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76 posts from December 2004

December 31, 2004

Blackwell: "Gag me!"

Nice catch from Michael Froomkin. Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell is lobbying for a self-imposed gag order.

Ohio Official Refuses Interview Over Vote:

Monday December 27, 2004 11:46 PM

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS

AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has requested a protective order to prevent him from being interviewed as part of an unusual court challenge of the presidential vote.

Blackwell, in a court filing, says he's not required to be interviewed by lawyers as a high-ranking public official, and accused the voters challenging the results of ``frivolous conduct'' and abusive and unnecessary requests of elections officials around the state.

Luckily, while we were sleeping off the tryptophan, the Kerry-Edwards team intervened to preserve the evidence.

New academic blogger

Many of you already know David from his thoughtful comments at Majikthise.

I'm pleased to announce that David has launched his own academically-oriented blog, E.G..

December 28, 2004

Susan Sontag (1933-2004)

Author and critic Susan Sontag has died at the age of 71. Sally Greene discusses Sontag's life and legacy at Greenespace. Greene wrote about Sontag for The Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States (1995).

Sontag became notorious for her reaction to the 9/11 attacks. She argued that hijackers had political and military objectives and that the attacks were not simply irrational acts of inscrutable malice. Predictably, her critics misconstrued her remarks as a defense of the hijackers.

Sontag wasn't apologizing for the hijackers, of course. She was arguing that evil is an ineffective explanatory device. If you caricature your enemy as crazy or evil, you do yourself a disservice. If you know your enemy's beliefs and desires, you can predict his behavior. Sontag's remarks enraged the right who assailed her as a treacherous radical.

(It is ironic that the FBI profiler is a latter day folk hero. Americans love fiction and non-fiction about brilliant forensic psychologists who crack a baffling crime by "getting into the head" of a serial killer. I have never heard anyone argue that profiler shows generate sympathy for serial killers by acknowledging that they act for reasons.)

I hope Sontag's later years weren't blighted by knee-jerk jingoists.

December 27, 2004

James Dobson beats his wiener dog, Sigmund Freud

Digby cites a very disturbing passage from Dobson's book, The Strong Willed Child in which Dobson brags about beating a 12-pound weiner dog named "Sigmund Freud."

The Reverend's approach is unorthodox, to say the least.

Ecclesiasties 3:17-21

I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.

I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.

All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.

Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?

Docs adopt union tactics

Offline, Nurse Lebo and I were talking about unionization and nursing. NL says that nurses are hesitant to unionize because they fear that organizing will undercut their professional status. The worry is that unionization will perpetuate the myth that nursing is just a job or a trade, as opposed to a profession like medicine.

Interestingly, some doctors are adopting union tactics to advance their professional interests. [NYT]

December 23, 2004

America is not a Christian nation

America is not a Christian nation. The claim is either trivial, unintelligible, or false.

One might argue that America is a Christian country simply because a plurality of its citizens self-identify as Christians. The religious right is either making a much more substantial claim or committing a logical fallacy.

Theocrats often use the "Christian country" claim as a key premise in arguments of the following form:

(p1) The United States of America is a Christian country.

(p2) Christianity abhors usury.

(p3) Christian countries must not permit anything abhorrent to Christianity.

(C ) Therefore, the USA must not permit usury.

Suppose (p1) means “Christians comprise at least a plurality of American citizens.” On this weak reading, the argument derails, even if we grant (p2) and (p3). So what if a majority of Americans are Christians? What matters is whether a majority of Americans vote to ban usury and whether the proposed anti-usury legislation is constitutional. The weak version of (p1) doesn’t do any work. If that’s all the “Christian nation” claim amounts to, the argument reduces to a civics lesson.

Consider a stronger reading of (p1): “The constitution of the United States of America requires that laws conform to Christian doctrine.” Alternatively, “The constitution forbids any laws that violate Christian doctrine”; or “The constitution requires that we pass all and only those required by Christian doctrine.”

The sample argument makes a certain amount of sense on the strong reading of (p1). The strong reading has a significant drawback, however—namely, that (p1) comes out false. The constitution just doesn’t say anything like that.

Some Christians point to the influence of Christianity on laws, traditions, and secular institutions. These arguments don't have the same force as appeals to constitutional law. We can always ask why we should continue to abide by Christian tradition if the majority now wills otherwise, or if Christian tradition turns out to violate the constitution.

Here’s a medium strength (p1) that Christians often deploy when pressed: “The constitution is based on Christian values.” This claim is too vague to sustain our sample argument.

The values of the constitution are consistent with many of the values of Christianity, but also with the values of many other religions and many secular ethics. The critical point is that the constitution does not appeal to Christian doctrine to justify authority. I.e., the authority of the constitution does not rest upon tenets of faith, revealed truth, or the dogma of any particular religion.

Medium strength (p1) is at best incomplete as it stands. The fact that the Framers were influenced by Christian ideas doesn't imply that they intended to create a Christian nation. If we want to talk about the intellectual heritage of the Framers, we also have to acknowledge their debt to the secularism of the Enlightenment, to deism, to the anti-clericalism of the French Revolution, and so on.

"America is a Christian nation" is an empty slogan. It doesn't mean much and nothing follows from it. It reinforces tribal solidarity among believers and marginalizes non-believers. If you take the claim in the spirit in which it is offered, the clear implication is that non-Christians are bad Americans.

Don Herzog is grappling with similar issues at Left2Right.

December 22, 2004

US body count

Iraq_deaths

Number of American military personnel killed in Iraq per day (March '03-December '04). Chart does not include American contractors, non-US coalition troops, journalists, or Iraqi National Guardsmen. [NYT]

Nor, for that matter, Iraqi military or civilian casualties.

Majikthise blogrolled by Fafblog

I have been added to the Fafblog blogroll! I'm indexed under "More Rum than Coke." Fafnir, Giblets, Medium Lobster, I solemnly pledge to fulfill this exacting standard.

Mojitos, anyone?

December 20, 2004

Light blogging this week

I'm on vacation in Vancouver, so posting will be light this week.

Christmas in the blue states

Nysantas
Golum

Lou Dobbs then questioned the merit of using "Happy Holidays," asking CNN business correspondent Christine Romans: "[W]hat other holidays are we celebrating right now?" Finally, Dobbs concluded that Macy's is "wrong" in assuming "Happy Holidays" encompasses Christmas.
[Full-text at Media Matters]

Nyone_way

"Merry Christmas" doesn't encompass Christmas in New York City. [Click to view full-sized images.]