Friday, May 08, 2009

Clinical Cognitive Dissonance

Both Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Sullivan point out that the New York Times has drifted far afield from reason, reacting in common - and much the same way - to a NYTimes obituary of a US Military Veteran - describing his experience in a Chinese prison during the Korean war as torture - when the things described, when done by us, are described in terms such as "enhanced interrogation."

Greenwald goes on, however, to note an observation from the NYT in another story they probably think completely unrelated:

"I learned from reading The New York Times this week (via The New Yorker's Amy Davidson) that Iraq is suffering a very serious problem. Tragically, that country is struggling with what the Times calls a "culture of impunity." What this means is that politically connected Iraqis who clearly broke the law are nonetheless not being prosecuted because of their political influence! Even worse, protests the NYT, there have been "cases dismissed in the past few years as a result of a government amnesty and a law dating to 1971 that allows ministers to grant immunity to subordinates accused of corruption." And the best part? This: "The United States is pressing the Iraqi government to repeal that law."

Thankfully, we're teaching the Iraqis what it means to be a "nation of laws." We Americans know how terrible it is to have a system where the politically powerful are permitted to break the law and not be held accountable. A country which does things like that can fall into such a state of moral depravity that they would actually allow people to do things like this and get away with it. Who could imagine living in a place like that?
I find it difficult to imagine competently tying one's shoes while managing to sustain such levels of cognitive dissonance!

Indeed, if we were speaking of an individual, rather than an institution, it would make one haul out the assessment tools for dissociative disorders.

I've noted before that many US institutions and groups seem to be manifesting behaviors that might properly be described as "insane;" in particular, statements from the right that, taken as a whole, sound variously like paranoia and personality disorders involving the lack of empathy. I speak as a layperson with an informed lay-person's understanding of the field. I not qualified to say what something IS, but I have enough insight to strongly suspect it should be checked out.

But let us keep it simple. You and I will not be able to do much toward addressing the sanity or insanity of large groups and major institutions, nor do you need to aspire to that level of effect in order to act to optimize your own response.

When you are at a bus stop and someone is talking to their invisible friend, you probably put some distance between you and them. It's not unreasonable, because while many otherwise perfectly functional people have invisible friends, those who do not realize their friends ARE invisible probably have other gaps in their understanding and perception that could have unpredictable and possibly sudden negative outcomes.

This is indicative of an institution that is no longer capable of objective, critical thought and analysis and as that is the entire reason for buying that newspaper - access to better information and insight than otherwise available - well, put the subscription price toward your wireless plan instead. You can assemble a broader perspective using an RSS feed reader - and you won't get ink on your hands.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Exalted Dragon Limbaugh Speaks To His Nation


""Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh Wednesday that if former Secretary of State Colin Powell is going to keep criticizing the GOP, he may as well leave the party and become a Democrat—adding that Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama was “purely and solely based on race.”

“He's just mad at me because I’m the one person in the country that had the guts to explain his endorsement of Obama,” Limbaugh said on his radio show. “There can be no other explanation for it.”"

Not that your listeners could understand.

Fun For Most

An arch James Wolcott deconstruction of wingnut fears to be savored... here.

"If this be treason, make the most of it."

Fox Populi T-Shirt shirt
Fox Populi T-Shirt by webcarve

Whatever you may think of the Daily Kos; as a group they are unrivaled at picking out particularly idiotic statements by Republicans. Of course, the ammunition is provided with political intent - but all the sharp edges were lovingly crafted by the intended targets. If there is one great observation political critique to evolve over the last several years, it is this: "It shouldn't be this easy."

The fact that the following accusation of treason against Colin Powell is compounded by getting a "me too" from a fox news host is a matter that should be of bipartisan concern - and yet it can be presumed it is not, will not be and that pointing it out will be attributed to "political score-settling" or "lib'rul propaganda." I'm no liberal - but I become less and less interested in pointing out the apparently too-subtle distinctions between my own views and those of classical or modern Liberals. I'm unable to find words both small and rude enough to communicate.

And that, dear readers, is a significant problem. That is not merely a "political" issue. For treason is a rather consequential word to be attaching to a disaffected political ally.

If this accusation ever comes to Gen. Powell's attention - and I cannot imagine why anyone would think it significant enough to mention to him, nor would I expect him to consider Fox to be a source of reliable intelligence - I can only imagine that the very apt Patrick Henry quotation I chose to entitle this article might cross his mind.

If Colin Powell is a "Bad Republican," one wonders what a "Good Republican" looks like. Even more troubling, the speaker equates disloyalty to the Republican Party with disloyalty to the state. That is the sort of assumption that should have you checking your personal weapons to make sure they will function properly at sudden need.

But it does lead us to consider what "Loyal Republicans" look like.

Well, there's no lack of examples; Take Sen Dave Vitter (R, LA). Here's how he explains his tactic of holding up Obama's choice for FEMA chief just before hurricane season.

"Almost four years after Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, communities like Cameron Parish and Grand Isle are still waiting on an answer from FEMA so that fire stations and other key facilities can be rebuilt," Vitter said. "And FEMA is complaining about a short delay of this nomination vote? It seems like they have their priorities mixed up. I'm eager to end all of this delay; I hope FEMA is."

Gee, Dave, that means that, during those four years as a valued member of the majority party, you were unable to fulfill your most significant duty as a Senator - to get federal dollars for critical infrastructure? You could not shake loose any money for these critical infrastructure matters? Couldn't form some sort of activist coalition? Do a little lobbying of various agencies and federal entities? Schmooze committee heads?

Considering your failure to do your job when you belonged to a party that made every decision in favor of Republicans and controlled every aspect of the decision making structure - perhaps it's not so unreasonable that the White House dismisses this as a purely political stunt. There's good reason to doubt you have any genuine interest in dealing with the needs of those who supposedly elected you. (Assuming, of course, they actually did.)

There is a place in politics for stunts, and it's reasonable to consider the timing, the skill and the objective. I think you need to go ask Ron Paul for a few tips. Because, you see, you don't hold up the President on a time critical appointment when your stated reason for doing amounts to "because I'm incompetent."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was notably blunt:

When asked about Vitter's reasoning, Gibbs said "the best way to get moving on any concerns that he has with FEMA is to get somebody of the utmost regard at the helm of FEMA to make progress."

"And I think his constituents would expect that same level of professionalism," Gibbs said.

One would think - but after eight years of prompt, high quality (R) service, they are probably relieved that the federal government has not designated New Orleans as a nuclear waste repository.

You see, this is the sort of public servant you get when blind loyalty to Party is the only required qualification. And while the equations may have differing variables across the aisle - results do not seem to indicate that they add up to significantly higher values.

There are a lot of places where people have simply given up on trying to get rid of obviously corrupt and conspicuously incompetent leaders. It's clear that the process itself is so badly compromised that going through the motions of participatory democracy seems - and in many cases likely is - a complete waste of effort.

Speaking of incompetence - Colin Powell spent much of his tenure with the Bush Administration trying to fix a fuckup in progress, the completely incoherent and ultimately more than useless detainment program that led the US to national disgrace with the scandals at Gitmo, Abu Ghrab and elsewhere. This article establishes that Dick Cheney was one of, if not the major force behind the completely indiscriminate roundup of apparently randomly-selected victims, a process he apparently still defends as vital to national security.

Fox news - as everyone is well aware, due to the mindless cheerleading of techniques of torture by such leading Republican intellectual leaders as Sean Hannity, apparently concurs that torturing the wrong people is as likely to produce good, actionable intelligence as torturing the right people. That is, of course, a common-sense conclusion - if you understand that torture does not produce high quality intelligence. So, we must presume that the "good results" would be something more along the line of terrifying the crap out of certain target elements - the Iraqi people and, of course, "libruls."

Colin Powell's former chief of staff,
Lawrence B. Wilkerson has a blistering assessment of the entire program that Powell's team ultimately failed to put an end to, and is unheasitatingly assigning direct responsiblity for that failure to Dick Cheney. (Though no doubt he would consider it as a "credit.")

After a relentless establishment of the reasons for making his statements - foundations that everyone concerned about national security from any perspective, political or practical should read - he bluntly concludes:

Cheney went on to say in his McLean interview that "Protecting the country's security is a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business. These are evil people and we are not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek." I have to agree but the other way around. Cheney and his like are the evil people and we certainly are not going to prevail in the struggle with radical religion if we listen to people such as he.
Fox news would presumably have the ability - as a news gathering organization - to contact people with appropriate, relevant and useful insights into matters of this import. Certainly, you would think that if a man of the stature of Colin Powell had qualms about Cheney's torture program, they would have sources that could have let them know about it.

We can then presume that they are either devoid of contacts that could have told them as matters developed - but that would then establish that they have no useful sources. Of course, by now, a simple Google search could have given them multiple sources to inform their analysis. At this point, we must therefor presume they have the intent of deliberately misinforming their audience, that, or presume they are absolute idiots. One could easily presume that both are true; it takes quite a bit more charity to say that neither is.

But Hannity proves by example that he's not firmly enough convinced that waterboarding is not torture to put his personal pink butt on the line to underline the network's editorial position.

Perhaps we should put the challenge to Rupert Murdoch himself?

I suspect for men of stature such as Colin Powell, being called a traitor to such a cause served and advanced by such people is an honor to be cherished.

As for those who continue to excuse and defend and demand the GOP move even further towards absolute sociopathic authoritarian mindlessness; "Fox Populi, Fox Idiotum."

I suppose Sun Tsu would council me to silence on this matter, but I'm willing to risk it. At this point, those who continue to have faith in this mindlessly evil sociopolitical philosophy are probably incapable of understanding the point I'm making here.

So in plain English, here it is. People this viciously stupid and this prone to violence will have to be dealt with. Nor am I saying that as a rallying cry - I'm stating it as a reality they will absolutely bring about by their own efforts.

You - whoever you are - should be considering how you, your family and the people and institutions you are responsible for might be affected should some fanatically idiotic person act in the manner that Fox news and agitators and propagandists are clearly urging them toward.

The only prudant assumption is that there are people - who are no doubt directly or indirectly connected to whatever circle of hell picks up the phone when Cheney calls - in position to use such a situation as a pretext to take some action you might well consider objectionable.

It's time to abandon the fond assumption that "such things could never happen here." They surely can - just as surely as there were those saying "such things could never happen here" when Caeser marched on Rome.

Nor do I expect that things will unfold much differently in the United States then they did after Caeser crossed the Rubicon.

But there is one lesson of history - repeated far too often, in my opinion - and it is this. It is profoundly unwise to question the loyalty of those who have defended the honor and security of a nation in such a way as to establish that those holding sway over it have no honor and are undeserving of personal security.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Your silence is deafening, Mr. Hannity...

Hannity demonstrates a usage of the term "troll" I had previously been unaware of. (Credit to asgardshill on this digg thread)

Think Progress » Eight days of silence since Hannity volunteered to be waterboarded: Is he chickening out? (|mi.rror)

Over a week ago — on Thurs., April 22 — Fox News’ torture enthusiast Sean Hannity agreed to be waterboarded for charity to prove that it is not torture. Though he dismissed waterboarding as simply taking someone’s head and “dunk[ing] it in water,” he has remained notably silent on his promise ever since, perhaps regretting that he volunteered to subject himself to the intensely terrifying suffocation experience. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann offered last week to donate $1,000 to military families for every second Hannity is waterboarded. In the face of Hannity’s silence, Olbermann repeated the offer this week:

OLBERMANN: Sean, my offer still stands, 1,000 dollars a second. This is not a stunt nor game. Prove to those families you are a man of your word. In fact, prove you are a man.

Hannity, we await your reply.

As they say at Gitmo - "Don't hold your breath, Keith." While I myself encouraged Mr. Hannity to live up to his own bluster, I can't say I ever expected it, and I doubt Kieth Olbermann did, either. Frankly, getting Hannity to wimp out, to fail to live up to his own "Machismo by Proxy" was the entire point of the exercise.

Hannity has acted exactly as bullies and cowards always do - run like hell when met with a serious, dedicated, determined opposing force. He also proves that his convictions only apply when they are applied to other people - which of course puts him squarely within the fold of modern US social conservatism.

You might find a visit to amusing - though probably charities would find direct contributions less potentially ephemeral.

Of course one absolutely should consider the source and the outcome as definitive of the character, motivation and intents of the speaker. As an individual, Hannity is odious but insignificant. The real problem is the fact that he's permitted a public platform, is paid well, and is clearly influential among a section of the American people that are quite unashamed of demonstrating a very strong, attachment with the idea of torture - often going so far as to suggest that "squeamishness" about torturing one's enemies is "unmanly." My. What a very convenient cultural meme to foster - if you are Dick Cheney - good friend and political ally of Rupert Murdoch.

On digg, ami6htywind shares this nugget of wisdom.
"Why Do American Christians Approve Of Torture?"
Maybe it is because us Christians do not feel the need to offer our throats to these outworld savages, unlike moronic liberals.
I'd comment further - but really, if you can't get from the point established so viscerally above to where you need to be in order to be a functional, rational individual that deserves the maximum of liberty within the context of a functional, rational culture, I'm not sure there is a point.

But just let me state for the record that if you say things like that to a psycologist or psychiatrist, and they had the slightest suspicion that you had the occasion, inclination and desire to act on such beliefs, you might experience a 72 hour interruption in your ordinary life. It's an insane perspective - and when a blatantly insane perspective becomes shared by a very large number of people, little good can arise from pretending that it's merely a difference of opinion or disagreements between persons of concience. Not when conscientious and principled objections are rejected as unmanly, gutless and "liberal."

There are many illustrations available for what happens when the crazy people are permitted to run the asylum. Large swaths of the Middle East - and not omitting the state of Israel - are examples of various examples of toxic mindsets coming into conflict. Or you could have a look at North Korea. Gee, what a lovely place it is, to live under the loving protection of The Dear Leader.

Let us not forget the piles of skulls that are the memorial to the Killing Fields of Cambodia. Let us not forget where a tolerance of such views can lead us. There is a line, it's been crossed, and the uncrossing of it will entail some degree of painful social rearrangement.

I see nothing inappropriate in stating that the greatest pain should be borne by those who most cheerfully chose to incur such great moral debt on your behalf. Sadly, things rarely seem to work out that way in practice, but my observation is that the greater the physical and social distance between you and those deserving of consequence, the less collateral consequence will fall your way.

The first step is simple. Change the channel, or just turn off the TV entirely. You can safely assume that anyone trying to gain a benefit of the doubt in favor of torture or an "aggressive foreign policy" has no intentions that benefit your interests - or the long-term interests of your family and children.

If you have the common sense required to enjoy a situation comedy - well, the phrase "Nothing good can come of this" should resonate with you. And you see, there's no ability to watch with detached amusement. Audience participation is integral to this particular comedy of errors and may yet influence the ultimate outcome of the play.

On the Conservation of Common Sense

In your heart, you know he's pissed! - Customized shirt

"When you say 'radical right' today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye." - Barry Goldwater

It cannot be said, often or firmly enough, that the Republican party in the US and various authoritarian and socially-conservative movements are the antithesis of all that is genuine, useful and true about traditional Conservatism.

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan (February 16, 2009) - Evangelicalism vs Conservatism: "The critical definition of conservatism, by which I mean that political tradition Burke founded, rests on a distinction between theoretical and practical wisdom. Burke insisted that abstract ideas of the Truth should not be our guide in political thought and action. He foresaw what would happen when tradition ceded to absolutism in the French Revolution. He prized experience, the wisdom of time, and the adaptation of existing institutions to new social realities. So for conservatives, the core political virtue is practical reason and common sense, not ideology, theology or absolutism."

Of course, one then has to look to the values that do seem to motivate a social conservative these days. While such people often point to religious values, and generally specifically Christian values, it is quite difficult to see a connection between the "book values" cited and the words spoken.

But I do think another writer - again, damn it - has put their thumb squarely upon it. Joe Brewer, writing for Truthout:

Taxation as Conservatives Understand It

I've already alluded to an interesting metaphor that helps make sense of conservative thought about taxes, which I'll call Taxes Are a Burden to make it explicit. The understanding of taxation that follows from this metaphor can be seen in this story:

Hard-working Americans are in need of some tax relief. Years of mismanagement by tax-and-spend liberals have taken money out of the hands of working people and put it into bloated government programs that serve special interests. We need to cut taxes, return fiscal responsibility to government, and put money back in the hands of taxpayers who know best how to spend it.

This perspective is grounded in two beliefs: (1) The world is comprised of individuals; and (2) People are inherently bad and must learn right from wrong through self-discipline. I like to call this the "Me First" perspective because it assumes that people must help themselves before thinking about others. It can be summarized with the declaration, "You're on your own!" The Me First perspective assumes that any assistance from the community would be "coddling" or "spoiling" us. This claim is asserted as truth in the conservative worldview.

Taxation as Progressives Understand It

Progressives have a different understanding of taxation that can be expressed through a variety of metaphors: Taxes Are an Investment, Taxes Are Membership Dues, Taxes Are Pathways to Opportunity, Taxes Are Infrastructure and Taxes Are a Duty. (Read more about progressive taxation in "Progressive Taxation: Some Hidden Truths") Reasoning that emerges with these metaphors can be seen in this progressive story:

Our great nation was founded on a promise of protection and opportunity. Through our shared wealth, pooled together by taxation with representation, we have invested in the public infrastructure that makes possible the creation of new wealth. We have a sacred trust to keep this promise alive throughout our lifetimes, expand it as we are able, and pass it along to our children.

This perspective is grounded in the beliefs that (1) Individuals are influenced significantly by our communities; and (2) People are inherently good and benefit from cooperation with others. I like to call this the "People First" perspective because it assumes that people must help each other in order to enhance their ability to help themselves. It can be summarized with the declaration, "We're all in this together!" The People First perspective assumes that we are greater than the sum of our parts and that new opportunities emerge when we make wise investments with the common wealth we share.

Now, I consider myself Conservative by reflex, but, as with Andrew, that is in the foundational sense, the sense in which Burke spoke. Further - and this comes both from my readings and studies and from direct personal interactions with people of all stripes - is that interactions between human beings, for good and ill, depend upon our assumptions of good will upon the other party. As unfortunate as it is that this assumption of unworthy motives for any public good initiative, it at least has one aspect to it; due to the efforts of the proponents of this viewpoint and the effects that one might expect of any such mutual self-congratulation society, neither the cheerleaders nor those led have the least embarrassment in stating these utterly unjustifiable assumptions aloud as being matters of presumed fact.

It's not only trivial to find examples, it's so pervasive that it escapes the bounds of ordinary political discussion. It comes out when Michael Savage speaks of autism. It comes out when any attempt is made to rationally discuss climate change, special education priorities, child abuse, or - conspicuously, economics.

Now, economics has political implications - obviously. And obviously, how one approaches the discipline and how one applies insight provided by the discipline is of course influenced by one's sociopolitical viewpoints - but IF the discipline itself can actually produce absolutely contradictory information depending on the POLITICS of the person asking the question, it's completely useless.

Well, this actually seems to be the working assumption of rank and file conservatives, and it's a viewpoint that's certainly encouraged by their heroes - that there is no such thing as an objective reality - that everything is dependent upon politics. Worse yet, the assumption that all persons are evil, and that people who disagree must be not just evil, but evil conspirators allows the self justification of all manner of evil deeds in "preemptive self defense."

We are in the paradoxical position where the people most likely to insist on the imposition of a "greater moral order" are most likely to do starkly immoral, illegal and immensely unjust things in order to achieve that goal.

Now, there is absolutely nothing Conservative in elevating evil over good as the foundation for society. And no doubt, most social and religious conservatives would agree, and insist that they advocate no such thing, that they are striving against evils, such as abortion, such as "the homosexual agenda," such as "drug culture" and "moral corruption" and such like things. But, aside from the entirely questionable ethical matrices in which these things are deemed absolute, unquestionable, nonnegotiable evils, it also becomes quickly clear that no possible consequence of actions taken against these actions may be taken. Indeed, in the mind of a generic Social Conservative, making such an argument means that you are "really" simply part of the same evil; that whatever your stated intent, your real motive, your real thinking is due to your inherent depravity.

That has the effect of "thought stopping," and thought stopping - an technique to prevent examination of foundational assumptions - is the key to any successful mass movement that depends upon deception. It's one of the core goals of any system of brainwashing.

Now, I'm no atheist, so I will not immediately leap from there to the Dominionist collusion with Republicanism and conclude thereby that "Therefore religion is evil, a mere mechanism for social control by the elites, a means of demonizing the exercise of legitimate self will and free choice."

It is, however, an entirely rational conclusion to make, considering the impact Dominionism and other extreme religious movements have had upon world culture within the last decades, often in collusion despite apparent differences, and in concert with the darker aspects of Business and Government.

I don't happen to think this is in fact the fault of faith. It's simply that faith tends to concentrate a large number of people together, making it as an attractive power center as government to those who wish to influence others to support their own desires for power and influence, and even the most casual study of history establishes how regularly this had occurred and to what depressingly predictable ends.

Ends we are seeing right now.

It was to prevent just such outcomes, and I would argue, in genuine concern for the "better angels" of both faith and reason, good government and the genuine and appropriate ends of conscientious religious belief that the great thinkers of the Enlightenment argued for the necessity of a high barrier between church and state; that neither could properly focus on their proper ends by becoming entangled with the concerns of the other.

For when religious faith is perverted to excuse and even mandate violent words and acts against the "ungodly" in service of some supposed collective good - the result is never good. Moreover, it produces irresistible opportunities for the concealment and excuse of the most reprehensible acts and the most deplorable indifference toward the suffering and poverty of those deemed of no consequence by those who have gained control of church and state.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Your community values, and what they say about you.

There is a perfectly apt Conservative precept aimed at one of the most common sins of liberalism that sums up my reaction to this article:

"Don't be so open-minded that you let your brains fall out."

Here is another: "In order for evil to flourish, all that is required is that good men do nothing."

Of course, in these times, that position requires a little encouragement.

Surprises from Liberty University: What I Learned as an Undercover Evangelical

A sociologist named Margarita Mooney has shown that college students who attend regular religious services report being happier, more diligent, and more satisfied with their college experience than students who practice no religion. I still don't consider myself an evangelical Christian, but I can understand now what millions of Christian college students see in faith-based education, and why Liberty's enrollment has grown at a rate that few colleges, secular or religious, have ever matched.

Since the book came out, I've taken some heat from people who have argued that, by going to Liberty with an open mind, I was turning a blind eye to intolerance - or worse, that I'd been brainwashed by my time under Rev. Falwell's tutelage. But no community is all bad, and to dismiss Liberty as a place of wall-to-wall insanity is to reduce it, and the evangelical movement that birthed it, to a lazy caricature.

I still disagree with a lot of the values Liberty stands for, but seeing the human faces on the other side of the American culture wars made me question my own assumptions and realize that, in some ways, I had just as much to learn about tolerance as the most hard-line fundamentalist.

It is all very high-minded and tolerant - until we realize that we are being asked to be tolerant of a community that is designed to further and advance un-apologetically intolerant causes and ideals - with coursework that is rather less well-founded in science, reality, or even respectable Christian theology than your average hairspray porn. No amount of hair-spray can overcome basic bore-stroke incompatibility, so there is a degree beyond which credulity cannot be stretched. So to speak.

The intellectual foundation of Liberty University, on the other hand, is somewhat akin to using Hentai Anime to illustrate a sex-ed manual, with the straight-faced assertion that every once in a while, if you are very good or bad, tentacles will suddenly appear from toilets and heating vents for no particularly understandable reasons.

From the article:
I remember opening my first Creationist Biology exam to find the question: "True or False: Noah's Ark was large enough to accommodate various species of dinosaurs." (According to my professor, the answer was "True" - since dinosaurs and humans cohabited the earth after the Flood, they would have had to find a way to squeeze onto the Ark. He suggested that they could have been teenage dinosaurs, so as to take up less space.) Also troubling was Liberty's extreme social and political conservatism, which made for classroom lessons like "The Consequences of Immoral Sex" and textbook chapters like "Myths Behind the Homosexual Agenda."

Like I said - it's on a par with tentacle porn as part of a Sex-ed curriculum.

But the author asserts that there were were warm fuzzies to be had, and therefore the community itself was not without merit.

There are many virtues in communities. There were virtues and good times to be found in various slave cultures. There was much to be praised about the nobility and courage of Gladiators - and yet one must not overlook the context, in which the entire purpose of their lives and deaths was to die an agonizing public death - no doubt virtuously and courageously - for entertainment.

One must ask, "In what what good end does this virtue lead us?"

All cultures do indeed depend upon virtues and generally select several of particular importance and likewise define any number of vices. But one must look to see if these virtues and vices map coherently to any generally agreed-upon map of ethical behavior. And, whatever map one selects, one must see if there's any particular correspondence between the moral principles cited most often, public actions and actual outcomes.

I find it ironic, for instance, that the public behavior and associations of Jesus of Nazareth would very likely make him unsuited for tenure at Liberty University.

I would argue that while it may well be comfortable and attractive for persons who identify with "Conservative Family Values" to live and learn in a context where their preconceptions are reinforced, rather than challenged, it is not "learning" or "education" in any usual sense - it is rather "indoctrination" and "brainwashing," if only in the sense of maintaining the condition, rather than pro-actively challenging parochial assumptions.

And if one argues a community of the like-minded does not mean all must be irredeemable fools - nonetheless, it is still a collective that is far less than the sum of it's parts, for exactly the same reasons and by exactly the same means as perfected by, say, Liberty's political ally, The Unification Church.

No, participation in such a system of "education" is to abandon one's own moral and ethical judgment to - well, fools at best. And ultimately, I challenge anyone to establish a case where such things ever lead to enough good to balance the harm they do.

What harm?

Consider how very much graduates from such institutions of "higher learning" had to do with the current world-wide economic disaster, refusal to deal with climate or energy issues in any serious way, general hostility towards science and the systemic and deliberate sabotage of public education, from high to low.

And this criticism may be laid without any reference whatsoever to religion or faith in any ethically coherent, defensible sense.

We are speaking of teachings that are in deliberate opposition to established fact - not faith in the absence of evidence. Moreover, many of these "faith based assumptions," particularly the socio-economic ones - have either no biblical foundation, or are in direct opposition to principles stated in the big red letters.

We are speaking of a conscious, deliberate, fabricated and quite provably delusional worldview; supported with malicious, and dishonest misrepresentation of the morals, ethics and motives of all paths and persons that might serve to inform the conscience and intellects of the inmates of these institutions of higher brainwashing.

I do not see this as a religious or political issue; it's rather a divide between those willing to think about issues and make competent issues based on real information and those who would prefer to live in a comfortable self-affirmation society that simply denies the existence or reality of anything that may call those comforting assumptions into question. In other words, it is the choice between the possibility of good outcomes and the certainty of outcomes that can be accurately and fairly described as "evil."

The confluence of current events conspire with the willful subversion and malicious discontent of such willing tools may force the rational and civilized to draw a sharp and surgical line in the sand between the real and the fabulous. Some - many, I hope - may be presented with the dilemma Gen. Robert E. Lee faced - and choose more wisely. I still cherish some hope in that regard, but even in the light of my greatest hopes, there is no future I can see in which these two Americas can continue as one singular nation. The ability to pretend the differences do not exist, don't really matter and do not play out in terms of practical, disastrous effect cannot long be maintained.

Likewise, it becomes clear that various visions of the future of the US - or parts of it at least - are defined by the absence of those who are invited, by implication, to explore their life-paths elsewhere.

As I stated at the beginning, there are limits to tolerance. My tolerance ends when it seems likely that a majority of the "moral majority" support the use of torture in direct contradiction to every value and example in the bible and every civilized moral code in existence.

Then, such is life and the lives of nations and peoples. This is a paradigm shift that effects everyone on the planet, where we are finding that the teachings of old are inadequate to the social, economic, environmental and ethical challenges we are faced with. Clearly, we need a moral and ethical framework that can help us deal with these deeply interconnected challenges Equally clearly, American Conservative Christianity, and it's mirror twin, the various violently oppressive "Islamic" movements are a huge part of the problem.

When a religion is found to be cheer-leading for contributing to morally and ethically indefensible offenses against human rights, it has become a force for evil - if that word is to have any useful meaning at all, it must be applied when it fits.

"By their fruits, ye shall know them."

As an individual, I have always felt it best to avoid large concentrations of stupid people who are easily provoked to violence, since I'm disinclined to join another gang to spread the risk. Unfortunately, the larger the church, the more likely that is to be illustrative of it's character - a gang of stupid people, easily led toward doing evil things "for the greater good."

It needn't be that way, of course; outcomes depend on leadership in all such situations - but currently there is a bias toward a particularly brainless form of unquestioning obedience to Higher Authority that has only been seen infrequently since - well, the Crusades come to mind.

If that boils down to a political stand, well, that's unfortunate trending toward disastrous. But it is also a reasonably accurate assessment. One cannot be intellectually honest about the critical issues facing the human race at the moment and support to any degree the visions of the US Republican movement, ignore it's entanglement with the Dominionist Christian movement or the greater entanglements with various world Conservative political, social and religious movements - none of which have any use for free minds or free peoples with their own individual, functioning consciences.

"When you say 'radical right' today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye." - Barry Goldwater

This is true even when one is generally inclined to highly value the very virtues that Conservatives most often pay lip-service to. Alas, it is no more than lip-service. It is no virtue to defend torture and oppression in the name of "liberty." That is not what Goldwater was speaking of. He would have called it something rather blunt and rude - theocratic stupidity, perhaps, or worse. But it was not his conservatism, much less my own. I'm a progressive Conservative - not a conservative Progressive.

Liberty University may have what some may consider a "vibrant social life," no doubt it contains many puppy and kitten lovers, and be blessed with the occasional rainbow, but none of those things are due to it being in service of anything ethical, moral, respectable or good.

It is a place that stands for intolerable, indefensible ideas and ideals. I will not tolerate them in the name of tolerance - particularly when such people making such choices based on such conspicuous stupidity have done their best to make things far worse than circumstances required.

Liberals, atheists, abortionists, would-be gun controllers and Godless Democrats were not responsible for Katrina, or for deciding that torture was a good policy. A case may be made for failure to oppose, certainly for a conspicuous lack of moral courage - but the case cannot be made for creating the situation in the first place.

Shall we speak of the perfect expression of all that is NeoCon philosophy - Hurricane Katrina? It featured evil for all occasions; sloth, incompetence, racism, religious bigotry, naked greed for the land occupied by "undeserving minorities," and of course, none of this has been in the slightest bit alleviated by government response to the aftermath of the situation they allowed to develop and than failed to address. They chose, instead, to metaphorically and in some rather conspicuous cases, literally attribute that disaster to the "sins" of New Orleans and declare that help would be against "God's Will."

But that's not any God I'd be on speaking terms with. I hope I may be forgiven for my hope that the distinction may become manifest in their lives. "Full measure, pressed down and running over."

I'm done with "Do as you be done by." It's time for "Ms. Bedonebyasyoudid."

Monday, May 04, 2009

It should not need to be said: And then they came for me...

Canada Above the Fray Rondel magnetWelcome to Canada!
Do you have any fruit, firearms
or implements of torture
to declare today?

HT Digby: Please click the digg link.

"First they tortured in ticking time bomb cases but I didn't mind because it was a clear and imminent danger..."

An obvious observation ... or it should be.

This deserves to be email-chained to everyone who's ever annoyed you with some damn-fool paranoid massmail forwarding.

I cannot even fathom what combination of fear and moral failure has allowed US Citizens to tolerate this - much less entrench it into a political philosophy! Nonetheless, this very phenomenon is directly related to why I chose to return to Canada.
Waterboarding saves lives shirt
It's not the whole of it, or even a huge part - but at some point, as a citizen of a nation, you have to ask yourself whether, if push came to shove, could you suck up your gut and say "My country, right or wrong?" I found that I could not honestly say that.

To me, that commitment has always depended on the balance of right versus wrong being a positive one. Somewhere during the Bush administration, it became clear to me that Bush was not an historical anomaly, but rather, the logical product of a political movement that prospered because good people chose to do nothing to oppose it.

At some point just prior to the election, even before the economic meltdown, I became convinced that it was entirely possible to envision circumstances in which Canada and the US would come to some parting of the ways. The issue of torture is certainly one issue that could bring this about, and there are a number of others, sovereignty being a very significant one.

Torture is a powerful issue, both in terms of symbolism and as practical evidence of an intolerable degree of ethical and moral failure at the highest levels.

If this does not inform the decisions of other world powers, including Canada, that is also a problem. You see, it goes to the very fundamental issues as to whether the United States can be trusted to act as a lawful power, if it can and will honor it's treaties and international obligations. Actions speak far louder than words.

I was blessed by birth with a choice; citizenship in two nations with remarkable history, people and potential. But of the two nations, one sees history, people and potential as a responsibility to be maintained and fulfilled and the other, sadly, sees it as an entitlement.

I regret being forced to chose. But I am not uncomfortable with the choice I have made. I hope that you, dear reader, are able to come to some acceptable terms with your own citizenship in the merciless light of conscience.

Canada Above the Fray Rondel by EhCanada

Waterboarding saves lives by walraven


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