Dear Mr. President,

Here’s what I did today instead of blogging.

June 12, 2009

President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

I have been a supporter of yours since I could vote. I was a student at Augustana College when you spoke there in 2005, shortly after your election to the Senate. There are things you said in that speech that resonate with me even today, and I hoped even then that you’d turn your intellect and oratorical skills toward the Presidency. When you announced your Presidential candidacy, I was among the thousands rejoicing around the courthouse in Springfield. When you took office in January, I knew it would usher in the amazing changes that you promised over the course of your campaign. The months since have been rocky. I do not envy you your position, trying to save the nation from two mismanaged wars, a faltering economy, collapsing industries, a disgraceful healthcare system, and the threat of a global pandemic. You have done much already to clean up the mistakes of the previous administration and to keep the country afloat despite rough and uncertain waters.

And over these difficult months, I’ve questioned some of your decisions. I think the nation collectively dodged a bullet when Tom Daschle declined the nomination to head the Department of Health and Human Services, given his history with unproven and often unsafe “alternative” medicine. I’ve wondered why the tax cuts for the wealthy have not been rolled back, why I hear that military tribunals are once again being considered for Guantanamo detainees, and why the government can’t just give some stimulus money directly to the middle class citizens who need it. But through my questioning, I’ve always thought that you had the country’s best interests in mind, and that your actions have been a measured and thoughtful, rather than radical and sweeping, approach to progressive changes.

But today, I read that your Department of Justice has filed a brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). I realize that this falls well within your repeated statements that you do not support same-sex marriage, but instead support granting marriage protections to same-sex couples under some different name (civil unions). I find that position questionable enough, but I supported you in spite of it—surely, it was better than your predecessor and opponent’s positions on the matter. More recently, you said that you “don’t think it makes sense for the federal government to get in the business of determining what marriage is.” Again, I’d prefer a more proactive stance (and I’m sure your legions of supporters in the GLBT community would as well), but this recent defense of DOMA gives the lie to that noninterventionist position. If the federal government is not in the business of determining what marriage is, then why throw your support behind a federal law which attempts to do precisely that?

Even that might be forgivable, albeit profoundly hypocritical, were it not for the arguments used in defense of DOMA, which read like hateful right-wing talking points. Your administration compared same-sex marriage to incest and marrying children! That’s one ‘marriage to a pet’ citation away from a Rick Santorum stump speech. Further, the brief argues that same-sex marriage would be prohibitively costly to the country, that DOMA is constitutional in spite of Equal Protection clauses and the Fourteenth Amendment, that homosexuals have the right to marry, as long as they marry people of the opposite sex, and effectively ensures that your administration sees homosexuals as second-class citizens, since they are not “entitled to certain federal benefits.”

This position, Mr. President, is disgusting, deplorable, and hateful. If the federal government is not in the business of defining marriage, then keep the federal government neutral. Allow DOMA to be overturned, if that is the court’s decision. Don’t engage in doublespeak on this level, claiming to be a friend of gays and lesbians one night and comparing them to statutory rapists another.
Your previously-affirmed neutrality would be a better option, but still a nonsensical one. I cannot fathom why the right to marriage, a civil institution, would be afforded to some citizens and denied to others. Nor can I fathom how anyone could argue that this denial is not discriminatory. The case against marrying children is based on the matter of consent; children cannot marry because they cannot legally enter into contractual agreements or consent to sexual activity with adults. The case against incestuous marriage is less legally defensible, but can at least be reasonably supported. What is the case against same-sex marriage? Can it be made without falling back on fallacious comparisons to incest or appeals to religion or tradition? And if such a case can be made against same-sex marriage, a case which outlines why two consenting adults should not have the right to enter into a civil marriage contract based on their combination of genders, then why would that same case not apply to civil unions, or any other separate-but-equal rebranding of marriage? If it would be costly or dangerous to allow same-sex couples to marry, then wouldn’t it be equally costly or dangerous to allow them to form civil unions? Why haven’t Massachusetts, Connecticut, or Iowa been undone by those pitfalls? If same-sex marriage would bankrupt the nation, why didn’t it bankrupt California, and why would California not annul the 18,000 marriages which had been conducted during the period of legality? If the financial risk is so great that it warrants the denial of basic civil rights to a minority and the establishment of a second-class citizenry, then why are so many states jumping on the legalization bandwagon?

I am not homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered myself, Mr. President. My rights are not in any danger, but I am committed to the equal treatment of all persons under the law. I cannot see any reason to deny any consenting adult the right to marry any other consenting adult, and I would hope that a reasonable and intelligent man like you would recognize that the position against same-sex marriage is simply untenable. If it were otherwise, then your administration would not have to resort to defending DOMA with the same logical fallacies peddled by the right wing. It makes me happy to see that other state courts and legislations have recognized the flaws in the anti- equality position, and I feel confident that the vast majority of the United States will recognize same-sex marriage in my lifetime. Progress marches on, as it always has. I only wish you could be leading the parade instead of standing in its way.

And yes, it’s going in the mail tomorrow. There’s a lot of things I haven’t quite agreed with from this administration, but none of them have caused me to write an actual letter (I did e-mail about Daschle’s appointment as head of Health and Human Services, though). This, however, is utterly outrageous.

For more outrage, see this and this and this and this and this.

Update: Well, at least the Bushite rhetoric makes sense, now. Of course, that doesn’t really make it any better.

Several Steps Backward

Almost makes me sorry I supported the guy.

Newspaper Bailout

I will never understand how the fedora went out of style.I heard the suggestion on the radio recently that, with America’s newspapers failing, it may be time for a newspaper bailout. I’m forced to wonder why. I mean, I have several friends who currently work or have worked on professional newspapers, and I have a great deal of respect for journalism, but I think that a newspaper bailout would–for almost wholly non-financial reasons–be a terrible idea.

Print media is struggling. The age of 24-hour news networks and up-to-the-moment coverage online has made the newspaper a bit of a dinosaur. By the time a paper reaches the consumer, it has been outdated since before it was sent to press. The “news” is no longer new, having already been covered for a day or more on cable TV and blogs. A consumer is forced to wonder why they should pay for the same news they got for free online or as part of their prepaid cable package the day before. Not only that, but given the number of good investigative blogs and the specialization of the Internet, a consumer can bookmark a few sites that focus on the issues and angles they care about, rather than slogging through a printed newspaper that isn’t nearly as open about its biases or narrowly-focused in its coverage.

Newspapers have tried to fight this by emulating the newer media, adding more coverage of blonde girl disappearances and celebrity news, developing online presences, and so forth, likely reasoning that the way to stay solvent and relevant is to give the people what they seem to want. This line of thinking might usually lead to success, but here it has only hastened the slide into obsolescence. Newspapers aren’t giving readers what they want, they’re giving readers what they already have and what they’ve already paid for.

There was a way out for newspapers, though I’m not sure this is an option anymore. Whether it’s just the rosy-colored glasses of nostalgia and Superman fandom or an actual truth of history, it seems as though newspapers used to be houses of investigators, who asked tough questions, spoke truth to power, and tried to give the public the best information possible. The quality and integrity of reporting has declined steadily and precipitously since the days of Woodward and Bernstein, and both print and television media are dominated by talking heads who flat-out refuse to ask follow-up questions or investigate anything. “The truth” has ceased to be about ferreting out facts and pressuring sources, and has become the fallacious golden mean between extremes. “Balance” is the name of the game in reporting, and so each story about evolution consults a creationist for their opinion, as though the two are on equal footing, as though the two points of view merit equal consideration. The same can be said about any contentious issue–reporters will interview two people on opposing sides, thus finding “balance,” no matter how shaky and on-the-fringe one or the other side’s case may be. This is, of course, neglecting all those cases where two people who aren’t actually on opposing sides are consulted to provide a very tipped balance, or cases where the claims of one side of some issue are reported verbatim, completely unchallenged and uncriticized. When journalists as a whole doffed their fedoras with the press passes on the brims, they appear to have doffed their spines as well.

Bloggers (and a couple of late-night comedy TV hosts) have taken on the role of the investigative-reporter-with-integrity, which newspaper and TV reporters appear to have left behind almost completely. I don’t mean to say that every blogger is Edward R. Murrow, but it seems that Internet journalists are the ones most likely to press issues, ask difficult questions, and speak truth to power–and they have the added benefit of instantly updating, always being on the cutting edge of the news. There’s certainly a lot of crap in the blogosphere, and I can think of few bloggers or blog organizations with the kind of resources and connections that even smaller newspapers have, but the torch of journalistic integrity has been picked up by the unwashed masses of the new media.

If newspapers were going to find a way out of this, a way of reclaiming relevance, then they would have to reclaim the bygone ideal of the investigative journalist. They’d have to offer the public something they can’t get elsewhere: the truth, unvarnished, uncluttered, and uncomfortable. They’d have to commit themselves to ethics, to finding the facts and presenting them honestly, to eliminating bias not through misguided balance but through objective assessment of reality. They’d have to exercise strict standards on fact-checking and quality control, making a commitment to providing the public with the best information and the most well-informed opinions. They’d have to leave the celebrity-stalking, rumor-mongering, and the political wonkery to the bloggers, who do it better, faster, cheaper, and without the risk of damaged credibility.

It’d mean a hit in readership, to be certain. It’d also probably mean decreased page counts and eliminated sections. But I think streamlining in order to appeal to the niche market of ‘people who care about reality and want to know more about it’ is probably better than obsolescence due to lead time in reporting on missing white girls and pregnant starlets.

Secession Stupidity

Even the bullshit is bigger in Texas.I was listening to Air America Thursday as I got ready for work, tickled by the teabagging commentary. Among the various funny news items from the event was something that fell out of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s mouth during a demonstration at the Alamo:

Texas is a unique place. When we came into the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.

My hope is that America and Washington in particular pays attention. We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.

(Source: Houston Star-Telegram)

Well, way to drop the ball, Perry. By all means, secede–I’m sure nothing bad would come of that. We’ll start building a ten-foot-high border fence around Texas immediately, while you appoint Chuck Norris President of your new taxless Neocon utopia. But before you do that, we’ll make sure to close down all the interstates and federally-maintained buildings and programs (including any missile silos, thank you very much) in your newly-sovereign territory, and we’ll make sure all flights into Ronald Reagan have to go through customs first. And while the conservatives decide in droves to “go Galt” and leave the U.S. for the Republic of Texas, we’ll rest easy knowing that, even if they stayed, the Republicans could never win another presidential election without your 34 electoral votes.

But I think we’ll keep Austin, if you don’t mind.

Now, Perry’s right: Texas is a unique place. Specifically, it’s unique in that it was the test case for the Supreme Court ruling which said that states do not have the right to secede. What Perry’s citing here is an urban myth, apparently borne out of ignorance or misunderstanding of the 1845 Joint Resoultion for Annexing Texas to the United States. Texas most emphatically does not have the right to secede from the union (nor does any other state), and while it has the ability to split into five states, it cannot do so without the consent of Congress.

The mocking morning commentary about Perry’s silver tongue (and the teabagging event in general) seemed to leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths. A pair of callers in particular had me itching to pick up the phone and slap them around a bit. The first said that several states had bills or proposals to “exercise their Tenth Amendment rights” or take back said rights, by seceding or threatening secession. Now, this is a profoundly stupid argument: how do you justify leaving the union by claiming rights granted by the union? The rights granted by the United States Constitution are granted to the United States, and not to any other sovereign countries. It’s kind of a Catch-22, I guess: even if states were granted the right to leave the Union by the Tenth Amendment, they’d be forfeiting that right as soon as they left, which means the federal government wouldn’t have to honor the right–or any others. Assuming that secession would be interpreted as an act of war, how long do you think it would take for the feds to recapture Texas?

Just to put one more nail in that idiotic coffin, here’s the Tenth Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Now, I could see where you could interpret the intentional openness of that statement to include “the power to secede,” and furthermore, to assume that that power would be reserved for the states and not the people. The problem with Rick Perry making that interpretation, however, is that the branch of U.S. Government tasked with interpreting the Constitution is not “state governors,” but The U.S. Supreme Court, which has already helpfully interpreted the Constitution’s stance on the matter. Right or wrong, the precedent set by Constitutional law, in particular Texas v. White, explains that secession is not among the powers reserved to the states by the Constitution. The states can propose bills all they like to “reclaim” this nonexistent Tenth Amendment right, but they’re not going to get it without a lawsuit.

The second caller said he was happy that Perry was making these (stupid) remarks, because it draws more national attention to Texas, and Texas is doing a lot of good things with respect to job creation and whatnot. Even assuming that his claims are true (and I see no reason really to doubt them), shouldn’t that be what he wants them to get attention for, and not the idiot comments of their seditious governor? It seems to me that these comments are just going to draw more national attention to the screwups of the young-earth creationists on the Texas State Board of Education, and the legislation to allow the Institute for Creation Research (and any other educational organization) to print out worthless diplomas, and so forth. The best way to draw attention to the good things your state’s doing is to stop electing morons who overshadow those good things with ridiculous stupidity.

More to the story

I wasn’t going to mention this, but after hearing so much about it on the radio today, I have to register a complaint.

Paul Harvey died yesterday at the age of 90, after a long, popular, and successful career in radio. He had a very distinctive speaking style and a fantastic understanding of how to use inflection, dramatic pauses, and other verbal cues to give his stories and statements the greatest possible impact. Whether he was holding back the punchline to a humorous piece or the touching twist ending to an inspirational essay, he could pack more emotional gravitas into a closing line than most hosts could achieve over an hour-long broadcast.

I won’t dispute any of that. The man was easily one of the most recognizable figures on the radio, and perhaps in all of media. When I was younger, I was exposed (against my will) to all manner of bad talk radio, from Dr. Laura to Rush Limbaugh to the local blowhards, and Paul Harvey was the welcome interruption I ended up always looking forward to.

But in the wake of his passing, I hear all manner of glorifying hyperbole, talking about what a great broadcaster and stand-up guy and exemplary journalist the man was, and at that I have to stand up and object. No, Harvey was a distinctive voice and a fine oral storyteller, but he was no exemplar of anything journalism- or news-related. For that, one must possess ethics.

Paul Harvey never met a touching story that he didn’t like and repeat. He also apparently never met a touching story that he researched. The Glurge section at Snopes is filled to brimming with false stories of courage and perseverance that Harvey decided to report as true. From myths about the signers of the Declaration of Independence to the Batman lovemaking mishap, if there was an urban legend with a nice socially conservative moral message making the rounds in chain letters and spam e-mail, then chances are it passed through Harvey’s lips at some point in its lifetime. A broadcaster deserving of the superlatives heaped upon Paul Harvey in the last couple of days could have checked the facts of these stories and exercised proper journalistic discretion in propagating them thereafter; Harvey apparently lacked such discretion. For Harvey, the truth was apparently not as important as a good (rest of the) story.

I’d say something about Harvey’s seamless transitions from “news” into advertisements, and the way he would apparently lend his air of respectability for any product willing to cut a check for the right amount, but I’ve noticed more recently–with some twinge of sadness–that this is simply the norm for radio hosts. Perhaps I’m wrong to see this as a mark against objectivity–especially since few talk radio hosts give any pretense to objectivity. And if Paul Harvey presented his show the way that Rush Limbaugh or Al Franken would–as a politically-slanted show promoting the host’s particular opinions–perhaps I’d be less bothered by it. But Harvey’s show is presented as news–folksy, slice-of-life news, but news nonetheless.

Which brings us to the other key problem with Harvey’s reporting–on those occasions when his stories were actually about true events, they were often spun to the point of near-fictionality to promote a conservative social and political agenda. FAIR lists some such transgressions. I’d not bat an eye at this claim if levied against Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity or the host of any other opinion show, but Harvey’s program is promoted as “news,” breaks into the normal flow of programming like a news report, is structured like a news report, and lasts about as long as the news reporting. If Harvey were going to put so much spin into his home-spun “news,” then he needed to drop the term “news” from the “News and Comment” title of the show, and his eulogizers today need to stop going along with it.

To respond to one claim in particular, I heard Ed Schultz today claiming that Harvey’s human interest stories are something that we don’t have enough of in today’s media. I’d ask Ed what media he’s part of, because it must not be anything like the media I’m familiar with. Human interest stories rule the media’s presentation of news, to the degree that nearly every story reported must have some conventional human angle attached. We begin every story on the economy with some person to act as the face of the problem; uninformed people on the street are consulted for their opinions, pitting them against experts and analysts, as though each point is equally worthwhile; and nearly every newscast concludes with some quirky story about a man who survived being struck by lightning or the area’s largest baked good or some other human interest fluff piece. The “human interest” angle is why Jenny McCarthy’s views on autism have more traction in the public arena than the views of the majority of doctors and scientists. The “human interest” angle is why people know who Sam Wurzelbacher is. “Human interest” is one of the things that’s profoundly wrong about news reporting today. It’s one thing to conclude a newscast with a fun fluff piece, it’s quite another to devote whole time blocks to such programming–as the 24-hour news networks so regularly do, particularly when the interesting human happens to be a celebrity. Reporting in these stories seems to be a matter of finding which person the most compelling conventional narrative can be built around and running with it, regardless of the facts–this is the case with the “lone underdog” style of most anti-vaccination reports, it’s the case with most “pulled up by their own bootstraps” stories, and the other common tropes of our culture. The larger effect of this misplaced focus is that we often lose sight of the bigger picture, and we forget that the real-world facts rarely fit well into a comfortingly familiar and simplistic narrative. If Paul Harvey’s contribution to media and reporting was promoting the “human interest” story, then I have an even harder time finding his contributions praiseworthy.

I’m of the (apparent minority) opinion that death shouldn’t automatically insulate people from deserved criticism, nor should it result in days of glowing, incredibly superlative eulogies. Such whitewashing of the past is dishonest and destructive. Let’s remember people for who they are, not who they are made out to be through the rose-tinted glasses of recent loss. And so let’s remember Paul Harvey as an eminently successful broadcaster, an excellent speaker, and a fantastic storyteller who told fantastic stories and labeled them “news.”

I can’t believe I left this out before. Despite my problems with the man, he’ll always have a special place in my memory because of this:

More on Rhology

You may recall that I once had an exchange with Rhology, the resident brick wall down at the Atheist Experience blog, some time ago. Apparently, he responded, if you can call “posting while ignoring the vast majority of what I said” a response. Naturally, I responded to his blatantly dishonest, cherry-picking, quote-mining, strawman-building façade of a response in the comments there, but I figured I’d reproduce it here, since it’s epic in length. To his credit, at least Rhology apologized for not directing me to the response. Clicky-click below the fold.
Sorry to come into this so late. I blame Rhology’s lack of netiquette.

But what is his argument that being killed does not depend on one’s worthiness? I don’t grant that at all.

The matter was not “worthy of being killed” but “worthy of death.” “Death” has nothing to do with worthiness; every living thing dies, regardless of any judgment of virtue. As I said in the original thread: “I see a major difference between ‘you deserve death’ and ‘you deserve to be killed.’ The latter has some meaning; it implies that the target should encounter death before they otherwise would, which is indeed a punishment (at least, by my reckoning). If that’s what Rhology meant, then that has some practical meaning. I’d like to know what his criteria are for determining who deserves to be killed, and how he arrived at that conclusion, and chances are I would disagree.”

Incidentally, rather than offering any such criteria or your reasoning behind such a statement, you decided to play armchair psychologist and pretend you had any understanding whatsoever of morals that aren’t derived from an arbitrarily chosen ancient book.

This bleeds over into the “worthy of death” vs “worthy of being killed” thing. Apparently, it’s by Tom Foss’ arbitrary fiat that these two statements are of different quality. But why should anyone be more consistent with Tom’s method than he himself is being?

It’s not “arbitrary fiat.” One statement is meaningful, the other one is not. Death occurs to the “worthy” and “unworthy” alike (no matter what your standards for worthiness are). Whether or not one meets an arbitrary standard of virtue has no bearing on whether or not that person will die. Saying “you are worthy of death” is nonsensical.

Saying “you are worthy of being killed” has some meaning, as I said above. It implies a punishment rather than an inevitability. Again, you’ve offered no standards to judge anyone’s worthiness of being killed, nor have you offered any reasoning behind that statement. It’s you who’ve made the “arbitrary fiat.”

Apparently, the basis for Tom’s morality is society – it all starts there.

Starts there? No, though that’s close to the start. The start is the set of facts that require society to exist: namely, our desire for survival, our natural empathy for one another, and our mutual interdependence.

Simple humanism, really.

Um, no, not really. Simple reality.

Ah, the dangers of making man the focus!

Ah, the dangers of making an ancient book the focus! These days, “man” rarely advocates slavery or stoning unruly children.

And what can this say to someone who doesn’t like society? Who doesn’t think there should BE a society? Call them a sociopath, throw them in jail, whatever – that’s just might makes right, the imposition of morality by force, the shoving of his moralistic views down another’s throat.

I (and my commenters) already addressed this point. It didn’t stand then, it doesn’t stand now, and repeating it shows that you’ve run out of actual points.

What is his argument for this assertion?

What “assertion”?

Feeding someone is not merely allowing eating to take place; feeding someone necessarily implies that the feeding would not have otherwise taken place at that moment.
So what?

So what? You just refuted your point: “putting someone to death is simply enabling a natural process to take place. It’s the same as giving someone a carrot to eat.” Half of that is accurate (to a degree)–killing someone is the same as giving them a carrot to eat, in that it’s making an inevitable thing happen immediately (assuming that the person would inevitably have eaten the carrot). The half that’s wrong is that it’s “enabling a natural process to take place.” It’s not; it’s forcing a natural process to take place immediately rather than inevitably. Here in the real world, there’s this thing called “time,” and it has significance with regard to these natural processes.

1) There’s no necessity that society exist.
There is if the species is to continue.

Let me restate my #1 then.
1) There’s no necessity that the human species exist.

Agreed. There is no necessity that the human species exist; we, as humans, however, would generally prefer existence to nonexistence. The necessity of society comes out of our desire to continue living.

Well, who would argue that?
The question is: Society exists. What are our moral obligations?
Where is the prescription?

The prescription is this: given the facts that society exists, that we live in it, and that we generally benefit from it, our moral obligations are determined by the principles that ensure the continued existence of society, and thus assist our continued survival and benefit.

If someone wants to be free of those moral prescriptions, they’re free to leave the society, so long as they’re willing to give up those benefits.

Again, all this was generally covered in the post you’re supposedly responding to.

Humans could take the approach from other animals, like eagles and lions – raise the young for a bit and then send them out on their own.

Do you have any idea what you’re talking about at all? Lions live in prides, in social groups where the individuals mutually benefit from the collective protections and resources of their society. Eagles migrate in groups (again, providing mutually protection), and some species mate for life. Neither of your examples “send [the young] out on their own,” cut off from any and all of the resources and protections of the society–after all, they’re social animals.

Let’s say that humans did just that: raise the young until they’re adults, then send them out. Where would we send them? Someplace that doesn’t have the various benefits and protections of the human society, but still allows them to find a mate when they need to? Where, exactly, would that be? The two locales are more or less mutually exclusive; there were no hot babes at Walden Pond.

Again I have to bring up the So What? On your view, humans could have evolved so that we live together in societies or live apart as individuals, either way. What does that say about morality, about telling us what we OUGHT to do, what we OUGHT to value, how we OUGHT to think, what we OUGHT to hold dear?

No, in my view, humans couldn’t have evolved otherwise–not and still be recognizable as humans. We come from a long lineage of animals with increasingly complex societies. We don’t have the necessary traits to survive as a purely individualistic species.

However, that’s beside the point: if things had happened differently, then our moral sense might be different. Things happened according to one set of circumstances, and those circumstances dictate our morality. Society exists, we benefit from it. In order to continue receiving those benefits, we need to act in a manner consistent with the continued existence of society. If we act in a manner against the continued existence of society, then society will remove our access to those benefits.

In other words, if we want to continue to survive and benefit from the comforts of society, then we ought to act in accordance with society’s rules. If we don’t want to act in accordance with society’s rules, then we ought to leave. We can’t have our benefits and shirk the rules too.

You’re confusing categories – IS and OUGHT.

I’m not confusing anything. I’m explaining that “ought” comes from “is.” Our morals depend on the facts of our existence.

I’m not questioning THAT societies have general scruples. I’m questioning the prescriptive power of said scruples.

Ah, right. Pressure from other individuals, threat of punishment (and execution of such threats), social norms, and individual conscience have no power to affect individuals’ behavior. And none of those things have any basis in the values of society.

The simple fact that most people hold that, say, it is morally right to shove Jews into ovens doesn’t mean that I should believe that such is right. But apparently Tom thinks that if the society believes that to be true, it’s true.

You’re confusing “things I didn’t say” with “arguments against my position.” Allow me to repeat, from the post you’re responding to: “On a personal level, Rhology, I would say that these ‘astray’ societies were obviously doing morally wrong things, since I, and the society of which I am a part, consider oppression, murder, pogroms, and so on to be morally reprehensible.

But what about those societies at the time? Certainly in 1945 we could have judged Nazi Germany to be in the wrong; their actions were–again–contrary to the moral values that we hold in the US. Moreover, they were contrary to the foundational values that are necessary for society: killing bad. Applying the same metric we used for the mountain men, we can imagine that a society where folks went around killing anyone they didn’t like would fall apart pretty quickly. So maybe they wanted to get together and make an arbitrary guideline about when an exception would be warranted–and they did, making an arbitrary exception to the “no killing” rule that applied to anyone who wasn’t Aryan. And we, and others, were able to judge that arbitrary decision to be morally incorrect, based on our own values and some pretty basic applications of reason and logic.

I’m curious, though, how much the actions of Nazi Germany actually fell in line with the moral consensus. Just because a government does something or codifies a law doesn’t mean that those actions or codes are in line with the moral consensus of the people.”

The decision to kill Jews wasn’t the result of moral consensus, but of arbitrary fiat (yes, this is a clear oversimplification). It was contrary to the moral necessities of society and inconsistent with the general values of the society.

If it evolved that way, that’s the moral right. Thus the danger of basing one’s morality on humanity.

Where on Earth did anyone say that? Your straw man is getting threadbare.

If humanity had evolved and flourished with that behavior as its model, would Tom now be arguing that such behavior fits very well within his moral framework?

“If things were radically different, would Tom be arguing for something radically different?” Yes, Rhology, when the facts change, I change my position. What do you do?

For instance, I think it’s safe to say that the prevailing value in my country would be that it’s morally wrong to kill and eat dogs. I agree: I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to eat my dog. In a different set of circumstances, however–say, in a region where food was less plentiful and dogs weren’t generally given the same kind of prestigious place that they are in our families, I might argue that eating dogs would be necessary for survival. In a society where dogs were common hunting partners, necessary to procure food for the whole community, I might argue that killing dogs–which would likely result in the community going without food–should be a heavily punishable crime. Different social circumstances may require different moral judgments.

If not, why should anyone respect a system that can only support such inconsistent and arbitrary appeals?

As opposed to what? A system based on what an arbitrarily chosen deity supposedly said? A system which says “thou shalt not murder” but also repeatedly encourages people to slaughter women and children? Yes, inconsistency and arbitrariness are a real problem for at least one of these moral systems.

1) Neither are women property in the Bible. Ignorant statements like this don’t help anyone.

Ah, okay, I’ll just ignore the places where wives are listed alongside servants and livestock as belongings, or where women are purchased. Instead, let’s go with something we can both agree on: unlike in the Bible, the industrialized west doesn’t generally consider women to be inferior and subordinate to men. Surely you wouldn’t be ridiculous enough to call that an “ignorant statement.”

2) One wonders whether Tom realises the nature of biblical, Old Testament slavery, which is more properly termed ‘indentured servitude’, with all sorts of legal rights and protections.

Semantics. I don’t give a fig about legal rights and protections (protections like ‘if you beat your slave to death, you’ll be punished, unless the slave lives for a day or two after the beating, because after all, it’s your money‘). Owning people is wrong, full stop. Any book which says otherwise is an inferior source of morality.

Tom also shows unfamiliarity with the ‘stoning children to death’ thing in the OT, tipping his hand that he’s probably reciting Hitchensian or ironchariots talking points or something.

I’ve not read any Hitchens, so it can’t be that.

It was not young children who were subject to this penalty, but rather grown children.

And this is better…how?

Tom might be well-served to read the entire passage in question

What, this passage?

“If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. “They shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ “Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear {of it} and fear.”

So according to your Bible, disobedience, stubbornness, rebelliousness, gluttony, and alcoholism are crimes worthy of the death penalty? And you think this is somehow better than what I was saying? You’ve made my point for me, Rhology: any book that advocates public execution as a punishment for laziness and rebellion is morally reprehensible.

And of course, he shows his gross inconsistency right here. Apparently, for Tom, societal evolution determines morality except when it makes Tom uncomfortable and militates against his own morality. In that case, suddenly, it’s NOT OK.
Inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument.

I don’t even know where to begin; that’s not even a straw man, because that would imply that it bears some resemblance to my arguments. Nothing in what you just said represents anything I’ve said at all. If that’s how carefully you read posts you’re responding to, then I wonder how carefully you could possibly be reading your favorite holy book. Maybe that’s why you think “stoning my adult son because he’s a bum” is somehow superior to “stoning my son because he’s unruly.”

Of course, that you pull the word “adult” out of there, in a passage which never specifies the age of the child in question, is pretty much a testament to your careless reading. And if inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument, then what must we think of a moral system which says that gluttony and drunkenness are punishable by death, but also that punishments should be proportional to the crime?

If you actually care what I think about morality, try reading what I’ve already written. I don’t see any need to repeat myself yet again.

But society is not unanimous about anything. Thus, I introduced the question of %. Apparently Tom is more interested in making naked assertions that sound good at first and then back off of them when challenged.

Where am I backing off? Try reading the next line, where I elaborate: “It’s [the moral consensus is] represented in the ongoing conversations about rights, the progression of laws, and the overall changing social attitude.” I ought to probably include socail mores in that list, though I would imagine they fall under “social attitude.” Explicitly, the social consensus is represented in the law, though that’s not always an accurate depiction of social values (see, for instance, Prohibition). Less explicitly, there are things that, morally, a given society takes for granted, and things that we discuss and debate. On and off within the past few decades, it’s been a generally-accepted premise that the use of drugs is a very bad thing. More recently, the discussion of legalizing marijuana has gained some traction, and the drug doesn’t have the same stigma it did, say, fifty years ago. A few decades ago, homosexuality was generally assumed to be morally wrong; today, the social conversation is far, far more divided, and the consensus is shifting toward the contrary position.

You want a percentage? Take a damn poll. That’ll give you some idea, depending on how you ask the questions, and the size and composition of your sample group. Otherwise, you can just pay attention: what kinds of moral issues are being debated in the society? What kinds of laws are being drafted, voted on, or challenged? What kinds of people, issues, and relationships are portrayed in the media? The consensus, rough and changing as it is, builds out of those things.

I made no guess or hypothesis one way or the other. I was waiting for him to explain it to everyone, and I’m disappointed.

I’m disappointed by your quote-mining, Rho. You want to know what I think? Then don’t cherry-pick bits of my post and ignore the parts that answer your questions.

1) They’re still part of society, though.

They’re part of a society, not necessarily the parent society. Assuming, of course, that we’re talking about a “they” and not a “single kook going completely off the grid.”

Perhaps that’s what you’re not quite getting: societies come in different levels and flavors. There’s a global society, which is becoming increasingly homogeneous with regard to morals, but which only really agrees on the broad and basic points. There are large societies, like nations, which agree on more points and are more homogeneous still. Within those, we may define sub-societies–regions like “the north” and “the south,” or individual states; we may talk about “city values” and “country values,” describing different sub-societies that aren’t necessarily connected by common location. These groups will agree on still more moral points.

And then there are tight-knit mini-societies like the YFZ compound or Amish communities or hippie communes. These little societies fall along a spectrum of how much they depend on, participate in, and benefit from the larger society around them, and this largely determines how closely they have to follow the rules of the parent society. The Amish, for instance, are exempted from some taxes, child labor laws, and education laws, for various reasons owing to their general separation from the outside society. On the other hand, they can vote, they use the public roadways, and they receive protection from the U.S., so they’re required to pay some taxes, put safety reflectors on their carriages, and so forth.

So, with the crazed mountain men, they may secede and form their own society; they might still be considered part of some version of the parent society (certainly they’d be included in the global society), but they wouldn’t necessarily be part of the society they’re rebelling against. If they band together and form their own independent group, they can form their own rules and live however they want.

2) This speaks not at all to the question of whether it’s morally OK to secede.

Who was asking that question? What moral arguments are there against secession?

3) One wonders at what point someone ceases to be part of “society”. I’ll venture a guess – it’s whenever their presence IN society stops discomfiting Tom’s argument.

Um, how about “when they’re alone and no longer benefiting from or contributing to a larger group.” You know, like I said.

And one of these small secluded societies might conceivably come to believe that it is a moral obligation to seek out and murder all humanists who have first names that begin with “T”. And Tom Foss would presumably call them immoral to do so. But why?

1) When did I call myself a humanist?
2) I would consider it immoral to do so, because my values, and the values necessary for any society to exist would consider murder to be immoral. Apparently you missed that basic point. So I’d wonder what arguments they have for that exception to their rule, and I suspect that it’d be totally arbitrary. As I’ve said a couple of times, the totally arbitrary exceptions to and demarcations of various moral codes are the places where debate and discussion most readily occur.

But they can consider that their moral obligation all they want, and that’s their right–up until they invade some society where the morals disagree. When values clash, it’s sometimes violent.

Well and good, but is it OK to rape children?
I don’t care whether anyone BELIEVES it’s OK to rape children. I want to know WHETHER it is OK.

Considering that it generally goes against the values necessary for individuals and society to continue existing, that it fails the “what if everyone did it” test, and that it represents an arbitrary exception to their existing morality (I imagine Warren Jeffs wouldn’t find it morally correct to rape elderly men, so rape can’t always be permissible in their society), I think we can safely say that raping children is wrong. Heck, I can go so far as to say that it ought to be commanded. Strange that no particular deities have thought to include “thou shalt not rape” on their verboten lists. You’d think that’d be more important than taking names in vain or taking days off of work.

Not at all. As we’ve seen, these ‘absolutes’ are arbitrary and inconsistent. Tom has failed.

Darn those arbitrary fiats again, Rhology.

God-defined moral absolutes, however, are absolute and right by definition, AND they are backed up by disciplinary and punitive authority and force.

Which God? Which moral absolutes? I’m sorry, if you think “publicly execute drunkards” is “right by definition,” then you’re as morally reprehensible as your arbitrarily-chosen genocide-ordering, baby-murdering deity.

Even this, his “most basic” of precepts, is hopelessly misaligned. Apparently it is now immoral to kill a guy who is holding a knife to my wife’s throat after breaking in to my bedroom and trying to kill me.
Or to shoot a terrorist who is about to blow up a schoolbus with a bomb belt.

Yes, that’s absolutely what I said right there, totally, and not a blatant misrepresentation of what I’ve said up to that point. Yes, it is immoral to kill the guy who is holding the knife to your wife’s throat–if society is to continue existing, if we all want to survive, then we can’t go around killing one another willy-nilly. It is, of course, morally correct to save your wife’s life–if society is to continue existing, if we all want to survive, then we should go around making sure that each other survives, particularly the people with whom we’re going to mate. So we have a situation where we must choose–horrors–the lesser of two evils! And given the moral imperative to save one another’s lives, and the likelihood that a knife-wielding murderer will probably go on to murder again, the more moral act should be quite clear.

Of course, if you can stop the attacker without killing him, thus allowing the system we have for enforcing our morals to do its work, then you’ve skirted the immorality issue almost entirely

See, once again, the circumstances determine the moral judgments. It would be morally wrong to hold someone captive against their will, keeping them confined to a single room for most of the day and refusing them human contact. If, however, that person is a convicted serial killer, then we must weigh the immorality of holding people captive against the immorality of allowing serial killers to roam free and transgress against the basic morals that hold society together. And so, since they’ve acted against society’s interests, we remove their access to the benefits of society, as the more morally correct action.

Real-world morals don’t provide blanket black-and-white, always-right/always-wrong judgments. They provide guidelines to make moral decisions based on individual circumstances. Actions which would be morally reprehensible in most situations (taking a life, for instance) may be morally required in a certain set of circumstances (like the ones you’ve outlined above).

Tom must not watch the news. Is it really possible for someone in the modern age, who uses the Internet, to be this hopelessly naive? I guess so.

What the hell does this even mean? Do you really think that you can’t reasonably trust most people not to kill you when you turn your back? Really? Because you must not live in any place that resembles the actual world. Surprisingly enough, “man doesn’t kill woman on subway” doesn’t often make the 9 o’clock news cycle, despite it being what happens in the vast majority of instances. Is it really possible for someone to interact with other human beings and be this hopelessly cynical? I guess so.

Tom apparently does not realise that morality exists not only to tell us what we ought to do, but to tell apart good from bad and correct action and desire from incorrect action and desire. It serves to protect us against bad people. If everyone were perfect, there’s really no need for law, nor law enforcement.

What exactly do you mean by “morality” here? Because I have the feeling that we’re defining the terms in somewhat different ways.

What are “correct and incorrect desires”? Are you talking thoughtcrime? I guess I don’t realize that morality exists to shield us from things that aren’t threats in any way.

And how do you define “bad people”?

And, finally, where am I suggesting that people are “perfect”? Have I said anything of the sort? Because I certainly don’t see it, nor do I think so.

It seems like you think all morality needs to come from outside, like people couldn’t figure out “killing bad” on their own.

Everyone knows deep down that God’s Law exists and condemns them as sinners (Romans 2:14-16).

Ah, here we are, with the baseless statements. Well, I’ll grant that your religious laws exist (all 613 or so), but I haven’t seen any evidence that your God exists, or any reason to follow his laws as opposed to the laws of any of the other myriad deities. Seems like choosing any particular god to follow is pretty arbitrary, as are what your God considers “sins.” I mean, I find it morally reprehensible to punish children for what their parents and ancestors did in the past, but apparently that’s just a-okay with Yahweh.

We’ll simply ignore the fact that your statement here is incorrect: no, not everyone knows, deep down or otherwise, that your god’s law exists or that he thinks we’re all really naughty.

This is one of the reasons why Tom, while embracing a humanist morality at one level, also tries to bind others’ consciences to moral judgments as if they SHOULD follow them.

No, it isn’t. First, you say “humanist morality” like you know what it means, when you clearly don’t (heck, I’m not even sure it’s a meaningful phrase). Second, you’ve just completely ignored anything I’ve said and returned to your original arugment (that we have no justification for telling others how to behave). I’ve explained the basis of morality, using the basic facts of human existence and of how moral codes change over time. Your model of “morality as defined in an arbitrary ancient book” doesn’t provide any explanation as to why we can look at slavery and murdering drunkards and committing genocide and say “hey, those things are wrong” today, when your book still endorses them. Your model of morality doesn’t explain why God thought it was so important to tell us how goats and goat milk should be combined when cooking, but neglected to mention anything about, say, cloning or equality or pollution or any of the other moral issues that we’re facing today. Why is it that the morals outlined in your book aren’t any different from the morals practiced by Bronze Age nomads and first-century religious fanatics?

Finally, without evidence that your God exists, you have no justification for binding others’ consciences to moral judgments as if they SHOULD follow them. Why should I follow Jehovah over Allah or Zeus or Odin? What reason do I have to think that any of their contradictory sets of laws apply to me, or that their various condemnations of me hold any weight? I have proof that society exists, and I have proof that society can punish me, and I have proof that societies possess different moral codes, and I know that I like living, want to continue living, and like receiving benefits from the society. Why should I follow any arbitrary deity when I can derive morals from the things I know exist?

Once again, we have to ask: When and where did “society” get together and establish this moral agreement? Where would “society” do so in the future?
Tom has not answered this question. He tells us that it’s in evolution, in development.

I guess your “perfect moral code” doesn’t cover bearing false witness, Rhology, since I answered precisely that in the passage you mined for that quote. You were being obtuse before, now you’re just being blatantly dishonest.

Let the reader judge whether presuming that Tom would think that the Nazi genocide was a bad thing was a mean and nasty thing for me to do. Tom seems a little prickly on this topic. Will we be frightened by what we’ll find about his thoughts?

Yes, let the reader of what I said judge that. I’ll just link it again; this post is long enough without repeating myself.

Well well, I was right.
And I love it – “on a personal level”.

That’s right. My first statement was “on a personal level. And after that, I explained it on an impersonal, objective level. But you chose to ignore that, because it was inconvenient for your screed.

Fine then. On a personal level, I would say that hunting down and murdering all humanists whose first names begin with the letter “T” is obviously morally RIGHT, since I, and the society (which my society and I have defined) of which I am a part, consider their existence morally reprehensible. We’re right back at the beginning – I have decided that he is worthy of death.

Yes, you’re back at the beginning: speaking nonsense.

Don’t wriggle out of this. Answer the question.

I’m not wriggling out of anything. I’ve answered your questions, you chose to ignore the answers.

Taking the easy way out is no way to make quality, substantial arguments.

You owe me a new irony meter.

So these decisions are “made” during an unobservable and unexaminable period of time by an amorphous, undefined group in an undefined area on undefined questions. Pardon me if I’m not bowled over in wonder at the fecundity of societal moral reasoning.

Right, as opposed to decisions made during an unobservable and unexaminable period of time by an invisible, undefined God working through an amorphous, undefined group of writers in an undefined area on undefined questions. Your method is so much more reasonable.

The point to all this is to demonstrate the vacuity, the void, of the alternatives to the Christian worldview, where the living God is the source of morality.

Really? Because to me you’ve demonstrated the vacuousness, the cynicism, the intellectual dishonesty, and the density of those promoting the Christian worldview, who have to ignore inconvenient points, blatantly misrepresent opposing positions, and flat-out lie in order to support their claims that their perfect God laid out a perfect source of morality, which is totally consistent (despite commanding proportional punishment alongside stoning drunkards) and right by definition (despite forcing rape victims to marry their attackers, for instance) and in no need of reinterpretation or progress.

The distinction is more than obvious, and given Tom and Anon’s terrible confusion and inconsistency, thank God for it!

What’s more than obvious, Rhology, is your inability to engage in any kind of honest discussion. You’re certainly a credit to your religion.

Working on a hat trick

My Governor just got arrested. This feels familiar somehow.

Come on, Illinois: let’s go three for three!

Some election-related skepticism

There have been a couple of memes going around since the end of the election that have my skeptical hackles raised and my bullshit detectors buzzing. I’ve seen some folks even in the atheoskeptisphere acknowledging these points as though they’re necessarily true, and so I figured I might briefly call attention to them.

First, there’s the matter of Sarah Palin’s ignorance and emotional instability. Shortly after the results came in, Fox News Reporter Carl Cameron (among others) reported that Sarah Palin was unable to name the countries involved in NAFTA, thought Africa was a country rather than a continent, refused to prepare for her interviews with Katie Couric, and was prone to temper tantrums. On one hand, it’s easy to believe these things–as recently as a week or so before the election, Palin didn’t know what the job of the Vice President entailed. She couldn’t say what the Bush Doctrine was. She’s obviously not the most informed tool in the shed. The Africa thing parallels flubs made by the current President and his father’s running mate, so that’s not entirely unbelievable either. There’s nothing about the claims that are necessarily outrageous.

However, I have to consider the source. If a Fox News reporter told me it was raining, I’d look up to check. The fact that these claims are coming out after the election is not entirely surprising, but it’s a bit suspect, especially since the Republicans suffered such a bitter loss. There are many in the party who (probably justifiably) blame Palin for the loss, especially after her Mavericky tendency in those last weeks to get off-message and “go rogue.” I think the potential motives here–finding an easy scapegoat for the losses, sinking her chances of a 2012 run–are enough to call the purported facts into question. It’s okay, though: Palin looks bad enough without them.

The second point is one that I’ve heard all over the newsmedia, particularly from fundie godbots who are shocked–shocked!–that people would be protesting churches over Proposition 8. Why not protest the blacks/black churches, they ask, since 70% of blacks voted for Prop 8?

Besides the fact that the Mormons and Catholics–who are absolute paragons of the sanctity of healthy heterosexual marriage, since the former still acknowledges the perfection of afterlife polygamy and the latter shuffles around pedophiles under the orders of a man in a dress–pumped millions of dollars into the campaign for Proposition 8, trying to legislate their religious morals into our secular government, there’s the simple problem of the math. According to various sources, the numbers simply don’t implicate the black community in the passage of Prop 8. If anything, the numbers implicate older people, since the youth vote came in fairly overwhelmingly against Prop 8. That seems to be the silver lining to this dark cloud: given a generation or so, this shouldn’t even be an issue.

Anyway, I just thought I’d point that out. Food for doubt, you could say.

An Open Letter

Dear America,

Thanks for not fucking this one up. I’d like to say you should pat yourself on the back, but I’m honestly not that impressed by people who do what ought to be expected of them. Let’s face it, this is the 21st Century, and we’re the ostensible leaders of the free world, a superpower among industrial nations; we shouldn’t still be seriously debating whether or not healthcare is something that the people ought to have. We shouldn’t be considering people for the highest offices in the land who are opposed to science, who think mankind walked with dinosaurs and that a planetarium is in any way comparable to an overhead projector. There shouldn’t be a question over whether or not children should be educated about their bodies, over whether or not women should have inviolable control over their reproductive rights, over whether or not marriage should be an equal right for all people.

Oh, and that reminds me: fuck you, America. Fuck you, California, for voting to amend your fucking constitution to make gays into second-class citizens, to remove a right guaranteed them by the highest laws in the land, regardless of whether or not you backwards fucks realize it. Fuck you, Florida and Arizona, for passing similar amendments. And Arkansas, well, let’s face it, no one expected you to be a beacon of progressive values. The one hope I have about all this is that President Obama will have the chance to appoint new judges to the Supreme Court, and those judges may get to hear the cases objecting to the Amendments in these states, and they may get to decide those cases based on any reasonable person’s reading of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. And then this won’t be a state-by-state issue anymore.

But I don’t want you to think I’m not happy, America. In fact, I’m elated. I’m so proud of you for pulling out an election that wasn’t on the goddamn razor’s edge all night; it was really nice to be able to vote in a landslide for once, and to go to sleep at a decent hour on an election night. I’m proud of you for rejecting McCain and Palin and their consistently inept and vitriolic campaign. I’m proud especially of young America, who didn’t just wait for the world to change, but actually went out in droves and recognized that they need to make a stand about the issues that affect their lives. Don’t get a swelled head about yourself, America–you’ve still got quite a way to go just to clean up the messes of the last eight years, let alone catching up with the rest of the civilized world–but you did well last night. I had some harsh words for you up there, America, but it’s only because I recognize that you’ve got a lot more potential than you’re actually exercising.

To the Republicans of America: This might be a good time to stop and think and actually consider what your party’s values are. What this election should have taught you is that you can’t continue on trying to hold two vastly different groups of people together with masking tape and string. The fiscal conservatives, whose rhetoric has dominated Republican talking points for decades, are obviously no longer represented in the party’s decision-making process; while I heard non-stop claims about tax-and-spend Democrats in this election cycle, it seemed hollow compared to the Republican administration’s gigantic deficit, no-bid contracts, and endless war. Their calls for smaller government ring hollower still as the administration works to expand the powers of the Executive Office, flaunts the rule of law, ignores checks and balances, and uses every excuse to pry into the private lives of its citizens; meanwhile, the social conservatives seek to legislate their religious convictions, interfere with education, intervene in people’s relationships, and determine what individuals are and are not allowed to do with their own bodies. Cronyism and pandering to big business do not constitute fiscal responsibility, and moral legislation is not small government. Republicans, you need to figure out which base you want to appeal to: the small-minded set of rubes and radicals whose primary concerns are fetuses and suicide-bombers, who you can convince entirely through fear and dog-whistle words and apocalyptic rhetoric, or the Grand Ole Party of sober fiscal conservatives who believe in small government and the rule of law, and who have spent the last six years wondering if maybe they ought to be voting Libertarian instead. The two groups clearly do not get along, and I think that infighting and disagreement was a lot of what cost you this election.

To the American Democrats: Okay, we have all three houses now. Can we please stop acting like the minority party? For two years, our majorities in the House and Senate have been squandered by party leaders who have seemingly lacked any initiative or desire or courage to stand up to the failed and destructive policies of the President and the Republican party. Yes, we lacked a veto-proof majority, and yes, the President decided to get out his veto stamp at every opportunity this term, after largely forgetting he had one for the first four or five years of his presidency. None of that should have been a barrier to more decisive actions, more symbolic gestures, and more clear demonstrations of desire to make changes and do the right thing. There’s no reason that the Speaker of the goddamn House should have categorically opposed bringing articles of impeachment to the floor, except that the party didn’t want to rock the boat and potentially endanger the future of its majority. Can we be done with that now? Can we please actually do things now to enforce the rule of law, to restore checks and balances, to shrink the Executive Branch, and to make things better for the people of the United States?

It’s a great new day in America, and I think I’m going to have to look into a nice going-away party on January 20th. I’m so happy I could cry. Thanks for that opportunity, America.

All my best,

P.S.: Please don’t kill this one, okay?

Having it Both Ways

People have been questioning Sarah Palin’s ability to be a good mom to her five children, one of whom has Down Syndrome, if she’s busy being the Vice President. Others have criticized those critics as sexist, suggesting that they wouldn’t think of asking such questions about a male candidate.

And yet, every time I see Republican talking heads and McCain’s surrogates talking about Palin, her status as a “super-mom of five kids” falls somewhere between “former mayor of Wasilla, Alaska” and “former PTA president” in their lists of her qualifications to be the President of the Senate. Now, maybe she doesn’t promote herself as such, I haven’t seen much of her speeches, but if she’s saying “don’t put my family on my résumé,” her surrogates aren’t getting the memo.

From my perspective, you can’t have it both ways. If she’s going to use her family as though it’s a qualification for being Vice President, then questions about said qualification are fair game. It’s precisely the same as John McCain’s years as a POW or Rudy Giuliani’s involvement in 9/11–if they weren’t continually brought up as (often the prime or sole) qualifications for being President, they wouldn’t be subject to nearly as much scrutiny and criticism.

And yes, if a male candidate were running a campaign where “#1 Dad!” was on his short list of executive experience, I think it would be absolutely fair to question whether or not he actually is “#1.”

Sarah Palin is a hilariously underqualified candidate, and the Republicans are doing their best to make up for that. Some are trying to pad her résumé with experiences that are irrelevant to the job she’s applying for; others are hoping that what she lacks in experience she’ll make up for in vitriol and radicalism. But it seems to me that they’re trying to run her–as they’re trying to run McCain, as they ran Bush–on a narrative. In 2004, Bush was the normal guy that the voters would want to have a beer with; Kerry was a foppish elitist with no integrity. In 2008, they’re trying to force-fit the Kerry narrative onto Obama, with limited success, largely because McCain fits it far more obviously than Obama does. Their other recourse against Obama is to paint him as inexperienced…more on that in a moment.

Meanwhile, they’re trying to play up the “Maverick McCain” story that made him so popular before the 2000 elections, despite the fact that he has since changed his position on nearly every one of the issues that made him a “maverick.” They’re running McCain as a war hero with a sense of humor, who is very much in touch with the common people. Again, with limited success, as the counter-narrative of “McCain is an old fogey who promises four more years of Bush” gains traction.

Sarah Palin represents the infusion of a great new apple-pie-American narrative into the McCain campaign: “She’s a super-mom! She’s a strong woman who can accomplish anything and still retain her femininity! She’s young–but she’s got plenty of experience!–and she’s the governor of Alaska–but she’s totally in touch with the concerns of average Americans! She’s Hillary, only younger and better!” It seems that the McCain campaign hopes they’ll be able to win over enough disenfranchised Hillary supporters to make up for the loss of their best argument against Obama.

I’m curious what their next step will be. It seems like everyone is caught off-guard by Palin’s nomination, even McCain. It seems to be the only way to explain some of the idiocy coming out about her. PTA presidency as experience to be Vice President? What, her position on the High School Cheerleading squad wasn’t important enough? Alaska’s coast shares an ocean with Russia, so she’s got foreign policy experience? Really? I guess that means Obama’s only qualified to protect us from a Wisconsonian invasion force, and Dick Cheney has the necessary qualifications to send a diplomatic envoy to Boise. The Palin campaign so far has been laughable, and combined with John McCain, I’m wondering if the Republicans are just trying to pull the biggest practical joke in American history.