John H. Richardson in Esquire:

As a man wise in the ways of human madness once told me, “You think it’s money with the Republicans and sex with the Democrats, but really it’s the other way around.” That’s why folks in the Bible Belt buy more porn than anybody else, and why their pregnancy and abortion rates are the highest in the nation. Because it is always the Other that we desire. Crazy two-legged beasts that we are, teetering in this awkward upright posture, we define our civilization by carving sins out of the category of acceptable human behavior — and then immediately begin committing them with the most feverish enthusiasm.

It’s no accident that much of this impulse comes from the southern states, which recent polls suggest are virtually united in their opposition to President Obama. After all, this is the region that fought government intrusion upon its freedoms by forming its own government to intrude upon its freedoms, that imposed the Fugitive Slave Law on other states in the name of states’ rights, that fought for slavery in the name of liberty. None of this was particularly logical, but then again, logic is just another iron law of compulsion.

Read on.

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Merciless

Posted by Shannon

Excerpts from an interesting blog post by science fiction writer Charlie Stross:

American attitudes to crime and punishment are unspeakable; disturbing, mediaeval, and barbaric are some of the adjectives that spring to mind. But above all, the word that most thoroughly applies is merciless. The commission of a crime is taken as an excuse to unleash the demons of the subconscious, however dark, however disproportionate, upon the perpetrator. Once labeled a criminal, an individual’s right to fair treatment is utterly expunged, and any violation or degradation, however grotesque, is seen as something that they brought on themselves.

[...]

The subjects vary — crime and penal policy, healthcare, don’t get me started on foreign policy — but there is an ideological approach in America that is distinguished by one common characteristic: words and deeds utterly lacking in the quality of mercy.

There is a cancer in the collective American soul — a mercy deficit that has in recent years grown as alarmingly as the budget deficit. Nor is it as simple as a left/right thing: no political party has a monopoly on merciless behaviour. Rather, a creeping draconian absolutism has cast its penumbra across the entire arena of public discourse, tainting every debate, poisoning and hardening attitudes across the board.

Read the whole thing. (via MetaFilter)

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McClatchy:

On Wednesday, Fagan’s 7-foot statue of the nation’s 40th president will be unveiled at the U.S. Capitol, replacing the likeness of a lesser-known California hero, Thomas Starr King. Nancy Reagan is expected to attend, along with Fagan.

It’s the end of an era for Starr King, a 19th-century San Francisco Unitarian Universalist preacher who’s received star billing at the Capitol for 78 years.

It also caps a five-year effort by California Republican Rep. Ken Calvert, who launched the campaign to remove Starr King shortly after Reagan’s death on June 5, 2004.

I thought, well, you know, he was a great person, but he’s been here for a while. Maybe we can replace him with Ronald Reagan,” Calvert said. “And one thing led to another. … We were able to get it done.”

Because Reagan is underrepresented in the public sphere? Also, nice logic. “Washington was a great guy, and all… but the city’s been named after him for a while. Why not change it to Mister T, DC?” Link

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Michael Bérubé:

[I]n 1974, I was a freshman at Regis High School in New York, where I heard one of my more conservative classmates say, in the course of a discussion about affirmative action, that he had been the victim of reverse discrimination for too long. Exasperated to the point of flummoxation, I noted in reply that (a) affirmative action showed up only yesterday, (b) you’re thirteen years old, d00d, and (c) you’re attending an elite, tuition-free Jesuit high school that does not admit women. And the reason I remember that moment 35 years later is that it has never gone away: guys like Stuart Taylor and Fred Barnes are still thirteen years old, still the victims of reverse discrimination, and still questioning the credentials of smart women while campaigning for the protection of conservative white men under the Endangered Species Act. Taylor graduated from Princeton in 1970; Barnes from the University of Virginia in 1965. Neither of them had to compete with women for admission; Princeton started opening its doors to that half of the population in 1969, Virginia a year later. That’s why guys like these worry so much about the decline of standards in college admissions since 1970, you understand. Because things were tougher and people were smarter when white guys only had to compete with 44 percent of the population for admission to elite colleges, positions of power and influence, and so forth.

Read on. Via Pharyngula

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BLDGBLOG:

In any case, the entire political premise of the last eight years seems to have been one of landscape: big city dwellers near the Great Lakes and the ocean coasts simply don’t understand small town communities, and they’re embarrassingly out of touch with the everyday big skies of lonely ranchers on the plains. But while this might be true – and I don’t think it is, frankly – reversing this belief is surely even more alarming: the idea that someone whose background includes ranches and small towns should go on to lead an urban nation in an urban world seems questionable at best – and potentially dangerous in actual practice.

Link!

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Monster Theory

Posted by Shannon

Explores concepts of monstrosity in Western civilization from Beowulf to Jurassic Park.

We live in a time of monsters. Monsters provide a key to understanding the culture that spawned them. So argue the essays in this wide-ranging and fascinating collection that asks the question, What happens when critical theorists take the study of monsters seriously as a means of examining our culture?

In viewing the monstrous body as a metaphor for the cultural body, the contributors to Monster Theory consider beasts, demons, freaks, and fiends as symbolic expressions of cultural unease that pervade a society and shape its collective behavior. Through a historical sampling of monsters, these essays argue that our fascination for the monstrous testifies to our continued desire to explore difference and prohibition.

This book sounds fascinating. An interview with the editor.

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“Break’s over.”

Posted by Shannon

I would enjoy Maureen Dowd’s columns a lot more if she got Aaron Sorkin to write all of them.

BARTLET I won’t lie to you, being fictional was a big advantage.

OBAMA What do you mean?

BARTLET I’m a fictional president. You’re dreaming right now, Senator.

OBAMA I’m asleep?

BARTLET Yes, and you’re losing a ton of white women.

OBAMA Yes, sir.

BARTLET I mean tons.

OBAMA I understand.

BARTLET I didn’t even think there were that many white women.

Link! Via MetaFilter

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Truthdig:

If I had to choose between George W. Bush, naked and neighing on all fours while being ridden around the Oval Office by a spurred cowgirl Condoleezza Rice, or enduring his shredding of domestic and international law to wage an illegal war and bilking of the country on behalf of his corporate backers, I could learn to stomach a wide array of sexual escapades.

Let our elected leaders and candidates have quick homosexual encounters in airport bathrooms, bring as many hookers as they want to their hotel rooms, and screw around with their campaign staff as long as they exhaust their libidos on lusts other than war, torture and economic mismanagement. Adolf Hitler, after all, was an abstemious and monogamous vegetarian who loved his German shepherd.

Read on.

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Thank God For Bill Maher

Posted by Shannon

It’s nice that there’s room these days for a public figure who’s overtly anti-religion. Here’s the trailer for Maher’s new movie, Religulous.

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Obama’s IT Strategy

Posted by Shannon

The campaign didn’t customize heavily and it didn’t look for bleeding edge technology. It used the same stuff the rest of the blogging world does–Movable Type, PHP, MySQL with a dose of community. The competitive advantage came from using social networking to “empower a highly decentralized, largely self-organizing, network of volunteers,” reports Carr.

[...]

Can these systems hold up in a general election? Carr noted that data management will become a problem for Obama now that his campaign will have to hook up with the Democratic national campaign. One software and quality assurance pro said that she sees flaws in the Obama systems that could become a problem in the general election. The biggest issue: The campaign switches between two or three different systems to track voter contact. Bottom line: Data integrity will be an issue.

But like any other startup, Obama’s campaign will have to figure out how to scale quickly and handle peak loads.

Obama: the Twitter of candidates? Read on. [via YatPundit]

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