Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Friday, August 31, 2007

Pubic Indecency

Private Idahole? Having gone pubelic, Craig should now take the opportunity, during his wank-release program, to take matters into his own hands and follow the GOP's privatization dicktum that God helps those who help themselves.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

His Own Private Idahole

No commentary. I just didn't want Paul to get the only cheap Larry Craig pun. Carry on.

Craig's Lust

Speaking of fucking, I realize Senator Craig didn't get off last month and that he pled guilty, but it still seems like a big fuss over something so little. He shouldn't have stopped to jigaloe the handle in the toilet before he exited that bathroom. Sheesh. What is the world coming to? Has the entire Republican party gone wacky? Bonkers? They need to forestall all these scandals before the next election.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Paul to MLK: Go Fuck Yourself

OK, so let me get this straight. According to Paul, all religion is stupid and dangerous superstition, and anyone who disagrees is supinely polishing George Bush's scepter. I'm sure that would be news to Bill Moyers, one of the first and most persistent mainstream critics of Bush policies. And an ordained Baptist minister. Somebody shut Bill's pie-hole before he destroys America again!

I'm not sure who Paul's talking about when he says that our argument is primarily about whether "rhetoric with manipulative religious themes. . . should therefore presumably be a part of political discourse by politicians." Eh? Really? That's what we've been arguing about? Well, damn. You were right all along. Hallelujah! I've seen the light! Devious manipulation using religious rhetoric is baaaaaaaaad.

As I've said several times, Paul needs to stop arguing with strawmen. I know you atheists are tempted to believe that all the world's evil comes from religion, but this is just adolescent petulance. This debate started with my criticism of #3 for wetting his pants over ONE episode of ONE newsmagazine exploring a religious topic. It continued with my observation that Gerson, while not one of my favorite people, had made a moderate and reasonable case for religion in the cited column. If I ever parlayed that into praise of Gerson's religious-themed speechwriting or his Bush sycophancy, I missed it. Apparently, my atheist friends cannot stand to live in a world where they are even reminded that religion exists or where religious believers make mild-mannered arguments in their own defense. As Paul goes on to say, "religion itself would be better off if religion were left out of public political discourse by politicians." So long Abe Lincoln. Goodbye, William Jennings Bryan. Seeya, MLK, wouldn't wanna be ya. I really do appreciate it when atheists start telling us believers how to live our lives and whether we have any right to engage in politics. Thank ya massa.

Reduced to its elements, Paul's argument is profoundly illiberal and undemocratic. Politicians (right and left) use religious rhetoric because Americans are religious. American Christians participate in politics because this is a democracy, and that's what we let citizens do. While we set constitutional bounds on the policies believers can impose (school prayer, etc.), we don't force them to pretend that they're people they're not just to engage in political debate. I hate the religious right as much as the next guy--hell, it's my religion they're screwing up. But I will defend their right to speak up for what they believe in even if (and usually when) I disagree with it. If they're being manipulative, the answer is to explain why and how. That's how the system works. If you ban them from politics, it just makes them madder and gives credence to their victimology.

I don't think I need to offer you my personal faith testimony to make that case. For the record, I'm a pretty conventional liberal Protestant. But this isn't really about that. It's about whether we liberals are so obsessed with the evils of the Bush administration that we can no longer think rationally or discriminately about the place of religion in modern life. I can think of one liberal who has been quite thoughtful on that issue over the years. His name is Bill Moyers.

Gonzales to resign

One of the country's long national nightmares is about to end. Thank god, or pitch-forks and pointed ears (as doc McCoy once said on a Star Trek I episode).

Update: Two seconds later the headline reads "has resigned" rather than "is to resign".

Moyers on Rove's Manipulation of the Religious

Bill Moyers waded deep into the issue of Karl Rove's manipulation of religious American voters this past week, saying
There is, of course, more to be said. What struck me about my fellow Texan, Karl Rove, is that he knew how to win elections as if they were divine interventions. You may think God summoned Billy Graham to Florida on the eve of the 2000 election to endorse George W. Bush just in the nick of time, but if it did happen that way, the good lord was speaking in a Texas accent.

Karl Rove figured out a long time ago that the way to take an intellectually incurious draft-averse naughty playboy in a flight jacket with chewing tobacco in his back pocket and make him governor of Texas, was to sell him as God’s anointed in a state where preachers and televangelists outnumber even oil derricks and jack rabbits. Using church pews as precincts Rove turned religion into a weapon of political combat — a battering-ram, aimed at the devil’s minions, especially at gay people.

It’s so easy, as Karl knew, to scapegoat people you outnumber, and if God is love, as rumor has it, Rove knew that, in politics, you better bet on fear and loathing. Never mind that in stroking the basest bigotry of true believers you coarsen both politics and religion.

At the same time he was recruiting an army of the lord for the born-again Bush, Rove was also shaking down corporations for campaign cash. Crony capitalism became a biblical injunction. Greed and God won four elections in a row — twice in the lone star state and twice again in the nation at large. But the result has been to leave Texas under the thumb of big money with huge holes ripped in its social contract, and the U.S. government in shambles — paralyzed, polarized, and mired in war, debt and corruption.

Rove himself is deeply enmeshed in some of the scandals being investigated as we speak, including those missing emails that could tell us who turned the attorney general of the United States into a partisan sock-puppet. Rove is riding out of Dodge City as the posse rides in. At his press conference this week he asked God to bless the president and the country, even as reports were circulating that he himself had confessed to friends his own agnosticism; he wished he could believe, but he cannot. That kind of intellectual honesty is to be admired, but you have to wonder how all those folks on the Christian right must feel discovering they were used for partisan reasons by a skeptic, a secular manipulator. On his last play of the game all Karl Rove had to offer them was a Hail-Mary pass, while telling himself there’s no one there to catch it.
Moyers' take seems to be that religion, while susceptible to manipulation, is not to blame and that Karl Rove was really a wolf in sheep's clothing. Rove, on the other hand, in a direct response to Moyers' claim (based on various reports) that Rove is an Agnostic, said to Chris Wallace of Fox that
I'm a Christian. I go to church. I'm an Episcopalian. I think he [Moyers] may have taken a comment that I made where I was talking about how — I have had colleagues at the White House — Mike Gerson, Pete Wayner (ph), Leslie Drune (ph), Josh Bolten and others — who I'm really impressed about how their faith has informed their lives and made them really better people. And it took a comment where I acknowledged my shortcomings in living up to the beliefs of my faith and contrasted it with how these extraordinary people have made their faith a part of their fiber. And somehow or another he goes from taking it from me being an Episcopalian wishing I was a better Christian to somehow making me into a agnostic. You know, Mr. Moyers ought to do a little bit better research before he does another drive-by slander.

Whatever one's position on whether Rove is a genuine believer or not, one thing Moyer got right: George Bush would have never been elected governor of Texas or President of the United States without manipulating, or genuinely appealing to, the votes of the Christian religious right in America and receiving their support. They are also the same voters who by and large have stood by his disastrous invasion of Iraq, and many of them are pushing him to bomb Iran. Their religious beliefs play a significant role in their political policies and votes, just as religious belief plays a significant role for a Muslim Jihadist. Conversely, I would be willing to bet that the percentage of Atheists and Agnostics who actually voted for Bush, support the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the bombing of Iran and/or jihad is quite low. That's no coincidence.

As for our religion debate here, I think it can be distilled to this. TMcD's overall point here and here, in defense of Bush speechwriter Gerson who himself peppers Bush's rhetoric with manipulative religious themes, was that religion appeals to society's better angels and should therefore presumably be a part of political discourse by politicians. I have taken an opposite position here and here: the world would be better off if religion were kept out of politics and political discourse by politicians, because those who employ it in politcs usually do so as a cynical cover for other less godly motives (i.e. the Neoconservatives, Rove and Gerson). This is a genuine disagreement, and I hardly think that any of my points has "dissolved into dust."

So, this is the essential disagreement we are having, although within that larger debate I have also questioned the value of religion as a moral compass because its teachings (mythoi) are inevitably full of things that are not true, and historically religion has divided people across gender, class, ethnicity and race and has been an essential component of building public support for wars of aggression. A problem within this debate is that we are defining religion differently. By religion, I mean religion as it is traditionally understood and popularly practiced, not the minority view of a few theologians read mainly by other theologians and/or a few academics that religion represents "human imagination", or "superrationalism", or "spirituality" -- notions which I might add have not yet been clearly defined in actual practice by an actual practitioner on this blog and would probably be labelled "heretical" by all the leading governing bodies of every major religion in the world for their (as I understand them) Euhemeristic aspects.

I should also say that I think that religion itself would be better off if religion were left out of public political discourse by politicians (of course it's perfectly appropriate and necessary for religion to be a part of private church/synagogue/mosque... politics and most especially blogs). Even if you think religion as it is actually and widely practiced is good, when you mix ice cream and manure, the manure wins out every time. We all know that politics and politicians are full of shit and always will be. Nothing will ever change that, including and most especially "God".

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The essence of Italy

This 5-minute video has everything you need to know about living in Italy.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Chutzpah Ain't Just a Jewish Thang

Egads, Paul. And we had just started to get along so well. Que sera sera, as the Frenchies say. Although I admire the mental gymnastics that allow you to use the devious machinations of an atheist skeptic (Kristol) to discredit genuine religious believers, I can't say it gives me much faith in your superior secularist logic. However, I hear there is an opening for an obfuscating atheist at the White House, what with K-Dawg put to pasture. You really are on the wrong team you know. The four most powerful atheists of the last thirty years have all been wingnut Pubies: Rove, Kristol, Rehnquist, Greenspan. I'm sure they'd love to add another classicist to the honor roll.

Your post is so riddled with strawmen and non sequiturs that I'm perplexed at where to start. Let's go to the heart of the matter: mythos. Religious believers do not generally interpret myth the way you do, as "falsehood." It's not even beyond dispute that Plato interprets it that way, since "noble lie" (pseudos, I believe, but you're the Greekie) is usually rendered "noble fiction," suggesting narrative but not necessarily intended deception. For the religious, myth implies a discourse that is not strictly rational, but not necessarily irrational either. Most Christian theologians have argued that core Christian claims are "superrational," meaning that while true, they cannot be established via unaided empirical observation. Of course, if the world were 100% knowable, such discourse would be unnecessary. But religions posit that it is not. Our lives are bounded by phenomena (the origins and meaning of life, the experience of death, the grounding of ethics, etc.) that are in great measure hidden from our view. To embrace myth is simply to acknowledge that much of what is most essential escapes our immediate grasp.

Where reason runs up against its natural boundaries, imagination floods in. Surely there is much opportunity for abuse and outright illogic here. But religion, at its best, is NOT arbitrary. It deploys the imagination to reveal moral truths and give them a popular narrative form. "Heaven" projects the fundamental goodness of life into the infinite; "hell" instantiates the ideas of justice and reciprocity. Truth. Charity. Equality. Humility. I could go on. It's always possible to pull out specific details and make them look silly (shellfish, beards, magic underwear, etc.). We can all play that game where we pick the worst excesses of religion on one hand or atheism on the other and attribute them to all people in that category. If you notice, in my original post I was very careful not to do that with respect to atheists, a courtesy that has in no way been reciprocated by my atheist responders, who seem incapable of making an argument that takes its opponent seriously rather than as a mental disorder for the corrupt, the retarded, and the conformist.

What then of Strauss & Kristol? Well, first, let me say that, having written my dissertation partly on Strauss and published on him, I'll have to speak from something other than blogosphere cliche. Like you, Strauss was primarily a classicist and incidentally an atheist. Unlike you, however, Strauss was deeply concerned with the fate of political culture in a world where God was dead, truth dissolved, and the only reality was power. He embraced what we might describe as the "philosopher's faith" in the true and the good. And yet he acknowledged that this faith could not be proved against the claims of revealed religion and that it could not sustain a just society. He saw that the philosopher's faith was incompatible with a belief in fundamental human equality and that it was always in danger of promoting "tyranny." So far so good, I'd say. (Also, this suggests that Kristol misread Strauss if the quote you cite accurately reflects the context.)

Strauss's great error (one of many) was to propose--as a solution to this dilemma--a strong separation between philosophy and faith, such that philosophers became creatures of ineffable reason and prudent backstage power while religious believers became orthodox and obedient. Strauss scorned Christianity for seeking to be "rational," looking for truth in public, a pretense he thought made someone like Nietzsche inevitable. Ironically, given the neocons, Strauss preferred Islam. (He also cast his first American vote for Adlai Stevenson, but that's a different kettle of fish.) In short, Strauss's position was much like yours: he wanted the rational to be rational and the religious to be religious, never the twain to meet. Except that, unlike you, he didn't have the Stalinist dream of a world without religion and sought to understand how the two could coexist. His answers weren't very persuasive, and he really, really misunderstood "modernity," but at least he grappled with the problem.

So please, don't blame the neocons on religion. We've got enough of our own messes to clean up without having to solve yours as well.

Noble, Consoling, and Cloud-Covering Lies

I had been kicking around the idea of writing this post ever since our religion debate of a few weeks back, but I didn’t really want another round of blog-letting. But yesterday I was prompted to take up the issue again by something William Chait of TNR wrote about Bill Kristol and the Neoconservatives. Specifically Chait notes that Kristol "once explained his belief in the philosopher Leo Strauss to journalist Nina Easton thusly: 'One of the main teachings is that all politics are limited and none of them is really based on the truth.'"

BUT, before going further I want to say up front this post is not an ad hominem attack on TMcD or anyone else real or imagined. It's an attempt to respond to TMcD’s specific argument that
Gerson just denies that atheism, as a world view, can finally justify the better angels of our nature against untrammeled self-assertion. At best you're left with tragedy and uncertainty, at worst, nihilism. Although I consider the former option a respectable one, I'm not so sure that it can be the foundation of a just social order (as opposed to individual ethic). Religion, by contrast, provides institutional supports and public justifications for other-regarding behavior and beliefs.

Wilsondegreat already noted that, “I'm not totally comfortable basing my whole social order on falsehoods, for many reasons.” Perhaps TMcD may disagree with wilsondegreat’s reading of his position, but as TMcD’s post stands, wilsondegreat’s critique seems fair enough: TMcD is apparently suggesting that religious lies are necessary because they are the best bet in the long run for social justice.

I had it in mind to amplify degreat’s cautions against this assumption with a specific example: probably the single most influential and dominant political movement in the last two decades in America has been Neoconservatism, whose agenda of American global dominance was indirectly responsible for 9/11 and is directly responsible for the invasion and occupation of Iraq in response to 9/11. One of the significant intellectual fathers of that movement was the above-mentioned Leo Strauss. Strauss, of course, was a well-known professor of Classical Philosophy and Political Science at the University of Chicago. His list of students includes such Bush-Administration Neoconservatives and apologists as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Stephen Cambone, Elliot Abrams, Adam Shulsky, Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork, Alan Keyes,William Bennett and John Podhoretz. His ideas are particularly embraced at Neoconservative think tanks, including The American Enterprise Institute, The Weekly Standard, and The Project for the New American Century (i.e., Bill Kristol's boys). Some have even taken to calling the Neocons the Leocons.

Strauss’ most influential idea that the Neocons have run with was his belief that the keys to the gates of true knowledge about society and history should be held by only a few elite, because the masses, to quote Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men, couldn’t “handle the truth”. Strauss firmly believed, therefore, that only a few good men need be educated with the real truth and it was perfectly fine for them to tell “consoling” or “noble” lies to the masses in order to have the necessary cover to carry out what they perceived to be necessary political actions. Strauss made no secret of the fact that mythos (i.e., religion) was the most effective and necessary arena in which to disseminate these noble lies.

Well, his students evidently learned well at the master’s feet (which is not to say that Strauss would have agreed with the specific political goals of the Neoconservatives or is to blame for them), for the Neoconservatives, in their pursuit to have America dominate geopolitics, have blatantly manipulated an entire set of Judeo-Christian nationalist and religious mythoi to push through their agenda. The particular lies that we invaded Iraq to promote democracy and fight Islamo-fascism rather than dominate the oil-rich Middle East (and thus the globe) are particularly ironic religious and nationalist fabrications, given that these “few good men”, who apparently consider themselves “good” mainly because they own a lot of “goods”, really despise democracy and are making radical Islam more palatable.

In light of the undeniable fact that groups like Neoconservatives throughout history have first and foremost been able to carry out their secret agendas by manipulating religious sentiment, TMcD’s point that “Religion, by contrast, provides institutional supports and public justifications for other-regarding behavior and beliefs” takes on a new and ominous meaning.

I’d also like to take issue with TMcD’s support of Gerson’s denial that “atheism, as a world view, can finally justify the better angels of our nature” (my italics). This seems to assume that religion, as opposed to Atheism, is better able to encourage good behavior in the long run. I disagree. Religious belief may be good to offset other mischievous religious belief, but usually only in the short run, which is to say that it is easier to combat a religious-based political lie more broadly and relatively quickly by telling another religious lie – in essence to fight fire with fire. The funny thing about public lies on a widespread scale is that while effective in the short run, in the long run they usually flame up into something terribly ignoble themselves. In fact, I think it fair to say that much of history is just one endless series of such ignoble religious fires.

Adding to the complexity of the problem, is that most of the Neoconservatives and their political ilk (like Karl Rove and Kristol) may really be Atheists or possibly Agnostics/Deists (i.e., the genuinely faithful religious leaders probably aren’t the worst bad apples on this cart). So who or what is to blame for this situation? The in-the-closet Atheists/Agnostics, the out-of-the closet Atheists, the religious leaders, or the faithful themselves? The fair answer is all have sinned and fallen short, but in the end one has to admit that religious belief is the easiest way to manipulate a culture on a massive scale. I rarely if ever see overtly out-of-the-closet Atheists cheer on groups like the Neocons.

I should add that I don't think any system of belief, including Atheism, will ever be a panacea for abolishing humanity’s selfish and self-destructive political behavior, but I think that taking the shortcut of telling more seemingly benign social lies to fight other less benign lies has been tried already, and while it has gone some way to improve humanity’s lot at specific times in specific circumstances, it certainly has not finally justified our better angels, nor is it likely ever to do so.

In the end I’d like to think that if the public were presented the real reasons why, say, we’re in Iraq and have our military bases spread everywhere around the world (untrammeled self-assertion over oil), they might be able to make a more informed decision as to whether these policies are actually in our self interest and worth killing a host of people for. Seems to me that the injection of religious propaganda or arguments into these issues ends up clouding them over so much that it becomes difficult to cut through the haze and have a real debate. And that's exactly what the Neocons and their set really want.

What Pauly Said

Are these guys INSANE!? Yes. Yes they are.

Back on The West Wing, which now seems as culturally distant as Bonanza, they used to say "Let Bartlett be Bartlett." Well, I think they're finally letting Bush be Bush. Or at least letting Cheney be Cheney. Obviously, a big part of the rationale for this war has been its use as a classic GOP wedge issue designed to divide Democrats against themselves and then savage them like wounded gazelles--gay, treasonous, terrorist-loving, wounded gazelles. But why? A big win in Iraq would have been a windfall for Bush and the GOP even if they hadn't sought so droolingly to exploit it for political gain. Election timing explains part of the unnecessary warmongering, and I'm sure that W's daddy obsessions played some role too. But they now seem to have told us, finally, that it really WAS all about Vietnam.

By embracing the Vietnam metaphor, Bush & Co. have tapped into a vein of right-wing 1960s ressentiment they had only scratched at before. The experts thought the mine was not safe, but the Bushies kept digging for that ore no matter how much the earth quaked. To quote Kelly Bundy: Urethra, I have found it! Our chance to finally prove that we're not a nation of pussies, not like all those draft dodging, drug dabbling wastrels of yonder year, not lacking in "will" or too craven to let the generals fight. If only we could bomb Cambodia. . . er, Iran! If only the American people had a bold and charismatic leader unafraid of risking his. . . er, others' lives.

And thus, the conservative movement comes full circle. Born of the 1960s. Rising from the ashes of an imploding New Deal/Cold War consensus. That resentment had given them life, and it is to that resentment that they now turn in death, curling up into a fetal ball of confusion, anger, and contempt as the flames gradually envelop them. This is the end. My only friend, the end.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


That was the score of the first game of the Texas-Baltimore doubleheader this afternoon. The 30 is what the Rangers hung on the O's. OUCH. Not a typo. Sorry TMcD. Thirty runs is an AL record. AL record? Does that mean that there's an NL game with a higher one-team total?

And right now, the O's are down two runs in the nightcap, 5-3. What's the record for runs scored in one day? Is it less than . . . 35?

Iraq = Vietnam

Apparently it's official. Bush is going to invoke Vietnam as the model for why we need to stay in Iraq. He will purportedly say, "Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left."

Naturally, he ignores the one phase of Nam for which there is really little debate: why the hell did we STAY so friggin' long after we knew it was an irredeemable fiasco only to watch so many Vietnamese and Americans die in vain?

But undoubtedly in Bush's eyes, the "staying-after-we-knew-we-would-lose-only-to-watch-soldiers-and-civilians-die-in-vain" part of Vietnam is not a "legitimate" point to debate.

Update: A mere 2 hours after uploading my original post, the new CNN Breaking News Headline banner blares "Fourteen U.S. soldiers died when their helicopter crashed in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said." The relationship between CNN's "Breaking News" banner and their lede on Bush's invocation of Vietnam could not be more striking.

Update 2: Josh Marshall has more over at Talking Points Memo here.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Pink Pander

Much was made of the Dems' groundbreaking Logo "debate" this week, and I certainly don't want to diminish the significance of gays becoming an open dance partner for major party candidates. But I was a bit dismayed at how this particular event became less a substantive exchange than an opportunity to pander to an entrenched interest.

The widely derided comments of Bill Richardson come especially to mind. After responding to Melissa Etheridge that he thought homosexuality was, in fact, a "choice," rather than a product of biological destiny, Richardson was greeted with incredulous glances and asked if he had "understood the question." Now I think BR is a bit of a buffoon, and his apology the next day made it look as if he didn't have much clue on this issue period. Still, it's not a real debate if the candidates are all required to offer the same answer, one that reflects more on the ideological purism of the gay rights movement than any scientific or philosophical consensus. Is it too hard to say that sexual identity is a complex phenomenon that likely includes elements of biology, conditioning, experience, and (yes) choice? The claim that it is 100% biology is driven more by the imperatives of equal protection law (establishing an "accident of birth" criteria for strict scrutiny) and the desire to avoid the moral blame assigned to gays by conservatives than by anything else. If even racial identity can in some measure be chosen, why not sexuality?

I don't share the conservative view that "choosing" gay would be inherently sinful or blameworthy, and I suspect that gays a generation from now will be confident enough in their choices to acknowledge that biology is not necessarily destiny. After all, the American identity involves the effort to craft an individual identity that struggles both within and against the given. Calvinst predestination has always been an awkward fit and ironic influence here, whether we're talking salvation or sin. How strange that a liberation movement would adopt the logic of the Puritan.

Mayor of the World

So I'm sitting here (on a beautiful Saturday afternoon?) listening to Rudy's stump speech on C-SPAN. (Why?) And he's taking credit for the urban renaissance in NYC during the 1990s. Now, I'm not saying that he should get no credit for the state of the city during that period, but . . . isn't it generally true that most, if not all, major U.S. cities saw a renaissance in the 1990s? It was a period of rapid economic growth, concentrated in urban areas, and easy credit. So there was a lot of redevelopment of downtowns--in NYC, sure, but even in cities like Cleveland (hell, even Detroit), there's a bunch of new stuff in dowtown Chicago, and in L.A., as discussed in my previous post. Now, not all that renaissance "took," but it was a period of expansion, construction, and optimism for U.S. cities, almost everywhere.

My sense is that this is even true in foreign cities--London, Paris, I'm sure there are more.

It's not unusual for politicians to claim credit for general, even global trends. But this credit claiming needs some reality checking by journalists. It's at least as important as Rudy's utter lack of foreign policy experience.

Update: I forgot to mention D.C. (How?) Can Rudy claim credit for the transformation of D.C. in the last fifteen years?

Back to the Future

OK, this isn't a great picture, in terms of resolution, but it is one of the iconic images of Los Angeles. Which is where I spent most of the last week--primarily for work, of course, but I did get to do a little sightseeing (so expect more photos).

I wanted to record a few of my thoughts about L.A.

*It's strange to go to a place that seems so familiar, even though you've never been there before. (Or, in my case, only once before about 36 hours.) Because of all those 70's and 80's teevee shows, like CHiPS, Charlie's Angels, Hunter, etc., and all the movies set there . . . when you walk around, you say, "Yeah, that's what it looks like." Except, in a strange way, everything is dirtier, seedier, and about 20-30 years older than it is in the mind's eye. Part of that is probably a matter of set design, part a question of time. But walking around L.A., or from the bus or the cab, it looks like it should look, but not so nice.

*Hollywood Boulevard is very seedy. It's strange to see so many tourist destinations surrounded by lingerie stores, tattoo parlors, and strip clubs ("Girls Girls Girls").

*Chinatown in the morning--say when you're running--smells like rotting fish. Very pungent. Later in the day, it smells just fine.

*Dodger Stadium is a great ballpark. It's strange to think that it's one of the oldest ballparks still in use, but it is. It's also terribly expensive--a beer is $10. But that comes with the territory. In some ways, Dodger Stadium reminded me of Jacobs Field. The grandstand, some of the lines. Not the palm trees in the outfield, though.

Another fact about Dodger Stadium you might not know--it's really close to downtown L.A. Like, so close that I walked to the game I went to from my downtown hotel. Now, it's maybe two miles, and a good part of that is uphill--did I mention that L.A. is pretty hilly?--but it can be walked from downtown. Not that anyone in L.A. does that.

*The Getty Center is beautiful. It's also extremely difficult to get to. Maybe not if you have a car, but if you want to get there without spending $50 on a cab, and you want to take the bus--it's a haul. But definitely worth seeing.

The thing about the Getty that gets me is just how ambitious the project is. It's an effort to build a great, world-class facility, and it's only about ten years old. That's the kind of ambition that used to be commonplace in American cities. But is it any longer? It strikes me that it's not. But there's a lot in L.A. that still speaks of that kind of . . . civic pride? It seems strange to say that L.A. is building a city . . . of the future. One more picture along these lines. The Caltrans building is pretty new, and it says the same thing that the Getty Center says to me, which is that L.A. is still building, not just preserving. (In fact, I'm not sure how much preservation goes on in L.A.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Turd on the Post

The turd of the Turd Blossom has moved off the Texas pasture to the fence Post in this piece by Michael Gerson -- you know the same Gerson who as Bush's famed speech writer was accused last week of taking credit for some of Bush's lines he didn't write. The smelliest line in the piece has to be his quote of Rove: "We were founded as a reformist party," he said in our conversation this week, "not to be against something, but to help the little guy get ahead."

O yeah, the Republican party under Bush's brain has all been about the "little guy" getting ahead rather than being against social security, public medicine, gays, liberals, independent judiciary, immigrants...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Article II Phantasmagoria

Just saw Andy Card on CNN talking about Karl Rove and what a great, "ethical" guy he was. Yammer yammer yammer. Is Card a real person or just a wind-up sycophancy doll? Is Rove keeping Andy's dog on a spit in a subterranean pit somewhere? I don't really care--he sold his soul long ago, and his dog should have used that canine ESP to ditch town--but the mind wanders.

It grates, however, when Card says patently untrue things and John King doesn't even think to challenge them. For example, with regard to Rove's testifying before Congress, Card says [from memory but I think I've got the wording pretty damned close], "Article II says that the President is a separate and equal branch of the government and that his aides shouldn't have to testify, so that he can be assured of getting good advice. And he certainly hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing. This is just prurient interest on the part of Congress."

Where to begin? First, nowhere does Article II say that the Prez is a "separate and equal" branch. Trying to bring back Plessy v. Ferguson, Andy? I know this idea has become a kind of constitutional shorthand, but it is nowhere to be found in the constitution itself and is regularly contradicted by Madison in the Federalist, who comments that "separation" is never absolute and that the legislative branch "necessarily predominates." Same goes for all that crap about aide testimony. Simply. Does. Not. Exist.

The powers of the modern executive are as clear an example as can be found of the "living constitution" idea that conservatives supposedly loathe. I'm by no means averse to some of our departures from the founders on executive power, but let's not pretend that what's oh so convenient for the GOP is constitutionally mandated. Or that Congress has no prerogatives. 'Cause they have.

OK, so a CNN anchor has never bothered to read the constitution. No surprise. But when Card says there are no allegations of wrongdoing against Rove, that's just craaaaazy. This is not his bedroom. Congress doesn't want to ask about his "wife," or his atheist beliefs, or his gay dad. That would be prurient. They want to know about his role in a number of potentially criminal matters where there is strong evidence already in the public record involving obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and violations of FISA and the Hatch Act. Can someone please loan CNN some testicles?

The Bloom Is Off the Turd Blossom

So long, MC Rove. Don't let the door hit you on the ass. The NY Times story reporting his "retirement" didn't originally mention that he is currently under investigation--for his role in illegal wiretapping, the firing of US Attorneys, and the political prosecution of AL Gov. Don Siegelman, and that the White House has claimed a dubious executive privilege to prevent his testimony before Congress--but it has now been updated with a few of those details.

Why do I suspect that the "needed more time for my family" line will once again prove to be slip cover for the real story?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Will the US bomb Italy?

Now that some Italian mafiosi have been implicated in smuggling weapons to Iraq, with the help of Iraqi officials, maybe I should get out of Italy while the gettin' is good.

Economic Term of the Week

This week's vocabulary lesson is NINJA loan, as in No Income, No Job, [no] Assets. These are the loans where the mortgage lender does not care whether the borrower has income, a job, or assets--or, at least, doesn't ask.

Of course, like a real ninja, the Ninja loan is an assassin. It kills your mortgage business. And possibly the world economy.

Unbelievable Kitsch: Consider Yourself Warned

DO NOT click on the link. DO NOT click on the link.

It may be safe for work, but what it will do to your sanity . . . I can't say.

Turnout and Voting Machines

OK, it's funny that the Iowa GOP straw poll had voting machine problems. But the key point is, I think, the low turnout. Here's what the NYT said:

Still, the poll drew significantly fewer people than the 23,685 who voted in the last Iowa Straw Poll in 1999. And the mood here, inside the hall and on the grounds, often seemed subdued, reflecting the decidedly different outlook of Republicans today compared with that of eight years ago, when the party was hungry to replace Bill Clinton in the White House. Two hours before voting ended, the campus was largely deserted as workers folded tables and cars streamed out of the parking lot.

Actual turnout was 14,302 paid. That's quite a bit lower than 23,685 . . . and the population hasn't declined precipitously since 1999, either. My anecdotal sense is the same as the NYT's. I watched the end of the straw poll on the teevee. I had two thoughts: (1) It's impossible to imagine a cult of personality for Sam Brownback. And (2) that hall seemed largely empty. Now, again, I don't know why anyone would stick around to hear a Brownback speech, but not many folks did. Except for the fanatical Brownbackers. (And they should have used a smaller hall, if they were going to get a smaller crowd--that looks better on teevee.)

Now, part of the turnout problem was the lack of "frontrunners" participating. But those frontrunners don't really seem to be spurring much enthusiasm, either. At least not in Iowa.

Now, in the end, I don't think that this will matter in November 2008. The GOP will be able to mobilize its base voters, at least, when they can contrast with the Democratic nominee. But right now, the GOP just isn't very excited about its candidates.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ticking Time Bomb

It's entirely possible that Iraq will wind up destroying a Democratic presidency, as well. None of the major Democratic candidates are prepared to accept the potential consequences of a full pull-out. Once they're in office it could well be more of the same--drip-drip-drip of casualties & depressing daily news, with no end in sight. The Democratic base will be impatient & outraged, which will drive down the president's support, as has happened with approval ratings of the Democratic Congress. But the fear of what might happen in the wake of a pull-out could well keep them from taking any bold action.

It's pure speculation at this point, but GWB may well have ensured political disaster for the next president, regardless of party.

Hot Hot Heat

Damn, it's hot. Times like this I wish I was in Wales with the Second Americanos. After four straight days in the 100s, topping off at 104 Thursday and usually bottoming out around 80 in the depths of the night, we're finally due for a break: 96 forecast for today. Yee-frickin'-ha. Do I have time to dry-clean my sweaters? Oof, back to several days in the 100s starting tomorrow.

There's got to be someone to blame. Terrorists? AQI? The liberal media? Al Gore? Yeah, that's it.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Where Were You on Black Friday?

You were where you are right now. Jeebus. The market is already down 150. Let's hope all the happy talk on the teevee will turn things around.

Update: Or the Fed will step in and buy some bonds. OK. Maybe not as bad as feared. Phew.

Late Update: Horror averted. This time.

Don't Read This

Unless you want to get very depressed about the state of the world. Too depressing.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Health Care in America -- The Underinsured

Here's a little bit more information to add to the health care debate below.
A new Consumer Reports study identifies the “underinsured” -- accounting for 24% of the U.S. population -- living with skeletal health insurance that barely covers their medical needs and leaves them unprepared to pay for major medical expenses.

Forty-nine percent of people overall, and 43 percent of people with insurance said they were “somewhat” to “completely” unprepared to cope with a costly medical emergency over the coming year.

Some 16 percent had no health plan at all, including many working respondents whose jobs didn’t offer insurance or who couldn’t afford the premiums of deductibles of the available plan.

When added to the population of “uninsured” -- approximately 16% of the population -- a total of 40% of Americans ages 18-64 have, at best, inadequate access to health care. The report, published in the September issue, also finds that most employers are struggling to keep up while the insurance behemoths prosper from the misery.

In the first of a series of reports on America’s health care crisis, CR paints a profile of the “underinsured,” explains what it means to be insured but not adequately covered, and tells of the costs and consequences for everyone, including people who are currently “well insured.”

The report is based on a survey conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in May 2007, which sampled 2,905 Americans between ages 18 and 64. The survey found evidence of increasing frailty in the U.S. system of health insurance on almost all fronts.

The full article can be read here.

Lex has argued that "The common sense answer is this: for people with health insurance, the American system is the best." I think that should be emended to "for people with good and full health insurance or a ton of money, the American system is the best that money can buy." Unfortunately, that's quickly becoming a minority of Americans, because private for-profit insurance is so expensive. That's why one of the biggest causes of bankruptcy right now is medical bills (Americans may survive cancer in greater numbers, but some of those who do survive sell their homes or go bankrupt to pay for it). The high cost of for-profit care is also why #3's HMO sucks (which given the title of #3's post must be none other than Kaiser-Permanente).

I might also add that economically speaking, for-profit health care is crazy. Health care is an essential commodity (a sellers' dream with an "inelastic" price): your only choices as an uninsured or underinsured consumer are to not "buy" it and thus suffer or die, or pay the bill and go broke or bankrupt, or run from hounding creditors. The majority of those who are uninsured or underinsured are not lazy, beer-drinking, chain-smoking slobs. They're hard-working, tax-paying, patriotic Americans, some of whom like #3 may run marathons but will still need care at some point. They deserve better.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

West Philly-Style

How many mortar attacks in Philadelphia today? This is, btw, a follow-up to this earlier post.

Oh, this story ran the same day as the stupid "Baghdad is as calm as a small city in Iowa some days" op-ed. Which Iowa town suffers from "mass-casualty bombings," again? "During July, 378 people were killed in mass-casualty bombings, defined as attacks that kill more than 20 people. That figure, nearly three times the number of casualties in similar attacks in June, breaks a three-month downward trend . . . ."

By More, I Mean Fewer, Of Course

The Post may sink to a new low of dishonest, fact-free coverage of the Iraq clusterfuck with today's op-ed on The War in West Philadelphia. The op-ed, by a surgeon who spent six months in Iraq--includes the following line: "More young men are killed each day on the streets of America than on the worst days of carnage and loss in Iraq. "

If you've been paying attention, though, you know that's just not true. Oh, it may be true if you count only American military casualties in Iraq. But that seems morally callous, it best, doesn't it? And one would think that a physician would value all life, not just American life. So, if you take all casualties into account, which it seems that a factual account should, and especially if you remember that the United States has more than ten times the population of Iraq, the homicide rate is much higher in Iraq since the invasion than in the United States. What's scary is just how wrong the statement is. It seems that even a little factual research shows that it's wrong. Exactly comparable figures aren't readily available, but here's what I found in 15 minutes of research.

The FBI uniform crime report identified almost 17,000 homicides nationwide in 2005. From a quick Google search, that was the last year for which data seemed to be available. It's possible that the murder rate has surged in the last two years, but I would be surprised if it were much different. For what it's worth, the highest murder rate in Table 1 at the link is over 24,000 in 1993.

The Iraq Body Count estimates that, for the 12-month period ending March 2007, 73 Iraqi civilians were dying every day, on average. If you just take 73 and multiply it by the number of days in a year, you come up with a number much greater than 17,000--more than 26,000. So even in the worse year in the United States, 1993, the murder rate didn't exceed what the civilian casualty rate has been in Iraq in recent months--and that's before you control for the fact that Iraq has one-tenth the population of the United States.

And that's the Iraqi civilian death rate in recent months--if one added in U.S. military casualties, at over 1,000/year at this point, the conclusion has to be clear--more "young men" are dying in Iraq than Americans are dying in the United States, each day, and especially on the worst days of carnage. The same IBC report gives some pretty grisly murder numbers from the Baghdad morgue from late 2006--over 1,000 murders/month identified in just that one morgue.

I'm actually a little surprised to see this tired talking point resuscitated on the Post op-ed page--you remember, the "American cities are dangerous, too" line. I thought that one was in its last throes some time back.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

"A Profound Mistake"

I'm really confused by the newly ginned up Democratic candidates' dispute over "the use or non-use of nuclear weapons." I mean, it's nice in theory, to say that "all options are on the table," but I think it's pretty telling that nuclear weapons have been used exactly twice in war--by the United States, in 1945. That's more than 60 years ago, btw. Since then, thousands of these things have been built, but no one with the actual power to order their use has had the poor judgment to use them. And that group includes Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

Now, I understand that deterrence explains a great deal of the non-use of nuclear weapons. But I think that there's also a moral consideration here, which is that, having seen the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no American president (or Soviet premier, either) wanted to be responsbile for unleashing such a hell on earth.

Now I'm being told that it's a mark of seriousness to be willing to do that--not because the USSR may start a full-on nuclear exchange, but in the mountains of Pakistan? To my mind, a more serious mark of seriousness would be to just say "no."

Oh, one last thing: Remember that Barry Goldwater pondered using nuclear weapons in Vietnam? Maybe Hillary really is a Goldwater girl after all.

Movie Trivia

There's a film starring Tim Robbins in which Ving Rhames, Macauley Caulkin, and Jason Alexander of Seinfeld fame also appear. What is it?

Thursday, August 02, 2007

First Major League Victory

Nationals pitcher John Lannan scored his first major league victory last night. This was his second start--he didn't last too long in his first start, in which he was ejected for hitting Chase Utley and Ryan Howard in back-to-back pitches. The pitch that hit Utley broke his hand. So this kid is off to a great start. If I were a NL slugger, I know I wouldn't get too comfortable against this guy. "The guy who broke Chase Utley's hand in his first big league start."

Then there was this:

Lannan also survived a bizarre base running episode in the fourth after Cincinnati's Brandon Phillips singled with two outs and took off to steal second.

Phillips got a great jump and Nationals catcher Brian Schneider didn't bother with a risky throw, instead tossing the ball back to Lannan. Phillips never stopped, rounded second and headed for third. A second passed before Lannan realized that Phillips was still running.

Lannan turned and fired a quick throw to third base, but Phillips just beat Ryan Zimmerman's tag to record, on the same play, stolen bases Nos. 20 and 21 this season.

But Lannan retired the next batter, ensuring that the double steal remained a side note on a night that belonged to the rookie.

Phillips, former Indian, just kept going. A rookie mistake by Lannan? I'm not sure--isn't that play on the catcher?

Thrive, You Weak-Ass Beetches

So, not to complain or anything, but I've been pretty sick the last eight days or so. At first, I thought it was just a summer cold, then the flu, but it wasn't getting better . . . in fact, getting worse. I missed three days of work (more than I've missed for illness in years), and I finally decided that, because my symptoms mirrored those of viral pneumonia, that it was time to go to the doctor.

Now, I have a certain for-profit HMO that shall remain nameless. But they really aren't that concerned with my health, let me tell you that. I had to argue with the scheduler to get an appointment for the same day--if I was breathing, I probably could wait a day to see a doctor, the company thinks. Even then, I could only get in to see a nurse-practitioner, but one takes what one can when one lives with "the world's greatest health-care system." The NP spent about five minutes with me, listened to my breathing, asked me three times if I smoke, and then prescribed antibiotics.

Oh, and if my cough doesn't go away in fourteen days, I should go back. Fourteen days? Won't I be used to a hacking cough by then?

All I can say is, if this is a for-profit system, I'm willing to try "socialized medicine."

(Oh, and this is for Ninophile, particularly: customer service, not so important at unnamed company. The intake clerk acted like she was doing me a favor checking me in. Um, isn't that her job?)