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Dawkins' Fundamentalist Slip
XHerakleitos - 12/29/2012

"What Dawkins does too often is to concentrate his attack on fundamentalists. But there are many believers who are just not fundamentalists," Higgs said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo. "Fundamentalism is another problem. I mean, Dawkins in a way is almost a fundamentalist himself, of another kind."  >continue<

It's the concept for Dawkins from the get go. You can see it early in the God Delusion. Religion is simply defined as literalist fundamentalism - all other forms are marginalized as less real or dishonest. You can see this schtick again in part 2 of an interview with the Bishop of Oxford. Dawkin's whole game always returns to this crux. Notice how he returns again and again to this angle in the interview.

First off, the phenomenon of "fundamentalism" and/or literalism is not being treated scientifically. Dawkin's notion here (that fundamentalism is the face of "true religion" and that other manifestations are inferior, confused or whatnot) is a bare assertion, one which doesn't even pretend to be derived from any scientific struggle or survey of the complicated terrain of religious phenomena. Just why would such a judgement be warranted before any scientific engagement? One would think it's precisely the kind of judgement that science would suspend, hold in abeyance, in order to proceed as science.

Just saying this the way Dawkins does (i.e. that literalist fundamentalism is more real and obviously more legit) is an exercise in begging the question. It takes something which should be established in an argument or investigation (but isn't) and rams it into premises - and then acts as if a real conversation is underway.

The strangest clue that something is terribly amiss here comes in the irony whereby Dawkins and fundie/literalists of various stripes are on the same page. For the latter, much rides on selling their dogmatic wares as the one true form of the religion. Dawkins essentially buys their story; he just wants to turn the pages in another direction, towards the negation of religion as such. But on something as important as asking what religion really is, he's already answered this in the same fashion as the fundamentalist.

So, under the aegis of fearing religious fundamentalism - and of trying to fight it in whatever manner, Dawkins enshrines one of its central claims. He shares its premise. And, moreover, on this point he shares the style of dogmatism. In one swell foop, Dawkins has demonstrated the fascinating point Nietzsche makes in the Genealogy of Morals (III 24-25): "This pair...both rest on the same foundations...they are necessarily allies."

12/20/12 - Inside Syria: Historical and Contemporary Contexts

Jadaliyya co-editor Bassam Haddad interviews David Barsamian, touching on dynamics underlying recent events in the Levant.

12/2/12 - A Rebel Group's Quest to 'Liberate' Congo

Jan Puhl and Thilo Thielke  |  Der Spiegel >>

"Congo's tragedy began in Rwanda, its neighbor to the east, a country with a strong military and an authoritarian government. In 1994, Hutu militias began attacking members of the Tutsi ethnic group, killing about 800,000 people in only 100 days. This genocide is Central Africa's original catastrophe.

A Tutsi army under current Rwandan President Paul Kagame drove the Hutu killers to the west and into the Congo jungles. With support from Uganda, the Rwandan army pursued the militias into Congo. The official justification for the incursion into Congolese territory was to protect Tutsi living in Congo.

But once they were in Congo, Rwandan troops joined forces with Congolese rebels and advanced to Kinshasa, where they overthrew dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. Laurent Désiré Kabila, the father of the current president, was named president in his place.

But this didn't lead to peace, as the fighting continued between militias and government troops in eastern Congo. It was the beginning of a grueling civil war that has no winners, fueled by ethnic hatred and, most of all, by deadly greed. Eastern Congo is rich in minerals like coltan, which is used in mobile phones.

In fact, most of the world's coltan reserves are in eastern Congo. Militias forced villagers to work in the mines, where they scratch the coltan out of the earth with picks and shovels. The ore is then shipped to China and South Korea via Uganda and Rwanda.

It is hard to recognize any political objectives among the parties to the conflict, which in fact revolves around control of the mines -- a ticket to wealth. War has become part of everyday life, with the local population paying the price. Five years ago, aid organizations estimated the death toll at about 1,000 a day."  >continue<

Spotlight DRC M23 & the DRC  |  Rwandan Ghosts

UN documentation of violations in the DRC 1993-2003

11/19/12 - Keeping Gaza on the Brink

"As part of their overall embargo plan against Gaza, Israeli officials have confirmed to (U.S. embassy economic officers) on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge"

- A November 2008 U.S. Diplomatic Cable

11/14/12 - Eric Cantor's curious role in the Petraeus affair would take a leap of unjustified faith to believe that Eric Cantor's communication to the head of the F.B.I. on Halloween was not an attempt to force the salacious scandal of lust (as it stands at this moment) to the front pages before the election.

Cantor's inappropriate meddling into an FBI investigation for opportunistic political purposes -- likely aimed at influencing an election -- simply failed.  Cantor took the risk of assisting a rogue FBI agent to make an end run around his superiors, without even informing his fellow Republicans on the Hill.  He thought he would end up a GOP hero, but he really just looks as seedy as the whole lamentable saga  >continue<

Apparently, a disgruntled FBI agent close to Ms. Kelly, dubbed "agent Shirtless" because of odd photographs sent to the Florida mother of three, had a "world view hostile to Obama" and contacted Eric Cantor. Some reports intimate concern that his superiors may be involved in a cover-up of an Obama national security failure.

With the crazed focus on a Benghazi scandal already jumping the shark with Liz Cheney's remarks on Hannity that it constituted the "worst cover-up in the history of the Republic", one suspects yet another attempt to manufacture controversy in advance of the election (perhaps in sync with the Romney campaign's leaked "Jimmy Carter Strategy"). Why did Cantor contact the FBI to make sure "Director Mueller was aware of these serious allegations," when one would assume Mueller had to be already aware of this issue? Did he have reason to believe Mueller was not aware? While most of this story is suitable only for Nancy Grace, the exact nature of Cantor's involvement could prove more than interesting.

11/12/12 - "Conservative Entertainment Complex"

"The Republican Party has a party of followership. The problem with the Republican leaders is that they're cowards... The real locus of the problem is the Republican activist base and the Republican donor base. They went apocalyptic... Republicans have been fleeced, exploited and lied to by the conservative entertainment complex."

- David Frum, asked on Morning Joe where leadership can come from in the GOP



- Richard Hofstadter, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics"

11/4/12 - Urge to Bomb Iran

Introducing Jeremiah Goulka's "The Dogs of War Are Barking", a great long read on an increased probability of war with Iran under a Romney administration, Tom Engelhardt remarks:

The Obama administration has engaged in a staggering military build-up in the Persian Gulf and at U.S. and allied bases around Iran (not to speak of in the air over that country and in cyberspace).  Massive as it is, however, it hasn’t gotten much coverage lately.  Perhaps, after all the alarms and warnings about possible Israeli or U.S. military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities this election season, it’s become so much the norm that it doesn’t even seem like news anymore.  Still, two recent stories should jog our memories.

Barely a week ago, the commander of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. John C. Stennis was temporarily replaced and called home to face an investigation into "inappropriate leadership judgment." What this means is unclear, but it happened while the Stennis and its attending strike group including destroyers, guided missile cruisers, and other ships, were deployed in the Persian Gulf.  We forget just what an “aircraft carrier” really is.  It’s essentially a floating U.S. airbase and small town with a crew of about 5,000.  As it happens, the Stennis was sent back to the Persian Gulf four months early to join the U.S.S. Eisenhower, because Washington wanted two such strike groups in the area.  Even if there were no other build-up, this would be impressive enough.

At about the same time, what might be thought of as the creepy story of that week surfaced.  Behind the scenes, reported the Guardian, the British government had rejected Obama administration requests for access to some of its bases as part of preparations for a possible war with Iran. (“The Guardian has been told that U.S. diplomats have also lobbied for the use of British bases in Cyprus, and for permission to fly from U.S. bases on Ascension Island in the Atlantic and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, both of which are British territories.”) The rejection -- “the government does not think military action is the right course at this point of time” -- was not, of course, the creepy part of the story. For some strange reason, British officials don’t feel that war is the optimal approach to Iran and, stranger yet, don’t want to be dragged into a potential regional conflagration.  The creepy part of the story was the request itself, given the traffic jam of bases Washington already has access to in the region.   >continue<

10/26/12 - Obama and the Road Ahead: The Rolling Stone Interview

Rolling Stone: "You sometimes use the term "fair shake." FDR had the New Deal, Lyndon Johnson had the Great Society. Is the Fair Shake something you'd be comfortable with to describe your legacy?"

Obama: "I'd be comfortable with that, and hearing it from a historian, it sounds pretty good to me.

But look, the key thing I've tried to communicate, and I will continue to try to communicate to the American people, is that when you talk about economic fairness, it's not just an issue of fairness – it's also an issue of growth. It's how the economy succeeds. Republicans, and certainly Mitt Romney, often tries to frame this as "Obama's a redistributionist, whereas we want to grow the pie instead of taking from Peter to pay Paul." But look at our history: When we've been successful, it's because everybody is in on the action. Everybody feels a sense of ownership, because everybody is benefitting from rising productivity, everybody is benefitting from a growing economy. When prosperity is broad-based, it is stable, it is steady, it is robust.

But when you have just a few people at the very top benefitting from what we do together as an economy, then growth gets constrained. On one end, you've got a lot of money in the hands of a very few people who are speculating and engaging in a lot of financial transactions that can get our economy in trouble. We saw that in 2007 and 2008. On the other end, you've got middle-income people and low-income people who are overextended, taking on too much debt, and that can create problems. You don't have enough customers to buy the products and services that are being produced, so businesses then pull back and you get into a negative cycle. When the opposite is the case, you get into a virtuous cycle, and that's what we're constantly trying to push." >continue<

Simple Question
Bentley - 10/2/2012

"Are you better off today than you were four years ago?": Innocent, simple and neither. Can we get real? Shouldn't this question have failed in 1980? Why, because it was and remains an invitation to a non sequitur.

When Reagan asked this in the echo of 70's stagflation the groundwork for recovery had already been laid. In short, and regarless of all possible niggling about Volker's import, etc, the situation was profoundly different than Obama coming to power in the aftermath of the financial meltdown of 2008. Obama's starting point is not only an economic coronal mass ejection, which still charges the global atmosphere, but the death throes of the Reagan Revolution - the harrowing consequence of deregulatory fetishes and "Voodoo Economics"; and, hence, a political environment where the GOP now finds itself in contortions of exquisite, ever ramifying, permutations of denial.

We can dispense with analyzing the equivocal 'you', trading on the personal, the national and their interlacing. We don't have to finger the obvious and pregnant "than what" nor the portentous "for what" which are connected to any number of normative construals of "better off". It's not the question that's so much simple as the non sequitur it aims to conjure.

Answering "no" never logically entailed a vote for Ronald Reagan over Carter. Yet, at least then, many investor class Republicans could answer thusly. Compare today's scene of a stock market well above 2008 levels and many can answer the question with a big fat "yes". They can say they're "better off" insofar as that finds meaning in a reduction to personal, financial gain - and many of them will not vote for Obama.

But we know that yesterday's, limited sense of "better off" doesn't resonate amidst today's deeper crucible of evaporating certainties. Hence, team Obama can't really talk about the stock market - especially when it's hoped that even the Occupy Wall Street mind will recognize Obama as a far lesser evil. Team Romney can't talk about the Dow or the Nasdaq for fear of too blatantly negating the suggested import of their simple question.

It's not so much that the question exposes incompetent reporters, which Dean Baker argues regarding Bob Shieffer and George Stephanoploulos, as it is a case of an American public seemingly exposed as oblivious and susceptible to sophistry. That's what invites team Romney to repeat the question with a straight face. It's the same terrain that prompts endless "analysis", as if Kevin Nealon's Subliminal Man schtick on SNL could go from joke to standard fare, reducing today's Islamic unrest to "a scene right out of 1979 :: Carter :: and the hostage crisis." In the end, with the truth of Reagan's legacy splattered all over the world economic scene, instinct returns to the earliest bag of tricks. Are we still primed to be pumped by this concoction?

Permit me to unpack the point here. When we hear "The Republicans are the problem" or ask "When did the GOP lose touch with reality?", I think we should pause to consider whether or not the real rot runs much deeper, that traffic with reality is a problem more common than we care to admit. If we're looking to ascertain how political discourse has veered into scenery where one expects Rod Serling walking into frame - just before an episode where Jerry Springer shows up as a debate moderator - we have to go deeper than the mere surface manifestation of the GOP whackosphere.

When we see the GOP unraveling in a torrent of narrative absurdity, basing "arguments" at every turn off palpably obvious evasions of context, it seems to reflect a lack of cognitive integrity as well as a feverish denial of just where Republican ideology landed us (with our tacit consent) in 2008.

In the aughts, Republicans held more power for longer than at any time since the twenties, yet the result was the weakest and least broadly shared economic expansion since World War II, followed by an economic crash and prolonged slump. Along the way, the GOP suffered two severe election defeats in 2006 and 2008. Imagine yourself a rank-and-file Republican in 2009: If you have not lost your job or your home, your savings have been sliced and your children cannot find work. Your retirement prospects have dimmed. Most of all, your neighbors blame you for all that has gone wrong in the country. There’s one thing you know for sure: None of this is your fault! And when the new president fails to deliver rapid recovery, he can be designated the target for everyone’s accumulated disappointment and rage. In the midst of economic wreckage, what relief to thrust all blame upon Barack Obama as the wrecker-in-chief. - David Frum

And yet, heuristically extending the principle of charity, why not view the managers of this narrative as more or less aware of its absurdity - and very aware of the susceptibility of not only the rank and file but the general public to the spell of drama and misdirection? It doesn't matter if Karl Rove and company may be ironically trapped in a situation where the rubes are now waging the charlatans - masters having become slaves to fantastical and preposterous rhetoric to the point where they start "smoking what they're dealing". What matters is the horror of a general public haze where vast numbers of us become prey, where relative competence and intelligence seemingly evaporate on contact with political terrain.

The GOP, then, is not so much the problem as an avatar of something more troubling. Whatever it is - and I really think we fight hard to resolve a bigger picture - it's not merely the GOP nor conservatism per se, regardless of whether the GOP shows itself as the most problematic and mainstream reflection. Mike Lofgren, a Republican veteran with 28 years of government service, who left the party over the "transparently needless" debt ceiling brinkmanship of late 2011, sees it this way:

"...both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bag-men, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP."

Just what is the situation where a political party in the U.S. could veer into such patent Mad Cow pathology? Obama's "you didn't build that" gets torqued, bent and whipped into the Hannitized froth of an "unparalleled attack on the free market system". This decontextualized madness gets put into Romney's ads alongside another, where 1998 Obama comments on "redistribution" are again ripped out of all intelligibility for the sake of malevolent caricature. The new ad concludes with a ludicrous but familiar refrain that Obama hates success - as if this could possibly follow. Everywhere we are invited into drinking non sequiturs and dunked into the ad hominem elixir where secret, Manchurian motivations must lurk behind the presidential surface.

The mode of rhetoric, no doubt styled predominantly on the basis of focus group research, works on the assumption of an audience's abject stupidity. There's no fear, apparently, that the inherent weakness of conspiracy theories (explaining everything and, thus, being non-falsifiable) will be recognized. Logical leaps and ad hoc constructions spew forth as if uttered by a child totally naive to a parents higher order smell testing. At the same time, one is at a complete loss to discern any hint of doubt, of tentative proposals suffused with any recognition of the need for continued inquiry. Rather, all the answers are "obvious" and simply need to be mechanically implemented. It's the certitude Bill Maher once noted as the "hallmark of unbright people".

Slavoj Zizek compares this phenomenon to "communists when things obviously didn't function... they reasoned exactly in the same way. We were not pure enough... This is the fundamentalist answer." Even the ostensibly secular gets caught in a puritanical double-down of quasi-Hegelian proportions, charging at windmills with virtuous verve. Pure entrepreneurship partnered with its imaginary friend, pure capitalism, pimp themselves like Euclidean figures crashing into the mundane all poised in mock combat as the tip of the spear over and against the quirky, unseemly and irregular way of the world.

But if this fateful trajectory of the GOP is the problem, it's the problem of the canary in the coal mine. Our susceptibility as a people to wholesale delusion and fervent fabrication appears to be an alarming by-product of several decades of baptism in consumer society where the consequent premium of an Age of Marketing is forever reaching for back door hacks to the forefront of our intellect. Put off, resigned, and bored with the superficial scent of modern politics, yet reacting all the same as disappointed consumers, many opt for the vapid posit that both parties are the same. If this stems from some muted intuition that the problem is bigger than either party, fine. However, we can still make a distinction regarding levels of pathology - just as we would between conditions as different as Fibromyalgia and Ebola - while asking a bigger question about the state of general, national immunology.

We walked on the moon. We split the atom - and fashioned that power into a trigger to light an even bigger nuclear fusion bang. We landed on Titan and presently orbit Mercury, Mars and Saturn; we watch eclipses of the Sun by Phobos from the Martian surface. Voyager transgresses the furthest limts of our solar system. We speak of Higgs bosons, dark energy, and over 300 extrasolar planets. We decode the neurological, electromagnetic noise of volition into real world action, merely thinking cursors (and soon prosthetic limbs to war machines) into movement. Exponential and exorbitant information technology reworks social and economic realities faster than we can take stock. Our ancestors would, no doubt, fall on their knees in awe.

Imagine their stupification, especially as it doubles over the state of our political pulse - say - trying to take in our having also ushered in the Anthropocene era. "How can your politics have remained the same?" Easy to imagine a dumbfounded question like that, perhaps suppressing shock and rage. Harder, perhaps, to answer when things look actually worse than before. How do we explain a growing infection of retrograde politics, a disease that leaves us shrinking before the world we've made, betraying a cultural failing threatening every promising episode of technical wizardry? When it comes to the challenges and opportunities we face, yesterday's level of bullshit begins to look preferable. The intuition flashes us with temptation, an invite to irony whereby naively trying to reboot old formulas oddly hastens our descent.

If concern here prompts asking instead "Are we better off than we were four decades ago?", the upshot of a negative answer forces no automatic conclusion that Obama has to go but, rather, a mass confrontation with a difficult question. Pointing at the GOP, as if to absolve ourselves over and against a cartoon universe, comes too easy. We can't afford to plume ourselves with the teeth of yet another non sequitur - not if we wish to seriously confront the wild consequences and negative feedbacks of our national success, not if we wish to face up to non-GOP complicity in abdicating the demand for political imagination and healthy narrative. Politics remains an immature science and a high art, a conundrum challenging us at the center of the universe. However ugly it has become, we can still see bright points and clues to the possibility of noble function. Take Bill Clinton's DNC speech where, underlying any specificity or ideological bent, we were shocked to remember the style of an adult conversation. One almost has to go back to Jimmy Carter in 1979 to experience such genuine candor and respect for an audience. If we are still worthy of being extended the courtesy of such respect, we can't go AWOL up against the duty of difficult questions. For if we are not careful, merely banking on privileged exceptionalism won't cut it up against the indifference of lone and level sands stretching far away from the colossal wreck of a shattered national visage.

10/1/12 - "Source reveals Romney "Jimmy Carter Strategy""

The source, who has firsthand knowledge of private, high-level conversations in the Romney camp that took place in Washington, D.C., last week, said that at various times the GOP strategists referred to their new operation as the Jimmy Carter Strategy or the October Surprise.

...He said they were jubilant about their new strategy and said they intended to portray Obama as a helpless, Jimmy Carter-like president and to equate the tragedy in Libya with President Carter’s failed attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980. “They are so excited about it,” he said. “Over and over again they talked about how it would be just like Jimmy Carter’s failed raid. They feel it is going to give them a last-minute landslide in the election.”

The source, however, said he was dubious about the tactic. “To me, it is indicative that they have lost touch with a huge portion of the electorate,” he said. >continue<

Perhaps the source suspects the scheme, already reverberating with all the subtlety of a laugh track among conservative punditry, smells like ad hoc desperation. Never mind that regard for Carter has changed dramatically over time. So too has the public estimation of American leadership mojo in the Middle East in the wake of our naive response to 9/11. The electorate may tire of the giddy game of Blame Obama - always poised with the confidence of high school debate instinct, ready blame calmer voices of blaming others when any cogent perception of Middle Eastern affairs must factor for Bush and the horrifying wreckage of neocon fantasy. Voters show signs of wanting what Bill Clinton reflected at the DNC, the assumption that they are grown-ups.

9/17/12 - "US media angrily marvels at the lack of Muslim gratitude"

"Given the history of the US in Egypt, both long-term and very recent, it takes an extraordinary degree of self-delusion and propaganda to depict Egyptian anger toward the US as “ironic” on the ground that it was the US who freed them and “allowed” them the right to protest. But that is precisely the theme being propagated by most US media outlets." >continue<

- Glen Greenwald

9/7/12 - "NASA | Pieceing Together the Temperature Puzzle"

Stimulus Games
Citizen Zed - 8/16/2012

Everywhere we're supposed to buy the cookie cutter factoid that the economy helps Romney. That's the way it's always been. Such things always hurt the incumbent. This truism, once it percolates through the den of paint-by-numbers "political" consultancy, issues forth in a thick, steaming carafe of GOP squawking points. Obama is a failure. Everything he's done is an epic fail. The stimulus, that latest example of government trying to do what it can't, was a failure.

Just when you think it's all so incontestably obvious, perhaps even as a "leftist" bemoaning the lack of a bigger stimulus, comes an interesting long read, one which traffics in such quaint notions as rationality, empirical detail and history regarding the "failed" stimulus. In "Think Again: Obama's New Deal, The president's Republican critics are dead wrong. The Stimulus worked.", Michael Grunwald writes:

"When it comes to the Recovery Act, the facts are on Obama's side.

For starters, there is voluminous evidence that the stimulus did provide real stimulus, helping to stop a terrifying free-fall, avert a second Depression, and end a brutal recession...

Politically, it's awkward for the president to argue that without the stimulus, the bad economy would have been much worse. It sounds lame to point out that recessions caused by financial meltdowns tend to be unusually long and nasty. But it's true."  >continue<

Awkward enough, that is, to where Karl Rove likely rubs his hands, anticipating Obama coaxed into lecturing like a professor while studiously attempting to limn out the facts. "Come on Obama, quit making excuses, quit teaching - and better yet, get out of the way and let those that can do take the reins. The failure is just all so obvious as to make a mockery of tedious academic apology." So goes the predictable line in a world where the "intellectuality" of Paul Ryan amounts to the prize in a Cracker Jack box, where the dramaturgy and "substance" of politics has the flavor of professional wrestling.

If one unreflectively trades with the currency of a pre-2008 mentality, a frame harkening back to a fat, happy yet unravelling time, where entertainment might suffice for politics, all this might have better traction. Then the economy might automatically help Romney. Polls appear to show, however, that voters are wary of this game - perhaps like dogs unaccountably wary of antifreeze. They may not be ready to retroactively retire the Reagan Revolution but there appears to be a willingness to pause before reactively handing the keys back to the GOP. They may reckon, with legitimate suspicion, that even our out-sized expectations of presidents can't muster the requisite suspension of disbelief necessary to hold Obama accountable for smoothly pulling a recovery out of a hat.

Countering the dawning of adult cognition, Romney and the GOP quadruple down with talk of failure. If they can't convince by framing with labels, slight of hand proceeds to loudly repeat bare conclusions free of either tested premises or the actual structure of argument - and free of the political context whereby a "loyal opposition" has engaged in every contortion imaginable to torque Washington into abject deadlock. The party of Atwater, Rove, and Ailes cries foul at any interrogation, fingering Obama as hateful and divisive - and thus "distracted" from the real job of recovery. But it's this act that's the distraction, engaged in the worn out game of projecting and hanging its essence upon another.

The managers of this "discourse" don't worry that anyone in the target demographic will be shocked by pushing every nonsensical claim imaginable against Obama, studded with the repetition of remarks so wrenched out of context as to problematize an Onion parody. Indeed, they trade on the confidence that if you're a Tea Party dude lacking 6th grade reading skills, you didn't get that. It's an austerity eschewing science, empirical grounding or intellectual honesty. It's an austerity impoverished enough to celebrate pulling stuff out of its ass, forever stuck in the loud denial of what 2008 meant and continues to mean.

Dumb and Dumber
Citizen Zed - 6/26/2012

Corollary: The more entities spend trying to buy elections, the dumber they think you are.

It's doubtful Ms. Soltis means to complete the thought this way. She's a "Republican pollster". Rigorous thought and logical progression aren't a part of her rationale for tweeting the proposition in the first place. One can, however, imagine the ostensible point. When we see these ubiquitous polsters and "analysts" as nothing but marketing professionals and Mad Men, all turns on soliciting feeling and outrage, on tweaking the immediacy of prejudice, impulse, and desire.

Politics, that most equivocal pastime, at once conjuring the most noble and the most base, is now mostly marketing. Universities still have philosophy and political science departments, but we know politics is now the province of a vocational school and the vulgar lens of a marketing apparatchik.

"Young voters who start voting today and have bad taste in their mouths about the GOP are likely to look at politics through that lens for years."

Read on and we might as well be talking about toilet paper, toothpaste or vinyl siding. Appearances and perceptions unalloyed by critical faculties, the stuff of stupidity in other words, are the primary terrain. Mapping the "reptilian brain" is job one for navigating both analysis and action in a nation where citizen has condensed into mere consumer.

"Yes, those people who whine about money buying elections think you're dumb," the tweet reads in translation. But, of course, what shows itself here is that Ms. Soltis thinks you're dumb.

She doesn't think you'll have the temerity or the cognitive fortitude to read it as an underpinning to ROI strategies for those who do the actual buying, that is, "in an age of austerity surreally contradicted by the hundreds of millions being poured into campaigns." No, it's the people who complain about this increasingly warped campaign fun-house - they think you're dumb. They don't simply claim you're dumb, which would imply an argument is forthcoming, but rather ensconce the evaluation at the level of a premise.

Let's assume we're all dumb. Let's buy the premise, touch that third rail en masse and agree we are, each and everyone of us, stupid. Ask yourself who's tone betrays wanting you to remain that way. What tone and style is it which sinks itself into sentimentality and satisfaction, into affirming the greatness of America merely on account of what we've already achieved, and (since inquiry is unneeded) into unexamined feelings about freedom? What forces slap on the veneer of logic and argument for the sake of an apology for the status quo, and leave you exactly where you were before?

I'd hazard to guess that even in our stupidity, we'll find an answer in those who are squeezing every ounce out of the Citizens United ruling. We may have forgotten what to call these people, but thanks to Ms. Soltis' jingle.. tweet, we do know a premise they hold dear.


How Obama Has Failed to Deliver

"The bloggers and tweeters have taken control of the media, as have new media outlets like Politico, a blog whose reporters have 15 minutes after a presidential speech to turn in their first analyses. They are groomed to focus on conflict because it attracts the most attention. Readers are quick to click away from stories that don't titillate, so that fleeting moments become the real story in Washington.

...The Tea Party is a problem for Obama, not because it could come into power itself, but because it exerts so much influence over the Republican Party and, in the end, has become the loudspeaker for the conservative half of America's population. More alarmingly than ever, the Tea Party combines the glorification of the unsophisticated with megalomania, and conspiracy theories with poor education. Its supporters represent dark clichés of a vapid America, one in which there are plenty of people who would have no objection to many a modern book being burned." >continue<

A German analysis of the state of America and the Presidency - and a good long read with some focus on the evaporation of civil intelligence and the apparent collapse of critical thought.  In one recent but poignant blip a Sunday Morning talk show host felt the need to apologize for evidencing the rare spirit of scientific and interrogative play, this time up against the sentimental employment of the term 'hero'. In a nation reduced to "people" who "only read opinions that reinforce their own vews" any pause over pushing sacred premises must abase itself before the altar of vulgarity.

The same overwhelming stew of outrage that once wielded the accusation of a "pre 9/11 mentality" now, after a financial collapse in 2008 which arguably eclipses the significance of September 11th, gives a pre 2008 mentality free reign. The duplicity has all the consistency of denial. We can't look at Obama as rational individuals, taking in a shocking modern scenario earnestly and interrogatively, for we - as in Children of Men - aren't reproducing humans any more. At best, when we can see past our appetites, we glimpse only broken bits of culture all jumbled up in a disfigured background.

A foreign perspective, then, which takes longer to read than a tweet.

6/4/12 - "Olympic Games"

Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran
David E. Sanger | NY Times >>

From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities...

This account of the American and Israeli effort to undermine the Iranian nuclear program is based on interviews over the past 18 months with current and former American, European and Israeli officials involved in the program, as well as a range of outside experts. None would allow their names to be used because the effort remains highly classified, and parts of it continue to this day.  >continue<

related: Behind the CyberattacksBlowback Risk

US Systems Vulnerable Zeitvox: Stuxnet

5/20/12 - "rude discoveries"

Mr. Obama began to question why Americans were dying to prop up a leader, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who was volatile, unreliable and willing to manipulate the ballot box. Faced with an economic crisis at home and a fiscal crisis that Mr. Obama knew would eventually require deep limits on Pentagon spending, he was also shocked, they said, by what the war’s cost would be if the generals’ counterinsurgency plan were left on autopilot — $1 trillion over 10 years. And the more he delved into what it would take to truly change Afghan society, the more he concluded that the task was so overwhelming that it would make little difference whether a large American and NATO force remained for 2 more years, 5 more years or 10 more years.

The remaking of American strategy in Afghanistan began, though no one knew it at the time, in a cramped conference room in Mr. Obama’s transition headquarters in late 2008. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, who had spent the last two years of the Bush administration trying to manage the many trade-offs necessary as the Iraq war consumed troop and intelligence resources needed in Afghanistan, arrived with a PowerPoint presentation.

The first slide that General Lute threw onto the screen caught the eye of Thomas E. Donilon, later President Obama’s national security adviser. “It said we do not have a strategy in Afghanistan that you can articulate or achieve,” Mr. Donilon recalled three years later. "We had been at war for eight years, and no one could explain the strategy." >continue<

- Charting Obama's Journey to a Shift on Afghanistan

The piece goes on to factor the realization that Pakistan's emergence as the bigger part of the problem renders the larger scene untenable, a bewildering dimension which threatens to complicate today's NATO summit.


"It’s all very well hosting the Winter Olympics, having a leader who likes to swim topless in icy waters, and having NASA pay you to take US astronauts into space, but it all seems rather meaningless when your country is simply not as free and open as it could be. This is not a feeling exclusive from pride and shame at one’s own country. It’s dangerous when people forget, that to honour and respect, one mustn’t invest in the object of affection a simple faith alone.

…When one sees people posing next to a Stalin look-a-like in a subway tunnel, it does make one pause to wonder what the hell is going on.

As I walk through another station later on, I see two haggard men with bruised and cut faces, begging. An old man meets a woman nearby, touching his hat and smiling. He takes her trolley, and they walk off, chatting amiably. Just like any other metro station in many other countries. But here it feels indicative of something more, of both a struggling alienation and a harsh world, and yet also a warm heart that will always live beyond the reach of the system it lives under." >continue<

- redsparrows, ...a mystery?


"Critics warned from the beginning that austerity in the face of depression would only make that depression worse. But the “austerians” insisted that the reverse would happen. Why? Confidence! “Confidence-inspiring policies will foster and not hamper economic recovery,” declared Jean-Claude Trichet, the former president of the European Central Bank — a claim echoed by Republicans in Congress here. Or as I put it way back when, the idea was that the confidence fairy would come in and reward policy makers for their fiscal virtue.

The good news is that many influential people are finally admitting that the confidence fairy was a myth. The bad news is that despite this admission there seems to be little prospect of a near-term course change either in Europe or here in America, where we never fully embraced the doctrine, but have, nonetheless, had de facto austerity in the form of huge spending and employment cuts at the state and local level....

So we’re now living in a world of zombie economic policies — policies that should have been killed by the evidence that all of their premises are wrong, but which keep shambling along nonetheless. And it’s anyone’s guess when this reign of error will end." >continue<

- Paul Krugman, Death of a Fairy Tale


Afghan whistleblower reports military has 'so distorted the truth … the truth has become unrecognisable'

"I am – how do you say it? – persona non grata," said Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Davis, as he sat sipping a coffee and eating a chocolate sundae in a shopping mall, just a subway stop from the Pentagon.

The career soldier is now a black sheep at the giant defence department building where he still works. The reason was his extraordinarily brave decision to accuse America's military top brass of lying about the war in Afghanistan....

Davis, 48, drew up two reports containing research and observations garnered from his last tour. He was not short of material. As part of his job he had criss-crossed the country, travelling 9,000 miles and talking to more than 250 people. He had built up a picture of a hopeless cause; a country where Afghan soldiers were incapable of holding on to American gains. US soldiers would fight and die for territory and then see Afghan troops let it fall to the Taliban. Often the Afghans actively worked with the Taliban or simply refused to fight. One Afghan police officer laughed in Davis's face when asked if he ever tried to fight the enemy. "That would be dangerous!" the man said.  >continue<

Report: Dereliction of Duty II (pdf)  |  Truth Lies and Afghanistan

Fervent Conviction  |  Coordinated Attacks in Kabul


I remember Christmas Eve with Apollo 8, being upset that Apollo 10 would not land, and seeing grainy images of a giant leap. And this… this makes me swallow hard with watering eyes.

“I will not accept a statement that says we can’t afford it”

- Neil deGrasse Tyson

... Petition the White House: At least double NASA’s annual budget to one penny for every government dollar spent.


"I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.

When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival."

- Greg Smith, Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs

We Can Live with a Nuclear Iran
Paul Pillar | Washington Monthly - 5/5/12

Fears of a bomb in Tehran’s hands are overhyped, and a war to prevent it would be a disaster

…Thus we find ourselves at a strange pass. Those in the United States who genuinely yearn for war are still a neoconservative minority. But the danger that war might break out—and that the hawks will get their way—has nonetheless become substantial. The U.S. has just withdrawn the last troops from one Middle Eastern country where it fought a highly costly war of choice with a rationale involving weapons of mass destruction. Now we find ourselves on the precipice of yet another such war—almost purely because the acceptable range of opinion on Iran has narrowed and ossified around the “sensible” idea that all options must be pursued to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons. >continue<

A scholarly long read well worth attention. The dangerously unexamined notion that Iran cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons continually reasserts itself in a building siren song. An 'existential threat to Israel' gets assumed as a given in what looks like a charade to deflect attention from the real worry, potential threats to Western influence and de facto control over the Persian Gulf. And as this dubious line falls into the trap of taking itself too seriously, feverishly pressing Iran on all fronts, ironically it becomes harder to imagine any Iranian's capacity to ascertain a rational argument for not acquiring nuclear weapons.

The present amplitude and velocity of war talk enjoins the highest duty to vigorously question whole networks of assumptions.

A Tribute to Marie Colvin
John Cassidy | New Yorker - 2/23/12

"Marie was living dangerously. Of course she was in Homs. Where else would she have been?

As I drove to the ice rink with my wife and kids up here in Vermont, where we are spending a few days’ vacation, I thought about the choices we all make. Marie made hers many years ago, devoting her life to being a war correspondent. Everything else—her health, her family, her personal life—came second. Naturally, she sometimes thought of doing something else, something less crazy. At our last lunch, she spoke in her throaty-voiced way about the possibility of writing a book and dialing it back—maybe getting a gig at a think tank or a journalism school. I think we both knew she’d never do it. Many moons ago, she quit reporting for a while and spent a couple of years on the Sunday Times foreign desk, rewriting copy and managing other reporters. She nearly died of boredom.

...We all have to die sometime. Marie died doing what she loved, what made her feel most alive, what turns journalism from a job into something bigger and more noble: a mission. It’s perhaps not much of a consolation to her many friends and her family, but it’s what happened."

....see also: Journalists trapped in Syria ask for assistance


Romney's Freudian Slip

"Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, provided a list of words that most commonly follow the adverb “severely”; the top five, in frequency of use, are disabled, depressed, ill, limited and injured.

That’s clearly not what Mr. Romney meant to convey. Yet if you look at the race for the G.O.P. presidential nomination, you have to wonder whether it was a Freudian slip.

...How did American conservatism end up so detached from, indeed at odds with, facts and rationality? For it was not always thus. After all, that health reform Mr. Romney wants us to forget followed a blueprint originally laid out at the Heritage Foundation!

My short answer is that the long-running con game of economic conservatives and the wealthy supporters they serve finally went bad. For decades the G.O.P. has won elections by appealing to social and racial divisions, only to turn after each victory to deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy — a process that reached its epitome when George W. Bush won re-election by posing as America’s defender against gay married terrorists, then announced that he had a mandate to privatize Social Security."

Paul Krugman, Severe Conservative Syndrome


'Beyond Bizarre'

Karl Rove pranced onto Fox "news" to announce his displeasure [with the Chrysler Superbowl ad], saying that the ad was "a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising." The man who helped demonize a legless Vietnam vet said he was "offended."

What this reaction says is something deeper. See, Clint Eastwood, who voted for John McCain and opposed the bank and car bailouts, thinks the whole controversy is bullshit. He rewrote the script, and he’s donating his pay to charity. What Rove and the rest of the right’s negative reaction really means is that they are divorced from the nation as a whole. In the ad, Eastwood says that, during tough times, "we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one." We acted, in essence, like Americans.

Conservatives are saying that it’s offensive to expect them to do so. And if Dirty Harry wants to wallow around with the dirty hippies, then fuck him, too.

- the Rude Pundit, Newt Gingrich's new campaign


Newt's 'stream of peevish bile'

"Romney has got into Gingrich’s head, under his skin and very possibly into other parts of his anatomy. The former Speaker appears intent on destroying Romney but seems not to care that he will almost certainly fail - and probably destroy himself in the process."

- Toby Harnden, Newt Gingrich's new campaign


Gringrich vows lunar colony
Denver Post

"Newt Gingrich says that he wants to develop a robust commercial space industry in line with the airline boom of the 1930s. He also wants to expand exploration of Mars."

In which a great idea finds a lunatic spokesman. A permanent lunar colony, eventually with a goal of becoming self-sustaining, should not suffer derision merely because it is associated with Newt Gingrich. The former would be a fecund expression of evolution - and arguably necessary. The latter, a pathogenic affront to sentience and politics.

Say it ain't so Joe
XHerakleitos - 1/23/2012

Is something going on under the surface here with Joe Scarborough? His argument with Mike Murphy on Meet The Press raises the ever so slight suspicion that Joe may be more invested in his line than your normal talking head.

Granted, it's likely fodder for the Annals of Pure Speculation - but damned if I'm finding the intuition hard to shake. Scarborough may fancy himself as the choice of a brokered convention.


Santorum Wins, bottom up & hands down
XHerakleitos - 1/21/2012

Bracket everything you know or think about the candidates and the winner of Thursday's debate in Charleston is clear: Santorum totally owned it. He stood way above the others in the logical play of assertion, response, evisceration, and focus.

...When Santorum zinged the line of the night - "Newt has never had a problem with grandiosity" - Newt played right into Rick's attack vector and proudly identified himself as grandiose! Santorum lowers the scythe masterfully with a perfectly apt distinction between someone possessed of an effusive cauldron of ideas and an effective political agency. It was brutal - and it wouldn't be the only time Newt's body language showed the score. Justice requires that Ned Beatty host SNL and spoof this encounter.

Romney's smiley sheen and obnoxious avoidance of any real questions, punctuated by the "Maybe" quip over his taxes, snaps into gear just long enough to pop Newt over his legacy and the Reagan diary, brush off Gingrich's ad hoc reply over how Mitt should be thankful, and effectively nail his tendency to sound like a name dropper and a credit hog. Zinger sparks aside, Romney can't or won't gear beyond superficiality now that the polls are tight, staying in a formulaic "safe zone", talking a lot and saying nothing. If he only had as many clues as grandchildren.



Input on challenging "facts"
XHerakleitos - 1/12/12

...“Journalists” covering politics now appear to be in the same boat as sports broadcasters, having to insert ‘Mercedes Benz’ before ‘Super Dome’… and “Dr. Pepper” before ‘BCS National Champion’. There’s something eerily similar going on, where the cunning manipulation of language is allowed a free ride - and “analysis” turns on how different demographics will consume the message (or the gaffe). The truth of the matter is less important (assuming any importance) than what people want to believe - and how they will react based on given assumptions...


Newt Non Grata, Destiny of Decay
Citizen Zed - 1/9/12

It looks like a concession speech; but look out Mitt, it's a trap! You could tell Newt's midichlorian count was high. Right after saying he wouldn't go negative in response to the Romney PAC's Iowa carpet bombing, he hedges with the "right to tell the truth", and then proceeds to suggest that Romney’s behavior is unworthy of the American lives sacrificed for our way of life. Somebody tell him George Lucas hasn't issued a casting call for a new Sith Lord...


Iowa Prediction
Citizen Zed - 1/3/12

Ron Paul takes it. Chalk it up to a combination of superior organization, quasi-endearing crankiness, a youth component - and primarily a hyper-critique of foreign policy. It won't matter that the libertarian schtick is a combination of irrationality and potential economic catastrophe. His support may be faulted for naivete and a lack of philosophical sophistication; and yet, it is difficult to question the cogency of a building distaste for America's overwrought military/foreign policy footprint.

While the remainder of the GOP engages in stupefying advocacy of war with Iran (arguably violating the Nuremberg Principles) - and Democratic apparatchiki either embrace or fear the sacred military cow, the space of out front, unapologetic critique is left to - well - this crazy libertarian dude. Problem is, though he elaborates his stance on the basis of "consistency and principle" in a mechanized libertarian calculus, the dubious, paint-by-numbers means is less important than the end...


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