A Great Little Intro to the Life of James Baldwin

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James Baldwin was born in August of 1924, so if he were still alive (he died at the age of 63 in 1987), he would have turned 90 this year. And I love this quote of his from chapter two of his book, The Fire Next Time (titled “Down at the Cross: Letter from a Region in My Mind”):

Life is tragic simply because the earth turns, and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return, [...]

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Adam and Eve Did Not Exist. What Now?

Evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, at The New Republic, states the problem succinctly:

The most recent scientific finding that’s causing Christian ferment is the calculation by evolutionary geneticists that the smallest size the population of humans could have experienced when it spread from Africa throughout the world was about 2250 individuals. That comes from back-calculating the minimum size of a human group that could have given rise to the extensive genetic diversity present today in non-African humans. Further, that figure is based on conservative assumptions and is very likely to be an underestimate.

2250 is, of course, not 2. That means that humanity could never have had just two ancestors within the time frame accepted by Biblical literalists. In other words, Adam and Eve did not exist—at least not in the way the Bible says. And that has huge repercussions for Christianity, for if Adam and Eve weren’t the literal parents of humanity, how did their Original Sin spread to us all? Original Sin is, of course, a pivotal part of most Christian doctrine, for without it there is no reason for Jesus to return and exculpate humanity from sin through his death and Resurrection. If Adam and Eve didn’t exist, but were simply a fiction, then Jesus died for a fiction.

Um, is this buh-bye for literalist forms of biblical monotheism?

Science and religion cannot live together–and cannot live apart. That’s the situation. You knew it from the start. And yes, I’m loosely quoting lyrics from a Genesis song.

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Why was Socrates Put to Death?

At Slate, David Auerbach summarizes philosopher Rebecca Goldstein’s take on why Socrates died:

Goldstein [in her new book, Plato at the Googleplex] argues that Socrates was ultimately executed because he deferred to no one’s authority and tore down Athens’ idealized image of itself. In the claustrophobic public life of Athens, Socrates was tolerated (barely) when times were good, but condemned as a dangerous nuisance when things took a turn for the worse. When Leslie Gelb, reflecting on the rush to war in Iraq, spoke of the media and foreign policy experts’ “disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility,” he explained exactly why Socrates (who, like Plato, never took payment from students) was so irritating to the chattering classes of Athens: He ruined their credibility. His message, paraphrased by Goldstein as “Don’t be so hasty in donning yourselves with laurels,” fits America all too well today.

In other words, substituting status markers and authority for critical thinking is how most people roll, and woe to anyone who says, especially with good reason, “The emperor has no clothes.” It punctures the bubble of rectitude. It brings mystification before the bar of scrutiny–which, of course, it can rarely withstand.

So Socrates was brought to trial for the same reason Dostoevsky’s Jesus is brought before the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov: question miracle, mystery, and authority and you get hated.

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Female Elephants Rescue a Baby Elephant from Drowning

Pretty life affirming. Watching this works your nerves, but they do manage to get the baby out.

Absent hands and tools, these adult elephants use their trunks, their bodies, and a willingness to run risks to their own lives to save a baby elephant. And toward the end of the video, one of the elephants thinks out of the box, coming up with a different route out.

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A Good Thing a Catholic Congregation is Doing in South Africa

Congregants recently pulled together enough funds to send to university 31 promising students from some of the poorest townships in South Africa:

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I personally know of a Catholic priest in Southern California who is doing something similar (raising tuition and board funds for students at a university in Asia). He believes that higher education is the most direct way, over time, to bring greater peace and understanding into the world, and this is how he contributes to making this happen.

For so much of human history, the vast, vast majority of human beings had no education at all (let alone a college education). Perhaps by the end of the 21st century, half of 30-year-olds globally will be college graduates. That’s a game changer.

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The Best Moment at the Academy Awards Last Night

At The Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan describes it:

The poised but emotional Lupita Nyong’o [of Twelve Years a Slave], the supporting actress winner with her first major role, was clearly transported by her victory but not so much that she didn’t acknowledge the irony that “so much joy comes from so much pain,” the pain of telling such an agonizing story. “The dead are standing and watching,” she said, and at that moment it seemed true.

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Henry Rollins Tells His Compelling Life Story

The story Henry Rollins tells himself:

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Men Are From Africa, Women Are From Africa

In Christopher Ryan’s TED talk on human sexuality and evolutionary psychology, I like his closing quip: “It’s time we moved beyond Mars and Venus, because the truth is that men are from Africa and women are from Africa.”

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Ryan’s book, Sex at Dawn (Harper 2011), is here.

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Psychopathic Trolls and The Dark Tetrad

Chris Mooney at Slate reports on some actual psychological research that has been done on Internet trolls:

[R]esearch, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called Dark Tetrad: Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).

The result? Definite correlations. And this is amusing as well:

What’s more, it [the research] also found a relationship between all Dark Tetrad traits (except for narcissism) and the overall time that an individual spent, per day, commenting on the Internet.

So, if you’re a troll, maybe you’re not just a contrarian. Maybe you’re also a sadistic and Machiavellian psychopath. Just saying.

And here’s how Mooney’s article concludes:

Overall, the authors found that the relationship between sadism and trolling was the strongest, and that indeed, sadists appear to troll because they find it pleasurable. “Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others,” they wrote. “Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!”

The study comes as websites, particularly at major media outlets, are increasingly weighing steps to rein in trollish behavior. Last year Popular Science did away with its comments sections completely, citing research on the deleterious effects of trolling, and YouTube also took measures to rein in trolling.

But study author Buckels actually isn’t sure that fix is a realistic one. “Because the behaviors are intrinsically motivating for sadists, comment moderators will likely have a difficult time curbing trolling with punishments (e.g., banning users),” she said by email. “Ultimately, the allure of trolling may be too strong for sadists, who presumably have limited opportunities to express their sadistic interests in a socially-desirable manner.”

I wonder if whole websites can be identified, in this context, as trolling sites. I’m thinking, for example, of the intelligent design website, Uncommon Descent. Its typical post features some combination of feigned outrage, incredulity, mockery, or snark directed at mainstream science, individual scientists, or atheists designed to get a (usually unwarranted) rise out of people. The post writers tend to be shocked–shocked!–that anyone could actually take Charles Darwin and naturalism seriously. And, of course, the site’s working assumption is that, at the top of mainstream science’s food chain, are blind, corrupt, and authoritarian scientists and professors vested in keeping from the general public the truth (which is that their disciplines are in epistemic chaos because they don’t take into account all the evidence right in front of them that God exists and directs history). Uncommon Descent’s preferred rhetorical stance is thus to be incorrigible, like the Southern politician (dug in; proudly impervious to proportion or common sense; apologetically armored against all outsiders). If researchers did a study of such websites, would they find the people who started them scoring high on Dark Tetrad traits?

And then, of course, there is the trolling politician. This would be the person who doesn’t seriously believe half of what he says, but loves to put on a straight face, stand before cameras, and say things he knows will raise a shit storm. Doing this is delightful to him–it’s what he lives for–though he never shows this delight in public. Ted Cruz comes immediately to mind.

Of course, we need contrarians–thank goodness for them! And we need critical thinkers, and people who will speak up when they notice incoherence. But the troll only plays at being these people. The troll is actually in bad faith, looking for any route into an argument, however strained, that will direct pain to others. The troll is Iago-like. The pain is most important, not the truth.

To do a bit of armchair psychoanalyzing, I think the typical troll is in pain himself, and is striking back at a pain that he–and it’s usually a “he”–felt directly in childhood. The targets of a troll are people like the people who caused the troll pain. For example, my guess is that Ted Cruz felt the pain, at a young age, of a liberal who ridiculed the sort of right-wing political fundamentalism Cruz grew up in, and now, with his Harvard degree and position of power, Cruz means to use his gifts to bring pain and inconvenience to liberals everywhere, no matter how gratuitous. It’s his mission in life, and his pleasure, to get back at that childhood nemesis by being a political troll today. And obviously, there are a lot of people who share Cruz’s resentments–and know the same pain–and will cheer him on wherever he manages to turn the tables. Rush Limbaugh runs on the same troll energy.

How does one stop breeding and feeding trolls?

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The Great Question of Religion: Who’s on First?

No, I’m not joking. True religion boils down to this one question. But before I demonstrate this, I’d like to point to something the literary critic Adam Kirsch recently wrote. He has been reading one page a day from the Talmud, and in discussing Sabbath keeping, he responds to some grotesque moral reasoning:

When it comes to saving gentile lives, the rabbis are far less lenient [about breaking the Sabbath to do so], as we can see in the troubling discussion in Yoma 84b. Say a building collapses on Shabbat and someone is trapped in the rubble. Now imagine that, before the building fell, there had been 10 people inside. If even just one of those people was a Jew and nine were gentiles, the rabbis say that it is permitted to violate Shabbat and dig for the survivor in the rubble. But if all 10 were gentiles, the implication is that one should not violate Shabbat to save them.

Naturally, this distinction now strikes us as abhorrent. Indeed, one might say that to refuse to violate Shabbat to save a non-Jewish life would constitute what in Yoma 86a is described as the worst sin of all: chillul Hashem, the desecration of God’s name.

In other words, contrary to the Talmud, Adam Kirsch is saying that your neighbor is everybody.

It recalls for me a moment in Nikos Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ in which he has Jesus say to the chief rabbis in the temple, “Do you think God belongs only to you? God is not an Israelite!”

But let’s get to the great question of religion: Who’s on first?

To answer this, it must be acknowledged that there are many things clamoring to be on first, and this means there are lots of forms of idolatry in the world. God prefers your group to others, your land to others, your temple to others. These are all forms of idolatry. There are lots and lots of ways to set up idols and render others (and even God, if God exists) unsacred, unimportant, invisible to your life. The idols we choose to focus on are our armor.

Jesus tried to bring down the armor a little bit. He had it right when he told us to love those who don’t share our idols–that is, all outsiders. But few really heard him when he said it, and we still don’t hear it now. But this is from Matthew 5 (KJV), Jesus speaking:

43Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. 44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; [...]

Later, Matthew’s gospel drips with hatred and aggression for the Jewish temple leaders and the mass of Jews who did not follow Jesus–turning them, by the end of his gospel, into diabolical devils (Matt. 28: 11-15) with a multi-generational blood curse (Matt. 27:24-25). Historically, such passages as those in Matthew 27 and 28 fueled Christian antisemitism in Europe–which ultimately set up the conditions for the Holocaust. So Matthew, even as he records what Jesus said about loving one’s enemies, didn’t really hear what Jesus was saying (if Jesus even said it).

But we need to hear it. If we hear nothing else Jesus is purported to have said, we need to hear at least this part. Do good to those who hate you; return hate with love. And stop erecting hate on others. Whether it comes from Jesus in the past or Adam Kirsch today, we need to hear it. We need to hear it from whoever will say it. Love. Everybody. Break the escalation of hatred and sectarian idolatry. Find something to value in your neighbor and your enemy–and move towards that. There’s a chance it will start a cascade of reciprocation. Peace begins with you. Somebody has to go first. You go first. You’re on first.

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The New Sexual Orientation Blindness: Michael Hannon Says It’s Time To Stop Seeing Individuals As “Heterosexual” Or “Homosexual”

In the latest volley between right and left over gay equality and civil rights, watch for this idea to catch fire among religious conservatives: sexual orientation blindness. That’s my phrase for the position of Michael Hannon. Writing in the Catholic magazine, First Thingshe proposes that Christians rediscover the idea of sodomy in the Book of Leviticus and flat out refuse to even recognize homosexuality as a concept at all:

The Bible never called homosexuality an abomination. Nor could it have, for as we have seen, Leviticus predates any conception of sexual orientation by a couple of millennia at least. What the Scriptures condemn is sodomy, regardless of who commits it or why.

In other words, gay or straight, if you have anal or oral sex–or pull out of a vagina before you cum–whether in marriage or outside marriage–your proper identifier should be abominable or sodomite, as in, Call me abominable and I am a sodomite.

And you can hardly have an equality movement for abominable marriage or sodomite marriage, can you? Here’s Hannon again: 

[I]n our own day homosexuality deserves the abominable label, and heterosexuality does too.

Put a different way, sex is for business (making babies), not pleasure; you should not identify who you are (a human being in the image of God) with your contingent sexual desires, however persistent:

Rather than struggling to articulate how to live as a “homosexual Christian”—or, for that matter, the even more problematic question of how to live as a “heterosexual Christian”—we should be teaching our Christian brethren, especially those in their most formative adolescent years, that these categories are not worth employing.

In other words, straight or gay, there should be no non-procreative or procreative sex outside of marriage, and in marriage there should only be procreative sex. Period. Here’s more Hannon:

Our Christian forebears would be shocked at our complacency with sexual orientation. The only reason that this whole program fails to alarm us as it would them is that we have been systematically indoctrinated into it from childhood, especially the young adults among us. [...]

They [heterosexuality and homosexuality] are recent inventions that are utterly foreign to our faith, inadequate for justifying sexual norms, and antithetical to true philosophical anthropology. The time has come for us to eradicate sexual orientation from our worldview as systemically as we can manage—with all due prudence as to complicated particular cases, of course.

Hannon’s position recalls that of many conservative whites on race. After blacks won civil rights in the courts and legislatures, conservative leaders started deploying the concept of “color blindness” in law, not necessarily out of sincerity, but in order to maintain certain patterns of inequality in society. It was all they had left. They took to pretending that race didn’t exist for them at all–and so the old racial patterns could go on existing exactly as they did before, with society making no actual attempts at remedying injustices.

So if Michael Hannon’s proposal gains momentum among conservatives, I think it really does deserve the moniker, “the new sexual orientation blindness.”

But you can’t render a group of people invisible by simply pretending they don’t exist; by becoming blind to them. That’s true of African Americans and it’s true of gay people. And the fact that the priests who wrote the Book of Leviticus 2700 years ago didn’t recognize gay people’s existence doesn’t mean that the rest of us, in the 21st century, shouldn’t.

And science has something to say here. It has been weighing in for years now on correlations between sexual identity and birth order; sexual identity and genetics (via twin studies); and sexual identity and the size of certain brain areas. Converging lines of evidence point to homosexuality having a biological basis. This fact cannot be wished away by selective appeals to the Bible, natural law theology, or postmodern theorizing against essentialism (Hannon deploys all of these against homosexual identity in his article).

Science is telling us that homosexuals are not hallucinating their identity, and so Michael Hannon’s strained proposal for sexual orientation blindness cannot mask reality: contemporary religious conservatives are running out of sensible chess moves against gay and lesbian recognition and rights. Hannon’s article also illustrates that if homosexuals are recognized as a group at all, then, in a democratic society, disregard and discrimination must ultimately stop against them, and they must be tolerated (as one tolerates in the public square people of different races, different religious and political views, and different cultural practices from your own).

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Critical Thinking: Roger Kimball Is Against It

Catholic conservative Roger Kimball is editor of The New Criterion, which is a great journal. I read it. I like it.

But sometimes Kimball comes a little unhinged. He often seems, for example, to regret that the Enlightenment ever happened at all. And at his blog, he has come out in opposition to critical thinking.

Seriously. He finds the idea dubious:

It seems obvious that ‘critical thinking’ (I employ the quotation marks because the activity in question is neither critical nor, in any robust sense of the word, thinking) is a descendant or re-enactment of the Enlightenment imperative ‘Dare to Know!’ In this sense, it is a precursor or adjunct of that ‘hermeneutics of suspicion’ that the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur invoked when discussing the intellectual and moral demolition carried out by thinkers like Darwin, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche. It would be hard to exaggerate the corrosive nature of these assaults. Often, indeed, what we encounter is less a hermeneutics of suspicion than a hermeneutics of contempt. The contempt expresses itself partly in a repudiation of the customary, the conventional, the habitual, partly in the cult of innovation and originality. Think, for example, of John Stuart Mill’s famous plea on behalf of moral, social, and intellectual ‘experiments in living’. Part of what makes that phrase so obnoxious is Mill’s effort to dignify his project of moral revolution with the prestige of science—as if, for example, his creepy relationship with the married Harriet Taylor was somehow equivalent to Michael Faraday’s experiments with electro-magnetisim. You see the same thing at work today when young hedonists in search of oblivion explain that they are ‘experimenting’ with drugs.

It’s an amusing paragraph, but also, of course, a straw man (or, perhaps more accurately, a fright mask). Are those who promote critical thinking really just luring conservatives into a trap by which they will be drawn into irreligion, left politics, sexual licence, and LSD?

And what is critical thinking, anyway? Since Kimball doesn’t define his object of scorn, I’ll offer my own definition: Critical thinking is the attempt to get at the truth of a matter objectively (not under the undue influences of hastiness, hope, or fear).

Crisp and clean. And such a definition, of course, necessarily excludes Kimball’s straw man/fright mask (that critical thinking is an endeavor designed to bring one to very particular and evil conclusions and life choices). Critical thinking is not the left’s version of Christian apologetics–a motivated enterprise. It’s actually neutral–but it also happens to cast unfavorable light on religious and conservative apologetics.

And that’s Kimball’s real problem with it.

Critical thinking exposes emperors as naked. It doesn’t start with any end in mind–save the truth. It is not reason put into the service of a foregone conclusion, but forgone conclusions brought under the scrutiny of reason. This is all that critical thinking really is–the attempt to keep a critical eye on where your thinking, in sleepy mode, has led you.

Kimball would prefer conservatives stay in sleepy mode. He doesn’t want them to look too closely at what they are in the habit of believing. To discourage this dangerous behavior, critical thinking qua critical thinking has to be straw manned and Medusa’d.

Contrast Kimball with George Orwell. Here’s Orwell on critical thinking: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle” (London’s Tribune, “In Front of Your Nose,” March 22, 1946). No resort to habit here. Critical thinking requires struggle because time pressures, distractions, impatience, hopes, and fears fog reason.

And it’s rare for such factors to correlate with the best answers. And so Orwell writes in the same article:

In general, one is only right when either wish or fear coincides with reality.

Put another way, we are in the habit of letting fear and hope lead our reason, and we’d be right more often if we didn’t do this. How different Orwell’s advice to effort in thought is from Kimball’s advice to rest in inherited habits of thought.

Another alternative to Kimball is Oedipus. At the beginning of Sophocles’ play, Oedipus seeks but one thing, to learn the truth of a matter: What’s causing the plague in Thebes? He pursues the answer with energy and bravery, but in the end Oedipus also functions as a warning: if you’re going to stay for the answer, don’t pluck out your eyes when that answer comes.

That’s critical thinking. The determination not to pluck out your eyes. And that’s the determination Kimball means to undermine. He’s justifying cowardice for conservatives; to stay comfy with the sleepy habits of confirmation bias.

Kimball, as an enemy of critical thinking, recalls for me David Hume’s little essay, “Of Superstition and Enthusiasm” (1741), in which Hume writes that fear and hope cloud judgment in different ways, the former leading to Catholicism (superstition), the latter to Protestantism (enthusiasm):

The mind of man is subject to certain unaccountable terrors and apprehensions, proceeding either from the unhappy situation of private or public affairs, from ill health, from a gloomy and melancholy disposition, or from the concurrence of all these circumstances. In such a state of mind, infinite unknown evils are dreaded from unknown agents; and where real objects of terror are wanting, the soul, active to its own prejudice, and fostering its predominant inclination, finds imaginary ones, to whose power and malevolence it sets no limits. As these enemies are entirely invisible and unknown, the methods taken to appease them are equally unaccountable, and consist in ceremonies, observances, mortifications, sacrifices, presents, or in any practice, however absurd or frivolous, which either folly or knavery recommends to a blind and terrified credulity. Weakness, fear, melancholy, together with ignorance, are, therefore, the true sources of SUPERSTITION.

But the mind of man is also subject to an unaccountable elevation and presumption, arising from prosperous success, from luxuriant health, from strong spirits, or from a bold and confidence disposition. In such a state of mind, the imagination swells with great, but confused conceptions, [...] In a little time, the inspired person comes to regard himself as a distinguished favorite of the Divinity; and when this frenzy once takes place, which is the summit of enthusiasm, every whimsy is consecrated: Human reason and even morality are rejected as fallacious guides: And the fanatic madman delivers himself over, blindly, and without reserve, to the supposed incursions of the spirit, and to inspiration from above. Hope, pride, presumption, a warm imagination, together with ignorance, are, therefore, the true sources of ENTHUSIASM.

In other words, Hume is suggesting that two ways to bring the boat of reason into the mouth of irrational sea monsters (like Catholic superstition and Protestant enthusiasm) is to let fear and hope lead it.

Put another way, the boat of critical thinking rides between Scylla and Charybdis–Scylla being fear and Charybdis hope. In Greek myth, Scylla and Charybdis are sea monsters situated to either side of the Strait of Messina (between the Italian mainland and Sicily). If one goes too far to the left or right, the sailor finds himself consumed.

Here’s Johann Heinrich Fussli’s depiction of the sea monsters (via Wikipedia Commons). That would be Roger Kimball with his ass exposed.

File:Johann Heinrich Füssli 054.jpg

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Laurel, Hardy, Santana

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Mean Rich

Are mean and rich synonyms? Maybe:

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One thing I find interesting in this TED talk is that the research results (the wealthier you perceive yourself to be, the meaner you get) can be reversed with simple reminders that there are people in need, and you can help.

Another thing I find interesting is the list of traits correlated with greater social equality (better health, educational performance, life expectancy, social trust, community life, economic growth, social mobility). In other words, though it’s counter-intuitive, being selfish, and making of selfishness a virtue, doesn’t really pay off in absolute terms–either for society or for individuals. To thrive optimally, you’ve got to have balance in your life (some sensible combination of self interest and altruism).

In any case, this is not a great research discovery for fans of Nietzsche and Ayn Rand.

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House Of Cards Becomes House Of Cardinals

This is a pretty amusing parody of Kevin Spacey’s Machiavellian character in House of Cards. 

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White Foam Board and a Single Projector

Pretty amazing video effects using white foam board and a single projector:

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“Subhuman Mongrel” and the Two Teds (Nugent and Cruz)

Ted Nugent, if you haven’t yet heard, recently called President Obama an outright subhuman mongrel:

I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America.

And in an interview with Dana Bash, Ted Cruz doesn’t condemn Nugent’s racist comment, but simply changes the subject:

BASH: “Jay-Z doesn’t call the president a subhuman mongrel. Is this an appropriate thing to say?”

CRUZ: “I would be willing to bet that the president’s Hollywood friends have said some pretty extreme things.”

This is what the GOP has come to: looking the other way when 1950′s-style red baiting and Nazi phrases like “subhuman mongrel” are directed, from within the party, at the first African American president. And notice that Ted Cruz is not alone here. No one among the Republican leadership is currently condemning this. Not one person.

This might change, of course. But why does political pressure have to be dialed-up on the GOP leadership to get any of them to respond to this? And recall that “subhuman mongrels” is a reference to mixed race people, and was deployed by German antisemites against Jews in the run-up to the Holocaust. Ted Nugent should have no welcome place in any major American political party, and yet here he is, the “hero” of a former vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.

How is it that the Republican Party has become so decadent?

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The Paleoconservative “Internationale”: Pat Buchanan Hearts Vladimir Putin

American conservatives have a curious relationship with Vladimir Putin: they recognize him as a macho and authoritarian traditionalist (which they like), yet he’s not an American, but a Russian (which they don’t like). And in a recent article, Pat Buchanan asks whether American paleoconservatives should try to drop their suspicion of all things Russian and embrace the Russian Orthodox supporting, pro-capitalist dictator. Here’s Buchanan posing the question:

Is Vladimir Putin a paleoconservative?

In the culture war for mankind’s future, is he one of us?

Buchanan’s answer is yes, writing the following:

As the decisive struggle in the second half of the 20th century was vertical, East vs. West, the 21st century struggle may be horizontal, with conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite. [...]

Putin says his mother had him secretly baptized as a baby and professes to be a Christian. [...]

He [Putin] is seeking to redefine the “Us vs. Them” world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent west. [...]

The adversary he has identified is not the America we grew up in, but the America we live in, which Putin sees as pagan and wildly progressive. [...]

In his [state of the nation] speech, Putin cited Russian philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev whom Solzhenitsyn had hailed for his courage in defying his Bolshevik inquisitors. Though no household word, Berdyaev is favorably known at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal.

In other words, Putin, like American Tea Partiers, is a true Christian nationalist, but of the Russian variety, whose heroes are conservative heroes. And Buchanan contrasts President Obama unfavorably with Putin:

President Reagan once called the old Soviet Empire “the focus of evil in the modern world.” President Putin is implying that Barack Obama’s America may deserve the title in the 21st century.

Nor is he without an argument when we reflect on America’s embrace of abortion on demand, homosexual marriage, pornography, promiscuity, and the whole panoply of Hollywood values.

Our grandparents would not recognize the America in which we live. [...]

America was de-Christianized in the second half of the 20th century by court orders, over the vehement objections of a huge majority of a country that was overwhelmingly Christian.

So Buchanan is saying the following: if your with the Enlightenment, and secular internationalism generally, you’re with Barack Obama and American liberals, and if you’re with the Anti-Enlightenment, and religious nationalism generally, you’re with Vladimir Putin and paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan. Indeed, of America Buchanan writes this:

[T]hough America’s elite may be found at the epicenter of anti-conservatism and anti-traditionalism, the American people have never been more alienated or more divided culturally, socially and morally.

We are two countries now.

Put another way: Putin and Russia are not your enemy. Obama and other American liberals are “the focus of evil in the modern world.”

Of course, this is just the old left-right fight that’s been ongoing since the French and American revolutions. And of course there are conservative nationalists in countries outside of the United States that think a lot like American paleoconservatives. Buchanan is just calling for international solidarity with other paleoconservatives. Buchanan wants paleoconservatives in America to join forces with other paleoconservatives across the globe in a fight against international Enlightenment humanism and feminism (as represented, for example, by Pussy Riot).

Here, for example, is Pussy Riot being dispersed with horse whips at the Sochi 2014 Olympics. Presumably, Buchanan is with Putin’s police on this:

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And here’s the trailer for a documentary on Pussy Riot. Notice the provocation that got Pussy Riot members jailed in the first place was desecration of an Orthodox altar. From Buchanan’s perspective, Pussy Riot represents not a movement toward greater democracy, but a moral pestilence that would undermine the majority will of a Christian nation:

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So if Buchanan is right that this is an international struggle between the Enlightenment left and the Anti-Enlightenment religious and nationalist right for the soul of humankind, which side are you on–and why?

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Look Up from Your Cell Phone

It’s a Coke commercial, but excellent on so many levels. The Wagner music, the pet recovery collar. Really effective as social commentary and provocation.

And it wouldn’t hurt to get processed sugar out of one’s life as well, but of course Coke doesn’t go there.

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Whips Used to Break-Up Pussy Riot Protest of Vladimir Putin at Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

Those wielding the whips are Cossack militia. These are some brave women activists:

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