets like democracy only work on the small level of direct participation of the citizenry and direct accountability to specific communities.

The problem of our system is that there is a deep inconsistency. The political system was set up with divisions of power because it was assumed that individuals aren’t to be trusted with too much power. On the other hand, the mainstream has had naive trust in capitalism based on an assumption of enlightened selfishness. The problem is that these two beliefs are at odds. Many people in politics were once worked for or owned private corporations, and many people working for or owning private corporations were once politicians. There is a revolving door between them.

The tea party’s trust of capitalism and mistrust of government makes absolutely no sense. What makes an individual trustworthy when they are privately employed but use their personal connections to influence politics but untrustworthy when they become a politician with personal connections to private corporations?

There are very few political groups demanding that corpoations be held accountable to their shareholders. And one of these few are the socialists (such as Noam Chomsky). Socialism is in reality the complete opposite of big government. Instead, with socialism, companies are directly accountable to the people who work for them and to the communities they effect… and, of course, to their shareholders. Neither democracy nor free markets can exist on a large scale. When companies and governments become too big, they can’t be controlled by the people and instead act to control the people. Whether we are ruled by big government or big business, it’s all the same.

Socialism is simply the counter-balance to libertarianism. Libertarians believe that the powers that be should quit meddling with our lives and communities. Socialists believe that we as individuals and communities should take personal responsibility to force those in power to be accountible. However, if libertarians merely take power away from government, big business will fill the void and simply become the new political force. And if socialists put their faith in the present faux democracy, the government will continue on as before.

The tricky part is how does power get put back in the hands of individuals and small business owners, of communities and workers. Basically, what this is about is the need for grass roots activism that can fight against being taken over by big business astro turf. Grass roots activism has to be rooted in communities. People have to know and trust eachother and have to be fighting for a common cause.

Unfortunately, the tea party at present doesn’t fit the bill. There may be some factions of genuine grass roots within the tea party. Instead of fighting outside forces of the evil Democrats, for right now the grass roots activists should be fighting to take back their movement from Fox News and the GOP.

The difficulty these days is that grass roots can’t easily be differentiated from astro turf. Even astro turf movements have genuine grass roots activists. That is exactly what the astro turf manipulators want. The real grass roots activists lend the astro turf movement credibility, and then propaganda and spin is used to manipulate the movement. The interesting thing about astro turf is that most people in such a movement don’t even know who is in control.

Even the government used to be in the business of astro turf. The FBI had its COINTELPRO where they’d infiltrate grass roots organizations. Once infiltrated, they’d either destroy the organization or take over positions of leadership. The average person wouldn’t even notice anything had changed. The same techniques used by the FBI are essentially what private companies use as well. The difference is that this kind of activity became illegal for the FBI to be involved with, but it’s perfectly legal for private corporations.

Interesting Stuff on the Web: 12/28/09

Cat Cams: What DO Cats Do Home Alone?

Based on the photos, about 22 percent of the cats’ time was spent looking out of windows, 12 percent was used to interact with other family pets and 8 percent was spent climbing on chairs or kitty condos. Just 6 percent of their hours were spent sleeping.

[…]  The 777 photos studied by Villarreal showed the cats looking at a television, computer, DVDs or other media 6 percent of the time and hiding under tables 6 percent of the time.

Coming in at 5 percent was playing with toys; eating or looking at food finished at 4 percent.

There goes the theory that cats just lay around sleeping all day.

Lessons from Obama’s first year

A decent analysis of Obama as a person and a president.

As books go beyond printed page to multisensory experience, what about reading?

A fairly extensive article on the developing technology of reading.

Adding Fees and Fences on Media Sites

People who have studied the problem argue that charging online would work only if consumers were offered a much-improved product with the convenience of access anywhere, on any digital device — the core idea behind the magazine consortium and its planned online store.

By that standard, much of the talk of wringing more money from Internet users rings hollow, said Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University and a prominent blogger on media subjects. “People who really think we have to charge or the industry is sunk would be more persuasive if they said at the same time we have to add more value than we’ve been adding,” he said.

And, most industry experts agree, entertainment will be easier to charge for than news. It may be hard to prevent free distribution of an episode of “The Office” or “NCIS,” but the product is unique, with no substitute being created by someone else.

A small number of publications already charge for Internet access, including The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Newsday, Consumer Reports and The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But they tend to be either specialty products or near-monopolies in local markets, and they generally do not charge enough to fundamentally alter their profit pictures.

But for most general-interest news, any paid site would be competing with alternative versions of the same articles, delivered by multiple free news sources.

“One of the problems is newspapers fired so many journalists and turned them loose to start so many blogs,” Mr. Mutter said. “They should have executed them. They wouldn’t have had competition. But they foolishly let them out alive.”

I’ve never had a subscription to a newspaper or even any mainstream news magazine.  Even with speciality magazines, I only by them rarely and have only had one subscription in my adult life.  When I go to work, there is are various local newspapers laying around that I read sometimes, but that was true before the internet as well.  I actually read the newspaper more since the newspapers have gone online.  If I read a an article in a physical publication, it’s not unusual for me then to visit the article on the web to see if there are comments.

I’m not willing to pay nor will I ever be willing to pay for most publications.  However, I might be willing to pay for a site that provided access to a wide variety of publications.  At the moment, the only online products I’m willing to pay for are Netflix, Rhapsody and certain tv shows available from Amazon Video On Demand.  Oddly, though, I spend maybe most of my time watching Hulu which is a free service supported by advertising. 

I agree with the article that there is, however, a big difference between news and entertainment.  There are plenty of free online news sources and many of them are quality, but I actually enjoy quite a bit the online news sources that only came into existence after the internet.  As long as quality free news reporting, I won’t feel very motivated to support large news organizations that have high overhead.  The only way I’d feel overly motivated to pay for access to a news website is if they offered massive investigative reporting, long interviews with experts rather than just professional tallking heads, and in-depth analysis and commentary.  At present, the major paid news sources aren’t offering anything worth paying much for.

Gay Candidates Get Support That Causes May Not

Some political scientists say the rise in openly gay candidates’ winning public office is a better barometer of societal attitudes than are the high-profile fights over same-sex marriage.

“Gay marriage ballot measures are not the best measure,” said Patrick J. Egan, a political scientist at New York University who studies issues surrounding gay politicians. “They happen to be about the one issue the public is most uncomfortable with. In a sense, they don’t give us a real good picture of the opinion trend over the last 30 years.”

For instance, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago has been polling people since 1973 about whether homosexual behavior is morally wrong. In 1973, 73 percent of the people polled described it as always wrong and only 11 percent as “not wrong.” By 2006, those saying homosexuality was “always wrong” had dropped to 56 percent, and 32 percent said it was not wrong.

One reason for the shift in attitudes, some political scientists contend, is a rising number of gays acknowledging their sexual preference openly in various walks of life, from workers on factory floors to Hollywood stars.

“More and more people have been coming out,” said Sean Theriault, a political scientist at the University of Texas who tracks gay politics. “Ten years ago, you could talk to a lot of people who didn’t know a single gay person, and now, especially in the cities, you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know anyone who is gay.”

Yet, most of the openly gay politicians who have won races recently have done so by avoiding being labeled as single-issue candidates, several gay politicians said.

[…] their opponents are often unwilling to attack them directly about their sexual orientation, though smear campaigns often are carried out through proxies, as happened in Houston.

[…]  One key to victory for gay politicians has been building reputations in their communities as candidates well qualified for the job. Voters who may be uncomfortable with homosexuality in the abstract are often willing to vote for a gay individual they feel they know, political strategists said.

[…]  “It’s like anything else,” Ms. Valdez said in an interview. “When it becomes close and personal, it’s not hateful anymore.”

Despite the politicians and the news media focusing on divisive wedge issues, homosexuality has become socially acceptable and normalized.  The wedge issues will remain potent political fodder for some time to come, but they’ll become ever less useful as campaign platforms.  The problem the GOP is experiencing now is that their focus on divisive issues is dividing the party itself and so many people have stopped identifying as Republicans.

Interesting Stuff on the Web: 12/25/09

I sometimes feel critical of the New Atheists, but Dawkins seems rather moderate and reasonable in this video.  But, even with his more liberal use of the term ‘atheist’, I’d still consider myself agnostic.

Dreamy Sales of Jung Book Stir Analysis

This gives me hope for humanity.  The book that Jung considered the expression of his soul is selling extremely well.  It’s rather expensive, it’s the most massive book I’ve ever owned, and it’s as far opposite of light reading as a book can get.  It helps that The New York Times has been hyping it up, but the question is why has The New York Times published several detailed articles about it.  Carl Jung isn’t exactly a big name outside of the intellectual elite.  Even those who know of him rarely actually read his work and this book is a more challenging read than any typical book written by Jung.

I think it must be one of those signs of the times.

“I think that when times are tough, the people are very aware of what is ethereal and also what is peripheral, like all the little new toys that come out,” said Barbara Meade, an owner of Politics and Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington that has sold 25 copies. “Somehow books seem to be something that is a lasting value.”

The Power of Magical Thinking

“You want to find a balance to lets [children] be open to possibility but also to question,” says Dr. Woolley.

Fantasy play is correlated with other positive attributes. In preschool children, for example, those who have imaginary friends are more creative, have greater social understanding and are better at taking the perspective of others, according to Marjorie Taylor, a psychology professor at the University of Oregon and author of the book “Imaginary Companions and the Children Who Create Them.”

I love reading about this kind of research, but I’ve already read about similar research before.  I know a while back I posted about some research that correlated 3 factors which I think were maybe imagination, empathy (or emotional intelligence), and spiritual experience… or something like that.  It’s interesting how certain traits correlate.

From my studies of personality, the results of this kind of research is far from surprising.  But there is one aspect that does offer some possible new insight.  In MBTI terms, imagination and empathy would be considered separate functions, but from a pairing perspective our society often associates N with F and the NF types are the most imaginative and empathetic of the types (NFs certainly would be the kids with imaginary friends).

There was some other research I came across recently, but I can’t remember where I saw it.  The only part I recall was that there was a correlation between people who think in pictures and a lack of empathy.  This actually makes sense.  To picture something it is to externalize it which is different than imaginative role-playing where the perspective is inhabited.  So, it probably is important to distinguish imagination from mere visualization.

I noticed some nice comments to this article:

Scott Hadley: My kid knows the garbage man is real because he’s been looking at him as long as he’s been able to look out the window. The garbage man is the guy with the truck that has the hydraulic arm dumps the bins into the back. No mystery there.

He does have one helluva imagination though.

On an unrelated note does this research remind anyone of the movie Blade Runner?

I hadn’t thought of Blade Runner while reading it, but now that you mention it…

PKD was concerned about how empathy relates to understanding what it means to be human. Also, the androids had false memories installed which allowed them to experience themselves as human. Instead of having imaginary friends, their whole identity was imaginary. But oddly this allowed for the possibility that the androids could in some sense experience (or feel) even more intensely (such as the last scened with Roy Batty).

It’s in imagining that we learn what is real. Those who are deficient in this ability never fully learn to understand reality outside of their own limited experience.

Laurence Gebhardt: Related research suggests we go through three stages in belief development.

A first stage is time of naivete where in childish ways we literally believe in reality concepts told to us by adults and authority figures. Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, the magic star over Bethlehem, flat earth, ancient wisdom, fundamentalist concepts, etc. Some people get stuck in naive literal-realtiy beliefs throughout life.

A second stage is critical thinking where we discover that some naive beliefs are not literally true or real for us. Sometimes people get stuck in this stage and become cynical, as atheists, about anything that cannot be empirically-analytically and 100% proven to be ‘truth’ when suspected to be a false belief teaching of self-serving authority figures. Climate change may be considered a naive belief when critical thinking reveals that not 100% of scientists agree on precise causal factors.

A third stage around beliefs and reality may be called post-critical naivete. In this stage we recall belief in Santa Claus as naive after our critical thinking experience but then discover the profound truth about a spirit of giving to others symbolized by Santa Claus. Or the Tooth Fairy is an early-stage Bar Mitzvah rite of passage to be continued with our own children. Much ancient wisdom, scientific hypothesis not yet fully understood, and prophetic voices in all times and ages reveal post-critical profound truths that we should neither naively accept nor critically reject but rather search for ultimate reality as a strong basis for thinking and living.

Jared Diamond’s book Collapse describes societies that became stuck in both naivete and critical thinking when they failed to discover and take action on profound truths of reality in slowly-changing phenomena. Dr. Suess’ story The Lorax is a yet another fable of environmental overload but with profound truth in an age of consumerism in a linear (non-sustainable) material economy and global population growth.

Research and theory in this area is fascinating.

I’m personally a fan of Spiral Dynamics which is a similar model. It can be applied to both individual and collective development.

Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprouts Like to Live, Too

Just a nice article about how scientists are learning that plants aren’t as mindlessly passive as we once thought they were.  Whether or not they’re conscious in a human sense, plants are aware of their environment and respond to it.  When you go to pick a plant to eat it, the plant does it’s best to defend itself.  Like any life form, plants try to avoid death.  And, as plants can’t move very easily, they’ve become quite inventive in fending off predators.  This also reminds me of how scientists are starting to learn that more plants act as predators in a carnivorous fashion.

The Body Electric

Now this is very very interesting.

Two years ago, in his book “Rocketeers,” Michael Belfiore celebrated the pioneers of the budding private space industry. Now he has returned to explore a frontier closer to home. The heroes of his new book, “The Department of Mad Scientists,” work for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as Darpa, a secretive arm of the United States government. And the revolution they’re leading is a merger of humans with machines.

The revolution is happening before our eyes, but we don’t recognize it, because it’s incremental.

I’ve noticed that about the incremental nature of technological development.  I live in a house that is more than a hundred years old and it’s filled with all kinds of new technologies, but even so the structure of the house remains basically the same.  Wires, cables and pipes run through the walls where once the walls were empty.  A kitchen, for example, doesn’t look that different from a kitchen in the past because new technologies are built to fit in with the old.

Climate Change: How Fast Is the Earth Shifting?

Writing in a paper published Wednesday in Nature, scientists describe what they call the velocity of climate change, or more specifically, the speed of Earth’s shifting climatic zones. As global temperature rises over the next century, the scientists argue, Earth’s habitable climatic zones will start moving too, generally away from the Equator and toward the poles. That means many species of plants and animals will also have to move in order to survive. Whether or not they do will depend on several factors, but two of the most important are how fast a species can adjust its habitat range, and how quickly that range is moving out from under it.

Until now, ecologists have mostly focused on these factors as they affect individual species, but the new paper takes a more global view. By combining temperature projections on a very fine scale with global topographic maps, researchers have predicted change not for specific species, but for the climatic zones they need to keep up with.

Indeed, because global temperature is rising now, ecosystems are already on the move.

[…]

More than intuitive, this new index could also prove very useful, especially to conservationists who work to keep species from extinction. While the average velocity of climate change may be a bit less than a half-kilometer per year worldwide, according to the paper, it can be significantly faster or slower depending on the local topography. In deserts and other flat areas, such as the Amazon basin, climatic zones will move faster, while hilly or mountainous terrain will slow things up. “In the Northern Hemisphere, for example,” explains lead author Scott Loarie, “north-facing slopes tend to be cooler and wetter than south-facing slopes.”

In short, opposite sides of a mountain may have different climates, even though they’re close to each other. In areas with varied terrain including lots of hills, therefore, hospitable conditions might be available relatively nearby. “That was the unexpected message,” says Loarie, an ecologist at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University. “There’s lots of buffering capacity in heterogeneous landscapes.”

That is fascinating.  The problem with countering such global problems is first to try to understand them using clear models.

The conclusion presented here makes a lot of sense.  I can think of a local example from the last global climate change.  There is a species of snail that lives in certain types of caves in Iowa.  This species was previously thought to have gone extinct after the end of the ice age, but it survived in small pockets because of the “heterogenous landscapes” around here.  Parts of Iowa are very hilly with cave formations, but these caves are unique.  The way they’re structured they capture ice in the winter and the ice slowly melts the rest of the year.  It never fully melts and so the caves remain very cool which is the ecological niche that the snails need.

However, with global warming, this ecological niche may disappear.  The article brings up the issue of whether scientists should try to move species in order to save them since “only 8% of the world’s national parks and other preserves will retain their current climate over the next century”.

Banks Bundled Bad Debt, Bet Against It and Won

This article is just one of the many ways American culture has been corrupted.  Unfortunately, these issues will never get as much press focus as they deserve.  The financial interests who own the news are tied into mega-corporations that include these types of banks or else are tied through other various interested parties who have much control.

A major problem at present is that the the extreme rightwing is attacking any attempts at government regulation and so are making the problem worse.  I suspect nothing is going to change unless there is a revolution, but the extreme rightwingers most loudly calling for revolution are the mostly ignorantly clueless group in America.  Ignorant masses, manipulated voting public, controlled media propaganda… American democracy is dead in the water.

At this point, it’s probably too late.  If you try to reinstate regulation, the bankers and other powers that be will manipulate the bills as they get passed and will continue to game the system.  Big business and big government have essentially become indistinguishable and so any regulation becomes a pretense.

A culture war cease-fire

In this highly partisan year, we did not see a sharpening of the battles over religion and culture.

Yes, we continued to fight over gay marriage, and arguments about abortion were a feature of the health-care debate. But what’s more striking is that other issues — notably economics and the role of government — trumped culture and religion in the public square. The culture wars went into recession along with the economy.

The most important transformation occurred on the right end of politics. For now, the loudest and most activist sections of the conservative cause are not its religious voices but the mostly secular, anti-government tea party activists.

Especially revealing is the re-emergence of former House majority leader Dick Armey, a prime mover behind the tea parties and a longtime critic of the religious right. He once said that James Dobson of Focus on the Family and his allies were a “gang of thugs” and “real nasty bullies.”

I think what has happened is that the culture war has become muddied.

The rightwing Evangelists, Mormons and Catholics have banded together; and all of these true believer moral conservatives have courted the financial conservative libertarians and the anarcho-libertarian paranoid types. There is no single theme holding all of them together except a sense of outrage. These diverse groups (who oddly seem opposed to America’s diversity) have been forced to call a truce between their differences in order to attack a common enemy (which apparently is a vague, mixed-up sense of ‘Them’, the ‘Other’: mainstream media, Hollywood, intellectual elites, big government, big brother, illegal aliens, poor minorities, socialists, fascists, communists, Nazis, etc).  A black Democratic president has simply been a convenient symbol to focus all of this outrage.

However, the culture war of values isn’t over.  Those values may have lost their outward clarity in certain ways, but the emotional power of outrage has a way of focusing a group’s sense of it’s values (even if rationally they can’t be articulated).  They’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore… that’s pretty much their message.  Between the Birthers, Climategate, and Death panels, they’ve proven they’re not overly concerned about objective facts.  Objectively defined and rationally defended values isn’t the point.  When you get down to the details, these groups disagree on many issues, but for now the details don’t matter.

Two things will happen with this extreme rightwing movement:

  1. It will magnify as the demographics increasingly shift (i.e., the shrinking of the fundamentalist white demographic).
  2. The movement will fall apart into competing groups as this demographic shift happens.  The libertarians and the paranoid fringe will continue on as before because they’re not limited to the fundamentalist white demographic.  The fundamentalist whites, however, will become louder and more violent as they shrink.  They’re our homegrown terrorism waiting to happen (as both the Bush and Obama administrations have realized).

Former NFL star Dave Pear is sorry he ever played football

This might seem like a peculiar story, but it can’t be dismissed as just a whiny former star athlete.  This is just representative of the general sense of disgruntled outrage that the American public is feeling.  People are beginning to realize that bankers and health insurance companies don’t give a rat’s ass about the average person, the citizenry is realizing that politicians don’t actually represent them, and even star athletes are realizing that they’ve been used and abused by others to make large profits.

Wake up, America!  It ain’t Obama’s socialism/fascism/communism/Nazism that you need to be worrying about… it’s the entire system which is controlled by the 10% of the population who own 85% of the wealth.  The labels of liberal and conservative, Democratic and Republican are mostly meaningless.  If you want to support real change that helps real Americans, then protest about real issues rather than idiotic issues such as birth certificates.  And if you’re going to vote, then vote for third parties.

From John Birchers to Birthers

Next month will mark the 45th anniversary of the publication by Harper’s magazine of Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” a work that seems to grow more relevant by the day.

I was not always a fan. When I first read it two decades ago, I thought Hofstadter was being needlessly insulting by equating political views with mental illness — despite his insistence that he wasn’t using the word that way. Besides, I thought, who really cared about the strange notions that occurred to members of marginal groups like the John Birch Society? Joe McCarthy’s day was long over, and even in the age of high Reaganism, I thought, the type of person Hofstadter described was merely handing out flyers on street corners.

As the historian himself admitted, “In America it has been the preferred style only of minority movements.” Why bother with it, then?

How times have changed! Hofstadter’s beloved liberal consensus has been in the grave for decades now. Today it would appear that his mistake was underestimating the seductive power of the paranoid style.

This reminds me of a book review I just read about another prescient work: The True Believer by Eric Hoffer.

When I first read Hoffer’s classic book, “The True Believer”, as a graduate student twenty years ago, I was shocked. I was astonished that a writer could openly suggest parallels among Christianity, Islam, fascism, and the KKK, and survive to write another book. Yet I was riveted by Hoffer’s observations, which seemed to jump off the page in spite of his straightforward and unembellished prose. But I also recall thinking that Hoffer was a bit too brash in his assertions; that he ought to have tempered nearly every statement with a qualifier–a disclaimer that left open the possibility that he was mistaken.

Upon reading Hoffer again, as a middle-aged and somewhat less idealistic professor, I find that several things have changed. First, Hoffer’s observations seem even more keenly relevant today, post 9/11, than they did in the post-Vietnam era.

Glenn Beck, Cult Leader

Democracy Corps did a series of focus-groups with movement conservatives in Georgia and found them happily living in their own special reality. “Democrats may joke that Republicans seem to live on a different planet sometimes,” their report says, “but in some important ways, these Republicans would happily agree.”

If you haven’t read the results, I suggest you take the time (PDF). It’s only a few pages long and confirms a theory I’ve held since last summer: the conservative movement has become a cult, and Glenn Beck is their cult leader.

More than half of the respondents in our conservative Republicans groups indicated that they try to watch or listen to Beck on a daily basis, with some going to great lengths to ensure they (and their families) do not miss a thing. (Emphasis mine)

Cults are personality-based, and therefore a natural fit for a movement built on charismatic politics.

I think the author is over-emphasizing the cult interpretation, but still it’s a good point he is making.  Research does show that the personalities of conservatives tend toward group identity and loyalty.  When this group mentality becomes exaggerated it can take on aspects of cult-like behavior, but that is different than actually being a cult.  Cult or not, it provides insight about the more worrying attitudes of the far right.

In the report itself, I noticed the following comment near the beginning:

Instead of focusing on these intense ideological divisions, the press and elites continue to look for a racial element that drives these voters’ beliefs – but they need to get over it. Conducted on the heels of Joe Wilson’s incendiary comments at the president’s joint session address, we gave these groups of older, white Republican base voters in Georgia full opportunity to bring race into their discussion – but it did not ever become a central element, and indeed, was almost beside the point.

I’ve only skimmed the report, but this particular statement seems to miss some underlying issues.  Yes, overt racism isn’t central to the far right as it once was.  No, racism hasn’t disappeared as a major influence on politics and society in general.  The far right doesn’t talk directly about racism any longer (except when calling liberals racist), but they do use racist codewords (‘white culture’, illegal aliens, welfare queens, etc).  Some prefer to call this racialist rather than racist, but the label you give it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that it has a major impact on public debate.

On the other hand, the report pointed out how sensitive they are about being called racists.  This sensitivity is a positive sign.  There is a lot of unconscious prejudice left in the American psyche, but it is slowly decreasing.  In another generation, along with the shifting race demographics, racism/racialism even in this subtly pervasive form will be much more rare.

I came across an interesting set of facts:

The conservative Republican base represents almost one-in-five voters in the electorate, and nearly two out of every three selfidentified Republicans. […] But liberal Democrats are outnumbered by moderate Democrats (36 to 61 percent of all Democrats)…

I was trying to think what this means.  At first, I thought it shows how more moderate, how more centrist is the Democratic party… and, by implication, that Democratic policies more closely represent the general public at present.  However, this may be skewed as less people identify as Republican now and so the moderate Republicans may be the people who left the party in droves.  Still, that is important.  Obama did win the popular vote which included many moderate Republicans and conservative independent swing voters.

However, I wonder how these numbers may or may not change in 2012.  At present, the Republican party is doing little to court moderates (not to mention the large numbers of ‘minorities’) and so it doesn’t look optimistic for them.

The last part was heartening because the independents were differentiated from the conservative Republicans:

The independent voters in our groups clearly viewed these issues very, very differently. They share the conservative Republicans’ disdain for the current Republican Party, but their critique is not that the party has abandoned its conservative principles but instead that it advances the interests of the rich and big businesses at the expense of the middle class. They worry about the Democratic Party’s proclivity to spend tax dollars and provide ‘freebies’ to those who do not do their fair share, but they appreciate the Democrats’ focus on ‘the little people’ (among which they included themselves) and the fact that ‘it’s not all about the money.’

The real hope here are the independent voters because they seem to understand the real forces at work.  I consider myself an independent and I feel somewhat aligned with this sector of the movement.  It’s quite interesting that independents are more afraid of the Republican party than the Democratic party.  Even if Democrats sometimes have bad policies, at least they more often have good intentions towards ‘the little people’.

They view FOX News as another media outlet, decidedly conservative in its point of view but no more or less biased than any other media outlet; their assumption is that every outlet has a bias that reflects the interests of its own bottom line. FOX is no different, and certainly not a source of special insight and information that cannot be gained elsewhere. They generally laugh at conservative commentators such as Limbaugh (‘overbearing,’ ‘egotistical,’ ‘idiot’) and Beck (one man called him a ‘crybaby’).

I can somewhat agree with this view.  I’m not a fan of mainstream media in general.  But I disagree that the biases are all the same.  I do appreciate that these independents aren’t swayed by the far right pundits.

When it comes to Sarah Palin, there was almost universal agreement that she could never be elected president, with most citing her inexperience and baggage as obstacles too great to overcome. But even more important to them, most felt she was ultimately driven by greed and ambition more than anything else and would rather use her newfound fame to enrich herself than improve the country.

This demonstrates a split in this movement between the independents and the party conservatives.  I hope this split becomes more untenable because I think the independents have more in common with non-party liberals (and the more impartial Democrats who are critical of Obama).

All of which underscores how much the conservative Republicans are a world apart – with big consequences for the Republican Party.

Hell yeah!

Conservatives roar; Republicans tremble

Many top Republicans are growing worried that the party’s chances for reversing its electoral routs of 2006 and 2008 are being wounded by the flamboyant rhetoric and angry tone of conservative activists and media personalities, according to interviews with GOP officials and operatives.

Congressional leaders talk in private of being boxed in by commentators such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh — figures who are wildly popular with the conservative base but wildly controversial among other parts of the electorate, and who have proven records of making life miserable for senators and House members critical of their views or influence.

Some of the leading 2012 candidates are described by operatives as grappling with the same tension. The challenge is to tap into the richest source of energy in the party — the disgust of grass-roots conservative activists with President Barack Obama and their hunger for a full-throated attack on his agenda — without coming off to the broader public as cranky and extreme.

I wouldn’t mind these rightwingers taking out the GOP, but I’m too cynical to think that this would improve Washington politics.  I’m hoping that a strong libertarian candidate will run just to force real debate.

That last video makes me feel nostalgic.  That so perfectly captures a typical interaction of young boys… and then puts a hilarious twist on it.  I remember kids doing this hand vagina thing back in the 1980s when I was in elementary school.  It’s probably even older than that.

It reminds me of some books I’ve read about the culture of childhood.  Many of the songs and games that children play have existed for centuries and exist in various forms all over the world.  No one teaches kids to do these things other than other kids and older siblings.  It’s amazing how culture gets passed on… even low-brow culture.