Archive for April, 2009

Twitter is indefensible

April 28, 2009 2 comments

Matt Yglesias tries to defend using Twitter for political commentary. Is it just me, or is “blame the user, not the medium” pretty weak? No medium can make a bad commentator good, but it can certainly be ill-suited to a task. No one is tweeting investigative journalism.

Claire McCaskill claims she uses it to “drive thought and discussion.” I dare you to reconcile that with what’s there right now. There are comments about her schedule, personal comments, and approximately four comments that you could claim drive discussion. One of them is a one word comment on Specter (“Wow”) and another is a generic statement of support for Kathleen Sebelius. So I see two defensible comments. Out of twenty.

McCaskill also claim it’s a way of staying “connected.” That’s dubious and has a significant downside: her followers are more connected to her. Personally connected, given the contents of her feed. That makes them less objective when it comes to evaluating her job performance, which means she can get away with more. Maybe it’s a small effect, but being connected isn’t necessarily a plus for rational evaluation.

I don’t really care if members of Congress want to use Twitter. I have a (seldom used) Twitter account. It’s amusing. But let’s not pretend it’s a useful source of information from politicians or political commentators.

Categories: Congress, Culture, Tech

Specter's switch

April 28, 2009 Leave a comment

So the big news today is Arlen Specter switching parties. I’m not particularly excited, but hey, it annoys Republicans, so how bad could it be?

Glenn Greenwald has some thoughts. They’re mostly good points, though I must note that saying “it is mystifying why [Democrats] would want to build their majority by embracing politicians who reject most of their ostensible views” and “Arlen Specter is one of the worst, most soul-less, most belief-free individuals in politics” is a little odd. I think the latter explains the former. Those who switch parties do drift in that direction (Jeffords being a good example). So given that Specter does seem fairly principle-free, I think Democrats can reasonably expect Specter to become relatively solid Democratic vote in the future. He won’t be the next Ted Kennedy, but he probably won’t be the next Ben Nelson, either. Though that’s unfair to Nelson, who seems to have some principles. Evan Bayh, maybe?

Categories: Congress, The Right

Religious concern trolling

April 27, 2009 Leave a comment

I give you, Amy Sullivan:

It’s not that Obama works himself into a rant when he talks about science. He’s still calm, cool Barack, after all. But for him, it is almost strident. Sometimes it’s his language–today he complained that “We have watched as scientific integrity has been undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance predetermined ideological agendas.” And sometimes it’s just his tone–when I listened to the stem-cell speech, his voice sounded uncharacteristically hard, although in reading the text later I noticed a sensitivity to dissenting beliefs that hadn’t come through in the delivery.

Whatever the reason, it worries me somewhat because science is one of those areas in which Obama’s generally nuanced intellectual approach would be helpful. The anti-science, anti-expert mindset is obviously troubling. But so too is the idea that science is always an unquestioned capital-G good and that anyone who raises questions stands in the way of progress.

The only way you could get that sentiment from Obama’s speech is if you haven’t been paying attention the last eight years. Or if you’re an idiot. Republicans have relentlessly politicized scientific issues: global warming, environmental dangers, obesity research, stem cells, sex education, etc. Sullivan says “most people who worry about the use of embryonic stem cells [are not] engaged in ‘effort[s] to advance predetermined ideological agendas.'” Setting aside why “most people” is the relevant category, the debate in Washington has been politicized by anti-stem cell research advocates looking to advance their agenda. They lie about and distort the efficacy of embryonic stem cell research, rather than simply argue that it’s not moral, which is what they believe. I assume Sullivan knows this, given that she wasn’t born yesterday. Even if you want to say they have a legitimate moral issue, they’ve very much not stuck to that argument (because it’s patently ridiculous and few agree with them).

We’ve had eight years of Republican abuse of science for political gain and corporate favor. We haven’t had eight years of respect for science and nuanced moral arguments about scientific research. To worry about pro-science “stridency” when Obama forthrightly condemns past abuse is absurd in our current situation.

But Sullivan is really worried that respect for science will make it harder to push religion-inspired policy. If we have to rely on empirical evidence, my absurd superstitions won’t be good enough to justify my preferred policies! Let’s just back up a little on being all pro-science. It’s very important that we allow fairy tales to influence our discourse.

Then again, religious concern trolling is what Sullivan is best at, so should we be surprised?

Categories: Obama, Science

Jeans and the decline of modern society

April 19, 2009 5 comments

Presumably you saw this last week, but George Will penned a column denouncing denim. Denim! Fun quotes:

Seventy-five percent of American “gamers” — people who play video games — are older than 18 and nevertheless are allowed to vote.

Presumably Will lost a game of Pong in his younger years and has never quite recovered.

Denim is the clerical vestment for the priesthood of all believers in democracy’s catechism of leveling — thou shalt not dress better than society’s most slovenly. To do so would be to commit the sin of lookism — of believing that appearance matters. That heresy leads to denying the universal appropriateness of everything, and then to the elitist assertion that there is good and bad taste.

I wear jeans. I think there’s good and bad taste. I think George Will’s taste is the latter.

This is not complicated. For men, sartorial good taste can be reduced to one rule: If Fred Astaire would not have worn it, don’t wear it. For women, substitute Grace Kelly.

Ok, Will’s taste is bad and old. Am I supposed to go to work dressed like this?

Look, George. I know how you feel. You couldn’t write a column just to complain about denim. So you had to connect to everything in society that you think is bad. You had to attribute it to a rejection of the idea that appearances matter. The problem is, that’s not true. You’re just old. It’s ok, though. You’ve got a good job. You can lie about global warming without consequence. You have money and probably a family. Surely something can fill the void so you don’t have to inflict your half-baked ramblings on those of us who have real jobs.

Also, this should be read, for the picture and caption.

Categories: General

Demand answers

April 13, 2009 2 comments

Mark Hemingway wants to know Obama’s opinion of a scene in one of Kal Penn’s movies. It apparently offended his delicate sensibilities. Hard-nosed journalism, people.

Speaking of idiots, there’s a tax day tea-bagger protest in Bozeman on Wednesday. I’m tempted to wander by, if only because I’m sure it will be unintentionally hilarious.

And also because I’m a member of ACORN planning to sabotage the protest. Don’t tell anyone.

Categories: Montana, Obama, Silliness

Anti-religion rant for the weekend

April 11, 2009 1 comment

I will never understand why people who incorrectly predict the apocalypse (Jesus, William Miller, Hal Lindsey, etc) influence society like they do.

This week, there are festivities dedicated to one of those false apocalyptic prophets. One would think this settles it:

And he said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.’

Maybe this:

‘But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

Versions of those statements are fairly well-attested, with similar sayings showing up in the other gospels. Alas, Jesus’ cult went on to bigger things.

Humans are not particularly rational. I’m not, you’re not. The best we can do is strive to make sure our beliefs have some grounding before we reach our intellectual limits. We create institutions and follow certain methods to help ourselves. But we have to understand our limits and realize that people will come to different conclusions. Coercing everyone into coming to the same conclusion will not work nor is it desirable.

But that does not imply that individuals must treat all views as equally valid. It does not mean that all views have merit. It’s depressing how often critical discussion of religion is met by calls for tolerance, which in this context implies criticism is somehow less valid speech than religious expression. It serves to cover a belief that the standards we use to judge philosophies and world-views in every other area of our society are not valid here. And of course, those standards are not abandoned for a reason, but because the person lacks the introspective ability to question his or her belief that feelings are a reliable indicator of external reality.

And why would you want that ability? If you can’t believe without evidence, you can’t create a supreme being in your own image. I’d love to believe in a god who’s responsible for love and music, who gave us these amazing minds and expects us to use them against anyone who would oppress his children. It would make me feel better to believe in a supreme being who reflects my values. But what reason do I have?

We’re not rational. We hold irrational beliefs. But the rotten core of religious liberalism is the rejection of the idea that we should strive for something better. In some ways, that’s worse than the odious beliefs on religious conservatives.

Categories: Religion


April 8, 2009 3 comments

Oh noes, the gays are coming.

I believe that statement works whichever way you want to take the last word.

It’s only a matter of time before they enslave us all. The NOM website is great. Their FAQ especially:

1. Are you a bigot? “Why do you want to take away people’s rights?”
“Isn’t it wrong to write discrimination into the constitution?”

A: “Do you really believe people like me who believe mothers and fathers both matter to kids are like bigots and racists? I think that’s pretty offensive, don’t you? Particularly to the 60 percent of African-Americans who oppose same-sex marriage. Marriage as the union of husband and wife isn’t new; it’s not taking away anyone’s rights. It’s common sense.”

I like the irrelevant mention of African-American opposition to gay marriage. Disagreeing with African-Americans is clearly racist, so don’t you call me a bigot! They’ve even come up with a new argument for slavery: it’s not new, so whose rights are they taking away? They never had them! It’s wrong now, but at the time it was a-ok.

Categories: Religion