Monday, March 26, 2012

Transcending Ideology

By protecting the lawbreaking license for other powerful individuals, [the political and media classes] strengthen a custom of which they might avail themselves if they too break the law and get caught. It is a class-based, self-interested advocacy. That is why belief in this prerogative and the devotion to protecting it transcend political ideology, partisan affiliation, the supposed wall between political and media figures, and every other pretense of division within elite classes. -- Glenn Greenwald, With Liberty and Justice For Some

In this week's sift:

Monday, March 19, 2012

Perfectly Tragic

A perfect tragedy should ... not be the spectacle of a virtuous man brought from prosperity to adversity: for this moves neither pity nor fear; it merely shocks us. ... Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited. A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves. Such an event, therefore, will be neither pitiful nor terrible. There remains, then, the character between these two extremes — that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.

-- Aristotle, Poetics

In this week's sift:

  • The Tragedy of Mitt Romney. There was a good case to be made for electing Mitt Romney president, until he started running. Now he wants to be president so badly that he'll say anything, even it means turning his back on his own greatest accomplishments. That's a tragic flaw of Shakespearian proportions.
  • Jim Crow Returns. When did use of the term voter fraud start to ramp up? In 1965, precisely when the Voting Rights Act banned the previous ways of disenfranchising minorities. Now Texas is trying to get the VRA declared unconstitutional.
  • Walking Back Mr. Daisey and other short notes. This American Life did a whole episode on how it was conned by Mike Daisey. (I linked the original episode, so I'd better tell you about this one too.) It's an interesting lesson in truth and journalism. Oklahoma doctors can lie to prevent an abortion. Pat Robertson is anti-family. Baseless rumors about ObamaCare. Did Goldman Sachs have a moral compass to lose? Public vs. private morality. A skypunch. And more.
  • Book recommendation of the week: Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Humanby Richard Wrangham. Not the similarly-named book from the Hunger Games series, but a fascinating work of speculative anthropology. It turns out that with our current biology, humans can't survive in the wild without cooking. So humans could not have discovered cooking. Some apes must have discovered it, and then evolved into humans.
  • Last weeks' most popular post. Where Are We on Citizens United? got 135 views. The most-clicked link was 6 Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying.
  • This week's challenge. Good challenges are hard to come up with. Help me out. Suggest some in the comments.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Creatures of Society

[T]he accumulation therefore of Property ... and its Security to Individuals in every Society, must be an Effect of the Protection afforded to it by the joint Strength of the Society, in the Execution of its Laws. Private Property therefore is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing; its Contributions therefore to the public Exigencies are not to be considered as conferring a Benefit on the Publick, entitling the Contributors to the Distinctions of Honour and Power, but as the Return of an Obligation previously received, or the Payment of a just Debt.

-- Benjamin Franklin,
"Queries and Remarks respecting Alterations in the Constitution of Pennsylvania" (1789)

In this week's sift:

  • Where are we on Citizens United?Financing campaigns with unlimited corporate money has never been popular, and the battle for the Republican nomination shows why. Legislation, constitutional amendments, new court cases -- is anything going to fix this?
  • Answering the rhetoric of the rich and other short notes. Cracked magazine is a surprising source of common sense. Limbaugh follow-up. Abused workers pack the products you order online. Are women really people? A judge blocks Wisconsin's voter-ID law. An orbital view of the Nile at night. Turning greenhouse gases to stone. Why I like Cenk Uygur. And lots, lots more.
  • Book recommendation of the week. I got the Ben Franklin quote above from Common as Air by Lewis Hyde. The history and philosophy of intellectual property in America is more complicated than the entertainment industry would have you believe. The subject launches Hyde into a re-examination of property in general, an issue that's been on my mind for a while.
  • Last week's most popular post. The Sift had a slow week. Rush's Apology and other short notes got 167 views, the first time a short notes post has been the most popular. (Something like 200-300 people get the Sift in ways that don't show up in those stats.) I know I'm prejudiced, but I think The Republic of Babel deserved more attention than it got.
  • This week's challenge. I've been trying to think of a way for feminism to go on offense, rather than just try to mitigate all the horrible proposals that are out there and respond to clowns like Rush Limbaugh. If women's-rights issues that seemed settled are debatable again, doesn't that demonstrate the need to have an Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution? The 27th Amendment got ratified 203 years after it passed Congress. So why not try to get those last three states the ERA needs? Check out what the National Organization for Women is trying to do.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Reason's Tribunal

Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.

-- Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Peter Carr (1787)

In this week's sift:

  • The Republic of Babel. Tyranny can manage with a simple vocabulary of commands, but democracy can't do its business without a rich discussion-language of shared concepts and frames and taken-for-granted assumptions. That's what the culture wars are really about: Will American democracy conduct its business in a secular language or in terms defined by Evangelical Christianity?
  • Rush's Apology and other short notes. Conservatives admit that "slut" is unacceptable language, but they ignore the underlying content, which consists of vicious lies. If JFK nauseates Rick Santorum, it's because Rick can't tell the difference between institutions and people. Parents homeschool for a lot of reasons. What everybody should know about the price of gas. An economist denounces the global-warming deniers who quoted him. Young people aren't buying houses. Where the deficit doesn't come from. And Eliza Doolittle's Dad was wrong about morals.
  • Book recommendation of the week: Speaking of JFK, Stephen King's new 11/22/63 is a great read. It doesn't fit into any standard category. It's sort of SciFi, sort of romantic, sort of historical, not at all creepy, and very character-driven. The past really is a foreign country, especially Dallas.
  • Last [two] weeks' most popular post. Republicans Have Gone Crazy Before got 372 views. The most-clicked link was the Wallace Shawn interview on Chris Hayes' Up. It seemed strangely meaningful to me that Shawn (who played the hyper-capitalist Ferengi Grand Nagus on Deep Space Nine) calls himself a socialist.
  • This week's challenge. Usually, I think the best way to deal with Rush Limbaugh is to ignore him, because he feeds off outrage. But I'm thinking this might be his Don Imus moment. (Check this out.) Sign the petition urging his advertisers to drop him.