Nov 03 2009
This is what I enjoy about living in NC: when the politicians are loonies, they are real loonies. The genuine article, madder than General Jack D. Ripper, madder than “Mad Jack” McMad, winner of last year’s Mister Madman competition.
First offering for your delectation: George Hutchins, who’s running against David Price for his congressional seat (which covers Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, etc). Note well the flamboyant and unrestrained use of color and, well, just “stuff” that gives his web site that certain je ne sais quoi that just screams “he’s mad as a balloon!” Looks like the web page designer got his mitts on the Big Boy box of Crayolas when mommy’s back was turned. The guy’s politics don’t matter; all sane people are morally obligated to vote against him on purely esthetic grounds.
And in this corner, we have long-time Uber-loonie Rep Virginia Foxx (R-NC), who states — with nary a hint of irony (or goldy or bronzey, for that matter) — “I believe we have more to fear from the potential of that bill passing than we do from any terrorist right now in any country.” If she doesn’t get mad loonie props for that, then she should definitely get some for using the word “tarbaby” in an earlier public speech on the floor of Congress.
This is the kind of stuff that makes it worth dragging my butt out of bed in the morning.
Jul 17 2009
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what (from my rabid-atheist perspective) appears to be a firm grip by the churches of America on those who attend church. I’m beginning to understand something: it isn’t that the church has a grip on the parishioners, it’s that the parishioners have a grip on the church. See, down here in the US South, “church” isn’t just a building you go to one hour a week, it’s the centerpiece of the local people’s entire culture. It’s where you see your friends and neighbors, it’s where your kids go when they’re Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts (you’d be amazed how many Scout troops are hosted in church basements), it’s where at least two people I know met and wooed their spouses (and where at least one person I know met the person he cheated on his wife with), and at the end of it all, it’s where the living go to bury their dead, knowing with certainty that they too will someday be buried there next to generations of their own people. Vacation trips, charity drives, study groups, knitting circles, art classes, the church is at the center of all of it for the majority of Americans, and not just down here in the South.
What do we secularists have to offer in place of this richness? The sad, barren truth, without even the dubious comfort of an uppercase “T” on the word? The truth that there is no God and when you’re dead, you’re dead and you’ll never see your loved ones again? And we wonder why we have, shall we say, a bit of a “PR problem”.
Secular humanism will overcome “church” the day that secular humanism offers something better. And to be perfectly blunt, “the truth about how the world is” just isn’t perceived by most people as “better”. We need more than just “the truth”, much more. I’m not sure that secularism as currently constituted even has the potential to replace “church”, if for no other reason than the fact that it simply isn’t set up structurally to answer the same set of human needs that “church” answers.
Jul 16 2009
I think a lot of the wrongheaded thinking on both sides of the discussion about the “economic crisis” is that people keep calling it a “crisis”. This is a word that’s abused almost as much as the word “tragedy”. A crisis is a short, sharp event or series of events. And when it’s done, things get back to normal. If — as I strongly suspect — the capitalist system is collapsing into a much smaller economic ball (a collapsing star, if you will), then the unemployment numbers and the nosediving housing situation and the freezing of formerly free-flowing credit are nothing more (or less) than the new normal. Perhaps, going forward, 10% + unemployment is going to be normal (it already is in the EU). Perhaps, going forward, those houses that popped in “value” from $500K to 1.5 mil in a few years will stay at their real value (say, $200K)and never regain their former puffed-up “value”. Perhaps, going forward, credit of all kinds will not be freely available to one and all, and the engine of American consumerism — which has always, at its base, been built on the mad flow of credit — will slow down permanently to the more sedate levels we saw when people put things on layaway instead of whipping out their Platinum Card.
Perhaps this is the new normal. Perhaps this is how we live from now on. Perhaps.
Jul 07 2009
I wrote this in 2007 for a conference in Nice, France. Reposting it to commemorate the death of Robert McNamara. At times like this, I find myself wishing that the afterlife existed. Hell, specifically …
What was Indochina? What did it mean? And what visual images suggest themselves? For me, I have never been able to shake the image in Coppola’s film “Apocalypse Now” of the American Colonel Kilgore (Robert Duvall) who tells his staff that a seaside village with wonderful surfing conditions is to be bombed flat so that he and his staff can get a bit of surfing in before dinner. When one of his offers warns him that Charlie controls that village, Kilgore screams: “Charlie don’t surf!” It is self-evident and rational that he has a RIGHT to that beach because he can make better use of it. Kilgore’s proclamation is the paradigmatic image of one type of rationality, the type of rationality that manufactures sensible alibis for horrific acts. The rationale he manufactures to justify his right to a particular stretch of beach is really no more or less dubious than the alibis that our first protagonist, Robert McNamara, offered during the American misadventure in Indochina. Our other protagonist, Coppola’s fictional Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, faces the same conditions as does McNamara, but Kurtz’s refusal to tolerate what he calls “the stench of lies” drives him insane and then kills him.
Apr 17 2009
Joseph Stiglitz joins fellow Nobel-winner Paul Krugman in calling out the Obama administration. Both agree that the Obama plan will not work; Stiglitz is to be admired for stating in plain and unadorned language exactly why it won’t work.
April 17 (Bloomberg) — The Obama administration’s bank- rescue efforts will probably fail
because the programs have been designed to help Wall Street rather than create a viable financial system, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said.
“All the ingredients they have so far are weak, and there are several missing ingredients,” Stiglitz said in an interview yesterday. The people who designed the plans are “either in the pocket of the banks or they’re incompetent.”
Apr 07 2009
Looks like the Gitmo doctors were back in the dorm sleeping off a kegger the day that the Hippocratic Oath was covered in class. Amoral bastards.
Medical officers who oversaw interrogations of terrorism suspects in CIA secret prisons committed gross violations of medical ethics and in some cases essentially participated in torture, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded in a confidential report that labeled the CIA program “inhuman.”
Health personnel offered supervision and even assistance as suspected al-Qaeda operatives were beaten, deprived of food, exposed to temperature extremes and subjected to waterboarding, the relief agency said in the 2007 report, a copy of which was posted on a magazine Web site yesterday. The report quoted one medical official as telling a detainee: “I look after your body only because we need you for information.”
Mar 31 2009
Every time the French get a little irked, they shout “To The Barricades!” and do stuff like this, while we get whipped and snivel “Oh please sir, might I have just a bit more gruel?” And that, my friend, is why the frenchies have a 38-hour work week and get to spend the whole month of August lying on the Med beaches, while we have whatever the heck it is we have ….
Hundreds of French workers, angry about proposed layoffs at a Caterpillar office, were holding executives of the company hostage Tuesday, a spokesman for the workers said.
Mar 21 2009
If you’re a regular person, Happy Spring. If you’re a starwatcher, Happy
Vernal Equinox. If you’re a pagan type, happy Ostara. And if you’re
going through a little Celtic phase like me, then it’s Latha na
Cailliche, the day when Brighid finally defeats the Cailleach (the
“Crone” or “Hag”, bringer of Winter) and begins her reign over the
warm half of the year. Give credit where it’s due, the Hag held on
till the bitter end this year. I’m still not 100% convinced she’s done
toying with us.
It’s a good time of year to smile and take comfort from the fate of
John Barleycorn, a very old symbol of the eternal recurrence of life.
Way back in November at Samhain they:
“… took a plough and plough’d him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they have sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead!”
Ah, but was old John really dead? Of course not. Everything always
comes back, nothing dies forever:
“But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And showers began to fall;
John Barleycorn sprang up again,
And sure surpris’d them all!”
Happy Spring, y’all. Give a wave and a howdy to Mister Barleycorn when
he comes striding through your fields. He has important work to do,
but he’s always willing to stop in for a cup or a pint of any
fermented barley-based beverages you might happen to have lying about.
Mar 19 2009
Sorry to say, those 3 million people are in France, not the US. Why is it that the French hit the streets while we Americans don’t? Like the writer of the piece says, “France is France.” I wish Americans hit the streets more often. It might not fix anything in the long run (though it just might), but it sure beats huddling in front of our teevees and just “taking it,” which is what we’re all doing now. If the AIG bonus nonsense was happening over in France, I guarantee there would be about 1.5 bazillion pissed off frenchies outside the corporate HQ setting up Madame Guillotine. As to why we Americans don’t get out there like the French do, I suspect it’s a side effect (a planned side effect?) of the whole “rugged individualism” myth, that toxic, retrograde aspect of the American character that says: I got mine, screw everybody else, and anyway “solidarity” starts with a “s” and so does that there “socialism”, so it’s gotta be bad fer ya.
Why is it only in France that such demonstrations are taking place?
After all, it is people the world over who are bearing the brunt of the recession. But they are not on the street.
The answer is simple. France is France. It has its own political and social codes, forged in the Revolution and over the course of two turbulent centuries.
Mar 17 2009
I propose we rename March 17th “Saint Baldrick’s Day”. Instead of getting
hammered on “Saint Patrick’s Day” (and waking up disheveled, disoriented, and obscurely ashamed for reasons you pray you will never remember), do something nice instead and contribute a few pence at www.stbaldricks.org . Then go get hammered.
That is the only warm-fuzzy sentiment you will find in this piece, so enjoy it. On to the meditation …
Feb 11 2009
Apparently our brains have “a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times.” This does not bode well for advancing the interests of reason and science in the continuing economic crisis — especially if you believe, as I do, that what we’re seeing now is just the beginning.
Born Believers: How Your Brain Creates God
WHILE many institutions collapsed during the Great Depression that began in 1929, one kind did rather well. During this leanest of times, the strictest, most authoritarian churches saw a surge in attendance.
This anomaly was documented in the early 1970s, but only now is science beginning to tell us why. It turns out that human beings have a natural inclination for religious belief, especially during hard times. Our brains effortlessly conjure up an imaginary world of spirits, gods and monsters, and the more insecure we feel, the harder it is to resist the pull of this supernatural world. It seems that our minds are finely tuned to believe in gods.
The Credit Crunch Could Be A Boon For Irrational Belief
Feb 04 2009
I’ve always considered the Hindus to be the endearing exception to my “all religions are dangerous to others” rule. I mean, how dangerous can a religion be when they have a god who has an elephant head? Apparently I was mistaken about our Hindu brethren and sistren: they’re as nuts as the rest. I look at the lunatics of every major religion, and somehow the fact that my pagan Celtic ancestors went in for the odd bit of headhunting and human sacrifice seems almost benign. (and yes, I recognize that this organization is purportedly a “nationalist” or “cultural” organization, but this sort of “defend the culture” madness is always driven by deep wells of religious lunacy. Always.)
Militants belonging to a group called Sri Ram Sena, who claim to be custodians of Indian culture, said Valentine’s Day is un-Indian.
The threat comes days after the group’s activists stormed a bar in the south western city of Mangalore, dragging out and beating women they accused of acting obscenely and “going astray”.
The attack led to fears an extremist “Hindu Taliban” was on the rise in India.
Gangadhar Kulkarni, an activist in the group, which is a radical wing of the Hindu nationalist movement, said: “If people celebrate the day despite our warning, then we will definitely attack them.”
“Valentine’s Day is definitely not Indian culture. We will not allow celebration of that day in any form,” added Pramod Mutalik, the group’s founder.