Republican Jesus Invites You to Read the Constitution

Speaking of great art (and blasphemy), you simply cannot top this:

This is One Nation Under God by Jon McNaughton, who is the Luke Skywalker to Thomas Kinkade’s Darth Vader. Most of what you need to know about this masterpiece is made plain when you see that one of the “positive” characters is holding Cleon Skousen’s The Five Thousand Year Leap. On McNaugton’s website you can read his detailed explanation of all the other “symbolism.” More entertainingly, make sure you check out this parody which retains the look of McNaughton’s site while replacing all the zoom-in captions for each character.

Hat-tip to Mike Morrell for making me aware of this

What Life Was Like

Maudlin showman Glenn Beck has the blogosphere yapping over a new schlocky spiel that features saccharine eulogizing for a mythical lost era of innocence and sweetness. In a popular YouTube clip from last Thursday’s show, Beck is seen tearing up repeatedly while fondly remembering “what life was like” during “simpler times.”

The insidious nature of nostalgia is on full display here, since Beck’s rose-colored glasses help him forget what life was really like back then. Like most sappy trips down memory lane, Beck’s “life back then” is an ache for his childhood days — ie, late ’60s and through the 70s. Which is what makes his sentimental jibberish confusing, amusing, and sad. When we hear Baby Boomers pine for “the good ol’ days,” they usually have the supposedly-desirable days of the ’50s in mind. I think the clip has gained notoriety for portraying as idyllic two of the most controversial decades in US history. This is the era of Vietnam and the My Lai massacre; of the Cold War and nuclear proliferation; CIA-backed dictatorships and assassinations; peak oil in the US and massive inflation; race riots and the slayings of R.F.K. & M.L.K. Jr. We had Watergate, the introduction of AIDS, passage of Roe v. Wade, and the start of the culture wars, etc ad nauseam… For anyone, especially a Republican, to claim (albeit with a hollow recognition that everything “wasn’t perfect’) that this was a “simpler time” is just laughably ignorant.

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It Felt Like a Trap

I’ve spent the last couple of days of soaking up more films by Adam Curtis, one of the best living documentary filmmakers. Last year I watched The Power of Nightmares; earlier this year I saw The Century of the Self; lately I’ve been working through his two most recent: The Trap (2007) and It Felt Like a Kiss (2009).

It Felt Like a Kiss is an experimental film that is a haunting evocation of the essence of life during the Cold War. Its cast features “Rock Hudson, Saddam Hussein, Lee Harvey Oswald, Doris Day, Enos the chimp, and everyone above Level 7 in the CIA.” The excellent soundtrack was composed by Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz, etc) and performed by the Kronos Quartet, with loads of additional pop tracks from the period. There’s no real semblance of a plot or, unlike Curtis’ other films, any sort of thesis. It Felt Like a Kiss is quintessential Curtis in terms of look: heavy use of montages (including some dizzying works of editing genius) and heavy use of archival footage, proving that Curtis probably spends 8 hours a day poring through old film reels. Yet this is also a new Curtis — less documentarian, more artist. The result is a trippy hour-long exploration of the ironies, oddities, and ambiguities of 3 or 4 of the most pivotal decades in American history. Were the U.S. a psychotic individual, this film would be its deranged subconscious bubbling up, exposing some of the roots of our modern American madness.

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God’s Word Has a Liberal Bias

The Conservative Bible Project is a tragi-comic effort by some politically conservative Christians to produce a translation paraphrase of the Bible that removes/edits anything that can even remotely be considered “liberal.” It’s not worth writing much about this because the problems with this approach should be so LOLobvious that I won’t waste my time. I will say, however, that I continue to wonder if my alma mater is ever going to repudiate this type of stupidity and permanently sever ties with the batshit-crazy wing — ie WorldNetDaily, Worldview Weekend, et al — of conservative Christianity.

I’m also amused because I, too, started a conservative paraphrase of the Bible. A little over 12 months ago I wrote a draft entitled “A Practical Guide to Waging a Just War: by Jesus of Nazareth” but never put it online until now. Inspired by the CBP, here’s my conservative rendering of Matthew 5:1-13:

Now when I saw your military bases, I immediately went to the mess tent and sat down. Many of your troops came to me, and I began to teach, saying:

Blessed are the poor, for they are easily persuaded to join the armed forces.

Blessed are they that mourn when a buddy is killed, for they shall then have the motivation to kick more ass.

Blessed are the badasses, for they shall conquer the earth.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteous wars, for they will certainly invent them.

Blessed are the merciful, for they lull the enemy into complacency while we find more grenades.

Blessed are the pure in eyesight, for they shall see their enemy clearly and snipe him unscoped.

Blessed are the warmakers, for they are peacemakers in disguise.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for freedom, because our enemies hate our freedom.

Blessed are you when pacifists confront you, and march in your streets, and say all manner of untruth about you. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad: for great is your reward in Washington.

You are the asskickers of the earth. But if the asskickers stop kicking ass, how will the world get democracy? Former asskickers who conscientiously object are no longer good for anything, excepted to be relentlessly hazed and dishonorably discharged.

The Least of These: Buenos Aires (Pt. 1)

It won’t take long visiting Buenos Aires to discover that not everyone’s living large in this “Paris of the South,” even if you’re comfortably sequestered in a posh condo in Palermo or a swanky hotel in Puerto Madero. Argentina’s unemployment rate is currently lower than that of the United States, but this country’s own painful Great Depression still haunts a place that is now mercifully on the rebound. Less than eight years ago the employment rate was up to 25%, with nearly 2/3rds of the population living below the poverty line. Like too many other developing countries, their economic bust was the result of free-market reforms perpetrated, in part, by the monetary gangsters at the IMF.

As we close out this decade, the reminders of those horrid depression years are still everywhere, but never more obviously than at 8 or 9pm every night, on every street, all across Buenos Aires. This is when the cartoneros come out: they’re recyclers, using Argentine ingenuity to manage the budget crunch by sorting the day’s trash and selling it to factories on the outskirts of the capital. Most of them travel to the city centers via El Cartonero, a special train that transports the cartoneros, their carts, and that night’s haul. The train is one of many rights the increasingly-organized group have won for themselves, but it’s still not a luxury. The trip is obviously crowded, dirty, and smelly, with no lights and no seats. It leaves early evening and returns to the city edges in the early morning, when the cartoneros unload and sell off their collection of bottles and cardboard. A good night’s work can bring in AR$15, or about US$4, a day. This is roughly equivalent to the salary of a public elementary school teacher, but is barely enough for a meal of empanadas from a downtown confiteria.
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Unconscionable Math

Post-of-the-week is an entry by “Taunter” that’s blowing up the internets. His must-read essay entitled “Unconscionable Math” explains the healthcare industry’s practice of canceling your policy — known as “rescission” — right when you need it most. The money quote:

If, as I suspect, rescission is targeted toward the truly bankrupting cases – the top 1%, the folks with over $35,000 of annual claims who could never be profitable for the carrier – then the probability of having your policy torn up given a massively expensive condition is pushing 50%. One in two.  You have three times better odds playing Russian Roulette.

I don’t have much to add to Taunter’s post, it’s really worth reading all the way through. But it’s scary to think that we’re not even talking about the millions of people who can’t get insurance — these are people who’ve done everything right. So even if you have a great plan, the profit motive requires these corporations to maximize earnings by denying care to people — like Shelly Andrews-Buta or Nataline Sarkisyan — who desperately need life-saving help.

The Perils of Sloganeering (healthcare edition)

There’s so much political stupidity on Facebook that I have to just ignore 99% of it. But yesterday I noticed a very conservative friend — known for his opposition to universal healthcare in any form — quip that “the city of Pittsburgh has more MRI machines then [sic] all of Canada…”

I took a particular interest in this bumper-sticker fact not just because I’ve previously spent a lot of time researching universal healthcare, but also because the claim seemed to be doing more intellectual work for these conservatives than it was doing for me. That is, I didn’t think such an isolated statistic was so thoroughly devastating to the case for universal healthcare… there had to be more to the story, right?

In looking into it I discovered that this quip — “Pittsburgh has more MRI machines than Canada” — has been turned into an endlessly quoted slogan that is rarely cited or examined. But here’s where things get funny: the origin of this phrase lies in a 2008 Forbes article by David Whelan in which this statistic is mentioned to show precisely what’s wrong with the U.S. healthcare system (oh, the irony!). Whelan’s point was that spending was out of control, and that advanced imaging machines (both MRI & CT) purchases were above and beyond what was necessary. What was a throwaway line by one journalist to point out the weaknesses of the U.S. system is now being brandished by right-wingers to point out the supposed superiority of the U.S. system.

Note, however, that Whelan doesn’t actually cite where he got this statistic. My best guess is that he was relying on a 2005 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article. The piece paraphrases Vic Panza — V.P. of National Imaging Associates and a man with a vested interest in high sales of MRI machines — as saying that Western Pennsylvania (not just Pittsburgh) has 160 total machines. However, according to the O.E.C.D., in 2005 Canada had some 183 MRI machines (and some 250+ by this year). So even if you trust Panza’s estimate, the whole statistic seems fairly suspect to me. (more…)

Dangerous Knowledge

I guess I’m on a philosophy film kick. The latest was the BBC’s Dangerous Knowledge, a documentary on mathematicians Georg Cantor, Ludwig Boltzmann, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing — four geniuses whose neuroses drove them fatally mad. It’s debatable the extent to which their respective theories made them insane — the film obviously plays this up for dramatic purposes — but it’s an intriguing film and not overly technical.

One of the ironies here is that I learned of this film via some people with deep antipathy towards postmodernism, despite the fact that these four helped unravel the modern project and clear the conceptual space for postmodernism. For me, it’s impossible to ignore the links between these mathematicians at the turn of the century and the postmodern philosophers at the close of the century. The key is recognizing that the quests for certainty, universality, and totality that were under assault in science & politics — climaxing in the existential refutations that were World Wars I & II — were being assaulted in logic & mathematics via Cantor & Co.
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Examined Life

I finally got to see Examined Life, a pseudo-intellectual documentary that aims to make philosophy a tad more accessible. The film uses some of academia’s rock stars to talk shop outside of normal confines, which is interesting, but probably still of limited appeal.


We get, in order:

Cornel West on philosophy
Avital Ronell on alterity
Peter Singer on applied ethics
Kwame Anthony Appiah on cosmopolitanism
Martha Nussbaum on justice
Michael Hardt on revolution
Slavoj Žižek on ecology
Judith Butler on disability

No truly weak spots among the line-up, and all have at least a few stimulating nuggets. See it if you get a chance.

Anarcho-Bokononism

Ok, there’s no such thing as anarcho-Bokononism. But Bokononism, the fictional true religion created by Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle, does have some interesting similarities with Christian anarchism. Perhaps the most obvious is the Bokononist repudiation of granfalloons, or false communities. A “textbook example” of a granfalloon (or false karass) is the association of Hoosiers, or people who feel that hailing from Indiana somehow bonds them in some meaningful way. Writ larger, there’s strong anti-nationalism here for “any nation, anytime, anywhere” is also a granfalloon. I think Christianity at its best can work as a true karass, but we ignore this when, say, we bomb fellow Iraqi Christians because of our misplaced trust in the granfalloon known as America.

There’s also some explicit Bokononist verses that I find very interesting. The first is from an unspecified chapter of The Books of Bokonon: “The words were a paraphrase of the suggestion by Jesus: ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.”

Bokonon’s paraphrase was this:
“Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn’t have the slightest idea of what’s really going on.”

Which seems to me a great anarchist rendering of Matthew 22:21. I’m also pretty partial to this “calypso” which is apocryphally attributed to Bokonon but doesn’t appear in The Books of Bokonon:

So I said good-bye to government,
And I have my reason:
That a really good religion
Is a form of treason.

Today’s Kierkegaardian either/or for you: Legitimize the state, dilute our religion, and taste power… or oppose the state, keep our religion, and become marginalized.

The Great American Bubble Machine

Matt Taibbi has a really excellent article in Rolling Stone about Goldman Sachs and their financial tomfoolery: “The Great American Bubble Machine.” As usual, Taibbi has good research and good wit: “[Goldman Sachs] is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

However, I wish Taibbi had included two other stories:

1. The political assassination of Eliot Spitzer

2. The 1980s junk bond bubble

Still, it’s a must-read piece; if the above Scribd link is dead (R.S. already forced one version offline) just Google it.