Tuesday, April 26, 2005


Soviet-Style Statistics

Funniest statistic of the week, from Harper's Index:

Percentage of Americans who think George W. Bush is a "uniter": 49
Percentage who think he's a "divider": 49

And speaking of Statistics, Reuter's news agency is reporting that, in 2003, the State Department originally underestimated the number of terror attack worldwide by almost half, presumably in order to help provide "proof" that Bush's War on Terror is succeeding. Subsequently, it revised the number to 175, which, it admitted, was a 20-year high.

In 2004, the number of significant terrorist attacks increased from 175 to 650.

In response, the State Department has said that next year, it will not release the statistic for 2005. It might be made public anyway; or, of course, it might not.

For their part, Republicans proposed all sorts of reasons why no conclusions can be drawn from this more than 3.7X increase in terrorism.

Naturally, none of these reasons was "there were more terror attacks."

And so it goes.

The Quotidian Meander

Friday, April 22, 2005


Pay Attention!

You may be aware, or you may not be aware, of the phrase "the nuclear option" that's been floating around in the zeitgeist lately. No, it doesn't refer to a terrorist with a nuclear bomb in a suitcase; it refers to the fact that Republicans are trying to change a 200-year-old (!) rule in the senate, which would make it much harder for Democrats to block their judicial nominees.

This sort of thing actually doesn't bother me that much. The worm will turn--the worm always turns--and someday, the very rule changes designed to oppress Democrats today, will oppress Republicans.

Still, consider the wise words Justin Ruben has to say about this:

"It's worth taking a moment to remember why Republican leaders are so intent on seizing power over the courts: the minimum wage, the Clean Water Act, the constitutional right to privacy, and so many other progressive advances are still too popular to for politicians to gut outright! So they're hoping to stack the Supreme Court with justices so far to the right they'll do what Congress can't. It's an extraordinarily devious plan--they're relying on judicial activism to roll back our rights, even as they claim they're trying to curb it--and the lynchpin is next week's vote on the 'nuclear option.' "

This demonstrates, in a nutshell, the two things that are so amazing to me about the Administration radicals who are shepherding the Congressional sheep these days: 1) they're working tirelessly for agendas that go against the will of the American people, and 2) the way they're doing it is to hope that the American people aren't paying attention!

Of course, when the worm does turn (for foreign readers, I should mention that this is just an idiosyncratic expression meaning that things tend to be cyclical), it may be thanks to these very things. Personally, I was never a Democrat until the current crop of Neoconservative radicals took power with the advent of Ronald Reagan in 1980. I was never a Clintonian until the right wing mounted its virulent and unprecendented persecution campaign against him. And I was never an outright anti-Republican until George W. Bush showed his colors in the wake of 9/11. I still wouldn't be a Democrat, except that they're the best hope we have of checking the excesses of the current "Republicans." I'd probably be a harmless Naderite or a Green or a Bright or something.

And I'm paying attention because the conniving extremists in the warrens of the West Wing are hoping that I won't.

The Quotidian Meander

Thursday, April 21, 2005


Relativism and Torquemada

The following appears to be the most-quoted passage from the new pope:

"A dictatorship of relativism is being built that recognizes nothing as definite, and which leaves as the ultimate measure only one's ego and desires...Having a clear faith, according to the credo of the church, is often labeled as fundamentalism. Yet relativism, that is, letting oneself being carried 'here and there by any wind of doctrine,' appears as the sole attitude good enough for modern times."

Yeah, well, ya gotta be flexible. Maggie Gallagher reports that one pundit suggested he should have taken the name "Torquemada the First," which led me to look up Torquemada--who turns out to be the father of the Spanish Inquisition, and the man who expelled the Jews from Spain. Well, that certainly seems to be going a bit far.

Then again, if verities were eternal, there'd still be a Holy Inquisition, right?

I'm not very attuned to Catholicism, granted, but I just don't see why there can't be a) women priests and b) married priests. I mean, sure, the tradition is unmarried men who were "married to God," or whatever, but then again, there used to be indentured servitude, 7-year apprenticeships, limitless workdays, etc., and women were chattel, subordinated, second-class citizens without the right to vote. It isn't relativism to correct for the biases and bigotries of the past. I just don't see why being a priest couldn't realistically be a 9-to-5 job for a married man or woman like any other job.

Of course with different days off. :-)

The Quotidian Meander

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


An Actual Conservative

Being basically a stinking Leftist, I've been saying for years that executive pay is institutionalized robbery. Executives and their cohorts on boards of directors are simply robbing shareholders and ripping the guts out of the entire concept of shared ownership of capitalist enterprises. Who wants to put their money in stocks when they know the profits they're risking their money for is simply going to be skimmed by unscrupulous managers?

Consider this screed, and then take a look at who wrote it. Another damned liberal, probably?

"We learn from Viacom's SEC filing that its chief executive, Sumner Redstone, who is 81 years old, is presumably guarding against the hazards of senior-citizen penury. His salary was $4.97 million, and he received a bonus of $16.5 million. We think we see traces of sibling rivalry in the picture, because one of Viacom's co-presidents, Tom Freston, received only $16 million in bonus. Viacom's other co-president, Leslie Moonves, has got to have done something truly humiliating, because his bonus was only $14 million. (However, all three received more than $30 million in stock options.)

"Why does capitalism tolerate such institutional embarrassments? The answer has to be that embarrassment simply isn't being felt. Consider excruciating, but apparently tolerable, incidentals. Mr. Freston is based in New York. But from time to time, business requires him to be in Los Angeles -- where, as it happens, he also has a home. On those nights[,] does he take hotel rooms? Ample hotel rooms, understand. No. He just charges the company what he thinks is appropriate to pay him for using his own home. In 2004, this amounted to $43,000.


"What dismays is the utter lack of class in such businesses and businessmen here parading their skills in distortion. Michael Eisner appears twice in the table of the 25 largest compensation packages paid in a single year. In 1993 he took home $203 million. In 1998, $575.6 million.

"That money was taken, directly, from company shareholders. But the loss, viewed on a larger scale, is a loss to the community of people who believe in the capitalist free-market system. Because extortions of that size tell us, really, that the market system is not working in respect of executive remuneration. What is going on is phony. It is shoddy, it is contemptible, and it is philosophically blasphemous."

The writer? William F. Buckley. See how an actual conservative approach differs from that of the rape-and-pillage far-right corporatist greedheads currently in power?

The Quotidian Meander

Z / Me

Me: I'm with Ben Franklin, who said something to the effect that while he'd concede the possibility, the chances of God existing are so infinitesimally small he's not going to waste his time accounting for it.

Z: Both are beliefs, are they not? Belief in no-God vs. Belief in God? Neither proposition can be established as fact.

Me: But as you know, the burden of proof is on the positive assertion.

Z: A Quotidian Meander rule?

Me: It bears asking, probably--what form do you think God takes? The Bible says we're made in his image, so does that mean he has teeth? Stomach? Lungs? If so we would need to believe that God has to eat and breathe oxygen. Does he exist anywhere?

I think he's a projection of the psyche--I'd call it the "interego," the superego objectified and projected outward. All these people who talk about God are talking about something, after all. They've got the idea, and it appears reasonable to them. So where does the idea come from? To answer the question, I think you merely need to look at the nature of the form the belief takes. For instance, nobody is willing to be pinned down as to what God might look like or where he might be, but they're always eager to specify just exactly what he thinks and what he wants. That much, people just love to explain in great detail. So how could they think they know this so well? I contend that the only way is because it's something in their own heads, part of their own psyche.

I like David Hume's question--he asks, basically, why we would think that the supreme director of the Universe would consist of Mind. Just because we have these organs that think little thoughts and have consciousness doesn't mean that it's any sort of ultimate arrangement.

Z: Who thinks that? Ol' Davy-boy is assuming facts not in evidence.

Somebody once famously said--or was that me?--tell me about the God you don't believe in and I bet I will agree with you.

Apt for all you wrote. I know of no weighting in logic between the propositions, X and Not-X.

Me: But you probably are aware of the weighting in law. [Z is a lawyer.]

Z: Now we're getting somewhere. At least you believe O.J. didn't do it. That's something, at least. Hallelujah!

Duty calls. Need to bow out probably for the rest of the day.

Me: Understood...but I guess that means I get the last word....

X and Not-X may be equivalent in formal logic, but in real life, in pragmatic terms, there are an infinite number of Not-X propositions. That's why I paraphrased Franklin, conceding the possibility while dismissing the probability.

In law, as I understand it, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. "It was Bill who killed Mary" can't just be floated--it has to be reasonably demonstrated that a number of other conditions apply, starting with "Mary is dead." Bill doesn't have to get up every morning and begin his day by proving again that once more, he didn't kill Mary.

Who was it who said that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"? Yet virtually all of the "extraordinary claims" of religions appear to be specifically designed to be un-provable. Throughout history, all religion has ever done is to beat a retreat--as we learn more and more, previous religious claims are discounted one by one, by science, reason, logic, statistics. Religion takes refuge in the un-knowable and the un-proveable. It's not remarkable that I can't prove Not-X; what's remarkable is that virtually every coherent claim of religion is unproveable for Not-X.

The Quotidian Meander

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Death Control

A big welcome to Pope Benedict XVI, who succeeds John Paul II, who we assume has gotten busy doing miracles from heaven. (Two such posthumous miracles are part of the requirement for sainthood.) It's been 950 years since there was a German pope--and you Red Sox fans thought you had it bad.

I do, naturally, have a few doctrinal questions. As Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict XVI was the head of the modern descendent of (gulp) the Inquisition. So is this kind of like Russia electing as its President the former head of the KGB?

(Completely coincidentally, I'm sure, Vladimir Putin used to be known as the "gray Cardinal.")

More importantly, where does this particular 78-year-old virgin stand on the use of prophylactics? The hard-line Roman Catholic view has always been that any sort of birth control is immoral. Rather pressingly, however, condoms have become an important part of "death control" as well, AIDS being the modern plague. So when birth control and death control are one and the same thing, what will the Holy Spirit tell the pope to do?

I'm disappointed that my own favorite, Francis Cardinal Arinze, didn't make a stronger showing. (Well, I guess "showing" is the wrong word, since everything's done in secret.) I'd love for there to be a black pope, but I'd especially appreciate if someone with a true stake in Africa's problems could take a prominent place on the world stage. It's needed. But it's been 1500 years since there's been an African pope. For what that kind of drought feels like, you'd need to ask Cubs fans.

The Quotidian Meander

Monday, April 18, 2005


A Skunk in the Enemy's Camp

I just want to go on record hoping that Tom Delay survives in the House as long as possible--sapping the Republican Party's energies, distracting their attention from their agendas, causing turmoil within and without their ranks, and giving the lie to their blowsy pretensions of moral rectitude. It's always nice to see a skunk in the enemy's camp.

Of course, it's not so nice to watch the Fascist machinations of Delay's supporters as they try to insulate him from the consequences of his nefarious misdeeds. The hamstringing of the House Ethics Committe, kicking to the curb any committee leaders that dared criticize him and rewriting House ethics rules specifically to prevent Delay from being punished, are moves we would expect from the old Soviet power structure, not the Congress of the United States. But don't worry. As usual, the American people are not paying attention.

The Quotidian Meander

Thursday, April 14, 2005


Christianity: Not About Religion Any More

I've been asked why I'm being so "anti-Christian" lately. Simple: "Christianity" has been taken over by right-wingers and is being used for political, not religious, purposes.

Taking the long view I should be pleased about this, because, historically, when a religion allies itself with a ruling party or a particular political stance, it's been bad for that religion in the long run. More proximately, of course, I simply think we need to raise our voices against the onset of fascism wherever it comes from.

Have you seen Pat Robertson's TV broadcasts, for example? Although masquerading as a peculiar form of doofus, Disneyfied Christianity, it's really just a pseudo-newscast from a far-right viewpoint. It just frosts me that these people can get away with this crap without paying taxes! If it's political, then it ain't religious, and I say we ought to tax the conniving weasels.

In any event, the gloves are off when it comes to right-wing evangelical "Christians." They're making their bed, let 'em lie in it.

The Quotidian Meander

REAL religious leadership!

Ben Cohen, cofounder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, sends some bright if not cheery news today: A coalition of religious leaders from around the country are forming to help end the "war of choice" in Iraq, bring our people home, and put the resources being funneled endlessly to fat-cat defense contractors to better uses.

Based on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's contention that foreign wars "draw money and skills and men like one demonic, destructive sucking tube," and that the money can be better used to improve the situation of our people at home, the new organization, called "Clergy and Laity Concerned About Iraq" is non-denominational and inclusive. They're organizing a national bus tour to try to attract media attention. (As we all know, the media, since it's dominated by liberals, will be all over this like a wet blanket. Right? Don't count on it.)

For more, see:


The Quotidian Meander

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


A Voice, Stilled

Andrea Dworkin died recently. Few people I know--or can even imagine--agreed with her on everything: she was allied with the Christian right in her repugnance of pornography, with radical feminists in her rejection of male hegemony over women. Firebrand, former prostitute, protester, rape victim, crusader, a lesbian who lived with a man, she was to me a beacon of what a responsible citizen and a good writer should be: clear, and courageous. She thought for herself. She said what she meant. She was radical, outrageous, provocative, wrong, but she made us think and talk and argue and see things differently, even if we didn't agree with her, and she walked the walk she talked. She died, far too young, at the age of only 58, after a long illness. I think of the books we've lost, the ones she would have written at sixty-five and seventy and eighty.

Along with many others, I will miss her voice.

The Quotidian Meander

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Karol Wojtyla

Catholics, non-Catholics, and even atheists liked and admired Pope John Paul II, and together are mourning his passing. Few Popes have had more influence, few have had more devotion to duty, and none have been as constant and unflagging in the service of good works. John Paul II was a uniter: he reached out to other peoples and to other faiths. He was a tireless traveler and a great diplomat. Ungrudgingly and unstintingly, those of us who are not Catholics can say that this was a great man who did good in the world. These next weeks and months will be fascinating, but not enough to overshadow our regret.

The Quotidian Meander

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