Sunday, March 25, 2012

Richard Dawkins at the Reason Rally

Here's an interesting video from Saturday's Reason Rally in Washington. It's worth listening to, even though you need to sit through some very loud cheering (his much-deserved welcome) at the beginning; I suggest you turn the volume way down until Dawkins starts talking.

Video streaming by Ustream

What I found particularly interesting was Dawkins's suggestion that if you meet someone who claims to be a Christian or religious person you should follow up and ask them what they mean when they say that: what are the specific beliefs they have that lead them to make such a statement?

I thought this was a provocative suggestion to engage believers in the kind of discussion that might actually get somewhere (maybe not, but you never know), and then he continues to say that it is important to ridicule believers. I used to think the same thing, and I still have to admit that I enjoy it, especially among other atheists and nonbelievers, but I have come to question its utility.

In discussions with a young friend about politics (we haven't really talked about religion) I've come to see that exploring the political ideas my friend expresses, their foundations, and where they lead, we can actually get somewhere, to the point where she probably would no longer describe herself as a conservative.

What if we could do the same thing with religion?

I recognize it's not easy, because these ideas are pretty entrenched, but I do know that ridiculing someone to his face isn't going to get you anywhere.

It might be worth a shot.

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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Rent Is Too Damn High

The Rent Is Too Damn HighThe Rent Is Too Damn High by Matthew Yglesias

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Matt Yglesias is a young journalist, formerly with The Center for American Progress, who is now writing on the economy for Slate magazine. Anyone who has followed his recent reporting or Twitter feed is aware that one recent focus of his work has been the supply-limiting effects of needless regulation, and particularly building and zoning codes. Now, taking his lead from Jimmy McMillan, the recent joke candidate for New York Governor on "The Rent Is Too Damn High" ticket, Yglesias lays out his argument for increasing the supply of creating affordable housing in desirable locations by reducing or eliminating zoning and building requirements that distort the market.

Yglesias's targets include building height limitations, minimum lot size requirements, and parking requirements that subsidized car ownership. Yglesias argues that not only do these regulations force up housing prices, they also prevent cities from creating the dense, walkable neighborhoods that Boomers and Gen Xers want.

Think liberals are always trying to impose restrictive regulations on private enterprise? "The Rent Is Too Damn High" is a rebuttal of those claims. Concerned about the cost of housing and how the market can address the housing needs of your community? Then you should read this and start talking to your city's planning and zoning departments about what they're doing to fix things.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pride at Norwich

Norwich University, here in Northfield, has long been known as a leading military school. I believe there is some competition between Norwich and West Point over which is the oldest military college in the country. If I recall correctly, West Point is older but Norwich became a degree-granting institution first.

Anyway, if you live in or around Northfield you know about the military tradition of the Corps of Cadets, and if you live in Vermont you may know of some of Norwich's other, less traditional, programs. For instance, for many years Norwich has offered a program in Peace Studies, now known as Studies in War and Peace, which is not what you picture for the red-meat military crowd. Norwich also hosts the annual Colby Symposium, which attracts military writers from across the country.

This year, however, is a major departure: next week Norwich will be observing its first Pride Week.

NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Question, and Allies Club (LGBTQA) will be hosting its first ever Pride Week at Norwich University March 26-31.

Highlights of the week include a keynote address by Army Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan and remarks by Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin at Norwich’s first ever Queer Prom on Saturday, March 31.

In conjunction with community partners such as Outright Vermont and RU12 numerous discussions and awareness-raising activities are planned.

There will be six days of events, a day for each color of the LGBT flag with each color representing a LGBT issue or theme, such as red for AIDS awareness and green for allies.

“The purpose of this event is to express and demonstrate equality throughout the Norwich community, along with the public, in order to promote membership in the NULGBTQA and to educate the public on challenges and issues faced by members of the LGBT community,” said Joshua Fontanez, NULGBTQA president and a senior member of the Norwich University Corps of Cadets.

The NULGBTQA made national headlines with its first meeting occurring on Sept. 20, 2011, the day of the repeal of the military’s ban on open homosexuality, commonly known as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”

“The NULGBTQA is the first ever LGBT Club on a military campus, and we have had local, statewide, and national attention from members of West Point; the Governor of Maryland; the Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Outright Vermont,” Fontanez said. “Departments across campus and myriad members of the Norwich Community are coming together in order to help create Pride Week, free for all.”

The week’s events are sponsored by the Office of the Dean of Students; the Student Government Association; the Student Activities Office; the Office of Substance Abuse Prevention and Education; the Center for Civic Engagement and Campus Climate Committee; the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs; Human Resources and Title IX; Sodexo; the Office of Student Success and Retention; Norwich Christian Fellowship; Residential Life and the Infirmary.

Throughout the years that opposition to the Vietnam War got ROTC removed from many university campuses there were many who argued that this was a mistake, and that integrating ROTC into mainstream academic life was essential to keeping military values in line with the liberal values of society as a whole. Norwich deserves a lot of credit for doing this.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Sarah Palin channels Newt Gingrich

What, are they sharing one brain? (Or half a brain?)

Just a quick note. In case you missed it, Sarah Palin seems to have jumped on the Newt Gingrich bandwagon.

Remember a few months ago when Newt Gingrich said that anyone who quoted him was lying?

Literally: “Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood.

That's what Palin said yesterday.

Here's her original statement:

“Granted Barack Obama has never been, I think, seen in the conventional, traditional way of we who would describe a man of valor, so it shouldn’t surprise us that Barack Obama would accept that dirty money and try to get reelected with it. But I think it does not bode well for our president’s character to not speak out against that dirty money. …
“People must be aware of his radical past, his radical associations. Even today, look at who he has chosen to be his czars. He has chosen the most radical of the radicals in certain areas of expertise, Sean. … He has chosen these people because what went into his thinking through those college years, through years probably before his college years and his profession as a community organizer, what went into his thinking was this philosophy of radicalism, based on the people whom he chose to be around. …
“He is bringing us back, Sean, to days — you can hearken back to days before the Civil War, when unfortunately too many Americans mistakenly believed that not all men were created equal.”

And here's how the new Obama ad quotes her:

“Barack Obama has never been … seen in the conventional, traditional way of we who would describe a man of valor.”

In the edited clip, Palin goes on to accuse the president of harboring a “philosophy of radicalism” and of wanting to bring the country back to “days before the Civil War … before those days when we were in different classes, based on income, based on color of skin.”

Granted, the ad doesn't quote every single word Palin has ever said, but it is entirely accurate in its characterization of what she said. There is absolutely no distortion of her meaning, just a shortening of her statement to make a point and get the ad within the one-minute time window.

Of course, like Gingrich, Sarah Palin doesn't like it when people tell the truth about her.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Time to recognize Governor Phil Hoff

If you drive down State St. in Montpelier, in the vicinity of the State House, you will drive by Governor Davis Avenue and then, very shortly, Governor Aiken Avenue. Together they take you toward the entrances at the two ends of the State House.

What you will not see, either on the maps of our state or on any public building, is a recognition of Governor Phil Hoff.

The authors of a recent biography of Phil Hoff teach us that "No individual deserves more credit (or in the view of political rivals more blame) for the transformation of Vermont than Philip Hoff." Nevertheless, they also tell us that Governor Hoff's memory has been neglected, and where other prominent politicians are honored by parks, state buildings, and roads, there is no building or other monument to Hoff's accomplishments.

Half a century has passed since Phil Hoff was first elected governor, yet we have no physical monument to remind us of his years of service. While on the national stage we have too often been subject to premature idolization, as in the nationwide urge to name things after John Kennedy after his assassination or Ronald Reagan after his death, but Phil Hoff's achievements as governor have stood the test of time.

It is long overdue to recognize Phil Hoff in the buildings or roads of Vermont.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2012

What, you're still here?

Sadly, the odious Andrew Breitbart continues to defile the national dialogue, even from beyond the grave.

Fortunately, what he's done seems to be remarkably ineffective.

You may remember the back story. Shortly before his death, in one of his overheated public appearances, Breitbart claimed that he had video of Barack Obama when he was in college that was going to be some kind of major game changer. “I have videos, this election we’re going to vet him,” Breitbart disclosed to raucous applause. “We are going to vet him from his college days to show you why racial division and class warfare are central to what hope and change was sold in 2008.”

Well, even after death Breitbart's organization continues, and apparently today they got scooped. We know that because when the tape was finally released they called it "selectively edited". "Spliced and diced." Well, duh. We knew that would be the case: after the Shirley Sherrod libel, if not before, the whole world knew that everything that came out of the Breitbart organization was sliced and diced. The weird thing is that they admitted it.

Because they got scooped they spent the afternoon talking about how they were going to release the whole tape on Hannitty tonight, and that it would (naturally) blow the whole story up and demolish President Obama's story, or appeal, or something. They kept the Breitbart web page plastered with hints about what we're going to find out when the whole thing is released.

I don't know if the whole video has been released, but it seems as though it has, and there's nothing there, folks. For one thing, it was all on Frontline back when Obama was running for President, so nothing has been "hidden". It's video of a demonstration at Harvard Law School when Obama was there (not from his college days) and it shows Obama speaking in support of Derrick Bell, a prominent law professor there who was a bit of a lightning rod at the time. Obama sounds remarkably the way he sounds today, with the same measured tone, the same tendency to use a falling intonation at the end of sentences, and the same use of language that we hear from him now. What's more, he doesn't say anything that remarkable.

To hear the Breitbart people tell it the tape is totally damning, supposedly because they're now going to release all this video that proves that Bell is a racist or something, but there is literally nothing in this video that makes Obama look much different from what we already know about him.

Another thing that we keep seeing on the Breitbart site is their claims that Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard, told them on an "exclusive tape", that “We hid this throughout the 2008 campaign. I don’t care if they find it now.” And they say that several times, with hot links to pages where they promise you're going to find the story of this exclusive tape with Charles Ogletree saying what they claim he said. Don't bother. No matter how many of those links you follow you never get to the tape they promise.

So what's their final line? There’s far more coming on Derrick Bell. This is just the beginning. And this video is a smoking gun showing that Barack Obama not only associated with radicals, he was their advocate.

Now it's been a long time since anyone with a brain took anything from Breitbart seriously, but that didn't stop him or his people from continuing to peddle anything he could. At this point, though, can't we just agree that he is both gone and forgotten?

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

No difference?

UPDATE: This guy has now filed a judicial conduct complaint against himself.

Of course, there's nothing stopping him from just retiring, right? Except that the black guy would get to appoint his replacement.

It's an election year, and as November draws near we can count on the usual drivel from people who claim there's no difference between the two parties and there's not a dime's worth of difference between President Obama and whichever assclown winds up with the Republican nomination.

So I'll just point something out.

The Supreme Court appointments get most of the attention, but the lower court judges are also important, not least because they form the pool from which Supreme Court justices and Circuit Court judges are frequently drawn. We also know that Bush was notably more successful getting judges appointed and confirmed than President Obama has been.

When we have a Republican president this is the kind of appointee we get:

I won't reprint the supposed joke, but even this guy admitted that it was a racist joke (while denying that he is a racist).

This guy was appointed to the court a mere six months before Bush was installed in the White House by the corrupt, Rehnquist/Scalia Supreme Court.

Vote for whoever you want, but remember the consequences.

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