Happy Hour Discurso

Today’s opining on the public discourse.

In the next four years, we’re going to have a hellacious amount of work ahead trying to put the country back together. There’s all of the damage from the Bush regime to set right, but the work doesn’t stop there – the media’s going to need a severe ass-kicking:

David Barstow had a devastating New York Times piece back in April, documenting the practice of retired U.S. generals appearing on the major cable networks as “independent” media analysts, while they were simultaneously working for defense contractors, and repeating talking points from the Pentagon. The painted picture was a train wreck of conflicts of interest and journalistic ethical malpractice.

Today, Barstow has yet another blockbuster, directing his focus to one of the more prominent retired generals: Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general, military analyst for NBC News, and highly-paid consultant to defense contractors.

It’s really worth reading the whole piece, but Spencer Ackerman’s take was spot-on.


[T]he scope of McCaffrey’s hustle is really breathtaking. Barstow demonstrates that many, if not most, of the pronouncements he made on TV about the wars benefited one or another defense contractor who employed him. That’s the way the scheme worked: Company hires retired general to use his connections to its benefit. Retired general accepts special grants of access from the office of the secretary of defense that benefit both his TV career and his consulting career. Retired general proclaims on TV things that benefit both the secretary and the company — or, when circumstances necessitate, the company at the expense of the secretary. TV viewer, looking for informed analysis of confusing wars, is unaware of any of this. Welcome to the new military-media-industrial complex.

It’s that bad. As Barstow explained, “On NBC and in other public forums, General McCaffrey has consistently advocated wartime policies and spending priorities that are in line with his corporate interests. But those interests are not described to NBC’s viewers. He is held out as a dispassionate expert, not someone who helps companies win contracts related to the wars he discusses on television.”

Allowing self-interested dickweeds to get away with selling a war to line their own pockets while claiming independence is something the media needs to be trained not to do. That’s not journalism, it’s fucking propaganda.

For those who still have a soft spot for torture, convinced that it works because Jack Bauer always gets the info he wants, I have bad news for ye:

In a Washington Post op-ed today, a former Special Operations interrogator who worked in Iraq in 2006 sharply criticizes American torture techniques as ineffective and dangerous. “Torture and abuse cost American lives,” he writes:

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. … It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.

The writer, who used a pseudonym for the article, adds that when he switched his team’s techniques to a rapport-building method, they found enormous success. One detainee told the author, “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”

Let me say it one more time, for the record: torture doesn’t work. It’s self-defeating, a damned fool way of getting information, doesn’t give us accurate intel, and worsens situations drastically. Don’t make me repeat myself.

This shit has to stop.

In other news, we might have to return the new SOFA:

On Thursday, 149 members of the Iraqi Parliament voted for approval of the SOFA, 126 either voted against or simply did not show up. While we wait for the decision of the three members of the Presidential Council – each of whom has a full veto – the reactions inside Iraq are understandably mixed given the uncertainty on what is even in the agreement.


Grand Ayatollah Sistani has made it clear he is not pleased with the agreement. “He had previously said he would not express an opinion on the pact and would leave it up to parliament to decide, as long as there was broad consensus in the event it was passed.”

Today he made it clear that the standard of a “broad consensus” has not been met:

“There was no national consensus over the pact, a matter that disturbs the country,” the source said in a press statement that was made while Aswat al-Iraq was present. “The pact is incomplete and mysterious,” he added. The source questioned “the Iraqi government’s ability to execute the pact,” considering U.S. pressures in this regard. He also referred to preserving “Iraq’s sovereignty and funds.”

Looks like they’ve learned their democratic lessons from Bush very well indeed. Still and all, they’re at least trying to make an effort at democracy, something Bush gave up on long ago.

In two days, Georgia will make a very important decision: whether to elect as their senator a reasonably intelligent man, or a complete fucking idiot:

This morning of Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace asked Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) about a statement he made in July when he argued that the U.S. economy “may not be in a recession.” Wallace played a recording
of Chambliss
from an ad released by Jim Martin’s campaign:

CHAMBLISS: We may not be in a recession. I don’t know what that term means.

Chambliss attempted to defend himself, saying that he was “quoting Alan Greenspan.” Wallace, however, noted that while Chambliss used the Greenspan quote in July 2008, Greenspan had said in April 2008 that “we’re headed into a recession.” Chambliss responded by attempting (and failing) to fall back on the “technical definition” of a recession…


Definitions aside, Chambliss’s apparent inability to recognize that the U.S. is in a recession demonstrates he is uninformed about the state of the economy. Indeed, the Federal Reserve’s latest economic outlook “warned that a recession is believed already to be underway could last until mid-2009 or later.” Further, as Forbes recently reported on the significant rise in unemployment claims in recent months, “[c]laims above 400,000 are generally considered a sign of recession, and claims have been above that level for 17 weeks.”

I really hope Georgians show more intelligence than Chambliss. We have enough stupid people in Congress as it is, thank you very much.

In closing, I’d like to turn your attention to an interesting idea:

The story of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign serving as the catalyst of the modern conservative movement, which reshaped the Republican Party, is well known. But Neal Gabler presents an interesting idea today, arguing that the real father of modern conservatism is Sen. Joe McCarthy. Indeed, as far as Gabler is concerned, “the McCarthy gene” runs deep in the GOP’s DNA, “and because it is genetic, it isn’t likely to be expunged any time soon.”

You know, the man could be on to something. It certainly would explain a lot…

Happy Hour Discurso

Progress Report: We've Crossed the Line


Woozle was right.

We’re not done yet. There’s some cleaning up to do – atheist bios to add, a bibliography and list of resources to complete – but for the most part, this is the finished first draft. It never would have happened without your help, input and encouragement.

Copies will be going out in a few days to those of you who requested one (it’s not too late – if you’ve decided you want an advanced peek, email me at dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com). Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to tear the damned thing apart. Help me improve the arguments, clean up the messy bits, cut the repetition, and kick this into shape. The goal is to make this catch a publisher’s eye, so that we’ll have one more tome on the shelves to swell out our paltry little atheism section. Either that, or bookstores will stick it smack in the middle of Christianity, which will be just as satisfying.

Nothing really outstanding emerged from tonight’s writing – it was a matter of filling in the holes – but I’ll give you this bit from the beginning, where I’m showing folks we can get along before I start smacking them with the common mistakes Christians make in conversation with us:


Atheists and Christians have already started talking. Not just that, they’ve started doing. In the past, we worked together on projects like abolishing slavery, advocating civil rights, and earning women the right to vote. We’re working together today on all sorts of issues. There are plenty of areas where religious belief doesn’t matter so much as shared ideals.

I want to highlight a few of the efforts and organizations out there that specifically and explicitally foster cooperation between believers and non-believers alike. We’re not only united around shared ideals, we’re united around the idea that we each bring unique strengths to our efforts to enrich and improve the world.

Many of us are also united in our desire to protect religious freedom. The following examples should give you an idea of what we can accomplish when we come together.

I go on to cite Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, Talk to Action, the National Center for Science Education, a foodbank project between freethinkers and a Christian group, and a talk given by the Friendly Atheist at the Interfaith Youth Core Conference. It’s a pretty good range of examples, I think.

Thank you all again for making this book not only a possibility, but a very likely success. You guys are teh awesome.

Best of luck to the rest of you who are in the final stretch of NaNoMadNess today. Once again, I find myself wishing we had a real cantina so I could be there with the drinkage for you after you’ve crossed the finish line.

You can do this. I don’t have faith in gods, but I have faith in you.

Progress Report: We've Crossed the Line

Sunday Sensational Science

To Mark the Passing of Events

Sunday Sensational Science is over at Slobber and Spittle this week. Cujo359 has put together a fantastically beautiful article on clocks of all sorts, from the crudest clocks in stone to the most sensitive atomic models. I was grateful when he offered to let me filch it so that I could finish NaNo without trying to put together something non-hokey, and I’m thrilled with the result. We’ve got one of the best Sunday Science articles ever, and I finished this damned book.

Not bad!

Go. Enjoy. Wonder why the hell Dana can’t do anything half so good.

Muchos gracias, Cujo! Salud, mi amigo.

Sunday Sensational Science

Comic Book Secrets Revealed! Terrible News!

OMG, they’re killing Batman! However will I cope?

Apparently, in the comic books, Batman is…


Bruce Wayne — who by night is Batman — gets murdered by a man claiming to be the father he thought was dead.

In a highly controversial new comic book storyline, Bruce, who first appeared in 1939, is killed by Simon Hurt — the leader of the shady Black Glove organization.

Now, my first response to this was, “Oh, for fuck’s sake. It’s been DONE.”

The Stranger, my wonderful hometown newspaper, expressed my sentiments much better:

Oh my God. This is terrible. How could they kill Batman. Oh my God. There has never been anything like this in comic book history. They’ve raped my childhood. I must buy multiple copies of that issue because it is sure to be a collector’s item. Etc. Etc.

Nailed it.

I love comics, and I usually love the DC universe, but for fuck’s sake, this is beyond lame. It just screams desperate execs trying to figure out a way to get gullible fans to freak out and buy more issues. The problem is, I don’t think there’s enough gullible fans left after that “Death of Superman” debacle. Seemed like everybody jumped on the “kill a major character” bandwagon after that, and it’s lost its novelty. Yet here they are, trying to make a tired old idea seem fresh and new, trying to hit people with a trainload of emotion rather than engaging them with truly creative and useful ideas…



I know where this is coming from. They’ve been talking to Andrew Breitbart, haven’t they?

Comic Book Secrets Revealed! Terrible News!

Shopping for Candidates at Abercrombie & Fitch

There’s going to be quite a bit of what might be loosely termed “ideas” thrown out by right-wingers in their quest to rescue the Republicon party from obscurity. Some will have more, for lack of a better word, merit than others. What’s going to be most interesting is to see which suggestions the party embraces and which it discards.

I’m torn on this one. On the one hand, eye candy during the next election cycle wouldn’t be a bad thing – after all, if the Cons are going to get trounced anyway, they might as well look good doing it. On the other hand… eew:

Andrew Breitbart, LA’s most dapper wingnut, has some advice for the GOP if it wants to win any future elections. Enlist hunky models from Abercrombie & Fitch as the new GOP candidates and run them against the ugly, baby boomer Democrats. Seriously. And, best I can tell, Breitbart isn’t attempting parody. He’s as serious as Jonah “the Whale” Goldberg at the sundae station of an all-you-can-eat early-bird buffet.

[H]ere’s an unorthodox fast-track plan for a full-scale GOP recovery in 2010. The future of the Grand Old Party needs to be dangerously youthful, devastatingly attractive and outrageously fun.

Like these young Republicans.

With the economy in the pits, the young, the restless and unapologetically handsome should use their looks, vigor and Internet knowledge to wrest away elective office from joyless bureaucrats who gallingly repackaged the soiled utopian promises of their overly replayed Woodstock days as “hope” and “change.”

Woohoo! Zac Efron can be like the next Secretary of Treasury. My 401(k) got hard and throbby just at the thought.

So let’s stop first at Abercrombie and Fitch. See those shirtless models in the storefront tossing footballs in the air? There’s a better use of their time and efforts. Tanned, coiffed and seriously cut, these young studs could be tossing free-trade legislation across the halls of the Cannon House Office Building faster than you can Twitter “The Bella Twins.” Just tell these $15-an-hour beefcakes there’s a Democrat standing between them and a $169,300 job.

And this is where I have to stop for a moment to let my stomach stop churning. “Seriously cut?” Did I really just hear a wingnut say that out loud? I mean, I knew they had a lot of closeted gays in their ranks, but listening to them salivate over male models…. It’s like listening to Mark Foley wax poetic over White House pages.

Once the nausea fades, I realize that this is the right-wing plan for regaining their popularity. Screw this responsible government stuff. Instead of policy, they’re going for porn. The “party of family values,” many of whose members like to wank over the decline of morals in our society, want to use sex to sell candidates.

Andrew Breitbart thinks they should give up trying to win hearts and minds. He thinks they should attempt to win hearts and loins instead. I think that describes the problem with the right wing in this country perfectly.

Under my plan, the party will grow as the parties grow. Weekly keggers and Guitar Hero and karaoke fundraisers can make a mockery of the self-serious poetry slam-faced Obama youth movement. …

We’ll even throw in some Republican punk rockers and conservative performance artists while we’re at it. They do exist.

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather convert to Mormonism than attend a Republican punk rock concert or watch a conservative performance artist perform.

Seconded. I actually have a song by a Christian death metal band on one of my Death is Just the Beginning… CDs. I tried to listen to the song. I had to spend five hours on a steady diet of Emperor, Dimmu Borgir, Satryricon, and Dismal Euphony afterward to scrub the horror from my mind. Note to evangelical Christians: you don’t know jack fucking shit about death metal, so please stop trying. You’re only hurting yourself and others. And as for conservative punk rockers… fuck joining the Mormon church, I’ll become a damned nun before I allow myself to be subjected to that agony.

Can we take just a moment to realize two things here? One, Andrew thinks the Republicon party can regain the youth vote by throwing keggers, because obviously young people only care about beer. Secondly, he juxtaposes frat parties with karaoke. And he thinks he will be making a mockery of Obama supporters, who instead of drinking beer and singing badly in public merely recite poetry instead.

This man frightens me.

If we’re going to make the Republican Party a big tent again, why not make it large enough to hold a rave?

I give the fuck up.

It’s obvious what’s going on here.

He knows that the Cons have nothing that will win a normal person to their side. Instead, he wants to lure them in with Abercrombie and Fitch models, then get them blind drunk and deaf (because believe me, if you have to listen to Republican punk rock, you’re likely to stab your eardrums out with a fork), and then, just to be on the safe side, destroy what’s left of their brains with bad Ecstasy, after which they will be like putty in the Cons’ hands.

The saddest part is that he thinks people are actually stupid and shallow enough to fall for this kind of shit. He actually thinks he’s being hip.

I hope his recommendations are adopted in full, because as long as I get to wear earplugs, watching the Cons try this out should be endlessly entertaining.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… my brain bleach is beckoning.

Shopping for Candidates at Abercrombie & Fitch

Happy Hour Discurso

Today’s opining on the public discourse.

Can I just mention something? I hate holiday weekends. I’ve just spent the better part of two hours sifting through too many blogs in search of gold nuggets. How’d that go, you ask?

Well, I’m not rich, if that’s what you mean. But I’ve got enough to be comfortable with, and that’s what really matters in the end, eh?

From the department of brilliant Republicon ideas comes advice that’s sure to have every liberal trumpeting its greatness:

The latest “what do we do now?” piece for the Republican Party comes from South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), who outlines his approach in a piece for the Politico today.

There’s some predictable prescriptions — Republicans should, apparently, try sticking to their principles — but this one jumped out at me.

There needs to be a high standard for our franchisees. In other words, I believe Republicans and conservatives must agree on our core principles. St. Augustine called for ‘unity in the essentials, diversity in the nonessentials, and charity in all things,’ and while I believe there should always be a big GOP tent, there must also be a shared agreement on the essentials — including expanding liberty, encouraging entrepreneurship and limiting the reach of government in people’s everyday lives.

In this regard, the tent cannot be so big as to include political franchisees who don’t act on the core tenets of conservatism — and as a consequence harm the brand and undermine others’ work on it.


If, in context, that means purging, say, convicted felons from the party ranks, it would clearly be sensible. But I don’t think that’s what Sanford means. If I understand his piece correctly, Sanford wants to see a Republican Party that shed itself of factions that fall short of the “core tenets of conservatism” — as defined, presumably, by Mark Sanford — so as to let voters know exactly what they’d get by way of the party label. What the GOP needs now, in other words, is fewer people.

Absolutely! I agree wholeheartedly, and might I suggest that one of those core principles be that anyone who doesn’t worship Sarah Palin as the future of the party is right out. And hang on to that philosophy for, oh, say, the next thirty years.

Long enough to allow us to clean up the mess you made.

You know, we have a lot to fear from the Cons. They’re trimming the dead wood (their brains), getting back to core principles (i.e., failed ideology), and, ye gods, they’ve got Bill Kristol. And Bill Kristol knows exactly what Bush should do in order to polish up his legacy:

In his new Weekly Standard column, right-wing pundit Bill Kristol lays out a to-do list for President Bush before he leaves office. He urges Bush to deliver speeches “reminding Americans of our successes fighting the war on terror.” Kristol dreams, “Over time, Bush might even get deserved credit for effective conduct of the war on terror.”

After urging Bush to fight the incoming administration’s desire to close Guantanamo, Kristol concludes with this:

One last thing: Bush should consider pardoning–and should at least be vociferously praising–everyone who served in good faith in the war on terror, but whose deeds may now be susceptible to demagogic or politically inspired prosecution by some seeking to score political points. The lawyers can work out if such general or specific preemptive pardons are possible; it may be that the best Bush can or should do is to warn publicly against any such harassment or prosecution. But the idea is this: The CIA agents who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the NSA officials who listened in on phone calls from Pakistan, should not have to worry about legal bills or public defamation. In fact, Bush might want to give some of these public servants the Medal of Freedom at the same time he bestows the honor on Generals Petraeus and Odierno. They deserve it.

In the Bush era, the Medal of Freedom has come to absurdly represent a reward for those who carried out policy failures at the urging of the Bush administration. By this standard, the implementers of torture and warrantless wiretapping certainly qualify for such a medal.

Oh noes! If Bush follows Kristol’s advice, he’s certain to go from the most reviled to the most revered President in history overnight!11!!1!! Even Think Progress says torturers deserve medals – the logic is inescapable!!11!!1eleventyone!

But really, aren’t we asking for too much? Bush is already working so hard to leave a lasting legacy for our country. Just look what he’s done for edimicashun:

Just as the economic house of cards finally collapsed around George W. Bush and his cronies (and did so a good three months earlier than they’d hoped), the efforts to privatize public schools in order to make them “better” have been increasingly revealed to be less than successful at anything other than weakening education overall while lining the pockets of a fortunate few with our tax monies.

The horror show that is Chris Whittle has seriously damaged the public-school systems of Philadelphia and other American cities, in addition to raiding, with Jeb Bush’s help, the pension funds of Florida’s teachers in order to prop up his Edison Project. (And no, his schools aren’t significantly better than the public schools they’re designed to supplant. In a 2007 RAND study of Philadelphia’s schools, the study’s authors stated that “We find no evidence of differential academic benefits that would support additional expenditures on private managers.” In fact, studies of charter schools nationwide have found that they usually do worse than comparable public schools.) Whittle, who found that he could no longer count on friendly governors turning over their employees’ pension funds to him, has now decided to forsake inner-city students in favor of the wealthy elite; he’s stepped down as Edison’s CEO and his new “Nations School” scheme has a tuition rate similar to Ivy League colleges.

And, and, the envyronmint (h/t):

The Bush Administration has just released its final plan to significantly increase logging on 2.6 million acres of public land in western Oregon by clearcutting and reducing protections for salmon-bearing creeks and streams. Rising out of an agreement between the timber industry and the Bush Administration, the Bureau of Land Management’s ‘Western Oregon Plan Revision’ is the gravest threat to Oregon’s ancient forests in years.

The Final Western Oregon Plan Revision (WOPR) will mean the loss of ancient forests from the northern Willamette Valley to southern Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains.

And, and, wurkplase hazurds (h/t):

The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.

The rule, which has strong support from business groups, says that in assessing the risk from a particular substance, federal agencies should gather and analyze “industry-by-industry evidence” of employees’ exposure to it during their working lives. The proposal would, in many cases, add a step to the lengthy process of developing standards to protect workers’ health.

Public health officials and labor unions said the rule would delay needed protections for workers, resulting in additional deaths and illnesses.

With the economy tumbling and American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush has promised to cooperate with Mr. Obama to make the transition “as smooth as possible.” But that has not stopped his administration from trying, in its final days, to cement in place a diverse array of new regulations.

And, and, he’s made our guvernmint funkshun all friendly:

George W. Bush’s fascination with “loyalty” is practically legendary. The president considers it the single most important trait a person in public service can have, far exceeding competence and qualification. Bush, for example, picked Dick Cheney because he knew he’d be loyal (Cheney had no presidential ambitions of his own). Loyalty led to high-ranking posts for all kinds of people who had no business taking on their responsibilities — Alberto Gonzales, I’m looking in your direction — but who were rewarded for their personal devotion and fidelity to the man in the Oval Office.

Slate’s Jacob Weisberg had a good piece today explaining that loyalty is not only wildly overrated in presidential politics, but that truly successful presidents know that an obsession with loyalty is a waste of time and energy.

…I doubt Obama will have much trouble with disloyalty in his administration, from Clinton or anyone else, for the same reason it wasn’t a problem in his campaign: He doesn’t spend a lot of time worrying about it.

Loyalty is a wonderful human quality and a necessary political one. No president would think of moving into the White House without known and trusted advisers such as David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett. At the same time, the recurrent presidential obsession with forms of disloyalty, including leaks, disobedience, and private agendas, is a marker for executive failure. Those presidents who fixated on personal allegiance, such as Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush, tended to perform far worse in office than those, such as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, who could tolerate strong, independent actors on their teams.


If one “equates disagreement with disloyalty,” he/she necessarily creates an insular bubble where no one is allowed to stray from the party line, and everyone is expected to agree wholeheartedly with the president,regardless of merit. In this sense, Bush’s obsession with loyalty not only helps explain why incompetent, partisan hacks were promoted to critical government posts, it also helps highlight why never paid attention to those whose opinions he should have taken seriously.

See? He’s done a great job – proving why conservative can’t fucking govern. And don’t forget the legacy he’s leaving when it comes to worldwide reputation in toilet, Constitution in tatters, horrifying precedents set for dictators to follow while being able to claim they’re just living up to America’s standards, a failed economy, and dead people everywhere.

Not to mention what he’s done to the English language.

So yes. I’m thrilled to see that some Cons have the idea of making the party even smaller and more parochial than it is now. The last thing I want to see before I’m in my sixties is another Con face beaming from the Oval Office.

I’d like my country to survive until the 22nd century, thanks ever so much.

Happy Hour Discurso

Progress Report: All-out Dash to the Finish


Remind me to tell you later what happened when my supervisor found out the subject of the book I’m writing. Too tired to discuss it now.

I’ve been all over this book, from beginning to end, adding a bit here and a chunk there. Here’s one inspired by you lot, which I hope will meet your approval:


This is one of those canards that American Christians trot out when they want to justify denying atheists their freedom of conscience. They think it denies atheists any rights at all. There’s a reason why this is such an uphill battle.

Since so many Americans don’t even know what’s in the Bill of Rights, let’s have a look at the First Amendment together. It’s important to know what it says, because it protects some of our most cherished freedoms:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Whole books have been written on exactly what freedoms these little sentences cover. We’ll just take on the ones pertaining to our discussion here.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” This means that our government can’t declare one single religion as official, or favor one religion over another. If the majority of Congress voted to make, say, Hinduism the official religion of the United States, that law would be struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The same thing would happen if Congress attempted to pass a law establishing any one sect of Christianity, or even a generic interpretation of Christianity, as America’s religion. And, for the purposes of the courts, I’m pretty sure atheism would be treated as a “religion.” Our Founders wrote the Establishment Clause this way because they didn’t think belief – or lack of it – is something that can be legislated. Our government must remain officially agnostic and wholly secular in order to protect the next bit of the Bill of Rights.

“…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” You are free to be a practicing Christian. With a few extremely narrow exceptions, the government cannot outlaw your church attendance, your worship services, or your beliefs. When religious beliefs conflict with the law, the government has to be careful about prohibiting your religious practices. If you, for instance, decided to follow the Old Testament’s order to stone unruly children to death, the government can and would step in to protect your children, because society’s interests in keeping those children safe, healthy and alive override your belief that disobedient children must die. But the government can’t willy-nilly proclaim that your religion as a whole is illegal, and you have no right to practice it.

On the flip side, and emerging naturally from that, the government also can’t compel you to go to church. It can’t force you to worship. That’s where atheists come in: we may not be a religion by definition, but we can’t be forced by the government to believe in any religion, either. In that sense, yes, the Constitution does indeed provide for our freedom from religion. But that’s not all.

“…or abridging the freedom of speech…” This covers all speech. My speech, and yours. I can talk about atheism. You can talk about Christianity. It has nothing to do with religion: speech is protected whether it’s religious, debunking religion, political, artistic, or just plain boring.

“…or of the press…” You can publish a Christian newspaper, and I can publish an atheist newspaper, and both are equally protected. Freedom of the press, of course, has extended beyond the printing press, but you get the idea.

“…or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is certainly not limited only to religious people. Atheists are just as free to assemble and petition as any believer.

What all of this taken together adds up to is a freedom not spelled out by name, but one that the courts have recognized as the logical conclusion from the freedoms enumerated and what our Founders said about freedom: we have freedom of association. While there are some limits on that right, as there are with any right, there is no exclusion for the non-religious. Atheists are just as free to associate with one another and exercise their rights as are debate clubs, hobbyists, political activists, and church groups.

The Constitution also prohibits a religious test for office. Here’s Article Six:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

No religious test means that Congress can’t establish the requirement that someone have a religion in order to serve their country in office. All an atheist has to do is affirm his or her commitment to support the Constitution.

All of this adds up to a clear intent by our Founders to establish freedom of conscience. Nothing supports the notion that citizens of this country are forced to have faith. And that’s a good thing indeed, because I doubt many of you would like the result if government had the power to choose your faith for you.

Long. Yeah. But it’s one of those hard-to-explain-in-a-soundbite subjects.

I also attacked belief in chairs. Steve, Howard and Woozle will be pleased.

Fellow NaNo sufferers: we have all day. We’re going to make it across the finish line. Even though we may feel like we’re going to die of a heart-attack two feet away from the tapes…

Going to bed for a few hours now. argharghargh.

Progress Report: All-out Dash to the Finish

Satire – It's ALLLIIIIVVVEEE!!!11!!

Remember your Poe’s Law, my darlings, and enjoy:

Unfortunately, liberals have distorted the history and meaning of Thanksgiving because they see everything through the ideology of victimhood, which is a glass-half-empty view of history. Thanksgiving to liberals is a celebration of purported genocide against the Indians perpetrated by the Christian pilgrims. But in fact this is not what Thanksgiving is about at all. As usual liberals are ignoring the real victims here.

Thanksgiving celebrates the day that Pilgrims and Indians sat down to eat together before the gay secularist Indians divided this country and tried to foist their atheism and savage decadent culture on the God-fearing pilgrims. The pilgrims were rightly appalled by Native American culture where transgendered “two-spirit” people or “berdache” were accepted as normal members of the tribe. To Native Americans, who were ignorant of the Bible’s proscriptions against homosexuality and running around practically naked, there was nothing wrong with squaws marrying squaws and braves marrying braves. The pilgrims did not care what Indians did in the privacy of their own teepees, but they did not want their children exposed to this immorality. So the pilgrims were forced to defend themselves, just as Proposition 8 supporters, under assault from gay activists, must defend themselves now.

Read the whole thing. It is made of awesome.

Apropos of nothing, I had a gander at the blogs Jon Swift follows. Our very own PTET is up there.

You’re famous, love!

(Tip o’ the shot glass to Crooks and Liars)

Satire – It's ALLLIIIIVVVEEE!!!11!!

Whet Your Appetites

Scandal’s cookin’. Sure smells tasty:

Mitchell Wade, the corrupt former lobbyist who plead guilty in 2006 to bribing former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA), is reportedly assisting “the government in investigating five other members of Congress,” according to a memorandum filed on Wednesday.


Prosecutors drop tantalizing hints about an even bigger, ongoing investigation. Wade was debriefed in 2006 and provided “moderately useful” background information in another “large and important corruption investigation” that also has not yet resulted in any charges.

My mouth, it is watering.

Whet Your Appetites

Robert Gates Doesn't Get the Boot

If Obama’s going to have to salt token Republicons throughout his administration in order to live up to the post-partisan promises, this seems like a decent start:

Following up on an item from Wednesday, I’ve been reading a bit about the various perspectives on whether it’s wise for Barack Obama to keep Robert Gates on as the Secretary of Defense. Slate’s Fred Kaplan, whose perspective on military and national security issues I regularly enjoy, described Gates as “an excellent choice” and “a stroke of brilliance.”

In his nearly two years at the helm of the Pentagon, Gates has delivered a series of speeches on the future direction of military policy. He has urged officers to recognize the shift in the face of warfare from the World War II legacy of titanic armored battles between comparably mighty foes to the modern reality of small shadow wars against terrorists and insurgents.

More than that, he has called for systematic adjustments to this new reality: canceling weapons systems that aren’t suited to these kinds of wars and building more weapons that are; reforming the promotion boards to reward and advance the creative officers who have proved most adept at this style of warfare; rethinking the roles and missions of the individual branches of the armed services; siphoning some of the military’s missions, especially those dealing with “nation building,” to civilian agencies.

From the start, he knew that he wouldn’t have time to make a lot of headway in these campaigns — which, within the military, represent fairly radical ideas. His intent was to spell out an agenda, and lay the groundwork, for the next administration.

I know. Kaplan’s laying it on thick, right? May be a little too starry-eyed to trust his judgement. That’s where Steve’s post from last week comes in:

Gates may be a leading member of Bush’s team, but he represents a complete break from the neo-conservatives who dominated the administration’s first term. Gates is considered a non-ideological pragmatist, who’s open to competing ideas, and who enjoys broad respect from the brass and lawmakers in both parties. In the midst of two wars, having a competent and qualified Pentagon chief, who has no partisan or ideological axe to grind, will bring a degree of steadiness and consistency that may benefit Obama enormously.

You know what he sounds like? An Obama Democrat. I don’t think Obama would be keeping him on otherwise – post-partisan stops at retaining the bumbling fuckwits that got us in to this mess. It seems Gates has been trying to dig out, and making a bit of headway even though the Bushies above keep trying to fill the hole back in.

I know a lot of folks are screaming for change, change, and more change. They want nothing but die-hard Democrats posted throughout the administration, a quid pro quo, in fact, for the Bush years. And that would be emotionally satisfying, yes. But it won’t get us anywhere. That would be playing the same childish games that Bush did.

So Obama reaching out to the two or three eminently-qualified Republicans left, holding on to the very few folks that somehow convinced Bush they were incompetent enough to serve the regime even though they were actually smart, tough, and independent-minded, that doesn’t bother me in the least. Maybe I’m not far-left enough, but I just can’t see punishing good people for the dumbshit they served under. If they’re good at what they do, that’s what matters. And it seems that Gates is good at what he does.

Besides, this shuts down a lot of the trouble Obama would’ve gotten in to had he appointed someone else more to the left’s liking. That’s how real governing is done.

We may not recognize it after the last eight years.

Robert Gates Doesn't Get the Boot