Wednesday, April 27, 2011

the birther and the Nixon voter

The inevitable consequence of Obama releasing his "long form" (new media buzzword alert!) birth certificate will not be mass recantation of birther-ism, nor will it be expansion of the birther conspiracy theory to include the forgery of the long form certificate (among Newt Gingrich types, anyway). Rather, it will be the revelation that the birthers never really existed in the first place. Even those people caught on the record questioning Obama's birthplace didn't really think he wasn't a "natural born citizen." It was just the principle of asking for verification of citizenship, you see!

It's the same reason we now know the 1972 presidential election was stolen. Ask everyone in the country older than 58 how they voted, and you'll find that nobody voted for Nixon. CREEP was that good!

Today's Advice Column

Thought I'd give everyone a quick tip for dealing with today's water cooler conversation. The correct response to "why did it take Obama so long to release his birth certificate?" is "You're a moron."

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ross Douthat's Bogus Journey

Ross Douthat dedicates his Easter column to defending the concept of Hell, lamenting that Hell is losing cache with Americans even in a period where belief in God and miracles and angels is holding up pretty well, comparatively speaking anyway. Douthat's thesis appears to be that:
Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.

A lot of people are talking about this piece, so I thought I'd add my two cents, but I keep writing long paragraphs and then deleting them because I just can't put my finger on what he's trying to say here. "The reality of human choices?" Surely Douthat isn't arguing that people have to believe in Hell in order to act morally, since it's plainly obvious that millions, perhaps billions, of non-Hell-believers have lived without their lives spiraling into some hedonistic chaos. Nor, surely, is he asserting that only people who believe in Hell can feel like their lives have meaning (again, ask any liberal Christian/Jew/Buddhist/pagan/secular/atheist).

Is he saying a Christian can't believe in free will without believing in Hell? I'm thinking maybe, but Douthat keeps hedging his language and veiling the edges of his thesis. "[doing away with Hell]... also threatens to make life less fully human." What the hell does that even mean?

I'm also perplexed by the baseball analogy. I get that not keeping score in a children's game is a classic conservative trope about wussy liberal parenting, and thus a kind of dog whistle here for "liberal, liberal," but I don't get how hell plays into it. Do the runs and strikeouts "have real meaning" when parents keep score? We're still talking about 6 year olds playing teeball, aren't we? Is he saying that kids don't try hard if you don't keep score? If that's it, then the clear meaning of the analogy is that people won't try to do good if they're not threatened with Hell, which, as we established, is laughable.

Then again, that would explain why he went to such lengths to obfuscate his own point.

There's an extended example at the end about how Tony Soprano shouldn't go to Heaven. Setting aside the fact that Tony Soprano isn't going anywhere because he isn't real, is that really all this is about? There should be a Hell because Hitler and Judas shouldn't go to Heaven? Then what was all that cloudy b.s. about baseball and "a life less fully human" for?

And I'm glad Ross agrees that Gandhi's unbelief should "puncture religious chauvinism," but he's still hedging on Gandhi. Why? Is he insinuating that it's worth casting Gandhi into the Lake of Fire if it means we get to toss unrepentant mobsters in along with him? I certainly hope not, and I have serious doubts that many people would agree that the Final Judgment is going to be that sloppy. Nor, for that matter, would many of Christianity's most influential writers, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, both of whom readily admitted that God can and probably does save a righteous non-Christian here and there. I don't know why Douthat finds it too controversial to just say Gandhi probably earned his way in, unless he really does think Gandhi is damned. And honestly, if you live in the 21st century and still believe in a God so hard-hearted and legalistic that even Gandhi is left outside the gates, you're the one living "a life less human."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

things to remember in the budget debate

Ezra Klein lays out what's going on really well. The Republicans have introduced a "budget cutting" plan that raises the deficit, not lowers it, hate the very parts of the Affordable Care Act that install cost controls in our health care spending, and they are largely responsible for the current deficit. That's just the plain truth.

I'm going to add another, one that for me clarifies this debate more than anything else: the Republicans are not trying to balance the budget. They're trying to secure more money for the rich. That's it.

I've come to believe that Bill Clinton's most hard-fought achievement, balancing the budget, was in fact a total failure of vision because the goal itself plays into the Republican party's long term strategy. Republicans care only about converting government revenue into lower taxes for rich people, so any serious tackling of the deficit will only last until the next Republican government, ultimately resulting in just another round of Bush tax cuts.

not crazy enough for the freakshow

Why am I getting the sinking feeling that I'm going to be dedicating a nontrivial amount of time over the next 9-12 months defending Mitt Romney?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Stephanopoulos gets Bachmann to admit the validity of Obama's birth certificate

Watch Stephanopoulos show Michele Bachmann a copy of Obama's birth certificate, saying "so this story's over?" and her resignedly admit: "Yes, it's over." You can tell she saw this coming and was hedging on the birth certificate issue from the start of the interview (clearly George warned her before the interview that he would do this), but she'd been beating this drum earlier this week, so I don't think she is making a conscious attempt to make herself look more mainstream. To me, her body language is showing defeat.

So now the obvious question: Conservatives have been questioning Obama's birth certificate and drawing all manner of dark conclusions for four years. A significant percentage of the country has bought into this rubbish, and the number of dupes is rising.

Why did it take four years for someone in the press to confront Bachmann with a birth certificate that was made freely available by then-Senator Barack Obama early in the '08 campaign and expressly backed by the relevant officials in the state of Hawaii?

Monday, April 18, 2011

texting while talking

Old people think pulling out your smartphone while in conversation is rude, and wonder if young people feel the same way. From what I can tell, teens and twentysomethings do this constantly and show no hint of feeling slighted when others do it. In my opinion, pulling out your smartphone is essentially the same body language as looking at your watch. It's fine when you're standing in line, mostly okay when with a group of people but not participating in a conversation, and gauche when participating in a conversation.

living in the midwest

A former east coaster ruminates on life in the Midwest. Not sure how much I agree, but it's an interesting read for me as I consider the imminent end of our time in Indiana. My experience isn't exactly identical since I came from a different place, but I do remember being surprised at how rural South Bend isn't. Similarly, I had no idea a city could absolutely dwarf the sprawling metropolises of Dallas and Houston the way Chicago does.

This part rang out as absolutely true to me:
I continue to ask myself: What do I want from a hometown?

I want to support public schools without compromising my son's education (which, at least until the current governor wins his war, was a safe assumption). I want to regularly see good live music and movies and art exhibits without wrestling with crowds or competing for tickets. I want at any given time not to be the only lefty in the room; otherwise, life is stressful, especially in this time of no common ground. I want evenings and weekends to be devoted to family time. I want to not worry about money, fashion, or what kind of car I drive. I want to comfortably afford to travel and own a nice home and not feel at all times like we need more space. I want to my son to grow up spending time—not just holidays—with his aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents.

Of course there are people in coastal cities who have all of this—tons of them—but it's just easier here.

The greatest advantage of the Midwest, one that truly makes me wonder why it isn't a bigger draw, is that you don't have to choose between functional public schools and cheap real estate. That isn't true in most of the country.

Friday, April 15, 2011

falling for your own propaganda

House Republicans just passed a budget resolution to abolish Medicare. Seriously.

I'm honestly surprised about this. I know that the Republican party has been gunning for Medicare for decades, and I know that it's consistent with many predictions (included my own) that conservatives have been setting themselves up for this kind of catastrophic overreach since Obama's election. Nevertheless, it isn't like Republicans don't know Medicare is hugely popular and that voters punish parties that cut its funding, considering they hammered the Democrats among seniors just 5 short months ago primarily by charging Democrats with cutting Medicare funds. Nor is it likely that House Republicans believe this budget resolution has any chance of surviving the Senate, let alone a guaranteed presidential veto.

Do they really think they can keep this vote from being simplified to "Republicans voted to abolish Medicare?" Either I'm missing something huge, or House Republicans have convinced themselves, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Americans don't like Medicare.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

say it ain't so, John

Jane Curtin on the "incredibly misogynistic" environment at Saturday Night Live: "[John Belushi] felt as if it were his duty to sabotage pieces that were written by women."

Video at the link.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday errands

Heading to Walgreens for some chewing gum, a pack of smokes, and a pap smear. Thanks Fox and Friends!

the legacy of Malcolm X

A wonderful article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in both style and substance. An example paragraph about black Americans experimenting with self-examination in the wake of Malcolm:
Conscious sects sprang up--some praising the creator sky god Damballah, some spouting Hebrew, and still others talking in Akan. Consciousness was inchoate and unorthodox--it made my father a vegetarian, but never moved him to wear dreadlocks or adopt an African name. What united us all was the hope of rebirth, of a serum to cure generational shame. What united us was our champion, who delivered us from self-hatred, who delivered my mother from burning lye, who was slaughtered high up in Harlem so that colored people could color themselves anew.

Monday, April 11, 2011

a quick clarification on Michael Floyd

Before the oncoming pile-on of Notre Dame for letting Michael Floyd off on probation for a DUI, I'd like to point out one very important fact: the punishment meted out to Floyd (probation, counseling, community service) is consistent with the punishment recommended by the student handbook for a first-time DUI to the letter.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

at least someone's willing to fight

Nancy Pelosi's perpetually low approval ratings are a constant reminder that I'm well outside of the American mainstream. I found her to be an extremely effective Speaker of the House. She was generally honest about her opinions and intentions, including being unapologetically liberal, but wasn't a blowhard yelling into the mic on MSNBC. She was known neither for Harry Reid's cowering gunshy-ness nor Barbara Boxer's gavel-waving bravado. She let the opposition talk and put their bills up for votes, but in the end she always passed what she wanted and torpedoed what she didn't. Note for comparison the speakers on either side of her: Dennis Hastert, a Delay puppet with a flagrantly undemocratic "majority of the majority" policy, and John Boehner, a dissembler who's already lost control of the chamber not even three months on the job.

I'd also like to point to this story about her leadership during Bush's war on Social Security:
When Bush announced his Social Security plan last year, Pelosi told House Democrats they could never beat him in a straight-ahead, policy-against-policy debate because he had the megaphone of the presidency and was just coming off re-election. So the Democrats would thunderously attack Bush and argue there was no Social Security crisis and therefore no need for them to put out their own proposal. Some members were leery, concerned that Pelosi would make the Democrats look like the Party of No. As the spring of 2005 wore on, some pestered her every week, asking when they were going to release a rival plan. "Never. Is never good enough for you?" Pelosi defiantly said to one member. When Florida Democrat Robert Wexler publicly suggested raising Social Security taxes as the solution, Pelosi immediately chewed him out over the phone. Only one other Democrat signed on to his plan.

She was, of course, absolutely right and almost unique among Washington Democrats in understanding this very simple point.

People bitch about how Democrats don't have any backbone, but that Italian grandmother running the House Democrats is f**king iron. I'd take Pelosi over any other clown in Congress right now, and I'm starting to think I prefer her to Obama as well.

some helpful information

One keg of beer is 15 1/2 gallons. After careful scientific examination from these fine people, that translates to:

141 red plastic cups
6 1/2 cases of canned beer
165 cans of beer

Happy party planning!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Republicans vs. Medicare

I'm in a pretty low place right now as far as my belief in the judgment of American voters goes. Nevertheless, there's a more hopeful voice in my mind arguing that the privatization of Medicare in Ryan's budget is an insane overreach that's going to cost Republicans dearly in the next election. It's just hard to see how their advocates will be able to sustain any coherent argument that they're doing anything other than abolishing one of the two most popular programs in the government.

Of course, in order for that to happen, someone has to fight them on it.