Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Out on a Limb

One of the most destructive aspects of our public discourse is the supremacy of an accountability free pundit class. The op-ed pages were littered with war-mongering screeds dressed up as noble wisdom for the better part of the last decade. Even though their cheerleading led to thousands upon thousands of deaths, these Very Serious opinion makers suffered no loss of credibility. They are still held up as paragons of wisdom while the vindicated anti-war voices are still treated with contempt and derision.

Now, the pattern is repeating itself:

It isn't quite as extreme, but there are a lot of similarities between now and the Iraq debate. All of the Cool Kids know how fucking right austerity is, and are condescending to all of the silly children who think they're wrong. Team Austerity is where the cool kids are, at the parties with the fancy drinks, and all the losers hang out at that dorky Paul Krugman's house, playing dungeons and dragons.

Election season heightens accountability free prognostication. Horse-race style coverage turns election season into a sporting event where you root for your team instead of an informed democratic (small "d") endeavor. Information doesn't matter, so getting something wrong doesn't matter either.

All of this is prologue for saying that I got something wrong a few months ago when I complained the Democrats were far too passive in their politics and that they would remain meek while their electoral chances plummeted. Obama has stepped up his aggressiveness in a way that has been unseen in the last 15 years.

But I still think the President is more likely to lose re-election than win it. The reasons are largely structural and have nothing to do with the individual actions of either candidate.

Krugman recently explained why he has largely been correct while his detractors have repeatedly come up short. His economic predictions are built around a mathematical model that accurately describes the crisis. It's not that he's diving wisdom out of the ether. He's following a model.

I don't have the technical background of Krugman (or say Nate Silver). But there are several structural factors that seem to be determining the dynamics of this race:
  1. The economy remains incredibly weak
  2. Citizens United has allowed the GOP to out-raise the Democrats 4-1
  3.  Voter ID laws are systematically disenfranchising minority and student voters.
The economy can change, but the last two points are here to stay. If Obama cannot overcome Citizens United and voter ID laws, we might look back on this election as a watershed moment. I firmly believe these outside forces are going to do far more to determine the outcome of the election than anything either candidate can do.

If I'm wrong about this prediction, I want to seriously look back at this model and analyze what I got wrong and what that means for understanding the world going forward.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What's in a name?

I'm generally opposed to privatizing government services because companies looking out for their bottom line have less incentive to protect the public's interest and welfare.

Nevertheless, this does not bother me:

The possibilities abound, Cook County officials say, as they look to sell everything from naming rights to advertising at most of its real estate holdings — from the hospitals to forest preserve paths and nature centers to even public areas of the city and suburban courthouses as a means of generating new revenue streams.
This is the privatization of bullshit, not essential services. If Portillos wants to throw a few coins in Toni Preckwinkle's direction to name a dirt path the "Italian Beef walkway," who cares?

Privatization is troublesome because it often entails corporations getting the upper hand on government (and the citizenry by extension). The reverse seems to be happening here. The County is offering up something inconsequential and pocketing the cash. This is privatization I can live with.

Hey Mancari family, I have some space on my refrigerator, would you like to buy an ad?

Monday, May 14, 2012

He Went Galt!

Renouncing your American citizenship is apparently the most patriotic thing you can ever do. As long as you're protesting taxes.

Saturday, May 5, 2012


Long time Virginia resident Richard Lugar is about to lose his GOP primary race for an unimaginable 7th term as Indiana's U.S. Senator.

Certainly, the usual suspects will howl and wail about the unwashed rabble chasing Very Serious People out of government. If the Lieberman, Bennet, Specter, and Murkowski overthrows are any indication, these "centrist" pundits will probably say something along the lines of  "the voters were mean to Dick Lugar by voting him out of office."

While I'm no teabagging Mourdock supporter, I find a sense of electoral entitlement to be one of the most detestable traits a public figure can exhibit. Senate seats are not life peerages in the House of Lords. Senators are democratically accountable, much as "centrists" might hate that. Lugar is not entitled to the seat just because he's kept it warm since 1977. And he's certainly not entitled to it just because elite newspaper columnists fawn over him.

Political parties are collective organizations of people who share common values and want to see specific policies enacted that advance those values. It's entirely reasonable for Indiana's Republicans to not want as their standard bearer a Virginia resident who occasionally sides with the president. I disagree with their underlying values and policy objectives, but I think it's entirely appropriate for them to nominate someone who more closely shares their beliefs.

Lugar is essentially complaining that his party does not want him anymore. Unfortunately for Lugar, voters get to decide who represents them.

I don't like the prospect of another teabagger in the Senate. I like even less having to listen to pundits cry about mean voters robbing Dick Lugar of a Senate Seat as if it was Lugar's personal property.  To make such an assertion is to basically admit one hates democracy and prefers aristocracy. Though, considering the crowd I'm talking about, this is entirely possible.

Thursday, May 3, 2012


I'll make a prediction right now that absent significant economic improvement, Barack Obama will not win reelection.

Four years ago during the primaries I had this to say while discussing the Democratic Party's general spinelessness:
In this context, I find it difficult to get excited about Barack Obama’s campaign to end division and partisanship in Washington. At best, I see him trying to bring Republicans around to Democratic ideas, but failing miserably in the face of GOP opposition because he fundamentally misunderstands the political environment we live in. At worst, I see him adopting Republican proposals and talking points, and brow beating Democrats into compromise yet again
This is basically what happened. Obama's bragging that he passed the healthcare plan of his presumptive opponent, and he's still hated by the intransigent opposition. They are out to burn the house down while he keeps trying to reason with them.

The dynamic is set in stone and there's no changing now even if they want to. When you boil it down, Obama has made himself weak, and he will pay for it. A rising economy would likely lift all boats, but absent that, Democrats need to realize what they're in for. They need to realize they've been far too passive over the last 12 years. When will they finally fight back?

Limited Options

With Britain dipping back into recession, the two main options for president seem wholly inadequate. Romney will enact brutal austerity, and Obama will enact slightly less brutal austerity. The choice isn't between drinking medicine or poison, the choice is between what dosage of poison to take.

The dynamics of the economic mess are frighteningly similar to what existed during the run up to the Iraq war. Evidence flies out the window, and the Very Serious People who were wrong about everything continue to guide discourse and kick the hippies. Time for grandma to eat cat food. Suck on that.

Friday, April 27, 2012

I Tried to Figure Out Who Sisterofblackvision Was

A while back someone trivialized a suicide on reddit. I thought that was a terrible thing to do. The troll specifically mentioned me in his post, which made me think he might be willing to talk. I made a second blog to track my actions.

I am left with more questions than answers at this point. I honestly can't keep track of the players, factions, and trolls. I was appointed a moderator on a satire subbreddit by the suicide hoaxster, which I used as an opportunity to gather information. I found out today I was removed. There are a few more messages I have, but I'm pressed for time and honestly just don't care anymore.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Little Tommy Friedman Embarrasses Himself Again

Take downs sprouted up across the great wide interwebs, but as usual, Pareene had the best one:
Because he is a sophist and a fool, Friedman takes mild inconveniences suffered on a trip from one enclave of wealth and power to another to be proof of national decline and his prescription is based primarily on clapping really hard for Tinkerbell.

Get the Popcorn Ready

I've got another one cooking. Let's hope I get some ridiculous libertarian comments as well. Two birds with one stone and all that.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tom Friedman- Wanker of the Decade

Atrios took the opportunity of his 10th blogaverary to name Tom Friedman Wanker of the Decade:

The state of the world is what it is in large part because people in positions of great power think this absurd buffoon of man is a Very Serious Person. This hasn't actually been the Eschaton Decade, it's been the Tom Friedman Decade. And the next one probably will be too.

We're fucked.
His list of this decade's other great wankers highlights the single most defining feature of the last ten years of political discourse. Everyone who was catastrophically wrong never lost any credibility, while the people who were consistently right are still dirty hippies outside the realm of acceptable opinion.

No one paid a price for the last ten years except the innocent.

We're fucked.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Time Will Tell

How long before Republicans blame the Secret Service prostitution scandal on Obama? More interestingly, how will they do it? I imagine it will involve something about Obama's "disrespect" for the military.

Update: Darrell Issa says there will be hearings and that "things like this don’t happen once if they haven’t happened before."

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Another Hate Group Takes Notice

A white supremacist group found my blog. They greeted my comments with predictable hostility. I welcome their hate. Do your worst.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Latest MRA Troll

I'm on a hot streak. Here is my latest masterpiece.

I decided to approach the MRAs as a sympathetic woman. Surely they wouldn't turn against a potential ally just because she's a woman...right?


I cooked up a crazy story about "reclaiming feminism" and even....said I was going to attend graduate school for sociology. You would think that would tip them off, right?


Enjoy the highlights:

Hilarious. I guess women, who make up half of the world's population don't constitute "much" of the world's population. The MRA's must count women on some 3/5ths formula to make those numbers work out. This is why you should laugh when they claim they are masters of logic and statistics.

The guy above actually has some brains, though these comments below are more representative:

And there you have it. Proof of the hatred that motivates the "men's rights" movement. What must the women in these people's lives feel like? Take a moment and seriously think about that question. If you were a woman and you had to interact with one of these men, what would that be like? Would they show you ANY empathy at all?

My previous post presented a situation that was so far-fetched that only a raging neckbeard could fall for it. This recent post tried to engage the MRAs as an ally. The result was the same. Anger at women.

Their entire worldview is based on completely delusional thinking. The "men's rights" movement is NOT about advancing anything remotely helpful for men. It is about letting prejudice and delusional beliefs create an agenda designed to punish and hurt women.

I will keep going for as long as it takes. I already have accounts that are burrowing into Reddit. They will pop up here from time to time. I will engage in long trolls like this recent one. Once you can trick them to open up and say what's really on their minds, you see why the SPLC designated them a hate site.

Feel the rage neckbeards.

Update: Lets see how much longer I can keep the thread going before I'm banned.

Update: They unbanned me! Also, they compared my trolling to 9/11. Seriously.

 This is offensive. 3000+ people died on 9/11 and hundreds of thousands died in the subsequent wars. It's wrong to use death to make a political point.

Update: I am letting a lot of the vile comments through just so people can see the "men's rights" movement exposed. My muckette account is still active. I'll decide how best to use it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

MRA's Embarrass Themselves Again...And They Need to Stop

I didn't expect to write about the "men's rights" movement again so quickly after last week's post. But they're living up to their "hate site" designation and I have to step in to stop them.

I mentioned in a thread that I am working on my PhD in sociology (which is true). I wanted to make sure the MRAs could not identify me given the amount of vitriol that showed up in the comments. I said that I attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison (which is not true) to throw them off the trail.

Reddit's rules prohibit members from launching a campaign of harassment against the employers or educational institutions of other members. I assumed the "men's rights" activists would follow these rules,.

I was wrong.

A user posted contact information to the University's sociology department and urged other MRAs to complain about my actions. He said, "I just want vengeance."

The mods deleted some of his comments, and a few MRAs even called out the poster for his behavior.

Many others defended this harassment.

By the time I saw this, it had gone too far. A poster claiming to know someone high up in the University of Wisconsin-Madison's sociology department posted this email from his friend.

Let's be clear about what's happening. The MRAs are harassing the University of Wisconsin (which I do not attend) and in their blind rage, they have targeted someone who is not connected to this incident at all.

Their harassment and rage know no bounds. They advocate hitting women, they harass educational institutions, they try to get people thrown out of school. This is a movement unhinged.

I made the mistake of underestimating the MRAs before. That will not happen again.

Do your worst MRAs. Angry comments, lies, death threats. I'm ready for it all.

This isn't funny any more.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Concluding Thoughts

At the risk of making it look like I should just hand the keys to this place over to Andrew Sullivan, I'm going to conclude my Easter-time exploration of religion and politics by linking to him one more time:

One part of my case against Christianism, against Christians wielding political power to control the lives of others, is that the core of Christianity is power through powerlessness. This is a paradox, of course. But it is [the] paradox of Easter, where a death becomes life, where giving up oneself entirely to power in the world is the only way to transcend it.

H. Richard Niebuhr puts it better than I ever could:
"[T]he thought of deity and the thought of power are inseparable. Deity must be strong if it is to be deity.
We meet the God of Jesus Christ with the expectations of such power. If his power be less than that of the world and he be at the mercy of the world, of nature, fate, and death, how shall we recognize him as God? Yet we do not meet this God...how strangely we must revise in the light of Jesus Christ all our ideas of what is really strong in this powerful world. The power of God is made manifest in the weakness of Jesus, in the meek and dying life which through death is raised to power. We see the power of God over the strong of earth made evident not in the fact that he slays them, but in his making the spirit of the slain Jesus unconquerable.

This gets at the heart of what I meant when I wrote "But once you rise to a certain point in our government [or any position of power really], I think it becomes impossible to stay true to the Gospels." Christ exercised his power through powerlessness. His sacrificial act was an emptying out of himself for others, not the conscious and deliberate appropriation of power for his own ends.

Taking on power is the opposite of sacrificial service. It is why I view overly religious politicians with such skepticism. They are engaged in a process that directly conflicts with what I see as the central tenant of Christianity.

Furthermore, this concept of power through powerlessness highlights why I disagree with the oft-repeated mantra that Christians should be "in the world but not of the world." I see this phrase too often used to justify an avoidance of society at large (especially in the world of Christian pop culture). Sacrificial service is not a call to build parallel social institutions with more "Christian values" than "mainstream society." It is an exhortation to enter the world with radical compassion, knowing full well how much this approach contradicts with the way society is structured.

As Sullivan wrote, the central paradox of Easter and Christianity itself is that following Christ leads to absolute powerlessness by worldly standards, but absolute grace by Christian standards.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Eschatology in Action

A new book gets at a central theme of this blog:
During the first dozen years of the twenty-first century--from Y2K through 2012--apocalyptic anticipation in America has leapt from the margins of society and into the mainstream. Today, nearly 60 percent of Americans believe that the events foretold in the book of Revelation will come true. But it's not just the Christian Right that is obsessed with the end of the world; secular readers hungry for catastrophe have propelled fiction and nonfiction books about peak oil, global warming, and the end of civilization into best-sellers, while Doomsday Preppers has become one of the most talked-about new reality TV shows on television. How did we come to live in a culture obsessed by the belief that the end is nearly here?

The Last Myth explains why apocalyptic beliefs are surging within the American mainstream today. Tracing the development of our expectation of the end of the world from the beginnings of history through the modern era, and examining the global challenges facing America today, authors Mathew Barrett Gross and Mel Gilles combine history, current events, and psychological and cultural analysis to reveal the profound influence of apocalyptic thinking on America's past, present, and future.

As I wrote in this blog's mission statement, I don't believe in a literal reading of Revelation. The Roman Empire exiled John to Patmos where he wrote his account of the apocalypse. The fantastical imagery of the Book of Revelation allowed John to slip his message past the Roman censors so it could reach the early Church. Christians understood Revelation was an account of how the unjust worldly power of Empire would eventually collapse in the face of the Kingdom of Heaven. It was a message of hope to persecuted Christians. Modern audiences miss the underlying meaning of John's message when they interpret it literally.

As trust in societal institutions fail, it's not surprising people begin to adopt a more apocalyptic outlook. But a fundamentalist approach is inevitably one of despair and confusion. The Kingdom of Heaven is not hidden in the midst of whimsical prophecies. Looking for dragons and anti-Christs and marks of the beast distract from the injustices that are right in front of our faces every day. John of Patmos's vision was one of hope and encouragement for the marginalized. It is strange that the more "apocalyptic" society gets, the more it focuses on paranoia, small mindedness and cultural angst. In other words, the more "apocalyptic" we become as a society, the further we drift from John's central message in Revelation: God will triumph over injustice.

This book is another fantastic read on the subject.

Happy Easter

Friday, April 6, 2012

Thoughts on Religion and Politics at Easter

Andrew Sullivan spent the week expanding on his recent Newsweek article about the conflict between Christianity and politics (more properly labeled as worldly power). On Wednesday he quoted at length from the Pope:
The choice of Jesus versus Barabbas is not accidental; two messiah figures, two forms of messianic belief stand in opposition. This becomes even clearer when we consider that the name Bar-Abbas means "son of the father". This is a typically messianic appellation, the cultic name of a prominent leader of the messianic movement... So the choice is between a messiah who leads an armed struggle, promises freedom and a kingdom of one's own, and this mysterious Jesus who proclaims that losing oneself is the way to life. Is it any wonder that the crowds prefer Barabbas?

The Lord... declares that the concept of the Messiah has to be understood in terms of the entirety of the message of the Prophets - it means not worldly power, but the Cross, and the radically different community that comes into being through the Cross.

This issue has occupied my thoughts and my heart for several years. It's a question that deserves a lifetime of contemplation.

Worldly power is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity. Nevertheless, our charge is to toil for justice without rest in a fallen world. This requires political engagement on some level. But once you rise to a certain point in our government, I think it becomes impossible to stay true to the Gospels. Our country rests on certain premises that cannot be reconciled with Christianity: an all powerful market that violates the human dignity of the poor, a military that occupies countries much like the Romans of Christ's time occupied Israel, the list goes on.

The contradiction between staying true to Christianity and doing what is necessary to lead our country as it is currently structured seems too great to reconcile. It is why I am especially critical of politicians like Rick Santorum who push an overtly religious agenda. I'm less concerned with religion's influence on politics than I am with the way politics corrupts religion.

Then again, we all must live with the fact that we are sinners. We create broken systems because we are broken people. Christ's redemption allows us to overcome our own fallen nature just as much as it allows for the creation of an otherworldly kingdom.

I worry that this logic allows for complacency. If sin is inescapable, then why should we as a society try to change? Of course this thought process perpetuates injustice.

The best solution I can find at this point is that we need to be more penitent as individuals and as a society. In both realms we will fall short. Sometimes wildly so. But if we keep a spirit of contrition alive and at the forefront, perhaps we can humbly strive our best to carry out the Gospels without letting power's worldly effects corrupt.

As Easter approaches, with its message of redemption, reconciliation and resurrection, I will be praying for and doing my part to create a more penitent world.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Men's Right's" Activists: It's Ok To Hit Women

I've written about the "Men's Rights" movement before, but I'm returning to the topic because I want to discredit them as much as possible.

The Southern Poverty Law Center recently classified the "Men's Rights" section of Reddit.com as a hate site, saying in part:
While it presents itself as a home for men seeking equality, it is notable for the anger it shows toward any program designed to help women. It also trafficks in various conspiracy theories. “Kloo2yoo,” identified as a site moderator, writes that there is “undeniable proof” of an international feminist conspiracy involving the United Nations, the Obama Administration and others, aimed at demonizing men.

I wanted to reveal just how twisted these men can be in the pursuit of their agenda so I came up with a story they could not resist. On April Fools day, I posted a thread titled "My girlfriend just tried to steal a used condom to impregnate herself and is now threatening to call the police on me. PLEASE Help." It told the tale of a college student and the girlfriend who tried to steal his sperm.

The spermjacker trope is irresistible to "men's rights" activists because they believe they are perfect Darwinian examples of masculinity and as a result are irresistible to the hormonally irrational schemers that make up womankind. Narcissism and misogyny collide to make a toxic brew.

Oh, and I added the twist that this man punched his girlfriend so hard in the stomach that she bruised. Surely such fierce proponents of "gender equality" would not support violence against women. Right?

Like little hate-filled moths before a flame, the MRAs could not resist themselves.

This site has a good run down of what happened. I was told repeatedly that I did nothing wrong. Another MRA said men should put hot sauce in their used condoms to prevent women from trying to impregnate themselves.

Several commenters called me out as a troll, but it's interesting no one in that thread or my subsequent follow up said unequivocally that it is not ok to hit women.

The "men's rights" movement is morally bankrupt. It is made up of people who support hitting women. It is made up of people who refuse to say it is wrong to hit women. It is made up of people who are so paranoid of women that they think people actually talk like this:
You fucking bastard, how dare you punch me for what I'm entitled to! Call me the minute you get this god damn message or I'll call the fucking police and end your future. CALL MEEEE.
Attention MRA's: You have all exposed yourselves as rotten human beings and you have discredited your movement (again).

My original goal was just to generate a handy link to keep on file any time I needed some ammo to point out how morally bankrupt this movement is. I also would have been happy if my tale convinced some MRAs to get vasectomies.

But then this thing started to take off. Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel wrote about it in a hilarious post that over 16,000 people have seen. In that post she also mentions something I had not considered. Mainly, the possibility that my story was "destined to be urban legend fodder for men's rights activists for years even though it smells to high heaven like bullshit"

I don't want my post to lead anyone into thinking that women behave this way. I certainly do not want anyone to come across my post and use it as an excuse for hitting someone. So I'm coming clean.

I wrote this story by stitching together nearly every cliche I have ever come across in the "men's rights" movement. I tried to see if the MRAs had any line they would not cross. Apparently they do not. Looks like the SPLC made a good call.

It looks like the menly men of the "men's rights" movement had their feelings hurt by Jezebel's send up. The original poster laments "So this is what feminists think about one of our most pressing issues."

Message to MRAs: Sperm jacking is NOT an actual issue, let alone the most pressing issue facing your made up movement. I would say the most pressing issue you have is that many of your members openly condone violence against women.

When you cite sperm jacking as one of the most pressing issues, it makes it readily apparent that you have no agenda other than thinly veiled sexism and misogyny. "Mens rights" issues have NO bearing on the quality of life for men. They are ALL an excuse to bash women. Please get vasectomies, all of you.

Update II:
The "men's rights" activists think I've unfairly distorted them. Take Reddit user Pooballs for example:, who had his "skin crawling" over my post:

This sums up the "men's rights" movement pretty succinctly. Shoddy "logic" about how much harder men are treated followed by an affirmation of violence against women:
Plus this rabid attacking of punching a woman.. omg. We're not all delicate perfect little flowers who will die if somebody hits us. Honestly I think if I'd witnessed, or if this type of thing happened to me, I probably would've punched her too.

You lose MRAs. Your movement's intellectual underpinnings are just a veneer to cover up your seething hatred of women. Check mate.

Update III:
The MRAs are busy trying to rationalize this event away. Let's keep a little focus:

1. While the post is now flooded with comments calling me out as a troll, it started with unquestioning acceptance of the basic premise that women are crazy enough to steal condoms in a bid to impregnate themselves and "enslave" men into paying child support against their will. MRA's are fundamentally paranoid of women. They think each women is a threat just waiting to trap them.

2. They think hitting women is justified.
MRA Charlie Tango's response shows just how dangerous this movement is:

Thursday, March 15, 2012

And So it Goes

As Rod Blagojevich rides off into the sunset as self assured and cocky as ever, it's worth highlighting a funny thing that happens every time the Chicago media covers local corruption. I'm talking about the choir of convicted and formerly imprisoned Illinois politicians who resurface to talk about what it's like to transition from political power to the penitentiary.

Scott Fawell joined WGN's anchors yesterday for the entire one hour broadcast of Blagojevich's farewell speech. Fawell was chief of staff to George Ryan, Illinois' (other) imprisoned former governor and served many years in federal prison for his role in a scheme that traded bribes for illegal commercial drivers licenses. A recipient of one of those licenses crashed into a minivan and killed six children. Scott Fawell was more than happy to talk about the daily routine of prison and its dreary mental effects, but he dodged every question about whether he came to grips with his wrongdoing  while in prison. You can watch Fawell yuck it up on WGN here or read a more detailed account of his trial in Chicago Magazine.

WGN also featured an interview with 89 year old Dan Walker, another governor who served time in prison (though not for any crimes related to his time in public office). I can't find video of the interview, but Walker spoke at length about the indignities of his incarceration. Walker once wrote to his congressman, but had the letter intercepted by the warden. The warden teased Walker about his once powerful position and ripped the letter to pieces in front of Walker to illustrate just how far he had fallen. The warden also reassigned the former governor from a desk job to picking up cigarette butts for the duration of his sentence simply because the two men went to rival colleges.

Today, former Cicero town president Betty Loren-Maltese who famously robbed Cicero to the tune of $12 million called into WFLD to give her input on what Blagojevich faces in prison:
“He’s going to have to change his attitude because if he doesn’t, another inmate will,” Loren-Maltese said. “For sure, the officers will let him know he’s nothing but a number and he’s the property of prisons. ...I think still think he comes off as arrogant,” she said. “Yesterday, I watched all the media coverage, and he had me for awhile, but then it turned political and almost into a campaign speech."

Finally, the Sun-Times quoted Jim Laski, former city clerk of Chicago and convicted felon in its write up of today's events:

“He’s going to be doing a lot of, ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir,’...It’s a humbling, humiliating experience. But you have to take it.”

In any other state, a corruption conviction would be enough to banish someone from the public sphere entirely. It's a bitter twist of irony that the steady stream of indictments gives previously convicted officials the opportunity to return to the public eye as commentators. Illinois' endless corruption gives the formerly corrupt an opportunity to stay relevant.

The trend shows no signs of ending. Just this week State Rep Derrick Smith was in court on charges that he accepted bribe money. Cook County Commissioner Bill Beavers will also face his own corruption trial soon. One can only wonder who will be staring down an indictment 14 years from now. Whoever that person is, he or she will be the launching pad for Rod Blagojevich's triumphant return to the public stage.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Christian Pop Culture

I've observed Christian pop culture for the last seven years. I say "observed" because I don't participate in or consume anything that could be considered Christian media. I just don't identify with the mindset behind it. One of the most alienating traits is the tendency to recreate the conversion experience.

The moment of accepting Jesus Christ as one's personal Lord and Savior is the backbone of evangelical Christianity. Once saved, the convert has reached a critical threshold from which it is impossible to slip. While attending services at an evangelical mega church, I noticed that the messaging operated on a dual track. The unsaved were told how much better their lives would become once they accept Christ, and the saved were reminded of just how empty their lives were before salvation.

It wouldn't be fair to say the church instilled complacency in its congregants because the parishioners were more active than at any other church I've seen. Nevertheless, I couldn't shake the feeling that the primary goal they worked towards (converting others) fostered a sense of spiritual complacency. If accepting Christ as your personal savior is the pinnacle of your spiritual life, where do you go from there? Rather than looking forward towards continued growth, evangelicals are called to look backwards and remember that indelible moment of grace in order to help others experience it. There's definitely kindness in wanting/helping others to experience the same joy you have, but I think it comes at a cost. Many of the evangelicals I encountered were so focused thinking about who they were that they didn't have time to think about who they wanted to become.

This mindset is a common theme in Christian pop culture. Take this Kirk Cameron movie for instance:

At work, inside burning buildings, Capt. Caleb Holt lives by the old firefighter's adage: Never leave your partner behind. At home, in the cooling embers of his marriage, he lives by his own rules.

As the couple prepares to enter divorce proceedings, Caleb's father challenges his son to commit to a 40-day experiment: "The Love Dare." Wondering if it's even worth the effort, Caleb agrees-for his father's sake more than for his marriage. When Caleb discovers the book's daily challenges are tied into his parents' newfound faith, his already limited interest is further dampened.

While trying to stay true to his promise, Caleb becomes frustrated time and again. He finally asks his father, "How am I supposed to show love to somebody who constantly rejects me?

When his father explains that this is the love Christ shows to us, Caleb makes a life-changing commitment to love God. And with God's help he begins to understand what it means to truly love his wife.

This movie presents no challenge to the already saved. The character who is called upon to change is the one who has not yet found God. The film's usefulness as a tool for evangelizing is clear: Have a troubled marriage? Accept Christ as your personal savior and all will end well. But the film also operates on the same dual tracks I saw at the mega church. The message it directs towards believers doesn't inspire them to behave any differently. It simply reaffirms a choice they have already made.

Scott Nehring complained of this dynamic in a 2010 piece called Why Are Christian Movies So Bad:

Rather than developing organically, the average Christian film is more pushy and sanctimonious than the global-warming agenda movies... By movie’s end, everyone is converted with no residual issues. Life is reduced to an after-school special with prayer thrown in for good measure. For me, this is where the dry heaving begins.

From a Catholic (and more specifically Jesuit) background, I have a difficult time identifying with a tradition that places so much emphasis on a single fixed point in time. Faith is a journey and it changes as we change. As a Catholic, I find an immeasurable degree of comfort in the repetitious nature of the Sacraments. The pinnacle event of Catholicism isn't something that happens once. The Eucharist takes place every week (technically daily or even hourly, I suppose). It follows you throughout your life and its meaning deepens and grows with you as you change. Similarly, the Jesuit tradition is one of constant reflection with an eye towards who we should become based on who we are at any given moment.

I don't mean any ill will towards people who enjoy Christian pop culture, it's just something I can never really feel comfortable with because of its over emphasis on an event I have never experienced and its lack of a challenging message for believers. I still find Christian media endlessly fascinating and happily remain an observer.

"Men's Rights"

It's been a tough few weeks for women. The kick off happened when a group of men got so enraged that impoverished women were receiving breast cancer screenings that they tried to cut off the program's funding.

Not to be outdone, another group of even angrier, whiter, and older men tried to block women from getting birth control.

This led directly to the angriest man of all calling a woman a slut on a nationally syndicated radio show and demanding that she send him a sex tape.

Today is International Women's Day. A lot of angry, hateful men have been grumbling, "why don't we get a day?"  Seems to me they've had free reign the last few weeks. The victim complex of the "men's rights" movement is a funny thing. They grab hold of any perceived inequality and use it as an excuse to whine about how hard men have it in today's society. When you cut through it, you realize they're really complaining because they can't freely express their misogyny without being called shitty, hateful people.

So in honor of International Women's day, I'll do my part to kick patriarchy in the collective nuts by linking to a list published today by the Southern Poverty Law Center that calls out some angry, hateful "Men's Rights" websites.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Time to Excommunicate Them

Santorum lost the Catholic vote in Ohio to Romney 44-31. Santorum also lost the Catholic vote to Romney in Michigan by a 44-37 margin. Had members of his own religion voted for Santorum in greater numbers, he would have won both states.

Santorum is uniquely loathsome because he 1) presents himself as The One True Catholic in the race while 2) advocating positions repugnant to Church teachings and 3) de-legitimizing the right of anyone who disagrees with him to identify as Catholic.

It might surprise many to find out that Santorum does not walk in lock step with the Catholic Church on every issue. Juan Cole highlighted ten areas where Santorum unambiguously breaks with official Church doctrine. The biggest break is Santorum's vigorous support for the Iraq war, which John Paul II and Benedict XVI emphatically opposed.

Andrew Sullivan also called out Santorum for his defense of torture:

In that very defense - in Santorum's own description of what he is defending - he is defending the "breaking" of a human person, made in the image of God. He is defending a core, absolute evil. Let us concede for the sake of argument that these are "enhanced interrogation techniques" and not "torture", as Santorum insists. There is no meaningful difference between the two whatsoever from a Catholic perspective, and Santorum's public positioning as an avowedly Catholic politician, while defending and promoting an absolute evil, is a true and immense moral scandal - in the Church's sense of the word. No one should be giving the impression that the Catholic church defends "enhanced interrogation techniques". This is from the Catechism:
"Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity...
Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions"
Notice there is a bar even on "moral violence" on or "frightening" prisoners. Santorum's own moral distinction between "breaking" human beings by EITs and "torture" does not exist in international law or Catholic doctrine.

These are fundamental issues where Santorum disagrees with the Church. There is nothing inherently wrong with forming an opinion in opposition to Church teachings. My conscience dictates that I disagree on a number of issues, but I am honest and upfront about it.

By presenting himself as a "Real Catholic," Santorum implies we must agree with all of his positions in order to rightfully call ourselves Catholic. As he infamously said, people who disagree with his vision of a theocratic America make him vomit.

It's no surprise Santorum carried the evangelical vote in Ohio and Michigan. His absolutist tone and conflation of GOP orthodoxy with religious values is far more typical of evangelicalism than it is of Catholicism.

What worries me is that as Church hardliners like Santorum and many bishops focus on sexual morality at the expense of everything else, the wall between reactionary evangelicalism and Catholicism is being eroded. With it comes the implicit dictate: the only way to be TRULY religious is to be a Republican. Even when being a Republican contradicts your religion.

"Conservative" and "liberal" are divisions we make here on earth. They are imperfect ways of categorizing the world and both fail to capture the totality of God's will and commandments. One does not need to be a Republican to be a Catholic. One also does not need to support Rick Santorum to be a Catholic. Luckily, Catholic voters seem to have this figured out.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Outrage as Internet Genre

For hate readers like me, it does not get much better than this story:

Over the past few days, we’ve received some rather interesting information about the good [law] professor’s love life. The reports go something like this: “Professor Bobbitt married one of his students! Over the Christmas holiday! She’s a 3L at Columbia Law! And a Turkish princess! They were married at the Supreme Court! By one of the justices!"

As is generally the case with juicy gossip, most of this is true — but some of it is not. Here’s the real story, based on my interview with Professor Bobbitt himself. And wedding photos, of course…

After reading the piece, I felt the unmistakable grip of outrage closing itself around my thoughts and emotions. Why did a wedding give me the near irresistible urge to grab a pitchfork and join the mob rampaging through the comments?  One reason is because the authors purposefully designed the piece to elicit that kind of response from the readers, despite the otherwise upbeat tone of the post.

Unsurprisingly, outrage (and controversy in general) generates attention. But given the widespread use of this particular writing device online, I thought it would be worthwhile to sketch out the basic features of the outrage genre.

I. Otherness

The author of an outrage piece must sufficiently distance the readers from the subjects of the piece in order to prevent the readers from empathizing with the subjects and their circumstances.

The article at hand proudly trumpet's Prof. Bobbitt's elite resume (degrees from Princeton, Yale and Oxford, as well as a teaching post at Columbia Law). While he and his bride could not get married in New York because of difficulties in obtaining her birth certificate, he overcame this mundane bureaucratic hurdle by asking his friend, the Supreme Court Justice, to perform a spur of the moment ceremony in her private chambers.

Likewise, the bride, an accomplished equestrian who will work in the financial industry is also presented as a jet-setting member of the global elite.

The effect is to portray the husband and wife as belonging to an element of society totally unmoored from the world the rest of us must live in.

II. Violation of a Social Norm

With the "otherness" of the subjects stifling the audience's ability to identify with or empathize with the subjects, outrage pieces move on to discuss how the subjects transgress social mores.

Three jump out immediately in the article on Above the Law:

1. Ms. Ondalikoglu was a student of Professor Bobbitt who began dating him after a long car ride to an academic conference. Given the underlying power imbalance of a student-teacher relationship, many readers will jump to the conclusion that Prof. Bobbitt inappropriately used his position to lure a much younger student. That Ms. Ondalikoglu subsequently withdrew from Prof. Bobbitt's class indicates at the minimum, a violation of at least some sort of institutional norm at Columbia.

2. The couple eschewed a long courting process and decided to get married after only four months of dating.

3. Professor Bobbitt, at age 63, is 38 years Ms. Ondalikoglu's senior. Given the couple's previous description as aloof members of the elite, their age difference hints at another transgression- their marriage is not based on love, but is a mutually beneficial arrangement that increases the social status of both Bobbitt and Ondalikoglu. The readers on Above the Law have seized on this particular point with a great deal of enthusiasm. I chalk it up to the importance of social prestige among the lawyers who read ATL. Unearned prestige is an especially gross transgression.

III. Publicity Seeking Behavior

It is not enough for an outrage piece to cover the violation of a norm and then deprive the transgressors any hope of sympathy from the audience. The key to an outrage piece is that it portrays the subjects as seeking out publicity, attention, and in some cases validation for their behavior.

Prof. Bobbitt does not shirk in embarrassment from an interview (which according to social norms, he should). Instead, he engages ATL with gusto. Bobbitt boasts during the interview that his close friend and renowned Constitutional Scholar Akhil Reed Amar sent several bottles of wine to the ceremony. Bobbitt even gives ATL pictures from inside Elena Kagan's chambers in the Supreme Court.

If elements I and II were laying down several dry sticks and dousing them with gasoline, element three is striking a match and igniting the white hot flame of outrage. Readers are primed to think poorly of Bobbitt and Ondalikoglu because of their behavior and their membership in an "other" class. Instead of seeking forgiveness, or even projecting modesty, Bobbitt proudly touts his actions. The audience has no barrier to prevent them from judging harshly. At this point, the comments section explodes with vitriol.


An outrage piece can take a few forms. The author might write approvingly about the subjects (as this ATL author does) or they can actively root against the subjects. An outrage piece can even be autobiographical. The responses to autobiographical pieces are typically more unhinged because of the perceived narcissism of the author (See for example "Did I forget my son’s birthday again?In the insane parenting scramble between Halloween and Christmas, oneperson always get short shrift: My little boy")

An outrage piece is different from summoning the great Internet Hoard to hack the FBI or defend Wikileaks. Those cyber-protests ostensibly have objectives (whether legitimate or just the desire to create Joker-like chaos) as their motivation. Outrage pieces have no goal other than to generate page views. 

Blogs are page view machines. Savvy authors have figured out these machines run best on the combustible fuel that is outrage. None of this is particularly earth shattering, but it drives a significant portion of the Internet and these pieces are increasingly common. I've found the resulting outrage often deafens any discussion of why the pieces are so effective in the first place. Hopefully this post can add a little substance. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to grab that pitch fork.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

This is the point

I'll let others discuss the morality of this incident (and there is a lot to say), but it's important to take a moment and mention that footage like this is the point of a protest movement like Occupy DC:

The goal is to toe the line close enough that you make the other side over reach.

I'm curious how this dynamic will play out in Chicago for the G8/NATO conferences. Rahm Emmanuel has three discernible goals, which the protestors are well aware of:

1) Advance his own political standing on foreign policy grounds for his inevitable presidential run.
2) Advance Barack Obama's political standing during an election year
3) Advance his own political standing on law and order grounds for his inevitable presidential run.

As to number three, the Mayor probably has conflicting impulses. On one hand, he likely thinks punching hippies is a good way to show he is tough. On the other, the ghosts of 1968 loom large. It's a delicate balancing act. How far will the protestors push? Can Emmanuel restrain himself from over reaching?

I don't know the answer, and I certainly don't want people on either side hurt. But I do think this whole affair is completely self serving on the part of Rahm Emmanuel and I hope the protestors can find a way to make it a liability for him through peaceful civil disobedience.

Friday, February 3, 2012

A (Christian) Hero for Liberty

Libertarian Christians amuse me. It's hard to think of a more incoherent marriage of belief systems.

Limit government!....so we can impose theocratic social mandates from the Old Testament.
Live your life according to the Gospels....and fight for a return to the gold standard!

I thought the point of libertarianism was to minimize collective coercion and maximize individual "liberty." How is this compatible with legislating from the Book of Deuteronomy? Won't imposing Biblical standards necessarily limit individual freedom in a way that is repugnant to the libertarian philosophy? How could a libertarian force an atheist to keep the Sabbath holy? It's nonsensical.

Likewise, if you look toward the Bible to divine answers on the value of state's rights or the constitutionality of the Federal Reserve, you are missing the point. Whether the United States, a 230 year old country in a 13 billion year old universe adopts the gold standard to back its currency is of no relevance to salvation history. Unless, that is, you hold tight to a literal interpretation of the Bible, in which case every spare sentence can lead you chasing down a pointless rabbit hole of justification.

What most draws me to this phenomenon is that fundamentalism lies at the heart of both evangelical Christianity and libertarianism (at least for the people who proudly identify as both). The rigidity of fundamentalism is compelling enough on its own, but when a person subscribes to two rigid and contradictory belief systems, the end result is more entertaining than watching two government run high speed trains full of heathens crash head long into each other. The resulting post hoc explanations come across as excessive mental gymnastics or lazy self deception.

More seriously, from a political standpoint this belief system leads to a toxic fusion of religion and politics under the guise of "liberty." Religiously, it fatally distracts from true message of the Bible- loving God and loving one another- by focusing on irrelevant details due to a literal interpretation.

I've included two videos about why Ron Paul is the most Biblically sound candidate after the jump.


How is this a surprise?:

In the end [House Republicans] took about half the cuts up front, with the other half tied to the success or failure of the Super Committee, tasked with securing $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. The catch was that both parties needed an incentive to deal honestly — so GOP leaders and the White House agreed that if the Super Committee failed, it would result in $600 billion in automatic, across the board cuts to national security spending, and another $600 billion in domestic cuts, taken mostly from Medicare providers. With both Democratic and Republican sacred cows in line for slaughter, surely, the Super Committee members would reach a compromise. 

They didn’t. 

Immediately after the Super Committee failed in November, rank and file Republicans began a campaign to swap out only the defense cuts with other spending cuts — no tax increases.

This kind of a power play only works if the other side lets it work. An effective political party would make negotiating in bad faith a liability. But the Democrats can reliably snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. My hunch is the GOP will prevail on the basis that Democrats don't want to be seen as 1) fiscally irresponsible and 2) troop haters.

The Village

Building off this post, there's a difference between a reporter and a Very Serious Person. Just because I'm drawing a distinction between reporting and opinion writing doesn't mean I'm siding with the villagers over the DFHs.

This is all well trod territory, but it's worth repeating in my own words since this is my blog. Villagers fancy themselves reporters, but their work (consciously or unconsciously) does not illuminate in the way a real reporter's work would. Villagers reinforce the status quo out of a sense of cultural identification. Because they are Very Serious, they can pass off their ideological preferences as simply common sense or conventional wisdom.

Villagers don't explain how the world works, they are active participants in keeping the world running a certain way.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pounding the Pavement

Over time I've developed a general rule of thumb: Reporting is far superior to opinion.

I'd take Carol Marin, Talking Points Memo or Matt Taibbi over an opinion columnist every day. The best opinion columnists occasionally make you think differently about something you already know. A reporter leaves you with something you would never have learned but for their efforts.

National reporters have their own baggage (in that they don't report so much as repeat what they are told) but the good ones tower above everyone else. Hands down.

Anyone can type, only a select few can find legitimate news.

I guess it casts doubt on this whole enterprise I'm trying here.

Update: Over Here

You can't argue with their sterling logic

But you can follow it to the inevitable conclusion:

The only male safe space left on the planet is the men's bathroom, ffs. And even then, there will be feminist-leaning men policing what is said. It's very frustrating.

And yes, it seems the more logical and reasonable and rational you are in proving a point of their dogma wrong, the more likely you are to be vilified.

It logically follows this Men's Rights Activist seeks brotherhood and fraternity in the public men's bathroom.

Everyone likes to be fiscally responsible.

Any discussion of Illinois' financial problems has to touch on the pension system. A plan passed in 1994 was supposed to establish a payment schedule to put the state on solid footing. But...

While the plan required annual contributions to the pension funds, it allowed the state to put off starting to pay down the pension debt until fiscal year 2010, 15 years after the plan took effect. It's similar to a balloon mortgage, where steep increases in payments kick in over time.
Now the bill is coming due just when the state can least afford to pay.
Meanwhile, lawmakers haven't even met the minimum payments specified in the original plan. Instead they have tinkered repeatedly with the formula
In 2003, Gov. Rod Blagojevich pushed lawmakers to issue $10 billon in pension obligation bonds...
But like several of his predecessors, Blagojevich also used the pension system to solve the state's financial problems. 
 In 2005, with an election season looming and the state running another budget shortfall, Blagojevich cut another pension deal...Rather than pay the amount required by the 1994 funding plan, the Legislature simply rewrote the pension code to lower its payment over two years...Those slight changes ended up costing the system $2.3 billion, while the long-term cost added billions more.
The state's leadership tried to keep this devil way down in the hole, but they buried the state and pension holders along the way.

Austerity seems to be all the rage these days. What's often lost is the real world consequences. Budget cuts and constitutionally questionable pension alterations will hurt people. Madigan's been at this game since the 1980's and it's clear he's calling the shots in Springfield now. Since he's had a hand on the wheel for thirty years and he's firmly in the driver's seat now, I don't get too upset when the governor presents a plan other than austerity:

Pat Quinn might strike some as out of touch or irresponsible, but Madigan will get what he wants. Including harsh cuts to Medicaid and other programs to clean up the mess from his own mismanagment. Given his political constraints and pain of the impending cuts, I don't think Pat Quinn should be faulted for saying people deserve more rather than less. Illinois will chug along regardless.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A telling difference

One of the most salient differences between Democrats and Republicans is that Republicans use every bit of power at their disposal while Democrats keep their powder dry in the hopes that people will like them.


This post rattled loose an old memory from the spring of 2004 when I was just a wide eyed high school junior visiting Washington D.C. for the first time. My trip was part of a "let's tour the government!" conference designed to inspire young people to participate in democratic institutions.

One of the last events was a panel discussion at the National Press Club with some Very Serious People. I remember summoning all my awkward high school resolve to ask the panel a question. During this particular moment in history the media was struggling to understand a strange thing called an Internet. I was an active member of the Big Orange Satan and had a hunch these internets might stick around for a while. In fact, my interest in politics (and by extension this trip to D.C.) was in large part a result of my engagement online.

Who better to ask about the internet's impact on the media landscape than some of the nation's preeminent journalists?

So there I stood at the microphone with my question

A particularly combative older man on the panel shot back that the internet was a dangerous force on the political process because it allowed the rabble the same stature as Very Serious People.

"Wow," I thought at the time, "what a crotchety and out of touch person." It was only after I became more politically aware that I realized the out of touch old man ranting about the internet was David Broder. Everything made much more sense in retrospect.

A coda to that story: A few years later I was at a convention where Atrios had set up a table. I was stunned to see the man in person. So stunned I completely forgot to tell him this story. I later realized my mistake and it remains one of my biggest regrets. Asking David Broder about the internet in front of a crowd of high schoolers who probably understood the transformation underway? Not really something I regret.

Lucky Duckies

He knows their luck always shines through in the end:
"I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs a repair , I'll fix it."

Mission Statement

Eschatology is the study of end times. The title of my blog speaks to a general cynicism that shades my perspective of the world. I'm not so far gone that I view my neighbors with contempt. In fact, I think individuals contain a degree of depth and complexity that would not be possible without some spark of fundamental goodness deep within.

The source of my cynicism comes from the institutions of society- those enterprises where we engage collectively: the market, the government, the media. While we as individuals construct these institutions, the resulting creations do not seem to reflect back the fundamental goodness of their creators. Each day these structures move seemingly of their own power in ways that are increasingly at odds with dignity of their constituent members.

Eschatology is the story of what happens when the structures of society collapse in on themselves or when they are washed away in the face of divine judgment. Do I think society is falling apart at a Biblically ordained pace? Not at all. But I do believe the discrepancy between who we are as a society and who we could be is vast. My despondency comes from watching the institutions of society systemically fail in way that injures all of us, not unlike something from an eschatological prophecy.

But implicit in any discussion of the end times is the prospect of hope and a new order to follow, so I would like to hold on tight to that ray of light throughout my writing.

These are some general themes I'm planning to explore:

  • The actions and policies that elites in positions of power use to maintain their power.
  • The counter-intuitive rise of libertarianism in the wake of a financial crisis caused by an unchecked free market.
  • The role religion (specifically Catholicism) should play when addressing these problems.
  • The rise of online narcissism (as a genre of writing and more generally in terms of how people construct and present online identities).
  • The tension between fundamentalism and total moral relativism.

This is a loose collection of thoughts. Some posts will be short, others will unpack my thinking in more detail. I'm interested to see how it turns out.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Serious Question

Republicans are angry at Romney because his healthcare plan became Obama's blue print. Why aren't Democrats just as mad at Obama for embracing a plan so similar to Romney's?

The answer speaks a great deal to the dynamics of power in this country and goes a long way towards explaining the continued ineffectiveness of the modern Democratic Party. 

A Hero for Liberty

He better be careful, they might try to fly a gold-fringe flag in the court room:
A prison inmate in upstate New York was convicted on 11 counts of tax fraud after he filed — and partially received — tax returns worth around $890 million, using techniques he says he learned off of a sovereign citizen website

According to court documents, Williams filed tax returns in the spring of 2007, claiming that he earned half a million dollars in 2006 — during a time when he was incarcerated. The IRS sent him a refund check for $327,456 in April of 2007 — c/o the Camp Gabriels Correctional Facility in upstate New York.

Williams” attorney claimed that he had filed the returns after an article on the site “The America’s Bulletin,” a sovereign citizen website that puts out “Prison Packets” to instruct prisoners how to get themselves out of prison

High Broderism

One last hurrah