Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Palin: The Movie

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog for posting this.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai in Perspective

As an article on Time.com notes, the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai signal a shift in Islamist terrorist tactics from suicide bombings to guerrilla warfare style tactics such as those being practiced in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This brings up a rather disturbing point. In the build-up to the Iraq War, some opponents warned that Iraq could turn into a training ground for terrorists, where they could learn new tactics to be exported to other countries. As Robert Baer notes, the professionalism of the terrorists indicates that they had actual combat experience. Could it be possible that the predictions of more hardened, professional terrorists are coming true?

Never Underestimate the American Desire for Cheap, Foreign-Made, Plastic Crap

A Wal-Mart worker was trampled to death yesterday in a stamped at a New York-area Wal-Mart store. Police cite a lack of security for dealing with the crowd as a contributing factor in the death.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

If You're Wall Street, You're Fine; If You're Detroit, You're Screwed

The recent bailout of Citigroup while the automakers are left hanging is a testament to the warped priorities of financial experts both left and right wing. As Robert Reich points out, Citigroup has little real effect on the economy, while the collapse of General Motors and other Big Three automakers could trigger a massive economic collapse. The other major difference is that while a Citigroup collapse would mainly harm Wall Street, the loss of the major automakers would harm the country in general, and the working class in particular.

This is not to say that there should be a no strings attached bailout of the major automakers. At the very least, they should be required to put a real effort into integrating green technology into their cars, and to look into mass production of electric cars. However, it is only common sense that mass employment enterprises should be bailed out before we bail out Wall Street firms. Needed economic stimulus should come before corporate socialism. As Paul Craig Roberts recently pointed out, "A country that doesn't make anything doesn't need a financial sector as there is nothing to finance."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Lack of Gratitude

Matthew Yglesias notes that National Review Online blogger Andrew McCarthy claims the Iraqi people are "ingrates" because they are not happy about the presence of American troops. Written in the context of an article about the recent Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), he claims the Iraqis are too friendly to Tehran and too interested in prosecuting American soldiers.

Gee, maybe we should have fought about that before we invaded their country.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Case against Hillary

On Hardball with Chris Matthews, Christopher Hitchens lays out a devastating indictment against Sen. Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. The conflicts of interest and lack of experience she will bring will potentially undermine President Obama's foreign policy, and badly serve our nation.

The only good side I can see to all this is that it will leave her in a position where she cannot harm President Obama politically.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tax 'Em

A Catholic priest in the Carolinas has told his parishioners that they should repent before receiving Communion if they voted for President Obama. If he wants to go that deep into politics and civil society, let him set aside a portion of his weekly collections for taxes to support said civil society.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

President Obama Speaks

President-elect Obama gave a weekly address yesterday highlighting the nation's economic difficulties, embedded above. It rings with his typical confidence, but also with a realization of the great challenges faced by the American economy.

As Juan Cole points out, we are still in the rough as long as President Bush is in office. There is always the possibility that he could further screw things up, creating a bank collapse as happened at the end of the Hoover Administration.

It is also worth noting that although President-elect Obama has a general idea of what needs to be done, he does not give much in the way of specifics. We will need to learn more before we can assess his economic plan in detail.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hillary for SecState?

The NPR program Day to Day has reported that President-elect Barack Hussein Obama is considering Sen. Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. Although I can see the political reasons he would have for doing so, I do not think she is the best choice. As the primaries revealed, she does not have much foreign policy experience. She would be far better off as Attorney General or a Supreme Court justice.

I think a far better choice would be former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson. As Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Dan Simpson notes, Richardson has foreign policy experience, having served as Ambassador to the UN. Furthermore, he is tough enough to stand up to any foreign opponent.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense

An article on Politico discusses the controversy over whom President-elect Obama will select as his Secretary of Defense. Although much talk has focused on current Secretary Robert Gates as a transitional figure, there is also opposition to this from the anti-war movement, who regard him as too implicated in Bush Administration policies.

The best alternative candidate that I have seen mentioned is former Sen. Chuck Hagel. He has been critical of Bush Administration policies, while also coming from the Republican side of the aisle, which would complement the Obama Administration's drive toward bipartisanship.

The latter is an especially important point. The Democrats have a unique opportunity to reduce the Republicans to the status of a regional, minority party for the foreseeable future. To do that, however, they will need to capture the moderate Republicans. There are already signs of this happening, if one can judge by the concerns of the more intelligent Republican columnists such as David Brooks. However, a few prominent Republican appointees to the Cabinet might deal the needed blow.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Barack Hussein Obama Is My President

Recently, right wing fanatics have taken to relentlessly pointing out the fact that our president-elect is named Barack Hussein Obama. The most recent expression of this is a letter by Jude Pohl in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, claiming Barack Hussein Obama's election as one of the three greatest disasters to befall America, the other two being Pearl Harbor and 9 / 11. (Forgetting the Civil War, Mr. Pohl?)

I, for one, am proud to say that Barack Hussein Obama is my president. This represents a step to a more tolerant, cosmopolitan America. It is not the final step, but it is a damned good midway step. I think we should all start calling him President Barack Hussein Obama to show our pride in this, and to show the closet racists that their time is up.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Scene from Election Day

The above picture was taken by me yesterday on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It shows a group of young pro-choice students asserting their position in the face of a display of fake tombstones put up by a campus pro-life group. The display accused Sen. Obama of complicity in genocide. Unfortunately for the pro-lifers, the unborn have a notoriously lousy turn-out rate.

Not Quite So Graceful

Two days ago, conservative blogger (and lukewarm Obama supporter) Ann Althouse speculated about whether liberals would be able to handle it if Sen. Obama did not become President. Taking her cue from a rather condescending article by William Kristol, she mocks the enthusiasm of young Obama supporters, saying they should all learn from her example of not being able to choose a winning candidate. Unfortunately, McCain supporters haven't been as stoic as she hoped.

Let's start with the fanatics at Little Green Footballs. Although the moderator, conscious of scrutiny by liberal watchdogs, attempts to keep a moderate tone when informing his readers of the election of the man he calls Barack Hussein Obama, the hoipoloi aren't taking it. The comments section, which borders eight hundred entries, is crowded with proclamations that they would not consider Obama a true president, repetitive obscenity, predictions of economic and international disaster, and claims that President-elect Obama is a Marxist / Communist. And those are the comments that did not have to be deleted. Even if one considers the notice that comments do not necessarily reflect the views of Little Green Footballs, the reaction does not reflect well on the site's creators.

Similar dissatisfaction is evident on Michelle Malkin's website and blog. She claims the real winner of the election is "Peggy the Moocher," an African-American woman on a YouTube clip who hopes that President Obama will pay for her gas and mortgage. The comments section features a comment about "forty acres and a mule." Hmm, I wonder if racism is a factor here.

Rush Limbaugh is also rather unhappy, rejecting any chance of "unity" with President Obama. Althouse, addressing this statement, tries to pass it off as an attempt to "define the conservative position." However, it should be pretty obvious by this point that conservatives are not quite living up to Althouse and Kristol's expectations.

It's Over, We've Won

Best Election Night Post by a Conservative

The usual gang of idiots at Little Green Footballs tries to hold out some rather unlikely hopes.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Some Congressional and Non-National Endorsements for This Election

Although the majority of this blog's attention has been naturally devoted to the presidential race, it would be worth our while to look at some state and congressional officials on the ballot.

For the 14th District Congressional seat, I am voting for the Green Party's candidate, Titus North. This was a somewhat difficult decision given Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle's laudable positions on the War in Iraq and the genocide in Darfur. However, I have chosen North, a University of Pittsburgh professor, in protest against Rep. Doyle's positions in favor of the death penalty and an anti-flag burning amendment. Furthermore, Rep. Doyle is running basically unopposed, so either way we win.(i.e. no Nader factor to put a Republican in office.)

For Pennsylvania Attorney General, I am endorsing Marakay Rogers of the Libertarian Party. She has an anti-death penalty, liberal drug law position that I highly admire, and has fought for the right of third-party candidates to get on the ballot. In contrast, the Repblican incumbent, Tom Corbett, is mainly concerned with using Bonusgate as a cudgel to attack Democrats, something that even his endorsers implicitly concede, while the Democratic candidate, John Morgannelli, has a conservative position on the right to bear arms that would prevent cities like Philadelphia to take measures against skyrocketing murder rates.

The Best Defense

Andrew Sullivan posts an essay on why we must elect Barack Obama. In a nutshell, he captures the damage Bush and Cheney have done to our national security, and what an Obama presidency could mean. This is the best defense of Obama I think I have ever read.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Another Case of Religious Fanatics on the Rampage

According to MSNBC, a young Somali girl, Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow, either thirteen or twenty-three years old depending upon reports, was stoned to death in front of a stadium crowd of one thousand people because she had been raped. This report, which has been documented by Amnesty International, demonstrates the growing power of Islamic militias in the government-less state of Somalia. Although some bystanders tried to save her life, militiamen drove them away with gunfire, killing one.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Why I Am Not a Catholic (Political Issue)

A recent story on NPR's Morning Edition encapsulates many of my reasons for leaving the Roman Catholic Church. It is an oppressive, anti-progress religion whose hierarchy has a vested interest in suppressing social and spiritual development.

The story recounts the experiences of several anti-abortion Catholics who have experienced harrassment in various forms from their more fanatical brethren. For example, Rick Gebhard, a member of the Knights of Columbus who set up a pro-Obama website after the organization took out an anti-Obama advertisement in several major newspapers, has been threatened with expulsion from the organization and even legal action because of his stand. Similarly, Douglas Kmiec, a Pepperdine University law professor, has experienced harrassment from certain portions of the laity and public condemnation by a Bishop due to his pro-Obama stance.

Particularly disturbing to me is the hypocrisy displayed by some anti-Obama Catholics quoted in the article. For example, Catholic theologian George Weigel boasts that the Supreme Court is gradually chipping away at the right to abortion. Doesn't that contradict the usual conservative / pro-life argument that the Supreme Court shouldn't be making law?

What dissident Catholics need to realize is that the problem is not just a few fanatical right-wing Catholics. They are just one symptom, one outgrowth of a far larger problem within the Catholic Church-a stultifying hierarchy bent on imposing its will on all Catholics. The only solution is to make the leap to Protestantism, which at least has an emphasis on the free will of the believer. I, for one, have joined the Unitarian Universalists.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Post of Particular Note to Our Readers in West Virginia

It seems that a lot of the electronic voting machines being supplied by the ES&S company are apparently having extreme problems with calibration after they are moved into the poll station. These calibration problems cause the vote to register for a different candidate than the one you selected when you voted. For instance, early voters have experienced issues when they try to vote for Barack Obama, only to find their vote registering as Ralph Nader or another fringe candidate. The election integrity site Brad Blog offers a video demonstrating this problem and its potential effect on next Tuesday's election, posted below. Similar problems have cropped up in other states.

This may just be an honest instance of mechanical breakdown. However, given what happened in 2000, and reports of electoral misconduct during the 2004 election, we should be very suspicious of any irregularities during this election.

A Matter of Perception

Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks had a surprisingly insightful column yesterday regarding the importance of perception to the economy. Although classical liberal economists such as those who blog at Cafe Hayek focus on the rational interest of businessmen and consumers as the best hope for a stable economy, behavioral economists such as Nassim Nicholas Taleb note that self-interest often leads people to see what they want to, often ignoring convincing evidence to the contrary.

For example, Taleb notes that modern risk-management models used by banks and other businesses are not effective in warning of major hazards. For instance, in his 2007 book The Black Swan, Taleb predicted the problems that would be posed by Fannie Mae, warning that it was sitting on "a barrel of dynamite." As Brooks concedes, the perceptions of Wall Street traders and others were influenced by their own biases and expectations, failing to perceive how a globalized economy created the possibility of widespread failure.

To be fair, one should note Brooks's observation that the same problems of perception could even more easily arise in a government controlled system. This is not a case for a communist or totally socialized system. Still, the views of Taleb and other behavioral economists should give pause to those who feel that self-interested businessmen are the solution to every financial problem.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Obama and Terrorism

Andrew Sullivan has a very intelligent post regarding Sen. Obama's strategy for fighting terrorism. As Sullivan notes, the current strategy for defeating terrorism worldwide has not been working. Although there have been no major terror attacks against the United States since 9 / 11, al-Qaeda is on the rise again, and Afghanistan is slowly drifting back into chaos.

Some, such as Alexander Cockburn and Richard Kim, will no doubt count Sullivan's support as a point against Obama. However, there is nothing wrong with gaining the support of moderate, intelligent conservatives like Sullivan. As Sullivan himself points out in his post, he came to some of the wrong conclusions about how to react to 9 / 11. What is important is that he has had the sense to recognize that, and adjust his position accordingly.

Monday, October 27, 2008

All about Alexander

Alexander Cockburn has published a condemnation of Sen. Barack Obama's candidacy in The Nation. As usual, his essay is characterized by a total misunderstanding of American politics.

Cockburn's main beefs with Obama: That the Senator is willing to go after Osama bin Laden in Pakistan and attack terrorists in other countries. I'm sorry to break it to you, Alex, but most Americans are perfectly fine with that. Most liberals do not oppose defense so much as they oppose war on countries that do not threaten us.

Second, he notes, correctly, that Obama has not taken as strong as stance on civil liberties as might be hoped. This is a valid point, Mr. Cockburn, but it should be noted that this is no worse than what McCain is proposing. Indeed, a President Obama might be willing to revise the Patriot Act. We will have no such chance with McCain.

What is particularly galling about Cockburn's article is what it omits. It does not discuss what the two candidates with a chance of winning would do with their Supreme Court nominations, an issue with the potential to affect a variety of what Cockburn calls "decent progressive principles" ranging from abortion to health care and the death penalty.

Second, he does not discuss the prospect of an outright religious fanatic-Sarah Palin-being within a heartbeat of the presidency. Cockburn notes that Iraq War supporter Christopher Hitchens has endorsed Obama. What he fails to mention is that Hitchens largely based his endorsement on McCain's inclusion of such a fanatic on his ticket.

When it comes to issues like that, Mr. Cockburn, I would rather be on Hitchens's side any day.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

World Series, Game 3

Well, the World Series will be moving to my hometown tonight, barring any interference from the weather. The Phillies and Rays are tied so far.

What I think the home team needs to do:

1. Get Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins back in gear. They've been basically inactive during the post season. Although it is a testament to the team that they've come so far without them, we need them to step up.

2. Stop stranding runners. I don't know how many times during this series that we've had runners on second or third base and haven't been able to get them home.

3. Pitching. Brett Myers performance on the mound on Thursday was awful, and largely responsible for giving the Rays such an early lead.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Conspiracy Builds

The Crooked Timber blog has a hilarious post about the international conspiracy by Socialists to throw our economy into chaos so that Obama can be elected. Amazing to imagine the power a bunch of anarcho-communists have over world finance.

Thanks to Paul Krugman for highlighting this on his blog.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ruthie, Ruthie, Ruthie...

Attn: Ruth Ann Dailey, Columnist, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Dear Ms. Dailey,

The column you published yesterday on the supposed use of white liberal guilt to rally support for Obama has to be one of the most comical attempts at a right wing polemic I have ever seen. Never mind not living up to the standards of William F. Buckley or George Will; you aren't even in the same arena with Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin.

First, the evidence you back your assertion with is at best weak. You cite the remarks of only three figures to support your claim. (Really only two when you consider that one at the end of the column, Colin Powell, seems to have been shoe-horned in at the last minute when his support for Obama was made public on Sunday.) Three people-Powell, Rep. John Murtha, and Gov. Ed Rendell-can hardly be said to represent the overall trend of Democratic rhetoric.

What is especially amusing is that one figure you quote was not supporting Sen. Obama, while you blatantly misrepresent another. As you admit in your column, Gov. Rendell was arguing for Sen. Hillary Clinton when he warned that many white Pennsylvanian voters would not support a black candidate. Although you try to portray this as liberal elitism, you have to wonder whether Gov. Rendell knows a bit more about Pennsylvania politics than you do, given that he has won two state-wide elections here. Furthermore, your own newspaper recently published an article featuring interviews with a number of these voters. Your co-workers are cutting you off at the knees.

Particularly galling is your misrepresentation of Powell's remarks. You make reference to a short passage in his interview with Meet the Press in which he referred to the election of Sen. Obama as offering a chance at a generational change. You treat this as the entirety of his remarks, when anyone who reads about them can see is not true. Powell cites a number of reasons for backing Sen. Obama, including his position on the economy and the inexperience of Gov. Palin. The latter issue has also been noted by a number of conservatives, including Peggy Noonan hardly people one would expect to associate with liberal guilt.

Face it, Ruthie, your candidate is unable to fight it out on the issues, so he and minions like you are trying to distract everyone with irrelevant side issues.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Few Hours Not Wasted

This morning, I spent four hours answering telephones at WQED, a local radio station in Pittsburgh which plays classical music. They are having their annual fall pledge drive, and one of our grad activity announcements mentioned that they were looking for volunteers.

I found it to be a very worthwhile, fulfilling experience. My greatest moment was when I took a call for $365 during an hour when we had a matching challenge of $1000.

My only complaint was that a lot of people called just with inane questions, like what was the CD they heard about yesterday. (I don't know, why didn't you call yesterday?) One guy called to ask if we had the weather report.

Still, I greatly enjoyed my time. It felt good to actually contribute something to my community.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Congrats to Krugman

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has won a Nobel Prize in Economics. Krugman's columns are excellent exposes of the current state of affairs, and they unashamedly put forth a liberal vision of what our economy and government should be.

Naturally, some bloggers aren't happy about this development. Russell Roberts at the Cafe Hayek blog is practically boiling over with resentment that someone who does not represent his version of "the economic way of thinking" got the prize.

Well Russell, as you yourself observe in your post, better get used to it. The corporate leaders you trusted to build our economy got greedy and blew it with the deregulation. Your ideas are going to be out of fashion for a long while. Maybe you should call up some Marxist historians and ask them how they coped...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Additional Evidence for Those Who Claim Racism Has Nothing to Do with Opposition to Obama

Philadelphia Doing Me Proud

For once, I'm proud to live in Philadelphia. Those Flyers fans had the guts to stand up to Sarah Palin and show what we really think of her.

Of course, this was a stupid event for her to do to begin with. Philadelphia is basically an all Democrat, with the Republican Party in permanent minority status. To compound things, Philadelphians are always at their most aggressive at sporting events. Whoever put her out in front of that crowd should be fired.

Friday, October 10, 2008


The above movie from Reason TV, featuring Nick Gillespie, is a propagandistic attack on any move toward government-sponsored health care. Unlike much of what Reason TV produces, this is so ham-handed, it borders on the laughable. To make the argument that many people without health insurance are wasting their money on lesser things and should not be helped, Gillespie goes out and interviews a few losers he found on Sunset Strip. This is not only insulting to poor people without health care, its depiction of the African-Americans Gillespie interviews is borderline racist.

Imagine this, Mr. Gillespie. I decide to do a short video documentary about libertarians, and selected the worst fanatics possible to represent the movement. (You know the type having seen them at Ron Paul rallies, Mr. Gillespie, the idiots walking around ranting about how we need to close our borders and handing out John Birch Society pamphlets.) Somehow, I have the feeling you would be blogging about how unfair it was.

I do not want to imply that I totally oppose the libertarian movement. They have good insights in some areas, and they are right to be cautious about imposing another massive government program. However, I have also observed that their ideology at times seems totally devoid of morality. This is a pronounced case in point.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Not Quite What They Were Hoping For

Reason Magazine's Hit and Run blog has an amusing post about last night's presidential debate. One can practically hear the libertarians howl in disappointment as they see a new era of big government looming over them. My favorite line, in regard to apparent voter approval of this trend: "Is there any way to pull off this "democracy" thing without using actual voters?"

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


I am sorry I have not posted to my blog over the past week, but things have been hellishly busy. I will try to post more regularly this week.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Ways You Can Tell If Your Vice-Presidential Candidate Is Not Ready for the Presidency

If she needs to attend a "boot camp" just to enter a debate...or an interview with Katie Couric.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Destroying Angel

This video, from Al-Jazeera in English, illustrates everything I hate about fundamentalist religion. We see that religious concerns and prejudices have created a situation in which innocent children are put at risk due to their parents' ignorance. Rather than acting as a spiritual guide to enlightenment, religion here acts as a destroying angel.

At the same time, it must be noted that the United States's actions on the foreign policy front have contributed to this horror. If our troops were not in Iraq, this paranoia about an American desire to commit genocide on Muslims would not be as prevalent. Let's hope that our next president changes course so that we can restore international trust in our country.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Power of Money: A Response to Chris Schwartz

Today, my friend Chris Schwartz posted a response to my post, "We Are All Socialists," on his blog Schwartztronica. In it, he questions my thesis that the current bail out program represents a form of socialism, calling it a "capitalistic solution to a capitalistic problem."

I must politely disagree. One thing I feel Schwartz is not considering is the sheer amount of power that this bail out will give to the federal government. If you give a financial firm or insurance company large amounts of money to prevent them from going under, you will automatically gain a hold over them. This may be expressed in favors such as campaign donations. It may also, however, assert itself in terms of government regulation.

As I stated in my first post on this topic, I do not necessarily think this is a bad thing. In the right hands, this could be a force for moving our economy to work more for the commonweal, essentially the vision expressed by John Kenneth Galbraith in The Affluent Society. If nothing else, it could be used to obtain easier financing for public works.

What concerns me, though, as I mentioned earlier, is the total lack of forethought and discussion that is being put into this. The bail out plan has apparently been agreed to by Congress, less than a week after it was published. A few concessions by the White House-limits on executive pay and a bit of Congressional oversight-and it gets through. Am I the only one reminded of the Patriot Act?

This is part of a pattern of taking advantage of emergencies, whether military or economic, that Naomi Klein has dubbed "The Shock Doctrine" in her book of the same title. Indeed, Klein has drawn this conclusion herself.

What troubles most is the overall pattern of expanding government power. The government is now training troops for deployment within the United States, as I've discussed in a previous post. The Patriot Act has made massive inroads into our civil liberties and freedoms. Although we generally divide civil liberties and economic issues, I fear they may be part of one and the same pattern.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The War at Home

Reason Magazine's Hit and Run blog documents the recent training of an Army division for deployment here in the United States, as reported by the Army Times.

This is not a good sign.

We are moving from deploying the National Guard in emergencies to deploying all-out military forces. Although this may be legal under the Insurrection Act, it represents part of a wider trend toward using the military as a police force against civilians. This is not what the military is for, and will create the risk of brutal overreactions by battle-hardened troops.

Anyone remember Kent State, or the Boston Massacre?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We Are All Socialists Now

Our fearless leaders in the Bush Administration just took a sudden turn leftward with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's new bail out plan. Amid all the talk about how much it will cost, few people seem to be discussing what this will mean in terms of government power.

In effect, we will be adopting a semi-socialist system, with the government entering, at the very least, the banking industry. I do not think this is necessarily a bad thing, but I think our government and our polity should begin discussing what this will mean. How can we turn this to the greatest benefit of the American people? How can we best protect individual and entrepreneurial freedom under this system? We need a real debate about the course of our country over the next decade or so.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

An Unpleasant Truth

Commentary by Nicholas Von Hoffman of The Nation in regard to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's proposed bailout.

"As for costs, he said no more than that it will involve a significant investment of taxpayer dollars. A better adjective than "significant" might be "staggering." The economic tar pit is so deep and so sticky it may be necessary to sacrifice wildlife programs, preschool education and scientific research. Even without knowing the numbers, we can kiss health insurance goodbye. If and when Obama gets in, he will discover the cupboard is bare."

I suppose the one piece of good news is that we won't have money to bomb Iran.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Deja Vu?

As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman reports on his blog, Sen. John McCain has been repeatedly quoting President Herbert Hoover on the strength of the economy.

Gee, I wonder if quoting the guy who let us fall into the Great Depression will cause people to question Sen. McCain's capacity to guide us through economic chaos?

Monday, September 15, 2008

If Obama Doesn't Pick Up on This, He Needs His Head Examined

The McCain campaign recently handed Sen. Barack Obama two gifts on the economic front. First, just as Lehman Bros. was beginning to collapse, Sen. McCain's financial adviser Andrew Luskin claimed that "Things today just aren't that bad" economically in a Sunday Washington Post op-ed. (Thanks to Wonkette.)

To add to the McCain economic incompetence parade, Sen. McCain himself held a press conference this morning in which he claimed the "fundamentals" of our economy are strong, as reported by NPR's All Things Considered. Later, the Senator backtracked and claimed they are "at risk." If Sen. Obama doesn't use this for a campaign ad, he should fire his campaign manager.

There's a fundamental message that I think Sen. Obama and the Democrats haven't been hitting hard enough: are we better off than we were eight years ago? If not, it's time to vote for a Democrat.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Drug War Run Amok, Again

Yesterday, the New York Times carried a story about a movement to criminalize yet another substance in order to protect those idiots who might want to injest it. The target this time, an herb called salvia divinorum, is the focus of legal attention by various states because it is a powerful hallucinogen. Some idiots have apparently been posting videos to YouTube showing themselves getting high on it. One Texas representative, Charles Anderson, commented: "When you see it, well, it sure makes a believer [in prohibition] out of you." (Hmm, Representative, I wonder if a video of some guys getting drunk on beer would be any more edifying.)

The fact is, the state should not be involved in determining what people put in their own bodies. If someone is stupid enough to poison themselves with some drug, that is their problem, and my tax dollars shouldn't be spent on it. We shouldn't be criminalizing people for just being stupid.

What makes this really disturbing is that salvia divinorum looks as though it could be a useful component for psychiatric medications and possibly AIDS treatments. Idiots like Rep. Anderson, in trying to protect people from themselves, will only slow the progress of medicine.

Thanks, But No Thanks: What It Really Means!

Recently, MSNBC journalist Chris Matthews busted Gov. Sarah Palin for apparently lying about her opposition to the "Bridge to Nowhere" project. She has repeated the lie at least seven times.

Perhaps Mr. Matthews is being too cynical. After all, she always uses the phrase "Thanks, but No Thanks." What she's really trying to tell us is that she supported the project (saying thanks), before opposing the project (saying no thanks.)

Thanks to Talking Points Memo for this video.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Eagles Fans vs. Steelers Fans

An article in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contemplates the potential effect new NFL regulations will have on Pittsburgh Steelers fans, including concerns that the regulations could affect fans' ability to celebrate. Frankly, I doubt the city's sports fans have anything to worry about.

Coming from Philadelphia, I know that Pittsburgh's fans are relative gentlemen. Unlike the fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, they have never pelted Santa Claus with snowballs on national television. They have not cheered as a critically injured opposing player was taken off the field in a stretcher. Although I am certain Steelers fans include their share of rowdies, they do not compare to their east coast rivals in Philly.

Friday, September 05, 2008

RNC Bloopers

The Talking Points Memo blog highlights a highly amusing blooper during Sen. John McCain's speech at the Republican National Convention last night. while Sen. McCain was speaking, a photo of what appeared to be a mansion appeared behind him. Although there was speculation that the Arizona senator was showing off his copious real estate wealth, it turns out that the photo was probably of Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood, CA. Just compare the photos above.

Apparently, the McCain Campaign had been planning to put up a photo of the Senator at Walter Reed Medical Center for injured soldiers.

Photo taken from Talking Points Memo.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A Wise Decision

Recently, the Allegheny County Board of Elections barred two referendum questions regarding the drink tax in the Pittsburgh area because they did not meet the proper legal criteria. One question asked whether voters wanted to repeal a 10% tax on alcohol that was opposed by the restaurant and bar industry, while the other wanted to examine alternative means of raising revenue such as the property tax, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

At least the politicians in this city have some priorities straight. A rise in property taxes would make it more difficult for low income and elderly people to afford their homes. You can choose whether or not to drink, whereas you have to live somewhere.

Naturally, some people were in favor of the drink tax. An article in the Pittsburgh City Paper several weeks ago by Frances Sansig Monahan argues that old people should move out of their houses, even if they've lived in them their entire lives, just so people can pay a bit less for a drink.

Sorry, Frannie, unacceptable. These are low income, elderly people who may not have a place to go. They could easily be my parents, or my grandmother. If the drink tax is cutting too deeply into the pockets of you and your boozer friends, start ordering water.

So Much Experience

Great video from CNN featuring an interview with a McCain campaign representative, Tucker Bounds, regarding Gov. Sarah Palin. Wait for about three minutes in and watch Bounds flounder as he tries to justify Gov. Palin's experience. Not surprisingly, McCain's campaign has said the candidate will not be appearing on their network anytime soon.

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for posting this on his blog.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Juno in Juneau?

Recently, the Internet has been buzzing with the rumor that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's recent infant is actually her daughter's. Observing the political scene over the past few days, another, rather more interesting conspiracy theory has occurred to me:

Palin's daughter isn't pregnant at all...

You may think this is preposterous. After all, why would Gov. Palin and the Republicans create such grief for themselves? However, the grief is exactly the point.

With the media focused on her daughter's pregnancy, all the real issues with Gov. Palin's political views and background-her extremist connections and allegations of corruption-are given short shrift. (Let's face it folks, even without having registered for the Alaskan Independence Party, it becomes clear she was neck-deep in these weirdoes.) Everyone will be talking about her daughter, while the legitimate issues fade away.

Don't believe me? Just don't be surprised when her daughter has a sudden, tragic miscarriage...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Perils of Palin

Over the past 48 hours, Gov. Sarah Palin has demonstrated herself to be one of the most under qualified and downright bizarre Vice-Presidential selections of recent years. Putting aside the imbroglio about her pregnant daughter, we have more reason to be concerned about her seeming past membership in the fringe Alaska Independence Party, a party which apparently advocates that the state hold a referendum about seceding from the Union. (Neo-Confederacy, anyone?) She was apparently attracted to the party by her religious beliefs, as the AIP is an affiliate of the theocratic Constitution Party.

Other rumors have been flying around the web, including the possibility that she endorsed Pat Buchanan's far-right candidacy in 2000. (McCain's campaign denies this, and her affiliation with the AIP.) McCain seems to have chosen a first rate wingnut as his co-candidate.

Corruption seems to be an issue as well. Her apparent firing of Alaska's Public Safety Commissioner over refusing to fire her ex-brother-in-law is well documented, including via e-mails and tape recordings, but an investigation by the Washington Independent website confirms that she engaged in similar behavior during her term as mayor in Wasilla.

The bottom line: in his urgency to scoop up Hillary supporters, Sen. McCain did not bother to investigate Gov. Palin.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Palin Imitation of Hillary

Sen. John McCain has added Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to his ticket in an aboveboard attempt to lure Hillary supporters to his campaign. Indeed, some feminists, such as Geraldine Ferraro, seem rather enthusiastic for Gov. Palin. However, feminists who support Senator Clinton have reason to step back very slowly...

Far from being a step forward for feminism, Gov. Palin's nomination thrusts forward one of the most anti-feminist politicians in America. As NARAL Pro-Choice America documents, she opposes abortion even in cases where the mother has been subjected to rape and incest, and is a member of the group Feminists for Life. This group follows Gov. Palin's lead, publishing a brochure, Victory over Violence, condemning the decision to abort after rape. If you're a woman who's experienced a sexual assault, don't turn to Gov. Palin for comfort.

Perhaps the greatest sign of Sen. McCain's anti-feminist credentials is that he chose a wingnut like Palin. He must think women are truly stupid to fall for her just because of her gender.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Convention Summary and Response

Overall, I believe the Democratic National Convention went well for Sen. Obama. No fights broke out between his supporters and the die hard backers of Sen. Hillary Clinton. Sen. Clinton's speech was a case study in conciliation, while Sen. Obama's concluding speech was his usual inspiring work, establishing his moderate credentials while establishing the groundwork for a nuanced, issues-based attack on Sen. McCain.

A few observations:

The convention got better as it went along. Monday night was actually rather disappointing, with mediocre speakers like Sen. Nancy Pelosi, whose speech, posted below, was a study in how not to excite a crowd.

Things got better on Tuesday, with some speakers, such as Sen. Bob Casey launching attacks against Sen. McCain and the Republican Party. Casey's "Four more months" line should be adopted as an overall campaign slogan. The best, however, was Thursday night. Gov. Richardson of New Mexico gave a speech, posted below, that made me wish he had been the vice-presidential selection.

Second, building on Sen. Casey's speech, the Democratic Party, and Sen. Obama in particular, need to go into attack mode. This can be done without violating Sen. Obama's pledge to pursue a new kind of politics. It is entirely possible to make issues-based attacks which focus on Sen. McCain's record of favoring the wealthy and backing the Bush Administration while still remaining catchy.

For example, one ad that has occurred to me would feature photos of Sen. McCain and President Bush together with descriptions of how Sen. McCain has supported the President's worst policies, punctuated by the refrain "Four More Years." An ad in a similar vein would feature the same material, with a digital background showing the M in McCain's turning upside down into a W.

Finally, all conventions, in the end, are pap. You will not see any nuanced exploration of the candidates positions just by watching their party's conventions. For that, you have to do your own research.

Striking Similarities

Am I the only one who thinks that Gov. Sarah Palin looks a lot like SNL actress Tina Fey?



Tuesday, August 26, 2008

He's At It Again!

Nation columnist, Counterpunch editor, and professional nutjob Alexander Cockburn has just launched a negative attack on Democratic vice-presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Biden. In doing so, he only exposes his own radicalism, his lack of understanding of mainstream American politics, and his willingness to engage in smear tactics.

Cockburn begins his attack by ranting that Sen. Biden is not doing enough to attack "corporate capital." The reasoning: Sen. Biden apparently voted against a law that would have prevented bankrupt corporations from relocating to his home state of Delaware. Gee, Mr. Cockburn, I wonder why Sen. Biden would have voted against a law that adversely affects his own state's interests?

Cockburn follows up with an unsourced attack on Sen. Biden's character, citing an unnamed Counterpunch staffer who claims that Sen. Biden flirted with her only a week after his first wife's death. This is beneath contempt, but hardly surprising for Cockburn. After all, in a recent issue of The Nation, he humiliated himself by claiming that the national media was not publicizing reports of John Edwards's affair enough, only to have the article come out just as the media was flooded with stories about the same topic.

Tell me, Mr. Cockburn, why doesn't your staffer come forward with her allegations on 60 Minutes or some similar program? Why doesn't she let us see her face so we'll know who's making these claims and can evaluate her credibility?

Finally, he lambasts Sen. Biden for not being a critic of Israel. Umm, Mr. Cockburn, most American political opinion now favors Israel, for better or worst. I don't like it, but that's just life. If we followed Cockburn's advice, we'd never get a candidate in office.

Here's a little suggestion, Alex. Since you dislike the Democratic candidates so much, why not resign your column at The Nation, which is whole-heartedly backing them. Then you'll be putting your money where your mouth is, just like your erstwhile colleague, Christopher Hitchens (who, by the way, is a much more provocative, and persuasive, writer than you.)

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Unitarian Universalists of America, Fight Back!

I was deeply disturbed and angered by a recent post on the Alternet liberal website in relation to the recent shooting rampage at a Knoxville, TN Unitarian Universalist Church. The article describes the experience of Jenna Kerns, a writer who published an opinion piece in Newsday linking fanatical right-wing commentators such as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity to the shooting. (The shooter, Jim D. Adkisson, owned copies of books by Hannity, O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage, and was motivated by a hatred of the Unitarians' liberal views.)

How did the right-wingers respond? Did they engage in an examination of conscience and rethink their hateful rhetoric? No. Did they launch a minor league smear campaign against Ms. Kerns, with the help of right wing censor L. Brent Bozell? Yes.

It's time for UUs to take matters into their own hands. If someone shot up an evangelical church and was found to have books by liberal commentators such as Keith Olberman and Richard Dawkins, you can bet they would do everything in their power to drive those commentators off the airwaves and off the bookshelves. Maybe it's time we learned a lesson from our evangelical brethren.

Every UU church should have a sign up in front condemning these commentators and holding them directly responsible for the attack. (I'm thinking wanted posters with "Incitement to Murder" written on them.) Advertisers on their shows should be informed that they will be subject to a boycott for as long as they continue to support this hate speech.

It's time to fight back.

Pittsburgh View

Here are some photos I took from the window of my apartment in Pittsburgh. They are all from the early evening / twilight hours. Hope you like them.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

France Mourns

Today, there was a nationally televised memorial ceremony in France for ten French soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Among those who spoke at the tribute was President Nicolas Sarkozy. Whatever else one says about the French, it must be granted that they honor their soldiers to the fullest extent possible. They give their fallen a national ceremony. We give ours coffins hidden from view and decrepit VA hospitals.

This seems to be a trend around Europe. For instance, when I was in Great Britain, the British put a great deal of effort into their version of Veterans' Day, called Remembrance Day. The memorial was complete with masses, collections for injured veterans, etc. We use our Veterans' Day for used car sales.

Who's a Rich Elitist Now?

In this Obama ad, Sen. McCain learns that people who live in seven houses shouldn't throw the "rich elitist" stone.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Much Ado about South Ossetia

I have been rather amused in recent days by the amount of anger by American pundits and government officials over the war in South Ossetia. Conservative commentators such as George Will and Jack Kelly are lambasting the Russian invasion and waxing poetic about Sen. McCain's opportunity to show strength in the face of Vladmir Putin. They all seem to forget the fact, as Maureen Dowd notes, that the current administration launched its own aggressive war five years ago.

Moreover, they see the conflict as a totally one-sided war. Although it is unquestionable that the Russians have used excessive force against Georgian forces and civilians, as a recent Human Rights Watch report notes, the same report notes that in their initial invasion of South Ossetia, the Georgians fired at apartment buildings and other civilian targets in fighting with Ossetian militias. Indeed, a Fox News interviewer was rather nonplussed to find a South Ossetian girl who thanked the Russians for saving her and South Ossetia from Georgia. This is not to justify the Russians, but to point out that the Georgian government is not the heroic entity certain government officials and members of the media are making it out to be.

Our pundits need to step back a bit and remember that the Cold War is over.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Verbal Thunder

The recent movie Tropic Thunder has generated a lot of anger and vituperation from some quarters because it features the use of the word "retard." Disability advocacy groups claim that any use of the word is unacceptable, and are trying to get people to boycott the film. As the Daily Kos reports, one reviewer, Timothy Shriver, head of the Special Olympics, writing for the Washington Post, gave the film a bad review without having ever even seen it.

Personally, I think this is political correctness run amok.

Since when do advocacy groups get to pre-vet movie scripts to determine what is and is not acceptable content? Are we going to have prior censorship of movies by every special interest group that could possibly be offended by a joke or character? It's a bloody Ben Stiller movie, you morons!!! It is not meant to be taken seriously...

Reading the excerpts Mr. Shriver provides, it becomes clear the movie is not making fun of the mentally disabled. It revolves around a group of self-absorbed actors, and the dialogue in question deals with one character's attempts to get film awards through playing mentally-challenged characters. The target is the actor, not the disabled. Anyone who reads the actual dialogue without blinkers can understand this.

This is not just about one movie. It is about a larger movement within the disabled community to regulate the words we use every day. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, there are groups among the disabled who are trying to force people to use terms such as "person with disability," saying that "the disabled" is a discriminatory term. They would like to impose an Orwellian Newspeak on the rest of us in order to sauve their own egos.

It's time to stand up for our rights. Don't let other people tell you what words you can use or censor you. Allowing this would just be retarded...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


According to Wikipedia, the clip I posted yesterday was actually recorded this past May, and has no relation to South Ossetia.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Chris Matthews vs. an Idiot

The following clip shows a segment from Countdown with Keith Olbermann featuring fellow MSNBC journalist Chris Matthews talking about his interview with conservative radio host Kevin James. James discussed the issue of appeasement as applied to recent foreign policy crises, such as the conflict in South Ossetia. However, when Matthews asked him to go into more detail about appeasement, something interesting happened:

As Matthews goes on to discuss, this incident holds great meaning for our current political discourse. Nowadays, we do not discuss political ideas so much as hurl insults such as "appeaser" or "warmonger" or "celebrity," with little thought as to what they really mean. This is not a sign of a healthy democracy; rather, it is a symptom of demagoguery.

(Thanks to European Tribune for posting this video.)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Spirit of Sport, Spirit of War

The thin, comradely veneer of international sportsmanship that is promoted by the Olympic Games has been pierced on the very first day of the Games by Russia's invasion / intervention in South Ossetia. Gymnastics competitions, scull races, and fencing are no match for the bloody demands of neo-imperial spheres of influence, ethnic tensions, and the scramble for natural resources. This video from al-Jazeera International speaks to how thin a tissue for peacemaking that the Olympic spirit is:

Talk of the "Olympic spirit" has always struck me as a marketing scheme concocted by the Olympic Committee. One need only reflect that the original Olympic games were held by the Greeks, who constantly fought among themselves.

If you really want peace, look to diplomacy, look to international law, look to a balance of power with every country having the weapons to fight off its stronger neighbors. Don't look to sports.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Deja Vu...

The recent speech by Sen. Barack Obama on energy was not perfect by any means. It pandered to the auto industry and auto unions, and gave no specific indication of what type of sacrifices would need to be made by the American people in order to achieve sustainable energy use.

That stated, there was one point Sen. Obama made that was quite important, although it has not been focused on by the media to my knowledge. At one point, he notes that our current crisis is partially the result of the failure of previous generations of American leaders to deal with the issue of our dependence on foreign oil. In doing so, he unwittingly echoed a warning voiced by President Jimmy Carter over twenty years ago.

In an address to the nation, he warned that failing to address our dependence on oil at the present time would lead us to more dire straits later on. In Obama's speech, we see what the failure to heed that warning has led to.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Dumbest Generation?

A new video on the Reason.tv website discusses the lack of wide-ranging knowledge among many young people today, and speculates on the causes of this lack. Author Mark Bauerlein suggests that this may be a result of the rise of digitized media. Although he may have a point, it is worth noting that, as the interviewer, Nick Gillespie, the Internet may have opened up opportunities for the enterprising young person to enrich their minds. Watch the video and see what you think.

Monday, August 04, 2008

A Solzhenitsyn Quote

"Literature is the living memory of a nation. It sustains within itself and safeguards a nation's bygone history...But woe to that nation whose literature is cut short by the intrusion of force."

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his Nobel lecture, quoted in a news article by J. Y. Smith

Alexander Solzhenitsyn RIP

The great Russian dissident author Alexander Solzhenitsyn apparently died yesterday. He is justly famous for his stand against Soviet tyranny, and his willingness to endure KGB harrassment in order to express his viewpoints.

Nevertheless, as a post on the Reason Hit and Run blog points out, Solzhenitsyn's protest was not born from a love of freedom and democracy, but from an emphasis on a more religious, ethnic vision of totalinarianism. For instance, there is strong reason to suspect that Solzhenitsyn was anti-semitic. Also, in his later years, he was a strong supporter of Vladimir Putin's authoritarian rule.

Nevertheless, he must be lauded for his courage and the risks he took. There is a video biography available on the BBC News website here.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Food for Thought: Religion

"The great end in religious instruction...is not to stamp our minds irresistibly on the young but to stir up their own; not to make them see with our eyes but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own; not to give them a definite amount of knowledge but to inspire a fervent love of truth; not to form an outward regularity but to touch inward springs..."

Rev. William Ellery Channing at the 1837 annual meeting of the Boston Sunday School Society, quoted in The Unitarian Universalist Pocket Guide, William F. Schulz, ed.

This quote struck me as the ideal definition of what religious education should be. Perhaps because of my experiences in the Philadelphia Catholic school system, at institutions such as Northeast Catholic High School, I strongly distrust dogmatic approaches to religious instruction. Catechisms seem fitted mainly to making children into slaves, not thinking worshippers and citizens. I feel the Unitarian approach is much better, teaching children to think for themselves even at the risk that they may later change or depart from their parents' faith.

Guarding the Oil

This report from Al-Jazeera International describes the activities of American troops and Coast Guard guarding Iraqi off-shore oil rigs. They drive away any ship that comes too close, and constantly training to repel attackers.

It is reports that this which make me laugh at anyone who thinks that oil had nothing to do with the reasoning of the Iraq War. It may not have been the only reason, but it certainly played a part in the Bush Administration's thinking. You can't tell the Iraqis not to suspect our motives when their major oil rigs are surrounded by American troops. As long as we have our troops there, we continue creating a negative impression.

True, it can be argued that with oil prices as high as they are, it is necessary to guard these sites from an attack that could place further pressure on the American and world economies. Nevertheless, having our troops on these rigs gives us quite a bit of power over the Iraqis. (Imagine if we decided not to hand the rigs over to them, citing "security concerns.") The report mentions that we are training Iraqi troops for an eventual handover. Our government, or a successor administration, should see that it happens soon.

Thanks to Juan Cole's Informed Comment blog for posting this video.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Just a Thought...

If Sen. McCain can compare Barack Obama to Paris Hilton, can Sen. Obama compare McCain's wife, a known drug addict, to Amy Winehouse?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Humorous Quote on Humor

"A weak thinker fears strong images."

Jack Shafer in a recent Slate Press Box column about the New Yorker cartoon.

Reason's Hit and Run blog has a new post about the Washington Post's recent censoring of a column satirizing drunk driving. It's amazing how uptight we are becoming in some respects in this society.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bikes in the City

Matthew Yglesias has an interesting post about the need for city planners to develop more bicycle-friendly designs to deal with our current fuel and environmental crisis. He argues that more people need to ride bicycles so that motorists and city governments will become more aware of them.

This is only partly true in my opinion. I think biking is a great idea, but I am concerned about the recklessness of certain drivers in dealing with bicyclists. We need more help from city governments before we will see a mass movement towards bikes.

Still, it is great to see someone pointing out America's need to become more bike friendly. We are way behind Europe in this regard.

Response to Chris Schwartz

The following is a response to a recent post by my friend Chris Schwartz on the issue of evil and history. I had to respectfully disagree with some of Chris's views. I sent my response via e-mail, and Chris asked me to post it here so that we may start a discussion.

Dear Chris,

I have been thinking about your commentary on the theodicy of history, and I am sending this e-mail as a type of response. It will not by any means respond to every point you made, but it will deal with matters I found particularly striking.

First, I wish to examine your reliance on the belief in a personal God. (I will not address the issue of God itself, which would require a book to properly address.) Even if we concede God exists-I am not certain that he does or does not-why do we have to insist that he is interested in us one way or another? At one point, you deride "the deist's negligent watchmaker." I personally believe that this vision of God is the one most likely to exist. The most persuasive argument for God that I have encountered is the "first cause" argument. (I.e. something had to produce the universe, both matter and energy.) God seems as good an explanation as any. Deism fulfills this without any unnecessary claptrap.

Part of the reason I am rather hostile to the concept of a personal god is that it strikes me as an invitation for unnecessary religious interference in our lives. If God is personally interested in every person, it necessarily follows that he may want to regulate all aspects of our lives: our thoughts, our sexuality, our political beliefs…

Admittedly, this hostility developed at least partially from my youthful experiences with the Catholic Church, which made me suspicious of any type of authoritarian religion. One could potentially argue that I am simply projecting the offenses of an embittered nun onto God itself. Still, I believe that the progress of Catholicism, Evangelical Christianity, and the more fundamentalist sects of Islam and Judaism should give pause to anyone who believes that a personal god is necessarily a good thing.

The second issue I wish to examine is the question of evil. I am not certain it is impossible to accurately describe something as good or evil. Although it is true that in many cases there are heavy shades of gray in even the worst crimes, there are some large scale crimes that can be reasonably described as evil, no matter what good effects they may have on the individual level.

Turning to the case of the Cambodian genocide you cite, I personally believe such events fall into the category of absolute evil, no matter what good side effects they may have had. Take, for example, the case of Haing S. Ngor. Mr. Ngor was a Cambodian refugee who came to America after the fall of Pol Pot. In America, he became a part time actor, ultimately garnering an Oscar for his role in The Killing Fields.

However, the level of suffering he experienced in Cambodia negates any good consequences he experienced from coming to our country. As he described in his autobiography, Surviving the Killing Fields, Ngor's family was largely destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. His wife died while giving birth to his child, who also died, all for lack of a doctor. (This, incidentally, ultimately led to Ngor's own death, as he was shot after refusing to give some muggers a locket that contained the only photo he had of his wife.) Ngor himself was in three different Khmer Rouge prisons, where he had two of his fingers cut off and was at one point literally crucified.

Some things are simply so evil that no amount of individual good stemming from them can allay, or even slightly mitigate the evil. These events fall into the select category of "pure" evil. This is not to say that their perpetrators are absolutely evil; all humans have at least some good in them, even Hitler or Pol Pot. This does not change the nature of the acts, however, at least in my opinion.

It is true, and you might wish to write about this at some point, that the term evil is often abused in that is applied to our enemies when they commit certain acts, but not to our allies when they do the same. For instance, Robert Mugabe is attacked to violently intimidating his opponents, but Hosni Mubarak is given a pass for equally atrocious repression. Although some pundits, such as Alexander Cockburn, use this to excuse atrocities on the part of leaders they are sympathetic to, it seems to me that we should confront evil both in our supposed allies and our enemies.

You argue that absolutely recognizing evil is not a necessary component to taking action. I tend to disagree. For instance, the Allies, even if they did not know the full horror of the camps, had more than enough information to make the determination. Based largely on laws the Nazis had published regarding Jews, legal scholar Raphael Lemkin was able to publish Axis Rule in Occupied Europe in 1944, in which he coined the term genocide to describe Nazi policy. Full knowledge isn't needed to judge whether someone is doing evil.

Furthermore, I feel evil is a potentially useful concept for rallying people to oppose human rights abuses, genocide, etc. It is a term people are used to, that they can instantly rally around. For instance, the objection to President Bush's use of the term evildoers was not that I did not think al-Qaeda is evil. It was that it lent a hysterical air to the proceedings that was unnecessary and destructive in the post 9/11 environment. The President could have evoked the evil of al-Qaeda without sounding like the mayor of Gotham City.

One thing I really want to praise you for is the conclusion of your essay. It incorporates human responsibility into the concept of God's involvement in the world that I found thought-provoking. I especially liked your use of the Hamlet analogy. It made me look at the play in a way I never had before.

I hope you won't take offense at the critiques in this e-mail. I found your essay very interesting, and wanted to discuss the matter more with you.


Michael Gallen

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Defending the New Yorker

I think the current flap over the cover of the New Yorker represents a terrible over-reaction to what is clearly a piece of satire. The cartoon represents a caricature of the constant internet rumors that have been circulating about Sen. Obama's religion, showing just how implausible their import is.

Some bloggers will no doubt take issue with this interpretation. For instance, Swan McSwannessy at the Swan's Politics Blog compares the cartoon to a racist t-shirt. The only problem with this analogy is that it was not on a racist t-stirt. It was on the over of the New Yorker, a magazine that often has satirical covers.

Think about this for a second. To believe this was a racist attack, one would have to believe that the editors of the New Yorker had suddenly become rabid down-home bigots, whereas the magazine itself is historically liberal. Context matters, people! I would unfailingly oppose such a cartoon if it appeared on the cover of National Review or NewsMax, conservative publications with an interest in spreading smears against Sen. Obama.

It's time to abandon knee-jerk accusations of bigotry and try to recognize satire for what it really is. Long live free speech.

[Note: I do not own the image of the cartoon I have posted. If the cartoonist or the New Yorker have any objection to my using it, they can contact me, and it will be deleted.

John Grady, RIP

I just found out today that someone I was rather close to has died.

John Grady, an Economics professor at La Salle University, passed away this Sunday. He was head of the La Salle University Honors Program, and had a profound influence on the course of my life.

Dr. Grady not only offered me academic guidance, but he put me in touch with the Davies-Jackson Scholarship Committee, which ultimately awarded me a scholarship to St. John's College, Cambridge University. If it had not been for Dr. Grady, I would not have gone to Cambridge, and my life would have taken a different course.

Dr. Grady was a warm, caring man, with perhaps a streak of the curmudgeon. He was one of the longest teaching professors at La Salle University while I attended that institution. I took one of his Economics courses, and found it hugely informative. Dr. Grady recognized the power of the free market while still pointing to the need for limited government intervention.

He will be sorely missed.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Interesting Articles by the Schwartz

Sorry I haven't posted in a while, but things have been on the busy side for me recently.

There are two very interesting articles by my friend Chris Schwartz on his blog. One is a historical study of Confucius, the other of Socrates. Both look to be quite thought-provoking.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hitchens Under the Gun

The Blue Girl, Red State blog features photos of journalist and Iraq war advocate Christopher Hitchens undergoing waterboarding, for an article in Vanity Fair magazine. Unlike many who support the Iraq war, Hitchens has demonstrated a willingness to explore the consequences of that war. One hopes the neocons will have the courage to follow his example.

Last Minute War?

The following is a disturbing video I found on Wonkette featuring an interview with New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh about the possibility of President Bush starting a war with Iran. Apparently, there is a real possibility that our fearless leader will launch strikes at the very end of his term if Sen. Obama is elected.

As mentioned above, I found this video on Wonkette, who in turn found it on the Informed Comment blog.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

To Those Who Deny that Some of the Opposition to Barack Obama Stems from Racism

"I'll tell you," says one, "if Michelle Obama really doesn't like it here in America, I'd be very pleased to raise the money too send her back to Africa."

The diminutive and smiling old lady's friend leans over. "That's going a little too far, dear."

"Too far?" says the first. "Farrakhan is saying they were brought here against their will, and their bodies are still feeding the sharks at the bottom of the sea! I mean, really!"

"OK, sharks still eating bodies," I say, writing it all down. "Could I have your name, ma'am?"

"Janice Berg," says the first old lady. "And lest you think I'm Jewish, the name comes from Norway."

Quoted from Matt Taibbi "Full Metal McCain," Rolling Stone, June 26, 2008

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Politics in the Pulpit

This past Sunday, I saw something rather disturbing when I attended services at a local church. For reasons that will become obvious, I will not identify the church except to say that it was of a liberal Protestant denomination.

The service in question was a special congregation-led affair that featured a segment where people could talk about what they were doing over the summer. One woman talked about her attendance at an AIDS conference, and mentioned that many other people who attended the conference hoped a new president in the White House would change American AIDS policy. She left no doubt that she meant Barack Obama, although she did not explicitly mention him.

The political endorsements became more explicit, however, with one of the next people to speak. She declared that she would be volunteering for Barack Obama over the summer in order to convince Hillary Clinton supporters not to vote for John McCain. She urged other people also to volunteer, if I remember correctly.

Although I agree fully with these congregants’ choice of candidate, I think they seriously erred in using the church as a forum for their chosen political campaign. This is not the first time this has happened at the church in question. Several months ago, in the lead up to the Pennsylvania primary, the minister (who it should be noted was not present at this Sunday’s service) reminded the congregation to register as Democrats so they could choose between Obama and Clinton. Although he did not endorse either candidate, it is difficult to imagine that a Republican or Libertarian congregant would have been made to feel comfortable by this announcement.

The significance of these incidents increases when one considers that churches are not supposed to endorse specific candidates for office if they want to keep their tax-exempt status. Several evangelical churches have gotten into trouble for endorsing Republican candidates, and it would be hypocritical and unfair for more liberal churches to engage in the same behavior. Lobbying for social justice is one thing, endorsing a specific candidate is entirely another.

Some will no doubt object that this is an infringement upon free speech, and it may well be in some respects. I would have no difficulty allowing ministers to endorse specific candidates, if churches paid taxes like any other part of civil society, as I feel they should. Those who will not contribute their fair share to civil society have no right to expect the full rights it offers. The government should not subsidize, in the form of tax breaks, a partisan organization that directly endorses candidates. Since there is no reason to expect in the near future that churches will begin paying their fair share, I feel this is the best compromise that can be worked out.

George Carlin, RIP

Yesterday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, I saw yet another letter from professional right wing fanatic Oren M. Spengler, who regularly fills that letter page with his ravings. This time, however, he went too far. Spengler dumped a pile of garbage on the grave of the late comedian George Carlin, claiming he "offended civilization" by using foul language.

As Carlin himself pointed out, language is basically a tool. Words are not offensive in and of themselves, but only by the meaning we give them. Carlin often used rough language to make good social points.

I have posted the clip below to prove Carlin's point. This clip is especially for you, Mr. Spengler. (Warning: Adult Language)

(Note: I do not own this clip. If HBO, George Carlin's estate, or any other owner wants it taken down, just contact me and it will be done posthaste.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Plan for Hope

I recently discovered a new plan for getting us out of Iraq. The proposal, posted at the Responsible Plan website, calls for a recognition that ultimately Iraq is a problem that cannot be solved militarily (mindless rejoicing about the surge aside). It calls for greater emphasis on diplomacy, as well as finally starting to address the economic and social problems faced by many Iraqis.

I will be posting more about this plan in the near future. It is backed by a number of legislators and former military leaders, and is well worth considering.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Olbermann Kicks McCain's Butt

Here is a great commentary by Keith Olbermann on recent comments by John McCain comparing Iraq to South Korea:

Mortgage Crackdown

MSNBC reports that over 400 people in the mortgage industry have been arrested in connection with the recent subprime meltdown and other financial misdoings. Among those arrested were two executives at Bear Stearns, who were accused of misleading investors as to the health of their company.

Although I hold many libertarian beliefs, I feel the government does need to do a better job of regulating the economy. A lack of oversight since the Clinton years has allowed the financial community to run amok, with the Feds only stepping in to pick up the pieces. Let's hope the next president has the courage to change this.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Septa's Septic Service

Over the past week or so, I have noticed a real deterioration of service on the part of SEPTA. It started last Sunday when I was trying to get home from Center City. The 5 bush which I usually take had been detoured because of the Philadelphia Gay Parade. I went to the designated pick up point, only to wait there for an hour in the sweltering heat along with an elderly man.

When the bus finally picked us up, the driver told us she had been unable to reach the pick up spot. Listening to her speak with her dispatcher over the radio, I came to the conclusion that lines of communication between the drivers and SEPTA were not especially good, as the driver was not certain where detours were.

One might argue that this was simply the result of a special event on a weekend, not reflective of SEPTA’s overall service. However, this past Thursday, I went out to get the 5 bus up to Frankford Terminal, only to find that it was a half hour late. This was in the middle of rush hour on Frankford Ave.

When I finally arrived at Frankford Terminal, I found that the 26 bus was running ten minutes late. This was actually lucky from my perspective, as I was actually able to catch it, but the ten or so other people waiting for it seemed to mind.

Finally, we must discuss the fortunately short-lived SEPTA police strike. Here, both sides seem to be at fault. On one hand, SEPTA refused to accept binding arbitration, perhaps fearing the union would be able to get a fairer, and more expensive, shake. At the same time, union officials seemed all too eager to prey on the public’s fears in the wake of recent violence on SEPTA, warning people to seek “alternative transportation.” Do we have to trust our safety to such uncaring people?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Humanitarian Conscience of Our Military Leadership

"If these fucking Hajis would learn to drive, this shit wouldn't happen."

---Comment of an American colonel upon learning that American forces had killed a family of Iraqi civilians in a car because they mistook them for suicide bombers, according to Chris Hedges.

Militarized Cyberspace

A recent post on the TomDispatch website about the Air Force’s new Cyber Command raises many issues worth considering. Although I do not take as alarmist a view as William Astore, the author of the post, I think it is a matter calling for some scrutiny.

Astore describes the Cyber Command’s mission of protecting the United States and, more specifically, the Pentagon, from foreign computer hackers as essentially Bush-era paranoia. I am not so sanguine. Cyber warfare is rapidly becoming part of international relations. (Witness the attack on the Estonian government’s computers by hackers emanating from a country formerly known as the Soviet Union.)

In America’s case, the Pentagon is increasingly subject to hacking attempts from foreign countries, particularly China. As Richard Clarke noted on NPR's Fresh Air, Given the amount of information now stored on computers, it only makes sense that foreign governments will attempt to gain access through illicit means. It’s just James Bond 2.0. We should do everything we can to prevent such intrusions.

Nevertheless, Astore’s report raises some troubling issues. First is the threat to privacy on the web. Astore warns of the government’s increasing power to tap into private web and telephone communications. For instance, the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act requires the installment of equipment by ISPs for easy wiretapping. Organizations such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) have been sounding the warning about this trend for a while.

Equally worrisome is the Cyber Command’s plan to develop offensive Net-based weapons for use against other countries. This plan is summed up by what Air Force insiders apparently call D5, the capacity to “deceive, deny, disrupt, degrade, and destroy” other nations’ computer networks. This plan is troubling not only on the moral front, but also because of its potential to encourage other nations to further develop their cyberwar abilities. As Astore warns, we may well find ourselves in a cyber arms race.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Pundit for Public Transport

Robert Reich has produced a very interesting commentary on his blog about the need for greater investment in public transportation. In the light of rising fuel costs, riding buses, trains, and subways is making increasing sense to a large number of people. However, Reich warns that we may need to increase public funding to meet this demand.

Maybe, maybe not. Certain things I’ve observed in Philadelphia indicate that public transport may not have the funding issues Reich warns of. Recently while riding on the 5 bus along Frankford Ave. on a weekday afternoon, I found the bus to be filled almost to capacity, a highly unusual circumstance. News reports have also indicated an increase in SEPTA ridership, so much so that SEPTA is considering expanding service, with or without an increase in state funding.

That said, I am in no way opposed to government funding for public transport. When I was in Great Britain, I found the London Underground to be an excellent means of transport. It was very efficient, and offered access to most areas of the city I wanted to visit. I think London offers a model most American cities, including Philadelphia, could learn from.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Billboard with a Different Message

On I-95 near Allegheny Ave, a coalition of local humanist and aetheist groups has posted a billboard telling Philadelphia-area free-thinkers that they are not alone, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Finally, we see freethinkers standing up to the all too prominent evangelicals and fanatics who have been hogging a limelight. Although I am personally an agnostic, I think any challenge by secular forces is coming at the right time.