Thursday, September 25, 2008

What if there were no God? Politically conservative and liberal Christians imagine their lives without faith

A sample of devout Christian adults, ranging widely in political orientation, described what their lives (and the world) might be like had they never embraced faith. Politically conservative Christians (also scoring high on right-wing authoritarianism) tended to imagine a life deficient in impulse control, wherein unrestrained sexual and aggressive urges, addictive behaviors, and human selfishness undermined the social good. By contrast, politically liberal Christians (also scoring low on right-wing authoritarianism) imagined an empty and barren world, devoid of the emotional intensity that makes life worth living. Gender differences were also observed, but they did not interfere with the relation between political orientation and the narrative themes. In accord with theoretical writings regarding normative and humanistic ideologies, the findings suggest that, at least among American Christians, political conservatism may entail a fear of, or strong sensitivity to, the prospects of conflict and chaos, whereas political liberalism may entail an equally strong fear of, or sensitivity to, emptiness.

Via Razib.

I've noticed the conservative fear of an anything-goes world without God, but I'd never associated a fear of an empty, meaningless world with liberals in particular.

It does seem to fit nicely into George Lakoff's model (YouTube) of the two parental metaphors that underlie conservatism and liberalism in America: that of the strict-father family and the nurturant-parent family. Take away the strict father for conservatives and we're Sodom and Gomorrah. Take away the nurturant parent for liberals and we're at a loss for what we should do.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Repost: This is Your Brain on God

Holy Hyrax's recent post made me dig up this old post:

It seems that I'm doing a good portion of my blogging these days in the comments section of other people's blogs. In particular, I've been having some interesting discussions with Mark at Pseudo-Polymath.

This morning, I wrote a comment I'd like to post here as an entry.

Mark posted about an experience Catholic writer Richard John Neuhaus had:

It was a couple of days after leaving intensive care, and it was night. I could hear patients in adjoining room moaning and mumbling and occasionally calling out; the surrounding medical machines were pumping and sucking and bleeping as usual. Then, all of a sudden, I was jerked into an utterly lucid state of awareness. I was sitting up in the bed staring intently into the darkness, although in fact I knew my body was lying flat. What I was staring at was a color like blue and purple and vaguely in the form of hanging drapery. By the drapery were two "presences." I saw them and yet did not see them, and I cannot explain that. But they were there, and I knew that I was not tied to the bed. I was able and prepared to get up and go somewhere. And then the presences — one or both of them, I do not know — spoke. This I hear clearly. Not in an ordinary way for I cannot remember anything about the voice. But the message was beyond mistaking: "Everything is ready now."

Mark correctly points out that many people throughout history have described similar experiences. He then goes on to imply, however, that such experiences provide evidence for religion:

But, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the other world religions all depend crucially on revelation as part of their history as well as their perception who is God and what does He want with Man.

Mark believes that skeptics think "no experience of Theophany is valid. That every one of the millions of experiences of this sort are all fraud or insanity (temporary or less so.)" Since Neuhaus's account appears to be neither fraudulent or evidence of insanity, therefore, it must reflect a legitimate revelation experience. Therefore, there is some evidence for the supernatural.

In my response, I point out that there are other options besides insanity and fraud, and in fact there are more convincing explanations for such experiences than supernatural entities:

I don’t think you quite understand my position on what you call "revelation." I believe, as do you, that such experiences as Neuhaus’s happen. I further believe, as do you, that they happen to people who are sane.

I disagree on the cause of such phenomena. The Wired Article This Is Your Brain on God describes an experiment in which researchers direct electromagnetic fields towards the temporal lobes in certain patterns and generate what you would call a revelation experience:

I’m taking part in a vanguard experiment on the physical sources of spiritual consciousness, the current work-in-progress of Michael Persinger, a neuropsychologist at Canada’s Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. His theory is that the sensation described as “having a religious experience” is merely a side effect of our bicameral brain’s feverish activities. Simplified considerably, the idea goes like so: When the right hemisphere of the brain, the seat of emotion, is stimulated in the cerebral region presumed to control notions of self, and then the left hemisphere, the seat of language, is called upon to make sense of this nonexistent entity, the mind generates a “sensed presence.”

Persinger has tickled the temporal lobes of more than 900 people before me and has concluded, among other things, that different subjects label this ghostly perception with the names that their cultures have trained them to use - Elijah, Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Mohammed, the Sky Spirit. Some subjects have emerged with Freudian interpretations - describing the presence as one’s grandfather, for instance - while others, agnostics with more than a passing faith in UFOs, tell something that sounds more like a standard alien-abduction story.

It may seem sacrilegious and presumptuous to reduce God to a few ornery synapses, but modern neuroscience isn’t shy about defining our most sacred notions - love, joy, altruism, pity - as nothing more than static from our impressively large cerebrums. Persinger goes one step further. His work practically constitutes a Grand Unified Theory of the Otherworldly: He believes cerebral fritzing is responsible for almost anything one might describe as paranormal - aliens, heavenly apparitions, past-life sensations, near-death experiences, awareness of the soul, you name it.

We’ve known for millenia that our minds are tricky things. There are scores of drugs which affect our perceptions and beliefs. If you drop some acid and see your chair talking to you, would you consider it revelation?

Furthermore, the various testimonies of people who’ve undergone such “revelations” contradict each other. Some see Mohammed — you, as a Christian, wouldn’t believe that to be a legitimate revelation experience, right? The most you could say is that there is some truth to the experience, but the person is interpreting it according to his or her own worldview.

Well, why not take it one step farther and say that everybody who undergoes such an experience is interpreting it according to his or her own worldview? Neuhaus experienced two presences and heard a sentence. He added the interpretation of who the presences were and what the sentence meant.

Surely Neuhaus was on medication and was in an unusual medical condition as well. The whole thing could have been an unusually lucid dream. For all I know, the two figures could have been a real doctor and a nurse saying that everything was ready for a procedure.

Once, when my middle-aged, normally sane father was in the hospital, he woke up from a nap convinced that he had to rush to the nearby university during the Final Four game because he was on their basketball team and they needed him desperately. Another time, free from sickness or medication, my father had a strong premonition that he was going to win the lottery. Normally a skeptical person who had never bought a lottery ticket in his life, he rushed out to buy one. He didn’t win.

I ended my comment there, but I'd like to post a few more excerpts from the article, which you should read in full:

Technically speaking, what's about to happen is simple. Using his fixed wavelength patterns of electromagnetic fields, Persinger aims to inspire a feeling of a sensed presence - he claims he can also zap you with euphoria, anxiety, fear, even sexual stirring. Each of these electromagnetic patterns is represented by columns of numbers - thousands of them, ranging from 0 to 255 - that denote the increments of output for the computer generating the EM bursts.

Some of the bursts - which Persinger more precisely calls "a series of complex repetitive patterns whose frequency is modified variably over time" - have generated their intended effects with great regularity, the way aspirin causes pain relief. Persinger has started naming them and is creating a sort of EM pharmacological dictionary. The pattern that stimulates a sensed presence is called the Thomas Pulse, named for Persinger's colleague Alex Thomas, who developed it. There's another one called Burst X, which reproduces what Persinger describes as a sensation of "relaxation and pleasantness."

Here's the author's description of his own experience:

When the door closes and I feel nothing but the weight of the helmet on my head and the Ping-Pong balls on my eyes, I start giving serious thought to what it might be like to "see" God, artificially produced or not. Nietzsche's last sane moment occurred when he saw a carter beating a horse. He beat the carter, hugged the horse while sobbing uncontrollably, and was then carried away. I can imagine that. I see myself having a powerful vision of Jesus, and coming out of the booth wet with tears of humility, wailing for mercy from my personal savior.

Instead, after I adjust to the darkness and the cosmic susurrus of absolute silence, I drift almost at once into a warm bath of oblivion. Something is definitely happening. During the 35-minute experiment, I feel a distinct sense of being withdrawn from the envelope of my body and set adrift in an infinite existential emptiness, a deep sensation of waking slumber. The machines outside the chamber report an uninterrupted alertness on my part. (If the researchers see the easily recognized EEG pattern of sleep, they wake you over the speakers.) Occasionally, I surface to an alpha state where I sort of know where I am, but not quite. This feeling is cool - like being reinserted into my body. Then there's a separation again, of body and soul, and - almost by my will - I happily allow myself to drift back to the surprisingly bearable lightness of oblivion.

In this floating state, several ancient childhood memories are jarred loose. Suddenly, I am sitting with Scott Allen on the rug in his Colonial Street house in Charleston, South Carolina, circa 1965, singing along to "Moon River" and clearly hearing, for the first time since then, Scott's infectiously frenzied laughter. I reexperience the time I spent the night with Doug Appleby and the discomfort I felt at being in a house that was so punctiliously clean. (Doug's dad was a doctor.) I also remember seeing Joanna Jacobs' small and perfect breasts, unholstered beneath the linen gauze of her hippie blouse, circa 1971.

Joanna was my girlfriend when I was 14. When I was sent off to boarding school, she and I recorded cassette tapes to one another. As a teenager, Joanna was a spiritual woman and talked a lot about transcendental meditation. Off at boarding school, I signed up and got my mantra from the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, right around the time Joanna dropped me to move on to a tougher crowd.

If I had to pin down when I felt this dreamy state before - of being in the presence of something divine - it would be back then, in the euphoric, romantic hope that animated my adolescent efforts at meditation. That soothing feeling of near-sleep has always been associ-ated with what I imagined should have happened between Joanna Jacobs and me. Like the boy in James Joyce's The Dead, Joanna was a perfect memory - all the potential of womanly love distilled into the calming mantra-guided drone of fecund rest.

I'm not sure what it says about me that the neural sensation designed to prompt visions of God set loose my ancient feelings about girls. But then, I'm not the first person to conflate God with late-night thoughts of getting laid - read more about it in Saint Augustine, Saint John of the Cross, or Deepak Chopra.

So: Something took place. Still, when the helmet comes off and they shove a questionnaire in my hand, I feel like a failure. One question: Did the red bulb on the wall grow larger or smaller? There was a red bulb on the wall? I hadn't noticed. Many other questions suggest that there were other experiences I should have had, but to be honest, I didn't.

In fact, as transcendental experiences go, on a scale of 1 to 10, Persinger's helmet falls somewhere around, oh, 4. Even though I did have a fairly convincing out-of-body experience, I'm disappointed relative to the great expectations and anxieties I had going in.

It may be that all the preliminary talk about visions just set my rational left hemisphere into highly skeptical overdrive. Setting me up like that - you will experience the presence of God - might have been a mistake. When I bring this up later with Persinger, he tells me that the machine's effects differ among people, depending on their "lability" - Persinger jargon meaning sensitivity or vulnerability.

"Also, you were in a comfortable laboratory," he points out. "You knew nothing could happen to you. What if the same intense experience occurred at 3 in the morning in a bedroom all by yourself? Or you suddenly stalled on an abandoned road at night when you saw a peculiar light and then had that experience? What label would you have placed on it then?"

Point taken. I'd probably be calling Art Bell once a week, alerting the world to the alien invasion.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Sheltering of Palin

Palin should be laughed right off the ticket (and Hannity should be laughed right off of cable. And radio.) She's had one legitimate interview, one infomercial, and zero press conferences. They wrote the rules of the VP debates so that she won't even have to debate, just prettily recite the talking points.

The election's in less than a month. This is ridiculous.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Necessity of Sheltering Orthodox Children

Beyond BT is my favorite blog about the mirror experience of going off the derech.

When the Secular Little Cousins become Teenage Cousins
Fresh from my annual time share vacation with the secular family, I want to write for the Beyond BT readers on a topic that I think needs some further exploration and discussion.

Logic says that the longer we are working things out with our secular family, the easier it gets...

I wasn’t prepared for how DIFFICULT it becomes when the little cousins who once played with each other on the floor, and talked about barney and sesame street, now talk about “hot” boys, my space, and IPODS. When the kids were little, the differences between all of the cousins was not as pronounced, and other than making sure that the kosher kids only ate the kosher food, it wasn’t much of a problem.

Now – my girls aren’t supposed to do mixed swimming anymore, and I caught a conversation between my oldest daughter and her teenage cousin who couldn’t quite believe that my daughter has never had a boyfriend. Now the teenage cousins bring their computers and IPODS and videos to vacation, and none of it is Jewish. Now my 10-year old son’s eyes can easily be diverted by his teenage cousin’s non-tnius dress, or lack of dress.

In the beginning of the week, my kids think their cousins are weird. But after only a few days, they start looking fascinated, and that’s the biggest problem. I don’t think it has ever gotten to the point where they’d want to trade places, but one never knows what can happen when that thought is introduced for even a day or two. And, what really bothers me is that I want my kids to feel really privileged and lucky to be frum Jews. I worry when the “other side” starts looking attractive, and our way of life seems to be making them “miss out.” (Yes, of course we can give the speeches to our children about how the secular kids are really the ones missing out, but hey, kids are normal, and some freedoms in life look very delicious at times to them).

If teenagers know what their options are, they're less likely to choose Orthodox Judaism.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Ultimate Test of the Media

McCain and Palin are doing something interesting. They've apparently decided that if the media covers only controversy and that the media will not call people on lies, but dutifully report "both sides," then they're going to just lie and see what happens. They get to not only frame the debate, but take ideal positions having nothing to do with reality.

Ezra Klein wrote brilliantly about this:

The McCain campaign's decision to lie about, well, everything, really needs to be understood as more than the outcome of John McCain's consuming ambition. It is a rational and obvious response to the rules laid down by the media. Indeed, McCain's spokesperson Brian Rogers says this directly to The Politico's Jonathan Martin. "We ran a different kind of campaign and nobody cared about us. They didn’t cover John McCain. So now you’ve got to be forward-leaning in everything."

And it's true. Earlier this year McCain made poverty tours and offered policy speeches. No one cared, Obama retained his lead. It was only when he began offering vicious attacks and daily controversies that he began setting the pace of the coverage. The McCain campaign learned something important about the media: It's an institution that covers conflict. If you want to direct its coverage, give it more conflict than your opponent. And so they have.

None of this, of course, absolves McCain of what he has done. He has sacrificed his honor and dignity with astonishing enthusiasm. He has become much worse than "just another politician." He is a politician who was once more than that, and used that reputation to go lower than the rest. But the fact remains that he wouldn't be doing this, that no one would do this, if the media ignored or censured the behavior. If lies were covered as lies and an allergy to substance was treated as evidence of an unfitness to govern, the tenor of campaigns would lift. These are, at the end of the day, rational beasts, and they hunger for good coverage. The McCain campaign has found its best coverage comes from its worst campaigning. And so they are following the incentive structure laid out by the media.

I don't think it's going to work. There's too much time until the election and the evidence is too obvious.

Here's Andrew Sullivan on the Bridge To Nowhere lies:

In her speeches, Sarah Palin routinely and repeatedly uses the phrase: "I told the Congress 'thanks, but no thanks,' for that Bridge to Nowhere." In the McCain-Palin ads, the claim is that she "stopped the Bridge to Nowhere."

These are, again, demonstrable lies. Again I will cite Wikipedia, since it's the fairest summary of the facts of the case, and includes all the links for you to see for yourself:

In 2006, Palin ran for governor on a "build-the-bridge" platform,[101] attacking "spinmeisters"[102] for insulting local residents by calling them "nowhere"[101] and urging speed "while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist."[103] About two years after the introduction of the bridge proposals, a month after the bridge received sharp criticism from John McCain,[104] and nine months into Palin's term as governor, Palin canceled the Gravina Bridge, blaming Congress for not providing enough funding.[105] Alaska will not return any of the $442 million to the federal government[106] and is spending a portion of the funding, $25 million, on a Gravina Island road to the place where the bridge would have gone, expressly so that none of the money will have to be returned.[101] Palin continues to support funding Don Young's Way, estimated as more than twice as expensive as the Gravina Bridge would have been.[107]

Your call.

Probably much more important is this picture:

Unfortunately, I think the "lipstick on a pig" lie and the "Obama voted for comprehensive sex ed for kindergartners" lies won't hurt them. McCain can simply stand by the "Lipstick on a pig" lie, as he did on The View, and it's not something one can really prove to be false. The sex ed one won't hurt him, because the refutation doesn't make a good sound bite. Any day talking about "sex ed" and "kindergartners" is a win for McCain.

If he is brought down by his lies, it'll be the lies about Palin. The bridge, the earmarks, and McCain's and Palin's standing by them long after they'd been revealed as lies. The Obama campaign must frame the issue: "Is John McCain a liar?" The contrast between the honorable soldier he presents himself as and the dishonerable campaign he's leading represent a great opportunity for Obama. Rove took Kerry's greatest strength and turned it into his greater weakness, and Obama has the opportunity to return the favor with the message "John McCain is dishonest and dishonerable."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace has Died

My favorite author hanged himself on Friday. I don't even have a second-favorite.

I wrote a review of his book Infinite Jest, which is my favorite book, on my other, long-neglected blog. Excerpt from my review:
It's not a beautiful book; there are no lyric descriptions of love and beauty. It's about addiction and depression and the futility and inadequacy of intelligence and success. It takes place primarily in a tennis academy and a rehab clinic. It's also, in part, a retelling of Hamlet.

His writing was informed by his depression. Excerpt from an interview:
The sadness that the book is about, and that I was going through, was a real American type of sadness. I was white, upper-middle-class, obscenely well-educated, had had way more career success than I could have legitimately hoped for and was sort of adrift. A lot of my friends were the same way. Some of them were deeply into drugs, others were unbelievable workaholics. Some were going to singles bars every night. You could see it played out in 20 different ways, but it's the same thing.

Some of my friends got into AA. I didn't start out wanting to write a lot of AA stuff, but I knew I wanted to do drug addicts and I knew I wanted to have a halfway house. I went to a couple of meetings with these guys and thought that it was tremendously powerful. That part of the book is supposed to be living enough to be realistic, but it's also supposed to stand for a response to lostness and what you do when the things you thought were going to make you OK, don't. The bottoming out with drugs and the AA response to that was the starkest thing that I could find to talk about that.

I get the feeling that a lot of us, privileged Americans, as we enter our early 30s, have to find a way to put away childish things and confront stuff about spirituality and values. Probably the AA model isn't the only way to do it, but it seems to me to be one of the more vigorous.

(I wrote about how Alcoholics Anonymous is NOT EFFECTIVE compared to many other forms of treatment here.)

DFW attended church, but his writing has a real atheistic feel to it. It's honest and real and unflinching while at the same time imaginative and playful. My guess is that he wanted to believe, that he saw that as perhaps a way out of depression, but that he couldn't really do it. From later in that same interview:
[Interviewer:] The characters have to struggle with the fact that the AA system is teaching them fairly deep things through these seemingly simplistic clich├ęs.

[DFW:] It's hard for the ones with some education, which, to be mercenary, is who this book is targeted at. I mean this is caviar for the general literary fiction reader. For me there was a real repulsion at the beginning. "One Day at a Time," right? I'm thinking 1977, Norman Lear, starring Bonnie Franklin. Show me the needlepointed sampler this is written on. But apparently part of addiction is that you need the substance so bad that when they take it away from you, you want to die. And it's so awful that the only way to deal with it is to build a wall at midnight and not look over it. Something as banal and reductive as "One Day at a Time" enabled these people to walk through hell, which from what I could see the first six months of detox is. That struck me.

I think, and again, I'm guessing here, that DFW saw religion in much the same way -- that there's something real and helpful there and all this intelligence and education and ironical detachment gets in the way of that. I hope he didn't neglect what would most likely have helped -- professional psychological treatment -- for religion.

Religion is somewhat correlated with happiness and longevity, but I suspect that if you're an educated, intelligent depressed non-believer, psychological treatment is more likely to help than attempting to convince yourself to believe.

DFW's essays were perhaps even better than his novels. My favorite is "Tennis Player Michael Joyce's Professional Artistry as a Paradigm of Certain Stuff about Choice, Freedom, Discipline, Joy, Grotesquerie and Human Completeness," collected in A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again. (His work sounds pretentious, but when you get to know it, you see that he's using literary playfulness as a tool. He's not just showing off.)

DFW was the editor of The Best American Essays 2007, and his introduction to that book is itself a brilliant essay. I was a little underwhelmed by Host, an essay about right-wing talk radio host John Ziegler, but it's worth a read. He also wrote an essay about John McCain in 2000 for Rolling Stone, which has now become a book. Here's an interview with the Wall Street Journal about the book.

Here is David Foster Wallace on Charlie Rose. Skip to 23:15:

Fan site The Howling Fantods has everything you'd ever want to know about DFW.

(Public service announcement: If you are depressed or think you might be, please get yourself a good psychologist. It's not something you have to figure out on your own or trust your religious tradition to help you with. I see a psychologist myself. Feel free to email me.)

Update: According to the NY Times obit, Wallace was receiving medical care:

His father said Sunday that Mr. Wallace had been taking medication for depression for 20 years and that it had allowed his son to be productive. It was something the writer didn’t discuss, though in interviews he gave a hint of his haunting angst...

James Wallace said that last year his son had begun suffering side effects from the drugs and, at a doctor’s suggestion, had gone off the medication in June 2007. The depression returned, however, and no other treatment was successful. The elder Wallaces had seen their son in August, he said.

“He was being very heavily medicated,” he said. “He’d been in the hospital a couple of times over the summer and had undergone electro-convulsive therapy. Everything had been tried, and he just couldn’t stand it anymore.”

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Obama, Bush, Pakistan, and Partisanship

Last year, Obama said that if he had actionable intelligence on high-value terrorist targets in Pakistan, he would take them out, without Musharraf's permission if necessary. At the time, I thought that was just common sense, although I also thought it might piss off some on the left. What I didn't expect was for the right to jump on that statement as a "gaffe" and as "evidence" of Obama's "lack of experience."

Today, as Oliver Willis points out, George Bush admitted to embracing that position:

President Bush secretly approved orders in July that for the first time allow American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.

The classified orders signal a watershed for the Bush administration after nearly seven years of trying to work with Pakistan to combat the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and after months of high-level stalemate about how to challenge the militants’ increasingly secure base in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

American officials say that they will notify Pakistan when they conduct limited ground attacks like the Special Operations raid last Wednesday in a Pakistani village near the Afghanistan border, but that they will not ask for its permission.

Will the same people on the right criticize Bush for this as they did Obama? Or will they admit Obama was right? Most likely, they'll try to ignore the whole thing, or else try to find a detail -- any detail -- that separates the two men's statements and seize on that to explain why they are completely different.

As it happens, I was able to track down specifically what my conservative blog-friend Ezzie wrote about Obama's statement:

Barack Obama suggested (from what I understand) nuking Pakistan [followed by suggesting nuking just terrorists in Pakistan, followed by suggesting contemplating attacking Pakistan on our own, all within a minute or so].

Obviously, Obama never said anything about nuking anybody, and I challenged Ezzie on this in a comment (I wrote, "Source?") Ezzie appeared to admit he didn't have a good one ("a friend on Shabbos said...") but then went on to say, "Regardless, even the last statement is completely idiotic."

So I'm calling you out, Ezzie. :-) Are Bush and Obama right or are they "idiotic?"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

OMG: A Democrat Fights Back

Man that is nice to see after Gore and Kerry let the opposition demolish their characters. The Republicans have no chance if Obama makes them stick to the issues.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Sam Harris on the Bible

Sam Harris answers the objection that atheists take the Bible too literally and then compares Biblical wisdom to secular wisdom.

President Bush Lied About the Surge

Shunted to the last few paragraphs of this article by Bob Woodward:
The president announced the surge decision Jan. 10, 2007. Five more brigades would go to Baghdad; 4,000 Marines would head to Anbar province.

The next morning, he went to Fort Benning, Ga., to address military personnel and their families. His decision had been opposed by Casey and Abizaid, his military commanders in Iraq. Pace and the Joint Chiefs, his top military advisers, had suggested a smaller increase, if any at all. Schoomaker, the Army chief, had made it clear that the five brigades didn't really exist under the Army's current policy of 12-month rotations. But on this morning, the president delivered his own version of history.

"The commanders on the ground in Iraq, people who I listen to -- by the way, that's what you want your commander-in-chief to do. You don't want decisions being made based upon politics or focus groups or political polls. You want your military decisions being made by military experts. They analyzed the plan, and they said to me and to the Iraqi government: 'This won't work unless we help them. There needs to be a bigger presence.' "

Bush went on, "And so our commanders looked at the plan and said, 'Mr. President, it's not going to work until -- unless we support -- provide more troops.' "

I wish the media were more straightforward. Why wasn't their headline the one I used? They called it "Outmaneuvered And Outranked, Military Chiefs Became Outsiders." Sure, that's a big story, but what about President Bush out-and-out LYING to get his surge? Let's bury that part at the end of the article.

Damn liberal media.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

For My Conservative Blog-Friends Still Defending Palin

Republican strategists Mike Murphy and Peggy Noonan, believing themselves off mic:

Mike Murphy: You know, because I come out of the blue swing state governor world: Engler, Whitman, Tommy Thompson, Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush. I mean, these guys -- this is how you win a Texas race, just run it up. And it's not gonna work. And --

PN: It's over.

MM: Still McCain can give a version of the Lieberman speech to do himself some good.

CT: I also think the Palin pick is insulting to Kay Bailey Hutchinson, too.

PN: Saw Kay this morning.

CT: Yeah, she's never looked comfortable about this --

MM: They're all bummed out.

CT: Yeah, I mean is she really the most qualified woman they could have turned to?

PN: The most qualified? No! I think they went for this -- excuse me-- political bullshit about narratives --

CT: Yeah they went to a narrative.

MM: I totally agree.

PN: Every time the Republicans do that, because that's not where they live and it's not what they're good at, they blow it.

MM: You know what's really the worst thing about it? The greatness of McCain is no cynicism, and this is cynical.

CT: This is cynical, and as you called it, gimmicky.

MM: Yeah.

In an alternate universe, television pundits would be smart people giving honest analysis even when they know the mics are on.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Palin Vetoed Funding for Homeless Teen Moms


ST. PAUL -- Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee who revealed Monday that her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, earlier this year used her line-item veto to slash funding for a state program benefiting teen mothers in need of a place to live.

After the legislature passed a spending bill in April, Palin went through the measure reducing and eliminating funds for programs she opposed. Inking her initials on the legislation -- "SP" -- Palin reduced funding for Covenant House Alaska by more than 20 percent, cutting funds from $5 million to $3.9 million. Covenant House is a mix of programs and shelters for troubled youths, including Passage House, which is a transitional home for teenage mothers.

According to Passage House's web site, its purpose is to provide "young mothers a place to live with their babies for up to eighteen months while they gain the necessary skills and resources to change their lives" and help teen moms "become productive, successful, independent adults who create and provide a stable environment for themselves and their families."

I've got nothing to add.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Palin's Daughter

Besides the cheap (but truthful) shots about abstinence-only education and the correlation between religious fundamentalism and unwed pregnancy, the latest revelation that Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant raises serious questions about Sarah Palin's "family values." She knew that accepting the VP nomination would thrust her daughter, already going through a trying time, into the national news and probably turn her into the butt of late-night television jokes. I have nothing but sympathy for the daughter, who is after all just a kid and not a national political figure, but I can't see how Sarah Palin is okay putting her through all of this.

I guess it does reinforce her anti-abortion cred. It also puts human faces on the abortion debate. Between Palin's new granddaugher and her own recent newborn with Down's, we'll see two adorable (aren't they all?) babies on that national stage that many people would have aborted as fetuses. I'm not sure who that helps, politically, but at least the Palins are wealthy and powerful enough that the children will have all the health care and other services they need. This isn't a 17-year-old who's going to be on her own raising her child, and this won't be a Down's Syndrome baby who wants for all of the various therapies he will need throughout his life.