I’ve made no secret that I’m a big fan of libertarian Jonathan Rauch. His book “The Kindly Inquisitors” is one of the best defenses of free speech and free inquiry in the modern era. And he made what is probably the best conservative case for gay marriage in his 2004 book, “Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America.” Most recently, he had an essay published in the Wall Street Journal, recounting that latter argument in brief: “Gay Marriage is Good for America”
From the “What, Seriously?!” file comes this incredible story of Congressional hubris: ten Republican Senators are co-sponsoring the usual federal “marriage protection” balderdash. That, and the complete lack of explanation of how banning some marriages would in any way help preserve or enhance other marriages, is nothing surprising.
What is surprising is who the Republicans tapped to headline this doomed bill: habitual prostitute client David Vitter (R-LA) and suspected old-school gay cruiser Larry Craig (R-ID).
If this isn’t all just an elaborate joke… then it’s a wonderfully, wonderfully amusing world we live in.
The Obama campaign has rather wisely dropped the use of their latest logo, after much mockery.
Me, I’m left saddened and embarrassed for the media commentators who couldn’t resist piling on this story, and the many many people who took this non-issue seriously.
Political commentator Larry Sabato gets it right on the first try:
“The press corps adopts a subtext for each candidate,” Sabato told The Examiner. “Daddy Bush was ‘a nice guy but out of touch.’ Bill Clinton was ‘smart but randy.’ Bob Dole was ‘heroic but too old.’ Gore was ‘brilliant but a fibber and a bore.’ Dubya was ‘pleasant but dumb.’”
He added: “Obama’s subtext is rapidly becoming ‘charismatic but arrogant.’”
None of these characterizations of any of these politicians was built on honest, accurate, or comprehensive appraisal of any of these men. Few of the claimed traits (except maybe for Clinton being “randy” and Dole being “old”) actually seem more characteristic of the men in question than they are for the others. Instead, they’re built out of an accretion of heavily interpreted, and often factually challenged, fluff pieces. Of which this seal case was the perfect, almost paradigmatic, example.
This is one more reason I’m far more cynical about voters (more in the aggregate than any individual) than I am about politicians, or even the media. It’s ultimately voter behavior that drives how politicians act, react, and how they present themselves. It’s voter demand that favors schoolyard psychoanalyzing for their election coverage instead of actual policy debates.
Voters get legitimately frustrated and cynical about our political system. But the political system has just as much cause to be frustrated with voters right back.
As a follow up on my post about bitter Hillaryites, I wanted to highlight something FiveThirtyEight has noted about McCain’s recent strategy. He stands to win over millions of disgruntled Hillary Clinton former supporters. But if he’s really looking to woo the bulk of them, then he’s talking to all the wrong ones. The crazy ones. And worse, the crazy ones who are already rather obviously in the bag for him. When someone’s spent the time to found a group called “Party Unity My Ass” in response to Hillary’s primary loss, you can pretty much count on them not voting for Obama.
Instead of rubbing shoulders with fringe groups, McCain might do better by just focusing on his image as a experienced, middle of the road, policymaker: the sort of thing that drew many conservative Democrats towards Hillary in the first place. As xpostfactoid observes, McCain wasn’t just right on the Iraq surge by accident or because of inevitable party loyalty, as were many Republicans. He was right about it for all the right reasons.
The science-blogosphere has been following the story of John Freshwater, a Mount Vernon public school teacher, for some time. The man is clearly off his rocker. He burned a cross into the arms of one his students. In class. And in addition to a host of definitive religious assertions to students during class time, Bibles and other religious materials featured prominently in the classroom, Ed Brayton also notes that:
He kept creationist books and videos in his classroom, including at least one video and one book by Kent Hovind. He also kept the book Refuting Evolution there. Parents showed the investigators handouts from religious groups slamming evolution and claiming that dinosaurs and humans lived together, among other things.
He even used, as a class example of how “science can be wrong” (a perfectly legitimate and even important thing to teach) the idea that science may have found a genetic basis for homosexuality, which of course meant that ‘In that case science is wrong because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin’ (which is not even close to a legitimate thing to teach in public school).
Mr. Freshwater gave an extra credit assignment for students to view the movie “Expelled” which does involve intelligent design.
Interestingly, this is one of the few cases in which I’ve heard about Expelled successfully penetrating into a school classroom, which was supposedly one of its primary goals. And, surprise surprise, it comes from a young earth creationist using a public school classroom as his bully pulpit.
One who feels at liberty to brand his religious beliefs directly into the skin of his students. Teach Burn the controversy!
Update: Freshwater fired. Countdown watch until the DI claims him as another martyr for intellectual freedom…
Michelle Obama has been under attack for some time for a comment she made: “For the first time in my adult life, I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback.” She’s since explained that what she meant was her country’s politics, and that it is, of course, comparative hyperbole, not really a literal absolute. Seems reasonable enough to me to be a non-issue.
But conservatives, seeing blood, pounced. They attacked her patriotism. They worked this comment into their overall narrative of the Obama’s being elite, self-centered ‘too-fancy and enamored of themselves’ folks. It was an easy sell for them.
Myself? I’m embarrassed for anyone that styles themselves an honest, straight shooter that bought into this faux-controversy: who see cable talking-head narratives as reality instead of theater. I’m disgusted at the quiet glee that otherwise interesting and thoughtful conservative bloggers take in peppering their posts with the quote, and the pride they take in seeing media accounts of ordinary citizens hating on the Obamas for it. I have little patience for the two-faced pretense of supposedly analyzing it with the quiet motive of simply repeating it over and over.
No less than the always charming Laura Bush has come out defending Mrs. Obama and her defense is dead on.
“I think she probably meant I’m ‘more proud,’ you know, is what she really meant,” Bush told ABC News. “You have to be very careful in what you say. I mean, I know that, and that’s one of the things you learn and that’s one of the really difficult parts both of running for president and for being the spouse of the president, and that is, everything you say is looked at and in many cases misconstrued.”
And now, the ridiculousness of it all has come to a head, because MSNBC has caught Presidential candidate John McCain saying something quite similar, repeatedly, with no outcry from anyone. Quoth John McCain: “I really didn’t love America until I was deprived of her company…”
Ooooo, didn’t appreciate America until locked in a cage and tortured? What a selfish twit, right?
No. Wrong. Sigh.
In real life, people say things all the time that are silly, overwrought. They get worked up about something, and then, in a moment of clarity, come down off it. And because in real life they have to deal with other human beings face to face, day in and day out, they often realize how foolish they were being, and they apologize for them. Not because of equally phony formulaic political demands for public apologies. Because they actually, though simple self-awareness, come to feel foolish about their behavior.
Just once, I’d like to see campaign cable spin-miesters or their bloggy enablers suddenly look sheepish and self-aware, just like ordinary humans do all the time. Say “wait a minute, what the heck am I going on about?”
The fact that virtually no one ever does that, when they do it all the time in real life, is as sure a sign as any that political blogging is still fairly far removed from both humanity and reality. People play against partisan type from time to time, sure. They have their opinions. But somehow they virtually never get upset about something and then later, after whipping up a frenzy, reconsider. I’m not claiming that I’m innocent of it either. I just wish we could all commiserate a little more about the collective problem.
Even if you’re inclined to defend your outrage at Mrs. Obama, deny that this one, super important and telling quote, is part of that unreality game… can you at least admit to the general vice, and that you may well indulge in it?
…could it be destiny?
Anyway, it’s often dizzying for me to flit between two different political universes.
Now, I can’t help but have some sympathy for these folks. Political campaigns are an addictive, disorienting rush: it’s like falling down the Alice in Wonderand’s rabbit hole and staying there for months. These bloggers bought lock stock and barrel into every negative thing ever said or thought about Obama. They posted novels worth of breathless declarations and outrage, retyping daily campaign emails and talking points, pouring on lifetimes worth of analysis, all of which self-confirmed, a little more each day, the conclusion that Hillary was the one true Democrat, and Obama the champion of everything phony and vile.
I’m not playing favorites here: in this sort of delusion, they are, of course, the precise mirror image of Obama’s own #1 fans. It’s just that for Obama’s boosters, there’s simple continuity, and the rush now continues apace without any wakeup call. For Hillary’s hacks, however, it means they have to let go of the drama and the obsession. To cool off, and realize that maybe, just maybe, campaign rhetoric is a teensy bit overblown for dramatic effect. But it’s not an easy thing to admit.
Still, I can’t remember quite this sort of viciousness when Howard Dean lost, and back in the 2004 primaries, I thought I’d never met people more fired up for someone than they were for Dean. Even so, all those folks seemed to get over it pretty darn fast.
On the other hand, over on the actual conservative side, we find that many folks aren’t too happy with what McCain’s been whispering into the ears of disgruntled Hillary devotees.
McCain, apparently, favors liberal judges and has the same position on gay marriage as John Kerry. Who knew? (I’ve just gotten over finding out that Tim Russert was somehow both a dogged liberal apologist and a Big Media Bush-lover who rolled over for the Iraq War, so maybe I’m just not ready for this new oxymoronic shocker.) Of course, I have a feeling that the “PUMA’s” (Party Unity My Ass) in question here might be taking wishful thinking a bit too far.
Amongst McCain’s former Hillary-supporting visitors, however, there was a rather uncomfortable note sounded when it came to light that a certain Paula Abeles was involved in organizing them.
As Ben Smith explains it:
… Abeles first made the news in 2003, when she and her husband, then-Monticello Association President Nat Abeles, led the fight to keep members of the Hemmings family — descendants of Jefferson slave and, some historians believe, mistress Sally Hemmings — out of a gathering of the Monticello Association, which is made up of lineal descendants of the third president.
She even went as far as to pose as a 67-year old African American woman named Cassandra Mays-Lewis in chat rooms to help in her husband’s efforts to lobby against the inclusion of Jefferson’s “blacker” descendants at “family” reunion gatherings.
For a group whose chief complaint against Obama was how dirty he was for supposedly “race-baiting” the Clintons, they probably could have chosen their own company a little more wisely.
If you haven’t noticed the rising cultural tide of skeptics and non-believers, then maybe we still haven’t made enough of a nuisance of ourselves. Just you wait!
Me, I’d like to take some time to think about where this is all going. What do we want?
Mostly, it seems, just to talk. And that’s a good thing: the subjects we’re interested are abstract: they’re debates about ideas first and foremost. Skeptics have always been the traditional first-line defenders of free inquiry, and we’re not about to give up that role anytime soon.
Still, we seem to have all these people with so many common interests and values. We have conventions. We should, I think, consider having some more concrete goals. Some specific issues we have on the table every election season. And I’m not talking about amorphous things like “better funding for science” and so on. I’m talking about very specific policy proposals: specific enough that some friendly Representative could introduce them as numbered bills on the floor of Congress.
So what should these be? Getting a consensus is always difficult, but other interest groups do it. Skeptics may be, by our very nature, hard to herd, but it’s not impossible. I think most of us could, for instance, get behind a proposal to bring back the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), which used to helpfully advise Congress on all sorts of complex scientific issues that Congressman and their staffs, rarely have much depth of knowledge about. And if you have your own suggestions, I welcome them in the comments, or on your own blogs (let me know and I’ll link to them at the end of this post).
Here’s my proposal though: that we reform public education. And I don’t mean weigh into issues like vouchers, funding, teacher unions, or any of that. What I mean is that we lobby for a particular set of concepts and skills to become a central part of state and/or federal education standards: a theme that runs through what and how we teach kids to write and reason. Subject disciplines like history, math, biology, English, and so forth, are all important. But it’s just as, if not more important to prepare children to be critical thinkers, to be intelligent and skeptical consumers of mass media, political appeals, and even commercial advertising. To understand logical fallacies. To know how to read an argument and set about responding to it. To appreciate the basic principles of statistics, independent of math level, and the basic pitfalls of interpreting scientific results (regression to the mean, sampling error, etc.) We need civics courses for a new age.
American students have always held an economic edge when it comes to creative, independent thinking: even when our students lag far behind in brute force effort and devotion to studies. I think playing on these strengths is a winning economic and social strategy. I’m not entirely sure yet on how best to sell it to the public, but that’s what Public Relations geniuses are for.
However, we’d also have to be very focused and restrained about how we go about it. All of us skeptics have our favorite sacred cows that we love to target. But in the bitter, rough and tumble world of curricula debates, most of these line-item punching bags are also going to be non-starters. Few of the players and factions necessary to win political approval are going to trust our proposals if they think we’re using them just to smuggle in our partisan views.
I recently scoffed at William Dembski’s petty hopes of trying to cram Intelligent Design down kids throats. There’s a real danger of any effort too similar to his, one that focuses on what to believe, rather than how to think, will get scoffed at, and for much the same reasons.
Just to highlight one example of how skeptical teaching can quickly become politically objectionable, Brian Dunning of Skeptoid fame has a great new educational video out called “Here Be Dragons: An Introduction to Critical Thinking” I’m a fan of Dunning’s work, and this video is definately a worthy skeptical teaching tool.
But like it or not, a lot of the specific topics he covers are, sadly, too controversial for a public school. Maybe not scientifically, but politically. Panning over the countless nutritional supplements on store shelves and questioning their efficacy has great scientific and skeptical merit. But in practice, the owner of the drug store that makes big bucks off this stuff sits on the local school board.
And, right or wrong, many of these sorts of interested parties are going to give something like “Dragons” a big thumbs down when it comes to showing it in the classroom. Just to pick another example, the orange-grower lobby is not going to take too kindly to coursework that poo-poos vitamin-C’s cold-fighting powers. By the same measure, as silly as it all is, you can pretty much forget about the State of Florida ever endorsing such a course. Honestly, we’re lucky enough that there isn’t much economic force behind creationism or science education would really be in trouble.
But it’s not that we have to toothlessly stand down on everything just to play nice. That’s not the point. It’s just that in politics, everything has a price. Every issue has an interest group, every interest group is loyal to a faction, and every lost vote means having to scrounge up some more from somewhere else. Eventually, you price yourself right out of the market. So you have to be very realistic about how much you can do at any one time, with any one policy proposal.
And in this case, getting into those fights is ultimately unnecessary. If we focus on the core skills in question, it really doesn’t matter what examples we happen to use in the process of teaching them. And if we can lobby for school curriculums that do a good job of teaching kids how to critically analyze any and all claims, we won’t have to single out any specific targets for them.
We can’t have our cake and eat it too, politically. But we can serve students some cake, and then be pretty darn certain that they’ll eat it at some point, on their own initiative.
Anyway, I welcome constructive criticism on this, or any other policy idea you think would make a good centerpiece platform for skeptics. Is this something you think we could all rally around? Can we flesh it out sufficiently and seriously lobby for it? Or if not this, then what?
What’s next? And who’s up for it?
In case you haven’t heard, comedian and Politically Incorrect/Real Time host Bill Maher has a new film headed to theaters: a com-ockumentary of sorts called Religulous, in which he sets out to explore, and generally ridicule, the silliness of religious practice and belief.
Now, it’d be rather silly for me to complain about someone criticizing religious beliefs. Or even poking a bit of admittedly underhanded fun at all things theological. But I still can’t in good conscience look at this film with anything other than apprehension…
It’s a sad day for broadcast journalism to lose someone so young, so suddenly. I never met Russert myself, but I do know many people who are going to feel the loss very severely. Friends, colleagues, and family deserve every condolence.
I last saw Russert in person during one of the final debates between Clinton and Obama, where he was a moderator. For all the criticisms people over the years have had about Russert’s style, his preoccupations, his biases, what his style, preoccupations, and biases gained him was an sense of incisive immediacy and even a bit of danger (perhaps something that was easier to feel and appreciate live).
Long before the new generation of loudmouth and dogmatic pundits ironically trademarked “no spin zones,” Russert was pursuing an interview style truly designed to throw powerful people off their guards. Folks have and will debate whether he played favorites, whether he pursued distractions, even whether he was, on some issues, too timid.
But he always struck me as a newsman who at heart just wanted interviews and stories to truly be informative: to not simply have well-prepped politicians repeat back the same information and platitudes that everyone already knew were coming. After working to get where he was, at the pinnacle of political debate, he wanted his job to be interesting at least, worth all that effort and opportunity.
Getting that meant having a style that was a little rougher, and a little less perfectly balanced, than critics might have wanted. But it was quite often worth the effort, and whatever criticisms people have of today’s modern media of which he was a part, I think they’ll quite quickly look back and miss him all the more.
I’m not fan of Michelle Malkin, but she’s perfectly justified in complaining when her critics employ sexist and racist stereotypes to dismiss her arguments and positions out of hand. And you’d think that’d make her more self-aware and sympathetic when other people receive the same the same lazy treatment. Isn’t it better to stand on unmoving principle about what’s acceptable and honest in public discourse, rather than pretending that any tit justifies any tat?
Apparently not. When FoxNews recently ran a graphic calling Michelle Obama “Obama’s baby momma,” Malkin was quick to both (legitimately) deny any responsibility and then simply belittle the idea that it was objectionable.
For Malkin, instead of a chance to unabashedly exercise a principle, it was just another chance to play into her usual game of interpretive innuendo.
I think this guy’s a little confused…